Volume 43 Number 32

Appetite: Sticky toffee, casual clambake, Mama mia, Jimmy the Greek. and more


Each week, Virginia Miller of personalized itinerary service and monthly food, drink, and travel newsletter, www.theperfectspotsf.com, shares foodie news, events, and deals. View the last installment here.

Scottish Eggs, Chips & Pastie at Martins West. Photo by Chris Andre



Martins West helps you wash down fine eats
Time to trek down South (the Peninsula, that is) to Redwood City for this week’s hot opening, Martins West Pub. The original Martins is in Edinburgh… this locale is an homage to that gastropub (I’ll admit, an overused term) where comfort, hand-crafted beers, and hearty food meet seasonal, gourmet sensibilities. Like the beer, cocktails and scotch selections are extensive so you can wash down Michael Dotson’s (of Tahoe’s Plumpjack Cafe) quality "pub grub" (think Ploughman’s lunch, herb-crusted marrow bones or house-made charcuterie). Pastry Chef, Kelly Fields (of Sens and some of New Orleans best restaurants) stays sweet with sticky toffee pudding, drunken raisin ice cream or hot toddy pot de creme. Inside the 1896 Alhambra building, once a theater and saloon, you’ll feel the spirit of Wyatt Earp, who used to frequent the place while his wife, Josie, sang from the adjoining theater. Belly up to the 25-foot bar, boys!
831 Main Street, Redwood City


Sake bar at Otoro Sushi. Photo by Virgina Miller

Tiny but chic Otoro Sushi makes three in Hayes Valley
Hayes Valley already hasSebo and Domo for impeccable sushi, but why not one more? A couple blocks away from the heart of Hayes, lunch and dinner of the fresher kind can be had at tiny but chic Otoro, just opened a few days ago. I’ve already enjoyed a generously-portioned lunch and look forward to more. There’s a snug, eight-seat sushi bar, sake bar and a handful of tables, with plenty of sashimi, udon, and rolls like the Hip Hop Roll, topped with garlic white tuna.
205 Oak Street

Fly Bar debuts in Brick space with pizza and video games
Brick morphs into a Fly, or rather, into sister location to ever-popular Fly on Divisadero. Responding to the times with nothing over $12, Fly Bar will surely win some fans. A 4:30-6:30pm Happy Hour offers drink specials and half-price pizzas (like Southwestern or Jimmy the Greek), while the usual menu means apps, pizzas and sandwiches galore. Playful cocktails are only $7-8 at full price, like Island Root Beer (dark rum, Abita root beer and house-made ginger syrup), or Scrum: Boddington’s with a shot of Jameson. Sneak to the back room for a four-player arcade, snazzed up with cup holders and free games! It’s good to reinvent oneself from time to time.
1085 Sutter Street



May 10 – La Festa Della Mamma at Bar Bambino
It’s time to honor Mama. If she’s in town, or you want to raise a glass to her, Bar Bambino has a special Mother’s Day prix-fixe. Starting off with a choice of crespelle di frutta, a crepe-like dish with strawberries and ricotta, soup or sformatino di porri (a cheesy leek flan with Dungeness crab salad), you then move on to main courses: either a Parmigiano-Reggiano, egg, frisee salad, a braised leg of lamb, or grilled swordfish marinated in olive oil, lemon, garlic and oregano. Still hungry for dessert? It’s sorbet and biscotti or chocolate tarlets with berries. With Mamma the beating heart of Italian life, you know she’ll be treated right, Italian-style, at Bambino.

2931 16th Street



Cali-Casual Clambakes at Nettie’s Crab Shack
I don’t know why the word "clambake" evokes nostalgic memories for me – I partly grew up in Jersey, not nearby New England. But when I heard Cow Hollow’s Nettie’s Crab Shack turned Sunday nights into California Casual Clambakes (replacing Sunday Crab Feeds), I got a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. It’s all family-style, from salad, cornbread, a pot of whole prawns, mussels, clams, Delta crawfish, spicy sausage and boiled potatoes, to Whoopee pies for dessert.
$35 per person
Sundays, 5–10pm

2032 Union Street

Time passages



The past is vanishing, more than ever before. Or so it seems, as so many temporal placeholders — including the newspaper you might be holding in your hands right now — give way to digital facsimiles. This quandary is a morphing source of inspiration for "Postcards & Calendars," a solo show by the New York artist and temporary San Francisco resident Matt Keegan, who is about to complete a teaching stint at California College of the Arts.

While Keegan engages a consistently time-based theme throughout "Postcards and Calendars," he does so via refreshingly varied forms and motifs. He’s dedicatedly studious enough to turn a trip to the GLBT Historical Society into an semi-installation, yet easygoing enough to use sexually-charged archival pieces as material, spontaneous enough to try out something different with each piece in his overall show, subversive (or formally perverse) enough to digitally photograph newspapers, and irreverent enough to break his own rules regarding what constitutes a record of daily life.

Keegan first stung my eyes and queer spirit with a piece from the Altman Siegel Gallery’s inaugural group show. It visually manifested the infinite recess of a ex-romantic relationship in a manner that interspersed teasing hints of still-extant attraction with a palpable sense of emotional loss. All of these aspects brought the "memory drawings" of San Francisco artists Colter Jacobsen to mind, so it’s only fitting that Jacobsen contributes a booklet to "Postcards & Calendars" that plays off of Keegan’s theme. In fact, one can draw further connections between Keegan, Jacobsen, and the NYC filmmaker Matt Wolf — three artists of roughly the same generation who share similar queer historical imperatives while allowing humor, traces of casual lust or longing and even some lovelorn aspects into their art. Keegan’s book AMERICAMERICA (Printed Matter, 140 pages, 2008), an exploration of national identity through the Reagan era’s "Hands Across America" phenomenon, possesses enjoyable parallels to Wolf’s films about the late David Wojnarowicz and Arthur Russell, and Jacobsen’s arrangements of trinkets and trash into expressions that find meaning or power in degradeability.

"Postcards & Calendars" is a direct array of works, often candid, and at times (in the case of the gay calendars from the ‘1970s) full-frontal. But the show’s lingering strength comes from more elliptical gestures, such as a wall of personal imagery that Keegan has rendered more enigmatic and evocative through an unconventional series of drawing and photo processes. In fact, to tap into the depth of what Keegan does here, you need to look closely at the walls themselves, where you might discover 31 passages of time.


Through May 23

Altman Siegel Gallery

49 Geary, fourth floor, SF

(415) 576-9300


New art and style on Geary


With a calm demeanor and a pulled-together, no-nonsense appearance, Claudia Altman-Siegel isn’t an obvious suspect when it comes to identifying the driving force behind a conceptual art show that draws well-heeled European tourists and people clad in Converse shoes and skinny jeans. Both types, and more, are drawn to Matt Keegan’s "Postcards & Calendars," where they’re confronted by an eight-foot list of days of the week and a larger-than-life photograph of a New York Times reader hidden behind dismal headlines.

The four month-old Altman Siegel Gallery is set apart from neighboring galleries by its inclusion of a window, a trait that trades art hermeticism for the possibility of sunshine. Street noise is present but not disruptive — a reminder that another world exists beyond the space’s light cocoon of images and ideas. It has a distinctively different aura from the other galleries in the 49 Geary St. building, something Altman-Siegel says she is "sort of blind to."

After 10 years of work in New York City, Altman-Siegel slipped over to San Francisco to fill a gap in the West Coast gallery scene, bringing emerging local and internationally established artists who are still early on the trajectory to significance in the art canon.

Local art or specificity is prominent in Altman-Siegel’s curatorial work to date. The current show, though by a New York artist, includes sketches of familiar San Francisco street corners. Bay Area artist Trevor Paglen’s surreal cosmic photographs were the focus of the gallery’s first solo show.

Across the street, mannequins wearing teal trousers topped by black, multipocketed jackets and craftily reconstructed vintage dresses stand defiantly among an installation of birch tree branches and rusted machinery. A former STA travel office has been transformed into Shotwell, a cutting-edge update of a funky Aunt Edna boutique.

Newlyweds Michael and Holly Weaver needed somewhere to hawk their extensive collection of vintage clothes. When they landed a lease at 36 Geary St., the shop expanded to fuse groundbreaking European fashion and clothes by Bay Area designers. Denim from local menswear line B.Son is paired with chic shirts by Parisian collective Surface2Air. Shape-shifting square dresses from the San Francisco duo Please Dress Up! hang alongside bold separates by British label Scout. On the other side of Silverman Gallery’s recent move to Sutter Street, the openings of Shotwell and Altman-Siegel suggest that something new and bold is creeping up on Union Square.

Get a dog



Dear Readers:

The "Lonely Guy" responses are in:

I read the letter from Lonely Guy/Nice Guy and my thought is that he sounds kind of resentful and also like he wants to "get" a woman, which isn’t the same as wanting to meet women! Maybe they can tell. — Reader A

I wondered about that too. Not really liking women yet feeling compelled to seek them out (and resenting them for it) is a common pattern for straight men (and women with men; I’m not letting anyone off the hook here), but I don’t think that’s what’s going on with LG. I was reminded, though, of the way my husband used to wonder why he always had a girlfriend and at least another female or two waiting hopefully on the sidelines in case the current one got hit by a bus. There were cooler, smoother guys, he’d point out, and guys who looked more like George Clooney, so why him? After enough different women told him why — because he genuinely likes women — he finally believed us. Lonely Guy doesn’t seem like he dislikes women, and he does say he’s genuinely interested in what they have to say. My bet’s on not so comfortable with women but likes them fine. Next?

My GF and I were discussing our previous experiences dating. She sets some key criteria for the relationship she wants, and when she meets someone who meets them, she sticks with it. Of course, a deal-breaker could pop up, but she is not poised to run. My M.O. was always to bail at the slightest uncertainty. But when some stuff came up with us, she wouldn’t let me. As we’ve worked through it, we have built trust and grown closer. I know she’ll still be there tomorrow, and she knows I’ll be there too. I’m grateful that she wouldn’t let us quit. — Reader B

Actually a great point about dating in general, but not helpful to a guy who has somehow managed to get dumped by every woman he’s seen except the one who was for some reason an immensely inappropriate choice. Or do you think a serial dumpee can learn to "not let" dumping happen, as your girlfriend did with you?

My suspicion is your letter-writers lack a large network of friends, male or female. I’ve observed that people who can make friends have the easiest times getting dates. Even "boring" people can stop being boring if they develop interests they can share. When I was single, most of my dates were referrals from my social network. There is an old adage, "To have a friend, you have to be one." That sadly, must be the character flaw. — Reader C

Mmmkay. I think you’re right that having friends helps, on a practical level in that friends have friends, and probably on some sort of meta-level as well (Who saw the recent articles on how having friends, even if you don’t see them much, makes you live longer?). I was not precisely calling for people to pinpoint LG’s "character flaw" though, sheesh. Spot the flaw, win valuable prizes!

This guy spent 10 years in an unhappy relationship. I don’t think he knows what companionship really means. He also treats dating like a chore. He dates so he can … stop dating? If you are lonely, get a dog. — Reader D

Yes, LG, stop treating meeting women as the equivalent of cleaning out your vegetable drawer. Reader D is right. Once D added "get a dog" to Reader C’s suggestion about cultivating "interesting interests," though, my mind strayed to my favorite piece of dating advice ever, culled from a Mademoiselle article I read in college: "Walk an interesting dog." I have met many dogs since them, and often wondered which of them qualified as interesting enough.

I’ve never had any problem meeting women. Unlike LG, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told I’m a nice guy, because people never tell me that. Is it true then, that women go for jerks? I don’t think so. People like me, and I’m not a jerk to women any more than I am to anyone else. I’m not attracted to doormats. What I do think is that people are attracted to confidence and are generally more interested in people who are interesting. You don’t have to be an asshole to be interesting, but maybe he has become such a good listener that the interesting things about him never even come across.

If he insists on using online dating, he should 1) try Chemistry.com instead of Match.com (look up Helen Fisher’s books), and 2) never write a profile describing himself as "nice." He should talk about hobbies or interests (if he doesn’t have any, he should get some, or at least get a dog), and 3) rent The Tao of Steve. — Reader E

Haha! OK, SG, get a life, or get a dog, and write a niceness-free profile. Reader E may be a jerk, but he gave the best answer.



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

Not in attendance



CHEAP EATS Greg handed me an open can of beer and it slid right through my fingers; that’s how greasy they were from eating meat, and that’s why this week’s love-letter-slash-restaurant-review begins in a puddle of foam on a beach blanket, and with the general sense that I very literally can’t hold my liquor.

Earl Butter had some napkins. Also: two homemade balsa wood airplanes, which he had left, intentionally, in a brown bag in my car. The napkins were in his pocket.

"I don’t want no kids touching my airplanes," he said as we were walking from the car to the party, bag of barbecue, a blanket, and a six-pack in tow.

We were not at the beach. We were in the Golden Gate Park, celebrating the recent arrival and impending departure of our old pal and ex Cheap Eats irregular Satchel Paige the Pitcher. He lives in Thailand now with his wife Ann Paige the Pitcher and their two little Wiffle-ballers, Nellie and Kelly Paige the Pitchers.

Every two years they all come back here just to get cold a little and see if they can make it into my column. Probably they have other reasons too. For years, for example, they’ve been trying to talk me out of my fear of flying and into visiting Thailand so they can take me to this restaurant near their house.

Greg is a vegetarian. I offered him the opportunity of a vegetarian’s lifetime: to smell or even lick my fingers, but he passed on this. Probably because his girlfriend was sitting right there — although it’s possible, I suppose, that he just didn’t want to lick my fingers. Or even smell them. Stranger things have happened.

Not that this is one of them, but Kid Coyote found a corner of a piece of old bacon in his backpack and ate it. He said it tasted like cologne. Now, a cologne that smells like bacon … Don’t do this to me! I’m practically a cannibal already.

Speaking of which, and bearing in mind that I recently renewed my poetic license, the love letter portion of this restaurant review will be in passionate, almost psychotic tribute to a red umbrella, not in attendance. It was cold out, and windy — too windy to stand up straight — but no threat of rain. Which was a good thing, because it was also too windy to open an umbrella anywhere but indoors, and everyone knows that’s bad luck.

The umbrella, just to be perfectly clear about it, is in no way associated with last week’s little number about the stuff guys leave at my apartment. Neither museum piece nor talisperson, this umbrella is an umbrella. It was given to me by a tall, dark stranger wearing mirror sunglasses, a funny hat, and a crooked, possibly fake mustache. He said something in French that I have not been able to translate any more precisely than, "Collect your family."

"Thank you. It’s red," I said, accepting the gift with a polite smile, also in French (the smile, not the sentences). And it hasn’t rained since.

Earl Butter hadn’t had lunch so we detoured to George’s, the new 24th Street barbecue, on our way to the park. It looks like it used to be a taqueria, but I’ll be damned if I can think of which one. Anyway, it’s a barbecue now. A kind of a smokeless barbecue. They admit it themselves on the back of the menu: "all meats are slow roasted continuously throughout the day." Technically that’s roastecue.

The three-way George’s special ($12.95) has chicken, beef, and ribs, so those were the three kinds of grease that lubricated my spilt can of beer at the picnic. And it was good meat, and good sauce, and good bean salad and salad salad by way of sides. I let Earl Butter eat the potato and roll, as I’d already had lunch once.

It was a great and windy and cold party, with kids and soccer balls and croquet, potato chips, Oreos, friends I hadn’t seen in a while … and all I could think about was my red umbrella, not in attendance.

At night now, if I sleep, I dream weather reports, and, yes, it’s May, it’s California, but I simply can’t wait for it to rain.


Daily, 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

3231 24th St., SF

(415) 550-1010

Beer & wine

Cash only

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

The accidental tourist



Using dystopian prophet William Burroughs’ landmark essay The Limits of Control as his titular and narrative starting point, auteur Jim Jarmusch meditates on language and travel in his latest cinematic offering. While it’s undeniable that Jarmusch has always worn his Burroughsian influences on his black velvet sleeve, his own Limits of Control is less an explicit pastiche of Burroughs’ theories than a nod to his unique creative methodology.

"[Burroughs’] theories on language and the use of control are really fascinating," Jarmusch explained during a recent phone interview from his downtown New York City office. "But I would say more important for me from Burroughs were his notebooks and scrapbooks, in which he would cut up things from newspapers and magazines. That whole philosophy of the cut-up is very important to me in the construction of The Limits of Control."

Jarmusch’s Limits follows a laconic Lone Man (Isaach De Bankolé) as he travels through the extreme landscapes of Spain, seeking out unnamed contacts and cryptic ciphers that propel him toward some unforeseen climax. Lone Man wanders through the maze of clues with rarely a word spoken. This is not the garrulous Jarmusch of 2003’s Coffee and Cigarettes. Rather, language exists here through an intimate series of picaresque exchanges. Soliloquies are eschewed for images of De Bankolé’s contoured face and the striking architectonic wonders of Madrid and Seville; dialogue is equally parsimonious, with moments of wiry, philosophical meandering and hip, pop-culture musings bubbling up spontaneously between visitors before retreating into long swathes of silence and static.

In their repetitions of catchphrases and rituals, these vignettes — staged by actors Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Paz de la Huerta, among others — become increasingly oracular, Rivette-inspired performances communicated in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Are these inexplicable codices part of an elaborate conspiracy through which Lone Man will complete his mission, or are they simply coincidental cut-ups leading him toward the lost horizon of the Spanish desert?

With a typically austere, Jarmuschian cool, The Limits of Control cites numerous French and American gangster-outlaw films of the 1960s and ’70s in its hermeneutic, almost mystical, field-study of the nomad. Despite its lack of conventional narrative action, The Limits of Control is largely about the postmodern experience of traveling and experiencing "foreign" lands and languages, a theme recounted in Jarmusch films from Stranger than Paradise (1984) to Mystery Train (1989) to Broken Flowers (2005).

Jarmusch points to Claude Levi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques and Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel as two anthropological inspirations for his own recurring explorations of transition and translations. "[Traveling] used to be a bit more of an adventure," Jarmusch said. "When I was younger and traveled to Europe for the first time, at the airports people would dress up to travel. Now it’s just a frustrating exercise in getting from one place to the next, and the act of travel itself seems almost erasable." *

THE LIMITS OF CONTROL opens Fri/8 in San Francisco.


Pixel Vision: Erik Morse’s full interview with Jim Jarmusch.

On the (closet) case


While gay rights have been a hot political button for a solid three decades-plus now, there is at least one arena in American life where the issue remains hush-hush: the corridors of actual political power. Such is the thesis — or rather accusation — of Kirby Dick’s new documentary, which wants to light a shaming agitative fire like his last one (2006 MPAA expose This Film Is Not Yet Rated), and with any luck will do so. His subject is the bizarre, undiminished existence of top U.S. politicos rumored to be gay, living as "confirmed bachelors" or "devoted family men." Despite their carefully groomed public images, however, the D.C. bubble is rife with first-person accounts of their ex-boyfriends and tricks, not to mention sightings at gay bars or even cruisey parks and washrooms. Whether due to inculcated self-loathing, ruthless careerism, or both, they live as if it were still the pre-Stonewall 1950s, their "secret" known only to a reliably zipped few.

Trouble is, the political system and mainstream media collude in maintaining that secrecy, for the sake of both convenience and a wariness toward scandal they seldom exhibit in any other realm. Nearly all of the closet cases Dick selects to out here are far-right Republicans who profit from the worst kind of hypocrisy: enjoying same-sex relations on the sly while publicly feeding conservative hysteria about the homosexual threat to family values. They’ve voted again and again against even partly pro-gay legislation, from anti-discrimination laws and (of course) gay marriage to AIDS services and research funding.

Because Outrage aims to have an explosive breaking-news impact, I won’t name the specific politicians targeted here. Suffice it to say they include a governor, Congress member, house representatives, mayors, and high-powered lobbyists, plus a couple of network news reporters. Is it anyone’s business what they "do" in private? Hell yes, when the public words and actions of these "traitors to their own people" result in hate crimes, disinformation, legalized biases, and worse. There’s nothing particularly elegant about this doc’s presentation, but then the point it has to make is blunt, and its effect is as righteously infuriating as intended. That clanging sound you hear is the closet-door lock in the executive men’s room being boot-kicked off its hinges. (Dennis Harvey)

OUTRAGE opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters.

Fill ‘er up



An anthology of poets who allegedly combine mainstream and avant-garde aesthetics, American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry (WW. Norton and Co., 512 pages, $25.95) — edited by Cole Swensen and David St. John — is an idea whose time hasn’t come. The word "hybrid" is suspect, its trendiness invented by the auto industry to delay real electric cars, hence the cover’s Prius-green font. Like a hybrid car, American Hybrid is half-bad by design, the mainstream filling the role of nonrenewable fossil fuel, the avant-garde serving as electricity. I want an anthology without gas.

Obviously I speak from one side of this divide, having much admiration for Swensen as poet and translator, and little knowledge of St. John. Nor do I care to know a poet whose intro claims "Contemporary American Poetry is thriving on every front" like a hedge-fund brochure. Swensen’s intro, however, is substantial, her account of the post-Victorian split between mainstream and avant-garde poetries — and their uneasy dialectic — both excellent and provocative.

However, her conclusion that the best new poetry has become a hybrid of the two isn’t convincing. The decision to trace a hybrid tradition among older practitioners instead of spotlighting the generation supposedly defined by it only foregrounds the dichotomy. You could make a case for, say, Jorie Graham as hybrid, but turning the page to Barbara Guest, you find no resemblance, despite Swensen’s assertion that Guest is "the quintessential hybrid poet." Guest worked in the tradition of high modernist abstraction. Why project a concept onto her that didn’t exist in her lifetime?

Even John Ashbery doesn’t fit. He hasn’t "moved into the mainstream"; the mainstream moved to him. But mainstream adherents are tiresome. Ralph Angel’s "Someone remembers something that happened a long time /ago. She forgot it, it changed everything" summarizes rather than achieves an Ashberian mode. Only two lines into the first Ashbery selection we find: "The laurel nudges the catalpa." The word "nudges" is comically inapplicable to trees, yet it gradually begins to seem viable — a quick breeze might whip the branches of one against another, like a jab of the elbow to silence an indiscreet remark. Yet this possibility fails to exhaust Ashbery’s indeterminate line, as much what Swensen calls "an event on the page" as the work of more obviously disjunctive poets.

Mainstream poetry is ephemeral. Ever hear of Stephen Phillips? William Watson? Austin Dobson? Some of the most popular mainstream poets in 1890s England, they’re forgotten today. We remember innovators like Yeats. At best mainstream poetry echoes what was avant-garde but is now condoned. It’s the poetry of bourgeois comfort, of received ideas wrapped in clichés. When Albert Goldbarth depicts a black woman "whose rump thumpthumped in walking /like a pair of bongos" he invokes a jungle stereotype as corny as it is offensive. His poems can’t disappear fast enough. At the same time, much avant-garde poetry will disappear. Techniques like constraint writing and manipulation of extant text have become pat workshop formulae, and the formulaic isn’t really avant-garde.

The younger poets I’ve read — in, say, Sara Larsen and David Brazil’s biweekly zine Try — aren’t sweating the hybrid question. They don’t express the assurance of previous generations on the political efficacy of postmodern investigation of language’s structures of power. They’ve seen its impotence in the post-9/11 world. But I don’t see a generational rupture; the avant-garde is the only place where such poets can breathe. New poetry is always avant-garde, and they’re trying something new, not repudiating their elders. Some of these elders are writing the best poetry today, for in art, the new isn’t simply the prerogative of youth. American Hybrid contains many great poems, but I refuse to concede that poets I admire — like Norma Cole, Andrew Joron, even Swensen herself — are related to the mainstream.

Electric gypsies



Tommy Weber ( Thomas Ejnar Arkner, 1938 — 2006) was a trickster, so I cannot help but love him.

Comin’ from where I’m from — three tribal peoples: Pamunkey, Scottish, mystery African — I have always adored the Afro-Kelt über alles, and been at least inchoately hip to the centrality of the trickster, whether Eshú Elegbara, the Diné Coyote, or the Danes’ own Loki and his spawn Fenrir the apocalyptic Wolf. Such figures surf the spaces between the rational world we animals feel duty-bound to shore up for civilization’s sake, and the great vast unconscious world beyond the reach of imposed order.

The disenfranchised, rejected Dane and deracinated Anglo-African Tommy Weber — the fatally charming and irrepressible antihero of Robert Greenfield’s new A Day In the Life — One Family, the Beautiful People, & the End of the ’60s (Da Capo) — seems a trickster by default. He was left to his own devices by his estranged parents to play among the excreta of Empire well before any 11th-hour attempts by his roguish grandfather, R. E. Weber, to finish him off as a proper, upper-crust, English gentleman. The man famously dubbed "Tommy the Tumbling Dice" by his pop doppelgängers Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg had an ingrained loathing for authority, yet the right accent to charm anyone in his relentlessly class-obsessed society.

I spent the 1980s back and forth between Africa, Europa (especially not-so fair Albion), and Ray-Gun Amerikkka, chased by those primordial Saharan tricksters Wepwawet and his altar-ego the Pale Fox Yurugu. One film my late Mamanne, sister, and I loved during that period was 1984’s Another Country, starring Rupert Everett as aristo U.K. spy-turned-Russian defector Guy Bennett (i.e., Guy Burgess). The character’s final line has stuck with me. Queried about whether or not he missed the Motherland, his response is, "I miss the cricket." This immortal bit of immortal dialogue is key for Tommy Weber, me, and anyone else brought up along the black Atlantic continuum. It sums up Tommy’s unconscious longing as a patchwork Englishman to rove to the British Empire’s far-flung, dusty, darker outposts. It applies to the cricket pitch desires of émigré "Indians" (from East and West). And I connect it to my early-1980s Anglophilia, stoked by Top of the Pops, Melody Maker, Smash Hits, and NME.

Having (perhaps foolishly) strived to find myself in those sonic fictions, I feel connected to a description of late-period Tommy by Spacemen 3’s Pete Bain: "He’d come staggering in, talk shit at you for an hour with garbled words like a radio that had to be tuned to a certain frequency, and then stagger out again like a drunk" We are all animals of the machine age, hoping to belong, struggling amid turbulent cultural waves. We navigate denatured empire (which yields ordered beauties like cricket, classical music, and the world-famous English gardens tended by such experts as Jake Weber’s aunt, Mary Keen) and the dirty, excreta-slathered murk of primordial tribal tradition (which yields transcendence).

Accompanied by a soul mate nicknamed Puss, Tommy the Tumbling Dice gambled on a folkway that would provide that transcendence — a Swinging London milieu of sex-drugs-rock ‘n’ roll wherein religious and social apostasy was de rigueur. When he crapped out, as a Trickster always does, what came next was relentless nihilism at the prick of a needle. Yet here’s the thing about tricksters: death often means rebirth for them — And Shine swam on, you dig?

Once upon a time, circa America’s bicentennial year, I chanced to view a strange, twisted, little film called Performance (1970) that was far too advanced for my innocence. Every summer in Virginia, my favorite pastime — even above slopping hogs and barn dancing — was handling the snakes. But lil’ ol’ me was yet unprepared for being ensnared in Anita Pallenberg’s chamber of smoke-and-mirrors.

My old soul arose like the fabled Kemetic Bennu bird of prehistory from that befuddling, dazzling screening, leaving me a lifelong devotee of the occultist, pirate triumvirate that is my beloved doom fox Pallenberg, interiors aesthete Christopher Gibbs, and the film’s auteur par excellence — the late, great Scot Donald Cammell. (Yes, Nicholas Roeg was essentially the technical director, but the film’s peculiar psychosexual tangle and audacious vision could come from no other brilliant cerebellum than Cammell’s.)

And so I was transfixed by the cover of Day In The Life. There stared a witch even more lovely and remote than my muse Anita. Looking inside, I discovered that she was Puss Weber, and that the young Fata Morgana boy from a Stones memorabilia photo that I’d long obsessed over was her eldest son, Jake. Alongside his bruh’ Charley, he had an inadvertent ringside seat to Mick and Keith’s maiden voyage into the rough black Atlantic. You can read all about it in this book, a great gift from the cosmos.

"Fantasy" by Earth, Wind, & Fire was the private, tacit anthem of my family’s feminine trio in the 1970s — which paralleled that of the Weber boys. Strange and beautiful it is that Jake, son of Tommy the Tumbling Dice, should find himself co-starring on a show called Medium, wherein his character, Joe DuBois, has a witchy-empowered wife he must support and nurture much as he once did his beloved mother Puss. As Marshall McLuhan proclaimed during the year of Jake’s birth (in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man): "The medium is the message." Although W.E.B. DuBois (no relation) famously said the problem of the 20th century of is that of the color line, it can now also be argued that the past century-plus has been marked more than almost anything else by the problems stemming from the interface of man and machine — spirituality vs. technology.

In this light, it seems no accident that Tommy Weber has become an antihero fit to rival his fellow Archer, Duane "Skyman" Allman, in my internal spiritual pantheon. I would hazard a guess that both of his sons are currently fulfilling what Tommy wrote to Jake in 1982: "There is a very important secret. Work is much more interesting than play and if you are lucky enough to be able to make your work your play and your play pay, well then you’re in clover."

One cannot claim "Tommy the Tumbling Dice" and his beautiful, free spirit wife Susan Ann Caroline "Puss" Coriat should not have had children, for their now grown sons are vital contributors to our black Atlantic culture and are fine human beings. Still, these rather tortured Swinging Londoners’ families rival the pathology often on display around the corners of my ‘hood in high Harlem.

I am far less enchanted by A Day in the Life‘s testimonials on Puss and Tommy’s pre-Stones circle in London than I am arrested by their families’ collective African history. Greenfield’s book aims to shoot an arrow straight into the heart of Boomerville, yet it also unwittingly works as a strong resource for the far opposite realm of postcolonial studies. In fact, with some tweaking, it could serve as one of that discipline’s core works — a testament to its riches.

One of my most cherished passages in Greenfield’s book deals with Tommy’s haphazard management of the pioneering Afro-rock band Osibisa. A crazy trip through northern Africa is bookended by him, Jake, and Charley enduring a harrowing stay in jail in Lagos. To a degree, Puss and Tommy were confined by being products of their class and times. Yet they cannot be judged now via the uptight lenses of today. On the strength of their private soul-gnosis and Herculean striving to escape the lot dealt them by the hands of cosmic fate, these extraordinary Webers are folk out of — no, beyond — time. We’ll still learn from them on the far side of 2012.

Speed Reading


The Tyranny Of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry — And What We Must Do To Stop It

By Antonia Juhasz

William Morrow

480 pages


In responding to an attack on her book in the Washington Post, Antonia Juhasz explained, "My goal in writing The Tyranny of Oil was to offer an analysis that has been sorely missing in U.S. literature since the 1975 publication of Anthony Sampson’s classic book, The Seven Sisters: an unapologetically and vitally necessary in-depth and serious critique of the current state of the U.S. oil industry which also raises the voices of those not regularly heard on nightly news programs, television commercials, and in books."

Juhasz succeeds in that aim and then some. The Tyranny of Oil is a tightly-written overview of the rise of Big Oil, from its origins in the 19th century power grabs of John D. Rockefeller and his ilk, to the era of the petroleum megacorporations busily destroying what’s left of our biosphere via oil wars and Godzilla-sized carbon footprints.

The book opens with a section on pioneering investigative journalist Ida Tarbell and her early 20th century crusade against Standard Oil. Tarbell’s exposé generated public anger at the Standard trust and contributed to legislation which eventually led to Standard Oil’s breakup in 1911. The separate components of the trust were later reconstituted; nonetheless, Juhasz presents the successful grassroots campaign Tarbell helped spark as an instructive example for today’s activists.

Down wit’ ODP



SONIC REDUCER Remember Y2K, the dot-com boom … electroclash? Born when the 9/11 attacks were but a glimmer in Terror’s eye, electroclash flickered into view swiftly, a punk/DIY movement of sorts as every imaginative slut ‘n’ buck plugged into easily accessible music-making technology via no-band-backtalk laptops. It all climaxed with a 2003 tour and then an electroclash backlash, as associated artists distanced themselves from the tag. Now, much like a sexy, robotic zombie designed to sell booze with sleek chrome boobs, it seems to be clattering back to life, à la the Star Trek franchise or any other once-future-forward artifact from a distant age.

It’s been too long. After dance-punk, plain ole electro, Bmore moves, laser booty, bass crazes, and the like, the crass class of 2000 is threatening to strut its kicks ‘n’ kinks once again. May 5 was apparently ground zero for electroclash’s survivors. The man who coined the genre, Larry Tee, returned then with Club Badd (Ultra), and Perez "My Penis" Hilton, Amanda "My Pussy" Lepore, and Princess Superstar on board with him. Fischerspooner came back the same day as well, promising Entertainment (FS Studios) before a May 22 live production at the Fillmore. Casey and company select the path of earnest synth-pop and downbeat soundscape explorations ("Money Can’t Dance"), while Mr. Tee’s, er, full-length comes off as a "badd" joke or novelty toss-off at best and embarrassing at worst, thanks to its tone-deaf paeans to "Agyness Deyn" and "The Noughties" (sorry to inform Tee that the aforementioned is nearly over). Yet both recordings pale in comparison to another May 5 entry in the mini-revival. I Feel Cream (XL) is the latest effort by an original who creeps into the oddest cultural crannies, from Gap ads to 2003’s Lost in Translation: Peaches.

OK, I’m still hot for ex-teacher Merrill Nisker. I cherish those sexy dialed-in giggles over her Itty Bitty Titty Club, back around the time that The Teaches of Peaches (Kitty-Yo/XL, 2000) thrust into view. And I’m rooting for Peaches — 40 and onto her fourth long-player — to snatch the dance floor crown from Lady GaGa. With her now-well-foregrounded singing and still-girlish-sounding dirty party raps, she’s equipped to do it.

Just dance? There’s no denying that Peaches is feeling the creamy, gooey fluidity of life beneath the mirror ball, assisted by producer James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, among others. But her orgies are crammed with sharp edges and jagged corners; the at-times- gorgeous arrangements are preoccupied with candy-hued horror show synth textures, rave airhorns, whinnying house effects, and last-days-of-disco tropes. Yes, Peaches has been busy, much like her album. Teaming with Yo Majesty’s Shunda K on "Billionaire" — a faux-gold-digger-on-gold-digger track that sounds like the first single off a Gwen Stefani solo missive — Peaches concludes with a curdled snarl, "Until they tie the noose /never overproduced." Is the irony intentional?

Half self-aware smartass, half full-blown art babe caught up in the carnival, Peaches has moved from the more politically confrontational Impeach My Bush (XL, 2006) toward the rave era’s pacifying teat. The video for the designed-to-be-a-hit "Talk to Me," in which a mohawked Peaches tears at a Dorian Gray-like portrait, daisy-enchained by wiggy Grudge-style spectral waifs, says it all. Most divas — Yo Madgesty comes to mind — would be content to get the seduction right, but the liberal sprinkling of Peaches’ imperfect raps gives you a taste of why she has stood the test of time. She’s the dutifully iconoclastic daughter of Madonna. She’s also mother superior to legions of raw solo geeks who want to kick it roughly, bravely at center stage. "I drink the whiskey neat /You lick my crow’s feet," Peaches coos on "Trick and Treat." A proper lady Madonna would never be quite so frank about her age or sexuality.

And few can scheme up a playground chant-turned-pop tune like Peaches, whose school kid yelps on "Show Stopper" — "Show stopper, panty dropper /Everybody’s favorite shocker … I’m a stage whore /I command the floor /Rock you harder than a martyr in a holy war /Can’t help but engage you /Never mind my age /It’s like breaking out of a cage" — dare you to call her ODP (Ol’ Dirty Peaches). Peaches may not have the smoothest flow in the room, but does anyone brave the muddy psychosexual rapids of identity and abandonment quite like her? Call this Electra clash, Oedipus.


June 5, 9 p.m., $25–$27

Grand Ballroom at Regency Center

Van Ness and Sutter, SF

(415) 673-5716


The life aquatic


SEAWORTHY DVDS If France’s Georges Méliès is known as the first astronomer of cinema, then overlooked director Jean Painlevé might be considered its first aquanaut. The son of French prime minister and mathematician Paul Painlevé, Jean grew up amid the progressive decadence of the Parisian Belle Époque and sowed his anarchist seeds in the bloody aftermath of the Great War of 1914. Studying mathematics and biology at the Sorbonne, Painlevé made a vertiginous departure toward cinema after meeting surrealist artists Antonin Artaud, Jean Vigo, and Luis Buñuel.

Calling his work "neo-zoological drama", Painlevé began assembling hundreds of bizarre and unprecedented nature films, many of which were photographed entirely underwater, beginning in the late 1920s. Science is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painlevé, a three-DVD collection released this month by Criterion, presents an invaluable survey of the director’s most extraordinary aquacades. Carving a unique niche in cinema as a scientific fabulist, Painlevé’s creations explored the liminal boundaries of technology and fantasy through the evolving apparatus of the camera.

While his early films like Oeufs d’épinoche (The Stickleback Eggs, 1928) — a vivisection of fish eggs being fertilized — are essentially technical investigations into slow-motion and microscopy, his mid-1930s and postwar work finds the director at his most extravagant. Throughout films like Le Vampire (The Vampire, 1945) and Assassins d’eau douce (Freshwater Assassins, 1947), bats transform into Nazis, starfish become ballerinas, and crustaceans conduct sweeping symphonies. Painlevé’s use of "exotic" soundtracking, pseudoscientific narration and sudden, bewildering close-ups creates a singular, anthropomorphic vision of the animal world rather than a mere biological document of it.

Painlevé released one of his most popular films, L’hippocampe (The Sea Horse, 1934) shortly before the beginning of World War II. Though produced under extreme circumstances — the director claims he rigged an electric shocking device to his body to stay awake for days on end so he could film the creature giving birth — The Sea Horse was an overnight success with the French public. During this time, Painlevé also cofounded the world’s first diver’s club with SCUBA inventor Yves le Prieur. Reportedly convening meetings at a private swimming pool in Paris, the Club Des Sous-L’Eau (literally "underwater" but also a pun that, in French, means "drunk") staged aquatic spectacles like underwater ballets and bicycle races on the pool floor.

He continued making short films until the late 1970s and died in 1989. The Criterion DVD also features an eight-part television documentary, Jean Painlevé Through His Films, as well as a 90-minute musical tribute composed by rock band Yo La Tengo.

Mirant’s last gasp?



GREEN CITY A new multipronged effort to shut down San Francisco’s Mirant Potrero Power Plant is raising hopes that the end could be in sight for the controversial fossil-fuel-fired facility.

An ordinance proposed by Sup. Sophie Maxwell suggests that the entire facility — including the primary unit 3 and the smaller, diesel-fired units 4, 5, and 6 — could be shut off without having to create any new fossil fuel generation within city limits. The legislation would direct the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to figure out how to bridge the in-city electric generation gap using energy efficiency, renewable power, and other alternatives.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed against Mirant by City Attorney Dennis Herrera targets Mirant’s failure to perform seismic upgrades. The effort wouldn’t close the plant directly, but could make it more burdensome for Mirant to do business here. Mirant did not return calls for comment.

"Mirant has been given a free pass for a while, and the city doesn’t want to give it to them any more," Deputy City Attorney Theresa Mueller told the Guardian. "Part of the reason they’ve gotten away with not doing it is because it was expected to close."

City efforts to replace the Mirant plant’s power with combustion turbines that San Francisco already owns were derailed last year after Mayor Gavin Newsom withdrew his support for the plan, instead backing an alternative pushed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. that would have retrofitted the Mirant plant, a proposal that consultants said didn’t pencil out and that failed to win Board of Supervisors’ approval (see "Power possibilities," 11/5/08).

Despite various city efforts to shutter the plant going back nearly a decade, Mirant Potrero still runs an average of 20 hours per day, according to figures released by the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO). In 2007, the plant released 235 tons of harmful pollutants into the air, and 336,300 tons of carbon dioxide.

For now, Cal-ISO requires Mirant to continue running to guarantee that the lights would stay on in the city even if major transmission lines fail. But with the installation of the Trans Bay Cable — a high-voltage power cord that will send 400 MW of electricity under the bay from Pittsburgh in 2010 — Mirant’s largest unit will be unnecessary.

"We assume that the Trans Bay Cable will be in service sometime in mid 2010. We can then drop Potrero [unit 3]" from the reliability contract, says Cal-ISO spokesman Gregg Fishman. The dirtier, diesel-powered units 4, 5, and 6 would still be required, he says.

Not everyone accepts this as the final word on the matter. Maxwell’s legislation calls for the SFPUC "to take all feasible steps to close the entire Potrero power plant as soon as possible." That ordinance, expected to go before the Land Use Committee on May 11, would direct the SFPUC to update a plan for the city’s energy mix, called the Electricity Resource Plan, to reflect a goal of zero reliance on in-city fossil-fuel generation.

The original plan, issued in 2002, was also designed to eliminate the Potrero plant. This time around, key assumptions have changed. Last year, as Newsom and some members of the Board of Supervisors battled over the Mirant-related projects, PG&E sponsored a study indicating that the city might not need new local power generation.

Maxwell’s new proposal, citing information from the PG&E assessment, now suggests that after the installation of the Trans Bay Cable and other transmission upgrades, the electricity gap for in-city generation will be much smaller than previously assumed. This gap, which Joshua Arce from the Brightline Defense Project likes to refer to as the "magic number," has apparently shrunk to 33 MW in 2012, as opposed to 150 MW. But Arce said, "We want the magic number to be zero."

Barbara Hale, assistant manager for power at the SFPUC, confirmed that the city agency was preparing to update the plan and noted that it would likely contract with a Colorado-based firm, Rocky Mountain Institute, to do it. "We are hoping we can meet San Francisco’s electricity needs in a way that does not involve fossil fuel generation in San Francisco," Hale told the Guardian.

Encouraged by the recent activity, environmental justice groups are organizing for what they hope will be the last push to shut down the Potrero plant. Tony Kelly, president of the Potrero Boosters and an activist on power plant issues, is optimistic. "There really is an end in sight to that power plant," he says.

Some eyebrows have been raised over the implications of the Trans Bay Cable, which by most accounts will be plugged into a fossil fuel-powered facility in Pittsburgh. "We really are going to be highlighting that San Francisco needs to take responsibility … so that we don’t have clean air on the backs of poor people and people of color in the East Bay," says Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

Nor is everyone feeling optimistic that the closure of the plant is near. Joe Boss, a member of the city’s Power Plant Task Force for about nine years, says he still doesn’t expect Cal-ISO to budge, and believes the city will have to live with the Potrero plant for years to come.

Fishman, from Cal-ISO, said that as things stand, units 4,5, and 6 will "almost certainly" still be required. Almost. "Between now and when the Trans Bay Cable is in service, we can conduct … studies on transmission projects that are officially presented to us," he added. "Based on the hard data that comes from those studies, we may reevaluate the need for local generation."

TICed off



San Francisco tenants who are supposed to be protected by city and state laws are now facing eviction as a result of real estate speculators working hand-in-hand with banks in a scheme that has been implicitly endorsed by federal regulators and the courts.

Kaushik Dattani, whose company owns multiple properties throughout San Francisco, won a summary judgment to use the Ellis Act to evict four families from their rent-controlled apartment. Judge Charlotte Woolard’s April 21 ruling, denying the low-income Mission District families a jury trial, could leave the 12 longtime residents — seniors, disabled, single mothers, and children — homeless within a couple of weeks.

In August 2007, court records show Dattani secured an 18-month, interest-only $1.3 million loan from Circle Bank of Marin to buy the Victorian building at 19th and Lexington streets. The loan included an agreement that he would pull the units from the rental market using the Ellis Act, renovate the building, and sell the five Victorian units as tenants-in-common (TICs).

Traditionally banks haven’t offered loans to individual TIC owners, but Circle Bank of Marin was one of the first banks to start offering such "fractional" loans in 2005, a practice that created a strong market for TICs, loan officer Mark Skolnick (who says he’s an independent contractor and not a bank employee) told the Guardian.

In making the loan to Dattani, court documents show Skolnick predicted a 42 percent profit, which would require all five TIC units to be sold for $3.3 million. But according to Tenderloin Housing Clinic attorney Steve Collier, Dattani has not yet paid off the balloon payment — due April 1 — putting the building at risk of getting handed over to the bank, emptied of residents.

Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, said the lending scheme is contrary to the federal Community Reinvestment Act, which encourages banks to meet the credit needs of the low-income communities. "It’s within the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s power to say these kinds of loans that result in the displacement of low and moderate income tenants are not helping to meet the community’s credit needs," he said, noting that the FDIC has refused to get involved.

Others argue the importance of creating home ownership opportunities in a city where about two-thirds of residents rent.

"Here we have what looks like a condo, feels like a condo, but it’s a TIC. It’s a way of creating affordable housing," Skolnick said. "Some people lose their home, some people gain a home. The TIC platform is proving to be a very affordable option for this different subset of people."

But for the subset of people being displaced using the Ellis Act — a state law intended to allow existing landlords to get out of the rental business, not to encourage real estate speculation — the affect can be devastating in a city where little new rental or affordable housing is being built.

"They just come in out of nowhere and they see this place, buy it and kick everyone out. There’s no soul there," said Luise Vorsatz, who lived in the house for 30 years before being evicted.

This is not Dattani’s first Ellis Act eviction (when the Guardian contacted Dattani for comment, he hung up on us). In 2000, he hired infamous antitenant lawyers Wiegel & Fried to evict senior Alma Augueles from her flower shop in the Mission. In 2007, he evicted a group of tenants living above Revolution Café on 22nd and Bartlett streets. That building has sat empty for over a year, something that could also happen with his new property given the slumping real estate market.

Under the Ellis Act, if the unit go back on the rental market within five years, the evicted tenants have first priority at their old rent level, but that’s up to the tenants to enforce. "It’s possible the landlord won’t be able to sell and will end up renting it at higher rents," Ted Gullicksen, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, told us.

"They don’t look at the fact that we have pride of tenancy—that we have lived here all these years," said 23-year resident Ronny Ruddrich, who raised her children here and walks to her job as a Noe Valley shoe store manager for the past 22 years. "He drives up in his Mercedes and shows no respect whatsoever."

Shop local, City Hall!



On Dec. 3, 2008, just before noon, Mayor Gavin Newsom arrived at a press conference in Noe Valley to remind city residents why it’s important to shop locally. The mayor climbed out of his shiny new hybrid SUV, walked into the Ark Toy Company, showed charts and graphs, and talked about how money spent in town helps the local economy. Joined by Steve Falk, president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Newsom urged holiday shoppers to look first in San Francisco before buying something on the Internet or in some suburban mall.

The mayor’s shop-local press conference was a clear sign that the debate over the role of small business in the San Francisco economy is over. Everyone from the mayor’s business advisors to the Chamber of Commerce to small business advocates and progressive economists now agrees that small local businesses provide the vast majority of the jobs, keep their money in town, and generate more tax dollars, more wealth, and more prosperity for this city than the big out-of-town chains.

It was a picture-perfect scene, until KPIX-TV reporter Hank Plante asked the mayor an embarrassing question: Why, he wanted to know, did the Mayor’s Office buy Newsom’s new car in Colma?

Newsom said he didn’t have a clue.

Actually, the reason was pretty simple: the dealership in Colma submitted the lowest bid. But San Francisco lost out on the sales tax, a local Chevy dealer that was going out of business lost a local sale, San Francisco workers lost a commission — and in the end, the city almost certainly lost more on the deal than it saved with the Colma discount.

That’s the untold story behind the mayor’s promotion. San Francisco, as a buyer of goods and services worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year, does a terrible job at shopping local. Indeed, for years small business advocates have been trying to get city officials to make it easier for local merchants to get city contracts — and they’ve made very little progress.

"I’ve worked so hard on this, year after year, and nothing ever happens," Scott Hauge, a small business activist and organizer, told us. "After a while, I just threw in the towel."

Hauge is devoting his energy these days to statewide issues. But on the local level, there’s a growing sense that the city needs to do more to help small local businesses get their share of the massive public spending pie.

"The Small Business Commission has made it clear that this will be a priority over the next year," Regina Dick-Endrizzi, the commission’s acting director, told us.

Nobody knows exactly what percentage of city contracts for goods and services go to local businesses. Hauge said the Mayor’s Office did a limited survey about a year ago, but the data wasn’t very good. And while Newsom signed an executive order in 2005 directing departments to look for ways to patronize local businesses, there’s not much to show for it.

"I think probably less than 10 percent [of city spending] goes to local businesses," Hauge said.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, a former small business commissioner, agrees. "I think it’s accurate to say that at least 70 to 90 percent of all city contracts go to out-of-town businesses," he told us.

As Dick-Endrizzi pointed out, city purchasing has strict rules — and for good reason. "In most cases, you have to put out a request for proposals and take the lowest bid," she said. "If you didn’t have that, you’d have a big problem with favoritism."

But when the lowest bid is the only criterion, San Francisco businesses are at a distinct disadvantage.

"Say a city agency wants to buy five hammers," said Steven Cornell, owner of Brownie’s Hardware. "I have the hammers for $6, but somebody in Nowhere, Miss., can sell them for $5.99.

"Well, the shop in Mississippi doesn’t have to pay San Francisco’s minimum wage, doesn’t have to pay for sick days, doesn’t have to pay for health care … We’ve asked businesses to contribute to all these good social policies, then those businesses get penalized because someone else can sell something cheaper."

Cornell — who says he agrees that local businesses should pay well and give their workers benefits — is frustrated that when it comes to purchasing, the city doesn’t give anything back. "We lost S&C Ford, we lost Ellis Brooks Chevrolet," he said. "Those were all union jobs, with good benefits. And how many cars did the city buy from them?"

When Cornell was on the Small Business Commission, he remembered some small locally owned cabinet-making shops came to complain about a $4 million city contract for woodwork. "They told us that they lost the contract to a Canadian firm," he said. "The costs of operating in San Francisco were higher than in Canada, so they couldn’t compete."

"We do not as a city reflect the fact that we ask employers to do good things for their workers," Chiu added. "When we spend perhaps $1 billion a year in city contracts, those employers don’t have a level playing field."

Sure, on the surface and in the short term, the city gets a better deal when it awards contracts based entirely on price. But San Francisco has, as a matter of public policy, already decided there are good reasons to give minority-owned contractors some advantage in bidding, and that public contractors should pay prevailing union wages and offer benefits to domestic partners. Local enterprises get a modest advantage in some bids, but nowhere near enough to make up for the cost difference of operating in San Francisco.

And as Newsom himself has made clear, spending money locally has a long-term economic benefit that almost certainly outweighs the price differential in most bids. "When Newsom bought his car in Colma, the city lost the sales taxes, and lost the multiplier effect of the money being spent in town," Cornell noted.

In fact, a 2007 study by Civic Economics, sponsored by the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance, showed that if city residents shifted just 10 percent of their purchasing from national chains to locally-owned businesses, the city would gain 1,300 new jobs and $200 million in economic activity every year.

Imagine the activity — the positive benefits to the local economy — that would come with the city shifting, say, 25 percent of its spending to local businesses.

Obviously the city can’t buy everything in town. "Nobody in San Francisco makes Muni trains," Cornell noted. But a lot of what city departments buy, from hammers and paper to cars and trucks, is available from local suppliers — or could be. "If the city made it known it was looking to buy something locally, some entrepreneur would come along and figure out a way to supply it," Cornell said.

So how could this work on a policy level? It’s not that complicated. The city controller, or the Human Rights Commission, which oversees contracting policy, could devise a formula showing how much the cost of complying with city laws like the minimum wage, health care, and sick days (laws that most of us, and many small businesses, fully support) drives up the cost of doing business in San Francisco. Then give local merchants an equivalent advantage in the bidding process.

In other words, if the hammers at Brownie’s Hardware cost 25 cents more than the hammers in Nowhere, Miss., because Cornell pays for his workers’ health insurance, he should only have to come within 25 cents of the cut-rate suppliers’ price to get the city’s business. And if the taxpayers have to fork over a few cents more to buy local hammers, the money will come back, and more, from the demonstrated benefits of shopping locally.

Chiu thinks that’s a good idea, and he’s already taken the first steps to forcing the city to shop local. Chiu introduced legislation in April requiring the city to set aside a portion of all contracts for locally-wned businesses and to increase the financial advantage local firms get in bidding.

And at Chiu’s request, the HRC will appear before the supervisors Land Use Committee May 11 to present the latest data on how much city spending goes to local businesses. "I’ve been asking for this for two years," Chiu said.

"It is unwise for our city not to take $1 of public money and give it to a local business that will pass that dollar onto its local employee, who will then spend it at another local business," he added. "The multiplier effect of this is that money spent locally is better for the economy, and for the taxpayers."

On the rise



Even when times are shaky in San Francisco, it’s a fine time to head to PlayGround. At the upcoming 13th annual Best of PlayGround festival — which rides into the Thick House on steadily mounting popularity for an unprecedented four-week run beginning May 7 — a ticket will get you a lot of theater, in terms of quantity, quality, and novelty.

Since 1996, the annual festival has drawn from the best work presented in PlayGround’s signature short play contests — a monthly challenge (from October through March) to develop a 10-minute script in four days around a given theme ("When Pigs Fly" served one time), with winning scripts getting staged readings by leading Bay Area acting and directing talent in Monday Night performances at Berkeley Repertory Theater. The festival, meanwhile, gives the cream of the yearly crop (those earning PlayGround’s Emerging Playwright Award) fully staged productions, again with the collaboration of the finest Bay Area directors, actors, and designers.

This unusual mix of fresh, untested (or just emerging) talent on the page and seasoned professionals on and off the stage means there’s really nothing else quite like it in Bay Area theaters, and it remains a crowd-pleaser. Attendance at Monday Night performances broke all records this year, notes artistic director Jim Kleinmann, who founded PlayGround in 1994 with colleagues Brighde Mullins and Denise Shama.

But it’s also been a marked success in the underlying mission of developing new theatrical voices and strengthening the theater community as a whole in the Bay Area. (A recent Theatre Bay Area Magazine article listing the region’s 13 top emerging playwrights included no less than eight PlayGround alumni.) Kleinmann says the inspiration for PlayGround came from a playwriting exercise developed by his old teacher at Brown University, renowned playwright Paula Vogel, but has steadily expanded to include several commissions for full-length work from PlayGround writers. This year’s five commission winners will have their work presented in staged readings as part of the festival. The thrust throughout has been to nurture craft in the context of encouraging ties between new and seasoned theater makers.

"It certainly has evolved," Kleinmann says. "As the number of writers increased over time and the writers started to have longer-term relationships with PlayGround a couple of years into the Monday Night format, we added the festival, [which] became a really important showcase." These festival playwrights would have their works published too in a PlayGround anthology, making them available to readers and theater companies elsewhere. Still, a few years later Kleinmann and colleagues began work on new avenues of support.

"We’d always hoped that if we could discover these writers and worked to nurture them, midsize theaters would take them under their wings," he says. "That wasn’t happening as quickly as we might have hoped. So we found there was a need to bring writers to another level [with the commissions], where they would be able to be supported in their full-length work."

It’s a formula that has paid off with writers and audiences for more than a decade. Among the other enticements of new work in this format, there’s a serious vicarious thrill that goes with seeing actors of the caliber of a Stacy Ross or Jim Carpenter, under direction of a Barbara Oliver or Chris Smith, assay work by a gifted but still-developing or even unknown voice. In addition, "there’s no question it creates a dialogue about their work and [the actors and directors] become champions for their work," Kleinmann says. "What you [end up having] is a stronger community."


May 7–31 Thu–Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 7 p.m., $28-$40

Thick House, 1695 18th St, SF

(415) 401-8081, www.playground-sf.org

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Why can’t City Hall shop local?


Photo by Pat Mazzera


"It was really all about trust," says Stephanie Foster of Church Street Flowers, when asked about the benefits and perils of transferring ownership of the delightful bouquet boutique — and perennial Guardian Best of the Bay winner — near the Castro to the employees. Foster, along with Rachel Shinfeld and Brianna Foehr, took over in December 2008 from previous owners Michael Ritz and Thomas Teel, who’d run the shop for a decade. "The three of us had worked here for a while and we knew our stuff, so Michael and Tom knew they could rely on us to preserve the legacy. And the outpouring of support from our neighbors and regular customers has been overwhelming."

The ownership change of the cozy shop, bursting with vibrant blooms and friendly energy, went off without a hitch. "We were part of the lucky few who received a small business loan before the economic collapse," Shinfeld says. "But our business plan was smart, and the bank saw that we knew what we were doing." And, even in the current climate, business is thriving. "Our arrangements aren’t your standard cookie-cutter stuff," Foster says. "People nowadays want personalized, reasonably priced, green-minded, and locally sourced. We fit into all that — most of our flowers are from the downtown flower market and we keep an eye out for organic. Plus we strive to create a real connection with our customers, so we can give them exactly what they want."

"Sure, there have been some adjustments," Shinfeld adds. "There’s a lot of paperwork — and the first thing we needed to tackle was a Web site redesign. But our experience working here helped us through, and I think we’re just beginning to blossom in our new roles." (Marke B.)


212 Church, SF

(415) 553-7762




Photo by Charles Russo


What is the special ingredient that transforms a business from just another store into a place that makes people feel inspired and connected? After 42 years as a San Francisco independent bookseller, Green Apple Books and Music seems to have found it. Located on Clement Street in a building that predates the 1906 quake, it’s a "big, sprawling, dusty and funky new and used bookstore," as co-owner Pete Mulvihill describes it, creating an atmosphere for interactions that might seem impossible in a big-box store. Several weeks ago, for instance, a customer approached the store clerks, presented a CD, and requested that they play it. He also asked them to clear out the philosophy room. "I want it to myself for just a minute," he explained. The staff complied, the music started, and the man whisked his girlfriend into the philosophy room and proposed to her.

"To me, that’s an honor that somebody loves the place so much that they would propose to their girlfriend here," says Mulvihill, one of three owners and an employee for more than 15 years. A founding member of the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance, he has been at the forefront of a push to identify and promote the city’s small, independent businesses. "Locally-owned businesses recirculate more money in the local economy than national chains," the SFLOMA Web site points out.

"Frankly, we’re invested in the community," Mulvihill explains. "[We] love San Francisco, and we don’t want to go anywhere." (Rebecca Bowe)


506 Clement, SF

(415) 387-2272




Photo by Charles Russo


Hut Landon is responsible the past few years for helping direct millions of dollars into small business in San Francisco and beyond, and millions more into the local economy.

He does it through his energetic and creative leadership of two key organizations that promote the interests of locally-owned small business. Landon has been the executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA), which promotes the interests of 200 independent bookstores in the region. He is also executive director of the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance (SFLOMA).

Under Landon’s stewardship, the two groups commissioned a pioneering 2007 study that quantified the value of locally-owned businesses in the city. Their stunning finding: if consumers redirected l0 percent of their retail purchases from chains to locally-owned merchants, the result would generate about $200 million for the economy, l,295 jobs, and $72 million new income for workers.

Landon’s timing could not have been better. As the economy tanked, local merchants and neighborhood business organizations used the l0 percent consumer shift as a mantra. The study also pointed out that the local economy could get another big boost if the city would shop locally with the tens of millions it now spends outside the city for goods and services.

Landon likes to use the example of two brothers who live together. One works on Potrero Hill and eats lunch at one of the many locally-owned restaurants. The other works at Stonestown shopping center and eats at a chain restaurant because that’s all there is out there. The Potrero Hill money, he points out, stays in the community. The chain store money is sent back to headquarters. (Bruce Brugmann)


Northern California Independent Booksellers Association

1007 General Kennedy, SF

(415) 561-7686




Photo by Abi Kelly


Small business owners often feel as if they don’t have many advocates at City Hall. But they do have Regina Dick-Endrizzi.

