The 20th anniversary edition of San Francisco's citywide celebration of independent music, art and film officially kicks off tomorrow, Tuesday, February 21st with two marquee events vying for your attention. With so many concerts and cultural events packed in to six nights across over a dozen different venues, this year's lineup can seem a little intimidating. So, without further ado, we bring you the quick and dirty SFist guide to Noise Pop 2012. Whether you're holding a badge and cabbing it to multiple venues in a night or just here for the free happy hours here's our list of highlights:
Tuesday, February 21: The Flaming Lips perform The Soft Bulletin at Bimbo's 365, Craig Finn at Bottom of the Hill.
The Flaming Lips proved there's a huge fanbase for their delightfully weird live shows a couple years back at Treasure Island. 1999's The Soft Bulletin is widely regarded as a classic and the velvet-lined art deco room at Bimbo's ought to be the perfect place for an intimate performance. Wayne Coyne and company are big fans of public nudity [link safe for work] so we're half expecting to see some naked dancers onstage in North Beach. Zach Rogue (of Rogue Wave) opens with his new project Release the Sunbird. [Details]
Meanwhile, in Potrero Hill, The Hold Steady's frontman Craig Finn will take the stage to sing-talk about beer soaked nights and adderall-addled babes. Finn's solo work is the kind of dive bar folk that makes you feel OK about spending your evening with a couple of pints and a lover who knows the best way to deal with your hangovers. Ash Reiter opens. [Details]
Wednesday, February 22: Cursive at Great American, Papercuts at the Independent, Grimes at Rickshaw Stop, Die Antwoord at Regency Ballroom.
Omaha post-emo rockers Cursive have had a rabid fanbase ever since the release of Domestica back in 1999. The band is back with a new concept album titled I am Gemini, released on the same night they headline their show at Great American. Expect lots of tracks from the new album and longtime fans calling out for deep cuts. [Details]
San Francisco's own Papercuts, led by songwriter jason Quever, string together dreamy pop music that have the feel of the fifties and sixties without sounding derivative. They'll be co-headlining with fellow locals Sonny and the Sunsets, and this show at the Independent on Divisadero is a great way to catch up on two standout acts that should be essential to any local music fan's collection. [Details]
Grimes is Claire Boucher, a 23-year-old Canadian whose ethereal voice floats over twitchy, beat-driven songs that bounce around like a mix of new agey electronica and darkly dreaming house music. Apparently, she finds her inspiration in Dune, The Lord of the Rings and that one Legend of Zelda game that was on Nintendo Gamecube. Grimes' latest album, Visions doesn't see an official release until March, but it's already been picking up a fair share of critical acclaim. Highly recommended if you want to know what the hipster kids are in to these days. [Details]
South Africa's Die Antwoord make Zef music, which is kind of like a hybrid of dubstep and hip hop that seems too impossibly bizzarre and methy to be a real thing that people are taking seriously. But the music is loud, the beats are heavy, and the band members look insane enough to make you think twice about questioning their authenticity. Expect the Regency Ballroom to be pulsating with brightly-colored students whose iTunes libraries are packed with music appropriate for warehouse raves. [Details]
Alternate plans: Our pals at neighborhood blog Mission Mission are sponsoring San Franicsco reverb aficionados Young Prism at Café du Nord, and LitQuake is sponsoring "Way Behind the Music: From Ozzy to Jewel" — various musicians' autobiographical writings read by local musicians and authors at the Make Out Room.
Thursday, February 23: Thao Nguyen and John Vanderslice at the Bottom of the Hill, Built to Spill at the Fillmore, Sleigh Bells at the Regency Ballroom.
Local indie pop heroes Thao Nguyen and John Vanderslice are sort of what Noise Pop is all about: Nguyen is a transplants who made herself a local fixture after her breakthrough album We Brave Bee Stings and All back in 2008. Vanderslice has been plugging away making chamber pop on a 4-track machine in his small San Francisco studio Tiny Telephone for going on 15 years now. The pair will co-headline a show curated by SF Sketchfest at Bottom of the Hill. [Details]
Likewise, Built to Spill has been making their unique brand of poppy, heartfelt grunge for 20 years now. While the band may have made their mark in the Nineties, their sound is far from stale and most of their early classics have stood up over time far better than their contemporaries. [Details]
Sleigh Bells make beat-driven rock music that nods — or headbangs, rather — in the direction of heavy metal with only a single guitar and probably the loudest drum machine anywhere outside of Ibiza. Add in frontgal Alexis Krauss' sharp vocals and the result feels like Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had a crush on the boy from school with the Metallica jean jacket. [Details]
Friday, February 24: Wye Oak at the Independent, Veronica Falls at the Rickshaw Stop, Matthew Dear at Public Works
Wye Oak stands in the territory of 90s art rock giants like the Pixies or Sonic Youth while remaining firmly steeped in a base of dark folk music that occasionally sounds like Neko Case coming unhinged (in the best way possible). 2011's Civilian topped a wide range of year-end lists and with an impressive lineup of local support opening (Sea of Bees, Social Studies) this show at the Independent looks to be an understated festival highlight. [Details]
Influential electronica producer Matthew Dear will spin a live set at Public Works along with local electronic rockers Maus Haus and the Exray's. Electronica fans probably need no introduction here. [Details]
Saturday, February 25th: Surfer Blood at the Independent, Atlas Sound at Bimbo's 365, Big Freedia at Public Works
Florida's Surfer Blood make surf-inflected punk rock about watching David Lynch movies with girls and running away to Alaska. The band is heavy on the reverb and light on the pretension, making it the perfect soundtrack for a Saturday night out with your sweetheart in the thrifted dress. [Details]
As frontman for Deerhunter, Brandon Cox led a new wave revival with Cryptograms in 2007. When Cox released his next solo effort under the name Atlas Sound a year later, he cemented his place as a late-aughts songwriter star with even more layered and focused works. Three more albums later (one with Deerhunter, two as Atlas Sound) and Cox has proven himself a prolific voice that is infinitely interesting to watch. [Details]
As the world's pre-eminent transgendered bounce star, New Orleans native Big Freedia has broken down barriers in the Hip Hop game that others have chosen to ignore for decades. Her shows are legendary for being hot, sweaty, bouncing messes, so she's a natural fit at Public Works with the Hard French DJs. [Details]
Sunday, February 26th: On the final night of Noise Pop 2012, local folk rock duo The Dodos close out the festival with a headlining show at Great American Music Hall. On their last LP, No Color the Dodos teamed up with Neko Case to sharpen up their frenetic sound. With lots of support from Au, Cannons and Clouds, and Here Here the final show of 2012 should keep local music fans satisfied for a while. At least until the wave of pre-Coachella bands comes though. [Details]
Ongoing: hipster hot spot Bender's offers a free Noise Pop Happy Hour with live music and drink specials every night while the festival is running (except Sunday).
Can't find tickets for something? Aside from the usual methods of trolling Craigslist and standing outside the venue hoping someone has extras, the folks at Noise Pop have teamed up with startup Thrillcall to offer a space to find tickets to sold-out shows using their new iPhone app.
Finally, if you're having a hard time remembering which night you're headed to which shows, check out the Noise Pop iPhone app, which will help you make perfect sense of this week.