Manacle, Short Hair, Planets and Mi Ami: Live at Edinburgh Castle Pub, SF, CA By Federico

Feb 10, 2008

So I was pretty psyched about this show. I heard that one of the guys in Mi Ami used to play for Black Eyes, and that alone was reason enough for me to check it out. Sadly, I never saw Black Eyes play (pathetic more than sad, really, considering I’m in San Francisco by way of DC), but I am quite partial to their brand of noise, and I figured that someone who used to be in Black Eyes just might be in a band I’d be interested in seeing.

The show was at the Edinburgh Castle Pub ( in the Tenderloin. Although I wasn’t thrilled about the set up the last time I saw a show there, I do like the bar in general--even though it’s actually pretty spacious, the dim lighting, wood floors, and booths make it seem cozy. Plus there’s pool to be played and a small bit of seating upstairs if it gets too crowded by the bar. Good stuff.

So it may be that things got switched up since the last show I saw at Edinburgh, or perhaps I remembered incorrectly; regardless, I was totally happy with the space on Saturday night. Maybe last time I was there it was super packed or something? I don’t know. Anyway, at the Manacle / Short Hair / Planets / Mi Ami show there were enough people in attendance to make the smallish room seem full, but it wasn’t overly crowded in an annoying way.

I came in around the middle of the set by the first band, Manacle (, from Reno, Nevada. I’ll say right now that at the end of the night it seemed to me like I’d seen a show of acute technical proficiency, particularly with the drummers. What is going on with all those drummers? They were working overtime, seriously. And some of the guitarists, as well. It made me think that some of those guys must have spent a great deal of their formative years practicing while other, less driven kids, were outside causing trouble or breaking bones or something. This is not a bad thing, because it gives us amazing drummers! And besides, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there was plenty of time for practicing AND causing trouble.

Anyway, I digress. While I’m here, I’d like to just interject that it kinda bums me out how so many bands don’t have their own websites these days. It’s just all about the myspace. I can see, obviously, how it’s convenient and it really helps put the word out, but still.

Okay, so Manacle. Seemed to be very skillful musicians. Music-wise, well, it’s hard to say, maybe kinda prog? I’m not sure what kind of genre to say here (not that it’s necessary to stick to a genre, it’s just helpful when trying to describe something). I thought the music was often quite pretty. The guitar, although apparently very well played, sometimes lost me with its finger picking-ish-ness and its arpeggio stylings. I think I would say that they were a bit too fancy for my tastes, if that makes sense. However, I can see how certain people would really get into them, and if you’re a fan of the instrumental prog rock type of stuff, they might be right up your alley.

Next up was Short Hair, also from Reno, Nevada ( I love this name and I loved the band! Straight away I got a little taste of Blood Brothers, probably from the singing at times, and later I felt a little These Arms Are Snakes, which I would put down to the guitar. I was expecting them to be from WashingtonState. The guitar was jerky and harsh, the bass was strong, and the singer on the floor screamed and looked like he’d welcome audience participation. The drummer wore a shiny, red cape (clearly he has not seen The Incredibles, or, if he has, did not care to heed the sound advice about wearing capes). During one song the music stopped and they all sang loudly, “Tijuana!” and “Born in the USA!” in dirty layers overlapping each other. It was great! I was all over it.

Here I’d like to mention that all the merchandise for sale was totally lovely. Although there wasn’t any vinyl that I could see, the packaging for the CDs was really charming--a sweet Salvation Army cloth that looked like it belonged on a child’s twin bed, song titles written on keno receipts, butcher strings, and real leaves laminated onto fabric. Beautiful!    

The next band up was Planets ( from Napa, California. There are two guys in Planets, and they took it upon themselves to wear stark white body suits (covering the face and head, even) that to me resembled both wasps and space aliens. Behind the drummer there was a screen onto which images of dandelions, water, and honeybees were projected, along with plaid and houndstooth designs that reminded me of some kind of fashionable bamboo. Once the images came up, I could see why they were wearing all white, because that way the images could flash and play over them as well, and there weren’t any colors or jeans or flannel or anything of that nature to interrupt them. Digital tapestries coursed along the bass drum. I felt the music and images were there to make your ears think.

Like Manacle, Planets are also instrumental, although occasionally some shouts and grunts could be heard from underneath their body suits. At one point the guitarist said, “This next number is dedicated to the annihilation of the hipster ego,” and I found that to be very funny!

The drummer seemed a bit of a monster, very busy with lots of time changes and starts and stops. I might put them in the prog camp as well, for lack of a better way to describe them. The guitar sound, at times, made me think of Yes (although I’ll be the first to admit I have very limited knowledge when it comes to Yes) and one time I got this little flash of Voivod in the rhythm that made me quite happy. To me, there were similarities to Manacle but I found them to be heavier. They were interesting. Towards the end of their set, I moved to the front and sat on a bench on the side to watch and I realized that a lot of people were sitting on the floor in front of them and that seemed an appropriate way to check them out. It also made the sound cozier and made me reflect on the unity of music. I could feel the drums underneath my feet and the bench was vibrating.

Mi Ami played last. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. The guitarist / singer / keyboardist seemed a bit spazzy before they even started, which was just grand. I hope you’re going to be excited if you’re about to put on a show! Again, I find myself unsure about how to describe what kind of music they played. This is fine with me….although I can be a purist--sparse guitar a la Wire makes me swoon--I do also like it when music ebbs and flows and runs all into each other in some kind of glorious mess. Influences are always there, all around, in every corner of the world and in every color of the sky; they certainly do not always stick to one genre! Regardless, as I said earlier, it makes it a little hard for me to give an idea of what they sounded like. But I’ll try. I could throw the term “dance punk” in there (but only sometimes). Three guys. Drummer in the middle, bass on my left, guitarist / singer / keyboardist on the right. Singing was sporadic and shouty and insistent (felt the Black Eyes for sure there). The vocals were not key; seemed at times to be an improvised afterthought. Keyboards provided background ambience. Guitar, when played, was often jarring and noisy. The bass and drums led the way mostly. At one point the singer came round to the back of the drums and played along with the drummer, symbols, extra percussion. I love extra percussion. They worked up a beat, they had it going for a good while. I could have had more. I felt the crowd was feeling it. I don’t know; it reminded me of zebras running. Does that explanation work for you?!