Volume 43 Number 01

Electric gospel


PREVIEW As I find myself in another part of the world, I ask myself, "How did I get here?" Then I realize everything’s same as it ever was, and that I need to get this piece in at some sort of reasonable hour.

But seriously, Talking Heads’ "Once in a Lifetime" was synthesizer rock glory. On NPR’s "All Things Considered," the band recalled becoming "human samplers" while making "Once in a Lifetime," back when hip-hop was in its genesis and sampling wasn’t even a method. Rather than write their songs first and play later, singer-songwriter David Byrne, composer-producer Brian Eno, and the band would improvise, manually repeat the layers they liked, then stack those layers on top of each other until they got the finished result.

Byrne and Eno would repeat this approach on their own collaboration in 1981, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Nonesuch). Percussion-heavy and Afrobeat-oriented, Ghosts provided a vivid look into combinations of international rhythms and sampled vocals, inspiring producers like Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy and Moby.

The pair reconnected during the 25th anniversary rerelease of Ghosts, and surmised that the world could handle another collaborative effort; Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (Todo Mundo, 2008) is the result.

Even "as the days go by," Byrne and Eno demonstrate that their musical bond resonates, even if they are sending their snippets and works-in-progress via e-mail. For the most part, Eno opts for straightforward rock riffs with some traditional folk chord structures and a trademark smattering of electronic, atmospheric effects. Byrne follows Eno through these uplifting melodies and, in typical fashion, lends vocal harmony, depth, and variation, raising the cadence, complementing and augmenting Eno’s production. If this is "electronic gospel," as both proclaim, here’s to preaching to the choir.

DAVID BYRNE Mon/6, 8 p.m., $59.50–$89.50. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness, SF. (415) 621-6600, www.davidbyrne.com

David Banner


PREVIEW There has never been a more fitting musical stage name than the one chosen by Lavell Crump. Crump’s pseudonym of choice, David Banner, perfectly sums up his style and his struggle: he, like the protagonist of The Incredible Hulk, is a man of stark contrasts.

The MC and musician is unafraid to voice his progressive social beliefs, and is a dedicated humanitarian who raised more than $500,000 for Hurricane Katrina relief in Louisiana and his home state of Mississippi. He weaves engrossing tales about the struggle and strife that surrounded him growing up in a destitute section of a racially divided Jackson. All his albums contain touching tales of Americans fighting to survive in one of the most maligned and ignored areas in the country. On his latest, The Greatest Story Ever Told (Universal), Banner respectfully acknowledges his state’s blessings and problems on the swirling salute to the past, "Cadillac on 22’s Part II": "Mississippi is the place where your boy came from / But so many people are still afraid to come / But, I’m gon’ tell the truth / It’s just real good food / And real strong people / Who still refuse to move."

Of course, like the fictional scientist Dr. David Banner, the performer has an alter ego. Though all Banner’s recordings include sobering, powerful tracks, they all also contain formulaic "booty jams" like his biggest hit — and possibly worst song — 2005’s "Play." They tend to come off as scurrilous and awkward instead of titilutf8g. Myopic critics often focus on these missteps, and Banner gets the unfair reputation of being another derivative, chauvinistic rapper. Story is a perfect example of the duality that both gives Banner life and holds him back. The disc’s versatility keeps it interesting, as he coolly shifts from pensive, engrossing numbers ("Hold On") to real heaters that showcase the rapper’s signature flow ("So Long"). But he falls into the same pitfalls of his earlier albums with the sleazy "A Girl." Expect all sides of Banner to be in full force when he performs live, backed by the Rhythm Roots All-Stars.

DAVID BANNER With Talib Kweli and Little Brother. Thurs/2, 7 p.m., $32. The Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center, 1300 Van Ness, SF. (415) 673-5716, www.goldenvoice.com

Wipin’ up the competition


REVIEW Little man fights big business — you’ve seen this story before. But that doesn’t mean it’s not effective when done right. There may be a formula to Flash of Genius, but in this case it works. Greg Kinnear stars as real-life inventor Bob Kearns, who developed electronic intermittent windshield wipers. (You’re probably not all that impressed, but just try driving through a storm without them.) After Ford Motor Company steals and markets his idea, Kearns spends the next 12 years fighting for recognition. That long trudge through bureaucracy is portrayed as brave, yes, but also endlessly frustrating. In fact, the success of Flash of Genius relies on its ability to inflict some ambiguity on a cliché-ridden genre. Even lawyers who say things like "I believe in what I do; I believe in a little thing called justice," get fed up with Kearns’ unflinching idealism. He may be the Mr. Smith of car parts, but he’s also a stubborn pain in the ass. His wife moves on, his kids grow resentful, and the "Is it all worth it?" question lingers throughout. It’s no wonder the film ends not with life-affirming sunlight but a torrential downpour: for an underdog story, it’s kind of depressing.

FLASH OF GENIUS opens Fri/3 in Bay Area theaters.

Vacancy and claustrophobia


REVIEW Matthias Hoch’s disconcerting skill as a photographer is connected to a pair of paradoxes. His close-ups of the byproducts of "moderne" European cities and suburbs, from geometric ceilings to business parks, feel like panoramas. In his wider shots — of large concrete grids, or one otherwise "perfect" building’s sad slant — claustrophobia and a sense of vacancy commingle. The German artist’s new work on display at Rena Bransten Gallery focuses on Almere and Rotterdam, cities in the Netherlands that don’t have the touristy resonance of Amsterdam or the Hague.

I wonder what Carl Jung would have said about modernity’s strange architectural sprawl. Are we growing a new set of archetypes? Hoch’s latest photographs provide one answer: a sense that nothing has changed. Rotterdam #20 and #24 (both 2007) are like an overmanicured zen garden in a bad dream. The bent green lighting in Almere #11 (2007) recalls the tarot suit of Swords, representative of overthinking. If you stare long enough, the fluttering white shape on what looks like fake grass in Rotterdam #26 (2007) becomes the foot of a Buddhist statue, about to lift.

Almere #1, Almere #2 brings together two engrossing short videos. In the second, the thick black pipes of a parking structure are as lively as the worm-things in 1990’s Tremors. In the first, the shifting textures of light in reflective/refractive glass become a wide-sweeping eternal dawn. Like Hoch’s photographs, these videos are ultimately pictures of good-byes. When I left the show, I could hear one of my personal favorites — Lou Reed and John Cale’s melancholic adios to Andy Warhol, "Hello, It’s Me" — in my head. I couldn’t help thinking that Hoch’s timely pictures would have looked great in even bigger prints on the walls of the once silver, now defunct Factory.

MATTHIAS HOCH: NEW WORK Through Oct. 11. Tues.–Fri., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Rena Bransten Gallery, 77 Geary St, SF. (415) 982-3292, www.renabranstengallery.com