Author: Jeff Spirer

Jeff Spirer is the editor of SF Sonic. He has retired from concert photography but still writes about music and travel.

The CIA website describes Uzbekistan as a place where: the shrinkage of the Aral Sea has resulted in growing concentrations of chemical pesticides and natural salts. These substances are then blown from the increasingly exposed lake bed and contribute to desertification and respiratory health problems; water pollution from industrial wastes and the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides is the cause of many human health disorders; there is increasing soil salination and soil contamination from buried nuclear processing and agricultural chemicals, including DDT. Sounds ideal for a doom metal band, a place where the music can resonate with the environment,…

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It would be easy to dismiss someone playing a shovel as a novelty. While it may be true with some shovel players, it’s not the case with Shovelman. Once the surprise of seeing the unusual instrument wears off and the listening begins, the depth of feeling in the music becomes obvious. Shovelman, with his shovel, slide, and pedals, is a musician. When playing and singing songs, Shovelman sounds like he walked out of the R. L. Burnside Fat Possum era. Or maybe he spent a few months locked up with Little Axe. It’s primitive, basic, country blues that took a…

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Sam Chase is on a roll. He’s playing festivals. He’s headlining clubs like Slim’s, The Independent, and The Great American Music Hall. He’s on the radio and he’s on all sorts of internet playlists. And he has a new video out. Chase brings his prodigious homegrown San Francisco talents – songwriting, performing, storytelling, entertaining – to every musical endeavor. His latest incarnation of his Americana-laced band, Sam Chase and the Untraditional, has terrific depth with newfound keyboards that highlight Chase’s somewhat gruff voice. And on the new video, “I’ve Got Problems,” Chase runs the gamut from personal to worldly lyrically,…

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The Edwardian Ball Regency Ballroom January 20/21, 2017 All photos by Jeff Spirer. Turn of the century dress, steampunk accessories, old-time music, antiquities for sale. It may be the Regency Ballroom and it may be 2017 but it’s January and it’s the Edwardian Ball. For two nights (and one afternoon), a time trip, punctuated by some modernities – DJs, electronics, even an ATM – San Francisco celebrates the life and work of Edward Gorey on three floors of the Regency Ballroom. And San Francisco loves dress-up events, so it fits right in. It’s a night of music and acrobatics, of…

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Maceo Parker SFJazz Miner Auditorium December 29, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. “We love you.” “We love you.” “We love you.” Maceo Parker said it at least 100 times. His band sang it. The audience yelled it out individually and even as a chant back at the stage. Parker brought his funky love-in to SFJazz’s Miner Auditorium just in time for the 50th anniversary of San Francisco’s Summer of Love. Maceo Parker In between all the lovin’, Parker and his band took it up with funk, down with ballads, outside with a little jazz, and down the street with…

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Doyle Bramhall II Slim’s December 9, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. The curtain lifts at Slim’s and North Indian classical music comes through the speakers. It goes on for a minute or so and then Doyle Bramhall II and his band walk on stage. It’s not something anyone would expect unless maybe they heard the song “My People” on Bramhall’s recent album, Rich Man, his first in fifteen years. The band starts blending into the recorded music, bringing in a bluesy mid-tempo number with a chant-like chorus. Of course, Bramhall’s guitar is evident from the start and there’s the…

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Andra Day The Fillmore November 6, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. Just one year ago, Andra Day appeared in San Francisco at The Rickshaw Stop, a small but cozy venue. It was a bit of a surprise, she already had a major label contract and was appearing on TV shows regularly. The last year has been all upbeat for Day and her return to The Fillmore demonstrates just how much her fan base has grown. Andra Day That growth hasn’t just come from Day’s voice, which should be enough – she’s been featured in promos by McDonald’s and Coke.…

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Pumarosa Rickshaw Stop September 20, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. Pumarosa closed their set with the song “Priestess,” a song that embodies everything that makes the band so compelling. There’s the genre-bending, or maybe the syncretic genre-mixing, everything from goth to techno to ambient to noise. There’s the subtle dance beats driven by the opening Henry Brown’s bass pattern along with band co-founder Nicholas Owen’s increasingly driven drumming. There’s vocalist, and occasional guitarist, Isabel Muñoz-Newsome, chanting and singing. There’s the whole spiritual sound, echoing the song title. The music is simultaneously blissful, like it started with a new age…

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Morcheeba Social Hall SF September 2, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. Right from the beginning, with Ross Godfrey’s bell-like guitar twang and Skye Edwards’ luxuriant voice delivering Morcheeba’s first hit, “Trigger Hippie,” it’s obvious that this is a Morcheeba show. Edward’s voice and Godfrey’s guitar both curl around the melody and beat, at once familiar yet exotic, smooth yet energetic. This duality continued throughout the night, with the band able to move from down tempo dreams to upbeat dance numbers. Skye Edwards The band opened with a song from the Morcheeba catalog, and ended with one, but in between…

