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Gabe’s Top 25 Albums of 2012

Gabe’s Top 25 Albums of 2012

Dec 13, 2012 | 2 Comments

1.1. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (Def Jam)

1.2. Nicki Minaj – Roman Reloaded (Young Money / Universal)

1.3. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music (Williams Street)

1.4. Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA)

1.5. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Interscope / Geffen)

6. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball (Columbia)

7. Vijay Iyer – Accelerando (ACT)

8. Demdike Stare – Elemental (Modern Love)

9. MNDR – Feed Me Diamonds (Green Label Sound)

10. Pujol – United States of Being (Saddle Creek)

11. Raime – Quarter Turns Over a Living Line (Blackest Ever Black)

12. Neneh Cherry & the Thing – The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)

13. Sky Ferreira – Ghost (Capitol)

14. Purity Ring – Shrines (4AD)

15. Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (Blue Note)

16. Jessie Ware – Devotion (PMR)

17. Branford Marsalis – Four MFs Playin’ Tunes (Marsalis Music)

18. Trebuchet – S/T (Side With Us)

19. Jeremiah Jae – Raw Money Raps (Brainfeeder)

20. Ceremony – Zoo (Matador)

21. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp (Jagjaguwar)

22. Chuck Prophet – Temple Beautiful (Yep Roc)

23. Forgetters – S/T (Too Small to Fail)

24. Quakers – Quakers (Stones Throw)

25. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love)

 

Previous years here, here, and here.

Live Review: Miguel at the Oracle Arena, Oakland

Live Review: Miguel at the Oracle Arena, Oakland

Nov 25, 2012 | No Comments

Miguel Pimentel is a 25-year old singer, songwriter and producer from Los Angeles who has made one of this year’s most bewilderingly satisfying albums, Kaleidoscope Dream. His music is R&B in the same way that Lionel Richie’s solo hits are R&B—instead of simply smoldering rootlessly in the modern formula, it assimilates both pop tropes and sonic experimentation in the pursuit of access to the part of one’s brain that processes an elusive strain called “catchiness.” (Miguel would never stoop to “Dancin’ on the Ceiling,” but a burner like “Runnin’ With the Night” is up his alley.)

His songs, most of which he writes, are incredible, but there’s little clue on Kaleidoscope Dream toward what kind of performer Miguel might be in a live setting. Does he play guitar like Prince, a clear inspiration? Does he pace back and forth, hunched over? I wasn’t sure until, at the Oakland Arena Friday night opening for Trey Songz, the lights went down and the pitch of the audience’s screams went up. Miguel emerged through wisps of a fog machine dressed in a custom-tailored suit, wingtip shoes, acutely tapered slacks, a silver lame shirt, dark shades and his signature hair. He then proceeded to dance with precision and unimaginable verve over every square foot of the stage.

Eminently healthy, Miguel moves like a less-furious James Brown, mentally separating the top portion of his body from the lower wind-up toys that other people might call legs. He is unafraid to laugh at the outrageousness of his own physical ability, as when he executed the famous “falling microphone stand” trick, or when he leaped from the side of the stage, over a six-foot gap, to land standing atop a stack of the arena’s bass woofers.

While all this is going on, Miguel manages to sing far better than most singers who just stand there. Yes, those high falsettos on “Adorn” were perfect. Moreover, he’d change melodies slightly, in subtle ways. On the chorus of “How Many Drinks,” a pyrotechnic singer like Mariah Carey might warble and flutter and yodel all over the chord changes; Miguel sung the sixth instead of the fifth. Simple, and effective.

The set only featured five songs from Kaleidoscope Dream, the rest coming from Miguel’s first album, his mixtapes or his guest spots. Sources mattered little; “in the palm of his hand” is the best description for where he had the crowd. “Thank you so much to the Bay Area,” he said at one point. “You guys supported me before my hometown did. It’s crazy, every time I come to the Bay I think about this special someone who inspired me to write these songs. Maybe you know her.”

Do You…” might’ve lacked the machine-gun drums and popping disco bass of the original, but segued neatly into Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up”; “Lotus Flower Bomb” turned into an enthusiastic singalong; and when Miguel ripped off his shirt during “Pussy is Mine,” well, he basically rendered the arena a helpless pool of female squeals. “Adorn” ended the set, and Miguel, legs flailing as ever, danced back to the uppermost riser, jumped high into the air, and landed perfectly, in the splits. Incredible.

Setlist:
Strawberry Amazing
Sure Thing
The Thrill
How Many Drinks
All I Want Is You
Do You Like Drugs
Lotus Flower Bomb
The Pussy is Mine
Quickie
Adorn

 

Live Review: Chucho Valdés Quintet at the Green Music Center

Live Review: Chucho Valdés Quintet at the Green Music Center

Nov 12, 2012 | 3 Comments

It’s a concert hall hailed for impeccable acoustics, but the Green Music Center had an unfortunate reverberation to deal with after Chucho Valdes’ performance on Sunday night—the mutterings from the audience about the show’s bad sound mix.

Out in the lobby immediately after the show, I ran into a jazz radio DJ and a professional pianist, both going down the list of problems. The piano was tinny and abrasive. The drums were far too loud. The piano, in turn, was turned up in the mix to compensate, which only made everything worse, and although Valdés tried to talk into the microphone after each song, it wasn’t turned on for 40 minutes.

I heard the same problems during the show, but I sat in the seats behind the stage, where the sound is bound to be a little strange. Was it really that bad out on the floor? I decided to find out, and a stroll around the lobby yielded even harsher criticism.

Snoop Dogg to Play Phoenix Theater on Dec. 15
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Snoop Dogg to Play Phoenix Theater on Dec. 15

Nov 8, 2012 | 2 Comments

It’s official, and no, we aren’t joking: Snoop Dogg is playing the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma on Saturday, Dec. 15. If this means that we get to possibly see Tom Gaffey and Snoop Dogg on stage together, all will be amazing in the world.

Tickets go on sale this Saturday, Nov. 10, at 10am.

General admission tickets will be $70, making this the highest-priced ticket at the Phoenix in recent memory—and by “recent,” I mean “since 1989.” But consider that when Snoop plays in San Francisco, tickets cost over fifty bucks anyway, and minus gas and toll and parking, and it’s the Phoenix, for chrissakes, well… I’m betting it’ll quickly sell out.

If you’re a Snoop superfan, there’s also a VIP meet-and-greet option, including a photo with Snoop himself and special tour merchandise, priced at—drumroll please—$350.

Got your mind on your money and your money on your mind? You can get tickets, starting Saturday at 10am, here.

(UPDATE: Snoop’s also playing the Uptown Theatre in Napa the night before, on Friday, Dec. 14. Tickets are $60, and go on sale this Saturday at noon right here. If you can’t get Phoenix tickets on Saturday, that’s a good option—the Uptown is a great place to see a show.)

What Music is Like at the World Series

What Music is Like at the World Series

Oct 28, 2012 | No Comments

The first thing we notice walking into the ballpark for Game One of the World Series? The music, of course. “Friend of the Devil” is playing over the PA, which isn’t surprising, considering the Grateful Dead are still revered in San Francisco and Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery is a huge deadhead. Here he is singing the national anthem with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh in the NLCS—you gotta love that fist-pump by Lesh—but even in the offseason, Flannery plays with his band, the Lunatic Fringe, sometimes in benefit appearances for Bryan Stow and sometimes just for the hell of it. Flannery’s been a musician since a young age. “When I was young,” he says, “I thought I was John Denver.” I love Flannery for his gutsiness and smarts when it comes to, say, sending Buster Posey home against all apparent odds, but you gotta love him for his laid-back life off the field too.

Pomp and regalia are in full bloom at the ballpark, with bunting draped over every level’s banister and, after batting practice, old-time organ music: “Good Day Sunshine,” “Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie,” and others played in that inimitable ballpark style. We thought it might be Dave “Baby” Cortez and his Happy Organ, who made a comeback last year, but nope—here’s a shout out Steve Hogan, the Giants organist who sits up there near the huge Coke bottle in left field and waits for instructions from the sound manager over whether to play “Charge” or “Jaws.” Watch this dry little video about his day-to-day task of tickling the Hammond, and try to tell me it isn’t the best job in baseball.

In the lead-up to the game, the PA represents both teams: “Sing a Simple Song” by Sly and the Family Stone, from San Francisco, and “White Trash Party” by Eminem, from Detroit. (Neutral parties are given “Intro” by the xx, among the best manifestations of bland neutrality since the “chillout” craze.) The way that Sly Stone has crashed and burned in recent years decades, this might not be the best talisman of hope for the Giants, but not exactly to the Tigers’ benefit, either, since the Eminem song celebrates, uh, tramp stamps.

