BottleRock is here. And we can only hope it returns.
Arriving late on Friday, I caught the last half of Andrew Bird’s set. I’ve always thought he would be better in a concert hall than a festival, and I still think that. He was good, but there’s something about the violin and looper pedal that runs counter to the spirit of a big rock show. On the next stage, the Shins, who were rumored to have played a warm-up show the night before at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma to about 15 people, were tight and professional. They’re about as surgically precise as a band can be, sounding just like the record. Almost too perfect, but very good. At the same time, Blues Traveler started tearing into their set. I caught “Run Around” and stayed for a couple songs because, damn, that John Popper can blow! I haven’t heard if he and Charlie Musslewhite, who is also playing the festival, are doing or have done a harmonica duet. I don’t know if the world could handle it.The set up was similar to Outside Lands, but without the one-mile trek between stages. This meant that no matter where you stood, there was music playing. Not that lines were a big problem (the longest I waited for anything was about 10 minutes), but it would suck to know you’re missing the main reason for the $130 ticket because there is not an adequate number of beer stations. The addition of comedy to the festival was tough, making yet another thing to choose from to watch in addition to the great bands. But the comedy headliner each night (last night was Jim Bruer) started at 10:15, just after the last band. Not sure if that meant more or people would stick around because the rock show was over. But there were lines for each of the other comedians throughout the day.
Before the Flaming Lips took the stage (they were the last act of the second stage), it was time to refuel. There was festival food, but this being Napa, there was so much more. Cochon Volant BBQ actually ran out of buns for its pork sandwich, but the line did not diminish upon this announcement. They served instead a plate of just meat and coleslaw, which was incredible. The deep smoke flavor went nicely with a Sierra Nevada fresh-hop Harvest brew, another culinary upgrade from usual festival fare. Tons of restaurants, including Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame), were dishing up fancy foods. And with what seemed like hundreds of wineries on hand with popup tents and tasting lounges, it felt like a good representation of the California culinary scene. Imagine coming from Philadelphia or New Mexico to a festival that not only cares about food but almost worships it like a groupie does a rock band. It made for a good vibe.
Scarfing down my pork and ‘slaw, I got pretty much front-and-center to see the Flaming Lips. I’d seen them at Treasure Island a few years ago as the headlining act, and they raised the bar for me for festival acts. Frontman Wayne Coyne and company did not disappoint. In fact, they raised the bar yet again. Wayne, in a blue polyester suit, stood atop his lumpy, space-age, shiny bubble pulpit with a baby doll in the crook of his arm, cooing an playing with it while the band rocked around him. I’m glad he didn’t do anything crazy like throw it into the audience or rip its arm off or something. It gave that baby a symbolism it would have otherwise not held. The stage faced the setting sun, meaning the band got to watch a beautiful Napa sunset while the crowd didn’t have to squint at sun spots (good planning, BottleRock!). Coyne remarked how beautiful it was, and said how cool it would be if the sun set and then rose again immediately after (this ain’t Alaska, Wayne). He also praised the festival and thanked “whoever got us to play here” because it was a good thing to be a part of. As it got darker, the light show became more pronounced. Lasers, smoke, a truss of lights that moved down from the sky to just above Coyne’s head and shot strobe lights and huge flood lights across the crowd. Being directly in the center, I was blown away. You’ve seen people put hands on their head in that oh-my-god-what-am-I-even-seeing-right-now move of disbelief? That was me several times during this performance. Luckily, there are photos to help explain, because words are hard sometimes. The Flaming Lips received a well-deserved ovation, prompting a real encore (the lights had even come back on already). All this while the headliners, the Black Keys were about half an hour into their set already. People stayed for the Flaming Lips encore, and almost demanded a second encore.The Black Keys were good. Even had a full band for the second half of their set. But if someone could explain why this is the end-all-be-all of bands right now, I’d love to listen. They rock, yeah, I dig that. But Blues Traveler rocks, too, though I suppose they had their time in the sun as well. Leaving the festival was relatively uncomplicated. There were plenty of volunteers directing the masses to the shuttle locations, and five shuttles filled and left at one time, so there wasn’t much of a wait. Upon arriving at the, ahem, parking lot, it was a different story. I hope everyone loaded their car’s location into Google Maps as a “favorite location,” because with no lights whatsoever and no volunteers directing the crowd, finding your car out of 10,000 in five separate lots would be tough. I parked at the back of a lot, and was really hoping I remembered correctly which one because it’s a 15-minute walk back to the dropoff point, and who knows how long from there to the other lots. I was right, and left with little delay.
One more point is the sound. It was excellent, but could have been a little louder on the main stage, especially for the Black Keys. Maybe this was a city ordinance thing, but it’s a rock show. Give it some gas!
Early on in the Robyn Hitchcock tribute show last Thursday at the Fillmore, a smiling Rhett Miller recalled when first saw the British songwriter, opening for R.E.M. in the ‘80s. “I’ve loved Robyn Hitchcock ever since I was weird,” he said, to scattered applause.
While the line between mainstream and subversive are not as clear these days, the offbeat, neo-psychedelic songwriter is undeniably a cult figure, which was evident on this belated 60th birthday bash planned by longtime fan Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. The bulk of the mixed-age crowd (filling only about ¾ of the venue) was clearly unfamiliar with his repertoire beyond minor hits like “Balloon Man” and “Madonna of the Wasps”. Predictably, Meloy and former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck received the most applause (Fan: “I met you at a show in Fresno in 1984!”/ Buck: “It wasn’t me.”).
Me? I knew about five Robyn Hitchcock songs walking in, which made the evening an exhilarating journey similar to a star-studded Harry Smith tribute show I attended back in college. Viva Hitchcock was the best kind of crash course on an artist with 30-plus years of material, and I do believe the singer can count dozens more as fans after last Thursday.
READ MORE AND SEE MORE PHOTOS BELOW
“There’s nothing wrong with PlayStation and jacking off. . . . but it was really messing with my creativity.”
See that dude in the photo up there? Yeah, that’s not Macklemore. Sorry. You’re cruising BottleRock, you see a guy in a fur vest and waxed-down blonde hair, and chances are that with the amount of Macklemore impersonators out there, it’s not really gonna be Ben Haggerty, b. 1983, hit song, “Thrift Shop.”
And what do you care? You’ve come in hopes that your gut feeling on Macklemore is off-base. You want Macklemore, live and on stage, to somehow take those eyes you so irritatedly rolled at first hearing (or, realistically: seeing) “Thrift Shop” and knock them right out of your head, and say: “Hey man, don’t be so fuckin’ jaded, I grew up on Paid in Full too. Just have fun, okay?”
On this night here in Napa, kicking off BottleRock, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” has just hit Billboard’s #1 spot, and while you’re watching his dutiful set you realize why he enjoys such wide mainstream appeal: there is simply no reason to really hate the guy. He bounces and traipses around the stage as if following an exercise regimen, he delivers his repeated patter as if it were fresh every night, and he shows up on time (big points in the rap world for that last one).
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.
At first, the only sensible reaction was giddy laughter that it was even happening at all. At the SFJAZZ Center last night, Jason Moran’s jazz quartet led a jam session on stage—while in the audience, with the first five rows of seats removed, eight skateboarders held a different kind of jam session on a specially built miniramp. Pretty funny, right?
But a few songs into this amusing pairing, conceived by Moran himself, the serious corollaries between the two art forms of jazz and skateboarding began to make perfect sense. As the band onstage improvised in real time, so did the skateboarders, trying trick after trick. As the band was beholden to rhythm and tempo, so were the skateboarders, slaves to that next transition in the ramp, always approaching. As the musicians played off each other’s ideas, so did the skaters, by positioning their boards on the platform for the more daring of the bunch to use as extensions of the ramp.
The results were nothing short of thrilling.
Moran, wearing a T-shirt from the East Bay hip-hop group Souls of Mischief, compared modern-day skateboarding to the early days of modern jazz at Minton’s Playhouse, “when Diz and Bird and all them were trading ideas and the language was changing so quick.”
“You know how many hits I got? We could be here all night.”
Ears ringing. Laying on the couch. Can’t sleep.
“Sign ‘o’ the Times” riff stuck in head on endless repeat.
Still thinking about the silhouette of his hair against the blue lights.
THWACK! at the screen door. What the…?
Oh, right. It’s the next day’s newspaper.
A steamrolled body, an obliterated brain, both riding out an adrenaline buzz: this is how I finally went to bed last night after Prince’s final show of a two-night, four-show stand at the small, 800-capacity DNA Lounge in San Francisco.
Was it worth it, you ask? Tickets were $275, the wait in line was two hours, about 50 line-jumpers cut in front of us drinking and smoking weed, and as a half-naked guy rollerskated up and down Harrison St., the doors finally opened. Inside, there was a strict no-photo policy during the show, and it was impossible to move—people packed in shoulder-to-shoulder—while idling out another hour-long wait.
Prince finally took the stage at 11:40pm. . . . and Lord, it was fucking incredible.
Unbeatable guitarist Steve Kimock has been raising a pretty fiery noise with keyboardist Bernie Worrell lately—and the band took to the brand-new Session Room at the Hopmonk Tavern in Novato last week. Our photographer Jamie Soja was there. See a full photo slideshow below.
How I’ve gone this long without seeing Nick Cave live is beyond me, especially since I’ve always… well, “always been a fan” wouldn’t be accurate. (I own three of his albums.) More truthful would be to say that Nick Cave’s music has never, ever irritated me. Considering Cave’s extensive output, that’s saying something. Combine it with the full-blown “holy shit” moments his songs have given to me—like hearing “Nobody’s Baby Now” while nursing a $1 PBR at EJ’s in Portland, in 1997—well, Nick Cave finally demanded to be seen live.
If you’ve seen him, you know. If you haven’t, imagine a rail-thin circus ringmaster whipping a band of lions not out of but into aggressiveness. A flamboyant offspring of Valentino and Satan, Cave channels 55 years of romantic bandwidth into sharp, stinging things called “songs,” which are more like forays across continents than things you might sing in the shower. These forays are not for the faint of heart, or, evidently, for the young: tonight, he had a children’s choir backing him up, and when they exited the stage, they covered their ears and looked terrified.
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt staggered onto the stage, a Hamm’s in one hand. He clasped his other hand around the microphone, and then looked blankly from under his canvas hat, out onto the audience, all detachment and potential energy. Unimpressed with what he saw. The show had not started yet. Rønnenfelt was a walking magnetic field.
In ten minutes, Rønnenfelt would be falling into the crowd, wishing it was a mattress and beating the people in the front rows when he realized, over and over again, that it was not. He would be curling in a ball in front of the bass drum. He would be refusing offered replacements for a broken guitar strap, opting to sing lead, dropping his guitar on the ground.
Sister Carol took the stage ten minutes before midnight. In dark glasses and tall rasta head dress, the 54-year-old radiates reggae empress on stage. Born Carol East in Kingston, Jamaica, Sister Carol is celebrating three decades of bringing women up in a culture dominated by masculinity. Part roots singer part rhymer, her signature chatty dancehall style has crowed the “Black Cinderella” one of the most eloquent women in reggae music.
A fashionably late entrance is standard affair in reggae culture. The practice is a gesture of sorts, giving the crowd a chance to appreciate the DJs and fill the dance floor. In fact, a seasoned fan knows to arrive no earlier than 11pm so as not to wander aimlessly until someone gets on stage. Arriving just before show time, the venue had already filled with people who had seen Sister Carol or Mykal Rose several times before. Fans came down from Mendocino County, Lake Tahoe, and up from the City owing to the significance of having these two reggae legends play such a small venue with a live band.
Now in its second year as the only reggae genre night in Santa Rosa, Casa Rasta has garnered a steady following of local fans. Resident DJ Kieran “Sizzlak” Eagan is lead seleckta, building on experience as a late-night reggae music programmer with San Jose’s KKUP, 91.5FM. And now taking to the decks is DJ Dinga, better known for his MC techniques with the wildly popular mixed martial arts event, Cage Combat. With Bay Area sound system Jah Warrior Shelter dropping in on a regular basis, the dynamic duo are coming into their own, booking quality live talent and attracting a fan base four counties wide.
Sister Carol’s performance was memorable. Having seen her perform on festival stages for thousands of people, it was an entirely different experience to see her engage a small audience. She took care to give attention to those in the front row and was absolutely on point with the back-up band. Going into several free styles, even within songs, the clarity of her rhymes was beyond impressive. It was if she had played a thousand times yet this time’s rhymes had renewed potency. Flawless renditions of “Rasta Girl” and “Womb-Man” sounded like album recordings, and the classic anthem “Reggae Arena” was, as always, the highlight of her set. Not a minute of lagging, just pure concentration in the music and the vibe. To our dismay though, the crowd did not realize “Wild Thing” was her last song and failed to produce an applause worthy of an encore. When she did not come back on stage, a sense of somber awe filled the room. The crowd knew they were not ready to say goodbye.