Phono del Sol is the kind of festival that the Bay Area has been sorely missing. As much as we all despise LA, there are low key, inexpensive outdoor indie rock festivals nearly every weekend. Phono del Sol (alongside Oakland’s Burger Boogaloo) have been doing an excellent job filling this void during the dog days of Summer. This year is the 4th year that live music has invaded the Mission, along with delicious food trucks and frosty cold beverages. The weather was nearly perfect, and music was amazing.
As I walked in, I was greeted to the blissful stoner psych of A Million Billion Dying Suns. It was a little strange at first hearing such a thunderous noise in the bright sun, but after a few minutes of Kyuss inspired guitar goodness, the weather started to feel totally appropriate for the music. The intensity of …Suns was perfectly balanced by Yalls, who began his set almost immediately as the last bits of feedback dissipated into the air. One the service, these two projects couldn’t be anymore different. Yalls, aka Dan Casey, filled the grassy field with his chilled out blend of ambient synth and new wave pop. All by his lonesome, Casey was able to make just as much noise as …Suns, only in the most delicate and breezy way. It was the perfect soundtrack for sitting on your picnic blanket, enjoying lunch and playing with dogs. (This was a dog friendly event, and it made it all the more awesome)
Our next set was by the Tony Molina Band. This guy has been floating around for a number of years, but he’s getting some serious buzz over his latest record, Dissed and Dismissed. This record is a glorious piece of power pop that in a concise 12 songs in 12 minutes. That’s all he needed. In the live setting, his 30 minute set was perfectly paced. Each song came one after the other. His band is impressively tight, alternating between Weezer-esque pop confections and Iron Maiden inspired heavy metal guitar harmonics. I have no idea how many songs he played in 30 minutes, as they hardly stopped to breath between tracks. Molina’s star is only going to grow from here. This was one of those legendary sets that people will be talking about for years.
Where Molina brought the pop meets metal, White Fence brought swirly psych rock to blend with their infectious pop hooks. These guys were the first band all day to force people off their blankets, and move to the stage where they opted to focus on the music. There were even a few folks in the crowd that started to dance. Sure, it was the classic Grateful Dead swirly dance, however it was dancing, nonetheless.
White Fence’s mass sway was merely a warm up to the great Nick Waterhouse. Backed by 3 sax players, one of the slickest organ players working today, a bassist, a drummer, a secondary percussionist, and a female back up singer. In a direct counter to the laid back vibe of the festival, Waterhouse and band came our dressed as if it were a Saturday night on the nicest jazz club in the world. And, within about 30 seconds, he got the entire crowd up and moving. It’s difficult to describe Waterhouse simply. His music falls somewhere between classic soul, 50’s rock, 00’s garage revival, and has that “aw shucks, guys” sort of humble/brag stage presence of Chris Issak. His sense of swagger and good looks alone would be enough to get people screaming. However, his music is fantastic. He’s classic enough that your grandparents would dig him, yet innovative enough for the hipsters to enjoy, too. He even covered Ty Segall in a way that inspired doing the twist instead of the mosh.
The high energy of Waterhouse felt like it was abruptly pulled from under our feet when Wye Oak went on. It’s difficult to gauge Wye Oak’s set up against Waterhouse’s. I absolutely adore their latest record, Shriek. It was a sharp departure for the Wye Oak. They opted to record an album that was virtually guitar free. Stripped of the fuzz, the band has moved into a New Wave direction. For an album that sounds so good, the live show seemed to be a little lackluster. Past experiences with this band have been great- practically transcendental experiences. This felt like a band trying to re-invent themselves, but they aren’t quite comfortable within their new skin. They’ve only been on the road a short period on this record, and I’m sure by the time they play a proper show out here, they’ll have it figured out. They definitely felt much more comfortable with their older, shoegazey material. They are merely experiencing some growing pains. Which I’d rather be patient and sit through this period of evolution than have to deal with a band that never evolves.
The headliner, on the other hand, is no stranger to fluid reinvention. With as many times as I’ve seen Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, it’s never been the same thing twice. The only thing that remains the same is that Thao is one of the most dynamic people ever to grace the stage. Her voice, which ranges from delicate whisper to guttural howl, as one of the most unique in music. She might be the best guitarist in the Bay Area right now. (Kirk Hammett and Joe Satriani wish they had Thao’s skills) The current version of The Get Down Stay Down might be the best line up I’ve seen yet. Fleshed out by fiddle and trumpet, in addition to her bassist and drummer, her current band brought out the inner Nashville hiding inside Thao’s folk-leaning indie rock.
The set was largely pulled from last year’s We The Common, a record that pretty much every should have worn out by now. And if you hadn’t, then there is something wrong with your priorities. As usual, she flipped between electric dobro, banjo, mandolin, and one of the best sounding hollow bodied electric guitars I’ve ever heard. She bantered with the crowd, and was genuinely funny, too. We even get the rare get of an genuine surprise encore to close out the show. Her set already ran long by about five minutes, but the crowd wouldn’t let her leave, so the event organizers allowed for her and the band to come out. She recalled somebody yelling out “Bag Of Hammers” earlier, so she started playing it. The band seemed a bit perplexed, and it looked entirely unplanned. However, by the end of the song, everyone was synchronized, and it was a triumphant and to a fantastic day of music.