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Festival del Sole: Joshua Bell at Castello di Amorosa

Posted by on Jul 17, 2008 4 Comments

It wasn’t the castle. Nor was it the exquisite views, or the wonderful weather, or the feeling of being in a pastoral renaissance drama. It wasn’t even the awe-inspiring performances, though they ran a tight second.

No, what made Joshua Bell’s appearance at Castello di Amarosa tonight so infinitely remarkable is that during the intermission, while still bathed with perspiration from a dominating run-through of Grieg’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3, Joshua Bell hopped off the stage, strolled down the aisle, and hung out.

Classical musicians do not “hang out.” Classical musicians of Bell’s caliber, especially, do not “hang out.” But there he was, doing just that, hanging out—chatting with fans, charming old ladies, signing programs for young violinists, and taking photos with visibly bowled-over members of the audience.

You don’t get this kind of close camaraderie at Avery Fisher Hall or the Kennedy Center. But in the Napa Valley, Bell thinks to himself: What the hell. I’m at a castle, it’s kinda weird, and these people seem cool. I think I’ll stand over near that cast-iron dragon head under the coat of arms unfurled on the wall and, you know, hang out.

Bell’s casual presence didn’t diminish the absolute seriousness and command he demonstrated on stage just moments before, in an utterly stunning display of precision, taste, and verve alongside the excellent pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

Jogging onto the stage in an untucked white shirt, magazine-current haircut and winning smile, Bell raised his bow and dove hungrily into Grieg’s sonata. Containing numerous passages which in the hands of others might be choppy or scratchy, the piece proved a demonstrable showcase for Bell’s glassy smoothness. Flawlessly quick changes from low growls to feathery high notes abounded, and Bell’s final note of Grieg’s second movement—reaching as high as the violin can play—had the gossamer quality of untouched water at dawn.

It may be a cliché to imagine an instrument as an outgrowth of the body, but if so, the cliché begins and ends with Bell. His 1713 Stradivarius protruded from beneath his chin as an extra appendage, a thing incomplete when it is not next to him and—in ways—vice-versa; he played it as if brushing back hair, natural and thorough. His connection was just as strong with Thibaudet, who joined Bell in a telepathic understanding of the piece and of each other, handling his end with a marvelous touch at the piano.

Bell has been performing the Grieg sonata for some time now, and it’s high time he recorded it. No doubt the crowd tonight would nominate Thibaudet as his studio mate. At the end, after the intricate plucking and ferocious dance passages of the third movement, the audience was on their feet, bringing the pair back to the stage for three separate sets of bows—all of them more than deserved.

Opening the concert was soprano Lisa Delan, in a light purple dress with thin straps, singing the world premiere of Gordon Getty’s Four Dickinson Songs. A moving and often daring musical adaptation of four Emily Dickinson poems, the work nonetheless received a lukewarm reception, despite Delan’s dramatic interpretive ability. After the intermission, Thibaudet returned to the stage with the Rossetti String Quartet for a perfectly thrilling Piano Quintet in F Minor by Brahms. Like Bell’s performance, it was joined somewhat charmingly by the near-constant sound of birds chirping in the sky above the castle’s great outdoor room.

Festival del Sole co-founder Barrett Wissman was in a cream-colored suit jacket and black slacks, nursing a plastic cup of red wine; his wife, the cellist Nina Kotova, wore a chic black dress, diamond earrings and a gigantic amethyst necklace that attracted comments every ten feet or so. The Castello di Amarosa, too, was done up nicely; even the posts holding up the stage tent were covered in a faux stone to match the castle walls, as film crews from PBS were on hand, recording for a special.

But it was the close atmosphere and the proximity to greatness that defined the evening. In fact, at one point, while poking around upstairs, who should I see through a small stone window but Joshua Bell himself, in the castle’s dressing room, blowdrying his hair. It was a strange and beautiful moment, and one that I was glad I had my camera for.

All in all, it was a truly memorable night. More photos below. (more…)

Bits ‘n Pieces: Tom Waits, Downtown, Restaurants, Traverso’s, Mel Torme, etc.

