Not exactly party music
Mouthful of diamonds: A group of women walked to the end of the line for Ace of Spades, which by 8:10 p.m. on Friday had already snaked down 14th Street to S Street.
“Who are we seeing? Pentagram?”
That lady was an anomaly. The sold-out show mostly drew mega-fans and Sarah Barthel-devotees sporting jet-black hair, black leather leggings and gold pumps. A group of them stood behind me in line, squealing and squealing about how much they loved Phantogram, how it was the best sex music ever, and how desperately they wished they were wasted.
It kicked off an unfortunate pattern for the evening: really annoying, obnoxious behavior carried out in various annoying, obnoxious ways. There were the pushers and shovers who just had to get to the front. There were the 18 year olds that would respond with demands for personal space, courtesy and respect, which were met with more elbows and a valid question: “Have you ever been to a show before?” There were massive groups of people near the front, standing perfectly still while they recorded shitty videos of every single song on their smartphones. And, to make matters even worse, there were tall guys.
At least Phantogram was mesmerizing.
The synth-pop duo—Barthel and Josh Carter—are currently on a world tour for their sophomore effort, Voices, and the pair’s excitement was obvious.
“We’ve been waiting to play new songs for you guys for so long,” Barthel said, before launching into “Black Out Days,” a new track featuring chopped-up samples and hip-hop beats.
“Fall in Love,” with its arresting, catchy chorus, has been a popular one on the local airwaves, and, sure enough, it sent the audience into a frenzy. Meanwhile, the band’s very first big hit, “When I’m Small,” stunned immediately with Barthel breathing soft ohs into the mic— a single spotlight, silence and adoration surrounding her.
Granted, Phantogram’s signature airy vocals with swirling guitar and heavy synth isn’t exactly party music. It’s head-down-and-thrash-and-let-your-body-convulse-a-little music—kind of like how Barthel dances in all her music videos. It’s exactly how she moves onstage, too, and it’s powerful.
The crowd demanded an encore, and Phantogram obliged.
“Thank you so much,” Barthel said. “You are so beautiful.”
Aw, Sarah. We think you’re beautiful, too.
Neo-soulful: With seven members and a fairly elaborate setup, the Seshen took up about half of Fox & Goose’s front room on Saturday night. The Oakland-based outfit includes two vocalists, two drummers, a bassist, a keyboardist and a sampler. Lead singer-songwriter Lalin St. Juste had her own custom pedal board for the vocal mic, and the bongo player utilized a variety of sticks and hand combinations, a small wooden bench and a baking-loaf pan. And not one, not two, but seven cow bells.
The Seshen’s sound can’t be easily described. “Neo-soul, electro-pop” might work. But it’s also dreamlike, cerebral and occasionally juxtaposed against heavy dub beats. St. Juste’s warm, soulful voice feels like a big hug, complemented by Akasha Orr’s smiling harmonies. And on this particular evening, the two women were in their own lovely worlds, twirling in circles and dancing saucily between bandmates. I wanted St. Juste’s half-shaven, half-long-dreadlocked hair even more than I craved another whiskey.
I’m clearly not the only person quite taken with the Seshen’s potential. Los Angeles public radio station KCRW’s influential, tastemaker deejay Jason Bentley gave the band a few spins this month as it toured through Southern California. The UK-based Tru Thoughts record label signed the group in January, suggesting the band will be playing far bigger venues than the Fox & Goose in the near future. And even patrons at the Fox & Goose—so often chatting and paying more attention to the bar than the musicians—were completely fixated during the entire set. The band’s self-titled, 11-track album is streaming online for free, and downloadable for just $5, at www.theseshen.bandcamp.com.
Study this: I know exactly where I’ll be this weekend, and if you’re into darling indie rock, you’ll want to come along, too. San Francisco-based five-piece Social Studies invades Luigi’s Fun Garden (1050 20th Street) on Saturday, March 1, for a mere $8, along with Sacramento’s Michael RJ Saalman (of Biosexual) and Portland, Oregon, band AAN. Social Studies has played the likes of S.F.’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival and South by Southwest, alongside Phoenix, Grizzly Bear and Tune-Yards, and its 2012 Antenna Farm Records release was beloved by Nylon, Vice and Paste magazines. Thank me later.