John Vanderslice
Wed Sept 22
Berbati's
10 SW 3rd

Spurred by his wildly fertile imagination and countless nights of watching Turner Classic Movies, San Francisco singer-songwriter John Vanderslice writes songs with elaborate plots about disturbing situations, both fantastical and commonplace: blasting a bluebird into feathery bits with a rifle. Going from cave to cave in Afghanistan and shooting anything that moves. Pondering fame and death in the final seconds of your life. Stealing and hocking your mom's TV. An unwanted pregnancy that changes everything.

Some of his songs are allegorical, others are more literal, but all are surprising. Vanderslice thinks like David Lynch, but every song has a pleasant pop center; every restless soul he dreams up is another reason to write a lovely melody that's full of quirky kinks.

Although he performs with samples and is a creative producer known for twisting knobs and turning sounds inside out, it's clear his body of work is that of a man sitting around and tinkering with an acoustic guitar. He often sounds like his good pal Ben Gibbard, but the way each of the two guys use their voices couldn't be more different.

Gibbard telegraphs every emotion (which for him, granted, is always some form of wistfulness) when he sings, while Vanderslice is focused on creating mystery. He wants to trick you, to conceal what he's really feeling and the hell he's about to convey. His songs are full of twists in the way that the best crime dramas are.

Vanderslice says he loves being on the road, because when you're a traveler, people are often willing to open up. They figure they have nothing to lose, so they reveal crazy stories that they haven't even told family members or close friends. Vanderslice listens to these strangers' anecdotes, remembers them, then reinterprets them before writing them into his songs.

So feel free to go up to Vanderslice after he performs. He's one of the friendliest fellas you'll ever meet, he's full of good tales, and he's a good listener--wise enough to know that any conversation could turn into his next song.