Music and nightlife

Burger Boogaloo, other big fests reschedule in COVID wake

Punk legend Alice Bag is still set to perform at the rescheduled Burger Boogaloo

The forthcoming 11th annual Burger Boogaloo festival, held in Oakland’s Mosswood Park and originally planned for July 11 and 12 has been rescheduled for Halloween weekend due to the unprecedented circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic. According to organizers, the festival’s lineup will remain the same and even include more artists ike Shannon Shaw, Hammered Satin, and The Rubinoos. All previously purchased tickets will be honored for the new dates.

“A virus may scare the punk rock world out of Oakland in July but we’ll scare it right back on Halloween weekendʻ said John Waters, Burger Boogaloo host and iconic filmmaker. “Trick or treat, we can’t be beat! Burger Boogaloo2020: a Monster Mash to top them all!”

Punk legend Alice Bag, along with Bikini Kill, Circle Jerks, Carbonas, Bleached, Plastic Bertrand and San Francisco queercore band Pansy Division were the first round of artists announced for this year’s edition. Bag, who fronted first-wave LA punk band The Bags and appeared in Penelope Spheerisʻ eye-opening 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, adapted to modernity by blogging and writing about her band, ensuring the pioneering POC outfit would not be omitted from history.

MUTEK San Francisco, the US outpost of the critically acclaimed experimental music festival series, scheduled for May 2-5, is presently considering new festival dates in the fall according to facilitators. (The lineup may change a well.) Sprawling across several (now shuttered) venues, the festival also showcases art and innovative technology. For a decimated scene, it may be a strengthening tonic. “As more and more festivals become mere money-making ventures, MUTEK has consistently stayed true to its purpose of providing a platform for creatives outside the mainstream,” says its website.

BottleRock Napa Valley music and wine festival, originally set to take place on May 22-24, will be moved to October 2-4. (Itʻs now the same weekend as this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival held in San Franciscoʻs Golden Gate Park.) Several of the BottleRock festival’s previously announced acts will appear at the rescheduled dates, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Nicks, Dave Matthews Band, Miley Cyrus, Khalid, Anderson. Paak & The Free Nationals, and Zedd. Details on the rest of the lineup will be revealed at a later date.

“We made this decision with the safety and best interests of our fans, musicians, partners, employees, and community being paramount,” BottleRock festival organizers said in a statement. “We are committed to putting on the festival to not only share great music and the incredible Napa Valley hospitality but because it’s vitally important to the livelihood of all those who make BottleRock Napa Valley the festival it is.” Tickets for BottleRock’s postponed weekend will be honored for the rescheduled dates. Further information on exchanges and refunds will be detailed in the next few weeks at the website.

New Music: Isaac Aesili’s ‘Hidden Truths’ brings elegant electronic grooves

Isaac Aesili

Released just a couple of weeks after the spring equinox, Issac Aesiliʻs sophomore release unfurls before a turbulent planet with the elegant poise of jejune lilies budding for the first time.

Hidden Truths (Bastard Jazz) was recorded with New Zealand’s top-tier groove masters, including in-demand feature vocalists Ladi6 and Rachel Fraser. Aesili, Lord Echo bandmember and world-renowned musician on both trumpet and percussion, takes us through a good-good-feeling digital soul journey, that squiggles its way through jazz, funk, R&B, and house music with self-assured aplomb.

Donʻt count on me to tell you his production aesthetic fuses Afro and Latin styles with hip-hop and electronic music. Let your ears do the heaving lifting. “Realms”—a killer dance floor lil-bit-o-everything slab five songs in, is the first real sign that weʻve got a stand-out project on our hands. As with the work of New Zealand contemporary Julien Dyne (Teal from 2018 still bumps), we get 808 programming and live drumming fused into one cohesive entity. A champion sound with the majestic swing. Itʻs lined up with keen execution merging techno, house, and low slung bass tones, converting this five-minute number into a must repeat choon fer days. And that breakdown in the middle? Filthy.

Over the course of the past three years Aesili, Māori producer and creative force behind acts Funkommunity, Sorceress, and Karlmarx, designed a record that fits squarely between the commute to the club and the fine in-home listening we’ll all be doing for a while. Backyard-ready for the social distancing dance party (everybody hold tight to your own red cup, please) this album never gives a sense of overreaching while traversing through various feels. From the wintry J Dilla swing on the instrumental opener “Mirror,” things go click and bump over tinny loops setting the terrain for antiquated trumpet calls, smoothing things out.

“Steps,” a 7-minute workout, the climax of the record, is yet another blueprint displaying the shrewdness Aesilli has in designing grand dance tunes that never feel “too extra.” It starts out economical with voice, hand-drumming, and Rhodes organ colors and by the end we are rolling, awash in plush synths, expanded bass-lines and soaring vocal enhancements. There is a sensation of a simplified Fred P-type of arrangement at work here, that allows so many varying access points for the uninitiated. Hidden Truths further indicates New Zealand remains a fertile region making electronic compositions that hit fresh and emote clearly.

