Live Review

Manchester Orchestra delivers the Southern riffs at the Regency Ballroom



South by Southwest favorites White Denim helped draw a sizable crowd in support of Manchester Orchestra to the Regency Ballroom on the Friday before Halloween. The Austin, Texas locals did not, however, save for a few ripping solos and a lap around the stage that coincided with some lyrics about running (I think), perform memorably for the sparsely costumed audience.

White Denim played jammy, hip indie rock with, albeit, some interesting twists and breakdowns, and certainly with no lack of musicianship, but the set failed to deliver any standout moments. Instead, it seemed to fade into a background noise of other, similar bands with able musicians at the helm playing decent rock’n’roll to the Coachella generation.

Headliners Manchester Orchestra, on the other hand, delivered where White Denim almost, so close, really, but didn’t. Although named after a city half a world away, this quintet didn’t hide its Atlanta, roots, with booming Southern riffs made for long haired swaying.

Singer Andy Hull’s voice carried the night; his powerful and versatile vocal chords were the perfect accompaniment to songs that often hinged on a transition from Elliot Smith-like emotive indie rock to Weezer-esque arena worship. The crowd was rocking right along with the rest of the band, especially the keyboard player – what is it about keyboard players in rock bands that makes them feel like they have to overcompensate? There was plenty of singing along, dancing and no-joke raised lighters to top it all off.

These songs made up the bulk of the set and, while enjoyable, were relatively formulaic. The most interesting part of Manchester Orchestra’s set was not these anthems, but instead the several shorter songs interspersed throughout: a handful of minute or so long tunes reminiscent of Billy Bragg or early Against Me! that showcased Hull’s songwriting prowess. Sappy? Perhaps. Awesome? Indeed.

A very Nobunny Halloween turns crazy, quickly


It’s a little nerve-wracking going out in costume for a show when it’s not quite yet Halloween. What if no one else dresses up and it’s a scene out of Legally Blonde? Luckily the bands at Brick and Mortar (Zulus, Uzi Rash, Apache, Nobunny, Ty Segall) were slated to perform costumed covers, so I figured it would be safe. (Plus, I spent enough money making the damn thing to ensure I’d be living with my dad for an additional month–so I was gonna milk it.) Still, when I got inside the venue, I scouted to find some other outfits among black clothes and leather. A guy was wearing a 1994 USA Olympic Dream Team windbreaker (“Carl Mullen” he told me, pointing to one of the figures with a basketball). Another guy was dressed as Business Man Who Has Too Much To Drink, Tries To Mosh Too Early, And Is Never Seen Again, but this was easily topped by the best costume of the night: Totally Trashed Crazy Girl.

Totally Trashed Crazy Girl is an excellent example of how to pull off a costume. Because it’s not just about the outfit. Hers was simply a black dress, although she gained (some would say stole) some accessories throughout the night. By itself, not enough to make people understand the costume, but she also committed to the concept. (Because really, who wants to stand around all night explaining how you’re a Totally Trashed Crazy Girl when they ask “What are you supposed to be?”).

As soon as the Zulus came onstage performing as the Stooges, it was clear that TTCG would have to step up her game. Because let’s face it, it’s hard to show up Iggy Pop and Zulus’ Iggy was on it. Launching into “Search and Destroy,” he almost immediately flew into the crowd, where he would spend half his time, when not contorting his body into extreme poses onstage. Simply trying to wave the lead singer down mid-song would not prove to be a strong enough tactic for TTCG.

And step it up she did. While Uzi Rash covered the Undertones, TTCG took to pulling on the lead singer’s pant legs. Initially, slightly bothered, saying “Would you stop that?”, Uzi Rash’s version of Feargal Sharkey eventually just blew her off with bursts of microphone feedback before walking over her with his bare feet.

During its set, Apache’s singer asked if there were any drinks for his Dead Boys. Someone in the audience passed up a partially full flask of Jack Daniel’s Honey Whiskey, which was passed around by the band before being set down by the kit. This is where TTCG proceed to creep onstage and grab it for herself. “No!” the original owner of this questionable liquor said, “That’s not for you!” and took it away.

Now fully in the spirit of the role, TTCG was comfortable being on stage, seeking out any drinks or Reese’s Cups that happened to be evading her. Ty Segall as the Gories took it upon himself to eject her mid-song, screaming “Get this girl off the stage, motherfuckers!”

The bands had a lot to contend with that night in addition to TTCG, in particular stolen setlists taken by overzealous fans. Nobunny, doing his best David Johansen (all the New York Dolls were looking pretty good), had to request that they give it back, “or at least just shout out the next song.” Fittingly, it was “Bad Girl,” during which TTCG made her final appearance. (Clearly it had to be a costume – how else could she have survived the night? Five bands!) “You’re a bad girl,” admonished Nobunny. “Only because you keep punching me in my dick and I don’t like it.” Just to show that there were no hard feelings, he later awarded TTCG a red feather boa.

Hans-Joachim Roedelius celebrates his 77th birthday at Cafe Du Nord


“What a cerebral evening,” a show companion observed as we exited Cafe Du Nord last night, pushing the doors open to a whoosh of cool fall air. Indeed. For the man who’s seen it all, first as a child actor in 1930s Germany, then as a reluctant member of the Hitler Youth, and finally a pioneer of early experimental krautrock in the 1970s and ambient jazz, Hans-Joachim Roedelius (Cluster/Harmonia) was not the confrontational artist one might expect. Tall and bald with wire-rimmed glasses, he was erudite, pleasant, subdued.

He looked concentrated while constructing music, focused mainly on lilting keyboard and buzzing MOOG and an Allen & Heath ZED 14 mixer (note: I read the back of machines well), but between the pieces Roedelius smiled wide, nearly goofy. It was his 77th birthday, a rather special occasion. He kicked off the set with a startling sample of America’s national anthem, followed by a half-hour-long piece of ambient drone. He then told us he’d play Europe’s national anthem and out came a crackling Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (“Ode to Joy”).

The crowd, mostly casual in black hoodies and  sportscoats, wished the living legend well, and sang him “Happy Birthday” (English version). Roedelius looked pleased, thanking us back repeatedly, tipping his handled glass of amber liquor. I guessed it spiced rum, just to keep it casual, another show companion thought perhaps brandy. Astute observations all around, companions.

An aside. These are the sounds I heard (or perhaps conjured) during the set of experimental openers, XAMBUCA:
1. Fat drops of metal tears.
2. Supposedly what it sounds like to have cochlear implants (according to a This American Life episode)
3. Fuzzy ham radio waves
4. A swarm of electronic birds
5. The knock-knock-knocking of a looming horror movie villain


*Note: excuse the red-soaked tone of the images. But really gives you a sense of the humming womb ambience, no?

Himalayan Bear turns out one of the greatest shows of the year at Hemlock Tavern


Tuesday night, while all my friends tweeted incessantly about Male Bonding at the Rickshaw Stop, I was quietly preparing for Himalayan Bear at the Hemlock Tavern. After writing an article on Himalayan Bear’s Hard Times (Absolutely Kosher), I found myself obsessively revisiting the album.

