charles bradley & his extraordinaires @ the brighton music hall (review, photos)

February 7th, 2012

charles bradley

Charles Bradley says “I love you all” and I believe him. We all believe him. Then, as if there is any doubt, he walks to the edge of the stage, looking for a moment like he’ll take a stage dive, climbs off the stage and starts hugging people. He makes his way through the crowd for what seems like a long time, just hugging his now fans.

charles bradley

63 year old Charles Bradley, after years of poverty, living on the streets, being a chef in Alaska and a handy-man in New York, and occasionally playing a James Brown-like show as “Black Velvet”, finally released his debut album No Time for Dreaming last year. (He also released a few 7″s starting in 2002.) It was among the best debuts of 2011 and one of the best entries in the retro soul genre of bands recalling the sounds of R&B in the ’60s and ’70s.

charles bradley kneeling

Walking off the college-student-filled streets of Allston, into the sold out Brighton Music Hall, I saw DJ PJ Gray spinning some slamming soul 45″s on his turntables near the soundbooth. I took this as a good sign. Finding my way through the mostly young, mostly white crowd, I found a spot near the front on the left side of the stage. The Extraordinaires, Charles Bradley’s backing band–guitar, bass, drums, organ, tenor saxophone and trumpet–for this tour, took the stage to average applause. All young and mostly white, they launched into an instrumental groove that quickly dispelled any doubts if they could play authentic soul and funk–these were obviously kids who were not only talented at their instruments but were well versed in the classics they were emulating.

charles bradley horn players

After a couple instrumental numbers, the organ player came to the main microphone and, in soul show style, played the hype man and introduced the singer, ending with “Give it up for ‘The Screaming Eagle of Soul’, Charles Bradley!” The room filled with cheers.

Bradley, smiling and wearing a ’70s style three-piece suit, greeted the crowd as the band launched into the next song. Rhythm section grooving, organ adding accents and horns nailing backup lines, Bradley’s voice quickly soared above it all. With James Brown-like screeches and wails, he blew through songs, full-voiced and using a deep well of emotion and experience to give appropriate and fantastic weight to his words. By the third song, I turned to my girlfriend and said, “This is why I go to live music.” This is that once-a-year (or more) live show that buoys the spirit and leaves one with new respect not only for the artist but music in general.

Bradley sang and gestured and balled up his fists against his chest, but he also knelt, pantomimed his cross to bear using the microphone stand and, of course, danced–sometimes slick, practiced moves and others that seemed like he came up with on the spot. He did fast feet, went down in splits, and ground his hips.

charles bradley

Midway through the show, Bradley left the stage while the band did another instrumental groove. Bradley reemerged having gone through a costume change–shiny pants and an African-print vest that split open at the bottom to reveal his slight gut.

As the show went on, the band hit their hard notes harder, their soft notes softer and Bradley’s anguish, pain–one song is about his brother being shot and killed; another about drifting around trying to find a job–and joy all worked themselves out simultaneous. Here was a man who had led a tough life, struggling and striving to be a performer for years, finally getting his chance to perform in front of sold out audiences. And this audience accepted this and returned with an ecstatic atmosphere–cheers, shouts, hands-in-the-air.

charles bradley mic stand as cross

The set ended in a frenzy with the band in a loud, hard groove and Bradley on one knee talk-singing the words to the Lord’s Prayer, transported perhaps somewhere between the Lord and the audience for that moment. He stood up, declared his love for all of us and went into the audience for that multitude of hugs.

The show seemed over, the band left the stage and Bradley was somewhere in the crowd, but eventually the loud cheers brought the band back to the stage. After one last, quick instrumental, Bradley returned to the stage for “Why is it So Hard,” the anguished burning ballad from No Time for Dreaming, letting his own anguish pour out, leaving the audience nearly speechless.

At the end of it all, there was only one thing that could be said: I love you, too, Charles Bradley.

charles bradley

See the full set of photos on flickr.

Enter a contest to have Charles Bradley serenade your loved one for Valentine’s day.

Tour dates for the US, Canada, Australian and Europe after the jump. I highly recommend trying to see him if you can.

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best personal music moments; or, top memorable music moments of 2009

December 21st, 2009

Sandy from Slowcoustic asked me if I wanted to take part of his “Best of…Bloggers” series and I was happy to take part. This originally appeared at there. I had a bit of a hard time deciding what “Best of” I could do for 2009 since my music involvement has been very different for the last four months of it, so I decided to do this.

