SXSW Live Shot: Habibi

NYC girl group does the mashed potato with a touch of Farsi

Amid the deep-fried sugar punk chaos that was Burgermania III at the Eastside’s Hotel Vegas on Saturday night, Habibi was something of an outlier.

Photo by Jana Birchum

Taking the stage in matching nurse outfits and white paper hats, the NYC fivesome eschewed distortion and beer spray for droll bop-worthiness. Aside from ever-present echo, the guitars rang clean. If not for recurring feedback from hot mics, you could’ve almost done without ear plugs.

At their foundation, Habibi approximates a Sixties girl group coming of age against the backdrop of modern-day garage punk. Yet there’s something a bit more cool and cutting in their approach. The hints at Middle Eastern music provide some distinction, but it’s ultimately their short, simple, and catchy songs that enable them to transcend mere pastiche.

Opening with “Far from Right” and “Tomboy” from their eponymous full-length, Habibi got and kept the crowded room’s attention. Lead guitarist Lenaya Lynch provided the tastefully unadorned hooks while drummer Karen Vasquez kept a jerk-inspiring tribal beat. At center stage, vocalist Rahill Jamalifard delivered call-and-response lyrics with effortlessly measured tone, even singing in Farsi at one point.

Against a classic narrative of love lost and found, “Detroit Baby” crackled with the ghosts of AM transistor pop at a tempo optimized for the Mashed Potato. The band turned up the energy level for closing number “I Got the Moves.” This proved to be the show’s highlight.

With tambourines and yeah-yeah choruses a-flying, Jamalifard jumped into the audience and incited a clap-along. It was a short set, but it hit the spot.

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Habibi, SXSW Music 2014, Rahill Jamalifard

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