Live Review: San Francisco Symphony at Green Music Center

Posted by: on Dec 7, 2012 | Comments (0)

SF Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas says hello

The San Francisco Symphony’s opening night performance at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center was beautiful and exciting. Each player in the symphony is fantastic individually, and together under the baton of the rockstar of the classical world, Michael Tilson Thomas, the orchestra elucidated every ounce emotion in the evening’s music program. Weill Hall, the acoustic gem and main hall of the GMC, plays gorgeously to this. The premier acoustic space seems to widen the ear canal, allowing for more sound to be heard at once than ever thought possible. The pieces on this night showcased this clarity.

Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (Op.28) begins with a sneaky little theme, proceeding to take the listener through all sorts of jollity but always with the sense of danger right around the corner. After all, a little mischief never hurt anyone, just don’t get caught. The clarinetist in this piece has a challenge, playing extremely high notes, the highest the instrument can make. I ran into a much loved SSU music professor during intermission, and he suggested this piece was specifically chosen for tonight to showcase the acoustics of the hall. I couldn’t agree more. The fast runs in the higher registers translated not into harsh overtones, but velvety notes that were easily followable in the clarity of the space. When the merry prankster does get caught (and executed), the low bass and drum notes were ferocious, vibrating my loose pant legs (or was that just my legs trembling from the tremendous magnitude of unamplified sound?)

The only sound that hasn’t made me gush so far in this hall is the low mid frequency. It can sound a bit muddled, especially with piano. On opening night with superstar Lang Lang at piano, his dexterous Mozart performance was lost a bit in this register, and parts of the SF Symphony performance were not as sonically brilliant in this area during faster sections. It sounds as though this frequency takes longer to develop than others in the hall. But really, this is splitting hairs. It’s not a problem so much as an observation.

MTT and Yefim Bronfman take a bow

Yefim Bronfman’s playing on Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto (Emperor) was superb. It was not flashy or self-indulgent but more bold and heroic like the piece itself. Though it did not have the passion one would imagine of Beethoven himself pounding the ivory keys, demanding more from his instrument than ever thought possible, it was not lacking for emotion, either. Whether it was just my ears or the players adjusting to the space, during the first five minutes it felt like the piano was just a hair too soft. But soon after, everything settled in. From then on it was pure ecstasy, like listening to a fabulous recording on the best audio system, but it was real, and it was happening right in front of us. I was reminded of this when, during a quiet moment just before the piano flourish at the end of the final movement, a cell phone, ironically with the “piano” ringtone, went off somewhere in the building. This only made enhanced the experience for me with its reminder that it was taking place in reality.

Also performed this evening was “Pandora,” which the SF Symphony had just performed for the first time the night before. This 20-minute piece for strings written by SF Symphony assistant concertmaster and violinist Mark Volkert in 2010 again showcased the heavenly acoustics of the main hall with several solos and double basses playing extended low notes, vibrating the floor in some cases. It is a 21st century work, to be sure, but it is more accessible than some newer pieces. It’s a story piece with a concrete narrative following the Greek myth of Pandora, and can be followed without too much confusion and with beautiful imagery. Volkert was in the audience and came up from his seat to shake hands with MTT after the piece. Both looked quite pleased with the result.

The sad truth of a generation hooked on mp3s is they will rarely experience a full acoustic experience in music. Earbuds are a terrible listening device, reproducing, at best, about two-thirds of the human hearing spectrum. The best mp3 is 25 percent of the data of a full recording compressed into the middle of the frequency spectrum where our ears are tuned to listen more easily. Without getting too technical, let’s just say the sound is flat and lifeless. The main hall at Sonoma State’s Green Music Center is the anti-mp3. It is pure sonic expression, giving music a forum to be heard as it was intended by its creator and perhaps even enhancing it through the warmth of the acoustic environment. Though their home, Davies’ Symphony Hall in San Francisco, is stunning in its own right, I wouldn’t be surprised if members of the SF Symphony prefer playing in Weill Hall. This was the first of four SF Symphony performances at the Green Music Center for its 2012-2013 season, and hopefully next season features even more.

Live Review: Phish at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco

Live Review: Phish at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco

Posted by: on Aug 23, 2012 | Comments (1)


Phish once played Santa Rosa in 1993 at the Luther Burbank Center, a venue with a capacity of about 1500. The young band was in their heyday, amazing audiences with their pyrotechnic jams—and having tons of fun doing it, as evidenced by the set list and notes from that night.

