music

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Live Review: Nikki Yanofsky at Festival del Sole, Castello di Amorosa

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 at 4:00 AM

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I’ve always wanted to be Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap. Ever since I’ve moved to the wine country, I’ve searched for that quintessential moment, the one where she’s driving to her dad’s estate in Napa for the first time. Pulling up to the Castello di Amorosa for the Festival del Sole brought back so many memories of that scene: a valley of grapes rolling before the father-daughter pair as a playful wind dances through Dennis Quaid’s Range Rover, a nanny with laugh lines coming to greet them when they park in the driveway.

Okay, so there wasn’t a well-tanned nanny in an easy-breezy denim tunic waiting for me and my fellow Bohemian writer Caroline Osborn as we pulled up to Dario Sattui’s neo-Medieval castle, but the winding, vineyard-lined road that led to Sattui’s architectural wonder brought me back to those fantasy-laden days when I thought I could be the next big child actress.

The castle sprawled over a large hill, reveling in the fading rays of the afternoon sun. After traversing the surrounding moat via drawbridge, my mind took another sojourn back in time to children’s books I had read of 15th-century Medieval lore, where dark, twisting turret staircases and wrought-iron doors were the order of the day. I may be over-dramatic, but believe me, this castle exudes intrigue. Which makes it a fantastic host venue for Festival del Sole, a 10-day musical pastiche of well-established artists from around the world.

The location certainly wasn’t lost on Nikki Yanofsky, the 16-year-old jazz sensation from Canada. Last night, performing in the castle’s courtyard, the singing phenom virtually bounced onto the stage in a jean jacket and simple white dress, which was—strangely enough—not unlike the garb of Lohan’s Hallie. She said she’d never been in a castle before, and that she “felt like a princess”—a comment that produced coos from the mostly gray-haired audience.

But as cutesy as Yanofsky may sound, or appear, her voice certainly marked her place on the castle’s stage. She scatted, snapped, and moved her shoulders, bringing her accompaniment and the star-struck audience along with her. The songs she sang spoke of the toils of metropolitan public transportation, unrequited love, and even “The Heart of the Matter,” in a way that sometimes unsettlingly contrasted with her age. Not like she doesn’t have time, anyway. The vivacious vocalist signed CDs after the show like she’d been doing it for ages. And she probably will.—Anna Schuessler

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Photos & Review: Paul McCartney, AT&T Park, July 10, 2010

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Photos & review by David Sason

Paul McCartney’s first show in San Francisco proper since the Beatles’ final show in 1966 got off to a poor start, with an hour-long delay and a glaringly down-tempo opening medley of obscure songs from Wings, McCartney’s other popular band. But soon Macca and his crack band of expert players half his age were dazzling the sold-out ballpark with extremely faithful renditions of his half-century catalog. He was in excellent spirits and decent vocal shape, and as affable as ever, despite the surprisingly cold weather, which he mentioned more than a few times.

While the set was heavy on Wings tracks and his recent work (including tracks from electronic project The Firemen), the Beatles songs were of course the highlights. Notable this time around was the debut of the White Album gem “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, “I’m Looking Through You” from Rubber Soul, the classic rocker “Daytripper”, and a rollicking take on Let It Be’s “I Got a Feeling”. McCartney didn’t fight the consensus, with tributes to deceased band mates George Harrison (a sufficient “Something”) and John Lennon (a truly exhilarating “Day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance”).

Despite his tightly mapped-out show, McCartney did inject a bit of improvisation into the mix, first by way of his rainbow piano malfunction (“I like this one better anyway”) and a charming run-through of “San Francisco Bay Blues”.

Along with the psychedelic & Warholian imagery and personal Candlestick ’66 remembrances from the mostly 50+ crowd, the amazing songs made for a genuine 40th anniversary of the Woodstock era. Conversely, the state-of-the-art, endorsement-drenched ballpark and ticket prices to match (ranging from $49 to $250 a piece) illustrated where much of that 1960s idealism went. Last Saturday’s show was certainly light years from the primitive Beatles’ early stadium gigs, especially the pyrotechnics during “Live and Let Die”, a reminder that in a venue, big gimmicks are a necessary to a certain extent.

The explosions were also a much-needed late-show jolt before the set-closing “Hey Jude” and non-stop Beatles cuts that followed. The back-to-back “Yesterday” and “Helter Skelter” were the finest reminders of McCartney’s songwriting range and his importance in music history. When it comes to vital veteran performers, McCartney’s no Stevie Wonder but he’s absolutely worth seeing live…if you can afford it.--David Sason

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SETLIST

Venus And Mars/Rock Show

Jet

All My Loving

Letting Go

Got to Get You Into My Life

Highway

Let Me Roll It /Foxy Lady

The Long and Winding Road

Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five

Let 'Em In

My Love

I'm Looking Through YouTwo Of Us

Blackbird

Here Today

Dance Tonight

Mrs. Vandebilt

San Francisco Bay Blues

Eleanor Rigby

Something

Sing the Changes

Band on the Run

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Back In The USSR

I've Got a Feeling

Paperback Writer

A Day In The Life / Give Peace a Chance

Let It Be

Live and Let Die

Hey Jude

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Day Tripper

Lady Madonna

Get Back

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Yesterday

Helter SkelterSgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) /The End

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Interview: Chuck D of Public Enemy

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 4:00 AM

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Many a suburban kid (myself included) learned about social injustice via Public Enemy back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The Long Island quintet galvanized hip-hop’s golden age with revolutionary rhymes, militant theatricality, the Bomb Squad’s groundbreaking dense production, and of course charismatically clownish hype man Flavor Flav.

While no longer packing arenas like their hey day, the group is more active than ever in multiple musical projects, political causes, and a touring schedule to rival Bob Dylan’s. Always innovators, the group is the first major artist to seek investors via Sellaband, which raises recording funds for musicians in exchange for shares in the finished album. On the 20th anniversary of their landmark album Fear of a Black Planet, we chatted with PE#1 Chuck D about timeless albums, the changing music industry, and of course politics in the age of Obama.*

DS: On Fear of a Black Planet, you explored many themes like black images in Hollywood. 20 years onward, how do you feel about the progress regarding these issues?

Chuck D: We set out to make records that stood the test of time, being inspired by What’s Going On and the great Beatles albums, you know, Abbey Road. We grew up in that period. It first started out in the rock world, then the soul world had great albums. Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, and albums had themes and the themes, well, people would put their whole lives into the themes of albums. When we started recording the ‘80s, rap music had from a singles medium…and was thrust immediately into being this album medium only because the major record companies at that time only mainly operated from a profitable album standpoint.

We understood the magnitude of what an album was, so we set out to make something not only that epitomized the standard of an album, but would stand the test of time by being diverse with sounds and textures, and also being able to hone in on the aspect of peaks and valleys, so we set out to do that. And here we are, later on. The album was a statement because it actually took a college professor’s theory and turned it into a rap record, which was kind of over-the-top, but reflected where we were at, at that time and especially at that stage and our age, because we weren’t kids. I was a postgraduate college student. It wasn’t like I was 22 or 21. I was 30 years old.

DS: I was thinking about the title of the album, and I couldn’t help but think it’s more relevant than ever, what with the “birthers” and the reaction to the Obama administration.

Chuck D: Yeah, because all you have to do is take the “E T” off of it (laughing). It’s funny because E.T. was the extraterrestrial. You take off the “E T”, you have “Fear of a Black Plan” (laughing).

DS: That’s true. A lot of them are the same exact Bush plans, but for some reason…How would you rate Obama’s performance so far?

Chuck D: I think, number one, I tell people when I get tired I think about him and I get this energy, because I know he can really say that he’s tired. He reminds me of a kung-fu fighter who’s getting kicked at from 90 different angles, fending off kicks, and where does he get a chance to actually forward some of those promises? But obviously he knew what he was getting into better than most people. So he’s trying to figure out how to pace himself. I tell you this, he’s got the biggest broom in the history of mankind (laughing), cleaning up all that past shit.

DS: I definitely want to talk about the next album and the Sellaband model.

Chuck D: I not going to talk about Sellaband for more than two minutes, because it’s a 2011 record and the model was definitely influential as early as 2006 when I met Johan [Vosmeijer, co-founder] at an international music conference. It was a great model that worked in Europe. I would say, let’s see if we can work this in North America the same way, and finally I put my group up as an example that I was really putting my mouth wear my mouse was, as a believer. Really, it’s like, we can make albums in our own digital studios just like anybody can, but the thing that would make it different is somebody can invest in something that will be a uniquely different Public Enemy record, with each song brought to the table by a collaborator.

We had to present something different. We’re not going to raise some money and go back in our home studios and give you what we do for free anyway. It’s not like that. We’re trying to show that the system can work. Somebody can go, what does this mean, you guys are requesting $75,000. Well that’s just the cost of somebody investing in the 33% that’s available on the revenue end as being an investor. If somebody comes along with $15,000 after the fact, they can’t invest, so it has a cap on it. Somebody could come along with $3 million, but it’s not…it’s the process and the system that we’re trying to prove works.

DS: Well, it’s really inspiration what you guys are doing, and we’re definitely keeping track of that. You guys, especially you Chuck, are pioneers in digital music the past 15 years or so. Even longer, I think, because I remember the last track on [1994 album] Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, where you’re talking to Harry Allen…

Chuck D: Yeah, I heard that track the other day for the first time in about 10 years (laughs).

DS: Yeah, it’s such a trip, huh?Chuck D: Yeah, it’s a trip.

DS: What do you think about the death of the music industry and all the things that are happening in our time? There are benefits, like the direct link between artists and fans, but also there’s a loss of revenue. Can I get your opinion on the state of the music industry, in general?

Chuck D: I think the state of the music industry…it’s always going to be somewhere. It’s always going to be morphing into someplace. I think the biggest issue is that some of the people who have been on one side – have they jumped to the other side or are they still raking in people to expend their dollars as being the pied pipers of the other side of the industry? (laughs) So, the music business is healthy; the record is not, because it’s still kind of holding on to old models.

But people like recordings. They might not collect albums like they used to. They might not even want an album. Today’s demographic may not think an album really has the same appeal, like sitting back in 1977 and having a pair of headphones and lounging back on your seat and envisioning what they possibly could not see unless at a concert or on an appearance on a variety show. But now, there’s so much sight to the sound that our definition of what we think is the main configuration is totally distorted by everybody’s point of view. So I think it’s an interesting time. I don’t think there’s any domination in this space of music except for maybe cell phones and maybe, in the near future even more so, Apple.

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DS: I see a lot of veteran acts hesitant to the times. Why do you think you have embraced all these changes?

Chuck D: I had no other choice. I was done with the major system, so I was thinking there’s got to be a way I can deliver art to the masses without having the people at my company stop my own music or my own art. I would shoot videos and at the same time here my company comes telling me I got to change a logo in my video, which is going to me $10,000 in order for MTV to possibly consider it.

DS: Which video was this?

Chuck D: It was any of them. You had to make adjustments. So many rap videos had to make adjustments in the mid’90s, it got stupid. It’s like I got to fade out this logo, because they don’t want me wearing this Cincinnati Reds logo because they think I’m promoting the Reds and they’re not getting a piece, and you guys, at my record companies just in cahoots with them, saying well, fuck it, if you don’t change they’re not going to play your video, so it’s going to cost you $10,000 more and we’re not going to put this video out until you make this change because we’ll be wasting our time and wasting our money sending it to a company that’s not going to play [the video]. So I got tired of all those dynamics. I was like, fuck that, I got to go straight to people. That was the thing that set fire under my ass.

DS: I can’t help but think of your classic “By the Time I Get to Arizona”. I’m sure a lot of people have been asking you about it recently. When you documented the struggle to get recognition for the Martin Luther King holiday in that state, did you see any parallels with what’s going on there today with Arizona SB 1070?

Chuck D: I wrote this song that’s going to be on my solo project coming out this month called “Tear Down That Wall”. I had talked about just the one-sided bias of that U.S.-Mexico border madness, not only in Arizona, but also in Texas, New Mexico and Southern California, that that whole policy was being funded into the billions and one of the sloppiest, misunderstand reasons in all the country. A lot of people didn’t know what went on. So when Arizona enacted this racist, racial profiling, Gestapo law, this song was already done. This had already been the sentiment along that borderline.

DS: Are you guys participating in any type of boycott?

Chuck D: Not that I know of. I’m participating in the boycott virtually. We don’t have anything scheduled in that area of Arizona. Maybe in October when we allow ourselves to do a West Coast run, we’ll see where we are. The seven legs are already set in stone for this Fear of a Black Planet tour.

DS: Are you going do the album in its entirety, like you did for It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back a few years back?

Chuck D: We were trying to, but I think there will be places where we’ll do it and places where we’ll not do it. Sp we’re doing like 70 or 60% and meshing it with Nations and some new cuts. It depends on where we’re at, because a lot of times there’s time restraints.

DS: Yeah, it’s a long album.

Chuck D: Yeah, it’s a long album. Fear of a Black Planet comes into play in the area of medley and other stuff, so we rip through the first 40 minutes of it, then we drift off and come back to it, so… Nations is an up-tempo record, so it works from beginning to end, the way it comes at you. Fear has peaks and valleys, for a great album’s listening sake, but live you have to position it…or act really well within it.

DS: Many fans, including me, are wondering you’re ever going to tour again with only the turntable accompaniment. I know you guys have had the live band setup for years now.

Chuck D: Maybe if I do it by myself, like a solo rendition with DJ Lord or DJ Johnny Juice. We have components that are able to do that. After a while I get bored of it. Back when we were doing it in the Terminator X days, the biggest that we have was skipping (laughing). We had so much movement on the stage that the record would jump, so it was like the most frustrating thing ever, man. I was like, we have to figure out a way to have prerecorded music with the turntables, and that was kind of what we latched onto. Prerecorded music, turntables and the band to give differences variances of sound. But if you do it the pure way, you just can’t have a lot of movement. Most rappers don’t have a lot of movement.

DS: So do you enjoy opportunities for improvisation?

Chuck D: Yeah, of course. Flavor’s good at it. I’m good at it. I enjoy it.

DS: It was exciting to have you appear at the Green Festival recently.

Chuck D: Oh yeah, I had a good time there.

DS: How long have you been working on environmental issues?

Chuck D: About three years. A group of mine I brought out there three years ago, Crew Grrl Order, who just completed a video for an album called Go Green which is apropos for what is happening in the Gulf. It’s on SlamJamz [Chuck D’s record label] and their video will debit in another week or two.

DS: What are you and other environmental activists suggesting that people like me do in response to  this terrible spill and its ongoing ramifications? People kind of feel helpless right now. What would you suggest?

