A lot of people who read Sunset have asked me where I’ve been; it’s been a long time since I’ve published an article. To start, I’ve been working at my day job. I’m not sure if people know that Sunset was never my full-time job. Earlier in my career, I just used to have more time to spend on it. For years, I would go to work, go home, and sit down to work on Sunset for several hours. Every day. Weekends were mostly full of listening and writing.
But after moving to San Francisco from North Carolina, this evening time started slipping away from me. The culture out here in San Francisco is very different. Work hours are longer, social calendars are more demanding, and weekends spent inside typing away on a computer are much more guilt inducing. There were a few years when I really resented that fact about my life in San Francisco. But I’ve grown into it. Two years ago, I found a job that I really care about (if you care to know, I work on the media partnerships team at Pinterest…a fancy way of saying I sell ads. And yes, somehow I care about that…), and I am devoted to advancing my career.
So what brings me back today, over two years later? Well, to begin with, I’ve still been here behind the scenes. I still contribute to the monthly playlists that Jordan puts together, help find new writers for the site, and, well, I still pay the bills. Yes, I do see the tweets and Facebook message from folks asking if I still accept submissions. I apologize for not responding to all of them; it’s just a shortage of time. But I still choose my own path of music discovery (often through my writers’ picks, honestly) and I often happen across a gem. I’ll almost always post them here. That happened for me recently, and that’s why I’m back here writing today.
I first heard of Jessie Reyez a few months ago as I was watching Pigeons & Planes coverage from SXSW. I’m pretty sure I was watching their Instagram story; funny to think that’s one of my ways of discovering music today. When I started this thing, I was using MySpace to discover most of the artists I wrote about. That’s a great reminder of how long this site has been around for (almost a decade!).
As I was watching the footage of Jessie for the first time, I saw this uniquely beautiful young artist with a stunning voice, a natural gentle strum of her guitar, and beneath those things, a distinct sense of anger, authenticity and emotion in her delivery that I couldn’t forget. I was hooked almost immediately.
I got the opportunity to see Jessie live in San Francisco this past Thursday night at Rickshaw Stop. For context, Rickshaw Stop is one of the smaller venues in San Francisco, but it packed a pretty good punch on Thursday night for the sold out show. First, let me just say that I was again reminded of my age when I saw the crowd lined up at the door. This happens at most concerts I go to, but as I stood there in the line to get into the venue in my work clothes with my laptop and all, I felt myself longing for my younger days when I could devote more of my time to my passion for music. This feeling crept into my thoughts again as I realized it was after 10pm and still no sign of Jessie. When is a girl to sleep?? Alas, I digress.
When she did come out on stage, I saw just what I hoped to see. A young artist with a hell of a lot of swagger who truly seemed excited to be up on that stage. She started the show with a hat covering most of her face while she sang “Fuck It,” and as the show went on, we saw a few different variations of her look. Hat went away, hair went up, hair came back down, sweatshirt came off – all matched the mood of the music. But through it all, we heard and saw Jessie telling her story of where she came from. She brought the attitude — and then some — that hooked me that day I stumbled across her as I was perusing Instagram. The common “fucks” she throws into her lyrics were delivered like a threat; Jessie was here to tell her story with a vengeance.
NYC based electronic duo The Knocks brought much needed sunshine and summertime to rainy SF last night. The disco-funk duo engineered an epic dance party, ushering wallflowers to the center of the dance floor via their latest EP Testify.
As a first time Knocks-goer, the only thing I knew to expect for certain was dancing and good vibes. To my surprise, I truly feel like I witnessed happiness materialized. One of my favorite things about live music is that it’s created this shared outlet for people to feel or escape or reflect- something we could all use a bit more of given the current state of the world. JPatt and B-Roc have clearly made it their mission to unite their fans and enable them to (feel good) feel great, albeit for just a night.
The show itself delivered a steady dose of energy throughout, taking fans through songs off of Comfortable, 55 and their new EP Testify, which dropped on February 3rd. My personal highlights (outside of picking up one or two new dance moves) all came from their new EP, where I feel the duo has really established their sound and allowed unique, up and coming artists to complement it. New songs “Heat,” “Trouble” and “Worship” show a clear evolution of the duo’s sound to more dreamy & seductive compositions, while still maintaining their signature positivity and upbeat nature throughout. Witnessing the crowd’s response these jams makes me excited to see what’s next for both the duo and the artists featured on these tracks.
Dust off those dancing shoes & check out the full EP below!
Montreal’s TOPS has one of the most distinct sounds in modern indie rock. They simultaneously occupies the same guitar driven, vaguely lo-fi skin of artists like Mac DeMarco or Ariel Pink and the tried and true trappings of your parents’ favorite light rock radio station.
This might seem like an odd pairing, but its yielded two terrific records (2012’s Tender Opposites and 2014’s Picture You Staring) and a number of ethereal, soulful singles that blend warm, gooey synths and chugging guitars with ear worm hooks from singer Jane Penny.
Needless to say, TOPS’ music is engineered for an intimate venue, and the quartet had the perfect space in Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. The venue is tall and a bit cavernous, but certainly not deep, ideal for David Carriere’s clean chords and tastefully restrained riffs to carry.
Although bathed in soft purple light and the haze of a few eager fans vaping in the front row, the band’s songs bristled with a welcome bite and an undeniable live energy.
Riley Fleck’s drums hit harder, and Penny’s vocals, which sometimes blend into the instrumental almost too well, were center stage.
The band primarily stuck to Picture You Staring songs, although their records flow so effortlessly into one another that seeing them live is more one holistic experience. What would become monotonous in the hands of lesser songwriters instead is immersive in the hands of TOPS. Four or five songs into their set and you feel transported somewhere timeless.
Of course, there were some particular highs during dreamy performance. Single “Change of Heart” stands out for its juxtaposition of gorgeous, upbeat guitar and direct, emotional lyricism, and Penny’s live performance only highlighted that dichotomy further.
The syrupy “Sleeptalker” glistened in new and exciting ways, while “Circle the Dark,” and its Police-esque guitar had an undeniable sense of urgency.
TOPS rounded out their set with a rousing cover of The Pretenders’ “Don’t Get Me Wrong” before ripping into “Turn Your Love Around” with as much vigor as they could muster. Carriere’s guitar on the breakdown was particularly spellbinding, and as the organized chaos of the outré wound down it was clear that the band was leaving the audience somewhere different than where they’d started.
There were a couple of notable absences from the setlist, including “She’s So Bad” and “Way to be Loved,” but ultimately TOPS’ show is so engrossing that no individual song’s absence is that glaring.
Despite just having added bassist Alana Marta DeVito, TOPS’ chemistry is a thing to behold. You’ll want to catch them in these kinds of close quarters before the band graduates to roomier accommodations, which is an inevitability if they keep producing and performing music at this level.
Let me start by saying that I was recently convinced to start watching The Voice. For seven celebrated seasons I had managed to stay away from this reportedly addicting television show, but I finally hit my breaking point and gave in. Likely what drew me in first was Pharrell’s presence on the show. If we’re going to be straight with each other for a minute, let’s just put it out there: Pharrell is the epitome of cool. After all, “cool” in the music industry in 2014 calls for us to be a little weird, for weirdness depicts creativity, and creativity lies at the center of cool. So Pharrell, the weirdo himself, had me at hello.
But let me stop talking about my crush Pharrell and focus on the focus of the show: the voices. The other main attraction for the show for me has been the incredible voices of the contestants. (Yeah, duh. That’s the point.) I know, I know. But really, it’s been cool to see music discovery on such a big scale while this is something I’ve been doing on a smaller scale for so many years now. We’re all in pursuit of the same attraction: beautiful voices.
One of the artists who I’ve been able to get the most excited about in my six years of music blogging is James Vincent McMorrow. I discovered his name in 2011 and was immediately attracted to his whispery falsetto and intriguing lyrics. If there could be a Power Rankings in the indie music industry at the time, surely newcomer McMorrow was creeping up on fellow falsetto crooner Justin Vernon.
I’ve been lucky enough to interview James Vincent McMorrow and critique his music ever since, but not until November 19th of this year did I get the chance to see him perform live.
A friend of mine sent me a message saying his friend recommended that he check out this artist performing at the Fillmore in San Francisco in a few weeks. He asked if I had ever heard of him and would I want to go. So we made a night of it and parked ourselves in the second row for what turned out to be what I would guess was a 90-minute performance by McMorrow and his band.
While I get goosebumps from watching performances through the television on The Voice, the feeling from seeing such a spectacular singer perform live — and from about 15 yards away — takes the chills to a whole new level. While he sings, you can visibly see his throat quivering as his vibrato carries through his vocals. It’s a beautiful sound and sight altogether. McMorrow and his band sang a large collection of his songs together, and I was impressed with each of them. I particularly love when musicians showcase their abilities to play multiple instruments, and the band did just that. McMorrow sang, played keys, played piano, and even played the standing drums at one point. I was equally as impressed with the lone female member of his band, who provided backup vocals and played both the keys and the bass guitar. She hardly looked the part of a band member, but she certainly proved herself to be a critical member of the band.
It’s hard for me to pick out a single highlight of the show, though my giddiness would likely lead my concert buddy and any surrounding fans to believe that it was when he played “Higher Love,” “We Don’t Eat” or “If I Had A Boat.” But I think I’d have to say that the true highlight came when McMorrow came out during an encore and said he would be singing a solo without any microphone accompaniment. The room, which I should note was pleasantly though surprisingly spacious, got quiet and James took it away. Do not be fooled into thinking the falsetto prohibits any force; the room practically shook along with the power and volume of his vocals. Beyond that, he was able to prove the range of vocals that he can hit, which would seem naturally for only two voices – male and female — to create together. It was a truly stunning experience, and one that I could only stand there witnessing with a dropped jaw.
To say I enjoyed myself would be an understatement. The whole thing was beautiful, even the galactic backdrop. If I had to critique anything, I would pin the venue for its inconsiderate staff who were inappropriately loud and rude during the performance. But that’s no fault of McMorrow’s, so I’d rather not focus on it. Perhaps I could argue that McMorrow needs to focus on distinguishing his songs from one another, as several of them sound the same. But sometimes all I want is to allow myself to let go of criticism, enjoy the moment and get lost in the art of the voice. So that’s just what I did.
Outside Lands: That time when San Franciscans make their annual trek into the foggy depths of Golden Gate Park to tap into their inner rocker, raver or head bopper depending on the vibe they’re going for (and/or how many drinks they had the night before).
Show-stopping performances came from newcomers and veterans alike throughout the course of the weekend, but a few stood out to me as especially noteworthy. [Continue reading to get the skinny on all the best performances, songs and secrets from the weekend from guest writer Molly Murtaugh.]
Positivus truly is a festival like no other. Set a brief drive away from Latvia’s capital city of Riga, in Salacgriva, the festival is a beautiful combination of all of the elements we’ve come to love from frequenting both small indie festivals, and the more renowned festivals like Primavera and Glastonbury. Featuring a wonderfully diverse line-up including Sigur Ros, The XX, Jack Beats, Tom Odell, Michael Kiwanuka, Two Door Cinema Club, Imagine Dragons, C2C, Darwin Deez and John Grant – amongst many others. Continue reading to get a full rundown of Positivus Festival.
Hoodie Allen‘s crew has just released their Cruisin USA Tour video, Episode 3, which is perfect timing, because I was just starting to get my thoughts together for a live review of Hoodie’s show at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom last Friday night (March 22). The video is a perfect precursor for my thoughts about the show. Hit the jump to see the video (directed by Jay O’Byrne), and before that, you can see a picture of me and Hoodie, a shot of his performance from backstage, and a bullet-pointed overview of Hoodie’s live show.
- The crew goes out and has fun every…single…night. They go hard, which says a lot for a team that’s performing night after night with little rest in between. To give you an idea, I was hanging out with them the night of the show and some said they were going out afterwards, but they needed to be back at the bus by 3AM sharp to start the trip from SF down to Southern California for their show the next night.
- The drummer, Jimmy Kadesch, is a boss. The kid broke his foot while stage diving and had to get metal screws drilled into it. Few hours later, he was back on the drums in high spirits. Honestly, the last time I saw Hoodie perform, it was just Hoodie and his producer RJF, and the energy that comes from having a full live band (drummer, guitarist, keyboardist, and Hoodie) brings a whole new element to the show. From the moment I stepped back stage while Aer was still performing, Jimmy was sitting on the futon beating his drum sticks to whatever beat he came up with in his head. When he hopped onto stage (literally hopped on one foot), he gave it everything he had. This kid can fucking drum.
- Hoodie brought his all. If you can’t tell from this video, the energy at the shows is out the roof. He’s got a lot to feed off of, as the room was packed, and there were lots of young fans, who somehow seem able to bring more energy than grumpy old people like me (though I was having a fucking blast). Bras were thrown onto the stage, girls were jumping around tirelessly, hoping for their turn to touch Hoodie’s hand from the stage. Hoodie reflected that energy during his performance and kept the crowd excited for the entirety of his show.
- I’ll be honest: I didn’t like “Cake Boy” when I first heard it, and still today it doesn’t do too much for me. But having seen one of Hoodie’s shows, I now understand the need for that song on Crew Cuts. Part of the presentation when Hoodie performs the song is that a team brings out Hoodie Allen cakes and launches them into the crowd. It’s a hit. And when Hoodie starts rapping the super quick rhymes, the crowd goes nuts. It’s energetic, catchy, and a big hit with the crowd.
Overall, this Cruisin USA Tour is a huge win. It’s only going to propel Hoodie’s career even further toward huge success, if he isn’t already at that point. The fact that he remains grounded through it all by things like greeting the crowds and taking pictures with the first in line and posting them to his Instagram (@HoodieAllen), he speaks to the crowd throughout the performance, and he follows up after the show with tweets, Facebook shout outs, and videos like this that document the tour are almost unparalleled in this industry. It’s pretty cool to witness, and I was flattered to be a part of Hoodie’s crew experiencing the energy first-hand this past Friday in San Francisco.
I can’t start this blog post without talking about the opening band: The London Souls. For those of you who grew up wanting to play the guitar but lost the ambition for whatever reason: go see the London Souls. It will make you go home and dust off the Fender you begged your dad for 20 years ago.
Not only does lead guitarist Tash Neal exude such unconstrained energy (sort of like me during a Fab sale), the red guitar he twiddles his fingers on is so.damn.sexy. After listening to him play for two songs, I could tell he’d been at this guitar thing for a while. I confirmed this when catching up with Tash after the set and he told me he’d been playing since he was eight. Also as I found out later, not even a hit-and-run accident and brain surgery could knock that guitar out of his hands.
The London Souls were fantastic. They started off with a focused, steady sound and ended the show in the same way. My favorite song was their cover of AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way to The Top (If You Wanna Rock N’ Roll). Very fitting seeing as there is no way I will ever play like them.
By the time North Mississippi Allstars came on stage, The Independent was packed. Energy rushed into the room and the blues began to fill the venue. Brothers Luther (guitar and vocals) and Cody (drums and vocals) Dickinson, and Chris Chew (bass and vocals), did not hold anything back. There was a lot going on for the next hour and a half. The guys played musical chairs with their instruments, with Luther and Chris taking turns at the lead mic. The screen behind them displayed their music videos as well as videos of blues legends. The guys moved around the stage, exchanging guitars for banjos, mandolins for cigar-box guitars, and drums for washboards (yes, washboards).
