Live Show Report: Hard Girls at Milk Bar, Viet Cong at Rickshaw Stop

Thursday, March 5th was one of those days when everything felt right with the world, the stars were aligned, the wind was at my back, etc. For a music fan, that means your efforts to see two excellent bands playing at two separate venues on the same night works out perfectly, and you even manage to have a beer with a member of one of the bands.

First up in my cosmically-aligned evening was Hard Girls from San Jose playing – conveniently enough – around the block from my house at The Milk Bar on Haight Street, at the very convenient time of 8:30pm as the openers of a four-band bill. I love this band’s latest album on Asian Man Records so much, I added them on to my Top Five Albums of 2014, happily crowding the list past capacity. Live and on album, they are my kind of punks: the ones that eschew convention, especially punk ones. Their anthemic songs brought out the rambunctious sing-alongs from the crowd from the beginning of the set and continued throughout, keeping the atmosphere packed with positive energy. The band – completely encapsulating the term “power trio” – was crammed on stage in between their awesome array of amps (SVT and Fender cab for the bass. VOX AC30, Marshall Half[?], and something else for ONE guitar player), gloriously hoisting their guitars and bashing their drums, playing the sweat out of every tune and most crowd members. They played the hits: basically all of A Thousand Surfaces to my delight, and a couple tracks from their other recordings.

After noticing that Mike the guitar player was wearing a Guided By Voices tee-shirt, and in consideration of the great show, I offered him my last, rare  Dogfish Head Brewing Company’s Beer Thousand tribute to the GBV’s landmark album. He accepted and I showed him all my GBV paraphernalia while drinking some beers around the block. My roommate tried to capture the moment. No comment on the framing.

All that and I still had ample time to grab a cab, a drink, and position myself in the crowd for Viet Cong at the Rickshaw Stop. Viet Cong’s self-titled post-punk masterpiece may stay up near the top of my favorite albums of 2015. It’s early, but I have faith this album will stay on top. Viet Cong’s album on JagJaguar makes such an impact with it’s impeccable, industrial-strength production, I did two contrary things at the same time: I attempted to manage my expectations f seeing them live, while utterly creating an image in my head of post-punk, slightly gothy dudes playing these tunes through fog lamps and minimal lighting. So when four normal-looking and -acting dudes got on stage and started playing, I have to admit to a tinge of disappointment.

Fortunately, the band underneath the production of that amazing album is tight as hell and charismatic to boot. Live, they embodied my thoughts about what I imagine a mind-blowing performance from Television in their prime would be like: Two guitars weaving hooks expertly in, out, around, and through each other. Rhythm players in lock-step on angular, head-bobbing beats. The singer/bass player [!!!] had a voice that wore some of the gravel from the road with grace, but there was also a baritone there I hadn’t picked up on the album – and reminded me in the best possible ways of Mark Lanegan.

While the first show of the night captured the youth and energy I was looking for out of both band and crowd, I felt like the crowd at The Rickshaw Stop didn’t know what to do themselves – and definitely weren’t into dancing or even aggressive head-bobbing, really. It was the only slightly disappointing aspect of the evening, but couldn’t come near crashing the pleasure of seeing both bands. And of course my wallet took a massive hit at the merch booths from both shows.