Pop residencies gain traction in S.F.

The long history of musician residencies reaches into nearly every genre. From jazz giants setting up shop for multiple nights with various players to showbiz legends hunkering down in Vegas, performers can hone a variety of skills while calling one club home. This week alone we have multiple offerings in town, such as avant-jazz legend John Zorn's stint at Yoshi's and experimental folksters Akron/Family's three-night run at the Hemlock (see Hear This).

Residencies by local indie-rock and pop bands, however, haven't quite taken hold here like they have in other cities, despite efforts from clubs like the Hemlock, Café du Nord, and Hotel Utah over the years. The ones that garner the most attention generally come from extended tour stops — Built to Spill's regular gigs at Slim's or Smashing Pumpkins taking over the Fillmore — or occasionally a local like Jonathan Richman selling out multiple nights at the Make-Out Room. Indie acts in Los Angeles and New York, however, use the idea to their advantage more often. East L.A. clubs like Spaceland and the Silverlake Lounge have become quasilegendary for breaking artists by installing them for multiple dates over the course of a month. Kevin Bronson, who runs the SoCal blog Buzz Bands, calls residencies the ideal way to iron out glitches, a rock world calisthenics of sorts. He recently sponsored his first for an unknown Los Angeles act and watched the audience multiply with each progressive show. "When you have word of mouth for a band that's going to have another show the next week, people can bring their friends back," he says.

But residencies in our city are gaining traction. Malcolm Sosa, frontman for the Fresno-based indie-pop band Rademacher, echoes Bronson's sentiments. The band drove its tour van a couple of times every week in November 2007, headlining residencies in San Francisco, Fresno, and Los Angeles. Sosa says his Wednesday nights at the Knockout garnered a more immediate response than his one-off shows, especially when the opening acts returned with their friends. By the end of the month, he says he was able to sell Rademacher's draw to places like Bottom of the Hill, making it easier to move up to larger venues. (Sosa adds one other advantage: When gas prices rise, the practice offers regular show opportunities with less expense than a national tour.)

Pop residencies aren't just an experiment for smaller acts trying to break into the local club scene. More established groups like Loquat are also giving the idea a try. Loquat just announced it's playing shows every Thursday night in May at Café du Nord. Frontwoman Kylee Swenson said she considered the idea after hearing friends in LoveLikeFire rave about their residency in L.A. Loquat has been around since 2002, but Swenson says she's ready to spread out more artistically. "We can work out a bunch of stuff that we've been putting off," she says of the upcoming gigs. "Every show will be a different setlist, and we can experiment with visuals, which we've never done before." By booking the support for four consecutive weeks with out-of-town acts from the Northwest and Los Angeles, Loquat is also establishing connections that will in turn help when the San Franciscans hit the road.

Of course, doing a residency isn't all uplift for bands, indie or otherwise. "If it starts going south, it's a lot harder to get out of [the shows], versus a one-off gig where you only have, say, an hour to go," Rademacher's Sosa laughs. For his part, Buzz Bands' Bronson says he's seen some Los Angeles bands' audiences diminish over their run. But even shrinking crowds can help musicians in the long run. "As discouraging as that is," he says, "it indicates for them much quicker what they're doing wrong."

 
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