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If You Had Another Chance

Posted by on May 2, 2010 One Comment

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.

Live Review: The Wedding Present at the Independent

Posted by on Apr 25, 2010

“This part almost sounds like the Cure.” “I love watching drummers.” “My friend flew here from Minnnesota to come to this show. It’s his 40th Birthday.” “The last time I came here, it was to see the MC5.”

These are things that may sound commonplace, except that they were spoken into my ear last night by Sari Bacilla. I know her name has been Sari Flowers for years now, but I can’t help it. Among the most unchanged people I know, she is still, to me, the girl from Sebastopol who works at the downtown gas station—even though she’s a mom from San Leandro who’s married and has a 14-year-old daughter.

I was unaware Sari loved the Wedding Present. She says she discovered Seamonsters first, then backpedaled to Bizarro, which the Wedding was Presenting in its entirety. She says Bizarro is the record that inspired her to buy a drum set and try to learn. She didn’t learn, or at least very well. Drums are hard.

Bizarro is the record my friend Dan and I would listen to late at night, drinking Robotussin. One night, when the excitement of “Brassneck” wore off, I traded it to Matt Carrillo for a beer and forgot about it. Until finding it on cassette a few years ago. Twenty years later. With a whole new meaning and sense.

Bizarro is a record about betrayal, about kiss-offs, about demanding to know what went wrong, and every third song or so ends with a long, extended three-chord guitar vamp. Sometimes I hear these vamps as illustrating the repetitive motion and slow passage of time in the aftermath of a breakup. Moreso lately, though, I hear them as a triumph of the narrator, the incessant music of a cathartic joyride out on the town while looking for new opportunities.

No vamp is as long or as joyful as the end of “Take Me,” and I defend its core of contentment by the next, and last, song on Bizarro: “Be Honest,” a short afterthought that isn’t burdened by complications. “If we’re really, really going to be honest,” sings Gedge, “we might as well be brief.” After the ten-minute opus prior, “Be Honest” is a succinct two minutes that smoothly ends the album.

Here’s the best part. Last night, during all these songs about betrayal and disloyalty, Sari kept leaning over and saying things in my ear. Things that sounded exactly like the old Sari, or rather the Sari she’s always been, which is the great and wonderful Sari. David Gedge stood on stage, pleading to know how people could change. I considered myself lucky to know a few who haven’t.

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Miranda Lambert to Headline Sonoma County Fair

Posted by on Apr 23, 2010

Aw, hell yeah: the announcement is in, and Miranda Lambert is headlining the Chris Beck Arena at the Sonoma County Fair on Monday, August 2!

I’ve gushed a bit about Miranda Lambert before—she’s a young Nashville singer who actually writes her own songs. When she decides to do covers, she chooses John Prine (“That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round“) and Fred Eaglesmith (“Time to Get a Gun“). For anyone who’s grown up in a small town—and let’s face it, sometimes Santa Rosa feels like Mayberry—she’s also got “Famous In a Small Town.”

It’s hard to write about Lambert without mentioning Taylor Swift, but judging by the results of the Academy of Country Music Awards this past Sunday night, Lambert could be surpassing Swift; she took home Album of the Year, Video of the Year and Top Female Vocalist honors. (Swift ain’t even in the results at all.)

Tickets are $25 for the grandstand and $40 for the floor. They go on sale at the Fairgrounds box office with no service charge on Saturday, May 15. Online sales don’t start until May 17! “A lot of people like to purchase their tickets in person,” says Fair publicist Marlina Harrison, “or as incredible as it seems, don’t have access to a computer.” Right on!

Harrison also says they’re working on booking another rock headliner for the Chris Beck Arena, but can’t reveal any names right now. Stay tuned.

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The Rum Diary to Release Retrospective

Posted by on Apr 20, 2010

Long boozy nights at the Tradewinds during the Bush era will come flying back to Sonoma County residents past and present next month, when now-defunct local favorites the Rum Diary release Retrospective 2000-2007. The collection totals 17 songs from the Cotati Sound Machine’s prolific output, including some unreleased and vinyl-only tracks, and if you pre-order the thing now you’ll get three, count ‘em, three CDs for free: the Rum Diary’s Poisons That Save Lives and We’re Afraid of Heights Tonight, and Shuteye Unison’s S/T.

