Show Archive: Merge Records 25th Anniversary Record Collection – Or Thousands of Prizes

I packed as many of the songs off of Merge Records 25th Anniversary 7-Inch Subscription Collection “Or Thousands of Prizes” into one two hour show, while still maintaining some witty banter with guest J.FRAHM. Highlights include never-before heard tracks, alternate takes and covers from Superchunk, Lambchop, Vertical Scratchers, Redd Kross, Spoon, Ex Hex, The Clientele, and more!1000s

I signed up for one seven-inch record a month. What I got was:

– One seven-inch record a month for a year.

– A gorgeous magnetic-sealed, metal-stamped box to store all the records in.

– A bonus 12″ EP with six current Merge roster bands covering each other.

– a CD of all the seven-inch record tracks

– A surprise mail delivery to kick things off with a special t-shirt and a bunch of stickers.merge

Merge only printed 1200 copies of this, and the numbers are handwritten! Along with the box set of records, the label sponsored a weekend of shows in Chapel Hill and a run for charity with Merge bands playing along the route.

In preparation for this show, I went a little overboard on the social media. Early wins – a retweet by Merge and a response via Instagram from Jason Narducy (bass player for Bob Mould, touring for Superchunk, and heading up his own band Split Single) quickly turned into me making ridiculous demands of Narducy and Bob Mould himself.

This all started because I noticed that there were two glaring omissions from the whole birthday record collection: Bob Mould and Arcade Fire. I love everything about the record collection, but it makes you wonder…

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SHOW ARCHIVE – CULTURE COLLIDE – Level & Tyson

I had a couple too many mezcals during the “Spirits of the World” Culture Collide San Francisco Creative Summit panel and… yadda yadda yadda… I invited Norwegian indie pop band Level & Tyson to come on to the show! Their debut album “Even Faster Still” is a fantastic display of skill and restraint – crafting melodic, layered choruses from quirky walls of guitar and synth. If this band and their album was being promoted in the United States, you’d already know about it.

Once in the studio, the band was as charming and disarming as their music. We talked about their impending trek down to LA. I begged them to stop in Big Sur, and taught them how to order at In n’ Out. We took some time to preview more of the bands playing Culture Collide: Nervous Nellie, Popstrangers, Gossling, The Oaths, Sleep Thieves, Monokino, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

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Noise Pop Fest 2014: What to Look Forward To.. And not.

Noise Pop Header

[here’s the link to my Noise Pop Fest 2014 Spotify playlist for those of you that don’t want to read the post. Jerks.]

It’s been too long since I’ve cast my skeptical gaze at a festival line-up and thought about actually purchasing tickets. This year, San Francisco’s Noise Pop Fest 2014 has certain promise, but also a massive amount of unknowns for an aging rocker like me. Is the all-access badge worth the purchase? Will some young indie rock upstarts renew my faith in music and life? I don’t have the answers, so I’m going to trudge through Spotify, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud to figure it all out:

MONDAY FEBRUARY 24TH

Apparently, someone at Noise Pop was listening in on my prayers to the gods of indie rock and recruited Waters to play. I don’t know this band at all, which makes it all the more exciting to go through my personal checklist without wanting: Big drums? – check. Loud guitars and feedback? – check. Nice harmonies and melodies? – check. These guys could be huge. If they’re not already. I have no idea. I suppose I could look that up. I mean, there’s a scruffy blond dude (with some Neil Young in him) thrashing around playing a Telecaster. Sound familiar? The Tambo Rays have got that polite, post-punk synth and guitar-with-delay thing going on. I’m not being dismissive here – it’s good. So far, this is a pretty compelling bill of people I’ve never heard before. My favorite kind of bill!

