Words by J.D. Swerzenski • Photos by Todd Cooper
Sturgill Simpson is not the loquacious type. The most talking he offered the audience during his Nov. 15 set at the McDonald Theater was a few post-song "thanks" and a requisite band introduction. But then Simpson takes his cues from classic country’s greats, types like Waylon Jennings and George Jones who honed the formula for creating a killer show: recruit a top-shelf band, sing your guts out and let the music do the talking for you. Simpson followed that formula to a tee on Sunday.
The Kentucky-born singer has been riding high since the release of last year’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, a record uniquely designed to appeal at once to the camo hat and Birkenstock sets. Both sides of that fan base came out in force in Eugene, bearing witness as Sturgill and his five-piece backing band tore through a nearly two-hour set.
With material culled primarily from his most recent two albums, Sturgill hit appropriate high-notes with the Metamodern single “Turtles All the Way Down,” which had the crowd in an unlikely sing-along of “marijuana, LSD, psilocybin and DMT.” Better yet was When in Rome cover “The Promise,” whose climax hit even harder when he sent that glorious baritone ringing out over the rafters of the McDonald.
In true showman fashion, Simpson saved the best for last. This tour has seen Simpson bring forth all sorts of unexpected covers, including Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and Otis Redding’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Still, little could prepare the already revved-up crowd for his freight train of a closer, a medley of “Listening to the Rain” and “The Motivator.” The latter, a bluegrass-infused double-time take on the T. Rex classic, let his band cut loose for an Allman Brothers-worthy jam.
Eight-minutes later, after the audience had screamed out the last of their lungs, Sturgill brought it all home with a final howl of “sitting here wondering, listening to the rain!” The encore chants roared on long after the band had exited stage right, but they went ignored. Sturgill had said all he needed.
Photos by Todd Cooper, words by Andy Valentine
I have seen, now, the eye of a storm — the perilous tremor of full-blast thrusters, the sound of 10,000 white hands clapping. I have witnessed a prophet addressing his subjects. I have seen an earthquake's living heart. The epicenter: A$AP Rocky.
Thursday night, Nov. 12, the Harlem-born rapper stepped onto the stage at Matt Knight Arena to a roar so deafening, so decibel-stretching, that a lesser man might have cowered in fear. Thankfully, hip-hop's latest success story is one of experience. After performing extensively with Drake and Kendrick, A$AP Rocky — born Rakim Mayers — is touring solo. Well, almost solo. He brought with him the ever-brilliant and magnanimous troll Tyler, The Creator. This decision was well advised. After a full-set's worth of Tyler's music (which I love, and forever will love), A$AP Rocky had a bar to reach. The crowd was so hot that a single flicked bic might have sent us up in a sweaty inferno.
Shit. He took the bar and curled it one-handed.
A$AP Rocky's sophomore release At. Long. Last. A$AP (RCA Records, 2015) is, at first glance, your average trap-heavy rap album. But the more you listen, the more you find the soul in its crannies. The record is brutal in all the right places. It's hard, sleek and bitterly honest. These aspects translate on stage to create a spectacle so far beyond what the average hip-hop show should accomplish that I was left, in the end, with a hole in my gut.
Perhaps the pile-driving bass was to blame. But I'm convinced, now, that greater forces were at work. A melding, let's call it, of potential and kinetic energies. An atmosphere of love and respect fostered over each dirty beat. Yes, the beats were dirty. But I have a penchant for language and word. Many factors make up a great show but, in the end, only one thing matters: the artist says what he means to say.
The set was really grooving along — a spitfire's pace — bangers and bangers of floor-shaking mayhem. But right there, at the crux of it all, with the crowd so alive in the palm of his hand that he physically moved the blood through our veins, Mayers decided to put things on pause. With mic poised, he laid bare his thoughts with a brief sermon about humanity. His message was this: Race, religion, color or creed, every human is striving, simply, just to exist. To feel alive. Also, let's be honest, smoking weed is pretty great. But more to the point, every one of us — male, female, blue, green or pink — deserves to be here, grasping this moment.
Shoulders back, chest protruding, arms flung wide in charged embrace, A$AP Rocky drew the arena into his heart from a spot some twenty feet in the air. Tier-two of his three-tiered stage — some kind of light-up hashtag, a tic-tac-toe of metal and lights. A hip-hop Fuck You to Hollywood Squares. Columns of steam rose into the rafters. My eyes twitched inside my skull. Then the lights went down.
When the lights go down, you feel for a second the gravitational pull of the earth. The soles of your shoes are held to the ground. Your knees buckle. The roar pitches up.
At long last, the bass returns.
Tyler, The Creator
Review by Bryan Kalbrosky • Photography by Todd Cooper
Father John Misty makes more sense in Los Angeles. The splattering of ego in the crowd, the expensive male perfume and the perfectly trimmed beards properly contextualizes the former L.A. native.
I’m unapologetically fascinated by Father John Misty, the moniker Joshua Tillman settled on after his unexpectedly successful career as an indie-rock drummer with Fleet Foxes as well as his commercially unsuccessful solo career as J. Tillman.
Originally from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Tillman has lived in New York (briefly during college), Seattle (when he was in Fleet Foxes), Los Angeles (where his career was launched as Father John Misty) and now New Orleans.
But something reportedly “clicked” when he lived in Los Angeles. “That’s when he broke through into his own personal, artistic algorithm of expression,” producer Jonathan Wilson tells Grantland. “[He was] just genuinely excited to be in the mix of Hollywood.”
Listen to the first track on his first album as Father John Misty, “Fun Times in Babylon” — Tillman croons about his new home: “Look out, Hollywood, here I come.”
Flash-forward — his prediction was right on. Tillman has performed as Father John Misty on Letterman, Seth Meyers and (most recently) Jimmy Kimmel. He’s sparked headlines like the following, in Paste Magazine: “Father John Misty is the Best Kind of Asshole.”
Performing in Los Angeles, that’s exactly how it felt. He asked the crowd what they thought of his new jacket, which has become an iconic center to his signature look. He performs in front of a beautifully illuminated light fixture that reads “No Photography” even though he jumps around on top of drum sets, gyrating across the stage, basically begging the crowd to document his incredible dance moves.
He grabbed a cell phone from a girl in the front row and took a video of the crowd with it. And he didn’t give her phone back for an entire song.
Here, then, is a musician largely confused by his own fame. Check his silly, sarcastic “Over/Under” video on Pitchfork with his wife, Emma, for a taste. Listen to his most recent album I Love You, Honeybear (2015) for more of his tongue-in-cheek (but still genuine, sometimes!) attempt at writing an album about falling in love with previously mentioned wife.
Just don’t judge Father John Misty (or rather don’t judge him too much) for his more absurd moments. For example, he recently released two covers of Ryan Adams’ cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 (2015) album — all in the style of Lou Reed from the Velvet Underground.
Then he took the tracks down because Reed came to him in a dream (which read more like an intense, expansive acid trip) stating: “Delete those tracks, don't summon the dead, I am not your plaything.”
Don’t worry. Tillman later explained that he was trolling all of us with unpublishable gibberish that (of course) basically every indie-rock publication published anyway.
The experience of watching Father John Misty perform is not similar to the experience of listening to him on his vinyl, as I often have. It’s not quite as vulnerable as sitting alone in your room when the record spins, but maaaaaan, it’s so much more public.
I felt weird knowing people were watching me dance alone to the Father John Misty tunes, until suddenly I did not. I even bought his custom twill five-panel hat, and I rock it. Like the best kind of asshole.
Against Me! Thee Oh Sees TV on the Radio Run the Jewels Blondie Del the Funky Homosapien BadBadNotGood
Words by Bryan Kalbrosky • Photos by Todd Cooper
When Joey Bada$$ pulled into WOW Hall with the Pro Era tour bus around 5pm after an 11 hour drive on Thursday, June 18, it was his first time in Eugene.
My thrill was damn near tangible: I’ve recently decided that I want to be a rapper when I grow up. Rappers, obviously, are the coolest dudes with the coolest lives. When I tell people about this new career ambition, they want to hear me try my hand at freestyle. I have no idea how to freestyle rap. Much like the requisite medical school before performing surgery, there is plenty of necessary practice required before perfecting the art of rapping.
Denzel Curry (age 20), Mick Jenkins (24) and Joey Bada$$ (20) have all proven their incredible prowess in the early stages of their respective careers. In fact, when I had a chance to speak with Joey before the show, his professionalism focused on operating his Pro Era record label.
“Just another day at the office, if you know what I mean,” he said. “Well, you probably don’t know what I mean.”
For these rappers, as impressive as they already are (especially considering their ages), they’re also out there doing their jobs … just like everybody else. Sometimes it takes a few steps back from the chaos of our own lives to reach that realization.
Denzel Curry was the first to hit the stage on Thursday, and he immediately sparked a high-energy mosh pit. For a good sample of his music, check “Threatz” — and make sure to watch the surprisingly artsy music video.
Mick Jenkins, who went on stage around 10 pm, began his set with hit single “The Waters” (which was the title track off his latest mix tape) and made the crowd feel loose. Several times he began a “DRINK MORE” chant with a “WATER” call and response. Later in the show, Jenkins asked the crowd if he could perform “brand-new shit nobody heard yet” before delivering what sounded like a rhythm-based slam poem.
I also dug the backup singer for Mick Jenkins, who reminded me of Frank Ocean. He rocked a black checkered bandana and added a nice dimension to the show. Jenkins also waxed a bit political after playing a cover of “Fuck Tha Police” when he admitted that he “got it bad ‘cause he brown.”
In perhaps the most surprising moment of the show, someone threw a glass bottle on stage that shattered. Jenkins cut the music, and the crowd began to chant “get the fuck out!” at the culprit until security arrived.
My favorite moment from Jenkin’s set came when he talked about the correlation between Lil Wayne’s lyrics and a recent murder case. He explained that he hoped to inspire people to drink more water, rather than induce violent behavior, in his own lyrics.
Joey Bada$$ brought out a stage setup that looked intergalactic, with lamps that changed colors during the show. He sampled Snoop Dogg in tribute to the West Coast, and sampled Biggie Smalls — who he says is his biggest creative influence.
“I always tell people the first person to ever inspire me to hip hop was Biggie,” Bada$$ told me. “When I first heard Biggie when I was a child, it was just like, I was literally hypnotized by his ‘Hypnotize’ song.”
Bada$$ also played songs from the mix tape 1999 (2012), including “Fromdatomb$” which features the stanza: “Big ups to Brooklyn, home of the Era.”
He did his own rendition of “It’s A Hard Knock Life” from the musical Annie (1982), which is a bit of a tribute to Jay Z’s similar remix. He also dedicated a song to his favorite producer of all-time, J. Dilla.
Bada$$ performed as tribute to his fallen homies, including late label founder Capital STEEZ. This came with an actual moment of silence for STEEZ and his cousin Junior B, before he played Pro Era’s track “Like Water” — which received a warm reaction from the crowd.
His performance sounded best a capella, or when his DJ was beatboxing for him. The best song of the night was “Christ Conscious” from new album B4.DA.$$ (2015). Bada$$ also asked for a mosh pit, the biggest in Eugene history, before his final song. Then he promised to sign all purchased merchandise after the set.
“I ain’t never been to Eugene, Oregon, before, but you could’ve fooled me,” Joey said from the stage. “Make some noise if you’ve been waiting for this concert for awhile.”
Words by Rick Levin • Photos by Todd Cooper
Tapping a set list that pulled heavily from their soon-to-be-released album Multi-Love, Unknown Mortal Orchestra infused WOW Hall on Thursday, May 7, with a bright, buzzy sound that threaded their trademark psychedelia through sonic realms of bass-heavy neo-Motown and ‘80s funk, all of it held together by the superb songwriting and furious guitar chops of frontman Ruban Nielson. Held deep in the groove by bassist Jake Portrait, drummer Riley Geare and newest member Quincy McCrary on keys, Nielson feathered his smooth croon into songs that, by turns, channeled the pop revivalism of Prince (“Multi-Love”), the plunky Hammond groove of Stevie Wonder (“Like Acid Rain”) and even the angular upbeats and tidal choruses of mid-career Talking Heads (“Necessary Evil”). The whole effect was a beaty, big and bouncy stew of smart, sophisticated music you can dance to, or dance music that is sophisticated and smart. Either way, UMO proved versatile and adaptive, unafraid of pinning a disco undercarriage to the raw, ethereal fuzz of their live sound. This is a talented band on the upswing, and they compel movement.
After their set, we came down to the Weekly's studio and took a few polaroids.
Words by Bryan Kalbrosky • Photos by Todd Cooper
Big Gipp, most known for his work with Atlanta hip-hop collective Goodie Mob, is a godfather of the “Dirty South” rap tradition.
Folks in Eugene who knew he was coming to town were able to watch a living legend on stage at May 3 at WOW Hall. As a young rapper in Atlanta, OutKast featured Gipp on “Git Up, Git Out” on the duo’s debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik in 1994. Alongside Gipp as a frontman in Goodie Mob were Cee-Lo (also known as Gnarls Barkley with Danger Mouse) as well as Khujo and T-Mo.
Yet the crowd was small on Sunday night. The intermission DJ after the opening act made the show feel more like an empty frat party with an excessive light show than a gig headlined by a contemporary of Andre 3000 and Big Boi.
But two people entered the dance floor and each performed front flips, and so the night began. Gipp out rocking a black and red suit, white headband and arguably the whitest shoes I’ve ever seen. He was also wearing grillz, and quickly performed “Grillz” (his radio hit with Nelly about the shiny cosmetic dental apparatuses) to give the crowd some necessary energy early in the night.
Every time the chorus rang “Smile for me daddy” over the speakers, Gipp blessed the crowd with a sparkling smile. He also rapped about the various color grillz he owns, in a verse that included the stanza: “I got four different sets, it’s a fabulous thang … one white, one yellow, like Fabolous chain.”
All night, Gipp’s DJ Prophet scratched vinyls and kept the vibe danceable and fun. “I don’t care if it’s just two people,” said Gipp, a nod at the smaller crowd. “How many people love hip hop?”
At times, however, it was difficult to understand Gipp when he spoke through his grillz — which he kept in his mouth the entire show. But he was easy to hear when he was talking about how all of the “shit happening now, we talked about 20 years ago” before he played the Goodie Mob hit “Cell Therapy” from 1995. He also threw in “Listen up, Eugene, ’cause I’m talking to you” after the second chorus.
Of course, the politically minded Gipp also had his fair share to say about martial law and the current state of Baltimore. His theme focused on police brutality, curfew and marijuana legalization.
When he played “B.O.B.” by OutKast later, I counted a total of 30 people (including performers) in the entire venue. The low attendance was a shame, but Gipp handled the tiny crowd with grace.
During the show, Gipp also discussed giving away music for free, collaborations with Bruno Mars and how he can play venues in front of tens of thousands of people but enjoys “checking in” with the smaller crowds. After complaining about how Cee-Lo didn’t believe in the power of Goodie Mob anymore, Gipp urged the crowd to support emerging hip-hop artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole.
It’s tough to perform a small show when you’re a rapper, because you can’t do a stripped down acoustic set like a rock ‘n’ roll band might. But when he was hanging around after the show, one fan told Gipp how important his show was to her and her boyfriend. She used to only listen to rock, but when her boyfriend showed her Goodie Mob, she said she became a bigger fan than he was.
The venue played him out to OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” and the night ended without an encore. It was cool to see Gipp perform, though he might need a bigger crowd next time to convince him to come back.
I've been down in Mississippi the past couple weeks and couldn't help myself from doing a little "work" while I was there.
Words by Rick Levin • Photos by Todd Cooper
As Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield kicked into a tremulous, tender cover of Elliott Smith’s “Baby Britain” to open their March 27 set at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom, the butterflies were evident. After all, Portland was Smith’s stomping ground, and Avett and Mayfield — on tour to support their gorgeous new album of Smith songs — were acutely aware that, for many in the audience, they were treading hallowed ground. Avett acknowledged this fact a few songs into the set, when he said that, were they to play only one show on the tour, Portland would be it.
And so, nerves and all, Avett and Mayfield were embraced by a packed house of hometown fans who were treated to a cycle of songs that touched every beautiful, bittersweet byway of Elliott Smith’s brilliant career. This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime performances — a perfect convergence of history, artistry and inspiration — as two great songwriters, so deeply touched by the craft of a departed fellow musician, pour their heart and soul into a celebration that seemed to overflow the time and place that defines it.
Any trepidation quickly disappeared, as Avett and Mayfield brought an engaging combination of warmth and humility to the stage, which resembled a sort of stylized Betty Crocker kitchen from the 1950s — perfect for the intimate buzz of Smith’s songwriting, which turned everyday scenes into cosmic meditations on love, loneliness and the ravages of addiction. The song selection — moving from anthems of alienation (“Let’s Get Lost” and “Memory Lane”) to scorched ballads (“Between the Bars”) to eulogies to annihilation (“Fond Farewell” and the stunning “Twilight”) — was interspersed with originals by both Avett and Mayfield as well as a number of fantastic covers, including Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” George Harrison’s “I Me My” and a rollicking version of Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend.”
It might sound distinctly un-Elliott-Smith-like, but a kind of collective love and faith flowed through the Crystal Ballroom that evening, a feeling of mutual connection to Smith’s music as well as an affection for two fine performers who brought their considerable talents to bear on a tribute long in the making. At the end of the show, and two standing ovations later, it felt like something momentous, even necessary, had occurred — a resolution of sorts, like something broken put back together, if for just a moment.