New Order & La Roux at The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium | San Francisco, California | 7/11/2014 (Concert Review)

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“…since we’re in San Francisco, we thought we’d do something special.”  Bernard Sumner, singer and guitarist for New Order, as preface to an unexpected, second encore closer and cover of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium last night.  One of just a half dozen dates on this North American tour, the concert showed a band that has worked to refine their live set, with updated visuals as well as a bit of tweaking and reworking of what has become their usual selection of songs.  It was definitely the best I’ve heard them in the past four years, and they seemed most energized during their performance of new song, “Plastic”.  The sold out crowd of around 7,000 never stopped moving and bouncing as they ripped through a sequence of favorites at the end with “True Faith”, “The Perfect Kiss”, and “Blue Monday”.   As has been tradition, they closed out with an encore of a few Joy Division covers, but the Scott McKenzie cover at the very end showed that they can still surprise when they are inspired to do so.

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The Lovemakers at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 7/10/2014 (Concert Review)

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“Are you ready, San Francisco?” Scott Blonde of The Lovemakers, on guitar on the front end of a blazing set at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop last night, sometime around midnight.  With co-vocalist Lisa Light holding down the opposite corner on bass, it was am impressive onslaught of thumping and catchy 80s-inspired synth pop for the on and off again band that is maybe the best thing those outside of San Francisco are missing of late, as they have amazing songs and an incredible live show.  Following on a fantastic opening set by The Trims and framed by cutting-edge DJ sets by Aaron Axelsen and Omar, it was another unique evening with Popscene.

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Veruca Salt at The Independent | San Francisco, California | 6/26/2014 (Concert Review)

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“We’re Veruca Salt, and we’re gonna blow it out your ass…” Early on in their sold out show at The Fillmore in San Francisco last night, Louise Post made reference to their EP that followed their hit 1994 album, American Thighs, though it seemed to sum up what they came to do on stage, with Louise and co-singer and guitarist Nina Gordon shredding, singing, and shrieking through just south of a two hour set to a crowd of people who were more into this show that I generally see.  I became aware of Veruca Salt when their song “Seether” became a smash hit.  Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to see them play live back in the day; in the late 90s, I was living in LA and going to grad school full time and working full time, which left almost no time for concerts.  However, I have to imagine that they are better than ever in their current comeback, which includes not just touring but new music as well.  As a matter of fact, I am fairly certain that their new single – “Museum of Broken Relationships – is perhaps my favorite Veruca Salt song to date.  The two things that most struck me about their concert at The Fillmore last night was that 1) they put on a stunning show and 2) they seem to be having more fun than anyone.  Hopefully this is just the beginning of bigger and better things, because it would be well-deserved and a long time coming.

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MØ with Erik Hassle at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 6/3/2014 (Concert Review)

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The Popscene concert at Rickshaw Stop on Tuesday night was one of those rare shows that was very surprising (in a good way).  Danish singer-songwriter MØ (Karen Marie Ørsted) headlined the night that featured Swedish singer-songwriter Erik Hassle supporting, and both put on stellar performances, with awesome bookend DJ sets by Aaron Axelsen.  Candidly, I was not familiar with either of these young artists until recently, and I would mark the night as one of the best concerts I’ve attended so far in 2014.  MØ and Erik Hassle should be on the pop culture watch list as ones to expect big things from in the future.

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Luscious Jackson at The Independent | San Francisco, California | 5/31/2014 (Concert Review)

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“We’re female chauvinist pigs…”  Jill Cunniff, one of the three members of Luscious Jackson, prefacing her invitation of a handful of men in the audience to join them on the stage to shake their booties during their song, “#1 Bum”.  It was an informal kind of show for the band, who haven’t been in San Francisco for a very long time, having recently reunited for their first studio album since 1999.  One of just three headlining shows for this tour (having played Los Angeles the night prior and with Boston still to come next Saturday, as well as two festival appearances), The Independent appeared sold out (or close to it) last night.  They put on an electric show with material spanning their original 90s songs as well as the new album, all sounding fresh and original.  They definitely still have “it”, and hopefully their efforts to reinvent themselves with their PledgeMusic campaign and new independent streak will lead to a resurgence of their special brand of rock/pop/hip hop.

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James Blunt (Moon Landing World Tour) at The Fillmore | San Francisco, California | 5/14/2014 (Concert Review) #bluntontour

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“Before the night is over, I’m going to be in with these guys…”  At some point into the sprawling one hour, forty five minute set put on by (an at times plain goofy) James Blunt and his band, the singer-songwriter looked up at the small section of balcony seats in the sold out show at The Fillmore in San Francisco, then glanced at the standing crowd right below, and made those up front feel that something special might happen toward the end of the show.  Keeping his promise, a sweaty James Blunt did indeed end up surfing the crowd – not what one might expect of the emotional crooner, best known for his kind of dark, break out hit song “You’re Beautiful”.  Full of energy and great humor (much of it self-deprecating, which wasn’t surprising coming from an Englishman), James Blunt seemed like a born entertainer, feeding off the crowd and giving it all back in spades.  At times it seemed like a bit of an odd affair all around; kind of like what might come about from making cookies without a cookie cutter…  the audience certainly didn’t fit any particular profile or stereotype, and his music seemed to draw what you might call “people who don’t dance at concerts” (and funny enough, I would classify myself as one of those), so there was a sort non-traditional connection between artist and fan – not so much seen, but felt.  It seems that the James Blunt fan might be more of a devotee – quizzing the crowd up front, people started a line at 2:30 for the 7:00 doors show.  With four studio albums under his belt (with the latest, last year’s Moon Landing serving as the theme for this tour), he seems to be doing well, and enjoying himself along the way.

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Broods with Meg Myers at The Independent | San Francisco, California | 5/13/2014 (Concert Review)

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“This is our second time, and we like it a lot!”  Georgia Nott, talking about their second gig in San Francisco to date, playing to a sold out crowd at The Independent on Tuesday night.  She spent most of her time roaming back and forth across the stage, and the rest on her keyboards, at the opposite corner from her brother, Caleb, who had an array of electronics and musical tools at his own station.  Holding down the center between them was touring drummer, Jimi Mataio.  The set really came alive most when Georgia was on mic and vocals only, pacing the stage while showcasing her gifts, singing their unique style of music.  Although one of the highlights was her heartfelt and slow tempo solo on keys and vocals toward the end of the set.  With their first studio album due at the end of Summer, this overall versatility for such a young band – as well as their ability to recreate it live – makes me extremely optimistic about the future of this duo.  It was a fantastic performance, which included support from one of my very favorite young artists, Meg Myers, as well as a great showing by Max and The Moon.

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Boy George at The Fillmore | San Francisco, California | 4/28/2014 (Concert Review)

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“It’s all about the attitude, right?  Intention and context are everything.  What’s next?  Oh, sometimes I surprise myself!”  80s pop culture icon Boy George, before launching into “Church of the Poison Mind” with his amazing band, one of a handful of songs performed to the sold out crowd at The Fillmore in San Francisco last night.  He had a lot to say to those who turned out for his show, and it marked his first visit to the city since 1999*.  He was beaming with joy throughout their lengthy set, that ran about two hours and fifteen minutes, with interesting anecdotes, and witty and self-deprecating humor (at one point describing himself as an emerging UK artist).  Culture Club’s albums were some of the first I bought as a kid, but in their prime years of ’83-’84, I was around 10-11 years old, so had no chance to see them live.  This was one of the tours I’ve most anticipated this year, and with uncertain expectations, in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined it would be, or even could be as stellar as it was.  It was truly magnificent on every level, and I’m an even bigger fan than ever after experiencing the show last night.  Definitely one of the best shows of the year.

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MS MR at The Fillmore | San Francisco, California | 4/14/2014 (Concert Review)

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“You’re one of the first cities that really, really supported us.” Lizzy Plapinger, the “MS” half of MS MR showering the crowd at the sold out Fillmore in San Francisco Monday night with some sincere gratitude.  I’d seen the break out duo twice at The Independent last year, and as their success continues, they have stepped up from supporting at the Independent, to headlining multiple shows there, to now headlining multiple shows at the historic Fillmore, where they opened for Marina and The Diamonds a few years ago.  As has been my experience seeing the band evolve, the “MR” half, Max Hershenow, seemed as thrilled as ever to step away from his keyboard a few times to dance and provide some backing vocals on Lizzy’s mic. I personally ranked their incredible debut studio album, Secondhand Rapture, as my favorite release of 2013, so they certainly won me over as a fan.  While they always sounded amazing live, they seem to grow in confidence with each new tour, while maintaining that humility and earnestness which is somewhat rare in the contemporary music scene.  This was their best show year, and while it clocked in at just under an hour, to me that was just perfect, and I applaud that they keep the studio length of the songs rather than trying to stretch them out to fill out more time as some young bands succumb to when touring with just one album under their belt.

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Throwing Muses at Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (Noise Pop 2014) | San Francisco, California | 2/28/2014 (Concert Review)

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“Oh…  ‘elaborate’…  I know that word…  I’m elaborately fine!”  The end of a funny exchange between Kristin Hersh and the audience, which began with her asking how we were doing, which was turned back to her, which resulted in a short answer – “fine” – to which someone else asked her to elaborate…  There was a bit of chit chat between songs throughout the show, including a reference to a recent dog bite that nearly caused this short West Coast run of Throwing Muses dates to be canceled.  But the trio of Kristin Hersh, David Narcizo, and Bernard Georges did indeed show up at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco last night to play to a sold out crowd of enthusiastic fans.  While Kristin founded the band way back in 1980, and has produced a wealth of albums and songs over the years, the set list was heavy with their latest book/CD combo, Purgatory/Paradise, which was their first new studio release in a decade.  They put on an electric show with great intensity, and I’m sure all in attendance felt fortunate to catch a rare appearance of the band that is legendary to those who have paid attention to music for the past 30 years.

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The Pack A.D. at Brick & Mortar Music Hall | San Francisco, California | 2/5/2014 (Concert Review)

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“It started off really nice today, and then just went to rain, and that is a Vancouver day as well, so I feel like I’m at home…”, In-between songs, The Pack A.D.’s Maya Miller, drummer and chattier of the Canadian garage rock duo just before singer/guitarist Becky Black threw down the familiar opening guitar riff for “Big Shot” off of their stellar new album, Do Not Engage.  The pair played through quite an extensive setlist at Brick & Mortar Music Hall Wednesday night, but they play their songs probably twice as fast at the typical band, so the blazing set was over sooner than all in attendance might have hoped.  The dimly lit venue was truly electrified by their blazing music, and they are armed with fantastic songs that seem crafted to be played live.  I just discovered this band last month with the release of their fourth studio album, and absolutely love Do Not Engage.  Now, having seen them play live, they have made me a fan.  Amazing show, and I’d personally seek them out if they roll into a town near you…

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Ash at Popscene @ Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 1/30/2014 (Concert Review)

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“We’ve got a few more songs here for you here…  if you fucking want them!”  Tim Wheeler, vocalist and guitarist for Northern Ireland’s alternative band Ash, which was born in the early 90s, yet seems to bring the best of that vibe forward in their music today.  An enthusiastic crowd of fans packed Popscene at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco last night, and they certainly wanted those few more songs that finished out a pretty lengthy and extremely impressive and rocking set.  For a loud, ripping show, the sound was absolutely phenomenal, and these music veterans of the alternative music scene certainly are masters at the live show.  It really exceeded my expectations, and was just a fantastic concert showcasing their unique brand of rock and roll.  As one of their first shows on the West Coast of the U.S. in 9 years, they certainly came back to make a statement.

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