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Noise Pop Parties with Cake and Ponies

Not unlike a teenage Hispanic girl, San Francisco’s indie rock music festival Noise Pop celebrated its 15th Birthday in true Quinceanera form. Featuring a choreographed dance routine to kick off the opening night festivities (thanks Extra Action Marching Band!), family reunions (see recently re-banded ’90s rockers Sebadoh), and, of course, cake (thanks Cake!), this year’s lineup was every bit the cultural celebration. And what young adult birthday party would be complete without a pony or two as a present (SF’s Pony Come Lately and the Ponys graced this year’s lineup)? With its own traditions in tact — promoting onetime opening acts to headlining status (Jolie Holland, Lyrics Born, Trainwreck Riders) and spotlighting emerging talent (Ghostland Observatory, Matt & Kim, and Willy Mason, to name a few) — Noise Pop XV delivered. Here, a few highlights from the week.

Least Likely to be the New Face of Dr. Martens: David Cross
CMJ “it” band alumni Tapes ‘N Tapes played the “honored to be here” card at Noise Pop’s opening night party. After kicking off their set with “Just Dreams” and “The Illiad,” starry-eyed frontman Josh Grier later introduced crowd favorite “Icebergs” with a humble confession: “To be honest, one year ago we couldn’t imagine being in a festival like Noise Pop — never mind headlining a show with Har Mar and David Cross.” (We’re guessing no one ever really imagines headlining a show with Har Mar Superstar and David Cross). And though Grier may have been mystified about how it was he got there, emcee David Cross took pains to remind the crowd of the reason they were at the opening night show, named for sponsor Dr. Martens’ FREEDM campaign. “We’re here tonight to sell shoes. A lot of people attribute Freedom to Harriet Tubman — she didn’t know what it was about. Doc Martin knows what it’s about.” Cross later issued one last reminder: “Make fun of art — don’t make fun of marketing.”

Most Likely to Have Unresolved Issues: Sebadoh
Music geeks got the (anticlimactic) moment they’d been waiting for at the Sebadoh show last Wednesday. Playing the third show in what singer/songwriter Lou Barlow dubbed “their Preunion Tour,” the band delighted loyal fans (including three guys in the front who sustained jumping up and down activity throughout the set) by playing old faves like “Violet Execution” off Sebadoh III. Each band member took his turn on vocals, drums, and bass, with Eric Gaffney explaining the round robin via the obligatory sex-in-San Francisco joke: “It’s an awful lot of switching around, but you’re used to that here.” And while the sharing would suggest the guys are getting along, one couldn’t help but feel it was perhaps too soon to make light of the inherent irony when the guys rolled out “Forced Love” off Bubble and Scrape.

Favorite Unintelligent Decision Makers: French Kicks
“I’m just gonna close my eyes and imagine it’s a wedding,” Scissors for Lefty lead singer Bryan Garza declared to the audience at Slim’s Wednesday night, auditioning for the role as headliner by throwing a band t-shirt into the eager crowd. Having successfully coined a party mood with a set that included the single “Ghetto Ways,” Scissors for Lefty left the stage to make room for the night’s main event: French Kicks. The Kicks entertained with old (“Piano”) and new (“So Far We Are”), but it was their encore that proved the highlight. Giving credence to Jessica Simpson’s “pretending to be dumb to win our affection” tactic, French Kicks vocalist Nick Stumpf introduced the band’s cover encore of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” with “We’re gonna do something really stupid.” Um, you know we love it.

Most Resilient Immune System: Ted Leo
Looking like Richie Tenenbaum as a golf caddy, Ted Leo and his band the Pharmacists previewed new songs of their forthcoming album, Living with the Living, including “Some Beginner’s Mind,” before catching up with the audience. “So what else is going on?” Leo asked the audience, who responded with a stunned “the most popular guy in school is talking to me” silence. “That was really good, you understood it was a rhetorical question,” Leo replied encouragingly, before getting back to the task at hand, introducing “Counting Down the Hours” with an around-the-way plug: “We have a new record coming out with a lot of new songs on it. This isn’t one of them.” Returning to the stage for the band’s encore, Leo got personal, confiding that he was recovering from a bout with the Norovirus, “But after 17 songs, I’m getting in the game.” He closed down the show with his cover of Chumbawumba’s “Rappaport’s Testament: I Never Gave Up,” eliciting goosebumps by throwing down his guitar and finishing the song with an acoustic clap-along. In your face Norovirus.

Most Camera-Shy: John McCrea
Deadpan lyric fans flocked to Bimbo’s for Cake‘s closing night performance on Sunday, where John McCrea and co. treated the audience to trumpet-laced usual suspects like “Never There,” “Going the Distance,” and “Love You Madly.” After promptly dismissing photographers early on in the set, it should have come as no surprise when McCrea filled the audience in on Cake’s current media stance: “We’re no longer on the big muscular iron horse of music industry corruption,” he said, explaining that the band would be self-releasing their music from now on. “We’ll never be on the Conan O’Brien show again.” In a bid to inspire some sort of reciprocal action on the audience’s part, McCrea later organized a na na na na competition during the encore, timed to the interlude of “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” As judge of the backup-singing showdown, McCrea ultimately turned on half the room, proclaiming: “This side is bullshit.” MELISSA GOLDSTEIN / PROFILES BY AUBRIE PICK

>> Listen to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists on Napster
>> Listen to Sebadoh on Napster
>> Listen to Cake on Napster

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