Here Here, The Boy with an Orange (self-released). Even down to frontman Christian Lyon's soothing vocals, seven-member San Francisco group Here Here sounds a lot like Pinback, just without the snap, and with a whole bunch of violin, accordion, trumpet, banjo, and mandolin.
Parker Street Cinema, Music, in the Blood (Abandoned Love Records). If making beautiful, dramatic music sound effortless is a pinnacle of achievement, then San Francisco experimental rock trio Parker Street Cinema falls a couple important steps below its idols. Fleeting moments of transcendence yield to a sense that the band is overthinking.
Sky Pilots, Enjoy a Day Off (Ghost Mansion Records). Post-hardcore put through the San Francisco spinner: palatable, progressive, and reluctant to push anything too hard.
Jimmy Leslie, Surfin' the Swamp (Concurrent Records). The vibe is steady, the sound is clean, and Leslie's bright guitar work rarely missteps. Still, only when the band loosens up and just jams does this New Orleans funk/San Francisco rock hybrid really click.
Subtle, Yell&Ice (Lex Records). Remix albums usually suck. But not this collection of alternate takes on tracks from the acclaimed Oakland act's 2006 release For Hero: For Fool, which oozes creativity from members of Why?, Wolf Parade, TV on the Radio, Hood, and the Notwist.
Company Car, Collars (self-released). Nicely mixed, relatively convincing post-hardcore with strong guitar work and a tolerable emo bent. For better or worse, it just might warrant a shot at a mainstream rock audience.
Six Organs of Admittance, Shelter from the Ash (Drag City). Medieval metal and folk pickin' fuse via experimental rock on another interesting yet underwhelming release from the mostly-solo project of Comets on Fire's Ben Chasny.
Citay, Little Kingdom (Deep Oceans Records). Frontman Ezra Feinberg spins instrumental gold on this sophomore Citay disc, which also features Tim Green (San Francisco's resident post-rock Midas) on guitar, piano, and production. As beautiful as it comes.
Josh Fix, Free at Last (1650 Entertainment). It's special enough that Fix can nimbly reproduce everything about the bombast and tenderness of Queen and Elton John. But a few bulletproof melodies make it no wonder he's already more famous than you know.
ALBINO! Rhino (Mighty Niblet Records). Proclaiming George Bush a puppet and our government a "looming threat" won't turn many heads in the Bay Area, but lyrics are only incidental to ALBINO!'s groove-laden, instrumentally flawless take on the jazz/funk/protest hybrid of Afrobeat.
London music mag NME reported last week that Prince has lost his mind. Well, not in so many words. But we can read between the lines; Prince's demand that three of his biggest fan sites immediately remove any image bearing his likeness, including Prince-inspired tattoos and license plates, is utterly ridiculous. Especially coming from a guy who changed his name to a symbol, painted a rented mansion purple, turned a guitar into a phallus during a Super Bowl half-time performance, and is generally -- and publicly -- pretty damn strange. Now, all of a sudden, just as his latter-day comeback is taking shape, he decides to reign it all in? His biggest fans (or ex-fans), by the way, refuse to comply, insisting their use of Prince's "likeness" is protected by law. In related news, Prince has also announced plans to sue YouTube, eBay, and BitTorrent provider Pirate Bay. Something tells us the real damage to his image is yet to come.
Last Saturday night, while everyone down the street celebrated a drunken Halloween, Two Gallants and a few hundred fans wallowed in something else altogether at The Independent. A few donned costumes, and while they didn't quite fit into the shaggy, plaid vibe, they were as welcome as anyone.
Two Gallants' music is more inclusive than most. Historical and literary yarns, country- and folk-inspired indie rock, and independent ethics don't often spell mass appeal, but it was clear at the Gallants' latest local gig that their fanbase is a lot less predictable than their sound. Male and female, young and old, hip and square -- they're all drawn to Two Gallants. But why? The smart money is on Adam Stephens' lyrics. They may be obtuse at times, but far more often possess a human quality that can't be faked. Attentive listeners have no choice but to empathize with his characters, no matter who or where they are, or what they're doing. At The Independent, the number of people singing along to each and every word was impressive, especially for a band of so many words.
This isn't to downplay Two Gallants' music. The interplay between Adam (on guitar) and drummer Tyson Vogel again can't be faked, and its not -- they've been playing together since they were twelve. Now approaching their late '20s, they're three albums deep, and steadily expanding beyond the Bay Area. During shows, Adam likes to get right up next to Tyson, to the point that on Saturday he dropped to his knees aside the drum kit and picked and rolled fiercely for about a minute. A guitar and a few drums never made such a meandering, communicative, emotional noise.
