Sunday, April 19, 2009

Event Review: Junior Boys at Bimbo's

There was a moment at the Junior Boys show at Bimbo's on Thursday when I thought I had stepped into the filming of a John Hughes movie prom scene: there was the name of the band in neon-like EL wire at the back of the stage, the diffused red spotlight playing over the stage, the smoke machines, the OMD-like tunes, the stone-faced technician working the electronic controls, the lead singer crooning a gentle paean to young love, the swaying bodies of the audience. And, just as in a movie, the performance of the band seemed completely scripted, leading me, Kitty, and the boyfriend wondering what exactly was the point of seeing this band live.

In our household the Junior Boys often get played after a long night, when we're wanting some easy electronics to lull our senses and ease the transition from our evening's activities into sleep. I've never thought of them as particularly rocking, but I hoped that, in a live performance, I'd hear some new aspect of the music. I did, in fact, realize how closely related their sound is to the New Wave ballad, but this isn't exactly what I had hoped for. Like Royksopp, who we also heard at Bimbo's, they played straight-up album versions of every song, though the inclusion of a live drummer was a nice touch (except for those moments when the afore-mentioned technician and the drummer got slightly out of synch with each other).

The workman-like approach to the music might have been made up for in actual performance, but the stage set-up was more reminiscent of a studio layout than an attempt to present the band as living, breathing, emotive human beings. Center stage was a table of electronics and gear, with Johnny Dark working the controls. During the entire show he did not look up, dance to the music, or show any expression beyond focused attention. Jeremy Greenspan, meanwhile, was relegated to a side of the stage, where he spent half the time in shadow as he sang and played guitar. Greenspan has a wonderful voice in the tradition of so many smooth, R&B-influenced crooners, but for the majority of the time his attention was focused on addressing the microphone rather than the audience. There was no chat or banter, just efficient movement from one song to the another, wrapping up in a tidy hour. If I had seen a video of them recording a track, I'm sure it would have looked much like this performance.

The Junior Boys make some of the best shoegazer electro-pop around, but their show at Bimbo's was another lesson in how fantastic studio bands are often challenged by taking their music into a live performance setting. If a band like this is going to take their sound on the road, then there should be something about the live experience that brings something new to hearing the music; otherwise, hearing them from my own stereo is just as satisfying, and far less expensive.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Event Review: Gui Boratto at Paradise Lounge

For me, Gui Boratto is the guy who brought joy back to techno music. As sophisticated, cool, and deep as techno can be, it never lifted me up the way that progressive trance once did, at least not until I heard Chromophobia. With tracks like "Annunciation" and "Beautiful Life," and Superpitcher's remix of "Like You," Boratto was able to re-inject a note of happy positivity in a scene that is often focused primarily on the heady when it's not on the sexual.

Boratto played to a packed, almost too full house at Paradise Lounge on Friday, bringing in a crowd not just of techno heads, but a number of folks who probably spend most of their clubbing time at Ruby Skye or in the Marina - more than any other techno show I've attended recently, this one showed the ability of an accessible artist like Boratto to attract folks who still think that "techo" is interchangeable with "house" or "trance." Watching from the mezzanine around the dance floor, the crowd was clearly moved when Boratto (who smoked like a fiend behind the decks) dropped his biggest and most expansive tracks, but what he played between his big hits often came off as monotonous and not nearly as inspirational. The boyfriend noted that his tracks mostly use the same drum kit, and many structures, such as a snare hit on the three count, were commonly shared. This made for some extremely smooth mixing and transitions (Boratto was working primarly from a set-up of his own gear, including a Lemur), but after hearing a soaring anthem like "Beautiful Life," what followed often seemed more like a DJ tool to get to the next track. As thrilling as some moments of Boratto's performance was, I left thinking that, as a live performer, he needs to put more into the pacing and structure of the experience.

Local Hatchback opened for Boratto, and the very end of his set was among the best stuff I've heard from a San Francisco producer in a long while, with elements of space disco, classic synth pop, and the balearic anthem combining into a "naturally epic" sound, as he describes it on his myspace page. I'll certainly be keeping an eye peeled to catch more performances from Hatchback.

I still believe that Paradise Lounge is one of the best venues in the city, but this show made me think they're starting to have growing pains. Blasthaus sent out an email on Friday saying there would be an open bar from 10 - 11 PM, but when we arrived at 10.20, the doors were open only for those paying cash; those of us in the will-call line weren't allowed until after 10.30. Then, as we ordered drinks at the upstairs bar, we were told that the free drinks were downstairs only. We also discovered that neither of the upstairs bars had limes for drinks, and for the rest of the night we were served vodka and soda every time we ordered vodka tonics. If I'm going to pay $7 for a drink, then I want the right drink with the right garnish, please. We also inadvertantly stumbled into the "private bottle service" area when we went looking for the smoking room; believe me when I say that a velvet rope on a catwalk in a dark club, without anyone there for security, is going to get walked over. We were nice, though, and didn't take any of the booze we found back there, just smoked and left. By the way, at $200 for a bottle of Skye, and $250 for a bottle of Grey Goose, I'll take the Grey Goose, but I wonder why anybody would pay ten times the wholesale price for a bottle of booze and get stuck back in a room where you can't even watch the dancefloor.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Brief Update

It's been over a month since my last post, a period that's been, honestly, a bit depressing. Since being laid off I've spent a lot of time job hunting, creating the syllabi for my classes I'll be teaching in the Fall, and trying to work out the logistics of a cross-country move (cats, I should tell you, make everything more complicated). Although I have free time in abundance (a bit too much, honestly), I have not been taking too much advantage of my ability to stay up late and sleep in later, at least not in regard to going out. Since it's looking increasingly likely that I'll have to stretch the few funds I've accumulated and my unemployment checks until we leave in August, frugality has been my watchword, and it's hard to justify spending money on tickets, cover charges, and overpriced cocktails.

The boyfriend and I did catch Tipper at 1015 a few weeks ago (Tipper was great, the dubstep DJs who proceeded him not so much), and have plans for Gui Boratto at Paradise Lounge, Junior Boys at Bimbo's, and then back to Paradise Lounge for Superpitcher. Overall, though, it seems like there's not that much going on that makes me feel compelled to drop the bucks associated with a night out. Some of this can certainly be attributed to my need to detach myself a bit from the scene, but conversations here and there have made me think that I'm not the only person who finds the scene just a bit deflated right now.

When I went through 54 weeks of unemployment starting in the Summer of 2003 the situation was a bit easier to deal with, as I was spending a lot of time insinuating myself into the life of The City; if I didn't have work, I still had plenty to explore, people to meet, opportunities for hanging out. Now, though, as I'm in the process of disengaging, being unemployed is a pretty big bummer. Along with the usual depressive effects of being laid off and unable to find work, the drop-off in social engagement has begun to make me feel as if I've already left San Francisco, that I'm daily fading away as a presence in my social milieu.

I know that the street faire season kicks off soon, and I'm sure that clever Friscans will soon start coming up with recession-appropriate activities, all of which should provide me with an opportunity to beat my unemployment blues but, for the first time since moving here, I've begun to feel beaten down by The City.