Converse Represent Concert No. 1 with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, DIIV, METZ, Tamryn and the She's
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Better than: Nursing a scotch and watching the Madmen season finale in your sweatpants.
As the nexus of the modern era's imploded music industry and edgy marketing, sponsored free concerts have become a fine way for bands and brands to raise their profile. Even if you wouldn't be caught dead behind the wheel of a boxy Scion, you can't argue against the car company bankrolling a slew of free downloadable music and an annual metal festival.
Venerable shoe company Converse has been working a similar angle of late, sponsoring free recording sessions for a variety of bands at its own Brooklyn facility as well as other studios across the country. On Sunday night at Slim's, San Francisco music fans got to enjoy the first of five free concerts being hosted by Converse to promote the brand's new store on Market Street, which opens this week.
With former S.F. residents Black Rebel Motorcycle Club topping the bill for the Sunday kick-off show, it didn't seem out of line to expect a teaming, frenzied crowd outside the venue for the early 7 p.m. start. Instead, the scene in front of Slim's was calm and the gathering inside totally comfortable and civilized as local band The She's offered up their sunny if conventional surf-pop.
By the time we figured out what benefits our VIP wristbands afforded us (free food and booze upstairs and drink tickets? Wha?), stagehands were already shifting gear around for the next act. Sounding a little like the Cocteau Twins if the Edge had given Bono the finger in the late '80s and quit U2 to join up, Tamaryn unspooled its hazy shoegaze for the next 30 minutes. The band's namesake lead singer kept her features obscured behind a curtain of hair, swaying as she crooned the lyrics to "Mild Confusion" over songwriting partner Rex John Shelverton's wall of echo-laden guitar.
Many sponsored shows often feel like you can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone trying to press a bit of branded schwag into your hands, but Converse kept the proceedings at Slim's fairly low-key. Yes, every available surface was papered with advertising for the rest of the week's concerts and the store opening. There was an interactive map where you could use your wristband to tag and "represent" your neighborhood, and a wall projected with photos taken at the event. But overall the concert lacked the hard-sell vibe that can taint such gigs.
With the VIP balcony gradually filling with folks looking to take advantage of Converse's largesse, we headed for the floor to watch Toronto noise-punk trio METZ from a closer vantage point. The question of how many people from the crowd of random ticket winners had any interest the band's decidedly heavier sound was quickly answered by pogoing and small pockets of slam-dancing amid the otherwise staid audience.
Powered by drummer Hayden Menzies' frenetic pounding, METZ ripped through tuneful, hyper-distorted takes on "Headache" and "Rats" from last year's self-titled Sub Pop debut. The band also unveiled the new tune "Can't Understand," a blistering track that bassist Chris Slorach told the audience they could download for free on the Adult Swim site the next day. Another win for guerilla marketing!
NYC band DIIV (pronounced "dive") took the stage next with main man Z. Cole Smith sporting a ski mask and weird robe-like garment that looked as if it was fashioned from an old army blanket. While it was tough to follow the explosive energy METZ had brought to the table, the crowd gradually warmed up to the band's Neu-tinged krautrock pulse. By the time DIIV had powered through the propulsive jangle of its hit "Doused" to close the set, the press toward the stage in anticipation of BMRC finally put elbow room at a premium in the front half of the venue.
Blasting into the wah-guitar fueled track "Rival" from the trio's recent effort Specter at the Feast, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club elicited a full-throated roar from the crowd and a suitably dazzling level of rock-star illumination from Slim's lighting technician. Bassist Robert Levon Been led the band through a spirited version of his father Michael Been's anthem with The Call "Let the Day Begin," and had the audience singing along -- a highlight of what would be a fitting close to a fine night of free music.
Personal bias: I only caught about 15 minutes of METZ's blistering set at the Bottom of the Hill at the end of April. I'd be damned if I wasn't going to weasel my way into a free show to get a full dose this time around.
By the way: The free show goodness at Slim's continues all week with performances by Deltron 3030, Blackalicious, Tycho, Hot Chip, Quicksand, Mastodon, Suicidal Tendencies, Rocket From the Crypt and tons more. Hot damn! If you managed to score tickets to any of these gigs, count your lucky stars.