REVIEW: MUNA beats the heat and saves San Francisco at GAMH


MUNA performs at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Sept. 24, 2019. Photos: Gary Chancer.

SAN FRANCISCO — “We’re the goddamn greatest band in the world,” MUNA guitarist-producer Naomi McPherson proclaimed after just one song into the Los Angeles pop trio’s sold-out show inside a sweltering Great American Music Hall on Tuesday. 

McPherson may have been hearkening back to a time when bands worked their tails off to make such an assertion, but with that one sentence, she also highlighted how MUNA has grown between 2017 debut album About U and the just-released Saves the World: on-stage confidence.


MUNA performs at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Sept. 24, 2019.

About U was a lightning strike—the perfect message with the perfect music at the perfect time. Songs like “Loudspeaker,” “I Know a Place” and “Winterbreak”—which all made an appearance in the second half of Tuesday’s show, spoke of injustices, finding one’s own place in the world, overcoming personal abuse and more. The newer material, which comprised the majority of the set, was at times more hopeful and empowering and at others, equally angry.

MUNA has retained the slick, dark aspects of its sound that worked so well the last time time around, combining McPherson’s and guitarist Josette Maskin’s atmospheric riffing around the piercing voice of vocalist Katie Gavin. They have also added to their sound. Besides sounding at times like The 1975 or even funky like Prince, a couple of the songs added a folky element. Gavin strummed an acoustic guitar on new track “Taken,” for example. Unlike the album version, the song got the mid-’90s alt-rock treatment. If you are of that time, you would think it was Goo Goo Dolls or Five for Fighting creating the melody.


MUNA performs at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Sept. 24, 2019.

“Good News (Ya-Ya Song),” meanwhile, had major Lilith Fair vibes, while others recalled a glossier take on Garbage. The trio were supported by a new drummer and bassist who adequately filled in the band’s sound.

The two biggest storylines were the band’s confidence and the heat. The building’s ventilation was down for the count, and one employee said that numerous fuses were blown trying to power various equipment. It became so humid before the band took the stage that employees began handing out water bottles. Yet the hall remained packed for the duration of the show—all the way to the back wall. It didn’t go unnoticed by MUNA.


MUNA performs at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Sept. 24, 2019.

After opening with self-empowerment anthem “Number One Fan” and another new tune, “Stayaway,” the band cut to fan favorites “Crying on the Bathroom Floor” and “Around U.” Gavin beckoned to the crowd with a curled finger and the energy rose. The words “fan favorite” were a relative term on this night, as many people appeared to sing along to every word to songs from the new album even though it’s been out for less than a month.

Gavin let out cathartic scream toward the end of “Never,” holding the note for several seconds. The loud applause for that song grew exponentially for more than 30 seconds—a general admission show equivalent of a standing ovation—prompting Gavin to turn to McPherson and mouth, “Do you hear that?”

Who are you singing about,” Gavin pleaded on slower tune “Who.” She called the song the last “emo” song of the performance, though it was one of several songs—along with the likes of “Hands Off”—that shared the most links with MUNA’s first album.

“I know it’s hot, but we’ve reached the banger portion of the setlist. You can shower later,” Gavin said before the band kicked into its last tunes. Before closing with new track “It’s Gonna Be Okay, Baby,” Gavin explained the album’s name, which is less of a big statement and more of a personal one.
Chelsea Jade

Chelsea Jade performs at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Sept. 24, 2019.

New Zealand singer-songwriter Chelsea Jade opened the show with an eclectic performance set to pre-recorded songs and backed by two other singers with whom she would do choreographed hair flips, dance steps and hand gesticulations. She opened with a monotone spoken word piece called “Personal Best,” an avant-garde song that stood out from the rest, which leaned on influences from bedroom pop to hip-hop.

The more melodic “High Beam” was followed by the bass-thumping “Low Brow.” She twice sauntered through the crowd while singing. “Laugh it Off,” more closely resembled an ’80s-influenced keyboard jam, while “Oversensitive” had a fun skittering beat, and “Life of the Party” was a poppy tune over which she delivered purposefully flat vocals, a la Soccer Mommy.

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