>>It’s on! Click here for our complete guide to Noisepop 2008, the city’s massive citywide music fest
Volume 42 Number 21
February 20 – February 26, 2008
Noise Pop: Dancing in a crafty place
We all know the dance floor can be a dangerous place. What with all of those flailing limbs, gyrating pelvises, and spastic movements, total chaos can and does easily ensue. Thanks to Canadian electro phenomenon MSTRKRFT who seem to have everyone and their baby’s mama getting down club violence has taken on a whole new meaning with the murderous single "Street Justice," off their seething debut, The Looks (Last Gang, 2006). Urgent, screeching-siren guitars squeal under the thumping bass and the ominous chant "This is a killing on the dance floor," conveying the imminent threat of sonic carnage and giving the notion of "killing it" a threatening new meaning.
Made up of JFK, the bass player of now-defunct electrorock outfit Death from Above 1979, and Al-P, DFA 1979 producer and a former member of quirky electric pop combo Girlsareshort, these two have perfected a mix of raw, hormone-heightening, boogie-worthy beats with a savage rock sensibility. With a sound that nods to house legends Daft Punk but without their asexual austerity, JFK and Al-P combine electro-fueled urban grit with sultry rock ‘n’ roll, appealing equally to dance diehards and of-the-moment musical opportunists. Masquerading in stage attire as evil as their thumping racket, MSTRKRFT have been known to don gold spray-painted hockey masks as they man the decks, a sinister look that’s more Jason Voorhees than Gallic space visitor. Liberally passing Crown Royal bottles around onstage, this sensual duo liven up their club appearances with their naughty golden dancers, who wear the signature masks and little else, making steamy remixes like "Sexy Results" that move beyond pure aural fantasy. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)
With LA Riots, Lazaro Casanova, and Sleazemore
March 1, 9 p.m., $20
119 Utah, SF
Noise Pop: Do’s and the Don’ts
San Francisco’s Dont’s are JJ Don’t (bass), Ken Don’t (drums), Jonny Don’t (vocals), and Joey Don’t (guitar), but as with the Beatles, a fifth Don’t looms like a specter. In this case it’s the Mountain Don’t, a fearsome triumph of mixology that involves a shot of vodka, one of Robitussin, a touch of absinthe, and a splash of Mountain Dew Code Red. It is the band’s go-to tipple, and given that most of the Dont’s songwriting occurs during bouts of improvisation after too much of it, the drink is easily as influential on their sound as, say, kraut rock.
The influence question is unusually tricky with the quartet, who cut their second self-released LP, Inner El Camino, last year at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone studio. While the Dont’s exercise many familiar art rock themes the pinched vocals and twee urbanity of the Talking Heads in "Measure Up" and the beat-driven guitar warfare, DFA-style, of "Blahblahblah" their methods for getting to them are so anathema to that scene that the whole connection becomes flimsy. Improv rock to the degree to which these guys take it (lyrics too are made up midsession) is supposed to be fumbly jam-band stuff.
Joey Don’t, for one, doesn’t buy that line in rock’s sand. "I don’t subscribe to the aesthetics people place between hippies and avant-gardists," he remarked by e-mail. "I like the Grateful Dead as much as I like Can." The good part is that the Dont’s don’t have to be right: they just have to be willful. The music runs its own show, and a tangible sense of liberation crackles across Inner El Camino. It comes up again in Ken Don’t’s description of recent rehearsals: "We’re experimenting with MIDI guitars, drum triggers … our trademark bullhorn miasma. We don’t know where any of that will lead, and frankly, we don’t care."
With the High Violets and the Union Trade
Feb. 29, 5 p.m., free
1600 17th St., SF
Noise Pop: Joy Rides and Darby Crash test dummies
In the current glut of music biopics and documentaries, it seems any band or scene worth its salt in influence and innovation is fair game for the big screen. Chalk it up to corporate tie-ins or affordable filmmaking equipment, Behind the Music or DIY videozines, but chances are your favorite group will someday make it to a theater near you. Eschewing polished product for its annual film program, the Noise Pop festival spotlights several ragtag productions focused on left-of-the-dial music legends.
To begin with the cream of the crop, Chris Bagley and Kim Shively’s Wesley Willis’s Joy Rides balances a measured introduction with an intimate appreciation of the titular hero. The film will inevitably be compared to In the Realms of the Unreal (2004) and The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2006) for its profile of an outsider artist and its clever animations of Willis’s colorful cityscapes, but Willis was simply too one of a kind for Joy Rides to be anything but. Willis’s music and art flowed directly from the outsize personality of the hulking Chicagoan, who was raised in the projects. Bagley and Shively evidently spent a lot of time filming Willis in the years before his 2003 death, and their movie is much the better for Willis’s constant jiving, affable head butts, and offhand bouts of inspired wordplay.
Not that all of Joy Rides goes down so easy. It’s wincingly uncomfortable to watch Willis, who was a diagnosed schizophrenic, knock himself upside the head while trying to "get the demons out," and some of the film’s talking heads veer dangerously close to "magical black man" territory. But there’s a discernible difference between transparency and exploitation, and Joy Rides decidedly sways toward the former. Bagley and Shively had Willis create the documentary’s credits sequences, which seems emblematic of a broader mutual appreciation. Given Willis’s prolificacy, it’s no surprise he would want a hand in the film: the next time I encounter creative restlessness, I’ll be sure to think of Willis’s maxim "The joyride keeps my ass busy."
Darby Crash was similarly driven during his brief life, but the punk vocalist’s ferocity is blunted by biopic clichés in the weirdly saccharine What We Do Is Secret. Rodger Grossman’s film follows the course of Crash’s five-year plan, which took him from high school dropout to rock ‘n’ roll suicide. The director catches some of the excitement of the Germs’ hopelessly abbreviated sets and lucks out in a nice performance by Bijou Phillips as bassist Lorna Doom, but his tendency toward sitcomish lighting and confessional monologues sinks the band’s fire in a morass of conventionality. The original Germs recently tapped Crash impersonator Shane West for a cash-in tour, proving that some legacies are never safe.
A pair of low-key documentaries cast a wider net in their hard-rock forays, with varying results. Such Hawks, Such Hounds profiles a few of the most vibrant interpreters of heavy music (Comets on Fire, Dead Meadow, Om) but without much purpose. Filmmaker John Srebalus floats between interviews with divergent bands without offering any of the categorizing insights or personal passion that made Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2006) such a hit.
Joe Losurdo and Christina Tillman’s documentary You Weren’t There, on the other hand, is a thrillingly exhaustive survey of early Chicago punk. Viewers may not be familiar with outfits like Strike Under and Silver Abuse, but the documentary’s detailed time line and great stock of interviews and primary documents thoroughly pinpoint that most elusive beast of rock music: the scene. Whether parsing overlapping band lineups, defunct venues, or long-out-of-print zines and records, You Weren’t There strays from the master narrative of punk, recovering a local history no less vibrant for staying below the radar.
The Jamie Kennedy vehicle Heckler chooses the route of takedown rather than appreciation, serving up a feature-length revenge act on critics the title fudges the film’s true target. As strangely compelling as it is to watch the likes of Jewel and Henry Winkler spill their guts, Heckler is too indulgent of its interviewees’ bipolar bursts of insecurity and bullying to shape much of an, er, critique. This just in: bloggers take cheap shots at celebrities! Then again, no one likes a … you know how it goes.
