Wednesday, December 03, 2008

2 Dec 2008: Sea and Cake

Best Expected Best Show of 2008

2 December 2008
The Sea & Cake
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell Street (btwn Polk & Larkin) [Map]


We've seen Sea and Cake play twice here in SF and we learned the first time around that they always mix their new songs with songs the long-time fans want to hear. As far as many people are concerned it all sounds the same, but most of them admit it all sounds good. Why mess with a great thing? I willed them to play one of my old favorites off of Nassau, "Lamont's Lament," and I didn't even realize they played it until after the show. [Ed note: Actually it was when we got home and Koshi said something about them not having played it that I told him that indeed they had. Then we listened to it, he remembered them playing it, and was again ecstatic.] Even still, it was all well played, highly articulated, and meticulously crafted—everything that draws a fan back in and keeps us coming back for more. They were flawless.

Portrait of a Performer

We saw the Sea and Cake at Bimbo's 365 last May, and it was among our favorite shows of 2007. Much like going to a Police show, a Sea and Cake show is about exact replication of sound. The immersiveness of live music makes seeing Sea and Cake in concert a treat unlike hearing them in studio; even still, they are as much about the craft as they are about the artistry.

Eric Claridge In the Pocket

The continual requests for adjustments in the levels was at once a sign of respect for each other's musicianship as much as it was a true effort toward the "exact to me" sound. "More in his vocals," Archer would say, just as Sam asked for more volume in his partner's guitar. After a series of adjustments over three or so songs, the songs didn't just sound right, they were truly satisfying. Fans nodded and grinned the grin of approval.

Relections of the Great American Music Hall

I stood up front for all but the last few songs, tearing myself away to tend to the small crew of friends I had come with. It is truly the best way to determine whether or not you want to see a band play, and next year, if they are in SF, I will be in attendance. I still want to see them play in some tiny venue in Chicago one day.

Sam Prekop

The re-constructed set-list (we have no idea what order, but we're pretty sure we heard it).

Lamont's Lament
A Man Who Never Sees a Pretty Girl that he Doesn't Love a Little. (A familiar face with a coco puffs box and written cards inside.)
Car Alarm
Crossing Line
Exact To Me
Soft and Sleep
The Cantina
Flat Lay the Water
Nature Boy [1st encore]
Parasol [1st encore]
Jacking the Ball [2nd encore]

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Happy Election Day!

In honor of this historic Election Day, I've made a digital mixtape. Play it from the embedded player or the regular page player here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

27 September 2008: Silver Jews @ (((folkYEAH!)))

27 September 2008
Silver Jews @ (((folkYEAH!)))
Fernwood Big Sur
Highway 1, Big Sur [Map]
Drinks consumed: It was a weekend of camping. There's no such thing as counting.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this festival. Surely we assumed there would be hippies, freak folk people, and city hipsters, but we weren't sure if it would be extremely crowded or just weird. Fortunately, it was one of the most chill festival crowds I've ever seen. Fernwood did a great job hosting the event, keeping the store full of cold beer for us to buy when our supplies began to run low (which happened quite frequently). The bartender also makes a hell of a bloody mary.

Dave Berman, Silver Jews

The highlight on Friday was, for me, SF-based Citay. I've seen them a couple times now and I actually think they are more interesting to see live than to listen to at home (but I like their albums too). They don't wear weird costumes or jump around or anything, they just play sweet, soothing music. It was perfect in the redwoods setting of the Fernwood campground.


Honorable mention for Friday goes to Tussle, who were also great. Loser of the night was Entrance Band, who unfortunately played Saturday as well. I wasn't that into Devendra Banhart's latest band, Megapuss, but they did put on a good show. On Saturday, if I remember correctly, we enjoyed Little Wings, Little Joy, and Beach House, whose music can best be described as "pretty" and "airy" a la Aislers Set.

Silver Jews via fish eye lens

But the main reason we even went to this festival, as you may have guessed from the images accompanying this post, was to see Silver Jews play under the stars in Big Sur. Corny, yes. But was it awesome? It was, in fact, amazing. Thanks in part to Koshi stationing himself at the front of the stage with his camera during Entrance Band's seemingly endless Saturday performance, we were basically up against the stage when the Jews came on.

I've been a Silver Jews fan for years but I have never seen them live. I couldn't imagine a better setting. There's no point in listing the songs they played since Koshi got a pretty readable shot of the setlist on stage (which my friend nabbed after the show):

Berman reminds me of an indie rock Hunter S. Thompson for some reason. Maybe it's the glasses. He roams around like some kind of deranged rock and roll preacher, tangling the mic cord along the way. He sounded great, he looked great, and the show was fantastic.

Let's just say that I had Berman's voice in my head for about 4 days after the show. That was a very good thing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Out of Africa, Back in SF

Koshi and I have returned to the US after a really incredible time in South Africa. On one hand, we couldn't wait to come home. On the other, our time there was not long enough.

I have a ton of music-related things to write about, but after 24 hours of planes and airports I'm not in a position to write about much of anything. For now, enjoy this kwaito video. Kwaito is a South African brand of house that combines house beats and sweet basslines with (usually) lyrics rapped or sort of chanted.

Interestingly enough, the Wikipedia entry for kwaito is one of the most thorough I've seen recently. We also bought two kwaito CDs on the way out of the country, both recommended by the lovely gentlemen working at Musica.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SF Jukebox Goes to Africa

Early tomorrow morning, Koshi and I will depart for what is guaranteed to be an adventure to a continent that neither of us have visited before: Africa. Granted, we'll be going to what is arguably the most civilized of nations on the continent, South Africa, but given the country's history and its present state, it's certainly no San Francisco (although Cape Town seems to have a lot in common with our fair city by the bay). Naturally we will seek out jukeboxes in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, but may be limited in our exploration by a variety of factors including but not limited to matters of safety. Who knows where we'll end up.

In preparation for my trip, a coworker lent me his iPhone for an hour this morning so I could listen to a compilation of South African music that he really likes, Indestructible Beat Of Soweto, Volume One [on]. This leads me to believe I might come back with a suitcase full of CDs (remember those things?)

This compilation inspired me to search for South African music on YouTube where I very quickly learned that the 60s vocal group hit "Grazin' in the Grass" by Friends of Distinction was an instrumental track written and originally recorded by a South African musician Hugh Masekela. The song was also a hit for him.

Friends of Distinction version:

Hugh Masekela's original version:

The next post I make will be from Johannesburg! After this trip I'll just have to get to Australia, South America, and Antarctica to complete the globe.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

An Air Guitar Teaser

We went to the US Air Guitar National Championship a few weeks ago and I'm horribly behind on my freelance stuff so I still haven't written the recap. But the National Champion, Hot Lixx Hulahan, was crowned in San Francisco that evening, and he kicked ass in Finland and came out on top as the Air Guitar World Champion. I'm not terribly patriotic, but USA! USA! USA!

Way to go Hot Lixx!

Real recap to come soon, I promise.

PS Hi to everyone visiting from the link to SF Jukebox on Blogger's "Blogs of Note!"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stumbling Upon a Relic at Dry Creek General Store

Dry Creek General Store
3495 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA [Map]
Total Spent: $0, I just passed it on the way to the bathroom

Tucked among the wineries of Sonoma County, Dry Creek General Store is a popular rest stop for wine connoisseurs and cyclists alike. They have a deli with sandwiches and a little store of presumably handmade goods. It's overpriced and the sad amount of pastrami on my sandwich was depressing. However, there is a bar attached to the general store, and it's inside of this bar that I found one of the coolest jukeboxes I've ever seen. Koshi didn't have his camera available, so I did my best with this one.


I didn't put any money in it. I didn't even have a beer. I just had to use the bathroom and the bathroom happens to be in the back of the bar, next to the jukebox. Had I not been tasked with driving a ridiculously huge Chrysler SUV through Sonoma that weekend, I certainly would have invested some time in that bar, particularly since beer and I get along much better than wine.


Alas, I only had enough time to browse a little. There are some amazing oldies, pop and country alike, with newer stuff sprinkled among the good old stuff. I could imagine, though, that a bunch of wine-soaked tourists could do terrible things with this selection.


If I'm ever in Healdsburg again, I'll have to make someone else drive so I can spend some time and a lot of change in this little tourist bar.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

25 June 2008: US Air Guitar, San Francisco Regional Championships

25 June 2008
US Air Guitar: San Francisco Regional Championship
The Independent
628 Divisadero St (btwn Hayes & Grove) [Map]
Drinks consumed: too busy taking notes in the dark to count
Review at the OwlMag
*** Now with videos!

Thanks to the madmen behind US Air Guitar, a show consisting entirely of performers playing invisible guitars can sell out the Independent. For those unfamiliar with the magic and mystery of air guitar, it is an annual collection of freaks, wannabes, amateur comedians, and rock lovers who "play" air guitar on stage. Sometimes a contestant seems to be completely disconnected from both his body and the music. Other times, a contestant is so good that it's as if a guitar will materialize in his hands any second.

The spectacle's inventors have designed a rubric for measuring this skill, employing three judges—think The Muppet Show's Statler and Waldorf with unlimited drinks and a third, equally critical sidekick—to drink heavily and rate the contestants on technical merit, stage presence, and airness. Airness is that certain je ne sais quois that launches an air guitarist from novice to virtuoso. Although no scientific studies have been done on the subject, it's likely that alcohol plays a role in one's airness (or lack thereof). Alcohol also enhances one's ability to be a fair and critical judge. Like the last two years, judges Marc Hawthorne (Onion AV Club), Jennifer Maerz (SF Weekly), and John Trippe ( were completely hammered by the end of the night.

The event is decided in two rounds. In Round 1, each contestant performs to 60 seconds of the song (or medley) of his or her choosing. Round 2 brings the highest scorers from Round 1 back on stage for the compulsory round, where each contestant has to perform to the same clip of the same song. The audience has the honor, or horror, of hearing that song (in this case "I'll Stick Around" by the Foo Fighters) ad nauseum. Judges' scores range from 4.0 to 6.0, a system inspired by Olympic Figure Skating. The highest-scoring contestant from Round 1 has a significant advantage going into Round 2. The contestant with the highest combined Round 1 and Round 2 score wins the Regional Championship and moves on to compete in the US Finals, which will be held at the Grand Ballroom in San Francisco this year. Asked in the pre-show press conference why San Francisco was chosen to host the finals, Another Planet Entertainment's Bryan Duquette responded, "People in San Francisco like to dress up in costume."

Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds. Reflecting on his victory at the press conference, the 2006 San Francisco Regional champ Hot Lixx Hulahan remembered asking himself, "Do I tell people I won air guitar?" But with sponsors like Cuervo Black (who failed to sponsor any kind of tequila special at the bar), a documentary called "Air Guitar Nation," and a pre-show press conference, it's sometimes hard to tell if this is all in the name of irony or if the organizers and contestants actually take the whole thing at least a little seriously. Regardless, this year's San Francisco Regional Championship attracted a perverse and often baffling selection of the Bay Area's, um, talent making for another fun night.

The evening began with the ceremonial air-ing of "War Pigs," where master-of-air-emonies and retired contestant Bjorn Turoque invited audience members to join him on stage and play air bass and air drums as he sang (really sang, not air sang) and aired lead guitar. Turoque's career includes five second-place finishes, with the exception of a win at the New York Regional in 2005. Despite never having won the national title, Turoque has become the face and voice of US Air Guitar. Turoque's bandmates were both women, and the drummer out-shined the bassist, who probably thinks Black Sabbath is a holiday for Satanists.

With that out of way, the competition was underway. The Independent's own Ricky Stinkfingers, last year's Regional Champion, was up first. Clad in pink lyrca, Stinkfingers sported a much larger bulge in his pants than last year, either an indication that he's been taking performance-enhancing substances or that he brought his pet armadillo to the contest. His spirited performance fell short for the sober judges, who are unfortunately always hardest on the first performers of the night. Fortunately, Stinkfingers already secured a spot in the national finals with a first-place finish in the Portland regional.

A chain of mediocrity followed Stinkfingers. Plaid-pants-wearing Stoney Iommi may have been the Black Sabbath guitarist's namesake, but this Iommi's "Iron Man" was tedious, albeit accurate. Lieutenant Castille's followed with an inspired but horrific version of the theme from Miami Vice. Aside from the white Members Only jacket, the only thing remotely Don Johnson about it was the cheese factor. Dan the Man's rendition was more Bill Nye the Science Guy than Freddie Mercury, and a hirsute Bad Ass Blondini, sporting a black vest with no shirt, tight black and white pants, and the world's worst mullet wig, just didn't have what it takes to impress the judges, who were starting to get tipsy.

Mediocre turned to abysmal with David "Air Guitar" Freeberg, nearly booed off the stage when his performance of "Bad to the Bone" proved to be just bad. Another crowd disappointment, Tiger Claw, failed to come close to the greatness of his appearance last year but still had some of the best technical skills of anyone that night. Taxi-Driver–t-shirt wearing Gobo didn't so much air guitar as half-breakdance to Dead KennedysThe Melvins with a stiff arm. Torque called the performance a "psychotic punk rock ballet." It could only get better, right?

Wrong. Daddy's Little Smashing Pumpkin came out next in a pink lace baby dress, blond Annie wig with a pink bow, and an overloaded diaper, performed miserably to some kind of death metal song, and responded to the judges' low scores by pulling cooked spaghetti out of his diaper and throwing it at the audience. Another repeat contestant, Downright Dirty Diamond, basically did air guitar warm-ups, earning himself the most disappointing score of the round, 4.8. Then came the first female contestant, Gloria Stun 'Em, whose rendition of a bizarre metal version of "Kung Fu Fighting" resulted in the best judge comment of the night, from Marc Hawthorne: "It reminded me of the third hand job I ever got in junior high."

A disheartened crowd finally started to get their money's worth with Jammin' J-Bone. Yet another repeat contestant, J-Bone punctuated his performance of Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name" with a well-executed—perhaps even graceful—stage dive. Shred Nugent, also a returning contestant and last year's San Jose champion, strapped on another contestant's discarded black bra and aired it out, earning the second highest score of the night. The good streak continued with Eleven, whose Doobie Brothers-esque appearance concealed an awesome air guitar hero within.

Eleven from agreatnotion on Vimeo.

Things slowed down again with Captain Nowhere, who, in unmistakable hipster attire, went the medley route and earned mixed reactions from the crowd. Then came Madame Deathface, the night's second female contestant, whose blasting Vornado and funereal shtick wasn't enough to make up for her awful spastic style.

The lull came to an abrupt end with Shred Begley Junior. Donning black-rimmed plastic glasses with flip-up Kanye West–style plastic shades, an afro, and a shirt bearing the word "AWESOME," Shred Begley Jr. did just that: shred. Well, shred air. He earned the highest score of the night and inspired the crowd to chant "Awe-some! Awe-some!" as he left the stage.

Round 1: Shred Begley Jr. from agreatnotion on Vimeo.

Stringbean made a spirited effort to follow a tough act, choosing a song I think was Avenged Sevenfold (although a commenter tells me it's Coheed and Cambria, which also makes sense since I know the song from Rock Band and that band is also in the game). The final two acts in round 1, Dr. Wankenstein (I-Roq Z from 2007) and Sister Lixx simply could not compete.

During the break, while judges tallied up their beverages and scores, and the top five contestants were corralled backstage, hometown hero Hotlixx Hulahan performed to an odd medley but showed his chops to the audience's adoration.

Guest Performance: Hotlixx Hulahan from agreatnotion on Vimeo.

With that interlude over, it was time for the compulsory round. In 2006 and 2007, the organizers made great picks for the compulsory round: "California Uber Alles" (Dead Kennedys) and "Youth Gone Wild" (Skid Row), respectively. This year, however, I have to question their pick. "I'll Stick Around" (Foo Fighters) may be catchy as hell, but it's hardly a guitar anthem. If we're going to choose the best of the best at this made-up talent show, at least pick something with a little grit. As judge Marc Hawthorne demonstrated for those that could see him in the balcony, "I'll Stick Around" makes a great air drumming song but not so much a good air guitar track. The contests seemed to have an easier time with this song than previous ones, however, probably because this one was more familiar. (Apparently there are still a few people in California who have never heard "California Uber Alles.")

Marc Hawthorne Air Drumming from agreatnotion on Vimeo.

The first top-five contestant was Captain Nowhere, whose enthusiastic windmills and good technique weren't enough to overcome his on-stage stiffness. Stringbean gave a mediocre and fidgety performance, and couldn't convince the judges that he would be able to win the national championship. Eleven seemed oddly natural with good rhythm, but showed his age with some crazy dance best suited for Golden Gate Park. Unfortunately, all but one judge, Mr. Hawthorne, gave Eleven a score lower than 5. Shred Nugent was great, channeling Dave Grohl to display his unrivaled technical skills.

But the man to beat this night was Shred Begley Jr. Punctuating his awesome performance with a surf of the crowd, Begley received a 10 from John Trippe, another round of "Awesome!" chanting, and was crowned San Francisco US Air Guitar Regional Champion.

Shred Begley Jr. from agreatnotion on Vimeo.

An elated Begley picked up Bjorn Toroque as the crowd prepared for the free on-stage jam to "Free Bird."

US Air Guitar, SF Regional from agreatnotion on Vimeo.

After a few attempts to lift Begley, the contestants and audience members gathered on stage for air guitar jam managed to get him up off the ground.

Shred Begley, Jr. will now move on to the 2008 Cuervo Black US Air Guitar National Finals, Presented By TouchTunes on August 8 at San Francisco's Grand Ballroom.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Online Mixtapes & Playlists: Some Favorites

I posted this on Institute for the Future's Future Now blog the other day and think it's worth a repost over here.

Online playlists are huge right now, and some services are much better than others. As with most things that come in multiple forms on the web, I've messed around with many of them and have found a few favorites. (iMeem is not one of them.) Half of the fun is just browsing and listening to other people's mixes and with a bunch of good sites popping up, there's no shortage of mixes to browse.

First, I like Muxtape, which allows you to upload tracks and make one 12-track mix under your username at a time. The interface is incredibly simple and it's great at doing what it's meant to do. Here's my current mix: You can't download the mixes, you play them through the site. It's fun to choose a few strangers' Muxtapes at random when you're hanging out at someone's house. I've been amazed by how fast some of my friends will run to the computer when a really bad song comes on. Muxtape is dead. RIP, *pours a little out*

My friend's Chad Wood's site, Collective Playlist, allows you to submit URLs of tracks available on the Internet, tag them, and make mixes out of the collective library of tracks (hence Collective Playlist). It's very much an experiment, and there are some logistics that are still being thought through, but it does regularly check the health of the links so if something goes down it comes out of the database. Using what the CP database has to offer is also a great way to explore and discover some things you may not have heard before or things you forgot about and want to listen to more. If you're really desperate you could also upload tracks to your own server and submit the links but realize that doing so will cost you bandwidth if others decide to use those tracks in playlists. Here's my test mix using all colors as my search terms: Colors.

Today I came across which may be my new favorite. You can't upload tracks or submit tracks you've found posted elsewhere; instead, it forces you to use what you can find on the Internet with their built-in interfaces to Skreemr or Seeqpod search. It also doesn't display a track list when you play the final mix, but the fact that the little gears spin and the tape actually spools as you advance through the mix makes up for that. The site allows you to upload your own image to be the face of the tape and customize the layout a little, or choose from the stock retro labels they already offer. They also include links to embed the mix on every social networking site under San Francisco Bay sun. Again, mixes are not downloadable, they can only be played through the app.

Here's my first go at it: A Handful of Rock Ladies

Click the play button below to listen without going to the Mixwit site.

I'd love to know what else is floating around out there. Comment with your favorites!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

8 April 2008: Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso UFO

8 April 2008
Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso UFO
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th Street (@ Missouri) [Map]
Drinks consumed: 3 beers

The smashing of a guitar is an iconic rock and roll action, but who has ever actually seen it done live?

Thanks to Acid Mothers Temple, I have!

AMT's merch table

Acid Mothers Temple is one of the loudest, most hardcore rock and roll bands I've ever seen. The four gentlemen from Japan filter dark, hard rock through psychedelic textures, with songs that can last for 35 minutes or longer. They are that other side of "jam bands," the one that leans toward Black Sabbath–style rock instead of smooth jazz. And between Kawabata Makoto's Jap-fro to Higashi Hiroshi's white wizard hippie style, they also look completely insane.

Higashi Hiroshi raises a fist

In the course of the nearly hour-and-a-half set, the last stop on their Recurring Dream and Apocalypse of Darkness Tour, they grabbed bits of sound from every corner of the musical cosmos. Their bass player chants, plays flute, and sings, although I have no idea what he might be singing about. In this case, it really doesn't matter. His voice is just another piece in the great psychedelic tapestry. Makoto plays his guitar in such odd positions and with such violent motion that it almost looks like he's not playing at all. Think air guitar to a Metallica track but on a real instrument. Hiroshi plays synth, making wacky synth noises and just generally looking like a crazy old wise man in rose-colored glasses. And the drummer... yes. Everything about this band is awesome and wonderful.

Kawabata Makoto

AMT closed the show with a guitar smash. And not only did Makoto freak out and smash his guitar on the stage, he threw the pieces out to the audience. The group in front of the stage clamored like bridesmaids to a bouquet, with two people raising the body and the neck separately in triumph. I jumped for the pick but it sailed over my head into the clutches of a dude behind me.

No neck.

And no, I'm sorry, Koshi didn't get a clear shot of the smashed guitar. The best he got is the above shot where you can see him holding the neckless guitars. But I did see a guy take it into the men's room with him.

Tsuyama Atsushi

Best show of 2008. I have yet to blog the other 2 I've been to this year, and have several coming up next week, but this is definitely the unbeatable show to beat.