Volume 43 Number 28

Trip at the ‘Brain’


CULT HORROR "I am a genre terrorist," legendary Italian "B" filmmaker Lucio Fulci professes in an interview on the freshly released two-disc edition of his 1990 film Cat in the Brain (Grindhouse). "I perform my commercial deflagration, then I get bored and move on." Likely aware of his more successful compatriot Dario Argento’s moniker, the "Italian Hitchcock," perhaps the late Fulci fancied himself as a sort of Italian Howard Hawks with mild frontal lobe damage: whimsically genre-tripping (comedies in the ’50s, westerns in the ’60s, thrillers in the ’70s) while mastering and exploding conventions. But this would be something of a fanciful delusion. Fulci’s mid-career adoption of giallo, the "spaghetti horror" he helped pioneer and perfect, trapped him in an almost literal genre hell of his own making. With the success of the breakout Zombie (1979), blood-and-gore-thirsty fanboys cried out for more, and Fulci, eager for the commercial success that mostly had eluded him to that point, demurred.

It’s fitting then, that the hallucinatory Cat in the Brain would star Fulci as himself, a director tortured to the point of madness by brutal, graphic visions of his past and current productions: limbs hacked off with chainsaws, numerous decapitations, heads cooking in microwave ovens, and generally just a lot of gorings, stabbings, slicings, slittings, flayings, and disembowelings. When a psychiatrist suggests he is suffering from an identity crisis due to work stress, Fulci objects, "If I made films about love no one would buy a ticket."

But don’t assume Cat in the Brain is Fulci’s attempt to drive the final nail in giallo‘s coffin, much as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (2007) tried (and failed) to do to its 21st-century offspring, torture porn. It’s certainly bad enough to do so: Fulci’s acting is painfully garish, the edit (featuring footage cobbled from his past films) is out to lunch, and the atypically pedestrian score is worthy of the worst MacGyver episode. But much of Cat‘s perverse charm, like much of giallo, comes from its chainsaw-rough edges. Fulci’s meta conceit may be more Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (a 1994 release he derided as a rip-off) than 8 1/2 (1963), but it’s still satisfying. In the end he has perpetrated a cinematic rope-a-dope, a "statement of innocence in the form of a joke," as his journalist daughter writes in the DVD’s liner notes. The maestro of splatter held an abiding affection for the genre after all, despite his alter ego’s haunted visions. Fulci’s messy violence and gore might not have always been in the best of taste, but for the man himself, they set the stage for an awful lot of good, clean fun.

El Paso passages



At the poetic heart of acclaimed playwright Octavio Solis’s aching, wild, and poignant new drama, Lydia — receiving a beautifully cast and memorable West Coast premiere at Marin Theatre Company under the direction of MTC’s Jasson Minadakis — is a mysterious connection between two very differently challenged and empowered young women: the severely brain-damaged Ceci Flores (Gloria Garayua) and her family’s new undocumented Mexican maid, Lydia (Adriana Gaviria). The house they live in, along with Ceci’s sharp and sensitive younger brother Misha (David Pintado) and her upbeat but overworked mother Rosa (Wilma Bonet), also comes stalked by some serious, restlessly conflicted, and grieving machismo — aloof yet violent patriarch Claudio (Luis Saguar); renegade big brother and guilt-ridden shit-kicker Rene (Lakin Valdez); and hunky first cousin Alvaro (Elias Escobedo), a newly discharged Vietnam vet turned border patrol agent. But leave it to Solis to put the real muscle in the most compromised of female bodies.

Ceci, played with a deft physical dynamism by Garayua, is the play’s vivacious narrator. When not addressing us in physically fluid gestures and urgently poetical language from some residual place inside her own battered head, she lies at the front of the stage in the center of her family’s living room, her quaking body a kind of Richter scale of emotional energy registering every molecule of feeling in the tumult around her. She was transformed into this state two years earlier, on the eve of a happier transformation, her quinceañera, after a mysterious car accident that still eats away at her family, especially her father, and older brother Rene, who was at the wheel.

The other motive force, Lydia, arrives with her own near-death experience behind her, something left purposely vague but giving her presence a sense of destiny, especially when it becomes clear that she alone can understand and speak for the seemingly vegetative Ceci. Lydia is also an unexpected balm to the suffering Claudio and a seminal inspiration to the burgeoning poet in Misha. Meanwhile the threat of deportation hangs over her in the person of the zealously authoritarian Alvaro. Before the end, Lydia will become the catalyst for still one more startling transformation, amid joyful memories and torturous longing associated with childhood play and flowering sexuality among the siblings and their cousin.

San Francisco’s Solis is one of the theater’s great poets of the border, in senses both banally specific and relentlessly far-reaching. Like many of his plays (including Bethlehem, Santos y Santos, and El Otro), Lydia is set just this side of the geopolitical divide between Mexico and the United States, where no lines physical, social, or otherwise actually divide people very neatly — but rather messily and haphazardly. The doubling and blurring of identities among his characters is one of Solis’s tried-and-true dramatic avenues into this reality, this border condition, a world forever straddling and negotiating two others to which it can never wholly belong. It’s the great paradoxical beauty of his work that in its concrete social and cultural details, hilariously accessible yet indigenous humor, and the sheer lyricism it inspires, this uniquely unsettled world gathers universal force and significance.


Through Sun/12, see stage listings for schedule, $20–$51

Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller, Mill Valley

(415) 388-5208


Dance cocktail


If you asked a member of the dozens of ethnic dance groups that make their home in the Bay Area (103 of them auditioned in January for the yearly San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival) why they are willing to rehearse many hours and perform for little or no money, they’ll tell you that they like the dances. But of almost equal importance is the sense of community these ensembles create. No doubt nostalgia for a better and simpler world may be factors as well. Even so, it’s the sense of being with people who share similar values that creates powerful bonds.

As in any other tight-knit community, however, in order to thrive you need to fit in. In ethnic, or as they are called these days, world dances, there is often not much room for individual expression. What little there is sprouts from within prescribed parameters. Yet some dancers reach beyond these boundaries. Perhaps, as does Wan-Chao Chang, they love Indonesian and modern dance. Ramon Ramos Alayo is the Bay Area’s best Afro-Cuban dancer, but he takes his choreography well beyond the traditional modes. What if you want to combine flamenco and tango? "There is no place for us — we don’t fit into established categories," says Holly Shaw, who is trained in flamenco as well as Middle Eastern, Romani, Balinese, and a slew of other styles. "So we perform in coffee houses and private homes."

To give space to these "homeless" artists, Shaw two years ago started "Eve’s Elixir," which highlights contemporary choreographers of world dance. They performed at the open-minded CounterPULSE in the Mission District. For its second incarnation, a grant from the Fort Mason Foundation’s In Performance series enables the young enterprise to move into the dance-friendly Cowell Theater.


Fri/10-Sat/11, 7 p.m., $25

Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, Marina at Laguna, SF

(415) 345-7575, www.eveselixir.net

Victory lap



When Special One of the Conscious Daughters raps, "And I know all my folks been patient for this shit" on the Oakland female duo’s new track "A Moment In Rhyme," she ain’t kidding. It’s been 13 long years since she and partner-in-rhyme CMG released their last album, 1996’s Gamers (Priority). So long gone were the previously high profile pair that in 2007 Nas invited the Daughters, along with other forgotten Left Coast vets such as Kam, King Tee, and Threat, to appear on his homage track "Where Are They Now (West Coast Remix)."

The Nutcracker Suite, released in February on longtime associate Paris’ Guerrilla Funk label, is Conscious Daughters’ third album in 16 years. It’s a refreshing return to form for the female duo, who burst onto the national rap scene with 1993’s Ear To The Street (Priority), led by the Paris-produced, funk-fueled riding anthem "Somethin’ to Ride To (Fonky Expedition)." Striking a perfect balance between political hip-hop and street mobbin’ music, Special One and CMG have always won over discriminating rap fans.

"You can call it what you want — we just back," laughs an unfazed Special One, when asked if the new album and upcoming performances should be called a comeback. "It’s a comeback to everybody else, but we never went anywhere," adds CMG. "We been recording and making music the whole time."

The Conscious Daughters pick up right where they left off with The Nutcracker Suite, which includes production by Paris, Rick Ross, One Drop Scott, Fred White, and newcomer Steven King. The album opens with the head-nodding hard funk of "Not Bad But Good," an updated riding track about "the Town" (Oakland). But a few tracks later it veers into thought-provoking territory, with songs that tackle topics head-on from a female perspective. Domestic abuse and California’s spiraling incarceration rates are on the lyrical agenda. "And Arnold keeps building these correctional facilities for youth, women, and crooks and thieves with disabilities," Special One raps in the song "Issues."

Having spent a short stint behind bars herself ("for pot") Special One speaks from first-hand experience. "There’s women, their grandmothers, their aunties, mothers, nieces, and sisters in the penitentiary, just like there are men in the male penitentiary," she says.

One of the new album’s more poignant songs is "Dirty Little Secret," in which the duo urge domestic violence victims to "Get the hell up out that situation before you get killed."

"We have friends who have gone through this for many years, best friends who won’t even tell you [about their abuse]," CMG says when discussing the emotionally-charged song, told in the first-person voice of an angry victim who fights back. "Even though our song is pretty deep about getting this guy back, we are saying what a lot of women want to actually do, and helping them get their frustrations out by listening to our song."

