The Barr Brothers continue to amaze at The Indy

The Barr BrothersPhotos by Sam Heller // Written by Kevin Quandt //

The Barr Brothers with Snow Angel //
The Independent – San Francisco
May 23rd, 2015 //

A cold, blustery night greeted The Barr Brothers on this recent tour stop, landing at The Independent for an eclectic night of music. Having released both an EP and full-length album in the past year, the band had plenty of recent material to keep longtime fans thrilled while winning over many more. Gabby La La’s most recent psych-pop project Snow Angel opened the evening with a sitar-driven set of quirky songs as the room filled.

The Montreal-based headliner strolled onto the stage with a calm, breezy confidence as these touring veterans are true pros at delivering powerful material that is both precisely focused and able to take flight with expanded parts. Brad and Andrew Barr’s previous band The Slip was well-versed in these characteristics, which have carried over to a more-indie-leaning sound. Sarah Page, who plays a full-sized harp, has really shown her prowess on an instrument that is rarely featured in such a setting. The interplay between Brad on guitar with Page was a highlight on this evening.

The Barr Brothers

Tracks from their recently released EP Alta Falls were peppered throughout their colorful setlist, as one of the centerpieces of this band is their range of sound. Reserved moments of psychedelia can seamlessly lead into Americana-tinged segments, leaving a taste for all palettes to be consumed and enjoyed. “Love Ain’t Enough” was the climax as Brad soulfully belted out vocals so calm and relaxed that transcendence seemed within reach. One can only anticipate their next move and how they’ll continue to carve out a deeper, critically acclaimed niche.

The Barr Brothers

The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2014

St. Vincent at Fox Theatre Oakland // Showbams' Photo of the Year, by Pedro


St. Vincent at Fox Theater Oakland // Showbams’ Photo of the Year, by Pedro Paredes

Ah, year-end lists — they’re an exercise in subjectivity and personal experience if there has ever been one. But what better way is there to learn from each other and discover some great new music while capping off the year and beginning anew?

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite shows, albums and songs from 2014.

The 25 Best Live Music Acts of 2014
Showbams’ Top 50 Albums of 2014

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2014:


Darkside at The Fillmore

Darkside at The Fillmore // Photo by James Nagel

Mike Frash // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. Darkside at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – January 24th
Looking at my top five shows list for 2014, it appears I favor the weird, ya know, the good weird. This Darkside performance, the only SF show ever (for now) since Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington have put the project on indefinite hold, had patrons at The Fillmore in SF breathing and moving in unison. There was a magical feeling in the air as the hybrid of electronic and organic played out wonderfully with the duo tipping their hat to the past and setting a new standard for the brave new future of live music.

2. Panda Bear at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – May 22nd
3. tUnE-yArDs at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – June 6th
4. Phish at MGM Grand – Las Vegas, NV – October 31st
5. Volcano Choir at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – January 21st

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. Run the JewelsRun the Jewels 2
Ever since Jamie and Mikey blew my mind performing Run the Jewels almost in its entirety at The Independent in August of 2013, I’ve been a loyal RTJ soldier. And without taking a break, El Producto and Killer Mike stepped it up to an even higher plateau with their production precision, an uncanny balance of fun and intense, while lyrically honing more on the important issues of our time. Sensing the unstoppable momentum, Run the Jewels are already heading back into the studio for Run the Jewels 3. When Mike was recently asked if they’d continue to name their albums numerically, he said “Why not?!? Zeppelin did it!” Exactly. Say it with me now: Festival headliners circa 2016?

2. The War on DrugsLost in the Dream
3. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
4. Aphex TwinSyro
5. The Antlers – Familiars

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All the Way Down”
This is country music turned on its head, while staying mostly true to the hallmarks of the genre. Lyrically subversive while instrumentally emotive to the core, this song kept me coming back throughout 2014. It’s positive message of love winning over all else is certainly timeless, but when was the last time you heard a country tune tell a story of mind over matter transcendence? “There’s a gateway in our minds that leads somewhere out there, far beyond this place / Where reptile aliens made of light, cut you up and pull out all your pain.” Stirgill Simpson is as progressive as you can get within the realm of Americana, urging the listener to both think and feel.

2. St. Vincent – “Digital Witness”
3. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
4. FKA twigs – “Two Weeks”
5. Flying Lotus – “Never Catch Me” feat. Kendrick Lamar


Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails // Photo by Rob Sheridan for NIN.com

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. Nine Inch Nails & Soundgarden at Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO – July 21st
What a dream come true. Having the opportunity to see two of my favorite childhood bands at one of the best venues in the country would be hard to beat any year, let alone in 2014. Sharing the bill with Soundgarden on this tour, Trent Reznor made the most of a minimalist stage setup and trimmed-down lineup of sidekicks. Of the four shows (Red Rocks, Chula Vista, Irvine and Hollywood) I saw on this tour, this one felt particularly special. If this was one of the last times I ever got to see Nine Inch Nails perform live, it was a night I will never forget.

2. Jack White at The Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA – June 10th
3. Cinquanta featuring Puscifer, A Perfect Circle and Failure at The Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA – May 10th
4. Queens of the Stone Age at The Forum – Los Angeles, CA – October 31st
5. Tool at Valley View Casino Center – San Diego, CA – March 16th

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. The Black KeysTurn Blue
Akron’s favorite rockers answered the call this year, following up their Grammy-winning album El Camino with arguably their most ambitious effort to date — especially when you consider the turmoil that surrounded Dan Auerbach’s life at the time of its recording. Over the last five years, the Keys have become one of rock’s biggest bands, but they haven’t stopped taking risks as a result. Turn Blue dabbles in a myriad of styles, from the psychedelic sound of Pink Floyd on its opening track “Weight of Love” to the hip-hop groove on “10 Lovers.” For as many critics as they have, Auerbach and Patrick Carney have come a long way since their early years as strictly a blues duo.

2. The War on DrugsLost in the Dream
3. Jack WhiteLazaretto
4. Aphex TwinSyro
5. Death from Above 1979The Physical World

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. Jack White – “High Ball Stepper”
Jack White seems to be on another level these days. The former White Stripe has grown into one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most exciting talents, and this blues-heavy, instrumental track showcases that better than any other offering on Lazaretto. White’s ferocious guitar riffs dominate the tune, taking listeners on an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. And when he plays “High Ball Stepper” live, the song takes on a new whole life of its own.

2. Foo Fighters – “Something for Nothing”
3. Interpol – “All the Rage Back Home”
4. TV on the Radio – “Happy Idiot”
5. Tycho – “Awake”


Jack White at BGCA // Photo by

Jack White at Bill Graham Civic // Photo by David James Swanson

Steven Wandrey // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. Jack White at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA – August 22nd
From the dramatic curtain drop that slammed into high-octane rock, this show never let off the gas. Even with a bum ankle, Jack White stalked the stage and held power over the crowd. When the slowest moments of a show are White Stripes ballads that you’re giddy to hear and the other half of the show is headbanging, guitar-slinging rock, it’s easy to see how this show cemented itself as the best of 2014.

2. Atomic Bomb! The Music of William Onyeabor at The Warfield – San Francisco, CA – May 6th
3. The War on Drugs at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – April 1st
4. Run the Jewels at Mezzanine – San Francisco, CA – November 14th
5. Duck Sauce at Outside Lands Music Festival – August 9th

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. Flying LotusYou’re Dead!
This album makes me feel like I’m actually traveling through the underworld to the land of the dead. From front to back, the first thing that caught me about this album was its consistent message. Steven Ellison has an inviting sense of storytelling that’s infused with hip-hop but touches on an array of different music styles, involving a star-studded cast of guests, including Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Snoop Dog. I have a feeling Flying Lotus is on the forefront of creative hip-hop and that this album will prove to be influential down the line. More importantly, I just love listening to it. Taking wild turns from frenetic to serene, listening to this album from start to finish is a journey.

2. Aphex TwinSyro
3. Run the JewelsRun the Jewels 2
4. Future IslandsSingles
5. Tweedy – Sukierae

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. Run the Jewels – “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”
The minimalist production and deep, rumbling bass frequencies have helped this track become my No. 1 listened to on the album and also No. 1 for the year. The complimentary flow that El-P and Killer Mike have together is on display in this track. This cut has infected my brain like a virus (the good kind?), and I just can’t get enough.

2. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
3. Sam Smith – “I’m Not the Only One”
4. Flying Lotus – “Never Catch Me” (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
5. Perfume Genius – “Queen”


Future Islands at The Chapel // Photo by

Future Islands at The Chapel // Photo by Pedro Paredes

Kevin Quandt // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. Future Islands at Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA – April 12th
It’s been a banner year for the Baltimore darlings we have grown to love as Future Islands. Breaking through the underground touring circuit to being a highly sought-after festival act was quick and clean as the passionate stage performance of Samuel Harrington could not be ignored by growing audiences. A packed Gobi Tent was eating from the frontman’s palm as Herrington poured himself out on stage, belting out a set heavy on new tracks and old favorites. It was a pivotal point where both the band and audience knew that Future Islands had arrived at the next stage of their career.

2. The Cure at BottleRock Napa Valley – Napa, CA – May 30th
3. Phish at MGM Grand Arena – Las Vegas, NV – October 31st
4. Connan Mockasin at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – May 15th
5. Deerhoof at Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA – November 18th 

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. The War on DrugsLost in the Dream 
Adam Granduciel had one helluva 2014 to brag about. His third studio album Lost in the Dream was an overwhelming success, and all for good reason as the lush waves of rock swell over the listener like a warm Christmas sweater, just less ugly than the one you wore to that one party. “Under the Pressure” opens this release in epic fashion and does not let up from there. Guitar rock is not dead!

2. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
3. Run the JewelsRun the Jewels 2
4. D’Angelo – Black Messiah 
5. White Fence – For the Recently Found Innocent  

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. Flying Lotus – “Never Catch Me” (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
Steven Ellison’s left-field meditation on death, as demonstrated on 2014’s release You’re Dead!, is not for everyone and is more about the full album than the sum of its parts (tracks). However, there is one shining beacon of a collaboration that could not be cast aside in the form of “Never Catch Me”. The partnership of one of the hottest MCs with one of the most sought-after producers was meant to be a brutally infectious slice of off-kilter street music. 

2. Caribou – “Can’t Do Without You”
3. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
4. Beck – “Blue Moon”
5. Ariel Pink – “Put Your Number in My Phone”


Ryan Adams at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2014

Ryan Adams at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2014 // Photo by Pedro Paredes

Pete Mauch // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. Phish at MGM Grand – Las Vegas, NV – October 31st
Phish has made the tradition of covering other artists albums on Halloween, and this year they completely outdid themselves by covering essentially an album of only narrative and spooky sounds. The Disney-produced album The Thrilling and Chilling Sounds of the Taunted House was turned into a rock opera of sorts as Trey and company worked through completely new songs based off just minimal sounds, but the night didn’t just end there. The band played this rock opera sandwiched between two very strong sets of original Phish songs that could have held its own alone.

2. Lettuce’s Late Night in Red Barn at Summer Camp Music Festival – Chillicothe, IL – May 22nd
3. Future Islands at Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA – April 12th
4. Ryan Adams at The Fox Theater Pomona – Pomona, CA – October 11th
5. Todd Terje at FYF Fest – Los Angeles – August 24th

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
When someone as prolific as Ryan Adams puts out a new record, you buy that record and you listen intently. The songs in his first self-titled album may seem simple at first listen, but they stay with you in the back of your mind until you just can’t take it and you re-listen again and again. This is exactly how what I’ve been doing the past few months since the release. Songs like “Gimme Something Good” and “Am I Safe” prove once again that Adams is still on top of his game.

2. The War on DrugsLost in the Dream
3. moe. – No Guts, No Glory
4. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
5. Greensky Bluegrass – If Sorrows Swim

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
“People change / You know but some people never do / You know when people change, they gain a piece but they lose one too.” These lyrics are so uplifting and real, and the music to accompany these amazing lyrics ties the emotion perfectly together.

2. The War on Drugs – “Under the Pressure”
3. The Barr Brothers – “Come in the Water”
4. Temples – “Shelter Song”
5. Caribou – “Can’t Do Without You”


Old Crow Medicine Show at The Regency // Photo by Pedro Paredes

Old Crow Medicine Show at The Regency // Photo by Pedro Paredes

Pedro Paredes // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. Darkside at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – January 24th
The album Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington put together in 2013 was a delight for the ears, but with the show they played at The Fillmore, they were going after every sense in your body. Jaar once said that Darkside’s music was more experiential rather than musical, and they surely succeeded in delivering one of the best musical experiences to all the lucky attendants on that cold January night.

2. Future Islands at The Chapel – San Francisco, CA – April 10th
3. St. Vincent at The Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland, CA – March 22nd
4. James Blake at The Chapel – San Francisco, CA – December 7th
5. Old Crow Medicine Show at The Masonic – San Francisco, CA – September 20th

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. BeckMorning Phase
Beck’s Morning Phase follows the same breezy style as Sea Change, but the latter’s serenity seems to come from darker places. Morning Phase is, as the title suggests, a bit brighter and sets the tone for all the good things yet to come.

2. Run the JewelsRun the Jewels 2
3. Real EstateAtlas
4. The War on DrugsLost in the Dream
5. Perfume Genius – Too Bright

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. alt-J – “Nara”
It is hard to isolate “Nara” as the best song of Alt-J’s latest album This is All Yours since the story told in it is not exclusive to that song and it comes back in different sections of the album (as well as in some of the musical arrangements). But “Nara”, a song about love, deserves to be listened again and again. The 2:58 mark is bliss to my ears.

2. tUnE-yArDs – “Water Fountain”
3. Run the Jewels – “Love Again”
4. Perfume Genius – “Fool”
5. Angel Olsen – “Hi-Five”


St. Vincent at Fox Theater Oakland // Photo by

St. Vincent at Fox Theater Oakland // Photo by Pedro Paredes

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. Nine Inch Nails & Soundgarden at Shoreline Amphitheatre – Mountain View, CA – August 24th
I had never seen either band live before and based on my experience, it was like they had never broken up or aged since the ’90s. Amazing stage/light shows to go along with what was hands down my most eagerly anticipated show of the year.

2. Cibo Matto at Slim’s – San Francisco, CA – February 26th
3. American Football at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – December 12th
4. Failure at Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA – May 14th
5. Crosses at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – March 30th

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. St. VincentSt. Vincent
This album comes off like a chameleon, with many shifts but always staying very characteristically St. Vincent. I feel that she is one of the more important artists to come around over the last few years, and I am excited to see what she does next.

2. Nothing – Guilty of Everything
3. BeckMorning Phase
4. Fugazi – First Demo
5. The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. Spoon – “Do You”
Spoon have a knack for throwing a good toe tapper in their albums. This song is short and sweet, and you cannot help but get caught up in its infectiousness.  

2. Ryan Adams – “Give Me Something Good”
3. St. Vincent – “Prince Johnny”
4. TV on the Radio – “Could You”
5. Nothing – “Bent Nail”


Arcade Fire at Shoreline Amphitheater // Photo by Justin Yee

Arcade Fire at Shoreline Amphitheater // Photo by Justin Yee

Justin Yee // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1) Future Islands at South by Southwest (Cheer Up Charlie’s) – Austin, TX – March 13th
2) Arcade Fire at Shoreline Amphitheatre – Mountain View, CA – July 30th
3) Chromeo at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – April 12th
4) James Blake at The Chapel – San Francisco, CA – December 7th
5) Outkast at Treasure Island Music Festival – San Francisco, CA – October 18th

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1) Future IslandsSingles
2) The War on DrugsLost in the Dream
3) ODESZA – In Return
4) Flying LotusYou’re Dead!
5) CaribouOur Love

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1) Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
2) Chromeo – “Come Alive” feat. Toro y Moi
3) Flying Lotus – “Never Catch Me” feat. Kendrick Lamar
4) Chet Faker – “1998”
5) Mac Demarco – “Let Her Go”


James Blake at The Chapel //

James Blake at The Chapel // Photo by Pedro Paredes

Eric Shaden // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. James Blake at The Chapel – San Francisco, CA – December 7th
I feel bad telling friends about how great this show was since so few people were able to get tickets. An intimate venue hosting such a phenomenal artist was a no-brainer for my top pick. James covered hits from his albums as well as debuted new tracks and an incredible interlude of house jams. I just wish more friends could have seen this!

2. Chromeo at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – April 12th
3. Todd Terje at FYF Fest – Los Angeles, CA – August 24th
4. tUnE-yArDs at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – June 6th
5. Holy Ghost! at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – San Francisco, CA – April 30th

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. Run the JewelsRun the Jewels 2
What else can be said about this album that hasn’t been covered already? An outstanding sequel to Run the Jewels that expands on the original with top-notch production and punishing delivery from El-P and Killer Mike. Without a doubt my top choice of the year.

2. Syd Arthur – A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble
3. D’Angelo – Black Messiah 
4. Sinkane – Mean Love
5. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. D’Angelo – “Sugah Daddy”
I imagine D’Angelo coming back with his long-awaited album in December showed which writers/blogs/etc. wrote their “Best of the Year” lists early. His style of soulful R&B is sorely needed, and “Sugah Daddy” is my favorite from the album. Looking forward to his tour in 2015!

2. Caribou – “Our Love”
3. Aphex Twin – “minipops 67 [120.2]”
4. Jungle – “Time”
5. Jamie xx – “Sleep Sound”


High Sierra Music Festival // Photo by Benjamin Wallen

High Sierra Music Festival // Photo by Benjamin Wallen

Benjamin Wallen // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. High Sierra Music Festival – Quincy, CA – July 2nd-5th
2. Paul McCartney at Candlestick Farewell – Candlestick Park – San Francisco, CA – August 14th
3. Jamestown Revival at Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA – November 28th
4. The String Cheese Incident at Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland, CA – April 24th
5. Greensky Bluegrass at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – November 14th


Cali-Roots_fix

Scott Martin // San Jose

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. California Roots Music Festival at Monterey Fairgrounds – Monterey, CA – May 23rd-25th
2. Rival Sons, Soft White Sixties & Sir Madam at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – September 25th
3. The Pimps of Joytime at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – February 15th
4. Caravan Palace & Rosin Coven at The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco, CA – April 16th
5. Jackie Greene at The Catalyst Club – Santa Cruz, CA – March 26th

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. Bears Den – Islands
2. Milky Chance – Sadnecessary
3. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
4. Mighty Oaks – Howl
5. Solstafir – Otta

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. Bears Den – “Agape”
2. Bears Den – “Isaac”
3. Milky Chance – “Down by the River”
4. Mighty Oaks – “The Great Northwest”
5. Crosses – “Bitches Brew”


MIA at BFD // Photo by Marc Fong

MIA at BFD // Photo by Marc Fong

Nikki DeMartini // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2014
1. MIA at Shoreline Amphitheatre for BFD 2014 – Mountain View, CA – June 1st
It had been four years since I saw MIA live and even though I’d prefer to see her play her own show rather than a set at a music festival, I was super excited to see her at BFD last summer. It was the first time in nearly 10 years that my cousin and I went to LIFE105’s annual summer show together. We lucked out and upgraded our tickets just in time to see MIA’s performance. Both of us were out of our seats, singing and dancing along to every song as soon as her set started. I was beside myself as MIA herself made her way off the stage, up into the seats of the venue and stopped near our row to spit lyrics as fans gathered and danced around her, myself included. I still can’t believe I danced with MIA!

2. OK Go at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – July 16th
3. Die Antwoord at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – May 22nd
4. Sylvan Esso at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – June 6th
5. MS MR at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – April 15th

Top 5 Albums of 2014
1. Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso
When I covered Sylvan Esso at The Fillmore earlier this year (when they opened for tUnE-yArDs), I had no idea who they were but ended up leaving the show a fan. Their self-titled debut album is an uplifting mix of danceable electropop tracks and indie rock that’s easy to lose yourself in. Their sparkly, layered and melodic sounds translate well whether you’re listening to the album or seeing them live. Sylvan Esso is one of three albums I bought in 2014, and it’s been on repeat ever since I picked it up.

2. Glass Animals – Zaba
3. Die Antwoord – Donker Mag
4. Iggy Azalea – The New Classic
5. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

Top 5 Songs of 2014
1. Tove Lo – “Habits (Stay High)”
I really enjoy the simple percussion-driven melody and voluptuous vocals of Tove Lo’s hit single “Habits (Stay High)”. The subtle, yet engaging buildup to her belting, emotionally-charged lyrics has me singing along and turning it up every time I hear it on the radio. While it is very catchy, it’s not a super dancey song. However, it is a great go-to for karaoke. 

2. Die Antwoord – “Rat Trap 666”
3. Sylvan Esso – “Hey Mami”
4. First Aid Kit – “My Silver Lining”
5. The Dead Weather – “Buzzkill(er)”

Showbams_Sticker_Rectangle2

PHOTOS: The Barr Brothers at The Chapel 12/10

The Barr BrothersPhotos by Sam Heller //

The Barr Brothers with Leif Vollebekk //
The Chapel – San Francisco
December 10th, 2014 //

Following up their 2011 self-titled debut, Montreal folk quartet The Barr Brothers dropped their second album Sleeping Operator in early October and have recently been on the road in support of it. Hitting SF on a Wednesday night, they played the intimate Chapel and Sam Heller was there to catch the action after Leif Vollebekk opened the show.

The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers

High Sierra Music Festival 2013: Top Sets

Photos by Sam Heller // Written by Kevin Quandt, Mike Frash & Pete Mauch

Lennon-McCartney said it best when they stated, “Got to admit it’s getting better, getting better all the time.” High Sierra Music Festival, held every Fourth of July weekend for the past 23 years in lovely Quincy, California somehow keeps getting better each year. The success of this event isn’t anything too surprising, as the producers truly know how to run a seamless event while drawing in such a rich diversity of musical talent from across the globe, year after year. The Plumas County Fairgrounds are amazingly transformed into a wonderland for both adults and kids, alike, becoming a community environment that allows people to lose themselves in the festivities.

Scene1

Young and old are ever-present at HSMF — while the little ones enjoy family yoga and children’s sets by the one Vince Herman from Leftover Salmon, the older attendee may likely enjoy wine tasting by sponsors or fresh sushi in the morning or fresh oysters in the afternoon. From the wide variety of cuisine available from Gerard’s Paella to crab smothered artichoke to the array of music playshops to explore the deeper, inner workings of music. It’s qualities such as these that lend to one overall thrilling experience, which keeps so many returning every year, and most newcomers pledging the same.

High Sierra caters to everyone, and if you are unable to have an amazing time, you may want to check your pulse. But let’s be honest, the masses primarily flock to the Sierra Mountains to enjoy the varied selection of musical acts. Here are Showbams’ top sets from the long weekend.

Allen-Stone

Allen Stone
Thursday • Big Meadow • 7:15pm

Young soul powerhouse Allen Stone and his electrifying band held down a two hour (!) set at the Big Meadow Thursday — not bad for a performer who self-released his two full length albums and toured hard and strong enough to catch fire over the past year. He stretched his set out for the last 20 minutes by announcing a dance off and asking the crowd to create an aisle down the middle toward the soundboard. Either it was too early in the fest on a hot day, the two hour set was too long, or people were too high, because no one obliged. Stone had to collect himself before trying again, and after some chastising by the neo-soulster a the dance off ignited. -MIKE FRASH


White Denim
Thursday • Grandstand • 7:15pm + Friday • Big Meadow • 7:15pm

Fast rising indie-psych rockers White Denim delivered a couple excellent sunset shows on Thursday and Friday. The foursome is tightly synced, precisely nailing oft-changing time-signatures in a set that rarely paused. The songs segued seamlessly, blending with the help of swirling electric guitar layering and looping. The Thursday show on the Grandstand came as a relief as the ridiculously hot sun dipped behind the trees, and many were sitting down waiting for the legendary Thursday headliner. The Friday show at the Big Meadow ended spectacularly — a tighter crowd gave way to more heady psychedelic fare, including a sneakily-effective light show once full darkness arrived for the set-ending song “Drugs”. -MF


Robert-Plant

Robert Plant presents The Sensational Space Shifters
Thursday • Grandstand • 9:30pm

Robert Plant’s a legend, we all know this, so to have this mammoth performer be featured as the first major headliner of the event led to seriously large crowds, especially on Thursday. His banner set did not disappoint with his mix of rockin’ Zeppelin classics, blues-laden solo material and a rich representation of various world music styles. Plant’s band was a very impressive conglomeration of modern musicians featuring players from Massive Attack and other highly regarded acts, which lent well to the characteristic howl of the Zeppelin legend on a clear, cool first evenin. Highlights were a show opening “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You”, Zep classic “Black Dog” and a version of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”. The response was unanimous that Robert Plant and his latest touring act were a rousing success as one would expect from this caliber performer. -KEVIN QUANDT


Tumbleweed-Wanderers

Tumbleweed Wanderers
Friday • Vaudeville • 1:15pm

Oakland’s Tumbleweed Wanderers benefited from being placed in the shady Vaudeville tent Friday afternoon, and the folky, soulful group took full advantage of the dense crowd seeking solar protection. Frontman Zak Mandel-Romann fearlessly ripped into tracks from their 2012 debut LP So Long as he would jump off the stage to engage with the audience. The crowd reciprocated, and upon the end of the set the rousing applause was so widespread and forceful that the band members tried to hide their unbridled joy, an indication they were experiencing the best response of their careers. It was a goose bump-inducing moment, and after the continuous applause interrupted the stage emcee, the Tumbleweed Wanderers were called back for a rare encore. -MF