We may be able to definitively say that the Rum Diary was Cotati’s greatest indie-rock export, adored by a wide swath of the population—from SSU stoners to dive-bar denizens to serious music fans. A retrospective is more than fitting (and I’m not saying that just because they were the first band I ever wrote about for the Bohemian).

All of this comes courtesy of Parks and Records, the label run by the Rum Diary’s John Fee. If you’re wondering what he, Daniel McKenzie and other Diarians are up to, check out their output so far—including former Santa Rosan Cory Gray’s excellent Carcrashlander—over ’round about right here.

Live Review: John Hiatt at Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Posted by on Apr 5, 2010

It was an elusive dream for most when the Krush announced a special John Hiatt show at the Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma—with only twenty-five golden tickets to be distributed scarcely and randomly among the two hundred or so people who posted their favorite John Hiatt lyric on the station’s Facebook wall.

That dream became a reality this afternoon in an amazingly intimate afternoon of riding with the king. For a half hour, John Hiatt owned the place, teasing a Monday crowd with a few old favorites, some new stuff from The Open Road and a number of personal stories and quips. To those who made it in, it was a Monday afternoon to remember. (To those who didn’t, the Krush is rebroadcasting the whole thing on Thursday Night Live this Thursday, April 8, at 8pm.)

“I entered three times, and I think since I posted lyrics to the penis song, I got disqualified,” said Kari Rasmason, sitting front and center this afternoon, wearing a vintage 1990 John Hiatt T-shirt. Luckily her friend Stephen Lucitt from Loomis posted lyrics from “The Most Unoriginal Sin,” won, and asked her along as his plus-one.

In the “back,” which is to say only 10 feet away from the stage, sat Michael Jernigan from Windsor. Jernigan’s father passed away just six months ago, and choosing which line to post was an easy choice: ‘Just like my dad did.’ “I hated the reality of that song,” he explained—that all boys grow up to be like their old man—“but I’ve come to accept it.”

Hiatt took the tiny little stage in the corner to a huge cheer, and the first chords sounded the title track of his new record, “The Open Road,” yet another addition to his deep catalog of songs about cars, dogs, women and getting older. “So what are we drinkin’ this afternoon?” he cordially asked the crowd. “I’ve got a Shirley Temple myself here. I was quite the beer drinker back in the day, but they just couldn’t make enough for me.”

(This wasn’t the first time today that Hiatt referenced his younger, wilder days. Staring at the Salvador Dali-esque melting clock on the wall, he quipped: “I’m thinking of all the acid I did in ’67-’68. I might have overdone it a bit. I just want to confirm this… That is, in fact, a dripping clock, right?”)

Clad in a light blazer, grey jeans and a plaid shirt with a tie, Hiatt debuted more new songs (“My Baby,” “Haulin’,” a spine-tingling “Fireball Roberts”) before accepting requests. “Drive South” came first, then Hiatt himself seemed truly surprised to hear someone call out “Ethelyne,” a song from 1995’s Walk On that he rarely plays live. Of course, he obliged, complete with a snub to Sarah Palin near the end! Check it out:

A short Q&A session followed, with Hiatt chatting about how he hasn’t taken a year off from the road in 25 years, and how simple acts like “just seeing flowers on the side of the road, and the cycle of things” informed the tone of this latest album. We learned the first single he ever bought was Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips Pt. 1 and 2,” his first album was “an Odetta record, I think,” and his first concert was the Kingsmen, watching outside the club from the boardwalk at Indiana Beach.

“What do you believe to be true,” a woman shouted from the back, “even though you can’t prove it?”

Ooh. He smiled. This one had Hiatt stumped. But only for a second. “An old guy told me this years ago,” he said. “‘Yes, there is a God. No, it isn’t you.’ I believe that’s true. Even though I can’t prove it.”

After a roaring finale of “Riding With the King,” Hiatt amiably cruised out to the patio and hung out with fans for another half hour, mingling, joking, and graciously accepting platitudes from total strangers about how much he and his songs have meant to them. He’s clearly well-loved, for good reason, and the feeling is mutual. “What’s not to love about Sonoma County?” he remarked earlier, during the show. “You have the best weather, the best food, and you’re not too snobbish about it.”

Well, hell, if Hiatt ever wants to move out here and be unsnobbish with us, something tells me there’ll always be a place at the table.

The Krush and Lagunitas are already planning a similar private-show Facebook contest for the Barenaked Ladies at Lagunitas on May 25. (Here’s their page.) And be sure to tune in this Thursday to hear the whole Hiatt show rebroadcast at 95.9-FM.

In News

Lauryn Hill to Headline Harmony Festival

Posted by on Mar 25, 2010 One Comment

It’s official: Lauryn Hill is the headliner at this year’s Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa.

The former Fugee who struck out on her own with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill rarely performs live; the Harmony Festival is her only planned summer festival appearance.

The lineup also includes Steel Pulse, Galactic, Slightly Stoopid, Rebelution, the Expendables, Dweezil Zappa, Jai Uttal, Fishbone and 7 Walkers, led by the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann.

Chali 2na and Lyrics Born are performers at the annual Techo-Tribal Dance, along with DJs Tipper, Ott, Beats Antique, Lynx & Janover and Galactic.

This year also marks the return of the Harmony Fetsival’s skate area with a public skateboard course, numerous speakers including Dr. Bruce Lipton, mycologist Paul Stamets, acivist Caroline Casey, author Dan Millman, peak oil theorist Mike Ruppert, healer Nicki Scully, political satirist Swami Beyondananda and “world-renowned saint and divine guide” Pujya Swami Chidanandji.

For more information, see the festival website.

Live Review: Gil Scott-Heron at Yoshi's

Posted by on Mar 18, 2010 2 Comments

It had to happen. Not five seconds after a smiling, lanky Gil Scott-Heron ambled onto the stage at Yoshi’s last night, someone shouted for “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

Scott-Heron, rail-thin and in a too-big jacket and flat cap, ignored the request. But he also completely ignored his acclaimed comeback album, I’m New Here—indeed, he played nothing from it. Instead, the singer, poet and musician delivered a joyous set of classic older material, providing a treat for longtime fans and a nearly two-hour introduction for newcomers who just heard about him last month on NPR.

“This has been a very eventful week,” Scott-Heron said, opening the show. “We been reading stuff about us we never knew. You get to have another life when you’re an artist like me—the one you live and the one they write about. I read, for example, that I had disappeared. I thought about adding that to my live act. You come to see me, and poof! I’m gone.”

To understate, Scott-Heron possesses a gift of gab. After 15 minutes of patter about dwarfs, encyclopedias, Winston Churchill, Black History Month, the radio, the news and his home state of Tennessee—all of which might seem self-obliging if not for his sharp, acerbic wit—Scott-Heron finally sat down at his Fender Rhodes and nestled his well-worn throat into “Blue Collar,” as autobiographical a song as any for the legend who’s recently spent time in prison for cocaine charges:

I been down in New York City, that ain’t no place to be down
I been been lookin’ at the faces of children, you see we’re lookin’ for higher ground

You can’t name where I ain’t been down
‘Cause there ain’t no place I ain’t been down

There is gravity in Scott-Heron’s voice—the kind of voice they don’t make anymore. It’s in shockingly fine form, a low bass, rich and full of purpose, flowering at the end of lines into breathy vowels. Take “Pieces of a Man,” for example: a song Scott-Heron’s sung countless times, and still a searing pain overtook it last night, as if he were experiencing the subject for the first time.

This is the most valuable aspect of Scott-Heron’s newfound rebirth. Unlike others who’ve fallen from grace and bestow the world with rote, financially-rewarding tours, Scott-Heron is a true original who appears incapable of going through the motions. Seated at his keyboard, head thrown back to the ceiling, he spent the set running through a catalog full of emotional intensity to a sold-out crowd.

