Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Slow Food Rocks at Fort Mason, San Francisco: August 30 & 31, 2008

This should have been written and posted last week, but I’ve been lazy and also busy searching for an apartment with Caitlin. Anyway, here it is, better late than never. We got free tickets, so the least we could do is have a few beers at the festival and blog about it. Not that my allegiance can be sold, but we did have a great weekend and they do deserve the press.

Labor Day weekend felt wonderfully long and sun-drenched here in San Francisco. And spending a couple of days at Fort Mason for Slow Food Rocks made it even better. We had gotten free tickets the week before at Outside Lands, and after that weekend, this festival was just what we needed. Instead of six stages and 150,000 people over three days, Slow Food Rocks was only one stage with probably less than 10,000 people over two days. The festival, which was founded by Alice Waters, promoted good food, environmental awareness, and sustainability. 50,000 people attended the entire Slow Foods Festival which, in addition to the Slow Food Rocks concert, included seminars on wine pairing, coffee, chocolate and more. This year’s celebration was a great success and all of the seminars and workshops sold out. It was a great couple of days, so here’s the rundown of who came out to play:


Medeski, Martin & Wood: These guys play a great free jazz set. They're all individually talented players and they showcase their skills with long rambling improvisations during most of their pieces. For me, it's the kind of music that you can definitely be in the mood for, but only once in a while. It's really great to see them live because they put together some unbelievable licks, but after awhile I’m ready for something else.

The New Pornographers: I wasn't really sure what to expect from these guys, but they were fun to listen to. I was pretty surprised by how old and seasoned this group appeared, but they put on a solid set. Their material has a great deal of variety, but it all felt related. This element of their music really allowed their set to flow very well as a cohesive whole.

Ozomatli: Assisted by Fatlip from Pharycyde these guys were 150% energy. I don't think most of the people at the festival were ready for what they bring to the table. I know I had an amazing Sierra Nevada induced semi-coma going on and I wasn't quite ready to start jumping around with these guys. It was pretty cool that they covered "Passing Me By" by Pharcyde and they had a really fun vibe, but I think they're really similar to Lyrics Born when you see them live, and I'd rather go to a Lyrics Born show over Ozomatli any day. That being said, these guys still make some very fun music that borrows from a number of international sources and they have strong political tones in most of their songs. They were also one of the groups that covered "Little Boxes" during the second season of “Weeds,” so that's cool.

Gnarles Barkley: Gnarles Barkley is incredible. Cee Lo and Danger Mouse are two supremely talented individuals with similar interests in sounds. Their material is so layered and exploratory it feels like I can lose myself in it. Their use of blues based gritty rhythms with Danger Mouse on the keys and Cee Lo's neo-soul vocals is really special. They've also been known to dress up a bit crazy from time to time and for Slow Foods the band came out in prep school uniforms with Danger Mouse and Cee Lo as teachers. I wish they would have played a little longer, but Cee Lo wasn't 100% – he had a sore throat and he needed a bunch of help from the audience when it came to "Crazy." Nevertheless, they put on a great set. I love the way they displayed their musicianship and command of their material. They also covered "The Reckoner" by Radiohead and it’s pretty amazing with Cee Lo instead of Thom Yorke. Check it out here.


John Butler Trio: This was the best set of the festival. Hands down. I don't mean to offend anyone, but it wasn't even close. John Butler is one of the best guitarists touring today. His fingers are so quick it's unbelievable. This was the second time I've had the privilege of seeing these guys and they blew me away again. Michael Barker can keep things so tight on the drums and Shannon Birchall holds it all together switching back and forth between standup and electric bass. These guys are so talented and if you don't know them you should educate yourself immediately.

G. Love & Special Sauce: G. Love was fine, but I have to admit he elicits the same response seeing him live as Ben Harper. His songs are quality and have been attached to more than a few memories but seeing him live just feels a bit uninteresting. G. Love did have some interesting political points that definitely fit the general attitude in the bay area, and he was pretty funny between songs. So maybe my reaction's a little unfair. I'd also put Jack Johnson in the same category. I don't mean to bash these guys because I do enjoy their music and I don't like it when others bash them. There's really no reason to criticize them for not being something that they're just not, or to take shots at the simplicity of their songs. There's a lot of beauty in simplicity, which is why they’ve sold so many albums in the first place.

Phil Lesh & Friends: I don't know if there's any way to adequately describe what happened before or during this performance. This was my first real viewing of original hippies (forty years later, of course) in their San Francisco habitat. It was a little intense, but quite hilarious. I've just never seen so many people 45 or older all smoking a ton of mary-jane in one place before. I've also never heard the phrase "just like the good old days" so many times in a ten minute span, but you know what? That's fine. If anything, after laughing at what was going on around me for a while I just felt kind of wistful. Even though I wasn't there, I miss the 60's and 70's. Anyhow Phil Lesh, a founding member of the Grateful Dead, was pretty cool. He had an enormous blue bass that looked as if it was inspired by Neptune's trident. Jackie Greene played front man as these guys toured through hits from the Grateful Dead, The Doors and others. Jackie Greene is quickly becoming one of my favorite musicians from the bay area. His part in Phil Lesh & Friends confirms the fact that he understands music on a very deep level that both honors its roots and pushes it into the future. After a little while, dancing to these rambling complicated jams got to be too much, so we retreated to a nice hill to lie down. But I truly enjoyed seeing this group in San Francisco at the Slow Foods Festival.

All in all I think Slow Foods was a great success and I hope it comes back to San Francisco. I just hope that the scheduling is a bit different because it's tough to draw a crowd the weekend after an event like Outside Lands. It'll be interesting to see how things shake out when next summer comes around.


1 comment:

susan said...

thanks for the music update. I loved John Butler Trio.