For the hipsters who just simply can’t bring themselves to enjoy the sweltering heat, obscene ticket prices, and trek to nowhere involved with Indio’s annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, we present San Fran’s yearly gift to the indie community-Noise Pop. Heralded as the South by Southwest of the California coastline, NP dishes up a bevy of under-the-radar rock acts (The Mountain Goats, Holy Fuck, Minipop, and Whispertown2000, to name a few) and a handful of “big name” indie stars (Kelley Stoltz, The Magnetic Fields, Tilly and the Wall), all of whom don’t demand that their fans blow a whole month’s rent on attending a kick-ass show.
Unlike the rest of the fests that are popping up throughout the United States this year (Sasquatch!, Coachella, Bonnaroo), Noise Pop offers a lineup and setup that caters to a refined-and budgeted-musical taste. Unwilling, or perhaps unable, to relegate itself to a single S.F. venue, the gathering provides fans with five days worth of music and visual art. Taking place throughout downtown, the sponsored shows quite literally take over the scene, running from late afternoon through the wee morning hours-this year from February 26 to March 2-at a multitude of clubs, bars, and showspaces. And while music junkies might have to struggle over whether to see British Sea Power or Mstrkrft (both played simultaneously on Saturday night), they also get their money’s worth. Tickets for each show (which usually featured three to four acts) top out at $20 a pop (but usually run far cheaper), and no one is left splurging on a performance they were just too tired/malnourished/dehydrated to attend.
The concerts-starting with last Wednesday’s show-stoppping opener, The Walkmen, and ending on Sunday’s festival closer, She & Him-were spread out among a laundry list of venues with many acts playing for more than one night. And the buzz that it created was better than any daylong fest could have ever hoped for. The selected performers succeeded in encompassing all things currently good in indie music, art, comedy, and film-and managed to keep downtown San Francisco bustling with eager fans, roadies, and up-and-coming musicians throughout the week-while the show spaces (The Great American Music Hall, Bimbo’s, Bottom of the Hill, Rickshaw Stop) kept both the San Fran scenesters and out-of-town tourists content with their eclectic aesthetics, baroque architecture, and downright kitschy vibes.
Highlights, of which there were many, included a short-but-sweet four-day exhibit of photos by Autumn de Wilde titled Pictures of Me: Rare Photos of Elliot Smith, which took over Mission Street’s Queen’s Nails Annex from Thursday through the festival’s close. And Noise Pop’s weekend-long Expo, which was held at the nearby 12 Galaxies, dished up two full days of all-free, all-ages fun. Saturday’s daylong Education Session turned the mike over to the professionals, providing back-to-back panel discussions and seminars on breaking into the music industry. But Sunday’s Pop and Shop design fair was the Expo’s true must-see. Even without the free pancake breakfast, the event was a great deal. Boasting wares from more than 30 San Francisco designers and artists, Pop and Shop provided a mecca of well-made, hand-crafted duds, accessories, and art-all for reasonable prices. All of which led up to a night of tunes that left hearts pumping, feet aching, and ears ringing with sheer rock-induced enjoyment.
A Rose Grows in San Francisco
The Rosebuds made one stop on the West Coast, and that stop was Friday night at 444 Jessie, a surreal alley in San Francisco’s Financial District. Walking up, I was a little surprised to find myself quietly tucked away in the heart of San Francisco, and the warehouse I was about to enter gave off no cues – aside from the line at the door – that inside would house a sprawling, dimly lit, split level art gallery, chic bar, and the very talented husband and wife duo that is The Rosebuds.
Taking the stage after midnight, the band played a short-but-rich set; including numerous songs from their third full-length album, Night of the Furies, as well as their ever-popular sophomore release, Birds Make Good Neighbors.
The scene was undeniably hip, thanks partly to the impressive collection of original art that hung throughout the showspace. CreativemindsSF’s pieces, though so detailed they were hard to appreciate from afar, were as intricately crafted, methodically themed, and versatile as The Rosebud’s lyrics and albums.
At the end of the evening, finding myself feeling displaced on an oddly quiet alleyway, it somehow seemed quite perfect the way everything fit together. Celebrated as one of the most successful indie music scenes around, the city’s scene seemed embodied in the connection between venue, musicians, and artists, and I left feeling quite lucky to have experienced this secret society of San Fran’s bustling cultural underground.
Tally Hall, Capgun Coup, Tilly & the Wall at Rickshaw Stop
Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan and sporting matching nerd wear, the boys of Tally Hall opened their late evening set at the Fell St. Rickshaw Stop with a delightfully homemade video intro that managed to plug the band’s upcoming Internet show, keep the crowd in stitches, and introduce the uninitiated to the Hall’s quirky comic catch. On stage and in real time, the five-piece rocked it with their meticulously crafted blend of self-deprecating lyrics, Ben Folds-esque “rapping,” and genuine musical talent. Where tunes like “Misery Fell” were poignant and reminiscent of a pre-Chutes and Ladders Shins, the calypso rhythms of “Banana Man” (and priceless back-and-forth between band members) kept the mood light and the audience moving. But it was the Hall’s downright jaw-drop-inducing cover of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” that stole the show. With nothing more than a keyboard and guitar bass line to back them, the boys split vocal duties and harmonized through whatever parts a turntable would have held down. The result? A tambourine-filled, megaphone-featuring ode to white guys who bring the funk-something the lads of Tally Hall know a thing or two about.
Following Nebraska’s resident screamsters, Capgun Coup, the ladies-and gentlemen-of Tilly & the Wall set up, plugged in, and filled the narrow show space with some in-your-face soft shoe action. Known most commonly for their use of resident drum machine Jamie Pressnall (the group’s tap-dancing brunette who holds down percussion duties from atop her little wooden box during shows), Tilly turned up the volume early on. Blowing a drum monitor only one song into their 12-song set, the band powered through despite technical troubles and, by the end, turned the Rickshaw into a delightful melee of singing, dancing, and clapping. Songs like “Bad Education” and “Night of the Living Dead” lent themselves to karaoke-style sing-a-longs, while the newly dropped single “Beat Control” nearly incited a dance riot by way of infectious rhythms, catchy hooks, and beats most reminiscent of ’80s dance pop queen Cyndi Lauper.
Emily Jane White, Whispertown2000, She & Him at Great American Music Hall
Some credit must be given to the booking genius who snagged L.A.’s Whispertown2000 to open the debut live performance of super duo She & Him. Aside from providing an exquisite modern take on alt-country, Whispertown let their name do most of the talking, as the fest had been buzzing since booking She & Him a few weeks back. And the much-talked-about teaming of actress Zooey Deschanel and go-to indie rock collaborator M. Ward only mildly disappointed. Original tracks like “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” held their own through simplistic structures that harkened back to the country tunes of June Carter Cash, while covers of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” and The Miracles’ “You Really Got a Hold on Me” broke up the set nicely. But Ward’s presence was minimal and Deschanel’s nervousness was palpable, making for a show that was sonically great and socially frustrating. The at-capacity throngs grumbled at the fact that Ward was reduced to playing backup, but the overall premise was one that showed true potential. So watch out Jenny Lewis, there’s soon to be a triple threat singer/model/actress biting at your platform heels.