On the Stereo: Grouper and the Ill Fit of “Noise”

Posted by on Sep 1, 2010 2 Comments

This week’s Bohemian column is on Grouper, a.k.a. Liz Harris, who plays this weekend’s incredible On Land Festival at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. Liz and I spent about an hour together in Portland, talking about everything from boyfriends to drug use to old jobs to Kompakt Records to sharing pieces of one’s soul to justifying domesticity to high school to spent relationships, but not all of these things could neatly fit into a 700-word music piece. Besides, I made a conscious effort in some instances to honor some modicum of privacy on her part, since stalkers do exist.

Mainly what I took away from meeting with Harris is that she treats music much like visual art; to be digested slowly, and to not be mass-produced. One of the longer portions of our conversation that didn’t make the cut, though, revolved around the misnomer of “noise” and the fact that a lot of experimental music released on noise labels and embraced by the noise scene isn’t really all that noisy. Case in point: Since I have a one-year-old baby, I find myself listening to more rhythmless music after she goes to bed so she won’t wake up; it’s what most would call “noise” but the funny thing is it’s beautiful nighttime music, and not antagonizing at all. Depending on one’s tolerance for sustained cacophony, some of it is downright easy listening.

Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill is an excellent introduction to Grouper, it’s true. I find Cover the Windows and the Walls to operate on a similar level of structure, wherein her melodies conjure the shoegazier side of Yo La Tengo as much as the Flower Duet from Delibes’ Lakme. You could say it caused some excitement on its release. It’s on Root Strata, who along with curating the On Land Fest recently hosted a series of shows inside Grace Cathedral utilizing said architecture’s natural seven-second delay. Root Strata has some stellar releases under its belt—among them Common Eider, King Eider’s Worn and Barn Owl’s The Conjurer—and everything they do is worth checking out. Plus, Bay Area represent, duh.

Type Records kills it time and again, but the record of theirs I find myself playing with the most frequency is And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees, by Jóhann Jóhannsson. Written to accompany a film, the score hits all the urgent swells and calm passages reminiscent of John Barry’s less popular work; though I’ve no clue what the alleged film is supposed to be about, listening to the record is like being whisked through a storyline. It’s utterly addictive. Honorable mentions for Type also go to Your Eyes the Stars and Your Hands the Sea by Seasons (pre-din),  Kappe by Svarte Grenier, In Bocca al Lupo by Xela and the utterly breathtaking Going Places by Yellow Swans, all spending hours upon hours occupying my turntable lately.

I know little about the Miasmah label, other than I want to know more. Everything I’ve heard from them is top-quality, and like many of these labels, they have copious sound clips online. Although the cover art isn’t as striking as Kreng’s L’Autopsie Phenomenale de Dieu or FNS’s S/T LP (both excellent records, really), I’m drawn most to Jacaszek’s Treny record of late. Chamber strings, calm soprano vocals, minor-key meanderings and a workable cohabitation of serenity and dread. Miasmah is set to release the home run of their career with Marcus Fjellstrom’s Schattenspieler, due Sept. 13; some preview tracks for the album reveal the Swedish composer at his finest and most evocative yet.

Iceland’s Bedroom Community label has been on a roll, what with Sam Amidon’s much-acclaimed I See the Sign LP (traditional folk songs, none well-known, delicately arranged; the album also contains one R. Kelly song). Most of the players on that markedly calm record contribute to Ben Frost’s razorish By the Throat, a scenario not unlike, say, Will Oldham suddenly singing over an orchestra of power tools or something. Prominent like Shakespeare on Bedroom Community is Daníel Bjarnason, and his risk-reward masterpiece Processions. It reminds me of a certain defunct experimental ensemble from Santa Rosa called Triste Sin Richard—pulsing, daring, and joyous.

That brings me to Pan Records, who actually do release antagonizing noise, albeit in shockingly elegant fashion. Each of their first nine releases features mysterious black-and-white images printed on inverted cardstock jackets; those are then housed in a thick transparent polymer sleeve silkscreened with busy linear patterns. The effect is porn for graphic design freaks, basically, and being limited to just 330 copies each makes them collector’s gold as well. I can’t possibly pick a favorite release on Pan, although Ilios’ Kenrimono is notable for being entirely sampled from pachinko parlors in Japan, and Evan Parker and John Weise’s C-Section is a total blast. I warn you, though: this label is like Ikea. Once you buy one Pan record, you will want them all.

Summertime Jams

Posted by on Aug 28, 2010 One Comment

So it turns out the Beach Boys, despite widespread rumor, are not actually suing yeowling bimbo Katy Perry for the line “I really wish you all could be California girls.” What they should sue her for, obviously, as forefathers of the summertime jam, is unleashing such a nauseating hit song on the American public. Have you heard the thing? While the Hollywood blockbuster seems to be getting smarter (Inception, The Kids Are All Right), the “summertime jam” is increasingly becoming the radio equivalent of the old-style Hollywood blockbuster—i.e., full of blatant dippiness and cheap thrills designed to make you feel awesome.

