September 16, 2010
@ Milk Bar
Better than: Shows where there aren't pictures of kittens on the kick drum.
Maybe it was the waves of dense fog soaking trees and buildings on Haight St. late last night -- making it feel like more the empty dead of winter than early fall -- but fewer than usual came out for the now almost-standard Thursday night show Milk Bar
. Well, people, you missed kittens on the kick drum. Actually, kittens and rainbows. And Beach Boys covers. The four bands on last night's bill threw down sensible alt-pop (Burrows), linear noise freak-outs (Sunbeam Rd.), and more esoteric, ambitious indie-rock (the heavily Pixies-influenced Grand Lake). Here's a rundown.
The side project of LoveLikeFire
guitarist Marty Mattern, this three-piece sounded luxuriant and capable, but needed to put a bit more power in its trio. Mattern's songs are simple three-or-so chord affairs that vary from folky strumming to early-Zep riffage. His vocals mostly inhabit the lower registers, but shoot up into startling yelps at climaxes. It would have been nice to hear more of them, but due to bad mixing, many of last night's vocalists were completely unintelligible. At least Burrows had a cool projection screen lighting the otherwise plain, dark stage during its set.
This S.F. quartet opened with punky anthems, got noisy and agitated during the middle of its set, and ended with the drummer onstage singing a Beach Boys cover while staring at his shoes. At times capable (decent songwriting) and amateur (totally missed guitar solos), Sunbeam Rd. had a solid group of fans upfront calling out song names and trying to dance along to the band's jilted rhythms. Heavy wafts of Interpol and other linear minimalist rock were heard during tunes such as "Burial," from the band's recent free Turtles, Magnets, Animals
EP. But the band's newer stuff has a more soaring, melodic feel, and that's a good thing.
This local songstress showed up in a red dress and sang rough-edged, infectious folk-pop tunes about pop subjects such as love and loneliness. Reiter has a breathy and disarming voice that suits her band's rambling, solidly crafted folk-pop. The highlight of her set was yearning closer "Paper Diamonds," which perked up a few ear drums when it was released earlier this year. But the funniest part of the set was when Reiter called out a song called "Treasure Island," and made a joke about how she hadn't been invited to play the festival, but perhaps would next year. An immediate "Doubt it" shot up from the side of the crowd, drawing "ouches" and "ooohs" from those who heard it and looks at the girl who said it. "What? They're assholes," the girl said -- meaning the organizers of Treasure Island.
This Oakland "art-rock" outfit looked and played like the experienced elders of the night. Frontman Caleb Nichols threw around his bass and swung his large torso from the moment the band kicked into the first song, causing his glasses to slide off several times during the set. (Eventually he just left them on the ground.) Other than Reiter, Nichols was the only frontman last night who tried hard to engage the crowd -- he made repeated jokes about how he expected more milk at Milk Bar. (Which is, it must be said, a fair point.) Grand Lake flavors its Pixies-influenced proto-grunge with jazz guitar freakouts and bubbling electronics. While this combination can sound remote and ponderous on the group's debut album, Blood Sea Dream
, it worked better onstage, with the group's harder sound and more pervasive energy. A cover of Pavement's "In the Mouth of a Desert" (whose wisdom we questioned yesterday
) sounded more coherent and worthy than we would have expected, with Nichols employing the crowd to shout "it's what I want" during the chours. Grand Lake started playing to a preposterously small crowd, but after midnight, when its short-ish set ended, the band had the largest audience of the night.
Personal bias: For a place called Milk Bar, there's far too little A Clockwork Orange-related decor. Sure, white walls. But why not mannequins? Or, as one friend suggested last night, a milk jug on the neon sign outside instead of a cocktail glass?
Also: With the amount of shows Milk Bar puts on now, it should really invest in better monitors and a better live sound system. With the exception of Reiter, all of last night's vocal mikes were turned up too loud, making the singers all sound probably more the Strokes' Julian Casablancas than they intended to. And any good-sounding elements of last nights' show were due to the band's instruments and tube amps, and had nothing to do with the Milk P.A.