King Crimson, Fox Theater, Oakland

King Crimson returned to North America this summer for their “Radical Action Tour”. And we at CatSynth were on hand to see them at the Fox Theater in Oakland. As this was their first North American tour in three years, we were not going to miss a chance to see the band, and Robert Fripp.

The band featured a massive stage lineup – referred to by Fripp as a “double quartet” – that included three drum sets, played by Gavin Harrison, Pat Mastelotto and Jeremy Stacey. Behind them were longtime band members Mel Collins on horns, Tony Levin on bass and Chapman stick, Bill Rieflin on keyboard, and Jakko Jakszyk on lead vocals and guitar. Robert Fripp himself held court on the right side of the stage, with guitar and his array of electronic instruments. Three drum sets might seem a recipe for disaster, but in their hands it was quite impressive. A massive but tightly synchronized sound that dominated but also bended with Fripp’s rhythmic delayed-guitar and other elements.

The concert, although nominally feature their new EP, included songs from the band’s full history and repertoire. They played quite a few “deep cuts” this time around, including a number of compositions from the 1970 album Lizard – Cirkus, and a good chunk of the second side’s suite (“Dawn Song”, “Last Skirmish”, “Prince Rupert’s Lament”. The large band, and especially the full-time keyboards (Rieflin) and horns (Collins) allowed the orchestrations to be heard. The title track from Islands was given a lovely reading.

Although they performed a number of classic Adrian Belew-era compositions, the vocal parts were a bit reduced, as on the opener, “Neurotica”, or eliminated altogether, as on The “ConstruKction of Light”. This is not to take anything from Jakszyk’s vocal performance, which was intense and spirited.

The formal concert ended with a rousing rendition of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” among their biggest hits. Sadly, no “Cat Food” at this particular concert. But the did close with their cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes”, which is also featured on their new EP.

King Crimson has always been very strict about photography during their concerts, but at the very end they ritualistically share a moment taking pictures of the audience while we picture them.

King Crimson on Stage in Oakland

Tony Levin in particular is big on photography and documenting their shows, and has a blog post on the two dates at the Fox in Oakland. If you look really carefully, you might see me in the middle of this rather nice photo he took from the stage.

Tony Levin photographs the audience at the Fox Theater

[Image from TonyLevin.com. Click to see original at Tony’s blog in full size.]

Jason Berry contributed to this story.

CatSynth 11th Blog Anniversary

Luna on iPad at 11:11

It’s been 11 years since we started CatSynth on a bit of a lark, and since then it has grown into something that we treasure, and quite seriously. But not too seriously. As always, we mark the annual milestone with a few stats.

3210 Posts
14358 Comments
4.47 Comments Per Post
1202 Cat-and-synth pics
474 Reviews and related posts

Comments and interaction on the blog has continued to decline (from an average of 4.7 to 4.47 comments per post). This is not surprising as interaction has largely moved to social media platforms.

Our most visited post this last year was our Sad Farewell to Luna, both on the blog itself and on social media. This, too, is not surprising, and we continue to be very grateful for the outpouring of emotional support we have received.

Other individual posts that were widely read and shared including our explainer on Lake Oroville, our review of James Chance and the Contortions in San Francisco, and of course our annual NAMM coverage.

Every year we share the photo that started it all on July 19, 2006. It featured Luna in the beanbag chair along with a Novation keyboard. We feel its still appropriate for this day.

Luna with Novation Keyboard

We continue to grieve for Luna, but we also welcome Sam Sam who we hope with be with us and featured on these pages for years to come.

Emphatic Sam Sam

Yamaha DX7 (w/ 5 ROM Cartridges!) Digital FM Synthesizer 1983 + Sustain Pedal

Cat and DX7

Cat posing with a classic Yamaha DX7 FM synthesizer. Via this auction, via matrixsynth.

Comes with cartridge 3, which allows you to factory reset the DX7. Also I will send you my sysex library which includes patches I’ve found and made. You can easily send sysex patches to the DX7 via MIDI and a sysex librarian program.

Cartridges Included

• Yamaha 3, 64 Patches

• Yamaha 4, 64 Patches

• Yamaha DX7 Data Cartridge, 32 Patches

• Bo Tomlyn’s Best of the USA, 64 Patches

• Bo Tomlyn’s Top Forty, 64 Patches

This was the coveted instrument in the mid 1980s that I didn’t have, though I did get a TX81Z module which I have to this day. These days, we at CatSynth also have a Yamaha TX802 module (essentially a multitimbral timbral module that shares the DX7’s 6-operator FM architecture), so not much need for another. But if you are looking for this (in)famous instrument, this auction might be worth a look.

CatSynth Pic: Bok Choy and Casio SK-1

Please welcome Bok Choy, making her long awaited debut on CatSynth.

Bok Choy and Casio SK-1

Here we see her checking out, and showing a bit of disdain for, a Casio SK-1.

Bok Choy and Casio SK-1

The Casio SK-1 is actually an awesome little instrument we have used many times.

Bok Choy is the cat that lives with Maw Shein Win, our longtime collaborator in Pitta of the Mind. And on that note, Pitta of the Mind will be performing next Friday at Nomadic Press in Oakland (23rd and Telegraph).

Join us for an excellent Uptown Fridays featuring readings by Norma Smith and Sofia Lopez, with musical guest Pitta of the Mind featuring Maw Shein Win and Amanda Chaudhary. Emceed and curated by Reńe Vaz .

Suggested donations of $5-25 collected at the door, but no one turned away for lack of funds.

Red wine and Red Bay coffee will be available.

Red Robot Show presents Vacuum Tree Head Live @ HSP2017!

The Red Robot Show and Vacuum Tree Head are back! This time Jason Berry brings footage from our March show at HSP2017, and is joined by Marlon Brando in this full-length episode.

The members of the band for this performance are:

Jason Bellenkes : Alto Saxophone and Clarinet
Jason Berry: Conductor
Amanda Chaudhary: Keyboards and Vocoder
Richard Corny: Electric Guitar
Michael de la Cuesta: Guitar, Synth, Vibraphone, Sitar, etc.
Richard Lesnik: Bass Clarinet
Justin Markovits: Drum Kit
Joshua Marshall: Soprano and Tenor Saxophones
John Shiurba: Bass Guitar

Video credits:
Cameras by Amanda Chaudhary and Jason Berry
Edited by Berry / Chaudhary
Audio Engineering by Amanda Chaudhary
Animated and Directed by Jason Berry

Special Thanks:
Mika Pontecorvo
Mark Pino

Brought to you by White Wine. Crisp. And Refreshing.

SFJAZZ: Donny McCaslin Group / Antonio Sanchez Migration

In mid June, we at CatSynth were treated to a greatl concert at SFJAZZ that featured Donny McCaslin’s “Blackstar” Band and Antonio Sánchez’s group Migration. McCaslin and his quartet are perhaps best known for their collaboration with David Bowie on his final album Blackstar (which we have discussed previously), but they are a remarkable group in their own right.

Donny McCaslin
[Donny McCaslin]

Indeed, our interest in this show was not just the Bowie connection, but reviews from friends who had previously seen the Santa Cruz-born-and-raised McCaslin live and were blown away by the performance. And as soon as the band started in on their first tune, “Shake Loose” from their latest album Beyond Now, we understood why. It was thunderous, aggressive, but complex and intricate at the same time. There was an intensity, and even a bit of a punk sensibility to the way they powered through the entire set, which included additional selections from the album, a new composition by McCaslin, and “Lazarus” from Blackstar. The encore was also a Bowie song, but a surprising one: “Look Back in Anger.” There really wasn’t a bad moment in the entire set, and it went by quickly with the group’s frenetic pace and energy.

While McCaslin was front and center both visually and musically – he is rather tall as well as a very expressive performer – I was also very impressed with Jason Lindner on keyboards. He freely mixed synthesizers, classic electric piano, and acoustic grand in a performance that was solid harmonically and rhythmically, but again complex and multi-linear. Rounding out the quartet were Mark Guiliana on drums and jazz multi-instrumentalist Nate Wood on bass.

The first half of the show featured Antonio Sanchez Migration performing Sanchez’s long-form composition The Meridian Suite. While the piece has classical influences in its structure, it was unmistakably jazz, and Sanchez himself told the audience that unlike classical-music concerts, the audience was encouraged to applaud between movements and anywhere else the felt warranted such a reaction. The unusually long piece moved through several styles and textures, from very sparse modern jazz to more funky riffs, all anchored by Sanchez’s versatile and precise drumming. Some of the movements included lyrics sung by Thana Alexa. The band also featured Chaise Baird on tenor saxophone, John Escreet on keyboards, and Matt Brewer on bass.


Overall, it was a concert we were happy to have the chance to see; and I will certainly be on the lookout for McCaslin’s next appearance in the Bay Area. In the meantime, we will be enjoying his newest album.