Silenced in place? SF’s resilient music scene faces its latest obstacle

Seablite just released a new EP, 'High-Rise Mannequins'

As Broken Horse, an enduring San Francisco band that calls its oeuvre Western Doom Noir, erupted into tuning instruments at its Rite Spot comeback show on Saturday, March 7th, a congregation of greying hipsters assembled.

This was the day after Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s had announced that larger venues, such as the War Memorial Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall, would be closed for all public events, but that smaller spots could stay open. Listen, right when those guitar-tech exercises got “string noisey” irksome, a throng of younger-looking attendees spilled out, popping fingers from their ears as they hit the street.

As for those old heads? The ones who probably lived in the rough-and-nasty SOMA district of the late ’80s and the tense Mission district of the early ’90s? They moved in closer, identifying that brashness—a welcoming drone—that comes along with living in a city, as their long-lost sonic hearth, enjoying the communal warmth of having their old Mission dive bar back. (The Rite Spot had just reopened after a run-in with the Entertainment Commission.)

Broken Horse perform at the Rite Spot. Photo by Raoul Ollman

“So I guess I tuned up,” joked Alex Oropeza, who founded the band in Tuscon, Arizona circa 1986. “Hopefully, this will sound OK.”

Oropeza steered the four-piece outfit through a collection of retooled southwestward-type blues, with Bill Cuevas on bass, Joe Goldring on lead guitar, and Warren Huegel on drums. For an hour and change they marshalled along twangy Dick Dale-tinged, gothlike country-surf-jazz numbers, a sort of David Lynchian concept album. For the 30 or so patrons in attendance, including revered San Francisco songwriter and musician Paula Frazier, it was an eerie soundtrack to a world teetering slightly, but not yet fully, into panic. Oropezaʻs fetching arrangements, executed with veteran self-assuredness from the band, rendered an ominous tone that patrons applauded, but nobody really wanted to discuss.

Alex Oropeza of Broken Horse. Photo by Raoul Ollman

At 12:01 am Tuesday, March 17, 10 days later, that dread became fact. San Francisco, along with five other counties began “shelter in place” orders, weeks ahead of the rest of the continental United States, directing everyone to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible. A desperate, yet necessary move to curb the rapid spread of COVID across the Bay Area. The arts community braced itself for a devastating hook.

“My guitarist’s European tour got canceled, a big bummer for them, as they work all year for a few months of fun in the spotlight,” Oropeza told me about the current crisis. “So instead, we thought we’d take the opportunity and go into the studio to finish our record, then all non-essential businesses got shut down. So recording was a bust too”.

With at least 3.3 million US workers losing their jobs within a week due to the COVID shutdown, this global pandemic has invaded every bit of society thought possible. San Francisco has always had the type of arts community that could insulate societal blows, but the past four weeks have taken a ruinous toll on the people who give temporary but well-needed distractions in times of crisis. Those important converters of energy, life-force providers, are just as much at risk as anyone else. Possibly more. Constant construction of high-rise condos that nobody can afford does not boost tourism nor the creative potential for new residents. Culture does.

“Music venues had really taken a hard hit in SF for the last 10 years, with no second-tier places to play” Oropeza said. “Finally over the last year, it started picking up again with live music gaining momentum. Now they’re all closed and reaching out with GoFundMes to support their staff.”

Bay Area shoegaze and dream-pop four-piece Seablite was finishing the video for “High-Rise Mannequins,” the title track of its recent EP released by Emotional Response and Spanish label Meritorio Records, when the current shelter-in-place order was issued. Suddenly the video’s theme became all too real. Intercut with scenes of the bands’ live performances at UC Theatre and Rickshaw Stop, were shots of a headphone-wearing mannequin, schlep-rocking through an abandoned cityscape.

“It feels weird to watch this now that the entire world is on pandemic lockdown and we’re not sure we can really even go to our practice space in the near future,” read a statement from the band. “But we hope it brings a smile to your face and a reminder that good times are still out there, somewhere in the future.”

Scheduled to play the Valley Fever Festival and go out on a DIY tour with The Umbrellas, Seablite are now are quarantined like most bands. Individually, they are working on demos and graphic design projects, doodling new song ideas, re-creating family recipes to think on easier times, searching for jobs at cemeteries or funeral homes, and working on jangle-pop solo records.

Oakland’s’ own Once & Future Band, a pop group whose range of influences includes ’60s and ’70s arrangements, ’80s R&B, ’90s hip hop, jazz fusion, experimental electronic music, and a ton of other sounds, released a video for the song “Freaks” a couple of weeks back from their upcoming LP Deleted Scenes, out on Castle Face Records April 10th. Facing the hard reality of dropping an album, without any type of shows to support it, led the prog-rock outfit to think about recording new material.

