March 08, 2002

From the 'The next band tonight are 10 year old boys' file...

Fernandes guitars release 'Star Wars' series.

March 04, 2002

Noise Pop shots

Matt Haughey has a few pictures to round out the coverage of the apparently mediocre Dealership/Guided by Voices show.

Noise Pop Tour Diary, Day 6

It's a shame it had to end this way.

Noise Pop 10 had some amazing moments: the Shaggs-esque rock 'n' roll abandon of kaitO, the Faint's dark and dirty synthcore orgy, John Doe and Neko Case's alt.country.punk revival meeting, and Big Star's extraordinary power-pop party.

And even tonight's festival finale started off well. Visqueen, a female-fronted poppy punk act, treated us to a nice (if not novel) set of, well, poppy punk. Then the East Bay's own Dealership, who sounded remarkably like Rainer Maria at times, played an uneven set of indiepop, pop-punk, and synth-pop, including a high-concept New Romantic-informed synth cover of "Anarchy in the U.K." that I still can't decide if it was clever or annoying.

And Preston School of Industry, current home of Spiral Stairs of Pavement fame, were a joy to behold. At times reminiscent of Love, Ween, and (duh) Pavement, SS and co. powered through a tight set of quirky, poppy rawk with no trace of Malkmusy introspection or angst. Spiral Stairs was clearly having the time of his life, and it inspired band and crowd alike. PSOI's final number, the rave-up sing-along "TOFF," reminded us how freaking fun rock 'n' roll can (and should) be.

But it only took Guided by Voices to take the stage to remind us how tedious and cynical rock 'n' roll can (and should never) be.

GBV singer/songwriter/dictator Bob Pollard is fat, old, and boring — the antithesis of rock. Sure, his band of pale, paunchy, mulleted Midwestern hired guns was supertight, and piss-drunk or not, Pollard nailed every note. But there was an underlying surliness on the part of Pollard, a mean beer drunk's bitterness, that cast a pall over the proceedings. As if somehow we, the fans, the people who paid to see his way-past-its-prime rock band, weren't worthy of it. Something in his completely unspontaneous "jumps" (Bob doesn't get much air these days) and generic between-song patter that told me he'd rather be back in the hotel room drinking (which is very likely the case). The whole thing felt phoned in and phony, and hell yes, I felt cheated. We bounced after 30 or so minutes, but it felt lots longer.

So it's too bad my last memories of Noise Pop 10 couldn't have been Big Star and meeting John Doe. Instead it's going to be of a mean old guy fronting a mediocre rock band that had long since jumped the shark. But such is life. I did see Big Star and I did meet John Doe, and I got glimpses of how good and fun and fresh and joyful rock 'n' roll can be. And all it cost me was $130, $12 in tolls, god knows how many dollars for drinks, and a week of my life. I'd say I got a hell of sweet deal.

Thanks for reading. See you here same time next year.

March 03, 2002

Noise Pop Tour Diary, Day 5

Day 5 brought us the linchpin of this whole damn festival, and the reason I decided to pony up 100-plus clams for a badge: Big Star.

Not even more badge-entry problems (badgeholders were again made to wait in line with rank-and-file ticketholders $#151; how gauche) could dampen my enthusiasm for Alex Chilton and co. The Moore Brothers, on the other hand, almost did. I'm still grappling with how these guys got on this bill and what they thought they were doing up there. Lemme set the scene for you. Two dudes, one guitar. Dude 1: Average white yuppie-looking guy you'd expect to see walking the streets of Cow Hollow or trolling for his next date-rape victim at Ruby Skye. Dude 2: A bloated, redneck version of Robert Smith (sans lipstick) in too-small overalls. How bizarre, indeed. But it gets bizarrer.

Dude 1 opens the show by singing some Irish folk song, a cappella. Dude 2 stands and sways to the music. They trade the guitar back and forth after each Simon and Garfunkel-sounding number. Lyrics are completely nonsensical, making Dada poetry seem positively lucid by comparison. And I'm not sure exactly what's happening. Maybe they're an acoustic novelty/comedy/musical act in the vein of Tenacious D. Maybe they're two escaped lunatics posing as folk musicians. Maybe they're just really, really bad and shouldn't be playing coffeehouses, much less the freaking Fillmore opening for Big Star. I eventually went with the third theory. And all the while I'm standing, waiting for the punch line. I'm still waiting.

After what seemed like an eternity, Imperial Teen hit the stage. Now while I've never been a huge fan, I.T. have been known to rock me. They played good old rocking stuff like "Yoo Hoo" and "Lipstick" and a smattering of new stuff off their forthcoming Merge Records release, "On," due out April 9. No groundbreaking developments on that slab, I'm guessing; more quirky, angular pop.

OK, so for the last, like, 10 minutes I've been trying to find a synonym for "came on" or "took the stage" or something, but none is forthcoming. So I give up.

