(San Francisco) – A band of pirates on stilts tried to take over Treasure Island yesterday, but were blasted out instead by pounding drum n bass breaks from a wall of subwoofers.
This happened, of course, at the Treasure Island Music Festival, which took place on the decommissioned naval base in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Two stages, a Ferris wheel, the silent disco, gourmet food trucks, cool merchandise and the ultimate people watching experience awaited those wise enough to attend day one of the two-day music fest.
The Coup had just started playing when I walked through the gate. Since this was the “electronic” day, hearing a big, funky, rock-heavy hip hop group from Oakland was a welcome surprise. I’m not a huge fan of DJ music–I was there to see Public Enemy–so this was a good sign. I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the Coup before, but they were on the top of their game for this show. Style, swagger and porkchop side burns lifted from the 70s. The kickass riffs and drum solos reminded me of Rage Against the Machine, but the Coup had more of a soul vibe at times.
Grimes was next, and their three-girl electro-pop sound gained momentum halfway through the set. By the end it felt like I was in a Visa commercial with so much pounding synth bass and young people in ridiculous clothing jumping around. It was the best Visa commercial ever. The enthusiasm for Grimes was electric, with some of the most passionate fans at the festival dancing their neon spandex-covered asses off. (more…)
Saturday, at the first of two concerts at San Jose’s HP Pavilion, Madonna showed the near-capacity crowd exactly why she was the most enduring star of the video age. For nearly two hours, the 54-year-old dynamo out-performed the gaggle of dancers half her age (and sustained a forehead gash from her guitar in the process) and outshone the varied multimedia spectacles that accompanied each song, from the murder-noir hotel set of “Revolver” to the catwalk-video combo of “Vogue”.
In fact, her palpable charisma alone seemed to buoy the performance, which leaned a bit too heavily toward her recent, mostly homogenous EDM material, especially her dark, divorce-inspired MDNA selections. Any artist deserves kudos for living in the now, but Madonna only offered up a handful of actual hits, including a rare “Everybody” to commemorate the debut single’s 30th anniversary and the show’s highlight “Human Nature”, which ended with a g-string-revealing strip tease downstage.
I used to sell meat. My favorite part of the day was sampling out bacon. Our bacon was real, thick-cut, how-it-should-be bacon, which many members of the public had never experienced. Their reaction always began at the eyes, then traveled up to the brow before sinking into the rest of the face and, sometimes, weakening the knees. It was something they were familiar with, but just didn’t know what it was really like, or how good it could be.
After seeing Alison Krauss with Union Station, featuring Jerry Douglas, last night at the Green Music Center, I now know that feeling from the other side of the counter.
It was maybe halfway through the concert that everything came together in a rush of emotion, and Krauss’ emotional songs might have played a factor, but I was holding back tears when the realization hit me. Nothing will ever sound better than inside this hall. This is quite possibly the best-sounding band, the most professional engineers, in the most gorgeous acoustic space I will ever experience. This is the French Laundry of concert spaces.
This was the first non-classical concert in Weill Hall, the five-carat diamond amongst the surrounding gems of the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University. In addition to Krauss and Union Station wrapping up the festivities, this opening weekend included a gala opening concert with pianist Lang Lang, a sunrise choral concert with original music composed for and dedicated to those involved with the creation of the center, and an afternoon performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony, which has the privilege of calling the hall its home.
In comparison to the previous evening, which was full of tuxedos, Versace gowns, politicians and formal stuffiness, this was a decidedly blue-jeans event. There were even people dancing on the lawn, the mood was so jovial. The weather was perfect, absolutely perfect, and I can’t help but see exactly what drove SSU President Ruben Armiñana to create this indoor-outdoor concert space. In fact, though my seat was inside the hall, I strode outside in the second half to see what it was like, and honestly I preferred sitting on the lawn. Of course, weather permitting and musical style taken into account, it wasn’t inconceivable that the best seats in the house were, in fact, not in the house at all.
The two large LED screens flanking the opening to the concert hall were a little too bright, but what they showed was beautiful. Close-ups of the band, their expressive faces, their lightning-fast picking all dissolved with slow fades. Combined with the excellent, natural sound coming from both the hall itself and reinforced with high-hanging speakers and downfiring subwoofers (18 of them), this was the best outdoor sound I have ever heard. I had a tough time hearing some of the stories and witty banter between songs, but I suspect that had more to do with the storytellers turning away from the microphone for a moment. Can’t amplify sound that’s not there!
The band played together for about an hour before Jerry Douglas gave a solo performance on Dobro guitar, which blew me away from my 10th-row seat. Even with a stack of speakers in front of me, the sound was natural, even, pleasing and rich. Not once did this sound engineer turn to look back in the direction of the mixing board to suggest something unpleasant was happening. In fact, I would like to give a written high-five to the engineer for the evening. You did the hall justice. You got on that balance between acoustic and amplified and walked the tightrope all night long. And when the band came back for an encore set, using only one microphone, they were right there, too, blending themselves using distance and dynamics between voices and instruments.
