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    Friday, December 08, 2006

    Tartufi @ Bottom of the Hill, 11-30-06

    In an ideal world, I’d be going to Bottom of the Hill three or four times a week. It’s one of my favorite music venues in the city, with a nicely intimate space and a good sound system. The acts that play there are often either interesting indie artists or a bunch of bands I’ve never heard of. The ticket prices are mostly single-digit and the beers are reasonable too. But then reality intrudes and I remember that it’s also about as far from my apartment as geographically possible. That it requires two buses (which don’t run all that much at night) to get there and back.

    No matter though. It hasn’t stopped me from trekking out there semi-regularly and having a good time whenever I do. It also wasn’t going to keep me from hitting up the Tartufi’s recent show, given how much I enjoyed them the first time around. So I headed out into a blustery Thursday evening, armed with a book, the latest New Yorker, my MP3 player and a flask.

    It seemed surprisingly quiet in San Francisco that night, as if the city were under a spell. Even the usual lunatics on the street were kind of subdued. Arriving at the club, I grabbed a Fat Tire and waited for the local duo to take the stage. The audience was sparse and it felt all that much cooler for it. I was so relieved not to be squashed into yet another sold-out clusterfuck, where I'd be catching as many elbows as notes.

    Lynne Angel, guitarist and lead singer, and Brian Gorman, drummer and sometimes-guitarist and megaphone-shouter, stepped up around ten to unload their equipment. Someone else came on and asked everybody to move up as the band would be shooting a video. Somehow, that positioned me directly in front of the main speaker, which ensured I’d be having an experience my ears would not soon forget.

    Because if there is one thing to know about Tartufi, it’s that they’re loud. There are many, many other things to know about them of course, but “loud” absolutely demands to top the list. They unleash their sound the way someone unleashes a pit bull, and it’s altogether inspiring to see two people (with some electronic assistance) produce so much massive racket. My eardrums were literally throbbing throughout their shattering set. And while I knew all along that it was an otologist’s nightmare, the music was so muscular, I just didn’t want to move.

    The other things that need to be observed about a Tartufi performance are trickier, because so many of them seem to be in opposition. Yeah, the songs are thick and sludgy, like sonic molasses, but they’re also lithe and athletic. They’re loose and expansive, but as carefully structured and as thoughtfully calculated as the math-rock label they’re often tagged with. Their moods can spiral out from aggressive to sweet in as little as a chord change.

    The contradictions were revved up for my favorite moment of the night, when the band launched into a number excoriating Fleet Week. It was extremely fitting, considering that that terrible week in October was the last time my ears were so fully assailed. I’d get woken up at 5 a.m. to the horrific drone of the low-flying Blue Angels, thinking that someone must've rerouted the airport. Throughout the day, my thoughts would be sliced up by the sudden swipes of the showboating planes. I was also constantly half-suspecting that maybe the White House had finally given the order to bomb San Francisco.

    But Tartufi fought back the best way they could, matching noise for noise, deft maneuver for deft maneuver. After constructing an impenetrable wall of sound, Angel stepped up to the mic. She sang, “Be quiet. Be quiet. Be quiet” over and over, as peacefully as a prayer. It was kind of stunning how effective this was, how she could invest so much emotion in such a simple vocal line. For this band though, that was just the modus operandi.

    After Tartufi, the Evangelicals came on to headline. I tried to stick around as long as I could, but gave up after a few promising songs. I was too drained from Tartufi’s set, which had packed so many exhaustive elements into one charged hour. I was already thinking of the long, chilly ride home and my eardrums were still shaking. I felt like I’d been on a long plane ride and still had to readjust to being back on the earth. And for the moment, when it doesn’t seem that Tartufi will be playing outside of the Bay Area anytime soon, getting on a plane may be your only way to catch one of California’s most vital live acts.

    * MP3: "If We Had Daggers They Would Fly" - Tartufi from Us Upon Buildings Upon Us
    * MP3: "It's Not The Wind Chime That's Broken, It's The Wind" - Tartufi from Us Upon Buildings Upon Us [Buy it]
    * Band Website: Tartufi

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