The New Pornographers Headline Noise Pop 2015 at the Fox Theater

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On A Saturday night, Canadian “supergroup,” The New Pornographers, overtook the Fox Theater in Oakland as part of the annual Noise Pop Festival. Perhaps one of the most acclaimed bands of this year’s Noise Pop Lineup, fans of all ages came out the enjoy the show. Kids interweaved throughout the crowd as long time fans relished the nostalgia of the band that formed in 1999.

The seven members took the stage for a cheery and evocative set without one of their key players, Neko Case. They didn’t miss a beat without Case, who has enjoyed success as a solo performer, and have embraced her occasional absences since 2005, bringing in Kathryn Calder to fill the void during live shows. There’s still no denying the star power of Case, who performed with the band at last year’s Treasure Island Music Festival, flashing new tattoos that read “Scorned as Timber” and “Beloved of the Sky” in bold script on each forearm. But with most supergroups, there’s a challenge of keeping the lineup in tact. Most of these types of groups really only collaborate for an album (Them Crooked Vultures), or have players leave permanently for solo engagements (Broken Social Scene).

The core of the New Pornographers, led by main songwriter Carl Newman, was solid and tight. Their sound is unique, mixing elements of 80’s synth pop and nineties indie pop rock. It’s almost like if Robin Scherbatsky from the sitcom How I Met Your Mother became a legitimate pop sensation mentored by Blondie, backed by fellow Canadians Arcade Fire, and occasionally joined by a Bob Dylan doppelganger. Their songs are cheery and jubilant, and Newman and Calder sang beautifully succinct harmonies, at times even pulling off four part harmonies with other members in the band.

The pairing of Calder on keys with multi instrumentalist Blaine Thurier on synthesizers creates dense layers to their music. Thurier also controlled samples that created subtle abstract sounds throughout their songs, played the harmonica and even broke out the volatile Melodica, a small handheld keyboard powered by breathing through a connected tube. Dan Bejar, who’s mainly recognized as the frontman for Destroyer, came out for a handful of songs throughout the set.

Newman was fairly chatty with the nearly sold out crowd, at one point mocking Bejar’s slight resemblance to Bob Dylan, “this next song’s called ‘Blowin in the Wind’ he joked before breaking into “War on the East Coast.” Newman also acknowledged his history with the city, saying “I first came to Oakland in the 90’s, it was a lot different then. I remember thinking ‘this is the day I’m going to die.’ And then I rose like the Phoenix and started this band.” And like a testament to his survival, they played a jam-packed set with fan favorites like “Myriad Harbor” and “All the Old Showstoppers” from 2007’s Challangers, “Bill Bruisers” and “Champions of Red Wine” from their latest album, Bill Bruisers, “Use It” and the “Bleeding Heart Show” from 2005’s Twin Cinema, and even reached all the way back to 2000’s Mass Romantic to play a couple tunes.

Set List

Brill Bruisers

Myriad Harbor

The Slow Descent into Alcoholism

Moves

War on the East Coast

My Shepard

Use It

Broken Breads

The Laws Have Changed

You Tell Me Where

Testament to Youth in Verse

All the Old Showstoppers

Adventures in Solitude

Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk

Stacked Crooked

Backstairs

Champions of Red Wine

Born With A Sound

Mass Romantic

Encore

Ballad of a Comeback Kid

Breakin’ the Law

The Bleeding Heart Show

A Wild Night with OK Go

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Check out my interview with Damian Here!

