A Hella Gay Pride Show at Bottom of the Hill
Guest post By Rob Hagle
On the Lyft ride to the venue my driver exclaimed, “Bottom of the Hill! How have I never been there?” Exactly Mark, whose “favorite music is trap,” exactly. It struck me that this club had become so legendary that it’s reputation was known even to those who had never been.
Every musician who calls the Bay Area home understands the important role the venue has played in launching musical careers, and it was especially evident as each act was making their Bottom of the Hill debut Wednesday night. The “Hella Gay Pride Show” featuring Bay Area LGBTQ Artists and Allies Little Spiral, JWB and Marissa Kay & the Lunar Angels was an opportunity for all of these acts to step out onto the iconic stage. Lunar Angel’s guitarist Drew Kebbel was visibly thrilled, seated in the back smoking lounge. “I am from Ohio and grew up listening to bands talk about this place or sing songs about it,” Kebbel said. “It’s my favorite venue in the city.”
Perhaps he was referring to NoFX, who name-dropped the club in the first line of their song “Scavenger Type” released in 1994.
It’s obvious those at BotH are fully aware of the venue’s reputation with classic calendars plastered on the walls and boasting a tagline that claims the spot to be “The first place in SF your favorite band played”. A quick search through an absurd list of acts on their website proves that to be true.
Despite the musicians’ thrill of debuting in the same space where acts like The White Stripes and Neutral Milk Hotel once played, this night was all about Pride, with the his local flavor providing the perfect kickoff to the festivities. The stage was dressed in signs reading “Love Wins” and “Create Good Karma” and each act on the bill represented the LGBTQ community. The show really felt like a celebration of not only Pride but what Pride means to San Francisco, and for the acts, it was clearly also about what Pride means to them.
The Summer Solstice had the sun going down just as songwriter and pianist Little Spiral made not only her BotH debut but also her live debut with a backing band, although she obviously has the chops to play solo – just about everyone in the room leaned forward with a collective “Whoa!” as she sang her first bars. But the backing of a band really brought her voice to life and I look forward to hearing how the sound progresses as she and the fellas grow and expand their style. Some of the highlights for me personally were her witty lyrics, strong jazzy musicality and her grasp of the subtle art of stage banter. She filled the full room while in the unenviable position of opener and built up palpable anticipation for the rest of the night’s performances. The crowd chanted her name and clapped wildly as Little Spiral wrapped up her set and murmurs of her performance continued to radiate throughout the evening.
Next up was JWB from San Jose, whose deceptively simple hooks were stuck in my head for hours past the show. Pop-folk smoothness permeated the performance, exuding professionalism and highlighted by the mighty fine double bass playing of Noa Laniakea. Jake Wichman (lead vocals/guitar) made sure to highlight Noa’s playing and thank them for their contribution to the band. JWB’s bio reads: “The three of them are also heavily invested in support of the LGBTQA+ community, as Noa is a nonbinary trans* individual (they/them or she/her) who wants to use their music to connect to a wider audience and provide visibility for trans* people, while Jake and Will (drums) are staunch allies.” It was refreshing to witness them embrace their roles in the community and commitment to visibility.
Finally, the headliners for the evening, Marissa Kay & The Lunar Angels took to the stage and immediately turned up the rock intensity with a mixture of new songs and those from her excellent debut album “Trans is Love”. The setlist featured a range of classic rock and folk sounds with clever lyricism relevant to 21st century struggles, including her skilled rendition of the rap from her powerful rock anthem “Fight Like a Girl.” Backed by the ferocious drumming of Gerard Cabarse, the sound pierced the room and gave everyone in attendance, and the band itself, what sound engineer Paul Thomas has called “The Bottom the Hill experience”. There were copious sing and clap-alongs throughout the show, highlighted by Marissa’s energy and stage presence.
One of the night’s several magic moments happened when Marissa brought local songwriter and performer Carlie Mari on stage to duet their song “Close My Eyes”.
She riled up the audience with a defiant “We’ve got the fucking power!” and ended the night by inviting some friends up to sing along with her title track “Trans is Love” for an excellent cap on an evening filled with art, love and a whole lot of PRIDE.