She’s the voice of a thousand dentist’s offices, the definition of “adult contemporary” and possibly the furthest thing from jazz that’s ever headlined the Sonoma Jazz+ Festival.
Nevertheless, Sheryl Crow, toting a new soul-tinged album, 100 Miles From Memphis, could easily have been poised last night to win over a new crowd. She hired the tremendous guitarist Doyle Bramhall II for her touring band. In interviews, she spoke of influences like Curtis Mayfield, the Allman Brothers, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. Her show was even sponsored not by the local adult contemporary station 100.1-FM KZST, who have played Crow’s innocuous hit songs every day for ten years, but by the Americana station 95.9-FM KRSH.
But Sheryl Crow is no Aretha. In a set frontloaded with material from 100 Miles From Memphis, Crow demonstrated last night that no matter what accoutrements an ungifted artist dons, the essence remains flat. She struggled to imbue her vocals with soul and wavered on poorly executed harmonies, even on standbys like “Every Day Is a Winding Road.” She played a variety of instruments, from a vintage Wurlitzer organ to an accordion to guitar, but her watered-down material dictated that her immensely talented band play at one-tenth of their ability.
It was enough to suggest to even the open-minded that the singer, who gave away free Tom’s toothpaste samples at the festival gate and hawked her cookbook at the merch stand, isn’t so much an artist as a brand; a lifestyle choice of the culturally trepidatious; a meeting area where nothing happens. “Sweet Rosalyn,” a song Crow said was inspired by a strip club in New Orleans, was free of sweat, gyration or danger. A political song, “Redemption Day”—introduced with some combination of the words “Bosnia,” “Rwanda” and “Hilary Clinton”—came off as obligatory at best.
Crow’s banter was playful (“Thank God the world didn’t end today,” Crow said, acknowledging the supposed May 21 Rapture, “I’m so happy, I had a few things planned”) and her fanbase stayed seated and largely calm until the block of hits at the end. That’s when drunken air-guitaring and booty-shaking ensued in a celebration of Bermuda shirts, cosmetic surgery and arrhythmic dancing to guaranteed pleasers “Steve McQueen,” “If It Makes You Happy,” “Every Day Is A Winding Road,” “Soak Up the Sun” and “All I Wanna Do.”
The set closed with a barn-burning “I Shall Believe,” which allowed the band to finally unlock its potential, but it didn’t cleanse the off taste of the night. It’s one thing to book a non-jazz artist at a jazz festival, but it’s another thing to book an affront to the creative process. “We had a great day here. We want to move here,” Crow said at one point, unconvincingly. “We want to only play jazz festivals from now on.”
If that were truly the case—if she really wanted to immerse herself in jazz—then Sheryl Crow would have a mountain of research and miles of catching up to do. Instead, she’s touring this summer with Kid Rock. Enough said.
Judah Nagler tends to spread himself out. Most of you know him from the Velvet Teen—and more recently, Odd Bird, and perhaps most inconspicuously, from his electronic project Atair. Did he really need to join another band? On drums, no less?
“Majid,” by Five Beats One, offers a resounding yes to the question. It wouldn’t be fair to call Five Beats One “Judah’s band,” though. The new band’s lineup also comprises Darwin Meiners, Derek Doss, and Mark Benanti, all well-known names in the area music scene from bands like Brothers Horse, Secret Courtesy—and, in the case of Benanti, a self-published book on classical guitar technique. What does it all sound like? Hear the clip below.
Yes, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I feel like I should explain.
A month and a half ago, my wife’s mother collapsed at work. Later, at the hospital, they found multiple tumors—inoperable. She stayed in her hospital room for a few more days, and then she went home, where it was our job to stay with her full-time to make her as comfortable as possible while the cancer took its toll.
I cleared almost everything off my slate, including this blog, in order to take care of things. Now that she’s gone, I’m very, very glad I spent my evenings holding her hand and listening to Iris DeMent’s Infamous Angel with her instead of sitting in my boxers and blogging about festival lineups. Five years ago, when my own mom died suddenly, I didn’t get that chance. So with Susan, I cherished sitting on the bed and eating chocolate shakes with her; listening to tapes she liked, like the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack; letting her granddaughter kiss her hands and play with her necklaces; running my hands through her thinning hair; reminding her to drink water; and at least once a day or so, reminding her how wonderful she was.
She died yesterday. I drove there to say goodbye, and then the people from the mortuary came and took her away. We spent the rest of the day handling some things, and then walking around downtown, and then talking and talking and talking and talking. Susan Seward—riding high in April, shot down in May—raised four kids, lived on The Farm in Tennessee, worked at the Petaluma Library for 25 years and didn’t deserve any of this.
