A couple weeks ago, Lizz attended the KALX 45th Anniversary fundraiser concert and contributed this report on the night’s events.
Public transportation is an amazing thing. Unfortunately, every once in while you find yourself arriving a little too late to a show and missing a band. When I did arrive at the Rickshaw Stop for KALX‘s 45th anniversary celebration on Thursday, November 8th, the venue was absolutely packed. I soon discovered that, like I feared, I had missed Oakland’s own psychedelic songwriter, Greg Ashley. I had been looking forward to seeing him play and expecting to hear the breath-taking songs I heard on his web site, with lyrics that caught my attention right away, such as: “If I could read the palm of the one you love, she wouldn’t want to wear your crown today” and line after line in the same vein. I promise to arrive sooner next time Greg; this time I blame the bus.
When Social Studies‘ set began, the whole crowd moved forward and filled in the entire floor. After playing consistently in San Francisco for the the past year and a half, not to mention opening for The Pipettes a month earlier, it’s no wonder Social Studies has such a devoted following in The City. As the first song started and the jumpy, bright, keyboard driven music began, it was clear that the group really has carved out a sound all their own. The sound is reminiscent of four musicians stuck in a long, echoey hall, playing notes that sound like multiplication tables, if multiplication tables had sounds. It’s bouncy and fun but also precise, crafted as a planned chaos. The lyrics are in complete sync with the boisterous instrumentation; there is a left-brain, right-brain union with the lyrics, using images such as “Epitaphs” and “Purgatory” cleverly intertwined with lines of heartache and disappointment. One feels like they’re in Math Class and English Class at the same time (or maybe in Social Studies, ha ha).
The band’s sound is all brought together by the dynamics of the four members on stage. Natalia, the lead singer, has a voice that demands attention and carries across the room. As she plays, Natalia leans on her Casio, doing the indie sway from beat to beat, sometimes screaming certain lines and laughing afterward. She’s so calm and comfortable–as is the rest of the band–projecting a “happy to be here” aura out to the audience. Along with Natalia’s beautiful voice (not to mention outfit), bass player Ilana and singer/guitar player Aaron keep the beats of the songs in full force. Every member in the band takes turns singing back and forth throughout the set, filling in “oohs” and “ahhs” until the voices blend together into a small avalanche of sound. You have to love every member in a band singing together.
Another person you can’t keep your eyes off is the drummer, Mike. After seeing many a live show and many a drummer, there is undoubtedly something special about him. Throughout every song, his body bounces with each hit he plays, literally jumping off his seat sometimes. His hair flies all around with his clean, heart-stopping beats that seep from one drum to another. What really tipped it off was halfway through the show when he came from behind his drum set to sing an acappella section of a song, revealing that he had no shoes on. How a drummer could play those beats with no shoes is a mystery and it’s hard to believe it humanly possible. Just another little touch that made Social Studies’ live show so entertaining.
After Social Studies finished their last song, Sugar and Gold starting setting up. I had seen them play two years before in Humboldt County and always remembered their sound because it was so seventies-yet-modern; I also remembered they sold some gold boy-shorts that said “Sugar and Gold” across them that I would have died for, but they were homemade so they had to charge fifteen or twenty dollars a pair at the time.
When the band started, I was quick to realize this set was going to be a lot crazier then the last time I had seen them in a sparse Humboldt State University hall. The audience filled in even more and immediately started going crazy–bouncing, dancing, some guys taking their shirts off, girls falling over with their dresses over their heads. Sugar and Gold’s sound seemed to be perfect for this type of audience. As they continued playing, there was still that seventies feel to them, I want to say the Doobie Brothers but I am not a Doobies Brothers expert. Along with this sort of purposeful datedness, there is also a tongue-in-cheek, casino-esqe quality in their sound, as if their whole goal is to mix the substances of sugar and gold together and make that substance into songs. The songs themselves are held together by an amazingly thick-sounding drum machine, each member grooving to the beat while never forgetting to chime in with the lyrics, often about partying, meeting girls, and staying up all night.
All off this Vegas attitude comes to fruition with their costumes. Lead singer Philipp and keyboardist Nicolas wore gold, sparkly suspenders and low cut, open chest vests. They could have been wearing shiny gold bling (no joke) and completely pulled it off. The female singer, who made all the costumes and the aforementioned boy-shorts, was wearing a gold and purple metallic frayed dress that hung across her arms and legs and danced with her. There was just no looking away; she put so much attitude into her dance moves while rocking a microphone and the frays on her dress across the stage.
While the audience found themselves already blown away by Sugar and Gold’s stage presence, a skinny man dressed up as Kermit the Frog came on stage and started dancing with the band. Not only did Kermit dance, he full-on jumped to the roof while shaking his hips so fast you could hardly see them. After Kermit left and I’d just begun to miss him, Miss Piggy came through the audience dancing just like Kermit did. Miss Piggy even put her arm around my waist, and probably the waists of many other audience members, while grooving through the whole crowd. To finish it off, Miss Piggy did a circle around the stage while explicitly dancing with each band member in perfect union with the music. Then, what do you know, Miss Piggy was gone and a Ninja dressed in all black showed up, dancing just like Miss Piggy did. The Ninja shook his hips as he danced along and seemed to jump higher and more dynamically then before. When the Ninja left, lead singer Philipp announced that the next song was their last and the whirlwind of Sugar and Gold came to an end. If there were ever a claim that bands don’t give enough attention to image, costumes, and the importance of entertaining an audience, Sugar and Gold proves them one hundred percent wrong.
As the Bay Area’s own Chow Nasty began to set up, my love-hate relationship with Public Transportation began to worry me, as I knew I’d only have time to listen to a few songs (so I’d better pay attention, right?). The moment the band started, the lights grew dark and all one could see was the shapes of people dancing erratically in the audience. Chow Nasty’s energy was so high their instruments could have exploded. The lead singers danced with their guitars like they where dancing with pretty ladies to the beat of random percussion instruments and harmonicas banging left and right. The singer’s voice sprang from somewhere between funk and disco and keep plunging at lyrics about dancing and partying that made your whole body move. The band members had so much charisma, convulsing with each line they sang as well as climbing all over the stage, even on top of a piano and out into the audience. As this energy continued, and I began to realize every one of their songs was as catchy as the track “Ungawa” I had listened to earlier on their site–“Oh, Ungawa–Baby’s got the power. I’m wrapped around your finger most of the time, would you like to tell me what’s wrong or right?–the time struck for buses to stop running. It was an absolute shame to leave a Chow Nasty set early and felt wrong in every way. From the music I did hear, it sure did make me want to party.