X, Bob Mould, Fastbacks Echo Roots Of Noise Pop Festival

Beulah, Death Cab for Cutie, Chixdiggit! lead neweracts in showcase's mix of local, national bands.

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" (


alAudio excerpt), X brought the sold-out crowd to a

thrilled near-frenzy.

Introspective Melodies

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

Bob Mould.

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.

Winning Recipe

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."

Winding Down

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.)