Last night Dan A. and I headed out to the Tenderloin to catch some live local music at the Great American Music Hall. I was really looking forward to it – Great American might be my new favorite place to see a show in SF, with a level of gilding that’d make Midas blush and a stage that’s bigger and easier to watch than The Independent.
I was also excited because the night had a great lineup – a Triple CD-Release party for three local groups. Though most of these bands probably released their records back in February or some crap – don’t get me started on the bizarre ubiquity of “CD Release Parties” these days. Anyway. Opening was Pollux, a rock outfit that I’d never heard but had heard good things about, then The Gun and Doll Show, who I have known about forever but never seen, and headlining was everyone’s favorite Bay Area AAA band Luce, though I didn’t wind up sticking around for their set (more on why later).
Pollux started their set shortly after we arrived – the club was still in that “no one near the stage” early phase of the night, but shortly after Pollux let ‘er rip, everyone pushed up – always a good sign. They ripped into their set with gusto and energy, making their sound clear from the start – churning, epic rock music centered around powerful, wailing lead vocals. Check out their MySpace page to get an idea of their sound.
The band is made up of four core members, only three of whom are identified on their site – Carey Head is the lead singer, guitarist, and keyboardist, Daniel Stevenson plays the bass, and they also had a dreamy-haired lead guitarist laying down some standard lead guitar stuff – you know, Step 1: trigger tremolo pedal, Step 2: sing lower-octave backup harmony, Step 3: turn off tremolo pedal, Step 4: hit boost, Step 5: Chorus! He really solid, and played a pretty ripping solo halfway through the set.
And in the back is this drummer, a big bundle of energy joyously hitting the skins, grinning like a madman as he plays fill after fill, and I’m thinking, “hmm, this guy seems familiar,” so after the show I look him up and turns out it’s Kevin Webber, the drummer for Blue Rabbit! Cool. He sounded great, and really brought the thunder to some of the set’s later, more rocking tunes.
But back to the reason for the season – Carey Head. Pollux’s bandleader and songwriter, Head leads straightaway with his strongest attribute – his seriously ridiculous voice. Crystal clear and with great technique – dude can sing. By far the most enjoyable part of Pollux’s set was listening to him let his voice go, wondering where he was gonna push it to next. He was joined vocally by two female backup singers, as well as the lead guitarist, so on one of the later tunes in the set, they got a real full-on four-parter going that sounded pretty damn great. I would have loved a big-ass, high energy vocal breakdown, but hey, I guess you can’t have everything. Take a cue from En Vogue, though, guys – sometimes it’s time for a breakdown.
Pollux is a strong band, and they’re also clean, from their guitar tones to Carey’s epic, perfect vocals, to the arrangements, to the setlist. In fact, what I wanted to hear from them was something weirder, for them to put down the perfect, radio-ready rock routine and do something dirty, loud, gross, spontaneous. Why so serious? Maybe put away the nice-guy flannel and put on some glow-in-the-dark shit or something, I dunno.
On their Myspace page, Pollux lists the band Ours among their influences, but (somewhat surprisingly) omits Muse. I’ve always thought of Ours as a sort of shadow-version of Muse – rocking, sure, and with a great lead singer, but lacking that feeling of craziness, that over-the-top showmanship that Muse has, particularly on the my favorite of their records, the stripped-down, balls-to-the-wall “Origin of Symmetry.” The rockingness of that album, especially when taken alongside clips from Muse’s live tour from that same period… what Matt and company are doing there, the fury they unleash with their instruments, well, they’re a worldwide touring sensation for a reason.
And I know, I know, this is coming from me, a guy whose idea of a rocking show involves looping an acoustic guitar while playing melodica and clarinet. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if Pollux could just let loose a bit, swagger, and break some shit onstage (even if only metaphorically), they could go from being a strong, pro-level band with an American Idol-ready lead singer to a serious rock powerhouse with a lead singer who is way to fucking cool for American Idol.
The Gun and Doll Show
Okay, so speaking of getting gross and breaking shit onstage, well… God. The Gun and Doll Show. Okay. Maybe let’s start with some basic info? They’re a local band, sort of punk burlesque Fosse girls kind of thing, led by singer/guitarist/songwriter Killian MacGeraghty. And.. well… they put on what might have been the best damn rock show I’ve seen in San Francisco. I mean, they got on stage, plugged in, and tore it down – it was never less than rad, and frequently bordered on “You’ve Got To Be Shitting Me.” No joke.
The setup is this: Four dudes – MacGeraghty, along with Tom Gears, John Bearton, and Loren Routh, make up the standard rock band instrumentation – two guitarists, bass, drums, MacGeraghty kinda sing/yelling on vocals – standard stuff. Well, he came out holding a bycicle on his shoulders, but still.
In addition to the guys, three female vocalists are onstage most all of the time – Susan Donaldson Ely, Lani Martin, and Jennifer Knight – and they are, frankly, incredible. Donaldson Ely in particular. On top of that, three MORE hot-ass dancers come out every so often for a full-on, six-member choreographed dance routine. Couple that with near-constant costume changes (Scary doctors! Cheerleaders! Hot army chicks! Football Players! All-Black Punk-Hating Mods!) by not only the girls but also MacGeraghty (who at one point was slinking about the stage doing an endzone routine in full football pads) and you’ve got a gonzo experience that never gets boring.
About three songs in, I was loving the shit out of them, and I started actully listening to the music with my eyes closed. And for a second, I was thinking, “Okay, well musically speaking, this maybe isn’t really that interesting, it’s just that there are hot chicks on stage…” but then, they went into “Can You Feel It,” in the aforementioned football pads, ending the song by scrumming the women against Killian, yelling at one another “Power of a woman!” “Power of a man!” it was badass. And more than that, the song was really cool. After that came a new-wavy tune that sadly, isn’t featured on the new record (must be an older track), called “Automatic” or something, all group sing and four-on-the-floor, and the song just slayed me.
The energy level kept rising, rising, rising through the set, until we were all being legitimately rocked. Not “nodding your head along with the band” rocked, but “holy crap what is going on” rocked. This does not happen often. When Susan Donaldson Ely came out and sang “Why I Hate Punks,” in formation with the other two singers, it was it was just crazy cool – like pissed-off Uma from My Super Ex-Girlfriend, finger pointed to the sky, raging about how much punks suck. Unbelievable. Like, everything I love about The Cock Ts (Sexy Choreography! Tongue in Cheek gender roles! Hating on punks who give you shit outside Amoeba!) coupled with a bitchin’ rock band and cranked up to 11.
Maybe the best thing I can say about TGADS is that I, broke-ass musician that I am, actually bought their CD after the show. I’ve listened to some of it, and it sounds great, though doesn’t capture the energy of their live performance. I suppose with a band like this, that’s a bit much to ask of an audio recording. Anyway, you should buy a copy to support them, and go see them live – I can honestly say that you probably won’t have a better time at a show in this town.
Their closing number was a rock orgy, ending with all eight dancers bowing down before the drum set, and balls, it rocked so hard… so hard that I just couldn’t imagine a band following it. I know Luce is really good, I’ve seen their show and enjoyed it, but I couldn’t get in the mindset to deal with their set in the aftermath of the guns and dolls.
So, shortly after they tore the stage down, it was hasta luego for me. It was really a hell of a night – Pollux was super solid, and The Gun And Doll Show just blew me away. I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth.