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Trebuchet: Your New Favorite Band

Posted by on May 11, 2012
Trebuchet at Bototm of the Hill, SF, 5-10-12

Trebuchet plays album release show at the Bottom of the Hill

From the first inhale of Trebuchet’s self-titled debut record, I’m hooked. The ukulele like lapping waves of a tropical shore; the surf lead guitar the birds lazily riding the swells. A breath—giving pause, the moment that will make or break the entire album. Sweet voices coalesce in harmonic bliss, one as strong as the next, none overshadowing another. The wave does not crash, it pushes onto the shore, allowing warm salt water to kiss my toes and leave me wanting more.

The six-song, vinyl-only release (it’s also available digitally) was christened with a show at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill last night, with friends and family accompanying on stage and in the audience. Whether by blood or by feeling, all four bands playing on the evening’s bill were related, and the feeling in the audience was that of an unexpected family reunion.

Survival Guide opened the show, who I unfortunately arrived too late to see. You Are Plural introduced a new twist to the duo of Wurlitzer and cello: drums. The percussion filled in some spaces, but since most songs were written without drums, it felt forced at times. But the harmonies and interesting time signatures kept the set flowing and piqued interest throughout the set. The New Trust brought a powerful rock sound to the stage next, Josh Staples’ thundering bass lines commanding attention from even the smoking crowd in the atrium.

I was lucky to see Trebuchet’s first-ever performance, at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa, last year. The band impressed the hell out of everyone that night, in part because three of the four members are known for intense, instrumental post rock in the band Not To Reason Why. This was as far from the expected as possible while still loosely relatable to the same genre.

Last night, Trebuchet sounded polished, like a beautiful piece of obsidian after hundreds of years in a river bed. That igneous black rock born of violent eruptions from the Earth’s core, sharpened and used as arrowheads and spear tips, left alone under running water matures into a polished, beautiful stone. I walk toward the sea, wading in up to my hips. The warmth and gentle swaying covers the impending danger of being too far from shore, too far from home. This is the best kind of escape.

Band: Trebuchet

Album: Trebuchet

Style: Relaxed, Americana instrumentation, four-part vocal harmonies, extremely musical songs, listenable without being boring, beautiful, interesting without being obscure

Comparisons: Sufjan Stevens, Decemberists, what other Portland bands wish they could sound like

Rating: 4.5/5 (Just because the record is only six songs!)

Trebuchet’s debut record is available at www.trebuchetmusic.com.

Live Review: The Weeknd at the Fillmore, San Francisco

Posted by on May 9, 2012 One Comment

Question: What’s the stupidest thing the Weeknd said at the Fillmore last night?

Answer: “C’mon, sing my fuckin’ song!”

It was in the middle of “Crew Love,” the Drake collaboration that had the entire place going apeshit. Everyone—from the front to the back, the people who scored tickets before the show sold out in two minutes, the people who dropped $200 on Craigslist, the bartenders, the security—everyone in the Fillmore already had their hands up, screaming along to every line, a unison chorus one thousand strong. Telling the crowd last night to sing along was like asking Kobe Bryant to maybe make some baskets already.

I know, I know, it’s just a hype line, everyone uses it. But every song had the same effect of unanimous singing, word-for-word, from a crowd utterly crazed on House of Balloons, myself included. The celebration was a short one—the show lasted just over an hour—but cutting things short actually felt right, somehow, and I didn’t leave disappointed.

The Weeknd opened with “High For This,” numerous joints lit up, and holy shit, the beat drop on the “open your hand” line, right? He did a bit of “Dirty Diana,” morphed it into “The Birds,” and completed the frontloading of hits as he fired into “Crew Love.” “The Knowing,” utterly sublime, stopped time itself. Girls climbed on boyfriends’ shoulders for “The Morning.” Near the hour mark, “Glass Table Girls” finished the main set, and the one-song encore was “Wicked Games,” which the Weeknd sung alone with only an acoustic guitar backing. (Or, if you counted the entire Fillmore singing along, a backup choir of 1,000.)

Somewhere in all this, it hit me full-force. Here’s a guy selling out shows faster than you can say “Cali is the mission,” but who has three free albums that weren’t released commercially, who has only played 12 shows on U.S. soil and whose entire career move has been preceded by “http://.” If you were there inside the “legendary-ass” Fillmore last night (his words), you felt the tectonic shift, like here’s this impassioned fan base losing their shit over a phenomenon that would have been impossible five years ago. I even counted three guys who came to the show dressed like the Weeknd, wearing denim jackets cut off into vests.

As I’ve noted before, House of Balloons is worthy of the hype. That said, the Weeknd isn’t much of a performer yet. He can sing well, and he can re-create his songs capably, and he had last night’s crowd in the palm of his hand because his songs are so damn good. But in the times when he wasn’t singing, he wasn’t making much of a connection with the audience. He fell back on stock banter (“I love you, San Francisco!”) instead of giving his all. Combined with the too-short set time, it felt like watching a demo instead of the real thing.

But then again, isn’t that what the Weeknd’s whole tip is? The free mixtape instead of the official release? The handwritten diary instead of the published memoir? The late-night phone call instead of the press conference?

Adam “MCA” Yauch, 1964-2012

Posted by on May 7, 2012 One Comment

I had the pleasure of meeting Adam “MCA” Yauch, along with Mike D and the King Ad-Rock, at a San Francisco press roundtable back in August 2007. The Beastie Boys were in town for two shows promoting The Mix-Up, their only album comprised of instrumentals and devoid of samples. What happened was one of the most enjoyable and bizarre journalistic experiences of my life, with the smart-alecky trio christening me the “Debbie Downer” of the room for my questions regarding “porno music” and Tibetan freedom. I couldn’t help but ask about Yauch’s Milarepa Foundation efforts because the first Tibetan Freedom Concert at Golden Gate Park in 1996 was such a memorable part of my young life. The two-day event was a key accomplishment in Yauch’s—and the band’s—very public maturation.

It was also my first Beastie Boys show, and it was a revelation. The band delivered an incredibly diverse set that included their punk songs, jazzy numbers, funk excursions, and of course their hip-hop hits. There are so many highlights, all of which I’ve struggled to devote ample brain power to since that weekend 16 years ago: A vibrant opening with the one-two blast of “Jimmy James” and “Sure Shot”; a rare live “Get it Together” with Q-Tip busting up in laughter after forgetting half his lyrics; a cover of “Red Tape” by the Circle Jerks; Biz Markie leading the 100,000-strong crowd in a raucous rendition of his classic Check Your Head intro “The Biz vs. the Nuge”; and most beautifully, MCA’s performance of “Bodhisattva Vow” alongside a Tibetan monk’s live chanting.

There were many live Beastie highlights after that—the trio letting thousands sing EVERY WORD of “Paul Revere” at Oakland Arena in 1998; the group’s giddy rendition of “High Plains Drifter” at the Bill Graham Civic in 2004—but nothing like that day. In the 1990s, the Beastie Boys’ TV culture lyrics and seamless blending of disparate musical styles reflected the culture as well as Pulp Fiction or Lollapalooza or Seinfeld or The Real World. Seeing them bring it all to life was a thrill.

That weekend, Yauch not only assembled the largest U.S. benefit crowd since 1985’s Live Aid and many of the day’s finest musical icons to urge a boycott of Chinese goods. He also began an enduring post-Tiananmen-Square-Massacre dialogue in pop culture consciousness about the ethics of the U.S.’s partnership with the brutal government of China. This call for Generation X and Y to “follow the money” and make a difference through everyday restraint was incredibly profound to the 16-year-old me. I could no longer look at “Made in China” labels without remembering the monks onstage whose teeth were all knocked out by a Chinese police cattle prod, and the distance between my high school and far-off sweatshops would never be that vast again. I kept the effort up long after my “Free Tibet” bumper sticker was stolen off my Honda’s bumper.

It makes me sad to think how Westerners can still be shocked by things like the installation of suicide nets at Apple’s Chinese factories. But I must admit that I don’t boycott Chinese goods as much I can, and with the Internet, there’s really no excuse. At the roundtable in 2007, I didn’t look closely for sweatshop wear on the Beasties, but Yauch did express some disillusionment with the Tibetan Freedom concerts he produced, particularly in the apparent lack of other bands’ long-term commitment.

Following the farcical press conference, Yauch was hanging outside near the garage as everyone headed over to UC Berkeley for that night’s Greek Theatre show. Despite strict instructions to the contrary, another writer asked for a cell phone picture and Yauch kindly obliged. After he left, it was only me and MCA. Still star struck, I asked him if he was going to the student-led Tibetan freedom protest the following day at the local Chinese embassy (I’d heard about it on the news). Surprisingly, he had no idea about it. But he looked interested and asked me for more info. Then I told him how the 1996 Tibetan Freedom Concert made a big impact on the Bay Area, and that many locals were still fighting the good fight. He just looked at me, nodding.

When his ride pulled up, he went to leave but stopped and asked if I and the other writer were going to the show. I told him I was but that the other guy couldn’t get a press pass. He asked for the guy’s name, nodded to register it, and then bade me farewell.

I never got a picture, which would’ve been cool. But at least I got to tell him that something he did made a difference for others. At least I got to do that.

 

 

 

Live Review: Yo La Tengo at the Last Record Store and Mystic Theatre

Posted by on May 3, 2012 One Comment

Up to now, Yo La Tengo has never played in Sonoma County, which is only surprising when you realize the band was formed all the way back in 1986. Surely, you think, the enduring indie-before-there-was-“indie” band might have played some regular local stop on the college-rock circuit over the years: the Studio KAFE, the River Theater, or Cafe This. But no.

So it was a pretty special thing that Yo La Tengo played not one but two shows today—one at the Last Record Store and one at the Mystic Theatre. The Last Record Store show was such a rarity, in fact, that I talked to an eighth grader whose parents had written a note to the school saying he had a dentist’s appointment so he could get out of class and come see Yo La Tengo.

There’s a famous Onion headline, “37 Record Store Clerks Feared Dead in Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster,” and not until you see the band at a record store do you realize the truth inherent in that joke. Before playing, band members flipped through the dollar bins idly, debated among themselves about the packaging on a Bad Brains CD and made jokes about Johnny Winter. They were made for record stores, and vice-versa; the Last Record Store had a fantastic painted window display for the show, and one amazing fan, Steve Ciaffa, donated to the band copies of Yo La Tengo albums he’d personally recorded and manufactured for them… on 8-Track.

The setup for this tour is semi-acoustic, with only a couple drums and minimally electrified guitars. Opening with “Tom Courtenay,” played with delicate dynamics, the band meandered into “Periodically Double or Triple,” which was interrupted by a spontaneous PSA from Ira on wearing a bike helmets. The band meandered through a pretty version of Neil Young’s “Don’t Cry No Tears,” laughed about Jimmy Buffett, made a baby cry by stepping on the distortion pedal, played “Speeding Motorcycle,” beat back repeated requests for “Gates of Steel,” and ultimately ended with “Gates of Steel” anyway—hilariously, after the incessant requester had left!

The sold-out show at the Mystic Theatre later followed the promised “freewheeling” format, with questions taken from the audience. Did you know that Yo La Tengo, for all their sort of lo-fi intellectualism, are a total bunch of funny-ass people? I had no idea. (First Q: “Biggie or Tupac?” A: “Biggie. Sorry—east coast. I’m from Brooklyn, motherfucker!”)

Questions ranged from esoteric technical stuff—the drum sound on their song “Saturday”—to vague inquiries about what they were “into” when they started the band. (“Weed, ceramics, and chips.”) Everyone in the band howled at a question related to Petaluma’s status as the home of competitive arm wrestling, and they even acted out an arm-wrestling contest for their encore. For a complete play-by-play, Andy over at Advantage Sound has the full report on the set, which included their semi-hit “Sugarcube” along with covers of the Monkees, the Beatles, the Gun Club, the Flamin’ Groovies, Neil Young, the Velvet Underground and more.

