Noise Pop Music Festival brings powerful sounds to Bay Area

NoisePop
Tiffany Kim/Staff

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Last month marked the beginning of San Francisco’s indie music, arts and film festival Noise Pop, hosted by San Francisco’s multitude of concert venues like Great American Music Hall and Rickshaw Stop. In its 22nd year, Noise Pop boasts an array of emerging artists, while also showcasing critically-acclaimed bands. Thrown into the mix is a focus on locally-based musicians. The Arts staff has the lowdown on highlights of this year’s festival, which ran until last Sunday.

Mark Kozelek 

“I don’t give a fuck about Noise Pop,” said singer Mark Kozelek of San Francisco’s annual music festival. “I get to walk 10 blocks from my house to play here. And I get $10,000.”

Kozelek, who played at the Great American Music Hall on Saturday night, is an Ohio native with a witty sense of humor. Though he may be a funny performer who interacts with his audience (at one point he made fun of the fact that the entire front row was male), his music is anything but. Death permeates his straight-forward folksy songs in a stark, melancholy manner. His lyrics are agonizingly sensitive, giving his music a cathartic weight that delves beyond sorrow.

Kozelek played mostly off of his 2014 release Benji, written under the name Sun Kil Moon, a project he began in 2002 with a few bandmates from his previous ‘90s group Red House Painters. He opened with the album’s first number, “Carissa.” It tells the story of his second cousin who “burned to death last night in a freak accident fire.” Though he barely knew her, he tells us that doesn’t mean he “wasn’t meant to find some poetry to make sense of this, to find a deeper meaning.”

His lyrics carry an intimate tone, a tone that thickened the atmosphere at the Tenderloin venue with emotion and introspection. Kozelek’s richly textured verses punctured with the powerful acoustic guitar are definitely folksy — but their sensibility and vulnerability seem to redefine the genre.

-Addy Bhasin

No Age 

The night of March 1 was a loud one at the Brick and Mortar Music Hall in San Francisco.

As part of the Noise Pop festival, lo-fi punk outfit No Age, as well as opening bands Cheatahs, GRMLN and Straight Crimes, brought cacophonous reverb to the venue in spades, belting off song after song of straight noise punk.

No Age’s music is a mix of discordant ambience and organized sounds, which is a seemingly oxymoronic description, but listening to its manifestation through a pair of headphones is a wholly different experience from watching those two disparate factors hybridize into a discordant, yet beautiful, collection of punk-infused songs, in a live setting. No Age’s music — and live performances — are experiments in blending harmony with disharmony and seeing what happens.

The crowd, after a few bumpy attempts at starting a mosh pit, finally broke out into crazed moshing mode while drummer Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall played songs across their later discography with animated fervor, focusing on their two more recent albums, Everything in Between and An Object. The disjunct between their album tracks and live performance was especially evident during the song “Running From a Go-Go,” which was more downtempo on An Object, but was played live at a frantic pace.

Their set ended with a fast-paced rendition of famed hardcore punk Black Flag’s “Six Pack,” closing out a show that left the crowd out of breath from moshing and sing-alongs.

-Youssef Shokry

Real Estate 

Last Friday, launching a tour in support of their new album Atlas, Real Estate played a set at The Independent in San Francisco.

Atlas, their first album release since 2011’s hit record Days, incorporates the same melodic guitar and easy-going rhythms as their previous work. It’s a pleasant listen that sounded gorgeous and ambient live, a stylish garage-rock whose in-person performance recalls memories of leafy streets and high-school basement concerts.

Real Estate has never strayed far from the initial sound that launched them into the spotlight. Much like their indie rock idols Built to Spill and Pavement (Real Estate lead singer Martin Courtney said in a recent interview they were early influences on his work), Real Estate’s live performance evokes an adolescent nostalgia that’s infused with a mixture of melancholy and intimacy familiar to anyone with teenage memories of sneaking Pabst in brown paper bags into a neighbor’s garage.

At the show last week, Courtney crooned a heartfelt rendition of “The Bends,” an accurate representation the emotional core of Atlas, eschewing the audience’s expectation for the kind of “chill” indie rock Real Estate is known for.

In showing some vulnerability, both on the album and in performance, Real Estate has added substantial depth to their oeuvre. While some may have expressed reservations about the band’s ability to move in new directions after their first two albums, while retaining the qualities that drew listeners to them in the first, Atlas and their current live show should dispel those doubts.

-Noah Kulwin

Astr and Broods 

Though the pair of bands playing at the Rickshaw Stop on February 27 has been making waves throughout the blogosphere, the same could not be said for their live performance.  The duo of duos seemed to rely too heavily on their fan favorites.  ASTR of New York garnered the strongest reaction from their cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” but the rest of the show mostly fell flat aside from their hit singles “R U With Me” and “Operate” from their Varsity EP. This seems to be a common problem with electropop acts during their genesis (such as CHVRCHES).

On the other hand, BROODS, a brother-sister pair (Georgia and Caleb Nott) from New Zealand, front-loaded their performance with their most high-energy songs and ended the show on a somewhat boring note.  The most exciting thing about their set ended up being that they were making their San Francisco debut.  One exception was a bone-chilling cover of Empire of the Sun’s “We Are the People.”  The band’s most popular songs on their debut, Broods EP, have been uptempo pop songs, but they showed their ability to slow it down with this cover.  Their other attempt at a slow ballad was their final song of the night, as well as their worst, and left the venue devoid of energy.

Regardless, in isolated incidences, both bands showed some promise for the future. Ultimately and unfortunately, however, they need some more experience performing live to match their studio sound.

-Ephraim Lee

Dr. Dog 

While opening act Saint Rich were trying to be Fun., Dr. Dog was actually fun. Once Dr. Dog unraveled the claustrophobic cloaking of their gear, a carnivalesque atmosphere set the stage for a whimsical light show at The Warfield. Band members looked like hipster versions of the Party Rock scene with Frank McElroy’s bright yellow sweater, sunglasses worn at night and multi-colored beanies. McElroy’s riff on “These Days” evoked the same brightness as the stage’s visuals, but that’s not to say that they aren’t edgy. The stage symbolized the duality in Dr. Dog’s sound, where it’s a mid-point between the catchiness of pop and the rawness of blues.

Throughout the set, the band incorporated synthesizer in the midst of heavy blues songs. To extend the synesthetic symbolism of the stage, the color combination of these mixed sounds could be likened to bright riffs and synthesizers of neon running through deep blues. The transition between the pitchy yet anthemic “Ain’t It Strange” and the swampy blues of “The Beach” heightened the sense of this sonic duality. Dr. Dog further expanded their sound with “Too Weak to Ramble,” which conjured the archetype of Allman Brothers’ country rock “Ramblin’ Man.” A somber guitar solo — which scaled up and down, then faltered into a stasis of a repeated chord — encapsulated this lyrical subject matter of the inability to be on the move. Despite being too weak to ramble, the band had enough stamina to play a five song encore.

-Caitlin Kelley

Lord Huron and Superhumanoids

In a shroud of blue stage lights, Superhumanoids opened the show playing a string of slow synths and drum machines before transitioning into their hit, “Geri.” With the first advent of Sarah Chernoff’s electrifying vocals, a violet light shone onto The Fillmore’s stage, revealing the trio bobbing to heavy beats in knits and black garb. Superhumanoids seamlessly grooved in and out of songs from Exhibitionists, from sentimental “So Strange” to more upbeat “Palm Springs,” all the while retaining a distressing quality unique to the band.

After a short intermission, main act Lord Huron commanded the crowd with warm hums and whispers in “Ends of the Earth” and proceeded into a high-energy setlist largely comprised of Lonesome Dreams. Through poetic, picturesque lyrics paralleling the stage’s backdrop—mountain shadows galore—Lord Huron projected themes of love and the countryside.

Frontman Ben Schneider even summoned a cowboy hat (which may have danced its way off of his head one too many times) and a pair of drumsticks to the lyrically rustic “We Went Wild.” In an extension of “Time to Run,” the final song in their set, the entire band ditched their harmonicas and guitars for a synchronized act on the tom-toms, and in closing, Schneider gloriously toppled over his drums like the rock star he is.

Lord Huron charmed its audience with an authenticity in performing—smiling between guitar riffs, not once fixing their chaotic hairstyles that unraveled after the first couple of songs and praising the crowd with “you guys are sweet. And good looking.”

-Tiffany Kim