Thao Nguyen performing at Treasure Island, 2009.kata rokkar/Compfight
Small discovery music festivals are different from the major money-makers, and for that, lord bless 'em. Like New York's College Music Journal marathon, or CMJ, which floods lower Manhattan with hundreds of bands every fall, the Bay Area's Noise Pop offers an action-packed week, a paralysis of choice, and the possibility of stumbling upon the unknown band that happens to blow up in 2013.
Typically, this might mean that there are plenty of duds amid the treasures, but I have to say that the 2013 assembly looks exquisite. Maybe it's a testament to the Bay Area's fertile music scene, or a renewed manifest destiny that's pulled talent to the spot, but the seven bands below—from the snarling guitars of the Bay Area garage scene to Thao Nguyen's inimitable vocals—represent just a slice of what's out there. If it helps ease the pain of choosing where to use your festival badge, here are my picks, which are by no means comprehensive, and of course, totally subjective.
Tuesday, 2/26 @The Rickshaw Stop
It still feels a little raw to discuss Kim Gordon's new project, Body/Head, with Sonic Youth on an indefinite break. But all three members of the band have kept busy—Lee Ranaldo released a solo album in 2012; Thurston Moore is set to tour in March with his new outfit, Chelsea Light Moving; and last year, Gordon started playing shows with free-noise guitarist Bill Nace as Body/Head. Nace and Gordon's performances flower from on-stage improvisation, and from what few clips are available online, they promise to deliver something heavy and ferocious, tapping into Gordon's idolized experimental aesthetic.
Thursday, 2/28 @The Great American Music Hall
There's something wholly bewitching about The Mallard's lead singer Greer McGettrick, between her rude, twangy guitar rhythms and her drawling assault on the microphone. McGettrick spent five years working the Fresno music scene before coming to San Francisco, where Thee Oh Sees' John Dwyer encouraged her to put out an album on his label Castle Face Records. That was last year's fuzzy and addictive Yes On Blood, and this year, the band is set to put out a "weirder" and "darker" followup. This might very well be the season that The Mallard comes into its own, though the band's shows are plenty dark and deliciously weird as is. (The Mallard will also be playing this show with Tehran's The Yellow Dogs, who deserve an honorable mention: Before moving to the States in 2010, they played underground—literally—risking imprisonment for pursuing a musical genre banned by the theocracy as too Western.)
OBN IIIs/FUZZ, Blasted Canyons
Thursday, 2/28 @The Knockout
There were too many bands I wanted to write about that were playing this particular show, so forgive the abridged descriptions of each: Austin's OBN IIIs are co-headlining, having put out an irrepressibly catchy punk rock album on Matador last year. They're sharing top spot with Fuzz, the latest music project from the Bay Area's Ty Segall, who takes on vocal duties from behind a drum set. (Don't worry—Segall's just as raucous with sticks as he is with a guitar.) Also representing the Bay Area are Blasted Canyons, instrument-swapping ambassadors of noisy punk, featuring Wax Idols' fierce Heather Fedewa. All three bands are very much worth seeing on their own, but together, Thursday night at the Knockout makes for one stellar lineup.
Friday, 3/1, @Bottom of the Hill
Whatever happened to Rogue Wave? The Oakland band's discography is loaded with expertly crafted indie rock classics, but their history has been plagued by tragic hiatuses over the past decade. With members weathering slipped discs, a kidney transplant, and an apartment fire resulting in the death of former bassist Evan Farrell, the band took another year-and-a-half break after the release of 2010's Permalight. This year, Rogue Wave will make an "intimate" appearance at Noise Pop, and then perform at Napa Valley's Bottle Rock music festival in May. It's a rare opportunity to catch them live, and an even better one to revisit and get lost in albums like Out of the Shadow and Descended Like Vultures beforehand.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Saturday, 3/2 @The Great American Music Hall
There's no real substitute for the sting and shape of Thao Nguyen's voice, her keen, imaginative lyrics, and the deceptively simple "pop" hooks embedded in the colorful, rough-around-the-edges compositions for which she's known. Earlier this month, the San Francisco songwriter and her band, The Get Down Stay Down, put out We the Common, an album inspired in part by Nguyen's work with a women prisoner's advocacy program, and maybe Nguyen's most ambitious yet. Noise Pop is one of Nguyen's few California shows before she tours the country in March and April, and I intend to make the most of it.
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He is also famous for loudly swearing on live television while producing the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Following candidate Kerry's acceptance speech, the grand arena balloon drop didn't go according to plan: As many as 100,000 balloons failed to fall from the ceiling on cue. CNN aired live a long audio clip of Mischer yelling about confetti and balloons, as Van Halen's "Dreams" blasted on the loudspeakers. This tirade climaxed with a frustrated, "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU GUYS DOING UP THERE?!?!" which was heard by many of the 4 million viewers watching from home. (The money quote is at the 1:49 mark of the video below.)
The Federal Communications Commission subsequently received at least 25 complaints about Mischer's loud swearing.
