Having missed the two Faith No More shows here in San Francisco because I was on the Monsters of Rock Cruise, I had to figure out another way to see one of my all-time favorite bands. It just so happened that in between a couple of speaking gigs for my day job, I would be in Toronto for their show at the acclaimed Sony Centre. Problem solved, and better yet, I can now add international photojournalist to my LinkedIn profile.
Faith No More are touring in support of Sol Invictus (Latin for “unconquered sun”), their first new album since 1997’s appropriately titled Album of the Year. To be honest, I never really thought that Mike Patton and crew would ever deliver new music, and if they actually did, I wondered would the near two decade long break make a difference. Would it stifle their creative genius and would they still have their quirky edge and sense of humor?
Those worries were laid to rest during a surprise performance at Amoeba Records last November where the band released the first single”Motherfucker” exclusively on 7″ vinyl to coincide with Record Store Day’s Black Friday. The band also debuted another new song called “Superhero” that was equally as brilliant. Faith No More was back, and they were calling their own shots this time around. No major label bullshit to deal with, they were doing it because they wanted to—and it showed.
The Manic Street Preachers are the closest thing my generation has to the Sex Pistols. Their seminal 1994 masterpiece, The Holy Bible was the band’s finest hour.
I remember first coming across this record during CMJ in 1994. At that time I was working as a college rep for Universal Music and it was my first time in New York City. I went straight to what was the Wizard of Oz of record stores at that time, the massive Virgin Megastore in Times Square. They had a few copies of The Holy Bible for sale as an import, and I enthusiastically grabbed a copy and continued to peruse the levels and levels (I think there were 4?) of epic entertainment at the store.
It was tough to get import records at this time. Either you had to special order them and wait for weeks on end to receive it, or find a very cool record store that stocked them automatically. Imports at this time were non-returnable for stores so it was a gamble each time a shop placed an order. Anyway, I listened to The Holy Bible on repeat for pretty much the next ten years. It’s considered one of the greatest albums ever recorded and last week I got to see the mythical Manic Street Preachers played this masterpiece live in its entirety.
It took less than a second for the sold out crowd at the Warfield to erupt into sheer enigmatic joy as Matt and Kim appeared on stage. The Brooklyn duo looked as if they were about to lead the crowd into battle against everything not fun. A single platform which held the duo’s weapons of choice was rolled up to the front of the stage with lighting that was reminiscent of a jumbo jet landing behind them. Wikipedia refers to them as an “indie dance duo,” but I would update that description to something more along the lines of “musically inclined instigators who bring the party.”
It was my first time seeing Matt and Kim live and it came highly recommended by some hipster tech marketing friends of mine. (By the way Matt and Kim, if you don’t know this, already you have a segment of tech marketers who fucking love you; queues up conference season schedule). The only thing I really knew about these two was that they had one hell of a buzz around them for what seems like an eternity and somehow managed to stay just enough under the radar that they kept their indie cred.
As a photographer shooting the first three songs from the photo pit, I can tell you first hand that it’s a remarkable experience to see this show from the front row. Throughout the show Kim is sort of like a one woman Cirque Du Soleil as she uses her bass drum as a platform to perform a sort of rock ‘n’ roll freestyle ballet.
There are possibly no two things in this world that go so perfectly well together, aside from maybe peanut butter and chocolate, than heavy metal and horror movies. There is one man in metal who stands above the rest at that crossroads, and that is Kirk Hammett, guitarist of Metallica. For years, Kirk’s obsession with all things horror-related has been well-known, and the collection of horror artifacts that he has amassed over the years has grown to astounding proportions.
For the second year in a row, Kirk has put together a weekend celebrating the unity of these two worlds, known as Kirk Von Hammett’s Fear FestEvil. This year’s fest was held at the Rockbar Theater in San Jose, CA. Two days of metal bands, horror luminaries, and more made for one interesting and fantastic weekend in California.
I arrived at Rockbar mid-afternoon, and a carnivalesque midway was already in full swing. Grotesque costumed figures wandered the premises and vendors hocked their wares, selling horror memorabilia, t-shirts, face painting, and other distinctive homemade goods. A personal highlight here was meeting John Russo, co-writer of the infamous horror classic Night of the Living Dead.
To be honest I had no idea who Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman, formerly of the Fleet Foxes) was until just a few weeks ago. A fellow concert photographer had posted an amazing photo of him in a Facebook group and said it was a fun shoot. So, I buy the CD (yes, sometimes I still buy CDs) brought it home and ended up leaving it on the kitchen countertop in my house. I have a four-month old baby and the record is called I Love You Honeybear. My wife comes home to find the CD and based on the title thinks it’s a children’s record, that is until she gets to track 6 which is called “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow.”
To make a long story short, she asks me about it and I tell her that I just got it and haven’t listened to it yet, but I think it’s some sort of hipster rock or something. He’s coming to play two sold out shows at the Fillmore in April, I tell her, and I want to check it out thinking that I am pretty tuned into the music scene and somehow missed this one. Even with a 7am flight to the Monsters of Rock Cruise in Miami happening the next day, I’m committed to seeing what all the buzz is about.
Simply put, it was remarkable. What I witnessed last week at the legendary Fillmore was easily the best show I have seen in 2015, and quite possibly one of the best shows ever. Artistry beyond artistry if you will, 50 shades of musical genius. Father John completely blew me away. He opened up with a swooning version of the title track “I Love You Honeybear” and then the songs and performance just kept getting better and better. I’m not sure Father John is capable of writing a bad song, but if he ever did hit a sour note, his stage presence made up for it. “I’m working hard up here folks,” he says to the crowd. Not in an egotistical way, but more of an “I fucking love to entertain this room” type of scenario.
Somehow I totally missed The Replacements when they were in their prime. Maybe it’s because I was just a bit too young or maybe it was because Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love came out the same year. Regardless, I discovered the genius of this band late and I was absolutely thrilled that I would be able to witness their legendary live show first hand earlier this week in San Francisco. Paul Westerberg and company came out all guns a-blazing. It was like a cross between The Rolling Stones and The Sex Pistols and I loved every minute of it.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the strange antics at the band’s shows including Paul pouring salt and pepper on his guitar, but this time it was beyond strange. There was a tent on stage in the back corner—a camping tent nonetheless—that would play a pivotal role in the show. It served not only as an interesting stage prop, but also doubled as a poetry reading space and a backstage pre-encore gathering area. Whatever the hell it was, it just added to the fun.
The setlist that night was a cornucopia of classic songs that spawned the band’s brilliant catalog. Opening up the night with “Taking a Ride” the first song on their 1981 debut, these guys were flying around the stage like they were trashing a hotel room. Then they tore right into “Favorite Thing” from their third album Let it Be and they were off to the races.
Stone Temple Pilots—just saying the name out lout reminds me of the glorious times of the early nineties. Nirvana single-handedly killed hair metal, flannel was the new black, and Seattle was ground zero for a new movement that would change rock ‘n’ roll forever.
At the very forefront of this new era was an album named Core that would begin the journey of one of the most commercially successful bands of the coming decade. Stone Temple Pilots were bridging the gap between grunge, hard rock, and psychedelic, and they did it all with their own unique style.
40 million records later, the band would continue to dazzle fans up to the point where original frontman Scott Weiland would be fired and later replaced by Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. While this may seem like an odd combination and strange selection for a frontman, you really have to see and hear it to believe how good of a decision that would actually turn out to be. Now, I’ve never really been the biggest fan of Linkin Park, but after seeing Bennington fronting Stone Temple Pilots last weekend at the legendary Fillmore, it begs the question—why didn’t they do this sooner?
What better way to pay tribute to the late great Elliott Smith than having two stellar voices come together on a passion project? Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield have released an incredibly personal tribute to one of the most under celebrated artists of our generation, Mr. Elliott Smith who left the music world way too early. The record, simply titled Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, was released last month and a short 13 date coast to coast tour followed. I was fortunate enough to catch the second to last show on the tour at the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts Theater.
It was an intimate setting with Avett and Mayfield accompanied only by a stand up bass and set up in front of a makeshift cold war era styled kitchen serving as their backdrop. I personally hate it when artists pay tribute by re-imagining music that doesn’t need to be re-imagined. Avett and Mayfield stayed true to the originals in every sense while their own unique styles naturally took Smith’s music to a new place and breathed new life into already timeless songs.
It’s a difficult line to walk, and both artists distilled the magic of these songs while pouring their hearts into each note and melody. There’s no mistaking they are on a mission to both celebrate and expand upon Smith’s legacy.
The first time I saw Ben Harper live was in 1998 at the now defunct H.O.R.D.E. festival. Summer festivals were arguably at their peak, and H.O.R.D.E. pulled together all of the top “alternative jam bands” of the time. Founded by Blues Traveler and led by festival staple The Black Crowes, it was sort of like Lollapalooza for the folks who loved beads and hacky sacks (amongst other things).
Ben Harper was three albums into his career and really making a name for himself as one of the best live shows on the circuit. I remember being backstage at one of the shows as I worked for Sony Music at the time. They had a sort of self-serve ice cream stand set up, and there was a guy back there digging out a couple of scoops. He then looks at me and asks if I wanted some ice cream. I said, “Holy shit—you’re Ben Harper,” and gladly accepted his offer.
I was a casual fan of Ben Harper and had his first couple of records and I recognized him instantly. I chatted with him for a few minutes as we ate the frozen treat on what was a blistering hot St. Louis afternoon. We had a conversation about the tour and his set list that day and after a few minutes Ben said he had to run. I thought to myself, Ben Harper just served me ice cream and then hung out to chat, how fucking cool is that?
Coal Chamber arrived on the scene at a time when Nu Metal was at its peak. They brought a unique approach with them as front man Dez Fafara carried an element of Goth into a world that was ruled by dreadlocks and suburban white dudes rapping over drop D tunings. The first two records, 1997’s self-titled debut followed by Chamber Music were two very solid offerings to the metal community and arguably could be considered two records that gave RoadRunner records a much-needed and expanded fan base.
Most of the other Nu Metal bands went to major labels while Coal Chamber signed with what was, at that time, considered an indie label. Unfortunately, any music sub-genre that rises so quickly can also fall just as fast. Nu Metal was bound to run its course, and when it did there was a dramatic shift along with a substantial backlash to follow.
Fast forward ten years or so and the band that made Nu Metal listenable for lots of goth loving metal heads around the world returned to the stage with an almost original lineup touring to support a new record simply called Rivals.