Live Review: John Vanderslice, 8/11/07, Amoeba Records, San Francisco
Download: John Vanderslice - "White Dove"
Download: John Vanderslice - "Tablespoon of Codeine"
On Saturday, my last full day in San Francisco, I was lucky to catch John Vanderslice playing for free at Amoeba records in the Haight-Ashbury district. I'm going to preface this by saying that, though I've never been huge on Vanderslice (I saw him open for Pedro the Lion four or so years back), he's really, really grown as an artist and performer.
The area of the store right in front of the stage was packed – hipsters were stuffed into every possible aisle they could fit into. Many of the shelves swayed precariously as shaking hips crashed repeatedly into them. That's right, shaking hips at a John Vanderslice show.
Vanderslice, who confessed to being "distorted" at 2 p.m. on a Saturday, laid the rhythm on thick. I had never noticed Vanderslice's talent for making such tangible grooves before seeing him on Saturday (listening back, I can hear some gleams of Saturday's brave showing, but not much). The whole set had a tinge of 90's dark pop rock (imagine the feel of the Foo Fighters's "Everlong," but folkier). The infusion of that type of sound into his brand of folk-pop really set his sound apart from all the other folk-pop on the market right now.
On top of it all, Vanderslice had some super-cute stage banter. First he was off on a kick about John Cage, then "the ether" and then onto Sasquatch on the Art Bell show. It was pretty cute for a while. Then he just started getting long winded and annoying and then the quality of his performance dropped off sharply (as did his guitar's ability to stay in tune).
Vanderslice is embarking on a full US tour (and oh-so-conveniently missing Minneapolis) this fall. Even with a sudden downturn in musical ability three-quarters through the show, I would still say it's worth it to check him out if he passes through your hometown (And besides, maybe once he's away from the lingering hippy influence on Haight, he'll be able to focus better).
You can stream his full album at his MySpace Page.