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Modesto Calling: A Critical Guide to Noise Pop 

Wednesday, Feb 17 1999
Pavement's Stockton-bred success story wasn't a fluke. Recently, a number of bands from Northern California's Central Valley have been semiquietly perfecting a rock style that owes as much to rural country and folk as it does to the clinical precision of Wire and the sun-baked punk of the Meat Puppets.

"Bands from the Central Valley have more time to rehearse, practice, and develop," says Michael Cloward, owner of Berkeley's Devil in the Woods records; one of his label's bands, Fiver, hails from the area and plays Noise Pop. "In San Francisco, it's much more of a process, more businesslike -- renting a rehearsal space, taking out ads for band members. [Bands] in smaller towns have time to work through the quirks." The musical proof is on Fiver's debut, Eventually Something Cool Will Happen.

San Luis Obispo's Rodriguez plays the fest with another Modesto band, Grandaddy, who have a major-label deal and a deservedly acclaimed record (last year's fearless and mournful Under the Western Freeway), as well as local demistars Creeper Lagoon, Washington's Death Cab for Cutie, and Glasstown on Feb. 26 at the Great American Music Hall at 7 p.m.; tickets are $10.

Fiver plays the Bottom of the Hill on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. with Washington's 764-HERO -- who haven't quite found the perfect strummy-punky synthesis they're searching for -- Red Stars Theory, and Aislers Set, who rose from the ashes of the late and beloved locals Henry's Dress; tickets are $7.

Crumb, who stumbled in their search for altrock glory after a debut record on Quincy Jones' Qwest Records didn't catch fire (musically or commercially), give it another go opening the fest on Feb. 23 at the Bottom of the Hill at 8 p.m., playing with Arizona's Jimmy Eat World, SoCal's Sense Field, and Gardener, Seattleites featuring former members of Seaweed and Screaming Trees; tickets are $7.

On the heels of their perky but overrated 1996 debut Seasick, local popsters Imperial Teen improve dramatically on the new What Is Not to Love, offering songs that are extended (including the caustic seven-minute guitarfest "Alone in the Grass"), tougher, and better crafted. They play Feb. 24 at the Bottom of the Hill at 8 p.m. with the Push Kings, Dealership, and Blanket, whose recent debut EP is an imperfect but solid foray into droning, mordant dreampop; tickets are $7.

Seattle's Murder City Devils headline at the Bottom of the Hill for a matinee on Feb. 27 at 1:30 p.m. with Kingdom First, Sacramento's Magnolia Thunderfinger, and punksters Me First; tickets are $7.

I Am Spoonbender, whose hi-tech-meets-post-punk approach is brutal both live and on record, also plays on the 27th, with Track Star and San Diego's Thingy, at Cafe Du Nord at 4 p.m.; tickets are $5.

Also on the 27th: Guided by Voices still haven't made a record as thoroughly impressive as 1994's Bee Thousand -- Lord knows frontman Robert Pollard's tried -- but the band's shows still present the best aspects of lo-fi rock merged with high alcohol content; Pollard promises a mix of fan favorites as well as songs from his new solo album Kid Marine and samples from GBV's upcoming album. They play with locals Beulah -- whose shimmering '60s-styled pop on the new When Your Heartstrings Break is a fine follow-up to their 1997 debut -- Snowmen, and Lunchbox at Bimbo's 365 Club at 7 p.m.; tickets are $15.

Seattle's Fastbacks have been blending raucous punk and the sloppiest Nuggets-era singles for well nigh forever, and they're also Noise Pop's institutional memory -- the band has performed every year since the festival's beginning. They play Bottom of the Hill Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. with Alien Crime Syndicate (Joe Reineke's post-Meices outfit), Bitesize, and Forestville's Bracket, arguably the perkiest and hookiest act on local punker-than-thou label Fat Wreck Chords; tickets are $8.

Same day, same place, 7 p.m.: Rocket From the Crypt plays with Oranger, featuring former members of Overwhelming Colorfast, Austin's Sixteen Deluxe, Boston's Elevator Drops, and local power-popsters ACarlos!, who lay claim to being the other band who's played every Noise Pop; tickets are $11.

Song samples from Noise Pop bands are available at


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Mark Athitakis


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