Posts by: Zack Frederick
May 3, 2013
Clinic have been around for a long time. Their debut album, Internal Wrangler, came out when I was just starting high school and I still remember my best friend Josh hyping them as a less bombastic, mellower version of our then favorite UK rock group, Radiohead. Skip forward some 13 years later and last night was my first opportunity to see Clinic live — albeit without Josh, who was forced to work late in Sacramento (adulthood? fuck) — at the Rickshaw Stop.
Canadian show openers No Joy lived up to their serviceable-new-shoegaze hype, combining reverb-drenched guitars with a tight rhythm and bass section. In a welcome surprise, lead singer Laura Lloyd was open to having her vocals mixed relatively high (for the genre), bringing out the band’s truly catchy melodies. Call me impressed. No Joy can rock when they want to, throwing down some nice burnt, snare-snapping outros to close a few of the heavier numbers.
Clinic, as usual, came out wearing scrubs and surgical masks — “a tacky pun on the band name,” according to lead singer Ade Blackburn — to a small but enthusiastic crowd. Compared to 13 years ago, Clinic’s music today is far less experimental than it seemed in my youth: vintage keyboards and synths combined with simple drum beats, usually repeating musical phrases while Blackburn adds his unique, tinny vocals. Clinic are never afraid to take their time, and show highlights “Miss You” and “See Saw” — both from their 2012 LP Free Reign — each extend outward from a simple riff, repeating until the band reaches a satisfying conclusion, like kids finished experimenting with dropping colored oils into water and watching the resulting swirl.
Their live show doesn’t completely live up to the weird costumes and out-of-time recordings the band has put out since 1997: professional and succinct, Clinic make exactly zero changes from the album material, faithfully recreating the recordings. That said, the band is limited and defined by Ade Blackburn’s vocal range, which is perfect for Clinic’s laid-back experiments but, beyond that, begins to falter. After 16 years of music, it’s clear to me that the foursome is unlikely to ever move beyond headlining the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. Leaving the venue last night, I began to think that this influential group could harness this freedom from expectations to become a little more demanding, a little more aggressive, a little more raw, and a little less clinical.
April 3, 2013
Typically, a sold out show at the Independent is a shoulder-to-shoulder rowdy good time: drunk fans yell and cheer, bodies sway, merriment ensues. Even more often, a bombastic light show simply enhances the experience for all parties, drunk and sober.
Forget that. On Friday night, UK soul/warped-electro funk artist Jamie Lidell managed to gather all the good will in the room and deflate it, slowly but surely, using a deadly combination of un-danceable dance beats and forgettable vocal noodle-ings, all of which managed to take his rather enticing studio work and grind it down into its most useless parts — over and over again. Nevermind the over-the-top light show that attempted to compensate for Lidell’s complete lack of stage presence.
Sure, he didn’t look nervous, but a sticky used-car salesmen enthusiasm hung over the set: Lidell name-dropped opening for James Brown (after protesting that he wasn’t “name-dropping”) and often took to bowing or thanking the crowd profusely between songs — even though the crowd was barely cheering. Lost somewhere in his own world where the $20 ticket price was justified, Lidell poked away on a laptop a few times as he set the controls for the world’s most comprehensive karaoke backing track. Yikes.
Brooklyn’s Empress Of, however, proved to be a far more capable live group. Led by singer/songwriter Lorely Rodriguez, the electro-pop band pushed through a dance-ready set of lush songs as Rodriguez — a compelling new voice — shimmied and sang with a joyous passion. Reminiscent of the new wave of female electro-pop groups like Grimes, Empress Of’s seductive synths and humanity stood in welcome contrast to Lidell’s robotic, tedious, and uninspired performance.
Footnote: The best punchline came early in the set when Lidell played the aptly titled “When I Come Back Around” and I overheard a fellow suffering audience member mumble: No, please don’t.
March 27, 2013
Both hailing from Los Angeles, Wavves and FIDLAR are probably two of the most divisive bands currently making music. Critics are torn, fans are torn: are they genuinely as immature and irresponsible as their lyrics portray? Or is it an act — a character of excess (FIDLAR > beer :: Wavves > whining) inspired by rap music’s character-driven style? The answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle and Friday night’s sold-out show at Bottom of the Hill reminded everyone in attendance that yes, both bands intend to be, in their own way, slightly annoying. And yes, both groups write unbelievably catchy pop-garage rock songs, a style that is easy to half-assedly imitate but surprisingly difficult to deliver.
FIDLAR played a nearly identical set to their sold-out January headlining show at BOTH (which I also reviewed) and, while the crowd wasn’t quite as rowdy (leading singer Zac Carper to reminiscence about the “fucking insanity” of their last San Francisco show), the band’s energy never faltered. They opened with the whiplash-inducing “Cheap Beer” and never let down from there, running through most of their self-titled debut album, including an inspired, head-banging version of “Cocaine,” and a set-closing rendition of the unemployed-slacker anthem “Wake Bake Skate.” I overheard a few audience members mention that they only bought at ticket to see FIDLAR — fair enough, but I don’t think the band has proven themselves multi-dimensional enough to overtake the headlining Kings of the Beach.
March 27, 2013
Photos by Nicole L. Browner
The Danish post-punk group Iceage pounded their way through an intense set on Monday night at the Rickshaw Stop. Draped in a blue darkness occasionally blasted with white light from a photographer’s camera flash, the teenage foursome played with a counterintuitively sloppy focus — like a band nuked on caffeine and alcohol — as they stumbled and swayed along with the grimy, tangled low-end that defines their 2013 LP You’re Nothing.
If you didn’t already know the songs, you weren’t going to learn them here: Iceage outright avoided playing the album’s catchiest song, “Wounded Hearts,” and often replaced high-pitch guitar riffs with open-neck mashing, forcing your attention onto the band’s precocious lead singer, Elias Bender Ronnenfelt, who sings only vaguely in-key, moaning and screaming his way through dark pronouncements of abandonment, violence, and the destruction of civilization. Despite their youth, Iceage are a moving testament to sincerity — Ronnenfelt gave heavy looks to the crowd, contorted his body to tie the microphone cord around his neck, and never betrayed the band’s message with a smile.
The crowd loved it, its members throwing themselves at the stage while fist-pumping and grabbing at Ronnenfelt’s shirt. For the first few songs, Ronnenfelt tried to play guitar and sing — but the rate at which the microphone got knocked around (and technical difficulties) led him to put the guitar away for the rest of the set.
Iceage opened with “Ecstasy,” the lead track from You’re Nothing, a shuffling, fast-paced dirge that collapses half way through as Ronnenfelt starts yelling “pressure / can’t take this pressure.” For a band that rose to fame from the shores of Denmark, awash in blog-conspiracy controversy about Nazi imagery in their artwork and zines, the lines are particularly pressing, a reminder of the walls-closing-in sensation that artists often conspire to illustrate but rarely deliver with the same courage as Iceage. Album centerpiece “Morals” received a warm reaction from the crowd, dropping out the original’s low piano and accentuating the song’s militaristic snare drum beat and Ronnenfelt’s desperate plea: Where’s your morals?
March 13, 2013
Following in the footsteps of other bedroom artists turned headliners (Toro Y Moi comes to mind), Brooklyn’s Autre Ne Veut — the one-man project of Arthur Ashin — represents the best of the internet’s ability to propel talent onto bigger and bigger stages. Recently tagged with a Best New Music award from Pitchfork for his 2013 LP Anxiety, Autre Ne Veut writes nu-R&B that’s manic and catchy, stylized with layers of retro synths and creatively twisted vocals.
Throughout Monday night’s well-attended show at the Independent, Ashin carried himself with a surprisingly powerful stage presence, a backwards baseball cap adding to his active, youthful appearance. Playing with a live drummer and backing vocalist, Ashin ran through nearly all of Anxiety, opening with the synth-propelled “Play by Play,” which includes all the best of Autre — deep bass, glimmering synths, chattering snare drums, ear-tingling falsettos, and a chorus that will follow you around for at least a night.
Other highlights included “Warning,” in which Autre pushed the highest registers of his falsetto, and the new piano opening for the plaintive love song “World War.” During the show ending performance of “Counting” — the catchiest song Ashin has ever penned and the album’s current single — the crowd started yelling in excitement as Ashin’s impressive vocal presence seemed to send shivers down our collective spine. [More...]
Review & Photos: Ceremony, Terry Malts, Comadre, Permanent Ruin, Synthetic ID @ Rickshaw Stop 2/27/13 (Noise Pop 2013)
March 4, 2013
Photos by Nicole L. Browner
It’s not always clear which part of Noise or Pop you’re going to encounter for any specific show — or frankly, whether the festival has a specific theme at all, besides a load of great musicians dropping into SF for a week — but the Ceremony show on Wednesday night at Rickshaw Stop proved to be a solid booking from top-to-bottom: hardcore, noise, fuzz rock, and circle-pit inducing guitar riffs all blasted out at one time or another throughout the night.
SF-based Bay Bridged favorites Synthetic ID kicked it off with a furious set of barking, jagged post-punk — at least a few of the songs coming from their Apertures LP available from Oakland’s 1-2-3-4 Go! Records. I hesitate to say it, but their sound was perfect: drums, bass, and guitar all separated by clear audio divisions, a dry but heated tone that felt like speeding through the desert listening to hi-fi Joy Division recordings (if Joy were more punk).
Transitioning from post-punk’s controlled aggression to the screaming hardcore of Permanent Ruin produced an odd moment in the room, when a few die-hards started smashing themselves into the statuesque cool kids on the edges of the crowd. Perhaps the most narrowly genre-specific band on the bill, PR lost me for a minute — full disclosure, I’ve never been a big fan of screaming female vocals (sexist, I know). Closing the set with another bruiser of a song, PR left after only about 30 minutes.
Compared to their January show at Submission, Redwood City’s Comadre sounded noticeably better playing the full A-side of their new self-titled LP, lending the set a mature, post-hardcore sound. The band seemed to thrive as lock step bass and drums would rage and recess behind Juan Gabe’s melodic screaming. There was a furious and cathartic moment about half way through the set when the bass dropped back in after a significant (and intentional) absence, an absorbing testimony to the skill with which Comadre crafts tension.
Review & Photos: Jason Lytle, Jenny-O, Will Sprott, Michael Statis @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall, 2/26/12 (Noise Pop 2013)
February 28, 2013
Photos by Nicole L. Browner
Noise Pop 2013 kicked off with an easy going show at Brick & Mortar on Tuesday night. Although I only caught their last three songs, SF locals Michael Statis brought a catchy rock ‘n roll energy to start the show, banging through their set with enthusiasm.
Will Sprott, formerly of the Mumlers, has a soft but engaging stage presence, and fully embraced the opportunity for his soul/folk infused music to capture the entire audience’s attention, despite its low volume. Sprott was emotive and light-hearted at the same time, smiling on stage and laughing along with his backup band.
Unfortunately, the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Jenny-O didn’t fare as well — the acoustic-only set (her backing band was unable to make the trip up the I-5) bled together too much with the noise of the crowd, and the similarity of the songs (loud, fast strumming with a few chord changes) made the set mostly unremarkable, although I can easily imagine her turning a few heads with a full band offering low-end backup for her strong singing skills.
By 10:40pm, Jason Lytle (formerly of the beloved, and now retired, indie rockers Grandaddy) took the stage. Appearing as only a two-piece band with another guitarist, Lytle’s set was like watching Grandaddy perform on sedatives. He even played a bunch of his former group’s classics (“Now It’s On”, “I’m on Standby”, “El Caminos in the West”), but without their signature guitar distortion and simple drumbeats, the songs become too light and meandering. And with long breaks between songs, repeating keyboard & punk music interludes, and a low energy set, you could feel the eyelids sagging throughout the venue.
But we were comfortable, letting Lytle work through his solo material with gentle strums and enjoying the relaxing atmosphere. During his performance of “Young Saints,” from his 2012 LP Dept. of Disappearance, in which he sings, “your ex-girlfriend’s lost pets and dead friends / know they won’t be hanging out with you again / you are gone,” someone in the crowd actually collapsed onto the floor, inducing a panicked reaction from the back of the venue. As it had been throughout the set, it was impossible to tell if he’d gone down from drinking too much, or perhaps from just being really, really sleepy.
February 7, 2013
Despite a brisk Tuesday night breeze, a line had already formed outside The Independent more than a half-hour before doors were scheduled to open for Solange’s sold-out performance. Scalpers lurked on the corners of Divisadero, cell phones held close to their ear. The crowd was diverse in a way rarely seen in San Francisco, as if Solange’s silky alternative R&B had realigned the city as a straight line from 3rd St to Valencia to Castro and onto Divis. Sure enough, the audience was excited to see this rising star in person — her exposure has skyrocketed lately, led by a seductive, retro video for her hit single “Losing You” (which was featured in a recent Girls episode), a blockbuster Super Bowl halftime show this past Sunday by her sister, and glowing reviews of her True EP.
Opener Kelela brought the lights down low and her sound man DJ Kingdom dropped futuristic R&B beats to start the show. The music was slow and sticky, reminiscent of both The Weeknd and late night DJ Shadow recordings, all falsetto vocals and carefully crafted drum beats. Unfortunately, the crowd was ready to see Solange and Kelela didn’t have the energy or the songs to hold their full attention. She made the right move when she graciously left the stage after a short set, admitting that she “couldn’t wait to see Beyonce either.”
If you’ve seen the shot-in-South Africa video for “Losing You,” then you already have a realistic idea of how a Solange live show feels: vintage, funky, catchy, and performed with a smile. Solange was wearing a relatively conservative 1970s-inspired dress with one leg coming out at the thigh, a nice visual match for her music’s sexy throwback style. She thanked the crowd constantly as she ran through every song from the True EP, backed by a full band and two singers. At different points, she admitted she was “one out-of-shape bitch” and suggested that we “lose our shit” to “Losing You” (which the audience took to heart, I can say confidently).