Volume 43 Number 21

Whither Indie?


What is indie now that Death Cab for Cutie, Animal Collective, the Shins, and TV on the Radio are part of the mainstream cultural conversation, making inroads on the Billboard charts and scoring award nods? Jordan Kurland — who heads the Noise Pop festival along with founder Kevin Arnold and, for that matter, manages Noise Pop vet Death Cab — definitely has pondered the question. "It would be interesting to do a chart on how many bands that played Noise Pop have won Grammys," he muses. Every year he and Arnold reassess whether to continue this clear labor of love ("We don’t make money," Kurland confesses. "We haven’t cracked that yet."), and this year, despite the tough economic environment with the number of shows contracting and the event’s music industry conference expanding, the two decided to hold steady. "We’re still here championing independent culture," Kurland affirms. After all, "now we’re so close to 20. And then once we get to 20, it’ll be, ‘But we’re so close to 25!’ We just really love it. The community still cares about it. And we’ll be inspired as long as people show up for shows and keep talking about it."

NOISE POP ’09 — which includes a film fest, art exhibits, and a craft fair — runs Tues/24–March 1 at various venues. For the complete schedule, go to www.noisepop.com

Appetite: Food, drink and urban hunting


Welcome to Appetite, a new column on food and drink. A long-time San Francisco resident and writer, I’m passionate about this incomparable city, obsessed with finding and exploring its best spots, deals, events and news. I started with my own service and monthly food/drink/travel newsletter, The Perfect Spot , and will pass along up-to-the minute news.


Sumi Sushi reinvents a Castro classic

Sumi Hirose’s restaurant, Sumi, was a Castro stalwart for over 20 years, only recently shuttered. But Sumi is back in the same cozy space, reincarnated as Sumi Sushi, a 20-seat sushi joint with a gold and black color scheme. The menu offers playful rolls like “The Spicy Girl,” plus sashimi or savory cooked plates like bacon-wrapped scallops, and 20 sakes show up on the drink list to pair with sushi. It feels right that the space should stay with the same person – we all need a little reinvention from time to time.
4243 18th Street

Cocktail events:

Feb. 18 – Winter Farmers’ Market Cocktail Night at the Ferry Plaza

The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture is hosting an event this Wednesday that gets cocktail fiends like myself all worked up. The all-star bartender line-up: Elixir’s H. Joseph Ehrman, Sierra Zimmei of Seasons Bar at the Four Seasons, Jardiniere’s Brian MacGregor, Greg Lindgren and Jon Gasparini of Rye and Rosewood, 15 Romolo’s Scott Baird, Eric Castro of Bourbon & Branch, Thirsty Bear Brewing Company’s Alex Smith, and more. …

For a $25 admission price (buy tix online), the bartenders will prepare and serve you two full-sized cocktails (a John Collins and an Old Sydneytown Winter Punch) plus 12 samples of seasonally-inspired cocktails while you nosh on bites from restaurant greats like Beretta, Michael Mina, Conduit, Globe and Zuppa. You’ll even be eligible to win bartending and farmers’ market prizes by casting a vote for your fave drink.

Ferry Plaza Building
San Francisco
Or contact Christine Farren, 415-291-3276 x 103

Feb. 21 – Hands-on artisanal cocktail class with Scott Beattie at the Ferry Plaza

As if Wednesday night’s Ferry Plaza cocktail event wasn’t cool enough, Saturday brings author Scott Beattie and distiller Marko Karakasevic for a $25 interactive class on creating three citrus-based drinks (Meyer Beautiful, “Pelo del Perro or “Hair of the Dog” and Bleeding Orange) while learning about small-batch distilling. Beattie, the man behind the masterpiece cocktails at Healdsburg’s best restaurant (and, I think, one of the country’s best), Cyrus , has also written what has quickly become the industry standard on artisanal cocktails: “Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus” (signed copies if you want ’em at the event). Scott doesn’t just throw together a drink, he creates beauty, perfecting the art of the cocktail with cutting edge garnishes, foams and sugar/salt rims (using seasonal fruit and ingredients from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, of course). Karakasevic brings decades of experience as master distiller (and founder) of Domaine Charbay in Napa, well known for their flavored vodkas but also for whiskey, rum, grappa, ruby port, etc. … Sounds like an ideal Saturday afternoon to me.
2-4 pm Ferry Plaza Building
(in CUESA’s Dacor Teaching Kitchen in the North Arcade)


Feb. 19: Learn about tequila for free: Cortez starts its first Coctail College

Cortez’s chic restaurant and bar is the location for a special kind of cocktail class: the free kind! Pay for drinks ordered but otherwise, education is free every third Thursday of the month, starting this week. They’re on the right track with the first workshop: Tequila is the “subject” and bar snacks are supplied to munch as you “study.” Sorry, but you can’t get course credit for this one.

5:30-7 pm
Hotel Adagio
550 Geary

East Bay News:

Zax Tavern morphs into Sidebar

It wasn’t without a sense of loss that locals saw Berkeley long-timer Zax Tavern, close in 2007. But now, after a wait, the Zax crew just opened Sidebar, a gastropub serving surprisingly affordable plates (like stuffed portobello mushrooms, oven-roasted poussin, double-cut pork chops, all in the $6-19 range). The place wins further points by being open pretty much all day. The bar is stocked with plenty of beers on tap or by the bottle and a cocktail menu from none other than Absinthe’s master-mixologist, Johnny Raglin.

542 Grand Avenue Oakland

Peninsula news:

Palo Alto is spruced up with Mayfield Bakery & Cafe

Spruce is the kind of SF restaurant that shows up on Top 10 lists and gets rave reviews. Palo Alto locals or those who head down the Peninsula can hit a brand new second restaurant, Mayfield Bakery and Cafe. It’s a French cafe-style bistro serving lunch and dinner, as well as a cafe issuing coffee and pastries all day long. Yes, Spruce’s quality level remains but the vibe is decidedly more low-key.
Town & Country Village
855 El Camino Real
Palo Alto

Ransom news:

SF’s first urban hunting club? The Bull Moose Hunting Society is here

Um, a club where for only a $50 one time fee to be a part of the club for life, you can learn the ins-and-outs of safe gun use, the permit process, how to clean, gut, butcher and vacuum-seal your meat… and share quality meat tastings with fellow hunters? Can this be San Francisco? If the Bull Moose Hunting Society has anything to say about it, this’ll be a new kind of breed: the urban hunter who conscientiously prepares and shares his/her spoils of wild boar, pheasant and deer. Join BMHS this Thursday, Feb. 19, for their very first ‘meat and greet’ (yes, I know) at the society’s headquarters.

8-10 pm
561 Baker Street # 8
San Francisco
Contact Nick Zigelbaum with questions: nick@bullmoosehunting.com

