Photos by Nicole L. Browner
It’s not always clear which part of Noise or Pop you’re going to encounter for any specific show — or frankly, whether the festival has a specific theme at all, besides a load of great musicians dropping into SF for a week — but the Ceremony show on Wednesday night at Rickshaw Stop proved to be a solid booking from top-to-bottom: hardcore, noise, fuzz rock, and circle-pit inducing guitar riffs all blasted out at one time or another throughout the night.
SF-based Bay Bridged favorites Synthetic ID kicked it off with a furious set of barking, jagged post-punk — at least a few of the songs coming from their Apertures LP available from Oakland’s 1-2-3-4 Go! Records. I hesitate to say it, but their sound was perfect: drums, bass, and guitar all separated by clear audio divisions, a dry but heated tone that felt like speeding through the desert listening to hi-fi Joy Division recordings (if Joy were more punk).
Transitioning from post-punk’s controlled aggression to the screaming hardcore of Permanent Ruin produced an odd moment in the room, when a few die-hards started smashing themselves into the statuesque cool kids on the edges of the crowd. Perhaps the most narrowly genre-specific band on the bill, PR lost me for a minute — full disclosure, I’ve never been a big fan of screaming female vocals (sexist, I know). Closing the set with another bruiser of a song, PR left after only about 30 minutes.
Compared to their January show at Submission, Redwood City’s Comadre sounded noticeably better playing the full A-side of their new self-titled LP, lending the set a mature, post-hardcore sound. The band seemed to thrive as lock step bass and drums would rage and recess behind Juan Gabe’s melodic screaming. There was a furious and cathartic moment about half way through the set when the bass dropped back in after a significant (and intentional) absence, an absorbing testimony to the skill with which Comadre crafts tension.
Thereafter, it was up to the catchy fuzz punk of San Francisco’s Terry Malts to set the stage for Ceremony. The band played a few new songs, in addition to the guaranteed-to-please hits from 2012’s Killing Time LP (which Juan Gabe of Comadre proudly called his album of the year during the aforementioned Submission set). Terry Malts are exactly what you think of when you try to imagine a noise pop genre (actually, maybe you just think of Xiu Xiu; no matter, as I’m talking about the other kind of noise pop that’s more pop than noise). Whereas the rest of the bill’s bands weren’t looking to joke around, TM brought a friend onstage to yell at them for stiffing a mock Subway sponsorship — a goofy little moment that devolved into one sandwich flying into the crowd and then being immediately puked back out with increased vigor, flying just past bassist/singer Phil Benson’s left shoulder.
To finish off the noisiest Noise Pop show I’ve ever attended, Rohnert Park ex-hardcore veterans Ceremony took the stage. Lead singer Ross Farrar wore blue jeans and a tucked-in white t-shirt — a so-uncool-it’s-cool look — that, in conjunction with how much he looks like Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell, gave off a weirdly menacing vibe. The band opened with the single “Hysteria” from their 2012 LP Zoo (which completed the band’s transition from hardcore to post-punk/alt rock group), a song that sounds oddly like Blur’s woo hoo “Song 2” given an evil dead, politically charged makeover. Although I haven’t heard much of the group’s catalogue, it was easy to tell when the band moved from older, frantic hardcore (especially when Farrar semi-sarcastically mumbled “hardcore lives, hardcore lives” between songs) to the sulking, post-punk of Zoo.
I overheard a few audience members mention that it was the tamest Ceremony show they’d ever seen. As a new fan, I’m more than willing to give the band the benefit of the doubt — first of all, it’s hell getting old, and new styles will almost always alienate the genre purists. You really can’t please ’em all, but Ceremony tried, letting fans steal the microphone away from Farrar, disconnect the drumset microphones, and group hug Farrar mid-song. And anyway, there were some seriously insane mosh pits for a lineup like this on a Wednesday night. After five sets, the show — like Ceremony — ended in a hard-to-define state, blasts of fuzz, noise, hardcore, and post-punk still vibrating within the walls.