Friday, February 1, 2013

Musician Deaths in 2012

As we plunge headfirst into 2013 and everything that comes with it, it seems necessary to take a moment and acknowledge the unusually high number of musical legends who left this word last year. The amount of talent that passed on in 2012 was indeed far above the tally for any given year. The worst of the bad news came during a particularly bad streak in April in May, punctuated, among others, by the deaths of The Band's Levon Helm and the Beastie Boys' own Adam Yauch, both from throat cancer.

Here now is a list of legends who were with us the beginning of last year, and now are not. Click each name to see a reason why the world is now a better place because of their life and legacy.

All I can say is, Thank God For YouTube!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Treasure Island Music Festival 2012 Review

Well, this one's a little late, but hopefully you'll still enjoy reading it. Treasure Island Festival this past fall continued a Bay Area tradition of a weekend that aways features a relaxed vibe, ultimate manageability, and a great lineup of diverse acts.

As usual, the days were split into dance/electronica-based acts on Saturday, and more rock-based acts on Sunday. This lead to a great flow all weekend -- and the cooperative weather was a massive bonus this year, making for some of the best sunsets this side of Route 1.

Here's my review over at Jambase:

On Saturday, Toro Y Moi impressed us the most with his afternoon set of funky, experimental bedroom disco. Here he is playing "Low Shoulder" with the sun at his back, and all of us getting down good. Check the crowd pan at 1:53:

The biggest surprise of Sunday had to be the skankin' grooves of Wild Belle, who came out of nowhere and delivered the perfect sunny day set that had enough of an indie vibe to get the hipsters to dance to reggae. Sunday afternoon dance party!

The hushed intensity of The XX's atmospheric songs drove the crowd bananas on Sunday night to close the festival -- the band's voices are nearly erotic in their yearning. Here's a little chunk of their powerful set:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Outside Lands 2012 Review

Outside Lands :: 08.10.12 – 08.12.12 :: Golden Gate Park :: San Francisco, CA

Now in its fifth year, Outside Lands makes for a truly unique festival experience in an age where mega-sized music events of all types clutter the landscape. Tucked away in the depths of the blustery, eucalyptus-filled fields of Golden Gate Park, Outside Lands carries with it a distinctly Bay Area vibe that sets it apart in both its lineup and its hassle-free, forward-thinking setup. The festival adds something new every year, and this year an entirely new zone of premium food vendors (spit-roasted lamb!) and a mini-stage were tucked away in the tree-lined hills, bringing the gourmet to everyone that bothered to make the hike up there.

But enough about the food. This year's lineup again leaned heavily on bands with Bay Area roots, which worked for the most part (having Neil Young headline over the Foo Fighters may have been a mistake, though). For the most part, the days flowed smoothly, but the utter size of the grounds and the massive amount of people present (this was the festival's first sell-out) brought on exhaustion earlier than expected. By Sunday, we learned to pace ourselves, and opted to completely forgo the Twin Peaks stage, which was probably a half mile away from the main Lands End stage. Regardless of all the short, overlapping sets, the day flew by, and plenty of fantastic music was enjoyed by all. The only real bummer was the weather, which was freezing and foggy all weekend for the first time ever (the sun came out at least a little bit in previous years). No matter, the throngs still got down hard. Armed with a good pair of hiking boots, a concert schedule, and many layers of clothing, we set out to conquer Outside Lands, and I think we succeeded.

Friday Highlights
  1. Andrew Bird :: 6:55-8:05 :: Sutro Stage
Performing opposite to the Foo Fighters over at the main stage, Andrew Bird's set at the intimate Sutro stage was the feel-good set of the day. His light-hearted, swinging orchestral sound was just what the doctor ordered, and made the relatively small stage and field even more intimate. Bird is a true virtuoso – his tunefulness on songs like “Fake Conversations” is exquisite and pure. Taking sweet, soaring violin solos, he can switch between classical and fiddle-hill music on a dime. The man is also a master whistler, executing bird calls during songs to a perfect effect. His music has the soulful, uplifting charm of early Van Morrison at his best, and we came away from it with a warm glow that carried into the night.
  1. Reggie Watts :: 2:35-3:25 :: Sutro Stage
I had heard about this guy before, but seeing him first hand made me a full-on convert. Watts' stand-up/acapella set blew everyone away with its boundless, free-thought creativity and hilarious riffs on whatever was at the top of his mind. First and foremost, the guy is a supremely talented musician – he has a voice like Bobby McFerrin, and employs a looper to craft full songs out of thin air. The man is a master at riffing on anything – he can follow any tangent (musical and/or comedic) that pops into his head further than you would ever imagine, to a side-splitting effect. Basically, you have to experience his inspired, truly in-the-moment show to really get a sense of what the guy is all about, as he can pretty much do whatever he wants musically – and has a killer wit to match.
  1. Beck :: 4:30-5:40 :: Lands End Stage
Beck's loose, bluesy band delivered all the hits you would expect, plus some surprises. Keeping true to his grunge roots, Beck filled the massive field with deadpan grooves like “Hotwax” and “Devil's Haircut,” though much of the set had a melancholy vibe, thanks to a bunch of songs from Sea Change (one of which was dedicated to Adam Yauch), and a cover of Neil Young's “After the Gold Rush.” The one-two closer of “Where It's At” and “E-Pro” ended things on a high note, though.