While these guys mix blues and rock and roll and do it well – there’s a reason they’re described as “putting a fresh face to the blues” – there was something missing. I left wishing I had seen more attitude, more personality, more life to the show. The threesome was very into their music but was not exactly reactive to the crowd; a great concert is one where the band plays both. No need for a Jack Black in the opening scene of School of Rock, but I want to see musicians burn some calories!
By the time The North Mississippi Allstars finished playing, there was only a third of the crowd still there but it didn’t seem like a problem to the trio. Two encores seemed like a bit much but these guys are so talented, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again.
You know when you’re trying to describe something amazing but you’re worried your words won’t do it justice? Not even if THEY’RE IN ALL CAPS?
Alright, that is the dilemma I’m currently facing.
How do I tell you I didn’t really know what to expect but was completely blown away by the energy, enthusiasm, and effort these guys put into their show?
How do I tell you that Rickshaw Stop was the best setting for an intimate show like this one and that 100% of the crowd was entirely engaged and hanging on every word and note coming from the stage?
How do I tell you the guys won me over with their matching yellow blazers and their choreographed dance moves (see picture above for the Capital Cities electric slide)?
How do I tell you no one stood still, that I was in my own little world, and that the concert went by too fast?
These guys were awesome. IT WAS THE BEST CONCERT OF 2012.
Let’s see what 2013 has to top this off …
Concerts for me generally involve listening to great music while staring at the back of the person in front of me. I’m 5’2” and at concerts, I can’t see nothin’. But with the help of some balcony tickets and a few people willing to let shorty stand in the front, my experience at The Independent with Milo Greene on Friday, November 16th was significantly improved. No phonebooks needed – and at a sold out show no less!
Milo Greene, a five-member band with roots in North Carolina and continued creative glory in California, is one of those bands you want to listen to when you get home from a long day at work. They’re the band that goes hand-in-hand with a Chimay White or a glass of Pinot. They’re the band to relax to. (You’re probably looking them up right now so friendly reminder to add the “e” at the end of “Green” – tricky).
Back to the show: energy bubbled throughout the packed venue while the light and sound crew fixed up the stage. (Do they do this before every show?? I’ve never been able to see any of this. From here on out it’s balcony or bust.) Milo Greene came on after a few minutes and the crowd began to sway (this is the swaying type of band). Overall these guys have a strong and confident sound. They mentioned they were excited to be back in California (Robbie, guitarist/vocalist, is apparently an SF native) and they maintained a spurt of onstage, we’re-almost-back-home energy throughout the entire night. I was impressed: a band this young was able to captivate their crowd from song one to the very end of their two-part encore.
One thing was obvious from the beginning: each of the band members is extremely talented. In a game of musical chairs (pun!), Marlana would start out playing the keyboards but then would move to guitar and let Andrew, Graham, or Robbie take over for her (Curtis was the only one to stay put on the drums). Their interactions with different instruments and with each other allowed the crowd to get a sense for each of their personalities. They were having a lot of fun both with the crowd and with each other. The instrument-swaps were quick and the change in sound and voice kept the audience engaged but their transitions were not seamless. You could tell that overall, they are a young band. Nevertheless, the fivesome worked it through. Spurts of nervousness were channeled into adrenaline and minor equipment faux pas (like Marlana’s microphone malfunction) turned into a joke carried throughout the show.
Overall these guys were great – I would definitely recommend seeing them should you get a chance. If they come back through SF, in the words of 1957 my favorite track of theirs: I’ll go I’ll go I’ll go I.
There are three things you need to know about me:
- I registered to vote at Outside Lands music festival
- For my birthday my boyfriend bought me a Jambox instead of jewelry
- I am obsessed with Spotify
Spotify does so many things and it does them well. Spotify allows me to have the same playlist on 700 devices including my Ring Pop and IKEA clock, it gives me an excuse to bully my friends into following my Good Life playlist (yeah, you click that), and it introduced me to Two Door Cinema Club.
I went from hearing them once on Spotify Radio to becoming a loyal fan in a matter of 21 hours. In my opinion, Two Door is hipster music for everyone. I like it. My friends like it. My parents like it. My little sister likes it. My boss likes it. I’d be surprised if you didn’t like it.
I was stoked to see them play at Fox Theater in Oakland on October 23rd. So much so that I begged my boyfriend to celebrate our 3-year anniversary with tickets to the show and proceeded to invite all of our friends. It was one big anniversary party (registry is at Williams Sonoma, in case you wanted to send something).
The show kicked off with an incredible light show that maintained throughout. Someone evidently spent days blueprinting ways for the stage to come alive and whoever you are: luminescent job buddy. Nicely done. I usually don’t notice stuff like that but I was mesmerized by the exploding spots of green, rays of silver, and blue meteor shower.
I had heard some of Two Door’s live recordings (thank you Spotify) and was already aware that their live performances aren’t quite as crisp as their studio recordings can be. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away; I just wanted a good time (that’s what he said). I was right. They didn’t bring the same sort of clean sound on stage, but their lyrics, energy, and lightshow (again, awesome) more than made up for it. There were definitely aspects that would have enhanced the experience (more interaction with the crowd and maybe a shout out for me to come on stage) but quite frankly, the crowd didn’t mind. No one cared they couldn’t hear what Alex Trimble was saying to his fans (we already know we’re awesome and you couldn’t have done this without us, thank you, thank you). No one cared the sound was not as well-groomed as they were used to. From the moment Two Door opened with Sleep Alone – my personal fav – to the moment they closed with What You Know, 95% of the crowd was dancing with the intention of pulling a butt muscle. The other 5% was venue staff.
Which brings me to the last thing you need to know about me:
4. I’m going to be Sam Halliday for Halloween.
[Review written by Sunset Guest Writer Andi Pimentel]
It might be that my friends don’t get around, but 98% of the reactions to my Saturday night plans were something along the lines of, “Who is Stars?”
Alright. Who is Stars?
- Stars is a four member Canadian band that kicked off its career in Montreal in 2000.
- They just released a new album, The North, in September 2012.
- Two Stars albums (Hearts and Set Yourself on Fire) have been nominated in the Juno Awards for Alternative Album of the Year.
- Jimmy Fallon is a fan of these guys.
- They can put on a pretty decent show.
Stars owned the stage at The Fillmore (awesome venue + great acoustics + room for dancing = POINTS). They’ve clearly done this before – they know how to work the crowd and they are experts at channeling energy. Their sound carried well, focused and clear. Taking a bathroom break didn’t prevent anyone from singing the chorus. Your ticket was worth every penny, people!
Everyone seemed to love the new songs but it was the old stuff – the classics, if you will – that really ignited the crowd. Even John O’Regan was dancing in the back. The fact that this guy could still move after leading the Diamond Rings in a let’s-run-around-the-stage-for-30-minutes opening performance was a testament to the energy in the room.
Somewhere between “The Night Starts Here” and “Take Me To the Riot,” I started to realize I really have been missing out. All these years wasted on Chumbawamba when I could have been listening to THEM? Dah!
When it comes down to it, the thing that sets Stars apart is Amy Millan. She freaking rocks. As any loyal fan could tell you (yes, I am now including myself in this category), Stars is fueled by a fantastic lady voice. However, like Obama in the first debate, she just wasn’t there. I was ready to see her Martina Sorbara her way around the stage but instead, she was hidden in the music. If Stars were to listen to my humble opinion, they’d turn her mic up a couple notches. Amy is their secret sauce. She needs to be celebrated.
Overall: great venue, great songs, great crowd, great concert, great band. That’s Stars.
[Review written by Sunset Guest Writer Andi Pimentel]