From T-Pain to Usher, Smokin Grooves Fest turns up the heat in 2019 with a slew of top-notch talent

Smokin Grooves Fest 2019 - Usher


Usher

By Rochelle Shipman //

Smokin Grooves Fest //
The Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA
June 15th, 2019 //

Much more than a supremely awkward sunburn, this year’s Soulection-helmed Smokin Grooves Fest went off without a hitch. The day began just like all of the best R&B songs — dark and moody, with the empty threat of rain and no sign of reprieve. After a few hours though, the sun broke through the drear, bathing the stylish, half-dressed attendees in a golden light fitting to almost every act playing the one-day festival at the Queen Mary.

The obvious draw in 2019 was the headliners — Usher making a rare, triumphant appearance and our queen, Erykah Badu, returning to continue her reign after last year’s installment. But if that wasn’t enough reason to attend, the young blood made sure no performance time went wasted on Saturday.

Rising star Choker kicked things off on the Groovin’ Stage, amassing an impressive crowd-in-wait for, as he called it, “a matinee show.” Armed with little more than some great earrings, a serious head of hair and his usual falsetto, Choker managed to deliver an intimate set despite the space between the stage and crowd. Fans in attendance could be heard soft-screaming to every word, clearly elated to finally see Choker in action.

The sun finally came out for none other than T-Pain. Bouncing onstage like Tigger, T-Pain made a case for deserving a later set time (and was probably indirectly responsible for the wave of people passing out around 6 p.m.). The man is a party in a human body, and he’s aging like a fine wine — his music, his dance moves, all of it. It’s clear he belongs on that stage, whether it’s 2:15 or 10:15 p.m.

Smokin Grooves Fest 2019 - T-Pain


T-Pain

If T-Pain brought the sun out, Raveena made it shine. The stunning songstress seemed to sparkle onstage, fresh off the release of her debut album Lucid. Her warm, dreamy vocals floated through the pristine afternoon, effectively hypnotizing a grateful crowd that didn’t seem to have an end. Even her smile was infectious. After another ethereal song, someone shouted out, “We love your energy!”

Bringing a different flavor of energy, though precisely what the crowd needed after Raveena’s mellow sound, was Leven Kali. The Los Angeles singer-songwriter has spent the last few years collaborating with some of R&B’s and hip hop’s most talented artists, but he just released his own first major project Low Tide. Kali’s performance at Smokin Grooves proved that we were right to wait for him to take his time. Fans of Anderson .Paak will recognize the same level of adrenaline, with Kali’s band delivering the psych-dance groove to form their own impressive foundation for the future.

Afternoon turned to evening with nothing but queens and Daniel Caesar, who, let’s be honest, sings like a goddamn queen himself. Chicago’s Ravyn Lenae brought her angelic voice back to Long Beach for another go-around as she stunted across the Smokin’ Stage in her high-heeled Converse boots. Kali Uchis, on the other hand, blessed us with the mere vision of her, running through the motions of her stellar Isolation tracks like she couldn’t be bothered while looking like a million bucks.

2018’s top dawg Ella Mai shook the crowd up, delivering a polished, poppy set to a group of spectators who couldn’t have been more in love. Dreamville’s first female signee Ari Lennox also returned for a second year, although this time, hot off the drop of her dazzling debut LP Shea Butter Baby, she was back with 10 times the amount of fans — and very deservedly so. The edge in her voice complemented the raw smile plastered on her face. Lennox knew she had earned her spot toward the top of the 2019 lineup, and that only made her fans scream that much louder.

Smokin Grooves Fest 2019 - Kali Uchis


Kali Uchis

As the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, the crowd swelled in front of the festival’s main stage, waiting for our lord and savior Erykah Badu. We waited. And we waited. Finally, 30 minutes later, Ms. Badu walked out and surveyed the scene before all was forgiven. Her shortened set was still probably more than the sun-dried fans could handle, with her vocals perfect and her vibe far-reaching and unmatched. As she threw her body left and right, jutting her limbs into the air and even jumping down to clasp a few lucky hands, you could feel a collective healing washing over the grounds. Before she left, she even thanked us for waiting for her, as though we had done her a favor. Psh.

How do you follow Erykah Badu? I didn’t think it could be done until about five seconds into Usher’s performance. He came out swinging, energy and choreography at 110 percent, so fast and fierce that I yelped, “Holy shit!” I grew up listening to Usher and respect him for days, but I didn’t expect him to put on one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve witnessed in 2019 so far. To say “he’s still got it” wouldn’t nearly be enough. So, just trust me when I say “you’ve gotta get yourself to an Usher show.”

Proving to be a supremely enjoyable day of music at its heart, Smokin Grooves showcased some strong, young talent and reminded us how lucky we are to have some of the OGs still willing to dance with us. With R&B’s new crop of talent continuing to innovate and inspire, here’s hoping that the festival will keep coming back year after year.

That’s right … I’m lookin’ at you, Joe Kay.

Premiere: Foxx Bodies – ‘The Walk’ music video

Foxx Bodies

Desert punks Foxx Bodies didn’t come to play around. They moved to Los Angeles from Arizona not quite two years ago and have made a lot of noise since their arrival.

In between a few music videos, endless shows and recording their new album Vixen, they opened for the now-disbanded Sorority Noise on their “You’re Not As _____ As You Think” and now Foxx Bodies are in the process of filming a documentary about their own history with the abuse that came to inspire so much of their material.

Last year was a busy one for the foxxes, but 2019 promises to be even fuller. Before they drop their sophomore studio effort, they wanted to release one more video in support of their self-titled debut, calling it a proper send-off as they move onto the next phase of the band.

“Our first record was recorded in a day, after we had only been a band for a month,” guitarist Bailey Moses explains. “It’s rough and sloppy and punk as fuck. We’re really excited to show everyone this music video as an end cap to that first chapter of Foxx Bodies. This is the first one we filmed in Los Angeles, making it the perfect bridge between our old and new music.”

Foxx Bodies - 2019 Winter Tour

Fox Boddies’ sound is fun, impossibly infectious and self-described as “feminist surf punk,” but the message behind their music is far from light — something that’s readily apparent in lead singer Bella Vanek’s trademark screeches and palpable vocal emotion.

The quartet spent a few weeks in Seattle last fall, recording its upcoming LP with legendary indie-rock producer John Goodmanson (Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Death Cab for Cutie) and promising that it will continue to talk about the very things that make so many people these days uncomfortable.

Vixen continues on the Foxx Bodies theme of talking about the hard shit, the things that stem from your childhood trauma,” Moses says. “Our first record focused largely on sexual abuse, but this one explores the aftermath of that. Mental health, religious stigmas, eating disorders … all of the shit you end up having as an adult and need to process. We want this album to be something people can listen to easier, but still feel that punch in the gut when they pay attention to the lyrical content.”

Foxx Bodies are hitting the road next month for their first tour in 2019, and their live show is truly unmatched (parental discretion advised). They’re playing in both LA at the Viper Room on February 15th and in the Bay Area at the iconic, non-profit Berkeley club 924 Gilman — or known by locals as just “Gilman” — in March, so make sure to take a peek at their new music video for “The Walk” below, which we have premiered exclusively here at Showbams, before copping tickets to one of their shows.

Courtney Barnett reminds us why she’s simply the coolest at LA’s Greek Theatre

Courtney BarnettBy Rochelle Shipman //

Courtney Barnett with Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Waxahatchee //
Greek Theatre – Los Angeles
October 5th, 2018 //

Courtney Barnett is the coolest. There’s no way around it. And if you’ve been lucky enough to see her live, you know it and you also know that she, somehow, still doesn’t know it herself.

Take this for example: Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks and Waxahatchee supported her at the Greek Theatre last Friday, and Malkmus brings out former Sonic Youth member Kim Gordon (maybe the only person cooler than Barnett). I felt like they were going to turn the lights on after Malkmus’ set and end the show by accident.

Of course, they didn’t, and towards the end of her headlining set, Barnett introduced her own special guest, which, mind you, could’ve been almost anyone on the planet since this was LA after all and Gordon was probably still backstage.

But she reintroduces Waxahatchee, who joins her for a cover of Elyse Weinberg’s “Houses”. It was a song I’d never heard before, but it was crisp and tender and almost broke my heart with how perfect they sounded. I was so damn happy that Barnett was cool enough to invite one of her opening acts back out onstage instead of inviting, say, Slash.

Courtney Barnett

When she wasn’t sharing the spotlight with Waxahatchee, Barnett was sharing it equally with the rest of her stellar backing band, but it was mostly just difficult to take your eyes off of her. Everything she does feels casual, from her outfit to her guitar playing, slinging her instrument around like it was an extension of herself. Even her delivery of the wrenching reality that the 30-year-old Australian singer-songwriter articulates so well is casual, singing like the end of the world isn’t a mere 22 years away.

Barnett’s second studio LP Tell Me How You Really Feel is the pissed-off soundtrack that 2018 deserves, but she still couldn’t help but smile throughout the show. She walked the length of the stage as if she owned it (though casually), clearly having found her comfort level playing to thousands.