“We were hoping to have this time as a band to work on new music and record more since we won’t be on the road, but from now on, we don’t have access to our studio and I don’t have access to my drums for the foreseeable future” stated band drummer Raj Ojha. “However, I know everyone’s working on music on their own, that’s just what we do, and I’m grateful that I was able to take some equipment home before the shelter in place order, so I can work on some mixing jobs and work on other music that doesn’t require my drums.”

Kristyn Potter of Brooklyn’s Left Bank Magazine

So how are indie musicians surviving? Brooklyn-based magazine Left Bank hosted a virtual music festival via YouTube, that ran 12 hours a day, March 17-22. Called Left Bank Live, it featured artists from around the world broadcasting from their bedrooms. Rather than charging fans for digital entry, the magazine encouraged listeners to tip the musicians they enjoy using Venmo. Left Bank Media founder Kristyn Potter told the Guardian that given the international spread of bands and fans, this was the simplest way to get artists paid without “potentially breaking any international money laws.”

As for the inspiration for the event: “To be honest, I was working with an artist friend on a way to Livestream a set of his from New Jersey and I was like ‘wait a minute what if we just did this for a bunch of artists.’ It was Thursday night and I texted a few of my music friends, made a story on Instagram to gauge whether there was an interest or if artists would even sign up, and by Friday we had like 50 artists confirmed and a potential sponsor interested. It happened VERY fast” Potter explained via email to 48hills.

These innovations come when the need is well beyond healthy, and according to Potter, itʻs gonna continue.

“I think that people are just trying to be creative and engage with their audiences through this time. I also think that if you aren’t live streaming or doing virtual concerts, someone else will and it’s still important for artists to keep up as much face time with their fans as possible,” Potter said. “That coupled with the fact that everyone is at home.”

Party Radar: Fault Radio helps DJs stream through quarantine

If, like me, you’re “into” nightlife and music, your social media feed has flipped almost instantaneously into a multi-roomed nightclub, with DJs and musicians streaming live sets, friends recommending playlists, and drag queens lip-syncing for their lives (and hopefully tips).

This outpouring/overload of entertainment has affirmed dance music’s joy, connection, and necessity—not to mention the Internet’s—in this time of uncertainty and isolation. There’s far too many DJ sets to choose from right now, it seems, which leads to a giddy delight while you’re bopping on your sofa. Of course, there’s an element of concern involved as well, as most DJs have suddenly had their livelihoods eviscerated and are trying to find new income, er, streams.

But you can’t stop the dance. Everyone from hometown heroes like Jenö, celebrating founding SF rave collective Wicked’s 29th birthday, to international techno epicenter Resident Advisor’s Club Quarantäne, a marathon of underground talent, and the Sunday Quaran-Tea dances, bringing together a gaggle of queer DJs to benefit the Queer Nightlife Fund, are up in your socials.

This sudden concentration on the Internet may seem novel, but the folks at local streaming DJ site Fault Radio were way ahead of the coronavirus curve when it came to visual club-hopping. Launched in 2018 by two nightlife savvy emigrés from Tel Aviv, Dor Wand and Dundee Maghen, Fault Radio surfaces some of the best DJ talent in beautifully produced live videos, recorded at various locations around the Bay. Fault Radio’s archives are a treasure trove of sounds both familiar and new, lovingly archived and presented by two people who care deeply for our delicate yet thriving scene.

When I interviewed Dor and Dundee a few weeks ago, before the full force of COVID-19 hit, we excitedly talked about how Fault Radio was helping to increase the Bay Area’s international profile—while documenting the diversity that still exists in dance music scene holding on in a very expensive and rapidly homogenizing environment.

They were looking forward to their huge Shifting Plates Record Fair, this year in partnership with popular crowdsourced record database Discogs, which was to draw dozens of vendors and hundreds of participants to Classic Cars West in April. They were also recording sets at Vinyl Dreams record store in the Haight, which is owned by one of the godfathers of the local dance scene, Mike B (no relation).

We had absolutely no idea that soon the outbreak would shut down all the clubs, bars, concert venues, record stores, and gathering places in the Bay Area—pretty much leaving Fault Radio the only operating established  “nightclub.” (The Shifting Plates Record Fair has been postponed until June 7.)

“We’ve been very wavy emotionally, like everyone else,” Dundee told me in a follow-up call after the lockdown. “We had a few hard days, but we’ve shifted to working on initiatives to support the community, which is helping to keep us focused.”

“There was an advantage to being from somewhere else, we saw what was happening there before it came here,” Dor added. “So we had a little cushion of knowing what to expect. We had a few days lead time to think about how we could support and elevate the scene here before the impact.”

Those initiatives are pretty exciting. First, the pair have opened up broadcasting on the Fault Radio site to anyone with their broadcast from home “Relief Sessions.” You fill out a quick survey to apply, and they teach you the fundamentals of streaming remotely—perfect for DJs who are new at it.

“This outbreak is causing so much isolation, that we want to make it as easy as possible to connect with other people online, in the best way,” said Dundee. “Streaming is now a commodity, a way to earn a living, and we want to offer our experience in this way to help.”

“When everyone started streaming on Facebook and other sites, we knew that there would be huge differences in quality, in terms of the sound, the lighting, and other things you only know from doing it a hundred times,” said Dor. “Many people are dealing with this technology for the first time, so we want to help bring everyone up to a similar level.”

To this end, Fault is also offering “Stream-Kits” to be delivered to DJs’ homes, with everything they need to set up and stream. (Fault Radio archives and promotes the stream on their site, as well as their Soundcloud and Youtube.) “The box has various equipment inside to upgrade your streaming—maybe even something alcoholic,” Dor laughs. “When you receive it, we can hop on a video call with you and help you through the process. We just announced this, and already we’ve had interest from people in London, Budapest, Istanbul…”

But their heart remains with the locals. “Even with every one on lockdown, there’s still things happening.  There’s still a scene,” Dundee said. “Now the biggest challenges that we’re dealing with is, you’re feeling very isolated from your community. Even if you are documenting yourself, it feels isolated. This is our way to make the music scene still feel alive.”

Find out more about Fault Radio’s relief session and watch DJ sets here.

Arts workers struggling after performances are cancelled and venues closed

Non Stop Bhangra. Photo by Odell Hussey

UPDATE: We are keeping a running list of artist and worker resources here, as well as including the opportunity for those affected by the crisis to share their story. 

“I don’t even know anybody who has been able to handle this.”

Entertainers and performers have been devastated by the coronavirus and the subsequent ban on events of more than 100 people, which went into effect Friday evening.

Non Stop Bhangra. Photo by Odell Hussey

And with the governor’s declaration today closing all bars and clubs, the situation will just get worse.

DJ Jimmy Love, founder of SF-based production and dance company Non-Stop Bhangra, has had to postpone a music festival in Fresno which was supposed to be happening at the time of the writing. Love is unsure if the festival will ever take place.

“We had 78-100 people staffed, food trucks, a staging company, full dance company, and we sunk a lot of marketing money into it … we moved it to a day next month and we’re still not sure it’s gonna happen,” said Love.

Love explained that the postponement of the festival is potentially catastrophic for DJs and performers who were booked.

“We spend a lot of time planning, and then we get to this one payday. [As a performer], you don’t make a lot of money from December to February, and March and April are our payday, you get paid for all the work you put in dancing, rehearsing. This is our key season,” said Love.

Beyond the festival, Love has lost nearly all his business due to the coronavirus. Since Wednesday, Non-Stop Bhangra has had seven high-value corporate events cancel, resulting in a sudden loss of $15,000 in expected revenue.

Love said he believes the situation for the entertainment industry, especially for smaller venues, will be dire in the coming months due to the coronavirus.

“I don’t know any small venues that can handle three to four months of paying rent with no sales,” he said. “We might not have clubs to come back to. This could be completely the end of our business. By then you’d better start some other kind of business, otherwise I don’t see how else you’ll get by.”

For Dan Karkoska, who produces Puff, which he described as a “queer cannabis drag party,” things are up in the air.

“We’re in a state of waiting, everyone’s scared,” said Karkoska. “For us it’s financial, how long is this going to go for? I have a month, if I have to,” said Karkoska.

On Wednesday, the day before I spoke with Karkoska, he had expected to have 14 performers at the Puff show at The Stud, San Francisco’s oldest gay bar, but only seven showed up, and turnout was a paltry ten people, about a tenth of what the show usually gets.

Despite the low turnout, Karkoska was grateful that the show was able to happen.

“Last night’s show was fun, good to get everyone out, I think that’s the scary thing is staying away, it’s a human nature thing to come together when we’re scared,” said Karkoska.

To make ends meet during these trying times, Karkoska plans to sell things from his house on eBay and hopes that there will be government assistance for performers who are out of work.

Rasa Vitalia, a professional dancer, singer, percussionist and caricature artist, said times ahead look bleak as well.

“I don’t have any backup solutions… I just have to surrender to what’s happening, there’s no creative solution,” said Vitalia.

Vitalia has had all her events for March, April, and May cancel, and is scrambling for a plan to earn income during what is normally a busy time for her business.

“I’m hoping my May events happen, but if not, I don’t know what to do,” said Vitalia. “I have like $10 left. I’ve been looking for other employment, trying to teach online dance, do online caricatures for people,” said Vitalia.

