Live Review: Horsegirl + Lifeguard @ The Pinhook – July 27th 2023

Last year, young Chicago-based indie-rock trio Horsegirl released their much-anticipated debut album, Versions of Modern Performance.  The album was a captivating showcase of ‘90s indie rock, shoegaze, post-punk and DIY alt-rock that was greeted with a wave of positive reviews.  The band hit the road, playing a swath of shows and building a solid buzz.  Emerging from their breakout year Horsegirl have continued to tour behind Versions of Modern Performance and this past Thursday, they rolled into Durham for a packed show at the Pinhook with Lifeguard, a trio of fellow Chicagoans and labelmates.

The Pinhook filled early and there was a feeling of excitement and anticipation circulating through the room as Lifeguard took the stage.  The trio consisting of bassist/vocalist Asher Case, guitarist/vocalist Kai Slater, and drummer Isaac Lowenstein, have more in common with Horsegirl than roots in the Chicago indie scene and a shared record label in Matador.  Isaac Lowenstein is the brother of Horsegirl’s guitarist-singer Penelope Lowenstein, and Asher Case and Lowenstein were in an early lineup of Horsegirl.  Lifeguard created an irresistible mixture of nostalgic alt-rock laced with driving post-punk and post-hardcore.  Their set was a thrilling blend of rumbling bass, guttural guitar and propulsive drumming performed with a youthful joy and fearlessness.  Despite the sometimes-brooding wall of noise, their songs caught the ear with an underlying sense of melody.  The crowd was thoroughly engaged and enjoying every minute of Lifeguard’s all too brief set.  With the energy in the Pinhook at a fever pitch, Lifeguard brought their set to a close, but not in the usual way.  They performed a live hand-off.  Normally when the opener finishes, they exit the stage, the lights come up and the stage gets set for the headliner.  Instead, Lifeguard and Horsegirl did something I have not seen before.  As Lifeguard were trailing off, one by one the members of Horsegirl, who had been watching from side stage, walked on stage and set up as the band continued to play.  Isaac Lowenstein stepped aside and Horsegirl drummer Gigi Reece took his seat behind the drums.  Once plugged-in, Horsegirl guitarists and singers Nora Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein joined the mix, allowing the members of Lifeguard to exit the stage without a break in the music.  The unique transition was impressive and kept the crowd on their toes.

Horsegirl dove into their set playing songs like “Electrolocation 2,” “World of Pots and Pans,” “Anti-glory,” and “Live and Ski,” from Versions of Modern Performance.  While most of the set centered on their debut album, they also mixed in a bit of new material.  The band’s nostalgic and powerful ‘90s alternative indie-rock was leaner and a touch more lo-fi delivered from the stage, but every bit as compelling as their studio output.  The fans who had made their way to the front of the stage were singing along and dancing energetically with each song, and the entire room was cheering wildly.  Rather than sticking to the dizzying pace, the band occasionally shifted into a distinctive shoegaze and dream pop sound that gave the evening a bit of a thrill/chill vibe, adding an emotional weight to the performance.  The dueling frontwomen of Nora Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein traded vocals, guitar licks, and charm.  When not enrapturing the crowd with their musical talent, they connected with interesting anecdotes and between song banter.  Penelope even shared that her parents had come along to Durham. 

As the band ended their set with a buoyant version of “Billy,” one of Rolling Stone’s “Songs You Need to Know, ” Lifeguard drummer Isaac Lowenstein joined the girls on stage adding some tambourine to the delight of the crowd.  It made for a playful end to the evening and left the sweat-soaked crowd ecstatic.

Horsegirl are a band on the rise.  They play with an impressive confidence that makes you forget their relatively young ages and is deserving of the buzz that surrounds them.  The kids are alright… In fact, the kids are better than alright.

Horsegirl + Lifeguard @ The Pinhook
Photos © Dan Kulpa // Clashdan Photography // @clashdan

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