Towns Like These: Travis Hayes and Other Locals at Great American Music Hall

photo credit: Jared Swanson
photo credit: Jared Swanson

On a warm Saturday night during Pride weekend, the Great American Music Hall bustled with excitement. Not only were three amazing Bay Area bands about to share one of the most beautiful stages in San Francisco, but the Supreme Court had declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states just in time for LGBT Pride 2015.

“Guys. Love wins,” Travis Hayes said with an insistent joy that gave those words– which had for over 24 hours been a bland Twitter hashtag– such weight and meaning that they seemed to be carved across his acoustic guitar.

Opening band Travis Hayes and the Young Days turned the small stage into an arena, with Travis’ gritty folk songs translated into charging rock anthems with the help of his full band. Guitarist Brent Curriden’s stinging lead strums and Drummer Cade’s popping kick and snare made the crowd alternate between swaying headbanging every few bars. Each of Travis’ twanging lines about drinking too much and trying to think a little less were threaded with harmonies by Emily Whitehurst’s backing vocals.

These crisp sounds combined with the group’s warm stage chemistry brought an energy to the room that got everyone out of their chairs; and with a steady strum of Travis’ guitar and the creaking wood of the stage’s floorboards, The Young Daze were joined by the haunting tones of Helen Newby on Cello. With just Travis, Emily, and Helen left on stage, the room filled with an intimate hush. Lilting cello notes wafted through the heavy air, the crowd seeming to gather closer to listen to the somber second half of the set. Just as the sweat from the audience’s bodies was beginning to cool, however, the rest of the band returned to the stage for an unforgettable reimagining of The Smith’s “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”

photo: Jared Swanson
photo: Jared Swanson

Second to the stage was Bonnie & The Bang Bang, exploding with rabid melodic rock, the bandmates rebounding off each other as they kicked their way to the edge of the stage, to the tops of amplifiers.

The audience shuffled along, yelling back hooks through tangling beards and cups of beer. They alternated between howling words to the rafters and nodding their heads downward as if frantically agreeing with a particular drum beat, “Yes, yes, absolutely, you are correct!”

Lead singer Patrick was the key variable for each song’s equation. With every sung syllable he simultaneously defined and defied musical genres– a held-out honey-smooth jazz note could easily transform into a screamo yelp, all while anthemic chants and psychobilly basslines kept the vocals aloft.

photo: Jared Swanson
photo: Jared Swanson

“We’re nerds. We make music with Gameboys and then this happens,” said the headlining Curious Quail’s frontman Mike Shirley-Donnelly as his bandmate Alan Chen slid a bow across a violin. Silhouetted in the flickering shadow of their backdrop– a charcoal sketch of the Bay Bridge lit with Christmas lights– the band hummed with an electric energy, often punctuated with choreographed jumps mid-song.

Inspired by the finger lights that had been distributed at the door– not to mention the infectious rhythms of San Jose’s best orchestral-chiptune-alternative-pop band– the audience broke into impromptu late-90’sesque rave dances.

Through the catchy melodies and driving beats, Mike’s voice carried a shy sadness to it, the bleeps and bloops from a Gameboy backing track adding an air of wonderment or perhaps a grasp for dwindling innocence.

At the end of their set, Curious Quail invited the other bands to join them on stage for a cover of The Pixies’ “Where is my Mind”. This swaggeringly cathartic song was a perfect way to finish off the night. While the joyful light of marital equality may have been tinged with the knowledge that humanity still has a long way to go, at that moment– with Curious Quail, Bonnie & the Bang Bang, and Travis Hayes and the Young Daze rocking Great American, the city seemed to glow with hope.

MOVE—an album review for Please Do Not Fight

First of all I highly recommend heading to http://pleasedonotfight.bandcamp.com to listen to the EP I’m about to review while you read it. It makes for a much more thorough and meaningful experience. Go now….good, now we’ll begin.

Zen is a big bear. He is well over 6 foot and has a sturdy frame that brings an unmistakable presence to whatever space he’s inhabiting. He sings, writes and plays guitar for the Bay Area Power Pop Rock band Please Do Not Fight out of Redwood City. On any given night of the week Zen can be found doing something to support the Bay Area music community. In some senses Zen is a traditional folk artist—a man of and for community he ascribes to. Whether it’s hanging out at other bands shows, playing one of his own, hosting an open mic, connecting musicians together or giving guitar lessons to youth he’s out there in the music community breathing much needed life and enthusiasm into everything he does. This is something we need more of in our community of artists in the Bay Area and I would go as far to say in any community anywhere.

Now I could go off about what a great guy Zen is for a while but alas this is a review of he and his band’s latest record “Move” released toward the end of 2009.

The album starts off with a very Weezer-esque tune “I Will Not Forget”. I hear a bit of The World Has Turned in this song and it’s welcomed joyfully. It’s a good opener as it give listeners a preview of the many faces of Please Do Not Fight—male/female vocal interplay, rock solid and inventive drumming, great melodic guitar and bass work and fantastic song writing.

Words Speak Louder is PDNF’s rock song. It’s the song that plays with dynamics the best and has an addictive hook in the back and forth interplay during the verses where the bass drops out and comes in with ripping drums over and over again and then the ferocious repeated chorus line which almost sounds like a pre chorus “Are you feeling left out?”. I could listen to that back and forth on repeat for hours.

BAMF tips it’s proverbial hat to Death Cab for Cutie , an obvious and wonderful mentor for the band. It’s well put together coming off of an almost melancholy rhythm brought to life by the steady tom rolls of drummer Kubes and the melodic yet driving guitar playing of Geoff McCann.

I couldn’t help but think that many of these songs would fit well stripped down with the acoustic guitar, a shuffle drumbeat, standup bass and a little whiskey to bring out the southern drawl I know Zen has deep down inside him somewhere. It’s more of a strange fantasy but this inclination comes out strong in songs like “Please Don’t Wipe Your Smile Off Your Face”.

“Up Up Up “ screams early Motion City Soundtrack which is awesome. Producer Aaron Hellam’s studio magic works perfectly throughout the EP but exceptionally well on this track. It’s full, alive and full of passion. I almost wanted the breakdown halfway through the song to take twice as long and really build since it reminded me of Weezer’s “Only in Dreams” as it drops to a solid bass line with sparse ride symbol however, it also fits the in-your-face energy of the song as is and keeps it tight and short, to the point.

For a six song EP this album takes you through quite the emotional spectrum. There are frustrated angsty songs akin to  the late 90’s pop punk movement which are welcome elements to the more polished and sometimes sentimental 2000 something indie rock songwriting all over this album.  Make no mistake Please Do Not Fight is a loud rock band but there is also a sweet little songwriting element that pervades all the songs on this EP and that makes it more accessible to a wider audience than just grungy club goers and scenesters. The EP ends with a mellow rock song called “Hard to Tell”. It lets you down easy after a wild ride with an acoustic guitar backing the entire song.  The vocal duet between Zen and keyboardist/violinist/vocalist Erin Keely refraining on the lyric “We just need more time” at the end of the song is perfect.  You’ve got all the time in the world Please Do Not Fight and I can’t wait to see and hear what new songs you come up with in the coming years.

-Doug Streblow

July 2010

Listen to and purchase “Move” by visiting Please Do Not Fight’s bandcamp page Here: http://pleasedonotfight.bandcamp.com