The Easy Leaves Country Western Revival aka Western Winter Formal @ GAMH 1/7

01/03/2017

Country music has many faces, and none so damn good looking and Bay Area-grown as The Easy Leaves. With their ability to weave vernacular poetry and honky tonk jam, you’ll think you’d stepped into Robert’s Western World in Nashville. Now, it’s time pull on your boots, warm up with some whiskey and head out to the Great American Music Hall this Saturday for their annual Western Winter Formal.

Touring heavily for the past few years (including stops at Outside Lands, the Mother Hips‘ Hipnic and Strawberry Music Festival), the list of bands the Easy Leaves have supported is a veritable Who’s Who in Country Western Music (and etcetera): Dwight Yoakam, Junior Brown, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Asleep At The Wheel, Billy Joe Shaver, Robert Earl Keen, Blind Boys of Alabama, Jim Lauderdale, Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Musselwhite, Kasey Chambers and Los Lobos

It’s unfair and untrue to say they have a unique voice in country music – because part of what makes The Easy Leaves great is their revival of a rich period in country western. A time when Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash were getting drunk and starting fights in bars and Willie Nelson was … well, Willie’s still touring around and getting high with his friends. But you get the picture. Those songwriters had a certain melodious twang that spoke to lonely hearts and these boys have it too.

For the Western Winter Formal they’ll be joined by Country Lips, Caleb Klauder, Reeb Willms, and DJ Golden Gram. You can grab your tickets here

Sumif brings Seasons cheer to Rickshaw Stop

12/24/2016

Friday night saw Aaron Axelsson’s Popscene close out another successful year with their annual Xmas Party. Sumif headlined the event, which helped cap a successful year for the San Francisco based electro-pop singer-songwriter.

Her single, “Lay Down,” reached number one on Hype Machine during the summer and she sold out Brick and Mortar Music Hall with her first show in San Francisco since releasing the new music. During her energetic set, Steph mentioned how she had previously jumped on the Rickshaw Stop stage and vowed to play on it one day.

The set was full cheer, as Sumif, joined on stage by Rahi Kumar, powered through many of the songs released during the year. She managed to slip some new music into the set which, on first listen, sounded a bit slower, a bit richer and a bit rounder in sound. If there was any doubt this was a Christmas party, beyond the Popscene tree glittering in the corner, she dropped a karaoke style rendition of Mariah Carey into the set to cement the show’s Christmas credentials.

Closing out with the aforementioned “Lay Down,” it was a fun gig, full of joy, and the perfect way to close out another year of Popscene.

Photos: BROODS searching for a new Consciousness at The Fox

12/10/2016

In August, BROODS sold out Oakland’s Fox Theater. The New Zealand brother, sister combo have been riding a wave of success since their breakout single “Bridges” was followed up by the much-loved Evergreen, ascending them to international fame. Their latest trip to the Bay Area could be seen as unusual territory as they found themselves opening for Two Door Cinema Club on their North American Tour (BROODS’ 2015 visit was to sell out San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom).

BROODS’ latest album, Conscious, was released in the Summer to a mixture of positive and lukewarm reviews. Many praising the more layered, fuller production with others bemoaning the seeming trudge towards predictability creeping into the sound. What the album lost in raw, emotive, stories it gained in slick, multi-layered production. Their set, in front of a packed Fox Theater, was in many ways a reflection of this; both for better and for worse.

The set focused heavily on new music, the broader fuller sound was translated to the stage with aplomb. No longer doubling up on vocals and keys Georgia Nott was free to roam, spin, wiggle and  dance to each corner of the stage. Even though they were only opening, it felt bigger than the time I saw them previously (at The Regency in 2015). With a bigger band, Caleb appears to present a less prominent figure on stage, at the front yes, but often hidden in the shadows of the spotlight following his sister around the stage. Read More

Music in the aftermath – remembering Nackt

12/06/2016

There are no adequate words to express our heartbreak at the tragic Ghost Ship fire last Friday night in Oakland. Along with so many others, we send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of all those lost. We also see it as part of honoring their legacy to make sure that the music lives on. Today we’ll honor producer, multi-instrumentalist and DJ Johnny Igaz, also known as Nackt, who was spinning on the second floor of Ghost Ship when the fire broke out. 

It’s strange to write about it before his name has been confirmed, but at this point the hoping and praying for miracles seems to have crumbled into devastation. It is worth, of course, mentioning that so many of us who are musicians in the Bay Area have lived at, played at, partied at, and helped create spaces just like this one. The warehouse scenes in this city have been such an important part of music here at least for the 15 years I’ve been in town. Most of that scene moved to Oakland in a hurry when SF became financially unbearable, some of it was there all along. With a death toll up to 36, I think it’s fair to say this is the worst thing that has ever happened to the music scene in the Bay Area. 

Meeting Johnny Igaz, a Bay Area native, is unlocked from time and space for me – was it a year ago? Two? I think we were outside somewhere. He has this smile – it stops you. It contains that spark of creativity, of magic and mischief that makes you want to cozy up to it. We exchanged info after talking for only a few minutes and became that uniquely 21st-century thing “social media friends”. I followed him on Twitter, Facebook, and most importantly Soundcloud.  

Igaz’ sound – created under the name Nackt, a German word meaning “naked, raw” – is rooted in what many of those who knew him call an Encyclopedic knowledge of music and formed through hip hop, deep house and techno. His music has appeared on multiple labels including 100% Silk, Chillin Music, Popgang, Don’t Say Techno, and 3AM Devices. He is also the co-founder of several underground events in the Bay Area including Oupost, Rare Form and Deep East. Nackt’s Soundcloud contains hours upon hours of his DJ sets, original mixes, remixes and more. It is music for every part of your soul straight from his.

The first track I’ll share is an original of his – “Scheherazade (city mix)” – along with this quote from Voltaire (the 18th century French philosopher) which he shared with it, words which have been mistaken for Igaz’s because they so beautifully capture the man I wish I’d known better:

I have wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but somehow I am still in love with life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our more stupid melancholy propensities, for is there anything more stupid than to be eager to go on carrying a burden which one would gladly throw away, to loathe one’s very being and yet to hold it fast, to fondle the snake that devours us until it has eaten our hearts away? ~ Voltaire

And second this live set recorded a few months ago. It is a form of music therapy, and it reminds me why a good DJ like Igaz is really like a healer – they meet you in your darkness and skillfully guide you to the light. This set, from an Ambient Awakening gathering, is an awakening in itself. When he shared it a few weeks ago, Igaz said:

As the world tears apart at the seams and the crushing weight of reality seems unbearable, it is through human connection and music that I am reminded why life is infinitely beautiful even through the darkest days. ~ Johnny Igaz

To the friends and family of this extraordinary musician and human – thank you for everything you did to support his existence so he could bring this music to the rest of us. Thank you to his family, including his brother Paul, who encouraged and enabled his deep love of music. Thank you to everyone who ever bought his music, to the guy who posted on Facebook that he paid for three mastering sessions in advance so Johnny could make ends meet, to the labels that supported him, to every agency that licensed one of his tracks, and to those who answered his invitations with their presence. This music is his immortality. May it keep us dancing and smiling long into the future. 

[An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Igaz’s brother. His real name is Paul Igaz.
An edit has also been made to properly attribute the first quote above to Voltaire rather than Igaz.]

Nahko Plays for Justice

12/05/2016

 

Nahko Bear is what I imagine every parent hopes their son becomes (I wish he was my son and he’s older than me). Impassioned, Nahko’s ethos seems to be speaking truths, inspiring brotherhood and community and justice for all. He’s also a character.

Nahko and the Medicine for the People LIVE Green Generation at Bali Spirit Festival

This past Friday at the Regency Ballroom, Nahko and Medicine for the People played their first ever “major” headlining show for a crowd eager for a better world. The constant theme was a message of social justice and peace. The Native American/ Puerto Rican/ Filipino from Hilo songwriter left a wake of elated and fired up affected fans ready to be right and do good to the world, with breaks to make out by bodies of water, as Nahko said, it is where his greatest make outs have ever been.

Nahko and the Medicine for the People LIVE Green Generation at Bali Spirit Festival

Nahko’s performance started when he and a friend slinked up into the venue straight thru the front doors, passing fans handing in their tickets, equipped with only a megaphone singing “Water is Life”, referring to the much protested Dakota Access Pipeline, penetrating the surprised audience to the core of the ballroom. Chanting, chanting and eventually making his way on stage.

Nahko and the Medicine for the People LIVE Green Generation at Bali Spirit Festival

On tour in support of their most recent effort “Hoka”, the band of seven was reciprocating the audiences energy, playing songs like the new favorite “San Quinten” (Nahko’s account of meeting the man who killed his father), and classics like “Black as Night”.

Nahko and the Medicine for the People LIVE Green Generation at Bali Spirit Festival

Expect big things from this group, they are on a mission with the energy, stamina and right attitude to get it done.

words by Emmanuel Castro
photos by Victoria Smith

Song of the day: Willow Steps’ “Lover’s Recipe”

11/22/2016

There is a lot of noise in music these days – often welcome and well-made. But for those nights when you really need it, there’s a lot of tender folk music happening too.  Oakland based Willow Steps have been sowing these acoustic seeds for barely two years, but are already harvesting some of the more gorgeous harmonies in town. 

Singer and songwriter Jesse Strickman teamed up with vocalist Leiya Mahoney after meeting at an organic ice cream shop where they both worked. “Organic” is an apt term for the music they are crafting as well, and new song “Lover’s Recipe” uses the whole-food equivalent of instrumentation and arrangement (acoustic guitar, bowed acoustic upright bass and a few well-placed percussion hits), with the vocals prominently displayed.

The two vocal lines are more counter-point than straight harmony though – meaning either voice could be the sole melody of this song. They chase each other and lean towards or away from each other much like lovers not sure whether to move forward or run away. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which voice is singing which note because they are so intertwined. Again, this creates in sound that feeling at the end of a relationship (which this song describes lyrically as overlapping with the beginning of another) when you have to painfully separate yourself from a lover. Whose baggage is whose? Whose feelings are whose? 

But it’s the strong emotional impulse driving this song that sells me on it and gets me listening over and over. I love a song that makes me feel something, and this one does. It’s a melancholy and nostalgic feeling, reinforced by its lyrics:

“I’m so sorry
it won’t be easy
I know because that’s been me
I’ve been the past other in this lovers recipe”

The live video performance below, created by Shady Pines Media, highlights this final track off the band’s recent EP A Truth Too Big To See. You can hear the full album here. And if you need a dose of gorgeousness, they will be performing at the Awaken Cafe in Oakland Saturday December 3rd. Get your tickets here

 

Photos: Wet Treat Packed Mezzanine to New Music

11/10/2016

 

Almost two years ago I photographed Wet for the first time at Mezzanine. It was November 2014 and the NYC trio (now a live quartet with drummer) were touring on their buzzed about self titled EP, opening for Sohn. Like our writer David, who reviewed the show at the time, I was impressed by the raw soul and truth in their set, but it was obvious that they were a work in progress and still coming into their own. If you were at Mezzanine this Friday you were lucky enough to see the blossoming of talent that came with their debut album Don’t You and touring.

Their live show has definitely evolved, compare the photos at the bottom of the post to this picture of Wet at Mezzanine 2014:

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Read More

Photos: Andra Day Rises Up at The Fillmore

11/10/2016

If, like me, you are one of the 85% of San Franciscans who voted for Hillary Clinton, this has been a sad week. Personally, I’m broken down. I’m tired. Sometimes there are things bigger than music. Some days you wake up and there is no fighter in you. Every now and then the Spotify plays, the PRmachine, and the music reviews need to pause as we realign our worldview.

I could write about Andra Day’s at times spellbinding, performance at San Francisco’s Fillmore on Sunday night but today that feels inappropriate. At a time when part of America is finding it hard to breathe, when part of the American dream may potentially be taken away from marginalized communities, from women and people of color, I feel like there are more important things to write about (and for better writers to do it than I).

However, in the words of Andra Day’s Grammy-nominated single, we will rise up. We will rise like the day. We will rise unafraid. While it may feel like over 50 million people legitimized hate on Tuesday, we will rise in spite of the mental, physical and emotional ache. We have hope. We have each other. And with that, we will be even stronger than we were before. Music is important, and I hope this motivates many more musicians to put their feelings down in words and create the anthems the country needs. I hope this election result empowers Chole x Halle, the teenage sister group who opened up for Andra Day, to make music that matters to them.

This may not be a day to focus on music, however, it is a day I hope musicians like Andra Day will use for inspiration to create the soundtrack for a generation which is sorely needing hope.

Photos: Sunflower Bean Treat Fans to High Energy Halloween Set at Rickshaw Stop

11/03/2016

Psych rock trio Sunflower Bean used to be one of New York’s best kept secrets, but over the past few years they have gained a real national following. Friends that went to SXSW this year couldn’t stop talking about their sets. So when I had a last minute opportunity to catch them on Halloween I jumped at the chance, and was not disappointed. 

Like most psych rock acts, its hard to say you really know them until you see them play live. The riffs are harder and you get to truly experience the way they play off each other, improvise and solo. Monday night’s live experience also had the added element of halloween costumes both on stage and in the crowd, making for a unique energy.

Sunflower Bean Vocalist/ bassist Julia Cumming provides incredible stage presence and harmonies with Kivlen. At one point she got down into the crowd to jam with the crowd dressed in costume as an alien. I already had their album Human Ceremony on heavy rotation, but their live show really made me a fan and slightly deaf for two days. Their number one single right now is probably “Easier Said” but I was blown away by “Wall Watcher.” Check it out below.

 

Before the set I had an opportunity to briefly chat with Nick Kivlen (guitar/ vocals) and Jacob Faber (drums) outside the venue. We talked a bit about the trio’s ties to Long Island, and they couldn’t say enough good things about The Lemon Twigs who they are touring with. The Lemon Twigs set the table for the night with a refreshing 70s sound and a disgusting amount of musical talent from the D’Addario brothers who seem to play every instrument.

I would definitely recommend catching both Sunflower Bean and The Lemon Twigs as they continue their tour, you can find all the dates here. Read More

PREMIERE: “Phoebe” from Michael Musika + Eric Kuhn, on tour

10/26/2016

A decade or more ago, there was a vibrant house show scene in SF, a regular of which was called The House of Love Cabaret. I saw Sean Hayes there, just a guy and a guitar, and comedy troupe Killing My Lobster tested out early sketches to loving crowds. Another act I first encountered there was a quirky guitar-playing songwriter named Michael Musika. Later, I saw him playing his songs in a corner at a random house party full of drunk 20-somethings and I bought his homemade, handwritten CD for a couple of dollars. I still have those songs in rotation, and “Blue Trampoline” remains one of my favorite songs.

Musika’s songwriting has always been playful and poetic – for 2011’s SPELLS he released an accompanying book of stories and poems – but when he teamed up with drummer/multi-instrumentalist and composer Eric Kuhn (of Eric + Erica) a few years ago for the pair’s first release, THERE IS NO NEED TO NAME THE MOON, the songs soared. This was no doubt partly due to production quality and arrangements, but partly to the magic that is created when creative collaborators find their groove.

While Musika (yes that is his given name) has lived in San Francisco for at least a decade, he’s spent the last year away from the city staring at his own loneliness and documenting his creative process. He is an artist who lives and breathes his art every minute – take one look at the menu bar on his blog/website and you’ll see what I mean, everything is art. At one point a short story of his, read a loud at a more recent variety show, knocked me out of an unconscious existential stupor. That is to say that there is more than just music to Michael Musika. He is a storyteller, maybe a shaman, conjuring something mystic in his music.

“Living in your art” in these DEY days (do EVERYTHING yourself) means that your time for self-promotion (a Herculean logistical feat) is probably not abundant, which is true for Musika. Luckily, his fans, me among them, are devoted. With no fanfare, a pre-order link to his new album with Kuhn, YOU CAN IF YOU WANT TO, appeared in my inbox this morning – set to be released next Monday October 31st.  Recorded mostly in North Carolina, Musika says these are “eleven songs named after girls I used to know” with tracks aptly named – “Tia”, “Anna”, “Indianna” and etc.

“Phoebe” is a playful, poetic song that takes enough subtle turns to please any musical geek while still feeling easy to the ear. It features backing vocals from several local (and formerly local) musicians including Indianna Hale and Erica Fink (the other half of Eric + Erica), and instrumentation by Musika and Kuhn. The lines, “time goes by outside so slowly / as all alone i watch the sun go down / one night a girl yelled through my window / why you always inside looking out / you don’t need to be so lonely” reads like Leonard Cohen and sounds like a summer day on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, complete with Beach Boy harmonies.

Musika + Kuhn are hitting the road next week with a few shows around the Bay Area (see below) and beyond. Eric + Erica co-headline the tour. Expect these shows to be intimate and quirky, and to give you all the feels. Pre-order YOU CAN IF YOU WANT TO here, or wait for it be everywhere in a few days.

Mon Oct 31 – Oakland, CA – The Hatch – 8pm
Fri Nov 4 – Santa Cruz, CA – Bocci’s Cellar w/ Hod Hulphers – 8pm
Sat Nov 5 – San Francisco, CA – Amnesia ***Loving Cup Presents*** w/ Bob Thayer – 8pm
Sun Nov 6 – Petaluma, CA – Ernie’s Tin Bar w/ Camp Bud – 5pm

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