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Musical Happenings

17 Aug

I’ve been working on a lot of different things, so I thought I’d take a minute to detail them here. Also, as you can see from that image, I’ve come down with a mild case of Scott Pilgrim Fever.

SF Songbird Festival Show @ The Blue Macaw

First up is a show we did a couple of weeks at at the groovy Blue Macaw in the Mission. It used to be called 12 Galaxies, and I actually haven’t been to the club since they changed names. Fortunately, the super cool Mz. Urban Therese (whom I have gotten to know as “Therese”) was putting together a bill for her Songbird Festival and asked if I’d like to participate.

We played alongside Debby Gipsman, Juliet Strong, and Jascha Hoffman, all of whom sounded great and were really cool. Debby opened with a solo acoustic set – girl has a really strong voice, sounds somewhat like Natalie Merchant, but better? And I don’t mean that in a silly way, I like Natalie Merchant’s voice, but Debby actually has a really cool quality that I dug. Juliet brought a really big, eclectic band, with accordion, cello, flute (who killed it and was a total babe to boot), cajón, upright bass and herself on keys and vocals. She sounded great, and has written some neat songs – check her stuff out! Jascha Hoffman played the closing set and gave a really charming performance with a kick-ass band – my bassist Daniel was playing with him, and his guitarist sounded great (his name is Adam Roszkiewicz, he plays with a ton of cats) and his drummer was Jason Slota, a great player from Afrodesia and John Vanderslice. Dang, that dude can freakin’ play the drums.

So yeah, our set. It was probably the most relaxed I’ve ever felt going into a show, which was so nice. All of my go-to color instrument folks (Violin, Trumpet, etc) were out of town or booked, so we went with the six-piece. Me, Dan and Lindsay on vocals, Nervo on guitar, Daniel Fabs on bass and Tim McGregor on drums. A killer group, and all friends, so we had a really laid-back vibe in general.

And we killed!  Seriously. I’ve never felt so good about a show – we could do that every night and it’d never get old. I mean, it’d get old, but it feels like it’d never get old. We went through the usual acoustic stuff – “The Darkened Street,” “No Crow, Scarecrow,” “North Kinser,” “Oh, Brother,” “If You’re Feeling Out Of It.”  Most of which are on my record, which hey, if you don’t have it, you should buy it. You know, forget iTunes even – you can actually buy it. Support independent music, man!

Just for kicks, Dan and I did our duo song “The Can Man,” which we wrote together a while back, and it was a ton of fun. We might have to start performing that one more often. And of course, at the end of the set, we played Shoshana. A hit, as always.

There was a really great crowd out, and we were so happy for everyone’s enthusiastic support. Thanks so much for coming, one and all! Thanks also to Therese and the awesome Frankie Burton, who helped run the show and took the pictures here. My next show will most likely be in September, and I’m planning on whipping out some mondo new material later in the fall, too. More on that soon.

Keyboards This Weekend with Blue Rabbit!

Next thing up is a cool one. I’ll be subbing on keyboards with the groovy chamber-pop vocal band Blue Rabbit! This is a band who, if you’ll recall, I described upon first listen as sounding like “the best episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer ever.” (Don’t worry, I elaborated. Or maybe, worry: I elaborated.)

They are awesome, and we’ve been friends since we shared a bill last year at the Rickshaw Stop. Tim, their keyboardist, wasn’t available this weekend, so they needed someone to fill in. They gave me a ring, and even though my first instinct was “Seriously? Can I learn this much keyboard music in a week?” after thinking about it, I realized “Yeah actually, I can!” So I went for it. We rehearsed last night, and the show is going to be a blast.

We’re playing at the Rock Make Street Festival in the mission, going on at noon. The best part about playing keyboards is that I don’t have to bring an instrument – just myself and my middling chops. So, after the set we’ll hang around at the festival and drink beer and listen to music. Come out! Say hi! Meet these people! They are like the nicest band ever!

Info on the festival is here. Do eet. Do eet.

New Songs, New Projects, DRUMS

Last but not least are the new things I’m working on. Mostly, it’s new music. A bootload of it, actually. I’ve got around eight songs in the hopper, and a few more ideas that are slowly working their way into more fully-formed tunes. It’s really, really fun stuff, and I’ve been having a blast finally adding lyrics and finishing up the form. Pretty soon, I’ll have demos out to the band and we can start actually learning this stuff!

It’s bigger, I’d say, than anything on The Exited Door. Not a huge shift in style or anything, just more fully-realized – the tunes take greater advantage of the three vocal parts, as well as the strengths of Lindsay and Dan, my two vocalists. In addition, they’re geared a bit more towards live performance – as fun as “The Bird Women of Golden Gate Park” and “Down By The Water” are, they’re not really songs that always come off amazingly live.

So, ton of new music there, as well as another cool project (or actually, series of projects) I’m working on with Khamara Pettus, the amazing actor/director/producer/force of nature with whom I’ve been working, scheming, planning over the past couple of months. We’re putting together some things to perform at the Brava Theatre, and I’ll have more on that stuff once it’s a bit more ready for the light of day. Suffice to say: it merges a lot of things about which I am quite passionate. Also, Khamara is a rock goddess.

Last, my odyssey into becoming a real-life drummer is all but complete – I’m confident now that I could hold it down in just about any bitchin’ rock band that’d have me. And I want them to have me. Do you know of a kick-ass, stripped-down, glammy rock punk freakout band, preferably with some female energy in the mix, that is in need of a tall, goofy drummer who makes up for his lack of extreme burning chops with energy and musicality? If so, A) I am surprised you know such a specific band and B) GIVE THEM MY NUMBER.

That’s All, Folks

So, that’s it for musical updates. I’ll post some demos and further thoughts on the new songs once I’ve got them in shape to share, and in the meantime, SFers come on out to the Rock Make Festival this Sunday and say hi!

I Have Been To The Phishy Edge

13 Nov

festival8…and I lived to tell the tale.  As I mentioned last week, Dan A and I headed down to Indio over Halloween to partake in the massive Phish Festival 8, a four-day(!), eight-set extravaganza by the recently reunited jammy dudes from Vermont.  Verily, it was a phishstravaganza, a true phishsplosion.  Over the course of the festival, I was able to sample the full range and depth of the Phish fan experience.

A little background – I had never seen the band live until this festival, though I did on some level consider myself a fan of the band (I’m not sure I do anymore, though, more on why later). I’ve really enjoyed the band’s music since I was in high school, mostly just listening to their studio records in high school, and I own and know probably four of their eight or so studio records.

But I’d never seen them live, and without question, Phish is the kind of band where you’re  not a fan if you merely like the music – you must see them live. This band has superfans who follow it around the country, living in tye-dyed RVs and obsessively documenting their setlists.  Phish fans are without question one of the most easily and quickly mocked cliques in modern music, and I was more than a little intrigued by the prospect of walking among them.

For those of you who have never attended (or would never attend) a Phish show, I thought I’d make a list of outsider’s thoughts and observations.

1. As It Turns Out, I Know Nothing Of Phish

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There was totally a ferris wheel.

I didn’t realize just how out of the loop I would be upon getting there, but dang.  I know four albums’ worth of material, plus more than a few live tracks, cold.  I’ve heard them tons of times, know all the solos, the lyrics, to probably forty tunes.  But in the first three sets of music, I knew almost nothing.  A lot was new material, but most of it was stuff that the whole audience seemed to know, classic material that for whatever reason I was just unaware of.  The later sets dug deeper into the music I know (which must be their oldest stuff, from Junta and Rift and Hoist).

2. Speculation is the Phish Fan’s #1 activity

Most of the people at this festival, needless to say, were pretty hardcore.  And the #1 pastime of the hardcore is speculating about upcoming setlists. All anyone ever talked about during the first two days was “What do you think they’ll play?”  Non-stop discussions of past sets, and patterns laid out therein, recounting of the time they did Esther in 2001, or YEM opened a set in ’98 – it’s almost like baseball cards.  The band seems to know this, and they build the entire experience around giving their fans something to talk about.  The second set on Halloween was a cover of another artist’s entire album, but the album was not revealed until the afternoon of the show, leaving everyone guessing among a handful of band-supplied finalists.  It was all anyone talked about, and a good deal of fun.

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I’d Like To Cut Your Head Off, So I Can Weigh It

29 Oct

phish_logo_sticker…whaddya say?

This weekend, I will be partying like it’s 1997 – The Danimal and I will be heading down to Indio, CA for the three-day-long Phish Festival 8.  I am very, very stoked – Phish is a band that I have always really enjoyed, and I own many of their studio records, but I have yet to see them live.

I know, I know. The whole “Phish Experience” is about the live show – well, I guess never really got down with that experience.  Which is kinda a good thing, I think – I’m not not a Phish Head or whatever superfans call themselves… I never wore a pookah shell necklace or hackey sacked at a show, I don’t own any bootlegs or Phish merchandise, or {insert stereotype of Phish fan here}. However, I DO know the contents of Junta, Hoist, A Live One, The Story of the Ghost, and Rift inside out.  It’s weird.

So, when Dan (an avowed Phish fan) told me that they were doing their eighth giant festival (appropriately titled “Phish Festival 8″) down in Indio, I said Hell yeah.  The band has broken up, had a send-off show, had its members embark on solo tours (I saw Trey’s underwhelming performance at the Warfield a couple of years ago), and is now back together.  It feels like this might be my only chance to see them live, so why head to their ultimate performance venue?

From the look of things on the festival website, we’re in for a hell of a weekend.  Outside of the performances (including a complete-album surprise on Halloween and an acoustic set with doughnuts on Sunday), there looks to be a ton to do, with remixing stations, a mac bar, a farmer’s market (seriously?), and a Ferris Wheel. That’s right.  A Ferris Wheel.

So, I’m stoked.  Three days is a loooong time to go car camping, and three sets a lot of live music to watch, particularly all from one band, but hey.  I’ve never gone to something like this before, and I figured go big or go home, right?

phish3

Speaking of go big or go home...

Have a great weekend, catch y’all on the other side!

Adam Theis’s Hip-Hop Symphony, This Weekend @ Yoshi’s!

20 Aug

Adam Theis's Brass Bows and BeatsI am really stoked to go see ami d’trombone Adam Theis put on an encore performance of his bloody incredible “Brass Bows and Beats: A Hip-Hop Symphony” tonight at Yoshi’s SF!  I saw the premiere at the Palace of Fine Arts back and was totally and utterly blown away.  It should be so much fun to see it performed in a smaller space, and to be able to take all the people who didn’t get to see it last time!

It’s this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at Yoshi’s in SF – there are two shows each night, one at 8 and one at 10. I highly recommend getting tickets in advance (which you can do through the Yoshi’s site here), since the show will most likely sell out.

If you want to be sold on going, check out my exuberant, (frankly, overwhelmed) reaction to the premiere, or check any of the show previews at KTVU, JamBase, The SF Examiner, and East Bay Express. You can also preview tracks from about-to-be-released recording of the symphony at the Jazz Mafia Website.

People. For real. GO TO THIS.  It’s more local talent than you may ever see on one stage again, but even more importantly, it’s an incredible amount of fun.

Adam's Hip Hop Symphony Photo by Bill Evans

Saxophones! Jazz!

15 Aug

Lisa_on_saxLast week was a pretty outstanding week for me in terms of live saxophone music. On Tuesday, I hit up Coda on Duboce to see Spaceheater play, and on wednesday, my old friend Sam’s saxophonetastic indie-jazz band Blue Cranes at Blue Six in the mission.  It was exciting and energizing to hear so much great reed playing in such a short period of time, thought I’d share a bit about both bands.

Spaceheater at Coda

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Coda is a brand-new bar/restaurant/jazz club that is now hosting the temporarily-nomadic Jazz Mafia Tuesdays. It’s a really classy space, with high ceilings, brick walls, and a wide, open main room, onto which the main stage opens. They’ve only been open for a few weeks, so they’re still finding their groove – especially wrangling the sound in the room with the high ceilings and all the glass – but on the whole, so far, so good.

Spaceheater is a latin/dub/funk band led by saxophonist/flutist Evan Francis, and they are very cool.  Their personnel is rounded out by Marcus Stephens and Kasey Knudsen on tenor sax, Patrick “Pdub” Korte on drums, and Josh Hari on bass. They were also joined by a percussionist, but the two other names on their myspace site – Scott Thompson and Matt Lucas – are both famous comedians first (Thompson from Kids in the Hall and Lucas from Little Britain) and random singer/songwriters second (Thompson a guitarist from Michigan and Lucas a Christian pop singer).  Sigh.  There are too many people in this world, and not enough names.

Pdub Korte

Pdub

Anyhow, the band was tight as hell – not a surprise, considering that they’re getting rhythmic support from Pdub Korte, who also plays with several other Jazz Mafia bands, most notably the Shotgun Wedding Quintet. If you’ve ever seen one of these groups play (tell me you have!), you know – not exactly a shortage of groove going on.  I don’t know Josh, but I really dug his bass playing – he and Korte clearly play together quite a bit, and it shows.

One of the most fun things about watching this group (and other jazz groups that fall under the Jazz Mafia umbrella) is seeing how these great players shift themselves to play so many roles.  When Evan and Kasey played with the Nice Guy Trio last month, it was all modern chamber saxophone, open and vulnerable, but also remarkably free.  When they play with Spaceheater, it’s a much more relaxed approach, rooted in the floor and easy to listen to.

So, yeah, everyone sounded great.  Kasey and Marcus are bangin’ players, and the rhythm section, as I mentioned, was killing it. What really stands out to me about the band is Evan’s writing and playing – he’s got a really interesting approach to horn voicing and composition, all parallel lines and close harmonies, usually voiced by two tenors and a flute.  It looks like the group has involved tenor, trombone and flute in the past, and I could see that working from a similar place, voicing-wise.  As it stood, the reed-centric horn section really had flow, and on a few of the tunes, in particular, Evan’s arranging just worked. And what’s more, the guy is just a really cool dude, and a burning flutist (he tore it up at Adam Theis’s hip-hop symphony) and it’s totally fun to watch him play.  This is what I’m talking about:

Spaceheater plays all over the place – they’ve got a residency at Yoshi’s SF on the first tuesday of every month and it’s only $3! They’re out front, not onstage, and I bet that’s a great place to see them.

Blue Cranes at Bluesix

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Oh, man, this band.  Blue Cranes is an experimental sax-fronted quintet out of Portland.  And they rule.  Seriously.  Sam Howard, an old friend of mine from UMiami, subs on bass with them quite a bit, and has actually been down this way on tour before, but I hadn’t seen them until Wednesday night.  Before the show, I was asking him what they sound like, what the term “Indie Jazz,” which he’d used to explain their sound to me in the past, really meant.

“You know when Britney Spears shaved her head? It sounds like that.”

britney-shaving-2

So... pretty much like this?

Blue Cranes’ setup involves a fairly standard jazz rhythm section – upright bass, drum kit and keyboards (both standard piano sounds and a synthesizer) played by Sam, Ji Tanzer and Rebecca Sanborn, and fronted by Joe Cunningham (“Sly Pig”) and Reed Wallsmith on the tenor and alto saxes, respectively.

What is less than standard about the band is the music they play, and the way they play it.  Basically, they play inside, triumphant pop melodies mixed with free-jazz explorations.  It’s not the template of all of their tunes, but several times, I was struck at how effectively the band would pivot from a driving, lyrical section of ones and fours and fives straight into a wide-open free-blowing situation, bringing things sometimes to an utter standstill before building them back up.  It was incredibly well implemented, particularly on their second tune of the night, “Love, Love, Love,” (by Seattle composer Wayne Horvitz), which came down to an almost impossibly sparse improvisation by Sly Pig and the band before building its way back to a ferocious ending.  You can see a video of them performing the tune here:

What’s more, by adding Sanborn’s Hanne Hukkelberg-esque synth (or, if you prefer, Napoleon Dynamite-ish), they really do get a sort of “Indie” sound that, when combined with the strong saxophone melodies, makes for a listening experience that is quite unique.  Other highlights from the set included an inspired cover of Sufjan’s “Seven Swans,” a punk-rock tune that played like an exercise in rhythmic displacement (Drums and bass on two and four!  Now one and three!  Now two and four!  Now back!)  Sam mentioned to me that they’ve been doing a lot of shows with punk bands, and that when they do a lot of this material, it’s about 200% louder than it was at Bluesix.

Inside Bluesix

Inside Bluesix

Which is cool, but man, as much as I dug the playing, and the writing, perhaps the thing I enjoyed most of all was the dynamic contrast that Blue Cranes brought.  From the quietest whisper to the loudest, fullest saxophone roar, it was just so engaging to listen to music that displayed so much contrast.  A good deal of this owes to the great room – I’ve never been to Bluesix before, but it is an absolutely fantastic place to see live music.  It’s quite a bit like the Red Poppy, actually – a listening room/art gallery with a small wine bar and a close, warm vibe that encourages focused listening.  I have never been to a bar where Pig’s solo on “Love Love Love” would have been possible.

Bluesix is run by bassist/rennaissance man Joe Lewis, a big, super-nice guy who plays around town with a ton of groups.  His dedication to music, and to running a room where great, uncommon music is possible, really shows – I really loved the club, and hope to play there soon.

I am, of course, not really doing either of these groups justice with my writing, but I hope that by telling you a few of my thoughts and impressions that you’ll check them out.  Spaceheater plays all over the city and features really groovy writing and some amazing horn arrangements.  Blue Cranes comes to town not infrequently and are doing some of the most interesting, rewarding, and exciting acoustic jazz I’ve seen in a long time.  Check them out, support them, and go see ‘em live!

Blue Cranes

Tornado Rider @ The Independent

8 Aug

Tornado Rider At The Independent 1Okay, okay.  Um.  ….Tornado Rider.  They’re… this band?  I saw them at… the… Independent.  Since there was a show. There. Um.  They’re from the Land Of Sneth?  So they play, Sneth Rock, yeah, I guess.  Wait a minute.  Okay, okay, there’s this cellist…  more of a cello goblin, really… their performance…. specified the focus of my egyptian paradise?

Crap. It’s been one paragraph, and so far, this isn’t going well.  Let’s start with the basics.

Last night, I hit the Independent to see their “Recession Buster” show, a cover-free night of music from local bands.  The main reason I went was to see Tornado Rider, a band that I’d heard quite a bit about. “Rushad is a madman!” “He is this guy!” “You’ve never seen cello playing like this!”  “He is also really weird!”  “His band is great!”  “He will probably do a flip off the stage!”  On all counts, Tornado Rider did not disappoint.

A bit of background – TR is a San-Fran based three-piece punk rock band with a twist:  Their singer and bandleader, Rushad Egglseton, plays the cello. And not just any cello, he plays the strapped-on, fully distorted, electric Sneth-rock cello. And he plays it hard. I’m seriously – he fuckin’ wails on that thing, plucking, bowing, beating the tones out until by the end of the set, his bow had suffered more hair loss than the back row at a Rogaine convention. (*clunk*)

Oh My God It's A Dinosaur!

OH MY GOD

So, we’re at the Indy, and the band sets up – the drums are all blinking green lights and the bassist is wearing a coonskin cap, and I’m thinking, “well this looks fun” and then Rushad comes out wearing his cello, a wireless mic, Umbros, and pretty much nothing else. Oookay. And he starts with the aforementioned going to town on his cello, screaming some crazy shit at us about the land of Sneth and words and other assorted Primus-infused Alice In Wonderland gobbledygook. And throughout the set, the intensity never drops, he’s just flying around the stage, doing mad high-kicks, rolling around on the floor, jumping into the audience, climbing up on tables, yelling about how he Is a Falcon, and Oh My God It’s A Dinosaur.

Woah.  It was impossible not to be drawn in by the whole thing, the (apparently actual) madness of the guy, his hilariously over-the-top songs and the strength of his cello playing – deviant solos with wild tone, sort of hard-rock guitar by-way-of the bowels of hell.  He simply would not let you stop paying attention to him for one second, pushing and pushing and pushing until the set ended with him on the floor, groaning out one last note from the instrument. Intense. Honestly, you gotta see for yourself:

So, okay, the dude is unhinged.  A maniac.  Truly, a “Cello Goblin.”  But while Rushad gets the lion’s share of the attention (and you can’t say the man doesn’t earn it), I want to talk for a bit about his rhythm section. Scott Manke plays drums and Graham Terry plays bass, and they both do a really good job supporting their wild lead singer. And I don’t just mean supporting him musically (though they did that quite ably – Terry’s bass playing, in particular, was really creative – great lines, man!) – I actually think that their mere presence offers a more important type of support, a vital counter to Rushad’s over-the-top antics.

Because as fun as it is to watch a guy who is so clearly off in his own crazy world (see e.g. “glicking the gunt of Nairobi into the fortress of Norwegian butt death”), it would get a little too intense if all of the band members were off in that world with him.  And by “a little too intense” I mean “really fucking weird and off-putting to the point of ruining the show.”

Tornado Rider Falcon at Independent

"Look! A Falcon!"

Instead, Manke and Terry come off as affable guys who are having a really great time rocking out with this madman, but are fully aware of the fact that they’re not actually emissaries of Sneth, sent here to yell over the mountains or whatever.  And because of this, they ground the show in our reality, giving the audience an on-stage presence that we can latch onto amid the leaping and the screaming and the Umbros, safe harbor in the storm for those in the crowd who have jobs to return to tomorrow. In America. On Planet Earth.

This is because Rushad’s antics and energy are both the thing that sells the show and the thing that could utterly derail it. Without the cello and the acrobatics, the hats and the table-dancing… if, say, Rushad were a touch less crazy and played exact same music on guitar, Tornado Rider would be a very good, very fun punk-rock band with weird, ironic songs about falcons and dinosaurs. And that’s it. And on the flip side, if the everyone in the band were 100% committed to the crazines in Eggleston’s head, to joining his acrobatic, bowed bacchanal, attending a Tornado Rider show would be akin to having tea with the Mad Hatter’s gallery of goons – fun for a bit before rapidly becoming wearisome and overstaying its welcome.

Fortunately, Tornado Rider has found a balance in its onstage energy, and it totally works.  When Graham goes over to Rushad to look off to the falcon in the distance, or when the two high-five before a tune, there’s a realness there that keeps the show from devolving into inanity.  Similarly, Manke’s drumming really worked for me, and he rocked the whole set with a focused, pleased grin on his face – he seemed to be enjoying himself as much as I know I would’ve been. With these anchors in place, we were free to enjoy Rushad’s playing as much as it deserved to be appreciated, because truly, the guy is one-of-a-kind, a talent the likes of which I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered.

So, yeah, here I am again, dancing about the architecture, putting up YouTube videos and whatever, but of all the bands I’ve tried to write about, this is the band that truly has to be seen to be believed. Rushad is a performer like no other, and his band is a blast to watch. Give Tornado Rider 45 minutes, and they will rock your face off and eat it.

It’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

Tornado Rider At The Inependent 2

Pollux and The Gun And Doll Show @ Great American

12 Jul

Luce Gun and Doll Pollux Great AmericanLast night Dan A. and I headed out to the Tenderloin to catch some live local music at the Great American Music Hall. I was really looking forward to it – Great American might be my new favorite place to see a show in SF, with a level of gilding that’d make Midas blush and a stage that’s bigger and easier to watch than The Independent.

I was also excited because the night had a great lineup – a Triple CD-Release party for three local groups. Though most of these bands probably released their records back in February or some crap – don’t get me started on the bizarre ubiquity of “CD Release Parties” these days.  Anyway.  Opening was Pollux, a rock outfit that I’d never heard but had heard good things about, then The Gun and Doll Show, who I have known about forever but never seen, and headlining was everyone’s favorite Bay Area AAA band Luce, though I didn’t wind up sticking around for their set (more on why later).

Pollux

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Pollux started their set shortly after we arrived – the club was still in that “no one near the stage” early phase of the night, but shortly after Pollux let ‘er rip, everyone pushed up – always a good sign. They ripped into their set with gusto and energy, making their sound clear from the start – churning, epic rock music centered around powerful, wailing lead vocals.  Check out their MySpace page to get an idea of their sound.

The band is made up of four core members, only three of whom are identified on their site – Carey Head is the lead singer, guitarist, and keyboardist, Daniel Stevenson plays the bass, and they also had a dreamy-haired lead guitarist laying down some standard lead guitar stuff – you know, Step 1: trigger tremolo pedal, Step 2: sing lower-octave backup harmony, Step 3: turn off tremolo pedal, Step 4: hit boost, Step 5: Chorus!  He really solid, and played a pretty ripping solo halfway through the set.

