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Review: Beyoncé (2013)

Posted by on Dec 17, 2013

Yowza. Beyonce in the video for "Drunk in Love"

Thanks a lot, Beyoncé. Your secret album, released Friday, Dec. 13 at midnight only on iTunes, has royally fucked up everyone’s “best albums of 2013” lists.

Your album of 14 fantastic songs and 17 stunning and super sexy videos has thrown a wrench into the giant cogs of the music industry. You’re like the new Charlie Chaplin in our “Modern Times” (Bey, I’m really happy for you, and Im’a let you finish, but Charlie Chaplin had one of the greatest movies of all time. Of all time!). This complete surprise to everyone, including music industry insiders, had no promotion, zero buzz, nary a tweet before its release, and it sold 80,000 copies in its first three hours—midnight to 3am EST. It sold over 617,000 copies in the United States and over 828,000 worldwide in its first three days, purely in digital format. Only the whole album was available, no singles, and it cost $16. That means over $13 million was spent in three days for something that doesn’t exist in the physical world (that comes this Friday). You probably pocketed more than $6 million in three days. You win the music business, now onto the actual music.

Let’s take a look at just a few songs, here. Taking a cue from your videos, Beyoncé, we will tease the shit out of our audience to the point where further action is required, like in “Partition,” when you dance in a bejeweled string bikini with another woman in a jail cell with fuzzy rubber bars under sexy leopard print lights while your husband, Jay Z, watches, smoking a cigar in a movie theater seat.

“Blow,” which has been confirmed as one of the first two singles on the album, is a poppy disco number, taking the “Get Lucky” baton from Daft Punk and turning it into an even more sexual object than it already was. You stroll in to a roller disco in denim bikini bottoms, then cut away to a dance number under blacklight with dancers in half of a neon ‘80s workout outfit. I’m so confused when the those bubblegum-pop sound effects happen behind naughty lyrics that the FCC can’t do a damn thing about. “You can eat my Skittles, it’s the sweetest in the middle,” you proclaim. “Pink is the flavor: solve the riddle,” you suggest with a wink, leaving millions of parents struggling to come up with a suitable answer when their children ask what that answer might be.

Perhaps that was your goal. You’re a woman who is more than comfortable with her sexuality, a feminist that likes to show off her body. Perhaps it was your intention to start that conversation early in young girls’ lives, give them a role model and a reason to be comfortable with their own bodies. Or maybe you just wanted to shoot some really hot videos with your husband on the beach, as is the case in “Drunk in Love,” the second single off the album. In a black and white beach scene at night, you’re acting a little buzzed, stumbling around in a bikini with a huge trophy. You sing with that power growl in your voice before getting soft and tender, just like I do when I’m drunk. Your husband comes into the scene and raps about domestic violence champions Mike Tyson and Ike Turner before redeeming himself with the line, “Your breastseses are my breakfastses.” And even that complete, ahem, buzzkill, doesn’t diminish the sexiness of this video one bit.

Superpower, your duet with Frank Ocean, just had to happen. You saw someone with a voice almost as good as yours, and took it from him like Ursula the Sea Witch (and now a “Little Mermaid” reference? Yes. Deal with it). What did you promise him in return? He already has legs—wait, was that it? Did you give him legs? Anyway, the video takes place in a post-revolution world where everyone is dressed really well, lighting fires in cars, spray painting escalators in abandoned shopping malls, waving flags of no particular affiliation. You gave your fellow Destiny’s Child stars top billing here, perhaps it’s a nod to your subversive move in releasing this album your way and not getting fucked over by the music industry. You’re taking charge and bringing your like-minded fashionistas with you. The fact that your crew stops just short of clashing with riot police in the end of the video shows that you’re willing to let the other side change with you rather than suffer the bloody violence of an all-out war. Because blood isn’t as sexy as black mascara.

When it was time to get vulnerable, which is one of the greatest things about this album, by the way, you chose Drake to make that happen. “Mine” starts with a confession and a question, “I haven’t felt like myself since the baby. Are we even gonna make it?” Wow, that’s powerful stuff, even if you weren’t half of a music biz supercouple. The contemporary dance number is interrupted by Drake, who sounds like he’s singing a Drake song into a telephone, before jumping back to your point of view. I like that you put the man’s perspective in there, too. I like more that you even made sure to keep the emotional and fragile song as sexy as possible. It really ties the whole album together.

You say this whole thing was an attempt to show your vision with nobody standing in your way. You cited Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as an influence and example of what you were going for. It’s one thing to cite the best pop song (and music video) ever made as your guide, but it’s another to do it 17 times and release it all at once. Your dedication, hard work and confidence smacks me in the face when I imagine how much effort it is for me sometimes to get off the couch and make dinner instead of calling for a pizza. You released the album while on tour supporting your previous album. That takes balls. You’ve got balls, Beyoncé. You’ve solidified your place not just among great pop stars, but great artists. Here’s hoping this is the shakeup the music industry needed to stop recycling the same boring ideas and pump some fresh life into the bigwigs at the top.

PHOTOS: Not So Silent Night (Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon and more) – Oracle Arena

Posted by on Dec 9, 2013

Photos by David Sason

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Live Review: Barrington Levy in Petaluma

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013

Reggae dancehall legend Barrington Levy blazed through Petaluma on Thursday night in classic dub train style. Barrington’s voice is sounding cleaner than ever and his form is looking fantastic as he approaches 50 years old. The show was part of the Road to California Roots Festival tour, a push towards spreading the word about the massive three-day event next May. There will be many more – look for J Boog and Los Rakas in January.

Barrington Levy at The Mystic Theater, Petaluma | Photo by Joe “Bulldog Media” Wilson

The house was packed at the Mystic Theater; a heady crowd leaning on the farther side of thirty and forty. Barrington paid court to his long time fans with studio-style versions of “My Time” and “Too Experienced”, letting them flow off the mic like he has played them for decades (he has). His encore of “Black Rose” hushed the crowd until everyone started singing along. But the real depth of his performance was in the heavy duty b-side takes on lesser known tracks like “A Ya We Deh” and “Bounty Hunter”.

Holding the decks was WBLK selector Jacques Powell-Wilson, founder of Monday Night Edutainment at Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol. The sound system is rounding out 12 years as the North Bay’s longest running reggae genre night. Jacques brought down some of his massive collection of vinyl rarities including the Meditations’ “Stranger In Love” and Dennis Brown’s “Come Home With Me”. If you can dig it, WBLK is hosting their first in a series of all-vinyl appreciation nights starting December 9th with Ras Gilbert of Shashamani Sound.

Barrington Levy | Photo by Joe “Bulldog Media” Wilson

Opening for Barrington was former Sonoma County, now Santa Cruz transplant, band Thrive. The group recently joined forces with California Roots Festival organizers and have been touring the country spreading sunny, post-Sublime positive reggae, which they have now infused with RnB pop. I see them shying away from their reggae-rock roots in the coming months, but we’ll see where they take their sound come festival season.

I gotta say this: The Mystic Theater hasn’t seen this much smoke in years. Ever since management started really cracking down on puffing inside the venue, Petaluma’s reggae scene hasn’t been the same. Undercover goons jam their way through the crowds, flashlights scanning for joints, grabbing hold of skinny hippies and short frat dudes with their menacing stares that promise, “try that again, so I can haul your ass out in front of everyone”. But it’s no fun when the homies can’t have none… Thankfully, Thursday was a chill alternative to the type of muscle attitude we’ve gotten used to at Sonoma County shows. Probably because the show was too expensive for the college kids to raid. Although many of them could have benefited from knowing the roots of where their beloved Cali Roots Rock comes from.

On another note: Rather than releasing full albums of new material, Barrington seems to be focusing on recent collaborations with newer generations of established artists, namely JadaKiss and Vybz Kartel, Kardinal and Busta Rhymes. Check this made-for-MTV Jams 2010 release “No War” featuring Kardinal. The original features Busta Rhymes and quotes President Obama’s inaugural speech.

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Live Review: Treasure Island Music Festival 2013

Posted by on Oct 21, 2013 2 Comments

View from the Ferris Wheel on Treasure Island


Treasure Island Music Festival is more than just music, it’s an experience. The festival is so well produced that it wouldn’t be difficult to have a good time having never heard of any of the bands playing. The seventh incarnation of the two-day festival wrapped up yesterday, and it was another beaming success. In addition to music, there is a shopping area, arts and crafts tent, zine and comic library, silent disco (live DJ spinning for wireless headphone-wearing listeners), food trucks, a Ferris wheel, bubbles and the best people watching money can buy. Wow, that last part sounded creepy, but you get the idea.

But there’s also music—lots of it. Each stage is timed down to the minute, so there is never a dull moment. There’s also never a moment to let the ears relax, and the only booth with earplugs was selling them for a buck a pair. Note for next year, guys: GIVE AWAY FREE EARPLUGS.

I’ve listed some favorites and least favorites, not based on the quality of their set (I’m sure there are fans of the bands who might think it was the band’s best performance ever), but on entertainment quality from an outside perspective. I must stress that even what I found to be the most banal of musical performances still turned out to be quite entertaining.

