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.