Sounds Like Teen Spirit 

Panda and Please Quiet Ourselves prove that the music industry is not just for grown-ups anymore.

Page 4 of 6

When he's satisfied with his progress, talk turns away from music. Peppering his speech with hand-slaps and salutations like "my man," Petros slyly confesses to skipping out on studying for a test to see his girlfriend, who is home this weekend from school in Rhode Island. Jonny's got girl problems of his own, soliciting advice on how best to reply to a certain touchy text message. Beyond this, their only concern is where to find a decent burrito for dinner.

Headlining at Bottom of the Hill two weeks later, Panda has a chance to show how far it has come. This is the group's first post-high-school show not during a college break, which means in a sense that it's Panda's first professional concert. Louie couldn't make it back from George Washington University, and few of Panda's usual fans and former classmates are here tonight. Even so, most of the 150 or so people in the audience wear black underage X's on the backs of their hands like marks of teen pride. As always, the parents of the band's members are present too, trying to remain inconspicuous at the back of the club.

The young audience occupies only about half of the club's capacity, but imbues the small room with as much energy as a sold-out show. Panda is greeted with uproarious applause when it appears on stage, and halfway through the first song a big group of fans up front starts moshing, although the upbeat pop-rock number hardly warrants it. Bunched up against the stage in a writhing half-circle, the kids fight to stay as close as they can.

Girls scream and shriek relentlessly during breaks between songs, which are often filled with meandering banter from Petros, who seems to relish his time at the mic. A pair of admirers stares up at him and Jonny and debates who they like more, the singer or the guitarist. At a quiet moment, one girl in front shouts "Marry me!"

It may be a stretch to say Panda is received like Oakland's own Beatles, but the Fab Four are in fact a heavy influence on Panda's sound. The deceptively simple pop, romantic but artful lyrics, and arresting melodies of Panda's best songs all have parallels in the oeuvre of the Beatles, particularly their early years. Though this style isn't in vogue in the United States at the moment, John Murphy sees it as an advantage abroad: "You take that band to Europe, you take that band to Japan, they're gonna freak out over them," he said. "There's a whole Beatles emergence scene in Japan right now. So I think their type of music could be big over there." The Beatles link is made explicit later in the night during Panda's cover of "She's So Heavy." The performance is an intoxicating concoction of frenetic punk energy, precise musicianship, and psychedelic noise. The kids up front, many of whom may not be aware of the song's origins, express their delight through wild dancing and headbanging. For those who do know it as a Beatles tune — such as the parents to whom the song is often dedicated — the performance holds up as a stirring tribute.

As the last note of Panda's set tapers off, the crowd launches into a chant: "One more song! One more song!" The noise is commanding, punctuated by ear-piercing screams. After a few minutes the band returns, one by one, to more sound than seems possible from a crowd of this size. Panda runs through an exciting rendition of its most popular song, "Carry On," then exits the stage again to rapturous applause.

"They're pretty much insane; they're really good," one young fan remarks. "It was soooo good," says another. The awe in their voices suggests tonight may be a defining moment in the fans' young lives.

Relatively few bands get the opportunity to a headline a place like Bottom of the Hill at any point in their career, let alone their teens, but a number of East Bay venues offer high school bands the chance to develop their live show before sympathetic audiences. Berkeley's Blakes on Telegraph, where both Panda and Please Quiet Ourselves have played on multiple occasions, presents five or six under-eighteen bands every Sunday, and regularly tacks high school bands onto bigger Friday and Saturday night shows.

Then there's 924 Gilman and Ashkenaz in Berkeley; the Oakland Metro in Jack London Square; Walnut Creek's Red House, a membership-based, full-service music venue; and iMusicast, the progenitor of the East Bay's current all-ages scene, which closed in 2005 but hopes to reopen soon near Jack London Square. Venues such as these are playing host to a new generation of local teenage musicians and fans. San Francisco indie-rock group the Audiophiles, the East Bay's blues-based RedHouse (not related to the venue), and other emerging bands — many of whom have received training at rock camps like Oakland's BandWorks and the nationwide Power Chord Academy, which holds sessions at UC Berkeley every summer — have begun to carve out a space of their own within the Bay Area's vibrant live music scene.

Although Panda has begun to progress to the next level, these smaller clubs and cafes are still vital to Please Quiet Ourselves. The group has played gigs at local house parties, Oakland's Mama Buzz Cafe, and San Francisco's BrainWash Cafe, but isn't yet ready for higher-tier venues. A week after Panda's concert at Bottom of the Hill, Please Quiet Ourselves opens for touring singer-songwriter Julia Massey at a largely unpublicized show at Oakland's Rooz Cafe. The cozy space and low-key atmosphere mean the band is playing unplugged, and when they notice their audience is comprised entirely of friends and family — plus one woman who happened to be working diligently on her laptop when the ruckus arrived — they downgrade the event to an "acoustic practice." It's the first time they've played acoustic in six months, but really they're just being modest.


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