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Interview: Naytronix’s Nate Brenner (also of tUnE-yArDs and Beep!)

Posted by on Sep 22, 2012

Merrill Garbus may be indie rock’s luminary of the moment, but some credit for last year’s acclaimed whokill album is due to the tUnE-yArDs’ other member and songwriter, Oakland’s own Nate Brenner. The bassist and multi-instrumentalist, also a part of experimental trio Beep!, is currently touring to promote Dirty Glow, his solo debut. The album, released October 9th under the moniker Naytronix, is a more subdued, mostly EDM song cycle that highlights Brenner’s gift for layered textures and oddly compelling grooves. In advance of his show Tuesday at Café Du Nord, we chatted with Brenner about the new album and juggling his various endeavors.

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Dub C Crew, “Wine Country”

Posted by on Sep 13, 2012 One Comment

Forget 40s of Old English. Forget Patrón. Here’s Moe Green, Cameron Washington, and Jairo “Rojah” Vargas with “Wine Country”—filmed in Sonoma:

Live Review: Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke at the Napa Valley Opera House

Posted by on Sep 10, 2012 One Comment

It was the type of show that you drive home from, only to come through the door, sit down in your living room and wish that you had a recording so you could listen to it all over again. Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke: three jazz legends, all headliners in their own right. What sort of miracle brought them together in a trio? Jack DeJohnette’s 70th birthday, that’s what. “I asked them if they’d like to help me celebrate,” DeJohnette said from the Napa Valley Opera House stage tonight, “and to my surprise, they said yes.”

When you’ve got such artistic heft flying by all at once, it’s hard to keep up. Which, of course, was part of the fun. Clarke’s percussive harmonics to open “Light as a Feather,” with Corea reaching into the piano to dampen the strings. DeJohnette’s horse-clop rhythm to begin “Someday My Prince Will Come,” as if said prince was riding in on a stallion. Corea clapping along with DeJohnette during Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-Me.” All were little easter eggs in a 90-minute set of constant, conscious interplay, full of head-nods, smiles, raised eyebrows and pointing among the three men.

The applause from the audience, who’d already given the trio a warm welcome, continued to increase throughout the night until the set closer, McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance.” I’d seen DeJohnette play the same composition with Tyner in 2002, and tonight, 10 years later, he played it with even more fire and propulsion. When it came time for his drum solo, he dedicated five minutes to soloing solely on one ride cymbal—which if you weren’t there sounds indulgent and dull, but was perhaps the most captivating moment of the night.

DeJohnette has just one more show with this dream trio, and then he’s back to playing with his regular band. Those who caught this historic collaboration, either in Napa, Santa Cruz, or at Yoshi’s… they know how lucky they are.

Live Review: Heatwarmer at Arlene Francis Center

Posted by on Aug 27, 2012


After much deliberation, it is my opinion that Heatwarmer is the most appropriate name for the incredible band that played last night at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa.

Seemingly correlated, it twists the mind around trying to decipher the meaning. On the surface, it seems to work. The sound of it is somewhat familiar, yet unusual enough at the same time to remember distinctly. Listen enough and it will create a wonder aural illusion, like a Magic Eye stereogram for the ears. “Oh, it’s a sailboat!” This successfully describes both the term Heatwarmer and the sound of the Seattle-based jazz fusion band.

Led by vocalist and electric bass player Luke Bergman, the group also features a drummer, guitarist and not one, but two synthesizeristas, one who also plays the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and one who can flip his hair and make it look perfect. Every. Single. Time. The songs are eclectic but very listenable, like a blend of Frank Zappa and Stevie Wonder. Well, not exactly, but sorta. Ya know?

No, you can’t know unless you listen to them. I’ll save the clever adjectives and music critic comparisons for something describable. For now, just enjoy:

Their new album is reportedly finished, awaiting the “final touches” as Bergman put it. They played only one song off their first album last night, “Weird Shower.” You know when a band plays there new stuff, and nobody is really into it because they just want to hear the songs they know and love already, even if the new stuff is even better? This did not happen to Heatwarmer. Jaws dropped, cheers were hollered and people danced. “What am I even seeing right now!?” was uttered more than once.

A review of a 2009 performance by Heatwarmer concluded with Gabe Meline waiting for the initial weirdness to settle down to determine if this was “good” or “bad,” and he rightfully concludes that if there’s even a moment of confusion to determine something that simple then it’s automatically in the “good” category.

Callie Watts, Straight-Up Kicking Ass With Frobeck

Posted by on Aug 26, 2012 3 Comments

You probably know Callie Watts as a waitress at Mac’s Deli in downtown Santa Rosa, slinging hashbrowns and pastrami sandwiches by day. The lucky ones have known her as a total dynamo on the mic by night, a powerhouse vocalist with deep roots in soul and R&B. (True story: Once, while at a booth at Mac’s, I happened to sing the namesake chorus to Tower of Power’s “Don’t Change Horses,” and Callie, nearby, picked right up and belted out “…in the middle of the stream! / giddy-up! / giddy-up!”—and danced off, plates in hand, into the kitchen.)

Callie’s sung with almost as many bands as she’s served omelets over the years, but man, has she ever found her groove with the great local band Frobeck, who’ve just released a new album, 624. The album features the regular band—Spencer Burrows, Kris Dilbeck, Steve Froberg, and Jonathan Lazarus—plus the “Frobeck Horn Stars” and, in an awesomely appropriate guest spot, Bill Champlin.

‘Course, Callie’s on there too. Here’s video of a Callie Watts spotlight from Frobeck’s record-release show last night at Hopmonk, and though the footage is shaky, the performance is solid as hell:

Catch Frobeck at a stage near you, and check out 624 here.

 

Extended Play: Esperanza Spalding on Justin Bieber, Jazz Purism, Drone Strikes and Playing With Prince

Posted by on Aug 24, 2012

Esperanza Spalding plays this Friday, Aug. 24, at the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa. I caught up with her on the phone for this week’s music column, but she clearly had much more of interest, and of eloquence, to say than would fit in the paper. Here’s our interview, below:

I read and loved your profile in the New Yorker, and specifically your respect for and appreciation of jazz. But beyond that, I was interested in your comments about playing with McCoy Tyner, and how it reinforced your beliefs that jazz should not be a dusty museum piece, and more a music that needs to be for the present time. I wondered what McCoy Tyner thought of those comments. Did you ever hear from him about it?

Oh, no, I didn’t. But I honestly doubt he’s too concerned about it either way. We talk about it as a conceptual thing, the art form, and that’s good. It’s good to keep the creative juices flowing, the cerebral aspect of it, and thinking about what it means, and where we’re headed with it, and blah blah blah. But the day-to-day reality of making music is just to do it. I mean, that’s the priority, is to sit down every day and explore it. I think there’s a place for every kind of practitioner of the craft. I really have come more and more to believe that, traveling as much as we get to travel—and even living in New York, seeing how much diversity there is of concepts and philosophies about the music, and having those philosophies boil down to the music that’s actually being made.

You have those folks who are total bebop heads, who really see that as the pinnacle of the music. And then there are people who don’t want to have anything to do with that, and say, “Well, that was the language of back then, and now we live in today. We have to keep cultivating the idiom, and forget about that. That was one strand in the stream of what music is, so let’s keep on evolving and not clinging to that.” And the beautiful thing is, there’s really room for everything. (more…)

Live Review: Phish at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco

Posted by on Aug 23, 2012 One Comment

Photo by Andy Maroney

PHOTOS BY ANDY MARONEY

Phish once played Santa Rosa in 1993 at the Luther Burbank Center, a venue with a capacity of about 1500. The young band was in their heyday, amazing audiences with their pyrotechnic jams—and having tons of fun doing it, as evidenced by the set list and notes from that night.

Back then, drummer Jon Fishman performed solos on trombone and Electrolux vacuum cleaner, the latter during a Syd Barrett cover song. Between their own fun and funky compositions, the band playfully covered songs by Argent, Led Zeppelin, and even performed two tunes a capella with no microphones, barbershop-quartet style. At one point a member of the audience was brought onstage to tell a joke.

That was the Phish that I knew and loved when I first discovered them, that same year. A band with a great sense of humor, entertaining as hell, made up of talented and fearless musicians. They got the crowd involved by bouncing giant beach balls into the crowd for the “Big Ball Jam,” while guitarist Trey Anastasio and bass player Mike Gordon jumped on mini trampolines in synchronized choreography to the music. There was even a “secret language” between the band and the audience (so, for instance, when the guitarist played a few notes of The Simpsons theme the entire audience would exclaim “D’oh!” in unison). (more…)

Review & Photos: Outside Lands 2012, San Francisco

Posted by on Aug 18, 2012 One Comment

All photos: David Korman

For a full slideshow of bands at Outside Lands, click here.

For a full slideshow of people and fashions at Outside Lands, click here.

Outside Lands is too crowded, Outside Lands is too expensive, Outside Lands shot their wad on big-name headliners—I’ve heard these complaints and more about the festival from fans, and yet it still completely sold out this year, all three days. The neighbors? Their complaint is that it’s too loud, and yet Metallica played.

At this years’ Outside Lands more than ever, it was evident that San Francisco has a banner festival not unlike Bumbershoot or Bonnaroo. It was in the air Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Golden Gate Park, this shift in emphasis. The first few years of Outside Lands were all about the music, but Outside Lands is an experience now, a thing you and all your friends go to, a water-cooler discussion, an Instagram feeding frenzy. Someday, Another Planet Entertainment may be able to sell it out without even announcing the lineup, and when that day comes, I will be baffled, but not surprised.

Out of the 65 acts, including a lot of worthy feel-good nostalgia (Metallica, replete with 30-ft.-high pyrotechnics, played almost all songs from 1991 and earlier), here are five in particular that had an impact. (more…)

In News

Divine Fits Defies ‘Supergroup’ Moniker

Posted by on Aug 17, 2012 One Comment

Equal parts Spoon, Wolf Parade and New Bomb Turks make a cocktail called Divine Fits

Divine Fits is a Voltron of indie and punk rock. Take Spoon singer Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade guitarist Dan Boeckner and New Bomb Turks (yes, the 90s punk band) drummer Sam Brown, throw them in a recording studio, and the result is far better than any other so-called supergroup I’ve ever heard.

The debut album, “A Thing Called Divine Fits,” is streaming on NPR until Aug. 19 here. It’s due to be released Aug. 28. They’re also playing the Treasure Island Festival in San Francisco this year with The XX, Best Coast, Joanna Newsom, Los Campesinos! and a host of others.

There are no egos in the music here, nothing that doesn’t add to the songs. It feels like, well, it feels like a combination of Spoon, New Bomb Turks and Wolf Parade, actually. Maybe a little less New Bomb Turks, but it’s there. The energy and not-giving-a-fuck-ness feels like punk, but the music isn’t super fast, there are more than four chords per song, and the instrumentation and recording are both decidedly grown up.

Vintage synthesizers fill transitions and spaces between lyrical stanzas. The music isn’t afraid to take chances, to stick its neck out and let songs develop without having to worry about “the hook.” It’s got that great Spoon groove that I love, but doesn’t get boring like Spoon sometimes feels to me. I could listen to this record four more times today, and I’ve already heard it more than once.

The recording is great, and that helps. It’s always tough to get into a new band when they release something recorded in their buddy’s basement in Portland on a “sweet ProTools rig” or something like that. The great thing about a supergroup is their connections and the buzz they have built leads to releasing something that, at the very least, will be a high-quality recording.

The songs are solid, the band sounds like it’s been playing together for quite a while now, so is moniker “supergroup” really appropriate here? There are good ones, like the Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson), the Postal Service (Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello, Jenny Lewis) and the Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, many others). But for the most part, supergroups, once realized, are a terrible idea. Here’s a few off the top of my head: Slash’s Snakepit, Audioslave, Zwan, Velvet Revolver, Angels and Airwaves, Chickenfoot, PLASTIC FREAKING ONO BAND.

It doesn’t usually work out. But this doesn’t suck. In fact, if this became a real band, and not just a Postal Service, We’re-Gonna-Make-One-Album-And-Never-Again kind of thing, I would be most pleased.

Live Review: Nicki Minaj at the Paramount Theater, Oakland

Posted by on Aug 14, 2012

The L.A. Times has a review of Nicki Minaj’s L.A. show that criticizes the singer for having too many personas, which I think misses the point. What Nicki Minaj is is too many personas. Nicki Minaj is a bunch of unrealized, scattershot ideas. Nicki Minaj is a schizophrenic 12-year-old with tourettes who’s drank three mochas and has been handed a mic. Because of this—this barrage of short, quick information blasts one experiences while listening to the 29-year-old’s music—Nicki Minaj mirrors the 21st century and its nonstop information overload. It’s a genius, prescient presentation, that happens to fill the important role in teenage pop music of driving older people crazy.

Nicki Minaj is also Katy Perry for the fuckups, evinced by the crowd at the Paramount Theater in Oakland on Thursday night for Minaj’s first-ever headlining tour. In every direction: neon wigs, tight dresses, high heels, high hems, low necklines, lace tutus and gratuitous cleavage, but, like, with intentionally messed-up makeup, or ripped fishnets, or tattoo sleeves. One could easily people-watch in the lobby and feel like the $100 tickets were already money well spent. (more…)