Phantom Kicks, the Actors, and Sunbeam Rd. at Rickshaw Stop

Categories: Last Night
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The Actors. All photos by Romana Machado
Phantom Kicks 
The Actors
Sunbeam Rd.
December 1, 2010
@ Rickshaw Stop

Better than:
I expected.

Wednesday night live music has traditionally so little to commend itself that acts thank people just for showing up -- even if it's raining barrels, and the only patrons visible are lapping spilled whiskey off the bar. Not that the Rickshaw Stop is any such low-end clipjoint; rather the place is a sweet little club with unusually good acoustics and a loose, friendly vibe. My girlfriend, a lifelong Bay Area resident with all the cheeriness of the breed, remarked at how the neighborhood around Civic Center was a bit tonier than is typical for San Francisco rock venues, but the sight of some raggedy guy scrabbling over the fence at the abandoned building across Fell St. made it seem like sweet home L.A. for a grungy Proustian second.

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Sunbeam Rd.
We didn't wait long for Sunbeam Rd., and its quirky melodicism drew every one of the 20 patrons to the stage, each folding themselves into a rapt listener's pose -- a deep, emphatic listen that brings all else to a halt. You see rows of people at chamber music concerts wearing similar expressions, but music like this comes with the added challenge of having to make people move -- and this act met it. Rising purveyors of Byrds-y psychedelic pop, Sunbeam Rd. is one of those acts that can hook you just off a MySpace surf, but little there gives any idea how tough songs like "Grue" and "Sleepwalk" sound live. The band gained energy and momentum from late arrivals and left to much applause.

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Phantom Kicks
Between sets, my girl hustled me quickly the three blocks to Civic Center Plaza, where a pod-possessed Donald Sutherland pointed and gargled in the 1976 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The place is still attractively weird, rather like L.A.'s Bradbury Building, where some of Blade Runner was shot (and another S.F. geek holy site she insisted I take her between sets at The Smell). The Actors were just going on when we got back to a diminished and distracted audience. These synth-heavy meditations, gelidly interesting as they sound on MP3, were going over indifferently, but not in a bad way; more like someone had switched the car radio from The Small Faces to The Cure. Things began to pick up about the time mainman Phil Maes blandly announced things were about to get complicated, leaning into the rest of their brief set with a will. The band departied with a bravura pass at "Theory of Something," with it's holy-shit lyric, "Everything's something nothing/Something nothing, everything" sounding like the kind of philosophical creative accounting that got Bernie Madoff.

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Phantom Kicks
Phantom Kicks wasted little time plugging in and getting to work. Formed last year by remnants of Oakland post-indie nervous-norvuses Raised By Robots, the Kicks retain some of that act's distinctiveness in the skittering drumming of Mike Rieger and Tanner Pikop's spookhouse guitar. Theirs is forceful and melodic stuff and, by the end, they'd shaken the crowd out of its picture-taking torpor and set it to dancing out whatever was left of its Wednesday night doldrums. How sitting at home with "Cougar Town" beats this is mysterious.

Random notebook dump: "Tonight is Kicks' keyboardist Debbie first show! She blushed becomingly."

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