Today it was announced that after seven years, the Sonoma Jazz Festival is pulling the plug. As a jazz fan, I have no immediate reaction to the news other than this: good riddance.
I would have had no real problem with the Sonoma Jazz Festival if the organizers had simply dropped the word “jazz” from its name. But they refused to do so. Instead, the Sonoma Jazz Festival siphoned shamelessly from the cultural cachet of the word “jazz,” presented wheezing baby-boomer classic rock acts and swirled it all down with Cabernet and a promise of doing good for the local economy and school music programs.
Yes, they donated money to local schools. But in booking the festival, they rarely honored their own mission statement to “present and preserve jazz.” Their headliners included Sheryl Crow, John Fogerty, Steve Winwood, Crosby Stills & Nash, Boz Scaggs, Steve Miller, LeAnn Rimes, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Gipsy Kings, Chris Isaak, Joe Cocker and Kool & the Gang.
Nobody but an idiot or an asshole would ever call these acts jazz. It’d be like a “Sonoma Hip-Hop Festival” with the Barenaked Ladies, Limp Bizkit and Jack Johnson. Or a “Sonoma Farm-to-Table Festival” with In-n-Out Burger and Taco Bell. A “Sonoma Film Festival” that screened reality TV shows.
By continuing to call their festival a jazz festival, the Colorado-based organizers insulted the art form of jazz and, by association, embarrassed Sonoma County. It only got worse with the piddly concession of adding a “+” to the name. More then a few local jazz musicians I know joked that the festival was “Sonoma Jazz Minus,” except they weren’t really jokes. Jokes are supposed to be funny.
This is not to denigrate the worthy efforts of many locals who worked hard to make the festival what it was, some of whom actively pushed to get the name changed. And I would be remiss not to mention the few jazz and jazz-related acts that played the big tent in the “Field of Dreams”—Herbie Hancock, Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall, and openers like Julian Lage and Hiromi come to mind.
But they all seemed like aberrant curiosities in Sonoma, politely endured instead of appreciated. In 2008, after Herbie Hancock opened his set with the Blue Note jazz classic “Cantaloupe Island,” an exodus of half-tipsy middle-aged wine country dilettantes who’d been trained that Michael McDonald is “jazz” filled the aisles and headed to their SUVs.
My very first experience in the cavernous, 3,000-seat tent also comes to mind—plunking down $110 for seats far away from the stage for Tony Bennett—and how it was marred by a well-heeled woman behind me blathering loudly on her phone, too bored to go through the motions of paying attention to one of America’s greatest song stylists. She eventually stumbled off into the wine lounge and never came back. Looks like the Sonoma Jazz Festival is following suit.
B.B. King and Buddy Guy aren’t just the best headliners the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival (Sept. 24-25) has had in years, they’re also an example of the longtime legends who, lucky for us, return to the North Bay perennially. This fall season boasts everyone from jazz survivor Herbie Hancock (Sept. 18, Wells Fargo Center) to indie-rock progenitors the Pixies (Nov. 20, Uptown Theatre), with a little bit of country survivor Wynonna Judd thrown in for good boot-scootin’ measure (Nov. 8, Lincoln Theatre).
When Herbie Hancock was here last, he regaled the crowd with a song he hadn’t played live in 25 years—”Rockit,” the early-turntablist fusion breakdance anthem. Expect similar crossover from jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour (Sept. 17, Napa Valley Opera House) and, to a lesser degree, recent Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding (Oct. 2, Uptown Theatre). Spalding, who has successfully crossed over out of the jazz world with the large help of Starbucks, has got a marvelous hairdo to rival that of Diana Ross, who stops in for a diva show to end all diva shows (Sept. 17, Marin Center). And speaking of glamour, there’s two chances to catch quasi-globetrotting ensemble Pink Martini (Nov. 17, Marin Center; Nov. 19; Grace Pavilion), who continue to receive rave reviews even with the temporary hiatus of lead vocalist China Forbes.
Rock legends abound, with the Last Day Saloon hosting recent box-set grantees UFO (Sept. 15) and Mr. Playin’ It Straight himself, Pat Travers (Oct. 8). Lindsey Buckingham, the poor soul who has been stuck with a not-very-funny SNL skit, plays in Napa (Oct. 25, Uptown Theatre) just before guitar wizard Jeff Beck flies through with three shows (Oct 31, Wells Fargo Center; Nov 1-2, Uptown Theatre). And though they may not be in the Cleveland Hall of Fame, they’re our own legends, like it or not: barf-metal act Skitzo celebrates 30 years of regurgitation this year (Oct. 8, Phoenix Theater).
A strong indie-rock double bill of Band of Horses and Brett Netson brings the bearded out of the woodwork (Sept. 9, Uptown Theater), while Dawes and Blitzen Trapper give a virtual encore a month later (Oct. 7, Mystic Theater). Ryan Adams, whose career has been a rollercoaster to say the least, plays a completely sold-out show (Oct. 15, Uptown Theater), while the almighty Pixies hold the record for quickest ticket sales (Nov. 20, Uptown Theatre)—the Napa stop of their Doolittle Tour was sold out in minutes.
While the grizzled country-music patriarch Merle Haggard returns (Sept. 30, Uptown Theatre), many young-uns swim in his wake. Son Volt’s Jay Farrar glides onto the stage with a voice of velvet (Sept. 9, Mystic Theatre), while Dave Alvin continues his quest to make the bandana cool again—if anyone can do it, it’s him (Sept. 15, Mystic Theatre).
Jackson Browne is all over his solo set these days, with stories and spontaneity and rarely any set list (Nov. 9, Marin Center), while master storyteller Tom Russell comes back for a special intimate evening (Oct. 27, Studio E). The nimble and fleet-fingered Bruce Hornsby continues to provide examples of why he’s among the most sought-after in the business (Sept. 14, Uptown Theatre), and at the Napa Valley Opera House, two artists get up close and personal: Rickie Lee Jones (Nov. 3) and Stephen Stills (Nov. 17).
Blues fans looking forward to the great B. B. King–Buddy Guy teamup can also get down and low over at the Mystic Theatre with J. L. Walker (Sept. 15) and Mark Hummel’s Harmonica Blowout (Oct. 1). And if that doesn’t work, then the hell with it—just flush all cares down the drain and go enjoy the crazy theatrics of “Weird Al” Yankovic (Nov. 7, Wells Fargo Center).
There’s a chemistry about live music that’s referenced pretty constantly—this thing of the performer feeding off the fans, and the fans feeding off the performer, until some mythic plane is reached where the energy created is greater than the sum of its parts. This phenomenon has no name, but go to a few shows and you’ll eventually see and feel it in action, particularly with up-and-coming artists suddenly handed a tidal wave of attention. Some up-and-comer, say, like Kreayshawn.
At her show in San Francisco last night, the audience showered as much energy as possible on the 21-year-old Oakland-bred rapper, whose “Gucci Gucci” video is at 13 million views and counting. Yet onstage at Slim’s, Kreayshawn seemed either incapable or uninterested in giving it back, either consciously relying on the mere presence of her instant fame to provide excitement, or nervous about a hometown crowd—or, you know, she could’ve just been kinda stoned.
Granted, this is sure to improve with more experience. The set was trashy, superficial and fun, as expected. And despite Kreayshawn’s detractors who say she can’t rap, she’s a natural on the mic in the true test of a live setting. Either on older mixtape rambles like “Wavey” or new track “Rich Whores,” Kreayshawn stayed on point, holding up under the weight of the bass and not falling back on prerecorded vocals like some of the show’s openers.
Still, something was amiss. Even as the sold-out crowd sang along, the unsettlingly thin Kreayshawn paced the stage with an uncertain air, as if she hasn’t decided what kind of star she wants to be just yet; either the kind that strives to connect with fans, or the kind that tries to be so aloof that people are drawn to her more. The result was that the club’s energy wasn’t reflected by Kreayshawn on stage, but instead dissipated into the rafters, its well from below gradually drying out.
The show improved markedly with the arrival of V-Nasty, who seemed genuinely thrilled to have her moment in the limelight, no matter how fleeting or controversial that moment may be. With the three on stage together, an element of the classic boy-band formula came to mind: a group of separate personalities, branded as one. V-Nasty, the stonewashed-jean-wearing white trash foulmouth in love with Waka Flocka; Lil’ Debbie, the awkward, untalented one along for the ride; and Kreayshawn, the skinny, fashion-minded Powerpuff girl of the bunch.
After “Bumpin’ Bumpin’” ran its course, the intro to “Gucci Gucci” dropped. The place went nuts, and though the crowd could have sung the whole song for her, Kreayshawn stayed on the mic for every line. Finally, a sort of pinnacle had been reached, and it was just as well—it was the last song of the set. Afterward, the White Girl Mob danced around to Cherrelle’s “Saturday Love,” a fight between two girls broke out in front of the stage, and Kreayshawn waved and went down the backstage stairs, on her way to host the red carpet at the VMAs this Sunday, talking fashion with the stars. Shit, it could even work out better than rapping. Who knows?
How bad is it being a music fan living in China? So bad, it seems, that the Chinese government has banned 100 songs from being played on the radio—or even featured on websites. The Chinese Ministry of Culture’s list includes female American pop stars Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, along with songs by Owl City, Simple Plan, Take That and the Backstreet Boys.
We’re wondering just how threatening some of these songs could possibly be: “Today Should Be Very Happy,” “Smiley Face,” “Thank you for Your Inspiration.” Really? And boy, watch out for Linzi Xi’s “Intro,” folks. That’s dangerous stuff, right there.
The complete list of songs banned by China’s Ministry of Culture, effective September 15, 2011, is below the jump. English list comes courtesy of Google translate; a duplicate list in Chinese follows.
Things at a Country Music Show: First, there are lines! Long, long lines. A line for the barbeque stand stretched across the field, so I counted it. 145 people, all waiting in line! Then I looked to my left—another barbeque stand, another long line. The line for Coors, conspicuously, not so long. Did everyone sneak in flasks of Jack Daniels? Next there’s the merch stand, with hot pink T-shirts reading “Country Girl… Wanna Shake It?,” which belong to supporting act Luke Bryan. With the No. 1 Country Album this week, Bryan has the crowd in the palm of his hand for his set.
Bryan himself wore skin-tight jeans and a crystal-studded belt, and had enough spunk to fill a tractor tank. Sure, his songs are kinda corny (see: “Rain is a Good Thing”). But one can hand it to Bryan, because he bothers to check out Google Maps before he plays and works local sites into his songs. Case in point is “We Rode in Trucks,” with the amended, Sonoma County-relevant line, “The Russian River washed away that California dirt.” People ate it up! They also got on each others’ shoulders, drank beer, and went “whoo-hoo.”
Near the end of his set, Bryan’s guitarist played the riff to “Hell’s Bells,” which led into his own hit “All My Friends Say,” which then led into a friggin’ verse and chorus of “Enter Sandman,” by Metallica, and then back again into his own song, closing out the show. This would seem to be a trend in new country music—ending the show with a hard-rock song. Miranda Lambert did it last year with “I Love Rock and Roll”; Thompson Square, an opener, also did “I Love Rock and Roll” in medley with “Black Dog”; and Dierks Bentley would end his own set with an all-out punk song, serenading the riders of the mechanical bull.
How ’bout that Dierks! “I wish you guys could see what we see up here,” he told the crowd. “There’s so many California country girls tonight!” Many of whom, of course, sang along to “Free and Easy” and “Trying to Stop You Leaving,” two back-to-back hits early in the set. Dierks also ran circles around the stage, told stories about drinking in a local brewpub and took photos with fans. All in all, a well-played set, and those who missed it might have still heard it, because upon returning home, Facebook was logjammed with people complaining about hearing the music as far away as the SRJC and the Flamingo Hotel. Dierks for all, it seems.
Cut Chemist’s show at the Mezzanine was billed as ‘Tunnel Vision,’ and it may as well have had an accompanying Playbill, handed out at the door. The show—indeed, the whole night—was like hip-hop theater, with scripted scenarios and stage blocking, culminating in the Los Angeles DJ’s uncharacteristically thick, dense set.
As one of the last of the dedicated vinyl DJs, Cut Chemist brought sharp skill to his own Act II called The Sound of the Police. A vinyl-only set of African breaks played on one turntable and with loops controlled by various footswitches, it was the technical highlight of the night. Elsewhere, on his laptop-assisted setup, he cut up “Bunky’s Pick,” “A Day at the Races,” and Tune-Yards’ “Gangsta”—fluidly blending each into breaks both new and old—and hosted Edan, Paten Locke and Mr. Lif on “The Storm.”
Cut Chemist is in a tough position these days. Most of the tricks he’s honed over the years as one of the world’s greatest and most innovative DJs can now be easily faked; he has no Jurassic 5-type group to provide constant work; turntablism as we once knew it is a niche instead of a phenomenon, etc. So when he had to point out to the crowd that his Sound of the Police segment was especially hard, or stopped the set to chastise the Mezzanine about the monitors, or seemed perturbed that the crowd didn’t stir for a J5 break. . . well, it’s forgivable. “You’re the best crowd on the tour so far,” he said to a half-full house at the end, at 1:45am. “You beat the fuck out of L.A. . . and that hurts.”
Edan’s set was nonstop entertainment, and not just because he wore a wig over his already-large hair. He delivered tracks from Beauty and the Beat, like “Colors,” completely on his own, holding a mic in one hand and juggling the beat with the other. He unreeled a lightning-fast acapella with Paten Locke. He had Locke flip through each and every record mentioned in “Rock and Roll” to the crowd while rapping. He cut up “Femme Fatale” with Run-DMC. Hell, he played kazoo and guitar. Echo Party was fun and all, but here’s hoping he puts out a proper follow-up to Beauty and the Beat.
Mr. Lif stretched out a segment about getting a corporate job, being paid $6.50/hr., smoking five blunts and killing his boss. It wasn’t nearly as stupid as it may sound, because Mr. Lif defines “on point”—he’s deliberate, precise and enunciates with a dedication matching his suit and hat. His long acapella about McDonald’s committing genocide on the nation killed, and he paid tribute to Tribe, Gangstarr and GZA. A consummate performer, Mr. Lif, and a perfect MC to kick off a night of hip-hop theater.
Charles Bradley has had a hell of a life, and the Menahan Street Band has had a hell of a ride. The 63-year old singer recently woke up at his mother’s house to find that his brother had been shot and killed by his nephew; meanwhile, the Menahan Street Band was busy being sampled by Jay-Z for “Roc Boyz.” The two came together, and the fit is smooth, even if the songs are not. I mean that in a good way: Bradley is a beast, a James Brown-inspired performer belting and crying the pain through his pores—falling to his knees, flailing the mic stand around. Never mind that he’s wearing a half-unbuttoned dirty work jumpsuit and gyrating his hips; he’s great, and the noontime crowd loves it.
The set of the weekend goes to tUnE-yArDs, and I could be biased: when her album came out I was so happily dumbfounded that I couldn’t even review it properly. But like anything fragmented and unusual, it coalesced with repeated listens, and started to make sense as a collection of straight-up palatable hits. Live, Merrill Garbus and her band tear the whole record apart again by looping each individual drum and vocal sample, layering it with bass and horns and throwing the whole crazy mess out into the air. Garbus seems happy to be home in the Bay Area, crediting the audience with “general vibe and awesomeness” when clearly, it’s she who delivers both. The high falsetto at the end of “Powa” is the frosting, but the whole set is unbelievable. We chat a little bit afterwards; she tells me “Santa Rosa isn’t piddly.” So there. It’s official.
