1st off … every single drummer was on fire at The Great Northern Thursday for the triple bill of local acts; Jupiter Noise, The Hot Takes, and Strange Cities. But Drew from Jupiter Noise seemed especially fired up. He definitely set the tone for the night.
This is important because the drum bombast mitigated some of the sound issues (mainly with vocal levels and overall mixing) at the venue as they kept car running. Sometimes at breakneck speed. The Great Northern is not really the best venue for live bands in my opinion. It usually hosts DJ dance events. And getting sound right always seems to be an issue with venues in general, I find. Back of the room was a little better but you kind of want to be close to the stage to feed off all the energy and give some back. Also, I wish the stage had been just a little lower so the music could’ve been a little more in your face and less over your head. But that changed nothing in terms of how much I danced or how great the music itself was.
It is important to note these kind of triple bill, anything goes, shows are the same types all the iconic bands we love played to earn their stripes. The Rolling Stones, The Go-Go’s, U2, Heart… pick any band you want, they all slogged through small crowds, drunk rowdy crowds, mic issues and on and on. So if we as a community are doing our job of supporting our local bands with same fervor we support our sports teams they rise up to bigger crowds and better sound mixes etc. So even if things are not perfect in the sound mix I put out more energy at these types of shows for encouragement and to give the bands some crowd feedback. I’m also less critical as these are the kind of shows where bands figure it out and adjust and mold the sound and stage presence.
Except that NONE of these bands Thursday were figuring themselves out. Every single act on stage was fully formed and polished. I suppose a global pandemic gives one time to practice so when they hit the stage it was with guitars blazing, basses bombing, and again the drummers forcing everything to the peak of the rock mountain. Also, for some of the acts is was not their first rodeo, which helps. Of the three bands on the bill The Hot Takes were the only band I heard prior to the show (we’ll get to them in a moment) but as is often the case with these kinds of local shows it was an eclectic lineup of very different styles. And that can be a mixed bag depending on what you are into but the crowd definitely seemed willing to ride it all even if it took a little liquor to loosen them at first (it was a Thursday night after all).
Jupiter Noise brought out the heavy to open the show with a mix of Primus like jams, Soundgarden moods, and at one point a straight up Judas Priest-Metallica type banger. I had not anticipated headbanging at this show but I was pleased to do so. It was just the release I needed with everything else going on. I also felt like I should’ve donned flannel. They debuted a new single, “Migratory Birds” which had the kind of wicked driving bass line built for highways, fast speed, and MTV 1994. And most of their songs contained very little fat clocking in near the three minute mark. As with all the bands it was clear playing music wasn’t something they were just trying out on the side. The members may have a day hustle but this is real job. The music felt like alternative sludge fest in the best of ways or as the band describes themselves “post-everything”, which you can hear for yourself (and more importantly buy) atJupiter Noise. I meant to buy the album at the show but was too caught up in dancing and thrashing.
After the flannel faded, came the neon hot pink skinny ties and black attire (as if Devo invaded the financial district and traded the energy domes for business casual). I discovered The Hot Takes on a bandcamp rabbit hole adventure through Oakland and you can read my review of the debut EP here.
So what were they like live? Well, what you get in the studio you get on the stage. And that is awesome on the one hand but you also want to see what a band is capable of when in a venue free from the shackles of recording music. Ho do they improvise? How they play off each other? How do they handle the crowd energy? Since I had already played out that EP I knew many of the songs and where they went. Sometimes, live versions can slavishly adhere to the recorded version. I learned later from one of the band members that this was their first live gig. And that explained why everything was almost TOO tight. It was the first time they were getting audience feedback in a live setting and so I imagine they were probably trying hard not to, “fuck it all up”. So I think with that first gig out of the way now that nervous energy will more readily become, “We got this,” and the performances will feel just a little bit looser around the collar.
