Friday, April 11, 2008

Count Orlock in the Castro

Tomorrow evening, the Castro theater has a double-feature not to be missed: two silent movie masterpieces, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at 7pm, and Nosferatu at 9pm, with the Club Foot Orchestra playing live. There is even a third movie earlier that day, Sherlock Holmes Junior, but remembered that "the better is the enemy of the good", so L and I will just go to two movies, and skip Sherlock. Can't wait!

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Social Distortion

Last Monday, I went to the Social Distortion concert at the Fillmore, thanks to a friend of mine who got an extra ticket. I knew close to nothing about the band beforehand; based on some crude sociological profiling of people I had seen sporting Social D. gear, I knew it was some punk-rock type of band (see poster below), but I had never heard their music.

Therefore, I was a bit surprised when the concert opened with an accordion, an upright-bass and two acoustic guitars; no drums, no distortion, and plenty of country, a genre I know almost nothing about, besides the "Johnny Cash at Saint Quentin" album.

The sound gained some muscle midway through; still, there was plenty of country: they closed with "The Rings of Fire", and played quite a few Hank Williams covers, if I am to believe my friend. All in all, the result was very successful, and in retrospect, made me realize that both punk-rock and country have something in common with one of my favorite genres, blues: all three are so formulaic, technically simple, and stripped down, that artists cannot hide behind gimmicks: only bands who know how to own a stage, and put some sincerity and personality in their music can play in these styles without sounding like a parody. Social Distortion definitely passed the test.
A last thing: that concert also made me happy for another reason. I really like the free posters the Fillmore distributes after concerts, but the last times I had been there, zilch! No poster. I had come to believe that this tradition had gone, and was really happy to receive a poster at the end - even though I don't think I'll hang it in my living room.

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Vampire Weekend, the return

Vampire Weekend was back in San Francisco last Wednesday, this time at the Independent, as the headliner, and with an album soon to be released. Besides that, not much has changed - the band is still as endearing, and I am still a fan of the "Upper West Side Soweto style". They hinted at a second album (we even had the honor of having a song premiered), and announced another passage in the Bay Area in January; you have to wonder when that second album will materialize, if they keep touring the way they have been...

I really enjoyed the opening band, Grand Ole Party, as well. A band with a female drummer who is also the lead singer is pretty unusual, and gets your attention; but it's the music itself that kept me engaged afterwards. It had all the qualities of a good power trio - compact, simple, and catchy.

And I can't resist - I have to point at the angle of the pictures (I certainly can't brag about the quality of the pictures themselves). That's right, they were not taken from crowd-level, but rather from the VIP, invitation-only balcony... Knowing someone on the D-list has its perks!

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Sitar struck

I had spotted a while back that the SF Jazz festival had Ravi and Anushka Shankar lined up for November, and thought about getting tickets and then forgot about it. By a strange turn of events, L, who is by no stretch of the imagination a fan of world music, won two tickets, and so we went.
The first part of the event was featuring Anushka with a tabla player and a flautist (the two other persons on stage seemed to have a mostly decorative role), and Ravi Shankar joined for the second half of the show. For the neophyte in Indian music that I am, this was probably the best possible combination. I have a very limited understanding of how this music works; from what I gather, it revolves a lot around intricate rhythmic patterns which are difficult for me to follow.
Having first the opportunity to hear a single sitar player, and then being able to compare it with another, was a great way to appreciate better the differences in style between musicians; and for that matter, I must say that Anushka did seem to have more depth and richness in her palette. That being said, it was difficult not to be touched by the energy and enthusiasm of Ravi Shankar; at a solid 87 years, and probably weighting around 100 pounds, he gave a non-stop performance of over one hour, and seemed to enjoy every minute of it, blinking conspiratorially to the tabla player, and going into amazing variations and permutations of the same theme. Very impressive.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Vampire Weekend

It was my first time at the Rickshaw Stop, and also the first time I heard the music of Vampire Weekend. Technically, it wasn't really the first time; L had somehow gotten in correspondence with their frontman, Ezra Koenig, and played one of their song over the phone for me, but (to put it mildly) it wasn't the medium of choice to fully appreciate the music. Anyway, we were invited to see them open for the Shout Out Louds (so this was also my first time on the guest list for a band) - and I loved it.

There is no mistake, Vampire Weekend is an indie pop band from New York, and they do look the part all right; once they started playing, the first comparison that came to my mind was with The Strokes. And yet, there is something else, something very fresh and endearing about them. It has to do with the attitude, or rather the lack thereof - but also with the music, which has a lightness to it that is often lacking in pop acts. The rhythm section is excellent; I could not place it initially, but reading through some of their press pointed at a self-professed afrobeat influence. It would seem like an unexpected blend, but they pull it off perfectly, and make it sound obvious, keeping the best of both worlds: catchy, upbeat songs, and lyrics with just what it takes of cleverness and irony.
By contrast, the Shout Out Louds were pretty painful. I have to admit I had heard one of their songs before, "the comeback", and had developed a strong distaste for it - but the rest of the material did not do anything to change my opinion. So while I wish Vampire Weekend were the main act, this turned out for the best, as it gave L and I a chance to sneak out of the concert midway through the Shout Out Louds, without missing anything of a great evening.

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