Friday, January 18, 2008

The Blakes, The Blacks, Bottom Of The Hill, San Francisco

Apparently there's only two things enjoy about shows. Well, there's more than two, but the two best are banter, and good haircuts. And there was plenty of both in the offing at the Bottom of the Hill tonight at the Blakes, who are a bit of a buzz band out of Seattle. But first, some entirely unnecessary background.

I've been having a pretty entertaining half week in Silicon Valley, roaming the streets of Mountain View, CA, looking to make smug google nerds feel bad about their lack of social skills. We also planned a trip out to Cupertino to harass Apple kids for free software updates for my ipod, but alas, we didn't make it.

But all the free public wifi in the world can't make up for the fact that this place is pretty much a cultural wasteland (even if those I've had in my company for the last few days have been first-rate), so Friday night I decided to jet up to San Francisco proper for a show (although the thought of the 50 minute each-way drive, and the fact that Ghostbusters 2 was on TV, made me nearly consider curling up and staying in).

Side note - When my friends' new math-rock band, the Nested Ifs (whose current poster tag-line should be "We're so new, we don't even have a myspace page") finally lets me join (apparently there's a 13,000 mile geographical issue), we should definitely do a week-long tour of the valley - Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Jose, Cupertino etc. These freaks (and I mean this in the nicest possible way) lap up Excel jokes like they're going out of fashion.

I've been to San Francisco something like 6 times in the last 18 months, but until now, I've yet to get to a show. I tried to go to Yo La Tengo in August, but ended up at Japanese-language karaoke instead, and I once saw a Soft Cell tribute band at an 80s club night, but I don't think that counts (can anyone name another Soft Cell song that's not Tainted Love? - that's ok, because neither could the Soft Cell tribute band).

So, upon the recommendation of a colleague, I got in my convertible Chrysler Sebring (there was a mix-up at the rental car agency, and I'm stuck driving the world's dorkiest car. I came this close to making a bumper sticker that read "My other car is a 92 Chevrolet Corsica" just so people wouldn't think I was the kind of tosser that would buy one of these) and set out on the 101, and rolled in to the surprisingly easy-to-find venue.

Apparently the place has a reputation for being one of the best places to see a show in the city, and I can see why; it's the quintessential small rock club, low ceilings, a little too hot, easy access to the bar - in short, pretty much my spiritual home. It also has a nice air of non-pretension about it, the bar staff are middle aged, instead of young and hip, and the bands set up and pack down all their own shit, with only a ten minute break between bands - none of the keeping the audience waiting bullshit. The only weird thing about it was that it was all ages - but there was no segregation between the minors and the bar. Maybe it's a California thing, and I'm just used to living in places where they're anal about alcohol, but it's still a little disconcerting to see a 15 year old kid standing next you while you're pounding back a beer.

I wanted to say that the place was kinda like the bar in a scene of "10 Things I Hate About You" where Julia Stiles goes to see a girl punk band (part of me wants to think the bar is called "The Cat's Meow"), but that comparison would be plainly inapt. I just really wanted to use that reference.

The appetizer this evening was a band called the Blacks (with my accent, asking strangers in the crowd what the support band was called produced some interesting confusion -

Random Stranger "They're called The Blacks"
Me "No they're not, I can see the Blakes over there. They're playing next. What are these guys called?"
RS - "The Blacks"
M - "I know, but who are these guys"
RS - Thinking (probably) "This guy is retarded. and he keeps looking at my girlfriend. I'm going to the bar."

Anyway, they're a guitar/drums/tambourine combo with a boy/girl singer, and they're kinda new wavey patti smith/blondie ish. It sounded pretty good, and I'd claim that the enthusiastic tambourine player had taken his cues from the tambourinist from the Brian Jonestown Massacre had I: a) ever seen them play, or b)seen the movie "DIG". However, I've heard enough about both anecdotally to know that this is the gold-standard for enthusiastic tambourine playing.

The Blakes were playing tonight, which worked out pretty well, because I've been wanting to see them for a little while now. I listen to a lot of KEXP through the day, and they play a lot of them, as they're from Seattle, and play pop-rock that's straightforward enough to be radio-friendly, but interesting enough to not bore the tits off a bull. I'm sure they've been playing at at least 4 festivals that I've been to in Washington, but I have an unfortunately habit of having atrocious border luck when I drive to festivals, and always end up missing the first bands I want to see (and if the border gods are particularly against me, I miss all the bands I want to see, and get there in time for Fergie. Awesome.)

But the Blakes had exceptional haircuts (that wouldn't have looked out of place on Rusty Hopkinson (incidentally, some quick wikipediaing just taught me that Rusty's cat is called Chairman Meow - I'm using that some day) circa 1996), and a refreshing enthusiasm and excitement to be playing. They bantered well (they started with "I think we've got the wrong place, there's too many people here") and someone bought the band a round of shots, only for the bassist to pound them all, along with a follow up shot for good measure. and these were good, 3 ounce, american shots, too. By the end of the show he was trolleyed, it was outstanding. but they looked and sounded good, and write and perform snappy garage pop songs that wouldn't have gone amiss in the 3 weeks in 2004 when Auckland was the garage rock capital of the universe. Everything's infused with a strong sense of melody, and the lyrics are delivered with a good, old-fashioned, pack-a-day, gravelly wail.

Something about them reminded me of Jet. And then I immediately resisted this sentiment, before catching myself - there was nothing wrong with Jet. Like Jeff Tweedy once said to a reporter who cracked a disparaging joke about his son being in a Jet covers band "You mean, you don't like rock and roll?"

Methinks that next time they play a festival in Washington, I'll make a point of getting there in time to see them, but I'm guessing they'll be playing later in the day - I think their days of early afternoon sets are numbered.

and if I can figure out how to attach a link here, check this out.

So, after that, there was another band, but the thought of the long drive at 1am, with a 7am wake up call saturday was too much to bear. And I'd had enough fun to feel satisfied for my $10 outlay... maybe I'll see the Magic Bullets another time. As it is, the sentences aren't really flowing like they're supposed to.

Righto, you'll have to excuse me, I'm flying to San Diego early tomorrow to stalk Ryan Adams, and to get him to teach me how to seduce young, vulnerable starlets, and then write critically acclaimed albums about them.

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