Chuck D: I would just say keep spreading the word about what people can do to take care of their own environment. Maybe that’s the best balance. Look around you and try to do the best that you can. That’s my best advice.

*For more information on Chuck D and Public Enemy, please visit:www.publicenemy.comwww.slamjamz.comwww.hiphopgods.com

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Getting Coachella’d

Posted By on Fri, Apr 30, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Occasional contributor and former Boho intern Lindsay Pyle sent this to us two weeks ago! We've finally had the time to put it up. One woman's impressions of the fest.By Lindsay Pyle

I’m not sure I am going to do the last 72 hours of my life justice. I sit here on Monday evening in the San Diego airport, covered in Indio desert dust, and still smelling like Friday’s sweat, waiting to amble onto my flight back home to San Francisco, so that I may fall into a cathartic sleep. I just read an article that described the Coachella Valley Music Festival, held every year just outside of Palm Springs, as something like falling into a rabbit hole… and obviously, still stunned I am, wide brimmed hat in hand, unable to read a book or even listen to my ipod, I agree.

This is my fourth year in a row braving the sometimes treacherous, occasionally aggravating, and always stimulating experience known as Coachella. Every year is good. For those that go, the weight of the desert heat, the constantly evasive meet-up spots, the running around from stage to stage, all hold a special place in the forever changed heart of the Coachella go-er.

Since this year was the first year that the event only sold three-day passes, rather than single day passes like previous years, it is not a shock that the festival sold out. Unfortunately, on account of this, it was seriously overcrowded… For acts like La Roux and Miike Snow, both of whom performed in the smaller tents… I could only peak a view and hear the sound from the outside. For those of us that have been to Coachella in years passed, and cherished the often intimate performances from some lesser known bands in those little tents off to the side, this was probably Coachella 2010’s greatest disappointment.

However, I would argue, that you don’t really experience Coachella until you go all three days. By day three, the desert has broken you. You know better than to fight with her at this point, because she is an awful bitch, and she will always win. While on the first day, it may feel worth it to complain about the heat, or the lines, or the wait, or the walk from the car, by day three, you may realize that all the complaining is in vain, and furthermore, no one is listening. So rather than fight with mother Indio and her Coachella festival… you just comply.

By day three, the walk from the car to the festival is mapped, measured, well-traversed. Traveler beers, drank from the car to the venue gates, are courteously finished as glass is not allowed on the grounds. The bag-check is systematic as we remove all large items from bags to show the volunteers in yellow shirts all the way to the bottom. Water is drank before dizziness ensues. And we simply do not mess with the sun: we find shade, we wear hats, we carry sunscreen.

But being broken by this vast and unforgiving desert, is a right of passage. By day three, shoes come off freely, so does clothing, and the hips and joints are well greased and the muscles are broken in so that dancing feels more natural than sitting still. Joints are passed freely, so are water bottles, and your ears ring in the anticipation of music when it all stops. Plus, by day three, there are certain things you wait for… the hunger that only comes when the sun goes down, the desert winds that blow after dark, the twinkling lights that decorate the palms surrounding the field that glisten and dance beneath a smoke and rose sky.

Going any less than three days would never allow you to experience all of this. Without time to wander, without time to lose yourself, and everyone that you came with, you might never really get into the rabbit hole. Without the full three days, I would have never found the Lucent Dossier experience in the dolab— a show that I would describe as cirque du soleil meets DJ Shadow in a Nickelodeon act of fire and water. I would never have found the best slice of hot pizza pie— cilantro, onions, jalepenos, cheese and chili flakes. I would never have danced with a man in a head to toe light suit, or played the 100 foot organ, or watched the tube of fire, or put on that woman’s large bear hat. But once the desert has broken you, you learn to survive, and life in the absence of a dire need for survival suddenly feels very carefree.

Even the hippest of the hipsters, who deck themselves out in this season’s “most blogged” cut loose. They realize that by day three, nothing that they’re wearing feels as cool as a smile and a good dance break, and all of their urban outfitters uber-retro clothing is as useless as one of those beer bottles we tried to sneak in on day one.

As usual, the talent was up to par. Out of about 90 bands, I got to see around 40… and this was with some considerable running around. Thom Yorke playing with Flea would be a definite highlight, along with Fever Ray, Phoenix, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Jay Z’s Friday night performance will live in infamy, as he began his set with a remix of “Wonderwall” which had every face in the crowd beaming and singing along. Probably more noteworthy, though, than Jay Z’s performance onstage, was his presence offstage. It became a game to find Jay and his wife, Beyonce, in the crowds of the indie rock acts in the smaller tents over the next two days. I saw him bobbing his head to the British duo “The XX” on Saturday, and I caught wind that he was also at Yeasayer on Friday.

There is something very refreshing about that. Where the newest, hippest, smallest, most obscure Indie rock bands are bookended between some of hip-hop's most revered talent (like De La Soul) and contemporary bluegrass (like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) right behind a long list of djs (like Dangermau5 and Tiesto). The list is so diverse, I ended up seeing an mind-blowing performance by Les Claypool that I actually thought was going to be a DJ set by some people called “Flying Lotus”. When I realized that I was in the wrong place, I didn’t care because he was actually slapping a stand-up bass in a top hat and sunglasses in the dark of the night behind a cool, blue light. I heard “Flying Lotus” was good, but they’d be hard-pressed to top that.

But this happens from day one all the way until the end. You hear of groups by word of mouth, or you end up in the wrong place, or you forget which stage you’re supposed to be going to, or you just get too tired and give up on getting there and stop where you are to catch an ear of something new. Often, I use Coachella as a jumping off point for finding new music. The reality is that the sets are too short to really enjoy bands you love, besides the headliners, and even still, I always leave feeling like I could have taken just a hit or two more. But with that comes the promise of new music and new life that has been once again breathed into my lungs like a hot shot of smoke, and I am ready to begin the summer festival season with fresh outlook… ready to tackle the rosters and see every one I missed last time around.

Anyone feeling like getting Coachella’d??

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Record Store Day in Marin - Saturday, April 17, 2010

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Words & photos by David Sason

Saturday marked the third annual Record Store Day, the international holiday to preserve, promote and honor independent record stores (and physical music products in general).  This year's exclusive release list was the biggest yet, with over 100 limited run singles and LPs from everyone from Elvis Presley to TV on the Radio. Big sellers locally were rare offerings from Dave Matthews, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Strummer, John Lennon, and the Rolling Stones. Among the elusive were the Joy Division box set and the reissue of Soundgarden's first single on SubPop. Judging from the smiling vinyl-heads and steady traffic throughout the day, this year seemed a definite success.

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Watts Music, 1211 Grant Avenue, Novato

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Doug Wagner, 52, Novato

New acquisitions: Bruce Springsteen 10" single, Boz Scaggs"I think [Record Store Day] is a good thing. It's a way to get the albums back out there. Too many young people are buying it online. They don't get the physical property anymore, and I think that's kind of sad. I just enjoy collecting vinyl and playing it; it's just a nicer sound."

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Don Whitaker, 31, Santa Rosa

New acquisitions: Gorillaz and Them Crooked Vultures 10" singles"Probably 10 years ago I just started buying [vinyl]. The sound's warm. It's just a much fuller sound than the CD. I love Record Store Day. It brings a lot of much needed attention to the local record stores."