3. The host of this year's Oscars was nearly killed by Al Qaeda.
Seth MacFarlane, Ted director and Family Guy creator, is hosting the show tonight. Both he and future Ted star (and would-be terrorist-puncher) Mark Wahlberg were scheduled to fly on the American Airlines flight that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Wahlberg ended up flying on a different flight, and MacFarlane didn't board on account of his travel agent giving him the wrong departure time (also, he was hungover and overslept).
Here he is discussing this with Larry King:
4. Maggie Simpson, Ayn Rand, and the Academy Awards
This may come as a huge shock to you: The movie industry frequently markets their product in dishonest ways in their efforts to make money. For instance, if you watched the trailer or any of the TV spots for the newly released Snitch, you'd think it was just another action movie with cars and guns starring The Rock:
In reality, there's roughly ten cumulative minutes of killing in the movie. Snitch, directed and co-written by ex-stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, is a family drama about a father (played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) who reunites with his estranged son after the kid is thrown in prison due to Draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The dad then does everything he can—including becoming a top informant for a federal prosecutor and the DEA—to get his first-time-offender son's sentence reduced from ten years to zero. (The AARP has declared that this Dwayne Johnson movie is "really about good parenting.") Things get even bleaker when his good-natured and once college-bound son starts getting routinely harassed and, as the film implies, raped by the tougher and larger inmates.
Snitch features a lot of somber music and family members, understandably, in tears. It's hyper critical of the War on Drugs and the real-life mandatory minimum penalties that foster a counterproductive culture of "snitching." When the promotional materials read that the film is "inspired by true events," what that means is the script was based on a 1999 episode of PBS' Frontline titled, "Snitch: How Informants Have Become a Key Part of Prosecutorial Strategy in the Drug War." The episode examines two cases in which minor offenders got severe sentences based on the testimony of "snitches" who received sentence reductions in return for cooperating with authorities. Unlike the movie, the episode of PBS' acclaimed investigative news program does not feature a climactic car chase involving a 9mm submachine gun and a big rig.
But in all seriousness, Johnson is an adept actor who handles the heavier emotions and grittier sequences here with ease and gravity. And Snitch is The Rock's best critique of the War on Drugs since the satirical press-conference scene at the beginning of the 2010 Will Ferrell comedy The Other Guys—where New York cops played by The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson heartily defend inflicting $12 million worth of property damage in order to bust criminals carrying only a quarter-pound of weed.
Now check out this clip from the original Frontline documentary "Snitch":
"What's unnatural is the power you have to take three people, terrorists, and take their lives in an instant," says Yuval Diskin, the 12th director of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, during the opening sequence of The Gatekeepers. His blunt testimony sets the grave and mournful tone that defines the rest of this illuminating and devastating film.
The Oscar-nominated documentary, directed by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, uses interviews with all six living ex-directors of the Shin Bet to paint a stark portrait of the agency and how it figures into the Jewish state's past, present, and future. For those who haven't heard of this security service, here are a couple lines from my crib sheet: Imagine the FBI, only tremendously more efficient, brutal, and terrifying. Now, imagine if the war on terror were half a century old, and if we had drone strikes and black sites in Florida and Montana.
That's what the Shin Bet is like for Israelis.
It's a juggernaut of counterterrorism and intel gathering. Shin Bet directors answer directly to the prime minister. The agency's greatest blunder was their failure to protect Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli leader who came closest to making peace with the Palestinians, from being murdered by a right-wing Israeli terrorist.
Desaparecidos, the recently reunited, politically minded rock-and roll-outfit led by Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst, is gearing up for its first New York-area shows in more than a decade—this coming Tuesday and Wednesday at NYC's Webster Hall. For the occasion, the band is offering MoJo readers an exclusive free download of its new single "Anonymous," a rambunctious ode to the shadowy hacktivist group (which we've written about on severalrecentoccasions). Unlike so many contemporary protest songs that reek of moralistic windbaggery, "Anonymous," actually rocks pretty hard as Oberst bellows:
"Slay Goliath! Slay Goliath!"
The flashmob all held up their phones
But you cannot predict when the students riot
And a big machine always moves slow
So throw your little stone
You can't stop us
We are Anonymous
You can't stop us
We are Anonymous
We know what all of us know
Give it a listen and judge for yourself. You can click at right for your free download:
This ill-conceived branding exercise got us to wondering: What are the other worst-named corporate-shilling sports venues?
1. Enron Field, Houston Astros
How bad was it to be associated with Ken Lay and Co.? As one team executive told reporters before Enron Field became Minute Maid Park, "The Houston Astros have been materially and adversely affected by the negative public perception and media scrutiny resulting from Enron's alleged bad business practices and bankruptcy." Well, that and the fact that they stopped wearing these.
2. Citi Field, New York Mets
Timing is everything, right? So don't sell the rights to your new ball field to a bank that just took $45 billion in bailouts from the federal government. (Even at $20 million a year for 20 years.) Because you're basically handing the headlines over to the New York tabloids: TARP FIELD! BAILOUT PARK!
4. Jobing.com Arena, Phoenix Coyotes
Maybe the real problem is naming a site Jobing.com.
5. O.co Coliseum, Oakland Raiders and A's
Because Overstock.com Coliseum was too hard to say, and Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was too…municipal.
6. Hunky Dorys Park, Drogheda United Hunky Dorys is a brand of potato chips, and Hunky Dorys Park is where the Irish city of Drogheda's soccer team plays. This is sort of like naming a venue after, say, Whataburger. Wait…
From Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside's Untamed Beast
Liner notes: The unholy love child of Howlin' Wolf and Fiona Apple, Sallie Ford gleefully shouts, "I can fuck/I can drink/And I don't care what you think," with rude drums and twangy rockabilly guitar amplifying the uproar.
Behind the music: The Portland-based singer (and daughter of noted puppeteer Hobey Ford) cites Tom Waits' 2002 album Alice as an inspiration.
Check it out if you like: Shilpa Ray, Zola Jesus, Cat Power, and other charismatic oddballs.
Rachael Price, Sarah Dugas, Luz Elena Mendoza, Aluna Francis, and Laura Mvula.John Keel/Laura Crosta/Ingrid Renan/Olmo Rodríguez Roces/Vimeo/Sony Music Entertainment/YouTube
Male bands (Mumford and Sons, the Black Keys, Fun.), poppy collaborations (like Gotye and Kimbra's tired duet), and, as Stereogum put it, predictable "mom-safe and Starbucks ready" favorites (Adele and Beyoncé) predominated the list of Grammy winners this year. Meanwhile, I've been struck by the array of refreshingly bold new female vocalists blossoming behind the mainstream. Quirky, fresh, raspy, vintage, or full of lungs, all five of them are under-the-radar but destined for bigger spotlights. Check out the videos below so you can say you heard them before they were famous.
Australian by birth, Nashvillian by pedigree, Price earned a degree in Jazz Studies from New England Conservatory and performed with T.S. Monk Sextet at jazz festivals around the world. After hearing a recording of Price in 2003, actress/singer Kathryn Grayson deemed her "the best young voice I've heard, period. No one around her can even touch her voice and style." While Price mostly stuck to standards in her early career, she's now departed from strictly jazz as a member of the indie group Lake Street Dive.
Price's voice soars with clarity and classically trained precision. She can make the most of a Motown cover but also glides easily into blues, country, and pop. The video above, featuring Price belting out a relaxed cover of The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," aptly showcases her glamor and command. But also make sure to listen to the band's original song "Bad Self Portraits" (below), which has Price sounding like a young Bonnie Raitt. Bonus: Her band mate Bridget Kearney rocks it on the upright bass and has a lovely voice, too. Lake Street Dive just finished touring with Yonder Mountain String Band, will soon be touring with Josh Ritter, and has a date this week opening for Mavis Staples in Iowa.
AlunaGeorge, featuring chanteuse Aluna Francis, is quickly becoming one of the breakout bands of 2013. Consisting of Francis and producer George Reid, the electronica group combines intimate vocals with synthesized pop, house, R&B, and dub-step. Though already pretty big in the UK—the duo nabbed second in BBC's Sound of 2013 contest—Francis' voice will likely get way more air time in the US in the coming year.
Francis, who is half Indian and half Jamaican, worked as a reflexologist and previously sang for the band My Toys Like Me. She first met Reid when he remixed one of My Toys' songs, and they paired up and released their first commercial single ("Your Drums, Your Love," above) late last year. Though minimalist and futuristic, AlunaGeorge's songs are made human by Francis' velvety touch. She imbues the pulsing drive of a late-night dance tune with soulful emotion, and her high-pitched timbre balances well with Reid's beats, to a mysterious but alluring effect. "You can't say I'm going nowhere, when you don't know where I am from," she croons. On the contrary, I'd say she's barreling straight toward stardom. AlunaGeorge's debut album, Body Music, is due out in June.
Portland-based band Y La Bamba draws from Mexican folk songs and mariachi singers as influence for its eerie tunes. Emerging in 2003, the band has enjoyed limited success in indie circuits, but never much widespread attention, apart from becoming one of NPR Music's darlings. That could change this year, as they just wrapped up an East Coast tour alongside the Grammy-nominated Lumineers.
In late August, action-film maestro Tony Scott took his own life, jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge into the Los Angeles Harbor. One of the director's final projects was a made-for-TV movie that he co-executive produced with his brother Ridley: An adaptation of the nonfiction thriller Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever, a best-selling book written by Martin Dugard and TV host Bill O'Reilly. The film (premiering on National Geographic Channel on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT) stars Billy Campbell as President Abraham Lincoln and son of Don Johnson Jesse Johnson as stage-actor/assassin John Wilkes Booth. The movie is narrated by Tom Hanks' soothing timbre.