One of the best things about the Christmas season is that it, like summer, is a great excuse for radio stations to bring cool bands and artists together for a show that’s a celebration, and always a fun time. This year, the one I chose was Mix 104.9‘s 8th Annual Chris-Mix, last Thursday night in Santa Rosa. Not only did it promise to be a fun, mellow night out with a friend, but I hate to miss a chance to catch San Francisco’s own Matt Nathanson (ok, he’s a Massachusetts native, but he calls the city home these days). The show also boasted Vicci Martinez (familiar to many from her run on the first season of NBC’s The Voice) and Parachute. There’s also always the promise of the occasional Christmas carol on such evenings, but either way I knew it promised to be a good show.
Before Parachute began, people from the radio station came out to say hello, welcome everyone to the event, explain something about emergency exits, plug their silent auction, and tempt us all with upcoming shows at Wells Fargo Center. Finally, though, members of Parachute appeared, with frontman Will Anderson greeting the audience. “What’s up, everybody?” He went on to introduce himself, drummer Johnny Stubblefield, and guitarist Nate McFarland, saying, “we’re the only important members of the band.” To make clear that he was joking, he added, “Don’t put that on YouTube!” After asking the crowd if they were feeling good, they band started with their current single, “Can’t Help.” I’ve only seen Parachute play once before, at a 4th of July show several years ago, but I remember thinking they were better than I expected. (At the time, I’d only heard one of their songs. Now I’ve come to now about three!) Anyway, they were far better even than I remembered, and they were off to a great start, with solid vocals from Anderson and stellar acoustic percussion from Stubblefield. “Thank you! Woo!” Anderson addressed the crowd. “I’m feeling good! I’m wearing a wool coat, but I feel good. I’m a little overheated, but I’m all good.” Someone in the room took the opportunity to shout out a request. “Whoa. That was bold,” Anderson acknowledged. “I appreciate that. But we’re not gonna play that song…”
The next song, Anderson explained, was what they like to think of as “baby makin’ music.” It began with a lovely acoustic intro, and after a little silly vocal ad-libbing that went with the previous statement, they got serious and played hit “She is Love.” A quick plug for the new record, Overnight, came next, and then Anderson spoke again to the audience. “You’re sitting down, I get it. I would be sitting down too. I go to shows, I’m standing for like ten minutes, I wonder how people do it. Relax, it’s Christmas time. But I will ask you to sing, because Matt Nathanson is coming out!” He went on to confess that Matt’s most recent album (Last of the Great Pretenders) had topped his personal list of favorite albums for the year, and then taught the crowd the part he wanted everyone to sing. “It’s very easy, come on. Let’s try it. Here we go!” The song was “Drive You Home,” and the crowd did as asked, to a nice effect. After a brief explanation of band members’ time as “big a cappella nerds in college,” Anderson teased the crowd not to scream for the admission, and then added that Bruce Springsteen was one of his favorite artists of all time. They’d worked out an acoustic version to “the song everyone knows.” (Is there really only one to him?) “Dancing in the Dark” was not only fun, it sounded phenomenal, and was a huge highlight of their excellent set. (I tried to remind myself it’d been “fan fucking tastic” in my notes, but autocorrect wanted to insist I meant “fan ducking gastric.” Either way, it was awesome, and I wish there was a version I could download, because I’d love to have that cover on my iPod!) At some point during the song, I turned to my friend and said, “I guess we’re Parachute fans!” The rest of the crowd must have felt the same way, because the song got them not only clapping, but on their feet as well. Anderson paused the song long enough to run down off the stage and into the crowd to invite two young ladies on stage with the band, and then went back for two more. Anderson and the girls did a little simple dancing, which he joked was “the Carlton or the Mom Dance, whatever you wanna call it,” and then he asked the audience to “give it up for my lovely ladies, my back up dancers!”
Pausing to give some appreciation for Mix 104.9, Anderson called them an “amazing radio station right in your back yard,” thanking them for “being so hospitable” and then asking the room to give it up for Vicci Martinez and Matt Nathanson as well. Up next was big hit “Kiss Me Slowly,” after which Anderson said they had one more song. “Thanks for comin’ out early, thanks again to the radio station.” A woman in the crowd shouted out to him, “I love you!” Anderson stopped, sort of frozen. “Thank you. That stunned me. I’m not sure how to respond to that…” The audience laughed. “I’ll just say I love you too in a completely platonic, friendship way.” The band closed their short, sweet set with “Something to Believe In,” thanked the crowd again, and vanished with a few waves and a bow.
After a short intermission and a little more from the good people of the radio station, Vicci Martinez was up next. “Actually, I am Matt Nathanson,” she joked as the applause died down and she readied herself to begin. “That’s funny to me.” Martinez giggled, showing just how adorable she is, and introduced her keyboard player, Eric Robert. “We’re gonna play you some songs. We’ll try not to take too long, alright?” First up was “Touch That Fire,” and then “I Can Love,” which Martinez said was the first song she wrote for her album, Vicci. She mentioned having been on The Voice, and that she’d been “Cee-Lo Green’s little girl,” but that the woman she wrote the song with said Martinez reminded her of this “little warrior princess woman girl thingie.” Perhaps, Martinez explained, that’d been because she’d been dressed like Xena (Warrior Princess) for her last performance on the show. The woman insisted, though, that she’d seen deeper than just a costume. The song was about Martinez’s desire to “fight for love,” and it made me note (though I already knew it to be true) that the “girl can blow! Awesome.” She was singing about how she could love, but I’m willing to bet there’s much, much more that she can do, too.
“Thank you! It’s nice playing with you, Eric! I haven’t played with you for a while; I’ve been on my lonesome,” Martinez said to her keyboard player before they played “Let You Know.” After again thanking the audience, Martinez said she does this little thing, “speaking of the viz-oice… that show’s so huge! It’s, like, season sixty-one… I’m actually seventy now, I’ve just had a lot of Botox…” She went on to explain that the next song was one she’d wanted to do on the show, but that The Voice had asked her to do something “more relevant.” She stuck to her guns because it was the song that she’d auditioned with; she believed it had gotten her on the show. “And it’s a classic! Everyone should know it!” She said she went to tell her “mommy,” and ended up discussing it with coach Cee-Lo Green. (Of whom she does a pretty fantastic impression.) Basically, Cee-Lo agreed that she should perform the song, and in the end she “did her thing,” performing her killer acoustic version of Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene.” During the song, Martinez paused to admit that she “found out that this is why I got my record deal.” And that, kids, is why you should stand up for what you believe in! At one point, Martinez started to giggle, as though she’d forgotten the words, but then went into a little bit of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and even a little of the now infamous Sweet Brown “It’s a Fire!” The song was a little all over the place and even included a bit of beatboxing, but it was really cool all the same. When she’d finished, Martinez explained why she’d laughed: the line in the song goes “your beauty is beyond compare,” but somehow she’d accidentally sang “your booty…” saying, “so if you’re wondering what happens onstage, that’s what happens. You think about butts.”
“Now I’m just getting started, but now I just have one song left for ya! It’s the last song before the new year. Thank you for making it such a great one!” Martinez gushed, preparing to wrap up her set. She closed with the song that “got her here,” adding that she “always have too much to say,” and explaining a little about the process of choosing singles from her album. There are often, Martinez contended, too many “cooks in the kitchen that know what’s best,” and there had been a few songs competing for her first single. She stood by the song she’d chosen because she felt its message was universal. She wanted her song choice to be “what would come out as my introduction,” and with enough convincing, she did get her way. Asking the crowd to “hear the song, and the message, and take it with you,” Martinez concluded her performance with “Come Along.” (The studio version of which boasts former coach Cee-Lo Green as a guest star.) “Thank you guys so much! Take care of yourselves and each other, and have a wonderful holiday season and new year!” Martinez said as she wrapped up the song. “Even though this song is two years old, please take that message and stand up for the things you believe in!”
After about a half hours’s worth of technical difficulties, Matt Nathanson and his accompanist (Aaron Tap) took the stage. “Hi guys, sorry about the delay!” Nathanson greeted the crowd. “Someone was supposed to announce that I was coming, so I’ll do it… ‘Ladies and gentlemen, from San Francisco, California… Matt Nathanson!'” After a laugh from the audience, Nathanson went on to explain that they would “play some songs, have a dance competition…” They planned to play without monitors, he warned, and then after casually dropping an f-bomb somewhere in his chatter, Nathanson apologized to the “young people” in the room. “Hi. What’s your name?” He asked a child near the front. “That’s the quietest name I’ve ever heard!” He went on to ask the kid its age (I never could see whether it was a little boy or girl), eventually repeating for the rest of us that s/he was seven. “That’s incredible,” Nathanson responded, adding that he had a three-year-old daughter. “I should play a song.” And so he began with “Car Crash,” after which he asked, “everybody doing ok?” In response came a wolf whistle. Nathanson said that it was “fun to be with you here,” calling it “rad,” and saying that it’d been a “weird week”: he’d traveled from San Francisco to New York to San Diego and LA to DC, “and now here. Now we’re home, so it’s great. This is nice!”
Nathanson briefly mentioned his newest record, Last of the Great Pretenders before playing the first single from it, “Mission Bells.” Checking in with his most visible little fan, Nathanson asked, “how are you, my seven-year-old friend? Do you need anything? I’ve got a towel and some water… that’s about it. It sounds like I’m gonna deliver a baby! You’re gonna be okay, we’re gonna get through this! Just breathe…” Eventually, Nathanson went on to say that he’d been listening to R. Kelly lately, saying that he “goes deep into the crazy metaphors,” adding that it makes him blush and that it was “not for the PG ears!” He joked, “I wrote this song for him” as he began the next song, “Modern Love.” After pausing again to make sure the audience was feeling ok, Nathanson said it was “good to be seen with” Martinez. “I’ve never seen Vicci Martinez and she just destroyed the universe! And of course, our friends in Parachute… So here we are!” Nathanson added that he was happy to see there was some distance between the front row and the stage, as he had “some sickness,” and didn’t want it to be “like a Gallagher situation.” At this point I should probably explain something, for those who don’t know/haven’t seen Matt Nathanson: he’s a talker. He’s a fantastic musician and he’s wonderful live, but expect him to chatter a lot, and be prepared. Having said that, don’t get me wrong: he’s also hilarious. Normally, he wouldn’t be censoring himself, but at an all-ages event he’s (obviously) considerate of little ones. If you’ve never seen him with his hysterical buddy Greg Behrendt, then 1) you’re missing out, and 2) you should remedy that in February when they reunite for Bring the Rock at SF Sketchfest. Just trust me, and you’re welcome. Now I, like Matt, digress. In both cases, though, it’s for the greater good!
Nathanson’s next topic of conversation? Self sabotage. “When your life is going fantastic, you think to yourself, ‘yeah, but I wonder what that person I’m not dating anymore is doing…'” He went on to paint a picture, something about the fantasy usually taking place in Hawaii and being “super romantic, like The Notebook…” The next song was written from one such place, and was “Sky High Honey.” At one point in the song, Nathanson sang the line “no more late night drives,” adding “to Rohnert Park,” which got big applause and laughter from the crowd. “I realize Cotati would have worked just as well,” he said at the end of the song. “Sebastopol…” Someone offered “Rohnert Park casino!” and Nathanson joked that a fight would ensue. The next tangent involved how Nathanson and his accompanist were going to perform theatre, role playing what he eventually decided would be West Side Story. “That would be incredible! I wanna be Maria! ‘I feel pretty…'” When the laughter had again subsided, Nathanson said, “I wrote this song for the Mayans. I just thought they did so many cool things, and then they did that calendar. As a person that likes to plan…” He went on to explain how disappointing it had been to discover that they Mayans had been wrong about the end of the world, and then discovered that his favorite seven-year-old was asleep. “It goes to show how powerful we are!” The conversation having been turned back to kids, Nathanson divulged that his daughter has taken to singing his own “dirty” songs to her daddy, a habit he’d be happy to break sooner rather than later. “Room at the End of the World” was next, and I could tell during the song that Nathanson was, as he’d admitted, fighting a cold or something. If anything, though, it added a little extra sexy grit to his voice; I wasn’t not mad about it.
After a little of the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” Nathanson rejected a request. “It wouldn’t be bad, I just wouldn’t play it. But not because I don’t care: because I care too much!” Instead, he played “Annie’s Always Waiting (For the Next One to Leave).” When a fan shouted something at him, Nathanson sassed, “let’s just open this up to questions!” Without being asked, he offered that he preferred boxer briefs, suggesting that he especially enjoyed the Kirkland brand from Costco and adding something about an “innuendo about carnal things,” saying he had to speak in innuendo because he couldn’t curse. Mentioning that “between Prince and R. Kelly,” we’re “pretty well covered between innuendo and the what?!,” Nathanson brought up R. Kelly’s innuendo-laden (Oreo) “Cookie.” (I won’t go into details. I’ll leave that to those of you that are interested.) Anyway, he called it both “crazy” and “high art,” saying that Kelly “sells it,” joking about the distance between “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Ignition.” Adding that that was “like, the PG stuff!” Nathanson suggested we “look for a song called ‘The Zoo‘” and then giggled like a little girl, which was admittedly adorable. “I heard the Oreo song, I was like uh uh! So, anyway, use your adult brains when listening. If you do, you’re like, whoa, Prince!” Finally, Nathanson had set himself up to cover Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” and it was all I wanted it to be and more. (Much like Parachute’s Springsteen cover, I’d love to get my hands on a download of this song…maybe either or both will consider recording/releasing for me?)
