SF artists perform for charity at The ShowUp

Richie Cunning

Richie Cunning

By Laura Tsu //

The ShowUp Benefit: Richie Cunning, Aria Rostami, Quaaludes, Mikey Walz //
The Independent – San Francisco
January 20th, 2017 //

With a saturated weekend of demonstrations and the ongoing controversy over America’s current political climate, a group of SF artists aimed to unite, inspire and contribute to the local community at The Independent.

Rapper/producer Richie Cunning, punk-rock quartet Quaaludes, electronic musician Aria Rostami and stand-up comedian Mikey Walz organized The ShowUp Benefit, an evening of entertainment and philanthropy with the proceeds getting donated to Planned Parenthood, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Human Rights Campaign and National Immigration Forum.

Altogether, the four acts wrapped up the event last Friday with $2,343 raised to split between the four organizations.

The Boxer Rebellion kick off their North American tour at The Independent

The Boxer RebellionBy Laura Tsu //

The Boxer Rebellion with Hey Anna, Ry Cox //
The Independent – San Francisco
October 19th, 2016 //

London indie-rock outfit The Boxer Rebellion kicked off their North American tour at The Independent last Wednesday. Despite visiting the U.S. earlier in the year for a couple of performances, the quartet aimed to embark on a more comprehensive tour this time by booking a total of 22 shows.

Their fifth studio album Ocean by Ocean was just released in April, marking their most recent material since 2013’s Promises. Their performance in SF mostly consisted of songs from Ocean by Ocean and Promises, with one song, “Always”, performed intimately in the middle of the crowd with an acoustic guitar and no microphone.

Supporting The Boxer Rebellion were Hey Anna, a five-piece band fronted by three sisters, and singer-songwriter Ry Cox.

Let It Go
Big Ideas
Step Out of the Car
We Have This Place Surrounded
New York
Caught By the Light
Locked in the Basement
Always (Acoustic)
Let’s Disappear
Flashing Red Light Means Go
Pull Yourself Together

No Harm
The Gospel of Goro Adachi

Chris Corner turns an ordinary Monday night in SF into an electric one with his IAMX project

IAMXBy Laura Tsu //

Great American Music Hall – San Francisco
October 10th, 2016 //

Chris Corner, formerly of the UK band Sneaker Pimps, developed IAMX as a solo music and visual art venture featuring dark melodies and intense theatrical production. Since 2004, the project has released eight albums, with the most recent being Everything Is Burning early last month. IAMX put the finishing touches on his North American tour with the penultimate date at the Great American Music Hall on a Monday night.

In an aura of fog and red smolder, Corner walked on the stage, joined by Janine Gezang and Sammi Doll on keyboards and backup vocals as well as Jon Siren on drums. Throughout the evening, Corner held two microphones in hand and either switched off from one or the other or sang into both. His voice fluctuated and highlighted the vocal diversity in musicianship; sometimes Corner screamed into his microphone, and other times he crooned in falsetto.

There were also portions of songs that more or less resembled spoken word, such as during “North Star”. Gezang and Doll significantly contributed vocals, whether they were harmonies in “Everything Is Burning” or more dynamic roles like in “You Stick It in Me”. Together, they synthesized dark, moody rhythms with a danceable complex.


Along with music composition, Corner clearly identified both performance energy and visual illustration as key components of the IAMX live show. Throughout the 80-minute set, Corner and the supporting musicians were constantly in motion throughout the performance — and none of them shied away from audience energy. Corner, Gezang and Doll constantly pointed their microphones to the crowd and invited them to directly engage in the show. Their visual showcase, tactically planned and moody, featured monotone hues amassed within fog amid strobe lights flashing as songs reached their apex.

Hovering above the band were four smaller rectangular screens with black-and-white or sepia videos of hellish imagery. Corner’s bandmates even went as far to incorporate body paint and some skintight attire into their outfits to further enhance the presentation.

At the end of the set, the crowd was hesitant to see IAMX depart. Band members embraced the audience and passed out printouts of the evening’s setlist. The breadth of content, from the beginning of the project in 2004 to more recent material, still merged to form a cohesive set. And altogether, the combination of IAMX’s music, energy, lighting, video and costumes created a primal undercurrent of shadow and pulse.

No Maker Made Me
The Unified Field
Everything Is Burning
You Stick It in Me
Spit It Out
North Star
Kiss + Swallow

I Come With Knives
The Alternative
Oh Cruel Darkness Embrace Me

Highly Suspect get highly spirited at their SF show

Highly SuspectBy Laura Tsu //

Highly Suspect with Fairy Bones, Annie Girl and The Flight //
The Independent – San Francisco
September 30th, 2016 //

Johnny Stevens, Rich Meyer and Ryan Meyer of Highly Suspect left Cape Cod, Mass., in 2011 for opportunity and bustle in Brooklyn. Since their relocation, Highly Suspect have recorded two EPs and one full-length album, Mister Asylum, which they acknowledge as their heaviest-sounding release yet.

