At the recently reopened UC Theatre, M. Ward digs into his dreamy folk-pop

M. WardBy Steve Carlson //

M. Ward with NAF //
The UC Theatre – Berkeley, CA
July 8th, 2016 //

Known for his excellent work with Monsters of Folk (Jim James, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis) and Zooey Deschanel as one half of She & Him, M. Ward brought his dreamy style of folk-pop to the recently reopened UC Theatre in Berkeley last Friday night while on tour in support of his latest studio release More Rain.

Support was provided by Jenny Lewis’ newest project NAF (Nice As Fuck), a supergroup of sorts featuring Au Revoir Simone’s Erika Forster and The Like’s Tennessee Thomas. The trio performed its entire set in relative darkness in the middle of the main floor while surrounded by the audience.

Concertgoers were repeatedly asked to keep their cellphones in their pocket and be in the moment at the request of the artists, and thankfully the plea did not fall on deaf ears in the packed house, which made for a welcome respite from the usual sea of cell phone screens seen at shows nowadays. Luckily though, Showbams was on hand to document M. Ward’s memorable headlining performance.

Live music artists ignite the dawn of a smartphone backlash


By Mike Frash //

Mobile technology and social media have advanced exponentially the past five to ten years, connecting scores of individuals that would have never met a decade ago, enabling us to share narcissistic musings and photos at a moment’s notice. (Unsurprisingly, “Selfie” is the “Word of the Year”.) Bottom line — It’s mostly a glorious thing to live in the age of information and rapidly expanding technology.

But holy shit do we misuse it sometimes. Our social behaviors frankly haven’t caught up to our relatively newfangled devices that are always available in our pockets and purses.

The Pope’s inauguration at the Vatican, in 2005 & 2013.

It’s all changed so quickly, hasn’t it? Communication abilities, access to content & opinions, the structure of web-based writing itself and a pervasive social media mentality have all collided and intermingled magnificently since Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007. Consequently a massive smartphone market has flourished, and a large majority of us have gotten a bit more ADHD.

Our collective focus and attention span have changed significantly, taking a turn for the horrible. It’s become second nature for many to plug-in to their smartphones while mentally checking out of their immediate surroundings, whether we’re riding the bus, enjoying drinks with friends or experiencing a concert.

Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, recently said, “We have a world that’s been engineered to distract us.” This can’t be denied when a Facebook update, tweet or Instagram upload is always only a finger tap or two away.

One of the most contentious issues revolving around smartphones today is crowd-based photography and videography at shows. A continuous lack of technology awareness from just one individual can inhibit the live music experience for those around the bright screen being held just above eye level. Not only is the screen-addicted cinematographer distracted, but so is everyone else, including the artists on stage.

So is this the new normal, or is this a trend that can be addressed and changed? There are a handful of artists that have spoken out this year, igniting what might be the roots of a mainstream “be where you are” backlash in the world of live music.


In the year that Arcade Fire’s Win Butler crooned, “We fell in love when I was nineteen / And I was staring at a screen,” many artists have fought back against concert camera phone use, putting their proverbial foot down explicitly, politely and absurdly.

UK-based Savages fired the loudest, most forceful warning shot of 2013. The all-female foursome released their debut album Silence Yourself to critical acclaim, taking the ethos of the record on the road with them by banning phones based on the idea of immersion. For every show, they put up signs that read:

Our goal is to discover better ways of living and experiencing music. We believe that the use of phones to film and take pictures during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves. Let’s make this evening special. Silence your phones.

That show at the Independent in San Francisco was special because of Savages’ intense, smart use of contrast and due to the room’s communal, energetic focus. The phone ban helped, keeping most devices out of sight.

Savages haven’t been alone this past year shaming phones at shows. Prince threatened to boot any patrons caught playing director on his west coast club tour, and the Artist excluded all media photographers outright. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s phone ban sign was way more punk than Savages’ nuanced approach, advising that ticket holders “PUT THAT SHIT AWAY.” Neko Case stopped her show in Cincinnati multiple times October 22, threatening to end the show early because of flashing phone photos, finally saying “Just put away the cameras. It isn’t going to kill you, but it might kill me.” David Byrne & St. Vincent, She & Him, The Polyphonic Spree & Bjork all prohibited phone photography or asked for devices to be put away mid-show this year as well.

