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++ Needle Drops is now an occasional music column that a number of Neumu writers take turns writing. All columns prior to March 2004 were written by Philip Sherburne.


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Tuesday, November 8, 2005 = Documenting Beulah And DCFC

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 = Out-Of-Control Rock 'N' Roll Is Alive And Well

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 = Just In Time For Halloween

Monday, October 3, 2005 = The Dandyesque Raunch Of Louis XI

Monday, August 15, 2005 = The Empire Blues

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 = David Howie's Sónar Diary

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Monday, June 27, 2005 = Overcoming Writer's Block At Sónar 2005

Monday, June 4, 2005 = Cool New Sounds To Download Or Stream


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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Coming Alive At Noise Pop 2005

By Yosef Lewis

+ San Francisco — February brings many things to the San Francisco Bay Area: the winter rains, Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, the Chinese New Year of the Rooster, fresh kumquats and Noise Pop. True, some of those things happen anywhere, and it seems that the Bay is graced with noisy pop music all year. But the last week of the fixed winter month brought six days packed with the finest noises of pop music's pantheon as the 13th annual Noise Pop festival commandeered the marquees of the more intimate venues scattered around San Francisco.

The sheer scope of the festival posed a specific challenge to this reviewer, a devoted denizen of the East Bay, home to none of the venues in question. With no car, a suspect public transit system terminating just after midnight, and a tendency toward hermitic behavior, I board a train the opening night not particularly excited to travel an hour just to get my festival pass. The highlight of the first night is an appearance by the well-chiseled, sin-eating spokesman of agit-pop, Ted Leo. Once on the road, I become buoyant with the hopes of catching some of his reputed high energy in the Tenderloin's truly Great American Music Hall.

First to the Bottom of the Hill for my pass and a glance at the festival retrospective of Peter Ellenby, official NP photographer, and the stylings of Oranger. A fitting first taste, as the local five-piece lifts my spirits with their waxing fountain of sweet, crunchy power-pop, the first song bursting with perfect multi-layered harmony "yeah, baby." Why not stick around, the photos are windows — hey! There's someone I know! And me and my amiga exchange info about our girlfriends until, what a surprise, the next band, Metal Circus, is a note-perfect Hüsker Dü cover band. I exchange glances with the wide-eyed geek in the mirror to my left and say "This is awesome!" as we sing/dance along to "Don't Wanna Know If You Are Lonely." What a treat! The teenage boy in me is not dead, and nowhere near as angry as he used to be as we rush to the BART station and make the last train home — which promptly fills with young fresh-faced politically-inclined post-adolescent Leo-phytes buzzing on their way back to UC Berkeley. I accept the reminder that I can't be everyone everywhere with a pang of "I missed out." Oh well…

+ All day busy Wednesday, I listen to KUSF, co-sponsors of the night's Mission of Burma show at Bimbo's. I missed the Mission at the ATP festival and heard they were lackluster. But now I'm all juiced as the radio plays track after track of the Boston band's proto post-punk noise. And then I can catch Enorchestra, a local all-'70s Brian Eno cover band with a rare appearance at Café du Nord and sleep in San Francisco. But I can't get in touch with my friend and I'm oh-so tired and I gotta leave a half hour ago if I'm gonna make it, and I didn't and I don't. I'm dejected, but the knowledge that I'm out and about for the next four nights keeps me from feeling bad as this field lies fallow for some well-needed rest.

Thursday brings Hot Hot Heat and Comets on Fire, and as I'm not too keen on HHH, Comets are local and play all the time, and I'm having a rough day, I figure that 20-some maniacally positive cultish pop-fiends in colored robes are just what I need to pick me up. So I opt for the Polyphonic Spree at the beautiful Bimbo's in North Beach. I convince my stressed-out lady, Leif, that the Spree will heal — make us all whole — and we pile in her car (!) and make it in time for the best Spiritual Flaming Hair Superstar glee show this side of the Galilee. This is the second time I've seen the Spree and I am humbled by the sheer magnitude of the show. It's no small feat to get so many blowing, dancing, strumming and singing together, and Tim DeLaughter plays the enthusiastic Kool-Aid guru part to a T. The show features no less than five stunning moments, and keeps me rushing along in a tidal wave of YES for the rest. The good vibe is organized and orchestrated; I have a sneaking suspicion these aren't real hippies, as I have visions of their robes crumpled on the floor as they chow down on fast food and slurp soft drinks. Their show-closing cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was completely perfect for our times. As they bring this phase of the band to a close with their final show, I wonder what's next for the Spree — Broadway or Disneyland? And now I'm inspired once again to be "good, strong and two thousand places at once…"

+ Friday is the first BIG night of the festival; Leif and I can choose from Nada Surf, Joanna Newsom, Amon Tobin, Bettie Serveert, Robbers on High Street, Two Gallants… but of course by the time any of the above finally come on, I'll have missed the last train home, and who knows about any of the openers, aside from Conspiracy of Beards, a local 15-member a capella male Leonard Cohen cover choir! I'm still kicking myself for not having seen them yet, but this night offers a tantalizing treat of a more noisy pop variety, namely a sneak preview of "Fearless Freaks," a documentary of noise grandpop professors the Flaming Lips on the big screen at the historic Castro Theatre. And with a big bag of noisy pop corn, we settle in and get the history of the Lips. A film not to be missed, "Fearless Freaks" is revelatory and emotional, complete with amazing footage of dazed and confused childhood, familial bonding and breaking, harrowing drug dependency and happy accidents and happenstance leading to the bizarre triumph of the avatars of experimental rock. Oklahoma City, Dog! "Christmas on Mars," Wayne Coyne's filmmaking debut, might be the best/worst film ever made when he finally finishes filming in his backyard. The theatre is relatively full and the crowd applauds at the credits!

Now it's 11:30 p.m. and, in good spirits, me and Leify run for the bus to Bottom of the Hill with faith in the mystery ride home so we can catch Les George Leningrad — I was tipped off by Rory in London not to miss them. Entering in the club regretful at having missed the raucous Flying Luttenbachers, we had a few moments to relax as Montreal's art-dance-noise darlings got their shit together. Hey, there's Bonnie from ATP in England — she tells me I didn't miss anything much with Mission of Burma, but still I wonder. Now there's an art cardboard moose, trees and a bat on stage, and a masked "Super Ero" stepping up to the analog synth, and Tarzan in leather pumps on drums, and a trashed-out tart on the mic smacking haphazardly on the jet-engine keyboard. I feel the pretense and think "too arty" as they spit out words about a Black Eskimo and I smile and start moving. The unhinged hip kids in the front are loving it, and then after Tarzan pulls some feverish Hulkamania poses and breaks a drumstick on his slobbering, grunting skull, suddenly we're dancing and reveling in infernal noise. Les George wildly knocks us from the pensive head to the pogo-ing body as the notoriously nonchalant Bottom crowd churns with unprecedented fervor. Leif and I agree that we've never seen it that "get down," and despite our tired, sorry selves and the crumbling world around us, we have fun. And Bonnie gives us a ride home to boot and I am safe in bed by 2:30. Good thing, as we start early on Saturday…

+ On Saturday Leif and I head out to the Swedish American Hall for a miss tickle matinee courtesy of Joanna Newsom. Aside from the allure of the Medusa-esque musings of Newsom, this bill is the live debut of Okay, the current nom de guerre of Marty Anderson, a relatively obscure local musician playing his first show in two years. To those of us who have been touched by his work in Dilute, Howard Hello and Jacques Kopstein, seeing him perform again engenders palpable giddiness. The oblivious majority of the crowd are promptly initiated into the fold of believers with the ringing of Tibetan bells by the vintage Hindu-garbed Anderson and his merry band of follower flowers as he flows through a set of warm, charming, offbeat pop resonant with equal measures of existential musings and transcendental instrumental frolics.

Nedelle, another local wonder — who turns out to actually be "that cute girl in my yoga class!" — then graces the stage with her little guitar and leads us through the painful pleasure of love and loss with her plaintive paeans to the pop cherubs. "Say you're stuck with me like branches to a leaf/ Wouldn't you agree love is such good grief?" Nedelle coos and croons concurrently as she picks a delicate rhythm with her dainty digits, gazing wide-eyed at no heavens in particular. The casual comfort of her performance belies the classic, timeless precision of her perfect pop compositions. In case, you can't tell, I'm sold.

Next is Nicolai Dunger, Sweden's answer to the question nobody asked any time recently, yet is still echoing in the long-winded songs of many: "Who will pick up the slack for the dead Drakes/Buckleys?" Maybe it will be Dunger, who in truth is actually a quite talented songwriter/performer. However, while he projects his raspy jangles, I start feeling physically and mentally ill and flee the hall for some much-needed air. (Leif says later he was good though.) I make it back in time for my eighth chance to see Joanna Newsom perform since her meteoric rise to power. Just two years ago it was the first time, at an opening slot at a bar, and now she sells out two nights with roughly the same set. Although my reviewing enthusiasm is lagging — familiarity breads inarticulation? — Newsom is as monumentally, effusively bad-ass as she's ever been, particularly with the local debut of her newest composition "Sawdust and Diamonds," an epic landslide of song that overtakes my feverish attempts to flee from my feelings and instigates a battle in my chest cavity, not coincidentally at exactly the same moments each time I've witnessed it rumble from Newsom's open heart.

And then I find my love being picked up by the Polyphonic Spree's French horn player in the lobby — sorry buddy, this love ain't free — and we're off to get some food and then there's Vetiver and Damon & Naomi at Bottom of the Hill, High on Fire and the Fucking Champs at 12 Galaxies and Bob Mould (!) at The Independent. After some grub, the night is mine, or so I think. A wave of utter exhaustion hits me post meal and I scramble on home to my bed. Lame, I know, especially as I've never seen Mould perform in the 15 years since I pored over Hüsker Dü and pined over his sublime early solo work. Alas…

+ And it's not over; there's one more night — we barely make it out to Bimbo's in time to catch The Walkmen, who seem disaffected, with lead singer Hamilton Leithauser looking not unlike a misplaced wasted preppie jock, mumbling incoherently, expectorating indiscriminately, stumbling around confused. He throws a beer bottle at one point. His voice sounds good, if not wholly derivative, and the band plays with fierce abandon and without feigned awareness of a subdued crowd appreciating their particular display of urban (un)cool. What do you want from me? I'm bone-tired by this point! I'm wishing I hadn't missed a triumphant set by locals Film School. I enjoy it all anyway! I find a 20 on the floor after the show; I'm happy to be there. The drummer's Muppet-y presence is contagious and I bounce and sway.

And so finally I've made it, sans automobile, through a short week on not-my-side of the Bay Bridge. I stayed out late, I didn't sleep on the street, not even one night. The sprawl of the city made it hard for me to feel like I was doing more than pressing on in a marathon of music makers. I guess most show-goers didn't spread themselves as thin as I did and the MGD drink specials made people stay put for the evening. However, there was a momentum that kept me going; seeing the same faces show up supporting the scene was heartening. The mood of the people was good everywhere I went. Noise Pop 2005 featured a balanced mix of old and new blood. I'm still wondering about what I missed unawares — Micah P. Hinson? Jens Lekman? Next time… Enthusiasm was infectious, excitement was tactile, experienced through waves of sound, still emanating from the bookend of this most exciting time for music in one of the most historic music cities in the country. Thanks to a celebration of song, I came a bit more alive each day.
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