By Andreas Trolf
Photos by Andreas Trolf and better photos by Casey Gossard
Doesnt it seem like music festivals are all over the place these days? I mean, youve just got so many to choose fromCoachella, CMJ, SXSW, Noise Pop, and there are probably even some others, like in foreign countries or something, that I dont even know about yet. And Im sure to have missed some important ones here in the states as well, but what do I know? Im just a lowly professional music writer. But as with all things, some examples are better than others (case in point, not just with music festivals, but also with music writers, i.e.me). And so how did Noise Pop fare in the grand scheme of annual music festivals? Read on and be amazed!
Oh well. Lets dig right in, shall we?
In previous years, South by Southwest has always been my personal favorite. Not simply for the sheer variety and number of awesome bands, but because it gave me an opportunity to visit lovely people like Mikey Sieben and Brandy and Andy, but because SXSW always has the best hospitality set ups for, like, industry types, where you can get free cigarettes, complimentary clothes, and the booze flows like, well, free booze. CMJ has always been sort of cool too, mostly because Im from New York and the atmosphere during the festival was always as if the carnival has just come to town despite the fact that the festival (and all its accoutrements) is always pretty New York-centered. But still... You know what though? In all my years as a music enthusiast and occasional resident of San Francisco, Ive never attended any of the Noise Pop shows before now. So I guess this year was as good a time as any since 2007 marks the festivals 15th anniversary. Right now the festival is old enough to start experimenting with booze and sex. Im so proud. The festival may timidly ask an older, worldly gentleman such as myself what the best way to un-hook a bra is, or what the preferred brand of smokes among cool dudes is. And I, always a shining beacon of classiness and erudition, shall oblige. Then I will warn the teenaged festival to shave off its crappy dirt-stache.
So yeah, this years Noise Pop, right? Our little curious teenager, filled with power chords and reckless abandon, fueled by half a can of Sparks. Let us embark on this journey together, hand in hand, and check out some rock and/or roll.
To begin with, a disclaimer: I did not go to all of the shows. I did not even go to most of the shows. I did not even go to all of the shows that interested me. And, to be sure, I was not interested in most of the shows... Did that make sense? I hope so. I have to be honest with you. The only shows I really, really wanted to see were Roky Erickson, Sebadoh, Dead Meadow, Ted Leo, and Ray Barbee Ray Barbee. Yeah. Maybe Im judging other bands a bit harshly, but the majority of the bands scheduled to perform didnt get me all that excited. Check out link the line up for yourself. See? What, am I gonna get all worked up for The Comedians of Comedy? Seriously? Patton Oswalt? (okay fine, he was funny in that Reno 911 movie). But even so, I was hoping for slightly more stoke-worth bands. Fuck it, though.
First up: The Oohlas, Scissors for Lefty, and French Kicks at Slims on Thursday, March 1st.
This is an example of one of the shows I didnt go to. Instead, Casey went and shot a ton of photos, which I am now going to write about as if I had been there.
Man, Slims was packed for this one! People were totally going ape shit! We arrived at the venue and had just enough time to pound three or four free beers before the L.A.-based Oohlas took the stage and proceeded to totally kill it! Did you know that The Oohlas are Greg Eklunds band? I was wondering what happens to dudes that used to be in bands like this. But never mind the past, The Oohlas soared into the heavens like birds of the future (provided of course that the future is the mid-1990s).
Next up were local favorites Scissors for Lefty. These guys were totally awesome. Theyve got this weird sound that manages to hit the mark somewhere between late 90s-era Britpop and something else that I cant quite put my finger on. By this point in the night, wed all had a bit too much to drink and I was dancing like crazy. And those of you that know me also know that there are two things that I do not do, and one of those things is dancing. But just look at how fun this show was:
At one point a prisoner even escaped from somewhere and mounted the stage in a flurry of rock and roll enthusiasm. Behold the awesome power of a catchy single!
Dude even got down from the stage and slummed it with the screaming crowd. Talk about rock and roll populism! Yeah! Its the great leveler. What a democratic medium! Go America!
Groshong and Heidi loved it too!
Afterwards came the nights headliners, French Kicks. These New Yorkers have been creating quite a bit of music industry buzz lately, and their Noise Pop performance was well worth me getting out of bed for. I mean, its not just any new wave-y, dance-y band that could make me leave my comfortable house and brave an unforgiving San Francisco night in the dead of a mysterious winter. But man, am I ever glad that I went to this show!
It was weird because even after all that excitement and booze I wasnt even tired at all. Almost as if Id never left my house and just experienced the show vicariously through someone elses photos (kind of like youre doing right now).
Next show: Land Shark, The Gray Kid, Honeycut, and Ghostland Observatory at the Mezzanine on Saturday, March 3rd.
This is a great example of a show that I actually attended. The performance was unfortunately marred by two things: Land Shark actually showing up and the venue itself. Holy shit, have you guys ever been to the Mezzanine? Me neither. I had no idea that places like this even existed anymore outside of terrible tv shows and frat boys imaginations. Its like one of those places that people refer to when they say that theyre going to the club . Basically, its got really overpriced drinks, tons of weekend warrior types with fake tans and ultra-gelled hair, and just an overall glamorous feel that made me feel slimy. But hey, if thats your thing then by all means put on your new Dockers and pay $6 for a Bud while trying to touch some fake boobs. Go for it!
This is the view from Mezzanines, um, mezzanine.
I went with my friend Emma. I managed to persuade her to come along because of the free tickets. I was really glad that she came because I think I might have had a total emotional meltdown if Id been forced to attend this show by myself. After spending all of the cash Id brought with me on a single round of drinks, Land Shark took the stage. Are you guys familiar with these dudes? I think they complimented the venue perfectly. They were sort of this group of dudes who I imagine feel really cool in floor-length leather coats. Kind of like dudes who are really into The Matrix or used to be really, really into The Crow back in the 90s. They sounded like a weird cross between an industrial band, a 13 year old girls idea of a goth band, and some music you might hear on Viva La Bam or in a really edgy Gap commercial. I dont want to be too harsh on people who play music that I might feel personally disinclined to listen to, but I would seriously rather have gonorrhea than listen to these guys again. But hey, thats just me.
Here they are, crooning through tons of effects pedals:
Not really, but I was kind of hoping.
The singer was doing this weird thing where he would wave his arms all invitingly at the crowd, like he wanted to baptize people or something.
But people there were actually kind of stoked. I wish Id gotten photos of the entire crowd because, believe it or not, there were actual ravers there. Like from the early-90s. With weird glow in the dark writing on their skin and giant pants and weird hair and they were dancing like crazy. It was nuts.
I will give these dudes credit for attracting a diverse crowd, though. They had everyone from coked up Marina folks, to Japanese mall punks, to the token old dude checking out their set.
I love the token old dude at shows because in all likelihood I will one day be him. Looking at this dude, I kind of hope hes there at the show, watching this band, thinking quietly to himself, Why the fuck did you leave the house tonight, Lenny? You have a fifth of bourbon back at home and the old ladys out of town visiting her sister. This is my time, goddammit!
Up next was The Gray Kid. I had pretty much no idea what to expect and after the first band Id already been making desperate phone calls to my roommate Mara, hoping shes be able to get us some last minute passes to the Dead Meadow show at Café du Nord. But, you know, The Gray Kids PR dude had been kind enough to get us tickets for the show and the least I could do was to check out his act before hopefully hightailing it to a better show.
But you know what? The Gray Kid was pretty fucking okay. He was this totally self-involved white boy rapper/satirist, but dude had flow. Im not kidding.
I actually have to give this dude credit for doing something very few people are comfortable doing: getting up on stage in front of a couple hundred strangers and pretty much singing karaoke for 45 minutes. But it was 45 minutes of incredibly entertaining karaoke, where hed program his laptop to spit out the beats and hed run up and down the stage, kind of going nuts, rapping like the upper middle class Eminem.
At one point he was pulling at his shirt being all heart-throbby for the ladies and Emma was all, Take a photo! Hes hot, and I was all, Way to emasculate me! But I still took the photo and she was stoked.
Then, just in the nick of time, Mara called and said shed gotten us on the list for the sold out Dead Meadow show. Ripping! We jumped in a cab and zipped to du Nord just in time to catch the opening act, The Starlight Desperation The Starlight Desperation , the drummer of which was Maras first ever boyfriend. His name is Jeff and hes a totally rad drummer.
Here are my two dates for the evening, Emma and Mara. Sometimes I can totally pull it like that.
Okay, so back to the music. The Starlight Desperation. They were pretty damned excellent, though maybe not exactly thematically a logical choice to open up for the psych-rock of Dead Meadow. These guys are pretty straightforward rock and rolla genre that sometimes gets neglected in favor of all the different niche markets. But you know what? Straightforward rock and roll fucking works, thats why its been around for 60 fucking years. What other musical genre has that type of staying power? Ska? Electroclash?
The Starlight Desperations singer had obviously watched tons of Rolling Stones footage over the years, as hes modeled himself a bit after Mick Jagger, who, just so you know, is the archetype of stage presence and swagger. Now I know some of you out there will be quick to point out Robert Plants stage antics and his cocky British stride, but to you I say this: 1) I love Led Zeppelin, seriously. A lot, but 2) Robert Plant is the most embarrassing man alive. I mean, come on, youre a grown man strutting up and down the stage singing about Orcs and far maidens in this impossibly high yelp that often sounds like the death throes of a whooping crane. Seriously. Zeppelins so rad, but I could do without Robert Plant sashaying simply for the benefit of all those 14 year old girls he was going to deflower backstage. Anyhow
I wish Id gotten more photos throughout the night, or actually, I wish Id gotten more coherent and usable photos. I have tons of photos, which are mostly me mugging and drinking beers. I doubt you guys want to see any of that, though. What I really wish Id shot more photos of was Jeff drumming and Dead Meadow. Jeff was killing it. Hes one of those overly-energetic drummers that maintains a steady smile, letting you know how much fun hes having playing music, all while keeping up a drumming barrage that would put Neil Peart to shame.
Then we had some more beers, which always ease the pain, and after what seemed like ages the lights dimmed again and the sell-out crowd went ape shit. And let me tell you, those dudes in Dead Meadow know a thing or two about building up suspense, because once the lights dimmed and the lasers and smoke machines started, nothing happened for about 20 minutes. People were literally staring, expectantly, at an empty stage.
Then the guitar guy Jason came out and hit a single note, which had this epic sustain kind of like that part in Spinal Tap when Nigel Tufnel claims that you could hit a note and then walk away and eat some food and come back and it would still be playing. Then the crowd went a bit more ape shit and stared at the empty stage some more, albeit an empty stage with a single psychedelic note playing loudly.
Then, finally, the band took the stage and proceeded to make me wish to fuck Id brough some weed with me.
Check it out! Whoa!
But seriously, Dead Meadow proceeded to kill it. Like I said, I wish Id taken more photos, but the place was so packed that I was afraid to push my way up front to the stage area for fear of being caught in some Great White scenario had something terrible occurred with the lasers and the smoke machines.
Oh look, I totally have one more photo. Its kind of trippy. Maybe. I dont know.
Sorry, I guess I got so caught up in the fever-pitch excitement of blogging that I forgot to have some overarching thematic message for you guys. Hmm, let me think of something right now. How can I end on an up note and come across as slightly less of a pedantic asshole? Is that even possible at this point?
Maybe Ill just leave you with this.
The end. Check back here this time next year for more exciting Noise Pop excitement.
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