Live Review, 2/23/12: Big Black Delta Delivers Maximalist Sounds for a Minimal Crowd at Rickshaw Stop

Big Black Delta at Rickshaw Stop last night.

Big Black Delta
New Diplomat
Feb. 23, 2012
Rickshaw Stop / Popscene SF

Better than: Blown speakers.

A slate of marquee shows filled San Francisco venues Thursday night, with Built to Spill, Sleigh Bells, Budos Band, and locals Thao and John Vanderslice selling out their respective venues. But never fear, Noise Pop nerds, because each day of the festival brings an embarrassment of musical riches. While many San Franciscans patronized the bigger names, some probably mortgaging themselves into Stubhub tickets, one of San Francisco's best-loved club nights hosted Big Black Delta, an up-and-coming Los Angeles talent taken with big beats and buzzsaw hooks.

Big Black Delta is the solo project of Angelino Jonathan Bates, also of the mercurial L.A. rock band Mellowdrone. He's been recording under the Big Black Delta moniker since 2010, and in addition to releasing an EP and a debut LP, he's participated in a number of remixes and collaborations.

Backed last night by dueling drummers Mahsa Zargaran and Amy Wood (yes, they're both female), he delivered a throaty tenor over unapologetic layers of fuzz, portentious synthesizers, and samples, ending up with something like the rock equivalent of an Ed Banger electro-house act. Bates is probably best known these days for his work with M83, having transmorphed "Midnight City" into a fuzzed-out barn burner (which, yeah, eat your heart out Sleigh Bells), as well as lending a hand on a remix of a Daft Punk cut from the Tron soundtrack. At Rickshaw, he featured cuts from his full-length BBDLLP1 (yes, he titles every release like this, and yes, ugh) to a weekly Thursday crowd already accustomed to alternative means of dancing.

Thursday's show marked the Popscene club night portion of the festival, with Popscene staple DJ Aaron Axelsen spinning along with DJ Nako before and after the band's performance. Owing to increased competition from the festival venues, the night's attendance seemed a little down compared to usual (although I wouldn't know -- at some point, I decided I wasn't fashionable enough for Popscene anymore). But I got the feeling the stalwart crowd of indie dance devotees didn't mind a little extra elbow room.

Kicking things off with "Huggin & Kissin" from BBDLP1, Bates gyrated on the cramped stage, bouncing between his two drummers like the unwanted product of divorce. Constantly fighting to keep his nominal Silverlake-style tank-top in check (which c'mon dude, we can basically see everything), Bates stormed around with the mic and stretched his vocals with methods both natural (think Coldplay's Chris Martin) and technological (think Alvin-Simon-Theodore). Throughout, Bates would return to his MIDI controller to tweak huge, unsubtle electro riffs, fretting over imperceptible changes in his shimmery walls of distortion. Zargaran and Wood, the two-headed battery, locked their beats in near-perfect synch, grounding Bates' massive digital compositions with their analog assault.

Ultimately, Big Black Delta's set ended up flying a bit under the radar Thursday. Standing room up front was never too hard to come by, and the bar line never devolved into the usually inevitable bar mob. To be honest, it's a little unclear why the act's recorded output hasn't taken off yet. You'd think the unwashed masses would clamor for a band that, at its best, takes the middle-school dance music of Depeche Mode and dirties it up with the kind of fuzz pedal excess that would make Justice proud. Maximalist pop for a minimalist crowd, that is. I kinda like it.

Critic's Notebook:

New Diplomat

Opening act:
Supporting Big Black Delta, San Francisco five-piece New Diplomat played a comparably straightforward set of solid, workmanlike alt-rock. The group hones power-pop and synth-rock influences into a hybrid that recalls both the dance parties of the Killers and the emo-pop tendencies of, say, All Time Low. In case you're wondering, New Diplomat's sound didn't jive too well with the comparably esoteric electro-blast of Bates' group, and much of the large local crowd who showed up for the opener quietly slipped out before BBD's set. Their loss, I suppose.

Ghosts of shows past: Those of you who closely follow this writer's work (I'm looking in your direction, Mom) know that the Rickshaw hosted Grimes and oOoOO in a highly anticipated set the night before. In an encore of sorts, DJ Nako kicked off her set with Grimes' "Oblivion" after Axelsen left her with control of the decks. This time around, the dancefloor didn't give the song's subtle groove much of a reception, likely due to the change of pace from Axelsen's beat-heavy set. Quick, somebody get Grimes a remixer!

Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Mike Orme @nescience, and like us at

Location Info



Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest

New Diplomat was actually really, really good. Big black something, not so much.

Now Trending

From the Vault



San Francisco Event Tickets
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.