REVIEW: The Beautiful Girls, Cambridge Hotel, Sunday January 7

THE mid-2000s surf-folk scene was immersed in an eternal summer.

Gentle grooves, calming melodies and earthy instrumentation were its calling cards.

Little wonder the music of Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Xavier Rudd and The Beautiful Girls tapped into the Australian psyche in an intimate way.

Their music perfectly encapsulated our affinity with the beach and summer holidays.  

As the mercury remained perched well over 30 degrees on Sunday night The Beautiful Girls offered the ideal soundtrack by revisiting their 2002 EP Morning Son and debut album Learn Yourself (2003) at an almost full Cambridge Hotel.

The show wasn’t strictly a celebration of Mat McHugh and his gang’s first records.

The setlist included some of their strongest material from other records like I Thought About You - complete with a wonderfully fuzzed out bass riff from Paulie Bromley – and Let’s Take The Home Way Home, plus the reggae-drenched Dancehall Days from their 2014 album of the same name.

However, it was obvious the crowd wanted The Beautiful Girls’ classic surf-folk tracks.

Learn Yourself, Music and Blackbird all attracted mass singalongs and on several occasions McHugh’s hushed vocal threatened to be drowned out by the audience.

The Beautiful Girls and their scene have always been closely associated with surf culture and McHugh has made some famous board-riding friends.

“My favourite acoustic guitar got destroyed and I borrowed Stephanie Gilmour’s guitar,” McHugh told the audience.

“Anyone who posts this on social media can you tag Steph please?”

The Beautiful Girls then launched into crowd favourite Periscopes, dedicated to the six-time surfing world champion.

The Beautifully Girls these days are effectively McHugh. He writes, plays all the instruments and produces the records before he’s joined on tour by Bromley and drummer Paul Derricott.

Yet on stage Bromley and Derricott and more than hired guns. The rhythm section was often the most engaging part of the set, and provided the energetic contrast to the more chilled vocal delivery from McHugh.

Certainly The Beautiful Girls’ mellowness is both their strength and weakness. The relaxed vibes were inoffensive, but generally the show lacked intensity and excitement and left you wanting to see the band unleash, even if only momentarily.

However, the audience didn’t mind and they were hungrily wanting more when The Beautiful Girls left the stage. They returned for the peaceful La Mar (The Ocean), which featured a detour into Pearl Jam’s classic Black and a sea of mobile phone lights.

Finally the band were allowed to take off in the closing On A Clear Day, where Derricott showcased his talent on the skins and McHugh even delivered some guitar theatrics.

The tide may have long receded on the surf-folk scene, but Newcastle’s love for The Beautiful Girls remains as warm as an endless summer.  

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