MGMT are five talented men who create some unique music with roots in electronica, pop, and psychedelic rock. The band started their 2019 tour at Oakland’s incredible Fox Theater with all-female L.A. indie-rockers Warpaint, who blasted it hard with their powerful opening set. The sold out show boasted hits and relatively new material from their 2018 album Little Dark Ages as well as their 3 prior albums. Not basing a national tour on a immediate new album release only points to the fact that this band has a solid fan base that will show up regardless. Founding members Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser started MGMT in 2002 under the name The Management (the name was changed due to another band using it) and they have been growing with leaps and bounds as MGMT ever since.
Both VanWingarden (guitar/bass/keyboards and percussion) and Goldwasser (keyboards/electronic samples/guitar and percussion) are incredible musicians and singers as well as great songwriters. Their music is dense and alive; it pulses and vibrates like a living being. The electronic edge from samples and keyboards is sent into warp speed by thick, syncopated rhythm and harmonies. The current lineup of supporting members, keys player and guitarists James Richardson, bassist Simon O’Connor and drummer Will Berman wrap the songs with a heavy depth and make the music explode into being.
Rock and roll, it’s good for the soul, as they say and I wholeheartedly support that statement as the truth. There is a fabulous feeling of having shredding guitars and thumping bass lines push all the crazy out of your head, like therapy but cheaper and way more efficient than Prozac, that’s for sure. So with that in mind, I enter into Mill Valley’s famed Sweetwater Music Hall so I could subject myself and my internal demons to the ultimate therapeutic process of a double bill of killer rock in roll with the ladies of Zepparella and the opening act of Gretchen Menn Trio, the Zepparella guitarist’s newest personal music venture.
Gretchen Menn is a mad woman on guitar. Her beauty is remarkable, like a porcelain doll that kills it with a six string electric and a cello bow. Her new trio, with bassist Anna Pfeiffer and drummer Tom Perry, is all instrumental, walking the line between heavy metal and classical guitar styles; it’s a dirty and elegant mix as only Menn can make it. There is such a charge with her music, pulsing, raging and completely hard-driving. Menn showcased original songs from her many solo-venture albums, including the aggressive, heavy metal vibe of “Scrap Metal” and “Oleo Strut” to the slow and gentle songs “Bures-sur-Yvette” and a cover of “Irish Eyes”.
Then there is Zepparella, those beautiful ladies in white, busting out all the Led Zeppelin you could ever want and need. The band pays tribute to Led Zeppelin without trying to be like them, as there is no need. They do things their own way as they uphold the Led Zeppelin songbook with dignity, poise and pure female power. This band has been around for a long time, rocking hard with a pure magnetism not unlike the original Led Zeppelin. Lead singer and harmonica player Anna Kristina, who once again adds her voice to the music, struts, dances and seduces you with her prowess just like Robert Plant. Gretchen Menn comes back to her guitar and does Jimmy Page justice with pure, melodic shred while bassist Holly West and drummer Clementine bust out the backbeat like a heartbeat. Zepparella creates a mood and dynamic that plays out like wildfire. The band covered such Zep favorites as “Lemon Song”, “Bring It On Home”, “Daze & Confused” as well as “The Ocean” and “Night Flight”.
As I have stated, like, a million times before, music is medicine, and a great night of hard-driving rock and roll was just the dose of “happy’ many of us needed
Rewind: 1984. I was a teenaged metalhead living in Seattle when the heavy, progressive, hard rockers Queensrÿche first entered into my listening sphere. The releases of their epic and hard-driving “Queen Of The Reich” and “Take Hold Of The Flame” were part of a perfect soundtrack to my teen angst, with shredding guitars, ass-whooping baselines and tons of screaming vocals. I was a fan of the band up until the 90’s, but then life and other musical adventures took me to places unknown and Queensrÿch disappeared from my radar.
Fast forward: 2019. “What? Queensrÿche still tours? They have been pumping out album after album after album since my initial induction into their musical world? WOW! No Way!” I think. And yet here they are, on tour with a sold-out pit stop at Slim’s in San Francisco with most of the founding members alive and kicking, and they are still making seriously awesome metal.
It’s refreshing to hear music that is simultaneously new and familiar, where the genres meld together to form a seamless blanket of sound that can take you on journeys within your mind. San Francisco based indie-rock band Milk For The Angry has created just that kind of vibe with their newly released album Extraterrestrial Desert.
Milk For The Angry, singer/guitarist Dana Lindström, drummer Cole Bailey and bassist Kyle Stringer are focused and driven young men, creating a pile of songs that embody a feeling of 60’s surf rock mixed with spacey 80’s pop and flavored with a modern edge of hard-driving rock. The band self-funded their latest release, creating an album that is wholly theirs, with lyrical content that is poetic yet yearns for deeper meaning.
