SAN FRANCISCO With a set that mixed
punkabilly, vintage rock and hyper-speed rhythms, reunited
L.A. punk-rockers X showed that noise pop as
unleashed in last week's eighth annual Noise Pop festival
could encompass a vast set of noises.
The six-day, multiple-venue showcase, now in its eighth
year, ended on Sunday and featured more than 40 bands.
Pop-punk, surf, punkabilly, blues and heavy fuzz kept things
eclectic, while a collective penchant for sweet, simple,
catchy songs, usually clocking in at less than three
minutes, gave the event a cohesive feel.
And X's set, with original guitarist Billy Zoom, was all over
the place, yet not at all out of place. Credited by many with
helping to parent the "indie" scene, the band seemed to
have lost little in the 20-odd years since its inception. After
spirited opening sets by Earlimart and Limp, the group took
the stage Wednesay at Slim's and brought the crowd up
front to dance.
"I'm seeing a lot of earplugs up here by the stage," John
Doe wisecracked before slamming into "Nausea," from the
band's 1980 debut, Los Angeles. "Does that mean
we're not playing loud enough?"
Roaring through old favorites such as "In This House That I
Call Home," a supersonic cover of the Doors' "Soul
Kitchen" and a slowed version of "White Girl" (
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Thursday night at the Great American Music Hall was about
slower, more introspective music, punctuated (of course)
with loud noise. Shimmer Kids, Dealership, Sunset Valley
and Track Star opened for rising stars Beulah, who last year
released When Your Heartstrings Break.
Friday night took the crowd to the stately and ornate
Bimbo's 365 Club to see Nuzzle, John Vanderslice, the
Mountain Goats and former Hüsker Dü frontman
Armed only with an acoustic guitar (an airline lost his electric
one), Mould tore through a career-spanning set with a
fevered intensity that only let up for between-song banter.
"Is Madonna getting better, or am I getting more gay?" he
Played acoustically, songs such as Sugar's "Hoover Dam,"
"Brasilia Crossed With Trenton," off Mould's first solo
album, Workbook, and the Hüsker Dü
classic "Makes No Sense At All" ended up sounding
monochromatic in stretches but were still a strong reminder
of his impact.
A gray Saturday afternoon didn't prevent a sold-out crowd
from gathering at the Bottom of the Hill for the Jim Yoshii
Pile Up, Rumah Sakit, Fiver and Seattle's Death Cab for
Cutie, a crowd favorite.
The Seattle band's songs were built on bittersweet
melodies and minor chords, making the group sound like a
stripped-down Pavement or an upbeat Elliott Smith. The
vaguely bossa-nova styling of "Lowell, MA," from the band's
upcoming We Have the Facts, and We're Voting
Yes, was a particular high point.
Saturday evening's showcase, like most of the
performances, was sold out. The lineup included Nar and
Alien Crime Syndicate, the latter's act complete with strobe
lights, smoke machines and dyed-black hair. They were a
fine setup for Sacramento's Groovie Ghoulies, always a
Noise Pop favorite.
But it was all in preparation for Seattle's Fastbacks,
headliners of the first Noise Pop show. Considered by
many to be pioneers of the "Noise Pop sound," the
Fastbacks have altered little of their winning recipe: catchy,
crunchy guitars (compliments of Kurt Bloch), hard-driving
bass (by the inimitable Kim Warnick), and fast, pounding
drums (Mike Musberger). The crowd was worshipful, and all
were pressing as hard as they could to be front and center.
"The festival is still great," said Chris Appelgren, owner of
Lookout! Records, a label that has at one time or another
been home to many Noise Pop bands. "It's become more
sophisticated every year, but still kept the original spirit. It's
still the best of the local scene, with some of the finest
national bands thrown in for fun."
On Sunday, the Bottom of the Hill played host to opening
sets by the Get-Go and Peter Parker, before local kids Me
First kicked things into a more rocking gear for Calgary,
Alberta's ambassadors of goof-core, Chixdiggit!
The foursome opened with a string of pogo-friendly old
favorites, including "Henry Rollins Is No Fun" and "Where's
Your Mom?" After jokingly passing a hat for money to hire a
limousine for the Fastbacks' Warnick, they launched back
into their set with a blistering cover of Cheap Trick's
"Surrender" and debuted "My Dad Versus Paul
Noise Pop's final showcase was later that night at Bimbo's
365 Club, featuring bands that provided a calming cool-
down after the week's roller-coaster ride.
Mates of State, For Stars, the Aislers Set and the Loud
Family opened for critical favorites the Magnetic Fields. The
latter's unique brand of lo-fi melodies served as a lullaby for
the exhausted festival-goers. The crowded ballroom
seemed rapt and entranced by Stephin Merritt's bittersweet
vocals, equal parts Johnny Cash and Morrissey.
"I didn't know if we'd make it this far," smiled a tired but
elated Shawn Dinwiddie, 29, of San Francisco. "We saw all
but three of the [Noise Pop] shows. This year was really
something else. What day is it? God, I think I have to work
(Contributing Editor Richard B. Simon contributed to this report.)