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Gabe’s Top 20 Shows of 2012

20 Shows I Saw In 2012 But Never Reviewed Here, Now Reviewed In Three Sentences Each

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 31, 2012 | Comments (0)

Katy B at the Rickshaw Stop: “Katy On A Mission” is a hell of song. The rest, not so much, but Katy B bounced around the stage, was effervescent, etc. This show is memorable mostly for a) going to Roosevelt Tamale Parlor on 24th for the first time ever and b) hearing M83′s “Midnight City” played very loudly on club speakers.

Demdike Stare and Andy Stott at Public Works: A girl yelled “You’re the worst DJs in the world! I hate you!” repeatedly at Demdike Stare for 15 whole minutes. Andy Stott went on at 2:40am. I got a parking ticket, but it was worth it.

Aretha Franklin at the Nokia Theater: The last time Aretha played the Bay Area was 1978, so I stopped holding my breath and took a plane to Los Angeles for this, a great, great show that opened with the barn-burning “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher” and ended, of course, with “Respect.” The whole time, I thought about how Aretha was born in this run-down house in Memphis, then had a baby at age 14, then recorded her first record, and then had a baby again at age 15, which according to conventional wisdom should have derailed her whole life but LOOK AT HER NOW, an undisputed legend. Smokey Robinson was there, and walked slowly right by me, and I was speechless.

Trey Songz at the Oakland Arena: When you are headlining an arena show, it’s not a good idea to interrupt your set five songs in to show a commercial, for god’s sake. It’s also not a good idea to perform only a snippet of the great “Neighbors Know My Name.” There was a fight on the street below the BART platform afterward, and I went to Home of Chicken and Waffles at midnight to cheer myself up.

Justin Townes Earle at the Wells Fargo Center: A tall, rail-thin songwriter with a tilted hat who affectedly jerks and lurches like he has bugs in his clothes and mumble-sings like a less-drunk Conor Oberst. Plucks and pops the strings hard, especially while playing Lightnin’ Hopkins covers. Ended his set with a very touching song about his mom, and in the space between the song’s last chord and the rousing applause, you could hear audible gasps all around you.

Live Review: San Francisco Symphony at Green Music Center

Posted by: Nicolas Grizzle on Dec 7, 2012 | Comments (0)

SF Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas says hello

The San Francisco Symphony’s opening night performance at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center was beautiful and exciting. Each player in the symphony is fantastic individually, and together under the baton of the rockstar of the classical world, Michael Tilson Thomas, the orchestra elucidated every ounce emotion in the evening’s music program. Weill Hall, the acoustic gem and main hall of the GMC, plays gorgeously to this. The premier acoustic space seems to widen the ear canal, allowing for more sound to be heard at once than ever thought possible. The pieces on this night showcased this clarity.

Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (Op.28) begins with a sneaky little theme, proceeding to take the listener through all sorts of jollity but always with the sense of danger right around the corner. After all, a little mischief never hurt anyone, just don’t get caught. The clarinetist in this piece has a challenge, playing extremely high notes, the highest the instrument can make. I ran into a much loved SSU music professor during intermission, and he suggested this piece was specifically chosen for tonight to showcase the acoustics of the hall. I couldn’t agree more. The fast runs in the higher registers translated not into harsh overtones, but velvety notes that were easily followable in the clarity of the space. When the merry prankster does get caught (and executed), the low bass and drum notes were ferocious, vibrating my loose pant legs (or was that just my legs trembling from the tremendous magnitude of unamplified sound?)

The only sound that hasn’t made me gush so far in this hall is the low mid frequency. It can sound a bit muddled, especially with piano. On opening night with superstar Lang Lang at piano, his dexterous Mozart performance was lost a bit in this register, and parts of the SF Symphony performance were not as sonically brilliant in this area during faster sections. It sounds as though this frequency takes longer to develop than others in the hall. But really, this is splitting hairs. It’s not a problem so much as an observation.