Noise Pop: Running with Wale
Back in 2006, when Washington DC music veteran Ronald "Dig Dug" Dixon, of legendary go-go band the Northeast Groovers (NEG), first got wind that some rap upstart named Wale (pronounced Wah-lay) had not only sampled NEG’s music without permission but also jacked Dixon’s stage name for his single’s title and refrain, he was not happy. But when Dixon learned that Wale also hailed from the nation’s capital, better known for its go-go scene than its hip-hop, and that the single "Dig Dug" was in fact a heartfelt homage to both NEG and go-go, all bad vibes soon subsided and the young hip-hop hopeful got his elder’s blessing.
In the two years since, Wale’s career has taken off at an accelerated pace. The unsigned artist performed at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, appeared on the cover of Urb, and gathered countless other write-ups and gushing features in such publications as XXL, Rolling Stone, the Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly, which honored him as one of the top eight new faces to watch this year. And Wale, who has rightfully dubbed himself "the ambassador of rap for the capital," seems poised to live up to all this hype, especially since last July’s mixtape 100 Miles and Running caught the attention and respect of one Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen), who has since produced the still-unsigned rapper.
Wale, who performs at Mighty on Feb. 29 as part of Noise Pop, is taking all of this in stride. Speaking recently by phone as he drove around Los Angeles with his manager, the MC who was born Olubowale Folarin 23 years ago in DC to Nigerian immigrant parents proclaimed confidently that talent is what got him to the position he’s in today.
"Lucky?" he asked, somewhat surprised when I questioned him about the recent hype and accolades bestowed on him. "Lucky? That implies that I don’t have talent. I do. And that comes first. And after that, there is some luck….
"My manager is good at his job."
And what label will the much-sought-after artist sign with? "Actually, I may not even sign with a label. I may not need to…. Just wait and see how it goes," said the ambassador, who seems destined to put DC firmly on the rap map.
With Trackademicks and Nick Catchdubs
Feb. 29, 9 p.m., $15$20
119 Utah, SF
Noise Pop: Fuck yeah
Most articles and reviews about Holy Fuck begin with some comment about whether the band’s music did or did not make the writer exclaim, "Holy fuck!" So insert your own exclamatory joke about the group’s name here, and let’s move past the moniker and go on to the music.
Holy Fuck straddle the rock and electronic divide: they mash together techno beats, dirty lo-fi electronics, and loud kinetic-rock rhythms. It’s a perfect of-the-moment sound the type that indie rock kids love to dance to, balanced with enough chaotic experimentalism to appeal to noise rock and electronic fans. We live in weird times, and this band gets the times.
Perversely, as bad as the war and the economy are, kids are having a great deal of innocent fun these days. You can catch a sweaty, spazzy groove to the not-so-faux-naïf, party-starting sounds of Video Hippos. Or you can bang your head to Holy Fuck’s embodiment of that dance-party spirit.
The songs on their latest record, LP (XL), drive forward kraut rockstyle, but the dirty layers of electronic noise on top of their propulsive rhythms have a purer rock vibe: they’re raw, primitive, and energetic. On my MP3 player, "Choppers," the last track on LP, fits snugly up against my next loaded disc, a Can anthology. The sound of Holy Fuck’s recorded output lies somewhere between Trans Am and Suicide, although they don’t stake out the confrontationally icy ground of the latter nor cloak themselves in the distancing self-awareness of the former. Instead, onstage a few weeks ago at the Great American Music Hall, Holy Fuck bopped around unselfconsciously, with quick-change mixes, effects-pedal tweaks, and keyboard jams. It’s a friendly, accessible show, performed by a band dedicated to making electronic music without laptops or sequencers. In fact, not only will you not find a laptop on Holy Fuck’s stage, but you’ll also discover instruments that come with a junkyard aesthetic: film modulators, and a Casio mouth organ.
The group has emerged from a Toronto scene with a vast and supportive music community, one that embraces many genres and in which most performers have more than one musical project going. Although Holy Fuck don’t want to be perceived, as the group’s Brian Borcherdt puts it over the phone, as "hippie lovefest" musicians, their writing process has been somewhat loose, improvisatory, and collaborative. The band has also included a rotating cast of Toronto musicians, which has led some to dub the ensemble an "evil supergroup," Borcherdt says. Still, regardless of what they play and whom they play with, Holy Fuck remain an exciting live band though I’m still not going to use the easy exclamatory.
With A Place to Bury Strangers, White Denim, and Veil Veil Varnish
Feb. 29, 9 p.m., $10
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
Noise Pop: Tossers
I want to live the Scott Reitherman life: from his harmony-soaked, listener-baiting songwriting to his skittering, synth-driven zeal, the Seattle multi-instrumentalist seems to be leading the pack in Throw Me the Statue through perfect days at the beach year-round.
Since Reitherman’s college days in upstate New York, he’s been hammering out a surplus of catchy, experimental pop recordings like a regular Robert Pollard. The fruit of his toils finally found its proper release when Reitherman issued TMTS’s debut, Moonbeams, on his Baskerville Hill imprint last summer. Since then TMTS has become an overnight buzz sensation in the blog community, a feat that caught the ears of several larger record labels before Reitherman decided to partner with Secretly Canadian for last fall’s rerelease of Moonbeams. Abounding with pinging beats and foamy electronics, "Yucatan Gold" could be Reitherman’s love poem to Stephin Merritt, while "Lolita" glows with chiming allure and sun-rich resonance. A full band will accompany Reitherman for this tour, so expect an engaging, magnified performance. (Chris Sabbath)
THROW ME THE STATUE
With Stellastarr*, Birdmonster, and the Hundred Days
Feb. 28, 8 p.m., $18
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
Noise Pop: Retooling along Americana’s byways
By the fall of 2003, when Eric Earley’s Portland, Ore., outfit Blitzen Trapper released its self-titled debut on Lidkercow, alt-country was in fairly desperate need of its own alternative. Tweedy was too far afield, Adams was too far gone, and the subgenre teetered on the brink of becoming a slur. A track like Earley and company’s "Whiskey Kisser" was a blessed antidote to post-Whiskeytown blues, serving up dirt-road stylings at their least stylish: bilious slide guitar, freewheeling harmonica, tarted-up kid sisters, and maverick state cops. "Kisser" and the surrounding album weren’t country, exactly, but they were close enough to count as smashing correctives.
Four years on, Blitzen Trapper have executed a neat roundabout: they’re no longer plausibly in alt-country’s orbit, but they’re still solving problems with scenes. The group’s third LP, Wild Mountain Nation (Lidkercow), which arrived last June, unearthed one sort of West Coast music in the context of another, juxtaposing rambling ’70s highway rock with the skuzzy experimentalism of a newer Oregon. The classic-rock turn is at its most sublime on the title track, a pile of juiced-up blues riffs and lyrics so inexactly mellow they’re nearly a caricature ("When the red moon wanes / We’ll be moving on the plains / Through the tall grass out to the sea"). "Wild Mountain Nation" almost feels engineered to hit our sweet spots, which is worth noting as a development in indie theory. Within a pretty asexual music culture, Blitzen Trapper seem to be authorizing a return to the libidinal anthem. Given the massive hooks and field-and-stream rhyme schemes, the big rock hit is back!
It’s nowhere near that simple, even if simplicity is just what a song like "Wild Mountain Nation" promotes. The album touches on other tributaries of classic rock: Byrds-ish Rickenbacker gambols in "Futures and Folly," warm canyon folk on sun-dappled ballad "Summer Town." Yet Nation insistently neighbors these songs and often imbues them with heavy experimental turns ranging from raucous guitar noise to bleeping keyboards. Looked at suspiciously, the record might be propping up crowd-pleasing hooks just so it can set them alight.
