Various musical talents, from hit rapper Vince Staples to indie-pop band Japanese Breakfast, graced stages across the Bay Area for the 25th anniversary of the Noise Pop music and arts festival, which ran from Feb. 17 to Feb. 27. Here are 5 concerts the Daily Cal Arts Staff attended:
Qrion and Tennyson at Brick and Mortar Music Hall, Feb. 23
Qrion opened her set with “iPhone Bubbling,” a track from her 2014 self-titled EP that pieces together the familiar sounds of the iPhone’s tritone message alert and zooming “email sent” noise into an explosive two-and-a-half minute beat. The Japan-born producer couldn’t have started off at Brick and Mortar Music Hall on a better trio of notes — the familiar sounds, polished of their banality and encrusted into a lively beat, set the tone for the rest of the set, characterized by delicate renewals of the familiar by way of shifting contexts.
At one point, Qrion played a pitched-up version of the opening monologue of Chief Keef’s “Love Sosa.” Somehow, it fit perfectly within the shimmering, beachy tones of the rest of her set, much of which was made up of original tracks.
Tennyson, an Edmonton-based brother-and-sister duo better known as Luke and Tess Pretty, took the stage with a bright bashfulness. Beginning with a swatch of smooth jazz, the duo soon moved into the pastel electronic soundscapes of their SoundCloud hits, each punctuated by a few endearingly awkward words to the audience.
“The last show I played was in Portland, and I lost my voice before the show,” Luke said with a shy smile before “Fault Line,” the duo’s song about escaping into true love. Everyone joined in singing along with Tennyson’s delicate, sugary instrumentals.
Tennyson’s set delivered a dreaminess worlds away from what Qrion’s set had done. Qrion flirted with a dreaminess caught within the confines of heavy four-on-the-floor beats. Tennyson’s music and stage presence was all whimsy and spontaneity; their lack of self-consciousness made them so easy to love.
— Sannidhi Shukla
Japanese Breakfast at Rickshaw Stop, Feb. 23
There’s no more perfect venue for Japanese Breakfast than the endearingly tiny Rickshaw Stop. Each track of Psychopomp, the band’s first album and core of the show, has a haunting, dreamy vibe — mixing cute love notes with intimate letters for and portraits of front-woman Michelle Zauner’s late mother.
A show-opener, Miya Folick, was equally spectacular. Her songs, such as “God Is a Woman,” were cathartic, spiritual in theme and sound. Her bluesy-gospel voice, with an incredible range and vibrato, met heavy bass and fuzzy guitar. She revealed that “Pet Body” is about her struggle to feel comfortable in her own skin: “I can’t imagine what trans people experience … It’s important to talk about that today.” Her merch profits went to Planned Parenthood.
Japanese Breakfast performed as if at a party, surrounded by friends. Between songs, Zauner shared endearing personal anecdotes. She wasn’t always a fan of San Francisco (ugh, parking). Being on tour is lonely.
The set was laced with beautiful nostalgia. “Everybody Wants to Love You” was poppy and upbeat, adding a certain light to the album’s homage to Zauner’s mother.
The band performed two songs off an unreleased album much darker than the indie-pop Psychopomp. While equally introspective, these tracks revealed Zauner’s impressive ability to scream.
Near show’s end, the band and guest artist Jay Som performed a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams,” proving its wondrous ability to harmonize.
During the last song of the night, Zauner ditched her guitar and bounced around stage, jumping into the crowd to dance with her fans.
— Sophie-Marie Prime
clipping. at Starline Social Club, Feb. 24
Black-and-white glitch art images began shuffling around to the left of the stage as William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, producers of Los Angeles hip-hop trio clipping., came out. A few fans cheered as they began building a wall of harsh noise, but most remained silent, waiting for something more. As soon as rapper Daveed Diggs took the Starline Social Club stage, the crowd erupted and Hutson and Snipes became mere background objects. Diggs could have told the audience members to do nearly anything at all and they would have done it.
