Haley Zaremba

Live Shots: OK Go power through technical difficulties at The Independent


Ok Go’s catalog is the sonic equivalent of Fruit Loops. Bright, fun, tasty, and far from satisfying or substantive. They are also one of our generation’s greatest bands. Because what Ok Go lacks in musical imagination and originality, they make up for tenfold with the way they have revolutionized and thoroughly dominated the art of the music video.

Harnessing the power of internet culture and viral videos, Ok Go burst onto the music scene and the blogosphere in 2006 with their now-famous treadmill dance video for “Here it Goes Again.” Now, a century later in internet years, Ok Go continues to churn out pleasant power pop and a steady stream of mind-blowing film pieces (“music videos” almost seems condescending for these painstaking projects—while most bands go on set for six hours to two days, singer Damian Kulash pointed out, Ok Go works on theirs for six weeks to six months).


Somehow, the band has managed to continuously outdo itself with each new video, spending incredible amounts of time and energy on stunningly creative videos featuring stop-motion, Rube Goldberg machines, optical illusions, and the pure power of great choreography.

Perhaps fittingly, playing music seems to be a more of a side effect than a focus of Ok Go’s live show, which more prominently features bright video displays, interactive apps, and truly mind-blowing amounts of confetti (although, unfortunately, no dance routines). And, as with most technology-based things, a certain amount of troubleshooting was required.


However, despite a lot of technical difficulties, stalls, and spotty sound quality at their sold out Wednesday show at The Independent, the audience’s enthusiasm was not dampened in the slightest. A large part of Ok Go’s charm comes from their youthful excitement, curiosity, and energy, all aspects that translate beautifully to a live setting.

During glitches, while guitarist/keyboardist and “genuine, bona-fide nerd” Andy Ross worked on fixing technology failures, frontmen Damian Kulash and Tim Nordwind entertained the audience with Q&A sessions, and even (in what may have been the highlight of the show) a full run-through of Les Miserables’ “Confrontation,” with Kulash as Javert and Nordwind as Jean Valjean.


Ok Go are truly great performers. Their energy is high, their spectacles spectacular, and their banter playful and plentiful. I was taken aback, however, when Kulash casually called San Francisco a city “known for having a lot of faggots.” Even though Kulash is public about his support for gay rights and he followed this statement up with a lame “I say that with love in my heart,” it felt inappropriate and offensive. And all this was even before he called SF “Boston with Disneyland attached.”

But clearly not everyone in the audience took issue with Kulash’s faux pas, and there was an air of excitement and appreciation in the intimate venue from the first song to the last flurries of confetti. When the show had ended, leaving behind deep drifts of the colorful paper, fans didn’t want the fun to end. When I departed, half an hour after the show’s finish, people were still laughing, shrieking, and throwing confetti to the sky.


The Best of Burger Boogaloo


This weekend Oakland’s Mosswood Park was transformed into a mini music festival of adorable proportions. After two days of PBR, sunburns, and a heap of eclectic and altogether awesome music, the results are in: Here is the best of Burger Boogaloo 2014. [Check yesterday’s review for a different sort of run-through.]

Best mosh pit: OFF!
Keith Morris’ newest hardcore punk outfit stirred up a lot of energy and even more dust on Saturday. Playing after the relatively tame Milk N’ Cookies, OFF! turned it up to eleven (really, I think my ears are still ringing) for a rager of a set that resulted in some serious headbanging, slam-dancing, and stage diving. Just what the doctor ordered to keep morale high as the sun went down.


Best posse: Shannon and the Clams
Hometown heroes Shannon and the Clams played a killer set on Sunday. While their setlist crushed it, the backup singers brought it, and the tiki-and-vegetable themed balloons thrown into the crowd were a lot of fun, the main attraction was to the right of the stage, parked on top of an amp. The fan who lipsynched and shimmied his way into all of our hearts was later revealed by Shannon herself to be her “creepy little brother,” making his devotion to the Clams even more aww-worthy.


Best battlecry: The Meatbodies
Midway through the day, a port-a-potty crisis became apparent as lines grew longer and tanks grew fuller. Taking the stage at the end of the Meatbodies’ set, a brave Burger employee announced that due to all of the delicious food and drink provided by their sponsors, the toilets were at critical mass and no number 2 deposits would be accepted at that time. From the middle to the end of this moving speech, the Meatbodies’ guitarist began the rousing and inspirational cry of, “Poop yo pants! Poop yo pants!” Words to live by.


Best bouffant: Ronnie Spector
Everywhere you looked at Burger Boogaloo, stunning feats of follicle engineering were peeking out of the crowd. Beehives and bouffants of all sizes and colors came out for the show. I overheard one couple saying they had made a game of tallying beehives and had found 16 midway through Sunday alone. Unfortunately I missed the memo that big and bulbous is the vogue look for garage rock, but Ronnie Spector did not. With the biggest hair and the best attitude of the day, Ronnie stole all our hearts.


Longest distance traveled: Thunderroads
Japan’s Thunderroads were the wildcard of the festival. With all the raw power of every generic rock band to follow in ACDC’s footsteps, Thunderroads won us over not with originality or musicality but with pure earnestness and excitement to be playing for us. The magic of the moment is best captured by the words of Thunderroads’ guitarist: “Thank you America, USA! I can’t English, but I love you!” We love you too. More than you know.


Best Striptease: Nobunny
Nobunny killed it with a high-energy set and truly great punk performance on Saturday (although someone should break it to frontperson Justin Champlin that Thunderroads had the harebrained-rock-star idea to climb the precariously-stacked amps hours before he did). Nobunny came to the stage in his trademarked and road-weary bunny mask and a red onesie, which impressively concealed a leather jacket and a pair of briefs, which yes, did eventually come off to reveal…another pair of briefs. Finally, a striptease for the whole family.


Best ‘90s throwback: The Muffs
How ‘90s are The Muffs? Featured on the Clueless soundtrack ‘90s. 23 years into their existence, the Muffs were the perfect addition to the lineup, falling squarely between the untouchable status of Ronniw Spector and the hyper-contemporary blog buzz around bands like Nobunny and Shannon and the clams. Still rocking a mini-dress, blunt bangs, and one of the best grunge growls in the biz, Kim Shattuck reminded us just how much we owe to and miss our fellow flannel-wearers of yesteryear.


Middle fingers to the sky, Lady Gaga takes San Jose for an artRAVEy ride


There are a lot of critiques that I can make about Lady Gaga’s Tuesday night performance in San Jose — the sports arena acoustics, the horrifically boring opening acts, the focus on her new and less popular album Artpop, $80 sweatshirts, the fact that she performed some of her most popular tunes in truncated versions and neglected to play “LoveGame” altogether — but the fact is, none of these shortcomings made a dent in the incredible energy and impassioned performance that Gaga dished out. The show was fucking incredible.

