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Montana Slim String Band at Freight & Salvage

Friday, February 19, 2010
The first thing I noticed when Montana Slim String Band took the stage was the imposing statue of their rhythm guitar player. At well over six feet tall, Jesse is impossible to ignore, until the music starts. The only thing bigger then Jesse is MSSB's sound. Their sound immediately filled the room at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley and put a death grip on your senses. The band began playing with no discussion and Brent quickly focused attention on his nimble fingers tearing up the fretboard on his mandolin while Dave, and his bass called Trumptet, held down the bottom end with spot on timing. Dave breaks out his bow on one occasion to provide an eerie, haunting sound. Most of the band shares vocal duties, blending subtle harmonies into a full-bodied sound that fills out their music and consumes the audience. I was initially skeptical when I first saw Turi setting up the effects peddles for her fiddle, but she, and the rest of the band, use them judiciously to ad a depth to their sound that gives them a refined, modern edge. Their style of music most certainly falls into the Newgrass or Jamgrass territory, but with Brent's smoking mandolin and Sean's unearthly flat-pickin' breaks, they pay due homage to the masters. When I heard Sean's first break I expected to see smoking frets, but his calm stage presence and smooth, relaxed pick hand belies his intricate melodies and break neck speed. His use of the entire fret board makes me think that there's a rocker somewhere inside that wants to get out, but just can't overcome the bluegrass.

The band also managed to provide a musical marathon, blending one song into another, lulling you into a sense of contentment that makes you forget that you've been listening for over ten minutes. They kept the audience connected with their honest lyrics that provide a vehicle for the band to display their emotional connection to the music. Their extended jams were highlighted by Brent and Turi’s instruments occasional back and forth arguments. Though, neither mandolin or fiddle were ever able to claim dominance, they did manage to push each other to greater levels of virtuosity.

The most difficult thing about seeing Montana Slim String Band is catching them in town. In Jesse's words they tour, “pretty much all the time”, but they are more than worth the effort. They put on a show that will be sure to get you toes tappin’ and you neighbors dancin’; even at a seated venue like the Freight. To take some of their music home you can find their LP Slim Pickin's at either iTunes or CDBaby and they will be back in town for a major show at the Independent in San Francisco on March 25th. These guys are sure to deliver.

-Jonathon Miller


Dispatches from Noise Pop: Thursday 2/25

At the second night of free Happy Hour shows, things seemed a little less organized. Perhaps my mind was still paying its indulgences for the previous evening’s sins but things seemed to be moving slow and unguided. Be that as it may I sat and watched what little I could whilst fueling up on beer and greasy food before heading out to my next stop, Bottom of the Hill.

Shark Toys were first to take the stage and set the bar real low. Perhaps this may be garish of me but there is a certain gravitas and arrogance (or toughness to put it plainly) I expect from music that peaks my interest. The muted and introverted nerd-aesthetic of bands like the Moldy Peaches really has a hard time impressing me. Yet another indie kid, at one time unpopular in high school, whining about on stage and the world keeps turning. It may well be that it could work, but lesson to those who choose this musical direction, diversify your sound! Twenty minutes of a clean guitar being banged, supported by a faint keyboard track (whose volume in the mix may well mirror the shy stage presence of its performer) rarely maintains attention for more than a few moments. We get it, you’re expressing yourself, and we move on.

After a bit of delay, Social Studies followed. I had been under the impression they were last, and I would be totally missing them, but it seems that wasn't the case. Sadly, having to make my next appointment, I wasn't able to stick around and listen long enough to formulate an opinion but I can report they played.

At Bottom of the Hill throw back seemed to be, for the most part, the name of the game. I am well aware that within the parameters of the twenty year decade resurgence rule, that as in the last decade the 80s made their return, the next will certainly see the 90s having it's heyday once again (you can already see the rise in flannel). Within that context it's no surprise that we will be seeing bands bringing back some of the musical styles of that decade, and for the most part last night the 90s where very much present.

While it may seem most logical in this context to hearken back to the better parts of 90s music (of which there weren't many) openers Trophy Fire saw it fit to recall that desolate post-post-post-godit'sgettingridiculousatthispoint-post-grunge wasteland of the late 90s early 00s when we were all sitting around praying for something new to come along. They sounded as though they could have been contemporaries of bands like Fuel or Three Doors Down, and though not as horrendous as either, you get what I'm grasping at.

Picture Atlantic came on second and certainly did not deviate from this general them. Oscillating between a hooky pop sound and a very enthusiastically heavy rock, that at more than one time recalled the Red Hot Chili Peepers (another band low on my list), Picture Atlantic power-popped to a devoted crowed, a few whom I surprisingly spotted singing along. My preference towards their style aside, they were certainly entertaining to watch practically falling all over each other as they leaped around the stage... all that is for the drummer who played contrastingly reserved.

After another cigarette and another beer, the reason I actually came to this show took the stage, Stomacher. I've been catching mummers of them for weeks now, and after being sold by the recording of their song "Police," I was determined to check them out. They certainly did not disappoint. Capturing some essence of bands like Muse (only more interesting), Stomacher delivered a high energy set. With a driving rhythm section that barrels the song down on you like an oncoming train and a creative use of digital loops, they certainly stole the evening. Ending their set with an intense drum solo (a really hard task to not make overly cheesy) battling against a wash of loops added the final touches to an already impressive dish. I'll say it now, keep an eye on them! If they’re not on a rising track, there's something wrong with all of us.

Playing their reunion show Far took the stage last to a surprisingly enthusiastic crowd. Once again returning to that late 90s style (though being from that period it is of no surprise that is how they played), Far played their brand of hard alterna-rock to a crowd that knew all the words. After fighting through the crowd for a bit to attempt snapping a few pictures (more than once getting threatening looks from thick necked meat-heads who could not quite grasp my role as a member of the press) I decided that I had seen enough sacrifice to the alter of rock gods and made my exit a bit early. To all who were worried, surely with such devotion paid the harvest would be good, but by then I was tired of having guitars shredded and microphones shoved in my face for lyrics I didn't know.

With another night down, I look forward to tonight as the festivities continue with Four Tet and Weekend opening another Bender's Happy Hour. Be there or be square (so they say).


-Words and Photos by Ada Lann


Dispatches from Noise Pop: Wednesday 2/24

As I've stated already, the free happy hour shows at Benders this week are nothing to shake a stick at. Looking at the line ups, there are several great bands playing, though sadly with such little time to actually see them. In the hopes of capturing some of the music, it was with that rest-be-damned ethos that I set out after an 8 hour work day to catch the early Happy Hour show, with the promise of some quality punk rock later in my evening.

Mist and Mast were the first band at the happy hour show I found myself at when the clock hit five. I have gone, and will likely still go, back and forth on Mist and Mast's sound. Having heard their recordings, there is very little space in my life for the conventional, tired indie rock style that doesn't grasp at even a few straws outside the middle of the road. That may be my selfish desire to be assaulted by sound, but for indie rock perhaps  I can be overly critical. Regardless I was impressed with Mist and Mast's performance. They are accomplished musicians and with their performance they pushed at some barriers of dissonance that I would have loved to see them break further, so for that they garner some credential. If nothing else, they were a perfect band to prep the pallet for what was to come.

Taking the tone in a radically different direction (a theme for these noise pop shows) The Ian Fayes followed, performing a sincerely sweet pop set. With Coco Rosie backed by a drum machine as likely the easiest comparison, and infused with some form of tender sadness, their saccharine and delicate pop sounds were certainly something to call home about. Of course with my preference towards dissonance, I would like to say their sound is the exception to the rule, though such as that is irrelevant; their sweetness impressed.

Sadly I missed Love is Chemicals, but I had a grittier calling awaiting me.

Moving on to the Cafe du Nord with great anticipation for Harlem, I arrived early enough to be rewarded with a wonderful surprise - The Young Prisms. As best as I can describe it they inhabit some space between Asobi Seksu (especially with the female vocals) and My Bloody Valentine. Their swirling and cavernous soundscape, though at times slightly unsteady, was a pleasure to be smothered with.

Slowing the evening down momentarily were crowd favorites The Sandwitches. Inhabiting a similar space as the Ian Fayes, I was for the most part underwhelmed by their set. The sound was precise and their tone certainly much more dower than The Ian Fayes, generally a strong selling point, but by the end I was left with something to be desired. Maybe I was just antsy to get on to Harlem.

Best Coast followed, reeving the crowd back up with their harder indie rock. Again, certainly not an unaccomplished band but as with Mist and Mast earlier, the generic indie rock style is not a very strong selling point. They were enjoyable, and they certainly brought the energy back up, but as far as breaking any interesting new ground, they did not. Again, perhaps I'm a bit too picky but what can I say, I look for a challenge.

Something of a fury hit the stage as Harlem rounded out the evening with a performance that was everything it promised to be. They were loud, obnoxious, and confrontational in all the right ways. There is certainly nothing down low about their sound. Seeing their wild antics and hearing their slamming punk songs can't help but conjure up the spirit of The Replacements. Bopping around on stage screaming at the microphone, each other, the audience, their empty beers, and whatever else the room had available, they unleashed their set with all the insanity you could ask for.

All in all, a good night in music. Tonight, another Benders happy hour and Stomacher playing at Bottom of the Hill.  For now enjoy this ridiculous robot.

-Words and Photos Ada Lann


Show Review: Magic Bullets at The Independent 2/11

A magic bullet is often described as an instant solution or cure for what ails you. As I found out last week, San Francisco’s Magic Bullets are just that.

Thursday, for even the most optimistic person, was a bad day. I woke up late for work, literally on the wrong side of the bed (I have the bump on my head to prove it), and tried to quickly make myself look human before I ran out the door. As I got ready to mount my bike and get on my way, I looked down and realized I had stepped in a fresh doggie present. Work presented me with an alarmingly full inbox, a coffee stain on a white blouse, bad news from a friend and another alarmingly full inbox upon leaving. Needless to say, as I pushed myself up Divisadero towards the Independent, I felt defeated. I walked in, ordered a shot of whiskey turned towards the stage and all of a sudden couldn’t help smiling.

The Magic Bullets look so painlessly cool you immediately want to be them, or at the very least around them in hopes some will rub off. Most importantly they all seem to be extremely content on stage. In 2009’s Holiday Issue of SOMA, guitarist Corey Cunningham says, “We have such a good time together that the music almost seems secondary.” And you can tell. Their enthusiasm radiates through their performance and it’s hard not to catch some.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s isn’t pop music so sugary it makes your teeth hurt. There is substance to their whimsical tunes laced with an underlying darkness. One would be hard pressed not to make a Smith’s reference here, however they have taken Moz’s signature angst and replaced it with something much more hopeful. feels much like finally seeing the light after being stuck in dark times. “You'll make fine mistakes, you'll make mistakes fine,” singer Phillip Benson declares. Lives For Romance The Magic Bullets have seemingly discovered a way to let us know everything will turn out ok. Some people say there is no such thing as a quick fix, however now I beg to differ.

-Alexandra Scioli


The Deli SF's Weekend Highlights For 2/25-2/28

While of course the main event this weekend will be the numerous Noise Pop programs around the city, for those not excited about the expense or large crowds (and for our part to lend voice to some likely overshadowed gigs) here are the Deli SF's picks for some under-reported shows this coming weekend.

Out in the back corner of the Mission, far from all things Noise Pop, at the El Rio you'll find The Dashing Suns playing a grittier Kinks-style 60s pop sound with out of staters Yellow Suns.

If you've got nothing to do this Friday then you have no excuse for missing one of the Bay Area's finest bands, the Wooden Shjips playing with Sleepy Sun at The New Parish in Oakland, 8pm.

Continuing the theme of punked out 60s pop, on Saturday should you find yourself wandering around the Tender-Nob area, pop in to Hemlock to catch the garage/surf/punk sounds of Shannon and the Clams with The Pharmacy and The Rantouls somewhere around 9:30.

Of course while trying to highlight mostly non-Noise Pop Shows here, we'd be remiss not to also mention the great consecutive days of FREE happy hour shows at Benders. Featuring a some great local talent including Love is Chemicals, Social Studies, Weekend, and That Ghost these shows, while likely packed to the rafters, should be your first stop after work this week. You can find more info about these shows here.

That's all for this week. Check back next week for our suggestions and, if your in a band keep us updated on your schedule and you may be featured here.


-Ada Lann


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