Wichita report - Noise Pop 2001
"Everywhere you go/you always take the weather with you" - wankers.
Get off the plane from snowy London to discover that San Francisco is basking in 75 degrees of sunshine and all is palm trees and baywatch.Won't be needing the big coat then. Wichita has decamped from its swanky London/Devon offices to the Bay Area for the week to check out the 9th Annual Noise Pop Festival, a small but perfectly formed event that in the past has featured headliners like the Flaming Lips, Bob Mould and Guided By Voices.
This year's event is the first to feature several simultaneous shows each evening but overall the feel is closer to All Tomorrow's Parties than Glastonbury. We check into the Essex Hotel in the beautiful Tenderloin district downtown, apply the suntan lotion, score some crack and head off to the opening night party. Here we meet up with organiser Jordan Kurland (nervously excited) and several wonderful people all of whom seem to have recently lost dot.com jobs locally.
The long flight must have taken its toll because by the end of the party at about 9pm we are somewhat the worse for wear. Hence memory of opening night's gig is er, sketchy. Watch whole of Call And Response thinking they are openers (the excellent) From Bubblegum To Sky and can't work out why I don't recognise any of the songs. Mates Of State follow and at this point all I can try and work out is how they fitted so many people on the Bottom Of The Hill's stage and if it can really be true that its illegal to smoke in clubs.
The night is closed by the excellent Beulah who haven't played their home town for ages and have attracted the most crammed crowd we see all week. In keeping with the evening's theme there appear to be 8 people on stage.Think this may be the vodka talking but its confirmed the next day. Leave humming the one that goes "ba ba ba ba ba" (my favourite) and go to bed very "tired" indeed.
Wake at the crack of dawn (bloody time difference) feeling great and after obligatory internet cafe stop get picked up by Marc Bianchi of Wichita's own Her Space Holiday. Big day today, we're heading out to the ghetto of San Mateo where he lives to hear the almost-completed new HSH album. Dodging the gunfire and poisoned burritos we get to Marc's studio.
Now we may be biased but the album sounds AMAZING. A huge leap forward from "Home Is Where You Hang Yourself" with the most incredible strings and programming you could imagine. You're gonna love it.
Marc takes us to his local underground hip-hop store "Below The Surface", renowned locally for good reason, half an hour of grabbing various Kool Keith projects and Anticon 10"s at ridiculously cheap prices follows. Good score.
Speak to Kid 606 who invites us over to his place to watch the last episode of "Temptation Island" (he's addicted apparently) but there are more shows to see tonight.
A quick powernap and out we go again back to Bottom Of The Hill. Means missing buzz band Jimmy Eats World** and Creeper Lagoon but it was going to be a few nights of tough choices.
First band is The Papercuts. Big guys. You know. Screaming Trees shaped. I think they're pretty cool, with something about the big guy making me think Pixies. Seen far worse first-on's that's for sure. Next up is The Stratford 4. Far more rocking than they are on record, I haven't seen a guitar attacked like that since the early 90's... it was turning out to be a good night.
Then disaster struck. A wave of tiredness that left us hanging on to the walls for support (and no it wasn't the alcohol). We manage about 20 minutes of The Kingsbury Manx before giving up and going to bed. Personally I love the album but found the gig a little too low-key and noodley. Leaving early means we miss seeing Seattle's 764-Hero again, making their 3rd Noise Pop appearance.
Next day up early again and head up to Haight-Ashbury. We're not chasing Grateful Dead ashtrays but heading for possibly the most amazing indie record shop in the world. Imagine your local Rough Trade/Probe/Other Music or whatever multiplied by 10 and you have some idea of the scale. Incredible. Coming unprepared with no list makes the whole thing pretty futile so we grab a few bits, pick our jaws from the floor and head out again.
A quick trip to Alcatraz with a man called Quirky in the afternoon and its off to the early evening party. Thrown by the legendary Devil In The Woods magazine the room is packed with people here to see the debut SF performance of local boy Scott Kannberg (Yes, he of Pavement's new band The Preston School Of Industry).
The irrepressible Mike from Devil In The Woods introduces us to Scott and he stakes his claim to the title of nicest man in indie-rock. Oranger turn up too and give him stiff competition...
What's the new band like? Did Spiral Stairs play Pavement songs? Sadly we have no idea. The clock beat us and we had to leave for a dinner appointment with our hero Kid 606. The Kid turned up with his girlfriend from Blecetum From Blechdom and we were in electronic terrorism heaven. The next couple of hours were as exhilirating and intense as any of The Kid's records as he proceeded to enthuse, diss, rave or rant about people or records at an amazing pace. Seeming far too knowledgeable for his young years he left us with the impression of having just met a man as unique as his records. What a guy.
There was only time to catch one more band and perhaps unfortunately that was David Bazan's Pedro The Lion. Whether it was the contrast between the hyperbeat Kid 606 and Pedro's slow mournful songs or something but the same guy who had played one of my favourite shows I had ever seen a couple of years ago (and I mean life-changingly good) seemed less than exciting. Hugely disappointed at what I thought would be a festival highlight we headed for the hotel.
Friday is "Where's Bright Eyes?" day. Last heard of in an earthquake in Seattle several hours after he's supposed to have arrived Conor's nowhere to be seen. Trying to find him means we miss the lovely John Vanderslice by minutes at the afternoon show but we do get to see the mighty Damien Jurado. Playing a packed chatty room with just an acoustic guitar probably doesn't make for one of Damien's easiest shows but the songs shine through and if you don't already own all his records go out and buy them now. Crooked Fingers is Eric from Archer's Of Loaf. He's touring the US with Bright Eyes and closes the party. Everyone seems to love him but the vocals' spitting resemblance to Neil Diamond put us off and we head off again in search of Conor. We end up outside the gig for half an hour as it seems like the whole festival is trying to get into Great American Music Hall for the show.
Track Star come and go and then Conor appears on stage but to the confusion of some of the audience he's up there to play with Athens' friends Azure Ray. Suddenly after about half an hour though some familiar chords ring out and we're into the Bright Eyes set. With the sold out crowd going mental Conor plays a mixture of solo and band songs including several astonishing new ones that leave people gasping. I know I'm biased but it really was an amazing show. Sadly we've had to miss Girls Against Boys due to clashing schedules but everyone heads back to Marc Bianchi's house happy.
When Conor finally heads to LA at Saturday lunchtime we go back to Bottom Of The Hill for the first of three gigs today. We catch the end of The Orange Peels before watching a great set from The Shins. Recently signed to Sub Pop they are probably the best new band we've seen all week. Fronted by the bloke form Weezer alongside Euros from Gorky's their songs seem to have no obvious structures but they're all great tunes. Most enjoyable. The Aisler Set follow and although I'm a sucker for their Shop Assistants 2k thing on record their live set makes me think "shambling" for the first time in 15 years. We cab through a downpour to Cafe Du Nord to catch the hotly tipped Persephone's Bees. Immediately wish we hadn't bothered. Sixties inspired progpop that verges on theatre and features some horrible muso over-indulgence. Not good. Fiver on the other hand are great. Yes they sound a bit like Grandaddy in places (something in the Modesto water?) but they have such great hooks that the whole room is left grinning and cheering. They're coming back to England soon and you owe it to yourself to go check 'em out.
Closing the show are Oranger. Having already won our hearts by securing us the largest drink measures ever seen from their bartender pals they put on an amazing show with films playing behind them and tunes pouroing form every orifice. Having waited several years for the chance to see them play when they launch into "Mike Love Not War" for several minutes they become the best band in the world. Wonderful stuff.
The end for us is now in sight. Tonight there are shows by Superchunk, Money Mark and The Fastbacks but we've only got one more gig to go and its back to the amazing Great American Music Hall. We wait patiently through The Vue and ex-headcoatee Holly Golighty (much bigger in SF than she is in Archway!) but like most of the sold-out crowd we're here for the headliners the mighty White Stripes. Two albums of awesome back-to-basics rock'n'roll by this "brother and sister" (??!!) duo have prepared us for a life-changing experience. Maybe they'd want to be on Wichita?! And then... they come out and look amazing, their red and white "theme" in full effect. She's a great drummer, he's a fantastic guitarist but... er, its not very good. Take away the gimmicks and we could be at Klub Foot at the Clarenden in thre early '80's watching some Meteors support act. Totally one dimensional with no twist to the music at all, it's trad dad. The kids go wild but at the end we leave disappointed that "The Future Of Rock N Roll" is so firmly stuck in its past.
Great burger after the show and a trip to a nearby club though. If only you could get a great sit down meal with beer and all the trimmings at 4am in London. Sure beat a veggie kebab.
Sunday morning its out to the airport for the long journey home. We're missing Blonde Redhead and the mighty Good Life as the festival comes to a close but our bodies are telling us we're doing the right thing by quitting while we still have our livers. All in all a fantastic week and a festival with a unique "vibe". Next year is Noise Pop's 10th Anniversary. We'll certainly be there and if you're in the vicinity you really should be too.
"Mark Bowen Rocks The Parteee" is from the wonderful Wichita Recordings label who can be found online at www.wichita-recordings.com