July 13, 2013: It was a perfect summer day in the Mission district, as all came to Potrero del Sol Park in San Francisco to soak in the sounds of Thee Oh Sees, Cool Ghouls, Social Studies, Painted Palms, and Marnie Stern. The festival, sponsored by Bay Bridged (a local SF publication) is in its third year, and hopefully there will be more years to come. It is in many ways a perfect summer festival.
We arrived to catch Cool Ghouls laying down their catchy garage/psych melodies (complete with a horn section!). With the audience sprawled on the grass in the San Fran sunshine, the set was very agreeable and a mellow way to start off a rock and roll afternoon. “Natural Life” was fresh and as fantastic as could be. “Ballin'” and “Queen Sophie” were highlights as well. This four-piece know how to meld the sounds of old to make something new and fresh – not an easy trick to differentiate yourself from your peers. Their self-titled debut album is already one of the gems of 2013, along with their stage presence and natural live musical chemistry to support it.
Never having seen Marnie Stern, Social Studies, or Painted Palms before, I was pleased by their performances. Marnie herself was in high spirits and humored the crowd with a couple jokes and comments about her guitar which it turns out, she is well known for her skills on. Blouse and Painted Palms gave us something to dance to, even if it was mentally while we soaked in the sun rays. The atmosphere was perfectly dreamy and relaxed, and everything was running smoothly. The Beer Garden was pretty full and the lines to the food trucks were long (not a surprise, as people were raving about the burgers and tacos).
The highlight of the festival had to be the much-loved Thee Oh Sees. People came running down to the barrier in front of the stage and so the crowd gathered there. The audience left on the grass stood up to get a better look.
I’m accustomed to seeing Thee Oh Sees in small club/bar venues and had never seen them in sunlight before. While the moshing was toned down in comparison to their regular shows, the high-octane, off-the-charts energy was the same as always. “Toe Cutter -Thumb Buster,” a single from this year’s Floating Coffin, is sexy punk at a fine tune – John Dwyer’s high, smooth vocals contrasts greatly with the burn and churn guitars as the crowd danced away.
Dwyer (guitar), Brigid Dawson (keys and vocals), Petey Dammit (bass), and Mike Shoun (drums) smashed up their set majestically, and as expected, there was crowd surfing and sweaty headbanging. Heading into the long “Contraption/Soul Desert,” – which their sets don’t seem complete without, someone had tossed a blow up pink flamingo onstage which was rescued by some audience member, before it was likely to be shredded by crazy dancing later on. The notes were speeding by but Shoun and Petey kept us grounded with their rhythms.
TOS classics like “Carrion Crawler” and “Tidal Wave” reminded me of how out of control their music felt – literally like we were being swept off our feet. No matter how many times I see Thee Oh Sees, there is not one boring moment because you are already looking forward to the next song as the one before has just finished. As usual, Dwyer invited the audience to join them onstage and if anyone wanted, they could actually play with them as Brigid had an extra tambourine. For those witnessing a TOS performance for the first time, the band had definitely won over some new fans, and there is nothing quite like seeing them for the first time, up close and personal to boot.
Phono del Sol is definitely a must try for San Francisco locals for the summertime and the way to kick off festival season in San Francisco.
Cool Ghouls photo credit: Paige K. Parsons Photography