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Noise Pop Turns 17: Still Independent and Still Essential

Noise Pop 17 takes over San Francisco, beginning Tuesday, February 24th and running through Sunday, March 1st. The annual independent music festival, which began in 1993 as a single night showcase of local bands curated by founder Kevin Arnold, has expanded over the years to include art, film, and panel discussions. Many of San Francisco’s top music venues will be participating and the festival promises to carry on the tradition Arnold and co-founder Jordon Kurland have sustained for the past seventeen years.

This year’s performers decidedly favor the “pop” and less the “noise” referenced in the festival’s moniker. The festival has always brought an eclectic approach to booking and has served as a blueprint for other similar music festivals across the country. Highlights include: current Pitchfork Media buzz band Anthony and the Johnsons at Nob Hill’s Masonic Temple, indie demigod, Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, solo at the Great American Music Hall, and opening the festival with a free performance, no wave torchbearers Deerhunter at Mezzanine.

Past festivals have introduced some of alternative music’s biggest names to Bay Area fans, like the White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Cat Power, and Death Cab For Cutie, to name a few. This year’s keynote will be delivered by Dinosaur Jr/Folk Implosion/Sebadoh alum Lou Barlow along with Bob Mould of Husker Du/Sugar. There will be several panel discussions peppered throughout the week touching on a variety of music industry topics. Wilco’s concert film, “Ashes of American Flags”, directed by Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, will screen as part of Noise Pop’s film program on Wednesday night at the Roxie Theatre.

While the talent remains of the highest quality I would have liked to see more Bay Area performers take on headlining roles. The absence of Bimbo’s 365 Club and the Hemlock Tavern as venues surprised me as well. There seems to have been a shift in recent years away from emphasizing the local talent that served as the genesis for the festival in its inception. As mentioned earlier, there is a slant toward singer/songwriters and orchestral pop acts on the bills. It would be nice to see some harder edged representation on this year’s roster.

Still, Noise Pop remains an unrivaled gem for music fans in the Bay Area and continues to entertain, inform, and stimulate the senses. At a time when music festivals seem ubiquitous, Noise Pop still serves as a bellwether for relevance and buzz in independent music. My picks for the shows that are not to be missed are below. Tickets can be purchased for individual shows or you can buy a festival badge for entry to all performances.

Deerhunter at Mezzanine 444 Jessie Street @ Mint on Tuesday the 24th. This is a free show with RSVP on the clubs website. Know in advance that you will not get in unless you are prepared to arrive obnoxiously early and wait in line. I have been burned before by Mezzanine’s “free” events before. They over sell the venue and basically everyone is on “the list”. But worth the wait if you have nothing better to do with your Tuesday afternoon.

Thee Oh Sees with TYVEK, Unnatural Helpers, and The Fresh and Onlys at Café Du Nord 2170 Market Street on Thursday the 26th. One of the few San Francisco bands headlining a show at this year’s festival, they are a handful live and should have sweat dripping off the ceiling.

Dear and the Headlights with Kinch, Big Light, and A B and the Sea at Bottom of the Hill 1233 17th Street (17th @ Missouri). This Phoenix band mixes lyric driven vocal harmonies with swelling arrangements. The rest of the bill is strong as well, should be a wonderful night of music.

No Age with White Circle Crime Club, Infinite Body, and Veil Veil Vanish at Bottom of the Hill 1233 17th Street (17th @ Missouri). This Los Angeles duo is on the rise and produces a mega-ton of energy on stage. They won’t be playing clubs of this size for much longer, so see them now.

See schedule for Noise Pop '09'

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