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Jesse Pinsky, 21, Novato

Employee of Watts Music

Recent acquisition: Man is the Bastard / Capitalist Casualties split single

Posing with: Ratt, Out of the Cellar"I came here in middle school and was addicted. Then I came in every day. I bugged [manager] Darin so much that he was like 'sweep or something!'"

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Red Devil Records, 894 Fourth Street, San Rafael

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Barry Lazarus, Owner

Playing in store: Iggy Pop, Lust for Life (on vinyl, of course)"Record Store Day last year was huge, and this year looks like it's going to match it. They're our busiest day of the year now. Last year I got a ton of new customers. I get a lot of people from outside the area. My best customer today came from San Mateo."

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Bedrock Music & Video, 2226 4th Street (Miracle Mile), San Rafael

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Neal Schneider, Manager, and Justin Drabek, Assistant Manager

Drabek: "We opened at 11, and there were tons of people here, just excited. It felt like that scene in Clerks. I just wanted to walk up and be like 'hey, is this guy not open yet?' Business has been great today."

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Interview: Stephen Morris of Joy Division, New Order, and now Bad Lieutenant

Posted By on Fri, Apr 9, 2010 at 4:00 AM

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By David Sason

Stephen Morris is so affable and naturally gleeful that it's hard to believe he was in Joy Division, the mythic Manchester band with distinctively bleak post-punk songs like "Dead Souls"&"Atrocity Exhibition". While Joy Division became New Order by way of singer Ian Curtis' suicide in 1980, the latter group's demise was awkward, with bassist Peter Hook's very public unilateral insistence that his departure was the definitive deathblow.

Thankfully, Morris (above, right) has returned as part of Bad Lieutenant, along with New Order brethren Bernard Sumner (left) and Phil Cunningham, Jake Evans (center), and Alex James of Blur fame. On the eve of their first U.S. tour, the drummer/keyboardist chats about revisiting his youth, putting a new spin on classics, and how being in a band really is like marriage.

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DS: I definitely want to talk about Never Cry Another Tear, which is a tremendous album. But the last few years, you guys have been everywhere revisiting your past through two excellent films about Joy Division [2007's dramatization Control and rockumentary Joy Division]. Are you surprised that there's still so much interest?

SM: (laughing) It's a bit weird, really. There's been three films made about Joy Division. The first one was the Michael Winterbottom, 24 Hour Party People, which was a bit of a romp, really, because it was a comedy thing. It was quite funny.

DS: With Steve Coogan.

SM: Yeah, it was a bit of a laugh. And then Anton [Corbijn] made Control, which is really a story about Ian, and it's a completely different film. It's not funny really (laughing).

DS: Yeah, that's one of its strengths, I think. I remember when I saw it I was astounded by the one near-laugh being the line "I don't like hot dogs" -

SM: Oh, that's right! (laughing)

DS: - And I was like, "what a brilliantly dark film", because even with the one near-laugh, you feel guilty if you laugh about it, because it was a mentally challenged guy who said it.

SM: Yeah (laughing). No, Anton did a great job. The trouble with doing a film that's based on someone's life is that it's a film, it's entertainment, it's not...Okay, it's fact, but it's not the whole thing, it's not the whole truth. You know, if we put the whole truth in the film, it would be incredibly long and very boring. But it's still very weird seeing your life portrayed, well Ian's life portrayed, but the events you took part in, being made into a film. Very weird indeed.

And I never thought 30 years ago that that'd happen. I never thought 30 years ago that Joy Division would be as well-respected and as popular and influential, really, as they are today. I mean, I think it's fantastic. My own theory is it's because there hasn't really been...there isn't that much of Joy Division. There's three albums, well two albums and Still. There isn't that much, and I think we're kind of one of these bands...when I first got into music, it was like The Velvet Underground. You went around to someone's house and they said, "here's a record." You'd get turned on to a band, and then you'd have to find out about them for yourselves, because it's not all over the show, not widely known. It's great that Joy Division has still been kind of "cool", which is fantastic. And it's just kind of carried on without us doing anything.

DS: Was the documentary Joy Division a cathartic experience for you?

SM: Um...a little bit, a little bit, because it was all going on at the same time. They were making Control. And it was really odd to sit down and having to relive your life again for the benefit of the viewing public. I like the documentary. I think it works really well as a sort of sidepiece to Control. It's more about the band, and it fills in a few gaps that got left out of the film Control. Anyway.

DS: I think your Velvet Underground comparison is great, because both groups were subterranean, and through word of mouth it's a great discovery for the people. Did Ian Curtis have any idea about Joy Division's appeal before he died?

SM: Well, the thing was we all kind of knew it was going somewhere. Everything that we did, it was going somewhere (laughing). That was really part of the problem with Ian. I think, as we said in the documentary, that it really couldn't have carried on. It really couldn't.

The best thing we could've done was to say "right, just let's stop it now" and not carry on. But you can't do that. You can't. I mean, you can say that with the benefit of hindsight. But when you're four lads embarking on a journey and it's all you've ever wanted to do in your life, not doing it is the last thing you want to think about. So, yeah, I guess Ian...we well knew we were going somewhere, but at the same time, it was never going to happen, really.

DS: This is kind of a broad question, but can you compare the transition from New Order to Bad Lieutenant to that from Joy Division to New Order?

SM: (laughing) It's completely different. For me, it's completely different because Bat Lieutenant is basically Bernard and Phil and Jake, and they kind of wanted to do the album. I wasn't that involved for one reason or another. It wasn't that I didn't want to be involved. There was just a lot of personal stuff going on, so I wasn't really around that much while they were writing stuff. We did a couple tracks here at my studio, but I've more or less been brought in the album's been written. In some cases, the parts have already been played and everything, and it's like learning somebody else's stuff and changing it a bit.

DS: Do you think you'll be more involved with the next Bad Lieutenant project?

SM: Oh yeah, yeah. I would've been more involved, but I just had personal stuff I had to do.

DS: Do you guys write songs on the road? I know you're about to embark on a short U.S. tour.

SM: I'm looking forward to it. Writing is a funny thing. You see, in the early days, the great thing about Joy Division is that we wrote as a group. Songwriting was a cooperative affair. It was a bit of jamming, but we kind of got away with writing songs that kind of worked for everybody. And that kind of had to stop when we became New Order, because it really wouldn't work anymore. We didn't want to be "Joy Division Mark Two" or "Joy Division Lite", so we had to find a new way of writing, which is a little bit contrived but we managed to hit on something that worked again.

But as time's gone on, it's not a group thing anymore. Someone will have an idea, like Phil will have a guitar riff, and we'll all get involved and craft it. It's kind of become a long, drawn-out process, whereas with Joy Division it was a bit like doing a photograph, a Polaroid photograph. It all happened very quickly. What we've ended up doing lately with New Order and Bad Lieutenant is like taking a photograph, taking it and getting it developed, then putting it in Photoshop (laughs)...you know, that sort of thing. It's a process.

DS: What has your wife Gillian [Gilbert, former member of New Order and The Other Two, a duo with Morris] been up to? I know a lot of the longtime fans miss her. How is she doing?

SM: Gillian's fine. The reason she left New Order [in 2001] was because our daughter was really ill [from Transverse myelitis], and she had to look after her. But she's fine, she's actually (laughing)...with The Other Two's back catalog, well it's not a back catalog, it's just two records made and are being re-released. And she says she's going to sing on somebody's record, but she's been saying that for years. So I have a stick to...not actually beat her with, but I try to lure her into the studio to do a bit of work. But yeah, she's been quite content.

