In my effort to counteract the non-creative hours of my day job and to expand my cultural intake, I’ve attended quite a few live music events in the last month or two. From world-class classical concerts in giant restored music halls to local bands playing at backyard bar patios and parking lot alleys, I’ve gotten to test drive some different styles and the results has been really eye-opening and enjoyable! Pushing envelopes (exploring outside my artistic comfort zones) has led to some great conversations with groups of musicians I don’t often get a chance to interact with and consequently new perspectives on music which further enrich my experiences down the road. In no particular order, my live music round-up:
Symphony Silicon Valley: I was fortunate enough to catch the opening concert of the 10th season which included a champagne welcome and a must-hear standard in the second half of Holst’s The Planets. The first half of the program featured the adorable 80-year-old world music master David Amram whose personality was delightfully infectious, but whose music was… abstract let’s say. More than a few folks around me, many who appeared to be seasoned symphony goers seemed a bit lost. Lots of energy, but hard to tell if the pieces were being played “right” or “well.” Not my cup of tea, but wonderful to see an octogerian so full of life and still making a living doing what he loves. The second half was a stunning example of complex yet accessible classical music that can only really be appreciated live. The vibrations that pulse through your cells when a full symphony plays in that beautiful California Theatre are a special occasion all to themselves. A great rendition of some recognizable and lesser known works made up for the endearing confusion of the first half.
Additionally, I got to hear the symphony play for the multimedia presentation of Evolutionary Revolutionaryat the Flint Center this past weekend. The seven part Philip Glass composed piece was stunning. Amazing! Aside from really enjoying the music and how it scored the images of the photographic presentation so well, the orchestra and conductor were compelling to watch in their own right. Though I’d been told the acoustics in the center were not ideal for a symphony I had NO challenges with enjoying this concert and the whole evening was a real highlight for me.
San Jose Chamber Music Society Presents the St. Petersburg Quartet: What I love about the San Jose Chamber Music Society is they take all the mystery and fear out of classical music for me. I can trust them implicitly to bring to the area the best of the best and to experience unique pieces on the program as well as “classic classics” that everyone should hear at least once. With a brilliant pre-lecture that is informed and enjoyable (who knew classical music education could be so full of humor) I am eased into the performances by a knowledgable guide. I may know what I like, but SJCMS also knows what ELSE I might like and they work with the artists to create a diverse program that will both challenge and entertain you. What a treat to have the St. Petersburg String Quartet, who hail from the same city as Shostakovich, play his music. Appropriately stoic, the four stereotypically stern, Russian musicians did a fantastic job with his Concerto no. 1 in C Major. Two additional Brahms pieces with pianist Anton Nel (a chipper, vivacious, South African born man whose uncontainable passion was a refreshing and amusing contrast to our more reserved Russians) proved to require more concentration for me, but a movement of each piece was much enjoyed. Perhaps the best surprise of the evening was an encore, a short Dvorak piece for piano and quartet. I don’t know what it was, but a superior way to end the night’s music portion. A quick Q and A with the musicians followed, rounding out a really solid program! The only downside is that the audience consisted of less than 20 people under 40. A nearly sold out crowd at the lovely Petit Trianon downtown and so few people my age or younger enjoying it. The prices are perhaps a bit high for such a “risk” but I know there are folks out there that have a passion for classical and spend the money whose hair have not grayed yet! I need to remedy this situation. I’ll get back to you on this but, in the meantime, check them out, please.
Hurricane Roses at Left Coast Live: The 3rd annual Left Coast Live Festival featured a different locale this year and one that I really enjoyed. Partly because it was literally ACROSS the street from my apartment and partly because it was a “cute” contained, safe, small, chill environment that took the best parts of an urban setting and neighborhood feel and combined them with some awesome local talent, funky lighting and local venues. The variety was nice too. Something for everyone if you wandered and explored long enough. The Hurricane Roses kicked off the main stage with some country/rock/folk stuff that was good and well received, but didn’t hold my attention for the entire set.
I also checked out Beta State, a band with a lot of personal promise for me, and although I enjoyed the music and the performance it was unfortunately too loud. Going on first on a smaller stage has its pros and cons and the bands on that stage later had a much more tolerable volume, so I feel like it was just an early set up snafu. Didn’t catch the name of this band below on the Lightston Stage, but I loved this urban setting! The bricks and asphalt, accented by the chain fence and the old capital building in the back ground provided surprisingly good acoustics and aside from the occasional disturbance of fire trucks on Santa Clara Street it was awesome. I’d love to see this space utilized more!
The DJ’s were tearing it up at the Silent Disco (all the lights and music of a club only you wear wireless earphones to hook into the live music and dance without being disrupted by the bands playing on the stages.) This was a great option for me as I love to dance and I find the art of mixing to be fascinating, but rarely want to venture out to a crowded loud meat-markety club where I have to wear heels. Fun to be a spectator as well as you can hold a conversation over the music that is being grooved to. I’d be up for a silent disco in the alley every month!
Careless Hearts – Naglee Park Garage: The Garage is one of my favorite places to hang on a warm day, and we have a lot of them in San Jose. Great food (they revere the Brussel Sprout and the Micro Brew here especially) dog and kid-friendly, a great neighborhood feel and live music on the patio earns it an A+. I caught Careless Hearts there and this was a very enjoyable band (a folksy rock feel with a touch of country thrown in) that was well suited for the chill ambiance of the Garage. You’ll enjoy the experience if you don’t mind it being a bit crowded, can wait a bit for your meal and don’t mind standing if you don’t get there early enough to grab a seat. For express service bring cash as the credit card machine is from 1980 I think. Bike racks available for those that don’t want to park 4 blocks away.
Amy Dabalos – At City Lights Theatre: A Sunday afternoon is a great time for music in my opinion. I like to reward myself with 2 hours of Sunday morning housework and errands with a cold beer, a comfy seat and new (to me) music. City Lights, which has a wonderful full season of theatre has been branching out to the music scene the last couple of years and holding Sunday concerts on days they don’t have matinees. Amy Dabalos opened for Soul Jive the day I attended and both groups were joined by the veteran guitarist Rick Vandivier.
Amy has a soothing smooth voice that is well suited for her bossa nova tempos and smooth jazz renditions. A bit green I think in the stage presence department she’s great to listen to but didn’t have the visual dynamic in her performance that would have me coming back to a concert of hers. At this point she may be limited, she could boost the ambiance of a romantic restaurant for sure, but it may take time for her to develop be able to command attention rather than supplement or score a conversation.
Soul Jive on the other hand has great fun on stage and it shows. They have a loose, improv style that emphasises interaction with each other. They have a fun sense of humor about their performance and the impressive musical skills to back up all that play. They are young but tight and I think they’ll make a name for themselves fast. Although the music wasn’t all to my personal liking, they sold it. Their eclectic mix of hip hop, soul, funk, jazz, latin and contemporary rock beats were punctuated by a female drummer of kick ass proportions. My only plea was to turn it down! Small 99 seat theatre, we are right here, we can hear it! All 7 of you!
Mystery Singer at the Motif Lounge: Some of my best music experiences are accidental. While walking down South 1st Street to find a place to grab a quick bite before attending some theatre, I happened to hear a young woman singing her heart out on stage at the Motif Lounge. As a result I walked in and had a bite and a drink. Just two songs and she was gone. I call this a phantom concert. The bartender Maia (who will set you up with a special Jackfruit Martini that is refreshing and smooth) allowed as how artists sometimes just want to come in and get practice, use the stage for 45 minutes during normally off hours. I’d love to see this “open audition” process help train and foster our local talent more. And, as a business model, for our struggling restaurants, they could learn from this. I’d never been in to Motif and it was because of the music that I stopped in and spent money there.
Finally, I’d be remiss is I failed to mention the really wonderful rendition of our National Anthem as performed by my friend and former co-worker, Kereli Dawn Sengstack at the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Legends and Leaders Gala last night. This is a song you hear over and over and I know few people who can sing it and make it about the song and the emotion rather than the singer. Kereli does a beautiful, heartfelt, sincere, and “simple” version that really honors the reason we sing this at events. It was an unexpected honor to be at the event and to have it kick off with a version that received compliments all night from strangers. I think it fitting that we pay tribute to our country with music. Now, get out there and experience your live local musical surroundings!