The only thing missing at the Napa Valley Opera House Wednesday night was the tent.
Billed as the “Soul Salvation” tour, the co-headlining lineup of Ruthie Foster and Paul Thorn brought the fervor of a religious revival, with a decidedly temporal bent, to the gathered congregation.
Both Thorn and Foster have early backgrounds that include heavy doses of religion—Thorn’s father was a Pentecostal preacher; Foster sang in and played piano for her church choir. Take those gospel influences, mix with equal parts of blues and soul, and you get an energetic and entertaining performance with somewhat different approaches.
Thorn can rock when backed by his touring band, but when performing acoustically, his regular guy, southern-accented attitude with some “aw, shucks” self-depreciating humor allows the listener to focus on the humor, love and pathos in his writing. His self-introduction, “Hi, I’m Paul Thorn and I’m gonna play some songs I made up,” set the tone for a wide array of song subjects.
He opened with “I’m Still Here,” giving thanks for making it through another day’s often bizarre trials and tribulations. The song “I Don’t Like Half The Folks I Love” said what many of us feel, but are afraid to say, about extended family—”I like it when they come, but I love it when they go.” Thorn told the story of “Joanie, the Jehovah Witness Stripper,” who was a good girl at heart just trying to make ends meet.
Death and destruction played roles in Thorn’s gospel revival: the touching “I Have A Good Day (Every Now And Then)” was prompted by the suicide of a friend, and Thorn promised “I’ve got a can of gas and I’m a dangerous man” to an unfaithful wife in “Burn Down The Trailer Park.” He paid tribute to his mother, who lived in the shadow of his preacher father for so many years, with the song “That’s Life,” stringing together different phrases she used throughout her life. Then, channeling his father, Thorn promised the crowd “If you don’t buy my CDs, you’ll go to hell,” before closing with “Everybody Looks Good At The Starting Line,” a tune about those good intentions we all have.
Ruthie Foster came to celebrate. She was genuine, warm and energetic, and her gospel roots inhabited every song. Although Foster was honored by the Blues Foundation last year as Best Contemporary Female Blues artist, she effortlessly blurs musical lines of Mississippi blues, Texas roots, Memphis soul, Cajun funk and Southern gospel. It’s an infectious mix that just exudes energy.
Her band took the stage one by one—Tanya Richardson on bass, Samantha Banks on drums and Scottie Miller on keyboards—slowly working into a slower, jazz-infused version of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer,” one of the songs from her recently released album Let It Burn. The band changed instruments, with Richardson on violin, Banks on a wood block and spoons and Miller on the mandolin, to brilliantly cover Mississippi John Hurt’s “Richmond Women’s Blues.” They went a cappella to perform “The Titanic,” on which Foster is backed on her new album by the Blind Boys of Alabama. (The foursome on stage did a magical job, so much so that Foster beamed, “We get the Blind Boys with us on that and woo, we have church!”)
The energy began to build as Foster belted out what may be her signature tune, “Phenomenal Woman.” With the immediate standing ovation, the night could have ended right there, but she then went solo a cappella with the Son House song, “Grinnin’ In Your Face.” A slow-cooking “Real Love” followed, and the band closed with an extended version of the traditional “Death Came A’Knockin’.” Lyrically a generally morbid song, it was transformed into a lengthy upbeat jam, giving each of the musicians some quality solo time.
Thorn joined Foster and the band for two encores. With everyone on their feet, they did Fosters’ “I Hear Music In The Air” and closed with a new Thorn song, “Take My Love With You,” both high-energy, gospel-swaying, hand-clapping crowd pleasers.
With the spirit in the building, it’s a good thing they’ve renovated and strengthened the rafters of the Napa Valley Opera House. And at that point, if your soul wasn’t saved, well… maybe you just weren’t listening.
Announcements for the 2012 Healdsburg Jazz Festival are trickling in, and the first one so far lives up to the festival’s reputation of excellence. On June 10, a jaw-dropping lineup of Roy Haynes, the Vijay Iyer Trio and Sheila Jordan headline Rodney Strong Vineyards in Heladsburg.
I say: Goddamn, Jessica Felix has done it again.
Let’s start with Roy Haynes. The master drummer has played with every jazz great imaginable, starting with Lester Young and Charlie Parker and moving through a you-name-it sea of greats: Coltrane, Dolphy, Getz, Miles, Dizzy, Monk, Rollins, Bud, Art Pepper, Jackie McLean, Andrew Hill. I saw him a few years ago at Yoshi’s with Kenny Garrett and John Pattitucci, and even in his mid-80s, the guy hasn’t lost one drop of power in his thunderous, commanding playing. For reals. He’s a marvel to watch.
Vijay Iyer made what was without a doubt my favorite jazz album of 2009, Historicity—a dense, inventive slab of forward-thinking playing. It wasn’t just the cover of M.I.A.’s “Galang”; it was the completely unique harmonic conception, the static-laden solos, the unpredictable in every minute. Think the Bad Plus, minus some of that trio’s more overt showiness. He’s a must-see.
Not to let an already star-studded show suffer from a lack of further lumination, there’s Sheila Jordan. I found the singer’s 1962 Blue Note album Portrait of Sheila a couple years ago, and it wound up on my 2010 year-end jazz list. After its release, she didn’t record for over a decade. I never thought I’d ever see her, and yet here she is, playing Healdsburg. Just like everyone else who you never thought you’d see. Of course.
The show is on June 10, 2012, at Rodney Strong Winery, made possible in part by a $10,000 NEA Jazz Masters grant that’s only given out to 12 nonprofits nationwide. The fact that the Healdsburg Jazz Festival is one of that small pool of recipients doesn’t surprise me, but it does make me proud for the festival’s ongoing success in the wake of its near-death in 2010 and the irritating fake-jazz festivals it has had to compete with over the years. True art always survives, one way or another, doesn’t it?
Further announcements for the 2012 festival will be made at www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org.
Never mind that the beat (and the title) is a direct lift of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar.” Never mind the low (or no) production values. Just enjoy this video shot at the Roxy Stadium 14 Theater by local rapper Tru Lyric, who apparently works cleaning up auditoriums after showings of Underworld: Awakening 3D and who goes home with plenty of rhymes running through his head.
Travel back in time 30 years ago and tell the average “Whip It” fan that Devo would still be relevant in the year 2012, and you’d probably get a totally 1980s “Barf Me Out” in response, accompanied by a conspicuous lift of the Vuarnets.
But as proved by a comprehensive hour-and-a-half set at the Uptown Theatre in Napa on Sunday night, Devo has every reason to exist, still, years after their debut album. They played with urgency, decidedly unlike a bunch of old guys going through the motions, and they delivered song after song that, in whole, left a statement about the hopeful nature of humankind and the ultimately hopeless fate of the world.
That might sound bold in reference to five guys with energy domes on their heads, but bear with me.
Devo threw potato chips all over the audience. Devo went through six costume changes. Devo had a huge video screen backdrop. Devo ran up and down the aisles with pom-poms. Devo dressed in airbrushed unicorn shirts, masks, radiation suits and knee pads. And they played the hell out of every era’s songs: “Girl U Want,” “Mongoloid,” “Peek-a-Boo,” “Goin’ Under,” “Gates of Steel,” and many, many more.
“Most people here know that de-evolution is real,” said Jerry Casale at one point, “but when you’re up here in wine country, you get the feeling that de-evolution missed just a little patch. The wine gods shined down.”
“Uncontrollable Urge” was the obvious rock moment of the night, while their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” was probably the best surprise—not that it was played, but that it sounded as weird as the very first time. “Mr. DNA” climaxed with a guitar solo ending in the total whammy-barification of all six strings. Snap!
But the tiny details, the little lyrics like “It’s a place to live your life!” from “Planet Earth” (like Santa Rosa’s official slogan, “The City Designed for Living”)—those are what makes Devo great. During an intermission, the video screen played a public service announcement about the world: “A tiny infintesimal speck of sound in this vast, incomprehensible universe . . . an insignificant dot with a lifespan too short to measure . . . and on this planet earth, there is Devo . . .”
Of course, “Jocko Homo” was great, with Mark Mothersbaugh encouraging audience members one by one to sing the “We are Devo!” response into his microphone; after all these years, it still has all its power. And at the end of the long, comprehensive set, “Beautiful World” ended with Mark Mothersbaugh throwing 100 superballs out into the audience, all of them bouncing off the chairs, the walls, peoples’ heads. It was surreal, it was fun, and it was most decidedly Devo.
According to his grandson’s Twitter, funk legend Jimmy Castor died today at 2:30pm. Nile Rodgers, founder of Chic, breaks the news as well: “I can’t stop crying. How do I explain how much his brilliant upbeat music touched my soul?”
There isn’t any easy way to explain how much influence Jimmy Castor has had on music, tangible or otherwise. But it’s important to frame Castor outside the novelty of “Bertha Butt Boogie.” Castor put the fun in funk, and pioneered a dense, full-throttle style. Below, watch breakdance anthem “It’s Just Begun,” live in 1973.
1. Are the Black Keys really big enough to headline a day at Coachella? Somewhere along the way they went from that scrappy band that sounded too much like Cream to a bona fide arena act. They’re playing the Oakland Arena, too. Here is a very involved story from the drummer’s ex-wife, about the rise of the band and the coincidental dissolution of their marriage.
2. The biggest excitement here is for millennial hardcore fans. Reunions from both At the Drive-In and Refused? Everyone I know in their late 20s is shitting their pants. I mean really.
3. Aside from Swedish House Mafia and AVICII, there aren’t a lotta up-and-coming electronic acts. Amon Tobin, DJ Shadow, Atari Teenage Riot, Beats Antique and David Guetta are your dad’s electronic music. (I am a dad.) Where is this year’s teenage get, Skrillex? Who will go see araabMUZIK?
4. Radiohead, Snoop, Dre, Mazzy Star, et al: Total late ’90s / early aughts vibe. Historically, Coahella’s always gone after the ABSOLUTELY NEW AWESOME TOP BLOGGABLE FREAKOUT THING. Then there was that Rage reunion and they must have realized the potential in an old crowd. Or older. Whatever, they’re the ones with enough disposable income to afford this thing, right?
5. Amazing that I looked at this lineup five times before noticing fIREHOSE. A fIREHOSE reunion? Damn.
6. No official press release, and the Coachella official site has been down all day. CSI pal Erik Siebert says it best: “I would be VERY impressed if Coachella only announced their lineup with a whisper, a share on Facebook, and a tweet.” The future is here, people.
7. Acts to cross your fingers and hope they tour through the Bay Area before / after: The Weeknd, Pulp, Death Grips, Jeff Mangum, fIREHOSE, Azealia Banks, A$AP Rocky.
8. I’ve never ever seen a festival book the same exact lineup for two consecutive weekends. Way to maximize profit margin, Goldenvoice!
9. So relieved that M. Ward has escaped the popularity of Zooey Deschanel.
10. I’m still a fan of this Coachella lineup.
Beyoncé had the baby tonight, and according to reports, it’s a girl named Blue Ivy Carter.
According to reports, the baby was delivered C-Section at Lenox Hill Hospital after checking in under the pseudonym ‘Ingrid Jackson.’
Ivy Blue is in interesting company in the music world: others born on January 7 include Juan Gabriel, Kathy Valentine, Kenny Loggins and Jann Werner.
As expected, Twitter is going nuts. It’s gotta be weird to already be trending in your first couple hours of life, but then again, any baby who can write eloquently from the womb is a miracle baby indeed.
I tell you, there’s nothing like… utility overalls, an athletic hoodie and a newsboy cap?
Sure enough, that’s what David Lee Roth sported last night at Van Halen’s invite-only show at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village last night.
I’ve always rooted for Diamond Dave—’specially over the other guy—and sometimes I’ve wondered how he’d segue into middle age. Think about it: this outfit, basically, is the David Lee Roth version of khakis and a Bermuda shirt.
Below, “Hot for Teacher,” from last night.
The last time Los Tigres Del Norte performed in the Bay Area, they played at the HP Pavilion, fer cryin’ out loud. So it’s a pretty big deal that the long-running superstar group—celebrating 30 years since their first album—has a scheduled concert at the 1600-seat Wells Fargo Center on March 11, 2012.
When I try to explain why I like Los Tigres del Norte to friends, I usually say something like “Duuuude, they’re the total gangsters of norteño music!” But the honest truth is that I don’t understand their lyrics unless I toss them into Google translate (my second-year Spanish is rough), or unless they’re explained to me, as in this fine primer on the group’s best immigration songs, courtesy of Amoeba Music, or this profile by Alec Wilkinson.
However, once translated, their songs tell marvelous, compact stories. Los Tigres del Norte’s most famous song is “Contrabando y Tración,” about a couple who smuggle marijuana across the border by stashing it inside their car’s tires. Once safely north, and paid from the delivery, the man declares that he’s leaving for San Francisco to hook it up with another girl. The woman pulls out a pistol and shoots him dead on the spot.
“Contrabando y Tración” was written by Angel Gonzalez, who, in interviews, emphasized the role of the female in the story. “I am a feminist, five hundred percent,” Gonzalez once said. “Woman is half the world, and what’s more, she’s the mother of the other half. In my songs, I always have the woman come out ahead. ‘Contrabando y Traicion’ was the first song like that, and then, it was also the first song about the drug traffic. There was nothing like it.”
Anyway, I have no idea how the Wells Fargo Center convinced Los Tigres del Norte to play such a small venue, but as I’m writing this, tickets are still available at $46-$88. You can buy them here.