Blame It on the Noise Pop

Highs and Lows of a Much-Anticipated Local Music Festival

Well, it was quite the week in the Bay Area: Prince descended upon the Oracle Arena, whipping seemingly everyone within a fifty-mile radius into hysteria. Then the impending — and ultimately unrealized — threat of our very own Snowpocalypse blew through town, ratcheting up emotions even higher. On top of all that, we had to deal with the multi-day, multi-city stimulation derby that is Noise Pop. Forgive us if emotions are running high.

Nick Zinner’s 1001 Images

SF PublicWorks, through March 6

Anyone walking into Nick Zinner’s 1,001 Images will feel as if they’ve known the Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist for years. From ceiling to floor, the white walls of the small gallery space are covered with photographs (1,001, to be exact) documenting various facets of Zinner’s life on tour: crowd shots; pictures of famous friends (such as Conor Oberst and bandmate Karen O); images from airplane wings and visits to local zoos; a wallful of photos of unmade hotel beds. That said, the exhibit is more like true art photography than a glimpse into the life of a rock star, and Zinner clearly has a feel for the formal elements of photography. Indeed, according to Zinner, photography was his first love, anyway: “Photography was always what I was first interested in,” he said in an interview. “My music with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is related to that because it is a means to get more and different photographs — beyond enjoying making music for the love of music, being able to have the opportunity to travel the world and see such unusual sights, which is what allows me to take better photos.” (B.P.)

Dan Deacon

The Rickshaw Stop, Wednesday, Feb. 23

Dan Deacon is well-known for treating his performance less like a passive experience and more like a dance party, leading his audience in grade-school-style games and presiding over the crowd like something between an avuncular professor type and a benevolent dictator. And from the moment the trash-DIY-electro DJ set up shop at around 11:15, with his equipment not onstage but in the middle of the floor, it was clear that this — the second of two Noise Pop gigs — was no exception. Deacon immediately launched into what he described as an exercise in reaching a collective “synchronicity zone.” In so doing, he became the only person in the known universe to successfully prompt a roomful of rowdy, smart-alecky hipsters to play what was, for all intents and purposes, a game of Simon Says. It went on for ten minutes, without a single smirk in sight. The stunts didn’t stop all night, as Deacon ran through an eclectic set, a sweaty, ecstatic dance party raging all around him. At one point, he implored members of the crowd to put their hands on each others’ heads, canopy-style. At another, he set up an elaborately orchestrated dance battle, complete with a code of conduct that took several minutes to run through. It dissolved back into a frenetic, sweaty tangle of bodies within about thirty seconds, but nobody seemed to mind. (E.C.)

Ted Leo

Bottom of the Hill, Thursday, Feb. 24

Ted Leo sans Pharmacists. It’s an interesting prospect. His songwriting — teetering ever intriguingly between anti-establishment punk and romantic, pensive indie-rock, all infused with a certain charming East Coast Irish spitfire — is sufficiently strident to survive on guitar and vocals alone. And, as Leo proved during a headlining solo performance at Bottom of the Hill, his personality is strong enough to be in no need of support on an otherwise vacant stage. Yet the feeling that something was missing was inescapable — Ted Leo without a rhythm section is like Justin Timberlake without a glistening, sculpted chest: He may not need it to survive, but he’s not necessarily better off without it.

Still, the man can play. On songs like “Bleeding Powers,” and “Timorous Me,” his hyper-speed strumming revealed his punk roots. Leo can also work a lead — not showily, just right. As for his singing: At one point he expressed concern over an ailing voice in the midst of a solo tour, but he still hit all the high notes. Leo may not have reached the visceral highs his music is known for in its full-band form, but he did hit most of the emotional marks. And even when he didn’t, his fans paid no mind. They drank up the whole of his performance, much as they did bottles of Berkeley’s own Trumer Pils, on hand for $4.50. Leo, meanwhile, pounded bottles of water. Now here was a pro. (N.S.)


Cafe du Nord, Friday, Feb. 25

It was clear from all the black leather and eyeliner that the sold-out show at Cafe du Nord Friday night was all about packaging. Channeling Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Australian quartet The Black Ryder was steeped in cool — core members Scott Von Ryper and Aimee Nash shared guitar and singing duties, but the vocals suffered from a jarring lack of reverb. Such was not the case for headliner Tamaryn, the New Zealand-born, San Francisco-residing singer, whose teased hair and bright-red lipstick complemented the spacey, Mazzy Star-like vibe her band projected. Playing against a backdrop of ocean scenes, Tamaryn strayed little from its spacey reverb template, and after a while, it seemed to all blend together as there was little in the way of variety. But hey, at least they looked good. (K.R.)

Best Coast

Regency Ballroom, Saturday, Feb. 26

Depending on who you ask, Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino is either a) the latest, greatest girl genius of lo-fi California pop or b) a criminally undeserving beneficiary of the buzz machine who has, inexplicably, managed to spin an entire career out of facile three-chord pop songs that are almost exclusively about smoking weed and missing boys.

Sadly, anyone in that second camp hoping to have his or her mind changed at Saturday’s show — which packed the Regency Ballroom so thoroughly that even badge-holders were turned away — would have left disappointed. Cosentino is insipid in the way that any girl who’s only capable of talking about her boyfriend is insipid, and she is unimaginative in the way that any musician whose songs all sound the same is unimaginative, and she is frustrating in the way that anyone who basks so comfortably in her slackerdom is frustrating. But all this feels somehow much more offensive because she helped sell out the Regency — and, even worse, barely seemed to care. This is an artist who wears her lack of ambition, personal and musical, like a badge of honor, but Saturday’s show was egregiously sloppy: riddled with false starts, visible flubs, and an obvious lack of energy that made her songs sound even hollower and more homogenous than they usually do. When Cosentino mentioned that this was the very last night of her tour, it felt less like idle stage banter and more like an apology. And when, after the second or third or fourth mistake — who’s counting at this point? — she giggled, “I smoked too much weed today,” ostensibly by way of explanation, it might’ve been cute in some sort of sun-soaked SoCal alternate universe where it’s hip not to try. But here, it just felt like an insult. (E.C.)

Peanut Butter Wolf

Public Works SF, Saturday, Feb. 26

Both expectations and spirits were high in the lead-up to acclaimed DJs Peanut Butter Wolf and Dâm-Funk‘s set, billed as a very exclusive and unique “all-45s show.” But shortly after the two DJs strolled onstage around 12:30 a.m. after several hours’ worth of openers, it became clear that the energy and eclecticism for which both artists are known was nowhere to be found. Without as much as a true plan for an analog battle, both DJs simultaneously spun pressed singles, yet never truly came in sync with one another. There was nothing particularly bad about the combined set, but the mediocrity of the evening was disappointing enough: These are two of the biggest names in hip-hop’s insular producer circle, but there was no spark or passion in the set, leaving us to wonder why, after so many anticipated hours of waiting, they decided to show up at all. (B.P.)


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