Nataly Dawn
Friday • Big Meadow • 3:45pm

Nataly Dawn was yet another newcomer to the festival, and she represented the singer-songwriter sect in splendid form. Her songbook may not be extensive, but is incredibly strong with playful elements of both comedy and heartfelt songs of real life and love. Dawn’s delivery was flawless as she was simply accompanied by an electric guitar player, augmenting her vocals ever so slightly. Some may know this Sacramento rising star as one half of the act Pomplamoose, but with a recent release How I Knew Her making waves, she is sure to be a name to look out for. High Sierra is generous with the amount of time a performer gets onstage, and in Dawn’s case, too much time for her limited song selection. However, with the crowd gaining size, she went through a few selections twice, including “Caroline”. Hey, exposure is exposure. -KQ


Houndmouth
Friday • Big Meadow • 5:45pm

Indiana based Houndmouth showcased their Americana folklore to the High Sierra masses on Friday afternoon, and they did so with amazing harmonies, precise musicianship and all around great whiskey-drenched songwriting. Their songs speak of troubled travelers, coked-up drug dealers and any vigilante vagabond looking to make amends with oneself. The set focused on their debut album From the Hills Below the City, with “Come On, Illinois”, “Houston Train” and “Penitentiary” rounding out the show highlights. One aspect that makes High Sierra so wonderful is the intimacy of the Festival — after Houndmouth’s set, I let them know their set was excellent. They were extremely grateful and thanked me as I walked away to my next adventure. -PETE MAUCH


Primus

Primus
Friday • Grandstand • 9:30pm

Primus is weird in all the right ways. Legendary bassist Les Claypool’s primary vehicle headlined Friday night, proving to be an über-suitable headliner that fits High Sierra’s full embrace of individuality. An intense, trippy “Southbound Pachyderm” gave way to more energetic favorites like “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” and “Jilly’s on Smack”. Skerik appeared to add yet another twisted layer of sax to “Groundhog’s Day”. Two consistent factors relate to Claypool — his bass is the driving force and his uniquely weird songwriting and vocal delivery make it work every time. Claypool hid in the shadows all night, letting his jazz-paced diction and offbeat baseline and leadership boggle the minds of the packed main stage. -MF


The John Scofield Uberjam Band
Friday • Vaudeville • 11:30pm

The return of John Scofield’s electric band was a bit of a surprise to longtime fans of this freaked-out, electric jazz-fusion act. Jazz legend Scofield brought old friends and new to blaze through some selections from his past catalogue (Up All Night, Uberjam) and most recent (Uberjam Deux) to a healthily packed free, late night show. His mix of funky-fusion, hip-hop and electronic drum beats generally adds up to sonic grooves that are easy to dance to, but complex in their melody and solos arranged onstage. Some highlights were “Polo Towers”, “I Brake for Monster Booty”, and “Everynight is Ladies Night.” Try to catch this act on tour, as it could be the last time Scofield brings this band on the road for awhile before he likely returns to more straight-ahead jazz projects. -KQ


Skerik’s Lab
Saturday • Music Hall • 3:30pm

High Sierra vagabond and artist at large Skerik once again showcased his teaching abilities, along with his oddly-interesting poetic musings. The best woodwind and brass musicians, some in official acts and others just at High Sierra to camp and have fun, line up on stage at the Music Hall. With Mike Dillon supporting on drums, each player on stage gets a turn to take the lead, and everyone else joins in until a ferocious jam builds to a peak. Skerik then introduces the next performer, and often will ask the audience for the next musical key. Once again Carley Meyers from Mike Dillon Band stole the show. -MF


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The Barr Brothers
Saturday • Big Meadow • 7:55pm

Brad and Andrew Barr are two longtime performers who have graced the many stages at High Sierra for well over a decade. Generally, they represent their early project the Slip, sometimes with their Marco Benevento and Nathan Moore collaborative project, Surprise Me Mr. Davis. This year, they towed along a giant harp for the Barr Brothers, a rising indie-leaning project garnering impressive underground success. Songs like “Give The Devil Back His Heart” demonstrate Andrew’s complex rhythmic arrangements and Brad’s ability to write dynamic songs under any moniker. This set saw the band joined by Mike Dillon on vibraphone and the Rubblebucket horns for a bombastic set closer. -KQ


Thievery Corporation
Saturday • Grandstand • 9:30pm

Thievery Corporation brought a much needed dance party to the main stage Saturday, also delivering on the promise of being an ideal headliner for HSMF. With rotating live singers seriously augmenting the beats laid down by Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, the upbeat set never got too stuck in downtempo territory. After getting “Lebanese Blonde” out of the way early, hip hop and dance influences took center stage. So much more than a DJ show, the DC based duo have curated a revolving door spectacle supported by Rob Myers, Frank ‘Booty Lock’ Mitchell, Jeff Franca and Ashish Vyas and live instrumentation. Put it all together and it was an awe-inspiring production that hit the High Sierra sweet-spot. -MF


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Lee Fields and the Expressions
Sunday • Vaudeville • 12:15am

The final Vaudeville late night featured soulful R&B brought by the charismatic Lee Fields and his young, competent band, the Expressions. A possible new name to many in attendance, few could deny the soul-drenched revue delivered in true professional form by a 40+ year veteran. Hands in the air in rejoice were plentiful while the dapper dressed frontman channeled the obvious comparison, James Brown. Come Sunday, the High Sierra faithful were murmuring about their new favorite act, for the time being, and how friends had to catch Fields’ set on the big stage for their final Sunday performance in Quincy. -KQ


moe.
Sunday •Music Hall Late Night Show • 1:30am

Sunday night jam headliners moe. played a sold out late-night show early Sunday morning, and as usual it raged. Rob, Al, Chuck and and the rest of the gang were pretty subdued as a physical presence on stage, but they sounded as good as always. Classic opening one-two punch “Not Coming Down –> Wormwood” kicked things off nicely, and “McBain”, “Moth” and “Timmy Tucker” were set highlights. “Seat of My Pants” ended the epic third day on a high note. -MF


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Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Sunday • GrandStand • 12:45pm

Lukas Nelson & POTR made their High Sierra debut this year and put on quite an impressive set that caught the eye of many a festivalgoer, including that night’s headliner moe.(Nelson guested on “Opium” in Moe’s set). Nelson started things off with his single “Forever is a Four Letter Word”, which was well received by the growing crowd. Nelson is the son of the legendary Willie Nelson, and he truly shines on his own, clearly not leaning on his namesake to achieve success (I’m looking at you Jakob Dylan). Nelson delivers high energy sets full of excellent originals, many of which are about “Weed”, so the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. The band also ran through great cover songs including an amazing take on The Grateful Dead’s “Althea”, Pink Floyd’s “Money” and set closer “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Stones. Lukas Nelson should just be getting started –plan on seeing him grow exponentially from here. -PM


Guitarmaggeddon
Sunday • Music Hall • 4:00pm

The 10th annual Guitarmaggeddon face-melt was a special treat. Each year, Tea Leaf Green’s Josh Clark leads a group of electric guitar thrashers on a set of covers that revolve around a theme, and the songs always give way to epic guitar wailing and thrashing. It seemed like last year’s Talking Head’s set would be tough to beat, but the “Stadium Rock!” theme was plenty epic. From the steady opening of “Slow Ride” to “Satisfaction” (with a younger Mic Jagger in tow) to “Layla”, the show just killed it as expected. Lukas Nelson and Al Schnier from moe. guested for multiple songs, and fest-goers who still had a couple ounces of energy left benefited from a jamtastic, raging two hours of fun. -MF


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Steel Pulse
Sunday • Grandstand • 7:15PM

Roots reggae legends Steel Pulse would also make their debut appearance at the event this year, and they filled the Sunday “worldly afternoon” slot in proper form. The legendary Birmingham, England act are some of the most proficient performers in the business, likely do to nearly 40 years of pumping out revolutionary songs and touring the globe. “Roller Skates” and “Chant a Psalm” were just a few of the hits played to a nicely sized late-festival crowd as the sun dropped behind the Main Stage one final time this year. A new, tribute song to Trayvon Martin called “Put Your Hoodies On [4 Trayvon]” may have been too borderline serious for the crowd, but the masses embraced the message of equality for all. -KQ


Rubblebucket
Sunday • Big Meadow • 10pm

Representing Brooklyn, Rubblebucket has really come into their own as an entrancing mix of pop, rock and world music that thrives on crowd energy and is helmed by one helluva front-woman, Kalmia Traver. This would be there first evening set after gracing the fairgrounds for a few years now, and they brought their already stellar show to the next level on the final evening. Highlights from the set included “Overstaurated”, “Rescue Ranger” and “L’Homme”. Kalmia invited attendees up on stage to join in the revelry, and the throngs rewarded this act by crowd-surfing her across the stage during “Came Out a Lady”. -KQ