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).
Gabe Meyers, co-founder of BottleRock, stood in front of the crowd at the Uptown Theatre last night and asked “Did you ever think this would happen in… Napa?”
He was referencing the four-day music festival, the largest thing to hit the sleepy city since, well, ever. He received thunderous applause from the crowd awaiting an on-stage appearance by Dave Grohl, lead singer and guitarist of the Foo Fighters and drummer of Nirvana, in town last night for a screening of his documentary, Sound City. Meyers then reminded the everyone in the one-third–full venue that tickets were still available for most days of the festival. “Sometimes it feels like a bit of a surf break secret, like you don’t want to tell anybody,” he said. “But we really need people to know about it.”
The attendance for Grohl’s film was affected by the last-minute booking—it was finalized less than a week prior—and because it was a benefit for autism causes, tickets were $100. But the movie is fantastic, especially for audio nerds like myself (I even wore an Onkyo shirt to the screening). Sound City is about the recording console at a fucked up, nasty studio in Los Angeles that recorded some of the best rock albums of all time. It’s captivating for even the non-audio engineer thanks in large part to the vast swath of famous producers, musicians and engineers interviewed for the movie.
“Originally the idea was just to make a short film and it kind of just exploded into this idea,” said Grohl before the screening. “We wanted to inspire the next generation of musicians to fall in love with music as much as we did.” After much applause, he continued, “We decided early on we wanted to make this completely independent of any major studio or any Hollywood shit, we just wanted to make our own movie. It cost a fuckin’ fortune, just so you know.” Cue more applause.
Grohl’s interest in making Sound City was piqued when he learned the studio was closing and selling all of its gear. The band that made him famous, Nirvana, had recorded the album that made them famous, Nevermind, at the studio. Nothing sounds like a recording made at this studio on this board, one of only four like it ever produced by engineer Rupert Neve (it cost twice as much as a house in the area at the time). “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this board,” says Grohl in the movie. So he bought it and installed it in his own studio. The documentary chronicles the history of the board, and of Sound City Studios, and highlights the beauty of analog recording using consoles like this and two-inch tape instead of computers to capture sound.
“I have to honestly say that this is probably the thing that I am most proud of that I have ever done creatively in my life,” said Grohl, “because it’s not for me, its for you.”
There were may cheers from the audience during both the movie and the 45-minute Q&A session between Meyers and Grohl afterward. Music in the movie, all of which was recorded on the console, was blared loud and often, which made the atmosphere less like a movie theater and more like a rock concert. Beer and wine helped, too. Some had too much, like the girl who tried valiantly to remain upright during the autograph session following the Q&A session, trying to get something signed.
All in all, it was a rock concert of a movie, and a smart and fun way to kick off BottleRock.
Consider this your final heads up: BottleRock Napa Valley is coming to kick out the jams in wine country like never before.
Kicking off with Macklemore on Wednesday, May 8, the festival continues through Sunday, May 12 with a lineup rivaling that of any other major festival: The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, Flaming Lips, Jackson Browne, the Avett Brothers, Bad Religion, Jane’s Addiction, Zac Brown Band, Furthur, Dirty Projectors, Primus, Kings of Leon and many, many others. A comedy lineup with Kristen Schaal, Tig Notaro, Jim Gaffigan, Rob Delaney and more is on tap, as well as tons of food, wine and other summertime kickoff fun.
This Monday, BottleRock presents Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) in person at the Uptown Theatre, screening his film Sound City and conducting a Q&A. Tickets are $100, but in keeping with the BottleRock mission at large, it’s a benefit for autism causes. You can grab tickets here. (UPDATE: Last-minute rush tickets will be available at the door for $25; line starts at 6:15pm.)
Dave Grohl in Napa? Announced at the last minute? Is there anything these crazy BottleRock guys can’t do? Be in the presence of Nirvana royalty on Monday, May 6, at the Uptown Theatre. 1350 Third St., Napa. 6pm. $100. 707.259.0123.
BottleRock Releases Comedy Lineup: Rob Delaney, Kristin Schaal, Jim Gaffigan, Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro, More
BottleRock Napa Valley has finally released their comedy lineup, which includes Rob Delaney, Kristin Schaal, Jim Gaffigan, Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro, Jim Breuer, Wyatt Cenac, Greg Behrendt, Aasif Mandavi, Anthony Jeselnik and J. Chris Newberg.
No word yet on which days each comedian will appear, but expect a schedule soon.
BottleRock runs May 8-12 in Napa, and features a hell of a music lineup including The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, Zac Brown Band, Furthur featuring Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Kings of Leon, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Primus, The Flaming Lips, Jane’s Addiction, Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, The Shins, Bad Religion, Iron and Wine, Dirty Projectors, Dwight Yoakam, Edward Sharpe, Mavis Staples, Best Coast, Sharon Van Etten, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Cake, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Wallflowers, Blues Traveler, Brandi Carlile, Donovan Frankenreiter, Grouplove and many, many more.
More info here.
Snoop Dogg, AKA Snoop Lion recently did a Q&A session on social networking Internet aggregator site Reddit.com (they’re called AMA–Ask Me Anything–and President Obama did one just before the election), answering hundreds of questions, far more than other celebrities, with 10-words-or-less answers. What catches my eye is the answer to “How weed do you smoke in a week?” with a simple “81 blunts a day x 7.”
This is why I love the Internet. The ensuing discussion includes calculations of just how much weed that actually is. One person says 22 pounds per year, and is promptly reprimanded for calculating “matchstick-sized blunts.” The actual amount for Snoop-sized blunts, assuming two grams per blizzle, is 130 pounds a year. The post is then corrected further to equate to 131.98 pounds.
This breaks down to one blunt every 12 minutes, assuming eight hours of sleep per 24 hours. But obviously, Snoop does not smoke all of those on his own, Snoop is a giver and has a large crew. He might take just one hit of any given blunt, but that still counts.
Sure, the rap legend changed his persona and made a record of reggae with no rapping whatsoever on it, which just dropped a single on Youtube. But the questions didn’t really focus on this, and Snoop, to his credit, didn’t really push it that much. He just answered questions, no matter how obscure, for hours.
Other vital Snoop-formation:
- Snoop-approved munchies include: pistachios, Fritos BBQ Twists and Red Vines
- The only people to smoke HIM out are Willie Nelson, Wiz Khalifa and B-Real
- Snoop’s favorite stoned album is Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly”
- OG Kush is Snoop’s favorite strain of marijuana
- He prefers Cadillacs to trains
- Snoops’ favorite performance was on the Arsenio Hall show.
- Snoop enjoys soccer and plays FIFA 2012
- He was weed-free about five years ago for 164 days straight.
- Snoop enjoys kung-fu movies.
- His guilty musical pleasure is K-POP
By the way, Mr. Dogg/Lion is playing at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma on Dec. 15 ($70) and the Uptown Theater in Napa in Dec. 14 ($60). Bring some BBQ Twist Fritos and see if he wants to chill after the show.
Travel back in time 30 years ago and tell the average “Whip It” fan that Devo would still be relevant in the year 2012, and you’d probably get a totally 1980s “Barf Me Out” in response, accompanied by a conspicuous lift of the Vuarnets.
But as proved by a comprehensive hour-and-a-half set at the Uptown Theatre in Napa on Sunday night, Devo has every reason to exist, still, years after their debut album. They played with urgency, decidedly unlike a bunch of old guys going through the motions, and they delivered song after song that, in whole, left a statement about the hopeful nature of humankind and the ultimately hopeless fate of the world.
That might sound bold in reference to five guys with energy domes on their heads, but bear with me.
Devo threw potato chips all over the audience. Devo went through six costume changes. Devo had a huge video screen backdrop. Devo ran up and down the aisles with pom-poms. Devo dressed in airbrushed unicorn shirts, masks, radiation suits and knee pads. And they played the hell out of every era’s songs: “Girl U Want,” “Mongoloid,” “Peek-a-Boo,” “Goin’ Under,” “Gates of Steel,” and many, many more.
“Most people here know that de-evolution is real,” said Jerry Casale at one point, “but when you’re up here in wine country, you get the feeling that de-evolution missed just a little patch. The wine gods shined down.”
“Uncontrollable Urge” was the obvious rock moment of the night, while their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” was probably the best surprise—not that it was played, but that it sounded as weird as the very first time. “Mr. DNA” climaxed with a guitar solo ending in the total whammy-barification of all six strings. Snap!
But the tiny details, the little lyrics like “It’s a place to live your life!” from “Planet Earth” (like Santa Rosa’s official slogan, “The City Designed for Living”)—those are what makes Devo great. During an intermission, the video screen played a public service announcement about the world: “A tiny infintesimal speck of sound in this vast, incomprehensible universe . . . an insignificant dot with a lifespan too short to measure . . . and on this planet earth, there is Devo . . .”
Of course, “Jocko Homo” was great, with Mark Mothersbaugh encouraging audience members one by one to sing the “We are Devo!” response into his microphone; after all these years, it still has all its power. And at the end of the long, comprehensive set, “Beautiful World” ended with Mark Mothersbaugh throwing 100 superballs out into the audience, all of them bouncing off the chairs, the walls, peoples’ heads. It was surreal, it was fun, and it was most decidedly Devo.
B.B. King and Buddy Guy aren’t just the best headliners the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festival (Sept. 24-25) has had in years, they’re also an example of the longtime legends who, lucky for us, return to the North Bay perennially. This fall season boasts everyone from jazz survivor Herbie Hancock (Sept. 18, Wells Fargo Center) to indie-rock progenitors the Pixies (Nov. 20, Uptown Theatre), with a little bit of country survivor Wynonna Judd thrown in for good boot-scootin’ measure (Nov. 8, Lincoln Theatre).
When Herbie Hancock was here last, he regaled the crowd with a song he hadn’t played live in 25 years—”Rockit,” the early-turntablist fusion breakdance anthem. Expect similar crossover from jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour (Sept. 17, Napa Valley Opera House) and, to a lesser degree, recent Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding (Oct. 2, Uptown Theatre). Spalding, who has successfully crossed over out of the jazz world with the large help of Starbucks, has got a marvelous hairdo to rival that of Diana Ross, who stops in for a diva show to end all diva shows (Sept. 17, Marin Center). And speaking of glamour, there’s two chances to catch quasi-globetrotting ensemble Pink Martini (Nov. 17, Marin Center; Nov. 19; Grace Pavilion), who continue to receive rave reviews even with the temporary hiatus of lead vocalist China Forbes.
Rock legends abound, with the Last Day Saloon hosting recent box-set grantees UFO (Sept. 15) and Mr. Playin’ It Straight himself, Pat Travers (Oct. 8). Lindsey Buckingham, the poor soul who has been stuck with a not-very-funny SNL skit, plays in Napa (Oct. 25, Uptown Theatre) just before guitar wizard Jeff Beck flies through with three shows (Oct 31, Wells Fargo Center; Nov 1-2, Uptown Theatre). And though they may not be in the Cleveland Hall of Fame, they’re our own legends, like it or not: barf-metal act Skitzo celebrates 30 years of regurgitation this year (Oct. 8, Phoenix Theater).
A strong indie-rock double bill of Band of Horses and Brett Netson brings the bearded out of the woodwork (Sept. 9, Uptown Theater), while Dawes and Blitzen Trapper give a virtual encore a month later (Oct. 7, Mystic Theater). Ryan Adams, whose career has been a rollercoaster to say the least, plays a completely sold-out show (Oct. 15, Uptown Theater), while the almighty Pixies hold the record for quickest ticket sales (Nov. 20, Uptown Theatre)—the Napa stop of their Doolittle Tour was sold out in minutes.
While the grizzled country-music patriarch Merle Haggard returns (Sept. 30, Uptown Theatre), many young-uns swim in his wake. Son Volt’s Jay Farrar glides onto the stage with a voice of velvet (Sept. 9, Mystic Theatre), while Dave Alvin continues his quest to make the bandana cool again—if anyone can do it, it’s him (Sept. 15, Mystic Theatre).
Jackson Browne is all over his solo set these days, with stories and spontaneity and rarely any set list (Nov. 9, Marin Center), while master storyteller Tom Russell comes back for a special intimate evening (Oct. 27, Studio E). The nimble and fleet-fingered Bruce Hornsby continues to provide examples of why he’s among the most sought-after in the business (Sept. 14, Uptown Theatre), and at the Napa Valley Opera House, two artists get up close and personal: Rickie Lee Jones (Nov. 3) and Stephen Stills (Nov. 17).
Blues fans looking forward to the great B. B. King–Buddy Guy teamup can also get down and low over at the Mystic Theatre with J. L. Walker (Sept. 15) and Mark Hummel’s Harmonica Blowout (Oct. 1). And if that doesn’t work, then the hell with it—just flush all cares down the drain and go enjoy the crazy theatrics of “Weird Al” Yankovic (Nov. 7, Wells Fargo Center).
A major coup for the Phoenix Theater: Animal Collective, the experimental-indie Brooklyn ensemble whose crossover hit Merriweather Post Pavilion topped critics’ lists and was named Album of the Year by Spin, Pitchfork and Entertainment Weekly, will be headlining the Petaluma venue on Sunday, April 10. On a brief California jaunt before playing Coachella, the band is sure to sell out the venue immediately when tickets go on sale Thursday, March 10, at 4pm. Hit up the Phoenix Theater site for browser-refreshing action.
Say it together: Primus sucks! And yes, they’re playing at this year’s Harmony Festival. Having last played Sonoma County at the Phoenix in 2003, the band is sure to thrill patient fans as a just-announced headliner. Along with the previously announced Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, new additions to the lineup for the June fest include G. Love and Special Sauce, Natcha Atlas, Ghostland Observatory, Roots Underground, erstwhile festival staples Michael Franti and Spearhead and many more. Tickets and full details are at www.harmonyfestival.com.
The Healdsburg Jazz Festival, bouncing back from its near-death at the hands of a now-resigned-in-shame board, boasts a roaring lineup of jazz greats this June: Charles Lloyd with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland, Charlie Haden, Bobby Hutcherson, Bennie Maupin, James Newton, Fred Hersch with Julian Lage, Arturo Sandoval, George Cables, Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Ray Drummond and many others. See www.healdsburgjazzfestival.org.
Other quick mentions of upcoming note: The Kate Wolf Festival brings back Taj Mahal, Los Lobos, Mavis Staples, Bruce Cockburn and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in June. The Uptown Theatre in Napa has Gretchen Wilson (March 20), the Psychedelic Furs (May 5) and a strong comedy lineup with Lisa Lampanelli (April 1), Bob Saget (May 6) and Joan Rivers (Aug. 26; tix on sale March 10).
Plenty of acapella groups these days, especially college acapella groups, revel in the cheekiness of performing unlikely songs in an acapella style. So many, in fact, that the “offbeat” performances are the majority, and the unlikely becomes likely, and the old-timers in the audience long to hear “Heart of My Heart” or “The Darktown Strutter’s Ball” instead of “Carry On My Wayward Son.” This doesn’t make hearing fantastic versions of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” or John Legend’s “It Don’t Have to Change” any less enjoyable, but it does mean that sometimes, acapella groups act more like a DJ whose sets are all about selection instead of technique. Mika’s “Grace Kelly” is not necessarily made good simply because it has been chosen, nor is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” going to further bless an overly “Hallelujah”-ized world due solely to being performed without instruments.
Many of these interesting experiments reside on YouTube, but last night, they arrived live and in-person at Napa Valley Union High School’s theater. The 4th Annual Acapella Extravaganza contained plenty of vocal-only jams by Toto, the Beatles, Eric Carmen and the like, though the real reason I made the one-hour drive was the addition of OC Times, who are currently the world’s greatest barbershop quartet. That’s not just superlatives falling out of my mouth, either; they truly are the world champions according to the foremost authorities: S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.
Why the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, after existing 76 years with the beautiful acronym S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A., changed its name to “Barbershop Harmony Society” is beyond anyone’s imagination. Refreshingly, a sizable backlash contingent still calls the organization S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A., while the main thing is that there’s even an organization at all that promotes a dying part of our heritage. The core ideals remain the same—sing the hell out of that tag!—and the annual contest is a fine determiner of the barbershop quartet with the most talent and style. So when it was announced that current S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. champions would be performing in Napa, how could I stay away? (Lots of my friends and family have already discovered quite a few reasons, thank you.)
OC Times opened their set with “Oh! Look at Me Now,” from 1941, which paved the way for a concert more Brill Building and less MTV Music Awards. Contemporary hits were limited to “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)” by John Michael Montgomery, from 1995, and then going back to “What a Wonderful World,” which entered the barbershop repertoire long ago. Plenty of 1950s doo-wop songs peppered the set—“So In Love,” “Teddy Bear,” “Sixteen Candles”—but it was classic barbershop arrangements of “Come Fly With Me” and “Blue Skies” that highlighted most a sharp performance.
Part Elvis, part Sinatra; part Nashville and part Los Angeles, OC Times has such a pitch-perfect blending of voices and timbre that it’s no wonder they’re the country’s best. Words can’t really convey how absolutely in step each phrase sounds. A little too-corny patter helps, too, and they keep one of the great S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. traditions alive by holding afterglows (casual receptions with singing and mingling) after their performances. By the time they sang their final number, “A Fool Such As I,” I was glad I made the drive, and ventured back to Santa Rosa with a heart, as they say, full of song.
P.S. One of my favorite acapella renditions right now is Of Montreal’s “Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games),” memorized and medleyized by The Stereotypes, from Washington University: