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International indie pop nirvana returns to S.F., courtesy of Shelflife Records

Wednesday, May 22 2002
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For a brief period three years ago, San Francisco seemed like an international indie pop nirvana. Between the "Schokolade" and "Anisette" parties -- put on by local label honchos Alexander Bailey, Jennifer Silver, and Mike Schulman -- and the first San Francisco Pop Festival, the Bay Area served as temporary home to acts from France (Watoo Watoo), Spain (Ana D), England (Marine Research), and all over the U.S. The local scene overflowed with riches as well, from the hard fuzz of the Aislers Set to the soft jangle of the Fairways. Unfortunately, following the closure of cheap dives like the Purple Onion and the Cocodrie and a lull in the formation of new groups, the enthusiasm dissipated.

When Shelflife Records co-chief Ed Mazzucco moved here in October of last year, he vowed to bring back the excitement of that earlier period. This week's event -- featuring performances by Majestic, Charming, Simpático, and the Orange Peels' Allen Clapp -- is a fine starting point.

L.A.'s Majestic, which played "Schokolade" back in February 1999, released a second LP called Wake Up, Come Out and Play! on Shelflife late last year. The record builds on the dreamy, organ-driven pop of the large ensemble's 1999 debut, adding layers of synths, horns, and vocal harmonies for a sound that's perfect for the beach, whether you're splashing in the surf or watching the sun set along the water's edge. With his new solo effort, Available Light (on March Records), Bay Area native Clapp seems like he's spent too much time in the sun. Not since John Lennon's Double Fantasy has an artist sounded so happy -- and so uninteresting. Majestic labelmate Charming succeeds better at a bright sound on its debut album, Champagne and Magazines. Giving pop a disco spin, the quartet weights its warm vibe with lovesick lyrics, soulful female vocals, and synthesized strings. Meanwhile, Simpático -- the sole province of Melbourne, Australia's Jason Sweeney -- dispenses with a happy feel altogether on the aptly titled full-length The Difference Between Alone & Lonely. Over stuttering programmed beats, Sweeney strums his guitar and moans about boys who've done him wrong. With his droning riffs and lyrical candor, Sweeney seems indebted to Morrissey, the original boy with the thorn in his side, who famously sang, "Heaven knows I'm miserable now." If all goes according to plan, however, this show should prove far more heavenly than depressing.

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Dan Strachota

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