Honorable Mention: Neil Young & Crazy Horse :: 8:10-9:55 :: Lands End Stage

Right from the first song's 17-minute feedback jam, it was clear that Neil Young didn't give a flying fuck about what all the kiddies expected from his set. Those who stuck with it were ultimately rewarded, but the band of grumpy old men practically cleared the field of all but the die-hards with nearly 20 minutes of aimless, crushing feedback out of “Walk Like A Giant.” The entire festival was polarized by Neil's dinosaur rock show, for better or for worse.

Saturday Highlights
  1. Alabama Shakes :: 3:50-4:40 :: Sutro Stage
This was probably the most crowded the hills of the Sutro Stage got all weekend. Luckily, we got there early, and had a prime spot to witness Brittany Howard lead her band through a raunchy, spectacularly soulful set that built from a quiet hush to a rowdy, soaring peak. Howard has got pipes like Etta James, and can whip a crowd into a gospel rave-up frenzy with both her voice and her exceptional guitar playing on fantastic tunes like “Heartbreaker” and “Be Mine.” She got plenty of sympathetic accompaniment from the band, who closed the set with a Chuck Berry-like rocker. By the end, we were amazed to see that the massive crowd extended to the very back of the field.
  1. Metallica :: 7:55-9:55 :: Lands End Stage
These guys sure know how to put on a spectacle. Complete with a two-tiered stage, massive LED screens, and enough pyro and fireworks to singe your eyebrows from 50 feet away, Metallica brought a barrage of a hometown show that satisfied even the most critical diehards. Their balls-out stadium metal was as precise as it gets, with old chestnuts like “Master of Puppets,” “Ride the Lightning” and the instrumental “Orion”(!!) getting a good shredding – this was pure gold to the real fans, and an eye-opening, overwhelming experience for the newbies. Songs like “To Hell and Back” were a relentless, polyrhythmic attack on the senses, and when the fireballs lit up the absolutely packed field, it was surreal.
  1. Norah Jones :: 6:40-7:50 :: Sutro Stage
Norah Jones' mellow set amongst the hills and trees of Sutro stage boogied a lot harder than probably anyone expected. Complimented by tasteful, sympathetic accompaniment by guitarist Jason Roberts and band, her pure voice took us though gorgeous songs like “Come Away with Me” and “She's 22.” The surprise of the set came near the end though, when Bob Weir came out of nowhere to help play the Dead's “It Must Have Been The Roses,” with Norah singing lead.

Sunday Highlights
  1. Stevie Wonder :: 7:20-9:30 :: Lands End Stage
There couldn't have been a better closer for a festival than Stevie Wonder. Because it's impossible not to love Stevie, it's easy to forgive him when he starts preaching about God and Obama, but all his preaching aside, Stevie delivered a loose, joyful set of his happiest songs which was started when he walked on stage playing keytar to “How Sweet It Is.” Stevie is always in a chatty mood, and makes his spirituality well-known, which adds an extra loving vibe to his performance. He also has no problem playing as many covers as he pleases, and goes with whatever comes to the top of his head, expecting his poor band to follow his whims as he went out on a limb. This carefree, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude worked in this setting, as hit after hit piled up. Highlights included “Master Blaster (Jammin'),” a cover of MJ's “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and “As,” which was peaked out in a huge dance party groove. A truly joyful experience.
  1. Franz Ferdinand :: 2:40-3:35 :: Lands End Stage
These guys were the surprise of the day for me – their rockin' percussive funk-punk sound got the afternoon going right. Pulsing dance-rock songs like “Burn This City” satisfied with their grungy guitars and new-wavy club bass lines. An unexpected cover of Donna Summer's electro-disco “I Feel Love” worked very well, and Alex Kapranos and company really made it their own when they mashed it with their similar-sounding original “Can't Stop Feeling.” The sheer size and difficult maneuverability of the crowds at the huge Lands End stage made it difficult to really get into the moment, but the band ultimately filled the space well and got people dancing.
  1. Jack White :: 5:25-6:35 :: Lands Ends Stage
After a secret acoustic show up in the woods that I regret missing, Jack White delivered a ginormous Lands End stage set with plenty of grease to spare. His dirty guitar tone is unmistakable, and his solos ripped every time – songs like “Dirty Leaves” packed quite a wallop. His band was a rowdy version of 60's Stax-era R&B backing bands, and included a violin and pedal steel taboot, which made the set sound very Rolling-Thunder-esque in its soaring, majestic power. The electric mayhem continued with “Hotel Yorba” and “Like A Buffalo,” in which Jack cranked a dirty guitar solo that lit up the field. All in all, it was a raunchy set of satisfying rock n' roll.

 Check out Reggie Watts' mind-blowing set - the entire audience was simultaneously in awe of his musical abilities and in stitches from his hilarious ad-libs:

The Alabama Shakes delivered a soul-revue show-stopper on Saturday, which included this awesome take on "Be Mine:"

Closing the festival, Stevie delivered a cover-heavy, joyful set, which included this delightful Michael Jackson cover:


Friday, July 20, 2012

High Sierra Music Festival Review -

Once again, the magic of High Sierra Music Festival made my 4th of July weekend one for the record books.  The veterans that frequent this gem of a gathering know the right way to party, for four straight days and nights in a row. Yes, our days were filled with music and dancing, and our nights were filled with, well, music and dancing. This festival knows how to keep things going 'till the break of dawn and then some, and then you sleep for a few hours and do it all over again. This year's HSMF was one for the books, drawing its biggest crowd yet in its 22nd year. I was lucky enough to cover the entire weekend for Jambase alongside my friend and editor, Dennis Cook, who was on his final assignment ever for Jambase.  

Here is our collaborative take on the weekend, along with a slew of fantastic photos which capture HSMF in all its glory:

High Sierra Music Festival :: 07.05-08.12 :: Plumas Country Fairgrounds :: Quincy, CA

It wouldn't have been a summer festival without some good reggae, and Toots delivered the skank-worthy grooves to us with gusto:

It also wouldn't have been a summer festival without the songs of the Grateful Dead, which were funkifed, sometimes beyond recognition, by The Motet. Here's their take on "Loose Lucy":

Rounding out the zany late-night action, ALO ambitiously took on a full album cover of Steve Miller's Fly Like An Eagle album. Here are the first couple of songs to that surreal experience:

HSMF is a place where the line between performer and audience is almost indistinguishable. Suprise Me Mr. Davis' suprise RV set is a great example of this happy co-mingling. What a time!

There couldn't have been a better festival closer than Railroad Earth, who's expansive, joyous sound filled the Grandstand field on Sunday night and bookended what was a momentous weekend for everyone:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bill Frisell Review -

I first discovered the guitar mastery of Bill Frisell last summer at the High Sierra Music Festival when he played an impressionistic, mind-blowing set in the midst of a scorching, 90 degree-plus day. This time around, seeing him was an altogether different experience.

Frisell has teamed up with filmmaker Bill Morrison, crafting a live soundtrack to Morrison's film about the 1927 Mississippi River Flood Disaster.  The performance was pretty astonishing in its emotional resonance --  Frisell is truly a master at crafting lush soundscapes with his rich, resonant guitar tone. Here's my take on the experience over at Jambase:

Bill Frisell :: 04.21.12 :: Herbst Theatre :: San Francisco, CA

Here's a little taste of what the experience was like. Archival footage combined with Frisell's liquid music-making made for quite the perfect match:


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rubblebucket Review -

If you want some real cross-cultural, hybridized, freaky hipster funk, look no further than Rubblebucket, the brass-powered ensemble out of Brooklyn (via Boston, via UVM). These guys tread the line between indie art-rock and afro-jamband, and they tie these seemingly disparate elements together so well that it'll blow your mind.

They're currently spreading their unique brand of party music (dubbed yes wave) on a big nation-wide tour, and are clearly destined for bigger and better things, as their sound is epic. They certainly blew our minds with their performance in SF last week, as chronicled over at Jambase:

One of their best songs is "Came Out of a Lady," which exemplifies the power which their horn section gives their great songwriting:

But the biggest surprise of the show had to be the mean old-school NYC mashup the band busted out in the middle of the set -- equal parts "Heart of Glass," "Rapture," and "White Lines," all mixed into a big stew of party (complete with dancing robots):

Friday, March 16, 2012

Railroad Earth Review -

In what proved to be an extra-special night of music, the road-tested acoustic gang of virtuosos known as Railroad Earth took a sold-out crowd at The Fillmore on an epic journey. They were helped out by an extra set of hands in the guise of one Mr. Phil Lesh, and together they took us into the outer regions of music and back again. This was one special concert, and I can't wait to catch them at this year's High Sierra Music Fest. Here's my write-up of the night over at Jambase:

If you're interested in hearing the entire show, a great audience recording is available for streaming/download over at It was one to remember, to be sure.

The band opened with "Bird in a House," a lovely little ditty.

Sometime later, we were treated to an epic, loving reading of "Terrapin Station," helped out by his Phillness himself. This one is a must-hear:

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dinosaur Jr. Review -

For much of their almost 30-year career, Dinosaur Jr. has been a band that has defied categorization. Though it's tempting to place them in with the angsty post-punk scene that emerged in the mid-80s, these guys have a sonic palate that extends far beyond power chords. Thanks to the guitar work of virtuoso J Mascis, this band can switch from thrashing feedback-laced, abstract noise-rock to almost classic-rock sounding, Hendrix-like shredding jams at the drop of a dime.

This special night at the Fillmore featured a pre-show interview with Henry Rollins, followed by a full performance of the band's 1988 low-fi masteriece, Bug. Here's the writeup over at Jambase:

The band encored with "Feel the Pain," which was their biggest mainstream hit, getting some good airplay on MTV back around 1994 or so: