March 1, 2007

Noise Pop: “Your face was simple, your hands were naked / I was singing without knowing the words”

Last night was fantastic – great shows in a great venue for my first night at the Noise Pop Festival. So far, color me impressed with this little fest.

My night began with an inspired set from local SF artist Ryan Auffenberg (well, actually it began with a protracted and painful search for a parking space where I would not get accosted or carjacked, which caused me to miss the beginning of Ryan’s set). Backed by a full band and featuring guest vocals from Hannah Prater of The Bittersweets, Ryan turned out a polished and impassioned show to a near-capacity crowd.

The setlist was pleasantly longer than I’d expected (Hey Mona Lisa, Deep Water, Curtain Call, Be Kind, Under All The Bright Lights, Missouri In The Morning, Please Don’t Go), and the packed crowd received Auffenberg very enthusiastically. It was good to see this talented artist getting such a roaring reception.

VIDEO: “Missouri In The Morning

There was some overlap with Ryan and Josh Ritter upstairs in the Swedish American Hall and I extricated myself as soon as I could. Changing gears entirely, I left the sweaty, packed downstairs and tiptoed into a silent room with everyone in rapt attention to the folk troubadour onstage.

Josh Ritter is a bit of a stylistic anomaly, almost as if he were plucked from another era and dropped into 2007. His appearance definitely has this air of some hippie Irish minstrel with his enormous red curly head of hair and formidable ‘stache stretching across his often widely-smiling mouth and cherubic rosy cheeks. Plus, he was sporting a cream pinstriped suit — you don’t see that often (unless it’s in a tongue-in-cheek hipster fashion statement or a Floridian retiree).

Ritter is also a rare, rare performer in his obvious ebullience to be performing. As he weaves his intricate, literate songs on stage, he overflows with each lyric as if he were birthing every line afresh for the first time. There is no sense of a rote performance, and no indication that he’s sung some of these hundreds of times. Instead, he radiates a palpable joy and a sense of barely-contained anticipation with each word that comes out. It was really a sheer delight to watch, and breathed new life into songs I thought I knew.

I was continually amazed by the lyrics of his songs all night long, feverishly writing down snippets that spoke to me. In fact, he even performed “Idaho” with all the lights in the hall turned off, which made each word just hover out in the darkness. He’s gotta be one of the best lyricists out there.

(both excellent photos credited to Doug Rice)

VIDEO: “The Temptation Of Adam
(new song from forthcoming album)
Ritter writes these almost mythical stories, always with apocalyptic overtones. This one smarted a bit with the way it ends — tragic irony. More for listening than watching, video not so hot but hey, I tried.

I wasn’t planning on recording this, but he was just SO impassioned and into the song that I had to record it for myself. The camera work is pretty jumpy. Plus, those lyrics (see post title), that chorus. Amazing.

VIDEO: “Thin Blue Flame
Interesting to hear this song in a solo acoustic setting without the thundering, building piano chords. Still striking.

February 27, 2007

5 Questions with Noise Pop Festival guru Jordan Kurland

Time is short ’til my departure to San Francisco (okay, via Oakland) tomorrow afternoon for the six-day fiesta of Noise Pop, the Bay Area’s best independent music festival. Its proximity on the calendar to the pricey and crowded SXSW means that many of my music blogger friends are opting for Austin and not S.F.

I say: their loss.

Not that I wouldn’t love to go to SXSW (and should probably start saving my kopecks now for 2008), but Noise Pop is just the right size, high quality, varied, and not to be missed. I’ll be covering all the shows I attend for your musical enjoyment, and my distinct pleasure. Noise Pop kicks off tonight with a (filled to capacity) free show with Tapes ‘N Tapes, and features a boatload of other fantastic shows highlighting a thriving independent Bay Area music scene.

Jordan Kurland and Kevin Arnold are the two Bay Area music lovers behind the fest, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. In February 1993 Arnold booked five bands into a small club and called the event Noise Pop. Since then, it’s grown exponentially, and this year features over 100 bands, parties, independent films, panels, art exhibits and more. How did we get here?


1) When you started/got involved with Noise Pop, what hopes did you have for it — did you ever think it would look the way it does now? How have those hopes crystallized or changed, looking back over 15 years?

I started working with Kevin on the festival in the fall of 1997 and we didn’t really have a game plan other than to keep things moving forward and try to rope in some bands that we loved and admired. We slowly became more ambitious: introducing the film festival and Educational Series in 2000, doing a second festival in Chicago in 2000 and 2001, etc.

