Sunday, March 18, 2018

TREEFORT 2018—Bay Area to Boise

The musical corridor between the Bay Area and Boise strengthens with succeeding editions of Treefort. This year there are no less than 21 musical acts represented from San Francisco and Oakland, with an added handful from nearby locales. I've already profiled Field Medic and Madeline Kenney, but here are ten more favorites; five from SF, and five from Oakland.

Let's start with the East Bay and Oakland's thriving independent creative scene, whose population has increased in recent years due to corporate encroachment and co-option in San Francisco proper that has forced artists of all stripes to relocate for affordable housing and creative community.

Photo: Andrew Zhou
La Misa Negra / Oakland—What kind of representation would come out of the Bay Area if it didn't joyfully express San Francisco and Oakland's ethnic diversity? Oakland's La Misa Negra joyfully insists that Treeforters shake the dust off their cumbia moves and sweat it all out in rivulets of pure gold, lime green and tangerine.

Treefort bio: La Misa Negra is a 7-piece band from Oakland, California, known for their unique blend of heavyweight cumbia and high-energy, Afro-Latin music. On stage, they deliver an electrifying performance that explodes with infectious dance grooves and punk rock energy, powered by horn and accordion-driven riffs, a fierce rhythm section, and a vintage-inspired sound. Since their live debut in the fall of 2011, La Misa Negra has toured the country, sharing stages and festival bills with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, Thievery Corporation, SZA, Mon Laferte, Julieta Venegas, Ana Tijoux, Bomba Estereo, George Clinton, Antibalas, Budos Band, and Ozomatli. On the strength of their wild and one-of-a-kind shows, they have gained a reputation as one of the most exciting live bands to emerge from the Bay Area in recent years, garnering a diverse fan base that transcends musical, cultural, and generational divides. They play Friday, March 23, 2018, 6:50PM at the El Korah Shrine, and then again on Saturday, March 24, 2018, 10:10PM at Hannahs. You can sample their music on Bandcamp.


Photo: Emalyn Lopez
The Seshen / Oakland—Accompanying La Misa Negra in satisfying Boise's readiness for ethnic multiplicity (plus a shot of Afrofuturism) is The Seshen.

Treefort Bio: The Seshen is a San Francisco Bay Area-based six-piece led by singer/lyricist Lalin St. Juste and bassist/producer Akiyoshi Ehara. Their forward-thinking sound combines synthesizers, drum machines, live percussion, and entrancing harmonies to create an unmistakable fusion of R&B, synth-pop, and electronic music. St. Juste and Ehara are joined by four remarkable bandmates to create their multidimensional music: drummer Chris Thalmann, keyboard/synth player Mahesh Rao, percussionist Mirza Kopelman, and sampler Kumar Butler. They take inspiration from across the musical spectrum; their individual influences range from recognizable artists (Erykah Badu, Jai Paul, James Blake, Radiohead, and Broadcast) to genres and eras that don’t initially appear to fit together (hip hop, indie rock, early electronica, and 70’s dub). Their unique alchemy of seemingly disparate sounds has led fans and critics alike to describe the band as defying categorization. They play Friday, March 23, 11:30PM at Hannah's, with a repeat performance on Saturday, March 24, 3:10PM on the Main Stage (which will provide plenty of room to carry on). You can sample their music on Soundcloud.


Photo: Natalie Somekh
Mt. Eddy / Oakland—Mt. Eddy's ten-track debut album Chroma (on Uncool Records and available for listening on Spotify) is a rousing introduction to the considerable talent among these kids—there I've said it—who have been rightfully included in Treefort's prescient All Ages Movement Project. There's not a single track on Chroma that doesn't physically involve me with rebellious inspiration.

