Live Review: Cathedrals Lead Midnight Mass at The Independent

Cathedrals at The Independent Feb. 27.

Cathedrals
The Tropics
Crashing Hotels
DJ Turf Yard
The Independent
Feb. 27, 201
5

Is that the light at the end of the tunnel? As Noise Pop 2015 drew to a close I could only steal a glance or two at the rearview mirror before pinning my eyes firmly on the road ahead. On Friday, everything everywhere was happening all at the same time. FOMO was inevitable this night, with Slow Belly, Geographer, No Joy, Grouper, Cosmonauts, Wet, The Family Crest, and Mick Jenkins all headlining excellent bills on both sides of the bay. After a stop at Bender's, this time with the dissonance of Never Young, Stalls, and Couches, the Independent was my destination, ready and waiting with a three-band bill that was as San Francisco as a sourdough housing crisis.

[jump] DJ Turf Yard was preheating the room upon arrival with a mix of soul cuts and singalongs, and the space swelled as the house lights darkened for Crashing Hotels. Behind props that included pulsating light rectangles, a smoking pyramid and a large television repeating a dizzying sequence of colors and shapes, Ao and Tony took the stage to an air of bemused intrigue. Most patrons came to see the headliners, but us early birds certainly got the best worms as the duo's motherboard of music dug electro-goth grubs from the cold earth. From behind a Heisenberg's uncertainty principle quantum fluctuation of sound that was constantly changing direction, Ao's nebulous vocals wiggled to the foreground. Songs ebbed and flowed like a king tide, washing in to flood your ears before receding back into the Bay. Impassioned shrieks and sporadic guitar noodling cut in with a serrated edge, and during more up-beat tunes Ao hunched over his keyboards shaking bleach-tipped dreads that stirred the crowd like an eggbeater.

“If I could make movies, I would make movies but I can't make movies and I still need that energy to get out of me,” Ao said backstage after his set. “I'm not really a musician, I'm just kind of like a daydreamer.” Dream on. 
After the set, decorations were removed and the curtain lifted for Act II: The Tropics. Every good Greek tragedy needs a face to launch a thousand ships, and backed by her well-rehearsed royal court, frontwoman Claire George did just that. Skin-tight rhythm from Kern Sigala on drums and Nate Skelton's jazz master bass, buoyed by Rowan Peter's well-dressed guitar cuts, paired with stylish backup vocals and Eric Silverman's shimmering, strumming and occasional ballet on keys — all if it came together to carry the band's blend of feel-good indie pop, which plays like the soundtrack of a rags-to-riches romantic comedy.

No shades of gray in sight as the group's vibrant palette painted a watercolor canvas of cadence, while a Hawaiian-themed horns section garnished the performance like the paper umbrella on a Mai Tai. Drawing mostly from the radio-ready Wind House release, out on Breakup Records, they found time to debut two new songs, “Bored at Best” and “Broken Bones.” George, hopping around while grinning from ear to ear, certainly clarified any doubts about her presence on stage; she thanked the enraptured audience for coming aboard the Noise Pop hype train, and dedicated a song to her mom, who was among the fans in the now-full venue.

I found Rowan perched by the merch table, baked in the afterglow of his biggest show to date, and asked him for his thoughts on the festival's 23rd year of production. “I really like Noise Pop because it gives local artists a chance to play with bigger artists and kind of get the word out a little bit, and then you get to see great national acts too,” he said. After a dramatic pause, he added, “I don't know what the fuck to say, man.” Your Peabody is in the mail.
The headliners for the night, Cathedrals, could do no wrong. Faithful devotees crowded the stage like nervous sinners before the rapture, hoping to get a blessing or at least a drop or two of holy water. This was the show people were here to see, and the fact that the night sold out before any supporting acts were announced was evident. It was impossible to ignore the allure of Brodie Jenkins, clad in a sweeping black gown, as she swayed to the opening electronic drum hits of “See You In The Dark” with her back to the audience. Co-conspirator Johnny Hwin plucked away at reverb-drenched guitar verses, lending his vocal talents to the mic as the group waltzed through an airy sermon complete with the highs and lows of a midnight mass. The minimal instrumentation allowed Jenkins' choral range to shine through unfiltered, overlapped with the humming wattage of a loosely wired electrical circuit. Transistors blinked to life as the room was caught in the current of pointed rhythmic emphasis and lustrous, almost shoegazey, organ droning. Jenkins' yodeling onomatopoeia of sound echoed around the room as the peaks and troughs amplified, and the audience bobbed along like a ship on a stormy sea.
The biggest reaction came with “Harlem,” the opening cut off the group's latest release on Neon Gold Records. The track starts with an ascending a cappella that's too easy to get swept up in, then a life raft of drums and bright guitar arpeggio pulls you up before the riptide drags you under. The band was sincerely appreciative towards the crowd, and friends and fans urged them onto an encore. Then the crowd spilled out into the windy night, enlivened by the Eucharist and ready to have more water turned into wine.

Critic's Notebook:

Cathedrals were back at the Independent for another sold out show on Saturday.

 

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