Each club has its own personality. Some are prompt and efficient. Others take it easy late into the night. Some have out of the box light show programs, while others put up a few desk lamps.
Cafe Du Nord has made good for years now on their formula of getting multiple bands on and off on schedule and refusing to light the entire right half of the stage. But it is a flagship Noise Pop venue, long on ambiance, good beer and good cheer, which this representative of the press appreciates.
Friday night’s bill could be lumped into the shopworn “shoegaze” category, only because the four acts are united by a penchant for noisy guitars and serious lyrics. We attended primarily to sample two promising local acts — Oakland’s Wax Idols and rising stars (along with Young Prisms and Melted Toys, who seem to be everywhere all of a sudden) The Soft Moon.
Wax Idols are Heather Fedewa’s project, and freshly-minted. She propels the sound with her U2/Big Country guitar leads and raw-edged girl group vocals. She has the good fortune of anchoring her band with drummer Courtney Gray and guitarist/singer Ashley Thomas, late of east bay garage rockers The Splinters. (Courtney, without a doubt the smiliest, most cheerful badass drummer of our time, lamented between sets that two of the Splinters are now based in New York, but also reports that she and Ashley are working on a side project on top of Wax Idols).
I was completely taken with this band. Fedewa has a feel for catchy vocal hooks and fat arrangements. She belts the lyrics with a strong, earnest voice that recalls Debbie Harry. Although this group’s energy is a stark departure from The Splinters’ jolly slumber party rave ups, Fedewa couldn’t have more energetic and precise backing than her recruits from The Splinters, and Joey Ramone-meets-Hansen brothers bassist Paul Keelan. (We love bands with only one guy).
The sincere emotion and effects-rich guitar sound align them with many bands currently mining the 80s for inspiration. But they put their own personality on it, mercifully avoiding the “vintage Jesus and Mary Chain meets prime Joy Division” tag that has us all running for cover already.
The Soft Moon had their work cut out for them and they got right down to business, piling up racks of compact keyboards and effects pedals. They produce a pounding, energetic take (thanks largely to Justin Anastasi’s excellent bass) on echo-drenched guitar pop, and seem ready to accept comparisons to Joy Division et al and come out ahead.
To their credit, they have the presentation side down. Identical tall Ian Curtis look-a-likes Anastasi and Damon Way kept their jackets on throughout, while if-Paul-Simon-was-in-New-Order guitarist/singer Luis Vasquez flailed around just enough. The black and white test-pattern projections were a plus rather than a distraction. Kudos must go to keyboardist Way for whipping out his tiny flashlight to adjust effects between songs.
With any live act that uses a processed drummer, it really comes down to the songs and the performance. In both respects, The Soft Moon were convincing and entertaining. They used the typical leads — guitar and voice — as textural elements equal to the melody and rhythm and they managed to bring energy to the fairly synthetic equation. Vasquez balances good humor with the sincerity and seriousness that the songs call for, and to his credit, does not hesitate to end each song right at the end.
The taxis were, at this point, disgorging the eager Noise Pop minions onto the sidewalk. On this night, fashionably late was a sorry waste. A van up the street distracted us with bargains on Scandinavian footwear…
The Black Ryder mine the male/female lead vocals to craft an introspective, emotional take on the shoegaze template. They echo earlier bands like Stereolab and (the Swedish) Mono in their worldly, continental flavor.
Tamaryn brings an Ann Wilson meets Kate Bush vibe to the guitar band template, riding a husky, mysterious alto.
The Black Ryder
The Soft Moon