But as Earley tells it, the Blitzen Trapper project is far less sinister: he’s a studio rat by nature, and the self-immolation is mostly a function of curiosity. "A good song can take a lot of abuse," the bandleader commented by e-mail. "Sometimes I enjoy seeing how much sonic abuse a well-crafted piece can take and still seem timeless or nostalgic." He’s not callous about his music’s grimy elements either. He’s actually hypersensitive to them. Though Nation‘s eponymous song comes off as a clean tune, rowdy only in familiar and approachable ways, Earley pronounced its production "very rough and unfriendly." He may be the only one surprised it took off.
Since Nation, the group has released an EP, Cool Love #1 (Lidkercow), its four songs gleefully denying a current pressing question: whether Nation‘s Led Zepplinstyle jags were a detour or something more permanent. After two tunes’ worth of weighty rock guitars, Cool Love abruptly regresses to country, ending up in "Jesus on the Mainline," a flurry of electro-tinged banjo and harmonica. Earley describes the next full-length, which he’s begun work on, as taking a third way: heavy on the hooks but distinct from the overall Nation sound. So it may be that all of the attempts to parse Blitzen Trapper’s music as rock or country miss the point. The band is, in a sense, the purest sort of alternative act, ready to ding up whatever sort of Americana comes across its path.
With Fleet Foxes, Here Here, and Sholi
Feb. 28, 8:30 p.m., $12
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
Noise Pop: Heavy petting
SFBG The song "Xavier Says," off the Magnetic Fields’ latest album, Distortion (Nonesuch), seems to describe a relationship between two not-terribly-happy and at least somewhat fucked-up people. I know you hate these questions, but is this based at all on personal experience?
STEPHIN MERRITT It’s certainly based on personal experience in that I spend a lot of time sitting around writing in sleazy gay bars with a lot of old men because that’s where they play the thumping, boring disco music that I find is best to write to. And so I hear this kind of conversation.
SFBG On the surface, "Nun’s Litany" seems to be about a nun thinking back on her life. Is there a deeper meaning or perhaps a social criticism to the song?
SM Someone pointed out that it could be the same protagonist as in "California Girls" in fact, maybe the protagonist in "California Girls" is already a nun. I am not intending any social criticism in music. I think social criticism is best done in prose. If you want to do social criticism in rhyme, then you can’t be very serious neither about the rhyme or the social criticism.
SFBG In a somewhat recent interview, you said that "serious music isn’t listened to in a casual setting." Now you seem to be playing more formal concert halls around the country instead of smaller venues or art galleries. Is this because of your growing fan base or because you prefer playing concert halls?
SM Well, we have more people who want to get in, so we can’t play in galleries. With our growing fan base, where we would be playing is not arenas but large, big, clunky venues. We’re keeping it down because of my hearing problem.
SFBG Are there any particular noises in a live music environment that bother your ear?
SM Well, that’s a leading question. Why, yes: applause. Applause is seemingly perfectly tuned to send my ear into lawn-mower mode.
SFBG Does feedback or distortion bother your ear?
SM Not as much it seems to be pure tones. Actually, what bothers me most is high white noise. [Irving, Merritt’s Chihuahua, named after Irving Berlin, starts barking for the third time during the interview]
[Thirty seconds later] There, I killed the dog. [Laughter] n
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
With Interstellar Radio Company
Feb. 2829, 8 p.m., sold out
War Memorial Veterans Bldg.
401 Van Ness, SF
Noise Pop: Little twin stars
So are they or aren’t they? A pop twosome that make lovely music together in more ways than one is the irresistible scenario embedded in more rock, soul, and country partnerships than one can count who doesn’t fall for the notion of torturously entangled C&W soulmates that extends far beyond Walk the Line turf and into the year in and year out of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons territory? Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood’s affections remained unrequited up to the latter’s 2007 death, as did the palpable chemistry between Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
Well, gawkers remain out of luck here, says Matt Ward, a.k.a. M. Ward, the manly half of indie rock’s latest sweetheart duo, She and Him. He and actress-singer-songwriter Zooey Deschanel are just friends, friend. "People are always going to think whatever they’re going to want to think, no matter what they read in interviews or what the facts are," the extremely soft-spoken Ward says from Omaha, Neb., where he’s currently mixing his next LP, with Bright Eyes’ Mike Logan. "I think music is a lightning rod for people’s imaginations and I don’t think that’s a bad thing."
He can hardly expect a listener to stop dreaming while listening to the Deschanel originals. With Ward’s production and arranging input, the tunes take on the luscious feel of gimlet-eyed ’60s-style girl-group protorock ("I Was Made for You"), pedal-steel-sugared, chiming country ("Change Is Hard"), and subtly colored girl-singer pop ("I Thought I Saw Your Face Today"). Leslie Gore, Darlene Love, Julie London, Ronnie Spector, and all of those other dulcet voices of teen agony, ecstasy, and crash-and-burn romantic disaster, move over: Deschanel is the next worthy addition to those ranks a doll-like upstart cross between Sinatra and Carole King thanks to She and Him’s maiden outing, Volume One (Merge).
Director Martin Hynes brought Deschanel and Ward together to cover a Richard and Linda Thompson tune for his as-yet-unreleased film The Go-Getter. Deschanel and Ward discovered they were "mutually fans of each other’s work," the latter says. One song led to another and, he adds, "eventually Zooey mentioned she had some demo songs that she had under her hat. I had no idea she was a songwriter let alone a really incredible songwriter and vocalist. They had really beautiful chord progressions, and as a producer, it makes things easy when you have great songs and amazing vocals." He decided to play Phil Spector to her King.
"We started with a pile of songs that I had written," Deschanel e-mails from her current movie, "and had found their life up to that point completely in the safety of my bedroom. It was amazing to see what such a creative individual as Matt could bring to those songs. He brought a tremendous amount of life to them without killing their original essence. His instincts are dead on."
Deschanel wasn’t above making the bizarre instrumental contribution: the mysterious bazookalike sound on "This Is Not a Test," for instance, "is actually me playing mouth trumpet," she writes. "I said, ‘This song needs a trumpet,’ and then I said, ‘You know, like this’ and I did that bit. Matt liked it. We didn’t have the budget for horns so I just did it."
They took each song as its own "island," as Deschanel puts it. "The compositions tell you where they want to go," adds Ward, who strived for a warm analog production. "We tried keeping it away from computers and digital technology as much as we could. I think that’s the main reason the record sounds good that and the songs are good."
The approach perfectly jibed with Deschanel’s aesthetic. "I have always been attracted to old music. I have always been a fan but I continue to discover ‘new’ old music," writes the vocalist, who says she started writing at age eight, was in bands in high school, and later had a cabaret act called the Pretty Babies. Elf (2003) gave her a chance to sing on film, but otherwise she had limited her music primarily to demos: "Demoing became sort of a hobby that I found relaxing."
She isn’t concerned with trying to please hipsters or cool kids who might view her as a movie-star dilettante simply passing through the trenches of indie pop. "I hope each person responds to [Volume One] naturally without any agenda of mine seeping into the matter," she offers. "Ideally audience and artist should be uncorrupted by each other."
Not a surprise from a singer in love with the passion and craft of country music. "I think," Deschanel opines, "sincerity is hugely underrated."
SHE AND HIM
With Whispertown2000, Adam Stephens, and Emily Jane White
March 2, 8 p.m., sold out
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
Noise Pop: Up from under
Salvation can come to us in the strangest of places, but it takes a special person to search it out in the sordid, cigarette butt-cluttered back alleys where the daylight never creeps in. While most of us might cower in the darkness, vocalists Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan have each built careers from reveling in it, offering contrasting – but curiously compatible – dissections of life in the shadows. As frontman for the Afghan Whigs and the Twilight Singers, Dulli has waxed romantic about tortured love and shady midnight dealings. Meanwhile, Lanegan has focused on matters of mortality and addiction, blowing a ghostly rumble into his former band the Screaming Trees and myriad solo albums and collaborations (Isobel Campbell, Queens of the Stone Age). Somewhere in the murk these two after-hours explorers crossed paths, and from there they walked side by side in search of redemption. A new name for the venture was needed, of course, and the christening was inevitable: the Gutter Twins.
The union has yielded fascinating results: their new disc, Saturnalia (Sub Pop), while still bearing occasional similarities to previous works by Dulli and Lanegan, offers distinctive, dirty-fingered gospel theatrics not found elsewhere in their catalogs. "That was the whole point," Dulli explains by phone from Los Angeles. "We didn’t want to sound like just the two of us put together. We wanted to sound like something new." In lieu of Dulli’s familiar sensitive-lothario stylings and soulful film noir expositions and in place of Lanegan’s inner-demon warfare, the language of the Gutter Twins is one of angels, chariots, and even rapture.
Salvation doesn’t come easy, however: Saturnalia offers glimmers of hope, but reaching them still requires the navigation of a late-night sleazescape studded with dense atmospherics and prickly instrumentation. "God’s Children" opens with an unsettling Nico-recalling harmonium drone, whereas the creeping violin swells at the start of "Circle the Fringes" make for an ominous portent of the twin-guitar melodrama that soon follows. Paradise might be within sight, but it don’t come cheap. Or, as Lanegan puts it on "Seven Stories Underground," "Ooh, heaven – it’s quite a climb."
As if one evocative moniker weren’t enough, Dulli has also referred to the project as "the Satanic Everly Brothers," a tag that fits with velvet-glove snugness once you’ve soaked up the dusky harmonies and bristling vocal interplay of the duo’s feedback-and-folk-driven voodoo. Lanegan’s seismic-rumble baritone finds its perfect foil in Dulli’s leering, sneering rasp, lending a nervy intensity to their declaration "I hear the Rapture’s coming / They say He’ll be here soon" on "The Stations." Elsewhere, particularly over the mellow electro sputter of "The Body," the paired voices exude a soothing soulfulness suited for a spiritual journey.
How, pray tell, did these two larger-than-life figures manage to work together to unleash such devastating beauty on Saturnalia? For Dulli, the answer comes quickly: "Lanegan is the easiest guy to work with, no doubt about it. I think we balanced each other out, and we definitely brought out elements in each other which we hadn’t really used much before this." Maybe the gutter isn’t such a bad place after all….
THE GUTTER TWINS
March 1, 8 p.m., $18
Bimbo’s 365 Club
1025 Columbus, SF
Noise Pop: Follow those Dodos
Meric Long spent a year in chicken heaven or hell, depending on your feelings about charred fowl flesh. For about a year the Dodos vocalist-guitarist-trombonist chopped, baked, and tended as many as 80 signature roasted chickens per night as a line cook at San Francisco foodie institution Zuni Cafe a day job so intense that plump, juicy birds haunted his dreams. "Whenever I start talking about the chickens, I can’t shut up," he says ruefully now. "It just it ruled my life for a year!"
But honestly, despite those incursions into his REM-scape, Long feels more kinship with his band’s namesake: the Dodo, that incredible, edible, yet now extinct white meat. "They were like chickens," he muses, sprawled sideways on a bench in Mission Creek Cafe on this warm California winter afternoon. The precision roasting of fowl seems far away on this fair day. "They were lonely, though."
"They wanted friends," drummer Logan Kroeber throws in. He’s still shaken and a bit stirred thanks to a too-close-to-personal-extinction-for-comfort encounter between his skateboarding self and a car blasting down a nearby alley.
"And that’s why they got killed off," Long continues. "They weren’t used to visitors, and the English came and were hungry and ate ’em."
Still, it takes a lot of sly chutzpah to adopt the moniker of the highly uncool, not-so-beautiful loser of the animal kingdom. And though they’d never say so explicitly, Long and Kroeber are hoping, humbly, to do the clumsy waddlers proud by adapting and maybe even flourishing. Exhibit one: the Dodos’ compelling second album, Visiter, scheduled to be released March 18 on Frenchkiss. Its 14 songs unfold in three rough parts, beginning with the toy piano invocations of road-weary, lovelorn musicians ("Red and Purple"), then rolling through noise-wracked folk drone ("Joe’s Waltz"), wry, Magnetic Fieldsstyle songcraft ("Winter"), and a ragtag country blues scented with the sun and sand of Led Zeppelin and West African drumming ("Paint the Rust"). A significant evolution from Long’s time as a solo acoustic act and from the Dodos’ self-released debut, Beware of the Maniacs (2006), Visiter is startlingly deep and likely to hold up under repeated plays, catching the listener on the tenterhooks of Long’s insinuating melodies.
So it’s funny, then, to think that Long first dubbed his solo folk act Dodobird because he felt like such a slow goer and has now firmly found his voice with Kroeber and the Dodos. "To be honest, I think back then I used to have a fear that I was kind of unintelligent, like I was really dumb but didn’t know it," Long says bashfully. "I don’t know if I should say it. But I think it had to do with partying too much when I was younger and completely fucking my brain. I also think there’s this plane of understanding that other people seem to be on and I’m still kind of out of the loop on."
As usual, Kroeber jumps into the conversation, to watch his bud’s back, because seriously, dude, in his opinion, Long is nothing like the dazed and confused kids he grew up with down south: "A lot of people can sort of deflect that with ‘You’re thinking too much, man! Keep it simple! Positive vibes!’ You know, that sort of brick-by-brick, build your weed cabin." Kroeber nods sagely. "I grew up in Santa Cruz it’s a historical place for weed-cabin building."
The Dodos found their endearingly clumsy footing far from the happy yet isoutf8g metaphorical grassy isles of yesteryear. After moving from his hometown of Lafayette, Long had been playing solo around town occasionally as Mix Tape with vocalist Brigid Dawson of the Ohsees when Kroeber’s cousin introduced the guitarist to the drummer two years ago. Kroeber started accompanying Long live on a few songs, on a single tom. "Even during those early shows," Kroeber recalls, "that girl Emily from Vervein was still, like, ‘It’s cool I like what you’re doing, the one drum thing. I’m all about it!’ Even with one drum, people were, like, ‘Keep going!’<0x2009>"
A particularly inspiring Animal Collective show roused Long to offer to pay Kroeber’s way to Portland, Ore., where the singer-songwriter was about to record Beware with engineer John Askew, who owns the Filmguerrero label. Their experience working with Askew was so fruitful that the two returned to Askew’s Type Foundry studio to make Visiter after spending 2006 on perpetual tour, getting tighter, writing songs together, and solidifying their identity as a band. For Visiter, the duo piled on an odd array of instruments stand-up bass, toy piano, and trombone while the producer carefully pieced the sounds together in the recording’s aural landscape. "John sits there and closes his eyes and imagines his record as a soundscape and places things geographically," Long says, standing suddenly and patting the air above him here and there. "I think it really helped with this situation, because with two people there’s a lot of sonic space to fill, so where he placed everything really made a huge difference. The drums take up so much sound space on the record."
Loneliness fills the spaces of the songs as well, as Visiter so often seems to revolve around the women who were just passing through Long’s life. "Jodi" and "Ashley" are, naturally, about two such suspects, while "Undeclared" eschews Kanye West collegiate themes to focus on an unrealized crush, and "Red and Purple" captures that "young lady" who fashioned elaborate gifts involving invisible ink that would greet Long at every club on tour. "It was pretty romantic shit," Long says a bit wistfully.
"I was definitely impressed," Kroeber agrees. "I didn’t really know this girl, but later I imagined she was one of those people who sew everything by hand, supermeticulous. It was some next-level spy shit."
As the talk turns to girls who have come and gone, the Dodos grow a mite melancholy, though not enough to throw in the towel and jump in a roasting pan. They recently underwent a minimedia storm in New York City, where they attempted to go uncensored for MTV.com while hungover and sleep deprived after partying with Long’s chef pals the previous night. Fortunately, these days the Dodos are relying on their survival instinct more often than not and seeking out swimming holes rather than new watering holes when on tour.
Not that the drink doesn’t have its uses. "It’s an artificial sort of cryostasis," Kroeber quips. "But as soon as you get done with the tour and go home, it crumbles. The second tour, when I came back, my girlfriend was, like, ‘What the fuck happened to you?’ But it does work! When you’re on the road it’s the one thing that keeps you going."
With Or, the Whale, Bodies of Water, and Willow Willow
Feb. 28, 9 p.m., $10$12
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
Text-messaging the apocalypse
HORROR FILM Jacob Gentry, one of the three codirectors of The Signal, assures me he’s "fully prepared for the zombie apocalypse." His cohorts, David Bruckner and Dan Bush, agree that they love zombie movies. But they would also like to make it clear that The Signal which supposes that "a rift in the electromagnetic sector" has infected cell phones, televisions, and other devices, inspiring all who experience it to inflict terrible violence is not a zombie movie.
"If you took all 360 channels of your satellite TV and spat them out in one single signal and turned the volume up, would you become a little bit more frantic?" Bruckner asks. "If it pushed one person to the point of pushing another person, could it start a giant chain reaction of violence across the country?"
Bush adds, "I look around me and I see a lot of pissed-off people that are really close to some sort of violence as it is. In our movie the people are conscious, they’re rational, they’re aware of their decisions they’re not bloodsucking morons."
Yep, they’re rational and that’s what makes them so spooky. The Signal unfolds in three chapters, each helmed by a different director. Every segment is told from the point of view of a different character: cheatin’ wife Mya (Anessa Ramsey), her lover Ben (Justin Welborn), and her jealous husband, Lewis (A.J. Bowen).
"The first section is visceral and straightforward," Bruckner explains. "Then we get into the second section and we get inside the head of someone who’s very, very signalized. From his perspective it takes on a black-comedy tone. Then we get to the third section and we focus on the hero and his journey."
Cinematic gore and chaos are always enjoyable, and The Signal, which taps into the totally legitimate notion that humans are slaves to their technology, conveys an overall feeling of psychic dread. But the film’s middle section, in which a weapons-wielding Lewis home-invades a failed New Year’s Eve party, is the film’s strongest. Perhaps it’s because humor is the most comfortable way to digest the film’s suggestion that anarchy is just one fucked-up frequency away.
Opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters
Over Feb. 14 to 16, Yannis Adoniou and Tomi Paasonen’s oddly named offspring, Kunst-Stoff, celebrated its 10th anniversary. The company had its first performance during the dot-com bubble at what was then San Francisco’s most in venue, Brady Street Theater where you couldn’t find a parking place but did get some of the edgiest performances in town. You wouldn’t dare miss Kunst-Stoff’s total concept theater, in which multimedia reigned to suggest high-tech, futuristic fantasies. Performers donned bubble wrap or stuffed body stockings with shape-altering balloons. Theirs was a place where design ruled and rules existed to be broken.
But then the bubble burst. That initial infusion of venture capital which had also financed art exhibits, DJ parties, and high-powered advertising evaporated. Brady Street was sold. Paasonen lost his visa and returned to Europe. He would contribute a work periodically, but Adoniou was pretty much left by himself to redirect the company. Actually, he wasn’t quite left alone. He still had a group of highly committed dancers who allowed him to continue looking at the intersection of design and movement.
At a dress rehearsal prior to the anniversary program which contained three world premieres three dancers who’ve been with the company since the beginning looked better than ever. Nicole Bonadonna, Kara Davis, and Leslie Schickel were gloriously fearless, embracing physical and emotional risks they might have been more hesitant to do a decade ago.
Even without an audience, the company (which also includes Justin Kennedy, Marina Fukushima, John Merke, Erin Kraemer, and Dwayne Worthington) was fierce. It made you realize that while dancers talk a lot about the feedback they get from spectators, they ultimately dance for themselves and one another.
Watching the dancers rehearse phrases on a naked stage in punk street clothes and Haight Street throwaways, it took me a while to realize they were wearing Jeremy Chase Sanders’s costumes for Paasonen’s Out of Hand. When they started the piece the music seemed ridiculously loud, though much of the sound would be swallowed up when the seats were full of bodies at the performance.
Paasonen has said the dark Out of Hand contrasts the debris of American foreign policy, as demonstrated on a mountain-of-rubble Berlin, with choreography based on the movement language of people around Seventh Street and Market in San Francisco. It is a grim piece about negotiating danger and keeping yourself steady. Adoniou’s imaginative solo for himself was created "in dialogue with Alonzo King" and asked some King-type questions about the meaning of the universe and one’s place in it. The choreographer took the phrase "having the rug pulled out from under you" and translated it into a meditation on balance, seeking, and letting go. Finally, the extraordinary Korean musician and performer Dohee Lee (with musician Jethro DeHart) set the ecstatic tone for Adoniou’s Un State, a paean at once to the individuality of Kunst-Stoff’s dancers and to the expressive power of the human body. It seemed an appropriate finale for a 10th-anniversary concert.
As the dancers headed for snacks and dressing rooms and Adoniou finessed a duet onstage, Paasonen, back for these shows only, talked about making dances here and in Berlin. "Berlin is very demanding, very competitive, [and] people are very territorial," he said. "This is a community."
Mother of all indie?
SONIC REDUCER Is indie rock back? Did it ever go away? Is it to safe to wax naïf and twee once more? Is my shirt ill fitting yet modest? Will Converse ever go out of style? Do the Strokes suck? Wait, who are the Strokes?
Thoughts worth flexing one’s gray matter around on the verge of the indie-oriented Noise Pop music festival though, well, the RCA-aligned Strokes ain’t indie, really. Nor can one imagine their jumpy once-new-rock appearing on the shock chart topper for the week of Jan. 27: the Juno soundtrack. The disc bounded bashfully up Billboard’s Top 200 over the course of a month till it reached the peak at a mere 65,000 copies, allegedly delivering a first-time number one to Warner Bros.affiliated Rhino Records and inspiring many a question mark. Such as, isn’t 65,000 awfully low for the number one album in the country surely those crack six digits?
Well, no more, apparently, in the many-niched, entertainment-rich marketplace (the sole exception: triple or quadruple threat Jack Johnson?). Sure, geeks are once again chic as Superbad, Rocket Science, Eagle vs. Shark, and numerous other awkwardness-wracked cinematic offerings could tell you. And don’t forget, brainy indie rockers à la the Shins and Modest Mouse have been making inroads in chartland of late. Even the woman pegged by mainstream movie critics as the soundtrack’s breakout star, the Moldy Peaches’ Kimya Dawson, has been around since the turn of the century, when she was banging her bleached ‘fro against Adam Green’s tennis headband onstage at the Fillmore. Please, indie, let’s not even go into how long Cat Power, Belle and Sebastian, and Sonic Youth have been doing the do and how canonical the Kinks, Mott the Hoople, and Velvet Underground are. Has indie and its primary sources simply reached an apex of popularity by virtue of low overall CD sales?
