Volume 41 Number 38

June 20 – June 26, 2007

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The slow fade of Sly Stone


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

FULL CIRCLE This spring Epic/Legacy finally started releasing Sly and the Family Stone: The Collection, the band’s seven albums complete with previously unreleased music, new liner notes, and great sound, with the final installment, Greatest Hits, to come July 24. The event had been on the horizon for some time, but like everything connected with Sly Stone, a fan was never sure when — or if, for that matter — the music would be available.

If you aren’t familiar with Stone’s music, get this collection and enjoy. These days it’s popular to credit the Beatles, Brian Wilson, Jimi Hendrix, and a few others as the essential pioneers from that era — with no mention of Stone, who was as important as any. If you’re wondering why that is, find the title track from his hugely popular 1971 album, There’s a Riot Goin’ On. It’s on the brief side — as in zero seconds, which was Stone’s idea of a joke or something. As San Francisco Chronicle writer Joel Selvin points out in the notes, the riot was going on in Stone’s life.

There was a moment in the late 1970s when music fans were asking, "What happened to Sly Stone?" Time passed, and the question evolved into "Whatever happened to Sly Stone?" The answer — "I don’t know" — didn’t change, until one day, sadly and inevitably, the question generated only another question — "Who?" — an answer all by itself.

In the early 1980s — somewhere between "what" and "whatever" — the band booked a show at the now-defunct Keystone Berkeley. Stone had gone phantom, which made the performance an event. Accordingly, the place was packed. The band was introduced and began to vamp, and after way too long — it was clear the Family didn’t know what to expect — Stone emerged and took his place behind a keyboard and, without acknowledging anyone, began to play. The band was thrown at first, but after a few halting bars and some nervous glances, they seemed to recognize the groove. Never mind the key or tempo, or where they should jump in. It didn’t matter, because suddenly Stone lurched into something else, with the same result. A moment later he did it again. And again. And again.

The set didn’t last more than a few minutes. That was the upside. The downside? Everything else.

Yet forgotten or not, Stone was once arguably the most important figure in pop. During the late 1960s and early ’70s, the Vallejo native wrote and recorded one hit after another: "Dance to the Music," "Everyday People," "Stand!" "I Want to Take You Higher," "Hot Fun in the Summertime," "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)," "Family Affair." He brought black music to San Francisco’s tumultuous hippie scene and created rich, innovative, rock-flavored R&B, played by a deliberately integrated band. Rock fans — most of them white — welcomed the bridge to black music and, by inference, black people. If the door didn’t swing as wide or as often the other way, a glimpse of the band’s appearances on YouTube, which has great Family Stone material, shows a genuinely mixed audience responding to the group’s appeal for peace and understanding.

Stone was a founding father of modern funk, a wildly creative force who added innovations to the sound as it flourished. His music reshaped the tastes of black and white listeners, and one miserable Sunday morning in August 1969, his band took the Woodstock stage — it was 3:30 a.m. — and absolutely stole the show.

You can only hope The Collection will have a similar impact. The band’s four pre-Riot albums offer a treasure chest of rich, increasingly funky soul. No matter how cynical Stone became — the black superstar playing to a largely white audience, the musical genius forced to pander to the tastes of a pop audience, the master manipulator turning every scene to his own advantage — the music was charming and irresistible. As was the man who created it.

Although some of his most important work was still before him, Stone ushered in the 1970s in paranoia and retreat — a perfect fit with the moment. He flipped off superstardom with an arrogance only a superstar could muster. Once outgoing and engaging, Stone burned promoters, his band, and fans. The once-steady supply of new material slowed to a trickle, and Stone became a no-show at dozens of concerts. He slid into an increasingly opaque and eventually impenetrable world. Riot and 1973’s Fresh — forget 1974’s Small Talk — were as adventurous and self-involved as music could be. Most of the original Family was gone, and the losses of drummer Greg Errico and bassist Larry Graham — who reportedly slept with one eye open after falling out with Stone — were particularly felt. This music was dreamy and solipsistic. Stone’s huge smile and the Family vibe were gone, replaced by a menacing undercurrent. Credits on both albums are, apparently, haphazard, which means that the contributions of Miles Davis, George Clinton, and Bobby Womack, for instance, aren’t acknowledged.

That Stone could attract such talent was a testimony to his gifts, and to the legendary partying that went on at his Los Angeles mansion. Still, if James Brown invented funk, Stone got in where he fit in: the ground floor. Riot may clock a man losing his grip on reality, but it also captured a musical innovator exploring the possibilities of a crucial movement. *

Singin’ and shillin’ with the Muppets


I had a revelation while watching Muppets Music Moments: Statler and Waldorf are the reasons I became a film critic. As a li’l Muppet-freaked kid in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I lived for their curmudgeonly peanut-gallery zingers. But there’s plenty of stuff I didn’t remember from The Muppet Show, or that I couldn’t pick out as examples of Jim Henson’s wonderfully offbeat sense of humor — like, say, a brigade of pigs in full leather-daddy garb singing "Macho Man." And surreal numbers, like that same brigade of pigs dressed as Eskimos, belting out "The Lullaby of Broadway," or a sequence in which Kermit’s hospital-room tableau morphs into a full-on jungle scene (complete with witch doctors) as the ensemble rips into Harry Nilsson’s "Coconut." Also, there’s plenty of just plain weirdness — like, did you ever notice that the Swedish Chef is the only Muppet with actual human hands? I don’t have to say any more, except that this program is essential viewing for anyone who worshipped The Muppet Show cast albums ("Menah Menah," anyone?) — or for folks with kids who are too young to have otherwise developed outrageous Muppet nostalgia.

More for grown-ups but no less entertaining is the foray into Henson’s Commercials and Experiments. An early Kermit prototype shills for pork sausage and bacon (wherefore art thou, Miss Piggy?); another spot highlights singing gas-pump nozzles; an RC Cola ad features a bird puppet muttering, "I hate folk singers with messages!"; and a spot for Muppet toys offers a group of mini-Kermits sweetly intoning, "If you don’t buy us, we’ll bite you in the leg!" There are also snippets of Henson appearing on talk shows and demonstrating his puppetry techniques, as well as short films that are entirely puppet free — including some psychedelia, such as a delightful sound-and-image collage starring the impish Henson himself. (Cheryl Eddy)


MUPPETS MUSIC MOMENTS Sat/23, 2 p.m.; June 28, 7:30 p.m.; $6-$8. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

The fix


› paulr@sfbg.com

For a longtime pastry chef, Emily Luchetti holds notably clear-eyed views about dessert. The sweet course, she writes in the introduction to her new cookbook, Classic Stars Desserts (Chronicle, $29.95), "is important for our emotional well-being and tastes better when we don’t feel guilty about eating it." To assuage this guilt, we must accept that "we cannot eat desserts all the time" (let alone start meals with them, and yes, you got the memo). We must also keep ourselves in some kind of shape and eat what she calls "healthful" foods — the usual suspects here: fruits, vegetables, low-fat protein, and so forth. With life in the proper balance, we can reward ourselves for our restraint and moderation with the occasional fix of blueberry pie, knowing that, as Luchetti says of herself, "I am more apt to stick to a healthful diet if I know I can have a treat now and then." (Blueberries, incidentally, are not without nutritional value; even in pies, they offer a rich palette of phytonutrients, including anthocyanins and anthocyanidins, which tend to protect human tissues.)

In Luchetti’s enlightened world, intensity, not scale, is the measure of all desserts, since when a dessert "is made with great ingredients and has maximum flavor, you don’t need a huge portion to feel satiated." It also helps to have first-rate recipes, and Luchetti (who has enjoyed long runs as a pastry chef at Stars and, for the past 10 years, Farallon) has a lot of these to offer. I was particularly pleased to find in this new volume the secrets of Stareos, the star-shaped cookies that were a favorite and icon at Stars. (One secret: the filling is made with mascarpone.)

Just as delightful is her cranberry twist on linzer torte, an old Austrian favorite typically made with raspberry jam. Although Thanksgiving is months off, it’s never too early to start worrying about cranberries, which despite their many virtues (including effectiveness as a home remedy for urinary-tract infections) always seem to end up being orphaned at the end of the big meal, valued for their reddish magenta color and not much else.

Luchetti’s greatest-hits book left me with a pang too for Stars, a sensational and imposing place built for the ages yet gone before the turn of the millennium. An ashen fate, yet memories of the restaurant remain surprisingly sweet.

Pay, pal


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "Fuck Lars Ulrich — he can play drums on my balls with his teeth!" Them’s fighting words from the beefy bruiser in a tinsel page-boy wig, perhaps provoked only by four wannabe skids’ burning need to cover Metallica’s "For Whom the Bell Tolls" at last week’s first but — fortunately for your inner and outer sketched-out Priest hooligan with a nonironic mullet, prematurely weather-beaten mien, and herbally truncated short-term memory — not last "Hesher" night at the Parkside, where it’s now semiofficially installed after starting its smokin’ life at Annie’s Social Club. Still headbang or nod out to "Sweet Child o’ Mine"? All is forgiven and even drunkenly applauded at "Hesher," a metal karaoke and air guitar contest. Yet as delightful as it is to rock out with your crock out to such unrepentant cock-rock versions of "Eye of the Tiger" and "Round and Round," I couldn’t help but think that all of us ruddy walleyes were just cruising upstream against a current zeitgeist hell-bent on nailing culpables caught with their greasy paws in the cookie jar. How else to explain the crowds crowing to punish Paris or throw the book at I. Lewis "Lemme Scoot" Libby? Why else were latently Catholic viewers so outraged that Tony Soprano didn’t go down in a hail of bullets rather than simply cutting to black? After years of the Bush and Cheney show, the hordes have become less hesher than harsher.

Maybe we’re waiting for justice, answers, something to believe in — and perhaps the once-wronged and now recognized and fully redeemed Spoon’s Britt Daniel is ready to give it to us, just as he and other indie savants like Feist turn in their subtlest, slowest-growing recordings to date. In fact, the opening track of Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge), "Don’t Make Me a Target," could serve as the theme song for a rockin’ version of Chicago starring the most hated Hilton in America: it soft-shoes the bristly snarl of "Waiting for the Kid to Come Out," off last year’s reissued Soft Effects EP. In spite or perhaps because of the troubles he saw when he was pushed off Elektra, griping loudly all the way, Daniel has always sounded like one of the angriest dogs on the lot, barely leashed to those leathery pop hooks.

With Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Daniel ventures into other textures and tempos, moduutf8g his bark and bite with plangent pings and drastic pressure drops, floating in an echoey "The Ghost of You Lingers" and snapping suavely to the hand-clapping "Don’t You Evah." Though the infectious brass, Daniel’s streetwise taunts, and the band’s pugilistic punch conjure up memories of a certain cheesy piano man, as Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker has pointed out, aligning "The Underdog" with Billy Joel’s "Only the Good Die Young," I’d venture that Daniel is less conjuring stereotypically cornball urban bluster pop straight out of some tourist fantasy of a Little Italy than continuing the same cranky conversation that began back around the hard-assed, grunge-era Soft Effects, now aged artfully into a modern-day Bobby Darrin–y hep cat. Much like the album’s cover girl, sculptor Lee Bontecou, Daniel’s finding new mettle — and much softer metals — with which to channel his rage.

FOLKLORE LURE Court and Spark and Hiss Golden Messenger honcho and teacher MC Taylor is answering the siren call of higher education and leaving the Mission digs he shares with his wife, Abby, to move to Chapel Hill, NC. "We both wanted a change of scenery, wanted to live in the country and have a garden. I got accepted to the grad program in folklore at UNC, so everything worked out perfectly," he e-mailed on the eve of a moving sale that promised "the craziest set of Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game books that you’ve probably ever seen — seriously." Taylor will continue the more improvisational HGM in his sweet home North Carolina, though sadly C&S will probably call it a day — but not before a finale July 6 at Cafe du Nord.

MICKI ON THE MEND? Many know Stork Club owner Micki Chittock as the Oaktown stalwart who moved the Stork from its cubby near the Tribune tower to its current Telegraph Avenue clubhouse. But how many, booker Joel Harmon wonders, have come through for Chittock since her serious van accident in April? Suffering from a broken femur, pelvis, back, and ribs, Chittock has three weeks left in intensive care before she’s transferred to a recovery room, Harmon e-mailed me, after doctors gave the club owner a 50 percent chance of recovery. Harmon has put together two benefit shows to ease the medical expenses, and he’s working on more because, he writes, "I’m thinking that in order for the Stork to survive, Micki has to survive." *



Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll sweethearts sweat it out with kindred Northwestern miscreants. Wed/20, 9:30 p.m., $5. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923, www.hemlocktavern.com


The SF singer-songwriter whoops it up in honor of Flowering Spade, which found him in a groove with Etienne de Rocher. Thurs/21, 9 p.m., $18. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. (415) 885-0750, www.musichallsf.com


Crown City Rocker Headnodic breaks out hip-hop, soul, and dancehall alongside Raashan Ahmad. Thursdays, 10 p.m., $5. Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 548-1159, www.shattuckdownlow.com


Load Records rodents bite headliner Skinny Puppy’s butt; don’t be surprised if they also gnaw their way onto a bill at the Bakery in Oakland. Thurs/21, 9 p.m., $27.50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. (415) 346-6000, www.thefillmore.com


Turn-of-the-century wolf moniker and contemplative songcraft. Fri/22, 9 p.m., $10–$12. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com


A Wu-Tang dance party ensues after the twisted pop eccentrics couple with the experimental-theater ensemble fixated on dance, politics, and illness. Fri/22, 9 p.m., sliding scale. 21 Grand, 416 25th St., Oakl. (510) 444-7263, www.21grand.org


Elliot Bergman’s free-funk, Afrobeat, and noise eight-piece fires up the mbira, gamelan, and glockenspiel. Tues/26, 9 p.m., $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-4455, www.bottomofthehill.com


The ex-Peaches sidekick issues a subdued, ambitious, and multitextured Reminder (Cherrytree/Interscope). June 26–27, 8 p.m., $25. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. (415) 346-6000, www.thefillmore.com

Tastes like chicken


FILM Always be suspicious of any documentary that starts off with this snippet of dialogue: "Is it real, is it not real?" In fact, for the first 10 minutes of American Cannibal, directed by Perry Grebin and Michael Nigro, I suspected I might be watching a mock doc. But nope, it’s real — more authentic than reality TV, anyway, which is the subject it chronicles via both insider insights (from showbiz types like Fox Reality Channel honcho David Lyle) and the tension-fraught journey of Gil S. Ripley and Dave Roberts, writing partners who turn to reality TV as their last make-a-buck resort. That chance comes in the form of skeezy Kevin Blatt, proud promoter of jailbird Paris Hilton’s sex tape, who bypasses their pitch Virgin Territory ("When you win it, you lose it!") in favor of American Cannibal, an extreme twist on Survivor that Ripley tosses out as more of a joke than anything else. Before he and Roberts can believe what’s happening, an American Cannibal pilot — presented to potential cast members as Ultimate, Ultimate Challenge, part of the show’s bait-and-switch tack — is in motion. Morals and friendships are soon tested, as is the idea that reality TV spells instant money and success for whoever can bring the last great idea to some new, more sensational level.

Seriously, though, would you actually eat someone’s finger for prize money, even if you were really, really hungry? Would anyone? American Cannibal the documentary proves far more fascinating than American Cannibal the failed reality show ever could have been. It does feel like America’s rabid urge to devour prepackaged reality has settled down a bit, but you and I both know it’s never going away. Representing the craze’s high end, American Idol vet Jennifer Hudson has an Oscar. At the low end, take your pick (wherefore art thou, The Littlest Groom?). But if Ripley and Robert’s American Cannibal — a show that was to strand constants on a desert island and starve them, then tell them they had to eat human flesh to survive — sounds so ridiculous that you feel kind of sorry it never made it to the airwaves so you could watch, you’re not alone. As doc interviewee and The Daily Show cocreator Lizz Winstead points out, "If the lowest common denominator was a muscle, it could kick the shit out of anything else."


June 22–28, $4-8

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1727 Haight, SF

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