Of possibly everything related to music that people rate, probably one of the most subjective is live performances. There’s so much besides the music that factors into the experience–what else happened that day, were you with friends or alone, what your expectations were, what the people standing near you were like–that one’s review sometimes not even up to the performers.

With that in mind, I present to you, in chronological order, very personal list of most memorable music moments from 2009.

  • David Bazan @ house show, Berkeley (2/18)
    I saw two of Bazan’s house shows this year but this was easily the better. Attentively sitting on someone’s living room floor, about thirty big-time Bazan fans watched him perform without amplification a few feet away. The music was great, the between-song conversation was good, the crowd was awesome–there wouldn’t be a lot of ways to make this show better.
  • david bazan @ san jose house concert

  • Yoni Wolf @ Apple Store (2/28)
    I hadn’t much considered Why? before this. This show with the frontman and an electric piano changed that somewhat. But what is most memorable about this performance was the once-off cover of “This is the Day.” I remember the hymn from church growing up but Wolf’s version that day was dark and haunting and still sticks with me.
  • yoni wolf

  • Les Savy Fav @ the Mezzanine, San Francisco (3/1)
    I’d heard many stories about the antics of Les Savy Fav live show and, in particular, frontman Tim Harrington’s antics. This show did not disappoint whatsoever. Harrington came out covered in toilet paper but quickly stripped down to his shorts. Before the night was up he spit beer into the crowd, licked the lens of the photographer standing next to me and duct-taped a girl to him. In between all of this, he managed to sing some songs.
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  • The Rural Alberta Advantage @ Central Presbyterian, Austin (3/19); @ Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco (7/9)
    Two very different shows but both very memorable. At the Central Presbyterian show during SxSW, I saw the band completely win over an audience of people largely unfamiliar with their music. They were on top form and I had chills for about half the show. When the finished the show acoustically in the main aisle of the church, I was in awe like everyone around me. The Bottom of the Hill show was the last Ipickmynose Presents show and it was a rousing success. Two days after their debut album came out to much acclaim, the band seemed to still be surprised by their success and performed a fantastic show.
  • rural alberta advantage

  • The Tallest Man on Earth @ the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco (3/25)
    I’d been obsessing about Shallow Grave for months leading up to this show, which was just a week after I’d seen the Swede, Kristian Matsson, at SxSW. This show was more noteworthy than the SxSW in that this performance was just perfect. Matsson has a way of performing that is just as much about movement as it is about music. He sits during the slow beginning of a song and then stands moves fluidly to the front of the stage and looks out into the audience. After this show nearly everyone I talked to said they thought he was looking right at them, bringing the performance to each audience member in a way few artists do.
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  • Damien Jurado @ Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco (5/5)
    I’ve seen Jurado perform about six or seven times now, but this show seemed to have what would have been my hand-picked setlist of favorites performed with intensity. In his first four songs were “Ghost of David”, “Medication” and “Ohio” and I knew it would be a good night.
  • damien jurado

  • Iron & Wine @ Swedish America Hall, San Francisco (5/7)
    I’d seen Iron & Wine a few times, including one magical time in 2004 at the Great American Music Hall, but even that time wasn’t at a venue as small as the Swedish American. Maybe this show stuck with me because his setlist, chosen by fans on his website, was filled with nostalgic favorites. Maybe it was because the Swedish American has great acoustics for solo shows. Maybe it was just a great performance.
  • iron & wine

  • Or, the Whale @ the Independent, San Francisco (6/6)
    I love Or, the Whale and this show was good, but the experience here wasn’t about the music (which was great as always). Two months before I was to leave for South Africa, the experience was noteworthy because every time I turned around there was a friend of mine or someone I wanted to talk to. It was a blast and I went home thinking I might be making a mistake moving away.
  • or, the whale

  • John Vanderslice @ Secret House Show, San Francisco (7/25)
    I’m still not sure how this all came together but my going away party in San Francisco was a secret show by John Vanderslice in my apartment to me and thirty of my friends. Completely without amplification, JV was accompanied by Jamie Riotta on upright bass and vocals. My cheeks hurt from grinning so much. It was utterly spellbinding and will probably go down as one of my most memorable music experiences in my entire life.
  • White Plains from ipickmynose on Vimeo.

  • “Oh How I’d Miss You” @ my apartment, San Francisco (7/25)
    Following JV’s performance, I played a killer soul playlist with this Marvin Gaye/ Tammi Terrell number on it. After people trickled out, my lady friend and I spontaneously danced in an empty living room to this song. But, given that I was leaving the country a week later, the lyrics were a bit too topical and near the end of the song I looked up to see her crying.
  • Sangoma Ceremony @ private home, Khayelitsha, South Africa (8/15)
    Saying yes to a series of opportunities led me to be in a tiny tin-sided house off a dirt path in a township outside Cape Town. A new sangoma (sometimes translated as ‘witch doctor’) was being initiated and there was much dancing, singing and clapping among the couple dozen people packed into the house. It was an experience that few outsiders get to have.
  • sangoma ceremony

  • Zulu hymns @ small church, Ingwavuma (9/6)
    This church is at the end of the road, literally. The tar road ends about 2km before it and the dirt road ends right at it. A few hundred meters father, the hill drops off steeply into Swaziland. The hymns during the actual service were sung in both Zulu and English but were largely not noteworthy. While I was sitting waiting for the service to begin, though, women scattered around the room spontaneously and seemingly without coordination started the most beautiful hymns I’d ever heard. Four part harmony filled the room. It was baking hot in that room and I still had chills.

What have been your most memorable music moments this year?

john vanderslice secret house show (videos, photos)

September 25th, 2009

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One may wonder how I’m so lucky. I often wonder the same thing. A great going away party has all your friends, plenty of good conversation, and maybe some beer if you’re into that sort of thing. Add to that an intimate, acoustic performance by one of your favorite musicians and it’s really hard to describe how amazing the outcome is.

John Vanderslice (myspace) did just that for my going away part. He and Jamie Riotto (on upright bass) played about an hour with no mics or amplification whatsoever. The gathered audience, sitting on the floor of my cleared out Mission apartment, was entranced. There was hardly a sound except for thunderous applause and “woos!” after each and every song. Figuring that the effect of having this show in my own apartment and for me had skewed my perspective, I said to a number of people afterwards “that was pretty good, right?” Every single one of them corrected me: “No, that was amazing.”

Thanks, JV, for making it a wonderful evening an unforgettable one. And if you were in the audience, thanks for coming. These videos and photos don’t do it justice, but they’re something I’d like to share here anyway.

Romanian Names from ipickmynose on Vimeo.

White Plains from ipickmynose on Vimeo.

Lucifer Rising, by John Vanderslice from ipickmynose on Vimeo.

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I have a signed set list among my prized possessions but unfortunately I don’t have a scan of it handy. I will add it to this page eventually.

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JV, by the way, has a new 7″ coming out with “Too Much Time” on it. You can get it from Dead Oceans. They’ve also posted a demo version of the song, which is flippin great:

John Vanderslice – Too Much Time (demo) (mp3)

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how-to guide to concert photography

July 31st, 2009

A while ago I asked my friend Natalie if she’d help me put together a guide to concert photography. We each shoot scores of shows a year and have talked a lot about the various issues with concert photography many times before, so it made sense to me to put together a how-to guide together.

Overview

Concert photography, particularly that in small clubs, is its own beast. It shares some things in common with other types of photography, but it has its own concerns and problems.

Neither Natalie or Adrian claim to be the best concert photographer, but we’ve shot a few hundred shows between us and we’d like to share what we’ve learned.

Despite all the recommendations below, the best thing to do is to shoot a lot. Go to shows, bring your camera and just experiment and figure out works for you.

Equipment

The overwhelming limitation to concert photography is how dark most of the clubs and events are. This drives a lot of equipment choices.

Point and Shoot vs. film SLR vs DSLR

Point and Shoot
Point and Shoot cameras tend to have very small image sensors. In terms of concert photography, this translates into lots of noise at high ISO speeds (which are necessary for shooting in low-light situations). A little bit of noise is acceptable in an image; however, the amount of noise created by Natalie’s Canon SD1000 at ISO 800 and 1600 makes the photos essentially useless. In addition, most point and shoot cameras only allow for minimum (if any) control of shutter speed and aperture settings, which gets very frustrating very quickly. Another frustrating feature is the lag between pushing the shutter button and actually triggering the shutter – not great when trying to shoot a moving subject with a small depth of field.

Point and shoot cameras are also limited by their maximum aperture value (how big you can make the opening that lets light onto the sensor; to make this confusing, the smaller the aperture number, the larger the opening). This is incredibly important for concert photography, as there is usually not much available light, and you want to let as much in as possible.

