On Sunday night, Grammy-winning singer/song-writer John Legend gave a soulful performance at Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley. It was the second Bay Area stop on his “All of Me” tour. From behind the piano, the multi-talented R&B artist entertained the excited crowd with a four-person orchestra and electrical guitarist. The absence of backup singers and dancers was hardly noticeable because Legend completely captivated the audience through his deep melodies and talent on the piano. What sets Legend apart as a performer, beyond the impressive set list and wide vocal range, is his ability to emotionally connect with the audience, making each person feel like he is personally serenading them.
Demon-conjuring screeches? Check. Legendary New Orleans sludge? Check. Lost platform clog in the mosh pit? Check. Not one, not two, but six doom metal bands stopped by the Oakland Metro Operahouse this past Friday. It was a celebration of Eyehategod's 25th anniversary and Graves at Sea’s triumphant return to the stage after a long hiatus.
At Oracle Arena last night, the self-proclaimed God Yeezus, otherwise known as Kanye West, put on a bold, highly orchestrated spectacle that was ripe with symbolism. In other words, it was nothing less than we’ve come to expect from him.
Yeezus, the album he released earlier this summer, is heavy, dark, and bleak, and so was the Yeezus tour. For most of the night, West was faceless, strutting and rolling around on stage shrouded in masks that eerily obscured his face. With the exception of his bright-red shoes and a particularly glittery mask he donned during the final quarter of his performance, the set was awash with grays and nude tones. A massive, stark, pale-gray mountain rose from the back of the stage. A circular screen behind him displayed black-and-white images of passing clouds; later in the night, the clouds were replaced with the night sky and stars. Several times throughout the two-hour performance, a black screen flashed with the definition of a verb written in white (the first was “Fighting: Light beamed into the world, but men and women ran towards the darkness”) — the concept, much like Yeezus, was cold, odd, and difficult to engage with.
Noise shows can be a dicey proposition. At their best, they clear the air from the Western musical forms and melodies we're so accustomed to. At worst, and in a majority of cases, they can be an uninspired mess, with a well-meaning but clueless introvert hunched over thousands of dollars’ worth of effects processors as a bored, fitful crowd totters about. Many musicians in the Bay Area have started a noise project at some point (including Thee Oh Sees’ Jon Dwyer), but few have the heart to maintain them. An exception is House of Low Culture, the relatively long-standing noise outlet of Isis alum Aaron Turner, abetted by some of Oakland’s finest hunched-over abstractors.
It's probably owing to Turner's reputation that the tiny West Oakland space where the band was set to perform filled quickly on a Wednesday night. As the scruffy, friendly young man accepting donations on the artists’ behalf put it, “This isn't the kind of music that plays in bars." It's true — noise doesn’t exactly sell drinks.
While supporters of gay marriage were holding impromptu celebrations in the streets around the Bay Area last night, fans of heavy music were having their own celebration of sorts — inside Slim’s, where a lucky group of fans packed inside to see a dream lineup: Quicksand, Mastodon, High on Fire, Saviours, and Hot Lunch. The show was part of a free, five-day concert series put on by Converse (the shoe company) to promote the opening of its San Francisco store. Each night of “Converse Represent” featured its own theme: electronic (Hot Chip), indie-rock (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, DIIV), hip-hop (Blackalicious, Deltron 3030), and punk (Suicidal Tendencies).
Outside Lands, Coachella, Treasure Island: Last year, I made it to all three (also Burning Man, but you won't ever hear me call it a music festival). Treasure Island was my favorite for its location, its format (two stages that don't compete), and its curation of diverse acts that can't be found on every other festival lineup. Bonus for Treasure Island producers booking more than ten Bay Area artists for this year's festival.
It's fair to say this year's Treasure Island had more of those neon-clad bros and girls in high heels with cut-off denim shorts a la Coachella, but the word is now out on the six-year-old festival. And with ticket prices at $129 for the full weekend, the San Francisco Marina-types are among the few who can afford to go.
I've taken a lot of shit from my music-snob friends who say festivals are the worst way to experience an act, and while that can be true, it depends on the artist and the festival. Here's who impressed and disappointed:
The easiest criticism to make of bassist Esperanza Spalding, in previous years, was that her live shows didn't have any overarching theme or direction. She'd mix a typical jazz repertoire — standards, rearranged pop songs, ballads with revised lyrics — with scattered pieces of Brazilian music, or songs that more closely resembled contemporary R&B. Audience members occasionally accused her of solipsism, or at the very least, of being more concerned with her own creative muse than with putting on a great show.