Latyrx is playing today accompanied by the Jazz Mafia, led by Adam Theis. Though most hip-hop / jazz treatments fall flat, this one totally works. None of the songs get reworked as, like, big-band swing or anything—it’s still hip-hop, with the DJ and drummer holding it down. All the classics are here: “Say That,” “Latyrx,” “Lady Don’t Tek No,” “Rankin #1,” and the song that works best with the band, especially the string section: “Storm Warning,” which is just incredible. They round it out with a little bit of “8-Point Agenda,” and they even shout out Forestville. Two thumbs way up.
There’s just buckets and buckets of sex in the air for Major Lazer. Everyone around me is dry humping. They have a hype man and an Undulating Girl™. The girl does the splits, wraps her legs behind her neck and generally increases the sex quotient. People continue dry humping. Diplo and Switch are nonstop at the decks, serving up a constant onslaught. Near the end, their hype man tells everyone to take off their shirts, which means everyone starts dry humping topless. I swear, the Bay Area teenage pregnancy rate is going to skyrocket nine months from now.
You are singing some songs to me.
I love me some hopeless trainwreck action as much as the next guy, so I wind up in the Gallagher tent. I really think Gallagher could make a Neil Hamburger-esque comeback if he plays his cards right. He’s old, he’s bitter, he’s not funny, he half-heartedly goes through the motions of his old jokes and he basically sucks. Psychologically, this could totally work in his favor—I mean, that’s why I’m interested in seeing him, after all.
Gallagher is running late, but it’s almost as much fun waiting for Gallagher as it is seeing him. Most of the people are already dressed in plastic trash bags. They chant “Gall-a-gher! / Gall-a-gher!,” then “Let’s go Giants!,” and then they all start doing the wave. Finally Gallagher, who is wearing a T-shirt of himself, staggers out clutching a Heineken and sucking on a cigarette. “I had a heartattack two months ago,” he tells the crowd. It’s going good so far.
But Gallagher quickly descends into simply being annoying. He singles out a girl in the crowd, picks up a tennis racket and some Wiffle balls, and says, “Let’s smash these plastic balls and hit this chick in the face and get her crying!” (Later, he adds, “I don’t care about pissing off the girls. I’m 65, I can’t fuck anything.”) It reminds me that reading funny things about lousy washups isn’t the same as having to suffer through same lousy washup. He makes some more jokes, but they aren’t funny. Worse, he’s taking himself seriously.
The funniest part of Gallagher’s set is that because he chose to go on late, half the audience gets up and walks out on him after 15 minutes—both Arcade Fire and Deadmau5 are playing at 8:00. Maybe a few people stuck it out to get splattered with watermelon?
It’s easy to forget just how electrifying Arcade Fire is live—and sure, the enthusiasm is undoubtedly forced on some nights. No one can mouth the words to every song for years and still be authentically as pumped as Regine appears to be. But what is popular music but a grand illusion? Arcade Fire = Succumb to the Uplift.
Win Butler seems like he’s trying to connect with San Francisco, mentioning the time they played the Great American Music Hall, how he walked around and checked out the food booths earlier, how he loves the weather and would move there if it wasn’t so expensive. (Some cried “fauxhemian” for someone as presumably well-off as Win Butler to quibble about the rent being too damn high, but I side with him. I have a full-time job and still sometimes eat out of the trash.) I suppose connecting with a crowd of one bazillion via casual between-anthem patter must be a daunting task.
There’s not much in the surprise dept.—the set is predictable, but exceedingly well-played. But as we’re walking away, before the last song, Butler sings those two key lines from LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”:
You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan
And the next five years trying to be with your friends again
It makes sense. Their encore is “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” one of the better songs from The Suburbs. A nice send-off.
More Photos Below. (more…)
Really, can no one out of the two dozen bands playing today loan Leo Nocentelli an amp? That’s the question on everyone’s mind when the Meters are forced to jam guitarless for 20 minutes while lots of pedal- and amp-fiddling ensues. They’ve already opened with “Fiyo on the Bayou,” though, and sprinkled throughout the fill time is “Iko Iko” and “Africa.” Finally, the amp gets fixed. Zigaboo asks if there’s anyone here celebrating something: “A new kid, maybe? A new car? Just got out of jail?” Cue anthem, “Cissy Strut,” and cue tremendous Polo Field dance party. George Porter calls their set “Senior Citizen Funk 101,” which is a little sobering especially since Art Neville walks out to the Hammond with a cane. They’re the Meters, man. They’re not supposed to get old.