Courtney Barnett is a pop-rocker from Down Under. More than that, she’s a clever lyricist whose style and delivery reminds me of Craig Finn of The Hold Steady or even John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Some of the guitar-squalling makes me wonder if they’d be more exciting live than on record, but this is one of those artists (like The Hold Steady and Mountain Goats) whose lyrics are more compelling than the music itself, which isn’t usually my bag. But she’s still got a Hope Sandoval sort of appeal. I would lump Kins into the post-punk category: a sparse-but-compelling rhythm section, catchy girly-man vocals, bendy synths that swirl in and out of the mix… Pretty, pretty thoughtful pop. Fever the Ghost may be the weirdest band on the Noise Pop roster, which is meant with full compliments. “Psychedelic garage pop” isn’t normally this quirky, and it doesn’t usually leave you with a distinct classic rock aftertaste. I will mention the obvious here: this frontman sounds a lot like Jack White, and the guitar playing does too. I get the feeling this is more about these kids growing up on the White Stripes (a concept that makes me feel hella old) than a conscious decision to sound like them, so I’m pretty okay with the obvious similarities. Rich Girls is a strong addition to this bill: reverb-drenched and sparse, they have all the pop sensibility of Best Coast, but a bit more energy.

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 25TH

Lord Huron is the first band to sell out their show for Noise Pop 2014, so I guess you’re out of luck if you’re just reading about them now (unless you get the badge!). To quote myself from the Treasure Island Music Festival Survival Guide: ” Lord Huron has that country/Americana pop thing going on. Earnest. Not TOO sad-bastardy. Fans of My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses will dig.” Night Beds is a perfect opener for Lord Huron. Pretty, soft-but-energetic Americana. [As of 1/16, Night Beds was no longer listed on the NP schedule for this show]

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 26TH

Audion = Matthew Dear going “oontz-oontz-oontz-oontz”.

Papercuts force me to pull one of my formulaic, nonsense descriptions out of my ass: how about sometime-caffeinated, reverb-drenched jangle-pop? Yeah, that’ll do. That’ll do nicely. Vetiver … All I can say is a listened to the same song twice in a row and didn’t notice. Not a strong endorsement. Very polite, acoustic-driven pop. Who called this freak folk?!? I try not to peak at Spotify’s band descriptions, The Donkeys’s description said “Pavement, the Grateful Dead, and CSNY” in the first sentence. Indeed, the first song I listened to sounded like an extended jam outtake from Range Life. To the point I tried singing over it. And then the next song could be straight off of Harvest. These are positive indicators for me.

The Fresh and Onlys have a shimmer and sheen to their songs that says “California” at a reasonable volume and tempo.

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 27TH

Despite the cringe-worthy name, Dude York is probably the strongest act to play during the Bender’s Noise Pop Happy Hour. It’s guitar-based rock. What else do you want to now?!? A Million Billion Dying Suns sounds great on Spotify, but their production could be hiding a monster that comes out and ravages unsuspecting victims during live shows. Whenever a band is drenched in this much reverb and effects, I get curious and excited: these seemingly post-punk shoegazers might rip your head off. And upcoming SF MC A-1 opening up the show? Shit. I’ll show up just to watch the Bender’s staff’s reaction.

Shabazz Places certainly have a unique  approach to hip hop. I haven’t spent a lot of time with their recorded work, which I think would put me at a disadvantage seeing them live. No doubt there will be some fanatical devotees at Slim’s, though. Extra Classic is reggae. Mon.

Com Truise is techno dance stuff. Phantoms is techno dance stuff. I imagine Kauf and DJ Dials is techno dance stuff too. Have fun, kids.

Bob Mould is one of the forefather’s of noise pop. The loud, melodic wall of sound he has churned out over the last three plus decades with Husker Du, Sugar and as a solo artist is on par with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, or [insert your favorite, still-active underground guitar god here]. I’m a little confused by the show details though: Is Mould only going to play his solo album Workbook? He’s got to make with the hits, right? As I listen to this album right now, it opens up with some flanged electric guitar and acoustics… and fake hand claps. Hm. I need clarification before committing to this show.

As you might have figured out, this blog can get pretty stream-of-conscious as I listen to and write about music at the same time. Right now, I’m listening to Bottomless Pit and definitely hearing the 90’s but can’t tell if that’s a good thing or not. They sound like Seam, the Afghan Whigs and some other shitty 90’s band had a colicky baby together. I’m really surprised/disappointed this is a headliner for NP show. Kinski has always been on the periphery of my awareness. Their most popular song on Spotify is a psychedelic, droney, guitar rock song with decent melodies and lots of skronk. I don’t know. Maybe I need a nap. Likening their singer to Lee Ranaldo in my head helped smooth things over a little bit, but unless NP adds someone amazing to actually headline, there are better options. VIR are a wonderful surprise and a welcome addition to the SF Bay Area music scene. I’m not sure how long they’ve been at it, but they are a great three-piece that focus on churning out noise at high volume.

Broods: Most likely to be played during the credits of HBO’s Girls this season. Runner up: ASTR. That’s a job right? Putting songs on Girls? Can I do that? I just found two groups. Pay me.

Mark Mulcahy sounds like very “sunny” acoustic pop on first listen, but his lyrical content is sorta dark. There’s a call-and-response style chorus that is hilariously bad. I usually immediately turn my brain off when I hear the first plucks from some sad bastard’s guitar, but Vikesh Kapool is keeping my attention. This guy is pulling straight from Dylan, Simons, and Cat Stevens. His strong voice seems like a front for sad melodies a la Shane McGowan. Talented for sure, but I have a pretty strict policy about standing around watching sad bastard music, even if it’s fantastic. And this approaches fantastic.

At this point in my research, I have to plead with Noise Pop: Please recruit some more rockin’ bands for Christ’s sake. [Plea answered, it seems. See Waters.]

I don’t know if Mother Falcon is twee or emo chamber pop or some other micro-genre, but I DO know that they stole a really good name from the heavy metal community. Defintely not sad, this band plays precious but energetic pop. You ever see that episode of Modern Family where the nerd daughter ends up being in a band? It’s like that but with horns. Foxtails Brigade is just dreamy and beautiful music. It’s like Ambien for your ears. I could definitely be lulled to sleep by them, but not bored. Kan Waken has an orchestral pop sound that is slick enough to be featured in the opening credits of a James Bond film.

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 28TH

Since there’s a lot of bands to cover, I’m going to steal again from my TIMF blog entry about Real Estate: “[they] have been milking the REM aesthetic for a couple years now, and to an enjoyable result. I’m not expecting them to blow my face off, but stranger things have happened.” They were good to see live, but twice in six months doesn’t need to happen, especially when there are so many other options. Dream Boys describe themselves as a “paisley pop band”. I guess I can see that. They sound preppy. The Shilohs jingly and jangly and not at all something that’s going to keep my attention now or on a Friday night. Fans of indie twang will really like this show.

FINALLY. I come to a band that actually can be described by the words “noise” and “pop”: No Age! This duo from LA is fantastic and truly satisfying for those that search out a loud, energetic show with hooks and noise beating each other over the head.

Cold Cave. I think I’ve hit my limit today. I can tell this electro-gothpop dance party would be fun but I don’t have much more to say… [time lapse] … A day later and I will confirm that this band is good, and probably a really fun time live. Happy Fangs flip-flops between a dance-pop band with a punk sensibilities to a punk band with dance-pop sensibilities. Tween riot grrls, maybe? Lyrically, Happy Fangs makes me feel ancient, but that’s okay. I’m sure they’ll freak the FUCK OUT live.

Bleached is a band that I’ve been mildly aware of, and I like what I’m hearing! Kind of riding that same beach-pop wave as Best Coast but a little more dynamic and noisier? I imagine this will be a sold out show soon. Hopefully not before I post this blog or decide to go.

The Soft White Sixties make Friday a really hard day to choose what to do. Their glam-infused ass-shakers are right up my alley. There’s no way this band sucks live. Their riffing and soloing and breakdowns demand stage theatrics, or at the very least long hair swaying over humming guitars. Fans of glam rock, garage rock, and the more rocking moments of southern groups like the Black Crowes will appreciate this. Openers NO (Los Angeles) immediately come off as post-punk devotees, and I predict at least one of them will be wearing a Joy Division tee on stage. Good stuff, nonetheless. I realize that this huge bus full of critical energy I’m careening around corners has thrown more than it’s fair share of bands under the bus for “sad bastardry”. Sometimes I can pull my head out of my own ass long enough to enjoy some soft, pretty, atmospheric music. Cannons and Clouds have about a 70/30 mix going for sad-bastardry/rock. So, I guess my EARs are at least out of my ass, and would enjoy some of their set. Hopefully, they punch it up a notch or two live, or focus on the more rockin’ material. The She’s pack a lot of bubble gum and hand claps into each song. Pure garage pop delight.

Throwing Muses just put out a new album?!? Does it have two amazing songs on it like The Real Ramona did?!? I jest. There’s three amazing songs on that album. I’m sure the Jewish Community Center will be packed for this show. With people over 35.

El Ten Eleven have a lot of listens on Spotify, which tells me that I am missing the boat on this band. So far, the band is noodly, instrumental, and a littly proggy. It’s good. How good? I don’t know. This could depend on the crowd. I could see people freaking out. I’m not sure where I’ve been, but this band has put out five albums in the last seven years.

SATURDAY MARCH 1ST

Real Estate. Again. But this time with Dominant Legs opening, a band who has completely confused me. They are almost good. I don’t know how else to say it, and I don’t want to call them bad. Their funky chords and danceable rhythms recall Talking Heads or even Prince at times, but devoid of the sweat or hooks. Totally eighties.

No Age again! Personally, this looks like the show to see. As I listen to Cheatahs for the first time, I’m hoping that their “pretty chords over power chords” approach isn’t just one song… The vocals and slightly dreamy sound remind me of a more laid back Swervedriver. Yes. Second song confirms my initial thoughts. GRMLN will be opening the Saturday show for No Age, and are a perfectly energetic, post-punk outfit with pop hook sensibility. Their earlier material approaches what I would consider “twee” with out actually know or caring to look up the definition), but the latest album has them off the decaf and encouraging listeners to pogo their way through the show. This may be on the top of my list, but that can change with more band announcements. [This show is DEFINITELY in my tops for Noise Pop]

Dr.Dog is a band I respect but have fallen out of love with. Their live shows are great. I’ve seen them a handful of times and their energy is fantastic. Their righteous, shabby-chic Americana pop has started to get a way from me a little, though. I actually encourage people that like this band or that style of music to see them. I’ve just worn them a little thin for myself. Saint Rich offers more of the same: righteous, anthemic tunes that maybe have a little bit of glitter in their hair from listening to some Bowie and T. Rex. Moses Sumney wins the award for best name of any act, as far as I’m concerned. This is where I will make an important distinction, not everyone toting an acoustic guitar is a sad bastard. Moses Sumney has an amazing pair of pipes and plucks away with the best of them. This is lush and emotional acoustic balladry bordering on R&B.

Mikal Cronin and the distorted pop that put his latest release at the top of many year-end best-of lists will be playing The Chapel, making the Mission (along with No Age) the place to be this night. The shambling tunes and harmonies of Old Light are as laid back as anything Pavement ever produced, but with more Neil Young influence than Lou Reed. If that means anything to anyone, great. But Old Light continue to pour on the Crazy Horse, so I’m pretty happy. Vertical Scratchers remind me of Enon and John Schmersal’s vocal delivery. Another good thing. The only song they have on Spotify is definitely enough to get me interested in this band. [note: this is a new Schmersal band I was not aware of!!! Score!!!]

Free Salamander Exhibit [the name] makes a lot more sense to me now that I know this band contains members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. The group produces theatrically absurd heavy metal with asynchronous breakdowns, odd time signatures, ridiculous choruses, and quirky noodling. This show will truly be a treat for the Zappa, Beefheart, Faith No More, and Mr. Bungle fans out there that also appreciate heavy metal. Lasher Keen has… a flute. And a very medieval, electric ren fare/ LARPing sort of sound going on. Which makes me not want to research opener Listo at all. Sorry.

Mark Kozelek is ye olde king o’ the Sad Bastards. Fortunately his rule was brought about with true skill, an ethereal voice, and lyrical prowess. I won’t pose as a superfan, but I know that people freak out for this gentlemen, and I can understand why. His songcraft is second to none of his peers. The big question is: could I stand and stare at him for 90 minutes or more? I may try.

Updates will come as NP makes more announcements!

Noise Pop Fest 2014

Essential Guide to the Treasure Island Music Festival

Here’s the TIMF Spotify playlist link for those of you who don’t want to read.

