August 3, 2010
@ Rickshaw Stop
Better than: A musical adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream set in outer space.
Let it not be said that Crispin McCabe of SFitall
books a show unimaginatively. It can't be easy to place local favorites Battlehooch
on any bill, but especially not when you place them between two bands with diametrically opposed musical idioms and who also happen to comprise the same personnel. (When Erica Quitzow thanked Setting Sun at the end of the evening, in keeping with headlinerly decorum, the audience burst into appreciative murmurs about Frege's Puzzle
. (Note: this is obviously untrue.)) Somehow it worked, anyway, and last night's tri-cornered show was, as it turned out, a bewildering success.
When I characterize Battlehooch as "local favorites," I mean it in two senses: for one, the attendance at the Rickshaw Stop
doubled in attendance -- and at least tripled in elaborate costumery -- before their set, and halved itself promptly afterwards. For another, Battlehooch are the purest incarnation I have ever seen of mythical San Francisco, the city I thought hadn't existed since the hippies got rich and fled to Marin County. (They're from Santa Cruz, but let's not split hairs.) If you poached six musicians at random from a Hippie Hill drum circle, took them thrift-store shopping, made them drop acid and asked each one to cover a different Doors song, you might approximate Battlehooch's bump-sized party-prog epics. Think the Mars Volta if they admitted they were having fun, or Pink Floyd with charisma and mustaches and a besequined cheering section; think good-timey spaceouts for those who don't see any reason why the drummer shouldn't be wearing a horse's head.
For spectacle, it didn't get more impressive than Battlehooch. Say what you will about their neo-hedonist jam-band antics; respect is due to any band that can have a nearly oppressive amount of fun onstage -- and periodically offstage, and at one point even on the balcony --while still flawlessly playing such impressively complex songs. (I didn't keep track, but I don't remember any of them staying in the same time signature for more than a couple of minutes.) But those who stayed only for Battlehooch missed the subtler heart of the show, supplied on either side of the 'Hooch by the New York-based trio of Gary Levitt, Erica Quitzow and drummer Jonny Pancake
As Setting Sun
, led by Levitt, the trio passed the time with unassuming professionalism, playing mostly selections from the deceptively mellow Fantasurreal
, released in June on Young Love Records
. Levitt (who plays almost everything on Setting Sun's records) writes and sings with a practiced weariness that recalls Elliott Smith here, Lou Barlow there, M. Ward and the rest of that ilk in between. Live, as on record, he plays it close to their precedent without owing them any particular debt; his songs need no particular accompaniment, but sound all the more resolute for having it. Most last night were joined by invisible synth or horn lines -- the dour midlife-reincarnation ballad "One Time Around" seemed to have its own heavenly mariachi band -- but maintained the fetching, sometimes majestic simplicity of, well, a setting sun. (Also, during the closing number, "No Devil Me No More
," from 2008's Children of the Wild
, Levitt's 7-year-old cousin, Xander, showed off some pretty sick breakdancing skills -- take that, latecomers.)
, the trio was vampish to Setting Sun's brooding, sleek and retro-futuristic to Setting Sun's rootsy and organic. (Fittingly, Erica Quitzow had traded her black dress for a leopard-print skort.) Here the live setup -- Erica on synths, Levitt on bass and Pancake on drums -- added a welcome pulse to the electroclash-with-feelings formula of 2008's Art College
and this year's Juice Water
(which is the first album I've ever seen that includes a colophon
). Rooted in that low-end crunch, Erica let her sprightly voice pant and belt (and skort, I guess), from the nuanced flutter of "Talk To Me" to the pep-rally chirp of "Cats R People 2." The few dozen guests who stuck it out to the end grooved along with evident delight. "This song is called 'Magic,' and I can't think of a better city to play it in," she said before launching into a driving number from Juice Water
. Sample line from the first verse: "I'm trying to be gentle/ But what the hell is subtle?"
9:15 p.m. A surprising number of mustaches in attendance.
9:20 p.m. Previous observation is an excellent example of synecdoche
9:40 p.m. Wait, there are actual rickshaws here.
10:08 p.m. Update: mustaches all appear to be Battlehooch-related.
10:09 p.m. For each mustachioed young person in the band, the burden of proof rises by an order of magnitude.
10:40 p.m. Mustaches in serious danger of outnumbering shirts onstage.
11:11 p.m. Wait, did Levitt shave between sets?