Like its music, Juno the film doesn’t quite reinvent the wheel but instead delivers the hormonal, feminine flip side of Rushmore‘s protagonist, less an antihero than a talented misfit learning from a young person’s mistakes. Pregnant with meaning, Dawson’s frail, wobbly voice buttressed by her verbose, brainy lyrics embodies that character and aesthetic as much as her clear inspiration, the Velvet Underground’s Moe Tucker, who sings the ever-sweet-‘n’-lowly "I’m Sticking with You" on the soundtrack.
It’s not so much that everyone is discovering indie rock: instead, perhaps the soundtrack gets much of its shine from the fact that the music is such an intrinsic part of the film’s emotional power it’s as memorable as Juno’s rapid-fire, perhaps overly arch one-liners. Playing the film’s title tyke, Ellen Page at times sounds like a 35-year-old woman in a 16-year-old’s body. And in its no-fail, crowd-pleasing selections, the soundtrack similarly plays like a cultured 35-year-old’s music collection in teen comedy maternity garb. Now how fair is that? I’m tempted to call foul for the outclassed Hannah Montana 2 soundtrack (Walt Disney/Hollywood). *
Thurs/21, 7 p.m., call for price
924 Gilman Street Project
924 Gilman, Berk.
SIX-SIX-SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE TIME!
Six Organs of Admittance’s new CD, Shelter from the Ash (Drag City), rocks ‘n’ drones the most but don’t expect the project’s winter tourbesieged Ben Chasny to scrape together too many thoughts on the making of the album: his "brain is on zombie mode," he concedes during a drive to Minnesota. Yet he does let on that the lovely Shelter was the result of simply bunking down, looking around his Mission District neighborhood for musical assistance (including from Comets on Fire kin Noel Harmonson and Fucking Champs chief Tim Green, who dwell nearby), and enlisting his live-in paramour, Magik Marker frontwoman Elisa Ambrogio, and Matt Sweeney, who happened to be in town for a wedding.
Too bad the Mars Volta had to swipe Chasny’s Ouija board rock ‘n’ roll thunder with their supposedly magic-derived new LP. "I was actually designing a Ouija board to sell during this tour there are some really beautiful ones out there," he says. "And I ended up looking up Ouija on Wikipedia and found out about the Mars Volta, and I just gave up on the whole project." Of course, there are upsides to that downer. Chasny adds, "Elisa was, like, ‘It’s turning into a Six Organs tchotchke revue.’<0x2009>"
SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE
Sat/23, 10 p.m., $12
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
Requiem for a lemon
The city slicker’s agricultural portfolio tends to run toward seasonings and emendations rosemary, for instance, which has plenty of street smarts and is drought resistant too. Yours truly has for years managed a tiny estate of such bit players, including the aforementioned rosemary (a weedlike presence at the rear of the garden), along with bay and Kaffir lime bushes. The one crop that might qualify as cash is the Meyer lemon.
The infrequency of the (dwarf) Meyer lemon tree’s deigning to fruit has long added piquancy to those moments when it does, usually every other year. This year was to be one such moment; the flowers were heavy last summer, the immature fruit abundant all through the autumn, and by Christmastime a wealth of golden globes hung like ornaments from the tree’s branches. Tree is an absurd word to describe a shapeless shrub about three feet tall that drags its knuckles on the ground, but when such a plant produces three or four dozen fruit in one of its fecund moods, one is inclined to be forgiving.
Such plans I had for those lemons! Crème caramels were envisioned, also tarts, estate-bottled limoncello, and wonderful salad dressings. All in good time. Let the lemons remain safe on the tree; I would simply gather them as needed so they would not languish on the counter or in the refrigerator like supermarket produce. The city-slicker farmer, you see, has no conception of pests, and tales of whole harvests lost to plagues of locusts belong to the pages of the Bible or John Steinbeck novels.
So it was with a sense of horror and disbelief that I gazed out the window at my lemony riches a few days ago, at the end of weeks of obscuring rain, and saw that those riches were gone. Had they been stolen? Organic Meyer lemons would fetch a pretty penny at markets. But no: a close examination revealed the lemons had been eaten on the spot; the ground was scattered with shavings of rind. Templeton, the gregarious rat from Charlotte’s Web, bragged that he would eat anything but lemons? Do skunks eat lemons? Raccoons? All the neighbors’ lemons similarly vanished.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may was the advice of the English poet Robert Herrick, and even if your rosebuds are lemons, this remains a wise strategy.
Compañía Nacional de Danza
PREVIEW When Nacho Duato, crowned with laurels from his years in England and Holland, returned to his native Spain in the 1980s, the country’s national ballet company offered him its directorship. He took one look at the ensemble’s anemic repertoire and decided he could breathe some life into it. Consequently, today Compañía Nacional de Danza is a repository of Duato’s choreography. Spain could have done worse: Duato has put contemporary Spanish ballet on the world map like no one else. Don’t expect even a shadow of bolero or flamenco in the two different programs that constitute his company’s San Francisco debut. You will get the fruits of an exceptionally broad musical imagination and dancing that is full-bodied and energized still ballet based but moving into a lush contemporary sensibility. One of this tour’s pieces, Castrati (2002), also performed at the University of California at Davis a few years back, recalls the brutal ceremony that insured boy sopranos retained their voices beyond puberty. To the sounds of the most glorious Vivaldi, cassocks fly about the stage in a none-too-gentle representation of those initiation rituals. An older work, 1996’s Por Vos Muero, splendidly evokes the role of dance as a social occasion and is performed to 15th- and 16th-century Spanish music. The newest work, Gnawa (2007), named after Moroccan descendents of slaves, explores connections within Spanish and North African cultures. Also on the program are Gilded Goldbergs (2006), White Darkness (2001), and Rassemblement (1990).
COMPAÑÍA NACIONAL DE DANZA Program A, Wed/20Thurs/21, 8 p.m.; Program B, Sat/23, 8 p.m., and Sun/24, 2 p.m.; $35$55. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard, SF. (415) 392-2545, www.performances.org, www.ybca.org
REVIEW I first heard Gyan Riley on the spectacular, otherworldly The Book of Abbeyozzud (New Albion, 1999), by his father, minimalist maestro Terry Riley. The younger Riley’s playing on "Zamorra," a guitar duet with David Tanenbaum, reached new heights of raging classical guitar intimacy.
In 1999, Gyan Riley was the first guitarist to receive a full scholarship to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Since then, he’s been around: he’s had major commissions from the Carnegie Hall Corp. and the New York Guitar Festival, given performances worldwide, and held an artistic directorship with the San Francisco Classical Guitar Society and a teaching gig at Humboldt State University. So the stakes are high for his new full-length, Melismantra (Agyanamus Music). With an almost preternatural sense of musical presence, it doesn’t disappoint.
The four-part "Progression of the Ancestors" suite showcases the range of Riley’s complex sensitivity as a guitarist and composer. He never rushes the moment unless an overwhelming musical force takes control of the song on its own. Tabla giant Zakir Hussain’s elegant pops and rolls and Scott Amendola’s persuasive drumming add texture to the mix. Tracy Silverman’s electric violin playing introduced prior to "Progression of the Ancestors" on the epic title track touches on everything I love about not just violin but sound itself. Throughout the album Silverman leaps and bounds in world-turning harmony with Riley.
Melismantra‘s opening three-song cycle, "Mobettabutta," recalls the fusion jazz and somewhat self-interested tone poems of guitarists Larry Coryell and Pat Martino especially the latter’s odd 1976 album Starbright (Warner Bros.). This doesn’t quite jibe with the rest of the recording, but in a way "Mobettabutta" opens your mind to the delightful guitar perversions of "Herbie Moonshine’s Last Dance." Riley might make thinking people’s music, but he knows how to party.
GYAN RILEY With Tracy Silverman and Scott Amendola. Thurs/21, 8 p.m., $19.50. Freight and Salvage Coffee House, 1111 Addison, Berk. (510) 548-1761, www.thefreight.org
Avoiding taking a political stance in favor of depicting a military operation under extreme circumstances with stark, vivid immediacy, Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort reenacts the Israeli Army’s evacuation of the titular fortress during its 2000 pullout from Lebanon. Constructed next to an ancient castle built by 12th-century crusaders, the enormous bunker in which characters often seem to be running around like rats in a maze was taken from the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1982 and fortified to an even more imposing degree. The skeleton crew that remains is anxious about both leaving and staying. As their planned departure nears, surrounding Hezbollah troops step up their shelling to make it appear they chased the Israelis out. This creates numerous harrowing situations; so do the self-doubt and inflexibility of youthful commander Liraz (Oshri Cohen), who makes some serious tactical errors and finally seems reluctant to let the men complete their mission by blowing the whole place sky-high. It’s not on the movie’s agenda to question whether Israel should have been there in the first place, which may seem a titanic omission to some viewers. But by simply conveying the unpredictability, heightened emotions, and claustrophobia of being under siege, Beaufort is perhaps the most visceral war movie since Downfall.
BEAUFORT Opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.
A la Turca
TURKISH TREAT Lebanese, Syrian, Greek a craving for Mediterranean or Middle Eastern can be satisfied at a number of Bay Area restaurants, yet what if you want the one cuisine bridging the two? Inexplicably, Turkish restaurants are sorely missing from an otherwise all-inclusive food scene.
But deep in the cracked-out heart of the Tenderloin resides the consistently delicious and ridiculously affordable A la Turca. It’s a virtual Xanadu for any aficionado of the Byzantine: flat-screens showing Turkish channels, an all-Turkish waitstaff, hard-to-find Turkish dishes like fried carrots in yogurt sauce, a swarthy Turkish chef in the window shaving glistening slices of doner off a spit, the potent Turkish tea served in the traditional diminutive tulip-shaped glasses, and Turkish wine selections. Add the smell of diesel, cigarettes, and that ubiquitous lemon cologne, and I would swear I was in the back streets of Istanbul.
And thankfully, the food is incredible. The lahmacun (Turkish pizza) is perfectly crunchy on the edges and covered with a thin mixture of flawlessly seasoned tomato and ground lamb. The doner is divine. But I would go to A la Turca for the manti alone. Manti is Turkish comfort food meat and onion ravioli in a spicy tomato and garlic yogurt sauce (bring Altoids). I’ve never found it outside Turkey, but A la Turca has a delectable version available only on Sundays (I’ve always thought the mark of a great restaurant is that it can make demands on you).
The desserts were surprisingly bland, but the rest? Çok güzel.
A LA TURCA Mon.Thurs. and Sun., 11 a.m.10 p.m.; Fri.Sat., 11 a.m.11 p.m. 869 Geary, SF. (415) 345-1011, www.alaturcasf.com
“Low Life Slow Life: Part One”
REVIEW "Low Life Slow Life: Part One" is a self-curated portrait of the artist Paul McCarthy as a young man told with a few of his favorite things. It’s a very personal exhibit, much of it culled from the archives of a now-grown enfant terrible, and lays out a canny narrative about artistic influence that throws the viewer more than a few MacGuffins.
Before McCarthy fully developed his taboo-vioutf8g aesthetic which found its most abject expression in his foodstuff- and prosthesis-filled performance pieces of the 1970s and ’80s he was a Utah painting student whose first steps in using his body as a medium were guided by the action-based events of artists such as Allan Kaprow, Kazuo Shiraga, and Yves Klein. A first edition of Kaprow’s canon-making Assemblage, Environments, and Happenings (H.N. Abrams) is on display here, alongside paintings, photographs, sculptures, and printed matter by or related to several of the artists included in the 1966 volume.
Much of what McCarthy has chosen would slot neatly into the syllabus for one of the art history classes he now teaches at the University of California at Los Angeles. Which is to say that he is aware of how institutions inevitably shape an artist’s time on Earth into a career, placing it within a historical context in relation to and often as a reaction against other artists. McCarthy’s piss take on these sorts of creative genealogies starts with Dada collagist John Heartfield’s swastika-shaped Tannenbaum (1934), then jumps 30-odd years to Joseph Beuys’s 1962 sculpture made with fallen pine needles, whose brown color is shared by McCarthy’s dead Xmas tree and bric-a-brac pileup (2007). The trees’ tinder skeletons look like the survivors of a pillow fight on a paintball range. Wisely, McCarthy leaves other works out of such daisy chains of facetious art history scholarship. Mike Henderson’s giant, ghoulish oils Nonviolence and Castration (1968) stand alone as apocalyptic visions of the dark underside of American life. I wonder if they remind McCarthy of his salad days of stuffing Barbies up his ass while besmirched with ketchup. (Matt Sussman)
LOW LIFE SLOW LIFE: PART ONE Through April 12. Tues. and Thurs., 11 a.m.7 p.m.; Wed. and Fri.Sat., 11 a.m.6 p.m. CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, 1111 Eighth St., SF. (415) 551-9210, www.wattis.org
Glad to be unhappy
Terence Davies is coming to town. For anyone who loves the cinema, this is news of paramount importance and MGM-level musical magnitude. Davies is one of the greatest directors of the final quarter of the 20th century. He’s created at least two acknowledged classics, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The House of Mirth (2000), and I count his 1992 rendering of a movie-mad childhood, The Long Day Closes, as one of my all-time favorite films. In a single shot that passes across the floors of a family apartment, Davies captures the magic of nature mingling with artifice (a waterfall of raindrops, reflected from a window, passing over the leaf pattern of a carpet), then conveys the passage of time with a potency that never fails to bring a tear to my unsentimental eye.
Time, free-flowing through mental mazes of negative space that Manny Farber would have to admire, is at the center of Davies’s autobiographical work. He connects music with memory in a manner that yields greater returns each time one returns to his movies. At the Pacific Film Archive, he’ll appear at screenings of The Terence Davies Trilogy (1984), Distant Voices, The Long Day Closes, and The Neon Bible (1995) and lead an audience through a shot-by-shot discussion of Distant Voices. In anticipation of this visit, I recently spoke with him on the phone.
SFBG It’s disheartening to read about the various funding problems you’ve been encountering over the past eight years.
TERENCE DAVIES We don’t have a cinema in this country we just have an extension of television. You’ve got 25-year-olds who don’t know anything and think cinema started with [Quentin] Tarantino. We’re just little England. We’ve become virtually another state of America. In 20 years’ time, if we don’t watch it, we’ll be just like Hawaii, but without the decent weather.
SFBG Within British cinema, your films don’t fit into the contrasts that place David Leanlike literary adaptations or the documentary base of directors like Lindsay Anderson against more flamboyant directors such as Nicholas Roeg, Ken Russell, and Joseph Losey. You have elements of all of the above: your work is autobiographical and learned, but it has also has a flamboyance I relate to, though it isn’t outrageous.
TD I suppose my influences were very simple: the British comedies from the period when I was growing up and American melodramas and musicals. I remember being taken by my two older sisters to see Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing  or All That Heaven Allows  and going by myself to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers  or The Pajama Game  and any comedy that attracted Margaret Rutherford and Alastair Sim.