That being said, some people have made point and shoot cameras work for concert photography, especially cameras such as the Canon G10, which allows you full manual control and the option to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG file format. And on the plus side, these cameras are allowed at most venues without requiring any sort of photo pass.

Sigur Ros @ Copley Symphony Hall, 10/01/2008 by kudoskid0511.
(by Natalie Kardos) Sigur Ros at Copley Symphony Hall, shot with a Canon SD1000 point and shoot – noise due to the high ISO can be seen in the dark parts of the image.

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lost vinyl gem: david bazan “the poison makes”

July 21st, 2009

david bazan David Bazan by Adrian Bischoff

I don’t think I was the only Pedro the Lion fan that was a bit disappointed with Achilles Heel. There are some good songs on it (“Start Without Me” for instance), but it just didn’t seem to fit together right to me.

And then there was the problem with “The Posion”. The album version is fine, but it’s just a song. On the otherhand, I’d heard the 7″ version that Bazan had put out on Ben Gibbard’s Bedside Recordings label. To make a bold claim, that version was not just a song. For a man that makes his name writing depressing songs, this may be among the best: a heart-wrenching song of a woman leaving the narrator because of his problems with alcohol.

David Bazan – the Poison Makes (mp3)

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The Bedside Recordings 7″ sold out long ago, so I don’t think it’s available anywhere, but if you know, leave a link in the comments.

more blackdrop portraits (wooden birds, oh no! oh my!, rural alberta advantage, great lake swimmers)

July 19th, 2009

It’s time for some more of my blackdrop portrait series.

andrew kenny of the wooden birds
Andrew Kenny of the Wooden Birds (and American Analog Set) by Adrian Bischoff

greg of oh no oh my
Greg Barkley of Oh No! Oh My! by Adrian Bischoff

rural alberta advantage
the Rural Alberta Advantage by Adrian Bischoff

tony of great lake swimmers
Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers by Adrian Bischoff

rural alberta advantage @ bottom of the hill (photos, review, etc)

July 13th, 2009

For the latest ipickmynose presents show, the Rural Alberta Advantage (myspace) and Half-handed Cloud (myspace) played the Bottom of the Hill last Thursday. Okay was scheduled to be the middle band but had to cancel due to illness.

Half-handed Cloud went on a bit later than the original start time due to the schedule only having two bands instead of three. The growing crowd was getting a bit restless. John Ringhofer played a half a dozen instruments–banjo, omnichord, percussion and trombone among them–sometimes accompanied by pre-recorded instruments on a tape player. He played his quirky, short and cute folk pop songs in a straight-forward but endearing manner. It was a fun set.

The venue was getting pretty full by the time the Rural Alberta Advantage went on. Having just come off their CD release two days prior and very positive review from P4k among many others, the band was obviously basking in the glow of the new attention.

Playing most of Hometowns with a couple new songs thrown in, the band came out and gave it their all. From the audience members around me, I literally heard gasps at the band’s performance, particularly Paul’s intricate and barely-contained drumming. When the RAA hit “Don’t Haunt This Place”, their third or fourth song, I don’t thing there were many at the show who were left unconvinced at the greatness of the band’s live show.

They were very appreciative throughout the show of the crowd and the reception they were receiving. And the audience was receptive–it felt like everyone was leaning forward just to be a little closer to the band.

At the end of the set, the band came out for an encore, of course. Nils led off with a convincing solo rendition of “Eye of the Tiger” that turned into a sing-along. After the song, Nils remarked that he wanted to just keep repeating the chorus because it was so much fun singing with the audience. After another song, they left the stage again, only to be called back for a second, non-obligatory encore. It was a gorgeous version of “Sleep All Day”. All in all it was a fantastic show that I was proud to be involved with.

tallest man on earth @ the independent (photos, review, etc.)

July 7th, 2009

On Thursday I saw the Tallest Man on Earth at the Independent. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel from Denver opened.

As I walked into the club, I saw that tables were laid out, covering most of the floor. I’d been to partially seated shows at the Indie before but I did not expect this show to be seated. It definitely changes the dynamic of the show to have people seated and spaced out as opposed to crunched up against the stage.

The Wheel opened the show. A five piece with two guitars (electric, acoustic), keyboards, upright bass and drums, they played a fairly subdued sort of indie country/ alt country. While I wasn’t completely enthralled, they did play a nice set and their songs were good. They had some particularly nice moments with three vocalist harmonizing together.

It was the third time I’d seen the Tallest Man on Earth in six months. And, yet, it was still an excellent show.

After a month long tour with John Vanderslice and touring on and off for most of the last year, he’s developed new and different arrangements for some of his songs from both the recorded versions and previous live versions. Kristian Matsson is an excellent performer that uses his songs, his multi-faceted voice and movement around the stage–sitting on his chair, walking up to the very edge and looking out into the crowd–to pull people into his songs. While he may not have the banter and stories of fellow Swede Jens Lekman, he’s a gifted showman. In the end the Rickshaw show in March felt more intimate and may stay with me longer, but this show was still great.

ipickmynose presents rural alberta advantage @ bottom of the hill; interview, ticket giveaway

July 6th, 2009


RAA show poster by Random Found Objects

Show info:

6/9 the Rural Alberta Advantage, Okay, Half-handed Cloud @ Bottom of the Hill, 9pm, $10, a/a

Here’s a reminder, for what will probably be the last ipickmynose presents show, the Rural Alberta Advantage (myspace) are playing a great bill at the Bottom of the Hill this Thursday July 9. Locals Okay and Half-handed Cloud (myspace) are opening.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know my love of Rural Alberta Advantage is nothing new. In fact, they released one of my favorite albums of 2008, which will be rereleased by Saddle Creek tomorrow, July 7. I saw them twice at SxSW, including an incredible, breath-taking show at Central Presbyterian. They produce driving, often-raw indie folk about Alberta. Mark my word, they will put on a good show.

the Rural Alberta Advantage – Don’t Haunt this Place (mp3)

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the Rural Alberta Advantage – Sleep All Day (mp3)

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Okay play broadly folk music, but with some experimental and freak folk elements. When I saw them at the Bottom of the Hill last year, I enjoyed their set.

Okay – Natural (mp3)

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Half-handed Cloud is a band I’ve been following for quite a while, since I saw him open for Sufjan years ago. With folk-pop songs for people with ADD, this will be a fun way to start the set.

Half-handed Cloud – Skip the Rope (mp3)

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Ticket contest:

I have two pairs of tickets to give away. To enter to win a pair of tickets to this show, email contest [at] ipickmynose [dot] com by noon on Wednesday July 8 with “Rural Alberta Advantage” (or “RAA”) in the subject line. Make sure to include your full name somewhere in there–that’s what will be on the guestlist. The winner will be chosen at random from all that email in. I’ll email the winner on Wednesday afternoon. Get those emails in now! It’s easy!

rural alberta advantage
the Rural Alberta Advantage by ipickmynose

the Interview

I spoke to Nils Edenloff, who fronts the RAA and writes about his experiences growing up in Alberta for their songs, by phone last week from his father’s house in Edmonton. It was the day after their very first Edmonton show and it acted as a homecoming show for Nils. He was obviously still basking in the experience. Despite the interview taking him away from time with his family, he was gracious throughout the interview. We spoke for almost half an hour in the end and I wish I could share all of it here, but due to practical concerns, here’s just some of what we talked about.

Adrian Bischoff of ipickmynose: So you’re back in Edmonton?

Nils Edenloff of the Rural Alberta Advantage: Yeah, it was sort of a homecoming show for me.

Adrian: Have you played there with the band before?

Nils: No, this is the first time we’ve actually been able to make it west of Ontario. So we’ve been [doing] a, sort of, Canadian tour. The Alberta show have been going pretty crazy.

Adrian: Yeah, I bet.

Nils: I never, ever would have expected that when we started this the response would have been so overwhelming.

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king sunny ade @ the independent

June 24th, 2009

king sunny ade

Friday night I saw something different at the Independent: King Sunny Ade & His African Beats. From Nigeria, they play Juju music, popular music which is influenced by Yoruba percussion.

In a room drenched in the smell of pot and body odor and with a distinctly different crowd than the average indie show at the Independent, Ade played a two hour-plus set to the appreciative crowd. The band was a big one: Ade on vocals and sometimes guitar, two additional vocalists, seven percussionists, guitar, bass, and keyboards. Everyone in the band seemed thrilled to be there and to be playing.

They played well and the mix sounded good. People danced and sang along–if they could figure out the words. My favorite songs were the more guitar-heavy ones; during some of the percussion-centric ones, with incessant beats and lyrics I didn’t understand, I felt my attention wandering. But it was a fun show nevertheless.