Living in Southern California can be a drag- the smog, the traffic, the lack of public transportation. I’ve lived in the IE all my life (mainly in Riverside with brief- and crappy- forays into San Berdu, Mo Val, and Redlands), and Lord, do I get sick of it. The people, the weather, etc, etc…
Who needs an excuse to get away? Not me, that’s for sure. Noise Pop just happened upon a gap in my schedule, and quickly became a convenient ruse to run away to the city by the Bay- San Francisco.
The song rings true occasionally- “I Left my Heart in San Francisco”- but only because it’s such a completely different atmosphere than that which you encounter in SoCal. Everything seems a bit better there- the food, the locale, the people- it all resounds with an overall sense of contentment, at least for me, that is. I loves me some good, crisp, cold weather, an ocean view, and some fucking clam chowder.
Anywho… I made my way up to San Fran on a Thursday night (complete with a friend so I could sleep on the way), and got to the Berkley/Oakland area at about 4 am. With hotel check-in being at 3 pm, we found ourselves content to wander the Berkley area, envying the college campus and the vast array of local ethnic eateries (all closed at that hour). We ended up lost in a shady area of Oakland (help me out folks- what parts aren’t shady?), and gradually made our way to the hotel where we begged entry to our hotel room about 10 hours early and paid a steep price to sleep- $20 early check-in fee (Oh noes!).
After sleeping off the worst of the seven hour drive overnight to San Fran, my friend and I meandered from our hotel in search of breakfast- and oh what delightful breakfast it was (strawberry crepes like none I’ve ever had)! I only wish I lived within walking distance of such a great eatery (let alone anything). Breakfast paved way to more wandering, and wandering gave way to scouring the city for Noise Pop’s offices (which I have a sinking suspicion that if Racket had an office, it would look similar- polite disarray, coupled with lots of music, stereos, and posters).
Having secured access into all that which Noise Pop had to offer, we set about exploring some of the more touristy spots of the city- Coit Tower (I had to learn me the difference between a buon fresco and a regular mural), Lombard Street (we had the chance to entertain many tourists photographing the spot- each one we drove by chuckled at the squeak my rims make), and the long stretch of pier- where I had a delightful encounter with a homeless man. He was hiding himself with some tree trimmings and scared the shit out of me. Apparently, it’s a decent ploy to make money- we watched him from across the street as we ate lunch, startling a group of unsuspecting tourists every ten minutes or so. It went something like this:
“Oh shit! You got me man! Here’s twenty bucks.”
I don’t get it. I don’t usually pay to get embarrassed in public.
That evening’s Noise Pop festivities included multiple happy hours and a show at the Bottom of the Hill (there were lots of other shows, but we stuck at one location). We scoped out the Art of Noise Pop gallery housed at the Mini Bar. We scored a few drinks, but didn’t linger- it was nearly too crowded to get a good look at the art, plus I think I was younger than everyone there by about a decade. Go figure.
On to the next venue- the Bottom of the Hill- to check out a personal favorite of mine, Dear and the Headlights. The venue seemed to be some kind of refurbished house or apartment building from the outside, with a stage, a bar, a lounge, and an awesome snack bar (quesadillas!!) inside. The vibe of the place was great- the set up was quirky, the crowd a good mix of young and old, and it wasn’t so crowded you couldn’t move around.
The opening act A B and the Sea hailed from Wisconsin (not too many seas in Oshkosh, but whatever), and seemed to have watched That Thing You Do too many times when they were growing up- they were all decked out in black suits. Their sound was catchy, with a good California beach vibe (again funny, being that they’re from the Midwest). The sound is reminiscent of Phantom Planet a bit, but none of their songs really stuck out at me. I will say though, the band was very tight for a young up and coming gig. They really had it together, and managed to pull off a decent cover of “Twist and Shout.”
The second act unfortunately didn’t catch my attention much, and I spent the set hanging out on the patio scoping out the crowd. The third band, however, totally blew me away. Kinch, hailing from Arizona is fronted by a kid I totally underestimated- fluffy brown hair, round Harry Potter glasses, he was working the nerd angle. But, oh Lord, did he and his band wail. Major, major chops, they had. The sound was energetic and passionate, as well as loud and fun. The singer alternated between keys and guitar, and was equally adept at each. They had a rougher quality to their sound, yet that they were well practiced and very talented, and could throw down a piano ballad if they want to (and they did). I highly highly recommend these guys. Looks can be deceiving.
And finally, to close out the evening, my new favorite- Dear and the Headlights. Fresh off the release of their sophomore album Drunk Like Bible Times (how awesome of a title is that??), the band has been kicking up steam across the US and seemed to have a fair amount of fans in the crowd- standing in the front, most of the kids around me knew almost all the words to the songs. The raw energy oozing from the band is contagious, as well as the catchy tunes. You can’t help but feel good during a Dear and the Headlights set. Each of the guys are amiable too- Racket’s had the pleasure of chatting them up once or twice (the results of which have been dashed from public view due to shitty recording devices). I can’t talk these guys up enough- their sound reminds me of Modest Mouse, Robert Smith, and U2 all rolled into one completely unique sound. No rip offs here, these guys are the real deal.
On a side note- after such a kickass show, my friend and I found ourselves lost and disoriented directionally in the city. It ended up being a nice drive- Golden Gate Park by night is a very pleasant drive, as is the view of the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts all lit up against the night sky.
My second day in one of California’s greatest cities found me yet again lost and loving it- we ventured all over, pausing only for tasty bagels. We spent the morning exploring the Golden Gate Bridge, and ventured over it to the beautiful town of Sausalito. We then ventured back to SF to hit up more of Noise Pop’s attractions.
One of my biggest disappointments for Noise Pop was actually the art- it’s sort of billed as this big art and music affair, and yet the art shows they had booked were disappointingly small. Lauren Dukoff photo exhibition was miniscule and left one wondering what the big deal was. Her drawings were exquisite, but her photography really left one wanting more. The description stated that it was a documentary of her relationship with this singer/songwriter, but the display of photos was too small and too random (there were some studio-setup photos, some concert shots, and few candids) to really get a hold of the depth of the relationship between them. The subject of much of her photos though, Devendra Banhart, seems like quite the interesting character though.
As for the Sights of Sounds exhibit, my complaint is similar- it was housed in a gallery/store near one of the Asian neighborhoods and again, it was very small. The art was much more interesting this time around- the exhibition was dedicated to art created by musicians. I was excited to see Jesse Michaels’ art- his was obviously politically aimed, go figure- and Mark Mothersbaughs’- his was a bit more fun- he had created a carpet depicting an airplane. I’d wished to see more though, there were about 20 pieces altogether, and only a few of the artists had more than one piece up. All the while, the smell of Chinese food lingered in the air (strangely enough, we ate pizza in Chinatown).
Pop N Shop was a good indie kid time- lots of San Francisco’s local designers set up booths in the Verdi Club. Their wares were definitely of the hipster/scenester genre, but that kind of thing appeals to me more often than not. There was lots of jewelry and scarves, and a few neat screen printers had some of their prints for sale. I personally fell in love with a few of the designers’ gems, particularly Sora Designs. So fun. I guess that’s the girl in me. Wait, I am a girl, I’m allowed the occasional girly indulgence.
Saturday night’s show took us to the Swedish American Music Hall. The hall feels a bit like the church I used to go to- it’s large and old, with a stark contrast between the white walls and the great dark-colored beams supporting the roof. The set up was different from your typical show as well- the main hall was set up with folding chairs facing a small stage with a piano to the right of it, and a few spotlights beaming on a red curtain. It felt very much like a children’s talent show.
First up in the talent show (actually second, we sadly missed the first act) was Donovan Quinn- a Bob Dylan impressionist. Ok really, it was a singer/songwriter by the name of blank. He wasn’t bad, per se, it just seemed as though he really really wanted to be just like Bob when he grows up. He stood up there politely with his guitar and tried to master the gruff singing style.
The second act was much more fun- a lounge act, complete with a brass ensemble (well, a wind ensemble- there was a clarinet in there too). Mark Eitzel was full of fun stories and has a very soulful voice. He opened up with the theme song for any tourist visiting the Bay area- “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.” However, he sang it in such a way that it didn’t feel like a cliché- it felt heart-wrenching, expressive, and real. In between songs he’d describe bits of stories about fans, Bob Mould, and silly bits about life. While I love a good cover song, his rendition of “Me and Mrs. Jones” lacked the soulful sultriness of Billy Paul, and the wind/piano section he had backing him up didn’t really fit the song. It took me back down to the talent show feel of the room, and away from the dark and sultry lounge vibe he had going on. His ad lib was funny though- Mrs. Jones became Mr. Jones, a good fit, considering the area we were in.
Now, my only punk rock experience has been within the last year or so, finally allowing myself to be educated in the Jam, the New York Dolls, the Dead Kennedys and so on, and the connection between reggae, ska, skinheads and punk. Hüsker Dü was a small part of that education, but I didn’t really know enough to know what to expect from front man Bob Mould’s acoustic show. I can tell you one thing- I wasn’t expecting an older bald gentleman in glasses- he fit my idea of an acoustic singer/songwriter, but definitely not my definition of punk rock. I have a hard time imagining him jumping around on stage like a, well… a punk. Maybe it’s just my misperception.
His guitar playing was tight and talented, as is expected from someone with decades of experience in the biz. Overall, I can’t really say I was overly impressed, and none of the songs really stick out in my head. I think that in all honesty, an acoustic show tends to feel redundant after a while and I crave something different to mix it up- throw me a harmonica, or some cool back up vocals from your lady friends. It wasn’t a bad set, just not one of the stand out musical experiences in my life.
Ok kids, what did we learn about our trip to San Francisco?
I kid… Overall, the trip was just what an exasperated IE resident needed- good food, good company, and contentment with one’s surroundings. Noise Pop has loads of fun stuff to offer (I missed the Industry Noise Conference AND all of the films they screened, sad face), but be prepared to be distracted by the city. I picked out a new act or two to follow, scoped out some good places to check up on when I return to the area, and really, just enjoyed myself for two days (three if you count driving). I encourage you, find an excuse to make your way up to San Francisco, and find yourself falling in love with the city.