The best part about the José James show at The Independent this Saturday might have been…
The opening band, Moonchild, a three-piece nouveau-soul act from southern California, recently self-released their second LP, Please Rewind. The only thing I love more than brassy horns and finger-snapping is DIY-enthusiasm. Smooth on stage and smooth at the merch table: after a few minutes talking about how much I liked the set and the new record, I walked away with a copy of their first album on CD. I really just wanted a sticker…
Or the best part could have been…
The Independent was packed, probably fairly close to a sold-out crowd. The fact that this Brooklyn hip-hop/jazz artist operates outside the lines typically trafficked by the hipster music bloggers meant that few, if any, people bought up extra tickets to flip at a profit. And for a Saturday night at one of my favorite venues in town, that was refreshing. It also meant that two last-minute additions to our party were able to get same-day admission. My disdain for scalpers has been simmering for some time, but given recent events, and the mad rush on Outside Lands single-day tickets, it has now become volatile. I’m recommitted. Boycott scalpers. I’ll even start hashtagging that shit. Spread the word.
Dear Rain, I love you. I love the sound you make on my windows at night, and the way you make the City streets glisten. You make me either walk more briskly or more slowly and carefully, but never my usual pace. And you know how I love unusual deviations to my life and day.
We need you. Water’s been scarce and the dairy cows are frowning. Welcome back.
The first show I attended this year was back in January at The DNA Lounge. It was one of 8BitSF‘s monthly shows, this one featuring a reunion of Oakland band The Glowing Stars. DH sold them as fronted by a “hot singer,” but I didn’t need any convincing. Going anywhere sounded great, especially to see some live music again. Even though I felt a hundred years old when I got home from work and sat on the couch, thinking how nice it would be to just stay right here until the morning and pretend that I was going to crack my books and begin studying, I made it out to SoMa.
I think the only other person in his thirties was the bartender, and I’ll bet I had at least five years on him. The place was full of eared animal beanies, technogeek t-shirts, and highlight-color hair. During the Open Mic portion of the evening, the MC (a hyper blue-haired puppy who jumped around, waved his arms, and shouted “yay” a lot) introduced a bespectacled guy in a sweater vest by the name of Dr. Popular. DH gasped and explained to me, “He’s like a nerd celebrity.” He played two songs utilizing his Gameboy and Nanoloop software and plugged a Kickstarter campaign to have his new album released on cartridge. His set was crap, but the kids seemed to enjoy it.
The next one-man act, Tonight We Launch, from Portland, was heckled by a pair of guys who had probably spent the majority of their lives on the receiving end of similar harassment. I couldn’t decide if I was happy for them, or if I hated them. When the Portlandian introduced a Propagandhi cover, I was fairly confident that I was the only person in the room who recognized the song, let alone the name of the band. He was pretty good, despite the constant “I’m sorry” expression carved into his face.
Ovenrake twiddled Gameboy knobs for about forty minutes, and then The Glowing Stars took the stage. One girl with a guitar, one guy on a drumkit, and one piece of obsolete video game equipment with backing instrumentals. It was fucking great.
Punk rock never died. It just found new scenes and new crowds in which to thrive. Rarely had I been part of an audience so singularly connected by energy and enthusiasm. I should have remembered this when, a few weeks ago, I was horrified by The Angry Samoans.
Then, this past Thursday, DH coaxed me out once again. This time the hook was “a Japanese superhero-themed band.” I reminded him that I would never need convincing, especially after my first 8BitSF experience.
But neither DH’s description nor my prior evening of chiptune noise prepared me for the weirdness (or volume) that is Peelander Z.
Before the first act took the stage, however, one of the organizers produced a birthday cake shaped like a NES, and we sang “Happy Birthday” for a guy who wasn’t even in attendance. After the song, the crowd added a chant of “fuck sports.” But… the guy had tickets to the Sharks playoff game… “FUCK SPORTS!” Okay, okay… An exploration of the athletic animosity present in this scene (and among a surprising number of my friends) should be forthcoming.
Then Gnarb00ts roamed the floor, making more demands on the audience than a hip-hop artist. Beyond the obligatory hands-in-the-air, we also needed to dance, run under sheets, and “be the show.” They even convinced virtually everyone in the crowd to quiet down and sit on the sticky-ass floor of the DNA Lounge while two of them tip-toed through the throng in creepy clown masks and robes. But We Are All Gnarb00ts, after all. So one and all complied.
By the time Peelander Z brought their sci-fi vaudevillian punk to the stage, dressed like Power Rangers villains, the room was ready to erupt. We were reminded repeatedly, in an incredibly thick accent, that Peelander Z were not Japanese; they were not American; they were not even human beings. They were just three denizens of Peelander intent on tearing up the top floor of 375 Eleventh Street.
In fact, one of DH’s friends, who was supposed to provide visuals for PZ’s set, was told by the venue to cancel everything. No visuals allowed. They were worried about their projector getting damaged.
Not to worry, however, since Peelander Pink had all the lyrics to all of their songs hand-scrawled on posterboard for our convenience. Not that it would be hard to remember all the lyrics to “Mad Tiger” or “Tacos Tacos Tacos,” since all the lyrics were “Mad Tiger” and “Tacos Tacos Tacos,” respectively.
Once again, the entire night was about exuberant energy, with nary a shred of musicianship. A guy from the crowd was able to fill in on drums for a while, Peelander Yellow climbed around in the rafters, there was more stage-diving in forty minutes than I’d seen collectively in the last four years, and feedback from guitar amps competed with the raucous crowd noise all night long.
8BitSF reconvenes at DNA Lounge on May 15. I’ll be there. And this time, my pal DH, dressed all in white, will be onstage.
When our favorite musicians grow up, does it force us to grow up a little too? Or does the presence of music in our lives, invariably tied to a certain time, a particular chapter, make it difficult to stomach the maturation of the artists responsible?
Or maybe there’s a cosmic biorhythm that resonates among us. We’re drawn to music and the musicians that make it because of a more personal connection than we’d ever even considered.
When Joe Strummer found the Mescaleros, I found myself in college with two kids and a mountain of debt. The Clash might have been a high school crush, too tenacious and too much trouble to take seriously. In Davis, surrounded by Birkenstocks and protest signs, I encountered a world perspective that was more about reggae than rebellion.
Just a few years later, The Promise Ring was everything my rollercoaster psyche needed. But, just as suddenly, Davey von Bohlen was balding and settling down with Maritime. I had a job and responsibilities. And an increasing number of gray hairs.
Before hearing a single track off The Both’s self-titled debut, it felt like someone dropped a save-the-date postcard in my Twitter feed. Ted Leo had been cooing over his musical partnership with Aimee Mann for at least a year. It wasn’t hype; it was heartfelt excitement.
So am I ready to grow up? Again?
First and foremost, I love Ted Leo. I’ve seen this guy perform more than any other musician, and the race isn’t close (need my toes pretty soon). But… since Shake the Sheets, I’ve been feeling, well… like maybe an injection of new is in order. Whether that change is Aimee Mann, or she’s just the catalyst, I don’t care. I’m excited for him.
And, by extension, I’m excited for me too. Tell the bartender…
(Oh, and not that there haven’t been enough comparisons on the Internet already, but put me squarely in the Stannis Doppleganger camp. Ted and The Pharmacists should have done a “Rains of Castamere” rendition instead of Sigur Ros. Or, maybe in addition to. The closing credits of last week’s episode came pretty close to giving me chills.)
I bristled, initially, when some publicist compared young Michigan-based artist Daniel Wilson to Arthur Russell. Great voice plus minimal instrumentation does not the second coming make. So, admittedly, my ears were prejudging the first few tracks on Wilson’s debut EP, Young Rubbish. What am I hearing, a recent theater grad performing an off-Broadway opener at best..? Glee audition at worst..? There’s more emotional weight in an Arthur Russell exhalation than two minutes of “Please Dream.”
Then I heard track three, “Will You,” a second time.
And I had to re-listen to the entire EP.
I’ve had a hard time, in my life, finding the right balance between reckless spontaneity and the paralysis created by overthinking. And, lately, waiting… and being patient… have been exercises in renewal. “Will you wait..?” Will I wait? There are so many things worth waiting for, and so many reasons to be in the moment for every breath.
He gets that. In an echo-y falsetto, and in every tremulous line.
My bad, Daniel. And shame on me for almost dismissing an incredible young talent based solely on someone else’s comparison. And now I only wish I had more to listen to.
Credit to my pal JN for introducing me to my latest Swedish crush. JN, during his year-long Scandinavian culinary adventure, spent a good amount of time in Sweden, honing his craft, his butchering knives, and his understanding of the vitality of dairy.
Over ramen the other night, while recounting his experiences, and conscious of my obsessive interest in all things Swedepop, he told me, “There’s so much good Swedish music you never hear. Because it’s all sung in Swedish.”
He didn’t mean it as a slight; he wasn’t trying to criticize my narrow only-in-English musical tastes. He meant that, because of the music business, we’re prevented, in many ways, from hearing a lot of great, international music.
Of course that’s all changing, and I’m embracing the world scene as much as I’m able. But to demonstrate his point, as it pertains to Sweden, he mentioned Veronica Maggio, a Swedish pop star of Italian descent, charting hits in her native land since her debut in 2006. While some of her earlier albums are available stateside, her latest album, Handen i fickan fast jag bryr mig (which Wikipedia offers, as a seemingly stilted, direct translation: “Hand in my pocket though I care”) has yet to see a U.S. release. Even the first single, released late in 2013, is blocked on YouTube (“The uploader has not made this video available in your country”), grayed out on Spotify, and non-existent on Amazon, eMusic, or iTunes.
There’s this “Lyric Video” of the single, which looks fan-produced, and there are some remixes on Soundcloud.
I like it more for what it represents than the song itself (although the song’s okay too). Separated from an American audience, popular music thrives and evolves internationally, new-bud growth in the radioactive wasteland of commercialized radio culture. It happens in Sweden; it happens in Portugal; it happens in Taiwan and it happens in Argentina.
It’s been more than a decade since “Noodles” spoke to me and opened the door to a Nordic love affair that hasn’t ebbed in the slightest. But I know that for every Love Is All, there are a pair of Hemstads. Every Lykke Li, maybe three Veronica Maggios to captivate my interest. Enough musical exploration to keep me busy for another decade-plus.
Outside Lands has come a long way since Radiohead’s solar-powered stage mess on that inaugural Friday years ago. This year’s lineup has just been announced.
My immediate takeaway? Ray Lamontagne steals Hamilton Leithauser away from The Walkmen frontman’s solo tour. Now, Ray is coming to Golden Gate Park… without Leithauser? Come on man. Didn’t you have fun at Cultivate last summer?