Monday, August 16, 2010

Sheila E.: too funky! - Yoshi's (SF)

Sheila E.Yoshi’s, San Francisco. August 15, 2010, - the 9pm show. …”I don’t know what I’m thinking. 52 years old – up here singin’ and dancin’”, said an exhausted Sheila E. following a wickedly funky version of Oliver’s House, Sunday night. “I haven’t played that song like THAT since 1984”, she added.

That aside, was one of several exchanges that left the audience at Yoshi’s San Francisco feeling like we were in Sheila’s living room receiving our own special show. And just when you may have thought she and her six–piece band couldn’t possibly maintain the kind of energy they expended on Oliver’s House for another song, they managed to do it for another HOUR! 

She encouraged the sold out audience at Yoshi’s San Francisco to dance. And dance we did. How could you not? Her play list had nary a slow song – other than her Country inspired tune (Glorious Train) – which turned into a revival at about 155 beats per minute.

Her band included Cat Gray (keyboards), Raymond McKinley (bass), Bobby G. (guitar), Garrett Perkins (sax), Rick Jordan (drums), and Brandon Coleman (keys). 

I came away assured that Sheila E commands respect as a band leader. She is decisive and funky. She keeps a show moving. The players in the band seemed very engaged in every note being played and they all seemed to be having fun. Likewise, as members of the 400 plus attending the show, Sheila kept us laughing, creating a light atmosphere.

I never take notes at a show because I just want to enjoy the show – so my recall on set lists can be shady. Just as fun as the complete songs the band played - were impressive “turn arounds” and tight transitions that have been a part of Sheila’s set for years.

They played:

• Leader of the Band (This is a Latin inspired song that will appear on Sheila's next album. It was a funky way to start the show.)
• Oliver’s House
• A Love Bizarre
• A new song that written for Sheila by Prince. (She said she was playing it live for the first time tonight.)
• Get on the Boat (too funky. Raymond McKinley’s bass playing is perfect to my ears. He is ‘in there’.)
• Glorious Train
• I Made It
• Pop Life (what a GREAT song to put in the set! Everybody sang along).
• Holly Rock
• (encore) Glamorous Life.
• (encore) America

For the encore – Bobby G. opened with a searing solo, pulled out his cell phone and made a call (during the solo!).

Brownmark (he looks exactly the same) from the Revolution was brought out to play bass, and Sheila’s brother Juan hit the stage for a percussion solo. Sheila told the audience they would just jam for a bit. She told the drummer to “play fast and don’t move”, and Bobby G. ripped into Prince’s America. Sheila took off her seven inch heels and a funk fest ensued with Sheila and Bobby standing up on the edge of the stage.

Sheila’s energy is rhythm. It runs through her. And she seems to thrive on the love being reciprocated from the audience and from her band mates. In particular – I thought Bobby G. added tremendously to the overall positive vibe of her stage show with his energetic playing, not to mention dancing, singing and keeping the crowd up.

What is more amazing is that Sheila admitted the band never practiced together. They had a “day of show sound check” (and that is with a new drummer (Jordan), a new keyboard player, and Perkins on sax).McKinley said before the show, “…just trying to remember everything.”

Jordan in his first gig with Sheila E. more than held his own. McKinley, Gray and Bobby G. – who have worked with Sheila for years – kept contact with Jordan and seemed to over-exaggerate their next lick to help keep Jordan in-step with the direction.

It worked perfectly.

What this validates to me – even more strongly than I had previously thought – is that there is a lot to be said for loose structure in performance. Many of the best moments were ‘off the cuff’ improvisations by talented musicians who were ‘in the moment’.

As Sheila brought selected guests from the audience to come on stage to dance for her, the band jammed. I looked around the full house and saw nothing but smiling faces.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that last night’s 9pm show at Yoshi’s (SF) immediately moved into the top-five all-time shows seen*. It was THAT good.

It was beyond good.

It was phenomenal.

*That top-five?
1. Prince – Purple Rain Tour – Cow Palace – SF
2. D’Angelo – Voodoo Tour – Paramount Theater – Oakland
3. Prince – Sacramento Memorial Auditorium
4. Tony! Toni! Tone’ @ Boni Boyer tribute - Gregory’s Inner Circle – Oakland
5. …and now Sheila E. at Yoshi’s last night.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Maxwell w/ opening act Jill Scott

Oracle Arena – Oakland, CA. June 4, 2010Maxwell performed Friday night to a large (lower bowl and floor of arena looked full) audience at Oracle Arena. I’m a fan of Maxwell’s so please understand that when reading this review. However my fandom is always overridden by my critical thoughts. There is a producer in me.

While we (wifey and I) enjoyed the show, I did think Maxwell played about two or three too many slow jams. I know, I know, Maxwell is a slow jam king. I get it. The mellow-smooth is his signature. Trust me – I am a slow jam king too. But there is always a time and a place such an occurrence. A concert on a Friday night in Oakland needs to have more upbeat moments than chill stretches. My wife actually said this, during Til the Cops Come Knockin’: “I was having a hard time not falling asleep”.