My films are an amalgam of those things and of the fact that I was brought up Catholic. I was very devout until I was 22. What a waste that was!
Also, I was influenced by classical music, particularly [Jean] Sibelius and [Dmitry] Shostakovich and my beloved [Anton] Bruckner. And poetry. [My family] got our first television in 1961, and about two years later, over the course of four nights, Alec Guinness read [T.S. Eliot’s] entire Four Quartets from memory.
SFBG Your current documentary project, Of Time and the City, is about your hometown of Liverpool. I came across an interview from the era of Distant Voices, Still Lives in which you talk about its utter transformation and deterioration. That interview dates from almost 20 years ago. Have the changes continued?
TD Yes, inevitably. At the time I left, Liverpool was very down at heel. I left it at its worst. It’s getting better now, but there’s still an awful lot to be done. The evocation of war that Humphrey Jennings did in Listen to Britain  I’m trying to do for Liverpool. I wanted to try and capture what it was like when I was growing up. Even I was shocked at some of the footage of the slums, which were some of the worst in Europe. I grew up in one, and when you grow up in one you don’t realize it, because everyone else is in the same boat. But seeing footage of it now, it’s absolutely appalling. When you think that in 1953 this massive amount of money was spent on the coronation of the present queen, it’s just obscene. They get away with it it’s quite extraordinary. I’m very much a republican; I’m not a monarchist. When you juxtapose the coronation with the footage that we’ve found, it’s shocking.
SFBG Solitude and rich sensory experience are qualities at the core of your movies. Those qualities take on specific aspects in cinema your use of darkness in relation to light is connected to, and even a few times directly about, the experience of being in a dark movie theater.
TD You have to see the films in the cinema. It’s lovely to see, say, Letter from an Unknown Woman  on the telly, but if you see it projected, it’s even more ravishing. The only way to see a film is in the cinema nowhere else.
SFBG I first saw my favorite of your films, The Long Day Closes, at the Castro Theatre here in San Francisco.
TD The Castro is a beautiful theater. But I remember that when I was there, two men were walking down the aisle and one asked, "What did you see last night?" The other said he’d seen the [Terence Davies] Trilogy. The first asked, "What did you think?" And the other said, "Not very good."
SFBG There’s no accounting for taste.
TD Another man said to me, "These films make Ingmar Bergman look like Jerry Lewis," which I thought was a wonderful insult practically a compliment. Isn’t that fabulous?
CLOSELY WATCHED FILMS: TERENCE DAVIES
Feb. 2027, $5.50$9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft Way, Berk.
First, although it’s early, let’s hand out our first annual Best Restaurant Name Award. This year’s winner is the Monk’s Kettle, which is a witty, memorable, and since the place in question is a craft-beer bar with food to match; ergo, a kind of hipster tavern evocative phrase. Everyone loves a monk, and kettle is just fun to say, especially after a fancy beer or two.
The Monk’s Kettle is not a brewpub. No beer brewing is done on the premises, which are probably too snug anyway. The deal instead is a wide offering of beers from around the world, in the manner of Toronado or Moe Ginsburg’s; some are draught, many others are in bottles, but all are served in one of the stunning array of specialty glasses stacked behind the bar like crystals in some extraordinary ice formation.
Pardon is hereby issued to those who don’t recognize the space as the recent home of a Thai restaurant, Rasha, and before that, of Kelly’s Burgers. The footprint is the same deep and narrow, with the sizable, mirror-backed bar and a semiopen kitchen along the right side and, on the left, booths snuggled against the windows but the smell of old grease is gone, the color scheme is now one of muted earth tones, and the harsh lighting has given way to halogen pinpoints and, above the booths, glowing disks that look like the shells of some huge mollusk.
But the aesthetic makeover, though thorough and stylish, is dwarfed as a marker of change by the crush of people trying to get into the restaurant. A year ago Rasha seemed to be largely empty, despite good food at moderate cost, a bright red neon sign, and a prime location; the Monk’s Kettle, at age two months, is already wall-to-wall crowds on weekend evenings, with even more people spilling out onto the sidewalk. And they’re young, hipstery people.
If the wealth of craft beers is part of the Monk’s Kettle’s appeal to this social cohort, so too must be the food, which is a surprisingly vegetarian-friendly version of pub grub. Many of the most memorable dishes are meatless and would do credit to the kitchen at Greens. But hipsters like their burgers too, apparently; on a recent evening while eating at the bar, we were flanked by young burger eaters dressed à la mode, two and three to a side.
The burger ($10.50) is good. The meat is grass-fed Niman Ranch and is served on a dense, chewy bun from La Brea Bakery. A slice of cheese (various choices) adds $1.50, and the American-style fries are fine. But there’s nothing exceptional here. As for the house-made veggie burger ($9.50): half a gold star for innovation, since the patty is falafel, laid out on the same La Brea bun instead of stuffed into a pita pocket with tahini sauce.
On the other hand, the Monk’s Kettle does offer quite a few treats you won’t regularly find on menus in the Mission or around town. There’s a fresh pretzel ($6.50), for instance, twisty soft and served with whole-grain mustard and a cheddar-ale sauce for dipping and dunking. We also liked the lightly crisped black-bean cakes ($8.75), a pair of slim disks scattered with roasted-corn salsa and artily piped with chipotle crème fraîche. Bruschetta ($8.50) toasted bread spears smeared with cannellini puree were plated in an overgrown garden of mixed greens and resembled statuary half hidden amid unkempt tendrils, but the greens were enriched by sautéed mushrooms and chunks of white cheddar cheese, bringers of flavor, texture, and heft.
Butternut squash soup ($6.50) needs special handling to rise above its usual station as a cold-weather commonplace. Do pepitas, the little pumpkinseeds of Mexican cooking, answer the call? The Monk’s Kettle kitchen installed them as a scattering across the surface of the soup, and they did their best, but the soup, while creamy, was a little too sweet and unfocused to satisfy, even with pepitas. It was also, however, nicely steamy, which brought some relief to my sniffly friend across the table.
Also nicely steamy was a bowl of Jude’s vegan chili ($6.50), a black-bean preparation laced with tomatoes, mushrooms, and olives. We did catch a whiff of some faint, faintly exotic, eastern Mediterranean spice in there and found ourselves thinking more of Turkey than Texas: mushrooms and olives in chili? The Turks, it must be said, prefer chickpeas to black beans. (The chickpea is thought to be native to southeastern Turkey.)
The kitchen seemed to be in possession of a mushroom mother lode, because tasty fungus recurred as a ragout in the day’s surprisingly elegant potpie ($14). I say elegant because the ragout had been baked in a handsome white crock with fluted sides, under a tarpaulin of butter-flaky pastry worthy of a beef Wellington. The potpie had the look of a huge, family-style dessert a giant pot de crème, possibly, lurking under the pastry.
We never quite got around to actual dessert, but we did dabble in the beers (whose listings go on for several pages), in part to see which glasses would be used to serve them. St. Bernardus, a dark, caramelly Belgian brew ($7.75 for an eight-ounce pour), arrived in a vessel that looked like a giant cognac snifter, while Bitburger pilsner ($6.25 for 14 ounces) was presented in an attractive if slightly disappointing pilsner glass, a close relation of the ones I have at home. Mr. Cider, meanwhile, partook of the Fox Barrel black currant cider ($4.50 for eight ounces); this was served in a wineglass look-alike and was refreshingly unsweet in the European manner but did not really taste of black currant a presence in name only, but we liked it anyway.
Mon.Fri., noon2 a.m.; Sat.Sun., 11:302 a.m.
3141 16th St., SF
Beer and wine