Live: Harry Styles Punches Air, Channels Bowie


Aidin Vaziri | Fire alarms started to blare inside the Masonic shortly before Harry Styles took the stage on Tuesday, Sept. 19, but the die-hard fans who had lined up outside the San Francisco venue as early as 8 a.m. to secure a spot close to the stage didn’t budge. The risk of a little smoke inhalation was no match for a chance to get intimate with a member of the British boy band One Direction.

Styles was in the city to kick off his first solo tour, which will lap the world before returning to the SAP Center in San Jose on July 11.

“Thank you for being here,” he said, greeting the sold-out crowd. “Thank you for popping my cherry.”

As it turns out, there was no fire, but the air was thick with expectation. Out of the square-jawed guys in the multiplatinum-selling One Direction (currently on hiatus), Styles was most likely to get tagged for solo stardom by Las Vegas oddsmakers. He has the voice, moves, tattoos, hair and goofy grin.

Yet Styles seems to have fallen behind his One Direction bandmates in the race for chart dominance.

His self-titled album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in May, then quickly plummeted down the chart. Its two singles, “Sign of the Times” and “Sweet Creature,” peaked on the Hot 100 at No. 4 and No. 93, respectively, but were shadowed by big hits by Niall Horan (“Slow Hands”), Liam Payne (“Strip That Down”), Louis Tomlinson (“Back to You”) and Zayn Malik (“I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” with Taylor Swift).

The tour, which marked seven years from Styles’ public debut at age 16 auditioning for the “The X Factor UK,” may turn his fortunes around. But he doesn’t seem particularly concerned.

Now 23, the singer and actor (he appeared in “Dunkirk” this year) is grasping at maturity. Forsaking dance beats and the trite pop formulas, his solo material veers from the sun-dappled ’70s soft-rock jams “Ever Since New York” and “Two Ghosts” (during the concert, he even threw in a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”) to bombastic, Def Leppard-style rockers “Only Angel” and “Kiwi.”

Despite wearing a vintage pompadour and floral suit that looked liked it was made from the remnants of the couch in the old Avalon Ballroom, he threw himself into the louder numbers the most, bouncing on one leg, punching the air and dropping to his knees when the occasion arose.

The screams certainly haven’t subsided for Styles. Every raised eyebrow or wiggled hip earned a fresh round of wails from the audience. Picking up a rainbow flag tossed onto the stage by one of his fans, he twirled it around and draped it over his microphone stand.

“I only have 10 songs to my name, so I’m going to play a couple extras,” he said, rewarding his now-college-age fans with covers of One Direction live staples “Stockholm Syndrome” and “What Makes You Beautiful,” along with his take on Ariana Grande’s “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” (which he co-wrote for her 2014 album “My Everything”).

Styles closed the hour-long set with “Sign of the Times,” the slow-burning ballad that has become his calling card. Channeling David Bowie, it casts the singer as a self-assured, reflective artist who can still set hearts ablaze.

“I was so excited for tonight, and now I know why,” Styles said. “I would like to put it down as the perfect first night of the tour.”



The Woman Who Saved Oasis

melissa.jpgAidin Vaziri | Melissa Lim remembers the first time she locked eyes with Noel Gallagher, the lead guitarist of Oasis. It was backstage at the Bottom of the Hill on Sept. 26, 1994, where the quarrelsome British rock band was making its San Francisco live debut in support of its platinum-selling first album, “Definitely Maybe.”

“He came over and sat down next to me,” she says. “I had never been backstage before, so I asked him, ‘Where’s the afterparty?’ And he goes, ‘What afterparty? Can I hang out with you tonight?’”

The encounter would play a major part in the group’s formative years, chronicled in the action-packed new documentary, “Supersonic” (from the makers of “Amy”), which hit U.S. theaters last month.

Three days later, after a disastrous concert at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles — where the band members were high on crystal meth and saddled with mismatched set lists — things came to a head. Gallagher was struck in the face by a tambourine hurled by younger brother Liam, and decided he’d had enough.

Gallagher grabbed his passport, boarded a plane to San Francisco and reportedly went into hiding at Lim’s apartment in lower Nob Hill.

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Lana Del Rey at the Bill Graham Civic


Aidin Vaziri | They started lining up the night before, while that evening’s headliners Queens of the Stone Age were still onstage. By Friday morning, long after the semis and tour buses had rolled on and new ones were on their way, there was a queue of people – three or four deep – that extended from the entry gates of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to the crosswalk leading to the grand stairs of City Hall across the street. A few hours later, the line stretched around the perimeter of Civic Center Plaza. When the doors of the venue finally opened at 8 p.m., 6,000 fans were panting to get inside for the first headline appearance in San Francisco by the pop sensation Lana Del Rey.

The fervent level of anticipation for the torchy 27-year-old singer and songwriter from New York – some three years after she released her breakthrough single, “Video Games” – was a little unexpected. It will be another few months before Del Rey puts out a new album, the follow-up to 2012’s “Born to Die.” She has steadfastly avoided the typical rigors of promotion, such as interviews and radio show appearances, and just one of her songs, a remix at that, has managed to crack the Top 10.

Still, the scene inside the auditorium was thoroughly nutty, as thousands of Lana-be’s in their flower crowns and cutoff denim shorts jostled for prime space up front in the otherwise spacious room. There were tears, bloody fistfights and a constant stream of limp bodies gasping for air pulled out from the crush at the barriers at the foot of the stage.

Then Del Rey went on.

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Record Store Day a Treat for Vinyl Enthusiasts


Aidin Vaziri | Business is booming at Rooky Ricardo’s Records. On a recent dark, drizzly evening when it looks like the rest of the Lower Haight neighborhood is deserted, a steady stream of customers ducks into the cozy little vinyl emporium overseen by doting owner Dick Vivian.

The shop, which has the look and feel of a 1950s apothecary, complete with rotary phones and a retro laminate dining table, has long served as a neighborhood hangout.

In the past few years, renewed interest in vinyl records – a format of music that was once declared dead and gone – has made Rooky Ricardo’s a must-visit destination for audiophiles from around the world.

“I grew up listening to old-school rock,” says Benezra Tegis, a San Francisco native who is one of Vivian’s regulars. “When you come back to the sound of the needle hitting the groove it’s inexplicable. It’s so much better than an MP3.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way.

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Pop Quiz: Capital Cities


Aidin Vaziri | Roundly ignored when it was originally released two years ago, Capital Cities’ breakthrough single, “Safe and Sound,” took a circuitous route to becoming one of the biggest hits of the year. The Los Angeles electro-pop duo, made up of Sebu Simonian and San Francisco native Ryan Merchant, has spent the past few months chasing the song around the world while promoting its full-length debut, “In a Tidal Wave of Mystery.” The group caps its whirlwind year with an appearance Friday at Live 105’s Not So Silent Night concert at Oracle Arena in Oakland. Merchant talked with The Chronicle.

Q:Safe and Sound” has almost 5 million views on YouTube. How much of the credit goes to the trumpet?

A: I think the trumpet was a smart production decision on our part. We reproduced that song eight or nine times. That particular melodic line was laid by a synth in the early versions, and it felt a little bit light. It didn’t have this epic vibe we’d been going for. When we finally decided to bring in a trumpet player, it took off.

Q: You guys met on Craigslist. Were you at all concerned that one of you might get robbed?

A: In Los Angeles, it’s a pretty common way for bands to come together. I found Sebu’s ad up there, so I checked out his work and really liked what I heard. We came together and started working and had an immediate musical chemistry.

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Pop Quiz: Basia Bulat


Aidin Vaziri | Basia Bulat, the Toronto singer-songwriter who frequently draws comparisons to Joni Mitchell, amps things up on her third album, “Tall Tall Shadow.” She co-produced it with Arcade Fire t s Tim Kingsbury and engineer Mark Lawson, lavishing her heartbroken folk songs with noisy guitars and electronic effects. Many of the songs were written after Bulat suffered a great loss. She performs Dec. 9 at the Chapel in San Francisco. Bulat spoke to The Chronicle from the road.

Q: You wrote most of this album after one of your close friends died. Is it difficult revisiting those emotions night after night?

A: For me, what I love about the live performance is the energy I get from the people. Every city, every audience has its own personality. People bring their own emotions to the show. My job is to try to find a way to connect with them. I find that it’s uplifting because we’re all in it together. It’s uncanny – on this tour people have been singing along with the newer songs more than the old ones. I find it so moving.

Q: Now if you could just get everyone to stop comparing you to Joni Mitchell.

A: It’s just one of those things. She’s on this other plane. I don’t know if I can ever live up to it. Those are mighty big shoes to fill.

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Metallica, Ready for The Spotlight


Just a week before their Imax 3-D concert film, “Metallica: Through the Never,” was set to get its star-studded premiere at San Francisco’s Metreon Theater, the members of Metallica – drummer Lars Ulrich, singer James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo – convened at their headquarters in an unmarked industrial building in a part of San Rafael where it feels as if bad things happen after dark.

With the walls lined with various pieces of memorabilia from the heavy-metal titans’ 30-plus-year run – everything from a plaque from their MTV Icon tribute concert to fans’ handmade banners from stadium shows all over the world – they were hunkering down over last-minute details before the movie’s official release.

Directed by Nimród Antal, “Through the Never” presents an innovative mix of live footage of Metallica performing with the fictitious story of a young roadie, played by star-of-the-moment Dane DeHaan (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,”), who is sent out on an unusually grim errand.

We sat down with Ulrich and Trujillo to talk about the film.

Q: It must be incredible to see yourself on a 100-foot Imax screen in 3-D. Have you ever had the chance to watch yourself perform like that?

Ulrich: Obviously, the whole idea with this film, at least the concert art of it, was to get the audience up onstage and get them to really be part of the action in the trenches. You know, with the band, being spit on and sweat on and gooed on and whatever else is going on up there. So you really feel you’re part of it. Rather than feeling like you’re looking at Metallica, you’re actually with Metallica.

Trujillo: They experience it like we experience it. There’s a lot of excitement in that but there’s danger, too. That stage is pretty scary.

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