April, 2008, West Coast Performer Magazine
For its sweet 16th year, San Francisco indie music fest Noise Pop turned the volume up in the city, giving Bay Area residents and visitors over five nights of exquisitely booked shows and more than enough reason to celebrate. Kicking off Tuesday night with a badge-exclusive party featuring Mika Miko, Tempo No Tempo and DJ Amplive (Zion I), the festival was in full force by Wednesday night as West Indian Girl played to a packed audience at Bottom of the Hill. The band’s vocal harmonies shot out from every direction, filling the venue with epic audio splendor. Minipop appeared next, playing an ambient set ushered by smoke and beams of light. Tricia Kanne’s soothingly soft vocals carried surprisingly well over the rest of the band’s flash flood of sound.
At The Walkmen‘s Independent show, opener A Modern Machine gave a tight, energetic performance with lots of interaction between band members. They invited a friend onstage to add some vocal warmth and later delivered a spotless sing-along cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats.” Nyles Lannon brought long, layered songs with varied percussion and a notable bass solo to an awestruck crowd. The Broken West delivered high-powered folk rock with occasional bright synthesizer notes and heavy percussion.
Then at Café du Nord, SoCal duo Golden Animals launched a night tailored for free spirits with catchy ‘60s blues, while San Francisco’s honey.moon.tree. followed in an eight-musician folk jamboree, playing sweet hypnotizing harmonies. San Jose seven-piece The Mumlers proved the school band can get both folksy and funky by charming the crowd to dance with groovy, double bass and brass jazz beats and their impressively soulful vocalist, Will Sprott. Capping the night, the standout Entrance Band trio, bringing star power with awe-inspiring Zeppelin-hard blues for “the liberation of mankind,” showcased frontman Guy Blakeslee’s shredding technicality and rocked the crowd howling.
Over at the Rickshaw Stop, peoplepeople explored their self-purported mercurial tenacity and made the venue’s sound system sound amazing. Comprised of members of notable local bands like Nurses, Two Gallants and Trainwreck Riders, peoplepeople were not only strikingly compatible onstage — but frighteningly good together. Next up, The Little Ones showed that they haven’t lost any of their wide-eyed appeal since the release of 2006’s Sing Song EP, introducing new numbers and smiling from ear to ear throughout their entire set. In an astounding grand finale, Portland’s Quasi delivered a cacophonously melodic set of swirling piano crashes grounded by bass pulses and the steady drums of Janet Weiss.
Thursday night at Great American Music Hall found a revitalized stellastarr* supported by three West Coast acts. San Francisco’s The Hundred Days played a polished set chock full of Interpol-esque disco rock. Seattle’s Throw Me the Statue followed one man short of their usual lineup, band members switching instruments, and leader Scott Reitherman cracking dry jokes in between songs for some of the evening’s most memorable moments. Yet it was another San Francisco band, Birdmonster, that made the strongest impression. Though there was a jerky flow to the set list and lengthy lulls between songs, Birdmonster made up for it by thrashing around wildly onstage while ably delivering a mostly hard-edged, rootsy brand of rock ‘n’ roll.
Meanwhile at Bottom of the Hill, Sholi warmed up the audience with their trippy rock and a crowd-pleasing Iranian pop cover. Four-month-old, seven-person and one-banjo band Here Here were the highlight of the night, delivering a remarkably tight and layered performance for being so new. Then the My Morning Jacket-esque Fleet Foxes charmed everyone with their perfect harmonies and chatty lead singer before Blitzen Trapper closed the show.
Café du Nord got the crap joyously kicked out of it with a lively panoramic set by Or, the Whale, in which the band displayed its unstoppable tenacity for growth, playing quite a few new songs (like “Rusty Gold,” arguably one of their best to date). Then local duo The Dodos melodically and bombastically filled the hall of the venue with tunes from their new album, Visiter. Meric Long’s wails on “Joe’s Waltz” stretched to the far corners of the room as the song expanded into a striking ricochet of beautiful noise.
Friday night at The Independent, Portland’s The Builders and the Butchers delivered an energetic and interactive performance of old-timey, string-driven folk, even throwing toy percussion instruments to members of the audience to help accompany their finale. Then Film School‘s slightly dark, dreamy, echo-filled sound made for a pointed and truly entrancing performance. The Helio Sequence closed with an engaging mix of songs spanning all four of their full-length albums, including 2008’s more melancholy Keep Your Eyes Ahead.
Meanwhile at Mighty, surprise openers The Instant Messengers brought a crowd to the dance floor with their clever lines and flawless delivery. DJ Effective tied the quick verses together with irresistible beats and some old school scratching. With the dance floor already loaded, Trackademicks took the stage alongside Moxmore and other members from the Bay Area-based Honor Roll crew to release their trademark electro-rap on an attentive audience.
Down at Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco’s Veil Veil Vanish cloaked both its four members and dark shoegaze in black with a tense set sparking an energy-infused show. Texas trio White Denim damn near stole the night with addictive, elevating garage melodies that had the audience shouting, “You got soul!” But headliners Holy Fuck proved the lineup favorite, charging the audience into hopping bunnies with a fun mix of kinetic pulses and head-bobbing electronica.
On Saturday night, Bottom of the Hill hosted another incredible (and sold-out) performance, this time by Brighton’s British Sea Power, a post-punk/ pop explosion of sound. Opening was the Bay Area’s own Off Campus, a three-piece party rock ensemble that pairs raw, gritty vocals with funky bass lines. Taking the stage as the last opening act, local band 20 Minute Loop gave its best rendition of dreamy boy/girl duet-infused indie pop, which made for a pleasant calm before the storm of British Sea Power’s hour and a half long set — arguably one of the best performances of the entire fest.
Co-headlining Café du Nord with Port O’Brien for the first show of their joint U.S. tour, Delta Spirit appeared to a full house of fans with a growling performance drenched in classic, soulful, folk-rock charisma. Light sparkles of piano illuminated their harmonic vocals and rolling rhythms in a set that spanned the breadth of the genre. Finally, Port O’Brien closed with a lineup that periodically grew in size, at one point including M. Ward on guitar. The band offered the biggest finale of the night with “I Woke Up Today,” providing pots and pans to an enthusiastic audience that rhythmically pounded on them long after the set was over.
Meanwhile at Bimbo’s, The Gutter Twins’ headlining performance was positively transcendent. The new project, co-led by Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan, relied little on the duo’s collective history as the Twins previewed the entirety of their Saturnalia album, slipped in a couple of covers, and dipped back into some material from Dulli’s and Lanegan’s more recent past across a total of 20 songs.
For their third Noise Pop performance in a row, The Mountain Goats played the only daytime show of the festival at Bottom of the Hill on Sunday afternoon. Grinning through a jovial 20-song set (with three encores), John Darnielle lent his inimitable onstage charisma to acoustic, electric, and solos alike. The highlight for longtime fans came with the chance to thrust Satan horns into the air for “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.” Darnielle started his career as a lo-fi provocateur, recording through boomboxes; his full band’s mid-day performance proved he’s still a quirky troubadour of tragic comedies, as well as Noise Pop’s ability to bring out the best of the best.
-Review by Julia Cooper, Michael Fortes, Katherine Hoffert, Heather Kelly, Kyle Lemmon, Keane Li, Lulu McAllister and Nicole Sheikh; photos by Luke Judd, RC Rivera and Joshua Uziel