“The recording of this album was actually very cozy because we worked from the ground up with our good friend and musical merman Christopher Daddio (who also lended his keys and vocal chops to a few tracks) at his home studio," says Dana Lindström. "We had the comforts of a loving home and were getting the best results we have ever had so we couldn't ask for more. This will be our second full-length album and we're excited about the direction that we are going; still maintaining our heavier psyched-out roots but getting into some spacier, soft tunes as well. We all have backgrounds in heavier music and we all see eye to eye in wanting a sound that is heavy but doesn't come off as "tough guy" or "scary." We want to keep it fun and positive because that's what we're craving more of in life and it’s a direct correlation.“
There is something wonderful when a song is a story, telling us all the things that can’t be said with normal words. When a songwriter can tell us the truth of what's in her heart and soul, that things can suck or things can be blissful, all packaged up with soaring vocals and witty lyrics, that’s talent.
San Francisco songwriter Ashley Wilson wraps her stories in a modern jazz/pop/folk hybrid with her smooth and buoyant voice telling it like it is. In her latest single, “Once In Awhile”, off of her latest album, “Paint The Sky”, we hear all about Ashley’s relationship ups and downs in a playful manner, “And then we’ll have this back and forth duel, when sometimes the bed is hot then cool. And just as were are splitting in two, we’ll come together back again as one…” She sings with an amazing vocal range; high notes, low notes and everything in between. With the simplicity of stand up bass, drums and guitar, supporting her, Ashley sings it true. There is no need for chaos, madness or anger in her words to her lover in her song, only the reality that love is hard, relationships take a lot of work and no one can escape that process if you really want to be in love.
Music has a habit of creating an emotional response in our psyches that is primal and wild. Often when we listen to a song, we not only hear it but we feel it as well. Within those emotions come images and ideas that we alone create inside our heads, but it is the musician that is creating the sound that makes it all happen.
Bay Area finger-style guitarist Mark Vickness has a talent that is above and beyond visionary. The instrumental guitar music he creates sets into our minds profound thoughts and feelings. The new video for the release of his single “Prince William Sound” showcases not only his elegant finger-style guitar playing, but also how he himself is affected by the music he creates. His calm presence is channeled into his guitar and magic happens within the strings. “Prince William Sound” is one of the amazing songs from the Places album, and it sets off a series of emotional responses that flow like a stream of sonic consciousness. In your mind you can see the pristine waters of the Sound, you can feel the gentle breeze of cold air upon your face and clouds softly flying through an Alaskan sky. The song ebbs and flows and takes the listener on a journey of pure beauty
El Radio Fantastique is an iconic West Marin band with a long history of epic and dramatic music. Their longevity in the Marin music scene is profound and amazing, even amid the many personnel changes over the years. They sink deep into a sea of smoke and mirrors to produce something more than it seems to be. They uphold the tradition of vaudevillian splendor and operatic performance art that makes their music sparkle and shine amid the depths of darkness.
With three other albums behind them, El Radio has created another masterpiece of sound with their new album, “Outside Of Space And Time”. The album was released in October 2018 and was co-produced by the band with Grammy award-winning sound master Jason Carmer (Green Day, Run DMC, Billy Idol). It is one hell of a hypnotic adventure of sound and feeling. El Radio prides themselves on eccentricity both lyrically and in their use of unusual instrumentation and that works in their favor, as they have created a very unique vibe as a band with this new EP.
States front man Giovanni DiMorente, “Every little thing is an inspiration, including motors making rhythms accidentally, bird noises, film soundtracks. I've been hybridizing my love of old melodic punk rock and bubblegum pop, adding an extra distorted symphonic keyboard and giving some dark or interesting lyrics to it that might have a lot of different meanings and are possibly dreamlike”
The new album is a soundboard for other members to share their songwriting and vocal talents. Colin Schlitt, longtime bassist for the band states. “Giovanni really has encouraged my songwriting, which I am incredibly grateful for. I think he’s one of the best songwriters of all time. His quantity and quality of songs are amazing. Also, it’s great to be in a band that feels like a family. Most of us grew up together and it’s fun to have those childhood relationships evolve into adulthood and into our artistic lives.”
Sister Sledge said it best, “We are Family…”, except in the case of the band the Kongos, it’s all about brothers. The Kongos hail from Arizona by way of South Africa, and their childhood roots have seemingly bestowed upon these four siblings the gift of deep, heavy rhythms with their drum-centered rock. There is an incredible cohesion that sets them apart from other bands, as the music is literally in their blood.
The brothers Kongo are a talented bunch of men; guitarist Daniel Kongos, bass and slide guitarist Dylan Kongos, drummer Jesse Kongos and Johnny Kongos who does it up on accordion and keyboards. Aside from sharing vocal and songwriting credits, the band creates a self-contained music-making machine by doing their own recording, engineering, making their own videos and using vigilante marketing tactics that includes their own podcast as well as a ten episode web series, “Bus Call”, centered around their life on the road, “We finally left our label,” singer-guitarist Daniel Kongos declared from the stage,. “We were at a point of, just, ‘fuck this business.'”
With three albums under their belt including Egomaniac (2016) and Lunatic (2014), and the latest epic album 1929, which will be fully released this month (though the band has been slowly releasing songs via their website.) The tour set off at SF’s Great American Music Hall Wednesday evening, a venue that creates an amazing intimacy between musician and fan. From the first notes to the last, the Kongos set the mood for the night with music that is uplifting, vibrant, fun and buoyant in a way that cuts right through you. The band’s music spans the gamut of genres, pop, blues, Zydeco, Eastern, electronic, African and pure rock. After opening with the blues rocker “I Am Not Me”, the Kongos jump started the night with the danceable groove of “The World Would Run Better” Peppering their set with new songs sa well as the mega-pop hits such as “Hey I Don’t Know”, “Pay For The Weekend” and the foot-stomper “Come With Me Now”, the Kongos dug deep into their amazing catalogue of great songs and ended the night with the encores of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and “I’m Only Joking”,
Up until about two weeks ago, I had not heard of the Kongos.But upon discovering them I was immediately hooked on the music they create. With those hard-driving rhythms and throbbing beats molded into a modern vibe, the band has now created a new and rabid fan in me.
The band walks onto the stage, humble and focused. They plug in and tune their instruments amid the murmurs of the crowd before them. There is a momentary stillness before the onslaught of sound, a calm before the storm as we say. And then the first chords are stuck, the first bass line released and the drumbeat leads in with its steady throb and pulse. Then it begins, a tsunami wave of sonic madness is brought forth, and Howlin’ Rain thunders and shakes within the power of their music.
Oakland’s Howlin’ Rain is pure SOUND! Big sound, loud and all encompassing sound, an epic presence of sound. They walk the line of psychedelic rock, Americana, blues and “thrasher” rock, keeping a balance within the mash-up of genres to produce some of the best current music ever to be smashed into your brain. The band is musically and professionally tight, and there is such an extraordinary dynamic between the players that can only be seen as prodigious. Front man, vocalist and guitarist Ethan Miller led the way at Howlin’ Rain’s recent show at Petaluma’s Mystic Theater, making space for bassist Jeff McElroy, guitarist Dan Cervantes and drummer Justin Smith to follow along with their own bionic powers to create music that flows smoothly yet rips you up on the inside in a good way.
The band tore through songs that were mighty and soulful, including the boisterous “Missouri”, the bluesy “Alligator Bride”, with those searing guitar licks, “Phantom Of The Valley” with it’s haunting lyrics and beautiful harmonies and the crunchy yet gentle groove of “Coming Down”.
I speak often of the gifts we acquire from hearing live music, on how the musicians we witness give us more than just songs. With Howlin’ Rain, they give us huge parts of themselves, they give us all they’ve got. The band makes no sacrifices with what they put forth, and that can be felt and heard with the immense sound that they produce.
The music of Chris Robinson Brotherhood has something to say. It tells us to shut the fuck up and listen; it tells us to forget our worries for a few hours; it tells us to smile at the people around us and sing as they sing; and lastly, it tells us to have fun and it encourages us to be buoyant and joyful. With the dueling guitars of Chris Robinson and Neal Casal, in addition to the thumping bass of Jeff Hill, the booming drums of Tony Leone and a constant waterfall of Adam MacDougall’s masterful keys, the Brotherhood takes us on a musical journey outside of ourselves. They allow us to have some time away from our regular reality as their music feeds our souls.
With the 3-night run at San Francisco’s famed Fillmore Auditorium, CRB was in epic form. Saturday night’s show was filled with treasured songs from CRB’s backstock of tunes. Opening with the epicness of “Comin’ Around The Mountain” and “Oak Apple Day”, CRB spoon fed us love and joy with each moment of the band’s amazing and deeply connected personal dynamic with each other and with the audience. The band specializes in long, psychedelic blues jams, with each member playing off the others like a giant game of sonic ping-pong. The 2 incredibly fun sets also included “She Shares My Blanket”, ”Try Rock and Roll”, “Let It Fall”, and Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been To Spain”. With “I Ain’t Hiding”, CRB tapped into a bit of The Black Crowes songbook and the night ended in an encore of the band’s first-time coverage of Free’s “Ride The Pony”.
For a few hours, the world as we know it ceased to exist. We relaxed, let go, danced and sang. To all of us present at this amazing CRB show, we were only aware of the throbbing notes and chords wrapping us in a sonic blanket that was asking us to simply be present with joy while we listened and felt with our whole being.