The long-hoped-for resurrection of Lauryn Hill, a dream seeming to slip further away with each year and each incoherent concert, took a giant step closer to fulfillment tonight at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa.
We may never know what exactly has plagued Hill these last eight years, forcing her to shirk the limelight, cancel tours and sabotage her reputation, just as we may never know how she became capable of triumphantly returning to the stage in 2010. One thing is evident: in Santa Rosa, of all places, the 35-year-old singer finally showed she craves dearly to be taken seriously again. Reinvigorated with enthusiasm, she inhabited the music, conducted the band, belted improvised shout-outs and thanked the crowd—all in the first song. “I love you,” she exclaimed to a field of fans. “It’s so good to see you.”
If it weren’t for the harlequin outfit, bulky hoop earrings and heavy metal guitar solos, it was almost like seeing the Lauryn Hill of old.
Outwardly struggling with fame, Hill has long evinced a complete dread of pleasing the public (see: Unplugged 2.0), but in a 75-minute set of Fugees classics and Miseducation tracks in Santa Rosa, she refreshingly aimed to do just that. From breakneck set opener “Lost Ones” to the slam-dunk closer “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill showed a genuine desire to again fulfill her talent.
It started rough. Scheduled to go on at 6pm, Ms. Lauryn Hill, as she requires to be billed, came onstage only after her DJ bored the crowd with a half hour of clunky, unblended snippets from the likes of “Purple Haze,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Pass the Dutchie” and “Bam Bam.” The presence of two large teleprompters at the foot of the stage, for lyrics, added to the slowly mounting despair. By 6:29, when instructed to make noise for the umpteenth time, the teeming crowd could only wonder if Hill would arrive at all.
But grandly arrive she did, in an ’80s multicolored full-body jumpsuit that was only moderately silly in light of the get-ups donned by the average Harmony Festival attendee. “Lost Ones” set things straight in a ten-minute version that twisted through five different arrangements, and Hill’s recently-faded voice showed rejuvenated form with “When It Hurts So Bad.” By the beautiful “Turn Your Your Lights Down Low,” the crowd was in the palm of Hill’s hands, and comeback was in the air.
“We gonna do some old stuff,” Hill proclaimed, “but, but, but, but… there is a ‘but’… we gonna do some old stuff kinda new. Is that okay with you?” A medley of Fugees tracks followed, with Hill even taking over some Wyclef and Pras verses and singing OG sample material (“I Only Have Eyes For You”). And despite a generation’s collective memorization of the album versions, reworked songs with reggae and hard rock elements electrified Hill, who nailed every segue and spat out lightning-fast lines quicker than the crowd could sing along.
There were, sadly, two immediate drawbacks. One, Hill clearly has no concept at all of how live sound operates. Both between and in the middle of songs, she constantly complained about the stage and house mix, chiding the soundman to keep turning up every instrument and microphone according to her fleeting whims. The result was a washed-out din.
The other problem was that Hill is perhaps now too eager for public approval. From the ultra-fast tempos which, even with the teleprompters, she at times struggled to keep up with; to the claustrophobic arrangements for two guitars, two basses, two keyboards and three backup singers; to the “whooooo!”s and the “yeeaahhh!”s and the hasty leg-kicking, the concert had the effervescent taint of a Vegas show.
Realizing that Hill is simply giving people what they want—in preparation for her Rock the Bells dates, no doubt—is a blessing and a curse. She admirably tried for a time to break from fame’s mold, but it only resulted in bad music and psychological deterioration. With this greatest-hits set out on the road, her old fans are certainly satisfied, but what about staying true to one’s muse?
The question was forgotten each time Hill eagerly jumped into each song. “Pop this one, c’mon, let’s go!” she told her band, and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” set an entire field of festival goers aflame. “Thank you so much,” she said, as a sea of arms applauded wildly. “Thank you for your patience with us. Good to see you. Hope to see you soon.”
Lauryn Hill hasn’t made fans’ patience an easy task these last eight years, but let’s hope we see her in this kind of form again soon. Her emancipation might still not fit some people’s equation—I’ve already heard from people who were disappointed with the show—but the trainwreck curse is over and the resurrection is afoot. Now the fine-tuning begins.
When It Hurts So Bad
Turn Your Lights Down Low
How Many Mics / I Can’t Stand Losing You
I Only Have Eyes For You / Zealots
Ready or Not
Doo Wop (That Thing)
More Photos Below.
Bare midriffs, sandals and burning sage galore! I stopped by the Harmony Festival tonight just in time to see a guy recite a song about hacky sacks, a clown-nosed Wavy Gravy ramble about yippie tomfoolery from 1968, and Dweezil Zappa lead his band in “Peaches En Regalia” while girls in fishnets and angel wings twirled near the pulsing lights. Later, over in the Grace Pavilion, the Jazz Mafia took the stage with ‘Brass, Bows & Beats,’ which you can read about in this week’s Bohemian column. “I wanna say thanks to the Harmony Festival,” said Adam Theis before the opening notes of his hip-hop symphony, “for taking a chance on something different.”
Theis is an avid skateboarder who always takes his board on tour; “if you don’t,” he told me, “you end up pulling up to the venue and there’s a skatepark next door.” That was the case tonight, since Jon Lohne and the rest of the Brotherhood Board Shop crew have assembled a mini-ramp and street course behind the Grace Pavilion. There’s even a VW bug car jump! But the real treat, at least to anyone who skates, is the fact that John Cardiel is DJing. No shit.
The beginning of the great Vice documentary Epicly Later’d: John Cardiel shows Cardiel in his room, flipping through Barrington Levy 45s and talking about how everyone expects him to like heavy music, like Slayer, to match his intense skating style. “I mean, I love Slayer, I love hard music,” he says, “but really, where my heart’s at, if you want to talk about some shit, let’s talk about some reggae.”
Tonight, Cardiel spun reggae and hip-hop records on a small stage next to the mini-ramp while festivalgoers in all manner of ridiculous costume walked by. Here’s one of the most influential and inspiring skaters in recent history, whose career was cut tragically short when he was accidentally run over by a trailer in Australia, DJing in Santa Rosa! Earlier in the day, fellow skate legend Ray Barbee played a 45 minute jam on the same stage, wailing on a Gibson guitar. Omar Hassan’s there tomorrow, and hell, even Tommy Guerrero is gonna be skating there on Sunday, so who knows what kind of musical mayhem will go down?
Click here for a full .pdf schedule of the skate area events.
More Photos Below.
Anyone who’s anyone is gonna be in Roseland tonight for the excitement that’s the fifth annual Cinco de Mayo celebration, and organizers have just announced the lineup. As in years past, there’s more traditional acts on the main stage, with a younger crowd expected around the small stage. Love is always in the air at Roseland’s big block party, and this year’s festival looks to continue the trend.
Here’s the lineup for the Main Stage. The 2010 La Reina is announced at 5:40, and note the two Duranguense bands. Synthesizers!
1. The car show starts at 4:30. If you show up late, you’ll miss some amazing-looking rides. Bring a camera.
2. The lines for pupusas are always the longest, but you can get them any day of the year at Pupusas Salvadoreñas across from the Fairgrounds. Skip out and go hunting for food at the many smaller, family-run booths.
3. Like last year, hip-hop acts go on early. Seeing local Latino rappers on their home turf in front of a huge crowd is an amazing feeling of triumph. (My feature on Santa Rosa’s Latino hip-hop scene is here.) Don’t be late!
4. Why drive? The Bike Coalition is providing free bike parking this year, and Rosie the Trolley is making pick-ups from the Post Office on Sebastopol Road across from Cook, and from the FoodMaxx shopping center at Stony Point.
5. The guy at the taco truck on West Ave. & Sebastopol Rd. sells a crazy selection of CDs for $10. Last time I was there, I bought Phat Jams Vol. 503. That is not a typo—there really were 502 volumes of Phat Jams before mine, filled with filthy club tracks. Might be good to stick with the classics, like “Cruisin’ Baby,” for the kids.
If you don’t wanna be among the throngs of people (it’s shoulder-t0-shoulder) and want to try a great new Yucatecan place, try El Rinconado Yucateco, so says me in this week’s Bohemian. Get the $6.95 panuchos and be in heaven. Plus, they’ll hold your baby while you eat if they’re not too busy.
(Rinconado Yucateco is way down Sebastopol Road near Community Bikes, a wonderful used bike resource which is still going strong. Read about them here. Last year they had a few crazy psych-metal shows; pretty awesome. Also, my friend Jamie tells me the family market next door sells pupusas on Friday evenings and Friday evenings only, and that they’re great.)
One of the semi-miraculous happenings around the local scene in the last year has been the unlikely reunion of the Invalids. I’m not talking about the band’s well-received show at last year’s Nostalgia Fest, or even their no-holds-barred warm-up the night before at Spencer-King, celestial as it undoubtedly felt. No, what’s miraculous is the Invalids are actually writing new songs—and great new songs, at that.
Those who showed up on Tupper Street yesterday afternoon with hopes of reliving the magic of “Wouldn’t Care If I Died” or “Sunday Afternoon” would have been let down. The Invalids attract an old gang of somewhat gracefully aging fans, and naturally, the old gang usually wants to hear the classics. But as they played a set of all-new material at the word-of-mouth show—not even one old song—I think everyone, one by one, agreed that the older stuff would have paled in currency.
It got me thinking about the steam train of hype surrounding the Pixies reunion, which wheezed to a disappointing rehash of playing Doolittle in its entirety; or the upcoming Pavement reunion, which looks like a rote victory lap while vacuuming dollar bills showering from the receding hairlines of the world. Hey, I can dish it and take it—I bought tickets. But I don’t feel any less played.
It reminds me of Josh Doan, whose new band Sapphire also played a few songs in the backyard yesterday. I realized that Josh has been making music for 17 years and has never put out an official album. Milkfat, Truant, Bottle Rocket, Tommy Gun, Boxcar and Hate Nevada were all good bands, I thought. “What you’ve gotta do,” I suggested, “is make a ‘Josh Doan’s Greatest Hits’ wrap-up featuring every band.” He was nonplussed. “In case you haven’t noticed,” he said, kindly, “I believe in moving forward. Not looking back.”
The Invalids are recording a new record in June. It’ll be their first album in 15 years.
This week’s music column is on Jack Springs, a 25-year-old high-functioning mentally retarded metal musician who sings about how he’s been mistreated in life. I didn’t know Jack was mentally retarded when I met him; he offered the information unsolicited, just like he freely shared his stories about having his head shoved into the toilet in school, or getting his ass kicked by bullies after being coerced into smoking marijuana.
The more I talked with Jack, the more I appreciated the raw honesty in his songs. Just like the sketchy handwriting in a junior high love note render feelings on the notebook page more real, the jagged delivery and lateral combination of lyrics in Jack’s songs tilt at the true turmoil that he lives with each day as a developmentally disabled man in a judgmental world.
Here’s some of the songs discussed in the article. There’s talk already amongst local musicians about forming a backing band so he can play live:
2. “The Jack Tracks.” A unique selection among Jack’s songs in that he addresses portions of it to himself. Near the end, he dedicates it to James, “a role model.” I had assumed he’s referring to James Hetfield, but it’s actually his father James, who’s passed away. Click here to listen.
3. “Violated Nights.” The incredible transformation of Jack the avant-beat songwriter with an out-of-tune electric guitar into Jack the hardcore larynx shredder with a score to settle. Chills. Click here to listen.
4. “Violated Days.” The CD-R that I received lists this song as “All of My Rights Were Broken to Pieces and Now I Am Going to Take All My Rights Back From You and Then Your Heart Will Stop Beating,” which, as you’ll hear, are the song’s complete lyrics. Jack’s since informed me that the song is called “Violated Days.” Either way, it’s amazing. Click here to listen.
Incidentally, to prepare for the interview, Jack brought me a list of his influences, written on a napkin. He tells me Metallica’s too commercial now that they get played on the radio all the time. (He also credits Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” as the thematic inspiration for writing songs about his rights.) You’ll see a band at the top of the list, Torn Back, which is Jack’s brother’s band, and Intangled, another local metal band who are friends with Jack—proof that the metal community can provide support to outcasts when no one else will.
There are reasons we like finding new places to play in Sonoma County. The jolt of the unchartered, the claim of presence, the raising of the flag. I relish the potential for disaster as much as I hope for the best—either way, it’s exciting. Los Caballos is a Latin dance nightclub in the old Shakey’s Pizza building on Cleveland that usually hosts tejano and salsa bands and, in at least one case, Latin Hyper, a fresh reggaeton band from Santa Rosa. This video is my favorite example of a normal night at Los Caballos, starring Los Vaquetones del Hyphy, a band in matching blazers, potleaf shirts and gasmasks who toss out free T-Shirts and Tecate before busting into their set. (“These dudes are clowns,” translates the comment.)
The turnout tonight at Los Caballos for StarSkate’s CD/cassette release show was encouragingly good. Hopefully the owners are down to have more indie shows, scratching their heads though they may be at the style of music foreign to their stage. Especially thrilling is that, like the North Bay Film and Art Collective, they’ve worked out an all-ages situation where those over 21 can still drink. It’s what I saw once at the Green Room in Tempe, Ariz.; a barricade running down the middle of the room, which isn’t nearly as awkward as it sounds.
Before StarSkate played, A Pack of Wolves turned in a great set on the nice, short triangular stage, flanked by a ‘Viva Mexico’ drum kit and pictures of Che Guevara on the wall. Is it just me or have A Pack of Wolves gotten extremely good in the last year or two? When they first started playing shows, I couldn’t shake a feeling that they were trying a little too hard to glom onto the dance-punk trend of the day, but seriously, they’ve really grown into their own. Cesco ended the set by announcing, “Thank you for watching us suck!” and then, off-mic, “That was our worst fucking show.” The tantrum was unwarranted; they played in this zone of professionalism made awesome by good new songs.
I last saw StarSkate at a house party on New Year’s Eve so crammed that their shadows on the ceiling were more visible than the band itself. To see them beneath nightclub cage lighting makes a big difference. They ruled. Similar to the compact sets pioneered by Universal Order of Armageddon, they play one uninterrupted 15- or 20-minute song, even when they need to change bass cables. There’s an unpredictability in StarSkate’s music, residing somewhere between planned and improvised, lit by a torch being passed from jazz to hardcore and back again. Their own description reads like the liner notes to a Strata-East album: “The band is currently studying the sacred science of sypathetic vibration theory,” it reads, “and experimenting with bending universal wave patterns to determine the qualitative form of mind and matter.” The Los Caballos crowd—including a couple old hippies, one burly bro with his thumb bandaged up, and some amused-looking staffers—were into it.
Also, here’s to the continued lifeboat for cassette tapes! I was at a Gilman show in January and I swear, four of the five bands that played were selling tapes. A friend of mine recently called it “the hipster calling card,” and yeah, it’s a trend. It’s one I can fully back. I’ve chronicled my love for tapes here and written about the thrust to make tapes in the 21st Century here, and I still get stoked when I can buy a new cassette. Five bucks for the StarSkate/BvP split, quick and easy, and how ’bout that artwork?
Los Caballos isn’t the only unusual place StarSkate is playing. Next weekend, they play this all-day thing with a zillion bands—another DJ N Front of a Coffee Shop JamSessions show—inside the Hall of Flowers at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds! No joke. If there was, oh, any information about it at all online, I’d link to it, but
as it is you’ll just have to somehow osmose the details from the universe, man. (Update: here’s a flyer, with no date. It’s Saturday, March 6th.)
Tom Waits is releasing a live album, Glitter and Doom Live, on November 24, just in time for the Christmas season. It includes 17 songs from various shows on his tour last year. I saw two shows from the tour; one at the beginning when the players were still finding their footing and one at the end, which was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. The live album features a bonus disc in the CD version called “Tom Tales,” with 40 minutes of Waits’ trademark ruminations on “romantic spiders and injured vultures” (the bonus disc comes as a free mp3 download with the LP version). Here’s the track list:
Lucinda / Ain’t Goin Down (Birmingham – 07/03/08)
Singapore (Edinburgh – 07/28/08)
Get Behind The Mule (Tulsa – 06/25/08)
Fannin Street (Knoxville – 06/29/08)
Dirt In The Ground (Milan – 07/19/08)
Such A Scream (Milan – 07/18/08)
Live Circus (Jacksonville – 07/01/08)
Goin’ Out West (Tulsa – 06/25/08)
Falling Down (Paris – 07/25/08)
The Part You Throw Away (Edinburgh – 07/28/08)
Trampled Rose (Dublin – 08/01/08)
Metropolitan Glide (Knoxville – 6/29/08)
I’ll Shoot The Moon (Paris – 07/24/08)
Green Grass (Edinburgh – 07/27/08)
Make It Rain (Atlanta – 07/05/08)
Story (Columbus – 06/28/08)
Lucky Day (Atlanta – 07/05/08)
Steve Martin, comedian and banjoist extraordinaire, has been booked at the Napa Valley Opera House to play on Thursday, November 5. If you were stuck behind a tree or thousands of other people when he played in Golden Gate Park, there’s still a handful of seats left for the Napa Valley Opera House, which is comparatively the size of a shoebox. Click here for tickets, which run $110-$125 per person and are going very fast. Might I tangentially also recommend Martin’s very wry and funny memoir, Born Standing Up, if only for his fantastic story about running into Diane Arbus at Disneyland, or the passage on briefly dating Linda Ronstadt.
Healdsburg’s jazz scene was set to lose a fantastic outlet when the Palette Art Café was sold, but thankfully, the new owners of the just-opened Affronti have carried on the tradition of showcasing excellent small combos in their intimate environs every Thursday night from 7-10pm. Reports on the food are positive as well, and dinner reservations are the best way to get a good seat. Upcoming acts include Cat Austin (Oct. 15), Ken Cook and the Gravity Trio with Scott Peterson (Oct. 22) and the Adam Theis Mega-Quartet (Oct. 29). The location once played host to jazz bassist Henry Franklin, and might I tangentially recommend Henry Franklin’s The Skipper, a very good record that I wish I had discovered prior to his performance there this summer with Azar Lawrence and not, sadly, afterward.
Souls of Mischief, far from being past their ’93 prime, have a new album, Montezuma’s Revenge, out in early December. They are still one of the best live hip-hop groups in the Bay Area. Every time I see them open a show, I feel bad for the headliner, who bumbles through a set doomed to inadequacy. Next week at Slim’s, they hold to the fire the feet of Ghostface Killah, a great rapper currently on “miss” in his hit-and-miss catalog of albums. Parlay the temptation into instead seeing Rakim, a great rapper who hasn’t made an album period for a while but who never disappoints, at Slim’s on Oct. 25. Might I tangentially recommend Eric B. and Rakim’s Follow the Leader, an album packed with just as much genius as Paid In Full but not, you know, overplayed.
Here’s my favorite story of the week: Earlier this year, Scott Brown made a pilgrimage to the final resting place, in Queens, of stride master and jazz piano pioneer James P. Johnson—only to find an unmarked scattering of weeds. Shocked at the lack of respect for one of jazz piano’s inarguable giants, he called on some of New York’s stride aficionados, including Dick Hyman and the Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson, in order to raise money for a proper tombstone. You can read about the marathon nine-hour cutting session here, and rest assured that James P. Johnson will have his life and legacy properly marked.
Dickie Peterson, the bassist and singer of Blue Cheer who spent a lifetime oversaturating amplifiers in underrated glory, has died at age 61. There is no way to go back in time and listen to Blue Cheer devoid of their subsequent context—Black Sabbath, prominently; Sleep, the Melvins and Sunn 0))), less prominently—but it doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that Peterson and his trio were on some heavy shit way before the world was on some heavy shit.
Of course, Blue Cheer played extensively in the Bay Area, including the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds in the 1960s right after Vincebus Eruptum came out, but had even more recent ties to this area. I met Peterson a few years ago when he was living in West Sonoma County, of all places, and playing the occasional blues show at the Forestville Club. He looked exactly like an unsung pioneer of heavy metal, with long hair, a denim jacket and imposing heft. I guess he didn’t stay here long—he died this morning in Germany, presumably of cancer. May he be remembered.
This week’s Bohemian feature is on Heavy Mental Music, a very amazing, strange record made in 1981 by David Petri and the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center in Santa Rosa. Pictured above is the “deluxe edition,” with a T-shirt, two posters, three stickers, a photocopied booklet, a notepad and two copies of the record, all housed in a hand-designed box. According to Petri, only 50 of these “kits” were made (most copies of the record were sold alone, or given out to strangers on the bus), and at one point, what you see above actually sat on the desk in the Oval Office.
What strikes me most about this record is that it’s completely ahead of its time, both in concept and presentation. Colored-vinyl 7″s, stenciled T-shirts, photocopied lyric booklets and paper Kinko’s stickers didn’t start showing up en masse until around 1991, and the acceptance of incorporating the developmentally disabled into pop culture—the Kids of Widney High, or How’s Your News?—was years away.
The heartbreaking part of the story, for me, is Petri being accused of using the mentally retarded clients of the Manual Skills Training Center to advance his own agenda. In the time I spent with Petri, he seemed like a sincere, caring person who patiently taught the clients how to play drums and keyboards and who happened to be attracted to the aesthetic of artists like Todd Rundgren and Salvador Dalí. Shades of that aesthetic color Heavy Mental Music, and something tells me that if Petri had recorded campfire folk songs like “This Land is Your Land” instead, it wouldn’t have been an issue.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s “Heavy Mental Music,” written by Jim Weber and performed by the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center on Lomitas Ave. in Santa Rosa in 1981:
Click the second file above to hear the obscure but no less compelling B-side,”Tour.”