MVP for Noise Pop coverage this year goes to Ryan Prendiville. See below to find out why – Ed.
TUESDAY: The Flaming Lips at Bimbo's
Time, for the Flaming Lips, is important. Because as a band — one that has been through all sorts of well documented shit — the Flaming Lips know the value of time (particularly borrowed) and have made it their work to not just create music but get into the complete manufacture of moments. Which is a tricky business, because moments are bastards.
Take all the pictures you want of the blinding lights, the beautiful costumed kids, the confetti cannons or all the other individual weapons that the Flaming Lips use to wage musical psychedelic war on time, and the moment still might not fit in a shutter, no matter how you slice a second. Full review here.
WEDNESDAY: Grimes, Born Gold, oOoOO, and Yalls at Rickshaw Stop
Cecil Frena described the lineup at Rickshaw Stop last night simply as "weird music." He should know. Performing with his synth-fueled electronic dance trio, Born Gold (formerly Gobble Gobble,) Frena stood in front of a camera-slash-iPad pulpit, singing and conducting a third of the group’s sound via a motion-captured, clearly homemade, Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation era-esque military jacket. Full review here.
THURSDAY: Surf Club and FIDLAR at Cafe Du Nord, New Diplomat and Big Black Delta at Rickshaw Stop
“This song is called ‘Stoked and Broke,’” the band’s most talkative, spastic member introduced the first song, explaining, “because we’re stoked and broke.” What followed was a frenetic set of punk fueled, stripped down rock. With a rollicking tightness that reminded me of Thee Oh Sees, FIDLAR shot along, keeping the energy up by alternating singers. Full review here.
I left Cafe Du Nord after FIDLAR, hoping to catch at least some of Big Black Delta at the Rickshaw Stop. When I arrived another band was just starting. A local five piece, New Diplomat reminds me of the kind of groups that dominated the alternative rock airwaves in the late '90s after grunge and pop-punk stopped being exciting. Since it was about the same time period when I stopped listening to the radio, and New Diplomat’s spiky haired singer had that emo/screamo edge that I have a hard time tolerating, it makes sense that the band put me off.
But then when Jonathan Bates, a.k.a. Big Black Delta started to perform, and I felt almost nothing, a more alarming possibility came to mind: maybe I'm burnt out. On record, I’ve liked what I’ve heard of Big Black Delta’s droned, vocally distorted hard electronic tracks. And performance-wise, Bates kept things appropriately dark, moody, and atmospheric, bumping up the sound with two drummers, each banging away on their side of the stage for some heavy hitting percussion. That whole stereo kit thing is usually the easy way to pull me in, but in this case all I could do was recognize it with cheap approval. Between New Diplomat and Big Black Delta the crowd thinned out a bit, and I leave early too, hoping to reset my baseline by the next day.
FRIDAY: Brilliant Colors, Bleached, and Veronica Falls at Rickshaw Stop, Matthew Dear at Public Works
My plan for the night was to see Veronica Falls at Brick and Mortar, and then hopefully run across the street to catch Matthew Dear at Public Works. But when I showed up at Brick and Mortar, the man at the door told me I had the wrong venue, their Noise Pop show was the night before. I apologized and, checking my schedule, saw that I was indeed an idiot. So much for that plan, at least I wore a coat.
The show was underway at Rickshaw. I didn't know any of the bands opening for Veronica Falls. The androgynous singer onstage had a bowl cut and was wearing a collared button up that was the most over-sized fashion piece since Stop Making Sense. I couldn't make out the words, but it was a nice voice – a little deep and dreamy – that mixed in with some catchy guitar riffs. The band was playing melodic pop, and having fun by all appearances. I found out later they are SF’s Brilliant Colors.
The next band, Bleached, had a sound that reminded of the Dum Dum Girls with a lo-fi punk edge. Two of the girls are blondes and the other two aren't even girls. Bleached was more energetic on stage than Brilliant Colors, but I found their songs didn't really hook me in. (It also didn't help that there was a camera crew onstage with them.) The group harmonized a lot and decently, but too often spent a lot of time singing vowels (oohs, ahhs, and ohhs), which started to wear on me. They played a Ramones cover. I think it’s “When I Was Young.”
Still, it was good lineup leading into Veronica Falls, a UK band that has a retro pop sound as well. VF’s sound live was as clean and distinctive as it is on record, with nice guitar work over a signature drum sound that has an ever-present jangle that’s accomplished by little more than taping a tambourine to the floor tom. The band's vocal style has some nice contrast, between Roxanne Clifford’s usual lead with backing from James Hoare and Patrick Doyle, but really I think it's its structure and a Belle and Sebastian-like sense of lyrical imagery on songs like “Stephen” or “Bad Feeling” that sets the group apart.
So much so that on “Crimson and Clover”-referencing song, “Come on Over” VF can bust out some oohs and ohhs without it seeming like a shortcut. It was a good set, with a lot of new material as well, for the band that canceled its earlier SF debut due to visa issues. If anything, Veronica Falls was overly apologetic, drummer Patrick politely stated before the encore, “I know I keep saying it, and I feel like a bit of a dick saying it, but thanks.”
It was before midnight when Veronica Falls finished, so I hurried to Public Works, where they were still setting the stage. While waiting for Matthew Dear to come on, however, I had the misfortune of standing in front of someone explaining to everyone within earshot how terrible the venue was, how it was a warehouse that they just put equipment in but never fixed up, how if she just got a warehouse for a weekend she could fix it up nicer, how there was a bare two-by-four nailed to the beam above the stage for no apparent reason, how they charged club prices but it was “not really a club.” (Sort of the reason I actually like it, that last part).
When Matthew Dear started performing, with a live band – his second night with the lineup – it all sounded more loud and abrasive than I had expected. I think my attitude, and my tired ears had been switched to bitch mode by the girl behind me. The show was sweaty and chaotic, it being a weekend late night at Noise Pop, but I called it a night while it was still going on.
SATURDAY: Noise Pop Culture Club at Public Works, Built Like Alaska, Hospitality, The Big Sleep, and Archers of Loaf at Great American Music Hall
This would be my last day of Noise Pop, I was convinced. As much as I would've liked to, I started the day knowing that I would not make it to Sunday’s Dodos show. Between my day job, covering Noise Pop, and pet-sitting three cats (who operate in a binary of meowing or vomiting) back in the East Bay, I may have taken on too much last week. That said, somehow, Saturday at noon I found myself back at Public Works, for the Noise Pop Culture Club, a six-hour-long block of workshops, screenings, interviews, performances, and something called the Seagate Remix Lounge that I didn't really understand.
When I got to PW they were screening selections of Petites Planètes, another musical documentary series by the guy behind the Take-Away Shows on YouTube. The videos were cool, but the director, Vincent Moon, wasn't there for the Q&A. Something about being a “nomad.” Dude bailed. Disappointing. Since I was sitting 20 feet from a bartender with nothing to do, I decided to get a drink, but the shaky feeling in my stomach reminded me that I hadn't had the right ratio of solid food to alcohol in my diet last week. Some spicy noodles from the food truck outside created a buffer on which I began to add of few layers of bourbon, while watching the restored, color version of Méliès A Trip to the Moon, with soundtrack by AIR.
The main plan was to see Zigaboo Modeliste of the Meters play the drums. Modeliste was there as part of a Q&A with the makers of Re:Generation Music Project, a documentary-slash-Hyundai promotion in which he appeared. The clips made the recently released film (which apparently no one in the audience had seen) seem interesting, if only for scenes with whipper snapper EDM artists like Skrillex and Pretty Lights attempting to work with established musicians in other genres, awkwardly. At the end Modeliste played the drums for a bit, and the snare was so loud that each time he smacked it everyone in the audience blinked. A walk outside in the sun and a Bloody Mary later, I returned for a how-to session on using Ableton, and realized I am un-Able ton stay awake.
Clearly, when I made it to the Great American Music Hall, I was in bad shape. Nearly asleep on my feet, with quite a bit of time to go, and not thinking clearly, I made a bad strategic move that combines Red Bull and vodka, two things I don’t like anymore together than apart. When the first band, Built Like Alaska went onstage, I was in a fairly vile mood, my head hanging limp over the balcony while I wrote down petty things about the drummer that I didn't like: his hat (a fedora indoors) his shirt (vintage Mickey Mouse) his facial hair (Tom Selleck meets Mario Brothers). All this, when his consistently irregular drumming was actually my favorite part of the band who I really had no problem with. Clearly, I was hating hard that night.
Until the next band, Hospitality played. I’d never heard Hospitality before – it was the band’s first time playing in San Francisco – but the sound pulled me in almost immediately, led by the charming, identifiable lilt in guitarist and lead singer Amber Papini’s voice. The songs were light and bouncy, and Papini performed with a slight disaffected edge, always looking up and off to something above the crowd, making strange faces and rolling her eyes at no one in particular. When I got home later, I went online almost immediately to listen to its album and find the song “Friends of Friends.”
Likewise, I tried to find music from the final opener, the Big Sleep, but that’s more of a band to see in concert form, as the trio’s main attraction is a Jack White-like guitarist, who has a lively style of playing and a way of alternating his sound between growling and loud to Jesus Christ, where did I put my ear plugs, I can feel my cochlear hair cells dying.
Now I’m not the biggest Archers of Loaf fan – the band’s actually only been on my radar since a number of high profile reissues last year – but other people at the Great American were clearly eager to see the reformed act live. When a few random notes came out of bassist Matt Gentling’s instrument during the band’s set-up a woman above stage in the balcony yelped, jumping to her feet and clapping her hands together excitedly.
Launching into “Harnessed in Slums,” the band played with an easy energy that gave no suggestion of their hiatus or age, and people in the crowd were shouting “I want waste! We want waste!” along with the chorus. Gentling in particular was electric. He leapt around stage and struck every hard rock guitar god stance imaginable but did it with a physicality that actually pulled them off. (Dude is ripped, FYI.)
At one point early on, struggling with some technical issues, Gentling looked at singer-guitarist Eric Bachmann and joked, “It’s just like the old days, everything is breaking.” Not quite getting the kink out of his bass, Gentling asked the crowd if it’d be ok if the band just kept playing through the difficulty, and Archers of Loaf continued on, powering through a long set. The place wasn't full, but the crowd made up for it, and was still shaking the floorboards fifteen or so songs later when Archers play “Wrong” and shred a version of “Nostalgia”, making an encore completely obvious.
Ten minutes later – when I headed for BART to wait for a train alongside a couple of giggling guys laying on the platform surrounded by what must have been a dozen empty nitrous canisters – I was no longer tired and sent a text that read: “Okay. That was a good show. Worth it.”