Friday, January 24, 2014

Paul Westerberg at Great American Music Hall - 2/22/2005

Paul Westerberg
Great American Music Hall

Was this the first appearance of Paul Westerberg here in SF since the infamous heckling incident at Virgin Records a few years back?  I could be wrong, but I think it is.  I know he didn’t want to come back here after that, but time heals all wounds as they say.  Plus, money.  Obviously.

Unlike the Virgin solo-acoustic event, this was a full band affair, and mostly electric.  And it was pretty damn awesome at that.  It was real packed, and I was trapped near some terribly chatty folks which slightly killed my buzz, but hearing “Skyway” or “I’ll Be You” or “On the Bus” will make you forget whatever petty crap is happening around you.  He sounded great, the band was pretty tight except for a couple of drunken mishaps, and other than those talkative assholes everyone seemed real into it.  It’s not that often that I go to a show and feel young, but I did here – most of these folks looked as if they hadn’t been to a show since the Replacements tour for “Pleased to Meet Me,” and they were making the most of their time away from the kids and the normal wear and tear of life.  The set was pretty evenly mixed with solo songs and Replacements songs, all sounded great.  In true encore fashion, they saved the best for last – playing “Left of the Dial” and bleeding it right into “Alex Chilton.”  No “Bastards of Young” this time out, but almost that was good.  Here’s to hoping he doesn’t wait a zillion years before coming back again. 

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Say Hi to Your Mom at the Makeout Room - 6/21/2005

Say Hi to Your Mom
The Makeout Room

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I just want to go see bands and I have no particular justification for doing so.  I had heard one or two songs by Say Hi to Your Mom, both good, but there something more drawing me to the show that I couldn’t pinpoint…I’m going to assume it was some sort of “awesome show” ESP, because that’s what I got when I showed up at the Makeout Room. 

A simple description of their sound, especially from recordings, would be indie pop with a slight downer bent.  Think of a less keyboard-driven Grandaddy or slightly less morose Pedro the Lion (in fact, not only does singer Eric Elbogen look a little like David Bazan, but their voices are a touch similar as well).  But live SHtYM is a different, much more rocking beast…take the above combination and add a lot more pep and guitars to the mix, and it comes out fucking fantastic.  Nearly every song ended with a Mogwai-like wall of noise, pretty impressive for a three piece with all of the bass lines being played on a small Korg synth.  There was a pretty good size crowd there, many of whom I think was there for the middle local band, but they all stuck around and seemed to dig what those crazy Brooklynites were doing.  I may not own any of their CDs now, but I will soon enough after the show they put on.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Four Eyes / Harold Ray: Live in Concert at Hotel Utah - 9/3/2004

Four Eyes
with Harold Ray: Live in Concert
Hotel Utah

So I’ve had a few friends, folks whose opinions are usually worthwhile, tell me how awesome the Four Eyes are, so I thought I’d head down to the Hotel Utah and verify this information for myself.  All I have to say is what is in the water in Sacramento?  Obviously I have a Bay Area-centrist view, as I live here and all, but between these guys and The Bananas I have no issue in stating two of the best bands in all of Northern California reside somewhere in that enormous sprawl of the state’s capital.  Sure, the music was sloppy, but it was catchy and fun, which is all I ask for.  They bill themselves as both “Sacramento’s nerdiest band” and “smartest band in the world,” and I’m not willing to say anything against either of those assertions as they’re both probably right.  Their songs cover a whole slew of dorky topics, like Dungeons & Dragons, computers, video games, space aliens, and more.  Seriously, all you had to do was tell me they wrote a song about “Deathrace 2000” and I would have pronounced my love then and there.  But the best part of it all, what had me in stitches from start to finish, was the between song banter between the members.  My jaw and sides were seriously hurting by the time they finished I had been laughing so much.  It somehow never measures up out of context, but there’s something about conversations on high school football, Burger King, and yard sales that tickles my fancy.  If you enjoy a good time, make sure you see this band the next time they come through town.

Harold Ray: Live in Concert were the headliners of the show.  In case you have never seen them and don’t know anything about them, they spend their time playing covers of classic and mostly-obscure cuts from the golden age of soul music.  For me personally, I have to be in the right frame of mind to really enjoy this sort of scene; luckily for me, that’s exactly the state I was in for this show, and they were great.  You can’t beat their stage presence – I especially enjoy the organ player’s antics of bending all around like Gumby with the keyboard as he plays it.  There may not have been many folks there, but everyone seemed to really be enjoying it.  The highlight of the evening was the final song, when the singer was sitting on top of a table out in the crowd singing “25 Miles” and a vagrant appears – wearing a hard hat, a ton of pine tree-shaped air fresheners around his neck, and a bottle of Lysol or god knows what other kind of air freshener that he proceeded to expel the entire contents of out into the audience.  It stunk to high heavens, but somehow it ended up being very entertaining. 

The Evens / Barr at Swedish American Hall - 2/18/2005

The Evens
with Barr
Swedish American Hall

I don’t think I can put into words how important Fugazi and Ian MacKaye were to my musical growth when I was a kid… so anytime the man comes to town in any form, I’m there front and center. 

First was Barr.  Speaking of being at a loss for words, I don’t even know which ones to use in describing what I saw.  As a matter of fact, I’m not sure if I liked it or hated it, but it was certainly interesting and very different.  It was just the one guy, who I guess is actually named Barr.  All of his music was recorded on something hidden in a bag, I’m assuming minidisk or an iPod or whatever, but he seemed to be having trouble with it (or was intentionally acting like he was having trouble with it as part of his act, I’m really not sure).  Along to this music he sorta rapped, or maybe it was spoken word, and he did this voice modulation thing that reminded me a lot of that Martin Short character Jiminy Glick.  While this was going on, he kept standing in all of these funny poses like he was stretching before a big run.  Honestly, I’m not sure what the hell was going on, but I laughed a number of times and he certainly gets bonus points for originality.

With Fugazi seemingly on permanent hiatus (I sure hope I’m wrong about that), Ian came to SF with his new group the Evens.  The group is only a two piece, with Amy Farina on drums and vocals and Ian playing guitar (a baritone guitar I believe) and handling vocals as well.  They played what I would assume was most of their upcoming debut album, and it was all fantastic.  Lyrically it was pretty similar to Ian’s past output – that is, mostly political; with his voice, it will be tough to ever escape the idea that they remind me of Fugazi, but the addition of Amy’s vocals really adds a new dynamic.  I don’t think most fans of Fugazi will dislike this material, especially those who really liked the dub influence that had been creeping in over the last few years; but I wouldn’t make a promise that they would love it either.  As for me, I am eagerly anticipating the release of this album like it were my first newborn child, and hopefully the Evens will come back and play again once I’ve been able to digest the material better.

The Flaming Lips / Liz Phair / Starlight Mints at the Warfield - 5/28/2003

The Flaming Lips
with Liz Phair and Starlight Mints
The Warfield

I guess the only appropriate place to start is at the beginning. I was nearly as excited for the Starlight Mints as I was the Lips...nearly.  I saw them open for Beulah a few years back at Great American Music Hall, and enjoyed it immensely. This show was no different - if you’ve never heard them, think The Pixies meets Of Montreal or something along those lines. Sometimes pop, sometimes rock, weird elephant 6-style instrumentation, very catchy. They played a lot of stuff off the old record and plenty of new tracks too. I really need to get that new record now, because every new song that I heard was fantastic.

So Liz Phair played next. Not originally on the bill and obviously out of place, my only assumption is that this was the doing of the label, trying to get her more exposure with a new album either out or getting ready to be. Not that this is her fault or anything, she's just a performer trying to make her way in the world.  Phair came out and played some of her songs and smiled a lot; her music is a little too "opener for Sheryl Crow" for me, but I digress. She mostly played old tracks (to the delight of my friend with me who is a huge fan), even playing that one song I like by her "Stratford-on-Guy." But she also played two of her new songs, and hoo boy were they atrocious. No need to really get into it, but I’ll just say they certainly didn't seem to be winning over new fans as far as could tell.

Finally, it was time for the Flaming Lips. I weaseled my way up front into confetti territory as well as I could without making an ass out of myself. A lot of people complain about how they play the same show every time, and that might be true – but what a damn fine show it is, and it never gets old to me. Obviously most of the material is culled from their last two albums, but those are the ones I listen to the most anyways (yes, I’m one of those people that all you die hard "I saw the Flaming Lips in 1987 and only 12 people were there" types want to stab with a rusty fork). There were tons of people in animal costumes on the stage with flashlights and what not (one of my friends was one of the animals! God only knows how he pulled that one off), balloons, confetti, crazy lights - it was, as I heard someone exclaim, like "a kid’s birthday party on acid."  I felt drunk the entire time even though I had consumed no alcohol, just giddy with the euphoric happiness that only comes from a live Flaming Lips experience. Words fail to convey just how great it is, it just must be seen to be believed. Actually, not just seen, but experienced - because merely watching is not the same as actually being down front and center, a part of the whole big mess. Next time they are in town, that’s where you’ll find me.

