Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Boygenius Stuns with Gorgeous, Slow-Burning Songs at the Fox

Whether solo or together, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus mesmerized.

by Madeline Wells
Wed, Nov 28, 2018 at 2:46 PM

Julien Baker headlined the evening solo. - MADELINE WELLS
  • Madeline Wells
  • Julien Baker headlined the evening solo.

Supergroups are designed to generate massive amounts of hype, but in the case of boygenius, all the commotion is well-deserved. Indie singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus came together for a mere four days in Los Angeles earlier this year to write and record a six-track EP, released earlier this month. The result is a delicate yet powerful collection of songs, showcasing each musician’s mesmerizing vocals and knack for storytelling. The three women work in a similar genre of music, but each brings something distinct to the table: Dacus’ warm, buttery alto and harder rock sensibility; Bridgers’ composed, melancholy soprano and folksier tone; Baker’s raw, emo-tinged yelps and guitar shredding skills. So of course, when the three announced they were going on tour together, no one could wait to see the project come to life live.

The show’s Fox Theater stop kicked off with Dacus at an early 7:30 p.m. Presented as the opener, Dacus gave the most energetic solo set of the night, her brand of loss-themed indie rock taken to powerful heights with the help of a backing band. Like the other performers, she seemed a little shy on stage — yet still warm and charming. She introduced “Yours & Mine” from 2018 album Historian as an ode to her hometown, Richmond, Va. — or to “any place that you love but hate.” She wrapped up her short but sweet set with cathartic break-up song “Night Shift” and stripped, atmospheric album closer “Historians.”

Lucy Dacus started things off on an energetic note. - MADELINE WELLS
  • Madeline Wells
  • Lucy Dacus started things off on an energetic note.

Next up was Bridgers, who maintained the evening’s somber mood but with a sense of humor. With her mics and drum set decorated in softly glowing string lights, she strummed acoustic guitar and crooned two of her bigger hits, “Smoke Signals” and “Funeral.” Then, she deadpanned, “I’m gonna lighten the mood a little. Not really... At all. This is a song about domestic violence,” before launching into “Would You Rather,” which she said was dedicated to her brother. Good-natured pokes at the heaviness of her music was how she broke the hushed silences, joking, “Sorry, it’s still gonna be slow.”

Baker was the official headliner of the night, and the only performer to take the stage entirely solo (apart from the occasional accompaniment of a violinist). Baker captivates with little other than her reverb-drenched, electric guitar looping and emotive vocals, which fluctuate easily between a breathy near-whisper and an impassioned roar. “Turn Out the Lights” was the emotional peak of her set, particularly at the moment when she turned up the distortion on the guitar and shouted the devastating chorus at the top of her lungs: “When I turn out the lights / There’s no one left / between myself and me.”

Phoebe Bridgers injected humor into her otherwise melancholy set. - MADELINE WELLS
  • Madeline Wells
  • Phoebe Bridgers injected humor into her otherwise melancholy set.

Each member’s solo set was hauntingly beautiful, but the true high point of the night was when the three musicians finally took the stage together to become boygenius. Clad in matching jackets, they played through their EP, each taking turns on lead vocals while the others accompanied with heavenly harmonies. From the powerful, shout-along devastation of “Me & My Dog” to an acapella rendition of closer “Ketchum, ID,” in which the three women stepped away from their mics to encourage a whispered sing-along, the audience’s only wish was for the boygenius portion of the night to be longer. But with only six songs from the group in existence, and the solo sets already stretching for a full three hours beforehand, there was really no way to grant such a wish. Here’s hoping for more music from this magical collaboration in the near future.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Alphabet Rockers Spotlight Dreamers, Immigration Issues with 'Walls' Music Video

What better way to teach kids about the political climate than socially conscious rhymes?

by Azucena Rasilla
Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 5:02 PM

Kaitlin McGaw (left) and Tommy Shepherd, Jr. (second from right) with their spouses and children. - VIDEO STILL COURTESY OF SUGAR MOUNTAIN PR
  • Video still courtesy of Sugar Mountain PR
  • Kaitlin McGaw (left) and Tommy Shepherd, Jr. (second from right) with their spouses and children.

As of late October, as many as 245 children remain in federal detention, according to government data obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The actions of the current administration and the stories that emerged from all of the family separation cases briefly dominated the news cycle — in recent weeks, this humanitarian crisis has been slowly fading in the news.

For Bay Area-based band Alphabet Rockers, founder Kaitlin McGaw, music director Tommy Shepherd, Jr., and DJ Juan Amador (Wonway Posibul) use their platform to speak about social justice, race, class, and the complex topic of immigration.

Last year, their album Rise Shine #Woke earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s Album. What better way to teach kids how to understand and navigate the current political climate than through the power of socially conscious lyrics and catchy rhymes?

They just released the video for “Walls,” written and performed by Amador, Shepherd Jr., McGaw, and Kat Evasco.

In the video, we hear Evasco in the opening sequence: Yeah, I do identify as American, I’ve lived in this country since I was 5 years old, and there’s no amount of papers that can take that away from me. She's speaking to the place of Dreamers (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in this tumultuous political climate.

“When taking the lead writing this song, I immediately thought about this topic of walls, and how kids don’t feel safe nowadays because of the things they see on TV, the taunting they receive in school,” Amador said. "That was important to me."

The video has lots of familiar faces, including actor Emilio Delgado, who for 44 years played the role of Luis on Sesame Street; Sophie Cruz, the young activist fighting for her parents' right to legalize their status; and DJ Agana, a local DJ and muralist. Also making cameos are poet Yosimar Reyes and UndocuQueer artist Julio Salgado.

For Alphabet Rockers, it was essential to shoot this video and share it, given the constant anti-immigrant rhetoric by the current administration. “I remember performing at a school in Daly City before the album was even released, around the time when 45 was starting to threat DACA,” McGaw recalled. “For me, that day I was like, 'OK, this is about to go down. We are stepping up.'” Since they perform for and in front of kids, she said it's important to spread the message of “we are standing up for you, for your parents, for all of our families, for everyone."

The urgency to put the video out increased as more stories involving family separation at the border continue to emerge. “The situation was escalating even further, and we were just like, 'This is why we are doing this,'” Amador said.

“It’s been very moving to see these youngsters that identify with [the lyrics for "Walls"], the connection, and how they were feeling like they were being heard,” Shepherd added. “It’s an amazing feeling to watch.”

The video is a heartfelt depiction of what makes this country great: a melting pot of cultures; the beauty behind races coming together to form a community and thrive, no matter who is in the White House. The lyrics say it best: Not a border, not a wall / not a line in the sand / could devise a plan / to divide us again.

Alphabet Rockers "Walls"
Written and performed by Wonway Posibul, Tommy Soulati Shepherd, Kaitlin McGaw, and Kat Evasco
Produced by Chief Xcel of Blackalicious
Directed by Eric Coleman of Mochilla
Featuring Emilio Delgado, Lucié Leal, Sophie Cruz, Yosimar Reyes, Julio Salgado, and the Bay Area community

Monday, November 5, 2018

Mitski Embodies Slowly Unraveling Character At The Warfield

Her San Francisco stop was basically immersive theater.

by Madeline Wells
Mon, Nov 5, 2018 at 1:54 PM

  • Madeline Wells

On Saturday night at the Warfield in San Francisco, Mitski entered the stage to the loud, buzzy guitars of “Remember My Name,” her hands clasped neatly behind her back. She stood stock-still throughout the entirety of the first song, staring ahead with a measured intensity. Soon, she would replace unnerving stillness with highly theatrical dance moves, but her intensity was unwavering.

With the release of her newest album, Be the Cowboy, the indie rock singer-songwriter has taken an entirely new approach to her stage presence. In interviews, she has spoken about not being naturally inclined to act outgoing on stage, preferring to stray away from lengthy stage banter. But the character Mitski based Be the Cowboy on translates perfectly to the stage. Partially inspired by the protagonist from The Piano Teacher, partially inspired by a part of her own personality, Mitski plays a woman who feels powerless and overcompensates by taking on an extremely controlled exterior — but she’s so repressed that her inner emotions begin to slowly creep outside the margins of her body.

On stage, Mitski fully embodied this character, slowly unravelling throughout the length of each song. Some songs she acted out with gentle, graceful hand movements, such as miming taking a drag of a cigarette during “I Don’t Smoke.” During others, she let the inner turmoil beneath her words show — during “Francis Forever,” she paced the stage back and forth, gradually picking up speed, and with it, anxiety. During “Dan the Dancer,” she kicked her legs up in the air while draped over a folding chair. Other songs found her fully thrashing on the floor or clutching at her chest, acting out an artistic rendition of a child’s tantrum or even a spurned lover.

Mitski’s performance of her character was so immersive that it felt a little jarring to hear her speak — but she kept her words very brief, soft, and simple. At a pause between songs, when fans screamed their undying adoration for her, she replied, “Just so you know, anything you say I can’t hear.” She gestured towards her earplugs. “But I really appreciate the sentiment.”

With such a deliberately executed performance, it was cathartic to see Mitski finally jump around enthusiastically at the end of “Happy,” the opening track from her 2016 album Puberty 2. But even tossing her head back and forth and throwing her arms to the sky, her movements still felt very detached from the reality of happiness — an uncanny, robotic performance of it rather than pure joy.

Mitski dropped the theatrical dance movements at the end for two of her slower, more heart wrenching songs — although, if we’re being honest, every Mitski song is a tearjerker. Her haunting, world-weary vocals rung out mesmerizingly over acoustic guitar on “A Burning Hill” — the first time she picked up an instrument during the set. She ended with “Two Slow Dancers,” the album closer on Be the Cowboy that mourns a loss of youth and young love. In typical Mitski fashion, by the song’s finish, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

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