Everyone was on the guest list for this event, and it wasn’t just an April fool’s joke. Music Box Presents hosted an amazing night of psychedelic and new wave rock music at the Kilowatt Bar on this past April 1st , 2023. It’s amazing the amount of people that come out of the woodwork for a free rock show in San Francisco. Not only did lots of denizens of the SF psych scene make an appearance, lots of just average people going out on a Saturday night in the Mission District also got to be exposed to some really good original music from two really talented new bands. Alongside friends one had not seen in a while, there were Mission locals, lots of hip Europeans, tech bros in out-of-place outfits looking to hook up, and a drunken bachelorette party, complete with comical oversized cowboy hats. This could have turned into a shit show, but it somehow worked with all the different types of people. “Giddy up!”
There was also a sense of lawlessness in the air reminiscent of what the Barbary coast must have been like, especially on the street outside where people lingered smoking herb and cigarettes. Not everyone at the Kilowatt bar that evening was there for the bands, as it was a very eclectic group of people, yet they all came together at the end of the night, all rocking out to the great double bill of Telefone and Sun Atoms. Sometimes all you need are two solid bands on a bill both with a good draw. The bands had plenty of space to play lots of original material in a relaxed pace during their sets, and the night didn’t feel rushed, leaving for lengthy DJ sets by Clay Andrews, from the Spiral electric and later on by Cynthia Giuliani. Hearing a DJ play local psych music from band you know on the scene is always refreshing to the ear, and Clay is good at mixing the new local bands with the familiar psych songs, along with deep album cuts in between the bands. After the bands finished their sets, Cynthia Giuliani spun punk vinyl from the stage, playing sing along classics from the Clash and other punk bands that had the whole place singing along and dancing on the dance floor, with a unity of an overall perfect Saturday night. Visuals were provided by White Light Prism, who gave each band’s set a distinct visual pallet, while playing more fun visuals like Japanese commercials, art films, and classic film trailers in between sets. There was a lot of high stimulation on stage, that perhaps some of the non-psych crowd was not used to. We were all trying something new and different from usual, and the crowd seemed to dig it!
As people were getting nice and loose after a few drinks at the bar, Telefone took the stage to play the first set. Featuring former members of Cellar Doors, a popular band on the SF scene, they were back with a new name, new members, and amazing new songs that sounded great with the fuller group of musicians on stage. All the new songs had the same quality of an “English sensibility” style of songwriting, but with deep synth parts that gave it a Gary Newman or Krautrock tone at points. The visuals had lots of Optical art swirls, with a Charles and Ray Eames art vibe to match the style of the music, with dynamic patterns being projected on the band members. The drums had lots of power during the set, and there were even parts with both live and both digital drums that gave a polyrhythmic sound to their set. Telefone has more of a post punk/new wave vibe to their sound, with some moments having a soft ballad type feel, while other moments were more driving with the bass and drums taking control. The audience was very receptive, perhaps not expecting such a quality of band playing for free on a Saturday night. All the merch from both bands completely sold out, leaving the table empty by the end of the night. People liked what they heard, and lots of new fans were made. Getting exposure to a different kind of audience playing the local “watering hole” has its benefits.
Sun Atoms took the stage next, fresh off being the supporting act for Modest Mouse on their recent Northwest tour. The band is based out of Portland, and features members from many other excellent bands such as The Upsidedown, Daydream Machine, and The Dandy Warhols. Their album was produced by bass player, Peter Holmstrom from the Dandy Warhols. The overall band itself felt like a Portland supergroup, unleashing their cosmic vibes over the unprepared ears who are not familiar with their sound. Brooklyn Vegan describes their music as “a tripped out opus packed with droning electronics, shimmering guitars, Day-Glo melodies and a deep, whispered delivery.” Lead vocalist and guitarist Jsun Atoms has a unique vocal delivery that is instantly recognizable, with lots of range that could easily be heard through the mix. Often times vocals in psych music are buried by the layers of dreamgaze, but here they were front and center, with Jsun playing guitar on some songs, or just taking the vocal leads on others. There was good stage vibe from the band, as you can tell they have been seasoned by the road and playing together quite a bit. The psychedelic water light projections looked perfect on his white winter coat, complete with sunglasses to keep focus with all the lights and sounds being thrown around. There was tenor saxophone, trumpet, and keyboards in the mix as well, with at points three guitars adding to the layer of psychedelia. Most of their songs were off their new album “Let there be light.” At one point they played the Chorus to “Reverence” by Jesus and Mary chain, singing “I want to die on a sunny day” to the crowds delight. The band played for almost an hour, before taking a quick break to come back for an encore of a few more tracks by request of the audience. A dance party followed, and before you knew it, the night was over with the house lights being turned on.
Everyone was not ready for the night to be over. There was a sense of this being the best place to be in SF on this Saturday night. People arrived early and stayed late. It was another great bill put together by Music Box Presents, who continues to provide quality shows to the SF Bay Area. Lots of like minded people got to meet and catch up, which was one of the best parts of the night for everyone. The flyer for the show by Vikki Vaden got lots of compliments, and even featured the Kilowatt venue itself in the poster design, nestled in the fog along with other buildings of downtown San Francisco. The venue is on the map, and sure to be a place that people will be frequenting in the future.