Four years running, the Frisco Freakout has proven to be one of the can’t-miss-it dates of the city’s heavy psych scene. We went last October …
Local electro-rock outfit, The Actors, are recording a new batch of songs at Tiny Telephone this week, and like true hard-working rockers they’re also taking a break tonight to light up the Rickshaw Stop with Sunbeam Rd. and Phantom Kicks. The band was nice enough (and confident enough) to let me hang around and shoot some photos yesterday while they tracked a new song.
When I visited Tiny Telephone, spirits were high. Their wise-cracking drummer Cory Aboud had just been through his first day at a new job while front man Phil Maves and guitarist/keyboardist Dan Leech had spent the day punching in overdubs. It’s their first time at Tiny and the band is ditching Pro Tools and taking a more ‘whatever happens, happens’ approach by tracking to tape.
While they were only laying down live basics, the sounds and takes they were getting were rich and juicy. Their enthusiasm for the music was infectious and by the time I started to get familiar with the song they were working on, it was difficult to pull myself away. We’ll keep you posted on when and how these new songs will eventually be birthed into the world.
It’s pouring when we reach San Jose. Gobs of water pop like popcorn on the windshield. Pulling off the freeway, the shower abates. By the time we park and step out of the car, the sun is lighting up the wet, silver streets.
While we wait for the band, we grab a beer at a nearby dive. The bartender is chatty and overbearing: A cop’s daughter rebelling (by her own proud account) in all the wrong ways and looking at us hungrily. I hope that the blowjob competition she invites us to at the bar that weekend had something to do with the crudely-named drink. We don’t ask for clarification.
A few blocks away we meet Worker Bee in front of an anonymous suburban single-story. After hopping over a giant puddle in the driveway, we skulk around the side of the house to the backyard. Like a much-loved giving tree of debauchery, it’s strewn with cigarette butts, empty beer vessels and non sequitur junk from a serial killer’s subconscious. Everything is soaked and drab.
The backdoor of the house has a peaked roof that’s lined with swedish style molding. They call it the Gingerbread House. This is where the band concocts its darkly longing dirges; songs mixed with sweet desperation and menace. While the band grins proudly at the surroundings and tell tales of epic shows and parties held here, the gloom and quiet of the day reveals a heaviness that perhaps their music is more aware of than they are.
“Itâ€™s kind of cool,” says singer, guitarist Evan Jewett. “Our guitar player Gordon actually lives in a shack in the backyard. Itâ€™s like, falling down.” The rest of the band lives close by and they all have ample free time to rehearse and write. And also help each other out: When their guitarist left town for a few days the band upgraded his shack a la Extreme Makeover.
Worker Bee started out in 2006 as an all instrumental band (which Jewett says they sound nothing like now), releasing a couple of EPs until last year’s full-length debut, Tangler. The album was recorded in one week at drummer Damien Wendel’s house on an 8-track by Robert Cheek, who is in the band By Sunlight and works at The Hangar studio in Sacramento. Some recording sessions would bleed into the wee hours of the morning, and the residue of lost hours of the night is all over the record. Tangler had already been “out” for a while before reviewers got their hands on it, which likely curbed its reception. Even so, it garnered its fair share of praise and positioned Worker Bee as a unique and galvanizing band in the Bay Area.
Jewett (above) was living in Oakland working as a carpenter while Tangler was being written, making exhausting drives to and from San Jose to practice and finish the record. Most Worker Bee songs come from “skeletons” that Jewett writes and the rest of the band fleshes them out, but others like “Rough Magic” can spring from just a drum idea or vocal part. Jewett is now unemployed and working on music full-time in San Jose. The intimacy of the music exudes autobiography, but Jewett warns that it’s not that simple.
“I don’t know what specific effect outside factors have on the music,” he says, “but I do know that everything that happens to me colors the music I make in some way. I guess I make music more as a device to communicate and explain myself so it would be impossible for every day life to not shape the songs.”
