Wednesday night, a few bands with seemingly little in common rolled through Oakland’s Starline Social Club as part of Noise Pop’s 25th anniversary festival. I’m not sure how to describe this lineup except like when you walk into the kitchen super hungry at 1am (probably for the 3rd time) and all you can find is Ritz crackers, marshmallows, and a bottle of Sriracha. All good stuff, but who would be crazy enough to combine them? 1am you, in a moment of either starved desperation or unhinged creative liberty, that’s who. But somehow, it just… works. Sorta. Once you get used to the taste.
San Francisco born Hanni El Khatib is a vintage blues rocker in the vein of The Black Keys, but with a little dab of punk and funk. He’s garnered more than 8 million spins on Spotify with his four releases, the most recent of which, Savage Times, is a collection of 5 EPs released throughout 2016 plus four new songs. Bursting with raw energy, his songs hit you hard and leave a mark.
“If the ones who hate me don’t kill me first /
the ones that love me gonna harm me worse”
~ Hanni El Khatib in “Gonna Die Alone”
In advance of his sold out Noise Pop set at The Chapel tomorrow (Friday) night, El Khatib took a few minutes to answer some of SF Critic’s pressing questions about where he went to school in town, how the current political climate is affecting his music, and, most importantly, his favorite local burrito spot.
SF CRITIC (SFC): You’re an SF native! Rad. What schools did you go to?
HANNI EL KHATIB (HEK): Alamo & SH
SFC: The influences in your music are too many to name. What are the influences that we might not hear -musicians or other artists who impacted your art but aren’t referenced necessarily in the sound?
HEK: I dunno. I like all the rhythmic stuff that goes on in a lot of Nigerian music. I also love the vocal production on the Travis Scott and Young Thug stuff. Read More
Noise Pop 25 continued to impress last night at Brick and Mortar with a stellar lineup of female-fronted rock acts. The bill showcased local acts Joyride! and Plush, and they didn’t disappoint the sell out crowd. Joyride! with their fast-paced punk riffs was the perfect appetizer. Plush, which features some familiar faces from The She’s, kept the energy flowing with their brand of rock that seems to borrow from a plethora of genres including shoegaze, psych and maybe even some 90s grunge. The combination of the openers’ playing styles, set the table perfectly for Diet Cig.
The first thing that strikes you about the New York, punk-pop duo is an incredible energy. Vocalist/guitarist Alex Luciano couldn’t wait to get the crowd going, leading a pre-show jumping session to warm everyone up. Things didn’t calm down once the music started as she jumped on and off drummer Noah Bowman‘s kit, her amp and pretty much anything she could throughout the performance. In “Scene Sick” she sings “I just wanna to dance” and everyone at the show can now confirm.
The other other striking characteristic of Diet Cig is a real sense of honestly. The simplicity of the pop guitar chords, is balanced with lyrics that shift from both deep to superficial, but always seem objectively true. Songs hit topics like hooking up in the back of a car at 16, an ode to Luciano’s dad, and of course heartbreak.The duo’s newest release “Tummy Ache” is a great example of the in-your-face honestly of their songwriting. Read More
Thao Nguyen – Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – have just released a video for “Meticulous Bird” off 2016’s A Man Alive, and it is electrifying. The track is visceral – a body experience as much as something to listen to – and the video (created by Johnny Look) plays that element up perfectly with glitchy visuals and Nguyen dancing through the aisles of an empty grocery store. It feels angry, dark, powerful, emerging, busting out. The eyes of a dead fish twitch. There’s a powerful defiance in this video, premiered by NPR Music today.
(Might I thank whatever forces brought Nguyen and Merrill Garbus (the producer of the track/album) to collaborate? A match made in musical heaven.)
Nguyen’s statement only reinforces the clearly expressed sentiment of this video:
“The heart of this song is in the reclamation of the body. I wrote it for survivors of sexual violence in particular, and those who resist the abuse of power in general … Director Jonny Look gave me the opportunity to present the song in all its facets: the darkness, the dark humor, the unfettered anger and the complexities of moving on from violation and how the memory of trespass rises to the fore and then recedes into the every day.My ongoing hope for ‘Meticulous Bird’ is that a survivor of any kind would hear it and want to use it: to celebrate their sovereignty, to remind themselves of their power, to warn those who would exploit the vulnerabilities of others that such trespasses against the humanity of one or many will never go unanswered. My updated and amended hope for ‘Meticulous Bird’ is that it is just one contribution of an endless many in the efforts to resist and to notify whoever needs notifying: you have no idea how ferocious we can and will be.” ~ Thao Nguyen
There is an accompanying t-shirt, designed by Thao, available for just three days here. It says “Oh my Oh my God / You didn’t know we get ferocious” – the perfect protest shirt for the present climate. All proceeds will benefit Planned Parenthood. Thao will be at The Chapel on March 15th. Tickets here.
JoJo first came on the scene in 2014 as a thirteen-year-old singer with the breakout hit, “Leave (Get Out)”, which made her the youngest ever solo number one musician on the US Billboard charts. It spawned a platinum-selling self-titled album and an army of loyal and dedicated fans. Troubles at her then label Blackground, left the young singer in limbo, not able to release music officially. After years stuck in hiatus, she was able to sign a new contract with Atlantic and work on releasing her third album; her first in ten years.
As the lights went dark, chants of “JoJo. JoJo,” reverberated around the sold out concert venue. These cheers turned into a roar as she appeared on stage. The Foxborough, MA-raised musician matched this energy with a high-octane start. The bright synths of “Clovers” travelled over the crowd and the crowd responded with as much dancing as the tight space in the packed venue would allow.
While much has changed for JoJo, she still appears to enjoy her older music. She wasted no time in performing “Leave (Get Out)”, the words finding new meaning from the lips of a twenty-six-year-old woman as opposed to the teenager who initially sang the song.
The set was a mixture of pop-R&B in all its forms; from a racy lap dance for an unexpecting fan, Michael, during “High Heels”, to her performance of “Like This”, which oozed sensuality. “FAB” felt grittier than the recorded version, the guitars swirling around JoJo’s vocals to add even more weight to one of the anthems from her latest album, 2016’s Mad Love.
It was the songs from the missing years between the release of The High Road and Mad Love which helped to draw the set together. Her version of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” helped — “I’ve been up for three days / Adderall and RedBull”, the opening line, was screamed by those who knew and drew smiles among those unfamiliar. “Save My Soul,” added to the setlist by popular demand, she confessed, was warm and inviting. JoJo may not have released an album in ten years; however, it never felt like she went away.
Mad Love was an opportunity for JoJo to come into her own as a songwriter, which allowed her to delve into more personal stories. The opening track on her album, “Music”, offered a sobering moment as she sung about her relationship with her family. The rendition started with her alone on stage with just a piano accompaniment. The song grew at the same pace as the emotions in the room. Looking around you could sense how this personal tale resonated with so many people.
As the night ended, and people left the venue with only a little voice left after all the singing, I found myself whistling her songs on the way home. JoJo’s performance was engaging and impassioned. And, after being held back for such a long time, it looks like her star is finally going to be allowed to shine brightly.
Thursday night NYC-based producing duo The Knocks once again turned a San Francisco venue into an insane dance party. After selling out three nights at The Independent last year and packing the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands this time the two took on the historic Fillmore and got the whole floor moving.
Attendees were treated to new tracks from the just released Testify EP including an amazing new collaboration with MNEK called “WORSHIP.” Check out that new new below:
Longtime fans were also treated to the disco-inspired jams like “Classic” with the help of Mark Johns and “Comfortable.” The Knocks have been on a steady climb in popularity since 2014 and a recent European tour with Justin Bieber has really given them a boast around the world. If the new tracks are any indication their second album might be a real mainstream breakthrough, only time will tell.
Ben “BRoc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson are currently taking a breather after the west coast leg of their Feel Good Feel Great Tour and hit the east coast in about two weeks. Check out pics below and more on the tour here. Read More
LA-based Phoebe Ryan hasn’t been wasting any time so far in 2017, giving us another new single “Dark Side.” The new single combines Ryan’s impassioned, breathy lyrics with synth-infused beats that might be equally at home in a Tropical House set. Tying the song together are moments of calm featuring a simple guitar riff and her entrancing voice.
Ryan has recently been on tour with Swedish pop sensation Tove Lo, which has been the perfect pairing of of badass women. The two apparently met when Phoebe gave Tove a jello shot out of her pocket. Throughout the tour Ryan’s social media has focused on her goal of giving the audience an amazing show while being herself; touting how great it was to perform in her PJ’s when the airline lost her clothes recently. Given this, it’s not hard to understand why “Dark Side” is a song about loving someone for who they even if they aren’t perfect. Check it out:
Phoebe Ryan finishes up her tour with Tove Lo this month on the east coast. More info at her official site here. You can also check out some photos of Phoebe Ryan from her stop here in SF last year here.
At the present moment, most of my closest friends are on a spectrum between dismay, despair, and depression. These are exactly the moments when we realize that music isn’t something that merely entertains us. It is something that heals us and reminds us why it’s worth fighting for existence. Berkeley natives (and brothers) Brendain and Christopher Langlois, known as Nine Pound Shadow, have just released an EP that is truly an antidote to these troubling times. They’ll be at the Independent on February 21st.
My own introduction to this band was only a few weeks ago at a Sofar Sounds concerts. The brothers – and their keyboard – converted me and I’ve turned to the two already-released tracks of this eponymous EP – “Bridges” and “Melody” – over and over and over. I’m joyed to have three more tracks over which to obsess.
The EP is a collection of 5 songs released on producer Danger Mouse‘s recently launched (2015) 30th Century Records label. The songs are dreamy and retro, a quintessential California sound that the band is calling “60’s psych haze”. The jangly guitars and echoey drums give a spacious feel. The brothers’ tight harmonies bring to mind the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 60’s, and there’s an almost-blasé approach to phrasing and articulation reminiscent of Nico, the model-turned-sometimes-singer with Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground. It’s also easy to hear more contemporary connections – their label-mate Waterstrider for example, and Sugar Candy Mountain (formerly of the Bay Area). Read More
While many were asleep, and some were tucking into burritos, a small army was packed inside Rickshaw Stop to welcome Jorja Smith on her San Francisco debut. Aaron Axelsen’s Popscene is known for bringing exceptional talent to the Bay Area, and nineteen-year-old Jorja Smith, who placed fourth on the BBC’s sound of 2017 list is no exception. Rickshaw Stop felt full to the brim, and for good reason.
After a bit of jostling and 2-stepping between people dancing, I find a tiny space just big enough to fit me at least until the show starts. The woman to my right grabs her bag a little closer, the one to my left dances around to the music, her bangs glistening each time a stage light or the glitter ball catches her hair. A guy to my front nervously tries to avoid the fact he’s one of the tallest people in the room, it was a cross-section of music lovers on display. Around 11 pm, the band went on stage under the veil of darkness, shortly followed by the woman of the moment.
The British singer-songwriter, originally from Walsall and now residing in London, has an unassuming presence on stage. As she sung her voice seemed to weave its way through the music, feeling complementary to the sounds around her, like the way ice melts into whiskey to sweeten and accentuate the flavors. The band filled the space which often exists in her recorded music to provide a fuller and more impassioned listen. Her fusion of subtle R&B with soul and songwriter undertones felt grander. Songs like “Where Did I Go” had an extra funk to them as she performed.
San Francisco songwriter Seth Lael has created a beautiful folk song in “On the Road” – a thoughtful, nostalgic record-keeping of the journey to “get where you need to go.” The video – shot using handmade pinhole lenses – features original footage captured from Treasure Island to Pacifica. Whether riding the trolley, lurking at a protest at City Hall, row-boating on the Bay, or riding the PCH on a scooter, Lael comes across as something of a Bay Area cowboy (a troubadour/transient) with a rich lilt to his voice.
You can tell this video was made by someone who loves San Francisco but also sees her scars. Director Jason Jossefer — a native of the city — created the special pinhole lens (pictured below) mounted on an RED Epic camera. Read More