Mister Asylum propelled the group to this year’s Grammy Awards, where they were nominated for “Best Rock Album” and “Best Rock Song.” Currently, they are on tour until mid-November building anticipation for their new LP The Boy Who Died Wolf, which is scheduled for release November 18th. After performing at Life Is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas in addition to dates in Los Angeles and San Diego, they stopped in SF for a show at The Independent last Friday.

A late addition to the bill, SF natives Annie Girl and The Flight kicked off the show with some garage-rock/folk-rock tunes. Shortly after beginning though, Josh Pollock’s guitar strap broke abruptly and he had to balance his guitar on his leg. Nevertheless, the set continued and the band delivered song after song with influences ranging from psychedelic rock to punk. In the meantime, frontwoman Annie Lipetz’s vocals — soft, raspy (at times) and ineffably endearing — also amplified their live set, and she mentioned that a new album would be out soon.

Fairy Bones

Fairy Bones

Fairy Bones, performing after Annie Girl and The Flight, stepped up for the third performance of their tour supporting Highly Suspect. After making a bold impression opening for the trio in September, the quartet from Phoenix were offered the assignment once again for the West Coast leg of Highly Suspect’s national tour. Fairy Bones’ intrepid vocals, rapid guitar riffs and cadent drumming created catchy, uptempo songs that some might label as “alternative rock.” Toward the end of their set, they also performed a cover of “Nightshift” by The Commodores.

By 11 p.m., the crowd at The Independent was thick with anticipation for Highly Suspect. Once the lights dimmed and “Pick Up the Phone” by Young Thug and Travis Scott began to play over the PA system, the three-piece finally stepped onstage. Stevens carried a bottle of tequila with him and took a swig right as he settled down in front of the mic. Then, Highly Suspect’s aggressive drumming and angsty vocals shook from the speakers. With plenty of pace and powerful chord progressions, crowd movement came naturally and didn’t cease. Highly Suspect appealed to the crowd’s appetite to dance, hear heavy riffs and ultimately witness one hell of a live performance.

With a packed crowd in SF, Aaron Maine shows he’s building something special in Porches

PorchesBy Laura Tsu //

Porches with Japanese Breakfast, Rivergazer //
The Independent – San Francisco
September 18th, 2016 //

Aaron Maine has written music under a number of different monikers, including, but not limited, to Aaron Maine and the Reilly Brothers, Space Ghost Cowboys and Ronald Paris.

As Porches, though, Maine has found success in composing honest, disrobed songs in his full-length releases Slow Dance in the Cosmos and Pool. Following shows in Berkeley and Southern California, the New York outfit made a stop off in SF to perform for a jam-packed audience at The Independent on a Sunday night.

Opening the evening was Rivergazer, the creative outlet for Porches guitarist Kevin Farrant, who produces melodies that combine interluding minimalism with catchier synth textures, building up to some dramatic danceable hooks. Many of Farrant’s songs address darkness and beauty, and a haunting falsetto and salient pauses further dramatize the content.

Michelle Zauner’s band Japanese Breakfast delivered an exuberant set to dial up the crowd’s energy. Zauner, despite being rather petite in size, seems to almost never stop moving. As she swayed with each song, she showed her wide vocal range as well as her diverse songwriting.

Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast

Zauner certainly knows how to sing delicately and tug at the heartstrings, but she can also scream her emotions out (something that you’re more likely to hear in her other band, Little Big League). The last song of Japanese Breakfast’s set, which Zauner has said is about falling in love with a robot, deviated from the group’s indie-rock sound for more of an electronically-driven foundation that incorporated auto-tune in her voice. She also gave a special shout-out to local Bay Area songwriter Jay Som, who supported Japanese Breakfast and Mitski during their U.S. tour this year.

For Porches’ headlining set, Maine stepped onstage with five supporting musicians joining him, including his girlfriend Greta Kline (better known by her stage name Frankie Cosmos). Maine and Kline collaborate on each other’s musical projects, with Maine serving as Kline’s drummer for Frankie Cosmos.

At The Independent, Maine built melodies with his guitar while Kline switched from bass to keyboards and even contributed vocals. He crafted an austere stage presence as he unveiled poignant vocals and slow, gyrating dance moves rather than showing ounces of energy and offering excessive banter. Doing so didn’t prove any lack of confidence on Maine’s part, but it did indicate his own artistic expression in performing the music impartially and modestly. By the end of the evening, Maine had showcased his music just as he had presented himself — seemingly simple, yet thick with emotion.

Black Milk & Nat Turner bring their ‘Rebellion Sessions’ to life at Brick & Mortar Music Hall

Black Milk & Nat Turner

Black Milk

By Laura Tsu //

Black Milk & Nat Turner with Six Fif, MC Solar Wind, L.E.E., Marquayus the God //
Brick & Mortar Music Hall – San Francisco
July 28th, 2016 //

Curtis Cross, better known as the hip-hop producer and emcee who goes by the name Black Milk, teamed up with Washington D.C.-based live band Nat Turner last Thursday at Brick & Mortar Music Hall as part of their ongoing Rebellion Tour.

The Rebellion Sessions, their collaborative album together, was released back in April after taking only one week to record. With Malik Hunter on bass, Aaron Abernathy on keyboards and Zebulun Horton on drums, Nat Turner added a modern, funky texture to Black Milk’s hip-hop prose.

Opening the evening were Six Fif, MC Solar Wind, L.E.E. and Marquayus the God.

Ben Hoffman is putting a whole new spin on country music with his Wheeler Walker, Jr. act

Wheeler Walker, Jr.By Laura Tsu //

Wheeler Walker, Jr. with Birdcloud //
The Independent – San Francisco
July 10th, 2016 //

Ben Hoffman, comedian and creator of “The Ben Show” on Comedy Central, has had a career change. As Wheeler Walker, Jr., Hoffman began embracing the persona of a country musician and recording songs like “Fuck You Bitch” and “Fightin’, Fuckin’, and Fartin'”.

According to his (fictional) biography, Wheeler Walker, Jr. has been signed and consequently dropped from three record labels for refraining from censorship, fighting with label executives and refusing to curtail attitude. Due to issues with the record label, his studio album Redneck Shit this year was financed with his own life savings and recorded on his terms. Getting help from producer Dave Cobb, who’s also worked with Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, Walker has created a professionally sounding country album, yet with foul lyrics.

Wheeler Walker Jr.

Ben Hoffman aka Wheeler Walker, Jr.

Hoffman embraced Walker’s personality full-heartedly for his first tour. His outfit of a dark button-up, black Western hat, obscuring shades and scruffy beard looks exactly like what he wore for his promo pictures, evoking mystery and gravity that contrasts his lyrical content. Walker himself plays an acoustic guitar, and a talented band supports him for a full-blown studio sound. This distinguished musicianship in this polished performance would suggest that Walker and his band have been professional country performers for a number of years. However, upon closer inspection, his lyrics remind you that Hoffman the comedian is truly the mastermind behind Wheeler Walker, Jr., mocking the honky-tonk lifestyle of the genre and the generic country songs you can hear on the radio.

Opening the evening was Birdcloud, the Nashville-based female country-pop duo. Jasmin Kaset and Makenzie Green perform no-frills music with just a mandolin and acoustic guitar, but their lyrics and performance contain similar tongue-in-cheek adult content like Walker’s music. While onstage in their glittery gold mini dresses, Kaset and Green apply their female perspective to address topics like drug and alcohol abuse, race and sexuality. The content pushes social norms, but just like with Wheeler Walker, Jr.’s music, your opinion of them is determined by whether you take it seriously or not.

Wild Kingdom offers a slice of Burning Man in SF

Wild Kingdom 2016By Laura Tsu //

Wild Kingdom: An Art Car & Fire Festival //
The Midway – San Francisco
June 11th, 2016 //

The Midway and The Dusty Rhino presented Wild Kingdom: An Art Car & Fire Festival on an alluring Saturday last weekend. The weather was sunny, numerous art cars made the trek to SF, participants donned their playa gear and the music didn’t stop all day. When the evening set, fire was certainly in no short supply.

The Dusty Rhino, a community camp at Burning Man, aims to unite people together through fire, electronic music and art. Their signature art car, a 29-feet rhino that projects fire from its horn, not only makes annual Burning Man appearances, but also makes stops at SF’s Burning Man Decompression, How Weird Street Festival, Opulent Temple Massive and more.

Wild Kingdom 2016 - The Dusty Rhino

With two blocks of road roped off for the festival, the art cars had more than enough room to fill in the gaps and invite people on board. Along with The Dusty Rhino, other notable art cars included the bumblebee vehicle Apis Inlusio, the fire-breathing squirrel car Bassnut, the Air Pusher, the steel-horse car Chester (with plenty of combustion) and the Janky Barge.

The 14-hour party featured five stages of nonstop beats with headliners such as DJ Dan, The Scumfrog, Worthy and Tara Brooks, as well as a special guest appearance by Tycho.

Big Wild’s stock only continues to rise

Big WildBy Laura Tsu //

Big Wild with Electric Mantis, Split //
The Independent – San Francisco
May 21st, 2016 //

Big Wild, otherwise known as Jackson Stell, is on the brink of a career outbreak. Having just performed with ODESZA during their “In Return” tour and selling out over half of the shows on his own headlining tour, the 25-year-old producer from Santa Cruz, Calif., has begun 2016 with plenty of promise.

Stell can point to his Soundcloud account for a lot of his early success. He first started honing his production skills in the eighth grade while recreating the hip-hop beats he loved. Once he discovered Soundcloud and uploaded his work under the Big Wild moniker, he amassed quite a large following and eventually caught the attention of ODESZA’s Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, who invited him to remix their track “Say My Name” and play some shows with them. Since then, Big Wild has garnered increasing interest from fans, and his release of the popular hit “Aftergold” only added fuel to the fire.

Big Wild’s show at The Independent last Saturday was sold out, and an additional show that was added the next day had the same outcome. Opening things up was local DJ Sean Little, aka Split, a Showbams contributor at one time who played a dark, moody set as attendees trickled into the venue.

Electric Mantis followed, taking the stage with the intention of getting people moving. The Alaska native, though, spare in words, performed with infectious enthusiasm and vigor as he grooved to his own music through the entire performance. His remixes of “Hear the Bells” by Porter Robinson, “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap, “My Hood” by Young Jeezy and “Hotline Bling” by Drake ignited the dance floor. Serving as Electric Mantis’ first official tour, he expressed lucid appreciation for the opportunity to perform.

Big Wild

Subsequently, Big Wild arrived onstage to a palpably excited audience. In the back of him stood a two-projector setup creating a widescreen video. Following the theme of his name “Big Wild,” the video featured whimsical line animations in bold colors of almost all things nature-related. Stell himself has a visually low-key presence with only rare glimpses of stage lights ever pointed toward him.

However, the main event was the true highlight of the night as Stell jumped from side to side to re-create his tracks live. To his right stood a MacBook, which played vocal samplings and electronic rhythms. And to his left stood a keyboard, which added harmonies to his music. Of course, Stell’s drumming on his Roland Octapad also added robust rhythms to his pieces. He played fan favorites “Aftergold”, “Venice Venture”, and “Jubilee”, as well as an unreleased track and Snakehips’ “All My Friends” during his encore.

Today with more and more electronic music producers on the rise, translating dance tracks into a live performance can be no simple feat. However, Big Wild delivers his music live with an impact. His success in both production and performance has brought about unrelenting attention to his music.

What will Stell’s next move be in 2016 and beyond? We can likely expect more production and collaborations with more live performances, both of which seem to be his expertise.

The Heavy do something ‘nasty’ at The Independent

The HeavyBy Laura Tsu //

The Heavy //
The Independent – San Francisco
April 26th, 2016 //

“Let’s do something nasty,” suggested Kelvin Swaby, lead singer of The Heavy, last Tuesday night at The Independent.

For the English four-piece from Bath, doing something “nasty” meant performing deep rock ‘n’ roll rhythms with soulful vocals for a sold-out crowd in SF.

The Heavy are no newcomers to the music industry. The band formed almost a decade ago, and it has produced a number of hits over that time. The quartet’s most famous song “How You Like Me Now?” garnered it many new listeners after being featured in a TV commercial during this year’s Super Bowl as well as in the HBO series “Entourage” and the video game “Borderlands 2”.

The Heavy

However, there was no intention by the band to remain a one-hit wonder. With four studio albums under their belt, The Heavy claim to be perfectionists, and nearly every track they have released is mastered with their bold trademark. Recently, they have been on the road non-stop. March meant multiple performances while in Austin for South by Southwest, and April brought them to the U.S. for two weekends at Coachella along with a West Coast tour that included Northern California dates in SF and Santa Cruz.

Despite the exhaustion that often comes with touring, The Heavy didn’t lack any energy on this night. Swaby, in fact, proved to be the definition of a frontman. His natural charisma sapped away any boredom and tiredness, delivering punches of zest and booming vocals. Subsequently, audience participation happened naturally as Swaby never quite stopped moving and neither did the capacity crowd.

The other three members of The Heavy fabricated the rock ‘n’ roll vibrancy throughout the set. Daniel Taylor (guitar) and Spencer Page (bass) created dense riffs that were punctuated by the rhythms of Chris Ellul (drums) and sprinted side by side with Swaby’s voice. Taylor, Page and Ellul also sang backup vocals, stacking deeper tones behind Swaby’s higher-pitched voice.

As all of these features meld together, neo-soul joins indie rock to create a dance-able frenzy for fans. But together, their instruments, individual talents and dynamism also amalgamate into one “nasty” live performance.

Can’t Play Dead
The Apology
Not the One
Miss California
Short Change Hero
Big Bad Wolf
Curse Me Good
“Slave to Your Love”
Same Ol’
Since You Been Gone
Last Confession
Turn Up
What Happened to the Love?

What Makes a Good Man?
How You Like Me Now?