The third annual San Francisco Popfest kicks off Wednesday, May 25 at Rickshaw Stop. The good news is that this year’s festival has been expanded to five days, transforming Memorial Weekend into a music extravaganza. There are shows at Rickshaw, Cafe Du Nord, and Hemlock Tavern, as well as a secret Sunday show at Dolores Park. The bad news is that you can only be in one place at a time. Here are four must-see Bay Area groups.
The opening night headliner Blackbird Blackbird is spearheaded by vocalist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Mikey Sanders. He released his debut album Summer Heart in late 2010 through Bandcamp on a “pay what you wish” system and followed it up in 2001 with Halo, which is a collection of new songs, B-sides, and unreleased tracks. With the aid of the blogosphere, Blackbird Blackbird quickly amassed a following.
Blackbird Blackbird’s music is electronic-based, although when performing live, Sanders plays with Cade Weidenhaft on drums. Sanders creates a rich, textured synthscape, as on “Sunspray,” where bubble sounds and an overall feeling of swirling makes the song seem as if it’s being sung from underwater. Other tracks, like “Ups and Down” with its heavy bass, sound dance party-ready.
Also on the Wednesday, May 25 bill is Sanders’ project Wolf Feet, which he started with Austin Wood. The pair recorded tracks while living in a “Hobbit-like apartment in Santa Cruz,” explains Sanders, who grew up in San Francisco but went to school in Santa Cruz. It’s a decidedly less electronic project than Blackbird Blackbird, and garage-rock influenced, with upbeat tempos, handclapping, twinkling guitars, and howling vocals.
Sanders is promoting Wolf Feet similarly to Blackbird Blackbird, self-releasing an EP in January via UFOLK Records and running a cute and informative Tumblr. The band’s homemade video for “Dead Hand,” a montage of vintage films such as Thunderbirds Are Go and Gamera vs. Zigra, was already featured on Pitchfork.
The Friday, May 27 Popfest show includes San Francisco’s beloved the Mantles. After a slew of singles, a self-titled LP, and the Pink Information EP, the group recently released the “Raspberry Thighs/Roman Hat” seven-inch single via SDZ Records. The song reveals a darker side to the band.
The Mantles have always been high on melodies, which they coat in reverb, but the sunny sounds are sometimes meant to distract from the truth. “Raspberry Thighs” starts with buoyant guitars, and Michael Olivares’ vocals are more spoken than sung as he says, “Hey there unassuming eyes/ What on earth can alarm you/ You’re too ready to derail/ You’re too ready to say goodbye.” It’s hard to discern all the lyrics, but there’s a sadness to Olivares’ farewell and description of the ephemeral summer.
The Saturday, May 28 show at Rickshaw Stop is a showcase for Slumberland Records. To put it simply, the entire lineup is awesome. San Francisco’s the Art Museums, formed by Josh Alper (Whysp) and Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards) in the summer of 2009, sing tales of artists, lovers, and imposters that read like mantras for the aught generation. The band released its debut record Rough Trade on Woodsist last year and will put out an EP called Dancing this summer.
From tales of bike-based dates and descriptions of art happenings to details of Sta-Prest trousers and even the band’s name, the Art Museums’ music is meant to be absurdly funny, and true. Alper and Donaldson craft hooks and sing in faux-British accents — their heroes include the Kinks, Swell Maps, and the Television Personalities. The band records on a Tascam 388 eight-track for its snap, crackle, and pop, and performs with Carly Putnam (Green Flash) and Virginia Weatherby (the Mantles) to fill out its live sound.
SAN FRANCISCO POPFEST
Blackbird Blackbird, Wolf Feet
Wed/25, 8 p.m.; $12
155 Fell, SF
Fri/27, 8 p.m.; $15–$17
Slumberland Recods Showcase
Sat/28, 5 p.m., $17