Good news! It looks like I’ll be stepping out of house arrest to enjoy myself at the Treasure Island Music Festival! I don’t think I’m going to be there from open to close, but I can still offer you, the reader, my opinions on all the bands, and some tips for dress and transportation:

Layers: yes, it’s going to be a lovely weekend in the 70’s, but think about the families of French tourists you’ve seen around town, all decked out in Alcatraz Psycho Ward hoodies… It’s gonna get colder, faster with our tails hanging out in the bay. Bring layers and preferably a wind-proof one.

Sunblock: this is not antithetical to layering up. There will be three hours of sun I’m guessing. Don’t get burnt and then have to layer up. That’s the worst feeling in the world.

Pay to Park: as a TIMF newbie I am opting to pay for parking. It’s a pretty cheap proposition if you have four people in the car for two days.

Take advantage of the free Flywheel offer: if you can’t muster a car, I hear that the Flywheel taxicab hailing app is giving free rides to the festival. I’m sure restrictions apply.

Now on to the music!

SATURDAY
I suppose Giraffage is what the kids are calling IDM these days. Sounds like Aphex Twin caught in a rut.

Antwon comes on pretty strong with the hardcore hip hop – and so early in the day. I have trouble imagining a hip hop artist “bringing it” before the sun goes down.

Adult. has been producing gothic electronic dance tunes out of Detroit for more than a decade. While it’s not my bag, I have seen them entertain throngs of festival goers.

Robert DeLong uses many different textures and timbres to produce his shitty dance music. Depending on how he plays live, this could be interesting to watch. Live drumming and live sound manipulation? Fun. All pre-programmed? Zzzzzz.

Tricky canceling may be a disappointment, but Detroit’s MC Danny Brown will likely win over the crowd with his quirky, dynamic beats and his madcap lyrics.

Poolside is one of the strongest examples of a band whose name completely evokes their sound. I can hear this in my head at The Standard Miami, soaking up some sun and drinking an Au Natural (coconut water, pineapple juice, rum, lime). It’s the perfect mix of soft rock from the 70’s and 80’s with a dash of electro to keep things fresh.

Disclosure: R&B house/techno from Great Britain. Pass.

HOO BOY! I appreciate a good laugh, especially when I’m not expecting it… So, thanks DJ Falcon for showing me what being hardcore techno means. Check this shit out! I imagine the kids will be losing their shit for this.

TWERK ALERT!Major Lazer is going to take the stage, play “Bubble Butt” and I’m pretty sure we’re gonna have 5,000 Mileys on our hands.

This is a lot of dance music for someone like me to trudge through, but Holy Ghost! have won on my eighties nostalgia, specifically for the Human League.

Finally, a band I actually know: Little Dragon play beautiful music – be it dancey or moody – and perform it with energy and conviction live. It’s eighties-tastic, but what isn’t these days?

Phantogram has a more ethereal take on the whole electro-dance genre. It’s good, but some depends on how they choose to play live: full band or prerecorded? It will make or break their performance at least for me.

Finally, it’s time for Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich and Flea to whip us into a tizzy as Atoms for Peace. If you like Thom’s The Eraser and the new AfP album, and like to watch Mr. Yorke shuffle his tiny has across the stage, you will not be disappointed.

SUNDAY
Deep Sea Diver certainly offers a great argument to skip church and get to the festival early. The band’s sense of melody is reminiscent of Surfer Blood, but the guitar player seems to have some Les Savvy Fav tendencies too, which go nicely with the dynamic female vocalist. Definitely a band I can get into.

Another early contender! IO Echo has a huge, dreamy production aesthetic which makes their shoegazerish pop great to listen to, but once again, I worry about live output. This will rock with a full band, or be pretty boring prerecorded.

Palma Violets are guaranteed to bring the crowd to boil with their bratty, Britpop ways. Listening to all the bands playing TIMF in one sitting is truly daunting, but the slop and slack of the Palma Violets is very refreshing for me.

Cayucas are destined for a good set. Their West Coast sunny pop sounds will be hitting people at the peak of the good weather. Fans of Vampire Weekend with like these guys.

Three acts from the Mitten at this festival! Represent! Lord Huron has that country/Americana pop thing going on. Earnest. Not TOO sad-bastardy. Fans of My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses will dig.

