Chickfactor turned 20 this year, and several shows in California and London have been set up to commemorate 10 years each as a printed magazine and a webzine. This is the Chickfactor that Belle and Sebastian wrote the song about, so it is only fair that member Stevie Jackson headlined a show at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco.
With all the acts going for the Gen X demographic, one can only hope that San Francisco babysitters took a tip from the Giants, who clinched the National League West Division earlier that day, and were set up for dynamic pricing. Surely there were lots of small people stuck at home without Mom and Dad!
The whole show started and ended about 10 minutes late, which isn’t bad for rock ‘n’ roll time. Local stalwart Allen Clapp has taken six of his closest friends and formed Allen Clapp and His Orchestra. In addition to these chums he has a freakin’ iPad hooked up for some prerecorded additional keyboard stuff. Very cool.
Most of the acts weren’t too heavy on the banter. When you’ve performed as long as these guys, you just want to rip some tunes. But Clapp still showed some personality, saying “I love me some cowboy songs” before launching into “Didn’t You Know.” The band also played several tracks from their new record, Mixed Greens, the best of which being “Autumn Heart,” a story told in a way that would make James Taylor blush.
Clapp spent some time reminiscing, because it was a 20th anniversary after all, about the days of letters and postcards announcing upcoming shows instead of using email and Facebook. I remember getting Orange Peels postcards from Clapp myself. I wasn’t one of the “same 12 fans at every show” he talked about, but I saw my share of performances when they would open for bands such as the Kirby Grips.
The last track was “Something Strange Happens,” which featured Jackson playing the harmonica. If you believe in foreshadowing, you had to wonder, but more on that later.
Next up was All Girl Summer Fun Band guitarist/vocalist Kim Baxter. She’d released her first solo album earlier this year and was finally starting to tour. As a five piece, this was the band’s second show, and it was also her third show overall as a solo artist. Did I mention these three shows have all occurred during the past two weeks? They did, and she has that awesome guitar strap with musical notes on it, too.
It was an absolute treat for her first song to be my personal favorite, “Flame Ball for Hire.” Baxter hasn’t aged a bit, and the angelic voice you hope for does just fine. Although she has plenty of songs with full musical accompaniment, it’s not to cover an inferior voice.
So nowhere to go but down, right? Nope. “Intelligent Lovers” was even better. “Tallest Tourist” nearly made me cry. In a lot of ways, I was enjoying this even more than AGSFB, because the songs were a bit longer than that supergroup’s effort. For all their awesomeness, the 90-second songs AGSFB churn out are depressingly short. Toward the end, Baxter’s band helped her give a rousing rendition of “Devil on My Side.” They really seemed to enjoy playing together, and the chemistry was pretty good considering they haven’t played too many shows yet. I’m ready for more.
After another quick teardown (everyone that needed drums used the same kit, which saved a lot of transition time), Kurt Heasley, the Lilys frontman, took the stage. As it turned out, he was all we were getting. But considering he was being flown in from far, far away, it seemed reasonable. And he did look as if he had just stepped off a plane.
Heasley looked tired, although his fans did their best to encourage him. However, he appeared out of his element and could have benefited from sharing the stage with someone he could banter with. How engaging was his set? Well, the woman in front of me downloaded several apps onto her iPhone (and it wasn’t even the iPhone 5). Oh well. At least she can check her balance at her credit union with just a swipe and a tap.
Still, many fans were entertained, as were several of the performers standing off stage right. I figure it was a Dennis Miller Ratio thing, and I just wasn’t cool enough to appreciate it. At least I can respect it. I want to say the only thing missing was an empty chair to make the Clint Eastwood analogy complete.
Based on crowd size, the moment everyone was waiting for was finally here: The Softies were touring and playing shows for the first time in 12 years. The Rickshaw Stop looked to be nearly packed. And at 10:45 out came Jen Sbragia and Rose Melberg. I didn’t discover the Softies until about 18 months after they broke up, and I always regretted that I would never be able to see a live performance. Talk about a pleasant surprise!
Musically, the most similar show I had ever been to was Azure Ray at Nickel City, but the one thing the Softies have on them is a closeness, a bond, that draws them into the crowd. Stage presence is not always about banter and wackiness. It is also captivating an audience’s attention, and these two use simplicity like no one else to accomplish this. The audience sang along with every song, and not only was there dancing but also choreography for some tracks. If it doesn’t make sense, it’s because you should have been there.
There were bits of rust during some tracks, but like Bill Clinton when the Democrats were back in the White House in 1993, it’s understandable after a 12-year hiatus. I cried like a baby during “Holiday in Rhode Island,” which is tough because it’s a pretty short song.
The best banter was before “I Love You More,” when someone in the crowd yelled “I love you,” and Melberg replied “I love you more.” She then explained how she always says that in response and that coincidentally, “I Love You More” was their next song.
Flying in for a show means not having your own amp, but Clapp had come to the rescue. After thanking him, they sang “Tracks and Tunnels.” Other flawless tracks were “Charms Around Your Wrist,” “Alaska,” and “The Best Days.” Before finishing with “It’s Love,” Melberg thanked Sbragia, saying “Give it up for Jen, killin’ solos since 1993.” Then she added “I love you, Jen,” and Sbragia replied, “I love you more.” Touche.
This 45-minute set absolutely flew by, and I hope they decide to do a few more shows.
Jackson came out after a short break. The whole stage was set up, but he was there alone. He led off with the song he always starts with, “Don’t Hang That Picture on Me.” If you’re looking for it, it’s still unreleased, he said.
If you were waiting for someone with a confident and unassuming stage presence, you got it in Jackson. He seemed genuinely happy to be there and was very warm, which came in handy because the air conditioning had finally won the battle with the room. Roughly 40% of the crowd (mostly women) dispersed after the Softies set, and the absence of body heat made it seem almost cooler inside than outside.
Jackson didn’t only play solo stuff, as he also did a great rendition of Belle and Sebastian’s “Step Into My Office Baby.” It was a real treat, as was “Richie Now.” The sound guy generally did a plus job, but he was at his best here. I could hear everything perfectly balanced. Another highlight was a cover of Sir Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”
Jokingly, Jackson mused that an issue with being alone on stage is that when you do duets, you have to sing both parts. This became a bit of a running gag, but soon it would not matter. For the encore, Allen Clapp and his Orchestra joined him on stage, and they played a few songs together, including a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” This is funny because Jackson’s solo album is titled “(I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson.”
It’s really hard for five acts to be this successful on a single bill, but it was hardly boring and often very touching. I’m so excited about Baxter’s solo career, and to see the Softies when I thought I’d never get to, well, it doesn’t get any better than that. And to be five feet away from Jackson has got to make me the envy of millions. He’s a great Scot.