Live Review

Live Review: Holy Ghost!, Fillmore, 6/3/2010


By Peter Galvin

While much of the mainstream is still poking fun at the hair bands and taking pot-shots at the easy-listening fluff, the ’80s have snuck back in for a full-on revival. Kids who grew up in the decade of Ninja Turtles and parachute pants surely have the fondest memories, and two of those kids play poker-faced homages to the era as Holy Ghost! Full of flashy synths and smooth vocals, Holy Ghost goes a step beyond the copycat ambiance of Ariel Pink or the sly winking of Francis and the Lights or Chromeo, passing up tongue-in-cheek for reverence.

The band played a flawless five song set in the opening slot for LCD Soundsystem on Thursday night, with the duo of Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser filling out to six members who played it tight and close to the vest. Drum conversations between Millhiser and Frankel were synched perfectly, their clean sound much better suited to a live setting than headphones. Five songs felt a bit short, but, with just the Static on the Wire EP (DFA) out, it may well have been the extent of the band’s music at this point.

With the draw of the headliner the way James Murphy injects contempo beats onto ’70s art-rock music, Holy Ghost!’s deadpan renditions may have been too much for The Fillmore’s more mainstream concert-goers. Reading the hesitation in the crowd, Millhiser spoke little and thanked the audience “for sitting through our set” before launching into their final song of the night. Inclusion on the DFA roster guarantees any band a ton of reviews and buzz, but I wonder if joining LCD Soundsystem on their US tour will win Holy Ghost! many fans of their own in the long run. I’d certainly love to see them return as headliners.

Noise Pop 2010: Yoko Ono and Deerhoof at the Fox


Noise Pop — the quality sounds and sonic surprises always amaze, no matter how few or many shows you catch.

I didn’t get to gawk at as much as I’d like, considering I was suffering from a bad case of the sniffles. Still, Yoko Ono, live with the Plastic Ono Band on Feb. 23 at Fox Theater, was nothing to sniff at.

Deerhoof opened with a softer, more subdued set than usual. The Bay Area faves seemed a mite overwhelmed by the big room and opulent surroundings: drummer-founder Greg Saunier said as much as he pondered how “pretty” the venue is. Nevertheless the combo quickly gained steam and confidence, as Satomi Matsuzaki twirled, danced, and gestured on the side of the stage and the entire group switched instruments and uncharacteristically tackled a few covers (the Ramones’ “Pinhead” and Canned Heat’s “Going Up the Country,” the latter dovetailing perfectly with Saunier’s ethereal falsetto). I like my Deerhoof louder, in a more intimate venue, but the band was the perfect choice to prep the audience for Ono.
The lady herself contextualized her place in pop and conceptual art: a video montage unfurled a lengthy, select overview of her career. When she finally arrived onstage, yes, she screeched, yowled, chattered, and generated more noise than melody. Those vocables are some of her major contributions to the rock canon — and her ooh’s, aaach’s, and howls sounded just as challenging today, if more familiar to ears trained to the ‘00s underground.

There were quiet elegiac moments, in the form of, for instance, the beautiful new “Higa Noboru,” as Ono slipped easily into chanteuse mode and son Sean Lennon accompanying her on piano. The ace Plastic Ono Band tackled a good share of Ono’s latest album, **Between My Head and the Sky** — tracks like “Healing, “Waiting for the D Train,” and “The Sun Is Down” — throwing in a fabulously playful cartoon video and a turn by virtual reality pioneer, writer, and composer Jaron Lanier on Laotian flute, sitar, and shakuhachi.

Lennon said he met Lanier as a 10-year-old and marveled then at how many instruments Lanier knew how to play. “Jaron said the key to learning so many instruments is to believe time doesn’t exist,” quipped Lennon.

And Plastic Ono Band’s rendition of “Death of Samantha” and “Mind Train” made time stand still in the best way possible. The former, a bittersweet rocker that ended with Ono standing stock-still at center stage, was played for the second time live (the first was at the Plastic Ono Band performance in NYC earlier in February), and the latter was likely the highlight of the evening, mesmerizing with its free-floating, unfurling **Bitches Brew**-style funk.

The finale or second encore began with an Onochord flash-along: tiny disposable flashlights marked with the date and venue were left on at our seats at the start of the show, ready to flicker “I love you” in code toward the stage. But the “Give Peace a Chance” sing-along with Petra Haden and Deerhoof soon eclipsed even that. Sloppy, ragged, moving — it was the icing on the cake. We piled onto the BART, storm or no storm, feeling struck by lightning and energized by what we had just witnessed.

Live Shots: Best Coast and Vivian Girls, Bottom of the Hill, 02/09/2010


The vintage starburst lights were tinted red and Bottom of the Hill was packed with hipsters toting hand-me-down apparel: ratty old sweaters, torn hats and grandma’s old prescription glasses. Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino let out the first words to “When I’m With You,” and the crowd anxiously listened to each note echo through the mic, paired with her slow, distorted guitar strums.

I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else in the room felt like we had just stepped into a time machine and shot straight back to a 1960’s dive bar on the beach. A little bit Beach Boys and part Ronnettes, the antique sounds were innocent and as gold as Cosentino’s sandy locks.
The L.A. duo was so calm, Cosentino strumming and singing with her pink lips parted as wide as a Charlie Brown caroler. “Love, of Love” she cried in perfect harmony, closing her eyes and showing her light brown eye shadow. Guitarist Bobby Bruno was a true shoegazer, his long black hair hanging over his strings and glowing with shades of pink from the stage lights above.

Playing through their EP Something in the Way (RCRD LBL), they made each song float over the crowd in waves, heads and bodies bobbing up and down like buoys in a tide. This show was Best Coast’s first in San Francisco and Cosentino said she was a little worried that people wouldn’t show up until after 10, thereby missing a part of their set.

“Did anybody watch Lost?,” she asked the crowd. “We were joking that people wouldn’t come in until after the show, but you guys are troopers — here, right at the beginning.”

Ali Koehler of Vivian Girls (who had earlier shared their iPod playlists with me) stepped in as the drummer for Best Coast’s set and the trio played two new songs, both of which were more upbeat, with lots of cymbal action and heavy bass drum solos. Cosentino promised we would find them on the new album soon.  At the end of the set, Bruno threw on a black sweatshirt, complete with cat ears affixed to the hood.

Vivian Girls took over at 10:45, hitting it hard and urging the crowd for a little more action. “You guys should dance more,” bassist Kickball Katy said with a grin, the same of which stayed glued to her face throughout the entirety of their show. The crowd happily responded with a small, male mosh pit in front of the stage.

Cassie Romone’s lips were bright red to match her red blouse, skirt and the carpet on the stage. Mid-show Koehler approached the mic and pointed out her and Romone’s nearly identical ruffly, red shirts. Apparently this happens a lot.

Costentino joined the trio of Brooklyn ladies for a song, creating a stage billowing with womanpower. Totally normal girls rockin’ hard, Vivian Girls put out some stellar garage songs for the packed house, but my absolute favorite was their A cappella rendition of “He’s Gone”, which they dedicated to the opening band, “The bananas.” Their voices quietly squeaked and peaked, totally exposed in a not-so-perfect harmony but all together delivered an incredible gem that only live shows like that can offer.

Live Shots: VV Brown and Ebony Bones, Popscene, 02/04/10


Outside, the night was horrid and pouring sheet after sheet of chilled rain. Inside, Popscene at 330 Ritch’s stage was blazing with bold UK women and their undeniable vocal prowess. The evening started with Brit babe VV Brown, a young singer/songwriter — on tour to promote her recent Travelling Like the Light (Universal, 2009) — who qualifies as the indie version of the Adele and Duffy types.

The set started shy, with VV Brown (born Vanessa Brown) hiding behind a glamorous Mardi Gras mask of shimmering silver, adorned with a fan of black feathers and peacock accents. Song one, “Game Over,” was spent with her vocals streaming into a small megaphone pointed towards the mic. The sound quality was a displaced and muddled, similar to an old record player. Her tiny frame was decorated in a shiny gold swimsuit top and red-plaid tapered pants, cinched tight at the waist.

When the mask came off, Brown’s face was painted with a red blindfold, her trademark bouffant standing tall and proud. She was full of energy, hopping around stage, singing with full facial expressions, banging on the drums and pounding the bongos.

Brown happily announced that the show was her first gig in San Francisco and only her 2nd show in the U.S. “And I wrote this song while sitting on the toilet,” she said as a preface to “Back in Time.” “It’s about Einstein, love, and betrayal.” Hitting the gong with four solid swings, her voice chimed in with an eerie echo and not three seconds later, cut short when her mic cord fell onto the floor.

“Isn’t that what we all love about live music? We just keep going,” she smiled with a confident grin. She played through a majority of the songs on her freshman album, “Traveling Like the Light”, including her most recognizable tracks, “Crying Blood” and “Shark in the Water.”

Brown’s cover of  “The Best I Ever Had” by Drake was quite impressive — the girl can rap! Totally sexy and 100 percent more badass than one would assume, Brown sang the lyrics “You’re the fuckin’ best” with her fist pumping and voice creamy smooth.

Afro-punk-electro-pop songstress Ebony Bones didn’t hit the stage until midnight, but took it over by storm with a full band decked out in color, makeup, wigs and beads. I managed to drool over the awesomeness of the first song and snap a few photos, but I regretfully had to pull myself away in order to catch my train. There’s no way it wasn’t amazing.

