North By North Park is a strange and maddening beast. Boasting over a hundred musical acts spread across fourteen different venues in just over five hours, it is a bold attempt to showcase local music, but it sags and ultimately collapses under the weight of its own bloated excess.
As the event’s name implies, most of the bars and cafes that take part in the festivities are in North Park, though venues in other neighborhoods like South Park, Normal Heights, and Kensington are also included. To help concertgoers move between venues without tempting the DUI gods, shuttle service is included in the price of admission, but exactly where or how often these shuttles can be expected to show up is apparently closely guarded information.
Though the earliest scheduled act was set to play at 7:10 PM, the more desirable bands were all cruelly scheduled between 10:00 and 12:30. Meticulous planning was required to maximize the number of good bands and minimize travel time, but despite my best efforts I was only able to schedule a third of the bands I wanted to see. I decided to begin the night at the Whistle Stop, to see emo-punk band Lanterns perform.
Pumping out thick distortion from a menagerie of effects pedals, Lanterns sounded like a slightly poppier and more melodic Cursive. They excelled at screaming, but when actual singing was required the vocals tended to wander off-key. They also lost points for their use of pre-recorded background tracks, but their songs were passionate, ragged, and catchy, and they provided an energizing, if a bit rough around the edges, start to the night.
One short drive to Bar Pink (formerly the Pink Elephant) and one long wait in line later, I wriggled my way to the front of the crowd to watch The Glossines charm the audience with their inimitable brand of flirtatious punk rock. Despite lead singer/bassist Amber Everson’s vocals being criminally inaudible in the venue’s sloppily patched together mix, the band had attitude and charisma to spare, cranking out gems like “I Don’t Like You”, “Halloween”, and a cover of The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks” for the enamored crowd.
Since there was no sign confirming the supposed existence of a shuttle stop a block from Bar Pink, and nobody, bar-staff included, knew when to expect the shuttles, I decided to walk the mile and a half to Chaser’s in Normal Heights to see Bunky perform. It had been five months since their last show, and three years since they put out their sole release, 2005’s excellent Born To Be A Motorcycle, but if the band was feeling rusty it didn’t show.
Playing only “Gotta Pee” and “Yes/No” from that album, Bunky instead wowed the crowd with a wealth of new, as yet unrecorded material, including the beautifully Deerhoof-esque “Hippopotamus”. Singer/drummer Emily Joyce’s adorably shy demeanor and guitarist Rafter Roberts’ inventive playing have been sorely missed in San Diego as of late, and whenever they finally do get around to putting out another album, it won’t be a moment too soon.
I had planned on ending the night by seeing Wild Weekend perform back at Bar Pink. But since Bunky had begun their set twenty minutes late, and since another fifteen minutes were spent waiting at the shuttle stop – which, by the way, was discreetly located in a dental office parking lot and covertly labeled with a tiny poster that hung timidly in the shadows – I wasn’t able to make it there in time.
North By North Park is a good idea, but the logistics desperately need to be ironed out. It’s hardly necessary to have over 100 bands play in one five-hour period. Why not have, say, fifty bands play, but space out the sets more so that people can get from one show to another in time? Starting the event before dinner time would be a good way to also incorporate local restaurants into the mix. And if you absolutely need all one hundred bands to play, the event could be made into a two-day affair.
Furthermore, bands are bound to run behind schedule like Bunky did, but the tightly paced event itinerary did not allow for any margin of error. Having shuttles scheduled to come at predetermined times would allow people to plan exactly when to leave each venue for the next show. And there are plenty of other bars in the neighborhood – such as Bluefoot or Redwing – that are much closer and easier to get to than Chaser’s or the Ken Club.
After all, it usually doesn’t cost more than five dollars to watch any three local bands when they are all performing at the same bar. I can only assume it is due to the added pleasure derived from frantically scrambling between scattered venues and scouring alleyways for phantom shuttle stops that North By North Park can justify charging three times that amount.