It’s rare that audiences are treated to a real triple header concert, but that was my take on the female fronted trio of bands that owned the stage at The Independent in San Francisco last night. How I ended up there… I blame the Swiss (more on that later), but it was a real showcase of contemporary alternative bands that are making incredible music and bringing it on the road. All three have also released amazing new albums this year (more on that later as well) and this material seemed to please the sold out crowd of 800 at the intimate Bay Area club. They are all doing it again tonight at the Great American Music Hall, and I can’t recommend enough checking it out. If they aren’t coming to a city near you, I can’t recommend enough picking up their albums, each released this year. CSS’s Planta, MS MR’s Secondhand Rapture and IO Echo’s Ministry of Love are, for me personally, three of the best releases of the year, and there is a good chance all three will appear in my Top 10 Albums list for my 2013 End Of Year article.
“We got in kind of late today, and everybody jumped off the bus, except me… I had to change my clothes… and I looked out the window, and there was a man in his underpants… directly across from the bus… and was just sort of walking around like, ‘it’s cold’. And I felt like I was finally at home. Which brings us to this next song, ladies and gentlemen, which is called ‘We Live In A Dump’.” Preface to one of their uniquely They Might Be Giants songs, by one of the two founding members, John Flansburg, painting an accurate picture of the immediate area surrounding The Warfield in San Francisco in a uniquely perceptive and humorous TMBG way. The Grammy Award-winning duo and backing band have long been pioneers in alternative and experimental music, breaking into the mainstream with their third studio album, Flood (1990), which included hits “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and well known for their “Boss of Me” theme song to the television series, Malcolm in the Middle. Last night’s show included a great mix of old and new material, including songs from their 16th studio album, Nanobots, released just a few months ago. The packed theater seemed to be filled with hardcore fans, which wasn’t surprising given that their work is so unique and they have been so prolific over more than a quarter century that they’ve cultivated quite a following.
“I don’t know if you guys will get this song or not, being that you’re from California…” part of Margo Timmins’ introduction to the last song of the night, “Fuck, I Hate The Cold”, at Yoshi’s San Francisco last night. If music is the soundtrack to our lives, songs by the Cowboy Junkies must be intended for those more soul-searching and contemplative, raw moments. They slow things down a bit and make you feel more thoughtful and introspective. The band – a real family affair, together and producing new music and touring for more than 30 years – last year completed Volume 4 of the Nomad series… an ambitious four albums added to their catalog over a scant 18 months. The concluding work in that series, Wilderness, explored themes that included “fragility, emptiness, loneliness, beauty, chance, loss, desperation“; though timeless areas of focus, it all seems especially fitting for these times, with much of their music being a bit of post-modern Blues.
“How do you like your rock ‘n roll? I don’t know about you, but I like mine funky.” Early on in Prince’s “Early Show” Wednesday night – the second evening of his two-night engagement with 3RDEYEGIRL at the tiny 800-capacity DNA Lounge in San Francisco – he let us know what we were in store for over the following hour and a half. And that was the theme of the entire night… funk. Since I already gushed over how the “Late Show” the evening before was one of the best concerts I’d ever been to in my life, I was hoping for more of the same. Well, it was another epic show, but somehow was altogether different from the show the night before. This gave me a different perspective on these concerts, which as precision-driven as Prince is, the concerts overall seem very much like a ripping and spontaneous jam session. A perfect collision of the planned and the unplanned… I got the feeling that there is an overall framework, and incredible planning and timing in all of it, but within that framework is a genius at work – inspired, reacting, and making up brilliant music set pieces as he goes along. He’s not there to please any particular sensibility or set of expectations. He’s there to rock the place out. And boy did he deliver. The highlight for me was, funny enough, when he took over the bass guitar and played that thing in a way I’ve never seen or heard a bass played before. And it was all about funk, without any doubt. $250 plus fees for these shows is a high point of entry, but had I known what I was in for, I honestly would have found a way to go to all four shows in San Francisco this week, they were that amazing. The must-see show of the year, hands down. [Read more…]
I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life, and for a variety of reasons had never been to a Prince show before last night (as much as I rate him among my favorite artists). I can say, hands down, he is truly the most brilliant performer I’ve ever seen. It is all so effortless and mind-blowing that I can’t really put it all into words (or pictures – no photos were permitted, even from cell phones). Prince and his new all-girl band 3RDEYEGIRL literally sucked all of the oxygen out of the 800 capacity DNA Lounge in San Francisco for his second and final show on Day 1 of his two-day engagement. The only negative was the idea that it was all at some point going to end, but thankfully, I am going to get a second chance for this once in a lifetime experience tonight for the early show on Day 2 at the same fantastic venue, that almost felt as if it was designed to host these very special shows. Not only one of the best concerts of the year, one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to… ever.
“I’m not gettin’ old. I’m gettin’ dead.” Sixto Díaz Rodríguez, at age 70, standing before an enthusiastic, sold out crowd at The Warfield in San Francisco last night. He took time away from his set of late 60s folk protest rock and some surprising covers to engage the audience, often with humor (and some of it lighthearted and self deprecating) and incredible charm. I don’t know about the rest of the crowd, but if I could have one wish granted at the show, it would probably be to go up and give him a hug. He seems to be quite a sweet character, and beaming with happiness, which was not quite what I expected having his work on rotation for the 2.5 hour drive into the city. With boots, leather pants, black shirt and coat, and his trademark hat and glasses, he stood before us like some kind of elder statesman rock star… long lost and forgotten, that he was there at all playing on stage was as much unlikely as it seemed to be a part of his destiny. Truly an incredible opportunity to experience his music live and in person, I can’t imagine anyone in the room went away anything less that ecstatic with the show.
“We did something rather foolish here…” Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Robert Levon Been, reminiscing about a past performance at the historic Fillmore, in San Francisco where the band was born. A fitting venue from which to launch their North American tour last night, supporting the new studio album, Specter At The Feast. Robert never came back around to explain their past foolishness, but there is always a bit of mystery about this band and their music, as well as a genuine politeness, on and off stage. In any event, Robert and co-singer/guitarist Peter Hayes and drummer Leah Shapiro did not hold back at all with their overpowering sonic performance; a virtually non-stop set clocking in at about two hours and fifteen minutes. The hard rocking band only slowed down a little for a few acoustic numbers in the second half of the show and at the end, and later with the encore and set closer, “Lose Yourself”, which played out in a way that felt as if the building were unwinding itself like an overspun vintage pocket watch, beat by beat, with minimalist yet powerful drums that even improve on the studio recording. But I’ve learned to expect the unexpected with this band, who take their live sets to levels only dreamed of by other artists. It was one of those shows that felt like a special one, and I can’t imagine a better way for them to kick off what is likely to be a stellar tour.
“Yeah, we rule a very tiny kingdom…” Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid’s modest response to a fan shouting out “you rule” in-between songs during their lengthy set, gesturing to the crowd within the historic Fillmore in San Francisco as they celebrated with their “Vivid 25th Anniversary Tour” last night. The band literally attacked the stage, with drummer Will Calhoun busting a large hole in the kick drum two songs in, with their explosive live performance of their classic Grammy Award-winning 1988 hit, “Cult of Personality”. Playing Vivid front to back, the group put on an amazing concert that underscored what a great work that album was, taking us back to a time when albums mattered, as well as showcasing their innovative blending of disparate musical styles and genres into something really unique and powerful.
“Tonight we’re doing something that means something…” Imagine Dragons front man Dan Reynolds from the stage last night, commenting on the $10,000 raised for Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland, in conjunction with Brad Brooks as supporting band, KFOG, and Another Planet Entertainment, as well as The Independent, who played host to the amazing concert put on by the Las Vegas-based alternative band. Imagine Dragons, about to launch their first headlining concert series this Spring, put on an incredible performance to the sold out 500-capacity venue for this special one-off fundraiser. In stark contrast to the band’s explosive success over the past year, Dan and his group seem very humble and grounded; appreciative of their fans and career trajectory. Having had an opportunity to see them twice in as many months, I can say that they are one of the most exciting bands to see play live today, and I suspect that by the end of this year, they will be playing much, much bigger venues to huge crowds, as word spreads that they are a must-see band with fantastic music.
“We’d like for you guys to participate in this, because otherwise it just sits on its ass”. Music legend Juice Newton’s typically blunt and modest preface to the tremendous 80s country/pop crossover hits “Queen of Hearts” mixed with “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me”, as performed flawlessly (with audience providing the “clap-clap, clap” beat) at Yoshi’s in San Francisco in probably the most intimate show I’ve been to all year. The Juice Newton Trio, which was all acoustic strings with Jay Cawley and Danny Dugan both on guitars and providing backing vocals, Juice Newton stressed that this was a different sort of challenge and endeavor for her… a live concert sans the full band, which required the selection from of incredible songs from her catalog to be rearranged for a completely different result. And that result – simply amazing songs with the most artful delivery by one of the best vocalists in the business – was very moving and definitely sets the bar for soulful live music performances in small, intimate venues.