A line-up that includes 28 bands on three stages over the course of 10 hours makes for some pretty tough choices for the discerning concert goer. Especially when the lineup boasts an array of talent from the likes of hot indy groups such as Metric, Xiu-Xiu, Tokyo Police Club, The Wrens, Explosions in the Sky, and The Rapture, to impressive hip hop notables like Living Legends, Zion I, Busdriver, Sage Francis, and the ever popular Saul Williams. So what is a person to do? Rather than attempt to be in all places at once it’s best to just surrender to the hustle and go where to music beckons. Here is one attendee’s account of this Northern California Culture Expo:
Arriving with my boyfriend at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco on a crisp autumn afternoon we wait in line for tickets while watching young indy girls shiver in cut off denim skirts with nothing but leggings and a hoodies to protect them from the breeze. The Ice Cream Man is parked out front overseeing his tireless effort to bring free frozen treats to the masses from his classic ’80s ice cream mobile. While it seems counter intuitive to eat ice cream in the cold, nothing passes the time like a sweet treat and so we partake in some Mochi ice cream. My boyfriend eagerly chomps into his ball of frozen chocolaty goodness and to our horror, promptly breaks his front tooth. Shocked by the injury and faced with the realization that there will be exorbitant dentistry charges to pay, we are fearful of the wrench this might throw into our musical experience. But knowing there is nothing to be done until Monday morning my fella, champ that he is, bucks up and we enter the venue.
It is a flurry of motion in the lobby. I imagine that if MySpace were made into a live stage production the opening scene would look something like this. Throngs of young hipsters wandering around in little cliques, text messaging and incessantly photographing their undeniable coolness for later review and Internet publishing. Clad in well coiffed bangs and all the ironic fashion that a bad wardrobe from 20 years ago can muster, they travel from stage to stage drinking beers and eyeing each other’s outfits.
Wading through this crowd I arrive at the main stage and listen to The Wrens for a while. This guitar driven four-piece out of Jersey started rocking in the late ’80s, then steadily recorded and toured for over a decade while struggling with major label hassles before making a big splash in 2002 with their album, The Meadowlands, released on Absolutely Kosher Records. While I’ve never been a fan of their early works, today The Wrens have a level of maturity and depth that is evident in their work. Though sometimes bordering on the generic, their solid harmonies, well-timed riffs and reflective lyrics prove that while they may be getting older they can still bring the rock.
Soon after, Zion I crew takes the stage and the smell of bammer drifts throughout the auditorium. B-boys and screaming girls swarm at the front of the stage bobbing their hands in the air, while Amp Live lays down booty shaking beats and Zion busts mystical rhymes in his sock feet, they are thrilled to be home in the Bay Area. Zion calls “1-2-3 peace!” and the crowd responds with a fervor E-40 would be proud to call hyphy.
At another stage LA native, Busdriver, spits fluid and visual rhymes at warp speeds to big chunky beats mixed with jazz hooks. Bouncing around the stage in a sweater your frumpy aunt might wear, he rocks the crowd’s ass off and then saunters up to a microphone wrapped in blue Christmas lights to break down into a soulful funky chorus a la Jamiroquai. The music slams. It sways. It’s manic indy rap.
Back on the main floor Sage Francis delivers a powerful performance to a revved up crowd, kicking off his set with a rendition of “Jah Didn’t Kill Johnny” that inspires fans to put their lighters in the air and sing along. In billowing clouds of fog he raps about broken homes and crack pipes until he drips with sweat. I become so transfixed by his set that time escapes me and then I realize I have to run to catch Saul Williams’ set.
I arrive at a small stage adorned with an arch of orange lights to find that this show has attracted the biggest crowd of the night. Fans pack tightly up front while at ear bleeding volumes, Saul puts on an energetic show with visuals of old school cars, angel wings, graffiti, and bike riders flickering on the screens behind him. With the raw grinding programmed break beats of self proclaimed “sound assassin” CX KiDTRONiK as his foundation, he pours his heart into the mic with a style of poetry that mixes confession with politics in a manner that is both sobering and inspirational.
His set ends and with ears ringing my boyfriend and I make our way to a quite hallway on the third floor. As the sounds of Explosions In The Sky distantly clash and frenzy in a fit of orgasmic euphoria and we sit sweaty drinking water on the floor. We realize we have been at the festival for over seven hours and his tooth, while not having broken off is causing him pain. We curse the ice cream man and his rock hard frozen treats and call it a night. Exiting through the main floor, Metric pumps out quintessential electro-rock indy jams at their finest to an enthused crowd. Emily Haines owns the stage in a glittering black tank with matching hot pants. The melodies of the Canadian foursome resound throughout the halls as we leave the auditorium escaping into the cold foggy northern California air seeking solace from the riottt, and comfort for the tooth.
By Ayah Young