June 8, 2009

Sister Grizzly, Grand Lake, Nobody Beats | Starry Plough Pub | Berkeley, CA | June 5, 2009

Review and photos by Robbie Hilson

With six seemingly tossed off syllables, Nobody Beats’ Lo Litchfield at once placed herself in the crystal-balled pantheon of Nostradamus and Miss Cleo. “I got beer on your bag,” she giggled to an onlooker, knowing full well that, like that unfortunate duffle bag, a bar-full of Berkeley’s finest would go home damp and smelling like alcohol.

Litchfield certainly assisted in such an outcome, opening for locals Grand Lake and Sister Grizzly with music that makes you want to drink. Head-hunting for would-be lovers and ex-BFs, the Nobody Beats crooner came on like an ice queen sibling to Alanis Morissette, rocking both high heels and a jet-black Gibson, the color of which reflected each chord’s you-oughta-know mood. Melodic downer jam “Emily Ray” showcased stage guest Connor Morrison’s expressive guitar lines, but also snapped one of Litchfield’s guitar strings – the “happy” G, conveniently. With catchy, gut-wrenching anthems like “Glow” and “They Will Never Compare to Me,” one can only surmise that broken strings aren’t this girl’s only casualties.

Now in a vacuum, undercard Grand Lake’s brand of swirling, offbeat emo might not invoke words like “perky” or “upbeat,” but then following Nobody Beats isn’t a vacuum; it’s an exercise in emotional rescue. So the optimistic-by-comparison “Concrete Blonde on Blonde,” all dressed in Jameson Swanagon’s shimmering arpeggios and Caleb Nichols’ affecting yelps, sounded in this context like an unearthed jewel from Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible sessions – disquietingly poignant, uplifting all the same. The tongue-in-cheek synth duet “She’s a Hater,” on the other hand, could coax a smile in any setting, thanks in no small part to Erika Pipkin’s floating harmonies.

By this point, most of the crowd in the tiny Irish pub had worked up a pretty good buzz. So Sister Grizzly brought the damp to the equation, fulfilling prophecy with an energetic, sweat-soaked capper juiced by Justice Israel’s freight train drumming. A power trio in every sense, San Francisco’s own steamrolled through the kind of hooky riff-rockers that make other riff-rockers develop an inferiority complex. The sludgy grunge ballad, “Oh Baby Oh Mama,” stuck out only for its dejected earnestness. Indeed, most of these giddy, fist-pumping shoutalongs mirrored the cheerfully irreverent stage banter of their creators. Between rave-ups, guitarist Tom Grigor joked of Litchfield’s prior mishap, “You just spilled beer on my bag,” adding, “If you came early, it paid off.” My thoughts exactly.


top right: Lo Litchfield of Nobody Beats

bottom left: Caleb Nichols of Grand Lake

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