Ringo Deathstarr at the Bottom of the Hill, by Kristin Cofer
Ringo Deathstarr (photo: Kristin Cofer)

Not being too familiar with the Texas outfit’s blend of psychedelia and heavy shoegaze, it wasn’t Ringo Deathstarr that drew me to this particular Noise Pop event, but rather the supporting locals. Oakland’s Crush had just weathered some lineup changes, and I was looking forward to catching their new drummer and maybe the debuting of some new material. Representing San Francisco’s Outer Sunset and fresh off a new release announcement, the evenings Noise Pop show was a great opportunity for Plush to play to large, receptive crowd.

Despite the prompt start time of 8pm, the room didn’t feel sparsely populated as Crush took the stage. Swelling chords and washy cymbals introduced “Soviet Life,” the hooky single off their new tape. You wouldn’t know it was their first show in over a month, as vocalists Jeff and Oliver harmonized “carve your name into cement, just because it’s permanent.” Although clearly indebted to ’90s rock acts, Crush rise above their influences, exploring atypical song structures and navigating away from verse/chorus arrangements to introduce tense and experimental bridges before returning to familiar territory. If they hadn’t introduced him, it would have been impossible to tell that it was Kevin Figueroa’s (Conversation, Cotillon, Tiny Head) first show with the band — the performance was possibly one of their best, and the new material saw Crush departing somewhat from their “musclegaze” sound and heading towards something more nimble and nuanced.

“My mom’s here,” announced Karli Helm, Plush’s frontwoman, as they prepared for their set. Plush have only been playing together for about a year, but the chemistry is undeniable — Eva and Sinclair have been playing together in The She’s since high school and the four have known each other for just about as long. Their set really hit its stride during the second song, Karli’s voice breaking into a bit of scream on the chorus, “There’s a hook in me, there’s a hook in you.” The simple arrangements are carried by the foursome’s impressive vocal abilities, Sinclair effortlessly hitting harmonies behind Karli’s powerful voice. The set was filled out by new songs off their first tape with Father/Daughter Records, who are quickly becoming one of the San Francisco’s most talked-about labels and bringing together an eclectic roster of artists. If people hadn’t already been anticipating April’s tape release, the performance definitely sparked new curiosities.

Bed. were the main support for Ringo Deathstarr, and their set was also carried by the abilities of a talented vocalist. The interplay between the two vocalists was the most interesting part of the set, but the songs lacked a sense of urgency or a strong emotional undercurrent, and it wasn’t quite my thing, though the band was very capable. My curiosity was piqued for Ringo Deathstarr’s set by this point, as people continued to arrive in time just to catch their set and what had already seemed to be a full room grew more densely packed.

Welding an impressively full sound for a three piece, Ringo Deathstarr tore through half an hour of dense shoegaze rock tracks. The performance was exceptional, all three members deftly commanding their instruments, but there was something empty about the set. It wasn’t that it was so tightly rehearsed or clearly a set that the group had played countless times before, it was that they were only the sum of their influences. Just like the likable, tongue-in-cheek Beatles-meets-Star Wars portmanteau that is their name, the three piece play music that was pioneered by innovators in the ’80s and ’90s and replicate it to, in my opinion, a fault. It felt uninspired and crowd-pleasing, but perhaps that’s their goal: pure entertainment. I kind of understood why you might just show up for their set, not wanting to drudge through an hour and a half of music before you could get your rock fix. They are clearly great students of their craft, but haven’t taken what they know to new heights.

The highlights for me were the blossoming local bands, and while Bed. and Ringo Deathstarr came prepared with air-tight sets, I felt the inspired performances of Crush and Plush far out shined the seasoned touring bands.