Friday, November 30, 2007

13 November 2007: The Walkmen

13 November 2007
The Walkmen
The Independent
628 Divisadero St (btwn Hayes & Grove) [Map]
Drinks consumed: 3 or 4 beers.

I haven't listened to the Walkmen's latest albums—A Hundred Miles Off and the remake of Harry Nilsson and John Lennon's Pussy Cats—so that probably excludes me from claiming that I am a "fan." However, I loved the first two full Walkmen albums and their various EPs, and am particularly fond of the music made by organist Walter Martin, drummer Matt Barrick and guitarist Paul Maroon as Jonathan Fire*Eater. Plus, the Walkmen were the first band I ever interviewed for a feature. Honestly, though, I was most excited to see someone tear up the keys of an upright piano like the one my parents bought used for me when I was 12.

Right, the piano. Just because a band has a piano on stage does not mean it's acceptable to compare them to certain other 21st century bands that use pianos. The piano has been a huge element of the Walkmen's music since long before Coldplay was a household name. Although they sound, at times, like a drunk early-90s U2, the Walkmen avoid coming off as a U2 tribute band through their urban barroom lyrics, piano-hammering compositions, and wailing guitar. However, the newer songs—i.e., the ones I didn't recognize—rely more on guitars and reserve the piano for the background. Still, the pianist impressed me, although I can't figure out if it was Walter Martin on the keys or bassist Pete Bauer since they switched instruments for the last album and I can't tell them apart. Even weirder, frontman Hamilton Leithauser sounds so much like a certain famous singer these days that I heard a guy behind me lean over to his friend and say, "I've always really liked Bob Dylan."

The highlight of the show was "Thinking of a Dream" from Bows + Arrows, which seemed louder than every other song they played (and they're all pretty loud live). Leithauser did not sound like Bob Dylan for this one—he sounded like a great crooner. One track notably missing from the set was "The Rat," the single that has been in movies, on TV shows (most notably The OC), and was even featured in a baseball video game. Then again, I probably wouldn't want to play that track either.

I wasn't expecting the show to be packed, which is foolish since the band has been around since 1999 (when the former Fire*Eater members joined forces with Martin's cousin Leithauser and former Recoys bassist, Peter Bauer). I guess because I'd tuned out for a while I assumed everyone else had too. Silly me: the show was packed. It shows what one viral single can do for—or to—your fan base.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

26 October 2007: Blitzen Trapper & Two Gallants

26 October 2007
Two Gallants w/Blitzen Trapper
The Independent
628 Divisadero St (btwn Hayes & Grove) [Map]
Drinks consumed: lost count but thanks for that shot, Jason!

Those who claim rock and roll is dead—or at least not "vibrant" these days—haven't seen Blitzen Trapper or Two Gallants play live to a drunk and rowdy crowd at the Independent. (They also aren't paying attention to music in general, but that's beside the point.) While the Two Gallants are hometown heroes, thinking of them as just another local band undercuts the talent of the duo, whose sound falls somewhere between Guy Clark and the Buzzcocks. Coupled with classic-rock-loving Blitzen Trapper, you have a show which proves that rock and roll is not dead. These two bands are recycling and combining old forms of music to create awesome new sounds.

Identifying what classic rock artist each Blitzen Trapper song sounds most like is an exercise in classic rock appreciation. From Cream to Black Sabbath to the Zombies, Blitzen Trapper is right on the heels of Wolfmother in bringing the sounds of the late 60s and early 70s to indie rock. It's about time—the wannabe Joy Division sound was excruciating from the start. It's great to see a bunch of nerdy guys—one of them in a too-small ski sweater his grandma could have bought him—rock the fuck out to the sounds of their parents' record collections as if Interpol never happened. They played a long set which made the show feel like they were more double headliners than an opening act. I loved it.

