The Cave Singers: Chicken Soup

Dr. Dog, The Cave Singers and Golden Boots

The Fillmore

San Francisco, CA

April 16, 2009

The Cave Singers: Chicken Soup

This is the third time that I have seen the Cave Singers perform. I can’t think of enough superlatives to describe how much better the Cave Singers are than almost any other band around. There is a depth and honesty to their songs and performances that is singularly impressive. The Cave Singers remind me of the transcendent power of music. The quiet, contemplative songs don’t always work in large venues before crowds of party-goers, but are still entrancing and filled with poetic revelations that are so confident in their expression and stark in their simple beauty that they should be the envy of any songwriter. While bands like Green Day and Franz Ferdinand are fun in a cathartic way, the Cave Singers rejuvenate the soul and make me feel reconnected to myself and give me hope for the future of artistic expression in modern music.

Dr. Dog and Golden Boots: Talking Points

The Golden Boots opened the show at the Fillmore with a country/blues rootsy rock collection of midtempo stoner tunes before being yelled at by a stage hand to get off the stage. They did play 4 “last songs” which got to be a bit annoying- especially when they were cutting into the Cave Singers’ time. The Golden Boots are similar to many other jam-bands like Big Head Todd and the Monsters or SF’s own Tea Leaf Green, mixing elements from 1970s Southern Rock and/or the Grateful Dead but stripped down and more laid-back. Not bad for an opening act, but I think they will likely be relegated to opening act status for the duration and are not likely to graduate any time soon- especially with their ridiculously bad name.

Dr. Dog, in addition to being another horribly named band, were unimpressive as the headliners. There was lots of energetic but pointless jumping around the stage and the hats and sunglasses came off as juvenile and pretentious. I couldn’t figure out if they were detached, cool artists or just neighborhood guys trying to have fun. I’m not sure they could either. The good size crowd was relatively enthusiastic so they were obviously hearing something I wasn’t. I found the songs to be forgettable amalgams of campy psychedelic Frank Zappa-Beatlesesque pop tunes with predictable and uninspired melodies. Maybe fine for the kids, but nothing special. The band has decent musicians but appear lost in whether to sell out with pop ballads, like their current hit “The Breeze,” or aim for a camp cult following a la Primus.

OK, I just re-read this Dr. Dog paragraph and it might be a bit harsh. The band did have the misfortune to follow the Cave Singers who are light-years beyond them. I think part of my problem may be that Dr. Dog appears to be in the musical line stemming from the bad part of 1960s pop psychedelia, like the Beach Boys or Strawberry Alarm Clock, and not the bluesy/jazzy good part, like the Grateful Dead or the Doors. While age has allowed me to appreciate the importance of history, some musical traditions are better left behind on the scrapheap.

Franz Ferdinand: O-Town Life

Franz Ferdinand
Fox Theater
Oakland, CA
April 15, 2009

Franz Ferdinand: O-Town Life

For many San Francisco, Marin and Berkeley snobs, Oakland is often looked down upon as an unsophisticated, poor working class cousin, perhaps even a bit boorish. Nothing interesting happens there. Of course, Oakland looks down on Hayward and Fremont, further to the South. Everybody has somebody to look down on. Still, the drunken driver always has the right of way and Oakland rolls on. In fact, there are revitalization projects just being completed in many parts of Oakland and with its small town vibe, Oakland has become genuinely hip again. See, e.g., the reopening of the Fox Theater, an amazing venue with wonderful art deco touches that have many bands lining up for the chance to play there.

On Wednesday night, Franz Ferdinand played at the Fox Theater- across the street from the Uptown, where Green Day, at the same time, was playing another of their guerrilla shows announced earlier in the afternoon. The intersection of 19th and Broadway in Oakland was definitely the hippest place to be in the Bay Area on Wednesday night. Franz Ferdinand fans slipped in and out of the Den to smuggle drinks to their friends camped out on line for the Uptown. Even the high-end restaurant Flora got in the spirit by allowing scruffy Green Day fans to use their restroom. As the Brits might say, the atmosphere was lively.

As I had seen Green Day the night before, I was happy to give another band their due. Franz Ferdinand is a bouncy, raucous Indie band best known for their hit, “Take Me Out.” They have a unique sound which along with the singer’s baritone is immediately recognizable. Bands with such a signature sound can often suffer from the song-writing being overwhelmed by the sound. FF suffers from this drawback to a degree where songs sound too much alike. But, it has made FF a favorite of the mash-up scene and are frequently used by DJs to create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless, FF is Big Fun, the loud thumping bass lines, rumbling drums, thick hooks and crescendos are like the peak moment of a party where you lose yourself and are engrossed in the reckless abandon of childhood fun.

Quite a sample of a night in the life of O-Town.

Other songs to check out: Ulysses, Mash of Do You Wanna with Run DMC and the Knack's My Sharona.

Green Day: 21st Century American Clash

Green Day

Fox Theater

Oakland, California

April 14, 2009

Green Day: 21st Century American Clash

It is rather generous to refer to Green Day as an American version of the Clash, but they should at least be paying royalties to the surviving members of that seminal punk band. Certainly, they are the closest sounding band in America to the Clash -short of a tribute band. For the casual listener, punk music often begins and ends with the Clash. But with the tragic demise of Clash frontman Joe Strummer in 2002, Green Day have creditably taken over the mantle of punk proselytizer to the world and are currently by far the most popular punk band in the world. They’ve sold over 65 million albums, frequently headline large arenas and amphitheaters, leading some fans to accuse them of the Big Sell Out. I am not so sure. Popularity does not necessarily equate with selling-out. Can a punk band be popular?

Green Day’s new album 21st Century Breakdown is going to be released next month and they have recently been chasing around the San Francisco Bay Area performing guerrilla concerts at tiny venues with little or no advance warning to test out the new songs before live audiences. They performed last week at the Independent and the DNA Lounge in San Francisco and on Tuesday night at the newly refurbished Fox Theater in Oakland.

The band began the night at the Fox by playing the entire new album- none of which has been released or is available on the internet. 21st Century Breakdown is structured as a three act play and a playbill was distributed last night containing all the lyrics. A concept album, nonetheless one from a punk band, normally foreshadows disaster, as Green Day should have learned with previous efforts, but this time I think they pull it off. There were a number of genuinely brilliant songs and the themes of the modern breakdown along with accompanying anxiety, anger, and despair, instead of being dreary and depressive, were cathartic and rebellious in the hands of Green Day.

Of course, since these songs were not familiar, the concert really didn’t take off until the second set when they played many of their older hits, including American Idiot, Jesus of Suburbia, and a phenomenal, soaring Long View. Then, the band showed their chops and rocked the sold-out crowd of 2800 diehard fans who got more than what they came for.

Additional talking points from last night:

1. The show sold-out in seconds and I had to scam a pair of tickets by joining the fan-club at the last minute.

2. The show was videotaped with a large boom camera swooping over the audience and cameramen dodging in and out of the fans. This concert will surely show up in an official Green Day release in the future or in music videos for the new album.

3. Great light show- arena quality in a small theater.

4. Also, it was incredibly loud. The loudest concert I’ve been to in many years. Even though I am an old fart, I can objectively state that it was louder than it had to be. I like a loud band (adds to the excitement), but I don’t think it is necessary to leave a venue in pain, fearing for your hearing.

The Dickies: Not Just for Your Middle Aged Uncle

The Dickies
The Uptown
Oakland, CA
April 11, 2009

Senior 1970s LA New Wave Correspondent Brian Griset

The Dickies: Not Just for Your Middle Aged Uncle

When I was a youngin’, an explosion of underground, counter-culture youth bands erupted in Los Angeles, circa 1976 - 1979. Seemingly from out of nowhere, L.A. became the national epicenter for arrogant, anti-industry, full of attitude punk rock bands like X, the Germs, the Dickies, the Weirdos, the Plugs and the Flesh Eaters. It was the birth of a scene that captured the attention of both the international media and young aspiring rockers worldwide. It was totally rad: L.A. New Wave!

The Dickies were among the first punk bands to emerge from Los Angeles. However, instead of the angst and anger of some of UK or New York punk rock, the Dickies were goofy and outlandish. They were the first California punk band to appear on network television, and the first California punk band to be signed to a major record label. A Dickies show was sure to include chaos, pandemonium, bad taste, and slam dancing and then there’s the music…

The Dickies' punk rock is campy and humorous. They even had a top ten hit in the UK called “the Banana Splits (Tra La La Song)" in 1979. Much of their lyrics concern Southern California culture, rife with references and in-jokes; songs like "Waterslide," "I'm A Cholo," "Manny, Moe, and Jack," and "(I'm Stuck in a Pagoda with) Tricia Toyota." They are also known for recording several fast-paced punk covers of classic rock songs, including the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin," Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," and Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction."

Over thirty years later, what had started out as a joke cover band, the Dickies, are still together touring. Last night, I was at a packed house amongst fifty and sixty year-old punks and other youngins, probably not even alive in the 70’s, to experience the band 2009 style.

Drug problems slowed the Dickies down considerably in the 1980s. One of the original members committed suicide after becoming despondent following a romantic break-up in 1981. Left behind and still going strong are Stan Lee on guitar and the zany Leonard Graves Phillips singing. Phillips is a true entertainer. He wears masks for the big crowd pleasing “Gigantor” and ”You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla”, wears a massive penis muppets, a blowup doll and snorkel gear for the song "Waterslide." Amongst the wackiness and the slam dancing, it’s just plain fun. It was definitely rad!

See, The Dickies 1979