Bird By Bird
The Soft White Sixties and The Trophy Fire
|The Soft White Sixties' Octavio Genera. Pics by Mike Orme.|
January 7, 2011
@ Great American Music Hall
A fifth of Jack in the dark at home (it's better in the dark at a concert).
"This shit is alright, yeah?"
While not quite a six-word memoir
, Soft White Sixties
frontman Octavio Genera's offhand, on-stage mumble makes a fitting thesis statement: This San Francisco five-piece has lately run a marathon through Bay Area rock 'n' roll destinations: early in 2010, you might have caught the Sixties in the up-and-coming ranks at the Red Devil Lounge, or by summer topping bills at Bottom of the Hill. Friday night's co-headlining gig with The Trophy Fire
at the Great American Music Hall
was the band's biggest to date.
Call the guys old-fashioned, but they'd prefer to do their world-beating in another decade. The Sixties appeared onstage out of a music and fashion time warp, beers flying everywhere, hairstyles variously shagged. They expounded musically on the fun-loving, R&B-infused rock 'n' roll of the Rolling Stones, the Faces, and -- well, let's just say the band published on Myspace
a pantheon of bygone artists they endeavor to join, and take a guess at the first two bands listed.
|The Soft White Sixties' Octavio Genera, crooning and strumming.|
That's not knocking them -- this shit is indeed alright. Attendees who bump the seminal Nuggets
garage rock compilations (I'll assure you, such bobbing heads inhabited Friday's crowd) might suggest that a concoction of fun-loving, acid-tinged soul and bluesy guitar-rock co-indicates, on paper, gleefully chaotic and uneven musicianship. Perish the thought: the Sixties mold their muse into a modern soul-rock machine via a tight performance unencumbered by the large accompanying volumes of booze. Guitarist Josh Cook absolutely obliterates the pentatonic scale in his leads, but his contributions lend more to the overall texture than faux Jimmy Page heroics (the solos weren't even turned up that loud). Drummer Joey Bustos manages tight and often swingy beats while slinging his sticks like Keith Moon and rockstarishly pointing out friends in the crowd mid-song.
But it's Genera who steers the Sixties, a multitalented vocalist who at times conjures the shimmying shadow of T. Rex's Marc Bolan. His crooning melodies flout the blues-rock model of riffing on the notes of a minor chord, and his harmonies with Cook and bassist Ryan Noble sound like they were delivered by angels, or at least the Roches
. Beyond the swamp-rock odes and sunny psychedelic blues, these guys were obviously having fun getting their work done.
Granted, a lot of groups these days try such new generation blues-rock, often to varying levels of success. It's like estimating a rodent problem: for every Black Keys you see on Leno, there's a hundred bar bands crawling around in the woodwork. The venue Friday looked more like a Chuck E. Cheese than a rock concert early on, but many of the teens left or clung to the edges of the throng during the Sixties' set (more on this below). It's like the ceiling of success for old guard rock sinks every time Julian Casablancas thinks up another synth line for his solo work. But if the Soft White Sixties hit that ceiling anytime soon, and in looking down realize they're still a bar band, well, that's still a bar you really should check out.
Given that fans of the headliner were expecting throwback garage-rock from the Sixties (the band and the decade), the emo-core slant of the opening acts struck me as kind of odd. An all-ages crowd with asymmetrical haircuts and excessive eyeliner showed up early for Beta State
's screamy opening set, as well as for the following Bird by Bird
, the solo project of charismatic Bay Area punk rocker Jon Devoto. Even the co-headliner, melodic provocateurs the Trophy Fire, appeals to the type who likes power chords and drawn-out yell-odies. The two stylistic archetypes, as well as their respective fans, came off like musicological ships passing in the night.
|The Soft White Sixties and The Trophy Fire during Friday's encore|
Opener Beta State played Björk's "Unravel" and credited her as one of their big influences. Take note: futuristic, apparently, ambient-pop pastorales with shimmering electronic textures → EMO. The Trophy Fire took a cut at another Nordic lap-pop gem, the Knife's "Heartbeats." The Sixties stayed closer to their roots, proffering a rendition of John Lennon's "Instant Karma!" that ensnared the crowd in a "We all shine on" sing-along. For their encore, the band brought the Trophy Fire back onstage for the Stones' "Loving Cup."
By the way:
Bustos and Noble previously played in the influential Bay Area ska-punk band Link 80
859 O'Farrell, San Francisco, CA