Published: July, 2008, West Coast Performer Magazine

Pink Elephants / Casey Neill & the Norway Rats / October Allied
Hemlock Tavern
San Francisco, CA
May 7, 2008

A grateful Scott Quay of closing band October Allied spoke for all the artists on the bill when he told the late night stragglers, “Thanks for coming out on a school night!” The buff, tattooed lead singer and guitarist for the Oakland group saw the cozy performance space of San Francisco’s Hemlock Tavern to a close this Wednesday night, sporting a full, round vocal tone that toughened up the sound of his band’s basic, unadorned, rockabilly-tinged roots rock. In fact, Quay’s voice was wisely very much up front in the mix, and though the drums and bass were never in competition for the spotlight, the guitars tended to take a backseat in the balance of sound. The quick-picking of guitar, walking bass and rockabilly rim hits of “Bad Old Days” were emblematic of the set’s high points, where rhythm and vocals combined with Quay’s old-school greaser looks to complete a distinct sound and image.

While October Allied basically split the difference in sound and style of its support, opening band Pink Elephants shot straight for raw, unpolished punk energy and succeeded in giving the fastest, loudest performance of the evening. Most songs in their set were brief blasts of noise, with feedback-prone guitars amped to the max that obscured the vocals of the three members who took turns singing. Once in a while, a melodic guitar solo would break the monotony and a loud, spirited cover of The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing” indicated a clear link to the original noisemakers of the 1960s. Occasionally botched chords, obscured vocals and a generally unresponsive audience did not deter the young San Francisco punk band from enthusiastically pouring on the speed and volume.

Leaning more towards the country-folk roots end of the spectrum, but not without some energized rock spirit, Casey Neill’s performance was that of a seasoned pro with little to prove and much to enjoy. Backed by The Norway Rats, the Portland musician drew upon the most varied sonic palette of the evening, with The Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee incorporating electric piano, accordion and even a portable glockenspiel into the set. New songs like “The Ramble” benefited from busy, fluid bass lines and tasty keyboard solos. Neill’s guitar presence was most striking on acoustic, but when he occasionally switched to electric, songs like “Memory Against Forgetting” took off on a groove that recalled the early-’70s rootsy jams of The Band. Like an Irish Michael Stipe, Neill’s voice was commanding while his presence was more subtle. With a powerful song like “Dancing on the Ruins,” Neill succeeded in rousing the audience to its only instance of spirited dancing and communal synchronicity that evening, with nearly everyone seemingly in tune with the song’s anti-corporate message. Ironically, Neill and his band gave the most engaging and dynamic performance, despite their lack of in-your-face rock and punk tones.

-Review by Michael Fortes; photo by Julie Bernstein

 

October Allied

 

Casey Neill & the Norway Rats

 

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