Live Review

Pinback delights fans at annual Bimbo’s show


The audience at Pinback’s sold-out show this Saturday night filled Bimbo’s with a pleasant air of mellow enthusiasm. The eclectic (albeit extremely white) crowd was excited without being obnoxious, and its quiet, genuine appreciation was the perfect match for Pinback’s own casual expertise.

Those coming for theatrics and bombast were most likely disappointed, but anyone looking for a laid-back display of musicianship and no-frills indie rock certainly got what they came for, and then some.

The duo at the core of Pinback, Rob Crow and Zach Smith, has been making music together for 15 years, and its seasoned comfort shines through an unassuming yet commanding stage presence. The pair plowed through a 23-song set, only pausing to briefly address the audience exactly one time each.

Smith maintained somber focus throughout the concert while his fingers glided across his bass guitar, slinging slick fingerpicking with stunning ease. Crow, who has a well-used beer holder affixed to his mic stand, threw back a great number of Newcastles during the set, often emptying an entire bottle in one incredible pull, and using half-full bottles to tap at the strings of his Les Paul.

The first half of the setlist was composed of soft, pretty ballads and down-tempo cuts off the band’s new album. Smith’s falsetto and Crow’s nasal croon blend into a honeyed harmony that hasn’t tarnished a bit over the years. Their most recent single, “True North” was executed beautifully, accompanied by two cellists.

The duo surprisingly sandwiched its two longtime fan-favorites, “Penelope” and “Fortress” into the middle of the set. “Penelope” was considerably sped up from its original tempo, giving new life to the love song that the fans have all listened to a thousand times to help ease the pain of every crush and breakup.

For “Fortress,” the Pinback song that everyone knows without knowing they know it, Crow did away with his mic stand and guitar and busted out some dance moves, including an remarkably successful worm, despite his prodigious beer belly.

The audience, thrilled with the band’s surge in energy, roared as Crow jumped off the stage and into the crowd, letting excited fans sing the chorus —“Stop, it’s too late!/ I’m feeling frustrated!” — into the microphone.

Post-“Fortress,” the setlist continued to steadily build energy as Pinback jammed its way through a more rock’n’roll repertoire, transforming the formerly stoic audience into an amiable dance party. At the end of the night, when soft-spoken Crow called out, “Thank you guys so fucking much!” there was no question that he really meant it.


The Mountain Goats unify a contemplative crowd at the Fillmore


By the time the audience had gathered in the Fillmore on Friday night to see the Mountain Goats, news of the school shooting in Connecticut had jarred people across the country and incited countless conversations about gun regulation and mental health resources. Tragedy can spur these important discussions, but the events of Friday morning called for something else as well. John Darnielle, the man behind the Mountain Goats, opened by recognizing the tragedy as a huge disappointment — another thorn in our hope for humanity – but more importantly, as a reason for us to get together, make music, and spread joy.

Darnielle’s ability to empathize with the dark side of life made him a perfect candidate to guide us through mourning with understanding and empathy. About half the set was from the new album, Transcendental Youth. About problematic youth and self-destructive tendencies, this couldn’t have felt more pertinent.

The songs took on new meaning in light of that morning’s events. “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1” is supposedly about Amy Winehouse (or alternatively: all the not-Amy Winehouses who died and no one knew about). But on Friday it was equally about Adam Lanza. The song encourages recklessness so long as it’s not at the cost of your life. The lines, “find where the heat’s unbearable and stay there if you have to/don’t hurt anybody on your way up to the light,” made me think about the thin line between deciding to hurt someone else or hurting yourself.

The evening was much more than psychological investigations though: Darnielle brought home the loss of the families of the children and teachers with a story about his 15-month-old son. “When you are far from your child and you hear that something terrible has happened to children,” he said, “there is this indescribable horror that descends on you – that I think is understandable by anyone – but at the same time it does sort of feel like it belongs to you.”

He played two lullabies he sings for his son which were both mature enough to reach to the most cynical and life-worn audience member: the crowd was pleased with “Ripples” by the Grateful Dead which he followed with Johnny Cash’s “Dark is the Dungeon”. (In case you worrying that a song about the dark of coal mines might be depressing for a 15-month-old, Darnielle assured us that his son loves it, recounting how the boy’s face looks as though “you destroyed everything that brought him joy in this world” the moment the guitar goes back on the rack).

Throughout the evening, Darnielle played many of his older songs, solo on acoustic guitar, like the calm reflection on the power of inspiration, “Love Love Love.” The rest of the Mountain Goats joined him with the aggressive drumming and steady bass on the Transendental Youth songs as well as old favorites like “Up the Wolves.” Occasionally, the brass from Matthew E. White’s band would fill in on the new numbers while Darnielle transitioned to the keyboard.

In addition to the horn contribution, White’s opening set added complexity to the show, but still fit in with the reflective mood of the evening. Often, the rich lyrics from his studio album, Big Inner, were hard to make out against the orchestrated upbeat keyboard, guitar, percussion, and punctuating brass.

As the lyrical meanings were scaled back though, the simultaneously symphonic and psychedelic builds and breakdowns were brought to the front. But, White did become selectively audible, and the message came out crisp and clear on the song “Gone Away” which he dedicated to the children who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary. He explained that he had written the hauntingly beautiful song the night his 4-year-old cousin died in a car crash.

After the moments of sadness and reflection were over, everyone turned their comforted hearts into a unified chorus, singing along for the Mountain Goats’ encore: including the angry number, “No Children” and the defiant anthem, “This Year.” I thought about the time I sang both songs driving home with my best friend, the songs almost demand it.

The joined voices made clear how many people in the audience had also used those songs to get through a hard time. This sense of shared perseverance despite our private struggles was the perfect note to end the trying day, bringing everyone together to take back the hope we might have lost earlier.

Live Shots: Santigold at the Fox Theater


Santigold was barely a full song into her sold-out performance at the Fox Theater Wednesday night when she began to stoke the lovefest with her Bay Area fans. “You know you’re my favorite place to perform…you guys have so much energy!” In a different room to a different crowd it may have come off as a cheaply-pedaled stage sentiment, but the show that ensued lived up to her assessment: the crowd never stopped dancing and Santigold never stopped smiling.

At just 80 minutes, the show was short but sweaty…a scorcher of a live performance that rendered the ornate theater a tightly packed dance party well into the upper reaches of the balcony.

Working through her two albums of material, the Brooklyn-based singer showed off her vocal range as she was backed by a trio of Devo-looking musicians who kept the sound beat-heavy in one instant, loose and textured in the next. More notably (and often scene-stealing) was Santiold’s stage dancing duo: a matching pair of hype women gracing the stage with all sorts of rump shaking antics and too-cool-for school posturing (complementing Santigold’s ear-to-ear Cheshire stage presence to a ying yang-like perfection).

“L.E.S. Artistes” and “Hold the Line,” (her collaboration with Major Lazer) proved crowd-pleasers early in the set. Later, the stage was swarmed with fans as Santigold worked through “Creator” amid an ecstatic bustle of concertgoers.

Santigold had scarcely left the stage for an encore break before the crowd responded with a foundation-rattling ovation. They kept dancing as she returned for two more songs, and then, as she said farewell with the house lights coming up and Prince beginning to blare through the speakers, they just kept dancing. Santigold was no longer in view, but I’d have guessed that somewhere backstage she was still smiling.

Live Shots: AU at the Independent


It was my first time seeing Portland’s AU live Saturday night, and I had some important questions I hoped the show would answer. First of all, how does one pronounce AU? Aww? Awe? Oww? Gold? More importantly, how would the band recreate its sound live? I had theories, but as AU began its set at the Independent with its most recent album’s first (and most prominent song) “Epic,” those quickly proved false. There were no guitars.

Drum kit, choir bells, Kord keyboard, Roland sampler, clarinet, glockenspiel, what I believe to be a shekere, and quite a few effects and looping pedal – but no strings at all, which I felt particularly embarrassing, having previewed the show by mentioning that very song and its nonexistent yet “impossibly high rising GY!BE guitars.” This is partly due to my listening abilities,* but also an indication of the current musical landscape, which let’s be honest, can be fairly confusing.

Going relatively blind into a Washed Out show a while back, I remember being surprised to find a full band rather than a guy with a laptop and some other tools. Flying Lotus on another occasion was the reverse experience. The infusion of electronic music and digital production tools across genres has led to a seemingly endless palette, where minimalists can create maximal sounds and vice versa.

With AU, some things were as expected, particularly the base created by drummer Dana Valatka, who plays with a grind that recalls Zach Hill and a exploding control that’s more Buddy Rich. Valatka had a few tricks – playing handbells, for instance, at one point from the back of the room in the merch booth – but is generally rooted in the band’s most traditional role.

On the other extreme was Holland Andrews. On the occasion of her birthday, Andrews alternated between singing and playing the clarinet, a shekere, and at one point, a small handheld glockenspiel. The wide range of sounds she was able to produce was multiplied by the use of a looping pedal. These tools suddenly seemed to be everywhere a few years back, particularly in indie rock, giving individual musicians like Owen Pallett, Merrill Garbus, and Dustin Wong the ability to create a live sound larger than one person. I thought I’d grown tired of their use, but Andrews used it to good effect.

Performing a solo, Bjork-esque song “about going crazy” from her side project, Like a Villain, the singer created a schizophrenic wall of voices that was one of the night’s best moments, after which bandleader Luke Wyland remarked in slight awe, “She’s only 24.”

There’s more to be said about Wyland, the band’s genial center, but it’s largely beyond me at this point. Moving back and forth between solemn intensity and ecstatic excitement, much of the band’s sound – from the orchestral movements on “Crazy Idol” to electronic plotting of “OJ”– is seemingly due to him, behind the Kord, sampler, and whatever else he had up there.

It still left me with questions and reaching for genres, but he did clear one thing up: the name of the band is pronounced similar to a stranger trying to get your attention.

*As a child I’d spent summers at an education camp, where we were only allowed to listen to music (besides the work songs) in guided, “close listening” sessions, tasked with identifying the individual sources of the composition, and understanding both the material conditions/labor that went into each sound. It was a major reason for my escape.

Skipping Bridge School: a happenstance Saturday in San Francisco


For me, things usually go better when the unexpected happens, like this past weekend when my half-assed plans to attend Saturday’s installment of Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit Concert fell through. Instead of seeing Axl, as he reportedly flubbed the lyrics to “Welcome to the Jungle,” I stayed local to witness part of a San Francisco tradition and later, one of the more sensory provoking and delightfully weirdo art performances I’ve seen in a while. This surprise night out-on-the town turned out to be a success.

First, I headed to the 20th Annual Clarion Alley Block Party (much later than I had intended) after taking note that both Swiftumz and Apogee Sound Club had daytime sets. By the time I got there, it was nightfall. Most of the bands had already played and I missed the only acts I was familiar with.

In a rush to catch whatever I could, I whizzed by the famously muraled alley’s perimeter so I could enter from Valencia Street. I was surprised to hear what sounded like 1990s grunge leaking from the crevices between crammed houses; I entered the free event and joined the crowd for what was apparently an unannounced performance by Two Gallants.

People perched on a rooftop, much like the audience below, were treated to songs I recognized from their first album in five years, The Bloom and the Blight. I’ve been told their live shows are really good and after listening to them deliver a heavy, yet melodic set for my first time, I too was convinced. The guy standing next to me said it was cool for the duo to come back and play Clarion for free after blowing up, considering they’re both so symbolic of San Francisco.

This, however, would be a mere snack before the main course that was to come. Sure, I stopped off at Arinell’s for a slice, but that’s not even what I’m talking about. My next stop would be The Lab on 16th  Street for night two of San Diego performance project Cathedral X’s weekend residency. My only frame of reference was that I was in for some eerie frequencies and that there was the potential for nudity.

Since I was already in the Mission, I headed to the art space at 9:30 (that unfashionable time when it’s too early for people to go to a show). Right off the bat, I heard ESG rotating from a chic Lucite turntable stand and took it as a good sign of where the night would go. Next to the DJ was a young woman in what looked like a witches hat giving tarot readings. I had time to kill and the vibe was already awkward, so I figured, why the hell not?

I sat down and trusted that the oracle would have some kind of mystical wisdom for me. I ended up paying a hefty price (I didn’t see her $20 suggested donation sign until halfway through the reading) but definitely got some good feedback on how to look into my past in order to move forward. That may sound generic, but it’s because I’m sparing you the in-depth details of what virtually ended up being a therapy session.

Oakland’s Straight Crimes opened; both the drummer and guitarist did a fine job, but I couldn’t help but notice how out of place the duo seemed in such a sterile environment. They admitted it felt like being an art installment (in a sense they were) and said just the night before they’d played a squat in the East Bay; which I assumed matched their punk aesthetic far better.  But the night’s theme was experimentation and by stepping out of those pre-conceived constructs, the event pushed boundaries – and with Cathedral X, that’s exactly what we got.

The spirit of Yoko Ono records from some 40 years ago were recalled when jarring shrieks coming from a blindfolded woman entered the room. She was joined by her fellow blindfolded performers, a man and another woman, as they stumbled around the room while the audience politely moved out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, an unassuming man dressed quite plainly in jeans played drone synthesizer and aforementioned eerie tones from the sidelines.

It took me a while to get into it and I thought I was in for a night of performance art clichés, but once I noticed there was substance to the music and that the interpreters were more than just props going through the motions and were integral to the group’s overall sound, I started to enjoy myself.

Highlights included the climactic moment when two women emerged bare-chested, faces obscured by hoods, but connected by bondage. Music every bit as moody as Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack to Firestarter played in the background while they attempted to separate from one another silently, but the chains would not relent. Ultimately they failed and collapsed out of exhaustion accepting a fate of sensory deprivation and togetherness for what could be eternity.

If it takes a visit from a San Diego group to help keep San Francisco weird, then I’m all for supporting this. The audience seemed to like it too.

Amanda (Fucking) Palmer unites the freaks at the Fillmore


Theatrics! Camp! Bravado! Glitter! Body hair! Going to an Amanda Palmer concert is like taking a trip to the island of misfit toys. Standing in the crowd, I was surrounded by top hats, tutus, tuxedos, pink mohawks, steampunk creations, and many more accessories that I can’t begin to identify. 

The audience at the Fillmore last Wednesday was incredibly diverse in age, gender, and style, seemingly united only by their love for the many artistic eccentricities of Amanda Fucking Palmer, as her fans call her.

An electric performer, Palmer ruled the stage, looking like the black swan in dark, heavy makeup and a corset as she spit her venomously witty lyrics and jerked around like a marionette, swinging a megaphone, banging on her keyboard, and running instrumental drills with her band, the Grand Theft Orchestra. The setlist, dominated by her new album Theatre is Evil, crackled with energy and emotion.

The night’s dynamic itinerary offered many emotional highs and lows. In a particularly heartbreaking segment, Palmer brought up a box that had been left on the merch table for people to fill with all the bad and sad things that had happened in their bedrooms. Usually Palmer reads the box, but her husband, writer Neil Gaiman, offered to read tonight. 