Lady Gaga doesn’t do concerts. She does productions. With a full band, an elaborate set, a dozen or so backup dancers and as many costume changes, her artRAVE tour is a feast for the eyes and ears alike. The set, bulbous, white, and otherworldly, looked straight out of Tattooine and the dancers’ eye-catching array of outfits reflected this extra-terrestrial theme. Part of artRAVE’s spectacle is simply witnessing Gaga’s amazing ability to dance in five-inch pumps and a leotard with shiny black tentacles sticking out in all directions. These theatrics, however, are in no way a crutch or a form of compensation. Lady Gaga’s talent is stunning.

From the moment that she rose out of the stage floor in angel wings and a rhinestone bodice, it was impossible to tear your eyes from Lady Gaga. Amagnetic presence, impressive dancer, and truly powerful singer, it’s easy to see why she’s made such a lasting impression on pop culture. Mixing her set with dance anthems and ballads, Gaga was able to show off her versatility as a singer; her voice is unbelievable — its clarity and power are not adequately represented by her highly-processed recorded material. Live, it soars between roaring rock growls and deep, rich vibrato, all in perfect pitch.

Though the surface of Gaga’s persona is all rhinestones and superstardom, the show was peppered with heartfelt moments and breaks from the highly organized and choreographed show. Some of her fortune cookie-wisdom lines (“Welcome to a place where we judge no one tonight. We criticize no one. We hate no one.”) are clearly rehearsed, but also clearly strike a chord with her fans, who roared appreciatively with every mic break. In the best moment of the show, Gaga pulled two fans out of the audience to sit on the piano bench with her as she sang an impassioned ballad version of “Born this Way,” as each of the girls she pulled up sang along, weeping openly.

Lady Gaga embraces and uses her status as a queer icon to spread a gospel of love and acceptance that actuallly feels incredibly urgent and genuine, and clearly impacts her fans deeply. At one point between songs, she paused to read aloud a letter that a fan had thrown on stage. In a deeply emotional note, the fan credited “Born This Way” for getting him through high school and allowing him to survive being bullied for his sexuality.

In one of her most impassioned moments, pointing out how many people had come out for her show despite warnings early in her career that she was too queer or warnings from her label that Artpop (which was indeed a flop compared with her previous albums) was too artsy, Gaga roared, “just because we’re gay or like art doesn’t mean we’re fucking invisible, ok?” with both middle fingers to the sky.

In addition to her dedication to supporting her LGBT fans, I found myself extremely inspired by Lady Gaga’s unapologetic sex-positivity and her disregard for gender roles. Her dancers wore unisex outfits that drew heavily from the gender-bending Club Kids of the early ‘90s, and Gaga herself sang openly about masturbating and even deconstructed her own typically flawless image by doing her last costume change onstage, topless and wigless, with a crew of people to help her undress and redress into a truly awesome Derelicte-Harijuku-raver oufit. Before she dirobed, Gaga joked, “Just in case we didn’t make any of you uncomfortable tonight, we’re about to.”

While the production of artRAVE is an airtight spectacle of choreography and stunning visuals, it’s the candid moments that make Lady Gaga’s stage show something special. Underneath the glitter, tentacles, and rainbow dreadlocks, there is something very real and emotionally raw.

Her messages of equality and universality are both genuine and revolutionary in an artist as mainstream and financially successful as she is. Artpop may not have been a huge success, and the Haus of Gaga certainly doesn’t hold the same untouchable status as it did in 2010, but Lady Gaga’s refusal to compromise and willingness to stay strange are truly inspirational.

Live Shots: Wanda Jackson at the Chapel


“Well hello, San Fran!” shouted Wanda Jackson to an almost-full Chapel on Thursday night. “You already know I love you. You should know that by now.”

Jackson, still touring at age 76, looks to be about five feet tall — if you include her carefully teased hair. She needs help getting on and off the stage. She talks openly about her “senior moments.” And she’s an absolute rock star. Her age and petite stature seem merely to add to her massive stage presence. After finishing her rollicking first song, “Riot in Cell Block Number 9,” she beamed at the crowd, asking, “Isn’t it wonderful, the energy?”

Wonderful is exactly the word I would use to describe it. The audience responded to Jackson’s razor-sharp wit, fascinating anecdotes, and serious vocal chops (she can yodel!) with fever-pitch enthusiasm. After a 60-year career, Jackson has an incredible body of work under her belt, and the set list, which bounced around from era to era of her career, didn’t have a single low point. But people weren’t really there for the songs.

We were there for Wanda. The Queen of Rockabilly truly is royalty — just being in her presence is a joyful experience. Though she can’t hit all the high notes anymore, Jackson’s talent hasn’t faded a bit since her heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s. Her voice is still incredible, her stamina is inspiring, and her humbleness is astonishing. Few people could name-drop Elvis Presley and Jack White in the same sentence and seem all the more charming for it.

Jackson, who is inevitably paired with Elvis in any description of her life or music, didn’t shy away from the topic on stage as she often does in interviews. In what felt like a very intimate moment, the crowd was enraptured as they watched her reminisce about her old friend. “Elvis was a true gentleman,” she told us. “He truly was.” She spoke about how her father would only let her go out with Elvis, “nobody else.” He would take her out for lunches and matinees — whatever he could afford. “He was a poor boy then.” After waxing about her short-lived romance, Jackson transitioned into one of the night’s highlights — a soulful rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Most of the songs Jackson played were preceded by a mini history lesson — the year they were recorded, what she was up to at the time, who was involved. Speaking about her evolution from a country singer touring with her father to a rockabilly singer touring with Elvis (who encouraged her to play this “new music”) Jackson paused for clarity — “We call it rockabilly now, but it was actually rock and roll.”

Jackson is still rock and roll. She playfully threw water on her fans, splashing the monitors (“I could have been electrocuted…you too!”) and played through a setlist of almost 20 songs without stopping for breath. “Whatever!” she shouted in response to her jet lag. “Isn’t that what they say today? Whatever?” By the time the night ended with “Let’s Have a Party,” no song could have been more appropriate.

Live Shots: Savages at the Independent


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onstage proposal prompts group hug from Grouplove at the Indy


The last thing I expected to hear at a Grouplove concert was Skrillex and ASAP Rocky’s “Wild for the Night” but for some reason it seemed to be the perfect soundtrack to the band’s entrance. Dancing wildly and hyping the crowd to the beats and bleats of the track, the five musicians had whipped the sold-out Independent crowd into a high-energy frenzy before they played a single note.
After touring more or less constantly since its inception in 2009, Grouplove is a well-oiled machine on stage. Every member bounces around with frenetic energy, never standing still for a moment. Vocalist and keyboardist Hannah Hooper was all hair, headbanging, whipping around, and running in place in a leopard print unitard as frontperson Christian Zucconi (clad in a bathrobe and Grateful Dead tee) furiously strummed, jumped, and bumped into everyone around him. By comparison, bassist Sean Gadd, guitarist Andrew Wessen, and drummer Ryan Rabin almost seemed demure, despite their own dancing and roaming around the stage.

Even at its most energetic, however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Grouplove was phoning it in. Being this well-oiled touring machine has detracted from the raw electricity of its early performances. Even the new material, which the band played much of, fell flat. No amount of jumping screaming, and running could hide the fact that the group, frankly, seemed tired.

Though Grouplove has a handful of really great, catchy tunes (especially 2011 single “Tongue Tied”) its strength has always been in its live presence. It’s not that its Saturday show at the Independent was bad — Grouplove has just set the bar incredibly high with its previous tours. Even in this slightly watered down form, however, one thing reads clear — the amorous bond that Grouplove is named for. The group is constantly interacting with each other, lighting up with smiles, leaning into each other, and feeding off of each other’s presence.

Grouplove has a miraculous and fateful backstory, starting with the chance meeting of Hooper and Zucconi in New York. Hooper, feeling an immediate bond, invited Zucconi to drop everything and join her on an artists’ residency later that week in Crete, where the pair met the three musicians who would ultimately make up the rest of Grouplove. Since that serendipitous meeting, the five relocated to LA and have rarely left each other’s sides. It is this genuine group love that makes the band’s joyful noise so infectious and endearing. Despite the flat, forced feeling of their set, it was clear that the band was happy to be there, and happy to be with each other.

During the encore, a few little miracles happened to turn the night’s energy around. First, a man proposed to his girlfriend onstage, prompting screams from the audience and a few tears, high fives, and a group hug from Grouplove. Second, members of Morning Benders (now POP ETC) and Waters joined Grouplove to play the POP ETC’s “I Woke Up Today.”

By the time the band got to its last song, the slow-building, hyper-catchy “Colours” the entire room had exploded with dancing, signing, and the kind of energy that got Grouplove its reputation for being an unmissable live band.

As the show closed, the previously silent Wessen leaned into the microphone and said, with heartwarming earnestness, “San Francisco, we love you so, so much. You have no idea.”

Grouplove talks Haight love, the Seesaw Tour, and spreading rumors


Grouplove’s existence is a strong argument for fate. In 2009, Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi met on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Feeling an instant connection, Hooper invited Zucconi to an artist residency in Greece on the island of Crete, which she was heading to just a few days later, and he said yes. At this residency, in a remote mountain village, the pair formed a fast friendship with three other musicians. Within the year, Grouplove was formed.

Two years after that, the band exploded into the music scene with its cheekily titled, megacatchy album Never Trust a Happy Song. Touring constantly since its inception, Grouplove is still going at full sprint, with its second album, Spreading Rumors, coming out Sept. 17, accompanied by the ambitious Seesaw Tour, in which the band will spend two nights in every city at intimate venues, playing one electric and one acoustic show.

I caught up with Hooper during one of her rare moments of semi-downtime (if that’s what you call standing on a busy street corner waiting for Zucconi) to chat about hometown shows, Haight Street, and (group)love:
SF Bay Guardian I saw you play in San Francisco almost exactly two years ago to a nearly empty Bimbo’s, and it was an absolutely amazing show. There was this incredible energy and because there was a sparse audience, it felt truly special to be there. Now you’re playing to much bigger audiences and selling out two nights in a row in SF. How do you feel about this change in dynamics?
Hannah Hooper It’s really exciting! It’s kind of surreal in a lot of ways. When we get to play a show we’re excited no matter what, so the scale of it blows our minds. With the Seesaw Tour, we’re kind of underplaying and getting to actually see our fans again. And we’re playing the Independent, which is one of the first venues we played in SF.

We personally love playing any size, but there’s a level of intimacy that’s hard to capture [in a bigger venue]. It’s a very special thing. As a fan, I love to see high-energy bands in small venues. That’s what we want to do before we gear up to do a bigger tour.

SFBG How did you come up with the idea for the Seesaw Tour? Why this format?
HH We were talking about bands. I love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I’m a big fan, but I’ve never had the opportunity to get close to them. I’m always in the back behind like thousands of people. I had this vision of how cool it would be to see them play one night electric and one night acoustic.
It will be a challenge for us because we’re definitively an electric band.
SFBG Grouplove has a very vigorous touring schedule. How do you keep from getting burned-out?
HH That’s a good question! We stopped to record our album that’s about to come out, which is really the first time we’ve stopped touring in three years. But recording is not that different from touring — we still are living in tight quarters and spending all our time together.

If you stay in motion you don’t notice how exhausted you are. Even when you’ve traveled halfway around the world and you’re like, “are we going to be able to do this?” When you get up on stage, you just respond to the audience. It’s a back and forth. When you see people there screaming your name, you just have to bring it. It’s so fulfilling to give all that you have every time you get on stage. We just get into a trance friendship mode.
SFBG Do you all really love each other as much as your name and your live show suggests?
HH We do! We really love each other. We have this ability to share this crazy experience together; we’re vulnerable and we’re funny together; we’re stronger together than we are separate. It really works.

There was a freedom when we first got together because we didn’t know each other. We all got to be exactly who we are. We met at a really special time and our friendship really shows that. We write a lot of songs on the road and we genuinely go out together…You have to want to make it work. This is our dream, this is what we want to do. It’s an outlook that we all quietly agreed to have.
SFBG There is a unique pressure associated with sophomore albums. Have you felt a need to prove that you’re not a one hit wonder with this record?
HH Coming from a painter background I didn’t really realize the “pressure of the second album.” We had this catalogue of songs we had written on the road and we basically drew straws to see which songs made the album. We’re really lucky. We make a point never to combine fear of success with making artwork and writing songs. There’s nothing you can do — you can’t predict whether people will like the songs. All you can really do is be genuine.

SFBG What does the title of the album Spreading Rumors mean?
HH We’re kind of bringing it back to the way that people used to talk about bands and spread the word before the Internet. Despite all of the Internet attention we got for [2011 single] “Tongue Tied,” people were also telling their friends about us and our live shows. The rumor that keeps spreading…we really are this crazy bunch of wild animals let loose.
SFBG Since you’re playing two nights in a row here, you’ll have some time to spend in the city. Any special SF plans?
HH Well, my brother, sister, mom, and dad live here. I grew up in Upper Haight. I really miss SF. I just like walking down Haight Street. Thrift stores in SF are the best. I can’t tell you how much I love San Francisco.

