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City Sound Inertia Wins Another National Award

City Sound Inertia Wins Another National Award

Posted by: on Jul 22, 2011 | Comments (2)

Well, color me honored! Today in New Orleans, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies held their annual AAN Awards and handed out a second-place national award to City Sound Inertia for Best Music Blog.

Considering the great altweekly music blogs out there—Ian S. Port and the SF Weekly’s All Shook Down; Ezra Careff and the Portland Mercury’s End Hits; Rob Harvilla and Zach Baron at the Village Voice’s Sound of the City, which to no one’s surprise took first place—well, being in such fine company, and winning two years in a row, and doing so all by myself in a relatively small town… it feels good.

Thanks to all of you readers for sticking with me here on City Sound Inertia; I continue to be humbled by the fact that people actually read these words of mine, still usually typed at 2am from home. And again, thanks especially to AAN, not just for the award but for nurturing and championing alternative news media. Now go on and listen to some records! Start with Mingus Ah Um, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, Midnight Marauders or w h o k i l l, and you’ll be in fine shape for the rest of the day. Here’s love to you all.

 

Live Review: Lucinda Williams at the Wells Fargo Center

Live Review: Lucinda Williams at the Wells Fargo Center

Posted by: on Jun 28, 2011 | Comments (0)

(Note to the Reader: For this installment of City Sound Inertia, we welcome guest reviewer Bob Meline! A finish carpenter by trade, longtime music fan, and secretly, a solid bass player, he’s also my dad—and one of the greatest guys I know.)

I’ll admit I haven’t been a hardcore Lucinda Williams fan. Her alt-country sound has been mildly attractive to me, enough that I own a few of her CDs, had at least listened to all of the others and had actually paid to see her in my own hometown 6 or 7 years ago. My interest was mostly due to a close female friend of mine who has had her share of ups and downs in life, and who for quite a while saw Lucinda’s music as the soundtrack to her own difficult journey on the planet. As such, I paid a bit more than average attention to Williams’ songwriting, and while some of it was very raw and direct and spot-on, some of it was almost annoying in its simplicity and repetitiveness. Her tendency to slur her vocals and deliver same in the occasional monotone didn’t grab me either.

Lucinda’s stage presence as a performer can be lacking—even borderline non-existent at times. The one previous time I’d seen her live was at the end of nearly a year of nonstop touring; the stage was about the last place she seemed to want to be that night. She did her best Van Morrison-esque impression, keeping her cowboy hat pulled low over her eyes and barely addressing the audience at all. And yes, alcohol may have been involved. Musically, it was a decent enough show, but not enough to turn me into a dedicated fan.

All that changed last Friday night. I had purchased a couple of tickets the day they went on sale (ninth row and reasonably priced, these days anyway, at $45.00) and had the aforementioned female friend/fan as my date. And even though I hadn’t been very impressed in two of Lucinda’s recent releases, West and Little Honey, I bought Blessed for a preview of what we’d be hearing. What struck me immediately with the album was the quality of the musicianship. Williams has the stature to have surrounded herself with some pretty good players through the years, but this just felt different somehow. With some real anticipation, I hoped it would translate to the live show.

When the 8 PM show still hadn’t started at 8:30 and the natives were getting restless enough to start rhythmically clapping, whistling and calling out Lucinda’s name, it was hard to remain upbeat. The house wasn’t full, and I tried to embrace the possibility that they were waiting for just a few more bodies to fill just a few more seats. She finally emerged with the three-piece band, mumbled, “Hello everybody,” and went straight into “Can’t Let Go.”

For the next hour and fifty minutes, the four musicians (Lucinda included) were simply brilliant. Props as well to the sound crew—this was one of the most crisp, clear and clean shows I have heard at the Wells Fargo Center in a long time. When you get that kind of sound right out of the gate, you can focus completely on what the performers are giving you. And what they gave to the night, interestingly enough, was more of a rock and roll feel, infusing a different kind of power and energy into the setlist than what I had expected.

