Live Review: Lykke Li, San Francisco, CA, May 30, 2011

Nordic crooner Lykke Li’s show at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco sold out more than six months ago. While she is certainly a rising star, at the moment she is more PJ Harvey than Lady Gaga (i.e., my grandma hasn’t asked me if I’ve heard of her yet). I wondered what kind of folks would assemble at the venue: the generic flannel-and-ironic-mustache-sporting San Francisco hipster crowd? Cologne-doused males from across the Bay who heard Kanye rap with Li on “Gifted,” with their girlfriends who wear stripper heels and purple hair extensions? The StubHub speculators who couldn’t scam enough people to get rid of all the tickets they bought in bulk half a year ago?

The show was a stop on her U.S. tour to promote her moody, cerebral sophomore album, Wounded Rhymes (LL). Her beautiful, ice-sculpture vocals mingle with indie electronic pop similar to fellow Scandanavian artists Röyksopp and Peter Bjorn And John. (In fact, Bjorn produced both of her albums.) While her first full-length, Youth Novels, betrayed a blithe, upbeat youth (she recorded it when she was 19), Li’s latest effort is more brooding. Her debut released endorphins and balanced out your serotonin in a quick, superficial high, like eating a Xanax. Wounded Rhymes digs into the deep recesses of your brain and probes through your latent emotions, like spending an afternoon on a plush suede couch in your therapist’s office.

Li has the suitable artistic chromosomal makeup to become a star (her mother was a photographer, her father a musician) and has displayed Gaga-esque world-dominating ambition during her brief career, with two hit albums, numerous EPs and her own record label by age 25. And she doesn’t need to wear hot pants to command the stage.

The demographics of the crowd actually in attendance was about 80 percent female, of the faux-hawked, leather-jacketed, and tattoo-sleeved variety. I’m also pretty sure every Swede within a 100-mile radius came out to support their home girl. There were a lot of flaxen haired, leggy women roaming around, and the lady I chatted with in the 30-minute line for the bathroom said her best friend she was with was Swedish.

Opening in a theatrical style, with spotlights blinking and drums rolling, Li floated to the stage on a billow of smoke that seemed to have been swept from arctic tundra. She had the powerful, fluid movements of a Pilates instructor, the kind that make you unconsciously imitate her. Floor to ceiling, fluttering black curtains whipped around the cloaked singer, in a resurrection of Madonna’s “Frozen” video from the ’90s. Li performed a fair balance of tracks off of each album, including the quivering “Little Bit” from Youth Novels and the bouncy “I Know Places” from Wounded Rhymes.

If there was a disproportionate amount of estrogen in the room, I couldn’t feel it (not counting the Disneyland-long wait for the womens’ bathroom). Most songs leaned heavily on rumbling guitars and rollicking caveman-arm drum beats. At the finale of “Get Some,” the band dropped an atomic bomb of thunderous percussion and an impenetrable firewall of synth that literally knocked me over (seriously, I tripped) and deep-fried my internal organs. I’ve been to plenty of concerts, and no riff or jam has ever been so explosive.

Lykke Li is a pop star with depth. While many young singers have to romp around half-clothed to make sure they fill the month’s quota of People pages, Li is more of a “wink from across the room and turn back to her friends” kind of girl. The beauty of her music is that it’s both digital and unprocessed—she bares her soul, and then sticks it in Fun Dip. Her fans hung on her every tinkling “ooh” and “ahh,” and besides the grizzled homeless dudes who ask for tickets outside of every show ever played, there were no scalpers in sight, StubHub or otherwise. So far, she seems to have found a recipe for success.

—Maureen Coulter

Live Review: Lee Fields, Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band, Brooklyn, NY, April 1, 2011

It was another funky Friday night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, as singer Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band opened for Mr. Lee Fields. Both men are recording artists associated with the Daptone family—home of Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings and purveyors of a cottage industry of soul revivalists catering to young people eager to dance. And dance they did. The 62-year old Bradley has been getting a lot of attention lately, thanks to a some acclaimed performances down in Austin at SXSW and an engaging, better-late-than-never debut album, No Time For Dreaming.

Bradley’s lifelong personal/professional struggles and recent emergence into the limelight seem to be the story here, but it was his heartfelt, soulful performances that captured the imagination of the supportive Brooklyn crowd. Opening with an emphatic take on the stirring, biographical “Heartaches And Pain,” Bradley was clearly touched by the loving enthusiasm of his audience, thanking them profusely and exclaiming his love for one and all. Over the course of Bradley’s short set, the Menahan Street Band, replete with a full horn section and backup singers, played with passionate precision, building its dramatic sound while Bradley swiveled his hips and dropped to his knees like an aging James Brown.

Bradley’s angst-ridden and philosophical laments are certainly universal enough for the 21st century, and with songs like “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)” and the LP’s title track, he connected with his audience on a truly visceral level. Bradley even pulled off an earnest mid-tempo cover of Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold,” with his Brooklyn-based guitarist/producer Thomas Brenneck sounding (to these ears) like Steve Cropper throughout.

Bradley left everything he had out on the stage in about 45 minutes and was promptly relieved by headliner Fields, with the Menahan Street Band staying put and subbing for Fields’ usual backing group, the Expressions. Looking like a pint-sized Lou Rawls, veteran singer Fields ably continued the retro-exploration into Daptone’s dictionary of journeyman soul. As with Bradley, Fields is an older fellow influenced by the torchy, balladic nature of artists like James Brown and Bobby Womack as well as Al Green and the Hi Records crew. Performing songs from recent album My World, Fields was a consummate showman, but he was still upstaged by new hometown hero Bradley.

Together, Bradley, Fields and the Menahan Street Band made for a tidy little soul revue. Although the energy level of the entire evening stayed somewhere in the middle range, the personal intensity of these fine performers was totally off the scale. After the show, you could see Bradley quietly crying, sincerely thankful for his chance to perform and eagerly receiving adoration from his newfound fans.

So, let’s hear it for Charles Bradley’s tears. It doesn’t get anymore real than that.

—Mitch Myers

Live Review: Röyksopp, San Francisco, CA, March 28, 2011

During the Röyksopp show at the palatial Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, Murphy was my unexpected plus-one. After parking on a shady side street and hiking eons to the venue, everything that could have gone wrong, did. Thank god I was at a Röyksopp show and not a Morbid Angel death-metal show: Instead of knifing someone in the mosh pit out of frustration, I just danced.

Task #1: Shuffle through long line and grab tickets. Found out name was left off the guest list. Fail.

As I stood awkwardly in everybody’s way at the will-call table, I watched the two attendants deflecting “What do you mean nonrefundable?” missiles and “You gotta be kidding, you can’t be sold out!” bombs with relative ease.

“I don’t envy you guys,” I said to the one girl with a compassionate shrug.

“Eh, it has its perks,” she replied, as she dodged an “I forgot my ticket” bullet.

When I stood there long enough to realize they weren’t going to let me in on the sheer fact that I sounded important because I wrote for MAGNET and knew the tour manager’s name, I brought out my phone and called the guy. “How did you get this number?” said an exasperated British voice on the other end. “I don’t know who you are!”

Great.

Task #2: Take serviceable photos of the band. After squaring away the guest-list confusion, I took out my camera and discovered my two-year-old Canon was dead on arrival. Fail.

Task #3: See the show. Well, I didn’t completely fail on this one. I was able to see about one-fifth of the stage under the armpits of Shawn Bradley and his Amazonian girlfriend standing in front of me. What I did see, however, was enough to please anyone hoping to extend their weekend. The drums and bass pulsed through the cavernous room with a flashing phantasmagoria so intense you could close your eyes and experience your own personal light show through your lids.

Thankfully, Murphy didn’t try to crowd-surf onto the stage. The duo from Norway, performing as a five-piece for their international tour, played a perfect blend of up-tempo, African-style drum beats, analog-synth electro-pop, ambient-Air interludes tinged with nifty guitar riffs and robot-feminine Ladytron vocals, while dressed up in bizarre-yet-intriguing outfits and masks.

The crowd that came to see Röyksopp wasn’t just looking for an excuse to drink on a Monday. Mouthing the words and reacting viscerally to a remixed version of the Geico song and “Happy Up Here,” these people had obviously been following the band for years. It was also the most diverse audience I’ve ever seen: a throng of couples both gay and straight, 19-year-olds and Real Housewives, guys with tucked-in, button-down shirts and girls in leopard-print tights with little backpacks, all grooving alongside each other, basking in the strobe lights.

In the brief intermission between the “Goodnight, you are amazing [insert current tour stop city]!” and their encore, I slipped through the sweaty bodies to the side of the pack and discovered ample dancing room and a much better view. Winning!

My euphoria was short-lived, however. An exceptionally grabby dude with a metallic tie who looked like Lloyd from Entourage started grinding on my leg and literally shoved his iPhone in my hand and told me to give him my number. I bolted to the ladies room.

In spite of my personal travails at the Röyksopp show, there was no way I could be disgruntled while listening to songs like the blippy “Epie” and watching the guitarist rock out with a glow-in-the-dark helmet on his head. Like grope-y Lloyd, I left Murphy behind.

—Maureen Coulter; photo by Mishavladimirskiy.com and butchershopcreative.com

Live Review: The Pogues, Chicago, IL, March 3, 2011

The fact that the classic lineup of the Pogues performed at the Congress Theater in Chicago on Thursday night mattered more to some folks than it did to others. Winding up their “final” tour, dubbed “A Parting Glass With The Pogues,” the whiskey-soaked soldiers of fortune played like their lives depended on it, one more time.

A shambling-but-upright Shane MacGowan, reunited with his original bandmates, gave life to the songs that have served them now for decades—not new life, but affirmation of a life chosen and a life led. Alcohol is one major subtext here, as MacGowan’s lifelong commitment to drinking (and drugs) has ravaged him to an extreme. Moreover, the band’s Irish-traditional aesthetic has led all of its members down roads of similar excess, both individually and collectively, and not without great cost.

So, what else can one do but raise a glass and salute these unrepentant alcoholics and empathize with their decision to play music together a little while longer. The Pogues started out slow and gained strength and spirit as the night progressed, and the musicianship and determination powered them through amazing songs like “Lullaby Of London,” “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and “Bottle Of Smoke.”

The mosh pit in front was fairly mild, but there was still plenty of crowd-surfing and body-slamming. The band’s punk-rock two-step—generated by James Fearnley’s churning accordion along with the veteran picking and strumming of Philip Chevron, Jon Finer and Terry Woods—walked the line between focus and frenzy as MacGowan provided iconic shrieks on “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” and moving vocals on slower, emotional tunes like “A Pair Of Brown Eyes” and “Dirty Old Town.”

Before closing the show with even more classic drinking songs like “Poor Paddy” and a rousing “Fiesta,” whistle player Spider Stacy acknowledged that hitting his head with a beer tray in time to the music was now against doctor’s orders. It was a strangely bittersweet moment, emphasizing that the Pouges’ “farewell” tour might actually be their last, only because some of these guys might really be on their last legs.

But for the night, the brave men onstage were kicking against the pricks in true punk/troubadour fashion. Or, as someone else standing at the bar once said, “Pogue Mahone!”

—Mitch Myers

Live Review: The Get Up Kids, San Francisco, CA, Jan. 29, 2011

When I heard the Get Up Kids were doing a show at Slim’s in San Francisco, my thoughts drifted back to sophomore year of high school, riding four strong in my friend’s ’91 Taurus that had duct tape holding together the left side-view mirror, game-planning how we were going to smuggle in our house drink (read: water bottle with a mix of five kinds of booze from parents’ liquor cabinet) into the school dance.

The five-member indie-rock group from Kansas City, Mo., boasts an impressive body of work spanning a decade and a half that includes five studio albums, a live record and various EPs, influencing bands like Blink-182 and the Promise Ring that were a staple of many a high-school experience.

Indeed, the atmosphere at Slim’s on this night had the feel of a reunion. Not the “I just Botoxed half my face, cashed in a significant portion of my 401(k) to buy this Rolex and am currently on the fifth day of a wheatgrass-and-lemon-juice detox diet” feel. But the age of the audience hovered around 30, and several friends and family of the band were mingling amongst the crowd, including guitarist Jim Suptic’s art-school roommate. There was even a party in the ladies room: As we idled in wait for a stall to open up, several girls and I tossed around ideas on how to solve the female bathroom crisis experienced in concerts and entertainment venues across the nation. We concluded that female urinals were the answer.

The Get Up Kids disbanded in 2005, much to fans’ dismay, citing creative differences. They reunited two years ago to churn out a mature, beat-heavy, full-length new album, There Are Rules (Quality Hill), which came out last week. Their set featured many new numbers like “Paraelevant” with bass that rattled your rib cage, wafting into the range of psychedelic rock. This was a departure from the familiar basement emo/punk that defined Get Up Kids 1.0.

Classics such as “Beer For Breakfast” and “Overdue” provoked a lot of arm waving and finger-jabbing toward the stage and stirred a rapidly expanding mosh pit. The pack swarming the stage could have sang Matt Pryor’s lines for him. You could tell it was a homogenous audience of true fans, not just old heads looking for live music on a Saturday night or teenagers who found their older brother’s CDs last week.

So what is different this time, during their reunion tour? “When we broke up, we were in a dark place,” said Pryor after the show. “We’d been touring for 10 years straight, and we didn’t like each other anymore. Now, we make sure we take enough time off so when we come back together to play, it’s fun. Tonight was fun.”

Now that I think about it, I forgot I had holed up in my bedroom listening to “The Most Depressing Song” on repeat for a week after mom and pops took the car keys away due to my youthful indiscretion. (I guess parents notice when you water down their Sambuca.) While we can still reminisce through horn-rimmed, rose-colored glasses, it’s better that we are all adults now.

—Maureen Coulter

Live Review: Gogol Bordello, Philadelphia, PA, Dec. 29, 2010

Fans stomping around in combat boots and military gear too stylish to ever be permitted at an Army base crammed into the Electric Factory like a throng of frantic shoppers in front of a Walmart at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Only instead of re-reading their gift list for the 47th time and devising the best tactics for nabbing that half-price 59-inch flat screen, Gogol Bordello devotees were desperate to elbow enough room for themselves so they could flail in the drunken-pirate manner appropriate for this band’s act. While such a claustrophobic environment would significantly detract from most other artists’ performances, the infectious enthusiasm spewing from Eugene Hutz and family swallowed up the audience and didn’t allow room for crying over spilled beer. More on that later.

The nine-piece, NYC-based gypsy-punk band, fittingly conceived at a Russian wedding in 1998, is taking its caravan on a cross-country tour to promote latest album Trans-Continental Hustle. Onstage, every member displayed their musical dexterity, often switching instruments mid-song, then discarding them to spring across the platform in a bouncy march. Their furious, sometimes chaotic melodies mix swift accordion, arm-jerking violin, punk guitar, throbbing percussion and dub with Hutz’s unapologetically over-the-top, Boris Badenov, Eastern-bloc vocals.

Songs like “My Companjera” and “Raise The Knowledge” transformed the Electric Factory into a dock at a foreign port, where everyone is surrounded by cargo boxes filled with spices and perfume from the Orient and people are stumbling around slapping each other on the backs and sloshing stoneware beer steins.

Having fans using beer mugs with lids would have greatly benefited me. Three-fourths of the way through the show, as I managed to ignore the chick behind me who thought she was Hutz and screeched the words to every song so we’d know she was a true fan, I was in my dancing groove and suddenly received a Southern California-style drenching of watered-down Bud Light. I turned around to fixate my death stare on the offender, grabbed a handkerchief from a kind soul nearby to wring the mess out of my hair and debated the awkwardness of resuming dancing in my previous carefree manner after I’d just let loose a torrent of dramatic, angry verbiage. Luckily, the bassist moseyed over to our side of the stage and began urging us to clap and chant, and I soon forgot about the alcoholic transgression (at least until I had to pick apart sticky hair strands in my rearview mirror 30 minutes later).

Watching a Gogol Bordello show is like watching a five-year-old make cupcakes. Their faces light up with each stroke, they want you to help them in the process of creation, they’re dying to share the finished product with you, and they watch you giddily to make sure you are enjoying every morsel. Every single band member looked like they were having the time of their life onstage, and during the entire 60-minute set, I could taste the passion in every bite.

—Maureen Coulter

Live Review: Pretty Lights, Oakland, CA, Nov. 24, 2010

At the ritzy Fox Theater in downtown Oakland, Calif., the glow-stick-festooned crowd was on a collision course with a Mack truck of pot smoke, rib-cracking bass and, yes, pretty lights. On the eve of Thanksgiving, a day of wholesome family gatherings and pilgrim-hat centerpieces, the ravers were out in full force, replete with tiny backpacks, glitter, leather vests, a plethora of phosphorescent jewelry and plenty of E. They came to see Pretty Lights, a.k.a. Derek Vincent Smith, the product of a thriving DJ music scene in Denver, Colo.

