|it's impossible to top the champs!
this year i attended far fewer big ticket shows. maybe it was because of the diet our overall economy was/is on, or perhaps, due to the conundrum created by me becoming more reclusive. regardless, i was fortunate to catch some great live music, peppered more so with local flare. these local shows are sometimes lesser known, yet still fun and affordable. plus the north bay and west sonoma county are blessed with a wealth of local artists and intimate venues. there were a few less trips taken into the metropolitan bay area this year in terms of catching a concert amidst the big lights of the cityscapes.
... this year's selections will feature two bands heavily, due to my different addictions to each of them. this list also showcases the one venue that's been stealing our hearts and concert calendars since its re-opening back in february of 2009. this might be the first time i can remember in which a san francisco show has not graced my best of list in quite awhile, long before eightychoices. don't worry, i love you SF. envelope please...
Wilco 01.31 at the fox theatre in oakland
as often times is the case with any american artist, it's a heavily baited hook, waiting to be consumed by fans when that artist makes an early stop in your city with new material. wilco showed up in oakland with an open mind and an open ended set list. the band was overtaken by the magical fox theatre (it was their first time here). frontman jeff tweedy commented, "we're going to play our beautiful tracks." this key stone feeling cemented itself with meaning throughout night.
you could feel the gravity of their pace being pitted against the whaling emotion. each song unfolded as it's own identifiable short story. skillfully crafted words, full of insight, became woven to and sometimes suffocated by, the genius of their intricate textures. the band was willing to exact fits of rage along the way, creating a cocoon around the singing. sometimes they teetered near the edge of too much, yet just right, in an avant-garde, noise-art sort of way. even amidst their most recognizable selections, the ones that wilco fans cling to and hope for, the band is able to conjure intrigue. it's their own intellectual way of making sure those same fans are truly listening. i felt privileged to fall victim to their trickery.
some of my personal favorites of the evening or those that absolutely blistered people were, I Might, Muzzles of Bees and Via Chicago. a group of songs later made way for a berkeley roar as they pleasingly played, California Stars. shortly thereafter they rocked the trio, Whole Love, Pot Kettle Black and Hate It Here. the encore never stood still with classics like, Passenger Side, Kingpin, Outta Mind and Casino Queen.
for the setlist click here
|The Beautiful Fox Theatre Marquee
sound tribe sector 9 came back to the bay area for an all out throw down. my anticipation for this show was peaking to say the least. the fact that agent M and a slough of my best friends were in the house made it even more special. i had also been talking a big game about how they were going to drop a shakedown street on us. despite some transportation woes, the second faction of our crew, myself included, made it to the fox. we were channelling the whole, they can't cover shakedown until we get there vibe. sector 9 had been playing that cover selectively throughout the year and it seemed only appropriate to bust it out in oak town.
missing the first couple of tracks i was a bit bummed. i wanted to see the visual display during the initiation phase of the great spectacle. it didn't bother me one iota when i heard the opening bass lines being teased to a really cool version of Shakedown Street. this nostalgic track began the next 25+ minute shred-a-thon. shakedown clocked in at just over 5 minutes, manufacturing the gripes of others who were pining for a longer version. not me, i was thankful to hear such an iconic, counter-culture song being reworked within a very modern context. holy F batman. the EHM that followed tilted er'body with its club banging, new school approach. a form that this track has taken on regularly in recent tours. next up was a filthy-ass, Dracula-like Aimlessly. if you weren't dancing during this track something was wrong with you. Murph had that bass effect going early on when it sounds like the bass line is being elongated in such a way that it makes me visualize the slow ripping of paper. during which they took us on a transformative sonic journey. to complete the exploration they brought us back to the hollow/echoing pulse that began the crescendoing assault. i still can't get enough of it. there was a narration break after this frenzied wave of dance tracks. keep in mind that this was all happening to us during the first set of night one. yum! the fact that this party was in oakland on 4/20 gave the experience even more of a reason to catch fire.
the hyper computer pop of March ignited the second set. without a break in the action we were quickly bound by the rhythmic glitch of Tooth. next up was the abrupt pounding of, the Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature. this track dips and dives in many directions. blending genres in a post pop musical world that is only STS9. once again the fox theatre had turned into a dance party. no one seemed concerned with the superficial, we were all moved to just keep on moving! the encore gave us a chance to recover during a reggae twinged King Pharaoh's Tomb and ended with a Scheme reprise. tomorrow was upon us as we reconvened in SF for a post show gathering.
question: "okay, now what the F*#% do you want?"
reply: "first i would go to the moon..."