The songs themselves slag through the molasses of the unconscious. In the world of Tangler, a dripping faucet mocks you from the kitchen, the walls melt slowly and close in around you. You’re not sure how long it’s been since you slept or how long you’ve been here. You are both hunted and hunter. If the album were a movie, it would be, according to Jewett, directed by Kubrick, Jarmusch or Lynch, with “long and slow scenes.”
In one of the most powerful songs on the album, “When You Came Through,” we witness a murder by the river on a cold night. The narrator is fed up with a house guest visiting during a “private time,” leading to the excellent lyric “When you were asleep, I could engage my mind/ When you awoke I could only kill time.”
So where do these songs come from?
“Myself and the rest of the band aren’t very gloomy people or anything like that,” says Jewett. “Lyrically there is certainly not a lot of positivity but I’d be a much unhappier person if I didn’t get to rationalize and filter the negative garbage in life through music. I would love to have happy sounding songs and I have tried to make that happen a few times but for whatever reason it always ends up sounding fake or wrong. Not every band can be fun at parties.”
Despite this claim, I actually think they would be fun at parties. At a show earlier this year at the Hemlock Tavern, the band was spellbinding in their ability to take meditative, spooky trances and turn them into redemptive, hook-laden indie-rock. If everything didn’t fit so snugly together I’d be hard pressed to believe that all their sounds came from the same band.
Guitarist Gordon De Los Santos works a keyboard and samplers while bassist Andy Barnes and Wendel lock in the rhythm. Jewett also works some vocal effects and samples as he sings and plays guitar. They use a lot of weapons, but never too many at a time. The arrangements are always sparse and evocative.
In person the boys are giggly and affable. Barnes, who looks the most serious on stage, has an infectious laugh that comes out with little provocation. They are punks and dirts, but not dogmatically so. This is just how they roll.
What was supposed to be a tour over to the east coast this summer never came together. The band’s bookings were spotty and they decided to scrap it. Jewett was also leaving to play guitar in Tera Melos on their tour which made things especially complicated. A few times that I emailed Jewett for this article he was backstage with Mike Watt in Japan: “Right now I’m hanging out listening to him talk about Darby Crash [co-founder of The Germs]. Surreal doesn’t come close. He is rad.”
The band recently released a cassette single called “Drenched in Cycles” which you can hear on the playlist for this page and download it from their Bandcamp page. It’s a beautiful track and more straightforward than a lot of the songs on Tangler. Perhaps a taste of things to come.
When Jewett returns, Worker Bee will finish writing a new album and try to record either this winter or next spring.
Photos by Jim Merithew
When we walk in to visit with Weekend in the recording studio, the band is behind the glass. The tape is rolling, and the three of them are raging.
They’re laying down a yet-to-be-named track, a fast-paced workout they’ve been using to open their latest shows. It’s one of the last pieces they’re recording for their debut full-length, Sports, which will be out on Slumberland Records on November 9.
It’s a simple song, based on only a few ideas — a motorik drum phrase, a fast, picked bass line, and a shimmery guitar lick played high on the neck — but in the hands of this San Francisco trio, it grows like a thick wall of vines from a simple seed.
The tempo is quick, the phrases repetitive. The song plays out like the soundtrack to a race against an invisible opponent. The bass and drums stay locked in a tight loop for a while, then the guitar seeps in. What starts as the spark of a simple strummed chord explodes into a brush fire of fuzz and distortion. The feedback is thick, and the wall of reverb behind it is just huge. Two or three levels of harmonics shine through from beneath the trembling noise.
The guitar and bass amps are sequestered in a closet off the hallway, and they are cranked up so loud, they’re shaking the studio floor through two layers of soundproof walls. In between takes, the engineer says he had to warn his neighbors about the racket a day in advance. He smiles with a sort of sly satisfaction, then shoves his earplugs all the way into his ears before going into the closet to adjust a microphone.