Douglas announced this was the last stop of their two-year (!) tour. They were so musically tight and having so much fun, it seemed like they felt at home. At one point, Krauss turned to the balcony crowd behind her and waved, turning back to the microphone to say, as understated as her music, “This like no other place I’ve ever seen.”
More photos below. (more…)
By now, you’ve read about how many millions went into the Green Music Center, you’ve seen photos of Sonoma County movers and shakers in tuxedos and gowns, you’ve read about the hall’s world-class lineup and perfect acoustics, and maybe you’ve thought, “Oh well, I’m not part of Santa Rosa’s upper crust—doubt I’ll ever be able to go there.”
Guess what? It’s just not true. Although last night’s grand opening twinkled with glitterati, from Nancy Pelosi to Governor Jerry Brown, today’s Santa Rosa Symphony opening offered a look at exactly how the common person can enjoy the place. White-collar donors, blue-collar fans, y’all.
I was headed to the hardware store today, to be honest, and I was certainly dressed for the plumbing aisle in cutoffs, tennies, and a T-shirt. Halfway to Friedman Bros., though, the lingering buzz from last night’s opening caused a spontaneous left turn onto Petaluma Hill Road to get myself to the 2pm symphony opening. “I’ve been watching the Santa Rosa Symphony for 25 years,” I thought to myself, “and I’m going to miss Corrick Brown, Jeffrey Kahane and Bruno Ferrandis inaugurating a beautiful new venue. . . . so I can work on plumbing? Am I nuts?”
So, bypassing the long line of Lexuses clogging Petaluma Hill Road near the Green Music Center, I parked my clunky old car in the south lot of SSU and caught the shuttle. (This is tip No. 1.) Waited for a while in line at the box office, and then asked, “Do you have any lawn tickets?” Yes, they did. What’s more, lawn tickets were free. That’s right: F-R-E-E.
I felt underdressed for a symphony opening, but lots of other people out on the lawn were wearing shorts, too. Some were eating hot dogs. Others were laying flat on their back in the grass. A few dudes were drinking Lagunitas IPA. See those trees down the side of the concrete walkway in the photo below? That’s considered “lawn,” too, meaning you can sit just as close for a fraction of the cost—we sat far off to the side, but still, right up front.
So, yeah, did I mention the concession stands? Formerly, the Santa Rosa Symphony food offerings were limited to wine and cookies. I scanned the menu today, which included salads, wraps and fruit bowls, and got a burger. It was five bucks. Another three bucks bought my three-year-old a hot dog. That’s half the cost of ballpark prices, right there.
And about that three-year-old of mine. There’s no way I could have brought her to a grand opening of the symphony at its old home. Outside on the lawn seemed like a safe bet. Being able to talk to her about the pieces, the instruments and the performers while we listened to the music and watched the jumbotrons on either side of the lawn made it a special daddy-daughter outing—her first symphony. Those with kids, take note.
Yes, it was hot. But that’s another bonus of the lawn’s casual nature: if you want to leave, you just get up and leave, without worry of disapproving stares from the benefactor’s circle. Plenty of tables were abandoned by the end of the program, and we bailed just before the end of Bolero to beat both the heat and the traffic. In doing so, we passed even more people who were lounging around barefoot, fanning themselves in tank tops or flip-flops, or just plain sleeping on the ground. Sleeping on the ground, at the symphony! Crazy!
From the Notebook: What a treat it was to watch Corrick Brown conduct again, and yet the highlight for me was Jeffrey Kahane, whose piano playing I’ll take over Lang Lang’s any day. His notes have far more definition, and unlike Lang Lang, he extracts from the score what the composer truly intends instead of what he believes will most titillate the crowd. . . . Symphony Executive Director Alan Silow waxed the usual rhapsodies about the hall, predicting that in ten years, Sonoma County would become as well-known a destination for the performing arts as we are for our wine. But he also delivered a veiled reference to election year, noting that the emotional connection music provides can be “a really healing force in a divided world.” . . . Charlie Schlangen, symphony board president, thanked several of the hall’s donors, and Don and Maureen Green stood up to receive another sustained, thunderous standing ovation . . . Seated applause for all the others.
Schlangen also thanked the city of Santa Rosa, and the Santa Rosa Visitors’ Bureau; if I’m not mistaken, there was no mention of Rohnert Park from the stage. You might think this a curious omission for a Rohnert Park-situated orchestra, but between retaining the name “Santa Rosa Symphony” and applying for and receiving a $15,000 grant paid for by a business improvement tax on Santa Rosa hotels, the symphony clearly has designs on keeping ties to its hometown. Their main offices are still right across from Santa Rosa City Hall, so what the hell. . . . Oh! Kudos to Nolan Gasser, composer of Sonoma Overture, written for this day—the piece danced along fantastically—lively, triumphant and very early-20th-Century-American-sounding. After the orchestra pounded out the final downbeat, the hall erupted, and Gasser himself came from the wings for his bow. Always a treat to stand and personally applaud the composer. . . . Over at the PD, there’s possibly the world’s eeriest photo of Bruno Ferrandis. Someone cast this guy in a Lars Von Trier film! . . . And I gotta say, the tradition of the gong being struck at the beginning of all shows at the Green Music Center is a fun one, presumably with rotating honors, like throwing in the first pitch or ringing the NASDAQ morning bell. Note to self: new life goal. Strike gong.
More Photos Below. (more…)
It started with a gong, and ended with a bang.
When we remember the grand opening of the Green Music Center years from now, we’ll talk about the hall. We’ll talk about the pianist on stage, Lang Lang. But we’ll also talk about the see-and-be-seen atmosphere, and the fact that for one night, dignitaries like Jerry Brown and Nancy Pelosi visited the otherwise quiet suburb of Rohnert Park.
“It’s a marvel,” said Governor Brown of the hall, casually sipping a glass of wine near a stageside box seat and chatting amiably with the public during intermission. “I’m glad to be here.”
Glad, too, were the other 3,400 estimated people in attendance witnessing this rare, strange piece of history. Strange because of the long, obstacle-laden ride toward opening the hall at a public university, and rare because, really, how often does the governor pop in on Sonoma State University? (Overheard was at least one younger attendee pleading with him to increase funding for education, alas.)
But the whole point of the night was the venue’s debutante ball, with Lang Lang as its chaperone. After a ceremonial gong pealed from the outdoor balcony, SSU President Ruben Armiñana stood on stage to announce visiting luminaries and major donors. Jerry Brown? Oh, he got a polite round of applause and all. He certainly couldn’t compete with namesake donors Donald and Maureen Green, the first to contribute financially to the project, who received a rapturous standing ovation.
Sandy Weill then took the podium, gazed over the hall that bears his name, and elicited the first unintentional laugh of the night. “To see a music center like this being part of the campus of Sonoma State,” he said, “will make this university known all over the world through our priceless partnership with Mastercard.” (It wasn’t a joke, but the crowd chuckled anyway.) Before ceding the stage to Lang Lang, Weill also expressed gratitude for the Harvest Moon, meant to bring good luck; if every performance is as special as tonight’s, the hall may not need it.
There are a few reasons why Lang Lang was a perfect choice with which to open the concert space. One is his popularity. Two, his dramatic, flamboyant stage presence is apropos for an event imbued with such importance. But for purposes of introducing the hall’s fine-tuned acoustics, Lang Lang’s touch is incredible. Tonight, his notes seemed to emerge out of thin air, and then dissipated just as smoothly. During Mozart’s Sonata No. 5, the hall responded to even the tiniest nuance, amplifying each dynamic choice, like droplets hitting a glassy-surfaced lake at dawn and producing pure, clean ripples in the water.
After the Mozart sonatas, Chopin’s Ballades 1 through 4 comprised the second set, where the hall had a chance to bench-press Lang Lang’s dexterity. At times, the pianist seemed to extend certain phrases simply to hear the reverberation; then again, taking liberties with the score is as much a hallmark of Lang Lang’s performances as selling the material. And boy, is Lang Lang a power seller—when his fingers hit a key, it’s not just his finger hitting that key. The force originates somewhere in his back, his feet, the air—take your pick—and glides through his body, with a pitstop at the face for emotive expression, to delicately trickle through the epidermal border and finally channel into the piano.
At the end of the prepared program, Lang Lang addressed the audience, off-mic. “I know that we are really proud to have this beautiful hall in this wonderful community,” he said. “And I know it took a really long time.”
Then, mentioning it was his first time performing any of the pieces in the program, Lang Lang suggested something familiar: a Chopin nocturne. Another encore followed, the applause was lenghty and hearty, and the lights came up.
The concert was over, but the night didn’t end there. SSU arranged for fireworks after the set, bursting above patrons in their gowns outside on the red carpet and on the large, expansive lawn. Classical piano gave way to John Philip Sousa, Ray Charles, Kenny Chesney and R. Kelly while huge explosions popped overhead, illuminating the courtyard, the parking lot half-full of Priuses and Lexuses and the VIPs gallivanting at the aftershow gala.
Without a doubt, a new era for the arts dawns in Sonoma County.
More photos below. (more…)
Merrill Garbus may be indie rock’s luminary of the moment, but some credit for last year’s acclaimed whokill album is due to the tUnE-yArDs’ other member and songwriter, Oakland’s own Nate Brenner. The bassist and multi-instrumentalist, also a part of experimental trio Beep!, is currently touring to promote Dirty Glow, his solo debut. The album, released October 9th under the moniker Naytronix, is a more subdued, mostly EDM song cycle that highlights Brenner’s gift for layered textures and oddly compelling grooves. In advance of his show Tuesday at Café Du Nord, we chatted with Brenner about the new album and juggling his various endeavors.
Forget 40s of Old English. Forget Patrón. Here’s Moe Green, Cameron Washington, and Jairo “Rojah” Vargas with “Wine Country”—filmed in Sonoma:
It was the type of show that you drive home from, only to come through the door, sit down in your living room and wish that you had a recording so you could listen to it all over again. Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke: three jazz legends, all headliners in their own right. What sort of miracle brought them together in a trio? Jack DeJohnette’s 70th birthday, that’s what. “I asked them if they’d like to help me celebrate,” DeJohnette said from the Napa Valley Opera House stage tonight, “and to my surprise, they said yes.”
When you’ve got such artistic heft flying by all at once, it’s hard to keep up. Which, of course, was part of the fun. Clarke’s percussive harmonics to open “Light as a Feather,” with Corea reaching into the piano to dampen the strings. DeJohnette’s horse-clop rhythm to begin “Someday My Prince Will Come,” as if said prince was riding in on a stallion. Corea clapping along with DeJohnette during Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-Me.” All were little easter eggs in a 90-minute set of constant, conscious interplay, full of head-nods, smiles, raised eyebrows and pointing among the three men.
The applause from the audience, who’d already given the trio a warm welcome, continued to increase throughout the night until the set closer, McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance.” I’d seen DeJohnette play the same composition with Tyner in 2002, and tonight, 10 years later, he played it with even more fire and propulsion. When it came time for his drum solo, he dedicated five minutes to soloing solely on one ride cymbal—which if you weren’t there sounds indulgent and dull, but was perhaps the most captivating moment of the night.
DeJohnette has just one more show with this dream trio, and then he’s back to playing with his regular band. Those who caught this historic collaboration, either in Napa, Santa Cruz, or at Yoshi’s… they know how lucky they are.
Seemingly correlated, it twists the mind around trying to decipher the meaning. On the surface, it seems to work. The sound of it is somewhat familiar, yet unusual enough at the same time to remember distinctly. Listen enough and it will create a wonder aural illusion, like a Magic Eye stereogram for the ears. “Oh, it’s a sailboat!” This successfully describes both the term Heatwarmer and the sound of the Seattle-based jazz fusion band.
Led by vocalist and electric bass player Luke Bergman, the group also features a drummer, guitarist and not one, but two synthesizeristas, one who also plays the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and one who can flip his hair and make it look perfect. Every. Single. Time. The songs are eclectic but very listenable, like a blend of Frank Zappa and Stevie Wonder. Well, not exactly, but sorta. Ya know?
No, you can’t know unless you listen to them. I’ll save the clever adjectives and music critic comparisons for something describable. For now, just enjoy:
Their new album is reportedly finished, awaiting the “final touches” as Bergman put it. They played only one song off their first album last night, “Weird Shower.” You know when a band plays there new stuff, and nobody is really into it because they just want to hear the songs they know and love already, even if the new stuff is even better? This did not happen to Heatwarmer. Jaws dropped, cheers were hollered and people danced. “What am I even seeing right now!?” was uttered more than once.
A review of a 2009 performance by Heatwarmer concluded with Gabe Meline waiting for the initial weirdness to settle down to determine if this was “good” or “bad,” and he rightfully concludes that if there’s even a moment of confusion to determine something that simple then it’s automatically in the “good” category.
You probably know Callie Watts as a waitress at Mac’s Deli in downtown Santa Rosa, slinging hashbrowns and pastrami sandwiches by day. The lucky ones have known her as a total dynamo on the mic by night, a powerhouse vocalist with deep roots in soul and R&B. (True story: Once, while at a booth at Mac’s, I happened to sing the namesake chorus to Tower of Power’s “Don’t Change Horses,” and Callie, nearby, picked right up and belted out “…in the middle of the stream! / giddy-up! / giddy-up!”—and danced off, plates in hand, into the kitchen.)
Callie’s sung with almost as many bands as she’s served omelets over the years, but man, has she ever found her groove with the great local band Frobeck, who’ve just released a new album, 624. The album features the regular band—Spencer Burrows, Kris Dilbeck, Steve Froberg, and Jonathan Lazarus—plus the “Frobeck Horn Stars” and, in an awesomely appropriate guest spot, Bill Champlin.
‘Course, Callie’s on there too. Here’s video of a Callie Watts spotlight from Frobeck’s record-release show last night at Hopmonk, and though the footage is shaky, the performance is solid as hell: