Best Bets This Week in Live Bay Area Music
Just show up at any local venue this week and prepare to be dazzled by world-class music. It’s (almost) that simple. Yes, the shows below are of the “must-see” variety, but we’d be remiss not to mention the following as well: the forward-thinking R&B of AlunaGeorge (The Independent, Wednesday), the sugary house of St. Lucia (Rickshaw Stop, Thursday), the noise of Weekend (The Chapel, Thursday), the smart, stirring folk of We Became Owls (Bottom of the Hill, Thursday), and the fist-raising of Dusky (Monarch, Friday). You really can’t go wrong this week.
Ten years after their breakthrough Yanqui U.X.O., a new Godspeed album appeared in October of 2012 at a show in Boston, entirely unannounced. No manufactured buzz. No pre-release interviews. Nada. And that’s the Godspeed way. They’ve always operated under a cloud of mystery, and it shows in their music. Vocal-free instrumentals paint haunting, unfamiliar soundscapes. Sound expands organically, but there’s an inorganic feel to the whole of the concept. In other words, it’s good.
"I don't think it something that people are going to learn anything from. I'm not trying to say my 'genius' bummer I'm going to lay on you right now is quite momentous. It's more like, 'Hey guys, sucks to feel crappy, doesn't it? Yeah, it does. Sorry, man.' And then you move on." That’s singer-songwriter Neko Case describing her new mouthful of an album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You to NPR. Case has had an up-and-down year after the death of her parents and other unfortunate personal circumstances. But there’s good news: The album is getting major love, including kudos from Rolling Stone, which called it “perfectly turned” and noted “it's got feminist musculature and the dirt of a working musician under its fingernails.” Lofty praise.
OK, we see you now Julia Holter. Thanks to three incredible albums back-to-back-to-back — 2012’s Ekstasis and Tragedy and 2013’s Loud City Song — Holter has the attention of an expanding audience. Imagination runs rampant in her playful, thoughtful chamber pop arrangements. Holter takes listeners into make-believe worlds, where every voice is angelic and every note a perfectly calculated accent by some genius fairy architect. Yes, fairy architect. Don’t look it up.
Local Natives takes the all-for-one, one-for-all approach to winning hearts and minds. Their communal vocal harmonizing is a marvel to experience on record — first heard on 2009's tour de force Gorilla Manor — and it’s even more moving when experienced live. Everybody chimes in; everyone gets a vote. Musical democracy in action. It’s plain to see and hear on their new album, Hummingbird, which builds to incredible crescendos predictably but necessarily. There is always a sense of purpose and the sense that their sentiments matter more.
Abel Tesfaye has pipes, and that’s really all that matters to the casual fan. But there’s more. A lot more. His songs are intensely, ridiculously intimate and personal. Rap Genius has a great breakdown of “Wicked Games,” one of the great R&B tracks of the decade. Here’s an eye-catcher: “Bring the drugs, baby, I could bring my pain / I got my heart right here / I got my scars right here.” Tesfaye routinely lets us into his tortured psyche, and it’s chilling and thrilling all at once. You’re going to want to hear his voice echo through Strawberry Canyon.
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