This year's San Diego Music Thing is bigger in every way— the two-day music festival and conference features higher-profile panelists (including veteran punk rocker Jello Biafra, an interview with whom you can read here), more national touring acts and a farther-reaching name (it used to be called North Park Music Thing). If you're having trouble wrapping your head around it all, follow this itinerary to separate the wheat from the chaff:
Friday, Sept. 9
9 p.m. at The Office: The two sharply dressed brothers who make up The Mattson 2 play what you might call “surf-jazz,” crossing surf-guitar licks with jazz modes. But the duo's San Diego Music Award-winning album, Feeling Hands, sounds more John Coltrane than Dick Dale, bursting with transcendent romance.
10:35 p.m. at Claire de Lune: Just last week, Joanie Mendenhall and John Meeks released an excellent EP of heart-shattering country duets that CityBeat's Seth Combs compared to classic duos like George Jones and Dolly Parton. Even without Parton's form-fitting sequins or Jones' fur-lined flight jacket, the veteran local songwriters still complement each other perfectly.
10:55 p.m. at The Casbah: Gruff-voiced post-punk singer Amanda Schoepflin has been building some buzz lately with the band Ghost Shores, but I'm even more excited about Cathedral X, her new project with visual artist Jessica Jeffery and Chairs Missing frontman Paul Remund. They've played only one live show so far, but the demos I've heard would excite any Sonic Youth fan who longs for a no-wave renaissance.
11:45 p.m. at Sunset Temple (next to Claire de Lune): At last year's North Park Music Thing, dapper-dressed roots-rockers The Silent Comedy put on a sweaty show at U-31 that left the crowd bedazzled. I'd bet on my Grandma's Bible that this is the headliner to see tonight.
Other highlights: Exene Cervenka (Queen Bee's, 11:10 p.m.), Little Hurricane (U-31, 12:30 a.m.), Abe Vigoda (The Casbah, 12:30 a.m.).
Saturday, Sept. 10
9:15 p.m. at Queen Bee's: Back in the mid-'90s, Swing Kids helped spawn an artsy hardcore scene with their air-raid guitar riffs, thrash-jazz drumming and Spock-style haircuts. Founding guitarist Eric Allen committed suicide in 1998, but the influential local band's remaining members recently got back together under the name Blue Note to tear our faces off once more.
10 p.m. at Sunset Temple: Tom Windish is their booking agent and David Byrne digs them, but all buzz aside, Cuckoo Chaos is one of San Diego's most potent live bands. I love the tropical indie-rock of their new EP, Woman, but new songs like mesmerizing scorcher “Shadow Squish” are even better.
10:30 p.m. at Bar Pink: If the guys in Joy Division practiced paganism and smoked more weed, they might've sounded like Tropical Popsicle. Headed by Tim Hines of Lights On and The Stereotypes, the new band offers up hypnotic post-punk with gloomy synths, pulsating rhythms and a mystical vibe.
11 p.m. at Sunset Temple or Tin Can Ale House: The big draw is Dale earnhardt Jr. Jr. (Sunset Temple), a Detroit duo that plays ethereal synth-pop. But you might prefer San Francisco-based beatfreaks born Gold (Tin Can). Formerly known as Gobble Gobble, they always put on a ridiculously zany dance party.
12:30 a.m. at The Casbah: I'm not the biggest fan of Bowith Stripes, the latest album by The Donkeys—it's so laid-back that it borders on easy-listening. Still, I can't get enough of the band's live show. The crisp vocal harmonies, the cosmic chemistry, the sitar—it's all so good that it's downright addictive.
Other highlights: Writer (Whistle Stop, 9:50 p.m.); Bastard Noise (Queen Bee's, 10:15 p.m.); Crystal Antlers (Bar Pink, 12:30 a.m.).
Times may change; see sandiegomusicthing.com for full schedule. Disclosure: San Diego Music Thing is put on by the San Diego Music Foundation, which is run by CityBeat publisher Kevin Hellman.