Over the last seven years these ‘extra-curricular’ things have ebbed and flowed but we have had a goal of making the fest more of a celebration of independent art and culture. Now that we have some great folks working on the fest year round we are actually able to try to achieve this with things like art openings and the Noise Pop Expo.

2) Also looking back over the past 15 years, name one favorite/most memorable/fantastic show that just sticks out in your mind.

Can I cheat and name 3? The below are in no particular order:

-Bob Mould at Bimbo’s in 2000. Husker Du/Bob are undoubtedly, in our minds at least, the founding fathers of Noise Pop. Bob played a solo acoustic show (he was supposed to play some electric but the airlines lost his guitar in transit) and Kevin and I watched the show from the side of the stage . We were both extremely nervous when we approached him to sign a poster after the show.

-Creeper Lagoon/Grandaddy/Death Cab for Cutie at Great American Music Hall in 1999. This was back when Creeper Lagoon was considered the great hope of indie rock, Grandaddy’s first album was just getting noticed in the states (it already had some traction in the UK) and it was Death Cab’s second ever show in the Bay Area. It was exactly the type of balance we wish we could achieve with all the shows that we curate.

-Flaming Lips at Bimbos in 2006. The Lips had to cancel a show at Bimbo’s on us in 1999 and their manager, Scott Booker, always said they’d make it up to us. Well, the stars lined up last year and their new record was coming out the Tuesday after the festival and the timing made sense for everyone. It was just magical seeing the show which had been tailored to much bigger rooms at an 800 capacity club.

3) The Noise Pop website is so complete this year, with links and mp3s for all the bands. How do you think that technology has changed the independent music scene since the inception of Noise Pop?

It used to be that the only way to hear about the bands that played the festival was college radio, press, clerks at record stores, and word of mouth. The internet has completely transformed how people learn about and digest music and has given independent bands and labels an inexpensive or free way to reach millions of people. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, sites like Pitchfork have the ability to expose a band to more people in one day than a label like, let’s say, Absolutely Kosher, would be able to reach throughout a whole album cycle seven years ago.

I remember when it seemed unfathomable to think that Modest Mouse could sell 50,000 albums on Up Records in 1998 and now Joanna Newsom – a woman who plays harp and has no commercial radio airplay – has already sold that on her new album in less than six months.

Because I am an indie rock nerd or maybe just have too much time on my hands I often think about things like what if Neutral Milk Hotel was releasing “In An Aeroplane Over the Sea” today? It would probably rival the success of the Arcade Fire.

4) What is one thing that you’d like to add to the Noise Pop Festival in future years?

A Pavement reunion.

5) What are you personally most looking forward to at this year’s festival?

Hmmmm, that’s always such a hard a question and the answer varies from day to day. Right now, as I drink my morning coffee on the first day of the fest I would say I am most looking forward to getting some sleep next week :-)

Amen, Jordan. Anyone who has spent time with me out at night knows that my motto usually is “We can sleep when we’re older.” For my Bay Area peeps, come on out to Noise Pop this week, have some fun, and support local independent culture. Your ears & brain will thank you.

Here is the schedule of what I am planning on seeing — and (!!) I just got added as a panelist to the Noise Pop Expo Sunday afternoon at the Swedish American Hall. Come listen to me pontificate about how to get your music reviewed in typical brilliant and enlightened form. Ha! I’m actually freaked out. So come cheer me on.

**Where I’ll (probably) be**

Happy Hour @ Diesel Store with Rogue Wave DJ set
6pm to 9pm

Ryan Auffenberg @ Cafe Du Nord
(previous post)
Under All The Bright Lights

Josh Ritter (acoustic) @ Swedish American (previous post)
Girl In The War

Happy Hour @ Thee Parkside with photographer Peter Ellenby
5pm to 8pm

Happy Hour @ Diesel Store with Scissors for Lefty DJ set
6pm to 9pm

The Coup @ Fillmore (supposed to be “a standout”)
My Favorite Mutiny

Lyrics Born @ Fillmore
I Changed My Mind (Stereo MC’s Rattlesnake Remix)

New Amsterdams @ Slim’s
Heaven Sent

Street To Nowhere @ Slim’s

Screamin (think Weezer)

The Actual @ Slim’s
If You See Her

State Radio @ Slim’s
Black Cab Motorcade

State Radio features Chetro of Dispatch – remember:
The General

Dios Malos @ Rickshaw Stop

Feels Good Being Somebody (love this!)

The Changes @ Rickshaw Stop

Water Of The Gods

The Old-Fashioned Way @ Rickshaw Stop

Robot High

The Spinto Band @ Rickshaw Stop
(previous mention)
Crack The Whip

Money Mark in-store @ Amoeba Records
(previous post)
Nice To Me (hey, this one’s got harmonica by G. Love)

Participant in the Noise Pop Panel 3:30-5:30pm
“Indie Night School: Getting Your Music Reviewed Online & Off”

Money Mark @ Bimbo’s

The Botticellis @ Bimbo’s
Up Against The Glass (demo)

Scrabbel @ Bimbo’s

Chicago New York

CAKE @ Bimbo’s
Hem Of Your Garment


Tagged with .
February 3, 2007

Pants-Off Dance-Off, Noise Pop Edition

In the great tradition of intelligent, competitive entertainment (such as the shining beacon of light that is Pants-Off Dance-Off, or American Idol, or any other number of quality programs on the telly) I am enlisting the help of you, the reader, to help me decide what shows to see at the upcoming Noise Pop Festival in San Francisco (Feb 27-March 4). There are so many excellent offerings that I am a bit stumped.

On the superb show Pants-Off Dance-Off (that I was unfortunately exposed to one time, and summarily blinded for a week) all the people that you never wanted to see in various states of undress do just that for you. You get the nymphomaniac Ukrainian girl who thinks she is a lot hotter than she is, the nerdy computer programmer geek who thinks he’s hilarious in his undies, or the sassy large lady who wants to broaden your horizons of beauty (and pretty much fails). The viewers vote and America Decides who they want to see take it all off on the website.

There should not be much pants-off dancing in San Francisco for me but the democratic model of you guys voting to help to decide my itinerary suits me well, since I’ll be reporting back on the whole shebang for your enjoyment. Some shows I know for sure that I won’t miss, but there are a few nights (mostly Thursday and Friday) where I could go either way, and that’s where you come in. Please help me navigate the waters of grade-A indie rock — have you seen any of these bands? As George Thorogood wonders, Who do you love?

Incidentally, if you live in the Bay Area (or need a junket), this is also a list of recommendations of where you should consider being in a few weeks’ time — tickets are on sale and a few shows are already close to selling out.

with Will Sheff (Okkervil River)
Doors 7pm/Show 7:30pm

with The Watson Twins, Ryan Auffenberg, Built for the Sea

This means Wednesday (unless I can clone myself) I will have to miss covering the Sebadoh show at GAMH and John Vanderslice/Damien Jurado @ The Independent. Ouch.

THURSDAY Mar 1 (totally undecided)
My options:
with Howlin Rain, Oranger, Wooden Shjips

with Scissors For Lefty, The Oohlas, Magic Bullets

with The Coup, Lifesavas

with Aqueduct, Midnight Movies

with Poor Bailey, The Morning Benders

FRIDAY Mar 2 (completely undecided)
with Zach Rogue, Thao Nguyen, Alela Diane

with Georgie James, So Many Dynamos, Pony Come Lately

with The New Amsterdams, Street To Nowhere, The Actual

with Simon Dawes, Pilot Speed, Ray Barbee (from the surf movie Sprout soundtrack) And The Mattson 2

with David Dondero, St. Vincent

with Snowden, Malajube, Death of a Party

with Boyskout

with Audrye Sessions, Elephone, DJ Aaron Axelson

SATURDAY Mar 3 (pretty set)
* The Art Of Noise Pop [Exhibit & Expo]
1pm to 6pm @ Swedish-American Hall

with Dios Malos, The Changes, The Old Fashioned Way

with Earlimart, Sea Wolf, The Mumlers

SUNDAY Mar 4 (pretty set)
with Minipop, Ester Drang

* Afternoon panel with Indie Night School
3:30-5:30pm @ Swedish-American Hall

with Money Mark, The Botticellis, Scrabbel

My head is spinning.

Tagged with .
January 11, 2007

New Noise Pop Festival confirmations & NEW Contest

The 15th annual Noise Pop Festival takes over the city by the bay (San Francisco) February 27 to March 4th. They’ve just announced some new confirmations to an already stellar lineup, bringing the current list of performers to:

Roky Erickson and The Explosives
The Ponys
The Dandy Warhols
Jolie Holland
The Donnas
Ted Leo And The Pharmacists
Josh Ritter
Richard Swift
Ghostland Observatory
Vic Chesnutt
Lyrics Born
John Vanderslice
Spinto Band


I am hoping to possibly come out for Noise Pop: My sister just got a job at Stanford and will surely need some help unpacking and getting settled and what better way to get settled than to see a bunch of awesome shows! Logical.

I wrote about Peter Ellenby’s new book of rock photography, Every Day Is Saturday. I got the book for Christmas and I can categorically say that is awesome, one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while.

The photographs open new ways of seeing bands I thought I knew, give insight into the artists pictured, and illuminate the vibrant music scene that comes from and passes through the San Francisco area.

The commentary accompanying the photographs, by author Christopher Slater, is top notch — taking you behind the scenes of the pictures in the book in a very engaging fashion, and filling in the reader on the music world in San Francisco for the last 15 years. The segments documenting the rise of the Noise Pop festival, and Peter Ellenby’s role as un/official Noise Pop photographer, are required reading. Here’s an excerpt:

Noise Pop and the success of Ellenby’s photographs opened up a much larger world for him, both professionally and personally:

“I really met a whole lot of people. We had so much fun doing this thing [the early Noise Pop festivals]. I mean, it was totally exhausting, but it was the catalyst. I realized, this is exactly what I want to be doing. Going to the shows, seeing amazing bands, finding new amazing bands, meeting new amazing people, meeting my wife. It’s not just about music and photography — it’s about friendship and all this other stuff.

And it all started that weekend. I think it was four days. You know, like when you hear a song and say, ‘I’ve been waiting for this song forever.’ Or when you meet your soulmate, it’s like, ‘This is what I love.’ It’s so great to finally find that.”

That beautiful passion comes through in this book, and frankly made me want to pick up a camera and learn how the heck to use it.

After seeing the faces of all these bands that I somehow missed and never heard, I also found myself curious about their music — then I remembered that the book comes with a sampler CD of just that, tucked in the back. Fantastic soundtrack for a second reading.

If you’d like to check it out yourself, I have one extra copy of the book and CD to give away, thanks to a shipping snafu from Amazon. I don’t usually run two contests at once, but since I am closing up that Lucinda contest on Friday (great entries, folks), I figured we’d start this one up.

To win the Peter Ellenby photography book, leave me a comment with a link to view your favorite concert photo on the web. Doesn’t have to be one you took, but you can upload your own if that’s your choice. For example, mine would be this.

A little tricky of a contest, I know, but I hope to get some good visual responses. Also make sure I have a way to contact you if you want to win. I’ll run this through next Thursday (Jan 18). Oh, and since I have to pay for shipping this one myself, only US peeps can win. Sorry, my lovely and respected international brethren.

November 9, 2006

Noise Pop 2007 in San Francisco: Initial lineup announced

Already forgetting the NYC industry showcase going on recently over at CMJ, I am excited about some initial festival announcements closer to home, regarding the West Coast’s Noise Pop Festival 2007 (February 27 – March 4).

San Francisco’s best “indie music festival dealy” for the last 15 years, early confirmations from this well-respected shebang are pretty impressive, and include Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Jolie Holland, Josh Ritter, Sebadoh (the original lineup!), John Vanderslice, Midlake, Vic Chesnutt, and Ghostland Observatory, with more artists in the works (ultimately they’ll have over 100 bands).

In addition to your quality live festival music, one component that I thought sounded especially unique was the emphasis on the intersection of music and the visual arts. Taking over the fine Swedish-American Music Hall in SF on March 3rd and 4th, Noise Pop will be hosting an art exhibition, a local designer fair, and a rock poster art show.

The festival also has an educational series element, “featuring music, entertainment and technology panel discussions.” Maybe one devoted to the implications and opportunities associated with music blogging? I could be biased, but I always find those kinds of panels to be the most relevant in this particular moment in music/technological history, especially if you want to talk indie bands trying to get their music out there. Sign me up! Finally, they also offer their respected Noise Pop Film Festival. I caught a few films and shows from this festival back before I was a music blogger (I think it was 2003? or 04) and I was impressed.

For full details, see the Noise Pop website. If you think you should be IN the festival, they are also currently taking submissions. Go for it!

Tagged with .
« Newer Posts
Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →