Monday, October 15, 2018

Treasure Island Music Festival's First Year in Oakland Runs Smoothly

Headliners Tame Impala and A$AP Rocky led a full weekend of quality sets.

by Janelle Bitker, Kathleen Richards and Madeline Wells
Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 12:49 PM

The music festival's new location boasted a glittering view of the San Francisco skyline. - JOSH WITHERS
  • Josh Withers
  • The music festival's new location boasted a glittering view of the San Francisco skyline.

After a one-year hiatus, Treasure Island Music Festival returned to a new location this past weekend with its same winning formula: A day of energetic electronica and hip-hop followed by a day of indie rock. Not to mention no overlapping sets, in a setting that’s way more intimate and relaxed than Outside Lands. It landed in West Oakland’s Middle Harbor Shoreline Park for the first time following a disastrous 10th edition on Treasure Island, marked by torrential downpour, canceled sets, and furious festival-goers. Thankfully for presenters Noise Pop and Another Planet Entertainment, this year’s festival was far less eventful with idyllic, sunny skies.

Generally, sets started right on time with excellent sound and joyful vibes. Small qualms: Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is all dust, dirt, sand, and concrete, making it significantly less comfortable than the fest’s former digs. (But the view of San Francisco’s skyline — especially around sunset — definitely lived up to the island days.) It also lacked a Ferris Wheel, which has become synonymous with the festival over the years. Assuming the fest returns to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park next year, pretend it's Burning Man and bring a dust mask.

Moses Sumney performed one of the earliest and best sets of the weekend. - JOSH WITHERS
  • Josh Withers
  • Moses Sumney performed one of the earliest and best sets of the weekend.

Entering the stage with a casual peace sign, yet looking mysterious in all black and tiny Matrix sunglasses,
Moses Sumney proceeded to play one of the first — and best — sets of the weekend. Throughout his set, he shifted from a low humming vibrato to piercing, operatic cries several octaves higher with stunning ease. With such a mesmerizing voice, it would have been easy for Sumney to rely solely on vocal acrobatics to keep the attention of the crowd, but the soundscapes he weaved with his three-piece backing band were complex and transfixing on their own. A clarinet and a violin made appearances, although the most interesting instrument of all was Sumney’s loop pedal experimentations with his voice. A haunting cover of Bjork’s “Come to Me” suited him perfectly. Despite the often melodramatic quality of his music, Sumney kept his banter playful. He introduced Sufjan Stevens cover “Make Out in My Car” by saying, “This next song is about making out. I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard it’s great.” He added, “Let’s call it making out on the BART — localize it.”

Santigold’s set looked like a colorful peek inside a Dr. Seuss book, underscored with a hint of social commentary. Wearing a red cape decorated with plastic water bottles and dollar bills and sporting green hair, she performed in front of a screen flashing playful cartoons, depicting everything from an overgrown ape covered in syringes to a woman so mesmerized by the mirror in her passenger’s seat that she forgets to look at where she’s driving. She played buoyant bops spanning her career, from 2009’s “L.E.S. Artistes” to 2012’s “Disparate Youth” to 2018’s “Run the Road.” Santigold almost constantly had a huge grin plastered across her face, but the most joyful moment of all was during M.I.A.-esque anthem “Creator,” when she invited a few dozen audience members on stage to dance with her.

Santigold invited dozens of fans to dance on stage. - JOSH WITHERS
  • Josh Withers
  • Santigold invited dozens of fans to dance on stage.

Pusha T doesn’t need anything but a DJ and his own self to deliver a show that’s straight-up legendary, and he knows it. He’s earned his place in the rap world and doesn’t need the frills that younger acts do — like headliner A$AP Rocky, who would later take the stage with a large helping of pyro. Opening with “If You Know You Know,” King Push blazed through hit after hit, and the crowd was there for it, often rapping along to every word. Throughout the night, he kept hyping his 2018 album Daytona, repeatedly referring to it as “album of the motherfucking year.” But he also shared the love, including Kanye West collabs “Runaway” and “Feel the Love” in his high-energy set.

A$AP Rocky kept fans waiting for about half an hour after his designated start time, causing anticipation to reach a fever pitch. But he made it worth the wait, opening hot with “A$AP Forever” and “Buck Shots” amongst blazing fire cannons and a giant test dummy head behind him — a visual motif from his latest album, TESTING. Later, he would climb to the top of that dummy head for added hype during songs like trippy, rainbow-hued “L$D.” But apparently not pleased with the level of energy in the crowd, A$AP repeatedly stopped songs to urge fans to “open up the pit.” Most notably, he shut down “Kids Turned Out Fine” partway through, declaring, “I don’t like the way my voice is sounding on that one. I didn’t come all the way to SF to short-change people.” A$AP’s set was a lot more style than substance — some comments about there being “a lot of good titties in the audience” were particularly off-putting — but closing out to A$AP Mob track “Yamborghini High” with actual fireworks undeniably had the wow-factor he seemed to be seeking.

A$AP Rocky's set included fireworks. - JOSH WITHERS
  • Josh Withers
  • A$AP Rocky's set included fireworks.

Courtney Barnett shreds. - JOSH WITHERS
  • Josh Withers
  • Courtney Barnett shreds.

Despite billing Sunday as a laid-back day for indie rock, the lineup offered an impressively diverse array of sounds, from Lord Huron’s country-leaning twang to U.S. Girls’ art pop to Cigarettes After Sex’s ambient soundscapes. Highlights included a relatively early set from Sharon Van Etten, who basically disappeared from music for three years after releasing her 2014 masterpiece Are We There. Treasure Island marked one of her first appearances with a full band since then, and her voice sounded as strong as ever. Her old and new moody, lush, and romantic songs swirled with reverb and maturity. She recently went back to college (“I got a B on my first exam, I can do better than that,” she told the crowd) and had a baby, but she’s also back in music now in a real way: Her new album Remind Me Tomorrow comes out in January.

Courtney Barnett delivered a set high in stage stalking, heavy shredding, deadpan singing, and distortion, plus a little screaming and loads of badassery. The Australian singer-songwriter has grown into a powerhouse performer since the release of her hit 2015 debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Her new record, Tell Me How You Really Feel, delivers more of the same wit, energy, driving guitar, and empathetic humanity, and it played on stage well with Barnett’s full-body trashing.

For many, Tame Impala was the highlight of the weekend. - JOSH WITHERS
  • Josh Withers
  • For many, Tame Impala was the highlight of the weekend.

Jungle spawned one of the biggest dance parties of the day thanks to the seven-piece band’s unique blend of funk, disco, soul, and electronica, led by smooth four-part harmonies. After a relatively relaxed day, tracks like “Busy Earnin’” and “Heavy, California” provided the perfect lead-up to Tame Impala. As Josh Lloyd-Watson asked the grooving crowd, “Who’s on mushrooms?”

Still, judging by the amount of people that had crushed toward the Town stage — skipping Jungle’s performance entirely — Tame Impala was the clear highlight of the day. And as the pulsating synths and chill beat of opener “Nangs” washed over the crowd, it was as if a giant spaceship touched down at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, emitting, over the course of an hour and a half, multi-colored lasers, lights, confetti, and copious amounts of fog. The Aussie band — the project of Kevin Parker — played songs from throughout its career, showing how its sound morphed from ’60s guitar-driven psychedelia — even playing the groove-driven instrumental “Jeremy’s Storm,” which, apparently, the band hasn’t played live since 2012 — to more electronic pop made for the dance floor (“The Moment,” “Eventually”). Never mind that Parker didn't appear to know where he was (he repeatedly shouted out "San Francisco!") or that his band was closing out the weekend (he encouraged everyone to enjoy the rest of the festival), the band’s crisp visual and sonic spectacle nonetheless kept heads and bodies moving, some with sunglasses still on. With a tinge of melancholy running throughout these songs — even the crowd-pleasing singalong “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is a total downer — Tame Impala provided an appropriate comedown for the two-day music (and dust-huffing) fest.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Oakland's Women in Music Festival Rebrands and Expands Scope

As Women Sound Off, the event is not just about music anymore. And it's not just an event.

by Sannidhi Shukla
Fri, Sep 28, 2018 at 4:30 PM

Carmena Woodward and Evangeline Elder founded the Women in Music Festival. - PHOTO BY KATE DASH (@BEEN.MILKY)
  • Photo by Kate Dash (@been.milky)
  • Carmena Woodward and Evangeline Elder founded the Women in Music Festival.

It started in 2017
as Women in Music Festival. Now after two successful renditions of the festival built on the idea that the most powerful alliances that women in the music industry can build are those with other women, the festival is rebranding as Women Sound Off and broadening its scope to include women creatives in every field.

Elder and Carmena Woodward, Women Sound Off’s co-founders chose the name to be more inclusive to women outside of music and media. “We decided on Women Sound Off because we sound off naturally,” said Elder. “We don’t hold back. That entire festival weekend is literally us sounding off about issues and topics we care about.”

While the annual festival will be back in next April in the same format, the programming is set to include more workshops and panels aimed at women in creative fields outside of music and media. “You’re going to see some more panels that have to do with culture, who’s shaping the culture, female changemakers, female entrepreneurs,” said Elder.

Women Sound Off also aims to shift from operating as a festival to operating as a platform with year-round events. Starting in 2019, this will mean more workshops outside of festival weekend. In the coming year, Elder also hopes to place more of an emphasis on promoting mental health and general wellness. Because she sees a lot of creative women stop short of reaching their full potential for mental health reasons, she would like to use the new platform to teach women how to balance creativity, entrepreneurship, and wellness.

