Rock’s New Era Vulgaris

Live 105's Aaron Axelsen drives the Cadillac of summer festivals.

Curse the faceless corporate overlords and their big radio towers, their manufactured hits rammed down our throats, and their lame, corporate showcases. Damn that Live 105 and its June 9 BFD at Shoreline Amphitheatre featuring … um … Interpol? Hot damn. And … Queens of the Stone Age? Nice! And … Cold War Kids? Awesome! And Silversun Pickups and Social Distortion and CSS and Street to Nowhere, and did we mention Interpol? Holy crap, tickets cost $26 each if you buy four? What in god’s corporate name is going on?

Aaron Axelsen is what’s going on, folks. Once a young Livermore rat attending the thirteen-year-old annual event, then interning at it, Live 105’s program director is now curator of (B)ig (F)ucking (D)eal. This year, he has assembled a stellar lineup of local talent to back up some heavy hitters who’ll be stepping up with fresh material from long-awaited new albums. Queens of the Stone Age release Era Vulgaris three days after BFD. Interpol drops Our Love to Admire on July 10. Social Distortion churns out a best-of June 26, prior to a new CD in the fall.

Ditto for the Lovemakers, Oakland headliners whose new EP is slated for a July release. Kaiser Chiefs have a new album out, and Silversun Pickups are about to go nova. This BFD will most assuredly rock your face, and if it doesn’t rock your face, you must be one of those faceless corporate whores the bay loves to hate.

Axelsen says he pulled off this West Coast coup two ways: relationships with the live music world and savvy spending. Music insider Bob Lefsetz hammers on this point week after week on his blog, the Lefsetz Letter ( Labels = not cool anymore. CD sales are in the potty, but we are in a golden era vulgaris for live music. The center of gravity in the music biz has shifted toward the venues and the booking agents who fill them.

Axelsen’s background at 330 Ritch’s phenomenally star-studded Popscene in San Francisco put him in touch with the booking agents who will or won’t swing big-name tours through the Bay Area at just the right time. “Back in the day, I used to exclusively work with record reps from various indie labels; now I have relationships with every key booking agent,” he says. “Also vitally important is building the brand of BFD. I want bands to leave saying, ‘That was awesome. I want to play BFD again.'”

Moreover, Axelsen says he takes a Moneyball approach to booking, referring to Michael Lewis’ book about A’s general manager Billy Beane. Beane was legendary for one statistic: His team had the most wins per dollar spent. The Yankees were taking home more series rings, but their payroll made Beane’s scrappy club look smarter. “Beane is able to find emerging stars,” Axelsen enthuses. “He gets them. He signs a Barry Zito to a five-year deal, then when they become so huge and massive, he moves on. We look at bands that we want to harbor and have them play us first. Then when they become a Linkin Park or a Red Hot Chili Peppers, they move on.”

A lot of this year’s lineup fits that bill, he says: “From first seeing Interpol play South by Southwest in 2001 to Silversun Pickups’ first EP on Dangerbird in 2005 to Queens of the Stone Age, the last two years have been the best in terms of bands we’ve nurtured and discovered. For me it’s important to cultivate and tap into bands that have developed organically and have a lot of street cred. They have a little more substance and passion than the hit of the week.”

BFD’s three-stage setup will use the daylight to emphasize local acts like the Lovemakers, Oakland’s Street to Nowhere and the Matches, Berkeley’s Honeycut, and SF’s Minipop and Scissors for Lefty. They’ll vie for attention with the likes of Cold War Kids and Silversun Pickups, then both stages will shut down for the final extravaganza that night. Axelsen says this eliminates the huge festival phenomenon of “baby-splitting” — having to choose between two great acts playing at once. Furthermore, bands that are big in the Mission, like Silversun Pickups, will get exposed to the rabid eyes and ears of the kids from Pleasanton and beyond — their future fans, in other words.

As further evidence of the demise of the music label’s importance, the Lovemakers (who had that hit “Prepare for the Fight”) plan to rebound from their ’06 Interscope fallout and lineup change with a new EP on Fuzz, which is more a Web site than a label. “Our contract was one page long and in English!” they marvel.

Lastly, Queens of the Stone Age have posted new music from Era Vulgaris and video interviews on their site. Both kick ass. When asked about the band’s highest and lowest points, frontman Josh Homme coyly replies: “There have been some points where I’m like [druggy voice], ‘Holy shit, I’m freaking out, I’m freaking out.’ … Oh, you mean careerwise. … Hmm.”

He ends the interview with an apt summation of this year’s BFD: “Music today is fantastic, ’cause anything’s possible. And the difference is — now people know that.”

And knowing is half the battle.

BFD Details: Saturday, June 9, at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. Doors open at 11:30 a.m.
Tickets $30, four for $105. 650-967-4040 or

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