Words by: Emily Logan
Photos by: Reid Williams
I love San Francisco. But I have a candid confession to make. Sometimes I get really mad at San Francisco audiences. Whether it’s standing stolid before the dancy-est band that’s ever come through town or talking as loud as possible while standing in the very front of the floor, I’ve seen them all. And maybe that’s not characteristic of San Francisco per se, but it’s frustrating.
As the French Kicks played an incredible set at The Independent on Wednesday, the crowd gave them a meager couple of seconds of unenthusiastic clapping after each song, and the worst encore request I’ve ever heard (about a dozen key clappers and yellers, myself included, were about all that kept the lights from coming back on). I felt bad for the band, and it was clear they noticed.
Okay, minor rant over. The pure truth is that all four bands gave it their all to a gradually filled-in house (the show sold out at about 4pm on day of show). The Dont’s were up first, and played to perhaps the most enthusiastic group of the show. But then again, audience interaction is their specialty, with clapping, yelling, and even a few audience percussionists. They showed off a good amount of new material, and featured the addition of a keyboard player, which really filled out the sound nicely and added to the energy. The quirky nature of this band’s lyrics (and the, ahem, mask and cape) don’t distract from the fact that these guys are all top-notch musicians.
Here Here was on next, playing their first local show in about 8 months. My first thought was, this band did have women in it at some point, right? Maybe it’s just me, but without them it feels a bit more boys-will-be-boys, and the lack of strings changes the mood of the music completely. But they kept the energy up, with the lead singer doing his characteristic cowboy hop, and trumpets and accordion taking the place of strings. And a certain heavy metal violinist next to me playing “air violin” was the final element to make this set worthy of infinite smiles.
Broken West from LA was up next. They played a set of straight-forward indie, almost on the verge of alt-country (mainly due to some twangy guitar). Their no-frills style was evident from the get-go, and the set grew as they went along, which kept the audience engaged. The highlight was definitely when the bass player came up to sing lead vocals on a song. Not that the regular singer isn’t good, but this guy had a certain spark, and the audience felt it too.
And finally, after the usual suspension of audience anticipation, the French Kicks took the stage. And no keyboards! Nick Stumpf (lead singer) had mentioned in our interview that they had been experimenting with keyboard-less live shows. This really pares the sound down to the basics, and makes every little guitar, bass and vocal detail stand out. Stumpf, shoeless and unshaven, started on guitar and felt like he was holding in an ocean of energy, which came out during the second song, “Over the World,” during which he put the guitar down. The set was well-choreographed, though most songs were played just slightly slower than the album versions, which may have contributed to the lethargy of the crowd. But the stand-out aspect of a French Kicks performance is the vocal interaction and harmonies. They are even more pronounced live, and sounded clean and sparkly.
The band interaction also made this performance memorable. Stumpf and drummer Aaron Thurston would chatter to each other and shake their percussion at each other, and Stumpf would look over at his younger brother Lawrence (on bass) with affection. And after each of guitarist Josh Wise’s solos, Stumpf would acknowledge his awesomeness with some little banter to the audience. They played both old and new songs throughout the night, and though the encore request was pretty pathetic, the encore was not. The band came out with a strong second wind, and ended graciously.