Volume 41 Number 14

January 3 – January 9, 2007

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Jan. 9



It gets increasingly difficult to describe how Jon Almaraz and William Sabiston make their electronic drum pads and guitar effects do what they do, probably because they keep getting weirder. Without a record or even a MySpace page to speak of, Bulbs hole up and practice like maniacs for their all-too-rare live shows. I would say Bulbs are underrated, but it’s unclear what rating system they even register on. Maybe tie a hypercolor shirt to a Geiger counter and then melt a bunch of John Fahey records till they look like a Frank Gehry building. Opener East Bay wunderkinder Robin Williams on Fire do the Arab on Radar gambol with excess energy and a fulsome ruckus. (George Chen)

With Man vs. Nature, Yvonne, Child Pornography, and Operation
9 p.m., $5
1600 17th St., SF
(415) 503-0393


Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes may take rap lyrics to task for being needlessly violent, homophobic, and misogynistic, but filmmaker Byron Hurt isn’t a hater – he’s a lifelong fan. His occasionally academic investigation into how masculinity figures into hip-hop culture is therefore rooted in a certain amount of concern: he’d sure like to find a silver lining among all the bitches and bullets, but the stereotype is proven as fact at nearly every turn. It’s a thought-provoking doc that’s worthy of further discussion, so stick around after for the panel of activists and artists. Youth Movement Records and Youth Speaks also perform. (Cheryl Eddy)

5:30 p.m., free
San Francisco Public Library
Koret Auditorium
100 Larkin, SF




Kronos Quartet

Christmas is brushing off rocks in the rear-view mirror and New Year’s is coughing up exhaust. ’Tis the season for Scraping Foetus off the Wheel. More specifically, it’s the time to hear a composition or two by J.G. Thirlwell, whose many musical noms de plume include quite a few that capitalize the word foetus, as well as genius tags like Manorexia and Steroid Maximus. Only one foursome could bring the sound of Thirlwell into a setting such as Temple Emanu-El: namely, the Kronos Quartet. (Johnny Ray Huston)

7:30 p.m., $17-$20
Temple Emanu-El, Martin Meyer Sanctuary
Two Lake, SF
(415) 355-9988, ext. 11


“Cinema Drafthouse”

The biggest problem with most movie theaters is that they don’t serve booze. Luckily, the good people at the Independent put on “Cinema Drafthouse,” where you can live the dream. This week they are showing instant indie classic Little Miss Sunshine, which was one of the best movies released last year. Idea for a drinking game: drink whenever the little girl talks. (Aaron Sankin)

8 p.m., free (2 drink minimum)
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1422



Jan. 7


Chinese New Year Spectacular

This touring New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV) production arrives in San Francisco just in time to usher in the Western new year with a Far East twist. Combining classical Chinese dance, Western ballet, orchestral accompaniment, and a cast of hundreds, the full-blown pageantry of “Myths and Legends” kicks off the year in a grand manner. You’ll watch cherry blossoms dance below the branches, serpentine dragons writhe across the stage, and teams of synchronized sword fighters prepare for the fray. (Nicole Gluckstern)

2:30 p.m., $28-$168
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness, SF
(415) 392-4400


Notes on a Scandal

An educated woman in need of some distraction from her same-old domestic lot, Sheba (Cate Blanchett) decides to try teaching art at the local secondary school. There she makes two friends: Steven (Andrew Simpson), a working-class boy with some drawing talent; and spinsterish Barbara (Judi Dench), an imperious history teacher not liked much by students or staff but taken into confidence by the breezily trusting Sheba. Imagine prissy Barbara’s shock when she discovers that Sheba hasn’t really been so frank with her after all – she is, in fact, having a reckless affair with Steven. This juicy psychological near-horror story is adapted from Zoë Heller’s excellent novel What Was She Thinking? The movie’s minor flaws are more than compensated for by a gold-plated cast. (Dennis Harvey)

Now playing in Bay Area theaters




El Dopa

Oakland rockers El Dopa reunite for this grindcore spectacular. The band, which features members of Watch Them Die, Grimple, and One in the Chamber, last played in 2001 for another reunion show. Expect hard-edged crunching guitar riffs and growly screams as they bombast the audience with a metal tirade that will no doubt leave a few people looking for earplugs. (James Woodard)

With Saros and Stormcrow
10 p.m., $7
Annie’s Social Club
917 Folsom, SF
(415) 974-1585


Japanese Mochi Pounding Party

Traditionally, mochi making is a lovingly time-consuming process meant to usher in the new with care. But these days few in Japan or stateside have time to go it old-school: washing and soaking the rice overnight, then steaming the kernels, and finally pounding them with a wooden mallet, with the help of another mochi maker. Lucky for you that the Asian Art Museum allows you to get into the sweet spirit of the season via its annual Japanese Mochi Pounding Party. San Francisco organization Kagami Kai takes the lead at the event, encouraging mochi eaters of all ages to try their hand, then taste the results. (Kimberly Chun)

Noon-1 p.m. mochi pounding; 1-4 p.m. art activity; free with museum admission ($6-$10); free for children 11 and under
Asian Art Museum
200 Larkin, SF
(415) 581-3500



jan. 5


Indian Jewelry

Rat-king and knife-play imagery, the nagging buzz of badly handled electronics, and LA primitivo beats circa early ’80s Gun Club – such are the signs of Indian Jewelry. Recent sounds from last year’s Monitor album, Invasive Exotics, show a group in expansion mode, branching out into a fine, mind-faltering drone that Brightblack Morning Light doubtless can get with. Hey, any band that uses “instruments” such as pandemonium, war rattles, and pizzazz can play in our jewelry box anytime. (Kimberly Chun)

With Clipd Beaks and USA Crypt
9:30 p.m., $7
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923


Tribute to Townes van Zandt

If it weren’t for Townes van Zandt, there wouldn’t be alt-country. Van Zandt, who has affectionately been called the Texas Bob Dylan, perfected the art of storytelling through song, crafted frequently covered tunes such as “Pancho and Lefty,” and inspired multiple generations of songwriters to follow in his impossible-to-fill footsteps. This show will see local musicians celebrate his legacy and commemorate the 10-year anniversary of his death. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)

With Court and Spark, Etienne de Rocher, Four Year Bender, Alela Diane, Jeffery Luck Lucas, Tom Heyman, Mike Therieau, Bob Frank, and John Murry
9 p.m., $8
12 Galaxies
2565 Mission, SF
(415) 970-9777



Jan. 4


“Six Pack” and
“Hardcore Psycho Workout”

You’d bench-press more than the broken-limbed Governator if you could touch the life-size sculptures of Los Angeles’s Christopher Tallon, whose new show features paper versions of giant dumbbells and other free-weight accoutrement. Tallon’s “Six Pack” could double as a satirical commentary on rituals of masculinity and a critique of art world narcissism. Mark Morris’s “Hardcore Psycho Workout” also conflates gallery spaces and gymnasiums. (Johnny Ray Huston)

5:30-7:30 p.m. opening reception
and performance, free
Through Feb. 24
Steven Wolf Fine Arts
49 Geary, suite 411, SF
(415) 263-3677


Blue Turtle Seduction

Blue Turtle Seduction play “high-altitude bohemian funk grass,” according to the press release. If you’re wondering exactly what that sounds like, rest assured that it’s real good. Formed as a loose musical co-op in Lake Tahoe in 2001, Blue Turtle Seduction quickly evolved into a hard-working touring band, playing more than 200 shows last year alone. (Aaron Sankin)

9:45 p.m., $10
Sweetwater Saloon
152 Throckmorton, Mill Valley
(415) 388-2820



Jan. 3


The Rat Pack Is Back

When I was a kid, my parents listened to Frank Sinatra almost constantly and caught him live whenever he came through. The last time they saw him, apparently, he was kind of drunk and couldn’t remember the lyrics to some of his songs, and my folks were a little depressed by the whole thing. Ol’ Blue Eyes was just old, and sadly, so were they. It was too late. Or is it? You can still catch classic (virtual) Frank, with his eternal homeboys Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop (the sole survivor), in The Rat Pack Is Back and pretend he never did that duet with Bono. (Duncan Scott Davidson)

3 and 8 p.m., $40-$70
Through Sun/7 (see Web site for showtimes)
Marines Memorial Theatre
609 Sutter, second floor, SF
(415) 771-6900


Kickin’ it old school

DJs Tim D and Willie Maze spin old school hip-hop at downtown Oakland’s epicenter of french-fry excellence.

8 p.m., free
Luka’s Taproom and Bar
2221 Broadway, Oakl.
(510) 451-4677

Left Behind: Eternal Forces


GAMER It’s no secret. We’re in the end times, and at the clarion’s call when all of God’s children are raptured into heaven, we’ll be left to deal with the Antichrist — who, by the way, has a job at the United Nations and is working like the devil to see that people get college educations to further support the dark lord and his satanic machinations (which, of course, include sexual equality). Hail, Satan!

Unfortunately, in the recently released Left Behind: Eternal Forces — based on the best-selling series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, in which a handful of heroes is left to save humanity after the rapture — you only get to play as the "good guys," the Tribulation Force, whose mission is to foil the nefarious Global Community peacekeeper forces. Actually, you can play for Satan, but first you’ll need to convince a couple of your friends to load this crappy game onto their computers to play with you. Go ahead. Ask them. See what they say once you explain what the game is about. Unless they are 70-year-old evangelists or the parents of babbling blond, banal gospel or country music stars, your friends will laugh at you. I’m no expert, but I think former UN ambassador John Bolton might like this game’s premise.

As for me, I found it childish and ridiculous. And as a video game, it was like playing Pong in a dark swamp. In the time it took me to maneuver my character up the street in order to convert a couple people for "Trib force," I could have easily hijacked a truck or a BMX bike, robbed a police station, and beaten a shopkeeper senseless — all while dressed as Dennis Rodman — while playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The point the developers of this game are trying to make is that immoral video games like GTA and other shoot-’em-ups, such as SOCOM and Halo, offer no positive messages. That said, I’m not quite sure what moral messages there are in this game. It was so hard to play that I never really got a good feel for the potential it might have. At certain points of the game, secret clues appear, except they’re not actually clues but scriptural passages about the end times or some half-assed tirade calling evolution a satanic plot. Whenever your character is activated, he or she will say "Praise the Lord" or "Laying straight paths" before going off to save humanity. When the players run low on spiritual energy, their comments are more like "What now?" or "I could really use a sandwich."

Inside the package was a short video by its makers and the authors of the book series the game is based on. There’s also commentary from other influential evangelical leaders, including Dr. Jack Hayford, the president of the Foursquare Church, who comments that this game is "every bit as much fun as kids perceive other stuff."

Really? Whose kids?

When I was a kid, my evangelical grandparents gave me music they hoped would counter my newfound love of heavy metal. But Stryper and metal missionaries Bloodgood can’t touch Iron Maiden and Metallica, and if parents think their kids will find this game more fun than others on the market, they really should get out more often. Given the choice of playing as a Navy SEAL (as in SOCOM) or some sweater-vested geek trying to convert New York City, I would much rather be the former.

In the promotional video, a gamer named Grant says the game is so unique he "just can’t stop playing it. My eyes are getting so tired, ’cause I’m having so much fun that I might fall asleep on my computer."

Here’s a suggestion if you want to keep Grant from falling asleep and drooling in his keyboard: you have to make it easier to play. I had to keep rebooting my computer in order to get the game to move at all. When I finally did get to play, my character was killed by an evil, college-educated, rock music gang — which poisoned me. That’s right. Gangs in New York have college educations and spend their time poisoning people. I know the developers are trying to keep the level of violence down, but the soldiers get to shoot each other. Are they trying to teach their children that gangs don’t use guns? Has there been an upsurge in gang-related poisonings lately?

I found trying to convert people (which is the main point of the game) to be a soul-crushingly boring waste of time. There is no way teens will flock to this game (unless they feel an obligation to play the gift grandma got them so nobody’s feelings get hurt).

If you see this title at your local store, do not buy it, even if you think it’s funny. I promise you it is not. It must be left behind. (James Woodard)

P&J jam


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Icons come and go, with all the fanfare, dressers, and folderol that legends demand, you know — with a wiggle of a ruddy nose, the flash of a cape, a blast of TNT, the slam of the estate gates. Goodbye, James Brown (RIP Godfather of Soul, Dec. 25, 2006), may you work a little less in heaven than

you did on earth. Fare thee well, Village Music (music geeks’ vinyl treasure trove), readying to close Sept. 30, due to the high rent demanded in Mill Valley. Next?

I was ready to say hasta luego to that mammoth warhorse of all critics’ polls, the Village Voice‘s Pazz and Jop. The massive compendium of top 10 album and song lists and legitimizer of toiling, stinking music crit midgets the nation over, the creature seemed to be next on the list of endangered species when creator-caretaker Robert Christgau (dean of American rock critics) and Voice music editor Chuck Eddy were fired last year after the New Times’ purchase of Village Voice Media.

Still, the yearly e-mail appeared again early last month — "Hello. You are one of the 1,500-odd critics we’d like to include …" — this time signed by the Voice‘s new music editor, Rob Harvilla, who got the NT corporate relocation orders from the East Bay Express.

Is it the same poll without Christgau keeping tempo? Honestly, few envy Harvilla, who has had a tough shoe to polish in pleasing Voice readers and filling his well-established predecessors’ boots while boasting little of sheer record-reviewing chops and logging a fraction of the critical thought that has gone into the careers of Eddy and Christgau. The latter for good reason dubbed his graded music review column Consumer’s Guide. Ever the idealistic, outraged, yet overthinking lot, music writers were conflicted — torn between their loyalty to the old Voice editors and the scent of a continuing or future paycheck. The notion of alternate polls was batted around on the blogosphere.

Still, when Gawker Media actually began one, who suspected the brouhaha that would ensue? Gawker’s music blog, Idolator, announced its startlingly similar Jackin’ Pop Critics Poll with the cheeky, gauntlet-tossing headline "Time to Raze the Village," called out Christgau’s and Eddy’s cannings, and issued the salvo "For those who had long turned to the Voice to help guide them through the realm of pop, rock, and hip-hop, the 51-year-old alt-weekly now had about as much musical credibility as, say, a three-month-old blog." Shortly after that, Idolator poll editor and ex–Seattle Weekly music editor Michaelangelo Matos was informed, through a multiple-source grapevine at the NT-VV Media–owned Minneapolis–St. Paul City Pages (the alt-weekly at which he began his career) that he has been banned from that paper.

Gawker-Idolator later reported that word quickly went out to NT-VV music staffers that they’re not allowed to vote in the Idolator poll. "When we announced the poll, that day, I saw an e-mail from John Lomax, who is the Houston Press music editor — he’s head of New Times music editors — instructing all music editors and staff writers that hourly and salaried staffers of New Times were not allowed to vote in the Idolator poll," Matos told me from Seattle.

Matos added that despite NT-VV being "obviously hardball kind of guys," he took umbrage at the fact that "they didn’t tell me I was banned. I heard it from somebody else. I think the way they handled it was chickenshit, but from the way I can tell, that’s one way they operate, through fear and imprecation." At press time, Lomax and City Pages music editor Sarah Askari had not responded to inquiries.

Is this just a matter of new media versus New Times? Corporate print media fending off the pricks of a million busy blogging digits? To make matters even more complicated, Christgau himself, whose Consumer Guide was recently picked up by MSN, has voted in both polls. "I have told people who’ve asked to do what they wish," he e-mailed me, adding that Eddy, now at Billboard, is not voting in P&J.

Yet other aboveboard and down-low boycotts of P&J abound, Matos said. Ex–Voice staffer and current Pop Conference organizer Eric Weisbard is skipping the poll because, the former P&J pooh-bah e-mailed, "participating in Pazz & Jop validates the New Times neanderthals who now run Village Voice Media. They may want to keep alive a poll that generates more Web hits than anything else they do, but in all other ways, they hate and are trying to eradicate everything that the Village Voice music section stood for: intellectual discussion of popular music and popular culture."

"A number of people who aren’t voting in the Voice poll are older and better established," added Matos, describing an argument he recently had with a friend. "I heatedly called it a labor issue, and my friend said, ‘If I vote in the Voice poll, am I a scab?’ It’s probably not that cut-and-dried…. Everyone in New York knows how bad the Voice has gotten, but for a lot of people, the Voice still represents a decent paycheck. It’s a hard thing to argue with. People who don’t want to piss off the Village Voice, and frankly, till this poll came along, I was one of them."

Vote in both, don’t vote in P&J, or vote in P&J and pen protest too? I’ve always internally chafed against the voice of critical authority, inclusive yet contentious, implied with P&J. Perhaps that sense of center is a bastion of the past, along with traditional music industry models. Yet even the first P&J Matos ever read — from 1990, with De La Soul on the cover — included an essay by a writer who refused to participate in the group grope. The gathering was that quirky and open to dissent.

An alien concert in the new order of NT-VV? "Good going, champions of the free press!" Idolator crowed after announcing the NT-VV response, excerpting a supposed example e-mail from a NT-VV music editor to writer. "To get revenge, we plan to not patronize the porn ads in the back of your magazines for the next week. You have no idea how much that’s gonna cost you."

One long-tenured P&J pooh-bah continues to watch over the proceedings, if from afar. "I look forward with considerable curiosity to both polls," Christgau wrote to me. "I very much doubt either will be as good as the last PJ, but we shall see." Nonetheless, it seems unlikely the boycotted and participation-by-dictate P&J will, as Matos put it, "open things up for you," as good critics and past polls have. *



New years, like wars, tend to begin with high hopes and well-laid plans. We vow to lose weight, drink less, stop smoking, and secure Baghdad. Then the starting flag drops, the leftover cheesecake has to be eaten for breakfast, you develop an aversion to your fancy new digital bathroom scale, it’s raining, and you learn you have been impeached.

Breakfast cheesecake is probably not the utmost in depravity, since it does have the virtue of sticking with you. It also helps relieve holiday refrigerator clutter. But you will find no reference to it in Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine by Elson M. Haas, MD (Ten Speed, $39.95 paper), the latest and perhaps the most formidable of the many food-health gospels that have been published in recent years.

Haas is of the exhaustive, no-nonsense school, and while his tome reiterates many of the current wisdoms (eat more dark greens and less meat, mind your fats), it contains more extensive discussions of nutritional issues, than many of its competitors. I was particularly interested in Haas’s views on vitamin E, a strong antioxidant that has been controversial in some quarters because of studies suggesting it might actually worsen certain heart conditions.

Haas emphasizes that the dosage of E, taken as a nutritional supplement, does matter: benefits that accrue at a daily intake of around 400 international units (one of those little gelcaps) can become worrisome at higher levels. But he also points out that getting enough E from food alone is tricky, in part because the E-rich foods tend to be high in fat.

It is too late now to give Staying Healthy as a stocking stuffer, and given its size, this is just as well. There is a difference between a stuffed stocking and a burst one. The book belongs on a shelf anyway, among its fellow worthies, ready to be quickly consulted during and beyond the season of weight-loss programs.

Egg on face: is there anything sadder than a botched joke? In a recent piece (Without Reservations, 11/29/06) I cracked wise about a long-ago drink-beer-X-or-we’ll-kill-you ad campaign. I thought the beer was Bud, but of course it was Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee famous — or Mel Famy walk us, to give the punch line of another old joke.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Get in the Vans


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Not surprisingly, a sneaker store was the meeting place for two young members of the popular East Bay hip-hop quartet the Pack, whose slow and smoldering bass-heavy runaway rap hit "Vans," about the "punk rock shoe," has the infectious hook "Got my Vans on, but they look like sneakers."

"Me and Stunna went to the same school. So we knew each other," Lil Uno said. "But one day we just both happened to be in the same shoe store … and it was sort of by accident how it all happened." That fateful day in 2005 set the stage for the formation of the four-member Wolf Pack, as they were originally called. On Dec. 19, Jive/Zomba, via the Too $hort imprint Up All Nite, released their national debut, Skateboards 2 Scrapers, an EP with seven songs that features two versions of their "My Adidas"–style sneaker hit for the hyphy age, including the "Vans Remix," featuring the godfather of Bay Area rap himself, Too $hort, plus an appearance by the "Tony Hawk of the ghetto," as the Pack call him, Mistah FAB. The disc should tide fans over until the release of the group’s full-length in April.

Speaking recently by cell phone from Berkeley, on a break from his School for the Performing Arts–tutored lessons, the now-17-year-old Lil Uno continued his sneaker-seeking tale. Stunna "had actually just bought a pair of shoes that I wanted, and I had just bought a pair of shoes that he wanted…. They ran out of his size, and they ran out of my size. So we actually ended up trading a pair of shoes for a pair of shoes." He laughed. "And then later on we end up making a song about shoes. Funny how things happen."

Indeed! But what happened immediately was Lil Uno invited Stunna to a party in San Francisco. It was at that party that he met producer-rapper Young L and rapper Lil B, who had already started recording music together. "The next day they asked me to go to the studio…. It was all four of us. And since then it’s been the Pack," Lil Uno said of the very young group (the oldest member is 19). So confident is Jive in their success that it has designed a limited edition Vans skateboard. Vans, the lucky shoe company getting all the free promotion, is planning a Pack shoe.

Meanwhile, the Pack have been busy. Since forming in 2005, the tireless group has recorded more than 150 songs; put out several regional rap full-lengths, including their Wolf Pack Musik series; been taken under Too $hort’s wing; and used MySpace to full advantage in getting heard.

"They’re inspiring because despite their young age, they are really creative and also really eager about learning about music and the music business," said Taj Mahal Pilghman, general manager, project coordinator, and engineer-producer. "And $hort has really taken the time to let them go in and do their thing and then school them afterwards."

"Vans" was just one of many songs the Pack posted on MySpace. "[‘Vans’] took off. It ran, and there wasn’t really any stopping it," Lil Uno said. His fellow band member Young L, who produced the track, added that "MySpace gets about 25 to 30 percent credit for us getting signed…. But without it, we would have had a much harder time being heard."

Regardless, Young L, now 19, is as surprised as his fellow Packers about the unbridled success of "Vans," which is currently heard in numerous amateur videotaped dance numbers posted on YouTube. "We didn’t think it would be such a hit. With that song we were just having fun, really," the skilled young producer explained. He laced up the track for the minimal hypnotic beat in no time, using Reason and ReCycle software. And the voice that recurs throughout the song saying "Young L" but sounding like "You’re new" (the phase that has become the Pack’s trademark) is a vocal he cranked out on the FruityLoops program.

For the upcoming album, however, he wants to "incorporate more real instrumentation," and at press time, he was meeting with Lil Jon, who will reportedly coproduce it.

Young L, who grew up soaking up the sounds of "Too $hort, 2Pac, the Cash Money crew, as well as Jay Z and Rock-a-fella," doesn’t think the Pack should be stuck to any one sound, as is threatening to happen. "We have hyphy songs," he said from Berkeley. "But I don’t think we are a hyphy group, because hyphy is based on high-energy, hyperactive lyrics and beats, and our sound is more varied than that." One example is the Miami bass–styled track "Candy" on Skateboards 2 Scrapers, which at times echoes 2 Live Crew’s "Get It Girl" and other Luke tunes. "We’ve always been into Miami bass, especially Lil B, who has always been into Uncle Luke," Young L added. "We just love good music!" *

Hanging on the ‘Phone


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It’s hard to take Elephone seriously — not just because of their whimsical name, but because with this San Francisco quintet, what you see definitely isn’t what you get.

Witness vocalist Ryan Lambert and guitarist Terry Ashkinos out of what you might assume was their natural habitat. The duo looked strangely at home in the lobby bar at the Fairmont Hotel, where the soft tinkle of piano keys polluted the air and floor-length fur coats were as ubiquitous as they are politically incorrect. Instead of looking awkward, the two seemed relaxed as they sipped on cocktails and joked among themselves last month — not what you expect from your typical Bay Area indie rockers.

And like many musicians who create contemplative and darkly melodic material, you might expect the demeanor of Elephone’s members to be as brooding as their elegantly macabre sound, which has drawn frequent comparisons to those august melancholic revelers the Cure. But with Elephone this isn’t the case, and it’s easy to separate the art from the artists after spending a rather rollicking evening with Lambert and Ashkinos.

Thorough Internet research would have you believe the name Elephone is derived from a quirky, Dr. Seuss–esque nonsense poem, an obscure literary nod which would support the already established notion of Elephone as a thinking music fan’s band. In reality, the moniker wasn’t inspired by absurdist poetry, and instead the group discovered its name serendipitously after a night of drinking and cavorting with an animatronic elephant.

"We have told people in the past that it is a combination of our favorite meat and our favorite thing to throw," the dry-witted Ashkinos said. "The truth is we were watching this animatronic elephant at this bar. As we became drunker and drunker, we started riffing on the word ‘elephant’ and came up with Elephone. We don’t really know what it means, but it meant something to us at the time."

The impossibility of pinning down the many faces of Elephone appears to be a pattern for the musical mythological beast created by longtime friends Lambert and Ashkinos. That creature continues to metamorphose: the current lineup includes bassist Dan Settle in addition to keyboardist Sierra Frost and drummer Lily Fadden from the band Two Seconds.

When asked to define their sound, Lambert and Ashkinos make it very clear they abhor any kind of musical comparison that might confine them to a certain genre and instead opt for literary references such as Tom Robbins, Ernest Hemingway, and Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

"A love and respect of literature is like the brotherhood of the band," Ashkinos explained. "We all have a literary outlook of the world, viewing it as an ongoing story or as a drama unfolding. That’s how we like to write songs."

Not to be outdone, Lambert drolly chimed in about his aversion to being influenced by other bands: "I can’t play music like any other musician. Like, if someone were to ask, ‘Play this like so-and-so from that influential band,’ I wouldn’t be able to. I can only play how I play. Now, I could understand if I was asked to make a song feel like Charlie Chaplin. That I could understand."

On Elephone’s sophomore full-length, The Camera behind the Camera behind the Camera (Three Ring), haunting guitars, swirling keyboards, and Lambert’s austere vocals give their overall sound an enveloping cinematic quality comparable to the refined bombast of Radiohead and the eccentric capriciousness of the Arcade Fire. Lyrically, they wear bleeding hearts on their tattered blazer sleeves, with songs about extreme isolation and the difficult task of putting the pieces back together after an emotional fallout. The result is a collection of poetic pastiches and romantic character narratives that exclude self-indulgent emo tendencies and trite sentimentality.

Lambert makes a conscious effort to leave precious flowery details and love-song clichés out of his writing. "When this album was being written, those themes of love and relationships were not attractive to me," he recalled. "What was attractive to me were the things that happen after you’ve gotten over something or before you begin something. Like that profound loneliness when you have nothing and no one to bounce things off of."

One thing is certain about Elephone: they are serious about their sound. "That’s the good thing about the band," Ashkinos added. "We don’t need a movie playing behind us when we play, a fancy light show, or strippers dancing onstage, because our songs are good and we love what we do." And although Lambert has been known to don a pair of fuzzy bunny ears on occasion, Elephone make music like they mean it. With a devilish smirk and a glint in his eye, Ashkinos concluded with conviction, "We are making honest music for dishonest times." *

I heart your dark side


› duncan@sfbg.com

I’ve got to admit — I was intimidated. I’ve done enough interviews that I don’t usually get the jitters beforehand, but San Francisco songwriter Rykarda Parasol’s sheer self-possession on last year’s full-length Our Hearts First Meet (Three Ring) had me a little spooked. Yeah, I’ve sat through enough interminable creative-writing workshops to know not to confuse the author with the story, the narrator with the narrative, the singer with the song. Nonetheless, on such numbers as "Night on Red River," there’s a glow of eternal bad-ass that outlasts the spinning of the CD. "So my steps were slow and my swagger [pause] deliberate," Parasol sings at her throatiest — almost on the edge of phlegmy, really. "And if ever my heart grieved, now my body must not confess it." And she walks and wails, more in triumph than lament, into the Texas dark, leaving the jeering crowd back in the bar, "walking through everyone out on Red River tonight."

The situation plays itself out more than once. On "Arrival, a Rival," Parasol sings, "So this is Texas, so this is ache / So this is Texas on your knees now don’t you break." With "En Route," she tells the story of a lone motorcyclist, an ex-lover, who died on the way to New Orleans. At his funeral, she mourns, "Not a dry eye was to be seen / Unless you looked into mine." The record — set largely in Texas but also in New York — has a novelistic, dare I say, cinematic feel to it. There’s crashing thunder, and there’s light. There are lonesome plains and evil deeds, with only the sound of "Texas Midnight Radio" to hold off the darkness. But what in lesser hands (and with lesser voices) could come across as ham-handed and weepy, another alterna–heartbreak opus, rises above. Parasol’s background — yeah, that’s her real name — as a University of San Francisco literature grad shines through, and the songs come across as the tales of a woman, an outsider, in crisis situations. Parasol’s character digs deep and summons an inner strength just strong enough to edge out self-doubt and to stand up and walk on.


So yeah, I was intimidated a bit. Our Hearts First Meet feels like literature to me: it makes me think of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and — I’m a little reticent to say it because I think she gets this a lot — Nick Cave.

Of course, when I met Parasol for coffee in the Mission District, she wasn’t swaggering deliberately. She didn’t put her cigarette out in my drink, like the famous story of Cave dousing his smoke in Richard Butler’s cocktail at a London party. Really, what the fuck did I expect? While careful, which is to say trained with an almost Pavlovian rigor, not to confuse the writer with the writing, I could see the path she’d taken from being "extremely shy my whole life" to the "I shall overcome" — or, to take another quote from "Red River," "To myself I will be true" — attitude of the disc.

"I was told not to sing in the school chorus," Parasol told me. "I used to lip-synch. I was … I wouldn’t say ‘tone deaf,’ because that’s a real clinical term. They call it a ‘lack of relative pitch.’ " She went on to say she had "no natural aptitude" for music, rather "such a strong desire. I just wanted to push myself further."

This desire led to opera lessons. Although Parasol wanted to sing rock, she also knew her parents wouldn’t bite, so she pitched opera to appeal to her mother’s sense of elegance. "I was kind of a ratty kid," she added, laughing. From opera lessons she went on to a few bands, none of which she wanted to name. Finally, toward the tail end of a venture with ex-Jawbreaker drummer Adam Pfahler, wherein she didn’t write any of the music, he asked her if she had any songs. "It was, like, ‘Somebody actually wants to hear what I’ve written. Oh, my god.’ I never felt I had any business being a musician."


Beyond feeling musically unworthy, Parasol felt like a cultural outsider. Her father is a Holocaust survivor. Born in Poland, he spent his early years hiding from Nazis before immigrating to the newly formed State of Israel and later, through the beneficence of a distant relative, to California. He met his future wife, a Swedish woman, in a San Francisco bar. "He probably saw a big, tall blond lady and thought, ‘I’m going to have kids that will be Hitler’s worst nightmare,’ " Parasol said. "Aryan Jews!" Holidays saw "Hanukkah wrapping paper underneath the Christmas tree that we referred to as ‘the bush.’ You know, like the burning bush. We were very confused."

Despite wacky Decembers, Parasol’s upbringing was largely secular. Nonetheless, she grew up feeling outside the main current of American culture. Having recently seen the PBS documentary on Andy Warhol, she related to the artist as an outsider who came to the States as a child and never really fit in. "Although I was born in the US, everybody around me was a foreigner," Parasol explained. "My parents didn’t have any American friends. Everything in their house was sort of European." What she calls her "funny accent" as a child was drilled out of her in school as a "speech impediment." When she studied American literature in college, "it was a brand-new world."

Maybe it was the relative unfamiliarity of the surrounding culture that led her to move from Northern California to Hollywood and later to Austin and New York, where she seems to have continued in her role as a perennial outsider. Looking back on the interview, I think we had a bit of a misunderstanding about the setting of the album and its overarching Southern Gothic tone. Texas has a mythos to it, one that’s certainly embraced by Texans, right down to their "Don’t Mess with Texas" anti-littering campaign. It’s the Lone Star State, and everything’s bigger there. I don’t know, but when I brought Texas up, I think Parasol thought I was somehow challenging her right to use the state as a backdrop. Which, of course, I would have — had it felt unearned or tacked on. She even went so far as to send me an e-mail addendum stating, "Art is frequently artificial. These songs are not grand statements about Texas or the South. They’re about hurt, loss, and isolation."

They’re outsider songs, I’d add. Which isn’t to say they don’t conjure up a set of imagery and the aforementioned mythos — they just know when to transcend it. They’re powerful enough to transcend it. Parasol mentioned a well-meaning fan with a video idea. "He was talking about sticking me in period costume with 1930s hair, and I was, like, ‘This isn’t 1930,’ " she said. "I wasn’t keen on the concept. I want it to be timeless." This is where I think we weren’t seeing eye to eye. Just because something has a setting in time and space, that doesn’t mean it’s not timeless.

I’ve got to admit that I see a woman on a barren plain when I listen to Our Hearts First Meet, in the middle of a thunderstorm, and damn it all if she isn’t often wearing a worn gingham dress, reminiscent of Dorothea Lange’s famously destitute Okies. This woman doesn’t have fancy hair, because it’s pouring rain, and besides, she can’t afford an expensive hairdo. But it’s not a helpless, waifish image, even though the woman may very well be weeping in the rain. The feeling I get from it is that of the final scene in King Lear. Lear is half naked and half mad, rid of everything he once held dear. And he’s shouting, taking a stand against the very universe. He’s been sunk to the depths in terms of worldly stature, but his humanity has been raised to its zenith.

It was funny to hear Parasol talk about "Night on Red River." Never mind separating the singer from the song: the scenario is that she’s in a bar with her boyfriend and "a young girl who passed judgment on people she didn’t know. A clique person." When the protagonist’s boyfriend does nothing to stand up for her, she takes that burning walk down Red River. But whereas the song’s narrator comes across as pure bad-ass, Parasol herself frames the real-life situation differently: "I have no power in this situation," she said of that night. "Nothing I can do can make it better or worse. I’m going to have to stick this out. But I don’t have to stay here."

And I guess that’s it: finding the sense of power in powerlessness. Parasol seems to have done this in her life as well as in her music: she’s found her bad-ass gland and tapped it. *


With Elephone, French Disco, and Dora Flood

Fri/5, 9 p.m., $10

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


Dine Listings


Welcome to our dining listings, a detailed guide by neighborhood of some great places to grab a bite, hang out with friends, or impress the ones you love with thorough knowledge of this delectable city. Restaurants are reviewed by Paul Reidinger (PR) or staff. All area codes are 415, and all restaurants are wheelchair accessible, except where noted.

B Breakfast

BR Saturday and/or Sunday brunch

L Lunch

D Dinner

AE American Express

DC Diners Club

DISC Discover

MC MasterCard

V Visa

¢ less than $7 per entrée

$ $7–$12

$$ $13–$20

$$$ more than $20


Acme Chophouse brings Traci des Jardins’s high-end meat-and-potatoes menu right into the confines of Pac Bell Park. Good enough to be a destination, though stranguutf8g traffic is an issue on game days. (Staff) 24 Willie Mays Plaza, SF. 644-0240. American, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Café Claude is a hidden treasure of the city center. There is an excellent menu of traditional, discreetly citified French dishes, a youthful energy, and a romantic setting on a narrow, car-free lane reminiscent of the Marais. (PR, 10/06) Seven Claude Lane, SF. 392-3515. French, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Fleur de Lys gives its haute French cuisine a certain California whimsy in a setting that could be the world’s most luxurious tent. There is a vegetarian tasting menu and an extensive, remarkably pricey wine list. (PR, 2/05) 777 Sutter, SF. 673-7779. French, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Mandarin, though a Gen Xer by birth and a longtime resident of touristy Ghirardelli Square, still offers a matchlessly elegant experience in Chinese fine dining: a surprising number of genuinely spicy dishes, superior service, and wine emphasized over beer. (PR, 9/04) 900 North Point (in Ghirardelli Square), SF. Chinese, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

*Mijita shows that Traci des Jardins can go down-market with the best of them. The Mexican street food is convincingly lusty, but in keeping with the Ferry Building setting, it’s also made mostly with organic, high-quality ingredients. (PR, 4/05) One Ferry Bldg, Suite 44, SF. 399-0814. Mexican, B/L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.

Tlaloc rises like a multistory loft on its Financial District lane, the better to accommodate the hordes of suits crowding in for a noontime burrito-and-salsa fix. They serve a mean pipián burrito and decent fish tacos. (Staff) 525 Commercial, SF. 981-7800. Mexican, L/D, ¢, AE/MC/V.

Tommy Toy’s Haute Cuisine Chinois is a cross between a steak house and The Last Emperor. The food is rich and fatty and only occasionally good. (Staff) 655 Montgomery, SF. 397-4888. Chinese, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.


Gondola captures the varied flavors of Venice and the Veneto in charmingly low-key style. The main theme is the classic one of simplicity, while service strikes just the right balance between efficiency and warmth. (Staff) 15 Columbus, SF. 956-5528. Italian, L/D, $, MC/V.

House of Nanking never fails to garner raves from restaurant reviewers and Guardian readers alike. Chinatown ambience, great food, good prices. (Best Ofs, 1994) 919 Kearny, SF. 421-1429. Chinese, L/D, ¢.

Maykadeh Persian Cuisine is a great date restaurant, classy but not too pricey, and there are lots of veggie options both for appetizers and entrées. Khoresht bademjan was a delectable, deep red stew of tomato and eggplant with a rich, sweet, almost chocolatey undertone. (Staff) 470 Green, SF. 362-8286. Persian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Moose’s is famous for the Mooseburger, but the rest of the menu is comfortably sophisticated. The crowd is moneyed but not showy and definitely not nouveau. (Staff) 1652 Stockton, SF. 989-7800. American, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Rose Pistola cooks it up in the style of Liguria, and that means lots of seafood, olive oil, and lemons — along with a wealth of first-rate flat breads (pizzas, focaccias, farinatas) baked in the wood-burning oven. (PR, 7/05) 532 Columbus, SF. 399-0499. Italian, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Washington Square Bar and Grill offers stylish Cal-Ital food at reasonable prices in a storied setting. (Staff) 1707 Powell, SF. 982-8123. Italian, $$, L/D, MC/V.


Bacar means "wine goblet," and its wine menu is extensive — and affordable. Chef Arnold Wong’s eclectic American-global food plays along nicely. (Staff) 448 Brannan, SF. 904-4100. American, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Big Nate’s Barbecue is pretty stark inside — mostly linoleum arranged around a pair of massive brick ovens. But the hot sauce will make you sneeze. (Staff) 1665 Folsom, SF. 861-4242. Barbecue, L/D, $, MC/V.

