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Monday, July 18, 2011

Saturday: Phono del Sol Festival Pairs Eclectic Music with Angry Skaters

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 at 7:25 AM

Aesop Rock (right) raps faster than you can even understand at Phono del Sol. - DEAN SCHAFFER
  • Dean Schaffer
  • Aesop Rock (right) raps faster than you can even understand at Phono del Sol.

The Phono del Sol Music and Food Festival, featuring Aesop Rock, Mirah, Man/Miracle, and more

July 16, 2011

@ Potrero del Sol Park

Better than: Registering to vote.

It's hard to turn down anything free -- even if you're not crazy about it. So when The Bay Bridged and Tiny Telephone brought the Phono del Sol Music and Food Festival to Potrero's Potrero del Sol Park on Saturday for free, I couldn't say no to a pleasant afternoon in the San Francisco sun (or fog, whatever).

Clearly the best skater ever. - DEAN SCHAFFER
  • Dean Schaffer
  • Clearly the best skater ever.

My friend and I arrived fashionably late to a crowd of several hundred, just in time to catch the Magik*Magik Orchestra. Within minutes we wished we had arrived fashionably later -- the group is a huge orchestra, but only two members made it to the show, a bass clarinetist and a vibraphonist.

Their songs curled lazily through the overcast afternoon, sounding more like scattered background music than a performance. As my friend put it, the instruments sounded like "ambient Looney Tunes music," except even more boring and uninteresting -- a pretty big disappointment given how full and intricate Magik*Magik's recordings are. I guess it's tough to entice dozens of musicians to perform for 30 minutes at a free show.

In any case, it provided an unobtrusive soundtrack to my conversation with one of the idealistic volunteers wandering around the park trying to get concertgoers to register to vote in San Francisco and (of course) to sign petitions supporting their mayoral candidates. I registered (yawn) and signed a petition for someone (double yawn). Avalos?

As we wandered around during the set in an attempt to liven up the day, we had a chance to take in the atmosphere. The park isn't just a park -- it's a park with a skate park, and the skaters were none too happy about the takeover. On the other end of the park, parents played with their kids on the playground, and locals walked their dogs.

Man/Miracle provides some hope for the day. - DEAN SCHAFFER
  • Dean Schaffer
  • Man/Miracle provides some hope for the day.

Once we returned from wandering and getting wholesome (ahem!) beverages to enjoy the day, Man/Miracle came out, along with a splash of sun. Its sound was intriguing -- two parts surf guitar, one part Strokes' rhythms, and two parts of weird, dark heaviness. Some moments were inspired, but the vocals were unfortunately too bass-heavy to stand out.

Mirah coos to the crowd. - DEAN SCHAFFER
  • Dean Schaffer
  • Mirah coos to the crowd.

After a fairly vigorous round of applause, Man/Miracle ceded the stage to Mirah, whose beautiful but delicate voice vanished at times into the wind. Collaborator Thao Nguyen joined her and her drummer for a few songs at the end of her set, but her understated, stripped-down sound seemed oddly out of place against the low backdrop of skaters navigating halfpipes and grinding on rails.

Finally, Aesop Rock took the stage, and it quickly became obvious that he actually belonged in this weird place. Some of the skaters came to listen; those in the front of the crowd stood up and put their hands in the air on command, almost like a normal concert.

With crowd-pleasers like "Pigs," "None Shall Pass," "Meter Feeder," and encore "Daylight," Aesop Rock spewed lines like a busted fire hydrant, sometimes too fast and too clever to catch. DJ Whiz split the set with an impressive scratch sesh, while Rob Sonic provided Aesop Rock with the vocal assist.

I admit that I live in a bit of a hip-hop cave and hadn't heard anything other than "Pigs" before Saturday, but Aesop Rock made me his newest fan -- crunchy, fuzz-bass back-up tracks; intelligent lyrics; and a good sense of humor (from "Daylight": "Life's not a bitch/Life is a beautiful woman!/You only call her a bitch because she won't let you get that pussy") made him a pleasure to watch.

For a taste, check out this video of "Daylight" taken by an enthusiastic member of the crowd:

Personal bias: I heard about the festival before I had heard of any of the artists playing at it.

The crowd: Parents who brought kids to the playground, twentysomethings who brought beers, idealistic volunteers who tried to register people to vote, and skaters who seemed to hate everyone else.

Most popular accessory: Brown-bagged Tecate.

Overheard at the skate park: "Now you come here. Take that shit to Dolores Park -- get the fuck out of here."


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