Ex-Mars Volta frontmen find new sounds

Former Mars Volta frontmen Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala

Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala were the masterminds behind The Mars Volta. The band broke up in January and two have formed new groups: Bosnian Rainbow and Zavalaz.

The Mars Volta broke up in January. And considering the last few albums, it’s probably for the best.

For a while, nothing beat the psychedelic, Spanish-tinged prog-rock. In high school, I couldn’t get enough of De-Loused in the Comatorium or Frances the Mute. I remember driving right past my house on a summer night, Volta blasting through my ’88 Acura speakers, not allowing myself to go home until I got through the few acts of Cassandra Gemini.

Led by the high-pitched Cedric Bixler Zavala and guitar virtuoso Omar Rodriguez Lopez, The Mars Volta split earlier this year when Omar wanted to tour and spend all of his time on a new band, Bosnian Rainbows.

Cedric and Omar have gone their separate ways for now, and Omar brings his incredible musicianship and absolute shredding to more low key, dark and beautiful music. Combined with the vocal talents of Terri Gender Bender, ex-Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboardist Nicci Kasper, they create a sound described as ethereal, yet direct.

The closest music that fits the description is Bat for Lashes, another band that features lush synthesizers, female vocals and layer after layer of atmospheric soundscape.

Cedric has gone his own way too, starting up a new band that couldn’t sound more different. He’s brought along the former Mars Volta bassist Juan Alderete to create a more groove-worthy, classic rock sound.

Ironically, both bands recently toured San Francisco within a week of each other. Zavalaz played Cafe Du Nord on June 21st and Bosnian Rainbows headlined a show at the Great American Music Hall last night, June 28.

I was lucky enough to catch Bosnian Rainbows live last night at the Great American Music Hall, for the second time in a handful of months (the first at The New Parish in Oakland). Lopez’s rapid-fire fingers and deep guitar grooves make him a performer that cannot be missed.

In Bosnian Rainbows, he plays the role of teammate and band member much more than band leader, likely because of the collaborative nature he has mentioned about this group. Omar was basically director of Mars Volta, which tended to mean dictator. The shredding takes a back seat, but is still prominent, and Lopez even lends his voice to a few tracks, something he never did live with the Volta.

Zavalaz, at least on the surface, is the weaker of the two. Cedric is talented, and his omnipresent whines and wild lyrics that thread in and out of Spanish and English lend better to a concept band like The Mars Volta than a straight rock outfit like Zavalaz. I’m eager to see the direction this band goes and whether the sum of the Volta parts is, or is not, greater than the whole.

Stream the entire Bosnian Rainbows on Bandcamp and stay tuned for recordings and more tour dates from Zavalaz.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor concludes SF residency

Members of the "post-rock" group Godspeed You! Black Emperor played a 5 night residency at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall in between weekends performing at Southern California's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

Experiencing the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it’s hard to tell where one song starts and another ends.

That’s why, shrouded in darkness except for the eery, vintage film reels projected above them, I barely realized the band had started its performance.

It was about 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18 at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall when violinist Sophie Trudeau started tuning her violin, and before anyone knew it, the remaining 7 bandmates trickled on stage one by one.

The band was playing a five night residency in between gigs at the two Coachella festival weekends in the Southern California desert.

Anyone lucky enough to get tickets to the five sold out shows at the Great American Music Hall was in for an intimate and visceral audiovisual encounter.

Fast forward 30 minutes and the crowd woke up, providing the first sounds of applause all night.

It’s almost impossible to classify the music created by three to four electric guitars, a cello, violin, drums and percussion.

But the best description I could come up with is that listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor is equivalent to taking a hair dryer to your ears while blasting Beethoven.

The musicians, with no lights on them through the entire performance, weaved in and out of 20-minute dramatic masterpieces, bending and bowing between the whispers of a single violin string and a cacophony of noise.
The noise was, at times, beautiful and melodic. At other times, it was ear-deafening and just plain frightening.
I felt like I was dreaming, until I woke up on a speeding train heading to nowhere.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, founded in 1994 but on hiatus between 2003 and 2010, derives its name from a 1976 Japanese documentary about a biker gang called The Black Emperors.
The members have a host of interesting side projects as well, including  Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La BandFly Pan AmHṚṢṬA,Esmerine, and Set Fire to Flames.
When a reviewer from Bay Area music blog Spinning Platters caught the band three nights in a row when the band was last in San Francisco in 2010, he had this to say:

Here were not the sunny glories of Sigur Rós, nor the numbing white noise of Mogwai; this was an experience that foretold the end of the world, the beginning of life, and everything in between, with eight musicians sounding like a symphony from worlds beyond.


Check out the SF WEEKLY review for another taste of an obscure, but poignant band.

For a taste of the madness, watch the clip below:

Who I’m excited to see at Outside Lands

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I marked the bands I'm most excited for in blue. The SF Outside Lands website lets you add your favorites to a custom lineup.

San Francisco summer music festival Outside Lands announced the 2012 lineup yesterday.

News has been whirling about the diversity of the headliners for this three-day fest full of music, food, wine and beer: Metallica, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young will be the top-billed performers August 10-12 when it all goes down in Golden Gate Park.

Jack White, Foo Fighters, Beck and Skrillex are close to follow on the lineup.

But for me, its all about the up and comers. The so-called “little guys” (who, these days, aren’t so little anymore).

The mid-sized acts I’m looking forward to: Sigur Ros, Justice, Bloc Party, Explosions in The Sky, Fun.

Beyond that, I’m always excited for Portugal. The Man, Wallpaper and Yacht, three longtime favorites that I’ve seen live before.

Of Monsters and Men, Two Gallants and Thee Oh Sees are also on my must-see list.

In past years, I’ve seen memorable performances from Radiohead, Tenacious D, Portugal. The Man, The National, The Mars Volta and more.

Since Eager Beaver tix sold out super early, I plan on getting mine (and my lady’s) Thursday at 12 PM PDT.

See you at Outside Lands!

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John Gourley, guitarist and frontman for Portugal. The Man at Outside Lands in 2009. (Photo by Daniel Ucko)

Outside Lands Eager Beaver Tix Sold Out ALREADY

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As of 12:36 p.m. Friday March 16, I can’t find any information or news on this other than Ticketmaster continuing to show me “no tickets available.”

Until I check sfoutsidelands.com, where I am saddened with the news that the cheapest and earliest accessible tickets are ALREADY sold out. Tickets went on sale at noon, and by a mere 36 minutes later, I came up empty.

The San Francisco Outside Lands Music Food Wine and Art Festival dates were recently announced — August 10-12, 2012 in Golden Gate Park. The Friday thru Sunday summer festival was offering Eager Beaver three-day passes for $165 and without even seeing the lineup, I was ready to go.

My girlfriend and I attended one year and I joined some friends in going to one day of the inaugural festival in 2008, the one and only time in my life I’ve seen Radiohead.

And the year I went with my girlfriend — 2010 I believe — I experienced Tenacious D. Another all-time favorite band of mine.

Sure, I could pay $52.70 ($42.50 + $10.20 in Ticketmaster fees) to see Tenacious D in Oakland at the Fox Theater on May 24 or $81.75 ($66.50 + $15.25 in Ticketmaster fees) to see Radiohead at the HP Pavilion on April 11. But that’s a lot of dough to stand alongside never-ending throngs of people, not to mention the hassle of transportation and price-gouged corporate parking (at least in the case of the Radiohead show).

So, I pass.

[P.S. Ain’t it cute how Ticketmaster is “transparent” with their fees now? They’re more explicit in showing you the additional amount you’re paying, which is admittedly nice; but still charge absorbitant amounts for no good reason!]

I’ll take a $15 club San Francisco show at Rickshaw Stop, The Independent, Great American Music Hall, Cafe Du Nord or the like any day.

But since moving back to the Bay 6 months ago and public transporting myself around in the city with my lady, Outside Lands is a definite must this year. It beats the Coachella heat, and with no travel expenses and (hopefully) a similarly great lineup, a festival experience tends to be worth it.

It does take energy, stamina and willingness to not get stressed out trying to catch every single band you want to see. But you get up close to the up and comers, and get to say you saw (or at least heard) some of the greats.

Hopefully the next batch of tickets that go on sale aren’t too much more. I’m expecting $199 instead of $165. Yargh.

MUTEMATH electrifies the stage @ The Regency Ballroom

Photo by Daniel Ucko.

MUTE MATH stopped by San Francisco last week in support of the band‘s third full length album “Odd Soul”.

Since I saw this New Orleans-based fourpiece open for emo-rockers Mae at The Glasshouse in Pomona, CA, they have become a staple of in my music library.

I’ve seen them live a handful of times and these guys never disappoint on stage. From the moment I laid ears on “Reset”, my mind instantly went to Radiohead, and it only got better from there.

Mute Math gracefully slides between frenetic, synth-laden rock with hook-heavy riffs and Rhodes-style keys reminiscent of “Kid A”.

But to compare this band to any other isn’t truly worth it. The group incorporates jazz, funk, rock and soul and spits it out as some futuristic rock shit.

Taking a page from OK Go, Mute Math continues to reinvent both the music video and live show with an infusion of creative ideas that keep up with the times.

Check out some clips from Mute Math @ The Regency Ballroom and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

New ‘Countdown’ begins on Current TV

The liberal firebrand news host known as Keith Olbermann returns to television tonight after departing from MSNBC a little under six months ago.

As I reported HERE, Olbermann takes his “Countdown” show to the fledgling TV station and Web community known as Current TV and Current.com. (Current was founded in 2005 and pulls in under 60,000 viewers during peak hours according to the New York Times)

The real motivation for Olbermann here is a majority stake in the company. He joins former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt as an executive of the company.

Full disclosure: I interned for Current’s Vanguard back in summer ’09. Blogged about my experience here and also contributed to Current’s news blog here and here.

Current is not exactly a house name just yet, but getting a heavy hitter such as Olbermann on board may start to change that — at lest that’s what the station is banking on.

Besides Vanguard and now Olbermann, the network received mass media spotlight for its two reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, that were held captive in North Korea.

Keep an eye on this five-year-old channel, because despite setbacks and low ratings, (around 25,000 viewers during prime time) shows like Vanguard, infoMania and now Olbermann’s are worthy of your attention.

Current has always been forward-facing: it initially gathered much of it’s programming through incorporating submissions from online contributors and was the first station to incorporate tweets into it’s coverage of the 2008 presidential debate.

But with new efforts focused on getting the station into more homes and a recent redesign (or more like design overhaul), I have heard few outcries but my own over what I find to be one very big problem:

Current, which was known for bridging the online and televised worlds, stopped allowing full episodes online. So much for anywhere, any time. What year is it?

The channel says the only way to continue carriage on networks like Verizon, TimeWarner and Comcast was to offer exclusive deals and Olbermann tweeted that the TV companies have them “over a barrel.”

Instead, Current is pushing clips big time, all over Hulu, iTunes and YouTube.

But for those of us who already cancelled our exorbitant cable subscriptions, we’re shit out of luck.

I can’t even legally purchase the shows in their entirety…anywhere. Now that’s just not right.

That’s why I scheduled a viewing party of sorts at a friends house for tonight’s premieres of Countdown with Keith Olbermann and a new season of Vanguard.

WATCH TONIGHT: Countdown premieres at 8/9c and Vanguard’s new season follows at 9/8c.

Check out behind the scenes with “Countdown” HERE.

Bay Area band Mata Leon emerges with fresh focus

San Francisco-based Mata León opened a growling late-night indie show at Hollywood club Boardner’s last week.

The band performed on an outdoor stage inside a smoke-filled patio while a crowd of rebellious 18-year-olds and leather-stricken twenty-somethings watched with a hint of awe.

The set was short, but the four-piece put out some serious soul in its bluesy brand of indie-rock.

Comparisons are hard to draw, but both classic and modern influences are clear in the moody, hook-driven songs.

The four Bay Area musicians – vocalist Spencer Dräger, guitarist Brian DaMert, bassist Greg Sellin and drummer Sam Totty –  have been playing together for eight years.

But until about six months ago, they were going under the name Overview.

The group started in high school, playing lunchtime and local shows before growing into a buzzworthy act that AbsolutePunk called “refreshing, refreshing, refreshing” after hearing the 2007 EP “Forty-Four Stone Tigers.”

Overview played its final show in July, and since then, the tigers have stepped back from playing every show they could get their hands on (three national tours across 43 states, according to Sellin).

Instead, they went back into the studio and found a new focus: something more simple and literal that fit the four’s San Francisco style, culture and taste.

“We laid low for four or five-months, spending every day in the studio writing and scrapping songs, deciding a new direction to go in. We got into different tastes in music, [and wanted a] fresh start,” says Sellin.

The band members, all in their mid-20s, quietly reemerged as Mata León, which means the lion killer in Portugese.

“I want to bring the love and culture from SF out,” says Sellin. “It’s like nowhere else in the world. You take it for granted a lot growing up in such a musically cultured and politically-minded place. But it’s unbelievable when you compare it to someone who spent their life growing up in Iowa.”

The new band has only a handful of tracks on Myspace, and plans to release an EP in the spring.

Sellin says Mata León’s sound isn’t the epic orchestra of sounds that Overview was.

“We’re concentrating more on a vibe of a song. Less trying to show off with complex instrumentation and just concentrate on creating a feeling, an emotion throughout a song instead of just great parts,” he told me after the Los Angeles gig.

The group hopes to do things one better this time around. Sellin says they will “pick their shots” and be more selective with performances.

Keep an eye on tour dates, as the band will be up and down the West Coast in the coming months. And if you’re checking out South by Southwest next month, you can catch Mata León on the Pabst Blue Ribbon stage.

Online “journalism” today vs. a few years ago — funny!

Found this via wired.com, here.online journalism

Says a lot about the changing landscape of online journalism….smaller news hole, many more ads and A LOT more out of control commenters. That’s of course good and bad — people are reading, but expecting more. I’m all about high expectations from the media, especially with the crap going around out there today (Fox News, dancing weatherman I’m looking at you), but I definitely feel users have gotten more and more just plain ridiculous and cruel online. They call even solid reporters names and question the littlest tidbits.

And at The Poly Post, the college kids don’t even remember to fill in their names and still accuse the editors of, essentially, sucking ass. Too bad we’re better than that, more mature, and smart enough to know that even the best writers and reporters make mistakes. We’re students after all, so we’re still learning. (Full disclosure: just finished up tenure there as editor-in-chief).

And speaking of journalism, I’ll be starting an internship at KPCC 89.3 next week.

What of this week? Revel in some post-graduation laziness and kick it at home in San Francisco with the folks.