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March 2, 2004
It's the week all of us here in San Francisco have been eagerly anticipating for the past year. No, it is not the six days leading up to the Gay Pride parade. Nor is it the week of the Folsom Street leather fair (which is far, far more shocking than the Gay Pride parade). This week is Noise Pop!

For one whole week each year our city is inundated by all things Indie Rock. Venues around town host shows by well known and up and coming bands. Independent theaters screen hip music related movies. Panels comprised of musicians and experts provide discourse on the hot music topics of the day. Thrift stores overcharge even more for a shirt that was probably worn by your dad while he was mowing the front lawn on a sweaty afternoon in 1984.

Currently in its twelfth year, Noise Pop has grown from a single show to 130 bands playing several shows per night, all spread out over six days. Past alumni of the festival read like a who's who of Indie rock: The Flaming Lips! Modest Mouse! Archers of Loaf! The White Stripes! The list goes on and on. Noise Pop 2004 did not break from tradition and featured its fair share of heavy hitters. Every night was a bounty of sweet musical fruit.

---

Pregame

I quickly learned that along with the euphoria of so much good music comes the inevitable letdown of reality. Browsing the Internet to see who was playing where and when, I noticed that many of the shows were selling out weeks before. Because of the high profile the festival brings with it, bands that I could have seen for half the price at much smaller venues a few weeks earlier were now selling out shows like full fledged Rockstars. My fear of commitment usually inhibits me from buying presale tickets, which means that I either end up with fingers crossed about fortieth deep in line, making up elaborate tales/lies to try and confuse or impress the bouncer, or saying Fuck It, missing the show and going to a bar to get drunk. Sure I could plunk down 125 bucks for a pass that lets me into anything Noise Pop related, but did you fucking just read what I wrote? 125 bucks. I guess no one said Noise Pop wasn't capitalistic. I was just gonna have to roll the dice and see what kind of week lady luck had in store for me.

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Tuesday (Day one)

Oh the excitement! I can hardly contain myself. So many options what do I choose? Apparently I chose to go home, watch a movie, and go to sleep. Does it count if I listen to Death Cab For Cutie before going to bed and then dream that Ben Gibbard and I are singing a duet in front of thousands of applauding polar bears inside a huge hollowed out chicken pot pie? I am such a fucking dork.

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Wednesday (Day two)
A big day. Denali, The Locust, or the Unicorns? Cross the Locust off because every time I see them, I'm not exactly sure if I actually liked what just transpired. That means either the extremely hot lead singer of Denali or the two Canadian weirdos who comprise the Unicorns. In true San Francisco fashion I pick weird dudes. The Unicorns win on curiosity. I could only imagine what the people were like behind the signature quirky pop music. The day of the show I almost had to shelve the show because of forces out of my control. God and an even higher power, Ticketmaster, conspired to keep me oh for two. First it was raining so hard I was fearful to leave my house. The wind picked up and all of a sudden The Unicorns didn't seem like a cause worth braving the bitterly cold and somehow sideways flying rain. The kind people at Ticketmaster didn't help my motivation by charging a forty- percent service charge on pre-sale tickets. In lieu of the 40% I think they may have accepted cutting your thumb off and sending that in with your credit card information, but I decided to forgo that route.

Standing up to corporate tyranny, I put on an extra trucker cap, braved the elements, foiled Ticketmaster's attempt at world domination by buying at the box office and was rewarded by one of the best and goofiest shows I have witnessed in a while. Continuously trading instruments, the band ran through all of their songs from Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone and debuted a few new ones. Whether wearing a tie without a shirt, smoking a whole joint and forgetting lyrics, or a finale that involved jumping on speaker stacks to have a dance off, the Unicorns back up their intelligent and extremely catchy music with some of the most low-brow stage antics this side of Blink-182. Needless to say, the crowd ate it up and the Unicorns set the bar pretty high for the rest of the festival.

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Thursday (Day three)
I think I either stayed home or went skating. Dude, I'm paid hourly, I had to eat this week too. Sorry, no rock tonight.

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Friday (Day Four)
Friday was going to be a big night. All day I pranced around work like the luckiest pony in the stable. I wavered (no shit) and the Pedro the Lion show sold out. I thought I was going to have to spend my Friday night drinking and reminiscing about how much I always enjoyed seeing them live. But it just so happened that one of my coworkers was on a film crew for a Noise Pop documentary and asked if I had ever heard of a band called Pedro the Lion. Of course I had, who hasn't? Elliot in the next office over hasn't, that's who. Because of his ignorance of good music he asked if I would interview David Bazan and John Vanderslice and help film the shows. All day excitement mixed with nervousness as I counted down the hours. Arriving early, I tracked down David Bazan and John Vanderslice in the bowels of the Great American Music Hall. After listening to my friend Elliot bitch about the aesthetics of the room that had been supplied for interviews and his never-ending complaints about the lighting at the Great American we finally got down to business. Both interviewees were incredibly gracious and intelligent, nice guys, which lead to two awesome conversations. Afterwards I had an even greater appreciation for both musicians based on their great attitudes and sincerity behind the music they make.

The show that evening opened with The Advantage, a band that wore spray-painted gold baseball helmets and played covers of old Nintendo songs. Do you know how fucking rad that is? You know how excited you are when a band plays your favorite song during their set? Now imagine how awesome it is when the band plays your favorite song, from your favorite video game when you were seven years old. Plus you could almost see the lightbulbs going off in people's heads and the smiles crossing their face as they figured out which game each song was from. Afterwards I saw the band's setlist and every song was classified by what level on each game they were taken from. Fucking brilliant.

After The Advantage, John Vanderslice played to a nearly packed house. It is rather difficult to enjoy a show through the viewfinder of a heavy camera while trying to dodge fans and get that perfect shot, but what I was able to catch was excellent. I was worried that Vanderslice's songs wouldn't sound as good without the studio wizardry behind them, but he was able to deftly recreate all of the emotion and nuances of his recorded work in his live performance. The audience was incredibly receptive for what very well may have been one of his biggest shows.

After a few more over-priced drinks of Miller High Life, Pedro the Lion took the stage. With the house lights very low and the venue very crowded, David Bazan and company played a variety of songs spanning Pedro's whole discography, captivating the audience for an hour and a half. Crowd favorites and personal favorites were interspersed with new songs off of their soon to be released album. Standing on the balcony for the entire show I could see the earnestness in the faces of the congregation as they held onto Bazan's every word. The singer was able to add a bit of levity to the somber mood by delivering goofy monologues or engaging the crowd in a few Q and A sessions between songs. It was nice to see that even with the heartache and melancholy subject matter of his music, Bazan can still be witty and humorous. To end the night, Bazan played a new song about war, strumming an acoustic guitar underneath a lone spotlight. Dare I say magical? If you were a real fan of their music, Pedro the Lion left you with a knot in your throat, telling your friends, "Dude, shut up, I just go something in my eye."

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Saturday (Day Five)
The Wrens. This was actually the show I was most looking forward to. Not only is the Wrens' music pretty damn good, but they seem like one of those bands that tour infrequently and that one might not have many opportunities to see. Once again my luck held out as an evening show was added after the planned afternoon show sold out. As good as the bands were the previous few nights, memories are made in small venues. The Great American Music Hall is beautiful and majestic, but it is also big. You can feel the space even while crushed together with the rest of the fans on the floor. Much of the band's energy and intensity is lost in the high ceilings and balconies and empty areas in the back. The Bottom of the Hill, on the other hand, is so small and can get so packed that you can feel like you are suffocating. Whether lost in the crowd while paying attention to the band or caught in a surge from the constant flow of patrons moving from the bar to the equally crowded outdoor patio in back, there is not an inch of free space in the place. When a band kills it there the energy jumps from person to person like static electricity, the crowd heeds the pull of gravity and becomes a dense mass radiating outward from the stage, and the music rises to the point of overpowering. The collective joy is almost tactile until the last note, when sweaty bodies stumble and fall out and cram their way through the exit into the chill of the San Francisco night.

I was a little skeptical at first sight of the band. Because of label mishaps and growing pains, the band had taken six or seven years to release their second album. Which means that these guys aren't exactly spring chickens. But like you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge a musician by his hairline. From their raucous start, all the way through the encore, the Wrens did not let up for a second. They put peers ten years their junior to shame with their stage presence and enthusiasm. I think the bass player spent more time standing on the drum kit than the stage, and the band seemed to play their songs twice as fast live as they appear on record. Their catchy, poppy songs took on an exhilarating punk tone when played live. I could barely contain my happiness as I elatedly jumped around, much to the chagrin of those around me trying to look cool in completely stationary fashion. Noise Pop! The Wrens! Noise Pop! The Wrens! Outtasight.

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Sunday (Day Six)
Some of us have to be at work in the morning. After I had said my prayers, drank my warm milk, and had my kindly, dreadlocked roommate tuck me in, I finally had a chance to digest the prior week. Noise Pop had been a huge success, bringing together thousands of people to see quality music all across the beautiful city of San Francisco. Although I wasn't able to make it out every night, I was able to see a diverse array of amazing bands in three short nights. Nodding off with a smile on my face, I dreamed about the possibilities of the 2005 festival and the next time Ben and I would get to duet in front of our adoring polar bear public.

SEE ALSO: www.noisepop.com

--
Kevin Alfoldy
An aspiring global adventurer who cut his teeth on the sandy beaches and dirty bitches of Southern California, Kevin Alfoldy now spends his non-vacation days in Brooklyn, New York, where he occasionally finds the time to rub the crust out of his eyes long enough to contribute reviews and feature articles for LAS. A longtime staff member, Kevin also captains the tattered, often half-sunk raft of EPmd, our irregular column of EP reviews.

See other articles by Kevin Alfoldy.

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