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And Then There’s Marion Brown

Posted by on Oct 26, 2010

After yesterday’s post on Solomon Burke, Eyedea and Ari Up, Chris points out what I should have remembered: Don’t forget that Marion Brown also died recently.

Not that I can say anything that his music didn’t already say on its own. I can, as these things go, remember when I first discovered him via his eponymous ESP album. Crossroads Records on Hawthorne, in Portland, Ore. The cover was black-and-white, no title. I was just getting back into jazz. It didn’t really stick out from most other ESP stuff I was finding at the time.

But Brown’s name popped up time and again. Most notably, on Coltrane’s beast Ascension and Archie Shepp’s Fire Music, two hallmarks of the avant-garde. You could take the boy out of Georgia, but you can’t take Georgia out of the boy, and his series of records inspired by his home state find his vision coming complete: Afternoon of a Georgia Faun is an actual avant-garde outing on the now-pulseless ECM, and Geechee Recollections on Impulse is gracefully biting.

The only other thing to say is that yes, I found out about his death from Superchunk’s Twitter feed. I still think it’s fantastic that the archetypal indie-rock band would record a track called “Song for Marion Brown,” because I am into people listening to all kinds of music no matter what style they happen to excel at playing. And anyway, the lines are blurring more and more each day. Robert Plant’s most recent album contains two songs by Low. Mavis Staples recorded her latest album in Wilco’s recording studio with Jeff Tweedy. And Big L, from once-budding hyphy group the Pack, is putting out experimental spoken-word records on the same label as the Sun City Girls and Yellow Swans. Genres don’t exist anymore.

Somehow this all ties into me buying tickets for and then deciding not to go see Best Coast tonight. I’ve blown hot on Crazy for You and been entertained by its hooks, but ultimately, I feel perplexed that the world’s so-called discerning music listeners are elevating something so stringently unoriginal. If I were a female songwriter, I would be especially frustrated, because Bethany Cosentino has now proven that lifting the Shirelles’ schtick, rhyming the same words over and over, sticking to the same themes of longing and loneliness and adding in a few references to cats and weed are all it takes to achieve stardom, apparently. I love me a good jingle, and Crazy for You is shameless fun, but if I’m going to get really hyped on something it better be more variegated. In that dept., Marion Brown: 1. Best Coast: 0.

Finally, Warpaint’s new album The Fool was released today. Listen to it here.

They Come In Threes

Posted by on Oct 25, 2010 2 Comments

Noting the passing of a celebrity is like celebrating a pennant win in the bottom of the seventh; there will be two more, according to the self-fulfilling maxim. So when Solomon Burke died at the Amsterdam airport two weeks ago, I held my breath, hoping the next one would be more prepared to go. Someone like Eddie Fisher or Tony Curtis. I didn’t get my wish. Eyedea and Ari Up were gone within two weeks.

Most people online will see photos of Ari Up, née Arianna Forster, read a few lines and assume she was just another screamer in a punk band—especially if they see the cover photo for the Slits’ album, Cut, which shows Forster and her bandmates topless and covered in mud. But the Slits couldn’t have been further from the bedraggled screams of punk, or of X-Ray Spex, who they were often compared to. Juxtapose the roughshod reggae-disco of Cut against records by the Rapture and M.I.A. and it’s clear Forster was really, really ahead of her time.

Eyedea, from the Minneapolis hip-hop duo Eyedea & Abilities, was just 28 when he was found dead last week. I did the math, discovering he was still a teenager when his massive statement of purpose, First Born, was released. The triple-album is essentially Exhibit A in the case for the personal/political torch of punk being rekindled in indie hip-hop. Naturally compared to Atmosphere due to geography and pigment, Eyedea expressed a pensive examination of the world and the individual’s place therein with humor, cleverness and heart.

And then Solomon. I was among a few hundred people who once waited over an hour while Solomon Burke was stuck in San Francisco traffic. It was 2005, a free show at Amoeba, and his fans were adhering to the title of his recent record, Don’t Give Up On Me. Patience was rewarded when Burke was led to his red velvet throne and began singing—the huge store was silent while he commanded the afternoon. At one point, a front-row fan shouted a request for Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and in a lightning-fast move, Burke pointed in their direction and immediately went in: “I was boooooorn…”

If there’s any good to come of all this, it’s that you now have three masterpiece records to check out: The Slits’ Cut, Eyedea & Abilities’ First Born, and Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me. It’s rainy season. Enjoy.

Live Review and Photos: 2010 Treasure Island Music Festival

Posted by on Oct 19, 2010 One Comment

I’ve got a theory and the theory is this: No matter how early you try to arrive at the ballpark to catch the shuttle to Treasure Island, you will always get to the festival three seconds after the band you’d sell your left kidney to see takes the stage. Bridge traffic, shuttle lines and unexpected delays crop up every year. That’s a better scenario than missing your favorite band entirely, but it’s nonetheless sweat-inducing—even in the type of bone-chilling weather which this year finally decided, after three Treasure Island Music Festivals benevolently spared the San Francisco cold, to rear its oceanic head.

Yes, it was cold. And yes, two of the must-see acts of 2010, Die Antwoord and Superchunk, played at relatively early time slots, which surely was a strategic move on the festival organizers’ part, I imagine, to beef up the crowd in the early hours. Both acts could have more played a few slots up on the bill, and that’s not accounting for taste—just demand. Likewise, Deadmau5 probably should have headlined Saturday, because a gigantic sea of neon-clad pacifier-wearers with goosebumped bare midriffs bailed for the warmth of the shuttles before LCD Soundsystem.

For having been debunked as the Borat of all viral hip-hop jokes in 2010, Die Antwoord is insistently entertaining. Not too many rappers quote Cypress Hill and Ren & Stimpy in one breath while in the next, freestyling a couple lines about wiping his ass with a shirt someone threw on stage while actually wiping his ass with a shirt someone threw on stage. Juvenilia reigns, with stagediving, mooning the crowd and false appendages. Both Ninja and Yo-Landi really need to eat some food, but the fact that I still have their hooks in my head three days later tells you something about the success of their gimmick.

Nic Offer, singer of !!!, sings with his fly open! I am thrilled to finally see this band after too many missed opportunities. “You know where we played last night?” Offer offers. “Tokyo! That’s right! Friday night Tokyo, Saturday San Francisco. Three hours sleep, baby!” With LCD Soundsystem here too, the spirit of Jerry Fuchs lingers. Thanks for “Heart of Hearts” and “Must Be the Moon,” guys.

During Four Tet’s set, I finally have my brush with fame: The two guys handing out the “Thank You” stickers. Every fourth person I see has one stuck to their clothes, foreheads or breasts. Mid-dancing, they speak to me in body language which asks, “Hey man, do you want a ‘Thank You’ sticker too?” I respond with body language that says, “Yeah, here, lemme peel one off your roll there.” They both wag their fingers as if to say, “No way,” then one of them peels off a sticker and slaps it on my sweatshirt himself. They continue dancing. There is a man in a full-body green suit crowdsurfing. The sun is setting. Four Tet is a little less pastichey and more fluid than when I saw him last, four years ago, after Everything Ecstatic. This is not all that bad.

Somewhere in there between Kruder & Dorfmeister and Deadmau5, the news comes in: The Giants had beaten the Phillies in Game 1 of the NLCS. This fact is incredible to the point that stray fans shout things like “Cody Motherfucking Ross!” and random strangers jump up and high-five. Entire portions of the crowd chant “Let’s Go Giants!” The timing is good. I find a Fountaingrove Round Barn T-shirt on a hipster vintage rack in one of the clothing booths. Back near the port-a-potties I watch a gate-crasher hop the fence and sprint into anonymity. My best friend gets engaged. Okay, okay, that actually happened the night before. But still. Love is in the air.

“Deadmau5 Suck5,” my newly-engaged friend texts, but it’s not true. Deadmau5 is just there, the neo-house flavor of the year with an overboard, impressive light show owing buckets to Daft Punk. This happened two years ago, and it was called Justice. Where is Justice now? Replaced, it seems, by a DJ who hates DJs in a mouse helmet who lifts Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” I’m not on the right drugs, but for 45 minutes, Treasure Island is a solid, teeming, unified mass.

Watching Miike Snow is a nice change of pace from the phenomenon of Deadmau5. They’re shrouded in blue lights and a constant billow of fake fog (when, honestly, real San Francisco Bay fog could very nearly fill the role just fine). They’re from Sweden. This fact is helpful for copy editors when cursing their name, but doesn’t solve the whole puzzle. I suspect Miike Snow likes it that way. “Animal” sounds perfect in the dark.

To answer your question, yes, LCD Soundsystem does open their set with “Dance Yrself Clean”! Along with “Drunk Girls,” “I Can Change,” “You Wanted a Hit” and “Home,” This is Happening is well-represented. “All My Friends” is the hands-down jam. “Yeah.” Admirably, every sound on their recordings is replicated by one live instrument or another, and James Murphy can absolutely sing those falsettos live. Honestly, they could play all night, but when 10:50pm rolls around it’s time to pull the plug. “We don’t make the rules,” explains Murphy. “We’re not the cops.”

Superchunk rules Sunday. I resist the phrase “showin’ ‘em how it’s done,” but in Superchunk’s case it truly applies. No band at the festival is as punchy and energetic, but punchy and energetic are only tips of the equation: Vitally, Superchunk actually plays as if their music is important. Almost every other band playing today glosses over with that same lame rock-guy detachment that ruined the 1970s. In fact, with the rain, everything seems downright gloomy on Sunday after Supserchunk. They have every right to rest on their laurels, but instead they flail, pounce and thrash through such a damn fine set. Starting with “Kicked In”? BOLD. “Water Wings,” “Throwing Things,” “Detroit has a Skyline,” “Hyper Enough,” “Precision Auto,” it’s all in there.

It’s sad that Zooey Deschanel reminds me of Taylor Swift, but the facts are that like Swift, she’s cute and she doesn’t always sing on key. No one cared when Kurt Cobain didn’t sing on key, but Deschanel is going for an altogether different, which is to say retro, thing. She & Him’s 50s girl-group-by-way-of-Patsy-Cline schtick, female backup singers and all, relies on polish and technique, neither of which Deschanel has in spades. If it weren’t for the indie cred of M. Ward, who once made wonderfully strong, eloquent records before hopping on this confusing side project, I doubt many people would take the band seriously.

Monotonix: Bringing the DIY basement show to music festivals since 2008.

Two temper tantrums into Broken Social Scene’s set, a friend compares Kevin Drew to Axl Rose and chuckles; said friend loves Axl Rose and all his shortcomings. But I can’t digest it, not since seeing Drew and the rest of the band in much better, triumphant, E-Street-Band-like spirits just a year ago. It’s not just the weather, which is gloomy enough. Brendan Canning violently throws his guitar to the ground. Drew makes a pissy comment about how when you play as many shows as he does, you get accustomed to the sound being perfect. Wrapped in leather and shades and heroin-like detachment, he drops his own guitar mid-song to wander around the stage, invading other people’s instruments. They play “Almost Crimes” and “Anthem for a 17-Year-Old Girl” from You Forgot It in People; “7/4” and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement” from S/T; and the rest is from their new record, but they’re not feeling it, and neither is the crowd. Just an off day, I hope. The cold wind and cold vibes take their toll, and we head out.

More photos below – All photos by Elizabeth Seward. (more…)

In News

Tom Waits to Release 78 RPM Single

Posted by on Oct 12, 2010

This just makes the most sense in the world: Tom Waits is releasing a 78 RPM single next month.

The purveyor of all things arcane last year collaborated with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to record his own take on “Tootie Ma Was a Big Fine Thing” and “Corrine Died on the Battlefield,” both old New Orleans songs that exemplify early examples of Mardi Gras Indian chants. Originally released on a benefit comp to help, um, preserve Preservation Hall, they’re getting pressed on the fastest-spinning slab of vinyl money can buy.

How much money? 50 bucks, sucker. But hey! It benefits Preservation Hall! I can speak from personal experience (i.e. poking my head in the window on a road trip) that Preservation Hall is culturally important. And if you’re a hoarding record collector like me and have way too many weird 78s in your garage but no way to play them, for just $200 you’ll get the record—and a portable 78 RPM record player to play it with!

The record goes on sale Nov. 19 at the Hall itself and Nov. 20 at this here site. They’re only making 500 of ‘em, and I imagine they’ll be snagged up quick, so don’t delay. I mean, jeez, it’s a 78! It’s an idea so novel, it’s amazing John Fahey didn’t think of it first. (Oh wait! He did.)

In related news, I have to tip my hat to Black Swan for releasing his album, In 8 Movements, on goddamn Reel-To-Reel Tape. I told my friend Dan and he joked that someone putting their music out on wax cylinder was next, and lo, just days later, IT HAPPENED. Take that, cassettes!

Also, the Waits/Corbijn book looks like a monster. 200 portraits plus 50 pages of Waits’ images and words. Check it out. And if you hadn’t heard, Waits is now officially nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Thing Fred Eaglesmith Said Last Saturday at Studio E

Posted by on Oct 11, 2010

“When my Dad lost the farm to public auction and he went into real estate, he couldn’t believe what he discovered. It was all just numbers. Just numbers. People worrying about their property values going up and down. I’ll tell you, we got a little farm in Canada now, and the best day of our lives was when we started thinking about it not as a piece of real estate but as a home. That’s what matters. A place to go home to. A place to eat dinner with your family. We stopped mowing the lawn that day, and the neighbors got mad at us. I said, ‘What’re you mad about? We’re lowering your taxes!’ They don’t understand. That farm, some days it’s worth a million dollars, some days it’s worth $250,000—I don’t care. It’s our home, that’s what it’s worth to me. I can guarantee you right now that I’m the wealthiest man in this room. Of all the people in this room, no one’s wealthier than me. Do you know why? Because I have enough. I have enough. And once you have enough, no one else can have more enough than you.”

On the Stereo: Playoff Season

Posted by on Oct 10, 2010

RVIVR – S/T: Ah, this record completely shreds. Purchased from Matt outside Thee Parkside in S.F. while he was changing his strings, sitting cross-legged on the oil-stained asphalt. I couldn’t stay to see the show, unfortunately, but brought the record into Tommy’s Joynt on the way home and read the lyrics over a BBQ sandwich. I’ve played this album ten times since. Anyone with a soft spot for unapologetic, passionate shit plus blazing guitar solos and a dash of Fuel’s Take Effect EP should get on board. I mourn the fact that the record covers are recycled, unsold jackets from Behead the Prophet No Lord Shall Live LPs, but other than that everything about this record is killer.

 

Conlon Nancarrow – Studies for Player Piano: I got down with this after interviewing Jason Moran, who included one of this unique composer’s works on his latest album, Ten. Nancarrow had a curious working method. In the days of player pianos, someone would usually play the piano while the paper roll “recorded” the performance via holes punched in the paper. Nancarrow would just cut holes in the paper himself, manually, by hand, creating dense, fast pieces that would be impossible for a human to play. Think of it as a papyrus remix method. This collection, a good one, boasts on its cover “A tour de force of musical imagination – unbelievable sounds!” and it’s not lying.

 

Converge – Jane Doe: In 2001 I was mostly comparing every hardcore band to Econochrist or Born Against, and in all honesty I still do. I feel the margin for hardcore is slim in most people’s music-listening experiences, and whatever you’re exposed to in that slim timeframe is the measuring stick by which you measure all other hardcore being made. This album by Converge was a wonderfully glaring exception. I heard it just once nearly ten years ago right after it came out, but in that one listening, I realized that hardcore could in fact be taken to new places. Few hardcore records have had the same effect on me since. Deathwish reissued it on vinyl earlier this year, and when I put it on—yep, same amazing record, hasn’t aged one bit. Thanks!

 

Archie Shepp – The Magic of Ju-Ju: I talked to Fred Eaglesmith recently and he joked that critics have called every record he’s made a departure from his previous work. I didn’t want to tell him I thought that was a somewhat incorrect assessment since he was kind of joking anyway, but that’s what I think of when I think of Archie Shepp. The guy has some downright R&B albums, some straight jazz albums, some real avant-garde stuff but it’s always tinged with Shepp’s personality. I was lucky to meet him once, on my birthday. He smelled like weed. The title track of this record is a wonderful, 19-minute marathon of out-there drone.

 

Samothrace – Life’s Trade: Watching Neurosis transform from a hardcore band to a creepy, slow, glacial, hypnotic metal band is an experience I am glad I can claim in life. Most people now only know and/or enjoy the music they made post-’93 but their first three albums are undeniable works of art and I’ll defend them to the death. Live back then, they were revelatory. After the drum-circle jam on Enemy of the Sun I was off the train and only in the last five years have I been able to enjoy records like Times of Grace. Anyway, when I first heard Leviathan by Mastodon I was confused as to why it sounded exactly like Neurosis and then I realized that Neurosis actually influenced every single band in this genre that they basically single-handedly created. This record sounds like Neurosis with some subtle blues riffs thrown in.

 

Rusko – O.M.G.: So as far as I can tell, dubstep is defined by basically just this one certain bass sound. That’s nice for stoned people in England but I say we demand more idiosyncratic qualities before we christen a new genre. Then again England seems all too ready to christen, shower and elevate their own with ridiculous platitudes on the cover of NME every single month. “Hottest Band in the World!” becomes a country’s music scene that cried wolf, although I did actually like Alphabeat. Rusko seems like one of the dubstep scene’s hobos, hopping trains into different genres; his production on ///Y/ was incredible while this LP is so-so.

 

Louis Moreau Gottschalk – Works for Piano: Seriously one of the greatest piano composers of all time, Gottschalk was revered in his day but no one seems to talk about him much now. Lots of praise gets heaped on the usual American composers like Copland and Gershwin who combined jazz and folk forms into their pieces but Gottschalk was born in New Orleans in 1829 and was bringing Creole rhythms to Europe in the middle of that century, which would seem to override Gershwin’s status as a pioneer at least in that regard. There is so much flavor and romance in these pieces it’s nuts.

 

The Roots – Illadelph Halflife: I love it when you give an album another chance and it shows you some new side of itself because your ears are tuned a little differently with age, but this is still such a strangely weak album in the Roots’ discography. Strange because it’s from back when this band was hitting hard, sandwiched between Do You Want More? and Things Fall Apart which are both total masterpieces. But sometimes a band makes an album that’s just simply there, against the odds. Usually I keep returning to said albums, hoping to find some gold. I listened to this again today, and like the girl in Fame, I felt . . . nothing.

 

Chris Connor – Sings Lullabys of Birdland: I saw Lee Konitz play and conduct a jazz clinic last week in the Green Center at SSU. There’s been millions of dollars sunk into the Green Center which has been the subject of much controversy, debate and scorn, but I must say, the hall looks impressive. Konitz unpacked his horn, played a few notes, and looked around the large building. “Too much echo,” he grumbled. “You gotta fix this room.” This, of course, produced knowing laughter from the crowd, because here’s a guy who’s played with everyone and I mean everyone in the jazz world, and he’s saying this multimillion dollar room is substandard. Soon I realized that Konitz can just be kind of a grouch, though. He chewed out a photographer on three separate occasions and told her to fuck off, he got into an argument with a girl who remarked that she didn’t like Bach, he refused to introduce the players in his band, he called someone out for yawning, it was weird. He eventually lightened up, but mostly I just kept my eyes on the ground hoping he wouldn’t call on me or interpret something about my demeanor as an insult to his presence. Just when it couldn’t get any stranger, a girl with whom Konitz had an awkward exchange about race accidentally tripped and completely fell on her face on the way out of the room. So anyway, Lee Konitz played a plastic reed on an alto with a rag stuffed in the bell, and one of the songs he played was “What’s New,” which I first heard on Sinatra’s Only the Lonely album. Mel Martin was there, and it turns out Martin was one of Konitz’s students at one point. He reminisced that Konitz once told him that to play saxophone well, one should listen to Frank Sinatra. That struck me as interesting because whenever I think of Mel Martin, besides those Listen LPs you see everywhere, I think of how Mel played just one solitary beautiful chorus of “Goodbye” by Gordon Jenkins to end Mel Graves’ memorial tribute last year. “Goodbye” is also on Only the Lonely, and I immediately pictured Lee Konitz and Mel Martin in another time and place smoking weed and listening to that Frank Sinatra record and playing along with it, not knowing that years down the line it would come back to them in the form of memorial tributes and jazz clinics conducted in the middle of the day at a college campus. The long and short of it is that I love Chris Connor, but though her version of “Goodbye” on this album is very nice, it’s never going to compare to Frank Sinatra’s, or Mel Martin’s for that matter, and I’m sorry to say unkind things about Lee Konitz but you could ask anyone who was there and they’d say it was weird too.

It's Been a While

Posted by on Oct 4, 2010 One Comment

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.

It’s Been a While

Posted by on Oct 4, 2010 One Comment

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.

In News

New Things Happening at Zone Music

Posted by on Sep 17, 2010 6 Comments

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.

In News

Phoenix Theater Weathers Another Beating

Posted by on Sep 10, 2010 8 Comments

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.]