“Anybody come here by cable car?”
Jarvis Cocker had only been in San Francisco for a few hours Tuesday when the longest legs in rock raced his upper half to City Lights bookstore. Later, on stage at the Warfield, he read an excerpt from his purchase—a copy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s translations of the French surrealist poet Jacques Prévert—and quoted playwright Thornton Wilder and author Isak Dinesen.
“Do you want to see a dolphin?”
Prevért? Wilder? Dinesen? Needless to say, Cocker is not your average rock star. But he’s no bookish dweeb, either—the Ferlinghetti recitation served as lead-in to “This is Hardcore,” the most dramatic song about sex ever recorded. A bra was flung on stage; he picked it up and buried his nose in it. He gyrated, jumped, lay prone, thrusted and grinded his way through an exhilarating two-hour set, and nobody in the Warfield left last night without wanting to go to bed with him.
“Well, the afternoon is really the best time to have sex. Why is that?”
Everything about Pulp’s show at the Warfield amazed and delighted. Aside from a handful of recent reunion dates, Pulp has not played together for almost a decade, but you wouldn’t have known it from their set on Tuesday. They were supremely tight, the set list was outstanding, the sound was superb, the crowd was energetic, the lights were dazzling, and Jarvis Cocker, good God, was at his most Jarvis Cockerish.
“Just because something’s obvious doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say it.”
It’s been said before, but Jarvis Cocker is truly the consummate frontman. The art of talking to the crowd, I realized last night, is a lost art. For all the listless rambling heard in the 1990s, well, I miss the attempt. Cocker attempts, and nails, and even his listlessness tends to quickly draw up a list and get on a point to connect with the crowd. He’s been introducing these songs for years. He still finds new routes to their titles.
“It’s difficult to introduce this next song, because then you’ll know what it is.”
Of course, it was “Common People,” and of course, it was incredible, and of course, of course, of course… there are so many “of courses” associated with “Common People” and yet it sailed across the Warfield like some majestic liberating angel of light unifying everyone there against everyone else and for however many minutes it coursed through a collective vein and wrapped us all up with empathy and a red bow and a beer bottle.
“If I give you this beer, will you share it?”
And still I’ve never loved “Common People” as much as last night. “Disco 2000,” “Babies” and set opener “Do You Remember the First Time?” were also grand singalongs. But the beastly favorite of mine is “This is Hardcore,” delivered with all the hot drip and luscious terror of the record. Cocker scaled the speaker tower, dangled his microphone from strategic places and collapsed in a pile across the stage monitors.
“How fortunate that this arrived here at this particular moment.”
Looking back, it’s unbelievable that only one bra was thrown on stage, but Cocker took it to launch into “Underwear,” an overt song worthy of San Francisco, which Cocker clearly was grateful for. Introducing “Mis-Shapes,” he related how touring bands love coming to San Francisco because “it seems a bit messed up, and there are strange people all around. Just like us.” He also reminded the crowd that the last time Pulp played in town was at Bimbo’s, in 1996. Jarvis Cocker, awesomely, reads his own fan site..
“I was in Las Vegas last night. That’s a fucked up place.”
The site, PulpWiki (“it knows more about my life than I do”) told Cocker that the band’s first album It was released 29 years ago to the day. So the show ended with Pulp playing “My Lighthouse,” the very first song from their very first album. No sweeter arc could have been circled to end the show, which, judging from the sweat and exhilaration on the sidewalk in front of the Warfield afterward, is going to go down as legendary. As for my standing-in-front-of-the-speaker self… well, I’m going to be answering the phone with my left ear all week.
Do You Remember the First Time?
O.U. (Gone, Gone)
Sorted for E’s & Wizz
Like a Friend
This Is Hardcore
Last night, the City of San Francisco belonged to Adam Theis.
At 8:06pm, the lobby of the Palace of Fine Arts was full, over a hundred people, with two lines for will call and another line for ticket purchases. Inside the theatre, all seats were occupied; standing-room overflow lined the aisles. Onstage, the orchestra had already begun playing, trying to fit as much music as possible into the tiny time frame allowed.
At the front was the man of the hour, Adam Theis, conducting this impossibly huge ensemble after a year of nonstop writing. San Francisco’s own Theis—of the Jazz Mafia, the Realistic Orchestra, the Shotgun Wedding Quintet and an upbringing in Santa Rosa—stood casually in sneakers and a hooded sweatshirt, overseeing the premiere of his magnum opus and life’s work thus far.
This is no local-boy-makes-good story. After the incredible composition unveiled last night, it’s time to stop with the hometown platitudes and officially herald Adam Theis as a major talent.
Brass, Bows & Beats is a work on par with Miles Davis & Gil Evans’ Live at Carnegie Hall or Charles Mingus’ Epitaph—visionary in scope, staggering in depth. Rarely have I heard live music of greater variety without the variety itself taking center stage. If there is a dominant theme to the work, it is that we are all one, and it makes its case with dizzying arrangements, evocative poetry and an impossible-to-resist urge to get down.
