Show Review: The Downer Party, The Hot Toddies, Tempo No Tempo and Fighting the Villain at Bottom of the Hill, 2/3/10

by Joel Edelman on February 4, 2010

The Downer Party is anything but a downer

Winter Music Fest. It’s a thing, and it’s happening right now. If Noise Pop is the Oscars, then perhaps Winter Music Fest is the Golden Globes. Last night four bands of varying talent took turns taking the stage at Bottom of the Hill, and the result was a cornucopia of cacophony. Sure.

Fighting the Villain hit the stage first and were proud enough to say they were from Hayward but not proud enough to make references to B Street, Holiday Bowl or the Zucchini Festival. Do I have to do everything around here? All the songs sounded the same; they were Paramore-inspired, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’m sure they’re new, and I am sure they will diversify their sound during the rest of the Obama administration. Hopefully they will have another seven years to work on this.

Please don't take your college fund to The Palace

Tempo No Tempo were next. At the beginning of their set, it was a bit of a fashion show. Two of the three had glasses; the drummer didn’t. Two had T-shirts. The bassist wore a sweater. Two had facial hair. The singer was clean shaven. The band should have been named “Rock Paper Scissors.” Of course halfway through the set the bassist took off his sweater, and toward the end the singer removed his glasses. I was wondering what the drummer had removed. Maybe one of his drums.

Some of the songs had that “Fascination Street”-era Cure guitar. Other parts sounded like Bang! Bang! Eche!, which has to be a coincidence, because they are from New Zealand, for crying out loud. These guys came all the way from San Francisco. Wait a minute. Really, though, the band sounded like another San Francisco act, The Quails. Just substitute a dude for the singer, and you have the same band. So I guess you could say that it’s time to shine a light on Tempo No Tempo.

The band has a personality, which they seemed to have trouble sharing, but when the lead singer would wrest it from the rest of them, it was pretty entertaining. The breaks were welcome because some of the songs were simply too long. When you say you have three songs left, that is not when you break out a seven-minute anthem, no matter how good it is.

Maybe the bar was slow, or perhaps people were getting paid by the hour, but the breaks between the sets were entirely too long. The Hot Toddies were all set up and ready to go, and then they took a powder for five minutes. The only thing worse than seeing a band’s instruments set up is watching them sit on the side of the stage talking. Some of us have 8:30 meetings with the boss the next morning!

So, yes, The Hot Toddies. I’ve played them a wee bit at KSCU. I knew it was four hot women who sing about being awesome. I knew the lyrics were funny, but that was all I knew. Now I know more.

They are four hot women, but they just happen to be hot, the way Colin Powell just happens to be black or my uncle just happens to be gay. They do more than hold their own, and not in a creepy way, either, although the guy at the show in the Psycho Donuts shirt was doing a good job of that. Hey, man. I’ve been there. It’s a small miracle that the Kirby Grips still talk to me. They should do a Budweiser Real Men of Genius ad about us.

One more act of objectification, and I will move on. This band looks like the Spice Girls, in that each member has her own look. The only one missing in the four-piece, sadly, is my favorite: Sporty. But maybe that’s a good thing because it keeps things clean. I really don’t have time to obsess over a band right now anyway.

The Hot Toddies are.

The sound guy knew the band’s sound well, because he had the vocals turned up high. I was surprised. The first couple tracks might have actually had the vocals too high, and it exploited the sugariness of their music. Especially “Rocker Girl” reminded me of the orange juice my grandmother buys: no pulp. I was worried about adult onset diabetes, and I would have loved just a little bit of fiber. But how do you get there? It’s happy music sung happily.

As the set progressed, it became clear that the newer music had the texture I was looking for. The band said they were working on a new album, which I recommend they call “Now Smell the Other Mitten,” and you could see the marked difference between the old and new tracks.

“Max’s Mankini” was the best example of a new track. Even if it wasn’t about Logan Mankins, it was still a good listen. The band’s chemistry, which you cannot miss, was in full force here. It’s so cute to see a band get along. It’s like when you see a new couple. You just hope that it stays this way forever and that Alan Cumming and Parker Posey don’t put subliminal messages under the lyrics to make people buy the new Big Mac Snack Wrap at McDonald’s. (Hypertension is the new kidney failure.)

This band has all the intangibles on stage. I’ve never caught a band before they became amazing until now. Orange tomato, melted-but-not-yet-golden-brown cheese on a pizza, margarita with crushed ice but not yet blended — you get the idea. This next album is the definition of anticipation.

New favorite band? Well, someone needs to replace Mika Miko now that they have broken up. I mean, the sound is half Earwig-era Blake Babies and half All Girl Summer Fun Band. And if the sound continues to mature, I will be in heaven. Even I can only eat half a box of Apple Jacks at once. But we know one thing: The Hot Toddies will do what they like.

The Downer Party had a tough act to follow, but luckily their sound was so fundamentally different from what The Hot Toddies had to offer that the contrast provided some entertainment value.

Watching the headlining set reminded me of what I saw when I saw Damone at Slim’s, except The Downer Party did everything right. Damone was absolute ass that night. All their stage antics were ridiculously choreographed, there were “fans” paid to cheer for them, and all their gear and clothing were brand new. The Downer Party could have easily gone on the same path — they even have the way-younger-than-her-bandmates lead singer — but they had the one thing Damone only dreams about: a soul.

The band showed a cool confidence as they went through their set. This is the act that will make it onto a major and open for Pat Benatar on her comeback tour. The lead singer must have an older sister who mentored her on how to carry herself, because she had all the stage presence that you just can’t teach, no matter how many hours of “training” you undergo. She knows the difference between controlling a crowd and senseless bravado.

You can’t escape your age, though. She covered Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag.” Of course she did. She probably wrote about it in her LiveJournal the first time she heard the song. But there’s no crime in being yourself. I didn’t understand why The Downer Party were headlining this bill until I saw them play, and then it made perfect sense.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

FreeRadical February 5, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Joel your review is ridiculously excellent. REally funny, really well-written. Almost as good as going to the show itself!

This was an awesome show. These bands are all pretty much local icons. Downer Party wasn’t so much the headliner and just the last band on stage that night. this is a festival so i’m not sure there even was a headliner but I think it was Tempo No Tempo. Tempo No Tempo’s been killing it for years, they’re like, critically acclaimed.

Downer Party’s singer is Sierra Frost. The reason she’s so good on stage is, well I guess it’s natural. But this is her third band singing lead, even though she’s 19 or something… she’s been in bands since 14 or 15. She was playing Slim’s by age 16 or so with her band Two Seconds, and then she was in Elephone, and now Downer Party. they totally rock.

Fighting the Villain is a Popsmear Records favorite right now.

And you’re so right about Hot Toddies, they only get better and better. It’s so nice to see that their label Asian Man didn’t wreck them after they signed, that must be a great label. I’m looking forward to the new album too. Go see them at NoisePop! Tempo No Tempo’s playing NoisePop too!

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Joel Edelman February 9, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I have nothing but good things to say about Asian Man. They are definitely in good hands.

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