Fly Trap Restaurant captures a bit of that old-time San Francisco feel, from the intricate plaster ceiling to the straightforward menu: celery Victor, grilled salmon filet with beurre blanc. A good lunchtime spot. (Staff) 606 Folsom, SF. 243-0580. American, L/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

*Fringale still satisfies the urge to eat in true French bistro style, with Basque flourishes. The paella roll is a small masterpiece of food narrative; the frites are superior. (PR, 7/04) 570 Fourth St, SF. 543-0573. French/Basque, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Hawthorne Lane remains at the top of the city’s restaurant heap after more than a decade. Bridget Batson’s modern California cuisine is first-rate, the ambience a perfection of understated elegance, and the service knowledgeable, friendly, and smooth. It is not possible to ask more from any restaurant. (PR, 9/06) 22 Hawthorne, SF. 777-9779. California, L/D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Oola gives Ola Fendert his own platform at last, and the result is a modern, golden SoMa restaurant with a menu that mixes playful opulence with local standards. (PR, 10/04) 860 Folsom, SF. 995-2061. California, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Town Hall offers the lusty American cooking of the Rosenthal brothers in an elegantly spare New England-ish setting. There is a large communal table for seat-of-the-pants types and those who like their conviviality to have a faintly medieval air. (Staff) 342 Howard, SF. 908-3900. American, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.


Ah Lin offers Mandarin-style Chinese cooking in an easy-to-take storefront setting on Cathedral Hill. The dishes are well behaved and tasty, with only an occasional flare-up of chile heat. The roast duck is one of the best deals in town. (PR, 10/06) 1634 Bush, SF. 922-5279. Chinese, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Alborz looks more like a hotel restaurant than a den of Persian cuisine, but there are flavors here — of barberry and dried lime, among others — you won’t easily find elsewhere. (Staff) 1245 Van Ness, SF. 440-4321. Persian, L/D, $, MC/V.

East Coast West Delicatessen doesn’t look like a New York deli (too much space, air, light), but the huge, fattily satisfying Reubens, platters of meat loaf, black-and-white cookies, and all the other standards compare commendably to their East Coast cousins. (Staff) 1725 Polk, SF. 563-3542. Deli, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

La Folie could be a neighborhood spot or a destination or both, but either way or both ways it is sensational: an exercise in haute cuisine leavened with a West Coast sense of informality and playfulness. There is a full vegetarian menu and an ample selection of wines by the half bottle. (PR, 2/06) 2316 Polk, SF. 776-5577. French, D, $$$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

O’Reilly’s Holy Grail, a redo of the old Maye’s Oyster House that strikes harmonious notes of chapel and lounge, serves a sophisticated and contemporary Cal-Irish menu. (PR, 10/05) 1233 Polk, SF. 928-1233. California/Irish, BR/L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Ananda Fuara serves a distinctly Indian-influenced vegetarian menu in the sort of calm surroundings that are increasingly the exception to the rule. (Staff) 1298 Market, SF. 621-1994. Vegetarian, L/D, ¢, cash only.

*Bodega Bistro has a certain colonial formality — much of the menu is given in French — and it does attract a tony expat crowd. The food is elegant but not fancy (lobster, rack of lamb, both simply presented); if even those are too much, look to the "Hanoi Street Cuisine" items. (PR, 11/05) 607 Larkin, SF. 921-1218. Vietnamese, L/D, $$, DC/DISC/MC/V.

Mangosteen radiates lime green good cheer from its corner perch in the Tenderloin. Inexpensive Vietnamese standards are rendered with thoughtful little touches and an emphasis on the freshest ingredients. (PR, 11/05) 601 Larkin, SF. 776-3999. Vietnamese, L/D, $, cash only.

*Saha serves "Arabic fusion cuisine" — a blend of the Middle East and California — in a cool, spare setting behind the concierge’s desk at the Hotel Carlton. One senses the imminence of young rock stars, drawn perhaps by the lovely chocolate fondue. (PR, 9/04) 1075 Sutter, SF. 345-9547. Arabic/fusion, B/BR/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Arlequin offers light Provençal and Mediterranean food for takeout, but the best place to take your stuff is to the sunny, tranquil garden in the rear. (Staff) 384B Hayes, SF. 863-0926. Mediterranean, B/L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Canto do Brasil The draw here is lusty yeoman cooking, Brazilian style, at beguilingly low prices. The tropically cerulean interior design enhances the illusion of sitting at a beach café. (Staff) 41 Franklin, SF. 626-8727. Brazilian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Destino reweaves traditional Peruvian flavors into a tapestry of extraordinary vividness and style, and the storefront interior has been given a golden glow that would have satisfied the most restless conquistador. (Staff) 1815 Market, SF. 552-4451. Peruvian, D, $$, MC/V.

Hayes Street Grill started more than a quarter century ago as an emulation of the city’s old seafood houses, and now it’s an institution itself. The original formula — immaculate seafood simply prepared, with choice of sauce and French fries — still beats vibrantly at the heart of the menu. Service is impeccable, the setting one of relaxed grace. (PR, 7/06) 816 Folsom, SF. 863-5545. Seafood, L/D, $$$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

Sauce enjoys the services of chef Ben Paula, whose uninhibited California cooking is as easy to like as a good pop song. (PR, 5/05) 131 Gough, SF. 252-1369. California, D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Ararat Mediterranean Tapas affords the view-minded a good setting from which to scope the foot traffic at 18th Street and Castro, along with a Turkish-scented Mediterranean menu rich in small plates and some bigger ones too. The menu’s smash hits include coins of lavash-wrapped beef (a kind of Middle Eastern beef Wellington), an enslavingly good shrimp casserole, and a coil of baklava with lavender honey. (PR, 8/06) 4072 18th St, SF. 252-9325. Mediterranean/Turkish, BR/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Blue dishes up home cooking as good as any mom’s, in a downtown New York environment — of mirrors, gray-blue walls, and spotlights — that would blow most moms away. (Staff) 2337 Market, SF. 863-2583. American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

*Firefly remains an exemplar of the neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco: it is homey and classy, hip and friendly, serving an American menu — deftly inflected with ethnic and vegetarian touches — that’s the match of any in the city. (PR, 9/04) 4288 24th St, SF. 821-7652. American, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Los Flamingos mingles Cuban and Mexican specialties in a relaxed, leafy, walk-oriented neighborhood setting. Lots of pink on the walls; even more starch on the plates. (PR, 11/04) 151 Noe, SF. 252-7450. Cuban/Mexican, BR/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

2223 could easily be a happening queer bar, what with all that male energy. But the American menu joins familiarity with high style, and the ambience is that of a great party where you’re bound to meet somebody hot. (Staff) 2223 Market, SF. 431-0692. American, BR/D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.


*Frankie’s Bohemian Cafe has Pilsner Urquell, a Bohemian beer, on tap for a touch of Czech authenticity, but the crowd is young, exuberant, Pacific Heights, het. Follow the crowd and stick with the burgers. (PR, 2/05) 1682 Divisadero, SF. 921-4725. Czech/American, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Grandeho’s Kamekyo Sushi Bar Always packed, Grandeho serves up excellent sushi along with a full Japanese menu. (Staff) 943 Cole, SF. 759-5693. Japanese, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Hukilau brings a dash of Big Island conviviality — and Big Island (i.e., big) portions — to a wind- and traffic-swept corner of the big city. Spam too, if you want it. (Staff) Five Masonic, SF. 921-6242. Hawaiian/American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

Kate’s Kitchen dishes up the best scallion-cheese biscuits out west. The lines on the weekends can be long. (Staff) 471 Haight, SF. 626-3984. American, B/L, ¢.

Metro Cafe brings the earthy chic of Paris’s 11th arrondissement to the Lower Haight, prix fixe and all. (Staff) 311 Divisadero, SF. 552-0903. French, B/BR/L/D, $, MC/V.

New Ganges Restaurant is short on style — it is as if the upmarket revolution in vegetarian restaurants never happened — but there is a homemade freshness to the food you won’t find at many other places. (Staff) 775 Frederick, SF. 681-4355. Vegetarian/Indian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Tsunami Sushi and Sake Bar brings hip Japanese-style seafood to the already hip Café Abir complex. Skull-capped sushi chefs, hefty and innovative rolls. (Staff) 1306 Fulton, SF. 567-7664. Japanese/sushi, D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Zoya takes some finding — it is in the little turret of the Days Inn Motor Lodge at Grove and Gough — but the view over the street’s treetops is bucolic, and the cooking is simple, seasonal, direct, and ingredient driven. (PR, 12/05) 465 Grove, SF. 626-9692. California, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.


Aslam’s Rasoi reinvents a gently fading curry house as a high-powered rival to Dosa, in the next block. The food is fiery and elegant, and the menu strikes a fine balance between fleshly and fleshless choices. Desserts are not bad, particularly kulfi, a house-made cardamom ice cream presented like a frozen sliced banana. (PR, 8/06) 1037 Valencia, SF. 695-0599. Indian/Pakistani, D, $$, MC/V.

Baobab Bar and Grill serves great-tasting West African specialties like couscous, fried plantains, and savory rice dishes for a reasonable price. (Staff) 3388 19th St, SF. 643-3558. African, BR/D, ¢.

Baraka takes the French-Spanish tapas concept, gives it a beguiling Moroccan accent — harissa, preserved lemons, merguez sausage — and the result is astonishingly good food. (Staff) 288 Connecticut, SF. 255-0370. Moroccan/Mediterranean, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Blowfish glows red and inviting on an otherwise industrial and residential stretch of Bryant Street. Sushi — in pristine fingers of nigiri or in a half dozen inventive hand rolls — is a marvel. (Staff) 2170 Bryant, SF. 285-3848. Sushi, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Blue Plate has a diner aura — bustle, clatter — but the Mediterranean food is stylishly flavorful. A great value. (Staff) 3218 Mission, SF. 282-6777. Mediterranean, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Bombay Ice Cream and Chaat Stop in for some Indian chaat — cheap, delicious fast food such as samosas and curries. (Staff) 552 Valencia, SF. 431-1103. Indian takeout, L/D, ¢.

Caffe d’Melanio is the place to go if you want your pound of coffee beans roasted while you enjoy an Argentine-Italian dinner of pasta, milanesa, and chimichurri sauce. During the day the café offers a more typically Cal-American menu of better-than-average quality. First-rate coffee beans. (PR, 10/04) 1314 Ocean, SF. 333-3665. Italian/Argentine, B/L/D, $, MC/V.

Chez Papa Bistrot sits like a beret atop Potrero Hill. The food is good, the staff’s French accents authentic, the crowd a lively cross section, but the place needs a few more scuffs and quirks before it can start feeling real. (Staff) 1401 18th St, SF. 824-8210. French, BR/L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

*Delfina has grown from a neighborhood restaurant to an event, but an expanded dining room has brought the noise under control, and as always, the food — intense variations on a theme of Tuscany — could not be better. (PR, 2/04) 3621 18th St, SF. 552-4055. California, D, $$, MC/V.

Dosa serves dosas, the south Indian crepes, along with a wealth of other, and generally quite spicy, dishes from the south of the subcontinent. The cooking tends toward a natural meatlessness; the crowds are intense, like hordes of passengers inquiring about a delayed international flight. (PR, 1/06) 995 Valencia, SF. 642-3672. South Indian, BR/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Front Porch mixes a cheerfully homey setting (with a front porch of sorts), a hipster crowd, and a Caribbean-inflected comfort menu into a distinctive urban cocktail. The best dishes, such as a white polenta porridge with crab, are Range-worthy, and nothing on the menu is much more than $10. (PR, 10/06) 65A 29th St, SF. 695-7800. American/Caribbean, BR/D, $, MC/V.

*Little Nepal assembles a wealth of sensory cues (sauna-style blond wood, brass table services) and an Indian-influenced Himalayan cuisine into a singular experience that appeals to all of Bernal Heights and beyond, including tots in their strollers. (Staff) 925 Cortland, SF. 643-3881. Nepalese, L/D, $$, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Lombardo’s Fine Foods is the little café that could, in Mission Terrace. The menu is heavy on pastas and casseroles, many made from owner-chef John Lombardo’s family recipes. The orzo salad is particularly good. (PR, 9/06) 1818 San Jose, SF. 337-9741. Italian/American, BR/L/D, $, MC/V

Maharaja offers romantically half-lit pastels and great spicy food, including a fine chicken tikka masala and a dish of lamb chunks in dal. Lunch forswears the usual steam-table buffet in favor of set specials, as in a Chinese place. (Staff) 525 Valencia, SF. 552-7901. Indian, L/D, $, MC/V.

Maverick holds several winning cards, including a menu of first-rate New American food, a clutch of interesting wines by the glass and half glass, and a handsome, spare Mission District setting discreetly cushioned for sound control. (PR, 9/05) 3316 17th St, SF. 863-3061. American, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

Medjool doesn’t offer much by way of its namesake date, food of the ancient pharaohs, but the pan-Mediterranean menu (which emphasizes small plates) is mostly tasty, and the setting is appealingly layered, from a sidewalk terrace to a moody dining room behind a set of big carved-wood doors. (PR, 11/04) 2522 Mission, SF. 550-9055. Mediterranean, B/L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

Mi Lindo Yucatán looks a bit tatty inside, but the regional Mexican cooking is cheap and full of pleasant surprises. (PR, 3/04) 401 Valencia, SF. 861-4935. Mexican, L/D, ¢, cash only.

Moki’s Sushi and Pacific Grill serves imaginative specialty makis along with items from a pan-Asian grill in a small, bustling neighborhood spot. (Staff) 615 Cortland, SF. 970-9336. Japanese, D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Pakwan has a little secret: a secluded garden out back. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the fiery foods of India and Pakistan. (Staff) 3180 16th St, SF. 255-2440. Indian/Pakistani, L/D, ¢, cash only.

Papalote Mexican Grill relieves our Mexican favorites of much of their fat and calories without sacrificing flavor. Surprisingly excellent soyrizo and aguas frescas; sexily varied crowd. (Staff) 3409 24th St, SF. 970-8815. Mexican, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.


L’Amour dans le Four gives a nice local boho twist to classic French bistro style. Many dishes from the oven. Tiny, noisy, intimate. (Staff) 1602 Lombard, SF. 775-2134. French, D, $, AE/MC/V.

Betelnut Peiju Wu is a pan-Asian version of a tapas bar, drawing a sleek postcollegiate crowd with its wide assortment of dumplings, noodles, soups, and snacks. (Staff) 2030 Union, SF. 929-8855. Asian, L/D, $$, MC/V.

Dragon Well looks like an annex of the cavernous Pottery Barn down the street, but its traditional Chinese menu is radiant with fresh ingredients and careful preparation. Prices are modest, the service swift and professional. (Staff) 2142 Chestnut, SF. 474-6888. Chinese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Rigolo combines the best of Pascal Rigo’s boulangeries — including the spectacular breads — with some of the simpler elements (such as roast chicken) of his higher-end places. The result is excellent value in a bustling setting. (PR, 1/05) 3465 California, SF. 876-7777. California/Mediterranean, B/L/D, $, MC/V.

Sushi Groove is easily as cool as its name. Behind wasabi green velvet curtains, salads can be inconsistent, but the sushi is impeccable, especially the silky salmon and special white tuna nigiri. (Staff) 1916 Hyde, SF. 440-1905. Japanese, D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Taste of the Himalayas is primarily Nepalese, but the Indian influences on the food are many, and there are a few Tibetan items. Spicing is vivid, value excellent. (PR, 10/04) 2420 Lombard, SF. 674-9898. Nepalese/Tibetan, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.

Tortilla Heights brings the Pac Heights, blond-het-frat vibe into the Western Addition and nourishes it with surprisingly good Mexican food. The menu is familiar, but the dishes are executed with care and panache, and there are some regional specialties. Open late. (PR, 9/06) 1750 Divisadero, SF. 346-4531. Mexican, L/D, $, AE/DC/DISC/MC/V.


Le Charm might be in San Francisco, but it has a bistro authenticity even Parisians could love, from a wealth of golden wood trim to an enduring loyalty au prix fixe. The chicken liver salad is matchless, the succinct wine list distinctly Californian. Ponder it in the idyllic, trellised garden. (PR, 9/06) 315 Fifth St, SF. 546-6128. French, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

*Dragonfly serves the best contemporary Vietnamese food in town, in a calmer environment and at a fraction of the cost of better-known places. (PR, 8/05) 420 Judah, SF. 661-7755. Vietnamese, L/D, $$, AE/MC/V.

KL Restaurant is a Hong Kong-style seafood house that presents its wide array of creatures from the deep in an equally wide array of guises. Particularly good: the sampan-style dishes. If you’re not in an oceanic mood, the land-based stuff is good too. (PR/ 11/06) 4401 Balboa, SF. 666-9928. Chinese/seafood, L/D, $$, MC/V.

Pisces California Cuisine brings a touch of SoMa sophistication to an Outer Sunset neighborhood in need of paint. (You can’t miss the restaurant’s black facade.) The kitchen turns out a variety of seafood preparations — the clam chowder is terrific — and offers an appealing prix fixe option at both lunch and dinner. (PR, 8/06) 3414-3416 Judah, SF. 564-2233. Seafood, L/D, $$, AE/DISC/MC/V.

So Restaurant brings the heat, in the form of huge soup and noodle — and soupy noodle — dishes, many of them liberally laced with hot peppers and chiles. The pot stickers are homemade and exceptional, the crowd young and noisy. Cheap. (PR, 10/06) 2240 Irving, SF. 731-3143. Chinese/noodles, L/D, ¢, MC/V.


*Aziza shimmers with Moroccan grace, from the pewter ewer and basin that circulate for the washing of hands to the profusion of preserved Meyer lemons in the splendid cooking. (Staff) 5800 Geary, SF. 752-2222. Moroccan, D, $$, AE/MC/V.

Be My Guest Thai Bistro offers tasty vegetarian-friendly food in a campy-hip setting reminiscent of an old Woody Allen movie. Tofu larb is surprisingly successful. (PR, 9/06) 951 Clement, SF. 386-1942. Thai, L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

*Chapeau! serves some of the best food in the city — at shockingly reasonable prices. The French cooking reflects as much style and imagination as any California menu. (Staff) 1408 Clement, SF. 750-9787. French, D, $$, AE/DC/MC/V.

Spices! has an exclamation point for a reason: its Chinese food, mainly Szechuan and Taiwanese, with an oasis of Shanghai-style dishes, is fabulously hot. Big young crowds, pulsing house music, a shocking orange and yellow paint scheme. Go prepared, leave happy. (Staff) 294 Eighth Ave, SF. 752-8884. Szechuan/Chinese, L/D, $, MC/V.

Sutro’s at Cliff House has a Miami-to-Malibu feel and offers a "California coastal" menu that appeals to tourists and locals alike. You can get everything from gumbo to seafood red curry to falafel while resting assured that the kitchen is honoring the local-seasonal-sustainable imperative. The setting — a glass house perched at the foamy edge of the Pacific — is timelessly spectacular. (PR, 7/06) 1090 Point Lobos, SF. 386-3330. Eclectic, L/D, $$$, AE/DISC/MC/V.


Cliff’s Bar-B-Q and Seafood Some things Cliff’s got going for him: excellent mustard greens, just drenched in flavorfulness, and barbecued you name it. Brisket. Rib tips. Hot links. Pork ribs. Beef ribs. Baby backs. And then there are fried chickens and, by way of health food, fried fishes. (Staff) 2177 Bayshore, SF. 330-0736. Barbecue, L/D, ¢, AE/DC/MC/V.

Old Clam House really is old — it’s been in the same location since the Civil War — but the seafood preparations are fresh, in an old-fashioned way. Matchless cioppino. Sports types cluster at the bar, under the shadow of a halved, mounted Jaguar E-type. (Staff) 299 Bayshore, SF. 826-4880. Seafood, L/D, $$, MC/V.

Taqueria el Potrillo serves one of the best chicken burritos in town, if not the best. You can get your bird grilled or barbecued or have steak instead or tacos. Excellent salsas and aguas frescas, and warmer weather than practically anywhere else in town. (Staff) 300A Bayshore Blvd, SF. 642-1612. Mexican, B/L/D, ¢, cash only.


Breads of India and Gourmet Curries The menu changes every day, so nothing is refrigerated overnight, and the curries benefit from obvious loving care. (Staff) 2448 Sacramento, Berk. (510) 848-7684. Indian, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Café de la Paz Specialties include African-Brazilian "xim xim" curries, Venezuelan corn pancakes, and heavenly blackened seacakes served with orange-onion yogurt. (Staff) 1600 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 843-0662. Latin American, BR/L/D, $, AE/MC/V.

Locanda Olmo Fine versions of risotto, gnocchi, and soft polenta pie, terrific thin-crust pizzas, and good traditional desserts have made Locanda Olmo a reliable anchor in the burgeoning Elmwood neighborhood. (Staff) 2985 College, Berk. (510) 848-5544. Italian, D, $, MC/V.


Le Cheval Shrimp rolls and peanut sauce, the fried Dungeness crab, the marinated "orange flavor" beef, the buttery lemongrass prawns — it’s all fabulous. (Staff) 1007 Clay, Oakl. (510) 763-8495. Vietnamese, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Connie’s Cantina fashions unique variations on standard Mexican fare — enchiladas, tamales, fajitas, rellenos. (Staff) 3340 Grand, Oakl. (510) 839-4986. Mexican, L/D, ¢, MC/V.

Rockridge Café offers bountiful breakfasts, a savory meat-loaf special, and hearty cassoulet. But the burgers, wide-cut fries, and straw-clogging milkshakes remain the cornerstones of the menu. (Staff) 5492 College, Oakl. (510) 653-1567. American, B/L/D, $, MC/V. *

Rapists and fishwives


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Popular cinema places a lot of stock in stories about the redemptive power of love — stories in which love turns a skeptic into a true believer, an ill-tempered miser into a philanthropist, or a broken spirit into an undamaged specimen free from the taint of failures past. This year’s Berlin and Beyond Film Festival offers two very different takes on the theme: Matthias Glasner’s The Free Will (Der Freie Wille) and Doris Dörrie’s The Fisherman and His Wife — Why Women Never Get Enough (Der Fischer und Seine Frau — Warum Frauen Nie Genug Bekommen).

No Berlin and Beyond would be complete without at least one film that turns the concept of redemptive love upside down and inside out with relentless aggression. In 2005 that film was Head-On (Gegen die Wand), directed by Fatih Akin. Its gritty exploration of a mutually destructive downward spiral forged within a marriage of convenience was mercilessly high impact and emotionally challenging. This year’s contender for most controversial confrontation with the devil inside is The Free Will, a movie about an unlikely love affair set within the context of a current hot-button topic: the effectiveness of rehabilitation for repeat sex offenders.

Opening with a scene of brutal rape, The Free Will doesn’t immediately elicit much sympathy for its protagonist, Theo (Jürgen Vogel), a marginalized dishwasher in a middle-school cafeteria. Cut to nine years and four months later, as Theo is being released from a mental institution into a halfway house for a crew of equally wayward characters. "They tell you at the hospital it’s a new chance," the home’s caretaker, Sascha (André Hennicke), cautions him. "But the others call the front door the gateway to hell." Nevertheless, Theo seeks to refamiliarize himself with normality. He lands a job in a print shop, buys himself new clothing, eats his dinners at the neighborhood trattoria. He forces himself into a punishing exercise regime, while down the hall his flatmates cry out at night and blast heavy metal through the walls. He and Sascha become fast friends and sparring partners at the local dojo, and for a time it seems as if Theo’s demons have moved on to more susceptible prey.

Enter Nettie (Sabine Timoteo): awkward, unsmiling, and living on her own for the first time at the advanced age of 27 in an attempt to break away from her overbearing father’s influence. After an initially unrewarding encounter with Theo during which she tells him she hates all men (and he lets her know he’s not that fond of Frauen), they begin to reach out to each other and eventually become a couple.

Naturally, the tensions of their unspoken personal histories remain, seething below the surface of a tenuous bond based on mutual loneliness. At the end of this unflinchingly deliberate two-and-half-hour film, director Glasner leaves the audience grappling with almost the same conundrums he presented in the beginning: can forgiveness be granted even when unsought, and can the unforgivable ever truly be redeemed?

On the opposite face of the aggression-versus-love coin is Dörrie’s reconstruction of an old Grimm’s fairy tale. Otto (Christian Ulmen) is a soft-spoken fish parasitologist whose unlikely whirlwind romance in Japan with a backpacking fabric designer results in a marriage of mismatched expectations. His new wife, Ida (Alexandra Maria Lara), quickly asserts herself as a woman of ambition, designing first scarves and then dresses based on the various distinctive markings of the koi fish she encounters through Otto. Soon her material desires outstrip Otto’s modest means, and the two find themselves locked in a passive-aggressive struggle that is both familiar and poignant. Ida has no difficulty defining what she wants, but what does Otto want? Does he even want to be with her? Why can’t he say so? For Otto, Ida’s insatiable aspirations are baffling. Why can’t she be content with what they have at the moment? "Why is the here and now an obstacle that has to be overcome?" he asks, not understanding that her relentless quest for more is an attempt to compensate for the affection Otto has trouble articuutf8g — and that she has trouble detecting in his actions.

Like those of the demanding fishwife in the fairy tale, Ida’s dreams soon outstrip all realistic measure, and her seemingly endless good fortune catapults them from camper van to condo to country home in quick succession. The more preposterous their prosperity, though, the greater the gap becomes between their understanding of each other’s emotional needs, and it’s increasingly apparent that something will have to give if love is to be preserved. Narrated in part by a chorus of tategoi who await their own transformation, The Fisherman and His Wife examines the age-old dilemma of miscommunication between the sexes and the modern-day struggle for a balance of family, career, and koi — a word that means not just fish but love. *

The 12th annual Berlin and Beyond Film Festival runs Jan. 11–20 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Goethe-Institut, 530 Bush, SF; and Point Arena Theatre, Hwy. One, Point Arena. Tickets (most shows $5–$15) are available at www.ticketweb.com; for additional information, visit www.goethe.de/sanfrancisco.




› cheryl@sfbg.com

The world is chained to chains in Jem Cohen’s Chain, a sort-of documentary that also weaves two narratives into its study of global economics. Hard-faced young squatter Amanda (musician Mira Billotte of White Magic) spends monotonous days haunting the nearest shopping center, a place so generic it could be positively anywhere, including the suburban hell of George A. Romero’s darkest nightmares. Meanwhile, eager Japanese businessperson Tamiko (Miho Nikaido) roams homogeneous pockets of America, bunking in soulless hotels while she pitches her amusement park plans to investors on behalf of her company — an entity she views with excessively deep devotion.

