Within the past thirty days I have seen two of the most brilliant examples of modern music taken to the next level. In mid-December it was the stellar performance by Puscifer in Las Vegas touring in support of their brilliant new record Money Shot, and last week it was the mind altering sonic bombardment of multimedia juggernauts Tool. The common denominator of course being the prolific yet reclusive genius that is Maynard James Keenan.
Whether it’s the avant-garde offerings of Puscifer or the enigmatic styling of Tool, both have solidified their place and continue pushing the boundaries in a current musical landscape that is bloated and remarkably uninteresting. Tool of course remains a juggernaut and for good reason.
Is there a better example of doing more with less in the music business when it comes to Tool? Probably not. Four albums and one EP over the course of a quarter of a century and they are still the most relevant, Grammy award winning, visually stunning, progressive rock band on the planet. Critics often say the Tool has built a “cult” following, but that statement tells only a fragment of the entire story and the undercuts the vastness and diverseness of their fan base.
For my final rock ‘n’ roll show of the year I decided to go with something truly unique. Something I’ve never seen before; a Puscifer show. What I got was a mix of Mexican wrestling—in the form of something called Luchafer—opening up for one of the most incredible performances of unadulterated musicianship, lyricism, and avant-garde rock music that I have ever heard before.
Puscifer is clearly one of the most uncomfortable names to pronounce in the biz today, and to be quite honest, whenever someone asked me what band I was going to see in the days before the show I always took a minute to brace them for a slightly uncomfortable moment, then we had a laugh. Puscifer is the brain child of eclectic Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan. He’s put together a band of musicians who defy everything conventional you know about metal, progressive, and experimental music.
Along the way, Maynard has figured out how to deliver this with a sort of socially conscious message without being overly aggressive and only slightly offensive. It’s more like a “you get out of this music what you put into listening to it” scenario. And Puscifer’s style of music is certainly something you don’t just put on in the background, but instead you pay close attention because it demands it.
The voice of ZZ Top and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Billy Gibbons released his debut solo record Perfectomundo last month and it’s not what you might expect. The legendary blues guitarist channels his childhood percussionist roots (Gibbons was once a student of mambo legend Tito Puente) in the context of Afro-Cuban rhythms and unexplored territory—and it works remarkably well.
The first single from the album, a cover of rockabilly singer Roy Head’s soulful 1965 hit “Treat Her Right,” sets the tone for an adventurous record that is already making quite a few year-end best of 2015 lists. Gibbons took a break from his minimalistic trio to bring together a new backing band called the BFGs. The handpicked BFGs include two drummers, a percussionist, and two keyboardists who take Gibbons’ bluesy foundation into a whole new world.
Gibbons and his BFGs played to an intimate and incredibly enthusiastic crowd as he seeded the set with stories about the past and the present. While the setlist focused mainly on songs from Perfectamundo, Gibbons couldn’t resist peppering in a ZZ Top classic or two. The band was tight, the grooves were smooth, and the Cuban flavor was a real treat to see performed live.
The Dandy Warhols are one of the greatest rock bands on the planet. They have their own signature sound, they continue to innovate both sonically and lyrically, and they are one of the few bands that can go on tour just to go on tour, no new album necessary.
On top of all that, they took a boring genre called shoegaze and injected some much-needed personality and soaring harmonies into it. I’ve seen them live half a dozen times and they just continue to completely blow my mind.
The Dandy’s returned to the Bay Area last week for a two-night stint at The Great American Music Hall. I scored a ticket to night one, I even upgraded to the VIP experience, and I have to say it was pretty amazing. I got to watch the band’s soundcheck which was only going to be two songs, but then Courtney Taylor-Taylor started asking for requests. I immediately shouted out my all time favorite song “Mohammad,” and they dove right into it.
As 2015 comes to a close I think I might have just seen the most intensely original, high energy spectacle of the year.
They’re called Gogol Bordello and they are a Gypsy punk band from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Known for theatrical stage shows, persistent touring, and high energy performances they hit the jam-packed Warfield with what seemed to be a full on revolution. Even though this band of gypsies have been around since 1999, it was the first time I have seen them live and I can tell you that they absolutely live up to the hype, maybe even over-delivering if that’s even possible.
Imagine the Gypsy Kings crossed with the Sex Pistols. Add some brilliant storytelling masterfully delivered in song and backed by what could easily be confused for a Cirque Du Soleil show in the wild, and you can begin to imagine what I witnessed last week. The only thing missing at this show was a full on revolution—and that didn’t seem far off.
I’ve seen The Cult perform live almost a dozen times and they never cease to amaze me. How could one ever get tired of the combination of Ian Astbury’s dark yet soulful voice and Billy Duffy’s one of a kind Phil Spector-esque wall of sound guitar tone?
Add in some of the most iconic and memorable rock songs of the past 30 years and you have arguably one of the greatest rock bands on the planet in my opinion. For some reason they seem to play in San Francisco more than any other city in the country, but this time around it was quite a different show.
Teaming up with Scottish rock gods Primal Scream, the co-headlining bill appropriately named “Primal Cult,” is in the midst of a short West Coast run. I’m a casual fan of Primal Scream as they usually come in one of two flavors in regards to their live shows. One being their signature, noise-induced psychedelic electro-rock in the form of Screamadelica and Evil Heat (which I totally dig as do so many aging hipsters), and the second, their Stones-infused classic rock jams found on my favorite two records from them, Riot City Girl and the terribly underrated Give Out but Don’t Give Up. This show in particular would feature the later.
I’ve always been a fan of Collective Soul, but something happened since the last time I saw these guys live in 2012. It’s almost like a rebirth of sorts. They just released their 9th studio album and embarked on the “See What You Started Tour,” because that’s what a band does, right? But what I saw at the Fillmore on Monday night was the best sounding Collective Soul I’ve ever seen take their show to an entire new level. Who would have guessed that in mid-November there’s a contender for best show of the year? Believe it.
Frontman extraordinaire Ed Roland could be one of the most gifted songwriters alive. He can write a hook like nobody’s business and nine albums in he hasn’t missed a step. Collective Soul’s songs generally go in one of two directions; heavy-duty Zeppelin style grooves, or orchestrated layers and harmonies that can easily turn into one of the best ballads you’ve ever heard before. They’ve also taken a pop route here and there turning simple AC/DC riffs into polished, gang style chants and modern-day summertime anthems. Pull all of this together and you have one hell of an eclectic show.
The setlist that night pulled heavily from their new album, See What You Started By Continuing and was peppered with hits from the band’s impressive catalog. The fact that they opened up the set with “December” is a testament to how many incredible songs they have to choose from without having to save the “hits” for last. The most remarkable song in the set that night was “Needs.” Every time I hear this song I can’t help but think, how can anyone write such a magnificent song?
New Orleans style jazz is alive and well and the torch bearers of this national treasure brought one hell of an impromptu jam session to the stage of the legendary Fillmore last week. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band derives its name from the Preservation Hall venue located in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The band is known for performing traditional New Orleans-style jazz and has been playing together in various incarnations since the 1960s.
Over the years they’ve shared the stage with everyone from a young Harry Connick Jr, back in the day, to recent shows with Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, and the Foo Fighters just to name a few. This night in particular the band was joined by Meshell Ndegeocello, Lyrics Born, and Beats Antique. Each special guest brought something truly unique to the stage and made this show a once in a lifetime event.
The setlist was a mashup of jazz classics falling somewhere between dixieland, traditional jazz, and old school funk. Since New Orleans is universally considered the birthplace of jazz, the band certainly maintains the spirit, but as the sold out crowd would find out very quickly, the magic happens when the bring along some of their good friends to share the stage.
Has it really been 28 years since King Diamond’s horror themed masterpiece Abigail was released? My god I’m feeling old. It’s been called the first horror metal album ever and the landmark record is finally being performed in its entirety along with one hell of an elaborate set to tell the story properly.
This is one of my favorite metal albums from my teenage rebellion years when I would buy records simply based on how evil the covers looked. It was a ploy to piss off my parents and Abigail certainly did the trick, but it also paved the way for me to appreciate metal in a whole new way. Theatrics, soaring falsettos, growling lows, layer over layer of instrumentation, and most importantly—an incredible story that transported the listener.
The set started off with some King classics including “Welcome Home” and a trio of Mercyful Fate songs. This was just the teaser to the full meal deal which would be Abigail. I’ve got to say that this record as a whole stands up magnificently and doesn’t sound like it has been around for nearly three decades.
Last time I saw My Morning Jacket live was at SXSW in 2008. At that time they were the critics’ darlings and an industry buzz band that everyone was talking about. Labels had high hopes, record sales hadn’t completely tanked yet, and there was still a bit of optimism that the industry would figure out the digital model.
MMJ was truly coming into their own having recently graduated from the club scene, and thanks to a major label, launched directly into the limelight. I was a casual fan at the time, but what I saw that night changed my life.
This show was otherworldly. There’s really no other way to describe the sheer magnitude of awesomeness that I witnessed. I think it was one of the only shows that I’ve been to where I looked around and the entire crowd had their fucking jaw on the ground in pure awe of what Jim James and his band of gypsies were swirling up on that magnificent stage. It was truly one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen before, and I’ve seen thousands.