And in the back is this drummer, a big bundle of energy joyously hitting the skins, grinning like a madman as he plays fill after fill, and I’m thinking, “hmm, this guy seems familiar,” so after the show I look him up and turns out it’s Kevin Webber, the drummer for Blue Rabbit!  Cool. He sounded great, and really brought the thunder to some of the set’s later, more rocking tunes.

Chris Head

He's got a powerful head voice. Geddit? Head?

But back to the reason for the season – Carey Head.  Pollux’s bandleader and songwriter, Head leads straightaway with his strongest attribute – his seriously ridiculous voice. Crystal clear and with great technique – dude can sing. By far the most enjoyable part of Pollux’s set was listening to him let his voice go, wondering where he was gonna push it to next.  He was joined vocally by two female backup singers, as well as the lead guitarist, so on one of the later tunes in the set, they got a real full-on four-parter going that sounded pretty damn great.  I would have loved a big-ass, high energy vocal breakdown, but hey, I guess you can’t have everything.  Take a cue from En Vogue, though, guys – sometimes it’s time for a breakdown.

Pollux is a strong band, and they’re also clean, from their guitar tones to Carey’s epic, perfect vocals, to the arrangements, to the setlist.  In fact, what I wanted to hear from them was something weirder, for them to put down the perfect, radio-ready rock routine and do something dirty, loud, gross, spontaneous. Why so serious? Maybe put away the nice-guy flannel and put on some glow-in-the-dark shit or something, I dunno.

On their Myspace page, Pollux lists the band Ours among their influences, but (somewhat surprisingly) omits Muse.  I’ve always thought of Ours as a sort of shadow-version of  Muse – rocking, sure, and with a great lead singer, but lacking that feeling of craziness, that over-the-top showmanship that Muse has, particularly on the my favorite of their records, the stripped-down, balls-to-the-wall “Origin of Symmetry.”  The rockingness of that album, especially when taken alongside clips from Muse’s live tour from that same period… what Matt and company are doing there, the fury they unleash with their instruments, well, they’re a worldwide touring sensation for a reason.

And I know, I know, this is coming from me, a guy whose idea of a rocking show involves looping an acoustic guitar while playing melodica and clarinet. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if Pollux could just let loose a bit, swagger, and break some shit onstage (even if only metaphorically), they could go from being a strong, pro-level band with an American Idol-ready lead singer to a serious rock powerhouse with a lead singer who is way to fucking cool for American Idol.

Pollux Great American

Rock on, guys, and don't give up on getting the audience to clap along in 13. They'll get it sooner or later.

The Gun and Doll Show

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Okay, so speaking of getting gross and breaking shit onstage, well… God.  The Gun and Doll Show. Okay. Maybe let’s start with some basic info?  They’re a local band, sort of punk burlesque Fosse girls kind of thing, led by singer/guitarist/songwriter Killian MacGeraghty.  And.. well… they put on what might have been the best damn rock show I’ve seen in San Francisco.  I mean, they got on stage, plugged in, and tore it down – it was never less than rad, and frequently bordered on “You’ve Got To Be Shitting Me.”  No joke.

Killian MacGeraghty Bicycle

Is that a bicycle on your shoulders, or are you just happy to see me?

The setup is this: Four dudes – MacGeraghty, along with Tom Gears, John Bearton, and Loren Routh, make up the standard rock band instrumentation – two guitarists, bass, drums, MacGeraghty kinda sing/yelling on vocals – standard stuff. Well, he came out holding a bycicle on his shoulders, but still.

In addition to the guys, three female vocalists are onstage most all of the time -  Susan Donaldson Ely, Lani Martin, and Jennifer Knight – and they are, frankly, incredible. Donaldson Ely in particular.  On top of that, three MORE hot-ass dancers come out every so often for a full-on, six-member choreographed dance routine.  Couple that with near-constant costume changes (Scary doctors! Cheerleaders!  Hot army chicks!  Football Players!  All-Black Punk-Hating Mods!) by not only the girls but also MacGeraghty (who at one point was slinking about the stage doing an endzone routine in full football pads) and you’ve got a gonzo experience that never gets boring.

About three songs in, I was loving the shit out of them, and I started actully listening to the music with my eyes closed. And for a second, I was thinking, “Okay, well musically speaking, this maybe isn’t really that interesting, it’s just that there are hot chicks on stage…” but then, they went into “Can You Feel It,” in the aforementioned football pads, ending the song by scrumming the women against Killian, yelling at one another “Power of a woman!”  “Power of a man!” it was badass. And more than that, the song was really cool.  After that came a new-wavy tune that sadly, isn’t featured on the new record (must be an older track), called “Automatic” or something, all group sing and four-on-the-floor, and the song just slayed me.

Gun and Doll Show Great American 2

Sexy Doctors! With more than a little hint of the B-52's too.

The energy level kept rising, rising, rising through the set, until we were all being legitimately rocked. Not “nodding your head along with the band” rocked, but “holy crap what is going on” rocked.  This does not happen often. When Susan Donaldson Ely came out and sang “Why I Hate Punks,” in formation with the other two singers, it was it was just crazy cool – like pissed-off Uma from My Super Ex-Girlfriend, finger pointed to the sky, raging about how much punks suck.  Unbelievable.  Like, everything I love about The Cock Ts (Sexy Choreography! Tongue in Cheek gender roles! Hating on punks who give you shit outside Amoeba!) coupled with a bitchin’ rock band and cranked up to 11.

Maybe the best thing I can say about TGADS is that I, broke-ass musician that I am, actually bought their CD after the show.  I’ve listened to some of it, and it sounds great, though doesn’t capture the energy of their live performance.  I suppose with a band like this, that’s a bit much to ask of an audio recording.  Anyway, you should buy a copy to support them, and go see them live – I can honestly say that you probably won’t have a better time at a show in this town.

Their closing number was a rock orgy, ending with all eight dancers bowing down before the drum set, and balls, it rocked so hard… so hard that I just couldn’t imagine a band following it.  I know Luce is really good, I’ve seen their show and enjoyed it, but I couldn’t get in the mindset to deal with their set in the aftermath of the guns and dolls.