The tragic and highly personal details people shared cast an incredible hush over the sold-out room. Usually, Palmer records this reading and mashes it into a new song, but she forgot on this night (she later issued an online apology and a promise to make it up to the fans with a recorded version.) 

Despite this omission, the segment was incredibly powerful. These dark secrets saw the light in a crowd of people who were really listening. Palmer does something truly incredible here, using performance art to de-stigmatize past trauma and to turn sharing into a beautiful, communal experience.

This solemn moment was balanced with the transcendent song “Bottom Feeder” in which Palmer, looking like a mermaid, jumped into the crowd wearing a jacket that trailed yards of rippling chiffon over the audience. Under the fabric, holding it up with our hands, the audience members were grinning widely at each other in a moment that perfectly captured the whimsical beauty of the song and the entire night.


Six Organs of Admittance march into battle at Bottom of the Hill


On Saturday night, a small cadre of dedicated fans waited patiently for Ben Chasny’s psychedelic folk project, Six Organs of Admittance, to take the stage at Bottom of the Hill just before midnight. Six Organs is currently touring the West Coast in support of their LP Ascent, which was released last month on Drag City. Members of his other project, the noise rock group Comets on Fire, accompanied Chasny on the album and onstage at BOH.

Lead guitarist Chasny and supporting guitarist Noel Harmonson, bassist Ben Flashman, and drummer Utrillo Kushner effectively drenched the punkish, gently swaying crowd in raw, unplugged, cacophonic tribal noise as they orchestrated spooky guitar symphonies, hard rock riffs, and fuzzed-out surf numbers. About half of Six Organs’ jams possessed an epic “I’m marching into battle with a large horned animal” vibe, and Chasny’s intermittent vocals felt dark, scratchy, wispy, and perhaps slightly demonic.

The band clearly had chemistry and sections flowed seamlessly together, but each musician appeared to be having a wholly immersive experience with his instrument, as if he were, at times, unaware of his co-conspirators. I found it especially hard to stop staring at Kushner because I was intrigued by his ecstatic way with the drums, and also because his gold hawk-with-outstretched-wings necklace was awesome.

While the band’s tendency to break into ear-deadening drone strikes enhanced the show’s overall excitement, they could have, perhaps, turned it down a few decibels. And although the crowd more often favored soft head-banging and slow movements, at one point the guy in front of me unleashed some potentially destructive, solo dance moves that almost took me out at the ankles. But that, again, simply added to the show’s excitement.

After playing his last song with the full band, Chasny quietly reappeared on stage and performed a short, quiet, solo encore that completely juxtaposed the sound of the past 45 minutes. I found this a brilliant way to end the evening. And yes, my ears are still ringing. 

The Tallest Man on Earth throws down his pick


On a long BART ride to Oakland after a longer day at school, I thought I probably couldn’t stay awake at a punk show, much less an acoustic folk concert. When I arrived at the Fox and saw that the Tallest Man on Earth show was seated, I was sure that I was doomed.

The stage setup was minimal, with one chair, a circle of monitors, and one keyboard. I stifled a yawn as Kristian Matsson, a.k.a the Tallest Man on Earth, skipped onto the stage in a white tank top and black skinny jeans, looking ironically small on the large, sparse stage. Matsson picked up his guitar, strummed, and wailed out his first note, sending the audience into hysterics.

As Matsson began to bounce and stomp around the stage, I perked up. By the halfway point of the first song, sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. Matsson’s fiery body language matches the incredible dynamics of his songwriting. He filled the stage with kinetic energy, crouching, hopping, and skipping as his voice, at once full-bodied and reedy, soared over his deft finger-picking.

Playing with an incredible degree of comfort and ease, Matsson handled the guitar like an extension of himself, looking as though his body was crafted just to hold the instrument. As he sang and stomped, Matsson strummed with enough vigor to break strings. At the end of each song, he threw his pick down as if to punctuate the end of the song not with an ellipse but with the exclamation point it deserves.

The extent of Matsson’s guitar prowess makes it strange that he has taken a turn to piano on significant portions of his most recent album There’s No Leaving Now. When Matsson set down the guitar in favor of the keyboard, the songs lacked an energy and ingenuity essential to Matsson’s style.

The second that Matsson sat down at the piano bench, my fatigue returned. The songs are no less beautifully written and his voice is no less compelling, but tied down to one location and without the lush instrumentation of his masterful guitarwork, the Tallest Man on Earth takes a sharp decline from folk deity to average singer-songwriter.

Sadly, Matsson seems to be unaware of this effect. The last song of the night was scored by the keyboard, leaving a lot to be desired. Despite the milquetoast conclusion, Matsson remains one of the most exciting players in contemporary folk. If he can stick to his strengths, Matsson will have something truly great on his hands.

Live Shots: Buraka Som Sistema at the Independent


How much space does a person need to dance? If you’ve been to a packed, over-sold massive EDM show lately, the answer could be zero, as being rooted in place and fist-pumpin’ seems to be all the rage. Really, though, if you’re at least going to move your feet then a little more room* is required.

Which is why I was relieved to find that the Independent, while crowded, wasn’t packed to the walls last night. Because Portugal’s Buraka Som Sistema likes to get down in a very specific way. In that way that Tribe liked to get down – devoted to the art of moving butts.

“If there’s one thing we like to do,” Kalaf Ângelo said during a brief pause, “we like to make people concentrate on the booty.” “No, not the booty,” fellow MC Andro Carvalho corrected, “the ass.” Accepting this distinction, Kalaf paraphrased Parliament: “Free your fucking mind and your ass will follow.”

The techno/kuduro sounds of Buraka Som Sistema may not have been instantly familiar – aside from momentary Lil’ Wayne samples – but following along was easy, as the trio at the front of the stage brought a level of hype (they were clearly having a good time) that was hard to resist.

Copping the dance moves, though, particularly attempting to duplicate the intense MC Karla Rodrigues – who at one point had sort of an extended ass shaking solo – was probably best left to the more experienced dancers with a generous amount of space.**

*A plot of floor with a diameter of 1.6 times the length of your shoulders is the minimum, if you want to be all specific about it.
** Seriously. You don’t want to kick someone in the face just because you really like the beat.

Lindsey Buckingham’s live show comes down to one


With an arsenal of a dozen guitars and several amplifiers lined up behind him, Lindsey Buckingham wasted no time delving into his extensive catalog of songs Monday night at the Fillmore.

Striding up to a lone microphone stand wearing his signature blue jeans, v-neck t-shirt, and black leather jacket, the singer and guitarist launched into an hour and 15 minute set that spanned a broad spectrum of his career, covering a wide swath of solo material in addition to some of the mega hits he created as a member of Fleetwood Mac.

After running through the first couple of tunes and warming up his formidable finger picking skills, the 62-year old Buckingham took a short break to talk about his current tour across the country, contrasting the differences between performing with what he called the “big machine” — Fleetwood Mac — and “the small machine” — his solo outings.

Remarking that when he started out on his own, he would often take a sizable backing band with him, but over the years he has decreased the number of players, with his last major tour featuring a trio, and that this trek finds him venturing out by himself.

Aside from a few songs that he played along with to a pre-recorded backing track, such as “Go Your Own Way,” it was just Buckingham, his stellar guitar playing, and his still-powerful voice providing the sonic soundscape that filled the historic auditorium, proving beyond a doubt that he was capable of carrying the show all on his own, with a highly vocal and appreciative audience to encourage him.

At times, it felt strange to look at the stage and see only one person performing with the amount of energy and excitement being generated. During songs such as “Big Love” and “Go Insane,” Buckingham made a variety of impassioned facial expressions while playing, and yelled and clapped at the crowd when he finished.

