Skating Polly, Starcrawler at DNA Lounge

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This is my my late (again) review of a show I saw two weeks ago at DNA lounge in SF. Headliners were my faves Skating Polly, and also a wild, fresh band out of LA named Starcrawler. The show was on a Sunday night and as per usual I was on my own. It was a two-hour drive from my home near Santa Cruz, and I was excited about eating at DNA pizzeria. I ordered two slices and a coffee and kicked back at a table. There were a lot of cool posters up on the wall, and through a side door into the nightclub next door I could see the stage. After a while a prog rock band started their set which I assumed was Lower Self, the first band on the bill. I wasn’t that into them, so I kicked back and watched through the doorway (and on closed circuit tv) for a while, since I knew it would be a long night.

As it turned out, this was a completely different musical lineup happening in the other part of DNA Lounge, and my show was happening in a smaller space upstairs. The upstairs space was quite intimate, with the stage set up in the window looking out on 11th street. There was a DJ booth along the wall to the right of the stage, and the bar was at the opposite end of room. I got myself a Kaliber and waited for the show to start.

Eventually the first band  was getting their cocktails and checking their equipment, and soon it was showtime. Lower Self is a three piece punk rock outfit. Bass player tall with skinny mustache. His foot does the twist while he plays. The guitar player is a platinum blond with doll-like face. She has a good voice and they did some nice harmonizing which I appreciated. They are a little X-like at times. They seemed to be having a good time, and I found their set enjoyable. Ended their set with a Siouxsie Sioux cover. Nice openers.

I had high hopes for Color TV. I had liked the couple of videos I watched in preparation. They certainly looked good, and had brilliant outfits. But I have to say their set didn’t really come together for me. Maybe their songs just lacked hooks? They definitely gave it their best shot, and were very energetic. I did have a bit of a crush on the drummer, who sounded great and seemed to be having a really good time. But yeah, I think they need some punchier song writing to realize their full potential.

I had checked out Starcrawler on the interwebs, and I was looking forward to their set. They are a young band out of LA formed by Arrow de Wilde on vocals and Henri Cash on guitar. Filling out the lineup is Austin Smith on drums and Tim Franco on bass. Arrow and Henri met at high school (where maybe they still attend?). The debut album is due out in January. For a young band, they had fantastic stage presence and showmanship.
The band came out, sans Arrow, and started the first number. Snaking her way through the darkened audience, Arrow slithered onto the stage. Arrow is unusually tall and slender, with red-dyed hair, and is a bit of a contortionist. Her outfit was an homage to Cherie Currie, perhaps, a kind of flesh colored leotard and tights, decorated with studs, bits of lace and garters. Her dark eyes pierced the audience beneath her furrowed brows. Starcrawler were epic, alien, and awesome.
The guitar player, Henri, was totally feeling it. (I spoke to him after the show, very friendly and nice.) He moves around the stage like Angus Young, mugging while laying down chunky riffs, occasionally jumping into the audience or abusing his guitars to create noise and feedback. Arrow was a little bit scary, which I found unsettling and brilliant at the same time. It made me really think about my place as a passive audience member, watching the artists pour their hearts out, and what that means. She was definitely about breaking through that barrier. She spat water on the audience, and fucked with a bunch of guys near the front. She spat fake blood on the face of the guy directly in front of me, which he was not too happy about. I don’t honestly know what I would have done if Arrow had shoved that mic into my face, and expected me to sing, when I couldn’t even understand the words they were singing. But I’m sure it would have made me feel something new. Anyway, I’m sure they played all their hits, cuz they’re pretty new and their album isn’t even released yet. I recognized I Love LA, Ants, and something about blow jobs. They played with 120% conviction and deserve to be stars in my opinion. Go buy their album and see them live if you can!
I have written previously (here and here) about Skating Polly, who are my newest favorite band. They have a disgusting amount of talent as musicians, song writers and performers, and generally have great creative instincts. However, tonight’s set seemed a little off. Like Starcrawler had sucked all the air out of the room, and it was hard to go on after them. Skating Polly compensated by being super amped up. The songs came out fast and hard. Kurtis was hitting the drums so hard, it’s like he’s trying to destroy them. Here is the set list I made:

Pretective Boy
Nothing More Than A Body
Louder in Outer Space
New One – maybe “Queen for a Day”?
Oddie Moore
Stop Digging
New One – Peyton is lead
Perfume for Now
(Kurtis and Peyton switch so she is on drums, and Kurtis on guitar. Peyton seems happier to be on drums.)
Hey Sweet
Picker of His Words
New one – maybe “A Real Good Night”?

Overall, I found this performance less awesome than my previous SP show. Even though Peyton’s voice was back, they seemed musically less in sync than before. The lovely song Louder in Outer Space seemed too fast, kind of spoiling the way the energy slowly builds.
On the plus side, it was good to hear some of my favorite songs that were missing last time, like Nothing More Than a Body and Oddie Moore. The three new songs all sounded great, and got me excited about the new record they’re working on. And it was nice the way they ended with Picker of His Words, which is such a pretty song, and kind of brought the energy back to a more grounded, intimate level after a very amped up set. I was expecting them to play Hail Mary which is such a killer song, but they didn’t play it which made me sad. After the show I picked up the “rare” 7-inch of Alabama Movies and A Little Late to commemorate the evening, and headed home. Definitely a packed night of high energy rock and roll.

I had so many good pictures, I made this album for you:

Speedy Ortiz at Bottom of the Hill, Nov 18, 2017

So this is a special sibling episode of Girlbandgeek blog, as my younger sister A agreed to join me for a show. I think the context was me complaining about not being able to find people to go to the kind of shows I like. So A announced for her birthday present that she would go to a show with me (obviously, more of a gift for me, but I wasn’t going to question it). I gave her some options for our time frame and she picked Speedy Ortiz.

Speedy Ortiz at Bottom of the Hill
Speedy Ortiz at Bottom of the Hill

We met up in downtown SF, strolled about Union Square, and then headed to Potrero Hill. We ended up eating at Goat Hill Pizza where I used to go back in the 80s when I was living in SF. The pizza was pretty sublime, and our server was a delight, so that was a good call. Stuffed with pizza, we rolled down to Bottom of the Hill.

Opening act was Crooks on Tape. I knew nothing about them. They were three guys, looking like mad audio scientists in white lab coats. There was a drummer, with a fairly standard drum kit. Lab coat guy on the left played the bass, and also had a stack of keyboards, synthesizers and who knows what stuffed in a wooden crate which also apparently made them easy to transport. A couple of old tv’s rounded out his rig. Lab coat guy on the right also played bass, as well as theremin, and vocals. I give them credit for laying down some pretty fierce grooves with bass and keyboards, sometimes two basses at once, theremin, and so forth. Disturbing imagery flickered on the old televisions. There was liberal use of distortion and effects. They did a couple of instrumentals before adding vocals. While they had a kind of mechanical aesthetic, and shouted out the vocals, their set revealed surprising range and depth of emotion. I got a kind of Devo vibe off them. Below the surface of these sonic experimenters was a considerable well of passion and feeling. I liked their set a lot, and would definitely recommend checking them out.

Crooks on Tape at Bottom of the Hill
Crooks on Tape at Bottom of the Hill

By the time Speedy Ortiz was getting ready to take the stage, the club was packed. BOTH is not a very large space and it was wall-to-wall people. A and I were very close to the front, in a little pocket near the left corner of the stage. The sound was not great, but we had a really good view of the performers.

This would be my fourth Speedy Ortiz gig! The previous three shows featured Devin McKnight on guitar and Darl Ferm on bass. I know Devin has moved on to other projects, and Darl maybe had some other reason why he couldn’t come on tour. It appears that Andy Molholt has replaced Devin on guitar. I couldn’t find the name of the bass player, but she had blue hair and sounded good. Sadie Dupuis is of course the voice and soul of Speedy Ortiz, and Mike Falcone on drums and vocals is its heart. This was the last night of the tour dates with Speedy Ortiz and Tera Melos, so there was a kind of exhausted, delirious feel about the performance.

I saw an interview where Sadie said that she likes to dress very feminine to perform, because she thinks people need to see feminine performers shredding on the guitar. Sadie was wearing a very feminine, tiny pink skort suit. And there was much shredding on the guitar. They opened with a song I did not recognize – perhaps a cover, or a new one. Then I noted Raising the Skate, Graduates, Tiger Tank, and a new song. I was pretty happy in my spot 15 feet from the stage, grooving to Speedy Ortiz when I looked at my sister and I could tell something was wrong. She was overwhelmed by the noise and the crowd, and needed to go to the back. I stayed in our spot, and A wended her way back through the crowd. I soon began to worry, and after a couple more songs, I felt I had to go find my sister and check on her. That turned out to be easier said than done, because as soon as I left my little pocket, I realized the crowd was packed in like sardines, and moving was slow going.

I couldn’t even find my sister at the back of the club, so I texted her, ‘Are u ok?’ Turns out she had passed out, was assisted by helpful patrons/bartender, and was now outside the club, on the sidewalk, feeling revived. So after the final songs of the set, which I believe were Drk Wrld and MKVI, I joined A outside the club. My overall impression of the show is that it was excellent. The new players were up to speed on Sadie’s intricate compositions, and everybody was playing together. The set list had a lot my faves from Major Arcana and Foil Deer, and possibly a couple of new ones. And there was that loose, sort of manic last day of tour feel which worked well.

Anyway, A and I left after Speedy’s set. I had wanted to see Tera Melos, but that will have to be another day.

Guantanamo Baywatch at the Catalyst Club

Hey, getting behind in my music blogging. Been very busy with work and all kinda other shit. I saw Guantanamo Baywatch about two weeks ago in the Atrium at the Catalyst Club. I have been aware of Guantanamo Baywatch for a year or so, but never had the chance to see them live. Since they were coming to my local joint, and the tickets were $12 at the door, I thought I should do my part to support the arts. It was definitely well worth my while.

Guantanamo Baywatch at the Catalyst
Guantanamo Baywatch at the Catalyst

Having missed openers Speck, I asked some random club patron how the first band was, and his answer was “not a fan!” They had one song, he said, where the main lyric was “society’s fucked!” over and over. As it turned out, random club dude was actually a member of Psychic Astro Club, the second band. “I think the second band will put on a really good show” he said with a wink.

Psychic astro club was a 5-piece band with two guitar players, keyboard, bass and drums. Two of the members had sort of metallic makeup or face paint, adding a kind of 60s vibe. Overall I thought their set was pretty strong. They opened with an instrumental number that reminded me of early Stereolab. I found the drummer to be quite mesmerizing to watch. He had those octopus arms that moved with great fluidity, creating great syncopated rhythms. Their sound is very psychedelic and they lay down some excellent grooves. I appreciated the fact that at least three band members could sing, and they had proper harmonies which is always a plus. I scribbled “The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion” in my notebook, so I guess they were giving me an early Dead vibe. Overall a very enjoyable set.

I’ve only been to the Atrium a couple times. Especially on a weeknight, it has the somewhat awkward feel of a high school dance. There’s the strange little drinking corral, formed with orange webbing and pylons around the bar area, which was packed with people, and then the no-drink zone which is much larger, with scattered clumps of people. I was glad that by the time Guantanamo Baywatch took the stage the house was pretty full.

Guantanamo Baywatch is a Portland, Oregon-based band composed of core members Jason Powell on vocals and guitar, Chevelle Wiseman on bass, and Christopher Scott on drums. Rounding out their sound on guitar and vocals is Jordan Owen. They play high-energy, punked out surf music which is guaranteed to get your toe tapping, if not lindy hopping frenetically as people were by the end of the set. Some of the notes I scribbled – “Like surf music on mescaline,” “They are so fun to watch!” and “They play with conviction! 110% every song!” So yeah, a great party band. Although Powell is a kook with a cartoon-y voice and Cousin It hair covering his face half the time, he is a true virtuoso on guitar. Wiseman is a badass bass player with rockabilly looks, and Scott is also a wild man, in addition to being a tasteful drummer. Scott also does vocal duties, with some of his numbers consisting of mostly falsetto yawps and yips. I’m sorry, Jordan (Owen), but somebody has to be the straight man. But Owen definitely played an important part filling out the band’s sound.

I’ll leave it there, but it was definitely worth staying up a little late on a work night to check them out.