Live Review

One Lorde to rule them all: An evening at the Fox with one seriously royal 17-year-old


I woke up this morning wondering if I could pull off an orange jumpsuit. I wasn’t contemplating how I would fare in a state penitentiary, mind you, but rather whether or not I was as cool as Lorde.

It’s Wednesday night at the Fox Theater in Oakland and, clad in an wide-legged orange jumpsuit, Lorde looks like the newest addition to Orange Is the New Black. The oversized one-piece cinches at the waist and is cropped at the elbow and calf. It’s not particularly flattering, but Lorde rocks it. She marches on stage in her signature footwear: clunky black leather platform boots. When the singer turns around the suit reveals a horizontal cutout in the middle of her back — just a hint of sex appeal.

She’s not trying to impress the boys, though. The jumpsuit at times gives the singer a slight camel toe. In stark contrast to her peers, the Disney princesses and even the post-Disney Miley Cyrus, Lorde revels in darkness, growing pains, and awkward dancing.

When she’s performing on stage, it’s easy to forget that Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor is only 17 years old. The New Zealand singer known as Lorde was launched into international fame when her first single, “Royals,” became radio’s most played song last summer. What began as the summer’s catchiest tune quickly turned into an overplayed hit that even Lorde herself tried to ban from the radio.

From the first song of the set, Lorde commands her audience into a deep trance with “Glory and Gore.” She walks to the center of the stage, where she meets the microphone, and dives right in. A single spotlight shining from above shadows the singer’s face as she chants the opening verse. All you have is her voice, the silhouette of her long curly mane and hints of spastic movements. The awkward dancing is utterly relatable, a combination of an epileptic fit and teenage white girl dance that I’ve certainly been a victim of. In the split second that the bass drops, strobe lights shine directly onto Lorde’s face. When the strobes hit, she sings out to the audience, dramatically unveiling her signature pale complexion and dark lipstick.

Lorde. All photos by Charles Russo.

Curly-haired, black lipstick-sporting clones squeal in excitement after her opening song. The curtain rises as Lorde launches into “Biting Down,” the darkest track on the extended issue of her debut album, Pure Heroine. The trance-like song is layered with deep synths and repetitive vocals. “It feels better biting down,” she repeats over psychedelic instrumentals. Her two-person band sports an all-white ensemble. The keyboard player and drummer’s outfits resemble straightjackets, furthering the correctional institution feel. White kaleidoscope lights project out to the audience, onto the ornate walls of the Fox Theatre and onto the ostentatious chandelier balancing above stage. The monochromatic strobe lights and costumes put all eyes on the lady in red. Tonight, we are in the Dark Lorde’s world and she is the ruler.

“It’s so good to see you again,” she croons. Last time she was in San Francisco was for Not So Silent Night; this time, it’s for the last leg of her US tour. “Beautiful city by the way, so green.” A definite reference to the city’s favorite pastime.

With “Buzzcut Season,” three screens display a daze of water reflections. The poetic lyrics written by the singer herself builds imagery of serenity and solace. Lorde hides behind a sea of lights. Her silhouette sways back and forth in a dreamlike state. She brings us away from the dreariness of the world and into the beautifully twisted realm of her dreams. Lorde glides her hands through the air to the rhythm of the music. The deep trance sets in with “Swinging Party,” a track that exposes the natural vibrato of Lorde’s dark voice over soft synths. Mirrored projections of Lorde’s performance hit the screen, creating a kaleidoscope of her face.


The visuals build throughout the show, from all-white lights to rich purple, red, and orange hues that saturate the stage. Smoke machines create a dark playground for the young ruler. Lorde comfortably plays with the shadows, dances in the smoke, and hides from the light. She touches the security blanket that is her hair and whips it back and forth as she bends over in song.

The familiar horn of the opening of “400 Lux” signals my favorite song. The bass drops, and visuals of moving landscapes hit the screen as she belts out exceptional vocals. “We’re never done with killing time / Can I kill it with you?” The poetic lyrics dismiss any feelings of unworthiness — she likes you. The Lorde then covers Son Lux’s “Easy” as she sways in and out of the eerie smoke. Later, the spectacular rendition of “Royals” makes the song bearable, retrieving memories of summer bliss. The slight remix carries entrancing vocals and repetitive verses. Her voice echoes phenomenally through the hollow hall, and giant ornate digital crowns are displayed on the screen during the chorus, cementing Lorde’s title as our ruler.

“Oakland, you’re here,” the Dark Lorde hums affectionately. The crowd wails back in admiration. “You sold out this theater tonight, because you’re 17 or you’re 15 or you’re 22. You’ve gone through it. You understand what it’s like to feel like this. And I’m so lucky that every night I get to play in a different city, a different theater full of people who understand what I’m talking about…who get it. There is nothing more important that that connection.”


After singing “Ribs,” Lorde dives into her finale. She performs her third single, “Team,” which becomes a psychedelic rave. A rain of purple, white, and pink lights shower the stage and the singer sneaks offstage in a mesmerizing 30-second interlude of instrumentals and beautifully entrancing lights.

She reemerges, not in her plebeian jumpsuit but in an ostentatious metallic lamé number. Lorde opens her arms to reveal a gold gown with a long gold cloak attached to her hands. The cape gives her gold wings — only the best for our queen. Like a phoenix, the awkward teenager dies and is reborn into full-fledged royalty. She belts out the chorus to “Team” one final time. Shots of Lorde-stamped confetti jet into the air, floating majestically down to her worshippers.

Lorde closes the show fittingly with the final song from Pure Heroine, “A World Alone.” The stark guitar, dreamy beats, and symbolic lyrics bring the sublime performance to its end. “You’re my best friend and we’re dancing in a world alone,” she tenderly sings to the crowd. The 15-year-olds, 17-year-olds, the 22-year-olds gaze at the teenager onstage, mesmerized by her honesty, poetic genius, and ability to transcend puberty. If only we could all come out of our awkward teenage years in a gold lamé cape.

How To Dress Well laughs his way into the sad songs at The Independent


By Ryland Walker Knight

Last night at The Independent, How To Dress Well kicked off a short tour (10 shows in this second half of March) with Forest Swords, playing new songs from a forthcoming album. On the heels of the release of “Words I Don’t Remember,” a new single, HTDW has assembled a more or less “real” band for these dates, with Tom Krell expanding his live act from a duet with Aaron Read (electronics, violin, guitar, bass) to quartet with Destroyer’s Larissa Loyva (keys/synths, backing vocals) and Broken Social Scene’s Justin Peroff (drums, laptop).

Krell’s previous visit was a spot supporting Sky Ferreira at the Rickshaw Stop, but he had no trouble selling out The Independent, its floor clogged with iPhone-ready and booze-addled fans eager to bathe Krell in coos, assuaging his anxieties about playing so many new songs. Throughout the night, Krell would banter about how this was the first time people were hearing these new tunes (eight of the 14 songs), but each was greeted with bumping, grinding adoration.


HTDW has always trafficked in “sad rave” vibes, but Krell made a point to joke that “I only write emo songs now” after introducing a new song called “What You Wanted” as “being really shitty about your desires, and incredibly basic; like being a teenager about your desires and always wanting something more and new.” It’s a fun song, actually, hitting that sweet spot of enough bounce to lift the moping and wailing Krell has become known for. He sings in a high falsetto not unlike everybody in R&B’s idol, Prince, but his music is more indebted to 1990s groups like Dru Hill, and everybody’s fallen star, Aaliyah. Or, that’s the vibe on the pop-ier songs, like the new jam “Very Best Friend.” But there remains a strain of unabashed sadness, too: Krell reminded the crowd that his first visit to San Francisco in 2010 was planned, under “less than ideal circumstances,” in order to record a song called “Suicide Dream 1” that he wrote to mourn a close friend. Nevertheless, he says it’s still his favorite song to sing.

Among the other new songs was one Krell described as “a sort of reggae, emo, early Animal Collective song,” drawing on pop-punk and Rich Homie Quan. Another was inspired by the idea that if you’ll do something once, you’ll probably do it twice (which may not necessarily be a good thing), that Krell hopes becomes a radio single after “Words” has its run. Details on the record are mum, however, as the first thing Krell told the crowd was: “I just got a text message from my manager and he’s like, whatever you do on stage, don’t say the name of your album or the release date of it.” He laughed his way into a terrifically sad opening number, but not before promising to have fun soon.


The night started with the likely final show of locals EN, the duo of multi-instrumentalists James Devane and Maxwell August Croy, who layered koto and other sine waves, all the sounds (pedaled or pure) processed by Devane over syncopated electronics for a beautiful 20-minute welcome, accented by visuals from another local, the visual artist Paul Clipson. I was told Krell has invited similar experimental audio-visual artists to open each show on each stop of this tour, one imagines to lend necessary contrast against the sad pop he sings and the dub-like moods Forest Swords conjur from a similar duet of live bass and an assortment of electronics. Forest Swords’ newest work was released by Tri Angle Records, but their songs have more traditional rhythms than many of that label’s “witch” music. In fact, I joked with my friend that the Forest Swords set sounded like the saddest sex you’ve ever had, while EN and Clipson made me wish I could walk around inside those tones with my own 16mm eyes ready to chop up the light of the world.

On the other hand, even without Krell’s formerly standard encore cover of “I Wish” by R. Kelly, which he says he can’t sing anymore out of political correctness (divorce the song from the man! keep the song the song!), How To Dress Well’s set made me happy he’s at the forefront of this new genre of white guys making R&B music — at least in part because he just seems so jazzed to play his songs, to be present in his life as an artist on a stage.

Setlist and other notes
“The Power”
“What You Wanted” — being really shitty about your desires, and incredibly basic, and being a teenager about your desires and always wanting something more and new
“Cold Nights” — as a ‘metal’ song, still not very metal
“Very Best Friend” — dancey, sisqo-y, love song
“No More Death” — ‘not fun, lets make it super dark for this one please’
“Facing Up” — i don’t know what’s best for me
“Suicide Dream 1” — first visited SF in 2010, recorded song with orchestra, to commemorate a friend who had just died — his favorite song to sing
“Chop and pick’m up” — reggae emo animal collective song
“” — Radio single — If you’ll do something once, you’ll probably do it twice
“Words I Don’t Remember”
“Set It Right”


All of the fucks that we should be giving: An evening with Ani DiFranco


By Kelly McFarling

When I was 13, I was a late-blooming tomboy, watching, confused, as everyone around me grew up and started acting different.

In school, we were writing “conflict stories.” Mine was about losing all my friends to puberty (theirs, not mine). My teacher sat me down on a particularly rough day and said, “Here. This is for you. Don’t tell your parents.” She handed me a copy of Ani Difranco’s Dilate, complete with the parental advisory label shining through the jewel case.

