Review by Mia Call, photos by Sophia Risin.
It’s not unusual for a line to form outside of the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco on the night of a Popscene Presents show. This past Thursday, Dec. 8th, the line outside the modest venue wrapped around the block, despite a light drizzle. Young and old fans bundled up for the chilly SF night and waited in anticipation for Wallice, the LA based singer-songwriter headlining the show. Wallice rose to fame during the pandemic, when she wrote music about feeling like a loser and abusive boyfriends, after dropping out of jazz school to pursue music. Her unique, ironic voice quickly found a following on Spotify, and she recently signed with London-based label Dirty Hit, who also represent The 1975, Beabadoobee, and Wolf Alice.
The unassuming interior of the venue – draped in red curtains with an industrial view and a unique loft space perfect for snapping pics without getting caught in the pit – didn’t tell much of Rickshaw Stop’s history. Instead, clips from French New Wave movies, 80s exercise tutorials, and 90s hip hop videos glowed on screen behind the stage, synched up with soft indie pop. On another screen, the shop touted Popscene’s impressive record in the Bay Area. Popscene’s claims to fame aren’t small: they were the first venue in SF to book Billie Eilish back in 2016. Other famous artists who’ve played Popscene include The Killers, Amy Winehouse, and more recently, overnight indie sensation Wet Leg. Popscene Presents has been bringing up-and-coming bands to the Bay for almost 21 years, and Wallice is no exception.
The audience was diverse. While there were many highschool and college aged Wallice fans, there was also a good number of old-guard hipster types. But none seemed ready for the wailing wall of sound that erupted when opener Jackie Hayes took the stage. Hayes, clad in aY2K emo school girl fit, brought energy, passion, and attitude to the stage, belting over shoegaze-y guitars and dancing to her own catchy bass riffs. Her pop-punk vocals, drowned out by reverb, seemed mostly lost on the audience, who only began to respectfully pogo in place when Hayes demanded that they “have some fun.” By the end of the set, I saw plenty of bobbing heads and rain jackets coming off. Jackie Hayes definitely brought spunk and fun to the stage, even if she caught the crowd off guard.
Wallice, on the other hand, was well received. Plenty of phones came out when she took stage sporting her signature cowboy boots. Her set, featuring all her hits plus a few new numbers off of a not-yet-released project, definitely delivered what her fans had hoped. Starting with the fast, sassy “90s American Superstar,” the title track off her 2022 EP, Wallice brought the energy and never let up. Her clear alto soared over catchy riffs and more experimental electronic sounds, sarcastically delivering pop-culture infused burns, like “There’s way more than 10 things / I hate about you.” The core of her discography are diss-tracks about unimpressive and rude men in her life, and when she played one of her bigger hits, “Hey Michael,” the whole crowd could be heard screaming “You don’t gotta say you love Pulp Fiction / I already know,” when she forgot the lyrics.
Wallice’s backing band, with Caleb Buchanan on bass, Callaghan Kevany on guitar, Corey Gordon on drums, and occasional flaming sax solos by Fronki, kept it tight with driving bass, crystal clear guitar riffs and fantastic drum breaks. All four were stellar musicians, but it was Wallice’s beautiful, bored, angry, and sorrowful voice that stole the show. Although the two covers of the show – the Tik Tok sensation “Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani, and the holiday special, Wham’s “Last Christmas,” were certainly highlights, Wallice’s best moment was when she played “Headache.” She introduced the song with a quip: the song was not well-streamed but she justified playing it by saying “ But I really like it.” The band launched into a beautiful, ear-wormy, grungy song filled with angst and sincerity – a rare mode for Wallice. The song climaxed in a “I Know the End”-style screaming crescendo, with the audience adding their voices to hers in a cathartic angry wail. Wallice’s other reach for gravity – her introspective newest single “Japan,”— felt less successful and a little cliche, even if the acoustic guitar accompaniment was beautiful. Wallice’s new songs showed she was ready to push herself musically, with computer-generated vocals, guitar pedals, more rock influences, and funkier, weirder sounds. But the question remains whether she will successfully evolve past the witty one-liner heavy lyrics that made her famous.
It’s hard to say whether Wallice will become another one of Popscene’s success stories to be projected onto the wall at their next show. Wallice herself seemed more aware of that than anyone last night, as she made fun of the insanity of streaming culture and the new algorithm-driven culture of the music industry that made her famous. But the talent of her band and her passion and professionalism were undeniable. If nothing else, Wallice gave an amazing, dynamic, and fun performance that bodes well for her future career, Popscene or otherwise.