Sunday, June 29, 2008

The reviews just keep on coming...

More of what keeps me busy outside of the day job:

In the June edition of West Coast Performer, I have a review of the debut EP by Hot Challenge. The band plays the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco next Wednesday.

June 20 at Bullz Eye, two reviews ran:

A 'Quick Take' on Moreland & Arbuckle's 1861 (fine, tough, no-nonsense blues rock with the sound and purist attitude of the best practitioners from the late '60s and early '70s).

...and a full review of Radiohead's The Best Of. This album bears the lowest rating yet I've attached to a Bullz Eye review.

Also on June 20, Popdose's weekly Friday feature, a fun little game called Name That Tune, featured my input in the form of creating the answer key and acrostic puzzle for the purpose of giving away two copies of Dennis Wilson's just-reissued Pacific Ocean Blue as prizes to the first person to guess the puzzle song, as well as the person who guessed the last remaining song. This is one of my favorite Popdose features, so I was more than happy to contribute. Check it out every Friday. You might be surprised at how many songs you can actually guess from the one-second snippets (or how impossible it is some weeks).

...and finally, a review of the double disc 'Legacy Edition' of Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue ran on June 27. Run out and grab this one while you can, before it goes out of print for another decade and a half! Amoeba Records sold out the week of the release...

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, the Greek Theatre, Berkeley, 6/27/08

I almost didn't go to see Plant and Krauss. I had a late afternoon party to attend, for which I was a key component in both the planning and entertainment, so I couldn't exactly predict if I'd even be able to make it to Berkeley in time for the show. Plus it was sold out. But as luck would have it, I was able to not only get to the Greek just in time, I also scored what appeared to be the lone single ticket sold outside the venue by an unassuming old dude with white hair who parted with it at face value.

I had the welcoming screams of the Greek crowd and Plant & Krauss' opening number, "Rich Woman," as the soundtrack to my entrance and journey to my viewing location. Once I was settled, I saw on the stage a simple set-up with a total of seven musicians: Jay Bellerose on drums, Dennis Crouch on bass, Buddy Miller on guitar, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan (fiddle, mandolin, ukulele, guitar), bandleader/guitarist/vocalist T Bone Burnett, and of course, the show's two stars.

Thanks to Jon Cummings' Popdose Review of the Plant & Krauss show earlier in the week at L.A.'s Greek Theatre, I was kicking myself for not having followed my impulsive idea to fly down south for the show. Fortunately, my last-minute attendance at Berkeley was not among the kind of non-plussed crowd that Cummings experienced. They were pretty chill, but the group of three whose prime viewing space I crashed really seemed to be enjoying the mostly country-bluegrass-Americana set with tinges of gospel. The dudes behind me were really digging Krauss' good looks (as was I), though really, her stunning, pitch perfect vocals would have been enough to satisfy me. And when I say stunning, I mean I really felt paralyzed by the beauty of Krauss' voice on "Trampled Rose." I mean, WOW. And down below my perch, hippie girls were gingerly dancing to the more upbeat numbers in the set. I wasn't hearing any grumbling about the lack of Zep tunes or rock n' roll in general. This crowd seemed to know exactly what they were in for, and loved it.

Plant's presence at the show was maybe a bit less than I expected. I knew that Krauss had some solo space, which was great, but when T Bone sang a couple of songs without Plant or Krauss, that's when the extraneous conversation around me was at its peak. If anything, I attribute this portion of the show to Plant & Krauss' appreciation for the fact that T Bone himself is a modern day master of his craft, and if it weren't for his masterminding of the whole project, we wouldn't even been seeing this show. Or listening to the brilliant Raising Sand album, one of last year's best album releases overall in my humble opinion. Shame that the Zep reunion at the Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert overshadowed it completely in the press.

But back to the show... I haven't checked back against the record, but most if not all of Raising Sand was performed, along with some other covers and a few old nuggets from Plant's distant past that elicited the greatest response of the evening: a bluegrass rendition of "Black Dog," straight readings of "Black Country Woman" and "The Battle of Evermore" (with accompaniment from Krauss that, for my money, bettered Sandy Denny's performance on the original Zeppelin recording), and an awesome rustic recast of Plant's solo hit "In The Mood" done as a medley with the old English folk ballad "Matty Groves."

Even though Plant is clearly immersing himself in the music and going with the flow, he couldn't help but have the strongest stage presence due to his old rock god moves. He was shaking and dancing throughout the evening, having a ball and inspiring others who weren't planted in seats to do the same. He only occasionally let out some rockin' wails that recalled his past, notably on "Nothin'", which earned him some applause that was almost as loud as what the Zep tunes garnered.

I walked away having heard all my favorites from Raising Sand -- "Gone, Gone, Gone," "Killing the Blues," "Please Read the Letter," and "Your Long Journey" -- and feeling only mild disappointment. Why? Well, the show was so good, and I was so transfixed the entire evening, that I failed to engage the hot blond next to me. She was afraid to hop the fence at the edge of the lawn seating area to join her friends, and only joined them after I encouraged her to follow my lead. Man, if only the show sucked as much as some of the observations in Cummings' Popdose Review and comments on Shay Quillan's San Jose Mercury News blog suggest, I might have gotten my head together to ask for her number. Damn you Robert Plant! Damn you Alison Krauss! Come back soon, and try to suck just a little bit more next time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Defeat Dementia!

Today marks the launch of the UCSF Memory and Aging Center's YouTube channel. It's part of a larger outreach campaign to educate the public about neurodegenerative diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (aka mad cow), frontotemporal dementia, and the one most of us are familiar with, Alzheimer's disease. The channel contains numerous educational videos featuring several of the major players at UCSF who are leading the way towards new discoveries for treating (and hopefully curing) dementias.

In addition to the YouTube channel, there's also a "Defeat Dementia" group you can join on Facebook, where you can connect with others and learn more.

Spreading the knowledge even further is the little widget (created by yours truly) you can see on the right side of this very blog (and a larger version too, created by Hot Studio). Grab it, place it on your blog, email it to your friends, and know that in doing so you will be helping to further the cause of discovery and developing cures for these awful diseases. If you've ever witnessed a family member suffering from Alzheimer's, you know what I'm talking about.

Please spread the word, and thanks!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mid-June reviews update

Not writing so much here only means that I'm doing it more often elsewhere. Some recent pieces from the first half of the month of June:

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West Coast Performer Magazine

Hot Challenge EP -- this young electro-rock band from San Francisco could pick up some serious momentum if they keep their fingers on the pulse, so to speak.

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Bullz Eye:

Priscilla Ahn A Good Day -- you know times are strange when a major coffee shop chain can and does regularly define an entire subgenre of pop music. You know where I'm going with this one...

Cherry Poppin' Daddies Susquehanna -- remember these guys? You know, the "Zoot Suit Riot" band? Forget about the '90s swing revival before you look into this one (just like you had to put all thoughts of trip hop out of your mind when digging into the new Portishead)...

Joan as Police Woman To Survive -- a new set of baroque pop tunes by the former violinist from the Dambuilders. Now she sings, now she sobs... wait, that's a Chick Corea record. This one goes well with equal doses of Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright.

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What else awaits us the rest of the month? We shall see, in due time. Or hear, rather. Two from the vaults to pick up, regardless, on Tuesday: the double disc Legacy Edition of the late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, and Chicago's lost album Stone of Sisyphus. The latter has unfortunately suffered from an ill-advised historical revision by omission by excluding one of the original album's heavy rock tunes, and a reject from one of their worst albums was appended as a bonus track, but at least there are 11 solid tunes on the disc worth hearing...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

R.E.M. at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley, 6/1/08

A couple weekends ago, I had the pleasure of seeing R.E.M. for the first time at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. Missed the two openers (Modest Mouse and the National), but wasn't peeved. After all, I had seen Modest Mouse play a short set once before and didn't feel like being teased again. Next time I see them, it will be in a headlining slot, playing a full set.

Anyway, I noted that R.E.M.'s audience seemed oddly detached and sedate throughout most of the set, and not just during the 7 or 8 new songs from this year's Accelerate (which is excellent, by the way -- it rocks, but modestly, unlike '94's overrated Monster). Nobody really made much in the way of noise till they pulled out the big guns: "Losing My Religion," "Man On the Moon," "Orange Crush," etc. No "It's the End of the World as We Know It," fortunately. I never really got into that one. "Ignoreland" was a pleasant surprise, and one of my favorites of the evening, along with "Man Sized Wreath." Better still, I walked away having been introduced to one excellent song I hadn't heard before that I particularly enjoyed ("I've Been High," from 2001's Reveal).

For a band that is kind of "legendary" at this stage of their career, they are doing an excellent job of maintaining their signature sound, and still emanating a bit of freshness and youthful vigor. Stipe is still in fine voice and modestly charming as a front man, Buck and Mills still play as if they're enjoying themselves, and only one other guy (Scott McCaughey) augments the core quartet (with touring drummer Bill Rieflin). They're lean, not very showy, very solid, well worth seeing.

A superior, more detailed overview of the evening can be found at The Concert Blog.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I am alive and well

Contrary to what any of you might have read in the Providence Journal's blog, a) I am not 19, b) I still live in San Francisco, c) I am very much alive and well. What's more, I am not related to the unfortunately deceased, as far as I know. My first name is quite common, though my last name is not, so any time somebody with my name dies, I hear about it. And it's only the second time, in recent memory...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Get your whore on

That whole "prostitute mix" bit that came out of my interview with Chris Robley last Fall, and which was expanded upon here, has been finalized as part of's bi-weekly "Mix Disc Monday" feature. I've already handed in a few entries, and "Love For Sale: The 'Prostitute Mix'" is my inaugural contribution. Go on and get your whore on!