“Alright. Um. Cool! This next song, there’s a little story behind this next song,” Nathanson began. Of course there was. “Because this feels so intimate… it really does, this is crazy! It feels nice.” He explained how he’d recorded his last album in San Francisco, and went on to tell the story of a tattooed waitress who looked “like she could beat us all up” at the diner he frequented with four other guys throughout the recording process. “She just looks mean… All of us were, like, in love.” The waitress turned out to be super nice, but she basically had giggly, smitten boys on her hands on a regular basis when they started visiting daily. “I didn’t want her to think we were gonna try to wear her skin…” Nathanson explained, calling her the “engine of our album.” Eventually, they wanted to write a song about her, “but you can’t tell her!” They wanted to call the song “Girl in the Vintage Van Halen 1984 Shirt,” but settled for “Kinks Shirt.” At this point, two fans near the front of the stage stood up to show Mr. Nathanson they were devoted, wearing their own Kinks shirts. (Clever. I doubt anyone’s ever thought to do that.) On the last day of recording, Nathanson had sworn the others to secrecy, and the waitress confessed she was really going to miss them. “We wrote a song about you!” one of them gushed. “It’s ok,” Nathanson thought. She’d never hear it, because to her he was a “wet noodle rocker” and his music was “like meow.” Fast forward a month and a half, he told the story in an interview, saying they had all fallen in love with her in their minds, he swore, but “she didn’t know we exist.” Off-handedly, Nathanson gave the address of the diner to the interviewer, never dreaming it would be published. Sure enough, on the day the album was released, there was the article, including a description of the waitress and the address of her workplace. “Awesome. She’s probably not really a USA Today reader…” He added that she might have seen the article if it were in “Guns & Ammo,” or maybe “Ink World? I’m safe. She’s never gonna know, I don’t have to be embarrassed.” Another month and a half, and some fan starts tweeting to him that she’s in San Francisco, basically mapping the places he’s written about on the new record. Sure enough, by the end of the day, she’d tracked down the waitress and deigned to ask her to pose for a photo. “I half expected to see her in my back yard with my cat on her lap! Mr. Beasley and I missed you,” Nathanson joked, adding that he was “very famous,” and that his “Twitter is jammed.” So much so, in fact, that he can tell by the tweets and the times they come in what parts of the world are awake. “Anyway, this next song is about a woman who probably thinks I wanna put her in a well and then stick myself between my legs…” Wow, Matt. “This is ‘Kinks Shirt.'” Admittedly, that was a looooonnng to-do for one song, but he’s a great storyteller, so I don’t think anyone really minded, self included.
“We have a couple more for you, if that’s okay. I know it’s getting late…” After teaching the crowd a “synchronized clap” that would somehow avoid waking up the sleeping seven-year-old, Nathanson chastised the crowd: “it’s very hard to do, don’t get cocky. It’s Navy Seal shit.” His next request was that everyone “dance with your bum, as if it’s Mardi Gras.” One woman hopped quickly up out of her seat to show him her dance moves. “Whoa, your bum shot you right out of your chair! Mazel tov! Hips don’t lie…” The next song was my favorite of Nathanson’s, the sexy, playful “Faster,” and it did indeed bring the crowd out of their seats. “We’ll do one more if that’s okay. This feels like parliament! How are you guys up in the parliament seats?” Nathanson remembered to thank the radio station and openers again, asking the crowd to join him in singing the last one and saying, “see you on the 101! If you don’t know this song, thanks for staying this long. If you don’t know it, all the choruses are the same. Just pay attention!” The set concluded with the delicious “Come on Get Higher,” after which Nathanson bid us all goodnight, wishing us various happy holidays (Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year’s) before he waved, bowed, and disappeared.
I’ll admit it: sometimes, a chatty musician gets on my last nerve. It’s not like me to leave a show early, so sometimes my mind wanders as it gets late to my commute home. Sometimes, I want a little less talk and a lot more action. Matt Nathanson, though, is not one of those times. First, as I’ve mentioned, he’s bloody hilarious. Secondly, his music is good enough that I’m willing to wait for it, especially because he does such a good job of setting it up. Whether because I haven’t seen him too many times yet, or because he’s just that good, I’ve never heard the same story twice, and I appreciate that. At any rate, this entire evening passed without a single Christmas song. While normally that would have left me sorely disappointed, the fact remained I’d seen three fantastic acts all perform excellent sets, so I just didn’t care. There was no room for complaints, so there isn’t much else left to say, except I’ll be looking forward to the next one!