Live Review

Live Shots: Avey Tare at New Parish


It’s been over a year since Dave Portner – the yelping member of Animal Collective better known as Avey Tare – released his crocodile-inspired solo debut Down There (Paw Tracks). Maybe Tare needed to spend some time away from the songs that dealt with divorce, death, and illness, as he only recently set out on tour in support of the album. He finished his brief solo tour on Sunday night at Oakland’s New Parish, and I couldn’t wait to finally check him out.

The dismal grey weather was well-suited to Tare’s dark and murky debut. A youthful crowd clad in an unsettling amount of lumberjack plaid filled the venue. Onstage was a creepy Yoda skeleton and a white sequined cloth-draped table with a few baby crocodiles placed around several electronic instruments.

Tare began by blasting the audience with a discordant burst of noise. In the spirit of Animal Collective, the set that followed was comprised of several new, unreleased songs interspersed with selections from Down There. Animal Collective is known to routinely perform new material prior to putting it out, so it seems only natural that the band’s primary songwriter would engage in a similar backwards album cycle.

New songs like “Slow Words” and a track fans are tentatively referring to as “Sometimes” were bright and bubbly with Tare’s passionate, yelping vocals at the forefront. As with all things Animal Collective, there were plenty of repetitive, primal rhythms and colorful samples. Tare seemed well acquainted with the new stuff, which is (hopefully) indicative of a follow-up to Down There in the not so distant future.

For me, watching an artist breath new life into songs I know and love is the highlight of any performance. Given the sonic complexity of Tare’s material, it was tough digesting all the newness without something familiar to latch onto. I was thrilled whenever one of his unknown offerings blossomed seamlessly into a track from Down There. The ambling, accordion-driven “Laughing Hieroglyphic,” the swampy, synth-heavy “Lucky 1,” and a pulsing “Oliver Twist” were the shining moments of Tare’s set. I didn’t get to dance as much as I would have liked. Instead, I watched in awe as Tare toyed with his gear and sang with fervid intensity.

Opener: I often describe bands as energetic, but L.A.’s Foot Village made every performance I’ve seen before look like a geriatric yoga class in comparison. The four tribal noise rockers beat on a giant cluster of drum kits while two members took turns shouting incoherently into a megaphone. Held over a floor tom, the same megaphone produced a sound unlike anything I’ve heard. The band’s only female member, Grace Lee (who removed her pants after the opening song), stole the show by convulsing wildly, whipping a rope light around, and knocking down a speaker twice her size.


All photos by Wolfgangg Photography.

Live Shots: José James at New Parish


A couple of phrases used (and possibly made up) to describe José James’s show Friday night: swoontastic and baby-making-music. The rising neo-crooner gigged in San Jose and SF the preceding two evenings, but it’s hard to beat the intimacy of Oakland’s the New Parish, which has a certain bohemian vibe.

Whereas James’s previous shows in the Bay Area were more traditional jazz with restrained piano accompaniment, on this tour he was backed up with a full band capable of illustrating his range. It made for a super talented quintet including keyboardist Kris Bowers (who appeared on Kanye/Jay Z’s Watch the Throne album), bassist Solomon Dorsey, trumpet player Takuya Kuroda (a familiar collaborator of James’s), and standout drummer Nate Smith.

Known for pulling hip-hop and electronic sounds into the vocal jazz tradition, James is as much influenced by John Coltrane as he is in line with the legend’s nephew, Flying Lotus (who did production on 2010’s Black Magic) and gave a respective shout-out to each.

Most impressively, the group collectively had a relaxed, pretension-free quality, with James on point, cuing Kuroda to take a solo or setting a mic stand in front of the seemingly reserved Dorsey, wordlessly indicating that it was his turn to sing. Previewing a significant amount of material from the upcoming album Trouble, James closed the show with an encore of the title track. Reiterating that it was his first time in Oakland, it was clear from the smile on his face (and the crowd’s) that it probably wouldn’t be the last.

Cass McCombs greets the Great American Music Hall crowd warmly


There’s been a lot of talk about how Cass McCombs is an impenetrable character, so much so that it’s become tiring. We’ve heard about his elusiveness and nomadic lifestyle; about his tendency to either act bitterly in interviews (i.e. Pitchfork interview) or shun them altogether. Oh, and that he’s never happy. Admittedly, McCombs has shaped this cryptic persona himself — he’s even made it difficult to know what he looks like (recent photographs have been vague, he’s always altering his “look”). It was an enormous pleasure then on Sunday night to be able to experience the songwriter first hand when he performed at the Great American Music Hall, where it was all about the music.

Before a dazzling wall of batting lights, McCombs stood with his band and seemed to take pleasure in every moment of the concert. The audience gave him a very warm reception and was perhaps appreciative for the same reasons I was — at long last we were having our own experience of McCombs.

The better part of the set was downtempo and tinged with melancholy. Wit’s End, the first of two albums that he released this year on Domino Records, is slow, ethereal, and rooted in what feels like the aftermath of tragedy. Listening to the band perform the single from that record, “County Line,” was grand. If one didn’t appreciate how lovely and original that song was before, one certainly did after last night. It has the mood of an R&B track, and the slow, hushed rhythm section seems to reflect the hopelessness of McCombs’ voice as he sings so simply “you never even tried to love me / what do I have to do / to make you want me?”

Humor Risk, McCombs’ second album of this year, is an effective supplement to Wit’s End in a live context. Compared to Wit’s End, it’s a more buoyant and melodic album. When the band performed songs like “The Same Thing” and “Robin Egg Blue,” it felt like McCombs was taking the audience up for a breath of air before plunging it back into the chilling gloom of Wit’s End.

Earlier in the set, the band performed “Bradley Manning,” a song that McCombs premiered a few days before on the television news show Democracy Now. The “protest” narrative tells the story of Bradley Manning — the 23-year-old intelligence analyst that was arrested for dispatching thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks. McCombs’ detailed story-telling recalls Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” and it was played to shouts and whistles of approval from the audience. “Bradley you know you have friends even though you’re locked in there,” McCombs says at the very end of the song. It was one of the highlights of the night. How many of us had forgotten about Bradley Manning, and how many are now discussing his arrest?

As the audience poured out of the venue then, the overwhelming thought on everyone’s mind was probably not “who is Cass McCombs?” but something like “wow — so that’s Cass McCombs.”

Live Shots: Iggy Pop at the Warfield


It had been a long wait to see Iggy Pop live (not like, Morrissey-long, but more like three months later than anticipated). When I spoke with Pop back in September, he was ecstatic to be out on the road again.

He was in France at the time, prepping in his hotel room before a big show – a concert he’d planned to follow up with an evening of wine and French television with his lady friend. We talked about cartoons, his image, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and American Idol.

He told me that on this tour, he’d be playing, “All of Raw Power, some of Fun House, some songs from the eponymous debut The Stooges, and some stuff that was too hot to handle, too raw for the times — stuff that came out on bootlegs in the ’70s like ‘Cock in My Pocket,’ ‘Open Up and Bleed,’ ‘Head on the Curve.’” So I was, understandably, equally ecstatic to see him live. Shortly thereafter, he broke his foot (after seeing him last night at the Warfield, I now realize how easily that could happen) and the tour was cut short.

Finally in San Francisco, on a windy  December evening, Pop tore the paint off the walls with the sheer enormity of his stage presence, pumping with rock’n’roll energy and yes, raw power. These were my favorite moments from the night:

10 great bits about Iggy Pop’s show at the Warfield (hint: the band plays the venue again Tuesday night):
1. Pop and Co. running out on stage and immediately launching into a frenzied “Raw Power.” No opening chit-chat, no fuss.
2. The quick-fire follow-up to that first song was ultimate punk anthem, “Search and Destroy.” Fist pumps.
3. Seeing guitarist James Williamson and saxophonist Steve Mackay a.k.a “Mr. Fun House” (as Pop described him) in the flesh.
4. Mike Watt’s cherry red bass, forever-entertaining facial expressions, and jerky movements.
5. Speaking of movement, Pop’s taut, brown leathered skin, and the noodling snake contortions he does with it.
6. Pop writhing “like a cat!” (as the couple behind me kept shouting), on top of one of the speakers, posing.
7. The band inviting “99 percenters” – and every one else – from the crowd on stage for one song, and Pop instructing them to “shake a little,” adding, “I would!”
8. The threatening, heart-pumping, supersexy guitar riff in “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”
9. Pop stage-diving during “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”
10. Pop stage-diving during “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and not breaking his foot.

No more introduction needed: Pterodactyl at El Rio


On Saturday night in the cloistered show room at El Rio, Joe Kremer of Pterodactyl passed through the idle crowd to consult the sound guy about his microphone reverb, making a whacking hand gesture to illustrate the slap back resonation he wanted — something he’s probably had to do at every venue between Brooklyn, NY, (where the band is from) and San Francisco because it’s so essential to Pterodactyl’s sound.

Kremer has mischievous blonde facial hair and a sarcastic glint in his eye that’s hard to read. It’s not unlike Pterodactyl itself, a band that creates dissonant indie-rock by lathering sunny harmonies in reverb for a murky, psychedelic sound. But Spills Out (Jagjaguwar), the band’s newest album, has one major difference from its previous two: it teases with catchy melodies.

When Pterodactyl kicked into song, it was Kremer who had the stage antics — riffing on electric guitar, swinging around rambunctiously, and closing his eyes to enter into his own little world at the microphone. He had an unfading, boyish enthusiasm that lasted all night. Matt Marlin sat behind the drums with his sweating shirt sleeves rolled up, harmonizing on each song and looking to the others for signals (and giving them) with a blank face. He seemed to quietly run the show. Duncan Gamble on keyboards and Jesse Hodges on bass guitar were the more stationary and restrained of the group. The four had a likeable presence on stage, as though each one had a role to play: there was the ebullient charmer (Kremer), the mysterious one (Marlin), and the two nervous and loveable characters (Gamble, Hodges).
When Pterodactyl performed songs from Spills Out, the coherence and melody of songs like “Searchers” and “School Glue” was somewhat lost. Those two songs have a conspicuous presence on the record and represent a significant departure for a band that has preferred atonalism. However, when performed live, they fell indistinguishably in with the rest of the discordant, highly effected set. Kremer’s voice also was different from the record and the live performance. It sounded higher in pitch, even cartoonish. It wasn’t necessarily a drawback musically speaking — the band sounded impressive and put on a fine show — but you sometimes wondered if Kremer was involved in some inside joke that no one else got.
One highlight on Spills Out is “Allergy Shots,” which the band performed terrifically on stage. The four minutes of droning bass has a kind of mystical lugubriousness. It feels
like a trudging descent into an ever-expanding pit. “The grass isn’t greener/when there is no grass at all,” Hodges sang mechanically. In the hopeless mood of the song, his
singing was appropriate.
Even after releasing three albums, Pterodactyl is still having to introduce itself to moderate sized crowds like the one at El Rio. It’s can be a difficult introduction. Listen to the band’s albums in succession — the self-titled debut, WorldWild, and Spills Out — and you’ll see that Pterodactyl has never been content doing the same thing. The debut thrashes around rampantly; WorldWild is psychedelic and airy, while Spills Out is less experimental and more dulcet. But if Pterodactyl makes more first impressions like
Saturday night’s, the band will soon need no introduction at all.
All photos by Ryan Kauffman

Live Shots: tUnE-yArDs at the Regency Ballroom


tUnE-yArDs seemed so playful and free on Wednesday at the Regency, like a band of highly skilled children, in particular the ringleader-pied piper of the bunch, Merrill Garbus. Hopping around barefoot, playing with different toys – pedals and looping samples, ukuleles, and crash drums – all on a square of carpet that had a curvy gray racetrack: genius kindergartner. Or as a show companion described it, “it feels like the world’s greatest camp band.”

Part of their gaiety may have been due to timing – the show, which took place the night before Thanksgiving, yet still nearly sold out – was the very last of a long tour for tUnE-yArDs. Openers Pat Jordache, a spry Montreal quartet with four-part harmonies and two drummers, presented Garbus with a cake during its set to celebrate the end of their joint journey. A very sweet moment, in a night full ’em.

After a brief intermission Garbus was back out on stage, this time dressed more in her stage persona – thick paint streak across her cheeks, one gigantic hoop earring. Her band also wore face-paint, along with sweatbands. My only concern of the entire evening: I feel like perhaps the warpaint thing has had its day, but of course, that’s just a matter of personal opinion. And really, no matter. The music is the important thing here. And that blew me away, every tune.

Each song felt like a jazzy Afro-folk art project; Garbus would create a beat, or a vocal chant, then loop it endlessly, add more varying vocals then jump from peddle to peddle, drum to drum. The two saxophonists free jazzed it, and the bassist played along with Garbus while adding his own tone. She’d count off then one-two-three, switch! The song changed, the beat stopped, or suddenly it was Garbus alone, chilling, beautiful vocals booming through the expansive space.

She’s the mastermind up there, her strength is ever-present, and at times, she nearly growls. She’s like a lioness, mouth open wide with harmonized roars. At one point she yelled out, “this is where we jump!” and the crowd erupted, bouncing in near-unison – my old-lady perch upstairs was suddenly shaking. At another point a beat she created didn’t quite work and she just stopped and smiled, “this isn’t danceable!” adding “people always ask if we ever mess up, now you know!” The next beat worked and we all sighed with relief. As expected, and similar to that last time I caught the act, “Bizness” got the biggest crowd response, but the audience cheered for nearly every other song as well, even the slightly less poppy, moodier new one.

At the end of the official set, or I should say, pre-encore, Pat Jordache got back on stage to celebrate with tUnE-yArDs, while large trash bags full of colorful balloons were released upon the young, absolutely fucking thrilled, crowd. It was a tasty pre-holiday treat, and we didn’t even have to sit at the kid’s table (hell yeah, balcony).

Live Shots: WU LYF at the Independent


I showed up pretty early to catch WU LYF at the Independent on Monday night. A cold breeze drifting through the venue and the giant white Wucifix standing on an empty stage made for a decidedly ominous vibe. It quickly warmed up, though, as a sold out crowd filled the place to capacity for the Manchester, UK, quartet’s very first performance in San Francisco.

I was feeling some serious deja vu. Less than two years ago another British four piece, Wild Beasts, had graced the same stage for its inaugural San Francisco show, which was also completely sold out. Pumped as I’d been for Wild Beasts, I was even more excited to watch these young hoodlums perform the intense, grandiose anthems of their breakthrough debut Go Tell Fire To The Mountain.

Exuberant cheers erupted from the audience as WU LYF gathered in front iof the illuminated Wucifix. Leader Ellery Roberts plucked out the first few organ chords of the slow-building opener “L Y F,” then turned his back to the crowd to show off his tattered denim jacket which also bared the mark of the band. Bassist Tom McClung was the most animated member on stage. He handled his instrument with an emphatic flair and provided the high-pitched vocal cries of “Wu” that added a chilling undercurrent to “L Y F” and other songs.

Most bands have a backbone, and WU LYF’s is Evans Kati. The set was driven by Kati’s wailing, melodic guitar. Joe Manning’s bursting percussion was pretty solid, though the drummer looked a bit bored. The raw, energetic “Spitting Blood,” and the fiery, impassioned “Concrete Gold,” were highlights of the evening.

Roberts’ snarling vocals were just as tortured and cathartic as on the record. Between songs, he spoke in mostly unintelligible grunts, which felt a little contrived. When I interviewed the singer a couple weeks ago, he was quite eloquent and soft spoken. It was an unfortunate bias, as the rest of the audience was completely enthralled by the primal character who stood before us.

Though I often had no idea what Roberts what saying, when he commanded us to howl like a desperate pack of wolves, we obeyed. Late in the set, he remarked that the audience was too calm. Roberts’ cheeky observation resulted in a wild, volatile reaction from fans when the band launched into a frenzied rendition of “We Bros.”

Since WU LYF is a relatively new group with a limited catalog of work, the show was without many surprises, save for a lovely instrumental piece led by McClung. Not surprisingly, the band closed with its cinematic Alma Mater, “Heavy Pop.” Though I half-heartedly joined the crowd in cheering for an encore, I knew it was no use. WU LYF had already given us everything they had.

Long Beach’s Crystal Antlers opened with a soulful, noisy ruckus. The quartet’s retro garage sound seemed a cross between the Black Keys and Cymbals Eat Guitars. In his flannel and heavy coat, vocalist-bassist Johnny Bell was a vision of grunge. His face remained hidden behind long, sweat-drenched hair. Though the band appeared to have stepped out of the ’90s, its sound was more reminiscent of ’60s psych rock. Crystal Antlers’ keyboardist flaunted some flashy moves that included tipping his synthesizer onto one leg while continuing to play impeccably.

All photos by Wolfgangg Photography..

Kimya Dawson keeps it confessional, relatable at the Rickshaw Stop


The recurring theme of Sunday night’s Kimya Dawson show at the Rickshaw Stop was: be who you are and plainly say whatever you have to say. It began with Dave End— whose eccentric set included a cover of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” in a dress made of flowers — followed by Clyde Pattersen, from Your Heart Breaks, who flat out told the audience that one song was about his schizophrenic mother. It all culminated with Kimya Dawson. Some would have disparaged the night’s roster of confessional, fun-loving songwriters — it’s the prey of critics. But the night was about relating to people and — dare I say it? — Having fun.

In the case of the ex-Moldy Peach (Dawson), she’s where she is now not because of the critics, but because young people have long been able to relate to her honest songwriting. More than perhaps most other songwriters playing today, Dawson seems to write with her audience in mind. She wants to improve fans’ self-esteem and make them feel better about themselves: a fact that makes the skeptics wince.

However, watching Dawson summon what must be pages and pages worth of risible lyrics on stage from memory could easily turn the heads of any one of those skeptics. With an acoustic guitar scrawled with doodles and an octopus necklace around her neck, Dawson faithfully performed songs that spanned her solo career with an emphasis on her new album, Thunder Thighs, and the one prior, Remember That I Love You. She also played a few songs off her children’s album, Alphabutt. Not many stood out in the set besides those where the audience, seated on the hard cement floors, joined in. On “Loose Lips,” for instance, everyone chanted, “remember that I love you.” It was in those moments, however brief, that what Dawson does became clear and even profound.

She wasn’t up there by herself all the time. A highlight of the night happened when someone from the audience shouted out a request for “It’s A Hard Knock Life,” and Dawson and Dave End decided to do an animated, wickedly funny duet of “Tomorrow”— a spontaneous and comical moment that you couldn’t have seen anywhere else. Rapper Aesop Rock, who makes many appearances on Thunder Thighs, performed a few songs with Dawson as well. But these felt unfamiliar to the audience, perhaps even awkward, and obviously a disappointment for anyone who came to hear, say, the popular Juno soundtrack material.

Dawson’s performance was hardly perfect: she made some slips. By the time she was finishing her set, at least a third of the already modest audience had vanished. Does anyone go to a Kimya Dawson show to see a flawless performance? You would think not. But perhaps honesty alone is only charming for so long.

Live Shots: They Might Be Giants at the Fillmore


They Might Be Giants wrapped up a busy weekend in the Bay Area last Sunday night, playing a second night at the Fillmore on top of a free show at the SF Amoeba Music earlier that day. Starting the show, Johns Flansburgh announced that the band would be playing Flood –which he later called the band’s “1990 near-breakthrough album”– in its entirety. And, since the album was only about 43 minutes long, it would be padded first by some old and new hits.

Getting ready to play the title track from Join Us, Flansburgh debated with John Linnell whether they should call it the “new album,” having also released both it and a “new, new album,” the appropriately named compilation Album Raises New and Troubling Questions, in 2011.

The show would be as much about music as it would be about showcasing the oddball humor that’s endeared the two Johns to fans for 25 years (some in attendance were noticeably younger than that, but most seemed to have been with the band for a good while.) Before “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” Flansburgh used a handheld spotlight to divide the audience on the floor into competing camps of chanting “apes” and “people,” adding that “the one-percenters in the balcony don’t get to play.” (Apes won.)

Flood was performed in reverse order, building up to a crescendo that included both “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” ending with the now ironic “Theme From Flood” (“It’s a brand new record for 1990!”) Highlights included an in the dark version of “Whistling in the Dark” by Linnell* with bass drum gong support from Flansburgh and a Flood half-time show with the sock puppet “Avatars of They” singing “Singing Spoiler” alert with Meg Ryan (not really Meg Ryan.)

Opening Set


-Doctor Worm

-Join Us
-Damn Good Times
-We’re the Replacements
-XTC Vs. Adam Ant

-Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Flood (in reverse order):
-Road Movie to Berlin
-They Might Be Giants

-Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love

-Women and Men

-Hot Cha
-Whistling in the Dark

-Minimum Wage
-Hearing Aid

-Someone Keeps Moving My Chair

Halftime Show: Spoiler Alert (Avatars of They)

Second (First) Half of Flood:
-We Want a Rock
-Particle Man
-Your Racist Friend


-Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (Four Lads cover)

-Lucky Ball and Chain
-Birdhouse in Your Soul

-Theme From Flood

-Can’t Keep Johnny Down

Second Encore:
-How Can I Sing Like a Girl?

-When Will You Die

*Definitely the quieter on stage of the two Johns, I was reminded elsewhere during the show that Linnell is worth keeping an eye on, if only because he makes fairly inscrutable faces the entire time. Kind of like someone is playing slightly off key and he’s trying to figure out who it is, if only because he likes it.

Future Islands release the beast within at Bottom of the Hill


As I retreated from the Bottom of the Hill’s courtyard into the venue Tuesday night, Future Islands vocalist Sam Herring held the door open and flashed me a dazzling smile. As soon as Herring took to the stage, however, gone was the polite Southern gentleman I’d met outside. He transformed into a raving beast that would hold his audience captive for an intensely theatrical and cathartic performance.

