San Francisco: neck tattoos, biker boots, pot smoke, excellent food, terrible jeans. Our Noise Pop adventure begins at a festival-sponsored happy hour at Benders bar in the Mission with the revelation, approximately ten seconds into a deafening set by local band Sorry Ever After, that we’ve forgotten our earplugs. Happy Hour? More like amateur hour. Ba dum bum.
Noise Pop’s policy of simultaneous shows means you have to choose carefully from the evening’s menu selections. Night One’s entrees offer a choice of chicken or fish in the form of Flaming Lips playing The Soft Bulletin in its entirety or a solo set from Craig Finn, formerly of the Hold Steady. We choose the Lips—it’s opening night and Wayne Coyne will bring the confetti.
The line at Bimbo’s (capacity: 685) wraps around the corner, but it’s moving. The high-energy harmonies of Zach Rogue and the opening band, Release the Sunbirds, warm up the crowd, whose median age hovers around 42. From the stage, Coyne’s wife, Michelle, takes pictures of the audience, prompting an eruption of cheers. Coyne himself emerges drinking a Red Bull, decked out in a giant curly wig—oh shit wait that’s his actual hair—purple feather boa and white shirt, looking uncannily like Rick James. He smiles beatifically and takes a digital survey of the crowd with his iPhone, basking in the adulation while stoking it. This guy makes narcissism look like fun.
Out come the confetti blasters, the Technicolor balloons, the flashing lights. These songs are all about minor incidents in daily life—cutting your hand, putting the groceries away—zooming out toward big-picture revelations, and the crowd is feeling the effects. In the ladies room, a girl confides in the bathroom attendant about her parent’s messy breakup. “You need to live your own life, baby,” says Kimberly, the attendant (for that is her name!). This is perhaps more inspirational than anything Wayne Coyne has said tonight.
Day Two we decide to check out some local bands and maybe even hear music by a female! At Café du Nord, PreTeens take the stage with one, possibly two, band members sporting shiners (intramural fight or just hard SF living?). They’re followed by the charismatic local act the Tambo Rays, who fly through a fun, high-energy bunch of songs and vanish. Over at Bottom of the Hill, Disappears plays a lean, fierce and elegantly glum set to the appreciative nodding of a predominantly male crowd before shambolic headliners The Fresh & Onlys pull a presto-change-o on the mood with their loose party vibes. Outside the club, Disappears bassist Damon Carruesco, is looking for a cab and lamenting that the Grimes show is sold-out—like, “sold-out, sold-out,” he tells us. If only he’d known that when we arrive at Rickshaw Stop we’re able to walk right in.
The crowd at Grimes is noticeably younger, gayer and more female and than everywhere else we’ve been, and she’s got the room’s energy up. Afterwards, she greets fans at the merch table; given Grimes’ big stage presence, Claire Boucher is surprisingly cherubic and shy face-to-face. “This has been my favorite show of the tour so far,” she tells them and smiles.