When the Palo Alto native came back out for an encore, he walked along the front of the stage, high-fiving and shaking hands with his fans, before telling the audience that it “you guys really do make it feel like home here.”

Then adding, “There’s so much history in this place, and with all the music that has come out of this city, I’m just proud to be a small part of it.”

With Monday’s show in the books, Buckingham can be assured that he is still very much a vivacious and viable contributor to that ongoing legacy.

Frankie Rose’s brief, enthralling Brick and Mortar stop


In case you hadn’t noticed, Frankie Rose’s got the Internet goin’ nutz. The 33 year-old has served time in two super buzzy groups of girls (Dum Dum & Vivian) and NYC critical darlings the Crystal Stilts and is about to kick off a tour with Real Estate.

The blogosphere’s thickest rims have been falling over themselves to praise her sparkling sophomore LP, Interstellar (Slumberland, 2012), and on Saturday night, Rose took herself and that buzz (I hear it needs its own van) to a sold-out Brick and Mortar Music Hall for an brief yet enthralling 10-song set.

She was supported by fellow Brooklyn-based dream popsters, Dive, a band with a fair bit of indie cred of its own. Featuring sometime Beach Fossil Zachary Cole Smith and ex-Smith Westerns drummer Colby Hewitt, the group banged out a jangly, wistful set that was heavy on reverb, sepia-tinged melodies, and (just-the-right-kind-of) awful haircuts.

Though watching young men gaze at their shoes is generally a surefire way to kill an early Saturday evening buzz, Smith and his bandmates cut energetic, engaging figures, bee-bopping along with their very blog-friendly, Beach Fossil-y tracks. Judging from this performance and the success of their pre-release singles, I’d wager that we’ll be seeing them headlining their own tour in the coming months.

30 minutes of sweet, easily digestible Dive jams provided the perfect appetizer for Rose’s main course, as she took the stage to rapturous applause. Upon surveying her minions, the diminutive frontperson flashed a sheepish, toothy grin and kicked directly into Interstellar‘s celestial penultimate track, “Moon in My Mind.” Flanked by a lean four-person band, Rose rattled off an incredibly tight set that struck a nice balance between her most recent LP and her 2010 stunner, Frankie Rose and the Outs.

And though her old cuts still sound fresh (“Candy” was a particular stand-out), Saturday night was really a celebration of the triumphant Interstellar. This was most evident during a four-song run that featured “Gospel/Grace,” the title track, “Daylight Sky,” and the undeniable “Know Me” – probably the best four songs on the record.

The run highlighted Rose’s uncanny ability to craft cathartic, introspective songs that are also incredibly danceable and full of pop hooks. She also has a devastating ear for dynamics, especially evident in her gauzy guitar lines. Though simple technically, they add so much depth to the tracks’ bones, which are basically just rock-solid pop-rock songs. Rose didn’t do a ton of talking, but when she did, she showed a humble, disarming sense of humor that made her instantly likable.

Throughout her catalog, Frankie Rose has a keen sense of when it’s time to say goodnight — that the best things are always over too soon — which is why only two of Interstellar’s tracks clock in at over four minutes. So while we all could have probably done with a few more, Rose hopped off stage after only ten songs, signing off with an inspired rendition her most expansive work to date, “Save Me.”

Unfortunately, unlike Spotify, I couldn’t start the whole thing over again, but if I could have, I definitely would have, and I surely wouldn’t have been the only one.

The crowd goes ballistic for Gotye’s hit song


There is nothing quite like hearing the song that’s been stuck in your head — persistently playing on repeat — finally materialize in front of you.

When the all-too-recognizable trickles of the xylophone and Gotye’s effortlessly poignant voice introduced  “Someone That I Used To Know” last night at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the crowd went ballistic; a collective jolt of ecstatic bliss took over, followed by a vigil of raised iPhones and Androids.

With over 160 million views on YouTube, “Someone That I Used To Know” may be what brought the Belgian-Australian musical extraordinaire to the forefront of the American audience’s minds, but his undeniably skillful performance showed San Francisco that his vocal and instrumental mastery began long before this viral sensation.

Gotye is anything but a one-trick pony — a common pitfall for Billboard chart toppers — and his performance extended beyond his breezy ability to soar from crooning falsettos to a satisfying cry of yearning.

If you could divert your attention away from the earnest balladeering and were to look just at his hands — crossing over one another schematically, swiftly pushing on electronic triggers, and handling a motley collection of percussion devices — you could have mistaken him for a chef cooking an extravagantly complex meal.

But of course, he is not a cook, but a sonic connoisseur, who has an obsession with crafting a fusion of noises to deliver a rather different sensual experience for each song.

The reggae-tinted “State Of The Art” had the crowd smoothly rocking to the drop of the heavy tech-beats, whereas the ethereal echoes of “Bronte” captured the listener in personal contemplation.

The comic-style (think non-demented Gorillaz) visuals that were projected on the massive screen gave his rather organic execution a futuristic sparkle — and all the gleeful weed smokers in the building seemed sincerely grateful.

Gotye’s original show was booked for the 500-capacity Independent before upsizing to the 8,000-capacity Bill Graham. Hopefully his recent blow up will bloom in to a fruitful career so that he’ll continue to grace us with more poptastic ballads – not just end up as somebody that we used to know.

Get your hands up: Wild Flag at Fillmore


San Franciscans faced a sort of litmus test Wednesday night: which popular band would they see live when given copious quality options, what does that say about their whole being, and who among us chose best? Thanks to Coachella and just lucky circumstance, there were major acts playing sold out or close-to-it shows all around town last night: Godspeed, Gotye, Refused, and Wild Flag.

So the city split open. Shows were carefully chosen based on sound, legacy, fun-factor, and proximity. Massive carved doors swung open, and venues were crowded on this refreshingly warmish midweek night. We’ll have more on the other offerings about town. But here’s what went down at the Fillmore.

Top 15 moments during Wild Flag and EMA’s Fillmore appearance:

1. EMA’s stylish ’80s dancing-with-myself movement techniques and matching ’80s ensemble (billowy T-shirt, tights with shorts)

2. EMA’s fiddler. Electro-pop begs for more violin.

3. Janet Weiss’ showy drum solo during “Glass Tambourine.” Had there been such an item, it would’ve shattered into tiny glittery bits.

4. More glitter: the matchy-not matchy sparkle-accented red, black, and white ensembles on all four Wild Flag ladies.

5. A proggy new song with Carrie Brownstein’s vocals sublimely echoing into the deep effects abyss.

6. The song “Racehorse” played before “Romance,” and being about not being able to love another. “You can’t love no one/you don’t love know one.”

7. “None of those other songs were about love, but this one is” — the introduction to final pre-encore song and fan favorite, “Romance.”

8. The awesome, yet expected, but still very welcome close interplay and noodling interactions between the four Wild Flag members, particularly Brownstein and Mary Timony.

9. Timony’s feedback fetish, and the moments when she crumbled to her knees in showmanship.

10. Brownstein holding her guitar straight up in the air, in another statement on instrument worship.

11. The David Cross-alike in the crowd’s not-as-stylish interpretative dance techniques, with awkward shoulder jerks and fluttering hands matching Wild Flag’s riffs.

12. The Fillmore’s chandeliers timed to match the aforementioned hard riffs. Light ’em up big.

13. The DC/Portland based band again using its encore for awesome covers, including Television and Fugazi. Though no Misfits this time unless I missed it. Did I miss it?

14. The feeling that this band will undoubtedly go down in history as shattering preconceived notions of femininity, musicianship, and rock’n’roll, just as its predecessors Sleater-Kinney and Helium.

