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Live Review: Lucinda Williams at the Wells Fargo Center

Posted by on Jun 28, 2011

(Note to the Reader: For this installment of City Sound Inertia, we welcome guest reviewer Bob Meline! A finish carpenter by trade, longtime music fan, and secretly, a solid bass player, he’s also my dad—and one of the greatest guys I know.)

I’ll admit I haven’t been a hardcore Lucinda Williams fan. Her alt-country sound has been mildly attractive to me, enough that I own a few of her CDs, had at least listened to all of the others and had actually paid to see her in my own hometown 6 or 7 years ago. My interest was mostly due to a close female friend of mine who has had her share of ups and downs in life, and who for quite a while saw Lucinda’s music as the soundtrack to her own difficult journey on the planet. As such, I paid a bit more than average attention to Williams’ songwriting, and while some of it was very raw and direct and spot-on, some of it was almost annoying in its simplicity and repetitiveness. Her tendency to slur her vocals and deliver same in the occasional monotone didn’t grab me either.

Lucinda’s stage presence as a performer can be lacking—even borderline non-existent at times. The one previous time I’d seen her live was at the end of nearly a year of nonstop touring; the stage was about the last place she seemed to want to be that night. She did her best Van Morrison-esque impression, keeping her cowboy hat pulled low over her eyes and barely addressing the audience at all. And yes, alcohol may have been involved. Musically, it was a decent enough show, but not enough to turn me into a dedicated fan.

All that changed last Friday night. I had purchased a couple of tickets the day they went on sale (ninth row and reasonably priced, these days anyway, at $45.00) and had the aforementioned female friend/fan as my date. And even though I hadn’t been very impressed in two of Lucinda’s recent releases, West and Little Honey, I bought Blessed for a preview of what we’d be hearing. What struck me immediately with the album was the quality of the musicianship. Williams has the stature to have surrounded herself with some pretty good players through the years, but this just felt different somehow. With some real anticipation, I hoped it would translate to the live show.

When the 8 PM show still hadn’t started at 8:30 and the natives were getting restless enough to start rhythmically clapping, whistling and calling out Lucinda’s name, it was hard to remain upbeat. The house wasn’t full, and I tried to embrace the possibility that they were waiting for just a few more bodies to fill just a few more seats. She finally emerged with the three-piece band, mumbled, “Hello everybody,” and went straight into “Can’t Let Go.”

For the next hour and fifty minutes, the four musicians (Lucinda included) were simply brilliant. Props as well to the sound crew—this was one of the most crisp, clear and clean shows I have heard at the Wells Fargo Center in a long time. When you get that kind of sound right out of the gate, you can focus completely on what the performers are giving you. And what they gave to the night, interestingly enough, was more of a rock and roll feel, infusing a different kind of power and energy into the setlist than what I had expected.

Lucinda’s drummer, Butch Norton, immediately took charge. He was there. He converted his drums from a percussive device to an actual instrument, seemingly using every piece at every moment. At times, he inspired personal recollections of Animal from The Muppet Show band and the great Keith Moon. And though he was all over his kit, he was in complete control without overshadowing the rest of the band—loud and forceful in accentuating tunes like “Buttercup” and “I Changed The Locks,” and effortlessly holding up the quiet, introspective songs like “Born To Be Loved” and “Blessed,” both from the new album.

The other half of the rhythm section, David Sutton, was the perfect complement to Norton. While providing most of the backup vocal work, he alternated between a standup bass, a hollow body electric bass and a Fender Precision to provide a melodic bottom end that formed a real connection with Norton’s drum work. He ran the gamut from a hard rock sound to intricate fretwork to quiet single-note accentuations. He especially shone on “Get Right With God,” the encore’s closer.

Lead guitarist Blake Mills was simply amazing. He brought something different to each tune, from screaming, shredding leads to seamless slidework to finger picking staccato to light and buoyant accentuation of Williams’ vocals. He elevated music that was already brilliant to the level of stunning—every song would have made a highlight reel. A collection of guitars that I finally stopped counting covered most of the sound spectrum. At just 24, he plays well beyond his years.

