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TBTS Reviews: Citay at Cafe du Nord, San Francisco, 6/3/10

June 6, 2010

Great band, great city

This week, I was in San Francisco for a work-related event and had the opportunity to catch Citay’s set at the Café du Nord in the Castro area of the city. It was a homecoming of sorts for the band, as they had been touring both coasts and even some flyover states for several weeks. I was excited to catch them in their hometown, especially after missing one of those March dates closer to my home.

And they didn’t disappoint. For those who haven’t heard them, I’d describe Citay as worthy heirs to San Francisco’s 1960s psychedelic rock legacy, with a few unique twists. Most Citay songs are 5+ minutes, many are wordless (though not without vocals—more on that later), and nearly all offer extended guitar workouts. Not really solos in the usual sense, as most guitar work on Citay’s albums sounds composed rather than improvised. The tight, multi-tracked guitars sound like a well-trained army rather than the meanderings of a lone axe-man.

I had wondered how this album aesthetic would translate to the live setting. From my spot a few rows back on the right side of the stage, the answer was, “Quite well.” The band played about 10 songs over the course of an hour and played most of them fairly straight from the albums. I was surprised to see two lead electric guitarists who played nearly everything simultaneously, either harmonized or in unison, a method of attack that enhanced my certainty that the albums’ guitar bits are written rather than the product of in-the-studio improvisation.

On record, many Citay songs feature lengthy, wordless, female vocal lines. I had also wondered how this would translate to the stage. Once again, I was surprised to see that the band’s live make-up features two women in charge of little instrumentation (some incidental tambourine work and a few plinky sounds on some quasi-glockenspiel thingy). These women’s primary duty is to sing their guts out. Their vocals were a little too high in the house mix, and were a little rough at first, but after a song or two, either they warmed up or I just got used to it, because they sounded pretty angelic for the rest of the night.

The whole set was strong, but for me there were two specific highlights. One was an absolutely stunning rendition of “Mirror Kisses,” a standout track from the band’s 2010 album Dream Get Together. On the album, “Mirror Kisses” is a fairly significant departure, with little initial presence from the electric guitars and more clearly defined lyrics and lead female vocals. After this first half with mostly acoustic strumming, there’s some nice build-up to some trippy, cathartic solo work from the electric guitar in the song’s second half. As a whole, it’s all just unspeakably pretty. And the live version was even better, with an extended ambient intro, a nearly a capella first verse from one of the female singers (and damn, did she belt it out), and a much more extended, gradual progression from silence to ecstatic clamor.

I cringed when the band began what became the other highlight for me—their take on the old Eagles song “Seven Bridges Road.” Though I can’ t go as far as Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski in expressing my distaste, I’ll just say that I generally don’t care for those pesky Eagles. Two things made me get over this feeling during Citay’s version: 1) they obviously revere the song, as evidenced in their loving, three-part vocal rendition of its first verse, and 2) they quickly turned it into an absolutely smoking, chugging psych-blues freakout and a forum for their loudest and fastest playing of the night. It was huge.

Final verdict—the show was a hell of a good time, and Citay are a great band. If I’m in the same city with them again, I’ll be there.

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