Feel-good sounds


DENT MAY AND HIS MAGNIFICENT UKULELE What we have here, to get right down to it, is a perfect case of truth in advertising. The cover of The Good Feeling Music of Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele (Paw Tracks) — the just-released debut from the eponymous uke-strumming, street-corner-serenading smooth operator — spells out its primary objective in impish scrawl, rainbow-and-curlicue-festooned illustrations, and a photo of the showman getting swanky in tuxedo finery. It’s an eye-catching introduction, to be sure, but May is more than ready and willing to deliver on such promises. Having pinpointed the rarely-visited sonic intersection between Dean Martin and Jonathan Richman, the crooner extols the virtues of girls and parties with a fetching blend of exuberance and sincerity. Just in case the witty, bookish lyrics aren’t enough to crack a smile on listeners’ faces, the accompanying musical cocktail should do the trick: one part ’60s pop, one part breezy Tropicalia, two parts nightclub lounge act. Quite the recipe for feeling good. Some of the credit for May’s grinning inspiration must be given to the beloved instrument of the disc’s title. “I’d been stuck in a bit of a rut, songwriting-wise, before I bought the ukulele from a friend,” he explains over the phone from his Taylor, Miss., home. “I was actually working on a country and western rock opera beforehand — pretty downbeat stuff. It all changed once I picked up the ukulele.” Asked whether the title could be considered a mission statement for himself and the band, May says, laughing in agreement, “Sure, I wanted this to be a celebration of what music means to me.” The disc feels very much like a celebration: of crooning vocals — comparisons to Morrissey or Jens Lekman are not off base, though May cites Prince and Lee Hazlewood as his favorite singers — but also of the notion of music as communal experience. Much like Lekman or Richman, May specializes in clever, audience-engaging songs about life’s essentials: love, friends, having fun. “I’ll make you see/ it ain’t so bad in Mississippi,” he jokes on the buoyant “You Can’t Force a Dance Party,” and the song’s evolving chronicle of throwing a bash for a visiting sweetheart is all charm, swung along by giddy ukulele and hard-shaking tambourine. “At the Academic Conference” — “smart people everywhere … but do they know what love is?” — sways with argyle-sweater romanticism, pairing glee club vocals and sunny Parisian café pop in a snappy reminder to not lose sight of what’s truly important. The tune also offers one of the finest self-deprecating zingers I’ve seen in a while: “Joyce, Whitman, and Camus/ Well, no, I’ve never read them/ I’m here just for the booze.” (Todd Lavoie) A.C. NEWMAN Carl “A.C.” Newman’s 2004 solo debut, The Slow Wonder (Matador), sits atop many a pop enthusiast’s iTunes playlist, and not merely for alphabetical reasons. Alongside the considerable quality of Newman’s output as chief songwriter for the New Pornographers and Zumpano, Wonder was a delightful, scaled-down showcase of his talents, boasting such jubilant instant classics as “On the Table” and “The Town Halo.” Get Guilty (Matador), Newman’s recently released second solo disc, is nowhere near as immediate a thrill as his first, nor is it as cheery — a not-unexpected turn given the shades of melancholy that color the two New Pornographers albums that have come out since then, 2005’s Twin Cinema and 2007’s Challengers (both Matador). It takes several listens for Get Guilty’s songs to settle in, but when they do, they stick with industrial strength: for instance, “The Heartbreak Rides” has a sneaky chord-change hook that gradually swells to a grand, fife-inflected breakdown, and the chugging acoustic guitar propelling lead single “The Palace at 4 AM” lays a frantic bed for Newman’s bouncy, infectious narrative. In one line from “Submarines of Stockholm,” he refers to the submarine’s Swedish stop as “one in a series of highlights and holy lows” — a clever turn of phrase applicable to this record, a terrific new addition to Newman’s brilliant corner of the pop canon. We’ll see how his new numbers go down live when he performs at the Independent. (Michael Harkin) A.C. NEWMAN With Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele and Devon Williams Feb. 28, 8 p.m., $15 Independent 628 Divisadero, SF (415) 771-1421 www.theindependentsf.com

To sleep, to dream


I love to grab me some winks. And who doesn’t enjoy a blazing ray? Ergo, Sleepy Sun — bred in Santa Cruz but oh-so-appropriately bunked down these days in the Sunset — is my new cozy cuppa Vitamin D dream-psych — bursting with fuzzed-up, furry freak riffs, drums that skip and play freely in Ginger Baker–ed fields of jazz-inflected groove things, and dizzying layers of narcotic vocals.

Less noise-besotted and heavy on the heaviness than other once-‘Cruz-centered kindred like Comets on Fire and Mammatus, Sleepy Sun hit its own lazy-day high with Brightblack Morning Light–style blues-rock. The band drifts on the gnarly curlicues of guitar and limpid washes of organ before crashing headlong into what sounds like a simian love-in on "White Dove" from Embrace, due for worldwide release in May on ATP Recordings. I spoke to vocalists Brett Constantino and Rachel Williams as they sat in a tree and puttered around during a Golden Gate Heights Park video shoot for the aforementioned song. Next up: the band, which has barely toured, will live in a van for the next three months, playing South by Southwest and All Tomorrow’s Parties in England.


"I’d say our music is honest rock ‘n’ roll," says Constantino. "It’s a concoction of six different songwriters that pick up on different things and are attracted to different sounds. But we’re not going to shy away from the fact that there seems to be a psychedelic music movement. We don’t have a problem with being lumped in with that!

"The funny thing is when we all moved to Santa Cruz to go to school, Comets [on Fire] had just left there. Everyone would always talk about, ‘Oh, Comets on Fire — they’re the Santa Cruz flagship band.’ ‘But where are they and why aren’t they ever playing?!’ I always found that interesting."


"[Santa Cruz] is a very unusual bubble, a beach bubble," opines Constantino. "I find that it’s the perfect place to develop as an artist and as a person, y’know — just because the culture there is so open and forgiving to weirdness, to eccentricity."


"We all met in school in Santa Cruz," says Constantino. "We wanted to make a career out of this or give it a shot, so we moved out of our house in Santa Cruz. We still do live together. It’s like a big giant family."

"Brett and I live in same room — it’s great," Williams says later. As a couple? "We just sleep in the same room — in two different beds. But we love rumors, so spread it!"


With Lumerians, True Widow, and Kings and Queens

Feb. 25, 8 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF


All ears



Antony Hegarty’s got a delicate disposition and a hankering for the embrace of Mother Nature. His latest effort, The Crying Light (Secretly Canadian), extends the band in the direction of strange, rending meditations on life, love, and gender-line transgressions. Hegarty may never be described as a big-throated hollerer, but his are rousing intimations of human fragility that approach a chest-clenching volume of heartbreak, though he never raises his voice above a whisper. The vocalist’s got a slew of side-projects going on even as he fronts cabaret-pop mopers/maestros Antony and the Johnsons. Still, no project has achieved the Johnsons’ dimensions of fortune, fame, and critical acclaim, although Hercules and Love Affair became something of a local cause célèbre last year with its cerebral, minimalist — some would say undernourished — disco hymns. (Danica Li) Tues/24, 8 p.m., $32.50–$40. Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111, California, SF. www.masonicauditorium.com


They’re breaking out of their kudos-drenched Microcastle (Kranky, 2008) — and a dwarfing arena slot opening for Trent Reznor. (Kimberly Chun) With Lilofee. Tues/24, 10 p.m., free with RSVP at www.uptheantics.com/noisepop. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com


"I’m really exited about the Malkmus show," Noise Pop co-honcho Jordan Kurland told me. "It’s the first time he’s doing a solo show." Amazing, since the Stockton-bred Pavement songwriter has hovered round these parts, band at hand, for so long. (Chun) With Kelley Stoltz, Peggy Honeywell, and Goh Nakamura. Feb. 25, 8 p.m., $20. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


The appeal of From Monument to Masses, like contemporaries Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, pulls from a wellspring of aggressive melodicism, diverse instrumentation, and careening thrash rock one banana peel from going ass-up. Composed of Matt Solberg (guitar), Francis Choung (drums and programming), and Sergio Robledo-Maderazo (bass and synths), From Monument to Masses formed in 2001 after Dim Mak owner and fellow hardcore fan Steve Aoki took a look-see at one of the trio’s demos and decided to release it as the group’s first self-titled album, which came out the following year. And that’s not even touching on the band’s fierce dedication to activism: they’ve formed liaisons in the past with groups like Challenging White Supremacy and the Kalayaan School for Equity. (Li) With Crime in Choir and Built for the Sea. Feb. 26, 9 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com


Anyone who has seen a Goblin Cock album cover — giant, pierced cartoon penis, anyone? — may be compelled to think of the band as a Spinal Tap–esque side project from Pinback’s Rob Crow. With band members boasting pseudonyms like Lord Phallus and Bane Ass-Pounder, it’s easy to see why such a misstep would occur. The San Diego group, which performs shrouded in smoke and hooded black robes, describes its oeuvre as "beyond time and beyond space" and certainly has the chops to create a sinister grind. The dirge "Stumped" and the epic "Kegrah the Dragon Killer" sound like lost Sleep or Melvins tracks, and while Satan probably hasn’t invited Goblin Cock over for tea yet, the band is earnestly writing him love notes. Opener Warship will set the mood by laying down its aggro Brooklyn metalcore after Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band heats things up with its alchemic indie anthems. (L.C. Mason) Feb. 26, 8:30 p.m., $12. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com


Taking the ill flow to the next level, Kool Keith, a.k.a. Dr. Octagon among other aliases, often rhymes about defecation and isn’t afraid to blurt out sex-related slang. Think a rapper with Tourette’s Syndrome. Still, this self-professed lyrical king comes off as silly, nonsensical, and, when his satirical content shines, poignant. His work has attracted a list of admirers and collaborators ranging from Dan the Automator to Prodigy to Esham. The Bronx native has been at it since 1984 as a founding member of the legendary Ultramagnetic MCs before breaking out on his own with 1996’s Dr. Octagonecologyst (DreamWorks/Geffen), showcasing remarkable scratching from Bay Area fave Qbert. Keith has been reportedly institutionalized, which might explain his knack for multiple stage personas, albeit word has it he went in for depression, which may explain so much more. (Andre Torrez) With Mike Relm, Crown City Rockers, and DJ set by Kutmasta Kurt. Feb. 26, 9 p.m., $18. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com


The Oakland band has been working the local scene hard lately, providing a barrage of stinging guitars with a pop catchiness reminiscent of Modest Mouse. Even the vocals recall Isaac Brock’s hysterics at times. But it would be unfair to limit these up-and-comers with such comparisons. See "Magpies" for proof that they have a creative musical range that goes beyond any formula. (Torrez) With Scissors for Lefty and Picture Atlantic. Feb. 26, 5 p.m. doors, free. Benders, 806 S. Van Ness, SF. www.bendersbar.com


If life were a movie, Martha Wainwright would be a gutsy heroine with a potty mouth, an assortment of endearing underdog friends, and a ferocious right hook. Because it’s not, Wainwright’s merely Canadian. With three albums’ worth of golden folk ditties beneath her belt, Wainwright’s more than battled free from the albatross of her illustrious musical lineage, which includes big bro Rufus and daddy London Wainwright III. A medley of folk and alt-country with tendencies toward pop structures and cabaret-style torch, her newest album, I Know You’re Married but I’ve Got Feelings Too (MapleMusic/Zoe, 2008), highlights a flair for incisive songwriting and powerhouse vocals. There’s still enough feminine curve to the music to belie the lyrical content, as when Wainwright warbles in her sweetly girlish voice about a "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole" — a subtle reference to her famous folk-singer father. (Li) With AA Bondy, Ryan Auffenberg, and Karina Denike. Feb. 26, 8 p.m., $12. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


Adenoidal passion at the juncture of emo and indie from the road-friendly Phoenix, Ariz., fivesome. (Chun) With Kinch, Big Light, and A B and the Sea. Feb. 27, 8:30 p.m., $10–$12. Bottom of the Hill, SF, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com


Grab that opp to get a taste of the proggily imaginative power-sixpiece. (Chun) With Sugar and Gold and Tempo No Tempo. Feb. 27, 5 p.m. doors, free. Benders, 806 S. Van Ness, SF. www.bendersbar.com


We’re all familiar with the addictively creamy indie of the ‘Benders — less so with the glittering Cali pop of the co-headlining duo. (Chun) With the Mumlers and Rademacher. Feb. 27, 8 p.m., $12–$14. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


With her pale face, crazed hair, and beautiful bone structure, St. Vincent — née Annie Clark — looks something like a classically trained musician gone a little deranged in the headspace. The sense of leashed zaniness exerts an eerie tension in her music, which is all conventional pop balladry cracking open to rushes of pure weirdness and hellcat rock outros. Strictly speaking, the songwriter makes chamber pop. But it’s dissonant — with bang-a-pot dins and lyrical quirks galore. Clark centers the chaos on the strength of her deep, dark voice, bewitching in its balletic femininity. Originally a guitar player for the Polyphonic Spree and a member of Sufjan Stevens’ touring band, she composes songs in layers of euphoric instrumentation. From the sleekly nightmarish "Paris Is Burning" to the hair-raising child’s plea of "Now Now," the music’s got harpsichords, horns, plinking piano, children’s choruses, and sun-drenched synth riffs in spades. Fingers crossed that she’ll show up with the whole orchestra in tow. (Li) With Cryptacize, Rafter, and That Ghost. Feb. 27, 8 p.m., $16. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


Watch the ‘craft soar. "Unplugged" and straight-up acoustic from the Hüsker Dü muck-amok and OG of noise-pop — with Eitzel joining in, accompanied solely by a pianist. (Chun) With Donovan Quinn and Jason Finazzo. Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m., $20. Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com


Youthquakin’ and shakin’ up its hometown of Portland, Ore., Portugal, the Man loves itself a fresh blend of wide-scope pop, orchestral indie rock, and tens-of-years-after psychedelia: "I was born in 1989," wails John Baldwin Gourley. (Chun) With Japanese Motors, Girls, and Love Is Chemicals. Feb. 28, 9 p.m., $13. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com


Don’t heave those stony accusations of cultural colonialism at the Los Angeles duo of Danny and Tiffany Preston. Though the project spun off on Danny’s love of Middle Eastern music and his collection of microtonal keyboards from the region, the husband and wife have plundered quite varied aural booty in the past: Danny was in the dubby Pigeon Funk and Tiffany in the math rock Pink Grenade. In fact the Eastern sounds of Rainbow Arabia’s The Basta EP (Manimal, 2008), inspired by Sublime Frequencies releases, will likely morph into something poppier, more "tropical new wave," more Cambodian, and more Congotronics-esque in the near future. "We’re going wherever it works. We’ll mix it up," Preston told me from L.A., where Rainbow Arabia finds kinship with the recently relocated High Places. Of their globetrotting musical mix, he said, "It was weird to eat sushi in the ’80s — now we’re eating everything, and music and film is the same. It’s just weaving together, and everyone is taking pieces, just like other countries take pieces of our culture." For a more ethereal pop vibe, look to opening SF duo Boy in Static and their forthcoming Candy Cigarette (Fake Four). (Chun) With Themselves and Yoni Wolf. Feb. 28, 2 p.m., free. Apple Store, 1 Stockton, SF. www.apple.com


Get ready to be blown away by the experimental punk sounds of these L.A. darlings on the Sub Pop label. Guitarist Randy Randall’s and drummer Dean Allen Spunt’s DIY outlook includes shows at nontraditional venues like the Los Angeles River and L.A.’s Central Public Library, and Randall’s guitar parts range from simplistic and jangly to downright assaulting. Nevertheless the duo — less than four years old and two albums along — maintains an unassuming degree of minimalism, which is why the music seems to work so well. (Andre Torrez) With White Circle Crime Club, Infinite Body, and Veil Veil Vanish. March 1, 1 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, SF, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

Johnny on the spot


› cheryl@sfbg.com

"Hello, I’m Johnny Cash." Anyone who’s listened to the Man in Black’s 1968 live album At Folsom Prison (Columbia) knows that’s how the record kicks off. What you may not know, before watching Bestor Cram’s Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, is that the crowd of prisoners was coached not to applaud the vocalist when he appeared onstage, but rather to save their hollerin’ until he greeted them first.

I kind of expected Cram’s doc to simply let the album roll alongside images from the day — though the concert wasn’t filmed, San Francisco–raised rock photographer Jim Marshall took reams of still photos — but it reaches way beyond the music. Cram, whose filmmaking credits include episodes of Frontline and other politically themed works, emphasizes the record’s importance to Cash’s career, drawing on interviews with Merle Haggard, Cash bandmates, and others, and focuses in particular on how it bolstered his regular-man image as a prison-reform advocate, although the performer himself had never spent significant time behind bars.

Of particular interest is Cram’s investigation into the life of Glen Sherley, an aspiring musician who was jailed at Folsom when Cash came to play. The night before the show, unbeknownst to the inmate, Cash crash-coursed Sherley’s song "Greystone Chapel." He then performed it live as a stunned and flattered Sherley watched from the front row. The two men, who looked and sounded alike, formed a bond that led to Cash guiding Sherley’s music career after his release. But as Sherley’s children recollect, it’s one thing to be a famous, if bedeviled, star singing about prison, and another entirely to be an ex-con trying to grapple with the music biz.

Also among this year’s Noise Pop Film Festival offerings: a Wilco concert doc; a look at the career of Andre "Mr. Rhythm" Williams; a short film about Bible-flinging ’80s rockers Stryper; a tribute to indie record stores; and a "cinebiography" of Os Mutantes’ Arnaldo Baptista.


