For this year’s NorBay Awards held on July 14, we here at the Bohemian are premiering an exciting new experiment: the 24-Hour Band Contest.
Here’s how it works: You sign up for the contest. You tell us your name, the instrument (or instruments) you play, your experience level and practice space situation. All ages and all experience levels are welcome.
Then, on July 13 at 6pm, we’ll meet at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa. We’ll pick names randomly, assembling bands made up of complete strangers—a singer, a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, a singer, a keyboard player, a horn player, an accordionist, a rapper, a kazoo player… anything goes!
The bands will then have 24 hours together to get to work in the practice space, writing two original songs and learning one cover song, and returning to perform the very next night at the 2012 NorBays on July 14 at the Arlene Francis Center! Prizes will be awarded to the winning band.
Are you in? Of course you’re in. Sign up by clicking here!
What makes a Stabat Mater so special? Is it the holy text? The seriousness with which composers undertake the task? Whatever it may be, the Santa Rosa Symphonic Chorus and Santa Rosa Chamber Orchestra plucked every string in both chambers of the heart this weekend with their rousing performance of Gioachino Rossini’s Stabat Mater at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa.
Rossini’s version of the sacred text, which dates back to the 13th Century as a somber hymn about the Sorrows of Mary, is powerful in a very Rossini way. At first, it might be surprising to know Rossini even composed a Stabat Mater (it was to me, at least). But the Romantic composer known for wild operas like the Barber of Seville and William Tell (think The Lone Ranger theme) was known for memorable melodies and dramatic crescendos stayed true to the feeling of the piece.
Someone recently wrote to us asking if we could compile a list of the free summertime concerts put on by cities around Sonoma County. I’ve had to dig to find these lists on various city websites in the past, so here’s a handy guide for free outdoor community concerts in Sonoma County for summertime 2012. (Note: We’ll add to this list as more schedules are finalized. Also, this does not include every single outdoor free concert; only those put on by cities.)
I first time came across Church after stumbling out of Stark’s Happy Hour with a couple of friends. Down the street they came, skipping past Western Farm Center and hanging a right into Railroad Square. It was a motley crew, held together by a few lopsided grins, an accordion (played by Kalei Yamanhoha from the Crux), clarinet, a couple of saxophones, snare drums, trombones and a big, ole’ sousaphone. They looked like a bunch of wily mutineers, the Goonies of marching bands, and as we grinned and walked towards the railroad tracks, with Church behind us on the street, we claimed them for a moment as our own personal soundtrack. As they rounded the corner onto Sixth street and headed up into the West End neighborhood, I texted my husband and said, “Look out the window, a marching band is about to pass by!” For a second, everything felt shiny and good in the world.
The next time, I literally ran (or biked) into Church while navigating through dumb Santa Rosa Plaza to get into downtown. As I approached Macy’s, the glass entrance doors burst open, and Kalei the accordionist, came barreling out, still playing his accordion, followed by a tumult of ragtag marching band hooligans, all laughing and breathless—and probably being chased by an humorless department store security guard who didn’t appreciate the charm of being serenaded in the shoe department with off-kilter Russian folk songs. The best part… Church played the theme from “Cops” on the way out the doors.
That’s the great thing about Church: you never know when they’ll perform. The last time I saw them, they were playing guerilla-style at the Tour of California “Lifestyle Festival.” They were making bank in tips, I’m sure without a permit, and I thought, “Ah, now this is a lifestyle I can get behind.” Hopefully, next time I see Church they’ll be playing the shit out of a Ratatat song on the top of Hugh Codding’s tribute arch until the damn thing rumbles down…
Here’s what they say about themselves on their Facebook page: “One rainy night the idea was formed to create a marching band of friends. Why not? Everyone we know plays music, so why not get everyone together for it? We practice hard, perform harder, and create a redonc party everywhere we go.”
And here’s the official 12 -piece line up: Jesse Shantor (Sousaphone), Gaven Hayden-Town (Baritone Saxophone), Ben Weiner (Drums), Ricky Lomeli (Drums), Zak Garn (Drums), Joey Lynch (Drums), Travis Hendrix (Clarinet), Annie Cilley (Alto Saxophone), Adam Lessnau (Trombone), Jeremy Lessnau (Melophone/Trumpet), Josh Jackson (Trumpet), Kalei Yamanoha (Accordion)
While spontaneous, surprise Church sightings are the most fun, you can see them in a more “official” capacity when they play the Arlene Francis Center on Friday, May 25. The show is a benefit to send the West County-based marching band Hubbub Club, along with Church, to this year’s HONK! festwest.
Tonight, Los Tigres del Norte played a two-and-a-half hour set in Santa Rosa. If that sounds like a long time, consider that most of their concerts are 3 or 4 hours long; once, in 2009, the band played for seven hours straight.