I’ll be back in business here, and playing catch-up. Thanks for waiting.
In a surprising twist that has just about everybody scratching their heads, longtime hard-rock radio station 101.7 FM The Fox has officially been pulled off the air.
According to a source close to the station, employees of the Fox found out about the change in a meeting at 11am today. Immediately afterward, the station went off the air at noon.
The replacement station, “Hot 101.7, Sonoma County’s Hit Music Station,” is currently playing Top 40 hits (as I type this, it’s Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”). If listeners notice any resemblance to another local Top 40 station, it’s no coincidence. Maverick Media, the Fox’s parent company, recently conducted an audit through a third-party surveying company and found that among those polled, Top 40 is more appealing in this region than hard rock.
Said another source: “They hired this company that finds out what music works, and what music isn’t working, and they felt like in order to keep a competitive edge in the market, they needed to strong-arm the only station that didn’t have any competition.”
That station, Y 100.9, airs on a weaker signal in Sonoma County, and the Maverick Media executives at the meeting seemed confident that Hot 101.7 will be able to overpower the smaller station “out of business,” the source said. (Y 100.9 is owned by Sinclair Communications, which also owns 95.9 the KRSH and 96.7 BOB-FM.)
Hot 101.7’s new site declares: “We asked Sonoma County what they wanted from their favorite radio station. You told us you wanted a HOT station that played hit music with LOTS of music.” (As I type now, it’s the Black Eyed Peas, “Just Can’t Get Enough.”)
Public response so far has been predictably negative, with the new station’s Facebook page filled with “fans” who are making their voice clear: “What the HELL!!!!” writes a typical fan. “No more freaking pop stations!!! I want the old FOX back. Gimme my rock back. I am beyond sick to my stomach. UGH!!!!!!” Elsewhere on the station’s Facebook page, fans complain about having their posts removed by the administrator.
A page for “Fight Hot 101.7” has cropped up just today, along with an even bigger page called “Bring Back the Fox,” and a public protest is planned for Friday, March 25, at 4pm.
Without a doubt, this marks the end of an era for Sonoma County radio. For over 20 years, the Fox has been a Sonoma County standby, serving up classic hard rock like AC/DC and Metallica to more recent music from System of a Down, Disturbed and Velvet Revolver. About a month ago, longtime program director Scott Less left 101.7 the Fox for the Pacific Northwest, but apparently, even prior to Less’ departure, a “skeleton crew” had been running things with barely any financial support from Maverick Media.
Based in Connecticut, Maverick Media are the same people who thought it would be a good idea to fire Steve Jaxon, one of the greatest DJs in Sonoma County, and who aren’t available for comment (their website has been perpetually “under construction” for well over a year). Located over 3,000 miles from the station’s Fox Plaza, they’ve seemed perpetually out of touch with what Sonoma County actually wants, and have now killed the station that gave the building its name. (Right now, they’re playing Britney Spears, “Womanizer.”)
The employees of the Fox have been told that they’ll be able to keep their jobs, but in what capacity exactly is unclear. Currently, Hot 101.7 is broadcasting with no human DJs at all, playing canned tracks on a piped-in feed from corporate headquarters. Sad.
By now, chances are you’re one of the 100,000 people who today have ratcheted up a ton of views on the completely Bonkersville video for Rebecca Black, “Friday.” Where to begin? The way Autotune makes her pronounce the word “Fraah EE Daayee”? The existential question of which car seat to take? The segment in the bridge where it is very explicitly explained exactly where in the rotation of days of the week Friday falls?
See for yourself:
So yes, you are blown away. My friend Trevor puts it best: “It’s like everyone involved was given cat tranquilizers and then forced at gunpoint to make a video. The expression on her face when she’s saying the “fun fun fun fun” line is somewhere between ‘I’m saying “fun” but that word means something different on our world’ and ‘Help me I am being held hostage by Kim Jong Il and forced to do this.'”
Who the hell made this video?
The answer is Ark Music Factory, a Los Angeles-based company operating as an industry hybrid of Maurice Starr and John Bennett Ramsey. Their casting calls are perfect bait for starry-eyed parents: “If you are a great singer without any material and you want to get discovered,” one reads, “then Ark Music Factory is looking for you.” [It’s now been removed; screen grab here.]
The formula is simple: They’ll fly your child between the specified ages of 13-17 to Los Angeles, write her a “hit,” record it in super-compressed Autotuned production, shoot an edge detection-overlay video and BAM! Maybe your kid can notch up a couple thousand YouTube views while you watch your dreams of being a pop-star parent percolate.
Ark Music Factory was launched last month by Patrice Wilson and Clarence Jey—pictured here with one of their pop stars-in-training, J’Rose. Clarence Jey has a MySpace with songs like “Nasty Boi” and “Party Like the Rich Kids.” The biggest name he’s worked with so far is Richie Kotzen, a guitar player from the 1980s hair-glam band Poison. He’s made a “chillax album,” and apparently has studied his Giorgio Moroder. He’s worked with girls as young as nine years old.
In fact, young girls seem to be Jey and Wilson’s preference, looking at Ark Music Factory’s roster. Here’s CJ Fam, a girl who usually sings at Ronald McDonald fundraisers and County Fairs, starring in “Five Days With Ark Music Factory.” It’s supposed be a commercial for Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson’s company, but it just looks plain depressing, creepy and horrible:
Ark Music Factory obviously has put a lot of effort into promoting a girl from Madison named Kaya Rosenthal, whose “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” video was heavily promoted but has already been surpassed in views by Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video since I started typing this post:
Kaya at least understands the music video game—she took part in this spoof of music videos—but most of Ark’s clients appear oblivious to the realities of the music industry. In the comments of another video filmed by Ark Music Factory’s in-house producers, Sarah Maugaotega’s friends ask questions like “howd you make this !?” and “amazing howd you do it?” Sarah’s probably the most natural-sounding and looking singer on Ark’s roster, and her official YouTube channel has only seven subscribers. Nevertheless, this video got made:
The Ark Music Factory video team of Chris Lowe and Ian Hotchkins has some pretty standard teenage boy-girl ideas revolving around breakups, like this video by Ashley Rose, or this dippy, semi-charming video by Britt Rutter…
…both of which trade pretty heavily in teenage tropes like texting and video chat. Then there’s the truly unexplainable videos, like “Crazy” by Darla Beaux, which shows the teenage singer in a straitjacket on a survelliance camera, interspersed with hipstamatic shots. Most of the others are just as formless in concept.
You’ve got to wonder: What if all these Ark Music Factory girls hung out together, for one night? What would happen? Would the space-time continuum rupture? Behold, the Ark Music Factory launch party, which has to be seen to be believed:
Now look—I’m not going to say that Jey or Wilson are pedophiles, like a lot of internet commenters are doing. That’s a really rash conclusion to reach with no evidence, especially when we all know that the music industry thrives on young girls. They’re just doing what every shuckster in L.A. is doing, with the knowledge that short shorts on skinny legs will never go out of style.
But I will point out that their company obviously needs a lot of money to rent Rolls-Royces; pay studio time; shoot videos and rent venues and musicians and soundmen for launch parties. That money ain’t coming from record sales or publishing royalties. It’s coming pretty obviously from rich parents, buying a chunk of the L.A. myth a few days at a time so their kids can brag about it at school and continue to inflate their own vanity.
Is it sad? That depends on your point of view. Is it hilarious that “Friday,” Ark Music Factory’s biggest hit, has gotten famous for being mercilessly made fun of on the internet? You bet it is.
A major coup for the Phoenix Theater: Animal Collective, the experimental-indie Brooklyn ensemble whose crossover hit Merriweather Post Pavilion topped critics’ lists and was named Album of the Year by Spin, Pitchfork and Entertainment Weekly, will be headlining the Petaluma venue on Sunday, April 10. On a brief California jaunt before playing Coachella, the band is sure to sell out the venue immediately when tickets go on sale Thursday, March 10, at 4pm. Hit up the Phoenix Theater site for browser-refreshing action.
Say it together: Primus sucks! And yes, they’re playing at this year’s Harmony Festival. Having last played Sonoma County at the Phoenix in 2003, the band is sure to thrill patient fans as a just-announced headliner. Along with the previously announced Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, new additions to the lineup for the June fest include G. Love and Special Sauce, Natcha Atlas, Ghostland Observatory, Roots Underground, erstwhile festival staples Michael Franti and Spearhead and many more. Tickets and full details are at www.harmonyfestival.com.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival, bouncing back from its near-death at the hands of a now-resigned-in-shame board, boasts a roaring lineup of jazz greats this June: Charles Lloyd with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland, Charlie Haden, Bobby Hutcherson, Bennie Maupin, James Newton, Fred Hersch with Julian Lage, Arturo Sandoval, George Cables, Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Ray Drummond and many others. See www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org.
Other quick mentions of upcoming note: The Kate Wolf Festival brings back Taj Mahal, Los Lobos, Mavis Staples, Bruce Cockburn and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in June. The Uptown Theatre in Napa has Gretchen Wilson (March 20), the Psychedelic Furs (May 5) and a strong comedy lineup with Lisa Lampanelli (April 1), Bob Saget (May 6) and Joan Rivers (Aug. 26; tix on sale March 10).
Let the OFWGKTA signings begin: Fat Possum Records has signed MellowHype, the duo of Hodgy Beats and Left Brain from Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. This news comes on the heels of Tyler the Creator’s signing to XL, and no doubt preceding other signings in the OFWGKTA crew as well.
Fat Possum will re-release MellowHype’s mixtape BlackenedWhite for remastered CD and LP release this summer, the label reports today. BlackenedWhite was originally one of seven free downloads on OFWGKTA’s Tumblr, but coincidentally, the link for the download is no longer working.
Still, any OFWGKTA on vinyl is good news, and good move on Fat Possum for taking a stylistic chance outside their comfort zone. The question now: Who’s gonna put out the legit vinyl versions of Earl, Bastard and Radical? ‘Cause those LPs would sell like crazy. (Maybe this guy will.)
Dr. Dre’s new song might be terrible, but what’s that in the video at about 2:18?
Anyone who lives in the North Bay would recognize it—the Marin Center, right off Highway 101 in San Rafael.
I doubt that when Frank Lloyd Wright designed the building, he ever imagined it’d be used to depict a secret laboratory where a deathbed 46-year-old hip-hop icon from N.W.A. is brought back to life by a lot of incessant rapping by Eminem.
If you watch the whole thing, beware: the obsequious and very long “guest appearance” of Eminem actually takes up most of the song. Also, product placement is rampant—Ferrari, iPad, Hewlett-Packard, Gatorade, and HP’s Envy 15 laptop with Dr. Dre’s own “Beats” logo.
Nevertheless . . . it’s the Marin Center! Next time you get dragged there to pay a speeding ticket or to see the Peking Acrobats, at least you can pass the time thinking of this very tiny cameo amidst hip-hop royalty.
Watch it if you dare:
1. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All are the most punk rock thing in the world right now. Tonight: Constantly stagediving into the crowd. Taunting the audience and berating the soundman. Encouraging the crowd to start mosh pits, even when the music isn’t playing. Middle fingers everywhere. Giving their music away for free, riding skateboards, making their own beats and videos, doing drugs, scaring middle-aged people and not giving a fuck.
2. The show was guaranteed to be crazy, but the fray of human bodies was beyond full effect. Up in front, nobody stood per se as much as swarmed around as one. Falling on each other, arms twisted together, constantly fighting the push and pull from all sides. (Still passing around blunts, amazingly.) This is where I spent the set. I lost 5 pounds, easily.
3. Wearing ski masks with upside-down crucifixes Sharpied on the forehead is a good way to cement your status as the most terrifying thing in hip-hop. Being young helps, because then nobody’s sure whether to take you seriously or not. Do OFWGKTA really want to rape and kill people? a) It doesn’t matter. b) No one knows for certain when you’re under 20.
4. Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats are the obvious stars here. Charisma for days. The feeling prevailing: Tyler’s solo album Goblin will come out, he’ll tour with some of the guys from OFWGKTA but steal the show, and it’ll only be a matter of time before he steps out on his own. Hodgy’ll go with him, and maybe Syd and Left Brain. The rest of the guys will all be Inspectah Decks.
5. The mystique of Earl Sweatshirt and his unknown whereabouts are OFWGKTA’s “Jack and Meg are brother and sister.”
6. “I’ve never seen so many people thrown out of a show,” said Jerry, who stood near the door at Slim’s the whole time, “and I saw at least six fights. It was crazy.”
7. Swag | Free Earl | Swag | Fuck Steve Harvey | Swag | Golf Wang | Swag | Wolf Gang | Swag — Odd Future’s fans know a good chantphrase. And kudos to the people who made face masks of the girl who was staggering in the background during their performance on Fallon. At one point Tyler got decked in the head by Left Brain and doubled over, holding his guts, taking it to Twitter: “Just Threw Up During Show.”
8. Did I mention that being in the front meant fighting for your life? I looked up too late, and lo and behold, a 200-lb. stagediver landed directly on my face. Ouch. Glasses, gone. I dove to the floor. Thank you to the guy who found them. It’s a miracle they’re fine. No bloody nose either.
9. “About halfway through, I had a hard time getting with it,” said Ben, afterwards, “The moral thing kicked in.” I knew what he meant. “But,” I clarified, “it wasn’t a moral thing for me so much as it was a stupidity thing. I mean, ‘This is a brand-new song, it’s called “Bitch Suck Dick”?’ Come on, man. You’re an incredibly creative artist, poised to take over the world. Don’t do that.”
OFWGKTA are talented, and smart, and clever, and thought-out, even when they’re rapping about dumb subjects—their wordplay is incredible. When Tyler delivered “Seven” tonight acapella, the crowd chanting all the words loudly was a beautiful thing. Why? Because it means people are paying attention to language. When he started “Bastard,” all throats screamed. Why? Because it’s an amazing piece of honesty. The set included a brief Earl Sweatshirt homage, via “Earl,” another nonstop singalong, and “Yonkers” and “Sandwitches” were transcendental. (Mike G didn’t fare as well—”Everything That’s Yours” deserves a proper delivery without dropped lines, and his attempt to debut some new solo songs after Tyler had said “Thank you San Francisco, good night” and the gang started leaving the stage was awkward.)
Anyway, there’s shit-tons of energy going on here, and an explosion of ideas scattershot in every direction, and it’s an incredible thing to be part of in a live show, swarmed by other electrified bodies. Lots of talk about OFWGKTA will revolve around their attitude (e.g. tonight: “Oh, did I punch you in the face? Swag.” “All you people in the back can suck my fuckin’ dick.” “I don’t want no fuckin’ Chuck Taylors, I wear fuckin’ Vans, now gimme my shoe back”). But there’s a reason for the unbridled frenzy around the group, and it’s their music. If it sucked, no one would care about them at all.
10. Every time I saw a girl in the crowd I wished I had trophies to hand out for surviving this insane experience.
When I think of Godspeed You Black Emperor, I think of that old saying: “Jesus, please save us from your followers.” There’s simply far too many copycat bands in GYBE’s wake. I won’t name names, but you know the ones. “Cinematic, apocalyptic instrumental indie-chamber-rock.” All borne from what Godspeed pioneered, and all owing a great debt to the Montreal collective.
Case in point: We got to the show, and the opening band sounded exactly like Godspeed You Black Emperor, only a little more drenched in distortion. My friend sent me a mocking text: “Sic’est Godspeed cover band EVER!” I invoked Lil’ Wayne lyrics back to dis them. So not wanting to saturate our ears with mimicry before the real thing, we left and got some pizza down the block. We talked about all the bands in the last ten years who copy GYBE, and the mystique of GYBE and how it contributes to their impact—neither of us had ever seen pictures of the band, or watched videos online. And how weird it was that they’d pick a band that sounded exactly like them as an opener.
We came back and the opening band was still playing. But they sounded better. They sounded really tight, and really pro. They actually sounded a lot like Godspeed You Black Emperor. My friend looked up some pictures of the opening band on his phone. They didn’t look like the people on stage at all.
And then it hit us.
The band on stage was Godspeed You Black Emperor all along.
We. Felt. So. Stupid. Admittedly, this is an embarrassing story to tell. But it perfectly underscores just how far-reaching the band’s influence is, that we—fans of the band!—would mistake them for one of their many wannabes; or how much of a struggle it must be for Godspeed, when premiering new material, to not sound like a caricature of themselves. We’d never seen pictures of them. How could we know?
Luckily, we only missed a couple songs on our pizza jaunt, and the rest of the two-hour set was incredible.
It was very, very quiet between songs. So much that we could hear the film projector loud and clear, whirring along in the balcony. And the film projections themselves: Train tracks. Stock tickers. Bulbous illustrations. Burning buildings. Signs reading “The End is at Hand” and “Preemptive War is Terrorism.” These things make me feel better in believing in Godspeed’s music, much like the diagram on Yanqui U.X.O. outlining connections between corporations, record companies and the military-industrial complex. At the merch table, they sold anarchist literature. They also sold shirts that didn’t have “Godspeed You Black Emperor” printed on them at all, but rather a series of phrases, including “God’s Pee.” A sense of humor, these ones.
They ended the set with an unreal version of “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III,” from Slow Riot for a Zero Canada, which concerns a man in court, arguing about a speeding ticket. Ironically, while driving home, my mind abuzz from the excitement of finally seeing Godspeed You Black Emperor after missing them 10 years ago, and still confused from mistaking them for an opening band, my foot got a little heavy. The red lights appeared in my rear view mirror at about 1am. I looked at my speedometer—80mph. Whoops. No talking my way out of that one.