Lucinda’s drummer, Butch Norton, immediately took charge. He was there. He converted his drums from a percussive device to an actual instrument, seemingly using every piece at every moment. At times, he inspired personal recollections of Animal from The Muppet Show band and the great Keith Moon. And though he was all over his kit, he was in complete control without overshadowing the rest of the band—loud and forceful in accentuating tunes like “Buttercup” and “I Changed The Locks,” and effortlessly holding up the quiet, introspective songs like “Born To Be Loved” and “Blessed,” both from the new album.

The other half of the rhythm section, David Sutton, was the perfect complement to Norton. While providing most of the backup vocal work, he alternated between a standup bass, a hollow body electric bass and a Fender Precision to provide a melodic bottom end that formed a real connection with Norton’s drum work. He ran the gamut from a hard rock sound to intricate fretwork to quiet single-note accentuations. He especially shone on “Get Right With God,” the encore’s closer.

Lead guitarist Blake Mills was simply amazing. He brought something different to each tune, from screaming, shredding leads to seamless slidework to finger picking staccato to light and buoyant accentuation of Williams’ vocals. He elevated music that was already brilliant to the level of stunning—every song would have made a highlight reel. A collection of guitars that I finally stopped counting covered most of the sound spectrum. At just 24, he plays well beyond his years.

Oh yeah, Lucinda. Sure, she still has those awkward-but-endearing moves onstage. And I’m not sure when this practice first started, but she now employs a music stand with a notebook that contains all the words to her songs at the ready, referring to it quite often. (C’mon, how many times prior to this show has she sung “Lake Charles” or “Pineola” or “Drunken Angel”?) But tonight, I’ll gladly give her that and whatever else she wants or needs to prop her up. Lucinda was in stellar form vocally. Her voice was strong and clear, she was both forceful and demure, she gave us pain and joy, she made us stop and think, she had us nodding our heads in common experience and deep feeling. She didn’t marble-mouth her lyrics, she didn’t fall into a lazy growl, she simply sang ever so beautifully in that slightly rough-around-the-edges Louisiana drawl which makes everything that comes out of her mouth so flat-out real. Again, the sound was brilliant, letting the audience easily fuse with the woman who has been included in the short list of the greatest songwriters of all time.

Tonight, for me, it all came together perfectly. No doubt I’m late to the party, but now I get Lucinda Williams. The strength and quality of her backing musicians (interestingly enough, all from California), the power of the real-life stories she crafts lyrically, the quality and emotion in her voice—it all felt so deeply, penetratingly real that it was almost scary someone could do it so well.

Tonight’s show was magic. I’m a fan.

—Bob Meline

(Previously by Bob Meline: Bonnie Raitt at Sonoma Jazz +)

Interview: Siren

Interview: Siren

Posted by: on Jun 22, 2011 | Comments (4)

 

Brian: "This band was entirely my life. I was addicted to the band."

This week’s Bohemian column is on Siren, the band that virtually defined the Sonoma County punk scene for three years before imploding in a collapse of rumors, drugs, and, as you’ll read below, being incurably broke. Before their heavily anticipated reunion show this Saturday, I caught up with them at a smelly practice space in Santa Rosa where they’ve been rehearsing songs like “Die Cast Mottos” and “Buy Our Fall” for the first time since the Clinton era. Brian drank a beer. Adam arrived with a bread-bag tie for a guitar pick. Kevin got stuck in traffic. Joe brought candy.

The idea of a Siren reunion has been brought up before, but it took a good cause to actually make it happen. Nicole McCracken, Kevin’s wife, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. You can follow her story here. There’s an idea to evolve this show into an annual benefit for women with cancer, which is an appropriate endeavor for a band who always embraced direct action.

The show is this Saturday, June 25. Tickets are available here. Our interview starts below.

Live Review: The Flaming Lips, Primus at Harmony Festival

Live Review: The Flaming Lips, Primus at Harmony Festival

Posted by: on Jun 15, 2011 | Comments (0)

Friday night at the Harmony Festival was headlined by perennial standby Michael Franti, who recently signed to Capitol Records after years on the independent-label grind. But Saturday and Sunday were topped by the Flaming Lips and Primus—two bands that got snatched up by Interscope and Warner Bros. in the great alternative rock signing frenzy of the early 1990s. While their back-to-back sets at the Harmony Festival were a nostalgia trip for many, and eye-opening for some, they also provided a case study in What Happens When the Weirdoes Get Industry Support.

In the Flaming Lips’ case, it’s resulted in some breathtaking albums—The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots—and one of the world’s must-see theatrical live shows. Part of the joy in seeing the Flaming Lips live the second, third or fourth time is watching the reactions of first-timers, particularly the ones on mind-altering substances, which at the Harmony Festival means many. So if you’ve seen the confetti blasts, the giant laser hands, the space ball and the mothership descent before, turn to your right and watch the slack jaws.

This was the case with me, although I can still say the ‘Lips were better than ever. Opening with a blast of hits, including “Do You Realize?!,” “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” they powered into stranger material from Embryonic and a recent split with Neon Indian. A cover of Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” followed, the space ball came out, they closed with “Race for the Prize” and everyone left satiated.

There’s a bit of ego tripping in Wayne Coyne’s banter, urging the crowd to get more into their set and be more excited (he must’ve said “c’mon, motherfuckers, c’mon” a dozen times) and it’s irritating that their volunteer dance brigade’s options have gone from full-body bunny suit to ogle-inducing “Sexy Dorothy Costume” in six short years, but they’ve got their shit down, for sure. A key stat: before their set, the lawn was sparse, and I wondered where all the people were. By the end, the crowd couldn’t’ve been denser, showing that the Harmony bookers took an interesting chance on the band, which worked.

Primus is less of a gamble, since they’ve got deep roots in Sonoma County—something Les Claypool alluded to onstage, citing old stomping grounds like the Cotati Cabaret, the Phoenix Theater and the River Theatre. “You all look like fine people,” said Les Claypool at one point, “I wish I lived around here somewhere.”

Of course, Claypool does live around here—a fact reflected in new song “Hennepin Crawler,” about a contraption made for the Handcar Regatta, and with references to the Russian River and Bodega Bay in another new song, “The Last Salmon Man,” about the population reduction of chinook salmon. (Their new album Green Naugahyde comes out in September, and the rumors are true: It really does evoke the early Frizzle Fry era of Primus.) “Groundhog’s Day” opened the show, and “Harold of the Rocks” and “Tommy the Cat” closed it, with an obligatory “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” thrown in.

But the highlight, by far, was a version of “Those Damn Blue-Collar Tweekers” that epitomized Primus’ three-piece range, with Larry LaLonde and Jay Lane pounding and skronking around Claypool’s bass during an extended jam. I hadn’t seen Primus live in roughly 20 years since literally worshiping the band during those Phoenix Theater and River Theatre days Claypool had alluded to, but damn if they didn’t still have that same old magic.

And yes, it was the 1990s again, with crowd surfing and a real-live pit.

More Photos Below.

Wayne Coyne and Frank Hayhurst: Separated at Birth?

Wayne Coyne and Frank Hayhurst: Separated at Birth?

Posted by: on Jun 8, 2011 | Comments (0)

The Flaming Lips play this weekend at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, and when I chatted with Wayne Coyne for the Bohemian, he professed that “It’s better to be honest and be true if you’re gonna try to make art and music your life.” Which is something that I could very easily imagine Zone Music’s Frank Hayhurst saying, too.

Has anyone seen the two in a room together? Just sayin’.

(Wayne Coyne photo by Pooneh Ghana, who takes incredibly awesome band Polaroids.)

 

101.7 The Fox is Off the Air — What Happened?

101.7 The Fox is Off the Air — What Happened?

Posted by: on Mar 24, 2011 | Comments (73)

In a surprising twist that has just about everybody scratching their heads, longtime hard-rock radio station 101.7 FM The Fox has officially been pulled off the air.

According to a source close to the station, employees of the Fox found out about the change in a meeting at 11am today. Immediately afterward, the station went off the air at noon.

The replacement station, “Hot 101.7, Sonoma County’s Hit Music Station,” is currently playing Top 40 hits (as I type this, it’s Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”). If listeners notice any resemblance to another local Top 40 station, it’s no coincidence. Maverick Media, the Fox’s parent company, recently conducted an audit through a third-party surveying company and found that among those polled, Top 40 is more appealing in this region than hard rock.

Said another source: “They hired this company that finds out what music works, and what music isn’t working, and they felt like in order to keep a competitive edge in the market, they needed to strong-arm the only station that didn’t have any competition.”

That station, Y 100.9, airs on a weaker signal in Sonoma County, and the Maverick Media executives at the meeting seemed confident that Hot 101.7 will be able to overpower the smaller station “out of business,” the source said. (Y 100.9 is owned by Sinclair Communications, which also owns 95.9 the KRSH and 96.7 BOB-FM.)

Hot 101.7’s new site declares: “We asked Sonoma County what they wanted from their favorite radio station. You told us you wanted a HOT station that played hit music with LOTS of music.” (As I type now, it’s the Black Eyed Peas, “Just Can’t Get Enough.”)

Public response so far has been predictably negative, with the new station’s Facebook page filled with “fans” who are making their voice clear: “What the HELL!!!!” writes a typical fan. “No more freaking pop stations!!! I want the old FOX back. Gimme my rock back. I am beyond sick to my stomach. UGH!!!!!!” Elsewhere on the station’s Facebook page, fans complain about having their posts removed by the administrator.

A page for “Fight Hot 101.7” has cropped up just today, along with an even bigger page called “Bring Back the Fox,” and a public protest is planned for Friday, March 25, at 4pm.

Without a doubt, this marks the end of an era for Sonoma County radio. For over 20 years, the Fox has been a Sonoma County standby, serving up classic hard rock like AC/DC and Metallica to more recent music from System of a Down, Disturbed and Velvet Revolver. About a month ago, longtime program director Scott Less left 101.7 the Fox for the Pacific Northwest, but apparently, even prior to Less’ departure, a “skeleton crew” had been running things with barely any financial support from Maverick Media.

Based in Connecticut, Maverick Media are the same people who thought it would be a good idea to fire Steve Jaxon, one of the greatest DJs in Sonoma County, and who aren’t available for comment (their website has been perpetually “under construction” for well over a year). Located over 3,000 miles from the station’s Fox Plaza, they’ve seemed perpetually out of touch with what Sonoma County actually wants, and have now killed the station that gave the building its name. (Right now, they’re playing Britney Spears, “Womanizer.”)

The employees of the Fox have been told that they’ll be able to keep their jobs, but in what capacity exactly is unclear. Currently, Hot 101.7 is broadcasting with no human DJs at all, playing canned tracks on a piped-in feed from corporate headquarters. Sad.

Flaming Lips to Headline Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa

Posted by: on Feb 9, 2011 | Comments (1)

Get out those giant inflatable space balls and nun puppets covered in blood—the Flaming Lips have been confirmed as headliners at this year’s Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa! Running June 10–12, 2011 in Santa Rosa, the festival lineup also includes Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, whose hit “Home” shows no sign of fading; Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, fresh from a rare small show at the Hopmonk Tavern earlier this week; Kirtan yoga darling Krishna Das; Maui’s Lost at Last and Americana heroes Railroad Earth. More artists are to be announced in the coming weeks, and “sneak peek” tickets are on sale now at www.harmonyfestival.com.

In more festival news, the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival has announced its headliners—who, as many are quick to point out, would never be filed in the “jazz” section of any record store or iTunes playlist. Still, a sold-out crowd is expected for Sheryl Crow (May 21), John Fogerty (May 20) and the Gipsy Kings (May 22), all under the big tent. Opening acts and side-stage artists, traditionally more representative of jazz, will be announced soon. As is the fest’s custom, tickets for Sonoma residents go on sale one day early, Feb. 14, while tourists have to wait until Feb. 15 at www.sonomajazz.org.

Live Review: Ceremony at the Arlene Francis Theatre

Posted by: on Jan 8, 2011 | Comments (2)

When I got to the Arlene Francis Center last night, there was already a line wrapped around the front of the building and out through the parking lot onto the street. It was only 6:44pm. Six bands—Ceremony, Sabertooth Zombie, Dead to Me, All Teeth, Strike to Survive and Hear the Sirens—were about to play.

In chatting beforehand with Ian Anderson, Dead to Me drummer and former Santa Rosan who once lived around the corner from the Arlene Francis, I remarked that this was probably the biggest punk show in Santa Rosa in 15 or so years. That’s not because there hasn’t always been a thriving punk scene in Santa Rosa, but mostly due to lack of an all-ages venue in the city limits proper. The Arlene Francis, I gotta say, is finally the answer to the long-repeated complaint you used to hear all the time: “Why isn’t there a great all-ages venue in Santa Rosa?”

