I’m a big fan of the podcast “Onstage with Jim & Tom,” hosted by Phoenix Theater music promoter Jim Agius and founder Tom Gaffey. Each week, the two sit down with a North Bay band or musician of note and chat about everything from tours and relationships to record collections and scary movies. It’s always a great conversation, especially when music veteran and wordsmith Gaffey heaps praise upon the guests in lovingly extended passages.
This time around, Jim and Tom welcome to the show Santa Rosa shoegaze outfit the Down House. The band talks about what it’s like having two couples in a band and the state of the North Bay hardcore scene before plugging in and performing a couple of tunes.
The Down House is made up of Casey Colby (Spirits of Leo), Cody Sullivan (Sabertooth Zombie), Sarah Sullivan, Sarah Davis and Chloe Connaughton. Gaffey calls them evocative right off the bat and the band proves why by the end, playing their dark and stylish Joy Division-inspired post-punk.
Listen to the episode below, and catch the Down House when they play the Phoenix Theater on Sunday, Sept 27, alongside State Faults, Lil Dowager and SPELLS.
The Napa music festival will return in 2015 again as a three-day festival, May 29–31. It will again take place at the Napa Valley Expo, according to an official statement made today by Latitude 38 Entertainment, the festival’s producers. Bands have not yet been announced.
“We’re thrilled to be back at the Napa Valley Expo with the support of our community of music, wine and food lovers for 2015,” says L38 CEO Dave Graham in a press release.
The festival mostly cleared its name this year after a fun-filled first year took a nasty turn after the founders failed to pay nearly $10 million in debts after the five-day event. They sold the brand to the new owners, who hosted the event with just three months of planning and addressed nearly every complaint of the previous festival. Many vendors returned after cajoling by the new owners, and the only major issues seemed to be the exit line on the festival’s second day, owing to about 35,000 fans trying to exit to shuttle buses at the same time.
Slow Gherkin was one of the best ska bands at a time when fellow skankers the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less than Jake, Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish were all over the airwaves, both on radio and television (remember when MTV shows music videos?). They were one of the top acts in the Bay Area, relentlessly touring for six years and gaining a following across the country as well as in Europe throughout the ’90s. “Trapped Like Rats in Myers Flats,” from their second album, Shed Some Skin, is still a singalong hit, as shown by their sold-out New York performance. And to this day, their version of Hava Nagila is one of the best tracks on my “These Songs Will Make Everyone Dance” playlist.
They wrote really good songs, not just fun, dancy teenage punk diddies with poppy, upstrummed guitar. If stripped down to acoustic guitar and voice, they’d be the best song of the night at any cafe’s open mic session. Their lyrics are deep and music moving; songs stands up to any by those who made it really big, and it always felt like it would just take that one catchy lick, that one un-erasable melody to cement Slow Gherkin’s place in music lore.
But, alas, they remain mostly a local memory for Bay Area music lovers who grew up in the Clinton era. Do these two shows in one year—double what they’ve played in the 13 years leading up to this point—signal a full-fledged reunion? One can only hope. But one thing’s sure: if you plan to attend their December show at the Phoenix Theater, it might be good to start polishing those Doc Martins now—they’re probably pretty dusty.
The three-day extravaganza known as Bottlerock began today in Napa, the city known more for restaurants and winetasting than music. To wit, the festival, now in its second year and under new ownership, has focused more on music this year—in addition to bringing internationally famous acts like the Cure and Outkast to Napa, there will also be over two dozen local bands playing at the festival, meaning that over one-third of the bands playing will be from the Bay Area.
This isn’t a new idea—local acts were featured at last year’s festival—but there are more of them this year, and it’s more than just an afterthought. Latitude 38, the company behind this year’s Bottlerock festival, says including local bands was the plan from the start.
“A lot of people didn’t know there were a lot of bands in Napa,” says Latitude 38 CEO Dave Graham. He says they’ve made a new tradition of kicking off the festival with a local band on the main stage. This year, it’s the Napa–based group Grass Child.
On Saturday, the first band to strum a chord, pluck a note, or bang a drum will be local favorites Trebuchet, the indie-folk quartet known for its original songs with glorious harmonies and wide-ranging instrumentation. They’ll be playing on the City Winery Lounge stage at Noon, greeting attendees just inside the main entrance with their explosive tunes and catchy melodies.
The opening slot at a festival is a blessing and a curse. “We don’t have any headliners to contend with,” says Eliott Whitehurst, the band’s mandolinist, guitarist and lyricist. “But at the same time, it’ll be a challenge because we’ve never been in that situation where it’s like, ‘Oh, look there’s all these people,’ and they continue to walk by.”
Whitehurst, who lives in Napa, says he is excited for this year’s festival—not in the least because he’ll be playing in it, but also because the concerns of last year are being mitigated. “Last year, we actually got out of town,” he says. “People in Napa were of one of two minds: either this is going to be awesome… or oh my god, we do not have the infrastructure to handle what is going to be thrown at this city.” With a festival expecting 30,000 people per day for an entire weekend, in a city of 78,340, that’s to be expected. Though he’s sure there will still be challenges, Whitehurst says, “I’m not as afraid of it this year as I was last year.”
Local acts playing in the festival come from as far away as San Francisco, and Whitehurst says about 150 bands sent entries to Thea Whitsil, who also organizes the annual Napa Porchfest, to fill 32 spots. Instead of having an “in” or being owed a favor, as is the case when so many bands are booked for a festival like this, Trebuchet and the other local acts were picked on merit. “That’s why we’re so stoked on it,” says Whitehurst, who knows the industry well, coming from a musical family.
The group made a one-shot montage video as an homage to the big names at Bottlerock, rearranging pieces of about a dozen songs into their own style. It was a hit—garnering over 1,200 Youtube views in just over two weeks. “It didn’t take us too long,” says Whitehurst. “We practiced for a day and maybe did 10 shots of us doing it live.” The festival is filled with nostalgia for those who grew up with the soundtrack of the ‘90s. Whitehurst is no exception. “I can’t deny how fun it will be,” he says. Outkast and Weezer will be great, and, because they’re a sure-fire way to heat things up, he’s also stoked to see Blues Traveler.
Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola Duo have released vinyl records, a series of cover tunes on CD, and even their own lip balm. Maybe their next release should be a coffee table book—you know, one of those oversized ones with really nice photography—of the faces they make while playing live.
Watching the two is only half the fun, though, of their live show. The music is always going to be different from the recordings, and they’ll throw in jams, unexpected cover tunes, and jaw dropping solos, to boot. Watching the pair together at Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall on Wednesday was like seeing a finely polished, but largely improvised, comedy duo. After performing together for over 20 years, they know each other pretty well. They’re both so talented, that they’ll make little musical jokes inside solo sections, just to make each other laugh. And the crowd laughed along with them, because the jokes translate to non-musicians, too.
Plenty of covers dotted the evening, and each was in their own style. The thing about cover bands is that it is tempting to just be a karaoke cover band—that is, playing the song exactly as it was recorded, with maybe a couple twists for live performance. But these guys take them apart and leave only the melody, the memorable hook and some chords underneath, and make the tunes completely their own. When the crowd realized the refrain they were playing during “Walk On By” was the hook from “California Love” by 2Pac Shakur, some giggles broke out from the back of the intimate room. The mashup was so well put together that it took about six turns through to realize they were two very different songs.
Although they play instrumental music, there was a bit of singing. Before the Cars’ classic, “Let the Good Times Roll,” Hunter urged the crowd to sing along, especially during the chorus. They did so, with rising enthusiasm, and when the duo was ready to wrap up the song, Hunter proclaimed to the crowd, “Ladies and gentleman, let’s tag that shit!” Not one to disappoint, the crowd continued its sing-along three more times, holding the last note while Hunter and Amendola played out the ending. Hunter was quite pleased.
They played two sets, allowing the crowd to buy records, order fancy drinks from the bar or dinner from the cafe (I suggest the pork posole and fried calamari). Just before the break, they played a blazing bop tune, with Amendola leading on the hi-hats, grabbing them with his left hand to open and close. His fills in the two-minute jam were even faster—faster than I could even think.
It is often said that musicians speak in a different language than “regular” people. Hunter spoke to the crowd without a mic (in English), and since Sweetwater is so small it was perfectly audible. But these two musicians have refined that to their own musical language, and other musicians may be able to discern what they’re saying but cannot speak it back to them. That’s fine, because I wouldn’t be able to top the poetry of their language, anyway.
Unless it’s a rockumentary like Sound City or 20 Feet From Stardom, the soundtrack to a documentary usually isn’t much more than an afterthought. But for Jodorowsky’s Dune, the new documentary about one of the greatest films never made, the music is an essential part in bringing to life a film that doesn’t exist. San Francisco composer Kurt Stenzel has done exactly that with his synth-laden, spooktacular mood setting composition for the film.
The performance artist/musician had never been asked to make a soundtrack before, but his work in the electro-art group Spacekraft caught the attention of the filmmakers. His synthesizer list is extensive, ranging from Radioshack toys to Moog to custom Dave Smith creations. The result is pulsing, warped and sometimes eerie sounds that create a sense of uncertainty. It would have had a big impact on Jodorowsky’s film vision for the epic science fiction novel, had it ever been made.
Stenzel’s ambient music is non-offensive and, like abstract art, can be interpreted in many ways—unlike his former project, the New York punk band Six and Violence. The self-taught musician admits he doesn’t have “chops” in the traditional sense, meaning he won’t bust out with a Chopin etude on request. But he does know his way around a synthesizer, and his music these days is about texture and timbre more than virtuosity.
Stenzel’s texture on Jodorowsky’s Dune is reminiscent of Isao Tomita, the pioneering Japanese musician who rose to popularity with his futuristic synthesizer renditions of Holst’s Planets suite and pieces of the Star Wars soundtrack in the 1970s. Stenzel grew up in a “classical music household,” and is familiar with Tomita’s work. He’s also a big fan of the Krautrock genre, especially Rodelius and his group, Cluster. When Dune director Frank Pavich was looking for a “Tangerine Dream type soundtrack,” Stenzel was the obvious choice.
Spacekraft’s music is also represented in the film. About nine minutes of the group’s music was left in the film after Stenzel sent over some music “as a placeholder” to Pavich, while he worked on more original music. “Some things just kind of stuck,” says Stenzel. The group is largely performance art these days, with a whole crew of “flight attendants” and more accompanying the experience of a Spacekraft show, which can be seen usually at art galleries and grand openings. Listeners can sit in airline chairs and control the music with their own iPhones, or take personality tests during the performance. “The whole thing is designed to take you somewhere else,” says Stenzel. “We’re kind of weird and make some drug references here and there,” he cautions. Sometimes, the public doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. “People ask if we’re a software company, or Scientologists, or whatever.” For the record, they’re neither.
“We’re somewhere between the pretentious art world and the happy-go-lucky-Bay-Area-friendly-lets-just-do-this-for-fun kind of thing,” says Stenzel.
The soundtrack will be released soon in full analog glory on a double-LP. Stenzel says he’s now interested in writing more music for film. “I like to be challenged,” he says. “This one, I was already doing this type of music… I would love to do a drama or something different.”
Listen to Stenzel’s work in this trailer for the film:
Frank Hayhurst, Francis Rico, the Zone Music guy; no matter how you know him, you probably know him as a good guy who doesn’t think twice about helping out musicians in need. Now that he can use a little help, he’s asking for it in the most fun way imaginable: by hosting a barbecue with over a dozen musical acts.
Hayhurst, who owned the landmark Cotati music store Zone Music for over 20 years and started the nonprofit Musicians Helping Musicians Foundation, recently underwent successful hip surgery. He feels great now, says the musician-shaman-author, but as anyone who has spent time in a hospital bed knows, medical bills can be staggering, even with insurance covering most of the tab. And this event is just $10, with food options by Rasta Dwight’s BBQ from $5–$15 and beer from Lagunitas available, too.
Musicians include: Gator Nation, Uncle Wiggly, Danny sorentino, Levi Lloyd, Onye Onyemaechi, Sarah Baker, Allyson Page and many, many more, including the legendary Bronze Hog. Frank Hayhurst’s Hip Trip goes down Sunday, March 23 at the Sebastopol Community Center. 7985 Valentine Ave., Sebastopol. 5–9:30pm. $10.
Bottlerock, the weekend-long Napa music festival that began with a bang last year but nearly fizzled when it wound up owing almost $10 million to everyone from food vendors to port-o-potty providers, has announced that it will return this year under new ownership. Today, it was revealed that not only do the new producers have support from city officials, they’re ahead of the curve as far as submitting permits for the event at the Napa Valley Expo. “I appreciate the fact that Latitude 38 has brought in a team that has us far ahead of planning at this point last year,” says Napa Police Captain Steve Potter in a press release.
This is revealing for two reasons. First, it shows the faith city officials have in the new producers. The city was shorted over $100,000 the first time, and the Expo Center itself was owed over $300,000. Now, with new producers, everyone is all smiles. “The Latitude 38 team has the right business experience, skill sets and vision to make BottleRock Napa Valley thrive in 2014,” says Napa mayor Jill Techel in a statement. “BottleRock puts Napa on the map in a new and good way and as mayor, I look forward to Napa hosting it again.” Wow, that’s almost second base, right there. Keep the lights on, you two.
Bands will be announced in mid-March, say the event producers, but judging from last year’s lineup, which included the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, the Shins, Zac Brown Band, Jane’s Addiction, the Flaming Lips, Primus, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the Black Crowes and many others, it will be a big deal. At a pre-concert screening of his movie, “Sound City” last year at the Uptown Theater in Napa, Dave Grohl said it didn’t work out logistically that year, but if Bottlerock happened in 2014 the Foo Fighters would play the festival. That would be pretty darned cool. And while we’re making suggestions, at least one music fan is crossing his fingers for Prince to be top the list of headliners this year, too.
This year’s festival takes place May 30–June 1 at the Napa Valley Expo.
The cyclical nature of revolution songs is undeniable. Take a song from 100 years ago and it will be, at least in part, relevant today. Take, for example, the songs of Irish revolutionary James Connolly.
Mat Callahan, who fronted the San Francisco political punk/worldbeat band the Looters in the 80s, has compiled a book of Connolly’s music from original publications long thought lost to history. The book is put together well, with just enough history to give a sense of Connolly’s importance but relying mostly on the man’s own words from his music, all of which was written over 100 years ago. Connolly, a leading Marxist theorist in his day and was executed by the British in 1916.
Callahan and his wife Yvonne Moore, who now call Switzerland home, performed about a dozen songs on acoustic guitar and vocals at the Arlene Francis Center Friday night. The performance was the most punk rock thing I’ve seen all year, and will hold that title for at least a while. The duo sent a frozen shiver down my spine with lines like, “The people’s flag is deepest red, it shrouded oft our martyred dead; and ere their limbs grew stiff and cold, their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold.”
Santa Rosan Robert Ethington opened the show with original songs on acoustic guitar, accompanied by his wife Amy on vocals. They played a handful of powerful songs, suggesting they’d be a treat to see as a headlining act.
The album, “Songs of Freedom,” includes fully orchestrated versions of the songs Callahan and Moore played Friday night. It’s got Callahan’s worldbeat sensibility and arrangement, with guitar, bass, drums, Irish whistles, pipes, vocal harmony, fiddle, accordion and harp. The production is excellent, and the arrangements are updated to modern sensibility without losing their original feeling. Some tunes to Connolly’s songs were lost, so Callahan wrote original music to his lyrics. It serves to note that Connolly’s main purpose of putting these revolutionary words to music was for people to sing them and remember them, so many of the tunes are actually traditional country songs or somewhat hokey, simple melodies. They sound best when sung with 100 of your closest, most fed-up-with-the-system friends.
Get the book and CD here. It’s perfect for fans of history, revolution and Mat Callahan, each of which is equally important.
Thanks a lot, Beyoncé. Your secret album, released Friday, Dec. 13 at midnight only on iTunes, has royally fucked up everyone’s “best albums of 2013” lists.
Your album of 14 fantastic songs and 17 stunning and super sexy videos has thrown a wrench into the giant cogs of the music industry. You’re like the new Charlie Chaplin in our “Modern Times” (Bey, I’m really happy for you, and Im’a let you finish, but Charlie Chaplin had one of the greatest movies of all time. Of all time!). This complete surprise to everyone, including music industry insiders, had no promotion, zero buzz, nary a tweet before its release, and it sold 80,000 copies in its first three hours—midnight to 3am EST. It sold over 617,000 copies in the United States and over 828,000 worldwide in its first three days, purely in digital format. Only the whole album was available, no singles, and it cost $16. That means over $13 million was spent in three days for something that doesn’t exist in the physical world (that comes this Friday). You probably pocketed more than $6 million in three days. You win the music business, now onto the actual music.
Let’s take a look at just a few songs, here. Taking a cue from your videos, Beyoncé, we will tease the shit out of our audience to the point where further action is required, like in “Partition,” when you dance in a bejeweled string bikini with another woman in a jail cell with fuzzy rubber bars under sexy leopard print lights while your husband, Jay Z, watches, smoking a cigar in a movie theater seat.
“Blow,” which has been confirmed as one of the first two singles on the album, is a poppy disco number, taking the “Get Lucky” baton from Daft Punk and turning it into an even more sexual object than it already was. You stroll in to a roller disco in denim bikini bottoms, then cut away to a dance number under blacklight with dancers in half of a neon ‘80s workout outfit. I’m so confused when the those bubblegum-pop sound effects happen behind naughty lyrics that the FCC can’t do a damn thing about. “You can eat my Skittles, it’s the sweetest in the middle,” you proclaim. “Pink is the flavor: solve the riddle,” you suggest with a wink, leaving millions of parents struggling to come up with a suitable answer when their children ask what that answer might be.
Perhaps that was your goal. You’re a woman who is more than comfortable with her sexuality, a feminist that likes to show off her body. Perhaps it was your intention to start that conversation early in young girls’ lives, give them a role model and a reason to be comfortable with their own bodies. Or maybe you just wanted to shoot some really hot videos with your husband on the beach, as is the case in “Drunk in Love,” the second single off the album. In a black and white beach scene at night, you’re acting a little buzzed, stumbling around in a bikini with a huge trophy. You sing with that power growl in your voice before getting soft and tender, just like I do when I’m drunk. Your husband comes into the scene and raps about domestic violence champions Mike Tyson and Ike Turner before redeeming himself with the line, “Your breastseses are my breakfastses.” And even that complete, ahem, buzzkill, doesn’t diminish the sexiness of this video one bit.
Superpower, your duet with Frank Ocean, just had to happen. You saw someone with a voice almost as good as yours, and took it from him like Ursula the Sea Witch (and now a “Little Mermaid” reference? Yes. Deal with it). What did you promise him in return? He already has legs—wait, was that it? Did you give him legs? Anyway, the video takes place in a post-revolution world where everyone is dressed really well, lighting fires in cars, spray painting escalators in abandoned shopping malls, waving flags of no particular affiliation. You gave your fellow Destiny’s Child stars top billing here, perhaps it’s a nod to your subversive move in releasing this album your way and not getting fucked over by the music industry. You’re taking charge and bringing your like-minded fashionistas with you. The fact that your crew stops just short of clashing with riot police in the end of the video shows that you’re willing to let the other side change with you rather than suffer the bloody violence of an all-out war. Because blood isn’t as sexy as black mascara.
When it was time to get vulnerable, which is one of the greatest things about this album, by the way, you chose Drake to make that happen. “Mine” starts with a confession and a question, “I haven’t felt like myself since the baby. Are we even gonna make it?” Wow, that’s powerful stuff, even if you weren’t half of a music biz supercouple. The contemporary dance number is interrupted by Drake, who sounds like he’s singing a Drake song into a telephone, before jumping back to your point of view. I like that you put the man’s perspective in there, too. I like more that you even made sure to keep the emotional and fragile song as sexy as possible. It really ties the whole album together.
You say this whole thing was an attempt to show your vision with nobody standing in your way. You cited Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as an influence and example of what you were going for. It’s one thing to cite the best pop song (and music video) ever made as your guide, but it’s another to do it 17 times and release it all at once. Your dedication, hard work and confidence smacks me in the face when I imagine how much effort it is for me sometimes to get off the couch and make dinner instead of calling for a pizza. You released the album while on tour supporting your previous album. That takes balls. You’ve got balls, Beyoncé. You’ve solidified your place not just among great pop stars, but great artists. Here’s hoping this is the shakeup the music industry needed to stop recycling the same boring ideas and pump some fresh life into the bigwigs at the top.