For the last several years, residents of San Francisco have been force-fed a narrative that the city is changing for the worst and that downward spiral is irreversible, particularly from a cultural standpoint.
The story being that a combination of rising rents, ceaseless influx of tech-bros and rapidly changing neighborhoods have priced out all the weirdos and creative types, leaving the city bereft of daring and talented artists.
Yet while San Francisco certainly has its issues — ongoing gentrification chief among them — there is clearly still a deep pool of exciting and innovating artists who call this place home.
That was acutely on display on Wednesday night at The Knockout, where three local groups impressed with their diverse, engaging and fearless performances (all of which could be witnessed for $6.)
Opening act Air Surgeon led off the night (promptly at 11 p.m. — oh to be young and in the Mission) with a collection of sleek, nocturnal-sounding songs, borrowing at times from the oeuvre of Roxy Music. Tiaras followed with an equally strong set that showcased their unique blend of garage-infused electronic pop.
The real highlight of the night, however, was headliners Dominant Legs, performing live for the first time in a year and a half. Legs’ founder and chief songwriter Ryan Lynch recently revived the band as a two-person outfit, with him and drummer Noah Brodsky handling all the duties.
The duo played a set comprised completely of new songs, eschewing the band’s previous work (which meant, sadly, that the unstoppable “Hoop of Love” was absent.) The decision to introduce all the new material was not surprising, given that Lynch said he doesn’t want to dwell too much on the band’s past.
Impelled by Brodsky’s aggressive drumming style, the seven-song set that the group powered through on Wednesday night featured a more muscular take on the 80s-infused pop leanings that Lynch so masterfully crafts. His guitar seemed to be amped up a notch or two above the normal Dominant Legs’ settings, and his vocals, usually expressed in a breathy, graceful manner, had more urgency and exhortation to them. With only two members on stage, the band relied on some programming, which included eerie bits of dialogue that could be heard during lulls in the music, adding yet another new dimension to the group’s sound.
It’s a little cliché to say that live performances can be cathartic for artists, but the band seemed to truly relish being on stage after their extended absence. The crowd assembled at the show seemed to notice that as well, heartily cheering on Lynch and Brodsky, despite having little familiarity with the new material. (It was a pretty impressive audience as well — members of the band Weekend, which formed in San Francisco, were in attendance, as was Lynch’s former Dominant Legs’ bandmate Hannah Hunt and Christopher Owens, who fronted the nationally-lauded SF band Girls before disbanding the group in 2012.)
Lynch recently moved back to San Francisco, after experimenting with life in New York City and other locales. His return certainly isn’t a harbinger for a mass exodus of musicians coming back to San Francisco, but it does mean that there is one more supremely gifted songwriter in the city. The performances at The Knockout on Wednesday proved that San Francisco still has plenty to offer in the realm of the arts.