The boys are sweating and breathing hard, cranking out the song with the same intensity as a live show. The band plays it from the top a few times, giving up and starting over. There’s a level of energy they want to hit during a change the end of the song, and they exchange a few soft-spoken notes before taking another pass at it. The third time through, everything comes together: the attitude, the speed, the heaviness. It’s a take.
The two core members of Weekend — bassist and singer Shaun Durkan and guitarist Kevin Johnson — have known each other since childhood (The band’s founding drummer, Taylor Valentino, also a grade school friend, left the group this summer. The drum chair has since been suitably filled by fellow Nor-Cal-native Abe Pedroza).
“I met Shaun in sixth grade band class in the North Bay area,” Kevin says. “I thought he was the coolest kid in school. He was covered in Dead Kennedys patches and he knew all the Green Day and Sex Pistols songs.”
Shaun grew up around punk — his dad, the late Tom Durkan, was the singer in the early 1980s Bay Area post-punk band Half Church — and he started playing music in fourth grade. Once Shaun and Kevin hooked up, they became fast friends. In middle school, Kevin moved away but the two kept playing music together whenever they could. Eventually, Shaun, Kevin and Taylor all found themselves living in San Francisco at the same time. Now free to play together as often as they wanted, they started to find their direction, settling into the sound they have now.
Things finally started exploding for Weekend earlier this year. The band played Noise Pop in February, then there was a short tour with the Young Prisms out to SXSW and back in the spring. Following those shows, they released of a stellar 10″ on Mexican Summer and a split 7″ (with Young Prisms) on Transparent, both of which sold out their limited runs. Monte Vallier (the aforementioned engineer with the earplugs and the neighborly tendencies) was the bassist in Half Church with Durkan’s father, and he’s been behind the mixing board at most of the band’s recent recording sessions, helping them shape their sound.
Now, the Sports LP is about to drop, and the band has a series of shows with new label-mates Pains of Being Pure at Heart throughout November to promote the record’s release.
The pummeling beats and curtains of squall in Weekend’s music are abrasive, but there are also some deep, pastel-toned textures which give it the whiff of psychedelia. But it’s not music for drifting. The songs have an underlying dancey energy that keep it immediate. On top of that are layers of impenetrable distortion and echo, the mix of styles landing somewhere between punk and the darker side of the shoegaze.
When the recording session ends, we take a stroll with Shaun and Kevin. I bring up that word “shoegaze” in front of them. They nod blankly. Kevin continues my sentence for me: “chill wave, post-punk…”
Like most bands, Weekend sees such terms as a necessary evil. They also don’t bristle at comparisons to the most obvious genre touch points: My Bloody Valentine, early Cure, Killing Joke, Joy Division.
Kevin says he says he listens to all of that stuff, and loves it. I ask him what the familiar genre labels mean to him.
“Shoegaze music is punk music,” Kevin says. “It can be really angry. We went and saw My Bloody Valentine a couple of years ago when they came through town and it was so confrontational. It was the loudest, most fucked-up shit, so intense. It wasn’t like ‘Ooh, I have a lot of pedals and I’m making all these pretty sounds.’ It was like Fuck You.”
“To me, that’s the biggest draw of shoegaze music. It’s a more complex way of expressing the same ideas that are inherent to punk music. I want to play this music, but I don’t want want to lose that attitude.”
One place where Weekend’s music has a lot in common with punk is the simplicity of the songs’ construction.
“It’s challenging to make music with such simple elements. Everything’s been done. But when I play a power chord, it’s because it’s the best sounding thing I can do right there. I’m not going to write my own chords and layer them against some off-time shit. No, ’cause you know what sounds best here? A and D over a 4/4 beat. It sounds like rock. How are you going to fuck with that?”
To say Weekend is all gloom and anger would be selling the group short. There are snatches of sunshine and beauty in the music. Even through all the mist and haze, there are times when everything is lit by the sun and the music becomes bright and the joy shows itself. There are washes of acoustic guitar, memorable melodies.
“None of the songs are really written from an angry perspective,” Shaun says. “There’s enough abrasiveness there that they could work in that context, but it’s not a conscious thing.”
“There’s a more atmospheric and ambient side to the music that we try to draw upon and exploit,” Shawn says. “It has a more seductive quality, so it draws you in. There’s a great contrast that happens when music has this ethereal quality but it’s also really abrasive.”
Take the tune of “Veil,” which you can hear as part of the band’s Daytrotter session recorded earlier this year. One of the guys kicks off with a joyous yelp (“Woo!”) right before the drums and bass start an upbeat, driving stomp. It’s a real rock and roll feeling, you’re nodding your head, you’ve felt this feeling before. The guitars come in like wet splashes, these explosions of fuzz, splayed out one chord at a time, then left to drip down the canvas. The vocals are layered in echo, and they hang over the beat, fading in and out. Everything keeps piling on top of that stomping lope, gathering momentum until the whole song opens up into a huge crescendo. You’re there, at the top of the mountain, and for a brief moment you can feel the full strength of the sun. Then the band grinds down again, a drone of bass, drums and that disembodied signing, slowly taking you back into the shadows with them even as the memory of the warmth and light lingers.
That particular rendition of “Veil” was recorded live, but Weekend have been experimenting in the studio to add additional textures to all of their songs.
“It’s never going to be the same seeing it live and hearing it recorded,” Kevin says. “So we always approached those sounds as two different things. When we record, we want to do things that are impossible to do live. Do shit that’s different, and weirder.”
Shaun backs him up. “The core of it is still very familiar. That guttural experience is the same. But when we take it into the studio, we dress it up a little bit, put a shirt on it.”
Hearing the lyrics is a struggle in Weekend’s studio work. Not so much live, where the clarity of the vocals varies from night to night — Durkan uses his own effects chain and pre-amp to treat his vocals when they play live, but how well he cuts through still depends on the sound system at the venue. But in the tracks on Sports, the vocals don’t ride high in the mix.
“I put a lot of care into the lyrics,” Shaun says. “They’re not generic. But I don’t want to put them in the spotlight. I think it makes the songs more accessible. But we include the lyrics when you buy the record, so you can go back and read them and get into them after you’ve heard the song. I’d prefer it if people would build their own layers of meaning into the songs. It’s not just me singing about me.”
So are they all love songs?
“No, more like love and death,” Shaun says with a laugh. “The content of the songs isn’t positive at all. The lyrics are mostly commentary about how fucked up things are, or about being alone.”
“Ultimately, though, we’re pretty optimistic. Just because the songs are about how fucked up things are doesn’t mean we don’t think things can have a positive outcome.”
Kevin nods in agreement, and says dealing with the dichotomy of despair and positivity is an essential part of being an artist.
“If you want to make something — bring some new perspective or idea into the world — it’s hard to get the motivation to do that if you don’t care about what’s going to happen when you do it.”
All photos by Jim Merithew
Weekend is on tour now with Pains of Being Pure at Heart. They reach San Francisco on Tuesday, November 9, when they’ll play The Independent. It’s the same day as Sports‘ release, so the show will double as a record release party. The band then heads east with locals Young Prisms, finishing in New York City at the Cake Shop on November 27.
One show not to miss this weekend is Exray’s at the Distillery. They have a new EP out called Ammunition Teeth and their LP, filled with contributions from members of the Decemberists, the Fresh and Onlys, Citay and Maus Haus, is due out in January.
The local duo has also received a bit of buzz recently from a track from the upcoming LP being featured in The Social Network. The story of how the track came to be in the well-received Facebook movie begins seven years ago at a play involving a house full of sex workers and a resurrected snake.
Titled “Snake in Fridge,” the play was written by Brad Fraser under commission from the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. Exray’s singer Jon Bernson, then in the historical fiction concept band Ray’s Vast Basement, wrote music for a production of the play at the Actors Theatre of San Francisco. This would be the first time Bernson collaborated with current Exray’s bandmate Michael Falsetto-Mapp.
The play lead to an important meeting between Bernson and Ren Klyce, the sound designer for David Fincher who also works with Spike Jonze. One night, Klyce was in the audience and told Bernson after the show that he had enjoyed the music. They’ve kept in touch ever since.
Flash forward to earlier this year, Bernson sends Klyce an unmastered copy of the yet-to-be-released Exrays LP. Klyce digs it passes it to Fincher, and ultimately an instrumental version of the track “Hesitation” finds its way into the movie they are currently working on, The Social Network, which itself is scored by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
The Young Prisms take the stage one by one. The band is playing a Saturday afternoon set in the middle of the all-day Frisco Freakout, a benefit show where they’re appearing alongside the biggest psych bands in the Bay Area. The Prisms are a bit of the “odd band out” on the bill, since their particular brand of gauzy, psychedelic haze falls more into the shoegaze category than heavy psych. But they’re game.
The sun is setting outside, giving the room an orange glow. Projections start to dance on the white sheet doubling as a giant screen behind them. Almost imperceptibly, guitarists Jason Hendardy and Matt Allen start strumming a lone chord. Jason starts with a washy rhythm part, and Matt plays an echo-drenched melody on top of it. Bassist Gio Betteo steps up onto the stage and starts picking out a driving, barely-changing bass line. The song starts to take shape. Then drummer Jordan Silbert comes in, just giving the slightest, bare touches to the cymbals and snare. Matt switches to a more cutting lead guitar part. Jason’s washy tone goes into spin mode. The drums keep the same pulse, but build in intensity. What began as an exercise in restraint has morphed into something beautiful and frightening. The gentle mist grows into a gigantic melodic downpour.
The Prisms’ lead singer, slim, demure Stef Hodapp, sneaks onto the stage behind the guitar stack. As she picks up the microphone and starts singing, two or three of the guys join in. It’s hard to tell how many of the Young Prisms are singing, since the voices are all soaked in reverb and lost in the crushing volume of the amps on stage, but the human voices are the final ingredient in the recipe. For the next thirty minutes, we just spoon it all in.
Once their time is up, the Prisms step off the stage and head out to the back patio of Thee Parkside. They spend a few minutes connecting with friends and decompressing, then they pile into their vehicles and head home to pack their bags. They all have flights to catch — they have to make it to New York the next day to play the first of a run of shows at the CMJ music festival.
It’s been like this for the Young Prisms for most of the last year. In an astonishingly short period of time, the band has jumped from the local scene to the national club circuit. The current line-up only really got together in the spring of 2009. Shortly after forming, the group put out a CD-R of home recordings just so they could have something to sell at shows, then that set got picked up by Mexican Summer and pressed as a vinyl EP. They did a split cassette release with Worldwide Computer God and a few split 7″s with Small Black, fellow shoegazers Mathemagic, and with local mates and touring partners Weekend. (Young Prisms and Weekend traveled to SXSW in Texas together this year, and they’ll be touring again in November). They did a Daytrotter session this past summer, and now they’ve got a full length, “Friends for Now,” in the bag that’s coming out in January on Kanine records.
That’s a lot of activity for a year in the life of any band, especially one that has so recently emerged from the confusion of early adulthood. They actually live up to their name — drummer Jordan is the oldest, and he’s only in his mid-20s.
Gio, Matt and Jason all started playing together in high school, and their first gig together was a fully improvised show with just the two guitars and Gio banging away on a miked-up typewriter. “It was chaos, and pretty awesome,” Matt remembers.
After that, there was a period of suburban angst.
“There was so much stagnation when we were all living with our parents or in separate houses, trying to write songs,” Gio says. “Jason was living with his mom, Matt and I were living in a house in Redwood City. But we ended up getting evicted and moving back in with our parents. There was all this frustration like, ‘Fuck, we’re all stuck living with our moms.’ We all decided that we had to get out of San Mateo. We moved to the Mission, all of us, and got a shitty little apartment.”
“Almost immediately, we started writing songs and it started coming together.”
“Friends For Now” will be the Prisms’ first proper full-length release — at least, the first set of songs written and recorded with the long-playing format in mind.
“This is the first time we’ve been writing with a vision of how the songs are going to work as a record, how they’re all going to fit as a whole,” Jordan says.
Jason adds that the Prisms’ first project together — the self-released CD-R — was more like a mix tape that represented everyone’s writing styles. “With this album, it seems much more cohesive,” he says. “And I think most of the songs, especially songs like ‘If You Want To,’ are stronger, just because they’re songs that we all wrote together.”
Gio agrees. “For this record, we were even able to take an older song and redo it in a communal way,” he says. “We were able to fix the things we didn’t like about the original, and to update the things that were personal about it to reflect the communal attitude of the group.”
Matt says that, in the past, the band has maintained parity between how the songs appear on tape and how they’re performed. But once the group found itself inside the studio and new ideas were allowed to blossom, they laid down some tracks that they knew we wouldn’t be able to re-create.
“When you have access to a studio, all the equipment, and other people’s help, it opens up new possibilities,” he says.
There were two tracking sessions. First, the Young Prisms holed up in a friend’s house in Denver, Colorado for two days earlier this year to record basic tracks. With their friend James Barone, drummer in the band Tjutjuna, manning the board, the Prisms recoded six of the songs that will appear on their LP.
“A few of the songs we recorded for this album started out as an improv,” says Jordan. “Sometimes, we have an idea that we just started working on and don’t really know where to take it, so we just let it happen and it ended up on the album.”
One song in particular started as an edgy experiment and ended up being a gem.
“We had some time left over and we wanted to see what we could do with it,” Matt says, “so we just hit record on the machine and started playing. It ended up being this big galactic jam, where all of the transitions just happened. It turned out great, like we found some telepathic connection that day. We may never be able to recreate that feeling live. We’ll be able to play around with it, but that feeling that we got in Denver, we were really lucky to have had the tape rolling.”
Gio says everyone in the band had some simultaneous head-banging going on. “Matt took charge and gave us cues with his head — Woosh, change here!”
After wrapping up the six songs in Denver, the band came back to San Francisco and recorded four more in Monte Vallier’s Function 8 studio. Monte also mixed the entire album, both what he recorded and what Barone did in Denver.
Most of the personality in the Young Prisms’ music comes through in the vocals. But like other shoegaze bands on the short list of the Prisms’ influences, you’d be hard pressed to hear what anyone’s singing about.
“The things we have to say, we express them with sound and vision, not with lyrical content,” Stef says. “It’s OK with us if other people don’t know what the lyrics are saying. We know what they mean to us.”
“If anything, the lyrics are a gesture,” she continues. “I don’t want you to hear the words articulated. The lyrics are more of my own private thoughts, or things that are coming out as emotional reactions to the music itself. Sometimes, it’s just what I feel like expressing instead of a topic or subject I’m trying to get across. It’s left open-ended. If you can hear the melody and feel the mood, that’s what I’m going for.”
The fact they have both a female singer and male singers gives the vocal parts a pleasant counterpoint. And even if the words are just barely poking out under the sheet of thick, silvery sound, you can hear the syllables drifting by somewhere in there inside the haze. It’s just enough to grab on to and connect with.
“We have three, sometimes four, singers,” Gio says. “And vocals for us are on the same level, or right under, the guitars. They’re an instrument in the ensemble, much in the same way a string section or a horn section would be in an orchestra.”
Young Prisms tour the first half of November with Small Black, stopping at The Independent in San Francisco on November 6. Then they join Weekend for the second half of the month, finishing up at the Cake Shop in New York City on November 27. “Friends For Now” comes out on January 18 on Kanine Records.
Photos by Jim Merithew
Happening just a few miles from the massive Treasure Island festival out in the bay, Saturday’s Frisco Freakout was considerably smaller in stature but certainly bigger on volume and vibe.
Unlike the giant, corporate festival bursting with national touring acts, the Frisco Freakout is a mostly local affair, with ticket proceeds going to a good cause (Creativity Explored). It was inexpensive ($15), homey and fast-paced, with a new band every hour and DJs in the back patio for a change of scene. Good food on offer, lots of smiles and friendly freaks.
The bill was positively stacked with the Bay Area’s best heavy psych bands, with acts from elsewhere in California filling in a few slots. Twelve hours of music and not one dud, which is amazing.
Young Prisms (above) played early, while it was still daylight outside. It was a good slot for them because their gauzy, narcotic drones were oddly uplifting. Unlike some other acts in SF’s shoegaze scene, they’re not all haze and gloom. The aptly-named youngsters are maturing quickly as a unit and it’s taking them places — the band had to pack up right after their set to go catch a flight to go brave the CMJ whirlwind. (We’re actually prepping a photo feature on Young Prisms to run later this month, so check back for that).
The Los Angeles band Jeffertitti’s Nile (above and lead photo) brought their bizarre bazaar up from Topanga canyon. They combine that 60s hippie folk element with tasteful touches like drum machines, samples, synths and some African-sounding beats. It’s a soup of acid-fried desert techno jams — a sound that so many bands aim for but end up in schlock territory. These guys pull it off. Quite enjoyable.
I discovered a new favorite: White Manna from Arcata. Big, heavy stuff. The band definitely has its sound dialed in. They were focused and well-oiled. Plus, the amount of gear lining the front of the stage was astounding — dozens of guitar pedals and vintage delay units. One of the singers was using an Echoplex and manipulating the knobs with his feet (it made me wince a little to watch such an expensive curio getting nudged by boot leather). The music is dark, swirling, incredibly loud psyche. But it’s fresh and exciting, we’ll be checking them out again for sure.
Ex-Gris Gris frontman and songwriter Greg Ashley did a set with his latest stripped-down combo. Amid a day full of bands drenched in reverb and blistering feedback, it was a treat to hear tight, well-constructed songs played and sung by an expert craftsman. His new stuff has a bit of a country two-step flavor. He closed with “Necessary Separation,” a hit from his old band’s repertoire.
Carlton Melton were explosive and raunchy. The highlight of their louder than shit, entirely instrumental set was the closer, a cover of Pink Floyd’s “When You’re In.” The band handed the guitar and a keyboard to some random people in the front row, and they actually jammed along pretty capably.
I was unprepared for the multi-layered drama of Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound‘s live show. Their sound is like their name: impossibly huge, complex and mysterious. The band was tight and raging, with trippy songs that stay pinned to the topography of prog-rock but often move out into the upper atmospheres. Instruments changed hands three or four times — everyone in this band can really play.
Howlin’ Rain brought things down to Earth, but just a little. Ethan Miller‘s five-piece unit plays a southern-flavored brand of psyche with absolutely no shortage of wailing guitars-and-keys shredfests. Everyone was grinning as the band took over the room and just plowed the fields non-stop for an hour. Somewhere between them and Assemble Head, the energy of the day-long show hit its peak.
Things settled down a bit for the Wooden Shjips. They were perfectly placed at the end of the bill, because as big and loud and unrelenting as they are — the songs sometimes stretch to ten minutes without ever finding a bridge — their trancy improv vehicles were the ideal way to ride out the night. They display the confidence and polish of a band that’s been touring the world seemingly non-stop this year and last. It’s good to see them ruling their hometown crowd. We swayed and swung.
The Shjips’ captain, Ripley Johnson, booked the whole show with his partner, Relix writer Richard B. Simon. A long day filled with great vibes, hearing totally ruined for the next few days, all for a good cause. Can’t wait ’til next year.
Photos by Jim Merithew
If you peak early during Frisco Freakout at Thee Parkside tomorrow, take the short walk over to Retox Lounge for a dreamy comedown with Commissure. Their name is an anatomical label for the meeting of nerve fibers, whether it’s between the two hemispheres of the brain or two lips of a labia (thanks wikipedia!), which provides intense imagery for the quartet’s wandering jams.
Calotypes is a favorite of mine from their self-released Stars Could Care Less (2009):
Carlos Reyes Jr. started the band as a solo project back in 2006 and slowly added Gonzalo Gonzalez (Gonz); his brother, Henry; and most recently, Matt Galasti who they met through their bro-band Clarissa Explains It All. Ten years ago, Carlos says, Tortoise’s TNT first showed him the path toward instrumental enlightenment and now Commissure busts out intense, vocal-less songs made of distortion, delay and reverb.
Stars was recorded at the Atomic Garden in Palo Alto under the direction of producer Jack Shirley.
The boys also took a small tour to the Southwest at the beginning of the year and wrote a detailed tour diary, which I’m a sucker for (they can be useful for other bands contemplating a cross-country tour).
Kelley Stoltz has some of the biggest hooks in San Francisco. The Mission district local has built up a reputation for rock-solid pop songcraft over the past decade, with the stellar breakthrough Antique Glow all the way through his three most recent releases for Sub Pop. Even though he’s on a mid-sized label now, he still records almost everything himself, writing, singing and playing most of the parts to a tape machine in his apartment. It gives the music an intimate, lived-in feel. But Stoltz is no precious bedroom songwriter. The performances never sound lazy or tossed off. There’s some crazy confidence on display.
His new record, To Dreamers (out this week) follows suit, another fiery-hot ingot of pop gold. There’s a 60s influence to the sound, heavy on the British invasion vibe but with washes of modern psyche, garage punk and prog. I’ve been spinning it for the past couple of days. The standouts: “Keeping the Flame,” with its army-of-synths middle section; the mod romp “Fire Escape”; the short freak out “Little Girl,” which mixes a heavy stomp beat with some shaker, tambourine, tasty bass and what sounds like about seven layers of tremolo guitar. A little sax — and a little sex — shows up on the classic, concise rock and roll tune, “I Like, I Like.”
Kelley’s live band is a constantly shifting unit. The latest permutation of the group is playing a show this Friday night at Cafe DuNord to launch Dreamers. The newest member is drummer Rusty Miller, who’s a killer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in his own right — check out his band Jackpot from Sacramento. Stoltz is headlining Friday’s show. The Fresh & Onlys, also celebrating an album release, are supporting. Carletta Sue Kay (who is not in fact a female) opens the night. Doors at 8:30, show at 9:30.
To Dreamers is out now. Pick it up at all the usual haunts, online and off.
Also, here’s a non-album bonus track, “Keeping Up With the Chimes,” courtesy of Sub Pop.
Come to the Rickshaw Stop Wednesday night (10/13) to pick up your free copy of Our Future Selves, the newest release from Shuteye Unison. The official release date is next month so not only can you get it for free, but you’ll have it before everyone else. They’ll be playing with Silian Rail and carcrashlander.
The band could be considered a Rum Diaries spinoff since Daniel Mckenzie (guitar/vox) and Jon Fee (bass/vox, who also co-runs their label, Parks and Records) came from that outfit. Shuteye has a similar feel but this record in particular sounds way more polished, venturing into Death Cab for Cutie territory (in a good way). Here’s the titular single:
Jon and Daniel were kind enough to conduct a quick and dirty email interview, posted here: