Monday, December 19, 2011

Favorite Live Shows of 2011

This year was a bit different in that I saw far more things outside the usual Heavy Metal scene which while I saw a good bit of, I also got quite burnt out on. Though, I was excited about discovering older bands. (More on that in the Best Records List, coming soon). Also, there was a big lack of hardcore/punk shows. Well, there's another thing I didn't catch up on a lot save MRR and the weekly read through of Terminal Boredom.  Still, I did see both Saxon and Motörhead, along with the triumphant return from Noothgrush. So, here's a bunch of gigs in no order of preference: 

1) Motörhead/Clutch at The Warfield - February 2nd -  Clutch was pretty damn rockin' but more importantly Motörhead played nearly everything I wanted them to play and I made eye contact with Lemmy & was a mere 20 or so feet away from him! So, can't complain...other than their $40 shirts. 

2) SWANS at The Regency - March 1st. First time I've ever seen a show here, big venue and pretty pricey ticket through the usual ticketbastard but this place worked great for Michael Gira & co. who were one of the heaviest/loudest shows I've ever seen. (Next to Iron Maiden in 1985 & Foetus Inc. in 1991).  Plus, it was great to see the first band that really made me explore things outside the Heavy Metal and Hardcore/Punk.

3) Hans Keller/Spectrum at the Blank Club, April 25th. I recognized one of the Hans Keller  feller on keyboards & f/x from a few other shows in SJ in recent years & from Good Karma Vegan cafe. Really neat psych band that’s been going for awhile. Spectrum (featuring Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3) did a bunch of their ol' faves: “Honey”, an fast & fuzzed out version of Spacemen 3's “Revolution”, his own purty 'lil tune: “How Does It Feel” and so on all to a sparse but very enthusiastic crowd. Every once in a blue moon San Jose "gets it" and this night was one of them. 

4) Amber Asylum/Wolvserpent at Thee ParksideMay 17th  Amber Asylum never disappoints with their sullen neo-classical sound. This time with just 3 members (Sarah R-B on violin/viola, Leila also from Hammers of Misfortune and Vastum on guitar/keyboard & occasion vocals and founder Kris Force on violin, vocals & samples) they sounded fantastic. Onward to Wolvserpent- this band I intially thought from the stuff I read would be just another doom/drone act. Yet the duo of Blake Green and Brittany McConnell worked in the way someone such as Swans do with "maximal minimalism" and stretched out two-three notes in a hypnotic fashion. Amber Asylum did another great set at The Elbo Room in early November (with a bunch of pretty good Black/Doom Metal bands - Fell Voices, Ash Borer & Lycus) with what looked like dueling violins for a few moments from Sarah & Kris along with some neat visuals from outer & inner space.

5) Andre Williams at The Hemlock, June 25th. Heard this announced on KFJC a bunch the week before and figured first the guy's an absolute ROCK n' ROLL/SOUL KING on par with James Brown and George Clinton and I'm gonna see 'em for a scant $12 at the friggin' Hemlock! A definite can't miss gig which turned out to be filled with many kinds of greatness - Williams & co possessed pure showmanship and a level of ribaldry on par with Russ Meyer's "Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!". Lots of tunes that were lewd but not crude and 100%  energy at every turn. The backing back was the pretty swingin' and often twangy openers, Jail Weddings from L.A. I also hugely recommend the documentary,  Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams from 2008 which you can view here

 6) Earth at the Catalyst on July 21. Went down to Santa Cruz with a friend on a whim for this. A beautiful foggy night down the coast that mixed very well with Dylan Carson's languid, twang. Some French-Canadian openers whose name escapes me had a great bass tone but song-wise they were pretty snoozy. Only shitty thing was the way-too loud reggae band upstairs. Ugh. 

7) Dirty Ghosts/White Hills/Carlton Melton at The Rickshaw Stop, Sept. 15th.  Dirty Ghosts were "kinda there" with an decent but very uneven 80's new wave/semi-garage rock sound. The vocalist was all over the place tone wise - sometimes she was Pat Benatar other times I dunno what. However, White Hills was a massive wave of thundering psych from the first note to the last. They played a number of tunes from their latest album, the excelled, Hp-1. Namely the album opener, "The Condition of Nothing" took off with a giant roar with all four members in top form. The more straight-ahead "Upon Arrival" had a loads of big riffs and a super-catchy low-end. Guitarist Dave W. looked straight outta Hawkwind (always a good thing) with a red & white shirt & silver (machine?) face paint along with a gold top Les Paul. Bassist Ego Sensation rocked out with a killer clear Dan Armstrong bass which accented her outfit of snazzy red & spangly pants & a shiny silver accented & flared shirt. White Hills really knows how to do own the stage. Carlton Melton did the quite intro into huge middle-end bit that work fantastically and melted some minds including my own. You can catch some of their set hereAlso had a plenty good time with friends over beers & the 2nd (aka: the last good) Def Leppard LP before the show. 