Ever the groundbreaker, Jack White was the one to get the ball rolling in the summer of 2012. Rumor spread that the young living legend demanded that fans avoid social media and not take photos during his show, and the public backlash was surprising brutal. White’s label Third Man Records later clarified, “the only thing that we’ve ever asked of the audience is to not take pictures or videos while holding up their camera phones, etc that block other peoples view or otherwise hinder other fans concert experiences.” The message continued, “Along with that, the bigger idea is for people to experience the event with their own eyes and not watch an entire show through a tiny screen in their hand.”

Father John Misty performed through a giant iPhone on his recently wrapped solo tour. Perhaps J. Tillman wanted to treat the audience to the same visual that has been thrown in his face the past two years. But Father John Misty gets bonus points for referring to himself as “content.”


Some artists are using mobile technology to enhance their live performance. Dan Deacon told his fans to download his interactive app before his show via a projected message at the venue. Then during one song late in the set, he instructed the audience to pull phones out, launch the app, and dance with it. Deacon controlled the color blasts and strobe effects that emanated from scattered smartphones, using the devices to bring the collective attention of the crowd together. Pretty Lights followed suit this year at Outside Lands with a much bigger audience.

So the possibilities for using our pocket computers to enhance the live music experience are out there and will likely gain steam.

Author Daniel Goleman explains the phenomenon quite effectively:

We all are carrying technological devices, our phones, our iPads, and whatever it may be, and they are diabolically designed to take advantage of the weaknesses of our attention system and nab us, and keep us nabbed. And so we’re constantly fighting distractions. That’s why, I think focus is more important than ever.


Certainly there is a difference between popping out your Android for 10 seconds to snap off a couple shots versus literally shooting an entire concert on your smartphone with it’s shitty sound recording capabilities.

The Festival Lawyer explained this best in his Upgrade article:

Maybe you might want to record the whole show on your iPhone (or now iPads? seriously?) and just stand there and focus on getting the best video and pics. I’m not here to judge or scold you. Although I do feel the need to point out that you will NEVER watch that stupid motherfucking shaky video again and you are watching something through a tiny screen that is actually happening really big and loud RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU LIVE!!! (Umm…actually maybe I am judging you a tiny bit. Sorry.)

Ultimately, it’s about finding balance between capturing the moment and immersing in the moment.

When someone is shooting a song-long video during a show, staring through a screen version of their current reality, and thinking about their friends watching it on YouTube later, that person is simply not in the moment.

The musical moments that give us auditory pleasure and ingrain in our memories are significantly more powerful and important than anything that can be captured on a phone.

Just take a look at the Jimmy Kimmel crowd at their outdoor stage…

This is the new normal — we’re all photographers. (Granted, people that go to a free taping in Los Angeles don’t represent a typical concert crowd.)

We are moving toward a world where we are more connected to our phones than each other. Many of us (yes, including myself) are too damned dependent on digital devices.

It’s a bit scary to contemplate a generation born with Facebook accounts. A generation of kids that are given tablets to stop them from crying at a restaurant. A third generation that is routinely fed amphetamine-based drugs when focus is an issue, even though we don’t teach attention-based skill strategies (yet).

In his book, Goleman wrote, “Today’s children are growing up in a new reality, one where they are attuning more to machines and less to people than has ever been true in human history. That’s troubling for several reasons. For one, the social and emotional circuitry of a child’s brain learns from contact and conversation with everyone it encounters over the course of a day. These interactions mold brain circuitry; the fewer hours spent with people— and the more spent staring at a digitized screen— portends deficits.”

The problem here is way bigger than just experiencing a show through a smartphone.

Phone zombies can SnapChat all day if they want to, but it’s critical that we live in the moment as much as possible and enjoy who we are with. The key is to identify screen addiction, set new habits through cognitive control & repetition, and be where you are to the best of your ability in this distracting age of information.


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New Music Tuesday: She & Him • Deerhunter • Savages • Mikal Cronin

She & Him - Volume 3

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

She & HimVolume 3

2-BamsTop Tracks:
“I Could’ve Been Your Girl”
“Never Wanted Your Love”
“Somebody Sweet To Talk To”

Album Highlights: Consistency is the key to this band’s success, but it also might unintentionally be it’s downfall. The first volume She and Him put out in 2008 was a welcomed breath of fresh air, but not much beyond the production value of their recordings has shown growth from their debut. Zooey Deschanel’s vocals remain at the forefront in their staple Motown throwback stereo. M.Ward’s influence can mostly be seen this time around within the advanced arrangements of tracks like “Never Wanted Love” and “Somebody Sweet To Talk To”. His role, undeniably, is playing second fiddle to the spotlight Deschanel’s mainstream celebrity casts upon the outfit. Although, this album opens itself up to M. Ward’s musical creativity more so than the previous two volumes. While maintaining the Deschanel songwriting template, she definitely crafted these tracks with Ward in mind. And the strongest cuts are the ones he was allowed a bit more free reign on.

