Charles Bradley has had a hell of a life, and the Menahan Street Band has had a hell of a ride. The 63-year old singer recently woke up at his mother’s house to find that his brother had been shot and killed by his nephew; meanwhile, the Menahan Street Band was busy being sampled by Jay-Z for “Roc Boyz.” The two came together, and the fit is smooth, even if the songs are not. I mean that in a good way: Bradley is a beast, a James Brown-inspired performer belting and crying the pain through his pores—falling to his knees, flailing the mic stand around. Never mind that he’s wearing a half-unbuttoned dirty work jumpsuit and gyrating his hips; he’s great, and the noontime crowd loves it.
The set of the weekend goes to tUnE-yArDs, and I could be biased: when her album came out I was so happily dumbfounded that I couldn’t even review it properly. But like anything fragmented and unusual, it coalesced with repeated listens, and started to make sense as a collection of straight-up palatable hits. Live, Merrill Garbus and her band tear the whole record apart again by looping each individual drum and vocal sample, layering it with bass and horns and throwing the whole crazy mess out into the air. Garbus seems happy to be home in the Bay Area, crediting the audience with “general vibe and awesomeness” when clearly, it’s she who delivers both. The high falsetto at the end of “Powa” is the frosting, but the whole set is unbelievable. We chat a little bit afterwards; she tells me “Santa Rosa isn’t piddly.” So there. It’s official.
Latyrx is playing today accompanied by the Jazz Mafia, led by Adam Theis. Though most hip-hop / jazz treatments fall flat, this one totally works. None of the songs get reworked as, like, big-band swing or anything—it’s still hip-hop, with the DJ and drummer holding it down. All the classics are here: “Say That,” “Latyrx,” “Lady Don’t Tek No,” “Rankin #1,” and the song that works best with the band, especially the string section: “Storm Warning,” which is just incredible. They round it out with a little bit of “8-Point Agenda,” and they even shout out Forestville. Two thumbs way up.
There’s just buckets and buckets of sex in the air for Major Lazer. Everyone around me is dry humping. They have a hype man and an Undulating Girl™. The girl does the splits, wraps her legs behind her neck and generally increases the sex quotient. People continue dry humping. Diplo and Switch are nonstop at the decks, serving up a constant onslaught. Near the end, their hype man tells everyone to take off their shirts, which means everyone starts dry humping topless. I swear, the Bay Area teenage pregnancy rate is going to skyrocket nine months from now.
You are singing some songs to me.
I love me some hopeless trainwreck action as much as the next guy, so I wind up in the Gallagher tent. I really think Gallagher could make a Neil Hamburger-esque comeback if he plays his cards right. He’s old, he’s bitter, he’s not funny, he half-heartedly goes through the motions of his old jokes and he basically sucks. Psychologically, this could totally work in his favor—I mean, that’s why I’m interested in seeing him, after all.
Gallagher is running late, but it’s almost as much fun waiting for Gallagher as it is seeing him. Most of the people are already dressed in plastic trash bags. They chant “Gall-a-gher! / Gall-a-gher!,” then “Let’s go Giants!,” and then they all start doing the wave. Finally Gallagher, who is wearing a T-shirt of himself, staggers out clutching a Heineken and sucking on a cigarette. “I had a heartattack two months ago,” he tells the crowd. It’s going good so far.
But Gallagher quickly descends into simply being annoying. He singles out a girl in the crowd, picks up a tennis racket and some Wiffle balls, and says, “Let’s smash these plastic balls and hit this chick in the face and get her crying!” (Later, he adds, “I don’t care about pissing off the girls. I’m 65, I can’t fuck anything.”) It reminds me that reading funny things about lousy washups isn’t the same as having to suffer through same lousy washup. He makes some more jokes, but they aren’t funny. Worse, he’s taking himself seriously.
The funniest part of Gallagher’s set is that because he chose to go on late, half the audience gets up and walks out on him after 15 minutes—both Arcade Fire and Deadmau5 are playing at 8:00. Maybe a few people stuck it out to get splattered with watermelon?
It’s easy to forget just how electrifying Arcade Fire is live—and sure, the enthusiasm is undoubtedly forced on some nights. No one can mouth the words to every song for years and still be authentically as pumped as Regine appears to be. But what is popular music but a grand illusion? Arcade Fire = Succumb to the Uplift.
Win Butler seems like he’s trying to connect with San Francisco, mentioning the time they played the Great American Music Hall, how he walked around and checked out the food booths earlier, how he loves the weather and would move there if it wasn’t so expensive. (Some cried “fauxhemian” for someone as presumably well-off as Win Butler to quibble about the rent being too damn high, but I side with him. I have a full-time job and still sometimes eat out of the trash.) I suppose connecting with a crowd of one bazillion via casual between-anthem patter must be a daunting task.
There’s not much in the surprise dept.—the set is predictable, but exceedingly well-played. But as we’re walking away, before the last song, Butler sings those two key lines from LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”:
You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan
And the next five years trying to be with your friends again
It makes sense. Their encore is “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” one of the better songs from The Suburbs. A nice send-off.
More Photos Below.
Bare midriffs, sandals and burning sage galore! I stopped by the Harmony Festival tonight just in time to see a guy recite a song about hacky sacks, a clown-nosed Wavy Gravy ramble about yippie tomfoolery from 1968, and Dweezil Zappa lead his band in “Peaches En Regalia” while girls in fishnets and angel wings twirled near the pulsing lights. Later, over in the Grace Pavilion, the Jazz Mafia took the stage with ‘Brass, Bows & Beats,’ which you can read about in this week’s Bohemian column. “I wanna say thanks to the Harmony Festival,” said Adam Theis before the opening notes of his hip-hop symphony, “for taking a chance on something different.”
Theis is an avid skateboarder who always takes his board on tour; “if you don’t,” he told me, “you end up pulling up to the venue and there’s a skatepark next door.” That was the case tonight, since Jon Lohne and the rest of the Brotherhood Board Shop crew have assembled a mini-ramp and street course behind the Grace Pavilion. There’s even a VW bug car jump! But the real treat, at least to anyone who skates, is the fact that John Cardiel is DJing. No shit.
The beginning of the great Vice documentary Epicly Later’d: John Cardiel shows Cardiel in his room, flipping through Barrington Levy 45s and talking about how everyone expects him to like heavy music, like Slayer, to match his intense skating style. “I mean, I love Slayer, I love hard music,” he says, “but really, where my heart’s at, if you want to talk about some shit, let’s talk about some reggae.”
Tonight, Cardiel spun reggae and hip-hop records on a small stage next to the mini-ramp while festivalgoers in all manner of ridiculous costume walked by. Here’s one of the most influential and inspiring skaters in recent history, whose career was cut tragically short when he was accidentally run over by a trailer in Australia, DJing in Santa Rosa! Earlier in the day, fellow skate legend Ray Barbee played a 45 minute jam on the same stage, wailing on a Gibson guitar. Omar Hassan’s there tomorrow, and hell, even Tommy Guerrero is gonna be skating there on Sunday, so who knows what kind of musical mayhem will go down?
Click here for a full .pdf schedule of the skate area events.
More Photos Below.
1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca (Domino)
2. The-Dream – Love vs. Money (Def Jam)
3. K’naan – Troubadour (A&M / Octone)
4. Nellie McKay – Normal as Blueberry Pie (Verve)
5. Thorns of Life – Live at 924 Gilman (Torrent)
6. Sunn o))) – Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord)
7. Tyondai Braxton – Central Market (Warp)
8. Nomo – Invisible Cities (Ubiquity)
9. P.O.S. – Never Better (Rhymesayers)
10. Litany for the Whale – Dolores (Molsook / PMM)
11. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest (Warp)
12. Superchunk – Crossed Wires (Merge)
13. Not to Reason Why – Would You Hug Fire? (Pandacide / 1912)
14. Vijay Iyer Trio – Historicity (ACT)
15. Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss / Columbia)
16. Adam Theis & the Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows & Beats (Jazz Mafia)
17. Souls of Mischief – Montezuma’s Revenge (Heiro)
18. The Full Blast – Black Hole (Atavistic)
19. Finale – T.I.M.E. (River City)
20. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)
I just got off the phone with Adam Theis, who’s still flying high. Christ, he’s got every right to be. On Saturday night, in the middle of his set with Supertaster at a very tiny and very new club called Coda in the Mission District, someone whispered into his ear that Stevie Wonder had just walked into the room. “The rest of the band soon found out,” he recounted, “and we were all looking at each other like, what the fuck?!”
It’s no small thing, Stevie Wonder walking into the room, especially when you’re a band who’s made a habit out of playing dozens of Stevie Wonder songs. It’s no small thing, either, when at the end of your set, Stevie Wonder starts making his way up to the stage with his bodyguard.
You know the rest: Stevie Wonder got up and sang two songs with the Jazz Mafia at a tiny little club in the Mission District. I mean, after Stevie Wonder sits in with your band, what else is there? Does Theis ever need to play another show in his life? “It kinda feels like that, actually,” he jokes.
Here’s an excerpt of Theis’ written recollection of events:
We chatted with him for 5 seconds and decided on the tune “All Day Sucker” which is a tune we used to play a lot in Supertaster and also with Realistic Orchestra for the annual Stevie Wonder Birthday Tribute that we put on. I have to say that when he started singing the song it was beyond goosebumps…the crowd was going completely insane yet being very respectful, the band was playing better than ever and we honestly had no idea that Stevie would even want to sing with us. He did what I felt like was my favorite version of that song ever. As the tune was nearing a stopping point, I leaned over to Bagale and suggested testing the water by playing the riff from “Can’t Help It,” the hit song he wrote for Michael Jackson. Joe gave me a huge smile and head nod.
It was a little weird when I merged into the bass line from “Can’t Help It,” Stevie was still singing “All Day,” and he kinda froze for a second to get his bearings – I was kinda freaked out because I felt like, “I just cut off Stevie Wonder!!” Crap!!” But it took him literally 2 seconds and BAM! one of my favorite songs EVER came to life on stage live.
After it was all over, Stevie hung around the club, taking pictures and chatting with the band, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. “You’ve got five minutes to hang out with your idol,” Theis explains. “What do you talk about?” By all accounts, though, Stevie seemed genuinely interested in the band, in the San Francisco scene, and in Theis’ recent masterwork Brass, Bows and Beats. And right before he left, he called the whole group together.
“We got in this kind of a huddle, just the musicians, and is voice lowered a little bit,” Theis says. “It was really cool and intimate. He said he liked what we were doing, playing a lot of different styles and taking a lot of chances. He said keep doing it. Do not give up. He said this thing that we did tonight—we did, he said—is really, really important. That it’s what culture is all about.”
Here’s to the Jazz Mafia, to Supertaster and to Coda. And for Theis, a former Santa Rosan who’s done nothing but make a name for himself since he left town, I know he’s on Cloud Nine and probably will be for the next year. “Someone would have to come back from the dead, actually,” he says, “for it to be better than Stevie Wonder.”
Here’s the video:
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!
Just got off the phone with old pal and former Santa Rosa resident Adam Theis, who’s meeting with Mos Def tonight to discuss their upcoming collaboration for the Band Shell Music Summit in San Francisco. If you’d’ve told me eight years ago that Adam Theis would be working with Mos Def, I’d say you were crazy. But then I’d think about it, and I’d totally believe you, because Theis is among the most talented and dedicated musicians I know.
Here’s the deal: Theis’ Realistic Orchestra is the backing band for Mos Def in a free show on October 18 at the Golden Gate Park Bandshell, between the De Young Museum and the new Academy of Sciences. You can’t just show up, though—you have to go to this website, lie about your income, feel guilty about not taking public transportation and say if you have an energy efficient lightbulb in your house or not. Kinda weird, but whatever—print out the voucher, and you’re in.
Theis says he and Mos Def are working on about a collaborative half-hour set with the Realistic Orchestra for the event, and is quick to point out that the rest of the day’s lineup—with Mingus Amungus, Lavay Smith, Kim Nalley, and some dude from Dave Matthews’ band—should be pretty great as well. The next night, the collaboration hits the stage again at Ruby Skye to benefit the Blue Bear School of Music. Tickets are $50. Go to the free thing instead.
Incidentally, Theis is also working on a two-hour opus commissioned by a prestigious Emerging Composer grant from the Gerbode-Hewlett Foundation, to be premiered next spring as part of the SFJAZZ festival by a 50-piece orchestra. No shit: a 50-piece orchestra. And all this after arranging horns for Lyrics Born’s last album, and the Mighty Underdogs’ last album, and J-Boogie’s last album, and oh, pretty much dominating the Mission District every Tuesday night at Bruno’s.