Arrrgh, every year Noise Pop does this to me. Every year they put on a great Sunday afternoon show at Bottom of the Hill that only serves to remind me how BotH used to put on regular Sunday afternoon shows with free BBQ and how awesome they were. Why don’t they do that anymore? I don’t even care if they have free BBQ (and I say that as a person for whom “free” and “BBQ” are two of the most delicious words in the English language), just let me be able to drink beer and see bands on a Sunday afternoon without feeling guilty that I’m not outside “enjoying” the “nice weather”.

So I remember checking out Caves‘ myspace page when they played last year’s Mission Creek, and I could have sworn that they had kind of a droney freak-folk thing going on at the time, but the trio that showed up to the Bottom of the Hill was… well, not completely different, but I suspect that singer/guitarist Zach Brewer has been listening to a whole lot of Black Mountain recently, given all the 70’s wastoid fuzz-rock flavor he was bringing. And yet, keyboardist Kevin Price was still holding down the warm drone end of things. It kind of makes sense, since there’s always been kinship between the back-to-nature psych-folkies and the bad-trip stoner-rockers around here. But it was hard to tell from their set whether Caves were making a concerted effort to bridge the two genres, or whether they were transitioning into one from the other, or just making a brief stylistic detour. Whatever way, it’ll be interesting to see how their next album turns out.

So Many Dynamos are no doubt sick to death of all the Dismemberment Plan comparisons by now, but look, when you combine squelchy synths, stabby spasmodic guitars, incredibly tight drumming, and a singer who has somehow absorbed the very essence of Travis Morrison— from the general timbre of his voice right down to his melodies and the cadence of his lines— who else are you going to compare them to? Not that I’m complaining, I love the Plan, and any band that tries their darndest to get a San Francisco crowd moving is ok in my book.

John Darnielle was already a great songwriter and performer by the time The Mountain Goats signed to 4AD in 2003, and since then he’s only gotten better. But it feels like it’s taken a while for him, after so many years of recording himself on a crappy boombox, to get used to such luxuries as studio multitrack recording with nice gear and backing musicians and everything that an actual recording budget gets you. I love his last four albums, don’t get me wrong; but often, any extra instrumentation in those songs felt grafted onto Darnielle’s songwriting sensibility, rather than integrated into it.

Which is why I’m very happy to hear that, on The Mountain Goats’ new album Heretic Pride, Darnielle seems more comfortable writing for a full band than ever before, and it showed in the performances of the new material. Bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster effectively bolster Darnielle’s more conventional strum-heavy songs such as “Sax Rohmer #1” and “Heretic Pride”, and become downright indispensable on others: “Sept. 15th, 1983” simply wouldn’t work without the rhythm section there to impart a golden reggae tinge to the song, and the slashing “Lovecraft in Brooklyn” was practically written with Wurster’s galloping backbeat in mind.

Still, though, my favorite part of the show was the acoustic solo section, which showcased Darnielle at both his most theatrically riveting— reducing the entire room to rapt church silence during the delicate catharsis of “So Desperate”— and most casual, indulging a shouted request for “I’ve Got The Sex”, an unreleased song from the Sweden era, and then following it up with an off-the-cuff version of another Sweden track, “Downtown Seoul”, just because it had been half-stuck in his head before the show. It makes me kinda miss his solo acoustic sit-down shows of yore, even though at the same time it’s gratifying to see him progress as an artist. Yes, I wrote “artist” unironically. Because it is a true artist who is able to transform his own obsessions into the obsessions of his audience— and what better example of that is there than Darnielle getting an entire crowd of indie rock hipsters to sing along at the top of their lungs to Ace of Base’s “The Sign”?