So, shortly after they tore the stage down, it was hasta luego for me. It was really a hell of a night – Pollux was super solid, and The Gun And Doll Show just blew me away. I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth.

Gun and Doll Show Great American

Note to self: Hire six hot chicks to sing and dance in band. Also, always perform BEFORE The Gun and Doll Show.

Nice Guy Trio: “Root Exchange” @ CMC

4 Jul

5415_826293274516_2513264_47491201_5430027_nLast night I caught my buds the Nice Guy Trio doing the second show of their monthly series “Root Exchange” at the SF Community Music Center.  The NGT is Darren Johnston on trumpet, Rob Reich on accordion, and Daniel Fabricant on bass – they play a loose, wonderfully swinging avant-street thing, with some pretty freewheeling playing anchored by really focused writing.  Darren contributes the majority of the compositions – his tune “Ducci Calypso” (written for his cat, though I believe the cat’s name is “Ducci,” not “Ducci Calypso,” hee), is always a showstopper, and the guys have gotten the quick trading that goes on in that tune down to a science.  I’m a sucker for the circle of 5ths, and the second half of that tune doubles as, like, a circle of 5ths workout routine.  Daniel and Rob contribute some really tasty compositions, as well – I’m still honored to have been a member of the first band to play “Fabby’s Footsteps.”  Though I like how the Nice Guys do it better (that modulation blows my hair back every time, guys).

This is the trio’s second year doing a “Root Exchange” series – last year was at the Red Poppy Art House.  The concept behind the series is that each month, the band plays with a special guest or two, adding various instruments to their own compositions while also playing tunes written by the guest artists.  Last night featured two local saxophonists, Evan Francis, an alto/reed player whose ultra-burning flute playing I really enjoyed during Adam Theis’s Hip-Hop Symphony a few months back, and Kasey Knudsen (who also played on Adam’s show) on alto and tenor.  I hadn’t heard Kasey play much outside of a section, and I really dug her style a lot – very vertical, with a big, rich tone.  I heard a lot of Konitz in there, and it worked really well with the flighty style of the Nice Guys.  Add in Evan on alto (and, on his own tunes, flute and clarinet), as well as  Rob’s accordion more on the “horn” end of the horn/rhythm spectrum, and the group got a sort of small chamber-ensemble sound that was really cool.

In addition to playing his ass off, Evan’s compositions sounded effing great – he writes these jarring, parallel horn voicings, sort of like how Gil Evans would do, but… pointier?  His closing tune, a calypso that sounded a bit like Ducci got dropped on its head, got into a really jangly, dissonant space that totally did it for me.  Kasey’s site says that she’s doing a bunch of playing with Spaceheater, as well as Evan’s own group and the Noah Lemish Quintet coming up – check her site for dates, I bet that it’s hard to go wrong with any of them!

So, anyway – it was a really good show.  The Trio is playing the first Friday of every month through October, with a different guest each week – I’ll absolutely be at the next one (August 7th, with Peter Jaques guesting on clarinet and truba (not a typo, look it up), and you should come, too!  They play at 8:00, and the cover is $10 – well worth it for two sets of great original jazz with no bar or audience noise distracting from the music.

What’s more, as my grandma would say, they’re just such nice boys.

Nice Guy Trio Root Exchange #2

Blue Rabbit @ The Independent

24 May
Blue Rabbit Onstage 2

Photo by Julie Bernstein, funcrunchphoto.com

Well, gosh.  Last night, I swung by The Independent (as some might recall, my favorite place in the whole city of SF to play a show) to catch a set by the wonderful Blue Rabbit.  You guys – this band is a seriously good time. Picture this, if you will: the stage is lit in deep reds and purples, framed on either side by a trio of feather and masque-wearing mannequins; the back wall is hung with giant silver streamers, and there are musicians everywhere.  A willowy girl is plucking and grooving on a Celtic harp on stage left, cello, drums, keyboards, and violin are to her back. Center stage stand three beautiful women, dressed in a blue strapless dresses, wailing their way through some positively unhinged vocal arrangements, dancing together like some sort of post-looking-glass version of The Supremes, smiling, clapping, and singing, singing, singing.

Okay, now picture that you just ran about a mile at top speed to get to the show on time, you’ve blown in the door right at the start of their set with no preparation for what, exactly, it is you’ll be seeing.  That was me.  My train of thought upon arrival was basically, “Whew, okay, I’m here, getting my ticket, dude is searching my bag, hate that, going in, there they are whaaaaaaa?”  And then I just stood there grinning for about 45 minutes while the band shook the place down.  Cool.

Blue Rabbit is based in SF – they’re led by composer, songwriter, and singer Heather Anderson, who is joined on vocals by Arami Reyes and Sarah Rocklin. None of the three could be deemed the “lead singer,” and there is this chemistry thing going on with them… Heather’s humor, Arami’s huge smile and huger voice, Sarah’s understated style, suddenly busting out with a powerful lead… it really works. Eah Herren is the aforementioned willowy Celtic-harpist, sorta like River Tam with mad harp chops, joined by Kristin Harris in the back with the cello cranked.  Tim Galida and Kevin Weber added some Y Chromosomes (and some great playing) on keys and drums respectively, along with Adam Willumsen on violin and a special guest sax performance (which will always score points with me) by Martin Blank. Considering that the band doesn’t have a bass player, Tim did a great job of filling out the bottom end, and Kevin killed on drums!  I’m not sure if it was his own kit he was playing on, but his bass drum was the size of a backyard trampoline, and added a throbbing, undulating sound that really worked with the band’s vibe.

Okay, so I liked it – here’s the real challenge.  Can I describe the music to you?  Can I dance ever so carefully about the architecture?  Well, hmm. Obviously, the best way to get a feel for what Blue Rabbit is all about is to listen to the tracks they’ve got on their Myspace page, or pick up a copy of their record, Separate. It is getting harder and harder to describe most of the interesting music I’ve seen lately, the paradox being that that music is precisely the stuff I’d love to be able to describe!  The band just doesn’t fit on any universally accepted spectrum… like, if there’s a ten-point scale, with one being “Does Not Sound Like Cat Stevens,” and ten being “Sounds Like Cat Stevens,” then Blue Rabbit would be “Tangerine.”  So I’m going to try to describe their sound a different way.

Ahem. Please bear with me here: Blue Rabbit sounds like the best episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” ever.

Eah Herren

Photo by Julie Bernstein, funcrunchphoto.com

Wait, wait, don’t leave, I swear this is going somewhere better than last time. While watching their set, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was hanging out in The Bronze.  You remember how, on that show, a few times each season, the Scooby Gang would go to that club, and some spooky cello band would be playing spooky cello rock about love and death and other shit that matched up with whatever me-me-me drama Buff was going through at the moment?  Well, Blue Rabbit is like the coolest version of that possible. Like, remember when Aimee Mann played, and then she was all, “I’m sick of playing these vampire towns”?  It’s like that. You remember Dingoes Ate my Baby?  Blue Rabbit is like that band, if their music was completely different and every band member was Oz. Throughout their set, I was half-expecting to see David Boreanaz over in the corner looking broody and tortured.

Okay, back on track. To overuse alliteration, Blue Rabbit’s music is a chaotic but controlled cacophony – vocals fly all over the place, sometimes coming together in harmony, sometimes wandering apart, cartwheeling through the tessitura. I get the sense that a lot of the string and harp parts were orchestrated on the fly, with a minimum of pre-performance scoring.  At the very least, it sounds that way, which speaks to Heather’s mastery of avant-garde arranging. As a writer who is a bit of a control-freak, orchestration-wise, it’s exhilarating to hear a band be so free about it with such satisfying results.  What’s more, the band’s tunes rarely fall into familiar chord progressions or melodic contours – they manage to build their songs to a climax without relying on the standard musical language to do so. I could write some kind of provocative, fake-deep thing here about how dude bands climax in a completely different way than chick bands, but I think I’ll leave that particular depth unplumbed.  Still: interesting.

To watch Blue Rabbit perform is to be perpetually off-balance, unsure of where you are and how you got there, hoping the band will eventually set you back down when they’ve tired of twirling you about. Take a listen to their tunes, and go catch them live – just be sure to bring some garlic and holy water to ward off any vampires who might be in attendance. This is serious music approached with whimsy, loaded with tricksy, idiosyncratic writing and performed with charisma to spare.

They thrill, they charm; their grace disarms. In short: they rock.

Buffy and Angel

The Decemberists @ The Fox Theater

21 May
3014169534_9e5114c008

Hardly Strictly Folk.

Last night, there were any number of various activities in which I could have partaken.  I could have been watching Kris Allen win American Idol (my verdict: not a huge surprise, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer dude.  Bonus: now, Adam doesn’t have to record that heinous “Bounderies” song).  I also could have been seeing the amazing Tornado Rider at the Red Devil Lounge (I’ve been wanting to see this band for some time now – their lead singer, Rushad Eggleston, is a madman with a cello strapped across his chest).  But, in the final hours of the afternoon, my roommate got a call offering her two free tickets to the sold-out Decemberists show at the Fox in Oakland, and she asked if I’d like to go.  And in the words of the ever-wise Winston Zeddemore, “Ray, when someone offers you free Decemberists tickets, you say YES!” So off to the Fox we went.

An hour and some well-orchestrated BART-wrangling later, we arrived at the theater minutes before the Decemberists began their set. And, dude. They have gotten better.  Maybe it’s the theater – I felt the same way about seeing Franz Ferdinand there last month – I had enjoyed The Decemberists well enough when I saw them at the Warfield in support of The Crane Wife, but last night’s performance was in a whole other league.

Though really, is no mystery as to why this show was so much better – it’s the new material. The band performed their new album, “The Hazards of Love,” in its entirety, featuring several new musicians, most notibly Becky Stark and the awesome Shara Worden, both on vocals.  I haven’t yet heard the record (I know!), but just from seeing it live, it’s clearly their best, most exciting material to date.  What’s more, it’s exciting to see someone doing something that is so close, in many ways, to The Exited Door… scripted vocals, sung by several vocalists, one each representing light (Stark) and Dark (Worden)… the drama and theatrical bent of the whole thing, as well as the audience’s enthusiastic response, had me really inspired.

decemberists_hazards

Well, I'll be getting this.

So, yeah.  The new material is really, really great.  Super dramatic, mostly through-composed, with recurring themes and some seriously butt-rocking passages.  When, in the second set, the band returned to play through tunes from their back catalog, the contrast couldn’t have been clearer.  Those songs are great, and the band’s roots in folk and Americana will always be a grounding presence, but clearly, Colin Meloy has his eyes set on something much larger, both thematically and sonically, and if last night’s first set was any indication, he is achieving it.

Occasionally the music didn’t quite rock as hard as it wanted to… there would be a guitar riff or figure, or a drum fill that just wouldn’t hit quite as hard as the music suggested that it should.  If I had to point to the culprit, I’d say that in terms of their equipment, attitude, and execution, they’ve yet to make the shift from prog-folk to prog-rock.  This isn’t really a complaint, per se – they sound great, and occupy a unique stylistic zone, which is cool.  And it would actually be a bummer if they came out there with, like, Muse‘s gear (I mean, I can’t imagine Meloy rocking a Manson Guitar, you know?) But all the same, a few of the darker, rocking sections could have rocked me a bit harder.

And while we’re talking about rock – let me say a few words about Shara Worden. Well, maybe just one word – Rad.  Shara is the band’s new secret weapon, an unhinged, devilish performer, slinking around the stage in a micro-mini and bare feet, limbs akimbo, wailing into the mic like some serpentine chanteuse of the river styx.  Awesome.  I immediately recognized her as the lead singer of the band that had been touring in support of The Decemberists last time around (a little googling reminded me that their name was My Brightest Diamond), and I remembered loving her then, too.  Honestly, at that show, her music, Buckley-tinged freak-out rock with wild, wailing vocals, did more for me than The Decemberist’s set.  It’s a really good sign that Meloy, realizing what a killer she was, wrote her into the band’s next album.

The show ended on a low-key, humorous note, with an encore in which Meloy (who has never reminded me more of a reedy-voiced Garrison Keillor) leading members of the band through an in-audience reenactment of the Donner Party Tragedy. It was really funny, down-to-earth, and a great contrast to the intense dramatic highs reached in their first set.

I don’t know where the group’s evolution will end them up – who could?  Their next album could very well be an acoustic reinterpretation of, like, Canturbury Tales.  What I do know is that they appear to be continually improving themselves, fearlessly embracing their own musical evolution, and as a result, their next show will almost certainly be even better than last night’s.  I’ll sure be there.

December3

Pete and J! Pete and J!

30 Apr

l_23fce7a7466c450182c4f40950cdcff9Last night Lindsay and I hit the Red Devil Lounge and caught the PowerPop band Pete and J, straight outta Brooklyn.  My buddy Sarab Singh plays drums in the group (he went to music school at UMiami along with me and Lindsay), and Or, The Whale co-headlined with them at the Independent about six months ago.  I’d heard they were great, but hadn’t seen them.  As it turns out, yep – they’re great!

The duo behind the eponymous group are Pete Harper, who plays keyboard and guitar, and Jason Flynn, who plays a mean lead guitar (and uses my new favorite axe, the Gibson 335, or maybe 337). Pete also looks like a funky Art Garfunkel (I’m sure he gets that all the time).  Well, he at least looks like Jemaine Clement playing Art Garfunkel on FotC… The duo is joined by Sarab on drums, and a bass player, whose name is not listed on their site, but who was a great player with a really good voice.

Anyhow, really, check ‘em out – their recordings sound pretty dang great (particularly their new EP), and their live show is even better… it sounds as though the last two years of touring have been really good for their tightness as a band, and what I saw backs that up.  Their set was drag-free,  totally loaded with really catchy, melodic pop tunes played superbly and with a wonderful sense of humor.  The group’s overall sound called to mind a lot of my favorite groups – in particular, their strong, high vocal harmonies (ornamented by J’s growly belt) evoked the more rocking tunes of the late, great SF Superpop group Jellyfish (whose album, Spilt Milk, you really should own).

What’s more, PnJ’s writing never lapses into lazy repetition, something that I strive for (always striving, not always achieving) in my own writing, and really admire in others’ work.  Also importantly, their live sound was really good – very full and not too loud.  Part of this owed to the band’s clear understanding their own levels and tones, but it was also greatly helped by their well-layered musical arrangements.  On each song, the guitar was here, the synth line over here, the bassline heeere behind the desk, the drums down there by the fridge, the vocals up over theeerre, and the backup vocals placed just… up… here, on this little shelf.  If that makes sense.

Sarab’s drumming was, of course, totally slamming – that certainly seems to be the particular wont of most of the amazing drummers I went to school with.  It was really groovy, and particularly impressive considering that he was using a borrowed kit with the floor tom mounted up on the rack.  I, (and the rest of the crowd), liked when he played tambourine, too – way to give the people what they want!

Great band.  They tour often, so check out their myspace page and go support them the next time they’re out!  And who knows – one of these times, you just may see my band on a bill with them. And wouldn’t that be fun?

Adam Theis’s Brass, Bows and Beats

19 Apr
Adam Theis's Brass Bows and Beats

...and all of them complete MF'ers.

I hope you like hyperbole.  Wait, who am I kidding?  If you’ve been reading anything that I’ve been writing over the past week, chances are that you come here expecting it!  And it’s a good thing, because last night, as I walked out of Adam Theis’s “Brass, Bows and Beats: A Hip-Hop Symphony,” I was so gobsmacked, so utterly blown away, that the only thing I was sure of was that it had one of the most incredible performances I’d ever seen.

You can read all about it here, or here, or here – I don’t have much to add, in terms of the background info. I admire the hell out of Adam; when I first moved to SF, I spent a little while feeling frustrated at the jazz scene, going to jam sessions that were mostly kind of lame cattle-calls, and generally feeling uninspired.  Seeing the Shotgun Wedding Quintet at Bruno’s changed all that – I couldn’t believe what they were pulling off live, the loops, the level of playing, fellow UM jazz alum Joe Cohen… the whole thing.  It was an eye-opener, and from then on, everywhere I looked, Jazz Mafia guys were doing something awesome.  Every time I subbed in the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra at Pearl’s, at least one of those guys was in the horn section, tearing it up.  When I went down to Redwood City to see Thomas Dolby, there were Adam, Joe, and Rich Armstrong, playing on “She Blinded Me With Science.”  What’s more, several students at Urban study with Adam privately, and he does great work with each of them.

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I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

17 Apr

Shows, shows, shows! For the next few weeks, I am going to an intense number of shows. This week, I’m in the middle of a four show run, with Franz Ferdinand on wednesday, Boner Jam at the Rock-It Room last night, Or, The Whale at the Fillmore tonight, and Adam Theis’s much-hyped and very awesome looking Brass, Bows and Beats tomorrow at the Palace of Fine Arts.  Here are some thoughts:

Franz Ferdinand at The Fox Theater

franz

YES

Dude.  Duuuuuude.  Okay, so I love Franz Ferdinand – I’ll go so far as to say that their self-titled debut record is one of the top ten albums of the 00′s.  My sister and I went and saw them way back in 2004 (I think), when they played in SF, and were, frankly, a little underwhelmed.  Alex Kapranos’s voice sounded tired, or maybe he just wasn’t quite where he needed to be vocally, and the more epic numbers like “Come on Home” and “40′” lacked the vocal rockingness that makes them so dramatic on the record.  What’s more, the band’s catalog just didn’t quite support a 45-minute set… they basically just played their whole album, which is cool and everything, but felt predictable.

Anyway, whatever.  Five years later, the band KILLS.  They put on the best live rock show I’ve seen in a long, long time – Alex’s vocals sounded utterly great (maybe it was his screamingly awesome red sneakers?), the band’s energy  was hectic, winkingly self-aware, and rocking, and the whole show has just really evolved.  It certainly helps that at this point they’ve not got three album’s worth of material to draw from.  In fact, while I don’t really like their second album (You Could Have It So Much Better) as much as the near-perfect debut, or their recent awesome return to form (Tonight: Franz Ferdinand), each of the songs that they performed made me realize that really, it’s a pretty solid record, full of fun tunes.  And man, the euro-trance freakout at the end of “Lucid Dreams” was everything I wanted to hear and more.

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