But Santa Rosa wasn’t the city on people’s minds. Rohnert Park is the latest album by Ceremony, and even though the people I talked to who drove to the show from Fairfield and Sacramento hadn’t ever been to Rohnert Park, they’d certainly heard of it. (You’ve got to love the cover art.)

“North Bay! North Bay! North Bay! North Bay!” chanted Cermeony’s Ross Farrar, during the intro to their first song, “Sick,” the lead-off track from Rohnert Park. The crowd chanted as if a tribe. Bodies flailed above other bodies’ heads. The song kicked in, and the swarm went nuts.

It’s tempting to say that the true experience of a Ceremony show is not the music but the mayhem. A dreadlocked guy front-flipped off the theater’s support beam and onto the crowd. Multiple people dove off the center post. Someone hit Farrar in the face. The speaker and mic cables kept getting unplugged. There was surely more craziness than anyone could possibly see—at one point I saw a dude walking through the packed crowd holding a bag of ice to his head.

But putting the emphasis on audience theatrics doesn’t do Ceremony justice. They’re simply one of the best punk bands touring today, and Rohnert Park is a triumph of combining decades-old punk styles with spoken-word interludes and near-downright goth songs (“The Doldrums,” which directly addresses living in Rohnert Park). Between climbing on the theater’s support beams, swallowing the microphone, pulling his Bad Brains shirt over his head and pacing the stage, Farrar mentioned that this was the first show the band had played in Santa Rosa in probably six years.

After the show, with the insanity of “This is My War” bubbling down to a finish, and amidst chatter about the Giants, old Negative Approach 7”s and instructor Richard Speakes (Farrar attends the SRJC), he told me the band’s already writing a new album. Based on some other things he told me that I swore I’d stay quiet about, I have every reason to believe it’ll be Ceremony’s biggest album yet.

(Previously: ‘Suburban Home: Ceremony’s newest, ‘Rohnert Park,’ castigates and embraces’)

Coddingtown Center’s ‘Dinosaur Christmas Song’

Posted by: on Dec 22, 2010 | Comments (0)

It’s been a while since I’ve dusted off this old flexidisc record and played it—12 months, to be exact.

In December, an annual tradition of mine is to listen to “Dinosaur Christmas Song,” credited only to “Coddingtown Center.” For those who grew up in Santa Rosa, it’s truly one of the strangest Christmas songs in existence, telling the story of how the very first Christmas ever took place on the land now known as the Coddingtown shopping mall. It does a horrendous job at connecting Christmas and commerce, but I look at it through the eyes of one like, say, Stan Freberg, who railed against the commercialization of Christmas. Would not even Stan be charmed by the surreal absurdity of the British narrator, the female chorus, and the incessant groaning of dinosaurs in the background?

Many years ago, right when I started at the Bohemian, I decided to try and track down the origins of this record, which I discovered in 1994 at Goodwill for 35 cents. The article took me to Coddingtown in Santa Rosa, Hugh Codding’s main office in Rohnert Park, local commercial recording studios, radio stations, Montgomery Village and more. Read all about it here.

Or, if you’re so inclined, click the player below and be transported to a very strange moment in local history. At this point, after becoming an annual tradition, it’s one of my favorite Christmas songs. Enjoy.

Jack Attack: "I Hate Spiders"

Posted by: on Aug 18, 2010 | Comments (0)

After a Bohemian article in March of this year, quite a few readers found resonance in the outsider music of Jack Attack, a.k.a. Jack Springs, a high-functioning mentally retarded heavy metal fan who works rounding up shopping carts at G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa. The story of his trials growing up and finding catharsis in music was incredible to me, and his music, posted previously here, even more so.

So it makes me happy to share more of Jack’s music today. I’ve gotten his most recent recording, and along with themes about his soul no longer being destroyable, his rights being violated and his position as a singing God, he includes a timeless warning to the arachnid species.

Dear readers, here’s Jack Attack’s newest hit, “I Hate Spiders”: