Ryan Prendiville

Matthew Dear presents Audion, in a shipping container of LED triangles


At this point I have no idea when this show is going to start, but it’s 9:22 and there’s another loner type rubbing the wood grain pillar in the middle of Mighty. He’s got his hood up as if keeping a low-profile, but
blowing it otherwise. It looks like he took the wrong drugs, slowing down when he might want to speed up. Because at this point in the evening, with some crew members apparently still wiring up the massive amount of lights on stage, he might be in for a wait.

Matthew Dear, the headliner for the night under his Audion moniker, is wandering around the club. Seems typically calm and collected, but I wonder if there’s panic behind the scenes. The show — complete with a custom visual installation — was originally scheduled to be at the Regency Ballroom but was moved to this much smaller venue due to poor ticket sales. (You could see the marketing urgency increasing with each email, first listing the show discreetly as “Audion,” and then “Audion Live: Subvertical,” before finally throwing all the names out in a final push with “Matthew Dear Presents Audion Live: Subvertical.”) After changing venues and dropping the ticket price, Noise Pop also announced all previously issued tickets would now come with a +1. Maybe it’s the rainy weather, but there’s hardly anyone on the dancefloor yet.


Except for squeaky-shoes, which is a good sign. A ubiquitous figure around SF clubs, in my experience if squeaky-shoes is at a show, you’ve made a good decision about your evening entertainment. (We call him squeaky-shoes because his shoes are really squeaky, especially when he’s dancing, in an individual style that involves leaping sideways/backwards a solid five feet at a time, pausing just before colliding with someone, and then walking away as if nothing happened.) He also always wears a comparatively silent ballcap. Look for him. He may be your spirit guide.

As far as I’m concerned, Matrixxman can not go on soon enough, as the same track has been playing over the P.A. for nearly 45 minutes. Aside from the dull bass, the music is drowned out, as if coming from the Chinese restaurant next door. Enduring this together, the woman besides me strikes up a conversation. She doesn’t know Matrixxman, Audion, or even Matthew Dear: she’s here for the lights, knowing that the visual setup was designed by the same team who did the mind-bending work on Amon Tobin’s ISAM.


WhenI last saw Matrixxman, it was at the same venue, and he was doing a closing set for Le1f. One track he played — “C.U.N.T.” by Tronco Traxx — is permanently lodged in my brain. Google it. Your expectations will be met. Tonight he’s keeping things a bit more in pocket, setting up the headliner with a less potentially alienating mix dominated by jacked up house, chopped diva vocals, and something that sounded like Prince (and may well have been Prince).

When the main event starts, all I can think of is packaging. Maybe it’s the corrugated plastic material that Matthew Dear is encased in, a neat sphere made up of interlocking LED-lit triangles; if Amon Tobin had a spaceship, Dear has a shipping container. It’s even branded in a way: the press release pointed out the resemblance between the triangles and the A in Audion. To me they look like a swirl of tracking buttons, with larger “reverse” and “play” arrows on each side of the stage. Like the comprehensive 10-year-spanning collection Audion X, this production seems designed to deliver Dear/Audion in an iconic form.

Tobin once impressed on me that not all electronic music is meant for dancing, so having a visual production like ISAM made sense. But while Tobin via ISAM warped around to places feet can’t easily follow, this isn’t really the case with Audion. Dear, particularly in this format, is clearly making dance music, heavily indebted to Detroit. (Not just the techno, but the car industry: his set drives along with little pause, frequently punctuated by a slow pulsing swell, revving and switching gears. See: “Mouth to Mouth” or “Motormouth.”)

A lot of the crowd dancing up front seems capable of following along unfazed, as if it’s just another night at Mighty. I’m more conflicted and end up with the ones in the back, stunned in place, not sure which
way to go. From back there, it could be a jaded rock show.

I look for the support beam molester from earlier, but don’t see him at all under the lights.

He’s probably fine.


Yeezus stares down yetis, climbs volcanoes, is born again at the Oracle Arena


Kanye West is at an enviable place in his career. Everyone knows who he is. He’s reached near iconic, almost mythic status. The problem is, everyone knows who Kanye West is, even if they don’t listen to his music. I’m fairly certain there are people I’m related to who are only familiar with him largely because he impregnated and proposed to a beautiful woman with a large, rich family, sextape, hard-working publicist, and contract with an unscrupulous cable TV network (in roughly that order). They likely also know him as an egotistical and crazy loudmouth, for reasons too long to detail here.

In sum, Mr. West’s celebrity has threatened to obscure and confuse his accomplishments. Luckily, his newest stage production, Yeezus, represents the history of Kanye West, according to Kanye West.

Stage production may not be the best term, but Yeezus is not a typical concert. Unless you want to consider it a prog-rock concert. Which it may be, in terms of elaborate structuring and an overwhelming amount of obvious symbolism. Also, it has a large mountain on stage. A sort of small-scale Matterhorn, which alternates as an iceberg and a volcano, depending on how it is video mapped, and if flash pots are going off.

Shot from the right angle (please see the photo here provided by West’s people) it was positively expressionistic. Otherwise ignore the rigging showing out the sides, or the crew members placing a box near the top for West to complete his summit, which he did, triumphantly, at points throughout.


Yeezus, the character Mr. West plays, a masked figure drawn out of obscurity by a group of cult-like robed women at the outset, reached a spotlight at the end of a long stage. Thus began the journey, which went through five distinct stages. They were easy to follow, listed on screen above the mountain: Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching, Finding. The songs that followed were not a chronology, but rather represented his career in retrospect. For instance, the highlight of the Fighting section was  “New Slave,” the first single off  West’s current Yeezus album, but in this context a reflection on his entry into the music business, and a struggle to maintain freedom from corporations that attempt to control artists.

Rising began with the phrase “pride always preludes the crash…the bigger the ego the harder the fall.” Did you catch those references? If so, please mark another two boxes on your Yeezus Biblical Allusion Scorecard. You already marked one for Yeezus, right? Keep it handy because more followed, when Yeezus came down from the top of the mountain, appearing shirtless to the prog rock sounds of King Crimson’s “20th Century Schizoid Man.”

This was “Power” and Yeezus had it, confirmed moments later during the Foreigner-sampling “Cold,” when a girl in the audience gleefully showed her breasts to Yeezus not once, but twice. Given the black mask, there was little reaction from Yeezus. But in any case Tony Montana was right, and a song or two later the cultish women from the beginning returned in nude body-suits. Yeezus was literally swarmed by women.

For obvious reasons “I Am a God” has been one of the more controversial tracks on Yeezus and at first the performance of it was expectedly problematic, with Yeezus’s harem kneeling down before him. It was a criticism-baiting moment, until the menagerie awkwardly lifted him into the air as he screamed. It was the first sign of things going wrong for the play’s ‘hero’, and when he performed “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” from Graduation, the singer finally started to project a little emotion, mask and all; the catwalk in the middle of the crowd — despite the weight of the lyrics “To whom much is given, much is tested” — began to raise, as Yeezus was increasingly insulated from the world around him.

After a long dramatic pause (Yeezus took arguably way too many over the course of the evening, sometimes leaning against the mount, sometimes reclining in mock exhaustion) he stopped to speak and connect for the first time, detailing that the next song, “Coldest Winter” was written after his mother died, describing a crisis of faith, and a life that was “spiraling.” Fake snow falls from the ceiling of the Oracle Center. Depending on your sympathies, it could be the most touching moment of the night.

I found it short lived because it segued into the Falling section, which if meant to be bad, succeeded. By then the metaphors and imagery were so in my face that I feared the opening lines, “Who will give me wings, I ask, wings of a dove?” would actually cue West, er, Yeezus donning angel wings and flying around the room on wires. Instead, a red-eyed yeti simply crouched on one side of the mountain, until Yeezus stared it down and it retreated. There was a storm on the stage and some truly awful guitar shredding on “Hold My Liquor,” and I basically started tuning out.


After staring down the yeti a second time and singing “Heartless,” it seemed like the sun was rising. Until then it had all been so rehearsed that when a mic suddenly crackled and Yeezus retreated back stage to fix the issue, all I could think was, “hey, we’re off our regularly scheduled programming, maybe something exciting will happen.”

But instead Yeezus returned to jump on the spring loaded part of the catwalk, triggering explosions and turning the mountain into a volcano. This was relatively restrained, compared to a few songs later, when the mountain cracked open for the Searching section, and a church procession of women emerged, bearing smoking thuribles, candles, the Virgin Mary, and motherfucking Jesus on the cross.

And Yeezus, now wearing a bulky trench and a white jeweled balaclava, was in pastor mode. Which he could do since he totally had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. Playing a single key on a controller lead to rapturous applause. (Never had a performer received so much applause for doing so little.) He paused to soak it in and repeated to the same effect. Twice, before leading into the celebratory and douche-shaming “Runaway.”

This lead to the wonkiest part of the night, with Yeezus on the pulpit running through a list of issues with misquotations and the media, which I won’t, for obvious reasons, attempt to summarize. I will say that at one point he asked people to put their hands in the air if they believe they could do anything, and if you are the kind of person who would have their hand up, you probably would have dug it.

The point is anything is possible through the power of prayer, and Yeezus prayed for his fiance. (Apparently she was at the show, or her mother, or Pharrell from N.E.R.D. In an embarrassing moment, the crowd got overly excited when they thought they recognized one of the three between sets.)

The audience went through some emotional transformatory Campbell-esque hero’s journey. (Made particularly intense for me by the guy two seats over trying to get his girl to not breakup with him during the entire show.)

We came to the final part, Finding, and the words “God arrives at the right time…” Yeezus performed “Harder” and the crowd was magically re-energized, probably in part by the lasers reflecting off his disco ball balaclava. Yeezus talked about how he feels like he got a second chance in life, and sings “Through the Wire,” the breakout song from The College Dropout. On cue…

…Jesus appeared.

And our Lord walked up to Yeezus, who exclaimed, “White Jesus!”

As if sensing something was amiss in this sudden display of humor, Jesus pulled off Yeezus’s mask to reveal that it was Kanye West all along. He went full circle, the nightmare was over, the trauma was over, etc.


Obviously they played “Jesus Walks” and a whole slew of jams. West went on a spiritual discovery, stripping off all the bullshit and pretense, returning to a simpler era. (You couldn’t see his face because it was covered with opulent jewels, get it? It was symbolism.)

Presumably his next tour will be back to basics. Just a flat stage and a mic. In a sense, he’s born again, and all it took was the power of prayer, love, and a good woman. May they live happily ever after.

But, if they divorce then future albums will probably be better. And then he’ll perform “Gold Digger” again.


Opener: Kendrick Lamar

Pictured as a bat hanging upside down from a streetlamp was probably the perfect visual for opener Kendrick Lamar, the latest champion of West Coast hip-hop, who borrows the extraterrestrial imagination of ATLiens era Outkast and Lil’ Weezy’s, uh, wheeze. Already established with two solid albums, Lamar recently leapt in profile for a single enormous, lung bursting verse on Big Sean’s “Control.”


As if the technicality alone wasn’t impressive, he also had the gall to mention that he’d like to kill all but about half a dozen other rappers, which upset more than that. On the Yeezus tour, Lamar also seems to be working on some myth building of his own, visualizing a Compton that’s as much a fantasy as the Oakland in “California Love,” that’s more Terence Malick than George Miller: horses riding down the city streets, living room floors practically covered with spent liquor bottles, slo-mo drumlines, foxy women hitting speed bags/traipsing down railroad tracks, and flashes of gun violence.

Backed up by a full band, Lamar was aggressive and energetic in a way that West only occasionally let himself reach, all the way from “Money Trees” off his exactly one year old album good kid, m.A.A.d city through to the end. Lamar seems to see himself as a successor to Tupac, particular in dread-filled terms, as an air of gun violence pervades a lot of his songs, augmented by the sound of shots. But midway through the set, after ripping ASAP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problem” he launched into the a signature track saying, “As long as I’m representing the West Coast, nobody — nobody — will kill the fuckin’ vibe.” We hope so.

Live Shots: Phono del Sol 2013 with Thee Oh Sees, Marnie Stern, Surf Club


John Dwyer stood holding his guitar, smiling and making small talk with the crowd, having been asked by a Phono del Sol staffer to hold off while, presumably, the band on the other stage finished up its set. “Alright, I think we’re just going to get started,” he said, seemingly without cue, and Thee Oh Sees began playing, giving the day a much needed jolt in energy.

Can you have too much control? Up until that point on Saturday, things were running smoothly. The musical acts were alternating without interruption on the two stages set up at the idyllic (and freeway adjacent) Potrero del Sol park, the weather was perfect, you could test drive an electric Fiat, and everyone seemed sated, even in the beer garden where the queue for Lagunitas and wine had started to resemble a Möbius strip, with patrons receiving a drink only to return to the back of the line to wait for another.

Everything was very under control, on the Potrero Street entrance where you could watch skateboarders try to confidently hustle their way past security, only to be directed to buy a ticket if they wanted to gain access to the park skating area during the festival. (“Just a tip,” Dwyer joked, “but if you show up at the skatepark tomorrow you can skate for free.”)

An hour earlier, during Marnie Stern’s set, I’d been wondering when things were going to pick up. The giddy guitar shredder and her band were speeding along at an energy level that seemed well above the stony, post-lunch crowd. Stern herself seemed rather high, hopping around bare-foot on the hot stage, delivering Woody Allen impressions and wondering whether her guitar overpowers her vagina (or vice versa) between finger-tapping blistering rhythms. But the response — polite applause from a largely reclining crowd — was typical for the day up to that point.

If anyone was gonna change that, it was San Francisco’s best live band, and a few songs in, the crowd was good and riled up. Not for lack of effort. I love watching this band play in part because of how animated they are, and half-way through a marathon version of “Contraption/Soul Desert” drummer Mike Shoun — his veins bulging out of his neck like a pissed off Ren and Stimpy character — was totally in control but with a look of effort somewhere between fighting off an epileptic fit and vomiting. Meanwhile, Dwyer was shifting around like he belonged on a Rat Fink t-shirt, changing gears but never slowing down. (The closest they came is during the middle dirge of “Strawberries 1+2” off Floating Coffin.)

With a sound that’s not punk, or garage, or surf, or psych, but rather a distillation of each’s best aspect, Thee Oh Sees have honed a distinctive sound over the last decade that’s totally affecting, so that when Dwyer invites everyone who wants to come up on stage, with the promise that Brigid Dawson has an extra tambourine for someone and the warning that they better not knock anything over, a lot of people take them up on the offer.

It’s not complete chaos, because Thee Oh Sees have enough control to make it work.

Notes on some bands:

Surf Club: I haven’t seen these guys in a while, but the tail end of their set sounded good, as they’ve loosened up on stage and gone a bit from the light surf rock influence that — coming out of Stockton — plagued them with an irony (there’s no beach there!) that writers (like myself) jumped on.

Cool Ghouls: Sorry Tim Cohen, I can’t save my Kinks references if a band is going to open their set with a song that sounds exactly like Muswell Hillbillies-era Ray Davies. But “Natural Life” was a swell opening and showcased the backup horn section right off the bat, and I subsequently enjoyed this band, and lolled at Pat McDonald’s Beefheart-like goofy rendition of “Eenie Meenie Sassaleenie” as stage banter. (Probably my biggest laugh of the day. The only real competition came from host Anna Seregina, who delivered commentary between bands in a Yakov Smirnoff-style Eastern European accent, probably in reaction to the uphill battle of being a host at a day-time music festival: “I like music like the Dixie Chicks, but they are not playing today.” “Thanks to Aaron Axelson of Live 105 and Popscene. I like Live 105 and I like Popscene. but they do not play the Gypsy Kings so I do not like them.”)

Social Studies: They sounded so much better than opening for Hot Chip the other week. Most likely because as a band it relies less on any sort of posture and attitude and more on a big multi-guitar sound that plays better out in the open. Ditto for singer Natalia Rogovin, whose vocals tend to hang in the air a bit. Shame she was having technical issues with her microphone just as it she was slowing down and coming to the front on “Developer”.

Radiation City: It reminded me off a bigger, less twee Hospitality, without a distinctive sound, but I may have just been hangry.

Painted Palms: These guys sound like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” meets “Star Guitar,” and hearing them take their time getting into “Falling Asleep” from their Canopy EP, it was clear they know how to structure a song. Occasionally I felt like they could lay off the la-la-la’s, and various oh-oh-oh choruses, if only to let the light, whimsical rhythms float on a bit more.

Bleached: Black bean burger from Doc’s of the Bay. Bad name/pun, great burger, amazing ketchup.

YACHT: Having caught the band recently at Noise Pop, and having just emerged from the pit of Thee Oh Sees, I didn’t make to the end of YACHT’s set. But the duo looked great, obviously.

Live Shots: Chvrches at Mezzanine


The night started with shrieks. Well, back up. It actually started sedate. Opener Still Corners had cancelled at the last minute, due to visa issues*,” so we knew it would be a bit of a wait before headliner Chvrches came to the stage at Mezzanine. In the meantime, we stood around commenting how nice it was that there was no one under 21.

