Noise Pop: Leave the PDAs at Home Generation Text!
This past weekend I attended the 16th annual Noise Pop (http://www.noisepop.com/2008/index.php) festival in San Francisco. I have been attending the weeklong indie music and arts showcase since its debut in 1993. Noise Pop is now a nationally recognized platform, on par with SWSW, for some of the biggest names in “alternative” music. The organizers still book an eclectic mix of international and regional talent but the crowd often seems to blasé to appreciate this annual gift.
Friday night found my friend Dennis and I at the Bottom of the Hill (http://www.bottomofthehill.com/) to see Holy Fuck headline a sold out show. When we arrived Austin Texas’ White Denim (http://www.whitedenimmusic.com/) was just about to take the stage. Admittedly, I had no idea who they were or what they sounded like. I was pleasantly surprised by their energy and less-than-obvious influences. White Denim is a three-piece that reminded me of the spastic, amped-up blues of Alvin Lee and Ten Years After (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll). Their angular rock pulsed through the full house and GASP! Actually had people moving in front of the stage!
One big reason why I chose Friday’s show was to see Brooklyn’s A Place To Bury Strangers (http://www.aplacetoburystrangers.com/). Billed as the loudest band in NYC and citing My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr as influences, I was intrigued. “Strangers” did not disappoint. They began their show by pumping in a London-worthy amount of fog onto the stage. The band remained unseen through the first half of most of their songs. This placed all the focus on the wash of noisy glory unleashed from the stage. Guitar player/singer Oliver Aukerman designs his own effects pedals and he is truly gifted at creating a perfect distorted squall. The band’s muscular set blew ears and minds from where I was standing.
Toronto, Canada has been cranking out a lot of excellent bands over the last few years. Holy Fuck (http://www.holyfuckmusic.com/) being one of the most unique and buzz worthy. They mix live instrumentation with effects, knob twiddling to produce a hybrid alt-rock/electronica. I was surprised to see how sedate the audience appeared, everyone intently watching two guys twisting away at knobs. Again, what does it take to engage the youth of today? Perhaps when the audience went home to download the show off their camera phones, they will take a little time to shake what their mothers’ gave them, in the safety of their own homes.
We left midway through Holy Fuck’s set to go to 12 Galaxies (http://www.12galaxies.com/flash.html) where some Noise Pop alum were playing a non-affiliated show. The band Hot Fog is comprised of members of Carlos, Oranger (http://www.oranger.net/), and Overwhelming Colorfast (http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=37667436). They crank out high-decibel covers of obscure 70’s & 80’s Hard Rock/Metal. Their cover of Deep Purple’s Fireball (http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=10:difexqr5ldke) got my head bangin. It’s a shame that these musicians who helped put Noise Pop on the map were not asked to contribute to this year’s festival. There seemed to be a solidarity formed among those there to see Hot Fog. A sentiment expressed with eloquence, by former Colorfast singer/guitarist Bob Reed, who quite deadpanned; “Fuck Noise Pop.”
Lastly, the Mission district has seen a dramatic rise in hot dog vendors! Thank God! I can remember circling blocks I probably shouldn’t have circling in search for the famous “Heart Attack Dogs”. Now on the two-block walk to 12 Galaxies from our parking spot I saw at least three carts open for business. For an interesting article about this culinary phenomenon, check out this link to the LA Weekly (http://www.laweekly.com/eat+drink/dining/the-bacon-wrapped-hot-dog-so-good-its-illegal/18276/). There is no better way to cap an alcohol soaked evening of Rock-n-Roll than with 1,000 calories of grilled goodness! Ask yourself is it better to smell of bacon or beer? The debate rages on…
Saturday night my wife and I made our way to the Independent (http://www.theindependentsf.com/). The headliners were The Mountain Goats but the band I was most excited to see hail from Boston, Mass. Tulsa (http://www.myspace.com/tulsamusic)is a three-piece fronted by Carter Tanton. They mix the amped up jangle of Crazy Horse with the haunting melodies of Echo & the Bunnymen. Tanton’s soaring vocals filled the Independent, mixing perfectly with the sonic landscape emanating from the stage. I really fell in love with their album, “I Was Submerged” and highly recommend it. During Tulsa’s set I noticed two things about the audience: 1. The poor state of vision amongst the indie concertgoer, with everyone sporting very fashionable rims and 2. The dreaded ubiquity of handheld devices being attended to during the show.
San Francisco’s own David Dondero (link) was up next. The elusive singer/songwriter has recently been touring in Europe. My wife has become a huge Dondero fan and the only complaint she had after Saturday’s performance was that, “he didn’t play long enough.” He debuted a new song, which debated where the best Po Boy could be had in New Orleans. This song is indicative of the often obtuse and quirky narratives that have become Dondero’s staple. He is also an inventive guitar player and charismatic performer. I highly recommend searching for David Dondero on iTunes. He navigates in a similar vein as fellow San Franciscan Kelly Stoltz (http://www.electriccity.org/). Both have a knack for observational lyrics with inventive low fi recording techniques. Dondero’s short set left the sold out crowd feeling good and primed for the headliner.
Lo-Fi giants The Mountain Goats (http://www.mountain-goats.com/)took the stage to delight of the sold out room. The Goats were playing four nights over the course of Noise Pop. After seeing John Darnielle, the driving force behind the Goats, bound onto the stage I was struck by how many in attendance looked like distant relatives. Most of the men looked like a cross between the Simpson’s Millhouse and author David Sedaris. The Mountain Goats are purveyors of quirky, overly intellectualized love treatises. Darnielle presides like a newly crowned King of the Dorks. The Google sect there to cheer on their ringleader would seem more comfortable if the Independent had been sub-divided into cubicles. At least that way those consumed by their Blackberries could work in more familiar surroundings.
Increasingly I bear witness to an ever-disaffected audience. Tapping away at PDAs or viewing the show by occasionally peering above the tops of cell-phones. When not engaged in this behavior they stand arms folded across chest, scowling. I remember when Rock shows were a place where people interacted. The club was charged with an energy specifically designed to help further the species. When did it become cool to go out on a Friday night, stand shoulder to shoulder and pretend to not notice one another?
These are the same people that count hundreds as their friends on My Space and Facebook. When actually confronted with someone who is living his or her profile out in the wild, they form a moat around a piece of the floor. Talking with the two or three people we came with, we miss the opportunity to connect with one another. It begs the question; “What good is alcohol anyway?!”
One guy was basking in the digital glow of his handheld, intently texting away while his agitated girlfriend sat next to him. Finally succumbing herself to punching away at the keys of her phone. Maybe she was trying to reach him? All the while the band played on…
Generation Text or People 2.0, whatever moniker describes The Mountain Goat fan, seemed to be having a virtually good time. I guess I can’t help but reflect back to the years before all this technology. I know I’m supposed to be more connected to my fellow man than I was then, but tell that to Millhouse’s girlfriend…Noise Pop shows of lore were filled with scensters bouncing off of each other like atoms or drunken sailors. Now any human contact seems incidental and meaningless. Until you post it on You Tube.