July 2, 2009

The Naked Hearts, Daniel Francis Doyle, Pwrfl Power, That Ghost | The Knockout, San Francisco, CA | June 16, 2009

To paraphrase the great Ferris Bueller, the question tonight was not, what are we going to see? The question was, what aren’t we going to see? Schizophrenic, one-man freakouts, hummable pop nuggets, threatened 911 calls from angry tenants – these were the elements in play, all in unique fashion, all in copious amount. And to top it all off, a modest young lad from Japan walked an aural high wire, dangerously stepping the fine line between gone-tomorrow novelty and unassuming genius. For now, let’s err to the latter side of this spectrum. Debate, in full, to come.

But first, undivided attention belongs to The Naked Hearts, a Brooklyn-based guitar ‘n drums duo who would give The Vaselines a run for their money with a little name checking from Kurt Cobain and a screeching dose of feedback. This of course is impossible – the band’s taught, melodic style allows no room for noise excursions.
With “Mass Hysteria,” guitarist Amy Louise Cooper and wingman percussionist Noah Linn Wheeler prematurely raised the bar for everything that followed, proving with a raw, minor-key rocker that not all people with three names (think Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, John Paul Jones) make pretentious music. Cooper, for her part, deftly fought off a few drunken catcalls from Knockout patrons with icy riffs, while Wheeler deadpanned a load of hooky harmonies that recalled a pertinent James Murphy quote: “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me down."

Thankfully, then, Daniel Francis Doyle brought with him to San Francisco an endearingly quirky charm to accompany his iron-willed, triathlon-ian exploits. You’ve seen Doyle before – in your wildest dreams. Possessing the strength of three men, the Austin go-it-aloner worked the drum kit and the mic, but only after constructing repetitive collages of guitar clatter via Bobby Fischer-like concentration and a loop pedal. Schizoid set opener “How Can You Work?” answered the pressing question – namely, how does this work? Step 1: build a wall of sound. Step 2: be seated at drums. Step 3: mentally synch percussion and catchy, vocal melody to repeating guitar lines. Step 4: bang and shout like hell. Step 5: wipe away sweat and do it all over again. He can probably solve a Rubik’s cube, too.

Since That Ghost’s cut-short set of lo-fi pop gems fell prey to continued violations of noise ordinance – dude, can’t wake the Mission natives at 2 a.m. – that leaves us with a discussion of the aforementioned Kaz Nomura, a.k.a. Pwrfl Powerful, who masterfully mastered a handful of glimmering, tongue-in-cheek guitar ditties. To gain an idea of the kind of music on display here, one need only know that many of Kaz’s songs
actually have “song” in their title – “Noise Song,” “Alma Song,” “Banana Song.” You get the point. The key, however, to the seemingly tossed-off silliness lies with this man’s pick-like fingers and blazing-white six-string Fender, which taken in tandem, find a middle ground somewhere between James Taylor and Jeff Buckley.

During “Nice Jacket” and the transcendent “My Coke Dealer’s Girlfriend,” Nomura plucked notes fit for King David’s harp, all while talk-singing sweet nothings about nice jackets and his coke dealer’s girlfriend. If the witty shtick doesn’t catch on here, the Seattle resident at least has his street cred intact. He is, after all, big in Japan.

Daniel Francis Doyle performing "How Can You Work" at The Knockout in San Francisco on June 16th, 2009.

-Words photos and video by Robbie Hilson

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