PHOTOS: Foster The People, Sylvan Esso at Fox Oakland 11/8

foster-the-people_postBy James Nagel //

Foster the People with Sylvan Esso, Soko //
Fox Theater – Oakland, CA
November 8th, 2014 //

It was a night of slick pop, both established and emerging, in Oakland on Saturday.

Tight production, awesome lighting, dynamic and colorful. These descriptions dutifully describe Foster the People 2.0. Mark Foster has come a long way from writing commercial jingles. And now he sports blond hair à la Bart Simpson as he leads the People in continued support of the group’s second effort, Supermodel. Foster The People are as glossy as it gets in 2014, and the photos below help to inform this opinion.

2014 breakout act Sylvan Esso opened for FTP for the first time on Saturday at The Fox, and just as when they opened for tUnE-yArDs and headlined at The Independent, show goers responded without hesitation throughout, as Amelia Meath’s dancing inspires replication. Producer and passionate nob-turner Nick Sanborn flipped off the crowd in the middle of the song for no apparent reason — perhaps to elicit some kind emotive response.

Openers Soko were a bit awkward between songs, and the crowd of late teens seemed hesitant to embrace the unfamiliar early on in the night.

New Music Tuesday: Foster the People • Tycho • Black Lips • Freddie Gibbs and Madlib • The War on Drugs

New Music Tuesday: Foster the People, Tycho, The War on Drugs, Black Lips, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.


Foster the PeopleSupermodel

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Are You What You Want to Be?”
“Coming of Age”
“Pseudologia Fantastica”

Album Highlights: It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since Foster the People released its Grammy-nominated debut Torches on Isaac Green’s Startime International. Since then, bandleader Mark Foster and his sidekicks — bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius — have become some of music’s biggest road warriors, playing as many as 295 shows in a 16-month span, thanks, in large part, to the buzz that surrounded the group’s breakthrough single “Pumped Up Kicks.” While the breezy, yet gloomy song would quickly pave the road to success for Foster the People, it was only natural to wonder if the trio would hit another home run the next time it went into the studio. But on Supermodel, there are no “Pumped Up Kicks” to hype — even the album’s first single “Coming of Age” doesn’t compare.

Instead, Foster opted to take the concept album route this time around, using society’s obsession with pop culture as his songwriting vehicle for Supermodel. What results is a 12-track LP that may not rise to the top of the Billboard charts this year, but certainly still has its moments. “Are You What You Want to Be?” opens the record with a strong chorus hook, and “Pseudologia Fantastica” a few songs later shows Foster expanding his horizons as he flirts with psychedelic rock. Although the rest of the album doesn’t offer much in the way of highlights, Supermodel has enough to keep some FTP fans mildly interested.

Album Lowlight: While you have to give Foster the People credit for not writing the same album all over again, not every song works here. On “Nevermind,” Foster reflects on life with lines like “Yeah it’s hard to know the truth / in this post-modernist view / where absolutes are seen as relics / and laughed out of the room,” but the song never builds into much more than a commentary on modern-day materialism.

“A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon,” meanwhile, sees Foster the People delve deeper into its electronic roots, but this time, it’s Foster’s falsetto that feels out of place — just as his acoustic offerings “Goats in Trees” and “Fire Escape” do later, too. We won’t necessarily go so far to say that these tracks are downright unlistenable, but it’s also clear that Supermodel doesn’t finish the same way it starts.

Takeaway: Foster the People most likely won’t be earning any Grammy nominations for Supermodel, but that doesn’t mean its sophomore effort should be considered a complete failure, either. Writing an exceptional concept album is not an easy task to accomplish (just ask The Who or Pink Floyd), and the band undoubtedly took a major risk in trying to do so. Nevertheless, Foster has shown recently that he’s more than a capable songwriter, and Supermodel should only help him continue to grow and mature as one.

~Josh Herwitt


TychoAwake

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Montana”
“Spectre”
“See”

Album Highlights: Tycho used to solely be the moniker of audiovisual musician, designer & performer Scott Hansen, but now the name also applies to the entire three-piece based out of San Francisco/Sacramento. Bassist Zac Brown helped create initial ideas and develop songs for Awake, and Rory O’Connor helped percussions flourish in the studio, but Hansen produces it all as he did before. This group coalescing has made Tycho’s music more powerful and efficient, successfully creating a record that is “about an arc of energy and emotion across the record.

Song titles are simple, expressive and always a single word, with positive connotations that aptly reflect the music. “Awake” begins the album with uplifting ease, staying steady while conveying a harmonious tone that lasts throughout. “Apogee” certainly mimics the feeling of reaching a high point, and “Plains” puts the record to bed with the first true dose of ambiance, imagineering a magnificent open terrain. There is a healthy balance with this record that threads kinetic propulsion and exploratory, euphoric plateaus, both separately and most thrillingly at the same time.

The overall tone and much of the auditory formula is similar to Tycho’s previous album Dive, as it marries ambient euphoria and a driving beat. This new effort is more straightforward and less meandering, and it is more immediate with stronger moments of contrast. There are virtually no “downtempo” sections on Awake, yet it is minimalist in some key ways — there are no more samples, female vocals, or distractions from Hansen’s stated focus.

What’s new this time is, first and foremost, clapping. That organic hand sound is found on most tracks, which provides much of the leading energy on the record. “See” begins with a reverbed hand-clap for almost eight measures, setting up one of the album’s finest songs. The penultimate track “Spectre” utilizes all the best parts of Tycho’s new sound, with a roller coaster of highs and lows, both in volume and intensity. “Montana”, so cinematic in nature, also represents the new album fittingly with its intense beats per minute while still projecting a soothing, pleasurable sound.

Album Lowlight: Fans of lyrics and singing of said lyrics will likely be disappointed. But as Hansen said in one of his Reddit IAMAs, the lack of lyrics “doesn’t define, it implies.” Some might call it repetitious, but the record thrives as if Hansen found a pressure point of sound that extracts overwhelming auditory pleasure, then he honed and expanded on it, allowing the listener to bathe in it while not allowing moments to pass ephemerally. That established, two more tracks could have even made Awake even more enjoyable.

Takeaway: Awake is a cohesive effort, one with an accessible goal that is achieved in breathtaking fashion. This output continues the path Tycho was on, yet Hansen takes it to the next level at the same time. Somehow effectively having his cake and eating it too, Hansen’s new sound isn’t a right or left turn, but an upward one, showcasing a band in full bloom. It’s pretty special for an album to be so peaceful in its tone yet still upbeat, forward-moving and constantly inspiring, creating a window to a world that magnifies your own state of mind. Music that’s accessible to electronic, post-rock and jam band fans is rare, and it’s fair to say this feat is accomplished with Tycho’s fourth LP. Yet, if you like all three of these musical categories, prepare for a visceral treat.

Tycho is performing Thursday at the Fillmore in SF, but it’s been sold out for months. Fear not! Hansen, Brown and O’Connor will be performing at Amoeba in San Francisco on Saturday at 2 p.m. PT for free.

~Mike Frash


Black LipsUnderneath the Rainbow

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Drive-by Buddy”
“Boys in the Wood”
“Waiting”

Album Highlights: Black Lips’ new album Underneath the Rainbow continues in the band’s punk rock tradition but shows a great new direction. Considered Atlanta’s bad boys for the last 15 years, the band has now crafted a unique blend of garage-punk rock with blues-y undertones. The new album is partially produced by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney as well as Tommy Brenneck and Ed Rawls. Carney’s influence is apparent in an album that incorporates a strong blues feel and a bit of a pop element.

Album Lowlight: The album is short. Just over 30 minutes, it’s quick and fun but concise. The album also feels torn at moments, somewhat unsure of what it is. While surprises are welcome, at moments its hard to imagine how some of the tracks are on the same album.

Takeaway: It’s exciting to watch the band grow in this new direction. The album feels very “Black Lips” southern twang right off the bat with “Drive-by Buddy” and lo-fi affectation throughout the album. But we see a departure from what we know Black Lips to be — the band has become more refined, more playful with this album that’s more grounded in roots & country music than before. It’s a great blend from a band that is in a cradle of mishmash themselves, being punk rockers from the South.

~Katy Meacham


Freddie Gibbs and MadlibPiñata

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Deeper”
“High” featuring Danny Brown
“Real”

Album Highlights: Gary, Indiana, rapper Freddie Gibbs and California hip-hop producer and musician Madlib have collaborated on a 17-track behemoth of an album that has many highs and lows while calling on the talents of some of today’s hottest MCs. Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, Domo Genesis, Scarface, and BJ the Chicago Kid are just a few of the guests to appear on this album. And they bring the goods.

Entirely produced by Madlib, this album is filled to the brim with some of the freshest hip-hop beats I’ve heard in a while. Nearly every track on this album has a beat so raw, so thick, that you can’t help but bob your head, despite some of the lackluster rhymes that are being spit. More on that later…

The guest spots on this album are incredibly strong. Danny Brown, Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis all kill it. “High” featuring Danny Brown is an instant classic and belongs on everyone’s green-friendly playlist.

Album Lowlight: I like my hip-hop with intelligence behind it. There are a few times when this album gets a little too “gangster” for me. You can only drop so many n-bombs before it becomes excessive. You can only rap about bitches and hoes so many times before it loses its luster. “Scarface” as the second track completely takes the wind out of the sails, and it’s too bad because of the greatness that is to come later on Piñata.

Takeaway: This is a very strong record, despite a few bumpy patches. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib would have a strong record even if you removed the numerous guest appearances. However, it is the guest spots that make this record. Check this album out if you are digging hip-hop these days — you may just love it.

~Kevin Raos


The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Red Eyes”
“Eyes to the Wind”
“In Reverse”

Album Highlights: It’s refreshing to know you are listening to a top album of the year within a dozen listens, and that’s what we have here, folks. There truly is a lot to say about Adam Granduciel and The War on Drugs as following up the 2011 release Slave Ambient was no easy task, yet Lost in the Dream takes us deeper into the rabbit hole via blindingly lush arrangements, among other notable attributes. A cornucopia of influences (see: Bruce, Petty and Dylan) are perfectly melded here, as nods to truly great classic rock are abound, utilized in a contemporary manner which only The War On Drugs seem to constantly achieve.

Granduciel knows how to structure albums with the best of them – this acutely demonstrated via the nine-minute, sprawling opener “Under the Pressure”. This opener showcases a strong, constructive aspect through a plethora of synths that may temporarily transport you to a few decades past. First single “Red Eyes” keeps on a similar path as we sink deeper in, bobbing along to the pounding drum machine that has been a constant over the years for the Philly-based band. “Disappearing” takes us soaring above the clouds as we hear new, thrilling piano instrumentation with warm bass lines, creating a sense of weightlessness and flight. An extremely strong finishing track, “In Reverse,” perfectly captures the fleeting minutes on this release before jarring us back into a slightly crueler reality. I’ll leave you with this lyric off the closer, “We’re just living in the moment / Making our path / losing our grasp / through the grand parade.”

Album Lowlight: Honestly, there isn’t much to report about in this department. There was a little more edginess to Slave Ambient that could have had a place somewhere in this handful of tracks, but the cleaned-up facade lends to the act’s maturity. It’s kinda the WOD style to include a filler track, “The Haunting Idle,” but there’s plenty to stick your teeth into with the other nine standout tracks.

Takeaway: Lost in the Dream has garnered much buzz before it’s true release, and for good reason, as The War on Drugs are ready to take the next step into the spotlight, creeping out of the darkness. This next step was achieved by former member, Kurt Vile, so it was only a matter of time before The War On Drugs broke to the next level; they’ve sold out the major demographics on this upcoming spring tour weeks in advance. When a truly inspired artist borrows from the past while looking to the future, the outcome can be something fully new and exciting, which is what we have here.

The brilliance in Granduciel lies in his delivery, both musically and lyrically, crooning about the sometimes-not-so-simple intricacies of existence. Life, love and everything else in between can be tricky, yet Granduciel calmly assures us that things can work out. The long play of this record is so rewarding and grows with hopes that more can be brought into the light. Oh, and that the state rock and roll is just fine.

~Kevin Quandt

Outside Lands 2014: Lineup locks, likely acts & long shots

OSL_Windmill-Scene-by-Tim-HampsonPhotos by Tim Hampson // Written by Mike Frash & Kevin Quandt //

Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival //
Golden Gate Park – San Francisco
August 8th-10th, 2014 //

As we inch towards springtime, leading to summer, and Coachella is within a month’s reach, some Bay Area music freaks (like us) begin to speculate about who is gonna be gracing those stages freckled throughout Golden Gate Park come August. Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival is set to return to SF on August 8th-10th.

The greatest indicators are the group’s touring schedules — Osheaga Music Festival in Montreal and Pickathon in Oregon have announced their schedules the weekend prior to Outside Lands (with Lollapalooza to still be announced). Squamish Valley Music Festival in British Columbia is the same weekend as Outside Lands, but Vancouver is close enough for artists to double dip.

Conversely, we can confirm some big acts that won’t be on the bill due to scheduling conflicts. But if this is even close to what the Outside Lands 2014 lineup looks like, the Bay Area should be in for a delicious, fog-enhanced treat.

UPDATE 4/7: The lineup has been announced!

Girls-on-Fire-Main-Stage-Tim

Lock It In (we think)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: A new album on the way and a lack of dates out West makes him a solid candidate for top billing this year. Also, keep in mind that OSL has never repeated headliners, as well as the fact that Super Fly (Bonnaroo), who along with Another Planet Presents, handles the bulk of the booking.

Arctic Monkeys: [CONFIRMED] These festival stalwarts announced an extensive tour with a noticeable gap in the western demographic which leads to speculation that they’ll return for a sub-headlining set. Confirmed for August 10th at Osheaga.

Chromeo: [CONFIRMED] A Red Rocks date on August 5th is a good sign that these party starters are en route back to San Francisco for a possible Twin Peaks headlining spot. 

Modest Mouse: Confirmed for Osheaga, and with no California dates on the calendar for the recently announced tour, Modest Mouse is starting to look like a lock.

Cut Copy: [CONFIRMED] Cut Copy and Chromeo are on parallel tracks. Both will have played APE shows in the past year, and their tour buses are aligning toward the Bay in early August.

CHVRCHES: [CONFIRMED] Confirmed for Osheaga, it just makes sense that one of the the biggest breakout acts of 2013 will triumphantly return to the Bay after playing the Independent, Mezzanine & Fox Theater Oakland over the past year.

Flume: [CONFIRMED] It’s due time for this EDM heat-seeker to return to San Francisco, and what better place and time than Outside Lands. Flume’s popularity could land him Twin Peaks headlining duties.

Tycho: [CONFIRMED] Having become the darlings of Another Planet, what better progressive act to grace the bill than Tycho. Sold out shows in the coming weeks lend to a strong demand.

Foster the People: Performing at Squamish Valley Music Festival Friday lends a good possibility that Mark Foster and band will trek down to Golden Gate Park for a Sunday set. A slot at Osheaga Festival the weekend prior says they’ll be hitting many large events as they support their latest release Supermodel.

Iron & Wine and Glen Hansard: These two artists are booked to play Hollywood Bowl on August 10th, leading most savvy music aficionados to make the leap that these acts will be present.

Danny Brown: A lack of Bay Area dates coupled with spots on the ‘OSL crossover’ festival, Squamish, could mean we are in for a ‘Kush Koma’ with oddball, Danny Brown. 

Mad-Rush-Tim

Likely To Appear

Elton John: The announcement of Sir Elton playing Bonnaroo has fueled this rumor nicely, even if questions of availability swirl. The main issue would be surrounding a clause with Caesars where John has a residency. However, this Vegas run ends in April, so it looks possible.

Green Day: These Bay Area legends have surprisingly never played Outside Lands, and it seems possible we’ll see them grace the main stage for a night with Billy Joe and company. 

Coldplay: New music on the way, coupled with scheduled appearances at South by Southwest is a clear sign that Chris Martin and lads are gearing up to re-dominate the world with their anthemic rock. Also, never headlined OSL.

Tiësto: [CONFIRMED] Ranger Dave likes to book some of the biggest names in the EDM world to ‘compete’ with headliners, attracting a slightly younger crowd to congregate at Twin Peaks on most evenings. Tiësto’s production would fit nicely into the bigness of past DJ spotlights.

Frank Ocean: Frankie is mounting his come back after a relatively quiet past few years. His billing on Bonnaroo fuels the speculation that Super Fly booked him, and other acts, for more than just Roo.

The Flaming Lips: [CONFIRMED] Wayne Coyne has had a busy past few months with a recent release and some serious Fall touring. Now, as summer looms, it appears the Lips will be omnipresent at summer festivals. Recent Another Planet shows coupled with Bonnaroo presence make these weirdo legends a likely booking.

Lorde: Has any act ever gone to sub-headliner status this quickly? Based on her popularity and the way she’s altered the pop landscape, Lorde deserves it. She’s confirmed to play Osheaga and her April dates at Fox Theater sold out immediately.

Chance the Rapper: No longer Chicago’s secret, Chancelor Bennett needs to get better acquainted with the Bay Area. There is a gap in his schedule, and the Acid Rapper is confirmed for Osheaga.

HAIM: [CONFIRMED] For being California girls, sisters Este, Danielle and Alana could show a bit more love to the Bay Area (They’ve played in England over 20 times). Their first ever show in the Bay was at Treasure Island Music Festival last year, and their fauxchella Fillmore dates were tough tickets to snag as they sold out in seconds.

Lykke Li: [CONFIRMED] Confirmed for Friday of Squamish, it’s very possible the breathtaking Swedish singer-songwriter could grace Outside Lands on Sunday.

Foxygen: Even though there has been turmoil (broken legs, inner-band conflict), the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic should come play “San Francisco” in it’s namesake. The group is confirmed for Pickathon as well.

Mikal Cronin: [CONFIRMED] The singer-songwriter has become quite the popular local musician and would be ideal for a showcase of SF rock. Booked for the Oregon Pickathon means he’ll be active around this time. 

Valerie June: [CONFIRMED] The American singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is playing Pickathon and other West Coast dates prior to Outside Lands. June’s sound will fit nicely into the festival’s curation net.

On-The-Rail-Tim

It Could Happen

Kanye West: [CONFIRMED] As it appears OutKast will not be the infamous first hip-hop headliner, we look to Kanye West as an outside possibility as the debut of rap taking center stage one summer evening. Inclusion on Bonnaroo’s docket makes a reasonably strong start to an argument for Yeezy.

Eminem: Already a rumored headliner for Lollapalooza, Slim Shady has also booked a co-headlining date with Rihanna at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena the Thursday before Outside Lands while also confirmed for Squamish on Sunday the 10th. Starting to trend toward “likely”, should we be adding RiRi as a rumored headliner?

Tool: Already playing two SF shows in March, would it be that much of a surprise to see Tool headlining one night? Certainly they are big enough to handle top billing duties.

Pharrell Williams: A Ranger Dave’s “hat” tweet has led many to speculate the possibility of Williams’ presence on the festival grounds. Limited dates pepper his itinerary, so it’s anyone’s guess.

The Avett Brothers: Having not played the event in over five years and select festival appearances over the summer, one could make the argument that Avett will return. Bonnaroo booking also helps this case.

Kendrick Lamar: K-Dot’s touring schedule is open, but there are no obvious indicators an Outside Lands appearance will happen. But for a festival that’s usually short on hip hop & rap, it would be too fun to see the Outside Lands stage and surrounding area get crazy during “Backseat Freestyle”.

Gogol Bordello: The Gypsy-punk freaks are confirmed to play Osheaga, and they played Outside Lands in 2010. A return seems possible.

Jagwar Ma: [CONFIRMED] Being rather active in the festival realm in 2014, these party-starters can easily jump from Osheaga over to SF. A previous Another Planet-booked show at the Independent demonstrates there is communication present.
 
Polo-Field-3-Tim

Long Shots: Already booked elsewhere (don’t count on it)

OutKast: Andre 3000 and Big Boi might be playing over 40 festivals this year, but Outside Lands won’t be one of them. OutKast is confirmed for Flow Festival in Finland the same weekend as Outside Lands.

Arcade Fire: Win Butler and company are performing at Squamish Valley Music Festival, but they have a date set at Shoreline in July, and they headlined three years ago.

Jack Johnson
Queens of the Stone Age
Robert Plant
Santana
Neutral Milk Hotel
Janelle Monae
DARKSIDE
Mac Demarco

Twin-Peaks-Scene-Tim

Bridge School Benefit 2012: Sunday Highlights

Organized by legend Neil Young and his wife, Pegi, the Bridge School Benefit Concert is an annual, all acoustic, non-profit charity event held every October at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. All proceeds directly benefit the operations of The Bridge School.

•The day opened with a short blessing and intro set from Neil Young.

•Austin-based Gary Clark Jr. impressed with an early set that set the tone for the rest of the day.

K.D. Lang played a short, emotional set with a strong voice and stage presence.

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers mixed comedy and bluegrass into a pleasing set. Comedy aside, Steve Martin is a more than competent banjo player.

Foster the People delivered one the strongest sets of the day. They performed hits including “Houdini” and “Pumped up Kicks,” incorporating xylophone and tubular bells to round out their sound in this acoustic setting. On Saturday, Mark Foster revealed it was a challenge adapting their electronic-oriented music to the required acoustic sound, but it was ultimately a rewarding challenge.

•As good as Sarah McLachlan is, I cannot hear her anymore without thinking about this:

The Flaming Lips enlisted Reggie Watts for their set and ended the night with a cover of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” Reggie accompanied Wayne on vocals with a little help on the lyrics from his iphone. Or he was tweeting.

Jack White brought out his all-male band on Sunday to play tracks from his latest album Blunderbuss, his collaboration with Danger Mouse Rome, and the White Stripes classics “We’re Going to to Be Friends” & “Hotel Yorba.” Saturday night saw the all female band perform with White, and they played their slower-paced songs like “Love Interruption” & “Blunderbuss.”

•After hearing about Saturday’s Guns n’ Roses performance, I expected the worst on Sunday. Axl got his act together and delivered a 40-minute set that actually sounded pretty good. They finished out their set with Neil Young playing Neil’s “Don’t Let it Bring You Down.”

Neil Young previewed a few songs from his upcoming album Psychedelic Pill. As per custom, the night ended with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” that brought out almost all the artists from the day, minus Jack White.