The Belgian indie band returns to Paris to play a headlining show at L’Olympia…
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. And while it’s fairly unsurprising that people should be excited when a band they like returns after a hiatus, there’s an extra sense of emotion in seeing Girls in Hawaii perform again, knowing the tough times they’ve had to overcome since the tragic death of drummer Denis Wielemans in 2010.
It’s been almost a year since the band returned to the stage in Paris. They first performed a couple of songs for the launch of the ‘Misses’ EP at Record Store Day last April at La Gaîté Lyrique. Since then, they released their latest opus ‘Everest’ and have been busy touring, mainly in Belgium, France and Germany. In July they surprised a handful of Parisian fans by playing a surprise gig at Nuba, a small, intimate venue on the rooftop of the Cité de la Mode, before finally came back to Paris in November to play a sold-out gig at the Trianon.
Last night’s gig, however, truly sealed their return.
Breaking through the fog of the smoke-filled stage of the Olympia, the band opened with ‘Wars’, an eerie mix of drums and keys and the closing track on ‘Everest’. The beginning of the set feels fairly tame but you can tell it’s all just building up to something bigger. Five songs in, frontman Antoine Wielemans jumps in the crowd as the band launches into the familiar ‘Time to forgive the winter’, from debut album ‘From Here to There’.
Girls in Hawaii is one of those approachable bands that performs best when connecting with their audience, who they’ve clearly missed – “It’s cool to see you all,” Antoine tells us, before asking for the lights to be turned on. “You all look magnificent.”
Light, as it turns out, is key in tonight’s show. Acting as a sort of spiritual guide in the form of a starlit sky, it gradually outlines the shape of an imposing mountain backdrop. During ‘Misses’, an emotional three-and-a-half minute track about loss and grief, the sky above the mountain brightens up with green and yellow lights reminiscent of an aurora borealis.
The fast-paced ‘Birthday Call’ and ‘Grasshopper’ conclude their set, leaving the crowd cheering and chanting for an encore. But it’s not long before Antoine and co-frontman Lionel Vancauwenberghe come back on stage with their arm firmly around one another. “Thank you all for coming – it’s good to see so many of you here,” they tell us, visibly touched by the thunderous clapping of the 2,000-strong audience.
Announcing the next song as a ‘moment of crepuscular softness’, Antoine and Lionel go on to perform the intimate ‘Plan your escape’, a track stripped down to just vocals, acoustic guitar and xylophone. The perfect harmonies convey a sense of togetherness that is quite obvious to anyone watching.
Reaching the peak of their set with ‘Fields of Gold’, immediately followed by ‘Flavor’, the sextet plunges the crowd into a majestic inferno of raging sound and throbbing light – a perfect finale for this generous sold-out gig.