Photos by Daniel Kielman
Noise Pop always saves the best for Saturday. As part of the weekend festivities, The Chapel hosted San Francisco’s newest favorite son Mikal Cronin, along with fuzzy West Coast compatriots Vertical Scratchers, Old Light, and Blood Sister.
At about 11pm, Cronin, clad in the shabby summer-camp tie-dye that’s become his trademark, started up. Backed by a band of longhairs that would have gotten under the skin of the establishment in the ‘60s, he wasted little time launching into a set of hit after hit.
Cronin’s been on a career high for the last year or so, which is strange to say because he’s barely embarked on a career. MCII, his second full-length, garnered high marks on many a year-end list for 2013. For all the hubbub that hangs over him, he’s still a man of few words onstage. He doesn’t have a huge presence himself — he shuffles around the stage, mumbles into the mic, heaves his mountain of hair out of his face when it gets too wild — but the sheer enormity of the music he makes more than makes up for it.
Cronin opened with a couple selections from his 2011 self-titled debut, a record that strongly foreshadowed his blowout success a short while later, then moved on to more recent material like “Shout It Out” and the smoldering “Change”. The crowd came prepared to sing along, matching Cronin word for word and providing a lot of off-key (but enthusiastic!) backing vocals for the many ooh-ooh-oohs that populate his work. Though The Beach Boys is an easy and often-invoked comparison for the native Southern Californian who weaves dreamy harmonies through layers of fuzz, he and his band took many cues from smoky blues and hard rock, improvising guitar solos and engaging in shred-heavy rock ‘n’ roll mayhem near the end, even indulging in a brief riff on “Back in Black” for laughs.
It was a dizzy, distorted night, one that kind of leaves you with little sense of time and place by the time it’s all over. Still, for someone of Cronin’s stature, it was kind of a short set — definitely not long enough for a Saturday night Noise Pop show. When he had finished, the crowd noise leveled at “really fucking loud” and the house lights refused to go back up. He obligingly returned for an encore, but but only under certain conditions: He would do one song solo, one with the band, “and then we’ll all go home and drive safe,” a statement that suddenly made him the most responsible person in the room. That said, he calmed the crowd with the mellow “Don’t Let Me Go”, then he and his band brought it back up again with “Whole Wide World”, a favorite cover of his. And then, per his instructions, everyone went home and (hopefully) drove safe.