SAN FRANCISCO — This year's Noise Pop Festival was marked by a massive influx of participating bands — so many, in fact, that deciding which shows to attend over the weekend became the real chore of the event. Between Friday evening and Sunday night, no fewer than 45 bands graced the stages of participating venues across the city.
With venues spread far and wide throughout the city — and with the continual threat of rain — navigating the Noise Pop city was a challenge, but a rewarding one.
The Church Steps took the small, cozy stage Friday night at Café DuNord, delivering mournful Americana-tinged wasteland guitar sounds, augmented by computer noises. Mike Donovan's slacker-style vocals were strained, yet impassioned, and drenched in dreary sweetness, while his partner, Chris Douglas, hunched over his computer, coaxing a variety of blips, scattered beats, and off-kilter electronic noise into the mix. Country rock foursome the Court and Spark masterfully served up tears-in-your-beer twang, creating an atmosphere of roadhouse honky-tonk. With a penchant for drone mantras, lingering notes, bass reverberating through the floorboards, and what can only be described as prog-fusion overdrive, Tarentel seemed the odd choice to headline this bill. The group's ephemeral space jam style floated off into translucent somnambulistic soundscapes that would best accompany some dark animated fantasy film.
The Bottom of the Hill was the first stop for Saturday's sonic festivities, with its afternoon show consisting of The Henry Miller Sextet, The Orange Peels, The Shins, and The Aislers Set. The Orange Peels treated the crowd to a set of jangly, glowing Cali-pop, and after a brief set change, Albuquerque, N.M.'s The Shins sauntered on stage and began bouncing through their weird amalgamation of The Cure (sans goth trappings) and neo-'60s garage psych-pop ambiance. Frontman James Mercer unloads his lyrics in a tinny, nasal falsetto that sounds like a Yankee Robert Smith. The Shins' catchy, mildly abrasive pop was further enhanced by quirky Casio plinking, resounding bass lines, and kinetic drumming. Headlining the afternoon bill was local act The Aislers Set, whose songs ranged between mid-tempo tunes that sounded like the Velvet Underground and up-tempo ditties rife with "ba-ba-ba-ba" vocal harmonies that would fit right in with the beach partiers of the late '50s.
We took a short jaunt across town to Café DuNord, where the four-band bill of Jolly!, Persephone's Bees, Fiver, and Oranger was holding down the house. The billing zoomed by, with Persephone's Bees jumping onstage and whipping out a quick set, followed by the members of Fiver, who rattled off songs nearly as quickly. The members of headliner Oranger took more care with their time onstage. Projecting sci-fi movies (Fantastic Planet, Planet of the Apes) on a sheet hung behind them, the four-piece San Francisco band bounced through poppy ditties, slunk through symphonic dream pop, and noodled around with mildly psychedelic prog ambitions. The group's set was musically tight but comically light — the drummer showed off his bright red briefs and the members tossed CDs randomly into the audience.