Best Coast Gives Voice to Real California Girls at Great American Music Hall

Categories: Last Night
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Best Coast 
Sonny and the Sunsets 
October 26, 2010 
@ Great American Music Hall 

Better than: The Philadelphia Phillies, California Phillies being of the undeniable, unforgettable, fine, fresh, fierce sort. 

Call Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino the anti-Katy Perry, or rather the Garage Katy Perry, a silicon-free, three-chord-progressing, production value-wary non-Valley Girl. But we should also note what these two seemingly polar opposite L.A. products share, in a strictly musical sense: a steadfast lyrical directness, one that calls a sunset a sunset, and a boyfriend a jerk. Say what you mean and mean what you say, sayeth these dolls in distress.

Yes, Perry has the pop arenas of the world standing by on hold, but Cosentino is quickly climbing the ranks of a more intimate scene, and managed to sell out Great American Music Hall on a Tuesday night -- just six months after opening for Camera Obscura at the same venue. Gotta start somewhere before MTV calls, or maybe it's too late

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When Cosentino steps up to the mic, we half-expect to see a diary sticking out of her coat pocket and a picture of her latest crush projected behind her (with the eyes obligatorily Sharpied out). The sentimental force is strong with this one, a short-skirt-no-jacket type armed with pronouns and phrases better left scribbled on high school note pads and lockers than undergrad English papers. 

Nothing is impressionistic or up for interpretation, and that's either by design, or a case of a songwriter realizing she should just write about what she knows. If that's indeed the situation, girl's been making her way through the manfolk with haste in her 23 years (the self-proclaimed "old lady" turns 24 next week). Boys are the sole mystery in her two- to three-minute musings, but we sense there's something else going on with Cosentino, something in that voice that conjures femme fatales of a bygone era and an allegiance to some exclusive, secret-entrusted club.

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Last night, as Cosentino frequently checked her fretboard, and bandmates Bobb Bruno (bass, guitar) and Ali Koehler (drums) set off a lo-fi surf-rock surround sound backing (but not much else), that voice was really all we were left to consider (aside from the sharp crust of Cosentino's bangs and a few drunks trying to dance). Is it sultry? Is it seductive? And where will it take her? To the land of Perry? Or to the land of Vivian Girls? And how different it is from her actual voice, which is about 325 octaves higher than her singing voice? 

To sing is to act, we concluded. The banter highlight of the night came when a fan beckoned her to address the 2010 National League champs with a Giants towel, and she responded "Go Giants, fuck yeah," unknowingly (probably) referencing our beloved Tim Linecum's nationally televised four-letter word mishap. Bonus points for sure. 

Before 11 p.m. struck, the headliner had raced through one album (Crazy For You, 2010) and three EPs (Make You Mine, 2009; Where The Boys Are, 2009; Something In The Way, 2010) worth of material, and rarely did it ever sound much different from the recordings (except for when Bruno temporarily forgot how to play the last song of the encore, "Each and Every Day"). But that's the charm of Best Coast's records, so nobody was complaining. 

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Sonny and the Sunsets: In their first gig with Best Coast, S.F.'s Sonny and the Sunsets made for an appropriate opening act, driving around riffs packed with nostalgia and beachy bends. The four-piece floats behind the dry repartee of Sonny Smith, who introduced one cut as a song about a unicorn, or the ocean, or love, or marrying the one you love, and about five other subjects. Funny.

Critic's notebook: Kudos to the fan who grabbed the Giants flag away from the other fan in front, who had draped it in front of Cosentino's purview for the length of a song. Indie-rock shows, remember, are a safe zone for the athletically disenfranchised. Take that away and they've got nothing.

Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown and @ChrisTrenchard

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