Pop Quiz: Sergio Mendes


Aidin Vaziri | Sergio Mendes knows how to get people moving. For more than five decades, the Brazilian producer, composer, keyboardist and vocalist has kept fans around the world on their toes with his bossa nova-inspired takes on songs like “The Look of Love,” “Mais Que Nada” and “Daytripper.” He’s winning over new ones too, thanks to his Oscar-nominated work on the soundtracks for the animated films “Rio” and “Rio 2.” This year, he celebrates the release of his breakthrough debut, “Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66.” Mendes also headlines Festival Napa Valley, performing at Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga on Wednesday, July 20. Mendes, 75, spoke to us from his home in Woodland Hills (Los Angeles County).

Q: You lived in the Bay Area when you first moved to the United States. Does it feel like coming home when you visit?

A: It does. I love it. I have nothing but great memories. I used to live in a houseboat in Sausalito and work at the Trident, as well as El Matador on Broadway. Every time I go, I have those memories. It’s a long time ago, but it feels like last week.

Q: You have been playing many of the songs in your set for more than 50 years. What keeps them fresh for you night after night?

A: I love the melodies. The arrangements change because the members of the band change. It’s the same “Fool on the Hill,” but we still enjoy it … I can see the reaction of the people — and now the younger audiences. It’s the power of the song.

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Flight of the Conchords at the Masonic


Aidin Vaziri | A little grayer, a little less wispy, the New Zealand folk-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords returned to the Masonic in San Francisco on Monday night, June 27, for its first Bay Area concert in three years, its humor as gloriously understated as ever.

“Please don’t film this,” said Bret McKenzie, the shorter one. “We’re doing some new material we don’t know very well.”

“And some old material we don’t remember,” added his partner, Jemaine Clement.

On the HBO series “Flight of the Conchords,” which debuted in 2007 and ran for two seasons, the pair portrayed a pair of witless musicians — also named Jemaine and Bret — who spent 22 episodes struggling but mostly failing to make it in New York City with their band of the same name.

The real-life duo has fared much better, picking up a handful of Emmy nominations, scoring a Top 10 album on the Billboard charts and building a sizable cult following.

Most the dates on its current 28-city North American tour, including a stop at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on Tuesday, June 28, and a date at the Newport Folk Festival in July, sold out as soon as they were announced earlier this year. A film adaptation of the HBO series is also rumored to be in the works.

Flight of the Conchords’ live sets, meanwhile, are side-splitting affairs.

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Andy Shauf, ‘The Party’


Aidin Vaziri | Andy Shauf is a gentle singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan with a mean wit. On his latest album, “The Party,” he offers beautifully orchestrated vignettes from his perch as a wallflower, spinning out 10 songs that capture the parade of characters and events unfolding before his eyes at an all-night fete. His classic-sounding compositions evoke the likes of Harry Nilsson and “Ram”-era Paul McCartney, while Shauf breathily narrates life’s most awkward moments in silvery tunes like “Early to the Party” and “Quite Like You.” There are traces of his personal hero Elliott Smith in there as well, especially in the way his melancholy moods play off the lush instruments — all of which he incidentally plays himself. This is one soiree you don’t want to miss.

Pop Quiz: Rumer Willis

rumer_willis_aidin_vaziri.jpgAidin Vaziri | Rumer Willis talks in the reserved, clipped tones of someone who has spent her entire life dodging the paparazzi. But when the 27-year-old daughter of Hollywood royalty Bruce Willis and Demi Moore sings — and who knew she could sing? — she really opens up, lending her unexpectedly rich voice to songs made famous by larger-than-life stars such as Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse. Willis, who won the 20th season of “Dancing With the Stars” and played Roxie Hart in the Broadway revival of “Chicago,” brings her cabaret act to Feinstein’s at the Nikko this week. She spoke to us from her home in Los Angeles.

Q: Why did it take so long to get you singing on a stage?

A: I was focusing on acting and just busy with a lot of other stuff. I wanted to go about it the right way. There’s a stigma with people who act or who are children of actors. I wanted to make sure when I did something it came from a place of integrity.

Q: Was it something you always wanted to do?

A: I have always sung, since I was little. I just never put it out there because I wanted to find the right way to go about it. My dad has been such a huge music lover. Growing up, he would always play us cool and interesting music. My taste came from him. My sisters and I used to put shows together and sing in the living room.

Q: So are people coming to the shows because they recognize your name or because they’ve heard you sing and want to hear more?

A: Who knows? For me, as long as I can get people to listen, that’s the only thing that matters to me.

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Flume, ‘Skin’


Aidin Vaziri | Flume is Australia’s biggest electronic music export and remixer to the stars. He has turned songs by the likes of Sam Smith, Arcade Fire and Lorde into wobbly, narcotic down-tempo gems. The 24-year-old producer, born Harley Streten, scored a hit with his self-titled 2012 debut album, which went double-platinum back home and earned him top ranking at festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella. On its follow-up, “Skin,” Flume embraces his crossover appeal, recruiting guests like Beck, Little Dragon and AlunaGeorge while hanging on to the weirdness that sets him apart. There is a broader range of tempo and emotion here, with more focused melodies and vocals — and less introspection all around. It doesn’t carry a consistent mood like the debut, but the potential for breakout hits ramps up significantly, from the album’s big hip-hop moment, “Smoke & Retribution,” featuring Vince Staples, to its lush pop single, “Say It,” featuring Tove Lo.

Radiohead, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’


Aidin Vaziri | Thom Yorke is heartbroken, which means he’s even sadder than usual on Radiohead’s new album, “A Moon Shaped Pool.” Another surprise release from the band that started the trend with 2007’s “In Rainbows” (inspiring Beyonce, U2, Drake and more) the new one arrived on May 8 just hours after the group dropped the creepy video for the first single, “Burn the Witch.” Following the dissolution of the singer’s long-term relationship with the mother of his two children, the music is expectedly somber on tunes like “Decks Dark” and the folk-imbued “Desert Island Disk.” It makes for Radiohead’s most cohesive release in recent memory, stylistically and thematically. The album also delivers the ultimate gut punch with its closing track, a twinkling studio recording of the breakup ballad “True Love Waits,” which the band has been kicking around in demo form since 1995: “I’m not living, I’m just killing time.”

Beyonce Rages on Formation Tour


Aidin Vaziri | Bringing her Formation World Tour to the home of the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, May 16, Beyoncé picked up right where she left off the last time she was at Levi’s Stadium.

She opened the sold-out Santa Clara show with the confrontational, tense “Formation” — the same song she played when she brought the Super Bowl 50 halftime show to a standstill in February while performing alongside Bruno Mars and a bewildered Coldplay.

While the costumes were different — less Black Panthers, more bolero — the tune still served as a potent warning shot: Beyoncé has changed.

The two-hour set wasn’t going to be like those on her previous tours, where she drew the audience into her fantastical world of sleek pop hits, slickly choreographed dance routines and platitudes.

Instead, this was going to be something more real — a messy, pyrotechnics-fueled rampage that saw the 34-year-old singer-songwriter-supernatural force stand in front of 45,000 people and reckon with everyday issues like marital strife, injustice and lost hope.

“Today I regret the night I put that ring on,” Beyoncé belted out scornfully in the new anthem “Sorry,” as her all-female crew of backup dancers defiantly raised their middle fingers.

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