Toro y Moi is way too subdued. Close your eyes and you can imagine them in a movie, 15 years from now, as the nondescript “2011 Band Who Plays Big Festival.” Maybe their second or third album will have more going on, musically, I think to myself.
But then, as I’m walking across the festival afterward, I’m mobbed by a massive influx of people from the stage where Foster the People just played. Foster the People, really? The band with that no-substance radio-lite jingle? And this many people care? I immediately reassign my mental casting—Foster the People is the 2011 Band Who Plays Big Festival. If you want to apply to be an extra in this imaginary movie, make sure to be a frat bro who’s “going wild” for the weekend by wearing a headband that shoves your conservative haircut into a follicle volcano complementing your black-and-neon Ray Bans.
Did you ever see the really unpolished performance of “Time to Pretend” on David Letterman? I sold my copy of MGMT’s album back the next day, and then watched as MGMT became the unlikeliest teen heartthrobs of the year. But today, their second song is “Time to Pretend,” and they nail it. Everything about them is tight and polished.
I heard rumors that fans had changed some signs around San Francisco to read “Goulding Gate Park,” and that’s how it felt as soon as Ellie Goulding hit the stage—like the whole place was hers. It might have had something to do with all the free yellow star-shaped glasses handed out to the crowd (her big hit: “Starry Eyed,” get it?). It might have had something to do with the loud, massive sing-alongs. Or, it could be that Ellie Goulding is full of energy, with the type of voice that’s so spot-on that it seems lip-synched (it’s not). Stars in the UK usually ride a swift rise and fall, Exhibit A being NME’s propping up of a different “Best New Band in England” every other month. But Ellie Goulding could stick around for a while.
This brings us to Big Boi, and a little segment I’ll call:
Why Big Boi’s Canceled Performance at Outside Lands Kind of Seemed Like Bullshit
At 6:30pm, ten minutes after Big Boi’s start time, all that’s on stage is a set of 1200s on a table. I’ll get used to that view, because a guy comes out and tells us up front that Big Boi is running late, and it’ll “probably be 30 more minutes.” I’ve seen enough hip-hop to know that this means “an hour and a half,” and by that time Big Boi’s time slot will be up, so I wonder how things are going to shake down. Already, people are chanting.
A DJ shows up, laptop in hand. He plugs it in. He looks concentrated, then confused, then calls for help. A guy comes over. Then two guys. Eventually, there are seven guys all crouched around the laptop. They’re pulling on wires. They’re turning it upside down. One guy, sitting at the keyboard, is on the phone. Another guy wearing a cowboy hat stands off to the side, the festival version of the CalTrans worker who gets paid to stand around and watch.
Meanwhile, the crowd is losing it. Chants of “Big Boi! Big Boi!” have given way to chants of “What the Fuck! What the Fuck!” No one on stage seems interested in placating the crowd, so the kid near me who’s grown increasingly agitated starts in: “Where’s that guy who said Big Boi would be late? Why aren’t they telling us anything? Why can he just do this?” How many hip hop shows have you been to, I ask. One, he says.
Big Boi steps out, grabs a mic and says he just wants to clarify: He’s been here for two hours, hanging out with Dave Chapelle backstage. His DJ just needs to get things together, he says. He goes to the wings, grabs Dave Chapelle and trots him out to the crowd as a consolation prize before disappearing. The crowd gets restless again after 10 minutes, watching the same seven guys try to fix the laptop. “Dave Chap-elle! Dave Chap-elle!” they chant.
Obligingly, Chapelle comes back out. He grabs the mic from the DJ stand. It’s nuts, because everybody’s figuring that he’ll stall for his friend and just do standup until Big Boi’s laptop gets fixed. Instead, he does two minutes. Mostly on how appreciative he is of the Bay Area. He kicks a beach ball into the crowd. He leaves.
Fifteen or 20 more minutes go by, and Big Boi’s manager comes out. He says sometimes things happen that are beyond their control, and that they’ve fixed the laptop but there wasn’t going to be enough time for Big Boi without cutting into Erykah Badu’s set, and that “instead of giving you guys a half-assed show, we’d rather give you no show at all.”
Okay, so despite the many PR fails—everyone there would have preferred a half-assed show, guaranteed—the whole thing was either a total embarrassment or a pre-planned cancellation. I’d like to think it was the former, but honestly, what kind of DJ, especially for one of the 20 biggest rappers in the world, doesn’t bring a backup laptop? You’d think that would be Rule #1—bring a backup. Real DJs bring backup needles and doubles of their 12”s. They bring an extra mixer. If your employer’s entire musical accompaniment is stored on a laptop, and he can’t play a show without it working, and you only bring one laptop, you are a complete fool and should be fired. Even crappy fledgling indie bands have a backup guitar, and if they don’t and something goes wrong, they can usually borrow one. Or, hell, just play without a guitar and make do.
And that’s the other thing: Erykah Badu’s entire band was backstage. At some point, if you’re Big Boi, and you truly don’t want to cancel the show, wouldn’t you start trying to put something together? Wouldn’t you hit up the drummer and bass player, and ask if they know some Outkast hits, or would be willing to improvise over new shit? Not to mention the keyboard player, or the percussionist, or the backup singers, all of whom Big Boi knows are supremely talented? That wouldn’t be a half-assed show. It’d be a one-of-a-kind show that people would talk about for years.
Or—and this could be a last resort—but come on, Amoeba Music is right at the edge of Golden Gate Park. Run someone down there to buy Stankonia, Speakerboxx/The Love Below and Sir Luscious Left Foot and just suck it up and rap over your own album. It’s not ideal, but it’s also incredibly commonplace in hip-hop. Your DJ can EQ the backing tracks to minimize the recorded vocals. People would have loved it.
Any of these solutions could have been pursued in the two hours that Big Boi was chilling backstage without a DJ. That is, if he gave a shit. Apparently he doesn’t.
Two hours have gone by and Big Audio Dynamite (read: basically just ogling Mick Jones) is a wash at this point, so running to the Best Coast stage is the Best Option. It’s exactly like listening to Best Coast on record, which is fully appropriate; it’s also fully reminiscent of the summer of 2010, which Best Coast virtually owned. Is it strange that the songs already feel nostalgic, one year later? Is nostalgia catching up to the present day at a scary rate? Will the next Best Coast album be more “mature” and lose everything fun about Crazy for You? These thoughts and more run through my head as I watch Bethany Cosentino sing bonafide jams like “Our Deal,” “I Want To” and “Boyfriend.”
Redemption is found on the Big Boi stage with the arrival of Erykah Badu. She opens with “The Healer,” a Madlib production expertly re-created by her 11-piece band. She drags out the chorus at the end: “Hip hop / It’s bigger than the government,” and then leads her band into Graham Central Station’s “Happy to See You Again” acapella. Later, they interpolate Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” and Afrika Bambaata’s “Planet Rock.” There’s four backup singers, a flute player, a percussionist, the songs are all over the place, it’s nuts.
Badu herself hovers above, under, in and out of all of this, navigating the shape-shifting arrangements with ease, completely in charge. Her voice is stellar, her control unreal. I paid only mild attention to her until her last two albums, but tonight, she’s like some miracle from I don’t know where. If you get a chance to see her live, do it. A good way to end the day.
More Photos Below.
Did you know that if you have no ticket to see Huey Lewis & the News when they play at the Sonoma County Fair, there are perfectly dependable other options for enjoying yourself? For example: Standing outside the Chris Beck Arena with all the other ticketless Huey Lewis fans! And let me tell you, readers, it’s just as good as watching the show from inside. I mean, Huey Lewis isn’t exactly the hunk he used to be, and there’s only a few other guys in the band still around from the classic Sports era—you wouldn’t recognize anyone else anyway! (And don’t even think about getting the Tower of Power horn section or the guys from the 49ers, either!)
What you will get is near-perfect sound, depending on the wind. Every word of “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll” will be audible! You’ll also totally be able to see the stage anyway, because the front doors to the arena will be wide open. Best of all, you’ll get the fun-loving company of the average Huey Lewis fan in the year 2011. (They wear “vintage” repro shirts that say “I Heard the News”; they fist-pump while mouthing the words to “Jacob’s Ladder”; they dance poorly, and smoke!)
But you will also recall the glory days of the band, and lament that those days are over. Forty-five painful minutes will go by while Huey Lewis & the News play mostly cover material from their new ‘soul’ record. You will start counting the times a John Deere tractor drives by outside the gates to amuse yourself, or wander down near the livestock pavilion. “Why in the world,” you will think, “don’t they scatter a hit in here? Why is he ‘getting back to his roots’ when the cool thing about Huey Lewis & the News was that they implemented elements of their roots—soul and new wave and doo-wop and Thin Lizzy—and created something greater than the sum of its parts?”
All this will go through your head while Huey tries to pull off a Joe Tex song, and you’ll be glad you didn’t buy a $40 ticket from the bored-looking teenager sitting inside the fairgrounds ticket booth… but then… what’s this? The opening strains of “Heart and Soul”?! Yes! Finally! Who cares that Huey can’t really hit the high notes anymore—it’s friggin’ “Heart and Soul!”
You will hope at this point that it’s gonna be hit after hit, and even though the flow is interrupted by more new songs and a guest singer from Vallejo, they’ll start rolling in: “I Want a New Drug,” “Do You Believe in Love?” Huey’s patter will be uninspired—he’ll make comments like “Have I plugged our new album yet?” when he’s already plugged it five times—but it’ll really get miserable when he starts with the older hits. “We wrote this song 25 years ago in Marin County,” he’ll say at one point, sounding weary, “and we never would have guessed that we’d have to play it every… single… night.” (Cue intro to “The Power of Love,” cue Huey mentally committing hari-kari.)
You will then realize that all Huey Lewis wants in life is to be in a bar band again, and then you’ll feel bad for Huey Lewis because he can never, ever go back to that. This sympathy will conflict with your resentment over his refusal to perform hit songs, and you’ll start counting the ones up he hasn’t played yet: “If This is It,” “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do,” “Doin’ It All for My Baby,” “Hip to be Square,” although maybe they stopped playing that last one since that horrible scene in American Psycho. You’ll sort of feel bad if that was the case. But you’ll also want “Walking on a Thin Line.”
Then you’ll remember that if someone searches your own name on YouTube, what pops up is “Walking on a Thin Line,” which leads down the inevitable path of nostalgia and how much Huey once meant to you. How seeing him in Petaluma in 1985 was your first concert ever. How your family listened to him constantly in the car. How you once entered a talent show lip-syncing “Bad is Bad.” How you once wrote that column summing up all your thoughts on Huey Lewis, and how it could have gone on five times longer. How the baby boomers like your parents needed Huey Lewis in the ’80s—he made them feel awesome for growing up and being 35 and getting married and having kids and buying houses and being domesticated. Where is the goddamned Huey Lewis for your generation, now that you’re in your 30s? Where, you’ll wonder?
But then! You’ll be snapped back into reality by the encore. “We’re going to bring out a very special guest,” Huey will declare from the distant stage, as the roller coaster rattles in the background. “Ladies and gentlemen, the bad boy is back! Mr. Mario Cippolina!”
You will then flip out, because Mario Cippolina was always your favorite, and you’d felt so bad when he ran into some trouble with drugs, and stealing remote-control cars, and you will run up to the fence that separates yourself from Mario Cippolina and you’ll jump up and down a little. They’ll play “I Know What I Like,” but then that’ll turn into the song you most wanted to hear, the song that makes the whole cold, silly, stupid evening spent outside the fence at the Sonoma County Fair completely worth it. “Workin’ for a Livin'” will sound awesome, and the smoking 52-year-olds in their “I Heard the News” T-shirts will pump their fists and sing along, and you will sing along too.
And that’ll be your night.
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