Back then, drummer Jon Fishman performed solos on trombone and Electrolux vacuum cleaner, the latter during a Syd Barrett cover song. Between their own fun and funky compositions, the band playfully covered songs by Argent, Led Zeppelin, and even performed two tunes a capella with no microphones, barbershop-quartet style. At one point a member of the audience was brought onstage to tell a joke.

That was the Phish that I knew and loved when I first discovered them, that same year. A band with a great sense of humor, entertaining as hell, made up of talented and fearless musicians. They got the crowd involved by bouncing giant beach balls into the crowd for the “Big Ball Jam,” while guitarist Trey Anastasio and bass player Mike Gordon jumped on mini trampolines in synchronized choreography to the music. There was even a “secret language” between the band and the audience (so, for instance, when the guitarist played a few notes of The Simpsons theme the entire audience would exclaim “D’oh!” in unison).

Review & Photos: Outside Lands 2012, San Francisco

Review & Photos: Outside Lands 2012, San Francisco

Posted by: on Aug 18, 2012 | Comments (1)

All photos: David Korman

For a full slideshow of bands at Outside Lands, click here.

For a full slideshow of people and fashions at Outside Lands, click here.

Outside Lands is too crowded, Outside Lands is too expensive, Outside Lands shot their wad on big-name headliners—I’ve heard these complaints and more about the festival from fans, and yet it still completely sold out this year, all three days. The neighbors? Their complaint is that it’s too loud, and yet Metallica played.

At this years’ Outside Lands more than ever, it was evident that San Francisco has a banner festival not unlike Bumbershoot or Bonnaroo. It was in the air Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Golden Gate Park, this shift in emphasis. The first few years of Outside Lands were all about the music, but Outside Lands is an experience now, a thing you and all your friends go to, a water-cooler discussion, an Instagram feeding frenzy. Someday, Another Planet Entertainment may be able to sell it out without even announcing the lineup, and when that day comes, I will be baffled, but not surprised.

Out of the 65 acts, including a lot of worthy feel-good nostalgia (Metallica, replete with 30-ft.-high pyrotechnics, played almost all songs from 1991 and earlier), here are five in particular that had an impact.

Live Review: Frank Ocean at the Regency Ballroom, San Francisco

Live Review: Frank Ocean at the Regency Ballroom, San Francisco

Posted by: on Jul 17, 2012 | Comments (6)

First question: Did he talk about “it“? No.

Second question: Were Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats in the house? Yes. Third question: Channel Orange is amazing, but could he pull it off live? Oh, man, a million times yes.

Frank Ocean’s brilliant show tonight at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco capped a wild week for Ocean; he spent it making public his love for another man, delivering late-night TV’s finest performance of the year, self-leaking his own album a week early and watching the plate tectonics of culture shift beneath his feet. To say the show was anticipated would be like saying the Super Bowl is a sporting event of some note. (When we arrived at 8pm, the line was two and a half blocks long. No one was selling any tickets, but desperate fans sure were asking, with offers of up to $150.)

Live Review: El-P and Killer Mike at the Regency Ballroom

Live Review: El-P and Killer Mike at the Regency Ballroom

Posted by: on Jul 2, 2012 | Comments (2)

“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.

Important PSA: The Wall Still Stands

Important PSA: The Wall Still Stands

Posted by: on May 12, 2012 | Comments (1)

Roger Waters performs The Wall, by Pink Floyd, at AT&T Park May 11, 2012.

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.

Trebuchet: Your New Favorite Band

Trebuchet: Your New Favorite Band

Posted by: on May 11, 2012 | Comments (0)

Trebuchet plays album release show at the Bottom of the Hill

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.

Band: Trebuchet

Album: Trebuchet

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.

Live Review: The Weeknd at the Fillmore, San Francisco

Live Review: The Weeknd at the Fillmore, San Francisco

Posted by: on May 9, 2012 | Comments (1)

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?

Live Review and Photos: Pulp at the Warfield

Live Review and Photos: Pulp at the Warfield

Posted by: on Apr 18, 2012 | Comments (4)

“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.

Set List:

Do You Remember the First Time?
O.U. (Gone, Gone)
Something Changed
Disco 2000
Sorted for E’s & Wizz
Acrylic Afternoons
Pencil Skirt
Like a Friend
This Is Hardcore
Bar Italia
Common People

Glory Days
Party Hard

My Lighthouse

Setlist: fIREHOSE at Slim’s, San Francisco

Setlist: fIREHOSE at Slim’s, San Francisco

Posted by: on Apr 12, 2012 | Comments (0)

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.