Noise Pop Review: The Concretes, Birds & Batteries, Magic Bullets, Psychic Friend
February 28, 2011
Written by Joseph Hayes
On a night when a meteorologist’s conspiracy hoodwinked all of us into thinking it would snow in our temperate little town, the Rickshaw played host to Sweden’s The Concretes, two of SF’s local heavyweights, Birds & Batteries and Magic Bullets, and a debut performance from Psychic Friend (featuring Will Schwartz of Imperial Teen).
Energy was a little low at the start of the evening, but Schwartz being the music vet he is, wasted little time hooking his overtly emotional, piano-powered pop into the emerging crowd. Filling out the guitarless trio were drummer Patty Schemel (Hole) and bassist Bo Boddie, who if a bit stoic, helped round out the tightly condensed numbers in robotic pop form. When Schwartz and Co. flushed things out a bit, it worked well, giving listeners a breath from the sometimes overbearing theatrical punchiness of it all.
Due to some technical issues and worrying about my own sustainability on a four band evening on an empty stomach, I unfortunately ended up missing most of Magic Bullets’ performance. Although from the little I heard and saw, the entire club was suddenly sweaty and beholden to their jangly Brit-laced dance pop. It’s no wonder the band has consistently reigned in the top tier of SF’s local acts for almost a decade, and the rest of the country is finally taking notice.
Birds and Batteries, who appear to be on the brink of gaining some serious national attention on their coming tour, seized the evening from the get go. The band’s four members each played off the others’ distinctive contributions to help carve out their elusive blend of 90s R&B, late 70s/early80s prog-synth rock, and Country n’ Western-flavored balladry. Lead vocalist Michael Sempert never felt the need to force a boiling point, as he simmered thoughtful lines over the deceptively snaky melodies rendered by his energetic (to say the least) guitarist Christopher Walsh. By set’s end, the night’s attendees had loosened up their boots quite a bit, and seemed to have momentarily forgotten the impending headliner.
The Concretes’ self-titled debut record, released in 2004 in the U.S., reeled me in instantly. Singer Victoria Bergsman (who departed the band in 2006) was at once pouty, lazy, and seductive, the Motown-tinged horn arrangements felt more natural than stylistic, and the shimmery clean Fender guitar lines rounded out the collection of poppy romps and waltzes perfectly.
While the band hasn’t experienced as much notoriety stateside since that era, and frankly I had lost track of them altogether, I was curious to hear some of the remnants as well as the evolving elements of their sound in 2011. One of the original members, Lisa Milberg (cloaked in a sun dress that screamed West Marin), took over lead vocal duties for Bergsman, and as if to placate longtime fans, sang a few old ones from the aforementioned record, though it seemed her heart was not totally into it. However, I could be misreading the general reserve, culturally and stylistically, she and the band exhibited for most of the evening.
Their newer material was a distant reminder of their early catalog, exchanging their nods to classic 60s pop for late 70s downer disco grooves. The crowd graciously played along, and tried to build on the sticky floor B&B and MB’s greased up, but the roof never caught fire. Alas, the band’s distinctly stoic cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” (released on their 2005 collection of rarities and b-sides Layyourbattleaxedown) was a nice enough homage to yesteryear for me to close the night out.