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It’s Getting Hot in Here!

But it was all just a mere warmup for the electric Ms. Tijoux. The ghost town transformed into a crowded floor when the tiny MC took the stage, and the audience showed quite a bit of love for the show opener. Dressed casually — T-shirt, flannel, jean shorts and high-tops — she patrolled the stage, spitting her mainly autobiographical, and mostly high-energy, rhymes with flair. Her keyboard player held things down with tight grooves, and I was sad to see her set end.

Next up were the Venezuelan funksters Los Amigos Invisibles. I’ve never seen them disappoint, and Tuesday night was no exception. As per usual, singer Julio Briceño was drenched in sweat by the second song, and it was literally flying off of him as the band cranked through an unbelievably spot-on version of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Their relentless stage energy makes it hard for me to believe the band has been around for 20 years (!?!). But according to guitarist Jose Luis Pardo, whom I spoke with a few days before the show, they can’t quite believe it either.

“We really started the band when we were teenagers,” Pardo said, “so we really consider it a miracle that we’ve been together this long. We never thought we’d make it this far, and we never thought we’d be able to make a living at it. We just really like playing live music with each other. But it really is a miracle, and we’ve seen it all in this band. Really, for us, it’s about that experience, of seeing people having fun and dancing each night. We love it and we serve that.”

After their fiery set, it was amazing that anyone had the energy left to stick around for local faves Bostich & Fussible. The Norteño-electronic mash-up specialists kept the party going until well after midnight. It still seems so awesome to me that their special niche of music appeals so far across the board. But, ironically, when I spoke with Fussible (aka, Pepe Mogt) shortly before the show, he said there was a time when it didn’t even appeal to them.

“Me and Ramon have been doing electronic music for a long time,” he said. “It’s crazy to say, but we’ve been doing it since ’88. And at that stage, we didn’t even like Norteño. We hated it. In our minds, there was only electronic music. We were collecting drum machines and synthesizers, and doing projects based on technology. And then I started my career in engineering and computer science at university. But now with Ramon, we combine all the Norteños with all of that new technology. And when we make that mixture, it doesn’t sound like a Norteño house remix. We put all the sounds together and make it the right balance between both worlds.”

Balance was the theme of the entire night, and all three acts got it right. And for all of the cities on down the line — whether you know these acts or not — there’s just no reason to show up if you don’t want to dance.



The Creation of the Casbah

“Nirvana, the White Stripes, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon, the Black Keys.”

Casbah owner Tim Mays could go on. As a matter of fact, he wants to but stops himself, knowing that even the fascinating list of bands that once played to half-capacity or less in his small clubs by the airport is far from telling the full story.

Born in Los Angeles, Mays moved to Barstow when he was young, shortly after his parents divorced. He came to San Diego to attend SDSU in 1973 and fell in love with the city. A self-proclaimed “huge music fan,” he continuously attended concerts and soon started making the trek back to L.A. to see the onslaught of punk rock shows there in the ’80s.

After a while, he decided to ditch the commute and began to try to bring those same punk rock shows down to San Diego.

And it worked.

Sort of.

“I started as a punk rock promoter,” Mays said recently. “I put on punk rock shows in the ’80s at venues all over town. But you didn’t own back then; you rented. And I did that for five years or so. And, really, there weren’t a lot of places to book shows at that time. You’d be at a place for awhile and then the neighbors — or the police, or somebody — would get upset, so you’d have to move on and find a new location. I worked my way through venues all over town. Then I got tired of it for awhile, because of all the violence and the skinhead problem: It wasn’t good, and it really took away a lot of great opportunities, so I quit.”

Mays didn’t leave his place in the music business for long, though.

“I ended up opening a bar with a few friends called the Pink Panther,” Mays said. “It was really successful, and it gave us the opportunity to buy another place that had the license for live music, and that was the first Casbah [which was just up the street from where it is now]. And before we knew it, the opportunity came along to triple our size and buy the location we’re in now from a woman who was running it as a lesbian bar. So we bought it and moved here. It gave us a full liquor license and gave us the patio, which wasn’t a big deal back then. But then they passed the no smoking rule, and it became a huge asset. It was during that time we started doing shows at other locations as well. So now, we develop bands at the Casbah, and when they get bigger, we work with them at every level that we can beyond the Casbah.”

