San Francisco-based indie rock act Be Calm Honcho may have played Noise Pop Festival the same night as big-name bands Metric and Joywave, but Brick and Mortar Music Hall still found itself swarmed with legions of hip 20-somethings, man buns and septum piercings abound. Noise Pop has been all about the local bands since the beginning, after all. Last Tuesday night’s lineup was an incredible display of the local scene’s talent, including acts Dick Stusso, Hazel English and Diane Coffee — and best of all, Be Calm Honcho.
Be Calm Honcho is as effortlessly cool live as in recordings, oozing beachy, blues-infused indie rock. Singer Shannon Harney is the fun, laidback, cooler-than-you best friend you always wished you had. Clad in a shiny gold blouse, long red skirt and a half-ponytail poised playfully on top of her head, she charmed and mesmerized the crowd with her warm vocals, chill and easy-going at times and resplendent with carefully-controlled inflections at others. Instead of the traditional microphone setup, Harney opted for what she called a “Britney mic” — a headset, to keep her hands free. She moved across the stage liberally before eventually returning to the synthesizer, motioning her hands to vividly express the lyrics she sung.
Harney led fellow band members, guitarist Alex Weston and drummer Michael Pettett, in and out of relaxed surf vibes and rolling tides of emotion. As a three-piece, their instrumentation was relatively sparse, but it felt bare in a purposeful way that made their sound even more powerful. And most importantly, this minimalist style gave Harney’s brilliant voice its well-deserved chance to shine.
The local band’s short set was mysteriously absent of songs from its debut album, Honcho Dreams, which it released independently in 2014. Somewhat disappointingly, there was no trace of ode to the West Coast live favorites “I Love CA” or “Pretty on the West Coast.” Instead, Be Calm Honcho played almost exclusively new and unreleased material. Recently signed to Oakland-based label OIM Records, the band members seem to be deeply engrossed in creating and recording new music at the moment. It makes sense, therefore, that even live they are shying away from their old work. While this may have reduced the chance of a crowd sing-along to nearly zero, the songs they played held their own.
Also missing from Be Calm Honcho’s set were the delightful sprinklings of spoken word poetry present in some of the band’s old standards. Despite this, the new sound they’ve been developing felt a little more mature. Darker and richer than their previous California sunshine-soaked vibe, the synths were more ominous and Harney’s voice a little more brooding.
In one unreleased song they played, Harney’s serene voice splashes over bluesy guitar dripping with reverb. “When I lost my footing / you took me to the ocean,” she recalled wistfully. The song chugs along slowly, like waves lapping over a beachgoer’s toes. But it’s not all just lazy lying in the sun — gradually, the percussion swells and the storm hits, Harney’s voice growing raspy and raw with emotion as she sings soulfully, “I cannot be trusted.” Over and over again, she repeats, “I’m calm until the morning,” with rising levels of desperation — as though she’s watching the sky slowly lighten and the new day approach as the song unfolds.
Aside from sheer musical talent, Harney harnessed the crowd with her spunky stage presence. After the band’s first song, she asked the crowd playfully, “Did that work for you? You gonna call me back?”
What was especially refreshing about Be Calm Honcho’s live performance was its ability to not take itself too seriously — a trap many indie rock bands fall into. Harney remained goofy and likeable on stage, even taking a moment between songs to give a shout-out to her parents in the crowd and take a shot of whiskey her mother handed her. Hopefully, the band will soon release new songs so fans at their shows can partake in a good sing-along, and truly dive deep into the bluesy beach-day rock that is Be Calm Honcho.
Contact Madeline Wells at [email protected].