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Live Review: Los Tigres del Norte at the Wells Fargo Center

Posted by on Mar 11, 2012

Tonight, Los Tigres del Norte played a two-and-a-half hour set in Santa Rosa. If that sounds like a long time, consider that most of their concerts are 3 or 4 hours long; once, in 2009, the band played for seven hours straight.

But the band, who attracted a sellout crowd at the Wells Fargo Center, wisely maximized those two and a half hours. They played all of their biggest hits, projected clips from throughout their career on a giant screen, had the crowd on their feet and, at concert’s end, took dozens of photos with excited fans at the edge of the stage while still playing and not missing a note.

Another thing: I’d heard that in concert, Los Tigres del Norte compose their setlists on the spot, dictated by scraps of paper handed to the band by audience members. Each scrap of paper contains a song request, and the band generally gets around to playing nearly all of them.

Sure enough, that was the case tonight at the Wells Fargo Center, where a constant stream of requests were handed to the band members, often in mid-song. I lost count of how many of these requests came flooding to the stage. Between songs, the band members read from the scraps of paper, not only song titles but special dedications, birthday wishes, stories of people’s homeland and more. Call it an analog version of live-Tweeting. It definitely connected the crowd.

And then, the songs. “Golpes en el Corazon” brought a giant sing-along before the band even had a chance to start the first verse; the heartbreaking “La Jaula de Oro” caused an eruption at the first three notes on the accordion. “Somos Mas Americanos,” “Contraband y Tración,” “La Puerta Negra”—they just kept coming and coming. By the end, while the crowd clustered the stage for a veritable love-fest, it was hard to imagine that they wouldn’t return to Santa Rosa, sometime, for another marathon set.

 

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Green Music Center Announces Inaugural Season: Yo-Yo Ma, Alison Krauss, Lang Lang, Wynton Marsalis, More

Posted by on Mar 11, 2012 3 Comments

Weill Hall

The Setting: The Green Music Center at SSU, Friday afternoon.

The Man on Stage: Sandy Weill, donor to and namesake of the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall.

The Announcement: Artists performing at the Green Music Center in 2012-2013 include Lang Lang (Sept. 29), Alison Krauss (Sept. 30), John Adams with Jeffrey Kahane (Oct. 27), Chucho Valdés (Nov. 11), the Tallis Scholars (Dec. 8), Yo-Yo Ma (Jan. 26), Barbara Cook (Feb. 16), Anne-Sophie Mutter (March 2), Wynton Marsalis (March 21), Lila Downs (Apr. 18), and those are just the names that everybody recognizes. As already announced, Michael Tilson Thomas hosts four concerts, and the Santa Rosa Symphony moves in. There’s plenty more, here.

The Story: After former Citigroup CEO and chairman Weill and his wife moved to Sonoma County in 2010, his neighbors mentioned the Green Music Center. “I knew we had horses, lambs, sheep, and a lot of land,” he said, “but nothing about a music center.” Weill’s talents had laid not in music but in making a bundle on Wall Street—his musical background was limited to playing bass drum in a military band. But his curiosity was piqued.

“It really looked like a gem,” he said. “I spoke to Lang Lang, and said, ‘You gotta do me a favor.'”

That’s how, a few months ago, Lang Lang came to the Green Music Center to test its acoustics. He arrived in the dead of night, silently, at midnight. Six people from SSU were there to let him in the building, and he played the piano on stage in the hall until 1:30am.

Talk about a solo recital.

Sandy Weill

Lang Lang liked the acoustics and gave the hall his blessing, calling it “extraordinry” and “beautiful.” Yo-Yo Ma, also, came to the hall for a hush-hush test drive with Jeffrey Kahane, and “fell in love with this place.” Somewhere in the midst of all this, Weill—who with his wife owns the most expensive home sold to date in Sonoma County—donated $12 million to the center.

Surely, Weill’s ties to Carnegie Hall helped dot the schedule with top-name talent. But it was Robert Cole, formerly of UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances, who assembled the full, impressive lineup—one that undoubtedly had all other performing arts centers in the Bay Area turning a deep, envious emerald. SSU president Ruben Armiñana, taking the stage after Cole, thanked him for “the quality that needs to be there, not just at the beginning, but on an ongoing basis.”

Armiñana, for his part, openly acknowledged that the Green Music Center was “a crazy idea.” He related a story about the university vice-president cautioning him, “We don’t even have enough money to buy toilet paper.” He admitted not all stories in the media had been kind, alluding indirectly to the many reports over the years on rising costs of the center, the related alarming debt burden of SSU, the resulting hikes in tuition and fees, the criticism of Weill’s background on Wall Street and more.

Mainly, though, he implied that critics of the center hadn’t had faith. “People have lots of issues when they cannot touch, kick, feel something,” Armiñana said.

“You have to understand and accept rejection,” Weill added.

And like Weill, Armiñana had a modest musical background. “I have to admit, I was kicked out of my single class in violin,” he said. “Since I could not do that, this was a second choice.”

The Highlight of the Afternoon: Soprano Esther Rayo, taking the stage and singing “Cancion de Cuna Para Dormir a un Negrito,” by Xavier Montsalvatge. The performance stopped time in its tracks.

The Tickets: Individual tickets go on sale in July. On March 25, series and subscription tickets go on sale. There are a lot of options, and the possibilities are complex. Also, Lang Lang and Yo-Yo Ma are “Special Events” that are available only with a series purchase, and require an extra ticket purchase. That sounds kind of insidious on the surface, but there are ways to do it that make sense.

Let’s say you only want to see Lang Lang, and don’t want to sit out on the lawn, and want to do it as cheaply as possible. On March 25, you’d buy “Choral Circle” stage seating for the minimum four “Price Level B” shows from the Choose-Your-Own-Series at $18 each, totaling $72. Then you’d have to add an extra ticket to Lang Lang, starting at $55 for either side balcony or stage seating.

That’s a $127 total to see Lang Lang, but it also means you get stage seating for—and these would be my picks—John Adams, Chucho Valdez, Wynton Marsalis, and Lila Downs. Divided by five, that’s only $25 per show.

There’s no word yet on what service charges will look like, but tickets are not sold through Ticketmaster, which is a good sign. SSU’s own in-house ticketing system will handle all orders; find out more here.

About Stage Seating: I’m telling you, it’s the way to go. It’s the cheapest ticket, it’s close to the performer, it provides a view of the audience, and with the acoustics in the Green Music Center being what they are, it still sounds great. I’ve sat in the stage seats at Davies Symphony Hall, and the only reason I’ve never done it again is because they’re always sold out.

Will the Santa Rosa Symphony Change Their Name?: No, they won’t. Though it may seem appropriate for the Santa Rosa Symphony to become the “Rohnert Park Symphony,” that’s not going to happen. Sara Obuchowski, Director of Marketing for the Santa Rosa Symphony, tells me they took the matter very seriously and discussed it at length, even hiring an outside consultant to analyze the pros and cons of a name change. In the end, “Santa Rosa Symphony” won. Though I’m sad to see the Santa Rosa Symphony leave Santa Rosa proper, calling them the “Rohnert Park Symphony” just wouldn’t feel right.

For more info., see the Green Music Center site.

Ruben Armiñana

 

Live Review: DJ Krush at Mezzanine

Posted by on Feb 27, 2012 2 Comments

Photo by Wataru Umeda

 

When you’ve been in the game for as long as DJ Krush, you can do the unthinkable. Book a “20 Year Anniversary” tour and play a three-hour set? Sure. Why not?

On Saturday night the tour hit the Mezzanine—a rare opportunity to catch Krush, a living hip-hop legend, in one of his stateside appearances. But while many predicted that the 49 year-old Japanese producer would use the “20th Anniversary” tag to revisit his classic mid-’90s MoWax material, Krush is nothing if not unpredictable.

He played dubstep.

Not right out of the gate, mind you, and not for the whole set, but dubstep nonetheless. And while some of the crowd surely recoiled at the what’s-becoming-inescapable wompwompwompwomp, most of the crowd loved it. Krush seemed to love it. How can you fault a guy for evolving and adapting with the times?

Here’s something else: DJ Krush is damn good at playing dubstep. Probably because he’s been residing down around the same BPM for most of his career anyway, Krush’s command of the genre came off as entirely natural, and—this is important—utterly creative and not reliant on novelty. Say what you will about dubstep’s disposable nature, but it seemed to inspire the most inventive sound manipulations of the entire three-hour set.

The other thing: Krush attracts a varied crowd, because after 25 years he’s been through so many eras. You get the beathead hip-hop fans in hoodies and nodding heads from Meiso‘s Black Thought and C.L. Smooth collaborations; you get the Burning Man twirling girls from Zen‘s singles with Zap Mama and N’Dea Davenport, and you get new fans rolling in who need their guts rumbled by, well, dubstep.

At the two-hour mark, Krush still hadn’t delved deep into his MoWax days—”Only the Strong Survive,” at least, would have been a nice touch. But he’d still traveled some very mindblowing territory on his 15 year-old Vestax mixer, with wood flutes, electric guitars, the “Armagideon Time” bassline, a Bach organ, the “Paid in Full” beat,” Japanese rap and Rusty Bryant’s “Fire Eater” (greatest drum break in the world, maybe?) in the mix. All tinged with that elusive DJ Krush touch. It was danceable, thought-provoking and utterly addictive—one of the best sets I’ve witnessed.

The Mezzanine got that 1am vibe. A guy in a Gordo Taqueria T-shirt started punching himself in the face to each snare hit. A semicircle of friends chanted on a bald guy downing a Bloody Mary. A girl thrust her hand down another girl’s vest. People making out all over. Krush took the hint, chilled things out, and played some of his more “vibe” material to send people home.

DJ Krush turns 50 this year, and he’s still amazing. Here’s to longevity.

 

 

(Opener’s Note: I walked in and heard what I thought might be the Gaslamp Killer, but was thrilled to see Benji Illgen, a.k.a. Mophono, up on the turntables. Benji’s an old record-obsessive acquaintance from Santa Rosa who’s been in the city for over a decade now, and wouldn’t you know it, he puts out Gaslamp Killer records (and scores Flying Lotus collaborations) on his CB Records label. His set—half Serato, half vinyl—filled the early ’90s gaps that Krush would later leave empty, and it was a treat to see Krush hit the stage and bow in tribute to Benji. A great set. Hope you’re doing well, amigo.)

 

 

Live Review: Dave Holland’s Overtone Quartet at SFJAZZ

Posted by on Feb 26, 2012

The lights have dimmed, the group on stage has started playing, and the place is quiet. Dave Holland begins playing a soft note on his upright bass, repeating it, while drummer Eric Harland rattles out delicate, precise, quiet snare rolls. Over on the piano, Jason Moran listens intently, forming long, resonant chords. By the time Chris Potter starts blowing, the tone has been set.

This is Dave Holland’s Overtone Quartet, a pleasant surprise to those expecting anything close to the jazz giant’s past glories. Though Holland played bass on Bitches Brew, and led the avant-garde hallmark Conference of the Birds, his Overtone Quartet is a different creature entirely—it balances on intuition and interplay, bordering on ESP.

A better cast for this particular approach would be hard to imagine. In front of a sold-out SFJAZZ audience at the Palace of Fine Arts on Friday night, Dave Holland’s Overtone Quartet exhibited a collective mastery of the art of listening to one another in jazz. In fact, the set’s first two selections, “The Outsiders” and “Walkin’ the Walk,” nearly focused more on input than output.

Then, during Harland’s tune “Treachery,” a thundering Jason Moran solo opened the floodgates. With his arms bouncing off the keys, Moran’s vivacious invention took center stage, and Potter came back in clearly energized.

From that point forward, the band clearly came together. Moran opened “Blue Blocks,” the opening track from his most recent album Ten, with a pensive melody; the full band hopped in and fluidly turned it into an earthy, swinging spiritual. “Trail of Tears,” a Holland composition, opened with a lovely bass solo, then reimagined the spirit of Henry Mancini’s “Charade” as a noir-esque spectre. Chris Potter, who ranges from lilting soprano saxophone to sheets-of-sound tenor, was a weak link on Friday night, but shined here, blowing breathy, low-register Ben Webster notes.

But it was Holland’s “Patterns” that brought the night’s highpoint. As Moran and Potter settled into a cyclical, repeating figure, with Moran on a Fender Rhodes, Harland worked his magic. First, he jumped schizophrenically from one quiet hip-hop pattern to the next, playing out of rhythm, like a needle being dropped at various places on a record. But he slowly increased the volume and pace, aiming at the sides of his drums, his hi-hat stand and his mounted tambourine. He built to such a point that his cowbell fell off its stand and onto the floor, and by the end of the passage, Harland was exploding all over the kit, the pieces of the previous eight minutes’ soloing pouring forth ferociously.

Because of moments like this, it’s no wonder the sold-out crowd moaned their disappointment when Holland announced the last song, “Ask Me Why.” Naturally, the group was cajoled out again for an encore, and the standing ovation that followed brought the close to a memorable night of jazz played by the best.

(Note: Jason Moran and Eric Harland return to SFJAZZ with Charles Lloyd at the Herbst Theatre on April 22; it’s a stellar band that I’ve raved about before.)

 

The ‘Annoying Facebook Photo-Posting Person of the Night’ Award

Posted by on Feb 25, 2012 9 Comments

The lights have dimmed, the group on stage has started playing, and the place is quiet. Dave Holland begins playing a soft note on his upright bass, repeating it, while drummer Eric Harland rattles out delicate, precise, quiet snare rolls. Over on the piano, the WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU KIDDING.

A bright light flashes next to me, a goddamn phone camera. The guy sitting next to me is taking a picture on his goddamn phone. With a flash. The kind of cheap flash that stays lit for two seconds, invading everyone’s view, currently ruining the opening moments of this concert. Jesus.

Did he not hear the announcer, mere minutes before, say “turn off your phones”? Did he not notice the multiple signs posted reading “No photography of any kind”?

No, he did not. He did not give a shit. He is that guy.

After the bright flash, I figure he’s utterly embarrassed and will put his phone away for good. I figure wrong, of course. Two songs later, while the place is quiet and polite and still, he pulls out his phone again and starts clicking away. The display screen raised high, in everybody’s vision, multiple tries to get the shot just right even though he’s too far away and the stage is poorly lit and the picture is destined to look like shit.

Then he opens Facebook on his phone. No joke, he is posting this crappy picture to Facebook, brightly, vividly, right in the middle of the show, while a dream band of jazz legends is playing. Does he even know what the band is called? No! That’s why he picks up the program and leafs through it to find the name of the group. “Dave Holland Overtone Quartet,” he types into a status update. He tags his girlfriend. He tags the Palace of Fine Arts. He posts the photo.

Fine, you’ve posted it, I think. Now put the phone away. But no, he starts scrolling through his feed, stroking the screen rhythmically with his thumb. With his other arm, he reaches over and places his hand on his girlfriend’s thigh, just to, like, you know, let her know that he cares about her as much as his phone. He is caressing his phone and his girlfriend at the same time as he is reading Facebook, his face alight with that blue phone glow so unmistakable in a dark theater.

After a while, he closes Facebook. He opens Twitter. For fuckin’ real? Yes, for real. He goes through the whole ritual again: type tweet, mention girlfriend and venue, upload photo, online look like a cool guy who does fun interesting cultural stuff but in real life be an irritating guy who doesn’t care about the fun interesting cultural stuff as much as he cares about appearing like the guy who does, even at the expense of all the people around him who do actually care about said fun interesting cultural stuff, etc. Then he scans through Twitter for a while, implementing the same pathetic hand-on-my-girlfriend’s-thigh maneuver while staring into his phone, and not at the stage, where incredible things are happening.

Without a doubt, everyone around me has noticed this guy, because he is impossible not to notice. But I’m probably the only one who went home, searched for “Dave Holland” on Twitter and found his cruddy photo, and, by extension, his name. So congratulations, Matt Jessell of San Francisco, you are the Annoying Facebook Photo-Posting Person of the Night. Why am I not surprised to learn that you’re in marketing? Hope this award strengthens your “personal brand.”

Dear Shuteye Unison: Cover These Songs

Posted by on Feb 24, 2012

Just got back from the Shuteye Unison show, where the band gave an entirely new veneer to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” But why stop there? Here are some nominations for Shuteye Unison’s resolute wayback machine.

Sailing“: Originally by Christopher Cross, there’s no reason Shuteye Unison couldn’t crank up the triple delay effect and make it their own.

I Wanna Know What Love Is“: Too majestic, you say? Nothing’s too majestic. Give this Foreigner hit a double drumset solo and a whispered chorus.

Lawyers in Love“: The Jackson Browne track, anchored by a single guitar arpeggio repeating for five minutes straight, over and over.

Magic“: Could be that this AM staple by one-hit-wonder Pilot is too peppy—that’s why Shuteye Unison would transpose it into a minor key and sing it backwards.

Alone Again (Naturally)“: Performed entirely by synthesizer and light show.

Shuteye Unison’s album ‘Our Future Selves‘ is stellar, and does not sound like Gilbert O’Sullivan.

Live Review: Jolie Holland at Hopmonk Tavern

Posted by on Feb 23, 2012

Jolie Holland’s voice is an old wooden roller coaster; a reciprocating saw; a warped steel beam that stopped holding up the building years ago. It falls behind, it jets diagonally. It soars above and below, limboing through the weave of a song instead of along its linear plane. It has, in moments, transformed a room.

At just $10 a ticket and with a strong local following, her show last night was filled. Moving to the front, away from the chattering bar crowd, was the thing to do. Also, up front, Holland and her band—Carey Lamprecht on violin; Keith Cary on mandolin, viola and lap steel; and Henry Nagle on guitar—played sitting down. It helped to be close. It felt close, and right, and Holland was visibly touched by the warmth of the crowd.

Holland played mostly material from her new album, Pint of Blood, but if it didn’t sound familiar, that’s intentional: she has a way of trying out new roadmaps each time she ventures into a melody. After openers “All Those Girls” and “Gold & Yellow,” Holland played loose with songs like “June,” while boldly inhabiting “Alley Flower” with a forceful, harrowing voice.

Musicology runs in Holland’s blood, evidenced by her choice of covers and her frequent referencing of those that came before her. “My dad was teenage hippies with Townes van Zandt,” Holland said, talking about how he’d worked on a studio for Jimi Hendrix and stayed at the Chelsea Hotel, then launched into “Rex’s Blues.” Likewise, Holland raised a glass to the recently deceased Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist, from whom she learned to “turn the amp up loud, and play real quiet.”

After a fantastic “Mexico City,” the set veered into Escondida territory—the album she recorded at Tom Waits’ behest just over the hill from Hopmonk, in Forestville. “Amen” was followed by a lengthy ghost story, and then “Goodbye California” and “Old Fashioned Morphine” closed the set thrillingly. “I have vinyl,” Holland announced, “and I have these useless little pieces of garbage called CDs,” inviting the audience on the stage after the show. A half hour later, there was still a line of people waiting to talk to her, ask her to sign their albums and take pictures.

 

 

 

In News

Built To Spill Contest Winner Revealed!

Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 One Comment


A few weeks ago, we announced out Built to Spill Cover Song Contest. Today, we’re pleased to announce that we’ve chosen a winner: Thomas Gonzalez, from Windsor, with his lovably bizarre version of “Carry the Zero.”

Listen: “Carry the Zero,” by Thomas Gonzalez

I admit—listening to Thomas’ version, about 15 seconds in I was like, “This is the worst thing I have ever heard.” We had some pretty funny debates around the Bohemian office about it, actually. What was up with Thomas’ voice? Why did it sound like an acoustic Matisyahu outtake? How was he going to handle the climax, where 5,000 guitar tracks smash into the mix all at once?

But hang in there and keep listening, because a certain atmosphere is created—one that definitely doesn’t exist on the original. Every ridiculous thing about Thomas’ version of “Carry the Zero” is what makes it special. Rather than a straight replication of the Built to Spill style, he truly inhabited the song and made it his own. For this, he wins two tickets to Built to Spill this Saturday night at the Uptown Theatre.

Picking a winner wasn’t easy, because the two runner-up entries are good, too. Here’s Kirana Peyton‘s version of “In Your Mind”:

Listen: “In Your Mind,” by Kirana Peyton

…and Ben Guerard‘s double-vocal version of “Big Dipper”:

Listen: “Big Dipper,” by Ben Guerard

Both runners-up win high-fives, and the affirmation that they are awesome.

Thanks for entering, everybody!

John Prine Explains ‘Bruised Orange’

Posted by on Feb 18, 2012

He’s one of the great singer-storytellers, and yet I’d never heard John Prine’s personal explanation of “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” until coming across this clip from 1980, below. Watch as he drives around his old hometown, describing his job at a church, telling the story of the morning when one of the altar boys was hit by a train and pointing out all of the song’s landmarks:

“Like a long ago Sunday when I walked through… this alley, over here. On a cold winter’s morning.. to that churchhouse. Just to shovel some snow… off that sidewalk. An’ I heard sirens on that train track, over there.”

(The clip is from John Prine Live on Soundstage 1980, from Shout Factory.)

I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes on Google Maps trying to find this very church referenced above, with no luck. Prine grew up in Maywood, Ill., and the main train tracks in town run along S. 25th Ave, with some others along Main Street. Prine calls them the “Northwestern tracks.” Those are the clues. Let’s consider it one of those Andrew Sullivan “View From Your Window” contests—if you can find the church (here’s a starter), let me know.

(UPDATE: CSI pal Jake Bayless has found it! It’s the New Beginnings Christian Church at 205 S. Fifth Ave., in Maywood, about a block away from the tracks. See a Google Street View here. Thanks, Jake!)

Picking a favorite John Prine song is impossible, but when I met John Prine, once, about ten years ago, I was awkward and nervous as I explained to him that “Bruised Orange” had helped me through some very tumultuous times. I think I even quoted some lyrics back to him: “A heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.” Like he needed to hear them. But he was kind, and told me he was glad to have lent a hand.

Naturally, I’m not the only one touched by the song and its story. While writing this post, I’ve discovered that Bon Iver has recorded a version of “Bruised Orange.” It’s reverent and soaring, of course. Hear it here.

 

 

 

 

Derailed Freight Train and Christy’s Thursdays

Posted by on Feb 17, 2012 One Comment

Strolled down to Christy’s on the Square tonight and was pleased to see that Christy’s Thursdays are working out pretty well. For the past couple months, the live music booking on Thursdays has skewed toward the louder variety, which is welcome indeed. Hell, live music period in downtown is welcome indeed, especially when clubs that opened swearing they’d never have DJs now host nothing but.

Even though the bands are allowed to be loud at Christy’s, the sound system is crisp, and not muddled. What’s more, the doorman is unimposing, a healthy change from the unnecessary velvet-rope of the location’s former incarnation as Upper Fourth (the swift demise of which is still one of my favorite Santa Rosa stories, which I probably shouldn’t repeat here, but if you see me, ask). Yes, the attendant in the bathroom at Christy’s offering soaps and cologne is a little out of place, but in front of the small stage, there’s plenty of dimly-lit room to mosey around and chat with friends, drinking cozily in their booths. A five-dollar cover seals the deal.

Playing was Derailed Freight Train, a band that keeps getting better and better. It’s always a pleasure to watch drummer Jamie Voss, who many know from his behind-the-beat laze in Cropduster, but in Derailed Freight Train, he’s fast, crisp, sharp and anything but derailed. Jesse Kindt holds down a solid bass. But the treat is frontman Damian Cohn, a brilliant paradox who plays his well-weathered guitar with simple open tuning but goes off on abstract, strange solos. Over the years in Sonoma County, Damian’s proven himself a master musician, not only adept but excelling at hip-hop (Kranky), free jazz (Army of Ants), cut-and-paste electronics (Scattershot Theory), novelty rap (again, ask me in person) and who knows what the hell else.

In short, Damian knows music inside and out, but instead of playing some ridiculous amalgam of all his influences, he’s choosing to dominate at straight-ahead power-trio rock. So dominating, in fact, that Flavor, downstairs, asked Christy’s to stop Derailed Frieght Train’s set until their dining hours were over! If that’s not a good indicator, I don’t know what is.

Listen to Derailed Frieght Train here, and hit up Christy’s Thursdays schedule here.