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The Boogie Room to Close Down

Posted by: on Feb 25, 2009 | Comments (5)

And so it’s happened. The residents at the Boogie Room, home of some of the most exciting subcultural activity of the past two years in Santa Rosa, have received a 60-day notice to vacate. They’ll pack up and call it a day in mid-April.

Speculation that the property might go on the market had been brimming for a while, and to be fair, most everyone so far seems surprised that the Boogie Room lasted as long as it did. “I’m one of them,” Bryce Dow-Williamson, a heavily-involved volunteer, told me today. “I thought it was gonna be, like, two months.”

“But I’m grateful for what we were able to do,” he added, proposing that perhaps now that the Boogie Room has set the example, “people have seen how it can work. Maybe someone’ll come along and do it right.”

There’s a handful of house concerts left on the calendar, and then the Boogie Room’s two-year run culminates on April 10 in a farewell show with the Crux, Pete Bernhart from the Devil Makes Three and more. It’s also Bryce’s birthday the next day, so a slumber party is rumored, along with a “memorabilia sale.”

I suppose it goes without saying, but Santa Rosa isn’t going to be the same.

Live Review: James Hunter at the Russian River Brewing Company

Posted by: on Feb 18, 2009 | Comments (0)

The recipe for a fantastic lunchtime concert is pretty basic. When it comes down to it, all you need is a Fender twin reverb, a vintage Gibson, a Gretsch drum kit, a standup bass and some damn fine songs. That’s all James Hunter brought to the Russian River Brewing Company today, and it was enough to bring the house down.

Parked behind the place on Fifth Street was Hunter’s large tour bus, which leads me to believe he’s normally got a pretty impressive stage production, horns and all. Today, however, on the tiny stage in the corner, Hunter pared down to a three-piece and worked overtime on the guitar to fill in the missing sound. It wasn’t what he was used to, but man, it was great.

In blue jeans, a black t-shirt and a denim jacket, Hunter announced songs in his thick British accent and then sang them like Sam Cooke or Otis Redding; just pure, beautiful soul. Near the end, he even unpacked “The Very Thought of You,” and, instructing his band in an aside to take it at “the usual stupid speed,” a ripping three-piece version of “Talkin’ Bout My Love.”

Filling in extra chords and licks on his guitar, Hunter took a crazed, half-picking half-fretboard-tapping solo with his bare palms. He played a little hand-jive, and then, when the tank-topped hippie dude in beads who’d been dancing the whole time was joined by a long-haired female, Hunter clasped his hands together in thankful prayer toward the sky. “Oh!” he cried. “A girl!”

The crowd went nuts at the end, a testament to Hunter’s engaging charisma and talent. He plowed through the shoulder-to-shoulder house to get to the bathroom, and by the time he finally came out everybody was still clapping and screaming. Hunter played the Fillmore last night, and you gotta think he loves doing these little shows—he certainly seemed like he was having a blast. So it was one more song, and one more great noontime concert by the KRSH. Thanks, guys, for brightening everyone’s Wednesday.

Interview: Blake Schwarzenbach, Thorns of Life

Posted by: on Jan 31, 2009 | Comments (10)

Last night, between dates at Thrillhouse Records and Gilman, Thorns of Life played a stellar show with Santiago and the Semi-Evolved Simians in the basement of Adam’s house in Santa Rosa. It’s more like an interrogation chamber than a basement down there, but in spite of our repeated warnings to the band in the last few weeks that the downstairs is a tiny, 10-foot-by-15-foot concrete cell, they kept shouting back their approval. It’s small? Sure! It’s cramped? We’re there! It’s going to be a total disaster? Great!

So the basement it was, as Thorns of Life—Blake Schwarzenbach, Aaron Cometbus, and Daniela Sea—came to Santa Rosa for another hush-hush house show last night on their West Coast tour. There were some hidden flyers around town, but unless you looked inside dumpsters, sewer tunnels and library book-return slots, you had to rely on the word-of-mouth secret show game, with all of its social awkwardness and selective dispensing. But in the end? A night, as they say, for the books.

Looming over the house at the onset was a freak nervousness, aided by the cops parked a couple houses down. Then: the slow dissipation. The opening bands, the opening beers, the opening hearts. Sweat doesn’t just break through the lining of the skin; it opens up invisible barriers. By the time Thorns of Life played, there was no option but the personal. I sat essentially on top of Blake’s shoes with a sea of people at my back; Blake fit squarely beneath a heating duct; Daniela played between the water heater and exposed fiberglass insulation; and Aaron crammed more people in the basement by directing them behind the drums, atop the workbench.

The show was a brilliant blur; smeared further, a bit, with disbelief and volume. For 11 songs, everything gelled inside the ridiculously populated basement on the corner of Spencer and King, and afterwards, it was beers in the backyard, “On The Way to Frisco” in the kitchen, Nancy Ling Perry obituaries in the hallway, and for me, catching up with Blake Schwarzenbach.

At some point during the party—between discussing the house’s cats, the possibility of playing Jets to Brazil songs at acoustic shows in the future, Creature Feature host Bob Wilkins, accidentally ripping off “Ingrid Bergman,” the challenge of playing harmonica, the memory of losing one’s virginity, and sending postcards to Verona—Blake and I managed to slow down and escape to the sidewalk outside, next to the station wagon they’ve been touring in, to conduct an official interview. I first interviewed him in 1991, 18 years ago. He’s just as open now as he was then.

 

Do you look at the past as a hindrance or an asset?

I used to look at it as a hindrance, but I think I broke through in the last couple years. I don’t really know when it happened. I did a lot of work on myself, getting me to enjoy my past. I found out I could actually use it a little bit to help me out.

What about regret? Is regret useless?

Yeah. If you can’t convert it into art, then it’s gonna destroy you.

What about nostalgia? Where does nostalgia lead?

I think it’s pretty good if you don’t live in it. It’s always nice when you think of somebody fondly, or go to a place and remember something or somebody. That’s part of travel, and being alive. I’m usually grateful for it, I don’t get it that often.

Really—you’re not a nostalgic person?

No, I’m sad. I’m sad. What I used to think of as nostalgia was my recognizing degraded human environments , and it was a response to poverty, I think—poverty of spirit, a lot of times, but also social poverty, aesthetic poverty in our country, the way living spaces look awful and our civilization is really ugly physically. So, yeah. There’s a big difference between sadness and nostalgia.

One of the things noticeable in this band is the apparently conscious decision to play house parties and DIY places. Can you talk a little about that?

Well, it’s how we started, when Aaron came to me. We’ve had this courtship for a decade, but really in the last few years when I started having songs, he coaxed me into going to a house show. And it was really fun. And then I felt like in order to justify going to house shows I needed to have a band; after a while, I felt like I was freeloading, like the old punk guy who goes to shows. Like, ‘I’d better have a band, to go here and hang out.’ So it was a pretty natural progression, and I think I have some indie damage from the Jets where I just never want to be in a rock club with someone from the local free weekly being disinterested and asking questions.

You know that I’m technically from the local free weekly, right?

Yeah, but you know what I’m talking about, that whole apparatus, like the person who goes to interview the Matador band that week, or whatever. So having survived that machine, I was kind of happy not to… it was really boring, honestly.

The clubs.

Yeah. And we’ll play clubs. I mean, I’d like to. But you have to have less stages, I think. We don’t have a P.A. in our rehearsal space that’s very good—it’s just a guitar amp, it’s very sketchy. It just ended up being the sound of the band, that there should be a little bit of struggle in it. The first show of this tour we played at a club in San Diego, and I have to say it was really disorienting to have a monitor. I spent years learning how to use a monitor, but I’ve completely unlearned it, and now I don’t want too much of me. I’d rather push, and hear it out in the room.

Some of your more ardent followers take issue with this whole approach, where you do shows that are word of mouth and therefore only for the in-the-know; it’s frustrating for them, and can seem kind of elitist. How would you respond to people’s concerns like that?

I can’t help them.

Well, you could play larger places.

That’s true, and I’d like to. But last time, for me, in my band, it was the other thing. The punks thought that that was elitist, and that we didn’t give a shit because we played big clubs: ‘I’m not paying eight bucks to see you, fuck that.’ So I kind of feel like it’s hard to win.

And if you’re gonna err, you might as well err on the side of…

Right. Free shows, or four-dollar pass-the-hat shows, where we have fun. I’d rather have fun first and then worry about other people’s fun. I’m pretty selfish that way.

One of your infamous positions has been leaving the punk scene behind—and now, between playing house parties and embracing a political stance, it seems like you’re rediscovering your inner punk.

Well, I became politically articulate in New York through graduate school and through the last three wars. I used to write about it, I mean, I felt it was intrinsically in me, because my parents were radicals and I grew up suspicious—I grew up in Berkeley in the late- late-’60s, I watched the Watergate hearings with my dad. It was in me, I didn’t know how to express it, and I always found it a little corny when people would do it on the nose. I had to find a voice where I felt I could be helpful. When I can put it in a song, I really like it. I just have to earn it in a way, to take on other people’s pain. I don’t want to write any kind of sloganeering song, or jingoistic song or anything. So if I can use my own subterfuge of poetic language, and do it, that’s actually where I feel like I should be writing. I’m a little tired of me. I haven’t had a relationship in a long time, so there’s no stories there. I’ve been living the Palestinian struggle for the past five years. That’s more interesting to me right now.

You have a song about Al-Qaeda in Washington.

Yeah, and it was a really quick song to write. It was just about surviving the primaries and seeing Hilary Clinton in the ascendant, which to me was a dark harbinger of more bad policy. It’s a cautionary song about not putting all your money in Obama curing the guilt of white people and saving the world. I don’t wanna say no to that, I wanna give him his shot, and I voted for him, and I would work with anyone to change anything.

Would you call yourself cautiously optimistic about his presidency?

Yeah, yeah. I think it’s only responsible to wait and give him 100 days, or four years, whatever it is. The title—the idea, to me, studying Iraq for the past few years, studying Afghanistan, studying the Western attitude toward the Arab world—“We Build Al-Qaeda in Washington,” that’s the title. The core of Al-Qaeda is in Washington. Sure, it grows in Yemen, and it grows in the Saudi oligarchy and everything, but I think we’ve done so much to foster militias around the world that the idea is you should go there and fight, you don’t need to go across the world. That’s the title, that’s the idea.

Has the punk scene changed, or have you changed?

I think I’ve changed. I mean, yeah. I went back.

Could you imagine yourself doing a tour of house shows in, say, ’96?

No, but I longed for it many a night. I was just like, ‘This is so boring!’ Like God, these fucking places. The shows could be great, and musically it was fun to have that huge apparatus. But it’s a limited thing: you get 40 minutes of feeling powerful, and a lot of drudgery. As I said, being politically articulate helped me miss punk. I realized that those are my people. At least they’re asking those questions. Indie rock isn’t asking those questions. It’s so inward-looking and ambitious, in New York especially. It helps to be in New York, because they’re just shameless about wanting to fuck you over to get ahead.

Brooklyn, in particular?

Now, yeah. I guess now Brooklyn is this kind of Seattle. I never thought of it that way, but it’s… I just found those people not very interested in the world. Interested in their own local phone code, their own space. I was heading out into the world at the time that it seemed like that music scene was heading into itself. So punk was the only place where people were going out and marching, doing actions. They just gave a shit about the world! It seemed to be about the most important thing anyone could do in the last eight years.

You took part in some of that. I think you gave a speech in New York at some point.

I did, yeah. I have a great friend who’s a historian, a professor, and she insisted that I speak at a student walk out. She goosed me into awareness; I met a lot of great people there. It was terrifying, but I was embraced, which was nice. I just tried to do my own thing; I didn’t want to be presumptuous, so I wrote a poetic essay, I guess, and I was surprised that it seemed to register with a few people there. I was speaking with bona fide refugees and people I felt really outclassed by. All I had was band experience. But I think the people, they see you out there, they appreciate it.

Are you worried that people may be forgetting how to live in the moment?

I worry that they are forgetting how to live in the world. I don’t mean even the big world, but just in terms of going outside, or not being online. That new technology, it’s just not… I don’t quite get it yet. I know you have to give youth a shot, and some kids have really happy, connected lives that way, but I don’t feel it. I miss the bricks-and-mortar stuff.

What about the hundreds of cameras at shows? It’s reasonable to expect people to appreciate what’s happening in front of them, to experience it, but instead there’s this need to record it.

Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, we thought about… I don’t want to tell people not to do that. I just don’t have enough time in my life, I’d much rather work on making our show sound good, and playing well, and seeing the people we like.

Are you happier when people don’t take pictures all the time, film you all the time?

Yeah, of course. But I have to admit, there is this strange little vain part, if the show’s really kickass, that I think it’d be fun if I could tell my dad he could watch it, or my sister, to tell them, ‘Hey, we just played in this big closet!’

Were you nervous about tonight when you saw that tiny basement?

We had questions about how we were going to fit in there, but once we set up, once we started, it was great.

What do you think is more important, to be smart or to be honest?

That’s a tough one. Oh, I would say to be honest. And I think to be really honest, you have to be pretty intelligent. If it means being honest with yourself, or being really clear with your friends and loved ones, to communicate, you have to be smart. You can be clever, and that’s bad. Clever is like being surreptitious, and figuring out how not to be truthful. I think smart and intelligent means an ability to be honest. I’ve done a lot of work getting past clever to what I think is a broader kind of intelligence, which involves honesty.

Are you going to record an album?

Yeah.

I couldn’t help but notice Fat Mike hop on stage the other night and talk to you guys. Was that about recording at all?

I think he’d like to do something. He’s been a really supportive guy. But I don’t… we don’t have a label. We don’t have a ‘dream label’ or anything, other than one we make. It seems we’re about at that point, with technology, that you can just have your own label.

You have a reference to a Smith-Corona, and you own a Smith-Corona. Do you use it to write lyrics?

No, I don’t. That’s about Mishima, that song. It’s about writers, the verse is about Mishima committing ritual suicide. So the line is: “Hari-kari with a Smith-Corona, what the fuck? The left arm of the right wing.”

You mentioned the other night at the Hemlock that all of your songs are about suicide and unrelenting misery. Is that actually true?

Kind of! It’s surprising, yeah. I mean, they’re pretty joyous tunes, but they’re pretty dark lyrically.

Do you feel a discussion on suicide is something that’s ignored in society?

Yeah. It’s either glamorized or it’s shunned, and it’s only the most important question that everybody asks themselves, especially in their young life. It’s something you reckon with as a youth. Our song is ‘O Deadly Death,’ it’s kind of a valentine to suicidal feelings, and how important that is in your development to go to the wall, and then step back. That’s just part of identity, is finding your way to the utmost point and then reveling in the beauty of being alive.

What song do you hope you’re listening to when you die?

“Girl From the North Country,” maybe, with Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, the duet version. That’s always a sweet, off-into-the-wilderness song.

More Photos Below.

Live Review: Adam Stephens at Cast Away Yarn Shop

Posted by: on Jan 29, 2009 | Comments (1)

In 2004, I walked into the Tradewinds in Cotati and felt my jaw immediately hit the floor in amazement over the two guys opening for the Rum Diary. A greasy-haired hippie-looking drummer who played just a little behind the beat and a sharp-throated, fingerpicking singer who blew the harmonica and sang songs about trying to care that the country’s at war in the midst of a ruined liver and other malaise. It felt like this band was created just for me, and after their captivating set, I found out that the band was called Two Gallants. Both Michael Houghton and I cornered the singer near the pool tables and bought everything he had.

I felt a similar sort of excitement tonight when I opened the antique door to Cast Away, a precious yarn shop in Railroad Square, to check in on that same singer, Adam Stephens, and his new solo project. Clusters of people lined the stairway up to the store’s loft, where the outstanding owner Justine usually offers knitting classes but tonight had transformed into a mini-concert space. About 30 or 40 people sat crowded on the floor, quietly passing around libations and listening intently to the music, while below, older customers reclined on couches for the evening’s ‘Knit & Sit’ session, knitting needles and unfinished scarves in hand. Santa Rosa never ceases to amaze me.

Stephens explained that he’d forgotten his harmonica holder, but he had more than enough texture to make up for it; cello, piano, drums and bass filled out his sound while managing to be mostly quieter than anything Two Gallants has ever done. His songs, I noticed, were long, but as Henry Nagle whispered in my ear, they’re paced extremely well, akin to long Springsteen epics. How Stephens manages to come up with so many words to fill his songs is beyond me. I only heard one reference to someone else’s lyrics—a line about sweeping out the ashes—and for the most part, his songs were things to get happily lost in.

Two Gallants is officially “kind of on hiatus,” Stephens told me afterwards, so he’s planning on recording and touring with this new outfit—whatever it may come to be called. “I hate my own name,” he murmured on the sidewalk, “but I also hate coming up with band names. I’ve only named one band in my life, and I was sick of it after a month. So we’ll see.”

The Day Duke Ellington Came to Santa Rosa

Posted by: on Jan 20, 2009 | Comments (3)

I’ve retold this story numerous times to friends and always found it funny. Today, I look at it with deeper meaning. Duke Ellington came to Santa Rosa and no one knew who he was. This, to me, is a sad part of our history, that we denied the most famous composer in a predominantly black art form even the dignity of recognition.

Think about this story, and then think about the exemplary man recognized, elevated and inaugurated as our President this morning.

—–

From Duke Ellington’s 1973 autobiography, Music is My Mistress:

Half the time on our trips Harry Carney and I arrive at the city or town where we are going to play that night thinking the other knows the place where the gig is, or has an itinerary in his pocket. Every now and then it appears that neither of us knows nor has an itinerary with him. “No sweat, baby!” I say, and we drive into a gas station, where Harry says, “Fill it up.” After I’ve stretched my limbs, I ask the attendant, “Do you know where Duke Ellington is playing tonight?” Usually the man answers, “Oh, over at the auditorium, three blocks down this way to the red light, turn left, then first right, and straight ahead—you can’t miss it.” So we just go and follow the directions, and we’re cool, but feeling it was a good thing we picked that gas station for information. We had been doing this sort of thing with good results down though the years until one night, a couple of years ago, we arrived in, I think it was, Santa Rosa, California. We pulled into the gas station with the same routine up to, “Where’s Duke Ellington playing tonight?” The cat with the gas hose turned and said “Who? Who’s he?” When we explained, he said, “I don’t know anything about a dance or a concert here tonight.” And there we were, standing there, feathers peeling off one at a time.

“Oh, no,” Harry said, “you don’t suppose we goofed on the name of the town?”

“There’s only one way to find out,” I said. “Call Ruth or Cress Courtney.” So I went to the telephone to call my sister in New York.

All this time, cars were coming and going, and as they stopped for gas we’d ask them the same question: “Where’s Duke Ellington playing tonight?” Most of their responses were something like, “Duke Ellington? I didn’t know he was playing here tonight.” Then Ruth answered the telephone and we got the directions. So I turned to the cat at the gas station and said, “We’re playing at the Fairgrounds.” “Oh, that’s it, is it?” he said. “Right catty-corner across the street.” What a relief!

But the Fairgrounds were very dark—no lights in sight. After finally finding an entrance gate, we drove in, and around, and around, and around. Nobody, but nothing, until eventually we were about to pass another car going in the opposite direction. Both cars honked their horns, stopped, let their windows down.

“Do you know where. . . ?” Harry began.

“That’s what we want to know, Harry,” the other driver interrupted. It was Ralph Gleason, of the San Francisco Chronicle at that time. We laughed, turned around, and both cars continued their search until suddenly—there it was!

Duke Ellington? Who’s he? Duke who?

Will Oldham in Santa Rosa March 29; Tickets Go On Sale This Wednesday!

Posted by: on Jan 19, 2009 | Comments (2)

Will Oldham has a penchant for playing out-of-the-way places around these parts. In 2002, he played at Pegasus Hall in Monte Rio; in 2003, he dropped in at the Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes Station.

As previously reported, everyone’s lovable scruffy indie-folk hero Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, is adding Santa Rosa as one of his out-of-the-way-stops on his upcoming tour. I’ve been given the green light to spill the details about the show, and most importantly, about how to get tickets.

Will Oldham will play on Sunday, March 29 at the Orchard Spotlight, the best little church-turned-house in Santa Rosa. The venue is very beautiful and very small, holding just over 100 people. Tickets, at $28.50 each, go on sale this Wednesday, Jan. 21, at noon. 100 tickets will be available at www.folkyeah.com, while a scant 25 tickets will be available in-person at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa.

You can either take your chances with the rest of the Internet-connected world online, or if I were you, I’d start lining up outside the Last Record Store on Mendocino Avenue at 9am. There’s a two-ticket limit; cash only. Needless to say, it’ll basically sell out immediately.

Will Oldham in New Yorker, Will Oldham in Santa Rosa

Posted by: on Jan 7, 2009 | Comments (1)

There was a fascinating 10-page New Yorker profile on Will Oldham in last week’s issue, spotlighting in particular his penchant for playing small, weird, semi-secret out-of-the-way shows.

In related news, if I were you, I’d subscribe to Will Oldham’s mailing list. Like, right now. There’s a noticeable gap in his upcoming tour itinerary, and though I’m sworn to secrecy about the details at the moment, I can tell you that when tickets go on sale for his show in Santa Rosa, they won’t be available through normal sources, and they certainly won’t last long. The mailing list is your best bet.

Live Review: Whispertown 2000 at Susie’s House

Posted by: on Nov 16, 2008 | Comments (0)

It was a good sign when Whispertown 2000 soundchecked with “Look at Miss Ohio,” but it just got better from there: tight, country-soul harmonies from the two frontgals; full-on kazoo solos; a drummer that astonishingly played guitar, drums and harmonica simultaneously; a bassist that managed to quote “Dazed and Confused” without malice; and basically a shitkickin’ good time. The two gals kinda reminded me of Those Darlins, and hey, didja hear one of ‘em is a Nagler? And that she was on Punky Brewster? No shit.

Polaroids, stitching, paintings and collage art hung on the walls, all of it excellent; cassettes and horses. Out in the kitchen, vegan cupcakes for sale, and the most gigantic mushroom I’ve ever seen in my life. Slung from a side door, $3 cocktails mixed on the spot. Dancing in the halls. “Bring it on Home to Me” on the stereo. (Thanks for the Darondo tip, Nick.)

All in all, a sweet way for the residents of the house to go out with a bang, seeing as they hafta move at the end of the month. And a fine way for Paul Haile and Lauren Harkins from Not to Reason Why to celebrate their just-announced engagement—the diamond ring was busted out on Saturday at Crane Creek Park! Congratulations, you crazy kids.

Live Review: Zach Hill at the Casbar

Posted by: on Oct 27, 2008 | Comments (1)

I had been wondering how Zach Hill would pull off his solo album, Astrological Straits, in a live setting. With over a dozen guest musicians on his album, would he hire a pick-up band? Would he try to play more than just the drums? Would he call up Les Claypool and ask if he’d mind driving down to Santa Rosa to fill in?

The Casbar is the new joint in town, located inside the Days Inn way down on Santa Rosa Avenue, near Todd Road. It’s a funky location for a funky room—black lights up in each corner, an absinthe green light emitting from the bar, a hazy red near the stage. It’s dark, dank, and seemingly underused, but as Ian told me out in the parking lot— referencing the eternal need for another venue—”Everyone’s gonna pounce on this place.”

After Epiphany Music was shut down in 2007, the former owner, fresh out of jail, somehow convinced the Days Inn to let her put on a show here, calling it the “New Epiphany.” It went rather poorly, and the folks at the Days Inn (they used to run the Los Robles Lodge, putting on the Liquid Lounge nights there and a few in-over-their-heads rap shows at the Fairgrounds) apparently waited a year and a half to try again. I’m glad they did.

The best thing about the Casbar? Those not old enough to drink get a handstamp. Those old enough to drink get a wristband. Everyone wins. Why this hasn’t been done before in Santa Rosa is beyond me, and I sincerely hope that it doesn’t become an issue for the litigation-happy City Attorney’s office, because it makes perfect sense.

Hill and I talked a little bit about Cecil Taylor before the show (“he’s a big inspiration”), and it foreboded his set. Setting up two large speakers on either side of his small drum kit, Hill played the entire 33-minute-long piano-driven bonus track from Astrological Straits, “Necromancer.” Marnie Stern’s spoken word bookended the fierce, pounding piano attack by Marco Benevento, and it didn’t sound at all unlike Taylor’s famous 1979 set with Max Roach at Columbia University.

How the hell does Zach Hill play drums so quickly, so fiercely, so insanely?

Here’s the thing. Sure, Hill played the shit out of the drums nonstop for a half hour, never letting up at all, but it wasn’t unnecessarily violent. Every piece of the puzzle made some kind of sense, and every riptide fill had its place. Like a cross between Dave Lombardo and Philly Joe Jones, Hill exhibited stamina and taste, with a sense of actually communicating something in his playing. I was never bored through the entire volcanic set.

Afterwards, there were literal puddles of Hill’s sweat on the floor beneath his kit.

The Sly Stone Show: Behind the Scenes

Posted by: on Oct 23, 2008 | Comments (15)

The insane circumstances surrounding Sly Stone’s bizarre appearance in Santa Rosa last Friday, Oct. 18, were told to me by several people involved with the show. Crazy doesn’t begin to describe it. Here’s how it went down.

The morning of the show, Sly Stone is in Los Angeles. He fires his business manager. Sly tells the promoter that he’s his own boss now, that he’s the one who’s going to get paid at the show, and that he needs $3,000 wired to the bank account of an Iranian BMW saleswoman before he’ll even get on the plane to San Francisco.

And about that plane: it was supposed to arrive from Los Angeles at 11:30am. No Sly. The limo waits at the airport. Sly’s next flight becomes 1:30pm, then 2:30pm, 3:30pm and 5:30pm. No one can get a hold of him at all. The promoter drives to the airport in the slim hope that Sly might walk through one of the gates.

Finally, at 7:30pm, with his young Japanese girlfriend in tow, the 65-year-old Sly shows up at the airport. He’s an hour and a half away from the show—which starts in a half hour—and he demands to go to the hotel. The young girlfriend finally talks him out of it, and he agrees to go to the show, but he’s still talking about getting paid.

He sleeps all the way to Santa Rosa.

Sly doesn’t hit the stage at the Wells Fargo Center until 10:30pm, during the fifth song of the set. He walks off the stage 25 minutes later, in the middle of “I Wanna Take You Higher,” telling the crowd, “I gotta go take a piss. I’ll be right back.”

But Sly never comes back. The band continues on without him, killing time for 30 minutes. During the last song, a man appears on the stage, whispering into band members’ ears.

Meanwhile, backstage, Sly is demanding to be paid. The show is still going on, and the promoters are telling his handlers to get him back out to perform more. But his handlers know the drill. It’s been this way for years. What can they do?

Before the show is over, Sly is out in the parking lot, still in his white suit, trying to get into the promoter’s car. All the doors are plainly locked, but he keeps trying. Finally, a woman drives by, picks him and his Japanese girlfriend up, and they whiz away. Word of his departure gets inside.

It’s not too hard to figure out what the man on the stage was whispering to the band. How about: Sly’s making a getaway? How about: Sly’s driving off right now? How about: You’d better chase after him if you want to get paid?

And after quickly finishing the song and exiting the stage, that’s exactly what they do.

The band members pile in their cars and find Sly precisely where they thought he’d be—at the Fountaingrove Hilton. Except he’s not in his room. All the rooms are reserved under the business manager’s name, who Sly fired that morning. So Sly’s there, fuming about not being able to get into his room, when the rest of his band suddenly pulls up.

“Get me out of here,” he’s heard telling his driver, and they peel out.

It is not an uncommon sight to see cars racing down Mendocino Avenue on a Friday night. But it’s a different story altogether when the lead car giving chase contains an absolute funk music legend, pursued by five more cars driven by band members, some of whom have played with him for 40 years and are actual, literal family members. Six cars race down the street, weaving in and out of lanes.

Finally, past midnight, Sly’s car is cornered at a gas station. A long stand-off ensues between him and the band while the young Japanese girl cries hysterically in the car. A gas station on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. That’s where it all falls apart.

At press time, no one can get a hold of Sly Stone—not his management, not his band mates, not his family. The last anyone sees of him, he’s headed south on Highway 101. Everyone’s got a pretty good idea how he’s spending the money, but no one knows where he is.

And no one ever wants to play with him again.

——

To read a review of the Sly Stone show, click here.