Cat Power Concert Review – June 26, 2017

Cat Power is one of those artists I was really into for a time, and whose music I admire, but I haven’t been actively listening to lately. I never had the chance to see her live, however, so I didn’t hesitate to buy tickets for her show at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz when they went on sale several months ago. Since relatively few bands I want to see come to Santa Cruz, I feel it is especially important to support artists I like when they do come to town. And since Patti Smith once praised the “legendary” acoustics of the Rio (as reported by my wife) I always feel like maybe I’ll have a mystical experience. (Music does sound good at the Rio, but I don’t know if it’s transcendently better than another venue.)

Cat Power Sun Album Cover

Cat Power

Cat Power is the stage name of Chan (pronounced “Shawn”) Marshall. I will use these monikers interchangeably when referring to the artist, but when referring to the person, will use Chan Marshall, or simple Chan.

The only Cat Power album I have is Moon Pix, her critically acclaimed “breakthrough” third record. I was really into it for a while, with it’s starkly poetic lyrics, celestial acoustic guitar picking, and the hauntingly beautiful voice. I would go see her on the basis of that album alone, though she has a half dozen others that are also well-regarded.

My wife consented to join me for the show, even though it was a Monday night. We had dinner in the (very good) taqueria next door to the Rio. There were already folks lining up to get in almost an hour before the doors opened. I was glad to see a good turnout for Chan. The audience was about 80% female, which I wasn’t expecting, but perhaps not surprising.

The opening band was Jade, formerly from the Magnetic Zeros, a band Dawn is into. Jade played acoustic 6-string and 12-string, and has a beautiful voice. She had long straight brown hair and a long, hippy dress. She alluded to some kind of controversy in her split from her former band, which we looked up on our phones, and I will not go in to here. She played about five or six songs, all of which I liked, and she was done.

After a good long wait, the lights went down and Cat Power took the stage. She wore black slacks and a jacket over a white button-down shirt, with a black tie. She had the familiar bangs and long dark tresses.

Cat Power’s performance was amazing. She can write catchy rock songs, for example He War or Ruin, but she didn’t play any of those. I sensed a desire to express herself on her terms, and not pander to “facile” catchiness. Also, she had no backup band, which probably would have been necessary for rock. All the songs were very slow – accompanied on her guitar or piano. She used two mics, and a lot of echo, which made her already whisky smooth voice sound even more otherworldly. I only recognized two or three songs. I think the second song was from Moon Pix. Later she covered Satisfaction by the Stones, in a slow syncopated rhythm which was very effective. And towards the end of the show, accompanying herself on piano, she played The Greatest.

She would play two or three songs in a row without stopping, so it was hard to even know when to clap. She would whisper something to the audience – “hi” or “thanks for coming out”. At one point she was fussing with her two mic setup for 20 seconds and she said “I know this looks like OCD but it’s not. Believe me, I would know (laughs).” She did really warm up to us, though, by the end. She would start riffing on some thought, and then have a hard time finishing it. As she got ready to sing what I think turned out to be her last song she got people to call out names various country artists like “Reba” “Emmylou” “Dolly” “Cher!”. She did a brief Cher impression(!) and then did a hilarious riff about Winona Ryder pronouncing her esses very sibilantly. Chan then proceeded to do a Winona impression which was pretty darned hilarious.

But all kidding aside, it was quite a satisfying concert, and I’m glad I went. Her voice and musicianship are impressive, and her instinct to let the songs unfold with an unhurried pace was spot on. Chan gives each note space, and each word hangs in the air, momentarily suspended. A really impressive and compelling performance.

Skating Polly Concert Review – June 10, 2017

So I had discovered the band Skating Polly just about a month ago, while clicking on something likely that popped up in my YouTube suggestions. I have written in a previous post some thoughts about my love for this band. Of course I checked out their web site immediately, and discovered that they were on tour and actually coming to San Francisco in a few short weeks – so I bought my tickets right away.

New Trick EP Cover Art

Skating Polly Merch

It’s already been more than two weeks since the show, but I did want to write my first impressions of Skating Polly down for posterity. It was a Saturday night and, as often happens, I was solo clubbing. I had never been to Thee Parkside, which is an unassuming restaurant/shed sort of place on 17th St. near the base of Potrero Hill. Parking was no problem. I was early, so I hung out in front until somebody came along who needed my extra ticket. I was offering it for free, but the guy who bought it was nice enough to buy my first non-alchoholic beer.

You enter through the restaurant part, which is connected to a bar area with a small stage in one corner. I noticed the clear orange drum kit seen in so many SP videos, and smiled to myself. There were maybe 30 or 40 people in the whole establishment. Curtis Mayo, the drummer and, as it turned out, multi-instrumentalist was manning the merch table out in the restaurant area. He introduced himself “Hi, I’m Curtis”. I introduced myself, and we exchanged some small talk about touring and such, and I told him I was a big fan of the band. I bought the three most recent CD’s (New Trick, The Big Fit, and Fuzz Steilacoom) and also a t-shirt, a black one with a contrasting white image of Kelli doing a high kick while shredding on the basitar. Peyton came over to handle the credit card transaction. I sensed she was a little withdrawn, so I suppressed my urge to gush too much.

I was afraid I’d be awkwardly standing by myself all night, but as luck would have it I met two friendly, tipsy women named Carmen and Michelle. They were forty-ish, so at least close to my age, and they shared my table and talked with me at least through the opening act. They were old friends, and the one had come down from Seattle to visit the other, and celebrate their birthdays. They had big bunches of birthday flowers with them, which was sweet.

Dirty Denim were the local openers. They were kind of dangerous looking with lots of tattoos, tight jeans and big hair. The drummer looked amazing in a tight red dress, updo, and cat-eye makeup. In fact she was a ringer for Amy Winehouse which I’m sure was intentional. Like their optics, their their music was loud, raunchy and fun. Next up were Gal Pals, a two-piece band from Austin. The first few songs felt a little unsure to me, but once they hit their groove (or maybe I hit the groove?) they really rocked. They had a really great energy and rapport with each other that was beautiful to watch.

More time passed, and finally Kelli, Curtis and Peyton took the stage. Kelli had on a kind of orange party dress. Peyton was wearing a short black dress which had a sheer, long over skirt. Over this she wore a hoodie, somewhat spoiling the effect. Curtis was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I was very excited for this moment, and they did not disappoint. What I remember of the set list is as follows:

Pretective Boy
Louder in Outer Space
Hail Mary
Perfume for Now
Picker of His Words
Cosmetic Skull
Arms and Opinions

Hey Sweet
Alabama Movies

There were quite a few more songs that I didn’t recall. I brought my notepad, but I was too into the moment to jot stuff down, or take more than three blurry iPhone pics – I just wanted to enjoy each moment to the fullest. Hail Mary and Perfume for Now are two of my favorite songs, and the live versions were everything I hoped they would be. Like having your ears caressed by the Siren’s song one moment and in the next be pounded on the rocks by a tidal wave. So good. The one slight bummer was that Peyton was sick, or had something up with her throat/voice that prevented her from singing with her normal clarity and power. After the second song, Peyton took a spoonful of medicinal black syrup out of a sticky looking bottle. The band started the opening riff to Louder in Outer Space, which features some of the most beautiful Peyton vocals yet recorded. The song was still great, and she got through it, but Peyton was obviously in considerable discomfort, and it was clearly not what she is capable of.

Kelli did all of the band banter, and sounded like the enthusiastic, slightly aw-shucks yet edgy teenager she surely is, saying what a cool city “San Fran” is, and how excited they were to be ending their tour here. She excused Peyton’s vocal troubles, and indicated that they had switched up the playlist a little. They then launched into Picker of His Words, which was a treat. And although I think I’m a Peyton fan, in the way one might prefer Lennon to McCartney, I do adore Kelli and the many awesome songs where she is the lead.

