On the first night of Noise Pop, festival attendees at Starline Social Club were greeted by a calming presence in the form of Stephen Steinbrink, Sonoda, and Mutual Benefit. Often, “intimate” is an overly romanticized way to harp on the ability of an artist to command a room, but here, it was clear that the small audience of under 100 were willing to be captured from the start.
Steinbrink, an Oakland-based artist, opened the night with an acoustic set, beckoning others to settle into the night. In the small room, audience members mostly sat as Steinbrink worked through much of his record, Utopia Teased, recorded in the aftermath of the tragic Ghost Ship fire. But with grief came clarity, as Steinbrink soothing voice and strings offered a path out of pain.
Keeping up with this optimism, Los Angeles-based Sonoda brought their version of meditative pop, after doing a fitting soundcheck to the musical Annie’s “Tomorrow.” The four-piece band kept the relaxed atmosphere alive, equipped with droney synths, and dreamy vocals from the project’s creator, Lisa Sonoda.
Closing out the night was veteran Jordan Lee, better known as Mutual Benefit, who brought his signature quietly disarming folk to the Oakland crowd. Having been releasing music for over a decade, Lee’s music is a tender universe full of dreams and peaceful sentiments for a better world. Lee has an impeccable ability to patch field recordings and orchestral arrangements to turn his pensive thoughts into soothing hymns beaming with warmth. In Oakland, this was no different, as he and his touring bandmate went through his catalog, at times reworking tracks with vocoder and modulations.
Lee fully took advantage of the space, making heartwarming jokes in hushed tones as the audience remained quiet throughout. It was a true testament to his earnest, somber, and restorative presence.
Lee provides us the tranquility — we just have to immerse ourselves in its calm, and the Oakland audience did so in spades.