Girlschool @ Foufounes Electriques

Live music is a strange form of entertainment, if you really stop to consider it. As an audience member, yes, you pay for the privilege of being entertained by a band or performer whose works you enjoy, and yes, ideally, these performers earn something in exchange for that work. But to get on stage and run through your most known songs, night after night for months, sometimes year after year, is a strange desire. It would seem to me that for most musicians, for whom private jets and sold out stadiums aren't the norm, the promise of payment isn't generally enough -- as cliche as it sounds, you really have to do it for the love. 

Seeing Girlschool, with Lillian Axe and Alcatrazz at Foufounes Electriques in late March left me thinking about longevity and what a successful career looks like for musicians who, in some ways, never fully broke through. I never could have imagined that a concert featuring three bands with 30 studio albums and almost 100(!) years in metal combined would feel like a house show, and yet that's exactly what that night was like. The bands shared drums and backline, and when Girlschool had technical difficulties at the start of their set, it was band members from Lillian Axe and Alcatrazz that stepped in to eventually fix it. Brent Graham, lead singer for Lillian Axe (apparently a talented drummer, according to Girlschool lead singer Kim McAuliffe) seemed to be the drum tech for all the bands on this tour. This kind of DIY, bare bones tour approach is a rite of passage for all bands, but it's hard to imagine anyone envisioning doing it into their 60s. When many other bands would have long hung up their stage clothes these folks are still at it, and while there's maybe just enough fame in it, there's certainly not enough money. It's ultimately pure love that keeps these folks coming back.
That love was returned that night, by a relatively diverse crowd, to match the relatively unusual lineup. It was clear that each band had its own fans that were there to see just them, but every band was appreciated. I knew Lillian Axe and Alcatrazz by name only, the latter being most famous for having previously had both Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai on their roster. It was fun to watch two storied bands whose music I know nothing about, especially because they're both very different kinds of metal, and neither is entirely to my taste. I often enjoy watching bands live whose music I would never listen to on record. I guess I do it for the love, tool; the love of spectacle and the unexpected, and the love of watching people do what they love for the people who love it.
Girlschool finally took the stage, and it all went quite wrong at first. The opening wail of "Demolition Boys" filled the venue, and then... well, then the band had to reset a couple of times before the show really got going.  Anyone familiar with Girlschool's history knows that they've earned their stripes in an otherwise dirty business and this onstage hiccup pales in comparison to the things they've seen in their long history (including the time Kim was almost accidentally electrocuted onstage in 1982!). 
Once they finally got going, I watched their set mesmerized. The amount of respect I have for these women is incalculable. Girlschool, like a handful of other "bad girl" groups that preceded (i.e. The Shangri-LasThe Ronettes) and followed them (i.e. The RunawaysVixen), did what feels impossible in a world primed to be hostile towards them. They didn't just blow through the barriers of music, they did so while giving absolutely no fucks and inviting other women who felt the same to follow in their footsteps. Finally getting a chance to see them live was an incredible privilege, considering that I was able to see Motörhead a half dozen times or more. Lemmy was a staunch supporter of Girlschool, and  the Motörhead / Girlschool St. Valentine's Day Massacre split EP remains a classic (and I was so happy to hear them play both "Emergency" and cover "Bomber" that night). Why the inequality? Ultimately, Girlschool were never able to break through the way their male contemporaries were, which feels unfair. Even as a novelty act, which Girlschool are decidedly not, they deserve more respect for inspiring so many bad girls around the world, and for doing it for the love, almost a half century later.
Missed it? The whole show (minus the majority of the technical difficulties at the top) is here.

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