Zero 7 – 6/3 Fillmore

These days I see a lot fewer shows than I’d like to. Maybe it is because of the fact that when I do, I pay a babysitter $50 just to get out of the house so I have no choice but to savor or become disappointed by each glistening note.

Zero 7, the brainchild of two British studio engineers, have made two beautiful full-length albums and a few EPs over the last bunch of years. I would have guessed that they were primarily studio musicians with no way to recreate the polished lushness of the recordings at a live show.


In a truly epic performance filled with neatly drawn out versions of the album cuts, the seven touring musicians papered the hallowed halls of the Fillmore with bountiful grooves and a genuine improvisational feel. All four vocalists which included Mozez, a cross between Marvin Gaye and Seal, Sia Furler – the Aussie singer whose vocal range is the most interesting of the bunch, Tina Dico the gorgeous blonde beauty whose voice sounds a bit like a breathier Beth Orton, and Sophie Barker the sultry singer from “Simple Things,” neatly passed the torch throughout the night. Shows like this, where all of the studio elements are improved on live are really diamonds in the rough .. but they are the ones that keep you coming back.

The Shins – 6/1 Warfield, SF

A band like the Shins, hailing from New Mexico and focused on music that is more steeped in fragile melodies and clever vocals, doesn’t have a huge likelihood of success in today’s ClearChannel and MTV dominated world. But every once in the bluest moon, a band bubbles up through the zines, blogs and clubs of the indie underground and is carried into a special spotlight. One where your records sell a few hundred thousand copies and where you can tour big clubs and fill them even on weeknights, like the Shins sold out Tuesday night show at the Warfield in San Francisco.

Remember – these are a bunch of thrift shop hipsters who play intelligent graduate school pop-rock, not dolled-up teenagers in a non-descript boy band packaged up and shipped off to host Total Request Live. To some degree their recorded music rips pages from the mid-60’s Beatles which was never really performed live, onstage before thousands of steadily head-bobbing fans, the band proved that they can really play. From the string of endless hits on their first two full length records – infused with more creativity than most much older more rock oriented bands, to the rawkus improvisational jams that seemed crafted specifically for a post-hippie San Francisco audience, The Shins were simply on.

In a world where much of the music you hear is pre-programmed and many of the films that you see are filled with computer generated images, it is refreshing to see music played by musicians who are still having fun. There is a kind of satisfaction that you feel to see a band like this – music zealots, and reluctant rock stars, who have earned the chance to make a decent living as musicians on their own terms. I hope they can mainatin this trajectory for many many years.

Zero 7 – When It Falls

Label: Elektra

“Chillout Music” or whatever they call the CD that you get with your 10th cup of coffee at Starbucks or your third shirt at Banana Republic, has quickly become the Muzak of the modern age. Most of it is harmless enough, or at least better than Kenny G, featuring bland beats that might fool the aging hipster into thinking that he is still on top of it. But shouldn’t one strive for at least a little more than “harmless” when it comes to music? I mean common, how hard is it to put a little effort into finding a handful of records that you genuinely like every year. I do sympathize, however, with those that find it nearly impossible to cut the clutter in the “downbeat” or “electronica” genre as it takes an almost full dedication to the genre to stay in the loop.

There are a few bands who have managed to both continue to make good old fashioned electronica for a mass audience (Air, Morcheeba – although less so recently, Chemical Brothers), but Zero 7’s second full length “When It Falls” is among the most surprisingly soulful and interesting in quite a while. The brainchild of two British recording engineers, Zero 7 manage to both create lush pastures of shimmering instrumentation while seeming increasingly deft at selecting vocalists to accompany the music. For the second time around the duo enlist Mozez, Sia Furler , and Sophie Barker to lay down the pitch perfect lyrics to the flutes, horns, guitar and beats that make up the sound.

Sure, some may think that this is a bit of a sell out with the band recording now on Elektra and even crafting some more commercial friendly melodies, but there is more than enough to respect and admire – I suggest you all dig in.

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