The fun part, for me, was watching the band suss out thinly veiled song requests. Someone asked “What happens when Night Falls on Hoboken?” and was instantly shot down. Unfortunately, I was dying to hear “We’re an American Band” from I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, and in a valiant attempt to sort of slyly guide the band to that title, I raised my hand and asked what was probably the dumbest question of the night: “Is it ethical to force a newborn baby to listen to Grand Funk Railroad?”

But Yo La Tengo is way too good at this game. They knew what was up immediately. “We’ll get to that song,” Ira said, consolingly. “It involves a lot of tuning and everything, but we’ll get to it.”

Sure enough, the main set ended with “We’re an American Band” (note: not the actual Grand Funk Railroad song), giving Ira an opportunity to reprise one of the greatest on-record guitar freakouts of all time: halfway through the song, he punched the foot pedal, leaned back to his small amp and turned up the knobs, and let loose on four minutes of loud, distorted, mangled bliss.

Yo La Tengo’s so natural at this “freewheeling” thing that after this tour I can’t imagine them going back to playing “regular” shows. Next year, if someone asks them a question mid-set, what are they gonna do—say “shut up”? They’re clearly having a lot of fun with this setup, and it’s a hell of a hoot for the audience too.

Live Review: Fruit Bats at Gundlach Bundschu Winery

Posted by on May 2, 2012

By Jacquelynne Ocaña

Fruit Bats founder and lead singer Eric Johnson landed his current lineup of ultra-talented musicians at Gundlach Bundschu Winery last Saturday night in Sonoma. Thirteen years after the band formed, Johnson is the only original member, and easily packed a century-old converted barn on their last stop of a short North West tour.

The Fruit Bats’ genre is more modern folk-rock than country, and their style is everything indie rock. Fans include plenty of thick-framed glasses and keys jangling on cut-off skinny jeans. But Saturday’s crowd was also full of area natives who clearly attend lots of winery concerts, decked out in hand-made wine bottle satchels, lounging on the rock wall overlooking Sonoma Valley.

Event impresario Jeff Bundschu, a sixth-generation winemaker and former Syllable Chase guitarist, curated the show as a sort of pre-party leading up to the winery’s Huichica Festival in early June. Apparently tickets for the two-day indie rock event have gone up a bit, and according to co-producer and long-time friend Johnson, this is mostly due to the prominence of this year’s Huichica lineup, which includes leading Sub Pop recording artists Beachwood Sparks and Paper Cuts along with Poor Moon and Andy Cabic from San Francisco’s Vetiver.

After singer-songwriter Garrett Pierce opened the show with his blend of lyrical folk rock and soft melodies, Seattle’s Gold Leaves followed with an unexpectedly remarkable set. Lead singer Grant Olsen, also known for being one half of Arthur & Yu, sets a dynamic tone with his deep ephemeral vocals drifting into gentle reverb. In concert, the band is more 1960’s jam-rock than the wistful expanse of their new album, The Ornament, but the high-energy solos kept the audience, already splendidly saturated in Gewürztraminer and Pinot, from nodding off to their sultry vibe.

Fruit Bats lead singer Eric Johnson is currently being backed by a menagerie of hired multi-instrumentalists. His demeanor as an accomplished bandleader keeps the mood of his shows animated and completely engaged with the audience. “I think we’ve kind of endeared ourselves to Sonoma. We do well in big cities, but we wouldn’t be able to pack a small market place, and this is the only small town we can come to and get some love. We sort of get treated like a local band,” said Johnson, after the show. “My wife is from Sebastopol, so I sort of weirdly have some in-law roots here – I kinda married into West County. I want to do a Sonoma County residency just because I dig it so much.”

Audiences got amped on the familiarity of “When You Love Somebody,” but the best live song was probably “The Ruminant Band,” where live, the extent of the band’s talent really shows. Everyone, except the drummer, switches instruments, while Johnson, normally on guitar, dances around the stage on tambourine. Their 12-song set was wholeheartedly received – the genuine love for this band is so tangible the barn walls were vibrating with the uninterrupted stomping of feet.

On the experience of playing in a giant barn: “It’s fuckin’ awesome because usually we only play the outdoor stage here; we played the last two Huichicas. It’s such a phenomenal place,” says current Fruit Bats bassist and former Shins member Ron Lewis. “The barn is kind of what the Pendarvis Farm festival wants to do in Oregon. It’s the vibe they are going for, but this far exceeds that.”

Baby Seal Club’s “Coop D’Etat” at Hopmonk Tavern

Posted by on Apr 29, 2012 One Comment

Here’s how not to put on a show:

Set up instruments. Stand there. Play.

Here’s how to put on a show:

Get there early and cover the venue in decór. Bring in hay bales, chicken-wire fences, chicken coops. Get a huge illuminated chicken to watch the front door. Place giant Easter Island-like chicken statues on the stage, with more chicken wire, chicken ladders and hay on stage.

During the set, have two go-go dancers gyrating in a cage. Have a girl dressed as a sheep, in a painter’s mask, making toasted sandwiches and handing them out to the crowd. Make sure to remind everyone about the Chicken Shit Bingo game going on outside. And right on the last downbeat of the last song of the night—a chicken-modified version of “Safety Dance”—hit the trigger that blows hundreds of white feathers all over the audience.

That was Baby Seal Club last night at Hopmonk, living up to their reputation for reimagining what a show should be. If you weren’t at the “Hopmonk Henhouse,” it may be a little hard to describe.

Below, watch Baby Seal Club’s new video for “Zeroes & Ones”:

 

 

Live Review: Matthew Sweet at the Mystic Theatre

Posted by on Apr 28, 2012

Despite a low turnout the night after a packed show in San Francisco, Matthew Sweet gave an inspired, no-frills performance at the Mystic on Sunday, playing his classic 1991 Girlfriend album in its entirety. Sweet and his trio of backing musicians—including longtime drummer Ric Menck—were astoundingly on point, replicating every guitar lick, vocal harmony and drum fill from the power-pop masterpiece.

The show, like the album, started out strong with “Divine Intervention,” “I’ve Been Waiting” and the rocking title track. Getting the hit singles out of the way early allowed the crowd of diehards to relive the incredible album cuts, including the beautifully harmonized “Your Sweet Voice” and the lovely ballad “Winona” (and no, there wasn’t a mention of Petaluma’s own Winona Ryder, who was falsely rumored to be the song’s inspiration back in the day).

Although my repeated calls for “Superdeformed” fell on deaf ears, those in attendance were treated to an encore of favorites from Sweet’s ‘90s heyday, as well as “She Walks the Night,” the charming single off Sweet’s latest album Modern Art.

Sweet himself seemed to truly enjoy the intimacy of the small crowd, joking with a fan who suggested giving Altered Beast the concert treatment and being generally chatty throughout the set. After a blazing “I Wanted to Tell You,” he told the gathering, “You guys are so fun and rowdy; if we had more people, it would only drag us down.”

Many Sweet fans (like me) are deeply connected to the album, having loved, lost and longed amid its song cycle. This bond to Girlfriend was surely strengthened for some by the lengthy post-show meet-and-greet that followed the shimmering performance. Each concertgoer received ample time with the writer of these incredible love songs. I’d like to believe these exchanges helped heal a little romantic heartbreak for someone—maybe even Sweet himself.