Rhythmically bouncing behind his table of laptops and sound boards in a white hoodie, flat-rimmed baseball cap and aviator sunglasses, Smith was the DJ who is too engrossed in his beats to notice the 67 women in the audience throwing themselves at him. That focus has brought him from college-dropout record-scratcher to Red Rocks headliner and music-festival draw. He emerged from the lush electronic-music environment of the Mile High City, and the influence of DJ Shadow and RJD2 can be heard in Pretty Lights’ deft blend of vintage soul crooning over spacey bell chimes and glitchy hip-hop beats.

Modern music is becoming both more fractured and universal, due to the internet and iTunes and MySpace. We’ve heard it all before, so we are more particular about what we waste our ear quota on. Artists like Pretty Lights have risen to the occasion, cherry picking the best of what’s available, then chopping and sorting and mixing to craft something completely fresh and pneumatic. It’s not unlike pop artists of the prior century—Andy Warhol with his soup cans or Roy Lichtenstein with his Ben-Day dots—wielding them as sharp statements on culture and art as we know it. In Oakland, Pretty Lights wielded his beats like a carving knife, serving up a slightly pink and tasty concert experience.

The venue itself was classy and well designed, with strategically placed bars, a multi-tiered dance area and a lofty ceiling with walls adorned like an art museum’s cultures-of-the-world wing. It has an old-theater feel without the elbows in your face.

Pretty Lights lived up to its name. The light show in tandem with tracks like “Gold Coast Hustle” and “Hot Like Dimes” was like taking grandma’s warm apple pie and plopping a scoop of homemade ice cream on top. It didn’t just enhance it; it shot it into another dimension. Strobe lights, multi-colored lights, psychedelic swirling lights, clouds, fire and bubbles all pulsed with the blippy synthetic loops and drum cadence.

The set went on for more than two hours, but no one slowed down. Girls in furry animal hats were still grinding against the banisters, sweating out Four Loko as Pretty Lights wrapped up and sent them off to face their families the next day. Concert-goers can take comfort in the fact that Light therapy helps with depression.

—Maureen Coulter

Live Review: The Apples In Stereo, The Orange Peels, San Jose, CA, Oct. 31, 2010

If somebody had figured out the calendar right in the beginning, we would now be about a month into what should be known as “The Embers,” the four-month stretch that ends the year. September, October, November and December have the best family holidays and some of the nicest weather—not to mention the World Series, college and pro football and the annual rebirth of hockey and basketball. Like the dying embers of an autumn campfire, this is the finest part of the year. Maybe renaming this month “Octember” would seal the deal.

This October, in San Francisco, brings a rare opportunity to reflect on the MAGNET years: roughly, the last two decades’ worth of indie rockers who found a pulpit in the never-less-than-honest magazine founded by Eric T. Miller, still in college, and a few cronies back in 1993. Acts championed by MAGNET set to play the Bay Area this month include the Flaming Lips, the Clean, Guided By Voices, Hoodoo Gurus, Teenage Fanclub and the Apples In Stereo. MAGNET’s grizzled West Coast veteran Jud Cost will be there for all six shows, pencil tucked into the brim of his rumpled fedora with all-access laminates dangling from his neck, ready to fire off reports from the trenches.

Night Five: The Apples In Stereo

The wait for the Apples In Stereo to appear onstage at San Jose’s Blank Club seems interminable. It’s Halloween, so at least there are plenty of people in costume to gawk at. But by the time you’ve seen the guy with “Evil X” spelled out in electrician’s tape on the back of his T-shirt (with half the “V” drooping downwards) or the girl in the NASCAR racing gear lugging a steering wheel or someone wrapped up in the American flag or the guy in the Mr. Rogers-style red-and-yellow-felt superhero’s outfit walk by for the 25th time, it feels like you’re part of a living tape loop that will never end.

Then they switch off the barely watchable lo-fi big-screen TV that appears to be showing the top of the ninth inning of game five of the San Francisco Giants/Texas Rangers World Series. In its place is a video of Apples frontman/songwriting genius Robert Schneider in oversized sunglasses and spaceman gear, walking through a cave on a permanent loop. After 20 minutes, the video takes on the aura of a trapped Chilean miner endlessly wandering around his underground prison.

What Schneider described as “a short film” had looked captivating earlier that afternoon on his laptop, the same piece of hardware that had survived bouncing off a highway sometime during the Apples’ 2010 tour. Schneider had played the video piece on my dining room table while the BBQ chicken and portobello-mushroom caps were still being grilled for the nine-person Apples entourage. As he stepped outdoors to chow down, Schneider gasped, “What a perfect California backyard. I can see myself coming out here in the morning to write songs.”

It’s only right that the Apples and Oranges are on the same bill. The Orange Peels from Sunnyvale, Calif., cheekily described as “the Vale of Sun” by vocalist Allen Clapp, open the show with a tasty blend of pop originals, many of which, oddly enough, reference foul weather. “I don’t mind the rain,” trills Clapp in one of his songs, backed by versatile guitarist John Moremen, bassist Jill Pries and drummer Gabe Coan. With Moremen’s former connection to late master Bay Area songwriter Jimmy Silva, “Hand Of Glory” has been added to the Peels’ set. A few new songs from their recent album, 20/20 (Minty Fresh), have the same power-pop sheen as onetime Berserkeley Records legends, the Rubinoos. “Allen Clapp’s songs are so great,” Schneider says afterward. “I can hear them being recorded back in the ’70s by the Bay City Rollers.”

About 25 minutes after their scheduled 11:00 pm start, the Apples, now swollen to seven members and dressed in deep-space regalia, march onto the Blank Club’s tiny stage to greet Planet Earth. “We are space travellers from the future, returned to the past to play our music for you,” announces Schneider, summing up the theme of the Apples’ seventh full-length album, Travellers In Space And Time (Simian/Yep Roc). Schneider, whose costume also mimics a duster from a spaghetti-Western, once described the new sound as R&B emanating from a space ship.

In addition to their hyperactive singer/guitarist, flanked by longtime stalwarts John Hill on guitar and Eric Allen on bass, the band now consists of Bill Doss (formerly of the Olivia Tremor Control) on keyboards, onetime Deathray Davies member John Dufilho on drums, John Ferguson on keyboards and vocoder-rigged mic and Ben Phelan on guitar, keyboards and trumpet. After he spent a week at a math conference in San Jose last year, Schneider was determined to play the rebuilt steel-and-glass hub city of Silicon Valley on his next Apples In Stereo tour.

The current set is a fine, career-spanning mix of the new record along with a healthy dose of the band’s high-water mark to date, 2007 album New Magnetic Wonder, a disc so appealing that some of its hypnotic tunes (“Sun Is Out,” “Energy”) were used in national advertising campaigns. They also dig deep into the trunk for “Strawberryfire,” a psychedelic gem that so perfectly recreates the Beatles it could be a Sgt. Pepper outtake. With the extra personnel, Schneider can now recreate live more of what he hears in the studio, such as Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass-like trumpet flourishes and a rocking cowbell ensemble right out of the Move’s “Do Ya.”

Schneider, who early in his career had a tendency to blow-up his voice early on a tour by over-singing, is now completely in control of his trademark instrument, with the ability to pump out those high-fructose, Sugar Pops-spiked vocal lines from start to finish. “We’re gonna play the next song backwards,” Schneider says before launching a Brian Wilson/John Lennon-style experimental float upstream to some outback village. Some of Schneider’s songs, “Dignified Dignitary” from Travellers, for example, are as lyrically deranged as the Mad Hatter—and as addictive as a double espresso.

“OK, here’s our second song,” Schneider slyly announces from behind a beard that would do S.F. Giants closer Brian Wilson proud. It’s now well more than an hour into a set that careens from an interstellar fly-by of the third moon of Pluto to a Power Puff Girls Saturday-morning cartoon fest in the blink of an eye. The meaty encore is dictated by a houseful of rabid Apples fans who dredge up requests for early numbers from classic albums Fun Trick Noisemaker and Tone Soul Evolution.

“See ya in the future,” salutes a sweat-drenched Schneider, whose evening’s work is far from done as he leaves the stage. True to his upbeat nature, Schneider begins to work the house like a political candidate, hugging anyone at least twice who comes up to congratulate him afterward. He’s the rare example of a man who has found not only what he wants to do, but exactly what he was born to do. The Apples In Stereo, using a bigger deck of cards wielded by sharper players everytime they pass through town, keep getting better and better.

And tonight is also a fitting cap for this six-show “Octember” stroll through the MAGNET years. Maybe you wouldn’t stay up so late at night, anxiously staring at that date circled on your calendar, if all class reunions were this much fun.

—Jud Cost

Live Review: Gorillaz, Oakland, CA, Oct. 30, 2010

The virtual band created by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett has burgeoned into a real-life phenomenon, with a 12-year string of Billboard hits, sold-out arenas and critical acclaim. At the drafty Oracle Arena in Oakland, the cartoon characters seen in the narrative music videos took to the flesh as a star-studded collective to wreak havoc on our senses and make love to our ears.

Although the venue is typically used for Warriors games, motor cross and Roger Waters concerts and was not conducive to schmoozing or dancing like some of the more intimate San Francisco venues nearby, those who chose to stand up and flail around could do so without feeling self-conscious, as seats were strategically placed to direct everyone’s attention to the stage.

Gorillaz unleashed a fire hose of visual stimulation with a carousel of vocalists, players and instrumentalists (including an Arab-American unit performing the intro to “White Flag”), gliding on and off stage while music videos and intervals of cartoon dialogue pulsed on the massive screen overhead. They ran with the Halloween theme, with grinning jack-o’-lanterns placed around the stage and band members wearing perspiration-smeared zombie makeup and sporting Inglorious Basterds army-sergeant uniforms and goblin masks.

They offered up a perfect mix of old and new songs off their various albums and EPs, with uptempo dance numbers like “DARE” and the emotional “Cloud Of Unknowing,” featuring Bobby Womack (during which they showed graphic clips of war planes crashing). The set list delighted even the most casual fan (a.k.a. parents chaperoning their 12-year-olds—“Hey, it’s the iPod song!”)

As disgruntled as fans may have been about the wallet gashing they endured on the $100 tickets, $30 parking fee and $8 watery beer, the constant barrage of animation, Yukimi Nagano’s tinkling voice, masked brass players, vigorous rapping and Albarn’s lithe vocals and attempted political banter made the outside melt away, if only for 90 minutes.

—text and photo by Maureen Coulter

Live Review: Of Montreal, Janelle Monae, San Francisco, CA, Oct. 29, 2010

The members of Of Montreal were not the only ones bedecked in wigs, drag and glitter tonight. On the eve of Halloween, the fans rivaled the headliners in costume-contest categories such as most creative, best Janelle Monae impersonation and best “I’m supposed to be a nurse/fairy/policewoman, even though I’m wearing a four-inch skirt.”

There was an ocean of sweaty, painted bodies milling around the gilded halls of the former vaudeville theater, along with a high frequency of glow sticks and hand-holding, the latter probably because guys don’t want to admit they like Of Montreal and so get their girlfriends to bring them.

Janelle Monae opened with an ear-tingling, hip-swiveling act that was part James Brown, part Gnarls Barkley and part Whitney Houston. She hushed the room with her epic pipes on ballad “Smile,” and a scrum of actors lumbered around onstage in hooded cloaks for “Dance Or Die.” Of Montreal’s flamboyant frontman Kevin Barnes joined Monae for a guest appearance before segueing into the main act.

Barnes and Co. crafted a performance best described as Alice In Wonderland—the Penthouse centerfold version–on acid. The lead singer pranced around in a purple leotard, frilly apron, headscarf and billowing tunic probably stolen from a noble at the Renaissance Faire, kicking aside most of his clothes halfway through the show. Players in head-to-toe, skin-colored body suits wearing skeleton and swine masks writhed among the unfazed band members.

While a portion of Of Montreal’s set included classics such as “The Party’s Crashing Us” and “Suffer For Fashion,” the band mostly featured songs off latest album False Priest, a Prince-like, collaborative body of work that lends itself to funk devolution. During each psychedelic, guitar-scratching “Let’s Get It On” montage, Barnes would perform antics that made the audience’s collective jaw drop. He grinded with a pig/human female in a way that would make Lil Wayne blush. Another time Barnes mimed fellatio and squealed, “You just made my mouth pregnant! What will my dentist say?”

The encore was a Michael Jackson tribute, featuring “Thriller” and “PYT.” During that time, several fans clambered onstage and began an impromptu dance party with the band, although the guitarist had to shove off a couple stumbling lushes.

Even without the added excitement of the crowd being able to prematurely show off their clever/slutty Halloween attire, Of Montreal has upped the ante yet again with its crew of players and ever-evolving Pan’s Labyrinth-ian props. However, next time it may be better if the band scaled back the theatrics and focused a bit more on what it does best: play music.

—text and photo by Maureen Coulter