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Divine Fits Defies ‘Supergroup’ Moniker

Posted by on Aug 17, 2012 One Comment

Equal parts Spoon, Wolf Parade and New Bomb Turks make a cocktail called Divine Fits

Divine Fits is a Voltron of indie and punk rock. Take Spoon singer Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade guitarist Dan Boeckner and New Bomb Turks (yes, the 90s punk band) drummer Sam Brown, throw them in a recording studio, and the result is far better than any other so-called supergroup I’ve ever heard.

The debut album, “A Thing Called Divine Fits,” is streaming on NPR until Aug. 19 here. It’s due to be released Aug. 28. They’re also playing the Treasure Island Festival in San Francisco this year with The XX, Best Coast, Joanna Newsom, Los Campesinos! and a host of others.

There are no egos in the music here, nothing that doesn’t add to the songs. It feels like, well, it feels like a combination of Spoon, New Bomb Turks and Wolf Parade, actually. Maybe a little less New Bomb Turks, but it’s there. The energy and not-giving-a-fuck-ness feels like punk, but the music isn’t super fast, there are more than four chords per song, and the instrumentation and recording are both decidedly grown up.

Vintage synthesizers fill transitions and spaces between lyrical stanzas. The music isn’t afraid to take chances, to stick its neck out and let songs develop without having to worry about “the hook.” It’s got that great Spoon groove that I love, but doesn’t get boring like Spoon sometimes feels to me. I could listen to this record four more times today, and I’ve already heard it more than once.

The recording is great, and that helps. It’s always tough to get into a new band when they release something recorded in their buddy’s basement in Portland on a “sweet ProTools rig” or something like that. The great thing about a supergroup is their connections and the buzz they have built leads to releasing something that, at the very least, will be a high-quality recording.

The songs are solid, the band sounds like it’s been playing together for quite a while now, so is moniker “supergroup” really appropriate here? There are good ones, like the Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson), the Postal Service (Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello, Jenny Lewis) and the Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, many others). But for the most part, supergroups, once realized, are a terrible idea. Here’s a few off the top of my head: Slash’s Snakepit, Audioslave, Zwan, Velvet Revolver, Angels and Airwaves, Chickenfoot, PLASTIC FREAKING ONO BAND.

It doesn’t usually work out. But this doesn’t suck. In fact, if this became a real band, and not just a Postal Service, We’re-Gonna-Make-One-Album-And-Never-Again kind of thing, I would be most pleased.

Live Review: Nicki Minaj at the Paramount Theater, Oakland

Posted by on Aug 14, 2012

The L.A. Times has a review of Nicki Minaj’s L.A. show that criticizes the singer for having too many personas, which I think misses the point. What Nicki Minaj is is too many personas. Nicki Minaj is a bunch of unrealized, scattershot ideas. Nicki Minaj is a schizophrenic 12-year-old with tourettes who’s drank three mochas and has been handed a mic. Because of this—this barrage of short, quick information blasts one experiences while listening to the 29-year-old’s music—Nicki Minaj mirrors the 21st century and its nonstop information overload. It’s a genius, prescient presentation, that happens to fill the important role in teenage pop music of driving older people crazy.

Nicki Minaj is also Katy Perry for the fuckups, evinced by the crowd at the Paramount Theater in Oakland on Thursday night for Minaj’s first-ever headlining tour. In every direction: neon wigs, tight dresses, high heels, high hems, low necklines, lace tutus and gratuitous cleavage, but, like, with intentionally messed-up makeup, or ripped fishnets, or tattoo sleeves. One could easily people-watch in the lobby and feel like the $100 tickets were already money well spent. (more…)

Photos: Phil Lesh with Yonder Mountain String Band at Terrapin Crossroads

Posted by on Aug 11, 2012

Phil Lesh’s new venue Terrapin Crossroads has been the buzz of San Rafael since its grand opening last month. Below, click the image to view a slideshow of photos from his guest appearance with Yonder Mountain String Band on Aug. 4, 2012.

Photos by Jamie Soja.

Click for Photo Slideshow


Listening to Third Eye Blind Outside the Fence at the Sonoma County Fair Isn’t All That Great

Posted by on Aug 9, 2012 7 Comments

Question! Third Eye Blind sang a) “Barely Breathing,” b) that “It’s 2am I Must Be Lonely” song, c) “Steal My Sunshine” or d) that one that goes “Doot-Doot-DOOT! Doot-Doo-DOOT!-Doo, Doot-Doot-DOOT! Doot-doo-DOOT!-Doo.” If you don’t know the answer, don’t worry! It’s easy to find out by walking down to the Sonoma County Fair, standing outside the fence of the Chris Beck Arena and listening as the quasi-funky drums, plaintive acoustic guitars and impassioned harmonies of one of 1997’s biggest bands blast from the stage, rebound off the rodeo grandstand and dissipate, unlistenably, into the sky over Brookwood Avenue.

Because “the Chris Beck concerts are restricted from press,” they tell me (oh really?), this happens to be my only option. Last year, for Huey Lewis & the News, this wasn’t such a bad thing, and I was still able to find some insight for a review while standing outside the gates. But I suspect that Third Eye Blind’s genius merits a closer analysis that can only be ascertained by witnessing the band visually, because on the other side of the barbed-wire fence it was hard to understand what the half-full grandstand was cheering for. (more…)

Live Review: Cradle Duende plays Gaia Festival

Posted by on Aug 9, 2012

Cradle Duende perform on the Pedal Powered Stage

How many people does it take to power a full music stage, complete with sound system, aerialists and a smoothie bar? About 20 human powered bicycles, lined up in rows, generating enough electrical energy to power a 5-piece band. Bright blue stationary bicycles are connected through their rear wheels with magnets and coils forming “ultra capacitors” to amplify sound. It’s called Pedal Power and its changing festivals for the greener good.

San Francisco band Cradle Duende lit up the bike-powered stage twice with their fusion of Klezmer and Flamenco music appropriately titled “klezmenco”.  Their Friday night and Sunday evening sets attracted considerable crowds at the wanderers cross roads. Between the main stage and river path, the El Arbol Stage was one of eight performance areas. Cradle Duende’s mix of traditional Ashkenazic celebration music with modern reggae and Latin rhythms are infectiously danceable – with all the bike spinning and festival dancing the band was nonstop, turning down requests for encores.

CRADLE DUENDE by MorganNilsen


Que es Este Tes Elations?

Posted by on Aug 4, 2012

Chris Votek got in touch recently, which was a nice surprise. I hadn’t talked to him in about seven years—after writing a cover story on Chris and his guerrilla chamber group Triste Sin Richard, he moved away from Sonoma County to develop his massive talent at Cal Arts.

In the package was a CD, though, by Tes Elations. Comprised of two cellos (Chris is one), a guitarist, a drummer and a singer, the band is less Arvo Pärt and more like something you’d stumble across at an outdoor music festival—but you’d be hypnotized, and you’d stop walking on your way to get a beer, and you’d raptly drink in the whole set. Get an idea of their delicate haunt here.

Tes Elations play Saturday night at the Arlene Francis Center with Girls in Suede—another throwback to 2005—and Kinship, which is the name with which Nick Wolch, for some reason, has decided to rechristen his long-running Goodriddler project. All these people sprung from a very tight-knit scene in Santa Rosa, which exploded to various parts around the state and reconvenes, in a reunion of sorts, at the show on Saturday night.

Below, watch the video for Tes Elations “Autumn”:

Photos: Higher Vision Festival with Burning Spear, Tinariwen, More

Posted by on Aug 1, 2012

The Higher Vision Festival hit the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on June 9, 2012, with Burning Spear, Tinariwen, the Motet, Gaudi and more.

Click the image below for a full photo slideshow.

Photos by Jamie Soja.

“Mitt Romney, A Hero In My Mind”

Posted by on Jul 30, 2012

“Take nothing seriously on the internet” is advice I find myself doling out with more frequency. Presidential elections, on the other hand, bring out such earnestness in people:

Interview: Alika with DJ Stepwise play Sebastopol

Posted by on Jul 26, 2012

Alika, WBLK Monday Night Edutainment Singer Series. Photo by Guacamole

Sheer exposure to some of the world’s finest reggae musicians is reason enough to hit up WBLK’s Monday Night Edutainment dancehall party in Sebastopol. South American songstress Alika with Oakland-based selector DJ Stepwise gave an outstanding performance to a packed house last Monday at Hopmonk. Hosted by local DJs Jacques and Guacamole, Alika was fresh off Reggae River where she played with L.A. band Quinto Sol. DJ Stepwise opened the show with an incredible cultural history lesson in current Latin American music, mixing reggae and cumbia artists from Argentina to Panama, Mexico to the Caribbean.

Clearly laying down a precedence for Latin American reggae at the weekly dance party, Alika sang the entire two hour set in Spanish. Her message of universal rights was received by a crowd as diverse as the county offers. Although many folks couldn’t understand the lyrics, the good vibes united us across cultural divides.

Performing selections off her fourth album “Educate Yourself” along with several tracks from her newest mix tape “Unidad y Respeto” (“Unity and Respect” mixed by DJ Stepwise), Alika proved confident in connecting with a U.S. audience. Considered the No. 1 Spanish-speaking female reggae singer in world, her six album catalog features such artists as Mad Professor, Anthony B, and Mexico’s leading rapper Akil Ammar.

The seamless mix of roots reggae, hip hop, and cumbia rhythms incorporate Alika’s blend of streetwise female rapper with the air of a Rasta empress – at Monday’s show she donned a black Adidas jacket, high-top Nike kicks in pink, and a shirt with a artist’s rendering of Haile Selassie’s image under which read “Babylon Shall Fall”.

Before the show, Alika sat down with me in the green room to talk about the Reggae on the River music festival, her latest album, and why she loves people who pirate her CDs.


Live Review: Transcendence Theatre Company at Jack London State Park

Posted by on Jul 21, 2012 One Comment

Unless you’ve recently dropped ten bucks into the little yellow self-parking envelopes, it is more than likely you are hoping governor “Moonbeam” Brown will have a change of heart as to the closure of some 70 state parks this year. Now, back to reality. So who is actually saving our parks? The rescue effort is due largely to private and nonprofit groups stepping up to make sure they stay open to the public. Groups like the Team Sugarloaf have partnered to keep Sugarloaf State Park open. Meanwhile, private businesses like Santa Rosa’s Bike Monkey are holding well-known events such as the Annadel XC, which brought in $55,000 last year to assist the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department with Annadel park operations.

When Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen was placed on the park closure list, the disappointing action prompted a direct response from the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association. The group secured the first nonprofit contract to operate a California State Park and has been hosting wine tastings and auctions with neighbors Benziger Family and Imagery wineries to help offset operation costs. But one-time events and charging higher parking fees are not sustainable. So ideas bounced around until a troupe of eclectic Broadway and Hollywood actors showed up on the doorstep of Jack London’s cottage in early May. Soon the Transcendence Theatre Company and VMNHA were united by their love of live theater and community. “Broadway Under the Stars” was born and the 2012 inaugural season has begun.

Last night’s third performance drew roughly 250 people, seated in audience format within the ruins of Jack London’s winery. Framed by hundred-year-old stone walls, the venue sits under a cathedral of stars. The visual aesthetic and outdoor acoustics invite the audience to engage not only with the stage actors but also with the beauty of nature itself.