AFI and Muse
December 11, 2009
Senior Correspondent Abby Gregory
There was a rather long lineup of acts at the 'Live 105 Not So Silent Night' show which included many up and coming bands such as 30 Seconds to Mars, Vampire Weekend, and Metric; yet, I was only able to see AFI (A Fire Inside) and headliners Muse. Why would I miss such a hot band as Vampire Weekend? Well, show tardiness is an inevitable outcome when you allow the drunks in the group to plan the public transportation logistics across the Bay from San Francisco to Oakland. In addition, after a few drinks, the necessity for a burrito-run in the Mission also assumed a certain misplaced priority, but you can’t reason with the inebriated. So, I arrived at the Oakland Coliseum just as AFI was coming on stage. Fortunately for me, AFI and headliner Muse made up for our late arrive with two amazing sets.
AFI formed in Ukiah, California in 1991 which is probably why I only recently discovered them in 2006 when they released Decemberunderground, but I have been a fan ever since. This album's first single "Miss Murder" was a huge hit and AFI finally began to receive some overdue recognition. AFI has a punk/alternative sound that has evolved quite a bit over their long lifetime. I have never seen AFI live, and was excited to see them perform. They put on a fantastic set, and included songs from their older albums as well as their new release, Crash Love.
Following AFI, Muse came on to a standing crowd. They performed all of their hits old and new, including a couple of my favorites, “Supermassive Black Hole” from Black Holes and Revelations and the new hit “Uprising” from The Resistance. I am also a recent fan of Muse, so was not familiar with much of their older work, but found their performance to be phenomenal. Their onstage presence was outstanding, they were able to connect with the large crowd and get everyone going, not a small feat when you're the sixth or seventh band of the night. Out of Devon, UK, Muse has been a critic’s darling which is no surprise since their sound is reminiscent of Radiohead. Their latest album, The Resistance, is the band’s fifth album and is truly a broad spectrum musical endeavor- rock with a symphonic overtone.
Both bands put on a great performance and it was totally worth seeing them in a large venue even as late as I arrived. I walked away a bigger fan than ever of both AFI and Muse.
The Black Crowes
San Francisco, CA
December 6, 2009
The Black Crowes formed in 1984 and have had a regular rotation of band members since that time - with the exception of singer Chris Robinson and his brother guitarist Rich Robinson who are the creative forces in the band. They are heavily invested in 1970's Southern rock sound that makes me nostalgic for Led Zeppelin (the Crowes have previously toured with Jimmy Page) and the Allman Brothers, from whom they are direct descendants. The Crowes are big favorites in the jam band scene. I have been an intermittent fan of the Black Crowes since High School. Last year, I rediscovered them again with the release of their album Warpaint and after hearing their new album, Before the Frost….Until the Freeze, this past August, I decided that I really should see them live. They are well-known for long and enthusiastic performances and I could think of no better venue than the Fillmore in San Francisco for such an auspicious occasion.
Before the Black Crowes, Truth and Salvage Company opened the show. I enjoyed their set so much I actually purchased their CD. They also have a great 70's Southern rock sound, and turns out the album is a great listen. It is no real surprise that they opened for the Black Crowes since Chris Robinson produced their CD. They performed a great set, approximately 45 minutes long, and were a nice lead-in for the Crowes.
The Black Crowes walked on stage, and without fanfare, immediately launched into their set. While they played a great deal from the new album, Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, and a few songs from Warpaint, but they did not play as many songs from their older albums as I hoped. They played for approximately 2 hours with no chitchat, or gratuitous information, as some bands are wont to do these days. While an overall solid show, I think it could have used a little more “something.” It just seemed a bit lackluster given their history, reputation and musical capabilities. I am glad that I had the opportunity to see them at The Fillmore though, which served as a great backdrop. All in all, a pretty decent show.
Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones: Bohemian Troubadour
Who raised this banner/ that no one hears?/ The Jack beneath the axis/ Digging under the current/ Someone’s trying to get back/ But who’s qualified to retrieve the soul’s enduring song?/ from the grottoes of her eyes/ and the clashing of the stars
Throughout my college days, I had this quote from Rickie Lee Jones’ “Traces of the Western Slope” hanging on my dorm-room door. I have a long history with Rickie Lee Jones. I first heard Rickie Lee when I visited my alma mater,
For most people, RLJ is known, mainly, if not entirely for the 1979 mega-hit “Chuck E’s in Love” which seems to provoke a love/hate response. A later hit, “It Must Be Love,” is less well-known but has appeared in more than a handful of movies and TV shows. However, for me, her second album Pirates will always be my favorite. It contains what I consider to be the greatest love song ever written, “We Belong Together,” and one of my all-time favorite songs, “Livin’ It Up.” RLJ went on to experiment less successfully with various musical styles in later albums, including jazz and trip-hop. But she still has a dedicated fanbase that comes out whenever she tours.
RLJ can be a bit of a mercurial performer. The first time I saw her was in
Last night at the Fillmore, RLJ's voice sounded better than it has in years. The crowd was very enthusiastic and she was clearly enjoying herself. The highlights included “Weasel and the White Boys,” a re-arranged “Livin’ It Up,” “Easy Money” (a nearly perfect example of story-telling song-craftmanship) and her cover of David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel.” She also did a fantastic version of “We Belong Together.” RLJ was joined on stage by a small ensemble that included bassist and San Francisco native Rob Wasserman, who has previously performed with Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello to name a few. He is perhaps one of the most talented bass players around and added the perfect touch for almost every song. It was a great evening of music and a reminder of why Rickie Lee has a special place in my heart.
Them Crooked Vultures
November 19, 2009
Them Crooked Vultures: Don't Call Them a Supergroup
It's been a while since we have had to tolerate the popular formation of "supergroups." Oh, sure they never really went away entirely, but the numbers definitely seemed to dwindle after the 1990s. Perhaps artists were intimidated by the megasuccess, the super-success of Asia's 'Heat of the Moment.' Yet, in the past couple years, there seems to be a growing trend amongst the 'talented malcontents' of other more famous bands to form these groups, see e.g. Velvet Revolver, Chickenfoot, Monsters of Folk, etc. However, these names alone should readily indicate the struggle faced by these bands to capture their member's former glory. Supergroups have notoriously not been very super. And, unfortunately, Them Crooked Vultures is not an exception to the rule.
Supergroups tend to appeal to devoted music fans who know enough about the movement of their favorite musicians to keep track of who is playing with who. How many people can name the members of Nirvana not named Kurt Cobain? And how else can you explain a sold-out Fox Theater show for a band whose first album was released only this week?
TCV is comprised of Dave Grohl, former drummer of Nirvana and singer for the Foo Fighters; John Paul Jones, former bassist for Led Zeppelin; and Josh Holmes, former front-man for Queens of the Stone Age. With that kind of talent, you'd expect flashes of brilliance at the Fox Theater last night - which there definitely were, particularly when they played their album's first single, "New Fang" (which sounds oddly familiar to me). I also can't deny that Jones and Grohl are an amazing rhythm section and together, they can catch fire as they did during "Scumbag Blues." Unfortunately, the weak link in the band's superness is clearly Josh Holmes who was front and center for most of the show. His singing, while competent, is unremarkable and his guitar-playing lacks any real inventiveness or spark.
It is no surprise that TCV should sound like a mash of Queens of the Stone Age, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana, but it is a surprise that the combination doesn't sound like any of those bands individually (if you get my meaning). This is probably a good thing for the classic-band status of those groups. TCV sounds like an updated 1970s hardrock outfit - a bit like what I would expect Slade or Foreigner to sound like if they formed in 2009. Need I say more? Although there were flashes of greatness, I think the band's determination to show just how hard they can rock undermined the final result. It was great to see John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl on stage as they are two under-recognized luminaries in rock history, but their own rock history demonstrates very clearly that they can do better.
San Francisco, CA
November 10, 2009
Imogen Heap: Loopy
Music today is undergoing a technology-driven revolution not only in the production and distribution of music but also in its creation and in its performance. For most consumers, the revolution is most keenly experienced in the distribution and consumption of music through iTunes and iPods. But, artists are also in the midst of a technology revolution in the creation and performance of music.
And for better or worse, Imogen Heap is in the middle of it. For those of you not in-the-know, Imogen Heap is sort of a cross between Sarah MacLachlan and Kate Bush. IH writes and records pensive, personal ballads about love-life tribulations with an experimental element. She loves sounds and embraces electronic effects in her songs, but she does not fall into the electronica music category of thumping dance music. However, she does use looping effects frequently or, perhaps, better to say constantly. Looping, for those not-in-the-know, involves feedback systems using digital delay devices to create repetitions of short musical motifs. These repetitions can remain limited to simple repeated phrases or can add up to a more complex texture which can constitute the melody of the song or might just be used as color, atmosphere or a rhythmic background.
For me, the problem with electronic music performance is that it is difficult to relate to. There were frequently no instruments being played at all as Imogen danced across the stage, swinging her arms, and singing to repetitions of musical snippets that played out on her computer. There is no denying that Imogen Heap can construct songs and is musically very knowledgeable and is a decent pianist but it can all get lost in the technical tricks. Part of me was left wondering is pushing a button to create a loop really a musical performance?
Before IH, Zoe Keating performed her own take on looping. Zoe is a Bay Area celloist that is a true artist. Her cello-playing interacted with loops of her own music that she created and controlled with foot pedals in real-time. It was both fascinating and revelatory. Her playing (and looping) was a real performance that was spell-binding. She lent artistic credibility to the electronic looping that IH did later. Fortunately for the audience, Zoe also came back for a handful of songs with IH. Still, her brief set was the highlight of the night.
A couple low-points from the show: Imogen is quite a good singer but has an annoying habit of singing very breathily when she wants to be really expressive. Rather unnecessary when she can sing so well. Also, her banter in between songs was more prattle than patter and often lasted longer than the songs which made me regret the end of the songs because I would have to wait 5 minutes for the next while she babbled on inanely. This became a true test of patience for the audience.
Nevertheless, Imogen is clearly an inventive and talented musician and song-writer. The show was also sold-out demonstrating IH is on the ascendancy, but I got the distinct impression that she has not realized her potential or created the masterpiece that lurks within her. I hope that she does.
Gift of Gab
Hosted by Lyrics Born
San Francisco, CA
November 7, 2009
Senior Rapping Correspondent Brian Griset
Gift of Gab (from O-Town’s Blackalicious) is one of my favorite emcees. What Gab lacks in dynamic stage-presence, he makes up in dazzling displays of tongue-twisting wordplay. He sandwiched his fun set with the songs "Alphabet Aerobics" and "Chemical Calisthenics," both featured intricate verbal flows that rapidly increased in speed as the song progressed. By the end, it was a blur of words. In between, Gab performed such crowd favorites as "Deception" and "Blazing Arrow" as well as tracks from his new sophomore solo album, Escape 2 Mars. The concert was the start of his tour to celebrate the new release. Gab later brought on Lyrics Born and Lateef, the third MC in Quannum's crew, to the stage for the night's second freestyle session which brought down the house.
Playing into the wee hours, was Charlie Stewart, professionally known as Chali 2na. A rapper and hip hop artist, formerly associated with the popular groups Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli. Chali played with a full awesome band. The strongest parts of his set were the heartfelt "Love's Gonna Getcha," a high energy romp through "Guns Up," and performances of J5 favorites "Freedom," "What's Golden," and "Quality Control," the later featuring the keyboardist singing a chorus of the other J5 (the Jackson Five's) "One More Chance."
A beat can make or break a song in other ways – if a rapper uses too many “old school” beats, they are bound to get criticized for it, and told to be more original. The key to making hip hop music work is to find a beat that truly makes the story and song both entertaining and original. This show was a perfect mix of old and new and thoroughly entertaining.
San Francisco, CA
October 13, 2009
The Pogues: Traditional Irish Punk
Senior Irish Punk Correspondent: Brian Griset
In 1982, Shane MacGowan recruited some friends to explore a new type of music - traditional Irish music, mixed with elements of punk and thus the Pogues were formed. The Pogues have a very unique and easily identifiable sound, pairing traditional instruments like the tin whistle and mandolin with electric guitar. The music sounds ready-made for a night at an Irish pub; it’s no surprise that MacGowan, like a good Irish lad, has had drinking problems in the past. In fact, for a short period, MacGowan was replaced by the legendary Clash frontman, Joe Strummer. The Pogues helped recreate and reintroduce traditional Irish music with storytelling lyrics to a new generation. When the Pogues graced the Warfield in SF with a show, Shane and the crew proved they still got what it takes to entertain.
The current members of the band are Irish and English, proving music crosses all borders. Shane MacGowan is joined by James Fearnley, Spider Stacy, Jeremy 'Jem' Finer, Andrew Ranken, Phil Chevron, Terry Woods, and Darryl Hunt. The group had disbanded in 1996 but reconciled in 2001 and now tour periodically in the US.
Although MacGowan looked bored and unengaged during some of the songs, he and the boys played on…fun and goodwill overshadowed the kiss my ass (póg mo thóin) attitude for those of us in the dance pit which was replete with lots of foot-stomping, clapping and pogo dancing. When the band returned for its second encore, they played a double whammy of “Poor Paddy” and the crowd-pleaser, “Fiesta,” during which Spider Stacy repeatedly hammered himself over the head with a metal tray as percussive accompaniment. You're always in for surprises at a Pogues show.
One of my favorite bands, DeVotchKa, opened for the Pogues. Devotchka is an ensemble which fuses Romani, Greek, Slavic, Bolero and Mariachi with post punk and folk. Their name is derived from the Russian word for young girl or girlfriend. This is the second time that I have had the pleasure of hearing Devotchka.
Based in Denver, the quartet is made up of Nick Urata, who sings and plays guitar, bouzouki, piano, and trumpet; Tom Hagerman, who plays violin, accordion, and piano; Jeanie Schroder, who sings and plays sousaphone and double bass; and Shawn King, who plays percussion and trumpet. Together their sound is an aural spectacle and they are visually intriguing as well. Their sound stirs, captivates and is soulfully stimulating and visually their look is Elvis Costello goes to Russia.
In a recent interview Urata states, “I feel very privileged to connect with total strangers through music, it illuminates the idea that we are all connected and basically we are all in this together. If we can lift some spirits or stimulate some romantic activity, then our existence is briefly justifiable.”
The two bands were a great combination, both added punk elements to traditional music for a great effect, and the concert was great fun too!
Steely Dan: Aja
San Francisco, CA
October 23, 2009
There is currently an absolute plethora of bands that have played or are currently playing "classic album" tours, performing an album from start to end, including Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run), Echo & the Bunnymen (Ocean Rain), Aerosmith (Toys in the Attic), Devo (We Are not Men, We are Devo), Van Morrison (Astral Weeks), the Pixies (Doolittle), Fleetwood Mac (Rumors), The Wailers (Exodus), even Roger Waters has recently toured playing the all-time classic by Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon. The list goes on and on. It is no small coincidence that these tours are increasing in popularity just as albums are dying out as a vehicle for presenting and promoting songs. Artists are increasing moving towards releasing only one track at a time, most notably Radiohead, rather than the collections of songs that albums represent. In fact, less than half of all digital downloads at iTunes were in the form of albums. This is both good and bad: it is good because it prevents artists from padding albums with filler songs that should/will never see the inside of a pair of earbuds and it is bad because there is less chance of future works of art like Steely Dan's "Aja" which is definitely near the top of my list of desert island disks. It is hard to believe that albums this good, this intellectual, this sophisticated were once considered popular music.
Steely Dan is comprised of the duo of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. They are both musical geniuses and were at the very top of their game when Aja was recorded and released in 1977. Aja is the perfect synthesis of cool New York sophistication and warm Los Angeles leisure, a lush amalgam of rock and jazz that actually works- not tinny jazz fusion with a rock beat or noodly rock with pointless Zappa-esque running of scales. It is a masterpiece of music recorded by the top studio musicians of the day in painstaking detail. If you have the chance, you need to catch Classic VH-1's Classic Albums series about the making of the album in order to get a glimpse into the intellect of Steely Dan. Steely Dan songs are well-known for being finely crafted, each note measured and weighed before being committed to tape and Aja is no exception.
From the opening base line of “Black Cow,” I knew this concert was going to be awesome. Rather than try to recreate the fine details of the studio masterpiece, Steely Dan opted for a looser, funkier version of the album. The songs are intimate and ironic portraits of drunks and losers who resolve to live life on their own terms. The songs are reaffirming. “Deacon Blues” contains one of the most debated lines in rock history, “They’ve got a name for the winners in the world/ I want a name when I lose/ they call Alabama the Crimson Tide/ Call me Deacon Blues.” To me, it is a statement of empowerment: even the losers can claim grandiose names and be exceptional in their own world. When they were done with Aja, the band turned up the heat by playing a list of fan favorites, including, Black Friday, Babylon Sisters, Bodhisattva, Hey 19, Showbiz Kids, and the classic Dirty Work.
Steely Dan is uncompromising in their vision of music and art. For me, their music represents something outside the mainstream. Their angular, often cryptic lyrics are like snatches of a celebration of life as participant and not viewer. It is the same feeling that I get when in New York City at night: there is a world of rich ideas and experiences to be had if you just follow your bliss.
The Cave Singers: Welcome Joy
San Francisco, CA
October 6, 2009
This is the fourth appearance for the Cave Singers on MV&R. The most of any artist and deservedly so. In previous reviews, I have referred to the Cave Singers as raw art and then as poetry- the highest compliments that I can give any act and an assessment which is reconfirmed every time I see them. The refined rawness of their acoustic sound and the beauty of their poetry definitely puts this band in a class all their own. They released only their second album about two months ago, called Welcome Joy. There are several tracks definitely worth downloading. When singer Peter Quirk croons, "I hear them talking about me/ Well, I ain't no daughter of seasons/ I am just myself/ no one else" in Beach House; or "We do our best to carry on/ oh, is that the way, is that the way home?/We don't care where we are/ we don't care if we arrive soon" in Summer Light, I feel centered and connected like listening to no other artist. Their songs speak to a place deep inside and make you understand, in a way that only great music can, that we are stardust, flashing for an instant in the sky and then fading out. All my problems and worries recede for a grateful moment. And they can also call forth demons in the raucous Dancing on Your Grave or At the Cut. For over a year, the Cave Singers have been my favorite band.
Breakestra: Dusk to Dawn
San Francisco, CA
October 2, 2009
This band is so much fricking fun, it should be illegal. In fact, I don’t think it is possible to go to a Breakestra show and not have a blast. I double-dog dare you! The funked-up sound laced with horns and breakbeats is infectious. I only wish their recordings were half this good. This concert was a CD release party for Breakestra and headliner Crown City Rockers (who I did not stay to hear). Breakestra's new CD is Dusk to Dawn and while it has several good tunes, it simply does not capture the overwhelming energy of the band on stage. When they get on stage, something special happens and the music comes to life. The band is full of first-class musicians as well, who seem to be having as much fun on stage as the urbane hipster crowd – lots of fedoras and bowling shirts and Krazy Kat tattoos (a bit like the movie ‘Swingers’ come to life). This band is so money! I cannot recommend Breakestra enough- if you have the chance, get yourself some tickets, some dancing shoes and go to the show.
Further: For Deadheads only
The Fox Theater
September 19, 2009
Seeing a show after the passing of Jerry Garcia is considered anathema by many Deadheads: Jerry Garcia was the heart and soul of the Grateful Dead and, far and away, the most talented- a true artist. The devotion of many Deadheads to this roly-poly, psychedelic Santa Claus, who could make his guitar sing, equaled the other 5 band members combined. This was most evident during the Dead's long run by the beer lines during “Bobby tunes.” When Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack fifteen years ago, brought on by years of heroin-addiction and other drug abuse, I thought I would never go again to another Grateful Dead show. Since that time, I have seen the remnants, the surviving members, perform on 4 occasions (which previously would have equaled one weekend stand at the Shoreline). It is true that time heals all wounds as this was by far the most enjoyable of the four post-Jerry shows. During the night, it (almost) never occurred to me that if only Jerry had been playing, that song would have been so much better. His creditable stand-in was John Kadlecik, the guitarist for the Dark Star Orchestra (which is probably the best Grateful Dead tribute band around). The crowd was the usual lively scene of tie-dye and blissed-out faces doing the Dead shuffle or twirling on the fringes with dreadlocks swaying. I’ll provide the song list of the second set here since it was absolutely huge: Shakedown Street, New Speedway Boogie, China Cat/I know you rider, Playing in the Band, Eyes of the World, Unbroken Chain, Help on its way/ Slipknot/ Franklin’s Tower E: One more Saturday night. That’s like 3 shows rolled into one! Starting with Shakedown and ending with Franklin’s- that’s a pretty special night. For even more deets: Deadheads can check out this pretty fair song-by-song review.
Jackson Browne: Latter day sins
“Sub-question: is it, in fact, unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins, is it better to burn out or fade away?” Jack Black as Barry in the movie High Fidelity.
All music fans love the movie High Fidelity about the
doomed love life of a record store owner who has a
penchant for using lists to mark the soundtrack of his life: e.g. top 5 break-up songs, Top Five Bands or Musicians Who Will Have To Be Shot Come the Musical Revolution (1. Simple Minds, 2. Michael Bolton, 3. U2, 4. Bryan Adams, 5. Genesis) Just remember, for all you
JB is Old School: not as an adjective but as a noun. When it comes to singer-songerwriters from the 1970s: Jackson Browne set the mold. He is a first class song-writer, a great singer and, at least, projects the image of being one of the most centered, down-to-earth rock stars in the biz. There is little wonder why he has a devoted following and engenders great affection from his fans- including me (what's not to love about someone who sues John McCain?).
Yet, the first set of last night’s concert was pretty tame. It was the lame Jackson Browne of the 1980s: forgettable sing-songy melodies, pedestrian lyrics with hackneyed metaphors- all rather uninspired. A pale echo of what he once was. Now, should I hold these sins against JB when his following set, after a brief intermission, was fantastic and displayed the brilliant song-writing of his early days that has made him a staple of classic hits FM radio?
The first three songs of the second set were Jamaica Say You Will, Rock Me on the Water and Doctor My Eyes. He also went on to play The Pretender and Running on Empty and closed the concert with The Load-Out/Stay. These songs are simply brilliant pieces of song-craftmanship and embody what I love about Jackson Browne- the painful honesty and self-revelatory nature of these songs say things that you have always felt yourself without the ability to put them into words. And JB accomplished this in a very laidback,
So, it pains me to say critical things about JB because I have affection for what he has accomplished as well as his longevity- not to mention his willingness to say what he feels is right and wrong. But I wish he would have skipped the first set and just played the second set.