Blessed be the bang-bang.
An event like South by Southwest in Texas this week may cheapen the effect of a bang-bang, wherein you hit two concerts back to back in one night, but it’s a live music whirlwind that promotes further consumption and customization. It eschews concert bookers to allow for the creation of your own bill — you get to be a god, and in this case, it’s the kind of god that likes glossy pop rock and Appalachian harmonies both on the same night.
Last Saturday evening in San Francisco, two utterly unrelated bands hit stages about a mile apart from each other. Even though it was akin to an iPod on shuffle, jumping from the upbeat tropical guitars of the Aces to Darlingside‘s stripped-down folk was surprisingly complimentary.
The Fillmore nearly sold out for the Aces, who were opening for the indie pop outfit Coin. A sea of riled-up young adults danced to the DJ’s mix of Drake and OutKast before the Provo, Utah quartet appeared with its singer Cristal Ramirez shimmying along to the timeless single “Hey Ya!”. An uncanny comparison to Haim became apparent after a few notes — peachy, ’80s vocals matched by a throbbing rhythm section — however these young Americans are led by a sister act that’s hard to dismiss.
Cristal Ramirez commanded the stage with swagger in spades, leading her band while encouraging everyone around her to live and get lit. Eventually, some crowd members went wild prompting her to say between songs: “I saw some people moshing over there — damn Bay, you go off!”
Whereas Cristal is the voice of the group, her sister Alisa is the powerhouse and looked to be having the most fun. The drummer played with non-stop jubilation where she’d gleam while perfecting the symmetrical beating between high hat and snare drum. This was the Aces’ San Francisco debut (playing the Fillmore, nonetheless) and Alisa donned a Kevin Durant Warriors jersey to pay respects to the Bay Area and the hometown of their mother.
The group is about a month away from releasing their debut LP When My Heart Felt Volcanic but their setlist was rooted in last year’s breakout EP I Don’t Like Being Honest. Cuts like “Physical” elicited the crowd to sing along to the chorus’s “Oh oh oh oh oh” chants but recent single “Lovin’ Is Bible” left a lasting impression with its amusing lyrics. The chorus shouts: “Well you know I’m not religious, but your lovin’ is bible” leading us to ponder if that’s welcoming of love or a puritan promise to wait.
With only a handful of songs released thus far, the Aces hit and quit the stage within 30 minutes. Although a missed opportunity for hearing an obscure cover — my money is on them owing a debt to Fleetwood Mac’s ’80s repertoire — a shortened opening set meant for swifter arrival to the second bang.
Five minutes due east of the Fillmore sits the Great American Music Hall, an incomparable ornate beauty. The audience is sequestered between marble columns, and the embellished design echoes an even farther bygone San Francisco. The early 20th-century ambiance provided an appropriate landscape for the largely acoustic quartet Darlingside.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts ensemble struck a clean balance between tight musicianship and jovial showmanship. The four (mostly) bearded men stood huddled around a single condenser microphone that captured their angelic voices and melodic instrumentations equally.
As musicians, they fall more on the side of Chris Thile’s virtuosity than the simple folk banality of Mumford & Sons. Darlingside approach songwriting with sharp craftsmanship that forgoes a reliance on formulaic enterprising for something grander. They mix it up! At one point, multi-instrumentalist Auyon Mukharji played the mandolin with what looked to be a cello bow, and it was far more divine than gimmicky.
The group is at the heels of the release of their excellent third album Extralife, a harmonious collection of folk and bluegrass ballads that ache with a hint of dread. Or as PopMatters described in last month’s album review: “Apocalyptic images dominate the album’s lyrics.”
Midway through their performance, the band explained the reason behind this portentous vibe: the last time they played the Great American was the day after the 2016 presidential election and San Francisco became the place where these songs “crystalized” — or as banjo player Don Mitchell described, the city was an “inception point” for what was to become Extralife. Because of this, Darlingside played to the fences, and their forceful folk led to countless couples in the audience to draw nearer to one another. It was also an excuse for the band members to let loose on stage, best exhibited by Mukharji who gave a detailed explanation to the namesake behind the San Francisco neighborhood that holds the Great American Music Hall.
(Not only is it named after a neighborhood in New York City that shares a similar seedy atmosphere, the Tenderloin earned its moniker from a police officer who claimed that the bribes received from the crooks in the neighborhood were so large he could afford the finest of meats.)
Already contenders for producing one of the best folk albums of the year, Darlingside played San Francisco like alchemists who converted doomsday fears into luscious melodies giving those who dared to believe, a shard of hope.