Oh yeah, Lucinda. Sure, she still has those awkward-but-endearing moves onstage. And I’m not sure when this practice first started, but she now employs a music stand with a notebook that contains all the words to her songs at the ready, referring to it quite often. (C’mon, how many times prior to this show has she sung “Lake Charles” or “Pineola” or “Drunken Angel”?) But tonight, I’ll gladly give her that and whatever else she wants or needs to prop her up. Lucinda was in stellar form vocally. Her voice was strong and clear, she was both forceful and demure, she gave us pain and joy, she made us stop and think, she had us nodding our heads in common experience and deep feeling. She didn’t marble-mouth her lyrics, she didn’t fall into a lazy growl, she simply sang ever so beautifully in that slightly rough-around-the-edges Louisiana drawl which makes everything that comes out of her mouth so flat-out real. Again, the sound was brilliant, letting the audience easily fuse with the woman who has been included in the short list of the greatest songwriters of all time.

Tonight, for me, it all came together perfectly. No doubt I’m late to the party, but now I get Lucinda Williams. The strength and quality of her backing musicians (interestingly enough, all from California), the power of the real-life stories she crafts lyrically, the quality and emotion in her voice—it all felt so deeply, penetratingly real that it was almost scary someone could do it so well.

Tonight’s show was magic. I’m a fan.

—Bob Meline

(Previously by Bob Meline: Bonnie Raitt at Sonoma Jazz +)

Live Review: Jaga Jazzist at Great American Music Hall

Posted by on Jun 26, 2011 2 Comments

Jaga Jazzist is huge in Norway, where, one could argue, it’s easier to stick out than in America. Every album the schizophrenic nine-piece instrumental ensemble makes cracks the nationwide top ten, and they play to thousands of people in Oslo and, indeed, all over Europe. They are a case study in Scandinavian bipolarity—for every Europop sensation like Robyn, there’s an equal and opposite act of deep artistry and complexity like Jaga Jazzist.

But Jaga Jazzist are not as well-known in the States. On Wednesday night, at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, they played to roughly 350 people. The venue even had to close the balcony so the floor would seem full.

To fans of the band, this is a tragedy. Within two minutes of the group’s members taking the very, very cluttered stage, it was vividly apparent that something incredibly special was happening, and far too many people were missing it in favor of America’s Next Top Model. Along with vibes, guitar, electric bass, tuba, trumpet, trombone, upright bass, Korg synthesizer, flute, bass clarinet, triangle, tambourine and other instruments I’m sure I’m forgetting, the band was anchored (and constantly uprooted, then anchored again) by the miraculous drumming of Martin Horntveth, whose dynamic replication of laptop programming on a live drum kit would have any other drummer in tears.

In the past, I’ve been fooled by Horntveth’s drumming. I initially thought the band’s wonderful 2003 album The Stix, for example, was the product of electronics instead of a live band. The nearly two-hour set skewed heavy on the band’s latest, One-Armed Bandit, which is probably the most organic and “live-band” sounding record in their canon—it’s more King Crimson and Frank Zappa than Aphex Twin. But the record does not do it justice. Seeing these songs live, with complex melodies, jagged time signatures, and variegated arrangements—it’s a head-spinning experience like no other.

Jaga Jazzist are playing a few more dates in America, and to those in New York and Chicago: Get thyself to see them, pronto. They’ve gotta be losing so much money on this tour, with a huge bus and a trailer to carry all the members and their equipment. It’s been seven years since they came here; who knows when they’ll return.

Interview: Siren

Posted by on Jun 22, 2011 4 Comments

 

Brian: "This band was entirely my life. I was addicted to the band."

This week’s Bohemian column is on Siren, the band that virtually defined the Sonoma County punk scene for three years before imploding in a collapse of rumors, drugs, and, as you’ll read below, being incurably broke. Before their heavily anticipated reunion show this Saturday, I caught up with them at a smelly practice space in Santa Rosa where they’ve been rehearsing songs like “Die Cast Mottos” and “Buy Our Fall” for the first time since the Clinton era. Brian drank a beer. Adam arrived with a bread-bag tie for a guitar pick. Kevin got stuck in traffic. Joe brought candy.

The idea of a Siren reunion has been brought up before, but it took a good cause to actually make it happen. Nicole McCracken, Kevin’s wife, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. You can follow her story here. There’s an idea to evolve this show into an annual benefit for women with cancer, which is an appropriate endeavor for a band who always embraced direct action.

The show is this Saturday, June 25. Tickets are available here. Our interview starts below.

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Jolie Holland at the Russian River Brewing Co.