Feb. 25, 7 p.m., $9–$10 (Noise Pop Film Festival continues through March 1 at Roxie Theater and Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia, SF)

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF


Sing, memory


How to push misty, watercolored memories of home and a past forged on the other side of the globe through the filter of today and still hold onto the mirror shards of identity? There’s a bittersweet irony to the idea that now, with the release of Sholi’s evocative, impressively detailed self-titled album on Quarterstick, the Davis-born Bay Area band might be forever known in some parts of the Iranian American community for its take on Iranian pop icon Googoosh’s "Hejrat (Migration)," a song of mourning to a departed lover.

"We kind of reinterpreted the song and framed it as being about the Iranians who left Iran and that whole migration," vocalist-guitarist Payam Bavafa. He grew up listening to Persian music with family at home and to Western sounds among friends. "When some of my relatives heard it, they said, ‘Omigod, when I heard this I started crying. This is the song of our migration.’ I was like, "Really? That’s how you think about it, too?"

The quickie recording — tracked to tape by Greg Ashley in his home, made in response to the anti-Iranian rhetoric of November 2007, and eventually included on a Believer comp — stands in contrast to the careful, lengthy process Bavafa, drummer Jonathon Bafus, and bassist-vocalist Eric Ruud undertook in creating their first full-length. The graceful, ever-growing, and seamless-seeming full-length was assembled in part at Eli Crews’ New and Improved Studios in Oakland and in part at various members’ homes, with the help of co-producer Greg Saunier, who began his contributions to Sholi in 2006 via e-mail while on tour with Deerhoof. Much like "Hejrat," the album revolves around memory and the way we construct it, a focus of Bavafa’s work as an engineer in a neuroscience lab.

Songs like "Spy in the House of Memories" embody the disc’s overall "spirit of fragmented recordings and recycled ideas," as Bavafa puts it, though others such as "November Through June" play with the "idea of wanting to be where you’re not currently. This idea of wanting to be somewhere else or someone else — and essentially everything is right in front of you."

All of which sounds like no small amount of the immigrant experience of Bavafa’s parents is making its way into the music of Sholi, a moniker taken from the vocalist’s childhood nickname. Elements of an exiled culture also pop up in the puckishly po-mo "Hejrat" cover art, which depicts Bavafa’s parents watching a hulking, fireplace-like TV appearing to air a YouTube video of Googoosh. "Our parents look at Iranian TV and radio — they have their own portal," muses Bavafa, "and I have mine."


With the Dead Trees, Everest, and Jake Mann

Feb. 28, 9 p.m., $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Take off


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

With more than two dozen headliners mashing and hanging together, The Spirit of Apollo (Anti-) promises pop ecstasy of the heavenly, spatial variety. DJ Zegon and Squeak E. Clean, the two wheelers and dealers behind the project, aspire toward a greater good, namely, bringing together people of disparate musical and geographical backgrounds — hence the name North America–South America (N.A.S.A.).

The Spirit of Apollo arrives a decade after Prince Paul’s double whammy of all-star concept albums, A Prince among Thieves and his collaboration with Dan "the Automator" Nakamura, Handsome Boy Modeling School’s So, How’s Your Girl? (both Tommy Boy). At the time, A Prince among Thieves — praised in a memorable Guardian essay by Oliver Wang titled "A Great Day in Hip-Hop" — towered as a complex opera of friends turned enemies, a Greek tragedy performed in the urban street.

N.A.S.A. seems inspired by that earlier era of overstuffed musical junkanoos. But they don’t get too deep. After all, the global village should be fun, right? So instead of dense narratives on international privatization, outsourcing, and proxy wars, Zegon and Squeak produce party fodder such as "Samba Soul," with Del the Funky Homosapien and DJ Q-Bert, and "There’s a Party," with George Clinton and Chali 2na. The songs emphasize good, clean fun. A few of the rappers — notably Method Man on "N.A.S.A. Music" — sneak in f-bombs, but most are on their best behavior. Even Amanda Blank, notorious in club circles for waxing lyrical about poontang and peckers, keeps it PG on "A Volta."

The Spirit of Apollo appears safe for urban bourgeoisie with small children, but will anyone else find it listenable? Squeak built his name producing albums for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — he’s a producer of the engineering-and-microphone-placement variety, not a beatmaker à la Kanye West. Zegon’s musical career in Brazil is less known. As a result, the music doesn’t really boom and bump, instead opting for peppy skitters of funky hip-hop.

The duo soars, however, by launching incongruously great combinations. As two artists devoted to grotesqueries of the criminal and pornographic kind, Tom Waits and Kool Keith make a perfect match, even if the Gorillaz-like lurch of their "Spacious Thoughts" is hardly provocative. And the hipster dream pairing of West, Lykke Li, and Santogold over the Madonna-lite electro-pop of "Gifted" makes for a shining pop moment.

It’s that all-celebrities-are-friends-with-one-another myth that makes The Spirit of Apollo an intriguing dinner party — or, more accurately, a VIP-clogged backstage at Coachella or South by Southwest. Naturally, West and company talk about how cool they are and the burdens of fame. But with an hour-and-20-minute runtime, The Spirit of Apollo talks your ear off. It’s as if you got to the party early, got stuck cleaning up afterward, and at the end could only conclude, "Damn, that was a long-ass album."


With Flosstradamus, Wallpaper, and DJ Morale

Feb. 28, 9 p.m., $18 advance


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880


Another blue world


"Cinematic" is one the most overused adjectives in the music reviewer’s lexicon, practically guaranteed to appear at the first sign of a Morricone-like expanse of sound. And yet, how else to describe The Blue Depths (Jagjaguwar), the lush new album by Odawas steeped in the stormy synth scores of Vangelis (Blade Runner) and Joe Serra (The Big Blue)?

Meeting the duo for a beer in Berkeley, where they’ve recently relocated from Chicago, the talk was as likely to turn on a scene from Neil Jordan’s film Mona Lisa (1986) as the baroque night flights of Scott Walker. "There was actually a [keyboard] setting I used on the demos called ‘Movie Soundtrack,’" vocalist Michael Tapscott confesses, though his partner Isaac Edwards’ glacial arrangements plunge deeper than any prefab setting. "I’m not an engineer or programmer by any stretch of the imagination," Edwards tells me, "but that’s exactly what I was doing on this album. A lot of it was me doing things you’re not supposed to do with the synthesizer."

The duo’s first two records indulged concept album excess, but for The Blue Depths they made a conscious effort to have each of the songs stand on its own before embedding it into the swirling synth architecture that Edwards repeatedly describes as a "world." It worked: the hooks of "Harmless Lover’s Discourse" and "Swan Song for the Humpback Angler" lodge in your brain for days, but the actual listening experience is submerged in the narrative of the arrangements — the way a Neil Young–ish harmonica rises from the mists of "Moonlight/Twilight," for instance, or how a processed guitar lead punctures the drifting "Secrets of the Fall."

Tapscott and Edwards first met at Indiana University, bonding, appropriately enough, over film reviews: Tapscott was an editor of the school paper and took a shine to Edwards’ taste in movies. Neither had experience in other bands before Odawas, perhaps providing some of the innocence required to skip straight to crafting epic recordings.

The desire to set out over unknown terrain underlies the duo’s name, which has autobiographical resonance for Tapscott. "When I was little, my family would spend summers up in northern Michigan, and off in the distance of the lake there was an island named Beaver Island," he explains. "We’d take our little blow-up raft out, but it was 20 miles away, and we were never going to get there. And that’s where the Odawa [tribe] lives, on Beaver Island…. It’s a nod to the distortion of childhood memory."

When I talked to M83’s Anthony Gonzalez last spring about his John Hughes–inspired album Saturdays=Youth (Mute, 2008), he drew similar parallels between daydream memories and imaginary soundtracks. Who knows what dizzying heights Odawas might reach in their new home by the Bay, where movie love is nothing but a case of Vertigo.


With Port O’Brien and Dame Satan

Fri/27, 9 p.m., $13

Café Du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


The Tao of Thao


› kimberly@sfbg.com

Coping with the backhanded compliments are just one pre-occupational hazard for musicians as they take stumbling baby steps toward the mighty kingdom of mad skills — and Thao Nguyen, she of Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, is no exception.

