An Evening with Alison Sudol

Alison Sudol and her band performing at Cafe du Nord.

There is still no substitute for live music in our streaming dominated world. To put it as cheesily as possible, good live music is like a shot of euphoria straight to the heart. It’s a hyper unique feeling that no one has managed to replicate elsewhere. And given the world we live, we can use a lot more of that feeling.

The show I went to last Saturday was pretty far outside of my heavy metal wheelhouse: it was indie rocker (I think) Alison Sudol, playing to what was maybe a hundred people at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. If you know Sudol at all, it’s because she plays Queenie Goldstein in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. I don’t quite remember how her West Coast tour came to my attention – I think I heard through an episode of PotterCast – but I looked it up and tickets were like 20 bucks. Seeing her looked like a cool and rare opportunity and I also liked what I heard from her on Spotify.

Cafe du Nord is a square U-shaped room in the basement of the Swedish American Hall. It used to be a speakeasy and it absolutely looks the part. There was no visible security guards and I don’t think the stage had a barrier. The crowd was an eclectic mix of old (the bearded boomers wearing fedoras were out in force that night) and young. I ended up deep in conversation with a dude wearing a jacket decked out in Harry Potter pins and patches. He was also wearing an Episode IX beanie, which is how I found out he also attended Celebration (Motherfucker actually got into the Episode IX panel! Agghhhh!). He was a fascinating individual; I could have talked to him all night. I even apologized to the lady that was either his girlfriend or just a friend for hogging him.

The opening act was a local: Oakland’s Billie Gale. Per the about section of their Facebook page, they are a “atmospheric dream pop quartet,” though they were missing the fourth member that night. I don’t really have any opinions or knowledge to offer about dream pop. Billie Gale was certainly…dreamy? I wasn’t floored by them but they didn’t bother me either. The stand out of their set for me was when they finished a not particularly high tempo song and their singer said they were gonna “slow things down a bit,” which made me raise an eyebrow and whisper “Damn.”

After Billie Gale and the intermission/soundcheck, it was time for Alison Sudol. Her guitarist, drummer and keyboardist/pianist came out onstage first. Sudol herself stepped out after them, holding some incense matches and wearing some glitter on her face. She had a cup of tea with her, completing the appropriately witchy vibe she gave off. In addition to singing, Sudol also plays bass and percussion; there was a cymbal set up next to her, which she would occasionally beat the shit out of. Her mic stand had two microphones on it, one of which made her voice sound fuzzy and echoey. The only other artist I’ve seen with that set up was Les Claypool, of all people.

Sudol was a smiling, bubbly presence. I’m not familiar with her back catalog; she released three albums from 2007 to 2012 under the name A Fine Frenzy, so she’s been at this for awhile. Her set consisted mostly of material from her two recent EPs, which she released under her own name. I think it had been awhile since she toured, since she commented several times how glad she was to be playing in front of people again. Fantastic Beasts came up when some guy (I suspect it’s the same guy I spoke with) in the crowd shouted “Grindelwald is evil!” Sudol gamely replied “I know,” which led me to believe this wasn’t an isolated incident on the tour. If this brief, minor disruption bothered her, she didn’t show it.

My last show was at the Masonic in June, where I watched Mastodon (in between headliners Coheed and Cambria and openers Every Time I Die) play through Crack the Skye in its entirety. A quiet band in a small room with zero mosh pits was a lovely change of pace. Cafe du Nord’s sound system isn’t spectacular – the bartender shaking cocktails could clearly be heard through the music – but it didn’t bother me. If anything, it added to the intimacy.

I swear I’m not getting soft on you guys with all this dream pop and indie rock. I’ll be back on my metal bullshit in September when I see Kataklysm, Exhorder, Krisiun and Hatchet at the Oakland Metro Operahouse.

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