Rickshaw Stop – San Francisco, CA – 03 April 2011
For an opening band, holding the audience’s attention can be tricky. That’s especially true in electronic music, where you’ll often find introverted DJs shyly hunched over laptops, ignoring the audience completely. Let’s face it, turning knobs and pressing buttons isn’t the most exciting thing to watch, so for electronic musicians, the question becomes: how do you keep the audience entertained and engaged throughout the set? If you’re Gobble Gobble the answer is easy: you dance half-naked in front of the stage while blasting the crowd with candy-coated beats.
Before this show, my only exposure to Gobble Gobble had been through their MySpace page, which features an army of swirling neon Furbies and a Maltese puppy shooting stars from its eyes — essentially, the kind of saccharine hallucinations you’d expect to have after binging on marshmallow Peeps for two days straight. I had no idea what to expect, and when three dudes wearing nothing but shear tool skirts crowded the front of the stage, I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. As soon as the music started, I still didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I wanted more. They began mashing the buttons of midi controllers and wailing on drum kits wrapped in glowing blue LED lights. Occasionally, they’d abandon their instruments completely to dance atop a speaker or run into the crowd with a giant drum skin and invite an audience member to play along. Lead singer Cecil Frena, the only band member wearing a shirt and looking a bit like Will Ferrell in Zoolander, worked the crowd into a frenzy with his kinetic brand of thrill-wave. Wicked beats, chip-tune melodies, primal dance moves, shirtless men, copious amounts of sweat and high fives — these fabulous boys might be from Canada, but they sure know how to throw a San Francisco dance party.
Next up was BRAIDS, in stark contrast to Gobble Gobble, in that they were fully clothed and played instruments. First thing I have to say about BRAIDS is that they’ve got some serious confidence, trusting the audience to be patient while they took their time establishing a mood. The crowd’s energy fell a bit, as more than a few of BRAIDS’ songs clocked in at over 8 minutes. It was definitely a change of pace from Gobble Gobble’s manic dance shindig –– but after taking the time to shift gears, the crowd got back into the groove. Songs like “Lemonade” definitely have a Merriweather Post Pavillion vibe: hypnotic guitars on loop, tribal percussion, melodic vocal screams drenched in reverb. It’s an easy comparison (and one that most of the blogs are buzzing about), but it’s not at all meant as a write-off. As a young band, BRAIDS wears their influences on their sleeve and wears them well. Emulating a band like Animal Collective is no easy task, and BRAIDS pulls it off brilliantly. Complex song structures and difficult arrangements show these guys have some real talent. And whereas Animal Collective can be jarring in their experimentalism, BRAIDS’ songs were both beautifully arranged and danceable. As I’m writing this review, the chorus to “Lemonade” is still stuck in my head, a full 24 hours after hearing it once and for the first time. BRAIDS, for all their avant-garde sensibilities, never stray to far afield; all their songs are rooted in strong melodies and undeniable hooks.
Then Baths was on. Remember what I said earlier about how “watching a musician push buttons and twist knobs isn’t the most exciting thing in the world”? I take it back. Will Wiesenfeld makes it look like super entertaining; his fingers fly across his midi controller as he tweaks, sculpts, and glitches heavy beats. He ran through most of his latest album, Cerulean, and debuted a couple new songs as catchy and danceable as anything he’s released.
All-ages shows at the Rickshaw Stop can bring in a diverse crowd, with energetic teeny-boppers rubbing shoulders with jaded hipsters, arms crossed and brows furrowed. None of these divisions were visible during Baths’ set, with young and old alike singing along to favorites like “Plea” and “Lovely Blood Flow,” and losing themselves on the dance floor. The feel-good vibe that carried throughout the set is all due to Wiesenfeld.
After a performance last year for SF’s Yours Truly, they remarked that Wiesenfeld was, “The most eager, earnest, and genuinely grateful guy you could ever hope to meet. It makes listening to his tunes that much more fun.” I’d have to agree –– there’s something undeniably charming about Wiesenfeld on stage: the sweet affectation of placing electronic candles on his equipment, or an endearing awkwardness as he smiles and says, “For realz, I almost passed out a little bit right there…. I’m not a very good singer, so when I have to hold a note, I get pretty light-headed.”
There’s something real and approachable in him that shines through. Wiesenfeld was walking through the crowd during Gobble Gobble’s set, and I saw a kid, who couldn’t have been older than 14, introduce himself and give Wisenfeld a big hug, thanking him for “making such fucking awesome music.” I guess there’s a vulnerability in his music that makes you feel as if you’re close — like you’ve spent late nights together drinking too much wine and talking about life. As Daytrotter writes, “The reality seems to be that [Wiesenfeld] is a humongous softie. He could be made of the fluffiest plush material and filled with pillow stuffing.” It’s true, too. When his music is playing, it stops feeling like a performance in a room full of strangers and starts feeling more like a dance party amongst friends.