The Gallants sounded warm from the first note, evidently locked into the groove of perpetual touring. They'd been on the road for months, and days later kicked off a European tour. Opening with a few cuts from the new record, which are less visceral, and more somber and lovelorn, than previous material, the set later peaked with "Long Summer Day," "Las Cruces Jail," and an excellent rendition of "Steady Rollin'," all from 2006's What the Toll Tells.
In a couple cases the guys incorporated stuttering improv into the framework of their songs, and at various points Tyson busted out a household windchime (gently strummed with a drumstick), his keys (dusted over the cymbals), and a tambourine (tapped on the snare) to liven up percussion. Probably trying to keep things interesting for themselves as much as for the audience. It worked, and when Two Gallants were called back for an encore, they gave one of their best performances of the night: a rousing, extended rendition of "Nothing to You" from 2004 debut The Throes, which united the diverse crowd in a sing-along of "Down by the riverside...wastin' away." The band has its limitations, but a moment like this reminds us: no one can do Two Gallants quite like Two Gallants, and they'll forever be our band.
The concept of a strictly studio band may seem pretentious, but certainly lends an air of mystery. What makes a band so good -- or so bad? -- that it can get by without taking its songs on the road? Steely Dan refused to tour for its final six years (until reuniting in 1993), but continued to produce albums that held up under intense scrutiny. Today Steel Dan is considered one of the best rock groups of the '70s.
A case could be made that San Diego act Pinback, which has recorded some of indie rock and emo's cleanest, most flawlessly executed records, would make a fine studio band. Like Steely Dan, Pinback centers on two core members -- Rob Crow and Armistad "Zach" Burwell Smith IV -- and sounds best clinical and cold, not amped-up and loose. Last Friday night at Bimbo's -- the second of two consecutive nights there -- the band proved as much, when inconsistent vocals, modified tempos, and unraveled rhythms threatened the integrity of many of its songs. Pinback is not a poor live band. It's just an amazing studio band, and anyone accustomed to hearing it on record will have a hard time reconciling the difference. At Bimbo's, Rob and Zach may have just been having an off night, but their voices didn't sync up right. Rob's tone was off, a bit too high and thin, while Zach lacked his usual smoothness. It's a minor complaint for just about any other band, but deadly for Pinback. Vocal sounds like doo doo doo and oh-oh, plus abundant vocal harmonizing, are present in almost every song. Silky precision is essential.
Likewise, when the airtight rhythms that propel Pinback's songs don't lock, the effect is more than incidental. A certain magic -- Pinback's very identity -- is compromised. Though some songs fared better than others, the problem persisted throughout the night. With tempo it's the same story. "Penelope," from the 2001 album Blue Screen Life, is one of Pinback's most beautifully steady songs. On Friday night the band played it so fast that it lost all its power. Concertgoers often expect the artist to expand upon studio versions in the live setting; in Pinback's case, you almost want them to sound exactly as they do on record. That would an accomplishment, and an intense experience.
Visually, the band doesn't lend itself well to the stage. Zach's proficient bass playing -- a blend of strumming and finger picking -- is exhilarating to watch, but Pinback's general geekiness, and occasional indifference, overwhelms all. The band's auxiliary keyboardist/bassist/guitarist on Friday appeared bored, confused, stoned out of his mind, or all three. No one expects Pinback to look like rock stars, but the other extreme is just as unappealing. Best, perhaps, to keep them off the stage and allow intrigue to flourish.
Despite these shortcomings, the crowd ate it up. Pinback was good enough to win new fans, and by most counts, that's indeed good enough. Raucous applause and bouncy dancing lasted all night. Favorites like "Loro," "Fortress," "Concrete Seconds," and "AFK," plus new single "Good to Sea," were especially well received. Pinback writes some great songs, no doubt, regardless of how its shows stack up against its albums.
The highlight of the group's stage presence, or clearest indicator of its awkwardness, came when Rob told a joke during a song break. "I heard a good knock-knock joke the other day," he offered humbly. "Knock knock." "Who's there?" the crowd answered. "Penis butt fart." A chuckle came from the crowd. "A five-year-old told it to me," explained Rob.
When fans flooded back out onto the street outside Bimbo's just before midnight, they might've noticed a formidable silver bus hulking out front. This was no ordinary bus, especially for an indie band. This was a massive, gleaming tour bus of the type often reserved for mega bands on reunion tours. What gives? According to Touch and Go Records, the band's label in Chicago, the luxury wheels spring from Rob and Zach's inclination to bring their wives on the road -- and in Rob's case, his kid too.
All the more reason to stick to the studio, guys. Leave the family at home, sell that bus for some rad new equipment, and keep giving us more of what you do so well. Hey, it worked for Steely Dan.