My personal strategy for Noise Pop 2012 was to pack in as diverse a personal schedule as possible, taking into account old obsessions (Cursive, Bradford Cox) and favored newer acts (Allah-Las, DRMS), national and local bands and musicians, weird and precious live indie music.
I also wanted to spread my time over multiple venues, so this time around I hit up the Independent, Bimbo's, Great American Music Hall, Swedish American, and Mezzanine. I walked the length of the city, racked up some high bus and cab bills, likely imbibed too frequently and caught some stellar live music. My head, feet, and note-scribbling hand are sore, but it was worth it.
WEDNESDAY: Cursive at Great American Music Hall
It was mid-song ("The Martyr," 2000's Domestica), mid-set (Noise Pop), of Cursive's likely sold-out performance at Great American Music Hall. I opened my eyes, scanned the room, and saw we were all singing along breathlessly. Plaid-shirted forearms thrust towards stage, fringed heads bobbing, and everyone within earshot hollering towards the center. There in the middle stood grizzled singer-guitarist Tim Kasher, leader of the Omaha-bred longtime Saddle Creek Records fixture Cursive, as well as the Good Life. Parsing his words carefully, Kasher spoke for nearly the first time after a quick-fire opening shot of beloved Domestica and Ugly Organ tracks, interspersed with brand newer, understandably less-clapped-for I Am Gemini cuts. "Let's get candid," he understated. Full review here.
THURSDAY: Allah-Las and Budos Band at Independent
If you could handpick its most redeeming qualities and inhabitants from any time period in the past half century, Los Angeles could actually be a rather magical place. Pluck the psychedelic guitar strains reverberating through Laurel Canyon, scoop a fistful of bronzed sun-kissed surfers and sparkling waves from the coast, add two shakes of downtown weirdness, and you'd likely come up with something along the lines of Allah-Las, the quartet that opened for Budos Band during the Noise Pop lineup at the Independent Thursday. Full review here.
FRIDAY: Emily Jane White and DRMS at Swedish American Music Hall
The first time I saw dark folk songstress Emily Jane White live was at an ornate church on a hill (RIP EpiscoDisco) so this Noise Pop stop at the Swedish American Music Hall last Friday brought back some particular memories. Memories of an elegant, otherworldly setting and the singer-guitarist who encapsulates the venue's charms.
With nary a smile, the black cloth-and-lace-swaddled White beautifully finger-picked and sang original tracks off 2009's Victorian American and 2010's Ode to Sentience, backed by a seated guitarist, a fellow on bass clarinet, and later, a violinist, who added even more depth to haunting closing song, “Victorian America” – a piece that showcases the bold yet breathy strength of White's voice. Seated in folding chairs at the Swedish American, surrounded by dark wood trim, the audience clapped politely then grabbed between-act beers from guest bartender John Vanderslice.
Upon my return from Vanderslicing, I saw that DRMS (formerly known as Dreams) had splayed across the relatively small church-like stage, a clump of seven musicians with an interesting mixture of instruments and styles. Behind the retro 1920s blues vocals, the Afro-folk band incorporated more traditional instruments along with melodica, vibraphone, and some sort of bag of shimmering noise, all rainstick-like. Live, the intimate set felt like it could be happening anywhere in the world, a group of friends playing jumbly music with hints at a grab-bag variety of genres and cultures. This could work anywhere, yet still the venue felt the ideal setting.
SATURDAY: Atlas Sound at Bimbo's
Three of the four acts Saturday night at Bimbo's were solo dudes on guitar making sounds far beyond the basic limitations of the instrument. These were experiments in experimenting, Carnivores, Frankie Broyles, and of course, the man who likely influenced the others in some form or another, Atlas Sound (aka Bradford Cox, also of Deerhunter).
With a courteous “hello,” Cox picked up one of his magic vintage guitars – one attached to so many pedals and looping mechanisms that one pictures a jumble of chords slithering snake-like up his thigh – and opened up to a captive Bimbo's crowd with his hypnotic near-soundscapes.
Not knowing quite what to expect live, I was, for whatever reason, somewhat surprised to see only Cox on stage at Bimbo's (another grand San Francisco venue, for those keeping track of the prettiest music spots to visit) playing music so full it sounded like a full band. Perhaps a ghost band sat behind him, guiding the chord snakes.
Though it's his solo project, it's still mystifying to me that he can create such a beautiful noise alone. Cox's swirling, pulsating loops of guitar and drum sounds picked up speed at times, revving up those in the audience as well, particularly during “Shelia” off 2009's Logos and more so tracks off most recently released record Parallax: “Te Amo” and “Terra Incognita.”
The front row of the ballroom was packed with youthful obsession (the excited youngsters sat up front on the dancefloor ground from the time the doors opened at 7 p.m. 'till Atlas Sound's set at 11). Those kids provided fodder for Cox's eccentric on-stage musings later in the evening, when he brought a boy on stage and said he looked like a younger version of him. I also heard later that young fans swarmed Cox after the set to gush and thank him for saving their lives, with his music.