Post-Holiday 'Feels' in West Oakland: This Week's Top Live Music Picks

Exhibiting at Feels IV, colorful artist Michelle Guintu plays heavily with pop culture from the '90s (including TLC, pictured). (Michelle Guintu)

While anxiety rides high over Oakland's tech-infused future, a number of festivals have cropped up whose goals include preserving the elusive "soul of Oakland" -- the Life is Living festival, the Oakland Music Festival, Oakland Drops Beats, Heiro Day and more.

Feels III, at American Steel Studios.
Feels III at American Steel Studios, July 2015. (Gabe Meline)

But it's Feels -- a semi-regular party thrown by Wine & Bowties which returns Saturday, Nov. 28 -- that, well, feels the most like Oakland.

During the last Feels party in July, at American Steel Studios in West Oakland, I made my way among hundreds of revelers under a moonlit makeshift bar, large-scale art, a food truck and DJs. Inside, through the resident studios, over a dozen artists showcased art on warehouse walls, from the folk murals of Bud Snow to Marilyn Rondon's exhibit of responses (link NSFW) to her "Latina lookin' for a thug to make a baby with" post on Craigslist.

As the warehouse stage hosted a steady stream of who-to-know Oakland artists (including rappers Tia Nomore and Ezale) and Chicago footwork DJs, I thought to myself how fluidly Wine & Bowties' parties connect, perhaps unknowingly, with West Oakland's long tradition of semi-sanctioned warehouse parties. From the former Phoenix Ironworks and New Method Laundromat warehouses in the 1980s to the East Nile, Black New World, the Crucible and beyond, there's long been a sense of artistic freedom in West Oakland, and it infused Feels' sold-out July event in all the best ways.

Feels III, at American Steel Studios, July 2015.
Feels III at American Steel Studios, July 2015. (Gabe Meline)

Were it on any other Saturday, Feels IV would already be sold out, but the upcoming holiday weekend means $30 tickets are still available; get them if you can. Appearing are Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth, San Jose rapper Antwon (who gets sad watching sea lions), Atlanta darkwave singer Abra, and over a dozen other musicians and DJs. The zine and visual art lineups are equally staggering (including art by Michelle Guintu, pictured above). Tie it all together and you have the pure soul of Oakland. Details here.

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And if a warehouse party isn't your bag? Thanksgiving weekend usually means a reduced stream of shows, but this year there's plenty of 'em. Here are five more top picks for this week's live music:

'The Nightmare Before Christmas.'
'The Nightmare Before Christmas.'

Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 25, 27 and 28: The San Francisco Symphony plays 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' at Davies Symphony Hall. Danny Elfman's rich career as a soundtrack composer has its highs (Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, the theme to The Simpsons) and its lows (Tim Burton's 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but what's emerging as his broadest-appealing, longest-lasting work is his soundtrack for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Originally released through Disney's more adult-oriented Touchstone Pictures imprint for being ostensibly too scary for kids, it's now a staple in every toy store and children's gift guide -- and Elfman's music forms the entirety of the film. The San Francisco Symphony projects the movie on the big screen and performs the score live for three nights. Details here.

The Easy Leaves.
The Easy Leaves. (Erin Moriarity)

Friday, Nov. 27: Jackie Greene, Nicki Bluhm and the Easy Leaves at the Fox Theater. It seems like just yesterday that blues-based guitarist and songwriter Jackie Greene was playing small clubs around Sacramento and hustling his independent CD releases. But the young phenomenon is all grown up now, and he regularly shares stages with rock and jam-band greats. Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, who will be forever remembered for their in-the-van version of Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That," bring a breezy 1970s vibe to the supporting slot, while the simpler-sounds-from-simpler-times duo the Easy Leaves open the show. Details here.

Oneohtrix Point Never.
Oneohtrix Point Never. (Courtesy Warp Records)

Friday, Nov. 27: Oneohtrix Point Never at the Independent. I last saw Daniel Lopatin, a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never, at the former Cafe du Nord in 2010; the low ceilings sent his clattering mix of calming new-age synths and abrasive noise around the small room in a strangely enjoyable sort of audio claustrophobia. Lopatin's since recorded over a dozen releases, with his latest, Garden of Delete, among his best. In a probing essay about Kenny G earlier this year, Lopatin remarked of his compositional process: "Music is intrinsically the history of music, and is constantly being impregnated by social, environmental and phenomenological variables. I use those variables as a jumping-off point to speculate on the secret emotional promise of things, and since most things I’m surrounded by are dumb, I’m constantly interfacing with dumbness on an aesthetic, investigative level." I like that idea. Details here.

Larry Willis, at right, with longtime collaborator Hugh Masekela. (Courtesy the artist)
Larry Willis, at right, with longtime collaborator Hugh Masekela. (Courtesy the artist)

Friday–Sunday, Nov. 27–29: Larry Willis and Hugh Masekela at SFJAZZ Center. Hugh Masekela's biggest hit is "Grazing in the Grass," that inescapable blast of staccato horn and sixteenth-note cowbell, but anyone who's dug into his discography knows that the South African trumpeter and singer is behind a wealth of deeply political work. (Fleeing your home country to escape apartheid can have that effect.) For his latest release, a 4-CD set in a duo setting with longtime pianist Larry Willis, Masekela turns his attention to decidedly nonpolitical standards from the Great American Songbook. Willis and Masekela share a deep bond (read Andrew Gilbert's interview with both men here), which should be on fine display at SFJAZZ. Details here.

Karla Bonoff.
Karla Bonoff. (Erin Fiedler)

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Saturday, Nov. 28: Karla Bonoff at City Winery. As a career introduction, Karla Bonoff's 1977 eponymous debut album could hardly have been stronger, containing thoughtful songs ("Someone to Lay Down Beside Me," "Lose Again") and production reflecting the Linda Ronstadt-Jackson Browne spirit of the times. By 1982, Bonoff had a resurgence with "Personally" and its attendant awkward MTV music video. But seeing her in concert today is a timeless experience -- Bonoff's songwriting has outlasted fickle trends, and between songs, she's personable and engaging. She plays this week at City Winery in Napa, slated for closure at the end of this year, with the incomparably tasteful acoustic guitarist Nina Gerber. Details here.

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