Long-standing Bay Area music festival Noise Pop has been a staple in the Independent music scene since its inception in 1993. Now in its 27th year, it continues to prove its relevance and draw attention to itself as well as the artists it was designed to promote. Throughout this week-long festival, music venues of all sizes across the Bay Area open their doors and play host to a long list of talented independent artists. The celebration of emerging artists and DIY culture draws crowds young and old, as it consistently takes the city by storm and reminds us all of the humble beginnings of a musician’s journey. This year’s installment of the festival saw no shortage of excitement.
To truly christen the week of festivities, Noise Pop festival organizers hosted a Cannabis happy hour the Friday night before the festival at Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco’s Japantown. The venue was packed from wall to wall with excited guests, eager to take part in the fun. The event had a feel more alike a trade show than a happy hour, with no samples of any medicinal products being offered to the public. However, the energy was still high throughout the night.
The first concert of the week, Teenage Fanclub opened the festival with an electrifying set at the historic Fillmore. Apart from the music, the venue itself reflected the aura of the festival. From the Noise Pop decorations scattered throughout the building to the poster hall where the poster commemorating The Monkees 2001 Fillmore performance having been enshrined with roses in reverence of the recent passing of Peter Tork just a few days prior. The mood was set for Teenage Fanclub as they took the stage. Throughout the night, the band made light of their age and 29 years together numerous times throughout their performance. “We only play to venues that have defibrillators” Lead singer and guitarist Norman Blake announced to the crowd as a part of the slew of jokes at their own expense. Despite their references to their old age, the band played a long set that went well past the venue’s curfew. The energizing night set a high bar for what was to come in the week that followed.
The next night at the Swedish American Hall, a lineup of young women who echoed the embodiment of empowerment. Australian opener Meg Mac took the stage and quickly set the tone for the evening. Accompanied by a guitarist and backing vocalist, the harmonies and smooth melodies created a sound and feel comparable to the Dixie Chicks. Charlotte Lawrence’s headlining performance that immediately followed highlighted details that make small venue shows special from every end of the spectrum. While her fans’ high energy carried throughout the night, the venue’s equipment could not live up to the same standards, as the microphones and amplifiers malfunctioned multiple times throughout the night, turning the second halves of many songs into acoustic sing-alongs with the support of the audience. Eventually, the technical difficulties became too much of an obstacle for the artist to overcome, and Lawrence was forced to cut her set short, opting for a fan meet-and-greet to compensate attendees for the shortened night.
While the mood was light-hearted and easy going at the Swedish American Hall, downstairs, however, at the hall’s sister venue “Café Du Nord” the theme of the night took on a more of a trap feeling. A night of Hip Hop headlined by Kodie Shane drew an impressive crowd to the intimate speakeasy-themed venue. The night consistently maintained an informal and low maintenance vibe, as multiple friends joined each artist to feature during several songs throughout the night.
Later that same night, My Brightest Diamond gave what was arguably the best set of the festival to an enthusiastic crowd at The Rickshaw Stop. Classically trained artist Shara Nova stole the limelight as she gave a high energy and universally stimulating performance to the late-night crowd. A classically trained opera singer with a tenured career, Nova’s vocal ability was at no point on trial, but her ability to give a visually provocative performance at such a small and limited venue proved to be the distinguishing factor in the show. She demanded the audience’s full attention from the moment her set began. As the lights dimmed, the music began to the discombobulation of the audience as the band had not yet appeared onstage. The double meaning of the opening number immediately made sense as more and more audience members noticed Nova emerge from the crowd and walk toward the stage, repeating the titular line from her first song “It’s Me on the Dance Floor.” What followed was a set that started with and sustained a high level of energy throughout. Nova’s setlist was comprehensive of her band’s repertoire, including hits both new and old, even throwing in a cover of The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy” just to bring some nostalgia to the show.
Northern California native Jason Lytle, mostly made famous from his tenure as frontman of indie band Grandaddy played an acoustic set to an audience at the Swedish American hall that was all too excited to take part in the performance. As Lytle took the stage, he sat in front of a piano as a white backdrop appeared behind him, onto it personal pictures and home movies were projected during the music, while video of a burning campfire played in between his songs as he addressed the crowd. After the second piece, he jokingly held his hands up to the projected flame to warm himself up. The set took on a deeply personal feel early on. In lieu of merchandise, Lytle decided to hold a fundraiser in memorial of his late dog, Tippy. He announced that he was releasing new music as a part of a fundraiser to benefit San Francisco charity Muttville, an organization facilitating adoptions of senior dogs. The rest of the long set was filled with hits prompting the audience to sing along to most songs throughout the night.
Noise Pop 2019 ended in a specular and fitting fashion. Sunday night at The Chapel, The Marías performed to a sold-out crowd and epitomized Noise Pop’s artistic mission. The band itself played a multilingual set that drew continuous roars from the audience. Their smooth pop aura encouraged a positive vibe from the house well into the night. Good vibes were sent and received from the minute they opened with Spanish song “Cariño” to the unexpected moment when they covered Britney Spears’ classic “Baby One More Time.” In so many ways, this night reflected the mission of the Noise Pop movement; a young and light-hearted crowd eagerly waiting for a band with nothing short of a bright future destined on the horizon. It seemed fitting for this to be the last show left on our pallet before the festival went away for the next year. Until then, we can only wait to see what comes from the emerging artists we have just met, to the new and emerging ones who are destined to appear on the bill next year.