Sometimes it’s easy to forget about Rock N’ Roll, or what it really means to be Rock N’ Roll. Most people into the genre have probably been influenced by their relatives or idols in some sort of capacity, hearing the stories about seeing Van Morrison so drunk he couldn’t even sing a sensible sentence (which is hard to understand even when he’s sober), or Jimi Hendrix super high on acid playing his guitar with his teeth while he was the still the opening act! By and large, it might be fair to assume most people’s standards have gone up. People don’t care for the circus shows or dysfunctional bands, at least not live. They’d probably rather just hear about it from their uncle, but what happens when they become the uncle? At the time it might seem like a let down, or a waste of money, but those Rock N’ Roll stories need to live on in order for it to survive. And, like the American Express commercial stated- Tickets to a G n’ R concert in the 90’s: $50-$100 bucks, the moment when Axle Rose dives into the crowd to whoop someone’s ass: priceless.

Given this pretense, a band came through San Francisco last night who’s rock roots might have been buried underneath a thick soil that is starting to decease the underbelly of momentous antics in music. The band is OK Go, natives from Chicago who moved to Los Angeles to further their film career. They’re wildly popular for their creative videos and commercials that feature everything from treadmill dancing, dog championing, sophisticated synchronized dancing, musical demolition derbies, giant life sized Rube Goldberg Machines, and lots of paint splattered across their faces. In short, everyone who knows this band has at least two favorite videos they’ve produced. And this, however, is odd. So when OK Go plays live, they might have a bit of a chip on their shoulder.

At a sold out Independent theater, a modest venue in comparison to some they have played in the past, people awaited anxiously while a DJ pranced on stage drinking Jameson from the bottle and playing Nirvana. He even gave swigs to the crowd, which meant he was undoubtedly giving swigs to other band members. He walked off the stage in sunglasses and it was most certainly a glimpse into what was about to happen. OK Go exploded through the stage as giant robots, all running on hamster wheels while playing their instruments on fire and eating burritos while hoola hooping!

No, that didn’t happen, but people probably expected it. The problem with being so ambitious is that people won’t just accept you for who you are. People want you to literally explode their brains. So how does one deal with this type of pressure? You get drunk. Hey, what did the lead singer Damian Kulash and I have in common? We were both probably pretty drunk. But in any case, it gave him the right to do or say whatever he damned well please, and it was actually sort of awesome.

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Most other reviews I would have divulged the hit songs they played that had the crowd roaring, but for the most part the crowd was in a sort of paralysis the entire time, stuck somewhere between awe and disappointment, not knowing whether this was a joke, a silly antic, or if they were going to be part of a video. It had the makings of one. There were two decent sized projection screens behind them, and a giant one in front of them that would appear and disappear spontaneously throughout their set. Their first song you could see their distorted and colored faces twirling about like ghosts from Ghostbusters while the band played along, somehow matching the lyrics and instrumentation. It was cool and creative and different, and that’s what OK Go was really going for; something to separate them for every other stale performance. That’s sort of been their mantra their entire career.

They did play some great songs, the one’s you’d expect- “Get Over It,” “When the Morning Comes,” “The Writing’s on the Wall,” “Here it Goes Again,” “This too Shall Pass,” “Skyscrapers,” and a few new songs. One of the best parts came when Damian took his acoustic guitar out in the middle of the crowd and played “Last Leaf.” Halfway through the song someone shouted “shut up,” and so he turned the other direction and finished the song.

Maybe the crowd was agitated by this point? If not, maybe it was the avalanches of confetti that doused the crowed after every other song? Or the fifteen minutes of trying to sample the crowd making drum sounds for a song that lasted about a minute at most. Or maybe it was their multiple breaks for pointless Q&A, or Damian’s snide back handed compliments about San Francisco having the most “gays and technology, two things that keep pushing the world forward.” It could have also been Tim and Damian’s short reenactment of Macbeth, showing their love for Theater, or Damian divulging information on how much Jameson he drank while swigging a beer. Whatever it was, the crowd should have gotten over it, because this was Rock N’ Roll.

It was four dudes on a stage just having fun. While they could have played a couple more songs, how many times do you get to shout questions at a band that are so revered by their fans? How many stories does one have about a show that was flawless? How often do you actually get to witness people step down from pedestals or have the foresight to see that these people are just regular old chaps that sometimes get too drunk and sometimes have just a little bit too much fun?The experience was unique, almost like a night of just hanging out with some crazy dudes. And for all the real fans of the band, the feeling walking out of that show was most likely the feeling they have after finishing one of their videos: confused, exhilarated, and utterly amazed.

