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Live Review: Good Friday Stabat Mater at St. Vincent’s Church

Live Review: Good Friday Stabat Mater at St. Vincent’s Church

Apr 18, 2014 | No Comments

The rear windows at St. Vincent's Church in Petaluma were designed by Tiffany.

Sitting, eyes closed, in St. Vincent’s church in Petaluma, the usual first world annoyances do not penetrate my skin, neither physically nor mentally. The uncomfortable wooden pew, the cell phone ring—they hold no power now, not while countertenor Chris Fritzche and soprano Carol Menke sing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with Marilyn Thompson transcribing the full score, on sight, to church organ.

Giovanni Pergolesi composed his Stabat Mater in 1736, just a couple weeks before his death. The piece shares life timing with Mozart’s Reqiuem—his was composed on his deathbed, supposedly finished by another’s hand. Both are each composer’s most moving efforts. The pieces even share similar setting—the death and rebirth of Jesus—but Pergolesi’s is about half as long as Mozart’s, but still packs the same emotional wallop.

The music descended from the rear balcony as Good Friday churchgoers filed in the the noon mass. We saw no musicians but heard ethereal voices telling the story of a mother’s pain of watching her son die at the hands of another, holding him in her arms after his final breath had been taken. The English translation of the Latin text was read from the pulpit between movements, but otherwise not a word was spoken.

Religious or not, it was a very moving afternoon.

The 45-minute piece is divided into twelve movements. It’s quite varied, but the somber duets are the most transcendent moments, especially with the low bass of St. Vincent’s organ resonating the ribs while the notes resonate the heart. Gosh, that a cheesy take on such a magnificent piece, but sacred music is meant to be evocative.

Mozart’s Reqiuem is one of the most celebrated pieces of music ever composed. The D minor Mass is the most moving piece of religious music in the Western world, but it has a predecessor that moves me even more: Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Fritzche and a few other very talented singers in the North Bay perform this piece semi-regularly, and any chance to see it should not be passed up. It is traditionally performed with a small Baroque orchestra, but the arrangement is inconsequential to the music. It’s one of those pieces that’s just plain beautiful.

Live Review: John Legend at the Wells Fargo Center

Live Review: John Legend at the Wells Fargo Center

Apr 2, 2014 | No Comments

John Legend is a hard working performer. His two-hour concert at the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa last night showed off not only his work ethic, but showcased his velvety voice and storytelling prowess in an intimate setting that was designed to feel like his living room. The only difference being, as the exquisitely dressed singer said during the show, “I don’t normally wear a suit in my living room.”

He really hammed it up at times for the crowd, who ate up his every word—except the gaff toward the end, when he said, “I mean, this is the Napa Valley, right?” This led to applause, briefly (because he was so charming, everything he said resulted in applause), but soon turned to boos. That’s right, Sonomans are so passionate about terrior they booed John Legend for making a minor geographical error. When he corrected his error with an embarrassed smile, “Oh, Sonoma Valley, right?” the applause resumed.

He mostly sat at the Yamaha grand piano, tickling the ivories with a young string quartet on the right of the stage and a guitarist to the left. When he brought the mic downstage and perched on a stool to serenade the crowd, women—and men—started squirming in their seats. Every John Legend song is a recipe for “making little tax breaks,” as he says, and though he doesn’t guarantee anything at the end of the night, “ya know…” he trails off before a knowing shrug, “you know.”

The intimate evening was staged with five loveseats occupied by couples who won tickets through radio promotions, with huge Hollywood movie lights towering above, lighting Legend from the back. Lighting against the back wall changed colors, and was especially useful during “Green Light,” one of his best songs of the night. The sound in the newly renovated space was crisp and loud. It felt like a larger space, but we were so close we could see the lack of sweat on Legend’s face. (Prince also lacks sweat glands, maybe they went to the same voodoo doctor for their musical talent.)

Women did a lot of the hooting and hollering through the night, but the fellas were cheering especially boisterously after a powerful solo piano cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” He told a aw-shucks story about performing it on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon at the behest of that show’s musical director, the drummer ?uestlove, but never hearing if the Boss liked it or not. Months later, he says, he received a hand-signed letter asking him to play it at an awards gala. “I guess he liked it,” Legend said with a smile.

He paced the show perfectly, with some segments featuring three or four songs back to back, and some getting breaks between while he told stories. My favorite was when he met President Obama last year. After getting married to supermodel Christine Teigen earlier in the year, he asked Obama for marriage advice. Michelle chimed in, “How long had you been together before you got married?” He said about five years. “What took you so long?” the President asked, which earned Legend a glare from his new wife. Legend turned to the chuckling crowd, deadpan, and said, “Thanks, President Obama.”

Bottlerock Lineup Announced—Welcome Back to the ’90s!
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Bottlerock Lineup Announced—Welcome Back to the ’90s!

Mar 14, 2014 | No Comments


Welcome to Bottlerock, 1999! The Napa music festival announced the lineup for its second annual concert, and it’s full of ‘90s nostalgia. Weezer? LL Cool J? Outkast? Ok, I get those, but Third Eye Blind? Barenaked Ladies? Smash Mouth? That’s where I’m lost. I mean, Smash Mouth actually played at the Sonoma-Marin Fair three times in the past eight years. At least Bottlerock didn’t book Tower of Power and Elvin Bishop (nothing against those excellent groups but they play the fair every year, too). Want more ‘90s? Blues Travelor. De La Soul. Spin Doctors. Gin Blossoms. Camper Van Beethoven. Oh, how I wish I were making this up.

The Cure is also headlining, as is Heart. So there’s some ‘80s love being spread around, too. But these old-school bands are being placed alongside hip, young acts like Robert Delong, Empires and Deerhunter. Shoutout to Moonalice for representing the North Bay, maybe they’ll challenge Matisyahu, Sublime with Rome and Tea Leaf Green for the most smoke-filled stage. Oh, and country star Eric Church is the other big name, here. Robert Earl Keen is also playing. Diverse, indeed.

There’s still “more to come,” but I can’t imagine any huge names being announced. Spread out over three days, this will make for an interesting concert. Three-day passes are $249, and will rise to $279 soon. Single-day tickets are not yet on sale, but when they were available last week (at a discounted Napa residents price), they were $129.

As for this little gem, you’re welcome.

The full lineup, mostly for SEO purposes:
The Cure
Outkast
Eric Church
Barenaked Ladies
Ben Sollee
Blues Traveler
Camper Van Beethoven
Cracker
De La Soul
Deerhunter
Delta Rae
Ed Kowalczyk
Empires
Gin Blossoms
Heart
Howie Day
Hurray For The Riff Raff
James Otto
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
Keep Shelly In Athens
LL Cool J
Matisyahu
Matt and Kim
Miner
Moon Taxi
Moonalice
Robert DeLong
Robert Earl Keen
Smash Mouth
Spin Doctors
Sublime with Rome
Tea Leaf Green
The Black Angels
The Fray
The Stone Foxes
Thee Oh Sees
Third Eye Blind
Victory
Weezer

Help Out Frank and Get Tickets for Hayhurt’s Hip Trip
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Help Out Frank and Get Tickets for Hayhurt’s Hip Trip

Mar 4, 2014 | 2 Comments

Frank Hayhurst, Francis Rico, the Zone Music guy; no matter how you know him, you probably know him as a good guy who doesn’t think twice about helping out musicians in need. Now that he can use a little help, he’s asking for it in the most fun way imaginable: by hosting a barbecue with over a dozen musical acts.

Hayhurst, who owned the landmark Cotati music store Zone Music for over 20 years and started the nonprofit Musicians Helping Musicians Foundation, recently underwent successful hip surgery. He feels great now, says the musician-shaman-author, but as anyone who has spent time in a hospital bed knows, medical bills can be staggering, even with insurance covering most of the tab. And this event is just $10, with food options by Rasta Dwight’s BBQ from $5–$15 and beer from Lagunitas available, too.