Yes, it would have been better with a fuller band. And yes, some long vamps went on past their bedtime. But an energized Scott-Heron also fought the house lights and came back for an encore while even more patrons waited, lined up out the doors for the late show, clutching LP copies of Midnight Band. Waiting to be close to a legend. Wondering how the show would be. Wondering if Scott-Heron truly had come back.

The answer is yes. May his reemergence last. (more…)

Jack Attack

Posted by on Mar 17, 2010 6 Comments

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:

1. “My Rights Were Violated.” The first song Jack recorded. His statement of purpose. The theme to a million revenge stories boiled down to eight simple words. Click here to listen.

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.

In News

What's the Buzz?

Posted by on Mar 16, 2010 One Comment

Jazz lovers can pick their jaws off the floor with the announcement of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival (June 4–13), which delivers a rich lineup of vibrant jazz talent. Charlie Haden leads a group with Ravi Coltrane and Geri Allen; Jason Moran plays with Bill Frisell; and red-hot sensation Esperanza Spalding returns. Other names include George Cables, Dafnis Prieto, Pete Apfelbaum and more.

This year’s Sonoma Jazz+ Festival (May 21–23) features headliners Crosby, Stills & Nash, Earth, Wind & Fire and Elvis Costello & the Sugarcanes. Openers Lizz Wright, Poncho Sanchez and the Neville Brothers also appear. Hope for jazz springs obligatory when Costello will doubtless sing Charles Mingus’ “Weird Nightmare.” . . . The Kate Wolf Festival (June 25–27) has Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Greg Brown, Little Feat, David Grisman, the Waifs and many more up at Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville. . . . The Harmony Festival (June 11–13) has confirmed some initial performers, including Steel Pulse, Galactic, Rebelution, Slightly Stoopid, Dweezil Zappa, Jai Uttal, the Jazz Mafia, the Expendables and Fishbone. A “very special headliner” will be announced this week.

While the Santa Rosa Symphony hosts Ute Lemper singing Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins (May 8–10), the Wells Fargo Center bounces back from recent personnel shakeups with John Prine (April 11), David Spade (May 20), the Barenaked Ladies (May 25) and the still-fantastic Smokey Robinson (May 28). The cozy Napa Valley Opera House brings Elvis Costello playing a solo evening (April 8th) as well as jazz guitar legend Pat Metheny (April 25) performing with an ensemble of animatronic instruments controlled by Metheny’s guitar. Crazy!

The Sonoma County Blues Festival, long a staple of the Sonoma County Fair, moves to the Earle Baum Center (July 31), which already has headliners Dave Alvin and James McMurtry confirmed for its EarleFest in September. . . . Resurrected local favorites Victims Family play a free in-store to celebrate the re-release of White Bread Blues at the Last Record Store for Record Store Day (April 17). . . . Fret-tapping phenomenon Kaki King plays the Mystic Theatre (May 20) and Joan Jett rides the popularity wave of The Runaways starring Kristen Stewart by playing at the Sonoma-Marin Fair (June 25).

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Lagunitas Releases 'Wilco Tango Foxtrot' Beer

Posted by on Mar 12, 2010

I am a Petaluman Aquarium Drinker! This month, Lagunitas Brewing Co. offers a limited-release beer called ‘Wilco Tango Foxtrot,’ no doubt inspired by Jeff Tweddy & Co. Check it out:

But wait! This in, from Pitchfork:

According to a spokeswoman, the title is derived from the same shortwave radio recording that originally inspired Wilco to call their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, as well as the phrase “WTF.”

Alas, if the beer were truly inspired by “WTF” in the NATO alphabet, the beer would be called “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” yes? Obviously they’re just keeping on the safe side after the Zappa family pulled the plug on their wonderful, harmless series of Zappa-album-themed ales.

‘Wilco Tango Foxtrot’ is out sometime in March and according to Lagunitas is “a big ol’ Imperial Brown Ale to help you with your slipperly slide on into springtime. Rich, smooth, dangerous & chocolatey.” And. . .  7.83% alcohol! Passenger side, indeed!