Live Review: Wolves in the Throne Room howl at Slim’s


By Tony Papanikolas


The world of rock music is full of “wolf bands”, but few live up to their feral moniker. Steppenwolf’s John Kay, for example, claims that he was born to be wild –a promising start– but writes lyrics about magic carpets. Not very wolf-like. Likewise, Wolf Parade betrays a dangerous ignorance of its namesake (wolves are easily spooked; incorporating them into a parade would be disastrous.) And then there’s Wolves in the Throne Room, the enigmatic Olympia, WA outfit responsible for some of the most cosmic black metal ever produced outside of Scandinavia.

If the crowd at Slim’s was any indication, Wolves’ fan base has extended beyond the immediate metal set. Metal fans made up a good percentage of the audience but there was also a sizeable punk contingent, as well as the requisite handful of hipster-types (also, a headbanging dude in an incongruous business suite, my personal favorite.) The crowd was still relatively thin when opening act Ninth Moon Black began playing, but receptive nonetheless. I’m a sucker for visual aids at shows, and the psychedelic black and white swirls projected behind Ninth Moon Black provided a neat visual counterpoint to the group’s ambient instrumentals.

Erykah Badu is out of her mind


By Michael Krimper

LIVE REVIEW In anticipation of releasing her brilliant sound odyssey, New Amerykah Pt. 1: 4th World War (Universal Motown, 2008), Erykah Badu, a.k.a. “Analogue Girl in A Digital World,” a.k.a. “Fat Belly Bella,” a.k.a. “Low Down Loretta Brown,” clarified her artistic objectives on an Okayplayer form. Posting as analoguegirl, Badu affirmed, “As much as I would love to be just a recording artist, I am not. There’s a difference. I am a performance artist first; there’s a difference.” Having the chance to see Badu perform live at the Warfield June 6, I could not agree more with her distinction.


Dressed in a mystical mauve kimono, golden skull cap, and gem encrusted space goggles, Badu strutted onstage in profile, tracing her steps forward like a celestial, hieroglyph narrative. A cinematic whirling rainstorm of bleeps and lasers and synth bubbling keys reverberated in the background, aspiring to transport the audience to the far reaches. This intergalactic resonance would remain the most consistent frequency throughout the performance; each transition of song and style marked by its cosmic joy of noise. Badu’s enigmatic presence recalled Sun Ra’s theatrical myth making, framed by an open ended aesthetic in Egyptology and a surreal space age, radicalized belief in the power of music to free the soul from its rusty, earthly shackles.

Erykah Badu performs at L.A.’s Club Nokia June 5, 2009, the night before her San Francisco gig. Photo by Beth Stirnaman.

But this outlandish and historically rooted ethos did not restrain Badu’s emphasis on the contemporary. The high priestess of hip-hop soul incorporated the gods of our musical past into the urgency of the now. The tensions of old and new styles and sounds continuously pressed against each other throughout the remarkable performance.

Live review: Kreator and Exodus deliver the quality bangover


By LC Mason

Kreator at a German fest earlier this year

Quality bangover: the gloriously painful aftermath that results after a night of heavy headbanging to brutal bass drum runs and diabolic guitar solos, characterized by roaring tinnitus, aching neck muscles, bruises and scrapes from slamming and stomping into others, as well as stiff hands from gratuitous handing and devil horn-throwing.

This was my condition when I woke up the next morning, ringing ears and all, after witnessing the merciless onslaught of the Kreator and Exodus show at Slim’s on Tuesday, April 28. Except I wasn’t brave enough to enter the roiling whirlpool of 200-pound man-bodies, because a lot more than bruises and scrapes would have gone down, especially as Kreator vocalist-guitarist Mille Petrozza repeatedly and ravenously commanded the audience to “kill each other in the mosh pit.”

In a rhapsodic homecoming performance that surely sated the entire pantheon of thrash metal gods, San Francisco’s legendary sons Exodus played faster and harder than any band half their age and challenged their fans, both young and old, to act accordingly.

Live Review: Bridez at the Knockout 4/2


By Laura Mason

Members of lo-fi favorites Bridez hang out in this “candid” pic.

We may pride ourselves on this city’s intellectual panache or European debonaire, but the real ego tripping starts with the thriving rock & roll pedigree ingrained in the underbelly of San Francisco that I suspect is the real reason the city’s 20-something set gets dressed in the morning.

This snarling, sweating rock & roll animal is the perfect companion to the stiff drinks and barroom sleaze that dominate our night lives, and bottle-feeding this beast is Bridez. Their lo-fi gospel is true blue, rough-hewn and rife with cool angst, fronted by a singer who could be the testtube lovechild of Karen O., Lou Reed and Courtney Love. Chanteuse Liza Thorn, formerly of So So Many White White Tigers, has impressively mastered a white-hot on-stage swagger most girls only have the courage to do in front of a bedroom mirror, and is quickly blooming into the blazing frontwoman San Francisco needs.