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Skye & Ross Cooking Vinyl Records When Morcheeba’s first album, Who Can You Trust, appeared in the mid-90s, the downtempo beats, bluesy guitar, psychedelic effects, and, most of all, the silky voice on top started a ride to the top for the British trio. The trio that was Morcheeba – vocalist Skye Edwards and brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey – put their own twist on what was then called trip-hop, had some big chart successes and toured the world with supporting musicians to large crowds. Their first San Francisco appearance treated a sold-out Bimbo’s 365 in April, 1998 to the…

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UnderCover Presents Amy Winehouse: The Singles Miner Auditorium, SFJazz Center August 20, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. One of the most influential musicians of the 21st century, Amy Winehouse was also one of its most troubled souls. A recent presentation of Amy Winehouse by San Francisco-based UnderCover Presents gave both sides of her life through both a documentary movie and live performances. The show began with a screening of “Amy,” a documentary about Winehouse, chronicling her life from teenage years through her early death. For over two hours, the film captivated the audience. Following the film, there were three…

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Bryan Ferry The Masonic Auditorium August 9, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. If there is one word to describe Bryan Ferry on stage in 2016, it’s romantic. Ferry’s instantly recognizable voice takes nearly obliterates the need for lyrics in its sensual richness. Ferry looks the part, appearing at least 20 years younger than 70, dressed to kill, as they say. Even singing the old Roxy Music creep-out “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” Ferry’s love song to his inflatable doll, this year’s version is creepily romantic rather than just creepy. In the back rows, where it was easy to…

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CeeLo Green The Independent July 21, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. “You know what I’m sayin’?” CeeLo Green asked this question repeatedly, but he didn’t need to. The crowd, in his pocket from the moment he arrived on stage, knew what CeeLo was sayin’. And lovin’ it. CeeLo Green Green broke into a sweat about 30 seconds after arriving, his distinctive voice soaring, high and clear, harkening back to an earlier day before a lot of voices were processed through electronics to help them. But he can also rap, modernizing and staying out of the retro trap. Whether singing…

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Down & Outlaws Great American Music Hall July 8, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. SF Sonic reviewed Down & Outlaws last year, impressed with their dirty rock’n’roll performance that delivered on the promise of the best garage bands, dripping with sweat and emotion. Fifteen months later, the band is headlining at the Great American Music Hall, the music still drips sweat and emotion, and it’s still dirty, but from the moment the band hit the stage, Great American Music Hall filled with sound that emanates polish. It’s that sound that screams “breakout,” starting with their anthemic signature song, “I…

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Funkcronomic Bernie Worrell, Bill Laswell, and Karsh Kale M.O.D. Technologies At the midpoint of Shochurolling, the fifth song from the new release Funkcronomic by Bernie Worrell, Bill Laswell and Karsh Kale, Worrell resorts to his keyboard voicing of the playful and inquisitive alien. It’s a childlike tone of exploration that has garnered this master of the keyboard praise and recognition for decades. Laswell’s intricate bass work and Karsh Kale’s steady drum push on the track gives Worrell the proper latitude for stretching ideas and color palettes into a full-on galactic ecosystem. This five song EP, released last week on the…

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Adia Victoria Bottom of the Hill June 8, 2016 All photos by Jeff Spirer. There’s blues and there’s The Blues. Blues is an uplifting music form with familiar chord progressions, call-and-response with voice and (typically) guitar, and raucous or plaintive solos by virtuoso musicians. Despite a smaller audience than in the past, it continues as a beloved form. The Blues is music that originates from the heart, from the gut. It may or may not follow the traditional structures, but it’s not about structure, it’s about emotion. And it may not be uplifting – it’s often pain without redemption. Practitioners…

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Erykah Badu The Warfield August 29, 2015 All photos by Jeff Spirer. About 30 minutes into her almost two hour set at the Warfield, Erykah Badu asked the audience, “Who is having their first Badu experience.” This was the right question to ask, because what happened in the Warfield was not just a concert. It wasn’t a linear progression of songs following a verse/chorus/ solo playbook. It wasn’t even a linear progression of songs. It was an “experience,” just as Badu called it, with songs drifting and melting into each other, one in which Badu projected both a soothing calm…

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Jesus & Mary Chain The Warfield May 17, 2015 All photos by Jeff Spirer. The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Psychocandy, first released thirty years ago, was proven timeless at their Warfield show. Arriving full of influences like Phil Spector and 60s girl groups, the Velvet Underground, and Iggy Pop, the album sound would in turn influence scores of bands from Dinosaur Jr. to My Bloody Valentine with melodic vocals over a white noise wall of sound. The band opened their show at the Warfield with seven newer songs, generally a bit more melodic and with cleaner sound than the Psychocandy…

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