"I used to sing even more off-key, if you can believe it," says the 24-year-old matter-of-factly. She’s hunkered down behind a cup of green tea, knuckle-length sweater sleeves shielding her fingers from the chill wafting in the door of a Haight District café. When Nguyen first slung on a guitar and began to find her voice as a Lilith Fair–inspired teen, one of her uncles would respond to her performances by offering her a plate of food. "Which is terrible to do to a kid," Nguyen recalls with amusement. "He’d say, ‘Here, you’re moaning as if you’re very hungry. I brought you food so you would stop.’ Which is funny but also terribly demoralizing when you’re 15!"

"So all that to illustrate that I’ve never considered myself a vocalist," Nguyen continues, not feeling sorry for herself in the slightest. "I started singing because I started writing." The sensuous, alto rasp of Lucinda Williams and Nina Simone are her vocal models today. "But yeah, I’d never call myself a singer. A taxpayer, tax evader, maybe," she jokes, "but…"

Taxes are at the forefront of the songwriter’s noggin: she’s just back from Portland, Ore., where she and the Get Down Stay Down–ers Willis Thompson and Adam Thompson recorded the unvarnished beginnings of her followup to her 2008 Kill Rock Stars debut, We Brave Bee Stings and All, with that recording’s producer Tucker Martine (the Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens). Now she’s content to settle briefly into a Haight sublet, though amusing yarns about her tour adventures, sprinkled with charmingly self-effacing, witty asides, spill from the songwriter. With her hair spraying in spikes from a rough bun atop her head and a slender build beneath thin layers of knits, Nguyen is the poetic pal you’d happily rope into a larky day trip, an impromptu art project, or simply a mug of tea: smart (she successfully graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies in 2006, despite following her performing muse throughout with fellow student Willis), slightly distracted, and surprisingly grounded (women’s advocacy work is a passion; she’s worked at domestic violence shelters and yearns to volunteer at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls; and then there’s those taxes).

Bee Stings reflects its maker in its sprawling, multi-hued, shambling assemblage of tunes. Loose, lovable, and surprisingly hook-laden, this album sets Nguyen and her hungry-ghost wail in an inviting landscape resplendent with frisky banjo and jittery rhythms, rubbery moments of spare twang, slouching blues guitar, and a lazy horn section plucked from the swampy South. She describes her little-distributed first album, Like Linen (Trust Me Incorporation, 2005), as folkier — with Bee Stings one can imagine an attempt to capture the mercury glimmers of Nguyen’s very essence.

"I’ve always had a very low attention span, and playing music is the only thing that has ever … adhered," says the vocalist, who grew up helping out at her mother’s Laundromat in Falls Church, Va. When she returns, she still helps fold other people’s clothes. "The one gratifying thing about tour is that it serves short-term memory. As far as anything you experience — whether you like it or not — it’s done in an hour, and you can either aim for that experience again or avoid it. So it’s an interesting way to spend your time, like a fruit fly."

And fly she has, by playing music and penning eloquent, intelligent lines like "You are mine / So I never would mind / I work my arms so hard / Just to give you an airplane ride" from "Feet Asleep," a song written from the perspective of Nguyen’s hard-working, self-sacrificing mother. That tune, as well as the feisty, thrumming "Swimming Pools" and the CD’s very title, Bee Stings, testifies to the strong women who raised Nguyen, in addition to her own quirky travels and travails.

Bee Stings has literal and figurative roots: stemming from an incident in which Nguyen jostled a bee hive, felt a bee crawl up her shorts, ran into a house, pulled down her pants, and was, as she puts it, "stung in the ass" for her trouble. Likewise, she adds, her mother, grandmother, and aunts have taken the stings and pricks of life on a daily basis. "I’ve seen them absorb so much," the songwriter says. "They’re all incredibly resilient women, and it’s a tribute to them and to just being a woman in the world, which is sometimes incredibly difficult and very specific and idiosyncratic." Nguyen sounds like just the woman to encapsulate that.


With David Dondero, Sean Smith, and Colossal Yes

Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m., $14

Swedish American Hall

2174 Market, SF


Noise Pop puzzle


What is this magical mystery band, Clues, that is headlining Noise Pop? One track wafting through the meshes of the Internets gives off the brainteasing fragrance of rickety rock ‘n’ roll and weird old Canadian electronics. Otherwise all one can tell is that they hail from Montreal and include former members of the Unicorns and Arcade Fire.

I got a clue or two from sweet-tempered ex-Unicorner Alden Penner, 26, on the horn from up north. Unlike the Unicorns, Clues is slowly unfolding, upon much reflection, after he and ex-AF member Brendan Reed decided to form a combo in 2003. They put out a split 7-inch two years later. "The intention of having a band together has been basically not to try to force anything," Penner said. "I think making a band work is something that requires time and it’s something you want to be gentle with." Now they’re working at Hotel2Tango on an LP that will "soon be bequeathed on the world" thanks to Constellation Records. Clues’ Noise Pop show will be their first in the Bay Area — live performance is another mystery they’re grappling with. "It’s got a lot of rough edges to it," he said, "and I think that has to do with who we are as a band as much as it has to do with the fact that our percussion involves saw blades and rusty metal."

Feb. 28, 9 p.m., $12–$14. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com

Days of being wild


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER A much-floggied, foggy notion worth repeating: if the natural creative energy coming off John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees could be harnessed, we’d all be muttering, "What global warming? When’s the next Oh Sees show? Mama needs to warm her digits with some superheated, Grade-A crudo rock ‘n’ roll."

Yep, dude has been in a grillion bands including the Coachwhips, Pink and Brown, OCS, the Hospitals, and now Thee Oh Sees and the Drums. His artwork pops up in the legit exhibits like last year’s "Bay Area Now" installment at Queen’s Nails, and hell, he’s even talking about writing a feature film centered on his folk-garage-noise amalgamation Thee Oh Sees. Entire scenes are forged from this kind of go-go gumption — and yessiree an argument could be made that the San Francisco underground music and art whirls would be the sadder, sorrier, and definitely less shit-stirring if Dwyer never moved here a decade ago. If Noise Pop aims to home in on independent culture, it need look no further than this man, who I checked in with as he prepped the perfect chilly-weather meal, chili, on the brink of his Noise Pop shows.

Sick or sad? Taking the temperature of the San Francisco music scene

"I think there’s a lot of great stuff from veterans — also new young shit, the second wave from when I’ve been here. I think there will always be something rad under the covers.

"I think there’s a lot of generator shows under freeways, people playing every night. For younger people it’s same thing I had when I moved here: those house parties where people get wasted and all the bands are playing."

The way to the next great house party

"I don’t find myself at house parties every week anymore. I’m not as apt to dig in as hard as I did in the past. I did get older. Sometimes you find, ‘Shit, I’m 32. I don’t want to be here. I gotta go home.’ It’s cool, though."

Thee way of the Drums

"The Drums is mostly Anthony Petrovic [Ezee Tiger, the Hospitals] and me sharing a drum kit and playing unison drums, prep-rally style with vocals. It’s exhausting." I wonder, do you two have much experience with prep rallies? "Anthony was a cheerleader. I’m totally serious."

Thee Oh Sees SOS

"There’s a new album coming out on In the Red called Help. We just finished it with the same guys and same production: Chris Woodhouse in the Mayyors. We recorded in a hangar in Sacramento where Tape Op is made. I think it has a similar value as the last one except we recorded on two-inch tape rather than half-inch so the sound is lush." Is it Beatles-inspired? "I listen to the Beatles all the time. I guess it might be a Beatles tribute — why not? Except it doesn’t have an exclamation point and we haven’t worked on a film yet."

The way of Castleface

"I love vinyl, and it’s nice to put out people’s first record, too. And it’s an honor to put out records by people who are making good shit."


Feb. 26, 9 p.m., $12

Café Du Nord

2170 Market, SF



March 1, 8 p.m., $20


444 Jessie, SF


Golden eye


AWARDS SHOW I’m actually pretty jazzed for the 2009 Oscars: there are some exciting nominees, and the broadcast is guaranteed to be less dull with Hugh Jackman (the first-ever adamantium-enhanced host!) guiding the proceedings. But before Feb. 22’s awkward montage of dead Academy members (farewell, Paul Newman!), stiffly scripted banter ‘twixt presenters, and inevitable fashion faux pas, it’s important to pick your favorite and least favorite nominees. You gotta know whom to cheer (and jeer) once you have a bottle (or two) of champagne in your system. My opinions on the big races below.

Best Picture I hated The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Mediocre The Reader is taking up what should have been The Dark Knight‘s nomination. Frost/Nixon was great, but mostly for Frank Langella’s performance. To the likely winner: Slumdog Millionaire, I’m just not that into you. If there is any justice, it’ll be a Milk victory — or a write-in campaign will give The Wrestler its due.

Best Director All who helmed Best Pic nominees are represented here (sorry, Darren Aronofsky). Normally I love David Fincher, but Benjamin Button has soured my good thoughts of 1995’s Seven, 1999’s Fight Club, and 2007’s Zodiac (which was an awesome, unfairly overlooked movie). Danny Boyle will probably take it for the crowd-pleasing Slumdog, but I gotta go with Milk‘s Gus Van Sant. You’re the man now, Gus!

Best Actor Richard Jenkins had quite a 2008. I know he’s tipped here for The Visitor, but he was also aces in Burn After Reading and, uh, Step Brothers. He won’t win, though, and neither will Langella for his trickiest of Dick Nixons. For me, it’s a two-man race: Sean Penn for Milk and Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler. Very different performances, but both worthy of Oscars. I have no idea what Brad Pitt is doing here, but the teaser trailer for Inglourious Basterds has made me almost forgive him for aging in reverse.

Best Actress I didn’t really dig The Reader, but goddamn it! They gotta give this to Kate Winslet (who should’ve been nominated for Revolutionary Road instead). Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie already have Oscars, and Anne Hathaway just starred in Bride Wars. The fantastic Melissa Leo wins just by being nominated — unless she pulls off one of those crazy, Adrien Brody-style upsets that Oscar kicks down once in awhile.

San Francisco Ballet’s “Swan Lake”


PREVIEW Maybe it was not the best move politically for San Francisco Ballet to schedule a new, no doubt very expensive version of Swan Lake just now. But a lot — besides the pragmatic "you have to spend money to make money" — can be said for Helgi Tomasson revisiting the world’s most popular ballet. In European-derived dance, Swan Lake is the great classical achievement. Theater has Hamlet; the opera has The Marriage of Figaro; and ballet has Swan Lake.

When Tomasson joined SFB in 1985, the company had a 50-year history of presenting contemporary ballets — and had performed Willam Christensen’s Swan Lake in 1940 and Balanchine’s one-act version in 1953. But the emphasis throughout SFB’s history had been on new work, an approach that had taken them a long way. Still, Tomasson knew that the dancers of a great ballet company need the classical idiom. It creates and refines technique and roots the dancers in a living tradition. So in 1988 he choreographed Swan Lake even though he was a relative neophyte as a choreographer.

It was a risk — and a smash popular success, and by now, its sets and costumes have more than amortized. Twenty years later audiences and dancers deserve the rethinking by a much more mature artist who in the interim has created a truly great company. Tomasson is no revolutionary: choreographically this Swan Lake will respect the tradition. However, there will be a first: designer Jonathan Fenson has worked in the West End of London and on Broadway. He has seen little ballet and has never designed one.

SAN FRANCISCO BALLET’S SWAN LAKE Sat/21, Tues/24, Feb. 26–28, 8 p.m.; Sun/22, Feb. 28 and March 1, 2 p.m.; Feb. 25, 7:30 p.m.; $45–$255. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness, SF. (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org



PREVIEW K’naan opens his sophomore album, Troubadour (A&M/Octone), with a true urban legend: it’s tougher in Africa than anywhere else. "Here the city code is lock and load /Any minute, it’s rock ‘n’ roll," he raps in an ode to his native "Somalia."

Having established his ghetto bona fides, the Canadian immigrant embarks on a conscious party, playing with U.S. hard rock ("If Rap Gets Jealous" with Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett), radio-friendly pop ("Bang Bang" with Maroon 5 vocalist Adam Levine), and Jamaican ragga ("I Come Prepared" with Damien Marley). Effortlessly sliding from twisty rap lyrics to midrange vocal tones, K’naan’s resolute optimism comes from having survived incredible poverty and hardship. "I’ll probably get a Grammy without a grammar education," he adds on "Somalia," "so fuck you schooling, fuck you immigration!"

K’naan appears with Stephen and Julian Marley and Lee "Scratch" Perry at the Ragga Muffins Festival this week.

RAGGA MUFFINS FESTIVAL With K’naan, Stephen Marley, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Julian Marley, and Rootz Underground. Fri/20, 7 p.m., $37.50. Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph, Oakl. (415) 421-TIXS, www.thefoxoakland.com

Foot Village


PREVIEW As if it were a sovereign nation of drum-toting, megaphone-wielding musical savages, Foot Village bears its own two-pronged manifesto, stating "Our national language is drumming, our national pass-time is screaming." This declaration aptly sums up the Los Angeles group’s polyrhythmic sonic attack, which is studded with explosions of feral hoots and hollers, and three drum sets’ worth of cataclysmic crashing, hissing, and banging.

The band’s witch-doctor blend of hardcore punk and noise rock is at its best on "Bones": visions of bloodthirsty, amphetamine-fueled jungle warriors out to collect heads come to mind via Grace Lee’s wild yawps over the rest of the Village’s battle cries and death-drum rolls. Foot Village’s forthcoming album of "drum essays," titled Anti-Magic (Upset the Rhythm) and out June 2009, will be the young collective’s blueprint for its war upon the ethereal as its avows to "embrace the physical and the physical alone." Considering the group’s aggressively carnal approach to music, god help anyone who gets in its way. The ensemble will perform with the Drums — a new project with John Dwyer, ex of the Coachwhips and currently of Thee Oh Sees — at Bottom of the Hill, making it a blitzkrieg of eardrum assault with no electric guitars or bass in sight. This isn’t the usual clamor we San Franciscans are fed, but the citizens of Foot Village are clearly ready to shovel their bristling wall of sound down our hungry throats.

FOOT VILLAGE With the Drums, T.I.T.S., and Casy and Brian. Wed/18, 9 p.m., $8. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-4455, www.bottomofthehill.com

Family, business, and sexuality


REVIEW Brilliante Mendoza’s Serbis reminded me of a Robert Altman film. The story centers on the Pineda family, who operate a run-down movie house playing porn features in the provincial Philippines. The film weaves in and out amid the many relatives living together while showing a glimpse of the activity within the theater itself (the sex trade in action). It feels as though we are simply tagging along like a friend visiting for the day, a feeling heightened by extensive handheld camera use. The family is not one without problems: the matriarch must deal with a divorce trial, a younger son impregnates his girlfriend, and a daughter bears the burden of running the theater from day to day. Meanwhile, the in-house sex work is so lively that the prostitutes appear to prosper far more than the struggling Pinedas. The latest from acclaimed director Mendoza (2007’s Slingshot and Foster Child), Serbis offers an overall interesting look at the dynamics of family, business, and sexuality. 

SERBIS opens Fri/20 in Bay Area theaters.

“Every Sound You Can Imagine”


REVIEW Art is in the air at City Hall, thanks to Bill Fontana’s "Spiraling Echoes" installation. In contrast, an ambitious exhibition at New Langton Arts explores the visual properties of musical pieces. Curated by Artforum contributor Christoph Cox, "Every Sound You Can Imagine" is rife with inkjet or offset prints of compositions — Morton Subotnick’s smudgy pencil jottings are an exception. A hefty percentage of works avoid standard notation to create sight-based sonic suggestions. To glean from just one small segment or wall, devoted to late-1990s works: Ryoji Ikeda’s Variations for Modulated 440hz Sinewaves is wonderfully nauseating in its op art effect, the score for Signal’s Lines conjures clouds in the sky, and William Basinski’s Shortwavemusic suggests the jagged lines of a seismograph or Richter scale.

These works are strictly black-and-white, but Cox’s survey contains many small rainbows of playful pencil and Magic Marker musicality. Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Cosmic Pulses isn’t alone in its crayon radiance — Jim Hodge’s Sea of Love, Leon Kirschner’s Study for "String Quartet No. 3," Allan Bryant’s Pitch Out, Yasuo Tone’s Ten Haikus of Basho, and John Cage’s Aria (which likens jazz to dark blue and Marlene Dietrich to the color purple) all deploy the color chart as musical chart. Barry Guy’s Witch Gong Game includes felt-tip images of mandalas, pointed stars, graphic diagrams, and moon slivers, while Rainer Wehringer’s responds to Györgi Ligeti’s Artikulation by creating black and brown combs or hair clippers. Kinetic geometric designs — the circles of Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise, the bird flock of check marks that is Cage’s Study for Piano and Orchestra — aren’t far from the graphic potency found in Jonny Trunk’s handsome 2005 monograph of LP covers The Music Library.

Splicing songbooks to fuse Mendelsohn to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the collage aesthetic of Hodges’ A Line Drawn in the Dark is, along with a piece by Steve Roden, one of the more inventive works here. The late Bruce Conner’s Untitled (music) has an effect similar to Will Yackulic’s recent experiments in drawing with a typewriter, while his contemporary, Wallace Berman, mines language and numeric systems. Downstairs, Christian Marclay’s video, Screenplay, sets many of these free-thinking compositional concepts into motion.

EVERY SOUND YOU CAN IMAGINE Through March 28. Tues.–Sat., noon–6 p.m. New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom, SF. (415) 626-5416, www.newlangtonarts.org

Punk pop riddle


Like many other newb admirers, I never knew about Zero Boys during their brief existence from 1979 to ’83. But then I got a copy of their thrice-reissued debut, Vicious Circle (now Secretly Canadian) in my hot little mitts — love that punk pop primitivism. During its short life the Indianapolis group never played the Bay Area: its 1982 SF storefront show was unceremoniously canceled. The Zero Boys broke up soon afterward, with bassist Tufty joining Toxic Reasons and relocating to the Bay, but the outfit has reunited with each reissue of Circle — a recording that’s found quite a rep for itself as a lesser-known hardcore gem.

Now, with the reemergence of Circle and History Of, a collection of unreleased recordings, a promoter fan is flying them out to play. "There’s been very little effort to revive the band on this end," said vocalist Paul Mahern, 45, from Bloomington, Ind. "It’s all fan-driven." The appeal of this record — which Mahern made at 17? "There’s a snotty kids thing, but there’s also this real musicianship. Also we were among the first wave of American hardcore that was also pop punk," he said. "Scratch the surface below Green Day, and you get the Zero Boys."

Fri/20–Sat/21, 7 p.m., $10. 924 Gilman, Berk. www.924gilman.org

Speed reading



By Eric G. Wilson

Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

166 pages


Contemporary perkiness has an enemy and timeless melancholia has a defender in Eric G. Wilson, whose Against Happiness is a largely poetic and occasionally prosaic screed. Wilson is quite clear that he doesn’t want to romanticize clinical depression — if anything, his characterization of those who might genuinely need prescribed pharmaceuticals as "lost souls" oversimplifies in the other direction. His book isn’t an expansive survey so much as a personal rumination. That said, it wastes no time identifying and successfully critiquing the Protestant Pilgrim (via William Bradford) and capitalist (via Benjamin Franklin) roots of the inhumane and all-American smiley face. For Wilson, such perkiness reveals definite undertones of necrophilia.

Wilson has a flair for the alliterative binary opposition. He pithily notes the contemporary tendency to confuse pixels with people, observing that "We carry with us the world wherever we go; we don’t need to go anywhere." Though he doesn’t present the argument in a flagrant manner, it isn’t hard for a reader to infer that this sort of passive colonizing of experience characterized George W. Bush–era brainwashing. Against Happiness might have been more provocative if Wilson charted or demonstrated the political aspects and post-human fallout of American contentment at greater length, and spent less time celebrating the already well-established dolor of William Blake and John Keats, or pop culture corollaries such as Joni Mitchell in her Blue period and Bruce Springsteen in Nebraska. But this is his book, not mine, and for the most part it is zestful in its love of sadness.


By Jacky Bowring

Oldcastle Books

240 pages


Early in A Field Guide to Melancholy, author Jacky Bowring makes the first of a few references to Robert Burton’s 1621 tome The Anatomy of Melancholy, stating that "rather than achieving any kind of precision," the 783 pages of its first edition only "served to further emphasize the complexity of melancholy." As it’s title makes clear, Bowring’s carefully structured book is more modest in aim and more sympathetic to its subject — it aims to "extol the benefits of the pursuit of sadness, and question the obsession with happiness in contemporary society."

In doing so, Bowring avoids the biliousness that dates back to ninth-century characterizations of melancholy, instead favoring a gentle instructive tone that, while academic in basis, is never sterile. Her field guide is a particular one, by no means definitive — in the realm of contemporary music, for example, she calls upon the Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, and especially Nick Cave as exemplars and never mentions a perhaps more famous Pope of Mope. In the realm of cinema, she foregrounds Ingmar Bergman, but still has time for less obvious and perhaps more compelling figures such as Tacita Dean. Though he enters and exits the text seemingly at whim, in some ways the most resplendent melancholic species is the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran, who might very well be the true Oscar Wilde of misery thanks to a Bible-size collection of primary aphorisms. Bowring’s book is a worthy introduction to Cioran, and that is but one of its merits.

Bullet time



Director Stacy Peralta saw his 2001 doc Dogtown and Z-Boys turned into the 2005 narrative Lords of Dogtown. Will the same fate greet Crips and Bloods: Made in America? This gripping film does much to contextualize the origins of Los Angeles gangs within the city’s African American history, and Peralta makes good use of archival footage and photographs to tell the story.

At times, though, the 105-minute Crips and Bloods seems overwhelmed by the sheer amount of background material, which could fill a Ken Burns-style miniseries. Peralta couldn’t leave out the Watts riots, or the Rodney King riots, or the Black Panthers, or racial profiling, or the origins of south L.A.’s housing projects, or the economic history of black workers, or any number of topics that nudge the conversation toward the city’s gangster groups.

When Crips and Bloods finally gets there, it states the obvious: gangs are destructive. They also agree that for many kids, gangs offer the protection and sense of family their lives are otherwise lacking. Obviously this isn’t the kind of movie that’s gonna glorify gangs, though I wish there’d been more discussion about how pop culture romanticizes gang membership (see: 1991’s Boyz n the Hood, N.W.A., etc.), making it attractive to suburban kids and curious filmmakers alike.

CRIPS AND BLOODS: MADE IN AMERICA opens Fri/20 at the Roxie. See Rep Clock.

Lost Angeles


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Like some unholy combination of The Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and The Day of the Locust (1975), The Savage Eye (1959) is a kino-essay on American desolation penned by three directors (Joseph Strick, Sidney Meyers, and blacklisted Ben Maddow) and as many cinematographers (Jack Couffer, Helen Levitt, and a young Haskell Wexler). The 65-minute feature’s thin fictional frame story of a spurred Los Angeles woman, Judith X, is no story at all, but rather a vehicle for disembodied anomie. The film is every bit the modernist plaything, complete with a dual voice-over narration, weekend-long time-span, digressive cinematography, spindly Leonard Rosenman score and mechanized portraiture of the metropolis. If The Savage Eye works as a reclamation of the homegrown surrealism borne of street photography and pulp fiction, it’s also no surprise that codirector Strick later filmed adaptations of both Ulysses (1967) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977).

Pinning the nadir of western culture to female consumption is all too typical of the era’s would-be beats, but a sequence like the one in which the male voice-over (pompously listed as "The Poet" in the end credits) asks Judith to read other women’s trivial thoughts is disturbingly cruel. The Savage Eye is diametrically opposed to melodrama, allergic to pathos. It’s difficult to imagine how incendiary it must have seemed in 1960, when Hollywood was just beginning to awake from its long Hays Code slumber. One emblematic shot closely frames a dowdy coupling: he plies her with drinks as she evaluates the bargain being struck out of the corner of her eye. There is an admirable directness to self-contained scenes like this one. With studio noirs, a desultory atmosphere is conveyed peripherally, in a lick of the lips or sweat on the brow; The Savage Eye takes seediness as its subject, like a Weegee book come to life.

The stage may be vulgar, but the players are deathly banal. Judith fantasizes about her ex’s lover’s violent end as she retrieves the mail, a picture of everyday malice worthy of James M. Cain. And yet, no matter how savage this eye means to be, there is a creeping melancholy tugging at the handheld shots of haunted diner cars and half-lit neon. San Francisco Cinematheque screens this dream of a lost city in a fresh restoration print alongside Strick’s earlier document of Los Angeles playing itself, Muscle Beach (1948).


Wed/18, 7:30 p.m., $6–$10

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF


Solo album


› le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS John Campbell’s Irish Bakery is famous for its scones and pasties. My friend the Maze is famous for grinding his way through medical school and then choosing to work in publishing — freelance, at that. A feat of audacious and lively present-tensitivity for which he will forever be cemented into my heart, no matter how many crumbs he leaves in my car.

We have this sweet new routine where he runs across town to USF, where I play soccer Sunday mornings, and that way we can both be smelly and sweaty when we go out for breakfast. The camaraderie is killing me. But what are you going to do? If it wasn’t that, it would be the bacon.

Which reminds me: I’ve been challenged by my current favorite online suitor to write a song about bacon. And I use the word challenge loosely. This guy has no idea! By the way, I am famous online, completely separate from my in-print and on-stage famousnesses, for being one hot bacon-obsessed chick.

Datingwise, I have an unfair advantage over my g-g-girlfriends, and it isn’t that I stutter. Having been on both sides of the surface of the pond, I know exactly what bait to use. Bacon. The advantage is short-lived, however. I get all the bites in the world, but can’t keep anything on account of tiny tits.

I keep three very very separate mailboxes in my e-mail program: one for friends, one for Cheap Eats, and one for online dating. When that so-called "bacon explosion" rocked the Internet a couple weeks ago, all three mailboxes filled up simultaneously with links, invitations to barbecues, and pictures of the divine rolled-up weave of sausage-stuffed bacon, which, I admit, was one of the sexiest things I ever saw.

Me? Write a song about bacon? That’s like asking a kitten to be cute. As anyone lucky enough to have heard Sister Exister’s obscure first album, Scratch (available at cdbaby.com, ahem), knows, my songwriting has been, shall we say . . . a wee bit chickencentric, with occasional brave forays into eggs, and butter.

Predictably, my second solo album, about one-third written, is all about heart disease. But not the kind that comes from high-fat diets, no, the kind that comes from online dating.

Whateverwise, as much as I would love to bring all three of my bacony famousnesses together by writing a date-commissioned bacon song right here in Cheap Eats … well, to be honest I would but, incredibly, I’m drawing a blank.

So by way of stalling for rhymes, John Campbell’s Irish Bakery is famous for its scones and pasties, and me and the Maze stocked up on both. We got three scones ($1.50 apiece), a sausage roll ($3), and a beef pasty ($5).

They have glass cases just filled with piles and piles of these delicious looking things, and other things, like bread, sweet tarts … They have soup, breakfast sandwiches.

What they don’t have is anywhere to sit, except for the bar next door, the Blarney Stone, which is a great bar, so you know, with soccer on TV and all, but we were both running low on dollars and didn’t feel like feeling like we had to drink, so we took our greasy brown bags of goodness around the corner to my car. My new car. My beautiful new car. My clean and beautiful new car.

And I put on the classical music station and we ate and talked and passed the pasty and talked and laughed and just generally steamed up the windows. Everything was great! Actually, I didn’t think the scones were anything special.

They are "traditional" scones, and, I know I know, we’re people. We tend to dwell on the past, to go on living in it. Ergo: traditional = special. But I personally can’t afford to think that way or I will dry up and blow away. To me they were scones, and great, and the pasty, by virtue of being something new, was special: ground beef in gravy with carrots, onions, and potatoes all wrapped up in this sopping greasy flaky crumbly pastry dough.

Which I am still picking out of my seats.

And the camaraderie is killing me. But what are you going to do? I live in a world that defines itself, and its parts and people, historically. It’s a song. About bacon. And it’s over now, so stop dancing already and wish me weight.


Daily: 7 a.m.–8 p.m.

5625 Geary, SF

(415) 387-1536

Full Bar next door

Cash only

L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.

Three-way the free way


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea: My boyfriend and I have talked about doing a threesome with another woman — I’m actually the one who really wants to, but he does too. Since we can’t think of anyone we know who would work, we are thinking of placing a classified ad online. I’ve never done anything like this before, and was just wondering if you have any advice, like how to make it go smoothly and not be weird. Also, do you really think dental dams are necessary to make sure we don’t get diseases from her? I am excited but also a bit nervous.


Three’s Company

Dear Three:

How … refreshing? The threesome idea usually seems to originate with the guy and have a whole lot to do with his "two chicks" fantasies and very little to do with the chicks in question, so they end up putting on a half-hearted show based on porn scenes they’ve watched, often also half-heartedly. Way to have some half-hearted sex, and often a big fight afterwards, especially if the guy manages to enjoy himself too much despite all the half-heartedness. Of course there’ll be an even bigger fight if you enjoy yourself too much and he doesn’t, which has been known to happen, so you might want to talk this through together a whole bunch before you do anything.

We would now be moving on to the safer sex part, but I’m a bit distracted by my lack of faith in your — or anyone’s — chances of finding an appealing, willing girl online you won’t have to pay. It’s a seller’s market out there,and hot girls who want to have a threesome are rarely reduced to combing Craig’s List for takers. All they really have to do is get into the habit of making goofy jokes about threesomes every time they hang out with their more attractive partnered friends, especially when there’s drinking involved. Things happen. In fact, most group sex that actually happens just happens. The "exhaustive plans were made" kind does exist, of course, but more often there’s some drinking and goofing around and some dancing and maybe a game of Truth or Dare or something stupid like that, and … things happen.

So. Are you absolutely sure you don’t know someone? Group sex is not only more likely to happen among friends than with strangers secured for the purpose, it’s also more likely to be both safe and — let’s not forget this part — fun. If there’s no chance, like because all your friends went to church camp with you and you’re positive you’re the only ones who’ve acquired new interests since then, how about making new friends? Join an erotic writing circle or go to readings or take some classes at the local nice dildo store. Go to the edgiest nightclub in your area for Fetish Night. Most of the people you are likely meet at these things will either be deadly dull or extremely yucky, but not all! I used to go to stuff like that, and I met some nutty folks but made some … friends too. Remember the old song: "Make new friends, but keep the o-o-ld. One is silver, and the others will have sex with you."

Now let’s say that works (or doesn’t, but against all odds you find an appealing prospect on Craig’s List), do you have to use dental dams? Absolutely not, but that’s because they hardly work and are horrible. You will certainly want to use condoms (and so will she — not wanting to, under these circumstances, would be a crazy-person warning sign). You could use plastic wrap for licking things, or not. Going down on girls is never ever going to be a good method for contracting or spreading HIV, but you probably don’t want to either get herpes or spread any herpes you may already have, so you’ll either have to not do anything that brings a lot of wet parts in contact (unlikely), use plastic wrap, or rely on a pre-interview, trust, intuition, and Purell in whatever combination feels right to you. I wish I could tell you exactly what your risks will be, but barring the acquisition of a long-distance, anonymity-breaching virus-detection gun (and what would I pay for one of those), I just can’t.

As for advice on how to make it go smoothly and not be weird, well, it IS weird. But choose someone sympatico, someone with whom you can discuss both what might happen and what just did happen. Give everyone the explicit power to halt proceedings for any reason at any point. Have a drink but not six, and agree ahead of time no hard feelings all the way around if it doesn’t go perfectly. Expect it not to go perfectly. This experience may bear a superficial resemblance to porn, but porn is so … porny. You should expect real life to be bumpier, less predictable and, one hopes, more fun.



Andrea is teaching Sex After Parenthood at Day One Center (www.dayonecenter.com), Recess (info@recessurbanrecreation.com), and privately. Contact her at andrea@altsexcolumn.com for more info.