Two legends met: Slim’s (paragon of small clubs in San Francisco’s dubious tenderloin) and the pillows (paragons of Japanese rock for us FLCL fans). Armed with three opening acts, a new album in the pipeline, and no shortage of energy, their first show in the US in over two years was nothing but great. First opening act POP CHOCOLAT brought the ruckus, what with their all girl vocal dynamics, sunny melodies, and symbiotic energy. From the moment they took the stage to soundcheck, the crowd went wild and almost failed to let up. Backed by a semi-release party for their new album and no shortage of fans both new and old, their short set was all killer. Maybe I’m just a sucker for chick drummers and bassists (oh indie trends!), but their tuneful melodies soothed while energizing. Of course, second band Monokuro had to up the ante. After setting up to wild applause and walking out to their own entrance music, guitarist and singer Naofumi Isogai mocked the slightly inebriated audience by mimicking their own cheers with a droll “Ooooohhh,’ which was (of course) met with applause louder than before. With Isogai’s penchant for stage antics, their set was more power than pop, marked by Isogai prancing, throwing his guitar around, and generally being some sort of weird organic generator. Of course, hearing their drummer ask the audience to buy shirts and CDs in broken English was as great as the music (mainly because he shouted these things before being called something like a crazy fuck), and their closing song topped POP CHOCOLAT’s only by the virtue of Monokuro’s own insane show. By the time noodles came on, some drunk guy kept on shouting in my ear, probably riled up by the second all girl band with a drummer that sings. Despite that, noodles had one of the most pleasant sets as well as the one with the most downtempo songs. As expected, they played ‘Love My Life,’ and generally remained amiable while the front row shouted requests. As the last band representing the Delicious Label roster of the night, they did a fine job of showing off the label’s diversity as well as their own stellar musicianship. After waiting patiently for 90 minutes, the pillows took to the stage amidst a sea of cheers and sweaty bodies. Opening immediately with a short cover of the chorus of ‘San Francisco’ before jumping into ‘I Think I Can,’ everything was perfect. It’s a bizarre thing to see a band live who sounds better than on album, but the pillows do it. Maybe it’s the live crowd’s own excitement mixing with your own, or maybe it’s the fact that vintage Vox and Fender amps sound too good live to catch on recording (no, that isn’t it), or maybe it’s some other third option – who cares when the music’s this good? Frontman Sawao Yamanaka took time to announce the band’s 20th anniversary, take a request via t-shirt (on solo voice and guitar since their bassist didn’t know ‘Swanky Street’), and say when he knew the crowd would like the next song. ‘Ride On Shooting Star’ was a particular highlight before being trumped by ‘Hybrid Rainbow,’ both met with instant bursts of cheering. Hell, they brought the house down and had the crowd jumping, clapping, singing, and cheering in unison with absolutely perfect versions of their songs. Each band left a mark, with the pillows stealing the show (as expected). The crowd itself felt like an anomaly, with more SF hipsters then otakus. Also noteworthy was the mean age of the crowd, which seemed to be about 17 (with Slim’s filled to capacity, the bar crowd was barely 1/4 of the audience). It’s going to be a long wait for the pillows to come back to the States, but given each band’s apparent happiness with the state of things, it’s an imminent thing. Until then, the memories of one of the best shows I’ve ever been to will have to suffice.