15. Supposedly, Fred Armisen was there, which make sense as he and his Portlandia co-star, Brownstein, were at a 826 Valencia benefit earlier in the day. 

Live Shots: Radiohead at HP Pavilion, 04/11/2012


The first time I saw Radiohead, it was opening up for Belly, back when “Creep” was an exquisite oddball of a radio hit.

Actually, it wasn’t so much opening for Belly as it was a double bill, but Radiohead played first and Thom Yorke had a platinum rock star hairdo and the band was touring on an unspectacular album with a title gleaned from a Jerky Boy’s joke.

None of it seemed to hint much towards a band on the cusp of becoming an audio force of nature for the coming decades. Even still, by the time it finished its set with “Stop Whispering,” Radiohead had worked the crowd into a tidy frenzy.

Playing the HP Pavilion in San Jose on Wednesday night, it showcased the full range of its music since: an amazingly dynamic body of work – from the Bends to the new track “Identikit” – which gave sonic testimony to Radiohead’s outlier longevity from the grungy but fertile musical era from which it sprang.

Working through nearly two-dozen songs beneath a pulsing onslaught of color and video, it rendered a high-energy performance from an eclectic setlist that was at once a gem for fanatics and a thrill for the casual fans that they dragged along.

From the get-go, Thom Yorke was all king of limbs as he wriggle-danced his way through beat-heavy tracks like “15 Step” and the “Gloaming,” before eventually settling into the larger vocal parts of a stripped-down “Reckoner” and an amped-up “Daily Mail.”

Talkative and punchy-as-expected, Yorke dedicated the Amnesiac-era b-side “The Amazing Sounds of Orgy” to the players of the economic meltdown and the “Silicon Valley bullshit” that factored into it. Here, the band played to other local forces, as it nestled into the aberrant niche between Primus and Tom Waits, equally eerie and menacing.

It was this darker end of their spectrum that provided some of the night’s standout moments, from the four-drummer assault of “There There” to the infectious pulse of “Myxomatosis.” However the best of the bunch may have been the hefty moodiness of “Climbing Up the Walls,” an OK Computer favorite that soon gave way to “Karma Police.”

The encores, in particular, were likely to provide fans with hours of chat-room fodder, as the band dusted off some rare live takes on “I Might Be Wrong” and “Planet Telex,” before ending the night with a ferocious version of “Idioteque.”

Poised to play Coachella this coming weekend, Radiohead appears in fine fighting form to somehow top its near-legendary 2004 performance. And that’s just the thing with where it’s at these days: for all that can be said about what it has done over the past 20 years, Radiohead still has a knack to leave you excited for what’s next.

15 Step
Morning Mr. Magpie
Kid A
The Gloaming
The National Anthem
The Amazing Sounds of Orgy
Climbing up the Walls
Karma Police
Lotus Flower
There There
Little By Little

I Might Be Wrong
Everything in its Right Place

The Daily Mail
Planet Telex


All photos by Charles Russo.

GWAR honors deceased guitarist’s return to the home planet


Those sleazy, salacious scumdogs of the universe in GWAR wasted no time in unleashing their riotous brand of musical mayhem on Friday night before a packed audience at the Regency Ballroom, with fake blood spraying and splattering the audience as quickly as the first notes came screaming out of the amplifiers.

Singer Oderus Urungus strode out onto the stage wearing his usual wardrobe of outrageously oversized armor and tattered fishnets. While the rest of the band began taking their positions, the band leader and a cloaked figure began miming to the first hapless victim of the impending carnival of carnage, a creature holding a document that read “Deed To The Castle.”

With loud encouragement from the audience — which had already been whipped into a frenzy from an excellent opening set by Bay Area favorites Ghoul — a sword was produced, and with a mighty swing from Oderus, the blood started squirting from the decapitated freak, who ambled about the stage, drenching everything and everybody, as GWAR launched into its first song.

From then on, it was the always entertaining live show from GWAR that fans have come to expect after more than 25 years of trashing venues and leaving concertgoers covered in every manner of fake bodily fluid imaginable — some kids even wore homemade shirts, taking a plain white tee, writing the words “GWAR 4/6/12” in pen, and coming out with a custom gory tie dye job and beaming smiles.

The only people who didn’t look like they were having a blast were, of course, the helpless security guards in front of the stage, who were all wearing rain gear, and had to deal with untold gallons of fake blood raining down on them in addition to the crowd surfing kids coming over the barricades, and the passed out girl who had to be carried out from the front barely five minutes into the set.

The theatrical terror ended its regular set with the signature sing-along song, “Sick Of You” before coming back out for an encore that paid tribute to departed bandmate, Corey Smoot, aka Flattus Maximus, who died last November while on tour with the group (GWAR had to cancel its last scheduled Bay Appearance as it fell during Smoot’s memorial service).

With Smoot’s custom Schecter guitar placed upon the top of an amp stack, lit by a white spotlight, Dave Brockie —  aka Oderus — introduced the last song, “The Road Behind,” by telling the crowd that one of GWAR’s members was called back to the home planet.

Amid all of the prosthetic pandemonium and controlled chaos, it was probably the most appropriate way to deal with their grief, and to honor a real human being, friend, and bandmate. Seeing Smoot’s guitar sitting alone, while the surviving members of the group performed around it, actually made for a touching moment, something that has to be an exceedingly rare event in the sordid history of the band — but yet another example of how GWAR is still the best at what it does.

Hot Snakes reunion thrills


Right out of the gate, late ’90s San Diego post-hardcore supergroup Hot Snakes kicked off its reunion show at Bottom of the Hill Friday with “I Hate the Kids” (Suicide Invoice, 2002).

The chant-able anthem (“I hate the kids/I hate the kids”)  roared with the group’s likable energy and set the tone for a crystalline night of electrifying fan favorites. (And the show was packed and sweaty with a very specific type of fan in fact, but I’ll get to that later.) The hour-and-some-change set thundered, roared, and titillated.

It felt like the band never left. Though it dispersed in 2005, Hot Snakes’ founding members — thrilling, quick-fingered guitarist John Reis and smokers holler expert/lead vocalist-guitarist Rick Froberg, both formerly of Drive Like Jehu — have continued steady careers in underground acts like the Night Marchers and Obits, and this is likely why the band sounded so tight, so pre-expiration date meaty fresh.

It left many in the crowd wondering, ‘”where are the new bands like this today?” Where is all the restless, shouting pain matched with unquestionable musicianship now? And how does Froberg not lose his voice after every show?

There were many explosive moments, perhaps too many to recall. Particular standouts of absolute shred and matching audience reaction include “Braintrust” and “LAX.” After quickly ripping through tracks off 2000’s Automatic Midnight (“No Hands” stood out) Suicide Invoice, and Audit in Progress (2004) — with in-between banter kept to a bare minimum — the quartet, which switched out drummers mid-set, ended the official pre-encore set with another killer chant-along, “Plenty for All” (off Audit in Progress).

During that pre-encore finale, the cheery guitar line mixed with reminiscent, tongue-in-cheek lyrics of Southern California glitter and jabs at all-that-glitters-is-not-gold consumerism left a crowd of relocators (*that’s what this particular fan group felt like to me, 25-45-year-old Southern California transplants to the Bay Area, of varying degrees of cool, rockabilly, punk, still living for the thrill of live fast rock’n’roll) singing another ode to days of yore: “Southern California/Let’s go!/There’s room for us all.” And it felt like home.

The Magnetic Fields play ’69 Love Songs’ and then some at the Fox


While the Magnetic Fields’ newest album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, recaptured the group’s love for synthesizers and electronics, Saturday night’s Fox Theater performance was a testament to the timeless quality of its stripped-down acoustic format.

Using a charming setup of mandolin, acoustic guitar, accordion, piano, and cello, the band burned through 25-plus songs from various points in its two decades-strong career. The first plucks of opener “I Die” quickly established Stephin Merritt’s morose rumble of a voice — which sounded just as drolly beautiful and unbelievably deep as it does on record — and quickly hushed the impressively diverse crowd populated with theater geeks, punk rockers, old-timers, and lovey-dovey hipster couples.

It didn’t take long for the band to begin tackling songs from its landmark 1999 album, 69 Love Songs. Tracks like “A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off” and “Busby Berkeley Dreams” elicited giddy responses amongst the audience and led to more than a few people lightly singing along. An unexpected treat came when Merritt took lead vocals on “Come Back From San Francisco,” a track that was sung by member Shirley Simms on the album.

Speaking of Simms, vocal duties were shared among her, Merritt, and Claudia Gonson all evening, which helped keep things lively and unpredictable. Just as Merritt had taken over for her on “Come Back From San Francisco,” Simms reciprocated with a rousing rendition of his “Fear of Trains,” from the country-influenced The Charm of the Highway Strip.

With such a big catalog to compose a setlist from, nearly every album was represented, from the baroque sounds of Realism (“You Must Be Out of Your Mind), to the noisy Distortion (“Drive On, Driver”) and early favorites like Distant Plastic Trees (“Tar-Heel Boy”). Arrangements of all of these were simple and elegant, and a real testament the talent and attention to detail of each member.

Merritt’s well-documented prickly personality shone through at times in agitated comments to the crowd about flash photography and unnecessary hooting and hollering. And, if basing an opinion strictly off of body language, it really seemed like he’d have rather been anywhere else than on stage all show. None of that took away from what was a wholly fun, engaging and heartwarming show, however, which even at a packed 90 minutes felt all too brief.

EMA deals with a tough crowd at Rickshaw Stop


No one likes to be shushed. The most intense shushing I ever endured was at the Independent, during an Owen Pallett show. I was talking to a friend as the lights went down, when the woman standing in front of me turned around, stuck her finger closer to my mouth than hers, and said “shush.” Maybe it was because Pallett is associated with Arcade Fire and plays violin – two things that demand musical respect, right? – but considering that the dude hadn’t even picked up his instrument yet, and we were standing back under the balcony, I thought the least this stranger could do was let a guy finish his thought. That said, I would have preferred all the preempting, anal shushers in the world to the shitheads at the EMA show last night.

The girl to my right, perched on a speaker with her feet on the stage, who kept hitting on guys under the guise of insisting on telling them that what they were about to see, seeing, saw, was “the most amazing thing ever.” Adoration and high praise that did not stop her from constantly asking to borrow camera phones to record videos, until the point that they demanded them back. (“Can I just email myself the video?” ”Uh, sure.” “OK. How do I do that?”).

Nor did it stop this super-fan, who works in advertising (of course) from shouting nonstop requests for “Hearts on Fire,” which EMA’s Erika M. Anderson found as perplexing as I did. “Do you mean ‘Soul on Fire’?” Anderson asked. “No, Hearts on Fire!” “Uh, I don’t know that one.” This, combined with a bro calling out “Reptar! Reptar!*” nonstop, caused Anderson to reply, “I think you guys have the wrong night.” When the brave Popscene cameraman tried to shush (in this case deservedly, right near the front of stage and throughout the whole performance) said bro’s nonstop yammer, his response was, “I’m sorry, man.” [Pause for a beat]. “Except that I’m not.”

Now EMA doesn’t exactly demand respect, and isn’t dainty.** (Quote: “I’m a lady on stage, so I want to spit and burp.”) She does have a violin player, who did open the set with that relatively austere instrument, although here less a classical influence than an experiment in electric noise, like ringing feedback. But considering that so much of her album from last year, Past Life Martyred Saints – an experiment in lo-fi versus hi-fi – involves contrasting quiet, soft moments with loud, harsh ones (particularly on songs “The Grey Ship” and “Marked”) EMA does occasionally seem to suggest that you might want to shut the fuck up. Anderson is originally from South Dakota, and I don’t usually interpret the line “fuck California” in a straightforward, hostile manner, but when she got to it at the end of her set, it was a sentiment I was ready to get behind. No one likes to be shushed, but some people deserve it.

-The Grey Ship
-Soul on Fire
-Red Star

*Reptar was the band that was supposed to open the night, but whose van broke down en route from L.A., leaving the crowd at Popscene stranded with the DJ and likely drinking extra while waiting for something to entertain them on stage.

**I wish you could see her red, “hipster haircut” (compliments of Portland, where “the dream of 2003 is alive”) or her extra large Looney Tunes Taz t-shirt, but camera fail.

Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers score a standing ovation at Herbst Theatre


Last week, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés demonstrated a shared skill set with San Francisco 49er tight end Vernon Davis. Both are impressively big men whose physical presence belies a breathtaking agility. 

Performing in front of a packed Herbst Theatre last Monday evening, the 70-year-old Valdés spent the majority of the 90-minute concert alternating between Latin and jazz, delegating and allowing his Afro-Cuban Messengers to shine. Many of the tracks were off Valdés’ recent album Chucho’s Steps (Four Quarters Records), with the constant shifts of “Zawinul’s Mambo” and the cool, breezy “New Orleans” serving as highlights. Valdés, resplendent in a violet velvet sportcoat and purple tones, spoke little, allowing a gesture here and a glance there to guide his team.

With time running out, the Cuban superstar took over with a game-winning score. Accompanied by bassist Lázaro Rivero Alarcón  and drummer Juan Carlos Rojas Castro, Valdés moseyed into a blues ditty before embarking on a solo run. His fingers leapt into a stunning series of trills, dancing from one side of the piano to the other with an absurd combination of power and grace. Here was a man using all of his beguiling dexterity to build the Herbst crowd into a frenzy, on a blues track no less. After performing the piano equivalent of bulldozing five defenders, Valdés, the good teammate that he is, brought Alarcón and Castro in for the finish. The crowd gave a well-deserved standing ovation.

One of Valdés teammate got a bit enthusiastic with the touchdown celebration. During the deserved encore, bata drummer and vocalist drummer Dreiser Bambolé bounded offstage, somersaulted into the aisle, leapt back onstage and snaked his way around Valdés and the band. A nearby usher, entranced by the enthusiastic percussionist, busted out some salsa moves while waving his hands and imploring the crowd to dance. Few of the crowd obliged; they were still basking in the greatness from the previous performance.

Spanning time with the Flaming Lips


I ran into a temporal anomaly while driving. My first warning sign was the police cruiser with one headlight flashing its sirens behind me. Wrong place at the wrong time? Well, I was getting pulled over in Sebastopol on the way to Richmond from SF, but when the cop told me I was doing 78 in a 55, it suggested one thing —speeding.

And speeding isn’t spatial — location is irrelevant — you are precisely where you should be, just too fucking soon. The cop seemed hopeful that he could help me, but as he took my papers and ran back to his car I knew he had abandoned me to the crush of an impending temporal singularity, as time began to move in slow motion.

Slow motion. Some refer to it as time dilation. The sensation that a certain duration lasts longer than it should. The Flaming Lips have a song about it, called, obviously, “Slow Motion.” It goes like this:

Hey, come on over.

You know the day is going slower.

It takes a year, to make a day.

And I’m feeling like a float in the Macy’s Day parade.

Or like a boat, out on the ocean. 
I’m drifting round in slow motion.

LSD and other narcotics aside, time generally doesn’t work that way. Compared to your life so far, each additional day is a smaller proportion. Time telescopes, you speed up, it goes faster. Slowing down is the opposite, unnatural. Sitting in a car waiting for the cop to come back (Is he going to search me?) or laying on a couch with friends trying not to cry — whenever time slows down — it’s unnerving.

You only know this much about “Slow Motion” — an alternate track from The Soft Bulletin not released in the US — because you saw the Flaming Lips play it once. But which time? Not at that fair in Santa Rosa. That one had a rave after. Not at the Fox Theater. That was the one where you slow danced with your girlfriend (at the time) until the staff asked you to leave. At Sasquatch, there in the Gorge? They did play The Soft Bulletin then, but it was rushed. That guy stood behind you — when Wayne Coyne was recounting Steven Drozd almost losing his hand and Michael Ivins being in a car crash — screaming “Play-a-song!” No, there just hadn’t been time.

And time, for the Flaming Lips, is important. Because as a band — one that has been through all sorts of well documented shit — the Flaming Lips know the value of time (particularly borrowed) and have made it their work to not just create music but get into the complete manufacture of moments. Which is a tricky business, because moments are bastards. Take all the pictures you want of the blinding lights, the beautiful costumed kids, the confetti cannons or all the other individual weapons that the Flaming Lips use to wage musical psychedelic war on time, and the moment still might not fit in a shutter, no matter how you slice a second.

It was at Bimbo’s. Not the time they played Noise Pop a few years back, but more recently. They were playing The Soft Bulletin, and taking their time. Hitting every single track from every single version of the album. Not quite slow motion, but close. When was that?

It was the night after the couch. When you were watching Blade Runner on TV, just the end part. Where the maniac with white hair is running around, trying to knock some sense into the other idiot character, who hardly even realizes he’s alive most of the time. And it starts getting heavy. Meaningless inevitability; the crushing force of time. Fucking tears in the rain. Before you know it, you’re happy it’s basic cable, because sometimes a commercial interruption is all that’s keeping you from crying.

It was the night after that. The Lips were going slower for sure, but still way too fast. The moments going by before you’re ready. Before you know it, they are on to other songs, and “Slow Motion” is somewhere in the past, back there with your best friends on the couch, never to return.

The band is getting ready to play something else, Steven readying both miraculous hands on another instrument while Michael stands ready, as ever, on the bass. You want to reach into your bag to take the camera out again, but you resist the urge. It won’t capture the cold press of the air canisters at your back anyway. Or, for that matter, the hookah scented air from the smoke machines. And anyway, if you’re taking pictures during “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” you’re probably irretrievably lost.

And suddenly, everything has changed. The cop comes back to the car. Tells me my record is clear, that he just marked 65 on the ticket, because I was didn’t know where I was. He gives me some directions, regarding the roads. I don’t really listen (but do thank him and let him know about his broken headlight.) I drive forward, knowing exactly where I am. I was at a Flaming Lips show, and now I’m driving home.  

Blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. solos as long as he damn well pleases


“Well you gonna know my name, by the end of the night,” Gary Clark Jr. sings during his take off Jimmy Reed’s blues classic, “Bright Lights, Big City.” The Animals, Rolling Stones, Clapton, Dylan –  many have had their take on it, but Clark flipped the tale of urban intoxication, giving it extra bravado and, with a notable performance at the Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 and resulting Warner Bros record contract, turned it into an announcement of his own impending stardom (with risks involved).

As Clark Jr. walked out onto the stage of the Great American Music Hall Wednesday night it was clear that “Bright Lights” had been working given that the sold out crowd not only knew who he was, but readily sang him “Happy Birthday.” Of course Clark, turning 28, has had plenty of time to build up a following. At 17, in his home of Austin, TX the mayor was already proclaiming a Gary Clark Jr. Day, on account of his prodigious and heralded guitar skills.

It was those skills that people came out to hear at the Great American, and that’s what they got. There’s a lot of ways someone like Clark could go, but at this point in his career, Clark is still more of an old school, straight ahead blues rockers than successful popular contemporaries like Jack White or the Black Keys’s Dan Auerbach.

Clark opened the night with a couple tracks from his The Bright Lights EP. With “When My Train Pulls In,” he set a simple rule – the length of the songs would be less structured around the verses and would instead go as long as he wanted to solo. That one’s a bit heavier and slow, but he followed it up with “Don’t Owe You A Thang,” a catchy number built from some Bo Diddley-esque guitar playing. Clark would alternately double time or halve the solos, but kept the number well balanced by coming right back in with forceful vocals right before a shift in beat.

As he worked through a set that consisted of some covers and some originals, it was clear that Clark was experimenting with a number of styles, with mixed results. Compared to the confidence on display in “Don’t Owe You A Thang” and “Bright Lights,” the fluttery soul piece, “Things Are Changin’” had a John Meyer quality to it that I found unappealing. Almost reading my mind, Clark finished playing the number and said, “So enough of that sweet soft stuff, we’re about to get crazy up in here.” After a noisy intro that recalled another Austin guitar hero, Eric Johnson, the band started breaking the beat down more, playing “If You Love Me Like You Say,” with a big funky drummer solo, over which Clark pulled out some tricked out technique that sounded more like scratching on vinyl than anything I was expecting.

After a set involving a couple of real stretched out numbers, Clark met expectations with “Bright Lights.” But as he walked off stage it seemed like a number of people either had enough or got what they wanted, not waiting for the encore. People still called for it, though, and the guitarist returned, first without his band, saying “I want some alone time with you guys,” softly playing a couple songs. Anyone who left missed out, as the band came back on stage to closed the night with Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” It’s a song that’s hard for almost anyone to cover, particularly if they lack a really good horn section. But at Clark Jr.’s hands, it didn’t seem like anything was missing.

1. When My Train Pulls In
2. Don’t Owe You A Thang
3. ?
4. Please Come Home
5. Things Are Changing
6. If You Love Me Like You Say (Albert Collins)
7. 3 O’Clock Blues (Lowell Fulson)
8. ?
9. Bright Lights
10. When The Sun Goes Down
11. Freight Train (Elizabeth Cotten)
12. Move On Up

Aren’t there a lot of bands right now with White Something as their name? In any case, when the White Buffalo finished its set, someone next to me remarked “Man, I wish there were encores for openers. I could go home right now and been glad I heard that.” For my part I could have stood to hear some more of the first opener, White Dress, particularly the twangy, smoky voice of Arum Rae, who seems to do equally well with or without accompaniment.

