Cynthia Salaysay

Live Shots: Tame Impala at the Fillmore


Man, there were a lot of beards at the Fillmore last Thursday. Not the close-cropped beards that I swear some Bay Area men grow in hopes that a girl or boy wants to talk about it. But shaggy ones. The kind that you really can’t make a statement about. Because they aren’t a statement, unless it’s about their state of unwash.

I was at the Tame Impala show, and the beards were out in force. There were also a smattering of mods and hippies, a larger group of rocker girls with tough eyes and shiny hair, with their boyfriends, and a small slice of older music lovers.

I suppose that’s what happens when a band of quality has such disparate influences – think Beatles, circa “Tomorrow Never Knows” with all the musical toys of the Flaming Lips, a good dose of groove, and big, Nirvana-esque drumming. Tame Impala is an Australian psych-rock band with only two full-length albums under its belt, Innerspeaker, and most recently, Lonerism, and it was on its second to last stop of a sold-out tour. 

It was a promising start for Kevin Parker, and his chums. Parker, the mastermind, takes a Brian Wilson-type of musical approach –  bury yourself in the studio, write the songs, and play almost all the bits, make the album, and call in the band for the live shows.

Tame Impala is Parker’s baby, and it kind of showed a bit more than I would have liked. Yes, the band can play faithful reproductions of the music from the albums, and and I did get the shivery tingles on songs like “Gotta Be Above It,” the show’s opener, and “Apocalypse Dreams.” But in general, the band lacked showmanship, and energy.

Call it tour exhaustion or what-you-will, but Parker, with his politeness and shy smiles, took the stance of a young boy playing at a recital, while the rest of the band pretty much took a step back from the audience and played things spot-on. The most character came from drummer Jay “Gumby” Watson, who took some serious risks during his solos, and leant some drama to the show.

There were some really strong moments, though; “Elephant,” one of the singles off the new album, was one of them, the groove driving and everything played hard, to the wall. And, the audience was into it; there was plenty of bouncing shiny hair, and the bearded folks nodded their heads emphatically. The encore turned into a sing-along for the die-hards.

But there was a lurchiness to the performance — songs didn’t flow from one to the next, and my emotions just weren’t effectively manipulated, dammit. One minute I wanted to dance. The next I just stood and looked at the visuals, an acid-green scribble that pulsated to the beat, like an exploding star on repeat, until the show grabbed my attention again.

I have high hopes for Tame Impala, perhaps too high, which is why I’m disappointed. I think their albums are some of the best in the past couple of years. But they aren’t cohesive performers, and I can only give them a middling grade.

Beach House lets its music do the talking


Do you remember the museum scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) where Sloane and Ferris kiss, while Cameron is off by himself, getting lost in a Seurat painting? There’s no dialogue. Just a particularly contemplative Dream Academy cover of a Smiths song, the museum awash in blue light. It’s a quiet, slow spot in the movie, but it had a big impact – partly because it was so simply done.

There was a moment like that at Beach House’s sold-out show at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Friday. Maybe a few moments.

The dream pop duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally is all for simplicity – they’ve kept to the same musical palette for the whole of their career, restricting themselves to a hazy organ, shoegaze-y electric guitar, tom-tomming drums, and Legrand’s androgynous, smoke-and-honey voice. But they use these things to great dramatic impact – moody, contemplative melodies give way to lush, hope-filled soundscapes, the contrast between the two making for emotional, intimate moments.  It’s slow music, carefully constructed, and sometimes drone-y, tight pop melodies notwithstanding; to be honest I wasn’t sure that I’d stay entertained, watching them for an entire set.

But the duo has toured extensively for the past few years, and the show was pretty smooth, the music confidently played, and despite their introverted approach to showmanship, there was enough theatrics to keep things moving, relying on simple changes to the stage, to their body language, to keep things interesting.
Legrand, her face hidden behind a birds-nest tangle of hair, was a brooding presence onstage. Her voice soared, but she never moved from behind the keyboard, her fingers locked to it even as she was sometimes seized by fits of headbanging. Her stillness, her unique voice, the complete lack of eye contact made her mesmerizing, the focal point of the stage. Meanwhile, guitarist Alex Scally didn’t say anything at all to the crowd and bounced in his seat, reminding me of a Muppet-like character.

Their stage set up was raw, black and white striped panels and stark white lights. But this slowly developed as the show progressed, into floods of deep red and blue color, constellation-like scatterings of twinkling lights — each minimalist change well-timed, as leisurely as Scally’s delicate guitar playing. And they were long into their set before any film was introduced, or strobes, or multi-colored lights.

When I say long into the set, I do mean long – they played for an hour and a half. Legrand’s voice almost tireless, save for a few glitches here and there – a slightly flat harmony, a catch in her throat. Almost every song drew a yell from the crowd as they stuck to their poppier, upbeat songs, drawing mainly from their most recent, and most successful albums – Teen Dream, and Bloom.

But they did toss out a Scooby snack for the die hards —  “Auburn and Ivory” from their first, self-titled album. Legrand said they hadn’t played it in four years, but they did so admirably, the guitar twirling around the steady waltz of Legrand’s organ like a one twirls a finger in their hair.

They played well to their sold out crowd, maintaining their shy distance, yet giving us what we wanted.

Opener: Dustin Wong, formerly of Ponytail, was rad. He had a lot in common with Beach House, preferring a limited palette of instruments as well – in his case, a guitar and scads of pedals. Layering guitar line over guitar line until the piece hit the sublime chaos of a fugue, Wong didn’t talk much to the audience at all, save for his facial expressions as he played. The two acts together made for a night of quiet people who wanted the work to speak for itself.

Exchange is good


MUSIC The heyday of the mixtape was the 1990s, when a mix required a gentle touch with the pause button, careful calculations to make sure the songs fit on the cassette, and a delicate winding of the tape spool with the pinky finger, advancing the clear tape to the magnetic. They took hours to complete. They were fragile, often made in a torrent of teenage lust and given with sweaty palms.

With the San Francisco Mixtape Society, you get a semblance of that experience.

Every few months, the group holds free mixtape exchanges at the Mission District’s Make-Out Room. What happens is this: people come to the event with a mix (cassette, CD, or USB stick), and everyone gets a number. When your number is picked, you give your mix to the person who called your number. Then, you pick a number, and you get a mix in return. Each event has its own theme, to give attendees a spark of inspiration.

Most mixtape exchanges occur by word of mouth, or by invitation-only. Co-founders Annie Lin and John Verrochi, Brooklyn transplants, met by attending similar events in Brooklyn, which were low-key, “just hang outs in bars. We wanted to create an event that could accommodate more people, and make it easier to participate,” Lin said in an interview last week. The two of them started the exchange partly because there weren’t any events like it in San Francisco at the time.

“When I moved here I felt like there wasn’t really a channel for people that like music to meet other people that like music. When you go to a show, you really can’t talk to people. Part of it grew out of wanting to meet cool people as a newcomer to the city with no established clique. The nice thing is that a lot of people have actually come together,” said Lin.

“There’s two connections that you’re forced to have,” explained Ashley Saks, a member and organizer of the society. “One is with the person you’re giving your [mixtape] to, and one is the person you’re getting the mixtape from.”

“There is a dating aspect,” said co-founder Verrochi, “though we don’t promote that. You usually make them for someone you care about, so it kind of has this courting thing to it. People have definitely hooked up.”

The society gives a free beer to those who make a mix on cassette, and awards prizes in categories such as Best Art.

“We were thinking we would get to see cool graphic art, like really cool album covers,” Verrochi said. (He works by day as an art director.) “But it’s turned into these art objects. Tiny sculptures.”

Cases have been hand knit, papier-mâché’d, and encased in world globes. One person made a 3-D dollhouse. Another made a lemonade stand out of Popsicle sticks. The winner of the last event — the theme was “Under the Covers” — made a coffin. Inside was a collection of mixes that together formed a skeleton. The track listing came in a funeral booklet.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” said Lin. “You know you’re going to get something. You might get something huge and crazy, like a Noah’s Ark.”

Besides winsome cover art, coveted mixes are well-sequenced and tell a story. “Editing is the secret,” said Lin. “In this era it’s so easy to say, ‘Let’s get on Spotify and do a search for titles that have the theme in the name.’ With a really good mixtape, someone really thought about the tone or the flavor of the theme, and how the songs come together over all. It’s more than just an algorithmic search for songs, which is easy to do.”

One memorable mixtape was made for a Treasure Island Music Festival event. The theme was “Hidden Treasure,” and the tape was called “Pirate’s Booty.” “Every single song on that mixtape was about ass,” Verrochi said.

Interest in the SF Mixtape Society has grown beyond its own events. Music festivals like SXSW have asked the group to run exchanges, and mixtape enthusiasts in Toronto and San Diego have asked how to start similar groups. It’s a reflection of people’s desire to do more than share music on the internet.

“We live in a curation culture,” said Lin. “People make playlists and share them on Spotify. Like, ‘Here’s all the songs that I’m listening to right now on this playlist in random order.’ A mixtape is sharing, yes, but it’s also selecting exactly what it is you’re going to share.”

“I think why people like our event is you actually have to show up in person, you have to create an object and hand it to them. And there’s this really tangible quality to it,” Verrochi said.

The SF Mixtape Society’s next event, themed “American Summer,” occurs Sun/15 at the Make-Out Room; a smaller exchange will take place as part of the California Academy of Sciences’ “Mixology, Mixtapes and Remixes at NightLife” event July 19. *

Cartoonist confidential


VISUAL ART Daniel Clowes draws eyes that are eerily human. Dotting the pages of his well-regarded graphic novels, they are by turns embittered, despairing, and vulnerable. So it’s fitting that the Clowes’ first major retrospective is at the Oakland Museum of California. Oakland is an underdog city, and Clowes — a longtime resident — champions underdogs.

After its Bay Area run, the exhibition will go on to major cities in the U.S. and Europe. It spans his career to date, with panels from Ghost World and Wilson, as well as work for the New York Times and the New Yorker. A book, The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, was recently published in conjunction with the show, and is already in reprint.

I recently spoke with Clowes about the dream-like experience of seeing his subconscious from 20 feet away.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Comic book art goes through cycles of popularity. Where do you think we’re at right now?

Daniel Clowes It’s always like I’m at the eye of the hurricane. I can’t see what the zeitgeist is in terms of how comics are being taken by the public, you know? The feeling that people are going to inherently dismiss comics because they’re comics seems to be evaporating. People who 20 years ago would have nothing but disdain or horror if you told them that you drew comics are now sort of interested and see that as a viable means of expression. But I can’t tell if we’re in a bubble and it’s all going to disappear, or if it’s just going to get bigger.

SFBG Do you experience your own art differently at the museum?

DC I never see my artwork from a distance. The farthest I can get from my artwork in my studio is like 10 feet at the most, and I wouldn’t even do that. And so to see it on a wall, you see it in a very different way. You see the way it works compositionally. It’s just an abstract grouping of black shapes on a page. If I were intending work to go on a wall, I would do it very differently: it would be all about making those black shapes appealing from 20 feet away. And now it’s just sort of luck if that happens or not. It doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m trying to do.

SFBG The panels get larger as you progress through the show from the early work to the later work. They seemed more dense with subtext but with fewer lines.

DC That’s something I’m working toward. A certain kind of efficiency. I feel like any extra line distracts from the reading of a comic. I really want the reader to feel immersed in the story. I think the reason why the artwork got bigger over the years is, when I started, I couldn’t afford the paper. I had to try to squeeze like four pages onto one big sheet of paper. Also I used to have to send my artwork to the publisher — this was all before scanning. And so, if the artwork was really big it would cost a lot more money to send and it would get bent in half in the mail.

SFBG What’s the process you go through when you draw the eyes of your characters?

DC That’s always the last thing I do on a drawing. I leave the eyes blank. And people have come over and seen my work on the drawing board and found it very disconcerting and very weird that there are these faces with no eyes. But [the eyes are] the key to the drawing. That’s by far the most important part. And the eyes have to show some humanity behind them — even if they’re very simple circles. That’s how you can tell if a character is alive or not. It’s not something you can consciously do. I don’t really know what the secret to that is, except you have to sort of believe that they’re alive.

SFBG How do you feel about having your work preserved in a museum?

DC I think of the museum iteration of this work as being a temporary thing. I don’t see that as being where this work would end up. I would hope that [in the distant future] it would end up in book form, that people [will] still knew how to manipulate the pages of books and read them.

SFBG Has anything about the show surprised you?

DC Walking into that room was a strange experience. I really felt claustrophobic, like I was trapped in my own brain somehow. It was very dream-like. Last week was the most dream-like week I’ve had. Right after I went to the opening the other night, I came home and my son and I were out on our porch and we saw a car going 90 miles an hour. It hit the median right in front of the house, flew through the air, turned upside-down, and landed on its roof. It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen. And then, miraculously — there were little kids [inside], and [they] crawled out of this broken car. The next day I was like, was all that a dream? I was in a room with all my artwork and then I saw a car fly through the air. It was just so odd.

SFBG It was the same week as that thunderstorm.

DC Yes, it was all that stuff. It was very surreal. *


Through Aug. 12

Oakland Museum of California

1000 Oak, Oakl.

(510) 318-8400