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.
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: 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
Disclosure: 2/5 In haiku: such low energy / could not keep my eyes open / what was that you said?
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: 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.
She started as a wave, rolling in from far out in the ocean. She built up steam and, halfway through the show, her jokes began to land with explosions of laughter. Anjelah Johnson is more than a one-joke pony–this California comedian’s built to last.
Slipping seamlessly between “normal” and her lovable ghetto gurrrl voiced-characters, Johnson was a quick study for the audience at Napa’s Uptown Theater last night. Some hilarious jokes were performed so quick and nonchalantly that the audience, largely unfamiliar with much of the culture she was referencing, probably would have laughed even harder had they grown up in a more diverse area. Her opening joke nailed this sentiment. “I’ve never been to Napa before,” says the Mexican comedian who grew up in San Jose before moving to Los Angeles. “I thought it would be more…” and she made a snooty duck face. You know, the ones on every teenager’s Facebook page, but influenced by a glass of wine and a sense of entitlement. Before anyone starts up the hate train, I stress that she said it wasn’t like that. Unbundle your undies, already.
I’m going to sandwich a bit about Kabir Singh’s set in the middle because I don’t want anyone to miss it. This Indian comedian opened the night with hillarious riffs on Indian culture, among other topics. He’s very loud and energetic and it’s tough not to like him. Besides that, his jokes are great. One of my favorites was Indians bargaining: “Even an Indian getting mugged would bargain. ‘I’m gonna shoot you!’ ‘Ok, buddy, how about you just stab me and we call it a day, huh?’”
Johnson recently married a Christian rapper, who was on hand to pose for pictures with everyone leaving the theater. If you search Instagram, just type “Anjelah Johnson’s hudband”–this will yield more results than his name, surely, which I still don’t know. Even though she once had a whole joke about the oxymoronic music genre that is Christian rap, Johnson (and her huge, sparkly diamond ring) seems quite happy with the turn of events. Her jokes about moving in and starting a life together were not as brutal as they could have been. Maybe her biggest peeve was her husband’s use, once, of her toothbrush. “I never even thought of that as an option,” she says.
Johnson mostly went with new material, but a few Raiderettes in the crowd, waving pom poms after the best jokes, caught her attention. She busted out some moves (she was a Raiders cheerleader in 2003 when the team went to the Super Bowl), and even made a Raiders joke (the punchline was, essentially, the Raiders). The Raiders fan in the front row could not argue, and even took off his hat in a moment of shame.
She saved her “hits” for the end, busting out the characters of Bon Qui Qui and the Nail Salon Lady while showing T-Shirts and even a 3-song rap CD featuring the characters. She rapped along with some of it over the sound system and said the idea was picked up by Atlantic Records and to expect a full-length effort soon. With all her skills (she’s a talented dancer, singer and rapper in addition to being ridiculously funny), it’s a wonder she hasn’t landed more movie roles or her own TV show (though she does a significant amount of voice acting). If this album news is true, it could be the crossover hit that cements her career. Hey, good music is good, and good music that’s funny is often even more entertaining.
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Trebuchet, one of Sonoma County’s most wonderful bands, is recording a followup to their self-titled debut album. Hopefully, this one will be filled with just as much reflective storytelling and beautiful vocal harmonies as their first effort. The 10-song full-length record will hopefully be released in the fall, says drummer and recording engineer Paul Haile, who was recording drum tracks in Santa Rosa today with bassist and guitarist Navid Manoochehri. Judging by the drum tracks, it sounds like this album will feature a larger sound, maybe with more punch and, if possible, even more emotion than the previous one.
It’s also supposed to hit 97 degrees today, so maybe the tracks recorded later in the day will be more subdued.
Last night’s show at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa was a revelation. I thought punk was dead; turns out it’s alive, but it lives in Oakland and Mexico City.
On the hottest day of the year (103 degrees, for fuck’s sake), a bunch of punk bands and fans crowded into the even hotter Arlene Francis Center to “dance” to fast, loud rock and roll music. Dancing, of course, is subjective. Nobody complained about the heat, but shirts were removed (and, at times, pants). Some bands didn’t show up, some unscheduled bands did, almost everyone shared the same drum set all night (which, since I was running sound, I was fully on board with). Turns out most of the bands were from Oakland, and two were from Mexico City. So that’s where all the rock and roll was hiding.
Burger Records’ Pookie and the Poodlez started off in the café, with the underwear-clad front man screeching into a yellow telephone receiver living a second life as a microphone. This is the ‘60s, semi-surf punk craze all the kids are into now, with the grit and simplicity of the Ramones combined with the poppy harmonies of the Monkees. That front man was in four bands of the evening, including Elvis Christ, Cumstain and Primitive Hearts, covering vocals, guitar and drumming duties.
In Cumstain, the singer and drummer donned stockings over their heads, as if they were about to burglarize the crowd. The only thing they stole, however, was the show, as the crowd threw possibly half-full cans of Pabst at the stage in appreciation. Crazy antics and wearing a stocking on your head in 100-degree heat playing fast punk rock under stage lights for half an hour will do that.
And now for something completely different, in every sense of the word. We Are the Men took the stage next. This super-talented group of Bay Area natives played unclassifiable rock, possibly in the vein of Dillinger Escape Plan or Triclops, but with a hearty helping of what-the-fuck-is-this-music on the side. Lots of screaming, lots of dynamic and style changes mid-song, lots of catchy-as-fuck hooks that disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as they appeared. I liked them, I think. Judging by faces in the crowd, it seems like many had a similar opinion. I think.
Elvis Christ was led by a standup comedian in training, who yakked about half the time, and took a Pabst to the nuts for his troubles. All in good fun, because he was actually somewhat amusing, and the doo-wop punk rock was delightful.
Los Headaches, from Mexico City, came on at midnight after waiting the whole day for their 15 minutes, literally, of “fame.” Even at this late hour, there were a few stragglers still watching and dancing. The next band, which featured the same members plus one crazy ass motherfucker of a singer, played for 20 minutes immediately after.
I didn’t catch their name, they weren’t on the official flyer It’s Los Vincent Black Shadows – Thanks Sam). Holy shit. At 12:15am, this band pulled in a larger crowd just two songs into their set. The energy gave the crowd a second wind and stage diving, knocking over of instruments, heavy moshing (not that circle pit bullshit) took place. Their songs were in English (as far as I could tell, at least–he was yelling most of the time, sometimes with a microphone literally in his mouth), but it didn’t matter because punk rock transcends language. During one song, the singer repeatedly bashed his guitar, neck down, into the ground, then threw it across the stage and ran after it, like it had just stolen his wallet, and stomped on it to teach it a lesson. The guitar did not break.
Santa Rosa’s music scene is vastly differently from other parts of the Bay Area, as evidenced by this show comprised of bands from outside the area. Kudos to Jake Ward for organizing the show, which also had a barbecue and awesome looking stage. Here’s to more traveling bands coming to one of the few venues in greater Sonoma County supporting music as more than just a moneymaker.
BottleRock is here. And we can only hope it returns.
Arriving late on Friday, I caught the last half of Andrew Bird’s set. I’ve always thought he would be better in a concert hall than a festival, and I still think that. He was good, but there’s something about the violin and looper pedal that runs counter to the spirit of a big rock show. On the next stage, the Shins, who were rumored to have played a warm-up show the night before at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma to about 15 people, were tight and professional. They’re about as surgically precise as a band can be, sounding just like the record. Almost too perfect, but very good. At the same time, Blues Traveler started tearing into their set. I caught “Run Around” and stayed for a couple songs because, damn, that John Popper can blow! I haven’t heard if he and Charlie Musslewhite, who is also playing the festival, are doing or have done a harmonica duet. I don’t know if the world could handle it.The set up was similar to Outside Lands, but without the one-mile trek between stages. This meant that no matter where you stood, there was music playing. Not that lines were a big problem (the longest I waited for anything was about 10 minutes), but it would suck to know you’re missing the main reason for the $130 ticket because there is not an adequate number of beer stations. The addition of comedy to the festival was tough, making yet another thing to choose from to watch in addition to the great bands. But the comedy headliner each night (last night was Jim Bruer) started at 10:15, just after the last band. Not sure if that meant more or people would stick around because the rock show was over. But there were lines for each of the other comedians throughout the day.
