I can’t blame the organizers of Noise Pop if they thought no one would be too torn up about having to choose between American Football or Carly Rae Jepsen — I mean, who would reasonably suspect there exists an overlap in their respective fanbases? Well chances are if you’ve gotten yourself a badge to one of the Bay Area’s all-around best festivals, back for its 24th year on February 18, that you might be one of those listeners who has such impeccable taste that you are equally big on both 90’s emo-rock and 80’s-inspired dance-pop. The good news for you is that this year’s Noise Pop lineup is one of the festival’s best schedules, with a wide swatch of offerings ranging from hardcore to soft rock and folk-punk to maximalist jazz. The bad news is that with over 80 artists playing the festival over the course of six days, you’ll inevitably miss more incredible music than you will see.
Which is not to discourage you from the festivities — no matter where you end up each night you’ll inevitably find yourself watching an awesome performance given how top-to-bottom fantastic this lineup is. It’s just that the sheer number of options available each evening could overwhelm even the most narrowly focused of music fans. Noise Pop isn’t making things easy as they provide one of the greatest and most agonizing weeks in a San Francisco music fan’s year.
Since we are all painstakingly mapping out our festival experiences in solidarity, I thought I would share some of the criteria I’m using to figure out my own plans, which could hopefully ease your own cognitive overload a bit. To keep things comparably simple, I’ll be focusing solely on days with conflicting concerts; but do take into account the vast number of film events occurring concurrently during the week that will inevitably cause more absence-induced anxiety. And to be clear, this is just one writer’s viewpoint on a complicated situation of concert optimization — individual tastes, preferences, and capacities will determine what show will really be the best for each reader to attend from night to night.
Tuesday February 23: Diane Coffee vs. Astronauts Etc. vs. Metric vs. iLoveMakonnen
Metric has been all misses as of late with their latest album cycle, so while in the past this would be a no brainer and I would advocate any and all to go see Emily Haines and co. deliver their musical fireworks, as of now I unfortunately expect their show at The Masonic to be as filled with yawns of apathy as breaths of awe. Instead I’m anticipating the most jaw-dropping performance of the night to be delivered by Oakland’s very own Astronauts Etc., whose debut album Mind Out Wandering was one of the most delicately dazzling records of 2015. Anthony Ferraro, the mastermind of the project, will be playing his largest headlining show in the Bay Area at The Independent, a venue that is perfectly suited for his piano-rock wizardry. However, there is definitely an argument to be made for letting iLoveMakonnen host your evening with his off-kilter R&B — as the one-hit wonder gone two-hit wonder gone several-hit wonder has been building up over the past few years a surprisingly dense catalogue of syrupy sing-song bangers. Plus you’ll actually get to see “Tuesday” performed on a Tuesday, and all your Snapchat friends will go nuts.
Wednesday, February 24th: Wild Ones vs. Ringo Deathstarr vs. Andrew Jackson Jihad vs. Heartwatch vs. Mitski vs. La Sera vs. Kneedelus
All the catharsis of this night is going to be concentrated at Swedish American Hall, where Mitski is expected to pour herself into a jar and smash said jar on the floor. Although a student musician, her music is seemingly informed by emotional abandon rather than compositional acumen (but nonetheless is expertly crafted). With her guitar held high as she lashes out at external sexism, implicit subordination, and internalized self-deprecation, Mitski will be at the center of what might amount to the most powerful performance of the entire festival. If you needed any more reason to attend, Ryan Adams co-signed singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers will be opening and is a soon-to-be-star in her own right. Anyone looking for something a little more casual or light-hearted should stay away, and should instead find solace in the muscular slacker-grind of La Sera (fronted by Katy Goodman a.k.a the former bassist of Vivian Girls).
Thursday February 25th: Julien Baker vs. Kamasi Washington vs. Bill Callahan vs. The Thermals vs. Antwon vs. Day Wave vs. The Magician
Thursday night of NoisePop has the potential to be the highlight of the whole week, in part because of the very doable possibility of seeing two great performances in the same night! Kamasi Washington will be playing both an early and a late show at The Independent, meaning if you time it right you can catch his first set and then run/Lyft over to Swedish American Hall before Bill Callahan takes the stage. Thus, in one night, you would become witness to a master of maximalist and modern jazz, as well as a lo-fi underground rock and folk legend. The only justifiable alternative I can accept would be to substitute Julien Baker into your proceedings, as her debut album Sprained Ankle revealed a battered but bold voice that is only to become increasingly loud as more and more discover her and tune in.
Friday February 26th: The Cave Singers vs. Vince Staples vs. Hamilton Leithauser and Paul Maroon vs. Beacon vs. Parquet Courts vs. John Moreland vs. Drive Like Jehu vs. Painted Palms vs. Sango
If you missed Drive Like Jehu at Treasure Island this past year, correct for that mistake now and go see them at The Independent. If you did catch their ferocious mid-afternoon set, then you are already in the know about the band’s live prowess and I can’t imagine you’ll willingly miss another serving. All in all, this should be a relatively simple decision, but if the intensity of the hardcore legends isn’t even in the slightest bit your cup of tea, then you should make your way over to Swedish American Hall to see Hamilton Leithauser and Paul Maroon (both formerly of The Walkmen). The duo will likely be performing cuts from their vinyl-only joint album Dear God, as well as hopefully some of the exuberant chamber pop-rock featured on Leithauser’s solo debut Black Hours; both records of beauty and joyfulness delivered by one of indie-rock’s greatest vocalists.
Saturday February 27th: The Soft White Sixties vs. The Mountain Goats vs. Carly Rae Jepson vs. Cayucas vs. Film School vs. American Football vs. DIIV vs. Wax Idols vs. Vince Staples vs. Neon Indian
For those of you who prioritize both DIIV and The Mountain Goats above all else on this lineup, you are in luck! Both acts are playing back-to-back shows on Saturday and Sunday, such that you can check out The Mountain Goats first and DIIV the next day without any remorse about missing one or the other (you’ll much prefer DIIV at The Independent to Brick and Mortar Music Hall, trust me). For everyone else, however, this is going to be a day of much agony and remorse. American Football is a bucket-list band for many, and they are the clear standout for those like me who have listened to “Never Meant” on repeat for hours at a time. But no matter how much I want to see the recently reunited one-album wonders, a wrench was thrown directly at my confidence in that decision by the presence of Carly Rae Jepson — who last year put out a knock-out record of emotionally nuanced infatuation that wound up being one of the best of 2015. Her live show is guaranteed to be nothing but pure delight — a vast chasm away from the anxiety-inducing experience offered by American Football. But if both sound appealing to you, keep in mind American Football was formally only active for about three years, and who knows how long this new reincarnation will last; but also keep in mind that Carly Rae Jepson is one of the few pop artists with a vast catalogue of quality operating at the relatively intimate scale of The Warfield.
For those of you who don’t want to run any emotional extremes and would instead prefer just an awesome San Francisco band playing awesome rock music at an awesome venue — go see The Soft White Sixties at The Chapel. But if you’re a local who is looking for imported fair unlikely to be in the area anytime soon after, then Vince Staples and Neon Indian are very solid alternate options to all the previously mentioned artists. Vince is riding a wave of critical acclaim and public favor at the moment, and is currently one of the most promising voices in hip-hop with a modern-classic debut album behind him. It is hard to argue against his show at The Independent, but Neon Indian at the Mezzanine is where anyone who is trying to dance their troubles away should be. That artist-venue pairing just seems perfectly constructed to ensure a dazzling night.
Sunday February 28th: The Mountain Goats (Solo) vs. DIIV
Breathe a sigh of relief — you only have two choices to labor over! If you saw either act the previous evening, then go ahead and check out the other guilt free! Or perhaps you were so blown away the night before that you choose to double-up for consecutive shows by the same band. All the power to you! But given the chaos of Saturday, I expect many of you will be entering Sunday without having seen either DIIV or The Mountain Goats. The latter is a band that boasts considerable superfans, such that if you don’t hold John Darnielle on top a pedestal of reverence, you might feel out of place. DIIV will prove a safer choice for many, as ethereal dream pop tends to be widely accessible and the band’s own particular brand is very immediately pleasing. Regardless of where you end up, however, both bands will prove to be highly satisfying conclusions to your festival experience — so maybe just flip a coin and enjoy your evening of relatively stress-free decision making after almost a whole week of the opposite.