SAN FRANCISCO — The revamped Swedish American Hall is a terrific venue for intimate and stripped-down shows. Its walls reverberate acoustics beautifully. Fans of indie bands appreciate the ability to watch a show either either from the many chairs that line the main floor and mezzanine, or while enjoying an adult beverage. All of these traditional elements created a near-comical situation Friday after a swarm of mostly younger fans converged on the venue and surrounded Rochester, New York electronic rock quintet Joywave on its tiny stage.
If the band didn’t know what it had signed up for in advance, they found out quickly. Luckily, the situation fit the comedic stylings of Joywave frontman Daniel Armbruster just fine.
“How many of you have seen us before in San Francisco?” he asked midway through the show, which had been sold out for weeks, to loud affirmative applause. “How many of you have seen us on stage smaller than this one? [More applause.] WRONG! This is the smallest stage in the universe! Thank you, Sweden.”
Coming off a performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Joywave was in fine form. The band is more than six months in on a tour supporting 2017 album Content (which Armbruster definitively defined as satisfied, not the noun version of the word), and the setlist reflected a roughly 50-50 split on new and old material.
Armbruster and his bandmates took the stage, flanked by two ’90s-era computer monitors blaring dial-up modem hisses and flashing images from Windows 95. A Windows start-up screen and error message rolled into the droning new album title track.
The more melodic “Now,” off 2015’s How Do You Feel Now, came next, and on the accompanying visuals, Armbruster explained, a band roadie with an Italian background programmed a flapping Italian flag and fireworks. “I apologize to the Swedes,” Armbruster joked. It was funny at the time, but admittedly not so much when conveyed in writing in a concert review.
However, a Joywave concert is not solely about the songs performed. It’s about how they’re performed—for example, keyboardist Benjamin Bailey stepped off stage to play a house baby grand piano just because it was there—and how the band members interact with one another and their very devoted fans.
“Has anybody been to the banh mi place across the street?” Armbruster asked toward the end of the show. “It’s good. But it’s not good right now. I need complete silence while I digest these two TUMS.”
And there were numerous highlights for the fans. “It’s a Trip,” which came early in the set, lacked the hilarious accompanying video but sounded just as strong live. The bass-chugging “Rumors” included a spontaneous fan clap-along. “Destruction,” off the 2015 LP, received the loudest applause. At one point, the band invited Travis Johansen, once a member of Joywave and now the guitarist for openers KOPPS, to play a song with them. If the stage couldn’t contain the five members, watching a sixth try to squeeze in incited more laughter.
KOPPS, a kind of sleazy glam-pop band, had Johansen, singer Patricia Patrón and bassist Kyle O’Hara perform various dance routines and ZZ Top-style synchronized guitar swivels. There was one moment when the bassist and guitarist were slow dancing together sensually.
Oh, and everyone other than drummer Andrew York wore matching net shirts (see-through on the men), with straps and buckles. All of their songs were fun, or funny, or both. Highlights included “Thermometer” and “Baby, I’m Dead Inside,” a slinky dance-pop tune. At times, KOPPS reminded me a bit of the Bravery, had the post-punk band been fronted by an extremely extroverted woman.
Sandwiched between the headliners and the openers was pop singer-songwriter Sasha Sloan, whose beat-centric ballads were pretty but not necessarily in line with the other two bands on the bill. Most of the songs dealt with heartbreak of one sort or another. “This is about my relationship—it sucked. Love sucks, guys,” she said after the third or fourth sad song. Two upbeat songs, including “Normal,” fit the vibe of the evening much better. Still, the last song of her short set, a sparse piano ballad that she performed without her drummer and keyboardist, stood out because it allowed the lyrics to rise above the melody.