Fort Lean Brings a “Beach Holiday” to San Francisco

By Mandi Dudek | @TheSeekologist (words & photos)

If you’re at all familiar with the weather in San Francisco, you'd know that the months of June and July bring a rare chance of sunshine. However, the past few weeks west of the Bay Bridge have proven the legendary quote by Mark Twain ("The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco") to be a tad inaccurate for the summer of 2015. Tuesday, July 14th happened to be a perfect evening, as you could throw on a light jacket to peruse the streets of downtown San Francisco while looking up at a clear, fog-less sky. This is also the night that Fort Lean rocked the Rickshaw Stop with an intimate, dynamic performance.

The Brooklyn-based, American indie-rock band, Fort Lean, released their first EP in April of 2011, including three singles and a video. Since then, they've released another EP in 2012 and their first LP, Quiet Day, in early 2015. Since the band’s formation, they've toured with talented acts such as We Were Promised Jetpacks, Bear Hands, Joy Formidable, and Surfer Blood. They've also popped up at music festivals like Waking Windows and SXSW. The Rickshaw Stop was the third stop on their tour of southwest America, playing alongside Chappo and Yukon Blonde.

Rickshaw Stop, a former TV studio, is the perfect combination of a welcoming ambiance in an adequately small space with minimal in-your-face lighting; giving it a feel as if you are watching a show in the comfort of your own garage. Prior to the show, the five members of Fort Lean were found socializing near the bar and blending-in with the few dozen fans, setting a comfortable, friendly atmosphere for the show ahead.

The music from the venue's DJ slowly quieted as the group members nonchalantly took the stage, backlit with deep blue and magenta lighting. The crowd moseyed toward the band, leaving a few feet of space between the stage. Frontman/lead singer/guitarist, Keenan Mitchell, got on the microphone with a friendly, "Come closer!" As the audience closed the gap, the band broke out into their opening song, "High Definition" from their first EP in 2011, setting the bar (and energy level) high for the rest of the show. The ensuing keyboard solo by Will Runge caused the crowd's cheering to escalate as everyone clapped in unison to the beat. As the opening song finished, it was clear the night was going to be fueled by inexhaustible energy.

Fort Lean continued the show with an assortment of new and old songs, making sure to bring the enthusiasm back up to its peak after their slower tracks. During "Do You Remember?” the crowd swayed back-and-forth together as Mitchell mesmerized the house in an emotional production. Each strum of the guitar-solo was felt powerfully, followed by several "Whooo!" shouts from the audience.

In between each song, Mitchell would interact with the crowd, at times singling a person out, to make everyone feel like a group of old college friends. The strong bond between the guys of Fort Lean was obvious, on and off stage, and their enthusiasm was contagious. During long breaks in songs, they'd rock out and dance together, making sure to use every inch of space on the stage. As a song ended, they'd all take sips of their beer as they transitioned into the next track. This close-knit demeanor only made the audience feel more intrigued and contented throughout the show.

A noticeable crowd favorite was "Cut To The Chase," from Fort Lean's new 2015 LP, as it displayed a powerful performance from each member of the band. The combination of Zach Fried on guitar and Jake Aron on bass created a gripping tempo as the crowd shouted every word to this undeniably catchy song. 

The band wrapped up their set with a couple hits to seal the deal. "Dreams (Never Come True)" was the last of the slower songs and yet another emotionally charged one at that. Mitchell has a way of not only using his voice, but his body language to express the feelings behind a song and it almost locks you into a hypnotic-like state. But of course, when you think there couldn't be anymore jumping and dancing, Fort Lean performs "Envious" and gives everyone the most exuberant, impressive performance of the night. Sam Ubl exuded relentless energy on the drums the entire show, as he performed as if he could go all night during this track. 

Fort Lean capped off their set with the much-anticipated hit, "Beach Holiday" from their 2011 EP, giving the audience all the oomph they had left in them. It's nearly impossible to stand still during this quick, fired-up summer anthem. It proved to be a perfect ending to a lively and exuberant show.

Although the performance was far too short, it was exceptional nonetheless, leaving the crowd clamoring for more songs to hear. The solos from each member were flawless, the energy was endless and each person in the audience was left with ringing ears and an infectious smile.

Van Halen Still Runnin' With The Devil After All These Years

By Tanja M. Alvarez (words & photos)

Drama is no stranger to Van Halen, one of the most successful American rock bands in history. Over the course of their long and prosperous career the group has undergone a few not-so-amicable changes, some of which were accompanied by public statements of dismay. Despite the seemingly tumultuous relationships between band members, the quartet has written and performed some of the best known rock songs of the past four decades and has sold over 80 million records worldwide. 

July 5th marked the beginning of Van Halen's current North American tour with all-time members Alex and Eddie Van Halen on drums and guitar, Eddie's son Wolfgang on bass, and David Lee Roth on lead vocals. Due to the release of their live album "Tokyo Dome Live in Concert" just a few months ago, thousands of fans in every major city once again eagerly awaited a display of enormous musical talent accompanied by a measure of unpredictability capable of taking the entire show in a whole new direction. The well-documented tension between the band's  guitar virtuoso and its flamboyant frontman has spilled over onto the stage in the past, and Roth's inconsistent vocal performance almost begs you to place a wager on whether he's going to absolutely nail or terribly butcher the next song.  

