Wednesday, April 27, 2016

rejoice to the skies

Spring is here, and with it comes an uptick in touring. Personally, I'm not taking full advantage of the concert schedule, but the Big Star's Third reprise was notable enough to warrant a night out.

Big Star's Third, the Fillmore, April 24, 2016Big Star's Third, the Fillmore, April 24, 2016: Fun fact: After you hear "Thirteen," it's impossible to not sing it to yourself for the next few days. It's science!

Truth be told, I might not have ventured out if Paul hadn't come to town for the show, but it doesn't take a lot to convince me to hear pretty voices and awesome musicians play songs by Big Star. The early question was why the band had come back together. They had put together a couple of shows last fall, and it's not like the setlist was going to change much, nor had many new faces joined the roster. The answer became clearer when the L.A. date was announced. This would be the dress rehearsal, albeit without a couple of big names.

About those names: Many of the usual suspects returned, including Chris Stamey and Jody Stephens (of course). Much of the same crew returned from last fall's appearance, Mike Mills, Pat Sansone, Chuck Prophet, and the Kronos Quartet among them. A new face (or at least one I don't remember) was Mitch Easter. REM fans can probably wax much poetic about him than I can, but it's no exaggeration to say his hair alone enjoyed '80s indie rock icon status. Though he looks nothing like that these days, he can still play the guitar -- and he was the only person onstage to sport anything close to formal wear.

I caught only the set at Hardly Strictly last year, so I don't know what the normal show is like, but more experienced ears tell me the ensemble reversed the usual order of events. Instead of going into the advertised record, they began with the one-off tunes -- not that I can tell you the setlist for either night. But let's say Pat Sansone helped kick off the proceedings, and what do you know? He made his way to a solo song for the encore too.

In between, we got all the expected tracks and some new tunes sung by new voices. Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo was one of the new additions, and they eventually convinced Georgia Hubley to join them. I don't even remember what they sang, except Ira picked up the hair dryer for one song. Speaking of sound effects, Mike Mills took care of the basketball again.

Big Star's Third, the Fillmore, April 24, 2016

Now that we weren't in the middle of a field, the finer details came through. Jody, a true gentleman, exuded Southern charm, and Mitch Easter was second only to Chris Stamey as an all-purpose player. Th Kronos Quartet might've benefited the most from this proper setting -- that is, their contributions rung out, which I kind of missed at the Arrow Stage. Strangely, Chuck Prophet wasn't much of a presence until the very end, when he finally stepped up the main mic. Oh, and we did quite well on not biting on the fake ending of "Holocaust." (Full disclosure: We were warned.)

But the constants stayed strong, notably "Thirteen" and "Thank You Friends," but it would take a ton of questionable decisions and a deficit of talent to detract from those songs. The encores felt somewhat ramshackle, and in fact, the whole show was endearingly ragged. We imagine they'll edit out the pauses for the final release. Maybe someday they'll realize they already have the perfect closer in "Thank You Friends" and mix up the rest of the song order to lead down that path. Regardless of the final setlist, the songs remain among the all-time classics, and that alone is good reason to listen to these players. I wanna thank you again!

See also:
» i'm so grateful

Saturday, April 02, 2016

they want your heart and soul

The break between gigs wasn't supposed to be this long -- though in fact I saw a show earlier this week, but I'm not going to blog about it because it's outside of my abilities and a slight misreading of the bill skewed my expectations. In my defense, San Francisco has been awash in an unusually high number of great touring comedians lately -- but I don't blog about comedy either, so let's get to Gaz Coombes, ex-Supergrass, at Slim's instead.

Gaz Coombes, Slim's, April 1, 2016: Earlier this week, I racked my brain to recall if I ever saw Supergrass in concert, and slowly it came back to me -- specifically, an Amanda Decadenet sighting. Fortunately, I committed it to type earlier, so yay confirmation!

This actually points out a couple of current problems. First of all, my memory is going. Second, I saw a lot of shows before I started blogging, particularly during the Britpop years, and details will be lost in the jumble. Hopefully I can do some justice to them, 20-odd years on.

(Speaking of 20 years, has anyone noticed "Alright" popping up in two different commercials? I can't even remember the products now, but of course I perked up both times it came on. Yes, I still watch real-time TV with commercials, and I can still be surprised by music licensing.)

I feel like I have so many recollections to unpack every time a Britpop name rolls into town. It was so much fun, and there were so many good stories, but that was then. But to begin, I have to admit I wasn't a Supergrass, er, superfan. Also, I'm not really an early adopter, so that fledgling punk energy isn't always up my alley. Instead, I tend to prefer the mellower, more pensive phase as they adjust to success and reevaluate their motivation -- then in the case of British bands, interest drops off and they stop touring in the United States. Bwahahahahaha! In other words, I love the second Supergrass album.

Back to Gaz: The setup was solo and mostly acoustic, with a couple of songs on keyboard and a little help from a sampler. Early on, I thought Slim's terrible reputation for sound would overshadow Gaz's music, but kudos to the person at the console who adjusted and dialed up the perfect amount of reverb to complement Gaz's full, warm voice.

I didn't take my usual spot upfront, so I can't report how Gaz looks these days, except to say his trademark sideburns and wild eyes are intact. The crowd itself was respectable, especially for a Friday night when the Bay Area could also take in the Warriors (who lost at home!) and a preseason matchup between the Giants and the A's.

My most memorable Gaz Coombes takeaway from the last few years has been his interest in Midlake, who've shown up in this blog a number of times. Their performance of "Young Bride" is worth a click.

Otherwise, I haven't kept up with Gaz's career and hadn't listened to Matador going in, but a few songs stood out. Gaz offered a full intro to "Detroit" and his come-to-Jesus moment in the city. I appreciated the extra attention; it's a stand-out song. The one I loved was the last song before the encore, and after a rudimentary round of Googling, I learned it was the title track for good reason. I'm not sure I'm going to buy the whole record, but the singles are worth the download.

Of course, everyone wanted to hear Supergrass, and Gaz hit a few of them. Musicians have all kinds of reasons for which older tracks they revisit, but in a short show, the options are even more limited. Gaz went with "Moving," and at the very end, he rolled out "Caught By the Fuzz." Alas, no "Late in the Day" for me or "Alright" for the dude bellowing in the back, but they would've been more surprising than not.

Before he left the stage, Gaz thanked the city and said he'd be back soon. I honestly don't see the latter happening, but I wouldn't mind his return. He also shared a tidbit I don't recall from the miles of interviews I read back in the day. He said he spent a part of his childhood in Mountain View. I wonder if he's as amazed as us longtime locals by its transformation into Tech Town.

See also:
» pre-easily fooled
» why are your shoulders like that of a tired old woman

Monday, December 28, 2015

i'll be a rock 'n' rolling bitch for you

To mark my 11th occasion of seeing Jon Brion's Christmas show at Largo, everything was back to normal. That is, seats were claimed, friends were greeted, baked goods were presented. All was right in the world -- and to all a good night!

Jon Brion, Largo at the Coronet, December 18, 2015: The annual Week Before Xmas in Los Angeles went well, with my third visit to Doug Loves Movies' 12 Guests of Christmas (thanks again to the kindness of strangers with extra tickets). The only slight downside: Since Christmas fell on a Friday, Jon's show was earlier than usual, which meant I couldn't take in the Watkins Family Hour or Largo's usual end-of-year treats. Still, I made it to the two marquee events.

Upon entry, you could see Jon's ultraspare setup: the always present piano, a few chairs, and a couple of microphones. I don't think a guitar showed up until Jon took the stage. But before we got to Jon's entrance, Flanny brought out a surprise guest: one Zach Galifianakis! As I understand it, Zach drops in at Largo from time to time, even now that he's a movie star, but his appearances are rarities and treats when they happen. He tried out a very short set, then made way for the headliner.

For the first several tracks, Jon stuck to the piano for maybe an improvised song, and even "Punch-Drunk Melody" started out with a long, wandering lead-up before it landed on the tune we know and love. "Ruin My Day" was the first straightforward tune of the night before Jon went back to another song I can't ID. However, I can report he threw his full body into it, with his feet keeping the time and responding to the notes.

Thus ended the first piano portion of the evening. Jon's shows have always evolved, even during his time at Fairfax, but in my opinion, his shows at the Coronet have become more populist. I don't mean that in a snobby way, but with a wider swath of fans to please, he sometimes goes for jokier moves. He's always tuned to "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window" and "If I Only Had a Brain," but they both became legitimate numbers tonight and garnered giggles and smiles. In the first nod to the season, he then went into a little bit of "Jingle Bell Rock" in a semi-fingerpicking style, before delving into "Nothing Between Us." I often request this oldie from Jon's catalog, so I was glad he got to it himself. Also, that might've been the first time I've heard it on acoustic guitar.

Jon asked for Sebastian Steinberg to join him, but Sebastian took longer than expected to arrive. In the meantime, Jon punched out a very fast version of "I Believe She's Lying." Speaking of, not going to lie -- I think I prefer the acoustic version of the song because it doesn't drag along excessively.

Sebastian's official arrival began with Jon returning to the piano and the Peanuts Christmas theme, with Sebastian leading Jon through chord changes -- imagine that! I can't even guess at their seconds song, and I only list "Caravan" as the third tune because I heard them name it. "Caravan" was actually proceeded by Jon thinking aloud as he worked out the tempo and shifts to get to the performance he wanted. I didn't understand a word of it, but it was interesting to hear, and the final product was rollicking and well-paced. The duo finished up with three of Jon's own titles, including a request from our friend Sarah two seats down for "Here We Go."

The next friend due up was David Garza, who grabbed the guitar. They turned over the reins to him, and give him credit for trying to stick with the holiday theme. He went with "Blue Christmas," kind of honky-tonk style, complete with one of the most remarkable hand-offs I've seen between musicians. At Largo, you see all kinds of artists playing together and sharing the stage, making room for each other's solo turns and encouraging one another to get in a few bars. Sometimes they'll tap each other on the shoulder or nod their head in encouragement. This night, I saw David slowly shift to playing rhythm guitar, then Jon jump into his solo without so much as a glance between the two. I mean, maybe this happens all the time when you've been breathing each other's musical fumes for so long, but it struck me as the concert equivalent of a no-look pass, culminating in an alley-oop.

David next tried that delightful mashup of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Roxanne," but truth be told, he didn't carry it off as well as earlier performers. Give him points for the attempt, though, and for convincing Sara Watkins to join the group.

One Watkins was not enough, so Sean took his bow as well, his own guitar in hand. They hit a Dylan song, which was marked by Jon playing percussion on his Guinness glass, no piano at all, then a request brought up Jon's "Trouble," with Sara on vocals. Though we hardly needed the reminder, Sara's voice is indeed quite lovely and even preferable to Jon's, and her violin was a gorgeous standby for the synths on the official studio version. Great -- now that I'm listening to the original again, I'm painfully reminded of how badly I want a follow-up to Meaningless.

The next request brought "Beast of Burden," which I've heard the Largo crew do before, but it's always a ton of fun as each performer tries to out-camp one another with their best take on Mick Jagger. Jon gave it a shot, but David gave it everything else for maximum effect.

For Sean's tune, they chose a traditional title that's been covered by both Lyle Lovett and the Raconteurs apparently. Of course, I know this only because I Googled the lyrics -- there's no way I would've know that on my own.

Jon asked Sebastian to remain onstage for the last couple of tunes, requests for "Moonage Daydream" and "Since I've Been Loving You." Then it was Jon by himself for a long, languid take on "Moon River" and the encore/closer of "Happy With You."

The party continued in the Little Room, with the David and the Watkinses and special guest Gaby Moreno. Rumor had it Jon might join them, but we didn't stick around long enough to find out. Please feel free to drop me a line if you can add to the report.

See you in 2016.

Zach Galifianakis opener

-- piano
-- Punch-Drunk Melody
-- Ruin My Day
-- ???
-- How Much Is That Doggie in the Window
-- Jingle Bell Rock
-- Nothing Between Us
-- If I Only Had a Brain
-- I Believe She's Lying
-- Christmastime Is Here *
-- ??? *
-- Caravan *
-- Strangest Times
-- Knock Yourself Out
-- Here We Go
-- Blue Christmas **
-- Rudolph (You Don't Have to Put on Your Red Light) ***
-- From a Buick 6 ****
-- Trouble ****
-- Beast of Burden ****
-- Keep It Clean ****
-- Moonage Daydream *
-- Since I've Been Loving You/Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies *
-- Moon River
-- Happy With You

* = with Sebastian Steinberg
** = with Sebastian Steinberg and David Garza
*** = with Sebastian Steinberg, David Garza, and Sara Watkins
**** = with Sebastian Steinberg, David Garza, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins

Ghosts of Christmas past:
» let your heart be light
» i'm offering this simple phrase
» it's been said many times, many ways
» with soul power
» it's the end of the things you know
» you could say one recovers
» a really good time
» the things you do to keep yourself intact
» i've heard a rumor from ground control
» strangest times