Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Dave Vann
The New Up :: 01.24.08 :: Rickshaw Stop :: San Francisco, CA
Ladies and gentlemen, without a safety net
I shall now perform a 180 flip-flop
I shall now amputate, I shall now contort
Because down is the new up
Some bands just look right swathed in manmade smoke and pastel spotlights, lavender and crimson playing across their sweat dappled flesh, minds and bodies given over to Thee Holy Riff. The New Up is one of them. Hearts pumping super unleaded, this glam-slam San Francisco five-piece shook with inspired rightness on what might have been another dull Thursday night during the rainy season.
Some folks make music for the glory, others for the bucks, but some – the best of the bunch – make music because an undying ache inside drives them to it like pilgrims to Canterbury. Onstage, their bodies hum and shiver, possessed by something intangible they're pulling into incarnation. Every time I've seen The New Up perform, and this night was no exception, I've felt witness to something freshly minted, the peppermint bite of the new making me tingle. This feeling was particularly acute at the Rickshaw Stop, a small jewel in the San Francisco club scene, where the band performed all new material save for their closer, "Chewbacca's Garden," from last year's fab Palace of Industrial Hope. The New Up are surely a post-Radiohead group, full of mutated pop hooks, absinthe guitars, smartly wrangled chaos and undisguised beauty and feeling. But, there's little in the way of influences, even Radiohead's, that you can pin down exactly. For them, Radiohead is an opposable thumb or a prehensile tail, a profound form of evolution but still just another tool to work with the palm at the end of the mind.
That said, there's happy echoes of Roxy Music, Lake Trout, Grandaddy and other sonic spelunkers who reconciled the notion of experimentation with mighty grooves. And groove these kids do. Late in the show, they hit a pocket that suggested Chic high on pixie sticks and trucker's speed – teeth chatteringly funky stuff. Some of the new songs had the open sky hugeness of arena rock but threaded with something closer to say TV On The Radio or Dr. Dog. But again, these are all passing glances at describing their sound. They have a vision for rock and the dedication of acolytes in chasing it down. What they've made is their own.
I appreciate that they never let their seriousness get in the way of a good time. Quite the contrary, they take that inner drive and transmute it into music that's positively intoxicating. The longer they played at the Rickshaw Stop the more hips they greased, the more heads loosened from stiff necks. While lead singer E.S. Pitcher asked the soundman for more guitar in her monitor, smartass extraordinaire Noah Reid (guitar, vocals) piped up, "Uh, can I get more party in my monitor?" Their stage personas suggest a post-modern Beatles - cheeky, smarter-than-thou and a good deal cuter, too. It's icing on their warm musical cake but dip a finger in and I bet you'll be hooked. There's undeniable entertainment value in watching Reid squat thrust out a guitar solo or the Madness-meets-greased-dolphin shimmy of flautist-electronics wiggler Hawk West or especially Pitcher's cathouse Marlene Dietrich kicks and turns. This is shiny burlesque for the PlayStation generation, and the soundtrack infiltrates every crevice while you're diggin' the light show.
| Hawk West - The New Up :: 01.24|
"This next one is dedicated to all of you. It's called 'Bitch'" chuckled Reid. "We all have a little bitch inside of us," added Pitcher. Then, like some black mascara version of a '60s boy-girl duet, they charmed us with a song that both lived up to its title and transcended it, like Belle and Sebastian if they liked garage rock and fucking more. The verses tickled but it's the buzz saw guitar and heartbeat rhythm (courtesy of ace percussionist Jack McFadden and bassist Dain Dizazzo) that's sticking with me.
It doesn't hurt that Pitcher is a natural born frontwoman. From her red glitter eyes to her shiny black boots, she stomped with abounding passion, conjuring a voice somewhere between a '30s torch singer and Parallel Lines-era Deborah Harry. Throaty and girly, dangerous and painfully tender, Pitcher's pipes are an undying pleasure, and this performance only confirmed she's growing more confident and skilled at using her natural gifts all the time. The same evolutionary praise can also be heaped on the band, which grows stronger, more interesting and more layered with each gig and studio release. I offer that kind of blanket praise with real care. It has to be earned through hard work and the fruits of their efforts. The New Up has earned it, with me at the very least.
Their stuff sticks, even the very first time you hear it. Take this opening verse from one of the new originals played at the Rickshaw Stop:
| Reid & Pitcher - The New Up :: 01.24|
Just because you're not looking
Doesn't mean I'm not here
And just because the pain has subsided
Doesn't mean you're in the clear
Like Thom Yorke, the songwriting pair of Reid and Pitcher has a flair for couplets that keep you up at night. I ran out of ink before I could jot down all the keepers amongst the eight new numbers but suffice it to say I wanted to hear them again the minute I walked out the door.
There is such life to these kids. They play big but in a way that never loses sight of the amazing potential for people to connect on a personal level. Despite being a name many may be unfamiliar with, in my mind, The New Up are already opening for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Portishead and other painters of grand aural canvases that converge under starry skies before sighing throngs. For now, you can catch them in dimly lit nightclubs but if their stranglehold on the modern zeitgeist remains this toothily constant then one day (if there's any justice) they'll be playing with the big kids in amphitheatres everywhere.
JamBase | Northern California
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