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Arts + CultureMusicUnder the Stars: Unleash the musical Kraken of 2024!

Under the Stars: Unleash the musical Kraken of 2024!

RIP the great Les McCann, but welcome Sheer Mag, Torrey, Michael Shannon, Con Brio, and a Floating Points ballet

Hey, it’s Under The Stars. 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.

“You gotta talk to the people” Les McCann

Lots of different music-heavy activities this week at Under The Stars. 

And not because every dang music publicist on the planet decided to unleash the Kraken all at once these past two weeks. 

Nope. Not at all.

It’s the part of January, the first quarter, where everything is popping. Just rushing to hit go.

Folks are chomping at the bit, hurriedly.

Did you know Floating Points has scored his debut ballet for the San Francisco production Mere Mortals, which will run at the War Memorial Opera House from fri/26 through February 1? 

This means the music will be performed live at every performance by Floating Points and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and it should also be noted that Mere Mortals’ evening performances will include an after party whose price is included in the ticket, along with a cash bar. Each night will feature one of the popular Bay Area DJs Nooka Jones or Mozhgan.

Score one for the team at The Opera as a proper get-down.

Pretty crazy. I mean crazy good.

Want another sign of the good synergy flowing?

Just look at the Mount Tam of Black Nerd Energy, a force I try to tap into regularly.

W. Kamau Bell at GAMH for Fishbone over the holidays

This just speaks rad! Salute to those Gentlemen.

It’s also the time of year when acting awards nominees and shows are a go. Grammy Awards, all gas no brakes.Television show premieres (after a six-month actors’ strike no less) hit play. “True Detective: North Country” on Max? Fire!

Football playoffs ramping up, 49ers keeping quarterbacks in bubble wrap to make it all interesting. And then for one of several purposes that this column is/was created for:

Music festival announcements, like today’s final, “phase 3” Noise Pop lineup. They come flying outta every corner of the Internet like an Ohtani fastball. Buster Posey…. keep it zipped, sir. Shut it!


Yes, rejoice at the fact that the newly dubbed Mother Fitness, also known as Megan Thee Stallion, will be performing alongside other headliners Pearl Jam, Ed Sheeran, Stevie Nicks, and 75 other acts this May at the most audacious Wine gala in Northern California.

Our own Con Brio, whose Scream At It, we named one of the best releases in 2023, will be performing at the Bottle Rocket again this spring, digging in on the chance to get that band recognition, more eyes, in on a much larger scale.

“Yessir. It’s an honor and a great opportunity to get in front of a lot of music fans—we meet lots of fans at club shows down the line who discovered us at festivals. I tend to think that a club or theater show is the ideal way to see a band you love, but festivals are a great way to see a lot of music and find new artists that you might not have known about” stated Jonathan Kirchner, bassist for the band, to 48hills via email.

“This is our fourth time playing BottleRock. We’ve twice opened the day on the main stage, which is about as big a stage and sound system as you’ll ever get to play through, so of course that’s a thrill. We also played an afternoon set on a smaller stage one year, right after Charles Bradley which was incredible. Watching him and his band from out front was an inspiration and then going around back and giving him props as he walked off the stage was amazing. We of course love club shows and the smaller DIY festivals, but the bigger mainstream ones are cool to be a part of as well.”

Also catch them on Feb 16 at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz, Feb. 17 at HopMonk in Sebastopol, Feb 18 at The Independent in San Francisco. See the website for more.


So we lost a great arranger, musician, storyteller, and philosopher when Les McCann, the jazz virtuoso, transitioned on December 29 at the age of 88 after developing pneumonia.

If you read any of the numerous obituaries, you will find either in the headline or lede graf that McCann was heavily sampled by… and then you can fill in any one of the predominant hip-hop groups over the past 25 years. But then something funny happens. Nobody explains why McCann was a go-to for the golden era hip-hop generation.

Welp, I’ve got a theory.

All of those SP-1200 kids had parents who owned and played the be-freaking hell out of McCann’s breakout moment as a live performer. “Compared to What,” the protest song written by Gene McDaniels, was played for the first time by McCann at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and would be the first song on the concert album Swiss Movement

According to liner notes and McCann. “Just before we went onstage, and for the first time in my life, I smoked some hash. I didn’t know where the hell I was [once I got to the bandstand]. I was totally disoriented. The other guys said, ‘OK, play, man!’ Somehow I got myself together, and after that, everything just took off.”

The single struck a chord globally. It became  a million-copy seller, reaching No. 35 on Billboard’s R&B chart, forever cementing the Montreux Jazz Festival as a popular destination for live music after the song’s release.

My theory is that all those groups, golden era hip-hop royalty and such, grew up with Swiss Movement, and around the time of beat discovery, fell in love with McCann’s catalog.

But don’t just trust me on that.

“All your favorite Golden Era producers were deep in that Les McCann bag… He’s the foundation of a lot of your favorite records. Do the knowledge.” – Dante Ross (architect of Elektra Records hip-hop roster where he signed acts Brand Nubian, Grand Puba, Del the Funky Homosapien, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, KMD, Leaders of the New School, Busta Rhymes and Ol’ Dirty Bastard) on the passing of Les McCann.

So go pick up Layers, Invitation to Openness, Talk To The People, and make your beat tape.

But hold space for that warm vocal presence and killer soul-jazz keyboard prowess.


What is the number one thing you need to throw a mega-concert culture experience in the desert, or at a nationally known park where fools drop acid and try to hang with bison before those beautiful creatures let you know who’s the boss? Or swoop down into a wacky little town in Texas that feels like Williamsburg, except the BBQ is perfection, and for sale at the dang airport? It’s music. Quality music.

At some point, you’d expect Slumberland Records, the Oakland-based indie label, to just hit the skids. How much of a Vegas winning streak can one label sustain? Well, it seems that for this one, it’s evergreen.

Such a Bay Area micro-juggernaut, they represent the real-time dream pop-shoegaze phenomenon in the 415 and 510 respectively. Is it the label or the bands maintaining the heater? Uhh, I’m always a believer in the “aww f*ck you” prerogative that creatives on this side of the country subscribe to. Creating trends calls for bucking the system. Now, I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Hey kids, let’s do the personal math, shall we? The Umbrellas, The Reds Pinks & Purples, Chime School, and Blue Ocean: These are just a few of the bands on the label capturing that jetstream wiggle you’ll find onstage at Rickshaw, The Chapel, and Great American Music Hall on any random day. Headlining or opening, it is what a visitor would take away as the SF indie sound right now. 

Let’s add one more band.

Oakland-based outfit Torrey calls themselves a “textural pop group”, but you’d be more inclined to expand on that description after experiencing their crushing lead single “No Matter How” from the upcoming self-titled sophomore album for the, yeah that’s right, aforementioned Slumberland imprint. Heat-check like a mug, people.

It’s Torrey’s debut for the in-demand label, but they are not newbies.

Siblings Ryann and Kelly Gonsalves, who formed Torrey in 2018 while living in San Francisco, found a new way to embed blissful harmonies under the wave of big-sounding guitars on that stunner of a lead single. 

They call the album “a prism of different shades of soft-focused brilliance,” but you’d automatically file it under Bay-Area inventiveness like the other bands mentioned earlier. 

While assembling the album Matthew Ferrara of the Umbrellas came in to help capture the sounds.

Can you hear Lush and The Breeders in the buttermilk? Sure. But Torrey’s ability to pair the grandiose riffs with smooth edges makes earworms rooted in the present, seem easy.

Rest assured, we can expect to hear those arrangements bumping around Bay-Area stages this spring and summer.

Pre-order Torrey here.


Michael Shannon. That’s right. The lay-it-on-the-line actor, from General Zod in Superman, the reboot era to Mr Green from The Night Before, and frequent collaborator with director Jeff Nichols, is coming to The Great American Music Hall the first week in February to perform R.E.M’s Murmur and Reckoning with Jason Narducy, member of the indie rock band Superchunk.

And No. I’m not puffing on that Apple fritter or Wedding cake. 

This is happening.

All shows on the tour will feature Shannon (vocals) and Narducy (guitar) along with Jon Wurster (drums), Dag Juhlin (guitar), Nick Macri (bass), and Vijay Tellis-Nayak (piano).

These musical moments are part of SF Sketchfest: the first show (Thu. Feb. 1) will see Murmur performed in full while the following show (Fri. Feb. 2) will see R.E.M.’s sophomore album, Reckoning, performed in full.

Lemme tell ya, I’ve seen the videos and peeped his What’s In My Bag episode from Amoeba. Homeboy ain’t playing. He’s got the vocal chops and masterly taste. He name-checks Jerry Garcia and Thelonious Monk as his faves, which doubles down why he’s one of my fave thespians… going back to Vanilla Sky and Groundhog Day. The list is long.

These are the types of spectral wonders happening in the musical landscape at this time of the year. Embrace the options, people.


Arriving from the files of ‘I had no idea this was happening or even a thing.”

Sheer Mag, the Philadelphia-based band, on their Third Man Records debut, executes that combo of WTF. Expertise playing, sweetened to screeching lead vocals, from the amazing Tina Halladay, and the smaahts to mix it all up. Coming up punk, attacking contemporary rock, finessing big booming hooks, and nailing the bazinga outta well-constructed power-pop bangers? Mang. 

Look no further than the disco-pop Southern fried rocker “Moonstruck”, with its unwavering bouncy bassline, twee-bordering vocals, and mid-tempo neck-snapping joy.

I’ve heard the album, so hold my beer. This band is the right type of head-scratcher.

Playing Favorites is out on March 1 here, and Sheer Mag is playing Rickshaw Stop on April 15.

Don’t miss either one. Grab tix here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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