Daniel Alvarez

Mood music



MUSIC It’s amazing what a difference two years makes. In June of 2011, I packed into a sweaty club in Silver Lake to see an up-and-coming glitch producer by the name of Baths (né Will Wiesenfeld) perform a triumphant home-town gig. Preceded by similarly buzzy beatsmiths like Shlohmo and Groundislava, Wiesenfeld spent the hour-long set hiding behind a table full of laptops and sequencers, pairing aggressive, wildly vacillating beats with heady melodies and his Sigur Rós-ian falsetto. While the show was a viscerally arresting experience, it was severely lacking in personality — painting its young architect as a musician much more interested in crafting a unique sonic aesthetic than baring his soul.

Fast forward almost two years, and Wiesenfeld has released an intimate, crushingly personal second album. Obsidian is a harrowing journey into the fractured psyche of an naked young artist, a complete 180 from his beat-driven, somewhat opaque debut, Cerulean. Though there were signs that he was moving in a new direction — notably the brilliant “Pop Song” from his 2011 odds-and-ends LP, Pop Music/False B-Sides — it is a brave, unexpected step forward for the 24-year-old. The Tarzana, Calif.-native strips back the eclectic, maximalist sound of his early work in favor of down-tempo, sparse, vocal-driven numbers.

The confessional lyrics come thick and fast, beginning with the bleak, shadowy, “Worsening.” “Where is God when you hate him most? / When the coughs in the earth come to bite at my robes,” emotes the stricken singer-songwriter, after admitting that he “might try to die.” During the time he was supposed to be working on Obsidian, Wiesenfeld was struck down by a vicious bout of E. Coli. His struggle with the debilitating disease is chronicled throughout the album, no more so than on its opener.

Lyrically, much of Obsidian is explosive, cathartic, and sometimes frankly uncomfortable, and they aren’t just related to his illness. The stand-out third track, “Ironworks,” is a beautiful song of denied love. Driven by a glorious string line and a cascade of piano — which recalls Ryuichi Sakamoto at times — Wiesenfeld tells the story of a man (presumably, him) falling in love with a married man, who denies his love and returns to the comfort of his wife after their relationship. Alone in the end, Wiesenfeld cries, “I am sweet swine. / And no man is ever mine.”

Throughout the album, he touches on anonymous sex, abuse, nihilism, and everything in between — often playing the role of perpetrator. Lyrics like, “And I never see your face, but I just might be okay with that. / Because I have no eyes, I have no love, I have no hope. / And it is not a matter of if you mean it. / But it is only a matter of come and fuck me.” At early listens, it’s difficult to imagine such a bubbly, gregarious character saying these salacious things. Trent Reznor, Kanye West, sure. A chubby, bespectacled kid from the Valley, not so much.

And though there is a lot of darkness on Obsidian, it’s not all sour times. Compositionally, the classically-trained pianist is capable of crafting mellifluous, lush arraignments and soaring vocal melodies. He also loves to cake on layers of woozy percussive droplets, giving his tracks a propulsive, cinematic quality. Though much of the album is of the down-tempo variety, he freshens things up with a few curve-balls, namely on the aggressive, industrial-influenced, “Earth Death,” and the Postal Service churn of “Ossuary.”

Wiesenfeld will be debuting much of this material this to the Bay Area this week, when his tour with buzzy, Chicago-based duo, Houses rolls into the Great American Music Hall. His choice of opening acts reflects his musical shift, as Houses craft reflective, affecting mood music — quite a bit different than the hip-hop/dance stylings of the artists who flanked him two years ago. While the laptop is likely to make an appearance, there will be plenty of live instrumentation on show with Wiesenfeld spending time on the keyboards and bandmate Morgan Greenwood taking on a few different instruments. It will be fascinating to see how he handles his new direction, but you can guarantee that the effusive, passionate performer will be pouring his heart into his show, the same way he poured it into Obsidian.


With Houses, D33J

Sat/29, 9pm, $16

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750



Don’t hold your breath



MUSIC Every passing year, the clamor gets louder; the rumors get more outlandish. An all-vegetarian Coachella. Fifty million dollars for five shows. Sixty-seven copies of the movie version of Moby Dick and a football helmet full of cottage cheese. While the rest of the world waits with baited breath for his old band to reunite, the perpetually unfussed Johnny Marr simply gets on with it, focusing on what’s ahead instead of what’s behind.

Since the Smiths called it quits in 1987, their ever-reliable guitarist has stayed more than busy. He’s been a full-time member of myriad different groups, such as Modest Mouse, the Cribs, and The The, while finding time to start a few bands of his own, notably his criminally underrated collaboration with New Order/Joy Division’s Bernard Summer, Electronic. He’s also an accomplished producer and has made countless guest appearances.

Surprisingly, it took the serial band-jumper 25 solid years to make the decision to strike out on his own. “The record really only happened because I had all these ideas that I wanted to turn into songs,” Marr says during our phone call. “I had been touring for such a long time, and I decided that I had to go into the studio and turn these ideas into songs. I didn’t have the plan of doing a solo album, rather I just had this need to get all of these songs recorded. It all happened totally organically.”

The result is The Messenger, an impressive return to form that shows the 49 year old still has a hell of a lot left to say. Over the album’s 12 tracks, Marr sounds refreshed, focused, and teeming with inspiration. From the direct battle cry of an opener, “The Right Thing Right,” to the punchy, double-stop stomp of “Generate! Generate” to the moody, lush “New Town Velocity,” Marr shows off his underrated songwriting chops and warm vocals. Though there is plenty of sonic variation, he manages to stay out of Dad Rock zone by mostly staying in his lane and letting his signature top-notch guitar work do much of the heavy lifting.

As with any Marr release, the guitars come first, second, and third, and the master is up to his old tricks again. Deliciously intricate arpeggiated riffs? Check. Triumphant, cascading melodies? Check. That signature, impeccable jangle? Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before (sorry, had to). Though he has fairly limited vocal range, his impeccable playing more than makes up for it, and most of the real memorable melodies (i.e. the soaring “European Me”) come courtesy of his legendary Fender Jaguar.

While Marr’s guitar heroics are worth the price of admission, it’s not the only fascinating thing about the fertile LP. As the consummate sideman to some of the biggest personalities (read: egos) in music — Morrissey, Isaac Brock, Chrissie Hynde — he hasn’t ever really needed to divulge much about the man behind the music. While you’re never going to get cathartic confessionals from the private, low-key Marr, he offers listeners plenty of enlightenment into his perspective.

“Really, it’s just a lot of my own personal observations, about my environment. It’s about the world as I see it,” Marr says. “I wanted it to be about the speed of life that I live.”

After drawing rave reviews on a run of shows across the pond, Marr rolls into town to play the first solo SF shows of his storied career. Sporting a nice mix of Smiths classics, hidden gems, and new material, Marr’s ardent spirit has spilled over into his live performances.

“We’ve been playing 11 new songs every night, and it’s really all gone down well,” Marr says. “Every night feels like a celebration, and people are really digging it…This group has a sound that really suits us, and we only play old songs that fit that sound, which really makes the old ones feel like new songs.”

One of the things that always stood out most about Marr was his incredible ability to make it all look so damn easy. No matter how complicated the guitar line, you’d never see a pained look on the perpetually dapper guitarist’s face. He famously wrote three all-time great songs — “William, It Was Really Nothing,” “How Soon Is Now?,” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” — in one weekend. For that reason, we shouldn’t be surprised that he has taken all the break-ups, rumors, and changes with a nonchalant grace, constantly focused on moving forward rather than looking back….no matter how much everyone seems to want him to.

