Dido at Masonic Auditorium in SF – June 26, 2019

Dido at the Masonic Auditorium

Dido at the Masonic Auditorium

Longtime readers of Girlbandgeek (a sort of oxymoronic category) will know that I’m mainly a devotee of alternative and punk bands, but I do like good pop music as well. Thus there will always be a place in my heart for Dido and her electrop stylings.

Dido blew out the charts with her debut album, No Angel, which came out in 1999 and has sold 21m copies. Her second album, 2003’s Life for Rent, was similarly huge, selling 12m copies worldwide to date (source: Wikipedia). My wife and I had the first two albums, and they received a lot of playtime in our house. Dido has released 3 more albums since Life for Rent, all good, but none of which attained anything like the popularity of those first two.

Dido is a gifted songwriter, with keen emotional instincts and a lyrical flair. She can write heart-melting ballads, or wicked takedowns of former lovers. She has a lovely, clear voice, by turns kittenish and powerful. Besides her great songwriting and enchanting voice, I would say a large part of her success is her beautifully produced sound which is a very dance-electronica flavor of pop. Her songs tend to have a driving beat, around which acoustic guitar, synth swirls and her breathy voice spiral in a pleasing and hypnotic way.

Dido’s Bay Area appearance was at San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium, an “icon of mid century modernist architecture” according to their web site. We found our seats in the balcony and had time to wander around. We checked out the merch, bought some ginger beers, and scoped out some points of interest on the second floor. It’s one of those dizzying spaces where you’re looking down on the crowds below over a slender, waist-high barrier. A huge mural with lots of Masonic symbols occupies one wall of the atrium.

Anyway, on to the show! Opening act was Jack Savoretti. He wasn’t really my thing but the band had a good sort of contemporary folk rock sound. Jack was personable and had a nice voice. They played about six songs, thanked us, and they were gone.

We waited 30 minutes and then the band took their places to much applause. Moments later Dido bounced out looking casual and relaxed in black pants and top, and white tennis shoes. The audience was good and ready for her, and the crowd retained its enthusiasm for the entire performance. Dido in turn was very appreciative. She has a very cute and laid-back stage presence that was super appealing. She alluded to the thrill and challenge of achieving mega-stardom right out of the gate with her first album. The set-list featured many tracks from this year’s Still on My Mind, as well as a liberal selection from her first two albums. The band was excellent and they were having a good time, which I like to see. The live versions of the songs imbued some new-ness without being unfaithful to the originals. Most of the songs involved the full band, but she played two or three with just one or two accompanists which was effective. Overall it was a totally satisfying performance. If you’re a fan of Dido’s music I would encourage you to catch her live show if you can!

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Charly Bliss at New Parish, Oakland – June 24, 2019

Charly Bliss at the New Parish

Charly Bliss at the New Parish

Charly Bliss had kind of been on my radar for a year or two before I really clicked with them. A few songs from their debut album Guppy would appear in my Spotify recommendations. I looked at a couple videos, too, but was not hooked until 2019’s Young Enough came out. I listened to the opening track Blown to Bits, and realized in that moment that Charly Bliss rules. So it was with great anticipation I arrived at the New Parish with my friend Scott in tow.

Charly Bliss was formed by siblings Eva and Sam Hendricks in 2011 (per Wikipedia) along with guitar player Spencer Fox and bass-player Kevin Copeland. Current bassist Dan Shure joined in 2014 after Copeland left. They released an EP in 2014, and their first full-length Guppy debuted in 2017 to critical acclaim. Their second full length Young Enough came out May of this year.

I didn’t quite connect with opener Emily Reo, but she was super cute. Kind of a cross between Tori Amos and Sadie Dupuis. She had bangs and cascades of ringlets framing her face. She played keys and keytar. The music was kind of shoegaze-y, techno pop. She had a pretty voice and the band was very tight, but not very emotive. Emily Reo and band finished their set, gave their farewells, and it was time to psych up for the headliners.

I was down on the floor, and trying to get closer to the stage, but the crowd was packed in tight in anticipation of Charly Bliss. Finally the band came out all dressed in white (matching the Young Enough video) and Eva bounced out in a confection of pink satin and tulle. Eva played the opening chords to Blown to Bits, and I was in heaven for the next 60 minutes.

Charly Bliss was on fire from the moment they took the stage. Their genre is pop/punk, but they are all trained musicians and it shows. The drummer is so tight and so explosive – just really good. Spencer Fox is a really great guitar player, alternating between tasteful fills and concise, melodic leads. And the whole band sings and harmonizes which is awesome. They are so appealing and charismatic – I really want this band to get big!

Eva has Liza Minelli-level star quality, with huge expressive eyes, ringed with scarlet eye shadow. She definitely reaches into her vulnerable place, and sometimes she looks like she’s going to burst into tears. Eva spoke to the audience very enthusiastically and as if we were already on intimate terms, which I found endearing and good. (This doesn’t always work for me, but I am so ready to be friends with this band!) They worked so hard on their new album, and they are proud of it. It’s been hard to bare their souls so much, but fans have been supportive. They are having so much fun playing the new songs. She really does not hold back.

About ¾ through the set, after pausing to say the above, Eva’s brother Sam came out from behind the drums and stood at the keyboard. They played Fighting in the Dark, the four of them standing, facing the audience. It was moving.

I didn’t get the setlist, but they played most of Young Enough and Guppy. The only big omission from my point of view was Westermarck, but I’m not going to hold it against them. The encore was a very spirited Mr. Brightside (originally by the Killers).

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Amanda Palmer solo piano at the Warfield, SF – Friday, May 10, 2019

Warfield Marquee Amanda Palmer

photo: Dawn Morgan

I was first introduced to Amanda Palmer about 15 years ago when a friend gave me a copy of the first Dresden Dolls album. Palmer is one of those artists who’s like an emotional and musical cyclone. It’s clear that she’s a person who feels things – joy, grief, attraction – much more intensely than most of the rest of us who tamp our emotions down to avoid those highs and lows. In that first album are all the hallmarks of the music Palmer and her collaborators have been making for the last two decades – catchy and sometimes unsettling songs with clever lyrics, powerful vocals, and Palmer hammering on the piano.

For whatever reason I did not follow the subsequent Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer solo releases. A couple of years ago Palmer’s book The Art of Asking came out, and my wife bought it and read it. That brought a renaissance of things Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer into my life. I ended up reading The Art of Asking, too, and loved it. Palmer describes her journey as an artist – from street performer, to finding her artistic community in Boston to the formation of the Dresden Dolls with Brian Viglione, her incorporation of email and then social media to connect with her fans – anticipating what every artist does now – and many things that followed after. It explores her mystical relationship to putting herself out there, and how in turn the Universe provides. And over the course of her career, she has stirred up her share of controversy as well.

The current tour is the live show that goes with the latest album, which is entitled There Will Be No Intermission, which arrived on March 8 of this year. My wife pre-ordered it on vinyl along with a companion picture book. It is clear that almost 20 years into her music career, Palmer is showing no signs of mellowing or toning down her message.

Palmer is married now (to author Neil Gaiman) and they have a child. So her latest work talks about some of the personal journeys around motherhood, and more difficult subjects such as her miscarriage and her abortion. There are also political and planetary themes playing out in TWBNI, particularly allusions to the climate crisis and the corrosive effects of terrorism, racism and misogyny. The cover art of her standing stark naked on a post, surrounded by the rising waters brilliantly captures the intersection of her naked, self-revelation and our shared fears about climate collapse.

Here’s the set list:

  • Judy Blume
  • Runs in the Family
  • Thing about Things
  • Bigger on the Inside
  • Oasis
  • Part of your world from The Little Mermaid
  • Machete
  • A Mother’s Confession
  • [Intermission]
  • Coin Operated Boy
  • Voicemail for Jill
  • Let It Go from Frozen
  • The Ride

A big part of this two and a half hour performance was this big conversation Amanda is having with all of us. Every song, it seems, comes with a story. And Palmer is a fine story teller. There is the stark revealing of very personal and dark experiences, noting “I am an artist – my job is to take dark and make light.” And she delights us with her cleverness as well, pretending to diss the Disney musical Frozen, and then breaking into Let It Go as the penultimate number.

The show’s finale, fittingly, is The Ride off of No Intermission, a ten-minute emotional tour de force, in which Palmer compares life to a rollercoaster ride:

And it’s just a ride
It’s just a ride
And you’ve got the choice to get off anytime that you like
It’s just a ride
It’s just a ride
The alternative is nothingness
We might as well give it a try

This was quite an event, and surely one of the most memorable performances I’ve seen.

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