Treefort Bio: "Hailing from Oakland California, Mt. Eddy features brothers Chris and Enzo Malaspina on drums and guitar, Jakob Armstrong on guitar and vocals, while Kevin Judd plays bass. Armstrong's older brother Joey plays drums in SWMRS and had previously assisted with the early releases from Jakob Danger. Aside from helping launch Mt. Eddy's new label, the older Armstrong served as assistant engineer on their first release, Chroma." They play on Friday, March 23, 7:00PM at Boise All-ages Movement Project.


Photo: Cara Robbins
Dick Stusso / Oakland—Stusso's act strikes me as hypnotically persona-driven. Now and again he reminds me of Treefort Alumni Alex Cameron. His are songs I would sing outloud when drunk out in the middle of nowhere with no money in my pocket for a cab ride home. What do you do? Sing louder and stumble forward. Philosophy in search of a dawn.

Treefort bio: That old blues hound dog Bonnie Raitt probably sang it best and most lucid in her timeless, pedestrian hit "Nick of Time": "Life gets mighty precious when there's less of it to waste." And so now, her wise lyrical turn seems to be ringing true for Oakland muso Dick Stusso. When we last caught up with this Bay Area BBQ gaucho on his debut, Nashville Dreams, he'd hit that special zen layer of loserdom. He'd thrown up his hands into the folly of failure. He was the affable, bumbling red-cheeked drunk lurking around the edges of the cookout—bumming smokes, putting down all the white wine and cocktail shrimp he could get away with. But now, a couple years on, that early-30s existential dread has crept its way into Dick's purview. With his sophomore long-player In Heaven, Stusso's numbered human days are on his mind. Without stumbling into pomposity, Dick has taken back the wheel on his life and is doing a bit of hotdogging. In Heaven is available for listening at Napster. Stusso brings his world-worn tales to Treefort on Wednesday, 10:15PM at The Olympic, following Madeline Kenney, which is a lovely bit of pairing.

Photo: Unknown, courtesy of Battlehooch.
Battlehooch / SF—George Harrison would have been proud of his thumbprint on Battlehooch's "Carry Me Upstream", off their 2014 Wink EP. While their earlier music reminded of hectic if celebratory street music for an unspecified ethnicity, their sound has developed into a more fluid, harmonic and mellow mindtrip.

Treefort bio: Battlehooch is the kind of band you thought went extinct with landline phones & cassette tapes. In one sense they’re a band from another, sturdier era: a band that releases consistently quality material on a consistent basis, a band that doesn’t sacrifice creative drive for commercial interest, a band that grows and evolves with each successive release. From the beautiful madcap mess of debut LP Piecechow to the more refined yet still quite zany jams on Hot Lungs to a cool, polished psych-rock sheen on 2014’s Wink EP, Battlehooch has proven itself as a band built to last. They may possess an old-school mindset, but their music is weird & diverse enough to fit into this wild new century.

Formed in San Francisco, the birthplace of psychedelia, it’s fitting that the six-piece collective echoes the city’s tie-dyed past in its own compositions. However, the group isn’t content with becoming a mere tribute to a time period they never lived through. Instead, Battlehooch updates the sound of psychedelia for a new generation, one that can now access dozens of genres & millions of songs with a few clicks on their iPhones. Battlehooch reflects this modern trend of manic music consumption: on any of their many releases, the listener will be treated to a sonic smorgasbord, bouncing from hard rock to dance-pop to cartoony head trips to flirtations with electronica & jazz & Afrobeat & everything else in between within the span of a few minutes, sometimes even seconds. Battlehooch plays Treefort on Saturday, March 24, 2018, 7:30PM at The Olympic. You can sample their music on Soundcloud.


Photo: Sam Yang
Tino Drima / SF—Following their EP Smoking with their first official album Her Kind of Man on the Friendship Fever label, Tino Drima has rapidly become one of my favorite sounds. Their vocals are on an eerily veering detour from Martha Davis, Chrissie Hynde and Amy Winehouse.

Treefort bio: Tino Drima is a cauldron of then, now, and what will be. There is grease, there is friction, there is high harmony, there are ripping beats, there are charmed humans parading onstage and in studio. There is a radio playing on the other side of the wall and Old Man Cooper has not left his apartment in over a month and it stinks. But this music does not, this music exudes class and classicism, and lifts you up and places you smack dab in the middle of newly decorated living room filled with Hummel figurines, a comfy couch, and the sound of dishes clinking and clanking in the kitchen sink just past the dining room. You want to stay, and you want to listen to the music, and you want to hang out, and you will stay up for as long as it lasts and maybe even longer, because it sounds so good and it smells like bacon over in that room now.

Tino Drima consists of Gregory DiMartino, Rob Mills, Mackenzie Bunch, Henry Baker, and Scott Huerta. Their names sound oddly like items of food.

Like most of us, they are fascinated by metadata. That is why the music they perform has been called Psyche Doo-Wop Hell Croon. It is a genre they respect, that they have pioneered, that will only get bigger and broader with time. Sort of like people. Tino Drima plays Treefort on Friday, March 23, 2018, 7:00PM at The Olympic. You can sample Tino Drima on Bandcamp.


Photo: Unknown, courtesy of The Foxxtones
Foxxtones / SF—Sometimes you have to go away to come back. Sometimes you're forced to leave and then receive an invitation to return. There was never any question in my mind that Cassie Lewis was Boise's best female vocalist with a range that allowed her to sing anything from jazz to country and western and so it was with great sadness that I saw her leave after Boise's indiscriminate hive stung her one time too many. Jealous, envious bees. She belonged to the universe anyways. And we're blessed to have her back with her den for a night.

Treefort bio: The Foxxtones has been aptly described as Cosmic Americana delivering a swirl of dulcet velvet heartache, personal hell and a hot mess of truth...

Simple, strong storytelling written from the life and mind of Cass, the proprietary member and mother of the den, reveals intricate experiences, deep feels, wailing pain, and self actualization...

"The muse meanders like smoke through a keyhole. I follow her where ever she grows. The lens she holds transforms my eyes into kaleidoscopes, observing the sweet moment between silence and sound, birth and decay, and all of the beauty therein... Waiting to be seen." The Foxxtones play Treefort Thursday, March 22, 2018, 6:00PM at Pengilly's Saloon. You can listen to The Foxxtones on Bandcamp.

Photo: Unknown, courtesy of Treefort.
Killer Whale / SF—As synopsized by Do the Bay, San Francisco: "Killer Whale is a project undertaken by Thomas Johnson, a Baton Rouge, LA native, that mixes the histories and melodies of the South with the Bay and the result is something surprisingly reminiscent of the 60’s and 70’s, complete with drawbar organs, introspective lyrics, and guitar riffs that soar above a churning rhythm section."

Treefort bio: The music I make is just a reflection of what I've soaked in throughout my years of moving back and forth from Louisiana to California and other spots along the south. It's a reflection of my love hate relationship with where I'm from and where I might go. It's a reflection of being raised by a mother who played piano in Mississippi Baptist Churches and a father who's main connection with me was a deep love for the blues. It’s the conflict of running away from your roots but finding a deeper love for them far away from home, and in the end learning so much more than I had ever dreamed of. It’s about laughing about all the dumbass shit that’s thrown your way all the damn time.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn't hooked on music and the way it made me feel. It has always been a medium to express my search for some peace, connection, humor and beauty within the constant fluctuations of life. In the end…’s just really fun. Killer Whale plays Saturday, March 24, 2018, 9:30PM at Grainey's Basement. Johnson's project can be listened to on Bandcamp.


Photo: Unknown, courtesy of the artist.
Ill.Gates / SF—If I had my way, it would be me, a man or a woman on a guitar, some songs we sing together and that would suit me fine. But the musical world is much too diverse to be so self-limited. Ill.Gates fascinates me for the recognizable signature he adds to dubstep, electronica and hiphop sets. A good set to catch just as you're coming on.

Treefort Bio: ill.Gates is a San Francisco-based composer, performer and educator. Over the past 16 years, he has established a global fanbase and a reputation as one of the most dynamic electronic music artists around. He regularly tours across North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Gates has headlined at such festivals as Burning Man, Shambhala, the World Electronic Music Festival and the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

His first full-length release, Autopirate (Muti Music, 2008) charted and continues to sell strongly. His groundbreaking triple album, The ill.Methodology and accompanying online course are highly received. Gates was recently selected as one of the Next 100 by URB Magazine.

Many of his contemporaries cite ill.Gates as a key artistic influence and inspiration in their music. While on tour, Gates frequently teaches workshops to grateful and attentive audiences, in which he shares his highly effective approach to producing quality finished music as well as insights into the mentality and strategies necessary to succeed in the music business. ill.Gates appears on: Muti Music, Amorphous Music/Child’s Play/Om Records, Addictech, Noodles, Innerflight, Low Motion, Made In Glitch, Tube10 & Chi & Recordings. He plays Treefort on Friday night through to Saturday morning, 12:30AM, at Fatty's. ill.Gates work can be heard on Soundcloud.

Photo: Unknown.
Sonny Smith / SF—Treefort bio: For years, Sonny Smith has built his own brand of indie-folk and rock & roll, growing into a cult favorite along the way. To those who know his work, he's an incredibly prolific creator, with a dozen albums to his name and a handful of related projects—including multiple stage plays, a full-length musical and his nationally-recognized art installation, "100 Bands"—under his belt. A longtime fixture of San Francisco's arts scene, he's managed to fly just beneath the mainstream's radar for decades, while still releasing a string of acclaimed records with labels like Fat Possum and Polyvinyl.

On his newest record, Rod For Your Love, he gets back to basics. Produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach and recorded in Nashville, Rod For Your Love roots itself in old-school, guitar-fueled rock & roll. These are love songs built for the garage and the dance floor, with big-hearted melodies and thick harmonies. It's the stuff you might've heard in the 1960s, back when groups like the Kinks and the Velvet Underground were making left-field pop songs that celebrated the form while still bending the rules. With stacked vocal harmonies that sweep their way throughout the track list, Rod For Your Love nods to the past while still moving forward. It's a classic-sounding album that still belongs to the 21st century. 

Released on Auerbach's new label, Easy Eye Sound, Rod For Your Love was recorded at the end of a cross-country tour. Smith and his band were firing on all cylinders, their rough edges sanded down by weeks of nightly shows. Meanwhile, 10 new songs had been written. Smith, who'd fallen in love all over again with his roles as a bandleader and frontman, didn't want to produce the tunes himself in a home studio. He wanted to focus on the music. Having heard that the Arcs, Auerbach's side-project, had covered one of his own songs during their own tour, Smith reached out to the Black Keys singer. Connections were made, studio time was booked, and Smith wound up finishing that countrywide tour in Nashville, where he and his road band tracked the album at Auerbach's studio.

The goal? To shine a light on the songs and the band, without many overdubs or assorted clutter.

"I think a lot of albums are made in reaction to the one that came directly before," says Smith. "My last record, Moods Baby Moods, was very layered and used a lot of drum machines. I was making weird sounds with synths. By the time we got to Nashville and began working with Dan, I was thinking 'Let's just make a fun, guitar-driven record. I don't want to have any extracurricular stuff here. I just want it to be really pure.' " The lyrics follow suit. A personal album filled with heart-of-sleeve songwriting, Rod For Your Love looks inward. It's autobiographical. Fittingly, it's also Sonny Smith's first solo album in years, following a string of records billed under his band's name, Sonny and the Sunsets. "I'm writing about myself now, and not the people around me," he explains. "It felt right to make it a solo record." Sonny Smith plays Treefort on Sunday night, March 25 into Monday morning, March 26, 2018 at the Linen Building. You can listen to his work (as Sonny & The Sunsets) on Bandcamp.


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