Palehound at the Catalyst – February 27, 2018

Palehound at the Catalyst

Palehound Rocking Out at the Catalyst

I arrived at the Club, and locals openers Gal Pal were in full swing. Their Bandcamp page describes them as “queer femme garage friends”. They were young punk rockers and I warmed up to them quickly. Gal Pal were loud, and rocked hard, but many of the songs were also musically audacious, with interesting transitions, changes and a sense of drama. Gal Pal was having a good time, feeding off each other’s energy and powering some intense jams. Several of the members contributed vocally and they were not afraid to go for it, delve into the darkness, and bare their souls. All in all a very strong set, and I picked up a cassette of their album Girlish for the archives.

Next up were the Weaves. Fronted by vocalist Jasmyn Burke, the Weaves hail from Toronto, Canada according to Wikipedia. But before they actually played, there was an embarrassingly long period while the members of the Weaves worked with the sound guy. Apparently they were not happy with their monitors, because they kept check-one-two-ing, and banging, and strumming, and signalling ‘more (whatver) in the monitor’ for a long time. And yet when they performed they were still visibly unsatisfied with the acoustics. I will say that I did not connect with the Weaves. They were cute, and having a good time, which counts for a lot. I mean, they were good musicians, and Burke can really sing, despite having kind of a funny voice (kinda like Betty Boop, but not that funny). They were at their best when they went kind of raw and punk. Other moments just seemed indulgent – guitarist playing with his face, Burke moaning, goes on and on, whatever. But they rocked, and gave it all they had, and I certainly appreciated them for that. But they were not my cup of tea.

And then Palehound came on and they were awesome. Palehound are a Boston, MA band consisting of Ellen Kempner on guitar and vocals, Larz Brogan on bass and Jesse Weiss on drums. I’m pretty sure Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz put Palehound on my radar. I learned from my pre-show research that Sadie and Ellen met at music camp, where Sadie was a counselor. I got the impression that Kempner, despite being a powerful performer, has mixed feelings about being the center of attention, with the added scrutiny that a young, queer woman fronting a band attracts. But the intimate crowd at the Atrium was heavily queer and young, and Kempner expressed her appreciation, and gave a shout out to Gal Pal.

Palehound put on a performance that satisfied me in every respect. They played most of the songs from 2017’s A Place I’ll Always Go as well as selections from 2015’s Dry Food and 2013’s Pet Carrot. Kempner is a fiery guitar player, effortlessly jumping from delicate finger-picking, to power chords, to tasteful leads. Brogan and Weiss provided a punchy rhythm section to Kempner’s compositions. Kempner’s songs talk about love and loss, but also dissect the everyday moments that bind us together as humans – grocery stores, pet food, donuts – with a wistful and even aching feeling. Friday’s set was beautifully paced between pretty, wistful songs and punk-edged rockers. And when Palehound rocked, they really rocked, and lord knows, that’s what brings this geezer out to the clubs at my advanced age.

Definitely check Palehound out if they’re coming to your town!

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Mary Timony Plays Helium – February 17, 2018

Mary Timony at the Independent

Mary Timony at the Independent

I confess that I was entirely unaware of Helium when they were a band. I think I first saw Mary Timony performing her solo work as a supporting act at a Sleater-Kinney show around 2000. I have seen her a few times since then, as a member of the incendiary Wild Flag, as well as her latest band Ex Hex, both of which rocked. So when I saw that Timony was going to perform the songs of Helium I wasted no time picking up tickets.

I roped my amigo Alex into seeing the show. Take a look at my review of Dream Syndicate for my reminiscences about the Alamo square area, and my history with the Independent, formerly the Kennel Club. It was a fairly frigid San Francisco night. I had picked 4505 Burgers and BBQ off of Yelp as our meeting place. There was a 20 minute line to order kinda pricey BBQ and dine on outside benches under heat lamps. The food, however, was top notch, and well worth the price.

Bellies full, we wandered across the street to the Independent. We got there shortly after the doors opened, and decided to park in the raised seating along the right wall of the club. We ended up staying there the whole evening, as the view was good, and the sound was excellent as well. In general, kudos to whoever’s responsible for the sound at the Independent, because the audio was punchy, rich, and clear for the entire night, which really enhanced the experience.

Allison Crutchfield opened. This would be my second time seeing her perform. Tonight it was just her and a drummer, but the sound was full and satisfying. Crutchfield traded off playing guitar and keyboard, and seemed equally comfortable with both. Crutchfield is good songwriter with pithy, thought-provoking lyrics. Her musicianship and vocals are assured, and overall it was a very satisfying opening set.

Before long set-up for Mary Timony was underway, and Mary herself could be seen on stage checking her guitars and equipment. She was playing an unusual guitar, possibly a Saul Koll custom model. I noticed that everyone was using an Orange amp for the Helium set.

The venue was pretty full, and everyone was in a state of anticipation to see these amazing songs performed. The band took the stage, the crowd whooped and clapped. Mary greeted us, and with no further ado announced “this one is called Pat’s Trick”. I was able to identify the following songs from Saturday’s show – there were several others that I wasn’t able to recognize:

Pat’s Trick
Trixie’s Star
All The X’s Have Wings
Leon’s Space Song
The Revolution of Hearts Parts I and II
Walk Away (James Gang cover)

Baby’s Going Underground

So, I’ll just say the show satisfied in every way. Mary was in good form, and she seemed happy to be there. Timony’s voice ranges from sultry lows to ethereal highs, and her guitar playing was incendiary as always. The accompanying band members, Nicole Lawrence on guitars and keyboards, Brian Betancourt on bass and David Christian on drums were all excellent, and played Mary’s intricate compositions with confidence and fluidity. Nicole Lawrence is a fiery guitarist herself, and on several instrumental breaks Mary and Nicole stood facing each other and trading riffs like old-school guitar gods.

Several of the longer compositions allowed the musicians to revel in all sorts of prog rock goodness. Timony’s finger tapping proficiency in The Revolution of Hearts Parts I and II was so good. And encore finale Baby’s Going Underground featured all kinds of joyous cacophony, including Nicole Lawrence using a drumstick to play her guitar, alternately like a violin bow and a hammer.

Needless to day, if you get a chance to see Mary Timony Plays Helium, run don’t walk to get your tickets. You’ll be glad you did.

Mary Timony at the Independent

Mary Timony at the Independent

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First Aid Kit at the Fox Theater – January 24, 2018

As usual, I had hoped to write this last weekend, but there was a work crisis which spiraled and wasn’t wrapped up until Friday. So here I am, writing a review of a show I saw 10 days ago. But I have my notes, and I will do my very best to write a good review for you all.

First Aid Kit at the Fox Theater

First Aid Kit at the Fox Theater

I saw First Aid Kit the first time about 4 years ago, also at the gorgeous Fox Theater in Oakland. I was blown away by First Aid Kit back then – their ringing harmonies, killer songs, and their star quality – that charisma that certain performers have that just make them riveting. This recent show was similarly great.

Tonight’s show was the first one of their North American tour, which made it kind of special. I felt that both First Aid Kit, and opener Van William were pumped for the occasion. The Fox Theater with its Indian Moorish architecture is always a great setting, and with the enthusiastic crowd it made for a great night of music.

Van William said he came from Long Beach most recently, though his Wikipedia page says he’s also lived in Alaska and Norway. Van is a very talented and likable guy with catchy songs and a good voice. He was energetic, and bounced around the stage like a rabbit during the instrumental breaks. He was accompanied by an unassuming drummer who played hard, and a bouncy bass player with short dark hair and an ever-present grin. Their songs are what I’d call indie folk, but Van has a very pop sensibility, making the songs really catchy and dance-able. Anyway, he played maybe 35 minutes, got the crowd loosened up, and made his farewells.

One of things I remember from my first First Aid Kit show was their magnetism as performers, and their sense of showmanship. From the moment they took the stage, their performance was assured, yet they remained very humble and appreciative of their fans. Their stage show was enhanced by the great venue with its exotic decor, the dramatic lighting, and some great visuals projected on the screen behind the performers. Even Klara and Johanna’s outfits were subtly coordinated, and later I realized that the fine backup musicians were all wearing matching black outfits with red embroidery on the shoulders.

They also know how to put together a song for maximum impact. The opening number, Rebel Heart perfectly illustrates this ability. It opens up with simple repetitive riff picked on the guitar, lifted by strains of organ, and Johanna’s heartbeat like bass notes. Klara’s voice is as clear, and strong as ever on the opening verse:

“You told me once I had a rebel heart
I don’t know if that’s true
But I believe you saw something in me
That lives in side you too”

Of course the music keeps swelling through the next verse and into the chorus’ resolution:

“Why do I keep dreaming of you
is it because of my rebel heart?”

So the Söderberg sisters were definitely back in full force, and owning the stage. The set list I noted was:

Rebel Heart
It’s a shame
King of the World
Stay Gold
Lion’s Roar
You are the Problem Here
To Live a Life
Crazy On You (Heart Cover)
Nothing has to be True
Hem of Her Dress
Revolution (with Van W.)
Master Pretender
Silver Lining

There were so many highlights, it would be hard to catalog them all. But they showed that they are not afraid to take on sexual politics with a fiery rendition of You are the Problem Here, their searing song about gropers in the entertainment industry. The audience, which was maybe 75% female, screamed in appreciation.

About halfway through the set Johanna announced that they would now perform a song by another sister duo. It turned out to be Crazy on You by Heart. Klara said “I’m so nervous about this” and then proceeded to nail the complicated acoustic intro to the song. The band obviously had a great time tearing into this classic rocker, and the crowd went wild.

The set list included favorites from the previous two albums, The Lion’s Roar and Stay Gold, along with a heavy selection from the just released Ruins. If First Aid Kit is coming to your town, do yourself a favor and catch their show -you’ll be glad you did!

Bay Area people – February brings a rare opportunity to see the mercurial Mary Timony performing the songs of Helium, the band she fronted in the 90s. The show is coming Saturday, February 17 to the Independent in SF. I’m really anticipating this one – hope to see you there!

First Aid Kit at the Fox Theater

First Aid Kit at the Fox Theater

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