In practice, as well as in their lyrics, Conscious Daughters demonstrate solidarity for their sisters: Nutcracker Suite features cameos from several Bay Area female hip-hop talents, including Mystic, Marvaless, and Goldee the Murderist, whose death last summer from a blood disease was sudden and tragic. Special One says that it’s important for females in hip-hop to look out for one another, since they already have the chips stacked against them. "It’s always harder for women," she notes, "Most female rappers have to balance a career and their family."

Another longtime fellow East Bay female hip-hop talent, DJ Pam the Funkstress of the Coup, is joining Conscious Daughters when they embark on a national tour later this year. (Official details — likely involving Paris, Talib Kweli, Pete Rock, and others — will be announced at guerrillafunk.com).

After so many years away, CMG and Special One heartily embrace the work ahead. "We love challenges, and we’re going to have to get out there and do everything all over again now," says CMG.

"It’s a blessing, and we’re confident in our talents," adds Special One.



The passion of Agnes


Director commentaries are de rigueur in the DVD age, but few filmmakers possess the élan to warrant a feature length auto-exegesis. Agnès Varda is one, and her most recent memory piece — she claims it’s her last — cheerfully dissolves the boundaries between memoir, retrospective, and installation. The film caps the Pacific Film Archive’s month-long series, "Agnès Varda: Cinécriture," and faithful attendees will be rewarded by its recollections of earlier works from La Pointe Courte (1954) to The Gleaners and I (2000). The Beaches of Agnès begins with the 80-year old Varda spryly instructing her devoted assistants. These are people willing to enter a reverie on the placement of various mirrors. "If we opened people up, we’d find landscapes," she explains of her motivation for filmmaking, before setting off on an unclassifiable daisy chain of reenactment and reminiscence. The film moves at the leisurely pace of the flaneur’s walk, the better to relish Varda’s joie de vivre and sweet bawdiness. Where to begin? With her color-bending bowl cut or Chris Marker’s grinning cat cameos? With the ephemera of Varda’s innumerable home movies or her defense of the so-called "Manifesto of the 343 Bitches"? With the many things she adores — blurry foregrounds, ancient frescoes, heart-shaped potatoes, neighbors — or her W.G. Sebald-like resuscitation of photographs? "All the dead lead me back to Jacques," she says, referring to her great love, Jacques Demy. Their life together loops Beaches with enough beautiful images to warrant several viewings. A must.


Fri/10, 8:40 p.m.; Sat/11, 6 p.m., $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk

(510) 642-5249, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

Diamond in the rough



Co-writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck made their feature debut in 2006 with Half Nelson, a movie with an iffy concept — an at-risk Brooklyn middle school student discovers her teacher is a part-time crackhead but they become best buds anyway — somehow rendered utterly plausible. That same keen sense of atmospheric and character detail, as well as resistance to sensationalism or cliché, is on display again in their new film, Sugar. The film has taken its time getting to theaters since premiering at the Sundance Film Festival more than a year ago, but it’s likely to be one of the best films of 2009, as it certainly would have been of 2008.

Sugar is also possibly the best narrative film ever about the world of pro baseball, and that’s an opinion lifted from people who care a lot more about America’s pastime than me. It may not have the sentimental or fantasy appeal of 1988’s Bull Durham, 1989’s Field of Dreams, 1984’s The Natural, etc., but as with Half Nelson, Boden and Fleck create something that’s at last deeply satisfying, though their happy ending isn’t at all one you (or the protagonist) might’ve planned two hours earlier.

Here we have baseball, football, and basketball as rivals, but in the Dominican Republic there’s just baseball, a national obsession as well as major export. There are more Dominicans in Major League Baseball than any other offshore population. For everyone who reaches that status, there are umpteen contenders, their aspirations often fueled by a desire to raise themselves and family members above the poverty line. That’s the case for Miguel (Algenis Perez Soto), a coolly self-possessed 19-year-old whose big eyes are always watchful and guarded, suggesting a mind sharply focused on advancement despite his low-key demeanor. He’s called Sugar because, he brags, "I’m sweet with the ladies" — but more seriously, "I’ve got the sweetest knuckle curve you’ve ever seen." His hopes of breaking into the majors are everybody’s, from his girlfriend and mother to the hometown friends who’ll live vicariously through his success.

His pitching skills get him plucked from Boca Chica baseball academy to a cattle-call camp in Phoenix where a lot of other Dominicans await their big chance — or discover it will never come. Sugar, however, gets hand-picked for the minor league Kansas City Knights where, after a fumbling start, he looks like star material.

But as the dream grows nearer, so does Sugar’s evolving sense of insecurity and isolation. He’s absorbed almost no English, so coaching instructions, teammate camaraderie, and even restaurant ordering remain blank mysteries. He’s housed with a well-meaning farm family whose Presbyterian pieties are equally foreign (despite his own crucifix-kissing before each game). When their corn-fed granddaughter sends mixed signals his way — seemingly more interested in spreading salvation than locking lips — our sexually experienced protagonist can only read her behavior as duplicitous. Having left school at 16, he’s intimidated by teammates like Brad (Andre Holland), a million-dollar draftee who’s always got his Stanford degree to fall back on.

Boden and Fleck did their research and then some. To their further credit, it’s all so fully integrated Sugar feels more verité than instructive. Like the performance of Soto (who’d never acted before, and might not again), the film doesn’t outline its agenda or emotions — indeed, some might find it a little too internalized and averse to melodrama. Yet it does exert a spell, building almost unnoticeably until the cumulative effect quietly exhilarates. Among so many recent movies about immigrants pursuing the elusive American Dream, Sugar is a rare upbeat one, partly because it allows that the dream might best be realized when one settles for less than it first promised.

SUGAR opens Fri/10 in Bay Area theaters.





CHEAP EATS Intoxicated by how pretty flowers are in the dark and wowed by the sheer size of the lit TVs in all my neighbors’ windows, I accidentally hit my head on a tree. Hard. The rest of my life is going to be a dream.

Here’s the part where Earl Butter sends a messenger pigeon saying he’s sick, but not sick, and will be sitting home and crying unless anyone comes over and drinks and eats vegetables with him.

Well, I have no particular plans for the evening. I was planning to stay home and cry, myself, so I tell Earl Butter’s bird to tell Earl Butter I’ll be right over. If I don’t hit my head too hard on too many trees, walking to BART.

Which I didn’t. One tree. Hard, but not hard enough to make my life much more than dreamy. What I failed to account for was all the distractions that would bonk and bewitch me on the other side of the pond, walking from BART to Earl Butter’s. Namely, and in no particular order: Pizzeria, the Mission’s first (that I know of) stone oven pizza, good ol’ Good Vibrations, and of course New Yorker’s buffalo wings because I needed some lube.

Butter and hot sauce, babe. That’s what I’m made of.

Buffalo wings remind me of Earl Butter, who got made in upstate New York and introduced me to buffalo wings and bowling as a way of life.

But a friend of a friend of mine died yesterday of either cancer or knife wounds. She had cancer and then got mugged and stabbed, see, and then died in her sleep after she got out of the hospital, hard to say why. So my friend wrote to me, even though I never knew her friend, and it was like an obituary.

"She loved camp comedians, naughty jokes, show tunes, Ireland, bubble baths, and take-out curry," my friend said of her friend. She said she wished she had a blog because she finds herself wanting to talk and write about her deceased pal. A lot.

And a light went on over my head. It’s rare that you get to do something concrete for a friend in need. But the thing is that I kind of do have a blog, or something very much like one. So why don’t I make myself useful for a change and write about my friend’s friend for her, a lot, in this restaurant review?

Her name was Mandy. She died at home, at night, in bed with her long-distance girlfriend Kristen, who had come that day from Kansas City to be with her, to help her get well.

Mandy was a psych nurse and sometimes kept baby hedgehogs under a heat lamp in her guest room, according to her friend (my friend), "rising during the night to bottle feed them." She didn’t have any brothers or sisters, yet had eight godchildren. Think about it. So whoever stabbed her stabbed someone who didn’t have any brothers or sisters, yet had eight godchildren and nursed both baby hedgehogs and human head cases.

Plus there’s the take-out curry factor. Nothing pokes the unfunny bone like an extinguished hankering for curry. Or the smell of paint. I could go on and on, on my friend’s behalf.

But I know a lot of my readers are muggers, so I’ll be succinct: If you take anything at all from this important restaurant review, take this: stop stabbing people, you fucking morons. We’re all dying anyway, of breast cancer and heart disease, and we don’t need knife wounds on top of it all, so fuck the fuck off. If you lack the skill or finesse to eke a living or pick a pocket cleanly, turn the knife inward and cut your gutless bowels out.

For those of you who aren’t muggers, your moral is quite different. When your friend sends a messenger pigeon, and sometimes even if they don’t, go to them. Bring lube, and/or vodka. Bring buffalo wings. Bring pizza.

Yes, Pizzeria has a dumb name, and a posh (and therefore empty) interior. But its pizza has that nice, thin, stone oven crispness. Which I so so so so love.

My friend’s friend Mandy did not like pizza.


Tue.–Thu., 3 p.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., noon–11:30 p.m.; Sun., noon–10 p.m.

659 Valencia, SF

(415) 701-7492

Beer & wine


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

Pay to play?



Fiona Ma, the California Assembly Member from the west side of San Francisco, has introduced a bill that would limit rent controls on trailer parks — something of a stretch for a district that has no mobile homes and for a politician who has never shown any past interest in the issue.

But several months before she introduced the bill, Ma received $6,200 in campaign contributions from one of the leading mobile home landlord groups.