Setlist:
Divine Intervention
I’ve Been Waiting
Girlfriend
Looking At The Sun
Winona
Evangeline
Day For Night
Thought I Knew You
You Don’t Love Me
I Wanted To Tell You
Don’t Go
Your Sweet Voice
Does She Talk?
Holy War
Nothing Lasts
Sick of Myself

Encore:
Time Capsule
She Walks the Night
We’re the Same

 

Live Review: Bruce Springsteen at the HP Pavilion, San Jose

Posted by on Apr 25, 2012 2 Comments

“Not only does he know the way to San Jose,” said Bruce Springsteen last night, announcing himself, “but he knows what to fuckin’ do when he gets there!”

Knows what to do, indeed.

Last night in San Jose, Bruce Springsteen played for over three hours—but he didn’t just “play.” He leapt on top of a grand piano. He hoisted children on his shoulders. He slid on his knees across the stage. He threw his guitars high into the air. He hung upside-down from the microphone stand. He carried a girl in his arms. He glugged water and spat it skyward. He let the audience play his Telecaster. At one point, he fell backward, kept singing, and crowd-surfed across half the arena over a sea of fans.

The man is 62, people. Sixty-two years old, and performing with more vigor and energy than most people a third his age. This is Bruce Springsteen’s bazillionth tour, and his shows simply haven’t gotten old. He’s still giving 110% for his fans, who left last night with ringing ears, sore feet, shot vocal chords—and who on the verbatim advice from the Boss, all woke up this morning and asked: what the fuck happened to me?

“Watching a master at work,” maybe, except “watching” doesn’t describe it. A great Springsteen show, like the one last night, is an immersion.

And it doesn’t always come in the form of a party. Springsteen is touring on his new album, Wrecking Ball, which wraps up a lot of zeitgeist nervousness and anger. He played “41 Shots (American Skin),” a clear nod to Trayvon Martin. He spoke about the Occupy movement, and the economy, and unemployment, and a broken system that “gives the folks at the top and rich guitar players a free pass.” A prevailing theme of the night was sculpted from people going through hard times and the hope of those hard times coming no more.

But the most affecting personage from last night’s show wasn’t on the stage. Clarence Clemons’ place in the E Street Band has always been both requisite and required, a token but necessary accoutrement; without him, the hole is larger than one person. Springsteen’s first tribute came while introducing the band during “My City of Ruins,” asking the crowd if there was anyone missing, and reinterpreting the famous, once-jubilant call of “Do I have to say his name?” With both Clemons and Danny Federici gone, he reentered the song: “You took my heart when you left / Without your sweet kiss, my soul is lost.”

Clemons’ nephew Jake has joined the band, and after his solo on “Badlands” the crowd roared one of many choruses of approval in the bloodline replacement. With a full horn section and other extras from his “Seeger Sessions” band, Springsteen’s honed a hybrid of Irish melody, folk forms, barn-burning rock and classic soul. Patti Sciafla was conspicuously absent from the show—she was at home, Springsteen explained, “keeping the kids out of the drug stash”—but it hardly mattered by the time the band hit its Apollo medley. A six-person acapella first verse beginning “The Way You Do The Things You Do” led into Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789,” a full-scale rave-up highlighted by the long, rapturous crowdsurf.

Help from the audience came in a few places, with varying results. A call-and-response with three front-row singers, all flat, caused Springsteen to quip, “This is why I’m the one gettin’ paid!” A girl pulled onstage for “Dancing in the Dark” didn’t quite have the moves. But a great moment came in “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” when a small boy not only sang the chorus but took cues from Springsteen on leading the band, sliding across the stage and briefly stealing the show.

The set was expectedly slim on older songs, and all but ignored Born in the U.S.A. until the encore, which gave a solid blast of “Out in the Street,” “Born to Run,” Dancing in the Dark” and “Rosalita.” Naturally, set closer “10th Avenue Freeze Out” couldn’t have been played without a nod to the Big Man. After the “Big Man joined the band” line, Springsteen, having run into the crowd and leapt onto a riser in the middle of the whole arena, froze with his mic in the air and his gaze up to the video screens. Clip after clip of Clemons played, and the intense look on Springsteen’s face was one that summed up the whole show: sorrow being overcome by celebration.

Extreme celebration, in the case of last night.

Setlist:

We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Badlands
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Thundercrack
Jack of All Trades
Murder Incorporated
Johnny 99
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Shackled & Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Backstreets
American Skin (41 Shots)
The Way You Do the Things You Do / 634-5789
The Rising
Lonesome Day
We Are Alive
Thunder Road

Rocky Ground
Out in the Street
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out

John Courage and the Great Plains: New Album + Release Party

Posted by on Apr 19, 2012 3 Comments

John Courage and the Great Plains

By Leilani Clark

With the death this week of Levon Helm, the world lost one of country-rock’s finest ambassadors. As drummer and singer for The Band, Helm was at the forefront of a musical movement, along with The Birds, Bob Dylan, Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, and even Led Zeppelin at times, that combined, to fine effect, the rough-and-tumble feel of rock with the rangy, winsome tones of country music.

Fortunately, Sonoma County has produced its own country-rock ambassador in John Courage. On Saturday, April 21, at the Last Day Saloon, he celebrates the release of Don’t Fail Me Now, his first album to feature the bona fide, full-blown band known as John Courage and the Great Plains. A springtime release date is perfect for this smooth-toned, solidly produced album. Just like the black velvet drawing on the back by local artist Mica Jennings, the album is a prime soundtrack for poolside hangout sessions with a cold drinks and friends, or maybe long stints on the road driving to deserts and mountains.

While some of the lyrics are in the vein of “yearning for a pretty, long-haired lady in a short skirt who understands that behind my stoic, highway-burned face is a man who just needs real love,” the songs have an expansiveness that probably comes partially from the time Courage (nee Palmer) spent in living in New Mexico’s high desert a few years back. In one of the album’s best moments, on the song “Heartbreak Man,” the unapologetic narrator says goodbye without looking back, in the morning, or “under cover in the middle of the night,” and the lady and town about to be left behind are gifted with this caustic observation: “I miss my life back on the West Coast/I forgot my true identity/No one here knows my god-given name/They’re just in love with the fantasy.”

“Old Faithful Pulse” explores the three M’s: mortality, mystery, and misery. It sets the tone for the ensuing set of songs, well-crafted melodies that build up to crackling, sing-a-long choruses, of the type to be sung in hot, southern bars, where the only requirement is a beer in hand and a lost love lingering in the shadows near the jukebox.

The song “Middle Man” is a bluesy juke-joint tale of lies and cheating. “If it all ends tonight,” Courage sings, “how it all went down.” Money trees, devil tea, and bad men on the horizon, it’s all in there, sung with an convincingly burning sarcasm. It tells a story, and reminds us that often times the best music is told from the distant third, not necessarily the close first.

On many songs, Courage’s voice carries the languid, passionate, caramel tones similar to Chan Marshall from Cat Power, and though at times the songs are as world-weary—filled with hustlers and heartbreakers— as the famously world-sick front woman’s, the album’s 21st-century wild-west territories are subtly optimistic, bathed in golden California sunlight. The title track has a surprisingly poppy bridge, kicked up a notch with dulcet bell tones that might have come straight off Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. “You take the mountain, I’ll take the crown,” sings Courage, simultaneously giving in and remaining hopeful.

On the last track, Courage wails, “I sold my soul for rock-and-roll” in a somber, nearly cracking voice that belies his age, singing softly, sadly—seeming over it before he’s even started. “It ain’t paying up,” he bemoans in the chorus. Yet, in actuality, with this new album, music’s melodic riches have truly bestowed themselves on this particular lanky, red-headed West Coast son.

The North Bay Hootenanny presents the album release show for John Courage and the Great Plains on Saturday, April 21, at the Last Day Saloon. 120 5th Street, Santa Rosa. 8pm. $10-$12. 707.545.5876. CDs will be available for $5.00.

Here’s a video for Courage’s home demo “Game of Charades.” It’s not on the album, but it’s a nice, pensive tune.

Live Review and Photos: Pulp at the Warfield

Posted by on Apr 18, 2012 4 Comments

“Anybody come here by cable car?”

Jarvis Cocker had only been in San Francisco for a few hours Tuesday when the longest legs in rock raced his upper half to City Lights bookstore. Later, on stage at the Warfield, he read an excerpt from his purchase—a copy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s translations of the French surrealist poet Jacques Prévert—and quoted playwright Thornton Wilder and author Isak Dinesen.

“Do you want to see a dolphin?”

Prevért? Wilder? Dinesen? Needless to say, Cocker is not your average rock star. But he’s no bookish dweeb, either—the Ferlinghetti recitation served as lead-in to “This is Hardcore,” the most dramatic song about sex ever recorded. A bra was flung on stage; he picked it up and buried his nose in it. He gyrated, jumped, lay prone, thrusted and grinded his way through an exhilarating two-hour set, and nobody in the Warfield left last night without wanting to go to bed with him.

“Well, the afternoon is really the best time to have sex. Why is that?”

Everything about Pulp’s show at the Warfield amazed and delighted. Aside from a handful of recent reunion dates, Pulp has not played together for almost a decade, but you wouldn’t have known it from their set on Tuesday. They were supremely tight, the set list was outstanding, the sound was superb, the crowd was energetic, the lights were dazzling, and Jarvis Cocker, good God, was at his most Jarvis Cockerish.

“Just because something’s obvious doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say it.”

It’s been said before, but Jarvis Cocker is truly the consummate frontman. The art of talking to the crowd, I realized last night, is a lost art. For all the listless rambling heard in the 1990s, well, I miss the attempt. Cocker attempts, and nails, and even his listlessness tends to quickly draw up a list and get on a point to connect with the crowd. He’s been introducing these songs for years. He still finds new routes to their titles.

“It’s difficult to introduce this next song, because then you’ll know what it is.”

Of course, it was “Common People,” and of course, it was incredible, and of course, of course, of course… there are so many “of courses” associated with “Common People” and yet it sailed across the Warfield like some majestic liberating angel of light unifying everyone there against everyone else and for however many minutes it coursed through a collective vein and wrapped us all up with empathy and a red bow and a beer bottle.

“If I give you this beer, will you share it?”

And still I’ve never loved “Common People” as much as last night. “Disco 2000,” “Babies” and set opener “Do You Remember the First Time?” were also grand singalongs. But the beastly favorite of mine is “This is Hardcore,” delivered with all the hot drip and luscious terror of the record. Cocker scaled the speaker tower, dangled his microphone from strategic places and collapsed in a pile across the stage monitors.

“How fortunate that this arrived here at this particular moment.”

Looking back, it’s unbelievable that only one bra was thrown on stage, but Cocker took it to launch into “Underwear,” an overt song worthy of San Francisco, which Cocker clearly was grateful for. Introducing “Mis-Shapes,” he related how touring bands love coming to San Francisco because “it seems a bit messed up, and there are strange people all around. Just like us.” He also reminded the crowd that the last time Pulp played in town was at Bimbo’s, in 1996. Jarvis Cocker, awesomely, reads his own fan site..

“I was in Las Vegas last night. That’s a fucked up place.”

The site, PulpWiki (“it knows more about my life than I do”) told Cocker that the band’s first album It was released 29 years ago to the day. So the show ended with Pulp playing “My Lighthouse,” the very first song from their very first album. No sweeter arc could have been circled to end the show, which, judging from the sweat and exhilaration on the sidewalk in front of the Warfield afterward, is going to go down as legendary. As for my standing-in-front-of-the-speaker self… well, I’m going to be answering the phone with my left ear all week.

Set List:

Do You Remember the First Time?
O.U. (Gone, Gone)
Razzmatazz
Something Changed
Disco 2000
Sorted for E’s & Wizz
Acrylic Afternoons
Pencil Skirt
Like a Friend
Babies
Underwear
This Is Hardcore
Sunrise
Bar Italia
Common People

Glory Days
Party Hard
Mis-Shapes

My Lighthouse