Hipster bar mitzvah. A cool-kids-only prom. Stadiums with gaggles of screaming teenaged girls. These are the places one can imagine Piedmont-popsters Dizzy Balloon playing in the near future. Now if they only didn’t have to go to college.
On Sunday afternoon at Bottom of the Hill, Dizzy Balloon took the stage after three opening acts that included The Hounds Below (the latest band of The Von Bondies frontman Jason Stollsteimer) and watched anyone between the ages of 19 and 45 flock politely to the exits. Lucky for the band, Dizzy Balloon’s rabid following of teen and tween girls and their parental supervision stepped right in, ready to squeal and dance.
Saturday night at Slim’s, Scotland’s latest chug-a-pint-and-shout-along indie import We Were Promised Jetpacks plowed through a straight-ahead 50-minute set that was short on the chit-chat but heavy on the rocking. With aggressive guitars and the big-piped vocals of Adam Thompson, We Were Promised Jetpacks overcame some curiously poor acoustics (read: ear-bleeding feedback that none of the openers experienced) to delight the packed house.
“Your body was black and blue,” the crowd sang repeatedly as an open-mouthed Thompson stepped back from the microphone on “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning,” a song that evokes countless UK films about abusive and alcoholic fathers. The dark and earnest lyrics almost make you feel guilty for enjoying the sing-along so much.
Bay Area-raised novelist Kris Saknussemm has never met a genre he didn’t want to bend.
At Tom Jones’ packed show at the Warfield on Saturday night, it took all of three songs for the first pair of women’s underwear to be thrown on stage, proving once again that the 68 year-old Welshman was still irresistible to the ladies.
It’s only appropriate that the Los Angeles duo No Age wrapped up Noise Pop ‘09 at Bottom of the Hill on Sunday afternoon with their noisy brand of Thurston Moore-inspired dissonant punk rock. The following are optional at a No Age show: wailing in tune, bass guitars, lead guitar solos, and tracks over three minutes. Guitarist Randy Randall, who looked disturbingly like Val Kilmer as John Holmes in the movie Wonderland, and drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt wasted no time in putting the noise back in Noisepop, jumping into “Teen Creeps” off Nouns, their Subpop debut album. Every time one of No Age’s songs veered toward pop melody, they made sure to interrupt it with a crunching power chord progression or a wave of distortion. But pop compromise is not what No Age is all about.
At first, Noise Pop Happy Hour at Benders Bar and Grill on Saturday felt like an indie rock version of an antique sale. The aging of the 90s Pacific Northwest-SubPop Records-heyday set was evident. The opening acts (the aptly named Aim Low Kid and Audio Out Send) struggled through poor sound on a tiny stage. The lead singer of Aim Low Kid pointed to a crowd member and said that Starbucks and Pabst Blue Ribbon was a dangerous combo. It used to be heroin-chic and meth. Now it’s Starbucks and PBR.
The Syracuse band Ra Ra Riot has always been tough to categorize. No matter what you call them (champer pop, orchestral crooners, shoe-gazing mods), their sound has a way of evoking a range of past hitmakers from Pat Benatar or Talk Talk to Belle and Sebastian or Joy Division. At the band’s sold-out show at the Independent last night, ever-earnest lead singer Wes Miles made sure to let the crowd know that he loved San Francisco and the crowd let the band know that San Francisco reciprocated.
While guys like Rufus Wainwright, Conor Oberst, and Sufjan Stevens rule the genre of sad-eyed, Beatles-influenced folk singer/songwriters, Bay Area troubadour Goh Nakamura probably deserves greater notoriety than the one-time success of “Embarcadero Blues,” a Youtube sensation (over one million viewers last year) and an ode to the SF service industry (watch it below). In his second album, Ulysses, Nakamura is up to his old tricks, singing about lost loves and impossible crushes over melodies that are as precise and sweet as they are complex. At his best, Nakamura will make you miss Elliot Smith badly. Goh Nakamura plays a birthday show tonight at Café Du Nord.
The animated documentary Waltz With Bashir, which took a Golden Globe last night for Best Foreign Film and opened at The Clay last week, is an important and timely film about the human price of war. And to be sure, you can’t watch Ari Folman’s movie without thinking of both sides of today’s Gaza conflict. But despite the film’s many strengths, Waltz With Bashir turns out to be just a languid stroll.
In Nami Mun’s debut novel, Miles from Nowhere, a 13 year old Korean immigrant girl runs away from her dysfunctional Bronx home and embarks on a harrowing journey through the streets of 1980s New York. Though Mun herself left home at a young age, she wouldn’t consider her novel autobiographical.
“If I had to put it in numbers, I’d say maybe one percent of the book is autobiographical. Yes, I left home at a young age but I chose not to write about the actual events of my own life as a runaway. I kept those actual events in a ‘reserve’ of sorts and used my knowledge of them to strengthen the narrative artifice I was creating,” Mun says.