Musically the three siblings are totally assured, and they give a performance that is tight, yet at the same time riding a wave of explosive energy. I like the way their songs alternate between quiet, almost whispered passages, and then the refrain comes down like a hammer with fuzzed out guitars, crashing drums and searing vocals. Yeah, can’t say enough about this band. For the last couple of songs Peyton switched with Curtis on the drums, and Curtis picked up the guitar. For the encore they did Hey Sweet, Alabama Movies, and one other I can’t recall. Curtis’ flashy shredding was a little over the top for me, but he was having fun, and it gave the encore set a crazy, metal intensity. I was certainly satisfied by the show.

I stopped again at the merch table to get my New Trick CD signed, and thank the band for the great show. Then I was on my way back home the the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Skating Polly #1

So, friends, I have discovered a new (to me) band, and I am in the first flush of band crush. Their name is Skating Polly. I discovered them about a month ago in my YouTube suggestions. I think the first two videos I watched were new ones – Louder in Outer Space and Hail Mary. After that I was pretty much hooked, and watched many videos after that. Please check out the following playlist featuring five of my favorite videos and be prepared to be wrecked by their raw energy and inventiveness!

Skating Polly consists of step sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse. When their respective parents got together, the two bonded over a shared love of punk music like Patti Smith, the Ramones, etc., and they decided to form a band . At the time Kelli was 9 (!) and Peyton was 15 (that was about 6 years ago already). Kelli plays a “basitar” – a kind of 3 stringed bass that was a little easier for a small human to handle, Peyton plays the guitar, and they switch off on drums. They also both play piano, and of course both sing and write songs. More recently, Kelli’s older brother Curtis has joined on drums to fill out their live sound.

Kelli’s singing has quite a range – from soft, whispery vocals to banshee screams. As revealed in the videos, Kelli has a more manic energy than her older sibling, that tends to put her a little more in the foreground. The older Peyton, whose presence is a bit more restrained, can also go for it vocally. Sometimes Peyton kind of hollers, and drifts out of key, but in a way I find really effective. Yet her voice is also rich and beautiful when she wants to express herself in that way.

For me, Skating Polly has all the stuff I care about – great vocals and harmonies, a minimalist sound based on guitars and drums, and songs with inventive structures and killer hooks. They also have a number of softer songs, with vocals layered over piano or acoustic guitar, that rival the best of them.

I had the chance to see Skating Polly about a week ago in San Francisco. I’ll put up my concert review in a subsequent post.

Ian Sweet, Post Life and Horrible/Adorable at the Rickshaw Stop

Ian Sweet

Ian Sweet at the Rickshaw Stop

Here’s a little review of Ian Sweet, Post Life and Horrible/Adorable at Rickshaw Stop last Thursday, April 13. But first, a little detour. Many years ago (~1984) I moved to the Bay Area, and lived in San Francisco from 1984 until 1999. Currently, I live in the Santa Cruz mountains, but my pulse still quickens whenever I visit The City. I love the variety and energy of the people, the scent of ocean in the air, the architecture, the fact that it’s surrounded by water on three sides… The area around the Rickshaw Stop used to be pretty darned sketchy, but now Hayes Valley is bursting at the seams with elegant people, toting yoga mats, going places, laughing, talking, and enjoying gourmet food and drink of every description. My friend Alex and I dined at Patxi’s Pizza, which was a pretty good experience. We ordered a deep dish pizza, since it’s their specialty, but I later realized that Chicago Style pizza is not really my thing – too much like eating a pie crust full of melted cheese and toppings, with some sauce on the top. I mean it was fresh, and tasty, but I think regular pizza is more to my taste. But Patxi’s has a nice atmosphere, and I would go again.

Anyway, we made it to Rickshaw Stop shortly after 8. Jilian from Ian Sweet was there by the merch table right when we walked in. She sweetly introduced herself, and we chatted for a while. I offered that Alex was from Manhattan, so they talked about neighborhoods in Brooklyn for a while. Jilian was wearing a rather homely wide brimmed hat, like you might put on your baby to keep it from getting a sunburn. I should mention that I bought these tickets because I erroneously thought that Cherry Glazerr was going to be on the bill, and I knew nothing about any of the bands, other than looking at a few videos and articles. So despite my disappointment that Cherry Glazerr was not actually on this leg of the tour, I was intrigued enough to go anyway, and had a fun time.


