Loud, proud, and fearlessly San Francisco, Carletta Sue Kay were the first act to take the stage. Frontman Randy Walker, dressed in a black wig and green dress with no makeup or foundation whatsoever, belted out blunt, incredibly affecting vaudeville-soul songs in an androgynous, operatic voice. Holding Walker’s histrionics in place was an extremely skilled backing band consisting entirely of men dressed exactly like men or women dressed like women. Their energetic performance of “Just Another Beautiful Boy” was one of the highlights of the entire night, and even the most stone-faced hipsters couldn’t help but clap along to its rolling beat.
Sonny & the Sunsets were the second band on. Bandleader Sonny Smith, who was either completely stoned out of his mind or very good at pretending to be, drawled his way through fast-paced, upbeat garage-rock songs that were miles away stylistically from the artier, reverbier sound of contemporaries such as the Fresh & Onlys. Their set was filled with humorous moments, including some maraca showmanship and a bizarre back-and-forth between the somnambulistic Smith and a peppy female singer. Were the music any less energetic or Smith any more conscious-seeming, the overall effect would have been considerably reduced, but the contrast made the music all the more interesting and exciting.
Finally, Girls. Though my previous experience seeing Girls live was underwhelming, this was one of the best performances I have ever seen by a Bay Area band. The songs collectively combined nearly every experience one could have at a rock show--lighters in the air during “Forgiveness,” headbanging during “Die,” spiritual connection during the massive gospel anthem “Vomit,” and even some tears shed during the unbelievably beautiful “Alex” (a strong candidate for the best song of the year so far by a Bay Area artist). The duo of Chris Owens and JR White recruited a massive backing band for the show, including a three-woman gospel choir who looked like they were having the time of their lives. While many chose to admire the band from a distance as if they were art, others chose to dance, and the divide made for some uncomfortable situations towards the front. In the end, everyone was left nearly speechless--but still enough voice left to demand an encore, which came in the form of the ballad “Broken Dreams Club.”