Album Lowlight: Embarking upon a musical career during the same time you’re typecasting yourself as an actor can be tricky. Especially when both roles will inherently be effecting your overall branding as a performer. If Deschanel had been given a chance to establish herself as one or the other, chances are she would have been successful in either pursuit. However, since fame came coincidingly, she as well as the work she produces creatively suffers. Whereas enlisting the help from veteran singer songwriter M. Ward proves beneficial, neither of them are fully able to establish their voice in this recording. Efforts made on “Volume 3” are by far the most graduated of the previous two full lengths, the songs still seem reserved and too careful. This even shows when covering Blondie’s “Sunday Girl”, a somewhat tame song compared to the rest of the band’s post punk catalogue. Instead of embracing the energy behind Deborah Harry’s spitfire lead vocals, Deschanel plays it safe with a watered down version of the classically sassy song.

Takeaway: The She and Him dynamic obviously isn’t broken and many may agree that it doesn’t need to be fixed, however if Volume 3 is any indication, there is room for expansion beyond the standard formula. The third album in this duo’s history, conceived at a crucial time in their poster girl’s career, is one that fails to take several creative risks – yet at the same time it offers promise for their future as a band. Stepping away from their typically stripped down compositions and kicking it up a notch in the studio, listeners get a glimpse of what the duo can achieve and hopefully will trend to in future years. Much more than a doe eyed naivete, Deschanel has great vocal capacity and a knack for saccharine, sweet songwriting. M. Wards’ collaborative track record, success as a solo artist and innate production skills are proof in itself that this band unfiltered could be something great. Branching out on tracks like “Together” and “I Could’ve Been Your Girl (reprise)” allude to a possible shift in direction, that if embraced could elevate She and Him to the next level effortlessly.

~Molly Kish


3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“The Missing”
“Neon Junkyard”

Album Highlights: Deerhunter’s follow-up to their 2010’s classic Halcyon Digest is decided more garage-rock than exploratory or psychedelic, as indicated by the interesting choice of “Monomania” as the lead single. There are more cohesive noise-pop tracks on Deerhunter’s 5th LP Monomania that would play to a wider audience. Take “The Missing” and it’s catchy lyrics over chord-progressive guitar picking from Lockett Pundt, who has mastered single-note electric guitar melody-making with Lotus Plaza. But that’s no fun, because Bradford Cox is punk rock. Monomania is defined as a single pathological preoccupation to the point of partial insanity, and Cox channels this literally in the song by singing “in my head there is something rotting dead”, followed shortly thereafter with the repetitive chanting of “mono-monomania” mid-song, and it continues through until the track is over. And it ends with a crashing minute long outro that is led by a chainsaw. That tells you everything you need to know about Deerhunter’s desire to “go mainstream”; this desire apparently does not exist, and that’s fine. Cox’s unpredictable nature, and subsequently Deerhunter’s seemingly random musical directions, provide surprises that can be thrilling. And it’s Cox’s addiction to constantly creating music with Deerhunter and his solo moniker Atlas Sound that is his monomania, and we appreciate his problem.

The hallmark of a Deerhunter album is the duality of chaotic, noisy garage-psych tracks and simple, shoe-gazey peaceful songs. And often the best Deerhunter tracks somehow unite this order and chaos into a cut that becomes transcendent music – see “Helicopter” or “Coronado” from Halcyon Digest. This contrasting nature of songs, often in alternate track progression, one after the other, is one of the most appealing aspects of Deerhunter record. This time the abrasive, purposefully muddled tracks mostly bookend the LP (except for “Nitebike”), with “Neon Junkyard” and “Monmania” being the most successful high-stress tracks. The “order” songs are smushed into the middle of this sandwich, providing most of the meat. “Sleepwalking” provides hypnotic lyrics that parallel the equally entrancing guitar work. “T.H.M.” is a delightfully unsettling track that sounds like looping, simple Atlas Sound track until they end up layering in a repetitive wheezing sound to the the beat during the outro. The song needed a little more dirt on it.

Album Lowlight: “Nitebike” just doesn’t take flight, and since it’s just Bradford – acoustic guitar and muted vocals – it probably should have been saved and improved for the next Atlas Sound record. “Leather Jacket II” is all shock value, daring the listener to finish it in order to break through to the inversely peaceful subsquent track “The Missing”. “Pensacola” seems out of place, like an odd take on Americana. Overall there are plenty of contrasting moments, but they are sometimes more jarring than awe-inspiring…and that’s most likely intentional.

Takeaway: The drums and bass are gritty, the guitars are distorted and the vocals are high in the mix. These are classic attributes of punk rock, and this raw, loose album could be partially classified as such. In this context, Monomania is a success. The final track of the LP “Punk (La Vie Antérieure)” hints at being punk in a previous life – and Cox seems to have a bit of monomania in regards to the idea of “being punk”. After his striking performance of “Monomania” on Jimmy Fallon, where he wore a wig and walked off stage mid-song into the halls of 30 Rock like a zombie (see lead photo above), Cox was told by the head of his record label that the performance was “great” (via P4K). Cox responded, “I don’t care if it was great…Was it punk?” Bradford Cox later explained, “My idea of punk is not being interested in what other people think of punk.”

This album gets better and better the deeper you get into it, but the triumph is not akin to the success of the last four tracks from Halcyon Digest. But the lofty heights Deerhunter found in Halcyon Digest are not even attempted to be rediscovered here. It felt safe before hearing Monomania to think it might be even more accessible or pop-oriented. But more than ever, Bradford Cox is blazing his own manic path, destroying everyone’s expectations and boggling them into something unexpected.

~Mike Frash

SavagesSilence Yourself

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Shut Up”
“I Am Here”
“She Will”

Album Highlights: Savages, the all female post-punk rockers from London who have been generating significant buzz at big name festivals like SXSW & Coachella, have finally released their debut album and its quite impressive. The opening track “Shut Up” starts with a nasty bassline played by Ayse Hassan, who seriously knows her way around the bass. I really enjoyed her work throughout the album. Gemma Thompson on guitar is no slouch either, but really it’s all about Jehnny Beth’s voice. She is a force to be reckoned with and had me constantly thinking of a punked out version of Grace Slick.

Album Lowlight: “Hit Me” doesn’t need to be on the album – it feels like it was thrown in to fill out the record. It starts off extremely aggressive and just turns to noise by the end of the song. There’s a reason why it’s the shortest song on the album. It’s not very good.

Takeaway: Savages are gonna be around for long time if they keep producing music like Silence Yourself. The album really flows nicely except for the one minor hiccup. The band shows their range with the piano driven final track “Marshal Dear”, which leads way to a disoriented horn solo that sends us off quite nicely. This album has so much energy and sheer force, instead of drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, throw on this album. You’ll wake up.

~Pete Mauch

Mikal CroninMCII

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“See It My Way”
“Turn Away”

Album Highlights: The self-titled LP release by Mikal Cronin some two years ago was another arrow in the quiver of San Francisco garage rock. Yes, his take on the sound leaned more towards a pop sentiment, and now with MCII he further polishes off the reverb and fuzz. Vocals are also another strong suit for Mikal, as demonstrated on the power psych-pop track “Turn Away”, especially when coupled with an infectious beat, perfect for head bopping and hip shaking. He also digs deeper into the rock-pop sounds that put English music on the map in the 60s. Lastly, closing track titled “Piano Mantra” shows off a new-found knack for song arrangements and composition, combining strings, piano and sludgy guitar.

Album Lowlight: Having grown up playing with Ty Segall and Charlie Mootheart (Fuzz), one might wince at the overt pop sound that permeates this release. However, as a still-young performer he is striking out on his own accord to a sound that fits him more than the thrash and grind of his early contemporaries.

Takeaway: The singer-songwriter side of Cronin truly is one of the most striking aspects of this album, and it’s apparent that when on his own he deviates from the San Francisco psychedelic equation to try his hand at acoustic power chords rather than heavy pedal use. The recent college graduate is one exciting local act to pay attention to, and as he finds a voice and sound all his own. One can only be thrilled for what comes next.

~Kevin Quandt