Live: alt-anthems aplenty, including "All Over You"
Big Sam's Funky Nation — Full compliance in effect
If ever a band name fully complied with all truth in advertising laws, it’s Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Titular singer-trombonist Big Sam Williams is indeed large, both physically and sonically, there’s Bootsy-level funk afoot, and the huge wall of Cajun-spiced sound produced by the five-man group does seem ambassadorial of their native New Orleans. Fans of psychedelic jam bands have embraced Big Sam’s funky dance vibe, which is perfect for spinners and trippers in between travelling roadshows by various members of the still-living Dead, so much so that their newest single, “Buzzin’,” made its internet debut on the Deadhead site Relix. It’s a fun track that shows a lot of playful virtuosity, especially in the interplay between Williams and singer-trumpeter Drew Baham, opening with a Framptonish talkbox and spinning a hyperactive tale of love and lust on the dance floor that wouldn’t sound out of place in any 1970s blaxploitation or hairy porn movie. The single previews a full-length called Songs in the Key of Funk that drops shortly before their May 18 appearance at Winstons in OB.
Tory Lanez — Life on display
Hip-hop’s would-be Romeo Tory Lanez came out of the gate strong with a debut album that premiered at number four on the Billboard chart and spawned two hit singles, “Say It” and “Luv,” thanks mostly to a canny marketing campaign that essentially pitched the Toronto rapper as urban radio’s next Usher. A little controversy didn’t hurt either, though his adversarial attempts to engage fellow Canadian rapper Drake never really rose to the level of a hip-hop feud. Lanez’s follow-up full-length, Memories Don’t Die, debuted at number three in March, bolstered this time by featured collaborations with A-listers like 50 Cent, Future, Wiz Khalifa, NAV, and Fabolous (though the latter’s participation was dropped from press releases circulated after a recent felony arrest for domestic violence). Putting aside all the hype and number worship, the growth and maturity shown on the new album is comparable to the Beatles going from “She Loves You” to “She’s Leaving Home,” in that Lanez has quickly gone from simple (if sincere) love poems to fully fleshed-out operatic opuses that deal with universally relatable topics like the death of a parent, the birth of a son, and - perhaps not so relatable, but nonetheless fascinating - how such personal life experiences get turned inside out when one’s life is on public display. It’s an excellent and promising sophomore effort that should be well received when his Memories Don’t Die tour kicks off next month, hitting Observatory North Park on May 28.
Fear - Still punk after 30 years
Like many, if not most, suburban spawn of the 70s and 80s who didn’t live in major metropolitan centers, my first exposure to an actual punk band outside of Rock and Roll High School was when one of John Belushi’s favorite groups, Fear, appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1981, in a slam-dance filled performance that so repelled NBC that for years they refused to rerun the episode. Punk was able to sneak into even more unsuspecting and unprepared American homes via cable, thanks to the old USA Network TV series Night Flight, which used to run four-hour programming blocks on Friday and Saturday nights. The wide-ranging content included everything from Firesign Theatre comedy shorts to cartoons, midnight movies, and a crude but riveting shot-on-video live punk music showcase somewhat misleadingly titled New Wave Theatre. Fear was of course among the most jaw-dropping acts to appear on the program, and I remember how remarkably tribal and ritualistic the mosh pit seemed to my young(er) eyes, and how much I found myself wanting to be in the thick of something akin. The thing I recall most vividly was how one guy at the front of the crowd had his arms wrapped around a speaker monitor, bashing the side of his head against the speaker over and over, as if trying to manually smash the music through the bones of his skull and directly into his brainpan. Thirty years later, it’s anyone’s guess whether people will still be bashing in their own brains when founder Lee Ving brings this year’s version of Fear, including longtime (since 1995) drummer Andrew Jaimez, to the Observatory on June 28. The all-punk bill includes Boston’s Street Dogs, Left Alone from Wilmington CA, and Orange County’s the Last Gang.
Counting Crows — 25 years and counting
It may seem strange that Counting Crows is celebrating a quarter century with their 25 Years and Counting Tour, given that only a few of those years found them with much chart presence, but keep in mind that the sort of MOR radio hits that the band traffics in are genetically designed to have the half-life of uranium. They had something of a comeback in 2014 when their seventh studio album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, made a top-ten chart debut and spun-off a mildly successful single, their first in years, with “Dislocation.” However, the tour title makes it clear that they’ll mainly be leaning on nostalgic evergreens, with the greatest hits production heading for Mattress Firm Amphitheatre on July 10, where chart-topping Pennsylvania rockers Live just might steal the show from the celebratory headliners, with alt-anthems aplenty like “Lightning Crashes,” “All Over You,” and the omnipresent “I Alone.”
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks — Back with a barnburner
- Friday, July 20, 2018, 8 p.m.
2501 Kettner Boulevard,
It’s been almost four years since we heard any new music from Portland barnburners Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, but the just-released single “Middle America” was worth the wait. Malkmus is a mountain-man poet of sorts, playfully twisting language to spin evocative laments like this tune’s chorus, “Crush me back to where I belong, hold me down anchor strong, fill me up ‘til I overflow, in the wintertime.” Advance press indicates that the tour coming to the Casbah on July 20 will feature Malkmus & the Jicks working out new tunes planned to accompany “Middle America” on an upcoming full-length. Opening act Dommengang is a slightly paisley hard rock trio, founded in Brooklyn and currently based in L.A., specializing in electric blues and outer space jams with a new album to promote, Love Jail. Guitarist Dan “Sig” Wilson has also collaborated with Castanets, led by former San Diegan turned New Yorker Raymond Raposa.