Posted by on Jul 13, 2008 9 Comments

Don’t ask me how I know this, but I assure you it’s true: Tom Waits officially recorded his show last week at the Fox Theater in Atlanta for a broadcast on NPR. From all the reviews on Eyeball Kid, it seems like one of the best shows on his entire tour so far. There’s also this great little Excel spreadsheet-type calculation thing of every single song Tom Waits has played on the American leg of his tour over at Eyeball Kid, which is a drool-inducing jealousyfest for fans like me.

 

In a matter of incredibly arcane Tom Waits trivia, we here at City Sound Inertia bow our heads in remembrance of China Light, the dingiest little Chinese restaurant in Santa Rosa, on the corner of College and Cleveland Avenues. I used to live around the corner from the place, back when it was painted a ridiculous pink color, and every night at about 10pm they’d close so the whole family could eat around a large round table in the family dining room, off to the side. It was sweet. What does this have to do with Tom Waits, you ask? It’s this room that Tom Waits chose for a photo shoot, posing with a book about human oddities, right after Mule Variations was released.

The best thing about China Light, of course, was the beautiful misspelling on its corner sign: “Lunch Specil.”

I’m not sure that Waits ate there very much; he probably just liked how run-down the place looked. Do you remember when a car crashed through the front of the building, and it took the owners 8 months to patch up the gigantic hole? Seriously, for 8 months there was just a pile of bricks and a sheet of cardboard covering the wall. I checked their health code violations on the Sonoma County Food Inspection website once—they had about 5 or 6 critical violations. Not that it mattered; I loved their soup, although it did go a bit downhill. The last time I ate there was the day that Blowfly played at Michele’s, in Santa Rosa, and all I remember is that the chicken was so gooey and undercooked that I was literally spitting it out onto the ground as I left out the front door.

 

Apparently Tom Waits signed his contract with Epitaph at Rinehart’s Truck Stop in Petaluma; or, to be more precise, the now-defunct Zoya’s Truck Stop Cafe. Now that’s a place I miss. A perfect cheap spot between Santa Rosa and San Francisco, with the most amazing painting of an eagle, on the wall above the booths. Run by Russians; on bad days, it smelled more like borscht than burgers. Story goes that Waits was willing to sign with Epitaph, but insisted on meeting label head Brett Gurewitz there. So Gurewitz drove up from L.A. and met him at the truck stop, contract in hand. (It’s on the same exit where the makeshift memorial for Georgia Lee Moses is, immortalized in Mule Variations‘ “Georgia Lee.”)

Greg at Flavor told me tonight that Waits used to come there every Tuesday for a while. Then he stopped. Aw, hell, I could go on and on about Tom Waits—hey, what about restaurants? Bummed that Cafe Japan, right next to Flavor, closed; they were such nice people, and to my mind the best sushi in town. Here’s to a good run.

 

Probably the strangest dining experience I’ve had lately was eating at Mariscos F. Magiy on Sebastopol Road a couple weeks ago. While I ate my squid quesadilla, I was kept company by a very large and smiling bulldog, panting and drooling next to my table. I love dogs, but some guy (who works there? hangs out there? I dunno) saw me and firmly warned, “Stay there. Don’t move.” Eventually he got the bulldog to go back into the kitchen. “He looks friendly,” he said, “but he’ll turn on you.” Hmm. Incidentally, the quesadilla was delicious.

 

Old Santa Rosa diehards like me are all abuzz over the news that Traverso’s is moving to Fountaingrove; it makes sense for them to be across the street from a lot of old people with money, but I will miss them being downtown in a major way. But now who will spend all day politely dealing with people asking for change for the bus? Mr. “Shut Up Hippie” over at Cafe Martin?

I was talking with Michael Traverso, one of the friendliest check-out clerks in the world, after they sold the building and started looking for a new location. Here’s my favorite thing about the move: Michael says they’re completely planning on taking the store’s hardwood floor with them. “Really? You can do that?” I asked him. “Sure!” he said. “It’s the original floor! We moved it from our old location when we moved here!” You gotta love stuff like that.

Is there a copy editor out there who can solve the mystery of the Traverso’s sign? Right next to the smiling man holding a stretch of salami and the promise of “101 Varieties Cheese,” it proudly boasts their motto: “Traverso’s Got It!” Since the name of the joint is Traverso’s, shouldn’t it read “Traverso’s’s Got It?”

The sandwiches at Pete’s market on 4th and Mendocino are better and cheaper anyway.

 

Long overdue are my dorky kudos to the city of Santa Rosa for making our sidewalks more skateboard-friendly! Just about every raised crack in town, it seems, was shaved flat back in the springtime. The skateboarders of the city thank you. Now if only it was legal to ride on the sidewalks!

 

Parking meters, parking meters: those new pay stations are wack and everyone knows it. I’m guessing they’re here to stay, which is ridiculous since there is a much more convenient way for people to pay for their parking. It also requires no adaptation of the city’s current meters: have you ever noticed the credit card-sized slot in the city’s LCD meters? It’s there to accept parking cards, a program that the City of San Francisco has used to great effect. It’s easy: you buy a parking card from City Hall, it has a certain dollar amount on it, and when you park somewhere, you insert it into the slot while the meter counts up. Reach the desired time, remove the card, and that’s that—no change needed.

I asked a woman at City Hall’s Parking & Transit office the other day if there was any possibility of the city issuing parking cards to use in these ready-and-waiting slots. “Not gonna happen,” she said. “Not in this budget cycle, at least.”

The two most plausible theories about the city’s excitement over the new pay stations that I’ve heard are 1) With the new pay stations, the city can make more money because it’s impossible for drivers to tell if there’s money left on a meter, and 2) Some outside city analyst suggested that removing all the parking meters would make the city look nicer.

 

They’re finally fixing the drinking fountain in Courthouse Square, at least.

License plate of the week, parked at the Odd Fellows Hall in Santa Rosa.

I was sitting on some steps eating a sandwich a couple weeks ago and looked over and saw this collection of heroin needles in the bushes. Corner of Mendocino & Silva, where the cops routinely crack down. Kind of a weird place to shoot heroin, in my opinion.

Isn’t this supposed to be a music blog?

I was defeated in a lyric-remembering showdown recently, when Anna Allensworth knew the correct opening line of “Sunday in New York” and I, in shame, did not. I thought it was “New York on Sunday / Big city havin’ a ball.” Anna was right: “New York on Sunday / Big city takin’ a nap.” Two very different things. Congratulations, Anna!

 

In a related tangent, I have been together with Liz now for almost seven years, and only just tonight, I discovered that she knows all the lyrics to “Singin’ in the Rain.” I thought Gene Kelly was the only one who knew more than the first four lines. Congratulations, Liz!

 

After he played it for me one night and I couldn’t shut up about it for days, Josh Staples gave me a copy of an amazing, amazing album: Modern Windows by Bill Barron. It rides a real fine line between post-bop and avant-garde, and it’s all one long uninterrupted suite separated into different movements, and Barron’s tone on the tenor sax is a menace. I love it. Thanks, Josh!

 

The two crappiest music videos I’ve seen all week: “Puff Puff Give” by Hannah’s Field and “No Tight Clothes” by Thug Slaughter Force. Painful shit, folks. Click at your own risk.

Okay—enough rambling. Time to get back to watching The Big Knife. It’s a great film that was part of the United Artists 90th Anniversary Film Festival at Film Forum in New York, but unfortunately not part of the touring version which hits the Rialto at the end of this month. Video Droid‘s got it. Rent it from them, and no, I still don’t have a Netflix account.

The Highlands at the Black Cat

Posted by on Jul 12, 2008

I think I may have just stumbled upon the reason why the Highlands are one of my favorite local bands: they incorporate a zillion different styles of music (punk, jazz, folk, classical, prog, blues, electronica) with the world’s most hands-on, organic approach. It helps, too, I guess, that it took me years to discover and embrace all these styles myself, and when I first saw the Highlands, in 2006, they’d already impressively conquered the holy amalgam before they were old enough to drink.

They were so chaotic and unhinged that first night I saw them, but I knew, with all their propulsive energy and scarred beauty, that I was hooked. I’d say “hooked for life,” except I didn’t at all expect them to last as a band through the end of that year. But here it is, two years later, and the Highlands have survived. Not only that, but they’ve gotten better and more together as the years have rolled on, and though there’s certainly an argument to be made for the innocence of slop, I’ve been preferring the tighter Highlands over the wildly flailing, drumsticks-throttled-everywhere, no-one-playing-exactly-in-time, somersaults-in-the-air, Jesus-Christ-I’m-gonna-get-decapitated-if-I-don’t-get-the-hell-out-of-here Highlands of yore.

Much of the old Highlands’ insanity was catalyzed by Anthony Jiminez and Richard Laws. In fact, the first time I saw Richard, that first night of seeing the Highlands, he was upside-down on top of the crowd, mangling a melodica, and I barely recognized him from the mild, studious bassist I’d come to know through profiling Triste Sin Richard. His movements were entirely unpredictable, and his saxophone playing—reminiscent of the Contortions, or the Magic Band—seemed like an anarchic fuck you to the stringent rules of his classical upbringing. He eventually moved to Portland, formed Church, and thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy: we were sad without Richard.

So it was a shock to stroll into the Black Cat the other night, beneath the bras, and see none else but Richard Laws, setting up with the Highlands. He’s decided to just live in his van for a while and drive around—he’s got a slightly Bobby Darin-esque philosophy about it—so a one-off show with his old friends? No big deal.

As mentioned before, I’ve been pretty stoked on how tight the Highlands have been getting lately, but when I saw Richard, I thought, “Great—there goes that idea.” But you know what? It wasn’t like the old insanity-riddled shows at all. It was stronger and tougher and tighter and better than ever. It was, for a brief six- or seven-song set, a perfect demonstration of everything the Highlands do best.

Take “Gargoyles,” a song from their latest album, The Things I Tell You Will Not Be Wrong. The song itself is conventional, at least by Highlands standards, with chords that sorta make sense together in the subterranean pop idiom; but at the end of the tune, all four members broke from their metaphorical leashes and took off across the playing field. I’d say they all went in different directions, but no—it was more like a pack of excited dogs running circles around each other and generally advancing as a group to the same destination.

“An untamed sense of control”—that’s how Bob Dylan described Roscoe Holcomb and that’s how I think I’ll describe the Highlands. By the set’s closer, the incredible “Ocean of Blood,” which matches the BPMs of the human heart (no shit; on the record, it opens with a haunting, magnified recording of an actual sutured vein thrusting startlingly loud blood cells), the triumph was complete. They’d taken a baritone guitar, a cello, a saxophone and a drum set and turned it into something entirely their own. That you cannot fuck with.

To check out a bunch of other unusually good music from West Sonoma County, check out Astronomy Club Ghost Story, the label that still thinks paying for things sucks.

On The Stereo: 7”s with Gerry Stumbaugh

Posted by on Jul 9, 2008 2 Comments

For this edition of On the Stereo, we welcome my friend and fellow record collector Gerry Stumbaugh. Gerry’s worked at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa for almost ten years now, and he’s hosted the Left of the Dial radio show on KRCB for eight years. His preferred format is 7”s, bless his heart, and while he pounded Negro Modelos and I macked down on some El Farolito, we hung out and listened to nothing but 7”s.

I have to warn you—this play-by-play goes on forever. Click after the jump at your own risk. We’re record nerds. Lots of swearing, too. Sorry, Dad.

Included are discussions of 7”s by Themes, Bikini Kill, the Gaslamp Killer, Ratatat, Built to Spill, Santogold, No Age, Spank Rock, Screeching Weasel and Navy of the Nice, along with tangential excursions into Mexican snack treats, the unusual breakfast diet of Mike Watt, and the follies of WCW Tag Team Wrestling. (more…)

You Give Publicity A Bad Name

Posted by on Jul 9, 2008 2 Comments

This is so ridiculous I’m amazed that I even feel like pointing it out, but despite what you’ll read in just about every corner of the Internet media, no one is actually selling tickets to Bon Jovi’s Central Park concert for $1500.

In case you haven’t heard: 60,000 tickets were distributed free by the city of New York, and the media is having a field day over the fact that one person and one person only posted a Buy It Now listing priced at $1500 for a pair of tickets on eBay.

This does not mean that tickets are “selling” for $1500. All it means is there’s some total schmoe online hoping to dupe someone into paying hella more for something than it’s worth, and I’m sorry to say, but that happens every single day. Good job, Bon Jovi’s publicist!

(A 10-second check of completed eBay listings shows that Bon Jovi tickets are actually selling for about $10 to $20 a pop.)

I, myself, am more inflamed over the increasing prominence of StubHub. They’ve even got TV commercials now.

Here it is, folks: the age is upon us when everyone’s a scalper, none of the concerts you want to see have available face value tickets, and StubHub takes a 25-percent cut of all tickets sold for two, three, five times the face value.

In 38 states, it’s still illegal to sell tickets on the sidewalk outside of a concert, but StubHub, which is owned by eBay, is posting huge profits year after year.

Giving money to a guy on the street: Bad!  Giving money to an $8 billion company traded on NASDAQ: Good!

Los Lobos at the Marin Fair

Posted by on Jul 8, 2008 One Comment

No other band suffers such a disparity between their widely perceived “one hit” and their actual creative prowess as Los Lobos. It’s still one of the great misconceptions in rock and roll: while Los Lobos’ albums Kiko, Colossal Head and Good Morning Aztlan rank amongst the most invigorating and exciting listening experiences of the last fifteen years, drunk accountants in Cabo Wabo T-shirts at the Marin Fair last night still yelled for “La Bamba.”

“Not yet, man,” countered Cesar Rosas, no doubt resigned to the request by now. “If we play it, you’ll all leave!”

No true Los Lobos fan really gives a damn about hearing “La Bamba”—I’ve seen them twice before, and they didn’t play it, and no one asked for their money back. But a County Fair is a different story altogether, and Los Lobos knows this. So you’ve gotta hope that the old trick worked; namely, saving the payoff until the end, while in the meantime providing a look into one of the great catalogs of American music.

I, for one, am completely enamored of Los Lobos, which puts me in the company of bugeyed ex-Deadheads, aging Latino expatriates from L.A., and Sierra Nevada-swillin’ dudes with hairy shoulders. So be it. I love Los Lobos fans, if only to imagine them crawling into work the next morning, bedraggled in the best possible way, while their coworkers chug lattes and try to out-chipper each other with peppy chitchat.

Indeed, the large tent at the Marin Fair—on an island in the middle of a man-made lake—was packed with people preparing to feel like crap the next day. Dancing, swaying, drinking, singing along, and having the time of their life on the ever-festive last night of the fair. At certain moments, such as the ferocious three-way soloing pinnacle David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas and Louie Pérez achieved in “That Train Don’t Stop Here,” it felt like the entire tent might explode.

Other highlights included “Short Side of Nothing,” “The Neighborhood,” “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” and “This Time”—the latter of which Hidalgo started, then looked puzzled for a second, and finally asked the crowd, “Hey. . . who knows the first verse?”

If I’m not mistaken, the band played nothing from Colossal Head nor Good Morning Aztlan, but it didn’t matter—they’re so good live, and so dependent on how they play, that it’s somewhat negligible what they play. A few cumbias, a long blues jam, some newer songs, a guest saxophonist, and hey, they still rule.

If there’s any shrug to be had with the set, it’s that it was almost identical to the last time I saw Los Lobos, an entire five years ago. Then as now, covers included Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” as well as a sing-along of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” segueing into the Dead’s “Bertha,” which sent the twirl brigade off and spinning on the fringes of the island.

But it was the final cover of the night that really lit people up: an encore of “La Bamba.” I made my way around the crowd and saw nothing but smiling, laughing, and getting down; and to my surprise, the aforementioned drunk accountant knew every Spanish word of the song. When Los Lobos seized on the chord progression and interpolated the Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” the place went nuts. How can you argue?

I got a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich, watched the fireworks, rode the Merry-Go-Round, and then walked along the railroad tracks, to the rhythm of the bassline of Colossal Head‘s “Revolution,” stuck in my head, back to my car.

(P.S. Steve Berlin, if you are reading this—I’ve always wanted to ask if you’ve got any idea whether Lee Allen intentionally quoted both “Andalucia” and “Across the Alley from the Alamo” during his saxophone solo for “Roll ‘Em Pete” on the Blasters’ live EP, Over There, or if it was merely a musical accident. I’m totally serious—it’s plagued me for over ten years. Any clue?)

Ian Curtis’ Gravestone Stolen

Posted by on Jul 3, 2008 8 Comments

As reported by BBC News, the gravestone for Joy Division’s Ian Curtis has been stolen this week from its Macclesfield, UK cemetery.

Police and city authorities are “stunned,” “shocked,” and “agog” at the theft, but, like, have they never met any Joy Division fans? Can they really be surprised that the tombstone of a singer with the most death-obsessed fans in the world has been stolen?

More obviously: look at the thing. It’s begging to be stolen. It’s the perfect size to fit in a backpack and it’s held in place by tarmac, for chrissakes. On top of all that, it’s inscribed with the ultimate Joy Division epitaph, “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” I mean, geez. Who wouldn’t think about stealing it?

I don’t wanna seem like I’m rooting for the bad guys, but come on.

(I was way more surprised when Mac Dre’s tombstone got nabbed.)

In News

Ticketmaster Finally Starts To Die

Posted by on Jun 25, 2008

It might not make up for the hundreds of dollars grudgingly given them in exorbitant service charges over the years, but it nonetheless brings a huge smile to my face that Ticketmaster has recently been dumped by its parent company, LAC/InterActiveCorp.

Probably the most surprising fact of the split is that Ticketmaster is currently $750 million in debt.

So, just to get this straight: after charging service fees; after charging facility fees and convenience fees; after charging handling fees; after charging delivery fees—and perhaps most insanely of all, after actually charging a fee to print out your own tickets, on your own printer, at your own home—Ticketmaster is still $750 million in the hole?

I don’t normally say things like this, but man, God bless the Internet and its equalized playing field for finally bringing down those fucking bastards.

In News

SFJAZZ Lineup Announced

Posted by on Jun 24, 2008

The lineup for the new season of SFJAZZ was announced this morning, and once again, it showcases the kind of variety and talent that’s made the ongoing festival one of the Bay Area’s jewels.

The upcoming schedule, running Oct. 3-Nov. 9, includes jazz legends like Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and the Dave Brubeck Quartet; vocalists Jimmy Scott, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Mavis Staples; new blood like Wayne Horvitz and Ravi Coltrane; world musicians Toumani Diabate and Le Trio Joubran; and, for some reason, Randy Newman.

Cecil Taylor, whom I saw about five years ago at the Palace of Fine Arts, rarely plays solo—and in Grace Cathedral, it should be insane. I saw Jimmy Scott a couple years ago at the Herbst Theatre, and he was excellent; age has only slightly slowed him down. Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra at Yoshi’s a few years back demonstrated just how relevant his 40-years-and-running project is, and I have personally seen Ravi Coltrane blow Pharaoh Sanders out of the water on stage, which is saying something.

The guy I’m most excited to see? Saxophonist Archie Shepp, who very rarely comes to the Bay Area. A force that shows no signs of diminishing, Shepp has persevered under the radar as a lesser-known avant-garde artist since his “new thing” heyday of the late 1960s, and I’m not sure what kind of group he’ll have, but in the small Herbst Theatre, how can you go wrong?

Tickets go on sale to the public on Sunday, July 13. Complete lineup and information after the jump, or you can cue it up at the festival’s official website. (more…)

George Michael at the HP Pavilion in San Jose

Posted by on Jun 24, 2008 One Comment

Early on in Thursday night’s show in San Jose, George Michael thanked the rapturous crowd for sticking with him for 25 years. “Lord knows it’s not always easy being a George Michael fan,” he admitted, a self-deprecating statement which could be taken a number of ways—as either a reference to repeated tabloid scandals, or to his lingering reputation as a boy-toy manufactured pop star, or to the fact that he hasn’t toured in America since 1991. For me, the only thing hard about being a George Michael fan is the fact that the hands-down greatest singer-songwriter of my youth has made nothing but totally dull music in the last 15 years. Face it—after Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, it was all downhill.

But the stuff from that album and prior—including almost everything that Wham! did—represents, to me, a special pinnacle in pop music. Admittedly, my opinion is largely due to the fact that I was about 10 when Wham! was at their peak. I went to the Faith tour at the Shoreline Amphitheater in 1988, and as I grew up, George Michael was one of the first pop stars that I watched grow up, and get “mature,” and assimilate other sounds and attitudes into their music. Witnessing the ceremonial torching of his pretty-boy image in the video to “Freedom ‘90” coincided perfectly with my discovery of the Dead Kennedys and the idea that the mainstream music industry was actually a completely corrupt system.

But ultimately, George Michael has written more perfectly constructed pop songs and conveyed more complex sorrow and joy than any pop star on the charts since his relative disappearance thereof in the early 1990s. In his day, George Michael’s accomplishments put him in a category all his own; a star with an inimitable voice who brought a great deal of credibility to pop music.

So back to America Michael came roaring, and during a two-hour show, he gave his patient fans what they wanted. After opening appropriately with “Waiting (Reprise),” Michael tagged onto the end of “Fastlove” a brief portent of total and complete disappointment. By interweaving a murky techno version of his Wham! hit, “I’m Your Man,” onto the end of the dance number “Fastlove”—and then ending it after the first verse—it seemed early on that we’d be treated to an all-too-common occurrence in concerts of has-beens who perform shittier versions of their old hits in medley form. It was worrisome.

But only for a second. “Just kidding!” laughed Michael, and with that, the enormous screens exploded with black & white images from old Wham! videos. The 10-piece band and six-member backup choir erupted into the original version of “I’m Your Man,” and the packed arena became a huge party of huge, beautiful, ridiculous joy. I’ve never seen so many hella frumpy-ass Oprah fans losing their minds at once.

“Pretend it’s 1984!” Michael shouted. “Look at the person next to you and imagine them with five times more hair!”

The extended version of “Everything She Wants” continued the arena-wide sing-along, and the back-to-back renditions of “One More Try” and “A Different Corner” were like a wrenching emotional slaughter. After a 20-minute break, “Faith” kicked off the second set, and against all odds, it’s wasn’t actually the most unnecessary song of the night—that dubious honor would go to a cover of the Police’s “Roxanne,” which no one in their right mind ever wants to hear again.

During the second set, Michael turned more towards his post-Listen Without Prejudice dance numbers. “How many people here are from San Francisco?” he asked, relating that the first day he landed in America, he’d turned on the TV and seen same-sex couples getting married. He then announced that “this song is for my partner, Kenny,” and performed “Amazing,” a dippy reminder of how contented happiness and artistic decline can go hand-in-hand.

But the dance numbers ebbed during the perfect encores, which included a stripped-down version of “Praying for Time,” an obligingly true-to-form “Careless Whisper,” and a rousing closer in “Freedom ’90.” Driving home the two hours back to Santa Rosa, it was hard to imagine being any more satisfied. We’ll see if George Michael sticks with his promise to never perform in public again after this tour is over, but if it’s actually the case, then his concert in San Jose was about a fine farewell as anyone of his fans could imagine.

The only way it could have been better?

If Deon Estes were there.

More photos and set list after the jump. (more…)



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