Horrible/Adorable at the Rickshaw Stop

As often happens, the unknown local opening band stole our hearts. Composed of guitarist Kristin “Kiki” Petiford and drummer Candice Kuter, Horrible/Adorable is a perfect lo-fi, cheeky, garage-rock duo from Oakland. Their music is funny, and raw, but also intelligent. And most of all, they kick ass. They sing about Mac n cheese, UFO’s, bowling, and boys among other things. Alex and I both bought their 7 inch debut “Lookin’ Healthy”, and I picked up one of their hand-made shirts for my son.

Post Life

Post Life at the Rickshaw Stop

The second act was Post Life, a four piece band out of Los Angeles. Singer/guitar player Brianna said this was their first tour which was cool. They had great energy, and their music created a vibrating wall of sound, over which Brianna’s vocals soared. The only notes I took were that Brianna’s right hand strummed amazingly fast, and the other guitar play, also excellent, had amazing long masses of light brown hair. Definitely worth checking out.

Sometime around 10pm Ian Sweet took the stage. They are a three piece combo, with Jilian on guitar and vocals, Damien Scalise on bass and Tim Cheney on drums. Jilian still had on her funny sun hat, and Damien and Tim also sported baseball caps. Alex and I decided it was their thing. I will just come out and say I did not connect on an emotional level with Ian Sweet. They are extremely talented musicians, and though the crowd was small, I could tell a number of the attendees were fully committed, enthusiastically jumping and whooping to the music. However, Alex pointed out that a disturbing number of audience members were also talking, or twiddling their smart phones through much of the performance. I think part of the issue is that Ian Sweet’s songs are challenging and complex. Some are catchy, too, but the themes seem to be introspective, searching and somewhat abstract, and the music is shifting, and jazzy, and a little bit more than I could wrap myself around at the end of a long day. But the three of them had a good energy together, and their music is fiery and virtuoso. So if complex, jazzy, introspective rock is your thing, check Ian Sweet out by all means.

The Muffs Part 1

Less than a year ago, fun-loving 90’s band the Muffs came on my radar. I don’t know why I was unaware all this time, but it happens. I put the first Muffs album on my Christmas list (and my family dutifully bought it for me), and I’ve been listening to it a bunch since then. A couple of weeks ago it clicked that I really liked the album, and I’m currently in the ‘I play this album every day’ phase of the relationship.

The band in its current form is fronted by Kim Shattuck (formerly of the the Pandoras) on guitar and vocals, with Ron Barnett on bass guitar and Roy McDonald on drums.

I’m just going to talk about The Muffs self-titled first album, since that’s the only one I know at this time. However, I intend to buy the second and third Muffs albums, Blonder and Blonder, and Happy Birthday to Me at a minimum, since they seem equally well-loved, and there are many newer ones to discover as well.

I don’t think I can get all music critic poetic in this moment, but there’s something about this album that just feels like coming home – like settling in to 16 satisfying cuts of succinct, pure and satisfying rock and roll. It is Ramones-like in the sense that nothing is wasted, and every note contributes to the effect.

Shattuck’s voice kind of has one raspy, loud timbre that rarely varies, yet every lyric is delivered with clarity and a brassy smile. She sings like she’s enjoying herself. And I guess there’s a forthright, happiness about this Muffs album that makes me feel good.

And can they write hooks? Standouts on this album include “Everywhere I Go”, “Baby Go Round” and “All for Nothing”, but really there are so many great songs on this album that I could practically list them all.

So if you haven’t been exposed to The Muffs yet, and could use a dose of pure, happy tunes, you could do worse than to pick up The Muffs first album and give it a spin. And they are still performing, so by all means if you get the chance, go to a show. I plan to next chance I get.

Muffs website