Reviews

What the Toll Tells

Author: Brain Berry
04/10/2006 | 411maina.com | Live Show Preview
Two Gallants w/ Silversun Pickups, Street To Nowhere, Cold War Kids (Noise Pop Festival) - Bimbo's 365 Club - San Francisco, CA - 03.31.06

The Noise Pop Festival hosted a packed, sold-out show for one of San Francisco's most popular acts.

Funny how a little added exposure can change a band's future. On the way to Bimbo's 365 Club (the best music venue in San Francisco, you can quote me on that) my buddy told me tonight's show was sold out. For a band that used to perform weekend guerrilla shows at the Mission Street BART station, it's a huge feat to headline and sell out a venue with a capacity of 600+ people.

Nothing could've prepared me for what I saw as we approached the will call line at 8:30 (the show started at 8). Under the mild rainfall, roughly one hundred people stood in line to pick up tickets while a good 50 or so others paced the line muttering the sold out show mantra, "Got any extra tickets?" Withstanding the unpredicted dampness of the night, several managed to get into the show while many others did not. Other venues boasted Jason Collett of Broken Social Scene and radio friendly dance-rockers We Are Scientists but the fans were in North Beach tonight for the hottest ticket in town. This was the return of Two Gallants, the young hometown heroes playing to a sea of old friends, new fans, and the curious folks who wanted to see what all the critical praise was all about.

Oakland's Street To Nowhere took the stage at 8:50. Sources tell me they're being courted by industry folks and will likely sign a major label contract soon. They played a 30-minute set of polished emo, sounding like Rufus Wainwright singing over a mixture of Fall Out Boy and 80's power ballads. These guys were trying…really hard…to have that sound…to make the big bucks. The youngsters in attendance, who were few, seemed to eat them up while the older folks made a rendezvous to the bar. Highlights came when rock violinist Anton Patzner joined the band for a few tracks. Patzner, who played violin on Bright Eyes' last tour, brought an energy to the band to distinguish it from others of the emo genre. Unfortunately, Patzner couldn't save Street To Nowhere's seemingly endless set of breathy vocals, 'whoa is me' lyricism, and generic posturing. I couldn't help but laugh when three of the five band members breathed heavily into the microphones during a song that seemed to try emulating Ennio Morricone's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". The singer told the crowd at one point that [opening band] The Cold War Kids put on a hell of a show. Too bad they didn't swap spots with Street To Nowhere in tonight's line-up.

Silversun Pickups took the stage at 9:45. I recall seeing their name in a Spin article last month about Los Angeles' Silver Lake district and the up and coming music scene there. They've recently shared the stage with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Nine Black Alps. Unfamiliar with their music, I didn't know what to expect. Silversun Pickups are a quartet consisting of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards/knob-twiddler.

I'll just come out and say it right now: Silversun Pickups are the most refreshing new band I've seen in years. Not since Two Gallants opened for Built To Spill in 2003 have I been so blown away by a live band I've never heard. They're that fucking good.
(Silversun Pickups)

So many signs lead me to believe these guys are worthy of 'Next Big Thing' status. Two minutes into their first song, the sparsely populated dance floor filled up with concertgoers. Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, walked away during the 40-minute set. Their sound is distinctly early '90s shoegazer with an updated flair all their own. Hints of My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, and Ride exuded from the speakers. The function of each band member was obvious and worked well.

Their lead vocalist/guitarist had amazing showmanship, humbled by the chance to play tonight. He didn't hold back on the performance with a mix of low, breathy vocals and high pitched screeching. Imagine a more palatable Billy Corgan and you get the picture. The bassist/co-vocalist duties were assumed by a rather attractive woman. She sang with a honey sweet, breathy vocal style while also wailing on the bass, making sure the attendees knew she wasn't just a token chick in the band. The drummer pounded the skins with reckless abandon. It didn't appear as though he looked at his drum kit a single time as his head lay low, obscured by a black mop of hair. That he could pound a cymbal appearing to be eight feet in the air was quite an accomplishment. The keyboardist/knob-twiddler added an atmospheric element to the band that gelled their sound together into something quite unique.

Before their last song, the lead vocalist thanked Two Gallants and put over Cold War Kids (these guys must've been really good). Silversun Pickups left the stage to a rowdy ovation. You have to check these guys out.

Two Gallants hit the stage at 11pm for an 80-minute set of bluesy folk-punk. Tonight was their first Bay Area show since the release of the Saddle Creek Records debut What the Toll Tells. Those who are regular readers of my reviews know that I gave Two Gallants' second album a higher rating than any album covered this year.

This was the fourth time I've caught Two Gallants in a three-year time frame and I can say without any doubts that they are playing tighter and more intense with each show. The fans are taking notice too. Amongst several strange observations I wouldn't expect at a past Two Gallants show I noticed: (1) a pair of panties thrown at vocalist Adam Stephens (maybe his Kurt Cobain likeness and gravel pit vocals are going to make him the next indie pin-up dude), (2) a young man run a lap around the stage only to stage dive off, (3) fans calling out song titles and singing along to every word of the set, (4) clouds of pot smoke from all corners of the room, and (5) the obligatory make-out couple who should probably be bedding one another at an Embarcadero motel instead of hanging out at a show.

Two Gallants played several cuts off of What the Toll Tells including a couple of their best cuts, "Las Cruces Jail" and "Steady Rollin". They tore the house down on a few unreleased songs. One of these tracks featured Stephens' playing harmonica, guitar, and singing while drummer Tyson Vogel played drums and tambourine simultaneously. These guys are damn talented. To the crowd's delight, they played "Hard To Regain" and "Nothing To You" off of 2003's The Throes.

Stephens' is becoming one of the better up and coming frontmen. When he sings his tales of love, grief, and murder he looks more and more like a man possessed by the devil. I'm not trying to imply he's Satanic but when his chin is lowered, singing about breaking out of jail and getting into a gunfight with deputies, there's this frightening look on his face that resembles Jack Nicholson in The Shining. It might sound cartoonish but if you see him live he'll stop you dead in your tracks. The crowd was frozen in awe when they weren't cheering.

After "Nothing To You" the duo left the stage before encoring with "Pray For Rain," the epic closing track off What the Toll Tells. The entire crowd stuck around until the end, giving the band thanks for one hell of a show.
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