Review and Photos: Santa Rosa Symphony Orchestral Opening at the Green Music Center

Review and Photos: Santa Rosa Symphony Orchestral Opening at the Green Music Center

Oct 1, 2012 | 6 Comments

By now, you’ve read about how many millions went into the Green Music Center, you’ve seen photos of Sonoma County movers and shakers in tuxedos and gowns, you’ve read about the hall’s world-class lineup and perfect acoustics, and maybe you’ve thought, “Oh well, I’m not part of Santa Rosa’s upper crust—doubt I’ll ever be able to go there.”

Guess what? It’s just not true. Although last night’s grand opening twinkled with glitterati, from Nancy Pelosi to Governor Jerry Brown, today’s Santa Rosa Symphony opening offered a look at exactly how the common person can enjoy the place. White-collar donors, blue-collar fans, y’all.

I was headed to the hardware store today, to be honest, and I was certainly dressed for the plumbing aisle in cutoffs, tennies, and a T-shirt. Halfway to Friedman Bros., though, the lingering buzz from last night’s opening caused a spontaneous left turn onto Petaluma Hill Road to get myself to the 2pm symphony opening. “I’ve been watching the Santa Rosa Symphony for 25 years,” I thought to myself, “and I’m going to miss Corrick Brown, Jeffrey Kahane and Bruno Ferrandis inaugurating a beautiful new venue. . . . so I can work on plumbing? Am I nuts?”

So, bypassing the long line of Lexuses clogging Petaluma Hill Road near the Green Music Center, I parked my clunky old car in the south lot of SSU and caught the shuttle. (This is tip No. 1.) Waited for a while in line at the box office, and then asked, “Do you have any lawn tickets?” Yes, they did. What’s more, lawn tickets were free. That’s right: F-R-E-E.

I felt underdressed for a symphony opening, but lots of other people out on the lawn were wearing shorts, too. Some were eating hot dogs. Others were laying flat on their back in the grass. A few dudes were drinking Lagunitas IPA. See those trees down the side of the concrete walkway in the photo below? That’s considered “lawn,” too, meaning you can sit just as close for a fraction of the cost—we sat far off to the side, but still, right up front.

So, yeah, did I mention the concession stands? Formerly, the Santa Rosa Symphony food offerings were limited to wine and cookies. I scanned the menu today, which included salads, wraps and fruit bowls, and got a burger. It was five bucks. Another three bucks bought my three-year-old a hot dog. That’s half the cost of ballpark prices, right there.

And about that three-year-old of mine. There’s no way I could have brought her to a grand opening of the symphony at its old home. Outside on the lawn seemed like a safe bet. Being able to talk to her about the pieces, the instruments and the performers while we listened to the music and watched the jumbotrons on either side of the lawn made it a special daddy-daughter outing—her first symphony. Those with kids, take note.

Yes, it was hot. But that’s another bonus of the lawn’s casual nature: if you want to leave, you just get up and leave, without worry of disapproving stares from the benefactor’s circle. Plenty of tables were abandoned by the end of the program, and we bailed just before the end of Bolero to beat both the heat and the traffic. In doing so, we passed even more people who were lounging around barefoot, fanning themselves in tank tops or flip-flops, or just plain sleeping on the ground. Sleeping on the ground, at the symphony! Crazy!

From the Notebook: What a treat it was to watch Corrick Brown conduct again, and yet the highlight for me was Jeffrey Kahane, whose piano playing I’ll take over Lang Lang’s any day. His notes have far more definition, and unlike Lang Lang, he extracts from the score what the composer truly intends instead of what he believes will most titillate the crowd. . . . Symphony Executive Director Alan Silow waxed the usual rhapsodies about the hall, predicting that in ten years, Sonoma County would become as well-known a destination for the performing arts as we are for our wine. But he also delivered a veiled reference to election year, noting that the emotional connection music provides can be “a really healing force in a divided world.” . . . Charlie Schlangen, symphony board president, thanked several of the hall’s donors, and Don and Maureen Green stood up to receive another sustained, thunderous standing ovation . . . Seated applause for all the others.

Schlangen also thanked the city of Santa Rosa, and the Santa Rosa Visitors’ Bureau; if I’m not mistaken, there was no mention of Rohnert Park from the stage. You might think this a curious omission for a Rohnert Park-situated orchestra, but between retaining the name “Santa Rosa Symphony” and applying for and receiving a $15,000 grant paid for by a business improvement tax on Santa Rosa hotels, the symphony clearly has designs on keeping ties to its hometown. Their main offices are still right across from Santa Rosa City Hall, so what the hell. . . . Oh! Kudos to Nolan Gasser, composer of Sonoma Overture, written for this day—the piece danced along fantastically—lively, triumphant and very early-20th-Century-American-sounding. After the orchestra pounded out the final downbeat, the hall erupted, and Gasser himself came from the wings for his bow. Always a treat to stand and personally applaud the composer. . . . Over at the PD, there’s possibly the world’s eeriest photo of Bruno Ferrandis. Someone cast this guy in a Lars Von Trier film! . . . And I gotta say, the tradition of the gong being struck at the beginning of all shows at the Green Music Center is a fun one, presumably with rotating honors, like throwing in the first pitch or ringing the NASDAQ morning bell. Note to self: new life goal. Strike gong.

More Photos Below.

Live Review and Photos: Lang Lang at the Green Music Center Grand Opening

Live Review and Photos: Lang Lang at the Green Music Center Grand Opening

Sep 30, 2012 | 3 Comments

It started with a gong, and ended with a bang.

When we remember the grand opening of the Green Music Center years from now, we’ll talk about the hall. We’ll talk about the pianist on stage, Lang Lang. But we’ll also talk about the see-and-be-seen atmosphere, and the fact that for one night, dignitaries like Jerry Brown and Nancy Pelosi visited the otherwise quiet suburb of Rohnert Park.

“It’s a marvel,” said Governor Brown of the hall, casually sipping a glass of wine near a stageside box seat and chatting amiably with the public during intermission. “I’m glad to be here.”

Glad, too, were the other 3,400 estimated people in attendance witnessing this rare, strange piece of history. Strange because of the long, obstacle-laden ride toward opening the hall at a public university, and rare because, really, how often does the governor pop in on Sonoma State University? (Overheard was at least one younger attendee pleading with him to increase funding for education, alas.)

But the whole point of the night was the venue’s debutante ball, with Lang Lang as its chaperone. After a ceremonial gong pealed from the outdoor balcony, SSU President Ruben Armiñana stood on stage to announce visiting luminaries and major donors. Jerry Brown? Oh, he got a polite round of applause and all. He certainly couldn’t compete with namesake donors Donald and Maureen Green, the first to contribute financially to the project, who received a rapturous standing ovation.

Sandy Weill then took the podium, gazed over the hall that bears his name, and elicited the first unintentional laugh of the night. “To see a music center like this being part of the campus of Sonoma State,” he said, “will make this university known all over the world through our priceless partnership with Mastercard.” (It wasn’t a joke, but the crowd chuckled anyway.) Before ceding the stage to Lang Lang, Weill also expressed gratitude for the Harvest Moon, meant to bring good luck; if every performance is as special as tonight’s, the hall may not need it.

There are a few reasons why Lang Lang was a perfect choice with which to open the concert space. One is his popularity. Two, his dramatic, flamboyant stage presence is apropos for an event imbued with such importance. But for purposes of introducing the hall’s fine-tuned acoustics, Lang Lang’s touch is incredible. Tonight, his notes seemed to emerge out of thin air, and then dissipated just as smoothly. During Mozart’s Sonata No. 5, the hall responded to even the tiniest nuance, amplifying each dynamic choice, like droplets hitting a glassy-surfaced lake at dawn and producing pure, clean ripples in the water.

After the Mozart sonatas, Chopin’s Ballades 1 through 4 comprised the second set, where the hall had a chance to bench-press Lang Lang’s dexterity. At times, the pianist seemed to extend certain phrases simply to hear the reverberation; then again, taking liberties with the score is as much a hallmark of Lang Lang’s performances as selling the material. And boy, is Lang Lang a power seller—when his fingers hit a key, it’s not just his finger hitting that key. The force originates somewhere in his back, his feet, the air—take your pick—and glides through his body, with a pitstop at the face for emotive expression, to delicately trickle through the epidermal border and finally channel into the piano.

At the end of the prepared program, Lang Lang addressed the audience, off-mic. “I know that we are really proud to have this beautiful hall in this wonderful community,” he said. “And I know it took a really long time.”

Then, mentioning it was his first time performing any of the pieces in the program, Lang Lang suggested something familiar: a Chopin nocturne. Another encore followed, the applause was lenghty and hearty, and the lights came up.

The concert was over, but the night didn’t end there. SSU arranged for fireworks after the set, bursting above patrons in their gowns outside on the red carpet and on the large, expansive lawn. Classical piano gave way to John Philip Sousa, Ray Charles, Kenny Chesney and R. Kelly while huge explosions popped overhead, illuminating the courtyard, the parking lot half-full of Priuses and Lexuses and the VIPs gallivanting at the aftershow gala.

Without a doubt, a new era for the arts dawns in Sonoma County.

More photos below.

Dub C Crew, “Wine Country”

Sep 13, 2012 | One Comment

Forget 40s of Old English. Forget Patrón. Here’s Moe Green, Cameron Washington, and Jairo “Rojah” Vargas with “Wine Country”—filmed in Sonoma:

Live Review: Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke at the Napa Valley Opera House

Live Review: Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke at the Napa Valley Opera House

Sep 10, 2012 | One Comment

It was the type of show that you drive home from, only to come through the door, sit down in your living room and wish that you had a recording so you could listen to it all over again. Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke: three jazz legends, all headliners in their own right. What sort of miracle brought them together in a trio? Jack DeJohnette’s 70th birthday, that’s what. “I asked them if they’d like to help me celebrate,” DeJohnette said from the Napa Valley Opera House stage tonight, “and to my surprise, they said yes.”

When you’ve got such artistic heft flying by all at once, it’s hard to keep up. Which, of course, was part of the fun. Clarke’s percussive harmonics to open “Light as a Feather,” with Corea reaching into the piano to dampen the strings. DeJohnette’s horse-clop rhythm to begin “Someday My Prince Will Come,” as if said prince was riding in on a stallion. Corea clapping along with DeJohnette during Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-Me.” All were little easter eggs in a 90-minute set of constant, conscious interplay, full of head-nods, smiles, raised eyebrows and pointing among the three men.

The applause from the audience, who’d already given the trio a warm welcome, continued to increase throughout the night until the set closer, McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance.” I’d seen DeJohnette play the same composition with Tyner in 2002, and tonight, 10 years later, he played it with even more fire and propulsion. When it came time for his drum solo, he dedicated five minutes to soloing solely on one ride cymbal—which if you weren’t there sounds indulgent and dull, but was perhaps the most captivating moment of the night.

DeJohnette has just one more show with this dream trio, and then he’s back to playing with his regular band. Those who caught this historic collaboration, either in Napa, Santa Cruz, or at Yoshi’s… they know how lucky they are.

Callie Watts, Straight-Up Kicking Ass With Frobeck

Callie Watts, Straight-Up Kicking Ass With Frobeck

Aug 26, 2012 | 3 Comments

You probably know Callie Watts as a waitress at Mac’s Deli in downtown Santa Rosa, slinging hashbrowns and pastrami sandwiches by day. The lucky ones have known her as a total dynamo on the mic by night, a powerhouse vocalist with deep roots in soul and R&B. (True story: Once, while at a booth at Mac’s, I happened to sing the namesake chorus to Tower of Power’s “Don’t Change Horses,” and Callie, nearby, picked right up and belted out “…in the middle of the stream! / giddy-up! / giddy-up!”—and danced off, plates in hand, into the kitchen.)

Callie’s sung with almost as many bands as she’s served omelets over the years, but man, has she ever found her groove with the great local band Frobeck, who’ve just released a new album, 624. The album features the regular band—Spencer Burrows, Kris Dilbeck, Steve Froberg, and Jonathan Lazarus—plus the “Frobeck Horn Stars” and, in an awesomely appropriate guest spot, Bill Champlin.

‘Course, Callie’s on there too. Here’s video of a Callie Watts spotlight from Frobeck’s record-release show last night at Hopmonk, and though the footage is shaky, the performance is solid as hell:

Catch Frobeck at a stage near you, and check out 624 here.