Photos by: Rachel Keenan
Let us take a moment before surveying Friday night’s offerings to appreciate The Rickshaw Stop. It’s a great room, the staff there are always cheerful and courteous, and over the last two years, they have been putting on some of the best shows in town. And yet the Rick seems to hover just below the optimum buzz level, so one is never caught in the kind of over-sold frottage festivals that one endures on a regular basis at other clubs that shall remain nameless.
The booking people at The Rickshaw love to create unlikely parings of traditional, organic pop bands and more programmed clubby fare, and, along with Bottom of the Hill and the Great American, they continue to bravely host all ages despite the current tense climate.
Which brings us to Friday night, where the local collective Still Flyin’ found themselves sandwiched between Oakland DJ Ghosts on Tape and headliner El Guincho, whose loop-laden, arty dance music has earned him the nickname “The Latin Panda Bear” (as in Animal Collective, not the Giants’ power hitter).
Ghosts on Tape, aka Ryan Phillip Merry, contended with a very sparse early crowd.
Still Flyin’ enjoyed a write-up here just a few months ago, so I did not intend to devote much space to them. But I loved them and I have to tell you all about it. 11 of their sometimes 15 members took the stage with a businesslike manner, but it wasn’t long before a coarse grain of jesting humor emerged. Leader Sean Rawls introduced the second song as a brand new number based on the movie Cyrus; the next number purportedly was written this week in response to the new Twilight movie, and so on until Rawls presented the tune “All Lips Touch” as “inspired by the tender romance in Toy Story 3.”
The main definers for Still Flyin’ are:
1. They are adorable. Not calculated, cloying adorable. Just naturally adorable. The backup vocal trio’s handclaps, the subtle stage moves, the chemistry between them and the friendly spirit of collectivism is infectious. Not sure about the Hippie Dancer, but I’m told he is one of the core members. You probably don’t need me to underscore this, but they have fun, which goes a really long way in a live context.
2: They write good songs. Again, they aren’t shooting for high concept or the outer envelope of conventional music. Think of a crunchy, California take on Belle and Sebastian with a heavy ska influence and you get the picture. The rhythm section are particularly strong, allowing the guitars and keyboards to remain spare and tuneful. I loved them. LOVED. THEM. (Don’t miss their record release party at The Knockout on July 18th).
El Guincho hails from Barcelona by way of the Canary Islands and French boarding school, where he soaked up Tropicalia, roots rock and roll, and, without a doubt, a shitload of Animal Collective. He uses minimal keyboards and drum pads to bring the sound live, supplemented with an additional guitarist/vocalist. Their harmonies and energy constituted the main ingredients of the show and it worked.
Some of the new material, and Guincho’s way with a drumstick, got slightly trancey and bombastic. Rhythmic yet static. The guitarist seemed a little stiff at first. But they hit their stride midway through the set with their big single “Palmitos Park.”
Things took off from there and the place was a solid boogie. El Guincho’s grooves rely on very catchy vocal phrases and his voice, sounding slightly shot, has a sincere, energizing quality. By encore time they had pretty much the entire crowd up on stage with them. Party.