The situation for performers is worsening in real-time. Even as I was speaking with Vitalia, a Saturday gig where she was going to perform cancelled at 1:30pm Friday. Another artist and drag queen I spoke with on Saturday, Jordan Sunshine, showed me a screenshot of a Facebook message telling her that an event where she was booked to perform had been cancelled. The message was timestamped 3:30pm, about one hour after I spoke with her over the phone.

Sunshine has had 18 events cancel on them because they would draw more than 250 people, including the Palace of Trash drag show, which normally has 300-600 attendees and was scheduled to occur on her birthday.

“No birthday drag show for me,” said Sunshine.

Sunshine, like many performers, holds another job to make ends meet and has also been affected by the gatherings ban and social distancing. In addition to working as a drag queen, Sunshine works in visual design at Living Green Design, where she builds artwork out of plants for events. According to Sunshine all the events where they were scheduled to work have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Karkoska works as an usher at the Curran Theater for the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. All shows have been cancelled, erasing all Karkoska’s expected income from that job. All of the performers I spoke to said that they have other friends with side jobs, such as driving Lyft or playing piano at high school musicals or events, and have lost that much-needed income due to the closure of schools or the practice of social distancing due to the coronavirus.

As their income channels have been shut off, Sunshine, Vitalia, and Karkoska are all moving toward performing online to make ends meet.

Karkoska streamed the Puff show where Jordan Sunshine performed live from The Stud Thursday night, and had 800 people tuning in, and got two small donations during the streaming. He intends to look into streaming more drag shows and having attendees tip electronically, possibly through Venmo or Paypal.

“We’re fighters, we’re doing online drag shows and doing online streaming, Other queens are looking at starting Youtube shows, I’m hoping to get my shows digitally produced,” said Vitalia.

Sunshine told me that many performers are moving to Ubereats, Caviar, Doordash, because “the only way to make it in the gig economy is to deliver food to people staying home” as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Although the present situation for performers in the wake of the coronavirus is dire, many are still trying to remain positive.

“Money’s great, but if we can make the world feel better, that’s our next and ultimate goal,” said Sunshine.

“I hope that if people are looking for some alleviation from this crisis, and [that] they will invest in entertainment, and perhaps supporting the arts online is good for everyone,” said Vitalia.

If you want to help support artists and performers in the Bay Area affected by the coronavirus, you can donate to a GoFundMe campaign arranged by performers from Puff, where they are gathering funds to support each other. Donate here.

You can also contact legislators and demand financial assistance for affected artists. A SF-based drag queen, Polly Amber Ross, has posted a script on Facebook.

“We’re gonna have to forge a whole new now,” said Karkoska.

New Music: Rejoicer’s ‘Spiritual Sleaze’ brings attention to the Israeli beat scene

Rejoicer

Yuvi Hawkin, the Tel Aviv-based producer who records using the moniker Rejoicer, chops up and filters a confluence of styles ranging from neo-fusion jazz, experimental beats, world music accents, and classical music orchestration. By way of his Raw Tapes Label, Hawkins is a big reason for the increased interest in Israel’s modern beat movement. Energy Dreams his Stones Throw debut from 2018, had him proclaim, “There’s a huge music world in my head that I hadn’t expressed or explained, and I decided to try to tap into that world of sounds.” That project most definitely got and stayed different, but lacked a “heat rock” type push. It was dope, but the uncooked non-fleshed-out arrangements barely held up.

Spiritual Sleaze, his follow-up to Energy Dreams, sees the producer cake up on new textures he explored on his EP Heavy Smoke from 2019. Putting some meat on that bone, adopting more of a downtempo sound, grounding all that instinctual atmospheric ephemera to notes and chords, applying bass lines that glide over tracks, showcasing a variety of rhythmic accompaniment. Hawkins is hazy no more. These are fully-realized beat centric movements.

Influenced by close physical proximity to despair—he lives 50 miles from the brutal occupation of Gaza—yoga and meditation play a strong role in the pursuit of his creative process. But any spiritual practice comes insulated with grim reality, just an hour driving distance away.

Citing a rando bag of influences—Sun Ra and Aphex Twin, Steve Reich and Dabrye, Alchemist and Arvo Pärt, Eric Satie and Wu-Tang Clan, Ebo Taylor and Scientist—he’s transformed previous beat scene scarcity into low-key fusiony bops that jut out energetic technicolor progression. The push-pull between breathy, ambient sounds and improvisational riffs give this project solemn identity. Earlier projects came off just a bit vapid, Spiritual Sleaze got grills. Sliding from downtempo grit, through half-time signatures to 4/4 uptempo hustle, wide-sweeping ranges in textures carry this project forward into uncharted terrain for Hawkins.

