Hey, I know. What have I been up to?
Much of my time was spent writing a cover story for the Bohemian about Roseland, and how it’s not a part of the official city limits of Santa Rosa, even though said city limits surround and extend well beyond Roseland in all directions. Roseland has the highest concentration of Latino residents within Santa Rosa, who, because of their non-city status, have no political voice in the city and no amenities such as parks, libraries and community centers. I spent a couple weeks interviewing city staff, county supervisors, residents, business owners and more to find out what’s really going on. You can read it here. I feel it’s important; I hope you will too.
Simultaneously, I was planning the North Bay Music Awards, something the Bohemian has organized for six years now. This meant that I was contacting nominees, booking bands, arranging a schedule, finding a DJ, downloading and editing winners’ mp3s, combing through exported voting data for fraudulent ballot-stuffing, printing envelopes, making ten gold record awards from scratch in my garage, loading in bands and emceeing the event. Winners are announced in this week’s Bohemian, along with details about myself being tied to a chair and showered in lingerie, which yes, actually happened.
I took this past weekend off to root for the oh-so-frustrating Giants. Driving down to the Saturday game with Lena, my small daughter, I was yet again bowled over by Robyn’s “Hang With Me.” Is it a perfect song or what? I think I’d heard it four or five times before realizing that it’s not a plea for love, but rather, to not be loved. To just hang. To be close, and to probably sleep together (“I know what’s on your mind / There will be time for that, too”) but above all, to avoid the perils that emotional involvement so inevitably attracts. The stunning effect in the song is that Robyn sings this warning to herself as much as to anyone else; the tone she uses reveals she’s been on the other side too often. The acoustic version is better; hear it here.
When I got to the game, they were playing Radiohead’s “Idioteque” over the P.A., which is a bizarre jam to be playing in a sports arena to promote getting pumped on the competition at hand. Also, Barry Zito walked in two runs. Boy, you would not believe the vile things I overheard people shouting at him. I was beside myself too. Just in a stupor. I’d bought a standing-room ticket, it was a beautiful day, and Lena, who’s 14 months old now, was even at one point up on the Jumbotron. I couldn’t allow myself to be excited about it, though. Here all the Giants had to do was win one lousy game to clinch their division and they were blowing it, hard.
But then a great, weird, amazing thing happened. The P.A. started playing the inescapable “Don’t Stop Believin’,” when surprisingly, the Jumbotron showed Steve Perry, former lead singer of Journey, rocking out to his own song . . . in the stands at the game! ROARS FROM THE CROWD. You’d think Babe Ruth had come back to life and hit number 715. Steve Perry! This is, of course, the year of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” thanks to Glee. (It comes in handy at weddings, too.) So of course people are gonna go nuts, but it was still pretty great, especially considering Perry’s strained relationship with the other band members who still go around playing as Journey without him.
The Giants lost. Lena and I drove away, already dejected, when I got a phone call that my best friends’ dog Oly had been hit by a car the night before and died. My favorite dog in the world. The day just could not get any worse. I drove to Amoeba. Records took my mind off things for a little while. Drove home on 101 while listening to the Good Life album, Black Out, which is what I wanted to do.
Of course, things got better over the weekend. The Giants clinched. I went to a good movie. I fixed my bike. I repaired the gutters on the house. I visited friends. I kept busy.
But mostly, I listened to this Valerie Simpson song called “Fix It Alright” over and over.
I know the song is aiming to be comforting in its lyrical content, but it was actually the bass playing that reminded me that there is beauty all over the world, in the most unexpected places. Christ, this is a bass player if I ever heard one. His name’s Francesco Centeno, and as it turns out, this was his first recording session, from when he was 15 years old. File him next to Deon Estes in the Overlooked Bass Player Hall of Fame. He did a lot of work both with Valerie Simpson and Ashford & Simpson, who you probably know from that not-really-interesting hit song from the ’80s, “Solid (as a Rock).”
Patti Smith once said that when her husband Fred Smith died, she listened to those two Bob Dylan albums of old folk songs from the ’90s over and over, World Gone Wrong and Good As I Been To You. The timeless beauty of the songs got her through the pain.
Anyway, I don’t know what happened, or how, but listening to the song on repeat with its timeless, beautiful basslines made me feel a little better about Oly. That, and I also remembered that Ashford & Simpson played at Live Aid in 1985 and brought out Teddy Pendergrass for his first public appearance since his car crash. I was nine years old when Live Aid aired, and had no idea who Teddy Pendergrass was or why he was in a wheelchair and crying, but I remember this televised moment really vividly because I could completely feel that something important was happening.
