It’s hard to imagine how such a minimalist band can incite such riotous reaction from crowds around the world. A plain-sounding guitar, melodic bass riffs and a simple snare drum with one cymbal makes up the Violent Femmes, who formed in sunny Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1980. One might argue that his band, with hits like “Blister in the Sun,” “Add it Up,” “Gone Daddy Gone” and “Dance, Motherfucker, Dance” is truly what made Milwaukee famous.
These are the original folk-punkers. It’s music that simply does not give a shit about what anyone thinks, and these days, that’s a refreshing sentiment. This stripped-down mindset and musical style makes for a memorable concert, creating those fleeting moments where we forget where we are, what we’re doing and all the bullshit in our daily lives.
The only shame is Violent Femmes are playing at the same time as Primus (8pm, Thursday). These bands have many fans in common, and it would be easy to make the completely not hyperbolic comparison to Sophie’s Choice. Which band will you see perform, and which band will die?
Gabe Meyers, co-founder of BottleRock, stood in front of the crowd at the Uptown Theatre last night and asked “Did you ever think this would happen in… Napa?”
He was referencing the four-day music festival, the largest thing to hit the sleepy city since, well, ever. He received thunderous applause from the crowd awaiting an on-stage appearance by Dave Grohl, lead singer and guitarist of the Foo Fighters and drummer of Nirvana, in town last night for a screening of his documentary, Sound City. Meyers then reminded the everyone in the one-third–full venue that tickets were still available for most days of the festival. “Sometimes it feels like a bit of a surf break secret, like you don’t want to tell anybody,” he said. “But we really need people to know about it.”
The attendance for Grohl’s film was affected by the last-minute booking—it was finalized less than a week prior—and because it was a benefit for autism causes, tickets were $100. But the movie is fantastic, especially for audio nerds like myself (I even wore an Onkyo shirt to the screening). Sound City is about the recording console at a fucked up, nasty studio in Los Angeles that recorded some of the best rock albums of all time. It’s captivating for even the non-audio engineer thanks in large part to the vast swath of famous producers, musicians and engineers interviewed for the movie.
“Originally the idea was just to make a short film and it kind of just exploded into this idea,” said Grohl before the screening. “We wanted to inspire the next generation of musicians to fall in love with music as much as we did.” After much applause, he continued, “We decided early on we wanted to make this completely independent of any major studio or any Hollywood shit, we just wanted to make our own movie. It cost a fuckin’ fortune, just so you know.” Cue more applause.
Grohl’s interest in making Sound City was piqued when he learned the studio was closing and selling all of its gear. The band that made him famous, Nirvana, had recorded the album that made them famous, Nevermind, at the studio. Nothing sounds like a recording made at this studio on this board, one of only four like it ever produced by engineer Rupert Neve (it cost twice as much as a house in the area at the time). “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this board,” says Grohl in the movie. So he bought it and installed it in his own studio. The documentary chronicles the history of the board, and of Sound City Studios, and highlights the beauty of analog recording using consoles like this and two-inch tape instead of computers to capture sound.
“I have to honestly say that this is probably the thing that I am most proud of that I have ever done creatively in my life,” said Grohl, “because it’s not for me, its for you.”
There were may cheers from the audience during both the movie and the 45-minute Q&A session between Meyers and Grohl afterward. Music in the movie, all of which was recorded on the console, was blared loud and often, which made the atmosphere less like a movie theater and more like a rock concert. Beer and wine helped, too. Some had too much, like the girl who tried valiantly to remain upright during the autograph session following the Q&A session, trying to get something signed.
All in all, it was a rock concert of a movie, and a smart and fun way to kick off BottleRock.
Hometown heroes (well, Bay Area heroes, at least) Primus are STILL at it. These guys have been around almost as long at the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and have changed a lot since 1989′s “Suck on This.” The 1991 masterpiece “Sailing the Seas of Cheese” is being reissued in 5.1 surround with other added goodies. Primus has had a few different drummers, but I’m hoping to see (and hear) one of my favorites, Tim Alexander, behind the kit. Though Brain and Jay Lane have also toured with the band, and both are amazing drummers in their own right.
What I’m trying’ to say is, “Say, baby, do you wanna lay down with me?”
Santa Rosa trio the New Trust has released a stunning video for “Marigolds,” a song from their forthcoming fifth album, Keep Dreaming. The entire thing is one long, time-lapse shot of flowers sprouting, growing, blooming and then dying. Below, guitarist and photographer Sara Sanger describes the process of making the video, the challenges of photographing plants and why her sister probably now hates both flowers and photography.
How long did this take to shoot, start to finish?
I started the photography in early November, and finished in March. Almost four months.
What was your setup and process?
I searched seed catalogs for dwarf variety marigolds, as most grow almost 12-18 inches tall and that wasn’t going to work out. I ended up planting a few varieties that I found that grew under 8 inches tall.
I started with a shallow Tupperware storage box, added some drip/soaker tubing underneath the soil, with a tube to get water under the dirt, as opposed to on top. I used a good tripod, a constant source of power for my camera (plugged in direct, battery wouldn’t last more than a half day), and an intervalumeter that was set to take a photo every 10 minutes.
Once the files were done, I found out that Photoshop CS6 has some pretty good basic movie editing capabilities. I was pleasantly surprised by the way that the growth and movement of the flowers moves along with the song pretty well. I had visualized that it might work out, but I don’t have any experience with time-lapse so I really didn’t know. I did not know that plants moved as much as they do, and was really happy to find a lot more motion than I had ever expected.
I shot about twice the amount of frames than I needed. Our song is 3:40, or 220 seconds, so for a standard 30 frames per second I needed 6,600 frames total. I was lucky I had shot more than I needed, since I have found the antique electricity in my house fluctuates pretty wildly—I had to sit and edit out frames that appeared to have less light or more light. Those few days staring at these flowers was hallucination-inducing.
All lovers of vinyl need to check this out. It’s the audio of the earliest known gramophone recording, which is the grandfather of the modern vinyl record. Sure, Thomas Edison had his cylinders in the 1870s, but Emile Berliner invented the flat version of records in 1887. In the prequel to Betamax vs. VHS, or HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, Berliner’s gramophone disc dominated the recording industry and Edison’s neat little vertical audio cans remain mostly as footnotes in audio history.
The cool thing about this recording is not that the record itself has survived since 1890, but that it doesn’t actually exist. There are no known physical copies. So how does one hear audio from something that doesn’t exist? The Media Preservation Initiative at Indiana University, Bloomington, had found a way to take the photographs of the physical specimens from reference books and advertisements of the time and recreate the audio from those records. The result is discernible audio recordings of speech, song and a voice memo recorded as a test from the inventor to a friend.
But wait, there’s more.
These are not the first recordings ever made, nor are they the first reproduced sound. Edison’s invention was the first to reproduce the sound audibly. But it was “Au Claire de la Lune,” an 18th Century French folk song, which Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville sang slowly into a vibrating diaphragm, that changed music forever. The long tube transferred the sound via hog’s bristle and a piece of a feather into waveforms. There was smoke, a rotating barrel and a hand crank involved. Though the phonautograph was a complicated and temperamental device (well, maybe not compared to an iPod in a WiFi-dead zone), audio could now be captured. And in 2011, a mere 151 years later, archivists have found a way to play it back. The recording was made on April 9, 1860 (before the American Civil War)–marking the birth of recorded sound.
Telephones, speakers, microphones–everything we know about audio today–is based on Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s hog’s bristle and feather recording device. From one audio engineer to another, thanks, brother!
Walking to the new SFJAZZ center last night, we were concerned with the time. Thanks to the state of downtown San Francisco traffic and parking, we would be walking in after the scheduled start time. A woman at the stoplight overheard us, and gave us a look.
“Relax, baby,” she said. “It’s jazz.”
While her wise words sank in, she crossed Franklin Street in a brief lull of traffic, against a red light, with headlights barreling toward her. We opted to do as she said, not as she did, and waited for the light. As luck would have it, we found our seats several minutes before tabla master Zakir Hussain took the stage.
First onstage was a group performing a piece commissioned by SFJAZZ in 1998, a poem by Rumi set to music featuring Hussain, three other tabla players, sax, piano, vocals and a dancer with bells on her ankles. The result was organic combination of Eastern rhythms and textures with Western jazz style. Hussain at times played a walking bass line on his tabla, and the other tabla players kept the beat with low and high sounds, mimicking a drummer with a kick and snare. Each player took a solo, culminating with the four tabla players furiously tapping fingers and slapping hands on their drums in complete synchronicity at unfathomable speed.
Trying to listen to the individual notes in this situation is like trying to follow each individual flash on a set of strobe lights. Just when my head was about to explode, they finished with a finale rivaling a 15-second fireworks display.
“Wow, this sounds a lot like Black Sabbath” was the first thought that popped into my head last night at the Fuzz show in San Francisco. “These long haired dudes kinda look like Black Sabbath, too,” I thought. “But that drummer isn’t hiding behind two bass drums and only has two cymbals. And there’s no singer. This is really, really great! I never liked Ozzy’s voice, and these guys sound like a way bigger band than just a three-piece.” But all these great conversation starters were wasted on my own mind, however, because Ty Segall’s latest musical venture was so damn loud nobody in the Knockout would have heard a stampede of elephants running down Mission Street.
Despite what it sounded like, there was only one guitarist, Charles Moothart. Segall is really the one known for cranking out the rockingest rock with his incredible his guitar tones, but here he’s on drums. More on that later. Moothart’s appropriately fuzzy guitar was fat, so fat, in fact, that it shook my ribcage. Maybe it was a warning, like by body was saying, This Is Almost Too Much Rock, Be Careful. His solos were tasty, like hot jam dripping off a shortbread biscuit tasty. And then there was the hair–so much hair, it was everywhere.
Now Segall, who is a guitarist in something like three other bands, might be on the hook for battery if those drums decide to press charges. He beat them like they owed him money, like they insulted his mother, like they keyed his 1967 Mustang. His ferocity did not dimish the speed of the band’s last song, which kept a blistering pace for four times longer than most punk songs. Not only this, but he sang for some of the songs, most of which were new and will probably have lyrics soon.
The crowd at this Noisepop show may have been a little too hip for its own good. The feeling on the tiny dance floor was that familiar precipice of moshing, where either age, vanity or self consciousness kept people from truly smashing into each other like idiots. Instead, a couple of buzzed dudes in gingham shirts sort of pushed each other around a little, eliciting nervous smiles from the wary crowd around them. In a different setting, this would be the ultimate circle pit band.
Co-headling was OGB III, who took the stage after Fuzz. This band was delicious, filled with ooey-gooey cheese and mushy, fatty pork. Slathered in curtido and spicy salsa, they were too hot at first, but soon went down smooth with a cold Mexican beer. No, wait, that was the pupusas at Los Panchos. No offense to OGB III, but nothing was going to top what we had just seen and heard, and we wanted to leave on the highest note possible.
On a side note, local group Blasted Canyons opened, and were pissed off the whole time about, among other things, their monitor mix. Their playing reflected this attitude it in a bad way. But on the plus side, they did have an Oberheim synthesizer, which is high on the list of things that make really cool sounds. The Knockout is a great bar, with plenty of character and a decent dance floor and stage. It’s too loud and really small, which usually makes every show better. This night was no exception.
Trent Reznor, the brains behind Nine Inch Nails and many, many other musical projects is in yet another group. This one’s called How To Destroy Angels, and it includes Reznor’s wife Mariqueen Maandig, art director Rob Sheridan and the composer Atticus Ross. The video for their first single, “How Long,” is, to say the least, really scary. Not scary in a The Hills Have Eyes way, more like a that-could-be-the-future-in-my-lifetime way.
Plunging to the depths of despair, like a junkie experiencing his first hit of self-realization, the piece at times makes it difficult to keep listening. Though harmonious, the music takes dark turn after dark turn. It holds you against the wall while you watch everything you love burn before your eyes, with no way to help or even turn away. It’s really heavy stuff.
But Tchaikovsky’s symphony somehow flutters out of this terror, and shows that there is beauty in the world. Life is still worth living, and you leave feeling empowered because you’ve been through the worst life can give and still came out on top. It’s one of my desert island pieces of music. It’s referred to as “pathétique” not because it’s deserving of pity, but because it is compassionate and moving.
To hear this live would be great, but to hear this with the Marin Symphony and guest violinist Nigel Armstrong is going to be awesome. I saw this local kid play with the American Philharmonic (or was it the Cotati Philharmonic at that time?) in his teens and was amazed. He was young but had an evident understanding of the music, to say nothing of his technical ability. To see him now that he’s 21 would certainly be something special.
The Marin Symphony plays Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3pm and Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $10 to $70. Marin Center, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. www.marinsymphony.org.
Noise Pop is now in its 20s, reflecting on life and starting to set some serious goals for itself in the coming decade. PBR is still the beer of choice, but maybe mix in a classic cocktail every now and again. The lineup was announced this week for the San Francisco indie music festival, which takes place Feb. 26–March 3 in venues large and small all over San Francisco.
Highlights include Amon Tobin at Public Works, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy in a solo show at Brick and Mortar Music Hall, Toro Y Moi at the Independent (twice!), Ceremony at the Rickshaw Stop and !!! at the Great American Music Hall. The cool thing about this festival are the badges, which allow city-savvy music lovers to hop around and check out shows happening on the same night as well as shows on successive evenings. The documentaries and happy hours throughout the city are also cool. Check the schedule here.
Here is a complete list of all current confirmed Noise Pop 2013 bands: