Words by: Joseph Hayes
Photos by: Reid Williams
March 1, Sunday night, 10:15 p.m. in San Francisco, sheets of rain, the city’s inhabitants mope around between laundromats and cafes, peaking out from a video storefront awning, eating a soggy vegetarian burrito, contemplating sleep or catching up on episodes of Mad Men or the Wire in the hopes of having something to offer at the water cooler tomorrow, and…simultaneously…
Like a jet ski in a kiddie pool, Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington (aka the Homer Simpson of Indie rock) is parting through the sardine can crowd of sticky hipsters at Mezzanine, riding an ottoman down the balcony stairs, as 924 Gilman post-grad skater boys and girls alternately crowd surf and stage dive, yearning for beer, sweat or banana chunks to be splattered upon them, and giggly girls try to decide whether the barrel belly maniac is Tasmanianally sexy or kinda icky. As the urban legend goes, like all those homeless people, did someone bus this atypical SF crowd into town to the club tonight? Temporary dementia and cabin fever have commenced.
Mummified in toilet paper from neck up, armed with a six pack of Corona, a peeled droopy banana, an industrial size bag of tortilla chips, duct tape, a desk-side garbage can, straw sombrero, vinyl tarp, a fan’s borrowed undersized vintage rainbow down vest, someone’s flannel tossed onstage, and a fan’s iPhone tucked in his sweaty nethers, it’s just another night at the office for Harrington and his bulletproof band mates, who double as zookeepers and veteran post-punk riffers as their leader goes berserk in his new playpen.
It seems that ever since the release of their singles compilation, Inches (2004), LSF finally ascended its reputation as a live novelty act to a band to be reckoned with for its fiercely anthemic tunes like “The Sweat Descends” and “Hold On To Your Genre.” And while sometimes it can seem like the band is playing a score to Tim’s one man theater routine, featuring guitarist Seth Jabour’s Arctic-cool delay runs, bassist Syd Butler’s bicep-powered, bone dry thumps and drummer Harrison Haynes’ (American Apparel’s Dov Charney’s doppelgÃ¤nger) frenetically staccato beats, if you manage to sidestep Harrington’s antics for a few moments, it’s hard not to acknowledge that their energy and ingenuity rivals some of the better sonic gems of post-punk lore brought to us by Fugazi and the Pixies.
Not to be outdone, supporting act the Mae Shi and its frontman, Jonathan Gray, were an ideal primer for LSF. Gray, looking like he escaped from a halfway house about twenty minutes before the set, paved some trails in the audience for Harrington. The rest of the band followed suit (unlike LSF, there’s a collective dementia taking place) as they seemingly romped through about 21 songs in 30 minutes, and if you’re still counting, they’re slated to play 15 shows in 5 days at SXSW from March 18-22.
It’s hard to properly classify a band that cannot sit still, but it’s a beautiful exception. Omnichord push-button melodies ride high on the mix of a lot of tunes (by the way kids, those things are selling for near $330 on eBay), with doses of Casio SK-1 era beats set against 80s power chords and slapdash drums, without it ever leaning too far in the direction of trendy electro pop or a dated tribute to the Dead Kennedys.
The sheer sonic variety of the tunes exhibits a playfulness and freshness, as if the band made up the songs that morning. Like a good flip book, or series of film shorts, the Mae Shi leave a lasting and original image to behold. And finally, did you ever play parachute in 6th grade gym class? I’ll leave the details scant for those who want to catch them next time around, on March 27 at the Hemlock.
Opener The Drums, featuring local veteran John Dwyer (The Ohsees, and formerly The Coachwhips, Burmese), consists of two drummers facing each other, pounding as hard they can and singing simultaneous vocal melodies at the tops of their lungs. It is an impressive display of musical prowess (have you ever tried to play drums and sing at the same time?), but as with any opener on a bill like this, it was a bit too early to corral folks into their rhythmic assault. The last couple pieces they performed featured a little more polyrhythmic variety, helping the vocal hooks, if only a bit more discernible, sink in.