The Fox Theater
September 16, 2011
Thievery Corporation: Zion House Band
First, let me say that Thievery Corporation has the best name in rock today. It is the perfect embodiment of the zeitgeist that we are currently living through as well as an apt description of the band's music. Thievery is a multicultural, multiracial band that looks and sounds like the future. They could be the house band for Zion, the last outpost of humanity in the Matrix film series.
TC's recordings are fairly laid-back, lounge-lizard amalgamations of pop, rock, jazz, reggae, Brazilian samba and rap with hints of Middle Eastern music or Punjabi Bhangra. However, the music really comes alive on stage and is presented in a much more upbeat, party-now-because-the-machines-are-coming-what-else-you-gonna-do fashion. Needless to say, it was a fun show.
I love the melodic hook of the sitar over the groovy baseline of "Lebanese Blonde," an early highlight on Friday, and the all-out funk of the "the Numbers Game." To me, it really sounds like a celebration of our multicultural world. I also loved TC's inclusion of Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You (falettinme be mice elf again)." Perhaps a small homage to one of the first bands to tread this path back in the 1960s and 1970s. Both bands and their music are partly a celebration of the oneness of our diversity. So many flavors in this world, why limit yourself?
It is hard to think of Thievery as a duo when there are 10-12 people on stage and a constantly revolving group of singers fronting the band. The band did not play two songs consecutively with the same singer. Nevertheless, T. Corp. albums are the brainchildren of duo Rob Garza and Eric Hilton who enlist a talented crew of musicians when they hit the road. And last night at the Fox was no exception, the band was thoroughly professional and have got some serious chops.
All of that said, there were times where I felt that Thievery was missing something on stage. The band was so much about riding the perfect groove while a stew of funk and dance and jazz floats over the top that the melody can be lost in the mix. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a fun band to see live, you will have a hard time finding better.
September 10, 2011
Fleet Foxes: Derivations and Algorithms
It is hard to be original in almost every creative art, including music. Music has definite rules and regulations. The sounds can't be random collections of noise or silence, a la John Cage, or it's not really music. John Cage's 4 minutes, 33 seconds of silence is more of a philosophical or artistic statement than, say, actual music. When a band takes the stage, each musician can't play in their own key or a different tempo. The discordant sounds just wouldn't make sense and it wouldn't be very pleasant to listen to. Absolute freedom simply results in anarchy. There's a lesson here for today's Tea Party that insists on the evils of all government rules. There must be harmony and structure for music which necessarily limits the amount of creativity. There must be boundaries for there to be meaning. OK, I'm not breaking new ground here but neither are the Fleet Foxes.
Of course, FF does more than pay homage to the harmonizing of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or the Beach Boys (during their psychedelic phase), but not by much. This doesn't necessarily result in an unpleasant evening- especially on a warm Berkeley night at the Greek Theater. It's tough not to enjoy an evening of carousing with friends, pitchers of margaritas and a show at the Greek.
Lead Singer Robin Pecknold does a very good Graham Nash and the band's retro-folky psychedelic performance was solid and professional. They can't help it if they are such big fans of The Byrds, Strawberry Alarm Clock, CSNY, that they sound just like them. Besides, not many modern folk-indie outfits can sing harmonies quite as well as FF. This is music for campfires and late-nights in college dorm rooms.
You could do worse and believe me, I've seen far worse bands- which is a pretty backhanded compliment considering how much I enjoyed the concert. Even the retro designs and patterns on the large screen behind the band were a perfect match for the music and the evening. Of course, FF is all about stripping down the sound before building it back up, voice by voice, not excepting the simple algorithm of the 1995 Windows screensaver projected on the large screen.
The stripped down sound and 1960s sensibility does help to dilute FF's grander philosophical pretensions in the music's lyrics. Many songs comment on mankind's place in the universe and our relations to nature, ourselves and one another- the kinds of things that it's nice to hear young artists contemplating and expressing in their songs. And FF is a band of young artists. In fact, they have only been around 3 years. Hopefully, they will continue to develop and grow and, maybe even push the boundaries of their neo-indie folk harmonies.
