Live Review

Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers score a standing ovation at Herbst Theatre

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Last week, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés demonstrated a shared skill set with San Francisco 49er tight end Vernon Davis. Both are impressively big men whose physical presence belies a breathtaking agility. 

Performing in front of a packed Herbst Theatre last Monday evening, the 70-year-old Valdés spent the majority of the 90-minute concert alternating between Latin and jazz, delegating and allowing his Afro-Cuban Messengers to shine. Many of the tracks were off Valdés’ recent album Chucho’s Steps (Four Quarters Records), with the constant shifts of “Zawinul’s Mambo” and the cool, breezy “New Orleans” serving as highlights. Valdés, resplendent in a violet velvet sportcoat and purple tones, spoke little, allowing a gesture here and a glance there to guide his team.

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Spanning time with the Flaming Lips

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I ran into a temporal anomaly while driving. My first warning sign was the police cruiser with one headlight flashing its sirens behind me. Wrong place at the wrong time? Well, I was getting pulled over in Sebastopol on the way to Richmond from SF, but when the cop told me I was doing 78 in a 55, it suggested one thing —speeding. Read more »

Blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. solos as long as he damn well pleases

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“Well you gonna know my name, by the end of the night,” Gary Clark Jr. sings during his take off Jimmy Reed’s blues classic, “Bright Lights, Big City.” The Animals, Rolling Stones, Clapton, Dylan –  many have had their take on it, but Clark flipped the tale of urban intoxication, giving it extra bravado and, with a notable performance at the Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 and resulting Warner Bros record contract, turned it into an announcement of his own impending stardom (with risks involved). Read more »

Local musicians reinterpret Nick Drake’s "Pink Moon" at the Rickshaw Stop

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Had you been skeptical about the “UnderCover Presents: Nick Drake’s Pink Moon” event Sunday night at the Rickshaw Stop you wouldn't have been alone. It had the potential to be disastrous. Coordinating the sound alone must have posed a considerable challenge. How do you get 11 eclectic local bands — 50 performers each with specific sound needs — to play one song from one album without frazzling intervals between each performance and each set up? And then of course there's the album to consider, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. How can the bands perform the covers without butchering the album? Read more »

Live Shots: Phonte and 9th Wonder at New Parish

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I’ve heard complaints that the Occupy movement doesn’t have a clear message, but Saturday night you could read it from a passing car. At an intersection off of Broadway, where a large crowd had gathered, a few people held up a giant banner on the corner that read “FUCK THE POLICE.” And as we passed groups of officers in riot gear and searched for parking among  the cop cars on nearly every block, it was also obvious that a confrontation was brewing. Read more »

Live Shots: Starfucker and Painted Palms at Great American Music Hall

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Though Starfucker hails from Portland, Ore., it’s easy to see why the band feels at home here. If a bunch of hip, pasty dudes performing in drag doesn’t scream “San Francisco,” I don’t know what does. Its name is edgy enough to elicit parental concern (the less offensive STRFKR is often used instead), but Starfucker’s trendy synth-pop is catchy and sweet. Read more »

Live Shots: Avey Tare at New Parish

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It’s been over a year since Dave Portner – the yelping member of Animal Collective better known as Avey Tare – released his crocodile-inspired solo debut Down There (Paw Tracks). Maybe Tare needed to spend some time away from the songs that dealt with divorce, death, and illness, as he only recently set out on tour in support of the album. He finished his brief solo tour on Sunday night at Oakland’s New Parish, and I couldn’t wait to finally check him out. Read more »

Live Shots: José James at New Parish

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A couple of phrases used (and possibly made up) to describe José James’s show Friday night: swoontastic and baby-making-music. The rising neo-crooner gigged in San Jose and SF the preceding two evenings, but it's hard to beat the intimacy of Oakland's the New Parish, which has a certain bohemian vibe. Read more »

Cass McCombs greets the Great American Music Hall crowd warmly

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There’s been a lot of talk about how Cass McCombs is an impenetrable character, so much so that it’s become tiring. We’ve heard about his elusiveness and nomadic lifestyle; about his tendency to either act bitterly in interviews (i.e. Pitchfork interview) or shun them altogether. Oh, and that he’s never happy. Admittedly, McCombs has shaped this cryptic persona himself — he’s even made it difficult to know what he looks like (recent photographs have been vague, he’s always altering his “look”). It was an enormous pleasure then on Sunday night to be able to experience the songwriter first hand when he performed at the Great American Music Hall, where it was all about the music. Read more »

Live Shots: Iggy Pop at the Warfield

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It had been a long wait to see Iggy Pop live (not like, Morrissey-long, but more like three months later than anticipated). When I spoke with Pop back in September, he was ecstatic to be out on the road again. Read more »