That Tamiko’s proposed park is called Floating World is no accident; though they’re traveling different paths, both she and Amanda drift through Cohen’s landscapes, which are populated not by human beings but by consumers. Still shots of supermarkets, fast-food joints, office parks, warehouse stores, and half-finished condo towers are edited together in dreamlike succession; it’s not until the end credits that you realize these images spring from seven different countries (including 11 states) Cohen visited with his 16mm camera over a period of nearly a decade. His photographer’s eye for details aside (such as a bird’s nest tucked into a Big Lots sign), the sterile sameness he captures is striking.

The first time I saw Chain was at the 2004 Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF). I went into it knowing this was Cohen’s first foray into fiction after well-received documentaries such as Benjamin Smoke and Instrument (about Fugazi, in case you were wondering why Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto are listed among Chain‘s executive producers; Picciotto actually suggested Billotte, whose music he’d produced, when Cohen was casting). The New York filmmaker took the mic and confessed he was thrilled to see Chain playing a multiplex, albeit one taken over by VIFF’s arty fare. Under most circumstances, he explained, it would never play in the kind of environment it so carefully scrutinizes: "It’s not a normal movie."

Indeed, a "normal" movie that takes on a global topic would probably look more like Fast Food Nation or Babel than Chain, which is dedicated in part to Chris Marker (obvious precursor: La Jetée). Cohen doesn’t need to smack you over the head with speeches or movie stars or coincidence-driven scenarios to make his point. Instead, he draws it out in the quiet moments experienced by his characters. Amanda — who recalls telling a motorist to simply deposit her hitchhiking self at the nearest mall — lurks in the food court, silently finishing a discarded, half-eaten plate from Panda Express (or Sbarro or Hot Dog on a Stick or Steak Escape — who can say?). Later, she seeks employment as a hotel maid, but an elaborate bus journey lands her at a hiring office that insists on a drug test. Ironically, it’s not the test that discourages her; it’s the fact that to take it, she has to spend several more hours on another crosstown bus. In one of Chain‘s most expressive voice-overs, Tamiko remembers visiting Disneyland, Disneyworld, and Tokyo Disneyland with rapturous joy. Her sunny-side-up view of corporate capitalism crumbles only slightly when her company virtually abandons her stateside; her first instinct is to stay on in her megamotel, clinging to routine and running up charges on her personal credit card.

But getting back to the multiplex: after making its San Francisco debut at a 2005 Other Cinema show, Cohen’s Chain has found its place locally at an art gallery. Works by San Francisco’s Jenni Olson (the Golden Gate Bridge–focused Joy of Life) and Los Angeles’s Natalie Zimmerman (Islands, a search for Los Angeles’s soul) round out SF Camerawork’s "Traces of Life on the Thin Film of Longing," an exhibit reconsidering the photo essay within the realm of film and video. It’s a fitting context in which to showcase Chain‘s artistic merits, but thematically it’s a little disappointing. Appropriate though it may be, however, I suppose a mall theater would be out of the question; Westfield’s hurried downtown crowds would hardly stop spending to consider Cohen’s carefully composed images — and the irony of seeing Chain amid the chain-chain-chain of … chains would be hopelessly lost. *


Jan. 5–Feb. 24 (Thurs/4, 5 p.m. opening reception) as part of "Traces of Life on the Thin Film of Longing"

SF Camerawork

657 Mission, second floor, SF

(415) 412-2020



The sounds of Berlin and Beyond


Einstürzende Neubauten (Danielle de Picciotto, Germany, 2006). Perhaps appropriately, April Fool’s Day 1980 marked the first appearance of Einstürzende Neubauten, at the Moon Club in Berlin. After taking the stage frontperson Christian Emmerich (better known as Blixa Bargeld) and percussionist Andrew Chudy (N.U. Unruh), plus others, proceeded to bemuse their audience with a Dadaesque display of hammers banging on metal sheets mixed with accompanying electronic sound effects. For reasons perhaps even they can’t explain, their aggressive approach to experimental music gained an immediate following — one that has held firmer than architecture for more than 25 years. Though they announced during a 2004 tour of the United States that they would never again play live here (due to the expense of transporting their enormous, self-engineered instruments), you still have the opportunity to see them in this one-of-a-kind concert film, also from that year.

Performing in the stripped shell of emblematic East Germany eyesore (and former seat of Parliament) the Palast der Republik, Bargeld and company jump immediately into the past with “Haus der Lüge” (House of lies) from 1989 and even further back with the chilling “Armenia” from 1983. The insectile droning of Alex Hacke’s bass, Jochen Arbeit’s guitar, and Ash Wednesday’s programmed samples give way to Bargeld’s blood-curdling yowling, which rivals that of Armenian-blooded shriek chanteuse Diamanda Galás. Newer converts to the Neubauten mystique are not left adrift in a sea of nostalgia for long, though. The reason for playing at an abandoned building slated for demolition is revealed midway through the show as the Palast becomes a site-specific instrument and a chorus of 100 volunteers adds to the general clamor. Pushing the boundaries of their musicianship with seemingly infinite inventiveness, Einstürzende Neubauten signal that while their touring days may be behind them, their creative juices are in no danger of drying up. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Jan. 16, 11 p.m. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. $6–$9. (415) 621-6120, www.castrotheatre.com

Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback (Lucía Palacios and Dietmar Post, Germany/US/Spain, 2004). How to describe the Monks? Try atonal and angry and hard to dance to despite a tom-tom and an electric banjo keeping time. Plus, they tended to shout their lyrics, the more comprehensible of which were along these lines: “Hey, well, I hate you with a passion baby, yeah I do! (But call me!)” And that’s without even mentioning that the five-piece was composed of American ex-GIs who lingered in Germany after their early 1960s service was up. Or that they dressed in all black, with nooses for ties, and sported matching, entirely unflattering tonsure haircuts. The band name and costumes may have been artfully styled gimmicks (thanks to a pair of crafty German managers well familiar with deconstruction, minimalism, and the art of advertising), but the music was no novelty act. Some say the highly influential Monks invented feedback (widely disputed, of course); others insist their experimental, anti-Beatles sound foretold the coming of both techno and heavy metal even as it left boogie-happy fans of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” stone-faced.

Whatever you make of songs like “Higgle-dy Piggle-dy” (lyrics: “Higgle-dy piggle-dy, way down to heaven, yeah!”), there’s no denying the ballad of the Monks comes fully stuffed with rock ‘n’ roll lore. Dietmar Post and Lucia Palacios’s lively doc Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback tracks down all the band members, now in advanced middle age and living quiet lives that barely hint at their prepunk pasts (drummer Roger Johnston passed away after filming his interviews). All five are given equal time to reflect as well as share impressive caches of memorabilia (especially photos with detailed captions) that suggest someone, at least, was aware that the Monks’ lightning-in-a-bottle moment would later be eagerly revisited by future devotees of incredibly strange music. A reunion concert — marking the group’s first-ever stateside show — nudges the film in a Bands Reunited direction, but for the most part Monks is propelled by the triumphs of the group’s past, which include 30-year-old tunes that still sound wholly creative (and ever so off-putting) even today. (Cheryl Eddy)

Jan. 17, 3 p.m. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. $6–$9. (415) 621-6120, www.castrotheatre.com


Rutting madly


› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Oh! Yes! It hurts! Oh yes! It hurts!

My virtual buttocks are on fire.

After my last little column about stuff I’d enjoyed in Clubland over the past year, I got spanked online for downplaying some of the Bay’s ongoing nightlife trends. Namely: breakbeats and house revivals, dubstep and kiddie rave, Burning Man, Burning Man, Burning Man. (Isn’t he burnt yet? Sheesh. It’s like a spiritual tire fire already.) That’s fine, baby: hit me one more time. Getting spanked online was my former profession. If my drag name weren’t already Pantaysia, I’d be known as Rudolpha the Red-Assed Tranny for sure. And luckily, it’s the new year — I can simply wad up my 2006 wall calendar and stuff it down my cut-off liquor store panty hose for some rough-year-behind-me relief. I’m just. That. Crafty. See?

My, but how the sting lingers, the echoing smack of keen reprimands. Whether or not the genres of clubalalia mentioned above — and I’m pretty sure one or more of my personalities has dished them all here in the past — are curvaceous and bearded enough to attract my one good eye is one thing. Whether or not my mouth is so big it can swallow all the wonders of what happens after dark and spit them whole back in your face is another. I’m just one slightly skinny leather hip-hop disco Muppet queer after all. My day job’s at a Wendy’s! I leave being everywhere to other gay peeps.

Yet the familiar finds its way into one’s regular carousing, no? What if I’m in a hot, wet rut? All those back room encounters, bathhouse sounds, bhangra parties, electro flashes, wet jockstraps, mad drag queens, hip-hop karaoke nights, bedroom DJs, shots of Cuervo … could they be of a party piece? Didn’t I once declare krumping the future? Where’s the damn risk?

Yes, I have my broad themes: 2005 was all about the democratization of Clubland via technology — and trying to get laid by a woman for the first time; 2006 was about how clubs reflected our culture’s apocalyptic visions and the return of the outlaw gay underground. Lord knows what the predawn rubble of 2007 will shape itself into. But here are some nifty things I’d like to stick my nosy pumps in.


DJ Jason Kendig, Claude VonStroke, and a giant swath of relocated Detroiters are injecting tiny bleeps and beats in the strangest of places: dive bars and back rooms. What’s the deal?


Bars like Gestalt in the Mission District are serving brewskis to Critical Massers. Clubs like LoGear at the Transfer are making frantic pedalers dance. Will the fixed-gear explosion spawn a raucous rocker renaissance?


Where are the ladies? The fierce rulers of the US club scene at the moment are women from New York City and Los Angeles. For years my money’s been on SF femmes like Jenny Fake, Forest Green, and Claire-Ahl to join them. Why are we still ruled by men?


Fine. For the 13th time I’m calling a house revival. House club mainstays like Fag and Taboo are still going strong. Legendary DJ Ruben Mancias is coming back from New York City for a while to restart his influential club Devotion, and DJ TeeJay Walton is launching a new club called Freak the Beat (www.freakthebeat.com), specifically aimed at attracting younger househeds. Fingers crossed.


Last year all the quotes were dropped from retro. People took the sounds and styles of the past seriously, no joke. It paid off in a lot of ways (notably, people stopped laughing and erroneously screaming, "Oh my god, I used to love this song!" when a record had claps or a guitar solo in it). But post-irony was, well, not much fun. Are people on the dance floor smiling yet? That’s better. *

It’s happening, and it’s happening now. Sign up at www.sfbg.com and you can flame my frickin’ column at will (I know you’ve got scandalous New Year’s Eve tales … better share ’em it before I do). Also: hit up the Pixel Vision blog (www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision) for more club news, reviews, and how-do-you-dos. It’s all about raving in the cubicles, baby.

Monkey see


› paulr@sfbg.com

One of the funniest bits of post-dot-com cultural effluvia was a television ad in which a crestfallen yuppie keeps replaying a video of a CNBC broadcast announcing a NASDAQ of 5,000. (That index, as I write these words, is at about 2,400 — a far cry from 5,000, but a decent cry too from the deep crater of 1,100 or so that swallowed the sad yuppie’s stock portfolio.) The spot was funny mainly because of the Cinderella effect: clock strikes midnight, glittering carriages turn back into pumpkins, never to glitter again, apparently, since time — unlike videocassettes — cannot be rewound.

You will not find many pumpkins on the streets these days in the vicinity of Third and Brannan streets, nor for that matter anywhere south of Market. Maybe a few smashed ones around Halloween. What you will find, especially during business hours, is a lot of gleaming, late-model German automotive metal, and I don’t mean Volkswagens. If you didn’t know better, you might well think the big grandfather clock in the hallway had stopped ticking just short of midnight — at the stroke of 1999, say, when all the city was a stage for the profligate spending of venture capital.

When Aom Phanthong and Chris Foley opened their Thai restaurant, Koh Samui and the Monkey, in a warehousey building on Brannan near Third Street in 2003, the venture capital had all been spent. The New Economy’s tide had gone out, leaving a desolate beach scattered with flotsam, and there was little or no reason to think it would rise again. A postindustrial hipster Thai restaurant in SoMa was, in this sense, late for the train. But the food was good, the prices moderate, the vast expanse of polished wood floorboards a work of art, and by these and other means the place survived an interval of exhaustion.

But where there was once exhaustion is now … exhaust. At noontime on a weekday, the area’s streets are choked with cars moving and not, and inside Koh Samui it’s like a staff meeting for the Industry Standard, with everybody in $300 pairs of jeans. There is something disorienting about the observer’s experience here — do I wake or sleep? was it all a dream, or is this the dream? — yet the food is good and not expensive, and the floorboards are remarkably gorgeous. And a more relaxed tone, for those so inclined, can be found in the evenings, when the menu opens out from its prefab, slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am choices (including a bento box) into a longer and more leisurely list that encourages a degree of musing. The slower heartbeat at dinnertime is a clue that while this neighborhood is more residential than it was a decade ago, it will be more residential still a decade from now.

A signature element of Thai cooking is sweet heat, an artful combination of chili firepower with some kind of sugariness. At Koh Samui, you’re more likely to notice the latter than the former; even "spicy" dishes, we were told, are basically medium hot, while sweetness turns up all over the place, sometimes unchaperoned by any heat at all — in the cucumber salad ($3), for instance, a petite ramekin filled with cucumber slivers (and a few carrot threads for color counterpoint) and a vinaigrette almost balsamiclike in its honeyed weight.

Far more sweet than hot too is the golden, marmaladelike sauce accompanying the bags of gold ($7.95), a quintet of rice-paper sachets filled with minced chicken and shrimp, lightly deep-fried, and tied off at the top with dark green threads of nori. The bags would not look out of place hanging from a Christmas tree, though the minced meats inside were reticent and I could have done without the deep-frying. Fritters, on the other hand, we expect to be fried in some fashion, and Koh Samui’s sweet corn patties ($6.95) are worth the hot-oil tariff: irregular little bundles of juicy corn kernels in tender-crispy envelopes. The menu claims a curry spicing, but this was too faint to be noticed; cucumber reappeared as a condiment, this time cubed and tossed with slivered red onions in a vinaigrette more tart than sweet.

Big dishes feature lots of vegetables, even when the advertised ingredient is some sort of flesh. The firecracker sizzling seafood hot plate ($12.95) — fajitas, Thai-style — included a wealth of broccoli florets, green beans, and strips of green bell pepper (lots of green!) in addition to shrimp, squid, scallops, and crab claws. Wok-fried chicken breast ($9.95) added red bell peppers to the green, and also basil, with its distinctive peppery perfume. Prawns with cashew nuts ($10.95) offered a pleasant crunchiness — along with yet more green beans and bell peppers, this time in a sauce that tasted largely of soy.

Considering the congestion and pace at noon, the food is notably polished. A quick set lunch ($10.95) opened with two skewers of tender-grilled beef, along with mildly spicy peanut sauce to dunk them in, and finished with an excellent red-duck curry. (The poultry appeared in its coconut-milk bath as boneless slices still in morning coats of gold-roasted skin.) And grilled pork ($10.95), presented as strips of meat with sticky rice and mango salad, was juicy enough not to need peanut sauce. But most impressive were the po sod ($7.50), a trio of fresh spring rolls like little bells, filled with shrimp, mint leaves, and rice noodles — and no monkey business with the deep fryer! *


Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5–10:30 p.m. Lunch: Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

415 Brannan, SF

(415) 369-0007


Beer, wine, sake


Noisy if full

Wheelchair accessible


Private revolution


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I found out on Christmas Day morning that I was a nihilist. Cool. I had always wondered what that meant, and now I didn’t have to wonder anymore and could move on to something else. Nihilists are witchy, weird chicken farmers who love everyone, hate every single thing that anyone believes in, and would much rather lie down in pine needles and watch the way bugs move than fight oppression.

I learned this from a real live anarchist, a kind of political hero of mine, when I tried to express my discomfort with anarchy because it has way too many rules for my liking. It was the sort of conversation that tends to end in only one way: with both parties bonking each other on the head with suitcases — generally speaking, of course. In some instances there aren’t any suitcases handy, so they have to use fireplace pokers or cookware.

So I felt astronomically lucky to be walking away from such talk with our just-friendship — not to mention my cranium — intact. Gastronomically, I was not so lucky. It was lunchtime, but it was Christmas, and I wasn’t raised by wolves, much as I might wish it otherwise, so I couldn’t help knowing that it was Christmas, and what that truly meant: restaurants would be closed.

No one was out on the streets except for homeless people and nihilists. I walked down 16th Street, lost in thought and dazzled by the abundance of available parking spots. The streets seemed surreally wide, and if my little body hadn’t been all tangled and tucked into scarves, sweaters, coats, gloves and hats, I might have sworn I was in Tucson. Instead of … what? Chicago? Cleveland?

It’s a wonder anyone ever recognizes me this time of year — I’m such an overdresser. Or maybe that’s how they recognize me. In any case, I turned the corner onto Guerrero, and there were my friends J and J, and they somehow knew me under all my Great Lakes–wear and greeted me warmly with big smiles and hugs.

"I’m a nihilist!" I said.

"We’re going to get Chinese food," they said. "Are you hungry?"

Am I hungry? Does the pope poop in the woods? I’m starving. Always. For everything. (Without mayonnaise.) Even if I’ve just eaten a whole ham by myself and am lying on the floor, comatose, I’m hungry. I just don’t know it just then is all. And another thing is that I’ve always wanted to eat Chinese food on Christmas.

"Where are you going?" I said.

"Big Lantern," they said. "It’s open."

I’d just walked past it and hadn’t noticed it was open because I was so lost in thought and clothing and deserty amazement. So I turned right around.

Big Lantern! I already knew it was my new favorite restaurant even before I bit into one of their succulent shrimp dumplings from the dim sum menu and slurped my first spicy slurp of hot and sour soup and made love to my favorite dish of all, on a table of favorite dishes: the ginger and onion lamb. I knew it was my new favorite restaurant because I was eating there. On Christmas Day! With friends.

Earl Butter gets takeout from Big Lantern, and he’d told me it was great. But J and J said you have to eat it there. They’ve gotten it to go, they said, and it sucked. So … you see why I write like this?

I don’t believe in hyperbole any more than, say, critical thinking; but I do find it a fun and friendly alternative to intelligence. And I don’t think I ever said so here, explicitly (or maybe I did), but my New Year’s resolution last year was for every place I ate at to be my new favorite restaurant. I did it!

Be warned though that 2007 is another year. If I don’t say that a place is my new favorite place, that doesn’t mean it isn’t. It just means I was distracted from food and ambiance by the bathroom.

I have learned to love indiscriminately. Now, in order to impress my fellow revolutionaries and hopefully make them love me back and let me lick them, I am going to shake off the pine needles and take an actual political stand: in the bathroom, of course. We choose our battles, and this is the one for me, because more than anything right now I need to pee.

Does your restaurant have safe, comfortable, unisex bathrooms? Big Lantern does! *


Sun.–Wed., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Thurs.–Sat., 11 a.m.–midnight

3170 16th St., SF

(415) 863-8100

Takeout and delivery available

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible


Emily Postfeminist


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

Recently, my boyfriend and I were at a strip club and bought a lap dance. My experience has been that, as a girl, the hands-off rule generally doesn’t apply to me. However, out of respect for the girl, I don’t touch until she invites me to. This one invited me to touch her. Caught up in the moment, my boyfriend asked, "Can she touch your pussy?" I was a bit shocked because I assumed that was off-limits, but she said, "She can, but you can’t." So I started touching her on the outside of her G-string. I got a little braver and went under her G-string but still stayed outside. She moved a certain way during her dance, and my thumb kind of slipped right in. A few seconds later, she stopped it. She was nice and hugged me and told us to come back anytime. Did I go too far? I feel guilty that I may have made her feel like a hooker. Or is it really no big deal? I’m embarrassed to go back, and I’ve asked my boyfriend to not make that request in the future. How often does this sort of thing happen to a dancer?



Dear Thumb:

Just what we needed, a new set of ethical dilemmas and moral failings to keep us awake and tossing on those long dark nights of the soul that tend to hit around this time of year. I really don’t think this is the sort of thing that used to bother people before half the female grad students in the country started stripping and writing books and doing performance art (oh, so much performance art) about it. For that matter, I don’t think other girls used to feel either as permitted or as obligated to go grope those girls for money at their places of work. I’m not entirely sure that what we’re seeing here is really an accurate demonstration of human sexual behavior in the wild — there are too many layers of politics and performance in there to tell what’s really happening — but I’m confident we’re at least seeing some genuinely new situations and their accompanying etiquette issues in play.

I’ve known any number of posteverything strippers, hookers, and dominatrices, but one in particular comes to mind. She’d been working at a womyn-owned crunchy organic peep show, but — surprise! — she could barely make her rent, so like so many before her, she’d given up her ideals and gone where the money is. Hired on at the grimy mainstream porn theater and Olde Lappe Dance Emporium, she was coming home with her pockets and God knows what else stuffed with 50s every night but complained to me that some guy came while she was wiggling around on him and ew, ew, gross, yuck, how dare he? I commiserated at the time because I’m a wimp like that, but honestly, isn’t this an occupational hazard? If you’re going to be a sex worker, you deserve to be treated with respect and decency, of course, and what you say goes as far as who’s allowed to touch where with what and so forth, but come on. Into each stripper’s life a little semen must fall. If that’s absolutely not going to work for you, dance behind glass (for lower tips) or, hey, get your Realtor’s license or something.

Most of the female sex workers I’ve known have been at least passingly bisexual, but even those who really aren’t seem quite genuinely enthusiastic about female customers, both prospective and actual. There are elements of novelty to the appeal, I’m sure, just as there are elements of safety and sisterly enthusiasm. What there ought not to be, and what you ought not to worry about, is an expectation that female customers aren’t really customers at all, that is to say, are not paying the sex worker for sex. While many women who go to strip clubs or book time with a dominatrix may be doing it to please a (male) partner or as a learning experience or a lark or just to make a statement of some sort, it would be pretty silly for a sex worker to be surprised when a customer, male or female, appears to be interested in having some sort of sex with her.

Your dancer granted you access. Maybe she liked you (or likes girls in general) or maybe she was milking you for tips, but whatever, she said yes. She has a sense of how sturdy or flimsy a barrier her G-string presents to curious fingers and was probably not surprised when you got where you got. Most tellingly, she invited you back whenever, which she was certainly under no obligation to do. I think it would be fine to go back there and fine to whisper "Sorry I got fresh last time" and fine not to. It would also be fine for her, in turn, to refuse you service, but I bet she doesn’t.



Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.

Tears and Happyness


OPINION I’m not sure why the new movie The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith, based on the life of previously homeless Chris Gardner’s rise to millionaire, is so hard to write about. I am rarely at a loss for words, especially about poverty, homelessness, and racism. Perhaps it’s because this movie made me so sad that even as I try for the 40th time to write this, my eyes well up with broken tears. Not tears for the amazing Horatio Alger, old-school, pre–New Deal, up-by-the-bootstraps, 1930s-esque, blind-to-flagrant-racism-and-classism story.

No, instead my tears are deep and blood-filled for myself and my mama, homeless in a broken-down car for years upon years on the bitter cold streets of Oakland; for fellow poverty scholars and formerly homeless welfare queens and Poor Magazine staff members; for Jewnbug and her mama, Vivien and Jasmine Hain, Laurie McElroy and her son, and all the other unseen children, adults, and elders who subsist homeless in America, barely holding on through countless overnight stays in the sidewalk hotel. Tears for the fact that homelessness can happen with the regularity that it does, that every year Sister Bernie Galvin from Witness for Homeless People mourns the loss of hundreds more people who have died on the streets of San Francisco, one of the richest cities in the world.

Or perhaps they are only tears for Gardner, a poor man of African descent who was so driven to "make it" in this capitalist reality that he didn’t see the tragic paradox of his own situation — his continual denial of the rampant racism in his Dean Witter internship. Tears for a man who came so close to not making it in that palace of oppression, as he and his son slept on the floor of a bus station bathroom.

Or maybe they’re just tears for the myth of the bootstraps and how there is no place for that lie in the 21st century as more and more people locally and globally hover on the dangerous precipice of homelessness, wrongly believing it’s just about working hard enough and anyone can achieve what they want.

Or maybe they’re tears of admiration — for an amazing and dedicated father who no matter what was there for his son, like so many of us poor mamas and papas.

Or maybe the tears are because Gardner, when asked on a radio show if he believed that there was an essential problem with him and his son being homeless in one of the richest cities in the world, replied with a resounding no: it was just about working harder, and anyone can achieve anything they set out to do.

Or maybe they are in fact tears for my son, who watched his mama cry from depression and the reality that no matter how hard you pull up your threadbare bootstraps and pound the pavement and pinch pennies and beg your landlord and stand in food lines and look for jobs and affordable child care, you still won’t make it. *


Tiny, also known as Lisa Gray-Garcia, is the author of the new book Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America, published by City Lights Foundation, and the founder of Poor Magazine.

The Off-Guard Awards


› tredmond@sfbg.com

It was a bad year for Jesus. His most fanatical followers just couldn’t seem to keep their dicks out of trouble: a minister who was part of the religious right power circle — someone who routinely condemned gay marriage, gay sex, and homosexuality in general — was caught getting erotic massages from a gay hooker. A Republican congressional representative who was a loyal member of the bigoted majority had to resign after sending sexually explicit e-mails to page boys.

The Vatican announced that same-sex couples are no longer acceptable as adoptive parents and said that condoms are only OK (maybe) if used by married men with HIV but only to prevent disease (not to prevent conception).

And Ann Coulter said Bill Clinton was gay, and Rush Limbaugh got nabbed with illegal Viagra … and all I can say is, it was a banner year for the Offies.


Supporters of District 6 supervisorial candidate Rob Black tried to attack incumbent Chris Daly with campaign fliers featuring pee and poop.


More than 500 cops were on hand in the Castro on Halloween night, but nine people still got shot.


San Francisco lost its Olympic bid when the 49ers without warning announced they would abandon plans for a stadium at Candlestick Point and move to Santa Clara.


Mayor Gavin Newsom blasted the SF supervisors for eliminating a $185,000-a-year job for former supervisor Annemarie Conroy, saying they were attacking her "livelihood."


Newsom said he would "run roughshod" over the San Francisco Police Department to find a way to identify problem officers.


Newsom’s staff sent off 13 homeless people with one-way bus tickets to Humboldt County.


Newsom dated scientology fan Sofia Milos but denied he was a supporter of L. Ron Hubbard’s bizarre cult. Then he dated 19-year-old Brittanie Mountz but denied that he ever let her drink alcohol.


Republican Mark Foley was forced to resign from Congress after he was confronted with sexually explicit e-mails he sent to underage male pages. "He didn’t want to talk about politics," one former page said. "He wanted to talk about sex or my penis."


Rev. Ted Haggard, one of the nation’s leading Christian right evangelicals, was forced to step down from his ministry after evidence emerged that he had hired a gay hooker for regular trysts during which he snorted speed. Faced with the allegations, he denied the gay sex but copped to the meth.


Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez defended the Bush administration’s secret electronic eavesdropping on private citizens by saying that Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt did the same thing.


Senator Joe Lieberman said he thinks it’s fine for Catholic hospitals in his home state to refuse to give contraceptives to rape victims because in Connecticut it’s only a short taxi ride to another hospital.


Dick Cheney accidentally shot a campaign contributor while hunting quail.


Cheney told reporters that his term as "vice president for torture" was over.


A Vatican commission has recommended that Catholics be allowed to use condoms — but only married Catholics and only if the man is HIV-positive and his wife is not and only if the intent is to avoid the spread of AIDS, not to prevent conception.


The Vatican announced that it would no longer approve of gay families adopting kids.


After Britney Spears flashed her crotch for photographers while partying with Paris Hilton, she posted a poem on her Web site apparently aimed at her ex-husband, which concludes:

"You trick me twice, now it’s three / Look who’s smiling now / Damn, it’s good to be me!"


When Democrats in Congress suggested that the House actually schedule work five days a week, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Georgia) complained, "Keeping us up here eats away at families. Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families — that’s what this says."


Bush told CNN that same day: the war in Iraq will look like "just a comma."


Bush told reporters the Iraq Study Group report was so important that "I read it."


Attorney General Gonzalez told Sean Hannity that Bush is committed to bringing "the masterminds of the 9/11 Commission" to justice.


Bush told Katie Couric that "one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."


Lindsay Lohan said she didn’t want anyone to know she was in favor of voting because "it’s safer that way."


Ann Coulter announced Bill Clinton was probably gay, since "that sort of rampant promiscuity does show some level of latent homosexuality."


Bush addressed the prime minister of the United Kingdom as "yo, Blair."


At a G8 summit meeting Bush inexplicably began to grope the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel.


Rush Limbaugh was arrested at the Palm Beach airport when a search of his luggage revealed a jar of Viagra pills with someone else’s name on them. Limbaugh said he had them prescribed under his doctor’s name to avoid embarrassment.


Former Republican senator and Iraq Study Group member Alan Simpson indirectly criticized the Bush administration’s refusal to compromise on anything: "A 100-percenter is a person you don’t want to be around. They have gas, ulcers, heartburn, and BO."


Mel Gibson was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and told a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff that "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." He later asked a female deputy, "What are you looking at, sugar tits?"


Virginia senator George Allen referred to a Virginia native of Indian descent as a "macaca."


Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi told reporters that it’s hard for Americans to understand "what’s wrong" with Iraqis: "Why do they hate the Israelis and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference?"


Comedian Michael Richards, who played Kramer in Seinfeld, denounced a heckler at an LA comedy club by calling him a "nigger" and saying that "50 years ago, we’d have had you upside down with a fucking fork up your ass."


California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed that Cubans and Puerto Ricans were "very hot" because of their mixed "black blood" and "Latino blood." *

Localize it


› news@sfbg.com

In what some experts are hailing as a first for sustainability movements in the United States, a coalition of policy organizations has unveiled a comprehensive campaign to reduce the Bay Area’s reliance on global markets in favor of a more locally based economy.

If the plan is embraced by local government agencies and brought to fruition, it could be the first significant reversal of the decades-long march toward globalization, which encourages powerful multinational corporations to exploit cheap labor and transport goods long distances.

The Bay Area is rife with testaments to globalization, from the rusty shells of once prosperous manufacturing plants to the gleaming big-box chain stores filled with cheap Chinese-made clothing and gadgets, from the customer service call answered in India to the foreign parts in our "American made" cars and computers.

Yet at the same time, there are the countervailing forces of localism. For every grocery store stocked with out-of-season produce grown across the world with petrochemicals by big agricultural corporations, there is a community farmers market selling locally grown organic fruit.

Most of globalism’s many faces have a local equivalent. Consumers can buy a burrito at Taco Bell or El Toro, a hammer at Home Depot or Cole Hardware, a new shirt from the Gap or a recycled garment from Held Over, and a bicycle assembled at a factory in China or Freewheel Cyclery.

Or on a grander scale, utilities can import kilowatts of energy from a coal-fired plant in Utah or buy wind and solar power generated in the Bay Area, city governments can contract with out-of-state corporations or locals, and financial institutions can push the status quo or value a more diversified (if less profitable) economic system.

The idea of the localization movement is to analyze the impacts of those choices and start a discussion of how local governments can facilitate the creation of an economy that is more sustainable and less exploitive, one that is unique to the Bay Area.


The coalition, which formed in spring 2006, recently released a 30-page report that details the purpose of its campaign and the group’s initial strategy for achieving its goals. The report, titled "Building a Resilient and Equitable Bay Area," and a two-page summary are available online at www.regionalprogress.org. More than two dozen organizations have already endorsed the report, including Oakland’s and Berkeley’s respective sustainability offices.

The coalition’s members include Redefining Progress, Bay Localize, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), the International Forum on Globalization, and the Center for Sustainable Economy. With the exception of the last, which is in Santa Fe, NM, all of the groups are located in either San Francisco or Oakland.

A key feature of the campaign — and the reason some experts describe the initiative as unique in the United States — is its scope. Efforts to localize individual sectors of regional economies have been under way for years. Berkeley, for instance, is considered a leader in the growing movement to shift from a food system dominated by a handful of giant agribusinesses propped up by federal crop subsidies to a system that relies more on local production and procurement of food. Similarly, many areas are considering ways of creating and encouraging the use of alternative — and local — energy sources to limit dependence on imported oil.

What sets the new Bay Area campaign apart from other localization initiatives is that it seeks to effect change across several sectors of the region’s economy simultaneously. It hopes to do so, in part, by achieving the cooperation and coordination of businesses, government officials, and community leaders at the federal, state, and local levels.

The report defines economic localization as "the process by which a region … frees itself from an overdependence on the global economy and invests in its own resources to produce a significant portion of the goods, services, food, and energy it consumes."

In an interview with the Guardian, John Talberth, one of the report’s primary authors and a PhD economist at Redefining Progress, stressed that economic "isolationism is not the goal of the campaign."

Instead, he said the goal is "reestablishing an efficient balance between imports and products made locally for local consumption." In other words, even if the Bay Area localizes its economy according to the strategy proposed by the coalition, many products would still be imported. The economy would, therefore, remain dependent on global markets — but much less so than it is now.

And that could have significant ramifications for the region, humans, and the planet.


The report acknowledges the benefits of globalization, which has kept consumer prices low and forced corporations to become more efficient. But, the authors note, "it has come at a steep price."

That price includes "a loss of economic diversity, declining real wages and working conditions, increasing inequality, offshoring of environmental degradation, and a concentration of financial capital and economic decision-making in global corporations." The changes have left people "vulnerable to inevitable supply and price shocks in the post peak oil era."

In other words, perhaps global capitalism is reaching the point of diminishing returns. The coalition posits that the antidote is localization, which has great potential "for creating a wider range of local jobs and institutions, shielding our economy from global shifts, increasing the diversity and quality of goods and services we consume, distributing economic benefits in a more equitable manner, and protecting our environment."

The Bay Area is the focus of the coalition’s campaign because its member organizations are located here and because those members believe there is already a great deal of public support in the region for such a project.

Kirsten Schwind, programs coordinator at Bay Localize, told the Guardian there was an "overwhelmingly positive response" to a recent project targeted at supporting local food producers. Both Schwind and Don Shaffer, executive director of BALLE, cited Oakland’s Kaiser Permanente as an example of the increasing number of businesses that are altering their buying habits to favor local sellers. Shaffer also said the Oakland and San Francisco school boards are buying locally produced food and the Oakland City Council is setting targets for local energy production.

But even if much of the Bay Area is receptive to the idea of economic localization, other groups are not. There remains a powerful current of support in government, business, and academia for a predominantly global economy.

Traditional economists, for instance, are reflexively hostile to localization initiatives because such projects do not conform to the concepts embodied in so-called free-trade and free-market theories.


The Guardian interviewed three UC Berkeley professors who do not agree with the report’s view of globalism. None of the professors had read the report — despite the fact that the Guardian forwarded it to them before the interviews — but all said they were familiar with the basic ideas behind localization.

Each expressed a knee-jerk hostility to the concept, but once they began discussing the details of localization, they agreed with the coalition on many points. And the professors’ initial objections to localization — including the notion that it would return economies to a more primitive state and that it is isolationist in principle — were mostly rhetorical and unrelated to the coalition’s specific recommendations.

Two of the professors — Daniel M. Kammen, who teaches in the Energy Resources Group as well as the Goldman School of Public Policy and the Department of Nuclear Engineering, and David Vogel, who teaches in the Haas School of Business, the Political Science Department, and the Goldman School — were immediately opposed to the idea of a comprehensive localization strategy.

Vogel, in particular, seemed at first to make light of economic localization, calling it a "romantic notion that periodically resurfaces," and more than once asked laughingly whether the coalition "expects Bay Area residents to watch only movies made in the Bay Area."

Another professor, Lee Friedman, a PhD economist who teaches at the Goldman School, said, "Globalization is a lot like the problem of gays in the military: mend it, don’t end it."

But Friedman likes the idea — a central one in the report — of including all costs in the price of goods. That’s particularly true of environmental costs. This might raise the price of electronics to pay for their disposal or of gas-guzzling vehicles to pay for their global-warming impacts — both ideas being explored by the European Union.

All three professors also had some very positive things to say about economic localization. Kammen, like Friedman, strongly believes that communities should pursue local — and low-carbon — energy production because the environmental impact associated with producing in a foreign country and shipping to the United States is far greater than that of local production.

"Localization advocates are making some excellent points that people ought to pay attention to," Friedman said. He agreed the Bay Area imports too much of its food. Vogel expressed a similar sentiment, saying that buying locally is a "great idea." He also said localization could help to address urban sprawl. By the end of the interview, Vogel softened his initially dismissive attitude toward localization, deeming "aspects of it interesting and attractive."

Talberth and other coalition members say challenging the economic concepts supporting globalization — like those taught by Friedman and most other economics scholars — is a central task of their campaign.

Critics of traditional economic theory have for a long time been saying that too many economists base their research and resulting recommendations on economic models that bear little resemblance to the way the real world operates.

Although economists often bristle at that criticism, Friedman has acknowledged to his students the flaws in prevailing economic models but said, "Until someone comes up with better models, people shouldn’t complain about the existing ones."

Yet Hazel Henderson, a coalition member and the author of Beyond Globalization, and Talberth say alternatives to the current models are well established and have been around for years. They criticize the fact that economic growth is measured by the gross domestic product (GDP), a simplistic calculus that doesn’t take into account economic activity that is harmful to people or the planet.

They prefer new indicators, like the genuine progress indicator (GPI), that account for costs and benefits the traditional indicators do not factor in. The report calculates the GPI for each of the Bay Area’s nine counties. The European Union has already adopted this kind of alternative measure of an economy’s well-being.


Engaging the public is the coalition’s next big goal. Despite the overall support that Schwind and others say already exists in the Bay Area for localization, they admit there are challenges to mobilizing citizens.

"It’s well documented that people tend not to act unless there is a crisis," Shaffer said. But he also said that "giving people Armageddon scenarios" will not work because such stories are depressing and, more importantly, "people are too busy to think comprehensively about that sort of thing."

Instead, Shaffer and Schwind said the coalition plans on putting out a "positive, hopeful" message focusing on the benefits that will accrue to individuals and communities if they adopt localization.

Beyond getting the public involved, the coalition is encouraging local, state, and federal government organizations to conduct studies assessing the challenges and true costs of relying so heavily on global markets. Talberth acknowledged that:

"Getting [those] assessments done is a big challenge."

Ultimately, the coalition would like the Bay Area to serve as a model of localization for other areas in the United States. Shaffer said the group is "not looking to put a formulaic stamp on other regions" but hopes instead that such places will be influenced to adopt localization measures in light of the Bay Area’s success.

Shaffer said the food and energy sectors, along with retail, are already understood well by consumers, at least intuitively. So he predicts the coalition could achieve significant results in those sectors within five years. Spreading those advances to other parts of the economy could take another 10 years after that.

Shaffer, Talberth, and Schwind all said that change is coming whether people want it or not, mostly due to global warming. So they argue for the Bay Area to embrace change now and begin to make the needed changes gradually, before they are painfully thrust upon us. We can localize our world or simply accept whatever the global economy dishes out. *