Day 4: I Can’t Hear You Talk
“I just learned the Pictionary charades of a towel” –Ida No, Glass Candy
If the Rickshaw Stop represents the ideal spot to perform electronic music in SF, the Mezzanine represents the diametric opposite. It is essentially a giant club, with speakers more suited for arenas than small venues. To make matters worse, whomever was helming the board had no idea how to properly mix vocals in a live setting. While each performer felt this problem, it was most acute with official opening act Soft Metals. While their electro was ostensibly great, one could not decipher and understand Patricia Hall’s singing by dint of the very poor mix.
The rest of the night went to members of Johnny Jewel’s Portland Italo Disco Club. First up were Chromatics, led by the vintage Ruth Radelet. With the giant screen projecting a distinct 1970s-style soft focus of the stage action, the band gave off the presence of what would happen if Dido started her career before disco died (a better time period for that sort of voice). Not a bad thing, as the crowd ate it up, but it’s still noteworthy.
Headliner Glass Candy are a group whose music you hear in passing everywhere, but never identify until you ask about it. In this case, Ida No and Mr. Jewel probably represent the current face of Italo Disco in Ms. Shapiro’s absence, with some choice cuts in movies. The Soft Pack wish they had this crowd. Ida No could win the World’s Sexiest Banshee Queen contest if they held it, deviating between a childish manner of singing and shrieking while gyrating intensely. Her talk of third eyes and spirituality makes one wonder if she’s thought of getting a shaman recommendation from Lizzi Bougatsos.
Day 5: Breakdown #29
“I am seriously having a psychedelic tripping experience into the past here. Let me have it!” –Bradford Cox
Sorry, Frank Broyles (who is not Frankie Boyle, so no biggie). Apologies, Electric Flower. No real apologies to Carnivores, since they did nothing memorable, but still some sympathies. And a big apology to Seventeen Evergreen and their dancers with morph suits designed by Brian Chippendale. I’m not going to talk about you.
I’m going to talk about Bradford Cox, performing as Atlas Sound, and his nervous breakdown on stage.
The trouble began most of the way through Bradford’s set, when he broke a string on his acoustic guitar (which he said is the first time it’s ever happened to him). After finishing the song, he switched to his Jazzmaster, dedicating the broken string to the audience and playing a song while Broyles restrung the guitar.
Things started going downhill one song after getting the guitar back. After a banter interlude that included a joke from one his friends, someone in the crowd shouted out a request for “He Would Have Laughed,” a song off Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest. Cox misheard it as “We want to live,” and responded with, “But I won’t hurt you!” Then he strummed a few lines from “I Won’t Hurt You” by West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (which everyone in the crowd knew because local heroes Thee Oh Sees covered it last year on Castlemania). He did a “name that artist” bit, and when a kid in front answered the original band correctly, he offered him the “prize” of joining him on stage. That’s when it supposedly hit him: The 13-year-old kid, named Matt, essentially resembled Bradford Cox when he was 13.
For the next 15 minutes or so, Mr. Cox started raving about this kid in this tripped-out manner, getting his manager to acknowledge the kid looked like him then (and supposedly, said manager knew him then because they met during a Stereolab show back when the latter managed the band), praising him for being an American (“God Damn right, you are!”), among many other things. He would go off on other tangents as well, mentioning the current news story gripping his hometown of Athens, Georgia (the new Wal-Mart in downtown), and how this kid has not missed much from being born in 1998 (“Nirvana? Hah”). He started wondering if he was really reliving the past, and looked exasperated.
The peak of this madness occurred when he spent five minutes giving Matt advice, including “Avoid heterosexual people. Unless you’re heterosexual, in which case avoid gay people,” and “Don’t use DMT more than once.” The crowd was ostensibly anguished over the matter, and wanted Cox to play again, to which at one point he responded, “When you face your 13-year-old doppelgänger and have a nervous breakdown, then you can tell me to sing a song.” By the time he finally finished up and went back to singing, he was only able to play one song, “Terra Incognita” off Parallax, which he dedicated to Trish Keenan, before Bimbo’s cut him off for the night. To Matt’s credit, he not only played along on that song on maracas, but also got backstage access afterward.
The whole situation registered as one of the strangest moments in the entire festival. And probably its finest.
Finale: General Minimal and the Gimmick Brigade
“I was standing up? I apologize for sitting down!” –Dana Valatka, AU
To close out the festival, Noise Pop made some safe bets: Great American Music Hall with local heroes The Dodos. They probably did not predict some unfortunate circumstances. But more on that later.
The opening half of the show was made up of collaborative Baroque efforts Here Here and Cannons and Clouds. Both betrayed Baroque elements that, either because of the mix or because of the way it was set up, felt more gimmicky than anything else. Which is kind of sad, especially in the case of the latter band: There were strong songs being played, and the harp (their “gimmick”) seemed like it should have been far more obvious to the crowd than it was projected.
Following the first half came the first band to really grab the crowd, Portland’s AU. With a very brand new member in tow (this was only her second show), the trio burst forth with a certain degree of beautiful cacophony that made you wonder if they just don’t care much for actual structure. It felt bouncy and frenzied without losing complete control of the situation. If they had better first acts, the crowd might have riled up and danced like lunatics.
Meric Long and Logan Kroeber entered Great American Music Hall on a very somber note. Their fellow band member Christopher Reimer (also of Women) had died in his sleep on the first day of the festival. They were once again a duo without his help. Addressing his death publicly in their first gig since then, The Dodos honored him by covering Lower Dens’ “Tea Lights,” rewriting a lyric from the song to reflect something Reimer always said. They did that song (and him) justice. From there, they bounced through their set with the ferocity that many had expected of the Dodos, and got the crowd going as much as they could. After clearing the encore, there was a brief moment where people thought a second encore would take place, and the crowd kept at it, encouraging a return. It was clear that this would not be the case, but perhaps they were asking for something more. Twenty festivals in, they have a right to.
[Photos: Flaming Lips: Charlie Homo; Grimes: Paige K Parsons; rest: Ze Pequeno]