Nas preaches positivity while closing out this year’s Sound in Focus series in style

Sound in Focus - NasBy Josh Herwitt //

Sound in Focus: Nas with Wild Belle //
Annenberg Space for Photography – Los Angeles
July 23rd, 2016 //

It’s hard to beat summer in LA. With longer days and warmer nights, there’s always so much to do in the City of Angels during this time of the year. But part of what makes summers in LA so special are the countless opportunities to see live music and best of all, for free. From the Twilight Concert Series on Thursday nights at the Santa Monica Pier to Saturdays Off the 405 at the Getty Museum, you can catch a show — if not multiple shows — in LA every week from July to September for little to no money.

Right along those lines, KCRW’s Sound in Focus concert series is just another reason why summertime in LA has its advantages. For the past few years, the NPR member station has shown its appreciation for photography by welcoming a wide array of musicians, including indie-rock stalwarts like Portugal. The Man, Band of Skulls, TV on the Radio and Cold War Kids (read our review of their 2015 show here), to what was once unchartered territory as far as concert spaces in LA go. And in many ways, the Annenberg Space for Photography, as a result, has proven to be the perfect location for KCRW to combine its love for music and the arts by offering fans of all ages the chance to explore the museum’s newest exhibit and see well-established artists perform for free with a simple RSVP online.

After last year’s roster, which featured old-school hip-hop group De La Soul and country music legend Dwight Yoakam as headliners, it was somewhat surprising to see Grammy-nominated rapper Nas (born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones) listed next to psych-folk collective Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and eventually Senegalese singer/guitarist Baaba Maal when the 2016 Sound in Focus lineup dropped last month (Maal’s performance was revealed at a later date). Not because KCRW had booked a hip-hop act for a second straight year, but more that it had booked a hip-hop act of Nas’ stature. You don’t have to look much further than his two million Twitter followers, in stark contrast to Edward Sharpe’s 105,000 and Maal’s 5,750, to understand that. It should go without saying then that Mr. Jones is easily the biggest artist KCRW has ever booked for Sound in Focus in its three years running.

Sound in Focus 2016 - Nas

On the other hand though, Nas hasn’t released an album in more than four years. Better yet, it’s been more than three since the Brooklyn native disclosed he had begun work on his 12th studio album, the follow-up to 2012’s Life Is Good. In this day and age of instant gratification, that’s often three years too long to keep fans waiting. With so many options to choose from, it’s becoming harder and harder to remain relevant, even for a hip-hop artist of Nas’ caliber.

But there’s also something to be said for releasing eight straight platinum records, even if Nas doesn’t have any Grammys to go along with them. So, if last Saturday’s show was supposed to be Nas’ reminder to the world that he’s still working and grinding like he always has since the early 90’s, then a whole lot of fans got to hear that message loud and clear after Wild Belle’s opening set.

With the anticipation building, Nas arrived onstage with energy and purpose, immediately diving into his I Am…. anthem “Hate Me Now” that’s almost two decades old at this point. A little bit later, he would end up waxing poetic on “One Mic”, the third single off his 2001 LP Stillmatic that was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. Yet, more important than the songs Nas chose to perform or the albums he drew from was the postivity he preached to the crowd before calling it a night. At a time of racial and social unrest in the U.S., he imparted optimism and encouraged everyone who stood before him to chase their dreams, whatever they may be. For an emcee who once proclaimed that “hip-hop is dead,” that’s seemingly quite a change in rhetoric.

SF Oysterfest gains steam as Edward Sharpe & company fizzle


Photos by Sterling Munksgard and Marc Fong // Written by Mike Frash //

SF Oysterfest featuring Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Poolside, Ra Ra Riot, Crash
Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park — San Francisco
Saturday May 10th, 2014 //

San Francisco Oysterfest scored with warm, breezy weather Saturday, attracting throngs of the City’s young and beautiful ready to spread positive vibes and cultivate a happy scene. There seemed to be an increase in attendance compared to a year ago, the first time Oysterfest was held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Many people, it seemed, attended to enjoy the pleasant environment, including the social scene & vender options, as much as the music itself — hell, it is called Oysterfest. But when it came to the music, one ascending group took another step up the ladder while a more established ensemble was missing a very important component, setting the stage for a mediocre performance at best, and a train wreck in slow motion at worst.


But first, New Orleans-based Crash got things going, exemplifying how influential Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros have been over the past five years. Their jangly, updated Americana sounded familiar upon first listen. Next up, fans of chamber pop and indie rock geeked out for Ra Ra Riot. The six-piece did their best to impress, throwing passion into every song. Between sets, DJs pumped the bass & nu-disco, juxtaposing the relaxed party atmosphere appropriately.


Poolside have continuously grown in popularity since their first album Pacific Standard Time launched in the Summer of 2012. The partnership between Filip Nikolic & Jeff Paradise has fleshed out to a five-piece outfit on tour, lending additional layers to a unique niche of dance music they have coined “daytime disco”. A perfectly descriptive phrase for the group, Poolside’s briskly-paced instrumentals with a casual, chill tone balanced nicely with decadent-yet laid back nature of the fest.

As the set continued, more and more people gave in to the flow of the set, which included steady churners “Do You Believe?” and “Next to You”, along with the usual cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and a less usual but excellent take on David Byrne & Brian Eno’s “Strange Overtones”. Poolside showed, once again, they can easily control the vibe of a crowd, especially in open outdoor spaces. On a random note, Filip Nikolic is nicknamed “Turbotito” in his former/other band Ima Robot, which is fronted by the one and only Alex “Edward Sharpe” Ebert.


The headlining set featuring Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros started delightfully enough, as it always has, with “40 Hour Dream”. After a strong opening, it became clear something was unfortunately very different than usual. The Magnetic Zeros were missing their crucial female members, accordion player and vocalist Nora Kirkpatrick & more critically, Ebert’s partner in crime Jade Castrinos. Some songs that heavily involve Castrinos were not included in the set, others had trumpeter & keyboardist Stewart Cole covering her parts.

The back & forth love, laughter & chaos between Jade and Alexander, inspiring as it truly was at High Sierra Music Festival in 2010 or as volatile and crazy as it certainly was at BottleRock 2013 (where Jade went into the audience for 2-3 songs and wouldn’t come back to the stage), almost always provides a dynamic spark. They draw inspiration from each other. They bounce improvisational banter and goofy body language off one another. Jade has her own breathtaking songs like “Fiya Wata”, and her first notes of the show usually elicit palatable excitement from the crowd. All this was missing Saturday. This 100% male version of the Magnetic Zeros showed how important Jade Castrinos is to Edward Sharpe, and that they probably shouldn’t be playing live shows without her.

UPDATE 6/3/14: Jade Castrinos confirmed she was voted off of tour via email.


After a long mid-section collection of cuts from the group’s self-titled record from 2013, many in the crowd lost focus or started heading for the gates. Edward Sharpe was starting to lose ‘em. As the show neared the end, Ebert thanked the “awkward crowd in front” and told one attendee to sell their dog before announcing they would finish with their super-maga hit, “Home”.

For the first time in the 80-minute set, Ebert acknowledged Jane’s absence, only saying, “Things happen, let’s work this out.” No explanation was given for the absence of Castrinos or Kirkpatrick. Edward Sharpe then chose one random man and woman from the crowd and brought them on stage to sing the verses he and Jade normally sing. Let’s just say it didn’t work out well — Ebert had to pick up the vocals for both guests as voices cracked and lyrics were forgotten. The band kept it together well enough, but as the final outro was delivered, the sound uniformly fizzled out as if the power had been pulled.

On a positive note, most everyone jumped up and down and had a big smile on their face during “Home”, despite the karaoke factor. But music criticism aside, Oysterfest was consistently a fun, friendly event at a prime SF location on a lovely day. What else do you really need?


WIN TICKETS: SF Oysterfest featuring Edward Sharpe, Poolside, Ra Ra Riot 5/10 (SAT)


Photo by Marc Fong //

Enter to win a pair of free tickets to this festival below.

Oysterfest featuring Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Poolside, Ra Ra Riot, Crash //
Sharon Meadow, Golden Gate Park — San Francisco — 11AM
Saturday May 10th, 2014 //

Are you ready for some pre-summer sunshine, tasty food options, Guinness and incredible live music on Saturday? Of course you are. So make plans to be at Sharon Meadow in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park this weekend! Showbams was on the scene last year for all the hedonistic goodness, check out our report.

Everyone’s favorite twenty-first century troubadour Edward Sharpe and his Magnetic Zeros will headline this mainstay bacchanalia that honors bivalve molluscs. Prior to Jade & Alexander’s set, be ready to bounce & sway to the daytime disco sounds of one of our favorites, Poolside. Also Ra Ra Riot & Crash will be on hand to soundtrack the revelry. DJ sets will go down as well, led by Aaron Axelsen.

Buy tickets if you know you want to go!
At check out, use the code “showbams” for a 20% discount.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros


Enter to win if you can attend this festival Saturday, May 10th at SF’s Golden Gate Park.

Submit your full name and email address below.
Contest ends Friday, May 9th at Noon. Winners will be picked at random & notified by email. Your email will be kept private – we will share your email with no one.

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Eric McFadden and his star-studded cast shred The Mint in LA

McFadden-and-FriendsBy Pete Mauch //

Eric McFadden //
The Mint – Los Angeles
January 16th, 2013 //

The Mint is hosting San Francisco native Eric McFadden every Wednesday this month, and I was fortunate enough to catch the most anticipated third Wednesday show in January. The evening’s All-Star lineup featured guitarist Nels Cline from Wilco and bassist Mike Watt from The Minutemen.

Eric McFadden is considered by many, especially his peers, to be a straight-up, bad-ass guitar virtuoso, and he showcased his many different skills on this night.


McFadden started things off with a couple solo songs with just him and an acoustic guitar, which he actually plays more like an electric. His playing is hard to pin-point because he can switch from a hard-rocking solo to a finger-picking flamenco jam. I particularly liked the second song he played called “Sister Maggie, Brother Sam”, which has a Western feel to it — almost to the point where it should be on the soundtrack for “Django Unchained”. McFadden has a very dark side to his songs, and this one definitely fits the category.

Throughout the night, McFadden would alternate his cast of All-Stars, but he started with Seth Ford-Young from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros on bass and studio drummer Curt Bisquera on the skins.


Also, the amazing Norton Wisdom was painting live on stage, which was truly amazing to see. He never stays with one painting, but instead just wipes it away and starts on a new one. He repeated this at least ten times and he truly added to the overall atmosphere, which was a little twisted.  


Staying with the theme, McFadden then covered “Blight”, which pleased the Widespread Panic fans in attendance. The song is a nod to his bandmate Dave Schools, who he plays with in the band Stockholm Syndrome.

Nels Cline and Mike Watt finally joined forces in the second set, and they absolutely rocked out. It got really loud and a little drowned out, but the fire between Cline and Watt is undeniable. They play in a supergroup together called Banyan with Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction and Wisdom, who paints at every show of theirs as well.


Mike Watt only stayed on stage for about t30 minutes, but he definitely made his presence known. Nels Cline stayed on stage for the majority of the second set, and he never disappoints. He is a master of the whammy bar, alternating his tone all while wailing away.
McFadden and company encored with “Maggot Brain” by Parliament Funkadelic. McFadden previously toured with P-Funk as their first mandolin player but later played guitar with the band.


It was one hell of a night out, and I can’t wait to do it all again next week when McFadden once again brings some amazing talent, including Steve Molitz of Particle, to the stage.

You can buy tickets here for the next Eric McFadden residency show on Wednesday, January 23rd at The Mint.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros get colorful at the Greek

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros kicked off the second leg of their 2012 tour Friday night in Berkeley, showing off their super-charged lighting setup they’ve added this year. For a band that was known for their minimalism – they used to tune their own instruments and dress more like hobos – their new lighting setup is a needed upgrade if they are going to fill stages like The Greek Theatre in Berkeley. The mega-ball hovering over the stage literally fills that space, and the addition of massive lighting rigs and smoke machines show the investment put into this group since their breakout hit ‘Home’ exponentially gained popularity from 2009 to 2011.

The show was visually driven by color phases, as the first half hour was red, then it moved on to yellow, then to green, and to blue, and finally to purple. The cover of their 2012 album ‘Here’ features a rainbow in a circle, so they’ve embraced the color spectrum as an aesthetic guide. They are probably big fans of rainbows in general.

The lighting and pervasive coloring of the stage added to the dreamy and airy feeling, but the overall simplicity & lack of quick changes in the lighting made some songs washed out and dull – particularly in the middle part of the set. Alexander made a habit of staying at the front of the stage, near the crowd, keeping his face mysteriously out of view.

The Berkeley show covered the best songs from the two Edward Sharpe LPs and Alex Ebert’s solo album from 2011 “Alexander.” The show began with the best track from the new album “Man on Fire,” and Alexander immediately showed his love for close crowd proximity. He walked onto the stage in his patented daze, then directly into the crowd as if it was destiny.

View full photo gallery at the showbams facebook page.

Mr. Sharpe kept the strong opening going with fan favorites ’40 Day Dream,’ ‘Janglin,’ and a standout track from the new album ‘Fiya Wata,’ which puts the spotlight on Edward Sharpe’s partner in crime Jade. After five or six songs, Alex, Jade & a couple bandmates discussed what they wanted to play next – and after deciding, Jade erupted in joy like child getting a new toy. Sharpe announced this would be the second time they would be playing the forthcoming song. It looked like Jade had found the remedy to road-weary repetition, but the tour is just kicking off. The troupe has been in the studio crafting their 3rd album, even though they just released their second LP “Here” in May.

Alex Ebert, aka Edward Sharpe, is as free-spirited as ever. His spur of the moment stage banter is as consistant as always, and he continues to be a strong frontman who has perfected the ability to draw the audience to him with his ‘I don’t give a fuck’ hippy persona he puts on. He never approaches a song with a pre-conceived agenda – which is refreshing. He asked what we wanted to hear, and no one responded quickly enough, so Sharpe said “You want to hear the Truth!”

The band started a stripped down version of Alexander’s 2011 song ‘Truth’ when Sharpe’s whistling began. The song sounded more angelic and spiritual with the Magnetic Zero’s backing, adding soft layers of sound to give a different take on the track.

The middle section of the show got a bit slow, with lesser known songs and an even slower tempo dominating the song selection. Then Edward asked the crowd if they were ready to pick it up.

“Let’s wake up. Wake up time. Only eight more hours,” Ebert said. The audience perked up, but little did they know they were about to expereince a 17-minute version of ‘Awake My Body’ from “Alexander.” It worked for a while, but then became a drawn out exercise as Edward passed the solos around the horn endlessly. It was mercifully ended by Sharpe when he said, “Hey I remember something,” and he kicked into the outro with the drummers.

Then a slow bongo beat revealed itself to be the beginning of ‘Home,’ and everyone perked up. When it got to the back and forth song banter that Alex & Jade must absolutely hate doing by now, they asked each other “What did you do today?” Boring. I think they even thought they were being boring. In recognition of this, Edward threw the microphone out into the crowd for some spur of the moment randomness. It felt inevitable that a drunk frat boy would plug his Greek or an earthy chick would discuss mercury retrograde, but a young man with a british accent professed his love for his girl, and it was very charming. The young voice, full of life and enthusiasm, stole the song from the people on the stage. This spontaneous moment was one of the most memorable parts of the night.

The troupe finished with a drawn out ‘Om Nashi Me,’ the mantra-heavy song Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros often finish with. They built it up and broke it down a couple times, and departed without an encore.

Overall, the set felt a bit stale, even with the visual upgrades. Most of the band lacked energy & looked road-weary or somehow subdued. The new songs were generally slow, which kept the energy low and hazy.

Upon leaving the venue, a group was in front of the Greek playing a pop-up show. They were a bluegrass band with a washboard player for percussion, and they were covering the Edward Sharpe song ‘Up from Below’ with an upbeat Mumford & Sons take. People were dancing and having fun, and it was the first time of the night music sounded fresh.

After seeing Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros in a minimalist setting two years ago, playing their hearts out to make it big, their brand of folk pop is harder to swallow since the Toyota and Best Buy commercials have homogenized their sound. I hope they’re hitting the studio hard to craft another triumphant album like their self titled debut album – the next groups are right behind them getting hungry.

View full photo gallery at the showbams facebook page.