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.

Noise Pop 2019: Celebrating Bay Area indie culture with great music & a whole lot more

Noise Pop 2019 - Caroline Rose


Caroline Rose

Photos by Mike Rosati, Norm de Veyra & Marc Fong // Written by Kevin Quandt & Ryan Bright //

Noise Pop //
Bay Area venues – San Francisco & Oakland
February 25th-March 3rd, 2019 //

Another epic edition of Noise Pop is now in the history books, and we were there to witness much of the action. Here are a few of our favorite moments, plus a ton of photos, from 2019.

Coke

With a name like Coke, you’d hope this SF band would be loud and wild enough, even with a 7 p.m. hit time, and they were. Playing their second-to-last show before losing a key member to the East Coast, they proved rock is not dead and that it generally sounds best in medium-sized bars full of your friends. – KQ

In the Valley Below

It has been a hot minute since the duo of Jeffrey Jacob and Angela Gail released their widely acclaimed debut album and supported it with multiple late-night appearances that saw them play their breakthrough hit “Peaches”. Their slow return to the stage hasn’t stopped this pair from performing some powerful indie pop that set the stage perfectly for Albert Hammond Jr. on a Wednesday night at The Independent. The live-expanded twosome also delivered select cuts from their forthcoming sophomore release The Pink Chateau, which will also feature an accompanying “motion picture companion.” Certainly appearing to be a comeback year for the Michigan-based group and a packed room at the Independent would likely agree. – KQ

Albert Hammond Jr.

Hammond Jr. is an explosive performer, and his Noise Pop show at The Independent was no exception. Relying heavily on his 2018 release Francis Trouble, his live effort showcased his frontman stature and musical abilities apart from his cohorts in The Strokes. Interestingly enough, the album explores the stillborn death of his twin brother and a recent reckoning that part of Francis’ fingernail was actually born alongside him. Despite the LP’s macabre topic, songs like “Far Away Truths” really conveyed Hammond’s raw energy as he jumped right into the crowd, mic in hand, for a cathartic mosh pit. – RB

Bob Mould Band


Bob Mould Band

Bob Mould Band

Bob Mould has had a lengthy, fruitful relationship with Noise Pop and the packed Fillmore demonstrated that in spades after recently releasing his rather well-received, and 13th, solo album Sunshine Rock since disbanding Hüsker Dü and intersplicing Sugar releases. Mould is nearing the age of 60, but you’d be hard-pressed to think that when he frantically paces back and forth onstage while firing off his characteristic take of punk-leaning alternative rock. “In a Free Land” and “Something I Learned Today” were Hüsker Dü highlights, while “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” and “Hoover Dam” represented a handful of Sugar cuts that the balding frontman belted out. Mould recently moved to Berlin from SF, but any longtime Bay Area fan can sleep well knowing he’ll always return to give us a dose of his infectious punk rock. – KQ

Film School

While it has been almost 20 years since Gerg Bertens initially formed Film School, the band has continued to keep a strong relationship with Noise Pop. Many consider the five-piece’s 2016 Noise Pop shows at Bottom of the Hill to be its grand return after hanging it up in 2011, and this year’s well-attended opening set showed that they can still whip up some polished alternative shoegaze. “Two in Sun” shined bright, and many of us hope this California outfit sticks around and rides the wave of the current shoegaze revival. – KQ

Beirut

After taking several years off, Zach Condon’s project Beirut returned this year with a new album titled Gallipoli and an international tour that included a stop at the Fox Theater in Oakland for Noise Pop. While Beirut’s career-spanning set might have been a nostalgia trip for some, the musicianship and multi-instrumentation were the real highlights of the night. They managed to make their unique brand of “world” music, which features Balkan, polka, mariachi and francophone influences, feel inviting, warm and triumphant thanks to subtle textures of the accordion, ukulele, trumpet, Moog synthesizer, piano and Condon’s unique satiny vocal stylings. For me, new songs like “Landslide” and “We Never Lived Here” stood out just as strongly as fan favorites “Elephant Gun” and “Nantes” — and the entire crowd’s response indicated that as well. – RB