In hindsight, this may have been one of the more amazing gifts I’ve ever received, if not for its origin (what teacher does that?), then for the seismic brain/heart shattering that can only happen to a 13-year-old girl listening to Ani Difranco for the first time. I was floored. My emotions were obviously in desperate need of translation, and DiFranco’s poetry and emotional delivery was something I had never experienced. It’s alright, everything is uncomfortable, everything is changing. It’s cool, this woman is talking about things, and she’s angry and she’s sad, and she’s happy, and she has dreadlocks and boots and says “Fuck you.” Maybe you can be whatever you want/are?! I was a fan from that moment on, and although a lot has changed since then, the feeling that happens when I see her play her songs live is pretty similar to that first listen back in 1996.

Although thus far I’ve discovered that writing a review of an Ani DiFranco show is apparently like writing in your diary, I will attempt to review the things that actually happened on Friday [3/7] at the Fillmore.

Opening the show was Jenny Scheinman, an artist on DiFranco’s own Righteous Babe label. Scheinman, a prolific artist, composer and arranger in her own right, started the night off with a haunting fiddle tune that resulted in a well-deserved hush from the crowd. Plucking her fiddle, she sang a set of lyrically lovely Appalachian-style songs based on reflections of her Northern California hailing grounds. The Fillmore was full and quiet, with only the occasional anxious shoves from folks trying to claim precious real estate.

Jenny Scheinman

When DiFranco walked out there was wave of both excitement and relief. The power, charisma, and authenticity DiFranco delivers at her live shows has earned her incredibly loyal fans who line up, city after city, to be shaken back into something, or shaken out of something else. They show up to be moved, and Friday night, they sensed that motion was about to occur. Necks craned, squeals of excitement were released, and the beam of light that radiates from DiFranco’s wide grin took the stage. DiFranco was accompanied by Todd Sickafoose, her longtime upright bass player, and New Orleans’s Terence Higgens on drums, who, turns out, can also rip surprise kazoo solos. These two provide a pocket deep enough for DiFranco to roam through each sonic peak and valley. The trio is a well-oiled machine, and Sickafooose and Higgens add a lot to these songs, a testament to their sensitivity and chops. They support and compliment DiFranco’s distinctive guitar playing — which is is wild and lucid, both careful and careening. She rips, righteously, and they are right there with her.  

Now, I know that DiFranco probably cannot actually see into my soul and choose her setlist according to what’s happening in my life, but I can’t be completely sure. She pulled from many different parts of her rich catalog, including five new songs that hit me in all the places that needed hitting. (How does she know? Why so magic?) I know I’m not alone in this, but her confessional lyrics and clever poetry are so personal, it’s difficult not to feel a sense of ownership over these songs, to remember who you were when you first heard them. Somehow her relevance feels both intimate and universal.

Todd Sickafoos, DiFranco, Terence Higgens

She played some newer ecological crisis songs (“Some call it conservation, some call it common sense”), touching on environmental awareness and self-awareness (shouldn’t these be connected?) and the dangerous complacency we have lulled ourselves into. Revelations continued throughout the night as she delved into older songs dealing with love, the problem of monogamy, the trauma of history, the irreversible damage that words can do, and even perspectives from a Caribbean church. Somehow, all things felt covered. Lines stood out that needed to stand out. DiFranco delivered a beautifully open window into a human being who is steadfastly paying attention to the world, her place in it, and calling them both out. It’s good to know that DiFranco is still fighting the good fight, and reminding us to do the same.

I have heard it said that the reason DiFranco is so powerful is because she doesn’t give a fuck. But on Friday night, it occurred to me that it’s not that she doesn’t give a fuck, but that the rest of us sometimes lose touch with all the fucks that we should be giving. For me, DiFranco is a refreshing and necessary voice of realness. Honesty without agenda, from so many different angles. So there you have it. I go forth into the world shaken, stirred, and reminded.

Set List

“Dilate” – Dilate (1996)
“Splinter” – Which Side are You On? (2012)
“Not a Pretty Girl” – Not a Pretty Girl (1995)
“J” – Which Side are you On? (2012)
“Happy All the Time” (New)
“Napoleon” – Dilate (1996)
“School Night” – Educated Guess (2004)
“Welcome To” – Evolve (2003)
“Allergic” (New)
“Careless Words” (New)
“Harder Than It Needs to Be” (New)
“Genie” (New)
“The Whole Night” – Not So Soft (1991)
“Everest “- Up Up Up Up Up Up Up (1999)
“Fuel” – Little Plastic Castle – (1998)
“Joyful Girl” – Dilate (1996)
“Shameless” – Dilate (1996)
“Both Hands” – Ani DiFranco (1990)
“Overlap” – Out of Range (1994)

Bleached brings the sunshine at the Rickshaw Stop


It’s no question that Bleached has come into success within the past year with the release of its debut album, Ride Your Heart, on record label Dead Oceans. But how does the band gauge its success? By a younger man sneaking into their green room, which apparently didn’t happen the last time Bleached played San Francisco.

This time Bleached brought along power-punks Terry Malts, psych rockers Mystic Braves and dark psych band Tropical Popsicle for a packed Noise Pop show at the Rickshaw Stop.

Initially seeing the name “Tropical Popsicle” on the bill, I tossed the band off as another kitschy garage-rock creation. But I was wrong. Despite it’s name that evokes visions of summer and dessert, Tropical Popsicle veers to the darker side of things.

As the band started its set on a dimly lit stage, a post-punk synth tune reminiscent of New Order played. As the set wore on, Tropical Popsicle picked up the pace slightly with spooky and moody psych tunes.

tropical popsicle
Tropical Popsicle

Then Mystic Braves walked on the stage, some members clad in floppy sun hats that could have graced the heads of many grandmothers in the ‘70s. Going for a contemporary psych-rock vibe, the band is in the same vein as Allah-Las and Froth. Mystic Braves showed great musical prowess, playing intricate and fuzzed-out riffs amongst shallow, subdued vocals.

Next up was Terry Malts, the only band boasting Bay Area “citizenship” on the bill. Playing what they call “chainsaw pop,” the Berkeley based band plays distorted, up-tempo power-punk with deadpan vocals.

Just like the speed of its music, Terry Malts barreled through its set. Vocalist and bassist Phil Benson was reluctant to play “I Do,” off the band’s 2012 effort, Killing Time. He was caught saying, “Well, I guess we’re playing this song” in an exasperated and apathetic-sounding voice. But that could very well be Benson’s normal voice.

terry malts
Terry Malts

As Bleached finally went on stage, the front of the room was packed, leaving very little space for breathing.

Before I delve into the exacts of the show, here’s a little background information on Bleached. The band is well known for having sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin in the mix. But before Bleached was even a glint in Clavin sisters eye(s), they were in a Los Angeles post-punk band, Mika Miko. Though Mika Miko may be gone and a thing of the past, the sisters Clavin have regrouped to form Bleached — a band decidedly more wholesome, hook-filled and poppy than its predecessor.

Playing a slew of songs that share common themes of having fun, boys, and causing a ruckus, Bleached whipped the audience into a frenzy in record time. It was only a few songs into the set before people started in with stage dives.

Bleached, from above

Clear-cut crowd favorites, such as “No Friend of Mine” and “Think of You”, were played. The band also lended it’s way in performing a few sonic treats, such as a cover of the Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments” and previously unreleased song “For the Feel.”

With three-quarters of the bands on the bill based in Los Angeles, sunny Southern California was brought to a dreary and rainy San Francisco, if only for a night. And boy, was it good.


Mikal Cronin takes the spotlight, has excellent hair at The Chapel


Mikal Cronin walks onto the stage this past Saturday night [March 1] for the third time this week, settling into the right corner; a spot he’s apparently comfortable in, given that it’s his usual post when playing in (fellow Laguna Beach native) Ty Segall’s band. Tonight was Cronin’s night, however, and his first Noise Pop appearance this year as Segall was suspiciously absent from the roster — perhaps a result of his recent deflection from San Francisco to LA? Regardless, Cronin was joined by his eponymous band at The Chapel, who wasted no time on introductions as they broke into one of their signature clamorous surf-rock jams.

The crowd eagerly soaked in the band’s offerings throughout the course of the evening, thrashing along to the jangly guitars and getting down with the miry basslines for the nearly hour-long set. Even on songs whose refrains seemed rather redundant (like the underwhelming second of the evening “Situation”) there was no shortage of hair flying, both on and off the stage.  Speaking of hair, though — the band has the game locked. The headbanging displayed by Chad Ubovich, Mike Anderson, and Cronin is the kind of stuff that would make even the most famously coiffed girl bands (ahem, HAIM) jealous, as they did it with such great fervor, intermittently draping their mics with long, stringy manes.  


College-rock favorite “See It My Way” was the first song officially announced, though if the amount of people singing along was any indication, it was probably the one that least needed an introduction. The room was silent as the tempo slowed down before Cronin concluded, “No I’m alright/I’m coming home/and I will find a way,” before launching into the chorus that sent the crowd into a bouncing frenzy. Feeling the love coming off the last song, Cronin thanked the audience as the band began to play the opening chords of another hair-band anthem, “Back in Black” — thoughis was only a tease, to the dismay of fans who let out a resounding sigh as the band transitioned into one of their own songs.


The garagey-beach guitar was omnipresent and at times came across as formulaic, which is interesting, because it’s that very quality that takes attention away from the somber lyrics which are noticeably in discord with the upbeat melodies. In a way, the repetitive sound of the music almost acts like a cloaking device, masking the feelings of desolation in certain songs — like “Change,” for example, which goes, “I can’t climb the mountain all alone/I’ve been at the bottom for a long time/I’ve been waiting for the sun to set, the moon to shine/The day to change to night so I can fall.”


Cronin reappeared on the stage solo for the encore, playing “Don’t Let Me Go,” in one of the more emotionally exposed moments of the evening — even the lights made his sweaty face look like he had been crying — but it was an ephemeral moment, as the rest of the band took up their instruments and played a droney, spiraling, psych-riff laden version of Wreckless Eric’s “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World” to close out their set. If nothing else, it was a finale that proved that, even though Cronin takes place at the side of the stage, he is indeed a front man.

Live Shots: The Limousines lead a nonstop dance party at DNA Lounge


By Jonathan Roisman

It was more than three years ago when I first saw the Limousines on stage. I hadn’t heard a song of theirs and the half-filled Nob Hill Masonic Center was waiting for Weezer to step on stage and take them back in time on their “Memories” tour time machine. In the meantime, we were stuck in the present, listening to an unknown indie electronic duo that danced their asses off as they performed. As lead singer Eric Victorino sang about crusty socks and stacks of pizza boxes, I realized the Limousines had a knack for entertaining a crowd.

Flash forward to Thursday night [Feb. 27] at the DNA Lounge at this year’s Noise Pop festival. Two full-length albums later, including last year’s Hush, and the Limousines’ talent for energizing an audience had only gotten better. 


Fronted by the aforementioned singer-songwriter Victorino and jack-of-all-trades instrumentalist and producer Giovanni Giusti, the band successfully weaved together a setlist featuring songs from their entire catalog, including their 2009 EP, Scrapbook.

The band kicked off the show with their 2010 viral hit “Internet Killed the Video Star,” as Victorino tossed a red beach ball into the crowd to keep everyone’s hands in the air. As the song ended and the ball made its way back to the stage, Victorino popped it with childlike amusement before rolling through more songs from their debut album, Get Sharp.

The Bay Area-based pair didn’t take much time to talk to the crowd, but the nearly nonstop-dancing audience didn’t seem to mind a bit. They just wanted more music. The Limousines delivered with the energetic Hush opening track “Love is A Dog From Hell.”


When Victorino did decide to banter with the crowd, he was humble, if not particularly articulate. “This band means an awful fucking lot to us,” he said. And it showed. The Limousines played their smooth blend of electro-pop and synth-rock for nearly 80 minutes, giving the crowd their money’s worth.  The mostly twenty-somethings on the ground floor danced and clapped and made out with one another for nearly as long. The balcony was filled with a slightly older and less energetic crowd, but they looked like they were enjoying themselves as well.

As the show went on I realized something:  the Limousines are far from unique musicians. Their lyrics pine over heartbreak and wild nights. But it they set themselves apart from other performers with their attitude. Victorino and Giusti (and a third touring member from Texas) clearly wanted to be there. Their energy didn’t let up as they neared the end of their set with a number of tracks from Hush, including “The Last Dance,” and “Bedbugs,” the latter of which dealt with the fallout of sleeping with a friend. “I could lie and tell you we could still be friends,” Victorino shouted, “but you know it ain’t true.”


Before finishing the evening off with “Very Busy People,” an anthem to masturbation and Donnie Darko, Victorino took a moment to look at the crowd and thank them for coming out on a Thursday night. “I’m too told for this shit,” he said. But that was a lie. He was still young enough to care and put forth an effort to entertain a paying audience. The Limousines may not be the next smash-hit electronic band, but they know how to liven up a room — and that still counts for a hell of a lot.


Lord Huron bring their complex mythology to The Fillmore


By Stephen Sparks

In a recent profile in the New York Times, Ben Schneider, who was Lord Huron until he gathered childhood friends to form a quintet, revealed that the inspiration for the band’s track listing — and really their existence — is the western novelist George Ranger Johnson. Johnson is the author of ten novels, including Ghost on the Shore, Time to Run, and an unfinished eleventh, Setting Sun.

The only catch is that, well, Johnson doesn’t exist. His books, though convincingly documented online, were never written.


Schneider admits to dreaming up the novelist as a way of establishing a mythology for his musical project. It’s a clever move, harkening back to the days when record companies would spring for elaborate record sleeves or CD inserts. It also brings to mind more conceptually minded bands like Pink Floyd — though the comparison between the two ends there.

While this cleverness is admirable and makes for a good story, it becomes meaningless if you put a bunch of people in a room to listen to a band that fails to live up to its premise. Image is important, but sound trumps all. Lord Huron is a solid combination of being both interesting and compelling musically.


With their jangly guitars and locomotive rhythm — their Noise Pop kick-off show [Wed/26] started off with the chugga-chugga of a train, before the band launched into “Ends of the Earth” — Lord Huron give the impression, despite their output being limited to just a couple of EPs and one full-length album, of having been around for ages. Maybe it’s the evocative romanticism of the lyrics: Schneider sings of wandering through lonely, remote places as if such hadn’t vanished decades ago; of disappearing women and melancholy vistas capable of inspiring poets. Or it could be the congruence between the band’s dusty, old West vibe and their timeless blazers. They seem like they’d be as at home in a saloon as they were at The Fillmore.

Yet no matter how they mythologize themselves, they’re not a country and western band. Lord Huron exists in a comfortable place somewhere between Johnny Cash and My Morning Jacket. They sound familiar, friendly. Maybe this accounts for the diversity of concertgoers and helps explains why everyone, young and old, crooned along with Schneider as he opened the show with his crooning “Oooh-oh-oh-oooh” from the “Ends of the Earth.”


And while the band really hit their stride four songs in,  and from then on played with chemistry and restrained enthusiasm, there was nevertheless a lack of something — carelessness? — that kept the show from being remarkable. Whether it’s shyness or professionalism, there was some distance between the band and the audience. It never felt like either side entirely engaged. This isn’t to say the show wasn’t solid, only that it was subdued.

But then, with so much distance in their songs — all those wide open, endless desert tracks and remote islands — perhaps this distance is built into the mythology.

I watched Rebelution next to Dusty Baker


“Put in this story that you watched Rebelution next to Dusty Baker,” said Dusty Baker. As I stood against the railing on the upper level of the Independent Tuesday night, I was unknowingly chatting up the former San Francisco Giants’ manager. The baseball legend chuckled at my slight embarrassment at not recognizing him. He leaned over the railing as he talked about supporting live music and coming here with his best friend from 2nd grade. We overlooked a sold-out room, filled to the brim with an eclectic group of high school and middle-aged reggae lovers.

Rebelution opened the show with a tight guitar riff before the rest of the band jumped in with drums, bass, keyboard, and saxophone — a signature Rebelution move. No fog machine needed, dozen of joints lit up within the first minute creating a hazy shadow around the musicians. If you weren’t high before, you certainly would be through second-hand smoke alone — which got me wondering, is Dusty Baker high right now? Within the first song, my thoughts turned to nostalgia for simpler times.


Disclaimer: Rebelution has been a long time favorite band of mine. I remember listening to the sweet reggae songs on road trips down the coast during high school. In college, I drove through the night to see the band play at Lollapalooza. My ringtone still to this day is the first 30 seconds of “Safe and Sound.”

The band’s front man, Eric Rachmany, started the show off with the crowd favorite “Attention Span.” Images of lazy afternoons and thoughts of making the world a better place overtook me. “It’s a pleasure to meet ya,” he sang.

It really was a pleasure for him. The SF native was genuinely pumped to be playing in his hometown. At every bridge, transition, and break between songs, Rachmany called out to the sold-out venue. “How are we doing San Francisco?” The crowd cheered back with matching enthusiasm. This mutual delight in each other’s presence is such a rare occasion in live music nowadays; Rebelution has a riveting stage presence.


Beyond Rachmany, the keyboard player Rory Carey softly caressed the keyboard offering harmonious beats to Wesley Finley on the drums. Carey’s long blonde locks flowed side to side as he swayed back and forth over the keyboard. Standing well over six feet tall, the timid bassist, Marley D. William, occasionally stepped out from the shadows and commanded the stage. And the excellent touring member Khris Royal stole the show by blowing insane saxophone melodies that matched up perfectly with Rachmany’s guitar.
“He used to play guitar in the hallways at Drew,” said Adam Swig, a high school friend of Rachmany’s whom I met at the show. Rachmany grew up in the Sunset and went to the Drew School. “I was like ‘Man, that’s cheating. Girls are here.’” It’s no doubt that Rachmany is a babe magnet. With his soothing vocals and honest energy, the lead singer had girls in tube tops fawning over him. To be fair, dudes in backwards baseball caps, graphic T-shirts, and oversized hoodies partook in the fawning, especially during his epic guitar solos.


While the vocals and instrumentals were perfectly on par, Rebelution’s performance was not only about music — it was about community. The Santa Barbara band opened for Israel Vibration at the Independent back in 2007, after independently releasing its first full-length album “Courage to Grow.” Since then, the band has played all across the California coast and around the country, selling out local venues and opening music festivals. Two years later, Rebelution founded its own record label 87 Music, named after the band members’ address while at UCSB, where they met. With three albums, an independent label and an upcoming fourth album, the reggae band found its way back to its roots at the Independent in celebration of the venue’s 10th anniversary.

With just a few simple strums of the acoustic guitar, Rachmany quieted the room for “Feelin’ Alright,” the band’s most popular single, about releasing hatred and surrendering to the music. The soft strings reverberated around the hall. To no one’s surprise, the entire crowd joined in with vocals. “I’m trying to pick up the soul’s intention to soak in music relaxation,” he sang.


“They are probably the most successful ‘true’ independent touring band,” said Swig about his high school buddy’s band. Bias aside, the band’s success can be measured by the community love. As Emma wrote last week, the Independent is at the heart of the city. Much like the Divisadero venue, Rebelution relies heavily on the community, which was clearly seen at last night’s show, from Dusty Baker showing support to a surprise performance by Zion I. The show wasn’t about Rebelution; it was a celebration of live independent music. Rachmany spit a verse during Thrive’s opening set. The trumpet player of Brass Magic (first opener) played alongside sax player Royal during “Roots Reggae Music,” a new song from Rebelution’s upcoming album.

At the end of the set, Rebelution performed a wonderful two-song encore, including “Green to Black” with complementary green lights. Basking in the green-soaked room, the audience roared with excitement and the fan-made smoke machine started up again. Rarely have I seen such pure happiness and tranquility in this condensed space. It didn’t matter that the show was almost over, it happened. Waves of enlightenment overpowered Rebelution’s fans, including myself.

“We appreciate your energy,” yelled Rachmany through the thick fog. The crowd cheered back. From the light tunes of “Lazy Afternoon” to the socially conscious lyrics of “Good Vibes,” Rebelution’s intention was to bring honest joy to San Francisco, and I couldn’t get enough of the good vibes.

Courtney Barnett gets droll at the Rickshaw Stop


Courtney Barnett at the Rickshaw Stop Monday night.

By Sloane Martin

Standing outside the Rickshaw Stop before Courtney Barnett‘s set, I’m watching her chat with her bandmates when one of the girls working merch pops out to let Barnett know that they’ve run out of everything — shirts, albums, posters. “Oh, hang on,” Barnett cries. “I think we have a couple more t-shirts in the car!” And she’s off, grabbing the minivan keys from her drummer so she can dig out something to sell to San Francisco. Despite the shaggy hair and the tomboy-cool outfit of striped t-shirt, jeans, and Chelsea boots, she genuinely has appreciation for the fans who have come out.

That moment set the right tone for a goofy, humble, and electrically entertaining set on Monday night, one of several sold-out shows kicking off Noisepop 2014. Courtney Barnett (and the Courtney Barnetts, a rhythm section comprised of drummer Dave Mundy and bassist Andrew Loane) is a former bartender from Melbourne, Australia. Her debut album The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas has gained considerable popularity over the past several months, fueled by a lauded performance at CMJ in October 2013. If you weren’t one of the fans lucky enough to grab a copy of the record before it sold out, you’ll have to order one from Barnett herself. The performer started her label, Milk! Records, which she described onstage as “me packing up CDs in my bedroom,” to release her own music as well as that of friends like Jen Cloher and Fraser A. Gorman. New York independent label Mom + Pop Music will release A Sea of Split Peas on CD and vinyl in the US later this year.

Wandering onstage and looking a bit bemused by the crowd’s excitement, Barnett launched into 40 minutes of tight, shredding guitar riffs and droll lyrics. Her eager, energetic drummer and bassist provided a heavy low-end that nearly drowned out some of her funnier moments. Her signature impassive delivery of the drawling line, “Just because you’re older than me / doesn’t mean you have to be so condescending,” on “Out of the Woodwork,”  and the opening of “Lance Jr.,” “I masturbated to the songs you wrote / resuscitated all my hopes,” was too enjoyable to be missed. After a slow start, Barnett and her bandmates seemed to loosen up, or maybe wake up, as they’ll finally be headed back to Australia for a much deserved rest after this final US show. All that time on the road made for a tightly rehearsed show, however, as at one point even the headbanging of each band member was perfectly in sync. Once the onstage banter started, it became clear that Barnett comes by her lyrical humor quite naturally, as she assured us that if we missed the chance to buy a t-shirt or a CD, “I’ll hug each and every one of you, and Andy will kiss you, and Dave will sign your chest.”

The crowd of hesitantly spastic dancers seemed not to know quite what to do with the deadpan vocals set against an enthusiastically kinetic rhythm section. Word to the wise: Either bob your head or bounce up and down or choose noodle arms, lest you lose your expensive beer to the floor, as the gentleman next to me did. Hopefully these fans figure out their dance strategies by the time the next record comes out, as the new song Barnett played us midway through her set was a promising sign of consistently fantastic work ahead. As the crowd sang along to “Avant Gardener,” Barnett’s sprawling narrative of an asthma attack suffered in her front garden, it was easy to sympathize with lines like, “Should have stayed in bed today / I much prefer the mundane,” but I, at least, was glad to have gotten out of bed to see her.

Live Shots: Hether Fortune gets cathartic at the Night Light


Last Friday it was Valentine’s Day, but all I saw was tears. I’ve wondered before how some musicians can sing some of their more emotional songs during live performance without becoming visibly emotional themselves. Aren’t they attached to those lyrics (especially if they’ve written them)? Are they desensitized by the one-hundredth time they play that song about having their heart ripped out by the one who doesn’t even love them anymore? Or worse yet — the one who never did? It wasn’t full-on sobbing, but last Friday, Hether Fortune wouldn’t hold it in.

Peculiarly sandwiched on the bill at the most recent installment of the experimental/industrial-focused REPLICANT Presents series at Oakland’s Night Light, Fortune was scheduled in between opening and headlining acts to deliver an intimate solo set, sans Wax Idols. I had gone anticipating that it would be a rare treat.

hether fortune
Heather Fortune photos by Sadie Mellerio

You’re supposed to be with your lover on Valentine’s. You’re not supposed to be alone. That’s the worst-case scenario if you buy into the norms and expectations placed on yet another commercialized holiday. But imagine being alone, not only because you don’t have your bandmates (Wax Idols) to musically support you, but because you’re going through a divorce. Meanwhile, you’re up on stage about to perform in front of an audience. Certainly not one to hide or shy away from the spotlight, Fortune embraced her predicament. Instead, she announced that in fact, this is her situation.

After Vestals (armed with a guitar and gear that looped layers of complimentary noise) finished her opening set, DJs mixed acid techno with whatever tracks Barn Owl saw fit for spinning that night. But then the room seemed different. One could sense the changing of the atmosphere right down to the molecules because of Fortune’s poised, gothic and graceful presence.

hether fortune

Standing tall without a band or a man; her lanky, trademark androgynous figure appeared on an un-lit stage. Draped in a lacy, button-down blouse; our dually-wounded, heavy-hearted warrior had to face the harsh reality of her bandaged finger that had been crushed and ripped open by an amplifier in an accident a week earlier.

She carefully tuned her weapon of choice — a beautiful black-and-white Danelectro 12-string guitar. The instrument, combined with a hard-cover bound journal (perhaps containing a set list, lyrics, or maybe just her thoughts) that lay at her feet, conjured bohemian images of a hippie-freak, pre-T.Rextasy-era Bolan about to play Middle Earth or some coffee shop.

hether fortune

Stripped of arrangement and with not much more than her soul to bear, the vibe of her set was very much singer-songwriter with an emphasis on despair. While her vocal-style seemed to channel the aura of Bowie, it was her strumming of that jangling guitar, with its larger-than-life sound, that seemed like it could fill the universe with its unwavering, doleful tone.

In a genuinely honest moment and without any dramatic intonation, she quickly uttered “This is tough” into the microphone. Lyrics to a cover song were muddled in the sound system, and then we were treated to a new song, apparently never heard by anyone before. By that point, the words almost didn’t matter since we were already running high on emotion.

hether fortune

Towards the end, tears welled up, overflowing onto her thick eye-liner, mid-song. I was somewhat stunned by the display of emotion, but not at all alienated. The entire thing could have been awkward for both audience and performer, but in reality everyone seemed receptive to what she had to express that night. It was an opportunity to connect on a deeper level or however those who were subjected saw fit.

One could interpret it all as a damaged, agonizing wail and while that may hold some validity, it would trivialize the more noble qualities of a veteran, seasoned ahead of her time, demonstrating strength in sharing vulnerability while ultimately remaining in control. Numbness worn off, Fortune delivered something beautiful only the lonely might fully understand.

Live Shots: Augustines get anthemic at The Independent


by Stephen Sparks

When my girlfriend and I got into the cab for the ride to The Independent on Monday night, the Slavic driver was rocking out to “The Summer of ’69.”

“Do you like Bryan Adams,” he asked us immediately, making it feel like our answer determined whether he’d give us a ride. So, yeah, we like Bryan Adams alright. “Not everyone likes Bryan Adams,” he continued. “I don’t understand.”

It felt like a fitting prelude to seeing Augustines, a band too sincere to be cool, too earnest to give a damn about being praised by, say, Pitchfork. There’s something refreshing about a band who pin their hearts to their sleeves, who perform every song as if it were their swan song, and who seem genuinely enthusiastic about performing music.


Augustines are a trio of singer/guitarist Billy McCarthy, multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson, and drummer Rob Allen. Sanderson and Allen are solid musicians who seem to have fun performing, but it’s McCarthy, who was born in Santa Cruz and grew up in Placer County, who stole the show. He’s a theatrical performer who was really stoked to be playing in “fucking San Francisco,” a place that he said “handed me my ass so many times.” Now, living in New York, his affection for California was obvious: “Fucking California! Our coastlines are long,” he began in a sort of call-and-response with the audience, “Cigarettes are $5. Burritos are $7. We hug people when we see them even if we don’t know them very well.” His banter during the show was pitch perfect; it was obvious he was enjoying himself. He even seemed excited to do the obligatory crowd-pleasing clap-your-hands-for-living-in-San-Francisco thing.

I get the sense that McCarthy’s this pumped to play anywhere — “Houston, you have such great museums!” “Phoenix, this dry is heat amazing!” — so this tempered my disappointment in the crowd’s initial lukewarm reception to Augustines’ fantastic new songs off their self-titled album. (“Cruel City,” a fuck-you to New York City, is like the bastard son of “Graceland” and “Born to Run”). But then again, I doubt anyone could match McCarthy’s enthusiasm, and soon the crowd warmed up. I don’t think it would’ve mattered much to the band if we didn’t. They were in fucking San Francisco and were going to give their best effort, dammit.

Augustines 2

The best moment in a show full of great ones came during the encore, when McCarthy and Sanderson performed an unplugged version of “East Los Angeles,” a bittersweet love song for the ghosts of LA, off 2011’s Rise Ye Sunken Ships. McCarthy, bottle of whiskey in hand, moved away from the microphone to the right of the stage, asked for our cooperation, and performed for the hushed audience an amazing rendition. For a singer who relies on a lot of bombast, McCarthy is capable of making a room full of 300 people feel intimate. Especially when, at the end of the show, he thanked us for coming, implored us (this guy doesn’t ask, he implores) to get home safe, and then hugged his fellow band members.

We didn’t take a cab home, we walked. And, because we were so high on the experience of seeing someone do something they love, with passion and energy and conviction, we got home in record time. I can’t think of any better way to praise a show than to say that its energy carried us a mile and a half.

Yeezus stares down yetis, climbs volcanoes, is born again at the Oracle Arena


Kanye West is at an enviable place in his career. Everyone knows who he is. He’s reached near iconic, almost mythic status. The problem is, everyone knows who Kanye West is, even if they don’t listen to his music. I’m fairly certain there are people I’m related to who are only familiar with him largely because he impregnated and proposed to a beautiful woman with a large, rich family, sextape, hard-working publicist, and contract with an unscrupulous cable TV network (in roughly that order). They likely also know him as an egotistical and crazy loudmouth, for reasons too long to detail here.

In sum, Mr. West’s celebrity has threatened to obscure and confuse his accomplishments. Luckily, his newest stage production, Yeezus, represents the history of Kanye West, according to Kanye West.

Stage production may not be the best term, but Yeezus is not a typical concert. Unless you want to consider it a prog-rock concert. Which it may be, in terms of elaborate structuring and an overwhelming amount of obvious symbolism. Also, it has a large mountain on stage. A sort of small-scale Matterhorn, which alternates as an iceberg and a volcano, depending on how it is video mapped, and if flash pots are going off.

Shot from the right angle (please see the photo here provided by West’s people) it was positively expressionistic. Otherwise ignore the rigging showing out the sides, or the crew members placing a box near the top for West to complete his summit, which he did, triumphantly, at points throughout.

Yeezus, the character Mr. West plays, a masked figure drawn out of obscurity by a group of cult-like robed women at the outset, reached a spotlight at the end of a long stage. Thus began the journey, which went through five distinct stages. They were easy to follow, listed on screen above the mountain: Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching, Finding. The songs that followed were not a chronology, but rather represented his career in retrospect. For instance, the highlight of the Fighting section was  “New Slave,” the first single off  West’s current Yeezus album, but in this context a reflection on his entry into the music business, and a struggle to maintain freedom from corporations that attempt to control artists.

Rising began with the phrase “pride always preludes the crash…the bigger the ego the harder the fall.” Did you catch those references? If so, please mark another two boxes on your Yeezus Biblical Allusion Scorecard. You already marked one for Yeezus, right? Keep it handy because more followed, when Yeezus came down from the top of the mountain, appearing shirtless to the prog rock sounds of King Crimson’s “20th Century Schizoid Man.”

This was “Power” and Yeezus had it, confirmed moments later during the Foreigner-sampling “Cold,” when a girl in the audience gleefully showed her breasts to Yeezus not once, but twice. Given the black mask, there was little reaction from Yeezus. But in any case Tony Montana was right, and a song or two later the cultish women from the beginning returned in nude body-suits. Yeezus was literally swarmed by women.

For obvious reasons “I Am a God” has been one of the more controversial tracks on Yeezus and at first the performance of it was expectedly problematic, with Yeezus’s harem kneeling down before him. It was a criticism-baiting moment, until the menagerie awkwardly lifted him into the air as he screamed. It was the first sign of things going wrong for the play’s ‘hero’, and when he performed “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” from Graduation, the singer finally started to project a little emotion, mask and all; the catwalk in the middle of the crowd — despite the weight of the lyrics “To whom much is given, much is tested” — began to raise, as Yeezus was increasingly insulated from the world around him.

After a long dramatic pause (Yeezus took arguably way too many over the course of the evening, sometimes leaning against the mount, sometimes reclining in mock exhaustion) he stopped to speak and connect for the first time, detailing that the next song, “Coldest Winter” was written after his mother died, describing a crisis of faith, and a life that was “spiraling.” Fake snow falls from the ceiling of the Oracle Center. Depending on your sympathies, it could be the most touching moment of the night.

I found it short lived because it segued into the Falling section, which if meant to be bad, succeeded. By then the metaphors and imagery were so in my face that I feared the opening lines, “Who will give me wings, I ask, wings of a dove?” would actually cue West, er, Yeezus donning angel wings and flying around the room on wires. Instead, a red-eyed yeti simply crouched on one side of the mountain, until Yeezus stared it down and it retreated. There was a storm on the stage and some truly awful guitar shredding on “Hold My Liquor,” and I basically started tuning out.

After staring down the yeti a second time and singing “Heartless,” it seemed like the sun was rising. Until then it had all been so rehearsed that when a mic suddenly crackled and Yeezus retreated back stage to fix the issue, all I could think was, “hey, we’re off our regularly scheduled programming, maybe something exciting will happen.”

But instead Yeezus returned to jump on the spring loaded part of the catwalk, triggering explosions and turning the mountain into a volcano. This was relatively restrained, compared to a few songs later, when the mountain cracked open for the Searching section, and a church procession of women emerged, bearing smoking thuribles, candles, the Virgin Mary, and motherfucking Jesus on the cross.

And Yeezus, now wearing a bulky trench and a white jeweled balaclava, was in pastor mode. Which he could do since he totally had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. Playing a single key on a controller lead to rapturous applause. (Never had a performer received so much applause for doing so little.) He paused to soak it in and repeated to the same effect. Twice, before leading into the celebratory and douche-shaming “Runaway.”

This lead to the wonkiest part of the night, with Yeezus on the pulpit running through a list of issues with misquotations and the media, which I won’t, for obvious reasons, attempt to summarize. I will say that at one point he asked people to put their hands in the air if they believe they could do anything, and if you are the kind of person who would have their hand up, you probably would have dug it.

The point is anything is possible through the power of prayer, and Yeezus prayed for his fiance. (Apparently she was at the show, or her mother, or Pharrell from N.E.R.D. In an embarrassing moment, the crowd got overly excited when they thought they recognized one of the three between sets.)

The audience went through some emotional transformatory Campbell-esque hero’s journey. (Made particularly intense for me by the guy two seats over trying to get his girl to not breakup with him during the entire show.)

We came to the final part, Finding, and the words “God arrives at the right time…” Yeezus performed “Harder” and the crowd was magically re-energized, probably in part by the lasers reflecting off his disco ball balaclava. Yeezus talked about how he feels like he got a second chance in life, and sings “Through the Wire,” the breakout song from The College Dropout. On cue…

…Jesus appeared.

And our Lord walked up to Yeezus, who exclaimed, “White Jesus!”

As if sensing something was amiss in this sudden display of humor, Jesus pulled off Yeezus’s mask to reveal that it was Kanye West all along. He went full circle, the nightmare was over, the trauma was over, etc.

Obviously they played “Jesus Walks” and a whole slew of jams. West went on a spiritual discovery, stripping off all the bullshit and pretense, returning to a simpler era. (You couldn’t see his face because it was covered with opulent jewels, get it? It was symbolism.)

Presumably his next tour will be back to basics. Just a flat stage and a mic. In a sense, he’s born again, and all it took was the power of prayer, love, and a good woman. May they live happily ever after.

But, if they divorce then future albums will probably be better. And then he’ll perform “Gold Digger” again.


Opener: Kendrick Lamar

Pictured as a bat hanging upside down from a streetlamp was probably the perfect visual for opener Kendrick Lamar, the latest champion of West Coast hip-hop, who borrows the extraterrestrial imagination of ATLiens era Outkast and Lil’ Weezy’s, uh, wheeze. Already established with two solid albums, Lamar recently leapt in profile for a single enormous, lung bursting verse on Big Sean’s “Control.”

As if the technicality alone wasn’t impressive, he also had the gall to mention that he’d like to kill all but about half a dozen other rappers, which upset more than that. On the Yeezus tour, Lamar also seems to be working on some myth building of his own, visualizing a Compton that’s as much a fantasy as the Oakland in “California Love,” that’s more Terence Malick than George Miller: horses riding down the city streets, living room floors practically covered with spent liquor bottles, slo-mo drumlines, foxy women hitting speed bags/traipsing down railroad tracks, and flashes of gun violence.

Backed up by a full band, Lamar was aggressive and energetic in a way that West only occasionally let himself reach, all the way from “Money Trees” off his exactly one year old album good kid, m.A.A.d city through to the end. Lamar seems to see himself as a successor to Tupac, particular in dread-filled terms, as an air of gun violence pervades a lot of his songs, augmented by the sound of shots. But midway through the set, after ripping ASAP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problem” he launched into the a signature track saying, “As long as I’m representing the West Coast, nobody — nobody — will kill the fuckin’ vibe.” We hope so.

Live Shots: Savages at the Independent


Walking into the Independent on Friday night, the first thing audience members saw were signs titled “A Note From Savages.” These postings read, “Our goal is to discover better ways of living and experiencing music. We believe that the use of phones to film and take pictures during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves. Let’s make this evening special. Silence your phones.” It was just the first indication that this was going to be an exceptional night.

Just before Savages took the stage for the first of two sold-out shows, the energy in the room vibrated with a palpable hum, resonating above the droning ambient music pulsing from the speakers.

In nearly complete darkness, Savages quietly took their places on stage before launching into “I Am Here,” the killer second track off of their debut record Silence Yourself.

Dressed in all black and barely lit by dim white lights, the four women of the London post-punk outfit bobbed and thrashed with a spectral intensity through the first three songs (also the first three songs off Silence Yourself) without saying a word or pausing for breath. Singer Jehnny Beth, howling like a deliciously demonic cross-pollination of Patti Smith and Nick Cave, dominated the stage in gold slingback stilettos, looking fiercely feminine bouncing around in a power stance.

The band’s performance style was stark and understated, but with a searing intensity that was breathtaking in its relentlessness. Beth spoke fewer than five times throughout the entire show, but the lack of filler just added to the force of the band’s immense presence. Savages have no weak links. Each woman is an incredible musician and performer. Even drummer Fay Milton, at the rear of the stage, demanded attention through her focused talent and tangible joy.

The audience stood in quiet reverence through the first half of the set, standing stationary and gaping with open mouths at the tour de force on stage. Finally, around the time that Savages played a cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” people began to move around toward the front of the crowd, bouncing off of each other to the scorching rendition. Beth looked down upon the opening pit with glee, speaking for the first time in her thick French accent, “Here we are! I was waiting for you! Fucking awesome.”

Savages are a welcome reminder of the importance and potency of female bands. Just by virtue of their kicking-ass-and-taking-names existence, they stand for so much more. Rock and roll is still a boys’ club. There is a huge difference between bands that have a female singer or a female guitarist and bands that are fully female. Savages offer an empowering and much-needed message that women can rock, and not just in supporting roles.

Of course they are not the only women in rock, but seeing them dominating the stage and selling out performances is truly exciting. Just by being silently and consistently amazing at what they do, these four women are bringing a feminist lens to post-punk, and for that, my female-identifying compatriots and I are extremely grateful. Nothing is more affirming than seeing your own identity reflected in a sphere that it is usually shut out of.

“San Francisco, you deserve more” Beth wailed before bringing out an extra guitarist and a saxophone player. “We’re gonna play a song called ‘Fuckers.’ We’re gonna use it as a mantra. Some words do heal.” As the band began to churn out the opening chords, Beth continued, “these were words given to me by a friend. I’m gonna give it back to you and you’re gonna give it to a friend. Don’t let the fuckers get you down!”

After the final song, Silence Yourself sendoff “Marshal Dear,” the crowd was left speechless. The weight of the performance was a physical, tangible entity as people regrouped and began, reluctantly, to exit. Though starkly different than the crackling energy in the moments before the show, the moments after the show were just as dynamic, basking in the afterglow of an amazing performance and the discovery of an exceptional band.

Geeking out on Kathleen Hanna’s the Julie Ruin at Slim’s


After explaining that the next song would be about how there are thousands of feminists, all around the world, and driving home the obvious point — there is not one sole leader of the feminist movement — Kathleen Hanna giggled, hearing yet another shout-out from the audience. She jokingly replied, “OK, OK, but I am the number one feminist.”

It was this typical audience-artist interplay that brought the excitement of Hanna’s return to the stage, via new/old project the Julie Ruin at Slim’s last night.

Wearing a darling baby smock and her standard high brunette bun, Hanna bounced out on stage like she’d never left, chugging from a jug of water and robo-dancing during rare vocal lulls. In reality, the Bikini Kill and Le Tigre frontperson has been out of the bar-light for nearly a decade, struggling with neurological Lyme disease. Early in the Julie Ruin’s set, Hanna noted, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on this stage, and there was a time when I thought I’d never return.”

The poppy set, performed by the five-piece joined by percussionist Fredo Ortiz, switched off, one for one, between lo-fi songs off 1997 self-titled solo record Julie Ruin (thickened up with additional instrumentaion), and new bolder, more fully realized the Julie Ruin collaboration, Run Fast (Dischord). The sold-out crowd, which was packed tightly into Slim’s, cheered for each song, hollering loving refrains toward Hanna at every possible chance. It felt like long-attached Bikini Kill and Le Tigre fans came out of the woodwork, cute haircuts in tact, but also a newer, younger batch of the Julie Ruin fans were sprinkled throughout.(Don’t worry, I picked up a tote bag at the merch table.)

The avid fans cheered hard for older songs off the ’97 solo record like “Radical or Pro-Parental” and doubly for newer danceable riot grrrl rock songs such as first Run Fast single “Oh C’mon” and “Girls Like Us.” There was a “Le Tigre cover” (Hanna’s words) of “Eau d’Bedroom Dancing” off Le Tigre’s self-titled 1999 debut. At one point, Hanna began singing the emotional cover of “Stay Monkey” from the first Julie Ruin album — someone in the audience requested it — but then admitted she’d forgotten the words, perhaps a symptom of the Lyme disease? (During our interview a few weeks back, she said she would often use the wrong words for things during the recording process for this new record, and the band would go with it in a stream-of-consciousness burst.)

Together, the relatively newly assembled band members of the Julie Ruin worked liked family, smiling, dancing, winking — which makes sense, given that Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman, Carmine Covelli, and Sara Landeau are all musician-pals from Hanna’s past. Wilcox, of course, also being from Bikini Kill, among other bands.

Mellman took the lead on the one track in which he wrote the lyrics, “South Coast Plaza,” explaining that the song was about friends in SF (where he lived from 1987-1997) who made a pact to kill one another if one got sick, and it actually happened. He said he placed the friendship in Orange County though (hence, South Coast Plaza, a weirdly fancy mall at which I have spent many wasted teenage afternoons).

But Hanna was up front for most songs, as well she should be. The whole night felt like a bittersweet reunion, and perhaps it was, though Hanna stressed that we should look toward the future. Because for girls like us, there’s always a place in our hearts for a female-empowerment pop anthem.

The Moondoggies croon sweetly at Brick and Mortar Music Hall


I’ve yet to be disappointed with a Brick and Mortar show, and the Moondoggies concert was no exception. When the Seattle rockers came on stage last Thursday night, they dove straightaway into bluesy rock songs.

Frontperson Kevin Murphy’s vocals were pleasant and warm, but they stood in contrast to his expression, which most of the time was apathetic.

The group’s seductive hooks, pulsing bass lines, and somewhat-ominous piano chords went over well with the crowd, people were swinging their hips, drinks in hand.

Bassist Bobby Terreberry, head bobbing, calmly plucked away, facing the side of the stage most of the set. And Jon Pontrello’s spastic, weaving dance moves with his guitar and tambourine proved a comic contrast next to Murphy’s uninvolved position behind the mic.

Drummer Carl Dahlen also brought some needed energy to the stage. Lost in the beats, Dahlen struck the set with an affable urgency, his fire-red hair swinging in his wake. And keyboardist Caleb Quick was anything but, taking his time to strike each chord with what looked to be a deep and somber intent.

No matter any critique you may have of the group, it’s impossible to say its lacking in fullness, in totality. When the vocals become hushed, the heedlessly playful guitar riffs meandered to new heights. When the percussion and bass toed the line of “background” music, the group’s harmonies became impressively bold.

The result was a striking sense of balance. The beauty was in their distinctions as performers: Murphy swaying and singing; impassively cool behind his caterpillar-like mustache, Terreberry zoning out to resilient bass lines, Pontrello a feisty hot mess.

Dahlen was buoyant behind the drum set and Quick gave the performance a tasteful poignance.

One highlight was “Midnight Owl,” off their latest album Adios, I’m a Ghost (Hardly Art, 2013), which came out of this August with plenty of critical praise. It was also where Murphy shone the brightest — or darkest.

Murphy crooned the soft chorus wearing a yearning expression while shuffling uncomfortably, “She’s a midnight owl, ain’t seen her yet/ She’s an early riser, ain’t gone to bed.”

Their set seemed to go buy too quick, always a sign of a good show.

Gary Numan: dark music done right at the Oakland Metro


From Metallica to This Mortal Coil, there’s a sense of canned melodrama about most “dark” music that I’ve long found goofy and unconvincing. On that note, Massive Attack’s Mezzanine has always struck me as dark music done right, leaving the angsty ostentation behind, in favor of casually luring the listener downward into its imposing dungeon of groove.

As Gary Numan took the stage in Oakland last Tuesday night, the British artist displayed a similarly nuanced sensibility of what makes dark music work, delivering a relentlessly groove-based set of songs that brooded and seethed with total conviction.

Setting foot inside the Oakland Metro Operahouse (a dimly-lit, converted warehouse with the vibe of a joint operation between the Addams Family and a pack of steampunk welders) I felt the same tinge of skepticism that I did before Nine Inch Nails took the stage at Outside Lands last month; does Numan really have a purpose at this point in his career, aside from reliving old times and peddling out the reliable hit(s)? Surely enough, Numan took the stage with disarming panache, writhing up and down the stage with deft control as he treated the crowd to a stunning 90 minutes of punishing industrial rock.

Despite Numan’s one-hit-wonder status (his 1979 single “Cars” topped the charts in both the UK and the US) the British artist is revered in smaller circles for bridging many seemingly isolated developments in the pop world, from Kraftwerk’s stiff electronic propulsions, to Prince’s new-wave synthpop experiments, to Nine Inch Nails’ consolidation of industrial music with the rock mainstream.

Those mainly familiar with Numan’s early, synth-driven work, though, might’ve been taken aback by the physicality of Tuesday night’s set, in its commitment to the guitar-heavy, riff-based, Trent Reznor-indebted approach he initiated on records like Exile (1997) and Pure (2000).

Dressed in black, head to toe, like a sizable chunk of the enraptured audience, Numan and his four-piece backing band delivered forceful renditions of some recent tracks, namely “Haunted,” “The Fall,” and “Everything Comes Down to This,” dominated by relentlessly fuzzed-out guitars, as those reliably frosty synths provided rich textures and filled in the empty spaces.

“I Am Dust,” from the forthcoming LP Splinter (Songs From a Broken Mind) fit seamlessly into the surrounding material, making a strong case for Numan’s creative future, while beefed-up, modernized variations of older songs, like “Films,” and “Down in the Park,” were impressive in their unpredictability and ambition, refusing to merely replicate their studio counterparts.

Numan’s career has taken many twists and turns, from prickly, proto-synthpop, to industrial filth-rock, yet his touring band refracted it all through their single-minded, distortion-laden aesthetic, intuitively connecting the old and the new.

Numan might be 55 now, with nearly 20 albums under his belt, but his stage presence and vocal delivery were remarkably vitalic, never once suggesting the washed-up burnout illustrated by those VH1-hit-wonder specials. Few AARP qualifiers can rock eyeliner and spiky black hair convincingly, yet Numan completely pulled it off, prancing across the stage with yogic control, and a glammy flair for presentation.

More importantly, his vocal ability hasn’t diminished in the slightest since the late ’70s, as he hit all the high notes on “Cars,” and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric,” without hesitation.

Numan’s voice, strongly reminiscent of David Bowie’s, fit harmoniously with the backing instrumentals, letting the band do most of the heavy lifting, as he deftly avoided the whiny/screamy/growly vocal contrivances that end up derailing so much “dark” music into self-parody mode.

The restraint of Numan’s vocals, combined with the dubby, trip-hoppy, disco-inflected headiness of his backing band’s grooves, resulted in a tightly controlled balancing act; much like Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, Numan’s set succeeded by keeping things at a constant simmer, yet never boiling over. Dark music done right, indeed.

Judging by his seasoned stage presence, and his undeniable influence on the greater music world, it seems that in an alternate universe, Numan could’ve become one of those Prince-y household names, shaping pop culture as well as the music within.

Yet, unlike Prince, who’s lately found himself grasping beyond his reach in hopes of channeling past glories, or countless other new wavers who were relegated to novelty status long ago, Numan has maintained his relevance by powering forward creatively, and smartly avoiding any attempts to relive the ’70s and ’80s over again.

It might’ve been reasonable to expect a phoned-in performance this deep into his career, yet as Numan authoritatively proved on Tuesday night, his icy grooves remain as fresh and involving as ever.

Live Shots: Asteroid #4 and the Richmond Sluts at Brick and Mortar Music Hall


By Brittany M. Powell

Brick and Mortar Music Hall may have had some noise complaint troubles with the San Francisco Sound Commission earlier this summer, but that hasn’t kept the venue or Kymberli Jenson, of Kymberli’s Music Box Presents, from putting on great shows.  Last Saturday’s bill included the Asteroid #4 and the Richmond Sluts. It was a handful of loud rock’n’roll bands that blasted us back through the decades with sounds echoing 1960s and ‘70s psychedelia and punk, but also hints of the late ‘90s and early 2000s , when these bands were fresh on the music scene. 

They’ve all been around the block, or as frontperson-guitarist Scott Vitt of the Asteroid #4 put it, these are all “old heads” and “mainstays” at this point.

The Asteroid #4, which recently transplanted to the Bay Area from Philadelphia, released its first EP in 1995.  Its music is a blend of classic psychedelic rock, with a little melodic folk and shoe gaze tremor, and strong influences from late ‘60s psych rock bands like Love, and early ‘90s British bands like Spacemen 3. 

When I asked Vitt how he felt living in California was influencing his band’s sound, he responded, “living and breathing the natural beauty, the mountains, the forests and, of course, the ocean, first-hand, I think it’ll be very evident on our next record that we’ve become a California band.”

And the group sounded plenty at home on Saturday night, as if the packed music hall was its own cozy living room. The set was vibrant and full of the precise kinds of melodies and riffs that can only come from a band that’s been playing together as long as it has — and is more than comfortable in its own skin. When asked about this, Vitt quoted Miles Davis, “you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”

The Asteroid #4’s set included personal favorites, “Hold On,” which seems to have a Brian Jonestown Massacre influence, “The Unknown,” and “I Want to Touch You,” a Catharine Wheel cover.  For the final song, Joel Gion of BJM joined the band on stage for “Into the Meadow.”

After the Asteroid #4, the Richmond Sluts went on, which was an excellent transition into an upbeat set closing out the night.

The Richmond Sluts formed in 1998, in the Richmond District. Imagine the NY Dolls on LSD, with a little bit of the Cramps and the Rolling Stones thrown in to keep it both weird and glammy. I have vague memories of hearing this band play at a few parties back in the day, but I have to say I don’t remember it sounding nearly as tight as it did the other night.

Frontperson Shea Roberts also looks nothing like the Stiv Baters (of the Dead Boys) gaunt 20-year-old look-alike I remember either. While the Sluts don’t really have the same excuse for playing trashy, angsty, garage rock about sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll as their post-pubescent selves did back in the late ‘90s, it doesn’t really matter, cause their talent has matured enough to take the material to whole other level. 

Said Shea, “I know some of the lyrics are a little goofy sometimes and the stuff I’m writing now tends to be a bit more serious…but they were all sparked by some emotion I was feeling at the time and I’m OK with that.  Maybe we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously.”

We shouldn’t.  Not when we can rock out to music like this to keep it in perspective. 

Their set included tracks like “Sweet Something,” “Sad City,” and “Paddy Wagon” off their 2001 self-titled release. Shea says that he hopes to keep playing with the new Sluts and that’s the plan “until it’s not fun anymore.”

Live Review: My Bloody Valentine’s SF show feels like something beamed in from another decade


Swirling guitars… cooing vocals… that all-engulfing wall of noise. It’s difficult to describe My Bloody Valentine‘s sound without veering into borderline erotica, and understandably so; in the guitar rock landscape, few bands make music that’s so tactile and exhilarating.

For many of its devoted fans, the band’s seminal 1991 LP, Loveless, is inextricably tethered to private moments of introspection and sexuality. Its delicate balance between loud and quiet, menace and seduction, resulted in a sense of emotional ambiguity, allowing the listener to project their own perspectives and yearnings onto those immaculate pop songs.

Fresh off the heels of this year’s long-awaited Loveless followup, simply titled mbv, My Bloody Valentine stopped by SF this past Friday for its first Bay Area appearance since 2008, on its first tour in support of new material since the early ’90s.

By the looks of the crowd, the band’s overwhelming paralysis was in full force. As wary as I am of audiences too “cool” or self-conscious to dance at live shows, this crowd’s stillness felt wholly appropriate. The band’s output rarely feels conducive to dancing, or jamming out; it’s music to surrender to, and My Bloody Valentine had the crowd in the palm of its hand.

