San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral hosted a sold-out rock show


San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral isn’t an ordinary church, and Friday night, the Episcopal chapel once again proved its progressive streak.

Around 7 p.m., a stream of Bay Area fans filled the cathedral for a DJ set from Dark Entries label owner Josh Cheon, followed by a rare performance from local synth-pop band Cold Beat, whose members live in the East Bay and Los Angeles. It was Cold Beat’s first headlining performance since the release of its 2021 album, “War Garden.”

The sold-out show came together when local music promoters White Crate asked Cold Beat to play a show at another not-to-be-named venue in town, and it politely declined, countering with a long-shot request to play Grace Cathedral.


Cold Beat performs inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. on January 20, 2023.


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Fans listen to Cold Beat perform inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. on January 20, 2023.

Fans listen to Cold Beat perform inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. on January 20, 2023.


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Cold Beat performs at Grace Cathedral. (Credit: Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE)

“We’ve played enough normal club shows, and it takes so much effort to rehearse since we live in different towns, and we needed something to aspire to and be ambitious about,” said Hannah Lew, who serves as the principal songwriter in the band and runs Contact Records in Oakland.

Rock concerts are a rarity at the cathedral, but its programming is anything but conventional. The church hosts yoga several times a week, with visitors setting up their mats on top of the labyrinth design built into the floor of the church. It holds monthly ambient sound baths, has a longstanding light installation and even hosts the occasional streaming DJ set.

For Cold Beat, one of the initial concerns about the show was how it would sound. When the church is empty, even footsteps become amplified with long trails of reverb. Given that it feels like roughly the size of a football field, the church is not exactly the simplest space to play.

Cold Beat performs inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. on January 20, 2023.

Cold Beat performs inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. on January 20, 2023.


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

A choir sings backup vocals for Cold Beat as they perform inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. on January 20, 2023.

A choir sings backup vocals for Cold Beat as they perform inside Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif. on January 20, 2023.


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Cold Beat performs live alongside a choir at Grace Cathedral. (Credit: Adam Pardee / Special to SFGATE)



“We had a lot of concerns about the reverberation. But we’ve created this kind of sound chamber with the speakers,” Lew says, describing the square arrangement of speakers surrounding the church’s labyrinth, where most of the crowd stood. “Once you step even a foot outside the square, you can’t even really hear it.”

The band set up on a makeshift stage facing the labyrinth, with the long rows of pews behind it. For this show only, Cold Beat enlisted a choir of over a dozen stalwarts from the Bay Area music scene, who flanked the band on a pair of risers. Dramatic colored lights beamed down from the ceiling, with geometric video projections from Mike Stoltz draping across the cathedral columns.

Backed by stoic drum machine beats, the band played a tight but restrained set, its understated synth-pop tunes verging more toward shoegaze territory at times. The choir added a lush textural element, but beyond sonic contributions, it added a strong sense of scene solidarity.

Naturally, the crowd was there to hear songs from “War Garden,” but what drew the night’s biggest reaction was the band’s cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” A saxophone player hidden on the balcony emerged in a spotlight to join the band in a mellow and emotional cover of the 1977 hit. It served as a beautiful conclusion to the set, the inspirational nature of the song complementing the awe-inspiring setting.

“Cathedrals are like art reaching for the divine. It’s meant to accentuate what happens inside the cathedral. This is a really musical space. When it echoes, it sounds pleasant. Being able to play here, regardless of whether you have religious belief or not, you’re in a space that’s elevating art to the highest known places,” said keyboard player and guitarist Kyle King.

Grace Cathedral, seen from Taylor Street at night in San Francisco on Jan. 20, 2023.

Grace Cathedral, seen from Taylor Street at night in San Francisco on Jan. 20, 2023.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE





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