Then we have Two Gallants. "Alt-country" is the lamest label you can give these guys. This is a band who, in 2006, found themselves face-to-face with a Houston police officer's taser when the officer responded to a noise complaint from a neighbor and the band continued to rock. Fortunately there were no utterances of "Don't tase me bro" at the Indy. There were, however, plenty of people singing along to every word. The duo's lyrics are old country with a punk twist: "I shot my wife today / dropped her body in the 'Frisco bay / I had no choice it was the only way / Death's coming, I'm still running." And, of course, my friend's personal favorite: "But I guess by the dim light in your eyes / And that to you all things come as a surprise/ I should set the steel trap of your thighs / And dive right in." The place nearly exploded when they played those two songs—"Steady Rollin'" and "Despite What You've Been Told," respectively—thus restoring my faith in San Francisco's ability to rock.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

25 September 2007: Low

25 September 2007
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell Street (btwn Polk & Larkin) [Map]
Drinks Consumed: It was my birthday, I didn't count.
Review at the Owl Mag

Low was originally scheduled to play San Francisco in July, on dates I couldn't make. Then they decided to go on tour with Wilco and postpone part of the tour until the fall. Coincidentally, they rescheduled the Great American Music Hall shows for two days in September, one of which happened to be my birthday. Those who know Low well may not think it the most festive of bands to see on one's birthday, but I disagree. Every chord of their music is hauntingly beautiful and evocative and the show was fantastic.

That's me. That's my birthday rock fist.

After looking at some set lists from other stops on the tour, I didn't expect them to play much, if anything, from their 2005 release, The Great Destroyer, so when they opened with "Cue the Strings" I was pleasantly surprised. Destroyer is their first album working with producer David Fridmann—"the fifth flaming lip"—and was a wildly popular rock 'n' roll departure from their albums. After the opening song they moved into tracks from the 2007 album, Drums and Guns: "Sandinista," "In Silence," and "Take Your Time." Drums and Guns was also produced by Fridmann but is not a natural progression from Destroyer in sound. It's a return to minimal, creeping melodies and crystalline percussion, with a little synth thrown in here and there, but brings with it the lack of restraint and tendency toward experimentation we saw on Destroyer. The next track was something that I sadly couldn't identify but it was old: slow, droning, and, at times, psychedelic. Then "Dragonfly" from 'Guns,' "Silver Rider" from Destroyer, and back to the new album with "Belarus." They pulled out "Point of Disgust" from Trust and closed out the set with "Violent Past," "Murderer," and "Breaker" from Guns.

I have never been the kind of person to yell things out at shows, save the one time I screamed "Fuck yeah!" when Kings of Convenience played the chorus from Pavement's "Range Life." (I thought others would be as excited as me but I was wrong.) But it was my birthday, the whiskey was flowing, and when other people started shouting song titles I couldn't help myself—"WHEN I GO DEAF" just came out. This was followed by a friend shouting, "It's her birthday!" and another friend asking, "Where do I get the dragonfly pills?" a reference to a "Dragonfly" from Drums and Guns (We took our pills / It changed the world / We had our fill / But when we realized / That we were dragonflies). Others shouted a few random requests but the band continued playing the set.

At some point during the first encore after they played "Sunflower," I was at the bar making someone buy me a drink when Alan Sparhawk asked, "Where's the birthday girl? Is it really her birthday?" There was no way for him to see me jumping up and down in the back of the room waving my arms like a moron and yelling, "YES, YES IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!!!" but fortunately Koshi (who takes the pictures for my reviews) was in front of the stage shooting the band and confirmed that it was, in fact, my day of birth. As Sparhawk strummed the first few chords and sang the first line of my requested song, I went to stand in front of the stage. Then I realized that an incredibly wasted man was yelling, "Transmission!" from the balcony, and apparently had been doing so the whole show. Sparhawk stopped playing, turned his attention to the raging fan, and told the audience it was his drunk uncle who follows him around. Some banter and a profession of love from the drunk guy later, Sparhawk realized this guy wouldn't be satisfied until the heard his song so they played it. It's a really amazing cover of Joy Division (and one of my favorite covers of all time). They went right into "When I Go Deaf" which is twice as haunting live as it is on the album. Happy birthday to me! I could have done without the seizure-inducing strobe light during the second encore, though.

Even if they hadn't played "When I Go Deaf" and even if it hadn't been my birthday, this would still be one of my favorite shows of the year. Mimi and Alan sound beautiful together and the mix of old songs and new songs flowed well. Their live performance was so compelling when I found out they'd be playing a small free show at Stanford the following Thursday, I hung around after work and went over to see them again with a friend who goes to school there. There was more banter, and not just because one of the organizers introduced them as "the saddest band in the world." Alan appears much more comfortable in a small room of strangers to their music than in a large room like the Great American Music Hall.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

6 Sept 2007: Stereo Total

6 Sept 2007
Stereo Total
Bimbo's 365 Club
1025 Columbus Ave (btwn Francisco & Chestnut) [Map]
Drinks Consumed: Believe it or not, zero. Zip. Nil. Nada. None.
Review at the Owl Mag

The Berlin-based duo Stereo Total, consisting of French singer/drummer Françoise Cactus and German guitarist/synth madman Brezel Göring, is what you would end up with if you crossed France Gall with Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori and the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret with Ian MacKaye. While that sounds like the worst act in history, the duo is actually great to watch—a little witty and a lot absurd. And absurdity is what makes a Stereo Total show a completely unpretentious evening of fun. Alternating between lo-fi electronica and punk-infused indie rock, the duo, formed in the early 1990s, has earned a loyal following—hip and unhip alike—who know every word to every song whether the lyrics are in English, French, German, or jibberish.

The duo burst onto the Bimbo's stage with energy that lasted through an hour-long set and two encores, even when they forgot the words and rhythms to songs ("It goes boom boom!" said Françoise as she tried to remember the drum part to an old track). The duo is all about catchy pop tracks, most of them somehow related to dancing, music, or kinky sex. And almost all of them are so cheerful-sounding that they'd fit seamlessly into a soundtrack for Katamari rolling. On top of the punky electro pop, Stereo Total's songs consist of ridiculous lyrics like "Let's go to the Holiday Inn / and I will show you something" ("Holiday Innn"); "I don't like the pretty folk / can't stand the DJ / don't like the records that he plays, no!" ("Everybody in the Discotheque (I Hate)"); and "J'aime l'amour à trois" which, loosely translated, means, "I dig threesomes." They are simultaneously sophisticated in their mocking of the world and incredibly geeky.

Their bizarre repertoire of covers ranges from Otis Rush's "Violent Love" to The Plastics' "I love you, Oh no!" (changed to "I Love You, ONO" in honor of the one and only Yoko) to Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It." Genre and language be damned: no song is safe from the Stereo Total treatment. And a Stereo Total cover isn't your average cover—between Françoise's adorable voice, simple drums, and thick French accent, and Brezel's spastic electronic beats and chords on a DIY-looking rectangular guitar, their covers are more like reinventions.

The genius of their live performance is that of these songs come complete with some silly schtick. For "L'amour à 3" they brought an audience member on stage to sing and dance with them. (After all, how can you sing about the joy of the threeway with only two people on stage?) Brezel used an ironing board as a percussion instrument early on in the show and, later, successfully dove into the crowd and surfed his way back to the stage unscathed. The air-humping, hip-thrusting dance to "Push It" would have only been better if they'd slipped into black spandex bodysuits, red boots, and the Salt-N-Pepa equivalent to NASCAR team jackets worn in the 1986 "Push It" video. The audience got as into the performance as the band was, screaming out song requests (the Germans behind me were particularly vocal about hearing "Wir Tanzen Im 4-Eck"). It's impossible to pick a highlight, but the crowd exploded when they played "Musique Automatique" and ran on stage to unleash their dorkiest dances for "Everybody in the Discotheque (I Hate)." There was a near incident when an earnest fan busted out a breakdance handstand and almost kicked over Brezel's guitar, but fortunately everyone made it off stage without injury.

The only warning to be given is this: if you take yourself and the shows you go to seriously, these guys are not for you. But if you are okay with bouncing shamelessly in public, love infectious punky pop music and funky electronic beats, and like to go to shows to have fun and not just be seen, Stereo Total is definitely a band to check out. If they had played two nights, I would've gone back.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

13 Sept 2007: Foreigner

13 Sept 2007
Mountain Winery
14831 Pierce Road, Saratoga, CA [Map]
Drinks consumed: Not sure, our guest reviewers didn't give a count.

We didn't go to this one ourselves, but three of our friends went and they came back with a full report on the MILFtastic experience. Here's the review I got as an email from the one who calls himself Faceword:
It was amazing.

Mountain Winery is a smallish venue—less than a 1000 people, if I had to guess. We were on the right of the stage, but probably 20 feet from the rock gods of Foreigner.

The current drummer for Foreigner is Jason Bonham, son of vomit choker and Led Zep drummer John Bonham, and also the scheduled drummer for the Led Zeppelin reunion show in London.

