I remember the first time I heard the Dandy Warhols back in 1997. A promo rep from Capitol Records came into the record store I was working at with a stack of promo CDs. There was a black and white advance copy of The Dandy Warhols Come Down piled in between Starsailor and a few other bands that were supposed to be break out artists around that same time. I remember the Dandy Warhols for two reasons—one, the rep didn’t say anything about the band (which usually meant no hype) and two, it was due to be released on July 15, my birthday.
I remember putting this record on the overhead sound system in the store and hearing “Be In” for the first time blasting straight into “Boys Better” and I was hooked. It was pretty surprising to hear “shoegaze ” happening in the late ’90s, let alone “pop shoegaze,” as I call it.
It was as if ELO had a bastard child with Sonic Youth and a fetish for pop culture icons while deciding to kick the current Dave Mathews Band obsessed music scene right in the nuts. This would quickly become my favorite album of the entire decade and begin my 17 year love affair with the band—and to this day I still celebrate the Dandy’s entire catalog.
The past couple of weeks have been a cornucopia of amazing shows thanks to San Francisco being a strategic pit stop on the way to Coachella. The true standout of the mass pilgrimage to the Southern California desert turned out to be the almighty Queens of the Stone Age. The capacity crowd that night at Bill Graham Auditorium was about to witness the performance of a lifetime.
The show kicked off with an old-school, movie-style countdown, and the moment the numbers ran out, I think the Earth moved, as in the big one had actually hit the West Coast. That very second Josh Homme and company made a defining statement through a blast of pummeling rock ‘n’ roll. (Think Maxell-tape-guy-in-the-chair kind-0-blast.) That statement was, “Put your f**king seat belts on because you’re in for a wild ride.”
Holy hell, these guys delivered the goods. Opening up with the classic “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire,” I thought that Satan himself was about to make a guest appearance by popping out of the stage and condemning us all to hell. Luckily that didn’t happen, and the band quickly jumped into another masterpiece, “No One Knows” which continued the celebration of the modern masterpiece, Songs for the Deaf.
Every once in a while I take a break from my favorite genre—metal—and go on a singer-songwriter kick. This one came after witnessing a slew of incredibly talented female vocalists hit all at once and who filled up my playlist very quickly. These are five stand-out artists that I have high hopes for in 2014.
I think this is the best of the best in the current new crop of records delivered so far in 2014 and I encourage you to check out each one of the amazing songs below. I’m not sure it’s going to get much better than this, my fellow music lovers. So let’s get started.
Nicole Atkins | So yes, it really doesn’t get any better than this. Nicole Atkins is by far the best female singer of the past decade.
Her voice is simply stunning. A mix of Billie Holiday and Fiona Apple with the power of Janis Joplin, no one can touch her, period. Her new album Slow Phaser is her best work yet and a clear front-runner for album of the year, even this early in 2014.
The Cult is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time, in my opinion.
Born in 1984 out of the ashes of the UK post-punk scene, they are one of the few bands that successfully reinvent themselves while staying consistent to their roots. It’s a tough thing to do in this current sea of irrelevant music that is watered down and reliant upon a viral, social-media flash-in-the-pan for defining success. But The Cult have continued to record and tour while keeping their devoted fan base energized with a steady stream of new music and stellar live performances.
When I heard that Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy were making a stop in San Francisco on the way to Coachella, I marked my calendar and cleared my schedule. I have seen the band over a dozen times, and they never get old. This time, though, was something really special, as the band would debut their Coachella set, which they are calling A New Wilderness. In addition to a few select US dates, they will perform in the desert for the first time at Coachella on April 11 and April 18.
Jackie Greene and The Mother Hips together on one stage make for a magical night in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even better, the show was at the beautiful Fox Theater (and yes, apparently every city has a Fox Theater). For those of you not familiar with Jackie’s work, his resume reads like a who’s who of bluesy jam band music, but not so far down the Grateful Dead rabbit hole that you have to be high as a kite to enjoy it.
Jackie recently finished up touring with The Black Crowes and now word is that he’s focused on touring and recording a new solo record. It’s about time since his last record; the brilliant, critically acclaimed Til the Light Comes came out in 2010.
Back to Jackie’s resume, this guy plays with the best of them around town and beyond, including the current supergroup Trigger Hippy which includes Joan Osborne, Steve Gorman (The Black Crowes), Tom Bukovac (Renowned Session Guy), and Nick Govrik. He’s also jammed time and time again with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and Chris Robinson calling themselves the Weir, Robinson, Greene trio. They should probably work on that band name a bit.
Tool are currently in the midst of their first US tour in two years, steadily winding their way down the West Coast. I was lucky enough to catch sold out show number two at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco.
What I witnessed is arguably the most progressive, forward thinking band on the planet right now. Their mix of dramatic imagery and incredibly powerful live performances have been unchallenged and unmatched for the past twenty years. This was not just a show, it was an experience.
Opening the night was the critics’ darling, 90’s “should have been much bigger” trio Failure and they did a fantastic job warming up the crowd. Ken Andrews and company were one of my favorite bands back in the day and it’s so nice to hear them killing it on stage. Tool hand picks their opening bands and this one really wasn’t much of a surprise given that both bands have a few connections from the past.
How great are the Pixies in 2014? They didn’t miss a f**cking beat while treating the capacity crowd at the glorious Fox Theater to a set list of more than 30 songs. For the record—let’s get this out of the way—the Pixies are touring without bassist Kim Deal, who left the band last year. Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle/Zwan fame is filling in and let me say she’s a very capable addition.
Black Francis might not be the most personable frontman, but the sheer magnitude of blistering dynamics kept the crowd from ever blinking. One song into the next, the Pixies proved that their “legendary” status is rightfully upheld and their mark on the past and present is well-preserved.
The true highlight for me was the new music and how amazingly well it came across live. I personally prefer “EP 2″ and currently have it on a playlist called “Brilliant New Music for 2014,” and it’s on repeat. The setlist included three songs from “EP 2,” “Magdalena 318,” “Greens and Blues,” and “Snakes.” Surprisingly enough, “Blue Eyed Hexe “was missing. That would be the only song of the evening that I did not hear that I really wanted to.
The Pixies are one of the most influential bands in recent history and they are currently celebrating one of the longest and most successful comebacks of all time.
The band continues to dazzle fans both old and new and after two decades finally delivered amazing new music in the form of “EP1″ and “EP2.” In anticipation of the upcoming show at the Fox Theater in Oakland on February 21, I called up Joey and spoke to him about the new music, Jimmy Fallon, and his vinyl record collection.
Congrats on the release of two new EPs. I know you decided to do this on your own, but were the labels banging on your door to release this music?
Yeah, that’s what our manager said then I forgot who they were. I’m really not into the business side.
What could a major label do for you that you guys couldn’t do for yourself at this stage in your career? Was it even an option or were you going to self-release the new stuff all along?
I don’t understand what the role of the record label is right now; I think they are mostly for distribution and publicity. We have that, we already have a publicist and distribution and that’s all we really need—that’s it. The role of the record label is almost kaput, that’s what I’m thinking.
I don’t know if I’m right, but I certainly don’t like the way they do the business with young bands. They give them three months and if it doesn’t stick on the wall then they forget about it and the poor band then has to recuperate the album. I mean that’s just a shitty way of doing business.
The first show of the year for me here in San Francisco was a great one. Birmingham Alabama singer/songwriter and Saddle Creek Records staple Maria Taylor brought her four-piece band to the Rickshaw Stop last week. Taylor, who is best known for her work with the bands Bright Eyes, Azure Ray, and Orenda Fink, is touring in support of her new record Something About Knowing.
There is of course no shortage of female singer/ songwriters in the world today, but Taylor brings something very unique to the table. For one, she plays several instruments, including the piano, guitar, and drums. She would open up her set this evening on the drums before switching to guitar and taking center stage. And two, she perfectly meshes together pop sensibility with a warm folk-rock sound that is produced magnificently through vintage gear minus one high E-string.
Taylor reminds me of my two favorite female vocalists rolled into one: she has the luminance of Kristen Hersh mixed with the pop sensibility and musicianship of Sam Phillips. Highlights from the set that evening included “Cartoons and Forever Plans,” a remarkable song that features Michael Stipe harmonizing beautifully with Taylor on the record, and “Up All Night,” which is about motherhood as a new life experience.
2013 has been a fabulous year for music, but much like every year before, chances are that you probably missed out on some of the best artists. The sheer volume of new music and all the internet noise that surrounds the flavor of the month tends to drown out many of the diamonds in the rough.
I have photographed more than 100 artists this year and have seen some truly mind-blowing shows, from the big ones such as Van Halen and Alice in Chains at major venues to the smaller ones that some pretty cool publicists turned me onto at tiny clubs.
Instead of pulling together a list of my top albums of 2013, I thought I would take it a step further. I have been lucky enough to see every artist on my top albums list live, so I pulled together some exclusive photos I have taken this year and paired them up with why I think they are the best of 2013 and what they sound like. These are the best of the best for me, and I think many of them will be having a breakout year in 2014.