Tony Molina
Photo: Ruby Perez

Saturday night at the Hemlock Tavern proved to be quite the gathering for the Bay Area music scene. Playing to an entirely packed house, Tony Molina, Life Stinks, and Violent Change sold out the venue before the first band could even set up. The night was bound to be exceptional, the lineup included some of San Francisco’s most praised and celebrated bands of the last year.

Tony Molina, whose Dissed and Dissmissed LP rapidly sold out when initially released on Melters, is set to have his second running on Slumberland in March. Pre-orders have already begun and it wouldn’t be surprising if this batch sold out just as quickly.

Tony Molina
Photo: Ruby Perez

A positive energy filled the tightly packed room as Violent Change took the stage to play. Calling upon proto-punk influences, the band left us with a performance that was tight, and familiar in its fuzzed out dizziness. Their music is the washed out, distorted kind, but underneath that lo-fi haze are underlying pop melodies and a guitarists' command of his instrument. Violent Change weaved in and out of their songs in a way that kept everyone’s attention on point.

By the time Life Stinks took the stage, the Hemlock’s little back room had become stuffy and difficult to navigate through. But despite being confined in a now overheated space, Life Stinks gave a performance that made you feel okay about standing next to your neighbor too closely.

Life Stinks
Photo: Ruby Perez

This was your fellow reviewer’s first time ever seeing the band live, and admittedly, I was impressed. Life Stinks features a full lineup that includes two drummers (although word on the street was that this would be a drummer's final performance with the band). Their set was dark and unapologetic as their singer embodied that self-destructive charisma that keeps you entertained and curious as to what he might do next.

Entertaining at best, a little scary at worst–– watching him growl angrily about not giving a fuck, lifting up a cinderblock, and swinging it around to completely emphasize his pent up angst was gratifying. It’s what makes punk music so therapeutic; we’re all a little angry and it’s satisfying to see someone take that energy and turn it into a good performance.

Life Stinks
Photo: Ruby Perez

At some point a drummer opted for a saxophone and the band ended their set with an energetic and abrasive last hurrah as the singer strangled himself with the mic, climbed up on the drums, and plunged into his band members.

Tony Molina
Photo: Ruby Perez

Finally, the Man of the Hour, Tony Molina, took the stage. Once all three of his guitarist finally tuned up their instruments they entered a heavy, minute long opener that featured breakdowns and brooding guitar riffs. This immediately led into Molina’s pop jangle “Nowhere to Go,” a song that is the perfect archetype into understanding why Tony Molina’s music has gained so much momentum.

Molina unabashedly appropriates that 90s indie rock sound, but his unfailing masterwork in writing relatable lyrics and ascending guitar solos is the collision of elements that make for great pop music.

During Molina’s set, joints were passed, folks began to dance, and at some point someone lost a string. Luckily, a member of Life Stinks stepped up, lent a guitar, and the show continued without much delay. Despite the downpour of rain outside, it was a fantastic night for local Bay Area music.

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