Photo by Aerin
Film School, Monofog, Fucking Orange Saturday, May 10, 2008 hi-dive Better Than: That time I saw Mind Bomb at 7 South. Yikes.
While I was ultimately pleased with the music I heard Saturday night at the hi-dive, I was initially less than certain that I’d walk out of the club with more than ringing ears. The crowd didn’t help instill me with much confidence upon arrival. Maybe everyone was just nervous about Mother’s Day brunch the next morning with the famn damily, but the vibe at hi-dive was so subdued I was afraid I’d wandered onto the set of The Stepford Hipsters. Maybe it was just the opening act Fucking Orange, who despite playing for thirty fucking minutes, never quite located a fucking song in all the fucking noise.
Monofog lifted the crowd out of the confusion created by the boys of Orange to ignite some excitement. Some members from the audience, presumably friends of the band, joined Monofog on stage for a few numbers, including “Naugahyde,” which was a good little ripper. As the show progressed, more people joined the band onstage — including former Monofogger and current orange fucker Justin Loendorf — and things got a bit muddled. Ultimately, lead singer Hayley Helmericks mostly just got in the way of the music, which was itself generally well done, especially Lucas Rouge’s drum work. Someone among the group of friends that joined the outfit onstage might have been celebrating a birthday, which led me to conclude that Monofog must be enjoying a party that the rest of us weren’t invited to — another example of a band having more fun than the crowd. While that’s not such a terrible crime, the fact remains that the people paid to get in, so how about letting them in on the fun?
After the first two acts failed to ignite my heart with more passion than I found in my glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon, I harbored some concern that the evening might end with little more than a shrug and a yawn. Film School’s albums, 2001's Brilliant Career, 2006's Film School and the act's latest effort, last year's Hideout are good, but don’t really distinguish the band. I wondered whether I’d be looking at dead bugs on my boots all night. But I’d heard rumors that Film School put on a powerful, energetic live show.
Now, it’s easy to flippantly observe that a live show will always have more energy than an album. Of course it will energize the soul more completely than a recording. Subsequently, I’d expected a better live show Monofog. So really, there's no guarantee for what you're in for. With that in mind, Film School’s albums are good, but they can be derivative. Will a band that doesn’t present any startling new ideas in its music be able to deliver the goods live? Happily, Film School is indeed a great live band.
Opening their set with “Compare” and “Sick Hipster Nursed by Suicide Girl,” Film School laid into the crowd with serious reverb and feedback that even caused some of those hipster heads to nod. The group also provided a light show (there must be an ordinance in San Francisco that requires every band to be equipped with a psychedelic light show), but the visuals weren’t projected simply to be “trippy.” Rather the imagery complemented each individual song well and added to the music. The audio/visual tapestry the band wove together through the electric, amplified distortion and effects was infused with a sensibility that Fucking Orange’s reverse peristalsis mash-up irredeemably lacked. As I listened to the feedback of Greg Bertens’s guitar, there was a notable level of craft in his noise that didn’t exist in the Fucking Orange electronic barrage. Bertens’s zeal for feedback grandly climaxed during “11:11” when he penetrated the crowd and proceeded to literally fuck rafters at the hi-dive to dislodge the distorted grunts of pleasure/pain. Lorelei Plotczyk and James Smith held the rhythm together during this entire sonic freakout — no small feat considering the mania Bertens shook from his guitar.
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After Film's School's set, the crowd was ready for an encore, and the band obliged after a humorous acknowledgement by Bertens that “there’s really not anywhere for us to go” in reference to what he labeled the “stupidest tradition in music,” i.e., leaving the stage only immediately to return to thunderous applause. Film School took a page from the Supersuckers’ book and pretended to leave the stage before finishing the show with a one-song encore.
Film School’s musicianship was excellent. The guitar work of Bertens and Dave Dupuis worked very well together; Lorelei Plotzcyk’s basslines were strong and confident and almost made me feel guilty about chuckling at the age-old indie-rock cliché of the female bassist — make that skilled female bassist; those basslines along with James Smith’s steady drumming allowed the guitarists to venture into dangerous terrain and return unscathed; and Jason Ruck provided the keyboard layers necessary to enfold the distortion. All these key components coalesced to give Film School’s live show an energy that doesn’t quite exist on their recordings, which is why it’s always crucial to see bands live to truly appreciate them.
-- Matt Scheidler
Personal Bias: I’m a sucker for fuzzy distortion and feedback. Random Detail: Monofog drummer Lucas Rouge looked suspiciously like Waldo of the “Where’s Waldo” series of children’s books. By the Way: Dave Dupuis is a pretty good guy in addition to being a heckuva guitar player. He has great hair, too.