Welcome to Under The Stars, babe … A quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, opinions, and other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes and thinking outside the margins.
Let’s get iconic …
PRINCESS AT FOX THEATER, DECEMBER 9
Think you’re a Prince fan? Think again. SNL veteran Maya Rudolph and LA singer-songwriter Gretchen Lieberum, who have been singing together since college, are such devoted fans of The Purple One that they formed a damn band about it. A good one. Their lifelong obsession with Prince has turned into a musical project called PRINCESS, which is filled with warmth, humor, and spot-on covers.
They are bringing this special act to the Fox Theater. I was fortunate enough to catch Prince on the Lovesexy tour in 1988, and it was a revelation. However, at that point, Prince was running all of his early records in medley form. It was great, but very condensed.
When Princess performed at Mezzanine in 2014, the show stayed focused on his serious, stripped-down early-1980s Minneapolis Sound, encompassing New Wave, dirty funk, and glam rock effortlessly. The playlist for the night included songs right up to the Purple Rain album—but no Prince songs after 1984.
Hearing live, high-quality versions of “Jack U Off,” “Sister,” “Sexuality,” “When You Were Mine,” “17 Days,” and “Erotic City” transported me back to First Avenue. Visions of Jheri curl juice and wilted Mohawks flopping everywhere kept running through my mind.
No matter which era Princess brings this time, it’s guaranteed to be a beautiful night.
Grab tix here.
BLACK THOUGHT IN CONVERSATION WITH JELANI COBB, DECEMBER 10. THE ROOTS AT FOX THEATER, DECEMBER 28
There are so many accolades orbiting around The Roots these days, that it’s hard to imagine the core of this generational hip hop band started out busking on the streets of Philadelphia. But that’s exactly what drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq Trotter, the emcee also known as Black Thought, did.
Before they became the house band of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and then “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” they engineered a neo-soul revival movement. Their burning-bright creativity marched in lockstep with the musical collective Soulquarians, producing albums by Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Common, Jill Scott, and many others.
And even before that, The Roots recontextualized hip hop through a full band experience, connecting various artists and regions like no other. In the same way that Questlove is a musical encyclopedia, running down rhythmic cadences by historic drummers whose iconic licks have become the bone and marrow of hip hop, Black Thought himself is a machine of an emcee. His grasp on mimicking foundational hip-hop lyricists—that nasal tone, those inflections, and delivery—remains mindblowing. To become a master, you must always be a student.
Together, these musicians continually provide the culture with the proper historical context it sorely deserves. It’s a path they traveled well before the 50th anniversary of the genre became a topic of discussion on NPR, and a cover story for AARP: The Magazine.
Now Questlove has won an Oscar (Best Documentary Film for Summer of Soul), and The Roots are finally getting their mainstream recognition. But the hip hop community has known for a minute that Black Thought should be properly recognized as one of the best. He’s in my top five emcees of all time. Run back to this year’s Glorious Game, where he and Leon Michels of El Michael Affair match “cautionary tales” to a soulful lo-fi production.
On the acclaimed project, Michels plays the producer role à la Willie Mitchell to Black Thought’s Al Green, and it’s damn spiritual. “The Weather,” a scenic journey to Black Thought’s, or any Black kid’s growing up in the projects in the ’80s, upbringing, the emcee draws out whereabouts, residents of project housing, and scenarios with Walter Mosley’s “I know them” technique, while applying James Baldwin’s simple-yet-complex conjecture.
He breaks down the social and psychological state of affairs in between guitar chords and raspy-express tone. Kids used to play “kickball, stickball from 10 o’clock in the morning until somebody got pissed off.” We get the body blow of “herd immunity, the definition of community, the only neighbor that never knocked was opportunity.”
You can be sure more stories will be passed down at Black Thought’s City Arts & Lecture session with the dean of Columbia University School of Journalism himself Jelani Cobb as they discuss Trotters’ memoir, The Upcycled Self.
Also, The Roots will be playing at The Fox on December 28. Be ready for an all-out assault performance of soul, funk, rock, disco, and hip hop as only The Roots can do. They still give one of the best live shows going.
NEW YORK PARTY MISTER SATURDAY NIGHT UNVEILS 15-CASSETTE BOX
A cassette boxset of mixes and live performances commemorating 15 years of the New York party Mister Saturday Night will be released on January 17. The list of performances captured by the project is impressive, and includes moves from Ash Lauryn, Avalon Emerson, and Floating Points.
Each tape is 90 minutes long. Other contributors include Aurora Halal, Soul Summit, OK Williams, musclecars, Physical Therapy, Suso Saiz, Optimo feat. Sal P, CCL, Rena Anakwe, Tama Sumo, Eamon Harkin, and Justin Carter. This particular set of mixes captures Samuel Shepherd aka Floating Points, the British electronic music producer and part-time jazz recording artist, during his first-ever gig in the US. The experience allegedly inspired him to record “Myrtle Ave,” marking the end of a period for the artist in which he consistently incorporated swing, groove, and warmth into his arrangements. Those elements are missing in his recent dance music releases.
Time to start trolling the thrift stores for a cassette deck.
More info here.
DOUG LYNNER, FRANCK MARTIN, AND MAYIR AT ANNO DOMINI GALLERY, DECEMBER 8
Franck Martin, our local modular synthesizer wizard, hosts a monthly electronic music showcase at Noisebridge in the Mission every fourth Thursday. Born in France, his compositions draw inspiration from the works of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream. On his most recent album Je me Souviens, which translates to “I remember,” Martin presents a mind-soothing experience.
But that’s just a recording. At the Anno Domini Gallery, an anchor for the downtown San Jose art scene, he’ll be performing alongside his peers. Imagine three solo sets of modular synthesizer music performed through a Quadraphonic Sound System. It’ll be a paradise for audiophiles.
I have it on authority from Martin himself that this live performance, which features Doug Lynner—known for his intimate “In-The-Circuit” performance style—and MaYir, a regular performer at Resonant Frequencies, a monthly community synth gathering, will resonate with nuanced and personal feeling.
Doors are at 7pm, performance at 7:30pm, and it’s pay what you can. More info here.
THE UMBRELLAS AT CAFE DU NORD, DECEMBER 11 AND 12
The Umbrellas’ DIY cred runs deep like the 38 Geary. They hold down jobs at local record stores and venues, recording their summery vibe in home-recorded confines. They are a local band that has done well, and we can all root for them. Their debut album from 2021 knocked it out of the park, calling on the milieu of The Pastels, Comet Gain, and Orange Juice, while aligning with the very chic San Francisco Bay Area fog-pop aesthetic. Fairweather Friend, their sophomore album due out in late January, promises to double down on everything they’ve already established and then some. Landing these opening slots for power pop-baroque rock outfit Lemon Twigs points to progress, for sure.