• Múm puts Iceland's beauty into sound

    Nov 12 2007, 19h22

    I saw múm and Our Brother the Native play at the Palace of Fine Arts in the Presidio with my friend Jason. It was amazing. Múm had me completely mesmerized with their music. Their live rendition of Moon Pulls was absolutely beautiful, adding a simple but very effective bassline to the album version of the song. They sold kazoos and "múmonicas", which seemed to be Hohner Marine Band harmonicas with new faceplates. The venue was gorgeous and perfectly appropriate for the music.
  • Jens Lekman is a pop God

    Nov 12 2007, 19h19

    Last night I saw the Jens Lekman show at Bimbo's 365. Let's just say I haven't seen anything this musically orgasmic since Daft Punk played at the Greek Theater.

    Throw Me The Statue opened, and very unusually for me, I saw the entire opening act. I remembered not really getting hooked on any of their songs before, and their live performance never really grabbed me either. I spent the whole time mostly daydreaming about Jens.

    When it was Jens' turn, his DJ came out first and played a few songs from a laptop. He was intriguingly stonefaced while he played mostly old pop songs. I didn't recognize any of them, but it reminded me of Barry White. Just as people started getting impatient, one of the songs morphed into the opening drum beat of Into Eternity, and Jens and his band of six hot Swedish girls ran out onto the stage to explosive applause and cheering.

    Jens and his girls were all wearing plain white outfits, each with a different object embroidered on the shirt. Jens had a bunch of roses, the drummer had a red pair of eyeglasses, and the other girls had things like a sailboat, a fish, and a hammer. Immediately after running out from behind the curtain, they launched into the song, with four of the girls playing the hook on flute and piccolo.

    Every song was performed flawlessly, and just like Throw Me The Statue predicted, Jens blew my mind. His beautiful, smooth voice hit the high notes effortlessly, and he only noticeably strained once all night. He honestly sounded better live than on his album. Most of the instruments were played live, and whatever weird rhythms or sampled loops were leftover were taken care of by the DJ.

    Over the course of nearly two hours, Jens played a full set followed by two encores, including all of my favorite songs: Sipping On The Sweet Nectar, The Opposite of Hallelujah, Your Arms Around Me, and It Was a Strange Time in My Life. One of the most memorable moments was during Sipping On The Sweet Nectar, when all of a sudden the entire band started running around in circles on the stage with their arms extended like airplanes.

    Jens entertained us not only with his music, but also with his stories. Most of his songs are obviously written about events in his own life, and throughout the night he added his own commentary to the lyrics of his songs. For instance, between verses of A Postcard to Nina, he embellished his story of traveling to Berlin to meet his pen-pal Nina and agreeing to pose as her fiancé for her father's benefit. He also explained how Shirin (of the song Shirin was his hairdresser at the Kortedala Beauty Center, where he used to get his hair cut. He told the story of when he came to San Francisco a while ago after having been disillusioned with music and selling all his musical instruments. He wandered around the city, dranking wine and watching flamenco dancers. And like almost every band I've seen recently, he remarked that San Francisco is one of the best places on earth.

    I really regret leaving after the second encore instead of staying to dance to his DJ's music and meet Jens after the show. I can't wait to see him next time!
  • Electro lives!

    Out 9 2007, 18h05

    Last weekend I saw Crystal Castles, lemonade, and Toxic Avenger at the Mezzanine (plus DJ sets by a few others).

    Lemonade was decent. They had a bass guitarist, a drummer, and a vocalist who sang incomprehensibly through a delay/echo pedal for the whole set. It was enjoyable, but not memorable.

    Crystal Castles doesn't have a huge repertoire of material built up yet, so they played a short but very sweet set with a live drummer, including my favorites Air War and Alice Practice. Alice was wearing a black Darth Vader shirt that said "Dark Side", a black skirt, black shoes, and black eye makeup. She danced around while she sang and looked generally menacing. It was a great act!

    Before the 8-bit duo, though, we were treated to an hour-long DJ set by Toxic Avenger from Paris. Playing with a sidekick, he cranked out a barrage of rockin' electro tunes, stopping to let us catch our breath only a small handful of times. He worked in samples from Simian's Never Be Alone (a la Justice), as well as Blur's Song 2 and Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name, among a few others. I danced my ass off and had an awesome time. He seemed genuinely thankful when I told him it was the best DJ set I'd ever heard.
  • Trentemøller

    Out 5 2007, 18h36

    I saw Trentemøller at Mezzanine last night. I don't think I've ever heard blues harmonica played on top of electronic music. Awesome! He did a great job of getting the audience worked up. I always love it when I see a musician performing on stage and break into a smile when the audience gives him some unexpected praise :-)
  • Dan Deacon is my hero

    Out 1 2007, 20h32

    I attended the Dan Deacon and Girl Talk show at the Fillmore last Saturday night, even though all I wanted to do was go home and sleep after the awesome time I had at the San Francisco LoveFest. Boy, am I glad I went!

    Going to a concert alone is always an adventure. Since I'm by myself, I can usually sneak my way into any position in the audience. This time, though, I happened to be in just the right spot in the middle of the audience when Dan Deacon came out with his ridiculous table full of multicolored tape, bare light bulbs, strobelight animals, an iPod shuffle taped to a banana, and various electronic musical equipment. Lucky me: I got to stand right next to him for his entire performance! I've never seen an artist perform from the middle of the audience before... what an awesome idea! Despite the low volume of the speakers (he spent a good 5 minutes encouraging the audience to encourage the sound guy to "take it to the max"), he thoroughly rocked us with his absurdist, experimental electronic music. He does a great job of involving the audience in his show: he had us singing along ("silence like the wind overtakes me... oooooooooohhh") and forming a human "gauntlet" that moved from his table through the building up to the balcony.

    On a high from Deacon's performance, I discovered one of the great things about the Fillmore: a bucket of free apples during intermission! What a unique and surprisingly pleasant idea!

    Next up was Girl Talk. The very second he pressed the space bar to start the music, a horde of concert-goers propelled themselves onto the stage and proceeded to fight for the best piece of dancing real-estate: right next to Gregg. I later realized (when I got a good look at his setup) this is why he uses a Toughbook ruggedized laptop during performances. To be honest, I was so focused on fighting my way towards Gregg that I couldn't really enjoy the music for the first 20 minutes or so. But once I got a good spot right behind him, I danced away the rest of the night.

    Once they realized that his table was in danger of falling off the front edge of the stage, the security people started kicking people off the stage. I saw this happening and cleverly avoided them until they decided there were few enough people that there was no longer any danger of a lawsuit-inducing disaster. This was the funnest part of his performance: I got to dance right next to him without getting squashed between two sweaty, smelly people, and I got to look out on the entire audience below, who were going nuts! For a minute I imagined they were all dancing and shouting for me :-)

    Towards the end of the show, I was finally able to get a good look at the laptop he was hunched over the entire time. His Toughbook was covered in clear plastic wrap (presumably to prevent disastrous beer-spills), and he was using a program called AudioMulch. Here's how his setup works: for each song, he has several loops set up, which he starts all in sync. Most of them start muted, and he gradually unmutes each loop, one at a time, to add to the song. At the end, he created a crazy crescendo by first increasing the tempo to 500bpm, then going through all the loops he'd used throughout the performance and unmuting them all. It was an amazing wall of sound and noise.

    I thanked Gregg for coming and told him he did an awesome job, then ran back to Market Street to catch the transbay bus back to Berkeley. What a night!
  • Music-Event connections

    Set 26 2007, 2h05

    Here in the midst of my quarter-life crisis, I can't help but notice that I've formed strong associations between certain songs/albums and certain times or events in my life. These connections are sometimes so strong that they could be called split-second hallucinations or flashbacks. I thought it would be cool to record these links whenever they come up.

    Elliott Smith's XO reminds me of living in Dublin in 2006. I listened to this album over and over and over in Ireland, so these songs trigger a lot of those memories. In particular, I remember riding the bus back to Dublin from Belfast and sitting in the middle of a giant flock of aggressive swans in Galway, among countless other moments. The tone of the album itself reflects elements of that time: like Ireland, its dark and dreary first impressions conceal lush, beautiful landscapes; there are hints of Elliott's death in these songs that are just barely short of recognition, and their tortured yet ecstatic character parallel the impending decline of a personal relationship of mine at the time.

    Bryan Scary's The Shredding Tears often reminds me of the friend who recently introduced me to it. Even though we shared a lot of music over the years, for some reason none of it created a similar association until now. In particular, I remember driving around San Francisco while listening to this album. Between a guy who grew up in the South Bay and a new resident of Berkeley who has just begun to get a feel for the city, our afternoon teetered between visiting touristy spots and lingering in familiar areas. I think I'll always regret not making more of this friendship while I had the chance.

    Tons of songs remind me of working at the North Star dining hall at Cornell University. I used to be the de-facto director of musical entertainment, i.e., one of the only guys who liked music enough to bring CDs to work and play them over the cafeteria PA system. A few of the more prominent songs that fall into this category: The Decemberists' Shanty for the Arethusa, The Flaming Lips' She Don't Use Jelly, Self's What a Fool Believes, and Stevie Wonder's I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever).

    I don't want to get started on connections to Erin, but speaking of the dining hall, one of my favorite memories is listening to Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American with her in the conference room, sharing a pair of headphones.

    Enough for now. I'll update this next time I'm feeling sentimental.
  • On a "Moon Safari" of my own

    Set 21 2007, 8h15

    Thu 20 Sep – Air

    Boy, am I lucky: I get to see my three favorite French electronic duos all within a few months of each other. Daft Punk was absolutely mind-blowing in July, Justice is guaranteed to bring the house down in October, and tonight, I basked in the beautiful glow of Air's musical landscapes.

    I showed up expecting to watch Jean-Benoît and Nicolas tapping along to pre-recorded versions of their songs. To my delight, however, Air (backed by a 3-piece band) played nearly all of their instruments live, and exceptionally well at that. As well-engineered as their albums sound, after seeing them live, you can tell that their spark isn't added in production. These guys have real talent!

    What most impressed me was Jean-Benoît's voice... he was able to reproduce that high breathy sound just perfectly. It was actually a little scary.

    All in all, it was a spectacular show. They managed to play their catalog of mostly downtempo music while keeping the audience awake with well-placed all-out-rocking sessions (in People in the City and Don't Be Light). I can't wait until they come back!!
  • disappointing at first, but a strong finish

    Ago 31 2007, 10h18

    Thu 30 Aug – Mae, As Tall as Lions, Dear and the Headlights

    This was my first show at Bottom of the Hill. It's a really small place, which is great, but the layout isn't optimal for concerts. The space for the audience is deeper than it is wide, which means the stage needs to be up high so everyone can see the band. I always prefer a shorter stage (none at all is best).

    I showed up a little late, missing the opening act by Dear and the Headlights. However, I caught all of As Tall As Lions, who I hadn't heard before, but they had me toe-tapping and head-nodding along nonetheless. Their singer hits the high notes like a pro, they have great dynamics (between all-out rocking and silence, they know how to bring it down a notch or ten), and it was obvious that they all were having a great time on stage. I thought to myself that they sounded like the harder-rocking songs by Radiohead.

    As if to confirm my suspicion, the DJ played at least two Radiohead tracks while we were waiting for MAE to take the stage. When they finally did, I didn't know what to expect, not having seen them live before. Their albums sound great, but are definitely "touched up" a lot in production.

    Unfortunately, the difference in the lead vocals was painfully obvious from the first note. Dave (the lead singer) struggled to carry his melodies all night, often falling noticeably flat of the intended pitches. Luckily, he gave us more than a few chances to do his job for him, inviting the audience to sing along. The rest of the instruments were dead on and sounded great, and the instrumental sections of the songs were awesome.

    After a shaky start (my all-time favorite Embers and Envelopes was pretty disappointing) and a midsection of several songs off their (forgettable) new album Singularity, MAE changed my impression by finishing with some crowd pleasers: a beautiful rendition of The Ocean, an acoustic sing-along version of Sun, and a great sing-along version of Someone Else's Arms.

    A few tracks I wish they would have included: Tisbury Lane, Skyline Drive, and The Sun And The Moon. Oh well, there's always next time...they said San Francisco was a "little home" for them.
  • Robot Rock - a new regular hangout?

    Ago 21 2007, 18h59

    Mon 20 Aug – Daft Punk's Electroma

    I had no idea this event would be so popular! When we got to the Mezzanine, there was a line all the way down to 6th Street. Picture people mostly in average street clothes with a few people in bright neon psychedelic colors, a Daft Punk helmet, a jacket covered in ads for "escort services", and a one-piece jumpsuit with the legs cut off just below the ass.

    After waiting about half an hour, we were told they were at capacity for the film. No biggie, though. I'd already seen it, and we could still get our tickets for the afterparty.

    Having grabbed some food from Little Vietnam, we returned to the Mezzanine around 9:00 to find Richie Panic and Jefrodisiac manning the turntables. These guys do a great job! They churned out a very rockin', very dancdable mix for nearly 2 hours before Dandi Wind took the stage. Highlight of the night: legless jumpsuit man stealing the mop from an employee to use as a dance prop. A little circle grew around him and ate it up!

    Nothing could have prepared me for the eye-raping I received by Dandi Wind. This Canadian duo looked to have a combined age of no more than 35, and the singer/dancer, Dandilion Wind Opaine (yes, that's her name), was wearing the most ridiculous red and yellow tie-died, skin-tight leotard and leggings you can imagine. Don't forget the crazy leopard printed on her chest and back, perhaps signaling that Dandilion was ready to pounce on anyone who got in her way. From the very first note, she sustained an outrageous amount of energy (in the form of singing, vocal percussion, spastic dancing, perching from monitor speakers, and microphone swinging), and the crowd loved it! The music wasn't great: fast-paced, experimental, and electronic, but the show was more than entertaining enough.

    Afterwards, Richie Panic and Jefrodisiac spun a great half-hour set before Riot in Belgium took over the turntables. Unfortunately, we had to leave to catch the last BART train, but from the few minutes we heard (including a remix of "D.A.N.C.E."), they seemed promising.
  • Should have remembered my earplugs!

    Ago 16 2007, 9h28

    Wed 15 Aug – The One AM Radio, Montag, Lymbyc Systym

    Jeez, the Rickshaw Stop is LOUD! You'd think they were borrowing the speaker system from a football stadium or something. After standing up front for Montag's set, I had to sit in the back of the balcony while Lymbyc Systym played, just to give my ears a rest. Thankfully The One AM Radio plays quieter music, and standing up front was a pleasure.

    I hadn't heard Montag before, but I really enjoyed his music and especially his enthusiasm. You could tell he just loved being up on the stage. I tried to buy a t-shirt from him after the show, but he was all sold out of the one I wanted. I'll get him next time.

    The One AM Radio (consisting this time of Hrishi, Paul on trumpet, and Lymbyc Systym on keys and drums) played a short but sweet set, including many of my favorites: What You Gave Away, Mercury, In The Time We've Got, The Echoing Airports, Lest I Forget, along with a few others, and they closed with Witness.

    One more complaint about the sound: it was WAY too heavy on the bass, for all three bands. I'll have to avoid the Rickshaw Stop in the future if possible.