In the great jazz tradition, Adam Theis has spent ten years playing virtually nonstop in San Francisco’s small nightclubs. Sometimes he’ll play a whole set of loose, free-form funk songs. Sometimes he’ll stick to strictly jazz. Lately he’s been showcasing special sets of instrumentals sampled by De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, bringing attention back to the sources of classic hip-hop songs. Beats, Bows and Brass combines all of this activity with cerebral aplomb and an unerring personality that widely circumvents the rudimentary hokum of early jazz/hip-hop hybrids like Jazzmatazz or Hand on the Torch.
Theis conducted his 48-piece orchestra, played trombone and bass, spoke humbly between segments and animatedly tossed his charts to the stage floor throughout the performance. He allowed his players, and particularly his vocalists, to take the limelight. He stepped aside when violinists Anthony Blea and Mads Tolling went head-to-head in the dual jazz improvisation “Blea vs. Tolling”; when rappers Lyrics Born, Aima, Dublin, Seneca and Karyn Paige evoked the Mission District in “Community 2.0”; and when DJ Aspect McCarthy scratched along to beatbox breakdowns while the brass section swelled and ebbed dramatically.
On the surface, Brass, Bows & Beats is akin to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in that it brings a genre associated with black music into the symphonic realm. Theis does the same for hip-hop with Brass, Bows and Beats, but a closer cousin is Gordon Jenkins’ 1949 vignette Manhattan Tower, in which a great city is realized through a work of music that feels as alive as the city itself. Without a doubt, Brass, Bows & Beats is the sound of San Francisco in 2009; intelligent, soulful and diverse.
Once the official symphony was over, a second, looser set opened with an Astor Piazzolla song featuring Colin Hogan on the accordion. Joe Bagale brought the house down with his soul cry “Love Song,” and Jon Monahan conducted Eric Garland’s “Arc Line.” Those awaiting a party-rocking amalgam—in line with the Jazz Mafia’s many nights at Bruno’s—were rewarded near the end when the intensity level was raised markedly by Lyrics Born, who had been a small accessory to the first set.
Working the front of the stage, Lyrics Born brought the entire Palace of Fine Arts to its feet with full-orchestra versions of his own album tracks. A slow, sultry “Over You” and the hands-in-the-air “Hott 2 Deff” balanced the serious nature of the first set; the veteran Bay Area rapper then joined a full-frontal freestyle by all six vocalists for a television crime drama “Streets of San Francisco / Theme from S.W.A.T.” medley, arranged by Jeanne Geiger, that thrillingly increased in tempo toward the euphoric finish of a great night.
Attention, rest of the world outside the Bay Area! Adam Theis and the Jazz Mafia: Recognize!
The rare treat of seeing Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson last night in their first-ever concert together wasn’t one easily passed up. Not by the sold-out crowd; not by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who ambled in with trademark cowboy hat and cane; and not by—brace yourselves, folks—Cher, who sat in the sixth row.
What in the world was Cher doing at a Merle Haggard / Kris Kristofferson show in Santa Rosa? We may never know. What’s for sure is that she, along with fans that capped the night with an epic five-minute standing ovation, witnessed two bona fide heroes of country music give a performance at turns tender, humorous, poignant, insightful, and above all, intimate.
Let’s just hope Cher wasn’t the woman who yelled out for “Me & Bobby McGee” a few songs after Kristofferson had already played it.
The 1,400-capacity Wells Fargo Center has a historic knack for achieving a living room-like atmosphere for acoustic music. They did it with the Landmine Free World concert in 1999 with Steve Earle, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Patti Griffith and Bruce Cockburn; they did it with the two Elvis Costello / Steve Nieve concerts they’ve hosted; they did it with the Texas songwriter night in 2005 with Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Guy Clark and Joe Ely; and they did it last night by closing the stage curtain and presenting Haggard and Kristofferson front and center.
When Merle Haggard played at the Center last year, electric, he drew a shitkickin’, Copenhagen-dippin’, cheap perfume-wearin’ crowd. This tour was different. Instead of a parking lot scene with greasy dudes in Suicidal Tendencies T-shirts smoking joints, it welcomed wine tour limousines and sixty-somethings gingerly stepping out of Oldsmobiles. The performance itself suited the new audience: pensive, slow, and mortal.
“If there’s a Hall of Fame for heroes in heaven, this man’s definitely on his way,” said Kristofferson, introducing Haggard after opening the show with “Shipwrecked in the Eighties.” Added Haggard, fresh from successful lung cancer surgery: “Between the two of us there’s about 150 years of experience here.”
Those expecting a “Storytellers”-type show, with Haggard and Kristofferson sitting down with acoustic guitars and swapping tales about the Army (Kristofferson), prison (Haggard), Louisiana oil rigs (Kristofferson) or stealing Buck Owens’ wife (Haggard) got something far better: a run-down of the two giants’ greatest songs backed by an elegant, semi-acoustic version of Haggard’s band, the Strangers. (Turns out Haggard must have won the battle.) As for storytelling, most of the night’s commentary got squeezed between lines of the songs themselves.