bringing back a different portion of our crew for night two didn't lessen the inner hyper-hypo in me. we had positioned our selves to go lunar. prepping our inebriation beforehand at cafe van kleef was also nice. the first set kept a steady pace, with a groove that was deep but not maddening. this allowed us to have a little left in the tank for the melt down that would occur later. one of my favorites, Arigato, produced a mid set body mover. there was also a very skillfully executed Piano Peace, performed by Phipps. he seemed to be channelling his inner ability to score music during the final two minutes of this intimate portrayal. the stark sound of the keys reminded me of the original score to the film Heat, especially beginning at the 3:55 mark. this type of music may not resonate with the broader fan base, yet it exemplifies the diversity of what influences them both as a band and individually as musicians.
the second set opened with Be Nice and never really let up. the ebb and flow of its beat made for an initial blast that was poignantly followed by the crowd pleasing Instantly. this reignited the dance party to move even faster. Rent hammered the listening audience. its off beat percussions swirled into a neat mess around the maze of keys, strings and electronic sounds. it continued to collect and accumulate until it became a buzzing storm. the crowd had gone off and a nastier storm front was moving in. a melodically warm Equinox, rich with layers of vibes and bass, segued to an interlude. soon after there would be a reckoning, comprised of three songs that would take shredding to a new, low-down-dirtier, maybe even darker place. What is Love? kick started the mob with a humming organ and drums that could punch through your chest. this continued until it ended abruptly, like a last gasp, causing everyone to want more. the controlled beep and glitch of The Rabble incubated a squall of energy. its pulse was tactfully embedded among the emotionally soft strokes of the piano, guitar rills and the gyro-clapping. this could only be contained for so long. nearly six minutes in, a beat beast was unleashed upon the spastic crowd. STS9 erupted once more (at the 9:15 mark) when they resuscitated the rabble's crescendo, as if challenging the audience to keep up. Inspire Strikes Back was the proverbial sprint to the finish line of what felt like a dance marathon. there was the last sprinkle of narration, celestial zoom and deactivation, sandwiching a Scheme encore. it didn't truly matter, the real damage had been done with the debauchery we had successfully navigated.
What is love?, the Rabble and Inspire Strikes Back coupled with the Shakedown Street, EHM and Aimlessly from the night before, pretty much sums up the greater sense of motion and penned up energy that 2012 had been harboring. by not using words to deliver a message, sound tribe was able to not only describe, but also be the description of, what "now" sounds like. someone later told us that they saw our group and had never seen so and so dancing harder (known to many as shredding). sometimes letting your guard down, in order to let it all out, is what's necessary for recognizing a moment. thanks to all my friends who made this show and to everyone for throwing down.
for sets on both nights click here
Wilco 09.22 at the greek theatre at u.c. berkeley
wilco has an innate ability in honoring each song for its songwriting, while at the same time allowing an exploratory platform for each member of the band to show their unique skill/personality. this process seems to be coherently blurred by showing their ever changing direction at just the right time. the outdoor setting of the greek added to the magic, as it always does. the mega set they created established their album the whole love, while still leaving space to indulge us with their storied gems from other records. keep in mind that this was the second night of a two day showcase.
blasting through a rocking and inflated 19 song set, i remember the melodically undone and incredibly thought provoking Misunderstood. tweedy's voice was able to capture listeners amid the many layers of sound the band whipped up. Jesus, etc. exemplified the melding process of lyrics to music by recognizing the inner relationship between words and measure. hearing the line, "you were right about the stars, each one is a setting sun," helped me to imagine the vision of something revelatory, yet commonly shared by all and perhaps left unnoticed. jesus made way for a quartet of rousing tunes. the Whole Love paved its way into an anthem-like pulse. as far as frontmen go, i love when tweedy is willing to jaw with and sometimes at the audience. he segued into I Must Be High, commenting, "the wind must be blowing out. i don't smell nearly as much mary-ja-wanna. that's good for me. i'm still high from last night." high or not, this track is a classic tale of letting go, which the band most certainly did. next up was the cascading piano roll of Walken. nels cline and his guitar work took center stage. his hollow, sliding riffs seemed almost machine like, suggesting that humans shouldn't be able to do this, only imagine it. then came the crashing gust of I'm the Man Who Loves You. i was both elated and engaged by this song's message. it makes me think of my life, which is attached to the partnership of my better half. it signals a journey that is shared.
the love vibe loitered until it went all rock and roll with a smashing rendition of a Shot in the Arm. to say the audience became energized would be an understatement. this is what rock music is supposed to sound like. days later, while commuting on her bike, my wife stated, "shot in the arm is still in my head." wilco's portrayal of art has an ability to cling. On and On and On is a testament to love and its battles, it was the perfect set closer.
Via Chicago exploded like a missile of potency to ignite the encore. if ever a song capable of stealing air, this would be it. how this song suffocates you with its poeticism, before mutating into a beautiful contradiction of experimental noise-rock, is unique to only wilco. the untouchable vocals somehow upend the tonal vibration, if you listen closely. this was some serious heat. due perhaps to the election being right around the corner, woody guthrie's, Christ for President was thrust upon us. it's a comedic satire that makes lasting sense. coming straight at us was the abrasive hurricane Kicking Television. for many reasons, too deep to blather about, this song kicks your ass and still leaves you loving it. they finished the eight song encore with a saloon style Dreamer In My Dreams. to close it down i'll leave you with this nugget of praise...
|Tweedy at the Greek
"i said it last night, i'll say it again tonight, best rock audience in the world, right here. you guys invented it, you invented rock concerts and we appreciate that. we thank you for that, it's like deep cuts, no problem, we're with ya buddy. you make bands feel good and a lot of bands don't deserve to feel good. that's their problem, not yours." -jeff tweedy
for the setlist click here
J. D. McPherson 12.11 at the mystic theatre in petaluma
JD McPherson and his lively band mates were in Sonoma county giving their best for an even better cause, the redwood empire food bank food drive. though their music is steeped in yesteryear, they have a freshness that feels good, almost raw. signs and signifiers is the album that has thrust these oklahoma natives onto the larger scene. i was so stoked when my wife scored these tickets, for free! they ran through a good number of the songs off of signs, but also gave us a christmas original, Twinkle (little christmas lights). thankfully his musical path shared space with influences such as, buddy holly, chuck berry and little richard. it's these fore fathers of music who gave JD the the blueprint to his swinging sound. rooted in jazz, the delta blues, soul, western swing and the influence of black culture on rock and roll, you begin to realize why they have such a vintage sound. these guys are making real rock and roll, so if you aren't hip to them yet, you best get familiar. they are restoring my faith in what rock'n music can sound like. there's no doubt that they left it all on the stage. they played North Side Gal (video below), Country Boy, Fire Bug, one of the upbeat numbers, Signs & Signifiers, which was tweaked to a darker side, Wolf Teeth, I Can't Complain, I'm Just a Fool to Care, You Don't Love Me and Stuttering Cindy. the night was a complete success. how could it not be? i had me a hot date, it was for a great cause and the band was jump'n. time and time again they summoned more grit, fire and energy, pounding out each perspiring song to the delight of the mystic crowd. Sonoma county scored on this night before christmas. thanks to the sponsors of the event and McNears for hosting it. everyone had fallen victim to some good old fashioned fun. i wouldn't have wanted it any other way. cheers!
Jane and Jim at uncle B's 09.15 - austin
two of my great friends, who happen to be my cousins, were doing a little last minute rehearsal in front of the family. with a cold beer in hand i gladly sat quietly at the table. Jane at the piano and Jim on his uncle's guitar. they churned out a more-than-honest rendition of Be Here Now. later that day they would perform the same song for our dear friend's outdoor wedding. set amongst the pastoral and colorful backdrop of rural minnesota, it was hands down a show stopping event. this was an added gem within a week filled with candid moments.
Cherub and Battlehooch at the bottom of the hill 12.28 - san francisco
i was pleasantly surprised by the second band. it didn't matter that i hadn't heard of them. they slightly stole the show with a more organic process of melding multiple live instruments into the voices of a front man and their guitarist. there were some diamonds in the rough that will assist battlehooch in finding a bit more coherent theme among the many styles. regardless they seemed to be having a blast while keeping our heads bobbing.
cherub would best be described as a cocktail with one part Andre 3000, an equal measure of MGMT, add a dash of ghostland observatory, then shake vigorously over the rocks and roll of nashville. they were who spurred us to be here in the first place. while the youthful falsetto that is jordan kelley proved his worth, his counter part, jason huber, left a lot to be desired. even if huber is producing these beats back in a tennessee studio, he's lost in translation by his inability to produce it live (a la Pretty Lights or Adam Deitch). it seemed obvious during this performance that cherub revolves solely around the sexual crooning and energy emitted by the charismatic vocalist. jordan's over-the-top lyricism and high range vocals bled perfectly into a self-induced injury that no one was avoiding. the club hit, doses and mimosas closed out their virgin voyage to san francisco. at least i'll be able to say i was there when... because one day, these two will surely climb in status. as for now, i'll keep rep'ing their more than capable abilities to pump out a great production record (mom & dad is radical, download it here). as they continue to experiment with their own equation of hyphy-electronic pop R&B, i will remain eager to hear what they do next.
here's to peace, love and goodwill in 2013, the year of the snake. happy new year!