Local musicians reinterpret Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” at the Rickshaw Stop


Had you been skeptical about the “UnderCover Presents: Nick Drake’s Pink Moon” event Sunday night at the Rickshaw Stop you wouldn’t have been alone. It had the potential to be disastrous. Coordinating the sound alone must have posed a considerable challenge. How do you get 11 eclectic local bands — 50 performers each with specific sound needs — to play one song from one album without frazzling intervals between each performance and each set up? And then of course there’s the album to consider, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. How can the bands perform the covers without butchering the album?
In the case of coordination and sound, it was a flawlessly organized UnderCover event, co-produced by Faultline Studios. Band set ups were seamless, the sound was first-rate, and the visuals by Joe Case that projected behind the stage were diverting. There were also pre-recorded interviews with band members shown before each performance, which made for an altogether different concert experience. With regards to Pink Moon, if you had hoped to hear covers that faithfully honored the songwriter’s final album, the event was likely a let down, but not a catastrophe.
Pink Moon is an odd choice for this kind of an event. For one, it’s terse — with only 11 songs, it clocks in at 28 minutes, and so each band is on stage for only a moment. It’s essentially a bleak piece of songwriting as well, recorded with only guitar and vocals, aside from the light piano on the title track. As John Wood, who produced Pink Moon said in a 1979 radio interview, “[Drake] was very determined to make this very stark, bare record and he definitely wanted it to be him more than anything.” However, the event’s music director Darren Johnston saw this as an invitation. He in fact chose the album because of its sparseness and the endless ways to approach it. “It’s not even my favorite Nick Drake album,” he said in one of the pre-recorded interviews.
It’s worth noting that many of the bands did not seem to be Drake aficionados, nor did they pretend to be. A series of pre-recorded interviews showed that they were unaware that a “pink moon” or “bloody moon” represents imminent disaster in other cultures, and that Drake was possibly foretelling his antidepressant overdose, which happened two years after the album was released.
Needless to say then, the bands tweaked and reinvented the songs on Pink Moon. If the result wasn’t sensitive tributes to Nick Drake, it was still seasoned musicians putting on compelling performances. Music Director Darren Johnston’s own band, Brass Menažeri, started the night off with the title track, “Pink Moon” which was a rumpus of snorting tubas, trumpets, and French horns. It was followed by the Oakland pop band Kapowski who managed to churn out a memorable piano take on “Place to Be.” The Real Vocal Quartet turned some heads with their cover of “Road,” sticking to the song in the beginning, then veering into a blasting collage of strings before coming back up, rather reluctantly, for another verse.
The performance that best embodied Pink Moon was the saxophone player David Boyce’s rendition of — interestingly enough— the only instrumental on the album, a song called “Horn.” With an array of effect pedals, Boyce withdrew from with the original song, but managed to embody the whole album with it. He puffed away and evoked its desolation, adding layer upon layer of drifting, sometimes ear-splitting sounds that encapsulated something like panic and nausea.
In many ways, you wanted to hear these bands doing their own material and performing longer sets. It was a shame that we only got a taste of the Billie Holiday inspired voice of singer Kally Price, for instance, who was spell-binding in the very, very brief amount of time she was up on stage.

Brass Menažeri (“Pink Moon”)
Kapowski! (“Place to Be”)
Real Vocal String Quartet (“Road”)
Kally Price (“Which Will”)
David Boyce (“Horn”)
Pocket Full of Rye (“Things Behind the Sun”)
Broken Shadows Family Band (“Know”)
Freddi Price (“Parasite”)
Ramon and Jessica (“Free Ride”)
Aaron Novik (“Harvest Breed”)
Jazz Mafia (“From the Morning”)

All photos by Jessica Trimmer

Live Shots: Phonte and 9th Wonder at New Parish


I’ve heard complaints that the Occupy movement doesn’t have a clear message, but Saturday night you could read it from a passing car. At an intersection off of Broadway, where a large crowd had gathered, a few people held up a giant banner on the corner that read “FUCK THE POLICE.” And as we passed groups of officers in riot gear and searched for parking among  the cop cars on nearly every block, it was also obvious that a confrontation was brewing.

It may have been N.W.A. out on the streets, but inside the New Parish where a show was taking place, it was strictly no beefing. Rapper Phonte and DJ/producer 9th Wonder, formerly members of North Carolina’s alternative hip-hop group Little Brother, were finally performing together after settling some outstanding public grievances.

Addressing the crowd midway through the show, Phonte — in a playfully straight-forward manner — explained that he’d done a lot of growing in the last year, and that he’d learned that mistakes have a way of  living on the Internet. Recalling some Southern gospel preaching, he asked the audience to repeat the word “perpetuity” after him, on top of turning to their neighbors and saying “You got to own up to your own shit.”

Support included local openers including Richmond’s Locksmith and D.U.S.T. from Zion I’s crew as well as tour mates Median and Rapsody, but the focus of the show was definitely Phonte and 9th, who ripped through a set of material including both LB and more recent solo work. Part of their speed was necessity. “Grown man rap time,” Phonte called it, explaining that being an aging artist meant that you have an aging audience, with children, bills, and responsibilities, well past the point where “you can spend the whole god damn night at the rap show.”

On the plus side, having an older audience means that they are also likely to be more familiar with your work. When the beat dropped on “Lovin’ It,” a major track from LB’s 2005 concept album, The Minstrel Show, the whole crowd went off.  

But what really surprised me was to see a couple upstairs singing to each other the call and response section of “Make Me Hot,” a short proto-soul/Percy Miracles from LB’s 2003 debut The Listening. There was a sense of coming together (if you put the civil unrest an police action going down half a mile away out of mind.).

And considering that Phonte said it was his first sold out “solo” show in the Bay Area, definitely a long time coming. Which may have been why, despite expressing a plan to “Come to the show, spit these raps, take my ass home,” he didn’t seem to be rushing it.

Live Shots: Starfucker and Painted Palms at Great American Music Hall


Though Starfucker hails from Portland, Ore., it’s easy to see why the band feels at home here. If a bunch of hip, pasty dudes performing in drag doesn’t scream “San Francisco,” I don’t know what does. Its name is edgy enough to elicit parental concern (the less offensive STRFKR is often used instead), but Starfucker’s trendy synth-pop is catchy and sweet.

Every time the band rolls through town, it seems like more resident scenesters have been bitten by the Starfucker bug. Maybe it was the release of the delightful Reptilians (Polyvinyl) in March, or its appearance at last summer’s Outside Lands festival that ignited Starfucker pandemonium. Whatever the reason, the group was inspired to put on three Bay Area shows to accommodate voracious fans this time around.

Friday night’s sold-old show at the Great American Music Hall was jam-packed enough to quell the most insatiable appetite. As the band appeared in gaudy thrift store dresses and wigs, the young, attractive crowd went ape. Joints were sparked, beers were lifted, and the band made it impossible to have a bad time.

At every Starfucker show I’ve seen in the past (I’ve seen a lot), the band seemed to rely heavily on the seductive charisma of former lead vocalist Ryan Biornstad. Without Biornstad, the boys mostly resigned to their respective positions on stage with no one taking a lead position. There was, however, plenty of tambourine shaking and wig tossing.

Though slightly less exciting visually, Starfucker sounded better than ever. Melodic synthesizers and guitars meshed with founding member Josh Hodges’ gentle, androgynous vocals. The extremely long set featured a bunch of tracks from Reptilians, including the Passion Pit-esque “Julius,” a hand-clap inciting “Death as a Fetish,” and many older selections from the Starfucker catalog. With its lusty bassline and celestial synths, “Isabella of Castile” served as a reminder that the band’s name was aptly chosen. Other highlights were the Target commercial jam “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” and cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

When the set finally concluded, we were a sweat-soaked, satisfied bunch. Those on stage were likely sweatier and undoubtedly more exhausted. There wasn’t much between song banter, but the night began with Hodges declaring the band’s love for San Francisco. Hey Starfucker, the feeling is mutual.

Opener: I spent most of Painted Palms’ set trying to figure out why keyboardist Reese Donohue was giving me major déjà vu. I realized that I’d seen Donohue doing lead vocals during electronica outfit Butterfly Bones’ opening set for Starfucker at the Rickshaw Stop years ago. I’m pretty sure I also saw him on stage with absurd joke rap ensemble Flophouse when it opened for Starfucker side-arm Skeletron at Milk Bar. Painted Palms was, however, the most promising act I’ve seen Donohue perform with so far. A relatively new band with only one EP under its belt, the duo cranked out a short set filled with bright loops and chill vibes, which was a nice way to warm up for Starfucker’s crazy energy.

All photos by Wolfgangg Photography.