“This song is about Ronnie fuckin’ Reagan. I have an extreme detest for Ronald Reagan because I was alive when he was president, and fuck what Fox News says, it wasn’t that great of a time, and he wasn’t that nice of a guy.”
The rant could have come from a D.O.A. or Verbal Abuse show, but nope—it was Killer Mike, who peppered his set in San Francisco Friday night with similar remarks about burning banks to the ground, staying active in the community and fighting the cops. Many know Killer Mike from his Drive-inspired, nine-minute video for “Big Beast,” or for his appearances on Outkast records, but his politics have grabbed the attention of everyone from NPR to Davy D, and they took center stage at the Regency Ballroom.
Walking at a hurried pace along Herb Caen Way (I prefer this name over The Embarcadero), it was evident we were walking to a concert. An unusually large cluster of people walked under the Bay Bridge, mixed fashions and eras brought together under a wispy net of marijuana smoke (on the street!). The final clue was a salesman four blocks from the venue with bootleg tour shirts: Roger Waters, The Wall 2012.
In line at the ballpark at 3rd and King Streets last night, one of the first people to approach us was a man in his late 30s asking to buy a cigarette. “You can just have one, man,” said Clint as he reached for a smoke. “We don’t smoke – we quit,” the man replied hastily. He was doing something naughty because this was a party, a Pink Floyd concert. Is ever there were a time to break the rules, it was tonight.
It’s cute when adults in button down shirts and V-neck sweaters break the rules. My cohorts were young enough to make me feel like that adult, so I wisely chose a T-shirt and jeans for the evening.
We were offered pot several times, and it seemed almost like it was legal. The McGyver smokers did everything they could to avoid detection: roll a joint, hollow out a cigarette, refill it and tear off the filter, cigarette-esque smoking devices, edibles. A usual assortment or sneekery seemed unnecessary, but the adults were having fun, and half the fun is trying not to get caught.
The show started late, despite the “8:15 prompt” time on the ticket. It’s tough to start the show when only half the seats are filled, and $9 beers don’t sell themselves. We were seated for about 10 minutes when the lights went dark and a plane literally flew in over the first base side of the park and crashed into the wall on the stage in the outfield. The 5.1 surround sound made this epic, and I can only imagine what the really naughty adults were going through hearing this plane flying around their heads.
The wall on either side of the musicians was a video projection wall, with images and live camera shots of Roger Waters for us in the cheap seats to see. The effects were awesome, as expected. The mood was heavy, with names and pictures of soldiers killed in the current wars were put up on the wall and the big circular screen above the stage.
The sound wasn’t really dialed in until the second half, when the bass was turned up to match the screaming guitar and vocals. That would have been nice to hear before “Another Brick in the Wall,” with Waters slappin’ da bass. The drums sounded amazing the whole time, though it wasn’t Nick Mason playing them. The show really was Roger Waters plays The Wall, with a really good Pink Floyd cover band backing him.
Waters was self-admittedly narcissistic in his performance. At one point, he played along to himself, harmonizing with Roger Waters from 30 years ago superimposed on the screen behind him. He used the word “narcissistic,” and was totally cool with it because, you know what? He’s Roger Fucking Waters. That’s why.
The wall was literally built up, piece by piece, blocking out the band behind it by the end of the first half. After intermission and a 30-minute bathroom line, Comfortably Numb blew me away. The screaming guitar solo from the top of The Wall, with Waters at the bottom harmonizing on vocals and running the length of the stage under the spotlight. This was the apex of the show, a good way to start the second half after, presumably, many fans reloaded their, ahem, psychedelic infusions.
“Dirty Woman” was really, really dirty. Projections of topless women dancing on The Wall were really hot, and that’s a really hot song even without visuals. Luckily there weren’t too many youngsters in the crowd.
The inflatable capitalist pig, which would have been an Occupier’s wet dream to see in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, was dragged through the lawn crowd, partially popped by enthusiastic revelers, and “danced” in the air with a wounded leg for the second half of the show.
At the end, The Wall was toppled, bricks of the projection screen falling forward onto the stage amid screams and chants of “Tear Down The Wall!” Waters and the band returned for a curtain call and well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd at AT&T Park.
The show was as relevant as ever, I can only imagine what it would have been like to see it 30 years ago. It’s good to know a younger generation still feels the same fire and skepticism Pink Floyd was warning us about from across the pond when my parents were my age. Hopefully the message will live on even beyond the band.
Sorry about the poor audio.
From the first inhale of Trebuchet’s self-titled debut record, I’m hooked. The ukulele like lapping waves of a tropical shore; the surf lead guitar the birds lazily riding the swells. A breath—giving pause, the moment that will make or break the entire album. Sweet voices coalesce in harmonic bliss, one as strong as the next, none overshadowing another. The wave does not crash, it pushes onto the shore, allowing warm salt water to kiss my toes and leave me wanting more.
The six-song, vinyl-only release (it’s also available digitally) was christened with a show at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill last night, with friends and family accompanying on stage and in the audience. Whether by blood or by feeling, all four bands playing on the evening’s bill were related, and the feeling in the audience was that of an unexpected family reunion.
Survival Guide opened the show, who I unfortunately arrived too late to see. You Are Plural introduced a new twist to the duo of Wurlitzer and cello: drums. The percussion filled in some spaces, but since most songs were written without drums, it felt forced at times. But the harmonies and interesting time signatures kept the set flowing and piqued interest throughout the set. The New Trust brought a powerful rock sound to the stage next, Josh Staples’ thundering bass lines commanding attention from even the smoking crowd in the atrium.
I was lucky to see Trebuchet’s first-ever performance, at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa, last year. The band impressed the hell out of everyone that night, in part because three of the four members are known for intense, instrumental post rock in the band Not To Reason Why. This was as far from the expected as possible while still loosely relatable to the same genre.
Last night, Trebuchet sounded polished, like a beautiful piece of obsidian after hundreds of years in a river bed. That igneous black rock born of violent eruptions from the Earth’s core, sharpened and used as arrowheads and spear tips, left alone under running water matures into a polished, beautiful stone. I walk toward the sea, wading in up to my hips. The warmth and gentle swaying covers the impending danger of being too far from shore, too far from home. This is the best kind of escape.
Style: Relaxed, Americana instrumentation, four-part vocal harmonies, extremely musical songs, listenable without being boring, beautiful, interesting without being obscure
Comparisons: Sufjan Stevens, Decemberists, what other Portland bands wish they could sound like
Rating: 4.5/5 (Just because the record is only six songs!)
Trebuchet’s debut record is available at www.trebuchetmusic.com.
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?
“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
Ed Crawford couldn’t sing the high notes anymore. Mike Watt and George Hurley occasionally got off-time from each other. And you know what? It didn’t matter! fIREHOSE were great! They haven’t played live together for 18 years! You expect them to be as tight as they were in 1991?
Anyway, it’s all about the setlist, see below. The band has a new “anthology” to hawk that only covers the Columbia albums, but they pulled generously from the SST albums. (Ed sang “What Gets Heard.”) Lotsa tall old hairy guys in the crowd. Lotsa cheers when Watt sang. Slim’s is unbearable when it’s sold out. For real.
When you’ve been in the game for as long as DJ Krush, you can do the unthinkable. Book a “20 Year Anniversary” tour and play a three-hour set? Sure. Why not?
On Saturday night the tour hit the Mezzanine—a rare opportunity to catch Krush, a living hip-hop legend, in one of his stateside appearances. But while many predicted that the 49 year-old Japanese producer would use the “20th Anniversary” tag to revisit his classic mid-’90s MoWax material, Krush is nothing if not unpredictable.
He played dubstep.
Not right out of the gate, mind you, and not for the whole set, but dubstep nonetheless. And while some of the crowd surely recoiled at the what’s-becoming-inescapable wompwompwompwomp, most of the crowd loved it. Krush seemed to love it. How can you fault a guy for evolving and adapting with the times?
Here’s something else: DJ Krush is damn good at playing dubstep. Probably because he’s been residing down around the same BPM for most of his career anyway, Krush’s command of the genre came off as entirely natural, and—this is important—utterly creative and not reliant on novelty. Say what you will about dubstep’s disposable nature, but it seemed to inspire the most inventive sound manipulations of the entire three-hour set.
The other thing: Krush attracts a varied crowd, because after 25 years he’s been through so many eras. You get the beathead hip-hop fans in hoodies and nodding heads from Meiso‘s Black Thought and C.L. Smooth collaborations; you get the Burning Man twirling girls from Zen‘s singles with Zap Mama and N’Dea Davenport, and you get new fans rolling in who need their guts rumbled by, well, dubstep.
At the two-hour mark, Krush still hadn’t delved deep into his MoWax days—”Only the Strong Survive,” at least, would have been a nice touch. But he’d still traveled some very mindblowing territory on his 15 year-old Vestax mixer, with wood flutes, electric guitars, the “Armagideon Time” bassline, a Bach organ, the “Paid in Full” beat,” Japanese rap and Rusty Bryant’s “Fire Eater” (greatest drum break in the world, maybe?) in the mix. All tinged with that elusive DJ Krush touch. It was danceable, thought-provoking and utterly addictive—one of the best sets I’ve witnessed.
The Mezzanine got that 1am vibe. A guy in a Gordo Taqueria T-shirt started punching himself in the face to each snare hit. A semicircle of friends chanted on a bald guy downing a Bloody Mary. A girl thrust her hand down another girl’s vest. People making out all over. Krush took the hint, chilled things out, and played some of his more “vibe” material to send people home.
DJ Krush turns 50 this year, and he’s still amazing. Here’s to longevity.
(Opener’s Note: I walked in and heard what I thought might be the Gaslamp Killer, but was thrilled to see Benji Illgen, a.k.a. Mophono, up on the turntables. Benji’s an old record-obsessive acquaintance from Santa Rosa who’s been in the city for over a decade now, and wouldn’t you know it, he puts out Gaslamp Killer records (and scores Flying Lotus collaborations) on his CB Records label. His set—half Serato, half vinyl—filled the early ’90s gaps that Krush would later leave empty, and it was a treat to see Krush hit the stage and bow in tribute to Benji. A great set. Hope you’re doing well, amigo.)
Near the end of tUnE-YarDs’ set last night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, Merrill Garbus thanked the nearly sold-out crowd for coming out on the night before Thanksgiving.
“I feel like everyone I bumped into on the street or in the store today, I was like ‘Happy Holidays,’ and they were like ‘Ugh, I’m just trying to get through it,’” she related. “But if you feel that way, just remember to give something to somebody else, and it’ll make you feel really good.”
Indeed, through a lively, adventurous hometown set that closed out her long tour, Garbus gave, and gave, and gave. Reliant on intricate looping—a process Garbus has mastered, and that’s a marvel to watch live—tUnE-YarDs’ layered songs demand vocal gymnastics, polyrhythmic prowess and precise fingerpicking. Yet underpinning all this complexity is a contagious strain of outright jubilance, and her shows are a joyful, holy-rolling cleanse for those bogged down by the lamely accepted idea that “happy music” means Katy Perry and little else.
In other words, although her music is complex, a simple statement like “give something to somebody else and it’ll make you feel really good” could effectively serve as tUnE-YarDs’ operating motto. It certainly did last night.
Heavy on material from this year’s w h o k i l l, the set began with Garbus’ “Do You Wanna Live?!” (a song more commanding of a response than any you’ll hear all year) and ended with a pile of balloons dumped onto the crowd while her three-piece band was joined by openers Pat Jordache in a mass pounding of drums.
The experience gained on this year’s rigorous touring schedule showed its colors in dramatic reworkings of album tracks; “Bizness” enjoyed an extended free-jazz outro, as did “My Country,” and other songs erupted in surprise deviations and arrangements.
A new song the band performed sounded essentially like a B-side to w h o k i l l, and it showed that no matter how creative the performer, there’s only so much one can do with a setup of bass, horns, drums and ukelele. “This is the last show this ukelele will ever play,” Garbus quipped—but she was dissing the instrument’s ability to stay in tune, not announcing a reworked instrumentation for her next album.
But after this tour, who can imagine what’s in store next for tUnE-YarDs? What if Garbus’ next step is looping a Fender Rhodes, a bass clarinet, a Casio and a standup bass, and singing her brilliant songs backwards through a pedal that adds octaves and sound effects of oil rigs and hydraulic pumps? What if she managed to take all that and make it accessible, and catchy, and danceable? If anyone could pull it off, it’d be Garbus.
EMA is Erika M. Anderson, a singer originally from South Dakota who’s made a fantastic record this year, Past Life Martyred Saints; who serves as a hypotenuse in an imaginary triangle involving Patti Smith and PJ Harvey; and whose presence on stage calls to mind punk shows at Cafe This in 1994, or the X-Ray Cafe in 1995, or Kommotion in 1996.
This is entirely welcome, and not solely from a nostalgic DIY standpoint. In a no-longer-truly-indie landscape rife with processed performers who sign on with someone else’s pre-approved idea of what’s “in,” something as honest and from-the-gut as EMA is refreshing as fuck.
Maybe the ennui is true, to an extent. I miss awkward, unrefined bands with too much to say, and tend to prefer them to slick, stylized bands with nothing to say. Or, as Anderson herself said once of Past Life Martyred Saints, “With this record, the thing that felt controversial was injecting emotion into ideas, not the other way around.” In other words: everyone knows a brain that tries to rule the human heart is foolish, yet it’s accepted as smart. And why?
EMA took the stage with “Marked,” with gyrating hips and hair in her eyes. Amidst tumbling through a Violent Femmes cover (“Add it Up”; kudos to Leif Shackelford for tackling Brian Richie’s tumbling bass lines on a violin) and “Cherylee,” a moving solo number from her former band Gowns, she played just about every song from her new record, including the great “California.” Some of them extended into loose noise jams, some were plain and taut, but all were full of the honest, raw spirit of the heart.
When singing, Anderson is led by some other force—last night, she kicked, jumped, fell onto her back, tucked the mic in her pants, let the audience play her guitar, wrapped a cord around her neck—but between songs, she’s down to earth, which is to say unpredictable, which is to say human. She could motion gratefully to the crowd, and say “Thanks for bringing back the joy in me,” or she could lead an impromptu sing-along of the Femmes’ “American Music,” or she could curse her guitar, spitting out, “Stupid guitar. Stupid instrument. Stupid rock.” You just never know.
Afterward, the band hopped off the stage and sold their own shirts at the merch stand, and though the place had only been little more than half full, the show was unforgettable. Here’s to more like her.
Ever since Daft Punk’s giant pyramid, electronic acts have recognized the need for a sensory stage show—Justice and their wall of Marshall amps; Deadmau5 and his Rubik’s cube. These novelties have made live electronic music more visually interesting, and have helped sell more tickets, but they’ve so far been just that—novelties, meant to give the audience something to look at while somebody stands at a laptop computer.
Amon Tobin’s current tour Isam, on the other hand, is a true work of art.
Isam is Amon Tobin’s Metropolis, his Koyaanisqatsi. In a series of wordless images, the set that Tobin is bringing around to select cities makes a bold statement on technology and its omnipresence in our modern universe—terrifying one minute, beautiful the next. Like all great art, the production is thought-provoking, challenging and stunning. Submitting to it is pure glee.
So it’s like this: on the stage is a massive, unmoving sculpture of stacked white cubes. A projector fires laser images onto this sculpture, and there may some LEDs involved as well. The combined effect is a 3D experience where the cubes move even though they’re not moving; where the sculpture floats through space even though it is immobile; where a parallel universe exists with shape-shifting factories, angry jet engines and mechanized factory clangs competing with brilliant, serene patterns and transformative optical illusions.
In the center of all this, in a cube larger than the others, is Tobin, occasionally lit from within. These reveals—that there is, in fact, a human involved—pull the curtain back on a spectacle that’s seemingly created solely from silicon, and enshrine the production as a triumph not only of technological engineering but of cranial ingenuity.
And, lest this be taken for an exercise in intellectualism, there’s confetti, too.
There are several dates left of Tobin’s tour, and those who have a chance to see it should seize the opportunity. After the tour is over, the question arises: what will become of the 24-foot structure? The projected images, the gut-rumbling bass tones, the immersive presentation? Lost forever?
Without a doubt, Isam belongs in a museum.