DS: So the first time you embarked on a New Order tour and said "Okay, I'll see you later, honey", she wasn't envious at all?

SM: Oh no, she was very envious. It's the worst thing in the world when something that you've been part of for as long as Gillian was...as soon as she was out of school she was in the ban...then when you can't do it anymore, you want it to stop, you want everything to stop, but it doesn't, and that's really, really hard, like, I don't know, some awful type of divorce. (Laughing) It's not a divorce, because she'd come and see us and everything, but it was very, very difficult for her.

DS: I imagine. Are you guys going to do another The Other Two album?

SM: (laughing) I think we might, yeah. We've got a load of soundtracks and stuff we haven't used for anything. And with some of the other ideas, it sounds like an album, so we probably will do another one.

DS: Any timeframe on that?

SM: Well, Gillian's been getting drunk and telling people it'll be finished in October, even though she hasn't done a stitch of work. (Laughing) It's good to have a deadline.

DS: You guys have always been so honest in the press, which I think is part of the appeal of Joy Division and New Order. You guys present yourselves as you are, just regular folks.

SM: Yeah.

DS: And the whole Peter Hook controversy was definitely weird, but also unique when compared to other bands' in-feuding. You personally, Stephen, do you still speak to Peter? Is he still in the circle socially?

SM: Well, we've never really been big social animals, except within the group. We don't really see each other outside of the group anyway. But I try not to fall out with people. There's no point in falling out with anybody.

DS: So you don't know if he's heard the new Bad Lieutenant album or anything like that?

SM: Well, I actually would that he would've heard it (laughs). Um, yeah, I don't know. I don't really know.

DS: That's got to be incredibly weird, something you've spent all these highs and lows with, and how that relationship evolves. Would you consider band mates of this tenure to be like a marriage, like you said earlier about Gillian? Would you say that's an apt analogy?

SM: It is really. It is. I was reading a book by Bill Bruford the drummer for Yes and King Crimson. He's done an autobiography [entitled Bill Bruford: The Autobiography] and it's great and very funny, if you have a chance to read it. His take on it is, it always hurts when bits fall off bands. He's got this great thing about when bands fall apart, it's always heartache and harder than any divorce. It's hard to explain, really, but you are really, really involved in it, and there's no way it can not be painful.

DS: I imagine. How would you compare this new record to the last New Order record, which was [2005's] Waiting for the Sirens' Call? I've heard it described as a true "Manchester Rock" album.

SM: I think with Jake on board singing, being a singer, has helped a lot. And it's a bit weird having three guitars (laughing). We've got more guitars than you could shake a stick at. But Jake is really good, and he's got a lot of his own ideas and he's not afraid to let you know. Some people would be a bit in awe, I think, of Bernard, but he doesn't seem to be.

DS: You guys are still thriving and trying new things and are really vital, which a lot of veteran musicians cannot say. Do you think you guys just adapt to tragedy or changing circumstances better? Many musicians would've been disheartened after Ian's suicide and the loss of that momentum, but you guys kept going and you keep going now. What do you attribute that to?

SM: I can only speak for myself, really. My take on it is there's always something to learn, always something you haven't done. As long as it's still enjoyable, then there's a reason to do it. If you don't enjoy what you're doing, then there's something wrong, you're doing the wrong thing. Thankfully, being in Bad Lieutenant is quite an enjoyable thing. I've certainly enjoyed it thus far. I get to play the drums in a band. It's a very familiar environment (laughing). I know the singer quite well! But it's fun. We really do genuinely enjoy it.

DS: One last question, Stephen, and I thank you again for taking the time. What can we expect at the San Francisco show setlist-wise? You guys have so much material.

SM: Well, Bernard's thing about Bad Lieutenant live was he wanted to do a cross section of songs from his past, which was fine but he wouldn't tell us what they were (laughs). So we had to learn a lot of songs, which was really interesting. We did some Electronic songs [Electronic is Bernard Sumner's group with Johnny Marr]. He likes "Tighten Up" best, off the first album. And then I said "well, why don't we do 'Out of Control', that thing you did with the Chemical Brothers."

DS: Oh, wow. That's a modern classic.

SM: So we'll be doing that one. Some Joy Division ones, some New Order ones. It's about 50/50. Half of it is Bad Lieutenant. But we kind of reworked them, when we've gone back to a Joy Division song or a New Order song. We sat down and were like, "we have been playing this a long time; can we find a way to make it a bit more interesting for us?" I think the latest one that we've done that's had that treatment is "Atmosphere", and it works out really well. You shouldn't really mess with "Atmosphere", but...it's quite subtle what we've done to it, but it works really well.

DS: You mentioned the three guitars. Are the songs more heavily guitar-oriented?

SM: Yeah, that's the trouble. It's a bit of challenge when you do those sorts of things. You've got songs that weren't really written for three guitarists (laughs). And we can't have you just standing about doing nothing, so we'll have to think of something. The bits that we've come up with, they do kind of work.

DS: It must keep the songs fresh.

SM: Yeah, yeah, it does.

DS: Well, thank you so much, Stephen. We're looking forward to the San Francisco show. Give my regards to your wife-

SM: I certainly will.

DS: -and I'm looking forward to hearing some more The Other Two material.

SM: (laughing) Yeah, don't hold your breath. It won't be out in October, I don't care what she says!

DS: Last question, where are you calling from London? Do you live in London?

SM: NO, no, no, no, not in London. I'm just outside Manchester. In the hills outside Manchester.

*

Bad Lieutenant will perform at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco next Friday, April 16.  Run Run Run supports. Tickets are still available.
 
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UPDATE FROM BAD LT.'S MANAGEMENT:Bad Lieutenant, scheduled to kick off their U.S. concert debut tomorrow night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, have been forced to cancel the date due to this morning's volcanic eruption in Iceland that closed British airspace.  The band members - Bernard Sumner, Phil Cunningham, Jake Evans, Stephen Morris and Tom Chapman - who all live in the UK, had been scheduled to travel today into San Francisco.  When British airspace was closed this morning and all flights were cancelled, they were able to get last-minute bookings for tomorrow on a flight that would have put them into San Francisco late in the day; but just moments ago, American Airlines announced that that flight has also been cancelled.Bad Lieutenant is extremely disappointed in this bizarre turn of events as they had been very much looking forward to coming to the Bay Area.  The band's management is doing everything it can to make an alternative flight itinerary for the remaining dates.Refunds will be available for ticket holders at the point of purchase. 
 

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Photos & Review: Billy Joel & Elton John, Feb. 13, 2010, Oracle Arena

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2010 at 4:00 AM

 

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Review & Photos by David Sason

Although their recurring "Face 2 Face" concert is by now one of the biggest grossing tours of all time, it's still impressive to see Billy Joel and Elton John onstage together. Piano-playing pop stars are still a rarity, and these two icons showed Oakland on Saturday night why their joint jaunt is such a smash (and one of the few tickets worth the hefty price).

Starting a little after 7:30 and wrapping at 11pm, the marathon run was a nonstop extravaganza of HITS, HITS, HITS. From opening classic "Your Song" through "My Life" and "Rocket Man"– which led the mostly middle-aged crowd excitedly rushing the stage – it was difficult to find a good bathroom break (even the album cuts were from their most celebrated albums). Joel & John traded couplets back and forth in a seamless survey of Billboard hits of the '70s and '80s. Nearly EVERY song of the night was instantly familiar from decades of radio and video play, and the sellout crowd gleefully sang along all night.

While classics like "Bennie and the Jets" and 'Tiny Dancer" suffered from Elton John's aged, deeper voice, his catalog undoubtedly shone the brightest that night, even forgotten 1980s numbers like "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues". The crowd compensated for the high notes anyway.

While his discography has never approached the sublime melancholy of "Daniel" or "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", Billy Joel's showmanship was astounding. Unlike John, he actually engaged the crowd with jokes, revolved his piano in an egalitarian gesture, and worked a snippet of Vallejo's own "Dance to the Music" into the middle of "River of Dreams". He also apologized for postponing the show originally scheduled for last November before celebrating the serendipitous Valentine's Day Eve replacement date. The throngs of lovers in the house cheered in agreement.

But even Joel can only do so much while sitting down. To really connect, Joel picked up a guitar downstage for a faithful "We Didn't Start the Fire" and tried his best mic-stand acrobatics for the perennially relevant "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me". Joel also introduced each member of his backing band throughout his set (something else Elton John sadly forwent, even with longtime guitarist Davey Johnstone bopping alongside him).

The showcase ended as it began, with John & Joel alone, sans backing band. The appropriate closer "Piano Man" brought a final frenzy with its slightly modified final verse: "You're a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and the manager gives me a smile; because he knows it's been me you've been coming to see, to forget about life for awhile."

Mission accomplished. Thanks, guys.--David Sason

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SETLIST (Thanks to Jim Harrington)

Billy Joel and Elton John:“Your Song”“Just the Way You Are”“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”“My Life”

John:“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”“Levon”“Madman Across the Water”“Tiny Dancer”“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”“Daniel”“Rocket Man”“Philadelphia Freedom”“I’m Still Standing”“Crocodile Rock”

Joel:“Angry Young Man”“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”“Allentown”“Zanzibar”“Don’t Ask Me Why”“She’s Always a Woman”“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”“The River of Dreams”“We Didn’t Start the Fire”“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”“Only the Good Die Young”

Joel and John:“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”“Uptown Girl”“The Bitch is Back”“You May be Right”“Bennie and the Jets”“Candle in the Wind”“Piano Man”

More Photos Below.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Night at the Grammys

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2010 at 4:00 AM

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A New Perspective on Clouds, the Circus and How to Throw a Party (Grammy Weekend in L.A.)By Linda Ferro

So, I thought it would be nifty to take advantage of my membership with the Recording Academy and buy some tix to attend the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards in L.A. (Folks in the industry refer to the Academy as “NARAS,” which stands for the “National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.”)

I was completely and utterly (which is a lot) sleep-deprived on the day I was to fly down there, since I had to set my alarm for 4 AM to make a 6:30 flight. As a musician and life-long nightowl, I’d much rather stay up till 4 than rise at that time.

Once in the plane, I was in a dreamy state from the droning sound of the engines (uh, propellers). Just after we climbed up out of the blanket of cloud-cover (one of my favorite things to do), I had a moment with a cloud. Yes, I did. There was a moment when I was flying eye-to-eye with this random piece of fluff. I pondered this perspective in metaphysical detail, and realized that I’m only accustomed to looking up at clouds or down at them when a plane rises above them. This whole thing really entertained me for a lot longer than it should have, and because I am prone to excessive anthropomorphism, I also assumed this cloud was traveling to L.A. just as I was!

As we flew on—me in an early morning stupor and the pilot hopefully not—I saw the most magical scene outside my porthole: Behind the plane was the almost-full moon in all its splendor and ahead of the plane was the muted crimson aura of a sunrise about to happen. I had trouble deciding which show to watch. (I probably looked like I was watching a tennis match!)

The rest of the flight was uneventful, until I got scolded by the fight attendant for not putting away my laptop quickly enough as we prepared for landing. In my defense, I had just bought my new Mac Pro and it was literally about the second time I had done a power-up/down. I hardly knew what I was doing, in terms of closing screens, making sure I had things saved, and navigating my way around the touchpad. The worst part about this mishap is that the attendant scooped up my coffee cup with my last sip that I was looking forward to. I know this doesn’t sound like such a big deal, except that I stopped drinking coffee a year ago and treated myself to just this one cup, so I’m thinkin’ that I had a pretty pathetic look on my face as the cup dropped into the garbage bag never to be seen again (at least not by me).

Fortunately, I soon had something else to ponder as the plane started to make the most incredibly steep bank to the right (my side of the plane) which, of course, made my head tilt accordingly, and as I looked out my window down at the ground, I was pretty sure that the entire perfectly symmetrical grid of square blocks of houses was dangerously close to sliding right off the face of the planet. Probably a good thing we’d be on the ground soon.

Maybe if I’d had that last sip of caffeine I wouldn’t have dropped the handle of my luggage as I was wheeling it to the baggage claim area. It kinda slammed down dramatically, my sleepy hands letting go while the bag stayed on the floor behind me, a pace or two back. Good thing I wasn’t trying to look cool or anything.

Got my bags without incident. Found the shuttle to get to my hotel. Also without incident. After the driver stopped to pick up more passengers, I got a little sampling of just how musical this weekend would surely be. One of my co-passengers began to whistle. That part was ok, except that the radio was on, and try as I may, I couldn’t find any of the notes he was whistling to be anywhere within the song on the radio. Couldn’t tell if he was indeed trying to whistle along to that song (the one we all heard), or if he had another one in mind. My ears gave up and I resolved to be happy for him that he was so cheery at 8 AM.

I had the rest of the day to scout around, get some requisite pampering, find a cool café, and meet up with producer/engineer friend Lenise Bent. Spent that last part of the evening enjoying my 12th floor corner window room, writing and pretty much resting-up for the BIG EVENT the next day.GRAMMY DAY: (sounds like some holiday for parents of parents….)

The Pre-Telecast Awards started in the afternoon and were presented in the West Hall of the L.A. Convention Center. It was an exciting and beautifully-produced awards ceremony, which featured nominations in 99 categories not covered during the telecast! It was in this room during this part of the Awards that Taylor Swift accepted her first Grammy of the evening. Most of the “big stars” didn’t come to receive awards here because, as we were told, they were preparing for the events later that evening. One of the presenters in particular was certainly hoping Beyonce would appear to receive her awards, but sadly, that was not the case.

After the 3 hours or so of the Pre-Telecast awards, I made my way over to the adjacent Staples Center. I was not happy to discover that the monitor for the section I was seated in was completely blocked by one of the main stationary cameras. So, I have to say this: If you watched the Grammys on TV then you got a better view than I did. Alas, next year I will pay even more to get better seats, because it is definitely worth it to be down closer to the action.

That being said, the entire evening was an incredible, almost overwhelming display of pulsing/flashing/glowing neon, dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and thumping live audio that I can only refer to as “galactic.” Sensory overload. It’s almost impossible not to get a thrill when so many favorite artists walk out onto the stage and are present. It was truly magical to be in the same room (if you can call the Staples Center a “room”) with such a glorious roster of entertainers. I absolutely loved watching the actual production of the show, seeing the awesome camera-folks racing around for the best angles, and watching the over-the-top set changes (one of the advantages of being up higher in the arena).

Where else but at the Grammys could you observe a dazzling pop star twirling and dripping water high above, listen to a dashing blind Italian tenor and a New Orleans Jazz quartet, and witness 5 award-winning bandmates confess to being wasted on national TV ­– all under the same roof? Nuff said.THE CELEBRATION: (The After-party, Which You Didn’t See On TV)

After the last award was presented at the Staples Center, we all headed for the exits and were corralled down the sidewalk back to the West Hall, where the Pre-Telecast awards had been presented. We all mooed and/or marched toward the entrance, drawn by the enticing glow of neon and the unmistakable sound of this party gettin’ started.

During the time that guests had been inside the Staples Center, the airplane-hanger size West Hall had been transformed into a dazzling 3-ring circus. Hard to imagine I had just been in this same building. I feel like I’m about 6 years old – like the “child within” really needed to go to a circus!

At the entrance, I am greeted enthusiastically and invited in (with full drama) by a circus “barker” sweeping his arms around in wide gestures and calling out from high above on his brightly lit platform.

A full-spectrum of color had been splashed everywhere since I had last been inside. Enormous “big top” canopies arched high above, creating a colossal carnival vibe. In the performance rings, which were strategically located, were clowns, aerial artists, weighted oversized hoop artists (I’m sure there’s an official name for this amazing performing arts form, but sadly, I know it not), contortionists and mimes in action.

Roaming about this insta-circus, are people-creatures hopping about on all fours, classic stilt-gents, as well as various an’ sundry rogue, rambling characters of all designs. (I learned later that this fabulous journey thru whimsy was designed and produced by “Along Came Mary Productions.”)

Somehow, I hadn’t managed to eat before the Awards ceremony and didn’t want to leave while it was still going on, so I’m now on a mission to find food. Don’t have to look far! There are so many banquet tables set up that the lines for this multitude of partiers aren’t long at all. The lavish, organic foods of Asian, New Orleans and American flavor have all been prepared by chef extraordinaire Wolfgang Puck. (Dang! What a gig for him!) Serving-dish upon serving-dish filled with fresh, organic delectables, too many to mention. However, what MUST be mentioned are the two 8-ft banquet tables in the building that are literally piled high with fresh cracked crab and prawns, all chillin’ on a bed of ice. Gotta take a picture of this. Crab is truly beautiful, although I must admit I prefer to see my crustacean brothers and sisters whole and swimmin’ rather than chillin’. (Speaking of parts of food, you’ll be happy to know, as I am, that all unused/leftover food would go to “Angel Harvest” in L.A., distributed through various programs. That’s beautiful and so right.)

With all the sensory stimulation I’m succumbing to, I’m not surprised that I am compelled to respond in Pied Piper fashion to a booming voice announcing the arrival of performing artist Ne-Yo to the main stage. We’re talkin’ R&B sensation, here: three-time Grammy winner. The Gentleman. He’s absolutely mesmerizing, sliding along from one side of the stage to the other in a flash. Workin’ us – workin’ the band. Being real.

He asks the audience: “So, any couples out there tonight? You know, like boyfriend/girlfriend, or husband/wife?” He looks out at us, and seeing the small show of hands, he responds with a wry grin: “Oh right. This is L.A.” He is so defining “smooth.”

Jamie Foxx just happens to be in the neighborhood and joins Ne-Yo onstage, reminding me that the former can really SING. (Definitely worth checking out YouTube postings of this show if they’re out there.) Jon Batiste Band, Soul Legend and Grammy winner Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave – you know, “Soul Man” and “Can’t Turn You Loose”) were so polished as they delivered hit after hit. I feel honored to get to hear such an iconic performer such as he, and his voice is still simply amazing.

The band is, well…let me say that at one point I’m lookin at a six-piece horn section, and seven keyboards, so you get the picture.

So guess who else happens to be in the neighborhood? Brenda Russell comes onstage and puts her heart out there singing with Sam and then performs the song she co-wrote: “None of us is free! (when one of us is chained).” So powerful!

Now then, here’s where the people-watching fun begins:

I’m on the dance floor moving and writing and all caught up in the production – mind and body transported by the music – when a gal next to me taps me on the shoulder, points and says with alarm, “That guy is PEEING!!”

Sure enough, Mr. “Bad apple” is standing right up at the base of the main stage right below Sam Moore and he decides that this moment, with glamour-gals dancing all ‘round, is a really great time to pee. Or, more likely, he didn’t think at all. Seems like the gal next to me and I are the only lucky ones to witness this. I decide right then and there that there should be some word much stronger than “disgusting.” Okay, it’s Grammy night. “It’s L.A.” Anything can happen.

Fortunately, I can get over it, and as the show is ending, Sam Moore’s manager calls out to him, ‘They want some more Sam Moore, Sam Moore!”

After the encore, I decide to walk off the pulsing dance floor (okay, the floor wasn’t pulsing, but the sound was bouncing off the walls, and so were the dancers. Ok, maybe they weren’t….)

I venture out into the hallway to check out the adjacent Petrie Hall venue that is turned into an authentic Jazz Club ala clown fun-house. So slinky and smooth and classy. This is definitely an alternate form of feel-good. Had a nice chat with a gal who was going skydiving the next day.

I check out the dessert table, and, lo! and behold, of all the awesome forms of sugar offered, my hand automatically reaches for the Rice Krispy Treats. Had to text my son Dave in Portland who had given me a Rice Krispy Treats cookbook for Christmas. (My addiction to them is legendary.) I am in my happy place with one in hand on the way to mouth.

After enjoying the Jazz and the vibe, I return to one of the performance rings in the main building. In the center of the ring, I see a forlorn-looking clown dressed in brown rag-clothes. He is on his knees looking up longingly at the nymph hanging by her ankles by long cloth ribbons hanging from the suspension apparatus high above. (I have heard this referred to as “Aerial Silk.”) The clown rises to his feet and with grand, exaggerated arm movements, throws fairy dust up at her as though he just might be able to transform himself into her celestial world, or bring her to him. Alas, he resigns himself to following her around the arena, fanning her with giant white feather plumes – worlds apart.

I turn away from the clown for a few moments to try to see what the crowd at another ring is cheering about. When I look back at the clown, he is suspended just a foot or two above the ground on his stomach, held around his midsection by the draping cloth cradle. He is flapping his wings furiously, trying his best to impress us. The look on his face tells me he knows he’s failing miserably. Just a shtick, but it was actually pretty poignant. (Or the Passion Martini was kicking in.)

As is usually the case at any event, there is never a shortage of entertainment provided by the people watching the show. Case in point: Across the ring from me, a pretty young brunette just grabbed both her breasts and lifted/shifted them. Looking down at herself, she seems pleased with the results.

I wander over to the Hard Rock Café memorabilia tent, and host Carlos sees me taking notes. He shows me around a little. My eye catches a most dramatic entry on display: a custom-made blue and white feather outfit worn by Charles Neville during 2 Mardi Gras parades in the 90’s. Then there’s a display case housing a black shirt worn by Jeff Beck “during many stage performances.” Oh, and a light blue jean shirt worn by James Taylor.

Moving from famous shirts to no-shirts, I wander over to one of the other performance arenas and see a half-naked, whole-graceful young lad hanging from his ankles by the silks. He has sparkles all over his body. Even his feet are sparkling! I absolutely can’t help but stare at his body (which, of course, I’m supposed to do). I notice a tattoo on his ankle and try to figure out what it is. Can’t tell. Looks like a blue blob. Have to go look at it when he dismounts from his perch. I CAN make out the prominent rather large star tattoo on his back, which flexes with his twists and turns. Every muscle in this young man’s body knows precisely what to do. Every one of mine hurt just watching him!

As he dismounts, I walk over and ask about the tattoo on his ankle. He shows me a planet earth (that explains the blue blob I saw) in its galaxy. How perfect for a guy who sparkles and flies around in the sky.

Okay, so not everyone is having a good time here. I am staring at an older woman who is slouched in her chair, arms hanging limply at her side, chin to her chest and deeply asleep. I imagine snoring, but can’t hear anything over the booming music bouncing around the room. I remember that I saw her just like this quite some time ago. She’s having a very nice nap not more than twenty feet from the stage.

In stark contrast to the apparently comatose figure in the chair, I see a vibrant woman in a wheelchair spinning around and being spun by her friends on the dance floor. Pam is simply radiant and full of joy. When she wheels back over to her table, I follow her and give her a high five with a big appreciative grin. She holds onto my hand briefly, and we wordlessly communicate about our perspective on life in that single moment. I tell her she is beautiful. (She senses, accurately, that I am not drunk!) She tells me that I am beautiful too and bids me farewell with “God is great!” I notice that she is holding a lavender hydrangea from the gorgeous floral centerpiece on her table. Pam tells me I should pick a rose out and take it home with me, which I will do.

When the bands are finished, DJ extraordinare Mick Boogie relentlessly stirs the dancers up into a frenzy. Or a froth…or something like that. I flail around for a while myself, but then decide that it’s time for another sampling of spirits. I find a table and a final snack. It is right there and then that I decide that I could die happy here, if I could just freeze-frame this moment when I have music in my ears, mango margarita on my lips and fresh cracked crab under my fingernails.

Absolutely, without a doubt, the best party ever!

Leaving the circus, it seems fitting that at the end of the evening, I should offer a report from the ladies room. I just closed the door on the stall and the next thing I know, an earsplitting, panicky young voice screams, “Where’s the f_____ toilet!” Nuff said about that, too.

Me, I’m just grateful to be in good-enough shape to remember which little round silver floor-number button to press in the hotel elevator….

Once in my room, I have a moment of panic as I realize that I had needed help from a housekeeper to zip-up my dress earlier that evening. I am truly grateful I can still feel my fingers, and hope that I could actually exit from the dress on my own. Mission accomplished. Soon, I’m more than ready to turn out the light, pleased to see one more time, on the nightstand, the circus-colored rose from Pam’s table.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Live Review: Toots and the Maytals – The Fillmore, Nov. 27, 2009

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 4:00 AM

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Photos & review by David Sason

A couple days before my first Toots and the Maytals concert experience, a friend told me "when you see Toots in concert, you forget he has so many good songs; you hear a song and you're like, 'oh yeah!'". For me, this moment occurred halfway through the show, when the 63-year-old Jamaican legend and his crack band launched into "Sweet and Dandy", the divine Harder They Come soundtrack classic. Needless to say, I – and the sold-out, packed-to-the-rafters, all-ages crowd – went apeshit. Thus went the entire brilliant show, which kicked off with the apt "Do the Reggay" and the soulful and (synth) horn-heavy "Pomps and Pride", before leading into the especially timely "Time Tough". Though the group hasn't been "The Maytals" since 1981, the concert was a testament to the enduring talent of Mr. Toots Hibbert, from his rhythmic acoustic guitar mastery in tracks like 2007's "Don't Bother Me" to his pristine voice, which still packs enough gruff (an incendiary "Funky Kingston") and grace (a spot-on rendition of Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember") to record those classics all over again, and wielded an endless series of Freddie Mercury-worthy call-and-response moments. While he didn't move around onstage much, Hibbert's stage presence was enthralling, with a formidable positive energy that kept him smiling widely and professing love to the crowd non-stop throughout the 90-minute performance. A touching moment was when Hibbert – who is widely credited with coining the term "reggae"– invited a boy/girl middle-school band onstage during the encore. They were too shy to approach the mic, but Hibbert beamed like a proud grandfather when he announced "They play reggae music!", which was met with warm applause. Thankfully, so does Toots.––David Sason

For more info on some of the most SOULFUL, life-affirming music ever made, visit www.tootsandthemaytals.com.

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Setlist

 

Do the Reggay

Pomps and Pride

Pressure Drop

Time Tough

Reggae Got Soul

Bam Bam

Funky Kingston

Don’t Bother Me

Take Me Home Country Road

Sweet and Dandy

Alidina

Never Get Weary

[You got me feeling?]

Monkey Man

Encore: I’ve Got Dreams to Remember

Love Gonna Walk Out on Me

54-46 That’s My Number

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Live Review: Jesse Olsen, Sebastopol Center of the Arts, Saturday October 24 2009

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 4:00 AM

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The crowd was hushed and somber as we entered the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Joni Davis sat at a piano, her voice washing over the audience like a piece of warm red velvet, as she swooped through the last song of the Reverent Sister's set, a new project made up of Davis and Faun Fables' Dawn McCarthy. Definitely an act worth getting to the show on time to see,  which I unfortunately did not. Hopefully they will be around these parts again sometime soon!

After a short break, we took our seats before a stage that resembled a child's playroom. A Fisher Price pull-a-tune toy, tiny handmade guitar, sticks, rocks, a pink plastic microphone, an old record player and a vinyl copy of "Solitudes," are just a few of  the artifacts that surrounded local composer Jesse Olsen as he sank into a set of songs inspired by and recorded during a year-long sojourn in the high desert of New Mexico.

The high desert is a notoriously elusive environment to capture in tangible form. Thomas Merton, Georgia O' Keefe, N. Scott Momaday and Sherwin Bitsue are only a short lists of artists, poets and writers who have attempted to encapsulate the mythical/mystical sensation of that landscape.

Olsen's artistic interpretation, described as "fragmented songs, minimalist soundscapes, and lo-fi tape experiments," is an intriguing addition to that canon. A bit Gastr del Sol at moments, the thoughtful jerky turns of expression, the playful interaction between words and silence made for a thought-provoking and emotional night of music. Alternating between guitar, casio keyboard and music-box, Olsen played sweet little bubbles of pop loveliness like the song "Snow Day" and followed them with forays into meandering repetitive lullabies, odes to desert sunsets and studies of the interplay between silence and expression. On "Riperian Habitat," he sang about "relaxing into the cottonwood and sage," later singing "I would be substance," with the ethereal yearning that long stays in the desert seem to inspire, as one truly begins to feel the reality of being a tiny speck in a humongous universe.

Later in the set, Olsen was joined by Peter Bergquist, Maxwell Church and Ben Gustin, for rollicking songs like "Buckeye Jim," which could have been taken straight from a late nineties Will Oldham album, all galluping fun country rock sing-a-long. The addition of mandolin, piano, and horn to the set added a welcome liveliness, a reminder that even in a sparse landscape, life still breathes and pulses.

By the end of the night, the floor was littered with the children's toys, microphones, sticks, musicbox, cotton cloth and even a pair of socks that the barefoot Olsen discarded early in the set. There is a sense of catharsis in the crowd, as though we have all been on a journey into another place, and now back, we are surrounded by the collected detritus of the trip. It is a lovely feeling, a reminder of the ancient existentialism of certain environments, the strange hope that comes from realizing that in the scheme of it all, we are nothing but a collection of socks and sticks.

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