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Live Review: Jessie Ware at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco

Live Review: Jessie Ware at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco

Posted by: on Jan 26, 2013 | Comments (0)

At the start of her packed show Thursday night in San Francisco, Jessie Ware’s token platitudes for the city of San Francisco started out as just that—expected banter from a touring musician, repeated hundreds of times over. By the end of the show, though, after constant affection showered upon the breakout UK star from an adoring crowd, her city-crush on San Francisco rose to fever pitch. Then, when someone handed her a bouquet of roses, Ware completely lost it.

“Oh my Gooooooodddddd!!” she wailed, in thick British accent. “This really is our favorite city!”

Ware’s full-length album Devotion still hasn’t been officially been released in the United States, whatever that means in the year 2013; everyone at the Rickshaw Stop seemed to know nearly every song. Opening with the title track, Ware and her rock-solid band emitted a slow pulse, built it to a climax and, as Ware sang loudly away from the mic, pushed the song into transcendence. It was a formula that would be repeated throughout the night, but never felt, well, formulaic.

Gabe’s Top 20 Shows of 2012

20 Shows I Saw In 2012 But Never Reviewed Here, Now Reviewed In Three Sentences Each

Posted by: on Dec 31, 2012 | Comments (0)

Katy B at the Rickshaw Stop: “Katy On A Mission” is a hell of song. The rest, not so much, but Katy B bounced around the stage, was effervescent, etc. This show is memorable mostly for a) going to Roosevelt Tamale Parlor on 24th for the first time ever and b) hearing M83’s “Midnight City” played very loudly on club speakers.

Demdike Stare and Andy Stott at Public Works: A girl yelled “You’re the worst DJs in the world! I hate you!” repeatedly at Demdike Stare for 15 whole minutes. Andy Stott went on at 2:40am. I got a parking ticket, but it was worth it.

Aretha Franklin at the Nokia Theater: The last time Aretha played the Bay Area was 1978, so I stopped holding my breath and took a plane to Los Angeles for this, a great, great show that opened with the barn-burning “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher” and ended, of course, with “Respect.” The whole time, I thought about how Aretha was born in this run-down house in Memphis, then had a baby at age 14, then recorded her first record, and then had a baby again at age 15, which according to conventional wisdom should have derailed her whole life but LOOK AT HER NOW, an undisputed legend. Smokey Robinson was there, and walked slowly right by me, and I was speechless.

Trey Songz at the Oakland Arena: When you are headlining an arena show, it’s not a good idea to interrupt your set five songs in to show a commercial, for god’s sake. It’s also not a good idea to perform only a snippet of the great “Neighbors Know My Name.” There was a fight on the street below the BART platform afterward, and I went to Home of Chicken and Waffles at midnight to cheer myself up.

Justin Townes Earle at the Wells Fargo Center: A tall, rail-thin songwriter with a tilted hat who affectedly jerks and lurches like he has bugs in his clothes and mumble-sings like a less-drunk Conor Oberst. Plucks and pops the strings hard, especially while playing Lightnin’ Hopkins covers. Ended his set with a very touching song about his mom, and in the space between the song’s last chord and the rousing applause, you could hear audible gasps all around you.

Gabe’s Top 25 Jazz Discoveries of 2012

Gabe’s Top 25 Jazz Discoveries of 2012

Posted by: on Dec 31, 2012 | Comments (4)

I’m always digging for old jazz albums at record stores and thrift shops, and for all the love I have for contemporary popular music, I’m usually listening to jazz while at home. I rarely have any reason to write about these records, though, which is why I round up the best of what came across my turntable at the end of every year. (Should you be so inclined, here are my lists from 2009, 2010 and 2011.) These are not new jazz records—just old stuff that I never discovered before.

Linked throughout these descriptions are links to YouTube clips; I hope you’ll click around and find some new music to enjoy. Or, hit up your local record store! We’re also lucky to be in the midst of the great Healdsburg Jazz Festival, and, down in the city, SFJAZZ and Yoshi’s, all presenting jazz how it’s best experienced—live.

