SAN FRANCISCO — Throughout Rostam‘s Noise Pop set at Slim’s Friday, the former Vampire Weekend songwriter made references to to the absence or coming of light. Whether lyrically, such as on the title track of his 2017 solo album, Half-Light—”Baby, all the lights came up”—or on the accompanying visuals that were projected onto a screen behind him: moonscapes, cityscapes at dusk, lit-up bridges and more.
Yet the one element the show, itself, lacked was light. Rostam performed in near darkness, with the stage lights instead faintly pointed at the front of the audience. Where he removed the fanfare from the production of his show, he also did without most of the bells and whistles on stage. Rostam was backed only by a four-member string section, whose performance often eclipsed the star, as well as a percussionist who also triggered synths.
The group kicked off the 15-song set with the ethereal, “Don’t Let It Get to You (Reprise),” the finale song on the solo album. That ethereal, almost mystical, vibe would remain for the duration. Anyone expecting a rock or pop set—this is the same man who mined gold out of the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen, after all—had to quickly change expectations.
“If you’re one of those people who tunes out after three sings, you’ve definitely heard this one; it’s track 1,” Rostam said before going from the end of the album to the beginning: “Summer.” On “Wood,” which he dedicated to Persians in the room, he replicated sitar-like plucking on his Gibson guitar (it could have been a Gretch, too; it was too dark to tell).
The meditative “Bike Dream” led into a somewhat unrecognizable cover of Vampire Weekend’s “Young Lion.” The string quartet really made this one their own, as well as “Gwan,” with an extended string jam session that got the loudest cheers for anyone other than the opening bands. Other highlights included an expected cover of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” and “It’s Not My Fault (It’s My Fault),” which he wrote with Wes Miles of Ra Ra Riot as part of their 2009 Discovery collaboration.
San Bruno guitar-driven indie rock band High Sunn opened the show, with about 10 songs that blew right by on breezy melodies. Bandleader Justin Cheromiah and co. do recall Vampire Weekend, perhaps blended with a bit of Joy Division, and some other acts from the early 2000s. “Those Last Words” carried a pop-punk vibe with angular chords. “Natural Instinct,” like much of the set, dripped with nostalgia. New tune “Holding Hands,” off High Sunn’s forthcoming record, was injected with Afropop sensibility.
“This is another one of those emotional songs,” Cheromiah said as an introduction.
San Francisco quartet The Y Axes performed next and also impressed; either that or the band brought a lot of friends to the show for moral support. Frontwoman Alexi Belchere’s vocals were often buried in the sonic mix, but without easily understood lyrics, her sugary voice was an additional layer on the band’s indie pop sound. When it rose to the surface, it recalled Emily Haines of Metric.
“Patch Me Up,” which has a live intro and structure similar to that of Coldplay’s “Clocks” was one of several highlights. The band also invited friend Enon Gaines, singer of local band Unlikely Heroes, up on stage to rap during one of their songs, and that excited fans as well.
Philadelphia woozy lo-fi and power pop band Joy Again‘s set was broken up into two halves. The first consisted of off-kilter minor key tunes that came close to approaching grunge territory. The second half was mostly melodic power chord chargers like “Kim” and “Looking Out For You,” which incited a lot of dancing among fans. And in between the two, a bass guitar malfunctioned, leading to a 5-minute break where no one seemed sure what to do, so a couple sprawled onto the stage while singer-guitarist Arthur Shea performed “Necromancer” by himself.