Sunday, February 10, 2013

1 Quiet Night (of 2) at The Vortex Room 02/09/13

I went to the Vortex Room in San Francisco on Saturday night. It was on the advice of good friends who live near and far away. Smile Productions put together a fantastic show and it moved me to try and describe some of what I heard and saw, everyone was in good spirits that night and the show was still going at 2am. The bands mentioned below are in order of their appearance.


When these women first became noticed by me they sat together in a round booth near the bar, and as they looked for each other they pressed hands on the others heart, making a circle that both surprised and delighted me but for no reason I could conceive. The matchless way they took the stage in a group but with no apparent stress in any way, I was immediately aware of the intensity. The 6 women then began, both together and separately to weave an incredible, improvised fable. I felt as though parts of the songs they did I knew as a child and was dully comforted, where other passages became lost before I even heard them and I was nearly sad with regret.

The moments they sang were most obviously movements that everyone in attendance understood as complete, but only when they were done completely. What they gave to us, or to me at least was much more intimate than I was predicting. The singing brought me to emotional pivots that felt raw, leaving me with a self-conscious vulnerability where I thought I should turn away, when in an instant the mood became my safe house and had me for tea and cake. Flexing their ranges and projecting at times with heart-bending strength these voices together could not be better matched, each building on, competing against, holding tightly to and breaking apart all at once. More than once I felt the urge to join them, as they kneeled and made such rich and powerful sounds together.

                                                      Lutra Lutra on Bandcamp


Some small device, electronic brain case, was audibly paired to the monitors while he stepped back and joined the audience for a moment as the soundtrack began. I found this 'music'playing on my ears was interesting but was so very busy waiting for the new breath or the next thought that must follow I couldn't concentrate. Later being told that the backing tracks were simply objects found he played in repetition and recording with purpose, it was nearly alarming that no conventional instrument had been used owing to the satisfying arrangement under the singing.

There was then a tentative charmed shuffle up and around the microphone as he breathed and toned his voice through and over the tracks, as if Syd Barett had the soul and pipes of a walrus.  I was cheering for Bernardo, urging him with my hands and voice because of that fine intrigue playing out over all of us. He soon started breathing in the crowd, raking in the air around us and an invisible contest for oxygen quietly built. A moment of croon, then lowering with trouble and mooring to shadowy corners of the dim room, all of us became still together.

This is cocktail music, but no fruit or umbrellas, deep thoughtful drinks with nothing more than some bitters and rocks set like small electric shocks within liquored depths. No longer feeling the wood of the bench I sat on, immersed he reaches for another leaning low swing at the mic where even night fits could be a re-birth of lightning. Slowly he builds to a mezmerization level you wouldn't think possible from canned tracks and a vocal, but Bernardo starts off lurching and looming into his set and simply swells his character and voice to fill the room. Nearing the end of the set it bloomed in my thoughts I no longer needed to root for him as I was completely taken; the performance had me feeling inspired for my own aspirations, with feet that could now take me anywhere.

                                                 Bernardo Devlin on SoundCloud


On a chair in the middle of the stage she sat, with a guitar and microphone golden hair and sunshine eyes marking the room with light. Xylophone, second guitar and stand up bass accompanied her voice and guitar laughing and hiding behind that voice and manner, and they moved so sweetly through a set that was slightly unbalanced but lush and human in it's accomplishments.

There was time to drink and reach for the hand of your date, to relax your thighs and arms and swing in the sound while reclining with the others around the room. My companions all silently toasted each other and some stepped out to smoke and bask in the confidence of Sasha and bands clear arrangements and lilting washes into the back of the room. Formerly of Cannibal Sea on Merge Records from Berkeley, I wondered how much more powerful they might be with a drummer, and was thankful that this wasn't the case in that small room.

                                                             Cannibal Sea


  1. Thanks for the beautifully written review, Toby. It was a fun show to curate and host, and it's interesting to read your take on it. I gather you didn't stick around for Anna Domino's set which was a high point for many and essentially the reason for the 2 nights. You also missed Fancy Space Ritual, equally astonishing ... In any case, Sasha was playing a keyboard not a guitar (flute on 1 song) and her former bands are The Ladybug Transistor, Essex Green (Cannibal Sea is an album title by them) and Finishing School.

  2. Also: The fellow playing vibes with Sasha Bell on Saturday ordinarily plays drums, while the stand up bass and acoustic guitar replaced their usual electric bass and guitar. Upon my urging, they rearranged their set with this instrumentation specifically for A Quiet Night at the Vortex Room. In other words, catch them at any other venue and you can hear for yourself "how much more powerful they might be with a drummer..." Not necessarily better, but equally amazing in a different way.
    Thanks again!

    1. Thanks so much Neil for the excellent information! I wish I had talked to you before attempting to write them down. Honestly I didn't take notes and wasn't planning on writing reviews but the show really moved me so thanks for the corrections. I also have the reviews for the other 2 bands but haven't posted them yet as I've been busy lately. The vortex room is really such a gem of a venue in San Francisco, so appreciated. See you again there soon. -TC