Before the show started, an MC went on stage and did a two minute charity auction for 2 tickets to the Led Zep reunion show donated by Jason Bonham. He started the bidding at $5,000 and the hammer went down at $10,000. Absolutely nuts—it doesn't include airfare or hotel or anything; just 2 tickets.

Jason Bonham is a pretty awesome drummer, by the way. Apart from Mick Jones (the only original member of Foreigner to perform and who is about 100 years old), Bonham was easily the best musician on the stage. The new lead singer was actually pretty good, and an excellent impersonator of the original lead singer.

Foreigner did impromptu covers of Led Zep standards "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Whole Lotta Love," and the rest of the set was Foreigner's Greatest Hits. Fucking awesome. And I mean in a completely un-ironic way. I sung along the whole time, and I bought a "Dirty White Boy" wifebeater on the way out.

The audience age range was weird—30 somethings to fifty somethings, and some kids dragged in there by their parents. Most people were really fat white people, including some who had to get golf carts to take them from their seats to their cars because they were too fat to walk.

There were some awesome comments by the lead singer about how hot the women in the audience were despite the fact that almost all of them were 20 years past their prime. Dennis & Alan & I made lots of cracks at that line in the "Hot Blooded" that goes "Are you old enough?" I think Dennis yelled out "Too old!"

Anyway, it was really, really great. And I'm glad I went.

Dennis recorded the setlist:
Double Vision
Head Games
Cold as Ice
Blue Morning, Blue Day
Waiting for a Girl Like You
Dirty White Boy
Say You Will (w/ keyboard and acousitc guitar only)
Star Rider
Band Introductions
Feel Like the First Time
Keyboard and Drum Solo
Juke Box Hero
Whole Lotta Love
Juke Box Hero

Misty Mountain Hop
I Want to Know What Love Is
Hot Blooded

Next time we'll ask them to get pictures. Thanks guys!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

19 July 2007: Sonic Youth

19 July 2007
Sonic Youth
Berkeley Community Theater
1930 Allston Way, Berkeley [Map]
Drinks consumed: NONE, the theater is dry, and you don't need to know how many Jameson shots I had between BART and the show.

I only have one awful cameraphone picture from this show because I went without Koshi. But if you know Sonic Youth, and you know Daydream Nation, you will recognize the blurry image on the backdrop, and that alone makes it worth posting.

Sonic Youth in Berkeley

I went in expecting this show to be good, but I was secretly worried that they'd gone the way of a band that's been around to long—i.e., suck hard—or that the venue, which is basically a high school auditorium, would make me spend the entire show wishing I was anywhere BUT there, even Slim's. Fortunately, that wasn't the case at all and they rocked the hell out of the shithole that is the Berkeley Community Theater.

Thurston Moore has a crazy way of playing guitar reminiscent of, well, someone jerking off feverishly. It's amazing to watch his hands. (Does that make me a pervert?) Kim Gordon sounded a little rough but that's to be expected for an indie rocker born in 1953. The most amazing thing is that they formed in 1981—the year I was born!—and they are still incredible on stage (back off, Rolling Stones fans).

The venue sucks. I mean really sucks. But it's big, and Sonic Youth playing Daydream Nation required a big space. Assigned seating for a rock show is retarded and the flashlight gestapo was out of control ESPECIALLY considering the median age of this show was probably 32. Sonic Youth is not Fall Out Boy. But somehow the band managed to sound better than any band I've heard in this space to the point where I wish they would have played the album again from the beginning once they finished the first round—and not just because the Community Theater's lack of booze made us miss "Teenage Riot" because we had to pre-drink at Beckett's. We never even made it around to finding our seats, we just lined up on the side of the center aisle and squeezed into a row with empty seats and a very friendly couple.

This might sound sacrilegious, but we left during the first song of the encore. None of us had any interest in hearing anything from Rather Ripped so we skipped out and caught BART before the raving crowd made its way out of the theater.

Best show of the year so far? Damn close. Sea and Cake was really good though...

Friday, July 06, 2007

13 June 2007: The Audiophiles

13 June 2007
The Audiophiles
Elbo Room
647 Valencia Street (@ Sycamore) [Map]
Review at the Owl Mag

For music-loving teenagers, forming a band with friends is a rite of passage. Most of these bands never get much farther than friends' birthday parties or the high school auditorium stage, but every once in a while something unusually good emerges from the world of lockers, lunch money, and late slips—and I'm not talking about Hanson. While so many teenagers are wrapped up in the self-loathing world of emo, the Bay Area's Audiophiles have a much more lighthearted outlook on being kids. They also happen to be great musicians making some great indie rock, and not just for a bunch of teenagers. They're better than a majority of the local bands I've been subjected to lately.

Unfortunately, the 21-and-over Elbo Room is not the best venue for a group of teenagers. I heard the bouncers talking about them as I locked up my bike outside: "They either have to stay backstage or outside. They're not allowed anywhere else, there's nothing we can do." Not only were they prohibited from watching the bands after them, they also had to perform with big X's scrawled on the backs of their hands in black marker. Hopefully the audience realized that they don't associate with the "straight edge" movement, they're just minors.

Their not-yet-legal status adds to their charm, though, much like pre-teen girl duo Smoosh. (Let's face it: if the Smoosh girls weren't so young nobody would care about them.) Between the back-to-back guitar jam, a crotch-grab fakeout, the bassist's tight pants, and the drummer's sunglasses, they are a little awkward but they are far from pretentious. Frontman Greg Fleischut's voice may sound a like a young and innocent Stephen Malkmus but you'd be hard-pressed to find evidence of a massive Malkmus-like ego. Coming from a genuinely optimistic place, their lyrics remind you that being a teenager sucked—but it wasn't the worst thing in the world. It was a time of discovery, experimentation, and exploration that can be awful one minute and fantastic the next.

Their stage presence is on the silly side but their musicianship is impressive. While their sound is at times a schizophrenic mishmash of influences ranging from proto-punk to post-rock to 90s alternative rock, they write catchy hooks ("Beautiful as You" and "Dance Wit Me" stand out) and complex compositions. Their talent comes through loud and clear even though they are still a little rough around the edges.

The best thing about the Audiophiles is that these kids don't take themselves too seriously and really have fun making good music. Hell, they even make the occasional reference to hyphy. Their pleas for the audience to get up and dance were ignored until a couple of rowdy drunk ladies found their way upstairs and proceeded to hoochie dance, but throughout the show, everyone in the place was bopping their heads or tapping their feet. Whether they survive the tide of adolescent angst and stay together long enough to be signed by a label remains to be seen, but right now they are my Bay Area band to watch.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

18 May 2007: The Sea and Cake

18 May 2007
The Sea and Cake
Bimbo's 365 Club
1025 Columbus Ave (btwn Francisco & Chestnut) [Map]
Drinks consumed: 2-3 cheap Bud Lights each
Review at The Owl Mag

Chicago's Sea and Cake have been making sweet, jazz-influenced soft rock melodies since their self-titled debut album in 1994. The lineup has not changed, with Archer Prewitt and Sam Prekop in the front on guitars and vocals, Jim McEntire on drums, and bassist Eric Claridge. They're hardly the darlings of the hipster set and have managed to remain somewhere just below the mainstream radar for the length of their career. But they are talented and accomplished musicians—Prekop and Prewitt have released solo albums and McEntire is the drummer for Tortoise—and they continue to produce uniquely Sea and Cake albums 13 years after they first formed.

Their stop in San Francisco was at my favorite venue, Bimbo's. The acoustics bring out the best in every band I've seen there. In the case of the Sea and Cake, the "best" was a warmth in their rolling guitar and bass melodies captured beautifully in this intimate—but not too intimate—space. They opened with "Up on Crutches," the first track from their latest release, Everybody. Other highlights from the new album included "Too Strong," "Introducing," which has the best bass line on the album, and "Middlenight," with its Dick Dale-esque guitar parts. For longtime fans they played "Parasol" while cooing couples in the audience swayed.

Sam Prekop's "fall" on stage during an exhausting guitar solo showed a sense of humor that's been missing from too many bands' performances these days. They also invited a friend to come sit on stage and read an issue of Mad magazine during part of the set. A Sea and Cake performance is refreshingly not about ridiculous outfits or lop-sided haircuts or a scene: it's about the music. It was a joy to see a band who's been around this long not take themselves too seriously. For the first time in a long time, I have no complaints about the audience. There was certainly a bit of goofy dancing and off-beat head-bopping, but everyone was laid back and, most importantly, really into the band. People were friendly, willing to share space, and there to have fun.

This was definitely my favorite show of 2007 so far (and not because Sam Prekop personally delivered a photo pass to us in the lobby). The crowd was great, the sound was great, and the band was awesome.

Monday, July 02, 2007

28 June 2007: US Air Guitar, San Francisco Regional Championship

28 June 2007
US Air Guitar: Bay Area Regional Championship
The Independent
628 Divisadero St (btwn Hayes & Grove) [Map]
Drinks consumed: not enough

We all have things we do when nobody is looking, in the privacy of our bathrooms and living rooms and bedrooms. Sometimes, we catch ourselves doing them in public. Embarrassed, we stick our hands in our pockets or adjust our hair so as pretend we weren't just doing what we were doing. The Air Guitar Championships, however, have made a competition out of one of these habits. Contestants fight the natural instinct to hide a tendency toward rocking out, choosing instead to flaunt it in fantastic ways, from zebra print skin suits to torn tunic buttons to electrical tape on cut off jeans. The annual Bay Area regional championship at the Independent is a hell of a spectacle.

The competition itself consists of two rounds. In the first "freestyle" round, air guitarists perform 60 seconds of a song. It can be any part of the song—guitar solos are encouraged and appreciated by the audience—but the contestant must play only air guitar. No air drums, air bass, air finger cymbals, etc., and no backup bands. Air roadies are permitted but must leave the stage when the performance begins. The second round is the compulsory round in which competitors perform one minute of the same surprise song chosen by air guitar organizers. This round separates the air guitar zeros from the air guitar heroes as contestants are challenged to perform a song they may have never heard before.

The competitors are judged in three areas: technical merit, stage presence, and "airness," defined on the website as "the extent to which a performance transcends the imitation of a real guitar and becomes and art form in and of itself." San Francisco's panel of three judges lacked on-stage air guitar experience but have made careers out of judging others and drinking heavily: city editor of the Onion's AV Club, Marc Hawthorne;'s John Trippe; and SF Weekly music editor Jennifer Maerz. Despite the flack they took from the audience, the judges have a tough job. Not only do they have to choose the night's winner from a field of mediocre talent, but they have to choose a star who will be able to win in New York City and move on to represent the United States at the World Air Guitar Championships in Finland. The judges' pick last year went on to win the US Championships and represent the Bay Area and the USA at the Worlds.

This year's competition opened with an introduction to air guitar and a demonstration of the art from retired competitive air guitarist and emcee Bjorn Turoque. He performed Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" with invisible backup from an air bassist and an air drummer he pulled out of the audience. (Note: air bands are in direct violation of the competition's rules, but you can't have air "War Pigs" without an air bassist.) The official competition began with Shred Nugent, who had tons of heart and a big curly wig to match, but fell short on technical merit. Alaskan Thunderfuck was up next and his white trash/Joe Dirt persona failed to impress the judges and the audience even when he lost his fake teeth. Like the head cheerleader showing up at the prom in the same dress as the class valedictorian, two contestants appeared in yellow Game of Death Billy Lo track suits. Glenny Kravitz, the first of the night's two Bruce Lees, followed Alaskan Thunderfuck, and the other Bruce Lee came on stage with him for a little pre-song air martial arts. Kravitz's performance, however, was lackluster, and with his old lady sunglasses he more closely resembled Yoko Ono than Lenny Kravitz.

The fourth contestant, Jammin' J-Bone, finally offered the audience what they wanted despite the fact that he looks as though he's been shooting heroin in bus station bathrooms since the late 70s. His rendition of the Foo Fighters' "Monkey Wrench" elicited riotous applause and unanimous rock horns from the audience. The judges agreed to some extent, putting him in a tie for second place going into Round 2. Bruce Lee number 2, The Metal Dragon, wasn't as good but he kept the momentum rolling and the audience from getting out of hand. Ricky Stinkfingers (known last year as "Stinky Ricky") followed and blew the audience away with a rousing "Rebel Yell." Clearly, Ricky established himself as the audience favorite with his energy and curious bulge.

Despite a fan club in the front row donning matching t-shirts, Downright Dirty Diamond was a disappointment. As judge Marc Hawthorne put it, he looked more like he was playing a Smiths song than a guitar god classic. The first female contestant, Rôqhelle, looked like she took the night off from writing emo poetry to compete and her little-girl-going-to-bed schtick didn't make it any better. The audience was absolutely brutal to Rai Tuigar Sckor who, with a little more practice, could emerge as a star next year's man to beat. He was followed by the solid but lukewarm performances of Tiger Claw and Judas Priestess. It should be noted, though, that Tiger Claw's rock-classical song selection allowed him to show off his amazing technical skills. The airness just wasn't there.

