ROCKTOBER!!! (Revisited)

I’ve got to say that it feels DAMN good to be getting back out into the city life, seeing bands play and eating amazing meals. But this is Rocktober, and my first weeks of freedom were packed with live bands. I’m actually glad that this current week is so uneventful…

Well, I certainly didn’t follow my own advice enough: my whole crew and I froze our asses off. Props to the lady in leather shorts for holding it together for as long as she did. You know who you are. We showed up late and left early, but that was a unanimous decision. I’ll enjoy a Tom Yorke performance when I can feel my toes and nards.

Honestly, I think I was so completely out of my mind – overstimulated by the sounds, crowds and lights – I can’t offer any real type of description of the bands I saw. Diplo has an old face, but a crazzee body (Insanity Workout?). Little Dragon, my favorite Swedes that don’t wear Detroit Red Wings sweaters, we’re great: they punched out their tuneful, electro-infused dance pop with style. And beards.

That’s all I really remember about Saturday. That and an overpaid fat guy doing a belly flop instead of sliding into third.

Sunday, you’d think we would have learned our lesson. I actually eyed a pair of long johns to wear underneath my jeans, but dismissed that as overkill. So wrong. Another day of showing up late and leaving early, another day of freezing our extremities and privates off. The acts that I did see we’re great: James Blake and his electro-soul slo-jams are really starting to warm up to me. Real Estate sound like early REM to me, which was enjoyable. I think STRFKR prompted me to go for a walk… The couple songs I saw from Japandroids (before giving in to the cold) showed that anthemic punkish tunes derivative of the ’90s still rule.

If you were out on this particular Wednesday night in San Francisco and wondered why your favorite bartender wasn’t working at Bender’s, Delirium, Zeitgeist, or Lucky 13, it’s because they were at this show. Seriously. I stayed for about half the show. While I don’t necessarily agree with the band when they proclaimed themselves the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time, they did present a decent case for themselves. Heavy and party-orientated, this band is a great time if you’re looking for fast-paced rock for rock’s sake. Avoid if you are allergic to the aging punker/biker community. Or bartenders.

Slim’s is a total shit show when it’s packed, and this was a sold out show. As soon as the band came on, I slipped into the upper balcony in the back and – to my surprise – found a table with a great view from which I watched Deer Tick’s entire show. Thirteen years in SF and I’ve never thought to go up there…

Fans of the Replacements and more Americana-tinged acts, will really dig Deer Tick: Anthem-packed tunes, rockin guitar licks, and Westerberg-esque vocals all packed into a moderately active stage presence. Wonderful entertainment for the over-thirty types.

This was another overwhelming, blur-of-a-day with a fantastic lineup punctuated by a heartfelt tribute to Lou Reed. We got there in the middle of Heart jamming with Neil Young on one of his songs that eludes me at the moment (put it in the comments?). They went on to play ‘Crazy On You’, proving that both sisters still had the energy and chops to whip the crowd into a middle-aged frenzy (lots of “woos”, some actual lighters).

fun. were next up and… I did not hate their set. Following the Bridge School acoustic format took a lot of obnoxiousness out of their songs. At one point, Dory turned to me and said “That guy sounds like Freddy Mercury”. And then they covered a Queen song. She knows things.

Diana Krall was the perfect excuse for a pee break, but little did I know I’d miss some of Elvis Costello because they shared the same band! I got back to my seat in time to hear a great, slowed down rendition of ‘What’s so funny about) Peace, Love, and Understanding’. The rest of his set was gravy.

My Morning Jacket was a treat. I haven’t followed their latest albums, but they we’re playing mostly old songs anyways. I’ve always thought that this band should inherit Crazy Horse’s throne, and when Neil Young stepped on stage with them to play [insert Neil Young song here], I felt completely justified in my proclamation. And then they started talking about Lou Reed and broke into ‘Oh! Sweet Nothing’ – a ten minute version with MMJ rocking, Elvis Costello on backing vocals, a and Neil swaying in his huge trench coat and hat, stalking the stage and wailing on harmonica. Mind-blowing. A fitting tribute to Lou.

Queens of the Stone Age took me by complete surprise. They appeared on stage completely decked-out and slick like they were the new Rat Pack and proceeded to do takes of their heavy, dark, hooky rock that were truly beautiful. Their use of pianos and acoustic guitar lent itself easily to material from their new album, but they also threw in a couple oldies. This band doesn’t have a short shelf life like others today. They are truly one of the best rock bands in operation, and continue to put out great material. I’ve already got my tickets to see them at Not So Silent Night.