Enjoy!

Charles Earland – Leaving This Planet

I thought I knew Charles Earland. (Side Two of Black Talk, featuring the schmaltz-reclamation of “The Age of Aquarius” and “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday”? Flawless!) But nothing could have prepared me for Leaving This Planet, which leads off with the title track, a dancefloor killer: “I’m gonna lee-ee-eave this planet, with all the trouble that’s in it,” sings Rudy Copeland. The outer-space theme continues with titles like “Warp Factor 8” and “Mason’s Galaxy,” and Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard do their thing over a lot of ARPs, Moogs, Harvey Mason killing it on drums and other wild sounds engineered by Eddie Harris in the Berkeley, CA of 1973. Highly recommended.

Rusty Bryant – Fire Eater

Behold, I give unto you, the “Fire Eater” drum break. Idris Muhammad, ladies and gentlemen. You can let your imagination run wild on how many times I picked the needle up on this and replayed it the day I found it. The bass drum and the toms have the world’s most violent arm wrestling match with the cymbals cheering them on, and then the beat drops back down and the snare’s like, “It’s cool, I’m just rolllllllling through.” You better believe it’s been sampled like crazy. I have a friend who was bugging out even harder over it, and he’s an actual DJ, so I traded it to him for…

Steve Grossman – Some Shapes To Come

…which has some fine drum breaks on it, too. But I was into the Steve Grossman LP for the nutzoid remainer, which erects much through destruction. The tones on this album are distorted, the piano is electric, the rhythms sound like a herd of antelope running across hard pavement. Adventurous, strange, and on some unknown label from New Jersey. I don’t know much else about Steve Grossman, other than he played on A Tribute to Jack Johnson and some other Miles Davis albums you probably don’t listen to very often. But this one’s killer, through and through.

Duke Edwards & The Young Ones – Is It Too Late?

When you’re playing the “Name A Jazz Album That Needs To Be Reissued” game, you can’t do much better than this. Duke Edwards and his band lived in Montreal, and had the weight of the world on their shoulders when they recorded this freeform, socio-political masterpiece. Edwards delivers sermons, entreaties and tortured personal manifestos over loosely-structured but not too-out music. Filled with soul and tears, “Is It Too Late?” evokes all the anguish for the human race and tumult of 1968 in one perfect 14-minute track. It’s not on YouTube anywhere, but this, from the same album, gives you an idea.

Live Review: Snoop Dogg at the Uptown Theatre, Dec. 14

Posted by: on Dec 17, 2012 | Comments (0)

Photo by Jacques Law

As we approached the sold-out Snoop Dogg show at the Uptown Theatre in Napa, I played a little game called “What did Snoop Dogg do with his day in the wine country?” Did he go wine-tasting at fancy wineries owned by out-of-town hedge fund investors? Did he get a salt rubdown at a luxuriously expensive spa? Did he spend the day smoking weed in his hotel room and ordering out from some five-star restaurant serving rustic California cuisine in Saint Helena?

Once the show started (and the painfully loud bass of opening act Pac Div came to a merciful end), I realized that what Snoop Dogg (not a Lion in sight) brought to Napa was the feeling of a good, old-fashioned, backyard, Southern California summer BBQ on one of the coldest days yet in 2012. The crowd was flying high (literally) and it was party-time, Long Beach loving vibes all around, as Snoop blasted through a medley of his greatest hits like ‘Who Am I,’ with its Parliament vibes, LBC call outs, and the classic refrain, ‘Bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay.’ After that, he busted out some lesser known hits followed by ‘Gin and Juice,’ ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot,’ ‘Still a G Thang,’ and a two minute cameo from Katy Perry’s sickly sweet confection  ‘California Gurls.’

Underneath a massive banner emblazoned with an image of a rasta-tammed, super high, grinning-to-the- moon Snoop surrounded by weed leaves and joints, Snoop let his crew take the lead on quite a few songs, and left the goofy entertainment mainly to Nasty Dogg, a furry mascot that carried a gigantic cartoon blunt around the stage for most of the show, when he wasn’t waving a giant furry dildo at the audience (a woman in the audience mimicked a blow job on it for such an uncomfortably long time that even Snoop seemed to be blushing—Napa gets crazzeeeeeeee!) Shout-outs to Nate Dogg happened about every five minutes, and even though I was hoping to go into labor (nothing like being eight months pregnant at a Snoop show) while the lanky hip-hop gangster turned rastafarian played his hit, ‘Beautiful,’ my dream didn’t come true because he skipped it all together (guess it’s hard to pull off without Pharrell) and never took the stage for an encore. Despite wearing a beige prison garb outfit with rasta colors on the pocket, Snoop’s only reference to his newly embraced religion came at the very end of the show, when he shouted out Haile Selassie and gave a voracious “Jah Rastafarianism!” ( a move that only slightly recalled Andy Samberg’s Ras Trent), followed by Bob Marley on the stereo system.

Photo by Jacques Law

The decision to end the show with “Young, Wild and Free” Snoop’s hit with protege Wiz Khalifa and Bruno Mars was straight out of the best practices playbook. We ate it up, dancing, singing along, feeling like kids again while the puffs of smoke lifted up like magic clouds into the rafters. It was a feel-good, life-affirming moment in a day that will go down as one of the most tragic days in modern American history, and we enjoyed each and every blessed second of it.

Live Review: Snoop Dogg at the Phoenix Theater, Petaluma

Live Review: Snoop Dogg at the Phoenix Theater, Petaluma

Posted by: on Dec 16, 2012 | Comments (2)

The year is 2043, America has split into two countries, Chinese is the most-spoken language on the planet and music is made almost entirely on computers. A grizzled old man sits next to the holographic Yule log fireplace steaming from Netflix 3D and beckons the children from their video game contact lenses to listen to his story.

Gather round here, kids, I have a story for you. It takes place in a time before holograms were commonplace, when we had to use our own hands and feet to drive our cars, when there only one United States of America and one man sought to bring us together before this country was torn apart. That man’s name was Snoop Dogg.

Now, this man was a musician, and of course his real name wasn’t Snoop. He wasn’t really a dog, either. He had a simple message: smoke as much weed as you possibly can and have a good time. He spoke through the language of hip-hop, and his quest began 60 years ago when he made an album–that’s uh, it’s like a whole bunch of songs in one, uh, CD, which is like a disc with music, oh never mind–called Doggystyle, which was a pun on his name by referencing, well, you’ll find that out later when you grow up. But the point is it was clever. He used clever rhymes and catchy beats and hooks to become a superstar in the music world, and his primary message later in his career became about smoking weed and having a good time, back when it was illegal.

Your Own Private MTV

Posted by: on Dec 13, 2012 | Comments (1)

Nothing makes you feel more like a relic than reading and relishing a massive oral history of Music Television. Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum assembled hundreds of pages of recollections of the network, and there’s a buried memory trip every few millimeters. Because yes, the book covers the years 1981 to 1992, but if you were alive and young and watching television then, I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution isn’t about bands, or music videos, or the birth of reality television, or pop culture. It’s about you.

Since those years,  indifference has sent my pop culture literacy drifting into the remote, frigid waters of ignorance; I have no way to know if what airs on MTV currently carries the emotional and generational weight it did for me and my peers. But my heart tells me there’s no way it can, because it’s a different beast now, this music-free MTV, and in this millennium there are a million ways to connect with this global community of music and coolness and youth. But back then, for thousands of populations of us, it was the only game in town. 

The North Bay Shines in New Easy Leaves Video

Posted by: on Dec 10, 2012 | Comments (1)

The new Easy Leaves video for the song “Get Down,” directed by Sebastian Nau, is a sweet little tribute to the band’s Sonoma County roots. I’m not sure where the video was filmed (maybe Petaluma?), but there’s lots of shots of lush and rolling emerald hills, grazing cows, tractors, and craggly live oaks. The premise is simple. Main band guys Kevin Carducci and Safe Fifield wake up to a day of drudgery in the fields when all they want to be doing is playing music with their friends and drinking Lagunitas beers until the wee hours of the night. It’s a simple paen by these 2011 NorBay Award Winners to the joy within “an ocean of smoke and wine.”

The Easy Leaves bring their North Bay Americana to the Great American Music Hall on January 4th. More info here: http://www.theeasyleaves.com/

Live Review: San Francisco Symphony at Green Music Center

Posted by: on Dec 7, 2012 | Comments (0)

SF Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas says hello

The San Francisco Symphony’s opening night performance at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center was beautiful and exciting. Each player in the symphony is fantastic individually, and together under the baton of the rockstar of the classical world, Michael Tilson Thomas, the orchestra elucidated every ounce emotion in the evening’s music program. Weill Hall, the acoustic gem and main hall of the GMC, plays gorgeously to this. The premier acoustic space seems to widen the ear canal, allowing for more sound to be heard at once than ever thought possible. The pieces on this night showcased this clarity.

Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (Op.28) begins with a sneaky little theme, proceeding to take the listener through all sorts of jollity but always with the sense of danger right around the corner. After all, a little mischief never hurt anyone, just don’t get caught. The clarinetist in this piece has a challenge, playing extremely high notes, the highest the instrument can make. I ran into a much loved SSU music professor during intermission, and he suggested this piece was specifically chosen for tonight to showcase the acoustics of the hall. I couldn’t agree more. The fast runs in the higher registers translated not into harsh overtones, but velvety notes that were easily followable in the clarity of the space. When the merry prankster does get caught (and executed), the low bass and drum notes were ferocious, vibrating my loose pant legs (or was that just my legs trembling from the tremendous magnitude of unamplified sound?)

The only sound that hasn’t made me gush so far in this hall is the low mid frequency. It can sound a bit muddled, especially with piano. On opening night with superstar Lang Lang at piano, his dexterous Mozart performance was lost a bit in this register, and parts of the SF Symphony performance were not as sonically brilliant in this area during faster sections. It sounds as though this frequency takes longer to develop than others in the hall. But really, this is splitting hairs. It’s not a problem so much as an observation.

MTT and Yefim Bronfman take a bow

Yefim Bronfman’s playing on Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto (Emperor) was superb. It was not flashy or self-indulgent but more bold and heroic like the piece itself. Though it did not have the passion one would imagine of Beethoven himself pounding the ivory keys, demanding more from his instrument than ever thought possible, it was not lacking for emotion, either. Whether it was just my ears or the players adjusting to the space, during the first five minutes it felt like the piano was just a hair too soft. But soon after, everything settled in. From then on it was pure ecstasy, like listening to a fabulous recording on the best audio system, but it was real, and it was happening right in front of us. I was reminded of this when, during a quiet moment just before the piano flourish at the end of the final movement, a cell phone, ironically with the “piano” ringtone, went off somewhere in the building. This only made enhanced the experience for me with its reminder that it was taking place in reality.

Also performed this evening was “Pandora,” which the SF Symphony had just performed for the first time the night before. This 20-minute piece for strings written by SF Symphony assistant concertmaster and violinist Mark Volkert in 2010 again showcased the heavenly acoustics of the main hall with several solos and double basses playing extended low notes, vibrating the floor in some cases. It is a 21st century work, to be sure, but it is more accessible than some newer pieces. It’s a story piece with a concrete narrative following the Greek myth of Pandora, and can be followed without too much confusion and with beautiful imagery. Volkert was in the audience and came up from his seat to shake hands with MTT after the piece. Both looked quite pleased with the result.

The sad truth of a generation hooked on mp3s is they will rarely experience a full acoustic experience in music. Earbuds are a terrible listening device, reproducing, at best, about two-thirds of the human hearing spectrum. The best mp3 is 25 percent of the data of a full recording compressed into the middle of the frequency spectrum where our ears are tuned to listen more easily. Without getting too technical, let’s just say the sound is flat and lifeless. The main hall at Sonoma State’s Green Music Center is the anti-mp3. It is pure sonic expression, giving music a forum to be heard as it was intended by its creator and perhaps even enhancing it through the warmth of the acoustic environment. Though their home, Davies’ Symphony Hall in San Francisco, is stunning in its own right, I wouldn’t be surprised if members of the SF Symphony prefer playing in Weill Hall. This was the first of four SF Symphony performances at the Green Music Center for its 2012-2013 season, and hopefully next season features even more.

Live Review: Miguel at the Oracle Arena, Oakland

Live Review: Miguel at the Oracle Arena, Oakland

Posted by: on Nov 25, 2012 | Comments (0)

Miguel Pimentel is a 25-year old singer, songwriter and producer from Los Angeles who has made one of this year’s most bewilderingly satisfying albums, Kaleidoscope Dream. His music is R&B in the same way that Lionel Richie’s solo hits are R&B—instead of simply smoldering rootlessly in the modern formula, it assimilates both pop tropes and sonic experimentation in the pursuit of access to the part of one’s brain that processes an elusive strain called “catchiness.” (Miguel would never stoop to “Dancin’ on the Ceiling,” but a burner like “Runnin’ With the Night” is up his alley.)

His songs, most of which he writes, are incredible, but there’s little clue on Kaleidoscope Dream toward what kind of performer Miguel might be in a live setting. Does he play guitar like Prince, a clear inspiration? Does he pace back and forth, hunched over? I wasn’t sure until, at the Oakland Arena Friday night opening for Trey Songz, the lights went down and the pitch of the audience’s screams went up. Miguel emerged through wisps of a fog machine dressed in a custom-tailored suit, wingtip shoes, acutely tapered slacks, a silver lame shirt, dark shades and his signature hair. He then proceeded to dance with precision and unimaginable verve over every square foot of the stage.

Eminently healthy, Miguel moves like a less-furious James Brown, mentally separating the top portion of his body from the lower wind-up toys that other people might call legs. He is unafraid to laugh at the outrageousness of his own physical ability, as when he executed the famous “falling microphone stand” trick, or when he leaped from the side of the stage, over a six-foot gap, to land standing atop a stack of the arena’s bass woofers.

While all this is going on, Miguel manages to sing far better than most singers who just stand there. Yes, those high falsettos on “Adorn” were perfect. Moreover, he’d change melodies slightly, in subtle ways. On the chorus of “How Many Drinks,” a pyrotechnic singer like Mariah Carey might warble and flutter and yodel all over the chord changes; Miguel sung the sixth instead of the fifth. Simple, and effective.

The set only featured five songs from Kaleidoscope Dream, the rest coming from Miguel’s first album, his mixtapes or his guest spots. Sources mattered little; “in the palm of his hand” is the best description for where he had the crowd. “Thank you so much to the Bay Area,” he said at one point. “You guys supported me before my hometown did. It’s crazy, every time I come to the Bay I think about this special someone who inspired me to write these songs. Maybe you know her.”

Do You…” might’ve lacked the machine-gun drums and popping disco bass of the original, but segued neatly into Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up”; “Lotus Flower Bomb” turned into an enthusiastic singalong; and when Miguel ripped off his shirt during “Pussy is Mine,” well, he basically rendered the arena a helpless pool of female squeals. “Adorn” ended the set, and Miguel, legs flailing as ever, danced back to the uppermost riser, jumped high into the air, and landed perfectly, in the splits. Incredible.

Setlist:
Strawberry Amazing
Sure Thing
The Thrill
How Many Drinks
All I Want Is You
Do You Like Drugs
Lotus Flower Bomb
The Pussy is Mine
Quickie
Adorn