Growing / Earth / Merzbow / Circle, Great American Music Hall, SF, 9/2/05.

(Writing this, I realized I never did write about the fantastic Teenage Fanclub concert last month, or the PinoisePop concerts — Ninja Academy, the Skyflakes, and the excellent From Monument To Masses — that I saw with Special K and 40.)

I missed half of Growing’s set — two guitarists who were outfitted (almost hilariously) with a wall of six Peaveys and Ampegs: total MBV-like guitar drone, with loops feeding on themselves.

I’ve never really liked Earth, which is odd, considering how much I hold similar bands (and their albums) — Sleep’s Jerusalem, Corrupted’s Llenandose de Gusanos, Naked City’s Leng T’che — in high regard. Live, their music translates to stoner rock at an excruciating, audience-testing, slow pace, with the same, not-as-chunky Black Sabbathy riff repeated a few hundred times. (Indeed, the best part was when some guy in the audience yelled “Slower!”) It’s music best appreciated if one is slumped, in a stupor, on a sofa, but I was sober, and a couch was nowhere near.

The real star of the show, at least in my book, was Merzbow, whom I’d never seen live before. (I’m something of a Merzbow nut; at last count I had about 120 Merzbow titles.) I managed to wriggle front and center until I was pretty much right in front of Masami Akita himself (who did not even bother to look at the audience at any point). The man in black — black clothes, long hair, sunglasses, black New Balances — sat at a table, and faced a small arsenal of wires and knobs and two Powerbooks (one with the big sticker “Meat Is Murder”). His music resists language; there are barely any linguistic referents for this sort of sonic assault of electronic screeches, giant slabs of bowel-loosening bass rumble, waves of chest-tightening, frighteningly amplified fuzz and feedback. This was literally violent music; at some point I thought my eyeballs were vibrating uncontrollably in concert with one particular loop towards the end of his set — the sound of infernal machines on the brink of explosion. Awesome.

Circle was, in a sense, anticlimactic (the crowd had thinned considerably once they came on), but they were certainly the most energetic of the four acts. A Finnish postrock / krautrock band, Circle had two skinny shirtless guys, a big curly-haired rawk dude, and a masked drummer, beating a motorik groove to the ground. The vocalist, who looked oddly like Will Oldham, alternately orated and screamed like Keiji Haino. Much headbanging among the audience, which unfortunately inspired a couple of obnoxious drunk frat-boy types to push their way to the front. I think I like Circle’s studio albums more, but maybe my eardrums were already ruined by Merzbow before they began. It’s about an hour now since the concert and I can think my ears are still ringing…


Laura Cantrell, Cafe du Nord, SF, 07/06/05.

(Photo by Ted Barron, which I stole from WBUR.)

I’ve increasingly become a fan of American country / folk / bluegrass music in the last year or so. And so earlier this evening I found myself front and center, practically eye-to-eye in front of Laura Cantrell (my new musician crush), in a tiny club, at (incredibly) her first San Francisco performance.

I adored her debut album from 2000 when I first heard it only last year; her third album, Humming by the Flowered Vine, out on Matador, just came out sometime last month, and it’s every bit as sweet as the first two. (It’s more of a New York album than a Nashville one, if that makes any sense.)

And what a show it was: Cantrell, who has the voice of an angel, and her band (mandolin, bass and acoustic guitar with Mark Spencer, Jon Graboff and Jeremy Chatzky) played a fantastic set; she herself was quite chatty, introducing each song and referring, every now and then, to her former life as an investment banker. They started off with “When the Roses Bloom Again” (surely an antiwar song, from where I stand), then “Churches off the Interstate,” and onto a good helping from her three albums for the next 90 minutes (maybe even longer). Highlights included a stripped-down “Not the Tremblin’ Kind,” a gorgeous “Khaki and Corduroy” (probably my favorite song from the concert), and an encore of “The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter,” “The Early Years,” and a beautifully hushed “Bees” to end the concert. In a perfect world, Cantrell would be a star…

There is a generous number of downloads at her website if you folks are interested. There are also some great photographs as well, where she seems to have this cute deer-in-the-headlights look every time. “Check this out! I’m actually standing next to Steve Earle!” (And I can’t forget the interactive subway map.)