The final registered contestant, Mr. Fine Body, air guitared his way to first place after round 1 with a fantastic performance that was well received by the audience and two of three judges. Everyone was clearly as mesmerized by his zebra-print skinsuit and black thong as I was. After Fine Body, they opened up a few wildcard spots to members of the audience, most of which were only noteworthy for their lack of talent. Just one stood out, and that was Pussy Galore (affectionately referred to by the judges as "Rough Draft") who chose "Stop" by Jane's Addiction from the list of songs but clearly didn't know it. She made up for lack of skill by tearing the buttons off the top of her shirt and doing some kind of strange drunken stumble around the stage. Painful, but enough to get her into round 2.

A guest performance from Hot Lixx Hulahan led us into the compulsory round, where the five highest scoring contestants from round 1 were called back to the stage to perform sixty seconds of the surprise song. This year's selection, "Youth Gone Wild" by Skid Row, posed a challenge for most of those who had moved on to round two. The ladies, Pussy Galore and Rôqhelle, were booed mainly because they refused to remove their tops to make up for lack of skill. Ricky Stinkfingers and Jammin' J-Bone settled a tie with a coin toss and Jammin' J-Bone sent Ricky Stinkfingers onto the stage first. Ricky opened his powerful performance by kicking a full beer into the audience. J-Bone followed the liquid theme and started his performance by spitting a mouthful of water at the audience, much to the chagrin of a poor girl standing in the line of fire in the front row. Harsh words from the judges sparked an argument between J-Bone and Hawthorne and prompted the audience to throw beer and loose change at the stage—and toward the judges. This also led to an air guitar performance by judge John Trippe, who unsuccessfully tried to hide his lack of technical skill by lighting a cigarette and running around the stage to Danzig's "Mother."

The leader going into round 2, Mr. Fine Body, choked, ending his hopes of air supremacy with 60 seconds of eighties hair rock. Without enough time to grow a real one, Mr. Fine Body opted for a fake handlebar mustache that was unable to handle his extreme airness. He finished with the lowest score of the round and seemed genuinely disappointed with himself and his faulty mustache.

It was Ricky Stinkfingers with the best performance (and probably the best name) who came out on top and will represent the Bay Area in New York City. Mr. Stickfingers rounded out the second round with the highest score, enough combined with his first round score to win the competition. He celebrated with members of the audience who were invited to come on stage for the honorary free air session to "Freebird." Talent scouts were no doubt checking out the crowd in anticipation of next year's air guitar championships. Overall, the competition this year was much weaker and less creative than last year, but any event where it's okay to scream "YOU SUCK, GET OFF THE STAGE!" and throw a beer or flip the bird is a great one.

Koshi's full photo set can be viewed here.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Air Guitar Update

Last night's US Air Guitar San Francisco Regional Championship did not bring the quality of contestants we saw last year but it was sure as hell entertaining. Beer was thrown, rock fists were raised high in the air, and bad contestants were deservingly ridiculed. Congratulations to Ricky Stinkfingers who will represent the Bay Area at the US Air Guitar Championships in New York City. He will compete against the other regional champs as well as last year's SF winner and defending National Champion, Hot "Lixx" Hulahan.

Here's a short video of Ricky Stinkfingers' 1st round performance:

And here's a video of Mr. Fine Body, the leader after Round 1 who unfortunately let us all down when he failed to "bring it" in the compulsory round (song was Skid Row's "Youth Gone Wild"):

And big props to everyone who got on stage for the free air jam to—what else?—"Freebird" at the end of the competition:

Congratulations, Ricky Stinkfingers! Make us proud in New York!

On the downside, TouchTunes sponsored the event. They make MP3 jukeboxes. They had one there that the audience could use free of charge. I feel dirty. I swear I didn't touch it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

11 May 2007: Bustle In Your Hedgerow

11 May 2007
Bustle In Your Hedgerow (The Led Zeppelin Experience)
The Independent
628 Divisadero St (btwn Hayes & Grove) [Map]
Drinks consumed: many beers
Review at The Owl Mag

The music world has no shortage of Led Zeppelin cover bands. From the all-female Zepparella to cheesy, wig-wearing tributes like Led Zepplica and Whole Lotta Led, the music of Led Zeppelin remains alive in bars and venues around the world. So what happens when the Benevento Russo Duo teams up with Dave Dreiwitz (bassist, Ween) and Scott Metzger (guitar, Rana) and decide to hit the road as a Zeppelin cover band? In the case of Bustle In Your Hedgerow (The Led Zeppelin Experience), what happens is my number 2 show of the first half of 2007. (In case you don't know, "bustle in your hedgerow" is a line from that eternal last dance song, "Stairway to Heaven.")

I've never air guitared at a show before, but when the band opened with "Song Remains the Same," I shifted my beer to my left hand to enable optimal air guitaring. The first set was a survey of some of the most rocking Zeppelin hits including "Good Times Bad Times" and "Communication Breakdown." The second set opened with "The Immigrant Song," which I could hear from outside. It actually surprised me how good the covers were in general, but the most incredible of all was "Moby Dick." Joe Russo has already proven himself a very talented drummer, but when he tossed his drumsticks over his shoulders and played part of the famous drum solo barehanded—the audience was in awe. John Bonham's shoes are some big ones to fill but Joe Russo did it with skill and aplomb, wailing on his drum kit like a man possessed by the spirit of the great Zeppelin drummer.

The one thing missing all night was a vocalist. Robert Plant is not the average lead singer who stands behind the mic singing lyrics in a pretty voice. Because of his half-human/half-animal style, his voice is as much an instrument as Bonham's drums, Page's guitar, and the bass of John Paul Jones. Joe Russo sang for a few minutes but most of the time, Marco Benevento filled in the missing vocal part with his organ. Unfortunately, Marco seemed unable to shake the syncopated style he's used to playing with the Duo and when the organ didn't sound like a cheesy MIDI track or a karaoke version (it really stuck out in "Ramble On"), it sounded like something out of a Phish song. It just didn't work well as a substitute for a real vocalist. The exception was, of course, of "All of My Love," which sounded great. And for the record, Scott did not play the guitar with a violin bow at any point during the show.

The show was fun from start to finish, and fun is what the San Francisco music scene has been missing for some time. There was a healthy amount of air guitaring, headbanging, throwing up of rock horns, and singing along. This is one Zeppelin cover band that has earned their right to cover one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

1 May 2007: Explosions In The Sky

1 May 2007
Explosions In The Sky
333 11th Street (btwn Folsom & Harrison) [Map]
Drinks Consumed: 3 beers each
Review at The Owl Mag

I've looked forward to seeing Explosions In The Sky live for a long time. Unfortunately, I think I waited too long. First of all, the more I go to Slim's, the less I like it. Considering the unfavorable opinion I started with, I'm amazed at my capacity to dislike the space a little more every time I see a show there. In this particular case it didn't help that, despite several confirmation emails, I was mysteriously omitted from the guest list. Fortunately, a guy happened to have two extra tickets for the sold out show so we were able to get in.

Slim's packed people into the venue in the usual we're-fucked-in-a-fire way that they always pack people in for sold out shows. Even though it was a school night, San Francisco's teenagers made it out and claimed the area in front of the stage early, leaving the rest of us to float around in the back near the bar where seeing the band was a privilege reserved for the six-foot-plus set. The kids in the front were not very flexible when my companion attempted to get in front of the stage—coincidentally the spot in the venue with the worst acoustics—and snap some photos. In fact, they were downright rude and unwilling to let him in for a few minutes. Is it necessary to take music that seriously? It's like some kind of reverse "get off my lawn, kids!" phenomenon. Why can't you just have fun?

Explosions In The Sky sounds fantastic live but their brand of post-rock deserves a place with better acoustics than what Slim's has to offer (Bimbo's, I'm looking at you here). Just as you're nodding off to what could be a lullaby, steady cymbals and bass lead the buildup to a blast of guitars, drums, and unusual time signatures. Instead of nodding off you're now uncontrollably bopping your head to the beat. Melodies seamlessly morph from soft and lilting to loud as one song bleeds into another. Slim's is simply too vacuous to do this kind of richly textured music justice.

I can't remember the last time I attended a show without an encore. I have certainly never been to a show where a band member came out on stage to riotous applause only to announce they wouldn't be playing the encore their audience demands because they "have nothing left." Funny, considering how much of their material they hadn't played. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise good, albeit short, performance. Maybe they were as tired of the crowd in the front as I was.