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Tom Waits Tours; Eugene Hütz Wanders Off

Posted by on May 5, 2008

Living, as we do, in the same area as one of the greatest songwriters to ever live, we here at City Sound Inertia HQ heard through the grapevine long ago that Tom Waits was touring this year “through the south.” And knowing, as we do, of Waits’ propensity to keep the king away from his castle, so to speak, we didn’t hold our breath for a Bay Area show.

Waits announced his tour this morning. A round-trip ticket to Phoenix, AZ is $240. We’re seriously considering it.

June 17 – Phoenix, AZ | June 18 -Phoenix, AZ | June 20 – El Paso, TX | June 22 – Houston, TX | June 23 – Dallas, TX | June 25 – Tulsa, OK | June 26 – St Louis, MO | June 28 – Columbus, OH | June 29 – Knoxville, TN | July 1 – Jacksonville, FL | July 2 – Mobile, AL | July 3 – Birmingham, AL | July 5 – Atlanta, GA

In other news, correspondents tell us that Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz totally fuckin’ rocked the walls off the French Garden restaurant on Saturday night in Sebastopol. To finish off his time spent at the Herdeljezi Festival, Hütz lined up a bunch of shot glasses along a table, filled them with strong liquor, and imbibed to his Romani heart’s content while climbing on top of chairs and powering through a fiery set of traditional gypsy tunes. (You can read David Sason’s Bohemian interview with Hütz here.)

Hütz had been spending the weekend staying at his buddy Les Claypool’s house, and someone close to the Claypool family informs us that Hütz’s wandering spirit must have overtaken him after the show on Saturday.

He never came home that night.

In News

Collapsing Under the Weight of Loma Prieta

Posted by on Apr 23, 2008 One Comment

I heard some of the final mixes of Loma Prieta’s new full-length last week. I can’t even describe it. It’s insane.

I’m not the first one to note the disconnect between the band members’ calm, collected personalities and Loma Prieta‘s unhinged, ballistic hardcore, I know, but it’s still shocking to hear them play like electrocuted behemoths on PCP. The album, from the songs I heard, is a sprawling, crazed fury of invention, and holy crapballs, the band is actually touring Europe next month. Europe!

The record, called Last City, comes out May 9. A record release show happens that night at the Bike Kitchen in SF.

Aye, I Must Capitalize Eighth Blackbird

Posted by on Apr 23, 2008

Which is a shame, really, since they’re one of the best damn classical groups in the country and yet they insist on being called.. . ugh. . . can’t do it. . .. eighth blackbird. For reasons too long to get into here, I’ll allow the privilege of decapitalization to fIREHOSE, but not to Eighth Blackbird; I will, however, say that they were great at the Healdsburg Community Church last week.

It takes a lot to get me inside a church on any day of the week—let alone a Sunday. I suppose some free Tanqueray and J.M. Rosen’s cheesecake at a party hosted by MF Doom with a Susan Hayward look-alike contest and the complete works of Joan Miró on display might do the trick. Either that, or a performance hosted by the fantastic Russian River Chamber Music Society, which for over 16 years has been presenting free chamber music performances in Sonoma County, taking a close second.

So after a visit to the Great Eastern Quicksilver Mine and a dip in the river at Camp Rose, I did the unthinkable and went to church. Eighth Blackbird was just starting, and I immediately realized I’d made the right choice. Their first piece was a wacky thing for violin, clarinet, and piano, and it was both painstakingly precise and yet totally off-the-cuff; the fourth movement, fittingly, was titled after an R. Crumb comic: “Cancel my rumba lesson!”

The next piece utilized a de-tuned viola growling like a UPS truck, and after that, a composition, “Musique de Tables,” was played completely by the rapping of hands, fingers, knuckles and arms upon a tabletop. “Coming Together” was a hilarious duo for cello and clarinet consisting entirely of glissandi, sounding, as introduced, like a conversation between two adults from the Peanuts television specials—the two players wandered around the room, “talking” to each other in a very convincing primal dialogue. And the final piece was pure insanity, another highly complex thing that left me wondering: how do they rehearse this stuff?

Here’s the deal with Eighth Blackbird. What they do, they could be hella pretensh about it, but they’re not; they laughed along with the crowd at the ridiculous moments, they concentrated along with the crowd at the complicated passages, and they came off as very personable and real. The next day I read a tepid review in the Chronicle about ‘em, which was too bad, because I couldn’t see anyone disliking them based on the Healdsburg show. [alas, they played a completely different program.]

Avant-garde music is usually the province of middle-aged intellectuals, but I’d wager to say that any 5-year old—or anyone with an open heart of any age—would easily be ecstatic with Eighth Blackbird. And to think that every composition they performed was written no earlier than 1987! Consider yourself lucky if you were there, and thanks to Gary McLaughlin and the RRCMS for booking ‘em.

Japanese Jazz

Posted by on Apr 23, 2008 4 Comments

I’d never really given much thought to jazz from Japan before, but I recently came into a few records that’ve instigated a full-blown obsession whose duration has yet to be determined. This stuff kicks ass! Here’s a few of my favorites lately.

Takehiko Honda – Jodo - The title track alone, a chilling 11-minute dirge, is out of this world and is the reason everyone should track down this record. Reggie Workman bows his bass maniacally, sliding all over the fretboard, while Honda plays these terrifying chords up and down the piano. The whole tune is either one big fit of tension or one big release; I still can’t tell which, but it’s great. It just goes on and on! I love it.

 

Terumasa Hino – Tera’s Mood - Everything I’ve heard from Hino’s group in the early ’70s—with Mikio Masuda, Yoshio Ikeda, and Motohiko Hino—has been top-notch, and this live record, from 1973, is my favorite. “Alone, Alone and Alone” lives up to its name as a sparse invocation, then “Taro’s Mood” rips into an ultrafast pace with Masuda killing it, and “Predawn” has everybody shredding, especially Motohiko Hino on drums.

 

Kosuke Mine – Mine - Yet again, the sense of discovery here is overwhelming. Like, who the hell is Kosuke Mine, right? But dude, it’s great! This seems to be the first record released on the Three Blind Mice label, which released a lot of jazz from Japan in its day. This one’s from 1970, and features a fine take on Joe Henderson’s “Isotope” with some out-there originals augmented by Fender rhodes and Hine’s angular saxophone.

 

Takao Uematsu – Debut - “Inside Parts” is your standard blues and “Sleep, My Love” actually contains direct quotes from “A Love Supreme,” but when Uematsu’s playing solos he’s his own man. A mostly mid-tempo record, Uematsu nonetheless blows the hell out of his tenor, even on ballads. A trombonist named Takashi Imai comes correct with some inventive playing, too. Nice version of “Stella by Starlight,” but wait. . .

 

Terumasa Hino – Live! - Hino takes the cake again with a way better version of “Stella by Starlight,” and you guessed it—it’s the same early ’70s group. “Sweet Lullaby” is a good example of Hino’s forte; it fills empty spaces with just the right jabs, and Side Two is one long jam called “Be and Know” that even gets into some boogie rock with Hino wailing in the upper register. It’s 30 minutes long, all on one side! Such a great band, this one.

Bikini Kill in Santa Rosa, 1993

Posted by on Apr 16, 2008 2 Comments

Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite shows in Santa Rosa was the night in 1993 when Bikini Kill, illuminated by a semicircle of car headlights, played in someone’s backyard in Roseland.

I’ve stopped trying to tell the story, partly because the eventual ascension of Bikini Kill to indie icons in the general consciousness taints any kind of retelling with the risk of a coattail-riding smarminess—especially, y’know, coming from a dude—but mostly because I really just can’t do it any sort of justice.

Luckily for us all, Leilani Clark hits the thing out of the park in this post about the show, with all the wide-eyed awe that just about everyone in the backyard experienced that night. Read it here.

In the year or so before the show happened—advertised only by hastily photocopied handbills a couple days ahead of time—me and all my friends had all played the hell out of Bikini Kill’s first EP, marveling at its economy of purpose. They used simple statements and actions to convey what a lot of Bay Area bands had been trying to say in words, words, and more words. I know it sounds like a cliché, but they changed my ideas about what a band could be—even when, in 1993, I was of the age where I’d prided myself (falsely, it would turn out) on seeing it all.

The Bikini Kill show in the backyard was inspiring, thrilling, and confusing, all at the same time, and it took me a few years to figure out just what the hell had happened. (The only thing that I can add to Leilani’s account is that my friend Andy went up to one of the band members afterwards, and said, “Hey, you guys were really good,” to which she shot back, “We’re not guys.”)

Last night I dug through some boxes and found some pictures that I took at the show:

I found the flyer too:

…and the setlist.

 

Bartók, Brahms, Janácek at the Santa Rosa Symphony

Posted by on Apr 13, 2008

During my interview with Christopher O’Riley about his performance with the Santa Rosa Symphony of Bartók’s Piano Concerto no. 3, he warned of the difficulties involved in the concerto’s second movement: “It’s really important to get the mix right with the orchestra, and to have them participatory instead of deferentially,” he said. “It’s a real concerto for piano with orchestra, not piano and orchestra. And so hopefully we’ll get that right.”

O’Riley, who strode to the stage last night in a dramatic, long black button-up coat, handled Bartok’s swiftly shifting themes in the first movement with keen versatility. The second movement, as predicted, tested the delicate balance between O’Riley and the orchestra—truthfully, a strenuous challenge of musical ESP—but the seesaw only faltered a couple times during passages of whimsy, somber tones and mid-century blues lines. And the triumphant finale after the third movement brought the crowd to their feet as O’Riley determinedly yanked conductor Bruno Ferrandis off the podium to clasp hands, orchestra and pianist together sharing in the praise.

One of the nice things that Ferrandis has brought to the Santa Rosa Symphony is variety, and tonight’s set included Janácek’s suspense-ridden From the House of the Dead overture, played beautifully. (Incidentally, I watched Brian De Palma’s Sisters last week, mostly to hear Bernard Herrmann’s score, and the overture reminded me of Herrmann, famous for his work with Alfred Hitchcock.) Brooding pulses, high-pitched discord and yes—I’m not kidding—clanging steel chains, rattled in time to the music.

After the intermission, the orchestra was completely in its element for Brahms’ Symphony no. 1, full of sweeping passages, nice solos (particularly the flute) and a crescendo-busting, whiz-bang ending. Just when the night couldn’t have ended any better, it was announced that this very month marks the 80th anniversary of the Santa Rosa Symphony (which presented its first performance in April of 1928) and to mark the occasion there was free cake and champagne for everyone afterwards in the lobby. Right on!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

P.S. Christopher O’Riley, well-known as an interpreter of Radiohead, Nick Drake, and Elliott Smith, felt pretty weird about being billed as a “hipster” pianist. But I can understand why. After all, how many classical soloists know how to play Guided by Voices’ “Surgical Focus”? And how many classical soloists have this as their ringback music?:

Quick Ones, While He’s Away

Posted by on Apr 6, 2008

The Black Keys – Attack & Release (Nonesuch): I’d always written off these guys as a retro act, because for years that’s essentially what they were. But for this completely excellent album, they’ve dropped all ties to Cream and sound off with fresh sonic fabric: there’s organ, flute, tambourine, piano, bass clarinet, and the whole thing has an incredibly warm, organic quality to it that their last album lacked. The songs are great, Marc Ribot and Ralph Carney are on it, Danger Mouse doesn’t cheese it up too hard and the whole thing’s a slam dunk. If this is the new white boy blues, sign me up.

Nick Cave – Dig, Lazarus, Dig! (Anti-): Homeboy is on a roll. I loved Abbatoir Blues, didn’t care for Grinderman, but this is back on track. “Moonland” has that great brooding quality, and there’s a few litanies with spoken-sung lyrics, as in “We Call Upon the Author.” Not too many people can pull off the sermon thing the way Nick Cave does, and he gets downright Dylanesque on the 8-minute closing cut, “More News From Nowhere.”

Boredoms – Super Roots 9 (Thrill Jockey): Other than Seadrum / House of Sun, there’s been no existing recording of the Boredoms that comes close to capturing the band’s mind-blowing live shows. Until now. This live set, from 2004, has the three-drummer setup with Yamatsuka Eye on electronics and—get this—a 24-piece choir. If you’ve been longing for more of the drum-based pounding that the Boredoms plunged headlong into at the turn of the millennium, pick this up.

