Micachu and the Shapes / tUnE-yArDs / Tempo No Tempo
Rickshaw Stop; San Francisco, CA
It’s been a while since I felt ringing in my ears. Noise was needed, given how much lately I’d been forced to listen to other people’s music, and a show was to be had. While the Rickshaw had held the massively hyped Pains Of Being Pure At Heart only the night before, I sought interest in another breakout band this year, Micachu and The Shapes, tonight. Micah “Micachu” Levi’s bombastic noise project has subtle elements of elegance in its debut recording, Jewellery, which had me wondering if it translates well in a live setting.
The night opened with local Oaklanders Tempo No Tempo. They seemed to rely on the latter half of their name at times, feeling sloppy. While frontman Tyler McCauley instilled a significant intensity in his vocal disposition and guitar playing, his bandmates could not match that intensity, and it felt like he was burdened with picking up their slack. Preparation (or lack thereof) may have been at the heart of this problem: On more than one occasion drummer Alex Kaiser have to tune his snare drum, often mid-song, and at one point the band screwed up their set list and made the audience aware. They managed to hit stride in the second half of their set, beginning with a new untitled track and moving onward to the enjoyable “Medicines.” Still, they could not make up the lost interest. There is decent potential to be found in their music, but they need to spend more time practicing to truly express it.
Within the first minute of supporting act tUnE-yArDs’ first piece, it felt like the opening act was just a rehearsal and the show had finally begun. In fact, given the crowd’s incredible reaction, one could argue Merill Garbus' solo act had stolen the entire show. And she nearly did; her incredible vocal range and dynamic approach to percussion (at one point just creating a proper rhythm out of layers of banging drum rims and the stage floor) made her music an explosive sledgehammer. What's more, her ukelele thrashing was made all the more impressive by the fact that she was playing with a completely broken nail on one finger. But it was her projection that truly raised the crowd: When she was not deploying vocal layer upon drum layer, she was singing with a passion you rarely see outside church gatherings, to the point where she sometimes started out screaming as though she were speaking in tongues. Best of all, you could follow it, drag yourself along with it, and it felt complete. It’s a rare pleasure seeing a performance that holds on to your head and heart for so long, even rarer when a crowd voices displeasure that a supporting set had to end so soon.
From the beginning of their set, Micachu and The Shapes couldn’t decide between a more refined or bombastic approach, so they took both. Never before had I seen such technical accuracy with noise-rock. I was listening to My Bloody Valentine or Lightning Bolt being played by Julliard graduates: Loud, but not painfully so; layered, but easy to discern; brutal, but in a precise manner. Even the cowbell and cymbal-heavy opening to “Eat Your Heart” felt classically inclined, and probably could fit in a piece played by the Boston Pops. They stretched their songs with new solos and bridges, which went from the bizarre (the cymbal solo in “Curly Teeth”) to the stunning (Micachu’s Shields-esque shredding in “Golden Phone”), but all fit. Micachu’s boyish charms worked in her favor, so it never seemed out of place when she snarled or emitted a deep articulate growl in accordance with whatever piece they were playing. Most importantly, though, the band was very progressive: During their short 50-minute set they debuted a few new songs, including the slow-but-appealing “Debris.” While it would be harsh to define noise by a standard such as this, Micachu and The Shapes have definitely exceeded the usual standards and are likely to last as a unique and tight group.