Given My Bloody Valentine’s inconsistent production sound, from the tinny Jesus-and-Mary-Chaininess of Isn’t Anything (1988), to the fuller, more tactile Loveless, to the thuddy brawn of mbv, one of the highlights of last Friday night’s show was hearing a career-spanning set of songs, all delivered with similar depth and richness. It was quite the thrill to hear older material, like “Feed Me With Your Kiss,” and “Only Shallow,” delivered with the generous low-end of MBV circa 2013.

As new songs like “only tomorrow” and “who sees you” suggest, the band’s dynamics have grown more boomy and forceful, yet alternately, groovier and more relaxed. Much of the credit goes to the rhythm section of Deb Googe and Colm Ó Cíosóig, who plucked and smacked their instruments ferociously, providing much of the backbone that defines My Bloody Valentine’s second wave. It all makes sense, considering Googe’s muscular bass-lines on this year’s excellent Primal Scream LP, More Light, and Ó Cíosóig’s recent move to the Bay Area, and subsequent role as drummer for his wife Hope Sandoval’s post-Mazzy Star project, the Warm Inventions.

Otherwise, it seems things haven’t changed much, and thankfully so. Ever the recluse, bandleader Kevin Shields stood calmly on stage left, away from the spotlights, equipped with some heavy-duty Marshall stacks, and an arsenal of guitars and pedals. Abusing the whammy bars on his Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters, Shields delivered beautifully on the queasy tremolo of his signature “glide guitar” technique. Alternately, Bilinda Butcher occupied center stage, supplying the soft-as-snow vocals that contrast so harmoniously with Shields’ outpouring of sound and feeling.

“Honey Power,” “Come In Alone,” and “Soon,” were wonderfully performed, delivering especially well on the loud/quiet, sweet/snarly binaries of My Bloody Valentine’s sound, and those hugely dense progressions that create an itch with one chord, and scratch it with the next. There’s a reason why the band’s influence has gone so far beyond rock music, into electronic and industrial realms; the live renditions of these songs were a masterclass in My Bloody Valentine’s ability to warp genre boundaries with standard rock instrumentation.

Seeing “Cigarette In Your Bed” performed live was a treat, as it allowed Shields to bust out the acoustic guitar for once, while “new you” offered a glimpse of My Bloody Valentine in full-on pop mode. “wonder 2,” the band’s experiment with Jungle music, was suffocating in its blend of reverb-soaked drum’n’bass beats and jet-engine guitars, while “You Never Should” offered the same claustrophobia in a rock setting. Perhaps most impressively, though, was the noisy, chaotic “holocaust section” of the band’s infamous closer, “You Made Me Realize.” What started out as a cacophony of guitars, bass, and drums, slowly hypnotized the listener, gradually resembling a monolithic, industrial roar, like cruising the Transbay Tube with the windows down.

My Bloody Valentine is one of the last great rock bands of the album era, and as such, every gesture at Friday night’s show was a big one: from handing out free earplugs at the door, to the giant Marshall stacks onstage, to the band’s decision to book the overly big/beige/bloated Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Much like mbv’s total disconnection from the modern musical landscape, the band’s live show felt like a concert-going experience beamed in from another decade.

The audience, consisting of everyone from metalheads, to ravers, to garden-variety hipsters, might’ve been a bit perplexing, but made total sense, given My Bloody Valentine’s inability to fit comfortably into any one scene. Given its dense, borderline-electronic chords, abrasive guitar squalls, and overriding sense of calm, the band’s sound offers practically any subcategory of listener something to cling onto, providing a gateway to new musical realms.

For those skeptical about My Bloody Valentine’s ability to recapture the singular wonder of Loveless after a two-decade hiatus, mbv was a wonderful surprise, in its insistence on picking up right where the band’s first era left off. Last weekend’s show felt like an extension of this “new” strategy, with the band’s four members commanding the stage as if the past 22 years never happened. Countless groups have tried their hand at pushing the shoegaze genre forward in the post-Loveless wake, but as Shields and Co. resoundingly proved on Friday night, My Bloody Valentine remains the undefeated champion of “swirling guitars.”

A giddy celebration of El-P and Killer Mike at the Independent


It’s been a big couple of years for El-P, Killer Mike, and the twosome’s recent musical courtship. In 2012, nothing but praise seemed to follow both El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure (guest starring Killer Mike) and Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music (produced by El-P).

The momentum gained by those two albums led to this summer’s Run the Jewels, a collaborative project and eponymous album that further solidified the hard-edged, spaced-out vibe they’ve been after together. The pair brought this new material as well as solo sets to the Independent last Tuesday night.

Kool A.D. kicked the night off with a set bolstered by a committed air guitarist furiously playing along to god knows what beside him. Anyone familiar with Kool A.D.’s solo mixtapes or Das Racist’s somewhat polarizing brand of meta-rap probably knew what they were in for — a mix of lackadaisical indifference, sarcastic charm,  witty punchlines, and occasional moments of locked-in inspiration — and he pretty much made good on those expectations.

A big Das Racist fan myself, I personally enjoyed the set,  particularly a remixed run-through of the hyphy-inspired “Town Business,” though outside of the die-hards going nuts up front, the overall reception was a bit lackluster.

New York-based Despot brought the energy level up a bit with a solid set of fiery raps laid over vaguely old-school, soul sample-infused beats. He earned one of the funnier moments of the night when he brought El-P, Kool A.D., and the rest of the crew out for a brief “aerobics routine” that involved the seven or eight of them on stage clumsily working through synchronized dance moves.

Killer Mike’s set was punctuated by a heart-on-sleeve social conscience and glowing appreciation for his recent resurgence to go along with his lively Southern rap. The setlist was unsurprisingly full primarily of tracks from R.A.P. Music and all of them sounded fantastic. He dropped the beat and supplemental instrumentation out entirely for “Reagan,” leading to a deliberate, a cappela reading of the song and a venue-wide call and response of “FUCK RONALD REAGAN!” afterward.

Between songs, he strengthened his rapport with the crowd via his description of a spiritual connection he’s always felt with San Francisco and multiple references to Oscar Grant and the importance of finding common ground, be it racially, socially or religiously, with one another.

El-P hit the stage next, burning through a set full of Cancer 4 Cure tracks. Highlights included “The Full Retard,” which he jokingly introduced as “the most pussy song he’s ever written.” While I enjoy El-P’s flow, I’ve always loved the dense murkiness of his production even more, so it was great to hear his beats in a live environment, which, strengthened by the Independent’s sound system and a shit-ton of low end, sounded massive.

It was nearly three hours after the show started by the time El-P and Killer Mike hit the stage together for their Run the Jewels set, but most everyone in attendance hardly seemed to care. The addition of a guitarist, keytarist, and multiple percussionists amped up the feel of the set as the two ran through their excellent new album.

Tracks like “36” Chain” and “Banana Clipper” stood out a little extra, as the two enthusiastically stalked around on stage, seamlessly trading off verses. Aside from being a solid and engaging set from start to finish, you couldn’t help also view it as a giddy celebration of the pair’s recent successes and mutual admiration for one another.


Philip Glass at 75: an intoxicating series, live scores to ‘La Belle et la Bête’ and more


Last June, legendary composer Philip Glass treated our fair city to a one-off collaborative performance with indie-folk visionary Joanna Newsom. Just two months ago, he made a joint appearance with Beach Boys collaborator and eccentric songsmith Van Dyke Parks, in NYC. Last weekend, Glass paid SF another visit with a career retrospective festival, featuring live productions of two original, highly influential film scores. Glass is no ordinary composer, and even at the age of 75, his prolificacy and flair for innovation challenge that of any working musician.

With the official Philip Glass Ensemble in tow, the Glass at 75 festival featured live performances of two of the composer’s most celebrated movie scores, played in conjunction with screenings of their respective films: Godfrey Reggio’s influential audiovisual spectacular, Koyaanisqatsi (1983), and Jean Cocteau’s early “Beauty and the Beast” adaptation, La Belle et la Betê. (1947/1994).

After studying music in Paris, and transcribing Ravi Shankar’s compositions into Western notation to make a living, Glass would go on to assemble one of the most mind-bogglingly diverse back-catalogues of any composer in history, ranging from early explorations of classical minimalism, to collaborations with David Bowie and Allen Ginsberg, to stacks of operas, symphonies, ballets, and film scores.

Yet, in a career defined by resistance to classification, Glass’ wildly revisionist soundtrack for La Belle et la Betê remains his most categorically ambiguous work, and an anomaly in the world of composition. After gaining permission from the Cocteau estate in ’93, Glass superimposed an opera atop the entire length of the film, revamping the music completely, and replacing each line of spoken dialogue with operatic vocals. An international tour followed, featuring silent screenings of the film, accompanied live by the Philip Glass Ensemble on synthesizers, woodwinds, and vocals.

The ensemble’s three performances of La Belle this past weekend put Glass’ radical act of synchronization on full display, and the result was intoxicating. Unusually immediate and approachable for a Glass production, “La Belle” sported greater melodic range than the composer’s more aggressively minimalist works (see Koyaanisqatsi), with the dynamic jolt of live vocals cutting through the music’s often meandering flow. Dominated by richly atmospheric, intertwining synth arpeggios, Glass’ score effortlessly mirrored the film’s emotional complexity, its lushness accentuated by comparison to the antiquity of Cocteau’s black-and-white production aesthetic.

With the film projected up high, the ensemble playing below, and four plainclothes opera singers situated on either side of the stage, the result was a meta-opera of sorts, rejecting the pageantry of your average stage production in favor of displaying a raw, unadorned creative process. Yet, despite the austerity of the presentation, and the impulse to passively observe the creative process in action, there was no shortage of musical sublimity to be swept up by: from the pillowy synth tones, to the added texture of flutes, clarinets, and saxes, to the synchronization of singers onstage and actors onscreen that, at times, bordered on transcendence. The final product was as novel, transportive, and involving as any stage production I’ve seen in recent years.

While it didn’t quite live up to the standard set by La Belle, the Glass Ensemble’s production of Koyaanisqatsi was incredibly stimulating, as well. The result of a collaboration with experimental filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, Koyaanisqatsi (a Hopi term for “unbalanced life”) made a huge cultural impact upon its release in ’81, weaving disparate film footage and Glass’ signature minimalism into a multimedia experience, whose impressionistic, plotless structure would prove highly influential in the years ahead.

As with La Belle, the Glass Ensemble performed the score live onstage, with identical instrumentation, and the film projected overhead. Most notably different was Glass’ presence onstage; while absent from La Belle, he operated one of five synths during Koyaanisqatsi, primarily hitting bass tones that brought a nice, visceral thump to the proceedings.

The score, while synth-heavy like La Belle, was far more characteristic of Glass’ minimalistic period, opting for mantraic vocals and emphasizing repetition, as opposed to the fiery energy of the opera format. Alternately free-flowing and mechanical, Glass’ minimalist structures provided a fitting musical context for the film’s central theme of nature vs. industry, emulating the roaring waves of the ocean in one section, and the unrelenting automation of a hot-dog factory in another. Apart from a few misplaced vocal phrases, the Glass ensemble performed the score flawlessly, making the ultimate experience of a film designed to be “experienced” in the first place.

While no two compositions could appropriately encapsulate Glass’ wildly diverse career, his ensemble’s productions of La Belle and Koyaanisqatsi were masterfully performed, giving insight into the mind of a vividly imaginative composer, with little regard for genre boundaries or classical traditionalism. He might be 75 now, but with a new opera opening in London next month, a collaboration with Joanna Newsom in the rearview mirror, and a triumphant festival of film scores under his belt, Glass shows no signs of slowing down.

TNGHT whips the Mezzanine’s 420 crowd into a frenzy


Like a microcosm of our ever-morphing music culture, electronic duo TNGHT stands squarely between the traditions of EDM and hip-hop, reaping the benefits of both musical forms, and generating something new in the process. Comprised of Lunice (from Montreal), and Hudson Mohawke (from Glasgow), the pair stopped by the Mezzanine this past Saturday after a two-weekend Coachella run, bringing their shiny, brassy, bass-loaded grooves to a sold-out crowd of ecstatic 420ers.

On paper, Lunice and Hudson Mohawke seem like natural collaborators. Both musicians specialize in an oversaturated, hypermelodic brand of electronica, often resembling the glossy tones of the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack, if it were layered atop big, punchy drum loops. However, the pair’s self-titled debut EP as TNGHT is impressive in its lack of melodic drive, relying on huge bass and punishing hip-hop beats to do most of the heavy lifting. Although the lack ear-candy melodies left something to be desired, this groove-based approach resulted in the danciest output of either artist’s career so far: five songs, waiting for a hyped-up audience to whip into a frenzy.

Saturday’s show got off to a rocky start with two sets from DJ Dials and DJ Bogl. While both DJs spun a decent, eclectic selection of tracks (ranging from trap music to Flying Lotus-esque wonkiness), neither of them displayed the showmanship necessary to justify a combined four hours of stage time. Watching someone stand in front of their MacBook is only engaging for so long.

However, when it took the stage at 1am, TNGHT made up for the enthusiasm deficit, and then some. For two guys poking at electronics from behind a desk, their crowd-pleasing skills were extraordinary, with Lunice leaving his workstation every five minutes or so to run to the front of the stage and rev up the audience, crowd-surfing twice before the night was over. His infectious stage presence, combined with the duo’s relentlessly thumping beats, and seizure-inducing, strobe-laden lightshow, made for a vitalic, completely immersive performance.

For a duo with just one EP under its belt, TNGHT churned out a remarkably fluid, hour-long set, alternating between original tracks (“Higher Ground,” “Bugg’n”), a few Hudson Mohawke numbers (most memorably, “Cbat” from 2010’s Satin Panthers EP), and a number of hip-hop songs from the likes of OutKast and Rick Ross, with original productions layered on top. The sequencing of the set was basically perfect, with no dull moments to be found.

The crowd was befitting of TNGHT’s crossover appeal, ranging from snappily dressed urban professionals, to 420 bros, to hip-hop heads, to hipsters resembling the guy on the Zig Zag logo. Everyone seemed equally intent on dancing their ass off, though: a welcome alternative to the stiff, self-conscious audiences that populate all too many shows in this town.

As long as the musical landscape remains in its current state of flux and uncertainty, we should be thankful for projects like TNGHT, bent on exploring the grey area between disparate genres. The fact that Lunice and Hudson Mohawke can contribute so meaningfully to the conversation, while remaining so effortlessly, viscerally likable, is no small achievement.

Jessie Ware eats pizza at Little Star, connects with her fans at the Independent


Last Thursday, when the lights came up on the stage at the Independent, they revealed a woman who was relishing the reverential shouts of the sold-out crowd. With a dramatic bun on top of her head, large hoop earrings, and tall heels, Jessie Ware appeared to embody the fully realized pop star that the world is starting to recognize in her.

Throughout the night, though, it became clear that what makes Ware so compelling isn’t the idolizing distance of pop-stardom, but its opposite. Between each song, she charmed the audience with candid and often self-deprecating banter. To a loud response of cheers and clapping, she spoke of her boyfriend who had joined her on tour and enjoyed planting himself in the audience to gauge its mood. “If someone comes up to you being a bit pervy, it’s just ‘cause he’s really proud of me,” she said, then laughed along with the crowd.

It’s tempting to say that the best part of the night was this sort of endearingly comedic chat, but that wouldn’t be doing justice to her performance. On Ware’s album, Devotion, the music has an understated ease, and though that is part of what makes it so good – in a world of over-the-top pop, restraint is refreshing – live music requires more than subtlety. Ware and her band delivered.

The music, already catchy on the album, achieved greater depth on stage. In the ballad-like “Wildest Moments,” added emphasis on the reverberant drums and Ware’s responding rhythmic changes gave the audience more to sink its teeth into, while the simplification of quieter tunes such as “Sweet Talk” emphasized the intimacy of Ware’s largely romantic repertoire.

The strength of Ware’s singing also came through more in a live venue than in the album, where the rule of restraint controls her voice, too. On Thursday, commercial but expressive vocals added the right amount of embellishment and variation to soulful tunes such as “What You Won’t Do For Love” (despite the four slices of Little Star Pizza and strawberry ice cream that she admitted to eating before the concert). She is a more talented singer than her recordings suggest.

Because of this, occasionally I wanted her voice to come through even more. On some songs, including that opener, “Devotion,” a jangly guitar and swirling synth that aspired to match their recorded versions obscured Ware and diminished the force of the singer.

This, however, is one complaint in a performance that was otherwise flawless – though “flawless” suggests a show more sterile, glossy, and lifeless than what happened that night. The best moments felt unpracticed and organic, enjoyable because of their imperfections. Ware reacted to the dance moves of the front row, rambled occasionally, and when she plugged her album, which comes out in the US on Tuesday, she gave a bashful look when caught herself clapping along with the audience. Flawlessness would imply that Ware has completely filled her newfound role as a pop-star, but instead, she seems both amused and humbled by it.

Maybe it isn’t enough to equate the quality of a show with how endearing the performer is, but I think it’s significant that the 500 people at the Indy had fun because Ware was so obviously having fun.
One sign of a successful show is its ability to evoke the sensation of a personal stake in the performer. Last Thursday, Ware’s audience became invested in her future career, which, with all of her talent and charm, will inevitably thrive.

Rhye keeps it smooth, sexy at Bimbo’s


With the audience seated at tables under warm lighting, the mood was set at Bimbo’s on Wednesday night for a very intimate evening with the mysterious Rhye. Canadian producer-vocalist Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal (of Danish duo Quadron) have turned heads in the indie world with their soulful, jazzy collaboration, and March 2013 album, Woman, mostly inspired by Milosh’s intense connection with his wife. At Rhye’s live show, that passionate love felt universal – and palpable – between the audience and the band.

LA-based DJ Nosaj Thing provided a perfect lead into the show. His thoughtfully arranged collage of samples toured the world from London dubstep to Indian drumming, then came home to artists like Flying Lotus and Dntel, who hail from the same Los Angeles electronic scene as Nosaj. This situated us in the musical environment where Milosh and Hannibal began their collaboration, and provided a mechanical link to the jazzy show that would follow.

Rhye opened casually, with several slower, moody tracks. The audience was lulled in,  exploring the textures, emphasis, and softer sounds that have developed from the duo’s time spent working and touring together. It was all very sensual, with rhythmically stroked cello and violin, mellow drums, and melodic keyboard.

Milosh’s androgynous vocals entered to loving cheers from the audience. These sounded more raw than on the album, but the strain in his voice worked well, lending a more passionate note to the performance. Not that there wasn’t a great deal of passion coming from Hannibal’s soulful ardor with both keyboard and piano.

Hannibal’s talent became more prominent as the set heated up and the mood tipped toward sexy. The rhythm got everyone going, incorporating some electronic sounds and bringing out the trombone. As the audience started to get maybe a little too into the feeling of “Last Dance” and “Major Minor Love,” Milosh brought everyone back down to earth with his borderline obnoxious banter over solos by each player.

The synergy between the backing musicians in the extended instrumental breaks gave the evening a jazzy feel, which coupled well with their soulful playing. Unlike other backing bands that can often seem ancillary to the recording artists, this group seemed to work together, continuing the creative process.

Towards the peak of the show, Milosh gathered the audience in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for his wife, but never dropped the beat by rolling it right into Rhye’s hit song, “Open,” performed as a serenade to his inspirational woman. Throughout the performance Milosh kept a sense of command, moderating, providing percussion, and bringing in the feel of mechanic composition from his electronic work.

They closed the show on a mournful note with Milosh’s song, “It’s Over,” from one of his solo electronic albums. It sounded strangely beautiful arranged for the band and tied everything together as a reminder of the more painful side of love…it almost made me feel okay that there was no encore.

Adam Green and Binki Shapiro pair up at the Chapel


Adam Green and Binki Shapiro make an odd couple.

Green is a Manhattanite and acoustic singer-songwriter whose extensive lyrical topics center around black humor, blue language, and one Miss Jessica Simpson. He is best known for his role as half of the Moldy Peaches alongside Kimya Dawson. Shapiro, formerly of Echo Park’s American-Brazilian rockers Little Joy, is a retro-fashion icon in LA. She is perhaps best known for dating rock stars.

So what happens when east meets west and the social elite meets the man who once wrote a song called “Choke on a Cock?” An unexpectedly tender album of heartbroken duets and breakup ballads in a unique style, something we jaded listeners have yet to hear. Green’s humble baritone and Shapiro’s silky timbre blend beautifully, and in the recordings their joined voices soar to poignant, vulnerable heights.

On stage at the Chapel this Saturday, duets like Green’s “Getting Led” were every bit as heart-achingly harmonious. Green’s deep voice was the perfect compliment as Shapiro’s vocals, smooth and warm, carried these quiet moments with ease. As soon as the tempo picked up, however, the pair’s vast differences became readily apparent.

Green’s onstage antics were every bit as playful as one might expect. After touting the merits of Arnold Palmer Lites, he announced his intention to name his band Binki, Adam, and the Turds. Green’s humor, as well as his ill-fitting clothes and screwball dancing, were endearing and suitable for a musician whose tongue is firmly planted in cheek, but gave Shapiro’s juxtaposed stoicism an air of aloofness.

The duo’s stone-faced backup band also didn’t help the situation. As Green danced literal circles around them, bunny hopping and flapping chicken wings, the band trudged on, seemingly disengaged. The Turds indeed.

Shapiro, who is certainly not lacking in stage presence or poise, has a quiet earnestness that should not be mistaken or misrepresented as disinterest. But for all her elegant charm (plus one adorable mid-song burp), she was simply outshined and overshadowed by Green.

If the duo can manage to find the sort of compromise and cohesion in its performance styles that it so successfully established in the studio, it will be a force to be reckoned with. Until then, I recommend buying the album and saving money on the concert tickets.