But Perry’s “California Gurls” does not make me feel awesome. What does, especially on the way to the beach or sharing beers in the sunset or at a backyard barbecue, is “Dance Yrself Clean,” from LCD Soundsystem, which bank-shots off every border of “summertime jam” to redefine the term. A rant against friends who suffer from diarrhea of the mouth (“Talking like a jerk / Except you are an actual jerk”), the track explodes three minutes in with thick analog-synth blasts and dirty, dirty hi-hats, owing to Talking Heads and Freddie Mercury while paving nine minutes of the way toward a future disco music.

From Inglewood, Cali Swag District brings us the dance-craze “Teach Me How to Dougie,” a razor-thin hip-hop hit hanging on an infectious, simple beat that first made waves in underground circles late last year. Capitol Records cleaned out the bad words and rereleased it this May; the original‘s better, but it still sounds ultrafresh and continues to inspire uploaded dance videos of four-year-olds dancing the dougie in the driveway. (Although: kinda bummed that L.A. gets attention for “Dougie” while this video from Oakland’s Turf Feinz is evidence that the Bay Area produces California’s most elegant street dancing.)

Dancing finds a lonely space in Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” an instant contagion advisable to avoid if you don’t want it stuck in your head for the next month. Cribbing Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” concept, the song finds Robyn (a former Swedish teen pop star whose new album opens with a song titled “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do”) self-assured on the dance floor even while the object of her affection goes home with someone else. And Lord, the hooks are insane.

Is there any hit more tailor-made for summertime status than “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae? A rebuke to haters through deft dance moves and killer cadences sung in Monae’s Aretha-like voice, the song tacks on two minutes of call-and-response shouts, horn riffs, ukulele breaks and strings well past the usual three-minute mark; it’s also the rare song with a Big Boi verse where the Big Boi verse isn’t the highlight. Listen to it once and be transformed.

Transformation is the game on M.I.A.’s new album, nowhere more so than on “Steppin’ Up,” with its rhythmic cacophony of lug-nut drills; it manages to make the ridiculous phrase “subb-a-sub-a-sub-sub” sound ill. Similarly, sampling Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love Yous” is a terrible idea on paper; Nicki Minaj owns it for “Your Love.” (“Bloody hell,” M.I.A. recently quipped, “Nicki Minaj runs things.”) Minaj has been a prolific filthy-guest-verse rapper in the past, and if the slow burn of “Your Love” earns some overdue recognition, it will have justified its existence.

No summertime jam this year fills the seaside role like “When I’m with You,” by Best Coast, aka Bethany Cosentino. Cosentino loves cats, smokes weed and has a drummer who routinely wears a bunny suit. She’s also written the carefree beach party hit of the year. If the Beach Boys can shake any money out of Katy Perry, they’d be wise to kick a chunk to Best Coast for keeping their California dream alive—the sunsets, the sand, the surf and the salvation of sloppily swapping saliva. Summertime!

Finally, the internet has been dominated in the last week by what everyone’s declaring the Summertime Jam That Never Was. Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” isn’t ever going to enjoy radio play, but that hasn’t kept it out of my head since I heard it, just one time, seven entire days ago. Simply put, the song’s catchy as hell, and now that the nonexistent summertime weather in Santa Rosa has finally turned around and decided to shine, it couldn’t hit at a finer time. Watch it below, and enjoy.

Live Review and Photos: Rock the Bells 2010, Shoreline Amphitheatre

Posted by on Aug 25, 2010 5 Comments

In the hip-hop version of nostalgic rock ‘n’ roll packages like Art Laboe’s Memories of El Monte or Alan Freed’s American Hot Wax, the 2010 Rock the Bells tour barreled into a packed Shoreline Amphitheatre to revive the golden age of hip-hop with a particular zeroing in on the magical year of 1993. That year, after all, saw releases of Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)—all iconic albums, and all performed “in their entirety” at Rock the Bells on Sunday.

Notably, though, none of the acts adhered to the “in its entirety” concept. Rakim purportedly performed Paid in Full in its entirety, but excluded three songs from the album and scattered the others, out of order, throughout a greatest-hits set. This set the stage of artists bending toward hits from classic albums rather than staidly presenting them cover-to-cover. While at first this seemed like a bit of false advertising in action, it was eventually evidenced that when deep album cuts were dutifully unearthed—Tribe’s “God Lives Through,” say—energy levels suffered.

At a show like Sunday’s, one had to set aside valid concerns about hip-hop getting older and leaning on its past rather than looking to its future. For all the chatter about the genre being in a slump, there is so much life and vitality to the music presented on Sunday to get hip-hop through the longest dry spell. No one tugged at their goatee or scribbled in their notebook about these concerns. You don’t worry about shit like that when an epic lineup is playing out in front of your eyes.

Rakim opened with “My Melody,” played the part of Eric B. by cutting up lines from “I Know You Got Soul” on the 1200s, got the Bay Area crowd to boo Los Angeles and dedicated songs “to all the mommies out there.” Standing like an impenetrable wall of skill, he moved deliberately around the stage to rearranged Paid in Full cuts alongside later hits “Know the Ledge” and “Don’t Sweat the Technique.”

Scheduled early in the day at 1pm for too many empty seats, it felt like Rakim got little love for someone generally regarded as the most innovative and influential MC of all time. He didn’t seem fazed. He told security to lay off so the people could cluster near the front of the stage, absolutely killed tracks like “Microphone Fiend” and “I Ain’t No Joke,” and at one point planted his Nike shoe on the monitor, licked the back of his thumb and deftly cleaned off a tiny fleck of dirt stuck to otherwise spotless sneakers. Smooth.

“When I get off stage,” he warned of the massive lineup to come, “it’ll get crazy. And then it’ll get crazier.”

“Hip-hop is not that Hollywood bullshit!” yelled Immortal Technique, on the side stage. “Hip-hop is being one with the people!”

He then finished a song with a chant of “Fuck Cops,” and then explained himself. “I know some of you out there don’t agree with that last song. You might be like, ‘My dad is a cop. He works hard and put himself in danger to keep the country safe.’ Well you know what? Fuck your dad! Fuck your family! And fuck cops!”

This didn’t go over well with some. While Immortal Technique talked about his recent trip to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, a dude in the crowd threw a soda bottle at him. It missed, but the audience was all too glad to point the guy out. Immortal Technique’s entourage ran off the stage, into the crowd, and cornered the guy. It looked hectic, but then security intervened and dragged the dude to be thrown out at the gates.

“The crowd will always be filled with one agent provocateur,” quipped Immortal Technique. “You got off soft.” After his set, he stayed at the merch booth for two hours, signing autographs.

Lauryn Hill was 45 minutes late, and by the time she finally came out and finished her extended rock version of “Lost One,” her first song, it was 5:35—the end of her set, according to the schedule. If the stickler Bill Graham had still been in charge at Shoreline, he’d have unapologetically pulled her off stage right then as punishment for tardiness. Rock the Bells allowed her a full set anyway, albeit a shortened one; in the ridiculously long wait before she took the stage, roadies twice came out and crossed songs off all the set lists.

In Sally Jessy Raphael glasses, a black sequined cap and a homeless-chic green trenchcoat covering an early-’90s high-waisted getup, Hill displayed all the same hopeful energy of her show earlier this year at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa by churning her arms wildly and strutting in insanely high four-inch heels. Things looked grim when she left the stage ten minutes in, but returned wearing different shoes. Probably a wise move.

The crowd seemed confused by her new arrangements, and didn’t move much until she got into Fugees tracks like “Ready or Not” and “Fu-Gee-La,” which opened the floodgates for mayhem. Hill performed everyone else’s verses, and displayed her recent desire to be taken seriously again after a long rough patch. By the time she ended with “Doo Wop (That Thing),” the sting of her late arrival was nicely salved.

“I can only introduce this next group,” said Hot 97 DJ Peter Rosenberg, solemnly, “by saying that this is my favorite group of all time. Rock the Bells, please welcome to the stage… A Tribe Called Quest!” Except Tribe wasn’t ready yet, and when a rushed Ali Shaheed Muhammad emerged from the wings and quickly started the intro to Midnight Marauders on the turntables, he shot Rosenberg an icy stare. Oops.

As mentioned, Tribe actually stuck somewhat to the material from Midnight Marauders, even performing late-in-Side-B cuts like “Lyrics to Go,” which you’ll never hear at a regular Tribe show. The “Midnight Lady” voice popped up from time to time in the set, they did everything on the album except “8 Million Stories,” “We Can Get Down,” and “Keep it Rollin’,” and Q-Tip remarked that Midnight Marauders and Enter the Wu-Tang came out on the same exact date in 1993.

But the heat came when they brought out Busta Rhymes for “Scenario,” “Check the Rhime” and “Award Tour,” which saw Q-Tip running out into the amphitheater and working the fans in a show-stopping, all-star set closer. Tribe, Busta, Jarobi all onstage, simply sliding into place? Um, best part of the festival?

“It’s just like 15 guys all shouting the same thing and shitting on each other’s verses,” remarked a companion before the Wu-Tang Clan came on, and in a way, he was right. Wu-Tang, however, also adhered pretty strictly to the in-its-entirety thing, and it’s pretty thrilling to see all those guys on stage at the same time.

The role of Ol’ Dirty Bastard was filled by Ol’ Dirty’s son, who styled his hair in the same fashion and wore an oversized “R.I.P. ODB” T-shirt. He was clearly the most excited to be on stage, but the Wu held it down, and I tell you, the place was going bazonkers.

“I saw this shit on stage last night,” said MC Supernatural, introducing Snoop Dogg, “and what you’re about to see is epic. It’s like a movie.”

Snoop’s set was the perfect way to end the long day—laid back, entertaining, and for the sonically inclined, perfectly EQed. He had a tricked-out bike and a fire hydrant onstage. He had a picnic table covered in Olde English 40 ozs. He had the entire Dogg Pound (sans Nate Dogg). He had a giant backdrop of the cover to Doggystyle. He had full-budget video interludes to match all the skits on Doggystyle. He had a guy in a gigantic full-body dog suit. He opened with the bathtub skit, had the Lady of Rage deliver “G Funk Intro” and launched majestically into “Gin and Juice,” blunt in hand. It was beautiful.

Snoop also really took time to paint a picture of where he was at when making the record. He explained that “Gs Up, Hoes Down” had to be taken off the record due to sample clearance issues. He told the story of proposing “Ladi Dadi” to Dr. Dre: “When I was working on this album, Doggystyle, I told Dr. Dre I wanted to do something that’d never been done before. I wanted to redo this song I loved when I was a kid. And he said, ‘Okay, but we gonna fuck with it.’”

By the whole crew exiting the stage after every few songs, the set had the feel of a theatrical play, divided into acts and narrated by the Greek chorus of video interludes. And yet it was when Snoop broke the fourth wall that the show carried most of its weight. “Who here really did buy Doggystyle when it came out?” he asked. “Who had it on cassette? Who had it on wax? Who had it on CD? Were CDs even out? I was scared of the CD, man, I had the motherfuckin’ tape. Yeah. East side, G side.”

Warren G performed “Regulate” to represent the non-Snoop hits of the era, and the whole Dogg Pound even performed the posse cut “Stranded on Death Row,” from The Chronic. (“We wanted to show the world that we weren’t just gangsta rappers, but that we were MCs.”) And even though he ended with “Drop it Like It’s Hot” and “I Wanna Rock,” the set was a very well-done, heartfelt homage to a groundbreaking, bygone era.

Doggystyle, man,” Snoop mused, near the end. “This shit is crazy. All my people on stage right here? I’m havin’ a moment right here.”

More Photos Below. (more…)

Jack Attack: "I Hate Spiders"

Posted by on Aug 18, 2010

After a Bohemian article in March of this year, quite a few readers found resonance in the outsider music of Jack Attack, a.k.a. Jack Springs, a high-functioning mentally retarded heavy metal fan who works rounding up shopping carts at G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa. The story of his trials growing up and finding catharsis in music was incredible to me, and his music, posted previously here, even more so.

So it makes me happy to share more of Jack’s music today. I’ve gotten his most recent recording, and along with themes about his soul no longer being destroyable, his rights being violated and his position as a singing God, he includes a timeless warning to the arachnid species.

Dear readers, here’s Jack Attack’s newest hit, “I Hate Spiders”:

Review and Photos: Outside Lands Festival 2010, Day Two

Posted by on Aug 17, 2010 3 Comments

I’ll get to the bands, but the first thing anyone noticed, surely, is the freak scene outside the gates of Outside Lands. It’s what you’d envision concerts in the park to be like back when concerts in the park were free. In the short walk between parking my bike (thanks, SF Bike Coalition) and the main entry, I was offered $2 beers from a stack of 12-packs piled on a skateboard, $1 pot cookies from a brown grocery bag, yelled at by a woman for no reason who shouted “KEEP LAUGHING! THIS STAND-UP COMEDY ACT AIN’T FREE!,” warned to get out of the way while security caught and escorted out an unsucessful gate-crasher, watched in amazement at a sprinting, successful gate-crasher, and had to tell a guy no, but thanks, I’d rather you not super-soak my arm.

Then it’s over the hill and into the festival, with corporate booths (“Free Rolling Stone T-Shirts!”; no takers), even more corporate tents (the “Chase Freedom Lounge,” yeah right, like anyone thinks a credit card gives you freedom) and no free water except from the lovely people staffing the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic’s Rock Med table. I’ll say it until the day I die: All festivals should have a free drinking fountain. At least a garden hose, man.

The night before, I’d DJed this really ridiculously epic wedding reception at the Union Hotel in Occidental, and the exact feeling that festivals aim to provide—Everyone United Through Music!™—was undeniable in a tiny little redwood-lined ballroom. It was fun, but honestly, I don’t know that Everyone United Through Music!™ is such a desirable goal, because the more people united in their excitement over a band, the greater the chances of that band being pretty lame and middle-of-the-road. On a semi-related note, there’s no way around the fact that this year’s Outside Lands lineup is the weakest yet.

Mayer Hawthorne killed it. I’ve got a weariness of the oversaturated retro-soul train perennially chugging out of the same station for the last ten years, but there’s no denying Hawthorne’s enthusiasm. The crowd was in the palm of his hands—he stopped, held up one finger, they cheered; he shook the hell out of his tambourine, they cheered; he got everyone to imitate rain with their fingers, they cheered. Impeccably dressed in a custom suit, Hawthorne had a great band with vintage analog gear, synchronized backup dancers and three-part backing harmonies.

“I love records, I’m a vinyl junkie,” Hawthorne said at one point. “Y’all got one of the best record stores in the universe here—Amoeba.” He’s right! He then related a funny story about being mistaken by an autograph seeker, in the aisles at Amoeba, for Michael Bublé. Who knows if the story was really true, but you can kind of see the resemblance.

The Devil Makes Three are great, and always have been great, and it’s nice to see them finally selling out shows and getting props. Theirs is an instructional story for bands on taking the very slow, hardworking path, which is also a story about taking the very broke, no-money-havin’ path. I’d heard from a friend who saw their packed show at the Independent a couple nights before that they’d gotten “loose” and “noodley,” which actually sounded cool, but at Outside Lands no loose noodles answered the roll-call.

They opened with “For Good Again,” a sardonic story about communal living and starting a band, and there are some lines in that song which define the Devil Makes Three for me: “Everybody who’s anybody, in my opinion,” sings Pete Bernhard, “at one time lived in somebody’s hallway.” Lines like that are comfort food for punkhouse graduates, and even though I technically never lived in a hallway, I thought about my days living in the laundry room, or the attic, or the garage, or the closet, or the unfinished frame house, and felt a little better about myself. Thanks, Pete.

Then I saw a man with his shirt wide open. He had two bellybuttons. No kidding.

So like I said, there’s a lot of corporate tents at Outside Lands. In these tents, there’s DJs, or free wi-fi, or short performances in intimate settings by bands who are playing the larger stages. The only thing is that to get into these tents, you have to own a certain kind of credit card, or “like” a stupid brand on Facebook, or sign up for spam email, or utter a cringe-worthy phrase like “Let’s go to ‘Inspire’ by Heineken.” (Also, what the hell were those plastic stove knob things that Chase was handing out? Does anyone know? For real. I saw them all over the ground 20 feet after the dude was handing them out. No one knew what they were. Total sense this made = 0.)

That said, KUSF is a kickass radio station. Their Outside Lands tent was open to everyone, free of irritating marketing, and when I walked by the Budos Band was rocking a tiny stage. The bassist played his bass in this ridiculous upside-down fashion, and the bari sax player looked possessed at times. A little bit Mulatu, a little bit Fela, all Daptone, really tight grooves, and a nice surprise on the way to Janelle Monáe. It was great!

(Note to KUSF: I just wanna say that by NOT making me sign up for anything to chill in your tent, you have earned my loyalty and respect. See how it works in the 21st Century? There’s no jobs out there because no companies are making any money, so companies pump up their marketing team until everyone’s so nauseatingly sick from the onslaught of marketing that only a complete lack of marketing achieves the desired result of the public subconscious reacting positively to your brand, but I digress. The Budos Band is cool as shit and KUSF is wonderful.)

Janelle Monáe wins the showmanship prize of the year based on her Outside Lands set alone, and to think she does it night after night after night is unreal. Even her soundman was rocking out—like, hard—and he’s someone who watches this happen every night, over and over. Janelle Monáe! Whose brain works as fast as hers? Whose body works fast enough to receive lightning-fast impulses from said brain? Who can sing, rap dance in just one show? (Kangol, Mr. Sophisticata, but I digress yet again.)

Monáe was fifteen minutes late due to a late flight, a fact that no one’s going to remember because her set ruled. She took to the stage in a black hooded cape, sang the hell out of her songs, danced up a tornado and laid forth a watertight case for stardom. When “Tightrope” first hit, I couldn’t shake Monáe’s very formal, clean presentation. There was something eerily obedient in her manner, as if her talent had been refined and polished beyond normal human behavior. But contrary to the unwritten code of alleged musical “purity,” talent doesn’t have to sloppy to be authentic, and trained singers can also be great singers. Seeing Monáe live reinforces these concepts.

I had been staring at the stage, covered in instrument cables, wondering if Monáe might accidentally step on one and slip while dancing. Alas, she’s got this problem solved by putting a special dance riser in front of the drums, which also meant that people way in the back could see Monáe’s dizzying footwork. She turned in a memorable set, to say the least, including Chaplin’s “Smile,” probably the greatest song about depression ever written. When she ended with “Tightrope,” I walked around the crowd and came upon a dude who was doing backflips and smoking a joint at the same time. Amazing.

Al Green was on his game.

I last saw Al Green in Sonoma, turning in a smooth, by-the-numbers show for middle-aged wine drinkers. It was great, but man, it was so refreshing to see the guy in front of thousands of kids in tight jeans and neon Ray-Bans. Especially when there’s a lot of retro-soul acts here today—Janelle Monáe, Mayer Hawthorne, the Budos Band—it’s nice to have Al Green arrive to show them how it’s done.

In a routine that’s familiar by now, he took the stage, throwing out dozens of roses and repeatedly saying “I love you.” It may be routine, but when Green does it, it doesn’t feel like schtick. He implored the crowd to sing along. He shouted out California. He wished for stairs leading down into the crowd and made fun of the “paparazzi” in the photo pit. He genuinely wanted to make a connection with people. I’d say he succeeded.

There are things you forgive Al Green. Taking a swig of Gatorade partway through the second verse of “Let’s Stay Together” is one of them. (The chorus, which everyone knows by heart and sings loudly, would be a much more appropriate spot to take a break.) Performing snippets of “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Bring It on Home to Me” and “My Girl” instead of his own songs is another. Why? Because his history, which is weighty in itself, is matched by his current-day pipes and patter. Wailing gospel high notes, hip-bumping to the downbeat, blowing kisses to the ladies—just owning it.

Afterwards, from the direction of Speedway Meadow, we saw a swarm of bodies who for some reason chose to watch Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes instead of Al Green, and I usually don’t pity people for following their internal compass, but man.

Garage a Trois. Last song. “1969” by the Stooges. The vibraphone player, Mike Dillon, reached over for a mic and bumped some percussion, which toppled to the floor. A sound guy approached, like he was going to reprimand the guy. Dillon saw him coming and executed a flying, head-first leap over the vibes, crashing to the ground and knocking over more stuff. He got up and dry-humped Skerik, the saxophone player. Then he kicked Skerik in the head. Noticing the mic had come unplugged, he threw it up in the air and into the crowd. It was nuts.

When the song was over, the soundmen looked relieved.

Once upon a time there was a band called Chromeo. The best moment of Chromeo’s set came when a ton of people outside the festival banded together on JFK drive and crashed through the fence. A cheer emitted from the crowd when dozens of people made it in without paying. (Watch the video here.) If you lived through the 1980s you’ve heard Chromeo before. The end.

Painfully apparent when Phoenix kicked off with “Lizstomania” was that Thomas Mars was singing along to a doubled backing track. Ouch! Except everyone was going so nuts they probably didn’t notice. The coolly detached Mars hopped into the crowd, whipping people into even further of a frenzy. I wonder what the poll results would be if each fan at the gates was asked if Phoenix should be headlining instead of Kings of Leon.

Nas: Yankees hat. Damian Marley: Dreads down to the floor. Hype man: Waving a Lion of Judah flag. Backing band: Solid. Backup singer: Wearing a Bob Marley T-Shirt. Work it, baby!

Damian Marley shouted something about legal marijuana, and the field went nuts. I missed it, but according to the East Bay Express, Nas at one point called Africa a “country.”

“I’m lookin’ out in this crowd,” declared Mike Ness, in that oh-so-Mike-Ness way (see: Live at the Roxy), “and I’m seein’ some scary lookin’ criminals… If any of you out there are considering a life of crime, I seriously discourage it!” Sure thing, Mike.

Zen moments come at unexpected times. Social Distortion playing “Ring of Fire” was one of them. Why did it move me? What about it was special that wasn’t, the dozens of other times I’ve heard it? I can’t say. Especially when Mike Ness gave it this strange introduction about Johnny Cash: “This was written by one of my heroes! He’s not a hero because he had great hair or wore all black, but because there was a time in this country where people thought good white music could exist without black music! I tell ya, without this guy we’d all be sittin’ on the front porch blowing into a jug tryin’ to make a tune!”

I’d never seen Social Distortion. When I was 13 and didn’t know anything about music I’d go to the Wherehouse in the mall and look at the cassette tapes, selecting my purchase based entirely on the names of the bands. This is how I wound up with Killer Klowns From Outer Space by the Dickies, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death by the Dead Kennedys, and Prison Bound by Social Distortion. I thought Social Distortion was a raw name, and was kind of bummed when I got home to find it was basically country music instead of thrash.

Kings of Leon were up next, but so was RVIVR across town at Thee Parkside. I guarantee you that a thousand birds could shit on RVIVR’s heads and they’d keep playing. You can’t say the same for Kings of Leon, so I hopped on my bike and rode back to my car at Ocean Beach. I love this part of Golden Gate Park. It’s downhill all the way, past the buffalo and the casting pools and the archery field, and out on the Great Highway the sun and the fog and the water made a beautiful canvas behind that huge wooden windmill.

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Healdsburg Jazz Festival Comments Taken Down; Reposted Here

Posted by on Aug 10, 2010 8 Comments

As reported earlier, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s Board of Directors last month fired festival founder and artistic director Jessica Felix. And guess what? People were mad! Musicians who played the festival vowed to return only if Felix was back on as artistic director, sponsors who contributed $25,000 per year pledged to cease their financial support in Felix’s absence, and fans lamented the very plain and obvious fact that firing Felix is tantamount to ripping out the heart of the festival.

All this happened in the comments section of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s website. It was a lively forum of voices—mostly smart, some funny, all of them upset—but apparently, it was too much for the Board of Directors to handle. All the comments were removed from the site yesterday. Says the home page: “For further comments, please email us at info@healdsburgjazzfestival.org.”

I’ve made my opinions on the matter of Felix’s firing pretty clear so far, but this latest action of erasing people’s public comments is completely atrocious. So with the aid of Google cache, here’s the collected 46 comments that were taken down from the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s site. Click through below to read them all, and feel free to continue to comment below.

[UPDATE: It worked! Felix is back and so is the festival. Read here.]


In News

Smashing Pumpkins to Play the Phoenix Theater

Posted by on Aug 10, 2010 One Comment

This Just In: Smashing Pumpkins are playing the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma on Wednesday, September 8.

The Phoenix is among the smallest venues that the band is playing on their current tour, which sees them visiting 17,000- and 18,000-capacity stadiums after they leave Petaluma. Founding member Billy Corgan is the only original member in Smashing Pumpkins. (He tends to ramble at Smashing Pumpkins shows.)

Tickets, at $40 a pop, go on sale to the general public this Saturday, 10am, via InTicketing. A 101.7-FM “The Fox” presale happens on Friday at 10am. If you really want to be guaranteed a ticket, lining up outside the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa for an old-fashioned cash-transaction hard ticket is recommended. The store opens at 10am.

In News

Zone Music in Cotati to Close, Downsize

Posted by on Aug 9, 2010 9 Comments

The rumors are true: Zone Music in Cotati is closing its doors.

But they’ll open again soon, promises owner Frank Hayhurst.

The venerable music store which since 1983 has seen the likes of Neil Young, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck as customers is downsizing its inventory and floor space to reopen sometime in the future, possibly with a different name but most likely in the same general spot, Hayhurst tells me.

“Cotati is a great community and a perfect location for a music store—it’s the heart of Sonoma County,” he says. “We’re looking at closing for a short while to remodel, but haven’t picked the exact dates yet, because there are many variables. We need to rescale, but it shouldn’t take too long.”

Whatever the future holds, the new store will focus instead on the things that still make money in an online age—guitars, accessories, used gear, consignments—in a remodeled, “much smaller” shop. “Basically,” says Hayhurst, “the old model of a full line music store doesn’t work in this current economy.”

Last week, customers reported the shelves at Zone being bare, and employees saying that the store was “going under.” The news came as a shock to those who’ve patronized the popular, well-loved store over the past 28 years—with most of the finger-pointing directed at online megastores like Musician’s Friend.

But even when Zone offered competitive price-matching with online merchants, “it’s 10% more expensive to shop with a local retailer than making the same purchase online,” says Hayhurst. “That’s the sales tax inequity issue.”

Several businesses surround Zone Music, and will stay open. Zone Recording, run by studio veteran Blair Hardman, will continue to record bands, singers, commercial jingles, books on tape and all manner of audio projects. Backstage Audio, run by fix-it whiz Kent Fossgreen, will continue to fix amps, guitars, keyboards and all manner of musical instruments.

A used vinyl LP store is moving in on the premises as well.

Even in tough times, while Zone restructures, Hayhurst says he hasn’t lost his passion for the business in Sonoma County. “My favorite visiting musicians have been the working musicians of the North Bay Area,” he remarks. “They are my inspiration. Oh, and the kids! Hearing kids rock always brightens my day.”

Guerneville, the River Theatre and the "Vacation Wonderland"

Posted by on Aug 8, 2010 One Comment

My friend Gaye LeBaron, in customarily evocative fashion, writes in today’s PD about vacation memories on the Russian River. It’s a great read, especially for locals who’ve spent July and August cruising for thrills beneath the shade of redwoods in West County. That’s something I wished I had growing up, those carefree summertime Russian River memories, and each time I stroll Johnson’s Beach or visit Rio Nido, I figure I was born a few decades too late for even the waning days of what the Monte Rio sign famously, and sadly, still declares the “Vacation Wonderland.”

As it were, my family took vacations camping in Humboldt County—incidentally, where LeBaron grew up—or when we could convince family friends to loan us their cabin, Lake Tahoe. The towering trees, the miniature golf, the outdoor calm and young summertime romance described by 1950s Russian River resort-goers in LeBaron’s column? That was King’s Beach for me, and not just because my folks liked Lake Tahoe. It was kinda also because by the time I was growing up in the 1980s, the Russian River was a really seedy place to bring your kids.

This week’s column is on the reemergence of the River Theatre in Guerneville, a venue I’d last visited for a punk show in 1991, when I was 15. The bands were Insanity Puppets, Bulimia Banquet and, headlining, D.I., who were on meth and refused to play their hit “Richard Hung Himself” until a girl in the audience showed them her vagina. It was fucked up. Punk at its best was always a little bit scary, but this was just depressing. (My parents didn’t know where I was, luckily.)

Still, I’ve always loved the Russian River, and Guerneville, and West County in general. After walking through the front doors for the first time in 19 years and interviewing new River Theatre owner Jerry Knight—who plans to host live music, plays and film—I swung by the Guerneville library and went through their incredible news archive, which confirmed that the River has long been almost a different state unto itself, if not a different country.

(I also spoke with Guerneville historian John Schubert, who set me straight about the exact location of the River Club, a strip joint owned by the Markharian brothers. It wasn’t in the River Theatre building as is commonly assumed; rather, it was just one door East of the River Theatre, as seen in this 1986 photo.)

On my way back to Santa Rosa, I made a right turn to one of my favorite places. Odd Fellows Park, a collection of riverfront houses and activity buildings virtually unchanged since its 1940s heyday, reminds me almost exactly of the resort in Dirty Dancing—there’s an outdoor theater constructed of redwood, shuffleboard courts, volleyball nets, a bingo hall, a private beach. It’s exactly the kind of idyllic summertime spot LeBaron’s column describes, and the last remaining vestige of the vacation wonderland of old. It’s no wonder that you need to have a gate code to get in.

Live Review: Miranda Lambert at the Sonoma County Fair

Posted by on Aug 4, 2010

Whoever invented the phrase “Hot August Nights” should’ve been at the chilly Chris Beck Arena on Monday night, where a constant line of girls in tank tops and daisy dukes forked over cash to the blanket-and-poncho stand right inside the gates to get warm.

But cold though it was in the grandstands, Miranda Lambert‘s high-octane set lit the near-capacity crowd on fire, from raucous covers of Creedence Clearwater’s “Travelin’ Band” and the Faces’ “Stay With Me” to smash-hit sing-alongs “Dead Flowers” and “Gunpowder and Lead.”

Hitting the stage to Steve Earle’s “The Revolution Starts Now” on the P.A., Lambert kicked things off with a blazing “Kerosene” and spiraled around the stage with her mohawked bassist, her mic stand made from a rifle and her strobe stage lighting. This set the high-energy tone of the night—Lambert at one point rocked a pink Fender Stratocaster—but didn’t detract from the concert’s more poignant moments, in particular “The House That Built Me,” a heartwrenching ballad that had an entire arena singing along like a Norman Luboff choir.

Lambert joked repeatedly, introducing “Dry Town” with a shout-out to wine country; she later quipped that “it says very clearly in the Bible that Jesus drank wine, so I hope y’all don’t judge us as beer drinkers tonight.” And although girls swooned when she showed off her ring from fiancé Blake Shelton, no patter got as loud of a squeal as her exultant introduction to frenemy anthem “Only Prettier”: “This one goes out to all the skinny beyy-otches!”

Overall, the show succeeded at what all good country shows aim to do, which is to bring like-minded people together for a celebration of fandom. Strangers smoked cigarettes and danced with each other. Fans rushed the front together to take photos. Guys begged to be let backstage. People who clearly didn’t know each other shared stories and sang along.

There was just one misstep—for as many great songs as Lambert’s written on her own, it felt off-balance when she encored with the overplayed karaoke anthem “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” But by that point, after working up such favor with the crowd,  it truly didn’t matter. “I hope y’all’ll have us all back next year,” Lambert said, and as the Ferris Wheel spun in the distance, the entire crowd of Stetsons, uggs, 501s, flannels and miniskirts covered in blankets and ponchos roared their approval.

Set List:

Famous in a Small Town
Dead Flowers
Dry Town
More Like Her
Time to Get a Gun
Heart Like Mine
Only Prettier
Stay With Me
Maintain the Pain
New Strings
The House That Built Me
Sin for a Sin
Travelin’ Band
That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round
White Liar
Gunpowder and Lead
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll

(Read this week’s Bohemian story on Miranda Lambert here.)