By far the worst music I’ve poured into my ears today, HAIM takes the cake. This band belongs at Alice’s free day in the park opening for the Goo Goo Dolls. It’s SO bad.

STRFKR confuses me. Some of their material has the hooks of a good Deerhunter song, but then they seem way too focused on mid-tempo synth dance numbers.

Real Estate have been milking the REM aesthetic for a couple years now, and to an enjoyable result. I’m not expecting them to blow my face off, but stranger things have happened.

Men, it’s time to grab your lady close and whisper romantic nothings in her ear: James Blake is in tha house! Dude has a voice that just makes bras fall off. Some of the best R&B/electronic crossover being produced today.

And then for a completely different feel, go watch Japandroids. This energetic, punkish band from Canada sounds like 1996 and freedom to me. Go pump your fist and sing along with the “oh-oh-ohs”!

Animal Collective are a gamble to see live, despite being one of the most important acts of the 21st century. If you go expecting to hear “the hits”, you could be sorely disappointed with a full set of material you’ve never heard, and maybe Avey Tare doing some noise jam. Let’s hope for a set of hits, please.

Sleigh Bells’ wall of fuzzed out guitars, blown-out beats, and fashion-victim front woman should be a lot of fun. I’m not sure I can handle a whole set of the dance skronk, but I at least want to check it out.

Beck. Over the decades, this man has never failed to deliver. Simple as that.

Enjoy!

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Surviving Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Saturday Edition

Here’s my HSB Spotify playlist, updated for Saturday.

What I neglected to mention yesterday while gushing about HSB being a tradition/institution here in SF is this: it’s also a hairy nightmare of an event. There’s way too much going on this Saturday for me to review every obscure beardo armed with a banjo. So, here are my super-judgemental picks, keeping in mind I identify with the “HS” much more than the “B”.

If you enjoy your coffee with super-precious, jazzy female vocal stylings, Kat Edmonson seems to be the way to go. Hell, she covers “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure! You could also enjoy your coffee with LP – who is described as “part Feist and part Joan Jett” and also writes songs for Christina Aguilera and Rihanna. That could deserve a listen.

Me? I’d choose to break my fast (for the GoTs fans) with Sonny and the Sunsets warm and fuzzy garage tunes, followed by the heart wrenching, gravelly soul sounds of Betty Lavette. Be prepared to soul clap.

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside are a total surprise. On first listen, it sounds like Jack White and Karen O had a baby and raised it in PDX. Not bad, and probably entertaining.

I’m running outta steam on this post, but Nick Lowe should be interesting if that’s your thing. If you like dudes with super-low growly voices, Mark Lanegan is unparalleled in that field (save Tom Waits).

I got enough Steve Earle on Treme. You’re on your own from here.

Surviving Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Friday Edition

Here’s my HSB Spotify playlist for those who don’t wanna read my crappy advice and opinions. I’ll update as I review bands each day.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has become a great tradition in San Francisco – where else would anyone have the opportunity to hear MC Hammer, Elvis Costello, and Robert Plant in the same weekend?!? And Plant playing ‘Going to California’ in a soup of fog! To cheese out: this event can truly be the stuff memories are made of. But you should be prepared:

  • Travel light. You will surely have some friends packing coolers, throwing down blankets like they’re in an old fashioned land grab, and setting tables with cheese, hummus and crudités to accompany. THAT’S GREAT. Visit with these people, eat their food, but don’t get sucked into the one-stage picnic vortex. If you’re like me, you want to be at several stages, catching as many acts as possible.
  • Cash is king. Whether that means procuring a dirty water hot dog or purchasing a tallboy Pabst from some enterprising hippie, come with bills.
  • Ride in. There isn’t any parking in this city anyways, so why would a weekend of nationally-recognized roots music make that any better? And who wants to pay $50 for an Uber after a day of free music? Fly in and out on two wheels and some pedals, and take advantage of bike parking.
  • Bring a Flask. This fits under ‘travel light’, but is important to highlight. Also, it may help to produce a flask when trying to ingratiate yourself with someone’s cheese table.
  • LAYER UP. This is San Francisco. C’mon, dummy.

FRIDAY’S BANDS
I hope some of you are more on top of things, because a young man named Jesse Dee is playing as I write this. He’s got a very fun and fresh take on classic R&B and soul sounds. Should be a good should dance party.

Shit- another opener with promise! Manchester Orchestra has all the attributes you like about My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses. But they seem to be all over the map. Oh shit, they just went Nu-emo. Nevermind.

Jake Bellows, well, does ant hyping but bellow. Mostly he meanders through bar chords with a lot of reverb on his voice. Jesse Dee would be my pick for fist band to see.

I’m not even sure I’m listening to the right schmuck on Spotify, but Jesse DeNatale seems like a REAL boring Devandera Banhart or Edward Sharp. Pass.

The female duo of Freakwater brings the first real possibility for a hippie hoedown. Strong-voiced women strumming the shit out of some guitar – hard to hate.

The Cave Singers… Ach, I guess they sound as good or as bad as anybody else mining country for that indie Americana sound.

If the soundtrack for “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” was a revelation for you (no judgement, really), you will probably like The Seldom Scene and their backwater gospel bluegrass sound.

LOW is a band I can’t believe is still around after twenty years, but they are – improbably – continuing to make beautiful and grandiose pop tunes, at a variety of volumes and tempos. My only problem is their overlap with on of my all-time heroes.

Go see Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina in The Evens. This might prove to be the best thing you do or see all weekend. I’m already jealous. Stay to the end. Father John Misty may be calling, but how often can you say you saw one of the most important people in punk rock play?

After that, First Aid Kit sounds decent enough: girly harmonies, lotsa guitars and instruments (sometimes even played with gusto!). Points to these acoustic-toting ladies for being Swedish, and by extension Detroit Red Wings fans.

After that, choose your poison: Calexico, Conor Oberst, or Bonnie Raitt?

I have no opinion on these musicians, but I’m sure Bonnie and Conor will both have all kinds a special guests, so choose who you think will have cooler special guests and watch that performance. Calexico is obviously the sacrificial lamb here.

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What to See at the First City Festival

(not a big reader? Here’s a Spotify Best of First City Festival Playlist to check out.)

Weekends right now seem packed with some sort of to-do, and this weekend is no exception: the First City Festival offers “a weekend of music, food and fresh ocean air at the site of the iconic Monterey Pop Festival.”

Would I make my way down the Coast to Monterey to see this lot of bands? It SOUNDS like a decent weekend in theory… Anyway, here’s the #WWBRD for this particular festival:

SATURDAY, AUGUST 24th

I’m all for arriving later to festivals for crucial acts (due to my advanced age), but Eli “Paperboy” Reed has enough howl and soul in his R&B sound to be seen and possibly even forgiven for going with the nickname “Paperboy”. Directly following the paperboy, a band with an equally off-putting name, Jeffertitti’s Nile, will be performing some pretty decent psychedelic hippie jams, brah. Actually, there seems to be enough rock and distortion to be very entertaining.

Delta Rae is up next with some gospel harmony-infused folksiness. Perfect for the thoughtful sorority girl.

Blitzen Trapper have been off my radar for a while, but it looks like they’ve continued to mine that southern-fried Americana rock thing pretty well, adding some more arty and noisy elements along the way. If watching dudes hoist guitars to make harmonies is your thing, stop by their stage.

Guy Blakeslee and the Entrance Band seems like the biggest miss of the festival so far, pitted against Blitzen Trapper and the Black Angels, who will undoubtedly rule with their vintage, heavy garage-psych sound.

Guards seem like a nice enough pop band, but I doubt that they are worth missing The Hold Steady, who the best description I’ve ever heard of is “rock music for people who read a lot of books”. They’re truly entertaining live, and I wish I had more of a tolerance for them on record, but I told myself a long time ago I didn’t like the singer’s style. Maybe it’s time to give them another shot.

South Africa’s Civil Twilight provide a proggy alt rock sound that should be a perfect accompaniment to finding bathrooms, food and drink.

Your stylistic preferences should make the first real choice of the day easy: the “avant R&B” of Quadron or the sad bastard folk tunes of Okkervil River. Pick yer poison.

Father John Misty’s mellow Americana will surely draw a large congregation with little competition.

Beach House will definitely be the place to be for dark, haunting pop, while Tennis will be setting up shop across the way – and across the spectrum – with their sunny, melodic pop reminiscent of Best Coast.

The Delta Spirit are just one more Americana-rock band in this line up, and definitely not the worst by far. If my descriptors for these bands are starting to repeat, well, I blame that on the homogenous nature of the line up. Good live band though.

MGMT are a band to see. While best known for their guilty-pleasure dance pop (“Kids”), their second album Congratulations is an all-killer, no-filler tribute to glam rock.

After that, if my energy and attention weren’t waning, I’d split some time between Washed Out, who sound like their name, and Passion Pit, because – hey – you’ve already spent the money on the ticket. Dancing like an idiot is allowed if you’re up/drunk enough for it.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 25th

If girly pop punk is your thing, get to the fest early to see Bleached. Otherwise, I don’t see a need to be there until The Dodos take the stage with their multi-instrumental quirky pop. It may be worthwhile to split time between the Dodos and The Antlers, a bedroom space-pop pastime that has turned into a full band. If you really need another option, you can see the orchestral space folk of Seventeen Evergreen from SF.

Capital Cities seems to be LA’s dance pop answer to Passion Pit, so feel free to get a bite to eat before your next musical decision.

Keeping with the theme of shitty-named bands, Dr. Dog might be the most popular band with the worst name currently making music. Fortunately, the music is good – mid-tempo, heart-on-the-sleeve rock that tippie toes around jamming, keeping things pretty tight. Vying for your attention at the same time is Akron/Family, a group whose talent and creativity make pinning down their varied sounds very difficult. At times rocking and spaced out, Akron/Family can easily switch gears to offer the more heartfelt, folky experience that other bands on the bill have in a locked groove.

ADVANTAGE: Akron/Family. Even if you aren’t fully familiar with this band, they are more likely to produce a “holy fuck” sort of moment than Dr. Dog, who I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in small venues.

Another good time to hit the bathrooms or food lines is during Electric Guest. I think you’ve heard that song in that TV ad enough, right?

The next big decision is between boho hippie-turned-hair model Devendra Banhart and young, energetic upstarts Generationals. Granted, I’ve heard that Banhart can ‘bring it’ live with his soulful folk-pop fusions (which are pretty slick on his new album), but I think that was mostly women who wanted his body telling me that. Ladies, you do realize that until he cut his hair he was the real-life/for-real persona that Russell Brand is a caricature of, right?

Back to the music… Generationals are all over the spectrum style-wise: uppity guitar rock a la Ted Leo to soulful, mod tunes like The Jam, to electro dance tunes.

DECISION: Split your time. Maybe get close enough to Devendra that he spills some red wine on you, then go pogo to Generationals “Ten-Twenty-Ten“.

PISS BREAK ALERT: Lucero.

You could even extend your piss break into a nap, granted you can get far away enough from Toro Y Moi’s world house and Avey Tare’s Horror Flicks electro-diarrhea. Honestly, I’d be too curious and need to see what this Animal Collective member was up to, if only for a second.

The main attraction, as far as I’m concerned is next: Deerhunter. While this band’s last effort did little for me after a couple listens, they still remain one of my favorite bands of the 21st century and have the power to envelope you in sound with melodic guitar loops, feedback, and pure volume. They have the potential to give you an all-consuming, joyful live musical experience.

If Deerhunter is putting out too much noise or volume for your ears, you may want to cut early to spend some time with Neko Case’s beautiful voice. People tell me this is country music or – even worse – alt-country, but all I hear are some great pipes.

Also high on my priority list is a surprise from last year: Purity Ring create a haunting type of electronic dance music that makes me relieved that goth girls around the world aren’t running short of decent music to dance to.

OLD FART ROCK EXPERT ALERT!
I saw Modest Mouse almost twenty years ago at a laundromat/bar named Sudsy Malone’s in Cincinnati. It was a sweaty, energetic affair that I would have most likely forgotten about if it had not been for MM becoming the most unlikely of pop stars. And now Johnny Marr is in the band?!? If you don’t have work the next day, I guess you should get your money’s worth and stick around. Personally, I could take it or leave it.

Here’s a Spotify Best of First City Festival Playlist. Enjoy.