Last Night: Trashcan Sinatras at Cafe du Nord
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Café Du Nord
Better Than: Any other Scottish band on a wet weeknight in San Francisco
The Trashcan Sinatras are one of pop's--and Scotland's--best-kept secrets. They've been around for two decades, winning fans via extensive college radio airplay in the States (the video for "Hayfever" even turned up for mockery on Beavis and Butt-head), but never quite reached the mainstream like their countrymen Teenage Fanclub or Travis. Singer Francis Reader had a sweet, mournful croon long before Thom Yorke or Fran Healy, while the Trashcan Sinatras' songs are melodic, thoughtful, and sharp.
Despite an absence of several years, the band sold out two nights at the Café Du Nord when the tour was announced. Many of the women in the audience resembled Scarlett Johansson in glasses, while the men looked like smart math experts. I expected to hear more Scottish accents, but was disappointed, although fans had traveled from far and wide (two fans named Michael and Hilland were originally from Tehachapi, which they called "redneck California").!--break-->
The band seemed crammed onto the Du Nord stage; there were three guitarists, a bassist, and a keyboardist, plus a drummer. The guitars chimed sweet alpine harmonies, inviting comparisons with early James and the Smiths. Reader is a dead ringer for Doctor Who star David Tennant in Jarvis Cocker's heavy-framed glasses. He still sings like an earnest angel, with the clear and pure voice and a yearning that once earned comparisons to Morrissey and Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera.
For the first few songs of the set, there was no onstage banter. The audience was thrilled and awestruck, simply happy for the Sinatras to be there, and the band seemed to just settle in and enjoy the show.
The setlist was a mix of old and new: "All the Dark Horses," from 2004's Weightlifting, was dedicated to "all of you guys who came out tonight." The folky new song "I Hung My Harp Upon the Willows" quoted Scottish poet Robert Burns and was quietly lovely. On the whole, though, the Sinatras focused on new material. From the upcoming album In the Music (released in the U.S. in the fall) came the slightly adult-radio-friendly "People," "Oranges and Apples" (a sweetly strummed tribute to Syd Barrett), "The Engine," and "Should I Pray?" (the last of which, recorded in Martha's Vineyard, features guest vocals by Carly Simon, obviously absent tonight). "Got Carried Away" and the exhilarating "All the Dark Horses" (from Weightlifting) were also greeted warmly. Modest to the end, the Trashcan Sinatras stepped down from the stage after the encore and slipped quietly out of the room.
Personal Bias: Scotland is possibly the most fertile ground for pop music since the Brill Building.
Random Detail: I discussed Mark E. Smith's great, sarcastic autobiography, Renegade, with Trashcan Sinatras' merch guy, Ian.
By the way: The Trashcan Sinatras play another show at the Du Nord tonight. Advance tickets are sold out, but you could try to get a door ticket.