New Order, Kaiser Auditorium, Oakland, 4/29/05.

In some ways, the New Order concert was about wish fulfillment: the longing of a band to come to grips with what happened a quarter of a century earlier, or if you want to be more cynical, the wish of a band (with a new, relatively disposable album) to make big bucks off the nostalgia circuit.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it — on the contrary, I was jumping up and down like a madman, yelling out the lyrics just like everyone else — but the setlist seemed so stupidly unimaginative: a big chunk of Substance, a song each from Republic and Get Ready, a liberal helping of relative plodders from Waiting for the Sirens’ Call.

But hey, that was what I wished for anyhow; I wanted the hits, dammit. Everyone in our gang got our wishes fulfilled. (I don’t know what Barb wished for — she and her posse were lining up for margaritas and were then swallowed up by the crowd.)

I wanted “Transmission,” a song I never thought I’d ever hear live, and then there it was. Lan and Juan wanted “She’s Lost Control,” and got it on the first try; you can’t beat a set that begins with the 1-2-3 punch of “She’s Lost Control,” “Love Vigilantes” and “Regret” one after the other. (Sean and Eloise really got into that last one; right now it’s the New Order song running around in my head for some reason or other.) By the time the concert peaked with a “Bizarre Love Triangle” / “Love Will Tear Us Apart” / “Temptation” combo, you could practically imagine the audience screaming its thanks. (But imagine the jeers if they were never played!) And Tracy finally got her wish in the one-song encore with “Blue Monday,” spare instrumentation and robotic glory intact, but with the added cheek of a Kylie Minogue sample (I think this was from a mashup from a couple of years back). Probably the highlight of the show.

(The Chemical Brothers were the opening act, and I was almost embarrassed to mention this to people. There’s a reason, I guess, why I really loved Exit Planet Dust and can’t bear to listen to it anymore — or any of the following albums, for that matter — because I’d outgrown the Chems. The lights and visuals were cool, though, but I don’t know how much mileage one can derive from the same tension-and-release dynamic in a DJ set.)


Shonen Knife, 3/26, Slim's, SF.

Just got back: Shonen Knife is, at heart, a punk-pop band, and their Ramones covers (“I Wanna Be Sedated,” for one) bear that out. I went with my friends Sean and Eloise (Greatest. Winggal. Ever.) and had a great time — the trio tore through “Konnichiwa,” “Twist Barbie,” and “Flying Jelly Attack” at the start, then revisited most of their discography (“Map Master,” “Kappa Ex,” “Rubber Band,” “Banana Chips,” “E.S.P.,” and the two versions of “Tortoise Brand Pot Cleaner,” one of which verged on speed metal). Great stuff.

(Somehow we ended up dancing at Studio and the DNA Lounge later, where I ran into three of my current/former students. I was so embarrassed. They probably were too.)


Guided By Voices, SF, 11/13/04.

Posted a shorter version of this last night (more like early morning).

Too messed up to remember
Eardrums still ringing
Head still aching
Feet hurt (from jumping)
Neck hurts (from headbanging)
Throat hurts (from shouting)

Met PBers at the Toronado
Sat with Spence and Kogan
Ended up six people deep from the stage
Saw Franken’s back move farther and farther
from the middle
Keene played

Then sunsets and seagulls
GBV the crowd yelled
Bob with Cuervo bottle in hand
Beers aloft
Opened with Do The Earth
Lots of songs from SIAN
Bob rant on “old cuntry”
Willie Nelson and Rob Thomas
Called Lyle Lovett a pussy
Pissbreak during Window of My World

We got Gloomtown / Pricks / Jumpstart
We got Sad If I Lost It
We got Exit Flagger
We got Buzzards and Dreadful Crows
We got Beg for a Wheelbarrow
We got Redmen and Their Wives
We got loooong Secret Star
We got My Impression Now
We got Demons Are Real
We got Gold Star for Robot Boy

Mic troubles for Bob
Guy wanted to pass out next to him
Folks bumrushed the stage
on A Salty Salute
Woman bumped and grinded
Bouncers disarmed the settlers

Then homerun after homerun
Myron / Motor / FBI
Unleashed / Girls / Scientist
And the lights came up
And it was all over