Volume 41 Number 25

March 21 – March 27, 2007

  • No categories

FEAST: 6 all-you-can-eat buffets


If I have an Achilles heel when it comes to dining out, it is a persistent inability to make up my mind about the entrée. Who can ever pick just one? Wouldn’t that seafood linguine be pleasantly enhanced with just a morsel of roasted quail? Isn’t the fun of eating Chinese food in passing the plates around so everyone gets to try everything? Happily for my hardwired grazing gene, there is a contingent of restaurants in the Bay Area that cater to my need to nosh, with fixed-price all-you-can eat buffets. These aren’t Vegas-style troughs either — the quality of the food in no way suffers from the fact that there’s a lot of it. And the cuisine spans the globe, from South America to the Middle East. (Nicole Gluckstern)


Rule number one for dining at Espetus: leave your vegetarian friends at home. It’s not that the restaurant doesn’t have any meatless options — there’s a whole steam table–salad bar area where you can load up on black beans and fresh fruit — but the sight of a king-size rack of ribs circling the room on a silver platter can put even the most tolerant veg-heads off their feed. However, for the eager omnivore, this Brazilian churrascaria offers more than a dozen meaty delights straight from the grill, served by wandering waiters who carve slices off skewers of salt-rubbed sirloin and Parmesan-dusted pork loin until you indicate your state of satiety by turning a tabletop dial from green to red. Even this ploy might not save you — the last time I was there and we went to red, the headwaiter marched over, turned the dial back to green, and forced us to try his filet mignon. Bless him, it was superb.

1686 Market, SF. (415) 552-8792, www.espetus.com


Back when I worked in North Beach, I walked past Helmand every day and tried to imagine what Afghan cuisine might entail. Content with stuffing myself with 50-cent dim sum and Cafe Trieste instead, I never ventured inside until I discovered the well-stocked, all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for $9.95. I can now report back with certainty — Afghan cuisine means yogurt-based sauces, lots of lamb, and even a mouthwateringly delicious okra-and-tomato stew (bendi). The baked pumpkin in sugar (kaddo) is universally praised, and the leek-filled ravioli (aushak) are morsels of delectable pungency.

430 Broadway, SF. (415) 362-0641, www.helmandrestaurantsanfrancisco.com


Todai might be the best reason to take BART to Daly City. Located a hop, skip, and jump away from the station, this Olympic-size smorgasbord of Japanese food makes Sushi Boat look like the kiddie pool. At Todai you’ll find sushi aplenty (including roll-your-own), plus an array of salads, shabu shabu, calamari, unagi skewers (yum!), grilled meats, gyoza, udon, teriyaki, tempura, crab legs, and even bite-size cream puffs and green tea–flavored cheesecake chunks. The high school cafeteria atmosphere is on the cheerless side, but the inexpensive carafes of hot sake do help to alleviate any lingering flashbacks of social unease.

1901 Junipero Serra Blvd., Daly City. (650) 997-0882, www.todai.com


Like most people who have grown up accustomed to a regional variety of pizza, I admit to pizza crust favoritism — in my case, a preference for thick and bready, Rocky Mountain–style. Goat Hill somehow manages to trump my predilection with a specialty of its own, the sourdough crust. Not only does it adequately sop up all that extraneous cheese grease, but it also complements all kinds of toppings, from the familiar (pepperoni) to the esoteric (linguica). Best of all, every Monday night at the Potrero Hill location and daily at the Howard Street address, it’s all-you-can-eat, plus salad.

300 Connecticut, SF. (415) 641-1440; 525 Howard, SF. (415) 357-1440. www.goathill.com


Though my love of Indian food is generally all-encompassing enough to overlook some of the more common blunders cheap Indian restaurants are prone to (too much grease, not enough spice), it’s nice to be able to sidestep caution and go straight for the gustatory gusto. The daily buffet at Star of India is blessedly low on the grease index, and at $8.95 for unlimited trips to the steam table, I can overlook the spice issue. The vindaloo is fiery enough, the sag paneer delightfully smooth, and the assorted pickled veggies a great little garnish. Chai tea and a dessert option are included.

2127 Polk, SF. (415) 292-6699, www.starofindiaonpolk.com


Vegetarians, rejoice! Club Waziema’s got the $9 all-you-can-eat platter especially for you. Boasting the most incongruous decor of any Ethiopian restaurant in town, the restaurant has a bordello-chic look — complete with crushed velvet wallpaper — that only highlights the pleasure of plowing your fingers into spongy blankets of piping hot injera and stuffing them full of collard greens, spicy lentils, and vegetable stew. Sip a glass of delicate honey wine with dinner, or wait until afterward and start in on the G-and-T’s from the full-service bar.

543 Divisadero, SF. (415) 346-6641, www.clubwaziema.com *



March 27


“Cinematic San Francisco:
Amateur and Home Movie Histories”

Sometimes funny, often humiliating, and always meaningful, home movies are an important part of the family narrative — so too for the life of a city. Lucky for us, there are organizations like the nonprofit San Francisco Media Archive, whose mission is to preserve San Francisco’s celluloid autobiography. Archive director Stephen Parr is the guest speaker at this event. He’ll screen clips and discuss the role amateur and home movies play in preserving and presenting the life and times of our city. (Nathan Baker)

8 p.m., $5
Mission Dolores School
3371 16th St., SF
(415) 750-9986


Richard Price

“If God created anything better than crack cocaine,” Delroy Lindo’s smooth-talking drug dealer reflects in Clockers, “he kept that shit for himself.” Bronx-born Richard Price (who coadapted Clockers’ script from his novel) is noted for his ability to infuse gritty, racially charged drama with wry wit. If books like The Wanderers don’t convince you, consider that he’s penned several episodes of scary-good TV sensation The Wire. (Cheryl Eddy)

8 p.m., $19
Herbst Theatre
401 Van Ness, SF
(415) 392-4400



March 26


Leslie and the LY’s

If record executives ever suggested that plump performers like Martha Wash were meant to be heard and not seen in music videos, then Leslie and the LY’s have proven them big fat liars with their popular 2006 YouTube “Gem Sweater” video, showcasing rotund Midwestern rapper Leslie Hall’s kitschy act, which successfully combines her interest in bedazzled sweaters and ’80s female lyricists JJ Fad and L-Trim. With backup duo the LY’s in tow, Hall will perform this gonna-make-you-sweat single live among other phat tracks off her DIY albums Gold Pants (Hefty Hideaway, 2005) and Door Man’s Daughter (Hefty Hideaway, 2006). (Joshua Rotter)

With Fierce Perm
7 p.m., $10
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 596-7777


“New Work: Sylvie Blocher”

French artist Sylvie Blocher reclaims the cotton crew-neck classic as a tight-fitting tell-all in Je et Nous (I and Us), one of two video installations from her ongoing Living Pictures series. Working with 100 marginalized denizens of the ethnically diverse, economically impoverished Sevran district of Beaudottes, a northern suburb of Paris, Blocher invites her subjects to stand silently in front of her stationary camera and convey personal messages through the statements printed on their black T-shirts. In Blocher’s second projection, Men in Gold, the high-tech lords of sunny NorCal money have their say, sitting sit before an ornate grate that resembles a confessional booth, blustering about Fortune 500 successes. (Steven Jenkins)

Through May 13.
Mon.–Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–8:45 p.m., $7–$12.50 (free first Tues.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
(415) 357-4000



March 25


Elvis Perkins in Dearland

If Fat Tuesday is about masquerading in costume, then Ash Wednesday reminds us that without these adornments, we are the dust of the earth. Folk rock quartet Elvis Perkins in Dearland’s debut LP, Ash Wednesday (XL Recordings), brings the theme home with a back-to-basics approach, forgoing digital software and studio subterfuge for analog tape and home-grown demos to create emotionally authentic autobiographical tracks. (Joshua Rotter)

With Let’s Go Sailing
8 p.m., $12
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016


Gilberto Gil

Breaking it down and bringing fierce and introspective grooves, Bahia, Brazil, native Gilberto Gil has shown that you can be both a groundbreaker and a policy maker. Brazil’s minister of culture for the last four years, Gil and fellow musician Caetano Veloso led the musical-sociocultural movement Tropicália in the ’60s. The Tropicalista’s fightin’ nature is little evident on Gil’s lovely recent solo guitar and vocal album, Gil Luminoso (DRG), a haunting collection of spare, evocative songs written over the last 25 years. (Kimberly Chun)

7 p.m., $36–$68
Zellerbach Hall
UC Berkeley, Lower Sproul Plaza
(near Bancroft at Telegraph), Berk.
(510) 642-9988

Also March 28, 7:30 p.m., $45-$65
Fox Theatre
2209, Broadway, Redwood City



March 24


Bittersweet 16: A Fundraiser
for Kitchen Sink Magazine

After four superlative years, the award-winning quarterly will soon vanish from newsstands, a bankrupt publisher and the closure of the Independent Press Association the cause of death. But they will not go quietly. Inspired by jazz funerals, the editors have planned a series of fundraisers to pay for their final issue. This one features performances by Conspiracy of Beards and Michael Zapruder, as well as raffle prizes from Amoeba Records, the Believer, and local artisans. (Nathan Baker)

9 p.m., $5–$10
Edinburgh Castle Pub
950 Geary, SF
(415) 885-4074


Secret Chiefs 3

Trey Spruance’s Secret Chiefs 3 are not so much a real band as a collection of virtual bands, each dedicated to exploring its own esoteric musical traditions. The band’s lineup has been in flux since Spruance started the project in the mid-’90s; the current touring ensemble is a septet featuring a three-piece string section and a new drummer, Peijman Kouretchian, who brings a jaw-dropping command of both complex Middle Eastern polyrhythms and modern metal chops. SC3 will be performing songs ranging in style from apocalyptic surf rock to Persian math metal to sweeping cinematic epics. (Will York)

With Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
9 p.m., $19
333 11th St., SF
(415) 255-0333



March 23


Besnard Lakes

A question for the fuzz-lovin’ folks in Montreal’s Besnard Lakes: why the humility? You unleash 45 mind-frying minutes of psychedelic pageantry, and rather than shouting your brilliance from the rooftops with an album title worthy of superheroes, you instead opt for the merely mortal The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse (Jagjaguwar, 2007)? Any band that can show the connections between the Beach Boys, Spiritualized, and My Morning Jacket automatically wins the race. (Todd Lavoie)

With the Helio Sequence
and Dirty on Purpose
8:30 p.m., $12
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF
(415) 861-2011


Page France

Someone needs to get out there and publish a fat book celebrating the many virtues of the glockenspiel. There’d better be a chapter devoted to the winsome twinkles in the songs of Maryland’s finest suppliers of sweet sounds, Page France. Last year’s Hello, Dear Wind (Suicide Squeeze) scampers like springtime in the park, and the silvery tones plinking skyward from Mr. Xylophone’s cousin on album highlight “Junkyard” are enough to whisk me back to fourth grade on waves of nostalgia. (Todd Lavoie)

With Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and Headlights
9 p.m., $12
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016



March 22



Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be another talented mystical voice on the modern songwriter scene, along comes Amy Annelle, a.k.a. the Places. In truth, she’s been living on the road for years now, from ancestral and actual homes in Portland, Ore., and Austin, and garnering nods in Billboard, which named her sixth album, Songs for Creeps (High Plains Sigh), one of the 10 best of 2006, along the way. (Nathan Baker)

8 p.m., $8
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF
(415) 861-2011


“Myth by Method”

Katrina Lamb channels music- and art-school training into pieces that have inspired comparisons to Kiki and Herb and John Kelly — in other words, if and when she tortures an audience, she does so intentionally. Lamb also works in other media, and in the new show “Myth and Method,” she’ll focus equally on the humble work of line drawing as she trades off music and video explorations with the artist collective Lansing-Dreiden. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Through May 5
6 p.m. opening, 8–11 p.m. music performance, $3–$10
New Langton Arts
1246 Folsom, SF
(415) 626-5416

Pleased to meat you


FILM I was a vegetarian for 18 years — more than half my life. But after quite a bit of soul-searching (and one incredibly triumphant taste of bacon), I recently realized that 18 years was plenty long enough. The honest truth is that meat is delicious, and I enjoy the hell out of eating it.

Coincidentally (or not), the Donner Party included several Eddys. I have no proof that I’m related to the ill-fated pioneers, but I feel a certain kinship nonetheless. They were the ultimate carnivores, after all. I’m not alone in my fascination with cannibalism — why else would there be five Hannibal Lecter movies? Soylent Green is made of people; the living dead will eat your brains at any time of dawn, day, or night; and the biggest blockbuster of 2006, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, featured droves of flesh-hungry islanders. For every highbrow take on cannibalism (Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer; song-of-myself doc Keep the River on Your Right; Japanese war drama Fires on the Plain; art house fave Eating Raoul; plane-crash saga Alive), there are dozens more glorifying the ultimate taboo with sleazy glee. Put on your eatin’ dress and consider these tasty standouts.

(1) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper, 1986). The first Chainsaw is a hands-down horror classic. The sequel, which stars Dennis Hopper and is far more of a comedy, includes a subplot about a chili cook-off: "No secret, it’s the meat. Don’t skimp on the meat."

(2) The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven, 1977). When Wes Craven met Eddie Murphy when they made Vampire in Brooklyn, the first thing Murphy did was quote The Hills Have Eyes: "Baby’s fat. You fat … fat and juicy."

(3–4) Ravenous (Antonia Bird, 1999). The American frontier circa 1847 provides the backdrop for this tale; well worth it just for the cast of twitchy character actors such as Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Davies, and David Arquette. A good double feature with Cannibal! The Musical (Trey Parker, 1996).

(4) Blood Diner (Jackie Kong, 1987). Guess what’s on the menu.

(5) Frightmare (Pete Walker, 1974). And you thought your family had issues.

(6) Dahmer (David Jacobson, 2002). One of the finer entries in the booming serial-killer biopic genre.

(8–10) The Cannibal gang: Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980), Cannibal Ferox (Umberto Lenzi, 1981), and Cannibal Apocalypse (Antonio Margheriti, 1980). Nobody does human cruelty and bad-taste brutality like the Italians. (Cheryl Eddy)


Fri/23–Sat/14, midnight, $9.75

Clay, 2261 Fillmore, SF




March 21


Blood Wedding

Ever felt like a cockroach in love with a butterfly? Federico García Lorca explored such feelings in his first play. By the time he penned Blood Wedding, in 1933, García Lorca was brilliantly acquainted with the painful four-letter word that begins with an l in English and an a in Spanish. The first play in a trilogy of rustic tragedies, Blood Wedding has had almost as many lives as it has staged deaths over the years. The presence of local flamenco diva Yaelisa in the Shotgun Players’ take on the archetypal tale means there will be dance amid the romance. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Through April 22
8 p.m., $17–$25
Ashby Stage
1901 Ashby, Berk.
(510) 841-6500


San Francisco Flower
and Garden Show

On moving to urban San Francisco, the land of limited space and time, many transplants forget the soothing childhood pleasures of tending to backyard gardens. Thankfully, the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show has returned for its 22nd year with 21 inspiring designer gardens, 60 free seminars, and retailers to help you regain your green thumb. (Joshua Rotter)

Through March 25
Wed.–Sat., 9 a.m.–8 p.m.;
Sun., 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Free–$20; five-day pass, $65
Cow Palace
2600 Geneva, SF
(415) 771-6909

Politics blog



Angel’s wing


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Kudos to SF Playhouse for its part in introducing Bay Area audiences to Stephen Adly Guirgis. Guirgis is a member of New York’s LAByrinth Theater Company — a collective that includes playwright John Patrick Shanley and actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Guirgis has been making a name for himself during the past decade as an actor, director, television writer, and more particularly, the author of several engagingly sharp and gritty off-Broadway comedies.

SF Playhouse had a hit on its hands last season with its slick West Coast premiere of Guirgis’s 2002 Our Lady of 121st Street. In that play, a circle of former Catholic schoolmates from Harlem reconvenes in the old neighborhood for the funeral of their bad ol’ but beloved teacher, Sister Rose. Alternately saint and sinner, more or less like the rest of them, Rose is seemingly larger than life now that she’s gone. Really gone: as the play opens, someone has swiped her embalmed remains from the mortuary, throwing the whole service into limbo as the characters, in a state of anxious expectancy, rip open both fresh and long-festering wounds. Together their stories slyly interrogate the nature of free will, right and wrong, and our ambivalent reliance on forms of moral accountability. Artistic director Bill English’s shrewd casting and razor-sharp staging brought the high-spirited ensemble work and Guirgis’s loosely interlocked scenes to life.

In Jesus Hopped the "A" Train, a Guirgis play originally produced in 2000 and now at SF Playhouse, a young Puerto Rican man named Angel Cruz (Daveed Diggs) finds himself in jail — after bursting into the church of a cult leader responsible for brainwashing his best friend and shooting the former in the ass. Angel, having tried every other means of rescuing his childhood pal, cannot see much of a crime in this desperate act. Mary Jane Hanrahan (Susi Damilano), the public defender initially assigned to his case, begs to differ. Yet something draws the haggard but upright lawyer to the recalcitrant Angel’s side. In a monologue addressed to the audience, she recounts a childhood memory of a similar (if not quite as illicit) act by her working-class Irish father.

Angel’s plight and Mary Jane’s legal defense make up one half of the play. Brutally assaulted in jail and in dire threat of being killed after his target, the Sun Myung Moon–like Reverend Kim, unexpectedly dies, Angel soon finds himself in a special protective custody lockdown wing at Rikers Island prison. The wing is overseen by a guard named Valdez (Gabriel Marin), whose frustration with institutionalized justice has given way to sadism. A deeply shaken Angel shares the yard with a kindly born-again serial killer named Lucius Jenkins (Carl Lumbly) as the latter fights extradition back to Florida, where he would face the death penalty.

As an exploration of ethics and the nature of personal responsibility, Jesus Hopped the "A" Train takes a slightly different route from Our Lady but winds up in notably similar territory. It teases out volatile questions from complacent notions of faith and justice while demonstrating the playwright’s marked gift for dialogue that is gritty but also dazzlingly vibrant and ferociously funny. English again shows judiciousness in direction and casting, and Lumbly in the role of Lucius is a real coup. Lumbly (the Berkeley actor best known for work in films and television shows such as Alias) turns in a finely tuned performance that is one of the best things on a Bay Area stage at the moment. Also, Diggs, a relatively young actor recently seen in Magic Theatre’s production of Elaine May’s triptych Moving Along, continues to prove himself capable of great things. The resulting production is a winner, no matter what a jury may decide.


Last week Jess Curtis/Gravity’s Under the Radar slipped into San Francisco from Berlin for a smooth and gentle (except when it didn’t want to be) landing on the CounterPULSE stage. It’s a decidedly unsentimental and altogether moving night of dance theater that is, despite the name of the company, anything but heavy.

Two years in the making, this cabaret-style movement-based exploration of virtuosity and disability — or the mental limits we set for one another and ourselves — features an international seven-member ensemble. It’s composed of dancer-singer-musician-performers from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and (in the case of the Chico-born, longtime Bay Area–based Curtis) the United States. Under the Radar‘s winning chemistry includes casual, puckish humor (the performers, who variously play instruments as a band or climb into harnesses for aerial solos or duets, watch each other perform with admiring and catty commentary that is surely meant to prod stultified consciences). The evening’s almost nonchalant quality belies its technical rigor, striking eclecticism, and inspired invention.

Axis and other dance companies have long made integrated work (for disabled and other performers) a staple of the Bay Area dance scene, and the addition of circus and cabaret elements is not in itself new either. But Under the Radar‘s highly theatrical amalgam is nonetheless freshly inventive, fun, and lovely to behold. What willingly comes down to earth can rebound to heavenly heights. *


Through April 21

Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; $18–$60

SF Playhouse

533 Sutter, SF

(415) 677-9596



Through April 1

Wed.–Sun., 8 p.m., $18–$30


1310 Mission, SF

(415) 435-7552




SxSW rocking, mocking


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Every spring I wing toward Austin, Texas, and the South by Southwest conference and music fest like some PBR-swilling, Lily Allen–aping mockingbird, in the hope of getting my imagination kick-started by some mysterious band of outsiders from Leeds, Helsinki, or Cleveland, armed with only guitars, samplers, or taste-testing facial hair. Little did I realize I’d be clocked in the noggin instead by This Moment in Black History’s Chris Kulcsar at the Blender Balcony at the Ritz. Last I recall, the spazztastic singer had just dashed up the stairs into the audience, nodding approvingly at TMIBH’s righteous thrash. I felt the heel of his kicks against my skull moments later. "Did he just jump over me?" I asked a bespectacled Joe Indie Rocker beside me. "Well, actually, he kicked you in the head," he answered. Glad to be a part of the spectacle — spare me the head trauma next time.

Oh South by — more than 10,000 participants strong, more than 1,400 acts bringing their all and driving $24.9 million in revenue to the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World." Oh me (oh my) — little slumber, one missed jet, a new zit every hour (just call me Stresstradamus), and drawn by the promise of cool sounds, cold beer, hot barbecued pork and brisket-taco brunches by the cold, gray light of a hangover, industry hugging and mugging, wheeling and dealing, and special guests who just might not be that, er, special at this point ("Every time you see those words on the schedule, just insert ‘Pete Townshend,’ " one wag claimed after Townshend dropped in at both his girlfriend Rachel Fuller’s acoustic show and a Fratellis gig). Oh, the rumored celeb-actor sightings — Kirsten Dunst, Owen and Luke Wilson, Michael Pitt doing a Keanu with his neogrunge Pagoda. Oh, the surreal parties — bunnies getting jiggy with indie at the eighth annual Playboy "Rock the Rabbit" after-hours wingding with bunnies, Ghostland Observatory, and popscene’s Omar, as well as the usual Blender (showing "the stupidest rock movies ever" at its slick, MTV-ish clubhouse), Spin, Jane, Filter, and Fader fort exclusivity rites, filled with guest-listlessness, Fratellis performances, and gratis Absolut peartinis, Heinekens, and mini–Vitamin Waters. If you’re a glutton for hard-drinking pleasure or heavy metal punishment (see the free Mastodon by the Lake show, the Melvins’ Stubbs-packing powerthon, and some two dozen Boris performances), then SXSW is for you.

But for a three-time SXSWhiner like myself — and a very random sampling of festgoers accustomed to challenging Elijah Wood to rasslin’ matches — the fest generally underwhelmed this year. It’s still the biggest cross-the-board overview of the music biz around. But demanding party people with insectlike attention spans wanted to know, where were the Bloc Parties? (Oh, naturally they were there, playing oodles of shows, but did anyone give a bloc?) Tellingly, the Horrors were here, but where were the thrills (and I don’t mean the Irish combo)?

Yesteryear’s exciters such as the Gossip and Hella showed, and Spank Rock, Girl Talk, Simian Mobile Disco, and Flosstradamus repped, yet seriously, is Amy Winehouse all that? Sure, she could croon a ’50s R&B-inflected pop tune and rock a Ronettes-style beehive, but her performance was more memorable for the number of times she hiked up her low-riding jeans than her songs. "I’m dwunk," she slurred during her packed show at La Zona Rosa. "It’s not funny." Are Razorlight and Albert Hammond Jr. truly godhead? Caveat: I caught neither, but fess, when thin-blooded popsters like Peter, Bjorn, and John and Pete and the Pirates are vaunted as the hottest shit to stream from the cultural Sani-Jons, then something is very wrong. The fact that the Black Lips were on so many lips is perfectly understandable: they’re a fine garage punk band — onstage heaves or no — and worthy of the humps they’re getting years along, but we all know that. I wanted my mind blown as well as punted.

Barring that, where were Arcade Fire, Of Montreal, LCD Soundsystem, TV on the Radio, Deerhoof, OOIOO, and so many others currently touring — but perhaps too sensible or established to play a seemingly requisite dozen times? Whither MIA, the Hives, Queens of the Stone Age, Feist, Marilyn Manson, and others with anticipated 2007 albums to hawk? Are Coachella and its Rage Against the Machine reorientation giving SXSW a run for the splashy reunion buck (sorry, RATM guitarist Tom Morello’s Nightwatchman show with Slash, Perry Farrell, etc., doesn’t cut it)? Are SXSW’s sideshow and party scenes undercutting the panels and showcases? Perhaps the coastside cynics are spoiled because we think a Hoodoo Gurus gathering just doesn’t measure up to recent no-shows like Whitehouse.

Still, the ole rocks do get off, if when you least expect it, wandering past a bar, ears caught by some new emanation. That happened to me, when I stumbled on inspired, powerful performances like those of Toronto’s stunning, vibes-focused Hylozoists at Habana Calle and the Björkish–Kate Bushy lady band Bat for Lashes. And then not so unexpectedly, when you brave the puke and garage smells of the Beauty Bar Patio for an all-Bay hyphy throwdown with an energized Federation, packing their stunna glasses at night, an ebullient Saafir, and a speaker-mounting Pack. The fact that you have to go all the way to Texas for the latter makes SXSW the beloved monster that it is — it’s just getting harder to cut through the noise.

Back in black: Black Lips, Black Angels, This Moment in Black History, Black Fiction.

Some words never stop being fun: Holy Fuck, Holy Shit!, Shitdisco, Fucked Up, Psychedelic Horseshit.

All ze buzz: Paolo Nutini, Earl Greyhound, Pop Levi, Albert Hammond Jr., and Cold War Kids. *

For more on South by Southwest, click here.

It’s the chalk


When we think of white wine, we think of many things — Brie, student-faculty mixers, summer picnics sur l’herbe, grilled fish — but chalk is generally not among them. Chalk would not seem to have much to do with food and drink at all, except as a means to write the day’s specials on those little blackboards restaurants sometimes hang on the wall or prop up outside the front door. Yet chalky soil is intrinsic to a certain sort of white wine the French have long been masters of and we have struggled with, and I have often wondered why, until reading John McPhee’s riveting piece "Season on the Chalk: From Ditchling Beacon to Épernay," which ran in the New Yorker‘s March 12 issue.

McPhee is our greatest living poet of geology. His 1993 book, Assembling California, had much to say not only about the formation of our state but about that of the west of North America generally — in particular, how young everything is here relative to Europe. The expressions New World and Old World turn out not to be purely sociopolitical. Chalk is old, and it is really not found here; even Chalk Hill, in Sonoma County, consists not of calcium carbonate (like true chalk and its near relation limestone) but of volcanic ash. Northwestern Europe, on the other hand, is streaked by a huge band of chalk, which runs from the downlands south of London to the white cliffs of Dover, then under the English Channel into northern France and the Champagne towns of Reims and Épernay. From there the band curves around the Île-de-France and swoops into the Touraine region of the Loire Valley, where many wonderfully dry, minerally sauvignon blancs and chenin blancs are produced. There is even a tail-end bit around Cognac.

French champagne experts have often been heard to say over the years that méthode champenoise sparkling wines from California, while good and sometimes very good, simply do not compare to the best of their French counterparts. I have long suspected an element of snobbery here, but the McPhee story suggests that there might also be some empirical reality; "Vines like their feet dry," he quotes an (English) maker of sparkling wine as noting, and chalky soil drains quickly while providing high levels of nutrients. Advantage: France. And England!

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Owner of a lonely heart


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s Owen Ashworth sounds like he’s in dire need of a friend. To listeners, the 29-year-old San Francisco native exudes the air of a hopeless romantic holed up his bedroom, his floor littered with broken Casio SK-1s and ready-to-be-pawned drum machines instead of crumpled-up balls of chicken scratch.

"Casios are such ubiquitous instruments, and I think there are as many homes with Casios in them as guitars," Ashworth explained from Chicago, where he now lives. "I feel like those sounds are ingrained in people’s adolescent subconscious, and they’re the cheapest and most accessible form of a musical instrument in a lot of households."

Since 1997, Ashworth has coupled blithe electronic dissonance and Atari-effected percussive treatments with husky spoken-narrative vocals, generating two-minute compositions that sound like pages torn from a diary. Almost on the fringes of satire, his dream pop melancholia conjures fictional characterizations that most think reflect Ashworth’s personal life: a stargazer prowls through the Safeway aisles for his Rice Dream–drinking vamp, an escapist searches for his beach-cruiser biker hipsteress. His new split 7-inch with Foot Foot, "It’s a Crime" (Oedipus), bears witness to this as Ashworth laments, "It’s plain to see / That boxes of candy will make her sigh / But confidentially / They’ll just rot her pretty teeth and it’s a crime / Yeah it’s a crime / That you’re kissing on that girl for all to see / And it’s a crime / That she’s going home with you and not with me."

Such intimacy makes it easy to confuse the singer and the song. "I think it could be frustrating for Owen to have people think, as I did, that the narrator in his songs is actually him," Ashworth’s friend Sarah Han, an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, e-mailed. "It might be him sometimes, but getting to know him better personally and hearing how his narrative skills have broadened in his later songs, I realized that Owen is just a good storyteller."

"I definitely like the narrative aspect" of songwriting, Ashworth said. "What makes me want to make music in the first place is to be able to tell stories and sort of prop up this weird, sonic environment for a couple of characters to live in."

CFTPA releases of late, however, sound like Ashworth is ready to pull the batteries out of those keyboards and give his poetic escapades a new soundtrack. On Tomlab albums such as Answering Machine Music (1999) and Twinkle Echo (2003), CFTPA’s fractured synth pop captures the sonic cacophony of Big Black and the analog-fraught lo-fi-isms of Young Marble Giants. But with 2006’s Etiquette (Tomlab), Ashworth implements pedal steel guitars, pianos, and strings into his arsenal, birthing a new challenge. The acoustic vim of "It’s a Crime" has him sounding more like Steve Forbert than Stephin Merritt. Though the single lacks the digital squalls of CFTPA’s previous efforts, its raw spirit exhibits a folk soul sentimentality with its rustic strummed chords, a path Ashworth described as "traditional American songwriting."

"What’s nice about being on my own and being the boss is that I can try all sorts of strange things," he revealed. "I’m more interested now in arrangements and toying with the variables that I had set as off-limits on my first record."

And speaking of American songsters, a certain Paul Simon received the Ashworth treatment late last year when CFTPA’s electro-fueled "Graceland" 7-inch (Rococo) was released. Assembled with a barrage of machine gun–like drum noise and grimy synths, the track flaunts the classic Casiotone strut. "I covered ‘Graceland’ because it’s a great song and I have a personal, lifelong connection to it," Ashworth said. "Every time I got in the car with my parents, it always seemed to come on the radio."

Following his spring US tour, Ashworth will embark on a summer stateside jaunt during which he will be joined onstage by San Diego’s the Donkeys. He plans on recording his next full-length this fall, and some of the songs now being rehearsed with the band will probably make it on to the album.

Until then, one can only hope Ashworth will find friends among his listeners and will always have a shoulder to lean on. *


With Page France and Headlights

Fri/23, 9 p.m., $12

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


… And Justice for all


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

An irrational exuberance overcomes the dance media when something good comes out of Paris. A decade ago it was Daft Punk, and now it is Ed Banger Records — the label run by longtime Daft Punk manager Pedro Winter — and Justice. The pair, Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé, have released only a few singles and a handful of remixes, but their chaotic blend of square-edged synths and metalworthy riffs have sent dozens of scribes scurrying to find a new spin on the phrase "Paris is burning."

Perhaps it has something to do with that damn accent, those charming plosive Gallic exhalations. Just a few minutes into my phone interview with de Rosnay, I find myself eager to laugh at his jokes, despite the fact that it took me two months to set up this 15-minute interview slot — and I was given barely 48 hours’ notice when it was finally scheduled. De Rosnay has just returned from a series of DJ gigs in Australia, where his and Augé’s sets bouncing classic Detroit techno by Inner City off distorted, dissonant disco by Germany’s Smith ‘n’ Hack were received with enthusiastic — and, to judge from the YouTube videos, astoundingly drunken — acclaim.

De Rosnay seems quite pleased with his overseas fans, particularly given that until recently, Justice were largely unknown in Paris itself. "Since the beginning we have a larger audience outside of Paris than in Paris," he explains. "But it’s always the same, because in Paris people as a rule don’t like what comes from Paris until everybody around says, ‘OK, it’s cool — you can like it.’ The normal way in Paris is to let other people, like in the UK and Germany, like it, and then you can come back and play in Paris, and people are cool with you."

Justice laid the seeds for Parisian approval with their 2003 Justice vs. Simian rework "Never Be Alone," which flipped the original yowling punk vocals over a rubbery funk bass line and repetitive keys to infectious effect. The track initially appeared as the second release from Ed Banger and has continually been reborn, first for DJ Hell’s International Deejay Gigolo label, then again last year for 10, a Virgin imprint. It also earned Justice the Video of the Year Award from MTV Europe, much to the dismay of Kanye West, who burst onstage during the presentation and expressed his shock at being denied proper respect. Waters of Nazareth was Justice’s second official recording, and the Ed Banger–released 2005 EP of squalling synths and crashing drums has met a similar recycled fate, having just been rereleased stateside by Vice.

Along the way, the pair have produced a series of remixes for artists they admire, such as Fatboy Slim, Franz Ferdinand, and the French touch forebears themselves, Daft Punk. Justice’s "Ruined by Justice" version of Franz Ferdinand’s "The Fallen," which slings stuttered high hats and huge guitars against a ridiculously catchy vocoder loop, is typical of their particular stylistic pastiche, smearing electro, pop, and rock elements into head-banging dance music, and it’s the climax of the recent Fabriclive 28: Evil Nine mix, which includes cuts from soul mates such as Digitalism and Simian Mobile Disco.

No remixes have emerged in the past year while Justice have been working on their full-length, due this June. The move points to a keen awareness of pop machinations that belies de Rosnay’s affable, self-deprecating manner. "If we continued to do remixes while we were doing our album, it could have betrayed the vibe of the album, and it’s better to keep it fresh and not release anything," he confides. "Plus, we are so slow doing music, if we kept doing remixes, our album would be released in 2012 or something!"

Justice may lead the Ed Banger charge, but behind them party artists such as DJ Medhi, with his simplistic keys, breakbeats, and grunts adding up to much more than their individual parts, and SebastiAn, whose clanging, heavy metal electro "Greel" is a highlight of the new Ed Rec Vol. 2 compilation. Both will appear alongside Justice at Mezzanine this week. Then there’s Uffie, whose shockingly amateurish and foulmouthed rhymes frequently overpower stunningly schizophrenic production by her boyfriend, Feadz.

For their own part, Justice are thoroughly enjoying themselves and emphatically deny being over all the hoopla. As de Rosnay says, "We know this is a chance to get attention from some people. It would be quite unfair to get tired of it, as we just have two years in the music industry. If I’m tired now, I think I will have to kill myself in six months!" *


Sat/24, 10 p.m., $14


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880


Sleepless fights


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

In May 2002, El Producto issued the acidic collage Fantastic Damage on his label, Definitive Jux. Winning universal acclaim for its compendium of broken-home tales, hard-won insights, and teenage misadventures, the recording crystallized a moment when rap musicians could reject the corporate-approved pay formulas proliferating on MTV without losing a receptive and knowledgeable audience.

Five years later that promise has seemingly passed. Rhymesayers, once famous for selling hundreds of thousands of CDs without major-label support, is now distributed by Warner Bros. LA rap scion Busdriver likes to wear a T-shirt that reads, "Sorry, underground hip-hop happened ten years ago." The controversial Anticon collective, once renowned for its vision of rapping as avant-garde art, has turned its attention to experimental rock.

Meanwhile, critics have long since withdrawn their support. "Independent pop — not just hip-hop — has in many ways become a version of graduate school, a safe zone where artists can eke out a living, take their time doing specialized work," New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones wrote in 2004. "In most cases, this is the last thing a popular musician should be doing." Unlike the participants of past movements — think early ’80s hardcore or mid-’90s indie rock — neither indie rap artists nor the popist critics who hate them can imagine an alternative, noncommercial universe that is profitable as well as artistically successful.

Some things haven’t changed, however. El-P, the man whose Definitive Jux imprint represents the best in underground hip-hop, remains a restlessly intelligent and caustically opinionated maverick. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, his just-released follow-up to 2002’s Fantastic Damage, is one of the year’s most remarkable albums, hip-hop or otherwise. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is hallucinatory and strange, but it ain’t a coke rap epic. It’s the equivalent of a distorted lens refracting El-P’s mind, bent during wartime, and he stays afloat through torrential word pours and samples collated into Sheetrock. "Why should I be sober when God is so clearly dusted out of his mind / With cherubs puffing a bundle tryna remember why he even tried / Down here it’s 30 percent every year to fund the world’s end / But I’m broke on Atlantic Ave. tryna to cop the bootleg instead," he raps on "Smithereens (Stop Cryin)." Despite the knotty slanguage, however, his lyrics are conceptually grounded, even when he musses with the details.

"I think the record has a political tinge to it, but it wasn’t me trying to feed you my crappy, base understanding of geopolitics," El-P says via phone from Planet New York. "I think the record is a snapshot of a mind state during a time that is highly politicized and strange…. I don’t think anyone needs to hear my perspective on why war is bad or what’s happening in the world. I just think that I’m very influenced by the tone of the times, and it comes through."

Deliberately twisted, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead isn’t, as El-P puts it, "constructs for the radio." Some of the tracks, such as "Everything Must Go" and "No Kings," are simple yet evocative b-boy rants with fresh rhymes. Others are stories. "Habeas Corpses" details a prison guard and firing-squad technician in a futuristic American prison camp — "This is incredibly nerdy," El-P says — who falls in love with one of the prisoners destined to be executed. He questions his feelings for her, but in the end he shoots her.

Eye-catching names such as Cat Power, Trent Reznor, members of the Mars Volta, and Daryl Palumbo from Head Automatica riddle I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead ‘s liner notes. El-P submerges the cameos — a rap by Slug from Atmosphere here, a vocal hook by Matt Sweeney there — into the maelstrom along with the X-Clan samples. With few exceptions, they’re barely noticed. El-P retains center stage.

"It’s been five years since he’s put out a record, so there’s people coming out of the woodwork to get behind him," Amaechi Uzoigwe, El-P’s longtime manager and business partner, says. He describes a postrelease schedule that includes appearances on late-night TV talk shows and international tours. "I think this record is what El-P has done every five years, going back to Funcrusher on Rawkus with Company Flow," Uzoigwe says. "He redefines what indie hip-hop is and can be every time he drops a record."

Throughout his career, El-P has consistently pushed the boundaries of hip-hop. As the leader of the trio Company Flow, in 1997 he issued the totemic Funcrusher Plus, a disc that eventually sold more than 100,000 copies with no radio or video support. (Vibe magazine recently called it "the defining document of ’90s hip-hop dissent.") Shortly before the group disbanded, El-P cofounded Definitive Jux with Uzoigwe. The label grew into an outpost for idiosyncratic visions from Aesop Rock, RJD2, and Mr. Lif. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead continues that tradition as El-P reconfirms his status as a serious artist worthy of the same consideration as Nine Inch Nails and Cat Power. It’s his first since 2002, but he argues, "It seems like a long time, but for me it didn’t seem that long." Remixes for others (TV on the Radio, Hot Hot Heat, and Beck), beats for his Definitive Jux roster (Mr. Lif and Cage), exotic collaborations (High Water with jazz pianist Matthew Shipp’s Blue Series Continuum), and a soundtrack assignment (Bomb the System) helped the years pass by.

"Those things were me getting into the role of different characters. None of it was really me," El-P says. "The outside production that I do is about me trying to step into the role of furthering someone else’s vision and working within those confines. I seek those things out. I wanna know how to do it. I want to get better at it. I seek these experiences out because I know I’m going to go back and make my record, and hopefully there’ll be something I can pull from those experiences to enhance what I do for myself."

If all goes to plan, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead will anchor a busy year for Definitive Jux. New albums from Aesop Rock, Cage, Camu Tao and Rob Sonic and a 10th-anniversary reissue of Funcrusher Plus are in the offing. The label has been relatively quiet in recent years, only releasing one album (Mr. Lif’s Mo’ Mega), in 2006. In 2007, Definitive Jux hopes to reclaim its past and map out its future.

"We spent last year getting everything together internally so that we can go into these next couple of years as strong as possible," El-P says. He bristles at the notion that Definitive Jux is on the verge of a comeback. The label’s inactivity, he explains, was due to operational issues from launching a digital download store (the Pharmacy) to simply waiting for artists to finish their albums. "We’re very lucky, especially given a time where record labels are dropping like flies. It’s hard to maintain a business, and it’s hard to keep going. Somehow we’ve managed to be healthy and line up great projects. I’m very excited, to be honest."

In some ways, El-P has it easy. As a New York artist who came of age during the Wu-Tang era, the 32-year-old is a critic’s darling who isn’t as scrutinized and second-guessed as many of his peers, a group that ranges from the aforementioned Atmosphere and Busdriver to People under the Stairs and Sage Francis. But if mainstream audiences and critics continue to write off indie rap as a province for silly idealists and college nerds, then I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead indicates that the genre survives in spite of their disdain. At the very least, it sets an impressively high standard for a much-maligned and beleaguered art form.

"I think the genre is a little bit stagnant, musically and creatively. And I think we’ve seen the result of that, whether it’s show attendance, record sales, and just general complaints from the music community," Uzoigwe says. "I think [I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead] is a much-needed addition to the indie hip-hop canon." *


Sun/25, 9 p.m., $15


444 Jessie, SF



State of the metal address


If gnashing guitars, thundering drums, and growling vocals are suddenly silenced, will faces still find places to melt? It’s been five months since Pound-SF closed, after reportedly being evicted by the San Francisco Port Authority. (As early as May 2006, owner Tony Carracci spoke at a San Francisco Entertainment Commission meeting about his frustration at not being able to obtain a long-term lease for the space.) The all-ages club, tucked into San Francisco’s industrial bayside, hosted a large portion of the city’s metal shows during its five-year lifespan. The music may be thriving without the Pound, but what’s up with the local metal scene now that it has no sprawling, single venue at its hub, one that booked major metal touring acts and budding local bands, in addition to the occasional hip-hop or indie group?

Matt Shapiro, head booker at the Elbo Room and founder of metal club night Lucifer’s Hammer, has noticed a few changes. "Since the Pound closed, other people have had to step up. I was hoping that Slim’s would really pick up on it, and they’ve taken some of it," he says, adding that venues such as the Oakland Metro, Bottom of the Hill, and the Great American Music Hall have also begun booking more metal shows. However, he continues, "I’ve noticed that we’ve lost a lot of [metal shows], because a lot of the tours are skipping over the Bay Area now."

Leila Rauf, vocalist and guitarist for Saros, agrees that certain venues have increased their metal bookings to make up for the Pound’s demise. On the other hand, though, "places like Slim’s and the Great American aren’t going to book a band unless you draw at least 300 people," she says. "For smaller bands, that’s not really doable. There’s Balazo [18 Art Gallery] — we just played there are few weeks ago. But I definitely think we need another all-ages venue for smaller bands that’s organized and in a convenient location, because the Pound was kind of in the middle of nowhere."

Feo Berumen, vocalist from Arise, points out that other key metal venues — including the Maritime Hall and the Cocodrie — have shut down in the past and the scene has continued to flourish, though at a certain price. "It’s almost like the only people you’re cutting out is the underage crowd, which sucks," he offers. "The all-ages shows that Arise predominantly plays are up north, past Petaluma."

If the audience demands a Pound equivalent, it’s likely one will eventually emerge. Pete Ponitkoff, formerly of Benumb and now the vocalist for Agenda of Swine, has a suggestion: "I’m surprised somebody doesn’t take Broadway Studios and start having [metal] shows there again. That place would be an awesome replacement for the Pound."

No matter what happens, local metal hardly seems in danger of dying out. Rob Cavestany, lead guitarist of the influential Bay Area thrash band Death Angel — and a former Pound employee — has seen the scene change a lot over the past 25 years, with one proud constant. "The Bay Area metal scene is legendary in the metal world. Any metal fan, all over the world that we go, knows straight up, ‘Bay Area! You guys are from the Bay Area!’ They know it’s the scene that spawned Metallica, Exodus, Testament — some of the hardest-hitting thrash bands."


Agenda of Swine "The new big shit," Berumen declares.

Arise "As of recently, I’ve seen an influx of new, Bay Area thrash," Shapiro says, and Arise is one of his favorites.

Asunder From Oakland, this band got props from Shapiro, Ponitkoff, and Saros drummer Blood Eagle.

Dekapitator Witness the truth of their MySpace headline: "Head-splitting metal!!!!!"

Hatchet On Ponitkoff’s list of new favorites; bands like this make him say of the Bay Area, "We’re the thrash capital of the frickin’ world."

Ludicra Hammers of Misfortune’s John Cobbett plays guitar in this black metal band, guided by Laurie Shanaman’s eerie vocals.

Saros In an interview with Thrasher magazine, Rauf described her band’s music as "simultaneously complex and cyclical." And it rocks.

Saviours "Saviours are really making a name for themselves and touring constantly," Blood Eagle says. See their killer live show, and you’ll see why.

Watch Them Die "The band," Berumen says. "By far one of the best bands out of the Bay Area."

Wayward Son "Young kids who play some of the best goddamn thrash on the face of the planet," according to Berumen. (Cheryl Eddy)

Screaming for vengeance


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It was the unquiet dead, whispering in the dark, who set John Cobbett on his path.

In December 2001, Cobbett — a longtime Mission District rocker and guitar hero with such notably heavy outfits as Slough Feg, Ludicra, and Hammers of Misfortune — was on the East Coast visiting his identical twin brother, Aaron, a photographer living in Brooklyn, just across the East River from the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center.

"I visited the site. It was at night and freezing cold," Cobbett notes. "I remember the sounds of the cranes and demolition machinery wrenching huge slabs of twisted metal and concrete from the wreckage. All through the night these eerie, mournful sounds reverberated off the surrounding towers. It was an incredibly haunted place."

The wound at that time was still so fresh, you see. But the grief, fear, and uncertainty were being transformed, alchemically, inexorably, into something very different: a television spectacle and a justification for war far removed from the dust, the heat, and the stench of burning corpses that Cobbett says lingered in his brother’s neighborhood for months.

As the tragedy played out — the dead painstakingly named and numbered, the TV newscasters falling easily into the cadence of wartime rhetoric — Cobbett realized he had to respond. But the methods of political rock seemed far too self-righteous, and even patronizing, given the scale of bloodletting and demagoguery.

The way forward was finally revealed one month later, during the 2002 Super Bowl halftime show, which included a performance by U2 and a remarkable moment of patriotic kitsch: at the show’s climax, Bono, with the names of the 9/11 victims scrolling overhead on a huge banner, opened his leather jacket to reveal the Stars and Stripes beneath.

The crowd went wild, but for Cobbett it was shameless propaganda. The phrase "trot out the dead" leaped into his head, and music and lyrics quickly followed.

"I got so fucking pissed," Cobbett says. "These victims are rolling over in the superheated rubble below Ground Zero. It was so cheap and so tawdry. I decided, ‘I’m going to take these motherfuckers to task.’ "

Gloriously rocking and extraordinarily angry, "Trot Out the Dead" would become one of several jaw-dropping centerpieces of The Locust Years (Cruz del Sur Music), a record that took five more years and several new band members to complete and may well be one of the most urgent and affecting works of rock ‘n’ roll — not to mention protest music — produced by a band in San Francisco or anywhere else. It is the soundtrack to the George W. Bush years, a musical wail of sorrow and fury all the more overwhelming for its mythic metal lyrics and its seamless blend of prog rock ambition, hard and heavy bombast, and massively killer riffage.

If this sounds over the top, well, it is, a fact to which Cobbett gleefully cops.

"No matter how ridiculous we are, no way can we get more stupid and ridiculous than the real thing," he says. "No matter how grandiose I can get with a metal song, there’s no way I can go to Iraq and start a war. No matter how sanctimonious I get, there’s no way I could match what was coming out of Rumsfeld’s mouth. The shit coming out of those people’s mouths — it was gold."


One of five siblings born to a middle-class Rochester, NY, family ultimately sundered by divorce, the teenage Cobbett wound up in Washington, DC, in the 1980s and quickly fell in with the breakthrough hardcore scene of the era. Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and the Obsessed were his bread and butter, but with the emergence of Revolution Summer’s early emo bands in 1986, the music became, in his words, "specious and cloying."

Taking his cue from a friend who said he’d like San Francisco, Cobbett spontaneously packed his gear and hit the road. "Within a week I was living in the Mission District," he says, "and still do."

Before too long he had fallen in with Chewy Marzolo, a drummer with the heavy and hardcore outfit Osgood Slaughter. That carried them both into the 1990s, at which point the musical chairs began in earnest. Cobbett joined the Lord Weird Slough Feg, a band packing equal parts Celtic folk mythos and old-school metal pomp. There he connected with vocalist Mike Scalzi, who would later help define Hammers’ sound with a manly, operatic holler that would do Rob Halford proud.

Marzolo, meanwhile, was busily following what he calls a "one-band-to-the-next continuum" all the way to Cobbett’s first incarnation of Hammers of Misfortune in 1998. Along the way he founded Poverty Records, a vital imprint that documented the Mission’s explosion of grimy and creatively unfettered rock ‘n’ punk with a slew of 7-inch records and CDs from such essential bands as Fuckface, Lost Goat, Towel, and Hickey.

After an initial outing as Unholy Cadaver — a devil-voiced combo that congealed around San Francisco’s cultish homegrown black metal scene, along with such peers as Weakling and Ludicra — Hammers’ lineup was refined and completed with the addition of vocalist-bassist Janis Tanaka, late of L7 and Stone Fox. Black metal became not an end in itself but a subordinate element in a larger musical palette that came together on Hammers’ full-throttle debut, The Bastard (tUMULt, 2001). Despite its acoustic flourishes, spooky harmonies, medievalist illustrations, and Joseph Campbell–inspired lyrics, it ain’t no teenage Dungeons and Dragons fantasy adventure rewarding its heroes with heaps of treasure and experience points. The Bastard turns out to be an ecological revenge fantasy, in which the "trolls of wood and stone" storm the village to "slay the ones who chop and cut / Slay them in the their wooden huts." It’s a wicked metaphor for the fate awaiting those mortals who dare abuse the blessings of nature.

Despite the record’s subcultural acclaim from magazines such as Terrorizer and Lamentations of the Flame Princess — and the admiration heaped on its follow-up, The August Engine (Cruz del Sur Music, 2003), a hard rock parable of cliquish music-scene self-destruction — Hammers of Misfortune had chosen a road that was neither wide nor easy. What kind of metal was this anyway? True? Black? Epic? These fine points of genre fidelity may seem irrelevant to a die-hard music fan, but for labels the difference is a record they can sell or not. "I loved Hammers the first time I heard them, and it never occurred to me to question or examine their sound, which was this gloriously confusional, amazing, and intricate chunk of mind-blowing music, metal or otherwise," says Andee Connors, who put out The Bastard on his tUMULt imprint. "It might be confusing for folks who are very strict with their genre divisions."

There is only so much small labels can do, however, and Tanaka’s departure to play with pop vocalist Pink was another monkey wrench. The addition of Jamie Myers on bass and vocals carried Hammers through The Locust Years‘ recording sessions until she too took a bow, moving to Texas to raise her first child. Scalzi, disinclined to divide his time between two bands, also departed, to focus his attention entirely on Slough Feg.


Today Hammers are touring with a refreshed and potent lineup, teaming Marzolo and Cobbett with bassist Ron Nichols; vocalist and second guitarist Patrick Goodwin of retro muscle rockers Dirty Power; and the musically omnivorous vocalist Jessie Quattro, who was raised on Doc Watson and the hymns and "occasional barking" of Pentecostal Christianity. Sigrid Sheie, a classically trained pianist, has been a constant on the last two records, bringing musical formality and some of the most boss Hammond B-3 and Leslie keyboards heard in rock since the ’70s heyday of Deep Purple — particularly notable on "Election Day," the penultimate track on The Locust Years. The tune is a whirlwind instrumental workout that recalls such classics as Focus’s "Hocus Pocus" and Edgar Winter’s "Frankenstein."

The song is a joy to hear simply as rock ‘n’ roll and exemplifies the real musical exuberance Hammers bring to what is otherwise grim and woeful fare. The whole record leavens its bleak social commentary with what Cobbett describes as "little-kid enthusiasm" for rocking out in high style. The lyrics, while not necessarily dactylic hexameter, are still richly allusive as metalhead poetry, inviting listeners to suspend their disbelief, find their own meaning, and let the emotional sweep of the music fill in the blanks. Anything unstated by, for example, "Chastity Rides," a harmonically gorgeous paean to the Platonic ideal of politically conservative virtue, is made ever so explicit by the snarling, minor-key instrumental bridge. The same technique is also applied to great effect in "War Anthem," a stirring call to arms that blatantly steals its sentimental grandeur from "The Star-Spangled Banner" then yanks the veil aside to reveal the bald-faced rapacity of the masters of the war on terror — be they Islamofascists, Christian supremacists, or military-industrial profiteers.

From the record’s opening moments, with Cobbett’s guitar wailing like a thousand 9/11 banshees, to the dreadful prophecy of "Famine’s Lamp" — certainly one of the great rock ‘n’ roll dirges — clear through to the gleaming, high-tech, satellite-guided apocalypse of the album-closing "Widow’s Wall," The Locust Years appeals to me as a ferocious summation of all the shameless hypocrisy, betrayal, and avarice of the last six years. It is tremendously cathartic but not necessarily hopeful. The album’s title — borrowed from Winston Churchill, who coined the phrase in reference to the declines and compromises of the 1930s and their resolution in the gas chambers and killing fields of World War II — is an embittered indictment of the flag-waving, churchgoing citizen-consumer. Good Germans all, dutifully following their leader as the abyss yawns ever wider.


No one in the band has any delusions that their underground heavy metal record is going to change the world — and not one of them seems willing to suck up to a music industry that would only turn it into focus-group approved, prechewed rage against the generic machine. Hammers is truly a Mission District group, deeply rooted in a seething community of fiercely — even dysfunctionally — independent musicians, labels, and fans with roots dating back at least 20 years.

But Hammers of Misfortune are also a band with a mission and a message — and a whole of good rockin’ to come. Sheie modestly hopes for at least a European tour and enough earnings to not have to worry about covering practice-space fees — then confesses she thinks the record deserves a Grammy. Quattro is in a similar mood, daydreaming of playing to an arena of "30,000 screaming fans." I hope it all comes true in spades.

As for Cobbett, he’s been touring with Ludicra and, fresh from exhibiting Hammers at South by Southwest, has a new concept album germinating in his mind. Something to do with a perfect storm known as Hurricane Katrina and the drowned city of New Orleans. Another victim of the locust years, to be immortalized in song.

The gods of metal are angry and sharpening their swords. *


With Genghis Tron and Kylesa

Sun/25, 9 p.m., $10, all ages

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455



Imitation of Kubrick


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

John Malkovich dominates Colour Me Kubrick in much the same way a poodle might lift its pampered leg to claim each stationary street object with its personal scent. He’s offensive, oblivious, frilly, absurd — all in service to a character’s refined self-preservative instinct, of course.

This happens from his first seconds onscreen, when he’s just a background form moving blurrily down a rear staircase while we’re supposed to be focused on an attractive young foreground figure — who turns out to be the focus of Malkovich’s attention too. As late real-life Stanley Kubrick impersonator Alan Conway, the actor sashays toward us and his prey with such louche, pervy, fagalicious focus that he immediately becomes a deluxe comic creation who transcends offensive stereotypes.

Malkovich is such a mannered thespian and a weird cultural icon that Being John Malkovich (1999) could count (and base itself) on his amused participation. How many contemporaneous Hollywood stars would consent to pomo ridicule of themselves? He is so frequently wrong-but-interesting (in 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, for starters) that one tends to forget the times he’s been brilliantly apt, as in The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Ripley’s Game (2002). He’s peculiar enough to almost always feel like stunt casting — akin to a CGI effect, vivid yet not remotely natural.

This is one reason he’s so perfect for Kubrick, drawn from one of those stranger-than-fiction news items in which everyday humanity’s vulnerable trust in itself is laid bare by some con-artist freak with delusions of grandeur. For a spell in the 1980s, middle-aged London dole queue yobbo Conway, no stranger to pulling scams, hit on a great one: impersonating Kubrick, the expat American considered by many the world’s greatest director, whose famous reclusiveness ensured that very few knew how he actually looked and sounded (i.e., nothing like Conway).

Conway used the starry-eyed glaze prompted by this sham identity to cadge free drinks and dinners from strangers (after all, would a wealthy celebrity like Kubrick bother carrying vulgar cash?), seduce young men (gay and straight — a promised career boost from cinema’s master proves to be major psychological lube), and generally act like the flaming fountain of specialness Conway thought he was. Several gullible real folk fell hard for this ruse, coughing up cash or freebies to buy favor from the "genius." In the film, they include fictive comedian Lee Pratt (Jim Davidson), posh restaurant owner Jasper (Richard E. Grant), even a heavy metal band. They were hoodwinked despite Conway’s not even bothering to research his role — he knew only superficial facts about Kubrick and often made pronouncements that would strike anyone with half a brain as ludicrous. (At one point he announces his next project will be 3001, with "Elizabeth Taylor as Mission Control.") Eventually Conway’s reputation (and embittered victims) hit the public radar, ending his game.

Malkovich is the whole show here. He’s fearlessly willing to play the fool — several times Conway’s chunky ass occupies center screen, underlining not just the protagonist’s but the actor’s ignorance of the concept behind a Stairmaster. Conway dons a steady stream of fashion don’ts (minikimono, anyone?), imbibes beaucoup vodka, and sobs so hysterically when his latest hot young lover storms out that you might think these histrionics are genuine at last. But that too is an act. Gloriously indulged, Malkovich revels in the role of a self-loathing wannabe narcissist who may not possess one genuine bone in his unlovely body.

Kept afloat by one spectacularly good performance and a delightful premise, Colour Me Kubrick is otherwise a somewhat leaky boat. First-time director Brian W. Cook suggests this may not be his ideal career role. His movie often haplessly jumps from one incident to another, as if connective scenes were axed by either budgetary or intellectual limitations. It relies too heavily on music cues from Kubrick flicks (such as the Moog classicals of 1971’s A Clockwork Orange) and in-joke cameos (Marisa Berenson, Ken Russell). Still, Cook’s earned the brownie points and then some necessary to make this film: he was Kubrick’s assistant director from 1975’s Barry Lyndon through the posthumously released Eyes Wide Shut (1999). (Scenarist Anthony Frewin also worked as Kubrick’s researcher, from 1968’s 2001 on.) Cook’s résumé is juicy with stellar successes, famous flops (Orca: Killer Whale, 1977), and cult flicks (1973’s original The Wicker Man, 1980’s Flash Gordon, the 1979 Who documentary The Kids Are Alright). He’s worked for Michael Cimino (1980’s Heaven’s Gate onward), occasional auteur Sean Penn, Brian de Palma, and Mel Brooks.

The world may not suffer greatly if Cook never directs another movie again. But if he doesn’t eventually write a tell-all professional biography, I will cry. I nearly cried during Colour Me Kubrick — but only because John Malkovich was almost too funny to bear. *


Opens Fri/23 at Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com



Tale of two Valley Girls


THE ORIGINAL It starts as a joke, but it rarely ends well. You pick up a piece of slang to make fun of it and then, at some point far too late down the line, realize you are physically incapable of putting it down. Who knew — I didn’t in seventh grade, when I first started using the word “like” as an irritating placeholder for nothing in particular — that Moon Unit Zappa and her dad’s joke, a song mimicking a youthful subculture’s garbled tongue, was also on me and my friends, 3,000 miles distant from Sherman Oaks, or that 24 years later I would still sound vaguely like a character from Martha Coolidge’s film Valley Girl?

My community of incoherents is a large one. The syntax has stuck around, and so has the film at least partly responsible for it — not to mention the threads sported on both sides of the film’s Hollyweird-Valley divide, which have now cycled back into fashion at least twice in the past decade. The streets of San Francisco are filled with stripy-shirted hipsters, Valley Girl is still being paid tribute at events such as Midnites for Maniacs at the Castro, and now the admirers who packed that house can even troop down to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for a screening that pairs OG VG with a low-budget homage directed by Michele O’Marah.

If you’ve seen the original, and I’m so sure you have, you know exactly why a crazed fan would undertake such an endeavor. Starring Deborah Foreman as Julie, the titular Valley girl, and Nicolas Cage as Randy, her tubular, dreamy-eyed swain from the wrong side of the Hollywood Hills, Valley Girl managed to gently send up a vapid ’80s mall culture while at the same time treating its viewers to a torrid new-romantic love story fueled by worlds colliding, the Plimsouls, and a song about getting it on mid–nuclear holocaust (Modern English’s “I Melt with You”).

Building on the can’t-fail tale of R+J, the film cruises the Hollywood club scene and sneaks into the tract homes of Tarzana and Van Nuys, coolly siding against a brand of teen robotics and materialism epitomized by middle-class girls running loose in the Galleria with their parents’ credit cards — yet admitting that they look “truly dazzling” in their string bikinis at the beach. Fittingly, or fitting-roomly, a shopping montage supplies the footage for the opening credits. But if shopping’s not your bag, try the “I Melt with You” montage, or the Randy-stalking-Julie montage, or lines like Randy’s “Well, fuck you! No, fuck off, for sure! Like, totally!” — an utterance whose consummate blend of anguish and hilarity never fails to secure viewer forgiveness for the admittedly shocking sight, early on, of Cage’s saltwater-slicked V-shaped chest hair. (Lynn Rapoport)

THE REMAKE When she was a teenager, Michele O’Marah’s favorite movie was Valley Girl — reason enough, as an adult, to mount a remake of what’s probably the most popular teen love story of the 1980s (non–John Hughes division). Or was affection the only reason? According to an August 2006 interview O’Marah did with the Web site Austinist, she created her homage as “a serious piece of artwork to be viewed in a gallery” addressing the film’s “serious issues — how a teenage girl thinks about herself, and how she thinks about men and how they should treat her.”

Whether or not this intention comes through is debatable. Fact is, the audience that goes to see a Valley Girl remake (even when it’s showing in a museum) is going to be largely composed of Valley Girl fans, who might let things like O’Marah’s charmingly homemade sets slide but will mutter among themselves when key details are altered. Why didn’t O’Marah direct the guy playing Tommy to make that crazy arm gesture after he knocks back a drink at Suzi’s party? Why are certain crucial lines jumbled beyond recognition?

The disconnects are all the more puzzling when you consider all that O’Marah gets exactly right. Her tweaks can be incredibly winning: Julie’s dad’s broken sandals — the “Water Buffalos” — are made of cardboard; a bewigged Plimsouls cover band offers excellent coverage during the Hollywood bar scenes.

O’Marah was clearly operating with a budget one-zillionth the size of the original’s, itself a cheap film by Hollywood standards. But if her lo-fi Valley Girl is to be taken as serious artwork, it raises a serious question: why remake something you love only to emphasize subtext over joy? In the 1980s a group of junior high kids devoted endless summers to a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. They had the same flagrant disregard for copyright laws as O’Marah but no pretensions whatsoever. Their product may have been technically rough, but it was also energetic and enjoyable. Thing is, when you start putting quote marks around quote marks, fun becomes work. To the max. (Cheryl Eddy)


Thurs/22, 6:30 p.m. Valley Girl (Michele O’Marah) and 8:30 p.m. Valley Girl (Martha Coolidge)

Sun/25, 2 p.m. Valley Girl (O’Marah) and 4 p.m. Valley Girl (Coolidge)


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Phyllis Wattis Theater

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



Mythic pizza


› paulr@sfbg.com

The perfect pizza, like its near relations the perfect golf shot, the perfect holiday, and the perfect sentence, is an apparition of memory. We all have some recollection of a pie (or three-wood from the rough to within 10 feet of the pin) that achieved sublimity. We might have eaten this pie in Rome or Naples, on Chestnut Street or Columbus Avenue, or even in our own kitchen. What we know for sure is that no pie before or since has topped it.

I was reminded, in the course of a recent jaunt into the mountains, how imperfect so many California pizzas seem to be and in what ways. The jaunt was spontaneous and came to an inglorious end at a "road closed" sign hanging from a shut gate in a blizzard at 8,000 feet. But an hour or so before that rebuff it had been lunchtime, and we’d stopped in the as yet unthreatening slush to eat at what looked like it might be one of the last restaurants we would pass before scaling the summit.

The pie, presented with great cheer, consisted of a soft, thick, bready crust, like a piece of insulation, carpeted with "Mexican" ingredients, mostly seasoned ground beef, melted cheddar cheese, and raw onions. Since we were hungry and had brought little food of our own, we ate it up and were grateful, and I probably wouldn’t have thought any more about it if we hadn’t eaten the night before at Gialina, Sharon Ardiana’s new restaurant in the reborn Glen Park.

Apparently, while I was blinking, this quaint and intimate village in its sleepy hollow under Diamond Heights has seen fit to give itself an extreme makeover. The most stunning change is the advent of Canyon Market, which opened last fall in a sleek if chilly space of concrete, plate glass, and bakers’ racks and is a full-scale supermarket, something like a cross between Rainbow Grocery and Whole Foods. The market offers meat, fish, and poultry, as well as a good selection of produce, much of it organic. For many Glen Parkers, the market (like the BART station) is no more than a few minutes’ walk away — a blessing, though parking in the village center isn’t difficult. We spent a few minutes wandering through the market while waiting for a table at Gialina, just across the street. The new restaurant is a lot like the original Delfina: narrow, deep, noisy, busy. And word seems to be out that these are among the best pizzas in the city — maybe the best outright — and, given the improvement in the city’s pizza culture in recent years (Pizzeria Delfina, Pizzetta 211, A16), that is saying something.

Let us begin with the crusts, which are hand-shaped into a form that resembles a circle with corners. Around the edges runs a thick bready bead that will sate the puff fanatics among you, but the central plain of each pie is about as thin as seems physically possible. "Cracker thin" is a cliché (and therefore punishable, in my perfect world), but these are even thinner than that.

Toppings, you might suppose, would be applied sparingly, so as not to snap all those points. But the pies are pretty well laded up, though not Sierra-style. The only pizza we came across that couldn’t fairly be described as hearty was the margherita ($10), and it was lovely anyway. The smear of oregano-scented tomato sauce and shreds of mozzarella had been baked to a slightly caramelized bubbliness; the fresh basil leaves scattered (postoven) across the top were like water lilies in a pond.

Ardiana must have a slight thing for pizza bianca — "white" pizza, i.e., without tomato sauce — since two of the better pies on her brief menu are tomato sauceless. The wild nettle pizza ($13) brings that au courant green together with chunks of green garlic, shavings of pecorino, and flaps of pancetta whose edges are lightly crisped by the oven’s heat. This is a fine combination, but it’s bound to change or disappear soon, when the green garlic season ends.

An even finer combination is a pie of broccoli rabe mingled with fennel-breath Italian sausage and blobs of gamy fontina cheese ($13). This is very close to a classic Italian sauce for orecchiette and is quite convincing on a pizza.

We did not get to the puttanesca pie — echo of another classic pasta sauce — but for red-blooded fireworks, the atomica ($12) will more than do. The ancillary toppings here are mushrooms and mozzarella, but the principal actor is the chile-fired tomato sauce, which packs some real heat.

Among the first courses, we found the meatballs ($9) in a spicy tomato-parmesan sauce to be tasty but slightly rubbery. Better was the antipasti plate for two ($11), an array of grilled bread, salume, spicy black and green olives, herbed ricotta, roasted red beets, marinated wild mushrooms, pickled baby carrots, and frisée salad with radish coins — plenty there to keep two people busy while their pizzas are in the oven.

The dessert Goliath is the chocolate pizza ($9), a squarish crust heavily drizzled with hot chocolate sauce and crushed hazelnuts and festooned with mascarpone kisses. It is fabulous, but it does represent starch overkill as some of the other choices do not. The place is noisy, and only in part because of the Scandinavian Designs–looking blond wood panels on the wall. Many of the patrons bring their tiny infants in for a night on the town — or village. In today’s Glen Park, this must be the latest adventure in babysitting. *


Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5–11 p.m.; Sun., 4–10 p.m.

2842 Diamond, SF

(415) 239-8500


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Such a woman


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Cousin Raym is a doctor and works at Kent State. He gets to come to San Francisco for conferences, and I get to take him around for sushi, and clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, and all the things he loves that you can’t get in Ohio. Good sushi, I mean. This has happened two years in a row, and that means he has seen me more than anyone else in my family who doesn’t live here.

Raym is 50 years old and still plays tackle football. We tried his hand — or feet — at soccer, and he didn’t get a lot done but did have fun. Most of the time he looked like he was looking for someone to block or thinking about a blitz. Then we went and had sushi. Like me, Raym is a kind of a chatterbox. He has an especially expressive face: open and curious. The people he works with in Ohio say he’s "such a woman," and my cousin takes it as a compliment and goes and plays tackle football.

So he’s my hero, and his teenage daughter Megan, his oldest, is probably the person in the family I most take after, we decided. Even though I’m almost 30 years older than her. I say "we decided," but technically I already knew, ever since I saw a picture of me that made me go, "Holy crap, I look like Megan! How’d that happen?"

I was excited to show this picture to Raym, and I can do that now because I finally entered the modern era and bought me a brand new portable typewriter. So we’re sitting upstairs at the Boudin Bakery on Market Street during one of his lunch breaks, and instead of clacking out this restaurant review — ding, return — like in the good old days, I slide my sleek MacBook out of its bubble-wrap sheath and show him the picture. Yep, he says. Megan. And that’s how we decided. But he also thinks I look like my sisters, which of course I do, lucky me.

I say I take after Megan (lucky me) because in addition to the slight physical resemblance, she hates mayonnaise, loves sushi, and plays fast-pitch. Whereas I don’t know that any of my sisters have ever even tried sushi. Sushi sushi, I mean. The kind that features, you know, raw fish.

But Boudin’s is bustling, and our clam chowders are a long way off still, so I get to show my cousin some pictures of Sockywonk too: us hugging outside Just for You, me holding an egg next to her bald head. Here we are with our identical ugly monster teddy bears. I didn’t show him the boob shots she took earlier that morning while I was trying on clothes at her house.

My new portable typewriter has a built-in camera, conducive to these kinds of shenanigans. My online dating career is about to take off. But it’s not what you think: I’m not going to learn PhotoShop and cut and paste all my girlfriends’ breasts onto my body. No. In fact, instead of using pictures of me, which just ain’t working, I’m going to show those boys What’s for Dinner. Like the other night, I made a fresh tomato sauce with homemade sausage over penne, and I held the steaming plate in front of my fancy new typewriter, click.

A picture fit for a cookbook! And in the background, in the dark, you can just barely kind of see a shadowy corner, maybe, of an apron-sporting chicken farmer. Went on Craigslist, got a date.

Yeah, right. Anyway, our clam chowder bread bowls came and were everything that clam chowder bread bowls are supposed to be: lunch!

I wish I could have showed Sockywonk to my cousin in person. He’s a doctor. He knows cancer professionally, and, actually, personally. I remember catching a touchdown pass on a slant pattern. The quarterback was almost nonexistently skinny, and bald, with a little lump under his shirt: a morphine pump.

But I wondered if Raym had ever seen someone take cancer for as wild a ride as Sockywonk is taking it.

"Calls herself ‘the happiest cancer patient ever,’" I said. "She’s all excited about the tattoo she’s going to get over her mastectomy scars. Something monsterish, with long tentacles."

"Really?" he asked.

"It’s inspiring," I said.

He seemed inspired too, and in a sea of downtown lunch-breakers and tourists, we ate our little soups. *


Mon.–Fri.: 6:30 a.m.–7 p.m.

619 Market, SF

(415) 281-8200

Takeout available




Wheelchair accessible


Trojan war


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I’m in my first sexual relationship. There’s been a lot of lovely hand- and mouth-action, but no penis-vagina intercourse because I can’t maintain an erection with a condom on. She really wants genital intercourse; she’s very experienced and always had her best orgasms that way. She also says she’s never heard of this problem before — and my self-proclaimed sex expert friends concur. Am I really that unique in experiencing a complete loss of stimulation with a condom? And assuming that we don’t get married, my sex life looks pretty bleak if I can’t use condoms. Any ideas?


Can’t Feel a Thing

Dear Thing:

Well, sure. Don’t listen to your self-proclaimed sex expert friends, for one thing. I’m a self-proclaimed sex expert myself, and I’ve heard of your problem before. Of course I have. You may be an extreme case, but no, you’re not unique.

It’s true that this weird bit of wiring of yours is capable of dooming you to a life of sexual frustration or sexual diseases, depending. So, in escautf8g order of inconvenience, I offer some technical solutions: a small amount of lube inside the condom, thinner condoms, polyurethane (plastic) condoms, those odd big-head condoms which are supposed to flap and rub around your business end in a lubricious manner, or — I hesitate even to suggest this but it’s actually not that bad an idea — the female condom.

If you really can’t feel a damned thing through an ordinary rubber rubber, I have limited faith in the ability of a drop of lube or a different brand of condom to make the earth move for you, but it’s easy enough to try and shrug in a world-weary manner if it doesn’t work. The plastic options are a much better bet. They’re harder to find, though, so there’d be no running out to the corner store with your pants half fastened; you’d have to plan ahead. The Avanti polyurethane condom had a bad rap for a while but has been tested extensively and is actually just as safe as anything else. They really are a better aesthetic experience all round: they are thin and quick to transmit body heat; they don’t taste like a mouthful of steel-belted radial; and they’re safe to use with baby oil or WD-40 or whatever greases your boat. It’s not like you’d never know it’s there, mind you — it’s a condom, and they all suck — but there’s a chance you’d be able to find your dick in the dark while wearing one, which appears to be more than we can say about the latex ones.

I find myself hoping very hard that the Avanti works for you, because I really don’t want to have to recommend the female condom. It’s expensive, more elusive yet than plastic condoms, and, frankly, ridiculous. It’s as long as your forearm, resembles a jellyfish, makes a horrid sloshy crinkling noise (the Avanti does this too but more discreetly), and although it looks OK while your lady friend is supine, turn her prone or stand her up, and it will hang low and wobble to and fro and make you both giggle, if you’re inclined that way, or cry, if you’re not. It’s a terrible product, in short, except for one aspect, which is surely worthy of notice: it works. You’ll probably hate it, but then again, if it’s a choice between knowing that your penis is inside a vagina and "Vagina? What vagina?" maybe you won’t.

Try the other things first, though. None of them resemble an aquarium exhibit that happened to lodge itself, unbidden, up your girlfriend’s hoo-ha, and that’s always a plus if you ask me.



Dear Andrea:

I had sex with a girl one time who has a regular other partner. We did it once using a condom, and I pulled out with the condom on, prior to ejacuutf8g away from her. Her other friend doesn’t use a condom and withdraws. She called me to say she was pregnant, and I freaked. She didn’t understand why, since she is certain it must be the other friend’s child because of their methods and regularity. I don’t ever want to have sex again, obviously, but do I have a reason to worry here? All of a sudden she is pregnant, and I just happened to be in the picture around the same time? I’m scared to death.


Shaking in My Tracks

Dear Tracks:

You’re only terrified because there has been in recent years, if not a literal conspiracy, then certainly a strong and concerted effort to hide the fact that condoms actually work pretty well. They do, and if you come in the condom while it isn’t even inside her, then it works really extraordinarily well. You have been misinformed! Now shake off the shackles of ignorance, and don’t ever let me hear you say you "don’t ever want to have sex again." Of course you do; just use a condom. Oh, and buy that other guy a beer and a subscription to Real Dad magazine. This is so not your problem.



It’s time again for San Francisco Sex Information’s Spring Sex Educator Training. Sixty hours, all good stuff, no filler. Find out more and apply at www.sfsi.org.

Antiwar movement turns four


By Amanda Witherell

› amanda@sfbg.com

The Iraq War turned four years old March 19, but so did the antiwar movement, and thousands of people marked the event with protests, rallies, and direct actions around the Bay Area.

The largest event was the March 18 march on Market Street, led by the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition, one of more than 1,000 rallies around the country. The protesters marched under a "No Blood for Oil" banner, "Impeach" signs donated by Working Assets, and Whole Earth flags that fluttered in the westerly wind funneling down San Francisco’s main drag. The Chronicle estimated the crowd at 3,000; ANSWER claimed it was 40,000. We estimated the march at 10,000 strong.

Education seemed to be the point protesters were driving home, as if the knowledge of the war’s injustices would reverberate like the chanting voices against the walls of the Financial District and into the minds of the children who wandered through the crowds of thousands.

"Will this stop the war May First?" Glenn Borchardt asked. "No, but it will stop it some day."

Sandee Dickson, a retired teacher, was with about 50 other purple-shirted Democrats of Napa Valley and said she was protesting "to keep it on the front page."

"There are all sorts of people here, from all walks of life, sending the message that American people say, ‘No more war.’ "

More than 40 cops watched the chanting crowd from their post, leaning against the front of the Westfield shopping center, guarding the commerce. "A couple of years ago a couple windows got smashed," one of the police officers said to the Guardian. "I guess they’re pretty expensive."

The crowd was pretty tame, though, and there were no arrests. There seemed to be just as many baby strollers in the crowd as people marching alongside them. Balloons bounced from the wrists of children, and a Girl Scout was making a killing selling cookies off the back of her Radio Flyer wagon for $3.50 a box.

Captain Denis O’Leary from Southern Station said there were about 270 officers on patrol, plus additional platoons of traffic and tactical officers, prepared for violence he wasn’t really anticipating.

"They might get arrested," he said, gesturing to some anarchists waving red and black flags at the edge of Larkin Street. A cop in this city for 25 years, O’Leary has responded to many demonstrations of all sizes and flavors and thinks they’ve changed a lot over the years. He mentioned the 1989 protest outside the Westin St. Francis against the first President George Bush. "That was an angry tone, it was massive, and there were arrests."

When asked if he looks at the crowd and worries about the safety of all the children who could get caught up in a sudden action, he said, "Yes, because my daughter is out there." He said she’s 15.

Sue Martin was marching with her son, Sean Martin-Hamburger. For his first protest, the eight-year-old had made a colorful cardboard sign that read, "Have some peace in your heart." He was too shy to say much to us, but his mom was less reticent: "We’re demonstrating because we don’t want to see any more violence, anywhere actually."

Though it was Sean’s first march on Market, his mother has been protesting for 35 years and agreed the age range was one of the big differences, as was the energy. "It feels more creative and less angry, like we’re starting to embody the peace and not respond to the violence with violence. It doesn’t feel vengeful, but maybe I’m just getting older."

On March 19, there were some people willing to face off with the police at a die-in. Hundreds of protesters lay down on the sidewalks and in the streets of downtown San Francisco, representing the 3,200 American soldiers and the estimated 160,000 Iraqi civilians who have died in the past four years. A helicopter whirring overhead and the corpses under blood-spattered sheets gave the direct action an eerie Vietnam feel, but there seemed to be more cops than corpses. They got something to do when 57 protesters became the walking dead, rising up from the sidewalk and dying again in Market Street traffic, disrupting the flow of daily life and garnering some misdemeanor charges.

Across the bay, 14 people also prepared for arrests, locking themselves into a human chain across the entrance to Chevron’s corporate headquarters in San Ramon. For the third time in four years, more than 100 representatives from Bay Rising, US Labor Against War, Amazon Watch, and Students for a Democratic Society gathered to speak against the other axis of evil: oil, profits, and war.

"Under the new Iraqi Oil Law, Chevron is standing to directly benefit from a law that comes from Bush. Two-thirds of [Iraq] oil will be owned by foreign companies," Sam Edmondson of Bay Rising said. "The fear is that US troops will be used to secure that oil."

Back in San Francisco, in front of the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, "Stop Funding the War" called on the woman who controls the purse strings to tighten them.

A few hundred people gathered outside the Federal Building to hear veterans, mothers of soldiers, local progressives, and city officials, such as Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who’s authored local resolutions against the war.

"I think [Pelosi] should be lining up votes to cut off funding for the war," former supervisor and 2003 mayoral candidate Matt Gonzales said. "If they cut off money, there’d be an interesting crisis."

Former congressional candidate Krissy Keefer was there as well. When asked where she’d be if she’d been voted into Pelosi’s seat, she said, "I would be here to provide leadership to San Francisco. San Francisco is really, really important, and we need to constantly reinforce the position that we play. The middle-of-the-road position that Pelosi takes squashes the best intentions of the Democratic Party." *

Sam Devine and Sarah Phelan contributed to this story.