But the band, who attracted a sellout crowd at the Wells Fargo Center, wisely maximized those two and a half hours. They played all of their biggest hits, projected clips from throughout their career on a giant screen, had the crowd on their feet and, at concert’s end, took dozens of photos with excited fans at the edge of the stage while still playing and not missing a note.
Another thing: I’d heard that in concert, Los Tigres del Norte compose their setlists on the spot, dictated by scraps of paper handed to the band by audience members. Each scrap of paper contains a song request, and the band generally gets around to playing nearly all of them.
Sure enough, that was the case tonight at the Wells Fargo Center, where a constant stream of requests were handed to the band members, often in mid-song. I lost count of how many of these requests came flooding to the stage. Between songs, the band members read from the scraps of paper, not only song titles but special dedications, birthday wishes, stories of people’s homeland and more. Call it an analog version of live-Tweeting. It definitely connected the crowd.
And then, the songs. “Golpes en el Corazon” brought a giant sing-along before the band even had a chance to start the first verse; the heartbreaking “La Jaula de Oro” caused an eruption at the first three notes on the accordion. “Somos Mas Americanos,” “Contraband y Tración,” “La Puerta Negra”—they just kept coming and coming. By the end, while the crowd clustered the stage for a veritable love-fest, it was hard to imagine that they wouldn’t return to Santa Rosa, sometime, for another marathon set.
Never mind that the beat (and the title) is a direct lift of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar.” Never mind the low (or no) production values. Just enjoy this video shot at the Roxy Stadium 14 Theater by local rapper Tru Lyric, who apparently works cleaning up auditoriums after showings of Underworld: Awakening 3D and who goes home with plenty of rhymes running through his head.
Have you ever seen Weird Al? No? Well, let me try to explain. He plays for two hours. He plays about 65 songs. He has about 20 costume changes. He assumes two dozen personas, and shows just as many funny fake interview clips between songs. He’s nonstop, and it’s nuts, and his crowd is nuts, and then he plays some songs about Yoda and it’s all over, and like any good fast-paced comedy show, it’s hard to remember what just happened.
Here’s what I can reconstruct.
When I walk in to the show, there’s a guy who’s 6’5″ in sweatpants, a headband and a red “Jews 4 Bacon” T-shirt. This is a good representative example of the typical Weird Al fan who has arrived here tonight to pay their respects to the master. I follow the Jews 4 Bacon guy to my seat, the lights go out, and Weird Al starts a polka medley of the following songs:
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)
Day ‘n’ Nite
Need You Now
I Kissed a Girl
Blame It (on the Alcohol)
Break Your Heart
The medley comes back around to “Poker Face,” the song ends, the lights go out, people go nuts. The lights blink back on just in time to see Weird Al bonk his face on the microphone with a huge “WhhHHHAhaOoompPP!,” and then recovering by shouting “HELLO SANTA ROSA!!”
There’s a joke about a drum solo, and then the video screen shows a interview with Eminem where Eminem keeps saying “You know what I’m sayin’?” and Weird Al keeps losing his patience in increasingly aggravated fashion, and this goes on and on, and the crowd loves it, and then some cheerleaders come out on stage to the opening strains of “Smells Like Nirvana.” I’m impressed that Weird Al plays the whole song on guitar left-handed, but then attention to detail is his specialty—surely he knows that Kurt Cobain played left-handed. He also gargles the guitar solo into the microphone with some mystery liquid and throws the red keg cup and its contents out on the crowd, and they go wild.
“TMZ” is a Taylor Swift parody, “Party in the C.I.A.” is Miley Cyrus, Jesus, what else? It all goes by so fast, and honestly, some of the best songs are his own, like “Skipper Dan,” the sad tale of a failed actor who was once “the next Olivier” but is now working the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland, reciting the same crappy schtick about the wiggling hippo ears 34 times a day. (“I research everything that I do as much as I possibly can before I even start writing,” he says in this interview about the song. See, attention to detail!)
Somewhere in there is perhaps the show’s highlight: “Wanna B Ur Lovr,” with Weird Al in a red-and-black leopard print suit hopping off the stage and grinding up on audience members, like, legs up on the seat, while singing lines like “My love for you’s like diarrhea, I just can’t hold it in” and something about chewing on your butt, maybe? It’s insane. He launches into a food medley, with “Whatever You Like” and “Nothin’ on You” and “Eye of the Tiger” and “La Bamba” and “Stand” and I forget what else, and then they all come out dressed like the Doors.
Doing Jim Morrison is hard, but Weird Al nails it, and their bassist is sitting back at the keyboards because the Doors had no bassist (ATTENTION TO DETAIL!) and the song is about Craigslist and the personal ads and annoying complaints people lodge on Craigslist. Weird Al wins a place in the heart of Santa Rosa by addressing a diatribe during the bridge: “An open letter to the snotty barista at Bad Ass Coffee on Mark West Springs Road,” and again, attention to detail, place goes nuts, it’s totally cool and uncool at the same time, which I guess sums up the whole show, actually.
The hits roll out: “Perform This Way,” “eBay,” “Canadian Idiot,” “White and Nerdy,” “Money for Nothing / Beverly Hillbillies,” and “Fat,” with the famous fat costume, and it’s hard to figure out if he’s making the fat people in the audience feel better or worse about themselves, but I’m guessing better, because Weird Al is all about making everyone feel better about themselves no matter how weird or quirky or idiosyncratic or different they may be. Even if they’re 6’5″ and wearing sweatpants and a headband and a shirt that says “Jews 4 Bacon.” Weird Al is there for that man, and that man is not giving up on Weird Al, because like Homer Simpson says: “He who is tired of Weird Al is tired of life.”
There’s an encore, with songs about Star Wars, a.k.a. the Spiritual Advisory Board of the disenfranchised. There’s an amazing acapella thing that I can’t begin to describe (thank you YouTube, start at 3:40), and the whole thing comes roaring back in with “Yoda,” and the accordion is king, and people are swaying in their own ridiculous joy, and UHF is a great movie, and Jessica Simpson is dumb, and no one thought about the state of the world for two hours, and Weird Al yells “Thank you Santa Rosa!” and I believe that he actually cares. And that’s what a Weird Al show is like.
Last week, famed bandleader Pete Rugolo died at the age of 95. A brilliant arranger and progressive composer, he brought a decidedly modernist touch to big-band jazz, most famously with his work for Stan Kenton. He worked with Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, June Christy, Harry Belafonte, the Four Freshmen, Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstine and many, many others.
Interesting to locals: Pete Rugolo grew up in Santa Rosa, graduating from Santa Rosa High School in 1934.
Though he eventually recorded under his own name (and specialized in fun, lively cover art), the album that introduced me to Pete Rugolo is still my favorite: the June Christy album Something Cool, a jazz-vocal landmark. Rugolo had been rearranged, tinkered with and sent back to the rewriting board by his previous employers, but as he recalls in this interview at age 84, “I did the album Something Cool, and everything I wrote, they never changed a note. They just loved all my work.”
It shows. Listen to “Something Cool” below, and pay attention in the bridge, when Christy sings about going to Paris in the fall—Rugolo answers with a jubilant three seconds of music that evokes, well. . . Paris in the fall. It’s a classic Rugolo touch that I’ve always loved, and the rest of the album’s arrangements are equally sophisticated and ahead of their time. Enjoy the song.
As soon as I got to EarleFest, I ran into about five people who were still glossy-eyed over Chuck Prophet. “Wasn’t he great?” they asked me. “I had to work. Just got here,” I replied. “Man, you missed something special,” they said.
Of course, Chuck Prophet is fantastic, and talking with him recently about the record he recorded in Mexico City and its subtle comments on immigration confirmed my fandom. Seeing the Flatlanders, below, is always a treat, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s voice is a salve to be taken at least thrice a year for proper emotional maintenance.
But I was at EarleFest mostly to right two wrongs, namely that 1) I’d never been to EarleFest, and 2) I’d never seen Paul Thorn.
Well, the rumors are true on both points. EarleFest is a tremendously well-run festival in a perfect setting. There’s not a bad seat in the field, and there’s plenty of room to move if you want to dance, move closer to the stage or do cartwheels with 10-year olds. The sound is great, especially for a temporary outdoor system. Food booths are decent—paella, barbeque, fried pickles, beer and wine—and plenty of bathrooms. It’s just that perfect blend of “official” and “casual” that feels right.
How I’ve managed to miss Paul Thorn all these years is beyond me—”he’s so funny,” everyone says. They’re right. I was in stitches while he talked, but it’s hard to convey his humor in writing. Self-deprecating and clever, his between-song banter is that of a guy playing dumb but holding his smarts close to his chest. A sample, somewhat verbatim:
“My first album was all songs I wrote to try and win back a girl who broke up with me because I cheated on her. The story is as simple as that. When the album came out, I thought she would hear the songs and be so overcome that she’d run back to me. But instead of winning her back, they only gave her more power to treat me like dirt. And that’s what she did, for a long time. So here’s a very beautiful song that accomplished nothing.”
Thorn’s voice is rough and blues-inflected, sliding from note to note in a Mississippi drawl, his band is tight as hell and his tunes are great; about four or five of them fall into the “instant classics” category—like “I Don’t Want to Know,” “Everybody Looks Good at the Starting Line” and “Resurrection Day,” the aforementioned song that accomplished nothing. Anyway, if you’re like me and haven’t gotten around to seeing him yet, block out the calendar and plonk down for tickets. He’s good on record, particularly Mission Temple Fireworks Stand, but man, he’s outstanding live. In the middle of his last encore, he hopped off stage, danced with a few pretty girls, high-fived a throng of fans and waltzed back to the merch stand to hang out and chat with people while the sun went down. A nice end to a fantastic EarleFest.
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).