Sometimes you walk into a room that is intimidatingly cool, and you just have to face the fact that you’re not even the fiftieth coolest person in the room. That’s what Rickshaw Stop felt like on Feb. 17. Cool girls wearing all black, espadrilles, and Ana Karina hair swarmed the venue alongside man-bunned, flannel clad guys. These people were here for a purpose: to hear three female-led, up-and-coming West Coast bands. Radiation City, Deep Sea Diver, and Eternal Drag each took to the stage to play their dreamy synth-pop. The small downtown venue with purple lighting was the perfect fit for the bands’ intimate and energetic performances.
Eternal Drag, a San Francisco band, made up of past members of The Dodos and Social Studies, opened the show with a relaxed set. Singer Alexis Harper took the stage dressed like an “Almost Famous” extra, in a floral crop top, high-waisted bell bottoms, and bright red patent leather platform sandals. Harper is a late addition to the band, which started out as a boys-only group in 2014. Eternal Drag set the scene for a fun, relaxing, and intimate concert with their electronically influenced pop love songs. Their cheerful set had the crowd dancing and ready for the headliners.
The first of the headliners, Deep Sea Diver, hit the stage next. The four piece led by Jessica Dobson, mostly played songs from their new album, “Secrets.” Dobson’s solo project is the result of years of being a band member for The Shins, Beck, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and countless others. Deep Sea Diver sounds like it’s made up of parts of Dobson’s past bands: The Shins’ light guitar sound, Karen O’s signature growl, and Beck’s experimentation with synths. Together these elements create a unique sound full of rock guitars, light synths, and raw vocals.
Because of Dobson’s years of concert experience she has a commanding stage presence, especially when singing songs like “Body on the Tracks” and “Great Light.” Dobson’s angular face, shaggy bob, and shorts and tights outfit is reminiscent of a modern day Patti Smith, but their sounds couldn’t be more different. Deep Sea Diver sounds like a mixture of serious singer-songwriting and fun 80s pop. She confidently switches from guitar to keyboards between songs, creating an powerful synth-rock sound similar to Metric.
Radiation City, a Portland-based band, closed the show with an upbeat set full of songs off their new album, “Synesthetica.” This was the band’s eighth show ever in San Francisco, which Randy Bemrose, the band’s tall, bowler-wearing drummer, describes as, “like Portland, but with more money.” The band started in 2010 with Cameron Spies and Lizzy Ellison recruiting people after playing in two separate bands. “I don’t think there was a choice,” says keyboard player Patti King, about forming the band, which started as a fun side project, but soon became the main focus for Spies and Ellison.
The band played a nearly perfect set that had the whole space dancing, but labeling their music is harder to do than giving a great performance. When asked about their sound, King says with a giggle, “The Guardian had the perfect ten word phrase to describe it, it was like ‘yummy, hummable, I can’t remember.” Ellison, tiny and dressed in pinstripe overalls, jumps in saying, “it’s hard to describe but definitely sort of futuristic, in a sense that it’s hard to pin down, but we’ve been influenced by 60s girl groups and bossa nova and sci-fi music.”
Songs like “Oil Show” and “Sugar Broom” definitely have a bossa nova guitar sound, sweet 60s girl group choruses, and Ellison and Spies’ voices blend beautifully in songs like “Separate,” which is reminiscent of 70s duets. Despite all of these vintage influences, the synthy accents make the music sound futuristic and new.
Photo courtesy of Caleb D’Oleire/Foghorn