Noise Pop Review: VHS Collection shows an ’80s highlight reel at the Independent

VHS Collection

VHS Collection performs at The Independent in San Francisco on Mar. 2, 2019. Photos: Shawn Robbins.

SAN FRANCISCO — New York synth pop band VHS Collection has a name that hearkens to a point in time where films were a thing that could be fast-forwarded or rewound, but not skipped. And as the quintet showed at its Noise Pop Music Festival concert at the Independent on Saturday, its songs are intended to evoke emotions that could have scored many of those films. Maybe not “Jaws” or “The Terminator,” but any John Hughes coming-of-age film would do. Maybe even ‘Tron” or “Explorers.”

Lead vocalist James Bohannon, guitarist Conor Cook and keyboardist Nils Vanderlip, along with a drummer and bassist (who also manned a synth), sold out the Independent in advance. It was one of the more difficult shows to get into in the latter half of week. VHS Collection’s rich and nostalgic sound quickly filled the room, starting with opener “One,” which had a heavy synth bass and keyboard riff during its chorus. “Stranger” added a funky bass line to that same mix, while “I Can’t Stand It” had indie pop verses that broke into a disco-tinged chorus.

The first few bars of recently released track “Dreaming” made it seem like the song would go the route of a ballad, but it quickly pivoted into another banger. “Lean” had a poppy keyboard solo that broke through the general similarity between the songs played at the start of the show.

Before the mid-tempo “So I Met Someone,” Bohannon must have realized that he had yet to address the room, and promptly said something that made it clear he wasn’t from around these parts: “I gotta say something! Hello San Fran!” The song also featured Vanderlip playing an acoustic guitar, which sounded beautiful on its own but was virtually indistinguishable when rest of the band was doing its thing.

VHS Collection

VHS Collection performs at The Independent in San Francisco on Mar. 2, 2019.

VHS Collection built a wall of synth on “Animal,” with Bohannon pleading, “All I know is I need you!” And on “The Longest Drive,” which was vaguely reminiscent of The Killers’ “Mr Brightside,” the frontman aggressively tilted his microphone stand at a 45-degree angle to make a classic rock star pose. He made the most of the Independent stage but seemed like he could use some more runway to burn excess energy.

The chiming guitars on “The Black” recalled Duran Duran, but it was the next song, “Late Night (It’s Okay),” which became the concert’s emotional climax. The song dripped with John Hughes’ sheen and its droning synths could score that classic moment when a protagonist arrives at a pivotal moment for action.

Cut Copy bassist Ben Browning opened the show with an hourlong DJ set, during which he spun electro-pop songs alongside Euro-disco-influenced pop not unlike his band. The latter half of the DJ set included Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” Yacht’s “Psychic City” and Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls.”

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at photographer Shawn Robbins at and

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