Phono del Sol: Music Festival Savior

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White Fence performing at Phono del Sol, where the livin’ is easy.

I enjoy Outside Lands every year, but, at the risk of sounding like a grumpus, the Summer of 2014 may be the season that music festivals jumped the shark. I say this in spite of loving the concept of music festivals. What could be better than listening to music while enjoying the great outdoors with delicious food and drinks? Particularly at Outside Lands, you descend into another realm free from the urban cyclone that whirls away just outside the park perimeter. You can wander through psychedelic circus-lit canopies holding a rice crispy treat the size of your face in one hand, a watermelon cocktail in the other, and end your journey with a pyrotechnic light show soundtracked by a Beatle, in person. If you live in the Outer Sunset, like this little lady, you can then stumble home in a haze of disbelieving glory and wonder aloud, “Was this all a dream?”

Yes, I drink the Outside Lands Kool-Aid every year, however that doesn’t erase my memory of the inevitable claustrophobic panics and the annoyance of youngins rolling on molly who indiscriminately pee where people want to sit. In many ways, it seems to me these big festivals have grown too big for their britches. Each successive year of Outside Lands becomes more corporate and crowded with people who are more drunk, more rude, and more oblivious to the music. Sadly, this is a recurring theme where music has become a secondary distraction at music festivals. Coachella broke Instragram this year when the barrage of blogging fashionistas, there to see-and-be-seen, all simultaneously uploaded photos of their outfits (#ootd). And if you’re an optimist willing to endure the downsides of large festivals, you’d best be quick to buy tickets because they sell out in a matter of minutes only to be found for sale on Stubhub at double the cost mere moments after they officially “sell out”.

The glorious antidote to these maladies is Phono del Sol, the feel-good festival that won’t tax your budget or your patience. Co-hosted by The Bay Bridged and John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone, this one-day, $25 event held on July 12th was just the right size–never overcrowded, always relaxed. It was held at Potrero del Sol, which is located a stone’s throw away from Tiny Telephone at the base of Potrero Hill, and includes a skate park that was packed for the entire festival. A hill in the middle of the park separated the two stages, and offered the best seats in the house. A mere pivot to either side of this hill gave you the perfect view of killer sets from Nick Waterhouse, which sparked an old-fashioned dance party near the stage; from Wye Oak, who showcased her flawless, bass-driven new sound alongside some old Civilian favorites; and from local favorites Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, who ended the day with their infectious indie pop. Phono del Sol also introduced many people to lesser known notables such as White Fence, A Million Billion Dying Suns, The Tambo Rays, and Tony Molina.

The success of Phono del Sol ultimately lies in its authenticity. The Bay Bridged is a nonprofit music blog devoted to covering and promoting Bay Area music, while John Vanderslice opened Tiny Telephone to give local, independent musicians access to affordable hi-fi recording. This dedication to local music was mirrored in the dedication of those in the audience who were as attentive to the musicians who played as they were respectful of their fellow listeners. We ate amazing sliders with garlic sweet potato fries courtesy of Voodoo Van, and sipped beer from a souvenir turquoise koozie–all with ample elbow room that provided maximum enjoyment. Compare that to a day at Outside Lands that begins with Esurance bracelets, drains your bank account and your faith in humanity, and then spits you out onto Lincoln Way to begin your arduous journey home. To me, despite my affection for Outside Lands, that’s Phono del Sol for the win.

 

Lucius Ladies

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I went to see You Won’t at The Independent on Friday, and I left a devoted fan of Lucius. If I’m honest, I was so excited to see You Won’t that I didn’t bother to research the headliner. Boy, was that a mistake. Jess Wolfe and Holly Leassig, the ladies of Lucius, are perfectly paired both visually and vocally. Playing up a sisterly vibe, the two came onstage with matching hair, makeup and costumes–all of which were working on every level. So well, in fact, that the fellas of You Won’t opened their set wearing farcical wigs in imitation of their perfect blonde bobs.

Wolfe and Leassig both graduated from the Berklee School of Music, a pedigree that can be heard in the intelligent way they merge an irresistable 1960s doo wop sound with layered western strength and folk friendliness, all wrapped up in a Heart (as in 1980s girl wonder band Heart) bow. Combined with Danny Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri, Lucius delivered a performance by which the litany of shows left to be seen this year will measured. At one point, the audience–which had been incredibly respectful for the entirety of the show–lost its mind, and collectively gave the loudest and longest applause I’ve ever heard at The Independent. As a nod to this show of respect, the ladies snuck into the center of the crowd and performed a graceful rendition of “Two of Us On the Run,” a fitting end to a lovely night.

After quickly congratulating Josh Arnoudse of You Won’t on a great show, I walked away from the venue in search of an Acme burger with a You Won’t t-shirt shoved into my coat pocket and a copy of Wildewoman on vinyl snugged protectively under my arm. Divisadero Street was wet with rain, and pockets of the bar-bedraggled clogged the sidewalk.  As I waited to cross the street, I smirked a little in acknowledgment of this rare and beautiful night–the kind of night that started with no expectations and then blew my mind. Thank you, Lucius and You Won’t, for an unforgettable experience filled with wind chimes and harmonies. Travel safe and stay golden, Pony Boy(s).

Outside Lands 2013

Here, my good people, are a few selections of the best offered at Outside Lands this weekend. Please note the presence of Paul McCartney. Paul. Freakin’. McCartney.

Enjoy the tunes even if you’re locked out of the park, and if you’re going: be safe, be respectful of those around you (I’m speaking to you, drunk guy smoking cigarettes in the crowd–stage center), and let’s all have a good time!