Posted by on Jun 18, 2011

For our honeymoon, we just went camping up and down the California coast. Along with MF Doom’s Madvillain and the Velvet Teen’s Elysium, Jolie Holland’s Escondida was one of the records we listened to over and over—a perfect Highway 1 accompaniment to the birds of the air and the beasts of the soil and the fishes of the desperate sea. I always wondered why “Goodbye California” wasn’t an immediate hit, just like I wondered why “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show wasn’t a hit, or why hardly anyone was talking about Joanna Newsom.

It was our anniversary this week, and seven years hasn’t changed us much, we’re still in love. But other things have changed: Everyone loves Joanna Newsom, the buskers on Fourth Street last week were playing “Wagon Wheel,” and Tessa Rissacher covered “Goodbye California” at the Arlene Francis Center last month. (It took Santa Rosa a couple years to catch up to the old-timey thing, but it’s since done so with a venegance.) When it was announced that Jolie Holland was playing a free noontime show at the Russian River Brewing Co., sponsored by the Krush, it was like some cosmic tarot card had spoken.

Holland has a new record coming out, Pint of Blood, and played all songs from it—much to the longing of myself, or anyone, really, who could name a dozen or so favorites from her previous albums. With just a violin and electric guitar backing her and with the din of a brewpub at lunchtime, it was hard to wholly absorb the songs. Same goes for her between-song talking, although she wasn’t saying much; with barely any reaction from the audience, she even resorted to announcing where the amps were rented from, just to see if anyone was paying attention. It was a little bit strange, honestly, and it wasn’t really Holland’s fault.

Afterward, she mingled with fans, someone shoved some weed in her guitar player’s cutoffs pocket, she got directions to Community Market and drove down Fourth Street in her minivan. Her voice invaded my thoughts for the rest of the day, and the next.

 

Live Review: The Flaming Lips, Primus at Harmony Festival

Posted by on Jun 15, 2011

Friday night at the Harmony Festival was headlined by perennial standby Michael Franti, who recently signed to Capitol Records after years on the independent-label grind. But Saturday and Sunday were topped by the Flaming Lips and Primus—two bands that got snatched up by Interscope and Warner Bros. in the great alternative rock signing frenzy of the early 1990s. While their back-to-back sets at the Harmony Festival were a nostalgia trip for many, and eye-opening for some, they also provided a case study in What Happens When the Weirdoes Get Industry Support.

In the Flaming Lips’ case, it’s resulted in some breathtaking albums—The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots—and one of the world’s must-see theatrical live shows. Part of the joy in seeing the Flaming Lips live the second, third or fourth time is watching the reactions of first-timers, particularly the ones on mind-altering substances, which at the Harmony Festival means many. So if you’ve seen the confetti blasts, the giant laser hands, the space ball and the mothership descent before, turn to your right and watch the slack jaws.

This was the case with me, although I can still say the ‘Lips were better than ever. Opening with a blast of hits, including “Do You Realize?!,” “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” they powered into stranger material from Embryonic and a recent split with Neon Indian. A cover of Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” followed, the space ball came out, they closed with “Race for the Prize” and everyone left satiated.

There’s a bit of ego tripping in Wayne Coyne’s banter, urging the crowd to get more into their set and be more excited (he must’ve said “c’mon, motherfuckers, c’mon” a dozen times) and it’s irritating that their volunteer dance brigade’s options have gone from full-body bunny suit to ogle-inducing “Sexy Dorothy Costume” in six short years, but they’ve got their shit down, for sure. A key stat: before their set, the lawn was sparse, and I wondered where all the people were. By the end, the crowd couldn’t’ve been denser, showing that the Harmony bookers took an interesting chance on the band, which worked.

Primus is less of a gamble, since they’ve got deep roots in Sonoma County—something Les Claypool alluded to onstage, citing old stomping grounds like the Cotati Cabaret, the Phoenix Theater and the River Theatre. “You all look like fine people,” said Les Claypool at one point, “I wish I lived around here somewhere.”

Of course, Claypool does live around here—a fact reflected in new song “Hennepin Crawler,” about a contraption made for the Handcar Regatta, and with references to the Russian River and Bodega Bay in another new song, “The Last Salmon Man,” about the population reduction of chinook salmon. (Their new album Green Naugahyde comes out in September, and the rumors are true: It really does evoke the early Frizzle Fry era of Primus.) “Groundhog’s Day” opened the show, and “Harold of the Rocks” and “Tommy the Cat” closed it, with an obligatory “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” thrown in.

But the highlight, by far, was a version of “Those Damn Blue-Collar Tweekers” that epitomized Primus’ three-piece range, with Larry LaLonde and Jay Lane pounding and skronking around Claypool’s bass during an extended jam. I hadn’t seen Primus live in roughly 20 years since literally worshiping the band during those Phoenix Theater and River Theatre days Claypool had alluded to, but damn if they didn’t still have that same old magic.

And yes, it was the 1990s again, with crowd surfing and a real-live pit.

More Photos Below. (more…)

Evolution of Karaoke Over the Years

Posted by on Jun 14, 2011

Do you think that karaoke songs are just similar to all the other songs you know? Partly yes, partly no. Of course, it is easy to tell that they have the same tunes and musicality, however some are not performed by the same artists. Why? Karaoke songs are never offered by one vocalist. This is the reason why it is easy to notice its difference as these songs are played by different disc jockeys. Generally, it depends on the type of label being purchased.

 

Availability

It is quite easy to search for that certain karaoke song that you want to song. It has become so common these days. Again, they may vary depending on the label, but generally they are the same. As a matter of fact, it may be possible to find karaoke songs that still have the voice of the vocalist, and you can sing along with. It is also possible to have the background music, or both.

There are songs that are considered a standout in the crowd. For instance, in the year 2007, much attention was given to the song ‘I will survive’. It was followed by ‘I got you babe and ‘Sweet Caroline’. These songs are pretty interesting knowing that the genre of these songs is not really pop or heavy rock. At the same time, they have existed for several years already.

Karaoke songs have also attracted popularity from the Christian sector. The reason being is that it serves as a good way for church vocalists to practice their musical piece. It offers a good way to practice the background music and use it for chorals which do not have musical system. It has even proven to be a good tool for the audience to sing together with.

 

Karaoke and the Family

During the earlier years when video games were not yet that rampant, families enjoy gathering around and listen to the young children sing along with the karaoke. There are even reports that children have learned singing faster compared to talking with the aid of karaoke songs. It has even helped these kids improve their pronunciation.

These days, however, with the existence of technology, karaoke are no longer done through the usual karaoke machines, where a cassette tape is used. With the evolution of music comes different ways where people enjoy singing. It’s no longer playing by ear. Karaoke songs are now being sung with video accompaniment. It has become a good source of entertainment for many people.

Aside from this type of entertainment, technology also offers another type of entertainment for adults who love to spend time online. These days, online gambling is a source of fun and excitement for many individuals. Individuals can play Euro Millions on lotteryplanet.org and earn at the same time while having fun. It is like a virtual online gambling system which allows players to experience the same as what they usually have with real life casinos. It is very convenient at the same time.

 

In News

Kreayshawn and Harmony Gabriel are in a Hood Battle

Posted by on Jun 8, 2011 6 Comments

Kreayshawn—the self-directing, self-editing, mega-inhaling personality from Oakland—signed to Columbia this week. If you haven’t seen “Gucci Gucci” yet, you might not know what this means. Check it out below, and then try to get it out of your head.

Kreayshawn came up in the hyphy craze, keeps good ties with Lil’ B from the Pack, and tweets with Mistah F.A.B. Though she’s in L.A. these days, hanging out with Odd Future and Soulja Boy, she still reps Oakland pretty hard wherever she goes.

It’s easy to be conflicted on Kreayshawn. Let’s face it, it’s been a while since there’s been a rising star out of the Bay Area, let alone Oakland. (Keyshia Cole’s got love for the city but moved the hell out, and when I asked her once in an interview what East Bay spots she like to hit up on tour, she couldn’t name any.) So it’s exciting to have some Bay Area action going on.

But . . . is “Gucci Gucci” really the face of Oaktown?

Behold, two girls fighting over who’s more hood!

“This chick @KREAYSHAWN is a rapper…yes. But hood? NO. She knows nothing about the streets she’s not half as hard as she comes off as,” tweets Harmony Gabriel, from Hustler and HBO’s Cathouse. “Makes me sick..maybe if she was some type of hustler or came from the streets or had some type of ambition but she’s trash to me. White chick acting hard throwing up gang signs from home made gangs…. #FAIL.”

Lest one doubt Harmony’s inherent hoodness, the credentials come forth:

“I got people in REAL hoods that can vouch for me I’m not hood now cause I GREW up I get big girl $ now but believe me I come from ‘hood.'”

This triggers Kreayshawn’s response:

“shut up with yor rants I’m from east Oakland u skanky.”

Harmony, again:

“Who’s hotter? Who’s the realest? @KREAYSHAWN or @HARMONYG? #ImJustSaying”

At this point, if you’re thinking it’s time for Kreayshawn to take the high road, you’re right.

“your a trip chicka I’m from east Oakland you can come visit my hood and tell me what you think… much luv anyways.”

None of this sits too well with Harmony Gabriel, unfortunately.

“@KREAYSHAWN Yea that’s all you got? Cause your mom happen to have you in east side oakland your hood!? Hahahaa!! Ask about me!! Buy my mags!”

Sensing unneeded drama, Kreayshawn then advises that she will “only reply to positive things from here on out,” and Harmony Gabriel, after reminding people “I sold pussy” and telling them to wait for her upcoming rap video, declares herself the victor: “the title is mine the crown is mine.”

And that, dear readers, is the hood battle of the day.

P.S. If you’ve been following the phenomenon of Kreayshawn, this excellent piece by Meaghan Garvey irons out a lot of conflicting feelings.

Wayne Coyne and Frank Hayhurst: Separated at Birth?

Posted by on Jun 8, 2011

The Flaming Lips play this weekend at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, and when I chatted with Wayne Coyne for the Bohemian, he professed that “It’s better to be honest and be true if you’re gonna try to make art and music your life.” Which is something that I could very easily imagine Zone Music’s Frank Hayhurst saying, too.

Has anyone seen the two in a room together? Just sayin’.

(Wayne Coyne photo by Pooneh Ghana, who takes incredibly awesome band Polaroids.)

 

In News

Death Grips: Dismantling Your Mind, Cell By Cell

Posted by on Jun 8, 2011 One Comment

Zach Hill’s show last weekend in Sebastopol got its usual reviews of wankery, which is sad, because Hill’s shows are usually at least wankery of the highest order.

I’m guessing that Hill mighta had better luck in Sebastopol if he brought his Death Grips project, because OH MY GOD.

Free download of their album Ex-Military and more videos here. Block out the next half hour; you’ll be immersed in insanity. (Death Grips plays July 1 at 1015 Folsom in San Francsico.)

In a similar vein, Spank Rock, who brought electro to hip-hop in the marvelous album Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo, is finally putting out a new record. What’s it called? Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar, that’s what. Guest star Big Freedia. I got big hopes.

The Bobs and the Shaggs, Together at Last

Posted by on Jun 8, 2011

One of the biggest influences in my listening, but one that I barely ever think about anymore, is The Bobs.

Right alongside Huey Lewis, the Pointer Sisters and Paul Carrack (yes, really), the Bobs serenaded my sisters and I on many a long family car trip on the Blaupunkt stereo—and live at the Luther Burbank Center. If you’ve never heard them, above is some vintage footage of “Art for Art’s Sake,” one of their more accessible tunes; most of their stuff, both lyrics and music, was far sillier. Imagine if Captain Beefheart and Monty Python started a band with no instruments, and titles like “Mopping, Mopping, Mopping” and “Bus Plunge.”

Lead madman Gunnar Madsen was the first to leave the band, and we Melines were a depressed lot over it. I’d hear about Madsen’s solo CDs from my Dad, who kept the Bobs torch aflame while the rest of us moved on, but I was about as interested in a solo CD from Gunnar Madsen as I’d have been in, say, a solo Dorothy Wiggin LP after she left the Shaggs.

So imagine my surprise when I’m reading today’s NYT review of The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, a new off-Broadway musical production about the greatest horrible group from the 1960s, and there it is, fourth paragraph: “Music by Gunnar Madsen.”

It’s doubtful that a major record company will release the soundtrack to the Shaggs musical anytime soon, but my imagination can vouch for its importance. My curiosity, meanwhile, can vouch for Madsen sharing the Meline ennui upon leaving the Bobs. In his official bio, he outlines the era: “Life after The Bobs was miserable. I’d grown quite used to having hundreds of fans making me feel good one out of every three nights, and I had nothing to replace it. . . Life was not empty, but it felt like it. I was depressed and couldn’t find a way out. Things were dark.”

Ouch! Even in the seemingly carefree world of goofy a capella, the crush of despair hovers menacingly. Anyway, Gunnar Madsen, if you’ve got a Google Alert on your name, know that you’re not forgotten for enlivening the years 1985-1989, and glad you made it out of the dark pit. Congratulations on the Shaggs job, too—my ability to appreciate Philosophy of the World was likely planted, in one way or another, by your work with the Bobs in the first place.