8) Saxon at The Avalon Sept 30th. A bunch of weird openers but a near packed house even during the early part of the festivities. The first was some young lads (and by that I mean 10 & under) playing classic rock/metal cover tunes. I just hear the last half of their take on AC/DC's "Long Way to the Top" which as much I can do without AC/DC and covers of 'em was quite energetic and done real well, especially considering their ages. The next band was Hatchet who were every shitty thrash cliché in one band. "C'mon let's start a fuckin' pit" repeat 800 times, etc. Hilarity did ensure though with a very drunk and wobbly Paul Baloff clone on the floor mosh and slowly walking around the floor during their set. Next up a bunch of comically bad prog-metallers that barely played a note I liked. After about a 1/2 hour, Saxon finally got going with a load of great tunes including some new ones that well, sounded like their slower, 2-3 chord rockers. Biff Byford was looking and sounding in good form as was the rest of the band that included classic-era Nigel Glockner on drums (just like on "The Eagle has Landed") and guitarist Paul Quinn on guitar. A few other highlights was the rest of the set and encores: "Crusader", "Strong Arm of the Law", "This Town Knows Who To Rock", "Motorcycle Man", "Denim and Leather", "The Power and the Glory",  All sorts made it out to this from teenagers to older dudes like mesellf and even older heshers. Yeah, so they didn't do "20,000 Feet" but look at that set list!

9) Frisco Freakout at Thee Parkside Oct. 8th. A great day in general that started with a trip to the incredible Green Apple Books where I picked up the bio of Dusty "The American Dream" Rhodes & an issue of Draw! mag followed by excellent pizza at Pizza Orgasmica.  
Anyhow, the Freakout Fest started a bit rocky with the first so-so band that sounded like someone's embarrassing uncle's garage project that did a private press LP in '72 that should've been kept just that. Also, some shitty DJ just had to play the Dead for 4+ hours in between bands. (Ever heard of Hawkwind? I hear they have a few records around) and the outside DJ put everything on too fucking loud. However, things got going right after the first dud band. Highlights included the un searchable named, Joy (from San Diego) who mixed a bit of fast punky tunes with their sort of 70's psych sound, Outlaw were moody but pretty rockin' -  they did a nice version of “In Heaven” from Eraserhead.  Z-Trane Electric Band had some good guitar parts that were more in the way of surf and early rock n' roll than psych but it overlapped pretty well. Dahga Bloom (right before Melton) mixed up 60's psych and pop but fuzzed it out enough to fall on the latter. To top it off, Harderships (featuring Issah from Earthless + Jefferson + Camilla from Assembled Head in Sunburst Sound) did a good mix of 70's rock and psych that took a 'lil while to sink in but got on fine by the 3rd tune.  Carlton Melton start in the warbly melt-down and pick things up with Andy hammer the shit out of the drums through latter part. One of the Earthless folks did guest guitar from the floor.  Assembled Head kept the heavy psych going with pop melodies and harmonies all of which transitioned perfectly. Including this absolutely perfect number. This fest also gets bonus points for the former BMX racer who looked like Barış Manço who I talked with for several hours & we realized that we might've raced against each other in the early 80's in Fremont. 

10) Noothgrush/Human Anomaly/Dispirit/Connoisseur at 924 Gilman St., Oct. 22nd.  I missed Agents of Satan and Atriarch as I was out to dinner with the Human Anomaly folks.  Connoisseur had a moshing yeti and they did a great mix of punk, hardcore, grind and power-violence. Dispirit was interesting but impossible to see amongst the absolute red & black. H.A. confused and amused the usual Gilman crowd with their neat mix of prog and 70’s jazz fusion. Their guitarist, Lance twice played sections that reminded me of Jeff Beck. Noothgrush was as punishing as they were many years prior at Gilman.  While I saw Nootgrush them a few months earlier at the Elbo Room (with Winter and 4 too many Swedish Death Metal influenced hardcore bands). They were great then but I think overall this was a much better show - especially with more diverse sounds on the bill. 

Honorable mention: Carla Kihlstedt at YBCA in July: I hadn't seen Kilhstedt in Sleeptime Gorilla Museum or Tin Hart Trio much less the bevvy or other performers she's collaborated with. Nor had I ever read Jorges Luis Borges but this was a night to see/hear something different, even if this might've been a bit over my head. However,  the music was an interesting mix of vocal choruses, jazz, classical and a variety of other things. Afterwards, I met a German girl who in a Belphegor shirt who told me she was flying all over the country to see these performances. (She was also planning on seeing Belphegor again in Germany in a few weeks). Crazy that. 

Pics below in order are:  
Human Anomaly, Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, Saxon, Andre Williams, Earth, White Hills, Spectrum, and SWANS