To my delight I heard some new songs, one that was almost a power ballad (pass me my lighter). This solidified for me that this wasn’t some one EP and were done act, the quality control did not waver. The songs were straight up catchy right out of the box. No assembly required. The audience definitely seemed to respond well to what I have been preaching about for a hot minute. And that pleased me greatly. It was like I knew a secret the audience was just now catching up on. The Hot Takes were certainly the most party/top 40 ready band of the night driving right down main street with great hooks and choruses you can learn quickly and sing-a-long too.
So if Jupiter noise was the alternative grunge period then The Hot Takes were pure 1985 bar pop-rock like the Hooters’ Nervous Night album. Also perfect for MANY John Hughes’ film soundtracks. I swear if Fire Tiger ever does a gig up here I am going to do all I can to double bill The Hot Takes on that show and it will 80s sound revival heaven. And not in any cliched/ironic kitschy way like the mainstream panders us with every 4-5 years or so. But don’t take my word for it do what you know needs to be done at theThe Hot Takes.
Strange Cities being the headliners, was the band I most curious about. They also seemed to have the largest audience. Of the three acts they took the longest to get set up and into it the zone. The first two acts got on and off very quickly I was sorta stunned at how oiled it all was. But once the mic and reverb levels were in place it was go time. I knew none of their music and expected maybe something along the lines of what State Line Empire (a SoundwavesTV favorite). But I was VERY wrong. While it felt like it took the band a couple songs to get sure footing it certainly took me a couple songs to figure out what I was going to do on the dance floor. The hot pink neon lights were gone. But by the third song I heard a guitar riff that sounded just like something Robert Smith of The Cure would conjure up in his lab and I got it! While goth may not be the best word here, Strange Cities was definitely channeling the Chameleons, The Cure, Echo and the Bunneymen and other post-punk acts. Also the excessive reverb reminded me of seeing The Jesus And Mary Chain at The Fillmore where the band seemed to want to blow out the speakers every song. Speaking of which the entire night closed with Strange Cities doing a cover of, “Head On”. One of my favorites by The Jesus and Mary Chain.
I did my best goth moves like “stepping over a dead friend” and others. All was well. And I will certainly get them on rotation for my New and New Wave show. But I had to reminded myself to compartmentalize each act because coming on after The Hot Takes anthemic kind of pop energy Strange Cities was a different mood and the crowd energy definitely shifted down a little. This again illustrates pros and cons of such and eclectic bill because the lane drastically changes with shorts sets and it can be hard to build and maintain a consistent energy in the venue. And it can make a concert feel more like a showcase or exhibition than a full on concert. But Strange Cities knows their lane and does a good job at it. I have a who crew Robert Smith and Siouxsie acolytes who would dine plenty on their sound. And you can can also get a taste of it at Strange Cities
I applaud the audience for sticking around for all the bands not just the one their friend or family member was in. And yeah I did feel little like I was a talent scout, I’ll admit it. LOL! I want to see these bands in other settings. See how the music and stage craft translates to a dive bar or some street festival stage. I know how The Hot Takes sounds blasting from my stereo, so it is time see how these other acts sound on the home system as well.
Real quick, I must shout out DJ Adrienne Scissorhands! Playing before, in-between, and after, she kept me dancing with a stellar selection of top shelf. There was a cover of “Images Of Heaven” that was magical and the opening punk set was gloriously off the rails. You can locate her for all you gothic/unk party (or hair needs) Scissors Of Mercy
Lastly, and most importantly so many people in the world gripe “new music sucks”. Well, yeah, mainstream may be phoning it in but our local music scenes are not. So I am requesting, if you want good new music, SUPPORT LOCAL. There is a local sound for every taste in the bay area. Support these and other local acts. It gives them more chances at stage time, more chances to improve and grow and release more music. So buy the music and play it loud on the stereo or in the car and go to the shows! A Giants game is not the only local entertainment available on weekends, you know. And seeing these local bands live is a lot cheaper… for now.
Peace, Love Happiness, Music, Dancing,