LIVE: Pillow Queens / Ganglions @ CHUNK, Leeds

By Tom Walsh

Not much should come as a surprise to Pillow Queens anymore. Being name-dropped by Steve Lamacq on BBC Radio 6 Music off the back of their first EP? No problem. Headlining a UK tour? Yeh, of course. Selling out a hometown show? Sure, why not. So, when a fused plug socket forces an evacuation just moments before they hit their first chord, it is greeted by a shrugging “ah, grand”.

It has been quite an 18 months for the all-girl indie four-piece. Back then they were just a group of friends that decided to have a jam after meeting up on a basketball court in the suburbs of Dublin. None of them could have foreseen the events that were about to unfold in the coming months.

The release of their debut EP ‘Calm Girls’ in late-2016 made waves on both sides of the Irish Sea with fans and critics immediately enamoured with their infectious energy and heartfelt lyrics. A year of relentless touring at home and abroad has only elevated their star further, culminating in the 2018 follow-up EP ‘State of The State’, has brought Pillow Queens to this moment, playing in front a packed crowd miles away from home.

Leeds’ CHUNK is the type of DIY setting that has given the Irish quartet a leg up in their young career. The community ethos around this venue, in the city’s eastern suburbs, can make a show feel even more special. Pay what you can afford to, bring in your own drinks, hang out with your mates and settle in for an evening of enlightening entertainment.

The precursor to Pillow Queens’ bow in these haunts is fellow-ish countrymen and women Ganglions who bring their blend of mathcore and pop punk to the table in unintentionally matching jumpers. The trio set the upbeat tone to the night with tracks from their dual EP’s ‘Fetch!’ and ‘Thirsty’, before bassist Eimear O’Donovan ponders which emoji would sum up the evening – after much deliberation they decide upon aubergine.

A slightly bemused look is written across Cathy McGuinness’ face as she pokes her head out into the car park. “I’m sure everything is grand, you can come back in now”, the Pillow Queens guitarist ascertains as the evacuated audience is welcomed into the thrones of tonight’s headline act.

Whether it is the venue or the atmosphere exuding from the stage, watching Pillow Queens feels like your watching your mate’s band. There is an unmistakable camaraderie between these four friends opening on the ode to that everlasting, if infuriating, love that is ‘Cuckoo’.

Tracks like ‘Olive’ and ‘Puppets’ demonstrate why Pillow Queens are gaining such a popularity across, not only the DIY scene, but the wider music community. It is how they are able to tackle such challenging topics such as anxiety, paranoia and the general churn of modern life and package them in these irresistible songs packed with intricate riffs and uplifting melodies.

The on-stage is equally infectious as they continue to bounce off each other throughout. Constantly swapping instruments and vocal duties also goes to highlight the versatility they possess. There is even time for a couple of new tracks with both ‘Gay Girls’ and ‘Easter Sunday’ continuing to demonstrate their ability to confront big issues head on.

Prior to closing track and no doubt a future anthem, ‘Rats’, bassist Pamela Connolly admits being overwhelmed of being able to play to so many people, so far away from home. However, with an audience repeating the lyrics “I’m not a rat/if you’re not a rat over and over as they wander off stage, maybe they should begin to expect the unexpected.