Live Review, 2/22/12: Young Prisms and Melted Toys Shine Through Their Blemishes at Cafe Du Nord
Young Prisms shot for SF Weekly by Amanda Lopez
Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2012
Cafe Du Nord
Better than: You could do.
A good vinyl record -- one that is capable of shifting moods and raising spirits -- isn't always glossy or housed in a crisp paper sleeve. A good vinyl record may be warped, its cover stained and falling apart, and its flaws producing a hiss-and-pop-filled listen. But we enjoy imperfection in vinyl because it often means the music has character and depth.
Last night's show at Cafe Du Nord, part of San Francisco's Noise Pop festival, was a similar situation. In this hipster haven, surrounded, no doubt, by hordes of vinyl aficionados, the blemishes of this all-San Franciscan showcase fruited new musical directions.
The evening kicked off with a performance by PreTeen, whose self-touting slop pop sound merges elements of the Old 97's with the meth-addled swagger of The Strokes. Oh, and there's a tenor sax. On the whole, the boys' rollicking and jangly set was an earnest display of artistic focus, humor, and pop know-how. Still, choices in instrumentation (namely, the sax -- though it was perfectly performed) felt forced and misplaced. Sometimes when you're home-brewing beer, you end up with flat strawberry lager.
The Tambo Rays were a plucky follow for PreTeen. The band is a hard peg given its wide net of musical influences, which include psych-rock, grunge, and pop. It's no surprise that its selection of songs ran the emotional gamut as boldly. At times, like during "Draggin' Our Bones," the band appeared listless, self-righteous, and cruel; and during others, dreamy, self-effacing, and effortlessly hip. Though it felt muddled and random, the set proved a good portfolio for what the band has already accomplished stylistically and a serviceable sample of its promise down the line.
Melted Toys, a lull in the evening's performances, served in every measure as the perfect support band. This trio of electro savants truly took a bullet, establishing the subdued, sonorous environment needed for headliners Young Prisms. Unlike Tambo Rays, Toys' offering was a set of succinct, haunting, and repetitious tracks. The audience was put off, like stubborn children too restless for bed. Many retreated to the bar. Two members were so thwarted by the band's pace that they plotted out future dance moves should the band start to "rock out." (The air quotations they supplied.)
The good work paid off, however, and Young Prisms took to the stage like veterans returning from war. Vibrant and hypnotic, the Prisms delivered a set so retrograde it bought aspirin at an early '90s rave thinking it was ecstasy. The year since its first full-length release, Friends for Now, has left the band sounding more bittersweet and brooding than ever. The grit is a pleasant surprise; though only so under the assumption that this is a temporary state of artistry (you never know these days).
Music aficionados spend many hours in search of coveted small black discs. If last night's show at Cafe Du Nord is any indication, though, what we search for in material is often right here in our backyards.
Quote of the night: "We're PreTeen and we're ready for our ass-whoopin'."
The crowd: In this unforgiving sea of winter-clad shoegazers, soaking in whiskey-laden lyrics and heavy distortion, it was nice to find brief sanctity in those who enjoy music for its more intrinsic elements. Thanks to five courageous ladies and their tall token male friend for flying in the face of dour spirits with funky chickens, robots, and other glorious dance moves. Cafe Du Nord's Motown-heavy house music will never be the same.
Random notebook dump: The concert became like one of those subterranean habits where scientists find new species. I guess that makes Melted Toys a blind salamander.