Noise Pop Show Review: Zee Avi, The Hot Toddies, Leslie & the Badgers, Tiny Television at The Rickshaw Stop 2/25/10

by Joel Edelman on February 26, 2010

Aw shucks, she makes Joel want a nicer car.

It was a revisit to the scene of the crime, a reunion with my new favorite band, and an attempt to pay attention after a double mocha and six donuts from All Star Donuts, the only place at 9 p.m. that’s still open in Hayes Valley when you need to work.

I’d been to a Rickshaw Stop show a few times before, most recently while raising the ire of the bouncer because, God forbid, I walked outside with a cup of water. (Did I mention that the cup had a Stella Artois logo on it? It did.) I don’t understand these things, but that’s why I was raised in the suburbs. Their bouncers have their fair share of run-ins. A Yelp review features a wearing-the-pants girlfriend lamenting how her poor 125-pound boyfriend was harassed for not getting out of the way at a New Year’s party. The place does have a bit of an identity crisis, but the politically correct term would be “diverse calendar of events.” If the Rickshaw Stop were a TV network, it would be Dumont.

But enough about them. Last night the sound guy was fantastic. The bartenders were needlessly friendly. Even the bouncers were happy. It must have been the dearth of Axe in the building. Noise Pop can transform a venue. It sure changed this one.

I had to work, and by the time I got to the show, Tiny Television were already signing autographs or doing whatever it is that bands do after their sets end. (I know, I know. They stand awkwardly at the merch table.) The first thing I had to do when I got there, after the cup of joe and half a dozen sinkers, was pee. So there I am, waiting in line to pee in the men’s room, when I overhear one stranger tell another stranger how much they liked Tiny Television. So there you have it. Tiny Television were apparently awesome. For those of you that are unaware, us men don’t do that shit. We especially are not going to gush with random people over bands with the name “Tiny” therein. They must have been the all-time best band ever of all time. I know it makes me want to see them now.

By the time urination was complete, Leslie & the Badgers had started. If Clerks 2 has taught me anything, it’s that Kelly is a man’s name. Leslie can be too. It was the name of one of the characters on Don Adams’ Toronto-set grocery store sitcom, “Check It Out!” However, with a woman with tresses running the act, it was clear that she was Leslie.

The whole band had the most beautiful hair. Leslie reminded me of this Irish cocktail server I used to work with in Lake Tahoe who was from the Cayman Islands. Thick blond hair that deserved its own shampoo commercial. The three Badgers all had nice hair too, so clearly you would love to be stuck behind them when you’re in line at the post office.

Musically, they were on the country side of alt country. This kind of sound is awesome for douchebags who say they don’t like country music but listen to Wilco. (Hey, get that mirror away from me!) Put another way, the music had a country slant, but no hoke, and the vocals were heartfelt but not twangy. Similar to rubbing salt on fresh-cut slices of eggplant (try it!), they found a way to take the self-perceived bad aftertaste of country music and remove it. I would see this band again.

The Hot Toddies went on next, and similar to when I reviewed them for Spinning Platters before, they did what they do, and they did it to the best of their ability. The contrast with Leslie & the Badgers was almost unnerving. I absolutely adore this band, what with their silly lyrics about being horny, drinking and other closet desires I have about women. The problem is that going on after Leslie & the Badgers was a tough act to follow. They need to be doing shows with All Girl Summer Fun Band and the Icicles. Or perhaps the sugar from the chocolate cake donut with chocolate sprinkles had burned me out on sweetness already. The band was still awesome, and if you didn’t like Leslie & the Badgers, you probably loved The Hot Toddies. But I think I was the only person who thoroughly enjoyed both acts.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that it was a bad fit for the Hot Toddies. (Were they a replacement?) They need an attentive (if love-starved) audience to feed off of to truly shine, perhaps shine the way that Leslie & the Badgers’ hair did under the stage lights. The problem with fest shows is that you have a certain number of people there with proverbial Armani suits on, and they have no interest in the actual bands playing. Normally you can take advantage of this by focusing on the act and pretending they are playing just for you (which I did at Azure Ray at Nickel City), but there were just so many people not paying attention that it was not working. It was like reading pornography at the library. So what were all these doofy attendees here for?

Oh, right. Zee Avi. This was a happy coincidence for me. I’d circled the calendar for The Hot Toddies and The Hot Toddies alone, but when I found out she was the headliner, I said, “What last BART?” Perhaps The Hot Toddies get their gigs because they’re always opening for female singers even younger than them. (The Downer Party come to mind. Yep, two examples is totally statistically significant.)

Zee Avi’s last record was reviewed at KSCU in 2009, and I gave it quite a few spins because, frankly, not a lot of other DJs did, and my show specializes in good stuff that’s overlooked. (With 200 CDs in the rotation at any given time, it happens.) To be able to see this voice in person was going to complete a fantastic, if sugar-and-caffeine-fueled, evening, burrito pending.

So after a long wait between sets (did the Hot Toddies finish early, or is Zee Avi a diva, or did the bar need more money?), out comes Zee Avi with a band, and away she goes. I get the impression that she does whatever the hell she wants, and why not? She has a voice beyond her years (kinda like the Downer Party’s Sierra Frost — hmm) that absolutely captivated the crowd. I no longer could hear about anyone’s weekend in wine country or how someone bombed a job interview because she was hung over. Zee Avi was so strong she overpowered the Rickshaw Stop clientele. Maybe that’s why the bouncers were completely without surliness: They must have listened to her sound check.

One of the strange decisions she made was to play an Interpol cover as the second song of her set. Whatever. Like I said she can do whatever she wants. I was surprised how many people had heard of her and wanted to come and see her, but a hidden gem that isn’t is still a gem. I must admit to feeling less special for knowing who she was, but at least the world knows about her greatness, and it really should be about her anyway. Seriously, her music is going to end up in a Lexus commercial. I’m uncomfortable playing her music in my Saturn now.

So let’s see. Tiny Television left visitors talking long after their set. Leslie & the Badgers were stunning and need to headline their own show. The Hot Toddies ignored the people ignoring them and had a great set typical of their Northwest twee sound. And Zee Avi sparkled and gave everyone in attendance a free class upgrade.

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