August Hall isn’t a particularly large venue. Relatively well-known artists can easily fill the space (a former movie theater), making it cramped and sweaty and uncomfortable. But on Friday night, the auditorium felt airy and open, almost vacuous.
The main attraction for the evening was Parachute, a boy band-esque pop group that skyrocketed to relative fame in the early 2010s with sickly sweet numbers like “She Is Love,” “Forever and Always” and “Kiss Me Slowly.” Since then, the trio has lost much of its traction — its latest album (the self-titled Parachute) is composed of simplistic appeals to an unnamed love interest that, frankly, feel stunted for a group composed of men in their 30s.
Parachute’s time in the limelight has passed; it’s time for Will Anderson, Johnny Stubblefield and Kit French to break out of the saccharine drone of outdated love songs.
The primary redeeming quality of the evening — a sort of “Hallelujah,” if you will — came not from the headliners, but from a shaggy-haired 23-year-old who has, not unjustly, garnered comparisons to Jeff Buckley.
Many openers dwell in a realm of relative obscurity, tasked with the tall order of introducing themselves and their music to a crowd with no vested interest in listening to them. Billy Raffoul didn’t share the same hurdle. When the musician sauntered onstage, sweeping his unruly long locks behind his ears, the expectant audience cheered him on. It was the first of many signs that a sizable portion of those gathered had made their way just north of Geary Street that night explicitly to see Raffoul.
Raffoul’s set didn’t demonstrate any earth-shattering proclivity for songwriting or musical aptitude. But it was solid and sure of itself. Raffoul delivered on precisely the gruff and crooning vocal fry for which he’s known in numbers like “Difficult” and “Acoustic.” Often, the technique read as genuine, sparked by authentic emotion, and the songs seemed to emerge from somewhere deep within the singer. At times, though, the magic faltered, such as when Raffoul’s vocal fry devolved into a Darth Vader-like growl, making his lyrics almost indecipherable.
Yet even in such instances, the crowd remained attentive, clearly invested in Raffoul and his sound. He earned their support, maintaining an affable, charming and self-assured presence onstage — even while tossing out one self-deprecating joke after the next. “Thank you for not making this an ironic joke,” he grinned upon introducing the song “Nobody Here.”
“I just had a new song come out in the past few days — which, for a lot of you, has been the past three or four songs,” Raffoul quipped in reference to “Easy Tiger.”
While the crowd was, on the whole, rather tame, certain audience members made their adoration for Raffoul apparent with cheers and interjections throughout his set. One of these individuals was San Francisco State University student Katie Cree. “He did amazing; I wish he had 12 songs,” Cree gushed. “I love the raspy voice. I’m a sucker for guys with long hair, and I just love his style of music — kind of folky, alternative,” she said.
After the conclusion of Parachute’s set, hours after Raffoul had left the stage, he stood at his merch table selling light blue promotional shirts. It wasn’t long before a line at least 30 people long had formed, with eager fans clamoring to shake his hand and get a photo with him.
When asked about his set, Raffoul, who speaks in an completely normal voice quite unlike his characteristically deep singing pitch, kept to few words: “It was a dream,” he said. Those patiently yet eagerly waiting for see him surely would have agreed.
Contact Ryan Tuozzolo at [email protected].