Each time I listened to Ryan Beattie’s range-vaulting voice and dark, reverb-drenched guitar, yet another reason to love the album revealed itself to me. I spotted Beattie grabbing a beer and a shot at the bar before ducking back into the dimly lit concert room. I made a mad dash to catch what I knew would be a memorable set. What I didn’t know was that his performance would turn out to be one of the greatest things I’ve seen all year.

As soon as Beattie launched into the first wailing guitar notes of the title track, “Hard Times,” and began crooning with that mournful, impassioned voice, I was floored. Assisted
by his brother Patrick Beattie on keys, Megan Boddy on viola, and Matt Skillings on drums, Beattie treated us to Hard Times in its entirety. Years spent playing guitar in Frog Eyes have paid off; Beattie filled the tiny room with lush reverberation. He floated marvelously in and out of his divine trademark falsetto.

Witnessing this cathartic performance in such an intimate setting, I felt as if I’d cheated somehow. Standing there, enraptured by Beattie, I recalled what he told me the first time we spoke: “To me, playing live is the greatest thing ever.”

Live Shots: Gold Panda at the Independent


The endangered giant panda. The vulnerable red panda. But, the most rare variety of all, the elusive Gold Panda, emerged under the cover of a hooded sweatshirt (as is his nature) at the Independent Tuesday night, drawn out by the lure of a MPC, samples, and a sold out crowd.

Gold Panda’s music runs between melancholy and exuberance. Even when the BPM picks up on one level and the notes get more and more chopped up, the speedy, aggressive current that runs through so much electronic music never emerges. Maybe it’s the slow drone or the endless, never collapsing crashes that seem to be in the background of most of his songs, a building hypnotic tension behind his beats. (Hypnotic that is, until a quick little break comes around, smacks you in the ear, and leaves like nothing happened.)

As the UK/Germany based musician (“real” name Derwin Panda) played a fairly long set, covering most of the material off his LPs Lucky Shiner and Companion, the music seemed natural and organic, but also utterly inhuman. When voices appear, they’re abstracted, like the foreign ragas or the dissected “you.” (No setlist for this one; knowing the title of “I Suppose I Should Say ‘Thanks’ Or Some Shit”, contributes little to the appreciation, and is arguably distracting.) The stage setup was simple with some LED string lights and a paper lantern, but the live visuals by Ronni Shendar complemented the emotional mood of the songs perfectly, with found typographic examples, oceanic and urban triptychs, and some nature shots deserving of Attenborough.

Blackout Make Out wins the best name award. A shaggy haired, jeans-clad, sunglassed, mustachioed, local singer songwriter sang ballads, sustaining notes on the electric guitar over synthetic beats. “Do you, you run away? Will you, will you stay?” At times a little ooh-ooh moan-y, but dude wasn’t afraid to let his guitar go to work over a building four-to-the-floor bass beat. Some cool moments sounded like he was having a conversation with his instrument, or more appropriately, arguing that no one is broken hearted like a man in denim.

At the conclusion of Jonti, a guy behind me said, “It was like a Rain Man set.” Burn, dude. That’s a little harsh, but I knew when Jonti, hailing from South Africa, took off his shoes right before starting, that it was going to be an idiosyncratic performance. Charmingly awkward, he lost a lot of momentum in his mic breaks, and was then be faced with the hard labor up building it back up. But there was a joy in watching Jonti get into his own distinctive beats enough to not just put words together but actually sing. Better than counting matchsticks.

Live Shots: Portishead at the Greek Theatre


Once while talking music with friends on a long road trip I was posed with the task of describing Portishead’s sound. Struggling to articulate the sum of their collective parts, I did a hasty mental cut-and-paste and said, “They’re sorta like…if Pink Floyd was a hip-hop band…and Billie Holiday was their singer.” It’s a clunky description, not so much for the references, but because Portishead’s greatest attribute is their ability to bend genres so seamlessly that it all morphs into their own sort of singular sonic universe. Even the prevailingly appropriate moniker of trip-hop (of the Bristol variety) really seems more of a launching point than a description.

So it was a rare opportunity this past week to witness Portishead’s audio empire live in the Bay Area for the first time in over 13 years (when in 1998, it recorded an epic version of “Sour Times” during a Warfield performance for the Roseland NYC Live album, later that year). Playing the Greek Theatre in Berkeley on Friday October 21, Portishead worked through a 16-song set as a six-piece live band, dark silhouettes set against a backdrop of vibrant visuals as band members broadcasted an eclectic mix of their catalogue (pulling most heavily from their more recent LP, Third). Singer Beth Gibbons was in fine tortured form, even as the early part of the set was dominated by surprisingly straightforward renderings. But during the second half of the performance Portishead delved deep in their element with a batch of expanded arrangements on some prime tracks that produced stunning results, most notably a massively ominous “Wandering Star” and an out-for-blood “Machine Gun.”

Tracks off of the band’s self-titled second album showcased Portishead’s mastermind Geoff Barrows working his way from a cocoon of varying instruments to the turntables were he cut up gargantuan spots on “Over” and “Cowboys.”  The night’s showstopper came in the form of “Roads” (off of the band’s landmark debut Dummy) as Beth Gibbons’ vocals hit their apex for the evening.

Seeing Portishead again for the first time in a decade, I tried to improve on my original description of their sound, but I’m still not so sure how to peg it all: they sounded like Nina Simone scoring a James Bond film, and the beginning of the end of a great romance, and a DJ battle under pulsing blacklights. Of course, none of these are fully apt either. After all…it’s Portishead. For those who know, it’s description enough.




Nylon Smile


The Rip

Sour Times

Magic Doors

Wandering Star

Machine Gun


Glory Box

Chase the Tear





We Carry On






Theophilus London goes beyond fashion at the Rickshaw Stop


Let’s talk about what Theophilus London was wearing last night at his concert at Rickshaw Stop and get it out of the way.

It was: a disco ball of a black tank top, black leather jacket, the “LVRS” hat he sports in many of his  model-filled music videos, non-denominational levels of chains (he is all about these, he told GQ, “from Cuban links to herringbone”) around his neck and wrist, and some real nice white pants. He looked good.

But you already knew that. Charges have been leveled against London that most of the 24-year old Brooklyn-to-Poconos Trindidadian emcee’s serious press has come from fashion magazines. Certainly one must raise an eyebrow when a Vogue profile assures that he has musical chops and to just look at his collaborators: “Mark Ronson, Sara Quin (one-half of the Canadian indie twins Tegan and Sara) and Solange Knowles.”


The crowd at Rickshaw wasn’t worrying about the merits of his hip-hop-via-Michael-Jackson tunes though – they were too busy dancing. 

Because say what you like about London’s artistic merit, the relatively unvarying pace of his flow, any lingering questions about his “credibility” as a rapper (is there a more tired refrain in music?), his songs are more than serviceable as pop tunes. Well-constructed personas, like the cowboy-shirt-wearing, dookie-chained, perma-sunglassed one he’s got make for great eye candy and the twenty-something (and under, this was a Pop Scene show after all) crowd wasn’t taking his eyes off him.

One imagines that the next time London makes it to the Bay (he seemed stoked on us, by the way) his show won’t be $13 anymore. 

Mini symphonies and Beach House: Treasure Island, day two


Though Wild Beasts’ brand of baroque, sensual dream-pop is better suited for a dark and smoky bar, I consider it an honor to catch the UK band in any setting. A sizable crowd gathered around the Tunnel stage at Treasure Island Music Festival to enjoy songs from this year’s Smother, along with older material like breakout hit “The Devil’s Crayon.” Hayden Thorpe’s heavenly falsetto rang out over chiming guitar provided by Ben Little.

“This song is about fucking,” Tom Fleming announced before launching into “All The King’s Men” from the 2009’s Mercury Prize-nominated Two Dancers. At this point, visible swooning ensued among a group of devoted female fans with a handwritten sign praising Fleming’s velvety baritone. It was the final show of a month-long stint in the States for this English bunch. As they directed our attention to the glittering bay behind them, I became quite certain it would be remembered fondly by band and audience alike.

Over on the Bridge stage, seasoned alt-rock vets Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks shredded super hard. Malkmus’ sharp-tongued stage banter kept me giggling between songs. However, anyone standing near where I was won’t need me to recount the wildly distracting antics of the boy dancing with a giant plush hot dog. Also, I’d be curious to hear from the burner brave enough to follow up on bassist Joanna Bolme’s request for “herbal cigarettes.” In an act of genius scheduling, Beach House took to the Bridge stage just as the sun began to set against the San Francisco skyline. The sky took on a surreal orange hue that fit all too well with the Baltimore, Md., ensemble’s hazy, dreamy tunes.

I’m not sure which was more jaw-dropping, the epic sunset or Victoria Legrand’s stunning features displayed on the jumbo screen behind her. Couples embraced and swayed to the melancholic arrangements of Alex Scally’s wailing guitar and Legrand’s organ; a few audience members were reduced to tears. Although I didn’t cry, Beach House’s flawless delivery of “Take Care” just as darkness fell over the island was, hands-down, my favorite TIMF moment.

Maybe I’m getting old, but all the excitement, running between stages, and daytime beers left me exhausted. Sorry Death Cab, Explosions In The Sky served as my TIMF grand finale. I had reservations about the instrumental rock band’s ability to hold my attention for a full set, and previous acts had already set the bar pretty high. However, my expectations were thwarted as the Austin, Texas post-rockers completely blew me away. Members of Explosions In The Sky threw themselves into the mini symphonies, sometimes sitting down due to the physical demand of their elaborate instrumentation. About halfway through the performance, a swarm of illuminated white fabric jellyfish appeared overhead and gracefully bobbed through the crowd. I watched the giant screen in awe as Munaf Rayani open-handedly slapped the strings of his guitar with dramatic emphasis to produce a piercing, eerily dissonant sound. Then Rayani and the band finished up a melodic masterpiece and the audience erupted into wild, reverberating applause.


Click here for day one.

Frothing group hugs at Metronomy’s Rickshaw Stop show


It’s safe to say that next time Metronomy comes to town, it will be playing a bigger venue. Friday’s show at the Rickshaw Stop was full, and had, to the surprise and dismay of at least a few, sold out a month before. Singer Joseph Mount graciously thanked the audience for snatching up tickets at the rate they did. It’s a sign of the growth Metronomy has had over the course  of three albums, a solo instrumental electronic project of Mount’s now grown into a tight, cool pop group.

The band came on stage, Gbenga Adelekan’s bass-line leading into “We Broke Free” from this year’s The English Riviera (an album which attempts to reclaim Devon, England as an alluring vacation hot-spot.) The bass is the anchor on that track and as a lot of Metronomy’s work, slow and sensual, a place to return to even after the drums, keys and, guitar built into a frenzy midway. Things stayed relaxed.

Which isn’t to say there wasn’t dancing. Just that there wasn’t a lot of extraneous selling required to work the crowd. Mount at one point played a one-sided game of guess-what’s-in-my-Solo-cup* and told a story about driving down to SF and looking for the sea, regally pronouncing Portland as Port Land, but generally, the music spoke for itself. By the time

Metronomy started playing “The Bay,” there were a few shouts of “Amazing!” and an alcohol enabled frothing group hug/dance broke out near the stage, sweaty arms clutching anyone within reach, partly out of comaraderie and partly in need for support.

About equal time was given to the new album as well as 2008’s Nights Out, where Mount first emerged as a catchy lyricist, with a breakdown right in the middle of the show for a few instrumentals from Metronomy’s debut, Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe). Despite the increased attention the band is getting, there’s still a nice sense that it doesn’t take itself seriously, striking the occasional playful dramatic pose and wearing chest mounted lights that were as goofy as mood enhancing. Also, Oscar Cash’s MIDI sax.

As an encore Metronomy played “Everything Goes My Way,” causing drummer Anna Prior’s voice to be stuck in my head for days, before closing the show with the shout-along “Radio Ladio.”

Set List
1. We Broke Free
2. Love Underlined
3. Back On The Motorway
4. Holiday
5. She Wants
6. Heartbreaker
7. The Bay
8. You Could Easily Have Me
9. The End Of You Too
10. Corinne
11. The Look
12. A Thing For Me
13. On Dancefloors
14. Some Written

15. Everything Goes My Way
16. Radio Ladio

*Vodka with a sweet and sour mix. “And it was very sweet. And it was very sour.”

Space Mayans and techno-African kuduro: Treasure Island, day one


Treasure Island Music Festival rewards the stout of heart and non-possessive of blanket space. The way the island fest is set up, no two concerts overlap – if one feels up to it, one can traverse the 100-some meters between the Bridge and Tunnel (get it?)  stages to catch any given day’s entire. Music. Lineup. Upshot? I spent a solid hour in the press tent with my feet on a card table, tapping away on my smart phone as though taking notes, incredibly unstout.

But the music!

We got there on one of the first, cushy shuttle buses of the day. Chair foursomes facing each other over tables with cupholders? A bike workshop run by Levi’s was set up next to the SF Bike Coalition’s valet services at AT&T so our cycles were tuned and gleaming by the well-deserved end of the festival day? Clearly, TIMF is doing it’s best to ameliorate the rage caused by the long shuttle lines one must endure after the headliner’s close.

Our haste was due to one man: Aloe Blacc (though we managed to catch the also-rad performance by local indies Geographer). Blacc might have been a slightly unconventional choice for the electro-dominant festival but it is, after all, not a bad idea to provide refuge from driving beats and plaintive whines for just a moment. He appeared onstage the embodiment of dapper, and went out of his way to inspire audience participation (singing and soul line) for his singles “You Make Me Smile” and “I Need a Dollar.” A late-in-the-set switch to reggae showcased his range.

Then: ferris wheel. If you want to really see this festival, you will do it from the whooping, screeching heights of an amusement park ride ($5, meh). Do this early in the day because by the time it gets dark, you’ll have lines all the way out to the Burning Man shipping container area (where the bonneted “grahamas” handed out graham crackers and freaky faux-old-woman coddling). Also, do the Silent Disco early in the day for the same, line-related reasons.

