Gomez: Change and Stasis


Blind Pilot

The Fillmore

San Francisco, CA

July 31, 2009

The possibility of reinvention, the capacity for change, is not only the foundation of hope for a better life but is inherently human and intrinsic to our perception and experience of life. I’ve been thinking a lot about change as entropy sinks into my skin and I notice the creaking of my bones growing a little bit louder as the weeks, months and years sail past. I am not the same person I was even seven years ago - literally. Many scientists believe that the molecules of every cell in your body are in a constant state of flux and regenerate every 7 years- which means in 7 years, I could be George Clooney. Of course, if there wasn’t constant change, there wouldn’t be life at all. This is part of the ecstatic quality of music and the celebration of life in attending live shows. Music is not static, it unveils itself to us over time- during which the world is spinning, evolving, changing, along with the song and myself.

When I left the concert last night, I was mostly trying to puzzle out why Gomez is not more popular. They are tremendous song-writers and talented musicians. They sing songs about infatuation, lost love, living in the moment, quitting your job, bad relationships, good relationships and their music includes elements of hard rock, folk, psychedelia, blues, jazz. They are occasionally classified as a “jam band” but are far closer to the “indie/college” music scene. From one song to the next, and sometimes within each Gomez song, there is the possibility for quick change of tempo, key or even musical genre- yet the reinvention within and between songs is all done rather seamlessly. And their songs can stay in your head for weeks.

Before Gomez, Blind Pilot opened the show with a very nice set of easy-on-the-ears folk rock tunes. Blind Pilot is definitely an up and comer. Their lead singer has a warm and appealing voice and the songs are well written, but they lack a bit of a spark. It was all a little too easy to listen to and not quite engaging- despite the trumpet and xylophone. I really love their song “The Story I Heard” which I can listen to over and over and hopefully this foreshadows a bright future. They are a band with great potential that I hope they realize.

Gomez is definitely a music critic’s band. They have repeatedly received the highest plaudits and awards during the 13 years that they have been together. I think part of their popularity problem and inability to really break through is that they have not been able to capture the energy of their live performances in their recordings. The highlights of last night’s performance were the current hit “Airstream Driver,” “Ruff Stuff,” “Devil Will Ride” and “Get Myself Arrested.” If you follow the links to these recordings, they are only half the quality, energy and excitement of the live versions last night. The reinvented arrangements added the extra spark that could change Gomez from a critic’s darling to a popular darling. But a part of me also doesn’t want that and wants Gomez to remain my own secret that no one’s heard of, just like a part of me doesn’t want to change and get any older. And that’s intrinsically human also.

For the Gomez neophytes: the most “pop”ular tunes “See The World,” “Girlshapedlovedrug,” and “How We Operate.”

Grizzly Bear and HWGM: Good to be in SF

Grizzly Bear
Here We Go Magic
The Fillmore
San Francisco, CA
June 21, 2009

Special Correspondent: Senior Musicologist Edie Hofmeister

Here We Go Magic!

Here we go! Magic! If you are seeking a psychadelic-indie earful after a warm summer day in San Francisco, this is the band for you. At times the repetitive rhythms conjured a Close Encounters call to alien life forms – which apparently included much of the college hipsters in the audience at the Fillmore. But it was good to be back in SF amongst the alien life forms.

HWGM sports a do-you-think-I'm-sexy lead singer, in a pretty hot cross between Chris Martin (Cold Play) and Greg Kinnear, in Luke Temple. Luke Temple has released a couple solo albums including one called Here We Go Magic which provided the spark behind the forming of HWGM. Luke is flanked by a loose-haired Princess Leah on keyboard and a 60’s-esque Twiggy on the bass who sported a tea dress that did not do her justice. Both women go by single names, so clearly, they have larger ambitions. But, at least, they looked good compared to the mediocre lead guitarist.

The band combined a brave attempt at 2, 3, 4, and 5-part harmonies in an all-band chorale effort at times ending in a cacophonous crescendo over a rolling beat that was more conducive to swaying than dancing. Their set came to a strange climax during “Tunnelvision” in which the band behind Luke nodded their heads violently, banged on their instruments and, throughout the song, whispered incomprehensibly – kind of like speaking in tongues in a monotonous cadence.

Here We Go Magic was more good than bad, but the band needs a little more practice. Perhaps some alien intervention is called for, or the Holy Spirit. More convincing was headliner Grizzly Bear.

Grizzly Bear

The Bear Band of the Hour. (See, also, Minus The Bear, Bear Claw, Big Bear) Grizzly Bear’s recent album has been number one on the college/indie charts for weeks and the show sold out so quickly that the band needed to add another on Monday night to appease disappointed fans.

On Sunday night, after HWGM warmed up the crowd, GB did not disappoint the loud, appreciative crowd. Lead singer Daniel Rossen, also of Dept. of Eagles (which is a side project for most of GB's band members) and looking like a young Paul Simon, was soaring on vocals and immediately engaged the audience. After opening with "Southern Point," the first track on their new album, they played "Cheerleader," a throbbing, pulsating dirge that had no semblance to actual ‘cheerleading.’ Nor did the regretful refrain, which sounded like "Should have sung my song. Should have made it matter," (though it could have been "I'm cheerleading myself. I shouldn't even matter,") - in either case, it didn't conjure up any notion of pom-pom waiving Go-Team airheadedness. There is a good chance I missed the point if there was one.

One thing that Grizzly Bear did well and seemed to enjoy was the incorporation of multiple instruments not normally associated with an indie band--lap harp, flute, clarinet, bass sax. The wind instrumentalist, a jack of many trades, but a master of none, sometimes overindulged himself, but he mostly kept the music relevant and interesting.

The band played a haunting rendition of “Knife” with Rossen channeling a soprano from the St. Paul's Boys' Choir. Then “Colorado”--a different kind of Rocky Mountain High that sounded a lot like a song John Denver might sing from six feet under (no disrespect to JD or JD fans). Other tunes were upbeat and even sounded a little "poppy" such as the keyboard-driven “Two Weeks” that showed off the band's vocal range and tight harmonies.

All in all, a terrific band with a lot of energy, ambition and range. Check them out the next time they are in town. But don't wait too long to buy tickets!