Without Gerritt Welmers on synthesizers and William Cashion on bass, the lush, emotional synth-pop of Future Islands wouldn’t exist, but Herring’s charisma and monstrous one-of-a-kind voice made it impossible to focus on anyone else. Herring worked overtime to connect with the audience, gazing into as many eyes as possible while delivering deeply personal and poetic vocals. During “Before The Bridge” from Future Islands’ most recent album On The Water (Thrill Jockey), Herring crouched down and pointed directly to each person in the front row, asking, “Do you believe in love?”

Eye contact was only the beginning. With an expressive face capable of conveying insufferable longing and immeasurable pain, Herring didn’t really need to stalk the stage like a caged animal or pantomime yanking his soul out of his throat, but he did. Though I’m a big fan of On The Water, selections from 2010’s smash hit In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey) were the evening’s greatest successes. During the slow-burning “An Apology” and “Inch Of Dust,” Herring repeatedly beat himself on the chest, resembling Mark Wahlberg in Fear. I suspected a bunch of bruises were hidden beneath the singer’s tucked-in cotton jersey.

Uptempo numbers like “Tin Man,” “Long Flight,” and “Vireo’s Eye” turned the crowd into a dance floor frenzy led by Herring. He threw punches into the air and danced like a member of the Rat Pack on speed. The trio closed its set with “Old Friend,” a bubbly favorite from its debut Wave Like Home (Upset The Rhythm).

The audience wasn’t about to let the band off the hook that easily. The sold-out crowd shouted and clapped until a thumbs-up and expression of sheer joy from an elated fan signaled the band’s return. Future Islands ended the night with a lively encore comprised of time-tested singles. By the time it was over, Herring was completely drenched in sweat, and I was exhausted just from watching him.

Opener: It’s always disappointing to see an opening band that’s a sub par version of the headliner. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat was not that band. With its sole light source coming from within Schrader’s drum, the duo – also featuring Devlin Rice on bass – exuded a dark vibe that was paralleled in its music. It executed an impressive set of short, heavy songs. I’m a hardcore Joy Division fan, so I was delighted to see Schrader channeling Ian Curtis with deep vocals and spooky, trance-like presence.


All photos by Diego Gamez.


Holy Ghost! proves it’s worth the wait at Slim’s


I’d been worried about making it to the Holy Ghost ! show at Slim’s on time, so it was a relief to see the singer of Jessica 6, the opening band, standing outside Slim’s having a
smoke. Black hair, black heels, black mini skirt, black leather jacket: Nomi Ruiz is recognizable. I wished her luck and went inside to find out just how early I was.

DJ Eli Escobarwas spinning, but the place is basically dead. A few people up in the loft having food, a few more at the bar, but little life to the place. It turned out to be a decent wait, and as Escobar continued to spin a mix of house and contemporary dance rock, I became anxious. A few people trickled in, but not at a fast enough rate to fill the place quickly.

One person, at least, was very excited. I know he was excited because when I came into the club he was outside screaming “I’m so excited!” to no one in particular, and inside he was standing next to me screaming, once again, “I’m so excited!” He explained in slurred words how he’d been trying to see Holy Ghost! for the longest time, but just happened “to always be on the wrong coast.” 

Luckily, Jessica 6 hit the stage, and it seemed to help with the restless energy. And for the first time in the night, other people were shouting, most clearly “We love you, Nomi!” Perhaps best known as one of the prominent singers in Hercules and Love Affair, Ruiz is at the forefront in her new project. Whereas Hercules struck a delicate balance of conflicted emotions and often achieved a certain morose euphoria, Jessica 6 has a more straight-forward club sound. Opening with “In The Heat” from the debut LP See The Light, Nomi sang, “Don’t you feel the beat?” and began to work the crowd. Less campy, more pop, there’s still a lot of love-torn feelings, but the general focus seems to be on seizing the night.

When Jessica 6’s set ended, the excited/drunk guy approached the edge of the stage and doubled over, face down on the stage. A minute later I had to stop paying attention to that impending disaster, because the roadies were setting up the equipment. As the pièce de résistance, a black tarp was pulled away to reveal a massive, multicolored console of analog synthesizer. The stage lights went dark and the rainbow of panels on the front started to glow as Holy Ghost! took the stage, launching into “Static on the Wire,” from its 2010 EP of the same name.

Although Holy Ghost! is just two guys, Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel, they enlisted a number of other musicians (including the drummer who played with Jessica 6) to bolster the live show, just as James Murphy did for live LCD Soundsystem performances. Frankel, sporting the second leather jacket of the night, was on vocal duties, while Millhiser was stationed on guitar behind a pair of floor toms. The bands took moves into familiar territory with “It’s Not Over,” not just because it’s one of its more recognizable songs, but because it has what I can only assume to be a deliberate lyrical reference to New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.”

After the third song, “Say My Name,” I’d exhausted my photo op, and decided to make my way away from the stage. I had a friend inside the venue texting me for half an hour asking where I was. As soon as I started to move, I realized that I’d greatly underestimated the crowd. It was packed. Unfortunately, it also was a drunk crowd, not an E crowd, so hardly budging.

With a little more space, I took in the band again, and it’s was getting slower into “Slow Motion.” Among its tracks, it maybe does the least for the band, in part because it sounds a lot like a Chromeo song. Still, while Holy Ghost! isn’t always breaking new ground, it sticks to a formula that works. One of the best things about  LCD Soundsystem
shows was the way in which the band allowed James Murphy to basically do whatever he wanted. With Holy Ghost! (which, given its connection to DFA Records, seems an obvious hope to partially fill the LCD void), this was most noticeable with the big console in the back of the stage, and on a track like “Do It Again,” where the synth is even more prominent than on the record, allowing Millhiser and Frankel to add additional percussive accents on the toms or cowbells.

Holy Ghost! closed the night by playing “Jam for Jerry,” written in response to friend and drummer Jerry Fuchs’ sudden death from falling down an elevator shaft in 2009. The rare dance song that transcends the floor, it’s not just about dealing with one tragedy, but everything in life that ends before you’re ready. But like “It’s Not Over,” “I Know, I Hear” – which was played as an encore with Nomi Ruiz – refuses to accept this. When the band left the stage for good DJ Escobar took over once again, for those of us that weren’t quite ready to leave.

Live Shots: Real Estate and Big Troubles at Slim’s


The sunny, indie rock jams of Ridgewood, NJ’s Real Estate cured my rainy day blues on Friday night at Slim’s. San Francisco’s unshaven, flannel-clad urban lumberjacks showed up en masse to seek shelter from the rain and soak up some seriously good vibes. The five-piece kicked off with “Suburban Beverage” from its 2009 self-titled debut. Inviting us to mellow out, leader Martin Courtney repeated the song’s only words, “Budweiser, Sprite, do you feel alright?” Fans responded with blissful head-nodding.

Courtney looked effortlessly hip in his thrift store button-up and thick-rimmed glasses. With his ball cap, t-shirt, and scruffy beard, bassist Alex Bleeker resembled someone’s dad jamming out on a Saturday afternoon. Bleeker praised San Francisco as his favorite city before the band jumped into “Easy,” the opening track from its sophomore effort, Days (Domino). As Courtney recited lyrics involving dreams, running through fields, and free love, guitarist Matt Mondanile warmed the venue with his clean guitar riffs.

The band’s lengthy set consisted of new songs from Days interspersed with selections from its debut. Considering the consistent sound of Real Estate’s albums, I was surprised to see Courtney and Bleeker trading lead vocal duties. A highlight of the evening was “It’s Real,” which had fans singing along to its catchy chorus of Ohs. Another success was the laid back, exceptionally chill “Out Of Tune.”

Real Estate also covered a couple songs by fellow New Jersey bands, the first of which was Felt’s “Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow.” The jangly pop track was perfectly suited to the group’s summery backyard sound. After closing with “All the Same,” the band returned to the stage to cover the Feelies’ “Higher Ground.” Though I suspect few of them were familiar with the original, the audience totally loved it.

Real Estate finished out its encore with some favorites and left with the promise to meet fans at the Attic for a drink. Cloaked in the warmth of Real Estate’s positive vibes, I ventured back into the dark and blustery San Francisco night.

Opener: I had high hopes for another act from Ridgewood, Big Troubles. Though the band looked cute enough to take to the prom, its opening set fell a little flat. After getting hooked on its recent album Romantic Comedy (Slumberland), I was looking for a more intense, dynamic version of the songs I’d come to love. What I got was the equivalent of listening to the CD in my bedroom. With such a clear shoe-gaze influence, however, I suppose a highly animated performance would be a betrayal of the band’s roots.


All photos by Wolfgangg Photography.

Shrouded in black, Lykke Li makes eye contact with us at the Fox


Lykke Li doesn’t want you. Let’s just get that straight.

Lykke Li wants me. Or at least I think so. Because even though it’s a cliche to say that it sounds like someone is singing just to you, that’s what she does. Particularly when the most common word in her lyrics is the word “you,” and you’re standing in the pit at the Fox Theater on Wednesday night, and you (you!) seem to make eye contact right when she says it, so that suddenly it’s not the royal “you,” it’s you, as in “Hey you. You in the tan coat. Hi.” And you – or at least I – blush, for a moment, not caring at all who this Jerome guy is, although he may just be her noisy upstairs neighbor.

Lykke Li doesn’t want anyone. At least not you (royal “you.”) She hardly can even stand to have you look at her. That’s why she’s draped in black. That, and because it’s a funeral. A funeral for her love. Or a celebration of heartbreak, but those are same thing.

Lykke Li is in control. A few of the songs from her first album, particularly “I’m Good, I’m Gone,” still have the heavy stamp of producer/co-writer/collaborator Björn Yttling, but otherwise these songs are Lykke Li’s. The band is Lykke Li’s, and they steamroll through every track from the latest album, Wounded Rhymes, in an emotional arch that roughly seems to go from collapse to strength, culminating with a Kanye West infused version of “Youth Knows No Pain” and “Get Some.”

Aside from what Lykke Li calls “really indulgent cover song,” “Unchained Melody,” (it kind of was, but let’s still blame the movie Ghost for that) everything goes off according to a clear plan, particularly the extra theatrical lighting and slow building dugga-dugga-da beat around “Rich Kid Blues.” From there to the end, they just smash it.

Lykke Li comes back on stage for an encore, the sparsely accompanied slow doo-wop number, “Unrequited Love.” A few minutes later, there’s a bottleneck in the lobby of the Fox, people clamoring around the merch table. Among the swag were a number of t-shirts, a couple screenprinted with her face, but the majority just have text, a message which reads: “LYKKE LI LOVES YOU”. Someone once said you “can’t buy me love.”  They were wrong. You can buy it on a t-shirt. Lykke Li loves me.

1. Jerome
2. I’m Good I’m Gone
3. Sadness Is A Blessing
4. I Follow Rivers
5. Dance Dance Dance
6. Silence My Song
7. I Know Places
8. Unchained Melody (Righteous Brothers)
9. Little Bit
10. Love Out Of Lust
11. Rich Kid Blues
12. Silent Shout (The Knife)
13. Youth Know No Pain / Power (Kanye West)
14. Get Some
15. Unrequited Love

Also: Maybe it was just all the fabric flapping in the fog, but I had some weird Stevie Nicks moments during the night. Particularly during openers, First Aid Kit, Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg. Tremendous voices on those two, who have a second album, The Lion’s Roar, coming out next year. But the Fleetwood Mac feel may have just been when the drummer leaned away from folk to rock drumming.

Live Shots: Shonen Knife at Bottom of the Hill


Japanese pop and the Ramones; it’s a combination you might not hear anywhere else besides a Shonen Knife show (or on the band’s tribute album Osaka Ramones). On Friday night at Bottom of the Hill, the Osaka-bred trio of pop punk rockers wound up an already-worked over crowd with a full encore set of Ramones songs.

But long before that rowdy ode,  they received cheers as they were collectively spotted through the window behind the stage, making their way down the stairs outside and into the venue. They stood with a pre-recorded theme song and held up banners with Japanese words (anyone know what they said?  which said “Shonen Knife”) then launched into endless stage theatrics that included Kiss-style twin head-banging by vocalist-guitarist Naoko Yamano (the only original member since 1981) and cheery bassist-guitarist Ritsuko Taneda. From start to finish, there was a lot of rock star posing: devil horns, guitar swinging, head-banging, arms thrown in the air.

The trio played high-energy tracks off a back catalogue that stretches 30 years; standouts included “Rock Society” off 2006’s Genki Shock and  “Perfect Freedom”  off 2010’s Free Time. They played “Redd Kross,” a tribute to the Red Kross, which is Yamano’s favorite band (not the Ramones?). They also highly recommended the burgers at Bottom of the Hill — Shannon Shaw, during the Shannon and the Clams set did mention that on their joint seven-day tour, they’d learned that Shonen Knife “really likes burgers, especially from Wendy’s.”

After the trio returned from a hyper-brief trip offstage, it was time for the all-Ramones encore. “Beat on the Brat,” “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” “Rock’n’Roll High School” — the works. It was then, and only then, that the crowd began crowd surfing. The first surfer failed to give enough warning of his intent, and was dropped unceremoniously. With the crowd worked up into a oafish frenzy, the momentum picked up and secondary jumpers were successfully surfed. Like a proper punk show.

Weird Al Yankovic never misses a beat at the Fox


For someone who got his start in the music business by recording his first single in the men’s room, “Weird Al” Yankovic has certainly come a long way. Forging a wildly successful career that has lasted three decades and counting, the master of musical parodies hit the stage at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Sunday night, proving that while his act is hilarious, his talents for showmanship and performance are no joke.

Throughout the nearly two-hour show, Yankovic was a tornado of comic energy, leading his band through selections from his entire catalog, starting with “Polka Face,” a medley of contemporary pop parodies from his latest record, Alpocolypse, which includes spoofs of current radio stars such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, among others. Fan favorites like “Eat It,” “Amish Paradise,” “My Balogna,” and “White and Nerdy” drew wild applause from the audience, while lesser known, but equally gleeful tracks including “I Want A New Duck” and “Lasagna” were welcome additions to the set list.

When he first appeared on stage, Yankovic was dressed in his trademark Hawaiian shirt, but he and the band quickly began a series of fast-paced costume changes, running backstage between various songs while a series of videos were shown on giant screens above the stage. Entertaining clips of various pop culture references to Yankovic and from the likes of Johnny Carson and The Simpsons, mixed with segments cleverly edited to look like zany interviews between Yankovic and pop culture heads such as Eminem, Madonna, and Jessica Simpson.

