vanderslice.jpg
Dave Lake
John Vanderslice

Thursday, April 21

The Crocodile

You know you're in for a good rock show when the headliner hands out cans of

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John Vanderslice Scales Back to Bring His Big New Record to the Croc

vanderslice.jpg
Dave Lake
John Vanderslice

Thursday, April 21

The Crocodile

You know you're in for a good rock show when the headliner hands out cans of ice-cold Pabst Blue Ribbon before his set at the Crocodile. You also know you're in for a good rock show when that headliner is John Vanderslice, the nicest guy in indie rock, who, despite a set plagued by technical difficulties, still managed to have a ball--and so did the crowd.

Vanderslice is a talented dude. Not only has he been making his own indie-pop records since MK Ultra broke up 1999, but he's been producing them for other people too, mostly at his acclaimed Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco. He didn't make his latest record White Wilderness there, however. In a departure from his usual recording process, which generally involves poring over every last detail of a record, Vanderslice instead decided to record at Berkeley's famed Fantasy Studios, where he recorded the entire album in three days alongside a group of classically trained musicians called the Magik Magik Orchestra, who provided a lush arrangement of horns, strings, and percussion.

Despite supporting a record made with a large group, Vanderslice's live show was scaled back. On the stage at the Crocodile Thursday night were just two folks, him and drummer Jason Slota, who somehow managed to play drums with one hand and keyboards and percussion with the other. "Making a record with an orchestra is great," said Vanderslice. "Until you realize it will cost you $5000 a night to bring them on tour." The duo had a rocky start, first with some feedback issues and later a number of gear-related mishaps, most notably with an old Moog keyboard, which seemed to have a mind of its own. Vanderslice didn't seem bothered, however, and the misbehaving machinery was eventually replaced, but not before being passed around the venue for the crowd to examine. "You have to see this," Vanderslice insisted. "It has a hand-written serial number on it. That should have been the first sign that we shouldn't tour with it. Oh, and please don't spill anything on it."

The lanky, bleached-blonde Vanderslice swapped between an acoustic and electric guitar during his set, occasionally triggering samples and playing some keyboards of his own. He played songs from across his many releases, including crowd favorites "White Plains," "Exodus Damage," and "Convict Lake" from his latest LP, which he said was about trying to overdose on acid. "A lost bobcat wondering into camp," he sang. "I held him close, I fed him by hand. Then I took another tab."

Vanderslice concluded the show by leaving the stage and playing a handful of songs on the floor of the Crocodile surrounded by fans. Sans microphones, with just an acoustic guitar and a floor tom, the duo ran through a quartet of songs accompanied by a backing track on a boombox held up "Say Anything" style by a concertgoer. Though Vanderslice had a handful of friends in the crowd--a few of which he invited up onstage to sing with him at various points--everyone in the place left feeling like a friend of John, and that, it seems, is the real power of a Vanderslice live show.

Overheard at the show: "There's too many fucking songs!," Vanderslice laughed as he flubbed the lyrics to a song near the end of his set.

Cool merch alert: Vanderslice sold a hand-numbered tour-only EP, a great way to encourage record buying and not downloading.

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