Question: What’s the stupidest thing the Weeknd said at the Fillmore last night?
Answer: “C’mon, sing my fuckin’ song!”
It was in the middle of “Crew Love,” the Drake collaboration that had the entire place going apeshit. Everyone—from the front to the back, the people who scored tickets before the show sold out in two minutes, the people who dropped $200 on Craigslist, the bartenders, the security—everyone in the Fillmore already had their hands up, screaming along to every line, a unison chorus one thousand strong. Telling the crowd last night to sing along was like asking Kobe Bryant to maybe make some baskets already.
I know, I know, it’s just a hype line, everyone uses it. But every song had the same effect of unanimous singing, word-for-word, from a crowd utterly crazed on House of Balloons, myself included. The celebration was a short one—the show lasted just over an hour—but cutting things short actually felt right, somehow, and I didn’t leave disappointed.
The Weeknd opened with “High For This,” numerous joints lit up, and holy shit, the beat drop on the “open your hand” line, right? He did a bit of “Dirty Diana,” morphed it into “The Birds,” and completed the frontloading of hits as he fired into “Crew Love.” “The Knowing,” utterly sublime, stopped time itself. Girls climbed on boyfriends’ shoulders for “The Morning.” Near the hour mark, “Glass Table Girls” finished the main set, and the one-song encore was “Wicked Games,” which the Weeknd sung alone with only an acoustic guitar backing. (Or, if you counted the entire Fillmore singing along, a backup choir of 1,000.)
Somewhere in all this, it hit me full-force. Here’s a guy selling out shows faster than you can say “Cali is the mission,” but who has three free albums that weren’t released commercially, who has only played 12 shows on U.S. soil and whose entire career move has been preceded by “http://.” If you were there inside the “legendary-ass” Fillmore last night (his words), you felt the tectonic shift, like here’s this impassioned fan base losing their shit over a phenomenon that would have been impossible five years ago. I even counted three guys who came to the show dressed like the Weeknd, wearing denim jackets cut off into vests.
As I’ve noted before, House of Balloons is worthy of the hype. That said, the Weeknd isn’t much of a performer yet. He can sing well, and he can re-create his songs capably, and he had last night’s crowd in the palm of his hand because his songs are so damn good. But in the times when he wasn’t singing, he wasn’t making much of a connection with the audience. He fell back on stock banter (“I love you, San Francisco!”) instead of giving his all. Combined with the too-short set time, it felt like watching a demo instead of the real thing.
But then again, isn’t that what the Weeknd’s whole tip is? The free mixtape instead of the official release? The handwritten diary instead of the published memoir? The late-night phone call instead of the press conference?
For those who’ve bought James Blake’s much-lauded debut album and have remained underwhelmed, my advice is this: see him live. A fundamental quantity of his music’s dynamic range and impact is diminished by the recorded medium—especially if listened on ear buds or a computer’s built-in speakers, but even when played on vinyl through a high-quality system. Perhaps this is intentional. Maybe Blake presciently knew that most people listening to his album would do so alone, and strategically mixed it to be hushed and intimate.
What seems thin and minimalist on his album, though, became ferocious and dense in a live setting when James Blake appeared at the Fillmore. This was no more evident than in “Limit to Your Love,” a small-sounding song on record. But at the Fillmore, the song’s sub-bass registers literally rattled the windows of the venue, and rumbled the insides of the sold-out crowd. The effect was astonishing, and added a completely new dimension to the otherwise plain, pretty song. On record, there’s simply a limit to one’s love; but live, Blake’s performance seems to note that when that limit is reached, things churn and rumble and quake. Heavily.
With just a three-piece, including a drum set comprised of mostly electronic triggers, Blake and his band conjured wild tension out of thin air, all while Blake’s voice floated angelically above the turmoil. This is a page out of the Radiohead textbook, but Blake’s execution is more emotionally direct, and less cerebral. His slender, foppish build adds to his appeal; songs like “The Wilhelm Scream,” which was breathtaking at the Fillmore, seal it for good. It’s tempting to relate his mainstream appeal in systhesized music to that of Howard Jones’, honestly.
But the new songs Blake played live at the Fillmore—thick, urgent collages of cacophony—brushed aside any flavor-of-the-month thoughts. If he continues pushing the envelope (and the VCA, and the LFO), and if he somehow manages to get the impact of his live show on record, he’ll be leaving the hype in the dust.
These DJ Shadow Handmade records really are something special. They come in die-cut sleeves with hand-stamped titles. They’re pressed thick with textured, wrap-around covers. And yes, they come Sharpie-personalized and numbered with your name written on the back cover.
Better yet, they’re great mixes. I once saw DJ Shadow at the Fillmore in 2000 spinning a short, dark set that included a nice vocal loop of “Quality Control.” It was cut short by an overflowing bill (try keeping 28 DJs on schedule, including Invisibl Skratch Piklz last show), and a VHS tape of the show was released, but without Shadow’s set. Lost to the gods.
Or so I’d thought. Skratchcon Rehearsal Mix is that set, recorded at home the night before the show, and the unheard second half is killer, based around the Zack de la Rocha collaboration “March of Death.” (Also keen for clicking the cart is Evening Session Mix, the long-rumored Miami booty bass set Shadow spun during one of Mark Herlihy’s Future Primitive Sound Sessions at the Japantown bowling alley in San Francisco.)
If you want to see DJing at its finest, check out the video below of Shadow and Cut Chemist at the Fillmore later that same night, re-creating, from original sources, Double Dee & Steinski’s famous “Lesson” series. It’s almost ten years old, but since Serato has come along and threatened to eliminate this type of skill entirely, it’s more relevant than ever.
Yoshi’s gets a $1.5 million loan from the City of San Francisco. On top of a $1.3 million loan. On top of a $4.4 million loan. And Wayne Shorter didn’t sell out the place? Things are not looking good. From Jesse Hamlin’s piece in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Kajimura expects to pay off creditors – including some who have filed lawsuits against the club – as soon as the city cuts him a check.
The San Francisco venue has lost “several hundred thousand dollars,” and to reverse that, the booking in San Francisco, Hamlin reports, will diversify into world music and Americana. Oakland’s Yoshi’s will stay predominantly jazz.
I’m sad for Yoshi’s, but at the same time, I must admit there have been great jazz artists playing there who I haven’t felt compelled to see. The high ceilings have a little bit to do with that. There’s just no replicating the coziness of Yoshi’s in Oakland; it is and remains the perfect place to see jazz, and opening up the booking to artists like Toumani Diabaté and Tracy Nelson over in San Francisco will ensure that Oakland retains more artists like Wayne Shorter and Roy Haynes.
Inevitable: Open the floodgates for other local businesses to ask for their bailout, too.
Unless you own a ticket stub from seeing God, I can guarantee that you’ve never seen anything like the Boredoms.
As for me, I’d witnessed neither deity when I bought my tickets to Tuesday’s show at the Fillmore, but after what can only be described as one of the most inspiring and incredible performances ever given, I feel like I got a 2-for-1 deal.
First off, the band set up in the middle of the floor of the Fillmore, with towers of speakers placed in each corner of the room. Three drum sets bordered the stage, all facing each other, alongside a gigantic tower of electric guitars, sawed flat at the ends and bracketed together with their necks sticking out on either side. Racks of electronics, percussion, keyboards, and amplifiers lined the circular setup, and the Fillmore’s lights landed squarely in the center of it all like a boxing ring. In other words: holy shit.
The Boredoms, one by one, entered through the crowd and climbed on stage, and all the lights went out—even the Fillmore’s purple chandeliers. Boredoms ringleader Yamatsuka Eye appeared with illuminated globes on his hands, and an unholy static ravaged the speakers, like an extraterrestrial message that flitted in and out of recognizance as Eye thrashed his arms around and around. His head tilted back towards the ceiling, and he repeatedly shouted something resembling “hello,” as if trying to contact life on other planes in the swarm of strange theremin-like hand noise.
Suddenly, three drummers simultaneously pounded a propulsive, hectic beat, and Eye worked an electronics board, adding more and more layers to the already thick sound. A slowly building crescendo built dramatically over the next six minutes, until Eye grabbed a five-foot staff and, with a sweeping, athletic motion, slammed it against the tower of electric guitars, striking all seven necks at once with a powerful, thundering curdle of distortion that shook the entire audience like the walls of Jericho. The drums raced on, and Eye flipped his dreadlocks around to shout more things to the sky, slamming himself upon the tower of guitars, and I’ll be damned if somewhere in the middle of it all I didn’t see the ceiling open up and the divine light of salvation fill the room.
This was no regular noise jam: throughout the set, a tight compositional structure was clear, despite the grand illusion of improvisational mania. Themes emerged, then disappeared, then re-emerged 20 minutes later. Yoshimi turned away from her drums and played keyboards, then sang, then turned back to her drums to participate in triple call-and-response drum fills while singing. Eye adjusted the capos placed on the guitars to create different notes, beating their strings individually in repeating patterns and hammering away at them collectively during climaxes with cymbals and vocals.
How does one react to this music? Many stared, agape and dumbfounded. Some threw their arms up and pumped their fists. Still others tried various forms of interpretive swirly-dancing, appropriately coinciding with the sounds swirling around all four corners of the room. I didn’t know how to react; I was mesmerized. When it ended, over an hour later, the crowd clapped and clapped and clapped and probably didn’t even want an encore—we all just needed to.
But the most amazing thing, I think, is that after a full set of Olympic gymnastics, after jumping and heaving and dancing, and after a beautiful encore that eventually came and closed the night out with appropriate serenity, Eye climbed off the stage and onto a pair of crutches, hobbling backstage. Can Eye really not walk, and could all of that energy and physical exertion really have come from a disabled man? Unbelievable.