Finally, someone makes this shoegaze revival thing work. Oakland's VIR, formerly called Montana, lays U2-size vocals, melodies, and song structures over sinister, flatline backdrops à la Joy Division. The resulting tension, anchored by singer Sam Sloane's excellent guitar work, creates songs that don't stale.
Everyone knows it: Mainstream modern rock is dead. So what could possibly compel an independent San Francisco group to play the sort of uber-earnest, studio-slick, unoriginal ("timeless") rock that ruled Top 40 radio in the mid-'90s? A shot to open for Jon Bon Jovi? To woo ailing Goo Goo Dolls fans? Miggs isn't bad, just unnecessary.
Oakland's Ricky Lee Robinson dresses sharp in a bright white tux and can play drums and guitar simultaneously. Yet his debut leaves something to be desired. The songwriting is sharp but uneven; highlights "Psychic Woman" and "Jeans On" shine as superb examples of the weird, bare-bones rock 'n' roll he strives for.
Tippy Canoe is one Michele Kappel, songwriter and lead singer for this Oakland quintet. What attempts to pass for old-timey pop is really a mélange of country, jazz, and folk from various bygone eras. With such an assortment of styles and Tippy's trademark ukulele lost in the mix, it's hard to say quite where the band lands.
Three years of recording at the Plant in Sausalito yielded Aprilsrain's debut, a pleasant collection of distilled dream-pop and shoegaze that leans more toward the mainstream than perhaps it should. The crisp, clean production will appeal to Pinback and Death Cab for Cutie fans, but even those bands take more chances.
Erykah Badu doesn't have the "six and change" vocal range of a more lush balladeer like Lalah Hathaway or Rachelle Ferrell, but it's easy to fall in love with her for a number of other reasons: the Austin Powers outfits; the nasal, Billy Holiday texture of her voice; the Afro that careens in every direction. Unfortunately, such attributes didn't quite cut it at last night's Paramount show, even though Badu had everything set up to really manhandle an audience -- from the cute back-up singers to the choreographed dance moves to aptly chosen drummer Chris Dave (who's also held rhythm section duties for Mint Condition and Bilal). The problem was that she chose to ignore those assets, and instead build an entire show around wailing, drawn-out high notes. The result was a bit like watching a jazz saxophonist who tries to cram as many notes as possible in the space of a single measure, if only to show off his chops. It just made everyone tired.
It may seem obvious, but "experimental" is a fine description for this time-tested Oakland act. Its third record, fittingly, is an apocalyptic math-rock fit. Mashing tortured melodies against fractured noise, it restlessly bounds between toe-tapping and confounding across all twelve tracks.
A lot of Ahmad Jamal's appeal lies in his use of blank space between notes he plays in a style that's closer to Monk, or some of the old stride players, than to most of his contemporaries: frequent glissandos; rickety two-handed runs; a left handed comp rhythm that's like a kick drum beat, played on one chord. Jamal must plot out his solos from a drummer's perspective, because the phrasing sounds like it's based on a groove, rather than melodic or harmonic ideas. That actually doesn't matter because, as Jamal proved last night at Oakland Yoshi's where he took the stage alongside bassist James Cammack, drummer Idris Muhammad, and percussionist Manolo Badrena he's a phenomenal performer.
Through no mistake is Tyler Jakes' nickname "Three Chords." His San Francisco-via-Minneapolis trio plays simple, cliché-ridden garage rock with Southern flair and a Western frame of mind. None of it's particularly effective, at least until aptly named closer "I Can't Take Anymore" finally eases into a groove.