“Definitely what I’m doing now is a new chapter,” Marr concludes. “I’ve always believed in moving forward with everything I do, and I’m excited for this next step.”

Translation: If you are waiting for that dream Smiths reunion, you might want to stop holding your breath and give The Messenger a spin.


Sat/13, 9pm, $29.50 Fillmore 1805 Geary, SF www.thefillmore.com


Freeing Frank Ocean



MUSIC If there was ever a genre that needed a good kick in the ass, it was R&B. For every Aaliyah, there have been ten J. Holidays, content to toe the party line and continue singing those same ol’ songs. Lucky for us, a slew of exciting artists (the Weeknd, Miguel, How to Dress Well) have revitalized the genre by crafting progressive work and bringing new influences and ideas into the mix. None has shone brighter than Frank Ocean.

After moving to Los Angeles in his late teens with only $1,200 in his pocket, the New Orleans native found work ghostwriting tracks for artists like Justin Bieber and John Legend. He didn’t really start making waves until he joined up with controversial, LA-based hip-hop collective, Odd Future, at the end of 2009. After signing with DefJam as a solo artist, Ocean struggled to get his debut LP nostalgia, ultra released, so he decided to do what many artists do: release it himself.

The free album lapped up critical acclaim and downloads, catapulting the 24-year-old to the upper realm of the blogosphere. It only takes one listen of nostalgia, ultra to see he isn’t your older cousin’s R&B singer. Instead of another disc full of tired come-ons and “I’m sorry baby” slow jams, the record is littered with soul searching, introspection, and fascinating storytelling all delivered in Ocean’s warm and effortless tenor.

The album’s lead singles deal with suicidal fantasies (“Swim Good”) and drug use (“Novacane”) with staggering perspective and clarity, something we aren’t used to hearing in R&B. Though he doesn’t shy away from heavy subject matter, he never lets it weigh down his buoyant, hopeful music. For a lot of artists, music is an escape, but Ocean understands that if you can find beauty in the struggle, there’s no need to search for an escape.


From there, Ocean worked with heavyweights like Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nas, and Beyoncé, while preparing his highly-anticipated proper debut, Channel Orange (due out July 17). Its lovelorn first single, “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You,” was a huge smash, and his first American tour sold out in nanoseconds. So we know the rest of the story right? Star rides his prodigious talent to the top of the charts, and spends the next 30 years counting money, living the dream, and collecting teacup elephants, right? Not so fast.

In the past four weeks, Ocean made two decisions that tell you everything you need to know about what makes him so different. First, on June 8, he released Channel Orange‘s second single, “Pyramids,” the most challenging single a mainstream R&B artist has released in recent memory. It’s an audacious, multi-movement, hook-free epic touching on time-travel, strip clubs, and ancient Egypt. And it is absolutely brilliant, probably the best song of 2012. While I’d imagine that Lyor Cohen and Co. greeted the 10-minute space jam with about as much enthusiasm as a colonic, it shows the scope of Ocean’s vision and his punk rock spirit.


That’s the magic of Frank Ocean; he is completely unafraid to challenge his listeners, and so far, they’ve stuck with him. But, on July 3, he gave them their biggest test yet.

Taking to his Tumblr, Ocean penned an articulate, heartbreaking post about his first love and subsequent heartbreak. The catch? The pronoun.

Quote from statement:

“4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. I’d hear his conversation and his silence … until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiation with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.”

The manner of the statement is pure Frank Ocean. On the eve of what was sure to be his greatest triumph, he risked everything in the name of truth. If you read the entire statement (which you should), he writes about the anguish and confusion he felt at the time, but also emphasizes the inherent beauty and innocence of first love.

In many ways, the statement reads just like a new Frank Ocean song: honest, beautiful, brave, painful, and incredibly emotive. Ocean has always been a hopeless romantic who has never been afraid to tackle heavy subjects with staggering honesty and clarity without regard for the conventions and conservatism of his chosen medium. And he does that here. That’s what makes him so special, as a man and as a singer.


Mon/16, 9pm, sold out

Regency Ballroom

1290 Sutter, SF

(415) 673-5716



Frankie Rose’s brief, enthralling Brick and Mortar stop


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bike lightly


DIY has long been an integral part of San Franciscan culture. Underground music venues, art cars, pop-up food trucks — San Franciscans have been crafting their own good times for years. And while the concept of creating and customizing your own bike isn’t new, a bike studio in the Tenderloin is putting a lightweight, environmentally-friendly spin on it.

Bamboo Bike Studio, started in 2009 by three Brooklyn-based bike obsessives, gives patrons the opportunity to build a safe, quality, visually-striking bike from the ground up by attending one of its weekend workshops. (Kits start at $459.) The shop uses bamboo — a plentiful, regenerative material — harvested from the Yucatan Peninsula.

While the concept of creating a bike from scratch may seem like a tall order, the friendly, committed staff makes the bike-building fun and fascinating. (For those without a lot of time to tinker, the studio also offers a steel frame option that only takes about four to six hours to complete.)

Worries about the legitimacy, safety, and durability of bamboo bikes can be assuaged by a quick test-drive and conversation with someone who has either built one or ridden one. The bikes come in a variety of different sizes and with a variety of fixtures and are exceptionally smooth and strong. They are also pretty light and easy to take care of, perfect for commuters. And if you ever have a problem with your bike, you can always drop into the studio and get it fixed.

“It was intimidating for me before I built them,” says BBS co-founder Justin Aguinaldo, a Mendocino County native who originally opened the shop in Brooklyn, but moved it here in 2009. “I can understand that. But actually, we are specifically looking to help people who are not already experienced builders because the empowerment from building your own things so exceeds the part of being afraid. It’s something that everyone can enjoy and benefit from, which is what we build our program around.

Aguinaldo, a longtime bike messenger, never seems far from two wheels. “I ride a bamboo bike mostly because it’s incredibly comfortable. I use other bikes, but I mostly ride bamboo. I don’t use it for racing or working, but just day-to-day and functionality-wise, it’s really enjoyable and reliable.”

When you walk into the Tenderloin BBS studio, it’s clear that the DIY ethos is as integral to the shop as the bikes themselves. From the homemade tool racks to the not-yet-completed shop sign that is being worked on by an employee, nearly everything (save for the foosball table) was built by the studio workers from scratch. As someone who struggles to tie their own shoes, just being in the place was inspiring, and the process of building my own bike was, well, enlightening.

“DIY has always really appealed to me,” studio worker Erik Castillo said. “You don’t have to go get a fancy bike and pay for the brand. You can get just as good a bike here — whether it’s the steel frame ones or the bamboo ones. The actual bamboo bike is just one of our ships that we use to get where we’re going.”

That’s what’s really interesting about the studio — that its goal is not even necessarily to get you on their bamboo wheels, but to spread bike culture in general. In 2010, the founding members of the studio even traveled to Ghana to help open up a bamboo bike factory to serve those who couldn’t afford expensive rides.

The shop is also committed to integrating into the Tenderloin, and building a inspiring, positive haven in a community that is short on such places. Spend a half an hour in the unpretentious studio, and you’re liable to meet a cast of characters including bike messengers, regular citizens working on their bikes, and Tenderloin neighbors.

“It’s not closed off to anyone,” Castillo explained. “It’s totally open to everyone. If you need help, we are here for you. But if you want to just hang out, you can do that too. Everyone is welcome.”

“If just owning a bamboo bike was the end goal, we’d just build them for you,” Aguinaldo told me. “For us, it’s about empowering more people and providing people with the value of creating your own thing. The bike isn’t the end goal. It’s about building it, riding it, learning from it — seeing how it affects everything else in life.” *

Bamboo Bike Studio 982 Post, SF. www.bamboobikestudio.com


The ones you love



MUSIC There are certain people in your life that you will always forgive. No matter how noxious or unreasonable their actions, you’ll always find the silver lining, like a delusional Sam Spade. They could be responsible for defiling a gaggle of farm animals, and you’d convince yourself that the roosters were asking for it.

Generally, you are either bonded to these people by blood or have been friends with them for years. However, if you are tragic enough, sometimes this extends to people that you have never met. These are not symbiotic relationships. They don’t care about you, but for whatever reason, you care enough about them to defend them to the death. It’s called being a fanatic.

In April of 2009, I made an absurd decision. When roughly 60% of your monthly income goes into paying for your crappy apartment, spending $100 dollars on a concert ticket — ANY concert ticket — is an impossibility. If Jesus Christ and Alexander the Great were in town performing In The Aeroplane Over the Sea in its entirety for a hundred bones, I’d probably settle for watching the clips on YouTube. But this was different. The Moz was in town, and I had to go. Even if it meant eating nothing but ramen for the next 47 days, I had to go see him.

Those who had tickets to that Oakland show know what happened next. The day before the gig, Morrissey canceled, claiming that he had returned to England because he had been “sickened” at the smell of barbecue at his recent Coachella performance. As absurd as that excuse was, it turns out that it wasn’t even true. He was photographed hanging out at the DNA Lounge the night of the scheduled gig. Reports later surfaced that he really bagged the show because the Fox Theater wasn’t close to sold out. Maybe it was because tickets were 100 FUCKING DOLLARS a pop. I don’t know. I’m not a concert promoter.

As angry as I should have been about this, I wasn’t. In fact, I kind of understood. This is Morrissey. As he’s said a million times over, he’s not sorry. And, you know what? He shouldn’t be. How dare the brutes at Coachella infect his air with the smell of murder? How dare the unwashed masses criticize where the great Mozilla spends his evenings? He will play for us when he’s damn well ready.

And ready he is (we hope). And like a battered wife, here I am again, prepared to make the exact same absurd decision. Maybe he’ll break my heart again, but I’m willing to take that risk just to see the frontperson from my favorite ever band roll through a couple of his old classics (even if it’s just a couple). Why? It’s because I am a fanatic. And I’m not sorry either.


Thurs/1, 8 p.m., sold out

Fox Theater,

1807 Telegraph, Oakl.

(510) 302-2277


Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard talks emotional lyrics, covers, and 80s pop


Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard has had one helluva year. He and his bandmates released their highly-anticipated LP One Life Stand in February and took a massive risk by going for a more streamlined, cohesive sound.The gamble payed off: the disc has received generally positive reviews and the group has spent the latter part of 2010 criss-crossing the globe, including a Sun/17 stop at the Warfield. Just a few months removed from a triumphant American headlining tour that was supported by critical darlings the XX, the Londoners are back opening up for their longtime friends LCD Soundsystem and playing some of the American biggest gigs of their career. Throw in the birth of his first child and a hectic DJ schedule, the Guardian was lucky to grab a quick word with the Hot Chip main man at his home in London.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Considering how high expectations for One Life Stand were, how are you feeling about it now that it’s been out for a while?

Joe Goddard: It feels good. It was a stressful process, but it seems to have gone down quite well. Honestly, when I get done making an album, I always get a little bit tired of it and want to move on to the next one, so I really haven’t listened to it much myself. That said, the shows have been going well, and people seem to really enjoy the new tracks in the live setting. I don’t exactly know what people’s opinions are, but I guess people have been enjoying it, which makes me happy [laughs].

SFBG: As it should! As far as the album goes, it definitely seems like the new record is different stylistically to the older material. The tracks seem a little more accessible and light than some of older tracks. Was that a conscious decision, or did it come about naturally?

Goddard: I think all of us wanted to make the tracks on this record a little more streamlined and coherent, you know, a little bit more polished. On some of the previous things we’ve done, there have been layers-upon-layers of synthesizers and really intricate rhythms and percussion, and those sorts of elements. I kind of wanted to do something that didn’t rely on hundreds of layers and strip back the songs so they sound more focused and simple. We also really focused on making the songwriting as strong as possible and for the production to stand up to the songwriting. That was really our aim. I guess I just felt like doing something that sounded more direct, a bit more easy to understand, just something a little bit more straightforward.

In my mind, we were kind of refrencing the great kind of pop stances that you would get in the 80s where you’d get these big kind of epic, emotional songs — like Womack and Womack or Fleetwood Mac — these big polished pop songs that are making a big emotional statements. I feel like those songs are coming back round again, and I guess we were just hoping that people wouldn’t get too pissed off for doing something like that [laughs]. Having done that, I’d really like to do something completely different and more unrestrained for our next project.


SFBG: As far as the songwriting goes, how do you and [co-vocalist] Alexis Taylor break it up? Do you write the tracks together or by yourselves?

Goddard: There isn’t really a formula to it. Basically, either myself or Alexis will come up with something and just send it to the other one. From there, we’ll work on it together. Sometimes its almost a complete song, but sometimes it’s just a fragment of a song. It used to be that we would just sit in each other’s houses, but now its mostly just over email. As far as the lyrics go, generally whoever is singing a particular part tends to have written it. Sometimes I’ll write all the lyrics for a track, sometimes [Alexis] will write all the lyrics for the track, and sometimes we’ll collaborate. We never sit down and have a lyric writing session together where we come up with couplets or anything like that. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever even asked Alexis what the lyrics to a track of his mean. I can make informed guesses about it, but they’re very personal and sometimes actually quite secret.

SFBG: Speaking of lyrics, it seems much more emotionally direct than your previous work. Did that go along with your musical direction?

Goddard: Yeah. I think that most of the record is more emotionally direct. That is partly due to the fact that we were trying to do something that was direct, and we really tried to follow that through in terms of lyrical content as well. We just wanted to let the songs say what they wanted to say, instead of being obtuse or hiding the meaning. Also, it was how we were feeling as people at the time we were making the record. We very kind of focused on our relationships, our home lives, and families, so there’s a lot of love on this record.

SFBG: How are those new, more direct, emotional tracks going over live?

Goddard: Well, I’ve got to preface this by saying that I’ve had six weeks off from playing live, because I recently had my first child. When I come back to play this October, it’ll be my first gigs in two months. From the touring I did before, I really enjoyed playing things like “Brothers” and “Alley Cats” — not only because I wrote most of those tracks — but they’re more emotionally open than most of the stuff I’ve done in the past. Although I guess you could go back to a few of the tracks from the older records and say that, but these are the ones that are fairly explicitly about my relationships and personal life.

For example, “Brothers” is clearly about my relationship and love for my brother, but I also wanted that song to also mean the brotherhood of being in the band and the brotherhood of a group of friends. The song “Alley Cats” is incredibly personal, it mentions the death of my mother. It feels great to be expressing myself with the guys that I’ve been friends with for over 20 years, and I often get quite emotional performing those songs. Of course, it is fun to do the bigger tracks like “One Life Stand” and “I Feel Better”, but I’ve really been enjoying the gentler moments in the set.

SFBG: Obviously, yourselves and LCD Soundsystem have a long history with [Hot Chip multi-instrumentalist] Al [Doyle] touring with them. Are you looking forward to getting back out on the road with them?

Goddard: It feels fantastic. It’s just a really great way to end the year. They are really just great, old friends of ours, and it’ll be great to have a drink with them, you know, and it’ll just be really comfortable. Most of us are about the same age — well, I guess James [Murphy] and Pat [Mahoney] are a just a bit older. We toured with them in the UK about five or six years ago and really learned a lot about touring with as a live, electronic rock band. They taught us a lot on that tour. I’m very much looking forward to doing it again.

I feel like both bands are established enough now that we can both just have fun and do our thing. Whereas a couple of years ago, I was trying more to get people into the music, now I’m really quite happy with what we’re doing and where we are. This tour is going to be a celebration of what we’ve achieved. They should be fun shows where people are just going to want to dance and have a good time.


SFBG: A couple of years ago, you guys closed out some California shows with a cover of the classic “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Can we expect a new cover to sneak its way into your set?

Goddard: Actually, we have been talking about it and trying to figure out something to do. We haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I think they’ll definitely be a little surprise. Alexis has made a few suggestions and we’re trying to work something out at the moment.

SFBG: Real quick, can you just give us some background of your recently-released remix EP, We Have Remixes? How did you end up choosing the four tracks that you did?

Goddard: We really just tried to choose remixes that we’re really excited about by people that are either personally friends of ours in terms of Hot City, Osborne, and Caribou or people that we really admire. I think Todd Edwards is just a fantastic producer, who creates really musical, intelligent, danceable tracks and we love what he did. There’s obviously been some great other remixes, but this was just a collection of four that have come about over ht last few months that were so good it just made sense to put them out on vinyl.


SFBG: Speaking of vinyl, you also spend lots of your time DJing. What’s better an awesome gig or a great club night?

Goddard: Hmmm, it’s hard to pick one, because I really love doing both. I think an incredible live gig kind of beats anything, but the nice thing about DJing is, since its just you, if you have a good night and the crowd has a good time you feel like its a real personal achievement. I mean, it’s hard to pick between the two. I just love doing both of them.

SFBG: No worries. Lastly, since you are a DJ, what have you been listening to and spinning recently? Got any recommendations?

Goddard: The most recent things I’ve been listening to are just lots of new 12-inches. Really, just a lot of new UK dance music, like a lot of garage that’s been influenced by techno. There’s this new UK producer called DJ Naughty, who has a wonky garage record called “Goosebumps” that’s really funky and fun. Another DJ called Red Rack’em just released this 12 inch called “How I Program” which is really good. I’ve also been listening to a ton of Hot City. I’ve been DJing quite a lot, and that’s really what I’ve been focusing on.

SFBG: Great! I really appreciate your time, and we’ll look forward to seeing you at the Warfield.

Goddard: Not a problem. Thanks a lot!



with Sleigh Bells

Sun/17, 9 p.m., $32.25


982 Market, SF


Wise “Blood”


MUSIC Most bands change over time. Change makes most people uncomfortable. I — for all intents and purposes — am most people. Therefore, when a band I care about changes, most of the time I feel uncomfortable.

I must admit that the first few times I heard Yeasayer’s sophomore LP, Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian, 2010), my level of discomfort was hovering somewhere between a middle seat of the Muni No. 9 during rush hour and a trip to a swingin’ singles club with Larry Craig and John Edwards. Expecting another slice of the eclectic, experimental indie rock of their fantastic debut, All Hour Cymbals (We Are Free, 2007), I was shocked to find 10 surprisingly streamlined, often danceable cuts, generally devoid of the varied Middle Eastern influences that peppered their debut. But after a few listens, something funny happened. My discomfort turned into enjoyment, my disappointment into excitement.

In reality, I should have seen this coming. A band as creative and fiercely individual as Yeasayer was never going to make the same album twice. Tracks from All Hour Cymbals like “2080” and “Sunrise” hinted that the Brooklyn-ites had this in them, and Odd Blood is the sound of a band saying, “Fuck it, let’s go for it.” It would have actually been a safer decision for the group to move in an even more esoteric sonic direction since they’ve already got the hipster, faux-intellectual demographic on lock. As groups like Animal Collective and Of Montreal have proven, you can do pretty damn well just by hanging on to those kids.

Don’t get me wrong, while Odd Blood represents an ostensibly poppier direction for the group, it’s not like they turned into the All American Rejects. Even the most mainstream-friendly cuts — the lead singles “Ambling Alp” and “O.N.E.” — are heavily layered, multifaceted tracks that simply don’t sound like anything anyone else is doing. “Ambling Alp” — an upbeat, immediate number built from agitated stabs of synth, a busy bassline, and vocalist Chris Keating’s confident, dexterous vocals — twists and turns for four exhilarating minutes. “O.N.E.” has a distinctly island feel and is ready to soundtrack the summer, even if it’s still February.

Keating and Co. (multi-instrumentalists Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder) keep throwing curveballs, especially on the ballad “I Remember.” Keating’s emotive, graceful falsetto is at the heart of the plaintive track, sure to strike a chord in those who are missing a loved one. The surprisingly simple and direct (in lyrical content and melody) number shows off a totally different side of the group and creates a palpable sense of nostalgia and longing. More flappers-and-the-Charleston than flannel-and-thick-rimmed-glasses, “Rome” sounds like something out of an indie cabaret show. “Love Me Girl” would be a lost MJ track if he’d been dropping acid instead of hanging out with mannequins.

Is Odd Blood a step forward or a step back? To borrow a Wonka-ism, it is a step slantways. And it was always going to be. All I can say for sure is there is no way to tell where Yeasayer will go from here, because the members themselves don’t seem to know (or care) what the future holds. Honestly, if their next album is an Uzbek folk rolk-influenced dubstep/crunk/easy listening mashup, I wouldn’t bat an eye. Would I be apprehensive about it at first? Of course. Would it stop me from giving it a long listen? No fucking way. In fact, it would only be a true letdown if it sounded like a copy of a previous album.

The Kajagoogoo of Jacques Attali



MUSIC For those of you who missed the memo, it all hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the good people of the ol’ U.S. of A over the last year or so. You don’t have to be Noam Chomsky to realize that if the national unemployment rate is hovering right around 10 percent, that’s not good. If you toss in a confusing war that we are still involved in, the polar icecaps melting faster than Joan Rivers’ face in a boiling torrential downpour, and the small matter of a monster flu pandemic, it’s quite clear: Americans have a right to feel a trifle downcast at the moment.

Yet while we face some strains of a musical slump (screamo, ringtone rap etc.) that is just as woeful as our current financial state, 20th century American history tells us that there may be hope for the future. If you look back through the 1900s, there is a constant byproduct of periods of American crisis. We get some pretty damn awesome music.

Financially speaking, the past year or two has been dominated by scary words like recession and downturn, yet you and I have largely avoided the most bone-chilling term of all. To encounter it, you need to set your DeLorean to the 1930s, where you will find our country in the midst of the most terrifying 10 letters in our economic lexicon — depression.

Beginning with some dramatic leaps in 1929, the Great Depression is the benchmark for what happens when things go horribly wrong. In the U.S., unemployment rates reached an unprecedented 25 percent, and the country, not to mention the rest of the planet, was wallowing in the unpleasant waters of the River Styx.

But something curious happened. As folks were dealing with the decade’s bleakest times, Americans were also writing, recording, and performing some of the finest music in the nation’s history. Legendary jazz artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday released some of the best material of their careers, while the roots of country music were sowed by musicians like Jimmie Rodgers, Lead Belly, the Carter Family, and Woody Guthrie. Much of the Depression-era work of these artists combines palpable, affecting melancholy with surprising overtones of faith, hope, and celebration. Music served as a window into the pain of the average American, and also as an escape from the real-life problems people were facing.

This phenomenon returned in many ways during the late 1960s. While thousands of Americans were fighting a war that nobody seemed to understand, those left behind faced widespread inflation and high interest rates. America again turned to its musicians to air frustrations and fears. Taking cues from artists like Pete Seeger and Doc Watson (who were still active during the generation), a new generation of protest music exploded. The new folk of singers-songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez gripped the nation. So did the socially-conscious soul of troubadours like Marvin Gaye, Gil-Scott Heron, and Sam Cooke.

Though these are perhaps the two most obvious instances of great music being created during hard times in America, they aren’t the only ones. Deep in the 1980s, as white suburbanites were loving Reaganomics and rocking out to Kajagoogoo and Huey Lewis, residents of inner cities across America were stuck smack-dab in GOP-perpetrated trickle-down hell. Groundbreaking artists such as NWA, Ice-T, and KRS-One sprang out of the cities, further igniting the massive cultural and commercial force that is hip-hop.

Which brings us to the big question — can we do it again? While you may call it naiveté, I’m optimistic about the chances of history repeating itself. In just the last year, folk has made quite a resurgence, with Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, the Avett Brothers and others gaining massive followings and selling out venues wherever they play. Also, due to file-sharing, the rise of easily-streamable digital music, and well-run independent labels, artists are able to get their music out to larger audiences without interference from conservative and controlling corporate entities. The rise of independent music is apparent in the lineup of the upcoming Treasure Island Music Festival, widely expected to be one of San Francisco’s biggest concert events this year. Though tickets aren’t cheap, people haven’t minded shelling out for a bill that features only five bands currently signed to a major label.

Not so long ago, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the economy was booming. Things were great for everyone — except the American pop music fan, who was subjected to overproduced boy bands, toothless pop rock (Sugar Ray, Smashmouth), nu-metal, and countless other forms of forgettable garbage. So while your pockets may be empty now, it might be a good thing. Hold out a hope that maybe, just maybe, in 30 years, the music of the next decade will be lauded much like the tunes of the 1930s and the 1960s.

Until then, just sit tight and keep praying for the death of auto-tune.



PREVIEW After generously treating its fans to an agonizing four-year wait,

Manchester-based trio Doves decided it was time. They recorded the 11 tracks that make up their fourth LP in a converted barn in the sprawling Cheshire countryside, a part of England that — like the group itself — is roughly as fashionable as a rhinestone-bedazzled fanny pack.

The result of this labor is Kingdom of Rust (Heavenly/Astralwerks), a collection that combines unabashed, fist-pumping spirit with the murky melancholy that defines Doves’ at times brilliant 10-plus-year career. While the trio has always been adept at heartbreaking dirges (see: "The Sulphur Man"; "The Cedar Room"), the emotional landscape of its new release includes hope as well as despair. For every haunting ballad ("Birds Flew Backwards"; "Lifelines"), there are a pair of powerful anthems — albeit ones with touches of melancholy — that are driven by pounding drums, vocalist/bassist Jimi Goodwin’s soulful warble, and expansive arrangements.

Built around a swirling riff by guitarist Jez Williams, "Winter Hill" uncoils into the group’s catchiest number to date. Rollicking tracks like "Spellbound" and "The Outsiders" beg to be played live. Thanks to YouTube, it’s already clear they are even better in concert.

Bands are usually applauded for finding a winning formula and sticking to it (read: musical stagnation) or experimenting for the sake of it (read: resorting to desperate measures after running out of melodic ideas). Rarely are they praised for naturally progressing and maturing. But Doves have shown time and again that they don’t need the awards and the plaudits. They’ll happily keep making great records and filling theaters. All we have to do is listen.

DOVES With Wild Light. Mon/18, 8 p.m., $27.50. The Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. (415) 346-6000, www.thefillmore.com>.

The Funeral Party


PREVIEW By the late 1990s, the better part of the country had reached a consensus. The whole East Coast vs. West Coast thing had officially run its course and was, decidedly, un-chill. A pimp-stick-wielding Snoop Dogg blowing a gasket at The Source Awards and doing his damndest to incite a riot was one thing. But, once the two most transcendent, brilliant musicians of the generation were murdered in cold blood, America and everyone else involved decided, enough was enough.

Ten years on from Biggie’s death, a new crew of whippersnappers has decided to boil up some East Coast/West Coast beef. Though they aren’t talking about engaging in sexual congress with anyone’s betrothed, Los Angeles dance-punk quartet the Funeral Party is sick of the Big Apple hoarding all the indie cred. On the raging "NYC Moves to the Sound of LA," from their jarring debut EP, Bootleg (Fearless, 2008), the precocious upstarts take aim at the "unoriginal," "contrived" New York City scene. Vocalist Chad Elliot venomously spits, "Stole all of your ideas from other cities<0x2009>/ Things are lookin’ stale<0x2009>/ It’s time to turn around<0x2009>/ New York City loves to mess around with the LA sound!" You hear that, Vampire Weekend? You’re fucking going down!

Only time will tell if this sick burn will plant the seeds of a feud that will dominate the back pages of publications nationwide. If I was a betting man, I’d give the "FP vs. NYC" feud between a 2 percent and .00231 percent chance of captivating America. But I would bet the ranch that the Funeral Party’s arresting brand of punk-based dance-rock — imagine Babyshambles on uppers, jamming with At the Drive-In-era Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Johnny Marr — landing them on the front pages of a few magazines in the coming years. Popscene has a knack for booking artists with solid buzzes before they blow up, so get ready to add the Funeral Party to the list of bands you saw before Carson Daly 2.0 informed America who they were.

THE FUNERAL PARTY Thurs/15, call for time, $8–$10. Popscene, 330 Ritch, SF. (415) 902-3125, www.popscene-sf.com

3 Inches of Blood


PREVIEW Keyboard neckties. ‘Ludes. Neck beards. Meerkat racing. The 2005 Dan Alvarez would have told you that all of these things have a better chance at becoming popular with kids than the dork fest that is power metal. This is coming from a guy who spent his formative years listening to groups like Rhapsody, known for their symphonic epics about goblins and dragons and their uncanny ability to induce crippling bouts of prolonged virginity. So you could imagine the 2008 Dan’s surprise when groups like Dragonforce, Dream Evil, and Protest the Hero began headlining shows and moving units with the very same operatic (read: cheesy) vocals and bombastic (read: indulgent) qualities I hold so dear.

One of the undisputed leaders of power metal’s shocking renaissance is Vancouver sextet, 3 Inches of Blood. The armor-wearing, orc crushing — they actually have a song called "Destroy the Orcs" — miscreants craft technically impressive, melodically sophisticated captivating battle anthems. They are led by a twin-vocal attack, highlighted by the aptly named Cam Pipes, who recalls a young Rob Halford and who is seriously into larping. Pipes’ glorious, shrill falsetto is backed by the brutal, guttural barks of second vocalist Jamie Hooper. Though Hooper had to take the year off due to throat problems related to his intense screaming, guitarist Justin Hegberg makes sure the band retains its steel by effectively stepping in for Hooper. The group’s frenetic live shows seem guaranteed to go over well at the metal-friendly Slim’s. Sharpen your broad sword, tap your mana, and get ready for war!

3 INCHES OF BLOOD With Toxic Holocaust and Early Man. Tues/13, 8 p.m., $15. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 255-0333, www.slims-sf.com

Dengue Fever


PREVIEW Inspiration comes from the strangest of places. It came to organist Ethan Holtzman when he left Los Angeles behind for a six-month journey through Southeast Asia. As he traveled on the back of a pickup truck, his driver was blasting tracks by Cambodian stars of the 1960s and ’70s, many of whom were eventually killed by the Khmer Rouge. Drawn to the slinky, bouncy sounds of legendary artists like Sin Sisamouth, Holtzman returned home, determined to bring the electric style to the west. After recruiting four other LA rockers, including brother and ex-Dieselhed member Zac, to fill out the band, Holtzman knew he needed a vocalist to bring the project to life.

Enter Chhom Nimol. The group met the 29-year-old chanteuse in a nightclub in the little Phnom Penh district of Long Beach and, after much convincing, the Cambodian expat decided to attend a rehearsal. Thus, Dengue Fever was born. While they began as a cover band, reworking songs from Cambodia’s golden era of rock, they soon began writing their own material, first in Nimol’s native Khmer and later in English. Their new material is a compelling mixture of surf, psychedelia, and indie rock, while still remaining deeply rooted in Cambodian pop. Their latest album, Venus on Earth (M80), dispels any last whispers that they’re a novelty group, and displays their continuing maturity and advanced songwriting prowess. Numbers like "Seeing Hands" and "Sober Drivers" tell compelling stories, and employ sweeping melodies, driven by Nimol’s ethereal vocals. In an indie climate sorely lacking in dynamic, trailblazing groups, Dengue Fever breathes fresh, exciting life into a scene in danger of going stale.

RICKSHAW STOP’S FIFTH ANNIVERSARY BASH With Dengue Fever and Goh Nakamura (Fri/2) and the Attachments (Sat/3). Fri/2–Sat/3, 9 p.m., $8 advance. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. (415) 235-5718, www.rickshawstop.com

These Arms Are Snakes


PREVIEW Rising from a new-millennium Seattle rock renaissance, These Arms Are Snakes offers a new take on an ever-growing post-hardcore scene. Often compared to bands like mewithoutYou and As Cities Burn, These Arms Are Snakes raises the bar yet again with this year’s brilliant Tall Swallower and Dove (Suicide Squeeze). While most prog/post-hardcore riffraff skew toward more experimental, ambient pastures, the Northwestern miscreants opt for a more direct approach with Tall Swallower and Dove: the outfit seems as happy to bludgeon the listener with sonic buzzsaw and raw power as it is to confound the listener with odd time signatures and intricate melodic structures. "Prince Squid" and "Red Line Season" display These Arms Are Snakes’ impressive ability to write melodic, tuneful pieces, laced with an edge becoming to a group that includes former members of nineironspitfire and hardcore legends Botch.

Tall Swallower and Dove‘s tracks have an energetic, organic feel that will lend itself well to the stage, though These Arms Are Snakes already has a reputation as a spellbinding live act: frontperson Steve Snere is known to thrash and convulse wildly, like an intoxicated rag doll. And then there’s the bona fide guitar virtuosity of Ryan Frederiksen, which remains as underrated as the band itself. In a post-hardcore scene sorely lacking the raw passion and ingenuity of acts like At the Drive-In and Refused, These Arms Are Snakes remain one of the few groups that is capable of sonic innovation while staying true to its roots in the hardcore scene

THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES With Trap Them and Narrows. Sun/14, 9 p.m., $10–$12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 626-4455, www.bottomofthehill.com

Bad boys reformed … and together


PREVIEW Superficially, Britpop arena monsters Oasis and alt-country whiz kid Ryan Adams appear to be strange bedfellows. But on further review, their careers bear a striking resemblance. Both Oasis and Adams burst onto the music scene from seemingly nowhere: Oasis with its Definitely Maybe (Creation, 1994) and Adams as the ringleader of critical darlings Whiskeytown. From there, both tasted their greatest successes. Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory (Creation, 1995) sold more than 18 million copies worldwide, spawning their two best-known songs, "Wonderwall" and "Champagne Supernova." After Adams split from Whiskeytown in 1999, he released Heartbreaker (Bloodshot, 2000) and Gold (Lost Highway, 2001), which remain his most popular albums. Though Oasis and Adams have enjoyed solid sales and sold-out concerts through the middle part of their respective careers, they’ve endured commercial backlash, with fans becoming disillusioned with bad behavior, prickly relations with the media, and uneven albums. Gallagher brothers Noel and Liam, and Adams gained reputations as unstable, petulant artists, given to substance addiction, which often overshadowed their music.

Lucky for us, both Oasis and Adams seem to have grown weary of their bad-boy personas, and have recently focused on writing music reminiscent of older glories. Oasis’s new Dig out Your Soul (Big Brother/Warner Bros.) is a swaggering, triumphant return to form, that sees the likely lads from Manchester scaling back the power ballads and turning up the guitars to create their most engaging effort since Morning Glory. The ever-prolific Adams has kicked heroin, formed a new group called the Cardinals, and released Cardinology (Lost Highway), which is perhaps the strongest, most cohesive effort of his career. The two groups join forces Dec. 3, bringing their expansive, impressive catalogs to the Oracle Arena. Here’s hoping they’ll highlight past successes and bright futures.
OASIS AND RYAN ADAMS AND THE CARDINALS Wed/3, 7 p.m., $37.75–$66.25. Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum, Oakl. (415) 421-8497, www.livenation.com

Holiday Guide 2008: The game room


› culture@sfbg.com

The holidays have always been a time for toys. Back in the day, it was board games, baby dolls, and Rubik’s cubes. Then came Nintendo, Dance Dance Revolution, and The Sims. And now? The world of gaming is exploding, with something for everyone — from sci-fi-loving kids to sports-fanatic adults. Here are a few of our favorite new releases, which are sure to please everyone on your list (except maybe Grandpa):


Maxis (EA Sports); PC/Mac

"Playing God" just took on a whole new meaning. From Maxis, the people who brought you The Sims, comes the genre-defying Spore, a game designed for people who are tired of creating boring ol’ humans. In its captivating metaverse, gamers create a unicellular organism which must evolve into a social, cognizant creature. Explore the game’s expansive, interstellar landscape while developing a whole new species that can live and thrive in a brave new world. If that isn’t enough, it features ambient soundscapes by avant-garde composer and producer Brian Eno.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009

Konami; PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, PS2, Wii, PC

The Pro Evolution Soccer series, also known as Winning Eleven, has long been the "Beautiful Games" best-kept gaming secret. While enjoying rampant global popularity, stateside it has long been the Don Swayze to Electronic Arts’ FIFA series’ Patrick Swayze. Its underwhelming sales in the United States are due to EA’s publicity machine and its name recognition. But PES 2009‘s staggering fluidity, graphics, and realism leaves FIFA‘s in the dust. While it features the international and club matches we expect, this year’s version exclusively features UEFA Champion’s League mode, which allows you to navigate through soccer’s preeminent club competition that decides the best team in Europe. A majestic sport demands a majestic game, and Pro Evolution Soccer ’09 best captures the nuances and gravity of the world’s most beloved sport.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

Blizzard Entertainment; PC/ Mac OS X

If you can control an insatiable appetite for the destruction of your social life during the 42 days between its release and St. Nick’s World Tour, No. 1 on your shopping list should be the latest installment of the soul-sucking, hypnotic genius of Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. While its global fans’ limitless dedication risks the ire of parents, teachers, and psychologists (read: party poopers), who confuse persistence and attention to detail with addictive behaviors, Blizzard has simply achieved every video game maker’s wet dream. It’s crafted a game intriguing and enjoyable enough that both hardcore and weekend warriors want to get in on the action.

Shaun White Snowboarding

Ubisoft; PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP, PS2, PC

Not since Tony Hawk has an athlete been able to seamlessly transition from extreme sports star to bona fide sports hero and A-list celebrity like Shaun "the Flying Tomato" White has. He’s appeared on countless magazines and talk shows, and is now pulling his own "Tony Hawk" by fronting a big-budget, mainstream video game franchise. While time will tell if Shaun White Snowboarding will be as successful as the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, but early returns have been overwhelmingly positive. The game features four mountain settings — Alaska, the Alps, Japan, and Park City, Utah — with seemingly endless runs and backcountry trails to get lost on. The game flows well, and there are countless opportunities to do hair-raising tricks and twists. White wanted the game to capture the freedom that made him fall in love with snowboarding, and Ubisoft has captured that perfectly, constantly pushing the user to discover the road less traveled without the possibility of death by hypothermia.

Rock Band 2

Harmonix/ Pi Studios; PS3, Xbox 360 (PS2/Wii releasing December 2008)

I’ll be honest with you. There is nothing, but nothing, that can kill a night out quite like Rock Band. Speaking from experience, it usually strikes around 11 p.m., when you and your friends are, theoretically, having your last drinks and preparing to brave the San Francisco nightlife. You may have high hopes for the evening. Maybe you’ll find a cool new bar, meet some new people, or even engage in a hazy dalliance that hopefully leaves you disease- and child-free in the morning. Then, disaster strikes. Someone asks, "Hey, who wants to play a little Rock Band before we go out?" Three hours later, you are wasted, singing "Wanted Dead or Alive" at the top of your lungs, and surrounded by the same four mates you started the night with. Good-bye cool bar, new friends, and Ms. or Mr. Right (Now). The latest version promises even more lost evenings and new opportunities to show off that falsetto, with almost 100 songs from nearly every genre, including classic rock standards (Fleetwood Mac, the Who), a double helping of ’90s grunge (Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains), and ’80s metal jams (Ratt, Bon Jovi).

Mirror’s Edge

Electronic Arts; PS3, Xbox 360

First-person adventure games are the Auto-Tune (T-Pain Effect) of video games, with seemingly every major video game manufacturer using this über-realistic, up-close perspective. That said, Mirror’s Edge looks likely to revolutionize first-person shooters with its unparalleled gameplay. Players control Faith, the game’s tragic hero, on her quest to save her sister from a web of deceit woven by a corrupt communist government. The game’s gorgeous, illuminated metropolitan setting demonstrates its elite graphics, but the real attraction lies in Faith’s ambitious journey. While fighting is involved, the user must navigate the expansive urban labyrinth and find ways to infiltrate the totalitarian regime. Though it boasts more action (read: combat) than most RPG’s, Mirror’s Edge is not a game for the unreceptive, lazy gamer who simply wants to blow shit up. But if you like using your brain as well as your bullets, you will rejoice in its complex storyline, nuance, and overall gameplay.

NBA Live ’09

Electronic Arts; Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, PS2, PSP

Without the mighty Baron Davis, how are the hapless Warriors going to make the playoffs? Easy. Pick up a copy of EA’s new installment of the NBA Live juggernaut, make a few shrewd trades such as swapping Al Harrington and C.J. Watson for Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams (that’s fair, right?), start up your season, and voilà! The Warriors go 73-9, break the Bulls all-time record, cruise into the playoffs, and crush the overmatched Boston Celtics to bring the Bay Area their first title since 1975. Meanwhile, the villainous Utah Jazz are sent tumbling to an abysmal 5-77 mark (guess who’s still bitter about the ’07 playoffs?). Along the way, enjoy graphics clear enough to make out Kenyon Martin’s impressive array of neck tats, high-flying dunks more exciting than a moped ride with Monta Ellis, and gameplay so realistic that while playing as the Knicks, you’ll be too lazy to get back on defense. *

More Holiday Guide 2008.

Everyday people


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"Keepin’ it real" narrowly edges out "real talk" and "it is what it is" for the most abhorrent platitude in hip-hop, and Bay Area supergroup, the Mighty Underdogs, refuses to be constrained by it. The outfit — which couples local lyrical legends Lateef the Truthspeaker (Latyrx) and Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) with producer extraordinaire Headnodic (Crown City Rockers) — recently released its debut on Definitive Jux: the varied, headnod-inducing Droppin’ Science Fiction. While most supergroups fall flat because of a lack of chemistry, the two MCs’ uber-smooth, rapid-fire deliveries flow seamlessly. Their distinct styles are complemented by Headnodic’s soulful, intricate beats.

I caught up with the articulate, engaging group at their unassuming rehearsal space, nestled in a sea of factories and warehouses in East Oakland. The buoyant MCs exuded pure excitement and pride as they discussed the origins of the Underdogs.

"It was instant chemistry," remarked the laid-back, personable Gab. "We had so much fun doing it. The chemistry was just great, and the songs were just comin’ out dope. We just kinda got lost in it. Thus, the Mighty Underdogs were born."

Actually the group formed almost by mistake. Lateef was working on his upcoming solo album, Crowd Rockers, when Headnodic asked him to consider some of his beats for the project. ‘Teef got more than he bargained for, and left the producer’s North Oakland abode with about 10 beats that he had ideas for. He decided to call an old friend. "I just thought, "Lemme call Gab,’ because Gab and I had been talking about working on a project together," the benign, thoughtful lyricist explained. "I sent them [the tracks] over to Gab and, within a month, it was just on!"

From there the trio congregated in Nodic’s studio to work on the tracks that would become their first full-length. During those sessions, they created a recording that knocks all the way through while focusing on fictional storytelling, which became Gab’s favorite part of the project. "Lateef had hit me up with ‘Monster’ and ‘Ill Vacation,’" said Gab, "and they were both on some storytelling, out-there, imaginative-type stuff, and that really excited me about making the record."

While much of the disc highlights light-hearted, bouncy storytelling, it also encompasses the introspective, honest lyricism that the MCs’ fans adore. On tracks like "Folks," "Want You Back," and "So Sad," which features the incomparable Julian and Damian Marley, the ‘Dogs do what they do best: weaving true life tales of struggle and love. "While a lot of this record is fictional storytelling, the songs that aren’t are very real," Lateef said with a laugh. "We’re talking about shit that everybody does, and everybody sees." *


With Zion I and the Cataracs

Nov. 22, 8 p.m., $20–$22

Grand Ballroom

Regency Center, Van Ness and Sutter, SF

(415) 421-TIXS


Kowloon Walled City


PREVIEW If it sounds like metal, and it looks like metal, it’s gotta be metal. Right?

Vocalist-guitarist Scott Evans of San Francisco’s Kowloon Walled City doesn’t think so. "I think it’s heavy, but it’s not metal," he said after KWC’s recent Annie’s Social Club show. "We occasionally throw in metal parts, but I stand by us not being a metal band."

Guitarist Jason Pace disagreed: "It may not be a heavy metal band, but it’s a fucking metal band. Despite Scott’s reluctance to say we’re a metal band, I think, within the metal genre, there’s about 800 subgenres, and I think we’re somewhere in there."

It doesn’t really matter how you categorize KWC’s music. What does matter is the group’s impregnable wall of sound, driven by Scott Evans’ throat-ripping, barked vocals, Jeff Fagundes’ groovy, syncopated drumming, and fuzzy, imposing riffs reminiscent of a mutant Chia Pet.

In the 1970s and ’80s, the Kowloon Walled City, a neglected tenement in British Hong Kong, grew into a squalid, dilapidated enclave of prostitution, drugs, gambling, and all around good times. Unsurprisingly, the outfit sees many parallels between that labyrinthine dystopolis and the portion the Tenderloin where they rehearse. Named for a street in that neighborhood, KWC’s new Turk Street EP (Wordclock) is an uncompromising slab of downtuned power with Fagundes and bassist Ian Miller forming a taut rhythm section and allowing the guitars to deviate from each song’s base without compromising the prodigious grooves. Still, while Turk Street rocks ass, I can’t help but think KWC are at their best onstage, feeding their fans’ faces with second and third helpings of their sludgy, hardcore-influenced … metal. There, I said it. Sorry, Scott.

KOWLOON WALLED CITY With Helms Alee. Mon/17, 7 p.m., free. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923, www.hemlocktavern.com.

Speed Reading



By Chuck Klosterman


288 pages


Nothing ever changes. Until it does. Then everything is different.

Such is the case in pop culture laureate Chuck Klosterman’s first novel, Downtown Owl. It tells the story of a sleepy town that isn’t really there. According to Walter Valentine, the principal of Owl High, "You’re going to like it here. It’s not Monaco. It’s not like you’ll be phoning your gal pals every night saying ‘I’m living in Owl, North Dakota, and it’s a dream come true’. But you will like it here."

And he’s right.

Downtown Owl is not spectacular or life-affirming, but it is an engrossing, enjoyable read by a likable author who knows what he does well. For the most part, Klosterman stays within his comfort zone, focusing on quirky, amusing takes on culture and human interactions.

The story centers around three residents of Owl who have never met but know each other perfectly. In a town like Owl, where nothing ever changes, you don’t need to have any contact with someone to know exactly who they are. Although these characters lead outwardly banal existences, the reader sees the staggering complexity and depth that they hide from the world around them. Downtown Owl‘s well-rendered characters hide their pain, confusion, and isolation under the guise of hard work and perceived normalcy.

Though the narrative drama successfully builds to a crescendo, Downtown Owl‘s marrow results from Klosterman’s rare ability to find beauty and wonder in the face of overwhelming malaise. He makes conversations about ZZ Top, high school football, and grain prices engulfing. He does not pass judgment, and he realizes that discourse, no matter how trivial the subject, is what keeps us together and keeps us alive.

Heavy Heavy Low Low


PREVIEW Things could have been so easy for the Bay Area’s best young group. After building a buzz with their uncompromising, spastic EP, Courtside Seats (self-released, 2005), San Jose’s Heavy Heavy Low Low signed to Ferret Music, the metalcore equivalent to mid-1990s Death Row Records. Ferret brought new exposure and high expectations, which the lads lived up to on their stunning 2006 debut, Everything’s Watched, Everyone’s Watching. EWEW was the sound of a band breaking out of the metalcore scene they grew up in by building a battering ram of noisy fuzz. Though they shunned many of the genre’s hackneyed clichés (screamed verse/sung chorus, asymmetrical haircuts that double as eye patches), they embraced their roots with punishing breakdowns, abrasive guitar gashes, and vocalist Robert Smith’s brutal, distinctive ramblings.

Though EWEW was a critical and commercial success, the guys had no intention of rehashing it when they went into Oakland’s Panda Studios to record what would become their new LP, Turtle Nipple and the Toxic Shock (Ferret/New Weatherman). According to Smith, "We didn’t really have any goals or anything like that. We just wanted to make a weird album that wasn’t as affiliated with, I guess, metal or how Heavy used to be." While most hardcore/metal bands shun their heavy roots for crossover appeal under the guise of experimentation, Turtle Nipple is actually less accessible than their previous recordings. While this has turned off the average lazy scenester, the astute fan will rejoice in the disc’s depth and variation: this time jazz, surf rock, and psychedelia are juxtaposed with the brutal breakdowns and blast beats.

HEAVY HEAVY LOW LOW With Fear Before. Fri/17, 7 p.m., $12. 418 Project, 418 Front, Santa Cruz. (831) 466-9770, www.the418.org

David Banner


PREVIEW There has never been a more fitting musical stage name than the one chosen by Lavell Crump. Crump’s pseudonym of choice, David Banner, perfectly sums up his style and his struggle: he, like the protagonist of The Incredible Hulk, is a man of stark contrasts.

The MC and musician is unafraid to voice his progressive social beliefs, and is a dedicated humanitarian who raised more than $500,000 for Hurricane Katrina relief in Louisiana and his home state of Mississippi. He weaves engrossing tales about the struggle and strife that surrounded him growing up in a destitute section of a racially divided Jackson. All his albums contain touching tales of Americans fighting to survive in one of the most maligned and ignored areas in the country. On his latest, The Greatest Story Ever Told (Universal), Banner respectfully acknowledges his state’s blessings and problems on the swirling salute to the past, "Cadillac on 22’s Part II": "Mississippi is the place where your boy came from / But so many people are still afraid to come / But, I’m gon’ tell the truth / It’s just real good food / And real strong people / Who still refuse to move."

Of course, like the fictional scientist Dr. David Banner, the performer has an alter ego. Though all Banner’s recordings include sobering, powerful tracks, they all also contain formulaic "booty jams" like his biggest hit — and possibly worst song — 2005’s "Play." They tend to come off as scurrilous and awkward instead of titilutf8g. Myopic critics often focus on these missteps, and Banner gets the unfair reputation of being another derivative, chauvinistic rapper. Story is a perfect example of the duality that both gives Banner life and holds him back. The disc’s versatility keeps it interesting, as he coolly shifts from pensive, engrossing numbers ("Hold On") to real heaters that showcase the rapper’s signature flow ("So Long"). But he falls into the same pitfalls of his earlier albums with the sleazy "A Girl." Expect all sides of Banner to be in full force when he performs live, backed by the Rhythm Roots All-Stars.

DAVID BANNER With Talib Kweli and Little Brother. Thurs/2, 7 p.m., $32. The Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center, 1300 Van Ness, SF. (415) 673-5716, www.goldenvoice.com