Outside Lands came and went last weekend, blowing in and out of the Golden Gate Park with the signature stomp, rock, and dazzle that’s it’s become equanimous with since Another Planet first unleashed it upon San Francisco six summers ago. This year, the dazzle was bigger and brighter than ever, the rock louder, the stomp harder, and widespread and whimsical art lavished the weekend with a warmth and brightness that superseded the grey skies.
High Sierra Music Festival is easily one of the happiest places on earth. People return year after year (after year). They bring their kids. They fill up inflatable pools. They make signs that light up and camp with dozens of friends and family who fly in from all over the country. They stay up all night and then all day and then all night again. It’s a hard party to deny, and High Sierra has cultivated a magic over the years that instantly binds people to the experience.
Alt-J (so named for the neato triangle you can make using your keyboard—∆) headlined a sold-out show at the Fillmore the other night. The band got together in 2007 at Leeds University, but it wasn’t until 2012 that they released their first full-length. They presumably spent those years injecting elements of every genre they’ve ever been influenced by into the eclectic tapestry of their sound. An Awesome Wave is a beautiful, incongruent piece of work. It reflects tedious discipline and a vast array of influences, a collection of disparate pieces presented in a bizarre cacophony of noise and layers, strung through with instrumental interludes, startling vocals, and pretty keys. Even when they reached deep to meld together such jarring oddities like dirty bass to melodic folk, it works. The album flows. It doesn’t sound hollow or overly ambitious. The shit is totally catchy, all 14 songs through.
Les Claypool is truly a singular artist. He’s transcended his various projects over the decades to become a sound, a style, a genre, all his own. When Primus was signed to a major label in the early ‘90s, getting radio play across America and making it to the ears of provincial teenagers everywhere, his slapping bass became the heartbeat of a movement—an irregular, irreverent, completely twisted testament to an instrument’s capabilities and a statement of nonconformity. Now that Primus is back together and he’s put the Frog Brigade aside, Claypool has apparently found the creative space and time to pursue something different—twang. Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang performed at last fall’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and at the time I assumed it was a special one-off set for the event. But he recently took the project on the road for a small series of shows, most recently of which was last night at Terrapin Crossroads, Phil Lesh’s newish venue in San Rafael.
Partying for three days straight in single digit temperatures? Who wouldn’t be at least a wee bit trepidatious about uncomfortable at best, unbearable at worst, conditions for a music festival? But for thousands of denizens who descend onto South Lake Tahoe during that ecstatic stretch of time around the New Year holiday, wintry weather is part of the allure. For the second year in a row, the AEG produced SnowGlobe Music Festival swept into a local community college campus for a three-day extravaganza, and the kids came out in droves to party it up through New Year’s Eve. I attended last year and had a great time; the weather was mild and the event very well-managed. But this year I was a bit more hesitant when the forecast prophesized what seemed to me an arctic apocalypse
Just before Christmas, the Motet lit up a little pocket of San Francisco, bringing a much-needed boost of merriment to a holiday season that felt to me more sad and stressful than festive, stamping on the waning days of a stale and stifling year their infectious thirst for celebration. With a cold rain falling outside, an eclectic group of show-goers young and old ditched their umbrellas to sweat it out and dance around to the Motet’s electric jazzy funk.
Only Leonard Cohen could transform a space as impersonal and corporately stamped as the HP Pavilion into a dazzling concert hall on a tired Wednesday night. Suburban yuppies filed in alongside the bohemian art elite (with every age and type of person in between) to take up cramped rows of seating that arc the hockey ring where the San Jose Sharks slam into walls and rocket pucks into a net. Only there was no reminder of anything brash or hostile. No suggestions of other events that have taken place in the same venue over the years. For when Leonard Cohen performs live, he completely consumes the space he’s playing to, painting it over with his refined baritone. And for those sitting rapt in the wings, it’s a hypnotic, completely transfixing experience. You scarcely remember to breathe.
Last week, Woods had the honor of being among the first bands to play San Francisco’s newest venue: The West Coast outpost of New Orleans’ legendary Preservation Jazz Hall. “The Chapel” is a well-named sister venue; the pitched ceilings and worn red walls obviously recall a place of prayer, and the building, at 19th and Valencia Street, was indeed a church and mortuary back around the start of World War 1. The Chapel has an accompanying bar that serves Cajun bites and booze and the venue itself has a great balcony that offers primo viewing for non-VIPs.
Father John Misty played a total of four public shows in San Francisco over the past month and a half. The initial interest in his music was likely in part due to the fact that “Father John Misty” is actually Josh Tillman, who gained notoriety as drummer of Fleet Foxes (and prior to that, Saxon Shore). His newest moniker has religious undertones and to me, evokes choral folk arrangements and blue-eyed gospel. The record, Fear Fun, released by Sub Pop in April, is lovely and interesting enough, but I haven’t been able to really connect with it like I thought I would. So it was a few friends’ glowing recommendations of Father John Misty’s live performance, and my desire to tap into something that I haven’t been able to find through my headphones, that incited me to hop on tickets the second I saw he was billed to play the Independent. And while it contains touches of the choral, the folky, and the spiritual, in a live context Father John Misty actually churns out a wild …
I didn’t intend for this lapse to happen, but it’s taken me over a week to get around to writing my Outside Lands coverage. Yeah, I happened to have a really busy week and my laptop was out of commission for two days being fixed, but this also happened because at the culmination of Outside Lands last Sunday night, I could hardly even see straight or hear myself think, having experienced three straight days of one of the biggest music festivals San Francisco has to offer. Yes, I’m getting old but I’m not that old; this festival just happens to lay me out due to its sheer size, volume, and intensity. And so after last Sunday, I simply needed to let the experience resonate for a few days before just firing off my recap or notable highlights.
For the past 22 years over the 4th of July, 10,000 music loving souls have descended on the little community of Quincy, California transforming the Plumas County Fairgrounds into a spectacle of music, people, and celebration in the name of High Sierra. Dare I say this is one of the happiest places on earth? (I’ll dare.) The experience is as rewarding as it gets: High in the mountains, the setting is intimate, clean, and beautiful. Most bands camp and play multiple shows throughout the weekend. You can walk around to any of the stages with your own food and booze. The days are hot and sunny, the nights cool and clear. The people, many of them longtime attendees, are fun, warm, and welcoming. With kids underfoot, color, ambiance, and décor abounds. Smiles stay plastered. For me, it’s the best kind of fest. Unlike other music festivals I attend, the lineup does not dictate my attendance, or experience; just being there is so cathartic, celebratory, and all-out fun. This year’s lineup was eclectic, as always, with …
You don’t go see a Wes Anderson movie expecting much in the way of depth or character development—or at least, I don’t. I enter the theater or select the rental knowingly, well aware of the fact that I’m likely in for a sensory spectacle and a flat—albeit immensely charming—storyline. It’s all eye candy, soundtrack, costume and set design, meticulously stylized to the nth degree. Moonrise Kingdom, the latest in the Wes Anderson catalog, is gorgeous and keen and funny. It stars some Hollywood greats—Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Ed Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzmann, Bruce Willis—but leading the charge are two screwy kids, Suzy and Sam, played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman. Both troubled, possibly even deeply, after meeting and becoming pen-pals, Suzy and Sam decide to escape the angst and confusion of their home lives and run away together, creating their own little (short-lived) paradise on the far side of their island. It’s 1965 and though the sepia is of the Technicolor bent, nostalgia is very much a presence in this film.
Most people even a little familiar with indie rock know the story of Jeff Mangum. As the man behind Neutral Milk Hotel, one of the ‘90s more brilliant and original bands, Mangum is beloved by many but known by few. That’s because they disbanded after releasing only two full-length albums, one of which was the critically adored In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and then he essentially retreated from the public eye. Notorious for being a recluse with a severe distaste for touring, apart from a few one-off solo appearances Mangum only recently reintroduced Neutral Milk Hotel to the world. His announcement of a rather extensive tour, playing dates everywhere from the massive stages of Coachella to small, dimly lit venues across the nation and a few across the pond took a lot of people (well, at least me) by surprise and had a lot of us jumping on tickets. On Tuesday night, he played his second show at Oakland’s Fox Theater (his third consecutive night in the Bay Area) and filled the towering concert …
The Polyphonic Spree have only released three full-length studio albums in the 12 years since their inception, but I don’t think that relatively limited output has in any way impeded their exposure as a band. For the Polyphonic Spree, it’s all about the live show. A (to date) 16-piece group from Dallas, they aren’t often on the road. It’s hard for me to even wrap my head around the sheer logistics of touring with that many people. Where do they sleep? How do they pay for it? How many cars are in the caravan? These questions and others went through my mind on Tuesday night when they played San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, but before too long I stopped wondering and just sat back and let the symphonic psychedelic noise hit me in the face.
Beats Antique pulled out some special treats for their sold-out show at Oakland’s Fox Theater this past weekend. The glitz, glamour, and expansive performance could be credited in part to the fact that it was a hometown gig kicking off an extensive national tour, but the extra niceties were probably more due to the filming of their first-ever live DVD. Whatever the impetus for the powerhouse production, the opulence of the Fox Theater coupled with the sensational stage show, replete with a dozen dancers and special guests, made for a live music spectacle that was utterly captivating in its reach.
The Lumineers are among the latest and greatest of the new generation of rootsy folk-rock bands that have kept Americana fresh and captivating through the years. Like those musical contemporaries whose sound they evoke—think the Avett Brothers, Delta Spirit, the Cave Singers, Blitzen Trapper—the Lumineers churn out an intoxicating blend of Heartland rock and folk with a touch of gospel. The result has already started to take audiences by storm, and they’ll continue to exponentially amass fans over the next few months, as the band has hit the road in support of their soon to be released self-titled debut full-length (due next Tuesday in fact), and is selling out most venues along the way. Among them was San Francisco’s Café Du Nord this past Saturday night.
I didn’t even know who the Jayhawks were in the ‘80s and most of the ‘90s, arguably the band’s defining years. I was a small town kid on the east coast and didn’t dig too deep beyond what my dad put on mixed tapes for me and what circulated through the halls of my middle school, much less be even the least bit acquainted with anything of importance happening in independent Americana music. It was after high school—geez, maybe even college—that I finally discovered the Jayhawks and came to understand the importance of the Minneapolis scene they helped spearhead and define. (Our Band Could Be Your Life is responsible for providing me with much of my initial comprehensive education of the “American indie underground.”) Not that the Jayhawks were among the artists chronicled and chaptered in that book. Though a flagship band of the Minnesota scene, the Jayhawks never really rose to notoriety like their Midwestern contemporaries Hüsker Dü or the Replacements or even Uncle Tupelo. But though they may have made less of an …
The Pimps of Joytime lit up Divisadero Street in San Francisco this past weekend, playing back-to-back sold-out shows at the pristine sounding Independent and giving all the patrons in attendance serious cause to dance. The Pimps of Joytime were joined by local stalwart Eric McFadden, who lent his much acclaimed guitar prowess to the group throughout the night. McFadden has sat in with everyone from George Clinton to Eric Burdon and the Animals, and though the Pimps are led by multi-instrumentalist Brian J, McFadden’s presence was certainly a driving force to their live set, his contribution rounding out the band’s signature funk with a darker rock edge.
Don’t say a word
Earlier this week, I saw Iggy Pop and the Stooges perform live at the Warfield to an audience of about 2,000 people. The band was supposed to swing through San Francisco in September, but their tour was postponed when Iggy broke his foot. And as soon as he bounded out onto the stage, shirtless of course, his compact wiry frame and deranged expression giving truth and life to this rock icon who sneered before us, it became all so obvious why a broken foot befell Iggy those few months ago: At 64 years old, the dude is still a fucking insane performer.
The funk tends to bring the fun, and Saturday night’s installment of San Francisco’s 10th annual Funk Festival lured the city’s dance party people out to help Afrolicious and the Budos Band transform the Mezzanine into a full-on soul celebration. With a cold rain falling outside, deterring seemingly no one from making the pilgrimage downtown for the show, the venue became a hot musical haven, the night beginning with local DJ Motion Potion (ne Robbie Kowal, co-founder of the festival) spinning tunes amid projections of Soul Train on the wall behind him. Soul Train is truly one of the best television programs ever, the precedent it set for generations of soul lovers to get down in their best outfits, runway style, never far removed (at least in spirit) from any contemporary display of soul or funk music.
Straight out of Baltimore by way of Greenville, North Carolina, Future Islands brought their own brand of crazy to Bottom of the Hill on Tuesday night. The show, headlined by one of the Wham City collective’s flagship groups, was among the most entertaining live musical moments I’ve experienced in recent months, and I stood there, along with the rest of the sold-out crowd, unable to wipe the stupid smile off my face throughout their set, immersed in the intoxicating force of nature that is this band I’ve come to love very much. Though their newest record, On the Water, is a more brooding, forlorn affair than In Evening Air, the ecstatically dancey full-length debut that first garnered them scores of accolades upon its release in early 2010, none of the mania has gone missing from their live show. In other words, despite the somber subject matter of lost love and crushing heartbreak, when it comes to delivering the goods live, Future Islands proved on Tuesday night to be harnessing even more of that deranged catharsis …
At San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall late last week, the Felice Brothers proved themselves a long way from the early busking days that broke them onto the music scene back in 2006. A group from Upstate New York (only two actual Felice brothers among them now), they descended onto the Big Apple five years ago and then quickly ascended up the ranks of contemporary Americana, taking festival stages (including the legendary Newport Folk) by storm and securing opening slots with heavyweights like Bright Eyes, fast becoming a household name (at least in houses where indie Americana is paramount).
I just got back from the desert, and chances are, you know someone else who has as well. It’s taken 25 years for Black Rock City to become a major destination for people worldwide the week before Labor Day, but it’s become so popular that the proverbial doors to that seemingly endless open desert closed before the end of July this year. For the procrastinators and indecisive types who had still yet to buy a ticket to the dust, news of the sell-out hit hard. Many wondered how a place as vast and desolate as the high Nevada desert could possibly reach capacity and most thought additional tickets would somehow be released. But there weren’t, and it was no matter: Burning Man indeed sold out. For the first time ever. Like others, I questioned whether the tickets running out signified that the fringe festival founded on renegade principles had at last staked a claim on the global mainstream consciousness. I’m not convinced that it means anything at all really, other than giving truth to the …