I don’t know where to begin. Should I start at the Warfield doors telling the box office, “I’m with the press,” feeling my ego swell as they hand me a ticket to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, my teenage fantasy of living an Almost Famous-like rock n’ roll journalist existence coming one step closer to reality? Or maybe I should start with Future Twin rattling my brain at an art house in the Mission to raise awareness for an environmental non-profit, the venue about ten sizes too small for their brand of screeching indie rock/punk/chaos. I could present a laborious litany of all the fantastic musicians and artists I’ve gotten to know over the last twelve months, and if I was going purely for word count that would probably be the smart move.
Or I could start at the most sensible spot – admitting that there is no way anyone can boil down an entire year’s worth of songs, shows, festivals, albums and other assorted events in any reasonable manner. A year is just too full of idiosyncrasies and half-remembered details to adequately express in a coherent fashion, and there’s absolutely no way to convey the visceral emotion felt at certain times.
So this ‘best of’ list is not an attempt to accurately chronicle a top ten of specific moments. That’s an exercise in futility. No, this ‘best of’ list is more of an overview, an impression of my first full year wholly immersed in the Bay Area music scene. These are the things I will always remember about 2014 and what made it such an enjoyable one not only for me, but for everyone out there who supports local music, who goes to shows on Wednesday nights, who pays for digital albums on bandcamp even though they could download them for free, who obtain the propensity to blow entire paychecks at Amoeba or 1-2-3-4 Go! or Econo Jam.
Everyone Loves a Festival
Remember when music festivals weren’t obscenely corporatized, logo-stained, product-placement bonanzas? Me neither! That hasn’t been the case since the hippies knocked down the fences at Woodstock. Even the most local of local music festivals rely on some degree of corporate sponsorship, but at least they’re more likely to set up booths for small clothing stores and food trucks rather than Rockstar or Converse. And such smaller events which are necessarily limited in scope and budget make up for size with sheer coolness. Sure, Kanye headlined Outside Lands this year, but I got to see Tony Molina bust out a badass cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Soldier of Fortune” at Phono del Sol. I feebly attempted to start the skank pit at the packed SoFA Street Fair Festival during Fishbone’s closing set. I was there watching Painted Palms and White Denim on those early mornings at Treasure Island when most of the crowd elected to sleep in and soothe their hangovers.
Then there was Noise Pop, B.A.R.F., the 20th Street Block Party and a whole host of other Bay Area events I attended either as a writer or simple music nerd, events full of moments I will either never forget or barely remember depending on what kind of substances I was abusing at the time.
More Music, More Music, More Music . . .
Anyone who says rock n’ roll is dead probably hasn’t purchased a record since the Eagles released their Greatest Hits album. That’s because all you need to discover great new bands nowadays is a Wi-Fi connection and, admittedly, a bit of free time on your hands. There is, both fortunately and unfortunately, so much music to sift through in the anarchy of cyberspace that the process can be disheartening for those of us who have jobs or school or an incurable addiction to Neflix. Thankfully, being a quasi-legit music journalist means bands come to me with their music, making the task so much more streamlined and appealing. Over the past year I’ve come to know so many awesome bands in the Bay that I’m no longer surprised at how much talent is still left out there, waiting to be heard.
I’ve been intoxicated by Fever Charm’s power pop hooks at a hip art space in Berkeley, Scary Little Friends’ potent blend of gorgeous melodies and superb musicianship, Whiskerman’s acid trip folk rock, Punch’s intransigent aggression and blunt lyricism, and the Skunkadelics’ skank-tastic grooves. Oh, and there was also that time when Bent Knee completely blew my mind at Brick & Mortar. Still haven’t quite recovered from that one.
And that’s just the smallest sample of artists I’ve been introduced to this year.
Enter the City of Women
I will, however, always hold a special place for City of Women in my heart. Yes, this band was the subject of my very first blog post for The Bay Bridged and still one of my favorite groups in the Bay. I remember it like yesterday: Hypnotized by riff-centric dance-rocker “Séance,” fretting over the right words to accurately describe their sound, hands shaking as I clicked ‘submit post,’ not sure how much the band would like or absolutely despise my treatment of their music. Awaiting Internet Judgment: What would the verdict be? Or, worse, would anyone even read it? Oh God, this blog is way too hip for me, the editors are gonna kick me off the second they read my hackneyed attempt at music journalism. I wish I could write like Jody Amable . . .
The inner neurosis of the writer, what a pleasant mindset.
Turns out City of Women loved what I had to say, The Bay Bridged still puts up with my hackneyed attempts at music journalism, and the band invited me out to their show at the El Rio where they proceeded to dismantle my perception of reality riff by riff. Can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.
I always thought that musicians, like athletes, will obligingly give interviews but reveal very little within that conversational boundary. A baseball player, after all, says a lot more with a home run than whatever comes out of his mouth off the field, and likewise the virtuoso guitarist speaks louder in his solos than his words. For evidence, just check out any Slash interview and then stack it up against anything he did on Use Your Illusion.
This, however, is not quite the case in the Bay Area. For the most part, my talks with local musicians were enlightening discussions on the state of the music scene. Whether it was Derek Schultz of Owl Paws meditating on the affordable housing crisis in San Francisco or Sunhaze extrapolating on the ephemeral process of writing music or Simon Balthazer of Fanfarlo getting metaphysical during our conversation about his band’s latest release, I never felt the interviews were forced or full of the typical clichés that tarnish so much modern music journalism. I’ve always tried to keep my conversations with musicians as lively and interesting as possible, not only for the subjects themselves, but for the readers as well. Because without you, the reader, this is all kinda pointless, isn’t it? Isn’t it???
Besides all the material perks of this gig – the free CDs and shows and stickers and shirts and buttons and all that other great stuff serving as my one true guilty capitalist pleasure – the real reward is harder to define in concrete terms. Let’s be honest here- the job of the music writer isn’t all that difficult. I write a few paragraphs a week about bands and music news in the Bay Area, not exactly the equivalent of a doctoral dissertation. But the response I receive from the groups I write about – it’s almost enough to make me believe what I write actually matters, that my silly little blog posts are legitimately affecting another human being’s life. I’ve been in dozens of bands over the years and understand how absurdly onerous it is to grab a hold of the press’s attention, so I know the feeling is genuine when they express gratitude.
So here’s to the many bands and artists I wrote about this year, all seventy-something and counting. I wish you all the best luck in 2015. For those of you toiling away at dive bars, I hope you graduate to Bottom of the Hill or The Chapel. For those of you struggling to finance your next EP or first LP, I hope a crowdfunding campaign goes successfully or you find a rich relative willing to back your creative endeavors. Good luck to the egotistical guitarists, the aloof drummers, the quiet bassists, the flamboyant lead singers, the electro-folk duos, the eight-piece ska bands, the stoner metalheads and feminist punk rockers, the countless acts still searching for a genre to call their own, groups that just scratch their head and stare at their feet when you ask them what they sound like.
I’m looking forward to covering you all in 2015. Thanks for reading.