Saturday’s Favorites

Atoms For Peace

Atoms For Peace: 4.5/5 Incredible texture from this group of musically sensitive players, with Flea leading the charge via driving, lead-focused bass guitar. Felt almost like a post rock version of Radiohead with Flea on bass (he is his own adjective). Very cold weather led to most people leaving before the end of the second encore (myself included), which is a shame since that’s when they played the Thom Yorke song “Black Swan,” arguably the best from his solo album.

Little Dragon: 3.5/5 Good stage presence and real instruments made this a highlight on a day of laptop-driven DJ tunes and pumping bass. Singer Yukimi Nagano flows musically and visually as the leader of this electronic music group. They split the difference with a live drummer playing an electronic drum kit.

Danny Brown

Danny Brown: 3.5/5 Once the sound engineer figured out how to properly mix rap vocals (it took a couple songs), Danny Brown’s nasally, violent delivery emerged and piqued the ears of festivalgoers that might not have come specifically to see the last-minute replacement for Tricky. The early performance was a good boost of live human energy to contrast the repetitive bass and synthesizer drum sounds the rest of the day had in store.

Saturday’s Least Favorites

Major Lazer

Major Lazer: 2/5 About 20 minutes into the set, we figured out that Major Lazer is actually just a group of hype men. There are no real instruments, no actual music being made. The three dudes in suits trade off turns at the elevated laptop station at the back of the stage, but there was no singing no playing of anything. Just guys on wireless mics yelling at everyone to jump and put their hands up. By the end of the set everyone was so tired they chose to be berated for not following directions rather than expend one more joule of energy on this choreographed high school dance.

Disclosure: 2/5 In haiku: such low energy / could not keep my eyes open / what was that you said?

Sunday’s Favorites
STRFKR: 4.5/5 Not surprised that this electro-indie group was top notch, but surprised at how well their albums translated to live performance. They know their music is, at times, slow to develop. But they spruce up the show with visuals, like two dudes in padded sumo suits going at it for a couple tunes. They even played along with the bits, and it didn’t sacrifice the quality of the music.

James Blake: 4/5 Great soundtrack for the day shifting gears into cold night. Focused songs had energy in their own way, giving a nice break from nonstop dancing. Blake is an excellent performer whose passion is evident when he plays. His songs feature piano and good songwriting, a timeless, classic combination.

Haim

Haim: 4/5 Wow. These girls rocked harder than anyone at the festival. The three sisters and their male drummer had a sound reminiscent of Prince, during his more rocking moments, and even captured some funk to go with it. Their “girl power” shtick was a little heavy at times, like when they spoke at length how they now know what Beyonce feels like when the wind blows hair into their mouths, and when they squealed with delight when handed candy from the crowd. But I’m not a young girl, so maybe it was indeed the perfect concert set for their target audience. Either way, it was impressive.

Sunday’s least favorites:
Animal Collective: 1.5/5 Sometimes art is so conceptual that it goes over my head. I was hoping this was the case with Animal Collective, and at one point I actually asked a friend if they knew what the point was supposed to be. Nobody knew. I’m not sure Animal Collective knew. A very cool stage set (inflatable teeth with individual projections made the stage look like a gigantic open mouth) and light show helped slightly, but the music was so repetitive and the melodies so simply and leading nowhere that I left to watch football about two-thirds of the way through. I still heard the music (it was impossible not to from anywhere on the island, really), and still was not impressed.

Beck. Still going after all these years. Still good, pretty much the same as the last time you saw him.

In News

Comfort Slacks’ New Video Makes Me Want To Get Baked… Goods.

Posted by on Oct 14, 2013 One Comment

Napa’s Comfort Slacks released their official video this weekend for “Biscuit on My Six,” and it’s highly suggested you watch it. This band makes catchy, fun music that’s so irreverent it’s hard not to find something to love in each song.

In this video, see if you can spot the following: Shake Weight™, a judge, weatherman, a toaster that has the word “cooking” hand painted on it, Etch-a-Sketch™, a man getting a haircut, wine in a coffee mug, a comically large “cigarette,” plastic He-Man™ toy, gold hotpants, underpants that fit four people at once.

The video, which is a genius riff on a local morning television talk show, dares the viewer to contemplete: What’s your favorite type of biscuit? Blueberry? Dog? Gluten-free? Whisker? Sweet? Buttermilk?

It’s a great video, but I have to say I’m a little disappointed that this isn’t an actual show. I’d watch it every morning.

