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Monday, November 25, 2013

John Vanderslice Brings Beguiling Perfectionism to the Rickshaw Stop, 11/22/13

Posted By on Mon, Nov 25, 2013 at 1:30 PM

John Vanderslice at the Rickshaw Stop Friday night.
  • John Vanderslice at the Rickshaw Stop Friday night.

John Vanderslice

Doe Eye

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rickshaw Stop

Better than: A private concert in a tiny telephone booth.

The first person I met at this show claimed that San Francisco's own Doe Eye is going to be the next big thing. He donated an entire paycheck (a grand gesture considering his humble hardware store earnings) to their Kickstarter, and has since attended three of their shows.

Is it their lush instrumentation that lures him back? Perhaps their raw, honest lyrics?

Their percussionist and string section really did carry the show. Their obvious technical proficiency and solid sonic framework kept the performance engaging and moderately distinct from the typical brand new indie rock flavor.

Some components that made pure enjoyment of Doe Eye's show questionable:

  • A truly atrocious keyboardist. To be fair, he dabbled with guitar as well, but the amount of bizarrely kitschy honky-tonking, technical error, and grotesque facial expressions contributed was enough to build a small bonfire in the cochlea.
  • Borderline insipid lyrics: "desire" rhyming with "fire." Innumerable bars of the words, "run away," or some similar phrase with the same not-memorable gruel-like consistency.
  • Maryam Qudus, the lead singer, and her often karaoke-esque throwing of voice, pitch issues, and awkward vocal decays.


To be fair, Qudus is also clearly talented. She oozed with the kind of wholesome respectability that might cause you to set her up for dinner with your son, or perhaps donate an entire paycheck to her Kickstarter. When the light caught her diaphanous capelet and she sang in an appropriate range for her voice, it felt like catching a glimpse of a precious San Francisco bird flitting to a treetop. She also gave ample credit to sound engineer Kelly Coin who did an extremely impressive job of balancing five string instruments, voice, and a drummer filled with vim.


John Vanderslice probably had no need for a sound engineer. Any sound nuances he needed executed he could likely tweak with the one motion of his deft wrists. He scrapped more than a few songs within half a measure to restart with his impeccable standards of quality. Where Doe Eye had seven performers to fill the stage with sound, Vanderslice only needed two.

When he wasn't prestidigitating on the fretboard (sometimes even forming an insane dialogue between his right hand strumming above the soundhole and his left hand responding by strumming on the fretboard) or percussing straight on the guitar body, he was demanding to know who seized his Bitcoins on Silk Road and making bets on how many songs he could make it through without talking.

Vanderslice had an oddly beguiling way of hitting every beat in the most interesting, least expected way; he made a habit of crooning at precisely the right pitch in a Sprechstimme about everything from "Dance Dance Revolution" to government spy drones. No fewer than two pieces into his set does one realize that Vanderslice has absorbed just about all the details of how to produce a sublime musical performance, and he's more than willing to show them to you.

Critic's Notebook

Friday night tradition: Take the train to the Van Ness MUNI station, look for Vanderslice at Rickshaw Stop -- if he's not there, grab a drink and keep looking.

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Raymond Robles


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