Featured Show: Americana at the Bottom of the Hill

Place your paw on the heartbeat of American music at this week’s featured show at Bottom of the Hill tomorrow (that’s Tuesday, 7/30/2013). First up we have Shakey Graves, a visitor from Texas, who makes journeyman bluegrass rocking with southern afternoon rhythms and toe-tapping, tumbling refrains. I tried to pick a single track to give you a taste, but loved the entirety of his album Roll The Bones so much I featured it whole.

Second on tap is The Sam Chase, a former Nostos Nic Pick of the Week. Don’t let the dusty, high-noon-in-the-wild-west aesthetic fool you: this feller serves flawless folk punk centered on his guitar, which “runs on diesel and leaks like the morning after too much Whiskey,” and his vocals, which bring a raw immediacy to his musical mischief.

Finally we have The Creak, a feel-good extenuation of the American musical tradition; this is modern bluegrass at it’s best, true to its roots yet proud of the present as showcased in the band’s epic cover art and clever lyrics. The Creak’s album Here, Hold This is sweet, subtle and instantly addictive in a way that will have you humming and air-strumming in the unawares.

Throwback Thursday: Courtney Love

Aaaaaahhhhhh, Courtney Love–the train wreck we love to hate but secretly hope never fades from the limelight permanently. Let’s be honest: people like Courtney Love serve a vital purpose within our society as benchmarks for our self-esteem barometer. Loves the world over are a means to gauge how we’re doing on a personal level, a way to compare ourselves to the “rich and famous” and say, “At least I didn’t fall off a barstool and flash my southernmost private parts to the entire MTV audience, crew, and a music icon.” This is the same reason an old roommate of mine would watch the show 16 and Pregnant when she was depressed: no matter how bad her day was, at least she wasn’t sixteen…and pregnant.

I have a soft-spot for Ms. Love, forever the former Mrs. Cobain, because she was omnipresent during my formative listening years; this means I had no choice but to like her (the proverbial cop-out). Her hot-messness aside, she musically explores what it means to be a woman in the world and this feminist angle hasn’t been adequately explored because she often gets in her own way. Okay, she ALWAYS gets in her own way but hear me out on this tangent. Take, for example, the song “Doll Parts” from Hole’s album Live Through This, released in 1994, in which Love discusses society’s perception of women as playthings (dolls), how it forces women to regress into infantile desires (for cake) to get attention and the effect of this dynamic (turning women fake, making them ache). She’s pissed, and wants you to ache like she aches:

“I am doll eyes
Doll mouth, doll legs
I am doll arms, big veins, dog bait
Yeah, they really want you, they really want you, they really do
Yeah, they really want you, they really want you, but I do too
I want to be the girl with the most cake
I love him so much it just turns to hate
I fake it so real, I am beyond fake
And someday, you will ache like I ache
Someday, you will ache like I ache

I am doll parts
Bad skin, doll heart
It stands for knife
For the rest of my life
Yeah, they really want you, they really want you, they really do
Yeah, they really want you, they really want you, but I do, too
I want to be the girl with the most cake
He only loves those things because he loves to see them break
I fake it so real, I am beyond fake
And someday, you will ache like I ache
Someday you will ache like I ache”

In 1998, Love  released what I believe to be her second best album to Live Through This which is Celebrity Skin. On the title track of this album she refers to herself as a “walking study in demonology”–an admission that she is routinely vilified in the press, and rightfully so as her behavior is erratic and often violent. (For more enlightenment on this facet of Courtney, I recommend watching Kurt & Courtney from BBC documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield). However, she is singled-out as particularly heinous where the same type of behavior from her male counterparts are often begrudgingly accepted as part of the rock and roll effect. That makes Courtney Love a fascinating specimen in our search to understand the perception of women in our current culture, particularly because she is so self-aware and open if not tragically unwilling to clean up her act. But should she have to? That is the question.

Now, I am in no way (I repeat: I AM NOT) advocating Love as the pinnacle of feminist mystique, but I do commend her on the courage it takes to be Courtney Love in all her grotesque glory; she is nothing if not consistent. From Hole’s video for “Violet” (featured above) where you can clearly see Kurt’s influence and understand his fascination with her to the video for “Celebrity Skin” (seen below) which showcases her attempt to professionally rebirth herself as the movie star rocker chick, Courtney Love lives her life on a public stage and forces us to confront her and what she represents. Whatever your feelings are about this, you can explore them in the flesh when she plays The Independent here in San Francisco tonight. A truly a throwback Thursday if there ever was one.

Nostos Nic’s Picks: Week of 7/15/2013

Playing Brick & Mortar Music Hall: Monday, 7/15/2013.

Playing The Independent: Thursday, 7/18/2013.

Playing Bottom of the Hill: Friday, 7/19/2013.

Playing The Independent: Friday, 7/19/2013.

Playing Cafe Du Nord: Saturday, 7/20/2013.

Playing Bottom of the Hill: Saturday, 7/20/2013.

Playing Bottom of the Hill with Papa: Saturday, 7/20/2013.

Playing Bottom of the Hill: Sunday, 7/21/2013.

 

 

 

Nostos Nic’s Picks: Week of 5/13/2013

Playing Great American Music Hall, Monday, 5/13/2013.

Playing Bottom of the Hill, Wednesday, 5/15/2013.

Playing Brick & Mortar Music Hall with The Orange Revival, Monday, 5/13/2013.

Playing the Elbo Room, Monday, 5/13/2013.

Playing Hemlock Tavern, Thursday, 5/16/2013.

Playing Hemlock Tavern, Friday, 5/17/2013.

Playing Brick & Mortar Music Hall, Monday, 5/13/2013.

Playing Hemlock Tavern, Tuesday, 5/14/2013.