Noise Pop continues gaining momentum as we enter the weekend and the final days of the festival. KQED Arts bloggers Amanda Roscoe Mayo and Sarah Hotchkiss continue to bring you the very best from the concert frontlines. For the next and final recap check back on Monday, March 3 for Days Five & Six and our closing remarks.
DAY THREE: Thursday, February 28
Bear Mountain, Sir Sly
Amanda: Either San Francisco took my advice from last week's piece, or this crowd showed up just to dance. I have to say, San Francisco, you've got some skills on the dance floor. Los Angeles band Sir Sly had a huge sound, powerfully-building repetitive (in a good way) vocals, backed by strong pop melodies with just the right edge. This crowd couldn't stay still if they tried. This evening was the best of the concerts I've been to so far in this year's Noise Pop.
Ages ago, when Madonna was interviewed about Confessions of a Dance Floor, I remember her saying something along the lines of: "I just want to make a dance record, something to move to, I'm not thinking about what I'm saying." Her response stuck with me, since I've always thought dance music doesn't have to be void of content. This particular Noise Pop show was a reminder of that. Each of Bear Mountain's songs is crafted to employ a dynamic listening experience that is fun and accessible.
When I talked with Ian Bevis before the festival I asked him what it meant to make honest music. For him it was all in the vocals: "I can say more by singing... convey way more emotion using my voice than anything else. It's the most direct way to get the message out." (You can read the full interview here.)
Family of the Year, Doe Eye, Psychic Friend, Rin Tin Tiger
Sarah: I wish I had seen all of Doe Eye's set, then maybe my night could have balanced into the "good tunes" category. Unfortunately I only got to hear a handful of Maryam Qudus' torchy numbers. Backed by a cello and two violins, her forceful low croon was mesmerising. But the crowd was impatient for Family of the Year, so Doe Eye had to end, even though I felt a premonition about the band to come.
You may know Family of the Year from their radio hit "Hero" or their recent appearance on Conan. Their best numbers were their faster ones, when the group vocals carried a sense of energy and enthusiasm from the stage to the crowd. When things slowed down and got folksier, less driving, with just frontman Joe Keefe singing, I got bored. I found myself annoyed by the familiar sounds coming off Bottom of the Hill's stage (Mumford and Sons-esque collective yelps, for example). The crowd dispersed after witnessing the one song they came to hear -- I left shortly thereafter.
DAY FOUR: Friday, March 1
DRMS + Damien Jurado, Aaron Espinoza (of Earlimart)
Amanda: On night four of Noise Pop I made it to two shows. I started the night off at the Independent to see DRMS. The line was so long to get in I barely caught the end of their set, but I'm glad I did. What a treat. Emily Ritz's sweet, classic, voice was perfectly in sync with Rob Shelton's magnetic musical arrangements. Ritz and Shelton were joined on stage by six other very talented musicians providing us with upbeat and gutsy alternative rock backs. Next month I'll be profiling them on KQED Arts, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.
Speaking of charming acts, Damien Jurado just about charmed the pants off of everyone at The Chapel in the Mission. During Aaron Espinoza's set I started to get frustrated with the crowd's noise, but as soon as Jurado set a socked foot on stage the audience dropped into silence. I've never been so self-conscious of my camera's shutter noise.
Even alone with his guitar, perched on a stool, Jurado had significant presence. He opened the show with two new songs, responding to audience requests as the set went on. Between songs, he answered questions, his stoic appearance broken by little smirks when he heckled back at the audience. I could barely concentrate on his voice -- I became mesmerized by the orchestral notes coming from his steadfast fingers as he plucked out incredible instrumentation.
The Thermals, Dirty Ghosts, The SHE's, Ev Kain
Sarah: To make amends for my lackluster Thursday night, the concert gods brought me to the Rickshaw Stop on Friday. The tail end of Ev Kain's set was all funky bass lines and peppy vocals. I was encouraged to be more optimistic. The SHE's were everything I had hoped for: light, sweet, beachy, and oh so talented. SO young and talented. After a momentary panic of "What have I done with my life?" I got back into the boppy groove. Their closing song, "Fabian", started with a punchy a cappella line and carried me on a wave of pop harmonies to a warm sunny place.
Dirty Ghosts is what happens to The SHE's after another decade, a few heartbreaks, and some life lessons. Allyson Baker sings in low wails with ferocity. I was astonished to find the crowd completely unmoved, or at least unmoving. Seriously? And then, they played a cover of Payola's early '80s "Eyes of a Stranger", one of my favorite songs from the exceptional film Valley Girl.
Headliners The Thermals took the stage with energy and professionalism, announcing this was the 10th anniversary of their first album More Parts per Million. "Hope you like it 'cause we're gonna play most of it," said lead singer Hutch Harris. The crowd responded raucously. And finally danced.
Noise Pop runs through March 3, 2013. For the full schedule of upcoming events visit schedule.noisepop.com.
All photos by Amanda Roscoe Mayo.