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NOISE POP NIGHT 6 :: 03/04/07

Words & Images by: Andy Tennille

Midlake, Minipop, Ester Drang, Minmae
Bottom of the Hill :: San Francisco, CA

"We're gonna send this one out to an old friend, Sally Walker."

Midlake :: 03.04.07 :: Noise Pop
From the darkened depths of a sweaty Bottom of the Hill, a grateful "thanks, guys" drew wide smiles onstage from the fellas in Midlake as they launched into "Balloon Marker" off their 2004 debut, Bamnan and Slivercork.

As the band wound the song down, a rogue "yeeehaaaaaaaaaw" erupted from the back of the over-stuffed venue to the delight of the band members.

"Was that a yeeehaaaw?" guitarist Eric Pulido sarcastically queried. "Because we haven't heard one of those in a while."

"I think they're making fun of us," deadpanned frontman Tim Smith, no doubt referencing the band's North Texas heritage.

Despite being more than 1,500 miles from their Denton, Texas HQ, Midlake was apparently feeling right at home with the comforting presence of old friends in attendance during their mid-afternoon set on Sunday, the final day of Noise Pop 2007. Opening the show were locals Minipop, Oklahomans Ester Drang and Minmae from Portland.

Midlake :: 03.04.07 :: Noise Pop
Mixing tunes from Bamnan and Slivercork and last year's widely lauded The Trials of Van Occupanther, Midlake slipped seamlessly between the lush, synthesizer-driven psych-pop of their first record and the more pastoral, Laurel Canyon rock vibe of Van Occupanther.

The haunting howl and character-laden lyrics of Smith lies at the center of Midlake's ambitious, diverging musical personalities. Tunes like "Balloon Maker" and "Some of Them Were Superstitious" were sonic kin to The Flaming Lips and even Radiohead, blending dance-ready beats with woozy guitars.

"Roscoe" and "Head Home" reek of '70s-era rock with melodies borrowed straight from the Fleetwood Mac catalogue and multi-part harmonies ala The Eagles from Pulido, keyboardist Eric Nichelson, bassist Paul Alexander and drummer McKenzie Smith. On "We Gathered in Spring," Smith channels vintage Neil Young vocally as clouds of fluffy synthesizers float anachronistically in the background.

Merging disparate influences into a unique sound is the bane of every young band trying to establish themselves in today's world of derivative garage rock, emo wannabees, and post-punk hijackers. Thankfully, unlike most of their peers, Midlake's talent runs deep.

Words by: Kayceman

Cake, Money Mark
Bimbo's 365 Club :: San Francisco, CA

After six nights in a row, you really start to feel your age. It doesn't seem long ago that I could blast through a summer with a pair of tennis shoes, a block of cheese, and five shows a week for months on end and never get tired. That was a different time, different music, and a different way of life. Back then I probably wouldn't have chased anything called "Noise Pop" around town, but if there is any joy in getting older it can be found in the development of one's tastes. These days I crave a bit more sleep. I also like sushi and olives and all kinds of shit I used to laugh at. I've also come to appreciate well-crafted pop of all types, especially the noisy kind.

Money Mark
The 15th Anniversary of Noise Pop brought huge lineups to the majority of San Francisco's premier music venues for six straight nights. The styles of "pop" ranged from the freaky rock of bands like Clinic, Dead Meadow and Ghostland Observatory, to the gentler, song-based offerings of acoustic troubadours Josh Ritter and Vic Chesnutt. There were aging legends like Roky Erickson and Sebadoh and brand new hot shots like Malajube, Trainwreck Riders and Sea Wolf. Looking over the roster it almost begs the question, "What is pop music?" Back when I was living in station wagons and sleeping on the dirt it meant anything on the radio and MTV. After ten years in the music business and an unhealthy obsession with sound, I have no idea what it means.

The final evening of Noise Pop blurred the notion of pop even further with Money Mark and Cake performing to a sold-out crowd at the plush, velvet-draped Bimbo's 365 Club. Looking back over Mark Ramos-Nishita's (Money Mark) storied career, he turns out to be an embodiment of what Noise Pop is all about. Just like the festival does every year, Mark has shuffled his way from one end of the pop spectrum - starting with his pivotal role in the making of Beastie Boys albums Check Your Head (1992) and Ill Communication (1994)- all the way to the other end with Jack Johnson whose Brushfire Records just released Money Mark's Brand New By Tomorrow. In addition to his work with the Beasties and Johnson, Mark was a leading player on albums by Yoko Ono, Banyan, Porno For Pyros and Beck.

Money Mark's gig at Bimbo's didn't bring the house down but it did have its moments. The set focused on Mark's funky, groove-driven keyboard work, sunny radio-ready vocals, and an accomplished lead guitarist who knew exactly when to step up. At times, the vibe dipped into Vegas lounge act but when needed the band would kick-in and raise the intensity a notch. While not built to drive listeners mad with ecstasy, the beauty in Money Mark's music is his ability to blend styles. Melding a poppy blend of funk, jazz, hip-hop, rock, Latin, Afro-Cuban and folk, Mark had a little something for everyone, but perhaps not enough of any one thing to really drive into the soul of the crowd.

Where Money Mark mixes a wide variety of pop stylus with fairly generic results, Cake utilizes just as many influences to create a sound that belongs only to them. Trying to put a name on exactly what style of music Cake plays is difficult. The sound is defined by the dry, sarcastic talk-vocals of frontman John McCrea and would have to fall under the post-modern pop moniker. But, that's just what sticks out. Behind McCrea is a stellar band with tight chops, deep bass, rock and roll guitar, and the critical counter-point of trumpet man Vince DiFiore. There's the radio smash "The Distance" that pushed 1996's Fashion Nugget into the Top 40, but then there are whiffs of country and folk, weird keyboard blips, spacey jams, and this great Tropicalia vibe that somehow fits perfectly.

Cake :: 03.04.07 :: Noise Pop by Kayceman
All of these influences were presented with great results at Bimbo's. Where Money Mark kept it open and easy for the casual listener to have a few drinks and enjoy the atmosphere, Cake was more like a secret club. Most of the capacity crowd was clearly dyed-in-the-wool fans, screaming every word with McCrea, laughing at his antics, and generally bowing to the music.

From the weirdo vocals and sinister bass of opener "Comfort Eagle," Cake took over the club, pulling songs from their entire catalogue. Off their major label debut, 1994's Motorcade Of Generosity, Cake busted out "Comanche" and from their latest offering, 2004's Pressure Chief they played the groovy, quirky "Wheels," which was a clear highlight.

There was one point in the show, after expressing his distaste for all the cameras, that McCrea orchestrated an interesting moment of crowd participation. Love him or hate him, he's a unique frontman, and ultimately what sets Cake apart. With McCrea's trademark style at the helm, Cake has come to define a section of popular music and their placement as Noise Pop's final act was brilliant.

Noise Pop isn't a festival in the traditional sense. There is no central location, nothing that really brings the people together, and certainly no muddy fields and passed our wookies. Noise Pop has its own vibe and it certainly packs San Francisco with a condensed offering of music that is loosely connected under the umbrella of "pop." Considering that Noise Pop started 15 years ago with one night at the now-defunct Kennel Club and now stretches six nights over fifteen venues with stand-up comedy, a film component, industry panels and over 100 artists, it seems clear that whatever pop music is it's growing. And now, after gorging ourselves on all kinds of pop-rock, we must rest, regroup, and prepare for the swing into Festival Season. From Langerado to SXSW, Jazz Fest to Bonnaroo, 10KLF, and High Sierra there's a scene for everyone, and JamBase will be there!

Continue reading for complete Noise Pop coverage...

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