Noise Pop Review: Joan and Ralph hold power pop rendezvous at Swedish American Hall

Joan, Alan Thomas, Steven Rutherford

Joan performs at Swedish American Hall in San Francisco on Feb. 26, 2020. Sean Liming/STAFF.

SAN FRANCISCO — One of the most compelling aspects of Noise Pop is figuring out which artists may rise to become tomorrow’s superstars. The festival features bands and artists each year that go on to become household names. If this reviewer had to place a bet on just who might come out of this year’s slew of artists, joan would be very close to the top of that list.

Judging by the fervent energy of the near capacity crowd at the Swedish American Music Hall on Wednesday, there are many in the Bay Area already on the duo’s  (joan is not one person) bandwagon. From the Gen Z-ers packed tightly against the front of the stage all the way up to those watching in the balcony, just about everyone was dancing along with the Arkansas duo as it pumped out high-energy pop jams throughout the night.

Joan, Alan Thomas

Joan performs at Swedish American Hall in San Francisco on Feb. 26, 2020.

The most surprising thing about joan was how Alan Thomas and Steven Rutherford are relatively unusual suspects compared to their sound. The pair were soulful and energetic, and the songs were downright infectious. Picture the performance as some of the best sounds of ’80s and ’90s pop filtered through performance lens of Twenty One Pilots. Joan wasted little getting down to business as it pumped out 15 upbeat tracks during a compact 60-minute set. Another unexpected Noise Pop pleasure: quick sets make it that much more palatable to catch multiple artists over the course of a week.

The band opened with a trio of upbeat pop jams in “Drive All Night,” “Stop and Stare” and “Tokyo.” Thomas locked right into to Rutherford’s tight drum grooves. Thomas’ vocals were calm, cool and slick, melding together masterfully with Rutherford’s as just about every song on the set list featured harmonization between the two.

Thomas announced that the band had recorded and was preparing to release it’s next EP, and would be playing all of the songs from it over the course of the night. One of them, “Magnetic,” featured some. impressive balladry without losing any energy. Another was the funky “Love Me Better.” After mixing in older track “All The Way,” joan played another pair of unreleased cuts in “Try Again” and “I Want You.”

Fans sang along faithfully to the band’s staple “Take Me On” before mixing in some more new material in “Broken Hearted” and “Cover Girl.” Thomas didn’t spend a massive amount of time speaking with the audience, deciding simply to introduce the songs. After the new stuff was out for the way, joan closed out with “One More Touch,” “Ease Your Mind” and “Love Somebody Like You” before finishing up and sending the crowd home happy with “I Loved You First.”

It’s unclear whether organizers were in the on the joke when they scheduled two single-first-name acts on one bill, gender-swapped names, no less, but it was worth a quick laugh, anyways.

Ralph, Raffaela Weyman

Ralph performs at Swedish American Hall in San Francisco on Feb. 26, 2020.

Canadian singer-songwriter Ralph. opened the show. The artist, whose real name is Raffaela Weyman, complemented the evening’s headliners by also delving in to the upbeat ’80s influences in her sound. Weyman, flanked by a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist, was incredibly personable and bounced and bounded her way back and forth on the small stage. Over the course of 40 minutes, she played a set of upbeat, highly danceable songs like “Tables Have Turned.”

If Wednesday’s concert was an indiction of what’s to come, power pop is in good hands.

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