What a great way to celebrate the time around Halloween: listening to (sometimes morose, sometimes upbeat) songs about whores, their ‘daddies’ and johns, and their ultimate demise at the hands of Jack the Ripper. I’ve seen the Tiger Lillie’s perform their twisted brand of street/gypsy music before, but never with such a cohesive theme running through their set. Their vaudevillian presence and demeanor communicate the comedy of their act, even with such lewd subject material. They are a rare treat to see live.

The coup de grace for Rocktober. I went into this show knowing exactly what to expect, and I left with all the joy and frustration I knew I would.

White Denim are possibly one of the best and most frustrating rock bands playing right now. Somewhere down the line, they decided to become more jammy and soulful, instead of realizing my dreams of them becoming America’s Led Zeppelin. A lot of terms get thrown around about this band: Southern-fried proggy jam rock… Pure and simple, they are all fantastic musicians playing the way they want, and it is a spectacle to watch.

I initially didn’t get the hype for Tame Impala, but now I’m happy to spread the gospel. Two beautiful, psychedelic rock albums under their belt, Tame Impala possess more than enough material to usurp the Flaming Lips current set list. And in many ways they did. The announcement was made in the auditorium that Tame Impala couldn’t make it, but the Spice Girls were here to fill in for them. Dancing to the stage in full drag with ‘Wannabe’ playing at half-speed, Tame Impala ripped through their set, only taking time to acknowledge the crowd and how wild and wonderful they thought our Halloween is. They even busted into ‘Thriller’ for a couple verses in the middle of their single ‘Elephant’! A must-see, must-own band for lovers of rock and psychedelia.

I have a SERIOUS love/hate relationship with The Flaming Lips. Back in the 90’s, they put on some fierce, noisy rock shows that were stripped-down affairs (maybe some Christmas lights strung on stage). My mind was totally blown back then. “Clouds Taste Metallic” and “Satellites” must be in my top 100 albums. To me, “The Soft Bulletin” is the beginning of the end, not their high water mark. Now, they are a light show. They are a light show that can hurt to look at: strobe light “ropes” hanging across the stage and over a huge digital backdrop projecting bright colors, lasers, and spotlights. Not to mention the nonstop barrage of balloons and confetti. The band? They sounded great, but there wasn’t any energy up there. And if there was, how could you see it through all the bullshit? They didn’t play a single song written before “The Soft Bulletin”, which annoyed me to no end, but thank god the last two albums have been decent- those songs really engaged live.



Essential Guide to the Treasure Island Music Festival

Here’s the TIMF Spotify playlist link for those of you who don’t want to read.

Good news! It looks like I’ll be stepping out of house arrest to enjoy myself at the Treasure Island Music Festival! I don’t think I’m going to be there from open to close, but I can still offer you, the reader, my opinions on all the bands, and some tips for dress and transportation:

Layers: yes, it’s going to be a lovely weekend in the 70’s, but think about the families of French tourists you’ve seen around town, all decked out in Alcatraz Psycho Ward hoodies… It’s gonna get colder, faster with our tails hanging out in the bay. Bring layers and preferably a wind-proof one.

Sunblock: this is not antithetical to layering up. There will be three hours of sun I’m guessing. Don’t get burnt and then have to layer up. That’s the worst feeling in the world.

Pay to Park: as a TIMF newbie I am opting to pay for parking. It’s a pretty cheap proposition if you have four people in the car for two days.

Take advantage of the free Flywheel offer: if you can’t muster a car, I hear that the Flywheel taxicab hailing app is giving free rides to the festival. I’m sure restrictions apply.

Now on to the music!

I suppose Giraffage is what the kids are calling IDM these days. Sounds like Aphex Twin caught in a rut.

Antwon comes on pretty strong with the hardcore hip hop – and so early in the day. I have trouble imagining a hip hop artist “bringing it” before the sun goes down.

Adult. has been producing gothic electronic dance tunes out of Detroit for more than a decade. While it’s not my bag, I have seen them entertain throngs of festival goers.

Robert DeLong uses many different textures and timbres to produce his shitty dance music. Depending on how he plays live, this could be interesting to watch. Live drumming and live sound manipulation? Fun. All pre-programmed? Zzzzzz.

Tricky canceling may be a disappointment, but Detroit’s MC Danny Brown will likely win over the crowd with his quirky, dynamic beats and his madcap lyrics.

Poolside is one of the strongest examples of a band whose name completely evokes their sound. I can hear this in my head at The Standard Miami, soaking up some sun and drinking an Au Natural (coconut water, pineapple juice, rum, lime). It’s the perfect mix of soft rock from the 70’s and 80’s with a dash of electro to keep things fresh.

Disclosure: R&B house/techno from Great Britain. Pass.

HOO BOY! I appreciate a good laugh, especially when I’m not expecting it… So, thanks DJ Falcon for showing me what being hardcore techno means. Check this shit out! I imagine the kids will be losing their shit for this.

TWERK ALERT!Major Lazer is going to take the stage, play “Bubble Butt” and I’m pretty sure we’re gonna have 5,000 Mileys on our hands.

This is a lot of dance music for someone like me to trudge through, but Holy Ghost! have won on my eighties nostalgia, specifically for the Human League.

Finally, a band I actually know: Little Dragon play beautiful music – be it dancey or moody – and perform it with energy and conviction live. It’s eighties-tastic, but what isn’t these days?

Phantogram has a more ethereal take on the whole electro-dance genre. It’s good, but some depends on how they choose to play live: full band or prerecorded? It will make or break their performance at least for me.

Finally, it’s time for Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich and Flea to whip us into a tizzy as Atoms for Peace. If you like Thom’s The Eraser and the new AfP album, and like to watch Mr. Yorke shuffle his tiny has across the stage, you will not be disappointed.

Deep Sea Diver certainly offers a great argument to skip church and get to the festival early. The band’s sense of melody is reminiscent of Surfer Blood, but the guitar player seems to have some Les Savvy Fav tendencies too, which go nicely with the dynamic female vocalist. Definitely a band I can get into.

Another early contender! IO Echo has a huge, dreamy production aesthetic which makes their shoegazerish pop great to listen to, but once again, I worry about live output. This will rock with a full band, or be pretty boring prerecorded.

Palma Violets are guaranteed to bring the crowd to boil with their bratty, Britpop ways. Listening to all the bands playing TIMF in one sitting is truly daunting, but the slop and slack of the Palma Violets is very refreshing for me.

Cayucas are destined for a good set. Their West Coast sunny pop sounds will be hitting people at the peak of the good weather. Fans of Vampire Weekend with like these guys.

Three acts from the Mitten at this festival! Represent! Lord Huron has that country/Americana pop thing going on. Earnest. Not TOO sad-bastardy. Fans of My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses will dig.

By far the worst music I’ve poured into my ears today, HAIM takes the cake. This band belongs at Alice’s free day in the park opening for the Goo Goo Dolls. It’s SO bad.

STRFKR confuses me. Some of their material has the hooks of a good Deerhunter song, but then they seem way too focused on mid-tempo synth dance numbers.

Real Estate have been milking the REM aesthetic for a couple years now, and to an enjoyable result. I’m not expecting them to blow my face off, but stranger things have happened.

Men, it’s time to grab your lady close and whisper romantic nothings in her ear: James Blake is in tha house! Dude has a voice that just makes bras fall off. Some of the best R&B/electronic crossover being produced today.

And then for a completely different feel, go watch Japandroids. This energetic, punkish band from Canada sounds like 1996 and freedom to me. Go pump your fist and sing along with the “oh-oh-ohs”!

Animal Collective are a gamble to see live, despite being one of the most important acts of the 21st century. If you go expecting to hear “the hits”, you could be sorely disappointed with a full set of material you’ve never heard, and maybe Avey Tare doing some noise jam. Let’s hope for a set of hits, please.

Sleigh Bells’ wall of fuzzed out guitars, blown-out beats, and fashion-victim front woman should be a lot of fun. I’m not sure I can handle a whole set of the dance skronk, but I at least want to check it out.

Beck. Over the decades, this man has never failed to deliver. Simple as that.



Surving Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Sunday Edition

My apologies, but the weather has been too damn nice to be sitting around listening to a bunch of crap I don’t care about. So here is the EXTREMELY phoned-in version of #wwbrd at HSB for Sunday:

No brainers: Steve Martin, Gogol Bordello, Chris Isaak, Billy Bragg, Justin Townes Earle, Allah-Las, The Devil Makes Three.

Maybes: Richard Thompson, Evolfo Doofeht (think a funkier, cheesier !!!).

I promise I’ll be more thorough for Treasure Island!



Surviving Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Saturday Edition

Here’s my HSB Spotify playlist, updated for Saturday.

What I neglected to mention yesterday while gushing about HSB being a tradition/institution here in SF is this: it’s also a hairy nightmare of an event. There’s way too much going on this Saturday for me to review every obscure beardo armed with a banjo. So, here are my super-judgemental picks, keeping in mind I identify with the “HS” much more than the “B”.

If you enjoy your coffee with super-precious, jazzy female vocal stylings, Kat Edmonson seems to be the way to go. Hell, she covers “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure! You could also enjoy your coffee with LP – who is described as “part Feist and part Joan Jett” and also writes songs for Christina Aguilera and Rihanna. That could deserve a listen.

Me? I’d choose to break my fast (for the GoTs fans) with Sonny and the Sunsets warm and fuzzy garage tunes, followed by the heart wrenching, gravelly soul sounds of Betty Lavette. Be prepared to soul clap.

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside are a total surprise. On first listen, it sounds like Jack White and Karen O had a baby and raised it in PDX. Not bad, and probably entertaining.

I’m running outta steam on this post, but Nick Lowe should be interesting if that’s your thing. If you like dudes with super-low growly voices, Mark Lanegan is unparalleled in that field (save Tom Waits).

I got enough Steve Earle on Treme. You’re on your own from here.

Surviving Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Friday Edition

Here’s my HSB Spotify playlist for those who don’t wanna read my crappy advice and opinions. I’ll update as I review bands each day.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has become a great tradition in San Francisco – where else would anyone have the opportunity to hear MC Hammer, Elvis Costello, and Robert Plant in the same weekend?!? And Plant playing ‘Going to California’ in a soup of fog! To cheese out: this event can truly be the stuff memories are made of. But you should be prepared:

  • Travel light. You will surely have some friends packing coolers, throwing down blankets like they’re in an old fashioned land grab, and setting tables with cheese, hummus and crudités to accompany. THAT’S GREAT. Visit with these people, eat their food, but don’t get sucked into the one-stage picnic vortex. If you’re like me, you want to be at several stages, catching as many acts as possible.
  • Cash is king. Whether that means procuring a dirty water hot dog or purchasing a tallboy Pabst from some enterprising hippie, come with bills.
  • Ride in. There isn’t any parking in this city anyways, so why would a weekend of nationally-recognized roots music make that any better? And who wants to pay $50 for an Uber after a day of free music? Fly in and out on two wheels and some pedals, and take advantage of bike parking.
  • Bring a Flask. This fits under ‘travel light’, but is important to highlight. Also, it may help to produce a flask when trying to ingratiate yourself with someone’s cheese table.
  • LAYER UP. This is San Francisco. C’mon, dummy.

I hope some of you are more on top of things, because a young man named Jesse Dee is playing as I write this. He’s got a very fun and fresh take on classic R&B and soul sounds. Should be a good should dance party.

Shit- another opener with promise! Manchester Orchestra has all the attributes you like about My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses. But they seem to be all over the map. Oh shit, they just went Nu-emo. Nevermind.

Jake Bellows, well, does ant hyping but bellow. Mostly he meanders through bar chords with a lot of reverb on his voice. Jesse Dee would be my pick for fist band to see.

I’m not even sure I’m listening to the right schmuck on Spotify, but Jesse DeNatale seems like a REAL boring Devandera Banhart or Edward Sharp. Pass.

The female duo of Freakwater brings the first real possibility for a hippie hoedown. Strong-voiced women strumming the shit out of some guitar – hard to hate.

The Cave Singers… Ach, I guess they sound as good or as bad as anybody else mining country for that indie Americana sound.

If the soundtrack for “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” was a revelation for you (no judgement, really), you will probably like The Seldom Scene and their backwater gospel bluegrass sound.

LOW is a band I can’t believe is still around after twenty years, but they are – improbably – continuing to make beautiful and grandiose pop tunes, at a variety of volumes and tempos. My only problem is their overlap with on of my all-time heroes.

Go see Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina in The Evens. This might prove to be the best thing you do or see all weekend. I’m already jealous. Stay to the end. Father John Misty may be calling, but how often can you say you saw one of the most important people in punk rock play?

After that, First Aid Kit sounds decent enough: girly harmonies, lotsa guitars and instruments (sometimes even played with gusto!). Points to these acoustic-toting ladies for being Swedish, and by extension Detroit Red Wings fans.

After that, choose your poison: Calexico, Conor Oberst, or Bonnie Raitt?

I have no opinion on these musicians, but I’m sure Bonnie and Conor will both have all kinds a special guests, so choose who you think will have cooler special guests and watch that performance. Calexico is obviously the sacrificial lamb here.