Noise Pop 2011
Monday, February 28, 2011
Category: Arts & Entertainment > Music > Concerts
Contrary to its claim, "The Extraordinary Life of Jose Gonzalez" proves how ordinary an "extraordinary" life can seem. This past Wednesday, the Roxie held the U.S. premiere of the documentary as part of Noise Pop's film series. The film was remarkably similar to a Jose Gonzalez album: poignantly profound yet mildly sleep-inducing. Although that works for the slow guitar riffs of the indie-folk singer, it falls short in the film itself, which aims to explore the artist's intense introspection. A silent shot of him eating cereal does the trick, but a dozen more of him sleeping, sitting on the couch and so on are simply boring.
Despite the film's lethargic quality, however, directors Karlsson and Egerstrand succeed in illuminating Gonzalez's musical process. In its best moments, the film offers a surreal view into Gonzalez's mind through animated sequences accompanied by endearingly accented narrations. These expose the artist's internal ponderings engagingly enough to ensure that devout Gonzales fans will enjoy themselves. The rest of filmgoers, however, might prefer a film about someone whose life is a bit more visibly extraordinary.
YO LA TENGO
Well-traveled and predictably solid, Yo La Tengo kicked off this year's Noise Pop at the Fox Theater in Oakland Tuesday. As three New Jerseyans that have been together since 1984, Yo La Tengo isn't a local or new act. In fact, they're kind of the opposite: a rock band that features a husband-and-wife act (lead vocalist/guitarist Ira Kaplan is married to drummer/vocalist Georgia Hubley).
Like a fine ham, Yo La Tengo has aged and matured over time, developing a distinctive but not too spicy flavor. They're not pushing any definitions of rock music, and their show at the Fox was more relaxed and comfortable than raucous and inspiring. A wheel of fortune determined the songs played in the first set, a little piece of whimsy for both audience and band to chuckle over. They slid easily between songs selected from their entire discography, giving a strong but calm performance of their signature noisy-yet-melodic lo-fi rock. Husband, wife and bassist put on a performance that made the grandiose Fox into a cozy living room.
It's all too easy to judge Best Coast with a derisive eye, whether it's based on lead singer Bethany Cosentino's unhealthy attachment to her cat or the simplistic lyrics. But as surf pop trio Best Coast took the stage at the Regency Ballroom to the strains of 2Pac's "California Love," the group exuded an offbeat charm. Though the content matter may seem trite, Cosentino sings about what she knows, and fortunately (or not), these are situations that wax all too familiar. She breezed through a montage of adolescent recollections, from angst ("Crazy For You") to borderline depression ("Goodbye").
Blithely strumming her guitar, Cosentino was a model of calmness. Perhaps her relaxed state was not entirely self-induced, as, after messing up a guitar riff on a new track, she blurted out, "I smoked too much weed." Though unconventional, Bethany's openness with the audience was part of what made Best Coast's show so enthralling. With its sunny hooks and lazy rhythms - and not to mention the numerous references to this great state - their performance evoked feel-good images of an everlasting summer. Best coast, indeed.
KIMYA DAWSON/AESOP ROCK
Concertgoers at the Great American Music Hall Friday night got much more than "A Night with Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson." For three hours, the audience traded reality for a bizarre world of insane antics, animal suits and awkward dance moves. In spite of constant displays of indulgent ridiculousness (including a blast off to the moon, a dancing drag queen and a man in a pig suit) both Kimya and Aesop's sets were musically unadventurous and disappointing. The dullness was only accentuated by the bored murmurs of fans who came to see one artist, and were not impressed by the dramatically different style of the other.
Luckily, by the end of the night, Kimya and Aesop outdid their individual sets with their new, surprisingly cohesive sound as a rapping/guitar-playing duo. On top of that, they showered the finally enthused crowd with candy from a T. Rex pinata, then passed out stage decorations. When it came time for their final song, "Tits Up," the entire floor was shamelessly thrilled, feeling up air boobs above their heads to hilarious rap verses. Post-show audience grins said that they didn't know what hit them, but they were sure glad it did.
No Age's show at the Rickshaw Stop this past Saturday was one of the last of Noise Pop, concluding the festival with a heartening reminder of why people pay money to see rock shows. Supported by an excellent line of openers, including Grass Widow, Rank/Xerox and Crazy Band, No Age came on stage at the peak of the concert's intensity, the crowd churning in a riptide of moshing and drunken yelps of excitement.
Their set was straightforward and forceful, mixing vocals and guitars together to make a formidable and pleasantly deafening atmosphere of guitar-reverb and shouting. The lyrics were unintelligible, but it could not matter less - this experience is why people go to live shows: to get completely drowned in sound and punch people under the pretense of dancing. Mixing tracks from their earlier albums (including 2008's highly acclaimed Nouns and Everything In Between, their most recent release), No Age pulled together a thunderously immersive set that rose and fell with a satisfying gravity, leaving the crowd sweaty and exhausted but grinning from ear to ear.
HOW TO DRESS WELL/SHLOHMO
Cafe du Nord witnessed a haunting tribute to '90s R&B on Saturday night. DJ Shlohmo and falsetto crooner How to Dress Well complemented each other well with their mutual obsession over this genre. Playing both a rare live set and an impromptu DJ set, Shlohmo synthesized old school R&B tracks, bass-heavy electronic beats, and unexpected sounds that one wouldn't even normally consider music. Tom Krell of How to Dress Well, instead, redefined the purpose of music-making itself. His intention was to emulate the death of his favorite genre, but his performance also seemed to be a very personal, therapeutic experience.
Krell's depression is made clear in his lyrics but is even more apparent when he is seen live. As he sang, or rather whimpered, he tugged at his shirt and absentmindedly wrapped his microphone around his body in an emotional frenzy. Even his dialogue with the audience only left them trying to cheer him up - perhaps he could have learned a thing or two from the more charismatic Shlohmo. Krell's strength was in his passion and commitment to his music, but his fans did not receive such unwavering attention.
HUNX AND HIS PUNX
Based on their name alone, it's safe to assume that San Francisco's Hunx and His Punx deliver performances unlike any other. And indeed they did last Saturday, filling the Regency Ballroom with their unique fusion of raunchy entertainment and sugary melodies. Influenced by the music of the '60s, Hunx and His Punx convey a sound that implements hints of both hardcore punk and sweet innocence.
Clad in a leather jacket and skin-tight, leopard-print leggings, lead singer Seth Bogart basked in the spotlight, having a hard time keeping his clothes on. Flanked by two buxom divas, his outlandishly sassy moves, coupled with his love of being the center of attention, made for a dazzling production that evoked both cringes and laughs.
The band ran through old favorites, such as the breezy "Cruising" and strangely addictive "You Don't Like Rock n Roll," and also introduced its new members' vocals, as flaunted in "Lovers Lane." With their uplifting beats, Hunx and His Punx won over the hearts of new fans that night, but in all honesty, Bogart's flamboyance was what really stole the show.
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