Five Concerts Not to Miss at Noise Pop 2020

Combo Chimbita perform at Noise Pop Music & Arts Festival on Feb. 26 and Feb. 28, 2020. (Combo Chimbita)

The club scene lights up in San Francisco every year for Noise Pop Music & Arts Festival, a week of constant concerts, screenings and other events on both sides of the Bay and, now, in Sacramento and Santa Cruz. Founded as a $5 indie rock fest in 1993, the event has expanded to feature the best of independent artists working in wide variety of genres (including over 70 Bay Area acts).

With multiple shows happening every night Feb. 24–March 1, music lovers have the option of venue-hopping to get a sampling of everything, or just picking out one, two or a handful of favorites to catch at their leisure. This year's headliners include Benjamin Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie (whose Feb. 28 August Hall show is already sold out), Oakland R&B mover-and-shaker Raphael Saadiq and U.K. techno producer Maya Jane Coles. Below are our recommendations of five concerts not to miss.

Sudan Archives

Feb. 24, Swedish American Hall in San Francisco with Velvet Negroni and 8ulentina
Feb. 25, Starline Social Club in Oakland with Velvet Negroni and Sandu Ndu

Los Angeles singer-producer Sudan Archives' energetic, R&B-inflected pop pairs airy vocals with dark, lurching synths and hip-winding grooves, but her secret weapon is her violin. Originally an avant-garde string player, she incorporates tense chord progressions and light plucking to give her beats dimension and drama. Some of her arrangements are inspired by her research into string instruments in places like Sudan and Ghana, but her sound is all her own on Athena, her 2019 debut album on Stones Throw Records.

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Combo Chimbita

Feb. 26, Harlows in Sacramento with Y La Bamba and San Cha
Feb. 27, The Catalyst in Santa Cruz with Y La Bamba and San Cha
Feb. 28, Slim's in San Francisco with Y La Bamba

New York's Combo Chimbita play loud and heavy, with crashing drums and commanding guitar riffs that recall post-punk and shoegaze. Mixing in eerie cumbia melodies, the band's powerful lead singer, Carolina Oliveros, belts Spanish-language lyrics that incorporate spiritual and folkloric themes from Colombia, from which the four band members' families hail. The band performs with Portland's Y La Bamba for two Noise Pop shows, and Y La Bamba's lighter, more pop-oriented sound works within a similar framework of culling personal narratives from one's ancestry and cultural history.

Raphael Saadiq

Feb. 28, Fox Theater in Oakland with Jamila Woods and DJ Duggz

Raphael Saadiq is an Oakland legend. His group Tony! Toni! Toné! was a Platinum-selling R&B sensation in the '80s and '90s, and Saadiq went on to become a powerful figure within the world of neo-soul, R&B and indie, producing for chart-toppers like Solange and D'Angelo, and presiding over the much-lauded soundtrack of the hit HBO series Insecure. On his 2019 album, Jimmy Lee, Saadiq strips his pop veneer and unwraps old wounds, delving into his family's painful past with addiction. The pensive project takes its name from his brother who died of a heroin overdose, and other tracks on the project delve into the detrimental impacts of the war on drugs and mass incarceration.

Imperial Teen

Feb. 29, The Chapel in San Francisco with Torres and Seablite

Imperial Teen came out of San Francisco's mid-'90s alt-rock scene, and quickly made a name for themselves with their charming harmonies and lyrics about queer love and heartbreak. The indie pop band went on to tour with Hole and had a song featured in the iconic dark comedy Jawbreaker. The band's 2019 album Now We Are Timeless (an ironic title considering the cover art features a melting glacier) finds the quartet's instrumentation as tight and sprightly as ever, with lyrical subject matter that includes questions about mortality, loneliness and painful goodbyes.

Salami Rose Joe Louis

March 1, SFJAZZ Center: Joe Henderson Lab in San Francisco

Fans of sci-fi luminaries like Octavia Butler will appreciate Salami Rose Joe Louis' storytelling style of jazzy pop. The East Bay singer and multi-instrumentalist's latest album strikes a chord with today's ever-present climate and economic anxiety. Titled Zdenka 2080, it tells the tale of what happens on Earth once the wealthy and elite fly a megalopolis to another planet—ostensibly to escape global warming and pollution—and end up zapping the sun. In addition to this lyrical inventiveness, Salami Rose Joe Louis consistently wows with her nimble keyboard work and her band's loose yet dexterous playing.