This Week in Live Music: 10,000 Maniacs, Cowboy Junkies, Ester Rada, and More
More venue news for San Francisco music lushes, this time an update for one of the most pristine music halls on the West Coast. The Nob Hill Masonic Center and its billion dollar views are currently undergoing a renovation project, which is due for September completion. The purpose of the renovation is to convert the space into a music-first venue (sorry, City Council!), and this fall will brings acts such as The Pixies, Hall & Oates, and Train to prove it.
If you can’t wait until September, satisfy your short-term urges with these tasty shows:
Sage Francis flows in stream-of-consciousness paragraphs, less concerned with catch-phrases that the modern hip-hop audiences celebrate, and more concerned with building narratives and twisting words around until you’ve thought about an idea in a completely novel way. The Rhode Island-based slam poet’s songs feel like attacks on antiquated societal norms, but he’s not one to form overly righteous messages. Just the truth. His rhymes co-exist with production backtracking rather than one leveraging the other. It’s not pretty, and it’s not supposed to be. Embrace the rough edges.
If Chad VanGaalen’s music sounds familiar, you’re not alone. VanGaalen strikes an eerily similar chord — both in terms of sensibilities, his voice, his acoustic guitar tendencies, and beyond — to long-celebrated SF singer-songwriter John Vanderslice. Both also share a willingness to evolve in strange and novel ways from album to album, without forfeiting a modicum of artistic voice. VanGaalen hasn’t garnered much in the way of mainstream publicity like Vanderslice has, despite having been making brilliant albums since 2005’s Infiniheart. But 2014’s Shrink Dust serves as an announcement of VanGaalen’s arrival to the regions of the internet where reputations are established and grown.
Ethiopian/Israeli singer-songwriter Ester Rada interestingly cites soul icons Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin among her influences. But it’s really impossible to pinpoint just a few influences in Rada’s profound R&B/jazz/reggae/funk blend. Blurring traditional cultural lines is part of the fun for Rada, and another reason soul and jazz fans can breathe easy, knowing this important music will survive in good, next-generation hands.
So yeah, the Cowboy Junkies’ most famous song was really a Velvet Underground cover. But ya know what? It's a damn good cover of a damn good song. The Cowboy Junkies have a myriad of other accomplishments to boast in their nearly 30-year career, particularly in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when the band furnished North America with two platinum albums and three gold albums (these things actually meant something then), and “Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning” reached No. 11 on the U.S. charts. As for you, sweet “Sweet Jane” cover? You will always be the sweetest “Sweet Jane.”
This may sound weird, but the legendary contemporary rock band 10,000 Maniacs will never not sound contemporary. In other words, we hear tropes and tricks of 10,000 Maniacs’ musical DNA all the time in modern pop music. One thing that will never be duplicated, however, are the 10,000 Maniacs vocals, once carried by icon Natalie Merchant and eventually passed onto Mary Ramsey. Ramsey has helmed the vocals since the mid-’90s while Merchant has gone the solo career route, and fans will forever wonder about a potential Merchant-Maniacs reunion. Don’t hold your breath — Merchant just released a self-titled album this year.
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