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Dear Mark

Posted by on Mar 10, 2008 2 Comments

Stop worrying about the Vampire Weekend record and just give in. That’s the great thing about records—you can love them hella hard for a week or two and then abandon them entirely with no guilt. I was lucky enough to hear it before the hype kicked in, so my view was pure and untainted, which is an enormous asset. I loved it immediately and unabashedly; it’s so catchy and precocious and instantly attractive. And yet, I’ll freely admit that after just a month I hardly listen to the thing anymore. It lasted for a couple weeks at best, a red hot love affair that died in the best possible way—with no strings attached. Come to think of it, if you’ve been hearing about them in as many places as they’ve been talked about, it might be too late for you at this point. Now it’s like Vampire Weekend is the town floozy that’s seduced and slept with everyone else already. There’s no mystery involved, they’ve got some conspicuous stains on their clothes, and their perky cuteness comes off as a pitiful faux-twee attempt to convert yet another into their bedpost victories.

Sometimes I really hate the new media and its hyper-advanced condition of propping up and knocking down, don’t you?

That said, “A-Punk” and “M79″ were the wrong songs to play on Saturday Night Live. For all of their varied influences, “A-Punk” always sounds like Operation Ivy’s “Artificial Life” to me, and as for “M79″—it’s pretty impressive that they found players to manage the hyperfast bridge, but the whole thing just screams out “Look, we’ve got a string quartet playing with us!”

It’s cool on the record, but it’s convoluted and awkward in person:

On The Stereo

Posted by on Mar 4, 2008

Just a selection of records that’ve been on the stereo lately.


Deerhoof – Milk Man LP: I saw them the other week and they were never as good as this record. They eventually evolved a little bit to blend sweetness and chaos – the two are still separated on this album, and that’s great.


Pantera – Far Beyond Driven LP: Me and Hesh used to rock this shit hard in ’94 at 714. Somehow over the years I lost it, but the other day Dave sold it back. Thanks, Dave. Some albums kind of gently work under your skin, or slowly hit your consciousness. This is one that goes straight to your blood.


Kraftwerk – S/T 2LP: Every once in a while I nerd out on some German crapola like Neu! or Peter Brotzmann. This is early stuff, before Kraftwerk had “songs.” It’s a lot of glitchy noise, which matches the sounds in my head, from time to time.


Ruby Braff – Braff! LP: A great trumpet player who unfortunately often sounds like the cliche of ‘jazz trumpet player’ much like Coleman Hawkins sometimes sounds like the cliche of ‘jazz saxophone player.’ Too bad; following his solos is like talking to a really funny, witty person.


The Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever LP: My favorite record of 2007. It made me guiltlessly happy every single time I listened to it. It still does.


Curtis Mayfield – Live 2LP: The smallest band, the biggest heart. Does he really play a Carpenters song and make it sound like the most sincere thing ever? Yes, he does. An exercise in minimalist soul.


David Murray – 3D Family 2LP: Goddamn eyes rolling into the back of his head, goddamn horn falling apart under the weight of his lungs. I saw him last year in NYC with my dad. Indescribable.


Spank Rock – Yoyoyoyoyoyo 2LP: Sleazy, juicy, do-me, sweaty, sticky, bring it on, dance-even-if-you-can’t-dance album. It grows on you in a pretty harsh way. Production sounds like the dance music from a strip club on Mars.


Pinhead Gunpowder – Carry The Banner 10″: “What a shitty version of a Diana Ross song,” I thought when I first bought this. Then, a couple weeks ago at Gilman, they finished their set with it and it was the GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD. Why is life so unpredictable and why do I love that so much?


The Watery Graves – Caracas LP: If Bill Evans were alive in 2008 and worked at La Sirenita in NE Portland, he’d make music like this.


Celia Cruz – Canta LP: Good old Cuban music. A little goes a long way, but it’s always good for at least Side A or Side B while cleaning up the house.


Bobby Short – S/T LP: None more expressive, down to the tiniest fraction of a syllable. An amazing interpreter and filled with such gayness. In that, yes, gay, and yes, hella vivacious and exuberant. I bought this on the last night Village Music was open, at about 11:45 pm, along with an autographed Atlantic Starr record.


Can – Ege Bamyasi LP: After all these years of working at a record store and I managed to resist the Can thing for almost the entire run. It finally hit me this year.


Mary Lou Williams – Zoning LP: Jazz with a lot of open space in which to think about God and a lot of recurring grooves to pull you back to reality. I never understood why everyone was so crazy about her until I heard this.


Moggs – The White Belt is Not Enough LP: A great Petaluma band. Those words are rarely if ever typed together, I know, but it’s true. Heavy, fucked-up, Sonic Youth art school sort of stuff. Some parts just get repeated forever and ever and it’s so satisfying.


Headlights – Kill Them With Kindness LP: Swirly beautiful pop music with boy-girl harmonies, keyboards, well-crafted songwriting. . . sounds like a rocket taking off. Never gets old. They’ve got a new one that just came out last week and I’m dying to hear it.

Cursive at the Phoenix Theater

Posted by on Mar 2, 2008

<– These little scraps of paper were found scattered backstage while Cursive played last night, ascertained as the proposed end of a set list that had apparently been scrapped. “Hey,” a friend of mine said, “can you believe they wouldn’t play these songs?!” I checked it out, saw some damn great songs consigned to the the backstage cutting floor, and I agreed that no, I could not believe it.

Cursive showcased a lot of new material last night, and even apologized for it (the band’s recording soon and they’re “road-testing” new material), although a number of vintage crowd-pleasers made their way into the set: “Sierra,” “Art is Hard,” and the never-fail one-two punch of “The Casualty” and “The Martyr” from what’s still their greatest album, Domestica. Thusly teased, the crowd heavily laid on the applause at the end.

Backstage, someone in the band must have found one of the scraps of paper with the jettisoned songs, because for their encore, not only did they play them—hell yeah—but for “Big Bang” Tim Kasher brought the microphone out into the middle of the Phoenix Theater’s floor and sang amongst a circular flock of hyped-up fans. It ruled. The song rules. I felt the magnetic pull and joined in.

And then, good god, Kasher started playing the unimposing guitar intro to “Sink to the Beat”—tossing out a “We miss you, Clint” to the ex-drummer who practically defined the song—and plowed into the jam of all jams: “I’d like to make this perfectly clear…” It was mayhem out on the floor: a sweet unification of a great song, a cluster of strangers all singing the great song, and directly in the eye of the storm, weathering the busy tides of excited bodies on all sides, the guy who wrote it.

Kasher grabbed the mic stand, hopped back up on stage, finished the song, and called it a night. Crazy to think that what was originally ripped from the bottom of the set list turned into the awesomest part of the show.

—————————————————

Lookin’ Good: How ’bout those new curtains at the Phoenix on the stage and side walls? And the fresh paint job on the ceiling and balcony? As someone remarked last night, “It looks like a real theater again.” I mentioned it to Tom Gaffey and he was pretty stoked about it too, pointing out that more interior painting is on the way but no, they’re not going to do away with the graffiti murals.

Also: Tim Kasher seemed pretty happy after the show, hanging out and chatting about Omaha, the on-stage patter mastery of Neva Dinova, and how triumphant it felt to perform “Big Bang” in Colorado Springs, a bastion of Christian fundamentalism. Somehow the conversation turned to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, and Tim recalled being a student in Lawrence, Kansas and reading about the funerals that Phelps and his lower-than-shit organization picket. “And I distinctly remember fantasizing,” he said, “in my more-angsty youth, about being the one, you know, that bought the gun…” Right on, brother.

In News

Sonoma Jazz Festival Announced

Posted by on Mar 1, 2008 3 Comments

The lineup for the Fourth Annual Sonoma Jazz Festival has been announced. Let the bickering begin!

Thursday, May 22: Kool and the Gang
Friday, May 23: Herbie Hancock
Saturday, May 24: Diana Krall
Sunday, May 25: Bonnie Raitt, Keb’ Mo

Yup—as in each of the first three years of the festival, there’s a couple of acts in the Memorial Day Weekend lineup who could hardly be classified as “jazz.” At this point, it’s a local tradition that seems frivolous to argue, but it nonetheless consistently succeeds in getting hardcore jazz fans riled up to the nth degree.

Steve Winwood and Boz Scaggs, both headliners at the 2005 inaugural festival, rose the eyebrows early. Steve Miller and B.B. King stoked the fumes in 2006. Last year may have been the harshest of all: LeAnn Rimes and Michael McDonald.

Maybe that’s why festival directors have changed the name – slightly. Much like the Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park became “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass,” the Sonoma Jazz Festival is officially known as “Sonoma Jazz +.”

As residents of the “Jazz” arena, both Diana Krall and Herbie Hancock are making return appearances at the festival, with the indefatigable Hancock recently handed a what-the-hell Album of the Year Grammy Award for his Starbucks-friendly sort-of-Joni-Mitchell tribute River: The Joni Letters.

Kool and the Gang, Bonnie Raitt and Keb Mo are gonna have to be content with the “+” category, although after scoping out the crowd in previous years, I hardly think that the average Sonoma Jazz attendee will mind all that much. As for the expensively-dressed and well-Chardonnayed woman sitting behind us last year who continually talked on her cell phone, well, I doubt she’d even notice.

But I have to personally hand it to the directors of this crazy weekend festival. Whatever your take on their choice of booking, they’re bringing world-class talent to an event with an impeccably well-run yet laid-back atmosphere—I mean jeez, it’s held in a tent on a baseball diamond, fer cryin’ out loud. The mood around the festival is jovial and swank, the shows are often sold out, and everyone generally leaves happy.

Here’s another thing you can’t argue with: to reward local residents, tickets go on sale in the town of Sonoma on Saturday, March 8 at the Sonoma Community Center from 2-6pm. Out-of-towners, positively hungry to boogie down to “Ladies’ Night” and “Celebration,” have to wait until the nationwide release of tickets, two days later, on March 10. Pricing and ticket info for the general public is served up here, but the March 8 pre-sale for locals is a strictly in-the-know kind of thing. Cool deal.

Hooked on Campaign Songs

Posted by on Feb 27, 2008

Vaginals in the Crux Basement

Posted by on Feb 27, 2008 One Comment

I’ve had “For Reverend Green” by Animal Collective stuck in my head all day, and it wasn’t until I got off work and started pedaling towards the Crux House that I figured out why I like that song so much. It’s essentially a bunch of totally strange, disparate sonic elements, but they’ve been identified and recast as new ingredients of a cohesive composition with structure, melody, and form. It combines just the right amount of adventure in creating a familiar end result, which is how all good songs that get stuck in your head should be.

I was still thinking about this when I made my way down to the basement at the Crux House tonight to watch a band from San Diego, whom I knew nothing about, called Vaginals. Three girls, one guy, and in devout subscription to the hipster code, no “the.”

The band started playing, and I was immediately intrigued at how off the wall they were. Weird singing! Discordant guitar solos! Everyone playing unusual instruments in different keys!

But as their set plodded on, the potential faded along with any initial thrill. Vaginals seem to view adventure as both the means and the end, with no solidified result other than ingratiation. The totally strange, disparate sonic elements were all there—lots of cool shit like delayed vocals, thumb piano, modified synthesizer, harmonica, cello, maracas, haphazardly-played drums—but none of them ever came together to resemble what’s commonly referred to as a song.

Okay, okay, there were two things that sounded like songs. One of them started with the line “I’m not waiting around for your review” (which I hope is actually the case, because they’re not likely to appreciate this one very much) and ended with the hopelessly steamrolled-into-the-ground doll reference: “I’m not one of those perfect Barbie girls.” The other one rhymed “Slim” with “Jim” and “Gin” and “Him” over and over again in a screeching fake Southern accent. You get the picture.

Near the end, during a Residents cover, just for a quick second, I saw their singer crack a rare smile, and it was then that I realized what had been missing. Where was the fun?! It’s fine to be art-school charlatans who make crappy noise that makes no sense, but damn, at least have some fun while you’re doing it. Realistically, that’s the only way anyone’s gonna take you seriously, unless it’s 1965 and you’re John Tchicai.

The Beach Boys, 1964

Posted by on Feb 25, 2008 6 Comments

The year was 1964, back when Santa Rosa was a completely different town than the city we know it as today. The population: 35,000. Hardly a considerable tour stop for a group with a huge hit on the charts.

The Beach Boys’ All Summer Long had just been released in July, and its big hit, “I Get Around,” was lighting up Top 40 radio. So it was a pretty big deal when KPLS 1150 AM radio announced that the Beach Boys were coming to perform at the Veterans’ Memorial Building in Santa Rosa. Tickets, priced at $2.50, went on sale at the station’s office in Coddingtown, and word spread throughout Santa Rosa’s drive-ins and high schools like wildfire.

On the night of the show, the capacity crowd filed into the auditorium and sat politely in rows of folding chairs. The curtain opened, and the Beach Boys, clad in their trademark vertical-striped shirts, launched immediately into their current smash hit: “I Get Around.” The set list included “409,” “Fun Fun Fun,” “Surfer Girl,” “Be True To Your School,” and “Surfin’ Safari,” among others, and the audience stayed in their seats the whole time—a matter of personal dignity that Beatlemania would soon render obsolete.

Of course, there’s no reason why I should know this, except that my dad, who bought tickets numbered #0006 and #0007, remembers it like it was yesterday. After all, at age 12, it was his first concert. I suppose it was a pretty big deal for my grandpa, too, who was cool enough to change out of his mailman uniform after work and go with his kid to the rock ‘ roll show.

Fast-forward to 2008: The Wells Fargo Center Luther Burbank Center has booked the Beach Boys for August 2, and it’s being advertised as the Beach Boys’ “First Time in Santa Rosa.”

It’s a nice thought and all—and tickets, against all sensible odds, appear to be selling well—but I know a few people who grew up around here who’d have a pretty good case with which to argue the claim.

In News

Healdsburg Jazz: Off the F’n Heez for ’08

Posted by on Feb 25, 2008 One Comment

The lineup for the 10th Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival has just been announced, and it’s totally out of this world. Charlie Haden, Kenny Barron, and Joshua Redman together. The Bobby Hutcherson Quartet. Bennie Maupin and James Newton playing Eric Dolphy. The Cedar Walton Trio. Even Don Byron, in some configuration or another, makes an appearance.

It doesn’t stop there: also dropping in this year are Eddie Palmieri and Pete Escovedo, Fred Hersch and Kurt Elling, the Julian Lage Trio, the John Heard Trio, a Sunday morning concert of gospel spirituals, the awaited return of Marc Cantor’s killer jazz films, and an All-Star Alumni Band on the festival’s last day.

The looming question: who is the secret “beloved and internationally-acclaimed saxophonist” performing on May 31 whose name, for contractual reasons, cannot be unveiled until April 1?

(Pssst. . . be a flatfoot: Check SFJazz’s lineup and find the guy playing with Jason Moran, Eric Harland and Reuben Rogers, all of whom have been announced in Healdsburg without their headliner.)

So kudos to the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, and stay tuned to City Sound Inertia for further coverage.

Interview: Greg Saunier of Deerhoof

Posted by on Feb 19, 2008

More than any other band right now, Deerhoof represents the refined embodiment of music’s endless possibilities. They’re playing at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma this Saturday, and I swear you won’t ever see another band like them. At all.

For my Bohemian article, I spoke with Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier about John Cage, the creative process, Harry Smith, childrens’ music, touring with Radiohead, and shutting down haters. There was no way to fit it all into just 700 words—he’s not one to speak in prefabricated soundbites, that’s for sure. City Sound Inertia to the rescue: read the extended 3,000-word interview here, and don’t say I didn’t warn you. Our conversation starts after the jump.

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Xbxrx at the Boogie Room

Posted by on Feb 17, 2008 One Comment

I intentionally parked about a half-mile away from the Boogie Room last night so I could walk the long narrow road in rural Santa Rosa under the moonlight, surrounded by farmland, alone. It’s something I used to do plenty often, before I had a driver’s license—and before most of Santa Rosa’s empty fields were turned into tract homes. It was serene, and I think, since the Boogie Room is located pretty much in the blissful middle of nowhere, that I’ll make a tradition of it.

I don’t want to say too much about the Boogie Room, because in the guerilla tradition of the last couple years, it’s an under-the-radar venue and probably prefers to stay that way. Think of it as a Studio E for the younger set; a homey place to see friends, play fetch with the house dog, sit by the campfire, and watch terrific bands in a cozy barn in the middle of a field. House concerts, as it were, with an edge.

I was given a tour of the sprawling grounds by Bryce, who’s something of a navigator for this amazing, multi-tiered ship. He enthusiastically showed me around the large greenhouse and huge garden; the collection of barns full of old cars and owls; and the many, many improvements that he and other residents have made since they moved in about a year ago. Sliding open the door to one leaning barn, he blankly explained that it was where the previous tenant, who had been running a chop-shop for stolen cars and a methamphetamine lab, had hung himself.

In the music room, the junkyard classicism of the Highlands—a cellist, a violinist, a possessed guitarist and two drummers—was filling the place up. After a truncated set by Battlehooch, who manhandled a Theremin, a Sony Watchman and multiple vocal effects before submitting to technical difficulties, it was time for the Iditarod, who were as epic and majestic as their name implies. Medieval synthesizer solos, heralding trumpets, three-part-harmony battle cries, absolutely strange guitar playing and hyperactive drum beats. Shit, as they say, was goin’ off.

I’d never seen Xbxrx before, but I could tell that the guys standing by the side of the stage had to be the band members. They looked bored and annoyed, like they couldn’t wait to play and get the whole thing over with, and sure enough, as soon as the Iditarod were finished, it took exactly 40 seconds for them to start hurriedly setting up their equipment on the stage. So I wasn’t expecting much; after all, they’ve been a band for ten years, they’ve toured with Sonic Youth and Deerhoof, their last few shows were in Berlin, London, and Amsterdam—why would they possibly care about Santa Rosa?

But a total transformation occurred when they plugged in and started playing; it was like they’d become lightning rods for all the Earth’s energy for miles around. They leapt, flailed, ran, fell down, writhed, spun, and shook wildly. . . and that’s just in the first two minutes. I’ve seen a lot of goddamn hardcore mayhem, but this was up there. Way up there.

In matching baby-blue outfits, the guys in Xbxrx didn’t perform so much as they blurred their way around the entire barn, as far as their guitar cables would allow, unpredictably crashing around while playing blast after blast of insane noise. They climbed the walls, they banged their heads on the ground, they shoved their bodies behind the couch and they did haphazard flips into the crowd. Antagonizing, sure, but even though I stood just a couple feet from the guitarist’s amplifier and mic stand the whole time, I amazingly never once got hit.

At the end of the set, one of the guitarists crawled underneath the stage with his guitar and just laid there in a fetal position. He didn’t move. It made sense, in a way. So I left before Batman vs. Predator with my ears ringing, and walked the half-mile back to my car in the quiet foggy midnight air.