Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bottom of the Hill

Had an absolutely amazing night tonight - saw one of the best gigs of my life in an isolated, far out of the way part of San Francisco. I arrived in the city at about three o'clock today, and made immediately for the seafront, scenting immediately the sea air and wanting to see the Pacific. But it's not as easy as that, and San Francisco is amazingly hilly, as well as complex geographically. Almost immediately I encountered an improbable hill, and, temptingly, a tunnel running straight through it. But that didn't seem right somehow, so in the severe California sun I climbed to the summit at an angle I'm not used to walking and looked down, in raptures, at the most beautiful city I've ever seen.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. I visited the bay (although not the Pacific, because it's half fresh water - need to head over to the other side of the city), cooed over the sea lions (of which, more later) and tried in vain to work out how the trams worked. Then I rushed over to the city library to see a reading by Chuck Palahniuk, but he turned out to be boring, so I jumped in a cab to a far-off warehouse district, hoping to catch Canadian folk-heroes Frog Eyes play a date in Northern California. I succeeded - and it was one of the best gigs I've ever seen.

First up were a local band - from Oakland - Port O'Brien, who played decent, sometimes interesting indie rock with a bar band approach; outgrown hair and baseball caps. Their songs were best when they touched on SF life - songs that ringed with references to fishing boots, canneries and anchors. The interplay between the bassist and the absurdly pretty banjoist (this is America, remember) drawing the attention from a slightly drab frontman who had, in fairness, a few really decent songs. Unfortunately - and I can testify this having been in a perenially third on the bill band - they were utterly upstaged by the two bands which followed.

First up were New York's Alex Delivery, who I've never heard of but who quickly mesmerised me - setting up with keyboards and rave-style hoodies I expected a horrible new rave cacophony, or at best a CSS rip-off, but in fact they were utterly singular and incredibly impressive, indulging in long percussive work-outs which made me think of Too Pure mainstays like Moonshake, as well as the inevitable Can and more arcane comparisons like Terry Riley. Occasonial bursts of monstrous, eerie guitar recalled nothing more than My Bloody Valentine - and you can't make a better reference than that. Easily the best band I've seen in a while...

...'Til Frog Eyes came on, that is. In the UK, you have to be a distinct kind of indie rock saddo to know who Frog Eyes mainstay Carey Mercer is, but if you do you'll know that he - as he well knows - is well overdue a breakthrough moment.

"So listen", he tells us, "you think if I go on hunger strike til we get a number one single we'll finally get a hit record?"

Well, no, sadly, but I'll tell you what - Frog Eyes are better than pretty much everyone in the charts this year and last, and tonight they put on an incredible, inspiring performance of raw agression and precision. The early signs are not good - Mercer looks like an estate agent from Chingford - but his energy is infectious and his guitar playing incendiary - add him to the very short list of indie rockers who can turn in a decent guitar solo: J Mascis, Steve Malkmus, Bob Mould, him. That's it.

The show is relentless; barnstorming song after song; Frog Eyes recall the hyper-enegry of 70s Bowie, 90s Fugazi and the Arcade Fire. It's impossible to take your eyes of Mercer, who unleashes electric bursts of guitar blues at a second's notice. It helps that his back up is so good, but his playing is extraordinary - vital and deliberate.

Afterwards I can't find Carey, so I grab a couple of pretty girls from Alex Delivery, and tell them they were ace and would be huge in England (er, think that's true, but my instincts aren't always right - and obviously I mean indie huge, rather than actual huge). They're really nice, and, spotting a chance, I steal one's tumbler of whisky, and race it down, grinning madly.

The evening belonged, though, to Frog Eyes. And San Francisco.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Une petit comment from moi. Le seals are tres whiffy non? They put me off my chowder on my last trip to San Francisco. Make sure you do cliche things like windiest road in the world and give my regards to the tramps and their shopping trolleys xxx