Before seeing him at work, it would be easy to assume that Diggs’ powerful stage presence was based on the hype built around him by his role in the musical “Hamilton.” But while his stamina alone qualifies him as a stunning performer, it’s his command of himself, his ability to navigate between grating noise and hushed whispers and his gentle taunting of the audience that truly push him over the edge. It’s unlikely that any other rapper would have been able to successfully deliver raps with themes as gritty as death, war and prostitution to a room full of young teens and their parents.
clipping.’s set ended with sincere solemnity as Diggs called for a moment of silence for the victims of the Ghost Ship fire. Then, Diggs took the mic once again to break the silence. “It seems to me like the best way that we can honor an artist community like this is by turning the fuck up,” he announced, and the night ended in a burst of dance to noise crafted by Huston and Snipes.
— Sannidhi Shukla
Los Campesinos! at Great American Music Hall, Feb. 24
Los Campesinos! is the sort of band that inspires a singularly obsessive allegiance. The band emerged from the intimate digital underbelly of LiveJournal and Tumblr with rousing anthems for the clever and unenthused.
The Welsh band, over the course of six albums and a decade, has aged up and grown more intensely personal since then. Its sold-out set at the Great American Music Hall on Feb. 24 as part of Noise Pop coincided with the release of Sick Scenes, its sixth full-length album and the wisest album in the band’s repertoire, filled with late twenty-something worries snuck into cerebral extended metaphors.
“A band playing new songs is tedious,” said frontman Gareth about halfway through, a disclaimer that read more like a beleaguered note to self rather than a precaution. “But I hope you’ll be reasonably sympathetic with that.”
It wasn’t a matter of sympathy. As any respectable Los Campesinos! fan will tell you, picking the band’s best album is like splitting hairs. There’s no Weezer-like religiosity toward the band’s early stuff, but the band somehow seamlessly cut through to stitch every part of its prolific discography into one thoughtful whole.
Sure, Los Campesinos! is aware of its age. It’s moping about Brexit and medications now, when a decade ago, they were rallying against scenesters and one-night stands. But they’ve grown up alongside their fans. “It’s all solid-gold hits from here on in, I swear,” said Gareth after dropping “A Slow, Slow Death,” a phenomenal number from Sick Scenes that was received with polite clapping.
Los Campesinos! stayed true to this promise, dropping an endless array of jaw-slacked hits until the very end. And when Los Campesinos! dropped “You! Me! Dancing!” at its encore, a number that it has notoriously grown averse to performing, it felt like it had fully grown up.
— Joshua Bote
Vince Staples at Fox Theater, Feb. 25
In a black hoodie, the self-acclaimed Long Beach prima donna rapper Vince Staples defined himself without a single introduction or acknowledgement of the audience, but instead, leaped straight into the cool atmosphere and turned it chaotic.
Muttering, “is it real?” over and over again, Vince, though only a single body, began to overwhelm the Fox Theater. Starting the concert with “Prima Donna,” he pranced around on stage while rapping in perfect execution, with every word clear and every line mechanical in its utterance. Though a technically proficient rapper, he has an addictive voice that drones with an effortless lazy confidence.
By drawing from his last three projects, Vince was able to reveal his diversity and speedy growth, transitioning from aggressive and grimy rapping to more introspective verses, punctured with the reality of the gang life that surrounds and shapes him.
Not one to shy from a wild crowd, he injected an incapacitating dose of adrenaline when performing his bangers like “Blue Suede” and “Norf Norf.” The audience couldn’t help but wild out when listening to these hits and yell “Norfside Long Beach” along with Vince.
The most versatile performances were hidden on his latest EP, Prima Donna, as he performed more experimental songs like “Smile,” a song characterized by rock-like production that Vince rides with a funky rap style.
He ended the show with “Summertime,” in which he repeats a single line: “This could be forever, baby.” And maybe it could be forever, with Vince Staples reaching heights of fame that may let him leave a flourishing legacy.
— Hansol Jung