May 27th, 2011
@ Rickshaw Stop
Better than: Sitting at home on a cold May night with your Raspberries mp3s and all the Debby Boone albums you can burn.
Rickie Lee Jones was playing at Davies Hall, which explains why we found ourselves two oddly garbed weirdos in the middle of a mass of squares herding in the opposite direction. Some gaped perplexedly as if we didn't fit their whole Weltanschauung at all, and we didn't. Our context was the lengthening queue of thrift-shop fashonistas and career punk rockers then milling around Fell Street waiting for the Rickshaw Stop to crack open its doors for night three of S.F. Popfest 2011.
You always hear about a certain iconic "type" of music fan at pop confabs, but this one sported representatives of several noise-related subsubcultures chatting and chattering amiably: irony punks, pencil-thin ultrahipsters, grizzled New Wavers, spinsterish groupies, and girls loudly discussing their evening's drinking plans. The majority was on the young side; doe-eyed and coltish, but there was a sizable minority with enough of the giddy madness of the late '70s still on them to make it one of the more amusing crowds I've seen recently.
The Smittens started just after 8 and turned out to be the surprise hit of the evening. The socializing and budding high-jinks ground to a temporary halt for these twee folk from Burlington, Vt., and longtime veterans of the far-flung pop festival circuit. Most pop acts make a fetish of copping Sixties vintage sounds and poses, but these geeky kids are among the few to make some headway at resynthesizing the orange sunshine dreams of Brian Wilson for this cloudier era. The helium-pitched cartoony banter between vocalists Dana Kaplan and Max Andrucki made for a homey vibe that was difficult to imagine in the general onslaught to come.
Wave after wave of festival attendees rolled through the doors, making it already close quarters by the time Melted Toys came on, taking the stage in their customary catfooted silence. This band delivered a dense block of accomplished jangle-pop far superior to the last time I saw them at the Stop -- trippy, complex, and forcefully played. They stepped off to much love and the audience grew even larger and beerier for The Mantles. From the back, where we were standing watching late arrivals gape in dismay at the hard-packed mass of similar attired freakazoids, they sounded like an assortment of Psychedelic Furs B-sides. A a run through their MySpace page does little violence to that impression. The kids were jammed up front while the geezers sweated in the back, but that dynamic was about to change.
The Undertones took their time in going on, milking their entrance with old-school nerve-tightening showmanship by the simple device of getting lost outside the gig, strutting onstage like heroes before admitting the reason after much giggling and popping of beer cans. Darlings of the three-chord power-pop scene in Derry, Northern Ireland, prior to the new wave upheaval, their changeover to punk was largely a matter of relabeling a maturing ferocity. Paul McLoone replaced original mainman Feargal Sharkey when the band reformed in 1999 after a 17-year hiatus. The fans accepted his swaggering authority over the peerless back catalog, kicking off the long set with their 1979 self-titled debut in its sugar-rush entirety.
A blown amp didn't slow things down, and by "Jump Boys" the kids up front were jumping fiercely, to varying degrees of delight and horror of the old-timers who had staked prime beer-guzzling spots on the floor. Further technical mishaps forced a groan of "We've got the gremlins in tonight" from the stage, but they tore through all that infectious snotty ya-ya deft as toreadors anyway. McLoone thanked us for tolerating "a bunch of old farts" after all "the younger, more legitimate bands." It was as handsome and unnecessary an apology as I've ever heard.
Overheard: Paul McLoone (introducing Billy Doherty) This is our songwriting drummer! He's the Phil Collins it's okay to like!"
The Undertones Setlist:
Girls Don't Like It
I Gotta Getta
Here Comes the Summer
(She's a) Runaround
I Know a Girl
You Got My Number
Girls That Don't Talk
Get Over You
Smarter Than U