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King Buzzo Reminds GAMH Who’s King

On a Sunday that was mostly overshadowed by Father’s day, King Buzzo, the perennial and animated front man of the everlasting grunge/punk rock band from Washington, The Melvins, played an acoustic show at the Great American Music Hall. After a thirty-one year career in music, Buzz Osborne set out to do something he’s never done before, make an acoustic album.

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In support of his latest effort, This Machine Kills Artists, King Buzzo jokingly admitted “this is a bit strange for me. I don’t have a drummer to hide behind.” His vocals were boisterous and his acoustic guitar was strummed with an assault that reminded the crowd of his hard rocking roots, “As you can tell I’m more of a hard strumming acoustic guitar player.” Osborne definitely didn’t abandon any part of himself, this new sound isn’t a recreation it’s simply just a bare boned version of his musical soul.

The inspiration of his latest album, released on Mike Patton’s Ipecac records, was the guitar he used to write most of his songs for the Melvins and other electric projects. The red, white and blue Buck Owens American acoustic guitar he wrote the songs on stayed at home for his tour, but his live sound doesn’t waver too far from the tracks on the album. Playing to a nearly full audience at the Great American Music Hall, a venue Osborne has played many times in the past, the wild haired enigmatic singer entertained the crowd not only with tunes like “Dark Brown Teeth” and “Instrument of God,” but also lived up to his storytelling reputation.

Like a bit of a godfather fitting for the occasion, Osborne is easily mentioned in the same breath as influential frontmen Jello Biafra or Henry Rollins, and when he speaks people are very attentive. “Time for pointless story time,” Osborne said while tuning his guitar. “I’ll give you two options and you guys can decide. I can either tell you a story about Iggy Pop, or Mike Patton.” The crowd was immediately divided and torn with a tough decision while screaming indecisive rants rang throughout the venue. After about a minute of deliberation, Osborne came to his conclusion, yelling into the microphone- “Iggy Pop it is!”

He continued to tell a story about playing a festival with Fantomas in Europe where Iggy Pop was headlining the main stage. “I figured out that if we had played our set real quickly, loaded up super fast and ran over to the main stage we could have caught Iggy’s set, so that’s exactly what we did.” Osborne, a great story teller and orator, had the crowd’s full attention. When Osborne made it to the other stage he realized the band that played before Iggy was still on the stage. “I looked to my left and Iggy was crouching down, observing the band.”

Osborne insulated that Iggy was not impressed by this band, whom ended up being Weezer. The crowd giggled at such an odd pairing. “So Iggy finally went on stage, and during his second or third song paused and asked the crowd,’ so what did you think of Weezer?’” The crowd cheered and jeered, and Iggy did the complete opposite. Appalled by their reaction and laud for this band that was so different than Iggy Pop’s musical taste and background, he walked to the side of the stage and started cussing his manager, screaming “what kind of fucking festival do you have me playing?” Iggy, in a fit of rage, walked off the stage and never returned, leaving his band dumbfounded. Osborne concluded, “And this is why I have so much respect for Iggy pop.”

There was still a lingering desire for the Mike Patton story as Osborne delved into a couple more songs. A particular man, who sat quietly in the corner of the venue, was especially admiring the show and offered playful banter in between songs. This man just so happened to be Mike Patton himself, a humble fan and admirer of his friend who was ambitious enough to try something different, out of the realm of his usual musical comfort, something that Patton has much experience with. While most the fans probably wanted to hear these songs with a bit of distortion while dancing around in a circle pit, the night was more about respect, whether it was paying it forward to an idol like Iggy Pop, or just being there to hear the songs and stories of King Buzzo.

Tool Sells out the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium…Twice.

ToolTwo shows at the Bill Graham Civic Center might not have been enough, as eccentric hard rockers Tool left the crowd yearning for more.

On the second night in San Francisco, a line wrapped around the civic center at 6:00 p.m., spilling out into the streets. The anticipation had built from the previous night, when they played the first of two sold out shows. Everyone had surely seen a friend on Facebook brag about the show, but with a band like Tool, mystery is unprecedented and highly warranted. They could have played the same set twice with a completely different experience each time. For everyone who has seen Tool didn’t gawk at the enormous line, or the anticipation of an opening band, or paying ten dollars for a beer. They just simply waited for an existential musical performance and experience.

The eager crowd didn’t fully know what to expect. There are rumors that Tool will release a new album in 2014, so some might have assumed a plethora of foreign material. But is Tool the kind of band that would charge $75 to market themselves? They answered that question with their first song, plunging right into “Hooker with a Penis,” a song about ‘selling out.’

Adam Jones’s crisp, distorted guitars rang loud through four rows of Marshal stacks, Danny Carey sat behind a twenty-piece drum set, doing what he does best, reeking havoc on his toms and cymbals with freakish rhythms. Justin Chancellor’s bass boomed loudly while demurred front man, Maynard James Keenan stood abashedly in the back, sporting a black suit, red tie, dark sunglasses and a Mohawk. “Fuck you, buddy!” Maynard screamed as the chest pounding double bass drum sent the crowd into frenzy.

Tool played for two hours with an intermission between sets. The visuals and lightshows are a signature part of their set, lending unique visual perspectives to their introspective music. One person asked, “are you on acid?” while the other answered, “no, I don’t need to be.” Tool challenges their audience to not only hear the music, but to feel the music, to see it, and to think about it. They are a band that you can mosh, or dance, or simply sit in a chair and witness the spectacle. One of the reasons they have separated themselves from ordinary rock/metal bands is because they aren’t afraid to explore vulnerable and often taboo subjects. When the lights are flashing like UFO’s and fire projects vehemently on the large screens behind the band, it creates a soothing chaos and illuminates a contrast of beauty and evil, or heaven and hell.

The set included a balanced mixture of music from Undertow, Aenima, Lateralus, and 10,000 Days. Notable songs were “Prison Sex,” “Sober,” “Eulogy,” “Forty Six & 2,” “Aenima,” “The Grudge,” “The Patient,” “Schism,” “Vicarious,” “Jambi,” “The Pot,” and the final song “Stinkfist.” Most songs were played with new extended intros, and Danny Carey had a ten-minute drum solo to start off the second set. This tour seemed like a gift to their fans as Maynard assured, “we’ll be back,” most likely in support of their new album. But it was nice of them to deliver a tour full of their greatest hits first.

Live Review: Soufly at the DNA Lounge

Max Cavalera brought a reformed and rejuvenated Soulfly to the DNA Lounge last Tuesday night in support of their new album, Savages.

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An aged Cavalera screamed into the microphone with his distinct growl that made Soulfly and Sepultura so beloved. “What the fuck is up San Francisco? I wanna see a circle pit.” The band ripped into “Bloodshed,” the title track from their newest album. The crowd followed his command, scaling the floor and screaming along to every word. Soulfly emblems were ubiquitous- on shirts of older fans, younger fans, and even tattooed on people’s bodies.

Cavalera was perhaps as influential and popular in the late eighties and early nineties as fellow rockers Metallica and Slayer. His resume is impressive, selling over twenty million records across the world, gaining multiple gold and platinum records, becoming an almost permanent fixture on the Ozzfest festival, and playing the memorable Dynamo Open Air Festival in Eindhoven, Netherlands, to thousands of fans for his infamous first and last performance with Nailbomb. And yet, the forty four year old Brazilian rocker still finds time to tour extensively, a testament to his hard work and honest music.

