Okay, so maybe the Noise Pop show to see this year really was Drive Like Jehu? At least, if you accept the word of the band's rabid fan base as law. "OMG BEST SHOW EVER," "Nobody comes close - Jehu is God" and "Drive Like Jehu!! So amazing!!!" are three real status updates from my own social media feed.
But you can only go to so many shows, especially when Prince decides to crash the Noise Pop party with a last-minute show in Oakland. This year we also strongly welcomed the long-running festival's branching out into jazz and hip-hop, as well as booking female-fronted acts when other festivals still seem clueless on the concept.
So here's to Noise Pop's three major shows that weren't four white guys with guitars: namely, Kamasi Washington at the Independent, Carly Rae Jepsen at the Warfield, and Vince Staples at the Social Hall SF.
Kamasi Washington: What Jazz Needs Right Now
It wasn't just that within the first 10 minutes of Kamasi Washington's set, I already wished that my family and friends and everyone I loved were with me, experiencing the same transcendence. It wasn't just the series of climaxes reached by Washington's eight-piece band, or the ceiling parting and rays of holy light shining down. It wasn't just the feeling of family, literal and otherwise, on the stage, or the evident decades of shared experience among the players.
No, it was the fact that Kamasi Washington was playing to his new crowd, which is to say a new-to-jazz crowd, one that discovered his latest album The Epic through his association with Kendrick Lamar, or through indie-rock blogs, or through the electronic-heavy imprimatur of Brainfeeder Records. The jazz establishment tends to view Washington's music as a stylistic retread of spiritual jazz, and that's true; The Epic essentially sounds like an Impulse Records album from the early 1970s. But if that same establishment could understand what Washington is doing for jazz, they might stop endlessly wringing their hands over how to attract a new generation to an art form perennially declared to be dying.
Here's how you do it. Don't play in concert halls. Don't play in auditoriums or college theaters. Play this music in clubs, with a general-admission standing floor. Take away all stuffiness, all rules, all two-drink minimums. Play this music loud and proud to a room of people beaming, dancing, soaking in a new experience, a room that's housed Mos Def and Major Lazer and DJ Shadow and Wilco and M.I.A. That's how Kamasi Washington is doing it. Jazz today couldn't ask for a better ambassador. -- Gabe Meline
Carly Rae Jepsen: A Guilt-Free Celebration of Saccharine Pop
Carly Rae Jepsen has a cold. She's sorry about it; she makes sure to say this a few times. But if any of these 2,000 people at the Warfield mind, they ain't showing it. They're dancing in the balconies, leaning over the railing, wearing custom-made glitter CRJ shirts they've coordinated with their friends, belting the lyrics to "Emotion" back at their pint-size queen with all the giddy, overblown yet somehow intimate madness of a slumber party high on pixie sticks.
It helps, of course, that she sounds good. Her 2015 album E•MO•TION is a guilty-pleasure piece of candy in and of itself, a love letter to '80s Madonna but with all the overproduced sheen of, well, a 2015 pop album produced by Justin Bieber and Scooter Braun. So it was a pleasant surprise to realize her voice is much stronger than that level of digitization usually implies. Wearing a baggy T-shirt over fishnet tights, backed by an enthusiastic five-dude band, she dutifully churned through the hits -- “Run Away With Me,” the so-dumb-it’s-brilliant “I Really Like You,” “Boy Problems,” and, of course, “Call Me Maybe," with layers of harmony vocals supporting each anthemic wail.
If there was a misstep, it was that she failed to realize being in San Francisco meant she was almost legally required to perform the theme from "Fuller House," which she was tasked with upgrading for its 2016 reboot, and which debuted on Netflix this weekend. Lucky for you, if you really, really, really, really want to, you can just listen to that above. No discussion of congestion issues necessary. -- Emma Silvers
Vince Staples: Playing the Crowd Like an Orchestra
No, no, I don't mean “playing the crowd” to mean “playing to the crowd.” Playing to the crowd is the endless stream of “errybody feelin all right in the place tonight make some nooooise” and “raise your hands in the air one time right now,” that tried-and-true patter that's lasted 30 years and shows no sign of shriveling up and dying. Vince Staples plays the crowd in the same way that DJ Khaled would have you believe that you played yourself. Vince Staples knows that you are young and white and likely did not come up in hip-hop but rather stumbled upon his music on Pitchfork. Vince Staples will throw that fact right back in your face instead of pandering to it.
That's exactly why Staples is refreshing -- the equivalent of your snarky friend whose sarcasm underlines obvious truths that no one else talks about. In San Francisco, he announced he wanted people to go out and commit murder after a Vince Staples show and, when the inevitable cheer arose, said "See? That's what's wrong with the world, y'all cheering for that." He talked about the last time he came to SF and promptly bailed to chill in Oakland instead. His DJ talked about wanting to visit Vallejo. It was not hard to see what was going on here: his new fanbase enjoys living vicariously through his grim stories of the streets in Long Beach, sensationalizing all of the excitement and internalizing none of the tragedy. How bizarre it must be to perform a reflective, sad album for an audience that uses it instead as a springboard for mental role-playing. Best to use that audience right back. -- Gabe Meline