Breaking up the week with a live show can enliven the mind and the spirits, and there's plenty of great li'l venues like Cafe du Nord and El Rio that offer the opportunity to hear some of the excellent bands that populate the local scene. For a measly $8, I got to hear Cult of Sue Todd, The Red Thread, and Pidgeon, three bands with distinctly different sounds but great energy.
Despite its status as an active venue with a venerable history of serving acclaimed acts, Cafe du Nord has never been at the top of my list of places to see live shows. The interior looks lovely -- a good-sized space with a surprisingly small stage and extremely intimate feel. The bar is well stocked and the bartenders are always chummy. But the sound. I've always had a problem with the sound. Before this concert, I'd never heard a show there that wasn't completely muddy. I always figured it was the acoustics, but I was proved wrong.
Cult of Sue Todd opened with a blistering set of unpredictable tempo changes and the pseudo-pathetic punk stylings of singer and guitarist Steven Perry. I've been lucky enough to know the folks in Cult of Sue Todd for a while, and have seen the band go from a shambling four-piece with banjo player and a no-show bassist to an incredibly tight three-piece of guitar, bass and drums. Having seen them play a number of times over the past couple of years, I marvel at how they manage to put on a different kind of show each time in terms of mood, but are incredibly consistent in their playing. Thursday was no exception as they ran through their set of fast-paced punk folk songs and smattering of excellent witty banter with a polish not often found in this genre. Look for Cult of Sue Todd's new EP Not... out soon, and hear some of the new tracks.
They were followed by The Red Thread, a more mellow rock outfit with a rich sound and well-coordinated set including some new material. The Red Thread combines an alt-country sensibility with indie rock melodies and while they do take it down a notch, still bring a good amount of energy to their live performance. While I saw the keyboardist playing onstage, I didn't hear him at all -- but couldn't tell if this was because the keyboard is there to enhance the richness of the music, or because it was just too low in the mix. While I enjoyed the set, I have to admit, I found the bass player's ball cap extremely distracting -- it's just not what I expect to see on stage. Questionable fashion choices aside, The Red Thread put on a solid show, and will be playing out again soon -- May 12th at El Rio.
Pidgeon closed out the night, which was not the order I would have chosen. With their screamy vocals and determination to rock harder than anyone ever has, I felt like they might have done better earlier in the evening. By the time they came on, I in my old age was ready for a glass of milk and bedtime, not earnest philosophical views expressed through screaming and thrashing. Young, raucous, and messy -- I wouldn't be surprised if Pidgeon emerged from the 924 Gilman school, which can be a refreshing change to hear in San Francisco, but didn't pair well with the other bands, who have a more subtle sound. Pidgeon played Bottom of the Hill last month, which I'm guessing is the perfect place to see them.
San Francisco has often been deplored for ignoring its local offerings until they go to LA or NY and gain some success there. But there's loads of local shows going on all the time, and with a low low price tag and excellent venues, there's no reason to stay away. So go already! Check out Cult of Sue Todd June 23rd at the Hotel Utah, and The Red Thread May 12th at El Rio.