For all that’s changed, the new platform still has the same mission as the original festival — to create women-first spaces, to uplift women of color and trans women, and to incorporate Oakland and Bay Area women into a broader network of women creatives. While Elder notes that, due to the size of Oakland compared to other cities with strong creative pulses, the community of women creatives can feel limited. With Women Sound Off, she and Woodard hope to show that women from Oakland and the Bay can hold their own with artists and creatives from other cities.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Berkeley Gets a Starring Role in Final Season Premiere of Anthony Bourdain's 'Parts Unknown'

W. Kamau Bell and Next Adventure travel with Bourdain to Kenya.

by Azucena Rasilla
Sat, Sep 22, 2018 at 9:27 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Next Adventure

The news of Anthony Bourdain's death this past June shocked the world. He wasn't just a celebrity. Many viewed him as an adventurous soul whose successful TV show was not just to showcase areas of the world unknown to many, but to honor and respect the people and traditions of the places he visited.

After his passing, much was speculated about the future of his CNN show, Parts Unknown; he was on location in France when he committed suicide. Ultimately, the network went ahead and green-lighted the final season, which is set to premiere Sunday, Sept. 23, at 9 p.m.

The first posthumous episode will see Berkeley comedian W. Kamau Bell traveling with Bourdain to Kenya — the episode has quite the Bay Area connection, which is going to make it that much harder to watch.

Next Adventure, a safari company based in Berkeley and run by Kili McGowan and her husband Jeremy Townsend, was tasked with setting up the trip for Bell, Bourdain, and the Parts Unknown production crew.

“Tony [Bourdain] inspired people to be travelers, not just tourists,” McGowan said. “Being a chef, he had this appreciation for people and their cultures.”

  • Photo courtesy of Next Adventure

McGowan ended up traveling with the crew to Kenya's Lewa Wilderness. As fans would expect, McGowan said Bourdain was mindful of the conservation efforts in the African countries he visited. “He was so enthusiastic about it, and it’s extremely rewarding,” McGowan recalled.

She also remarked on Bourdain and the production crew's passion and positive working dynamics. The rapport between the late Bourdain and Bell was obvious as well. “Their chemistry is really palpable,” she said.

Bell’s admiration for Bourdain is nothing new, recently he wrote on CNN: “I was — and still am — in awe of him. It is one thing to be an experienced and gracious world traveler. It is another thing to be a writer who can seemingly easily, humorously and profoundly sum up the human experience. And it is a completely different thing to make great television. Tony did all these things."

McGowan sees similarities between Bourdain and Bell. “They both see the world in similar way. They are both very intelligent, humorous men,” she said.

She hopes that when people watch the episode, and the subsequent final episodes of Parts Unknown, their desire to continue Bourdain’s legacy awakens. “We have to be really open to experiences. For him, his lens was through food,” McGowan said. “I hope it raises awareness of conservation and ethical travel.”

Friday, September 21, 2018

Review: A Sexy, Quirky Bells Atlas EP Release Party

The night introduced fans to Salt and Soap, with a full-length due next year.

by Madeline Wells
Fri, Sep 21, 2018 at 3:35 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Bells Atlas
“It’s a sexy, quirky Thursday night,” Bells Atlas singer Sandra Lawson-Ndu announced to the crowd midway through the band’s set at the New Parish. Last night was fully both of those things, even before the band took the stage for their hometown EP release show.

Lalin St. Juste, who sings in San Francisco-based six-piece electrosoul band The Seshen, opened the night with a solo set. Her dreamy, quirky melodies were accompanied by nothing but a sample pad yet still were absolutely mesmerizing. The second opener, Chanti Darling, turned up the energy in the room. The Portland-based R&B singer, who mixes modern electronic textures with retro soul, dressed in cheetah print and urged the crowd to get funky to ‘80s throwback vibes.

Headliner of the night Bells Atlas indulged in both the sexy and the quirky, Lawson Ndu’s jerky interpretive dance moves being the visual manifestation of the band’s sea of unexpected melodies and polyrhythmic percussion. The night was an introduction to the band’s new EP, Salt and Soap — four songs that act as a preparation for a full-length sophomore album coming early next year.

On stage, Lawson-Ndu explained the EP as “a ritual to ready myself to tell those stories.” She added, “I was thinking of bathing rituals and preservation when I thought of Salt and Soap.” Fittingly, the band was selling scented soaps as merch at the show.

The set was a mix of old and new, the new songs standing out as more overtly experimental. “The Mystic,” which is the last song on Salt and Soap, sounded like a robot marching into battle with its chunky drumline and blooping synths. “Downpour,” which the band released last week, contemplates the consequences of releasing all the secrets that are weighing you down. Lawson-Ndu showed off her ability constantly to use her voice as an instrument, unafraid to experiment with syllables and sounds playfully to express emotion where clearcut lyrics might fall short.

But the highlights of the show were songs the audience seemed to actually know — some of the band’s older, poppier numbers that lent themselves better to dancing. A crowd favorite was 2016 single “Spec and Bubble,” which Lawson-Ndu introduced as a song about trying to make a relationship work and finding acceptance when it doesn’t. Bells Atlas ended the show with “Be Brave,” a song about remembering to trust your instincts, which they released in June as a bridge between their old and new material. Like many of their songs, it’s eerie but catchy — like what you might imagine hearing echoing from the distant pop radio station of an alien planet.

Review: J Balvin Proved Why He's One of the World's Biggest Latinx Acts at Oracle Arena

Long lines and delays were ultimately forgiven thanks to J Balvin's amazing performance.

by Azucena Rasilla
Fri, Sep 21, 2018 at 1:51 PM

J Balvin at Oracle Arena. (Scroll down for a slideshow.) - PHOTO BY RED EYE COLLECTION

The last time J Balvin was at Oracle arena was back on Feb. 15, 2015 when he was the opening act for Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias' joint tour. I was at that show with my mom as my date, and vividly remember her saying, “one day he’s going to headline his own tour here.” I brushed off her comment, it wasn’t that I didn’t believe that he was talented. At the time, there wasn’t this music Latinx explosion like what we are experiencing today.

Much like my mother predicted back then, J Balvin made his solo debut at Oracle for his Vibras tour. This isn’t the first tour for the Colombian sensation, last year he played a much smaller show at Civic National City in San Jose for the Energía tour.

The larger venue is an indication of the growth and success that he’s experiencing. It doesn’t hurt that Queen Bey invited him onstage during her Coachella appearance to perform the “Mi Gente” remix — the 33-year-old also appeared on stage alongside Cardi B for the song, “I Like It.”

His solo debut at Oracle didn’t go without a glitch, there were long lines throughout the different gates to make it past security, and even longer lines to make it into the venue before the show. Fans of course expressed their discomfort with waiting and not knowing why there was such a long delay.

The concert finally took off at 10 p.m., the hours long wait didn’t seem to have mattered. When J Balvin took the stage all was forgotten.

The timid J Balvin who took the stage as an opener in 2015, was long gone, on stage, fans were witnessing a certified performer.

He opened the show with the song “Machika,” that the Colombian singer recorded with Aruban singer Jeon and Brazilian singer Anitta.

The show itself was a spectacle of lights, props, and back-up dancers — all complementing J Balvin on stage perfectly. If you wanted to see a giant inflatable T-Rex swaying back and forth as the singer was performing, this show got it. The show is playfully named "Vibras Fun Park” alluding to the Jurassic Park theme of the production.

The T-Rex wasn’t the only prop that adorned the stage, during his performance of the song “X” J Balvin climbed on top of a giant orange ball with googly eyes and sharp teeth. Every song earned a different prop or light effects, as well as a new danceable choreography courtesy of the back-up dancers.

Every detail of this magnificent production was well thought out and executed to perfection. Even Cardi B and Bad Bunny made an appearance via an emoji video that was shown on stage. Unlike other shows where those who attend and are not close to the stage are only able to see the performance from small screens on each side of the stage, J Balvin utilized the entire stage and used it as one gigantic screen.

As the Colombian singer was flying to his Oakland show, he received word of the eight Latin Grammy nominations that he received, including Album and Record of the year. Can we be mad at the delay in the start of the show? He probably indulged in a much-deserved celebration, J Balvin is, after all, the hottest Latinx act since Ricky Martin broke into the anglo world in the ‘90s.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Logistical Problems Abounded at Rolling Loud Bay Area

It was hard to enjoy the great music amid chaos and XXXTentacion tributes.

by Sannidhi Shukla
Mon, Sep 17, 2018 at 3:34 PM

This year's Bay Area Rolling Loud took place outside Oracle Arena. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES BAXTER
  • Photo courtesy of James Baxter
  • This year's Bay Area Rolling Loud took place outside Oracle Arena.

There’s not much to Rolling Loud beyond its lineup. Now in its second year in the Bay Area, it’s hard to tell if the festival is suffering from growing pains or if it’s suffering from the pains of being a half-formed idea coated thinly in an Instagram-friendly varnish and then exported across the country before the varnish has even had the time to fully set. To put things mildly, this past weekend's festival — its first foray into Oakland — was a hot mess saved only by a handful of truly excellent sets.

Day one of the festival was for moshing. From Jaden Smith to Playboi Carti, artists moved their sets in fits and starts as they paused to tell the crowd over and over to open up the pit. No one listened, of course, but it was hard to tell if it was more because anyone had the nerve to show up to a Playboi Carti set unprepared to mosh or because festival organizers had set up VIP seating throughout the crowd making it difficult to move freely — or even just stand still — within the crowd.

In the end, no one won. Fans grew more and more impatient with Carti’s pauses. Meanwhile, the rapper refused to continue until the pit actually opened and then finally ended his set abruptly.
If there was one presence at the festival that was impossible to ignore, it was, regrettably, XXXTentacion’s, who was recently killed. His image popped up not only during other performers’ tributes to the late rapper — Ski Mask the Slump God unfurled a giant flag with a photo of the late rapper on it during his set — but also on Instagrammable photo-ops set up throughout the festival.

More than the tributes offered by friends, it is the institutional memorial of X that is disturbing. On one hand it is hardly surprising given the symbiotic relationship between the rapper and the festival. Some of the festival’s earliest iterations feature X. The Bay Area debut of the festival, too, gained traction from the rapper’s controversial inclusion on the lineup in light of the recently-leaked testimony from the victim of the rapper’s domestic violence.
And yet, just because it is unsurprising doesn’t mean it’s excusable. The history of the festival has been intimately woven with the X’s history, including his history of violence against women and queer people. And now, even in his death, resources are being allocated to preserve his memory that would quite frankly be better allocated literally anywhere else.

Lil Uzi Vert closed out the night at one of the festival’s two stages, framed by two inverted crosses and a giant glowing skull. His rapping was fine. His dancing was excellent. But it was his plaintive autotuned vocals that echoed acapella throughout the festival grounds that really made the night feel worth it in spite of everything.

Rolling Loud booked a number of local artists, including Oakland's ALLBLACK. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BRANDON NEWFIELD
  • Photo courtesy of Brandon Newfield
  • Rolling Loud booked a number of local artists, including Oakland's ALLBLACK.

First the bad news: the second day of the festival was somehow even more poorly organized than the first. As the day went on, more and more of the festival went on lockdown, limiting access to viewing areas for no stated reason. Bottlenecks abounded at every passage point and navigating the festival began to feel impossible even though it was housed in Oracle Arena's open parking lot.

The good news? Sunday’s sets made up for the total chaos by bombarding fans with pleasant surprises all night. E-40 brought out fellow Vallejo rappers and rap wunderkinds SOB x RBE for a quick performance right in the middle of his set. It’s pretty unlikely that the crossover would have worked anywhere but here — in theory the overlap in the venn diagram of E-40 fans and SOB x RBE fans is just people from Vallejo and die hards for anything that comes out of the Bay Area. And yet, it resulted in one of the festival’s most exuberant moments as E-40’s crowd sang along to SOB x RBE's “Anti” and got hyped for a run through the E-40’s most iconic songs. Unfortunately, at this point in E-40’s decades-long career, his festival-ready highlights reel most prominently just consists of a feature on a Big Sean song.

Rae Sremmurd’s set was the highlight of the weekend — and not just because the duo threw dozens of blunts into the crowd. Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee moved across the stage and even into the crowd with a pulsing energy that never let up. The duo knows how to stir up a crowd. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time until it reaches headliner status.

With just a handful of months until the festival’s second round in SoCal, there’s a lot it needs to pull together functionally and administratively to live up to its star-powered lineup.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Berkeley Rep Names Johanna Pfaelzer New Artistic Director

She comes to the revered East Bay company from New York Stage and Film.

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 3:43 PM

Johanna Pfaelzer will take the lead next year. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BERKELEY REP
  • Photo courtesy of Berkeley Rep
  • Johanna Pfaelzer will take the lead next year.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre announced today that its long search for a new artistic director has finally come to a close. Johanna Pfaelzer will replace Tony Taccone, who will step down in August of 2019 after 33 years with Berkeley Rep.

Pfaelzer is currently the artistic director of New York Stage and Film (NYSAF). She'll plan Berkeley Rep's 2019-20 season. For the Board of Trustees, it was important to select an artistic director with local ties, and Pfaelzer fit the bill having lived in Berkeley as a child. She also worked for five years as a the associate director at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

"We had an illustrious field of candidates from across the country with a wide range of backgrounds," said Susan Medak, Berkeley Rep's managing director. "Johanna’s knowledge of the field and the enthusiasm of artists with whom she had worked made her our perfect choice. Her work at NYSAF in the development of new plays and musicals has made her such a good match for us. She is committed to our Ground Floor Center for the Creation and Development of New Work and our School of Theatre, as both are important pieces of our programmatic puzzle.”

Last week, the Express looked at how three major East Bay institutions — Cal Performances and Aurora Theatre Company in addition to Berkeley Rep — were looking for new artistic directors, and pointed out how this was an opportunity to diversify the local performance arts scene. Given how leadership in regional and resident theaters are often white and male, the selection of Pfaelzer is a welcomed change to the status quo. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Review: Sam Smith Enchanted Fans at Oracle Arena

The English crooner exudes confidence on his 'The Thrill of It All' tour.

by Azucena Rasilla
Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 11:53 AM

  • Photo credit Noah Graham

In many ways, the Sam Smith who performed at the Oracle Arena in front of thousands of screaming fans last night is the same singer-songwriter who made his Bay Area debut back in 2014, at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco.

Granted, the 26-year-old is now a four-time Grammy winner and a Golden Globe and Oscar winner, thanks to his song “Writing’s On the Wall,” the theme song for 2015’s James Bond film Spectre.

But besides this impressive list of awards, Smith indeed remains the same guy with the same soulful voice. When Smith was here last, he played a sold-out show at the Fox Theater in Oakland — a legion of faithful fans waited for him on the side entrance of the venue to get a glimpse of him. Back then, he graciously took the time to sign autographs and take pictures with those who waited after the show.

This time around, it was logistically impossible to do the same thing. The English singer-songwriter instead took time to address the crowd all throughout the hour-and-45-minute show. What is different about Smith is that he is older, and perhaps wiser. He has mustered confidence, which he exuded on stage. While four years ago he was timid and reserved, the Smith at the Oracle demonstrated the opposite.

He paraded through the triangularly shaped stage, with a full band that accompanied him all throughout the show in the middle and a backup singer on each side of the stage. Behind the singer and his band, a large triangle opened up while Smith belted out “Writing's on the Wall,” the song that earned him the Oscar.

The night at the Oracle marked stop number 17th on his “The Thrill of It All” tour. The Bay Area holds a special place in the singer’s heart. During his hiatus in between his debut album, In the Lonely Hour, and his sophomore album, Smith frequently visited San Francisco. “The Bay Area is one of my favorite places,” Smith told his screaming fans at the show.

While the majority of his lyrics deal with heartbreak and unrequited love, there’s also subtle political messaging. Take the song “HIM,” a “coming out” song to God that grapples with being gay and finding no place in religion: Holy Father, we need to talk / I have a secret that I can’t keep / I’m not the boy that you thought you wanted / Please don’t get angry, have faith in me. “I wrote this song for everyone to know that love is love,” Smith told the crowd as a rainbow flag waved nearby.

Smith also reminisced about the song “Lay Me Down,” the first song he co-wrote with James Napier and Elvin Smith.

If you’re heading to his show at the SAP Center in San Jose tonight, make sure to stay after he performs “Too Good at Goodbyes,” as you surely do not want to miss his breathtaking encore.

  • Photo credit Noah Graham

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Popular Vintage Store Pretty Penny Closes After Nearly 13 Years in Business

The closure caught many by surprise — including the owner.

by Jessica Lipsky
Sun, Aug 19, 2018 at 10:39 AM

  • Pretty Penny's Instagram account
Pretty Penny, a popular vintage clothing store in Rockridge responsible for outfitting stylish women and men throughout the Bay Area, will close its doors on Sunday, Aug. 18, after nearly 13 years in business.

The well-curated but never inaccessible shop carried a large collection of vintage clothes, shoes, accessories, and jewelry from the 1940s to 1990s, as well as contemporary clothes and goods from local designers. During its decade-plus in the East Bay, Pretty Penny evolved from merely a buy/sell/trade shop into a community focused on inclusivity, body positivity, and a commitment to local culture.

Owner Sarah Dunbar has a particularly keen eye for style and what she described as “this real relationship with clothes.” Everything in the store is thoughtfully curated for textile, fit, hanger appeal, and “translation through era,” she said. You’ll never feel like you’re wearing something that “isn’t you.”

Dunbar opened Pretty Penny in 2006 using funds from a student loan. The store was one of the few vintage shops in the East Bay at the time.

“What I heard over and over and over again, through lots of tears, was that Pretty Penny was an introduction to vintage,” Dunbar added. “It opened the door to people who were like, ‘I’m too big,’ or ‘I don’t have a chest’ or ‘vintage isn’t for me.’ It doesn’t have to be a pin-up dress, you don’t have to look like Twiggy, it doesn’t have to be a costume. You find what makes you feel good.”

Dunbar was born in San Jose, lived in Oakland for 20 years, and has a background as a vintage buyer — at Mars Mercantile in Berkeley and at the legendary Beacon’s Closet in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She founded Pretty Penny as a monthly pop-up inside her apartment on 42nd and Telegraph; when those monthly events became too popular, she moved the business to Berkeley and, a year later, to College Avenue in Oakland.

Pretty Penny was immediately successful for its excellent selection and easygoing vibe, offering a welcoming and affordable space for fashionistas, vintage fiends, and even those who aren’t big shoppers. Pretty Penny’s stock of high-end labels, European vintage, funky jewelry, and 1950s evening gowns helped shape East Bay fashion and became a focal point for other vintage shop owners.

Pretty Penny also bucked expectations of snobbery often associated with selling clothing. “My whole goal was always to make it feel like they were at their house, or their grandmother’s house, or somewhere they felt very comfortable,” said Dunbar. “I wanted to kill that misconception that people who work in vintage stores are ‘too cool’ or snotty.”

In addition to having an art gallery for a time, Pretty Penny offered space to dozens of burgeoning local businesses. “So many businesses started out of pop-ups in Pretty Penny, and now people are doing their own thing,” Dunbhar said.
  • Pretty Penny's Instagram account
In 2012, the employees began an Instagram account that eventually attracted more than 31,400 followers. Beyond posting a lot of #OOTD inspiration and popularizing #cutecustomeralerts, the account also showcased Pretty Penny’s political opinions.

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, family separations at the border, and overt racism in public discourse, Pretty Penny let its leanings be known – often with the hashtag #wearemorethanashopweareacommunity. “If you’re given a platform, you have an obligation to use it,” Dunbar said.

An Instagram post announcing Pretty Penny’s closure garnered hundreds of comments expressing shock and happy memories. “Thank you for being such a magical and special place, I feel I grew up inside that storefront in so many ways. A delight for the senses and the heart,” wrote Marina Weiner.

Oakland resident Claire Meyers wrote that she was “SUPER BUMMED” to lose Pretty Penny’s “warm and friendly community.”

“The first time I bought a Pretty Penny dress….I was hooked. As the years went by I bought many pieces,” wrote Lea Willcox, a former Oakland resident who still shops Pretty Penny online. “Sarah gave me the opportunities to show my work in the art gallery above the shop (when it existed) and I made pieces for the fashion shows. Every experience I’ve had with PP made me feel good from buy[ing] to window shopping online to participating in events. Oakland will be missing a special spot, a special vibe. Nothing will fill that Rockridge space like PP did.”

While Pretty Penny has hung on through continued gentrification in Oakland, Dunbar wasn’t so fortunate. She was priced out of her home and moved to Washington state with her family in 2016. Dunbar commuted by plane and operated the store remotely with the help of a dedicated team of fashionable employees, led for many years by manager Delaney Gonzales.

While Dunbar had grown weary of running her business from out of state, the closure caught her and many others by surprise. Dunbar said the brick-and-mortar’s closure is largely the result of mismanagement by new staff, and many customers treated the closure as loss, bringing comfort food and flowers.

“I knew how much people liked it, but I haven’t been there that much physically to hear how deep it is. It’s heartbreaking,” Dunbar said, hchoking up. “The fact that it brought people so much joy was the whole intent of the entire thing.”

Pretty Penny plans to rebrand and continue selling online, focusing on its curated collection and apothecary and home goods, with free shipping to Bay Area residents. Dunbar also plans to launch a podcast about the store’s history, which will also offer tips to entrepreneurs. Pretty Penny will return to the Bay for pop-up vintage market A Current Affair on Nov. 3.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The 10 Most Memorable Moments from Outside Lands 2018

The weekend belonged to women, including Janelle Monáe, Florence + the Machine, and Carly Rae Jepsen

by Janelle Bitker and Madeline Wells
Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 11:52 AM

Janelle Monáe delivered one of the best sets all weekend. - PHOTO BY ADRIENNE LEE
  • Photo by Adrienne Lee
  • Janelle Monáe delivered one of the best sets all weekend.

In many ways, this year’s Outside Lands felt like a whole new festival. Sure, people still took selfies in front of the Ranger Dave statue, and the food and beverage options once again surpassed those of competitors. But the lineup was its most diverse and inclusive ever — and sure enough, the best performances of the weekend were not from the white male-fronted rock bands of yore but from women, people of color, and queer artists. Artists repeatedly told fans to take care of each other and love each other — or in Tash Sultana’s case, “If you’ve got those transphobic vibes, you can get the fuck out of here!” — and in this political climate, they really seemed to mean it. Here are 10 of the weekend’s most memorable sets, in chronological order:

Lucy Dacus

Big pop and R&B acts dominated Outside Lands this year, but mellower rocker Lucy Dacus provided a refreshing contrast of calm beauty. She played two sets on Friday — the first, a smaller show of covers and deep cuts in the dreamy meadow setting of the Cocktail Magic stage (a highlight included her acoustic cover of “La vie en rose”). Her second set on the Panhandle stage drew a fairly small but similarly mesmerized crowd, with her low, rich vocals delivering devastating lyrics over echoey guitar. Dacus seemed a bit nervous on stage, but in a sweet and charming way. “I hope you’re having a good day, and I hope you’re staying hydrated. I have a lot of hope for you guys,” she said. Cathartic break-up song “Night Shift” took on new life live, “You got a nine to five, so I’ll take the night shift / And I’ll never see you again if I can help it” — the perfect lyrics for spurned lovers to shout at the top of their lungs.


Berkeley rapper Caleborate was the hometown hero of the day, playing his first ever Outside Lands set on Friday, which was also “Probably the first time I’ve ever been in front of this many people exclusively for me, this is crazy,” he told the crowd. He made the set a party, bouncing around stage and insisting on using the mic stand for “Consequences” because he wanted to “perform the hell out of this one” and getting everyone to sing along ("I just wanna chill, smoke, drink an' be cool"). The short, spunky rapper finessed more somber moments of the set as well, such as talking about how his father went to jail (“Bankrobber”) and how he lost a childhood friend. Overall, his set was a joy, a triumph for a hungry up-and-coming local rapper playing to the kind of big crowd he deserves.

Carly Rae Jepsen boldly performed "Call Me Maybe" halfway through her set. - PHOTO BY ADRIENNE LEE
  • Photo by Adrienne Lee
  • Carly Rae Jepsen boldly performed "Call Me Maybe" halfway through her set.

Carly Rae Jepsen
How can you go wrong with pop confectioner Carly Rae Jepsen? Her spotless, sunny hooks soared over the crowd at her Friday late afternoon Twin Peaks set, an absolute ray of light in oversized orange sunglasses and an incredible pair of white fringe pants. She wasn’t a headliner, and didn’t even play on the main stage — but it felt like she easily could have. Jepsen weeded out casual fans by playing 2012 breakthrough hit “Call Me Maybe” in the middle of her set — but their loss was remaining fans’ gain. Her dedicated, largely queer and female cult following tasted rarer treats such as Emotion b-side “Fever,” a song about stealing an ex-lover’s bike. And, of course, there was the unforgettable rainbow and glitter-saturated guest appearance of dancer Mark Kanemura during closer “Cut to the Feeling.” Those who left after “Call Me Maybe” were definitely kicking themselves.

The Weeknd

For anyone who chose seeing Beck over headliner The Weeknd on Friday… why? King of sexy R&B chart-toppers, he kicked off Friday night with epic Black Panther hit “Pray For Me,” leaping around stage and causing a flood of wandering festivalers to immediately run headlong toward his set. While girlfriend Bella Hadid watched from the crowd and fire cannons blasted, a largely fratty crowd sang along to every word, from Daft Punk collab “Starboy” to funky, ubiquitous love letter to cocaine, “Can’t Feel My Face.”

Lizzo’s set bursted with self-love and body positivity as the alternative hip-hop artist bounced around in her golden, ruffled leotard and whipped her matching tulle cape back and forth. There was sensual chair dancing, phallic mic stroking, knee pad-clad backup dancers, tequila chugging, and plenty of twerking. “This is the world’s largest twerk tutorial right here,” she said, as her dancers turned around, bent over, and demonstrated the many dimensions of the artform. She suffused her set with soul, R&B, and gospel, turning the park into a feel-good, weirdos-loving church: “Ya’ll trying to have some praise and worship up in this motherfucker?”

East Bay boys SOB x RBE garnered a huge crowd on the Twin Peaks stage. - COURTESY OF OUTSIDE LANDS BY FILMMAGIC.COM
  • Courtesy of Outside Lands by
  • East Bay boys SOB x RBE garnered a huge crowd on the Twin Peaks stage.

The dance party leading into SOB x RBE’s set was among the most bumpin’ all weekend at Outside Lands — but it came to a quick halt once the Vallejo foursome took the stage. Although they landed a hit track on the Black Panther soundtrack and got repped by Kendrick Lamar, it’s easy to forget that the members of SOB x RBE are incredibly young — starting at age 19 — and just getting started. The set took a while to get going, as the rap crew’s body language and energy didn’t immediately match its frenetic bars. But it built up, and fans stuck with them, eventually getting rewarded with surprise appearances by Nef the Pharaoh and Lil Sheik — and, of course, a bangin’ closer of “Paramedic!”

Florence + the Machine
Anticipation was high for Florence + the Machine’s historic set as the first female-fronted band ever to headline Outside Lands. It also happened on the day that saw record-breaking attendance at the festival, as well as marked the band’s debut of a new stage show to go along with Florence’s fourth record, High As Hope. The stage was decked out in pale wood panels and billowing white cloth, with Florence Welsh rapidly spinning in circles like a deranged but graceful ballerina and sprinting barefoot into the crowd as security guards hustled to keep up. In between songs, which included her new single “Hunger” and her breakout hit “Dog Days Are Over,” she captivated fans with warm assurances: “I believe in you and I believe people can make change,” she said. “Keep doing good in the way that you can. … We all belong here.”

Florence Welsch glowed as she danced around in a sheer white gown. - COURTESY OF OUTSIDE LANDS BY FILMMAGIC.COM
  • Courtesy of Outside Lands by
  • Florence Welsch glowed as she danced around in a sheer white gown.

Janelle Monáe

Despite apparently throwing up minutes before taking the stage, Janelle Monáe performed what was perhaps the best set of the entire weekend. She was absolutely electric, from literally (and rightfully) taking the throne during hard-hitting rap song “Django Jane” to breaking out the infamous vagina pants for “Pynk,” a pastel-colored celebration of female sexuality. For much of her career, Monáe has been an enigma — the unknowable pop android of Afro-futuristic concept albums. But having recently come out as pansexual, she’s letting the human being beneath into the public eye more and more. She didn’t shy away from acknowledging her newly public identity on stage, encouraging the crowd to love who they love and yelling, “Happy Pride forever!” And beneath flawlessly executed choreography, multiple costume changes, and, of course, her impeccable voice, Monae occasionally dropped her fierce facade to let a huge, genuine smile break out.

James Blake

Perhaps the most jarring thing about hearing James Blake live for the first time is that his quivering, soulful voice sounds exactly the same live as it does on his records. He and his backing band played a Sunday night set of hauntingly gorgeous, fragmented electronic songs to an enraptured crowd of fans dancing with tears in their eyes. The 2013 hit “Retrograde” howled to gravity-defying heights, the buzzing synths and repeating ghostly vocal riff turning the Sutro stage into a spaceship. To close, the rest of the band exited the stage and Blake played a stunning solo cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Case of You,” peeling back the layers of complex electronica to showcase his hypnotic voice.

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