Here’s what I remember about the first time I visited San Francisco: I saw Alcatraz, I paid an all-silver man to robot walk while playing a kazoo, and I was giddy when I learned that George Lucas lived nearby. I was 10.
In the recent past, as I’ve talked about in this columnbefore, I’ve pored over Bay Area garage. For the past two years, artists like Ty Segall, the Fresh & Onlys, and Thee Oh Sees have occupied a good chunk of my listening rotation. So while, yes, I headed to Haight Ashbury and looked at the house where the Grateful Dead used to live, I was way more invested in that weekend’s trash.
True story: I got a plane ticket to San Francisco without any plans or idea of what to do. A week later, Burger Records announced the Burger Boogaloo at Thee Parkside, a tiny bar across the street from Jackson Playground, which happened to be the same weekend I’d be visiting. And lo, the Burger folks handed down a weekend-long itinerary that augmented my tentative “buy records” and “eat food” plan.
Now there was definitely some weird stuff at the Boogaloo — the too-long dance-off where three women and the lead singer of Coconut Coolouts vied for a burger-topped trophy comes to mind. And then there was MOM. For the uninitiated, MOM is a Sacramento woman with mouse ears and a Minnie Mouse voice who sings along to chopped-up 1950s novelty records while her breasts flop out of her dress. She is also accompanied by a large nude man in a baby mask. (Overheard immediately after: “I can’t believe I just paid for their tape.”) But then there was the awesome stuff. (Note: I had to miss the day show on Saturday and both shows on Sunday.)
1. Thee Oh Sees – Obviously. One frequent bit of critical praise for Carrion Crawler/The Dream is that the album managed to bring the band’s live energy to the studio. So of course, when he busted into “The Dream” to open the set, a sizable mass of people erupted in a mosh pit. Even in the song’s quieter moments, there was still an endless drive that kept everybody shoving, jumping, and beaming (save the one guy who jumped on stage and inexplicably glared at everybody). Most of the material came from that album, but “I Was Denied” from 2010’s Warm Slime was a definite highlight.
And this band is incredibly tight, because pretty much every song sticks close to the recorded source material. Harmonies, guitar solos, percussion, rhythm — it all sounds pretty faithful to the record, and given the constant, energetic churn of their last album, that’s the sort of thing that works perfectly for that band. If they play your town, see them.
Choice moment: Somebody requesting “Ruby Go Home” and Dwyer admitting that they don’t know that one anymore. “I fucked up.”
2. The Coathangers and White Mystery – I’ve already sung the praises of White Mystery in this column, but its live show is on point, rarely stopping between songs, thrashing those red fros, and playing all the hits. They’re currently touring with the Coathangers, the Atlanta punks who expertly shrieked through several songs from Larceny & Old Lace.
Choice moment: Alex White saying, “We’re White Mystery from Chicago,” followed by “buhga buhga buhga buhga.”
3. Coconut Coolouts – Played “Party Jail”. That’s pretty much all I needed.
Choice moment: The song was introduced as a Shangri-Las song.
4. King Tuff – I am a huge fan of Kyle Thomas, aka King Tuff. When I discovered his power pop masterwork Was Dead in 2009, it was on repeat for a few months. (I ran a now-defunct garage blog when that album came out, where different artists would talk about songs they liked. KT popped up on several lists– I think Nobunny picked “Connection”.) That album featured several anthemic guitar solos, sticky hooks, and elated shrieks.
Live, these songs completely ripped. Thomas is an excellent guitar player and didn’t miss a note even when the mob knocked over his mic stand. He’s also a ridiculously fun showman, constantly winking and giving coy, flirtatious Jagger glances over his shoulder. He only played one song from his upcoming LP on Sub Pop (“Bad Thing”, which ruled), and he wailed through the parade of Was Dead hits: “Freak When I’m Dead”, “Lady”, “Dancing On You”, “Connection”, and a handful of others that had most of the crowd singing along. The pit reeled so hard, my bus pass flew out of my pocket, got torn in half, and was rendered unusable for the rest of the weekend. Worth it.
Choice moment: Thomas pointed at one guy in the crowd and said, “Can I have a sip of your beer, bro?” The guy handed him his beer. “YEAAAHH!” He drank it (it’s a PBR) and immediately cringed. “Oh my God.”
5. Guantanamo Baywatch – Horrible band name, killer surf rockers from Portland. Look out for their LP coming out on Dirtnap this year.
Choice moment: The band playing “Dottie” from their upcoming album.
6. King Lollipop – Now this was a surprise. I’m not proud to admit this, but I wasn’t expecting for King Lollipop’s show to be such a huge highlight. On his debut solo album Woodland Whoopee Songs of Ol’ Callowhee, Cody Blanchard of Shannon & the Clams plays simplistic, old timey rock ’n’ roll songs accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. On the album, the songs are simplistic and pleasant, which set up expectations for a low-key coffee house set. Instead, he was backed by five (five!) percussionists, cranked up the distortion on his guitar, and stomped out the most entertaining and memorable set of the weekend. It sounds like gimmicky, but when you have five people each playing at least two drums while dancing gleefully and erratically, it adds a palpable energy and sense of joy that those songs desperately needed. This is a cheap comparison, but it quickly brought to mind LCD Soundsystem’s live show, which became infinitely more lively and powerful when several people started attacking various percussion instruments. Except instead of “Yeah” or “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” or whatever, it’s a song called “Cheeseburger & Fries”.
Choice moment: The very first moment when all five percussionists smiled at each other and started dancing.
7. Being around a bunch of drunk people who liked the same sort of music I like. It’s a beautiful thing.
Evan Minsker is a music writer who blogs and tweets. He had a great time in San Francisco, but is happy to be back in a town that only sometimes smells like weed.