Review by Laila Karkori, photos by Jaida Berkheimer
“Must be at least 6 years old to attend” read the event poster as I walked into the Great American Music Hall. The energy was electric on the evening of July 23rd as a crowd of uniformly stylish, enthusiastic individuals filled the venue awaiting the San Francisco rock band, Pardoner. Comprised of River Van de Berghe, Colin Burris, Max Freeland, and Trey Flanigan, Pardoner were wrapping up a month-long summer tour, with San Francisco being their final stop.
I discovered Pardoner not long ago while perusing the KALX music library. I came across their 2017 album Uncontrollable Salvation; it had a shiny gold star and a glowing review that caught my attention. As a fellow San Franciscan, I was thrilled to learn they were a local band, and their music seemed to fall right up my alley. I began to study their discography in anticipation for this show, immersing myself in their stellar repertoire. Their newest release, Peace Loving People, quickly became one of my favorites, along with many of their earlier works.
Pardoner were joined by two other local talents: Smirk and Marbled Eye. The show felt like a celebration of the city's music scene, with each band showcasing their unique sound and adding their own flair to the atmosphere of the Great American Music Hall. Smirk’s 2022 release Material had been sitting in our KALX feature bin for a while, so I was delighted to recognize their sound, and they delivered an excellent performance. Marbled Eye followed suit with a memorable set that had the crowd buzzing. Though I was only familiar with one of their songs (which, unfortunately, they did not perform), I was pleasantly introduced to many new favorites.
Pardoner soon made their way to the stage, opening their set with “Are You Free Tonight?” from their latest album. The stage came alive, bathed in mesmerizing neon lights and swirling visuals, skillfully crafted by San Francisco artist Zachary Rodell, setting the tone for what was to be a vibrant night. A personal favorite was “I Wanna Get High To The Music” from their 2021 album Came Down Different; it appeared to be a fan favorite, and rightfully so. Another standout was “Blue Hell”; this was one of the first Pardoner songs I listened to, and what initially got me hooked to their style and sound.
Pardoner’s set had minimal dialogue or crowd interaction, but it did not need it. Each song seamlessly flowed into the next and allowed the music to take center stage. The band upheld a perfect balance of energy, not overwhelming the audience but also not holding back. No revelry or excess, just pure passion and enjoyment. This was one of the smaller crowds I had encountered at the Great American Music Hall, but I found that it enhanced the experience. The show had an authentic and personal atmosphere, which felt fitting as a San Francisco band.
Pardoner heeded the crowd's enthusiastic request for an encore and made their way back to the stage, closing the night with a cover of Psychic TV’s beloved “Godstar”. They breathed new life into the song, making it their own while still paying homage to the original. I left the venue holistically impressed by Pardoner’s live talent, eagerly awaiting their next performance.