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March 4, 2008
The 16th incarnation of Noise Pop, assembled by the same lovely folks behind last fall's inaugural Treasure Island Music Festival [LAS feature], was a weeklong party featuring numerous indie bands, films and merch tables at 15 different venues across San Francisco. More than just a celebration of great music, this unique event is an annual celebration of San Francisco's eclectic and vast musical landscape. From the charms of Thee Parkside on 17th street to the luster of the Great American Music Hall downtown, Noise Pop 2008 revealed the many sides of the city by the bay, and the impossibility of finding parking near any of them.

Little Teeth.

The week featured some well-known indie heavyweights, from The Walkmen to Magnetic Fields, but some of the biggest thrills came from hearing lesser-known bands and performers for the first time. Local products Little Teeth, who opened for Tilly and the Wall on Sunday night, were among the most entertaining acts at Noise Pop this year. During their finale lead singer Dannie Murrie - who has a shattering, shocking voice - wore a tin bowl on her head, writhing on the floor as she thrashed away on her electric guitar (with a sticker that read "I have a small dick," no less), while guitarist Andy Tisdall wailed on a trumpet at her side. It was beautiful noise.

Earlier in the week Grand Archives, featuring former Band of Horses dude Mat Brooke, also made a significant first impression. Judging by the new group's material at Noise Pop, their debut album, which should be coming sometime this year, promises to be killer. There were a number of new acts like Grand Archives which were led by familiar faces. Adam Stephens of Two Gallants fame played a rare solo show where he showcased his diverse musical skills and knack for poetic verse. Yet the biggest debut of the week, which was also the festival's official closing show, was M. Ward and Zoey Deschanel's collaborative project, She & Him. Sunday night was the band's first live performance, a fact not belied by the duo's chemistry and flawless execution on stage at the Great American Music Hall.

Ward has been a rising star in folk music for nearly a decade now, his mixture of lo-fi charm, ear for melody, and that deep and unforgettably raspy voice has produced several albums' worth of classic material. Yet it is in this pairing with Ms. Deschanel, and her surprisingly powerful voice, that Ward has perhaps finally found the vehicle to put him on the grandest of stages. One imagines Deschanel's vocal range (most apparent during a stunning cover of Nina Simone's "I Put a Spell on You") and coquettish allure will make She & Him's forthcoming album a success, but it's really Ward's arrangements and guitar work which provide the elegant space in which the singer shines.

Mountain Goats.

In a week of new sounds, though, it was relative old-timers The Mountain Goats who delivered the festival's most memorable performance. Saturday night, during the second of three (!) appearances at Noise Pop, John Darnielle and his clutch of backing musicians held the tightly-packed crowd at the Independent captive with a rousing set of old and new tracks. Darnielle is a world-class performer, and he brings unbridled energy and raw emotion to every note he plays. During "Slow West Vultures," the opening track from the 2004 album We Shall All Be Healed, Darnielle walked away from the mic and sang entire verses without the help of any amplification. The silence in the audience that allowed him to be heard was a testament not only to the amount of respect the singer and his band commands (I should point out that this wasn't the first time he has done this), but also to the fans themselves. It was a crowd filled with music lovers, people who were willing to travel cross-town through small bars and minor clubs for the chance to see their favorite underground legend or future star. Perhaps more than anything, Darnielle's performance was a moment tot encapsulate the quality and intimacy of Noise Pop itself - a music festival that literally represents the living, breathing streets of indie San Francisco.

Pop and Shop, the festival craft fair at 12 Galaxies.

SEE ALSO: www.noisepop.com

--
Imran Siddiquee
Imran Siddiquee is a freelance writer pursuing self-expression in all its forms. This includes the occasional contribution to LAS as well as writing blogs, essays, short stories, an unpublished novel and some screenplays. He also creates horribly amateur music with his brother Yusuf.

See other articles by Imran Siddiquee.

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