Phono del Sol is quickly becoming a festival to be reckoned with. In it’s third year, attendance seems to have more then tripled their attendance from the year prior, and I think, these year, have finally solidified itself as the tastemaking music festival of the Summer. It’s the perfect situation: a sunny day in one of San Francisco’s most underappreciated spaces: Potrero del Sol Park. It has a stage pre built directly in front of a skate park, making for a stage experience unlike any other show. This year they added an additional stage, doubling the amount of music. And, much like Treasure Island, the two stages were set up so there was no overlap, and, in fact, we got to enjoy 6 1/2 hours of continuous music.
I walked in while Cool Ghouls were playing their very last song. Normally I wouldn’t even write a band based on one song, but this one song was pretty impressive. They played a delightful blend on indie rock, psych, and classic soul, all punctuated by a smokin’ horns section. I deeply regret not arriving earlier. They had a very small crowd for them, but the handful of folks that arrived early enough to enjoy Cool Ghouls were rewarded for getting their act together early. They were so impressive that a concert goer decided to that he needed to share his peaches with the band after their set. They were happy to enjoy the gifted fruit.
Across the park on the smaller “Mission” stage was Portland’s Blouse. I was able to look past their name that is a holy terror on Google, and was able to enjoy their early afternoon set. The primary difference between the two stages was that the “Potrero” stage was at the bottom of a naturally amphitheater style hill, creating a space where people could camp out on a hill and casually enjoy the music outdoors. This stage, however, was on flat ground, creating a more “nightclub” style approach to an audience. Which meant that people were actually standing and dancing! And, of course, Blouse’s approach to music was perfect for mellow, sunny day swaying. They essentially did shoegaze music, with that particular groove and lazy playing style, only without the layers of feedback and noise typical to the genre. It made for something dark and pretty, and oddly complimented the sunny day.
Social Studies are one of those hidden treasures on the local scene. Vocalist Natalia Rogovin has one of the most stunning, soulful voices I have ever heard. Their music is equal parts bright and spacy. Their 35 minute set was far too short. The sound was perfectly blended for their set, despite the occasional mic short near the end of the performance. I genuinely believe that this band won’t be a secret for much longer, so do yourself a favor and see them the next time you can. Because they are really close to that point where they don’t belong to us anymore.
Radiation City were also phenomenal. Their sound was sort of a jazzy lounge pop, only at double the speed. Kind of like The Cardigans on Red Bull. They were helped by the higher energy crowd of the Mission stage, feeding of the crowd that was slowly becoming more and more dancey as the day went on. I really enjoyed what they were doing, and this being the second band on this stage from Portland, we seem to be verging on a whole new scene of indie pop coming from our friends to the north.
Pop punk is a tough genre to work in. Bands like blink-182 and Fall Out Boy have left people feeling with a very bitter taste in their mouth. It takes a really special band to take this genre back, and Bleached are doing it. Led by sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin, formerly of LA’s Mika Miko, they are chock full of brilliant ear worm hooks, punchy, Ramonesian beats, and harmonies like butter. Their sound is so utterly simple it’s genius. There are a lot of bands that are influenced by The Ramones, but Bleached are one of the few that truly “get” it. They have the warmth and the attitude that made that band great. They played a huge chunk of their genius debut record Ride Your Heart, a piece of work that I can guarantee will turn up on more than a few best of 2013 lists.
Marnie Stern and band may hold the record for quickest set up I’ve ever seen by a band. At the time they played, the show was running about 15 minutes behind schedule. Stern, bassist Nithin Kalvakota, and drummer Vincent Rogers set up everything themselves, and as soon as everything was plugged in and tested, Rogers and Stern each pounded a large swig of a light green liqueur in an Eastern European looking bottle and jumped right into the set. Literally. The stage was pure concrete, and Stern likes to play without shoes, so she was literally jumping throughout the entire set. Her set was also the first set that seemed inappropriate for the surroundings. Unlike the rest of the bands that have played, Stern plays a brand of rock music that is practically metal. Her style of guitar playing is equal parts Eddie Van Halen and Ichirou Agata of Melt-Banana, frantic and full of finger tapping. Her music screams “mosh,” but instead she played to a nearly full hillside of people on picnic blankets, pleasantly appreciating the ferocity in front of them.
This might have been the last time Stanford graduate Kristine Flaherty plays a show in the bay as a simply a local artist. This producer / MC is one the most gifted musicians and dynamic performs we have. And she’s just signed to RCA Records, and is finally going to start putting out full records. Backed by only a drummer and a her own laptop, she was a fireball of energy. She pogoed, danced, and probably ran a solid 5 miles during her set. The crowd, which up until her set seemed to only feature scattered pockets of dancing, finally was moving as a whole. She was really fun to watch, and even more fun to dance to.
Thee Oh Sees
It’s strange how the bigger stage ended before the smaller stage. Nonetheless, the large Potrero stage was the perfect home for The Oh Sees biggest headlining gig yet! Although they’ve been around since 1997, in the last few years they’ve been growing steadily in popularity. They opened Treasure Island Festival only two years ago, and now are headlining big shows and playing to thousands of people that know their work! They played a brutal set of garage tinged, amp’d up punk rock that got the crowd alive for the first time all day. More than alive- we had a full on circle pit and crowd surfing going on. With the whole crowd dancing at an incline, it added an additional difficulty level to the dance. At the end of the set, much to the chagrin of the security, the invited the entire audience on stage to dance around the band, causing pure chaos in the crowd. And pure chaos means pure fun.
Closing out the side stage was Yacht. Not a local band, but a band that comes to San Francisco so often that they feel like our own. They seemed to feel very at home in this crowd. Normally they have a huge multimedia show, but since we are outside, under the sun, they weren’t able to produce their usual light show. Instead, the band had to rely on their own charisma, and did a stellar job. Lead singer Claire Evans is an amazing frontwoman. She just let’s the music overtake her, and moved with such abandon that she managed to get her mic cable tangled around her mic stand in a way that was impossible to untangle. It was a solid disco dance party that was the best possible way to end the day.
For more pictures, check out my Flickr page here!