Man Man – Rabbit Habits (Anti-): This will inevitably get compared to Tom Waits, but that’s not fair to either Waits nor Man Man. Sure, there’s circus elements, gravelly vocals, and stompy bluesy tracks (“Big Trouble”), but on the whole this is just a really quirky, creative record. Yes, the guitarist has obviously been studying his Ribot (“Easy Eats or Dirty Doctor Galapagos”) and the vocalist goes into those high squeaks that Waits nails so well (“Top Drawer”) but I don’t think Waits fans will find a lot here to embrace. It’s more of a Sleepytime Gorilla Museum thing.

Mountain Goats – Tallahassee (4AD): The victory of this day is beyond instant human comprehension, my friends. The Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee, after six years, has finally been released on vinyl. Praise almighty, 4AD! This was the second greatest album released in the year 2002 and remains the best Mountain Goats album by far. One of the most mesmerizing opening songs ever—such construction, such poetry—and “No Children” will fuck you up so badly you won’t know what hit you. Get this, get this, get this.

Too Short at the Phoenix Theater

Posted by on Apr 6, 2008 One Comment

Just six years ago in 2002, a completely mixed crowd at the Phoenix Theater, much older, lost their heads and loudly sang along to every line of “Life is… Too Short.” Last night, in the middle of Too Short’s headlining set, the classic guitar hook came in and… nothing. Kids just stood there.

Everyone knew Too Short would have legs—he’s always had determination beyond his peers—but it’s a miracle how long those legs have reached. While most rappers his age (he’s 41) can’t get beyond their past glories, Too Short holds a rare set of reins on the here and now. The sold-out crowd went wild for new hits like “Blow the Whistle” and verses from his collaborations with Kelis (“Bossy”) and T-Pain (“I’m in Love with a Stripper,” amending his verse with shout-outs to Petaluma) but then stood in dumbfounded silence at Short’s career-making 1987 anthem, “Freaky Tales.”

Appealing to a new generation is one thing, but commanding enough concrete attention to build a Berlin Wall to the past is a hustle of another color.

The vibe at the Phoenix was hot and the whole night felt good. All eyes were on this show, and increased security and police couldn’t stop people from having a great time—it’d be like trying to keep a congregation from praying in church.

The Pack, Short’s protégées, commanded the stage with a solid set. Young groups with four distinct personalities always hit, and they’ve got the trick down: there’s the backpack guy in purple and pink; the Usher-type sex symbol in sagging jeans, white tank top and shades; the basic G in a sports cap and T-shirt; and the perpetually smiling laid-back guy in dreads. Now that they’re 18, they’ve graduated from rapping about bikes to rapping about cars. Bets currently being taken on which one has the most successful solo career (a 15-to-2 that they’ll stay together as long as Souls of Mischief).

Whoever does the Pack’s production has hip-hop minimalism mastered: “Vans” was deliciously razor-thin, but some of the newer songs last night used spare, fluttering basslines in a way that hasn’t been touched since Z-Trip & Del’s “Dynasty” 12”.

Erk tha Jerk, who I went out of my way to see, had pretty unique songs but the unforgiving crowd wasn’t feelin’ it at all, yelled “you suck” and threw their water at him. Shame. And J-Stalin was good, with one major problem that he shared with Erk; both of them rapped over their own vocal tracks. Why do fans let performers get away with that?

I will beat this horse to a bloody pulp: rapping over your own vocal tracks is the weakest shit ever. It’s not hard at all to make instrumentals, and it’ll allow the opportunity to showcase your skills instead of being lazy and relying on prerecorded vocals. Anyone with me on this one?

Despite that, everything else about the show was great, and hopefully hip hop will continue to thrive around here. Kudos to the people swimming through dire straits to make it happen: D-Sharpe, DJ Amen, Noizemakers, and, as ever, Tom Gaffey and the Phoenix Theater.

Live Review: Freddie Hubbard at Yoshi’s

Posted by on Apr 4, 2008 8 Comments

Freddie Hubbard, four days shy of his 70th birthday, staggered out onto the Yoshi’s stage last night with a flugelhorn and a menacing scowl. Mean and disorderly, he waved his arms to stop “Now’s The Time,” barking at the band. How dare they?

The guys had been killing time, waiting for Hubbard to show up long after he’d been announced. First couple silent minutes on stage had been rough. What the hell else were they supposed to do? Hubbard—pissed off, cantankerous—counted off a tune, placed his legendary lips into his mouthpiece, and leaned into the microphone for yet another painful struggle to get any kind of sound out of his horn.

A few notes here. A contorted face of disgust. A few notes there. A disappointed survey of his valves. A few notes—no, wait, just a garbled line of noise, actually.

Fuck it.

Hubbard hobbled to the back of the stage, thrusting his hand to no one in particular to start the next solo, and sat down, shooting bitter glances around the depressing scenario.

I was one of the best fucking players, he thought. Look at me now. Can’t even string four notes together. This busted lip, what a goddamned farce. Make Bobby Hutcherson play a ballad—that’ll spare me a few minutes, at least.

“I haven’t done anything in the last five years,” he muttered to the crowd, “except get operations.” Limping around the stage as if to collapse at any second, he accused other members on the bandstand of having more money than him, asking about Hutcherson’s yacht. “I got 300 records,” he boasted. “Buy twenty of ‘em and I’ll stay alive.”

“Hub-tones!” someone yelled. Hubbard’s already-sinister frown turned vicious. “Too fast,” he grumbled.

Leave the trumpet for five years, man, and it leaves you, he thought. All these fucking people, only here to say they saw me before I kick off. They don’t wanna hear me play just like I don’t wanna try anymore. Let’s end this shit. “Red Clay.”

Probably better if they can’t even hear me, he thought. An idea hit.

The bassline kicked in, and Freddie Hubbard, without a doubt one of the greatest and most versatile jazz trumpeters of all time, puckered his withered lips against his horn, hunched over, and angrily mimicked the motions of a trumpet solo the only possible way he could: in absolute silence.

Merle Haggard at the LBC

Posted by on Apr 2, 2008

Near the beginning of Merle Haggard’s hour-long set tonight, he turned to the crowd and inexplicably asked, “No caffeine?!”

Er. . . Huh?

“No steroids? No crank?!” What was Haggard getting at?

Then the bomb: “Maybe a little herb!”

The aroma at a Merle Haggard show is just like any other country show: a time-honored combination of stale cigars, Copenhagen, cheap perfume and Jack Daniels. But the smell of marijuana guaranteed that we weren’t at no wussy-ass Dierks Bentley concert. From the guys out in the parking lot flaming up the reef, to the random whiffs in the lobby, to Haggard’s new song, “Half of My Garden is for Willie,” weed was the order of the night. And that suits the 70 year-old, white-haired Haggard—who still acts like a goofy little kid with a big heart—very well.

Acting out the song in adolescent, animated gestures, Haggard sang about the “tobacco, mushrooms, and cannabis” in his garden, and how half of it he’d give to Willie Nelson because “a man like that shouldn’t have to grow his own.” It brought the house down.

But by far the set’s highlight was one of the greatest songs ever written: “If I Could Only Fly.” The utmost of tenderness, the prettiest of melodies, the timelessness of the lyrics—everything about the Blaze Foley song cast a hush over the normally boisterous crowd, who shouted requests and rampantly ignored the ‘No Cameras’ signs throughout the bulk of the show. In the song’s quiet smallness, it attracted the most undivided attention of the night.

Hit-song standbys included “Silver Wings,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Guess I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “Swinging Doors,” “Big City,” and “Workin’ Man Blues,” and much to the surprise of the crowd, Haggard actually performed “Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee,” which in recent years he’s either tried to justify as spoofs or plain disowned outright.

Haggard’s also good for whatever latest ballad Willie Nelson’s written; the last time I saw him, in 2005, he sang “It Always Will Be,” and tonight, it was “Back to Earth.” The Strangers, his 10-piece backing band, played as fantastically as they always have (that drummer’s bones know when the song ends), and Haggard still has a hell of a voice.

Haggard was warm and welcoming to the crowd—much more so than most country stars of his vintage. He started “I Wish Things Were Simple Again” in the wrong key, which distracted him so much that he accidentally sang “My dad was a lady. . .” He stopped the song, everyone laughed, he made a couple jokes about “jambalay, crawfish pie, and be gay-o,” and then got back on track. At other times he joked about pulling up his bra, and said “I might be a transvestite!” He also spent a good deal of time criticizing the city of Redding, where in his words, “talent goes to die.”

Haggard’s playing Redding tomorrow night. Something tells me his talent will survive.