From the time it was announced, the Oakland Music Festival seemed like an overly-ambitious undertaking. With more than 20 acts, covering a wide swath of live music and DJs, on three stages, it was clear that festival promoters wanted to go big. Unfortunately, a few things didn’t quite work out. Some of the glitches were out of the hands of the event organizers: a fast-moving, near-torrential rain drenched vendors as they were setting up, before the doors even opened. That caused some equipment failures and led to production delays on the main stage. It almost certainly impacted the walk-up crowd. At 2pm, more than two hours after the event started, only a few dozen folks were in attendance.
The skies still seemed kind of iffy as J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science started their performance. But if everything had gone wrong up to that point, the momentum started to shift toward the positive column. Joined by emcees Deuce Eclipse and Aima the Dreamer, as well as a conga player and a horn section, SF-based DJ-producer J-Boogie nonchalantly showed why he’s been rocking crowds for two decades. Aima’s silky flow and self-assured stage presence evoked comparisons to Digable Planets’ Mecca, while Deuce’s super-melodic bilingual steez and plain-spoken sociopolitical commentary put him in a class all by himself. The band ran through older material like the scathing anti-war opus, “You’re the Murdera,” and “Que Pasa,” which tackles the thorny issue of immigration. Both songs are perhaps more relevant today than when they were made.
The rain delay pretty much messed up the schedule, so it was difficult to know who was playing where. There were no official announcements as to what acts had been moved to different stages due to the delay. Still, everything kind of worked out, as long as you weren’t stressing too much.
The sun came out, and so did a lot more people, which made the afternoon a lot more enjoyable than the morning. The main stage delay meant that J-Boogie was followed by the Kev Choice Ensemble (who had originally been scheduled to play earlier in the day), then Bang Data, and then The Coup . That lineup alone would have been worth the price of admission for most people.
Choice earned yells of “great music!” from the “parking lot pimping” crowd who lined up along San Pablo, outside the festival gates. Indeed, Choice’s musicality continues to impress. Flanked by vocalist Viveca Hawkins and a string section, he led the band through a lot of jazzy flourishes with impeccable showmanship, at one point segueing from a vamp on Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida” riff to a Schubert melody.
Deuce returned, this time wearing a Nicaragua track jacket, for an abbreviated set with Bang Data which topped the band’s recent Art + Soul and Fillmore performances. Touching on stylistic bases that included hip-hop, reggae dancehall, cumbia, rock, and traditional cancions, the band sounded tightly-gelled.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see the Coup, because we had to get to the Greek Theater for the Afrolicious/ Morcheeba/ Thievery Corporation show (more on that later). But we did pop our heads inside the New Parish for a minute, just in time to hear HNRL crooner 1.O.A.K. deliver a cover version of The Cure’s “Lovecats,” an entirely unexpected, yet completely appreciated, move.
A few take-aways from OMF: There’s obviously room for improvement and a learning curve involved with the first iteration of any event. Here are a few suggestions:
The reason we’d like to see OMF continue as an annual event? Besides the fact that it could help Oakland establish itself as a destination, while supporting local artists, the crowds at street festivals here are overflowing with diversity you just won’t find anywhere else. Oakland people have style, funk, and flavor. And they don’t need to be told how to groove: they just start grooving.
Playing Berkeley’s storied Greek Theater is a rite of passage for any band. The cavernous outdoor venue might just have the best sound of any large concert arena in the area and, if you can rock the Greek, you can pretty much rock anywhere. Landing the opening slot for Thievery Corporation and Morcheeba had to be a dream come true for Afrolicious, the infectious collective who emerged out of SF’s Mission a few years back and have been bubbling ever since.
Taking the stage just as the sun was setting, Afrolicious proved up to the challenge. Their party-oriented, high-energy music isn’t quite as downtempo as the other two acts, but that turned out to be a good thing, as they got the crowd fired up early. Afrolicious’ sound can be described as Motown-meets-Fela Kuti, and they played the show of their life Saturday night. If they keep this up, they might blow some headliners off the stage, they way they’re going.
Morcheeba are right up there with Massive Attack and Portishead, in terms of seminal trip-hop bands. If you don’t remember trip-hop, it was a late-‘90s thing which was super innovative at the time, mixing acid jazz with big beats, turntable scratching, opiate tempos and, frequently, soulful vocalists.
Morcheeba have been off the radar for a minute, but they are back in a big way, reuniting with original singer Skye Edwards and releasing a new album this year – their first with Edwards in a decade. Not being overly familiar with their catalog, we couldn’t tell you if they were playing new or old songs, although it’s a safe bet to say they probably previewed some of the new stuff.
It all sounded revelatory, as Edwards’ amazing voice just took over the amphitheater, filling every nook and cranny with soulful nuance. Wearing an ephemeral dress that looked like it was sewn from the wings of angels, her presence was beyond captivating. We didn’t even notice there was a DJ on stage, along with two guitarists, a keyboardist, a bassist and a drummer, until later, when we looked at our photos.
Thievery Corporation also know something about being ephemeral – their shimmery, dubby downtempo rinses made them one of the first American EDM groups to attain superstar status. Though their studio albums are impeccable, their live show can be hit or miss. Unlike Morcheeba’s Edwards, there’s no real focal point: Thievery CEOs Rob Garza and Eric Hilton mostly played the background as a parade of vocalists took up lead vocal duties. Their set didn’t really build momentum to an epic catharsis like Morcheeba’s did. Not that anyone except for Oakulture noticed – half the crowd looked like it was having a Burning Man flashback.
Any time Michael Rose plays with Sly and Robbie, reggae fans have much to be grateful about. Rose was the voice, and Sly and Robbie the rhythm section, behind Black Uhuru, the first reggae act to win a Grammy, who were torchbearers of the genre in the years following Bob Marley’s death.
Rose and the Rhythm Twins, as the drum and bass duo are known, literally hotboxed Yoshi’s San Francisco location last Friday. It didn’t take long for the scent of pungent ganja to permeate the air, as they tore through a set which included classics like “Plastic Smile,” “Shine Eye Gal,” “General Penitentiary,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Sponji Reggae,” and “What is Life.” Almost every track was extended with dub breaks which spotlighted Sly’s stick work and Robbie’s low-end. Rose sang a few solo tunes as Robbie took a break, returning for the closer, “Sinsemilla.” Folks seemed a little disappointed there was no encore, but everyone still went home feeling irie.
16 Cowries: Voices of the Divine opening reception, 9/26, 6pm, African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., San Francisco.
Golden Era Thursdays, 9/26, 10 pm, $5 after 11, Vinyl, 420 14th st.
Jennifer Johns Mixtape Release Party, 9/27, 9pm, $9, The New Parish, 579 18th.
NVR OVR 1-year Anniversary, 9/28, 9pm, free, The Layover, 1517 Franklin St.
Beat Swap Meet Bay Area 1-year Anniversary, 9/29, 12pm-6pm, $5 (w/canned goods), La Pena 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.