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The Rum Diary to Release Retrospective

Posted by on Apr 20, 2010

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

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

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

Live Review: John Hiatt at Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Posted by on Apr 5, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lauryn Hill to Headline Harmony Festival

Posted by on Mar 25, 2010 One Comment

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, see the festival website.

Live Review: Gil Scott-Heron at Yoshi's

Posted by on Mar 18, 2010 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Attack

Posted by on Mar 17, 2010 6 Comments

This week’s music column is on Jack Springs, a 25-year-old high-functioning mentally retarded metal musician who sings about how he’s been mistreated in life. I didn’t know Jack was mentally retarded when I met him; he offered the information unsolicited, just like he freely shared his stories about having his head shoved into the toilet in school, or getting his ass kicked by bullies after being coerced into smoking marijuana.

The more I talked with Jack, the more I appreciated the raw honesty in his songs. Just like the sketchy handwriting in a junior high love note render feelings on the notebook page more real, the jagged delivery and lateral combination of lyrics in Jack’s songs tilt at the true turmoil that he lives with each day as a developmentally disabled man in a judgmental world.

Here’s some of the songs discussed in the article. There’s talk already amongst local musicians about forming a backing band so he can play live:

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

2. “The Jack Tracks.” A unique selection among Jack’s songs in that he addresses portions of it to himself. Near the end, he dedicates it to James, “a role model.” I had assumed he’s referring to James Hetfield, but it’s actually his father James, who’s passed away. Click here to listen.

3. “Violated Nights.” The incredible transformation of Jack the avant-beat songwriter with an out-of-tune electric guitar into Jack the hardcore larynx shredder with a score to settle. Chills. Click here to listen.

4. “Violated Days.” The CD-R that I received lists this song as “All of My Rights Were Broken to Pieces and Now I Am Going to Take All My Rights Back From You and Then Your Heart Will Stop Beating,” which, as you’ll hear, are the song’s complete lyrics. Jack’s since informed me that the song is called “Violated Days.” Either way, it’s amazing. Click here to listen.

Incidentally, to prepare for the interview, Jack brought me a list of his influences, written on a napkin. He tells me Metallica’s too commercial now that they get played on the radio all the time. (He also credits Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” as the thematic inspiration for writing songs about his rights.) You’ll see a band at the top of the list, Torn Back, which is Jack’s brother’s band, and Intangled, another local metal band who are friends with Jack—proof that the metal community can provide support to outcasts when no one else will.

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What's the Buzz?

Posted by on Mar 16, 2010 One Comment

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

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

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

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

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Lagunitas Releases 'Wilco Tango Foxtrot' Beer

Posted by on Mar 12, 2010

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

But wait! This in, from Pitchfork:

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

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

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

Live Review: E-40 at the Phoenix Theater

Posted by on Mar 8, 2010 3 Comments

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.

Live Review: Porcelain People and Waters at the Phoenix Theater

Posted by on Mar 6, 2010

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.

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When You Can't See Who's Cutting In Line

Posted by on Mar 1, 2010 2 Comments

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.