Snail Mail (photo: William Wayland)
So, here we are: my first San Francisco show since moving away for graduate school one year ago. I’m back for the summer, or at least part of it, and it feels good — good to tire myself out walking up and down hills, to reunite with my one true love the Pacific Ocean, and to (finally!) eat a really good burrito.
I first saw Snail Mail live when the band — the project of Lindsey Jordan — opened for Waxahatchee at the Fillmore. Then, as now, I was struck with the apparent clarity in Jordan’s vision; the sense that Jordan had carved out each song until it rang. And it feels appropriate for Snail Mail to be my first show back: the gig is at Swedish American Hall, a venue I’ve frequented so much I know their WiFi password, and Jordan is supported by Rose Droll, a local artist whose voice I have admired in a handful of glued-together DIY venues before I’ve admired it in this larger, cathedral-esque space, with its high wooden ceilings and hushed, darkly-lit corners.
Much has been made of Lindsey Jordan’s age — in 2015, when Jordan started playing live, Jordan was only 16 years old. But in performance, there’s nothing green about her. At the SAH, Jordan commands a sold-out crowd, quieting those lingering by the bar simply by playing with surety. For the most part, Jordan doesn’t stop to chat with the crowd — she plays her music deftly, with a kind of relentless attitude that might seem at odds with the musician’s unassuming lyrics, but instead comes across as a sort of relaxed efficiency; as though, at 19, Jordan has already worn her role as an indie-rock star into a comfortable second skin.
Yet Jordan doesn’t come across as unfriendly: at one point, she stops to share a story about visiting a “gay bookstore” before arriving at the gig. The bookstore, it turns out, is City Lights — but the number of suggestions shouted from the crowd only underlines just how many people have come to see Snail Mail, and how many of them are ready to jump at the chance to interact with the band. Frankly, it’s the most crowded I’ve ever seen SAH, and there are drawbacks to that, too — by the end of the show, the venue has become almost unbearably hot, and I exit into the cool San Francisco night almost desperate to be away from the crowd. But it is encouraging to see so many folks show up. By 8:30, while Rose Droll is still on stage, the hall is filled. By the time Detroit-based Bonny Doon takes the stage, there’s barely any room to move about.
It’s a push-and-pull, as consuming art always is, for me at least: The buoyant joy of pressing to the front of the crowd to watch Snail Mail’s initial jam onstage balanced by crouching in the dark, unable to find a seat but determined to last out the show; my nerves shot by being back, and by the possibility of running into people I know in the crowd, balanced by closing my eyes and letting the music wash over me in the dark; the heat of the crowd balanced by the cool of the fog.