Assembly Bill 481, introduced Feb. 24, would make it easier for the owners of mobile home parks to raise rents on units that are either sublet or not occupied year-round. It’s one of two major bills the park owners are pushing this year. The other, AB 761, by Assembly Member Charles Calderon (D-Montebello), would eliminate vacancy control in parks and allow rents to rise every time a space becomes empty.

Rent control in California mobile home parks is unusual. Trailer residents typically own their units but must pay rent to the park owner for the land beneath them. So mobile home owners — many of them seniors and low-income people — are actually tenants.

Under current law, local rent control ordinances apply to those trailer parks, keeping the cost of living there relatively low. However, the law allows park owners to raise the rent on trailers that function as vacation homes — that are not a principal residence for the owner and aren’t rented to somebody else.

Ma’s bill would make it easier to define a mobile home as a second residence and would eliminate the provision that protects sublets.

Advocates for mobile home residents have vowed to fight the bill. "In mobile home parks, the park owners have hugely disparate power over residents, most of whom are low income and over 60," David Grabill, an affordable housing advocate and attorney for the Coalition of Mobile Homeowners-California, told us. "Park owners also look for any hook or crook way to get a space out from under rent control or squeeze more rent out of the residents. Residents can’t move their homes, can’t afford to move themselves, and can’t afford lawyers to protect their rights.

"This bill would give park owners a whole new way to threaten and intimidate residents."

Ma insists that her only goal is to promote affordable housing. She told us that mobile homes in Malibu sell for millions of dollars, and that some are used entirely as second residences for wealthy people. "Rent control is supposed to be for low-income people," she said, arguing that if rich mobile homeowners lost their rent control protection, those units would be available for less wealthy people.

As for sublet homes, she said: "If the owners don’t need to live there, then they can afford to live somewhere else — and they don’t need rent control protection."

Ma at first said she took up the bill because she was on the Assembly Housing Committee and was looking for measures that would promote low-income housing. Calvin Welch, a San Francisco activist who has been working on affordable housing issues for decades, finds that a bit odd.

When Ma was a San Francisco supervisor, Welch told us, "she was missing in action on every significant affordable housing measure. Much of the time, she was on the other side."

When we pressed her, Ma acknowledged that the Western Manufactured Housing Committee, which represents park owners, spoke to her about the bill. The group’s Web site goes further, claiming that WMHC sponsored the Ma bill. And campaign finance records show that the WMHC political action committee gave Ma $4,200 on Oct. 27, 2008 and another $2,000 the next day.

Tim Sheahan, president of the Golden Gate Manufactured Home Owners League, which represents mobile home park tenants, told us Ma’s comments about million dollar homes are off the mark. "Sure, there are a few sensational anomalies. But that is no reflection on how most mobile homeowners live," he said.

And even if wealthier residents are forced to sell their homes, he noted, "the new residents will have to pay much higher rent. So there’s no way this adds to affordable housing."

Law vs. Justice



City Attorney Dennis Herrera relishes his reputation as a crusading reformer. For several years, his official Web site prominently displayed the phrase "Activism defines SF City Attorney’s Office," linked to a laudatory 2004 Los Angeles Times article with that headline.

"Doing what we can do to ensure civil rights for everyone is not something we are going to back away from," was the quote from that piece Herrera chose to highlight on his homepage, referring to his work on marriage equality. The article also praises the City Attorney’s Office practice of proactively filing cases to protect public health and the environment and to expand consumer rights.

But more recently the City Attorney’s Office also has aggressively pushed cases that create troubling precedents for civil rights and prevent law enforcement officials from being held accountable for false arrests, abusive behavior, mistreatment of detainees, and even allegedly framing innocent people for murder.

Three particular cases, which have been the subject of past stories by the Guardian, reveal unacceptable official conduct — yet each was aggressively challenged using the virtually unlimited resources of the City Attorney’s Office. In fact, Herrera’s team pushed these cases to the point of potentially establishing troubling precedents that could apply throughout the country.

Attorney Peter Keane, who teaches ethics at Golden Gate University School of Law and used to evaluate police conduct cases as a member of the Police Commission, said city attorneys sometimes find themselves trapped between their dual obligations to promote the public good and vigorously defend their clients. "Therein lies the problem, and it’s a problem that can’t be easily reconciled," he told us.

"A lawyer’s obligation is to give total loyalty to a client within ethical limits," Keane said, noting his respect for Herrera. But in police misconduct cases, Keane said, "it is desirable public policy to have police engage in ethical conduct and not do anything to abuse citizens."


Attorney Rodel Rodis is a prominent Filipino activist, newspaper columnist, and until this year was a longtime elected member of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees. So it never made much sense that he would knowingly try to pass a counterfeit $100 bill at his neighborhood Walgreens in 2003 (see "Real money, false arrest," 7/9/08).

Nonetheless, the store clerk was unfamiliar with an older bill Rodis used to pay for a purchase and called police, who immediately placed Rodis in handcuffs. When police couldn’t conclusively determine whether the bill was real, they dragged Rodis out of the store, placed him in a patrol car out front, and took him in for questioning while they tested the bill.

There was no need to arrest him, as subsequent San Francisco Police Department orders clarified. They could simply have taken his name and the bill and allowed him to retrieve it later. After all, mere possession of a counterfeit bill doesn’t indicate criminal intent.

The police finally determined that the bill was real and released Rodis from his handcuffs and police custody. Rodis was outraged by his treatment, and sued. He insisted that the case was about the civil rights principle and not the money — indeed, he says he offered to settle with the city for a mere $15,000.

"I told my lawyer that I didn’t want a precedent that would hurt civil liberties," Rodis told the Guardian.

To his surprise, however, the City Attorney’s Office aggressively appealed rulings in Rodis’ favor all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that the officers enjoyed immunity and ordered reconsideration by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Last month the Ninth Circuit ruled in the city’s favor, thus expanding protections for police officers.

Rodis can now name cases from around the country, all with egregious police misconduct, that cite his case as support. "Even with that kind of abuse, people can no longer sue because of my case," Rodis said.

Herrera disputes the precedent-setting nature of the case, saying the facts of each case are different. "We’re defending them in accordance with the state of the law as it stands today," Herrera said, arguing that officers in the Rodis case acted reasonably, even if they got it wrong. "We look at each case on its facts and its merits."

Herrera said he agrees with Keane that it’s often a difficult balancing act to promote policies that protect San Francisco citizens from abuse while defending city officials accused of that abuse. But ultimately, he said, "I have the ethical obligation to defend the interests of the City and County of San Francisco."

While it may be easy to criticize those who bring lawsuits seeking public funds, Rodis says it is these very cases that set the limits on police behavior and accountability. As he observed, "The difference between police in a democracy and a dictatorship is not the potential for abuse, but the liability for abuse."


In the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were months of antiwar protests resulting in thousands of arrests in San Francisco. Activist Mary Bull was arrested in November 2002. Bull said she was forcibly and illegally strip-searched and left naked in a cold cell for 14 hours.

San Francisco’s policy at the time — which called for strip-searching almost all inmates — was already a shaky legal ground. Years earlier Bull had won a sizable settlement against Sacramento County because she and other activists were strip-searched after being arrested for protesting a logging plan, a legal outcome that led most California counties to change their strip-search policies.

So Bull filed a lawsuit against San Francisco in 2003. The San Francisco Chronicle ran front page story in September 2003 highlighting Bull’s ordeal and another case of a woman arrested on minor charges being strip-searched, prompting all the major mayoral candidates at the time, including Gavin Newsom, to call for reform. Sheriff Michael Hennessey later modified jail policies on strip searches, conforming it to existing case law.

But the City Attorney’s Office has continued to fight Bull’s case, appealing two rulings in favor of Bull, pushing the case to the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (from which a ruling is expected soon) and threatening to appeal an unfavorable ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It’s pretty outrageous and humiliating to strip-search someone brought to jail on minor charges," Bull’s attorney Mark Merin told the Guardian. "If they win, they establish a bad precedent."

Herrera said the case is about inmate safety and that his office must follow case law and pursue reasonable settlements (neither side would say how much money Bull is seeking). "We do it well and we do it with a sense of justice at its core," Herrera said.

Yet Merin said the city’s actions fly in the face of established law: "In the Bull case, he’s trying to get 25 years of precedent reversed."

Merlin noted that "the problem is not with the city, it’s with the U.S. Supreme Court." In other words, by pushing cases to a right-leaning court, the city could be driving legal precedents that directly contradict its own stated policies.

"It would be nice if this city was in a different league, but they look at it like any defense firm: take it to the mat, yield no quarter" he added.


For the Guardian, and for all the attorneys involved, this was a once-in-a-lifetime case. In 1990, Hunters Point residents John J. Tennison and Antoine Goff were convicted of the 1989 gang-related murder of Roderick Shannon and later given sentences of 25 years to life.

Jeff Adachi, Tennison’s attorney and now the city’s elected public defender, was shocked by a verdict that was based almost solely on the constantly mutating testimony of two young girls, ages 12 and 14, who were joyriding in a stolen car, so he continued to gather evidence.

Eventually Adachi discovered that police inspectors Earl Sanders and Napoleon Hendrix and prosecutor George Butterworth had withheld key exculpatory evidence in the case, including damaging polygraph tests on the key witnesses, other eyewitness testimony fingering a man named Lovinsky Ricard, and even a taped confession in which Ricard admitted to the murder.

After writer A.C. Thompson and the Guardian published a cover story on the case (see "The Hardest Time," 1/17/01), it was picked up pro bono by attorneys Ethan Balogh and Elliot Peters of the high-powered firm Keker & Van Nest LLP, who unearthed even more evidence that the men had been framed, including a sworn statement by one of the two key prosecution witnesses recanting her testimony and saying city officials had coached her to lie.

In 2003, federal Judge Claudia Wilken agreed to hear Tennison’s case and ruled that the prosecution team had illegally buried five different pieces of exculpatory evidence, any one of which "could have caused the result of Tennison’s new trial motion and of his trial to have been different."

She ordered Tennison immediately freed after 13 years in prison. The district attorney at the time, Terrence Hallinan, not only agreed and decided not to retry Tennison, he proactively sought the release of Goff, who was freed a few weeks later.

"The only case you can make is that this was an intentional suppression of evidence that led to the conviction of any innocent man," Adachi told the Guardian in 2003 (see "Innocent!" 9/3/03). In the article, Hallinan said "I don’t just believe this was an improper conviction; I believe Tennison is an innocent man."

But the pair has had a harder time winning compensation for their lost years. State judges denied their request, relying on the initial jury verdict, so they sued San Francisco in 2003, alleging that the prosecution team intentionally deprived them of their basic rights.

"What happened to these guys was a horrible miscarriage of justice," Balogh said.

The City Attorney’s Office has aggressively fought the case, arguing that the prosecution team enjoys blanket immunity. The courts haven’t agreed with that contention at any level, although the city spent the last two years taking it all the way to the Ninth Circuit, which largely exonerated Butterworth. The case is now set for a full trial in federal district court in September.

"They are unwilling to admit they made a mistake," Elliot said. "They are doing everything not to face up to their responsibility to these two guys."

The lawyers said both Herrera and District Attorney Kamala Harris had an obligation to look into what happened in these cases, to punish official wrongdoing, and to try to bring the actual murderer to justice. Instead the case is still open, and the man who confessed has never been seriously pursued.

Harris spokesperson Erica Derryck said the Ninth Circuit and an internal investigation cleared Butterworth "of any wrongdoing," although she didn’t address Guardian questions about what Harris has done to close the case or address its shortcomings.

In fact, the lawyers say they’re surprised that the city is so aggressively pushing a case that could ultimately go very badly for the city, particularly given the mounting lawyers’ fees.

"When we filed the case, we never thought we’d be here today," Balogh said. "They had a bad hand and instead of folding it and trying to pursue justice in this case, they doubled down."

Herrera doesn’t see it that way, instead making a lawyerly argument about what the prosecution team knew and when. "Our belief is there is no evidence that Sanders and Hendrix had information early on that they suppressed," Herrera said. "Based on the facts, I don’t think they, Hendrix and Sanders, violated the law. But that’s a totally different issue than whether they were innocent…. It’s not our role to retry the innocence or guilt of Tennison and Goff."

Herrera said he’s limited by the specific facts of this case and the relevant laws. "If the Board of Supervisors wants to do a grant of public funds [to Tennison and Goff], someone can legislate that. But that’s not my job," Herrera said.

As far as settling the case in the interests of justice or avoiding a precedent that protects police even when they frame someone for murder, he also said it isn’t that simple. Keane also agreed it wouldn’t be ethical to settle a case to avoid bad precedents.

"I’m always willing to talk settlement," Herrera said. "This is not an office that makes rash decisions about the cases it chooses to try or settle."

Deputy City Attorney Scott Wiener is the point person on most police misconduct cases, including the Rodis and Tennison cases, as well as another current case in which Officer Sean Frost hit a subdued suspect, Chen Ming, in the face with his baton, breaking his jaw and knocking out 10 teeth.

Wiener, who is running for the District 8 seat on the Board of Supervisors and is expected to get backing from the San Francisco Police Officers Association, recently told the Chronicle that Frost "did not do anything wrong." Contacted by the Guardian, Wiener stood by that statement and his record on police cases, but said, "I consider myself to be fair-minded." He also denied having a strong pro-police bias.

Yet those involved with these cases say they go far beyond the zeal of one deputy or the need to safeguard the public treasury. They say that a city like San Francisco needs to put its resources into the service of its values.

"It raises the broader question of what is the city attorney’s mandate? Is it fiscal limitation regardless of the truth?" Balogh said. "Dennis Herrera has had a very aggressive policy in defending police officers."

Herrera says he is proud of his record as the city attorney, and before that, as president of the Police Commission. "I believe in police accountability and have made that a big part of what I’ve done throughout my career."

Shielding Goni



Top Democratic Party pollster Stanley Greenberg rolled into San Francisco last month to promote his latest book, Dispatches from the War Room — In the trenches with five extraordinary leaders (2009, St. Martin’s Press). The slight, bespectacled man spoke at the Commonwealth Club, sharing what he hoped were "honest and frank" accounts of working with leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton.

While he happily pontificated on the lessons these experiences held for President Barack Obama, he was a bit more defensive on why he had proudly featured in the book Gonzalo "Goni" Sánchez de Lozada, former president of Bolivia who is currently wanted for his role in a massacre of 67 people in October 2003.

Greenberg was drafted in 2002 to help Goni, a wealthy University of Chicago-educated businessman, get elected president during a time of social upheaval created largely by U.S.-backed neoliberal economic policies. Branding Goni as the only man who could "resolve the crisis," Greenberg and other U.S. political consultants helped their client scrape an electoral victory with just 23 percent of the popular vote.

The deaths took place less than a year later when Goni announced deeply unpopular plans to privatize the country’s natural gas reserves and give foreign corporations more control over Bolivia’s resources. Road blockades erected by protesters in the poorest outlying neighborhoods of the high altitude city of La Paz effectively cut off supplies. Goni signed a decree that instructed the army to clear the roads and promised "indemnification for any damage to property and persons which might occur." That effective carte blanche resulted in the army shooting live ammunition indiscriminately at men, women, and children.

Military repression brought to a head one of the country’s bloodiest years, in which more than 150 people died in social protests. Rising popular anger led Goni to flee the country to exile in the United States. He has since lived comfortably in Chevy Chase, Md., protected by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Greenberg admits in the book that the violence caused him "to take stock," yet he ends up saying he is now "more certain of my course and his [Goni’s]." He concludes: "I am proud of what we did to help Goni become President." From the podium at the Commonwealth Club, he blamed the atrocities on the supposed "parallel violence" by the protestors.

It seems a surprising conclusion for a man who is supposedly in touch with the electorate. Goni is universally reviled in Bolivia as a corrupt and arrogant politician who devalued Bolivian lives. Even Goni’s Vice President Carlos Mesa denounced him and swore that he would never use violence to enforce policies. Two-thirds of Bolivia’s Congress — including many who had formed part of Goni’s coalition — approved a trial seeking responsibility for the massacres. Disgust at Goni’s "free market" (or neoliberal) economic and social policies, which increased poverty and inequality, was partly behind the landslide 2005 electoral victory of one of the leaders of the protest movements, Evo Morales.

Yet sadly, Greenberg’s positive spin of Goni seems to be a view that is widely shared with the Democratic Party. At a Washington launch event for Greenberg’s book, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also appeared to hold Goni in high esteem, warmly welcoming him to the event and calling him a "very special man." Goni’s former defense lawyer, Gregory Craig, is now Obama’s White House counsel. The Democrats’ historic loyalty to one of their favored pro-American friends seems to outweigh their commitment to human rights and fair legal process.

Rogelio Mayta, the resolute lawyer representing the families whose loved ones were killed in October 2003, tries to give Pelosi the benefit of the doubt. "We want to believe in the good faith of … Pelosi and believe that these praises are due to misinformation rather than a concrete line of action and thinking by the U.S. government," he said.

Yet the anger of Eloy Rojas, who lost his eight-year-old daughter when troops entered his village and started shooting indiscriminately, is harder to hide. "Every effort that allies of Sánchez de Lozada make to present the ex-president as a victim and an honest man is for us an offense. It is an offense against the pain and suffering that his terrible actions had for our lives. His determination to defend his and other people’s economic interests meant that he stopped valuing peoples’ lives … That is why we continue to seek justice."

In March, Bolivian families who lost loved ones marked a significant milestone in their struggle to end the legacy of impunity for political elites like Goni. After five years of navigating political games and legal loopholes, a date was set for the trial of responsibility for Goni and seven of his ministers. Yet the main defendant, Goni, will be missing because the U.S. government has ignored requests for extradition for several years.

Many in the U.S. and worldwide continue to hope that Obama’s inauguration will mark a new chapter in relations worldwide, especially in Latin America, where there has been a new wave of resistance against U.S. attempts to impose its economic interests. Obama has made some important first steps in ordering closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and reinvigorating the use of diplomacy in regions such as the Middle East. But if he really wants to start a new chapter of international relations rooted in human rights, he doesn’t need to travel abroad. He just needs to respond to Bolivia’s lawful request for extradition and send home the man who lives just seven miles from the White House. 2

Nick Buxton is a British journalist who was based in Bolivia for many years before moving to San Francisco last year. His blog, Open Veins, is at www.nickbuxton.info.

The budget mysteries



San Francisco’s top budget advisors are predicting that dollars from President Obama’s stimulus package will help reinvigorate the economy over the next three years. But they also warn that the recovery will be slow, and that deficits will be part of political life for some time to come.

The findings are contained in a three-year budget projection report jointly compiled by the Mayor’s Office, the Controller’s Office, and the Budget Analyst’s Office and released to the news media at a hastily announced March 31 roundtable.

During the roundtable, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that the city faces a "staggering" $438 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2009-10 — a deficit, financial experts warn, that could balloon to $750 million by fiscal year 2011-12 if cuts and wage concessions aren’t made and structural reform and revenue creating measures aren’t undertaken.

Those future numbers are scary — and a bit apocryphal. Nobody seriously thinks the city will simply ignore this year’s problems and put them off until next year, which means future deficits should be smaller.

But the decisions that will have to be made to keep the red ink under control have been the subject of intense speculation since December, when Newsom announced that the city was facing a deficit equal to cutting every other dollar in the city’s discretionary general fund.


In January newly elected Board of Supervisors President David Chiu sought to address the anxiety crashing over the city’s business and labor leaders by inviting stakeholders, including Newsom, to budget meetings at City Hall. But Newsom only agreed to get involved once the youthful board president’s other bright idea — a special election that combined cuts, revenue generating measures, and structural reforms to save as many jobs, programs, and services — was off the table.

And with only two months to go until he submits his 2009-10 budget proposal, Newsom still has not clarified what budgetary reforms he will support this fall, even as the labor unions are being asked to give back $90 million in promised benefits, and the Board of Supervisors gets ready to prepare an annual appropriations ordinance by the end of July.

Newsom did announce last week that he will be is asking some, but not all, departments for 25 percent cuts in the coming fiscal year. Human Services Director Micki Callahan confirmed that 730 pink slips have been sent out since July 2008.

Yet the actual cuts remain a mystery. "I will not be accepting 25 percent cuts from some departments, but from others, I will," Newsom said. "I don’t believe in across-the-board cuts."

Asked which departments he would accept 25 percent cuts from, Newsom told reporters: "You’ll find out when you read my budget."

Within days of Newsom’s statement came news of a deal between the Mayor’s Office and Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the largest city-workers union.

"The goal of this tentative agreement is to protect vital services for San Franciscans, minimize layoffs to employees, preserve the integrity of the collective bargaining agreement, and assist the city with its economic recovery," read a joint public statement.

As of press time, SEIU’s 1021’s Robert Haaland told the Guardian that the two sides are still in negotiations, but confirmed that the union is discussing giving up about $40 million over 16 months, including furloughs and other benefits.

"At the end of the day, our members recognize that they need to share the pain," Haaland said. "The idea is to save jobs and programs."

These givebacks from SEIU are part of the $90 million in concessions the city hopes to get from unions, including those that represent police, firefighters and nurses.


As it becomes clear that givebacks and cuts won’t be enough to solve the city’s fiscal crisis, there is talk that the mayor wants to switch to a two-year budget process. Critics say that could represent a massive transfer of power to the Mayor’s Office, unless the Board of Supervisors also gets the power to approve the mayor’s midyear cuts.

"As it is right now, we have power through the Board of Supervisors for one month of the year," said one community organizer, who asked to remain anonymous. "The rest of the time Newsom moves his own agenda through his midyear cuts."

A summary of a March 16 Controller’s Office "budget improvement project" recommends that "the board’s add-back process should require that program restorations and enhancements be reviewed and analyzed by department staff and the board’s budget analyst;" that the "mayor and board should outreach to the general public regarding budget priorities;" and that the "city should adopt a two year budget process consistent with the city’s financial plan."

Sup. Chris Daly said he thinks this year’s grim three-year budget projections make a strong argument against a two-year budget process. "Projections are never right," said Daly, who used to chair the powerful budget committee. "Two years ago we weren’t projecting how bad it was going to be. We can’t do budgets for years out past the current fiscal year. It just doesn’t work."

Sup. David Campos, who sits on the current budget committee, said he wants to see the increased Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funding being provided to the city’s public health and human services departments used to restore proposed cuts, jobs, and services.

Much of the federal money will be earmarked for non-General Fund infrastructre projects at the Municipal Transporation Agency, Housing Authority, airport, and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

"We’re saying that if FMAP is coming in so that revenue cuts are not made in the public health area, then why not use these monies to fill gaps, replace cuts, restore funds, preserve programs?" Campos asked.

Campos also wants the mayor and the board to sit down and talk about the November ballot. "I don’t think the budget hole is going to be closed on backs of labor alone," Campos told us. "We’re focused on cuts, elimination of programs, layoffs … But why aren’t we talking about what revenue measures we are putting on the November ballot?

Chiu said he thinks Newsom is committed to some form of tax-based revenue measure. "Just as we can’t solve our budget deficit by taxing our way out of it, so we can’t solve it by cutting our way out of it either," Chiu said. "None of our tax or revenue-generating options would come close to filling 25 percent of that gap."

Noting that business is "more open to taxes that share the burden of who pays," Chiu observed that "it’s important to balance the cuts so it’s not just social services and the health department taking the burden."

Appetite 0409






Tropisueño’s resonant name hints at dreams, but you won’t be doing any dreaming there. In the evenings the restaurant — it’s a kind of urban cantina — catches fire like a piece of newsprint and blazes up into a fabulous, if noisy, party. (For purposes of this piece, I assume the existence of a world in which there is still such a thing as newsprint.) If the need to lose consciousness somehow overtakes you, getting blitzed isn’t a problem, since, in line with the current trend, the bar is seemingly omnipresent, and the restaurant offers various deals on cocktails. But even if you end up having to pay for your food or libations or both, you won’t hear the sound of the bank breaking; Tropisueño stresses value and offers it, especially considering the posh location.

That location is on Yerba Buena Lane, a brief pedestrian promenade that runs between Market and Mission streets and grazes the new Jewish Museum, just north of Fourth Street. In the past few years, this area has become as chockablock with shoppers as Union Square. They dart from Nordstrom to Bloomingdale’s to Hickey Freeman to St. John, and while no one’s buying much of anything these days, darters and window-shoppers do work up appetites. Add the museum-goers and the Yerba Buena Center-goers, and you have quite a stew. Stir briefly and serve.

On the spectrum of urban cantina styles, Tropisueño falls somewhere in the neighborhood of Chevy’s and Tres Agaves. It isn’t as vast as the latter, but it does claim a regional Mexican identity (as a Jaliscan beachside seafood joint, hence the "tropi-"). It’s also replete with rustic wood finishings, including those wonderful chairs that are Mexico’s answer to the Mediterranean’s ubiquitous taverna chairs. When you are inside, a certain illusion of Mexicanness does pleasantly flicker, like a tabletop candle. But if you look outside, through plate-glass windows framed with brushed stainless steel, you are back in the cold, hard city. A similar jarringness haunts Roy’s, just a few blocks up Mission: If you hold your gaze inside, you sense a faintly but agreeably Hawaiian aura, but if you look out, you see Muni trolleys plowing through seas of windswept trash.

Tropisueño also borrows from the grander Maya by functioning as a kind of giant street cart during lunchtime. On the menu: tacos, burritos, et cetera. Of course, some of these foodstuffs are of enduring appeal and do carry over into the dinner hour, when the restaurant assumes its restauranty guise, but the offerings broaden considerably beyond what even the most ambitious street-cart cook might attempt.

First, though, you have to take care not to stuff yourself with the bottomless basket of fresh, warm tortilla chips that reach your table soon after you do. Whatever quibbles one might have about Chevy’s, there’s no denying the excellence of their chips, and Tropisueño’s are every bit as good. You can dunk them in either of two salsas, one of avocado and tomatillo, the other tomato-based with plenty of smoke and spice.

Given the wealth of fried corn meal in our basket, I was secretly dismayed by the pair of tortilla disks that accompanied the ceviche de pescado ($7). The intention, apparently, is that you will break off chunks of the disks and spoon the ceviche onto them — a kind of DIY Mexican crostini. But we ended up dispensing with the disks (which were less delicate than their chip cousins in the basket) and eating the ceviche with spoons. The ceviche itself was wonderful: tiny boulders of plump, white fish (I would have guessed cod, but it was tilapia), puckered by plenty of lime juice and intricately punctuated with cucumber and onion dice, minced cilantro, and dabs of avocado.

We could have performed the same sort of triage, or diage, on the empanadas ($8), a merry little band of pastry turnovers stuffed with mushrooms and cheese, but this would have involved actual deconstruction — a kind of meatless butchery — rather than simply a refusal to construct. Plus, the pastry was outstanding and addictive.

The main courses range widely, from a vegetarian pozole — the traditional hominy stew, not traditionally vegetarian — to albóndigas, a.k.a. meatballs. But the house favorites are all from the sea and include the spirited camarones tropisueños ($16), good-sized, chubby, wild-caught shrimp sautéed and sauced with a purée of chile de arbol (a fairly mild red variety), lime juice, cilantro, and a little Mexican crema for softening. Throw in a sizable berm of Spanish rice, a pot of black beans, and a little steamer of fresh flour tortillas and you’re looking at …. well, fullness.

People who love to gorge themselves on chips and salsa while retaining a sense that dinner itself remains to be eaten will be relieved to learn that the menu also offers "old-school" combo plates of trusty favorites, such as chicken tacos ($9.95 for two), stuffed with shredded green cabbage, queso blanco, and cubes of boneless grilled breast. The tacos are quite tasty, with or without an extra dollop of salsa smuggled in from the chips basket. They’re double-wrapped in corn tortillas, which are soft though not as soft as their flour cousins, and this doubling up makes them both starchier and more rubbery. The ideal tortilla is soft enough to form a pliant pouch around its contents. These are not that soft, so ten cuidado or you will be the author of a mess.


Dinner: nightly, 5:30–10:30 p.m.

Lunch: daily, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

75 Yerba Buena Lane, SF

(415) 243-0299


Full bar



Wheelchair accessible

The new razzle dazzle



More on SFBG:

>>Q&A with artist Nick Cave

>>A guide to artists with famous namesakes


Where is the center of the Earth? According to artist Nick Cave, it lies somewhere between a night out at Taboo with Leigh Bowery and a Brazilian Carnaval parade. It can be found in Liberace’s glittering stage getups and Yoruba ceremonial hunting dress. Other possible coordinates include Yinka Shonibare’s Africanized rococo costumes, Cockney pearly suits, the hautest of haute couture, and the fun fur tribes of Black Rock City.


Thankfully, for us, Cave’s crocheted, sequined, bedazzled, embroidered, dyed, and encrusted vision of the heart of the world can be found locally. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ "Meet Me At the Center of the Earth" presents the largest exhibit to date of the Chicago artist’s work, which straddles the realms of sculpture, high fashion, body art, and dance with a visual ferocity and level of workmanship that is alternately stunning and inspiring.

Cave’s art practically dares you to play chicken with your thesaurus. One would have to borrow a page (or several) from the descriptive reveries of Thomas de Quincey or Ronald Firbank to fully convey the cluster fuck of beading, psychedelic hair furs, plastic tchotchkes, yarn, tin toys, buttons, second hand sweaters, and enough sequins to cover a thousand ’80s cocktail dresses that he has quixotically and painstakingly pieced together.


The centerpieces of "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" are undoubtedly Cave’s Soundsuits — wearable sculptures that take their name from the sounds created by their movement. They fill YBCA’s largest gallery like some other-wordly pantheon of gods and monsters. Arranged in an X-shaped configuration with paths running down the center of each axis, the suits form a giant visual nod to the exhibit’s title. X, of course, marks the spot, and hanging above the room’s center is the Earth itself, swathed in several shades of inky sequins. On the adjacent walls hang two huge and possibly glitzier tondi — the Italian Renaissance term Cave uses for these round hangings — which serve as flattened counterparts to the globe.


The display lets you explore the Soundsuits from every angle. Designed to cover the entire body, the suits hide any individual traces of the wearer by creating a second skin, and then some. The suits with towering, festooned cage structures — which bring to mind both Balinese funeral pyres and Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers — still have a vaguely human outline at their core, whereas the suits patterned in all sort of brilliantly colored fur-like human hair could very well be studies from an unrealized Jim Henson project. This lycanthropic aspect of the Soundsuits is explored most humorously in Cave’s more recent pieces, which take the reverse tactic of fashioning knitwear pelts for taxidermy models of bears and beavers.

While much of Cave’s work, to quote New York Times critic Roberta Smith, "fall[s] squarely under the heading of Must Be Seen to Be Believed," it also begs to be heard. It is unfortunate that YBCA wasn’t able to more fully integrate the sounds of the suits into their display. Although there is an adjacent gallery that shows several videos of the Soundsuits in action — including great footage of Cave and a posse of pom-pom covered lion dancer-clown hybrids inciting massive dance parties in public — the suits themselves stand silent. The audio/visual divide enforced by the two-gallery layout seems to point to the larger issue of static mannequins being the curatorial norm for costume and textile-related exhibits. I guess we’ll have to wait until May, when choreographer Ronald K. Brown stages his Soundsuit performances, to see Cave’s creations in action.


Cave writes in an artist’s statement for the show that he hopes "we will dream together" One would have to have a heart of stone not to take up the challenge and the invitation delivered by Cave’s art — and implicit in the exhibit’s title — to create another scene, to go beyond what’s familiar, and to transform oneself. I left YBCA dreaming of raiding craft stores, thrift shops, and fabric outlets. I dreamed of painting the town red, cerulean, silver, magenta, and neon green with sequins and glitter. I dreamed of dancing. I’ll see you at the center of the Earth. I’m halfway there.


Through July 5, $3–$6 (free first Tues.)

Tues.–Wed., Fri.–Sun., noon–5 p.m.; Thurs., noon–8 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787


All photos by Jim Prinz

Cohen koan



SONIC REDUCER What becomes a pop legend? Mink, knighthood, screaming nubiles, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, or the Companionship of the Order of Canada? Nay, Lancelot Bass, to a biz looking for its next buck, it’s chart success at the beyond-ripe age of 74.

The curious case of Leonard Cohen: more than 40 years after his classic-crammed debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen (Columbia, 1967), this songwriting genius saw the rocket-boost of mainstream pop acceptance last year, as Jeff Buckley’s version of Cohen’s "Hallelujah" shot to the top of the iTunes charts after Jason Castro interpreted it on American Idol. One Tree Hill starlet Kate Voegele took another stab at the tune — already a TV and film staple covered by everyone from John Cale and Rufus Wainwright to Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson. The final shoe dropped last December, when a rendition by Alexandra Burke, winner of UK TV’s X Factor, occupied the top of the UK singles charts, with Buckley’s take at #2, and Cohen’s original at #36. Cohen’s current North American tour — his first in 15 years — seems like a natural next step, especially since even the supremely gifted need to eat. (His ex-manager Kelley Lynch misappropriated millions while he was secluded as a Zen Buddhist monk in the late 1990s.)

While it’s no surprise that a relatively recent Cohen creation such as 1984’s "Hallelujah" should become a contemporary standard, working its way into Shrek (2001) and the ambivalent superhero sex scene in Watchmen, the song is still an unlikely commercial success, given its spiritual yearning and hard-boiled smarts. As Bryan Appleyard wrote in the U.K.’s Sunday Times in 2005, "it sounds like a pop song, but it isn’t …. It is a tuneful but ironic mask worn to conceal bitter atonal failure." Cohen’s "Hallelujah" is a gently meta-maniacal song rumination on songwriting and faith, clad in biblical allusions, that finds hope in submission to an uncaring muse.

However hard to picture, there are through lines between Cohen’s original, synth-driven "Hallelujah" and what some call his worst LP, Death of a Ladies’ Man (Columbia, 1977), an overwhelmingly orchestrated collaboration with Phil Spector that imploded as the producer barred Cohen from the final mix, allegedly threatening him with a crossbow.

"I’ve put my trust/And all my faith to see … /Her naked body! Oooh-oooh, oh my baby, can you see her naked body?"

Cohen never sounds as unbridled as he does on Death‘s "Memories," as youthful trysts take the fall with this mocking jack-off, the album’s centerpiece. I like to imagine his vocals were loosey-goosey placeholders. Anyone with a well-blackened punk sense of humor can appreciate the larky, screw-you ethos of this overwrought artifact, decorated with an image of the songwriter flanked by his morose then-wife Suzanne Elrod. Was this Cohen’s jokey fare-thee-well to horndog profligacy?

A cranky attack on youth and "Sound of Young America" pop, "Memories" is also the sound of Spector doffing his aviator shades and jabbing at his own mirrored eyeball and "Be My Baby" legacy. This Sha Nyah Nyah take on the same intermingling of faith and sexuality that underlies "Hallelujah" is constructed as a wall of soup, ready to splash down on Cohen’s fragile voice, sometimes subsumed by an ever-present anima: his female backup vocalists, a beloved counterpart to Spector’s highly controlled girl groups.

But "Memories" should perhaps remain in the past. For a strong hit of current Cohen go to the new Live in London DVD, which is infinitely preferable to 2005’s name-checking doc Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. Released along with a CD set, this straightforward, two-hour-plus document of a June 2008 arena show in London beats all that grainy Glastonbury footage on YouTube with its graceful shots of Cohen lost in the center of "Everybody Knows," eyes squeezed closed and mic cord clenched in a fist.

The greatest pleasures come from hearing later Cohen recordings reworked by a full band and witnessing the warmth and graciousness of a songwriter humbled by his audience. "It’s wonderful to be gathered here on just the other side of intimacy," he says wryly at one point, soon segueing seamlessly into the chorus of "Anthem": "Ring the bells that still can ring /Forget your perfect offering /There is a crack in everything /That’s how the light gets in." And perhaps that’s how — and why — Cohen has gone from haunting the rooms of heartsick "Memories" to becoming the go-to guy for a shot of lyrical intelligence: he recognizes our battered souls and sings those elegant, oft-unspoken truths still lingering in the sad café of the pop unconscious.


Mon/13-April 15, 8 p.m., $69.50–$251

Paramount Theatre

2025 Broadway, Oakl.





Shades of Harry Nilsson: the tunesmith makes artful inroads with his soulful new The Atlantic Ocean (Secretly Canadian). With Vetiver and Adam Stephens. Wed/8, 9 p.m., $16. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


Astor Piazzolla is grinning somewhere when this Argentinean accordion master blends the blues, fado, and chamame. Thurs/9, 8 p.m., $18. Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore, SF. www.yoshis.com


Cajun music would be swallowed up by the swamp if not for the sprightly efforts of Michael Doucet and crew. With David Lindley. Fri/10, 8 p.m., $25. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


The moody, broody U.K. dance-pop rockers match beats alongside the spunky post-punk San Diegans. Sat/11, 9 p.m., $15. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com

Bounce to this



SUPER EGO Hold my hair, Bethany — things are gonna get wicked. The Bay’s set to undergo a massive new-bass invasion on Saturday, April 11, and I’m kind of freaking out about it, kind of having outfit trauma, and kind of fiending for a diet coconut juice. Is that postcolonialist?

Perhaps more pressingly: are the low-frequency freakinetics of abstract dubstep, turbo crunk, and future bass vanishing into the headphone red zones of download fanboys and nightlife intellectuals? I mean, has anyone figured out how to dance to any of this mind-blowing shit yet?

That will be one of the looming, booming nightlife questions as critical darlings Flying Lotus, Kode9, and the Bug rumble through Mighty with a gig tagged "The Future," and Ghislain "King of Bounce" Poirier storms the monthly Tormenta Tropical party at Elbo Room. No question, though: both events will melt your face, so pack yourself an extra and hop between them.

When it comes to dance floor poetics, Montreal-based producer, DJ, and mentor Poirier is the shrewdest of the bunch. The Ninja Tune artist has played it both ways from the beginning, tickling cerebellums with growling reveries and laser-chopped academic beats on some tracks, while on others pumping sharp dancehall grinds and grimy ragga as his guest vocalists strike demanding political poses. It’s this second, much more party-friendly "world riddim idiom" Poirier who’ll pop up at Tormenta Tropical, touring for his new Soca Sound System EP, a pulse-pounding glance toward the Trinidadian genre that includes the infectious "Wha-La-La-Leng" with MC Face-T.

And yet, despite Poirier’s intensely straightforward dance-driven live shows and steady stream of lean-and-mean mixtapes, like last year’s excellent Bring the Fire, he’s still mostly known in the States for his forays into glitch-and-sizzle future bass territory. That may be due to his pioneering work in tearing off the 4/4 beats straightjacket and commandeering homemade, bleeding bass lines to glue his ravenously global-eared sets together. Or it may be because people still have trouble seeing the Great White North as the glorious multicultural clusterfuck it is — they’d just rather slap an abstract label on it. Whatever. "Ideas are the best plug-ins," Poirier told Cyclic Defrost magazine last year — but he knows a free mind should be followed by a bumping ass.

In terms of real abstractitude, though, Flying Lotus, the Bug, and Kode 9 swim in the deepest of waters — and each traffics in his own delightful mental aquarium. L.A.’s FlyLo may still be drowning in positive press ink from his incredible 2008 release Los Angeles (Warp) but he hasn’t sacrificed any of his experimental chutzpah, chopping up hip-hop strains into turbulent, prismatic soundscapes. He’s also the smilingest DJ I’ve ever seen. London’s the Bug brings a throbbing, postapocalyptic edge to his dub creations, and his jazz background adds an ethereal sheen to his production style. Hyperdub Records owner Kode9, from Glasgow, is the most mischievous of the trio. His output aspires to a warped dubstep atmosphere that he likens to "drinking acid rain," but he also brings some much-needed humor to the mix — and reassuring connections to dance music’s past. The B-side of his new "Black Sun" single, "2 Far Gone," is a total rewiring of Adonis’ 1986 house classic "No Way Back" that dissolves me into a nostalgic grin.

When these three bass-purveyors passed through San Francisco last year — Lotus and Kode as part of the Brainfeeder Festival at 103 Harriet St., and the Bug at dread bass throwdown Surya Dub — they put in exquisitely thoughtful and uplifting sessions. Alas, they were mostly greeted with appreciative, hella-stoned nodding from the crowd. Only a few hardcore freaks had the gumption to truly take the floor. This time, I say make like the freaks and lose yourself to the beat in your head. The bass is only the basis. It’s up to us to fill in the bounce.


Sat/11, 10pm, $10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo,com


Sat/11, 9pm-afterhours, $20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com

Oprah begs for mercy



Dear Readers:

"Oprah begs for mercy" sounds so much like the title of one of the S/M fantasy stories you can read online that I just couldn’t resist it, but honestly, read this:

Dr. Berman: … and this is a little holster that the guy can wear so this goes around his penis.

Oprah: Oh, please.

Dr. Berman: Yeah. Around his penis for hands-free clitoral stimulation during intercourse.

Oprah: OK. You have just crossed the line with me.

Dr. Berman: OK. Are you ready?

Oprah: No, you have crossed the line with me. I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

Dr. Berman: All right, look. Here is the penis. (Makes shadow-puppet gesture.)

Oprah: I swear. I’m not ready for it. I’m not ready. I’m not ready for it. No. I am not ready for it. Let’s move on.

The doctor is Laura Berman of the Berman Institute in Los Angeles, where, between Laura’s therapy and her urologist sister Jennifer’s research, anyone female with enough money and not enough orgasms can get her bits seen to. They do excellent work. I’d be tempted to go myself out of curiosity if I lived more southerly and had more money and less doctor-phobia. Doesn’t Laura, usually so nice, seem to be getting something of a kick out of playing "torture the media mogul" there, though?

Funny, actually, since these appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show have sold gazillions of her vibrators and carried Berman’s name, credentials, and well-tended features with them into bed with viewers nationwide and further.

These are mostly not the penis-mounted marital aides the doctor is describing above, but the Berman Center brand’s workhorse, the Aphrodite. It’s a Magic Wand-type rechargeable nicknamed "the sure thing." How sure a thing is it, and is there anything about it that should automatically win the trust of an audience presumably tuning in more for makeovers, lifestyle tips, and celebrity gossip than for "Look, Oprah, here’s the penis … ?"

I’ve been getting floods of press releases for new toys meant for a mass audience of sex-toy newbies (it’s almost always the Aphrodite — good press that Goddess gets) and I politely reply that I’d be happy to examine one but they’ll have to send me something, and I finally found satisfaction. The Earth did not move, but MyPleasure.com, the rather sober-sided, therapy-oriented sex toy store that acts as Berman’s sales outlet, sent me a selection of hot new gear, including the Aphrodite.

I have to admit that my initial reaction to the Goddess of Desire’s pleasure wand was not "Oh, oh, oh!" but simply, "Oh." It is a dull opaque purple and quite large — a lot of purple — and not much to look at. (Check out the industrial design at Jimmy Jane or Lelo for contrast, or wait till they show up in MOMA’s permanent design collection.) I set it to charge and went away and forgot about it till deadline, at which point I discovered that the vaunted infrared feature does not work on the "high" setting, which seems like kind of a cheat. Does the vibrator itself (a large round head on an articulated neck with three interchangeable silicone sleeves) work? Yes. Yes, it does.

I am not at all convinced that it’s enough better than anything else to cure an Oprah viewers’ anorgasmia all on its own merits. Rather, I bet it’s the Aphrodite’s innate vibey goodness combined with Dr. Berman’s cred and that of the kind of sexy-sounding Dr. Sandor Gardoz, MyPleasure’s resident sexologist, plus Oprah herself, combined with the awareness that thousands of other relatable married-with-children afternoon TV watchers are using it too, that’s causing (or allowing) all the orgasms. It’s an excellent beginner’s vibrator, but I seriously do believe that a lot of those women are finally getting off with this one because so many other women are. If you think about it, this is sort of revolutionary in a way that the feminist-ish sex toy industry has been claiming but not quite earning for quite some time.

I also received an unpleasantly mauve (I sense a theme here) and flowery but otherwise nice-looking insertable thing called, redundantly, Blissful Pleasures, which is very pleased with itself for having five settings — but several of these are literally snore-y, taking long, slow breaths before revving up again, which … yawn.

And there was a "Liv" from Lelo, the gorgeousness people. It is indeed gorgeous, slim and curvy in princess pink with chrome and iPod white accents. It also has a click wheel like an iPod, though, and a learning curve as well as a G-spot one, and I am not entirely sure that it likes me. I think it would make a great gift for a geeky femme with a lot of time on her hands, but it seems a bit high-maintenance — and also, it turned itself off. This is a sex toy’s equivalent of getting up to take a phone call, and it will not be forgiven lightly.

The homely therapeutic model would never do you like that.



Don’t forget to read Andrea at Carnal Nation.com.

What’s Newsom got to offer?


EDITORIAL The front-line city employees have stepped up to the plate. Members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the largest of the city-worker unions, are discussing concessions worth close to $40 million, the equivalent of the raises they were set to get in next year’s budget. Other unions will likely follow suit, meaning that as much as 20 percent of the city’s budget deficit could come directly out of the pockets of city workers.

That was probably inevitable, and Local 1021 members were willing to give up pay increases to avoid further layoffs. Nevertheless, it makes the point very clear: Labor was willing to come to the table and offer to do its share. Now Newsom needs to do the same thing.

In a press briefing March 31, the mayor gave only the tiniest hints of his budget plans. He said he’s calling for 12.5 percent cuts in all departments, plus another 12.5 percent in contingency cuts. He told reporters that not all departments will face 25 percent cuts, although some probably will. Which programs are getting the deepest cuts? Newsom won’t say. "You’ll find out when you read my budget," which won’t be released for another six weeks, he told the press.

So the city’s facing a deficit for fiscal 2009-10 of a staggering $438 million — and the mayor wants to keep his plans secret. That’s not just ridiculous and counterproductive, it’s bad faith. The budget’s going to be awful, and the only way to keep it from becoming a bloody train wreck is to start discussing all the options now, with all the stakeholders, in public.

The problem of course, is that closing a budget deficit requires two steps that Newsom is loathe to take. First he has to set priorities — to acknowledge that some programs are more important than others, and tell us where he draws those lines. Then he has to look for ways to raise new revenue, and that means hiking taxes — which won’t help his campaign for governor.

By the time Newsom releases his budget, the supervisors and the activists will have only a month or so to hold hearings, examine the fine print, discuss priorities, and make changes. It’s a notoriously inefficient way to run the city, and it leaves far too much of the budget power in the hands of the chief executive. The supervisors and the people whose lives will be affected by budget cuts need to be in the loop right now.

And Newsom needs to tell us what he’s willing to accept as part of a budget deal, and what he’s willing to give up. His office is full of highly paid staffers working on projects designed to help his political ambitions. Is that more important than public health and after-school recreation programs? What significant tax hikes will the mayor promise to support on the November ballot? Will big businesses, developers, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. be asked to take on some financial pain the way city workers have? Will Newsom raise money and shift some of his formidable campaign apparatus into saving San Francisco’s public services this fall? Will he present a budget that assumes not just cuts but, say, $250 million in permanent revenue hikes?

Everyone in San Francisco is going to find something to hate about next year’s budget. Every resident will have to pay more, whether in taxes or Muni fares or use fees, and get less. Most people can live with that — if the costs and cuts are fair, the pain is properly shared, and there’s plenty of time to discuss it openly.

Time’s running out here. Where’s Newsom? *

Reject the Fisher Museum


OPINION The Presidio Trust Board and the National Park Service in December rejected Gap Inc. founder Don Fisher’s proposed art museum in the Presidio. They complete their review of his second offer next month. They should reject the second offer as well, and the game will be over.

Fisher and his family should stop trying to convince the Park Service to bend its rules. They should set aside their pride and their own preferences in deference to those of the Park Service and the city of San Francisco. They should announce their decision to move forward with the city to find a location in the city proper.

Most of us in the Presidio’s neighborhood communities do not agree with the seven trust board members that developing a cultural theme park in the Presidio is a good idea. It was introduced by the board only in response to the unsolicited proposal by the Fishers in April 2007. These board members, Fisher’s former colleagues — who are mostly real estate developers — were appointed by former President Bush. President Obama will have his own appointees on the board by June, in time to make the final decision on the Fisher museum.

We don’t want an extravagant $50 million new gathering place in front of the Fisher museum — something the Fishers have offered to help pay for in exchange for permission to build where they want.

We cannot bear the thought of the series of traffic signals inside the park, near the Spanish El Presidio and the 160-year-old U.S. Army Post. The trust says those traffic signals, along with garages in the Presidio, would be needed to manage the daily visitors added by the Fishers’ museum. No national park in America has traffic signals.

Nor do we want the lineup of traffic and signal lights required outside the park, at entrances and on nearby residential streets, that the trust says would be required. The city would, I expect, refuse the federal trust’s request to change city traffic controls to support a museum — one that city officials want to see downtown.

The public will pay another million to respond to the Fishers continued effort. It will end in defeat, if the federal government follows its own review processes — or in a glaring corruption of those processes if it succeeds.

I urge the individual appointed members of the Federal Presidio Trust Corporation and National Park Service officials to reject the Fisher offer next month. Two years and $2 million is enough of our treasure to spend in responding to the unsolicited proposal.

I urge the public to attend the trust hearing April 16, 6:30 p.m. at the Presidio Golden Gate Club. Support the Fisher museum outside the park, and oppose it in the park. *
Donald S. Green is former executive director of the Yosemite Restoration Trust and vice chair of the Presidio Neighborhood Work Group of the SF Board of Supervisors.

“Missed Connection: Souvenirs Of Brief Encounters”


PREVIEW If you, too, are an avid Craigslist missed connections reader, you already know about the creepy posts: "Morning gym workout — m4w — 36: Great to see you back in the gym this morning. I was beginning to think you started working out at a different time or different place." There are the hilarious posts: "Fremont Hooters Bartender — m4w — 26: What happened to that call? Did I get played?" And then, occasionally, there are the posts you think might be addressed to you: "Kinko’s Thursday at Noon — m4w — 27: To the 20-something brunette with her friend, I think she called you Michelle. I was a bit busy copying, but even with my back to you I could feel you move around the room. Any chance you read missed connections?"

I suppose that last post could also fall into the "creepy" category. But it also might warrant a response such as, "Well, I do read missed connections. But since my back was turned to you, I’m not quite sure what you look like or who you are. Were you the one printing on the neon pink paper? Tell me more."

And so it went. After a few back-and-forths, the 20-something brunette and the 27-year-old male decided to meet up. He is a robust young lad, and now we are happily planning our honeymoon.

Actually, we’re not, because the voyeur in me would never dare to respond.

Not so Climate Theatre resident artist Claudia Tennyson. Intrigued by the potential and the poetry of Craigslist missed connections posts, she’s been contacting and interviewing people who placed compelling inquiries. For all of us who are addicted to the forum but too timid to post or reply, Tennyson has translated the initial ads and her resulting interviews into a performance that includes a series of artworks that seek to embody each encounter. For fearless types, Tennyson is presenting the event as an opportunity to hook up.

MISSED CONNECTION: SOUVENIRS OF BRIEF ENCOUNTERS Sun/12, 6 p.m., free. Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St (at Folsom), SF. (415) 704-3260. www.climatetheater.com

Move(men)t: A Men’s Dance Festival


PREVIEW In the history of dance, the male of the species occupies a curious position. In some cultures only men were allowed to dance in public. In Western aristocratic education, dancing was a requirement for a future courtier. But until fairly recently, ballet choreographers consistently undervalued male dancers, and it was women who pioneered modern dance. In the 1930s, however, Ted Shawn’s all-male ensemble did much to break down the prejudice against men in dance. In the Bay Area, every decade or so brings about a refocusing on masculine performances. There is an energy — both virile and tender — to these presentations that, in the past at least, made them very special experiences for men and women alike. Some of that, unquestionably, had to do with the testosterone that just bounced off the walls. Even so, to see so many guys cooperating with each other is still not something we are accustomed to seeing on stage. The latest incarnation of all-male dancing, "Move(men)t: A Men’s Dance Festival," now in its second year, includes Mark Foehringer, who has long choreographed for men; Folawole Oyinlola, of Nigerian descent, who excels in improvisation; Kegan Marling, perhaps best known in his partnership with Jane Schnorrenberg; and Joe Landini’s new San Francisco Moving Men. Ten choreographers in all will show their chops in the tiny but hopping Garage performance space.

MOVE(MEN)T: A MEN’S DANCE FESTIVAL Fri/10–Sat/11, 8 p.m., $10-$20. The Garage, 975 Howard, SF. (415) 885-4006. www.brownpapertickets.com

Mos Def


PREVIEW Anyone who heard "Big Brother Beat" on De La Soul’s 1996 album Stakes Is High (Tommy Boy) was soon saying, "Who’s this kid Mos Def?" Still, it’s hard to believe that, 13 years later, the radiant voice on that track would become the ubiquitous scion of that good old Native Tongue can-do.

Mos Def can turn up simultaneously in a movie (his next project is a film version of Iceberg Slim’s Mama Black Widow) and on a television show (you catch him on House last a few weeks ago?), yet still find time to cameo on other people’s albums, win an Obie for his performance in a play (Suzan Lori Parks’ Fuckin’ A), and come out with a book (Black 2.0, due this summer). It’s like, wait a minute, there’s got to be more than one Mos Def.

His four albums explore his tortured id and black people’s rightful place as the inventors of rock ‘n’ roll and just about all forms of popular music — all that, and they still maintain the dedication to socially conscious protest we’ve come to expect from our once and future truth-tellers. His fifth, The Ecstatic, is due later this year. He’s coming to Yoshi’s in Oakland for a few sets with Robert Glasper on piano, Mark Kelly on bass, Chris "Daddy" Dave on drums, Casey Benjamin on sax, and Keyon Harrold on trumpet. Be a part of history in the making. It’s not like you have a choice. His name is Most Definite, not Think So.

MOS DEF Tues/14–April 16, 8 and 10 p.m., $55. Yoshi’s Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakl. (510) 238-9200. www.yoshis.com

Marissa Nadler


PREVIEW Who is the shy girl casting her eyes downward on the cover of Little Hells (Kemado)? Here in Hell, Marissa Nadler could be a damsel who has tumbled from a frayed tapestry in search of her unicorn, a crystal doll who has escaped from her vitrine, or a tubercular maid who has slipped out of her Victorian deathbed photograph to traipse this earthly plane. She’s the dark, downbeat cousin of the enormous-eyed cameo cutie gracing The Saga of Mayflower May (Eclipse, 2005), the sunlit warbler singing in the lawn at the first Arthur Fest, and the whimsical Rhode Island School of Design-educated artist I spoke to around the time of Songs III: Bird on the Water (Kemado, 2007).

With her fourth full-length, Nadler enters a new, more synthetic, and increasingly richer musical realm than that on her previous recordings — one outfitted with its own exquisite troubles and terrors. The almost imperceptibly swooping faux strings that strafe "Heart Paper Lover" sound like tiny planes dive-bombing a cruel sweetheart. The goth muses slumbering within Nadler’s out-folk also come to light, blinking: one imagines Mary Shelley waking to find herself in Frankenstein’s grave-dirt-encrusted shoes on the harpsichord-strewn, almost Sisters of Mercy-like "Mary Comes Alive." Still, Nadler’s voice has never sounded so fine — catching itself on miniscule beads of longing on "Rosary" and fading, delicately detuned, like a dying darling on "Ghosts and Lovers."

MARISSA NADLER With Eric Shea. Wed/8, 9:30 p.m., $10–$12. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com