Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Uncoverable songs challenge: "In Your Eyes"

I was chatting with my roommate today when Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" came on the radio. This has always been one of my favorite recordings, it's just perfect. I've often thought how I've never heard a cover of this song that I've really liked, and you KNOW I love me a good cover!

I've heard all sorts of people cover this song including a recent trainwreck of an attempt from opera singer Renée Fleming; and who is Jeffrey Gaines, should I remember? I've heard tons of choral a cappella versions, but I don't know if they count.

What is the key to a good cover? I think it's when an artist takes someone else's song and makes it their own while highlighting the song itself. I especially love it when a crappy pop song is made awesome by an amazing rendition (hello Travis' cover of "Baby One More Time").

I don't really know what it is about "In Your Eyes," It's a quintessential 80s pop tune with those fabulously 80s world music nuances (hells yeah Youssou N'Dour) and there's that repeating reference to churches that seemed like it should bother me, and never did. And come to think of it, I've never heard anyone say that they don't like the song. How can you dislike Peter Gabriel anyway? The man is amazing. (I just saw that he was touring this summer.)

I challenge you to find me a cover of this song that really does this tune justice. One that really ups the ante and shows that "In Your Eyes" is not just one of the 80s best, but a timeless, solid song.

I also challenge you to suggest other uncoverable songs; songs that have been covered, but never in a satisfactory way.

(All that said, I just came across this Sara Bareilles cover of "In Your Eyes." I, um, sort of really like it...still had to post the above anyway.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A party and musical murals: the alley right behind my house

Yesterday I heard live music coming from somewhere very close to my bedroom. Peeking out my roommate's window that faces towards the back of the building I saw that my neighbors were having a party out of their garage in the alley way. I spotted these dudes playing some music out of a truck. On my way out, I walked through the alley to see what was going on. Turns out it was a going away party.

I sorta felt like I was still in Austin during South By Southwest, where music really is everywhere, including the alleyways.

So then I kept walking down the alley past the party to get back out to the street and found these murals. The Mission is full of murals; just chalk full of them. Actually the whole Bay Area is chalk full of murals, they are everywhere. I've started taking pictures of the musical ones, and there are lots. (One day soon I'll share them with you.) These photos were talking right behind my house, and in the year I've lived there, I've never seen them.

This city just keeps getting more amazing.

Friday, March 25, 2011 and Bay Area band projects

One of the prizes for donating cash is an organizing session with lead singer/songwriter Ziva Hader

You might have already heard about a little website called a “new way to fund and follow creativity.” I’ve always been happy to help out friends and family who were raising money to run in marathons and walk for breast cancer but now I am also happy to help friends create. And depending on how much I donate, I get something in return like a CD, a signed LP or even a massage.

Kickstarter is the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Every month, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects around the world and give them the opportunity to come to life. If you are an artist seeking a way to fund a creative project in music, film, art, technology, design, food, or any other creative field - Kickstarter may be the way to do it.

Here is a small list of the some of the current Local Bay Area bands that are using to help fund their musical endeavors. Help support them!

  • Ziva is raising funds for her official band demo CD.
  • Felsen needs help funding their 3rd album (one day left)!
  • LoCura is seeking to finish their 2nd album.
  • The Hypnotist Collectors want to press and print their CDs and make a music video.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Photos from SXSW 2011

Elain and Eitan enjoying The Family Crest

Torchy's Tacos. The one on the left is called the Trailer Park, it has fried chicken in it and the one on the right is a breakfast taco.

The Defibulators play a the Brooklyn BBQ house show. /

Two-steppin' at the Broken Spoke m/

South Congress Ave.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

SXSW highlights from Saturday March 19: yeay for house shows!

Best house show ever - frog sandbox full of beer (and milk for the kiddies)

Yesterday was a fun day. Got a Jimmie John's sandwich and wandered around a bit downtown. Then headed to South Austin for some outdoor house parties, which by the way, are totally the way to go.

First I checked out the 3rd Annual Brooklyn BBQ party in someone's backyard off of South Congress to see alt-country/bluegrass/punk band the Defibulators. Erin's brother and my brother went to junior high together, so I keep up with what she's doing and her band is really fun. The bbq had two stages, food, drink and dancing.

Brooklyn BBQ back yard show (double click to see larger image)

Then I headed over to a house show at Brian and Elaine's house. They came to my show on Thursday and enjoyed it so much that they invited The Family Crest and Megan Slankard to perform in their front yard It was a blast.

It was also really nice to hear Megan play an acoustic set with just her guitar. This girl can sing.

Megan Slankard plays Elaine and Brian's front yard

Even on such short notice, a bunch of Brian and Elaine's friends showed up, many of them with their kids. It was so fun to watch them enjoy the music and just wander around. Watch this video and just look at all those little faces. Some of them were super into the music. I got another video on my camera of them playing percussion along with the Family Crest, I'll post it when I get home.

Then it was over to a funny little bar called G&S on South First that I had never noticed. I finally got to see The Hello Strangers live, which was a total treat. Larissa and Brechyn have all these new songs that I'd not heard before, like this gospel-y tune "Big Flood." I love the way these ladies harmonize. This song gave me goosebumps.

I have a lot more videos and photos to share, I'll try to roll some of it out in the next couple weeks.

Today we decided to go toobing in the Guadelupe River. It was WAY too cold for toobing. I don't recommend it. My butt is still freezing, and strangely, I got a little bit of color.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Video Blog 2: SXSW Friday on 6th Street

A second video blog on Friday afternoon on 6th street. My hair is doing weird things because of the humidity and I just visited the coolest hat store in the country, the Hatbox on 6th (I learned everything I know about hats from them)

Friday, March 18, 2011

SXSW house show SUCCESS pt. 1

Thanks to everyone that came out last night! My friend Cedric opened up his home to a great night of music with Jasha Hoffman, Foxtails Brigade, Dina Maccabee, KP and the Boom Boom and The Family Crest.

Here's the highlight of the evening for me (for obvious reasons). I have more videos and will load them up, but it's taking too long right now and I have to get moving. It was sort of dark in the room, but you can see what's going on. And, again, I'm super impressed with the audio on this little flipcam.

I HIGHLY recommend throwing a house show if you have ever entertained the idea. They are intimate and fun. Performers always seem to prefer them and throwing parties is just always a good idea.

This is the Family Crest performing "In the Avenue" featuing yours truly on vocals. I am now an official member of the extended Family Crest! w00t!

Video Blog: SXSW 1am Wednesday night - post-house show

Thanks to KC Turner for inspiring me to post one of these. I feel like such a dork, but here I go releasing it into the interwebs.

Had a great, successful house show, will post video from it tomorrow. Everyone had a blast.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gary Clarke Jr. at The Ghost Room, Wednesday March 17

photo via

Walking into the Ghost Room on 4th street, I instantly remembered how good Gary Clarke Jr. is. With his husky, yet smooth voice and mad guitar skills, why is this guy not famous? As a rock and blues guitarist, his sound is like a modern Jimi Hendrix. His vocal stylings are somewhere between Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and Ben Ottewell of Gomez.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to hear a whole other side of Clarke at a singer/songwriter in the round show and heard him play a beautiful acoustic with intricate finger-picking. I remember thinking, "where did this come from" and why can't I hear more?

Clarke told me after the show that he will be going on tour soon, and that he hasn't recorded any of the softer, acoustic tunes. I really hope he does, it'll show off how versatile he can be.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fitz & the Tantrums: Waterloo Records parking lot, March 16th, SXSW, Austin, Texas

Fitz! Fitz! Fitz!

Finally I got to see Fitz & the Tantrums live! I'm also happy to say that I also converted two of my friends over as well who had not heard of them. I, myself, was converted after Amber Gregory's excitement of their Bay Area shows last year. So after finding rockstar parking, we slid over to the Waterloo Records parking lot (they no longer have SXSW shows in the store, which is good news for everyone) and were treated to the funky sounds of Los Angeles based Fitz & the Tantrums.

We found front duo Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs outside Amy's Ice Cream around the corner and had a quick chat, they were as nice as can be. The fangirl in me waited in line to get them to sign my newly purchased copy of their first album Pickin' Up the Pieces.

The music is a sort of reinvention of soul music. It's modern, yet very much firmly based in Motown and STAX. Fitz has no guitar (score!) and instead has a baritone saxophone (double score!) played by Jamie King. The music is fun, but definitely has a certain edge to it, and a good amount of passion and anger. And that's what I think drives it. The performance is super tight and groove-worthy. The vocal combination of Fitzpatrick and Scaggs is perfect. And although Fitzpatrick has a great voice that suits the music wonderfully, I wish Scaggs would get to sing more lead. But, really, that's my only complaint.

I don't know the history of each of these musicians, but these guys are seasoned professionals that know their stuff. Bassist Ethan Phillips and drummer John Wicks lay down tight, funky grooves and keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna has chosen the perfect keyboard tones for each song that gives each song a specific personality of sorts.

The song "Dear Mr. President" pleads with (I assume) Mr. Obama, "Hey put your foot down, and take a look 'round, if you don't like what you see." Say it. Hallelujah. And songs like the fabulously catchy "Money Grabber" (see the video below) and "Rich Girls" suggest that Fitzpatrick might have had some specific troubles mixing money and women. I'm really enjoying the dark "News 4 U" with a chorus of call and response between Fitzpatrick and Scaggs that gets in your head.

Photos by Jamie Freedman

I took video (including a cool cover of Sade's "Sweet Dreams"), but the amplification was too much for the little flipcam, so I give you their performance on Conan, the late night talk show host with the best taste in music.

White Dress and The Beaumont: Tuesday March 15th - South by Southwest

Last night we ended up at funky Jovita's in South Austin for a hodgepodge of music. Even though there were only maybe twenty people in the whole joint, the bands still worked it out for us.

This is The Beaumont from Lubbock. They are not for the un-humored, singing about every hedonistic, R-rated theme you could think of: drugs, Toby Keith being a pretty woman, having an affair with a member of the AARP, mayo as a favorite lubricant, burning churches and every sexual taboo you can think of. These good (?) old boys are not for the faint of heart and easily offended, so of course I was laughing my ass off.

In their cowboy hats, sunglasses and cowboy shirts, these middle-aged dudes could not have been more hilarious, making everyone in the room smile and shake their heads in disbelief. The Beaumont is like Z Z Top on a drinking binge.

This is a snippet of "Money for Drugs" (I took this with my friend's flipcam, pretty good!):

White Dress - photo by Eric Morales @

I was pleasantly surprised by Austin based White Dress. It's nice to see more and more powerful women with electric guitars in their hands. Singer-guitarist Arum Rae Valkonen has a versatile voice that spans a range of colors from Billie Holliday to Ann Wilson. Combined with her dirty guitar sound and the badass drumming of Grant Van Amburgh, a Black Keys comparison is unavoidable.

Monday, March 14, 2011

South by Southwest here I come! And I'm hosting a Bay Area bands house show

This afternoon I leave for Austin for a week. I AM VERY EXCITED. I see that it's going to be over 80 for the next few days, so not only do I get to enjoy the craziness of South by Southwest, there will be fun Texas-y things to do like hanging out in Barton Springs and maybe even toobing on one of the rivers down south.

This will be my 5th time at the festival, and I *think* I've gotten a the hang of it by now. It helps that I can work from wherever there is internet and I have friends who still live there to stay with. It also helps that I know where all the good taco stands are.

I'm also very excited to be hosting my very first house show on Thursday the 14th with Bay Area bands The Family Crest, Dina Maccabee and Foxtails Brigade! It looks like we're going to have a full house! (Let me know if you're in town and you'd like to come) It's been such a pleasure working with my friends to put this together, and house shows are a really wonderful, intimate way to hear music. I think it will be especially excellent after dealing with the street crowds downtown all week.

My general SXSW advice:
  1. wear comfy shoes
  2. drinks lots of water
  3. don't worry too much about sticking to your schedule of bands to see. Even if you have a badge or wristband or whatever (and you don't really need one by the way, there's so much free stuff going on): shows are full, places are further away than you think, you might want to stay for the next band or you might find that there's a glorious sound coming from that tent over there! FOLLOW YOUR EARS! You never know what might come your way, and that's the whole point of this festival, to discover new things.
And of course I have to tell you who I am most looking forward to seeing:

The Bees:
I have been a fan of the Bees since discovering them randomly on a sampler CD I picked up at a Radiohead concert in 2003. They don't tour to the US very often so I will not be missing this one, even though they are playing at 1 in the morning. They have an 1960s thing going on: garage rock with a psychedelic, folky vibe:

These ladies are Girls Rock Camp alums, so of course I'm excited about them. They were recently featured on a cnn blog. Woa! They are still in high school and embody what camp is all about. AND, they are sharing the stage of the Girls Rock Camp showcase with the Bangles. Not too shabby.

The Hello Strangers:
My friend and former classmate Larissa Chace Smith and sister Brechyn, whom I've written about before, will be in town from central Pennsylvania! Think Neko Case times two! I love the vocal harmonies. Their music tells the stories of women caught in bad relationships who might take matters into their own hands every now and again. I've not gotten to see them live yet, but love their recordings.

The Defibulators:
Erin B. is the younger sister of Eli, who is my pianist when I sing in Los Angeles. Eli and my brother played music together in junior high. The Defibulators throw a raucous party of what I'm gonna call country-punk. I've been getting to know their music over the years and it keeps changing. The new album "Corn Money" has a fun combination of honky-tonk tunes and 1930s-type ballads.

Defibulators "Corn Money" from Possum Den Productions on Vimeo.

I have a new smart phone so I will be trying out live blogging with it. Stay tuned!

And, of course, I will be eating lots of tacos.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Love of lady covers: UnderCover Presents the Pixies' "Doolittle"

Bevy of beauties: Conspiracy of Venus prepares for their performance of "Monkey Gone to Heaven"
(all photos by Peter Varshavsky)

Last week UnderCover Presents: the Pixies' Doolittle at SF Public Works. The project is an insane logistical balance of getting one band to record and perform one track each of a classic album. This time, Doolittle got the royal treatment.

Read my review of the show and studio album here.

I noticed that the tracks I love the most were sung by women. Surprise surprise. These ladies include, Dina Maccabee, Blue Rabbit (who I'm going to see live tomorrow night at the Hemlock) and Lily Tayor. Of course I also love Conspiracy of Venus (a choir I have rejoined, I couldn't stay away any longer).

Lovely lady UnderCover Executive Director Lyz Luke

Newly found (to me) goddess Lily Taylor

Dina Maccabee's sweet and purdy cover of "La La Love You"

Blue Rabbit sings "Hey"