Last week was San Francisco’s Coachella, the pre-Coachella Bay Area takeover, better know as SFCoachella (try saying that five times fast). While many fans decided to trek south for the real Coachella, the Bay Area got its own taste of the festival’s offerings. Here at SFCritic it was our duty, our mission, our responsibility, and goal, to see as many shows as possible just to make our fans happy; and yes, our motives were selfish in their own regard. Alas, we are tired, we are worn, we are seasoned, but we are satiated because the feast was large, and it was a grand.
If any of you have read the SFCritic review of MGMT’s sophomore album Congratulations, you might be wondering why in the world I even bothered to venture to the Fillmore last week to watch them perform most of it live. My answer prior to that evening would have been “no idea.” Thankfully, I recovered from my haterade hangover in time because, whew, those boys sure can put on a show. As for the album, I kind of love it now (most of it anyway, “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” is still the worst). I am not ashamed to stick my foot in my internet-mouth.
The stand-out tracks on the album, the first single “Flash Delirium” as well as “It’s Working,” sounded more energetic and lushly layered when backed by a real (and really good) live band. The goofy, vanity track “Brian Eno” was louder, tighter, and more sincerely ridiculous in person. Even “I Found a Whistle” turned out to be a pretty solid techno ballad. Indeed all of their new material, in its psychedelic synth-surf-rock glory, benefited from this. Oracular Spectacular‘s mega-hit singles, however, didn’t really sound as magical as they have in the past. “Electric Feel” came off a little flat, and by the time they got to “Kids” the band had exited the stage and the crowd was left with basically Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser singing karaoke.
But it was ok! Everyone in the audience was singing along too. This was oddly one of the most intimate moments, because for the majority of the show the audience chatted pretty loudly throughout the ballroom when unfamiliar songs (read: everything on Congratulations) were played. While the set barely stretched to an hour including the encore, it was great to watch MGMT settle all the critical chatter surrounding their new work with a more than solid show.
“Alright this is the second song of our first show ever in the United States,” explained Erlend Oye, as though the overly crazed crowd had lost all reasoning from their excitement to see Whitest Boy Alive. In fact this was probably true. The invigorated crowd danced away the night carefree from start to finish. Already surged with energy infused by Bay Area locals Sugar & Gold, Whitest Boy Alive “raised the roof” (which is in quotes because is it truly possible for a sea of plaid to raise the roof?). Midway through the set Oye even seemed in disbelief, stepping away from the microphone to observe the packed crowd. Everything seemed to be working out, as Oye ecstatically explained that the group even got to borrow Steve Taylor’s (Rogue Wave) 1978 Crumar synthesizer! Well, gee golly that thing there sounded swell! Some performances are more than memorable, this was one of them.
Beach House @ Bimbo’s by Eve Marcellus
It would have been nearly impossible not to be a little blown away by the scene that was set at Bimbos for the Sub Pop starlets Beach House. For those of you unfamiliar with the venue, it is one of the city’s true gems. It is at once intimate and grand, with red velvet and gold accents throughout, and generally feels like someplace your grandparents would go for spaghetti carbonara and martinis. Filled with a sold out crowd of well dressed, drink-swilling young people, who seemed pretty familiar with the Teen Dream material, it was a party–albeit of the most lo-fi persuasion.
Victoria Legrand, the hopelessly magnetic,
sultry-voiced and heavily fringed front-woman sounded haunting while she made pretty twinkles on her keyboard. Her mostly silent cohort, the striking Alex Scally, brought some of the album’s subtle guitar to an ever so slightly more energetic level on each track, without ever sounding out of place or upsetting the delicate balance between live instruments and synth that makes Beach House so appealing in the first place. They even let the drummer sit up front (yes, they performed as a trio).
Highlights included set-opener “Walk in the Park,” which was so spot-on sound-wise it was barely discernible from the recorded version until you actually walked into Bimbo’s main room. “Used to Be,” aside from being pretty, was the energetic highlight of the evening and as close to a rock anthem as Beach House can get. While the show stayed fairly consistent in tempo, volume, and was visually fixed, much like a listen to the album, it didn’t overwhelm the intricacies of the individual songs. “Lover of Mine” still sounded every bit as early 70s classic rock-tinged, and “10 Mile Stereo” had everyone captivated, swaying (almost dancing, almost).
Do I think it was a “can’t miss” kind of show? Frankly, no. Teen Dream is delightful, suited to any number of appropriate listening scenarios and grows richer with each one. It is a reflection of the band’s graceful evolution and, in my opinion, a harbinger of greatness to come. Ardent fans were rewarded with a satisfying and true live performance of their work, and casual listeners were treated to a lovely evening that was sure to inspire them to revisit both Teen Dream and their (also excellent) previous work.
Having seen RJD2 the week before, talked to Bonobo a day earlier, one might expect I’d be prepared for Pretty Lights. But I wasn’t. I couldn’t have anticipated the packed energy, the random smattering of people (ravers meet hip hoppers), the non-stop dancing, and the prompt start-time (which never happens at Mezzanine).
While touring, Pretty Lights (aka Derek Vincent Smith) is accompanied by drummer, Cory Eberhard. Together, they created that extra kick in your step the way an Irish coffee does instead boring black coffee. Unlike comparable groups (Ratatat, Madlib, MSTRKRFT), Pretty Lights isn’t characterized by a signature sound such as a saw-synthesizer, mashups, or alarm sample. Their set was fresh, crisply shifting between hip hop, house, and electro-indie—never reaching a dull moment. They were everything I had been told, but could have never expected.