Al and company wore a vast and dizzying array of costumes and grabbed props to match his iconic music videos, wardrobe included spot-on wigs and sweaters for “Smells Like Nirvana,” and headbands and a keytar for the Dire Straits take off “Beverly Hillbillies.” Yankovic even managed to pull off the look in the original clip of Michael Jackson spoof “Fat,” charging out in an over-the-top fat suit, and still somehow jumped around stage, singing and dancing without missing one uproarious beat.

While he is mainly known for direct parodies of specific songs, Yankovic has also comically mastered the art of synthesizing a band’s general sound and parlaying it into a
witty and humorous send up. Two of his best and more recent examples were “CNR,” his ode to actor Charles Nelson Reilly, done in the vein of the White Stripes, and “Craigslist,” a Doors-esque tune where he channeled his inner Jim Morrison, complete with leather pants and dark baritone intonations.

For the encore, Yankovic and band came back dressed as Jedi, and were flanked by a line of Stormtroopers and Darth Vader for a rendition of “The Saga Begins,” which tells a tongue in cheek tale of the life story of Anakin Skywalker set to the tune of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” When the song started, the Imperial troops and Sith lord stood at fast attention, but as the song picked up tempo, they broke character and started dancing about to hilarious effect.

Continuing with the Star Wars theme for his last song, Yankovic ended the entertaining show with “Yoda,” his tribute to everybody’s favorite Jedi master,
encouraging the crowd to chant along during the chorus.

Live Shots: Das Racist at Ruby Skye


The disgruntled bouncer at Ruby Skye begrudgingly admitted my entry to the Das Racist show on Friday night, only after I managed to flag down the event’s promoter to confirm my legitimacy. It was a telling kick off to an evening riddled with problems on behalf of the club, but I wanted to approach with an open mind.

Leaving my issues with the hyper-vigilant door staff outside, I grabbed an $11 drink at the bar and headed toward the stage to wait for opener Danny Brown. I didn’t need to wait long, as I later learned Das Racist fans would be evacuated from the venue by 10 p.m. to make room for the usual clubutantes.

In his signature skinny jeans and choked-voice delivery, Brown pulled off a riveting set. The Detroit, Mich., rapper asked the audience to “give it up for all the beautiful ladies” before launching into verse after maniacal verse about sex, drugs, and debauchery.

Shortly after Brown stepped off, Das Racist sauntered on stage to soak up a feverish response from fans. The large, intoxicated dude in front of me would go ape throughout the night, knocking people’s drinks over and demanding more than his share of high fives from the group.

Right off the bat, Victor Vazquez (a.k.a. Kool AD) took a dive into the collegiate looking audience. As the microphones began to malfunction, Vazquez appeared to lose interest and spent much of the show seated in various places on stage. Vazquez did, however, manage to yank Hypeman Ashok Kondabolu by the collar of his jumpsuit just as he was about to pounce on some guy for getting too grabby.

Himanshu Suri (a.k.a. Heems) seemed less fazed by Ruby Skye’s sound problems. Suri mimed some air guitar and flashed rock star devil horns at fans between verses. In a hilarious moment of self-parody or unprecedented narcissism, Suri lifted his black Das Racist shirt to reveal yet another Das Racist shirt beneath it.

The group’s many collaborators doubled as stage hands, dipping backstage to find new microphones as others shorted out. The best cameo of the evening goes to the swagger-drenched re-work of Dr. Dre’s “Xplosive” by Boots Riley of the Coup. Newcomer Lakutis performed the absurdly catchy track “Lakutis In Da Haus” from his upcoming EP and re-appeared for Das Racist’s “Rapping 2 U.” Brown and Despot contributed verses on “Power.” Due to sound issues, I couldn’t really tell what Trackademicks was doing, but he was there, too.

Despite the unfortunate setting, fans went totally berserk for Das Racist, shouting along to hits like “Michael Jackson” so enthusiastically that the technical difficulties became nearly inconsequential.

Dam-Funk brings modern funk and futuristic shoulder synth to Mezzanine


The Mezzanine wasn’t packed to capacity Saturday night, but there was a point about a quarter into Dam-Funk’s set when things started to get electric on the dance floor. I was in a sort of self-imposed paralysis, but looking around, it seemed as if I was surrounded by about half a dozen people, each just completely going for it. Woman in a sundress, shaking it back and forth without spilling the second half of her drink; A couple of businessmen out for a night during a layover; Short brunette busting out some fly girl moves not seen since In Living Color; Some jaw-some kid with ass length blonde hair and a complete tie-died outfit (with matching head-band), popping, locking, sliding, swerving, and whatever, all in a way that screamed drugs; A skinny guy with a flat-top and glasses, dancing with two girls and doing the robot. The fucking robot.

Everyone was getting down to the best of their ability; they were getting down to the combined forced of Master Blazter: L.A. musicians Dam-Funk, Computer Jay, and J-1. I had told my friends that we were going to a funk show, which was true in one sense, but totally misleading. Sure, the show was part of the SF Funk Fest, but for a lot of people, the term funk conjures up images of a bygone era of music, now performed by revivalists. Early in, Dam-Funk (his music’s greatest defender) got on the mic to clear this up, saying that what they were playing wasn’t “retro funk” – pronouncing retro like his wanted to spit – it was “modern funk.”

Whatever it is (some call it boogie funk), it’s got a heavy electronic sound, built on Dam-Funk’s Roland keyboards and shoulder synth (he also doesn’t like to hear people call that a keytar), Computer Jay’s beat work, and J-1’s breaks on the drum kit. A little bit of George Clinton/Sun Ra styled spaciness, mixed with some West Coast G rap cool, with some Prince style stage presence, there’s a lot of references to pick up, but the end product seems slightly futuristic. Not the reincarnation of Stevie Wonder in the year 2077, but like 14 months into the future, when all known musical genres have completed melded.

As a group, Master Blazter can jam out on a track, building it up beyond what the audience thinks it can take and holding it there, but knows when to shift and refocus attention, leading to some fairly memorable solos: Dam-Funk taking over on the drums for a super-syncopated session. Or, Computer Jay letting go of his giant console and coaxing a big, bouncy beat out of a little tiny controller with the playfulness of a child with a Gameboy. And, of course, Dam-Funk bringing his keyt – shoulder synth down into the crowd, letting the mob join in and smack the keys. The fact that the last one didn’t devolve into noise is a testament to how well the rest of the group grounded the beat.

The only lull in the evening came right before the encore moment. I don’t know if somebody actually said anything to him to occasion it, or if it was just a standard part of the show (I’m leaning this way,) but Dam-Funk went into a fairly long interlude mid-track about being called “nigga.” The beat seemed to hang on endless symbol crashes as Dam Funk asked “What makes me different from (insert black figure)?” MLK Jr., Malcolm X, Colin Powell, Bill Cosby. (I started to nervously laugh when he got to Cosby, the intensity ratcheting up out of nowhere, along with the many possible absurd answers to that rhetorical question.) This was mixed with declarations that this wasn’t just a “coon show.”* Maybe part of getting people to take his music as more than just dance music involves provocation, but in an interesting twist, and showing that he wasn’t just covering Sly Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” Dam-Funk said at one point he was speaking to the black guys in the audience “I’m not your nigga, I’m your brother.” If he wanted to challenge people, he did, as the atmosphere definitely changed, and a few tired couples seemed to take it as a cue to leave.

The energy down, it wasn’t enough to totally derail the night. Mainly because even when the DJ (possibly just picking up clues from the crowd) started playing records, J-1 came to the front of the stage and – with some throat slicing motions – signaled both “cut that shit off” and “this shows not over.” Dam-Funk returned to the stage (and smaller crowd) for an encore, which included the single “Hood Pass Intact.” Among Dam-Funk’s catchiest, straightforward songs, it’s a celebration of keeping it real, and a good option for introducing people to his music. Typically one of the easiest songs to get into, on Saturday night it was also the hardest to get to.

*Google “Dam Funk Antoine Dodson” for more on this topic.

New ‘Romance’: Wild Flag stole our hearts at Great American Music Hall


Despite the awesome spectacle (high kicks, guitar humping) and the resumes (Sleater-Kinney, Helium, the Minders) Wild Flag’s music stands on its own. The indie rock foursome (don’t call it a supergroup) from Portland, Oreg. and Washington D.C. ripped the Great American Music Hall to shreds on Saturday night, likely Friday night too, but I wasn’t there.

Jumping on stage without a word and whipping through the first three songs of the set (all off the self-titled debut), the band set the bar high early; the energy between vocalist-guitarist Mary Timony and vocalist-guitarist Carrie Brownstein was instantly electric. The two snaked around one another, in classic sex-soaked rock god movements. Janet Weiss’ complex drumming remained a blissful flurry of pummeling hits. Organist Rebecca Cole added cool retro garage charm. This is a pack of insanely talented musicians, and the crowd fed off their every lick. It was a packed, attentive, ecstatic house.

Ever the dry wit, Brownstein occasionally piped up with observations — “last night they said we brought the weather from Portland” and “I watched two depressing movies before the show — Girl, Interrupted and How To Die In Oregon.” A pre-game decision that she identified as a bad idea. Playing nearly every track off the album, including standout “Racehorse” and singles “Future Crimes” and “Romance” –  plus two promising new songs – the band retreated off stage after a tight hour.

When they returned for the first and only encore, Brownstein said she’d read a story online about Danzig being too cold at Fun Fun Fun Fest, which delayed his stage time, then she remarked about his need for shawl, buttering us up for a Misfits cover. “I don’t need a fucking shawl to sing a Misfits song,” she explained. Brownstein tricked us by asking if we liked the Misfits song “’Bullet” – cheers – “Yeah, I’m not going to play that, it’s fucking offensive.” Wild Flag launched into a garage version of “She.” Someone threw a shawl on stage. This was followed by a Television cover. The band closed out the impeccable set with a tingling cover of Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels.”

While Wild Flag is essentially brand new (late 2010), the show felt nostalgic. It was the night of my 10-year high school reunion (which I chose not to attend for obvious reasons), and there were wistful pangs of youthful abandon. Having been just a tiny bit too young for the heart of riot grrrl, on the very teetering tip of the movement, I always felt like I was on the outside wishing to break in. But when the merch woman for Wild Flag at Great American Music Hall complimented my Bikini Kill tattoo, I was filled with pride. Listening to bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney changed my young life for the better; no matter my non-traditional place in its legacy, riot grrrl brought me to feminism, to music as art, to journalism.

Yes, Wild Flag is a new –  and might I add, yet again, brilliant – project and should be judged as such, that demands a clean slate, but the members have been a part of the cultural female underground, the ongoing, endless discussion of riot grrrl, post-riot-grrrl, women in rock, and genderless musicianship for decades. It’s unavoidable and I think, a disservice to simply ignore. When do we stop talking about musicians based on sex? It’s a question I alone cannot answer but I think it starts with bands like these. I wasn’t  the only one claiming it album of the year/best show of the year –  female or not – I’ve heard that high praise elsewhere, everywhere.

Live Shots: Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Rickshaw Stop


We all know the story: Some dude records an album in a basement, garners considerable Internet attention, tries to perform live, and totally blows it. Fortunately for the audience at the Rickshaw Stop on Thursday night, Unknown Mortal Orchestra is a bold exception to this emerging parable in modern music.

The band has played here several times already this year, and I’d heard nothing short of glowing reviews. Still, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how successfully its tracks would translate to the stage. The hazy, cracked psych-pop tunes dreamed up by Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s progenitor Ruban Nielson blossomed and came to life with help from bandmates Jacob Portrait and Julien Ehrlich.

Portrait’s steady basslines provided the backbone to the band’s live set. Young Ehrlich took Neilson’s beats to new heights with playful and dynamic percussion. What impressed me most, however, was Nielson’s trippy, psychedelic guitar wizardry. Although it runs throughout the band’s debut album, I’d somehow overlooked the crazy talent Nielson fostered through years playing in his previous band the Mint Chicks. 

During opener “Little Blu House,” Nielson hunched down into the swirling layer of onstage fog and did some serious solo shredding. These face-melting moments became the highlight of each song thereafter, especially on “Thought Ballune” and breakout track “Ffunny Ffriends.” Additional weirdness came courtesy of Nielson’s super fancy microphone filtering his voice into a fuzzy, scratchy warble.

Maybe it was the rain, but the crowd seemed oddly stoic on Thursday night. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s set warranted far more noodling than I witnessed at the Rickshaw Stop.

Opener: Denver, Colo., outfit Gauntlet Hair was a little down on its luck. The group’s first visit to California was plagued with rain, and leader Andy R. broke a guitar string during its first song. Despite minor setbacks, this flannel-clad foursome held it down for the Northwest with lots of shimmering guitars and Animal Collective-esque yelping, chant-like vocals. Drummer Craig Nice stole the show, inflicting a wild beating on a combination of acoustic and electronic drums.


If you missed it Thursday, both bands play New Parish this week:

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
With Gauntlet Hair
Nov. 7, 9 p.m., $8-10
The New Parish
579 18th St., Oakland
(510) 444-7474

Live Shots: Anamanaguchi at Slim’s


The self-proclaimed “nerds” behind me in the will-call line at Slim’s Sunday night were lamenting the theft of their culture. “I hate it when hipsters try to act like us,” one said, with threatening hostility. “Because you’re not one of us, you don’t know what it’s like, and it’s not fucking cool.” Oh crap, I thought, looking straight ahead. Are they talking about me? Do they think I’m a poser, coming to this show because it’s hip? That I wear chunky orthopedics and thick rimmed glasses for the purpose of ironic style? I got my ticket and went inside as fast as I could, away from the geek toughs.

Luckily the show itself wasn’t as militantly nerdcore as the line. Anamanaguchi borrows the speed and intensity of punk rock, but also has other notable influences. The band that’s known for making songs inspired by 8bit video game soundtracks, started out with “Space Wax America,” a new song that not only nods to Weezer’s “Surf Wax America” but has a bouncy background beat that could fit in with happy Euro techno. (Or maybe that certain rave quality was just the armfuls of glowsticks the band threw out to the audience. Or the visuals: colorful anime references including dogs, cats, and a never quite resolving cthuhlu Pokemon.) It’s like Anamanaguchi takes all the fun parts from genres and ditches the rest. And the band looks to be having a blast, particularly guitarist/member-who-handles-most-mic-breaks, Peter Berkman, who performed in a clearly homemade and adorable Adventure Time costume.

The band created the soundtrack to the video game version of the Scott Pilgrim Versus The World graphic novels, so combined with Halloween eve, I wasn’t surprised to see some evil ex-boyfriends amongst the crowd. I was, however, caught off guard by what appeared to be a combination of Ramona Flowers and the The Dark Knight’s Joker, giant red lips and short green hair with long tufts hanging down in front of each ear. Afterward, I asked her if I was identifying it right and she said, “Well, Ramona Flowers is my everyday look, and I wanted to be the Joker, so I guess you could say yes.” I checked my wallet and looked around for the guys from the line. If they still had it in for me, I could always give the girl a twenty to tell them “He’s with me.”

Opener: During a song about Jesus and fucking asses up like a car crash, opener Knife City took a brief swig of his beer and proceeded to spit it over the crowd in the front. The reaction from the rest of the crowd, looks of disgust and puzzlement, quickly revealed who was punk or not.

Youth Lagoon kicks off his first national tour at Bottom of the Hill


My infatuation with Youth Lagoon is easy to explain. Youth Lagoon brainchild Trevor Powers and I have a lot in common. Like Powers, I’m an anxious kid who grew up in the scenic, laid back city of Boise, Id. The piano pop prodigy and I have our differences, though. For instance, I didn’t make one of 2011’s most surprising and heartfelt albums, The Year Of Hibernation (Fat Possum).

It was an evening of firsts at the Bottom of the Hill on Tuesday. The sold-out show marked the kick off of Youth Lagoon’s first national headlining tour. It was also Powers’ first time performing in San Francisco. With the way fans eagerly rushed the stage long before Powers appeared, you’d think he was a hometown hero. 

A hush fell over the audience as the shaggy-haired boy wonder laid out the tender leading notes of “Cannons.” Then the thunderclap of the drum machine kicked in, setting the crowd in motion and giving rise to appreciative hoots and hollers.

This became the pattern of Powers’ set; transfixing us with fragile, emotional delivery then compelling us to dance with his effervescent bedroom beats.

The highly personal nature of Powers’ music was intensified by his remarkably candid song introductions. I got a little verklempt when he revealed that “Bobby” was about his older brother easing his struggles with anxiety.

The Year Of Hibernation’s haunting guitar loops were skillfully re-created by Powers’ friend Logan Hyde. The duo’s entrancing rendition of “Daydream” was another first, as it had never before been performed for an audience. Seconds after closing with “July” and stepping offstage, the sheepish Powers returned for what seemed like an unplanned solo encore of his album’s bonus track, “Ghost To Me.”

Opener: Also making its San Francisco debut was Australian trio Young Magic. The group pulled off an occult vibe by placing lit candles on stage, layering lots of spooky, howling vocals, and rattling the venue with so much bass that my vision blurred. Though the spanking new group performed a super short set, it was enough catch my interest. I’m hereby pronouncing Young Magic a band to watch.

The Damned celebrates 35 years of punk at Slim’s


The Damned first turned heads back in 1976. On Saturday night, the UK punk band took to the stage at Slim’s as part of its 35th Anniversary Tour and proved it’s only grown better with time.

Led by founding members Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible, the current lineup of the group ripped through a set of two complete albums from start to finish; its debut LP, Damned Damned Damned, and its fourth release, The Black Album.

When he first walked out on stage and strapped on his guitar, Captain Sensible greeted the audience and thanked them for coming to the special anniversary show, saying with a smirk, “We’re going to play a couple of records that some people consider classics — I guess I can’t really comment on that.”

The band then launched into the first salvo of the opening bass notes of “Neat Neat Neat,” on to “New Rose,” “Drinking About My Baby,” “Hit Or Miss” and more, charging through the material, with the sold-out crowd singing along with Vanian’s goth punk-meets-rockabilly crooner vocals, and pulsing to the jackhammer rhythm section of drummer Pinch and bassist Stu Miller. Keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron presided over the proceedings like some sort of mad conductor or possessed version of Beethoven, his hands flailing wildly about when not pounding the keys.

After completing the two albums in their entirety, the group came back out for a short encore of other fan favorites, including “Jet Boy, Jet Girl,” (with Vanian encouraging the crowd to help him with the tune’s signature “woo-ooh-ooh-ooh!” chorus) and ending with the appropriately titled “Smash It Up.” Once again, the Damned cemented its reputation as one of the best bands to come out of the first wave of punk.

Live Shots: Soulwax at the Independent


Whether more or less true in other places, the crowds at shows in the Bay Area can be disappointingly savvy regarding encores. They know that if the band says goodnight and leaves the stage, the show is only possibly over. Or if recorded music comes over the speakers, the show is likely over. And (of course everyone knows) that when the house lights come on, the show is definitely over. It’s a convention that the bands and audience both understand, but robs everyone of some fun. Which was why it was wonderfully surprising that the majority of the people at the Independent Thursday night stuck around clapping, shouting, and making noise ’till it hurt in an attempt to get Soulwax to come back out on stage.

Didn’t happen. The staff of the club kept cranking the volume of the music louder, finally getting on the mic to announce that it was really over, everyone actually had to leave. Anyone that wants more will need to check out the Live 105 Subsonic Halloween Ball at the Regency Ballroom tonight, where the Dawaele brothers will be headlining as one of their many other aliases/projects, 2manydjs. Which may be confusing for anyone outside of Belgium, the UK, or Soulwax’s extremely dedicated fan base.

Essentially, what the folks at the show on Thursday (many of whom seemed to have traveled to be there and may have paid hefty sum to the scalpers outside) got was Soulwax, the four-part electronic rock band, which is a bit of an oddity in that its last conventional album was 2004’s Any Minute Now. Nonetheless it’s continued to tour and perform the earlier material, reworking and tightening it up. Which basically means that as a group, Soulwax has its act down: matching suits, tons of strobes to go with them, and the music, a no-nonsense succession of synthed out, percussive tracks that go from brooding to funky to electro without ever stopping. (Maybe part of the reason that people wanted an encore so bad – shortly after a screaming sing-along rendition of “NY Excuse” – was that without the breaks the ending just snuck up on them.) When I say they don’t stop, I mean it; for a band, Soulwax transitions seamlessly, with the skill of great DJs.

Which the Dawaele brothers are, primarily under that other name: 2manydjs. That’s been their focus the last couple of years, culminating in the creation of Radio Soulwax, an ongoing collection of 24-hour long theme mixes available online, accompanied by some pretty crafty visuals created from the sampled album covers. (I’ve found listening to it to be a great way to power through the work day, assuming 5 Hour Energy, coffee, or cocaine doesn’t work for you.) As Soulwax, the band put on a hell of a show–supported by Goose, a group that understands everyone can switch from keyboards to guitars as much as they want, provided that the drummer kicks hard and lays down some tommy gun fills–but 2manydjs may be able to top it. According to an avowed fan I talked to last night (the kind that has the white label vinyl and wears black glasses without lenses–hopefully as an early Halloween costume,) 2manydjs is the “real deal.” Somehow, as an encore, it might be the rare case where the DJ set is better than the band.

Live 105’s 3rd Annual Subsonic Halloween Ball
With 2manydjs, Fake Blood, Bag Raiders, Classixx, Tenderlions, Aaron Axelson, and more
Mon/31, 5:45 p.m., $25-$90
Regency Ballroom
1300 Van Ness, SF
(800) 745-3000