Photos by: Agata Kamler
I’ve seen the Ferocious Few more time than I care to count. I’ve seen them in parks, on street corners, at raucous outdoor festivals. I saw them play in the middle of a packed street during a joyous near-riot the night Obama was elected. I’ve seen them so regularly that I once recognized their guitarist on an airplane. This may be the only local band at their level I’ve seen often enough to pick out of crowd whose members I didn’t know personally (I’m terrible with faces). Yet, I’ve never seen them indoors or gone out specifically planning on seeing them.
For the uninitiated, The Ferocious Few are a two-piece band primarily known for their busking shows all over the Bay Area. They play a spectacular version of country-fried garage rock with nothing more than an electrified acoustic guitar and bare bones drum kit. Think of the Black Keys but swap about 50% of that band’s blues influence for country-folk without losing a single joule of the hard driving, rock and roll energy that makes people want to get down and boogie and you’ll have a good idea of why the Ferocious Few are gradually becoming the mustachioed poster boys for San Francisco’s indie scene.
Seeing them indoors, playing out of full size amps, in a room with natural reverb, had an interesting effect on their music. The increased size and scope makes everything sound infinitely more serious then it does on a street corner. Their songs are transformed from playful rave-ups to something bordering on the biblical. In this setting, songs are based more on their almost Gothic atmosphere than they are on the band’s blistering live energy. A lot of that comes from the drums. When the Few busk, their drummer plays with brushes but at this show he used sticks. Brushes, when played hard and fast on a snare (which is the FF’s drummer’s busking M.O) fills the sonic space around the kit with a dirty, skittering energy. In the setting of the Independent, the drumming was much more spaciousâ€”letting a near-constant four-on-the-floor kick drum do most of the percussive work.
While the change in setting was welcome and interesting, I think I prefer them outdoors. The band, usually supremely confidant when they play, seemed a little cowed by the venue and let a couple minor rhythmic flubs in the middle of the set throw off their groove, which they never entirely got back. While their set started out promising, it lacked a bit of the ferocity the band is usually brings by the bucketload.
Next was L.A. band Voxhaul Broadcast who started out by complaining that they had to wake up at 6AM to drive up to San Francisco and, “waking up at six sucks when you’re used to waking up a noon.” This is a truth, universally acknowledged. The band went for arena rock fervor sitting somewhere between The Strokes, The Killers and The Kings of Leon. While their enthusiasm, technical chops and pristine sounding gear was to be applauded, their whole preening, over-the-top schtick was more than a little off-putting.
Closing out the night are local rockers The Stone Foxes. As has been previously noted, I really like the Stone Foxes. They’re one of the only bands right now doing really interesting things without substantially deviating from the standard classic rock format. Most of their songs play off the boozy Southern rock archetype – think Lynyrd Skynyrd but with more . . . umm . . . let’s call it “tasteful restraint.”
Standout tunes like “Beneath Mt.Siani” swagger and stomp in ways that would make Robert Plant nod approvingly and a cover of “Little Red Rooster” that, while keeping the slide guitar from the famous Rolling Stones cover, pleasingly adhered more closely to swampy blues spirt of Willie Dixon’s original.
The thing that keeps it all firing is that, no matter how much rock bombast The Stone Foxes bring to the table, they never make the mistake of taking themselves too seriously. This is a band who can interrupt what, up to that point, was a sweet little love song by interjecting, “Is that your vagina? It looks beautiful,” and have it instantly transform into three minutes of trashy, explosive riffing – all as natural as can be.
As The Stone Foxes encored with a savage cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigsâ€ that highlighted the fact that the original was really just a heavy, heavy electric blues song, it brought to mind the one consistent theme in what, at the outset, seemed like a typically disjoined Noise Pop bill. All of these bands, even Voxhual Broadcast who didn’t do it successfully as the others, were going for the very specific effect rocking the audiences faces off. While in the hopelessly fragmented 2011 Bay Area music scene that may seem a little retro or quaint, it’s still something that, when does well, never goes out of style.
The Stone Foxes
The Soft White Sixties
The Ferocious Few