Live Review: Reggae On The River 2013

Posted by on Oct 10, 2013

It is hard to put into words what a five day reggae festival in Humboldt County feels like. Senses are heightened and spirits are elevated. The whole experience feels like a time warp, traveling with fellow festivalites to a sacred place deep in the woods, away from the daily grind and the drama of the outside world. It feels like warm sunshine. It smells like homegrown herbs. It tastes a lot like lukewarm coconut water. But more than words can offer, it feels like what Sunday headliners, Morgan Heritage’s, soundtrack tune ‘Down By The River’ sounds like.

Reggae On The River has been called ‘Reggae’ for as long as anyone can remember. It is considered, by and large, the first reggae festival in the United States, and a lion’s share of the genre’s most famous artists have graced its stage over the last 29 years. Tribulations aside (read up on the Mateel controversy here), ‘Reggae’ has always been at the heart of the international festival scene. The “one-blood” mantra of the event was undeniably reflected in this year’s 6,000 multicultural fans who traveled across the miles to celebrate the French’s Camp homecoming. With nearly 2,500 volunteers and staff on hand to ensure the event went off without a glitch, the party was a huge success and was entirely sold out by Saturday afternoon.

The smaller crowds made for a more chill experience – if you went to any of the Reggae’s between 2003 and 2006 you know what 25,000 people in the bowl feels like.  Although rumors are floating around that the Mateel Community Center will be offering 8,000 tickets next year as opposed to 6,000 this year, the intentionally scaled-down event has become safer and more conscientious. The artists were more militant than flashy, the crowds more hippie than street. A big factor in this year’s attitude was the multigenerational audience. There were a lot of older festival veterans and a lot of little kids, and inevitably, more people were smoking ganja in the sunshine than running around on Molly at 5am.

If you didn’t make the journey, or just want to reminisce, you can tune into the audio archives from Humboldt County’s KMUD radio here. (Scroll down to August 2-4 for the live broadcast) Chill to the tunes by the river and check out some of these amazing shots of the event by some very cool Bay Area photographers (many thanks to James LeDeau, Joe Wilson, and Anthony Postman).

Reggae On The River 2013 | Photo courtesy of Joe Wilson and Bulldog Media

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Live Review: Renée Fleming at the Green Music Center

Posted by on Sep 16, 2013

Renee Fleming with pianist Gerald Martin Moore perform at the Green Music Center Sept. 15. Photo by Kristen Loken.

Renée Fleming is a reeeeeeally good singer, but you already knew that. Hell, she’s probably the best American soprano performing today, but anyone who reads the arts & entertainment section knows that already, too. What we learned at her performance at Saturday’s opening concert of the second season at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center was that she loves the venue, deeming it a “favorite stop” for big-name touring artists.

Before singing “The hills are alive, with the sound of music,” Fleming described what she saw looking out at the rolling, green hills outside the opened rear wall of the main hall, saying she was “inspired” by the view. Indeed, her performance of the showtune was inspired, despite a false start, and had many in the 1,600-person crowd singing along.

Though not full to its 3,400-capacity (the interior showed some empty chairs; the tiered seating area was nearly full outside; the sloped hill beyond that was almost vacant), the concert could not have featured a more beautiful performance. Even sitting outside, Fleming and pianist Gerald Martin Moore were visible on the stage and facial expressions and the details of her stunning dresses (a silver gown by Vivienne Westwood followed by a golden gown with an opera cape by Angel Sanchez) were highlighted on a giant screen, with several camera shots including one inside the piano and one showing the crowd outside. Fleming’s voice carried just beyond the edge of the hall and was reinforced by a transparent sound system, picking up just the right amount of the hall’s beautiful acoustics to highlight its rich treatment of the human voice.

The program included classical pieces by Handel, Canteloube, Delibes, Korngold, Cilea, Puccini, Zandonal, Johan Strauss II and Richard Straus, whom Fleming called her “desert island composer.” Her performances of the latter composer’s work were especially touching, in part because he wrote such beautiful music for the soprano voice, but it was apparent that she was moved by it beyond notes on a staff. A section folk tunes, including a medley of “The River is Wide” and “Shenandoah” and a performance of “Wild Horses” by folk artist Jean Richie, ended with a powerful rendition of “We Hold These Truths” by J. Todd Frazier, a slow, stirring piece with text from the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.

Fleming finished with two songs from West Side Story (“I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere”) and two Rogers & Hammerstein classics (“The Sound of Music” and “A Wonderful Guy”). And for her encore, another crowd favorite: “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. Taking advantage of the unique forum, Fleming broke the rules of a classical music hall’s opening gala–she invited all the singers in the audience to participate in the second half of the song, which freed her up to improvise a bit. From designer dresses to mom jeans, tuxedos to T-shirts, voices from the crowd carried the tune while Fleming showcased her incredible range and comfort on stage. Even outside the hall, we felt the warmth of a vocal embrace surrounding us.

Upcoming concerts at the Green Music Center include superstar pianist Lang Lang Sept. 17, classical violinist Itzhak Perlman Sept. 21, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock Sept. 28 and soprano Ruth Ann Swenson Sept. 29.

Live Review: Jane’s Addiction in Reno

Posted by on Sep 13, 2013

It is becoming a decompression tradition to see Jane’s Addiction play Reno after Burning Man. Promoter Fresh Bakin’ has a talent for timing awesome parties. Last year, the band performed a sold out show following the ‘Burn’ and people were dressed to the nines in costumes still dusty from the Playa. This year, the show happened a week later so fewer Burners were still in town. And while a scant few could be picked out of the crowd, the sensation of settling back into the world was already in full effect.

Photo by Anthony Postman

Inside the glitz and glam of the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, the Grand Theater is one of the largest showroom stages in the world. Tiered half-moon booths are lined with faux leather and floral upholstery and giant crystal chandeliers hang from 30 foot ceilings. With about ¾ of the venue filled, the venue was far from small but felt relatively intimate.

Photo by Anthony Postman

The band came on just before 10pm, opening with “Underground”, “Mountain Song” and “Just Because” before frontman Perry Farrell finally addressed the crowd. “You remember? Because I do! We were here the same exact time last year. I remember you!” He was dress in floral print and tuxedo pants that fell just above the ankles. It’s become a signature look for him, exposing a super tight washboard stomach. Farrell looks way healthier now than he did 20 years ago.

Photo by Anthony Postman

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In News

Jane’s Addiction On Tour Again

Posted by on Sep 4, 2013

The greatest rock moment of recent memory has got to be Perry Farrell chugging a bottle of über-expensive Napa Valley wine on stage at BottleRock last May. His boozed-up theatrics shifted between social welfare rants and parading the stage with two talented, uummm, dancers. Aside from a few more shades of grey, Farrell, Dave Navarro and drummer Stephan Perkins, still look awesome. It’s been 25 years since Nothing’s Shocking (1988) and under those same power chords, their sound still flaunts Farrell’s ethereal voice over heady guitar breakdowns.

It is the weekend after Labor Day. Take advantage of the deserted tourist destinations and cruise up to Tahoe. Jane’s is playing in Reno at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino on Monday, September 9th.

Even though the Casino seats 1,800, it wouldn’t be too far off to expect an intimate showcase. Jane’s Addiction has spent the summer touring with the Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival,  sharing the bill with Alice In Chains and 11 other dark-alt-rock bands. But Alice won’t be appearing in Reno. The Casino gig is just a quick layover before the festival hits the Shoreline Amphitheater next Wednesday. (tickets here)

Check out their newest single, released this summer, vamping up the creepiness of online dating.

Live Review: Courtney Love at the Phoenix Theater

Posted by on Aug 25, 2013 One Comment

Here was the moment at the Courtney Love show last night, and it was brief: right after “Violet,” there’s the usual applause and all, but then it comes back, and surges into a roar, like the crowd all agrees to just cheer the shit out of Courtney Love for, I don’t know, being through hell, most of it self-inflicted, and being murdered by the media, and having her daughter taken away once or twice, and the Kurt thing, but living through it against the odds, and now, playing a sparsely-populated show in some fuckin’ chicken town, and showing up in a silver cutaway jumpsuit and bare feet and way-fake boobs and ratty blonde hair, and actually smiling while singing lines like “I always wanted to die”—and then, during this spontaneous burst of love from the crowd, Courtney Love, 49 years old, looks out into the Phoenix Theater, coyly grins, then visibly swells with gratitude, cocks her head and blows a kiss, serious as a heart attack.

You know how you see a band that’s famous for being sloppy, or mad at each other, or too drunk, but then there’s the one night they’re super tight, or just happy, or sober, and it’s like “THIS is what this band always could be but now finally, gloriously is“? That was Courtney Love last night at the Phoenix, accepting three bouquets of roses when she hit the stage, opening the set with “Plump,” screaming the lines “IT MAKES ME SICK” like the screech of a malfunctioning tractor and, at the end of the song, looking down at the monitor and telling the soundman: “I just blew a speaker.” (more…)