For the conclusion of our four-part series on the 2013 Noise Pop festival, KQED Arts bloggers Amanda Roscoe Mayo and Sarah Hotchkiss cover up the final two days of concerts and ruminate on the experience as a whole.
DAY FIVE: Saturday, March 2
YACHT, Tussle, Future Twin, Shock
Amanda: Saturday night I was confronted with an intense inner debate about which shows to attend, if I should attend more than one, how much I would let Sidecar drain from my bank account and if, after 5 days of (sometimes multiple) shows a night I could stay conscious. I settled on YACHT. I heard Thao and the Get Down Stay Down killed it across town though, so how about we petition for a high speed train with uninterrupted stops between the music venues in SF?
I missed Shock after standing in the epically long line at Slim's. Future Twin bill themselves as "grandma psychedelic rock", which I'm not sure makes sense as a genre or a sound. I found their songs a bit lackluster but performed well. Jean Jeanie's voice, however, doesn't match the music, it's sort of just there. I often felt like there was a song playing in the background of the club only to realize it was two disjointed sounds coming from the band. The first ten minutes of Tussle sounded an awful lot like a sound check. With two drum kits playing (for the most part) the same percussion sequences, I wondered exactly why two kits needed to be in the band. The more enjoyable moments came from the electronica drone played by the band member with a headlamp around his neck. The fourth member, front and center, held a microphone he never used. Instead, he constantly referenced a yellow-paged notebook, for what I'm not sure. Whatever he was looking for, he didn't seem to find it.
While the appetizers were less than satiating, I had confidence the main course would be sufficient. YACHT is as much an artistic endeavor and way of life as it is a band. I recommend reading up on the relatively obscure ideologies these kids have put forth into the world, it somehow makes complete sense. Their unpretentious vision translates to unforgettable performances. Within seconds lead singer Claire Evans was in the audience, pushing us all out of the way, jumping back on stage, and as a result lassoing a good hunk of the crowd in her mic cord, myself included. She and Jona Bechtolt were both mesmerizing to watch and completely engaged with the audience. I loved the way they interacted with each other on stage; most of the time they're completely focused to their vocals, instruments, and performance, but every once in a while, they share small exchanges with each other. Such moments are a reminder that they are in this together. In fact we're all in this together, according to YACHT. I left that night with a whole new group of friends, some bruises, and plenty of hope for the musicians/artists of my generation. Perhaps this is the utopia YACHT speaks of?
DAY SIX: Sunday, March 3
Caspian, Native, Boyfrndz, The Dandelion War
Sarah: Despite Amanda urging me to arrive in time for the first band of the night, I was locking my bike up as The Dandelion War started their last song. From what final verses I heard and from how loudly the small early crowd cheered at the end of their set, I really missed out. Note to self: Amanda knows what she's talking about. Just do whatever she says.
Dejected, I quickly recovered by buying my very first Noise Pop 2013 beer, securing an actual seat near the back of the club, and settling in for what turned out to be a redeeming night for Bottom of the Hill (see Family of the Year, Noise Pop 2013: Days 1 & 2). Boyfrndz produced an overwhelming amount of noise, screeching and pounding towards some nihilistic end point. Two songs in, I caught a lot of confused looks on girls' faces. Even more members of the crowd were double-checking their ear plugs. Once I made that same necessary purchase, the rest of the set continued uneventfully -- and less painfully.
Native turned out to be a more refined, restrained version of Boyfrndz. The guys thrashed and screamed at high pace, switching gears mid-song to bring out spare (but still incredibly intense) tightly orchestrated riffs. Creative lighting timed to the beat periodically dramatically underlit their concentrated faces, amplifying their post-hardcore songs with moody ambience.
Headliners Caspian blew all their precursors out of the dark gloomy water. Awash in anthemic sound, I was at a loss for coherent sentences. My notes read: layers, swelling, huge, speedy, epic sound cut down super tight, growling synth and reverb, cinematic, driving, expansive, forceful, lead singer looks like Scandinavian royalty. One member of the audience yelled out, "Caspian saved my life!" Already aware of their power, the band didn't even respond. They just launched into another haunting instrumental soundscape, dramatically swinging the necks of their instruments around the tiny stage.
Noise Pop closing party with surprise guests: tUnEyArDs, Maus Haus, Tycho
Amanda: I was delighted to be invited to the Noise Pop closing party, which the organizers promised would be worth attending even while keeping hush hush about the performers. Who doesn't love a good surprise? Maus Haus opened the night with a unique sound, such a relief after Saturday's flatline. The music is rooted in post-rock, but the vocals are full of pop influences. They sounded familiar and different, and I spent half the set trying to place the band they reminded me of. I finally figured out they've just cleverly paid attention to bands like Sonic Youth, LCD Soundsystem, Crystal Castles, and The Notwist, selecting elements from each to create their own sound.
Before Tycho (the big surprise guest of the night) took the stage, tUnEyArDs deejayed for us, and it was her birthday!. Though I'd heard a lot about Tycho, I hadn't heard any Tycho. Ambient and/or electronica is one of my favorite genres inside indie music. There is so much at stake, and little to hide behind when playing live. The use of the high hat is highly underutilized, but not by Tycho. The drums provided the energetic and hopeful energy required to lift their songs. I couldn't help but compare them to all my favorites: Ulrich Schnauss, Boards of Canada, Explosions in the Sky, and Marc Hellner. I prayed to the Noise Pop gods to bring me the perfect closing show on Sunday night and they delivered.
Hidden in the Dark Corners of Noise Pop: A Wrap-Up
Amanda: What struck me the most (besides mic stands, fists, and backpacks) about this series of shows was how much live music has become homogeneous. Bands typically get on stage, play their set, rock out like good rock stars, and say, "How you doing tonight, insert city here!?" The good shows at Noise Pop weren't like that, and that was refreshing. Damien Jurado allowed the audience to determine his set list. YACHT came into the audience more than once, gave a girl a hug for her birthday, and had a question and answer session. R. Stevie Moore shouted bizarre pop slang at us with a deadpan stare and a blue beard. Bear Mountain syncopated and manipulated live visuals as part of their show. Of course the audience is there for the music, but we're also there for the musicians -- feeling in on it with them is part of the fun. There is no better high than seeing your favorite band do something completely off the cuff on stage. Plus the effects of coming down aren't very damaging.
Sarah: At the beginning of Noise Pop 2013, I thought I might be getting too old for live shows. It hurts to stand on those hard concrete floors. I don't like staying up late. Nobody dances even when the music seems to dictate it completely. Obnoxious peanut galleries abound, myself included. But then the last band of the last night of the whole freakin' thing comes on and I'm like: "Maybe I should reconsider my career choices while I still have time to become a groupie."