August 14, 2011
Adele: Youthful Talent
Listening to Adele sing, it is easy to forget that she is only 23 years old. Of course, listening to Adele sing, it's difficult to forget that she is only 23 years old. This contradiction became more and more evident as her performance progressed at the Greek Theater in Berkeley two weeks ago. Adele is a rarity in the mightily fragmented music marketplace: a break-out star. She actually has been able to sell records! Loads and loads of records. Adele was won many awards and has been recognized both critically and commercially since her debut in 2008 when she was just 19 years old- which leads us back to the dichotomy of the Adele concert experience.
Listening to Adele's CDs, it is easy to hear the brilliance of her voice. She sings expressively with poise and confidence and crystal clear notes like an experienced professional well beyond her years. And listening to Adele sing live is even more amazing. She is just crazy, crazy good. Her voice soars and almost has a life-force of its own. Definitely no auto-tune. I think the experience must have been somewhat like earlier generations had when hearing Ella Fitzgerald or Barbara Streisand sing for the very first time. Undeniable talent. Adele will almost certainly become a legendary singer of her time and generation. And she is only 23 years old, that's what's easy to forget
And impossible to forget. Of course, the reason that it's impossible to forget her youth is the subject matter of her songs. So far, Adele has only recorded two albums of soul and R&B inspired jazz-pop, a la Norah Jones. Both her albums 19 and 21 are song after song about unrequited love, lost lost, longing and infatuation etc. It is a little like the diary of a teenage girl being sung aloud. If only he would look this way, oh, he looked at me, we could of had it all! No wonder she has such a devoted following among teenagers. However, when sung back to back, it becomes a bit tiresome. Except for that voice!
In fact, after listening to Adele live and then listening to some of her recordings later, I felt that the recordings only capture a small fraction of the quality of her voice. Despite the somewhat tedious nature of the songs, it was easy to get lost in her voice which made the concert great fun. That, and the total adoring devotion of her fans who sang along to every song with abandon. I would definitely recommend checking out Adele if you can just to hear her sing live, but, for me, it's not likely I will go again; at least, not until she grows up a little and her writing graduates from the adolescent puppy love phase. Then, she'll truly become a superstar for the ages.
The Knitting Factory
July 5, 2011
Senior Reno Correspondent: Edie Hofmeister
Neko Case: NC Keeping It Real at the KF
Color of the night: Firecracker redhead
Drink of the night: Vietnamese Coffee (At least NC said she was high on that)
Theme of the night: Casual Intimacy
Fresh from headlining the High Sierra Music Festival, Indie rocker Neko Case played the Reno Knitting Factory on Tuesday night. Despite her High Sierra casual-osity (possibly fatigue?), her banged up 6-string guitar and dressed-down attire (NC wore jeans and a faded T), Neko sang movingly and in a deeply personal way about her life, loves, dreams and struggles. Harmonies were tight and songs were heartfelt and emotionally raw. From "Hold On, Hold On" to "Fever," her songs depicted her emotional journey from leaving home at 15 to later losing the loves of her life.
In range, style and age, Neko lands somewhere between Adele and Bonnie Raitt- which is not bad company. She was accompanied by a jamming band and a very solid, bluesy backup singer. Neko can sing a mean ballad and even managed a decent soprano falsetto, at one point, when singing about a flittering baby Sparrow.
Midway through her journey. the fiery redhead could not stop laughing throughout the song "Middle Cyclone." She jokingly labeled her bandmate the 'King of Divorce' and then the "George Thorogood of Divorce' for his three failed marriages. She tried to explain, "I don't know why 'George Thorogood,'" She chuckled, "I just imagine that everything he does is so... I don't know, wanky?" She blamed her loss of composure to Vietnamese Coffee but something else may have been at play.
The audience was swept along by NC and her band's own brand of fun and never wavered in their admiration and anticipation of the next song or offhand comment. My personal favorite of her observations: "I'd rather eat Cheetos in my car than be married to you."