Dick-Endrizzi, acting director of the Small Business Commission, has been moving rapidly on ways to help small businesses feel more comfortable dealing with the city — and to help them thrive in a tough economic environment. She helped establish the Small Business Assistance Center, which guides local merchants and prospective entrepreneurs through the thicket of city regulations. "It’s a tremendous asset," she told us. "When people walk through the door, we can take the time to help them develop a roadmap to doing business here." And she’s a driving force behind the Shop Local campaign, which will launch this month with bus shelter and bus-side ads designed to encourage San Franciscans to keep their money in town (co-sponsored by the Guardian).

Known in political circles as a former aide to Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, Dick-Endrizzi has a solid background in business. She moved to San Francisco in 1986 to open the Haight Street Buffalo Exchange store, and worked with that company for 13 years. "We bought our inventory from local people, and I had to have a close relationship with local small businesses," she said. "I have an intimate understanding of what it takes to run a business."

After several years in Mirkarimi’s office, she learned of the opening at the Small Business Commission, and plans to stay there for a while. "I truly believe in what this department offers to small business," she said. "There’s such a tremendous need." (Tim Redmond)


1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett, SF

(415) 554-6134






Urban Solutions has its roots in the South of Market Foundation, an economic development corporation formed in 1992 in response to what SoMa merchants, residents, and community-based organizations felt was a lack of accountability in their neighborhood’s development.

A decade later, the organization changed its name and Urban Solutions was born. Two years after that, the burgeoning nonprofit opened a second office, this time in the Western Addition, becoming an important source of service in both neighborhoods.

Urban Solution’s executive director Jenny McNulty says she is currently excited about her organization’s Green Business initiative, which helps educate small business on how to conserve resources and reduce their carbon footprints — and save money in the process.

McNulty is also amped about Urban Solution’s effort — undertaken with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency — to revitalize Sixth Street’s commercial corridor.

"We’re expanding our Green Business Initiative program, which offers free consulting to help small businesses go green by implementing cost-saving practices to increase the sustainability of their business operations," McNulty said.

Urban Solutions’ Sixth Street revitalization effort includes beautifying the area and helping businesses, in conjunction with Redevelopment Agency grants, by improving their facades, installing new awnings, repainting buildings, and replacing windows, storefronts, and entrance ways.

"Our focus is low-income businesses," McNulty said. (Sarah Phelan)


1083 Mission, SF

(415) 553-4433




Photo by Abi Kelly


Jens-Peter Jungclaussen had a dream: Buy a gutted, camouflage-painted school bus on eBay, convert it to biodiesel, and put it to use as a mobile classroom by day and a party on wheels by night, a rollicking omnibus of education, culture, and sustainability. With a few flicks of his wrist, Jungclaussen, a former German windsurfing pro and biology and PE teacher, transforms the bus to suit the need at hand — pulling down a movie screen from the roof; unpacking a buffet table, wet bar, or set of turntables from beneath the seats; or simply switching on the "party lights." Dubbed das Frachtgut ("the good freight"), the bus has hosted dinner parties on Twin Peaks, ecology classes in Muir Woods, sunrise raves on undisclosed beaches, and screenings of The Big Lebowski (complete with bowling and White Russians). It also serves as a mobile billboard for its various local, eco-friendly sponsors and can be rented for field trips and corporate events.

The ever-enthusiastic and tireless Jungclaussen recently turned his attentions to youth education, this year offering for the first time a "mobile summer camp." Teaming up with fellow teachers Michael Murnane, Gretchen Nelson, Justin Ancheta, and Leah Greenberg, he’ll present three, 11-day sessions on wheels that will introduce young people to a variety of Bay Area natural, artistic, and historical treasures. But don’t worry, the parties will still keep rolling. As Jungclaussen promises of the bus, "What you want it to be, it will become." (Marke B.)


(415) 424-1058






It’s easy to assume that the purpose of Chillin’, the brainchild of Mexico City native Irene Hernandez-Feiks, is simply to have a good time. But the multimedia parties Hernandez-Feiks has been throwing for 11 years are much more than entertainment. Their actual purpose is to stimulate the economy and support one of the most difficult small businesses to sustain: the business of art.

A former designer herself, Hernandez-Feiks started out organizing weekly happy hours at 111 Minna where she would feature up to five independent Bay Area designers. Her philosophy? Charge the designers nothing for the opportunity and take no commission. The formula worked so well that Chillin’ eventually grew from weeknight happy hours to Saturday night events, complete with DJs. Now Chillin’ is a full-fledged happening — indeed, the June 13 anniversary show at Mezzanine features 180 photographers and artists, 40 filmmakers, 80 fashion designers, and 12 DJs.

But watching Chillin’ grow — and seeing participating artists transform themselves from local to international names — isn’t enough for Hernandez-Feiks. She also devotes much of her time to charity work, including involvement with Gen Art, the Mexican Consulate Cultural Affairs division, the United Nations and Natural World Museum, and the Art Seed Apprenticeship Program benefiting Bayview- Hunters Point youth.

"Because of Chillin’, I have relationships with so many artists," she says. "I want to use those connections to help everybody out." (Molly Freedenberg)


Chillin Productions

(415) 285-1998





Waterbar is, obviously, a seafood house, but it doesn’t shout this fact in your face. The building is handsome in a generic way, and the interior décor is notable mostly for its artful blend of bustle and hush. There is water to be seen — the bay, to be precise, viewable through gigantic plate-glass windows, although your eye is likely to be drawn upward to the Bay Bridge, which looks particularly massive when observed from almost directly below and does set the mind to hoping that all these seismic retrofits will do the trick.

Inside, there’s more water, held in two tall glass columns that are, in effect, aquariums. A curious effect of these watery columns is that they, like the bridge, carry one’s glance upward, to colorful fish swimming near the ceiling. The fish are glancing right back; are they marveling at their on-high view or wondering when their luck will run out?

Waterbar, which opened early in 2008, is the fraternal twin of next-door Epic Roasthouse, and it’s the kinder, gentler sibling. The tone of the place is a little less assertive, prices are more modest, and the maritime menu probably raises fewer ethical and environmental hackles than Epic’s meat-driven one — although not no hackles, since the tale of the world’s collapsed and collapsing fisheries now includes a chapter about our very own king salmon. I was surprised to find skatewing ($30) offered, since skate is a flat-out "avoid," according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch service. Since it’s typically brought in from the East Coast, it also casts a larger-than-ideal carbon shadow. On the other hand, it is fabulous: a fan of ribbed white flesh, pan-seared to a crisp gold, splashed with a (too-salty) morel consommé, and plated with gnocchi, morels, English peas, and a pair of braised scallions.

Chef Parker Ulrich is a protégé of Farallon’s Mark Franz, and the pedigree shows. Seafood cookery benefits inordinately from a bit of flair, and Ulrich brings that flair. Exhibit A: the skatewing, which, after hesitating, I asked for and enjoyed. Another major example would be the grilled local sardines ($13), a set of plump, whole fish, nicely charred and plated with a celestial bread-crumb salad, golden and crunchy yet fragrant with mint.

Whole fish, including petrale sole, actually make up an entire subset of the menu. But petrale, a local favorite, might also recur as filets at the heart of a three-course prix fixe ($40), preceded by a sprightly green salad with pickled onions and crumblings of goat cheese and followed by a slice of lemon pound cake (slightly dry, intensely lemony), garnished with a strawberry dice and a puff of whipped cream. The fish itself was expertly cooked had been minimally fiddled with, although I was disappointed to notice that the accompanying ensemble (peas, gnocchi, braised scallions) was virtually identical to the skatewing’s.

Soups can be both fancy and less so. In the former category: a sumptuous lobster bisque ($9), poured tableside from a porcelain chalice over a lump of lemon chantilly cream and a clutch of tarragon leaves, which drift in the resulting thick sea like a school of exclamation marks searching for their dots. (The pouring, incidentally, is done by a member of a service team that practically swarms at key moments. When you first sit down, there is only one server, smiling and asking about drinks, but when the food starts to emerge from the kitchen, it’s brought and presented by a cast of … well, several, if not thousands.)

On the plainer side we find a clam chowder ($9), made with topneck clams, ample chunks of bacon and potato, and plenty of cream. There’s nothing subtle about this dish; it’s like running your pile-driver of a fullback straight up the middle on third and two and picking up eight yards. It’s good, in the full, unvarnished sense of that word.

I sound a gentle cautionary note as to items (other than alcoholic drinks) that are served at room temperature or lower. Coins of braised octopus ($16) — not quite room temperature, not quite chilled — were a little rubbery, although tasty. And the bread in the tirelessly replenished basket was both tough and under flavored; perhaps that was why the accompaniments included not only butter but a small dish of sea salt.

Still, Waterbar is lovely and worthy, a place that, despite its deluxe location and big ownership names (Pat Kuleto, Jan Birnbaum), offers something like value. Not many view restaurants can make that claim.


Dinner: 5:30-10 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m-2 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

399 The Embarcadero, SF

(415) 284-9922


Full bar


Well-managed noise

Wheelchair accessible

Hoof it



SUPER EGO Hey, Shakes, have you puffy-penned and bedazzled your hamdemic flu mask yet? Mine’s totally going for that retro postapocalyptic electro look (so future yesterday!) and says "oink pAArty." I made it by running a pair of florescent New Balances and last-season Bottega Veneta remnants through my vintage Ronco Dial-O-Matic. Then I simply collaged. When the World Health Organization says "panic," I think "personalized nightlife accessory opportunity." Are they still serving bourbon bacontinis at Pop’s Bar on 24th Street? Flask us a threesome of those, text my porky ass from the Powerhouse trough, and let’s greet humanity’s swine song on the dance floor, chop chop.


All praise to invaluable hometown hosts Jah Warrior Shelter HiFi Sound System for this weekly dancehall and reggae refresher at Club Six. None fear dread the mad decent cover, smoked-out vibe, and sticky-fresh deep-needling by the likes of Jah Yzer, Irie Dole, and Ivier at SF’s only "reggae happy hour". Wait, isn’t every reggae hour supposed to be happy hour?

Thursdays, 9 p.m., $5. Club Six, 66 Sixth St., SF. www.clubsix1.com


Right after you sleep off your crudo de Cinco, step to this annual wigout’s mixed piñata of up-to-the-nanosecond styles. Vibesquad, a.k.a. Denver crunkadelic producer and DJ Aaron Holstein, brings the dirty future bass. Scuba, my current sonic crush, kills with dubstep depth that suddenly rounds up into sweet release, and New York City’s DJ Sabo is the coolest baile breaks kid on the globaltronic block. Headliner Kid Kenobi is less intriguing — a slick Aussie techno-popper with a B-boy lite patina. But at that point, you may just want to drop a lime and cut loose in your funny hat.

Fri/8, 10 p.m., $15. 103 Harriet, SF. www.1015.com


Ha ha ha, I feel so spring break. Famed local techno label Dirty Bird matches its goofy sensibility with a no-slumber party, bunny slippers and all. DJs Claude VonStroke, Worthy, Justin and Christian Martin, and up-and-comer J. Phlip bring the post-minimal hijinks, you bring the stripy drawers and stuffed E.T. dolls.

Fri/8, 10 p.m., $15, Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com


Ladies, it’s your turn. I’m fainting for bad-girl MC Maluca’s raw and minimal electro-mambo heartstopper "El Tigeraso" single — her Dominican-via-Brooklyn roots tangle in all the right places. Colombian turntable whiz Isa GT sets her filters on stun and techs up the new-cumbia phenom with some major bounce and rave-y buildups. She’s got big names like Crookers in her corner, remixing her blog hit "Pela’O," but she’ll carve out killer stratospherics of her own in her SF debut.

Sat/9, 10 p.m., $10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com


There is no house, there is no techno — there’s only a vast rainbow continuum of disco. So goes the current theoretical trope of dance music criticism (which unfortunately negates years of pre-mirrorball funk and kraut innovation). Still, if disco is Genesis, then DJ Nicky Siano of legendary ’70s Big Apple club the Gallery, which inspired Paradise Garage and Studio 54, is Adam — and this four-hour farewell set on the eve of his retirement should be a revelation.

Sat/9, 9:30 p.m., $15. Paradise Lounge, 1501 Folsom, SF. www.paradisesf.com


The 11-year-old Sunday chunky house and techno weekly has settled in nicely to its new digs at Triple Crown, just in time for some excellent weekend recovery comfort and joy. Sure, we all miss the great Top in Lower Haight, but the Crown’s primo sound system suits DJs Nikola Baytala, Solar, and surprise special guests quite rightly. Freak factoid: the night started out as "Bionic Peanut Butter" after the classic Gwen Guthrie throwdown. Yummers.

Sundays, 10 pm, $5, Triple Crown, 1760 Market, SF. www.triplecrownsf.com

SCUBA with Catherine Galasso and Salt Horse


PREVIEW Two years ago Catherine Galasso appeared at the WestWave Dance Festival in Gnome Trouble, based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. Freud would have loved to bite into that story of sibling rivalry. Even though Galasso’s piece wasn’t that successful, it somehow stayed in memory. Apparently she likes folk tales. She is back with another one, The Improbable Reign of Norton I, Emperor of the United States. In fact Norton was a 19th century San Franciscan, eccentric to say the least. He will be joined on stage by other semimythic Barbary Coast denizens, including Joaquin Murrietta, a Robin Hood type bandit. Sharing the bill with Galasso will be a kindred spirit, Seattle’s Salt Horse dance-sound company, with This Was a Cliff. Taking an entirely different perspective — improvisatory and nonnarrative — they also create imagistic dance-theater works in which reality and fantasy collide and cooperate. The double bill comes courtesy of SCUBA, the national touring network created by ODC Theater, Velocity Dance Center in Seattle, and the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. This small venture by cooperating presenters was founded in 2003 in a time of plenty. It seemed a good idea then. It’s an even better one today if small presenters and their artists are going to survive.

SCUBA WITH CATHERINE GALASSO AND SALT HORSE Sat/9, 8 p.m.; Sun/10, 7 p.m., $15–$18. ODC Theater, 351 Shotwell, SF. (415) 863-9834, www.odctheater.org

Listen/Vision 06


PREVIEW In addition to making music, Christopher Willits is a guiding force behind the art and experimental music site Overlap (www.overlap.org). In conjunction with Overlap’s next event, I caught up with him by e-mail.

SFBG What was it like to collaborate with Ryuichi Sakamoto on Ocean Fire (12k, 2008)?

Christopher Willits It was surreal. We fell into an oceanic trance, and a bunch of music suddenly emerged. Then a Godzilla-like sea monster morphed out of his piano and he vaporized it with his max patch.

SFBG You’ve also worked with Brad Laner of Medicine. Are you an admirer of that (ahead-of-its-time) band?

CW Medicine [had] a mind-splittingly original sound — it was a soundtrack to many high school adventures. Now it’s an absolute joy to be friends with Mr. Laner. Together we are the varsity band members (guitar I and II) of the North Valley Subconscious Orchestra. We’re aiming for nationals next year.

SFBG What do you like about the Bay Area’s close proximity to the ocean?

CW The smell of fresh wind, and dreams of flying great white sharks.

SFBG I saw a fave list of yours once that had Magma, the Carpenters’ "Close to You" and Sun Ra’s Lanquidity on it. Who is inspiring or obsessing you at present?

CW That is a timeless list — can I say them again? Let’s add Morton Subotnick, Wild Bull (www.merlindarts.com), all Eliane Radigue, all Elvin Jones, John Coltrane, and that band that plays at El Rio on Sunday night.

SFBG You recently toured in China, including a performance with images on ice. What did you discover?

CW I discovered a resilient community of artists and experimental musicians pushing against the grain (and firewall) of this mammoth country or force. They understand my history and what I’m doing — another win for Chinese bootlegs? I also found some of the best food ever: huajiao (flower pepper) with asparagus! But hold the boiled big brains. Those I’m definitely not into.

LISTEN/VISION 06 With Christopher Willits, Taylor Deupree, and Classical Revolution. Sun/10, 8 p.m., $10. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016. www.overlap.org.

Booker T. and Bettye LaVette


PREVIEW In the 1960s Booker T. and the MG’s served as Stax/Volt’s house band, much like the Funk Brothers were for Motown. Playing alongside Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and the Staple Singers, among others, they beat Love and also Sly and the Family Stone to the racially-integrated rock-band punch. It was 1962’s "Green Onions" on the Memphis-based soul label that put them on the map. The song’s recent omnipresence at sporting events has given it a bit of a "jock jam" tag, but it isn’t tarnished completely.

Today Booker T. Jones is letting his signature Hammond organ sound sing alongside "the Great Lady of Soul," Bettye LaVette. After hearing her humbling rendition of the Who’s "Love Reign O’er Me" at that group’s Kennedy Center Honors, I knew LaVette’s tag was legit. Even Barbra Streisand — in attendance that night — recognized it. She turned to Pete Townshend in disbelief, asking if he’d really written that song. LaVette gives the rock opera ballad a gut-wrenching, soulful treatment. She owns it.

For most of her career, the Detroit native has struggled, but she’s steadily built an audience, touring with late legends including James Brown and a young Mr. Pitiful along the way. LaVette’s had one-off singles released by Atlantic and Motown. It seems she is finally getting her due, having had the honor of dueting on a song at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony — even if it was with Jon Bon Jovi.

Now LaVette’s career has paralleled Booker T’s. Both are signed to Anti- Records. Booker’s new album for the label, Potato Hole, features Neil Young and includes a playful version of Outkast’s "Hey Ya," Expect covers aplenty — and some surprises, too — from this bill’s soulful one-two punch.

BOOKER T. AND BETTYE LAVETTE Fri/8, 8 p.m. Independent, 628 Divisadero, 415-771-1421. www.theindependentsf.com

Sita Sings the Blues


REVIEW A few years ago, independent animator and comic strip artist Nina Paley left San Francisco for India, where her boyfriend had found employment. A while later, during a visit home, she received a surprise, brusque communication from the bf informing her she need not return — the relationship was over. Just what the bf ultimately got out of this episode is unknown. But Paley got posterity: her first feature film, inspired by both the breakup and the ancient Sanskrit epic the Ramayana, is artistic therapy that also happens to be just about the most delightful movie in eons, cartoon or otherwise. Utilizing very different animation techniques, she cuts between a blatantly autobiographical tale of romantic woe and the mythological travails of Sita, beloved of the noble Rama. He rescues her from an amorous, abducting rival, but his chivalry dies when false accusations about her "purity" threaten to tarnish his image. Then, as now, men are pigs. Sita wriggles through her fate like a Bollywood Betty Boop, frequently crooning vintage 78 tracks by Jazz Age blues chanteuse Annette Hanshaw, and the visual wit on display is akin to Max Fleischer’s antics plus intellectual gamesmanship, grotesque streaks, and eye-popping color. Paley breaks the fourth wall in umpteen ingenious ways. Sita Sings the Blues is so full of fun and invention you may start looking forward to seeing it again after it’s barely started.

SITA SINGS THE BLUES runs Fri/8–Tues/12 at the Red Vic. See Rep Clock.

“Desiree Holman: Reborn”


REVIEW It’s time to dance — to sashay from the video installation within Nick Cave’s "Meet Me at the Center of the Earth" at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to the video aspect of Desirée Holman’s part of the SECA exhibition, now in its last days at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. To hustle between the two is revealing. Not only do Cave and Holman share an irreverent interest in choreography and the unity or community that can spring from mutual movement, they also devote considerable creative energy to costuming. Most compelling of all, these strange kin tap into and surrealistically subvert (in Holman’s case) or explode (in Cave’s instance) conventions regarding race relations in the early Obama era. Think about it. Dance to this.

Closer to the Tenderloin at Jessica Silverman Gallery, Holman turns her attention to the feminine and maternal in "Reborn," a solo show that, much like her SFMOMA contribution, mixes drawings, mask-making (or more precisely here, doll-making), and video involving choreography. Holman’s drawings for the exhibition are as sickly they are lovely — a woman’s split ends take on a windswept weeping willow quality. In the alluring yet disgusting series of images, milk spills from mothers’ mouths as they nurse unsettlingly complacent babies. The video Reborn, nestled perversely in the cement block back room — or should I say back womb? — of Silverman Gallery, mines comedy and the type of incipient frustration that can grow into rage. It does so via games of duck-duck-goose, hummed lullabies, and the occasional bedazzled burka.


Through May 30. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Silverman Gallery, 804 Sutter, SF. (415) 255-9508. www.silverman-gallery.com