NOISE POP NIGHT 2 :: 02/28/07

Words & Images by: Andy Tennille

Josh Ritter :: Swedish American Hall :: San Francisco, CA

Josh Ritter :: 02.28.07 :: Noise Pop
Since its inauspicious birth 14 years ago, San Francisco's Noise Pop festival has provided a soapbox for up-and-coming bands from across the country and around the world to showcase their talents for a city of music-thirsty fans who value diversity and originality over Grammy bling and Billboard chart love.

But as much as the festival's historical focus has been to turn the spotlight on relatively obscure but deserving musicians, Noise Pop's success over the years has also hinged on giving fans the rare opportunity to see more established artists in more intimate, relaxed performances.

Josh Ritter :: 02.28.07 :: Noise Pop
Wednesday's (2/28) lineup at Noise Pop featured two such gems: the reunion of alt-rockers Sebadoh at the Great American Music Hall and a solo acoustic set by singer-songwriter Josh Ritter. An ornately decorated former meeting space for San Francisco's Swedish community built shortly after the 1906 earthquake, the Swedish American Hall proved to be the perfect venue for Ritter to display his captivating talents. After graduating from Oberlin College in the late '90s, the Moscow, Idaho native moved to Boston to join the city's vibrant open-mic scene and pursue a career in music. A happenstance meeting with Irish rockers The Frames led Ritter to some gigs opening shows for the band in its native Ireland. Though only a few hundred people saw his Dublin debut, the buzz on Ritter grew as British critics drew comparisons to everyone from Bob Dylan to Leonard Cohen to Steve Earle. Audiences for his frequent return visits now number in the thousands as Ritter regularly sells out small theaters across Ireland and developed a similar following in England.

Josh Ritter :: 02.28.07 :: Noise Pop
Following similar solo performances by Nicki Chambly, Laura Gibson and local fave Etienne de Rocher, Ritter took the stage to the music of Johnny Cash dressed in an off-white pin-striped suit and proceeded to strum and pick his way through a 90-minute set spanning material from his four studio releases as the sold-out audience of 350 people sat in hushed awe. Casual banter between artist and audience filled the spaces between songs as Ritter continually confessed his joy in playing to such a comfy room. Much of the night's music featured songs from Animal Years, Ritter's most recent studio album released last spring to critical acclaim. Poignant takes on "Girl in the War," "Idaho," and "Thin Blue Flame" were standouts but the real treat of the evening – and the reward Noise Pop bestows on attendees each year – was the chance to see an artist deliver an invigorating and engaging performance, up close and personal.

Sebadoh :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA

Words & Images by: Kayceman

It was a long time coming, and most of us never thought it would happen. Almost as shocking as the recent reunion of Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh (which features Dino's bass player Lou Barlow) is back with the original lineup of Barlow, Eric Gaffney, and Jason Loewenstein.

Gaffney left the band in 1993 (coincidentally the same year Noise Pop got off the ground) and grew incredibly bitter about Sebadoh's success following his departure. Somehow Barlow and Gaffney started communicating again and have since buried the hatchet. After 14 bitter years, the original Sebadoh has returned.

Warming up the crowd of younger, wide-eyed hipsters and aging indie rockers was The Bent Mustache, Love of Diagrams and The New Trust. Arriving as The Bent Mustache began playing; Great American Music Hall was filling up fast.

Sebadoh :: 02.28 :: GAMH, SF
By Kayceman
The three-piece Bent Mustache all hail from Europe (Manchester, Edinburgh, and Wormerveer, Netherlands) and they pretty much sound like it. There was nothing particularly inventive about their punkish rock, but there were moments that stood out. At their best, they recalled My Bloody Valentine and The Clash, but overall it was pretty standard issue. And really, it didn't matter, everyone was there for Sebadoh.

Somewhere around 10:30 this strange, high-pitched, sped-up, freaked-out tape recorded intro repeated the line: Say hello to Sebadoh. And with little fanfare, Barlow Gaffney and Loewenstein took the stage. The band jumped right in with a new tune, and for a bunch of guys who haven't really played together in more than a decade (minus a few shows) they sounded pretty damn good.

While there was nostalgia in the air, (you could hear things like "they were my favorite band of the 90s" and "Sebadoh turned me onto indie rock") this wasn't an oldies act. It was, at times, hard to not think of Dinosaur Jr., who a few months earlier had decimated the Great American, shaking fillings from teeth and crushing ear drums. But Sebadoh isn't, nor ever was, trying to be Dino. Where Dino is a dictatorship run by J. Mascis that relies on his insane guitar destruction, Sebadoh is far more democractic, allowing the focus to dip between Barlow's jacked-up folk leanings and Gaffney's psychedelic explosions. At times it was hard to determine how the band was getting so much noise out of an acoustic guitar. I even had to climb up on a chair to watch Barlow get heavy with that same acoustic at one point. Although Barlow has become famous as the bass player for Dino, dude can shred a six-string.

Sebadoh :: 02.28 :: GAMH, SF
By Kayceman
Throughout the set the band would swap instruments, Barlow to guitar (both the aforementioned acoustic and a few different electrics), Gaffney to drums, Loewenstein to bass, and what was most impressive was the music never suffered.

As the band tore through a ton of songs (most of which were around three minutes long), the most compelling parts were when the tempos would slow down and some open-space began to creep into the slabs of sound. Mixing the power of noise-rock and some form of postmodern garage-folk, Sebadoh really drove home the whole Noise Pop idea. While opening night at Mezzanine was fun, the fact that I could be at Sebadoh while my partner Mr. Tennille was at Josh Ritter and we both had to miss John Vanderslice is what makes this festival special.

Keep the dial tuned to JamBase for all your Noise Pop needs. Tonight it's back out for a super-bill at the Great American with Roky Erickson, Oranger, Howlin Rain and Wooden Shjips as well as a drinker's paradise with Trainwreck Riders and Langhorne Slim at the Rickshaw Stop...

Continue reading for coverage of opening night at Mezzanine...

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