Before the Flaming Lips took the stage (they were the last act of the second stage), it was time to refuel. There was festival food, but this being Napa, there was so much more. Cochon Volant BBQ actually ran out of buns for its pork sandwich, but the line did not diminish upon this announcement. They served instead a plate of just meat and coleslaw, which was incredible. The deep smoke flavor went nicely with a Sierra Nevada fresh-hop Harvest brew, another culinary upgrade from usual festival fare. Tons of restaurants, including Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame), were dishing up fancy foods. And with what seemed like hundreds of wineries on hand with popup tents and tasting lounges, it felt like a good representation of the California culinary scene. Imagine coming from Philadelphia or New Mexico to a festival that not only cares about food but almost worships it like a groupie does a rock band. It made for a good vibe.
Scarfing down my pork and ‘slaw, I got pretty much front-and-center to see the Flaming Lips. I’d seen them at Treasure Island a few years ago as the headlining act, and they raised the bar for me for festival acts. Frontman Wayne Coyne and company did not disappoint. In fact, they raised the bar yet again. Wayne, in a blue polyester suit, stood atop his lumpy, space-age, shiny bubble pulpit with a baby doll in the crook of his arm, cooing an playing with it while the band rocked around him. I’m glad he didn’t do anything crazy like throw it into the audience or rip its arm off or something. It gave that baby a symbolism it would have otherwise not held. The stage faced the setting sun, meaning the band got to watch a beautiful Napa sunset while the crowd didn’t have to squint at sun spots (good planning, BottleRock!). Coyne remarked how beautiful it was, and said how cool it would be if the sun set and then rose again immediately after (this ain’t Alaska, Wayne). He also praised the festival and thanked “whoever got us to play here” because it was a good thing to be a part of. As it got darker, the light show became more pronounced. Lasers, smoke, a truss of lights that moved down from the sky to just above Coyne’s head and shot strobe lights and huge flood lights across the crowd. Being directly in the center, I was blown away. You’ve seen people put hands on their head in that oh-my-god-what-am-I-even-seeing-right-now move of disbelief? That was me several times during this performance. Luckily, there are photos to help explain, because words are hard sometimes. The Flaming Lips received a well-deserved ovation, prompting a real encore (the lights had even come back on already). All this while the headliners, the Black Keys were about half an hour into their set already. People stayed for the Flaming Lips encore, and almost demanded a second encore.The Black Keys were good. Even had a full band for the second half of their set. But if someone could explain why this is the end-all-be-all of bands right now, I’d love to listen. They rock, yeah, I dig that. But Blues Traveler rocks, too, though I suppose they had their time in the sun as well. Leaving the festival was relatively uncomplicated. There were plenty of volunteers directing the masses to the shuttle locations, and five shuttles filled and left at one time, so there wasn’t much of a wait. Upon arriving at the, ahem, parking lot, it was a different story. I hope everyone loaded their car’s location into Google Maps as a “favorite location,” because with no lights whatsoever and no volunteers directing the crowd, finding your car out of 10,000 in five separate lots would be tough. I parked at the back of a lot, and was really hoping I remembered correctly which one because it’s a 15-minute walk back to the dropoff point, and who knows how long from there to the other lots. I was right, and left with little delay.
One more point is the sound. It was excellent, but could have been a little louder on the main stage, especially for the Black Keys. Maybe this was a city ordinance thing, but it’s a rock show. Give it some gas!
“There’s nothing wrong with PlayStation and jacking off. . . . but it was really messing with my creativity.”
See that dude in the photo up there? Yeah, that’s not Macklemore. Sorry. You’re cruising BottleRock, you see a guy in a fur vest and waxed-down blonde hair, and chances are that with the amount of Macklemore impersonators out there, it’s not really gonna be Ben Haggerty, b. 1983, hit song, “Thrift Shop.”
And what do you care? You’ve come in hopes that your gut feeling on Macklemore is off-base. You want Macklemore, live and on stage, to somehow take those eyes you so irritatedly rolled at first hearing (or, realistically: seeing) “Thrift Shop” and knock them right out of your head, and say: “Hey man, don’t be so fuckin’ jaded, I grew up on Paid in Full too. Just have fun, okay?”
On this night here in Napa, kicking off BottleRock, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” has just hit Billboard’s #1 spot, and while you’re watching his dutiful set you realize why he enjoys such wide mainstream appeal: there is simply no reason to really hate the guy. He bounces and traipses around the stage as if following an exercise regimen, he delivers his repeated patter as if it were fresh every night, and he shows up on time (big points in the rap world for that last one).
How I’ve gone this long without seeing Nick Cave live is beyond me, especially since I’ve always… well, “always been a fan” wouldn’t be accurate. (I own three of his albums.) More truthful would be to say that Nick Cave’s music has never, ever irritated me. Considering Cave’s extensive output, that’s saying something. Combine it with the full-blown “holy shit” moments his songs have given to me—like hearing “Nobody’s Baby Now” while nursing a $1 PBR at EJ’s in Portland, in 1997—well, Nick Cave finally demanded to be seen live.
If you’ve seen him, you know. If you haven’t, imagine a rail-thin circus ringmaster whipping a band of lions not out of but into aggressiveness. A flamboyant offspring of Valentino and Satan, Cave channels 55 years of romantic bandwidth into sharp, stinging things called “songs,” which are more like forays across continents than things you might sing in the shower. These forays are not for the faint of heart, or, evidently, for the young: tonight, he had a children’s choir backing him up, and when they exited the stage, they covered their ears and looked terrified.
“Wow, this sounds a lot like Black Sabbath” was the first thought that popped into my head last night at the Fuzz show in San Francisco. “These long haired dudes kinda look like Black Sabbath, too,” I thought. “But that drummer isn’t hiding behind two bass drums and only has two cymbals. And there’s no singer. This is really, really great! I never liked Ozzy’s voice, and these guys sound like a way bigger band than just a three-piece.” But all these great conversation starters were wasted on my own mind, however, because Ty Segall’s latest musical venture was so damn loud nobody in the Knockout would have heard a stampede of elephants running down Mission Street.
Despite what it sounded like, there was only one guitarist, Charles Moothart. Segall is really the one known for cranking out the rockingest rock with his incredible his guitar tones, but here he’s on drums. More on that later. Moothart’s appropriately fuzzy guitar was fat, so fat, in fact, that it shook my ribcage. Maybe it was a warning, like by body was saying, This Is Almost Too Much Rock, Be Careful. His solos were tasty, like hot jam dripping off a shortbread biscuit tasty. And then there was the hair–so much hair, it was everywhere.
Now Segall, who is a guitarist in something like three other bands, might be on the hook for battery if those drums decide to press charges. He beat them like they owed him money, like they insulted his mother, like they keyed his 1967 Mustang. His ferocity did not dimish the speed of the band’s last song, which kept a blistering pace for four times longer than most punk songs. Not only this, but he sang for some of the songs, most of which were new and will probably have lyrics soon.
The crowd at this Noisepop show may have been a little too hip for its own good. The feeling on the tiny dance floor was that familiar precipice of moshing, where either age, vanity or self consciousness kept people from truly smashing into each other like idiots. Instead, a couple of buzzed dudes in gingham shirts sort of pushed each other around a little, eliciting nervous smiles from the wary crowd around them. In a different setting, this would be the ultimate circle pit band.
Co-headling was OGB III, who took the stage after Fuzz. This band was delicious, filled with ooey-gooey cheese and mushy, fatty pork. Slathered in curtido and spicy salsa, they were too hot at first, but soon went down smooth with a cold Mexican beer. No, wait, that was the pupusas at Los Panchos. No offense to OGB III, but nothing was going to top what we had just seen and heard, and we wanted to leave on the highest note possible.
On a side note, local group Blasted Canyons opened, and were pissed off the whole time about, among other things, their monitor mix. Their playing reflected this attitude it in a bad way. But on the plus side, they did have an Oberheim synthesizer, which is high on the list of things that make really cool sounds. The Knockout is a great bar, with plenty of character and a decent dance floor and stage. It’s too loud and really small, which usually makes every show better. This night was no exception.
At the start of her packed show Thursday night in San Francisco, Jessie Ware’s token platitudes for the city of San Francisco started out as just that—expected banter from a touring musician, repeated hundreds of times over. By the end of the show, though, after constant affection showered upon the breakout UK star from an adoring crowd, her city-crush on San Francisco rose to fever pitch. Then, when someone handed her a bouquet of roses, Ware completely lost it.
“Oh my Gooooooodddddd!!” she wailed, in thick British accent. “This really is our favorite city!”
Ware’s full-length album Devotion still hasn’t been officially been released in the United States, whatever that means in the year 2013; everyone at the Rickshaw Stop seemed to know nearly every song. Opening with the title track, Ware and her rock-solid band emitted a slow pulse, built it to a climax and, as Ware sang loudly away from the mic, pushed the song into transcendence. It was a formula that would be repeated throughout the night, but never felt, well, formulaic.