As evidenced by the appearance of the club’s ubiquitous crescent moon and star logo on show ads all over town, Mays regularly secures gigs at venues throughout the city for bands that have outgrown the Casbah. And while he enjoys seeing those same bands extend both their fan base and need for performance space, Mays has no interest in anything but keeping the Casbah exactly the size that it is now.

“People ask me that all the time, but I like this size,” Mays said. “There are a lot of nights where there are only 40 or 50 people in the club. On any given month, maybe we’ll sell out 10 or 15 shows. The rest of the time, it’s less than capacity here. And if the place was bigger, it just wouldn’t work. Plus, we have the opportunity to book the bands into bigger clubs when they outgrow the room. And they’re willing to work with us because we develop the bands from the ground floor. I’m perfectly happy with this size. I’m content.”

Part of that satisfaction comes from the “huge music fan” in Mays, who can routinely be found in attendance of many of the shows he’s booked. And while it would be impossible for Mays to name all of his favorites over the years, he doesn’t let that stop him from trying.

“There’s just so many of them: the Jesus Lizard, Jon Spencer, the Breeders — I could go on and on,” Mays said. “I mean, Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps came through when they were in their 70s and put on a fantastic show. RL Burnside was here and it was insane, amazing stuff. And right when they were getting back together, the Cult played here, and it was incredible. We’ve just been lucky to get a lot of good bands or bigger bands that come down to do a warmup gig for a tour or something. The proximity to LA helps in that respect.”

Whatever it is, the Casbah is now into its third decade of existence and shows no signs of slowing down.

“It’s amazing,” Mays said. “We’re on 22 years right now, and during that time, we’ve developed a lot of acts. And people can expect a lot more of the same. We’re always working on a number of things. I’ve got shows on hold through the summer, and there’s always some great stuff coming through the pipeline.”

Source: Creation of the Casbah | NBC San Diego
First published on NBC SoundDiego March 28, 2011

Robby Krieger - Getty Images

Breaking Down the Doors at Anthology: ROBBY KRIEGER

When the first song you ever wrote is “Light My Fire,” you’re responsible for tunes like “Love Her Madly,” and “Love Me Two Times,” and you palled around with Jim Morrison in a band that’s sold some 80 million albums, you’ve earned enough rock and roll cred to do whatever the hell you want. And love it or hate it, what Robby Krieger wants to do is play jazz. The rock and roll purists don’t sweat this because they know that no matter how hard John Densmore tries to stop it, Krieger and Ray Manzerek will always play the old stuff together, for as long as they can, and under whatever name doesn’t get them sued. And it doesn’t hurt that the jazz Krieger likes to play takes him down roads paved by greats like Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery and is born from his deep respect for some of jazz’s heaviest hitters. Not to mention that his latest solo record, Singularity, has been nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Album at the upcoming Grammys. I recently spoke with the legendary guitarist from Los Angeles about jazz, the Doors, and the day he was “grilled” by Eddie Vedder.

Robby Krieger - Getty Images

Scott McDonald: Congratulations on Singularity. Seems like a pretty dense record to be tackled by a trio.

Robby Krieger: (Laughs) It’s not a trio. I really don’t know why they got that idea. It’s actually a quintet. But a jazz trio sounds pretty cool, so I guess that’s all right.

SM: So it’s the Robby Krieger Jazz Quintet?

RK: Yeah. All of the guys are world class. But I’ve worked on and off with Arthur Barrow for probably 30 years – since he was with Frank Zappa. And our saxophone player, Chuck Manning, is an amazing guy. He works for JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory). He’s responsible for putting the rovers up on Mars but he also happens to be a phenomenal horn player. He’s incredible. But all of the guys this time are world class.

SM: I read somewhere that the genesis of Singularity came 15 years ago. What took so long to complete it?

RK: It’s just one of those things. When Miles Davis died, Barrow and I decided we wanted to do some kind of tribute to him. We wanted to do something like “Sketches of Spain” – something that started with flamenco guitar and then moved into something more orchestral. I was supposed to be Miles Davis and Arthur was supposed to be Gil Evans. (pauses) I guess we were shooting kind of high. (laughs) But one thing led to another and it just fell by the wayside. But we recently decided to resurrect it and all of that stuff is what became “Russian Caravan” – the real centerpiece of this album.

SM: You also have a song called “Trane Running Late” on the record.

RK: I love John Coltrane. He had it in him. And it just had to come out. (laughs) But the reason we called it “Trane Running Late” is because of the bridge we have in it. I got the idea for it from one of his songs, from…, oh what was it…, (sings a few bars), that crazy song he did…, “Giant Steps.” But only a few people will probably get the reference. And we play it a lot differently live. It’s really lively. Everyone gets to stretch out on it.

SM: The cover of Singularity is one of your paintings. Is painting something you’ll continue to pursue?

RK: Yes. As a matter of fact, I’m going to do something with one of the galleries down in Mexico City. That place has really become quite an art center. We’re going to do a showing of some of my stuff when I’m down there later this year.

SM: In addition to Singularity, Tom DiCillo’s recent documentary about the Doors, “When You’re Strange,” is also up for a Grammy. You have a double dip this year.

RK: Yup. “When You’re Strange” is up for Best Long Form Music Video.

SM: You guys had mixed reactions to Oliver Stone’s film. Were you pleased with the way this one turned out?

RK: Oh, yeah. For sure. I thought they did an amazing job. I thought the editing was fantastic and I really liked having Johnny Depp do the voiceovers. It just captured things so well, you know. It reminds you that time is short. We were lucky to get six albums out of the little time that we had.

SM: How are the Doors doing? Or is it Riders on the Storm?

RK: We’re great – we’re doing a bunch of dates coming up in Mexico, South America, Europe, and one in Moscow. And I think we’ll be doing some House of Blues dates in the States as well. But we’re not called Riders on the Storm anymore. Now we’re going by Robby Krieger and Ray Manzerek of the Doors. The gist of it is that Densmore just doesn’t want to play. And he thinks that because he’s not playing that we shouldn’t call it the Doors.

SM: Why is that guy so crabby?

RK: (Laughs) That is a good question. But I guess it’s a long story.

SM: It still had to feel great to be inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame together.

RK: That was a good day. Eddie Vedder both played with us and inducted us. He’s a big Doors fan. It was funny. The whole day he was drilling me on Morrison. ‘What was he like?’ ‘What did he do?’ ‘Where did he go?’ Stuff like that. All day long(laughs). That guy is a real, real Doors fan.

SM: There are a lot of them out there. Does jazz help you with some separation from all of that?

RK: Yeah. It’s tough to keep doing just one thing your whole life. And I realize a lot of people won’t get it or they don’t care to hear me do that stuff. But I need to keep myself interested and that’s the way I do it. There’s just so much to do in music.

Originally posted on NBC San Diego’s SoundDiego blog on Tuesday, January 18, 2011.

Black Lips (Photo by Zach Wolfe)

10 Best San Diego Live Shows of 2010

Because plenty of factors other than the music inform an opinion on live performance – the mood of the people that accompany you to the show, the guy with the ginormous head that stands directly in front of you, etc. – it’s musical Rashomon compiling one of these lists. That said, here are ten of the best things to hit San Diego stages in the last twelve months.

Black Lips (Photo by Zach Wolfe)

Black Lips – Casbah – January 24

I’m not quite sure whether this Atlanta-based “flower punk” quartet takes their music seriously, but it certainly doesn’t stop them from delivering high-energy, audience-friendly, wildly entertaining performances, and this night was no exception.

St. Vincent and Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Belly Up – Feb. 10

Not only did Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, make good on the promise of her two critically-acclaimed albums, singer Mariam Wallentin of Swedish opener Wildbirds & Peacedrums nearly stole the show with her amazing vocals and frenetic stage presence.

Bonobo – Casbah – April 20

It was unknown if Ninja Tune sound guru Simon Green, aka Bonobo, would be able to make his electronically-based down-tempo tunes translate on stage, but with an exceptional live band and vocalist Andreya Triana in tow, he did – and then some.

The Tallest Man On Earth – The Loft – May 5

He’s actually not that tall and hasn’t yet been able to shake incessant comparisons to Bob Dylan, but armed only with a guitar, Swedish troubadour Kristian Matsson had the entire audience smitten that night.

Billy Joe Shaver – AMSD concerts – June 20

Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of his songs of addiction, love, and loss played from the chancel of an old church, but this one-time songwriter for Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley, and Kris Kristofferson delivered his outlaw honky-tonk as well as his engaging anecdotes.

Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson – Harrah’s – July 17

Yeah, yeah, I’m sure this might have been better 20, 30, or even 40 years ago, but these two legends didn’t miss a beat as they ran through some of the greatest classics in R&B/Soul history.

Joanna Newsom – SD Women’s Club – July 29

The pixie-voiced chanteuse ripped through her classical compositions with verve, switching back and forth from harp to piano, and charming the audience with her charismatic demeanor. Fleet Foxes front man Robin Pecknold opened the show with an engaging set of new tunes.

Seu Jorge and Almaz – Belly Up – August 11

The Brazilian singer/actor proved that he had far more up his sleeve than The Life Aquatic Bowie covers he’s best known for. Backed by members of the late Chico Science’s band, the mix of samba, rock, and Portuguese rhythms was electrifying.

The Black Keys – SOMA – September 25

I was sure that this Akron, OH, duo had lost some of its charm and power after expanding their sound beyond the lo-fi, garage-blues that launched them and adding additional touring members. I was wrong.

Mavis Staples – Belly Up – November 4

Working with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on her latest album, “You Are Not Alone,” infused this legendary gospel singer with new energy and those who caught this latest tour were the benefactors. She still belts it out with the best of ‘em and showcased why she’s been a respected figure in music for over five decades.

*Honorable mention goes to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at Belly Up on October 3. The New York City punk-blues trio showcased their true professionalism and mastery of genre in their seamlessly orchestrated set.

Originally posted on NBC San Diego SoundDiego Blog on December 31, 2010.

Karl Denson

Karl Denson – San Diego Sax Symbol

For as long as I can remember, there have been a few things that can be unequivocally counted on during the holidays in San Diego – the absence of snow, lighted boats parading in the harbor, surfing Santas, and Karl Denson (in one incarnation or another) playing shows around town. Despite the Greyboy Allstars co-founder and Tiny Universe bandleader boasting a resume that includes parings with icons like Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, headlining slots at the Newport and New Orleans Jazz Festivals, and a two-decade-strong recording career, the quintessential sax man always finds the time to treat hometown fans with some funk and boogaloo at the end of each calendar year. I recently caught up with him during a soundcheck at the Belly Up to chat about his adoption of America’s finest city, his unique musical path, and bringing jazz to the rock kids.

Originally posted on NBC San Diego’s Sound Diego Blog on December 30, 2010.

Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins

[Q&A] Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan

Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins

Getty Images

Smashing Pumpkins first burst onto the then-fledgling alternative rock scene in 1988. But by the time that the band released their 1993 sophomore album, Siamese Dream, they were international superstars.

The multiplatinum-selling and Grammy-winning group enjoyed a high profile and extremely successful career throughout the ‘90s, until highly publicized band in-fighting and drug abuse derailed the quartet in 2000. Main guitarist, lead vocalist and principal songwriter Billy Corgan decided to revive the act in 2005, and by 2006, the Smashing Pumpkins were back full-time. Now, with Corgan left as the only remaining original member, the band is working its way back into the rock & roll conversation.

I spoke with the controversial and charismatic band leader a few hours before he headlined the recent Wrex the Halls show at Viejas Arena.

Scott McDonald: How are you?

Billy Corgan: I’ve got a little bit of a cold. It sucks. It’s really hard to tour during this season. Things are flying around, you’re tired, you’re on airplanes, and people are hacking. There’s not much you can do.

SM: What first got you interested in music?

My father was a musician, and I completely idolized him. But I never actually considered playing music at first, because both he and the rest of my family openly discouraged me from it. I think they thought that if I played music that I would end up just like him, and he had a lot of personal issues. So even though I showed musical ability at an early age, it just wasn’t nurtured. But despite all of that, every time I got around an instrument, I was completely fascinated. Pianos especially. And I had an aunt who had one. But she wouldn’t let me play it. I had to sneak in there when she wasn’t home.

SM: What changed?

BC: The light-bulb moment for me was when I went over to my friend’s basement where he was playing a guitar that he’d just gotten. There were two girls sitting there just staring at him, awestruck. I had this flash of lightning right then and there, and I’ve never lost it. I went against the wishes of my family, and that was difficult. But it was a weird moment where I just knew that was what I wanted to do, so I took to it.

SM: Despite the ups-and-downs, Smashing Pumpkins is moving toward its 25th year. Did you believe the band had that kind of longevity when you first started?

BC: No. At that time, we were very focused on playing what was being called alternative music, and the best you could hope for was, maybe, playing to 5,000 people. And the bands that we looked up to, like Dinosaur Jr., were playing to a thousand people. There was very little MTV play, and radio play was almost nonexistent. The goals were more about just doing something that you felt passionate about. Looking back, I can kind of understand why I was able to be successful, but at the time, I could have never imagined what it was going to turn into, both in the positive and the negative.

SM: After a six-year break working on other bands and solo projects, what was it that brought you back to the Pumpkins?

BC: I think what I found was that I built my artistic life, in many ways, around the Smashing Pumpkins. So when I tried to take that out of the center, I was pretty lost. And at first, I just wrote that off as being silly. I mean, what was the difference? I was just playing different types of music. But Smashing Pumpkins was designed, consciously or unconsciously, to be something that could encompass all of my musical interests. So when I got out, I went into a compartmentalizing mode – I’m going to do Zwan, and it’s going to be this kind of band; or I’m going to do a solo project, and it’s going to be this kind of record. But I found that something was missing. I missed the complete vision. And it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy doing different types of music. I did. I enjoyed that kind of straight-jacketing of myself. But I felt like I was making minor points, when Smashing Pumpkins was always about making major points. And once I put that back into my life, it was easier to understand what I needed to do next. And it’s been a process of rebuilding the band’s public perception — which has actually a lot more difficult than I thought it would have been — but it’s also been a lot about rebuilding the way that I approach music.

SM: And how is it different now?

BC: A lot of the earlier Pumpkins music was really driven from a negative point of view. Feeling overlooked and feeling unappreciated really drove me, but it also sort of hurt me at the same time. It was kind of like letting scorpions sting you so that you can get stronger. At some point, that becomes toxic. It’s just been great to try and rebuild the machine from a positive, loving and appreciative place. It’s not the easiest thing to do in this particular culture, but I feel like I’ve been successful at it. The music has come back to me in an organic wellspring without trying. And that’s a great indicator that I’m in the right place at the right time.

SM: Is this the right place and the right time?

BC: The key for me was getting back to a place where I’m really creatively engaged and excited about what we’re doing. There’s something about feeling that whatever you do, you’re already failing before you start. I know the public doesn’t like the killing of the fantasy, but when you’re in a recording studio 12 hours a day, and you’re supposed to put your whole heart and soul into it, and you’re not 22 anymore, and you’re in your 40s, and you have family and a partner that both need your attention and deserve it, you’re just making a lot of life sacrifices, and you really need to believe that you can win. I’m the type of person that when I was in the major label system, particularly with Warner Bros. over the last few years, I always felt like I was losing even before I opened my mouth or played a chord. And there’s something about that kind of mentality that is so unhealthy. Again, I know it kind of kills the rock fantasy, but I want to be healthy. I want to have a healthy mind, a healthy body and a healthy environment around me.

SM: What kind of difference is it making on the band?

BC: Where I’m really seeing the difference is in a ton of new fans — young kids, like, 16, 20, 22 — people who maybe passed over the Pumpkins because it wasn’t cool to their friends and now they’ve discovered this whole, rich catalog of music. It’s so exciting to engage youth culture again at the ground level. We feel like we’re getting back to a place where what we’re doing really matters. And it doesn’t just matter on a commercial level. The music industry has lost its ability to appreciate that, without the cultural impact, it can’t be successful. They’ve just turned it into a numbers game. They have these bands that, on the surface, are selling records and look very successful, but they have zero cultural impact. I mean, they couldn’t get themselves arrested outside of the major cities in America. And when rock & roll loses that ability to influence culture from the outside or within, it loses its great power of manifestation. When music is just music, that’s fine, but then I’d just rather listen to Odetta or the Gipsy Kings. If you want to just go [hear] music for music, there’s so much great stuff out there in the world that has absolutely nothing to do with selling records. If you want to go about cultural impact, then you have to look at the great artists of the past and see how they were able to synergize the cultural, spiritual and musical aspects around them into creating something bigger and how it pushed them from within to create greater work. The Stones, Dylan, Nirvana — there’s a ton of examples out there. To me, that’s got to be the mantle by which you judge everything. The music business is just completely lost in that way.

SM: The band’s eighth “album,” Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, is 44 individual songs that you’re releasing one at a time, over the course of a few years. Why do it that way?

BC: I think what we’re doing now is a way to create a different bond between the band and the audience. Somebody asked me the question recently, “Why aren’t you selling a million records and selling out arenas?” And I just want to know with what MTV and what radio stations are you supposed to do that with? It’s like asking someone with one arm to do what you can do with two. The business is half of what it was, yet people still put all of these great expectations on it. It’s just not realistic. And for a while I was really uptight about that because I felt like we were failing because we weren’t as good. But then I realized that was misguided and went back to a place where if I can get the music right, and I can get the band right, and I can get myself right, then everything will go where its supposed to go. And that’s been true with the band rising back up to the level where it belongs and being in accordance with the current state of the business. And that’s pleasing, because that’s where we belong. We don’t have to feel like we’re one of the biggest bands in the world. Even if we were for one flashy moment, that had a lot to do with the generational moment. I’m not that delusional. But at this point, I think the band deserves to be ranked among the best in the world for a variety of reasons. And that’s what we’re working on right now: to put into the right place. Because when it gets too intellectual, too marketing-centric, too business, there’s something about it that smells fishy and it makes me feel uncomfortable. So with us, its always got to be music first.

SM: What’s most important to you moving forward?

BC: I feel like I’m a musician for life, and my biggest concern is making sure that I actually do make music for the rest of my life. There’s going to be great years and there’s going to be shit years, but I’m the type of person who’s always willing to let people in on the journey.

Originally posted on NBC San Diego’s SoundDiego blog, on December 15, 2010.

Racing the Sunset With Ólöf Arnalds

Before her recent tour kickoff with Blonde Redhead at the House of Blues, I was supposed to do an on-site video interview with Icelandic singer/songwriter Ólöf Arnalds.

It was impossible to hear over Blonde Redhead’s soundcheck, so we decided to improvise. Arnalds and her tour manager, Karen, jumped into my truck, and we raced down to the Embarcadero behind the San Diego Convention Center. Sunset was quickly approaching, but Arnalds was ready to go almost immediately. Luckily, I was able to capture this interview and an amazing on-the-fly performance of the title track from her sophomore album. Enjoy!

As originallyposted on NBC San Diego’s SoundDiego Blog, on November 30, 2010: