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Live Review: Abraham Burton at the Malcolm X Jazz & Arts Festival

Posted by: on Jun 1, 2009 | Comments (0)

The Malcolm X Jazz and Arts Festival is a sprawling celebration of the life and teachings of Malcolm X, spread out over a large field and four tennis courts at San Antonio Park in an area of East Oakland known more for the nightly news than for daytime festivals. Sunday’s celebration marked the ninth year of honoring Malcolm X’s life and message, and the positive vibe throughout the park was one of community empowerment and self-esteem. The lineup, too, was outstanding, with two of the finest living tenor players in the world today, David Murray and Howard Wiley.

Around the perimeter, numerous booths and soapbox stages broadcast the message of self-determination. A banner with a cleverly modified BART ticket paid respects to Oscar Grant. The food court adjoined a popular hip-hop stage with mostly younger dancers, bands and MCs. A skateboarding and graffiti court was filled with murals, some painted on cardboard, some painted on car hoods. A large memorial for Richard Masato Aoki stood between the park stages, where festival co-founder Marcel Diallo’s collective group Black New World alternated on the flatbed truck stage with headlining acts.

With all this activity, it pays to get there early. We arrived at San Antonio Park with a good four hours left of the day’s festivities, but would find we’d already missed David Murray and Howard Wiley. Murray I’ve seen before in New York, but Wiley lives up to his sly surname; I interviewed the brawny tenor player five years ago, but I’m 0-for-3 on seeing him live.

Little did we know what was in store—a welcome surprise in the form of Abraham Burton.

Burton introduced himself to the mid-afternoon scene with a subtle and wordless introduction that exploded into fire and grace with his trio. Playing both intensely and thoughtfully, his explorations cast an upper-register Coltrane-like quality with an even more abstract edge—imagine if Coltrane had recorded for ESP-Disk. After soundchecking with the instantly recognizable first four notes of A Love Supreme, he dropped both “Naima” and another Coltrane original into the set, segueing through “A Night in Tunisia” and a handful of others.

Burton, who’s recorded with a veritable who’s-who of talented underdogs including Louis Hayes, Horace Tapscott and the fantastic Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino, said few words to the crowd—verbally, that is. His playing nonetheless spoke volumes on its own and his trio, with childhood blood brother Nasheet Waits on drums, washed over the congregation on the lawn. The backdrop of an empty lot, an abandoned church and the distant ocean slowly turned pasty and bright as the sun hung low. Laying in the grass, eyes closed, you’d swear you were at Newport in 1965.

More Photos Below.

Live Review: Bettye Lavette at the Independent

Posted by: on May 11, 2009 | Comments (0)

Of all the ways to shoot down a heckler, Bettye Lavette has the most effective method by far.

During Lavette’s heart-stopping, unfathomably brilliant performance Friday night at the Independent in San Francisco, after the same fan had three times been denied the same request for the Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me,” she strutted right up to the gentleman, demanded “What did I tell you?!,” and planted a big kiss right on his lips.

The guy didn’t shout anything for the rest of the set—or, if he did, he was drowned out by the chorus of cheers that followed every song, every story, every single outpouring of emotion uprising from every cell and molecule in the depths of Lavette’s body and up to her throat and out of her mouth.

Lavette’s story by now is one all to familiar, even if her music is not: supremely talented singer eludes solid footing at record labels and languishes in obscurity until rediscovered decades later and, at least in Lavette’s case, sings Sam Cooke songs for Barack Obama. During a medley of early hits on Friday, Lavette ran down a quick biography by year: “By 1963 I thought I had grown,” she said, introducing “You’ll Never Change.” “I thought I was a star. I made this record, an’ boyfriend”—putting her hand on the shoulders of a man in the front row and staring him straight in the eyes—“it did not sell one copy. But I made it, I liked it, and I’m gonna sing it for you.”

Or, leading into her career-defining hit “Let Me Down Easy”: “This is the single recording that has literally kept me alive. When there was still black radio, this was number one in San Francisco,” she said to the blue-eyed crowd, “and I’d like to introduce it to the rest of you.”

And yet a good story alone does not a stellar performance guarantee. What sealed the night as Lavette’s—and not Booker T.’s, the headliner—was the constant intensity of her presence. During the third number, a beautiful, achingly pleading version of Willie Nelson’s “Pick Up My Pieces,” the sold-out club was pure silence, save for the whirring of the drummer’s electric fan. During “Souvenirs,” the John Prine song that she credited Village Music’s John Goddard for introducing to her, she sat on the floor of the stage, sometimes singing off-mic and holding the audience rapt.

And yet Lavette wasn’t all poignancy and heartache. In high-heel stilettos, she stomped, kicked, danced and jumped across the stage, delivering hip bumps on the beat and grinding away with guitar solos. By the end of the set, after leaving the stage, the applause was so strong that the soundman turned down the house music, Lavette came back out on stage, and she stood there awestruck, genuinely grateful for the turn in her career and the chance to sing again for a receptive audience.

And then, Bettye Lavette clutched the microphone and alone, sang an unaccompanied acapella of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.” She dominated the song, set the microphone down, waved, and left the place in disbelief.

Booker T. didn’t have a chance.

Set List:
The Stealer
Take Me Like I Am
Pick Up My Pieces
It Ain’t Easy
How Am I Different
I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now
-1960s Medley-
You Don’t Know Me At All
Souvenirs
Right In The Middle
Before the Money Came
Heaven

I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

Live Review: Bassnectar at Hopmonk Tavern

Posted by: on May 5, 2009 | Comments (2)

It’s unlikely that Sebastopol is going to see a Monday night anything at all like this for the rest of the year. It felt like Bassnectar’s show at the Hopmonk was everything that the old stone building was built for, all those eons ago: “Avast! One Monday, these walls shall absorb the Earth’s pinnacle of gut-rumbling bass. Build strong, gentlemen!”

Yes, the bass could be heard two blocks away. I am surprised the windows are intact. Inside, the sweet combination of smells that only a packed club creates, fueled by Bassnectar’s singular style that had fans driving from hours away (the show was sold out days ago, but if you had a $20 bill, or a good story about your car breaking down, or were pregnant in a tube top and skirt, the guys watching the side doors seemed amenable).

Bassnectar has been in heavy rotation around these parts, and once an album receives that distinction, it’s time for the knighting ceremony, a.k.a. putting it on cassette. The Side Two to my Bassnectar Underground Communication tape is Spank Rock’s YoYoYoYoYo, a record which shares a lot of the same breakbeat production but has rapping, which is nice. One of my favorites from that album is “Bump,” with a killing verse by Amanda Blank. She’s got a solo album out in June, and judging by the first peek, it looks to deftly rule.

For those who weren’t able get in tonight, across the alley at Jasper O’Farrell’s was the place to be, at the long-running Monday Night Edutainment (“WBLK a dun di place every Monday at Jaspers.” “Seen? Yes Iyah! I-man WBLK a wickid!”). Jacques and Guacamole come up on eight years this summer, and they bring back the Coup’s Pam the Funkstress on June 1 to celebrate. Before that, for some of the best in Bay Area beats, Hopmonk’s got Greyboy coming in on May 14’s Juke Joint, too.

I sometimes have a hard time explaining to adults why a crowd can get excited about a person on stage pushing buttons. I’d hope that tonight would set some of the naysayers straight, if only for variety alone—it’s the only set I’ve heard that’s referenced the Gorillaz, Bill Haley, and “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun.” One thing, though, is undeniable: Sebastopol is whipping Santa Rosa’s ass on Monday nights. I drove home, brain still slightly curdled, and downtown Santa Rosa felt like a whimpering dog with its tail between its legs in comparison.

On the Stereo: Many Thoughts, One Myc

Posted by: on Apr 29, 2009 | Comments (0)

I write this week about the new hip-hop compilation released by teenagers in San Rafael, Many Thoughts, One Myc, which is as pure a representation as possible of what kids are thinking, hoping, wishing for, copying, creating, decrying and delineating in Marin County. Not everyone wants to grow up to drive their PT Cruiser to yoga class, it turns out. Even intellaFLOW’s track “GoodLife”—he’s the focus of the article—puts a realistic bent on what defines success: “A little bit material,” he raps, “and a little bit spiritual.”

I wasn’t able to talk up the rest of the CD in the paper’s limited space, but Many Thoughts, One Myc reflects a post-Hyphy Bay Area, where stunna shades might be dead but the beat goes on. Consider it a gas, brake, and dip—with a left turn added. Characteristic of the album is Bay S.L.A.M.’s “We From the Bay,” which preaches unity among all races, and H-Block’s piano-driven scraper anthem “Fast and Furious,” which makes me wish I didn’t drive a clunky 1989 Ford van.

Two tracks in particular stick out: the dark instrumental “Flatline’s Slap,” by quiet, 15-year-old producer Flatline. He loops a didgeridoo sound over perfectly synched bass and drums, and when the hi-hats come in, it kills. The flipside is “Taste My Rainbow,” an incredible spoken-word piece from Chinita, which stresses maintaining mentality, showing confidence and staying true to oneself in the face of haters. I’m not sure the BPMs match up, but the two are begging to be mixed together.

Many Thoughts, One Myc can be ordered here.

Arcade Fire: Mirroir Noir DVD

Posted by: on Apr 28, 2009 | Comments (0)

Who will be the next U2? Spike and I discussed it the other day, and even three years ago, the Arcade Fire were the only serious contender; Mirroir Noir cements it. They have uplift, they have bombast, and now they have the requisite artistic film-document thing. I did not come right out and say that they were the next U2 in this Neon Bible review, but read between the lines.

Wasn’t Neon Bible, like, so 2007? To be reminded of it now by this DVD is to force a reassessment. I was interested in its haunting quality. In hindsight, I don’t understand what the album’s uncertainty was all about. Wasn’t uncertainty, like, so 2002?

Love how her feet manage themselves when she plays the pipe organ. Think that the band is giving Bjork a run for her money in the “everything is music” department. Magazine ripping is percussion, and it is done together! Everything is done together! We dance in the studio! We dance backstage! Two people beating on a cymbal is better than one!

No song is completed all the way through. People walk across parking lots. People swim in the 1920s. The illusion of falling. Hypnosis. When your eyes are half-closed, distant lights become circles. People call in and hypothesize about the meaning of “neon Bible.” On and on. What it means is religion is chintzy. No uncertainly required.

Dear Arcade Fire: The longtime host of The Price Is Right is Bob Barker.

“Power Out” and “Rebellion (Lies)” happen at the end, reminding you that Funeral was way better. My favorite Neon Bible moment was one that didn’t happen on the album, nor did it happen in this DVD. It happened when Bruce Springsteen gave his approval by covering “Keep the Car Running” at a show in Ottawa, and when a fan in the crowd was completely overcome with joy, surprise, happiness, confusion, elation and disbelief all at once.

Live Review: Throbbing Gristle at the Grand Ballroom

Posted by: on Apr 24, 2009 | Comments (0)

In the further adventures of Throbbing Gristle as the most ingratiating band on the planet, the four original members turned on all the house lights in the Grand Ballroom last night, uncoiled an incessant low, seraphic noise from the stage, and started their first set in San Francisco since 1981’s famous show at Kezar Pavilion with “Very Friendly,” a peppy little tune about murdering children.

“No matter how fucking loud you yell,” declared a sort-of-almost-halfway-transgendered Genesis P-Orridge, “my voice will always be louder than yours.”

That could very well be Throbbing Gristle’s motto: Our voice will always be louder than yours. Of course, the band was quiet for years. In the aftermath of the Kezar show, they stopped performing, and the live album from that swan song, Mission of Dead Souls, served as a final spurt from one of the world’s most abrasive, interesting and unique groups. Last night’s return to the city of Dead Souls was a historic event, yes. It was also a sonically vicious onslaught, and its voice, definitely, was louder than yours.

In front of the speakers was not the healthiest place to be standing, where both physical and mental faculties were repeatedly strained by jarring stabs of digital knifeplay from the laptops of Chris Carter and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson. And yet in front of the speakers was the most appropriate place to fully absorb the live experience, a full-body workout unavailable on Throbbing Gristle’s albums. The health of their audience is not a concern. The bass sounds blew loose-fitting clothes with each gut-churning wallop; up in the piercing tweeter range lay Cosey Fanni Tutti’s slide guitar abstractions; and in the middle of it all, the soul of the band, P-Orridge, delivering litany after litany on death, bondage, masturbation, mayhem and disorder.

In a blonde wig, orange blouse, pink skirt and brown vest, the bosomed P-Orridge commanded the stage, intractable during the frightening narratives of classic Throbbing Gristle material like 20 Jazz Funk Greats’ “What a Day” and “Persuasion,” and Mission of Dead Souls‘ “Something Came Over Me.”

A dash of humor came when a note was thrown on stage. “Genesis: Thank you for creating you,” P-Orridge read out loud, reciting the note. “Love, Stephanie. Call me.” Then, to make sure that everyone had a chance to write it down, P-Orridge twice read off Stephanie’s phone number. “Stephanie has brown hair, a blue dress, some cleavage,” he continued, “and she’s ready to be created with you.”

For as much as P-Orridge is painted as an antagonist, an iconoclast, and an artistic anarchist, he is still, in his heart, a human being. During the lone song played last night with the lights dimmed, the new song “Almost a Kiss,” he stepped back from each verse to unfurl his arms and plead to the skies for a love that had mysteriously disappeared. It was a dark, revelatory moment, unveiling the universal sadness that is so often shrouded in Throbbing Gristle’s industrial venom.

The show ended sweetly, with P-Orridge introducing his daughter Genesse to the crowd, and concluded with a long, long version of “Discipline,” which the up-till-then staid crowd took to heart by finally becoming undisciplined; bodies started moving, someone in the back dropped their drink, a fight broke out in the balcony. Finally, all the ingratiation had worked. Finally, Throbbing Gristle had made their grand return. And just like that, with an appreciative bow and no encore, they were gone again.

More Photos Below.

Live Review: Adam Theis' 'Brass, Bows & Beats' at the Palace of Fine Arts

Posted by: on Apr 19, 2009 | Comments (2)

Last night, the City of San Francisco belonged to Adam Theis.

At 8:06pm, the lobby of the Palace of Fine Arts was full, over a hundred people, with two lines for will call and another line for ticket purchases. Inside the theatre, all seats were occupied; standing-room overflow lined the aisles. Onstage, the orchestra had already begun playing, trying to fit as much music as possible into the tiny time frame allowed.

At the front was the man of the hour, Adam Theis, conducting this impossibly huge ensemble after a year of nonstop writing. San Francisco’s own Theis—of the Jazz Mafia, the Realistic Orchestra, the Shotgun Wedding Quintet and an upbringing in Santa Rosa—stood casually in sneakers and a hooded sweatshirt, overseeing the premiere of his magnum opus and life’s work thus far.

This is no local-boy-makes-good story. After the incredible composition unveiled last night, it’s time to stop with the hometown platitudes and officially herald Adam Theis as a major talent.

Brass, Bows & Beats is a work on par with Miles Davis & Gil Evans’ Live at Carnegie Hall or Charles Mingus’ Epitaph—visionary in scope, staggering in depth. Rarely have I heard live music of greater variety without the variety itself taking center stage. If there is a dominant theme to the work, it is that we are all one, and it makes its case with dizzying arrangements, evocative poetry and an impossible-to-resist urge to get down.

In the great jazz tradition, Adam Theis has spent ten years playing virtually nonstop in San Francisco’s small nightclubs. Sometimes he’ll play a whole set of loose, free-form funk songs. Sometimes he’ll stick to strictly jazz. Lately he’s been showcasing special sets of instrumentals sampled by De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, bringing attention back to the sources of classic hip-hop songs. Beats, Bows and Brass combines all of this activity with cerebral aplomb and an unerring personality that widely circumvents the rudimentary hokum of early jazz/hip-hop hybrids like Jazzmatazz or Hand on the Torch.

Theis conducted his 48-piece orchestra, played trombone and bass, spoke humbly between segments and animatedly tossed his charts to the stage floor throughout the performance. He allowed his players, and particularly his vocalists, to take the limelight. He stepped aside when violinists Anthony Blea and Mads Tolling went head-to-head in the dual jazz improvisation “Blea vs. Tolling”; when rappers Lyrics Born, Aima, Dublin, Seneca and Karyn Paige evoked the Mission District in “Community 2.0”; and when DJ Aspect McCarthy scratched along to beatbox breakdowns while the brass section swelled and ebbed dramatically.

On the surface, Brass, Bows & Beats is akin to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in that it brings a genre associated with black music into the symphonic realm. Theis does the same for hip-hop with Brass, Bows and Beats, but a closer cousin is Gordon Jenkins’ 1949 vignette Manhattan Tower, in which a great city is realized through a work of music that feels as alive as the city itself. Without a doubt, Brass, Bows & Beats is the sound of San Francisco in 2009; intelligent, soulful and diverse.

Once the official symphony was over, a second, looser set opened with an Astor Piazzolla song featuring Colin Hogan on the accordion. Joe Bagale brought the house down with his soul cry “Love Song,” and Jon Monahan conducted Eric Garland’s “Arc Line.” Those awaiting a party-rocking amalgam—in line with the Jazz Mafia’s many nights at Bruno’s—were rewarded near the end when the intensity level was raised markedly by Lyrics Born, who had been a small accessory to the first set.

Working the front of the stage, Lyrics Born brought the entire Palace of Fine Arts to its feet with full-orchestra versions of his own album tracks. A slow, sultry “Over You” and the hands-in-the-air “Hott 2 Deff” balanced the serious nature of the first set; the veteran Bay Area rapper then joined a full-frontal freestyle by all six vocalists for a television crime drama “Streets of San Francisco / Theme from S.W.A.T.” medley, arranged by Jeanne Geiger, that thrillingly increased in tempo toward the euphoric finish of a great night.

Attention, rest of the world outside the Bay Area! Adam Theis and the Jazz Mafia: Recognize!

Live Review: Green Day at the Fox Theater – Oakland, CA

Posted by: on Apr 15, 2009 | Comments (6)

Sometimes you just gottta believe.

As expected, the Internet was flooded with sleazy offers for tickets to Green Day’s last-minute show at the Fox Theater in Oakland last night, and unless you’d been quick, the situation looked grim. Luckily, between the irritating online postings asking for either $300 or for Asian girls to “send photos,” there came perpetual signs of hope on Craigslist. “Just bought 2 GA tix on Ticketmaster!” read a typical post. “Don’t pay the scalpers! Keep trying!”

Throughout the day, the faithful were rewarded with sporadic releases of tickets to the third of Green Day’s “secret shows”—all of them announced at the last minute, selling out instantly and premiering the band’s new album 21st Century Breakdown in its entirety.

I scored two quick-release tickets at noon yesterday, and drove frantically through rush-hour traffic with my wife to Fremont to pick up my niece. We got to the theater right at 8pm, bought one of seemingly plenty of extra tickets outside on the sidewalk, and voilá—I was suddenly standing with some people who’d flown in from Massachusetts, six rows away from a band I’ve loved since I first saw them opening for Nuisance, All and MDC in 1989 at the River Theater in Guerneville, CA.

Obviously, much has changed in Green Day’s world since 1989. At that first show in Sonoma County, they made jokes about handing out hundreds of joints to the crowd, sold hand-silkscreened tuxedo shirts stolen from their high school marching band for $3, and had just one record—a fantastic Lookout 7” called 1,000 Hours that my friends and I listened to obsessively. (We weren’t alone—just a month later at the Los Robles Lodge in Santa Rosa, crowds stormed the stage to sing along haphazardly with “Dry Ice.”)

20 years later, bouncers now keep an eye on pot smoking, T-shirts are now sold for $35, and Green Day, of course, now have plenty more than one record out. But the key magic is still there. As evidenced in their two-hour-plus show last night, Green Day is among a small handful of bands who have navigated the waters of success with a clear head and, in spite of the rigors of fame, have only gotten better over the years.

Case in point: the new album premiered last night.

At the doors of the beautifully restored art-deco Fox Theater, patrons were handed a Playbill-like program detailing the three acts of the new record, complete with author credits and libretto, while a large tragedy/comedy curtain hung over the stage. It’s hard to assess an album on only one listen, but 21st Century Breakdown is, as expected, a sister sequel to American Idiot. It loosely follows a story about being disillusioned with modern life in America, with recurring characters and themes. It’s pensive, it’s angry, and it unabashedly swipes snippets from the great catalog of rock ‘n’ roll and parlays them into anthems for the disenfranchised.

Judging from last night’s impassioned performance, at least four songs are utterly dumbfounding in their greatness (“Before the Lobotomy,” “Last of the American Girls,” “Horseshoes and Handgrenades,” “Last Night on Earth”), and several, like “¿Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl),” toy with completely new styles.

There are echoes of Green Day’s past: “Christian’s Inferno” starts with a rant straight out of the bridge to “Holiday,” “East Jesus Nowhere” cribs the chorus from “Welcome to Paradise,” and at one point Green Day stone-cold lifts the outro to “Brain Stew.” At the same time, the album makes musical and lyrical reference to Van Morrison, Gogol Bordello, the Who, Screeching Weasel, Barry McGuire, Wilco, John Lennon, P.I.L., the Ramones, Frank Sinatra, the Replacements, Tom Petty, Rancid, Otis Redding, the Misfits and Francis Scott Key.

One thing the album is missing, sadly, is a sense of fun. American Idiot was written and recorded quickly when the master tapes for their “real” album were stolen, giving it a spontaneous immediacy. 21st Century Breakdown took five years to make, and it shows. It is labored and serious, full of dramatic pauses and piano segues, and it teeters on the pretentious. I wish it didn’t. During a ’70s soft-rock piano ballad complete with falsetto vocals, an audience member held up a homemade sign reading “Play at 924 Gilman,” and it was painfully obvious how far the band has “grown” since their constant presence at said club. (Billie played there last year with Pinhead Gunpowder; read about it here.)

A drastic explosion in the excitement level came after the short intermission, when Green Day played older songs for another hour, and I got blissfully lost in the sweaty fray of people. “American Idiot” turned the stoic crowd into a swarming tornado; “Jesus of Suburbia” was dedicated “to everyone down at Gilman Street,” and “Going to Pasalacqua,” “She,” “Longview” and “Welcome to Paradise” thrilled longtime fans. The band was obviously making the set list up on the spot—during “Minority,” Billie asked, “I don’t know, should this be the last song?”

It wasn’t, of course. The show’s final song, the epic “Homecoming,” came with a warm explanation from Billie about the East Bay. Clearly, the band was happy to play for a hometown crowd (including Jello Biafra!), and at the end, he stood at the front of the stage, repeatedly opened his arms to the audience, and mouthed the words “I love you, I love you, I fucking love you!” over and over.

The feeling was mutual.

More Photos Below.

Live Review: Britney Spears at the HP Pavilion, San Jose

Posted by: on Apr 14, 2009 | Comments (2)

How thrilled was I for the opportunity to take my young niece to the circus! Yes, the fond memories of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ still linger in my mind as warm assurances of a childhood well spent. Never had I thought, as a lad, that I might one day be on the opposite end of this great tradition: a torch-bearer passing down to a generation anew the excitement of the traveling circus under the big top.

And yet the occasion was dew-dropped with sorrow. The circus has changed quite drastically in such a short span. I hardly recognized it. The brothers Ringling have nothing to fear in the poor competition presented by this newfangled “Britney Spears” circus of today.

We entered the arena in anticipation alongside droves of like-minded circus fans, bought our popped corn and cotton candy, and found our seats in the grandstand. When the curtain was raised, a group of female acrobats in clown makeup called the “Pussycat Dolls” filled the center ring, but they performed no somersaults, no balancing act, nor did they treat the children in attendance to any aerial trickery.

Instead, the acrobats moved their pelvises in ways that made me think they had to go to the bathroom. This hunch was proved correct when each girl ran to a pole and squeezed her legs around it. Why is there no bathroom provided for the performers? Circus budgets are so tight these days.

In my youth, the circus was a nonstop show. But when the poor Pussycat acrobats left the stage, there was nothing. Certainly, thought I, Merle Evans will march in with the opening strains of “Thunder and Blazes,” followed by wagons of lions; or a caravan of unicycles will charge the arena; or, if fate does smile on us, a motorcycle “globe of death” will roll into the ring.

Instead, a large screen showed moving pictures of the circus. Moving pictures! I could not believe the indignity! The surrounding children in our section seemed content to occupy themselves by staring at their telephones and hitting the small devices with their thumbs, but I was incensed. This was not what I had paid $150 for!

After this half-hour mockery, the lights went out and more live circus tricks ensued, erasing the sour feelings. A clan of jugglers flung clubs into the air! A prancing maiden navigated dozens of hula-hoops! Two strongmen hoisted a nimble gymnast into flights of fancy! All those seated in the grandstands were tickled and on their feet in glee.

Unfortunately, the main attraction of this particular circus was the elephant, who I believe was advertised as a “singer.” Upon the elephant’s entrance, the small children cheered wildly. Yet to the more wizened it was very apparent that the elephant, replete with jovial blonde wig, was not singing at all but only moving its mouth in time with the loudspeakers!

From that point forward, the singing-imposter elephant took center ring. Clowns surrounded the elephant and held their bladders while horrendous crashes of noise mixed with the “songs.” Trapeze artists dangled from the ceiling, unmoving, while the elephant ambled slowly to and fro in a cornucopia of silly outfits.

After an hour, an unknown defect created a gigantic electric malfunction in the circus apparatus, causing sparks to fly onto the rings, and the performance was over. What a disappointment!

I do hope the Ringling Bros. circus comes to town soon. I would relish a chance to show my niece the true spirit of the big-top instead of this shoddy knock-off currently being peddled across the country.

Live Review: Classics of Love at the Last Record Store

Posted by: on Apr 6, 2009 | Comments (0)

“It’s nice to see so many health food stores in Santa Rosa,” announced Jesse Michaels partway through the set by his band, Classics of Love. “Santa Rosa used to be known for something else.”

That thing, of course, was meth, which propelled an entire generation of thrash bands to play as fast as humanly possible while growling unintelligible, moronic lyrics. Jesse, of course, was affected by the drug in other ways; by writing some of the greatest lyrics of all time with Operation Ivy, and singing them in such a controlled, rapid-fire way that evoked chemical desperation as much as unbridled joy. Who knew Jesse equated Santa Rosa with meth? I mean, except for Capitalist Casualties?

“Let’s dedicate this next one to Victims Family, what the hell,” he continued, launching into “Time Flies,” just one of many actual great songs.  Folks can disagree for hours about Big Rig and Common Rider, but let the bickering end—Classics of Love is easily Jesse’s best post-OpIvy band. The singing is in tune, his guitar playing’s right on, and his backing band is great. I’d heard stories about his faltering solo shows, but after their maiden voyage tour coming up, I’d wager to say that Classics of Love will be a well-oiled force to be reckoned with.

Jesse shouted out the Cotati Cabaret, hoping that people might remember. Some did.