Two nights at Noise Pop
Noise Pop 2016 lineup ranged from the Mountain Goats to Carly Rae Jepsen, embracing a full range of indie and bubblegum pop stars. The San Francisco festival kicked off February 19, with a lineup of tame but fun bands.
Tuesday night at the Independent music hall kicked off with the room only a quarter full and Kid Trails, a band whose songs were all too reminiscent of ′90s pop rock. With eyes locked on the floor, their bodies were stiff and mechanical as they strummed guitars and grimaced in concentration behind the sheets of hair. Likewise, the audience barely moves. It’s hard to open a show, but Kid Trails tried and did well; though it didn’t blow the roof off.
After Kid Trails shuffles offstage, two men dance on, raising their hands and thumping their heads but keeping their eyes sheepishly glued to the ground. Naytronix is excited if not charming, but the music is strangely danceable—an indie rock electronic love affair reflected in the performers’ own tiny, joyous hip movements and glances at the audience to see that the people are enjoying themselves. The audience gently danced, moved by the dark and fuzzy music bursting through the speakers. When the set finishes, there’s loud applause, and the duo smile, wave, and quickly pack up the gear and shuffle offstage.
Hunny leaps on stage with the confidence of years of performances. They start off with two fast-paced songs, each member slouched in that cool rocker way while gently swaying. The vocalist wears all black with a chain and lock around his neck, while thrusting his hips and closing his eyes as he sings the songs. The musical veterans don’t gaze at their shoes like the two previous openers, and they’re clearly more comfortable on stage. The band brought the crowd, already on its feet, to a thumping jump and finally made the night feel like a show.
The next night exemplified how putting together the perfect lineup can bring a concert to a whole new level. The stage at the Swedish American Hall was tiny and would’ve struggled to hold a five-piece band. The well-lit hall was filled with chairs, giving the impression that this was more like a school recital. Thankfully, what we got instead was a complementary mix of female singer-songwriters whose distinct styles created variety in a beloved format.
The music kicked off with a gorgeous, tall blonde walking on stage dressed in a Metallica t-shirt and high-rise jeans. Pheobe Bridgers looks like a ′70s boy’s dream girl but sings with the disillusioned grit. Her songs are consistently slow and often about being sad in suburbia, which Bridgers joked about on stage between most songs and declared halfway through the set, “God, I’m going to make you guys so depressed.” If you have any leftover teenage melancholy, Bridger’s razor sharp lyrics will go straight to it.
The benefit of having such a small setup for each performance was that the artists came on almost one after another. Jay Som was the only performer with an electric guitar that night, which she used masterfully. Som’s droning and reverbed guitar sings soft licks in response to her own mumbled but strangely haunting songs. The deep voice, warbled guitar, and melancholy tone create an intimate, awake-at-3-am ambiance that somehow becomes magical. Som is a relatively new artist, and it shows in her closed eyed performance and awkward but charming banter in between songs. With her talented songwriting and adorably bad dad jokes, Som would’ve been a welcome addition to audience but was immensely preferred onstage.
The cheers for Mitski were deafening when she stepped on stage, but she earns those cheers. Her songs evolve from quiet introductions, often underscored by a single note from the guitar, to loud declarations of independence. Between songs, her voice reverts to demure phrasings, and her between-song banter is sparse, usually limited to brief introductions or a request for the audience not to record the new songs she’ll be performing. When she walked onto the small stage, she wore a large hoodie, and there was an audible gasp in the audience when she disrobed, turned around, and showed a deep-plunged blouse. Mitski didn’t comment on the reaction but began tuning her guitar. Her silence between songs and limited audience interaction creates an enigma of an artist, drawing the audience in but always keeping them at arm’s length.