He’s also always had a knack for finding talent, and his band Tuesday night was no exception. Mark Rizzo played a flawless guitar, emphatically jumping during key moments without missing a strum. Bass player, Tony Campos, who had stints with Static-X and Ministry, brought a high level of enthusiasm and respect for his job, often joking with Max. Campos even took a shot of tequila after Max accredited him for being from “Mexico, Los Angeles.” But perhaps one of the most talented members on the stage sat humbly behind a drum set, admonishing any thoughts of the rift between Max and Sepultura drummer, brother and co founder, Igor. It was Max’s twenty-year-old son, Zyon.

For the loyal fans who stuck around through all the years of Max’s transformation into spirituality, this was an enlightening show. Max still keeps it real, playing hard for about a hundred fans who came to rock out and pay their respects to who some might perceive as a rock God who never quite got the credit he deserved. Cavalera’s time as a musician is probably limited, as age and experience has clearly caught up to him- one could say he’s a shell of his former self- but any musician would be grateful to still be playing their songs at his age. While he might rely more on his backing band, and his gut might be a little larger, his signature dreadlocks still hang long, his voice is still powerful, and his words are still wise.

Soulfly played a number of great songs from a tenured catalog of music, including tracks “Eye for an Eye,” “No Hope=No Fear,” and “No” from their self titled album, “Back to the Primitive,” and “Jump the Fuck Up,” from the Primitive album, “Living Sacrifice,” from the 2004 album Prophecy, and “Cannibal Hollocaust,” and “Master of Savagery,” from their new album, Savages. The most intense songs of the night came when they played Sepultura songs “Chaos AD,” “Territory,” and “Roots, Bloody, Roots,” proving the Max Cavelera’s legacy is timeless and formidable.

Review: Devendra Banhart at the Regency Ballroom, May 21st

Venezuelan singer, Devendra Banhart, brought his unique style of freaky folk and lo-fi psychedelic pop to the Regency Ballroom last Tuesday night in support of his new album, Mala.

Banhart occupied the stage alone, just him and his Fender guitar. The brightness of his pink sweater was barely illuminated as lights dimly lit the stage. His body contorted to the rhythms of song as his haunting voice rang with distinct vibrato. There was something different about him as he stood in front of hundreds of fans. You could see his face, and his long suave hair wasn’t wrapped around his neck and shoulders. He was clean cut, barring the bone structure of his cheeks with modest stubble, and his short, shaggy hair was a remnant of his former locks. But the crowd didn’t seem to care as his shrouded, whispering voice still captivated their ears with grinning mystique.

Banhart serenated the crowd into frenzy with the playful song, “Little Yellow Spider,” from his album Niño Rojo, and followed with, “A Sight to Behold,” widely known from the popular TV show Sons of Anarchy. Banhart  paused to acknowledge his former city with sentiment in his voice, “In many senses, it’s good to be home.” People roared as he played “Golden Girls,” the first track from his new album, Mala. The band slowly took the stage behind him, accompanying him for the rest of the night.

Problems with the lighting became apparent when the band played “Baby,” their hit song from 2009’s What Will We Be. Banhart was motioning for a spotlight that never came, but his disappointment didn’t hinder their performance. He may not have been seen, but his 1920’s Spanish inspired tunes didn’t keep the crowd from swaying their hips like a high school dance. For all anyone knew, it was Elvis in the form of Banhart on stage.

Halfway through the show Banhart asked if anyone could see them. The crowd responded with heaps of “No.” The lights finally came on just in time for Banhart’s most rocking song, “Seahorse,” from Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. People could finally see his animated gestures and obscure facial expressions, liberating a sense of pure fun and passion through new songs “Fur Hildegard von Bingen,” “Never Seen Such Good Things” and “Your Fine Petting Duck.”

When the band left the stage, a chanting for an encore quickly erupted. People stomped and pleaded, and finally the band re-appeared. They played one more song, the bluesy ballad “Little Boys.” The crowd sang along to the chorus, “Even when the seas all freeze, and everything is lying underneath. And even when the sun ceases to shine, I won’t care. I’ll still have all my mind.” And nothing could have bothered this crowd, as one by one they exited the ballroom with elated smiles on their faces.

 

 

 

 

The Portland Cello Project @ Yoshi’s, San Francisco- April 3rd

Why so serious? This was the question that repeated through my head as I gazed the crowd of Yoshi’s for the Portland Cello Profject on a wednesday night in the Fillmore district of San Francisco.

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I should have suspected the rounded out crowd of high-brow spectators, sitting with their legs crossed and their glasses tilted forward, sternly resting on the tips of their noses. Glasses of wine filled the trays of cocktail waitresses that tippy toed throughout the venue as if they were stepping on glass. Since when did jazz, or any music for that matter, become so serious? If these patrons really knew the style of the Portland based cello supergroup, they’d be cackling away about the old days of Ginsberg, mixed in with a youthful perspective of Jay-Z becoming a sports agent. Conversations would pause only the clank of pint glasses filled with beers. I looked around, and though no one else was apparently that bold, I was as I indulged my IPA.

The band’s ensemble was set up with five cello players, a piano player, a drummer, a bass player, and Portland singer Laura Gibson on vocals. They started with a song from Beck’s “Song Reader,” a twenty song album of sheet music Beck released in 2012. PCP was one of the first bands to record the entire album, so most people familiar to the band are familiar with their renditions. Laura Gibson emulated early jazz styles, singing sexy swaying vocals with the waves of the music. She was a great accompaniment to a very talented group of musicians. It was good for them to initially showcase their traditional skills than plunge into the more contemporary tunes some of their fans know them for, especially for this particular crowd. After the first song, lead composer and founder, Doug Jenkins, approached the microphone. “This next song is very serious,” he stated. “It’s about two men from Italy who came over the States to save an ever elusive princess.” As he sat back down the crowd anticipated a dramatic composition. What followed was the theme song to Mario Brothers, a video game every body alive in the late 80’s and early 90’s knew by heart.

The night’s theme was Beck, Brubeck, and Bach. PCP did a great job intermingling tunes and diversifying their set. Jenkins, a playful character that often joked with the audience, said himself, “if you don’t like what we’re playing now, just wait five minutes and we’ll be playing something totally different.” Jenkins, at first a bit timid, came out of his shell as the night progressed. It was evident that he loved his band, and he loved what he was doing.

Highlights of the show were their take on Brubeck’s song “Take Five,” a song that resonated with the more conservative crowd. They also played a couple Bach ballads that were well perceived. The band didn’t alter the set to their audience, sometimes creating awkward tension. Jenkins joked about his rendition of “Niggas in Paris,” by Jay-Z and Kanye West, explaining that the song was about Ninja’s from Asia that flew to Paris for a vacation, re-titling it “Ninja’s in Paris.” The joke drew few laughs, but mainly because the audience was naive to the song and the artists. And while the crowd may not have understood the origins of some of the songs, they were still very receptive and loudly applauded after ever composition.

Laura Gibson was stunning on the songs she sang, entering and exiting through the set.  Beck’s “The Wolf is on the Hill,” “Eyes that Say I love You,” and “Rough on Rats” were all highlights. It was interesting to see the interaction between Jenkins and Gibson, who obviously had much respect for one another. The excitement of both of them being on stage together was apparent, and it was great to see the contrast of a full band versus just the cello players. For their encore performance, the five cellists walked on stage and played Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” This was a magnificent version and a testament to just how professional these musicians are. They might joke around through their set, and lighten up the traditionally conservative symphonic performances, but they are still very much serious about what they do.

Check out my interview with Doug Jenkins here!

http://pulse.sfstation.com/2013/03/29/qa-doug-jenkins-of-the-portland-cello-project/