Pastels Brighten Season With Perfect Pop

Scottish outfit mixes classic rock melodies with a new-fangled lounge style.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The first time the Pastels tried to exit the stage at

their headlining gig at the Bottom of the Hill, it didn't work.

The fans that crammed into the club Tuesday, filling the floor and standing on

empty beer kegs, wouldn't let them. It didn't work the second time, either. In

fact, the Pastels weren't done until they'd played a full four encores.

Earlier in the evening, the Pastels seemed to be on shakier ground. The

obligatory drunk guy that seems to show up to every live venue had just yelled

out "Hello, Cleveland" in a tired reference to the rock-parody film "Spinal Tap."

There was a brief moment while the audience waited to see how the low-key

quintet would respond.

Singer and guitarist Stephen Pastel, a.k.a. Stephen McRobbie, was quick with

his deadpan reply: "It's hard to swap jokes. I can't understand what you're

saying and you can't understand what I'm saying," he said. "So keep them

coming ... really slowly."

The capacity crowd laughed, and from that moment on, the Pastels owned the

twentysomething bunch who had turned out at the tiny club to hear the veteran

Scottish popsters' set, which was evenly split between delightful pop songs

such as "Yoga" and swampy lounge tunes suitable for a film score, including


Riders" (RealAudio excerpt), off their latest LP, Illumination.

The Pastels followed a standout set from San Francisco-based Beulah, which

included lead singer and guitarist Miles Kurosky setting the band's playful tone

early on by saying, "Get the lights moving, like a rave. We're feeling kind-of

moody. We're about to emote."

And although they may not have emoted at any point, they did succeed in

romping through 11 unbelievably upbeat pop songs, accented by trumpet and

keyboards and including


>"Lay Low For The Letdown" (RealAudio excerpt), an ode to the joys

and perils of riding the 22 Fillmore bus line in San Francisco, a song off the

quintet's first long-player, Handsome Western States.

For the Pastels' part, drummer Katrina Mitchell and bassist Aggi each took turns

singing lead and backing each other up with Jonathan Kilgour adding guitar

and Tom Crossley alternating between keyboards, harmonium and flute.

For Jeanne Acceturo, 23, of San Francisco, the show was the perfect blend of

old and new. "They were lovely. It's hard to put it into words," she said. "I can't

tell if I like the songs that rock better or the soft songs that are about to fall apart."

There were plenty of each on this night, songs such as "Firebell Ringing," "Truck

Train Tractor," a cover of the Silver Jews' "Advice To The Graduate" and a

reworking of the Jesus and Mary Chain song "You Trip Me Up," which sent the

crowd into full pogo motion. Songs off Illumination such as "Cycle"

elicited a more introspective reaction as fans listened intently to hear where the

songs would go next.

In fact, it wasn't until the last gritty strains of the Pastels' fourth encore, "Truck

Train Tractor," died down, that anyone could be sure.

And it wasn't until then that the Pastels were actually allowed to leave for the