For an hour and a half, Barnett mostly just reveled in the music and the company, keeping the banter limited and the breaths nearly nonexistent. But for a few moments here and there, she looked like she’d just realized that she’s the coolest. And then she’d switch the focus and start another riff.

Setlist:
Hopefulessness
City Looks Pretty
Avant Gardener
Need a Little Time
Nameless, Faceless
I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch
Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence
Small Poppies
An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)
Small Talk
Depreston
Are You Looking After Yourself?
Elevator Operator
Houses (Elyse Weinberg cover) (with Waxahatchee)
Charity
History Eraser

Encore:
Everything Is Free (Gillian Welch cover)
Anonymous Club
Pedestrian at Best

Phoebe Bridgers inspires a sold-out crowd in her hometown at LA’s Lodge Room

Phoebe BridgersBy Rochelle Shipman //

Phoebe Bridgers with Gold Star //
Lodge Room – Los Angeles
December 16th, 2017 //

Phoebe Bridgers’ debut LP came out in September, but her album release show got pushed back two months. But for the eager fans who attended her sold-out concert at Lodge Room, Highland Park’s newest venue, it was well worth the wait.

The praise for Stranger in the Alps has only gotten louder since it dropped, and the LA native’s debut has found its way onto — and at the top of — a handful of year-end lists. Bridgers’ songs revolve around her stark storytelling, in a way that comes off as deeply personal, yet still feels relatable to the listener.

During much of Bridgers’ show last Saturday, the intimacy weaved within her songs spread far throughout the crowd. Little else could be heard as she worked her way through most of the album, pausing every now and then to acknowledge her band or shoot fans a coy smile.

Phoebe Bridgers

Even if she had been alone onstage the entire time, the audience’s rapt attention still wouldn’t have wavered, but halfway through her set, Bridgers brought out close friend Conor Oberst as the two delivered a transcendent performance of “Would You Rather”. Opening act Gold Star, the solo project of LA-based singer-songwriter Marlon Rabenreither, later joined Bridgers and Oberst onstage for a cover of “Christmas Song” by McCarthy Trenching, a band from Oberst’s native Omaha.

The only thing disappointing about Bridgers’ performance was being close enough to see the setlist. She was supposed to perform her devastating version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, but the guitar gods unfortunately threw a wrench in that. Instead, she ended the night quietly with just keyboardist/Stranger co-producer Ethan Gruska, performing a ringing rendition of “You Missed My Heart” by Mark Kozelek (aka Sun Kil Moon).

From the older couple right next to me to the 18-year-olds standing dead center, the eager eyes in the audience captured it best. Incredibly, Bridgers’ album release show will likely be one of the last times we’ll be able to catch her in such an intimate setting.

After a long wait between albums, Mister Heavenly resurface at Resident DTLA

Mister HeavenlyBy Rochelle Shipman //

Mister Heavenly //
Resident DTLA – Los Angeles
October 21st, 2017 //

In 2011, indie-rock supergroup Mister Heavenly dropped a stellar debut album titled Out of Love, went on a quick tour and disappeared. Comprised of Honus Honus (Man Man), Nick Thorburn (Islands, The Unicorns) and Joe Plummer (Cold War Kids), the band members of Mister Heavenly have been understandably busy.

Now six long years later, they’ve given us Boxing the Moonlight, another perky, deeply fun entry into the discography of doom wop. They brought the new album on the road and hit Resident DTLA, where they earned more than six years’ worth of praise from an eager and lively audience. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait another six for the next one!

Get ready for the world to fall in love with 23-year-old rising star Amber Mark

Amber MarkBy Rochelle Shipman //

Amber Mark //
Hammer Museum – Los Angeles
July 27th, 2017 //

Amber Mark has been one of the most optimistic voices to come out of the dumpster fire that so far is 2017. Her colorful debut EP titled 3:33 (and unrelated to Jay-Z’s 4:44) sees her taking a tragedy and using it as motivation to live and believe again. She’s quickly setting her mark as a worldly pop star in an industry that is generally otherwise anything but.

During her show last Thursday at the Hammer Museum near UCLA, the 23-year-old manned the stage with grace and gratitude, if not a shred of shyness that will surely disappear in the near future as the world falls in love with her.

Miguel’s silky-smooth voice captivates at this year’s Sound in Focus series opener

Sound in Focus - MiguelBy Rochelle Shipman //

Sound in Focus: Miguel with Gabriel Garzón-Montano //
Annenberg Space for Photography – Los Angeles
July 23rd, 2016 //

KCRW kicked off their annual Sound in Focus concert series last Saturday, bringing plenty of R&B grooves to the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Stones Throw Records’ Gabriel Garzón-Montano, who dropped the trip-hop-tinted Jardín earlier this year, got things started. Even though no one else but a drummer accompanied him, he effortlessly commanded the stage even while being tucked behind his keyboard.

Sound in Focus - Gabriel Garzón-Montano


Gabriel Garzón-Montano

Once the sun set and Miguel stepped onstage, the audience was transported somewhere else entirely. Born and raised in LA, the 31-year-old’s silky-smooth voice floated through the cool evening breeze over the twinkle lights in the trees, giving the impression of an island retreat rather than a concert in the park.

With the exception of an impromptu barstool-crooner cut, he spent the majority of his set on the tip of the stage, captivating a crowd that could have only otherwise looked away to admire the sultry enthusiasm of the ASL translators.

Conor Oberst’s sad songs make us feel happy at LA’s Greek Theatre

Conor OberstBy Rochelle Shipman //

Conor Oberst with Julien Baker //
Greek Theatre – Los Angeles
May 13th, 2017 //

As the crowd filled into the Greek Theatre during Julien Baker’s opening set last Saturday, the young singer softly said it best: sad songs simply make us feel happy.

This is what keeps fans coming back to see Conor Oberst year after year, this most recent time in support of his latest release Salutations. This is what quieted the crowd low enough to hear a sniffle or two during songs like “Lua”, which is now 12 years old and still inciting a cheerful uproar as it crescendoed midway through.

And for anyone who has been comforted by Oberst at some point during the last 20-plus years of his career, this was the truth that will keep us listening for 20 more.

Setlist:
Afterthought
Four Winds (Bright Eyes song)
Time Forgot
Too Late to Fixate
Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out
Eagle on a Pole
Barbary Coast (Later)
Well Whiskey (Bright Eyes song)
Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)
Anytime Soon/Overdue
Map of the World (Monsters of Folk cover)
Lua (Bright Eyes song)
Jack at the Asylum (The Felice Brothers cover)
Salutations
Artifact #1
Poison Oak (Bright Eyes song)
A Little Uncanny

Encore:

Unknown (new song)
Train Under Water (Bright Eyes song)
Napalm

Cursive’s Tim Kasher breathes an orchestral breath into his solo music at The Echo

Tim KasherBy Rochelle Shipman //

Tim Kasher //
The Echo – Los Angeles
May 3rd, 2017 //

Tim Kasher stopped by The Echo in LA last Wednesday during his tour behind No Resolution, the latest LP in a string of beautifully bummer solo releases about the realities of growing up and growing old.

The Cursive/Good Life frontman tapped a carefully constructed backing band to breathe an orchestral breath into some cuts from his extensive catalog, including some older songs that don’t normally get the spotlight.

He also announced the release of a feature film he wrote and directed that’s coming later this year, seemingly (fortunately/unfortunately) unrelated to his 2013 studio album Adult Film.

Setlist:
A Raincloud Is a Raincloud
Cold Love
Messes
Runts
No Fireworks
Lay Down Your Weapons
Break Me Open
Night and Day (The Good Life cover)
Monogamy
An Answer for Everything
Into the Fold (Cursive cover)
Bloody Murderer (Cursive cover)
The Prodigal Husband
No Secret

Encore:
From the Hips (Cursive cover)
Truly Freaking Out

Pond invigorate a sold-out crowd at The Echo

PondBy Rochelle Shipman //

Pond //
The Echo – Los Angeles
April 20th, 2017 //

Australian psych-rockers Pond stopped through LA in between Coachella dates last Thursday, playing to a sweaty, sold-out Echo. Most of the crowd looked just young enough to be out past their bedtime, but once the quintet hit the stage, they perked right up.

With a youthful, invigorating energy, Pond delivered a solid set with a few new songs from their upcoming LP The Weather — all of which their fans seemed to know already. Though lead vocalist/guitarist Nick Allbrook easily commanded the spotlight onstage with several dramatic moves, all five members — Jay “Gumby” Watson, Shiny Joe Ryan, Jamie Terry and Ginolé — impressively shared the tiny stage equally, clearly in tune with each other literally and physically.

Pond’s punchy sound and attitude is exactly what rock ‘n’ roll needs right now if it’s going to have any chance of competing with current spotlight-stealers like Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean. Pond’s new album is due out May 5th, so their current U.S. tour has just started. If you can swing it, these guys are definitely worth your time.