So that deficiency in funky weekend energy was my main criticism.

On stage, Maxwell deserves high praise for his showmanship. He smiles easily and appears to be having fun. He’s a dancing machine. Vocally – he is always on the right pitch – and his natural tone is wonderful to hear live. As a band-leader he runs a tight ship. During the beginning notes of "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)" – someone in the band was playing something wrong and Maxwell called them out on it. I wish I knew exactly what he said but it something to the effect of a scolding “know what you are playing!”

When an artist reaches the point that he or she is playing big arenas and doing it nightly – boredom with your set is bound to creep in. The result is dangerous. This is very hard for any big venue performer to get past. As a fan, I want to hear and see Maxwell sing AND perform. I didn’t pay (with all the surcharges $304 for two tix) to hear the lady in front of me sing every lyric. Too many times, and it happened Friday night – the artists signature songs turn into campfire sing-a-longs. The artist leaves out key phrases and turns the microphone to the crowd. The fans sing a verse. I hate that. It’s cool to do that once or twice but save it for the truly “feel good” moments. A Woman’s Work – a critical and mandatory tune by Kate Bush that Maxwell covers sadly became fodder for all the bad singers around me. On a more upbeat song like Ascension – I am not bothered nearly as much by the sing-a-long tactic.

Another pitfall of boredom with the set is the band going in directions that may be refreshing to them as players but to us as audience members who know the songs – it’s like “what are they playing?” If you change a song – change it ONLY for the better. Do not change a song simply because you are bored with playing the intended arrangement. If that is the case – simply move on to another tune. I think it is okay for an artist to only have two or three songs that they kind of “have to play”. For Maxwell – I would say Ascension, Fortunate, and Pretty Wings – had to be played. But he could easily swap out about three slow jams for more upbeat material.

Speaking of the band – I was disappointed that Chris Dave was never given any freedom in the show. It seems borderline criminal to not let that cat have a solo on the drums. I always advise somewhere about three-quarters of the way through the show – to have an improvisational section of 15-20 minutes or so. This helps band members get some love and stay motivated. It also helps keep the band members from being bored. …Heck, take a page from Prince and have a ‘dance contest’ for selected audience members on stage. This also might allow some FUNK to enhance the party. 

The next nit-pick is strictly local knowledge that would save performers from a slight embarrassment when playing in Oakland. Here it is: do not shout out “San Francisco!” while playing a show in Oakland. At least do not shout SF first. Oakland is a proud city and it takes about 15 seconds to figure out (once you have visited SF and Oakland) that Oakland and San Francisco, although just a few miles apart, may as well be worlds apart when it comes to style and attitude.

Maxwell shouted “San Francisco!!!, Bay Area, Oakland” in that order. Oops.

Oracle Arena as a concert hall is less than ideal. Parking was $20. The sound in the arena was horrible. Big arenas are just hard to mix due to the reverberation of the bass in such a big space. I understand that and I anticipated that going in. At the same time – I’ve heard much better mixes in similar arenas that what I struggled to decipher Friday night.

Songs I recall being played: (not in order)

  • Sumthin, Sumthin
  • Bad Habits (horrible mix)
  • Cold
  • This Woman’s Work (slow)
  • Help Somebody
  • Stop the World (slow)
  • Reunion (slow)
  • Fistful of Tears (slow)
  • Drowndeep (snippet) (slow)
  • Get to Know Ya
  • Lifetime (slow)
  • Til the Cops Come Knockin’ (slow)
  • Ascension (first encore. Band screwed up and was scolded by Maxwell)
  • Pretty Wings (final encore) (slow)

With all the above thoughts – you may think I hated the performance. Not so. I enjoyed most of the show. The audience reaction seemed mostly positive but not overwhelmingly so. This in my opinion has to do with how Maxwell is marketed. He is sold as a masculine soul singer that in the words of opening act comic Guy Torrey “make the women wet”.

Does his sexual orientation mean anything to me as a listener? No.

The reality is that Maxwell – the performer – has decidedly feminine characteristics. I don’t think any women were wet, ... but they may have wanted to go shopping in the city with him.

Jill Scott

I knew Jill Scott was talented but after seeing her perform as a solo artist for the first time – I now understand how good her voice really is. Wow! She has power and range that must seem unfair to other female singers. It took about three or four songs before she reached the Oakland crowd but once she did – she never let us go – building a climax of her hit “Golden”.

I love to watch the way people in the audience react to a performer. It is safe to say that Jill Scott resonates with black women in particular. We watched hundreds of ladies standing and singing every word of deep album cuts in Scott’s unusually long opening act. She clearly reached into the souls of many during “The Way” and her Grammy winning “Cross my Mind”.

I’m a casual Scott fan so of course I was looking forward to hearing A Long Walk. I was disappointed by the live arrangement. Overall though, Jill Scott did herself good. She turned a casual fan like me into someone who will dig a little deeper for her music due to a strong live performance.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Goapele LIVE at The New Parish - Oakland, CA.

GoapeleMay 13 and 14, 2010 at The New Parish – Oakland, CA. …Regular readers of know that we admire Bay Area artist Goapele. Any chance we get to see her perform – we are trying to be there. So it was with great anticipation that we looked forward to a two-night stint at The New Parish (which is at least partially owned by her brother – he might own the whole thing – I’m not sure).

With any musical performance I try really hard to not EXPECT anything – that way I am less likely to be disappointed. But with Goapele I’m starting to get the feeling she may never let me down. On both nights – she entertained me as much or more than any current relevant performer.

Goapele featured selected new material on both nights with “Tears on My Pillow” standing out as a slow simmering, bluesy, potential hit. The song perfectly captures the resignation of a broken heart. She sang with a backing band of five; drums, bass, guitar, keys, and turntables. Her newest song, “Right Here” was received overwhelmingly well on Thursday night. It is a pop-inspired tune with an undeniably catchy hook that appears to be very radio-friendly (It was short. I’m guessing less than three-minutes.)

The Thursday show also produced the highlight of the two nights when Goapele dedicated “Darker Side of the Moon” to her Mother who was in attendance. Singing a'capella is a strong point for Goapele who I’ve seen move people to tears with her combination of sincerity, strength and vocal skill.

The show opened both nights with the rocking and grooving Yeah Yeah Yeah (I hope it ends up on the new album). If the set list varied from one night to the next outside of no “Darker Side…” on Friday, I didn’t notice. “Romantic” was mashed by the band with Bootsy Collins’ “I’d Rather Be with You” for a very satisfying funk.

Goapele has great taste in music. She covered “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s in a soulful way that betters the original version. (I hope THAT ends up on her new album too). Roy Ayers’ classic Everybody Loves the Sunshine was a great set closer each night.

DJ Apollo gets love for his Pete Rock & CL Smooth drop in at the break of “Got It”. Apollo also had a quick solo each night along with drummer (???? – sorry I didn’t catch his name). …First Love is always performed well and the audience both nights did their best to sing along. …Personal favorite songs from Goapele’s vastly underrated Change it All CD were rocked with precision. “4 am” and “Crushed Out” show off her R&B sensibilities, and lyrical prowess.

Prior to the Ayers cover, the opening notes of “Closer” play and the crowd always goes koo koo. The song has taken on a life of it’s own as an anthem for anyone still striving for happiness (which is all of us right?). Other songs performed included “Catch 22”, “Different”, “Milk + Honey”, and the rocking encore “Love Me Right”.

To sum it up – Goapele gets it. She is humble. She has class. She rocks. She is soulful. She maintains her cool yet radiates heat. She clearly respects her craft and has mastered it.

At the risk of tooting our own horn regarding reviewing musical acts – we are seldom wrong about those we think should be getting more worldwide hype. I trust my sense to know a hit when I hear one. Likewise I know a star when I see one.

Goapele is star. AND she has hits!

I’m not telling anyone in Northern California anything they don’t already know. She as over 40,000 fans on Facebook but it says here that 40,000 will be a tiny number compared to the fans she is still to attract as her career moves closer to achieving her dreams.

If you do not own Goapele’s music – please visit her website and buy it directly from her. (We not affiliated in any way).

Below is “the rest of the review” which is about the overall experience.

I wanted to mention three other people real quick that enhanced the experience I had. On Thursday – prior to Goapele’s performance – two high-school age girls delivered separate spoken word pieces that cut through the heart with raw emotion. The first poet’s take on domestic violence was moving and important to hear. The following girl – (I believe named Ericka?) was equally as gripping with a soliloquy about being just a number as a Foster child. It was heavy. …More upbeat but equally deserving of praise was the Friday night warm-up DJ who expertly set the right vibe for Goapele’s live show.

About the place… The New Parish is located in Oakland – not far from the city center. It is a cool spot that I would recommend to anyone. You should know a few things before you go. Here are my tips from visiting the club on back-to-back nights. …Parking was an issue for me. If you can taxi to the spot – I would advise doing so. I parked in a lot across the street on Thursday night for $10. The same lot was closed on Friday so I found a guy with a local business a block away that let me park at his place for $3. There may be a better way to park but if there is I did not find it. …The doors opened late both nights which is common for a club. I would have appreciated a true “doors open at” listing on my ticket that read “Goapele 7 pm” Thursday (and 8 pm Friday). I arrived at 6:45 PM Thursday ready to get a drink and relax. Instead I stood outside in line on a chilly night for 45 minutes plus waiting for the doors to open. I did not enjoy that. …Once inside there was a bar-b-q wood smoke smell due to a courtyard grill that was bleeding smoke into the concert space. While I would love to tell you it was just adding character to the venue – the truth is – I wanted some fresh air as the smoke seemed a bit much. ...The intimate setting offers standing room in front of the stage downstairs, and a bar to the left of the stage. There is limited seating around the perimeter. An upstairs horse-shoe shaped area gives a bird’s eye view of the show with seats close to the balcony edge. There was a bar up there as well as what appeared to be a VIP type section. …In summary of The New Parish: cool new spot to see an intimate performance. Take a cab.

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