Lost in the Night is a new column that follows the adventures of former promoter Derek Opperman as he reviews the shifting world of San Francisco nightlife. If you have a party that you would like covered, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
120 Minutes and Tri Angle Presents: Clams Casino, oOoOO, White Ring, Shlohmo, Babe Rainbow, Water Borders, and Deej
August 19, 2011
Better than: Not much, honestly.
Last March my eyes were opened: I saw Salem at 103 Harriet and found it be one of the strangest live spectacles I'd seen in recent years. Having been through that, and not being a huge follower of the genre, I wondered what had become of witch house since its peak in popularity, and what kind of new live experiences it had to offer. It was with these strange (and ultimately self-destructive) thoughts in my head that I entered a cab with some friends and headed to 103 Harriet for last Friday's Tri Angle records showcase, put on by 103 Harriet and 120 Minutes.
We arrived early, about 10:30, just in time to beat the line and catch the bar before the rush. Walking inside, we were immediately greeted by the decidedly non-witchy music of local producer Deej. Keeping it mellow, he entertained the crowd by mumble-singing harmonies to a laptop set of his own Brainfeeder-esque beats. It was unremarkable but inoffensive.
Glancing around the room, I noticed that the crowd was strikingly diverse. Though the club was far from packed, it was obvious that the evening would be a strange mixture: already the room had separated into small cliques comprised of PVC-clad EBM burnouts, hipster girls wearing black, streetwear aficionados, and what can only be described as flannel-clad "Pop's regulars."
Following Deej were the truly cringe-worthy Water Borders, a local band that recently signed to Tri Angle. I'd seen them perform once before, back in March with Salem, and still feel as though they are one of the worst bands I've seen in recent memory. Sounding like a weird, electronic parody of Echo & The Bunnymen, their hackneyed industrial drum programming combined with Amitai Heller's vocal histrionics are so ridiculous that I have a hard time believing the band isn't some well-planned, goofy conceptual art project.
It was around the first song of their set that I began to realize the night was not going to end well. Coincidentally, it was also during this set that I realized there was something seriously wrong with the sound system. From Water Borders on into Babe Rainbow, the sound was consistently poor, with distortion, vocal level problems, short-outs, and other headaches. These sound system woes seemed only to increase as the volume level rose, ultimately peaking with a complete meltdown during Babe Rainbow's set. Just before it happened, Babe Rainbow, aka Cameron Reed, looked like someone about to eat it on a skateboard.
Strangely, the ensuing minute or two of dead air gave Babe Rainbow the distinction of having one of the more memorable moments of the night. It at least allowed me to remember something unique from his set, which otherwise consisted of him looking at his laptop, emotionally rubbing his face, and occasionally moving the crossfader on his MIDI controller. The audience response seemed to be mostly boredom and smartphone usage.
The next group was bona-fide witch-house outfit White Ring, whose set was the best part of the evening. Taking the stage looking like a pair of pale, asexual, junky space aliens, they were one of the strangest things I've ever seen live. Sure, they suffered the same sound problems as everyone else, but in a way, the awful mixing -- which caused vocalist Kendra Malia's voice to drift in and out -- just added to the epically stoned stage presence. Everything blurred together into a blanket of noise occasionally pierced by Malia's squeaky -- and creepy -- Yoko-Ono-with-laryngitis voice.
After a brief and unmemorable DJ interlude, the night took a turn away from the dark sound of White Ring and into the more danceable sound of Shlohmo. Fans of the L.A. left-field beats scene might know Shlohmo as a kind of local kindred spirit. But his set on Friday brought the evening closer to a straight-up dance party: He dropped his own tracks and hammed it up with intense and ridiculous dance moves. The crowd seemed to enjoy it, though when the bar closed, people weren't making a point of staying.
By the time Clams Casino went on, well after 2 a.m., there was a slow exodus out the door. Considering that the New Jersey native was one of the main acts for the evening, this says a lot. Of course, it certainly didn't help that his live show consisted of nothing more than him standing still while playing with his iPad. Combine that with the omnipresent sound issue and you have to ask yourself: Why stay when you can get the same experience (if not a better one) at home?
It was around this time, close to 3 a.m., that we decided to cut our losses and join the stream of people leaving. It wasn't a huge bummer, though I wouldn't have minded seeing oOoOO's set, considering he was the headliner. Still, one wonders who decided to put the headliner on at 3 a.m.
On our way out the door, I had a conversation with an acquaintance in the smoking area. It was mostly small talk, but he summed up the evening perfectly: "I guess that was worth $20."