“Earth Talk” feat Sam Wilkes staples downtempo footing beneath outer space temperatures. Dreamy, hallucinatory vibes persist with the standout “My Beans” feat Keren Dun. That wormhole bass line, real low-slung beats, and sparse accompaniment signal that our producer has achieved the wisdom of stillness.

Even the surprise “turn up” of “Third Eye Jungle Run” procures an out of nowhere bump and hustle 3-minute jam, percolating along, using taut strings and punchy swag. These constant choices to move in several opposite directions keeps everything fresh and fast.

Noise Pop snaps, crackles, and jangles with surprises and new favorites

Facilitators of Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival know the key to running a successful week-long bill of shows throughout the Bay Area, which extended this year to Santa Cruz and Sacramento, is quite similar to maintaining a long-standing intimate relationship.

You got to keep it Fresh… Baby.

And that’s how it felt all over, February 24-March 1. The 2020 line-up packed the most diverse bill of acts, over 70 local, in the 28-year history of the fest. It felt like the experimental, techno-oriented SF Mutek let its presence be known—and Noise Pop refused to be dunked on by the upstart festival. That’s good. Booking Shigeto, Mary Jane Coles, Washed Out, Jamilla Woods, Sudan Archives, and a host of others represent modernity challenging normcore. New forms of electronic music and leftfield artistry keep pushing the middle towards unexplored genre territory and out of the Vanilla ghetto. Thatʻs growth.

Established in 1993 with just one over-capacity show at the former Kennel Club on Divisadero Street (now the Independent) Noise Pop has featured early career performances by The White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Joanna Newsom, The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, Grimes, and more. Itʻs the one thing this festival has consistently made its bones on: presenting tomorrow’s stars, today. Consistency outruns trends, by a mile, and Noise Pop still knows how to pick em.

From the blistering punk-rock discharge of trio Sarchasm, who blew doors off at their Bender’s Happy Hour performance Thursday, February 27. Matching swift anxiety with Beatles-inspired clarity, the alternative Berkeley punk band—eagerly awaiting the next System of a Down project—may just rumble up to Green Day status in the future.

Sarchasm

To the all-woman Brooklyn based project called Habibi—the brainchild of Detroit natives Rahill Jamalifard and Lenny Lynch—who added Erin Campbell on bass and Karen Isabel on drums in 2011. Itʻs a hard flex of Iggy Pop and Suzi Quatro posture. Punk frame of mind with Motown harmonies. They are a mood, for sure. At their headline performance at Bottom of The Hill this Saturday, February 29, high-energy ’60s style garage rock emanated from their set, dominated by simple, catchy songs.

Helado Negro—the performing moniker of Roberto Carlos Lange—played to a full-capacity, multi-diverse, sold-out show at Great American Music Hall on the third night of the festival. Heʻs a celestial entity. An amalgam of acoustic and electronic music, with lingering ambient components. A mostly young, brown, queer, and gay crowd hung onto every finite gesture, every hand movement through his fully mushroomed afro, with the smoky blue light outlining his frame.

“Were gonna play the record we put out last year” was greeted to billows of cheering fans just waiting to be serenaded by the man they came to be swooned by. As soon as the mellow groove of “Please Wonʻt Please” arrived, varying couples toasted drinks with one another, privately kissed their partners admiringly on the cheek, and Lange turned the sold-out crowd into one giant cuddle puddle. Randomly asking a waitress how her night was going for the show nobody could get a ticket to, “The crowd is OK. Very nice people. Ainʻt nobody drinking. But they are really nice.”

Yet it was his opening acts that gave the surprise. Angelica Garcia, handpicked by Helado Negro to open for him, grew up in a musical and multigenerational home, filled with ranchera music always playing. With Mexican and Salvadoran roots in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles, Garcia’s music is a “mental scrapbook” of her journey for listeners, and for herself, conveying the feeling of being split between two identities.

She opened her set by looping her voice into all the components needed for a song. Percussion. Harmony. Rhythm. As she delivered the lyrics, the hand gestures and energy propelled the crowd to shrieks of elation. In the first two minutes of her performance audience members immediately started pulling her up on their phones and nodding in agreement about this young ingenue—whose song “Jicama” was President Obamaʻs 2019 favorite song of the year—catching fire.

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Tré Burt, the Sacramento/SF based artist—and recent signee to John Prine’s Oh Boy label—came on the stage very nonchalant, with a raspy voice and bewildered-sounding way making statements like “Iʻm winging it up here” and “Whoʻs in love?” His songs came off melodic, while the strumming on his acoustic guitar, not so much percussive, but blues-oriented. Still, Tré Burt makes you immediately stop what you are doing, get real quiet, and take in the quiet magic that appears when he lets that creaky voice do its duty as a master storyteller.

Seablite

And then… by sneak attack… while waiting to see Imperial Teen at The Chapel Saturday night, Seablite a San Francisco four-piece band, loaded to the gills with fuzz, reverb, delay and songs whose lyrics fade in and out like a sugar rush that never crashes, stole the entire show. This 8pm opening act, in a crisp 35 minutes, maneuvered jangle-pop sensations and bubbly effervescent whimsy, overtaking The Chapel. The 65 people in attendance got a good look at what’s coming around the corner. “They did the same thing opening for Ladytron a while back” shouted the bands’ merch person ever so jubilantly in my ear. “Seablite is the shit,” she happily announced while bouncing back to sell more vinyl records by the local band. Indeed they are.

DEEANDROID and Lady Fingaz

Closing down the Saturday night with a Midnite Pop-up show at Cafe Du Nord was a special appearance by Richard Quitevis aka DJ QBert the award-winning Filipino-American Turntablist and composer.

DEEANDROID and Lady Fingaz, supporting on the bill, running a fierce B2B session with high-flying cuts, scratches, drops, and finesse opened and at one point actually challenged to steal the show. Once on, QBert initially teased “Iʻm DJ Bathroom Break” and then proceeded to run through tricks, beats, and drops that kept the attendee’s eyes fiercely planted on the ones and twoʻs until closing.

While some luminaries do shows to showcase some of the fire that made them famous, this performance, made it very clear, quickly: Q-Bert has not collected one speck of dust in that trick bag. It was a “RUN COME TEST” set, that left his legacy intact without the tiniest imperfection.

QBert

Is Marcos Mena the best guitarist in indie rock?

Standards' Marcos Mena

Those whose image of do-it-yourself indie rock shows is of kids struggling to tune their guitars onstage might be surprised that virtuosity—good, old-fashioned, blurred-fingers virtuosity—has had a pretty good last decade. In the 2010s, bands like Tera Melos, CHON, and This Town Needs Guns have crafted a style of math rock that supplants the gnarlier, punkier roots of the genre with clean leads and a wholesome aesthetic.

Even given the high bar set for instrumentalists in this genre, it’s possible Standards’ Marcos Mena has the most fearsome chops of the lot. Somewhere in his musical development, the 22-year-old got “obsessed with the idea of becoming a really great guitar player,” and when he’s not touring with or promoting his band—basically himself and a revolving cast of drummers—he can usually be found grinding away at the fretboard.

He’s so good he even out-CHONned CHON by playing the two guitar leads of their song “Sleepy Tea” at the same time. But he’s not shy about his secrets. He’s the author of Compositional Guitar Tapping, possibly the first guitar workbook ever written from a math-rock perspective, which is available to download online.

Born in Mountain View, Mena was first drawn to guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix before discovering Tera Melos around 2015. After checking out the band’s Facebook page and being drawn to the group’s intricate sound, Mena noticed their guitarist, Nick Reinhart, was offering lessons.

“He basically introduced me to the whole thing,” says Mena. “[He’d say] ’Check out King Crimson, they’re really great. Check out This Town Needs Guns, check out Hella.’ It was clearly a new world to me.”

At the time, Mena was studying political science at San Francisco State. “I was failing all my classes really, really badly,” he says. “I felt like I’d made a huge mistake. I signed up to do stuff that I wasn’t really that passionate about. So as a way to kind of derail the whole thing, I decided to practice as much as I can.”

Mena says he missed out on a lot of shows because of his single-minded devotion to his craft, though he was able to occasionally drop in at Bay Area indie-rock incubators like Bottom of the Hill and Honey Hive Gallery and make local connections.

He eventually decided to pursue his passion full-time and study music at CalArts. He started Standards in LA, and so far the band has two EPs to its name (2018’s “Standards” and 2019’s “Friends”). A full-length called Fruit Island is tentatively slated for this summer.

A major part of Standards’ iconography is anthropomorphic fruit, designed by band friend Liam Hopkins, that gallivant across their album covers like the Grateful Dead teddy bears. Mena says several fans have gotten tattoos of the dancing watermelon that adorns the cover of “Friends.”

Mena still lives in LA but says the Bay Area is a “second home.” His shows in San Francisco tend to be more well-attended than his gigs at home, and his upcoming performance at Bottom of the Hill with fellow West Coast bands Floral, Wander, and Elaine the Singer should be no exception.

“I hope one day I could retire there and live there,” says Mena of the Bay. “That’d be really cool. But in the meantime, I’m just going to have to come and visit once in a while.”

Standards, Floral, Wander, Elaine the Singer
Friday/6, 8 pm, $12+
Bottom of the Hill, SF
Tickets and more info here

The wonder-chops of Thundercat

With chops like Jaco Pastorius and the humor of Frank Zappa, Stephen Brunerʻs shell game is out the bag.

The Los Angeles bass wiz known as Thundercat (playing Fri/6 at Fox Theatre, Oakland) has built a stalwart canon of material over the last ten years, pogoing from serious jazz-fusion moments to retro-pop: Liquid space boogie, dunking Big serious, and AOR yacht-rocking like a mug. His game-changing third album, 2017’s Drunk, made him into a bonafide star and cemented his reputation as a distinctive voice that transcends musical styles. The lead single from it featured Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, both Grammy-winning legends in their own right, crooning out a throwback blue-eyed soul ballad.

“Show You The Way,” so cleverly delivered Thundercat whittling off an alluring ballad, complete with snug harmonies and theatrical keyboard phrasing, that it could have easily been penned by his guests themselves. The genius of the song lies in Bruner’s to simultaneously deliver a polished and bright R&B gem, while also taking a laugh at it too. It’s that jam that comes on when you are reloading your nachos and Slurpee at the local Mini-mart. As you close your eyes to sing the sugar-sweet hook, your cold sweet treat runneth over. The track, a compact dose of audio confection, could easily be the last dance scene out of an early 1980s flick, taking place at a random turnpike disco with a fog machine running at full blast. Amidst curl activator and falsettos flying everywhere, when this song comes on, it’s time to down that last Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler.

Get me tho? In the hands of a neophyte, this grouping could end up… well, erm… not too good. But we talking bout that virtuoso bassist who was at the creative Petri dish of the 21st century’s most influential hip-hop album Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, with Bruner winning a Grammy for his collaboration on the track “These Walls.”

On his recent single “Dragonball Durag,” in advance of his release It Is What It Is, co-produced by Flying Lotus, we get Bruner in full falsetto mode, “sangin” an ode to the mojo-booster. Putting on his durag, he gains the confidence needed to “chat” with women. So you may get a pass to snicker at “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good,” but it’s bass acumen that remain serious. With that famous six-string, Bruner lays the aquatic funk, real melodic-like. I mean he says it in the song “Iʻm trying to get intimate.”

In a different existence, old Thundie could have mapped out a pretty straight and prosperous career as this incredible jazz bassist, in the vein of Stanley Clarke, or a very-in-demand session player. But where is the silly joy in that? Instead, when he started out, playing for Erykah Badu or Suicidal Tendencies, heʻd wear a football helmet and pads.

THUNDERCAT
Fri/6, doors 7pm, show 8pm, $37.50
Fox Theatre, Oakland
Tickets and more info

Last call at beloved live music mainstay Amnesia

Patrons on Amnesia's final night

People were hastily rushing into 853 Valencia early Saturday evening, Leap Day, seeking refuge from the hostile winds blowing down the corridor. Change was pushing at everything in its way. A metal screen door to the left of the venue almost snapped off its hinges. Once inside, an assorted mix of patrons, packed front to back way beyond capacity, were all abuzz.

What did this performance space or, according to the website, “this little neighborhood music bar that could” mean to everyone inside?

“I feel like Amnesia partially raised me” Rebecca Williams told me. She explained it was one of the first bars she came to when she arrived in San Francisco in 2002, acknowledging the locale would be missed but change in this city remains inevitable. “We are celebrating the end of an era” chimed in Minos Magnam, a friend of Williams, who arrived in the city around 1996. For Amnesia, today was its last happy hour.

This long-running Mission District club announced earlier this year it would be closing, ceasing operations indefinitely on Feb. 29. (The owners claim it, cryptically, that is it ‘Time to write the next chapter.”) The snug live music venue has been a neighborhood bar-gathering space for over 100 years. Before 853 Valencia was Amnesia it was the Chameleon, a dive punk-rock bar that booked local and international talent.

As bartenders doubled and tripled back over one another, trying desperately to keep pace with all the drink orders coming from a cheerful and somewhat optimistic clientele—here to pay their last respects—singer-songwriters, bands, and vocalists performed on stage, while the throng of well-wishers chatted and mingled about politely, gazing at the high ceilings, running their eyes over the craft beer menu, attempting to take photos with friends in this last, great shared moment.

It got crowded.

A gentleman who identified himself as David, a 27-year-old tech worker, said in the one year he has lived in the city, Amnesia gave him the opportunity to see acts that he might not have previously known about. Catching bands, DJs and live shows in a very welcoming capacity, this space was his go-to.”A lot of my friends were it upset that the bar is closing, I live in the Haigt so I guess Iʻll try out some of the bars in my neighborhood.”

As stated on the venue’s website, community building was at the center of what made this space a foothold in an ever-changing neighborhood. “We open our doors to everyone, but here are some helpful tips: Don’t show up wasted and slobbering, don’t come expecting to ‘hook-up’ (although it might happen), expect to be very close to strangers” read the mission statement. “Really, our philosophy goes like this: You’re poor, you’re rich, gay, straight, old, young, we don’t care, but when you come, come with the right attitude.”

On this eve, all patrons did.