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…)
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:
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.
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).
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!
No matter what anyone cares to say about hyphy and what it meant for Bay Area rap and why it died and who’s to blame, pretty much everyone can agree that the man who brought it to the rest of the country, E-40, is larger than trends. Larger than media blitzes. Larger physically not only because he actually once owned a Fattburger in Pleasant Hill but larger metaphorically, from years of experience and stylistic prowess. When hyphy died, no one, not for a second, ever thought E-40 would die with it.
We rolled up to the show and there were a swarm of bodies corralled tightly behind barricades out front. No ins and outs and hence this, the smoking area, with players packed like sardines. Some loonbag decided to take advantage of the captive audience and proselytize on the sidewalk all night long holding a sign about Jesus. It didn’t look comfortable.
Yet there’s a good reason why over 600 people will throw down $30 on a Sunday night and brave cramped quarters and Christian zealots, I thought to myself; it has something to do with a Bay legend. We walked through the heated crowd, circumventing various forms of mating ritual, and plonked in front of the speakers while the D.B.s and Mugzi, 40’s muscular brother, warmed up the stage. (The Click featured 40, his brother, his sister and his cousin. Along with Mugzi, another brother, he’s raised and promoted Droop-E, his son. Could be the first living legend with a grandson on the mic someday. But I digress.)
With landmark electricity, the Vallejo native hit the already crowded stage and proceeded to populate it further, bringing a sizable crew and pulling girls up from the front row. Hits “Yay Area” and “White Gurl” came early on in the set. “How many old school E-40 fans we got in the house?” he hollered. Roars erupted from the crowd. A slew of classics followed: “Sprinkle Me,” “Sideways,” “Captain Save a Ho.” A few new ones from his upcoming album(s) came next, while someone looking a lot like his manager counted out bundles of cash in front of the DJ riser, back to the crowd.
Basically, 40 came with style, poise and attention to detail, pushed his spectacles back down when they mistakenly rose into proper position and paced the stage rim like a tiger; left, right, back, forth. He admonished the assembled, “Don’be square like a boxa Apple Jacks, make wit’da hurryupness and pick up my new albums.” (Two on the same date, March 30: Revenue Retrievin’ (Day Shift), and Revenue Retrievin’ (Night Shift).) He had supreme mic control, flawless from the years. There were people getting booted off the stage. People getting bootied on the floor. People who were two years old when The Federal came out.
“Tell Me When 2 Go,” and then poof. It was over in about 45 minutes. E-40 hustled out the side door onto Keller Street, into his awaiting SUV, and off into the night.
There is nothing quite like walking through the doors of the Phoenix and being blown away by a completely unknown band. Porcelain People, a group of teenaged musicians playing sophisticated-beyond-their-years songs with a casualness reminiscent of 1970s Manhattan, played their second-ever show tonight at the Phoenix, and were transfixing.
The lure as a young band playing the Phoenix is to saturate all possible frequencies, and yet everything about the Porcelain People is compact. The drummer hits quietly, while the bass and guitar are played through amplifiers measuring roughly 14″ tall. Harmonies are sung by a boy and a girl, together, and their naturalness is only magnified when the two voices fall short of matching up exactly in time—as was the case with the band’s cover of Bright Eyes’ “Lua,” which Sean, the guitarist and Lou Reed-like singer, read from a piece of paper on the floor.
Perhaps the apex of their set came at the end, when Mary, the other singer, introduced “Bhopal Beauties.” Written as a sympathetic lament for the residents of Bhopal, India in the wake of the Union Carbide pesticide plant disaster of 1984, the slow-paced song captured the sickness at realizing inhumanity without being didactic: “Love her as she laughs,” Mary sang, “Love her as she laughs,” over and over, as the song and the band’s set came to a solemn close.
Sean, 17, tells me that Porcelain People have only been a band for three months, formed after several of them played in a goth band called Spacemen of the Planet Echo. They practiced just once for tonight’s show and have no recordings as of yet, only a few audience YouTube videos shot when the band was a month old. Sean, whose parents are both teachers, is waiting confidently to hear back from Columbia, Brown and UC Berkeley, and I dearly hope they get into the studio before moving away from Petaluma to attend college.
Waters announced that their drummer had surreptitiously fled town to visit someone in Los Angeles he’d met on ChatRoulette, then began playing in the loosest-knit fashion imaginable, and spindled like a nylon rope through a ramshackle, charming set. They, too, are young, in high school, and their unique instrumentation and rudimentary application helps their music to breathe. The air may be dusty where Waters lives, but their lungs are strong.
I have been listening to Waters’ demo for a week, which showcases the disciplined framework of the Arcade Fire, the harmonies of Fleet Foxes and the tradition of Old Crow Medicine Show. Whether they have heard these bands is a guess, although some of them admitted to me last week that their cover of “Brazil” was inspired in part by the Arcade Fire’s version. More likely, the band throws spaghetti at the wall and occasionally, and unintentionally, hits hallmarks of modern chic.
Their songs range from the anthemic, deep harmony of “Waters,” the bright “Sickle Song” and the declarative “Ballad of John the Baptist.” I had come to the show ridiculously hoping they might play “On the Origin of a Species,” a long, pretty instrumental that probably lives better in the recorded realm than on stage. Second best was “Sun Song,” five minutes’ worth of folk haze punctuated by a blazing afterthought of a guitar solo.
The guitar solo, incidentally, was played by their cellist; their drummer sometimes plays upright bass, their guitarist sometimes plays drums, their banjoist sometimes plays mandolin, their accordionist sometimes plays trombone, and a xylophone and theremin join the herd on and off. Somehow all of this shuffling coheres, even though the musicians in Waters look like they’re thinking about pets, or recipes, or the climate in Zaire instead of playing incredibly unique music. Check them out, and then try to name another band that plays slide ukelele.
With the “advance” of online ticket sales, we all went from standing in line outside the Wherehouse on a Sunday morning to standing together in a dark room with our hands outstretched, blindfolded, hoping that when the tickets fell from the ceiling we might catch one. Today’s news confirms what we all suspected: someone snuck in a vacuum.
This just in from New Jersey, via the Star-Ledger:
Federal authorities in New Jersey today charged four men with hacking into websites of online ticket sellers and illegally buying tickets to Hannah Montana, Bruce Springsteen and other shows around the nation.
The massive conspiracy virtually hijacked the online ticketing systems and prevented average consumers from buying prime seats.
The men, who ran a Nevada-based company called Wiseguy Tickets Inc., employed a computer programmer in Bulgaria who crafted software to swarm the websites of Ticketmaster, Live Nation, Major League Baseball and other companies, according to a 60-page indictment unsealed in Newark.
In essence, the company was able to cut in front of thousands of fans and buy the best seats in the house, authorities said. Wiseguys allegedly sold the tickets at a steep mark-up to brokers, who in turn sold them at an even steeper price to fans, according to the 60-page indictment. The firm bought more than 1.5 million tickets and grossed more than $25 million in profit between 2002 and 2009, according to the indictment. Wiseguy bought at least 11,700 tickets to Springsteen shows alone between September and December 2007, authorities said.
Goes without saying, but may these guys burn in hell. May we also further discover ways in which technology has actually made things worse, says the weirdo who just typed a postcard on a typewriter to send through the United States Postal Service.
What’s especially maddening is that these can’t be the only people hacking the Ticketmaster system. Nor will they be the last.
Check out this track listing for Bettye LaVette’s upcoming album of all British rock songs, due out May 25. Traffic, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Elton John. It’s kinda weird, but in a good way. Who decides to cover the Beatles, and picks “The Word”? Or covers the Stones, and picks “Salt of the Earth”?
At least she’s finally properly releasing her version of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” the show-stopper from The Who’s Kennedy Center tribute that was requested so many times from some dude in the front row when I saw her live that she had to kiss the guy on the lips to shut him up.
1. The Word (John Lennon/Paul McCartney)
2. No Time To Live (James Capaldi/Stephen Winwood)
3. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Bennie Benjamin/Gloria Caldwell/Sol Marcus)
4. All My Love (John Baldwin/Robert Plant)
5. Isn’t It A Pity (George Harrison)
6. Wish You Were Here (David Gilmour/Roger Waters)
7. It Don’t Come Easy (Richard Starkey)
8. Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)
9. Salt Of The Earth (Michael Jagger/Keith Richards)
10. Nights In White Satin (David Hayward)
11. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad (Eric Clapton/Bobby Whitlock)
12. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Elton John/Bernard Taupin)
13. Love Reign O’er Me (Peter Townshend) [BONUS TRACK]
There are reasons we like finding new places to play in Sonoma County. The jolt of the unchartered, the claim of presence, the raising of the flag. I relish the potential for disaster as much as I hope for the best—either way, it’s exciting. Los Caballos is a Latin dance nightclub in the old Shakey’s Pizza building on Cleveland that usually hosts tejano and salsa bands and, in at least one case, Latin Hyper, a fresh reggaeton band from Santa Rosa. This video is my favorite example of a normal night at Los Caballos, starring Los Vaquetones del Hyphy, a band in matching blazers, potleaf shirts and gasmasks who toss out free T-Shirts and Tecate before busting into their set. (“These dudes are clowns,” translates the comment.)
The turnout tonight at Los Caballos for StarSkate’s CD/cassette release show was encouragingly good. Hopefully the owners are down to have more indie shows, scratching their heads though they may be at the style of music foreign to their stage. Especially thrilling is that, like the North Bay Film and Art Collective, they’ve worked out an all-ages situation where those over 21 can still drink. It’s what I saw once at the Green Room in Tempe, Ariz.; a barricade running down the middle of the room, which isn’t nearly as awkward as it sounds.
Before StarSkate played, A Pack of Wolves turned in a great set on the nice, short triangular stage, flanked by a ‘Viva Mexico’ drum kit and pictures of Che Guevara on the wall. Is it just me or have A Pack of Wolves gotten extremely good in the last year or two? When they first started playing shows, I couldn’t shake a feeling that they were trying a little too hard to glom onto the dance-punk trend of the day, but seriously, they’ve really grown into their own. Cesco ended the set by announcing, “Thank you for watching us suck!” and then, off-mic, “That was our worst fucking show.” The tantrum was unwarranted; they played in this zone of professionalism made awesome by good new songs.
I last saw StarSkate at a house party on New Year’s Eve so crammed that their shadows on the ceiling were more visible than the band itself. To see them beneath nightclub cage lighting makes a big difference. They ruled. Similar to the compact sets pioneered by Universal Order of Armageddon, they play one uninterrupted 15- or 20-minute song, even when they need to change bass cables. There’s an unpredictability in StarSkate’s music, residing somewhere between planned and improvised, lit by a torch being passed from jazz to hardcore and back again. Their own description reads like the liner notes to a Strata-East album: “The band is currently studying the sacred science of sypathetic vibration theory,” it reads, “and experimenting with bending universal wave patterns to determine the qualitative form of mind and matter.” The Los Caballos crowd—including a couple old hippies, one burly bro with his thumb bandaged up, and some amused-looking staffers—were into it.
Also, here’s to the continued lifeboat for cassette tapes! I was at a Gilman show in January and I swear, four of the five bands that played were selling tapes. A friend of mine recently called it “the hipster calling card,” and yeah, it’s a trend. It’s one I can fully back. I’ve chronicled my love for tapes here and written about the thrust to make tapes in the 21st Century here, and I still get stoked when I can buy a new cassette. Five bucks for the StarSkate/BvP split, quick and easy, and how ’bout that artwork?
Los Caballos isn’t the only unusual place StarSkate is playing. Next weekend, they play this all-day thing with a zillion bands—another DJ N Front of a Coffee Shop JamSessions show—inside the Hall of Flowers at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds! No joke. If there was, oh, any information about it at all online, I’d link to it, but
as it is you’ll just have to somehow osmose the details from the universe, man. (Update: here’s a flyer, with no date. It’s Saturday, March 6th.)
When I was younger and prone to making grandiose claims based on whim and late-night conversation, I theorized, as teenagers do, that all love between two people must eventually run out of perpetual motion and die. The only problem, I thought, was that one person always notices it before the other.
Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me is a long, tedious breakup album disguised as an “epic” breakup album, and for a lot of reasons, mostly musical, I can’t like it so far. (Context: I think Milk-Eyed Mender is total genius.) I listened to all two hours of this new record, in its plodding, turgid, formless non-glory, twice in a row. Then I opened the lyric booklet and listened again.
“On a Good Day” is such a wonderful piece of poetry that I have to quote it in full:
Hey hey hey, the end is near!
On a good day,
you can see the end from here.
But I won’t turn back, now,
though the way is clear;
I will stay for the remainder.
I saw a life, and I called it mine.
I saw it, drawn so sweet and fine,
and I had begun to fill in all the lines,
right down to what we’d name her.
Our nature does not change by will.
In the winter, ’round the ruined mill,
the creek is lying, flat and still;
it is water,
though it’s frozen.
So, ‘cross the years,
and miles, and through,
on a good day,
you can feel my love for you.
Will you leave me be,
so that we can stay true
to the path that you have chosen?
(The only problem, I thought, was that one person always notices it before the other.)
“On a Good Day” is one example of why people are saying that this is a more “accessible” record than Newsom’s first two, and I get what they mean, i.e. everyone can relate to heartbreak lyrics. But heartbreak lyrics are everywhere. I assert that a huge contingent of her fans loved Milk-Eyed Mender precisely because they couldn’t relate to the lyrics. Milk-Eyed Mender was such a left-field Oxford-English-Dictionary masterpiece, begging to be analyzed and untangled—and deciphering that puzzle brought a lot of people together (“Sadie is a dog?!”).
For most of Have One On Me, the songs feel unnecessary, their only purpose to fill space, like bad food. I appreciate the way it was recorded—uncompressed, and very “live” sounding—but very little of it compositionally jumps out as vital. Is that the point? “I am so deflated by love’s death that I can only wheeze?” If so, indulgence (!) and the Joni Mitchell comparisons can stick. Tiny little blues inflections creeping in to her phrasing, too, another sign of caution, though owed more to we’ll-have-a-time Hank Williams.
There’s just no valid reason for Have One on Me to be as long as it is, and if making a tape for the car, I’d whittle it down to…
Good Intentions Paving Company
On a Good Day
Soft as Chalk
Does Not Suffice (In California, Refrain)
…mostly for thematic reasons. For the last song on the entire set, the magnificent “Does Not Suffice,” a gigantic death-ending closes the album after the warmest Newsom gets to a fuck-you stanza; it’s refreshing because she plays the innocent what-went-wrong I’m-so-confused role the rest of the time (the female role, tiredly, that fits most listener’s narratives of a breakup album by a woman). Finally, she fights back and walks out amongst predatory noise. Bonus track would be “’81,” because of its melody. Other than that, what went wrong? I’m so confused.