Musicians include: Gator Nation, Uncle Wiggly, Danny sorentino, Levi Lloyd, Onye Onyemaechi, Sarah Baker, Allyson Page and many, many more, including the legendary Bronze Hog. Frank Hayhurst’s Hip Trip goes down Sunday, March 23 at the Sebastopol Community Center. 7985 Valentine Ave., Sebastopol. 5–9:30pm. $10.

Napa Officials Profess Love For New Bottlerock Festival Producers
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Napa Officials Profess Love For New Bottlerock Festival Producers

Feb 28, 2014 | 2 Comments

Dave Grohl at a screening last year of "Sound City" at the Uptown Theater in Napa

Bottlerock, the weekend-long Napa music festival that began with a bang last year but nearly fizzled when it wound up owing almost $10 million to everyone from food vendors to port-o-potty providers, has announced that it will return this year under new ownership. Today, it was revealed that not only do the new producers have support from city officials, they’re ahead of the curve as far as submitting permits for the event at the Napa Valley Expo. “I appreciate the fact that Latitude 38 has brought in a team that has us far ahead of planning at this point last year,” says Napa Police Captain Steve Potter in a press release.

This is revealing for two reasons. First, it shows the faith city officials have in the new producers. The city was shorted over $100,000 the first time, and the Expo Center itself was owed over $300,000. Now, with new producers, everyone is all smiles. “The Latitude 38 team has the right business experience, skill sets and vision to make BottleRock Napa Valley thrive in 2014,” says Napa mayor Jill Techel in a statement. “BottleRock puts Napa on the map in a new and good way and as mayor, I look forward to Napa hosting it again.” Wow, that’s almost second base, right there. Keep the lights on, you two.

Bands will be announced in mid-March, say the event producers, but judging from last year’s lineup, which included the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, the Shins, Zac Brown Band, Jane’s Addiction, the Flaming Lips, Primus, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the Black Crowes and many others, it will be a big deal. At a pre-concert screening of his movie, “Sound City” last year at the Uptown Theater in Napa, Dave Grohl said it didn’t work out logistically that year, but if Bottlerock happened in 2014 the Foo Fighters would play the festival. That would be pretty darned cool. And while we’re making suggestions, at least one music fan is crossing his fingers for Prince to be top the list of headliners this year, too.

This year’s festival takes place May 30–June 1 at the Napa Valley Expo.

Jason Mraz to Play Solo Show at Green Music Center
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Jason Mraz to Play Solo Show at Green Music Center

Feb 18, 2014 | No Comments

Jason Mraz will need to sing extra loud to fill the specious halls of the Green Music Center. Sonoma State University announced today that the songwriter of “I’m Yours” will play a solo acoustic show in the beautiful main hall Sunday, March 16 at 8pm. Tickets go on sale to the general public Friday, Feb. 21 at 10am.

The prestigious concert hall is an arena much larger than Mraz’ humble beginnings in San Diego coffee shops, but that’s what two Grammy awards will do to a career. Raining Jane open the show. Click here for ticket information.

Live Photos: Bob Weir & Ratdog at Sweetwater Music Hall
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Live Photos: Bob Weir & Ratdog at Sweetwater Music Hall

Feb 7, 2014 | One Comment

Bob Weir and RatDog performed a “warm up show” at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley Wednesday night. The band, which included guitar virtuoso Steve Kimock, performed for around three hours. The intimate, sold out show included favorites like “Estimated Prophet,” “Cassidy” and a unique cover of Miles Davis’ “Milestones.” Photos by Jamie Soja.

Live Review: Mat Callahan sings James Connolly

Live Review: Mat Callahan sings James Connolly

Jan 18, 2014 | No Comments

Mat Callahan at the Arlene Francis Center

The cyclical nature of revolution songs is undeniable. Take a song from 100 years ago and it will be, at least in part, relevant today. Take, for example, the songs of Irish revolutionary James Connolly.

Mat Callahan, who fronted the San Francisco political punk/worldbeat band the Looters in the 80s, has compiled a book of Connolly’s music from original publications long thought lost to history. The book is put together well, with just enough history to give a sense of Connolly’s importance but relying mostly on the man’s own words from his music, all of which was written over 100 years ago. Connolly, a leading Marxist theorist in his day and was executed by the British in 1916.

Callahan and his wife Yvonne Moore, who now call Switzerland home, performed about a dozen songs on acoustic guitar and vocals at the Arlene Francis Center Friday night. The performance was the most punk rock thing I’ve seen all year, and will hold that title for at least a while. The duo sent a frozen shiver down my spine with lines like, “The people’s flag is deepest red, it shrouded oft our martyred dead; and ere their limbs grew stiff and cold, their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold.”

Santa Rosan Robert Ethington opened the show with original songs on acoustic guitar, accompanied by his wife Amy on vocals. They played a handful of powerful songs, suggesting they’d be a treat to see as a headlining act.

The album, “Songs of Freedom,” includes fully orchestrated versions of the songs Callahan and Moore played Friday night. It’s got Callahan’s worldbeat sensibility and arrangement, with guitar, bass, drums, Irish whistles, pipes, vocal harmony, fiddle, accordion and harp. The production is excellent, and the arrangements are updated to modern sensibility without losing their original feeling. Some tunes to Connolly’s songs were lost, so Callahan wrote original music to his lyrics. It serves to note that Connolly’s main purpose of putting these revolutionary words to music was for people to sing them and remember them, so many of the tunes are actually traditional country songs or somewhat hokey, simple melodies. They sound best when sung with 100 of your closest, most fed-up-with-the-system friends.

Get the book and CD here. It’s perfect for fans of history, revolution and Mat Callahan, each of which is equally important.

Here’s where you can catch this great show:

Review: Beyoncé (2013)

Review: Beyoncé (2013)

Dec 17, 2013 | No Comments

Yowza. Beyonce in the video for "Drunk in Love"

Thanks a lot, Beyoncé. Your secret album, released Friday, Dec. 13 at midnight only on iTunes, has royally fucked up everyone’s “best albums of 2013” lists.

Your album of 14 fantastic songs and 17 stunning and super sexy videos has thrown a wrench into the giant cogs of the music industry. You’re like the new Charlie Chaplin in our “Modern Times” (Bey, I’m really happy for you, and Im’a let you finish, but Charlie Chaplin had one of the greatest movies of all time. Of all time!). This complete surprise to everyone, including music industry insiders, had no promotion, zero buzz, nary a tweet before its release, and it sold 80,000 copies in its first three hours—midnight to 3am EST. It sold over 617,000 copies in the United States and over 828,000 worldwide in its first three days, purely in digital format. Only the whole album was available, no singles, and it cost $16. That means over $13 million was spent in three days for something that doesn’t exist in the physical world (that comes this Friday). You probably pocketed more than $6 million in three days. You win the music business, now onto the actual music.

Let’s take a look at just a few songs, here. Taking a cue from your videos, Beyoncé, we will tease the shit out of our audience to the point where further action is required, like in “Partition,” when you dance in a bejeweled string bikini with another woman in a jail cell with fuzzy rubber bars under sexy leopard print lights while your husband, Jay Z, watches, smoking a cigar in a movie theater seat.

“Blow,” which has been confirmed as one of the first two singles on the album, is a poppy disco number, taking the “Get Lucky” baton from Daft Punk and turning it into an even more sexual object than it already was. You stroll in to a roller disco in denim bikini bottoms, then cut away to a dance number under blacklight with dancers in half of a neon ‘80s workout outfit. I’m so confused when the those bubblegum-pop sound effects happen behind naughty lyrics that the FCC can’t do a damn thing about. “You can eat my Skittles, it’s the sweetest in the middle,” you proclaim. “Pink is the flavor: solve the riddle,” you suggest with a wink, leaving millions of parents struggling to come up with a suitable answer when their children ask what that answer might be.

Perhaps that was your goal. You’re a woman who is more than comfortable with her sexuality, a feminist that likes to show off her body. Perhaps it was your intention to start that conversation early in young girls’ lives, give them a role model and a reason to be comfortable with their own bodies. Or maybe you just wanted to shoot some really hot videos with your husband on the beach, as is the case in “Drunk in Love,” the second single off the album. In a black and white beach scene at night, you’re acting a little buzzed, stumbling around in a bikini with a huge trophy. You sing with that power growl in your voice before getting soft and tender, just like I do when I’m drunk. Your husband comes into the scene and raps about domestic violence champions Mike Tyson and Ike Turner before redeeming himself with the line, “Your breastseses are my breakfastses.” And even that complete, ahem, buzzkill, doesn’t diminish the sexiness of this video one bit.

Superpower, your duet with Frank Ocean, just had to happen. You saw someone with a voice almost as good as yours, and took it from him like Ursula the Sea Witch (and now a “Little Mermaid” reference? Yes. Deal with it). What did you promise him in return? He already has legs—wait, was that it? Did you give him legs? Anyway, the video takes place in a post-revolution world where everyone is dressed really well, lighting fires in cars, spray painting escalators in abandoned shopping malls, waving flags of no particular affiliation. You gave your fellow Destiny’s Child stars top billing here, perhaps it’s a nod to your subversive move in releasing this album your way and not getting fucked over by the music industry. You’re taking charge and bringing your like-minded fashionistas with you. The fact that your crew stops just short of clashing with riot police in the end of the video shows that you’re willing to let the other side change with you rather than suffer the bloody violence of an all-out war. Because blood isn’t as sexy as black mascara.

When it was time to get vulnerable, which is one of the greatest things about this album, by the way, you chose Drake to make that happen. “Mine” starts with a confession and a question, “I haven’t felt like myself since the baby. Are we even gonna make it?” Wow, that’s powerful stuff, even if you weren’t half of a music biz supercouple. The contemporary dance number is interrupted by Drake, who sounds like he’s singing a Drake song into a telephone, before jumping back to your point of view. I like that you put the man’s perspective in there, too. I like more that you even made sure to keep the emotional and fragile song as sexy as possible. It really ties the whole album together.

You say this whole thing was an attempt to show your vision with nobody standing in your way. You cited Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as an influence and example of what you were going for. It’s one thing to cite the best pop song (and music video) ever made as your guide, but it’s another to do it 17 times and release it all at once. Your dedication, hard work and confidence smacks me in the face when I imagine how much effort it is for me sometimes to get off the couch and make dinner instead of calling for a pizza. You released the album while on tour supporting your previous album. That takes balls. You’ve got balls, Beyoncé. You’ve solidified your place not just among great pop stars, but great artists. Here’s hoping this is the shakeup the music industry needed to stop recycling the same boring ideas and pump some fresh life into the bigwigs at the top.

Live Review: Treasure Island Music Festival 2013

Live Review: Treasure Island Music Festival 2013

Oct 21, 2013 | 2 Comments

View from the Ferris Wheel on Treasure Island


Treasure Island Music Festival is more than just music, it’s an experience. The festival is so well produced that it wouldn’t be difficult to have a good time having never heard of any of the bands playing. The seventh incarnation of the two-day festival wrapped up yesterday, and it was another beaming success. In addition to music, there is a shopping area, arts and crafts tent, zine and comic library, silent disco (live DJ spinning for wireless headphone-wearing listeners), food trucks, a Ferris wheel, bubbles and the best people watching money can buy. Wow, that last part sounded creepy, but you get the idea.

But there’s also music—lots of it. Each stage is timed down to the minute, so there is never a dull moment. There’s also never a moment to let the ears relax, and the only booth with earplugs was selling them for a buck a pair. Note for next year, guys: GIVE AWAY FREE EARPLUGS.

I’ve listed some favorites and least favorites, not based on the quality of their set (I’m sure there are fans of the bands who might think it was the band’s best performance ever), but on entertainment quality from an outside perspective. I must stress that even what I found to be the most banal of musical performances still turned out to be quite entertaining.

Saturday’s Favorites

Atoms For Peace

Atoms For Peace: 4.5/5 Incredible texture from this group of musically sensitive players, with Flea leading the charge via driving, lead-focused bass guitar. Felt almost like a post rock version of Radiohead with Flea on bass (he is his own adjective). Very cold weather led to most people leaving before the end of the second encore (myself included), which is a shame since that’s when they played the Thom Yorke song “Black Swan,” arguably the best from his solo album.

Little Dragon: 3.5/5 Good stage presence and real instruments made this a highlight on a day of laptop-driven DJ tunes and pumping bass. Singer Yukimi Nagano flows musically and visually as the leader of this electronic music group. They split the difference with a live drummer playing an electronic drum kit.

Danny Brown

Danny Brown: 3.5/5 Once the sound engineer figured out how to properly mix rap vocals (it took a couple songs), Danny Brown’s nasally, violent delivery emerged and piqued the ears of festivalgoers that might not have come specifically to see the last-minute replacement for Tricky. The early performance was a good boost of live human energy to contrast the repetitive bass and synthesizer drum sounds the rest of the day had in store.

Saturday’s Least Favorites

Major Lazer

Major Lazer: 2/5 About 20 minutes into the set, we figured out that Major Lazer is actually just a group of hype men. There are no real instruments, no actual music being made. The three dudes in suits trade off turns at the elevated laptop station at the back of the stage, but there was no singing no playing of anything. Just guys on wireless mics yelling at everyone to jump and put their hands up. By the end of the set everyone was so tired they chose to be berated for not following directions rather than expend one more joule of energy on this choreographed high school dance.

Disclosure: 2/5 In haiku: such low energy / could not keep my eyes open / what was that you said?

Sunday’s Favorites
STRFKR: 4.5/5 Not surprised that this electro-indie group was top notch, but surprised at how well their albums translated to live performance. They know their music is, at times, slow to develop. But they spruce up the show with visuals, like two dudes in padded sumo suits going at it for a couple tunes. They even played along with the bits, and it didn’t sacrifice the quality of the music.

James Blake: 4/5 Great soundtrack for the day shifting gears into cold night. Focused songs had energy in their own way, giving a nice break from nonstop dancing. Blake is an excellent performer whose passion is evident when he plays. His songs feature piano and good songwriting, a timeless, classic combination.

Haim

Haim: 4/5 Wow. These girls rocked harder than anyone at the festival. The three sisters and their male drummer had a sound reminiscent of Prince, during his more rocking moments, and even captured some funk to go with it. Their “girl power” shtick was a little heavy at times, like when they spoke at length how they now know what Beyonce feels like when the wind blows hair into their mouths, and when they squealed with delight when handed candy from the crowd. But I’m not a young girl, so maybe it was indeed the perfect concert set for their target audience. Either way, it was impressive.

Sunday’s least favorites:
Animal Collective: 1.5/5 Sometimes art is so conceptual that it goes over my head. I was hoping this was the case with Animal Collective, and at one point I actually asked a friend if they knew what the point was supposed to be. Nobody knew. I’m not sure Animal Collective knew. A very cool stage set (inflatable teeth with individual projections made the stage look like a gigantic open mouth) and light show helped slightly, but the music was so repetitive and the melodies so simply and leading nowhere that I left to watch football about two-thirds of the way through. I still heard the music (it was impossible not to from anywhere on the island, really), and still was not impressed.

Beck. Still going after all these years. Still good, pretty much the same as the last time you saw him.

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