[Playing here is] like playing a hometown show which is always secretly the most nerve-wracking. It’s always funny to see people you’ve known your whole life in the audience. You really get a sense of how far we’ve come. I’ll probably get emotional up there.
SFBG Anything else you feel that people need to know about Grouplove? Any parting words?
HH [I’ve learned] through all this touring and meeting all these bands that everyone has their own flavor. We have love, heart, honesty, and passion. Our goal is to have people see that there’s no bullshit up there [on stage] and leave feeling happy. We’re not trying to be cool or sexy. We want to inspire kids to not to care what they look like or whether they’re cool and just be themselves.
With the Rubens
Sat/14, 9pm, $20
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421

Grouplove (acoustic)
Sun/15, 9pm, $22
777 Valencia, SF
(415) 551-5157

Live Shots: Marina and the Diamonds at the Warfield


I like a little grit. Usually I feel that a great show combines unpredictability, recklessness, and some raw, unpolished vulnerability. That’s what makes live music exciting and dynamic. If we wanted flawless vocals and sonically airbrushed instrumentals, we’d just stay at home and listen to the music on iTunes. So I’m trying to figure out why Marina and the Diamonds’ shiny, choreographed, factory-sealed set at the Warfield Sunday night felt so right.
Marina looks like an actual Barbie doll, with the kind of proportions people go under the knife for and a no-hair-out-of-place look straight out of a Bettie Page photo shoot. Her live persona is a hyperbolic take on teen idolhood, oozing confidence as she strutted, posed, and gracefully reclined on the daybed featured in her onstage bedroom set (complete with a coat rack, television, and stuffed animals.)
As Marina ripped through a packed setlist studded with costume changes and flawlessly executed pop routines, the sold-out audience — 1/3 tween girls, 1/3 their mothers, 1/3 Castro on a Saturday night — screamed and gushed at every opportunity. Fans wore homemade sashes bearing the Marina slogans “teen idle” and “heartbreaker” and nearly everyone had her trademark little black heart painted on their cheeks. And I can see why.
Marina is insanely talented. Her rich, clear voice is pitch-perfect. Her songs are catchy, extremely danceable, and overall just good, old-fashioned fun. She shone brightest when the camp factor was turned up to eleven, as it often was, with prop martini glasses full of glitter and neon lighting. Her more stripped down moments, featuring just Marina and a keyboard, lacked the punch and glamour that makes her presence so awesome.
But I think what makes Marina so likeable, despite her unbelievable precision and Mattel-like beauty, is that when she sings “I am not a robot,” you believe her. There is something very genuine about Marina’s hyperfeminine persona. When she said, “San Francisco, are you living in this moment right now? Because I am,” it rings true.
Usually my feminist blinkers would be going off at the sight of this woman in a crop top singing to tweenage girls about being a prima donna, but instead I found myself singing along with thousands of devoted fans, “Oh my God, you look just like Shakira/ No, no, you’re Catherine Zeta/ Actually, my name’s Marina!”

The simple fact is that Marina knows what she’s doing. Her image doesn’t seem contrived or commercially driven — it seems like a reclaiming of the femme fatale.
Marina may not be redefining dance music or pushing any major envelopes, but she rules at what she does. She absolutely dominates the stage, reminding everyone that there’s no shame in letting yourself enjoy a great pop hook, and that a powerful woman can still totally rock a pink vinyl minidress.

Live shots: Baby Dee and Little Annie at Amnesia


Baby Dee and Little Annie are a match made in camp heaven. The women, nearing their 60s, may have only been playing for 25 people, but boy did they put on a
show Thu/25 at Amnesia.

The two looked like characters out of a B movie or a dirty New York speakeasy. Annie, a diminutive little creature, looked like a gypsy in a headwrap and heavy eyeliner. Dee towered over her in an ’80s-esque leopard print sweater and leggings with a pink tulle skirt. When Baby Dee finally appeared an hour after the show was advertised to begin, she sat down at the piano and called into the microphone, “If anyone sees Little Annie, tell her the show has started.”

Soon Annie was located, and the duo launched into their first song (with a little help from a man in the audience to lift her tiny frame onto the stage.) Little Annie’s low, gravelly voice — which sounded like two packs a day and 40 years, if not something a little harder — was deliciously ragged and worn over Dee’s cabaret-like piano. As Baby Dee headbanged and bashed the piano keys, Annie swayed and posed on stage, using her cane as percussion. Two songs into the set, however, Annie stopped the show because she had forgotten to pray. “I’m discombobulated,” she cried. “Our makeup is crap and I forgot to pray.” As Annie knelt by the stage, Dee said a little prayer of her own. “Please Jesus,” she requested sweetly, “make someone get me a Scotch on the rocks. J&B or Dewar’s.”

When she was informed that Amnesia is a beer and wine bar, Dee screamed, “Fuck you, Jesus! I didn’t want your fucking scotch anyway!” before launching into her next dirge.

After, she repented. “Jesus, I’m sorry. Can I have a beer?”

Calling each other exclusively “honey” and “darling” Dee and Annie played, jested, and improvised through an hour-long set that felt about an hour too short. In between songs each woman told fantastic anecdotes from their tremendously colorful lives. Annie spoke about her short time living in San Francisco, when she got held up for food stamps in the Haight. Dee told a story about curating a Christmas show at the Pyramid Club, in which she dressed a 400 lb woman as the baby Jesus and put an Entemann’s chocolate cake down “the world’s biggest diaper.”

Halfway through the set, I realized something amazing. There was absolutely no side conversation through the entire show. Here we were, in a bar in the Mission, and not a single person was idly chatting with their friends. It’s a testament to the amazing showmanship and magnetic personalities of Baby Dee and Little Annie that every eye was on them for the whole hour they played. The crowd was small, but every person was there for them.

“This has turned out to be a really nice show, hasn’t it?” remarked Baby Dee. “Now I’m happy. It took me a while, but now I’m happy.”

Live Shots: Texas is the Reason at Bimbo’s


Texas is the Reason’s show at Bimbo’s was not sold out, but it sure seemed packed as I struggled to find a good vantage point on Friday night. When I eventually got a clear view, I saw that the stage was hazily lit by dark blue-purple lights. The amplifiers and drum kit on stage were glowing, heavily draped with white Christmas lights. The visual, in its stark simplicity, was stunning.

This perfect, quiet kickoff was the reassurance I needed to prove that this wouldn’t be the gaudy, overwrought reunion that I had feared, but the graceful, tasteful gathering that I had hoped for.

Texas is the Reason was originally created in a flash flood of sad basement bands in the early ’90s. This era in rock saw an extreme surplus of angst and overly-emotional, self-indulgent music that created the term emo and then turned it into a dirty word. Distracted by all the Dashboard Confessionals and Saves the Days, it’s easy to forget about the bands that started the movement and influenced an entire era of musicians — the bands worth listening to.

Texas is the Reason was one of those watershed early emo bands. The band only released an EP and one full album before imploding in 1997, but its take on post-hardcore had already quietly spread its influence across the industry. Just around 16 years later, the group has resurfaced for one final nine-stop tour before it officially and permanently disbands.

The audience, which had been waiting at least a decade, to see this band, screamed as Texas is the Reason slunk onto the stage and started tearing through its first song. The hiatus took no toll on the band’s live presence. Guitarist Norm Arenas’ reverential expression seemed like transcendence as Scott Weingard swung his bass around like a weapon and Garrett Kahn crooned a whine, looking appropriately pained.

The sound, packed in taut layers over Chris Daly’s focused drumming, packed a serious punch. The musicians seem to play with great ease, as their years of experience have created an unbelievably tight groove. The entire performance, more than anything, seemed incredibly sincere. The lyrics didn’t seem outdated or outgrown, the songs were treated with just as much respect and conviction as they would be if they were new.

Fans responded in kind, shouting “thank you” between the songs. Some sang along, but most watched quietly and intently, stoically swaying and nodding. In the midst of shouted requests, one woman called out, “Anything! You guys rock! Play whatever you want!” This comment perfectly embodied the content, appreciative atmosphere of the concert.

The entire show felt like a meeting of old friends, catching up. The band clearly felt this closeness and camaraderie as well. “We’re happy you’re with us,” Kahn shouted, before asking, quite seriously, “Who’s coming to Los Angeles with us tomorrow? We’ve got room in the fucking van! Who’s coming?”

The band made no attempt to shield the crowd from its future state. “How many of you are seeing us for the first time tonight?” Kahn asked. “Well it’s the last time. It’s bittersweet.” After about an hour, the set drew to an emotional close. “This will be our last one,” Kahn told the crowd. “These songs belong to you now. They’re yours.”

Bad kids get slimed with the Black Lips at Great American Music Hall


The Great American Music Hall was a soupy, sweaty mess of swamp-like proportions before the Black Lips had even taken the stage Monday night. The crowd, buzzing with the combined excitement of intoxication and anticipation, erupted into howls and screeches as the band took the stage in a puff of fog-machine smoke. From behind the mist, one of the Black Lips yelled into the mic, “If you wanna be smart, read a goddamn book. If you wanna have fun, you’re in the right goddamn place!” And so it began.

The Black Lips are notorious for their raucous, maniacal live presence, often accented with vomit, blood, and piss. The fans, familiar with the reputation and eager to partake, were rowdy and ready for shenanigans from the first distorted chord. The Black Lips’ brand of garage rock is fun and rollicking, but certainly not the sort of heavy metal or hardcore that one would expect to produce the kind of reckless moshing and stagediving that persisted through the entire set.

Standing still was not an option (see above shaky photos). I watched as bystanders were swept into whirlpools of bodies and slimed by shirtless perspirers. The best — and only — option was to join in and dance with abandon.

What this Black Lips set lacked in vomit and blood was certainly made up for in nudity and playful sexuality. Just three songs in, a young woman ripped her top off and jumped into the crowd. Moments later a young man who had climbed onto the stage planted a kiss on the surprised mouth of the security guard who tried to apprehend him.

Meanwhile, in the crowd, audience members literally wrestled — Greco-Roman style — on the filthy floor as the man to my left happily pressed a beer can to his already blackening eye.

As the floors quaked and the Lips screamed, it was impossible not to bask in the collective joyful insanity. The band itself, while playing with enthusiasm and embracing crazed fans crawling across the stage like so many fire ants without a flinch, did very little to contribute to the wild vivacity of the gig.

The Black Lips’ reputation brings together the perfect storm of adrenaline junkies and rock’n’roll enthusiasts to make a great show happen regardless of their own actions. Even their slow songs — songs that in any other circumstances and played by any other band would be met with mellow, stationary gazes — were met with crowdsurfers and a sort of slow-motion moshing.

The frenetic energy that swept the crowd during beloved songs, most notably — and most appropriately — 2008’s “Bad Kids” was an indescribable high. Hundreds of screaming voices and jostling bodies jumped and lunged to the explosive chorus, singing “bad kids, all my friends are bad kids” and screaming, “kids like you and me!”

When the Black Lips filed off the stage and the lights came up, I surveyed the damage. Beer cans, sweatshirts, and single shoes littered the floor. Sweaty fans in all states of undress stumbled out of the beautiful, ornate venue and into the mercifully cool night, hooting and shouting about their new battle scars.

Live Shots: The Hush Sound at Great American Music Hall


I was introduced to the Hush Sound in high school, when a girlfriend burned “Like Vines” onto a mix CD for me. It was love at first listen. The awkward, adorably fumbling song structures and whimsical lyrics of the Like Vines album were the perfect mirror to my gawky teenage soul. Goodbye Blues, the last album the band released before going on hiatus, showed more advanced songwriting technique and much better production. It was a tragedy. Growing up had made the Hush Sound lose its charm. I kept burning old Hush Sound songs onto mix CDs for a couple of years, and then slowly forgot about it.

You can imagine my surprise when, walking into the Great American last Friday night for a Hush Sound reunion show, I found myself in a nearly sold-out venue. As it turns out, other people had also restlessly waited through the five-year hiatus for this opportunity to relive their youth.

The crowd was predominantly early-20s females — my people. All around me I saw old, faded Hush Sound T-shirts several sizes too small and excited faces screaming at every advancement of set up: drum kit, scream, mic check, scream.

As the Hush Sound took the stage, the energy in the venue was through the roof. To my — and apparently everyone else’s —delight, the first song was “Like Vines.” The floor shook with bouncing bodies and the band nearly drowned out by hundreds of people singing along with every word.

As the set progressed, the audience’s energy plunged ahead undaunted. It screamed for every song, every interlude, and every very bad joke. The band itself was no match for us. Old, beloved songs seemed limp and lifeless. The band seemed tired, and the banter between Greta and Bob was stiff and painfully unfunny.

While the audience clearly had not outgrown its love for the Hush Sound, it seemed as though the band itself has moved on. When the group introduced a few new songs, however, its renewed energy and interest was palpable. Brand new songs like “Scavengers” had a great groove, awesome sing-along vocals, and the kind of enthusiasm that had been missing from the rest of the show.

