Kronos Quartet Evokes the Fury of WWI in "Beyond Zero: 1914-1918"

Jay Blakesberg

Kronos Quartet: "Beyond Zero: 1914-1918"
Score by Aleksandra Vrebalov and film by Bill Morrison
Sunday, April 6, 2014
Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley

Better than: Actually living through WWI. Or, the hope-it-never-happens sound of WWIII, take your pick.

If your idea of "string quartet" is four geriatric guys rocking Rachmaninoff on three fiddles and a cello, think again. On Sunday night, the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet ripped open the envelope of expectations with "Beyond Zero: 1914-1918," the world premiere of a work commissioned from Serbian-born composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and filmmaker Bill Morrison.

Yes, it's true that founder David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), and Hank Dutt (viola) are three white dudes who've collectively played their instruments for over 100 years. But there's also Sunny Yang, a gut-clenchingly brilliant female cellist new to the group as of 2013. And yeah, an excerpt from Serge Rachmaninoff's "All-Night Vigil" sneaked in, but during its 40-year history, Kronos has added over 800 original, genre-bending works to the string quartet library.

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Madball Sets It Off at Thee Parkside, 3/1/14

Madball at Thee Parkside on Saturday
Twitching Tongues
Born Low
Never Healed
Thee Parkside
Saturday, March 1, 2014

Better than: Your band

When the opening guitar riff of "Set It Off" rang out, the cult-like tradition of hardcore cro-magnons destroying each other began. Freddy Madball popped up on stage wearing a Long Beach boxing jersey, his long hair tied back in an almost Ray Cappo-esque bun. He took the center of the stage and spread his heavily tatted arms out as the crowd yelled three words in unison louder than the PA ever could: "SET IT OFF!"

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Free Salamander Exhibit Restores Our Faith in Prog-Rock Freakery and Costumes at Bottom of the Hill, 3/1/14

Free Salamander Exhibit at Bottom of the Hill
Free Salamander Exhibit
Black Map
Lasher Keen
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Bottom of the Hill

Better than: Lamenting the demise of progressive guitar rock in the twenty-teens.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum was the last of a venerated avant-rock movement that put the Bay Area on the map. When the band called it quits in 2011, it seemed like a whole avenue in contemporary music was being closed with them. That kind of sprawling, cinematic, heavy rock band with high production values was, as you might imagine, a challenging endeavor to sustain given the number of ears it reached. Couple that with times so lean, even "mainstream" artists who can sell their songs to car commercials are griping about dough, and, well, it's just an untenable way to operate these days.

But if tonight's show at Bottom of the Hill was anything to be believed, art rock isn't dead, it's just under construction. Members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum graced us with their new endeavor, Free Salamander Exhibit, and though it's decidedly paired down next to their previous project, what matters -- the crunchy, skewed sonic aspects -- remain intact. Meanwhile, a younger generation is donning costumes and re-animating the corpse of the creative fool's errand.

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Mark Kozelek Asserts His Glorious, Terrifying Humanity at Great American Music Hall, 3/1/14

Debra A. Zeller
Mark Kozelek at Great American Music Hall on Saturday.
An evening with Mark Kozelek
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Great American Music Hall

Better than: Jesus' Son: The Musical

One of the most heavy-handed Significant Message scenes in the new Robocop is the one where this guy -- a vet, presumably -- has just been outfitted with new robotic prosthesis-hands and is trying to play classical guitar again for the first time since losing his hands while esteemed robotic prosthesis doctor Gary Oldman looks on dotingly. The prosthesis-hands work great at first, but then the guy is so overwhelmed -- with gratitude, presumably -- that he starts to fuck up "Concierto de Aranjuez," so Gary Oldman's lab tech turns down the guy's emotional rawness levels or whatever. But the guy still can't play it right and now he's frustrated in addition to overwhelmed, and Gary Oldman or his lab tech tries to explain that he should just calm down because his emotions are interfering with the function of the prosthesis-hands. And the guy is like -- Significant Message alert -- "I need emotion to play."

I bring this up because, well, what do you think goes through Mark Kozelek's head when he sits on stage performing, or sits at home writing, these almost objectively beautiful songs that are almost always about either learning of somebody's death or failing to find love in a sustainably requited or redemptive form? (Also because, come to think of it, Kozelek makes cameos in movies sometimes, and what if the presumable vet in Robocop had been him? (Also, what do you think the odds are that Mark Kozelek's next album will include a song about learning of Paco de Lucía's death? R.I.P., Paco de Lucía.))

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Real Estate Conjures a California Sound at the Independent, 2/28/14

Real Estate at the Independent on Friday.
Real Estate
The Shilohs
Dream Boys
Friday, Feb. 28, 2014
The Independent

Better than: Real Estate with 10 fewer songs.

Sometimes it's easy to forget that Real Estate isn't a San Francisco (or at least California) band. Its sound -- that singular Real Estate Sound -- is clean guitar tones and vaguely wistful vocal melodies, a musical accompaniment to a Pacific Ocean sunset as it turns from orange to pink to purple to twilight blue. Onstage Saturday at the Independent, bassist Alex Bleeker gives the band away with his effusive praise for the city of San Francisco. Praise like that these days only comes from outsiders looking in.

But, for a night, let's pretend that the New Jersey quintet is Californian. After all, we are at a Noise Pop show, a sold out one at that, and it just wouldn't be proper to miss out on the local acts playing all over town tonight (local acts like Dominant Legs, who will open for Real Estate tomorrow night, at least for everyone who takes the 8 p.m. start time seriously). Actually, scratch that. The local acts are important, but let's remember: San Francisco is a destination. The best bands don't always have to be from here, because they're damn sure going to come here. And Noise Pop is as much about the bands from the local scene as it is about the bands who are honored to take part in this often magical indie-rock festival -- which could very well be older than some of the people in the room tonight.

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Two Gallants Capture Pains of the Past at the Independent, 2/23/14

Two Gallants at the Independent last night.
Two Gallants
Trainwreck Riders
Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014
The Independent

Better than: Spending the night in jail.

"We were both born and raised a few blocks from here," said Two Gallants' Tyson Vogel between songs at the Independent last night. The club is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a run of shows this week, and the homegrown hard-roots-rock duo seemed especially pleased to be headlining one (which, like the others, was sold-out). The Sunday night energy was high, and at the start of the band's encore, Vogel noted that the city had been going through a lot of "upheaval and change" lately.

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Blue Öyster Cult Plays to the Faithful, Skips the Cowbell at Slim's

Blue Öyster Cult at Slim's.
Blue Öyster Cult
Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014

Better than: Will Ferrell's guest spot drumming with the Red Hot Chili Peppers during the Super Bowl halftime show. Wait, you mean that was Chad Smith?

The general populace may know the band best for a couple hits and one of Saturday Night Live's all-time great sketches, but cerebral '70s hard-rock outfit Blue Öyster Cult has given the world far more than the cowbell-banging radio staple "Don't Fear the Reaper." BÖC's collaborations with literate lyricists like punk poetess Patti Smith and science fiction author Michael Morcock matched fantastical themes with crunching riffs and catchy songwriting, earning the band millions in sales and a rabidly loyal following.

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Prosumer Keeps the Underground Freaks Up 'Til Dawn

SF Weekly
As You Like It presents Prosumer
Underground Location
Nov. 29, 2013

One thing that's long been true of San Francisco nightlife is that the best stuff often happens beneath the surface. Now, as always, underground venues are the lifeblood of the local dance music scene, with promoters appropriating unfinished warehouses, office complexes, and other clandestine locales for the kind of all-night events that serious fans desire. These spaces often feature a comfortable atmosphere and patrons who are more concerned with having a good time than they are getting as wasted as possible before last call.

Yet, as enjoyable as they are, not all undergrounds are created equal -- that much became clear last Friday, when I ventured to one of the best undergrounds in recent memory in As You Like It's latest production, a phenomenal party featuring Prosumer, a Berlin DJ who's famous for his marathon sets at Panorama Bar, the house-oriented second room in that city's world-famous Berghain nightclub.

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Tom Waits and a Lou Reed Tribute Steal the Second Day of Bridge School Benefit, 10/27/13

Neil Young and My Morning Jacket at Bridge School on Sunday.
Bridge School Benefit Day 2, with Tom Waits, CSNY, Queens of the Stone Age, My Morning Jacket, Elvis Costello, fun., and more
Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013
Shoreline Amphitheatre

Better than: Crying to one's Twitter followers.

There are worse places to have to grapple with the death of Lou Reed than a big rock concert. The sudden departure of the Velvet Underground singer and guitarist Sunday at age 71 cast a bit of a pall over Day 2 of Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit concert, but only until the artists confronted it at the end of My Morning Jacket's set.

"We were all very sad to hear of Lou Reed's passing," said singer Jim James, as many in the crowd gasped, apparently hearing the news for the first time. James called Reed "one of the greatest composers, artists, musicians who ever walked the face of the Earth." And then Neil Young, Elvis Costello, My Morning Jacket, and a number of others performed a faithful, tear-jerking rendition of "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'," trading verses and solos as a chilly evening wind blew down into Shoreline. There were many times yesterday where the proceedings at Bridge School sagged, but for that perfect handful of minutes, you felt thankful to be at some denomination of the church where Reed worshiped, surrounded by people who felt the magnitude of his loss.

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The Best of Treasure Island Music Festival, Day 2: Haim, Sleigh Bells, Japandroids, and More

Christopher Victorio
We continue our Treasure Island Music Festival coverage here with short takes on the best of Sunday, Oct. 20. Also check out our Saturday TI best-of, our review of Atoms for Peace's amazing headlining Saturday set, and our run-down of all the goofiness Beck got up to on Sunday.

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