The Head and the Heart @ Bottom of the Hill (4/28/11)


Jonathan Russell of the Head and the Heart @ Bottom of the Hill (4/28/11)

Live concerts are kind of odd, if you think about them. You buy a ticket to a band you like, arrive to a venue populated by fellow fans, maybe have a drink or two, and then stand there, waiting to be utterly transported. And transported alone, too – from what I can tell from shows in the Bay, people don’t like to show emotion. The most you’ll get is some mild bopping as people clutch their beer bottles. I’m not asking for dance circles, but if you’re not looking for connection, why did you leave the house?

And yet we’re all guilty of craving the experience. I had first heard the Head and the Heart on KEXP, was converted by rapturous praise over at I am Fuel, You are Friends, and found myself greatly enjoying their self-titled album. When I went to see them with KO last Wednesday, April 27 at Bottom of the Hill, I confess, I was ready to be transported. And boy, did they deliver.

The songs are not complex, sonically or lyrically. They are about travel, and love, and family, and roads, and rivers. “Honey, come home,” singer Jonathan Russell sings on “Honey Come Home.” “I’ve cleaned out the fridge / wiped the counters off.”

But what the band brings is heart, and so much of it. When they started “Down in the Valley” and the crowd erupted with the chorus, you really felt like you were part of something. The band just moves together so well, and brings the audience along for the ride.

Looking at their touring schedule, I have no idea how they make it work. I’m all for it though, as this is a band to see if they come by your town… especially if it’s at one of the smaller venues that they are sure to outgrow soon. Check out outcoming dates here.

Want more?
Check out the band’s Myspace and Facebook.

Also a live version of “Down in the Valley””


Robyn, by NRK P3 via Flickr So I am definitely late on the Robyn train. Or incredibly early, because I remember doing dance routines to her “Do You Know (What It Takes)” at sleepovers. In the US she had two or three really popular songs, and that’s probably what she was best known for.

Of course, in Sweden and the rest of Europe, she was an epically big star, making high-quality but pretty standard pop and dance fare, until 2004 when she left Jive records (yes, the Jive Records of the Backstreet Boys fame) in order to play her own sound – more adult, electronic dance music.

Her 2005 album Robyn, showed a more sophisticated shift, and she received three Swedish Grammy awards for it. She kept busy with remixes, collaborations, opening for Madonna, singing backup vocals for Britney. She must have been busy writing too, because in 2010 she released 2 albums and an LP: Body Talk Pt. 1, Body Talk Pt. 2, and Body Talk.

If Gaga is the weird girl that has captured the hearts of millions, Robyn is the girl that never left the dance floor. Love, heartbreak, breakdowns and redemption are all found within the club. Titles include, “We Dance To The Beat,” “Dancehall Queen,” “Dancing On My Own.”

The greatest part is that all these songs have a strong, rich emotional core that I know I don’t usually find in dance music. Robyn gives some sage advice to a new boyfriend, “Call your girlfriend now, It’s time you had the talk, give your reason, say it’s not her fault / But you, just met somebody know.” And then the beat starts, and it is glorious. On my personal favorite, “Get Myself Together,” she sings, “My momma called me last night / she said when nothing else fits / pick up the pieces and move on,” all over a pulsing beat in her sweet, robotic voice.

I find myself crazily addicted to listening to her music. In one interview, she talks about releasing three albums in one year, “When you do 16 or 13 songs in one go, you kind of empty yourself, and it takes a while to fill back up and have new things to talk about…” She left all her baggage on the dancefloor – lucky for us.

Want more, you say?

Robyn – Dancing on My Own

The Cave Singers, Great American Music Hall (3/10/11)

Thumbs up

In this day and age, it’s hard to go to a concert without knowing anything about the band. Almost without trying you can find interviews, live footage, buzz, and backlash.

That’s why it was such a pleasure to attend the Cave Singers at the Great American Music Hall last Thursday and have it be a surprise. I had heard the band on one of my favorite radio programs over at KEXP, The Roadhouse. They play a loose, folky rock that sounds somewhere between Josh Ritter and the Avett Brothers. I had listened to and enjoyed their albums but managed to keep in the dark about what kind of band they were.

The last time I had been to the GAMH was some time in 2006, when a friend and I got passes through our college paper. I had forgotten what a beautiful stage it was (also how awesome tables and chairs are; yes, I am old). The opening opening act, I won’t write anything about, claiming that age-old journalistic excuse of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

The second opening band Lia Ices played a fantastic set, Florence & the Machine/slash/Bjork-y/slash/Vashti Bunyan. It was sweeping, intense folk music helmed by a gorgeous woman who I believe pulled off a lavender floor-length romper. (Her guitarist was wearing a denim, Ghostbusters-style worksuit. Maybe that was the outfit requirement for that show). A very welcome surprise.

Then the Cave Singers came out, playing a bluesier version of “At the Cut” than I had expected. The energy kind of went up and down from the more rollicking numbers to jams like “Outer Realms,” which was too much of a raga for me. I was won over by the lovely “Beach House,” which sounds even more haunting live. A really solid show by a band who I’m excited to hear more from in the future.

Want more?

The Cave Singers – Beach House

Lia Ices – Ice Wine

Life (by Keith Richards)

Just finished Keith Richard’s autobiography, Life. What a ride. If you’re a Stones fan at, casual or no, you’ll appreciate this behind-the-scenes look at their songwriting and recording as well as the band’s decadence and gossip. It’s juicy, that’s for sure. Can you believe him 100% of the time? Does it matter?

First thing to note – Keith’s always been about the music. When he writes about first hearing Elvis, and discovering Chicago bluesmen, and sitting with Mick in the early 1960s trying the master an American soul sound, you get that music has always been his driving force (and probably salvation). Real musicians will get more from the way he describes discovering new chord progression, and his trademark 5 chord grip, but it’s fascinating to read a master reflect on his trade. The way he tells it, the success of the Rolling Stones seemed to happen overnight. One day the band is playing little London clubs, the next stadium tours of the U.S. All Keith did was show up and write his songs.

Then again, not really. Because there’s the rest of the mythology, the parties and orgies and drugs. No hiding there. In fact, Keith brags that he remembers more than people think (although I counted at least three lost weekends in the book). He’s free about what he was using, priding himself on being able to maintain limits where others of his generation didn’t. Reading a fraction of what he put his body through, it is absolutely shocking that the man made it out alive. It must have something to do with the ways things just bounce off him. Car accidents, drug busts, prodigious abuse of all his organs – he’s as slippery as an eel.

You do get a sense about the havoc that was around him, though. I was most eager to read about the Exile on Main Street sessions, cause it’s my favorite Rolling Stones album and I totally love the imagery of recording these bluesy rock record in the basement of a villa on the French Riviera. Richards had no problem with the recording sessions, even while his bandmates would wait for hours for him to slip out a heroin-induced stupor. And the time Richards took his 7-year-old son Marlon on tour in the late 70s? The poor kid was tasked with waking up his dad right before shows because noone else could do it. (That’s a relationship that probably required some therapy).

As much as the Rolling Stones are a touring, money-making machine at this point, they really did set the standard for rock and roll excess. I’m a sucker for gossipy asides, and I totally dug his reflections on the famed, beautiful people of his acquaintance… most notably, Mr. Jagger himself. Mick didn’t come out as nasty as early reviews of the book implied. Yes, they were closer in the past. Yes, Keith pronounces judgment on his songwriter pal’s incessant need for flattery. But it’s a complicated and historied relationship, and it’s almost useless to try to describe to an outsider.

Richards manages the tricky feat of breaking down his blood drinking rockstar image while building up what he sees as his legacy – a musician. Is it odd to see a Richards family  Christmas card photo? Yes. (I wish the whole book had more photos!). He doesn’t let himself off scott-free but he doesn’t apologize either. This is it, luv. Only rock and roll, but I like it.

How bout some vintage Keith?



Best o' the bests o' 2010

Oh goodness, it’s 2011 already. All my favorite blogs have been doing some hard work summarizing and rating the year, and I’ve listed my favorites here:

  • Vulture’s compilation of Best of lists (where I found Mark Lisanti’s cryptic best of 2010 movies… can anyone get the last 3?)
  • Some really great articles published in 2010 listed on’s Best of.
  • Sterogum’s 40 Best New Bands of 2010 has a playlist with downloads, which is awesome.
  • DJ Earworm mashed up the top pop songs, and it’s so awesomely cheesy and cheesily awesome.
  • I generally get inspired by the NYT Best of 2010 books that they include as part of their holiday gift guide.
  • Still nostalgic?? A list of all the Best of Lists (courtesy

Happy New Year!!!

    Merry freaking Christmas

    The holidays can be a bit of a drag sometimes. With all the pressure to get with your nearest and dearest, it instead highlights feeling of loneliness.

    Last Christmas I discovered this Neko Case cover of a Tom Waits song, and it has a special place in my heart. Good for wallowing.


    Merry freaking Christmas.

    Leonard Cohen, the Paramount (12/6/10)

    Last night I saw Leonard Cohen at the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Tickets were not cheap, but I’ve been a longtime, if not intense, fan, and I had heard really good things about his live shows. Plus, he’s getting to that age when it gets to be a “now-or-never” kind of deal (meaning he’s going to stop touring, you morbid folks out there).

    I did a little prep work Sunday night by watching McCabe and Mrs. Miller, an early 1970s Robert Altman Western starring Julie Christie and Warren Beattie. It’s definitely not your typical Western, and the use of Cohen’s early work made the movie more atmospheric and moody. That’s the Cohen era that I’m most familiar with – the intimate, quiet yet sarcastic late 1960s and early 1970s work.

    His live show these days is much different. First off, his voice is STRONG. It is full and rich and enunciates so clearly, I realized how rarely a singer actually does lyrics justice. I could hear and appreciate every word! These days the songs’ arrangements include a whole band and three back-up singers, bringing to mind a Vegas revue show: tightly performed and well-rehearsed, every member an amazing musician but not a lot of room for improvisation.

    That being said, some of the songs veered too far into a “soft-rock” sound for me. Saxophones are like a musical garnish for me, not a main course. I loved “Dance Me to the End of Love” (concert starter) and “Suzanne” and “Ain’t No Cure for Love.” “Hallelujah” is never going to break your heart as much as the Buckley or Adams version, but listening to Cohen’s you remember that it was more of a kiss-off than a lament.

    It startled me at first, but Cohen has a the habit of bending and kneeling while he sings, almost in a prayer position. I’d wager it came from all that time in the Zen monastery, and he is one of the most fit 70-something year old I’ve ever seen. He was gracious to the audience, courtly to his band and singers, more wry than I would have expected. When he took the final bow and skipped (!) off stage, I felt pretty touched that I’d shared the evening with him (“on a school night too,” as Cohen remarked).

    Coffee & cigarettes

    Sometimes I get a craving for both.

    Watching this video won’t satisfy that craving (in fact,  it might intensify it) but it’s one of my favorite things in the whole world.


    If that doesn’t satiate your yearning, maybe this list from Mojo Magazine of the best Tom Waits videos will.

    Happy freaking Friday.

    A little bit country

    When you ask someone, “What types of music do you like?” most people will respond with “Oh, pretty much everything. Except country.” “All country?” you press. “Well, I like the classic stuff – Hank and Johnny.” There’s a unifying hate of modern country on my blue coast: the slick, teased production with corny lyrics about lonely beloved tractors and American blue jean patriot picnics.

    I always thought that I, too, despised modern country. Then I gave it a chance, well, color me a big fan. I love the word play. I adore how I can pick up the chorus and sing along by the second verse. And I’m impressed how country addresses real, adult issues (lwork sucks! divorce again? drinking is awesome!) in a way that my indie rock never does (polychromatic beats and enigmatic lyrics, Dirty Projectors, I’m talking to you).

    My modern country love almost always comes from the radio. There’s an analog pleasure in turning the dial until you find a station (especially because as long as I’ve lived in the Bay Area, I couldn’t actually name one station frequency bar KALX). Especially when you’re driving down a long, lonesome highway (even the 5) and your dog Dusty is sitting next to you in your pick up and– dang, that’s another thing I love about country: the clichés.

    Indeed, that’s how I am able to share gems like “Online.” LIKE, WOAH! THIS exists!

    Maybe this all stems from some formative years I spent in Texas (2nd to 4th grade), in which my talent show consisted doing the grapevine to Brooks & Dunn’s Boot Scootin’ Boogie. Maybe it’s cause I have an alter-ego who drives that pickup with her best friend (Dusty, the aforementioned pup with a bandana) on the dusty roads of ArKANSAS.

    In addition to my radio discoveries, I do seek out more obscure, non-Taylor Swift songs (I still heart you, honey, even if your backlash has started). KEXP of Seattle has an amazing collection of blues/country programming. My favorite is Swingin’ Doors on Thursday nights. I constantly scribble down artists to discover more about.

    In that vein, some great companion reading can be found at the AV Club. Nathan Rubin does a weekly installment called Nashville or Bust about a country artist’s career. Seriously, could Kris Kristofferson get cooler?

    And so, happy Friday. Here’s to loose women, hard whiskey, boot scootin’ and Sunday mornings comin’ down.

    Deep thoughts on pop music

    Maybe because it’s summer, and the heat is getting to my head, but I have been thinking very hard about pop music. Now, I’ve never been immune to catchy hooks and addictive beats. Pop songs are musical fast food: deftly engineered to appeal to your most basic needs.

    This summer we find two interesting solo female artists cranking out hits: Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Both made a name for themselves as songwriters for other artists, both are hyperstylizedm ready-made pop icons, both rarely wear pants.

    Perry has thoroughly embodied the faux vintage pinup look. She constantly looks like she could be painted on the side of a World War II bomber. Her first song, “I Kissed a Girl,” was a murderously catchy song that I found somewhere in the range of annoying to offensive. Her latest singles, “Hot and Cold” and “Waking Up in Vegas,” are equally as well produced, even if they all embody ‘girl rock lite.’

    Lady Gaga obviously considers herself the heir and conduit of pop art greats: Warhol, Bowie, Jones. She revels in her fame, and wears very serious looking leotards and playtime props. And again, her songs are catchy and meant to be as shocking as they meant to be danceable.

    What strikes me both about this two pop starlets—both of whom are, oh my god, younger than me—is the level of autonomy that both seem to exude. I am certain that both of them are cogs in the record label publicity machine, but compared to the Britney and Christina of ten years ago, these ladies are savvy. They knowingly self-promote by flouncing and gyrating, but they know what they’re about, having been on the production as well as the product side of the music industry. I would consider them both inspirations. Even without pants.