MTT and Yefim Bronfman take a bow

Yefim Bronfman’s playing on Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto (Emperor) was superb. It was not flashy or self-indulgent but more bold and heroic like the piece itself. Though it did not have the passion one would imagine of Beethoven himself pounding the ivory keys, demanding more from his instrument than ever thought possible, it was not lacking for emotion, either. Whether it was just my ears or the players adjusting to the space, during the first five minutes it felt like the piano was just a hair too soft. But soon after, everything settled in. From then on it was pure ecstasy, like listening to a fabulous recording on the best audio system, but it was real, and it was happening right in front of us. I was reminded of this when, during a quiet moment just before the piano flourish at the end of the final movement, a cell phone, ironically with the “piano” ringtone, went off somewhere in the building. This only made enhanced the experience for me with its reminder that it was taking place in reality.

Also performed this evening was “Pandora,” which the SF Symphony had just performed for the first time the night before. This 20-minute piece for strings written by SF Symphony assistant concertmaster and violinist Mark Volkert in 2010 again showcased the heavenly acoustics of the main hall with several solos and double basses playing extended low notes, vibrating the floor in some cases. It is a 21st century work, to be sure, but it is more accessible than some newer pieces. It’s a story piece with a concrete narrative following the Greek myth of Pandora, and can be followed without too much confusion and with beautiful imagery. Volkert was in the audience and came up from his seat to shake hands with MTT after the piece. Both looked quite pleased with the result.

The sad truth of a generation hooked on mp3s is they will rarely experience a full acoustic experience in music. Earbuds are a terrible listening device, reproducing, at best, about two-thirds of the human hearing spectrum. The best mp3 is 25 percent of the data of a full recording compressed into the middle of the frequency spectrum where our ears are tuned to listen more easily. Without getting too technical, let’s just say the sound is flat and lifeless. The main hall at Sonoma State’s Green Music Center is the anti-mp3. It is pure sonic expression, giving music a forum to be heard as it was intended by its creator and perhaps even enhancing it through the warmth of the acoustic environment. Though their home, Davies’ Symphony Hall in San Francisco, is stunning in its own right, I wouldn’t be surprised if members of the SF Symphony prefer playing in Weill Hall. This was the first of four SF Symphony performances at the Green Music Center for its 2012-2013 season, and hopefully next season features even more.

Live Review: Miguel at the Oracle Arena, Oakland

Live Review: Miguel at the Oracle Arena, Oakland

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Nov 25, 2012 | Comments (0)

Miguel Pimentel is a 25-year old singer, songwriter and producer from Los Angeles who has made one of this year’s most bewilderingly satisfying albums, Kaleidoscope Dream. His music is R&B in the same way that Lionel Richie’s solo hits are R&B—instead of simply smoldering rootlessly in the modern formula, it assimilates both pop tropes and sonic experimentation in the pursuit of access to the part of one’s brain that processes an elusive strain called “catchiness.” (Miguel would never stoop to “Dancin’ on the Ceiling,” but a burner like “Runnin’ With the Night” is up his alley.)

His songs, most of which he writes, are incredible, but there’s little clue on Kaleidoscope Dream toward what kind of performer Miguel might be in a live setting. Does he play guitar like Prince, a clear inspiration? Does he pace back and forth, hunched over? I wasn’t sure until, at the Oakland Arena Friday night opening for Trey Songz, the lights went down and the pitch of the audience’s screams went up. Miguel emerged through wisps of a fog machine dressed in a custom-tailored suit, wingtip shoes, acutely tapered slacks, a silver lame shirt, dark shades and his signature hair. He then proceeded to dance with precision and unimaginable verve over every square foot of the stage.

Eminently healthy, Miguel moves like a less-furious James Brown, mentally separating the top portion of his body from the lower wind-up toys that other people might call legs. He is unafraid to laugh at the outrageousness of his own physical ability, as when he executed the famous “falling microphone stand” trick, or when he leaped from the side of the stage, over a six-foot gap, to land standing atop a stack of the arena’s bass woofers.

While all this is going on, Miguel manages to sing far better than most singers who just stand there. Yes, those high falsettos on “Adorn” were perfect. Moreover, he’d change melodies slightly, in subtle ways. On the chorus of “How Many Drinks,” a pyrotechnic singer like Mariah Carey might warble and flutter and yodel all over the chord changes; Miguel sung the sixth instead of the fifth. Simple, and effective.

The set only featured five songs from Kaleidoscope Dream, the rest coming from Miguel’s first album, his mixtapes or his guest spots. Sources mattered little; “in the palm of his hand” is the best description for where he had the crowd. “Thank you so much to the Bay Area,” he said at one point. “You guys supported me before my hometown did. It’s crazy, every time I come to the Bay I think about this special someone who inspired me to write these songs. Maybe you know her.”

Do You…” might’ve lacked the machine-gun drums and popping disco bass of the original, but segued neatly into Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up”; “Lotus Flower Bomb” turned into an enthusiastic singalong; and when Miguel ripped off his shirt during “Pussy is Mine,” well, he basically rendered the arena a helpless pool of female squeals. “Adorn” ended the set, and Miguel, legs flailing as ever, danced back to the uppermost riser, jumped high into the air, and landed perfectly, in the splits. Incredible.

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Setlist:
Strawberry Amazing
Sure Thing
The Thrill
How Many Drinks
All I Want Is You
Do You Like Drugs
Lotus Flower Bomb
The Pussy is Mine
Quickie
Adorn

 

Snoop Dogg to Play Phoenix Theater on Dec. 15

Snoop Dogg to Play Phoenix Theater on Dec. 15

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Nov 8, 2012 | Comments (2)

It’s official, and no, we aren’t joking: Snoop Dogg is playing the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma on Saturday, Dec. 15. If this means that we get to possibly see Tom Gaffey and Snoop Dogg on stage together, all will be amazing in the world.

Tickets go on sale this Saturday, Nov. 10, at 10am.

General admission tickets will be $70, making this the highest-priced ticket at the Phoenix in recent memory—and by “recent,” I mean “since 1989.” But consider that when Snoop plays in San Francisco, tickets cost over fifty bucks anyway, and minus gas and toll and parking, and it’s the Phoenix, for chrissakes, well… I’m betting it’ll quickly sell out.

If you’re a Snoop superfan, there’s also a VIP meet-and-greet option, including a photo with Snoop himself and special tour merchandise, priced at—drumroll please—$350.

Got your mind on your money and your money on your mind? You can get tickets, starting Saturday at 10am, here.

(UPDATE: Snoop’s also playing the Uptown Theatre in Napa the night before, on Friday, Dec. 14. Tickets are $60, and go on sale this Saturday at noon right here. If you can’t get Phoenix tickets on Saturday, that’s a good option—the Uptown is a great place to see a show.)

Review and Photos: Alison Krauss and Union Station at the Green Music Center

Review and Photos: Alison Krauss and Union Station at the Green Music Center

Posted by: Nicolas Grizzle on Oct 1, 2012 | Comments (4)

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.

Live Review: Heatwarmer at Arlene Francis Center

Posted by: Nicolas Grizzle on Aug 27, 2012 | Comments (0)


After much deliberation, it is my opinion that Heatwarmer is the most appropriate name for the incredible band that played last night at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa.

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.

Live Review: Phish at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco

Live Review: Phish at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco

Posted by: Andy Maroney on Aug 23, 2012 | Comments (1)

PHOTOS BY ANDY MARONEY

Phish once played Santa Rosa in 1993 at the Luther Burbank Center, a venue with a capacity of about 1500. The young band was in their heyday, amazing audiences with their pyrotechnic jams—and having tons of fun doing it, as evidenced by the set list and notes from that night.

Back then, drummer Jon Fishman performed solos on trombone and Electrolux vacuum cleaner, the latter during a Syd Barrett cover song. Between their own fun and funky compositions, the band playfully covered songs by Argent, Led Zeppelin, and even performed two tunes a capella with no microphones, barbershop-quartet style. At one point a member of the audience was brought onstage to tell a joke.

That was the Phish that I knew and loved when I first discovered them, that same year. A band with a great sense of humor, entertaining as hell, made up of talented and fearless musicians. They got the crowd involved by bouncing giant beach balls into the crowd for the “Big Ball Jam,” while guitarist Trey Anastasio and bass player Mike Gordon jumped on mini trampolines in synchronized choreography to the music. There was even a “secret language” between the band and the audience (so, for instance, when the guitarist played a few notes of The Simpsons theme the entire audience would exclaim “D’oh!” in unison).

Divine Fits Defies ‘Supergroup’ Moniker

Posted by: Nicolas Grizzle on Aug 17, 2012 | Comments (1)

Equal parts Spoon, Wolf Parade and New Bomb Turks make a cocktail called Divine Fits

Divine Fits is a Voltron of indie and punk rock. Take Spoon singer Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade guitarist Dan Boeckner and New Bomb Turks (yes, the 90s punk band) drummer Sam Brown, throw them in a recording studio, and the result is far better than any other so-called supergroup I’ve ever heard.

The debut album, “A Thing Called Divine Fits,” is streaming on NPR until Aug. 19 here. It’s due to be released Aug. 28. They’re also playing the Treasure Island Festival in San Francisco this year with The XX, Best Coast, Joanna Newsom, Los Campesinos! and a host of others.

There are no egos in the music here, nothing that doesn’t add to the songs. It feels like, well, it feels like a combination of Spoon, New Bomb Turks and Wolf Parade, actually. Maybe a little less New Bomb Turks, but it’s there. The energy and not-giving-a-fuck-ness feels like punk, but the music isn’t super fast, there are more than four chords per song, and the instrumentation and recording are both decidedly grown up.

Vintage synthesizers fill transitions and spaces between lyrical stanzas. The music isn’t afraid to take chances, to stick its neck out and let songs develop without having to worry about “the hook.” It’s got that great Spoon groove that I love, but doesn’t get boring like Spoon sometimes feels to me. I could listen to this record four more times today, and I’ve already heard it more than once.

The recording is great, and that helps. It’s always tough to get into a new band when they release something recorded in their buddy’s basement in Portland on a “sweet ProTools rig” or something like that. The great thing about a supergroup is their connections and the buzz they have built leads to releasing something that, at the very least, will be a high-quality recording.

The songs are solid, the band sounds like it’s been playing together for quite a while now, so is moniker “supergroup” really appropriate here? There are good ones, like the Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson), the Postal Service (Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello, Jenny Lewis) and the Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, many others). But for the most part, supergroups, once realized, are a terrible idea. Here’s a few off the top of my head: Slash’s Snakepit, Audioslave, Zwan, Velvet Revolver, Angels and Airwaves, Chickenfoot, PLASTIC FREAKING ONO BAND.

It doesn’t usually work out. But this doesn’t suck. In fact, if this became a real band, and not just a Postal Service, We’re-Gonna-Make-One-Album-And-Never-Again kind of thing, I would be most pleased.

Live Review: Nicki Minaj at the Paramount Theater, Oakland

Live Review: Nicki Minaj at the Paramount Theater, Oakland

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Aug 14, 2012 | Comments (0)

The L.A. Times has a review of Nicki Minaj’s L.A. show that criticizes the singer for having too many personas, which I think misses the point. What Nicki Minaj is is too many personas. Nicki Minaj is a bunch of unrealized, scattershot ideas. Nicki Minaj is a schizophrenic 12-year-old with tourettes who’s drank three mochas and has been handed a mic. Because of this—this barrage of short, quick information blasts one experiences while listening to the 29-year-old’s music—Nicki Minaj mirrors the 21st century and its nonstop information overload. It’s a genius, prescient presentation, that happens to fill the important role in teenage pop music of driving older people crazy.

Nicki Minaj is also Katy Perry for the fuckups, evinced by the crowd at the Paramount Theater in Oakland on Thursday night for Minaj’s first-ever headlining tour. In every direction: neon wigs, tight dresses, high heels, high hems, low necklines, lace tutus and gratuitous cleavage, but, like, with intentionally messed-up makeup, or ripped fishnets, or tattoo sleeves. One could easily people-watch in the lobby and feel like the $100 tickets were already money well spent.

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