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.
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.
Reggae dancehall legend Barrington Levy blazed through Petaluma on Thursday night in classic dub train style. Barrington’s voice is sounding cleaner than ever and his form is looking fantastic as he approaches 50 years old. The show was part of the Road to California Roots Festival tour, a push towards spreading the word about the massive three-day event next May. There will be many more – look for J Boog and Los Rakas in January.
The house was packed at the Mystic Theater; a heady crowd leaning on the farther side of thirty and forty. Barrington paid court to his long time fans with studio-style versions of “My Time” and “Too Experienced”, letting them flow off the mic like he has played them for decades (he has). His encore of “Black Rose” hushed the crowd until everyone started singing along. But the real depth of his performance was in the heavy duty b-side takes on lesser known tracks like “A Ya We Deh” and “Bounty Hunter”.
Holding the decks was WBLK selector Jacques Powell-Wilson, founder of Monday Night Edutainment at Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol. The sound system is rounding out 12 years as the North Bay’s longest running reggae genre night. Jacques brought down some of his massive collection of vinyl rarities including the Meditations’ “Stranger In Love” and Dennis Brown’s “Come Home With Me”. If you can dig it, WBLK is hosting their first in a series of all-vinyl appreciation nights starting December 9th with Ras Gilbert of Shashamani Sound.
Opening for Barrington was former Sonoma County, now Santa Cruz transplant, band Thrive. The group recently joined forces with California Roots Festival organizers and have been touring the country spreading sunny, post-Sublime positive reggae, which they have now infused with RnB pop. I see them shying away from their reggae-rock roots in the coming months, but we’ll see where they take their sound come festival season.
I gotta say this: The Mystic Theater hasn’t seen this much smoke in years. Ever since management started really cracking down on puffing inside the venue, Petaluma’s reggae scene hasn’t been the same. Undercover goons jam their way through the crowds, flashlights scanning for joints, grabbing hold of skinny hippies and short frat dudes with their menacing stares that promise, “try that again, so I can haul your ass out in front of everyone”. But it’s no fun when the homies can’t have none… Thankfully, Thursday was a chill alternative to the type of muscle attitude we’ve gotten used to at Sonoma County shows. Probably because the show was too expensive for the college kids to raid. Although many of them could have benefited from knowing the roots of where their beloved Cali Roots Rock comes from.
On another note: Rather than releasing full albums of new material, Barrington seems to be focusing on recent collaborations with newer generations of established artists, namely JadaKiss and Vybz Kartel, Kardinal and Busta Rhymes. Check this made-for-MTV Jams 2010 release “No War” featuring Kardinal. The original features Busta Rhymes and quotes President Obama’s inaugural speech.
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.
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: 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
Disclosure: 2/5 In haiku: such low energy / could not keep my eyes open / what was that you said?
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: 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.
It is hard to put into words what a five day reggae festival in Humboldt County feels like. Senses are heightened and spirits are elevated. The whole experience feels like a time warp, traveling with fellow festivalites to a sacred place deep in the woods, away from the daily grind and the drama of the outside world. It feels like warm sunshine. It smells like homegrown herbs. It tastes a lot like lukewarm coconut water. But more than words can offer, it feels like what Sunday headliners, Morgan Heritage’s, soundtrack tune ‘Down By The River’ sounds like.
Reggae On The River has been called ‘Reggae’ for as long as anyone can remember. It is considered, by and large, the first reggae festival in the United States, and a lion’s share of the genre’s most famous artists have graced its stage over the last 29 years. Tribulations aside (read up on the Mateel controversy here), ‘Reggae’ has always been at the heart of the international festival scene. The “one-blood” mantra of the event was undeniably reflected in this year’s 6,000 multicultural fans who traveled across the miles to celebrate the French’s Camp homecoming. With nearly 2,500 volunteers and staff on hand to ensure the event went off without a glitch, the party was a huge success and was entirely sold out by Saturday afternoon.
The smaller crowds made for a more chill experience – if you went to any of the Reggae’s between 2003 and 2006 you know what 25,000 people in the bowl feels like. Although rumors are floating around that the Mateel Community Center will be offering 8,000 tickets next year as opposed to 6,000 this year, the intentionally scaled-down event has become safer and more conscientious. The artists were more militant than flashy, the crowds more hippie than street. A big factor in this year’s attitude was the multigenerational audience. There were a lot of older festival veterans and a lot of little kids, and inevitably, more people were smoking ganja in the sunshine than running around on Molly at 5am.
If you didn’t make the journey, or just want to reminisce, you can tune into the audio archives from Humboldt County’s KMUD radio here. (Scroll down to August 2-4 for the live broadcast) Chill to the tunes by the river and check out some of these amazing shots of the event by some very cool Bay Area photographers (many thanks to James LeDeau, Joe Wilson, and Anthony Postman).
Renée Fleming is a reeeeeeally good singer, but you already knew that. Hell, she’s probably the best American soprano performing today, but anyone who reads the arts & entertainment section knows that already, too. What we learned at her performance at Saturday’s opening concert of the second season at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center was that she loves the venue, deeming it a “favorite stop” for big-name touring artists.
Before singing “The hills are alive, with the sound of music,” Fleming described what she saw looking out at the rolling, green hills outside the opened rear wall of the main hall, saying she was “inspired” by the view. Indeed, her performance of the showtune was inspired, despite a false start, and had many in the 1,600-person crowd singing along.
Though not full to its 3,400-capacity (the interior showed some empty chairs; the tiered seating area was nearly full outside; the sloped hill beyond that was almost vacant), the concert could not have featured a more beautiful performance. Even sitting outside, Fleming and pianist Gerald Martin Moore were visible on the stage and facial expressions and the details of her stunning dresses (a silver gown by Vivienne Westwood followed by a golden gown with an opera cape by Angel Sanchez) were highlighted on a giant screen, with several camera shots including one inside the piano and one showing the crowd outside. Fleming’s voice carried just beyond the edge of the hall and was reinforced by a transparent sound system, picking up just the right amount of the hall’s beautiful acoustics to highlight its rich treatment of the human voice.
The program included classical pieces by Handel, Canteloube, Delibes, Korngold, Cilea, Puccini, Zandonal, Johan Strauss II and Richard Straus, whom Fleming called her “desert island composer.” Her performances of the latter composer’s work were especially touching, in part because he wrote such beautiful music for the soprano voice, but it was apparent that she was moved by it beyond notes on a staff. A section folk tunes, including a medley of “The River is Wide” and “Shenandoah” and a performance of “Wild Horses” by folk artist Jean Richie, ended with a powerful rendition of “We Hold These Truths” by J. Todd Frazier, a slow, stirring piece with text from the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.
Fleming finished with two songs from West Side Story (“I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere”) and two Rogers & Hammerstein classics (“The Sound of Music” and “A Wonderful Guy”). And for her encore, another crowd favorite: “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. Taking advantage of the unique forum, Fleming broke the rules of a classical music hall’s opening gala–she invited all the singers in the audience to participate in the second half of the song, which freed her up to improvise a bit. From designer dresses to mom jeans, tuxedos to T-shirts, voices from the crowd carried the tune while Fleming showcased her incredible range and comfort on stage. Even outside the hall, we felt the warmth of a vocal embrace surrounding us.
Upcoming concerts at the Green Music Center include superstar pianist Lang Lang Sept. 17, classical violinist Itzhak Perlman Sept. 21, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock Sept. 28 and soprano Ruth Ann Swenson Sept. 29.
It is becoming a decompression tradition to see Jane’s Addiction play Reno after Burning Man. Promoter Fresh Bakin’ has a talent for timing awesome parties. Last year, the band performed a sold out show following the ‘Burn’ and people were dressed to the nines in costumes still dusty from the Playa. This year, the show happened a week later so fewer Burners were still in town. And while a scant few could be picked out of the crowd, the sensation of settling back into the world was already in full effect.
Inside the glitz and glam of the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, the Grand Theater is one of the largest showroom stages in the world. Tiered half-moon booths are lined with faux leather and floral upholstery and giant crystal chandeliers hang from 30 foot ceilings. With about ¾ of the venue filled, the venue was far from small but felt relatively intimate.
The band came on just before 10pm, opening with “Underground”, “Mountain Song” and “Just Because” before frontman Perry Farrell finally addressed the crowd. “You remember? Because I do! We were here the same exact time last year. I remember you!” He was dress in floral print and tuxedo pants that fell just above the ankles. It’s become a signature look for him, exposing a super tight washboard stomach. Farrell looks way healthier now than he did 20 years ago.
Here was the moment at the Courtney Love show last night, and it was brief: right after “Violet,” there’s the usual applause and all, but then it comes back, and surges into a roar, like the crowd all agrees to just cheer the shit out of Courtney Love for, I don’t know, being through hell, most of it self-inflicted, and being murdered by the media, and having her daughter taken away once or twice, and the Kurt thing, but living through it against the odds, and now, playing a sparsely-populated show in some fuckin’ chicken town, and showing up in a silver cutaway jumpsuit and bare feet and way-fake boobs and ratty blonde hair, and actually smiling while singing lines like “I always wanted to die”—and then, during this spontaneous burst of love from the crowd, Courtney Love, 49 years old, looks out into the Phoenix Theater, coyly grins, then visibly swells with gratitude, cocks her head and blows a kiss, serious as a heart attack.
You know how you see a band that’s famous for being sloppy, or mad at each other, or too drunk, but then there’s the one night they’re super tight, or just happy, or sober, and it’s like “THIS is what this band always could be but now finally, gloriously is“? That was Courtney Love last night at the Phoenix, accepting three bouquets of roses when she hit the stage, opening the set with “Plump,” screaming the lines “IT MAKES ME SICK” like the screech of a malfunctioning tractor and, at the end of the song, looking down at the monitor and telling the soundman: “I just blew a speaker.”
She started as a wave, rolling in from far out in the ocean. She built up steam and, halfway through the show, her jokes began to land with explosions of laughter. Anjelah Johnson is more than a one-joke pony–this California comedian’s built to last.
Slipping seamlessly between “normal” and her lovable ghetto gurrrl voiced-characters, Johnson was a quick study for the audience at Napa’s Uptown Theater last night. Some hilarious jokes were performed so quick and nonchalantly that the audience, largely unfamiliar with much of the culture she was referencing, probably would have laughed even harder had they grown up in a more diverse area. Her opening joke nailed this sentiment. “I’ve never been to Napa before,” says the Mexican comedian who grew up in San Jose before moving to Los Angeles. “I thought it would be more…” and she made a snooty duck face. You know, the ones on every teenager’s Facebook page, but influenced by a glass of wine and a sense of entitlement. Before anyone starts up the hate train, I stress that she said it wasn’t like that. Unbundle your undies, already.
I’m going to sandwich a bit about Kabir Singh’s set in the middle because I don’t want anyone to miss it. This Indian comedian opened the night with hillarious riffs on Indian culture, among other topics. He’s very loud and energetic and it’s tough not to like him. Besides that, his jokes are great. One of my favorites was Indians bargaining: “Even an Indian getting mugged would bargain. ‘I’m gonna shoot you!’ ‘Ok, buddy, how about you just stab me and we call it a day, huh?’”
Johnson recently married a Christian rapper, who was on hand to pose for pictures with everyone leaving the theater. If you search Instagram, just type “Anjelah Johnson’s hudband”–this will yield more results than his name, surely, which I still don’t know. Even though she once had a whole joke about the oxymoronic music genre that is Christian rap, Johnson (and her huge, sparkly diamond ring) seems quite happy with the turn of events. Her jokes about moving in and starting a life together were not as brutal as they could have been. Maybe her biggest peeve was her husband’s use, once, of her toothbrush. “I never even thought of that as an option,” she says.
Johnson mostly went with new material, but a few Raiderettes in the crowd, waving pom poms after the best jokes, caught her attention. She busted out some moves (she was a Raiders cheerleader in 2003 when the team went to the Super Bowl), and even made a Raiders joke (the punchline was, essentially, the Raiders). The Raiders fan in the front row could not argue, and even took off his hat in a moment of shame.
She saved her “hits” for the end, busting out the characters of Bon Qui Qui and the Nail Salon Lady while showing T-Shirts and even a 3-song rap CD featuring the characters. She rapped along with some of it over the sound system and said the idea was picked up by Atlantic Records and to expect a full-length effort soon. With all her skills (she’s a talented dancer, singer and rapper in addition to being ridiculously funny), it’s a wonder she hasn’t landed more movie roles or her own TV show (though she does a significant amount of voice acting). If this album news is true, it could be the crossover hit that cements her career. Hey, good music is good, and good music that’s funny is often even more entertaining.
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