Big Star came on and they were fantastic, dammit. Original members Chilton and Jody Stephens were excellently assisted by Ken and Jon from the Posies (who play Noise Pop today at 1:30 at Cafe du Nord, so run out now and get in line, kids), who nailed every Chris Bell guitar lick and vocal harmony. Mr. Chilton could have stood stock still and phoned in a set of Big Star's Greatest Hits and the eager crowd would've eaten it up, but this was no novelty act. Chilton appeared to be having the time of his life, smiling and singing and free and easy, and that contributed to the once-in-a-lifetime party atmosphere that prevailed. Rock school was in session, and I only hope a few of the young whippersnapper shoegazey boring dream-pop acts I'd seen this week were there for the lesson.

The great gig got even greater when, as we were walking around the venue for a different vantage point, we came upon one John Doe. I got the opportunity to shake the man's hand and thank him for an incredible set the night before. Big Star and John Doe on the same night. Yeah, I imagine I can die happy now.

Noise Pop Tour Diary, Day 4

So it seems that every other night of Noise Pop is brilliant. Days 1 and 3 left me cold, but The Faint and kaitO on Day 2 were fantastic. This boded well for the John Doe and Neko Case collaboration on Day 4, and boy, did they ever deliver.

The support acts did, too, from time to time. We missed opener Paula Frazer, but caught both Virgil Shaw and the Court and Spark. Both bands treated us to a few transcendent moments of Americana, Shaw from an alt-country Tom Waits approach and the Court and Spark from a roots-rock Gram Parsons direction, and both bands were prevented from fully realizing their potential for similar reasons. Both acts were hampered by irrelevant instrumentation (especially the Court and Spark, whose four-piece horn section did little but distract us from what was going on) and the comings and goings of various personnel (in particular Shaw's bassist, who would disappear from time to time for no discernible reason).

But when Virgil Shaw bore down and quit trying to impress us with angsty vocal histrionics, and his band stayed put and rocked out, it all came together. Sadly, these moments were fewer and farther between than his audience would have liked. The Court and Spark, too, gave us glimpses of how it could be; if they stripped it down, maybe, ditched the horns and maybe even the pedal steel, it might rock a helluva lot harder. But what do I know? They're the ones up there playing at Noise Pop, and I'm the one sitting here at the computer writing about it.

Now John Doe and Neko Case (ably assisted on guitar and lap steel by some Canadian gentleman named Paul whose last name I didn't get), on the other hand — even when they were bad they were good. If John's between-song banter is reliable, then they had only rehearsed these songs for a day and a half. So there were some substellar moments of intonation, tuning, and phrasing, but in the context of the thing — a couple of near-legends sitting on chairs a few feet away from us, obviously having a great time — it never threatened to detract from the proceedings.

And when they were good? Oh boy, were they good. No one will ever confuse John Doe for a great singer, but he was blessed with an incredibly soulful, plaintive voice that clashed perfectly with Neko's perfect-pitch Peggy Lee pipes. Repertoire ranged from originals by Mr. Doe and Ms. Case, an old X number ("Burning House of Love"), and country classics. "Long Black Veil" was a tune that suited the duo perfectly, and promptly reduced many in the crowd to tears, your humble reporter included.

So if they were that good after a day and a half of practice, just imagine how good they'd be after, say, a week. Here's hoping this first-time collaboration wasn't a first and only.

March 01, 2002

Noise Pop Tour Diary, Day 3

OK, so Day 3 was kind of a bust.

We had our choice of shows: the glamgothfest at Bottom of the Hill with the Makers, Pleasure Forever, and the Richmond Sluts, or the emo event at Slim's featuring Pedro the Lion, the Stratford 4, Seldom, and Sara Shannon. Sadly, we chose the latter.

We got to Slim's during Seldom and turned around and exited the venue pretty muich immediately. Seldom were pegging the emometer, and I was just not in the mood. Too many keyboards, too much whining, and not nearly enough rocking.

We milled about until the Stratford 4 came on, and they were hardly worth the wait. I decided to check 'em out because people had told me they were in a Spiritualized/My Bloody Valentine vein, but whoever told me that must have been shooting bad dope. To me they were just another shoegazey dream pop outfit, probably good on record, great music to nod out to, but hardly something I'd go out of my way to see live. The singer thought he was the second coming of Marc Bolan, but he hadn't the talent, voise, or charisma of the late T. Rex frontman. And guys (and gals): There's a world of difference between disaffection and disinterest. If you're gonna go the disaffection route, you'd better have charisma and intensity to spare. Because just standing around on stage ain't gettin' it done.

Overtired and underwhelmed, we left even before Pedro the Lion brought his unique brand of Jesus-emo to the stage. Yeah, I know, I'm heartbroken. John Doe and Neko Case tonight, though, folks. Then Big Star and Imperial Teen tomorrow, and Guided by Voices and Preston School of Industry on Sunday. Things are looking up.