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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friday at Noise Pop: Tamaryn and the Soft Moon Paint it Noir at Cafe Du Nord

Posted By on Sat, Feb 26, 2011 at 2:34 PM

Tamaryn at Cafe Du Nord Friday night. - IAN S. PORT
  • Ian S. Port
  • Tamaryn at Cafe Du Nord Friday night.
Tamaryn
The Black Ryder
The Soft Moon
February 25, 2011

Better than: Any Hot Topic experience you've ever had.

We could label it shoegazey, or gothy, or dark, or a bunch of other tired words, but the adjective that continuously came to mind during the Soft Moon's set at Cafe Du Nord Friday night was "noir." Or, rather, "noir-y," if you can deal with that. (Pendants: See "noirish.") Watching the set -- second of four on one of the most anticipated (and sold-out) nights of this year's Noise Pop festival --  we even entertained the idea of coining a new sub-genre called "chillwave noir." For our reputation, self-esteem, and physical safety, though, we decided against it.

The Soft Moon - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Soft Moon
The point here being that there's something refreshingly not-quite-rock about this S.F. project: offstage, it consists solely of Luis Vasquez; its reliably disturbing self-titled debut album was recorded, eerie whispers and all, by Vasquez in his Oakland apartment; and Friday night, there was no drummer onstage. The whole set in fact seemed to be played to a single drum machine setting that was probably called "driving fast down an empty road at night." This was not a bad thing. The constant rhythm of the Soft Moon's set was like the backdrop of a shadow-filled and smoky metropolis in some '50s noir film, deepening the drama of the main events.

That drama consisted mainly of Vasquez swaying manically around like some politely possessed demon, his face -- and the whole stage -- overrun with the eerie image of light-shining-through-the-blinds courtesy of the projector. Flanked by a stoic, black-clad bass player and a tall thin guy with keyboards, Vasquez waved around his white axe and dripped out high-pitched melodies on his keyboard. Songs like "Circles" sounded largely like they do on the debut album: buzzing synth lines approximating slow screams of terror, Vasquez scratching out angst in the form of fuzzy guitar leads, and him howling remotely (and incomprehensibly), into the mic. Vasquez says he wrote the Soft Moon stuff as a kind of therapy, to express his own fears and feelings, and he seemed Friday to get a similar catharsis out of performing. A lot of gloomy music seems affected; his inclination to disturb is genuine.

The Soft Moon - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Soft Moon
By our count we got only seven songs, all slightly different shades of black, with no time for the midnight-blue relief of "When It's Over," the spacious centerpiece of Vasquez's work so far. We'd have liked more of this not-rock noir, and this group deserved to be playing third of the night instead of second, but hey, it'll probably headline a Noise Pop show next year. Here's hoping Vasquez doesn't bring a drummer to that gig, either. 

The Black Ryder - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • The Black Ryder
Next up was The Black Ryder, an Australia-via-L.A. band on the Mexican Summer label whose friendship with members of S.F. boys Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will surprise no one who's heard them. The band capably delivered gloomy, by-the-books alt-rock, with almost enough distortion and reverb to be called shoegaze. Thankfully the four members spared us the annoying blues affectations of B.R.M.C. and turned their somewhat generic sound into a pleasing if not quite memorable live show. The highlight for us was the uptempo sway of "Grass," off the Black Ryder debut Buy The Ticket, Take the Ride. (But really, that was the best album title they could think of?) Helping the band's stage presence was the fact that its four members looked cool. The striped-shirted drummer's kick drum was about the size of a small planet, and he thrashed his sticks with almost comical energy. The front three were all clad in black, two in leather, and we spotted the bass player casting flirty looks at singer Aimee Nash while guitarist Scott Von Ryper worked out leads on his vintage Silvertone guitar. Still, six songs of this novice-level noir was more than enough.

Tamaryn - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • Tamaryn
Especially since last night's headliner was Tamaryn: a newish certified shoegaze outfit from S.F. (led by a singer of the same name) that everyone with a vintage coat and thick-rimmed glasses seems to love. Her set Friday was bathed in the capricious glow of a broken projector and marred by broken vocal effects and a non-functional stage monitor, and the black-draped lady behind the mic didn't shy from voicing her frustration about that. But other than now-they're-here, now-they're-not psychedelic glow from the projector, the problems weren't obvious to the audience. Tamaryn sounded really good. Not "really good for a shoegaze band," but actually good, which is to say that you could make out all the instruments through the haze and even understand what she was singing. The rousing "Love Fade" is by far this band's best song, and last night it felt revelatory: watery guitar chords dancing through the room, a meaty bassline bouncing through the gut, and above it all, Tamaryn's deep voice carrying a solemn, extended note. The rest of the set was similarly lush-sounding and dreamlike, with the atmosphere carrying the slow songs better than debut album The Waves does. 

Tamaryn - JOSEPH SCHELL
  • Joseph Schell
  • Tamaryn
Tamaryn often draped herself and her brown hair all over the mic stand, seeming apart from the other three members of the band. We wondered whether her agonized countenance was a reflection of the noirish vibes of the set, or the technical problems. Either way, banging a tambourine seemed to bring her relief. We nearly lost ourselves in the atmospheric sound and in watching her seem to impale herself onstage. In a brief silence near the end of the set, someone yelled out a "Fuck yeah!" We could only agree.

Critic's Notebook

The Black who?: No one I spoke with seemed to know much about the Black Ryder, other than the somewhat-surprising fact that they're on the Mexican Summer label, also home to Best Coast, Ariel Pink, Kurt Vile, and Tamaryn. But it was only the band's second S.F. show.

Personal bias: I've long been skeptical of Tamaryn, shuddered at the seemingly excessive drama of her lyrics, and not found whatever it is that so many get out of her debut album. But I left her show impressed Friday night.

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Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Ian S. Port @iPORT, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.

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