And maybe it’s not the knowing but the feeling that matters in life, and Oly made me feel really wonderful while she was alive, and somehow Francesco Centeno’s bass playing reflected that greatness to me, and we all live on somehow either in what we leave behind or chance reflections of our spirit after we’re gone.
Zone Music in Cotati may have closed its doors last month, but as promised, new stores are opening in its location.
I stopped by the Vinyl Zone last week, run by a local musician named Jim Cassero. Still in its formative stages of getting stock out of the floor, it features all vinyl—no CDs—and appears to specialize in 1960s records; a banner of Jimi Hendrix hangs in the front window. Jim was pricing records and filling the bins, while the already-stocked walls showcased more collectible records by Can, the Misfits, the Who, Bo Diddley, John Coltrane and many more. Jim’s not new to the vinyl business; in 1999 he moved to Wisconsin and ran a store in Green Bay called Amazing Records, which you can get a local-news taste for by watching a video here. I didn’t ask how many trucks he filled with records when he moved back to open in Cotati, but he’s got a ton of boxes and seems happy to be home in California. (Years ago, Jim played guitar in the metal band Vicious Rumors, although he seemed surprised when I mentioned this fact to him.) He’s shooting for an official grand opening in October, but in the meantime feel free to stop by and see what he’s got. I picked up a Dodo Greene record on Blue Note, along with some Ron Carter and Young-Holt Unlimited LPs from the dollar bin. Not bad!
Of pressing concern to most who patronized Zone Music, of course, is the promised new music store opening on the premises. Longtime Zone employees Neville Hormuz, Tim Haggerty, Marie Parker and Randy Quan are in the process of getting Loud and Clear Audio & Visual up and running in a slightly smaller space at the old Zone Music location. Though their behind-the-scenes specialty will be audio and video installation, the storefront will carry all the basic necessities Zone had—strings, pedals, cables, picks, drumsticks, heads, microphones and much more. I talked to Hormuz, who said he’s thrilled to see a music store still at the site, and to still be working with the public. “I can’t help it, my heart’s in retail,” he said, mentioning that while Zone was going through their recent troubles he actually worked a month at the store for free. Not wanting the new place to have the in-and-out feel of a convenience store, Loud and Clear will also carry a wide and ever-changing selection of consignment guitars and amps to keep the place interesting. Ironically, Hormuz and the others hadn’t even thought of opening the store until they read Zone owner Frank Hayhurst in the press talking about Zone’s demise, and promising that a new store would open in its spot!
Loud and Clear opens with limited hours on Sept. 22, and an official grand opening follows on Oct. 1. Still in full swing at the site are Zone Recording, a full-service recording studio run by the experienced and capable Blair Hardman, and Backstage Technical Services, the dependable, perpetually cluttered repair shop run by longtime soldering-gun wielder Kent Fossgreen.
The news hit earlier today as the featured story on the front page of the Press Democrat website: “Concerts Banned at Phoenix Theater.” The reality is that there’s nothing to be alarmed about; the Phoenix is going to be up and running again next week after they provide the fire department with a light list of compliance and protocol to some very normal, regular ordinances.
Tom Gaffey, manager at the Phoenix, seemed calm when I talked to him. “I’m happy to take a weekend off, quite frankly,” he said.
What is alarming is that the initial newspaper article, which only quotes the Petaluma Fire Department’s side of the story, states that the shutdown is due to circumstances at the Smashing Pumpkins show on Wednesday, where “no one in an official capacity kept track of the number of people admitted, exits were blocked and some people entered without paying.”
That’s simply not true, says Jim Agius, who books the theater. He says that between the will-call list and the hard tickets taken at the door, the Phoenix kept a clear record of the number of people admitted to the Smashing Pumpkins show. “Their allegations in the newspaper are false,” Agius says. “There were four police officers here, they walked the building, they took pictures. They asked Tom about the capacity.”
Agius says that while the police officers were at the show, they didn’t express any concern about apparent blocked exits or other dangers. As such, he was shocked the next day to find that the show was allegedly “in flagrant disregard of the California Fire Code and laws designed to protect public safety.”
“If that was the case,” reasons Agius, while the police officers were there, “why did the show not get shut down? The whole thing doesn’t really add up to me.”
In stating that people were let in without paying (that’d be a media list, which I was on, and which hard tickets accounted for) the Fire Department implies that security was lax; in fact, there were 30 people working security that night, and I saw them with my own eyes doing their job—patting people at the entrance, searching bags, busting people who lit up.
The Fire Department also claims the police that night used a “pitch counter” to determine attendance, which sounds like a snazzy piece of crowd-estimating technology but is really just this. Sometimes staff stands at the door to a venue and uses it to count people as they come in. I didn’t see any police officer using one at the door, and I was there for several minutes, checking in as media. Neither Gaffey nor Agius saw one either.
I also walked around the entire perimeter of the floor at the show, and entered and observed the balcony. At no point did I see an overcrowded or unsafe venue. The Fire Department says there were 900 people at the show, 180 over capacity. “As the night went on, I counted up the will call and tickets,” says Gaffey. “I don’t believe we were over capacity.”
It gets fishier. The Fire Department gave Gaffey the notice at 3:30pm on Thursday—Gaffey looked it over, and saw that the Phoenix was already in compliance with most items on their list, such as having a security protocol on file with the Fire Department. Yet the department claimed they have no such thing on file. “We actually did file that,” says Gaffey. “We, as a board, filed that together. It got dropped personally off at their office.”
As for the rest of the list? Simple things to deal with, said Gaffey. “I said, ‘Great, I’ll have this to you tomorrow,'” he says. Only one problem: the Fire Department informed him that all city offices were closed on Friday, and that he would have to cancel any scheduled shows over the weekend.
Here’s where the pieces fall together. The Police Department in the past has been vocal about their opposition to rap shows, and particularly about Andre Nickatina. Coincidentally, the Phoenix had Andre Nickatina booked for tonight, raising some eyebrows about the timing of the Police Department’s data-collection and the Fire Department’s subsequent notice. The Nickatina show has been postponed.
(The last time the Phoenix was forced to put a hiatus on hip-hop shows in 2008—similarly causing the Press Democrat to use the linkbaiting but incorrect headline of “Phoenix Theater Bans Rap Concerts”—what was the first show to be rescheduled? Andre Nickatina.)
“Our hands are tied, no matter what happened,” says Jim Agius. “All we can do is comply with their list.” Both Gaffey and Agius said they were confident the theater would be open again as normal next week.
[UPDATE: The Press Democrat talked to the Phoenix and updated their story.]
Well, color me impressed. Over the course of an immersive, nearly two-hour Smashing Pumpkins show last night at Petaluma’s Phoenix Theater, the ageless Billy Corgan unreeled a nonstop stream of gauze-soaked distortion, a generously crowd-pleasing handful of the band’s hits—and said barely a word at all to the crowd.
To those who caught the band’s residency at San Francisco’s Fillmore last year, pockmarked by long, self-centered rambles from Corgan and obscure, calm material, the Smashing Pumpkins on stage last night might have seemed like an entirely different band, and that’s for the better. Simply put, the Pumpkins kicked ass, and then kept kicking ass, and didn’t cease kicking ass until the final feedback-laden tones of the long set closer “Gossamer” came to an abrupt halt and the strobe lights finally stopped pulsing. Even the band’s new material sounded great last night, which was almost as strange as being at the Phoenix Theater and seeing hardly any teenagers.
The sold-out crowd, nearly all in their 30s, went crazy for hits like “Today,” “Tonight, Tonight,” “Cherub Rock” and a solo version of “Disarm” that had hundreds of camera phones hoisted in the audience and Corgan singing karaoke-style to a backing track. Not that Corgan, the only original member of the group, rested on his laurels. Instead, he culled from the classic rock trick bag with a Hendrix-inspired “Star-Spangled Banner,” played by his teeth, and a foray into Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” followed by a long drum solo by new recruit Mike Byrne punctuated with the obligatory crash of a gigantic gong. For “Ava Adore,” he unleashed pure Stratocaster pyrotechnics; during “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” he gestured in an actual cage of lighting scaffold and two giant windmills; and throughout the set screeched his trademark growl like a bonafide rock star.
All of this—plus cock-rock openers Big City—showed that Corgan’s intentions have always lied in arena rock and not, as the 1990s painted him, as “alternative.” The Smashing Pumpkins’ best moments seem to happen when Corgan reconciles the two. Last night, the nonstop barrage of lighting and fuzz couldn’t have been described as “accessible,” yet the continuous unease seemed to clear a space for the band to actually enjoy playing radio hits they’ve played thousands of times. After the line “No matter where you are / I can still hear you when you scream,” from the Singles soundtrack single “Drown,” the Phoenix crowd erupted in a scream, and if you were watching close enough, you could see Corgan allow himself a sly smile—still, after all these years.
As Rome Burns
A Song for a Son
Bullet With Butterly Wings
My Love Is Winter
That’s the Way (My Love Is)
Stand Inside Your Love
What we have in the On Land Festival, presented annually by Root Strata, is four days’ worth of darts aimed in whatever direction and occasionally, surprisingly, hitting the bullseye. That the acts generally have “Noise / Drone / Experimental” anointing their begrudgingly active MySpace profiles implies that their aesthetic has no true trajectory, but of course there must be some involved intent. I knew what to broadly expect, and I was not disappointed, aside from having to miss two of the four days and arriving late even so.
Pete Swanson appeared entirely consumed by his music, his eyes and mouth especially. When his white noise began, people walked out. Thing about Pete’s music is that your ears tune out the white noise and these wonderful submerged melodies reveal themselves. I placed my head against the wall and stared into the back of his wooden reel-to-reel. He sang a little. It was intense. Then it was over after, like, 15 minutes. Way to leave people wanting more.
White Rainbow looped some staggering beat that didn’t make sense as he started to build it but cohered over time and you’re like, oh, of course. I knew nothing of him before Friday night and he won me over fully. Certain noises would affect him like a stab in the ribs; he’d double over in pain and return for more. Had people in stitches over his iPad animal noises. Seems like a fun-loving guy. Maybe he can tell me what happened to Watery Graves.
Oneohtrix Point Never delivered solid programming on the same frequency as his latest, Returnal, which I recommend. Hypnosis among the crowd. It was packed in there. Cafe du Nord isn’t comfortable when it’s full, but OPN essentially spread a blanket over everyone and sang some comforting lullabies. Time-space synth noise lullabies, but lullabies nonetheless. During a quiet interlude, someone, no doubt accustomed to jumpy rock bands, yelled, “Do something!” This seemed as pointless as yelling at Aubrey Huff to hit the ball when he’s out playing left field.
Dan Higgs, at Sunday’s show upstairs in the wonderful wooden Swedish American Hall, was good old Daniel (Arcus Incus Ululat) Higgs Interdimensional Song-Seamstress and Corpse-Dancer of the Mystic Crags. He stomped on a box. He played the banjo. He laughed heartily for a very very long time, or what seemed to be a very very long time for laughing in the middle of a song, but the song was also long, and unique, and definitely improvised on the spot.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival is back. And so is Jessica Felix.
After the outpouring of support for Felix, the current Board of Directors of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival has voted unanimously to reinstate Jessica Felix to the Board and to elect her Chairperson. All five members of the current Board are resigning, effective immediately. Felix will book a jazz festival in 2011, and will form a new Board.
This isn’t just great news—it’s incredible news. How rare is it that an entire Board of Directors resigns over public outcry? Over a small little town’s jazz festival?
I called Felix, who’d just returned from signing papers and putting her name back on the bank account. “I’m so glad,” she told me. “I’m just overwhelmed by all the support. It’s been heartwarming to know how much people care.”
As reported earlier, Felix was fired five weeks ago from the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, which she founded in 1999, and the Festival Board announced a hiatus for the 2011 season. Multiple media outlets covered the actions taken by the Board, including this one, and comments protesting the decision piled up at the festival’s website. The Board bluntly erased them all, apparently oblivious to Google cache; this only prompted more online comments from fans and musicians alike, including George Cables, David Weiss, Charlie Musselwhite, Bennett Friedman, Adam Theis and many more.
Key among the responses were those from Kathy Martin of Santa Rosa Systems, pledging to cancel her annual $25,000 sponsorship, and Babatunde Lea, who vowed without Felix not to participate in the Operation Jazz Band program in area schools, the only activity the Board had planned for 2011.
Felix said she heard the news by email.
“We have a victory—we’ve got a festival back with a tremendous debt,” she laughed. “It was a fight for jazz, and jazz won, and we haven’t won the battle yet, but jazz really won out here.”
Winning the economic battle means erasing the $30,000 debt that the festival faces, and to that end, Felix is planning the 2011 Festival as a benefit. She also says she’ll increase her outreach to area restaurants and wineries. “Now people realize finally that this festival cannot be taken for granted, and that it meant something,” she said. “That’s what shocked me. How much it meant to people.”
I spoke with Ray Manzarek this week about settling into the Napa Valley and playing the Napa River Festival this weekend (he’ll be doing a few Doors songs with the Napa Valley Symphony). He’s always kept his ears out for new bands, and had nothing but praise for Napa’s own Body or Brain, in whose video he’s made a memorable cameo. They filmed it at The Shop in Sonoma, and Manzarek’s really pretty excellent in it:
“I’m just some psychedelic guy from the ’60s.” Ha!
Of course, I also had to ask him if he remembered anything from the legendary night the Doors played the Grace Pavilion at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds in 1968. He couldn’t recall much other than the band played in a boxing ring, apparently left over from the night before. “That was the only time the Doors ever played inside a boxing ring,” he confirmed. “What in the world was it doing there?”
There are some photos from that show here (scroll down), and apparently it was the first show filmed for the Doors documentary Feast of Friends. So . . . some footage must exist somewhere, right?
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.
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.
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.”