Pixies at Henry Miller Memorial Library | Big Sur, California | 4/15/2014 (Concert Review)

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“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware” – Henry Miller.  Black Francis (AKA Frank Black, AKA Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV) had nothing really to say to the sold out crowd of about 300 lucky fans at the amazing show at Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur Tuesday night, but as an artist, he’s had plenty to say with his music over the years.  And 2013 and 2014 mark the big comeback for the band, with their EP-1, EP-2, and EP-3 (with four tracks a piece) collectively comprising their first new album in over 20 years.  Pulled together, their latest – Indie Cindy – somehow captures the sound and vibe of their pioneering work in the late 80s and early 90s, but with a contemporary vibe (though some would argue they were decades ahead of things back in the day).  Currently playing live dates with their current touring bassist, Paz Lenchantin brings great energy, warmth, and sex appeal to the band which still features original guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering, in addition to Black Francis at the helm of things.  I’ve marked Pixies as one of my favorite bands since high school, and have seen them many times going back to the late 80s, and I’d have to say that not only was the show in Big Sur this week the best I’ve seen, it will probably go down as the best Pixies concert I will ever see.  A sublime mix of venue, crowd, and energy, it was nothing short of magnificent.  And since the two shows I saw in Los Angeles last year and Oakland a few months ago, it would seem that the band has come into their best groove ever, going without setlists and employing some keen (though at times glitchy) psychic powers among themselves.  Like what Henry Miller was getting at, this is a group that is aware on many different levels…

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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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The Cure (for Teenage Cancer Trust) at Royal Albert Hall | London, England | 3/29/2014 (Concert Review)

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“It’s not my instrument; for the last time…”  Not very talkative during a concert, a funny line blurted out by Robert Smith, front man for The Cure, after returning a cowbell to the side of the stage, during a sprawling set that ran continuous for nearly four hours, with no less than three full encores.  The second of two nights playing to benefit Teenage Cancer Trust, The Cure played sans opener, coming on a about 7:30 and performing 29 songs…  then the came back for a six song encore…  then another seven song encore…. and finally a last three song encore.  The sound was amazing, and the band was brilliant.  An amazing evening with a stellar crowd, at a historic venue, all for a very worthy cause – it doesn’t get much better than this show…

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Rick Springfield “Stripped Down” at Yoshi’s San Francisco | San Francisco, California | 3/13/2014 (Concert Review)

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“…I thought, ‘you know, there’s no better translator of Black American Blues than a middle-class, 16 year old Australian white child’.”  Part of Rick Springfield’s storytelling in-between songs, it was apparent early on that not only has he led an interesting life, but he has real depth as well as a self-deprecating sense of humor.  Though he is best known for that one big 80s hit (“Jessie’s Girl”) and acting on General Hospital as Dr. Noah Drake, he is a great storyteller and certainly a real artist with some great music and a knack for bringing it alive in a special way in an intimate venue.  The highlight of the night for me was his very personal rendition of “My Father’s Chair”, a song about the loss of his dad many years ago.  It’s rare to see an artist connect with such a powerful song on stage, and present such vulnerability to an audience.  This set of solo shows is definitely well worth checking out, and in many ways more compelling than the traditional, full band rock show, as Rick Springfield has a lot of storytelling in him, in both personal accounts from his life as well as his music.

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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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Phantogram at Fox Theater | Oakland, California | 2/20/2014 (Concert Review)

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“We love you so much…  you’re so beautiful!  We’ve been playing San Francisco for years and years and years, and every time we come back here, you’re so fucking great and it’s so fucking fun…”  Sarah Barthel, standing beside long time collaborator Josh Carter, both of whom seemed moved at times by the enthusiastic crowd that sold out the Fox Theater in Oakland for Phantogram’s debut show touring their latest album, Voices, which hit the streets earlier this week.  Joined on stage by Chris Carhart on drums and Nick Shelestak on keyboards, the band put on an amazing show with a fantastic ability to recreate their unique studio sound live on stage, which was itself bathed in a pulsating light show that suited their songs well.  This is definitely one of the must see tours of the year – really brilliant performance of their incredibly unique music and fantastic new album.

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Imagine Dragons “Into The Night Tour” at SAP Center| San Jose, California | 2/13/2014 (Concert Review)

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When I last saw Imagine Dragons in concert, I was packed into a small club with about 500 other fans, pressed against the small stage, with frontman Dan Reynolds dripping sweat onto those of us in the first few rows.  Fast forward just one year later, and now the band is easily selling out the 17,000 capacity SAP Center in San Jose (which even the Rolling Stones had trouble filling last year), and striking less successful music bands with envy (more on that later).  With their performance Thursday night, it was fascinating seeing how they’ve built up a fan base, yet retained their modesty.  At one point, during an ad lib, Dan became a bit self conscious about what he was saying, stopped himself, and confessed, “it’s because of you – you make me nervous…”  Honesty and earnestness is rare in rock stars these days, but I have a feeling that it is something innate in this one, and will always stay with him.  While photographing the first few songs at the start of their set, watching from a couple feet away, I saw Dan pause at one point and briefly stare out across the massive audience before him, and get choked up a little in the same way he did a year ago talking about the charity they were supporting for that small gig in San Francisco.  These are definitely genuine guys, and it certainly comes through in their music and performance.  Definitely one of the must see tours of the year, as I suspect they will get even bigger once they release their sophomore album.

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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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Frankie Rose at Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 2/4/2014 (Concert Review)

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You know you are at interesting show when the singer asks, in-between songs, for the audience to shout out their favorite taquería on the count of three.  Frankie Rose, singer-songwriter of the band of the same name, has roots in San Francisco, and packed Rickshaw Stop on Tuesday night with her special retroesque mix of fuzzy guitar and synth dream pop.  Supporting her latest album, Herein Wild, the set included a mix of old and new, which illustrated the evolution of her sound.  All in all an excellent show…

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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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Berlin Featuring Terri Nunn at Saint Rocke | Hermosa Beach, California | 1/24/2014 (Concert Review)

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Berlin Featuring Terri Nunn kicked off 2014 with their first live date of the year at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, California, just as they did last year (which is a show I caught and reviewed as well).  The biggest difference between last year and this year is that their amazing new album, Animal, came out this past September.  While they have been playing some of this new material in their shows in the past few years, somehow it felt much more seamlessly intertwined into the set, maybe because now I’m so familiar with the songs.  Like last year, it was another stellar show with excellent supporting artists, and Saint Rocke is a great little venue.  I think more than most bands, Berlin gets what their music is about, how it affects people, and the power a live show can have on celebrating life and living it with some passion.  They definitely bring it all out on stage and they are one of those bands that can carry you along with them vicariously. [Read more...]

X at The Casbah | San Diego, California | 01/16/2014 (Concert Review)

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“We played the Whiskey last night for their fiftieth anniversary, and I don’t want to kiss your ass or anything, but this is way more fun…”  X vocalist and bassist John Doe at The Casbah in San Diego last night, in the midst of a rocking set in the tiny club, well sold out at its 230 capacity.  I had seen the band last September on the “No Principals Tour” with Blondie in San Francisco, but this was more like taking a step back in time.  Depending on where you were standing, they frequently could not be seen at all, which made the illusion all the more convincing.  An authentic throw back to the earlier 80s punk scene they pioneered, it was a fantastic night of music and definitely an interesting, somewhat quirky crowd, which was apparent to those on the stage as well.

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