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.
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 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 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 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' 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