The show had originally been scheduled at the Rickshaw Stop, but when it sold out quickly, it was moved to Mezzanine, and anyone under drinking age was issued a refund. This meant there wasn’t the early crush of teenagers permanently camped out at the front of the stage.** I know, I know, it’s not nice to gloat over someone else’s exclusion. Maybe I forget about being that age and not understanding how I wouldn’t get to see my newest musical obsession live, just because the venue was 21+. I remember now, though, because twenty minutes before start time the other side of the spectrum arrived: the banshees.***

You know them. The kind of people who slip through the crowd, pretending their friend is just…over…there, until suddenly they stop in the gap you’ve made for them to pass, and you realize that their friends are actually behind them, daisy-chained along (and now standing on your feet). The kind that love, love, love each other (and are so glad they’re all here!) but don’t give a damn about anyone else. The kind that re-count how many free shots they’ve been given (not recount as in a great story, but re-count as in they can’t keep track of the actual number at this point).

The kind that seem a few penis straws short of a bachelorette party. The kind that — when you supportively catch them mid-stumble and extricate them from the remaining inch between your date — turn to their friends and act like you manhandled their pudenda. The kind that are (of course) joined by their moist, B.O. laden friend Owen****, who is the kind of guy that just happens to be surrounded by assholes all the time, since his breed of loud, shrieking belligerents has the perfect mix of self-awareness and obliviousness to make it seem like assholes surround them wherever they go. The kind of people who have to say, “Let’s not fight tonight.” *****

Obviously, it wasn’t really that bad, but whenever you wait extra long without an opener, the crowd starts to feel a bit hellish. In which case, Chvrches coming to the stage with a slow downed version of Prince’s reverent intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” was the perfect segue into the musical reward for our suffering: 

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world

A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night

Once on stage, the Scottish electronic pop trio started out with “Lies,” and the bright sharpness of singer Lauren Mayberry’s voice quickly pushed the shrillness of banshees out of mind. It has an instantaneous accessible quality to it that immediately hooks in and grabs attention, validating the lyrics “I can sell you lies, you can’t get enough. Make a true believer of, anyone, anyone, anyone.” It goes a long way to explaining how, after posting just a few songs online, the group of Glaswegians has captured such attention.****** On “Recover,” played later in the evening to the crowd’s largest response, Mayberry sings with a monosyllabic attention, giving such clarity to the words that they hardly even matter. It could be the alphabet.

Refreshingly, this focus comes without grandstanding.******* Mayberry is rather stationary on stage, but the clarity of her iconically pop voice is by itself without pop-cliche affectations, dances or costumes.******** The band functions best as a unit. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty are the musical foundation, combining elements of post-punk and synthpop, updated with some trap elements (see: the intro to “The Mother We Share”).

Both act as multi-instrumentalists and backing vocalists on stage, with Doherty most notably giving a little oomph to chunky drum samples on the MPC, and Cook bringing his bass to the forefront on songs like “Lungs.” When Doherty took lead vocals for a song, his singing was a little more raw, a little more tender — like early Bernard Sumner — with a pleading stage presence and a more obvious Scottish accent.

After playing as much already released and new material as a band that hasn’t actually released an album could have — with Doherty thanking the crowd for the largest headlining show they’ve ever done — Chvrches returned to the stage (and the Purple One) for a cover of “I Would Die 4 U.”

*It always seems to be visa issues when a band cancels. Is that just the all-purpose excuse?
**The luxury of an empty bladder.
***The only reference to Scottish culture I’ll make, since sadly it’s all I know.
****He is always named Owen.
*****With emphasis on “tonight” because it happens frequently enough to be a normal occurrence.
******To the point that their first live show was reportedly already filled with label types and music journalists.
*******Choice quote: “As my mom says, we’re all the same, nobody’s special, we’re all shit.”
********So, pre-Madonna stage with a Madonna-esque voice, but not prima donna.

Skate or die



MUSIC Compared to the 1980s and early ’90s, it doesn’t seem like there are many places in this city to skate. There are always the hills and odd spots for the creative, but the few designated skateparks seem to be paltry peace offerings in proportion to the laws, security guards, and anti-grind hardware put in place to elsewhere restrict the activity. For a short time this week, the new SFJAZZ Center will be added to the small list of skate venues, with a pair of live skating performances accompanied by lauded improvisational pianist Jason Moran and his group Bandwagon.

It may seem an odd pairing, but one that has natural connections for the pianist. “San Francisco has always had an association with skateboarding for me,” Moran told me over the phone. “As a kid in the ’80s, our parents would visit SF from Houston, and my older brother and I would take our skateboards along. We weren’t super good, but we’d go down to EMB.” At that time — before merchants, property owners, and police worked to close it off — Embarcadero’s Justin Herman Plaza (or “EMB”) was an international destination for skaters who came as if it were their Mecca.

At its peak, those drawn to its concrete waves, challenging gaps, and tempting stairs could number in the hundreds (although how many were just there hoping to spot Mark Gonzales is unclear). For Moran, it left an imprint. “I think of it sort of like Minton’s Playhouse, which became known as the incubator for bebop. The kind of place where people would hang out, practice, exchange tips, and learn from each other.”

To be honest, when I first heard of the live skateboarding events SFJAZZ had planned, it struck me as an attempt to bring “low” culture into a “high” venue, the genre having increasingly entered into a museum-like curatorial setting, much like classical music. Something similar to what the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA had done under divisive director Jeffrey Deitch, with its “Art in the Streets” and planned (unplanned?) “Fire in the Disco” programs. As Artistic Advisor for Jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and a recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant” — an award which comes with a large, no strings attached monetary award and basically the suggestion of “keep doing what you’re doing” — Moran seems as much in the art world as he does the music. But it’s a position he’s aware of, addressing it head-on with his album Artist in Residence and the song “Break Down,” which riffs over a vocal track expressing a need to do exactly that to the art world (and barriers, the artist, the general public, society, misunderstanding, etc.).

As one of the first Resident Artistic Directors at SFJAZZ’s new center, Moran sees the opportunity get past these sort of dichotomies. “SFJAZZ is at a place where as a new establishment, they’re in a way positioned with more freedom, to try different things and attract a more diverse crowd and bring in a larger part of the community. Often institutions say that they want to do that, but really end up being this kind of elitist thing.” Moran’s stint includes at the center also includes a solo performance and a tribute to Fats Waller in the form of a dance party featuring Meshell Ndegeocello. Keeping with the populist ideal Moran said that, “at the Kennedy Center, where I also work, we did the Fats Waller party, and we just did it for free. It certainly brings out a different crowd. Four hundred people, whoever wants to come.” (It is, however, a paid event in SF.)

For the skating performance, Moran has partnered with FTC Skateboarding and Kent Uyehara’s Western Addition, a company that frequently adopts a jazz aesthetic in its videos and decks, the latter emblazoned with images of John Coltrane, Jaco Pastorius, or Mati Klarwein’s art for Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. A custom half ramp is being built out in the Sunset, to be hauled into the SFJAZZ Center. Skateboarders including Adrian Williams, Alex Wolslagel, Dave Abair, Jake Johnson, and Ben Gore have been recruited. The only question is how well it will coalesce. There will be no rehearsal.

“I already know that the sound of the wheels, and the slap of the board, the quality of these sounds, for my band it’s something to work with. But as far as syncing up with them and making music that goes along perfectly, I’m not going to try and do that. It’s more about capturing the energy, and giving them support so they can sort of solo on top of it,” Moran said, also mentioning a desire to not necessarily cover but channel the spirit of bands like Suicidal Tendencies, more conventionally associated with skateboarding.

Moran’s confidence extends to the skaters, who he sees as improvisers as well. “There’s an understanding among skateboarders that’s similar to musicians, where you can see someone perform a trick or a move, and they make it look easy, and unless you’re at the level they are, or you watch a lot, you might not be able to perceive how difficult it is.” In this way the root is transcription, learning by observing, practicing, and applying. After that comes adapting, transposition. And that’s little more than a change in location.


Sat/4, 7:30pm, $20-$40

SFJazz Center

201 Franklin, SF



Hot Chip off the old block


Bands have hierarchies. James Murphy was essentially LCD Soundsystem, Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard are Hot Chip. If anyone knows this, it’s Al Doyle; the multi-instrumentalist was the guitarist for LCD before it disbanded in 2011, and continues to be a crucial member in Hot Chip.

“Joe and Alexis are a songwriting duo that works extraordinarily well, and no one else has written a song that Hot Chip has played,” Doyle said over the phone, on a bus somewhere en route to Palm Springs, getting ready for the first week of Coachella, where the UK group was slotted to play. Other members Felix Martin and Owen Clarke have made musical contributions along with him, but never whole songs. “Recently, we’ve been collaborating a little more closely, and it might get to the stage where Alexis and Joe feel that they can do a song that I’ve started or Felix has started, but that hasn’t happened so far.”

This probably says less about controlling or opposing personalities, as it does the overabundance of ideas currently in Hot Chip. Goddard released a joyously cuddly dance album with Raf Daddy as the 2 Bears, Taylor is collaborating with German producer Justus Köhnhke as Fainting By Numbers, and Doyle has his own distinct musical outlet in New Build, a project with Martin. “We were working on a few tracks at the same time the LCD thing was going on. The roots were me and Felix, but working in the studio with our engineer Tom Hopkins just seemed to make sense as he got more involved with the project, so it became the three of us.”

New Build’s first album, Yesterday Was Lived and Lost, pulls back from the densely layered production of Hot Chip’s recent albums, for a slightly rawer garage sound that’s more characteristic of Doyle’s LCD background. But much of the somber and tender emotion that typifies Hot Chip is still there. On “Finding Reasons” Doyle morosely recalls Peter Gabriel over a mechanical drum beat, with recurring apocalyptic apprehension. (“And the news is coming in / Of another city’s sad demise.”)

“I was feeling a lot of apathy around at the time I was writing those lyrics,” Doyle said. “Syria was on my mind around that time, and even now there’s a weariness with that kind of information coming through.”

At times, Doyle feels a need to be purposefully obscure as the principal songwriter in New Build. “I probably write a little bit more obliquely, than some of the Hot Chip songs, which are quite intensely personal to Joe and Alexis. When I feel myself getting too personal there’s a sense of paralysis. I can’t really sort of work like that, and often write a couple of steps removed from the original feeling.”

Occasionally things are playful, silly even. Take “The Third One.” Built around a “bleepy” piece by producer Hopkins, it’s got a bouncy rhythm, and some pointedly Prince-like guitar work by Doyle, as the lyrics get into the logic of fighting Nintendo bosses, who as everyone know always come in threes. “I still enjoy videos games,” Doyle said, “It’s something me and Felix do and try not to talk about it too much.”

Still, Doyle is showing through. He describes “Medication” as a curveball, a “straight-up attempt to write as pop-y song as you kind of could.” Over a funky bassline and buoyant beat, the sardonic lyrics recommend simple, chemical solutions to your problems, coming off like a pharmaceutical jingle written by Aldous Huxley. “Retrospectively having looked at that song, there’s a lot of mental illness in my family and it’s something that I tend to find myself thinking about now and again.”

New Build is using gaps in Hot Chip’s schedule (and the relative proximity of its equipment) to stage a West Coast tour. Following the expansive models Doyle is used to, the three members will increase to seven on the road. More expensive, as well, it might mean barely breaking even or going broke, but Doyle prefers the spectacle. “Lots of new bands, you like the music on the record, but then go see them play live and it’s a couple of guys with electronics, maybe one of them is playing guitars but doesn’t really need to, or playing a bit of completely extraneous percussion. I didn’t want it to feel like a tacked on thing, I wanted to feel like an experience.”

“We’re very lucky to find some amazing musicians. Ben Ubly plays bass guitar, and he is childhood friends with Tom, who was like ‘this guy can really play.” And we were like ‘Well, how good could he really be?’ But then he turns out to the one of the best musicians we’ve ever played with. Never been in any bands, literally just a bedroom player. Just stepped up and seems like he’s built for it.”

With New Build, Doyle has also stepped up and into the front. We’ll see how well he’s built, having spent over a decade in two international touring bands, and likely picking up a thing or two from Taylor, Goddard, and Murphy. “James was just able to really relax an audience and make them feel appreciated that’s just something he has as a person. I’d obviously love to try and emulate that sort of presence. I’m still learning how to do that a little bit.”



With No Ceremony///

Sun/28, 8pm, $17


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421


Live Shots: Flume at the Rickshaw Stop


Every time I’ve been to Popscene in the last few years, and I mean every time, I see the same guy. Deep 30s, clean cut, and so meticulously well-dressed that it’s conspicuous. Particularly conspicuous when he’s gravitating around a pair of black lingerie wearing girls dancing like they can’t drink. But I guess that mix is fairly typical of Thursdays at the Rickshaw Stop, for the weekly event that always brings in a new crowd by being an 18+ dance party, while maintaining a certain following with the promise of seeing an emerging music act that “could be the next big thing.”

Or, as the case was with Australian electronic producer Flume on Thursday night, the next Porter Robinson. As in “OMG, can you believe he’s only 20?” and the additional hype that goes with it. The crowd was sold out and eager to hear him DJ, many in the audience probably choosing the show over more established popular EDM acts playing that night like Major Lazer at the Independent or the Skrillex/Diplo (he’s everywhere) event going on for the video game convention.

“Is everyone excited to see Flume?” Dexter Tortoriello of opener Houses asked, in the cliched end of set mic break, before making the astute observation, “If we were in Australia right now, we’d be seeing him in a stadium, but instead we’re at Rickshaw Stop.”  Flume – real name Harley Streten – had a sudden rise that included knocking One Direction off the top chart spot with his self-titled debut.

Sorry to say, despite Tortoriello’s excitement, Houses performance was strangely out of place. I caught what was at the time just a duo of Tortoriello and musical-romantic partner Megan Messina at Public Works in November and, while it had been pretty awkward in a shoegazing sort of way, they showed promise and an underlying energy waiting to get out, particularly with tracks like “Reds.”

Thursday they had the addition of a drummer and a guitarist, and Messina had a lot more to do and seemed less contained by nervousness, but strangely played new, more sonorous, thoughtful, and ultimately indistinct music. It was particularly noticeable as they made a consciously slow start coming off of a pop hip-hop track DJ Aaron Axelson played, causing someone to yell out “Drums!” at the end of their first song. “It feels cold up here,” a guy in a hoodie told his friends, which usually isn’t the case at the event.

Flume came on to the sounds of chopped vocals and faux-Afropop “More Than You Thought” from his album, and I made the conscious choice to not try to get back up front to try and get a picture. The real reason is I wimped out. The aesthetic reason is there are no satisfying photos of anyone in front of Macbooks. But the jealous reason is he’s young* and handsome, as the girls in front of me who have been in love with him for soooooooo long will point out, and doesn’t really need it.

On record, Flume is entirely listenable, a palatable mix of dub grooves, steady hip-hop beats, and jazzy, spacy tweaks that occasionally recall Flying Lotus, perfectly paired with pop vocals from a range of singers. His live show aims to be just as pleasing mixing in recognizable hits like Mos Def’s “Mathmatics” and Biggie’s “Juicy.” A little easy and a little bit too much cultural appropriation for my tastes, but it worked on the crowd.

 At one point – the climax of the set really – Flume followed a version of Major Lazer’s “Get Free” (complete with a trance build and dubstep breakdown) with two of his best songs, “Insane” and “On Top.” Featuring lovely, pitch shifted vocals by Moon Holiday and the line “the only risk is that you go insane,” “Insane” is the kind of euphoric  track  you can get lost in, and the best hints at the depths Flume could delve into in the future.

But the electro hip-hop of “On Top” is the current album’s best statement of where the 20 year old is now. “All that I want in my life is the chance to do my thing,” the chorus says, and it’s entirely aspirational, before the triumphant verses kick in. “The nights forever young, it’s us that gets old,” is basically saying YOLO, but comes off a little closer to “Carpe Diem.” Or whatever is Latin for “night.”

*As his suburban origin story goes, he learned to make music from software he found in a cereal box at an age when people like me were trying to figure out masturbation.

Live Shots: The Robert Glasper Experiment at New Parish


It really wasn’t a question whether the Robert Glasper Experiment would be any good at the New Parish on Friday night  – but how it would go about replicating the success of Black Radio, which recently won the Grammy for R&B album of the year.

That’s an album that features notable collaborators on each track – Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco, Bilal, Mos Def/Yasiin Bey, etc. – which could leave pianist Glasper a lot to make up for live. Going into the show I had a few theories: maybe the group would use pre-recorded vocal tracks in places, maybe up-and-coming vocalists would be pulled on stage from Oakland’s music scene, or maybe some surprise guest would be introduced. (Singer José James was nearby at the San Jose Jazz Winter Fest. Maybe he’d finish in a timely manner over there and stop by?)

Glasper didn’t do any of that. When he came to the stage close to midnight, he quickly* introduced the rest of the Experiment – Casey Benjamin, Chris Dave [Ed. note — the drummer that night was actually Mark Colenburg], and “newly signed Blue Note recording artist” Derrick Hodge – and asked the completely packed crowd “Are there any Radiohead fans in the house tonight?” Keytar-playing Benjamin began singing “as your life passed before your eyes,” his voice given an alien quality via a vocoder, and Glasper began loosening up, playing the keys with occasional Mifune-esque shoulder shrugs, and taking the song further and further beyond the source materials.

Seemingly 10 minutes later, when I assumed the band had transitioned to some other song besides “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box,” the band collectively seemed to hone in on the familiar melody.

And then they stepped back, Glasper and company stood to the side, as Hodge played a hefty bass solo. Glasper has a bold personality and a clever streak, as was evident a year and a half ago at Sketchfest, where he improvised on level with Reggie Watts, musically and comically.** Yet most of the time, he’s not a domineering figure, and doesn’t demand attention.

The band reformed, moving into a spacy version of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and then Sade’s “Cherish the Day,” a song featured on Black Radio with singer Lalah Hathaway. But the charming, beaming Benjamin provided computerized soul and a really smashing and free saxophone solo.*** Increasingly, Glasper and company provided a showcase for the vocalist, as they did on Black Radio.

Covering a lot of musical territory with album tracks like “Ah Yeah”, and more interpretive covers including Bobby Caldwell’s “Open Your Eyes”/Common’s “The Light” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,”**** the crowd embraced it, shouting out “Tell Me, Robert!” and other encouragements. The guy who shouted “Take your time!” midset had the right idea, but I think the band already had that in mind.

*Well, after mentioning the after-party at Legionnaire Saloon. Asked for more specific directions, Glasper said “I don’t know where the fuck it is. Just go.”
**Opposed to this year’s Sketchfest event, where Glasper, Watts, and drummer Chris Dave seemed strangely timid and, well, giggly. Maybe having something to do with this.
***Guy in the back, telling his friend that he could totally play that: full of shit or a talented musical unknown? Based on the girl standing next to him, constantly asking if anyone in the group was hungry, probably the former.
****The best surprise for me was the cover of soul jazz classic “Think Twice” by Donald Byrd, who died last month.

Live Shots: Passion Pit, Icona Pop, Matt and Kim at the Bill Graham


Swedish duo Icona Pop made the typical announcement about being really happy to finish up its tour in San Francisco, last Thursday at the Passion Pit/Icona Pop/Matt and Kim show at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Things likely have changed for Icona Pop, which specializes in bouncy, dubstep-inflected pop about “heartbreak,” particularly since the song “I Love It”* was appropriately included in the episode of HBO’s Girls where TV’s most self-centered character** goes on a coke binge.

Icona Pop received its biggest, swelling crowd response closing its set with the track, essentially the millionth song to say YOLO in recent memory. I’d say it has the potential to be the “song of its generation,” but only if we can all agree that that whole concept needs revising.***

Matt and Kim played Girl Talk (or at least a mega-mashup-mix of Black Sabbath, Timbaland beats, Jay Z 1.0, etc.) while warming up. Matt wore a Big Freedia t-shirt. Just a couple clues that the pair is similarly oriented towards audience response.

Snippets of familiar hits – Alice DeeJay’s “Do You Think You’re Better Off Alone” comes to mind, as well as Dr.Dre and Snoop**** – were occasionally mixed in with their own music, which most often has the same twinkling piano and rudimentary drum beat. Fun often came at the cost of sticking slavishly to trends, which would explain the “Harlem Shake” section of the show.

I want to dislike the duo, but somehow the two members remain really shiny, seemingly unpretentious musicians who have done their best to scale up from fine china-shattering house parties to festival sized performances and still be engaging. (The equipment mounted cameras they use make them seem slightly less like rockstars and more like contestants on a reality TV show, still slightly shocked by the exposure.) Even slightly criticizing them makes me feel like the time I tossed a kitten down a staircase. (I was 6.)

The last time I went to see Passion Pit – at the Warfield during the Manners tour – well, it was on what would retroactively be a first date, and in part because of the lame soul revue opener and my general nervousness, I drank way too much alcohol and ended high up in my balcony seat, where the show on stage seemed to consist of firing strobes lights directly at the audience. So, yeah, it was a lot of fun.

And, of course, I was very interested to see what a Passion Pit concert is actually like. Well, things started off maximally with “I’ll be Alright,” Manners single “The Reeling”, “Carried Away,” and the pretty “Moth Wings.” Then singer Michael Angelakos moved into a slight lull of twee balladry with “Love Is Greed,” a potentially devastating song for anyone that grew up on watching too many Disney movies*****, and “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy”, eventually rising back up to peak with the two best songs from sophomore album Gossamer, the R.Kelly-esque “Constant Conversations” and the politipop masterpiece “Take a Walk”******. It was a good performance, with Angelakos stalking the stage throughout and the band actually jamming a little bit on “Mirrored Sea.”

Passion Pit ended with “Sleepyhead” and “Little Secrets” as the encore. There were bubbles and confetti, but ultimately it all may not have been as memorable as forgetting.

*I like to imagine this song is borrowing the chorus structure of 10cc’s “Dreadlock Holiday,” but somehow I doubt it.
**Besides maybe Walter White.
***How can someone three years younger than me not know of Mr. T?
****Or David Axelrod/David McCallum.
*****At one point in the night, Angelakos began singing slowly and for a split second I was expecting this.
******Also on Girls, last night.

Noise Pop 2013: YACHT, Shock, and Future Twin at Slim’s


When I went to see YACHT, a couple years ago during the Treasure Island Music Festival, it was playing outdoors in the afternoon, and it seemed like the wrong time and place. Last year at the Fox, the conceptual electropop band seemed stifled by the combination of the large venue and sparse crowd, and also mired by the same lackluster audio conditions that made headliner Hot Chip sound like it was playing underwater. But Saturday at Slim’s, on my last night of Noise Pop, it seemed just…

Fuck, I’ve wandered into the Goldilocks cliché.

Anyway, YACHT likes to keep it personal. Personable? The duo of Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans (bolstered by other band members on tour) affect a borderline cultish air — utopian ideals were all over its last album Shangri-La and lead track, um, “Utopia” — that plays better when the audience is kept close, in a intimate venue.

“Ahhh, your hair is so long!” a woman in the sold out crowd screamed, when singer Evans first appeared on stage during the sound check, dark roots showing under what was previously close cropped and bleached blonde. It struck me as the kind of thing you say to a close friend you haven’t seen in a while. (“She’s much better looking than the last time I saw her,” someone else near me judged later in the show.)

This friendly rapport makes a lot of sense, given how much effort the group makes towards fostering it. Hopping off stage and tangling the crowd up in a mic cord has basically become a rock party trick at this point (probably because it’s an almost foolproof way to charm the crowd). Evans employed it as a starter, but went on to continually flatter fans and solicit questions, indulging in requests for hugs and spare beers. Throughout this course of events, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and YACHT founder Bechtolt competed for the larger cult of personality with a hopped-up glee.

Somewhat listless at the Fox performance, YACHT was nothing but efficient on Saturday. Maybe it was limited on time to begin with, but the set clicked by, highlighted by high-energy renditions of “I Walked Along” and “Utopia” — better than any I’ve heard.

An obvious encore followed (right after Bechtolt assured someone — probably the guy up front waving a sticker sheet and Sharpie since the sound check —that he’d sign anything five minutes after the show was over) with “Ring the Bell,” a super snappy version of shout-along “Psychic City,” and “Second Summer.” It was all done with an intentionality that could be either super endearing to a fan or off-putting viewed as an outsider, but I’m increasingly finding myself group with the former.


Shock: “We only have two minutes left and our songs are like seven minutes,” singer and bassist Terri Loewenthal of Shock said, after playing three tracks of slinky synth funk with slow vocals and lots of glissando. Five or so minutes later, the ground finished its set and she added, “So that was the short version.” Which was pretty satisfying.

Future Twin: Future Twin was precociously San Francisco, noting that one song was about trying to find affordable housing and cracking dead on delivery jokes about the nudity ban only applying out on the streets. But with dynamic singer and guitarist Jean Yaste  — whose voice recalls equally parts Corin Tucker and Exene Cervenka — and drummer Antonio Roman-Alcala, this band can get away with saying whatever it wants during mic breaks. Its upcoming benefit for the Roxie at the Verdi Club with Thee Oh Sees and Sonny and the Sunsets has it in good company.

Tussle: It’s been three years since I last saw Tussle at Milk Bar, and given the recordings the group released since then I had high expectations to see it much improved. But trouble with setting up a ton of equipment and subsequent delays really hobbled its start, and the group never seemed to quite overcome it. Unintentional tempo shifts seemed common, the double drummers never quite seemed to sync, and the generally structureless songs seemed to only end when every member came to the sudden realization that someone else was cuing them to wrap it up.

Do want



MUSIC Someone shared a song, with the caption “I’m pretty sure this is what the future sounds like.” At first I scoffed at the hyperbole, and idea that progress meant New Age-y Enya harmonies, speedy trap hi-hats, and stomping chant-along choruses all fitted into a progressive, genre blurring R&B/electronic package. But a little piece of the track, “Counting,” stuck with me, a familiar sounding free-jazz squonk of atonal saxophone, and I soon found myself starting a conversation with Autre Ne Veut, a.k.a Arthur Ashin, to identify the sample, and find out more about his sophomore album Anxiety.

“I actually don’t use any samples at all in my music,” the response came (surprising, since I’d seen Autre Ne Veut filed under electronic). “Not just a party line, but actually because I don’t have the slightest idea of how to build songs around them. Al Carlson, who engineered the bulk of the record, is also a very fine jazz sax player. Plus there is some extremely dry atonal guitar that I played mixed in with the baritone sax. Obviously, it was cut up a bit, but we both just played along to the whole track, and then stripped the bulk of it away.”

This refining, reductive process differs from Autre Ne Veut’s 2010 self-titled debut. “My previous record was kind of the opposite,” Ashin said “I would keep globbing more on in different places to kind of create song dynamics. With this I tried to create a big slab and kind of chip away at it, and the sound was kind of defined by that.” It’s a contrast that’s led Autre Ne Veut to be at times labeled as both minimalist and maximalist, although he shrugs at the categories. “Somebody compared me to Hudson Mohawke and Rustie, which I felt a little uncomfortable about just because I seem really different to me than that. But what do I know?”

Regardless of process, the result is an album of stark emotion, conveyed primarily through Ashin’s dynamic diva-esque falsetto. This is obvious on the album opener “Play By Play,” where a potentially repetitive chorus is carried beyond expectations to become irresistibly catchy. On “Gonna Die” the singer goes well into Whitney Houston ballad territory over the most open, airy track on the record, while somehow getting existential over seemingly little more than looking in a bathroom mirror.

Musically there’s a tendency to lump Autre Ne Veut in the latest wave of R&B, but the instrumentation (when it’s familiar) recalls Ratatat (“Don’t Ever Look Back”) as much as Prince (“Warning”), while the disparate, layered production puts Ashin in league with the aforementioned maximalist company. As a result of everything going on, the mix of elements occasionally threatens confusion or invites alternate interpretations. The husky singing and banging rhythm on “Counting” lends it a sensual tone that without context could be surprising: Ashin was inspired by the difficulty he had making a phone call to his aging grandmother, fearing it might be the last time they talk.

It didn’t help that prior to this album, Ashin insisted on embargoing his real name and only using the Autre Ne Veut moniker in the press, hoping to maintain a clean Google record, separate from his academic life, where he studied Clinical Psychology. Now he’s putting himself out into the open. “I basically for this record realized that if I was gonna end up doing music — if that ever became a legitimate problem than I would have done pretty well for myself, and there’d be no way to fight that if I decide to have a second career in Clinical Psychology.”

The new stance is a better fit; given the personal quality of Autre Ne Veut’s new record, there’s now an actual person to associate with the experience. (Although Ashin is fine with not being the final authority, saying “I’m not gonna sit down and tell somebody who’s sure ‘Counting’ is a sex jam to stop having sex to ‘Counting.'”)

If a second album is a chance to refine not only the music, but also the image, and Ashin seems to be doing the latter with unexpectedly little apprehension or nervousness. The press release accompanying the new album has the following heady quote: “Anxiety in children is originally nothing other than an expression of the fact they are feeling the loss of the person they love.” Freud is alright, but I think this one is more appropriate: “To feel anxiety is to be blessed by the full wash of existence in its ripest chancre.”


With Majical Cloudz, Bago

Mon/11, 9pm, $12


628 Divisadero, SF (415) 771-1421


Noise Pop 2013: The Crystal Ark at the Mezzanine


“Dude, a satchel? That’s the gayest shit I’ve ever seen.”
“What?” I asked.
“Your purse,” he said, pointing to my camera bag, as his apparent girlfriend giggled and tried to cover his mouth. “That’s so fucking gay. Are you from America?”
“Thank you,” I said, as I finished putting in my ear plugs, mostly disinterested but half curious what he made of the two guys making out 10 feet across the dance floor.

Given that the last time I was in this situation, at Mezzanine to see NYC’s disco band the Crystal Ark supported by “San Francisco’s coveted queer DJ collective” Honey Soundsystem, was during Pride weekend, this was an odd encounter. But I’d already expected the crowd to be a little off, given that it was seemingly a late addition to the Noise Pop Festival and had to compete with packed, sold-out events in the vicinity.

Maybe the couple came out for the free Toro y Moi/Washed Out club night/email farm going on over at 1015 Folsom, and got turned off by the massive line. Maybe they were just visiting from out of town, and Mezzanine was close to their hotel. In any case, a short time into the band’s set, I couldn’t see them around, and presumed they left early.

Whatever. The Crystal Ark would be pretty central in a Venn diagram of my musical tastes. Gavin Russom is easily the fifth most significant member of now-defunct LCD Soundsystem, which doesn’t mean much except for obsessives (guilty.) With The Crystal Ark, he combines his synth expertise with Latin percussion and a trio of female singers in a way that recalls both ESG and Fania All-Stars. Plus, an additional utopian/spacey theme that suckers me.


Still, to be honest, the first time I saw the band I was a little disappointed. Mainly because it seemed to take at least a half an hour before it livened up and built into the kind of fluid groove you want from a group like that. Friday, the Crystal Ark seemed much improved. Coming to the stage with the slight awkwardness that comes with being the headlining band with no real opener, Russom proceeded with introductions, saying that they were glad to be back at Mezzanine, noting that “This is a wild city. I’ve only been two blocks, but I’ve seen a lot of wild shit.” (Presumably arriving via Sixth Street rather than Mint Plaza.)

But a few minutes into their new single “Rain,” the band seemed ready to go, with the chorus “C’mon, and show me what’s the best you got,” being an obvious challenge to the small crowd.

This time around the band was also smaller, consisting of Russom, a single percussionist and a group of singers-dancers led by Viva Ruiz. But the performance and connection to the audience was improved.

Throughout the night Ruiz would alternate between English and Spanish, at one point dedicating what I’d failed to realized was a pro-immigration song, “We Came To (Work)” to her father and “We the fucking people.”

Despite the smaller size, the sound was bigger and more synchronized. After finishing with the appropriate “Ascension” and the refrain “the time has come,” it was a little disappointing seeing the club shut down – opposed to last time where the Pride crowd and Honey Soundsystem kept things going – and Russom was packing up his gear. When I complimented him on the show, he attributed it to having released their album and having more time to focus on performing. Now they just have to find the right crowd.

Noise Pop 2013: !!!, White Arrows, the Mallard at Great American Music Hall


It’s hard to be Nic Offer. Not because he’s a tortured artist struggling with celebrity or some other cliche, but because he busts it on stage in a way that’s difficult to match. A couple songs into !!!/Chk Chk Chk‘s Noise Pop show at the Great American Music Hall last night, the lead singer and number one dancer hustled along the row of tables between the crowd and the stage. “I need my catwalk,” he said, picking up all the glasses, water cups, and beer bottles along the way.

Anyone who has seen a !!! show knows that Offer is hyperkinetic. (He comes prepared to dance, dressed in a t-shirt and short shorts, a combination that reminds me of drummer Pat Mahoney, who would be similarly attired for endurance pushing set with LCD Soundsystem.)

This time around, Offer seemed especially energized, probably because the band was debuting material from the upcoming album Thr!!!er, including “One Girl / One Boy” and “Except Death.” The funky, acid-house infused “Slyd” was supposedly played by the band for the first time in a live setting, and Offer and company seemed pleased to pull off the sample-heavy track.

The singer made a big deal of it, but it was just one of many things he made look relatively easy. Perhaps a little too easy: near the end of !!!’s performance, the hyped up bass player from White Arrows hopped on stage. As the cocktail table toppled, the stage dive became a corgy flop.

White Arrows – its pseudo psychedelic pop is getting better all the time, although the band no longer seems to be coordinating thrift store Hawaiian shirts. The drummer has a nice predilection for irregular, semi-tribal beats, and the keyboardist’s falsetto sounded nice harmonizing with the singer’s drawl near the end of the set.

The Mallard – “hell of a screeching, bass-pumping build for an opener” is what I initially wrote down, seconds after the San Francisco band got going. Then it built and built, with lead singer Greer McGettrick seemingly telling a story in a way reminiscent of “The Gift.” The mix was off in a way that lost the narrative, but sonically it was interesting, complete with a kind of drone I’d never heard before via a live horn.

It was also assaultive; next to the speaker it felt like the back of my throat was full of Rice Crispies and Pop Rocks. By the end, stretching across the Mallard’s whole set, I started to pick up more of the lyrics – 911 calls and sirens – as McGettrick started eerily circling the crowd, intoning “There’s been a muhmuhmuhmuhmuh-murdah.” More Noise than Pop, it was the kind of opening that makes you super excited to hear the second song, and desperately hoping it doesn’t sound like the first. Which was probably why the trio camped out next to the stage with their fingers in their ears looked relieved when it turned out to be the band’s only one for the night. [Ed. note: apparently the Mallard was doing an extended cover of Throbbing Gristle last night]

The Yellow Dogs – the band looked like the Iranian Strokes, sounded like a speedier version of the Rapture crossed with a little Mars Volta, and sang wildly like the B-52s. They supposedly drove four days to get to the show, only to break down an hour away. They said it was worth it to perform with their favorite band, and the way the singer moved, I believe it.

Noise Pop 2013: R. Stevie Moore is cool, plays Bottom of the Hill


R. Stevie Moore is cool. When was the last time you saw a 60-odd-year-old* man standing on stage shouting “where my bitches at” and repeated calls of “swag”? That kind of thing never happens.** (Though it did last night at the Noise Pop show at Bottom of the Hill with Moore, Fresh and Onlys, Plateaus, and Burnt Ones).

Whenever anyone not born prior to 1990 tries to even pronounce that word it comes out all wrong, and the best anyone else can guess is that they’ve got some bad weed, are mentioning their recent trade convention experience, or most likely misquoting a 20-year-old SNL sketch, that last one being a closer reference for the age group.

Which is just to point out that while the rest of us seem to inevitably suffer from mental stasis at a certain age, struggling with increasing brain plasticity and self-inflicted memory loss, Moore was doing a pitch perfect Tyler the Creator last night, as he continues to function as a weird pop culture sponge.***

I don’t even know if OFWGKTA is still around or if people say swag unironically at this point without checking Google Trends. And I guess that’s kind of the point, because as the powder-blue-bearded Moore worked through a small part of his extensive catalog (“He covers a lot of ground,” someone in the crowd observed in the understatement of the night), it became clear that one thing the man is isn’t hip, but he is cool.

Fashion becomes passé, quotes become tired, sic transit fucking gloria, but Moore, the consummate outsider, proves that it’s hard to go out of style when you’ve never truly been in, even as a new wave of hipper musicians like Ariel Pink follow in his footsteps.****

While Moore sang that he “likes to stay home” last night as a closer, I couldn’t help but think how little he seems to have changed since the music video*****, and be glad that he’s still out on occasion. Pretty cool.


*emphasis on “odd.”
**outside the world of recent fun.-loving Taco Bell commercials.
***or vampire, which would explain his longevity.
****and have become his collaborators.
*****compared to other iterations.

Harmon’s way



THEATER Dan Harmon, performing at this year’s SF Sketchfest, is on the phone, talking about therapy. He’s explaining his belief that a person can find a mental illness for anything they can name, with some fetishistic examples. “There are people out there who like to be walked on,” the creator and former show runner of NBC’s Community says. “There’s people who like to eat human fecal matter. There’s people who want to have sex with kites.”

“Hold on, Dan. Are there really?” I ask, making a note to Google it later.

“I guarantee it. I promise you. There are six billion people in the world and there’s gotta be someone who wants to have sex with a kite. But I don’t know if you’d ever find someone that craves the feeling of being alone.”

We’re on the subject because of Harmontown, the comedy show-town hall meeting-podcast Harmon regularly holds in the back of an LA comic shop, based around “one day forming a colony of like-minded misfits.” Harmon’s about to take the show on a daunting cross-country tour, that will stop in SF for Sketchfest before returning to LA. It’s been eight months since Harmon was unceremoniously fired from the much-analyzed, but little-watched sitcom Community by Sony, and had a public feud with actor Chevy Chase that brought a TMZ level of public scrutiny. Subsequently, the Harmontown episodes have frequently taken on the air of a psychiatric session, with the audience filling an important role.

“The whole point of therapy is the therapist doesn’t particularly matter. You’re listening to yourself talk and I think some people are more comfortable talking to one guy holding a clipboard if they’re going to say ‘Hey, I put a Sharpie pen up my ass the other day, does that make me a pervert?’ I feel weirder saying that to one guy with a masters degree and a tiny office who doesn’t laugh than I do telling it to eight people in the back of a comic book store. It feels healthier to do the latter.”

Harmon doesn’t hold much back; after all, this is a guy that earlier in his career broke ground (and insert obvious pun here) with the self-explanatory “Laser Fart” web series for the no-budget, no restrictions, faux-TV network/film festival, Channel101.com (which he co-founded.) A performer only as a hobby, a “self-destructive writer” by trade, there’s no stand-up at Harmontown and ideally little planning. Instead, alcohol-enabled improv and tangents can lead to talking about being hit with a belt by his father, getting dangerously close to breaking up with frequent guest and girlfriend Erin McGathy on stage, or having Ricki Lake Show-styled heart-to-hearts with the audience.

It could be alienating, but Harmon’s uproarious logic, perspective, and self-awareness (an overabundance of which has caused his work to frequently be deemed “meta”) has gained him a following. “Where I tend to go,” says Harmon, “I tend to start asking the question ‘Am I a good person? Am I a good person?’ over and over again, and a kind of family forms around me. Or everyone else gets repelled.”

Channel101.com was at one time the focal point for this quasi-family. “It was like a barn raising, a church, something we did each month,” recalls Harmon. “We had a thing that we did and a belief system, and that was definitely something that I craved and wanted.” But as Community took over his life for three years, Harmon no longer could make the monthly films required, and moved into a fatherly rather than brotherly role.

Harmontown‘s filled that space, in a culty sort of way, with white-boy freestyle raps and live Dungeons and Dragons. The show tends to draw out bright millennials, eager Aspergians, and closeted creatives who find Harmon’s neuroses at least amusing but more often inspiring (also: nerds). It’s a mix that suit-wearing co-host Jeff B. Davis (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) best termed a “mutual anxiety association.” Harmontown isn’t meant for everybody. But that’s clearly by design. And as he hits the road with the show, Harmon’s looking for his people. 


Jan. 31, 8pm, sold out

Punch Line Comedy Club

444 Battery, SF



Live Shots: Death Grips at Slim’s


When I first saw Sacramento’s Death Grips — about a year or so ago at 1015 Folsom — they had to work especially hard. The room was half full and Stefan Burnett made up the difference, jumping down into the crowd and taunting it into action. The intervening time before a repeat performance was longer than expected (Death Grips suddenly canceled their last scheduled tour to finish their second album of the year) and at Slim’s Monday the crowd seemed prewound, eager to see the sold-out show, jockeying for position near the front, and admiring freshly purchased t-shirts showcasing the attention-baiting cover art for No Love Deep Web.

“This is a dick,” said one guy who looked older than he sounded. “It’s actually a dude’s dick. And I know whose it is.” For the uninitiated (or at work – don’t Google it), the cover is a photo of drummer Zach Hill’s erection, on which the title is scrawled with a Sharpie marker. The guy finished his observation by pointing to the part of the shaft nearest to the testicles and saying, “That’s like, the grossest part.”

Death Grips came on about two hours later, launching into No Love album opener “Come Up and Get Me,” and I didn’t last particularly long up front. Burnett released a lyrical tide of amped aggression, the feeling of being backed into a corner too many times, and the crowds answered in kind. A wave of people swelled across the pit and I ended up beneath half a dozen other people, desperately attempting to hold onto a shoe, a camera, and my default unflappable expression. But clearly I’d been flapped, and having spent a long time between sets staring at the vertical gashes on the wrists of the 15-year-old cutter in front of me, was fairly relieved to head to the back of the room as the band went into “Little Boy.”

Three albums in, I would still describe my interest in Death Grips’s brand of angst-ridden hybrid punk-rap as morbid curiosity. “Ruthless and free, it’s all suicide to me,” Stefan intoned on “Black Dice,” with the same sense of nihlism that elsewhere says “Fuck this world, fuck this body.” Since the only time I cut myself was slicing a grapefruit with a dull knife, the lyrical nihilism only goes so far. But that doesn’t diminish Death Grips as a live band. Burnett, Hill, and a backing production track layer feed into each other, forming a feedback loop of hype.

When “Guillotine” – the best song off their first album – came on, it was instantly recognizable from the clicking hi-hat that continually rides through the song. The programmed hi-hat is one of the band’s most constant features, freeing up Hill to go wild with complicated syncopated snare beats over his doubling kicks. His kit was little more than a three piece setup, and while the broken assortment of cymbals from his Hella days were noticeably absent, he bought the same furious intensity, rising out of his chair and smashing down onto the snare for full intensity.

The production track set the pace for the night. It was nonstop, peaking with “I’ve Seen Footage.” From the band’s other, slightly neglected album this year, The Money Store, the song showcases the playful variety that’s beneath the the Death Grips’ borderline single minded thematics. When the ’80s guitar riff, played out over a sped up “Push It” beat came on, a few people in the back ran forward, clearly wanting to get in on the action.

The end of the set snuck up on me. Burnett spoke for the first time outside of a song: “Thank you,” he said, and walked off. Maybe sensing that Death Grips isn’t much of an encore band — or just exhausted — the room began to file out. But one guy stood by the bar, holding a beer in is hand and noticeably not clapping. “That’s it?” he asked his friends, more of a statement than a question. “That was only a 30-minute set. That’s some bullshit.” A line from “Lock Your Doors” is stuck in my head: “I’ve got some shit to say, just for the fuck of it. Don’t even ask me.”

Opener: “Life is real, life is real,” Cities Aviv said over and over, pacing the stage as a DJ modulated some noise on a laptop, with just the hint of a beat behind the noise. As it went on, puzzled over what I was seeing and hearing, more like a performance art piece than what was billed (probably at this point more for convenience than anything else) as a hip-hop show.

Distracted, I hardly noticed building bass until I was struck by the Memphis performer dropping off the stage next to me, signaling a slam of the audience.“It’s not that I’m anywhere,” Cities Aviv continued to say in his set, toying with contradictions and asking, “Are you real or a simulation?” Could have asked him the same thing.

That special Christopher Owens show at the Lodge


The show was being filmed for a music video, and the crew told people in the front row that they might get photographed for reaction shots. When I mentioned to the couple next to me that a sure fire way to get on camera was to cry, the apparent director turned around from where he was kneeling near the stage and said, “I’ll pay $500 dollars if you do it,” before adding, “but I think you might cry anyway.” In his first performance since breaking up his former band, Girls, Christopher Owens was set to debut an entire album of new material, and it sounded like a tear-jerker.

Having never been to the room before – the “Lodge” at the Regency Ballroom – I arrived early, expecting a dark basement packed with 300 sweaty bodies jockeying for a spot up near the stage. Instead, what I found on the third floor was an experience similar to the Swedish American: a clean, well-lit room in which to listen to live music.

Seats were set out for the show, and on each one was a dated program for the evening, complete with a setlist and band credits, a special theatrical touch that invoked high-art rather than pop rock. Clearly, along with the taping, Owens meant for it to be a special – or at least different – occasion, and had special requirements of the crowd, which some people did not appreciate.

The stage was set with a large backdrop of a dusty road leading out between a forest. Lysandre is a concept album (which Owens has already explained) based around the first Girls tour in 2008. The backdrop signaled the travelogue aspect, as well as a classical element. It could have been a leftover from a community Shakespeare troupe, and when the show began with a theme that would repeat throughout, complete with Jethro Tull-esque flute from Vince Meghroni, there was a definite old world feel.

This theme alternated with roots rock Americana for the first half of the show, a rising energy that then mellowed out. On one track, Owens detailed the rush of arriving in NYC with the band, singing a chorus of “Here we are in New York City, everybody’s listened to me / Rock and roll in NYC” with a Banana Splits meet “New York, New York” upbeat simplicity.

As it switched over to one of the obviously sad songs, “A Broken Heart,” there was a definite comedown. On the first listen, Lysandre is beset with conflicting emotions, the highs of being on the road and meeting sudden popularity, compete with falling in love, and subsequent breakups occur with both. At times, it seems like personal issue ruined what should have been a great time.

On “Here We Go Again,” the album’s fight song, Owens warns, “Don’t try to get me down, don’t try to harsh my mellow” as the guitar player kicks the theme into its highest pitch, angrily stretching the notes out. But elsewhere, it’s the exact opposite: in closing the album, there are a succession of goodbyes, with the lament that there were always “a couple hundred people in the way.”

In the show’s encore, Owens resisted falling to his back catalogue, and instead played what seemed to be obvious influences on the sound and themes of Lysandre: into the great wide open of Cat Steven’s “Wild World,” the triumphant loneliness of NYC in Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” pining for love with “Let It Be Me,” and breaking up on Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

Against these songs, Lysandre at times risked seeming overly saccharine. (“Kissing and hugging is the air that I breathe/ I’ll always make time for love,” was pushing it in this regard.) But the sunken-eyed Owens – who spoke with an endearing twinge of nervousness between songs – seemed well aware of the risk.

“What if everyone thinks I’m a phony? What if no one gets it? What if everyone gets sick of love songs?” he asks midway through Lysandre. But with a shrug he continues on to the chorus, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, love is in the ear of the listener.”

Live Shots: AU at the Independent


It was my first time seeing Portland’s AU live Saturday night, and I had some important questions I hoped the show would answer. First of all, how does one pronounce AU? Aww? Awe? Oww? Gold? More importantly, how would the band recreate its sound live? I had theories, but as AU began its set at the Independent with its most recent album’s first (and most prominent song) “Epic,” those quickly proved false. There were no guitars.

Drum kit, choir bells, Kord keyboard, Roland sampler, clarinet, glockenspiel, what I believe to be a shekere, and quite a few effects and looping pedal – but no strings at all, which I felt particularly embarrassing, having previewed the show by mentioning that very song and its nonexistent yet “impossibly high rising GY!BE guitars.” This is partly due to my listening abilities,* but also an indication of the current musical landscape, which let’s be honest, can be fairly confusing.

Going relatively blind into a Washed Out show a while back, I remember being surprised to find a full band rather than a guy with a laptop and some other tools. Flying Lotus on another occasion was the reverse experience. The infusion of electronic music and digital production tools across genres has led to a seemingly endless palette, where minimalists can create maximal sounds and vice versa.

With AU, some things were as expected, particularly the base created by drummer Dana Valatka, who plays with a grind that recalls Zach Hill and a exploding control that’s more Buddy Rich. Valatka had a few tricks – playing handbells, for instance, at one point from the back of the room in the merch booth – but is generally rooted in the band’s most traditional role.

On the other extreme was Holland Andrews. On the occasion of her birthday, Andrews alternated between singing and playing the clarinet, a shekere, and at one point, a small handheld glockenspiel. The wide range of sounds she was able to produce was multiplied by the use of a looping pedal. These tools suddenly seemed to be everywhere a few years back, particularly in indie rock, giving individual musicians like Owen Pallett, Merrill Garbus, and Dustin Wong the ability to create a live sound larger than one person. I thought I’d grown tired of their use, but Andrews used it to good effect.

Performing a solo, Bjork-esque song “about going crazy” from her side project, Like a Villain, the singer created a schizophrenic wall of voices that was one of the night’s best moments, after which bandleader Luke Wyland remarked in slight awe, “She’s only 24.”

There’s more to be said about Wyland, the band’s genial center, but it’s largely beyond me at this point. Moving back and forth between solemn intensity and ecstatic excitement, much of the band’s sound – from the orchestral movements on “Crazy Idol” to electronic plotting of “OJ”– is seemingly due to him, behind the Kord, sampler, and whatever else he had up there.

It still left me with questions and reaching for genres, but he did clear one thing up: the name of the band is pronounced similar to a stranger trying to get your attention.

*As a child I’d spent summers at an education camp, where we were only allowed to listen to music (besides the work songs) in guided, “close listening” sessions, tasked with identifying the individual sources of the composition, and understanding both the material conditions/labor that went into each sound. It was a major reason for my escape.

Live Shots: Crystal Castles at the Fox


Arriving early to the Crystal Castles show Monday at the Fox Theater, discovering that one opener, HEALTH, had canceled its performance, and that the photo pit would be off limits for the other, Kontravoid, I was left with some unexpected time on my hands. Time that I spent trying to recall where I had seen the eerily familiar image hung over the stage, of a veiled figure cradling a fragile, vulnerable looking man in their arms.

Presented without context, it could be potentially tenderly romantic or gothically morbid, an ambiguity which seemed to typically invite the sort of let-me-Google-that mystery that recent bands have found so chic.*

But all that gets into a realm of meaning that is largely irrelevant here, because that’s not really what was on display at the Fox last night. Ask someone about a Crystal Castles show and they will mostly recount the spectacle. A woman walked out into the crowd supported by the hands of her fans, in a messianic rock move, or alternately crowd surfed in their arms.

All the while, she was performing with a near epileptic frenzy, mouth agape, spitting words that were largely drowned out by the barrage of beats produced onstage by her partner and a tour drummer. If singer Alice Glass were ever actually sent into a fit by the painful amount of strobes accompanying the show**, it is likely that her cries would go unnoticed.

The tradeoff with such pounding intensity is that there isn’t a whole lot of variety. The music drives and drives, largely due to the production of Ethan Kath, but rarely opens up (“Not in Love” a track featuring clear vocals from the Cure’s Robert Smith remains the exception in this regard) as Glass’s primary mode is a wrenching scream. New tracks, including one instrumental that had both of the main members at the controls, only seem to further the band’s hard, caustic edge.

I imagine that there are few casual Crystal Castles fans, and only two extreme ways to appreciate them: either in a drunken fury or with a finger twitching, phone tapping obsessiveness***. When I went home I immediately opened my laptop, to find that picture, and to look up the new songs.

* And perhaps Crystal Castles more than any other. It is after all – as anyone with a search engine could tell you – a band that emerged so rapidly from the internet underground that even the singer was late to find out about it.

** “Shoot between the beats,” the band’s handler told the photographers as he lead us to the side of the stage. “Otherwise you won’t get anything.” Quite helpful advice, really. He could be seen later in the show at the front of the pit, pulling Alice off of the audience, and he promised to give us a heads up if the singer was about to throw a mic stand in out general direction.

*** Remember watching Lost and then immediately going online to talk about the smoke monster or the map in the hatch? This is the musical equivalent of that.