Shabazz Palaces was great, the Naked and Famous were great. Battles, I was tickled to learn upon reading my program prior to its set, holds in down in New York for “math rock,” which surely you can imagine as the climbing and descending wash of sounds that it is. I felt the unexamined logarithms washing over me… but it was time for Dizzie Rascal.

Why has this emcee achieved more renown in the United States than nearly any of his non-US peers? (Which I typed out just before being reminded by Wikipedia that Drake is from Canada) It’s been a long time since his 2003 debut album Boy in Da Corner. The Ghanian Brit gave us dubstep because he heard “Americans like dubstep,” got everyone dancing to the sound of police sirens, and generally set the international stage for Portugal’s Buraka Som Sistema, which jounced around the stage in a techno-African kuduro whirl.

One thing. Why is Native American the design motif of choice at festivals these days? I blame Urban Outfitters, but the numbers of TIMF-supplied teepees didn’t help, and to a lesser extent, neither did Workshop’s adorable and well-meaning dreamcatcher classes. Kids, dressing up as an ethnic group you do not belong to is a total no-no, even if you LOVE that neon feathered headdress. Just say no. I saw an awesome group on the Jumbotron whose crowd-locator totem pole had a plush broccoli strapped to it — you are welcome to try an animal, vegetable, or mineral theme. Chromeo turned in a good show, even if the duo doesn’t seem to have switched up its song retinue much since 2007’s Fancy Footwork album.

We stayed at the larger Bridge stage after that to begin the slow push to the front for the Australian end of the day one-two punch: Cut Copy and Empire of the Sun. This was the end of the day, and the well-prepared among us was revving up for the night while the rookies were drooping and falling backwards onto me every fucking time I was looking straight at their wobbly backside.

Can we talk about Empire of the Sun? I’d like to hear a reaction from someone in the back of the audience during that show, because honestly I feel bad for you. If you couldn’t see the costumes that the gaggle of space Mayans onstage were sporting, what was that like? If the epaulet-wigs weren’t easily visible flying through the air, if you couldn’t pick up the subtlety in the way the dolphin head dancers were cutting through the stage’s energy currents – the Jumbotron was tuned to the group’s Stargate-esque visuals instead of the close-up shots of the performers that had shown on it for every other show. Anyway, we were at the front and I will tell you right now what the show was like: awesome, even if most of the people around us were frozen looking at the stage in place of actually moving to the beat.

That was it. Then we waited in line for the shuttles. Which was fine, because we had a lot to talk about, like how there was no way in hell we’d be able to do this again the next day. (Unstout).


Click here for day two.

Live Shots: Prince Rama, Gang Gang Dance at the Independent


A few things Prince Rama –  show openers at the Independent last night –  and Gang Gang Dance –  headliners – have in common: a whole lot of rhythm, standing tribal drumming (Gang Gang also has a more Western seated drummer), psychedelic visuals (damn, should have brought those drugs the kids take), and high, reverberating, Bollyhood-recalling vocals.

Sanskrit chanting-synth act Prince Rama, somewhat of a baby-Gang Gang-in-training, had a lesser stage show, but the crowd still dug it. As noted by Taraka and Nimai Larson, their families were in attendance (I peeked a whole lot of them dancing up front and in the balcony) –  wait, are they really sisters? No matter, midway through the set, there was a trust fall, during the song “Trust,” off the band’s newest release Trust Now (Paw Tracks). That’s a whole lot of trust for such a sparse front row. Also on stage: the folded-over visuals producer, mixing warped live feeds of the Larson girls, eerily recalling Grace Slick’s color-saturated turn in Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

Gang Gang had such a strangely unceremoniously beginning, each musician casually making their way to the stage, then slowly grabbing the instruments; with singer-percussionist Lizzi Bougatsos –  wearing an over-sized skeleton vest, winged patterned blouse, and killer heels – holding up a large drum and banging. It did help build momentum, likely the point. Once the thumping bass and beats got going, it was a memorizing set, full of rave-like whimsy and “positive energy” (the floating triangle projected on the screen behind included those words, and vibrated with the rest of the sound). Bougatsos moved effortlessly from standing drums to mic to rhythmic dance-off with peculiar on-stage “spirit guide” Taka Imamura (who spent much of the set maneuvering a plastic bag covered stick). The wicker-tree-hat-dance was an odd moment, but thankfully brief.

Gang Gang played nearly every song off newest release Eye Contact (4AD), and saved the older tracks for the encore. All the while, a figure in one of those Scream masks filmed from the sidelines and drank straight tequila. Clearly, an entertaining night. Though I can’t help but recognize that the areas of the crowd where plumes of smoke rose were likely having the most fun.

Lovefoxxx makes SF love her at the Fillmore


By the end of last night at the Fillmore, CSS’s dynamic lead vocalist-party rioter Lovefoxxx was stripped down to a black tank top and ripped up jean shorts over fishnets, her raccoon eye makeup smeared across her face, fluffed pink hair electrified out of its sockets.

She had cartwheeled, stage-dove, danced through the crowd trailing the mic, spit liquids like a fizzing fountain across the stage/herself/the audience, and told us all  “I love you” a half dozen times, requesting that we should shout “I love you” back in manly intonations. For what started out as a calmer evening, with rumored low ticket sales, the show grew into a massive all-out punk rock dance party by evening’s close. My cheeks hurt from smiling.

Even openers MEN, who unfortunately had to work with a far smaller and less worked up audience in the early stages of the show, were working it it overtime, lead vocalist-electronics-shifter JD Samson hopped from mic to synth to laptop, and raised her tattooed arms, sporadically jumping into high-kicks to get the crowd going.

10 great bits about CSS and MEN at the Fillmore:
1. Lovefoxxx screaming “Fuck Everything” in a faux-growl before kicking off the jam, aptly titled “Fuck Everything” off the Brazilian rave-punk band’s new release, La Liberación, an album that takes one tiny baby step away from electro and one towards reggae-beat.
2. Before jumping in to (arguably, its biggest hit) “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex” off its self-titled debut, Lovefoxxx telling the crowd she’s single, and introducing her slightly-embarrassed guitarist-cowbellist Luiza Sá as also single.
3. The revelation that “Let’s Reggae All Night” is CSS’s least requested song. The band then ripping it open and tearing it apart, cementing its place as a future live request.
4. Before MEN’s song “Make Him Pay,” JD explaining “It’s about feminism and the economy.”
5. JD asking,  “Who here has eaten a burrito today?” Then seeing a show of hands. We do love our burritos, San Francisco.
6. Lovefoxxx grabbing the glasses of a toe-headed stranger (?) and trying them on for show.
7. The audience and artist call and response during MEN’s “Who Am I?” — “Who am I to feel so free?” “Who am I?”
8. The life-sized cartoon cut-outs of cute-dressed people (presumably odes to other collective members, including Johanna Fateman) on stage with MEN.
9. The kindergarten pink construction paper hearts attached to CSS’s amps, keyboards, and affixed to guitarist Ana Rezende’s shirted boobs.
10. Lovefoxxx. All of her. The glittered fox mask, stripping to fishnets and ripped shorts, constant mic swinging, drink-swilling, cartwheeling, butterfly-dancing, crowd-surfing punk princess goodness. She’s the electro-Brazilian Wendy O. Williams.

Live Review: Warpaint at The Independent, 3/16


The anticipation was brewing: even before the the ladies of Warpaint took the stage at the Independent, a guy standing at front and center passed out. His muscle failure could have been a product of over-intoxication, but I’m guessing it was an overdose of hard excitement. I admit, I too got the jimmy-legs during the show but I managed to keep them clenched until the encore came to a wow-worthy close. And then I hit the floor with a smirk. 

The LA band of four was nothing short of stunning. The set was gorgeously long, stacked with songs from their debut, The Fool [Rough Trade, 2010] and an exceptional jam-session during the encore. The guitars were intense, the drums fierce and the bass lines sanded rough edges with impressive force. Warpaint rocks hard and yet continually taunts with such an eerie, feminine mystique. 

It’s the girly details I liked best: Theresa Wayman hugs her guitar while she sings, Emily Kokal’s hips sway while she plucks a rift, the constant and very mischievous smirk on drummer Stella Mozgawa’s lips and Jenny Lee Lindberg’s relentless wild-child energy. They laughed, they kissed and hugged and flirted– and all the while the music was still totally rad and introspective. Harmonies oozed like honey from the nest and the simultaneous head-banging kept emotions on the rail. They drew the crowd in with a taunting index finger and then pushed us flat down when we got too close. It was the perfect mix of sensual and edgy. 

The Warpaint women are obviously best buds and their complimentary energies explode on stage. They’re like an upgraded version of the Babysitters Club— a hippie, feminist, grown-up version of the girl clan that could have been totally badass if they had traded all their boy-drama and horseback riding for band practice. 

I already totally loved the recorded version of Warpaint but their live performance upgraded my feelings to overflowing admiration for their mad skills, sex appeal and sweetness. No doubt this group is going to blow up and it’s totally deserved. 

Live review: Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise tour


I caught up with the The Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise tour as it made its stop at the Independent in San Francisco on Sat./5, and it was nothing short of magical. A dozen or so core members of the Elephant 6 Collective rotated instruments and played each others’ songs. It was like a slice of Athens, Georgia performing on a holodeck-cum-stage for a bewildered SF audience that didn’t know what to expect.

Singing saw virtuoso Julian Koster (Neutral Milk Hotel, Music Tapes) looked like he was dressed for a slumber party, and some may say he stole the show with almost sickeningly adorable storytelling and mechanized organ-playing contraptions. But there were many high points. The Athens folks’ cover of Elf Power’s cover of the Tall Dwarfs’ “Nothing Is Going to Happen” and John Fernandes’ (Olivia Tremor Control) tricked-out viola solo blew my mind, and perhaps my favorite moment was when angel-voiced Scott Spillane (Neutral Milk Hotel, the Gerbils) and his famously epic neck beard led the group in a caroling of the Gerbils’ “Lucky Girl” which sounded better than the original. 

There were games, and crowd participation, with one winner getting to choose a song for the group to play. He opted for something by Mazzy Star. I would have chosen something more out of character, like “Juicy” by the Notorious B.I.G., but then again, I wasn’t playing. Maybe next year — fingers crossed. These folks know how to entertain, and they managed to make a two-hour performance seem short, leaving me wanting more.

Noise Pop Live Review: Dominant Legs and How to Dress Well


Synth and bass, rock and roll, some combinations are easily matched, but when you put How to Dress Well on the roster, pairings aren’t as obvious. Dominant Legs‘ mangy pop was an odd precursor to Saturday night’s How to Dress Well performance at Cafe Du Nord, but then again, what flatters eerie falsetto and awkward emotions? 

San Francisco’s Dominant Legs played like summer in a bottle. Happy guitars, lots of cowbell and rad bass made the winter weather outside melt. The only thing missing was sunshine, or lights in general. Half the band was hidden from the crowd due to a lack of lighting– particularly the adorable Hannah Hunt. One disgruntled lady in the audience voiced her disapproval by shouting, “We can’t see the pretty girl in the blue dress,” to which Hunt meekly responded, “It’s green.” Case in point. 

The band of five played three brand new songs, two cute and sleepy and one with tropical breeze, but the hits were any that picked up the pace. The real gem was as suspected– “Young at Love and Life.”

There was a brief interlude by Shlohmo and his way cool collection of old school tracks, including my personal favorite, TLC’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend”– brought me right back to Mr. Burg’s fifth grade class.

Then the stage cleared. A lazy stream of fog seeped from a small machine in the corner as Tom Krell grabbed the mic. Immediately things felt awkwardly intimate as the man behind How to Dress Well told the crowd, “This week things have been kind of tough for me,” said Krell. “But I guess we’ll see how it goes.” And it went in all kinds of ways: uncomfortable, pretty, sexy and repulsive. It was Krell, naked (only figuratively), revealing every last detail of his diary in a high-pitched squeal of sorts, accompanied by super smooth, shattering bass, electronics and R&B stylings. 

At first it seemed like a bad dream. My ears hurt. I thought slitting my wrists sounded like a nice alternative to listening to songs entitled, “Suicide Dream 1” and “Suicide Dream 2.”  I did enjoy the projected visual art and it seemed to pair well with the horror escaping his lips. I couldn’t believe all these people had paid to see this guy. Was this a joke? I turned to the dude next to me (just as his friend offered up some Flamin’ Hot Cheetos) and asked him if he ‘really liked this?” He laughed. “Uh…no comment.” Then he thought about it for a second more. “Well, I don’t hate it.”

And surprisingly by the end of his one-man show I realized I also didn’t ‘hate it’ but couldn’t quite get to the ‘liking’ part either. I grew to respect the dude for what he brought to the table. Krell has balls. Really big balls. Who else would stand up there and tell everyone that this song is about how his life “feels closed,” instead of “feeling open, like when I was young.” It was hipster poetry hour and I needed a cigarette. That’s some depressing shit, man. If only I could’ve understood the actual lyrics. Were those real words?

How to Dress Well is what it is, folks but whether it counts as live music, a band or a quality performance is still up for debate. The transition from amazing recorded material to live act still has some kinks; or maybe that’s the intention and you’re cool and totally hip if you get it. I’ve never been one to understand ‘performance art.’ Instead it seems easier to categorize this fiasco as another talented bedroom musician lured from his comfort zone, into the outdoors and onto stages. We should stop being so pushy.



Live Review: Paula West brings the best things to the Rrazz Room


There’s a short list of outlets for female crooner aficionados these days. Sure, there are winning classic vocals from the likes of Madeleine Peyroux or Jane Monheit. But I’ve yet to witness the poignancy of Billie Holiday, the sass of Eartha Kitt, the sultriness of Julie London, or the sheer perfection of Ella Fitzgerald, in any current-day singer.

Though Paula West may not be a legend, she has become a leading international jazz vocalist and local treasure. Watching her perform every year for the past decade, I can vouch: she keeps getting better. She hasn’t recorded an album since 2002 and those she does have fail to fully capture the essence of live performance. Live, her impeccable breath control and diction shine, as does her soulful longing and contrasting wry humor.
What truly wows a jazz lover is West’s song selection. Each year she plays a multi-week run at Hotel Nikko’s Rrazz Room (how I miss her former setting, the now-shuttered Plush Room). West and composer/arranger, George Mesterhazy, convert songs to jazz in genres as wide-ranging as country or rock. Mesterhazy also leads West’s backing quartet (Mesterhazy on piano, Ed Cherry on guitar, Barak Mori on bass, and Jerome Jennings on drums). It’s not unusual to hear her sing the funky “Iko Iko” alongside the Scottish ballad “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond.” Her love for Bob Dylan surfaces yearly in Dylan tunes arranged with jazz spirit — this year, it’s “Shelter from the Storm.”

This year, West keeps things upbeat with a bouncy rendition of Irving Berlin’s “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” “Come Runnin'” (made famous by Lena Horne), and the ever-delightful “At Long Last Love,” by Cole Porter, another songwriter she commonly performs. Hoagy Carmichael could never dream of his “Baltimore Oriole” being as sexy as it is with Mesterhazy’s sultry arrangement and Jerome Jennings’ exuberantly sensual drums. Easy listening rarely sounds as good as it does in West’s version of Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.”

West thanked us for coming out instead of staying home to watch reality TV, launching into what she dubs the “Reality Show Trilogy,” evoking laughter with Pearl Bailey’s “Tired”: “Washin’ and a-tubbin’/ Cleanin’ and a-scrubbin’/ Sure leaves my glamour with a scar…Tired of the tears I shed/ Tired of livin’ in the red/ Tired of my same old bed…’Cause I’m tired, yes I’m tired of you.”

The yearning is palpable in her gorgeous delivery of Irving Berlin’s “Supper Time,” which Ethel Waters sang in the film As Thousands Cheer. West’s rendition of “Miss Otis Regrets” is equally emotional, even chilling. West starts off in a steady, pleasing pace, mesmerizing as her show progresses with her impressive memorization of complex verse and controlled belting.

Sipping Rrazz Room’s mediocre, over-priced drinks becomes less obnoxious when you’re enveloped by West’s clear, dusky vocals and Mesterhazy’s skillful quartet. Her current run lasts until March 13, so there’s still time for a little “Baltimore Oriole.”

Through March 13, $35-45
The Rrazz Room
222 Mason Street

Live Review: Prince at the Oracle Arena


At this point in his 35-year career, Prince is perhaps justified in expecting us humanoids to happily accept anything handed down to us from Mount Paisley Park. But at the Oracle Arena in Oakland on Mon./21 — the first of three last-minute concerts planned for the Bay (Thursday’s show was announced Monday night, after more than 30,000 tickets were sold for the first two performances in less than 72 hours), the mood was a curious mixture of intense, polished skill tinged with unexpected insecurity: Prince, in full 52-years-young prodigy mode, broke from the action in one instance with a surprising, “Are y’all having fun?” And heated anticipation and adulation gave way to a brief outbreak of boos — the audience pressed hard to get into the show, and was loathe to give up its ground after the first encore, hollering with displeasure when the house lights came up.

It was a mixed bag, albeit an entertaining and fascinating one, from an entertainer who can still pull out the stops, fingering his fretboard with one hand while slicking back his short crop with the other. A playful Prince alternately grinned at his band, placated the fans with hits, and happily jammed at length on one of his many Telecaster-style guitars, pacing himself all the while with breaks featuring guest Sheila E. and his backup vocalists. His impassioned take on “Cool,” the song he bestowed on the Time back in 1981, said it all: Prince was out to reestablish his own ageless brand of awesome, and have fun doing it. 

Opening the show was white zoot-suited Oakland native and psychedelic funk-rock pater familias Larry Graham, the bassist who broke ground and moved major booty with his slapping technique as part of Sly and the Family Stone. Fronting his band, Graham Central Station, Drake’s uncle got the audience primed with a sing-along to his 1980 slow-dance hit “One in a Million You,” before immediately ripping into a jaw-dropping bass demo that had him scraping his strings against a mic stand and probing them with his teeth — an exhibition that would have had Jimi Hendrix pondering the possibilities of the low end. The kicker: a lengthy Sly and the Family Stone medley, including a moving “Family Affair,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” and “Dance to the Music,” with a finale that had Prince rising up from the bowels of the glyph-shaped stage, clad in fuzzy après-ski boots, to join Graham and crew for “Everyday People” and a palpably joyful “I Want to Take You Higher” that inspired everyone onstage — and a good batch of the crowd — to leap in unison.

The psych-funk-rock lineage clearly established, Prince remained the main Event-with-a-capital-E. The artist presently known as Prince is still an eerily, extraterrestrially-gifted performer, capable of shredding in hair-band-esque Eddie Van Halen mode, then tossing his leopard-pick-guarded guitar off the stage, and finally breaking into a fluid yet precisely controlled slew of popping, locking contortions in what looked to be flared satin PJs. A big-screen closeup of his posterior moving ever-so-minutely in time to the beat captured the detail with hilarious exactitude.

I had to laugh, marveling at the calculated, smooth perfection of the maestro’s moves, though Prince’s absolute, practiced fluency in so many modes of American music — rock tear-throughs, blues jams, soul breakdowns, pop sing-alongs, R&B balladry, jazz interludes and conga workouts with Sheila E. by his side — is seriously hard to question, and in keeping with the title of this tour, “Welcome 2 America.” This not-of-this-earth visitor has conquered the musical languages of the land, turning the tables on the natives.

Still, nothin’ compares 2 love, and Prince was out to please Monday — sprinkling his set with hits like “Raspberry Beret,” “Controversy,” and “Kiss” and unleashing a violet confetti downpour with “Purple Rain” — while seemingly just as eager to embrace the contributions of Carlos Santana, who was lent the Princely guitar; Bay native Sheila E., who sang “The Glamorous Life” to loud home-girl cheers; and backup vocalist Shelby Johnson, who memorably emoted through “Misty Blue,” as Prince playfully pulled Larry Graham up to enact a faux-romantic reunion.

The guest appearances may not have matched the celebrity drive-bys at his recent NYC dates — those ranged from Alicia Keys and Questlove to Cornel West and Kim Kardashian (who got kicked off stage for less-than-stellar dancing) — and new twirlers the Twinz weren’t in the house to add considerable sex appeal, but I, for one, left sated after a two-hour performance that included an hour-long encores. Prince’s displays of slink-worthy lewdness have been replaced by exhibitions of guitar hero virtuosity — “I don’t know how you feel, but I’ve missed you something horrible,” the gold-satin-draped artist cooed to us over a hot gold guitar toward the end of the show — but that made it no less a close encounter of the Princely kind.

With Larry Graham
Wed./23 and Thurs./24, 7:30 p.m., $71.50-$238
Oracle Arena
7000 Coliseum Way, Oakl.

Live review: Dr. Dog hit the retro road


Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog is the kind of band that can’t seem to get enough of life on the road. Earlier this fall, during the first of two nights at the Fillmore on what is the band’s second full tour in support of April’s Shame, Shame (Anti), fans were treated to a lengthy, lively set of retro-minded indie-rock.

The show kicked off with Shame, Shame opener “Stranger,” which showcased bassist Toby Leaman’s perfectly frayed vocals set amongst some soaring Beatles-esque harmonies and Motown posturing from his band mates. “Slowly I’ve become undone/ a stranger, with a stranger heart,” he yelped with a gruff clip to his voice, sounding like Harry Nilsson during his late, destroyed vocal cord phase.

Shame, Shame material filled most of the band’s set list, with Leaman and guitarist Scott McMicken trading off lead vocal duties nearly song for song. McMicken’s higher-pitched, smoother-around-the-edges voice offered a nice counterpoint to Leaman’s, and led to a couple of the show’s highlights. “The Old Days” from 2008’s Fate (park the Van) started with a slow, snaking piano line courtesy of Zach Miller (the band’s stoically efficient keyboardist/organist) and McMicken singing, “Let go of the old ones/ we’ve got some new ones.” By song’s end, the band was jumping around the stage during a rollicking outro section led by Leaman’s catchy bass line and McMicken’s classic-rock soloing. “The Breeze” offered maybe the best example of how well these guys have locked down their live arrangements, with tambourine, shakers, and three-part harmonies carrying the sparse opening lines before the whole band jumped in. Leaman took over vocals during the song’s breakdown, gazing right through the crowd, singing, “Are there dark parts, to your mind/ Hidden secrets, left behind/ Where no one ever goes/ But everybody knows” with an unsettling stare, finishing with a cathartic “It’s alright!”

Elsewhere, the brand new “Take Me Into Town” sounded like Beggars Banquet-lite, the Architecture in Helsinki cover “Heart it Races” took on a classic soul and R&B feel, and “Worst Trip” from 2007’s We All Belong (Park the Van) was rushed through at a breakneck, almost punk-rock pace. Props must be given to new(ish) drummer Eric Slick, who has stepped in seamlessly and added his own little touches to the band’s live shows.

The encore offered up some unexpected treats for long-time fans. “Say Something” and “Oh No,” two tracks from the 2005 EP Easy Beat (Park the Van) sounded great and far beefier than their lo-fi album counterparts. The highlight, however, was “California,” a stripped-down acoustic ditty with jug band and barbershop quartet touches that really separated itself stylistically from everything that’d come before it.

Tastemakers like Pitchfork have lazily written Dr. Dog off as derivative muggers of ‘60s and ‘70s rock standards, and the band still hasn’t experienced the mainstream success its devout followers know it deserves. But for lovers of good old-fashioned, no-bullshit rock and roll, this is one of the more fun, hardworking live bands around.

Live Review: Deerhunter turns up the volume at Great American


Before our car ride home discussion of some of our favorite parts of the show, my friend and I had already agreed on something; holy shit that was loud. Playing to a sold-out crowd in its first of two back-to-back San Francisco shows (10/29), Deerhunter put on a raw, visceral, sometimes loose but often amazing set that pierced through the relatively small confines of the Great American Music Hall.

Walking onstage, front man Bradford Cox grabbed the mic and gazed into the crowd. “You guys look like you wanna have fun. I like that in an audience,” he said. After someone screamed out his love for him, Cox quickly replied, “Don’t forget about Lockett Pundt (guitar),” just as the band launched into the Pundt-penned and -sung “Desire Lines.” While Cox usually and deservedly gets a lot of Deerhunter’s press attention, it should be noted that Pundt is a spectacular guitarist and songwriter in his own right, and seems to be a huge part of the band’s sound.

The opener set the tone for what naturally would be a set heavy on tunes from the band’s excellent new album, Halcyon Digest (4AD). What I hadn’t expected was the blistering distortion and pounding drums that a couple of that album’s mellower, poppier songs would take on. The twisted, bubblegum pop of “Don’t Cry” transformed into a grungy monster with a life of its own, while “Memory Boy” sped up a tad to add to the urgency of Cox singing “It’s not a house anymore” in the chorus.

A couple opportunities to show off the band’s more precise, ambient style arose throughout the set. The deceptively dreamy “Helicopter” translated perfectly and drummer Moses Archuleta included what sounded like sampled drum hits coupled with his live kit. Halcyon Digest’s closer, the seemingly African-influenced “He Would Have Laughed” floated along on a repeating, looped guitar line while waves of controlled noise and feedback ebbed in and out.

After a few minutes offstage, Cox came back solo for an encore that started with him covering Scott Walker’s “30 Century Man” with just an acoustic guitar. He played it straight, which was nice and almost surreal to see after the wall of noise throughout the night. Next, the rest of the band rejoined him and launched into a ten-minute jam that had Cox aggressively attacking his guitar to pull out short bursts of dissonant squeals and screeching solos. The song built up tension slowly (maybe a little too slowly) and then eventually released with a closing minute or so of loud thrashing. A little more paring down would have added to the overall effect, but it was still a solid way to end the evening.

Deerhunter’s widening appeal became glaringly obvious as I walked out amongst groups of grungy teenagers, appreciative old-timers, stoic hipsters, and the annoying drunk guy who had been stepping on everyone’s feet and obnoxiously trying to start out-of-rhythm, mid-song clap-along sessions all night (Hey man, you’ve successfully pulled everyone’s attention away from the band and onto you. You win!). But ultimately, even the kid holding his head throughout the show with a look of “I didn’t realize I’d signed up for this eardrum fucking” walked out with a big smile on his face.

Live Review: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion detonates at Bimbo’s, 9/29/10


Walking up to Bimbo’s and seeing “Jon Spencer Blues Explosion” sprawled across the marquee in big, bold font, I kept thinking how crazy it was that the group hadn’t performed in SF in over eight years. Though just coming off a five-year hiatus, JSBX has been spewing their sweaty mix of punk, blues, and good old-fashioned rock and roll for nearly two decades. With all three members of the New York trio well on their way into middle age, last Wednesday (9/29/10) was a reminder that these guys were doing their thing long before groups like the White Stripes or the Black Keys were even blips on the radar. And beyond that, it proved they haven’t lost a single step.

San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees opened the evening with a solid set of psych-rock tunes. Sounding like a Nuggets compilation jam-packed along side-squeals of distortion and reverb-drenched vocals, the band set the table nicely for the evening’s headliners. Frontman John Dwyer led the charge, despite dealing with some mic and guitar technical issues. When the band allowed themselves to stretch their legs, like on a tension-building groove late in the set, their attention to dynamics and song structure really came to the foreground. I kept thinking how much better they’d probably sound while bursting eardrums at a dank basement party, but the more posh confines of the Bimbo’s stage still allowed them to get their point across.

Throughout a nearly two-hour set, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion struck a perfect balance between the fragmented, lo-fi blues-rock deconstruction of its early material and the more accessibly polished version found on later albums. As Spencer and Judah Bauer traded off beefy guitar riffs, it became clear why these guys have never needed a bassist. Spencer’s voice sounded just as awesome as on record, and came complete with his trademark rockabilly-style slapback effect on the mic. Drummer Russell Simins was an animal behind the kit, keeping clockwork-perfect time while maintaining patterns as hard-hitting as they were tactful and funky.

My favorite aspect of the show, however, was the way the set was structured. The band went from song to song with a sense of reckless abandon, one song starting immediately after — or segueing into — another. Only Spencer’s pauses to yell “Blues Explosion!!!” (I swear he must’ve uttered those words 75 times) into the mic broke up the flow now and then. At times, a whole song wasn’t even played to completion before the band would suddenly change gears and start playing something different altogether. It all hung together wonderfully — especially during a particularly memorable transition from “Wail” into 2002’s Plastic Fang highlight “She Said” — and brought across a sense of JSBX’s early reputation for wild spontaneity. Other highlights included early hit “Afro” and Bauer taking over vocal duties for “Fuck Shit Up.”

After blowing through close to around two-dozen songs, the set unfortunately lost some momentum during a 30-minute encore. But with eight years between San Francisco sets, it’s tough to blame JSBX for wanting to get their kicks in as long as they could.


Orgone heats up the Independent with fresh funk, 8/6/10


It was freezing (as usual) outside SF’s Independent last Friday. Thankfully, Orgone kept the packed venue warm and sweaty inside with funky rhythms, thick bass lines, sexy vocals, and swanky brass melodies. On stage, like old friends jamming together, the nine-member band emulated the upbeat enthusiasm and down to earth cool (that’s not too cool to get down) that their unique sound embodies. Merging old-school funk and jazzy hip swaying grooves with experimental psychedelic undertones, Orgone delivered upbeat funk with a mellow modern swagger.

With such a large instrumental band (guitar, keys, bass, percussion, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, drums) Orgone manages to create a complex sound that engages and yet never overwhelms. Striking the perfect balance between driving grounded sounds and more airy, free flowing vibrations, the ensemble definitely knows how to get people dancing. Their passion for feel-good, dance-y music is no more apparent then in the way they play together. Vibing off each other, their contagious energy ignited an on-stage fire that lit up their audience of glowing, dancing fans. 

While each band member played an equally integral part in Friday night’s show, the smooth, passionate voice and fiery stage presence of lead vocalist Fanny Franklin, the only female on stage, deserves special mention. With sexy ease and captivating charisma, this goddess knows how to command a stage. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the good ‘ol days, when live instruments trumped laptop beats, Orgone’s got what you want. 


Should we just keep chasing Pavement? Yes.


“I’ve always seen Berkeley as an extension of Stockton”, quipped Pavement‘s Stephen Malkmus, his limp, grey-brown hair dyed a shimmering red by the Greek’s stage lights, and his guitar clutched high and tight to his chest like a mandolin.

The crowd laughed indulgently at this stroke of wit, but there was no mistaking its growing restlessness, because the ratio of talk to rock had become increasingly lopsided. This was probably the biggest surprise of the night — the Pavement front man is one hell of a chatterbox. His stage patter is a lot like his songs: wry, nonchalant, and frequently bizarre. Over the course of the Friday, June 25 show, he held forth on Stockton, Cal football, and the history of the Greek Theatre. He also poked dry fun at his bandmates, who for their part gave as good as they got.

Quality banter is always welcome from a band leader, so it was good to see that Malkmus could play the sardonic frontman with as much ease and dexterity as he demonstrated on the Fenders that passed through his hands over the course of the evening. This was still, though, a rock show, meaning that Pavement’s sole function at the Greek was as a mechanism for the delivery of rock. All the wit in the world couldn’t have saved them if they had failed in that charge.

Thankfully, there was no such problem on Friday night. When Malkmus cracked wise, it was entertaining. When he actually shut up and played, it was glorious. Pavement’s set list was a satisfying mixture of deep cuts and tried-and-true crowd pleasers, full of improvisational riffage, experimental phrasing, and charmingly sloppy false starts. At one point, Malkmus balanced a guitar on his open palm for an impressive ten seconds, while shaggy-haired drummer Gary Young shambled dazedly across the stage like a bear just emerging from hibernation.

Just as impressive as the set lists’ content was its arrangement — in a particularly smart move, the band preempted requests by opening with the addictively melodic fan favorite “Cut Your Hair” while the irony-drenched mope-anthem “Here” made for a tonally perfect coda to the evening’s revels. Throughout the night, aging hipsters pogoed alongside their college-aged counterparts, the scent of cannabis perfumed the air, and everyone left the Greek ready to once again swear fealty to Pavement, the returned crown princes of indie rock.

Celebration at Big Sur — 2010 edition


Watching Celebration at Big Sur, the film that documents the 1969 Big Sur Folk Festival, I witness the crystalline Pacific Ocean, members of the audience freaking out in face paint, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and more singing merry tunes about coming together and putting a lil’ love in your heart.

This is not the ’60s, this is not the Summer of Love  – this is the first Great Recession of the 21st century. At the Woodsist celebration at Big Sur on June 12th, 2010, we did not “freak-out.” Instead, we lied around on flannel blankets, baking in the sun. Everyone we met at the festival had come from urban zones, from Brooklyn, from Portland, from special San Francisco, or even from Hollywood – like Kirsten Dunst, as well as drummer Jason Boesel and Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley.

In between sets, we explored the woods behind Henry Miller Library, hiking through creeks and over fallen trees. We drank cold beers or sipped on cocktails mixed in water bottles as we listened to bands hailing from Brooklyn’s Woodsist label, founded by Jeremy Earl of Woods. We were happy for the freedom to forget.

The Art Museums, a San Fran/Santa Cruz band at the end of their very first tour, performed with a unified front, as if ready to play Red Rover and decisively send anyone back who might try to break their ties. In between songs, while amps were tweaked, cute stage banter was in effect, with drummer Virginia Weatherby talking about lady bugs. San Francisco’s the Mantles, who include Weatherby on a complete drum set instead of a drum kit, had a few mishaps. Guitarist-vocalist Michael Olivares’ guitar strap malfunctioned, but such issues suited the group’s goofy good-time vibe.

Portland’s Eat Skull, about to move and realign, performed a stripped-down collection of songs that perhaps came up wanting. Philly’s Kurt Vile climbed on stage to join the group for a cover of Spaceman 3’s “Come Down Easy,” and then played an acoustic set while the sun speckled the stage. Letting his long locks cover his face, he stared at his strings and intricately finger-picked. Later, as he tuned his guitar, he asked if we were prepared for the weather to get cold.

San Fran’s the Fresh & Onlys played two new tracks, including “Waterfall.” Moon Duo, a new San Fran psych-band, played as the sun set and ended up in the dark — and the cold that Vile had predicted. The group’s guitarist Ripley Johnson (also of Wooden Shijps) is a madman on the guitar.

After Moon Duo, NY’s Woods mesmerized with a tripped-out opening and all their quintessential hits. The festival ended with Real Estate, who, like many of the bands, craft anthems for our times. Take these lines, from “Green River”: “Hey green river, what can I do?/If it’s alright I’ll walk next to you/Sit in the shade of your beechwood trees/Don’t you know these days I ain’t hard to please.”