The Functional Blackouts at Thee Parkside - 6/3/2004

The Functional Blackouts
Thee Parkside

I’ve really been itching to see some loud, abrasive, unpolished rock music - the first choice for such entertainment is Thee Parkside, and it certainly didn’t let me down this go-around.  The Functional Blackouts took the stage and blew the proverbial doors off the place.  I only know a few songs by the Pagans, and obviously never saw them live, but comparing the Blackouts to them seemed like a reasonable choice to me from my limited background in this area.  It was a giant, snarling mess of a performance, with their skinny Chicago-bred bodies contorted into all sorts of positions, all over the stage, but it never seemed out of control.  They kicked the show off with the only song I really knew by them, “Tick Tick Tick Tick,” and this one track alone was worth the price of admission.  Words don’t really do justice to the performance, but the end result was a lot of sweat and a lot of smiles on the part of the crowd.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Okkervil River / The Elected at Café du Nord - 4/4/2004

Okkervil River
with The Elected
Café du Nord

After a whole week of shows, going out on a Sunday and missing the Sopranos didn’t seem like the best idea.  But the ticket was bought, and my laziness is only overshadowed by my cheapness and unwillingness to waste something I already paid for.

Well, I couldn’t have been any happier that I actually made it out.  The main reason I was going to this show was to see the first band, Okkervil River.  One of my best friends burned me a copy of their newer CD over Christmas and I was intrigued with their sound.  It didn’t strike me as amazing, but made me interested enough that I wanted to see what it sounded like live.  I think they had just started as I walked into the band room, it was a slower number that had the audience in a hushed awe (a quiet and reverent audience at a mellow show such as this is always a good sign).  The singer for Okkervil River will never be confused for having a great voice, but not unlike Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, the emotion he carries in it tells a much greater story than any pretty-singing doofus ever could.  And the NMH comparison holds to the general music and mood of Okkervil River – although it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly what they sound like, I would guess Mangum and company would be a good base.  Throw in a bit of Bright Eyes and some Appalachian folk songs, and you have a winning combination the really caught my ear.  Perhaps the two best songs they played all night were the final two, “Kansas City” and “Okkervil River Song,” both from their debut album “Don’t Fall in Love with Everyone You See.”  I enjoyed it so much that I went to the merch table and bought a copy of that first disc, and have the full intentions of re-listening to their newer one to see if it fares better with my tastes this go around – I have a feeling it will.

To be quite honest, and as much as I like Azure Ray, I was ready to go home after that.  Honestly, there was no way anyone was going to be better than them, I felt I’d gotten my money’s worth from that performance, and my laziness was starting to get the better of me.  I opted to stick around for a few songs by The Elected, an enjoyable, twangy outfit fronted by Blake Sennett, most widely known for his work in Rilo Kiley.  It was good, but not enough so to keep me there more than five or six songs.  They started out with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” with Blake singing the part through some rigged up microphone / fireman’s mask combo.  Their music reminded me of a toned down version of Beachwood Sparks with a little Tom Waits oddity thrown in, but not nearly as engaging to me as either of those artists.  That said, I’d be interested in hearing the album they recently released; their show, or what I saw of it, was good enough to peak my curiosity.

Jolie Holland at the Swedish American Hall - 5/14/2004

Jolie Holland
Swedish American Hall

This was my first time to the Swedish American Hall – let me say up-front that it’s the best place for a mellow, seated, intimate show that I’ve been to in the city.  And now that Café du Nord seems to be booking more shows there, the future looks bright for seeing more performances in this location.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was complaining (see this review) that seeing Jolie Holland in a rock club wasn’t really the correct setting.  With this venue, I really got my wish – a seated show, full of folks actually there to enjoy her music and not talk to their friends.  She played a great set, backed by a full band (including trumpet on most songs, and Holland breaking out the fiddle from time to time), and hearing her voice in the nice, quiet hall really made me happy.  Over the course of her set, she invited a couple of guest stars up on stage to perform with her – local great Sean Hayes as well as David Garza, who she noted as being a major influence on her growing up.  Both songs they played were great, with Holland and company playing as the backing band.  The crowd, as well as my friends I talked into going to the show, seemed to enjoy themselves very much.  The downside is that it makes me not even want to see her in a rock club anymore, as it will never match seeing her perform in this location.  Hopefully Cafe du Nord will bring her back again to this great venue in the near future for all to enjoy.

(Photo not mine, found randomly online.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Jolie Holland at the Makeout Room - 8/17/2003

Jolie Holland
Makeout Room

When I got there it was already packed – not bad for a Sunday night. My assumption that everyone would be there early for the current "it" girl about town, Jolie Holland, was proven true.  A number of my friends have been going on and on about her for months now, but this was my first experience – and I was floored. Amazing, dynamic, beautiful, inspiring - any number of adjectives would suffice, but none would do justice to what I heard.

Other than Jolie, she had a number of folks helping her out with percussion and additional guitar and all that. My natural inclination is to compare her to Gillian Welch, and while there might be some style similarities Jolie really sounds nothing like Gillian at all.  I'm certain Welch fans would really dig Jolie’s music, they should make an effort to check it out.  With Holland's recent signing to Anti- (the Epitaph off-shoot that puts out Tom Waits and Tricky records, among others), it’s only a matter of time before seeing her at the Makeout Room comes to an end and she is headlining large venues, so see her now while you’ve still got a chance to do so in an intimate setting.

Sidenote – after the show, I picked up Jolie Holland’s self-released CD "Catalpa," and while it’s pretty damn decent, it lacks the dynamics that make her live show so engaging. I’ve still listened to it a bunch of times anyways, and I’m eager to hear how she’ll come across when she releases her major label debut sometime in the near future. 

(Picture not mine, found randomly online.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fuzz / CCR Headcleaner at Kings - 10/10/2013

with CCR Headcleaner

Ty Segall, not content with just releasing new records under his own name multiple times a year, also needed a heavier outlet where he could play drums - and Fuzz was born.  He formed the band with Charlie Mootheart, added another of Mootheart's bandmates on bass, and luckily for us (or more importantly, me) hit the road.  The buzz on Fuzz was very high as evidenced by the number of young scenesters at the show.  Lots of interesting outfits (both good and bad) and no shortage of "cooler than you" vibes all around, but kids are gonna be kids.  I magically made my way to the very front of the stage to take some snaps, which may not have been the best idea...there was a little bit of moshing, but the bigger problem is this same little prick kept stage diving over and over and over.  I'd guess he jumped into the crowd twenty times, and there was pretty much no one else doing it.  More problematic was his "jump" was severely lacking in athletic ability and every time he entered the crowd near me I'd get a good kick from his flailing legs.  It was incredibly annoying and I was worried about him kicking my camera, but as I felt like an interloper in this cool kid world I just sucked it up and covered up he came ambling into me.  Oh yeah, and the band - they sounded great.  That's no surprise because everything Segall does turns out fantastic, especially live.  Heavy and groovy at the same time - let's just call them a stoner rock version of the James Gang and leave it at that.  The whole band was very talented, Segall is a plus drummer and Mootheart laid down plenty of "hott lixx."  Their self-titled record is one of my favorites on the year, and this show definitely lived up to the recordings.

They had another Bay Area band called CCR Headcleaner open for them.  I'm honestly not sure if they were good or bad, but they were somewhat interesting.  Most of their music was just lots of noise that would occasionally turn into songs, but not always.  You couldn't really hear the vocals, but I'm not sure it mattered.  They seemed to hit their stride at the end of their set - which from me means that is when their noisy songs started sounding the most like actual songs.  I've got no idea who to really compare them to - Pop 1280 maybe, but not as dark and industrial?  Occasionally "Bleach" era Nirvana just a wee little bit?  I need to listen to their record, I'd be curious what kind of jams they are laying down in a studio. 

Chuck Johnson / Libraness / Heather McEntire at the Pinhook - 9/29/2013

Chuck Johnson
with Libraness and Heather McEntire
The Pinhook

It can be tough to motivate and get out of the house for a rock show on a Sunday night, but when that show involves Libraness all of the sudden I get a burst of energy and a fire under my ass. 

First though was Heather McEntire, best known as the front woman of awesome local band Mount Moriah.  It was just Heather, her guitar and her amazing voice, performing a small set of songs she said she wrote in the week before the show while holed up sick at home.  The fact that she can knock out a grip of quality tracks while hopped up on cold crunchers is equal parts impressive and jealousy-inducing.  Hopefully some of these tunes make their way to future recordings because I liked them a lot.  Maybe Heather needs to get sick more often. 

What made Ash Bowie (best known as one the guitarists and vocalists of Polvo) decide to bring back his side-project solo moniker Libraness escapes me, but I'm damn glad he decided to do it.  First time, back around 2000, it was just a release of a record that felt mostly like a clearinghouse of unused Polvo ideas. But this rebirth involves a full band and new songs - in fact, I don't think they played anything from the record.  Given Ash's signature voice and guitar style, it would be impossible to not draw comparisons to Polvo.  Surprisingly though there were also some poppier numbers, almost in a jangle pop Byrds-meets-Big Star vein - I wasn't expecting that sort of sound, but it worked.  They closed their set with an epic jam that sounded like Polvo covering a Television song...I would punch my mama in the mouth to get a clean, studio version of that track, it was pure gold. 

The evening's closer was Chuck Johnson.  I saw Chuck a few times back in the nineties with his band Spatula - they seemed to be a band's band, their shows would be full of local musicians but not a lot of us regular untalented folk.  Chuck has been recording solo guitar records for a while now, but to be completely honest I've not paid a ton of attention.  It's high quality work, but just never found it's way to my personal playlist.  He kicked his set off with an Elizabeth Cotten cover (she had just had a plaque dedicated to her in Carrboro where she was born and raised), and rolled through a number of tracks on both his regular guitar and twelve string.  His finger picking skill is exceptional; and while I may not burn to throw his records on at home, it's quite a treat live. 

Schooner / D-Town Brass / See Gulls at the Pinhook - 9/24/2013

Schoonerwith D-Town Brass and See Gulls
The Pinhook

This was the record release party for Schooner's new record "Neighborhood Veins."  A record that has been in the works for so long there have been multiple "Chinese Democracy" jokes made to the band by me - my latest favorite is to refer to the new album as "Durhamese Schoonocracy."  And that, folks, is why I'm yet to be hired as a comedy writer. 

The first band of the night was See Gulls, who I knew nothing about.  They were a four piece of local ladies that included Maria Albani on drums (she can also be found in Organos, helping out with Schooner, and probably a dozen other projects).  If what they said on stage is to be believed, this was their first show.  Good or bad, there is something exciting about seeing a band's first show - luckily this was one of the good ones.  They showed lots of promise of good things to come.  My best description of their music would be jangly indie pop, very reminiscent of some of the Teen Beat bands of the mid-to-late nineties.  The guitarist was pretty talented and I dug the singer's voice, they were pleasant to look at and they had their shit together pretty well, especially if it really was their first show.  I'll definitely see them again.

The middle slot was held by D-Town Brass, a band I've heard about and been told I had to see for years, so it was nice to finally make this happen.  The band is so damn big they didn't even fit on the stage - I counted fifteen members total, with an entire horn section set up on the floor in front of the stage.  The organist was so far on the edge of the stage he actually fell backwards off of it half way through their set (he wasn't hurt).  I think I was expecting more of a funk sound for some reason, but the band played the sort of space age jazz that was popular in the nineties - Cocktails, Combustible Edison, and a few other acts (likely signed to Thrill Jockey and/or from Chicago) would be the closest touchstones for my limited knowledge of this genre.  They were crazy talented and sounded excellent - a group of this ability should be filling concert halls, so it was nice to see them in such an intimate setting.

As mentioned before, the main draw tonight was Schooner and their release of the long-awaited "Neighborhood Veins."  They played the whole set with the already-mentioned Maria Albani helping with backing vocals and a wee bit of percussion whatnot and noise-making doohickeys.  Obviously, they were going to play a lot of songs from that record and I hadn't heard the record yet, but this first listen was very satisfying.  Schooner has always had a soulful take on the indie pop sound, and these new jams definitely fit their mold.  Apparently D-Town Brass recorded on a number of the songs on the new record, so with them on the bill tonight a number of their horn players took the stage for the last third of the show and really gave the proceedings some extra oomph.  At the end of the evening I bought a fancy clear blue copy of the new record, and look forward to hearing this long overdue collection of jams.