Last Night: All Shook Down Music Festival in North Beach

Categories: Last Night
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Joseph Schell
Janelle Monae
All Shook Down Festival
North Beach
July 25, 2010
Better Than:
Getting all shook down in North Beach for the very first time.

Disco dancers, cowboys, glam girls, hipsters, indie rockers, hip-hoppers, sock-hoppers, punk rockers, clash city rockers, category-defiers and more: there was a little something for everyone yesterday at the All Shook Down festival in North Beach. If the cognitive dissonance from having so many different types of music in so small a geographical space didn't get to you, then you obviously weren't running from venue to venue fast enough. It's the tragic beauty of every good festival -- too many good bands to see, all playing around the same time.

Luckily, some of them played twice. Take Forrest Day. The SF-based band first took the main stage, which was positioned outdoors on Green Street, at around 2:35 p.m. and played until nearly 4 p.m. But saying that Forrest Day just "plays" is an understatement. Yesterday, the self-described "experimental funk/hip-hop/rock" band put on a high-octane show that had grooves so clean and tight they got heads nodding all over the festival grounds.

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Joseph Schell
Forrest Day
Frontman Day appears tireless, and his constant jumping around, combined with the free-styling and saxophone playing, was exhausting just to watch. Which is why this might have been the last group one would expect to put on an even more exhilarating show about six measly hours later. But they did. More on that to come. In the meantime, the main stage had another dance-fever-inducing act to host following Day: a tiny, luminous ball of talent named Janelle Monae.

Monae had her crowd at Grim Reaper. Three Grim Reapers, that is. Her show began with three black hooded figures facing the back of the stage, teasing an already overeager audience with anticipation for the main event. When Monae stepped out from behind one of the black cloaks, the crowd squealed. This is what they had come to see. When she grabbed the mic, her pompadour jerking in time to the beat, it quickly became clear why.

With fog rising behind her, Monae took command of the outdoor stage from the moment she stepped on it. And she was dressed the part, sporting a school marm-type 19th Century women's blouse with a collar higher than that guy in the front who was surrounded by a cloud of smoke. Her music was contagiously dance-a-licious, amplified by the way she threw her body into every note.

Every song seemed a new chapter in the saga of her set, each chapter offering something unique. Monae began with her specialty: an upbeat disco funk tune called "Faster," which meshed into "Locked Inside," but then quickly U-turned into the old standard "Smile," where she got a chance to show off her vocal skills. When "Tightrope" finally came to pass, the packed crowd was riled. So riled that one guy actually managed to briefly jump on stage and tightrope with Monae before being promptly hauled off by security.

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Joseph Schell
Neon Indian crowd
Monae was not an easy act to follow on the main stage. However, some folks chose to skip the Monae show entirely for a chance to have what felt like an intimate get together -- and/or something far more drunken -- with locals Personal and the Pizzas at the Columbus Cafe, a dark and cozy bar on the periphery of the main stage. The Pizzas show and the Monae show could not have been more different. Whereas Monae appeared to have her show planned out by the minute, when I stepped into the Pizzas show, band members were consulting the audience on the song they should play next.

If the mics weren't buzzing so bad, the Pizzas may have rocked the place Ramones-style (their self-described sound, ONE RAMONES RIFF+ONE STOOGES RIFF+BEER, turns out to be pretty accurate). They left the crowd with a suggestion to buy albums out of their trunk, and a solid piece of wisdom: "What time is it? It's time for another beer."

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Joseph Schell
Neon Indian
Neon Indian was next up on the main stage, and although much of the Monae crowd had dispersed, the Texas-based electro-pop wiz kept the audience well-packed enough to distract from the approaching fog bank. The show started off a bit slow, and I found myself having to adjust to a show that involved a lot of bending over machines rather than the eye-candy and dance numbers we got with Monae. But once Neon Indian got going, the crowd got going with him.

In the coffeehouse setting of the Savoy Tivoli club up the street, S.F.-based Tiny Television was playing to a far less rowdy crowd. The alt-country sound might have been better-suited for an outdoor venue -- like a warm summer night in the deep south with lots of fireflies twinkling. The combination of fiddle and harmonica made the darker songs this band played really stand out from the others.

I thought Television deserved a bigger crowd than it got at the start, and I got my wish when the venue started filling up at the last few songs of the set. By the end, the now-packed house demanded an encore, which ended in a singalong, with the entire house singing Springsteen's "I'm on Fire."

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Joseph Schell
Tiny Television
By 8 p.m., much of the daytime festival crowd had either gone into the clubs or called it a day. (Too bad for those who left -- there were still great acts to be seen.) The Oakland Faders never faded once, as far as I could tell, during their epic takeover of the Royale club from 2 p.m. to midnight. The crowd was stoked -- I never once saw that dance floor empty when I stepped in to check out the scene throughout the day and night (even if the dance floor seemed to be populated primarily by ladies).

Which brings us back to Forrest Day, who riled the crowd into a downright frenzy with its second show of the day, this time at Mojito. I don't have all the details on how the show ended (rumor has it the Day played until he couldn't play any longer -- literally.), but it started with a whole lotta dancing. Fists were pumping and bodies writhing, even while a piece of sax had to be replaced. The seamlessness-despite-great-odds had a lot to do with the cameo from Jazz Mafia All Stars' Dublin in both the first and second shows.   

Folks who lasted until 11 p.m. got a reward when S.F.-based Birds and Batteries took to the stage at Maggie McGarry's. They were a good end-of-the-night band that deserved a slightly fresher crowd. During their set, I saw more than one person on the dance floor take one to several tumbles while trying to bust a move. Birds and Batteries makes a lot of sound -- combining three keyboards, a bass, drums, vocals, and other percussion -- but it's a lot of sound that works together. The result is something unique and also familiar, which comes across both in their live show and their studio sound.  

A few other bands I caught: Odessa Chen -- amazing voice, poetic lyrics, but waaaay too low-key to get anyone stoked for the start of the festival when she played. Boca Do Rio -- incredible musicians that also appeared to have accidentally seduced all of the ladies in the club by the end of their first song. Mister Loveless -- I heard someone in the crowd say, "That band rocked" after their set, and then went to seek a CD. The Ferocious Few -- I wrote down in my notes, "minimalist punk elegance," which I'm not sure came from me or somewhere else, but I'm pretty sure it's appropriate.

Critic's Notebook:

By the way: Next year, nix on the VIP area right in front of the main stage. A-w-k-w-a-r-d. Just sayin.

Overheard in the crowd: "There's no f--kin cops here, so why not?"

Lines: Overall, they weren't bad. Line for pizza got long at the end of the night, but even that was bearable.

Best semi-dirty joke of the night: Q: "What's the difference between one used tire and 365 used condoms?" A: "One's a good year, and the other is a great year." (credit: Tiny Television) 

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