Japanese Breakfast plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Japanese Breakfast plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)

Everything We Loved at Noise Pop 2018

Everything We Loved at Noise Pop 2018

The only unfortunate thing about Noise Pop is that it's impossible to be everywhere at once throughout the week-long fest. With over eight shows happening per night in different corners of the Bay -- and major headliners like Superchunk and Ty Dolla $ign playing at the same time -- festival-goers have to make some tough calls. Everyone who chose another show over Madlib's DJ set at the Mezzanine on Feb. 22, for instance, probably felt major FOMO when they found out Dave Chappelle and Yasiin Bey showed up on stage. (I know I did.)

Noise Pop has evolved considerably over the past 25 years. What started in 1993 as a one-day lineup now encompasses intimate club gigs with local musicians, chart-toppers in major concert halls, and underground legends in shows all around the Bay Area. This year's edition continued Noise Pop's embrace of hip-hop, R&B, and pop, and even included some experimental and world music. Probably the most off-kilter event this year was the "sleep concert" by new age composer Robert Rich, where showgoers in sleeping bags spent the night at Gray Area while lulled into slumber with ambient electronics.

The crowd gets ready for Robert Rich's Sleep Concert at the Gray Area in San Fransisco. (Estefany Gonzalez)
The crowd gets ready for Robert Rich's Sleep Concert at the Gray Area in San Fransisco. (Estefany Gonzalez)

Along with KQED Arts' senior editor Gabe Meline, contributor Montse Reyes, and photographer Estefany Gonzalez, I went to as many shows as I could handle this year. These are our highlights.

Ty Dollar $ign plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Ty Dollar $ign plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)

Ty Dolla $ign Breaking Hearts with His Angelic Voice and Guitar Solo

Ty Dolla $ign can turn up a club rapping about money and sex just as easily as he can move listeners to tears with his raspy, gospel-tinged falsetto, and he did both at the UC Theatre on Feb. 24. His high-energy performance showed why he's one of the West Coast's reigning hitmakers, bouncing from funky tracks like "Ex" to sweet serenades like "Don't Judge Me," nostalgic Top 40 hits like "Toot It and Boot It" and "Saved," and club bangers like "Blase" and "Only Right." As if his acrobatic voice alone wasn't enough to prove his versatility, during a particularly sweet, emotional point in the show, Dolla climbed to the top of his stage setup and delivered a bluesy guitar solo as couples swayed and girls screamed. -- Nastia Voynovskaya

Superchunk plays at the Great American Music Hall as part of the 2018 Noise Pop festival.
Superchunk plays at the Great American Music Hall as part of the 2018 Noise Pop festival. (Gabe Meline)

Superchunk Finding the Fountain of Youth in Political Dissent

Superchunk was on their game at the Great American Music Hall. As he pogoed, kicked, soloed, dragged the mic stand around, banged his head and shouted to the ceiling, frontman Mac McCaughan made his case as the Dick Clark of indie rock, just an ageless ball of energy. The set drew heavily from the band's new album What a Time to Be Alive — directed at the current administration and “this f—king disaster of a country,” as MacCaughan said — while including blasts from the Clinton era like “Detroit Has a Skyline” and “Water Wings.” Just when it couldn't get any better, Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield showed up for a gorgeous duet on “Erasure,” and then it got even better after that, with fan favorites “Driveway to Driveway,” “Cast Iron,” “The First Part,” “Mower” and more. The whole thing had a unifying feel to it; as McCaughan said at one point, “People living in glorious cities like San Francisco have the right idea about how people from all cultures can exist together.” — Gabe Meline

Shabazz Palaces plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Shabazz Palaces plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)

Shabazz Palaces Beaming Their Audience into a Futuristic Dimension

With distance, one often sees more clearly. On Feb. 21 at The Chapel, Shabazz Palaces and their disorienting, experimental hip-hop beamed the audience away from the terrestrial to get a better look at what is on the ground. Before the duo launched into “Gunbeat Falls,” a warning of “disturbing content ahead" flashed on screen, followed by clips of war, tanks, and missiles exploding in the sky. The song is a sprawling critique of capitalism and its ills -- violence, imperialism, and ritualistic consumption. But like in the rest of their set, Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire weren’t employing their futuristic sensibilities to help the audience escape. Rather, they were patching in from their world to encourage attendees to reflect on the ugliness of our own. Still, in the end the song returned to why we were there in the first place, “the beat will always save us.” -- Montse Reyes

Tune-Yards plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Tune-Yards plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)

Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus Commanding a Forceful Presence

Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus just moves with a visceral musicality. At the Fox Theater on Feb. 23, she sang with a deep, resonant confidence, commanding her loop pedals and sample pads as if they were extensions of her body. Accompanied by a bassist and drummer, she delivered a funkified set imbued with a deep groove that had the audience moving the entire time. On "Powa," one of her earlier tracks, she even hit a chill-inducing, Mariah-worthy falsetto. The only detraction from the performance's fluidity was Garbus' cringeworthy track about being white, "Colonizer." I wished she had given a shout out to Black Lives Matter -- or said something in solidarity with the anti-racist movement -- instead of subjecting the audience to its navel-gazing, Macklemore-esque self-inquiry. -- NV

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Shamir Making Millennials Forget Their Generational Woes

Shamir’s lo-fi guitar rock is as self-aware and incisive as it is dreamy and personal. In the middle of his Feb. 24 set at the Rickshaw Stop, the Las Vegas musician started into his cheeky ode to the ever-scrutinized millennials, “90s Kids.” We talk with vocal fry / We watch our futures die, he sang in deceptively dulcet tones before railing against misconceptions of the generation, that millennials are “gross and vain,” cold, greedy, and dramatic. The audience, full of his peers, seemed to agree. They raised beer bottles and glasses for a toast in an endearing show of camaraderie. For now at least, any creeping dread about insurmountable student loans, living up to parental expectations, and making rent could be quelled by Shamir’s charm. -- MR

Doug Martsch plays the Swedish American Hall as part of the 2018 Noise Pop festival.
Doug Martsch plays the Swedish American Hall as part of the 2018 Noise Pop festival. (Gabe Meline)

Hearing a Pin Drop During Doug Martsch's Solo Set

Built to Spill had played Keep It Like a Secret in its entirety to a sold-out Fillmore crowd the night before, but frontman Doug Martsch wasn't done yet: his Feb. 21 solo acoustic set at the wood-paneled Swedish American Hall served as a nice afterglow. Along with folksy-bluesy numbers from his 2002 solo album Now You Know, the show included Built to Spill favorites like “Big Dipper” and “Made-Up Dreams,” and the always-affable Martsch ended things with Wye Oak's “Civilian,” performed with guest vocalist Kylee Swenson. Average Age of the Audience: 39. Most Common Place to See the Reflection of Overhead Lights: Doug Martsch's balding crown. Relief in the Crowd That the Show Was Over Before 9:30pm: palpable. Chances That Indie Rock Will Age With Grace Instead of Entitlement and Crankiness: looking pretty good, actually. — GM

Iman Europe Stealing the Show at Cornerstone

On Feb. 22, Caleborate packed Berkeley's Cornerstone -- the newly remodeled former pool hall -- for an intimate set, performing his latest and most introspective album, Real Person, in full. Caleborate is a masterful lyricist who makes his personal experiences feel vivid and relatable just as easily as he surprises listeners with clever turns of phrase. While Caleborate was warm and engaging with the audience, shouting out family members in attendance and even a performing a duet with his brother, Cash Campaign, who opened for him earlier, his set of Real Person’s deep reflections had the pensive mood of sitting at home and writing in a journal. Performing before Caleborate, L.A. rapper-singer Iman Europe stole the show with her upbeat stage presence, infectious smile, and voice -- rich, smoky, and an acquired taste, like a cup of good espresso. Europe seduced listeners with sexy R&B and then stopped them in their tracks with an a cappella freestyle, ending her set with "Oakland," an homage to her favorite East Bay city. -- NV

Jay Som plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Jay Som plays the 2018 Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival. (Estefany Gonzalez)

Jay Som Recreating the Comfort and Solitude of Our Bedrooms

There are few spaces as quiet and sacred as one's bedroom. At Gray Area on Feb. 22, openers lo-fi indie rockers Hand Habits brought the tender solitude a bedroom offers when one needs space to unravel. With Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast’s sprightly energy, the stuccoed venue became an unfettered playground, the way your bedroom brings the comfort to exist without judgement. And the quiet, crushing vulnerability of Jay Som’s set brought to mind the way our bedrooms function like a museum of our lives -- full of relics, secrets and baubles tied to distinct memories, both sweet and sad. -- MR

Chuck Johnson, on Lap Steel, Putting Listeners in a Trance

On Feb. 21 at Oakland's Starline Social Club, Portland rockers Grails delivered an all-instrumental, guitar-driven set that was dark, psychedelic, and even a little funky, in the vein of Roger Waters' playing on Pink Floyd's The Wall. But their stoic, bespectacled opener, Chuck Johnson, had the audience transfixed without so much as saying a single word on stage. At first, it was unclear what Johnson was doing when he gently tapped the strings of his lap steel and activated several delay and loop pedals. But as he created a cloud of shimmering reverb, he began to play a swaying, wistful melody that recalled the glitter of twinkling stars in a desert sky. It was a single composition from start to finish, and listeners were entranced. -- NV

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