For the encore, we fans were asked to show out requests. When “Crawling Toward the Sun” was selected, the crowd roared in excitement, to the bands apparent disbelief. As it plunged into one of its oldest songs, everything came together for a brief moment.

The band seemed to enjoy it and the audience was absolutely ecstatic as it sang in chorus and swayed with nostalgia.
This joyful moment was a relief to me. It proved that the Hush Sound is still capable of capturing such moments. I am hopeful that the band’s next album is a return to the simple, earnest melodies its fans will always love it for.

Adam Green and Binki Shapiro pair up at the Chapel


Adam Green and Binki Shapiro make an odd couple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinback delights fans at annual Bimbo’s show


The audience at Pinback’s sold-out show this Saturday night filled Bimbo’s with a pleasant air of mellow enthusiasm. The eclectic (albeit extremely white) crowd was excited without being obnoxious, and its quiet, genuine appreciation was the perfect match for Pinback’s own casual expertise.

Those coming for theatrics and bombast were most likely disappointed, but anyone looking for a laid-back display of musicianship and no-frills indie rock certainly got what they came for, and then some.

The duo at the core of Pinback, Rob Crow and Zach Smith, has been making music together for 15 years, and its seasoned comfort shines through an unassuming yet commanding stage presence. The pair plowed through a 23-song set, only pausing to briefly address the audience exactly one time each.

Smith maintained somber focus throughout the concert while his fingers glided across his bass guitar, slinging slick fingerpicking with stunning ease. Crow, who has a well-used beer holder affixed to his mic stand, threw back a great number of Newcastles during the set, often emptying an entire bottle in one incredible pull, and using half-full bottles to tap at the strings of his Les Paul.

The first half of the setlist was composed of soft, pretty ballads and down-tempo cuts off the band’s new album. Smith’s falsetto and Crow’s nasal croon blend into a honeyed harmony that hasn’t tarnished a bit over the years. Their most recent single, “True North” was executed beautifully, accompanied by two cellists.

The duo surprisingly sandwiched its two longtime fan-favorites, “Penelope” and “Fortress” into the middle of the set. “Penelope” was considerably sped up from its original tempo, giving new life to the love song that the fans have all listened to a thousand times to help ease the pain of every crush and breakup.

For “Fortress,” the Pinback song that everyone knows without knowing they know it, Crow did away with his mic stand and guitar and busted out some dance moves, including an remarkably successful worm, despite his prodigious beer belly.

The audience, thrilled with the band’s surge in energy, roared as Crow jumped off the stage and into the crowd, letting excited fans sing the chorus —“Stop, it’s too late!/ I’m feeling frustrated!” — into the microphone.

Post-“Fortress,” the setlist continued to steadily build energy as Pinback jammed its way through a more rock’n’roll repertoire, transforming the formerly stoic audience into an amiable dance party. At the end of the night, when soft-spoken Crow called out, “Thank you guys so fucking much!” there was no question that he really meant it.


Haley Zaremba’s Top 10 Concerts of 2012


For our annual Year in Music issue, I asked local musicians, rappers, producers, and music writers to sound off on the year’s best songs, album releases, shows – pretty much anything they wanted, music-wise. For the next few days, I’ll be posting them up individually on the Noise blog. You can also check the full list here.

Haley Zaremba, Guardian
Top 10 Concerts of 2012

1. El Ten Eleven at the New Parish

2. Good Old War at Slim’s

3. Girls at Bimbo’s

4. St. Vincent and Tune-Yards at The Fox

5. Bomb the Music Industry! at Bottom of the Hill

6. Fucked Up at Slim’s

7. Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra at the Fillmore

8. Ariel Pink at Bimbo’s

9. Conor Oberst at the Fillmore

10. Titus Andronicus at the Great American Music Hall

Sufjan Stevens as the Christmas Unicorn at Great American Music Hall


When I walked into the Great American Music Hall on Wednesday night, I was handed a Christ-Mess Sing-a-Long booklet with a unicorn on the cover. While I had already gathered from the name of the event — Surfjohn Stevens’ Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice — that it wasn’t going to be a standard holiday concert, I wasn’t quite prepared for the awesome eccentricities that awaited me.

The Great American, which is already one of the Bay’s most gorgeous venues, was literally aglow with strings of Christmas lights reflecting off bows and baubles attached to headbands, elf ears, vests, and ugly sweaters throughout the dedicated audience. On stage, incense was burning and guitar techs were wading through piles of inflatable Santas and unicorns.

Sufjan Stevens and his band, decked out in capes, chicken suits, sombreros, nun’s habits, and so much more, opened with a few Christmas originals off the new Silver & Gold — Stevens’ second (!) extensive collection of holiday Eps — before letting providence take the wheel — literally. “They said it couldn’t be done,” Stevens shouted, “but we brought the Wheel of Christmas into the Great American! It was an engineering feat!”

The enormous, Wheel-of-Fortune-style disc had a different carol brightly painted on each of its wedges. Fate decided that “Joy To the World” should begin the sing-a-long. Stevens smiled. “It’s a Christmas miracle!” The band launched in, and we opened our songbooks. The sound of 500 voices, alive with the Christmas spirit and mulled wine, is a truly incredible thing.

What we lacked in pitch, we made up in gusto. As we worked out way through the carols, our small hearts each grew three sizes.

“We had some really weird Christmas traditions growing up” Stevens divulged between songs. “I used to think my parents were like, bohemian and New Age and crazy, but I’ve come to realize that they were actually kind of socially inept. I actually just realized that this year.” As Stevens told us about one year’s tree of healing crystals and another year’s 12 trees for each of the 12 steps, thought up by his recovering alcoholic father, the Christmas madness on stage started to make more sense — that is, if he wasn’t just messing with us.

As the show built to it’s climax, the stage and some of the audience grew awash in bubbles, confetti, silly string, and streamers. For the big finale, Stevens transformed himself into the Christmas unicorn, dressed in a repurposed bike helmet and an impressive amount of balloons, singing over a frenzy of instrumentation, “I’m a Christmas unicorn/Find the Christmas unicorn/You’re a Christmas unicorn/It’s alright I love you!” as confetti and giant balloons rained down on everyone.

Despite the undeniably enjoyable bravado and theatrics, those rare, quiet moments with Stevens and his banjo are what make his music magical. The hushed simplicity of “Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois” was the highlight of the performance. By the end, the entire audience had joined in with his soft croon. “As we sing together it’s a very powerful thing,” Stevens reflected. “I think it’s very important that we do this more often.” Here, here.

Live Shots: Titus Andronicus at Great American Music Hall


If you want to stay in the good graces of Titus Andronicus (which played Great American Music Hall this Tuesday), don’t mention frontman Patrick Stickles’ beard, or his recent lack of beard, or his uncanny vocal likeness to Bright Eyes vocalist Conor Oberst, or really much of anything else. But you didn’t hear it from me. Because of his sensitivity, Stickles has been churning out some of the best anger and angst-driven punk rock of this century. In spite of his sensitivity, he still seems to be a super nice guy.

After making the audience wait a mercifully short time following the rollicking awesomeness of opening Northern California punk band Ceremony, Titus Andronicus humbly shuffled onto the stage, unassuming in T-shirts and ill-fitting jeans. “Ready fellas?” Stickles called out to his bandmates, “Let’s show these people a good time. They deserve it.”

Titus delivered. The band tore through most of its new album, Local Business, and most of its 2010 civil war-themed opus The Monitor with incredible energy and the perfect amount of rage. The crowd, mostly 20-something men, responded with enthusiasm, screaming along to choruses, moshing, and stage diving through the jam-packed, hour-and-a-half-long set.

One fan, presumably not a 20-something man, threw a bra onstage, which Stickles declared to be the second in the history of the band. After bassist Julian Veronesi threw it back, Stickles lamented, “I was looking forward to smelling that. Oh well.”

The new songs, stripped down on the record to more closely mimic the band’s guitar-heavy live sound, translated to a channeled, aggressive performance that proved, along with the seasoned favorites, to be among the show’s standout tracks.

In between songs, friendly audience members struggled to return fallen sweatshirts and packs of cigarettes, shouting out the found items from the pit. During the songs, they returned Veronesi’s pick when he dropped it and crawled onstage to plug in Adam Reich’s guitar when he tugged it out of the hookup.

“There’s a lot of love in the room right now. I can feel it,” Stickles commented before adding, “Get ready to taste the hate.” He then launched into “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” whining the opening line, “Everything makes me nervous…”

At the show’s climax Titus covered the Contours’ “Do You Love Me?” and the Replacements’ “Bastards of Young,” restoring a fun, lighthearted atmosphere after the delicious bleakness of “No Future Part Three” which ends with the chant “You will always be a loser.”

Riding the high, Stickles gave shout-outs to friends and to specific fans for everything from their dance moves to the design of their T-shirts. Soon, however, the mood was killed when a fan called out those magic words, “What happened to your beard?” Stickles, disgruntled, accused the fan of taking him out of the zone.

“You’re so sensitive!” someone called out. “What do you want from me?” he retorted. “I’m a fucking artist. I have feelings galore. You’re about to hear some more of them too, so get used to it,” to which I say touché.

Live Shots: La Sera at the Chapel


It was nice to see that “Kickball” Katy Goodman hasn’t grown up too much since leaving the Vivian Girls. Her big smile, bubbling stage banter, and virginal attire—a lacy white dress to match her white Fender bass guitar — added a saccharine candy coating to the dark, jangly pop of La Sera, her Los Angeles-based solo project.

Swaying and hopping across the Chapel stage last Saturday night in all black Converse All Stars, Goodman whipped her all-male backing band through a surprisingly short set, clocking in at just around 45 minutes.

La Sera was within the first ten bands to grace the stage at the Chapel, San Francisco’s newest music venue at 18th and Valencia in the Mission; the venue celebrated its opening in conjunction with this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival last month. The Chapel is a stripped down, well, chapel — complete with stained glass windows and an arching, pitched ceiling with beautiful dark wood rafters.

As an added bonus, in contrast with everything I know and understand about music venues, the Chapel is astonishingly clean. For now, it smells of wood stain instead of stale beer. The 500 capacity venue also offers a small dinner menu and seating spread around the room at simple, wooden tables that match the hardwood floors.

The audience during La Sera was extremely engaged, if mellow, watching with quiet attentiveness and occasionally chuckling at guitarist Tod Wisenbaker’s bad jokes (“He writes his own material,” quipped Goodman. “It’s pretty impressive.”)

La Sera’s newly released sophomore effort Sees the Light picks right up where the last left off, sounding a bit like a co-ed Dum Dum Girls or, as you might expect, Vivian Girls. The live show, like the new album, offered few surprises. Goodman, despite being a veteran of the stage, was surprisingly tame and uncharismatic for a frontperson. For the last song, however, she jumped off the stage and sang directly to some excited audience members, giving a stronger finish to an otherwise good, but unremarkable show.
The real highlight of the night was the opener, San Francisco’s own the She’s, a beach-tinged girl band with a slightly doo-wop vibe and a seriously good groove. So good, apparently, that La Sera’s drummer bought a the She’s shirt between sets to wear for his own performance. If the She’s next album is as good as the material they played Saturday night, they could definitely be a band to watch out for.

Live Shots: another Nobunny Halloween


Walking to the Brick and Mortar Music Hall on Halloween night for the Nobunny show, I was disappointed by how few costumed people were roaming the streets of San Francisco. Doesn’t anyone have time for fun anymore? Turns out I need not have worried. My Halloween-loving peers pulled through, turning the small, darkened venue into a veritable haunted house full of Jedi, devils, skeletons, cats, and so much more.

After dancing and moshing through four punk-and surf-tinged opening bands, the sold-out crowd was dripping with sweat, facepaint was a distant memory, and bruises were already beginning to materialize. Despite long delays between sets and fast-flowing booze, the crowd stayed amazingly positive for a Halloween punk show. When Nobunny still hadn’t come on by one in the morning, instead of growing tired and restless, the crowd seemed only to be getting more excited — and very, very drunk.

Still riding the high from Shannon and the Clams’ awesome, hits-heavy Misfits set — Oakland’s Shannon Shaw makes a better Danzig than Danzig — the crowd was ready and rowdy when Nobunny finally crawled onto the stage on all fours. His tangled hair, creepy, matted mask, and single scissorhand (a la Edward) looked quite at home in the costumed crowd. Barefoot, he hopped around the stage in a frenzy, bouncing, gyrating, howling, and snarling at the audience.

One moment I was watching some girls in the front row spank Nobunny’s cutoff-covered behind, and then after looking away for no more than two seconds, I turned around to see the infamously clothing-optional artist crouching on the stage in nothing but a moth-eaten sweater. Barely acknowledging his state of undress, Nobunny continued his commanding performance and full-body dance spasms.

Charging around the stage, phallus flopping, Nobunny made sure that this would be a Halloween to remember. Even though his was one of the shortest sets of the night, sadly clocking in at only about 30 minutes, Nobunny made every song count. He ripped through Halloween favorites like “Purple People Eater,” “The Monster Mash,” and “Ghostbusters” with lightning-charged energy. His husky, growled vocals lent a welcome grunge tinge to the classic tunes, and the audience responded gratefully, dancing and slamming into each other with renewed vigor.

About six songs in, he rasped, “This is our last song. It’s called, uh…any requests?” After a playful argument with audience members and a lot of name calling, the band charged through one final song before Nobunny shouted “Happy Halloween!” and hopped off the stage and out into Mission Street, leaving his pants behind.

Live Shots: Rasputina at Great American Music Hall


Guardian music writer Haley Zaremba managed to snap a few shots of Rasputina during the stringed trio’s appearance at Great American Music Hall on Wednesday.

Amanda (Fucking) Palmer unites the freaks at the Fillmore


Theatrics! Camp! Bravado! Glitter! Body hair! Going to an Amanda Palmer concert is like taking a trip to the island of misfit toys. Standing in the crowd, I was surrounded by top hats, tutus, tuxedos, pink mohawks, steampunk creations, and many more accessories that I can’t begin to identify. 

The audience at the Fillmore last Wednesday was incredibly diverse in age, gender, and style, seemingly united only by their love for the many artistic eccentricities of Amanda Fucking Palmer, as her fans call her.

An electric performer, Palmer ruled the stage, looking like the black swan in dark, heavy makeup and a corset as she spit her venomously witty lyrics and jerked around like a marionette, swinging a megaphone, banging on her keyboard, and running instrumental drills with her band, the Grand Theft Orchestra. The setlist, dominated by her new album Theatre is Evil, crackled with energy and emotion.

The night’s dynamic itinerary offered many emotional highs and lows. In a particularly heartbreaking segment, Palmer brought up a box that had been left on the merch table for people to fill with all the bad and sad things that had happened in their bedrooms. Usually Palmer reads the box, but her husband, writer Neil Gaiman, offered to read tonight. 

The tragic and highly personal details people shared cast an incredible hush over the sold-out room. Usually, Palmer records this reading and mashes it into a new song, but she forgot on this night (she later issued an online apology and a promise to make it up to the fans with a recorded version.) 

Despite this omission, the segment was incredibly powerful. These dark secrets saw the light in a crowd of people who were really listening. Palmer does something truly incredible here, using performance art to de-stigmatize past trauma and to turn sharing into a beautiful, communal experience.

This solemn moment was balanced with the transcendent song “Bottom Feeder” in which Palmer, looking like a mermaid, jumped into the crowd wearing a jacket that trailed yards of rippling chiffon over the audience. Under the fabric, holding it up with our hands, the audience members were grinning widely at each other in a moment that perfectly captured the whimsical beauty of the song and the entire night.


Live Shots: Aesop Rock at the Fillmore


The anticipation was killing me. After waiting through 10 weeks of postponement and three openers, I just wanted to see Aesop Rock. Well over two hours past showtime on a Sunday night at the Fillmore, the audience was getting restless.

The show, originally scheduled in July, was canceled just hours before, when someone broke into Aesop Rock’s tour van. Now, 10 weeks later, we were tired of waiting. When Aesop Rock finally burst onto the stage with his touring group (and Hail Mary Mallon bandmates) DJ Big Wiz and Rob Sonic, the energy in the room exploded.

Aesop Rock raced through standout tracks such as “Dark Zero Thirty” and “ZZZ Top” from his new album Skelethon, spitting his verse at lightning speeds. His rapid-fire, pop-culture-referencing, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, which have earned him a reputation as one of the smartest MCs in the industry, sparkled under the stage lights.

The increased speed of the live performance allowed the tracks to take on new life, both more playful and more aggressive.

Halfway through the show, Aesop Rock paused before preforming “Racing Stripes,” a song about a bad haircut, to call up an audience member to get sheared on stage by opening band Dark Time Sunsine. The deal is that the scissors start moving when the beat drops and don’t stop until the song is over.

Aesop Rock has performed this stunt at every stop of his tour, but tonight was a special night. Since it was the last show of the tour, they also pulled up their long-haired tour manager to get his cut by “a person who knows a lot about hair….Ms. Kimya Dawson!” Dawson, who will be releasing an album with Aesop Rock later this year, ran onto the stage, afro bouncing. By the end of the song, both men onstage had extremely, uh, creative asymmetrical haircuts and Dawson had even started in on her subject’s chest hair.

After the barbershop was cleaned up, some of Aesop Rock’s older songs started surfacing. This setlist, to the audience’s delight, contained several odes to San Francisco eateries. “Check it out,” he shouted. “Y’all like late-night eating?” The rapper, who lives in the city, devoted an entire song each to late night diner Grubstake and Polk Street’s 24-hour donut shop Bob’s.
“This city has been fucking fantastic to me,” Aesop Rock shouted in one of his rare moments of earnestness. By the end of the packed two-hour set, he had certainly returned the favor.

The Tallest Man on Earth throws down his pick


On a long BART ride to Oakland after a longer day at school, I thought I probably couldn’t stay awake at a punk show, much less an acoustic folk concert. When I arrived at the Fox and saw that the Tallest Man on Earth show was seated, I was sure that I was doomed.

The stage setup was minimal, with one chair, a circle of monitors, and one keyboard. I stifled a yawn as Kristian Matsson, a.k.a the Tallest Man on Earth, skipped onto the stage in a white tank top and black skinny jeans, looking ironically small on the large, sparse stage. Matsson picked up his guitar, strummed, and wailed out his first note, sending the audience into hysterics.

As Matsson began to bounce and stomp around the stage, I perked up. By the halfway point of the first song, sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. Matsson’s fiery body language matches the incredible dynamics of his songwriting. He filled the stage with kinetic energy, crouching, hopping, and skipping as his voice, at once full-bodied and reedy, soared over his deft finger-picking.

Playing with an incredible degree of comfort and ease, Matsson handled the guitar like an extension of himself, looking as though his body was crafted just to hold the instrument. As he sang and stomped, Matsson strummed with enough vigor to break strings. At the end of each song, he threw his pick down as if to punctuate the end of the song not with an ellipse but with the exclamation point it deserves.

The extent of Matsson’s guitar prowess makes it strange that he has taken a turn to piano on significant portions of his most recent album There’s No Leaving Now. When Matsson set down the guitar in favor of the keyboard, the songs lacked an energy and ingenuity essential to Matsson’s style.

The second that Matsson sat down at the piano bench, my fatigue returned. The songs are no less beautifully written and his voice is no less compelling, but tied down to one location and without the lush instrumentation of his masterful guitarwork, the Tallest Man on Earth takes a sharp decline from folk deity to average singer-songwriter.

Sadly, Matsson seems to be unaware of this effect. The last song of the night was scored by the keyboard, leaving a lot to be desired. Despite the milquetoast conclusion, Matsson remains one of the most exciting players in contemporary folk. If he can stick to his strengths, Matsson will have something truly great on his hands.