The best part of Noise Pop — or, really, any festival — often isn’t the act you come to see but the openers you didn’t even know you were going to love. We headed to Brick and Mortar in the neighborhood of disputed names (is it North-North Mission? The Elbow? Division Heights? Far East Duboce?) Thursday night to see Warm Soda, the local boys about to do to good.
Instead, we found ourselves wooed (and whooped and hollered) off our feet by Miner, a foot-stomping good time of a band from Los Angeles. They’re an adorable family affair — frontman Justin Miner, his wife Kate on various diminutive stringed instruments, cousin on keyboard, brother on guitar and the occasional electro-acoustic banjo — with a genuine joy of being on stage. Sort of like the Lumineers if they took themselves less seriously and were more talented.
Miner and co. wove through sweet guitar-picking tunes like “Big Sur” and more yelpy, sharp Reptar-like sounds in “Last Night.” Miner’s voice — a recognizable, big-voweled sound — held strong as the band whipped themselves into a frenzy. Kate’s shoulders popped up and down as she played the harmonica, and Miner sang airy but pointed lyrics like “Hard to say you left me / Easier to say nothing lasts.” Ooh, downer. But it feels so good.
They wrapped up with a cover of Broken Social Scene’s “Major Label Debut” — impossibly danceable — and a rallying cry with “Hey Love.” Not bad, we say, not bad. Come back to San Francisco sometime.
Then, another LA-based act, In the Valley Below, flipped the night’s tone on its head. Angela Gail and Jeffrey Jacob, the main duo backed up by a drummer and synth man, made a statement before they ever opened their mouths. The band’s aesthetic could be described charitably as “haunted nostalgia” or less charitably as “hipster ghost on the prairie.” Basically, Gail wore a very spooky dress with old-timey, frilly flair. And a wide-brimmed hat. They’re very chic these days. Also many suspenders were involved. The bass drum’s logo — a quilted star-like image — didn’t help.
It all led us to want to laugh at them a little, because they were taking themselves so seriously. Gail waved her hands like an interpretive dancer, even standing at one point behind Jacob and slowly flapping her arms. No one smiled. The drummer bit his lip with conviction. And — best part — Gail brought out a myriad of auxiliary percussion instruments, including a large chain. Chain! (It actually made a nice tinkly noise, but there was no way people paid more attention to what it sounded like than what it looked like.)
But if you closed your eyes, you had to admit the band was good. In songs like “Take Me Back,” they wove tight vocal harmonies with light synth and a pulsing beat. Their languorous phrases stretched heavily over the crowd. It was dark and dreamy, and maybe worth being taken seriously.
Then came Warm Soda, a frenetic garage-pop ensemble headed by Matthew Melton and hailing from, well, probably just around the corner. In the spirit of supporting hip rising local acts, fans filled the small venue by the time they came on stage and burst out into “Reaction,” a grumbling track that powers through itself, and a sweet-but-still-fuzzy-punk love song they dedicated to two friends in the audience who had just gotten engaged.
Here’s where we have to make a confession: we’re old and tired and work surprisingly early hours during the week, and by about now the clock was pushing 11:20pm. So we ducked out. Sorry, Free Energy — I hear you were good.
tl;dr: Go see Miner and Warm Soda any time you can. They’re great. In the Valley Below can come too, but don’t let them hear you giggle.
More Noise Pop coverage shall appear in this here fine blog tomorrow. Return, if ye please.
Miner — Hey Love (download)
Warm Soda — Reaction (download)