Of all the ways to shoot down a heckler, Bettye Lavette has the most effective method by far.
During Lavette’s heart-stopping, unfathomably brilliant performance Friday night at the Independent in San Francisco, after the same fan had three times been denied the same request for the Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me,” she strutted right up to the gentleman, demanded “What did I tell you?!,” and planted a big kiss right on his lips.
The guy didn’t shout anything for the rest of the set—or, if he did, he was drowned out by the chorus of cheers that followed every song, every story, every single outpouring of emotion uprising from every cell and molecule in the depths of Lavette’s body and up to her throat and out of her mouth.
Lavette’s story by now is one all to familiar, even if her music is not: supremely talented singer eludes solid footing at record labels and languishes in obscurity until rediscovered decades later and, at least in Lavette’s case, sings Sam Cooke songs for Barack Obama. During a medley of early hits on Friday, Lavette ran down a quick biography by year: “By 1963 I thought I had grown,” she said, introducing “You’ll Never Change.” “I thought I was a star. I made this record, an’ boyfriend”—putting her hand on the shoulders of a man in the front row and staring him straight in the eyes—“it did not sell one copy. But I made it, I liked it, and I’m gonna sing it for you.”
Or, leading into her career-defining hit “Let Me Down Easy”: “This is the single recording that has literally kept me alive. When there was still black radio, this was number one in San Francisco,” she said to the blue-eyed crowd, “and I’d like to introduce it to the rest of you.”
And yet a good story alone does not a stellar performance guarantee. What sealed the night as Lavette’s—and not Booker T.’s, the headliner—was the constant intensity of her presence. During the third number, a beautiful, achingly pleading version of Willie Nelson’s “Pick Up My Pieces,” the sold-out club was pure silence, save for the whirring of the drummer’s electric fan. During “Souvenirs,” the John Prine song that she credited Village Music’s John Goddard for introducing to her, she sat on the floor of the stage, sometimes singing off-mic and holding the audience rapt.
And yet Lavette wasn’t all poignancy and heartache. In high-heel stilettos, she stomped, kicked, danced and jumped across the stage, delivering hip bumps on the beat and grinding away with guitar solos. By the end of the set, after leaving the stage, the applause was so strong that the soundman turned down the house music, Lavette came back out on stage, and she stood there awestruck, genuinely grateful for the turn in her career and the chance to sing again for a receptive audience.
And then, Bettye Lavette clutched the microphone and alone, sang an unaccompanied acapella of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.” She dominated the song, set the microphone down, waved, and left the place in disbelief.
Booker T. didn’t have a chance.
Take Me Like I Am
Pick Up My Pieces
It Ain’t Easy
How Am I Different
I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now
You Don’t Know Me At All
Right In The Middle
Before the Money Came
I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
I was plenty thrilled that Abdullah Ibrahim is coming to Yoshi’s in San Francisco (June 5-7), but today’s announcement from hit-the-ground-running Artistic Director Jason Olaine officially blows away worrisome reports of booking more mainstream fare like Joan Osborne and Bruce Hornsby.
Attention, free jazz fans: The inaugural Go Left Fest, two days of avant-garde legends at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, is coming on June 22 and 23.
It’s crazy enough that Marshall Allen, the 85-year old Sun Ra cohort and torchbearer, is part of the festival. It’s insane enough that Roswell Rudd, whose New York Art Quartet and New York Eye and Ear Control are essentials, is appearing too. Throw into the mix author Ishmael Reed, pianist Matthew Shipp, pianists Myra Melford and Mark Dresser, bassist Joe Morris, clarinetist Beth Custer and saxophonist Oluyemi Thomas, and a joyful noise unto the rock of our outer planes is guaranteed.
The cause of my personal hysteria? The drummer on the dates, Sunny Murray. I picked up Eremite’s deluxe reissue of Murray’s hailed-but-impossible-to-find 1969 album Big Chief recently, and it’s as blistering and intense as a hailstorm of roofing nails. (Limited to 600 copies—laminated cover, pressed at RTI, 180 gram, the whole bit. Dusty Groove seems to still have some in stock.)
I assumed Murray, pictured above, was living as a hermit these days in some out-of-the-way neighborhood in Paris, stockpiling newspaper clippings and watching static on TV sets and baking bread or something. I’m glad to know he’s still playing—after an incredible career backing up key Cecil Talyor and Albert Ayler dates, along with leading his own groups.
Murray’s classic album An Even Break (Never Give a Sucker), on BYG Actuel, is a must-have, but Murray is unlikely to see any royalties from it, according to this stellar interview by Clifford Allen. Most record companies are shady, but BYG Actuel made it an art—it turns out that BYG Actuel’s contracts were presented to American musicians drafted in French:
I made three albums, Archie made four; we were like children in a candy field. And we signed contracts, but Archie was the only one who understood a little French. And like you said, the contracts are so artificial. Like one of the lines, they said they owned the music for infinity. [laughs] It’s impossible! I showed my lawyer and he laughed, and we didn’t know what to say.
The Go Left Fest at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, which should hopefully toss some money in Murray’s bank account, is on June 22 and 23. There’s one long show each night, at 8pm; tickets are $40 each or $65 for both days. You can buy tickets here.
Just a quick one to let you know that the Cool Kids, who get unfairly maligned into some sort of off-limits “hipster rap” category—because, I don’t know, they sound like the ’80s and wear neon?—have released an altogether decent teaser mixtape of new songs called “Gone Fishin’.” You can download it here for free.
I was smitten with the Cool Kids back when they only had two songs up on MySpace, a once-relevant website where MCs Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish originally met. I worried that our love affair would be short and sweet, but it’s been a year, and here we are, face to face, a couple of silver spoons.
It’s unlikely that Sebastopol is going to see a Monday night anything at all like this for the rest of the year. It felt like Bassnectar’s show at the Hopmonk was everything that the old stone building was built for, all those eons ago: “Avast! One Monday, these walls shall absorb the Earth’s pinnacle of gut-rumbling bass. Build strong, gentlemen!”
Yes, the bass could be heard two blocks away. I am surprised the windows are intact. Inside, the sweet combination of smells that only a packed club creates, fueled by Bassnectar’s singular style that had fans driving from hours away (the show was sold out days ago, but if you had a $20 bill, or a good story about your car breaking down, or were pregnant in a tube top and skirt, the guys watching the side doors seemed amenable).
Bassnectar has been in heavy rotation around these parts, and once an album receives that distinction, it’s time for the knighting ceremony, a.k.a. putting it on cassette. The Side Two to my Bassnectar Underground Communication tape is Spank Rock’s YoYoYoYoYo, a record which shares a lot of the same breakbeat production but has rapping, which is nice. One of my favorites from that album is “Bump,” with a killing verse by Amanda Blank. She’s got a solo album out in June, and judging by the first peek, it looks to deftly rule.
For those who weren’t able get in tonight, across the alley at Jasper O’Farrell’s was the place to be, at the long-running Monday Night Edutainment (“WBLK a dun di place every Monday at Jaspers.” “Seen? Yes Iyah! I-man WBLK a wickid!”). Jacques and Guacamole come up on eight years this summer, and they bring back the Coup’s Pam the Funkstress on June 1 to celebrate. Before that, for some of the best in Bay Area beats, Hopmonk’s got Greyboy coming in on May 14′s Juke Joint, too.
I sometimes have a hard time explaining to adults why a crowd can get excited about a person on stage pushing buttons. I’d hope that tonight would set some of the naysayers straight, if only for variety alone—it’s the only set I’ve heard that’s referenced the Gorillaz, Bill Haley, and “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun.” One thing, though, is undeniable: Sebastopol is whipping Santa Rosa’s ass on Monday nights. I drove home, brain still slightly curdled, and downtown Santa Rosa felt like a whimpering dog with its tail between its legs in comparison.
I write this week about the new hip-hop compilation released by teenagers in San Rafael, Many Thoughts, One Myc, which is as pure a representation as possible of what kids are thinking, hoping, wishing for, copying, creating, decrying and delineating in Marin County. Not everyone wants to grow up to drive their PT Cruiser to yoga class, it turns out. Even intellaFLOW’s track “GoodLife”—he’s the focus of the article—puts a realistic bent on what defines success: “A little bit material,” he raps, “and a little bit spiritual.”
I wasn’t able to talk up the rest of the CD in the paper’s limited space, but Many Thoughts, One Myc reflects a post-Hyphy Bay Area, where stunna shades might be dead but the beat goes on. Consider it a gas, brake, and dip—with a left turn added. Characteristic of the album is Bay S.L.A.M.’s “We From the Bay,” which preaches unity among all races, and H-Block’s piano-driven scraper anthem “Fast and Furious,” which makes me wish I didn’t drive a clunky 1989 Ford van.
Two tracks in particular stick out: the dark instrumental “Flatline’s Slap,” by quiet, 15-year-old producer Flatline. He loops a didgeridoo sound over perfectly synched bass and drums, and when the hi-hats come in, it kills. The flipside is “Taste My Rainbow,” an incredible spoken-word piece from Chinita, which stresses maintaining mentality, showing confidence and staying true to oneself in the face of haters. I’m not sure the BPMs match up, but the two are begging to be mixed together.
Many Thoughts, One Myc can be ordered here.
Who will be the next U2? Spike and I discussed it the other day, and even three years ago, the Arcade Fire were the only serious contender; Mirroir Noir cements it. They have uplift, they have bombast, and now they have the requisite artistic film-document thing. I did not come right out and say that they were the next U2 in this Neon Bible review, but read between the lines.
Wasn’t Neon Bible, like, so 2007? To be reminded of it now by this DVD is to force a reassessment. I was interested in its haunting quality. In hindsight, I don’t understand what the album’s uncertainty was all about. Wasn’t uncertainty, like, so 2002?
Love how her feet manage themselves when she plays the pipe organ. Think that the band is giving Bjork a run for her money in the “everything is music” department. Magazine ripping is percussion, and it is done together! Everything is done together! We dance in the studio! We dance backstage! Two people beating on a cymbal is better than one!
No song is completed all the way through. People walk across parking lots. People swim in the 1920s. The illusion of falling. Hypnosis. When your eyes are half-closed, distant lights become circles. People call in and hypothesize about the meaning of “neon Bible.” On and on. What it means is religion is chintzy. No uncertainly required.
Dear Arcade Fire: The longtime host of The Price Is Right is Bob Barker.
“Power Out” and “Rebellion (Lies)” happen at the end, reminding you that Funeral was way better. My favorite Neon Bible moment was one that didn’t happen on the album, nor did it happen in this DVD. It happened when Bruce Springsteen gave his approval by covering “Keep the Car Running” at a show in Ottawa, and when a fan in the crowd was completely overcome with joy, surprise, happiness, confusion, elation and disbelief all at once.
I heard the rumors. You might have heard them too. So before all the ridiculous hearsay gets out of hand, let me set the record straight: Jello Biafra is not singing with Dead Kennedys at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa.
It all started when I wrote an appreciative post about the Harmony Festival branching out and booking punk rock bands (the Bad Brains, along with three members of Dead Kennedys, minus Biafra). Someone wrote in: “Have you heard? A little birdie told me that Jello is singing with them!”
In the next week, five or six separate people asked me if I’d heard the news that Jello was, in fact, singing with Dead Kennedys. People in bands, employees at music stores and record stores heard the same thing. Jello Biafra was just up here recording a new album at Prairie Sun, after all, and a cryptic notice on Dead Kennedys’ official website further fueled the fire: “Keep an eye out for a rare and special event on June 12, 2009!”
I told everyone that they were totally crazy. After the acrimonious lawsuit a few years ago, there’d be no way Jello would ever sing with Dead Kennedys again. But the buzz persisted.
So I wrote to the Harmony Festival’s publicist to clarify the rumors, and asked who was singing for the band. She wrote back: “We cannot officially confirm or deny the appearance of Jello Biafra at Harmony Festival this year—yet.”
It seemed weird.
So I called up Jello Biafra.
He’d never heard of the Harmony Festival, nor did he have very nice things to say about the other three ex-members of Dead Kennedys (“It’s at least an ugly situation as Brian Wilson versus Mike Love, with a lot of the same horrible behavior,” he told me).
It’ll be in the Bohemian in a couple weeks, but for the time being: Jello Biafra is not singing with Dead Kennedys at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa on June 12, and despite repeated assertions from certain people that he’s been “invited to attend,” the truth is that neither he, nor his label, nor his booking agent have been contacted about it.
(UPDATE: The interview is here.)
In the further adventures of Throbbing Gristle as the most ingratiating band on the planet, the four original members turned on all the house lights in the Grand Ballroom last night, uncoiled an incessant low, seraphic noise from the stage, and started their first set in San Francisco since 1981’s famous show at Kezar Pavilion with “Very Friendly,” a peppy little tune about murdering children.
“No matter how fucking loud you yell,” declared a sort-of-almost-halfway-transgendered Genesis P-Orridge, “my voice will always be louder than yours.”
That could very well be Throbbing Gristle’s motto: Our voice will always be louder than yours. Of course, the band was quiet for years. In the aftermath of the Kezar show, they stopped performing, and the live album from that swan song, Mission of Dead Souls, served as a final spurt from one of the world’s most abrasive, interesting and unique groups. Last night’s return to the city of Dead Souls was a historic event, yes. It was also a sonically vicious onslaught, and its voice, definitely, was louder than yours.
In front of the speakers was not the healthiest place to be standing, where both physical and mental faculties were repeatedly strained by jarring stabs of digital knifeplay from the laptops of Chris Carter and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson. And yet in front of the speakers was the most appropriate place to fully absorb the live experience, a full-body workout unavailable on Throbbing Gristle’s albums. The health of their audience is not a concern. The bass sounds blew loose-fitting clothes with each gut-churning wallop; up in the piercing tweeter range lay Cosey Fanni Tutti’s slide guitar abstractions; and in the middle of it all, the soul of the band, P-Orridge, delivering litany after litany on death, bondage, masturbation, mayhem and disorder.
In a blonde wig, orange blouse, pink skirt and brown vest, the bosomed P-Orridge commanded the stage, intractable during the frightening narratives of classic Throbbing Gristle material like 20 Jazz Funk Greats’ “What a Day” and “Persuasion,” and Mission of Dead Souls‘ “Something Came Over Me.”
A dash of humor came when a note was thrown on stage. “Genesis: Thank you for creating you,” P-Orridge read out loud, reciting the note. “Love, Stephanie. Call me.” Then, to make sure that everyone had a chance to write it down, P-Orridge twice read off Stephanie’s phone number. “Stephanie has brown hair, a blue dress, some cleavage,” he continued, “and she’s ready to be created with you.”
For as much as P-Orridge is painted as an antagonist, an iconoclast, and an artistic anarchist, he is still, in his heart, a human being. During the lone song played last night with the lights dimmed, the new song “Almost a Kiss,” he stepped back from each verse to unfurl his arms and plead to the skies for a love that had mysteriously disappeared. It was a dark, revelatory moment, unveiling the universal sadness that is so often shrouded in Throbbing Gristle’s industrial venom.
The show ended sweetly, with P-Orridge introducing his daughter Genesse to the crowd, and concluded with a long, long version of “Discipline,” which the up-till-then staid crowd took to heart by finally becoming undisciplined; bodies started moving, someone in the back dropped their drink, a fight broke out in the balcony. Finally, all the ingratiation had worked. Finally, Throbbing Gristle had made their grand return. And just like that, with an appreciative bow and no encore, they were gone again.
More Photos Below. (more…)
At around noon yesterday, Travis Kennedy, owner of Daredevils & Queens, was paid a visit by the Santa Rosa Fire Department and given a stern verbal warning to not host any more gatherings there. No written notice was issued, nor any specific citations made pertaining to emergency exits or capacity—just a heads up that one of their marshals had walked by the other night and noticed a group of people inside. Kennedy had hosted a private birthday party for a friend, with about 50 guests, the week before. Any such afterhours assemblies at Daredevils & Queens, Kennedy was firmly instructed, are against city zoning code.
This, of course, is terrible, terrible news. The successful hair salon that’s also hosted numerous art shows, reunion events and musical performances has grown into an increasingly vibrant and important center on Railroad Square’s cultural map. Every single event I’ve attended there has been well-mannered and safely monitored. Especially because the city has placed such an emphasis on supporting the arts, Kennedy is understandably dismayed that he’s in a position to cancel all his upcoming events—including a May 2 show with Polar Bears, Shuteye Unison and Prizehog.
“The more I thought about it,” he told me today, “the more I can’t see how they could shut us down! I wasn’t charging any money, and it was a good thing all around.”
Kennedy has held events very sporadically—once every two months or so—and has never received any complaints from neighbors or police. He’s never taken a percentage of art sales, and in fact he always, always spends his own money to buy merchandise and support the artists and musicians he willfully opens his salon doors to. Is it really such a crime to broaden your place of business to support the local arts and music community?
Kennedy is looking into finding out how he can work with the city and continue to host events at Daredevils & Queens legitimately, but for now, all events are off.
Some of you may have heard of First Fridays in Santa Rosa, where the streets are overtaken on the first Friday of each month with local art, theater, and live music. This year, the organizers are looking to ramp up the whole shebang, and they’re presenting a great opportunity for local bands and musicians to play in public – and actually get paid for it.
Attention, everyone! First Fridays is looking for bands!
The music schedule is still wide open at this point, and there’s two time slots in both Courthouse Square and Railroad Square each Friday. That’s four bands each month. This is your chance to bang on a guitar, howl in public—and instead of getting a citation from downtown cops, you’ll get a check from the City of Santa Rosa. How can you lose?
It’s easy to sit back and complain that there are no places to play in Santa Rosa, but it disheartens me when the city actually funds a budget to create opportunities like this and they go unseized. So far, it’s mostly classical and acoustic music, but all types of music are welcome. Let’s fill the schedule up quick with kickass bands and prove that Santa Rosa can support its local scene.
“We are looking for all genres of music,” writes Arts District Coordinator Vicky Kumpfer, and notes a sizable stipend will be paid (it’s not pocket change). Those interested in joining the lineup—and I’d act fast if I were you—should get in touch with her at (707) 543-3732, or email at vkumpfer [at] srcity.org.