Kristofferson, during “Nobody Wins”: “George Bush and Dick Cheney were singin’ this song in the shower together.”
Haggard, during “Sing Me Back Home”: “This goes out to all the ex-convicts. It’s every convict’s dream to be an ex-convict.”
Kristofferson, during “Best of All Possible Worlds”: “Did you know that here in the USA, the land of the free, we got more people behind bars than any other country on the planet? That’s right, boy. We’re #1.”
Haggard, during “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”: “I feel like a stripper without a G-string!”
Yes, the two were very funny together, but also incredibly warm, and wise. It’s not uncommon for former hellraisers entering life’s twilight, particularly in country music, to embrace a life-lesson empathy. When I spoke with Kristofferson last year, he elaborated: “There is a freedom in accepting the fact that there is a difference at this end of the road,” he told me. “I’ve watched a lot of my friends and heroes, like Johnny Cash and Waylon, I’ve watched ‘em slip and fall. And be gone. And it’s gonna happen to all of us. So I think the acceptance of it gives you a freedom to be less critical of yourself when you make mistakes, and to not be so hard on others.”
Warmth like that was conveyed on stage last night so often, it sometimes outperformed the fantastic songs. Check the set list below—there were nearly 30 of ‘em. The selections played off each other cleverly, as Haggard ran with the torch of Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” and answered, “Are the Good Times Really Over?” Kristofferson pleaded to help him make it through the night; Haggard, up next, just wanted to make it through December.
Yes, it was a considerable union. To see Kristofferson sing backups on Haggard’s “Silver Wings” and a reworked verse in “Okie From Muskogee,” or to have Haggard play his ranchero-style nylon guitar solos on “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night” was truly exciting. By the end, after the two had finished “Why Me Lord,” the standing ovation seemed endless. No one could believe it when five minutes later, the house lights came up.
(Afterward, Cher was quickly escorted behind velvet ropes into a tinted-window SUV. Kristofferson obliged a waiting crowd of about 50 with autographs and gracious conversation, and Haggard stayed put on his bus until it rumbled, slowly lurched forward through the parking lot, and breezed into Highway 101 for the next town.)
Photos by Elizabeth Seward.
Shipwrecked in the Eighties
Me & Bobby McGee
I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink
Folsom Prison Blues
Best of All Possible Worlds
If I Could Only Fly
Here Comes That Rainbow Again
I Wish I Could Be 30 Again
Help Me Make It Through The Night
If We Make It Through December
Okie From Muskogee
Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down
Back to Earth
Jody and the Kid
The Silver-Tongued Devil and I
Sing Me Back Home
He’s a Pilgrim
Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star
For the Good Times
Are the Good Times Really Over
Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down
Today I Started Loving You Again
Why Me Lord
Freddie Hubbard, four days shy of his 70th birthday, staggered out onto the Yoshi’s stage last night with a flugelhorn and a menacing scowl. Mean and disorderly, he waved his arms to stop “Now’s The Time,” barking at the band. How dare they?
The guys had been killing time, waiting for Hubbard to show up long after he’d been announced. First couple silent minutes on stage had been rough. What the hell else were they supposed to do? Hubbard—pissed off, cantankerous—counted off a tune, placed his legendary lips into his mouthpiece, and leaned into the microphone for yet another painful struggle to get any kind of sound out of his horn.
A few notes here. A contorted face of disgust. A few notes there. A disappointed survey of his valves. A few notes—no, wait, just a garbled line of noise, actually.
Hubbard hobbled to the back of the stage, thrusting his hand to no one in particular to start the next solo, and sat down, shooting bitter glances around the depressing scenario.
I was one of the best fucking players, he thought. Look at me now. Can’t even string four notes together. This busted lip, what a goddamned farce. Make Bobby Hutcherson play a ballad—that’ll spare me a few minutes, at least.
“I haven’t done anything in the last five years,” he muttered to the crowd, “except get operations.” Limping around the stage as if to collapse at any second, he accused other members on the bandstand of having more money than him, asking about Hutcherson’s yacht. “I got 300 records,” he boasted. “Buy twenty of ‘em and I’ll stay alive.”
“Hub-tones!” someone yelled. Hubbard’s already-sinister frown turned vicious. “Too fast,” he grumbled.
Leave the trumpet for five years, man, and it leaves you, he thought. All these fucking people, only here to say they saw me before I kick off. They don’t wanna hear me play just like I don’t wanna try anymore. Let’s end this shit. “Red Clay.”
Probably better if they can’t even hear me, he thought. An idea hit.
The bassline kicked in, and Freddie Hubbard, without a doubt one of the greatest and most versatile jazz trumpeters of all time, puckered his withered lips against his horn, hunched over, and angrily mimicked the motions of a trumpet solo the only possible way he could: in absolute silence.