It’s been a long 6 months since Cage The Elephant paid San Francisco a visit, last touching down on Bay Area soil for an opening slot on Metallica’s “The Night Before” concert at AT&T Park back in February. Let’s just say that there was a slightly different demographic packed against the rail this past Thursday night for CTE’s headliner at the Bill Graham Civic.
Openers Sunflower Bean took the stage at 7 pm to the gathering crowd. The New York trio was tight and powerful, delivering a set that was clearly influenced by Zeppelin and the Doors while still feeling fresh. Bands like Sunflower Bean are the reason to get to shows early for the opener.
By the time Portugal. the Man took the stage, the floor of the Billy Graham was packed. Their generous hour-long set, the stage pumped with thick smoke, drew the mostly young (and mostly female) crowd out and had them singing along.
As the crew readied the stage for Cage the Elephant’s headlining set, it was clear who people had come to see. The energy was palpable as the band casually strolled onto the stage with a wave and broke into “Cry Baby,” the lead track from their December 2015 release, Tell Me I’m Pretty.
When I was a teenager growing up in the midwest I would to go to the record store and seek out the most evil, sinister-looking metal album covers that would surely piss off my parents—Slayer, Possessed, Megadeth, Venom, King Diamond, etc. Those were the ones that had huge parental advisory stickers on them and some of the craziest artwork you’ve ever seen, and those were the ones that my friends and I loved to listen to. Most of that stuff was all a gimmick or for show, but the extreme metal movement of the early ’90s turned gimmicks into something much more real, and Polish death metal band Behemoth were leading the charge.
What the hell do I know about Polish black death metal? Not much. But after seeing Behemoth I’m quickly becoming a fan. Formed in Gdansk back in 1991, somehow these guys flew under my metal radar for the past 20 plus years. They are considered to have played an important role in establishing the Polish extreme metal underground, and over the years they have redefined the genre. I realize I’m a bit late to the game with this one, but better late than never.
It’s easy to dismiss death metal as simply heavy guitars, rapid fire drums, growling vocals, and indistinguishable band logos, but there’s quite a bit of substance happening here, you just have to dig in a bit. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for those who get it are rewarded with a different way of thinking.
So I’ve seen the Avett Brothers several times now and their shows keep getting bigger and better. Are these guys the best songwriters of my generation? They certainly could be as one song after another cherry picked from a vast catalog of genius was enough to have me in awe—along with several thousand others for almost two hours.
As I was watching what has evolved into a seven piece band on stage all I could think was f*ck Mumford and Sons—the Avetts are the real leaders of this bluegrass, folky, rocking old-time country revival movement. Not to dig too much at Mumford as I think the Avetts are doing just fine with another sold out return to the stunning Greek Theatre in Berkeley—but it does beg the question, why does the former seem to be so much more popular and get all the credit for the genre?
In my opinion, it’s a consistency thing. The Avetts have been at it much longer and have built a solid foundation of insanely passionate fans while Mumford and Sons pretty much came out of nowhere, had a few big hits, and were at one point lauded as the “biggest band in the world” before going rogue and throwing their fan base a curveball by going electric, akin to Bob Dylan. It reminds me of the time Radiohead stopped writing songs and instead went for “free-form jazz explorations in front of festival crowds.” While the gamble paid off for Radiohead, I think it fell flat for Mumford.
So, I used to have a bit of a problem with Foals. They have a very unique rule for photographers—instead of the customary first three no flash, they opt for the last three no flash. While it sounds like a unique idea it poses a problem. How in the hell will I know when the last three songs are and does that include the encore? Last time I went to see them myself and several other photographers missed the opportunity to shoot.
On top of that, we were all so fucking stressed trying to figure everything out that we really couldn’t enjoy the show. So there goes the photo-journalist element of what I love about covering shows in the first place. You see, many of the bigger publications have a writer and a photog, I choose to do both. One, because I can, and two, because I’m in the thick of this and I want the reader to both see and feel what it was really like. I’m convinced that the best way to share this experience comes from one person doing both.
Back to Foals. I was speaking at a social media conference in San Diego and noticed the band was playing a show at the Observatory on their way back from Coachella. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I have to get another chance to shoot these guys, and I did. This time though, I was prepared. I found out how long the set was, stood up next to the photo pit barrier, and counted the songs.
Generation Axe is guitar extravaganza bringing together five of the greatest axe men on the planet for a night a pure unadulterated shredding. Featuring Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi, each of the five basic food groups of face-melting was represented well. Backing up the all-star lineup is a very capable band of musicians including Malmsteen keyboardist Nick Marinovich, Zappa Plays Zappa/ Dethklok bassist Pete Griffin, and Animals as Leaders drummer Matt Garstka.
Up first was Tosin Abasi, a Nigerian American guitarist best known as the guitar player and founder of the instrumental progressive metal band Animals as Leaders. I’m not too familiar with this guy, but he set the stage pretty well for what was to follow. Another interesting note is that he plays an 8 string guitar and was probably the most technical savvy shredder of the night.
Tosin played some mind-boggling solos with a full band before passing the torch to Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt. The cool thing about this show is that each guitarist plays a 20 minute set then transitions via superjam to the next. The flow is quite brilliant and definitely led to some interesting encounters that fans won’t likely see ever again.
Iggy Pop has nothing left to prove to the rock ‘n’ roll community. The Godfather of Punk and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee refuses to slow down one bit. And why should he? His 17th studio album launched at the top of the Billboard Rock and Alternative charts, delivering the 68-year-old icon his first #1 album ever. How in the hell does that happen you ask? Well, the title says it all.
Post Pop Depression is the name of the record, and it’s Pop’s first collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme. The record features vocal and instrumental contributions from Homme and even saw the Palm Desert native in the producer’s chair. How did these rock ‘n’ roll innovators come together? The story goes something like this.
Pop sent Homme a text message about wanting to work together followed by a phone call to discuss. Then Pop sent some lyrics by mail, along with notes about his time working with David Bowie. Three months later, Homme sent lyrics to Pop, and they agreed to work together on recording songs in a studio. They brought incomplete ideas as opposed to finished songs so that they could work on them and create together. Pop has described the album as dealing with issues when your utility is at an end, and dealing with your own legacy.
Wolfmother really should get better about releasing records on a more frequent basis. They’ve been around for 16 years and have only delivered four full-length records. The only band on the planet that has been successful with that formula is Tool, and that’s because their records are insanely complex.
Wolfmother should take a page from their ’70s inspired peers’ playbook and release an album every year. I know what you’re thinking, less and less people are buying albums in this broken business model, but even before the entire record biz fell off the digital cliff, Wolfmother took extended breaks between releases and in my opinion lost a ton of momentum.
I remember when the debut record came out it was a HUGE fucking deal. I was a field marketing rep for Sony Music at the time and I was in Waterloo records when someone played it over the speakers in the store. They were one of the biggest buzz bands on the planet at the time, and rightfully so. Here’s a band that takes the best attributes of the greatest bands of the early ’70s, turned everything up to eleven and wrote some fucking incredible songs. Then they went on tour and proved to the world that this was no major label manufactured flash in the pan—it was the real deal.
Rival Sons are poised to have one hell of a year. For starters the band was hand-picked to be the opening act for the final Black Sabbath tour. On top of that, they are locked and loaded with a brand new album, the follow-up to 2014’s critically acclaimed rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece, Great Western Valkyrie. Hollow Bones will be released on June 10 through Earache Records. I caught up with founding member and lead guitarist Scott Holiday before a recent show here in San Francisco.
“We wrote, recorded, mixed, and finished Hollow Bones in thirty days in between a headline tour and a tour with Deep Purple in Europe,” says Holiday of the new release on Earache Records, a label primarily known for its death metal signings. Rival Sons might be the last band you would expect to sign to Earache, but the story became so interesting that it created more opportunities than it took away. “Yes, it was weird when we started because it was like Mercyful Fate and us,” explains Holiday.
That’s not the case anymore. Rival Sons have done so well with Earache and so many great things have happened along that way that it opened the doors for other rock ‘n’ roll bands to sign with the independent label. Earache’s ever-evolving roster now includes a very diverse bunch of bands including White Buffalo, The Temperance Movement, Biters, and Blackberry Smoke—in addition to their impressive metal catalog. “If you ask me I think they are one of the best rock and roll labels going today,” says Holiday.
Metallica is arguably the biggest metal band on the planet, maybe of all time. When rumors began swirling that the band could be considered for the coveted Super Bowl Halftime show, it made a hell of a lot of sense to most music fans. But the NFL continues to play it safe after the Janet Jackson incident, so they opted for the light sounds of Coldplay—and we all saw how truly awful that performance ended up being.
But that wasn’t the end of the story for the legendary Bay Area natives. This gave birth to a new mantra for the band, “Too Heavy for Halftime” and it caught on. Frontman James Hetfield fired back a bit when asked about the snub by the Associated Press, “We’re not a variety show. We’re not pop. We’re not sparkly and all that kind of stuff that I think seems to be what is needed for that.”
Metallica would represent San Francisco during SuperBowl weekend, but they would do it their way. Say hello to a headlining gig for CBS Radio’s “The Night Before” concert at the glorious AT&T Park, home to the three-time World Series champions San Francisco Giants and a fitting stage for a full on metal performance.
In 2002 I had the honor of taking Dr. Ralph Stanley to KGSR in Austin, Texas to talk about the release of his self-titled new record. I remember asking him about bluegrass music and he said to me, “I don’t play bluegrass, I play old-time country music.” That’s exactly what I heard on stage last week when The Devil Makes Three played the second of a two night stint at the Fox Theater in Oakland.
Effortlessly blending elements of western swing, folk, honky-tonk, rockabilly, and bluegrass, The Devil Makes Three was formed in Santa Cruz, California, in 2002. Guitarist Pete Bernhard, upright bassist Lucia Turino, and banjo player Cooper McBean have released four studio albums and a couple of live recordings along the way.
The trio have evolved their sound ever so slightly over the course of more than a decade of performing together. “Worse or Better” is a track from their latest record, 2013’s I’m a Stranger Here which showcases the group at its finest hour in my opinion, as Grammy Award winning songwriter and Nashville legend Buddy Miller took the helm as producer, bringing out the best from the trio to tape.