Nevertheless, or possibly exactly because of that, over 10,000 fans came to the Concord Pavilion on July 9th to see their favorite band. Many appeared instantly mesmerized as the rockers took the stage with whirlwind opener "Light up the Sky" from their 1979 release Van Halen II. "Running With the Devil" ("Van Halen", 1978) was a great strategic move as a follow up keeping the momentum alive. The whole stage was illuminated with red  lights and David Lee Roth immediately started working the crowd, kneeling down in front of hypnotized fans. "Everybody Wants Some" ("Women and Children First", 1980) and "Feel Your Love Tonight" ("Van Halen") were also great choices and definite crowd pleasers. 

About ten songs into the set, Alex Van Halen delivered a skillful drum solo. Fans took in every beat and appeared to love every minute of it. The slightly older one of the Van Halen brothers, Alex proved to be in great shape. Looking slick with his dark glasses he appeared to enjoy not only his time in the spotlight but the entire show. At the end of his solo he stood up, thanked fans, and appeared genuinely gratified. 

The 25-song set continued with a mix of greatest hits and songs that haven't been played live very much, at least not for quite some time. "Women in Love" ("Van Halen II", 1979) was reminiscent of old times, especially when Dave was joking around with Eddie in between lines. "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love" ("Van Halen") was  another crowd favorite, and loud screams prompted the frontman to turn directly to the audience announcing: "I'm just feeling good. How about you?" 

Overall, Diamond Dave appeared to be his dazzling self minus a little hair and some height on his signature karate kicks. His big smile, his grand gestures, and many wardrobe changes were all still the same. His comments and stories continue to bear undeniable parallels to his singing: sometimes hilarious, sometimes a little inappropriate, but always entertaining. He sounded amazing during quite a few songs, such as "In a  Simple Rhyme"("Women and Children First"), "Ice Cream Man" ("Van Halen"), and "Unchained" ("Fair Warning", 1981). In all fairness, Roth's vocals are as unique as his antics, and his fans, who know to expect the unexpected, love him for exactly that reason.  

When it was time for Eddie's guitar solo, the gears abruptly switched from unpredictability to dexterous precision. Not many guitar players are able to captivate an audience with such skillful and distinct styles as this accomplished master of the six-string. Eddie showcased some of his signature styles, among them a technique called "tapping" which he is pericularly known for. It was a great pleasure to watch him elicit such beautiful sounds from his instrument with such ease. 

The roughly two-hour show wrapped up with a few more big hits. Kinks' cover "You Really Got Me" was part of the package, as well as "Panama" ("1984", 1984), which elicited a strong reaction from the audience. Finally, Roth addressed fans one more time asking: "Do you want to hear the encore?" knowing that this had to be a rhetorical question. "Jump", Van Halen's one and only number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, fit that slot perfectly with its high energy and Roth twirling a baton.   

When everything was said and done, fans had no reason to be disappointed. May their personal relationships be as they are, on stage everyone did their part, from the Van Halen brothers' amazing drumming and strumming to Diamond Dave's exquisite showmanship. Not to forget Wolfgang Van Halen who was not only amazing on bass but was also instrumental in teaming up with his dad to save the day more than once with great back up vocals. Fans left happily hoping that the sentiment was equally peaceful backstage.

Smashing Pumpkins on the Road With Marilyn Manson

By Tanja M. Alvarez (words & photos)

After playing only a few select dates last year following the release of their latest album "Monuments to an Elegy," the Smashing Pumpkins have joined forces with Marilyn Manson and embarked on a North American co-headlining tour. The "End of Times Tour" started in Concord, California on July 7th and will wrap up on August 9th in Nashville, Tennessee.

Billy Corgan and collaborators were well received by fans during their opening night and played many of their old hits. (See below for a complete set list.) The band was re-joined by original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.

After struggles with their musical direction and a break up in 2000, the Smashing Pumpkins appear to be back to not only create new music but to enjoy and honor their past success. Frontman Billy Corgan just recently tweeted: "It's time to celebrate the legacy, camaraderie, the journey, the kinship, and the band's unique relationship to fans."

 1. Cherub Rock
 2. Bullet With Butterfly Wings
 3. Tonight, Tonight
 4. Ava Adore
 5. Drum + Fife
 6. One and All (We Are)
 7. The Everlasting Gaze
 8. Zero
 9. The Crying Tree of Mercury
10. Mayonaise
11. Disarm
12. Landslide (Fleetwood Mac Cover)
13. 1979
14. Run2Me
15. Thru the Eyes of Ruby
16. Stand Inside Your Love
17. United States

18. Today

Setlist courtesy of

"Pray For Hell Not Hallelujah" - Marilyn Manson Kicks Off End Of Times Tour in Concord

By Tanja M. Alvarez (words & photos) 

He portrays the ultimate villain. He is the Antichrist and the self-proclaimed God of F***. Worshipped by fans, condemned by conservatives and blamed for many things gone astray in this society, his image has become larger than life perfectly reflecting the juxtaposition of his stage name.

