So maybe going to the Rickshaw Stop to catch the latest stop on the Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin/Port O’Brien tour wasn’t the best way to beat the heat last Wednesday (5/14/08). It actually felt substantially hotter inside the club and no amount of cold, delicious Hunter’s Point Porter seemed to help as we waited for show opener Girls, the much-blogged-about San Francisco duo of Christopher Owens and Chet JR White. Apparently Owens has also collaborated with Ariel Pink in the group Holy Shit, but there isn’t much other information out there about this relatively new group. Still, World Famous in SF has been championing the band for a while, and the group’s periodically-updated MySpace page has showcased a number of great songs over the past few months, so I was really looking forward to the band’s performance.

The set was, in short, scary good. The live Girls band, a six person group with three guitarists, gave the group’s lo-fi gems an electricity that accentuated some winning melodies. While the singer’s voice sounded a lot like Elvis Costello (a lot more live than on record in fact), the band’s sound drifted between fuzzy retro-pop stompers and some more ornate psych-soaked jams. I’ve seen reference to the Television Personalities elsewhere, and I think that’s accurate to the extent it implies a mutual appreciation for Buddy Holly and gettin’ weird. According to the Guardian, this was surprisingly only the group’s fourth live show ever, and the band’s performance did periodically feel a little too loose, at the expense of some immediacy. With fingers crossed that they work out any remaining kinks, I’m looking forward to the group’s upcoming 7″ on True Panther later this year.

I’ll confess to knowing only one song by Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin prior to this show. “Think I Wanna Die” (download here) is so direct and unassuming that I didn’t realize its power pop brilliance until it remained stuck in my head for almost a week. I’ve refrained from picking up the group’s new album Pershing under the assumption that, perhaps unfairly, nothing else will match this song.

If the group’s performance last Wednesday showed that they had some other tricks up their sleeves, including strong songs like “The Beach Song” and “Modern Mystery,” taken in total it felt a little boring. The band’s thoroughly above-average, tightly-performed indie pop still failed to offer anything particularly distinctive or surprising to the ear of this casual, if demanding, listener and being sandwiched between two more eclectic groups probably didn’t help either.

While the crowd thinned some after SSLY’s set, a good majority hung around to celebrate the release of All We Could Do Was Sing, the new CD from Port O’Brien. It’s been almost exactly a year since I first reviewed one of their shows and the Oakland quintet has had about as big a year as a band might want, releasing two CDs and seemingly constant touring domestically and abroad. Wednesday’s set found the group playing mostly songs from their terrific new album, including favorites “Close the Lid,” “Stuck on a Boat,” and “Fisherman’s Son.” While the band skillfully created Americana- and Neil Young-influenced instrumental textures, Van Pierszalowski’s voice and presence remains the band’s emotional centerpiece, and he didn’t fail to lead the group through a notably intense performance of long-time favorite “A Bird Flies By.”

Considering this was the hometown show, Port O’Brien’s set felt a bit more reserved than I’d have expected, but the band capped off the night by inviting folks on stage to play pots and pans for “I Woke Up Today.” Adding to an element of frenzy to the group’s blend of energy and melody, it was a fitting close to a strong performance by one of the Bay Area’s most dynamic groups.

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