A few weeks ago at a the Balanced Breakfast music conference, I heard Mike Deni, lead singer and visionary behind the band Geographer, recount a story from years past in which Deni ran up one of the city’s highest peaks and stood looking at the epic views of San Francisco. Some day I’m gonna own this town, he recalled thinking. Well, that has day long since come. As he showed Thursday night at the Independent, headlining a sold-out Noise Pop show, Deni has secured Geographer’s place as one of San Francisco’s treasured musical gems.
If you’re not familiar with the band, you should know that they fit the mold of the modern musician where genre-melding innovation rules. What may have started as an electro-indie rock endeavor has come to reference R&B, soul, ambient electronic, even modern classical music with minimalist repetition of pulsing melodic phrases. The result is intimate while staying energetic even in the slower paced tunes.
Between the four band members on stage, there were three synthesizers, an electric cello, two electric guitars, two cowbells, a drum machine, a drum kit (with extra cymbals and toms), a MIDI controller, a tambourine, and a saxophone. Each instrument was played with precision and passion, but it was Deni’s crystal-clear voice, with impeccable tone at every part of his vocal range, that made the set soar.
The band electrified the crowd from the first notes, and kept the pace flowing throughout the 90 minute set with excitement and energy. Playing songs from across the catalog, they also played “So Low” and “Read My Mind” — the first two singles off the band’s forthcoming EP Alone Time, due out in the next few months. The crowd roared their approval for each, begged for an encore, and were treated to 3 extra songs.
A particularly touching moment came when Deni announced that this was the band’s last show with guitarist Duncan Nielsen, aka DONCAT, who is leaving to focus on his own musical projects. The crowd moaned a boisterous “Noooooooo!” as Deni gave an earnest thanks to Nielsen for the effort and heart he’s given the band through the last three years. The two hugged before starting in on “I’m ready” with dueling guitars at the front of the stage. “If we truly are in love with living / Then you have got to let it go.”
During the last song of the main set, “Kites,” Deni came to the front of the stage and reached back to one of the hands outstretched towards him. Other hands reached towards him. He reached back to them all, leaning further to reach just one more person again and again. Singing, dancing, reaching, connecting. This is what it’s all about.
A special thanks to musician Reporter, in attendance, who saved this writer from missing the show by sharing her extra ticket after traffic kept me from arriving in time to get in with my badge. And a shout out to two of the opening bands – with apologies to Outer Embassy — for missing their set due to the aforementioned traffic.
Main support Andrew St. James brought some solid folk-rock to the night, with gorgeous harmonies, indelible hooks and an infectious high energy. The on-again, off-again San Franciscan certainly carries the homage to the city’s glorious musical past. A highlight: the band bringing DONCAT out for a couple of ripping guitar solos.
Emily Afton is a star! Her supporting set was genre-defying mad magic, a sort of electro-pop dream rock. Though the San Franciscan said this was her first time playing the Independent, she owned the room and could easily have been the main event herself. Definitely one to keep a close eye on.