People either love or hate him; with Brian Hugh Warner, aka Marilyn Manson there isn't much in between. His power lies in his ability to create controversy, such as luring religious activists away from feeding the homeless and other good deeds to rush to his shows and harass concert goers instead.

Last Tuesday, the rocker, who discovered his attraction to things one isn't supposed to do while attending a Christian school as a child, set out to bring chaos and non-conformity to the beautiful Concord Pavilion on the first date of his  "End Times Tour".     

The stage was covered in its entirety with a heavy black curtain allowing Manson to slip onstage unseen by the audience. Loud cheers of anticipation erupted, and the dark obstacle soon gave way allowing fans to get their first glimpse of Manson dressed in all black, with short, asymmetrical  hair, and his signature pale make up.

With the first notes of the opener "Deep Six", the second single from Manson's ninth studio album "The Pale  Emperor" released earlier this year, screams got even louder for an appropriate welcome.  

Amidst clouds of thick smoke, an intent Manson energetically swung his mic around surely indicating that he was about to unleash a brutal visual  and auditory attack on the over 10,000 Manson faithful in attendance. "Disposable Teens" (Holy Wood, 2000), "mOBSCENE" (The Golden Age of Grotesque, 2003), and "No  Reflection" (Born Villain, 2012) all left fans screaming for more. Then followed a second and final song from his latest release "Third Day of a Seven Day Binge".

Much to the pleasure of his fans, Manson has never been an artist to relentlessly push his new material making his shows a  better qualitative experience as opposed to a shallow attempt to promote a new product. One of the classics that everyone was dying to hear was Eurythmics cover "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" which first earned Manson  substantial notoriety way back in 1995. Fans were not disappointed as the Ohio native appeared on stilts, a spectacle reminiscent of his entrancingly creepy music videos.

From here on the tension continued to rise. During "The Love Song" (Holy Wood, 2000) the former music journalist posed behind a podium with a double barred cross logo, taking on a charismatic persona full of innuendos. Then, during "Lunchbox" (Portrait of an  American Family, 1994), he simply sat on the floor delivering an exquisite vocal performance with intense screams. 

Although this show wasn't as extraordinarily outrageous as many of his past gigs, Manson wasn't ready to call it quits without some of his villainous spectacles he is so well known for. He performed "Antichrist Superstar", title track from his 1996 studio album, partly standing behind a second, even larger podium decorated with his infamous shock symbol, partly sitting and laying on top of it. The encore came way too soon but Manson didn't let up until the last note.

He jumped into the crowd during "The Beautiful People," shaking hands and becoming acquainted with fans in the front rows. Finally, he jumped back on stage teasing long-time bass player and collaborator Twiggy Ramirez and knocking over a couple of floor lights before vanishing for good. 

This roughly one-hour long performance was too short, but sweet nonetheless. Co-headliner Smashing Pumpkins was on deck, and there was a curfew to be cared for.

Despite the somewhat toned down presentation, this show was a Manson extravaganza, if you will, with special attention paid to the music and vocals like (possibly) never before. Rarely has Manson appeared so focused and determined. He was very much on top of his game.

According to Manson's philosophy: May evil prevail, freedom of expression conquer conformity, and critics accept their insignificance.

July 11th: Death Cab Visits The Greek; Jurassic 5 Headlines The Fox

On Saturday July 11th, east bay music fans will be faced with a welcome ultimatum. See Death Cab For Cutie outside at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre? Or head inside to the Fox Theatre in downtown Oakland to catch some hip-hop vibes from Jurassic 5? Regardless of your taste, take a moment to indulge in both bands below…

Burn it down till the embers smoke on the ground
And start new when your heart is an empty room
With walls of the deepest blue
— Death Cab For Cutie

Lyrics be burning like brush fires
Spreading vocal leprosy
Using discrepancy
Lyric weaponry
— J5

"Coverdale Re-visits Roots on Purple Tour" - Whitesnake at SF's Regency Ballroom

By Tanja M. Alvarez (Photos & Words) 

David Coverdale apparently has no difficulties letting go of things associated with fortune and fame. After walking away from Deep Purple early in his career he disbanded his brainchild Whitesnake at the height of their success in 1990 only to regroup and dissolve the band once again less than a decade later. Fortunately for his followers, Coverdale can’t seem to stay away from the microphone for too long. Last Thursday night, "DC," as fans affectionately call the eloquent rocker, blew away the audience at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom confirming the long-held suspicion that it can only be his true passion for making music that keeps him coming back for more and more.

Right around 9 PM, Coverdale and bandmates exploded onto the stage with opener “Burn,” a track from their latest studio release “The Purple Album,” a compilation of remakes of Deep Purple songs and tribute to Coverdale’s former collaborators. Whitesnake original “Slide It In” followed without hesitation, and fans temporarily relieved the singer from his job as he proudly pointed the mic toward the audience. At this early point in the show the energy already reached a level of intensity many bands only hope to achieve during their encore.

Coverdale, who was dressed in a white, buttoned down shirt and black leather pants, projected pure confidence. He was on fire, effortlessly conjoining bold raunchiness with the poise of a seasoned rock star. Throughout the evening, the British born frontman took full advantage of his power by toying with fans in the front rows and elegantly raising a toast with a glass of wine.

After a whirlwind of alternating Whitesnake compositions and Deep Purple remakes, the audience was in for a special treat as equally talented guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra delivered brilliant solos. While Beach, who splits his time between Whitesnake and Winger, dominated his instrument in a heavy, forceful, yet intricate manner, Hoekstra appeared to be hugging his blue glittery six-string creating an effortlessly flowing, almost angelic resonance. The skill level was exceptional, but what made these presentations truly magnificent was the notion that they could simultaneously exist on one stage without evoking the slightest need for a comparison.

After two more Deep Purple classics it was time for veteran drummer Tommy Aldridge to take the spotlight. The double bass pioneer beat his drums with such ferocity that left stunned spectators exhausted from merely attempting to study his moves. Just when it appeared as if the tension couldn’t soar any further, Aldridge threw away his sticks and proceeded to drum with his bare hands, which has become one of his trademarks throughout his phenomenal career.

Newer members proved to be invaluable as well. Bassist Michael Devin, who has been with Whitesnake since 2010, delivered a solid performance and demonstrated great showmanship playing harmonica during “Mistreated.” Latest addition “Italian Stallion” and renowned voice coach Michele Lupi played an important role on keys and lend his expertise to the back-up vocals.

While songs from “The Purple Album” were well received the crowd really went wild during “Is This Love” and “Here I Go Again.”  The latter closed the set and the band quickly disappeared into the dark. Fortunately, drained fans didn’t have to scream for long before the sextet reappeared determined to do the seemingly impossible by turning up the heat one more notch with “Still of the Night,” very likely one of the greatest rock songs ever written.

What happened that evening when Whitesnake took the stage at the Regency Ballroom perfectly illustrated the difference between a great show and a truly magical experience. The energy was so intense words don’t appear capable of producing an adequate description. However, one thing was certain: this was pure rock ‘n’ roll performed by true masters of their craft.

Sylvan Esso at the Fillmore

(Photo by  @heartsoulhappiness )

By Peter Horn | @PeterCHorn

Sylvan Esso’s Tuesday night show was a marriage of the synthetic and the organic, a sonic reminder that opposites do indeed attract. Nick Sanborn’s beats are intriguing and multi-textural, Amelia Meath’s voice satisfying and just enough unique. But his DJ work and her voice alone don’t sell out San Francisco’s historic Fillmore two nights in a row. The synergy between the two sell out The Fillmore two nights in a row.

Tuesday was an evening of contrast and anticipation: the bass was deep and hard-hitting but purposeful, her voice childlike in the face of Sanborn’s violent hooks. Both can stand alone—and both do: his bass powers Megafaun while her vocals drive Mountain Man—but paired together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. His beats pull the hotel room shades down low; her voice cracks the window, letting just enough daylight in.

The duo from Durham enhances the contrast with the art of anticipation, stacking blocks precariously high, drawing the audience in with a “watch this” wink then, when the tower is wavering, stacking one more and kicking out the foundation. Buildups are impossibly long; by the time the beat finally drops, the crowd is personally invested. As the bass dropped, we dropped.

The show was spirited, in the way a car wreck is jarring. Framed by a pulsing backdrop of glowing angles—an appropriate arrangement of “greater-than” signs—Meath punched through the heavy fog sitting over the stage in a torn black tank top, perfectly incongruous with her sprightly vocals. At her best, her voice approaches Norah Jones- a sound nearly innocent.

Five feet to her left, Sanborn bobbed frenetically over a laptop and soundboard, doing actual onstage DJ work… or at the very least a convincing acting job. A true multimedia experience, lights flashed in synchrony with his deepest hits, highlighting that which needed no highlighting.

“Coffee” and “Hey Mami” were played with the passion of a band not yet tired of dancing with the one that brought them, while new material demonstrated their limitless appetite for creative juxtaposition. The latter featured a track in which a xylophone and rainforest sound effect broke into the evening’s deepest bass line, the contrast so glaring it teetered on comical.

The group was miles away from its hometown of Durham, NC, a point illustrated by the tepid response to their North Carolina shout-out, as well as the strong impression made by San Francisco grocery stores (“Every time I walk into Bi-Rite, I stand in front of the carrots and weep”). Durham is a city better known for a certain university and minor league baseball team than its music scene. Bands like Sylvan Esso and Hiss Golden Messenger are starting to change that.

Throughout the duo’s 90-minute performance, there was sweat and there were heart-rattling bass lines and eyes-closed dancing, but there was also a sense that some was left on the table, understandable for the first show of a two-night run. The encore—a vocally driven “Come Down” that was refreshing and genuine, if a bit anticlimactic—seemed to revel in this fact, leaving the audience smiling and rubbing the smarting handprint of previous bass hooks.

And with an unassuming wave goodbye, Sanborn and Meath quietly walked off stage, the pair somehow larger than the two silhouettes disappearing into the fog. 

"An Evening with PHOX"

The sextet from Wisconsin harmonizing at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall (photo by Peter Horn) 

The sextet from Wisconsin harmonizing at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall (photo by Peter Horn) 

By Peter Horn | @PeterCHorn

On Tuesday, April 14th, concertgoers at The Great American Music Hall were treated to an intimate evening with PHOX- an evening in which guitars were played with the trunk of a stage-prop plant, banana-shaped maracas provided a festive backbeat and the crowd joined in to serenade the lead-singer’s mother via cell phone with a foggy rendition of Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco.”

The sextet that walked onstage looked more like an assigned school project group than a band that’s held captive crowds of 20,000-plus: a skinny redhead wearing a safari hat, a chubby bespectacled keyboardist with a pencil-thin hair part, the clean-cut jock on lead guitar who can only stay until football practice starts and the obligatory guy wearing flip flops over socks that no one trusts to take the project home. The motley crue consists of six childhood best friends for whom nothing is off limits; the chemistry and trust among the bandmates is on constant display, not just when they’re shouting inside jokes to each other across stage.

In between songs, the stage banter had a beer-soaked college basement feel, their candor at times refreshing (“Coachella sucks… lots of sexy people but everyone looks the same and the sun is disorienting… but I like San Francisco.”), at times bordering on cringeworthy (“Matthew waxed his butt for this show… his girlfriend’s here!”). But when the lights dimmed, the six-piece outfit from Baraboo, Wisconsin—that sleepy town northwest of Madison that of course you’ve never heard of—buttoned it up. Standing beneath the vintage parlor-lit PHOX lettering, the group shared with the crowded room their genre-agnostic sound: at times folky, at times poppy, at all times soulful.

Midway through the evening, the band moved to the center of the stage where they huddled for an acoustic set, a nod to the crowded dining room of their shared house that doubles as a rehearsal venue, “because everyone knows musicians don’t have enough money to eat in their dining rooms.” And with just a guitar, a banjo and the ubiquitous banana maraca behind her, Monica Martin’s voice took the stage: a smoky, reverb-laden performance that silenced any suspicions of novelty with a range spanning the lows and highs of a bass drum and a fork on crystal glass. With one hand holding a fistful of her signature black curls, she led us through acoustic renditions of “1936,” “Kingfisher,” and “Evil” from PHOX’s eponymous first album, the crowd for a moment forgetting why they even bother plugging in.

But it was in the strangely beautiful cover of Blink 182’s “I Miss You” that the genre-transcendent potential of her voice became clear, as she took a vapid punk ballad, stripped it down and carefully dressed it in silky reverb to create a haunting folk melody that barely resembled the original. Martin’s voice has an unmistakable air of nostalgia, adding a layer of somber gravel to even their most spit-shined songs, the kind of voice that could sing you happy birthday and leave you staring off into the distance, pondering the ephemerality of time.

Unlike her sock and flip-flopped bandmate, Monica (or “Oprah” as she introduced herself) does look the part—tall, with a head of hair that could solicit volumizing tips from Macy Gray—but she doesn’t quite act it, at one point reflecting on their tour, “It’s not what I thought I’d be doing, but then again I didn’t have many thoughts.” And it’s comments such as this that remind us of the simplicity of what we’re witnessing: six really good friends who really enjoy playing music together. Who just happen to be really good at it.

Adrian Spinelli Riffs on Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era

"You'll get it in the vocals, if you ain't a local." - Joey on "Waves" from his debut Mixtape "1999" (photo from

"You'll get it in the vocals, if you ain't a local." - Joey on "Waves" from his debut Mixtape "1999" (photo from

If you haven't already heard, the Pro(gressive) Era hip hop collective out of Brooklyn, New York is on the come-up, and Joey Bada$$ is leading the charge. The 20-year-old Bada$$ released his debut studio album this winter ("B.4.DA.$$"), and The Section is more than happy to endorse the album's 6th track, "Hazeus View," among others. Recently, Adrian Spinelli was able to catch up with Pro Era producer Chuck Strangers. Read the interview here, and enjoy "Hazeus View" below... 

Section 925 Podcast Episode 25 - Coachella

This hoopster went with your classic White Chocolate Sac Kings authentic road jersey

Connor brings musical maven Adrian Spinelli back on the pod to discuss all things Coachella. Spinelli, from, and, lays out what to expect down at Coachella in 2013 and weighs in on the festival's overall cultural significance. Adrian also explains "Faux-Chella" and all the bands descending on SF in the coming weeks.

Listen here or on Itunes.

"It's a Long Way to the Top (...)" - Great White Buffalo Makes Their Mark on SF and Beyond

From GWB's Instagram, @GreatWhiteB

By Connor Buestad (

"Sometimes a song comes together in a perfect amalgamation of creative ideas from everyone in the band -- this isn't that song. We paid a homeless guy $2 to write it for us." -- Guitarist Stephen Johnson describing GWB’s new hit “Thanks for Nothing” to

Ralph Barbieri, former co-host on the legendary Bay Area sports talk radio show “The Razor and Mr. T”, used to close ever show with the same quote, every time. “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.”

In Barbieri’s case, who was “relieved of his duties” last year after a long and distinguished career on the airwaves, the quote seemed to serve as a reminder or ethos that he aspired to follow himself, but not without struggle. Great White Buffalo, on the other hand, appear to have the whole flying because you’re taking yourself lightly concept in spades. And by the looks of it, it’s starting to pay off.

45 minutes prior to last weekend’s show at The Independent in San Francisco, I found myself backstage in the Green Room with GWB and to be sure, no one was taking themselves too seriously. Sure, I may have forced Great White Buffalo’s iconic looking lead guitarist, Stephen Johnson, to admit this was the band’s biggest show to date, but nobody seemed too phased by the whole ordeal.

Beside showing the visible strain of dealing with pressing issues like an empty Green Room beer fridge or the pain-in-the-ass of making a half decent set list, you could have fooled me into thinking I was in Stephen’s Orinda garage, getting ready to cover another Zeppelin track before moving straight into another Foo Fighters ballad.

For Johnson, who quickly bagged the idea of playing piano when he approached the six foot mark and started draining three pointers with girls in the stands, the whole idea of being a rockstar in Los Angeles is still a novel concept. It wasn’t until college that he strummed his first guitar in earnest and, to steal his words, it took him two years to stop sucking.

After reuniting with a former high school buddy and fellow 925 Native, Graham Bockmiller, the two eventually moved to West Hollywood (or “WeHo”) and started running down Tom Petty’s proverbial dream.

“This is probably the biggest show we’ve played since starting the band in 2011,” explained Johnson moments before stepping on stage to rock for a hometown crowd. “If you asked us a year ago if we thought we’d be playing The Independent soon, I would’ve laughed at you. But a month ago, the idea seemed very real to us. Next month we play at SXSW, it all just builds on one another.”

GRockmiller at The Indy

For as much as Johnson’s quick wit and carefree attitude do for GWB’s rapid rise to success, the efforts of Bockmiller, the lead singer, cannot be overstated. In similar fashion to Johnson, Bockmiller himself did not blaze your typical path to becoming an indie-rocker. A nationally ranked pole vaulter by trade, “Rockmiller” as he is known in some circles didn’t scratch his musical itch until late into his college years.

Said Bockmiller in a recent “off the record” interview, “You know I’ve always loved music, you know, a lot. I always dreamed of being a musician as a kid, or whatever, but I didn’t think it was possible. I could play guitar, but I couldn’t really sing. But once my track career was over, I started listening and playing more music. I started kinda writing stuff and seriously, well not seriously, but spending more time at it.”

Despite the fact that he’s steering the ship of an emerging LA rock outfit, nothing seems too serious about Bockmiller, and his who-gives-a-shit-things-will-work-out attitude seems to reverberate positively throughout the rest of the four man band.

Of course, maybe some of Rockmiller’s rosy outlook on GWB’s chances of sticking on the rock scene can be attributed to the band’s relationship with producer/engineer Phil Allen who has a Grammy in his trophy case, not to mention experience working with Aerosmith, Adele and the like. Perhaps Allen is wise to be betting on Great White Buffalo, an upstart band who still has a long way to go before realizing their full potential.

As far as the music Great White Buffalo is currently turning out, well go see for yourself. If you compared them to Japandroids, The Strokes, Kings of Leon or The National you wouldn’t be too far off. With a plethora of catchy, upbeat sonic treats in his quiver, Bockmiller and co. have more than enough ammo to sustain a great live show.

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival is what’s next on the docket for GWB. The venerable music festival held in Austin, TX will be the band’s biggest stage yet, but as they embark on their latest journey, it’s doubtful they’ll forget their 925 roots. Just watch the band’s signature video, "(You Gotta A) Pretty Mouth", if you were ever concerned...

GWB's reaction to Frank Gore's filthy dirty bird in the NFC 'Ship

“Let the Words do the Talking” – Andrew Blair Unveils His New Band, “We Became Owls”


By Connor Buestad (

At one of Andrew Blair’s recent shows, I made the mistake of inquiring how he goes about marketing his passion project. I should have known better, I suppose, but I went ahead and asked anyway. The look I received in return was one of honest apathy. One of those “Are you kidding me man? I just want to make my music and hopefully enough people will listen to it so I can make more” kind of looks.

Now, more than ever perhaps, artists like Andrew cringe when the subject of marketing is breached in relation to their work. The proverbial mountain of musical prominence has never been taller, and the trail toward the top has never been steeper or more crowded. Getting people to sit down and listen to your album above the din of Pandora, Spotify and the rest has never been tougher, and the idea of a consumer paying for their music is almost considered obsolete.

Yet despite all the obstacles laid down in front of creative types these days, the beat continues to go on, no matter how hard record deals are to come by.

On March 3rd, 2011, I found myself seeking shelter from the Polk Street Drunken Storm, when I poked my head inside the Red Devil Lounge. Andrew Blair was on stage with his childhood buddy Ross Warner, Blue Ribbon Beer was steadily flowing, and the crowd was hearty by folk-indie-bluegrass standards.

I’m no professional music critic, but judging by the undivided attention paid by the smartphone carrying crowd, it was clear Blair and Warner were onto something. The sound had feeling, depth, complexity, and the lyrics were clear, compelling, thought provoking. It wasn’t Bob Dylan in the Greenwich Village in 1962, but it was most definitely Andrew Blair at the Red Devil Lounge in 2011.

Fast forward to 2012 and I (shamefully) still haven’t paid a dime for Andrew Blair’s music. I probably should have by now, especially when one considers how much time I’ve spent soaking in the lyrics of “Live at Red Devil Lounge”. The 12 song album is chock full of ballads that challenge the listener to follow along with the poignant lyrics while letting one’s mind wander among an array of folksy sounds. If my iPhone’s ever-dying battery could be traced back to a particular culprit, streaming “Live at Red Devil Lounge” would most definitely be it.

I may never be able to fully recreate that spring San Franciscan night, but this live album certainly gives justice to the live version. Between-song banter by Blair including comments such as, “It’s like a giant living room in here.” “Good enough for government work.” And a sarcastic “Oh yeah, we have all kinds of merch in the back,” seem to add a degree of realism to an already real collection of songs.

In “Anchor”, the second song on “Live at Red Devil Lounge”, Blair carries out an acoustically riveting 70 second instrumental before the first lyric is uttered. Then the lyrics take hold and the acoustics mesh beautifully with Warner in the background and Blair’s vocals at the forefront.

“Pack the glances in the mirror in a suitcase tight

Blowing smoke rings under water as the heat sits still

Look hard at the ones who left, and the ones who will

Grab an anchor and leap overboard, but do it right

This empty ship is sinking, hold on tight,a long hard night…”

“The Lost and I” is my favorite track on the album, even if Blair forgets the words in the middle of the song. He hums the forgotten verse more than adequately, wrapping it up with, “The words. Have lost. Me.” The song is upbeat throughout, arguably the most jovial on the album. This doesn’t stop Blair from lamenting toward the end of the track.

“For the last two weeks I’ve had strangers say to me, ‘Hey you look tired.’

I stare down at my feet, fold my tongue and barely squeak, ‘Well maybe so.’”

“Mask” again highlights Blair’s talent as a singer-songwriter. A favorite of the Red Devil crowd, the song opens with the harmonica, a harmonica that stays relevant throughout the heartfelt song. Blair extends his vocal range toward the end of the song, drawing a well deserved uproar in applause from the Polk Street Faithful.

“She sat back down, and brought her eyes, to the bar. Condensation drips down the glass

Oh dear god I felt like I’d come so far, conversations happen so fast”

“And then I stumbled, and brought my hand down in the sun, my stomach grumbled

 And a fire began to burn, it burned along the wall, I’d built up so tall

Douse that fire with black cats and kerosene.You laugh, but you all know exactly what I mean.”

Other songs on “Live at Red Devil Lounge” that leave a lasting impression include “Animal”, “Tampa to Tulsa”, and “Cry a Lake”. All three bring original sounds and memorable lyrics. Says Blair in “Cry a Lake”, a song written by friend Adam Yas,

“You’re never gonna believe, my self-fulfilling prophecy

I dream that it happens and it does

I’m on my last four legs, not breathin’ but I’m your friend”

Blair’s songwriting prowess revealed on “Live at Red Devil Lounge” successfully laid the groundwork for his new musical venture, a band called “We Became Owls”. Still accompanied by Ross Warner ( a multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire who plays the mandolin, accordion, harmonica, lap steel guitar, electric guitar), the pair have added a collection of musical talent to create a more dynamic sound. Robin Ward (cello), Scott Manke (banjo, dobro, percussion), Sigal Sahar (stand up bass), and Katie Schlesinger (piano, banjo, vocals) have all hopped on board and will be rotating their talents onto the stage for “We Became Owls”.

Their first EP features old favorites “The Lost and I” and “Please Surrender” coupled with new songs:“Suitcase” and “I’m Done”. Illustrated perfectly by the ending of “I’m Done”, the added instrumentations and musical talent on stage give Blair his fullest sound yet.

An Oakland resident and avid A’s fan, Blair hopes 2012 still has some magic left to propel his latest project, and what will hopefully be an indefinite musical journey. He may not be capable of strategically marketing you to death, but he’ll be making the rounds of trusted Bay Area music venues, offering up his sounds and stories for less than an arm and a leg. Do yourself a favor and get out to see the poetry in motion. The Revolution will not be televised.

(head over to this site to read a longer, in depth article on Andrew Blair:

(Click here to see upcoming show dates and venues)

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C.h. Smith's Favorite Albums of 2012

Mr. Smith reveling in auditory bliss

By C.h. Smith (

Let me begin by saying, I am not a music critic – I am the complete opposite – I am a music lover.  See, a music lover is someone who allows themselves to get caught up in the spell of music and get swept away in the tales surrounding the music…a critic can’t do this.  To me, there is so much more than just the notes on a piece of paper or knowing the level of difficulty inside the music being played — I’m also one who appreciates a good back story.  Would Stevie Wonder’s music sound the same if you didn’t know he was blind?  Or would Bon Iver’s debut album sound the same if you didn’t know he recorded it while in seclusion at a winter cabin somewhere in Wisconsin?

Recently, this idea really hit home for me when I was reading a review where the writer wrote something along the lines of: “When deciding and critiquing the quality of music, you can’t use someone’s personal back story as a measurement in evaluating their work.”  In my head I was screaming “YES YOU CAN!”  And while I can sympathize with that statement coming from a critic’s mouth, I have no way of relating to those words.  What do I know about “bar structure” or “advanced chord progression?”

Critics act like judging music is like judging someone’s school work, like you can’t give out 5 stars to a band just because you’re more fond of them.  But I do think that!  Not to say that it’s essential in liking music — if that was the case no one would listen to Guns N’ Roses — but enjoying the experience of listening to someone’s musical work can very much  be influenced by whether or not you can connect with it on another level.  And how could you not, right?  It’s the same reason you can’t just allow 12 citizens off the street to be the jury of any criminal case… But luckily for us, appreciating music isn’t like going to court, and judging music isn’t like grading an exam.

It’s our easy access to music that allows us to become closer to each other.  With one click we can dive into anything from American Jazz to Swedish Techno.  But most importantly, it is through our access to these artists, their stories, and their songs that allows us to better understand their audiences who in turn let us discover new cultures, new ideas and develop roads toward new experiences.  In the year 2012 I have traveled to Poland with indie classical composers, to New Orleans where I discovered a new unique style of folk, to a gray underworld where minimalist electronic musicians rebelled against the spastic world of maximilist electro-pop, to Hollywood with Father John Misty and Lana Del Rey and to Iceland with Sigur Ros and Nico Muhly, to loud metal bar rooms and to progressive Hip Hop streets.  Beyond what just sounded good, I became interested in the community and the ideas surrounding the music, more than I have ever have been before.

The list below, “Favorite Albums Of 2012″, are records that excited me, that turned a light bulb on in my head or opened my eyes to an issue, that challenged me musically or emotionally, that were unique and compelling to listen to — and most importantly,  they were records that interested me.

#48 Cloud Nothings --- Attack on Memory


In 2012 we were blessed with countless accessible punk records (Japandroids, The Men, Converge, Jeff The Brotherhood), but it was Cloud Nothings lo-fi masterpiece, Attack On Memory (engineered by Steve Albini),that was able to leave the most memorable impression on me.  It is clear that Cloud Nothings are trying to accomplish much more than simply putting out a record filled with catchy pop punk hooks with fuzzy guitars, they are now in the business of crafting tasteful records which is in turn  - with the intention or not – is pushing the indie rock boundaries further and further out.  A concept album? not quite – but Attack On Memory does comfortably teeter on the edge of art rock and just good old fuckin’ rock and roll which will ensure you coming back to it again and again.

Spotify: Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory   Buy The Vinyl: Click Here Key Track: “Wasted Days”

#40 Joey Bada$$ --- 1999


Growing up I was fortunate to have an older brother who shoved “Real Hip-Hop” down my throat – Black Moon, Boogie Down Productions, Erik B & Rakim, Mos Def, Pharcyde, Boot Camp Click, DJ Premiere, Tribe Called Quest, Big Daddy Kane – music filled with stories, incredible sampling, poignant poetry, playful attitudes, neck-breaking beats, political insight, intelligent compositions – Hip Hop was my first great discovery in music.  It was Hip-Hop that let me realize that rap music has the ability to be everything and anything all at once.  And the incredible music coming out of New York in the 90′s was just that, it was Rock, it was Soul, it was Blues, hard and soft, aggressive and beautiful.  So, in todays Hip-Hop world of 2012,  where Rappers and EDM stars team up to make arena-filling radio hits, you wouldn’t expect a young 17-year-old kid, who goes by Joey Bada$$ and his rapping collective Progressive Era, to come out with a debut that pays homage to 1990′s NYC Hip Hip and to its unique styling of beats & rhymes.  1999 is as much as trip back in time as it is a refreshing reminder of all that Hip Hop can be.

Datpiff:   Joey Badass – 1999 Key Track: Survival Tactics (Feat. Capital STEEZ)

#29 Carla Morrison --- Dejenmne Llorar


I owe NPR and their amazing team of music geeks my sincere appreciation for turning me onto Carla Morrison, a Mexican folk singer who fuses indie pop folk rock with a perfect amount of Latin flare. Her latest record, Dejenmne Llora, reminds me a lot of when I first heard Seu Jorge or Manu Chao – it’s world music that is also western music – it was like I had heard it before and it was completely new to me…all at once.  Morrison’s music, despite whether I understand everything she’s saying or not, captivated me unlike any other record this year.

Spotify: Carla Morrison – Déjenme Llorar Key Track: “Eres Tu”

#26 The Lumineers --- The Lumineers


Usually when a band rises to the top out of no where, fans and critics become conflicted on whether or not they still want to love the band that they once adored with only a handful of other people.  But with a band like Lumineers, no matter how successful they’ve become, they haven’t run into this problem.  People from all walks of life adore The Lumineers music – from young teenie-boppers to old farts, from hipsters to radio-blaring divas.  It’s always wonderful when a band like The Lumineers can unite music lovers from across the board and all it took was Wesley Schultz’s ability to simply write a collection of straightforward, relevant, and delightful folk songs.

Spotify: The Lumineers – The Lumineers  Vinyl: Click Here Key Track: “Dead Sea”

...For C.h. Smith's full list of his 50 Favorite Albums of 2012, head over to his comprehensive music blog: