Friday Night: Freelance Whales Bring On Make-Out Time at the Rickshaw Stop

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Freelance Whales at the Rickshaw Stop Friday night
Freelance Whales
Miniature Tigers
Pepper Rabbit
November 19, 2010
@ Rickshaw Stop

Better than: Going to the zoo to see whales, tigers, and rabbits.

For those of you who weren't quite satisfied by the output of one-album-and-done bedroom electro project Postal Service -- the Ben Gibbard/ Jimmy Tamborello/UPS collaboration that entered and left the scene like a quick download -- know that the group's sonic thread has been picked up by the trusty-handed five-piece Freelance Whales, which somehow snuck its fifth 2010 S.F. gig in at Rickshaw Stop on Friday night.

The Postal Service, of course, made lullabies the new-fashioned way: Tamborello laid robust digital tracks over which Gibbard waxed poetic, and emo kids had their gateway drug into the netherworld of electronica. Freelance Whales sport a similar, subtly sentimental ethos, and while much of the band's debut album, Weathervanes, is of a piece with Postal Service's Give Up, their means are surprisingly organic.

At Rickshaw on Friday, the band squeezed an assortment of outcast instruments onto the venue's plainly intimate stage: a squeezebox, glockenspiel, banjo, and a Korg synthesizer along with the usual trimmings of guitar, drums, and bass. Freelance Whales' casual presence and ensemble-minded identity has a way of making us feel like we're at a friend's birthday party (and we were, see below), which was made stronger by its stage set-up: The five members were flanked by a few kitschy lamps, and behind them hung a sprawling patchwork quilt of shapes and cityscape. It's all pop art from scrap.

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While songs such as "Starring" and "Hannah" put the band firmly in the aforementioned synth-pop frame of mind, the group wields a certain flexibility, hinting at a few other contemporary points of reference. The rolling banjo riffs of "Generator First Floor" and "Great Estate" smack of early Sufjan Stevens (the non-neon Sufjan), and the dreamy glockenspiel and male/female/choir-y vocal layers of "Location" recall Canada pop outfit Stars, and come to think of it, star-gazing. It'd be weird to hear this in the light of day, when reality seems more immediate and cynical censors balk at midnight epiphanies.

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Lead singer/multi-instrumentalist Judah Dadone handles those poignant moments with understated poise, so we surveyed the crowd when emotions ran high in the music. Quickly, we thought, "Oh, it's THAT kind of a show." Toward the back of the 'Stop, dates had turned into passionate PDA events, couples of all stripes compelled to freelance tongue, and we nearly ran out of fingers to count them. Sure, you could bang to this, but you could also play it for a five-year-old. Flexible, indeed.

I guess we should give Miniature Tigers lead singer/guitarist Charlie Brand the benefit of the doubt for his band's admittedly "off" performance on Friday, seeing as it was his birthday, and he was born in Berkeley, and it took the band 10 minutes to sound-check before they came on. But there wasn't much positive news to report other than the birthday whiskey 'n' gingers delivered the band's way for the occasion. At best, they sound like Rogue Wave, which isn't much of an achievement. The Brooklyners (side note: does anyone actually live in Brooklyn? We imagine rows of apartments and houses with "Gone Tourin' " signs affixed) pay due respect to various indie micro-genres on record, but this particular live performance lacked the inventive playfulness heard on studio albums Tell it to the Volcano and Fortress.

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Miniature Tigers
​Monotony reigned supreme, the only break in the vanilla pop coming on a Jimi Hendrix cover of "Fire" (little relation to this), which confused more than it convinced. Our birthday boy tried to salvage the night with a jaunt into a crowd he clearly miscalculated, quickly throwing his red poncho hoodie over his head and dancing with a few wary fans. It was his birthday, he can dance if he wanted to. But don't forget, we have the right to remain still. 

L.A.'s Pepper Rabbit opened the animal-names-only bill with surprising flair and quirky folk-pop sensibilities. Bandleader Xander Singh handled an assortment of instrumental duties (guitar/ukulele/keys/clarinet) and vocals with disarming skill and dexterity. String arrangements and plaintive vocal arrangements recalled The Shins at times, and off-kilter pacing and percussion kept us guessing. Their jams were strong, but these guys make their money in the intentionally awkward moments of song, especially when they went electric. For three guys, their economy of sound is an efficient model to behold, and however long they were allowed to play was not enough. We trust they'll be regulars, hopefully as often as Freelance Whales have been.

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Pepper Rabbit
Critic's Notebook

Concert etiquette lesson of the night: If you're over six-foot-four, it's probably not a good idea to stand near the front, and it's definitely not a good idea to wear a fedora perched casually on the roof of your head (and also arguably not a good idea to put a feather in said fedora) to block another three inches of space. Small, sassy, fearless girls will make your life a living hell.

Set lists
Miniature Tigers

1. "Tropical Birds"
2. "Dino Damage"
3. "The Wolf"
4. "Rock 'N' Roll Mountain Troll"
5. "Coyote Enchantment"
6. "Fire" (Jimi Hendrix cover)
7. ?
8. "Cannibal Queen"
9. "Dark Tower"
10. ?

Freelance Whales
1. ? (New song)
2. "Kilojoules"
3. "Generator ^ First Floor"
4. "Hannah"
5. "Location"
6. "Starring"
7. "Footprints"
8. "Ghosting"
9. "We Could Be Friends"
10. "Great Estates"
11. "Enzymes"
12. "Generator ^ Second Floor"
--
Encore/13. "Broken Horse"'

Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown and @ChrisTrenchard

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