In sum, a very good show, reminding us that the best moments at a show are often unscripted and the best artists are about being human.
June 24, 2011
My Morning Jacket: Plaidapalooza
Friday night at the Fox Theater was a sea of plaid. There was a veritable plethora of plaid, a ubiquitous statement of indie plaid style. Somehow, I had missed the memo and felt a little out of place with my plain solid blue shirt. I was also feeling the after-effects of a Sushi-coma when I arrived at the Fox. Nevertheless, I got swept up in the lively atmosphere of the sold-out crowd. After wisely positioning ourselves behind the US Olympic volleyball team, it was only a short wait until MMJ took the stage to the rapturous delight of the volleyball team and the adoring plaid fans.
I was half-expecting the band to be adorning Tartan kilts, but lead singer Jim James compensated for his criminal lack of plaid with a Grizzly Adams beard which properly established his and the band's indie bona fides. During the past 12 years, the Jacket has been slowly building their plaid audience with solid albums and solid performances with Jimmy J at the helm. JJ Is definitely the creative force and the star of the MyMJ show though he can tend toward the self-conscious 'Artist' - singing with a blue towel over his face or donning a cape as he did for the encore on Friday night. Still, his talent and MMJ's musical chops are undeniable.
I would say that this is a band destined for even bigger things but I fear that they may have plateaued, albeit at a substantial plateau. Despite recent fawning reviews, I found that the songs blurred together. Nearly every song is a mid-tempo anthem of U2-proportions. Each song is individually great but, as a collection, became less impressive. MMJ does arrange a nice set list that patiently builds throughout the evening, each song building on the previous and each crescendo more than the last. And the band occasionally jams during a song which was very welcome.
So, the concert was quite a lot of fun and I am glad that I went - partly because they performed a great version of "I'm Amazed," my favorite MMJ song. I also enjoyed the M. Ward cameo- a folkie singer-songwriter who is another critic darling- although I felt his ballad interrupted the concert's momentum. Nevertheless, on the morning after, I feel like the show and the band, despite the obvious quality, are still a work in progress that MMJ has not yet achieved their lofty potential or their lofty pretensions.
Final Photo: Award winning photographer Joe Santel
Grand Sierra Theater
May 3, 2011
Ke$ha: Wild and Crazy Gal
Senior Reno Correspondent: Alexandra Sasse
Since her first hit "Tik Tok" was released, Ke$ha has set particular expectations for herself. All of her songs involve getting extremely drunk at wild parties, even throwing up in the closet of Paris Hilton. So, you would expect that she is not exactly normal and she isn't.
I had an amazing time at her recent Reno, NV concert, part of the Get Sleazy tour. Unfortunately, some guy named Beardo, probably a friend of Ke$ha's, came onstage as her opening performer. He was wearing pink tiger-striped leggings and was completely tone-deaf. This was the least enjoyable part of the show. Beardo also sang a Beastie Boys song "(You've Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Paaaaaaartay!), which was truly terrible. Beardo was a weirdo.
Fortunately, all things must pass and Beardo finally stopped singing. Soon Ke$ha appeared in a glowing silver diamond on a platform raised above the stage. Definitely better than an egg. The atmosphere was very lively, every audience member screaming as she belted out the chorus of "F**k Him, He's a DJ." There was a crazy amount of glitter flying everywhere from their hair as they jumped up and down and on stage buckets of glitter were thrown on Ke$ha. Most of the audience consisted of teenage girls wearing heavy amounts of eye makeup and fishnets to match Ke$ha's look on stage.
On stage, even weirder things were happening. Men in tight, glow-in-the-dark suits danced around Ke$ha as she tore apart a stuffed human doll and started eating the remains during "Cannibal" with red liquid (blood) pouring down her face. It was weird but exciting to watch.
She sang a mix of songs from her two albums Animal and Cannibal including the title tracks, "Animal," and "Cannibal" as well as "Get Sleazy," "Your Love is My Drug," "Tik Tok," "Dinosa," "We R Who We R," "Take It Off," "Blow," "Backstabber," "Blah, Blah, Blah," and "Dirty Picture." My favorite was "Animal," a very pretty song, that Ke$ha said was the best she ever wrote.
Contrary to popular belief, Ke$ha is not a terrible singer. She hit every note she sang, though admittedly most of her songs have a limited range. She also did much of her own synthesizing between songs. Maybe NPR was right and she really did get a 1600 on her SATs. During the concert she adjusted many dials and buttons on a platform to make adjustments to the sound.
It was the craziest concert I have ever attended but it was a blast. Ke$ha is not normal but the night was entertaining because she is remarkably wild.
San Jose, CA
May 19, 2011
Prince: His Purple Best
When Prince started his Thursday night performance in San Jose with "1999," I had a feeling that it was going to be a good concert. Not only because it's a damn fun song, but also because the party, oops, is over, out of time today when the rapture arrives at 6 pm. (Of course, it is already passed 6 pm in most of Europe so no real rush to post this review.) Prince was at his Purple best playing hit after hit. His brand of Minneapolis funk and pop may sound dated given the mash-up, hip-hop, Lady Gaga world of 2011 but, the setlist of megahits and his performance prove that baby, he's a star.
It's been quite some time since I last saw a concert at a large arena. I guess Dave Matthews last year is the closest to the high-tech lights, large screens and confetti canons of arena shows that sometimes make me feel like the spectacle is to compensate for the music. However, for this Prince performance, I felt like the music held up to the production. Prince was backed up by the very talented Revolution and a consistently revolving collection of singers and dancers. The show on Thursday night was not sold out but Prince's fans are dedicated (incl. purple shirts, jackets, raspberry berets and Prince tattoos) and noisy.
Good fan appreciation always adds to the excitement of a show and when unannounced guest Sheila E came out and played her big hit "The Glamorous Life," the ovation was loud and long.
After "1999," Prince played "Little Red Corvette," "The Beautiful Ones," "Raspberry Beret," "Take Me With U," Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," "Erotic City," "You Got the Look"(made famous by Sheena Easton) and ended with "Let's Go Crazy" which segued into "Delirious" and then back again. For almost every song, Prince changed outfits and during "Purple Rain," the aforementioned canons, shot plumes of
purple confetti that rained purple over the crowd. One odd song selection was when the backup singers gathered around the piano for a cover of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love." Perhaps, a nod to their shared Minnesota roots.
Prince is also well known for extensive encores and he didn't
disappoint here either. He played 4 encores including a medley of hits that included "When Doves Cry," "Darling Nikki," and "Sign O The Times." I found the medley to be a bit of a tease since these songs were shortened when I wanted to hear extended versions. I suppose when you have 32 albums and as many hits, sacrifices have to be made. The final song of the night was a rousing version of one his funkiest best, "Kiss."
Prince is not a deep, existential performer writing melancholy songs for coffee-shop performances. These are party songs for party peeps to dance to and that's exactly what Prince delivered. Overall, a very fun night.
The Fox Theater
May 9, 2011
Elvis Costello: Wheel of Fortune
There may not be any current artist more Old School than Elvis Costello from his pork-pie hat to his square glasses and skinny tie, he is hipster personified. He literally writes the book, every day. Every day, he writes the book. Even more awesome is that he has the chops to back up the persona. There may not be a better songwriter around, having penned hundreds of literate, finely crafted songs, he has plenty to choose from when he gets on stage. However, on his current tour, he is leaving the song selection to his fans.
Over 25 years ago, Elvis toured with his Spinning Songbook when he invited audience members on stage to spin a wheel to select the band's next song. The idea is just as fun now as it was then. The stage on Elvis' current Spinning Songbook tour resembles a 1970s television game show, including a color test-pattern backdrop, a go-go cage and a large spinning wheel with the names of over 30 songs, covers and bonus spaces.
During the concert, a comely lass pulled people from the audience to spin the wheel and learn the fate of the show. Though adding a summer-carnival wistfulness to the show, we were all at the mercy of the wheel of fortune. You never knew what you were going to get. Despite the randomness of the wheel of fate, there was nary a bad song the entire evening. Still, when it came round to the encore, Elvis couldn't resist a helping hand on the wheel to make sure the right song was chosen.
After spinning the wheel, audience members were served a cocktail in the Society Lounge on stage and invited to dance in the go-go cage. Most gamely danced a little but one put on a full show that was perhaps a little too exuberant. As for Elvis, he is just a tremendous performer and his voice sounded great. He was accompanied by the Imposters who are a class act in their own right. It was night of pure quality. If you have even an inkling, you should go to the show.
One of the night's highlights was when the wheel landed on 'I Can Sing a Rainbow' which Elvis explained meant singing songs about colors which included his hit 'Red Shoes' which segued into 'Purple Rain' by Prince. When the wheel landed on, perhaps Elvis' biggest hit, 'Alison,' he threw in 'Wind Cried Mary' by Jimi Hendrix and 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' Even the bluesy, slower 'Pump it Up' in 6/8 time sounded great. When an artist as deeply talented as Elvis is hell-bent on having fun, it can be an invigorating ride.
Although it is only May, this show is definitely an early favorite for concert of the year.
The Felice Brothers
The Great American Music Hall
San Francisco, CA
April 28, 2011
The Felice Brothers: Old Dog, New Tricks
For the past five years, the Felice Brothers have been Old School, recording and performing classic down-home country Americana, songs of boozing, carousing, the open highway. Kind of Willie Nelson meets Bob Dylan meets Appalachia. Fiddle and Accordion music with a lot of gusto. And they've gotten pretty good at it. They were a band that seemed to have an authentic vision. And damn fun! Three albums and five years of live performances of their rollicking, rootsy sound- kind of leads to certain expectations.
The hardest thing for any band to do must be to experiment with new sounds. The temptation to be lazy is great and there is security and comfort in well-tread grooves. For their fourth studio album (due next week), the FB have decided to bring in additional instrumentation. Less fiddle, more keyboards. This has already generated obvious concern amongst the FB flannel faithful. It's definitely a different, less accessible sound- kind of a jazzy, indie Americana- which would be great except for the fact that FB has been building a reputation for authenticity. Is this Bob Dylan going electric? Not exactly.
Their performance at the GAMH (awesome venue) was interesting and challenging because it violated expectations. They put on a good show but not one I was hoping to see. It is difficult to separate my sense of disappointed expectations from the actual performance. The band did well but the new sound just didn't work for me. They sounded a bit like every other indie band except that they had still had the fiddle and accordion on stage. I've heard this before. Sometimes an old dog should just stick with being an old dog because that is was it does best.
Bottom of the Hill
San Francisco, CA
March 25, 2011
Wye Oak: Show Biz Kids
If you want to live the hipster life, you got to be ready to go out at night while the poor people sleep after closing time. To hang with El Supremo, making movies of himself; to be one of the Show Biz Kids, you need to be outrageous. You also need to wear flannel, horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid fedora. What you can’t do is sit through the middling opening acts, sipping bottled water, and bailing after the first three songs because you had a long week and the dog needs to pee. In other words, there are sacrifices to be made, discomforts to be endured and many more PBRs to drink.
It also helps to be young. It also helps to care. One great thing about getting older is that you don’t necessarily care that you bail after three songs when you’re tired. You just think I’m tired, screw this. I need to get up early to go make cheese. I’m probably no longer young enough to be a hipster but I’m also old enough not to care. That’s what fashion is about. However, it does make a review more difficult to write.
The hipsters were in full attendance at the Wye Oak show at the Bottom of the Hill on Friday. WO has plenty of good buzz swirling about the band. They fall into the guitar/drum duo category, a la White Stripes, Black Keys, Mr. Airplane Man, The Fumes etc. And I do loves me some good guitar/drum duo-alizing though WOak is not as crunchy or bluesy as these other acts. For the first three songs, I found that WO had a much more Indie rock band sound live, a la Arcade Fire, and less a folk indie sound that is found in their studio recordings. This is partly down to drummer Andy Stack who plays his drum kit with one hand and a keyboard with the other. This gives WO a big sound for just two people on stage. There’s definite talent in the band. Front woman Jenn Wasner has a great voice and can certainly play guitar. I think they are one good CD away from playing much larger venues.
I just wish I could have stayed longer or that the show started before midnight. Of course, I will continue to be on the look-out for the next hipster gathering. I just hope that, next time, I can stay up long enough to see the stars come out at night.
Wye Oak tunes to check out: Civilian, Take It In, For Prayer.
Great American Music Hall
San Francisco, CA
March 10, 2011
The Cave Singers: Encore, Encore
This blog is in danger of becoming a Cave Singers fansite. This is a record 6th appearance for The CS on The MV&R. For the past 3 or 4 years, the Cavers have been one of my favorite bands. They are poetry. So, you'd be delusional to expect a bad review because you're not going to get one especially since this was one of the Singers better performances. It was their highest energy show yet and the lively crowd was behind them all the way.
The band performed fantastic versions of Summer Light (to open the show), At the Cut and Beach House. Three wonderful songs. In fact, my only complaint from the evening was that the show was too short. The band played one hour and 15 minutes which is not enough for a band with three albums; many wonderful songs were left out. (BTW, the new album, No Witch, released two weeks ago, has several tunes that are worth DLing, e.g. Haystacks, Swim Club).
It's possible that the CSers may have cut short their performance due to two lengthy opening acts, including Triumph of Lethargy who were a Triumph of Feedback, little more than an exercise in pain tolerance. I have not heard anything so unpleasant in so long a time but the CS made up for it. You know you have been to a good show when the houselights come on and you still want more.
Oh, yeah, almost forgot: the Great American Music Hall is an awesome place for a show.
Los Amigos Invisibles
February 11, 2011
There was a festival atmosphere outside the Fillmore on Friday night. Maybe it had something to do with the people's revolution in Egypt and Mubarak's final capitulation and resignation earlier in the day or maybe it was just Friday night. There was a street band playing New Orleans jazz on the corner of Fillmore and Geary and plenty of smiling people milling about in hopes of a ticket to the sold-out show.
The scene of jubilant celebration continued once inside where Los Amigos Invisibles had the crowd shouting and dancing with (almost too much) abandon. Los Amigos Invisibles is a Venezuelan band that plays a high-energy combination of acid-jazz and funk with Latin rhythms. They also have a well-deserved reputation for explosive live performances which they definitely did at the Fillmore. The band is super talented and knows how to get a crowd dancing. Mucho, mucho divertido.
Trombone Shorty has been compared by many, including himself, to New Orleans jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. There is no question that Shorty is deeply talented but, I think, he has a way to go before that particular comparison has any merit. Although from Nawlins, TS does not really play New Orleans jazz. He occasionally includes covers of AC/DC in his set. One of last night's highlights was "Smooth Criminal" by Michael Jackson. Shorty reminds me much more of Robert Randolph's high-energy jam band with a trombone center-stage instead of RR's slide-guitar. There is lots of thumping bass and a rock beat keeping the music driving forward. But to compare him to Marsalis or to call TS a New Orleans jazz musician will lead to false expectations.
Trombone Shorty might do better than to tour with Los Amigos Invisibles. By the end of the night, it was really a toss-up as to which was the better performer. If this concert were in Venezuela, Los Amigos would certainly be headlining. They had big energy and had the crowd jumping with their Spanish dance funk. I could feel the floor shaking. Los Amigos have also been together for 20 years while TS is only 25 years old. Although Shorty was a child prodigy at the time and is certainly the best rock trombonist today, it's tough to compete with that kind of experience. The crowd gave TS plenty of love, but I'd have to give the Hollywood ticket to Los Amigos.
Overall, this was definitely a night of big fun. Two great bands that came to party. Either one is well worth the effort to check out.
Trombone Vids: a brief intro to Shorty, One Night Only, Back in Black.
Los Amigos Vids: Sexy, Ultrafunk.