By Rebecca Huval
Singer-songwriter AV Linton sang catchy melodies backed by a curtain of reverb and Yoshi Nakamoto’s chest-thumping, punk-infused drumbeats. Unlike the typical audience of young rapscallions drawn to Valencia, this late ‘90s band surfaced the 30- and 40-year-olds — and even had them jumping and dancing past 11pm on a Sunday.
In the late ‘90s and early aughts, the San Francisco-based Aislers Set drew comparisons to contemporaries Belle and Sebastian, and toured with Sleater Kinney and Yo La Tengo. But after Linton burned out on tour, the band went bust about a decade ago, much to the chagrin of its Bay Area and international fans, with members dispersing to New York, Germany, and Sweden.
But The Aislers Set is back — at least for now. Though Linton has moved back to California, the band’s members still span the states and Europe. They reissused 1998’s Terrible Things Happen and 2000’s The Last Match on Sept. 23, and they’ll reissue 2002’s How I Learned To Write Backwards on Oct.14, all via Slumberland.
On Sunday night, as a familiar chord broke the silence, the crowd clapped and laughed with relief, as if the distance between now and that year when they first heard the song had just dissolved. They were transported. Linton and Alicia Vanden Heuvel wore roomy T-shirts and sneakers, and they sounded as comfortable in their voices as they were in their clothes — not overly performative, but beautiful in the basics. They harmonized, occasionally going slightly out of key, but in a way that lent truthfulness to their anguished lyrics.
“I was so mistreated when you danced with me,” Linton sang to Nakamato’s deceptively cheerful beats and the trill of a tambourine. At the end of “I’ve Been Mistreated,” the crowd chanted “Yoshi, Yoshi!”
After a broken amp in the beginning of the set, the band smoothed out its kinks and had commandeered the audience’s hearts by halfway through. The wandering guitar riffs and piercing trumpet lines of “Mission Bells” filled the room, thrusting several fists into the air. Occasionally, an organist would pop up to play jingle bells or the glockenspiel, often in time to the disco lights sparkling around the ceiling.
Throughout the set, The Aislers Set exuded polite wholesomeness. Vanden Heuvel exclaimed “Thanks for coming out on a Sunday night!” and threw her arms akimbo, as if she was about to hug the crowd. When she accidentally spoke over Wyatt Cusick, she said, “Oh, sorry to interrupt you!”
Then, Wyatt introduced the one song he sang, the sweet “Chicago, New York,” by saying, “It’s so nice to have so many people ask to play your only song.”
After a decade away from their fans, The Aislers Set seemed genuinely grateful to be back. And we were happy to have them.