With fall festivals happening galore, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass kicked off Friday in Golden Gate Park's Speedway Meadows with an impressive roster that included Patti Smith, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, that pretentious dude who used to be in Bright Eyes, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, MC Hammer (why not?) and tons more. My biggest draw was to hear the smooth sounds of Michael McDonald. When I arrived in the park from 22nd Avenue and Fulton all I could do was follow that sweet sound of the smooth. Call it a guilty pleasure or a blatant act of unabashed cult-baby-boomer fanaticism; I simply longed to hear “What a Fool Believes,” or the G Funk original “I Keep Forgetting.” But rather I came in time for an almost too enthusiastic rendition (with a little thanks to Boz Scaggs and Donald Fagan) of the Doobies’ semi-classic “Takin' it to the Streets.” Rest assured that I will spare you the details on how their minivan jam classic supreme cover of the O’Jay’s “Love Train” went down. With that I left the park, sadly never to return for the festival’s remaining weekend duration.
My paramount interest was the welcomed addition of Brooklyn’s So So Glos to Friday night’s line up at Polk’s Street’s always delightful Hemlock Tavern. Frontman Alex Levine was very inviting, summoning all the local wallflowers from their scene-conscious stoop to join him and the band up front. Heck of a lot of energy, Levine did some bouncy pogo version of the “running man” that inspired more than a few mop topped mopesters to dance. Their last three songs were the crowning gems of their set, beginning with their single “Lindy Hop,” followed by “Here Comes the Neighborhood” and then a big ultra-energetic performance of “Black and White.” I talked to Alex briefly after the set and he brought that same earnest intensity to a discussion of the “lo-fi wave” of mutilation: “It’s like there’s an entire world out there and you’re underwater.” We marinated on that for a moment before he admitted almost with fondness; “but you know, there’s still some (lo-fi sounds) that I really like.” Fair enough.
The Royal Baths stopped all the dancing with an extra drone-y set that would have caused Jason Spaceman to relapse. Dig what they have going on, their sometimes jangly style was thrown under the bus here in favor of their big, throbbing grind-chords of doom like on the macabre “Black Sheep” and “Drudgery.” They currently are on a massive national tour with fellow San Franciscans The Fresh & Onlys. Check your local listings.
Australia’s Super Wild Horses weren’t nearly as awful as I had feared after listening to a live leak of the girls playing the Victoria Hotel in Melbourne July 31, 2010. The reason perhaps for any proficiency deficiency was that somewhere in their set the girls switch roles from Amy on guitar and Hayley on drums to Hayley on guitar and Amy on drums. Don’t know if this really helps them, seems they continue to emulate some kind of chirped out cacophony that only Kleenex/LiLiPUT could pull off proper. They seem more like the types of gals who would be better suited working at over-priced boutiques who wait on you with those exhausted Zooey Deschanel “whatever” eyes when you’re just a dude at Wasteland trying to find a suitable pair of working class trousers.
The Mantles made for an uplifting headliner. There is something about these guys that makes you feel at home and happy whenever you hear them or catch them at a gig. I feel sorta bummed out and guilty that I didn’t get to see them at the Woodsist Fest in Big Sur. They have a chill vibe that some people evidently don’t seem to understand. But I digress; the Mantles are more of a local treasure than all divisions of Retro City Fashions combined.
Be sure to check out the So So Glos October 12 EP release Back Chain Shift on Green Owl Records.