Volume 44 Number 11

Flashing lights


Guardian illustration of DJ AM, Daft Punk, and Steve Aoki by Matt Furie and Aiyana Udesen

DECADE IN MUSIC Good lord. Who can remember all the strobe-lit twists and turns that Bay Area nightlife slid down in the past decade? Even if I wasn’t utterly and gloriously hung over from 10 years of being 86ed, it would still be a sweat-drenched, dry-iced, hypnotic blear. That’s a lovely thing. The ABC crackdown on underground parties in the late 1990s still held strong — and lively licensed spaces like Café Du Nord, Slim’s, Buckshot, and DNA Lounge as well as many music-oriented street fairs are still feeling the pressure of the War on Fun. But you can’t stop the party. And, baby, we lived through it.

One point about nightlife in general this decade: no one could ignore it. From hip-pop’s odiously capitalist-utopian "da club" to the tourist-trap explosion of global dance music festivals, club culture was on everyone’s radar. Today’s pop stars blithely name-check underground nightlife legends like Leigh Bowery and Larry Levan, and middle-school kids fill their notebooks with fantasy club outfits. Oh yeah, edgy nightlife has been completely commodified — thank you, Steve Aoki and DJ AM — but it’s a testament to its amazing versatility that going out is still enormously subversive fun, and the onslaught of bottle service and stretch-limo-packed music vids have had little impact on a vibrant independent scene. (In fact, the independent scene has gotten a ton of mileage out of parodying and reinterpreting mainstream club dreams.)

The last 10 years of the local club scene certainly gave me a lot to write and think — and drink — about. That was probably nightlife’s most distinctive feature: it finally came into its own as an art form, one that welcomed multiple interpretations while devilishly playing with our heads. The best party promoters in the Bay worked hard not only to present immersive subcultural experiences but also to contextualize their parties in terms of global movements. You couldn’t just fly in a supastar DJ and set the light show on random anymore. Clubgoers rejected that kind of dollar-driven cynicism. They wanted to know how a party would plug them into something different, something relevant, something uniquely of the moment, something beyond.

In short, they wanted personality. At times, this meant that concept trumped music — how many times did you find yourself spazzing on the dance floor to someone’s hodgepodge iPod playlist in 2005, just because that someone was ironically amazing? But it sure was fun for a while, giving dance culture a kick in the fancy-pants and throwing open the door to a glittering array of musical styles. And everybody looked fantastic. Irony freed us from previous expectations like beat-matching, genre hegemony, fashion anxiety, and bland slickness. (It also introduced a flood of unicorns and neon accessories.) Deconstruction at last! For good or ill, but mostly for good, anyone could be a DJ, throw a party, design a flyer, work a look. All you needed was a little space, a big idea, and a sense of adventure. A crowd helped, too, but only if you worried about something as mundane as paying the bills. Reality? Oh, really.

That mid-period chemical peel of irony neatly divided the decade. We cruised and shmoozed into the new millennium on the Boom-bubble back of a lazy lounge wave — the sunny house-lite sighs of Naked Music and Miguel Migs, the mushroom jazz of Mark Farina, OM’s smooth-beats Kaskade, and the friendly turntablism of Triple Threat popping the pink Champagne. That wave soon crested, churning up a foam of pink-slip parties, when discount daytime raves and increasingly baby-powdered coke binges took over. Luckily, happy hour took credit cards. Clubland reverted to a pre-Internet sensibility, with small spaces ruling and breakbeats all the rage again.

Alongside the breaks (a sound the Bay actually had a big hand in developing) the club music menu was still hogged by chunky techno, diva house, Burner trance, retro overload, and sing-along hip-hop. Post-punk, electro-funk, radical eclecticism, and global-eared sounds popped their heads up at times: Joy at Liquid, Milkshake at Sno-Drift, Club KY at Amnesia, Knees Up at Hush Hush, Popscene at 330 Ritch, Step at An Sibin, Fake at Cat Club, roving Bardot-a-Go-Go, and one-offs at 26Mix, Blind Tiger, Jezebel’s Joint, Pow!, Annie’s, Tongue and Groove, Storyville, and Justice League. Electroclash had its brief moment, too — anyone remember Electro Rodeo at Galaxy? — and reggaeton made a thrilling brief appearance. But in general the Bay was a little late in breaking free from the ’90s.

That sounds absolutely pukey, but it wasn’t. Some beautiful nights came out of this period — I’m half-remembering Said’s Afro-house Atmosfere, David Harness’s deep-souled Taboo, and anything at the Top, EndUp, or the Cellar. And living in the ’90s wasn’t so bad considering primo parties like Qoöl, Wicked, Stompy, Thump, Death Guild, and New Wave City maintained a presence. Also, if you were looking for "exotic" sounds, you could easily find them at some of the best ethno-audio spaces, like Bissap Baobab and Café Cocomo. But yes, those four-four beats got tiresome.

Then, around late-2004, came a return of the repressed, an explosion of Day-Glo styles that had been incubating in a clutch of neon-oriented, omnivorous-eared parties like Le Freak Plastique at Hush Hush and DJ Jefrodesiac’s Sex With Machines (later Frisco Disco) at Arrow. Soon San Francisco was in the midst of a small-venue, independent promoter golden age — and a rosy flush of youth. Finally, more than the same four people were throwing parties! And you were never sure of what you’d hear.

After a few debauched months of those rag-tag iPod-oriented shindigs, things sorted out into a handful of heady genres. Technology spookily inserted itself — almost every dance floor was bathed in the light of a little half-eaten apple. Serrato and Ableton software made live edits and mind-boggling mashups, like those heard at Bootie, possible, and timelines fell away to reveal gleaming ahistorical sonic landscapes. Beat-matching gradually came back into vogue, but wittily revealing the seams between tracks became the ne plus ultra of DJ craftsmanship.

The French invaded in the form of Daft Punk- and Justice-inspired electro bangers, spraying young clubbers with American Apparel and shutter shades. To my ears, Richie Panic and Vin Sol were our best balls-out interpreters of this fuck-all party sound and spirit, and Blow Up at Rickshaw Stop its finest venue. Minimal techno made sure hot nerds with little glasses were still in control — Kontrol at EndUp, in fact, was the club that did the most to nurture the Berlin-based sound here, with venue Anu and now the near-perfect 222 Hyde offering various party backup. Genius local minimal players like Nikola Baytala and Alland Byallo worked hard to stretch the boundaries, while Claude Von Stroke and the Dirty Bird Records crew added some much-needed humor.

There was a backlash to all the technology, which revolutionized gay clubs. DJ Bus Station John’s all-vinyl, unmixed bathhouse disco sets goosed the moribund queer scene into exploring its AIDS-shrouded past, and threw open the back door to the far-reaching sets of freestyle and rare ’80s fetishist Stanley Frank and the kiki-technotics of Honey Soundsystem.

London’s dubstep sound morphed into glitch-tipsy future bass — another genre the Bay can claim as its own — before it got a firm party foothold here. Which is more than all right, considering that mutation spawned beloved duo Lazer Sword and led Burner techno giant Bassnectar to change his sonic stripes. Most inspiring to me was the outpouring of global sounds in the Bay, from NonStop Bhangra’s whirling saris to Surya Dub’s growling dubstep-bhangra hybrid, from Tormenta Tropical’s bass-bomping nueva cumbia to Kafana Balkan’s breathless, Romani-delirious funk.

So where are we now? If any moment could be called "post-whatever," this is it. Anything goes, excellently, but it’s accompanied by a feeling that we’ve informed ourselves fully of the past, that we’ve mastered the technology of the present, and that, no matter how intelligent the music, we can still have a damn good time. My only gripe about the past decade in nightlife — other than I wished we’d had a more conscious reaction to war — is, alas, the same one as last decade. Where are all the women? Big ups to Ana Sia, Sarah Delush, Forest Green, J. Phlip, Felina, Dulcinea, Miz Margo, Nuxx, Black, and the Stay Gold, Redline, and B.A.S.S. sisterhoods. But seriously, I hope the teens see less testosterone-driven talent behind the decks. We’ve got the style down — now let’s change the look. OK?

2009 = 1989


Guardian illustration of Cold Cave’s Wesley Eisold, Robert Smith, and Crocodile’s Brandon Welchez by Matt Furie and Aiyana Udesen

2009, will you be mine — my bloody valentine to 1989? More than once this year I’ve felt the effect of a 20-year loop. This sensation wasn’t quite déjà vu, but more a sense that the underground sounds of my youth were returning, slightly transformed, as outer-reach themes for another generation. It wasn’t mere recycling or brazenly wholesale copying. At times, it didn’t seem conscious. But it was undeniable.

Turn an ear to the opening instrumental dirge on one of the year’s most-praised albums, The xx (Young Turks), by the band of the same name. Its languid yet cold guitar lines seem to grow like so many nightcreeping vines from those of the Cure’s "Fascination Street" on Disintegration (Elektra, 1989). Elsewhere, the xx’s doped, lolling sensuality tapped into the early days of Tricky and the Wild Bunch, just before Massive Attack began to bloom in … 1990.

Turn another ear to the goth trance of Pictureplane on Dark Rift (Lovepump Unlimited) and the frozen odes of Cold Cave on Cremations (Hospital Productions) and Love Comes Close (Matador). Here we have new incarnations of Trent Reznor circa-Pretty Hate Machine (TVT, 1989) — industrial and electronic, yes, but with the kind of melodic sense that set Reznor apart. Cold Cave’s Wesley Eisold taps into Reznor’s rage on some of Cremations‘ louder moments, and his grasp of atmospherics is Flood-level. Travis Egedy of Pictureplane is more fey than Reznor, but he and Eisold, like their forebear, craft alienation anthems from lonely spots on a vast America.

Madchester, are you here again? The sweeter sounds on Dark Rift and a pop thrill such as Memory Tapes’ Seek Magic track "Graphics" wouldn’t be out of place on New Order’s Technique (Factory, 1988), which shifted from lush gleaming open stretches to more manic machinations. All praise electronic music in 1989, when Arthur Russell was moving from a world of echo to another thought, and Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne were putting together the first elements of a scheme that would soon yield Saint Etienne’s debut single, a 1990 cover of Neil Young’s "Only Love Can Break Your Heart."

Twenty years from their inception, Saint Etienne are a major touchstone for some of this year’s most acclaimed or interesting releases. Every act on the Swedish Sincerely Yours label could qualify as a child of Saint Etienne’s Foxbase Alpha (Heavenly, 1991), or as baggy-era revivalists. In 2008, that meant the Honeydrips, and also the Tough Alliance, whose A New Chance suggested lost outtakes from Happy Mondays’ Madchester Rave EP (Factory, 1989). In 2009, jj’s No. 2 and Air France’s No Way Down tapped into the femme pop of Stanley, Wiggs, and Sarah Cracknell. A different, perhaps more fascinating phenom floats forth from the radiophonic odds and ends of Foxbase Alpha and especially Saint Etienne’s So Tough (Heavenly, 1992). Rooj’s The Transactional Dharma of Rooj (Ghost Box) and Broadcast and the Focus Group’s Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (Warp) go hauntologically further with Stanley’s and Wiggs’ practice of searching for spirits through a twist of the radio dial.

It’s 1989: Andrew Weatherall is about to fuse his dancefloor acumen with My Bloody Valentine’s noise-bliss on the epic "Soon." It’s 2009: Weatherall returns to the realm of epic rock electronics with Fuck Buttons’ Tarot Sport (ATP). Here in San Francisco, a new brigade of superb rock bands — Girls, the Mantles, the Fresh and Onlys — arrives, all of whom wouldn’t sound out of place on Alan McGee’s Creation label back when Shields was spending all of its money in the studio. This year brings reissues of Loop’s Heaven’s End (Head, 1987), The World in Your Eyes (Head, 1987), Fade Out (Chapter 22, 1988), and A Gilded Eternity (1990, Situation Two), while spacemen-two acts such as California’s Crocodiles (on Summer of Hate, Fat Possum) and Moon Duo loop listeners back twenty years in time like a retro-futurist astronauts.

Just last week, the DJ Alexis Le-Tan told me that 2009 should have been another summer of love, like 1967 and 1988. In the new book 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This to Sing About (University of California Press, 198 pages, $21.95), the Bay Area critic and poet Joshua Clover uses Public Enemy, N.W.A., and the birth of Nirvana to establish 1989 as a pivotal year in popular music. It’s a point that the music this year argues just as convincingly on an understated scale, whether it’s Blues Control charting the quiet moments of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation (Enigma, 1988), Night Control coming off like the next Guided By Voices, or Kurt Vile and Wavves jousting cross-coastal for the role of son of Dinosaur Jr. Listen back to look forward.

False Idols


Guardian illustration of the Jonas Brothers by Matt Furie and Aiyana Udesen

DECADE IN MUSIC Forget what you’ve heard: stars aren’t born — they’re made. Pop music over the past decade has been defined by the music industry, with standout stars manufactured to be, well, standout stars. We’ve reached the point where the biggest names are chosen by reality TV, the media, and, more often than not, the Disney corporation.

Does that sound cynical? The past 10 years have by no means represented a dearth of good pop music. But it’s impossible to reflect on them without acknowledging the massive influence of American Idol, a show that emphasizes and glorifies the artificial production of pop stars. Sure, it’s found plenty of legitimate talent (try to avoid Carrie Underwood), but that doesn’t downplay its role as an assembly-line for fame.

We came into this millennium with boy bands facing their inevitable, and long overdue, decline. The Backstreet Boys went on hiatus in 2002, but let’s face it, that was more of a formality than anything else. (Remember 2000’s Black and Blue [Jive]? Yeah, me neither.) Something had to fill that void. How convenient, then, that American Idol debuted in June 2002.

"This is American Idol," Ryan Seacrest emphatically declares at the start of each episode. On the surface, the show is about letting America choose: winners are selected by texted and phoned-in votes. But the contestants are shamelessly molded by the judges and producers, told how to dress, how to act, and — of course — what to sing. I’m sure this isn’t much different from what has always gone on behind the scenes, but American Idol was the first program to show us just how inauthentic pop music can be, and to add a false veneer of democracy to the package.

There have been several success stories, depending on how you define success. First season winner Kelly Clarkson continues to maintain a thriving career, though much of that has involved a process of reinvention. Former contestant Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for Dreamgirls, but only after she’d sufficiently distanced herself from the show. (Ask producer Simon Cowell how he feels about that.) Finally, there’s the most recent runner-up Adam Lambert, the queer alternative to squeaky-clean winner Kris Allen.

As a launching off point, American Idol offers unparalleled opportunities. But to make the more lasting pop impression, singers have to find their own niche and, in their own way, rebel. It’s comforting to know there’s still room for self-expression. The machine continues to pump out idols, but the occasional burst of creativity manages to find its way through.

At least, to some extent. It’s hard to stay optimistic about the future of the genre when one of the biggest pop stars of last year, Taylor Swift, epitomizes the mundane. Bubbly and fun but nothing special, her "country" crossover appeal is simply an affected twang. And her success? Thanks to Kanye West’s interruption of her acceptance speech at MTV’s Video Music Awards, Swift found herself cast as a victim by the media. Were those tears in her eyes when Kanye stole the mic, or was that twinkle the knowledge of how far his faux pas would take her?

Meanwhile, Disney continues to promote its own brand of actor-singers. The tradition is nothing new. Let’s not forget that Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, big from the start of the decade, are former Mouseketeers. It’s clear that the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus have talent — whether or not you like their music — but there’s something disingenuous about their wholesome personas. (Let’s not forget Miley’s controversial photo shoot. She has a bare backside, you guys!) Purity rings aside, they’re as much industry creations as anyone American Idol has spit out.

Perhaps I’m being naïve. The music industry’s role in pop music is a longstanding tradition, but never before has the mechanization been more obvious, or aimed at a younger audience. My hope, then, is for a decade full of mold-breakers like Lady Gaga, whose freak act may not be new but is still more exciting than most anything else out there. And as for those mom-approved wax figures? Let’s just wish they make like Icarus and fly too close to the sun.

Some kind of mastodon


Guardian illustration of Mastodon’s Brent Hinds, Dimebag Darrell, and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich by Matt Furie and Aiyana Udesen

DECADE IN MUSIC When Limp Bizkit took the stage at Woodstock ’99, its sophomore album, Significant Other (Interscope/MCA), had been in stores for a month, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. For a group whose previous apex was the metaphorical perfection of its "band emerges from giant toilet" set design at the ’98 Ozzfest, this was a huge accomplishment. The album would go on to sell more than 16 million copies.

Despite this gargantuan haul, something changed forever that night in Rome, N.Y. Having whipped the crowd into a frenzy while performing the band’s hit single "Break Stuff," Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst bore the brunt of the criticism in the aftermath of a concert that devolved into chaos, arson, and rape. The justice of these allegations was dubious, but the damage had been done. The red-capped rap-rocker and his band never recovered, and a new decade began, one that had no time for Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (Interscope), or the entire genre of "nü metal," which had begun an inescapable demise, coughing out System of a Down’s bizarre masterpiece Toxicity (American) in 2001 like the final contrition of a dying sinner.

Having survived the deteriorated septums of the 1980s and the deteriorated JNCO hemlines of the 1990s, metal was finally afforded a fresh start. There was an explosion of post-hardcore and "screamo" artists, of varying quality. European imports that had weathered the U.S.’s fallow period enjoyed new-found appreciation; the Gothenburg death metal sound stormed across the Atlantic, though it was soon to be done to, well, death by a crop of Second World imitators. Seeds were also sown in these early years for two trends that would suffuse the decade to come. The release in 2002 of Isis’ Oceanic (Ipecac) and Killswitch Engage’s The End of Heartache (Roadrunner) fomented an explosion of glacial, Neurosis-inspired instrumental "post-metal" on the one hand, and mall-friendly, screaming-to-crooning metalcore on the other.

Tragedy struck in 2004, and metal fans reeled as they learned that Damageplan guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott had been shot and killed while performing at a Columbus, Ohio, nightclub. The Texan’s groundbreaking sounds had given many a headbanger hope during the nü metal years. And though the breakup of Abbott’s band Pantera in 2003 had been a heavy blow, the senseless crime perpetrated by schizophrenic ex-Marine Nathan Gale (who killed four in total) threw an entire musical community into mourning. The untimely death of one of the genre’s true geniuses will be a unmistakable blot on the decade when the historical long view is taken.

While the wounds of a recent passing were still healing, multi-putf8um Bay Area thrashers Metallica picked at older scars, releasing the introspective documentary Some Kind of Monster (2004), to critical acclaim. An unfettered look at a band with more than 20 years of emotional baggage to work through, the film was unswervingly painful to watch. Nevertheless, the publicly humiliating therapy proved effective, and Metallica emerged with more purpose than it had mustered in years. It is matched in its renewed vigor by a growing crop of classic metal bands that have staggered out of the ’90s with new tours, new albums, reunited lineups, and a new generation of fans, including their Bay Area peers Testament, Exodus, and Death Angel.

These graying warriors have been introduced to younger audiences by a proliferation of national package tours, which bundle large stables of artists to appeal to the widest possible audiences, leading in turn to widespread temporal and subgeneric cross-pollination. The venerable Ozzfest franchise led the charge before succumbing to economic privation, though not before a 2005 spat between the members of Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne’s wife-cum-manager Sharon culminated in the indefatigable Irons being hassled onstage by her egg-throwing minions.

The release of Guitar Hero II (Harmonix/RedOctane/Activision) in 2006 was similarly instrumental in the revitalization of metal and guitar-driven music more generally. Though the first installment sold well, it was the sequel that ushered in the phenomenon as we know it today, and an unimpeachable track list opened the ears of the video-gaming public to a world of distorted possibility. It was as adept at resurrecting older artists as it was at breaking younger ones, and metal mainstays like Mastodon and the Sword owe the tastemakers at Harmonix a debt of thanks.

Mastodon’s rise to prominence as America’s premier young metal band marks a fitting end to this decade of destruction. Raised on ’70s prog, ’80s thrash, and the hardscrabble underground music of the ’90s, its music is as aggressively technical and high-brow as Limp Bizkit’s was simple and mookish. 2003’s Leviathan (Relapse) and follow-ups Blood Mountain (Relapse, 2006) and Crack the Skye (Relapse, 2009) encapsulate an era hungry for music that is simultaneously heavy, challenging, and as ambitious as the output of metal’s resurrected masters. Now we must await the riffs of this century’s teenage years.

Nothing like it


Guardian illustration of E-40, Mac Dre, and Mistah F.A.B. by Matt Furie and Aiyana Udesen

Crack baby anthem, you can feel this music — Mistah F.A.B., "Crack Baby Anthem," from Baydestrian (SMC, 2007)

DECADE IN MUSIC In retrospect, it’s easy to see 1999 as the end of Bay Area rap’s glory. The ’90s mob music era was pretty good around here. Too Short had paved the way from releasing local discs to landing a major deal. A spate of acts were signed in the early ’90s (Digital Underground, E-40, Spice-1, the Delinquents) and the mid-’90s (the Luniz, Dru Down, Richie Rich, 3X Krazy), not to mention that the world’s most popular rapper, 2pac, claimed Oakland as his home.

So what happened? 2pac’s murder in 1996, for starters, took the jewel in the Bay’s crown. The second round of signings yielded less sales than the first, with only the Luniz’s debut, Operation Stackola (Noo Trybe/Virgin, 1995), hitting putf8um. Conventional wisdom and conspiracy theory generally hints that the murder of Queens rapper Notorious B.I.G. in L.A. in 1997 — frequently portrayed as a revenge killing for 2pac — turned major label interest away from Bay Area rappers, though it’s unclear whether anyone from the Bay had anything to do with either Biggie’s or Pac’s death. The majors stopped signing Bay Area rappers around that time, a situation that remains largely, though not entirely, unchanged today. The final factor was the purchase of local rap station KMEL by Clear Channel in 1999. KMEL never played enough Bay Area music, but soon stopped altogether, save for E-40 and Too Short, the only two acts to retain their major deals as the new century dawned.

Enter "the drought." With no radio and no major-label interest, Bay Area rap languished. Local alternative rap fared better because its business model usually didn’t include the radio or the majors. Though the Hieroglyphics had been around since the early ’90s, the collective stepped up their activities in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Given their devoted following, heavy touring, and iconic symbol, Hiero was Bay Area hip-hop for many outside the region. The Bay was also home to hip-hop collectives like the Solesides-derived Quannum Projects, whose Blackalicious put out Blazing Arrow through MCA in 2002, during a brief blip of major label interest in progressive hip-hop.

Two of the significant records from this period were Party Music (75Ark/Warner, 2001) by the Coup and Sonic Jihad (Guerilla Funk, 2003) by Paris. A neo-P-Funk dust-up, Party Music achieved much notoriety for its original cover depicting members Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress seemingly blowing up the World Trade Center. Scheduled for September release, the album was of course put on hold after 9/11 until new art could be arranged. Paris was one of the earliest local acts to go major. He predates the concept of "alternative" rap — when he began, you could be a militant rapper like Chuck D and still get signed. After two years of mind-numbing flag-waving in this country, Paris had the audacity to release an album whose cover depicted a plane about to fly into the White House, and whose lyrics excoriated the Bush administration, accusing it of complicity with the 9/11 attacks. It was a bold action in an otherwise spineless cultural moment.

Meanwhile, the Bay was reloading. Special mention must go to Mac Dre, who, with the Delinquents and a few others, held the scene together in its lean years. Dre went to jail for four years beginning in 1992. When he emerged in 1996, major label opportunities were drying up, but he refused to let it stop him. From 1998 to 2004, he released 11 solo albums on his Thizz Entertainment label, not to mention innumerable compilations and side-projects. At a time when almost no records were selling locally, Dre was moving between 30,000 and 60,000 units. In an increasingly homogenized MC environment, Dre’s distinctive personality shone through, manifesting itself in a series of humorous characters on Thizz: Thizzelle Washington (2003), Ronald Dregan (2004), and The Genie of the Lamp (2004).

During the ensuing hyphy movement (circa 2005-07), debates ensued over who was responsible for the new music. Dre was a huge influence on hyphy’s colorful, comic aesthetics, but he was murdered before he could reap the rewards of his efforts. Producer Rick Rock, one of the Bay’s few national hitmakers, landed a deal with Virgin for the Federation, breaking them onto the radio with the hit "Hyphy" in 2003. Former 3X Krazy-member Keak da Sneak, however, was the man who brought this particular bit of Oakland slang to hip-hop, asserting his own claim with the Traxamillion-produced, local No. 1 "Super Hyphy" in 2005.

In between, newcomers the Team had a 2004 local radio hit, "It’s Gettin’ Hot," and inked a deal with a Universal imprint which ultimately fell through, while producers EA-Ski and CMT got their own protégés, Frontline, a deal with Ryko-imprint Penalty Records. Still in high school, E-40’s son Droop-E also contributed to the sound through radio singles like Mistah F.A.B.’s 2005 track "Super Sic Wid It."

Even this tiny amount of major interest and radio support resulted in heady times: "the drought," it seemed, was officially over. Yet after a couple of years of valuable if lukewarm support, KMEL again stopped playing local hip-hop, and the few major deals haven’t panned out. Clyde Carson from the Team was picked up by Capital, only to be dropped three years later without releasing an album. Mistah F.A.B., who continues to enhance his profile through collaborations with the likes of Snoop Dogg, remains subjected to Atlantic Records’ agonizing delays, which would have killed the career of anyone less determined.

After a couple years, the post-hyphy period of Bay rap took on a discernible personality. Though many complained hyphy was too oriented toward kids, that trend has continued to develop. The new crop of Bay Area acts — including J. Stalin, Shady Nate, Beeda Weeda, D-Lo, Stevie Joe — identify with their high school-age fans, whereas previous generations rapped as adults, even acts like Dre or the Mob Figaz who were still in high school when they began their careers. The generational shift might be considered in terms of the 1980s rise of crack, for whereas Dre, the Jacka, and others dealt crack as teenagers, the current crop was born at this time.

J. Stalin, for example, literally is a crack baby, and all these younger MCs grew up with crack as an established fact of life. The new vibe might be labeled "crack baby music," for this fact is explicitly if inarticulately present as a subject or theme. The anger of this generation manifests in the extreme violence of its lyrics, and the gangsta social consciousness of 2pac’s time is extremely attenuated, though not entirely gone. Its appeal to ghetto youth growing up in this appalling post-9/11 era is perfectly comprehensible. Yet despite its darkness, the current music also illustrates the resilience of this regional culture even in the face of indifference and neglect. In terms of the overall American rap world, there’s nothing quite like the Bay.

You ought-sa know



Christina Aguilera defeats Britney Spears in the Battle of the Midriff-Baring Blondes (i.e., wins the Best New Artist Grammy). The first words of her acceptance speech are "Oh my god, you guys!"

APRIL 2000

Pop goes the world: ‘N SYNC sells 2.4 million copies of No Strings Attached (Jive) in its first week of release, a sales record which still stands. To date it has sold over 15 million copies.

Metallica files suit against Napster, accusing internet pirates of stealing their booty — er, royalties.

Pop goes the world, part two: Britney Spears releases Oops! … I Did It Again (Jive). Album title will take on extra meaning in 2004, when Spears takes the vows twice in a single year (her first marriage is annulled after 55 hours; her second produces a pair of sons in quick succession).

MAY 2000

Eminem releases The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath). Two years later, he picks up a Best Song Oscar for "Lose Yourself," the theme from his critically-acclaimed 8 Mile. Eminem’s cinematic success was not to be repeated by his otherwise successful protégé, 50 Cent (see: 2005’s dismal Get Rich or Die Tryin’).


Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (Interscope) drops; it’s an early contender for worst album title of the decade. Related: "Limp Bizkit" is probably the worst band name of all time.


Jennifer Lopez has the number one album (Epic’s J.Lo) and movie (The Wedding Planner) in the country. Media frenzy peaked with Bennifer fever (2002) and national-punchline Gigli (2003).

JULY 2001

Mariah Carey’s downward spiral begins, including a bizarre appearance on MTV’s Total Request Live and the ill-timed release of Glitter, soon after the September 11 attacks. Carey later reclaimed her pop-diva throne with 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi (Island).


Aaliyah dies in a Bahamas plane crash.


America: A Tribute to Heroes airs on all major networks. It’s the first in a series of concerts featuring big-name performers that would crop up after every major disaster throughout the decade, including the Indonesian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the death of Michael Jackson.

APRIL 2002

Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes dies in a car crash in Honduras.

JUNE 2002

R. Kelly is charged with having sex with a minor after a certain videotape goes viral. "Trapped in the Closet," his 22-part 2005 "hip-hopera," proves even more fascinating.


Kelly Clarkson wins the first season of the hugely popular talent contest American Idol. In Clarkson’s wake: pop stardom, fellow success stories like Carrie Underwood (and failures — anyone seen Taylor Hicks lately?), a zillion rip-off competition shows, a thousand moments of zen with Paula Abdul, and the baffling "Claymate" phenomenon.


Michael Jackson. Blanket. Balcony.


Whitney Houston informs Diane Sawyer that "crack is wack."


Famed producer and legendary oddball Phil Spector arrested after a woman he’d just met, actress Lana Clarkson, is shot to death in his mansion. In 2009, after two trials (the first ended in a mistrial), he’s found guilty of second-degree murder.

At a Rhode Island nightclub, 100 people are killed when a fire breaks out during a Great White concert.

MARCH 2003

On the eve of the Iraq War, Dixie Chick, Texan, and American hero Natalie Maines informs a British crowd: "We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." Backlash, and a feud with uber-patriotic fellow country star Toby Keith — who had a 2002 hit with "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)" — ensues.


Madonna smooches Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards. Oh my god, you guys!


Johnny Cash goes to meet the Ghost Riders in the Sky. Two years after his death, Walk the Line gives him Hollywood biopic treatment; Reese Witherspoon picks up an Oscar for portraying June Carter, who died just months before her husband.


Michael Jackson is arrested for child molestation, not long after the broadcast of Martin Bashir’s fairly skeevy Living with Michael Jackson interviews.

Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica debuts. (Spoiler: they get divorced in 2006!)


Janet Jackson. Superbowl. Boob.

JUNE 2004

Dave Chappelle’s Lil John imitation became the imitation you loved to imitate. Whuuut?


Look out, brah! A bus belonging to the Dave Matthews Band dumps 800 pounds of shit off a Chicago bridge and onto a tour boat.


Ashlee Simpson pulls a Milli Vanilli on Saturday Night Live.


Heavy metal guitarist Dimebag Darrell shot to death while performing in Columbus, Ohio.


YouTube is born.

JUNE 2005

Michael Jackson found not guilty. Dove Lady celebrates.


"George Bush doesn’t care about black people." — Kanye West, during NBC’s live "Concert for Hurricane Relief."


High School Musical airs. Sequels, worldwide fame for even lesser cast members, and nude photo scandals await.

MARCH 2006

Three 6 Mafia win an Oscar for Hustle and Flow jam "It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp," which they perform live at the ceremony as fossilized Academy members gape in confusion.

JUNE 2006

Over a quarter of a million people download "Hips Don’t Lie" in its first week online, despite the fact that the Shakira track is so utterly inescapable it’s incredible anyone would choose to listen to it during any spare moments when it wasn’t playing already.


Amy Winehouse releases Back to Black (Island Records); the would-be retro pop queen’s career screeches to a halt after various addictions take hold. For the next few years, Winehouse’s downfall is gleefully chronicled and circulated by paparazzi worldwide.


American Idol also-ran Jennifer Hudson wins an Oscar for her supporting performance in Dreamgirls. The gracious Hudson somehow keeps the phrase "In your face, Simon!" out of her acceptance speech.

Britney Spears. Clippers. Hair. (Chris. Crocker.)

JUNE 2007

The Sopranos airs its last episode. Journey’s "Don’t Stop Believin" becomes a new-old sensation.


Radiohead self-release In Rainbows, allowing customers to determine their own price for the album’s download.


Jamie Lynn Spears, 16-year-old sister of Britney, announces she’s knocked up. Oh my god, you guys!

APRIL 2008

Miley Cyrus lets Annie Leibovitz take a vaguely smutty photo of her for Vanity Fair.


Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, a.k.a. Lady Gaga, releases The Fame (Interscope). Pop domination imminent.


Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein are the sole survivors of a small plane crash in South Carolina. Goldstein is found dead in August 2009, leading to more than one tasteless Final Destination joke.


Long-gestating, near-mythical Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy (Geffen) finally drops. World shrugs, admits they’ll always prefer Appetite for Destruction (Geffen) no matter what Axl does from here on out.


Christian Bale’s angry rant at a crew member on the set of Terminator: Salvation becomes an Internet sensation. A dance remix follows almost instantaneously. "What don’t you fucking understand?"

Chris Brown beats up then-girlfriend Rihanna. He pleads guilty in August; as part of his sentence, he must stay 100 yards away from Rihanna (10 yards at public events) for five years.

JUNE 2009

Michael Jackson dies.


Berkeley Repertory Theater premieres American Idiot, a musical based on the 2004 Green Day album.

"Taylor, I’m really happy for you, and I’m gonna let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time." — Kanye West, MTV Video Music Awards. This is the only interesting thing that has ever happened to Taylor Swift.

Peeping Tomás


Pedro Almodóvar has always dabbled in the Hitchcockian tropes of uxoricide, betrayal, and double-identity, but with Broken Embraces he has attained a polyglot, if slightly mimicking, fluency with the language of Hollywood noir. A story within a story and a movie within a movie, Embraces begins in the present day with middle-aged Catalan Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), a blind screenwriter who takes time between his successful writing career to seduce and bed young women sympathetic to his disability. “Everything’s already happened to me,” he explains to his manager, Judit (Blanca Portillo). “All that’s left is to enjoy life.” But this life of empty pleasures is brought to a sudden halt when Judit reports that a local business magnate Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) has died; soon after, Ernesto Jr. (Rubén Ochandiano), who has renamed himself Ray X, visits Caine with an unusual request. Judit’s son, Diego (Tamar Novas), who is also Caine’s secretary, is a witness to these strange circumstances and inquires into the mysterious past of Caine.

To wit, the action retreats 14 years when Caine was a young (and visually abled) director named Mateo Blanco. In the classic noir set-up, Blanco encounters a breathtaking femme fatale, Lena (Penelope Cruz) — an actress-turned-prostitute named Severine, turned secretary-turned-trophy wife of Ernesto Martel — when she appears to audition for his latest movie, Girls and Suitcases. As Lena’s marriage with the aging Martel is one of convenience, she quickly engages in a torrid off-camera affair with Mateo. But their tryst is compromised by the constant presence of Ernesto Jr., who has been tapped by his father to shoot a behind-the-scenes “documentary” of Lena and Mateo for his own private consumption. When the secret is exposed with the help of a freelance lip-reader (in a classic Almodóvarian scene), the fates of Mateo, Lena, Ernesto, and Judit collide with tragic consequences.

If all of the narrative intricacies and multiplicitous identities in Broken Embraces appear a bit intimidating at first glance, it is because this is the cinema of Almodóvar taken to a kind of generic extreme. As with all of the director’s post-’00 films — All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002), Bad Education (2004), and Volver (2006) — which are often referred to as Almodóvar’s “mature” pictures, there is a microscopic attention to narrative development combined with a frenzied sub-plotting of nearly soap-operatic proportions. But, in Embraces, formalism attains such prominence that one might speculate the director is simply going through the motions. The effect is a purposely loquacious and overly-dramatized performance that pleasures itself as much by setting up the plot as unraveling it. So, throughout the overlong 127 minute film, two distinct types of scenes become readily apparent: those which are Almodóvar at his best — arriving with a striking visual and musical style and leaving one nearly breathless; and Almodóvar at his worst — those which are purely convention, lumber about far too long and veer into dialogic minutiae. If the audience can withstand these long-winded asides, the cinematic prize is great indeed.

For a obsessive appropriationist, Almodóvar has never been so blatantly referential as he is in Broken Embraces. Apart from the most obvious nods to Hitchcock, the director has included scenic love-letters to Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1954), and Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950). Those fans of Almodóvar’s 80s comedies will even recognize the director’s send-up of his own oeuvre in Girls and Suitcases, a potpourri of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984) Whether or not this confirms that the young iconoclast Almodóvar has, in his old age, become an unashamed nostalgic merits some debate. But, regardless of the verdict, Broken Embraces proves itself to be an impressive lexicon.

Broken Embraces opens Fri/18 in San Francisco.




CHEAP EATS Weirdo the Cat, in an act of life-defying cantankerousness, has died. She got wind of my own impending crossing and timed her tumor accordingly, missing by only one day. No, not missing. While it would have been more operatic of her to die in my arms while I was tearfully kissing her goodbye, she let me get to the airport, on the plane, over the continent, over the ocean, up to the terminal, past customs, into the arms of my lover, onto the train, into the taxi, up two flights of stairs with three heavy suitcases, in and out of the bathtub, under the covers and over the rainbow. Then, while the kids were just settling to sleep in the next room, California … then did Weirdo the Cat breathe her last little stinky breath.

That way it would be clear to anyone with a brain bigger than a walnut that I had killed her. Poetically speaking. Ah, but Weirdo the Cat was ever the furry little poet. Only a little bit bitterer. She blamed me (me!) for not drawing her immortal, like other famous felines, with whom she was obsessed — especially Sylvester. I argued that I was a journalist, not a cartoonist, and she produced an eight-pound sledgehammer from behind her back and chased me around the room with it.

It’s true that she mellowed some in her elderly years, just like Grandma Rubino. In the end, she even actually seemed to kind of almost like children, and while they were away would curl up on the floor in their room and purr. I speak here of Weirdo the Cat, not Grandma Rubino.

Anyway, although any lap but mine or Crawdad’s was always strictly out of the question, by the time she had head-butted her last table leg she had socially matured to the point of sometimes actually sniffing strangers before biting them. I speak here of Grandma Rubino, not Weirdo the Cat.

Those three of my readers who have had the pleasure of knowing both these colorful cranks in their more corporal days will understand the confusion. One cursed in Italian, the other in hairballs and half-digested cat food. Other than that they were pretty much the same animal, may they rest in peace.

And in fact may we all get a little bit of sleep tonight. Jet lag — why didn’t I think of it earlier? I write three-act plays and astounding symphonies in my sleep, and then when I’m awake I walk around bumping into things, drooling, and forgetting my hat and purse everywhere. People tell me in Bavarian German that I’ll get over it after a week or so, and I don’t have the heart, or the vocabulary, to explain that, no, this is the way I’ve been since 1992.

There are other advantages to being where I am. For example, I find myself very literally surrounded by sausage, churches, and Christmas. I’ll let you guess which of those represents my idea of heaven.

Hint: some people like mustard on it. I prefer sauerkraut, to my Romea’s dismay, as I also tend to wear her coats and leave my napkins in her coat pockets.

The Stone Age Catholic churches, while pretty to look at, are pure hell on Sunday mornings when they call their faithful to breakfast with gigantic Iron Age dinner bells. It’s enough of a racket to weird out the dead, and to levitate the merely sleeping — in my case before I had quite finished my opus in F-Minor. Romea had to scrape me off the ceiling with a vacuum cleaner attachment.

Christmas itself, I predict, will be more likely to reclaim me here than Catholicism. For starters, it lets you sleep. Then too they celebrate it outdoors, in crowded open-air Christmas markets, featuring not only rampant commercialism but sausage stands! With bockwursts and bratwursts and meter-long sausages.

Whereas church offers warmth. But hey, I can get that at home. Do you know how long a meter is?

While you’re looking it up, lemme tell you where even you can find great bock- and bratwursts and even kielbasa and Italian hot sausages for real cheap: Longs Drugs. Yep, I became addicted when I lived in Rockridge. Trust me …


(and four other East Bay locations)

Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

5100 Broadway, Oakl.

(510) 601-1187

No alcohol

Cash only

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

My heart belongs to daddy



Dear Andrea:

OK, I get it about the hot moms, but what about dads? Does anyone ever talk about them? I remember when our son was younger and my husband would be out with him in the Baby Bjorn or stroller, he would tell me he got a lot more attention from women than he did otherwise. Some of that was really about the cute baby, but really, he was pretty sure those women were flirting with him. What was that about? He had a wedding ring and a kid!

Is there a thing about DILFs like there is about MILFs? It kind of seems like there would be, but it’s not something you ever hear.


Wondering Mom

Dear Mom:

Kinda. Did you try Googling "DILF?’ There’s a ton more out there than I would have expected, but since you’re not the first one to bring this up, I have been looking. A lot of it is just online porny zeitgeistiness — "people are talking about MILFs, so people will be wondering about DILFs, so I, sex-site owner or promoter or whatever, will make sure there’s something for them to see." The perhaps unexpected (although not to me!) detail is that almost every hit brings you to gay porn. This should not be a big surprise when you remember that there just isn’t a lot of "hot guy!" stuff marketed to women. There is some, but most porn made for women is very couple-y. So "DILF" for porn purposes seems to refer to somewhat older men-for-men, and fits neatly alongside already-existing categories like "daddies." And "daddy" for porn purposes never had the first thing to do with taking the kids to the park. There are also bears, of course, but they are likewise not associated with babies. Not even Baby Bjorns. Ahem.

I did run across "Am I A DILF?" and "How To Be A DILF"-type posts on various dad blogs, but I find something unconvincing about the entire question, not to mention the suggestions. Use hair product? Work out a lot? Really? There is no question that attractive dads get a lot of attention (including a great deal of media attention, if they’re Jude Law or Brad Pitt), but I am not sold on the idea that they are getting it for their abs, let alone their well-gelled hair. Rather, I think a nice-looking guy pushing his daughter on the swings or toting an adorable toddler in a backpack attracts extra attention because (unfairly to today’s crop of fully involved fathers) a father who knows how to be a dad, not just a contributor of genetic material and material support, is still seen as an exception. And he is attractive to women who hope to find such a partner themselves, or who wish that the partner they did have would be more like that. He is not being fetishized for his fecundity (or for keeping his trim figure), nor are most admirers hoping to bed him. The women who are staring are well aware that he is married. Few are seriously plotting or even fantasizing a seduction. Now, for the attractive single dad at the playground …

While I do believe that the good father’s good-fatherliness is a large part of his appeal, it’s worth mentioning here that recent theories in sociobiology have poked giant holes in our previous, somewhat cartoonish view of protohuman, early human, and modern hunter-gatherer sexual politics and economics. It’s no longer safe to assume that women are hardwired to look for one reliable provider to raise our expensive, fragile, slow-maturing offspring with. Newer theories hold that human kids are so expensive and slow-growing that the preindustrial nuclear family could never have supported them. You need relatives, older children, and friends, as well as a husband, to keep a baby safe and well-fed.

This does open up a little room for us to view men, including men with children, as sex objects and not merely provider-objects. But I am just not buying the idea of women (most women, that is) seeing a handsome dad out daddying and thinking, "Now there’s a dad I’d like to fuck." I think most women who find, say, Brad Pitt sexy just find him sexy. There’s no special category for "has kids but is still hot." Rather, I think the sight of a man ministering to or goofing around with his young kids inspires an "aaww!" reaction that is, while not specifically antisexual, certainly not sexy-sexual. It may make you want to marry him or wish you had married him, or hope that when it is time to marry you find someone as handsome-plus-good-with-kids. It adds to a man’s attractiveness as a theoretical life partner, not as a potential fuck buddy. And I do not believe the same goes for MILFs. Having the hots for a dad is never going to carry the enormous cultural madonna-versus-whore weight that the "hot mom" does. And he can be happy about that.



The human right to water



At a recent San Francisco conference in a plush downtown hotel packed with big-business representatives, venture capitalists, and public relations practitioners, some insiders from high-profile multinational beverage corporations spoke about the moments they realized how crucial water is as a resource.

For Harry Ott, who formerly worked for the Coca-Cola Company, the epiphany struck in 1998 when he arrived at a Coke bottling plant in Darussalam, Tanzania for a routine inspection.

"When we walked into the plant … I noticed that there was no one there," Ott explained in a careful, Southern-accented voice. "And I said to the plant manager there, ‘Is it a holiday? Did I mess up in scheduling this?’ And he said, ‘No, we had a real severe outbreak of amoebic dysentery and all the employees have been affected by it.’ At that moment it really brought it home to me … every human should have access to clean water and sanitation to be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle."

But then Ott seemed to disavow this last statement, which implied support for what water rights activists have been pushing for: an inalienable right to clean drinking water, unmediated by corporations. As he told the crowd, "I don’t necessarily agree with the term ‘human right to water,’ because then the lawyers jump in here … and become rich off of this back-and-forth, knocking-heads process."

For corporations and advocacy groups alike, defining a human right to water is more than just a legal battle or academic exercise. As bottled-water companies weather mounting criticism for depleting aquifers to sustain profits and nongovernmental organizations point to the pitfalls of water privatization, control of the ultimate life-sustaining resource is becoming an increasingly important issue.

Widespread industrial contamination means less potable water to go around — particularly in developing countries, but in parts of California too — and intensifying drought due to climatic change means water scarcity is becoming a bigger problem. Water issues now represent a big financial risk for multinational companies and the top priority for communities that depend upon groundwater for their survival, so battle lines have been drawn for a struggle that is a matter of survival.

The second annual Corporate Water Footprinting conference, part of a corporate conference series called Action for Sustainable America, cost approximately $2,000 to attend. Unlike last year, when conference organizers denied press passes to both the Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle, they opted to allow reporters in this time — perhaps as a show of goodwill after being publicly critiqued for a lack of transparency (see "Tap dreams," 12/10/08). The event was held at Le Meridien, a swank Financial District hotel, and was attended by businesspeople from a variety of high-profile companies.

Representatives from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle portrayed their respective corporations as model stewards of the environment, the opposite of the bad raps they’ve been branded with by social justice advocates, who complain that these corporate entities are responsible for exacerbating water shortages in drought-prone areas. Rather than profit-driven behemoths sapping communities of a critical resource, the spokespeople described their companies as environmentally-minded leaders acutely aware of the widespread lack of access to clean water and actively trying to hatch solutions to alleviate it.

Dan Bena, director of sustainability, health, safety and environment for PepsiCo International, kicked off with a presentation about how an estimated 1.5 billion impoverished people living in developing countries worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. Showing images of African children swimming naked in a river, he stressed the frequently repeated statistic that once every 15 seconds, another child in the developing world perishes from waterborne illness.

To hear Bena tell it, PepsiCo is emerging as a corporate trailblazer in protecting people from such a fate. In addition to its conservation efforts, it has donated to an organization that provides microloans to families for small-scale water infrastructure projects, he said. And at the urging of one of its shareholders, it recently agreed to sign a commitment supporting "the human right to water."

But when asked whether PepsiCo, the parent company of Aquafina, has a strategy for reducing the widespread use of bottled water — a flashpoint for environmentalists because it taxes aquifers, requires extensive shipping, and uses tons of plastic to produce — Bena didn’t have a straight answer. "We are evaluating it, but I can’t tell you," he said. "The critics are certainly very strong, but we think that people, by and large, want the convenience that bottled water provides."

In San Francisco, some of the beverage companies’ harshest critics organized a counter-conference to the 2008 Corporate Water Footprinting conference. This year, one of the counter-conference participants was seated on the same panel with Bena and the former Coca-Cola representative.

Mark Schlosberg, California director of Food & Water Watch, made it clear that he views the human right to water through a very different lens than the other panelists. "The ‘human right to water’ is not a concept for corporations to implement," Schlosberg said, relaying what was perhaps an unpopular message to a tough crowd. "Just as free speech is not a concept for corporations to implement. The human right to water is a concept which says that nobody should be denied access to clean water for basic human needs. It’s not a question of whether or not a corporation wants to adhere to that. It’s the responsibility of governments to create laws, and of corporations to follow laws. I don’t think that the basic human right to water … is alienable, just like certain constitutional rights are also inalienable and can’t be contracted away."

Speaking by phone several days later from New Delhi, India, Amit Srivastava, executive director of the India Resource Center, explained his perspective on the human right to water: "For us, the right to water means the community has control over its water resources. It is our fundamental human right to live free of pollution of water." As for PepsiCo’s efforts, "It sounds all good, but what is the reality on the ground?"

Srivastava, the driver behind the counter-conference to last year’s Corporate Water Footprinting Conference, spends half the year in India working in rural agrarian villages, where he says the impacts of Coca-Cola’s operations are hugely detrimental to people’s interests. PepsiCo has caused its share problems in India too, Srivastava said.

"Seventy percent of Indians make a living with agriculture," he explained. "They rely on groundwater — the same groundwater Coca-Cola uses to meet its production needs." Tens of thousands of farmers have been affected by a dearth of water in communities where Coca-Cola plants are sited, he says, and many have also been adversely affected by water contamination linked to the manufacturing facilities. As water becomes scarce, crops dry out and women must walk farther away to haul fresh water back home.

On Nov. 30, Srivastava said the India Resource Center helped bring 1,000 people out to a rally against Coca-Cola. "We’ve launched an international campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable," he said, explaining that the goal is to "apply market pressure for the abuses they continue to commit in India."

Of particular concern is the village of Kala Dera, located in an area that was identified as a water-stressed region more than a decade ago, Srivastava said. Nonetheless, the construction of a new Coke bottling plant forged ahead there in 2000. A severe drought plagued the region this year, and Kala Dera experienced the sharpest drop in groundwater levels ever recorded, according to Srivastava. "When the rains didn’t come, the crops failed, and there was a sharp increase in the use of groundwater," he said. "For all its talk, Coca-Cola continued to mine for water, even as the community did not have ready access."

According to Denise Knight, a Coca-Cola Company representative who spoke at the Corporate Water Footprinting Conference, the multinational giant uses a total of 313 billion liters of water annually to produce 129 billion liters of soft drinks, juice, water, and other beverages.

Knight said Coca-Cola is committed to "replenish" the places it operates by returning the equivalent of the water it uses to communities and water bodies. Trumpeting a splashy green catchphrase, "Water Neutrality," Knight acknowledged that the term itself might be somewhat misleading because, "as our business grows, no matter how efficient we are, we’ll still use more water." This program essentially consists of making it a goal to live up to its self-guided wastewater treatment standards (wastewater is treated in 80 percent of its 1,000 facilities, Knight noted), stepping up conservation efforts and funding small-scale projects like rainwater harvesting.

Knight couched it in terms of fiduciary responsibility: in the past decade, Coca-Cola’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings have listed water shortages and poor water quality as financial risks to company profits. A third area of risk for the company is public perception, an uphill battle in India.

Srivastava summed up his opinion of Coca-Cola’s "Water Neutrality" pitch as "hogwash." In reality, the company is extracting clean, drinkable water from poor communities that need it, leaving behind processed wastewater that people can’t drink and calling it "neutral."
"It really is lies dreamed up by their PR department," he said. "They’re trying to suggest that Coca-Cola has no impact whatsoever on water resources. This is outrageous."
Srivastava said the conference is essentially a scam. "We see the Corporate Water Footprinting conference as nothing more than a greenwashing effort by companies that are the biggest abusers of water. We see it as just you guys in suits and ties. The communities that are suffering as a result, their voices are never there."

Cleaner air for Oakland — but no one wants to pay for it



GREEN CITY On Jan. 1, the Port of Oakland and surrounding areas will get cleaner air — and as many as 1,000 truck drivers may lose their jobs.

That’s when the port’s Clean Truck Management Plan (CTMP) takes effect, setting strict requirements for trucks operating in the port. The new rules are an effort to address the public health crisis in communities near the port, where diesel exhaust fumes have been contributing to rampant asthma and increased cancer rates.

While no one questions the need for cleaner air, there’s still a raging battle over who should pay to overhaul old, dirty trucks — and how to make it possible for small independent truckers not to lose their livelihoods.

The new regulations, set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), ban all trucks older than 1994 from entering the port. Trucks built between 1994 and 2003 are allowed if they’re retrofitted with a special filter, which by most estimates costs between $20,000 and $25,000.

Eventually CARB’s regulations will reduce diesel particulate matter emissions by 90 percent in areas most affected by the noxious pollution.

The problem — at least for some of the drivers — is that two-thirds of the trucks running cargo in and out of the Oakland port are run by independent owner-operators, who say they don’t make enough money on the cargo runs to pay for cleaner trucks or upgrades.

The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports of Oakland (CCSP) is campaigning with Teamsters Union members and some truckers and Congress members to take the burden off independent owner-operators. But some say the industry model itself is the problem — that all the drivers should be employees of larger trucking firms that can pay for the latest equipment.

"The lack of resources among [independent owner-operators] and the inefficiencies in the current system strongly favor a more employee-oriented drayage sector," states an economic impact report on the issue commissioned by the port and prepared by Beacon Economics.

Currently the drivers wait, engines idling, an average of 3.6 hours at or in the terminal. That’s in part because they don’t get hourly pay — which gives the shippers and trucking contractors little incentive to hurry things.

As independent trucker Abdul Khan puts it: "Everybody certainly wants to have clean air. I might not be happy with this law, but I’m the one in this business being affected by this pollution." Still, with a 2003 engine in his truck, he expects to be out of a job come Jan. 1.

Khan has been a driver at the Port of Oakland for five years. He and his wife and child had to leave their home of 15 years to move in with his brother after fuel prices rose by 300 percent last year.

Khan has been without health insurance for his entire trucking career. The Beacon report states that "most [independent owner-operators] do not have health insurance from any source." Yet they are among those who suffer most from breathing the polluted air all day at work.

In some ways, the problem is the result of the 1990s-era deregulation of the trucking industry. In November, 24 members of California’s Congressional delegation, including East Bay Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Pete Stark, and George Miller, signed an open letter to the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee encouraging members of the House to "consider making changes to [federal law] so that California ports can successfully implement and enforce needed truck management programs."

The Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act was supposed to standardize the regulation of cargo carriers and encourage competition. But mistreatment of drivers and detrimental working conditions are, says CCSP director Doug Bloch, some of the consequences of deregulation, which essentially bars local or state governments from legisutf8g industry working conditions.

The Port of Oakland, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District set up a grant fund to help drivers retrofit their equipment to meet the new standards, and some did. But others who sold their older trucks and bought upgradeable models lost out when the money ran dry.

Robert Bernardo, spokesperson for the port, told us the grants were unusual: "Typically, whenever a regulation comes into effect, by CARB or DMV, it’s incumbent upon business owners to purchase any upgrades," he explained.

That’s not a simple story, though, since the finances of port shipping are immensely complex. In theory, the bigger players in the industry — the large trucking companies and the corporations doing most of the shipping — have the access to capital for creating an ecologically-sound fleet and more power to negotiate shipping prices.

When items are shipped from overseas, shipping lines set the prices. Since the commerce is international, there’s no regulation of anything, including prices. The shipping lines set the prices for the trucking companies, which in turn tell the independent truckers what they’ll pay per load. The independently-contracted drivers have no leverage at all.

Matt Schrap, an intermodel transport expert at the California Truckers Association, notes that international shipping rates "are negotiated somewhere in Shanghai and set by steamship lines. Then you go into contract for two to three years at locked-in rate." Since the steamship lines aren’t subject to antitrust laws, he warns of their ability to collude in price-setting.

So the debate has become as much about labor issues as the environment. Some activists argue that the entire economic model of independent drivers contracting with trucking firms is unworkable, and would prefer to see all the drivers become employees. Not all drivers want that; some are happy with being independent. And the trucking contractors love the current system, since they pay no benefits.

Valerie Lapin, spokesperson for the Coalition of Clean and Safe Ports in Oakland, says that that port drivers are misclassified as independent. She explains that typically they can only work for one company, which tells them where and when to go. With the current classification, trucking companies "skirt all responsibility for paying taxes and benefits. Drivers have to pay for everything — trucks, fuel, maintenance, registration, and parking. And [the trucking companies] pay them really low wages."

The fate of the new regulations may depend on what happens to a legal battle at the Port of Los Angeles. L.A. has sought to mandate that trucking companies hire drivers as employees, and the port would allow only newer, cleaner trucks to enter.

But the American Trucking Association sued the port under FAAAA, saying the law bars the city from requiring employee-drivers. The courts put the program on hold until further hearings, scheduled for May 2010.

Paying with our Health, a 2006 report by the Pacific Institute assessing the practicality of "ditching dirty diesel" to improve health in the communities suffering from freight transport pollution, concluded that "the industry is quite capable of standing on its own and paying for cleaner technologies, instead of standing on the backs of California’s poor and minority communities."

It’s not clear what the truckers who own banned trucks will do come Jan. 1. Some say they will look for work elsewhere.

And there’s still the issue of whether the port will have enough clean trucks to haul all the cargo. Bernardo insists that won’t be a problem. Others, including Wayne Steinberg, terminal manager at Horizon Lines, an all-employee based trucking company with a fleet in full compliance, says the company is "extremely concerned about not having enough drivers Jan. 1."

Shades of green



Can "green" consumerism help "green" the planet? In other words, can we spend our way to a better future? Or is the demand for more environmentally benign products and services just a way of making people feel better while delaying capitalism’s inevitable day of reckoning?

To explore these questions, consider the San Francisco Green Festival, the second-most attended green festival in the world and what organizers say is the country’s largest sustainability event. More than 40,000 people and 350 companies visited the eighth annual festival, held last month at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center.

The emphasis of the event was on the power of purchasing. Just about everything was for sale, from fair-trade chocolate and hemp sweaters to paper journals made from Sri Lankan elephant dung. Certified "green" companies were happy to spend from $5,000 to $100,000 for their stalls and passersby shopped for guilt-free gifts. But critics of the trend question whether green consumption is ever better than no consumption at all.

"I believe we are getting to the point of urgency. We are beyond incremental reform and need significant structural change," said Brahm Ahmadi, cofounder and executive director of People’s Grocery. "What we really need to do is fundamentally shift the level of consumerism — not just shift into the consumption of more sustainable things — but realize that we need to consume less as a society."

The 2008 Living Planet Report, produced by the World Wildlife Fund, indicates that our global footprint now exceeds the world capacity to regenerate by about 30 percent. The report notes that if demands on the planet continue at the same rate, by the mid-2030s, we will need to the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles.

Ahmadi said trade-show events like the Green Festival can function as a good point of entry for people interested in reducing their own ecological footprint, but added that they don’t go nearly far enough in addressing the problem. They may even hinder people’s understanding of what needs to be done.

"The problem is that the words "green," "local," and "sustainable" can be used interchangeably now. They have become another sort of brand element in marketing," he said. "If this festival is the first step in a multistep strategy on how to change the planet, then that is great. But impressions aren’t set up in a way that puts the consumer on the path to a longer-term perspective."

For example, the Green Festival isn’t local. Although festival organizers say it promotes local companies that make green products, a spokeswoman admitted that about 40 percent of the exhibitors reside more than 150 miles from the site — the criteria one must meet to be deemed local by the festival.

Kevin Danaher, founder of Green Festivals and the cofounder of Global Exchange, told the Guardian that the festival costs almost $1 million to put on and makes $10,000–$30,000 in profit each year. He stressed that the aim of the event is to accelerate the transition to a green economy, an economy he says "will make better profits by saving nature rather than destroying it.

"We are trying to take enterprise away from big corporations and redefine it," Danaher continued. "For us, free enterprise should mean the freedom for everybody to be enterprising, the realization that alternative business models can make better profits than traditional ones."

Although Danaher claims the festival is an "enterprise-based event that encourages people to consume less," he believes it’s better to meet consumer demand with a green-mind business than leave it to be filled by a multinational corporation. "We know that people buy socks, toilet paper, and cat litter, and they can either buy the crappy corporate stuff or the good, green, socially-responsible stuff. That’s the choice," he said.

But Ahmadi sees a flaw in this premise. As long as progress is measured and defined by economic growth — the neverending requirement of the capitalist system — society will continue to fall short of sustainability targets, no matter what kind of products people buy, he said.

"At some point there is a threshold, even for green products, when the net benefits of producing the product will be surpassed," he said. "We need to go back to the framework that the economy is currently based on. At the moment, perpetual growth is the only way to assign value. But this linear way of thinking is dangerous to the sustainability of the planet. We must define value differently."

More than 125 speakers attended the event, including Democracy Now! founder Amy Goodman, nutrition expert Marion Nestle, and Mayor Gavin Newsom. Some even emphasized the tension inherent in staging the festival.

"It’s a good thing and a bad thing. People leave more conscious and aware, but they also leave a tremendous footprint getting here and leaving," said CEO of Gather restaurant Ari Derfel, who spoke on the main stage in front of a piece of art made from a year’s worth of his own trash. "People do engage in gross consumerist behavior. But they also get engaged with some companies that are doing incredible things."

Although he added that a green future must go beyond that represented at the Green Festival, he acknowledged that it represents the period of transition we now live in. "We can’t go from A to Z without touching on all the letters in between. And we are still in a consumer-based, material goods economy. We couldn’t make one wholesale swoop in one day."

Yet for Derrick Jensen, environmental activist and author of Endgame — a book that questions the inherently unsustainable nature of modern civilization — events like the Green Festival don’t really address the real problems at the center of the sustainability movement.

"I don’t see it as a transition," said Jensen, who made a speech at the event a few years ago. "It is not nearly sufficient. Now there is an attempt to add the word "green" before something and pretend that we’re actually going to make a significant difference. But this is problematic."

The problem, as he sees it, is that attendees simply learn to accept the existing economic system — and even believe it can become sustainable. They come to think that buying the right socks or toilet paper is helping to save the planet.

"Where is the overtly revolutionary material?" Jensen asked. "Where is the acknowledgement that capitalism needs to come down, or the discussion of the psychopathology of those in power? They talk only of alternative economies, but look what happened to every alternative economy — they get taken over and consumed by mainstream culture."

Jensen added that the notion of basing a revolution on changes to personal consumption is not only inherently flawed but dangerously misinformed. "This sort of festival is based on the mistaken notion that personal consumption represents a significant portion of the economy," he said. "In reality, 1,600 pounds of trash are produced per capita. If I reduce that to zero, it’s great. But per capita waste production by industries is on average 26 tons. That is 97 percent of all waste.

"This festival can make you feel good for one day, but then you just go back to normal life," he added. "And in some ways, it’s a real distraction. It makes people identify as consumers rather than citizens who have a whole range of resistance methods rather than just to buy or not buy."

Although Danaher stressed that each company at the festival went through Green America’s screening process — where they are subject to almost 250 questions analyzing their true social and environmental impact — Jensen said even "green" products often rely on the wasteful industrial system to be manufactured and transported.

"It is not difficult to see. You just can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. The hyper-exploitation of even renewable resources won’t last, by definition. For any economic system to be sustainable, it has to benefit the land base it is based on."

Many of the companies at the event had obtained Green America’s sought-after Seal of Approval, which takes into account issues including the company’s manufacturing and marketing of products, as well as treatment of employees and effects on surrounding communities. At the same time, certain corporations that didn’t meet those criteria, like eBay, were invited anyway and labeled "corporate innovators."

Hamler said these are corporations that are moving toward social and environment responsibility, and they are still subject to a very strict review. Noting that only 60 out of every 300 corporations make the cut, she emphasized the changing nature of markets and the place for corporations within them.

Yet for Ahmadi, the very idea that large corporations can be a part of this change is misleading. "Even if a majority of their product line is green, the global ecological footprint of a corporation will almost always be beyond measure," he said. "The notion of consolidated corporations is counter to the diversity we need to create an equitable and sustainable economy."

While the Green Festival offsets the carbon emissions of its organizers and hosts carbon-offsetting companies, it doesn’t pretend to be a carbon-neutral event that covers anywhere near all its vendors and attendees. Indeed, environmental activist Josh Hart said that the system of carbon offsets — whereby people, companies, and states can claim to reduce their carbon emissions by investing in carbon-friendly projects elsewhere — represents yet another move in the wrong direction.

Hart went to festival as a representative of Cheatneutral, a satirical company that claims to offset romantic infidelity by paying someone else to be faithful. He said he wanted to expose the "pink elephant in the room" that no one else seemed to discuss at the festival.

"Offsetting is just another way of using the psychological technique of denial. It says you can carry on as normal but pay someone else to be green. This is the wrong approach and it is a fiction, not a reality," he told us. "The festival is putting itself forward as green, but people are doing this really unsustainable thing: flying out to the conference from all around the country for a few days and then leaving. This acts as a greater disservice to what we really need to be doing."

Although Lee did not yet know the carbon emissions total from this year’s festival, she said the five green festivals from last year produced about 900 tons of carbon –- the equivalent of roughly 355 roundtrip cross-continental flights — not including electricity, product consumption, or local travel.

But for Hart, this number represents a "massive underestimate" of the true carbon footprint, considering the number of people who attended the San Francisco event alone. He said the festival should take into account all the people who flew to the event, including company representatives and ticket-buyers, not just festival staff.

"The CO2 from a roundtrip flight from New York to San Francisco is around 2,280 kg, the equivalent of running a refrigerator for more than 22 years. It’s more than running a car all year," he said. "It’s staggering, really, how much carbon flying emits, and how incompatible aviation is with anything purporting to be green."

He added: "I think this issue goes straight to the battle over the heart of the green movement. Are we going to tell people that going green is easy and gloss over the difficult realities? Or are we going to be honest about the science that tells us that dramatic changes in lifestyles are required, in particular how we get around and what we consume?"

Yet for activists like Jenson, the extent to which the festival is carbon neutral is insignificant compared to the role the festival could play as a catalyst for future action.

"It is not the role of the activist to navigate systems of oppressive power, but instead to confront and take down those systems," Jensen said. "The point is, as far as an event like the Green Festival explicitly puts itself up as part of a larger culture of resistance, then I don’t have a problem with it. But if it suggests that in any way it is remotely sufficient to what we’re facing, then we have a problem."

The decade in music



>>The breakdown: A hyped-up digital decade stung by its own long tail
By Mosi Reeves
>>You ought-sa know: A tawdry, tuneful timeline of the last decade
By Cheryl Eddy
>>Aughties Bay Area: Meet me at MySpace with your iPod and we’ll indie dance
By Kimberly Chun
>>Flashing lights: 10 years on the Bay Area dance floor — and still looking fantastic!
By Marke B.
>>2009 = 1989: The end of this decade sings a love song to the end of a decade past
By Johnny Ray Huston
>>False Idols: Pop went meta, exposing its gaga machinery
By Louis Peitzman
>>Some kind of mastodon: Out of the rap-rock toilet and into the fire — the decade in metal
By Ben Richardson
>>Nothing like it: From mob to hyphy to crack — the decade in Bay Area rap
By Garrett Caples

DECADE IN MUSIC "If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it" This became the comment-capping mantra of a musical decade that started with excess — record stores and Napster, industry fat cats and self-released upstarts, CDs and MP3s all coexisting in ignorant bliss — and ended with the sound of one thumb Twittering. The promise in that catchphrase, that music selection has become so democratic that we can ignore what we’re not into, also proved a trap. With all the fractionalized niche overload and microbranding, who hasn’t felt the sting of that uniquely contemporary psychological malady, feeling-out-of-the-loop-itis? How do you know you don’t like it if you don’t hear it?

Still, the giddiness of sonic freedom has touched us all, and diversified playlists have provided plenty of kicks. No longer is the world of sound divided into mainstream and alternative — Kylie was shoehorned into the Fox Theatre while the Pixies headlined Coachella. And no longer does the same tune deliberately get stuck in everyone’s head. We readily admit we’ve yet to hear "Party in the USA" or have the slightest clue what a Daughtry is. We’ve been far too busy digging nueva cumbia and Scandinavian death metal to click out of curiosity, though we’re sure we’ll get around to it. With everything instantly available and a warped sense of retro shrouding all ears in historical doubt — believe it or not, "Don’t Stop Believing" sounded horrible in 1981 — the past decade already seems a bit of a blur. (And all this audio information hasn’t necessarily made us smarter or more noble. What did we do after we invaded the wrong country? Gleefully watch a young pop starlet implode.) The current musical moment seems to be reveling in a sigh of relief. "Chill" is the watchword, stillness is the move: a welcome respite from the beaver-flashing spills of yesteryear.

Looking back, though, a lot has happened since Y2K, when the late Biggie and yet-to-be-Vegas Celine Dion were belly-jousting for the top spot on Billboard Hot 100, and Santana’s Supernatural was imminent. (For starters, everyone knew what the Billboard Hot 100 was.) We’ve seen Britney outdo Sinead, Eminem get Nelly, Destiny’s Child survive until it didn’t, Creeds and Outkasts, Norah Jones and Usher, MJB’s breakthrough and Whitney’s breakdowns, and the glittering cuckoo moments and emancipation of Mariah Carey. We’ve seen Ashlee Simpson wiggle her acid reflux-addled uvula. We’ve heard Kanye. And heard him. The spawn of Billy Ray Cyrus has raided our thin wallets, Katie Couric has quizzed Lil Wayne about weed. We’ve encountered more neo-microgenres than you can shake a Nano at, seen vinyl rise like a zombie from the dead, and YouTubed another hole in the ozone.

Locally, the Bay Area kept a low profile — were Keyshia Cole and Train really our only contributions to thenational pop landscape? Yet we still made an enormous amount of exhilarating music. Mashups, space disco, metal onslaughts, freak folks, hyphy, arty indie, psychedelic drones: all found a teeming nest of originators here. The Guardian asked our music critics to plug in and go nuts on the past decade of local and universal pet sounds. Behold our multi-tentacular monster mash. (Johnny Ray Huston and Marke B.)




DINE Two autumns ago, I popped in on Bacco, in Noe Valley, and found a house in good order. The restaurant, opened by Vincenzo Cucco and Paolo Dominici in 1993, turned 14 that fall, and little had changed through the years except that the color scheme of the two dining rooms had gone from pumpkin to butter and sage, and a "Zagat-rated" sticker had appeared in the window at the door. I left with a sense of calm reassurance, like a parent who’s just peeked through a bedroom door to see a child safely tucked in.

But safety is one of the world’s illusions. Last spring, Dominici disappeared while spearfishing in Hawaii. In 2006, he and Cucco had opened another restaurant, Divino, on the Peninsula, with Cucco running the newer place and Dominici remaining at Bacco. The unexpected death left the older restaurant without a captain. Uncaptained restaurants have a way of foundering — they can too easily lose their way, fade, fold, or end up in other hands.

Luckily for Bacco, those other hands are Cucco’s, and so the restaurant remains within the family, as it were. He has once again taken up the toque in the kitchen, while longtime manager Luca Zanet continues to run the front of the house; ownership proper has passed into the hands of Dominici’s widow, Shari. This is about as favorable an outcome as we could hope for from an unforeseen disaster, and, after a period of turbulence and uncertainty, the ship appears to have righted itself and regained its course.

Bacco, for me, has long been one of the best-looking Italian restaurants in the city. The original paint scheme, of pumpkin or cinnamon, was most appealing when viewed from outside; in the evenings its light would fill the street like the glow of a merry fire, but inside, the reddishness could become distracting. The present scheme, of gentle sage and butter tones, bounded by ribbons of white moulding, is easier to take and does not so forcefully compete with other elements of the design, among them the high ceilings, terra-cotta-tiled floors, and the soaring, old-world arch that is, in effect, the gate of the main dining room. That room also offers a long line of windows that gaze onto Diamond Street. The second, smaller dining room (to the left of the podium as you enter) is less open but cozier.
Under Cucco’s steadying guidance, the food remains excellent. Bacco has long found a way between rigid insistence on Italian tradition and a tumble into sloppiness from the many temptations of California’s abundance and freedom. The cooking is more Ital than Cal, but it is supple and has been smoothly adjusted to reflect local conditions. Pasta, desserts, and baked goods are made in-house, and the kitchen quietly swears its fealty to supporting local growers and using organic products whenever available.

Polenta with gorgonzola and wild mushrooms, for instance, has been on the menu for years, but now the polenta is made with buckwheat, an underappreciated grain. A similar underappreciated grain, spelt (a type of wheatberry, similar but not identical to the Italian grain farro), turned up in a nicely molded salad along with corn kernels, scallions, and diced peppers under a jaunty cap of burrata ($12). Burrata is a mild, creamy cow’s milk cheese, a close relative of mozzarella, and we found it a bit reticent for such a starring role, especially since the underlying salad, while tasty, seemed to be "missing something," according to the oracle across the table. No human oracle (or even Oracle) is infallible, but this one is more reliable than most.

Baby octopus ($10), braised in red wine with herbs and finished with a shower of celery-root shreds, was missing nothing, even though the dish was classically Italian in its simplicity. We mopped up the extra sauce with chunks of focaccia. (The basket of bread arrives early and is replenished frequently, by the way, as is the accompanying tray of olive oil infused with parsley and anchovies.)

The pasta dishes strike many of the most traditional notes — a softball-sized tangle of vermicelli ($16), say, dotted with a handful of petite Tuscan meatballs in a rich, garlicky tomato sauce. Yes, it’s spaghetti and meatballs, with a few sophisticated twists.

For local color, how about petrale sole ($26), rubbed with herbs, sautéed, and seated on a mirepoix-like mat of roasted root vegetables? Petrale sole is (despite the Italian name) a local glory, and since it’s often breaded, an unbreaded version was a nice treat.

We were slightly disappointed with the brussels sprouts ($9), or cavoletti ("little cabbages"), which, despite being cooked with cubes of pancetta and plenty of olive oil, retained some of their quiet belligerence. Perhaps this was because they’d only been cut in halves, rather than chopped up or shredded. They weren’t quite tender enough to be described as tender.

As if in compensation, the chocolate shortbread cookies, or baci Isabella ($8) were divine: a pair of halved globes pasted together with chocolate ganache and served with a glass of milk. The oracle described them, with satisfaction, as being like "cookies that think they’re truffles," and a satisfied oracle is a happy oracle.


Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5:30–9:30 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.; Sun., 5–9 p.m.

737 Diamond, SF

(415) 282-4969


Beer and wine


Moderately noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Our weekly picks




Free Form Film Series: "Awesome and Painful"

The folks from Lost Media Archive and the FFFF (Free Form Film Festival) have a Christmas treat for y’all: a screening of the "universally loathed" Star Wars Holiday Special. Before that, six dudes from various parts of the U.S. will treat viewers to experimental videos. With titles like Hulk Smash, Cakestain! and Polygon Sun, it’s likely — well, very likely (I did some interweb research) — that these videos are of the laffy taffy, low-tech, seizure-inducing variety. While this might suggest everything jejune and sarcastic, I would also qualify that suggest with smartly so. (Spencer Young)

8 p.m., $6

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF

(415) 824-3890




Kenneth Anger: Restored Prints

Not one to dabble so much as drench himself in the occult, Kenneth Anger has been dubbed a weirdo. Committed to the underground, his short films are weird, too, but in an interesting and entertaining kind of way as opposed to creepy and cloying. Two of the Anger movies showing tonight — Scorpio Rising (1960) and Kustom Kar Kommandos (1964) — worship handsome James Dean-type men and their equally handsome machines through serene, phantasmagoric pans across shiny engines, belt buckles, and bulging biceps, all queerly contrasted with 1960s pop. The other two films on the program, Fireworks (1947) and Rabbit’s Moon (1950/1971) are equally hunky-dory. Also, the 82-year-old weirdo might be in attendance. (Young)

7 p.m., $7–$10

Phyllis Wattis Theater

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



Popscene Holiday Gala with Mike Relm

‘Tis the season for video mashups. The holidays always make me want to break out the TV Carnage DVDs — nothing says gift quite like John Ritter making horrified faces to Rosie O’Donnell’s performance in Riding the Bus With My Sister (2005). Mike Relm is one of SF’s chief video turntablists, with a resume that includes Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom project. He won my heart by naming his debut DVD Clown Alley, after the defunct semi-North Beach burger dive known to inspire the Guardian’s own Marke B. to break into song. He makes the scene at Popscene’s festive gala. (Johnny Ray Huston)

With DJ Sharp

10 p.m.–2 a.m., $5–$10

330 Ritch

330 Ritch, SF

(415) 541-9574




Hubba Hubba Revue’s Chrismanukkah

Hubba Hubba Revue is big in England. Word of the SF burlesque troupe’s shenanigans had reached my burlesexual friend Lou Lou, who knows about tassel-twirling because, back in Blighty, she’s a "maid" who flounces about the stage between acts cleaning up the dancers’ tossed underthings. Lou Lou was convinced "the maid" was a universal feature of burlesque shows, and was surprised to learn that in the Hubba Hubba Revue, her role is played by a man-monkey named Zip the What-Is-It, bald but for a tuft of hair on his crown. Things are different here. But they do have lovely ladies stripping all retro-like and enough shiny bells and whistles to keep even the burlesque-shy (does such a person exist?) jaw-dropped and fancy free. The troupe’s holiday celebration promises peace and goodwill to (wo)man, and performances by Bunny Pistol, Professor Shimmy, and Meshugga Beach Party, a Jewish folk surf jam experience. (Caitlin Donohue)

9 p.m., $12–$15

DNA Lounge

375 11th St., SF

(415) 626-1409




Glam Gender Release Party

You can never have too much drag for the holidays. Or can you? No, no you can’t — especially if your stocking is not only filled with enough bird seed to size you up to a triple-D cup, but also with the ravishing new book Glam Gender, a glossy to-die-for tome self-published by photographer Marianne Larochelle and art director-stylist-drag legend Jose Guzman Colon, a.k.a. Putanesca. Contained within is an encyclopedia of the most well-known local drag queens of the past decade, including many no longer with us. The project, with punchy bios written by paparazzi punk Bill Picture, was "such a beautiful thing to work on," Putanesca told me. "It’s a real community celebration, and also a bit insane." Freshly released, the book will be available — along with glorious prints and most of the queens themselves — at zany Victorian wonderland Finn’s Funhouse. Watch your dress. (Marke B.)

6–10 p.m., free

Finn’s Funhouse

814 Grove, SF



Super Adventure Club

Up-sides to cold weather: the dependable absence of mosquitoes, eggnog, layers of $4 Goodwill sweaters that nicely camouflage Christmas cookie bulge, and socially acceptable hibernation. Wait, scratch that last one — you’re going out. You’ll wanna brave those arctic winds for multitasking duo Jake Woods and Michael Winger, who combine their strange genius to form Super Adventure Club, a band you could like for the name alone, but don’t have to because their punchy riffs on everything from German "üntz" music to French love songs deliver a restorative kick to the circulation system. I straight up challenge you to get through their set — or that of headliners Diego’s Umbrella — without jumping about like a crazy person. You’ve got a tough first step past the front welcome mat, but know — just know — that your winter woes are about to melt like a square snowflake in funky town. (Donohue)

With Diego’s Umbrella and How To Win at Life

9 p.m., $8

Elbo Room

(415) 552-7788

647 Valencia, SF




Renegade Craft Fair

December mall jaunts tend to induce claustrophobia, Santa terrors, and unpredictable, Manchurian Candidate-style reactions to all those cheery Christmas carols. Avoid the commercial hustle at the Renegade Craft Fair, founded in 2003 in Chicago — where a Renegade Handmade store remains open year-round — and now a multicity phenomenon. SF’s version opens shop just in time for the last-minute gift scramble, with more than 150 local DIY denizens (who had to apply to participate, so you won’t have to sift though sub-par crap) offering up all manner of bow-worthy ideas: fabric goods, silkscreened art, jewelry, accoutrements for babies, housewares, toys, stationary, and more. (Cheryl Eddy)

Through Sun/20

11 a.m.–7 p.m., free

Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason Center

Marina at Laguna, SF



Trannyshack Star Search

The queen, apparently, is not dead. Beloved and be-loathed trash-drag emporium Trannyshack glitter-axed its weekly operations at the Stud last year. But like the chunky-jewelried zombie ass-slave Mrs. Roper hostess that she is, Heklina rises from the ash heap of Manhunt addiction to bring back the Trannyshack Star Search competition, thirsty for new blood to fill her ghoulish needs. She’ll be joined onstage by the wonderfully horrific Peaches Christ to oversee performances by "special" guest judges Sherry Vine and Kembra Pfahler of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Hoku Mama, Putanesca, Princess Kennedy, and Anjie Myma also judge the 10 hopefuls, and DJ Omar glam-sluts up the crowd, if that’s even more possible. (Marke B.)

10 p.m.–3 a.m., $15–$20

DNA Lounge

(415) 626-1409

375 11th St., SF



Circus Ignite!

Does it seem like circus is everywhere? It’s true. And that’s not just in local venues, mainstream media, and fashion. Circus groups are taking their clowning, juggling, stilting, and acrobatics out of American cities and into under-served communities across the world. They’re entertaining, educating, inspiring self-esteem, and fostering cross-cultural communication in communities affected by natural disaster, dislocations, and military conflicts. One such group is Dreamtime Circus, a fantastic organization that launched with a trip to India last year and plans to spend next spring in Peru. Help support the cause by attending this weekend’s fundraiser, featuring DJs, a silent auction, and performances. (Molly Freedenberg)

9 p.m.–4 a.m., $12–$20


314 11th St, SF

(415) 552-2100



Carols in the Caves

Candlelight. Cave acoustics. Ancient instruments playing age-old carols. And you as part of the angel choir. Could there be anything more classically festive than Carols in the Caves? The brainchild of percussionist/musician the Improvisator (a.k.a. David Auerbach), this tradition has been delighting audiences for 24 years in a variety of caves and wine cellars around the Bay Area. This time Auerbach brings his dulcimers, flutists, drums, and bells to Hans Fahden Vineyards, a gorgeous property on a ridge above Calistoga that features panoramic views of Mount Saint Helena. Buy your tickets, save some extra cash to purchase wine, and get ready to settle in to a sound spa for the mind. (Freedenberg)

2 p.m. (also Sun/20), $45

Hans Fahden Vineyards

4855 Petrified Forest, Calistoga

(707) 224-4222



The Birds

So … 500,000 European starlings did an air show in Bodega Bay, I mean Sacramento, this past week. Video evidence is flying across the Internet. It’s official, a real-life version of The Birds (1963) can’t be far off. Of all of Hitchcock’s classics, this is the one best served by the big screen. If you’ve only seen it on TV, you don’t know it. Out of your gilded cages, Melanie Daniels fans, and into the Castro to fend off angry beaks with your impeccably manicured hands. (Huston)

2:30 and 7 p.m. (double feature with Notorious), $7.50–$10

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120




Brian Setzer Orchestra

Brian Setzer has made a long-lasting career of resurrecting musical styles from the past with his formidable talents. He first came to fame as leader of the Stray Cats, energizing traditional rockabilly with his scorching guitar skills. He then went on to revamp swing and the classic big band sound of the 1930s and ’40s with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, whose hits included a cover of Louis Prima’s "Jump Jive An’ Wail." Tonight’s stop here in SF is part of Setzer’s seventh annual "Christmas Rocks!" tour, featuring revved-up versions of timeless holiday songs like "Jingle Bells" and "White Christmas," as well as selections from his own hit discography.(Sean McCourt)

8 p.m., $55–$69.50

The Warfield

982 Market, SF

(415) 775-7722




Taravat Talepasand: "Situation Critical"

Bay Area artist Taravat Talepasand’s explorations of cultural mores in Iran and America manifest as everything from motorcycles to graphite drawings. Her second show at Marx and Zavaterro casts a sharp eye at xenophobia and assorted manias circa-1979, among other things. "Situation Critical" should be worth a visit simply to see the nightmarish Disney-esque painting Ayatollah Land. (Huston)

10:30 a.m.–5 p.m., free

Marx and Zavattero

77 Geary, second floor, SF

(415) 627-9111

Rep Clock


Schedules are for Wed/16–Tues/22 except where noted. Director and year are given when available. Double features are marked with a •. All times are p.m. unless otherwise specified.

ARTISTS’ TELEVISION ACCESS 992 Valencia, SF; www.atasite.org. $7. "Free Form Film Festival:" Star Wars Holiday Special (Binder, 1978), plus experimental videos, Wed, 8. Other Cinema:" "New Experimental Works," Sat, 8:30.

CAFÉ OF THE DEAD 3208 Grand, Oakl; (510) 931-7945. Free. "Independent Filmmakers Screening Nite," Wed, 6:30.

CASTRO 429 Castro, SF; (415) 621-6120, www.castrotheatre.com. $7.50-10. "Hitch for the Holidays:" •Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954), Wed, 2:30, 7, and Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943), Wed, 4:45, 9:10; •Rebecca (Hitchcock, 1940), Thurs, 2, 7, and Marnie (Hitchcock, 1964), Thurs, 4:30, 9:30; Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958), Fri, 2, 4:30, 7, 9:30; •The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963), Sat, 2:30, 7, and Notorious (Hitchcock, 1946), Sat, 4:55, 9:20; •The 39 Steps (Hitchcock, 1935), Sun, 1:30, 6, and North by Northwest (Hitchcock, 1959), Sun, 3:30, 8; •Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock, 1951), Tues, 2:30, 7, and The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock, 1956), Tues, 4:35, 9. Theater closed Mon.

CHRISTOPHER B. SMITH RAFAEL FILM CENTER 1118 Fourth St, San Rafael; (415) 454-1222, www.cafilm.org. $6.50-10. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (Miller, 2009), call for dates and times. "Short Films from the 2009 Sundance Film Festival," Wed-Thurs, call for times.

EXPLORATORIUM 3601 Lyon, SF; www.exploratorium.edu. Free with museum admission ($9-14). A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Sat, 2.

GRACE NORTH CHURCH 2138 Cedar, Berk; (510) 464-4640, www.verticalpool.com. $6-10. The Greater Circulation (Alli, 2005), Fri, 8.

JOYCE GORDON GALLERY 406 14th St, Oakl; (510) 465-8928, www.joycegordongallery.com. Free. One Time (Doukas, 1969-71), Thurs, 8.

PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE 2575 Bancroft, Berk; (510) 642-5249, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu. $5.50-9.50. "An Evening with Mark Morris:" Cello Suite #3: Falling Down Stairs (Sweete, 1995), Wed, 7; Cabin in the Sky (Minnelli, 1943), Wed, 9. "A Woman’s Face: Ingrid Bergman in Europe:" Autumn Sonata (Bergman, 1978), Thurs, 7. "Otto Preminger: Anatomy of a Movie:" Carmen Jones (1955), Fri, 6:30; Bonjour Tristesse (1958), Sat, 6:30 and Sun, 5; Skidoo (1968), Sat, 8:30; Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), Sun, 7. "Four by Hungarian Master Miklós Janksó:" Silence and Cry (1967), Fri, 8:40.

PARAMOUNT THEATRE 2025 Broadway, Oakl; 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com. $5. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Stuart, 1971), Fri, 8.

RED VIC 1727 Haight, SF; (415) 668-3994. $6-10. It Might Get Loud (Guggenheim, 2009), Wed-Thurs, 7:15, 9:20 (also Wed, 2). Not Quite Hollywood (Hartley, 2009), Fri-Sat, 7:15, 9:25 (also Sat, 2, 4:15). The City of Lost Children (Jeunet and Caro, 1995), Sun-Mon, 7, 9:25 (also Sun, 2, 4:20). Scrooged (Donner, 1988), Tues, 7:15, 9:25.

ROXIE 3117 and 3125 16th St, SF; (415) 863-1087, www.roxie.com. $5-9.75. Call for shows and times.

SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART 151 Third St, SF; www.sfmoma.org. $10. "Kenneth Anger: Restored Prints," Thurs, 7. With Kenneth Anger in person.

SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin, SF; www.sfpl.org. Free. "Back in the GDR: The Berlin Wall and the Former East Germany on Film:" Night Crossing (Mann, 1981), Thurs, noon. Large-screen video presentation.

YERBA BUENA CENTER FOR THE ARTS 701 Mission, SF; (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org. $6-8. "The Joy of Life:" "Short Films by Curt McDowell," Thurs, 7:30; "Holiday Free Surprise Screening!", Sat, 7:30; Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (Henson, 1977), Sun, 2.<\!s>

Music listings


Music listings are compiled by Paula Connelly and Cheryl Eddy. Since club life is unpredictable, it’s a good idea to call ahead to confirm bookings and hours. Prices are listed when provided to us. Submit items at listings@sfbg.com.



"Blue Bear School of Music Band Showcase" Café du Nord. 7:30pm, $12-20.

Geographer, Northern Key, DJ Elise, DJ Jacob Fury Harlot, 46 Minna, SF; www.tricycle-records.com. 9pm, $5.

Brian Glaze and the Night Shift, Dreamdate, Carletta Sue Kay Hemlock. 9pm, $6.

Heeldraggers, 49 Special Hotel Utah. 8pm, $8.

Misisipi Rider, Media Male, Geneva Pop Annie’s Social Club. 8pm, $6.

Provisionals, Worker Bee, Echo Location El Rio. 8pm, $5.

Rural Alberta Advantage, Shaky Hands, Sonny and the Sunsets Bottom of the Hill. 9pm, $10.

Adam H. Stephens, Two Sheds, Honey Rickshaw Stop. 8pm, $10.

Zodiac Death Valley, In the Dust, Groggs Elbo Room. 9pm, $6.


"B3 Wednesdays" Coda. 9pm, $7. With Pete Levin.

Cat’s Corner Savanna Jazz. 7pm, $5-10.

Charlie Hunter Yoshi’s San Francisco. 8 and 10pm, $16-20.

Le Jazz Hot Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter, SF; (415) 398-6449. 6:30pm, $20.

Ben Marcato and the Mondo Combo Top of the Mark. 7:30pm, $10.

Marcus Shelby Jazz Jam Revolution Café, 3248 22nd St, SF; (415) 642-0474. 8:45pm, free.

Tin Cup Serenade Le Colonial, 20 Cosmo Place, SF; (415) 931-3600. 7pm, free.


Gaucho, Michael Abraham Jazz Session Amnesia. 8pm, free.

Rolando Morales Biscuits and Blues. 8pm, $15.

Somerville and Keehan Plough and Stars. 9pm.


Booty Call Q-Bar, 456 Castro; www.bootycallwednesdays.com. 9pm. Juanita Moore hosts this dance party, featuring DJ Robot Hustle.

Hands Down! Bar on Church. 9pm, free. With DJs Claksaarb, Mykill, and guests spinning indie, electro, house, and bangers.

Jam Wednesday Infusion Lounge. 10pm, free. DJ Slick Dee.

Qoöl 111 Minna Gallery. 5-10pm, $5. Pan-techno lounge with DJs Spesh, Gil, Hyper D, and Jondi.

RedWine Social Dalva. 9pm-2am, free. DJ TophOne and guests spin outernational funk and get drunk.

Respect Wednesdays End Up. 10pm, $5. Rotating DJs Daddy Rolo, Young Fyah, Irie Dole, I-Vier, Sake One, Serg, and more spinning reggae, dancehall, roots, lovers rock, and mash ups.

Synchronize Il Pirata, 2007 16th St.; (415) 626-2626. 10pm, free. Psychedelic dance music with DJs Helios, Gatto Matto, Psy Lotus, Intergalactoid, and guests.



Ambience, Ben Henderson, Cloud Archive Bottom of the Hill. 9pm, $8.

Blisses B, Bryn Loosley and the Back Pages, Tyler Matthew Smith Hotel Utah. 9pm, $6.

Noise/Experimental Night Amnesia. 9pm, $6. With Death Sentence Panda, San Francisco Water Cooler, Steve Reich’s Marimba Phase with David Douglass and William Winant, and Butterclaw.

Katie Garibaldi, Sandy Greenfield, Vice Grant and Green. 9pm, free.

John Németh Biscuits and Blues. 8pm, $18.

Officer Down, Street Justice Annie’s Social Club. 8pm, $7.

Sabertooth Zombie, Dcoi, Pullout, A Better Hope Foundation Thee Parkside. 9pm, $7.

Scrabbel, Seventeen Evergreen, Amores Vigilantes, DJ Neil Martinson Café du Nord. 9pm, $10.

Top Critters, Christmas G, La Corde Hemlock Tavern. 9pm, $6.

El Vez, Los Straitjackets Independent. 8pm, $20.


Terry Disley Washington Square Bar and Grill, 1707 Powell, SF; (415) 433-1188. 7:30pm, free.

Eric Kurtzrock Trio Ana Mandara, Ghirardelli Square, 891 Beach, SF; (415) 771-6800. 7:30pm, free.

Laurent Fourgo Le Colonial, 20 Cosmo Place, SF; (415) 931-3600. 7:30pm, free.

Hiroshima Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason, SF; (415) 394-1189. 8pm, $42.50-47.50.

Charlie Hunter Yoshi’s San Francisco. 8 and 10pm, $16-20.

Le Jazz Hot Shanghai 1930. 7pm, free.

Marlina Teich Trio Brickhouse, 426 Brannan, SF; (415) 820-1595. 7-10pm, free.

Stompy Jones Top of the Mark. 7:30pm, $10.


Aoede, Ziva Hadar Duboce Park Café, 2 Sanchez, SF; (415) 621-1108. 7:30pm, free.

Bluegrass and Old Time Jam Atlas Café. 8pm, free.

Mission 3 Revolution Café, 3248 22nd St, SF; (415) 642-0474. 8:45pm, free.

Tipsy House Plough and Stars. 9pm.


Afrolicious Elbo Room. 9:30pm, $5-6. DJs Pleasuremaker, Señor Oz, J Elrod, and B Lee spin Afrobeat, Tropicália, electro, samba, and funk.

Caribbean Connection Little Baobab, 3388 19th St; 643-3558. 10pm, $3. DJ Stevie B and guests spin reggae, soca, zouk, reggaetón, and more.

Club Jammies Edinburgh Castle. 10pm, free. DJs EBERrad and White Mice spinning reggae, punk, dub, and post punk.

Drop the Pressure Underground SF. 6-10pm, free. Electro, house, and datafunk highlight this weekly happy hour.

Funky Rewind Skylark. 9pm, free. DJ Kung Fu Chris, MAKossa, and rotating guest DJs spin heavy funk breaks, early hip-hop, boogie, and classic Jamaican riddims.

Heat Icon Ultra Lounge. 10pm, free. Hip-hop, R&B, reggae, and soul.

Kick It Bar on Church. 9pm. Hip-hop with DJ Jorge Terez.

Koko Puffs Koko Cocktails, 1060 Geary; 885-4788. 10pm, free. Dubby roots reggae and Jamaican funk from rotating DJs.

Meat DNA Lounge. 9:30pm, $2-5. Industrial with BaconMonkey, Netik, Mario Muse, and Unit 77.

Mestiza Bollywood Café, 3376 19th St., SF; (415) 970-0362. 10pm, free. Showcasing progressive Latin and global beats with DJ Juan Data.

Nightvision Harlot, 46 Minna, SF; (415) 777-1077. 9:30pm, $10. DJs Danny Daze, Franky Boissy, and more spinning house, electro, hip hop, funk, and more.

Popscene 330 Rich. 10pm, $10. Rotating DJs spinning indie, Britpop, electro, new wave, and post-punk.

Represent Icon Lounge. 10pm, $5. With Resident DJ Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist and guest. Rock Candy Stud. 9pm-2am, $5. Luscious Lucy Lipps hosts this electro-punk-pop party with music by ReXick.

Solid Club Six. 9pm, $5. With resident DJ Daddy Rolo and rotating DJs Mpenzi, Shortkut, Polo Mo’qz and Fuze spinning roots, reggae, and dancehall.



Frank Bey Biscuits and Blues. 8 and 10pm, $22.

*Black Cobra, Fucking Wrath, Moses, Pins of Light, DJ Rob Metal Annie’s Social Club. 8:30pm, $8.

*Death Angel Slim’s. 9pm, $22.

Diego’s Umbrella, Superadventure Club, Gow to Win at Life Elbo Room. 9pm, $8.

Lady Genius, FOMA, Ian Fayes Hemlock Tavern. 9pm, $7.

DJ Lebowitz Madrone Art Bar. 6-9pm, free.

Moonlight Orchestra, Montana 1948, Blue Rabbit Bottom of the Hill. 9:30pm, $10.

Mother Hips, Dawes, Parson Red Heads Great American Music Hall. 8:30pm, $20.

Lee "Scratch" Perry, Revival Sound System Independent. 9pm, $25.

Pink Mountain, T.I.T.S., Arrington De Dionyso, Work, Pink Canoes, Al Qaeda, Seven Lies About Girls Café du Nord. 8pm, free.

Steve Kimock Crazy Engine Fillmore. 9pm, $25.

Strange Angel Blues Band Socha Café, 3235 Mission, SF; (415) 643-6848. 8:30pm.

El Ten Eleven, Sixteens, Choke Thee Parkside. 9pm, $7.

Yellow Dress, Quite Polite, Danger Babes Hotel Utah. 9pm, $6.


Audium 9 1616 Bush, SF; (415) 771-1616. 8:30pm, $15.

Black Market Jazz Orchestra Top of the Mark. 9pm, $10.

"Brian Culbertson’s A Soulful Christmas" Yoshi’s San Francisco. 8 and 10pm, $28-35.

Eric Kurtzrock Trio Ana Mandara, Ghirardelli Square, 891 Beach, SF; (415) 771-6800. 8pm, free.

Hiroshima Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason, SF; (415) 394-1189. 8pm, $42.50-47.50.

Le Jazz Hot Mechanics’ Institute, 57 Post, SF; (415) 393-0100. 7:30pm, $18.

Lucid Lovers Rex Hotel, 562 Sutter, SF; (415) 433-4434. 6-8pm.

Regina Pontillo Revolution Café, 3248 22nd St, SF; (415) 642-0474. 8:45pm, free.

Terry Disley Experience Shanghai 1930. 7:30pm, free.


Annie Bacon’s Folk Opera Kaleidoscope, 3109 24th St., SF; www.kaleidoscopefreespeechzone.com. 8pm, $5.

Bluegrass Bonanza Plough and Stars. 9pm.

Erin Brazil Live with special guests Dolores Park Café. 7:30pm, free.

Rob Reich and Craig Ventresco Amnesia. 7pm, free.


Activate! Lookout, 3600 16th St; (415) 431-0306. 9pm, $3. Face your demigods and demons at this Red Bull-fueled party.

Bar on Church 9pm. Rotating DJs Zax, Zhaldee, and Nuxx.

Blow Up Rickshaw Stop. 10pm, $15. With DJs Jeffrey Paradise and Richie Panic spinning dance music.

Deathmas Ball Medici Lounge, 299 9th St., SF; (415) 501-9162. 9pm, $5. With DJs voodoo, Purgatory, and Starr spinning goth, industrial, deathrock, glam, and eighties.

Deep Fried Butter, 354 11th St., SF; (415) 863-5964. DJs jaybee, David Justin, and Dean Manning spinning indie, dance rock, electronica, funk, hip hop, and more.

Dubstep Holiday Party Club Six. 9pm. With DJs Matty G, Pawn, Ultra Violet, Roommate, and Ntrld.

Exhale, Fridays Project One Gallery, 251 Rhode Island; (415) 465-2129. 5pm, $5. Happy hour with art, fine food, and music with Vin Sol, King Most, DJ Centipede, and Shane King.

Fat Stack Fridays Koko Cocktails, 1060 Geary, SF; (415) 885-4788. 10pm, free. With rotating DJs Romanowski, B-Love, Tomas, Toph One, and Vinnie Esparza.

Gay Asian Paradise Club Eight, 1151 Folsom, SF; www.eightsf.com. 9pm, $8. Featuring two dance floors playing dance and hip hop, smoking patio, and 2 for 1 drinks before 10pm.

Hellatight Amnesia. 9pm, $5. With DJs Asti Spumante and Vinnie Esparza spinning 80’s, soul, hip hop, and disco.

Hubba Hubba Revue DNA Lounge. 9pm, $10-15. With Meshugga Beach Party and burlesque performances.

Look Out Weekend Bambuddha Lounge. 4pm, free. Drink specials, food menu and resident DJs White Girl Lust, Swayzee, Philie Ocean, and more.

Loose Stud. 10pm-3am, $5. DJs Domino and Six spin electro and indie, with vintage porn visual projections to get you in the mood.

M4M Fridays Underground SF. 10pm-2am. Joshua J and Frankie Sharp host this man-tastic party.

Punk Rock and Shlock Karaoke Annie’s Social Club. 9pm-2am, $5. Eileen and Jody bring you songs from multiple genres to butcher: punk, new wave, alternative, classic rock, and more.



Armada, Narwhal Brigade, Midnight Sun Hotel Utah. 9pm, $8.

Elvin Bishop Biscuits and Blues. 8 and 10pm, $35.

Corruptors, Spittin Cobras, It’s Casual, Euphoric Pork Annie’s Social Club. 9pm, $7.

John Freman Socha Café, 3235 Mission, SF; (415) 643-6848. 8:30pm.

Hepcat, Ron Silva and the Monarchs, DJ Selector Kirk Slim’s. 9pm, $23.

Rickie Lee Jones Fillmore. 9pm, $36.50.

Maniacal Rejects, Bullet 66, United Defiance Thee Parkside. 3pm, free.

Mother Hips, Or the Whale, Dave Gleason and the Golden Cadillacs Great American Music Hall. 8:30pm, $20.

Mushrooms, windy-gap Retox Lounge. 9pm, $7.

"Nat Keefe Concert Carnival" Independent. 9pm, $20-35. With Dave Brogran, Trevor Garrod, Fred Torphy, and more.

"Pirate Cat Radio Holiday Party and Fundraiser" Thee Parkside. 9pm, $8. With Persephone’s Bees, HeWhoCannotBeNamed and the Human Terrorist, Dirty Santas, Phantom Jets, and more.

Stomacher, Mata Leon, Halfway Bottom of the Hill. 10pm, $10.

Swann Danger, Guitar vs. Gravity, 2:Frail Hemlock Tavern. 9pm, $7.

Robin Thicke, Ryan Leslie and Laura Izibor Warfield. 8pm, $45.50-62.50.

Turbonegra, Minks, Remones El Rio. 9pm, $7.

Winter Fresh Club Six. 9pm, $10. Live R&B, soul, and hip hop with Sierra Makai, Donte Robinson, Love You Down Band, and more.


Audium 9 1616 Bush, SF; (415) 771-1616. 8:30pm, $15.

"Brian Culbertson’s A Soulful Christmas" Yoshi’s San Francisco. 8 and 10pm, $35.

Eric Kurtzrock Trio Ana Mandara, Ghirardelli Square, 891 Beach, SF; (415) 771-6800. 8pm, free.

Hiroshima Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason, SF; (415) 394-1189. 7 and 9:30pm, $42.50-47.50.

"Jazz Jam Session with Uptime Jazz Group" Mocha 101 Café, 1722 Taraval, SF; (415) 702-9869. 3:30-5:30pm, free.

Lisa Lindsley Shanghai 1930. 7:30pm, free.

Ricardo Scales Top of the Mark. 9pm, $15.

Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers Café du Nord. 9pm, $15.

Tin Cup Serenade Revolution Café, 3248 22nd St, SF; (415) 642-0474. 8:45pm, free.


Bob Bradshaw Band Plough and Stars. 9pm.

Halau O Keikiali’I Peña Pachamama, 1630 Powell, SF; (415) 751-6090. 7:30pm, $19.95.

Pulama Hukilau, 5 Masonic, SF; (415) 921-6242. 8pm.


Bar on Church 9pm. Rotating DJs Foxxee, Joseph Lee, Zhaldee, Mark Andrus, and Niuxx.

Christmas by Okay-Hole Amnesia. 10pm, $4.

Cock Fight Underground SF. 9pm, $6. Locker room antics galore with electro-spinning DJs Earworm and Matt Hite and hostess Hugz Bunny.

Fire Corner Koko Cocktails, 1060 Geary; 885-4788. 9:30pm, free. Rare and outrageous ska, rocksteady, and reggae vinyl with Revival Sound System and guests.

HYP Club Eight, 1151 Folsom, SF; www.eightsf.com. 10pm, free. Gay and lesbian hip hop party, featuring DJs spinning the newest in the top 40s hip hop and hyphy.

Saturday Night Live Fat City, 314 11th St; selfmade2c@yahoo.com. 10:30pm.

Saturday Night Soul Party Elbo Room. 10pm, $10. With DJs Lucky, Phengren Oswald, and Paul Paul spinning 60s soul on 45s.

Spirit Fingers Sessions 330 Ritch. 9pm, free. With DJ Morse Code and live guest performances.

Surefire Sound Triple Crown. 10pm, $10. With DJs Vaccine, DJG, and Comma spinning dubstep.

TekAndHaus Anu, 43 6th St., SF; (415) 543-3505. 10pm, free. With DJs Adnan Sharif, Kuze, and Zenith spinning house, techno, and tech house.

Trannyshack DNA Lounge. 10pm, $20. Heklina and Peaches Christ co-host the 11th annual Trannyshack Star Search Competition.



"Battle of the Bands" DNA Lounge. 5:30pm, $12. With Dead Immortal, Subtones, Defying Truth, Zutra, and more.

Brian Setzer Orchestra Warfield. 8pm, $55-69.50.

Ben Deignan, Austin Hartley Leonard Grant and Green. 9pm, free.

Molloy Family Album, Devotionals, Passenger and Pilot Hemlock Tavern. 9pm, $6.

Papa M, Jason Simon, Brookhaven Café du Nord. 8pm, $12.

Brittany Shane Mojito. 9:30pm, free.

T-Wrex and the Primitive Rhythm Maggie McGarry’s, 1353 Grant, SF; (415) 399-9020. 9pm, free.

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong Independent. 5 and 8pm, $25.


"Brian Culbertson’s A Soulful Christmas" Yoshi’s San Francisco. 7 and 9pm, $28-35.

Hiroshima Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason, SF; (415) 394-1189. 7pm, $42.50-47.50.

Smith Jazz Revolution Café, 3248 22nd St, SF; (415) 642-0474. 3-5pm, free.

Zanza Trio, Ana Carbatti, Tammy Hall, Michaelle Goerlitz Bliss Bar, 4026 24th St, SF; (415) 826-6200. 4:30pm, $10.


Gabriel and Ari Peña Pachamama, upstairs, 1630 Powell, SF; (415) 751-6090. 7:30pm, $8-10.

Jack Gilder, Kevin Bemhagen, Richard Mandel, and friends Plough and Stars. 9pm.

Poontones Thee Parkside. 4pm, free.

Ramana Viera Peña Pachamama, 1630 Powell, SF; (415) 751-6090. 7pm, $20.


DiscoFunk Mashups Cat Club. 10pm, free. House and 70’s music.

Dub Mission Elbo Room. 9pm, $6. Dub, roots, and classic dancehall with DJs Sep, Maneesh the Twister, and guess Spliff Skankin’.

Holiday T-Dance Ruby Skye, 420 Mason, SF; www.freshsf.com. 4pm, $25. With DJ and producer Phil B.

Gloss Sundays Trigger, 2344 Market, SF; (415) 551-CLUB. 7pm. With DJ Hawthorne spinning house, funk, soul, retro, and disco.

Honey Soundsystem Paradise Lounge. 8pm-2am. "Dance floor for dancers – sound system for lovers." Got that?

Jock! Lookout, 3600 16th; 431-0306. 3pm, $2. This high-energy party raises money for LGBT sports teams.

Kick It Bar on Church. 9pm. Hip-hop with DJ Zax.

Lowbrow Sunday Delirium. 1pm, free. DJ Roost Uno and guests spinning club hip hop, indie, and top 40s.

Religion Bar on Church. 3pm. With DJ Nikita.

Stag AsiaSF. 6pm, $5. Gay bachelor parties are the target demo of this weekly erotic tea dance.



Jim Campilongo Make-Out Room. 8pm, $15.

Bart Davenport, Persephone’s Bees, Aerosols, Love Dimension, Antonette Groroch Knockout. 9pm.


Nick Culp Socha Café, 3235 Mission, SF; (415) 643-6848. 8:30pm.

"Jazz at the Rrazz" Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason, SF; 1-866-468-3399. 8pm, $25. With the Mike Greensill Trio featuring guest Bruce Forman.

Lavay Smith Trio Enrico’s, 504 Broadway, SF; www.enricossf.com. 7pm, free.

Larry Vukovich and the New Blue Balkan Ensemble Yoshi’s San Francisco. 8pm, $16.


Homespun Rowdy Amnesia. 8:30pm, free.


Black Gold Koko Cocktails, 1060 Geary; 885-4788. 10pm-2am, free. Senator Soul spins Detroit soul, Motown, New Orleans R&B, and more — all on 45!

Death Guild DNA Lounge. 9:30pm, $3-5. Gothic, industrial, and synthpop with DJs Decay, Joe Radio, and Melting Girl.

Going Steady Dalva. 10pm, free. DJs Amy and Troy spinning 60’s girl groups, soul, garage, and more.

King of Beats Tunnel Top. 10pm. DJs J-Roca and Kool Karlo spinning reggae, electro, boogie, funk, 90’s hip hop, and more.

Manic Mondays Bar on Church. 9pm. Drink 80-cent cosmos with Djs Mark Andrus and Dangerous Dan.

Monster Show Underground SF. 10pm, $5. Cookie Dough and DJ MC2 make Mondays worth dancing about, with a killer drag show at 11pm.

Network Mondays Azul Lounge, One Tillman Pl; www.inhousetalent.com. 9pm, $5. Hip-hop, R&B, and spoken word open mic, plus featured performers.

Spliff Sessions Tunnel Top. 10pm, free. DJs MAKossa, Kung Fu Chris, and C. Moore spin funk, soul, reggae, hip-hop, and psychedelia on vinyl.



Bob Hill Band Slim’s. 8pm, $15.

Fat Tuesday Band Biscuits and Blues. 8pm, $15.

Lord Loves a Working Man Bottom of the Hill. 9pm, $8.

Zoo, Deeper, Mighty Russian Winter, Jason Mkey Hemlock Tavern. 9pm, $6.


Asalto Navideno featuring Saboricua, DJ Sonido Diablo Elbo Room. 9pm, $7.


"Booglaloo Tuesday" Madrone Art Bar. 9:30pm, $3. With Oscar Myers.

Graham Connah Revolution Café, 3248 22nd St, SF; (415) 642-0474. 8:45pm, free.

Dave Parker Quintet Rasselas Jazz. 8pm.

Euliptian Quartet Socha Café, 3235 Mission, SF; (415) 643-6848. 8:30pm.

Gyan Riley Trio Yoshi’s San Francisco. 8pm, $14.

Ricardo Scales Top of the Mark. 6:30pm, $5.


Alcoholocaust Presents Argus Lounge. 9pm, free. With DJ What’s His Fuck and Yule Be Sorry.

Drunken Monkey Lounge Annie’s Social Club. 9pm, free. Shot specials and punk rock karaoke in the back room.

Eclectic Company Skylark, 9pm, free. DJs Tones and Jaybee spin old school hip hop, bass, dub, glitch, and electro.

La Escuelita Pisco Lounge, 1817 Market, SF; (415) 874-9951. 7pm, free. DJ Juan Data spinning gay-friendly, Latino sing-alongs but no salsa or reggaeton.

Rock Out Karaoke! Amnesia. 7:30pm. With Glenny Kravitz.

Share the Love Trigger, 2344 Market, SF; (415) 551-CLUB. 5pm, free. With DJ Pam Hubbuck spinning house.

Womanizer Bar on Church. 9pm. With DJ Nuxx.

Stage listings


Stage listings are compiled by Molly Freedenberg. Performance times may change; call venues to confirm. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Rita Felciano, and Nicole Gluckstern. Submit items for the listings at listings@sfbg.com.



Black Nativity Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter; 474-8800, www.lhtsf.org. $30-$40. Previews Wed/16-Thurs/17. Opens Fri/18. Runs Wed-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 2 and 8pm; Sun, 4pm. Through Dec 27. Lorraine Hansberry Theatre presents its award-winning holiday gospel musical.

A Merry FORKING! Christmas Off-Market Theaters, 965 Mission; (800) 838-3006, www.pianofight.com. $20. Opens Thurs/17. Various days and times. Through Jan 2. Playwright Daniel Heath and PianoFight team up again for a fully scripted play in which the audience votes on how the plot will proceed.

Mr. YooWho’s Holiday NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa; 621-7978, theatreofyugen.org. $10-$15. Opens Fri/18. Runs Fri, 8pm; Sat, 3pm; Sun, 3pm; through Jan 3. Moshe Cohen and NOHspace co-present this one-man holiday show that takes the audience on a ride full of wonder and laughter that transcends generational barriers.

Yes Sweet Can Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St; 273-4633, sweetcanproductions.com. $15-$20. Opens Fri/18. Days and times vary. Through Jan 3. Sweet Can Productions presents this astonishing 60-minute show featuring acrobatics, aerial work, hula hoops and other combinations of traditional circus and physical theater.


The 39 Steps Curran Theater, 1192 Market; 551-2020, www.shnsf.com. $35-$80. Tues, 8pm; Wed, 2 and 8pm; Thurs, 8pm; Fri-Sat, 2 and 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Jan 3. The SHN Best of Broadway series kicks off with Alfred Hitchcock’s Tony Award-winning whodunit comedy.

Beautiful Thing New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness; 861-8972. $22-40. Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Jan 3. New Conservatory Theatre Center performs Jonathan Harvey’s story of romance between two London teens.

*Better Homes and Ammo (a post apocalyptic suburban tale) EXIT Stage Left, 156 Eddy; www.brownpapertickets.com/event/86070. $15-$19. Thurs/17-Sat/19, 8pm. Toting bible and AK-47, a shlubby but seemingly affable right-wing libertarian (B. Warden Lawlor) has led his nuclear family down into the survival pit beneath his ammo store just in time to escape the nuclear disaster above ground. Months into this millennial camping trip, mom (Molly Benson) dreams of starring in her own vaguely militant cooking show, while restive older brother (James Tinsley) and dippy but nubile little sister (Cassie Powell) turn their own hormonally charged dreams into a budding daytime romance (well, one of them’s adopted anyway). Can the center hold, with mere anarchy loosed above? "Since when," asks mom of her spouse, "have you resorted to lies and manipulation to maintain your authority?" Good question. He’d balk at the comparison—and the French—but basically, L’estat? C’est pah. The loathsome Bush years inspired this first full-length comedy from writer-director Wiley Herman, but its themes of fear mongering as social control, authoritarian excess, apocalyptic doom, and brother-sister whoopee are evergreens. The pacing can flag, the dramatic conventions can feel too familiar, but the writing has merit and a fair amount of laughs, while the cast warm to their parts with conviction and charm. All in all a promising debut from Herman, and if the world doesn’t end first we can expect better ammo down the line. (Avila)

The Bright River Climate Theater, 285 9th St; (800) 838-3006, thebrightriver.com. $15-$25. Runs Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Dec 27. Climate presents this mesmerizing hip-hop retelling of Dante’s Inferno by Tim Brarsky.

A Christmas Carol American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary; 749-2228, www.act-sf.org. $14-$102. Days and times vary. Through Dec 27. A.C.T. presents the sparkling, music-infused celebration of goodwill by Charles Dickens.

Cinderella African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton; (800) 8383-3006, www.african-americanshakes.org. $20-$30. Days and times vary. Through Dec 27. The African-American Shakespeare Company presents an enchanting production of the classic fairytale, re-set on the bayous of Louisiana.

Cotton Patch Gospel Next Stage, 1620 Gough; (800) 838-3006, www.custommade.org. $10-$28. Thurs/17-Sat/19, 8pm. Custom Made presents Harry Chapin’s progressive and musically joyous look at the Jesus story through a modern lens.

Dames at Sea New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness; 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org. $22-$40. Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Jan 17. NCTC presents the Off-Broadway musical hit.

*East 14th Marsh, 1062 Valencia; 1-800-838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $20-35. Fri/18, 9pm; Sat/19, 8:30pm. Don Reed’s solo play, making its local premiere at the Marsh after an acclaimed New York run, is truly a welcome homecoming twice over. It returns the Bay Area native to the place of his vibrant, physically dynamic, consistently hilarious coming-of-age story, set in 1970s Oakland between two poles of East 14th Street’s African American neighborhood: one defined by his mother’s strict ass-whooping home, dominated by his uptight Jehovah’s Witness stepfather; the other by his biological father’s madcap but utterly non-judgmental party house. The latter—shared by two stepbrothers, one a player and the other flamboyantly gay, under a pimped-out, bighearted patriarch whose only rule is "be yourself"—becomes the teenage Reed’s refuge from a boyhood bereft of Christmas and filled with weekend door-to-door proselytizing. Still, much about the facts of life in the ghetto initially eludes the hormonal and naïve young Reed, including his own flamboyant, ever-flush father’s occupation: "I just thought he was really into hats." But dad—along with each of the characters Reed deftly incarnates in this very engaging, loving but never hokey tribute—has something to teach the talented kid whose excellence in speech and writing at school marked him out, correctly, as a future "somebody." (Avila)

Eccentrics of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast: A Magical Escapade San Francisco Magic Parlor, Chancellor Hotel Union Square, 433 Powell; 1-800-838-3006. $30. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Ongoing. This show celebrates real-life characters from San Francisco’s colorful and notorious past.

Fun-derful Holidaze The Marsh, 1062 Valencia; (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $7-$12. Sat-Sun, 2pm. Through Jan 3. The Marsh presents Unique Derique in a fun-filled feast of frivolity for all ages.

I SF South of Market home stage, 505 Natoma; (800) 838-3006, www.boxcartheatre.org. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. Through Dec 19. Boxcar Theatre presents an improvised unabashed stage poem to all things San Francisco.

Katya’s Holiday Spectacular New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness; 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org. $22-$32. Days vary, 8pm, through Jan 2. NCTC presents a special winter cabaret starring Katya Smirnoff-Skyy.

Let It Snow! SF Playhouse Stage 2, 533 Sutter; 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org. $8-$20. Thurs/17-Fri/18, 8pm; Sat/19, 3 and 8pm. The Un-scripted Theater Company lovingly presents an entirely new musical every night based on audience participation.

The Life of Brian Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission; 401-7987, darkroomsf.com. $20. Fri/18-Sat/19, 8pm. The Dark Room Theater presents a movie parody turned into a theatrical parody.

Ovo Grand Chapiteau, AT&T Park; (800) 450-1480, www.cirquedusoleil.com. $45.50-$135. Tues-Thurs, 8pm; Fri-Sat, 4 and 8pm; Sun, 1 and 5pm. Through Jan 24. The U.S. premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s latest extravaganza, written and directed by Deborah Colker, dependably sports several fine acts enmeshed in a visually buzzing insect theme. Highlights include a delighting set of juggling ants, twirling huge wedges of kiwi with their synchronized tootsies, very adorable and almost unbelievably deft; a mesmerizing and freely romantic airborne "Spanish Web" duet; and a spider traversing a "slackwire" web with jaw-dropping strength, balance and agility. The whisper-thin plot, thin even by Cirque standards, is nearly summed up in the title (Portuguese for "egg"). A very large "ovo" takes up most of the stage as the audience enters the tent. This is miraculously replaced in a flash by a smaller, though still ample one lugged around by one of three clowns (by the standards of past years, not a very inspired or absorbing bunch these three), and then snatched away amid a throng of insect types. An endoplasmic reticulum, or something, hovers a floor or two high toward the back of the stage, where the live band churns the familiar trans-inducing Euro-beats. The baseline entertainment value is solid, though the usual high jinx and overall charm are at somewhat lower ebb compared with recent years. (Avila)

Pearls Over Shanghai Hypnodrome, 575 Tenth St.; 1-800-838-3006, www.thrillpeddlers.com. $30-69. Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Jan 23. Thrillpeddlers presents this revival of the legendary Cockettes’ 1970 musical extravaganza.

Santaland Diaries Off Market Theater, 965 Mission; (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/89315. $25. Mon-Sun, 8 and 10pm. Through Dec 30. Combined Artform and Beck-n-Call present the annual production of David Sedaris’ story, starring John Michael Beck and David Sinaiko.

Shanghai San Francisco One Telegraph Hill; 1-877-384-7843, www.shanghaisanfrancisco.com. $40. Sat, 1pm. Ongoing. To be Shanghaied: "to be kidnapped for compulsory service aboard a ship&ldots;to be induced or compelled to do something, especially by fraud or force". Once the scene of many an "involuntary" job interview, San Francisco’s Barbary Coast is now the staging ground for Shanghai San Francisco, a performance piece slash improv slash scavenger hunt through the still-beating hearts of North Beach and Chinatown, to the edge of the Tendernob. Beginning at the base of Coit Tower, participants meet the first of several characters who set up the action and dispense clues, before sending the audience off on a self-paced jaunt through the aforementioned neighborhoods, induced and compelled (though not by force) to search for a kidnapped member of the revived San Francisco Committee of Vigilance. It’s a fine notion and a fun stroll on a sunny afternoon, but ultimately succeeds far better as a walking tour than as theatre. Because the actors are spread rather thinly on the ground, they’re unable to take better advantage of their superior vantage by stalking groups a little more closely, staging distractions along the way, and generally engaging the audience as such a little more frequently. But since Shanghai San Francisco is a constantly evolving project, maybe next time they’ll do just that. (Gluckstern)

She Stoops to Comedy SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter; 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org. $30-$40. Tues, 7pm; Wed-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 3 and 8pm. Through Jan 9. SF Playhouse continues their seventh season with the Bay Area premiere of David Greenspan’s gender-bending romp.

Under the Gypsy Moon Teatro ZinZanni, Pier 29; 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org. $117-$145. Wed-Sat, 6pm; Sun, 5pm. Through Jan 1. Teatro ZinZanni presents a bewitching evening of European cabaret, cirque, theatrical spectacle, and original live music, blended with a five-course gourmet dinner.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Actors Theatre of SF, 855 Bush; 345-1287, www.actorstheatresf.org. $26-$40. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Jan 23. Before throwing around terms like "dysfunctional, bi-polar, codependent," to describe the human condition became fodder for every talk show host and reality TV star, people with problems were expected to keep them tight to the chest, like war medals, to be brought out in the privacy of the homestead for the occasional airing. For George and Martha, the sort of middle-aged, academically-entrenched couple you might see on any small University campus, personal trauma is much more than a memory—it’s a lifestyle, and their commitment to receiving and inflicting said trauma is unparalleled. The claws-out audacity of mercurial Martha (Rachel Klyce) is superbly balanced by a calmly furious George (Christian Phillips), and their almost vaudevillian energy easily bowls over boy genius Biologist, Nick (Alessandro Garcia) and his gormless, "slim-hipped" wife Honey (Jessica Coghill), who at times exhibit such preternatural stillness they seem very much like the toys their game-playing hosts are using them as to wage their private war of attrition; their nervous reactions, though well-timed, coming off as mechanical in comparison to the practiced ease with which Klyce and Phillips relentlessly tear down the walls of illusion. But thanks to George and Martha’s menacing intensity, and self-immoutf8g love, this Virginia Woolf does not fail to hold the attentions of its audience captive, despite being a grueling (though never tedious) three-and-a-half hours long. (Gluckstern)

Wicked Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market; 512-7770, www.shnsf.com. $30-$99. Tues, 8pm; Wed, 2pm; Thurs-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 2 and 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Ongoing. Assuming you don’t mind the music, which is too TV-theme–sounding in general for me, or the rather gaudy décor, spectacle rules the stage as ever, supported by sharp performances from a winning cast. (Avila)


Aurelia’s Oratorio Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berk; (510) 647-2949, berkeleyrep.org. $33-$71. Tues, Thurs, Fri, and Sat, 8pm; Wed, 7pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through Jan 24. It’s such a relief during the Nutcracker-Christmas Memory-Carol-In Wales season to catch a show that creates a wonderland without the winter. Not a beat is lost as Aurélia morphs from bored vamp trapped in a chest of drawers to tempest-tossed refugee on the high seas (and higher rafters) to befuddled homemaker with a penchant for the topsy-turvy, sometimes pursued by the excellent Jaime Martinez, whose knockout, drag-down street brawls with his recalcitrant overcoat are just one example of the physical wit that permeates the piece. Aurélia’s housekeeping skills are another—she happily arranges her flowers upside-down and sprinkles her laundry hung on the line with a big watering can, while outside her window, an upside-down taxi cab awaits her fare. Each minute vignette shines on its own merits—a woman dissolving into sand, a poignant Indonesian-style shadow-puppet encounter behind a curtain of lacy "snow" (ok, they snuck in the winter after all), a musical interlude in a clock shop—tied loosely together by a design heavy on lush red velvet and modestly versatile black-and-white. Aurélia’s Oratorio combines the best of mime, acrobatics, dance, and design, to create a circuitous, circus revel guaranteed to transport and to charm. (Gluckstern)

The Coverlettes Cover Christmas Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk; (510) 843-4822, auroratheatre.org. $25-$28. Mon-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Dec 27. Aurora Theatre Company rocks the holiday season in the style of 1960’s girl groups.

The Stone Wife Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant, Berk; 730-2901. $15-$20. Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 6pm. Through Dec 20. The Berkeley City Club presents this award-winning play written and directed by Helen Pau.

*The Threepenny Opera Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berk; www.shotgunplayers.org. $18-$30. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 5pm. Through Jan 17. Wednesday performances begin Jan 6. Shotgun Players present Bertolt Brecht’s beggar’s opera.


"The Christmas Ballet" Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard; 978-2787, www.smuinballet.org. Wed-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 2 and 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Dec 27. $18-$56. Michael Smuin presents an unexpected holiday show featuring dancers in ’50s poodle skirts, feather boas, wide-brimmed hats, and panama suits and music from Mozart to Elvis Presley.

"DANCEfirst!" The Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission; 358-7200, www.seethinkdance.com. Thurs, 6pm. $5-$10. Three local choreographers enlist their favorite house DJs to offer wildly unique perspectives on this rhythmic phenomenon.

"A Queer 20th Anniversary" Locations vary. www.circozero.org. Various days and times, Dec. 9 – Jan. 31. Zero Performance presents a retrospective of two seminal pieces performed by Keith Hennessy and company, including a restaging of Saliva at the original site under a freeway South of Market.

Mark Foehringer Dance Project/SF Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St; 433-1235, www.tixbayarea.org. Sat-Sun, 11am and 2pm. $25. The dance project presents a unique rendition of The Nutcracker at Zeum, featuring the Magik*Magik Orchestra performing live.

"The Nutcracker" Mercy High School Theater, 3250 19th Ave; 731-2237, www.sanfranciscoyouthballet.org. Sat, 2 and 7pm; Sun, 2pm. $22-$24. San Francisco Youth Ballet Theatre presents its 9th annual production of the holiday classic.

Yaelisa’s Caminos Flamencos Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason; www.caminosflamencos.com. Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 3pm. Check Web for price. This show features Yaelisa’s husband and artistic partner, 10-year-old Roberto Granados, Paco Borrego, Jesus Montoya, and Felix de Lola.


"The Hard Nut" Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Berk; cpinfo.berkeley.edu. Days and times vary, through Sun. $36-$62. Mark Morris Dance Group and Berkeley Symphony Orchestra present this retelling of The Nutcracker.


"Amahl and the Night Visitors" Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way; 826-8670. Sun, 3pm. Free. The Ina Chalis Opera Ensemble presents this one-hour Christmas opera by Gian-Carlo Menotti.

"Bijou" Martuni’s, Four Valencia; 241-0205, www.dragatmartunis.com. Sun, 7pm. $5. An eclectic weekly cabaret.

On Broadway Dinner Theater 435 Broadway; 291-0333, www.broadwaystudios.com. Thurs-Sat, 7pm. Ongoing. SF’s most talented singers, artists, and performers combine interactive shows with dining and dessert.

"A Cathedral Christmas" Grace Cathedral, 1100 California; 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com. Sat-Sun, 3pm; Mon, 7pm. $15-$50. Celebrate the season with the Choir of Men and boys with orchestra, featuring their signature performances of favorite carols, along with sacred masterpieces and yuletide classics.

"A Chanticleer Christmas" St. Ignatius Church, 650 Parker; 392-4400, www.chanticleer.org. Sat, 8pm. Check Web for ticket prices. The internationally renowned 12-man a cappella singing ensemble returns home with its critically acclaimed holiday concert.

"Electrofunkadelica & the BB Kink Show" Space Gallery, 1141 Polk; www.spacegallerysf.com. Thurs, 8pm. Shaunna Hall presents this live show and art exhibit.

Fauxgirls! Kimo’s Penthouse Lounge, 1351 Polk; 695-1239, www.fauxgirls.com. Sat, 10pm. Free. This revue features San Francisco’s finest female impersonators.

Full Spectrum Improvisation The Marsh, 1062 Valencia; 564-4115, www.themarsh.org. Tues, 7:30pm. $10-$15. Lucky Dog Theatre performs in its ongoing series of spontaneous theatre shows.

"The Greatest Bubble Show on Earth" The Marsh, 1062 Valencia; (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $7-$10. Sun, 11am. Through Dec 27. The Marsh Presents Louis Pearl, the Amazing Bubble Man, in this fun show suitable for all ages.

"Handel’s Messiah with American Bach Soloists" Grace Cathedral, 1100 California; 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com. Thurs-Fri, 7:30pm. Check Web for ticket prices. ABS conductor Jeffrey Thomas leads America’s best specialists in early music in this special concert.

"Home for the Holidays" First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin. 865-ARTS, www.sfgmc.org. Check Website for ticket info. Wed-Thurs, 7:30pm. Also special show at Castro Theatre on Dec 24. San Franciso Gay Men’s Chorus presents the 20th anniversary of a classic SF tradition.

"A Judy Garland Christmas" Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason; (866) 468-3399, www.therrazzroom.com. Tues, 8pm. $30. Connie Champagne brings her remarkable portryal of Judy Garland to the Rrazz Room.

"Monday Night ForePlays" Studio250, Off-Market, 965 Mission; www.pianofight.com. Mon, 8pm. $20. PinaoFight’s female-driven variety show extends into December with new sketches, dance numbers, and musical performances.

"Nocturnal Butterflies" Z Space at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida; (434) 535-2896, www.avykproductions.com. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. Check Web for price. Erika Tsimbrovsky/Avy K Productions presents this multimedia dance performance dedicated to Vaslav Nijinsky.

"Old English Christmas Feast" Mark Hopkins Hotel, 999 California; (510) 887-4311, www.ggbc.org. Sun, 4pm. $135. The Golden Gate Boys Choir present their annual fundraiser. (The choir also will perform for free in the hotel lobby on Monday, 11:30am.)

Porchlight Reading Series Verdi Club, 2424 Mariposa. Mon, 8pm. $12. The theme for this month’s installment is "toys," featuring stories by people who’ve played with them, dated them, and been disappointed by them.

"San Francisco Girls Chorus Annual Davies Hall Holiday Concert" Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness; www.sfgirlschorus.org. Tues, 7:30pm. $22-$58. San Francisco Girls Chorus presents the 27th annual, 300-voice holiday musical extravaganza.

Shadow Circus Creature Theatre Climate Theater, 285 9th St; www.musicboxseries.com. Wed, 8pm. $10-$13. San Francisco’s most belligerent puppetry troupe returns with a cornucopia of holiday mayhem.

"Trannyshack Star Search Competition" DNA Lounge, 375 11th St; www.dnalounge.com. Sat, 10pm. $15-$20. Heklina and Peaches Christ present the 11th annual competition where virgin drag queens compete for a title.

"Veils and Apparitions" The Garage, 975 Howard; 975howard.com. Fri-Sat, 8 and 10pm. $10-$15. Enter a poetic landscape, where boundaries bend between the folds of the human psyche in this evening of new works by a collective of artists.

"Wake the F@#k Up America: Holiday Edition" Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness; 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com. Fri, 8pm. Call for ticket price. The Kinsey Sicks, America’s favorite dragapella beautyshop quartet, bring their new holiday musical comedy to the Herbst Theatre.


"The Christmas Revels" Scottis Rite Theater, 1547 Lakeside, Oakl; (510) 452-8800, www.calrevels.org. Fri, 7:30pm; Sat-Sun, 1 and 5pm. $12-$50. Experience the music, dance, and folklore of 19th century Bavaria with this beloved Bay Area holiday tradition.

"Garage Door Nativity" First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way, Berk; (510) 848-3696, www.fccb.org. Fri-Sun, 7:30pm. $5-$10. The church presents a poignant, humorous, and unique take on the Christmas narrative told without spoken words.

"Hubba Hubba Revue" Uptown, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl; www.hubbahubbarevue.com. Mon, 10pm. Ongoing. $5. Scantily clad ladies shake their stuff at this weekly burlesque showcase.

"It’s a Wonderful Life" Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave, Berk; www.berkeleyplayhouse.org. Tues, 6:30pm. $10-$25. Berkeley Playhouse presents a staged version of the 1946 classic radio play, complete with live sound effects, microphones, and commercial jingles.

"Reality Playings" Temescal Arts Center, 511 48th St, Oakl; (510) 526-7858, www.temescalartscenter.org. Fri, 8pm. Free. Frank Moore will conduct improvised passions of musicians, actors, dancers, and audience members in a laboratory setting.

"Winter Solstice" Studio 12, 2525 Eights St, Berk; www.studio12flys.org. Mon, 7pm. $20-$25. Studio 12 presents musical performance, dance performance, and a winter solstice altar for this celebration of the longest night of the year.


Annie’s Social Club 917 Folsom, SF; www.sfstandup.com. Tues, 6:30pm, ongoing. Free. Comedy Speakeasy is a weekly stand-up comedy show with Jeff Cleary and Chad Lehrman.

"Big City Improv" Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter; (510) 595-5597, www.bigcityimprov.com. Fri, 10pm, ongoing. $15-$20. Big City Improv performs comedy in the style of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

Brainwash 1122 Folsom; 861-3663. Thurs, 7pm, ongoing. Free. Tony Sparks hosts San Francisco’s longest running comedy open mike.

Club Deluxe 1511 Haight; 552-6949, www.clubdeluxesf.com. Mon, 9pm, ongoing. Free. Various local favorites perform at this weekly show.

Clubhouse 414 Mason; www.clubhousecomedy.com. Prices vary. Scantily Clad Comedy Fri, 9pm. Stand-up Project’s Pro Workout Sat, 7pm. Naked Comedy Sat, 9pm. Frisco Improv Show and Jam Sun, 7pm. Ongoing.

Cobbs 915 Columbus; 928-4320.

"Comedy Master Series" Blue Macaw, 2565 Mission; www.comedymasterseries.com. Mon, 6pm. Ongoing. $20. The new improv comedy workshop includes training by Debi Durst, Michael Bossier, and John Elk.

"Comedy on the Square" SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter; 646-0776, www.comedyonthesquare.com. Sun, 8:30pm, through Dec. Tony Sparks and Frisco Fred host this weekly stand-up comedy showcase.

"Comedy Returns" El Rio, 3158 Mission; www.koshercomedy.com. Mon, 8pm. $7-$20. Comedian/comedy producer Lisa Geduldig presents this weekly multicultural, multi-everything comedy show.

Danny Dechi & Friends Rockit Room, 406 Clement; 387-6343. Tues, 8pm. Ongoing. Free.

"Improv Society" Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter; www.improvsociety.com. Sat, 10pm, ongoing, $15. Improv Society presents comic and musical theater.

Punch Line San Francisco 444 Battery; www.punchlinecomedyclub.com. Check Website for times and prices.
Purple Onion 140 Columbus; 1-800-838-3006, www.purpleonionlive.com. Call for days and times.
Rrazz Room Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason; (866) 468-3399, www.therrazzroom.com.
"Raw Stand-up Project" SFCC, 414 Mason, Fifth Flr; www.sfcomedycollege.com. Sat, 7pm, ongoing.
"Comedy Off Broadway Oakland" Washington Inn, 495 10th St, Oakl; (510) 452-1776, www.comedyoffbroadwayoakland.com. Fri, 9pm. Ongoing. $8-$10. Comedians featured on Comedy Central, HBO, BET, and more perform every week.

Film listings


Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Michelle Devereaux, Max Goldberg, Dennis Harvey, Johnny Ray Huston, Louis Peitzman, Lynn Rapoport, Ben Richardson, Matt Sussman, and Laura Swanbeck. The film intern is Fernando F. Croce. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock. For first-run showtimes, see Movie Guide.


Avatar Special effects master and woeful screenplay-penner James Cameron returns, for better and worse. (2:42)

Broken Embraces Pedro Almodóvar has always dabbled in the Hitchcockian tropes of uxoricide, betrayal, and double-identity, but with Broken Embraces he has attained a polyglot, if slightly mimicking, fluency with the language of Hollywood noir. A story within a story and a movie within a movie, Embraces begins in the present day with middle-aged Catalan Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), a blind screenwriter who takes time between his successful writing career to seduce and bed young women sympathetic to his disability. "Everything’s already happened to me," he explains to his manager, Judit (Blanca Portillo). "All that’s left is to enjoy life." But this life of empty pleasures is brought to a sudden halt when local business magnate Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) has died; soon after, Ernesto Jr. (Rubén Ochandiano), who has renamed himself Ray X, visits Caine with an unusual request. The action retreats 14 years when Caine was a young (and visually abled) director named Mateo Blanco; he encounters a breathtaking femme fatale, Lena (Penelope Cruz) — an actress-turned-prostitute named Severine, turned secretary-turned-trophy wife of Ernesto Martel — when she appears to audition for his latest movie. If all of the narrative intricacies and multiplicitous identities in Broken Embraces appear a bit intimidating at first glance, it is because this is the cinema of Almodóvar taken to a kind of generic extreme. As with all of the director’s post-’00 films, which are often referred to as Almodóvar’s "mature" pictures, there is a microscopic attention to narrative development combined with a frenzied sub-plotting of nearly soap-operatic proportions. But, in Embraces, formalism attains such prominence that one might speculate the director is simply going through the motions. The effect is a purposely loquacious and overly-dramatized performance that pleasures itself as much by setting up the plot as unraveling it. For the complete version of this review, visit www.sfbg.com. (2:08) Clay. (Erik Morse)

Did You Hear About the Morgans? A married couple (Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) move from Manhattan to a small town after witnessing a murder. (1:48)

In Search of Beethoven After the success of his In Search of Mozart, director Phil Grabsky applies his truth-seeking documentary template to Ludwig van Beethoven, a composer so genius he continued creating (and to a lesser extent, performing) even as he succumbed to deafness. Still photos, paintings, interviews with historians and musicologists, and visits to actual Beethoven haunts, along with dramatic readings of the maestro’s letters (by actor David Dawson) and stern narration (by actor Juliet Stevenson, who also loaned her pipes to Mozart), flesh out this biographical portrait. But its most stirring moments come courtesy of its musical performances (by seasoned professionals) of Moonlight Sonata and other notable works. As the doc proves, there’s no better insight into Beethoven’s tumultuous, sometimes tortured life than the notes he left behind. (2:18) Roxie. (Eddy)

*35 Shots of Rum Claire Denis’s portrait in domesticity is so patiently timed and achingly photographed (by her longtime cinematographer Agnès Godard) that your own life routines are liable to seem freshly poetic in its afterglow. We begin with familiar images of transitory longing: trains switching tracks, keeping time. A man smokes a cigarette at dusk, its embers warming his dark skin. He is Lionel (Alex Descas), a Metro operator who lives simply in a boxy apartment building in the outer rings of Paris. He returns home from work with a rice cooker for his twentysomething daughter, Josephine (Mati Diop), though Denis allows their relationship to remain unclear for a while (she is remarkably free when it comes to exposition). Coincidentally, serious Jo has bought herself a cooker on the same day. There’s a whole untold story about the rice cooker, but Denis is content watching them appreciatively spoon out the first batch in their pajamas. The attention to generations, meals, the trains and the small comic gestures (a well-timed fart, an awry romantic moment in the Seine) all suggest Ozu, but the elliptical rhythms and sensual apprehension of bodies is pure Denis. She once did a documentary about a choreographer (2005’s Towards Mathilde), and she approaches everyday life as a kind of dance. Lionel and Jo’s relationship is unlike almost any other father-daughter dynamic in recent movie memory — nonverbal, but clearly loving. If the other characters are kept at arm’s length, that’s because Lionel and Jo keep their safe haven so closely guarded. Things begin to unspool, as they must, in a memorable restaurant dance sequence that makes exquisite use of the Commodores’ 1985 platter, "Nightshift." (1:39) (Goldberg)

The Young Victoria Those who envision the Victorian Age as one of restraint and repression will likely be surprised by The Young Victoria, which places a vibrant Emily Blunt in the title role. Her Queen Victoria is headstrong and romantic — driven not only by her desire to stand tall against the men who would control her, but also by her love for the dashing Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). To be honest, the story itself is nothing spectacular, even for those who have imagined a different portrait of the queen. But The Young Victoria is still a spectacle to behold: the opulent palaces, the stunning gowns, and the flawless Blunt going regal. Her performance is rich and nuanced — and her chemistry with Prince Albert makes the film. No, it doesn’t leave quite the impression that 1998’s Elizabeth did, but it’s a memorable costume drama and romance, worthy of at least a moderate reign in theaters. (1:40) Embarcadero. (Peitzman)


Armored (1:28) 1000 Van Ness.

The Blind Side When the New York Times Magazine published Michael Lewis’ article "The Ballad of Big Mike" — which he expanded into the 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game —nobody could have predicated the cultural windfall it would spawn. Lewis told the incredible story of Michael Oher — a 6’4, 350-pound 16-year-old, who grew up functionally parentless, splitting time between friends’ couches and the streets of one of Memphis’ poorest neighborhoods. As a sophomore with a 0.4 GPA, Oher serendipitously hitched a ride with a friend’s father to a ritzy private school across town and embarked on an unbelievable journey that led him into a upper-class, white family; the Dean’s List at Ole Miss; and, finally, the NFL. The film itself effectively focuses on Oher’s indomitable spirit and big heart, and the fearless devotion of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the matriarch of the family who adopted him (masterfully played by Sandra Bullock). While the movie will delight and touch moviegoers, its greatest success is that it will likely spur its viewers on to read Lewis’ brilliant book. (2:06) 1000 Van Ness. (Daniel Alvarez)

Brothers There’s nothing particularly original about Brothers — first, because it’s based on a Danish film of the same name, and second, because sibling rivalry is one of the oldest stories in the book. The story is fairly straightforward: good brother (Tobey Maguire) goes AWOL in Afghanistan, bad brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) comforts his sister-in law (Natalie Portman), attraction develops, but then — and here’s where things get awkward — good brother comes home. Throughout much of Brothers, the script is surprisingly restrained, holding the film back from Movie of the Week territory. Those moments of subtlety are the movie’s strongest, but by the end they’ve given way to giant, maudlin explosions of angst, which aren’t nearly as impressive. Still, the acting is consistently strong. Maguire is especially good as Captain Sam Cahill in a performance that runs the gamut from doting father to terrifyingly unbalanced. It’s unfortunate that the quiet scenes, in which all the actors excel, are overshadowed by the big, plate-smashing ones. (1:50) 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)

Christmas with Walt Disney Specially made for the Presidio’s recently opened Walt Disney Family Museum, this nearly hour-long compilation of vintage Yuletide-themed moments from throughout the studio’s history (up to Walt’s 1966 death) is more interesting than you might expect. The engine is eldest daughter Diane Disney Miller’s narrating reminiscences, often accompanied by excerpts from an apparently voluminous library of high-quality home movies. Otherwise, the clips are drawn from a mix of short and full-length animations, live-action features (like 1960’s Swiss Family Robinson), TV shows Wonderful World of Disney and Mickey Mouse Club, plus public events like Disneyland’s annual Christmas Parade and Disney’s orchestration of the 1960 Winter Olympics’ pageantry. If anything, this documentary is a little too rushed –- it certainly could have idled a little longer with some of the less familiar cartoon material. But especially for those who who grew up with Disney product only in its post-founder era, it will be striking to realize what a large figure Walt himself once cut in American culture, not just as a brand but as an on-screen personality. The film screens Nov 27-Jan 2; for additional information, visit http://disney.go.com/disneyatoz/familymuseum/index.html. (:59) Walt Disney Family Museum. (Harvey)

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (1:36) 1000 Van Ness.

*An Education The pursuit of knowledge — both carnal and cultural — are at the tender core of this end-of-innocence valentine by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (who first made her well-tempered voice heard with her 2000 Dogme entry, Italian for Beginners), based on journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir. Screenwriter Nick Hornby breaks further with his Peter Pan protagonists with this adaptation: no man-boy mopers or misfits here. Rather, 16-year-old schoolgirl Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a good girl and ace student. It’s 1961, and England is only starting to stir from its somber, all-too-sober post-war slumber. The carefully cloistered Jenny is on track for Oxford, though swinging London and its high-style freedoms beckon just around the corner. Ushering in those freedoms — a new, more class-free world disorder — is the charming David (Peter Sarsgaard), stopping to give Jenny and her cello a ride in the rain and soon proffering concerts and late-night suppers in the city. He’s a sweet-faced, feline outsider: cultured, Jewish, and given to playing fast and loose in the margins of society. David can see Jenny for the gem she is and appreciate her innocence with the knowing pleasure of a decadent playing all the angles. The stakes are believably high, thanks to An Education‘s careful attention to time and place and its gently glamored performances. Scherfig revels in the smart, easy-on-eye curb appeal of David and his friends while giving a nod to the college-educated empowerment Jenny risks by skipping class to jet to Paris. And Mulligan lends it all credence by letting all those seduced, abandoned, conflicted, rebellious feelings flicker unbridled across her face. (1:35) (Chun)

Everybody’s Fine Robert De Niro works somewhere between serious De Niro and funny De Niro in this portrait of a family in muffled crisis, a remake of the 1991 Italian film Stanno Tutti Bene. The American version tracks the comings and goings of Frank (De Niro), a recently widowed retiree who fills his solitary hours working in the garden and talking to strangers about his children, who’ve flung themselves across the country in pursuit of various dreams and now send home overpolished reports of their achievements. Disappointed by his offspring’s collective failure to show up for a family get-together, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey to connect with each in turn. Writer-director Kirk Jones (1998’s Waking Ned Devine) effectively underscores Frank’s loneliness with shots of him steering his cart through empty grocery stores, interacting only with the occasional stock clerk, and De Niro projects a sense of drifting disconnection with poignant restraint. But Jones also litters the film with a string of uninspired, autopilot comic moments, and manifold shots of telephone wires as Frank’s children (Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore, and Sam Rockwell) whisper across the miles behind their father’s back — his former vocation, manufacturing the telephone wires’ plastic coating, funded his kids’ more-ambitious aims — feel like glancing blows to the head. A vaguely miraculous third-act exposition of everything they’ve been withholding to protect both him and themselves is handled with equal subtlety and the help of gratingly precocious child actors. (1:35) 1000 Van Ness. (Rapoport)

*Fantastic Mr. Fox A lot of people have been busting filmmaker Wes Anderson’s proverbial chops lately, lambasting him for recent cinematic self-indulgences hewing dangerously close to self-parody (and in the case of 2007’s Darjeeling Limited, I’m one of them). Maybe he’s been listening. Either way, his new animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, should keep the naysayer wolves at bay for a while — it’s nothing short of a rollicking, deadpan-hilarious case study in artistic renewal. A kind of man-imal inversion of Anderson’s other heist movie, his debut feature Bottle Rocket (1996), his latest revels in ramshackle spontaneity and childlike charm without sacrificing his adult preoccupations. Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved 1970 book, Mr. Fox captures the essence of the source material but is still full of Anderson trademarks: meticulously staged mise en scène, bisected dollhouse-like sets, eccentric dysfunctional families coming to grips with their talent and success (or lack thereof).(1:27) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Devereaux)

Invictus Elected President of South Africa in 1995 — just five years after his release from nearly three decades’ imprisonment — Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) perceives a chance to forward his message of reconciliation and forgiveness by throwing support behind the low-ranked national rugby team. Trouble is, the Springboks are currently low-ranked, with the World Cup a very faint hope just one year away. Not to mention the fact that despite having one black member, they represent the all-too-recent Apartheid past for the country’s non-white majority. Based on John Carlin’s nonfiction tome, this latest Oscar bait by the indefatigable Clint Eastwood sports his usual plusses and minuses: An impressive scale, solid performances (Matt Damon co-stars as the team’s Afrikaaner captain), deft handling of subplots, and solid craftsmanship on the one hand. A certain dull literal-minded earnestness, lack of style and excitement on the other. Anthony Peckham’s screenplay hits the requisite inspirational notes (sometimes pretty bluntly), but even in the attenuated finals match, Eastwood’s direction is steady as she goes — no peaks, no valleys, no faults but not much inspiration, either. It doesn’t help that Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens contribute a score that’s as rousing as a warm milk bath. This is an entertaining history lesson, but it should have been an exhilarating one. (2:14) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Me and Orson Welles It’s 1937, and New York City, like the rest of the nation, presumably remains in the grip of the Great Depression. That trifling historical detail, however, is upstaged in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (adapted from the novel by Robert Kaplow) by the doings at the newly founded Mercury Theatre. There, in the equally tight grip of actor, director, and company cofounder Orson Welles — who makes more pointed use of the historical present, of Italian fascism — a groundbreaking production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar hovers on the brink of premiere and possible disaster. Luckily for swaggering young aspirant Richard (High School Musical series star Zac Efron), Welles (Christian McKay), already infamously tyrannical at 22, is not a man to shrink from firing an actor a week before opening night and replacing him with a 17-year-old kid from New Jersey. Finding himself working in perilous proximity to the master, his unharnessed ego, and his winsome, dishearteningly pragmatic assistant, Sonja (Claire Danes), our callow hero is destined, predictably, to be handed some valuable life experience. McKay makes a credible, enjoyable Welles, presented as the kind of engaging sociopath who handles people like props and hails ambulances like taxicabs. Efron projects a shallow interior life, an instinct for survival, and the charm of someone who has had charming lines written for him. Still, he and Welles and the rest are all in service to the play, and so is the film, which offers an absorbing account of the company’s final days of rehearsal. (1:54) Shattuck. (Rapoport)

Ninja Assassin Let’s face it: it’d be nigh impossible to live up to a title as awesome as Ninja Assassin –- and this second flick from V for Vendetta (2005) director James McTeigue doesn’t quite do it. Anyone who’s seen a martial arts movie will find the tale of hero Raizo overly familiar: a student (played by the single-named Rain) breaks violently with his teacher; revenge on both sides ensues. That the art form in question is contemporary ninja-ing adds a certain amount of interest, though after a killer ninja vs. yakuza opening scene (by far the film’s best), and a flashback or two of ninja vs. political targets, the rest of the flick is concerned mostly with either ninja vs. ninja or ninja vs. military guys. (As ninjas come "from the shadows," most of these battles are presented in action-masking darkness.) There’s also an American forensic researcher (Noemie Harris) who starts poking around the ninja underground, a subplot that further saps the fun out of a movie that already takes itself way too seriously. (1:33) 1000 Van Ness. (Eddy)

Pirate Radio I wanted to like Pirate Radio, a.k.a., The Boat That Rocked –- really, I did. The raging, stormy sounds of the British Invasion –- sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and all that rot. Pirate radio outlaw sexiness, writ large, influential, and mind-blowingly popular. This shaggy-dog of a comedy about the boat-bound, rollicking Radio Rock is based loosely on the history of Radio Caroline, which blasted transgressive rock ‘n’ roll (back when it was still subversive) and got around stuffy BBC dominance by broadcasting from a ship off British waters. Alas, despite the music and the attempts by filmmaker Richard Curtis to inject life, laughs, and girls into the mix (by way of increasingly absurd scenes of imagined listeners creaming themselves over Radio Rock’s programming), Pirate Radio will be a major disappointment for smart music fans in search of period accuracy (are we in the mid- or late ’60s or early or mid-’70s –- tough to tell judging from the time-traveling getups on the DJs, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Darby, among others?) and lame writing that fails to rise above the paint-by-the-numbers narrative buttressing, irksome literalness (yes, a betrayal by a lass named Marianne is followed by "So Long, Marianne"), and easy sexist jabs at all those slutty birds. Still, there’s a reason why so many artists –- from Leonard Cohen to the Stones –- have lent their songs to this shaky project, and though it never quite gets its sea legs, Pirate Radio has its heart in the right place –- it just lost its brains somewhere along the way down to its crotch. (2:00) 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

Planet 51 (1:31) 1000 Van Ness.

*Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire This gut-wrenching, little-engine-that-could of a film shows the struggles of Precious, an overweight, illiterate 16-year-old girl from Harlem. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is so believably vigilant (she was only 15 at the time of filming) that her performance alone could bring together the art-house viewers as well as take the Oscars by storm. But people need to actually go and experience this film. While Precious did win Sundance’s Grand Jury and Audience Award awards this year, there is a sad possibility that filmgoers will follow the current trend of "discussing" films that they’ve actually never seen. The daring casting choices of comedian Mo’Nique (as Precious’ all-too-realistically abusive mother) and Mariah Carey (brilliantly understated as an undaunted and dedicated social counselor) are attempts to attract a wider audience, but cynics can hurdle just about anything these days. What’s most significant about this Dancer in the Dark-esque chronicle is how Damien Paul’s screenplay and director Lee Daniels have taken their time to confront the most difficult moments in Precious’ story –- and if that sounds heavy-handed, so be it. Stop blahging for a moment and let this movie move you. (1:49) SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Jesse Hawthorne Ficks)

*The Princess and the Frog Expectations run high for The Princess and the Frog: it’s the first Disney film to feature an African American princess, the first 2D Disney cartoon since the regrettable Home on the Range (2004), and the latest entry from the writing-directing team responsible for The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992). Here’s the real surprise — The Princess and the Frog not only meets those expectations, it exceeds them. After years of disappointment, many of us have given up hope on another classic entry into the Disney 2D animation canon. And yet, The Princess and the Frog is up there with the greats, full of catchy songs, gorgeous animation, and memorable characters. Set in New Orleans, the story is a take off on the Frog Prince fairy tale. Here, the voodoo-cursed Prince Naveen kisses waitress Tiana instead — transferring his froggy plight to her as well. A fun twist, and a positive message: wishing is great, but it takes hard work to make your dreams come true. For those of us raised on classic Disney, The Princess and the Frog is almost too good to believe. (1:37) 1000 Van Ness. (Peitzman)

*The Private Lives of Pippa Lee Rebecca Miller’s latest is that seldom-produced thing, the female midlife crisis movie. Daughter to playwright Arthur Miller, a titan of Big Theme manly guilts, her projects are indie-scaled, about troubled domestic minutae, with whimsical twists of fate that methodical realist Arthur would never have countenanced. She’s been consistently interesting since 1995’s striking Angela — first among many narratives from the viewpoint of a child struggling in the shadow of an overwhelming and/or unstable parent. In Private Lives, Pippa (Robin Wright Penn) has her own monstrous parental past. Like many people hailing from chaos, Pippa has turned self-conscious model citizen. In drifting early adulthood, she glommed onto the first man who respected her mind — or did he just recognize a rudderless, much younger woman susceptible to flattery? Ever since she’s been ideal consort to newly retired publisher Herb (Alan Arkin), as well as doting mother to their variably grateful children. Barely 40 and living in an old folks’ village, Pippa is starting to think her life a tad ridiculous. Such nagging but inchoate doubt is underlined by the return of a widow neighbor’s shaggy, somewhat surly son (Keanu Reeves) to Chez Mom after his latest failure at adulthood. Opposites attract, though it’s more complicated than that. Miller’s cluttered canvas also makes room for teensy-to-major characters played by Shirley Knight, Blake Lively, Robin Weigert, Julianne Moore, and Monica Bellucci. As is her wont, she piles on both invigorating insights and a few too many whiplash narrative left turns. But The Private Lives of Pippa Lee has charm and idiosyncrasy to spare. (1:40) Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

A Single Man In this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, Colin Firth plays George, a middle-aged gay expat Brit and college professor in 1962 Los Angeles. Months after the accidental death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his lover for 16 years, George still feels worse than bereft; simply waking each morning is agony. So on this particular day he has decided to end it all, first going through a series of meticulous preparations and discreet leave-takings that include teaching one last class and having supper with the onetime paramour (Julianne Moore) turned best friend who’s still stuck on him. The main problem with fashion designer turned film director Tom Ford’s first feature is that he directs it like a fashion designer, fussing over surface style and irrelevant detail in a story whose tight focus on one hard, real-world thing–grief–cries for simplicity. Not pretentious overpackaging, which encompasses the way his camera slavers over the excessively pretty likes of Nicholas Hoult as a student and Jon Kortajarena as a hustler, as if they were models selling product rather than characters, or even actors. (In fact Kortajarena is a male supermodel; the shocker is that Hoult is not, though Hugh Grant’s erstwhile About a Boy co-star is so preening here you’d never guess.) Eventually Ford stops showing off so much, and A Single Man is effective to the precise degree it lets good work by Goode, Moore and especially the reliably excellent Firth unfold without too much of his terribly artistic interference. (1:39) Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

2012 I don’t need to give you reasons to see this movie. You don’t care about the clumsy, hastily dished-out pseudo scientific hoo-ha that explains this whole mess. You don’t care about John Cusack or Woody Harrelson or whoever else signed on for this embarrassing notch in their IMDB entry. You don’t care about Mayan mysteries, how hard it is for single dads, and that Danny Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor jointly stand in for Obama (always so on the zeitgeist, that Roland Emmerich). You already know what you’re in store for: the most jaw-dropping depictions of humankind’s near-complete destruction that director Emmerich –- who has a flair for such things –- has ever come up with. All the time, creative energy, and money James Cameron has spent perfecting the CGI pores of his characters in Avatar is so much hokum compared to what Emmerich and his Spartan army of computer animators dish out: the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy emerging through a cloud of toxic dust like some Mary Celeste of the military-industrial complex, born aloft on a massive tidal wave that pulverizes the White House; the dome of St. Paul’s flattening the opium-doped masses like a steamroller; Hawaii returned to its original volcanic state; and oodles more scenes in which we are allowed to register terror, but not horror, at the gorgeous destruction that is unfurled before us as the world ends (again) but no one really dies. Get this man a bigger budget. (2:40) 1000 Van Ness. (Sussman)

The Twilight Saga: New Moon Oh my God, you guys, it’s that time of the year: another Twilight chapter hits theaters. New Moon reunites useless cipher Bella (Kristen Steward) and Edward (Robert Pattinson), everyone’s favorite sparkly creature of darkness. Because this is a teen wangstfest, the course of true love is kind of bumpy. This time around, there’s a heavy Romeo and Juliet subplot and some interference from perpetually shirtless werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Chances are you know this already, as you’ve either devoured Stephenie Meyer’s book series or you were one of the record-breaking numbers in attendance for the film’s opening weekend. And for those non-Twilight fanatics — is there any reason to see New Moon? Yes and no. Like the 2008’s Twilight, New Moon is reasonably entertaining, with plenty of underage sexual tension, supernatural slugfests, and laughable line readings. But there’s something off this time around: New Moon is fun but flat. For diehard fans, it’s another excuse to shriek at the screen. For anyone else, it’s a soulless diversion. (2:10) Empire, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Peitzman)

Up in the Air After all the soldiers’ stories and the cannibalism canards of late, Up in the Air‘s focus on a corporate ax-man — an everyday everyman sniper in full-throttle downsizing mode — is more than timely; it’s downright eerie. But George Clooney does his best to inject likeable, if not quite soulful, humanity into Ryan Bingham, an all-pro mileage collector who prides himself in laying off employees en masse with as few tears, tantrums, and murder-suicide rages as possible. This terminator’s smooth ride from airport terminal to terminal is interrupted not only by a possible soul mate, fellow smoothie and corporate traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga), but a young tech-savvy upstart, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who threatens to take the process to new reductionist lows (layoff via Web cam) and downsize Ryan along the way. With Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman, who oversaw Thank You for Smoking (2005) as well as Juno (2007), is threatening to become the bard of office parks, Casual Fridays, khaki-clad happy hours, and fly-over zones. But Up in the Air is no Death of a Salesman, and despite some memorable moments that capture the pain of downsizing and the flatness of real life, instances of snappily screwball dialogue, and some more than solid performances by all (and in particular, Kendrick), he never manages to quite sell us on the existence of Ryan’s soul. (1:49) SF Center. (Chun)

Russoniello has to go


EDITORIAL When you look behind the problems San Francisco has had with its sanctuary city policy — the arrest and threatened deportation of kids as young as 15, the threats to city officials trying to protect juveniles, the threats to the new policy Sup. David Campos won approval for — there’s one major figure lurking: U.S. Attorney Joe Russoniello.

He’s the same one who was behind the raids on medical marijuana clubs. He’s a Republican whose former law firm, Cooley, Godward, gets hefty legal fees from representing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — one of the biggest federal criminals in the land. He served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

And it’s a mystery to us why this holdover from a discredited administration is still running the Justice Department in one of the most liberal parts of the United States.

The Obama administration has been slowly replacing Bush appointees with more progressive U.S. attorneys. Some say the process has been dragging on too long — after all, Bill Clinton fired every one of the nearly 100 U.S. attorneys shortly after taking office and started putting his own people in place right away. But in many states, the process has moved forward; 20 jurisdictions have new U.S. attorneys, and nominations are pending in about 10 more.

So why is the process taking so long in California?

Choosing a top federal prosecutor isn’t entirely the job of the president. Under long-held Washington traditions, the senior U.S. senator of the president’s party has tremendous influence over the selection process, and in California, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have split up the duties. Boxer is screening candidates for the Northern District, and Feinstein is handling the Central and Southern Districts. So for all practical purposes, Russoniello’s replacement is going to be chosen by Boxer.

The senator ought to be asking all the candidates the same question San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera recently asked Russoniello: Will you promise not to prosecute individual city workers who follow the San Francisco Sanctuary Ordinance? And she should finalize her choice quickly and send that name to the White House with all due dispatch. Russoniello has to go, and his departure is way overdue.

Herrera, meanwhile, has his own Sanctuary Ordinance challenges: Sup. David Campos has asked Herrera to formally advise the supervisors on the legality of Mayor Newsom’s refusal to follow the immigration policies that a veto-proof majority of the board passed. Newsom claims that the Campos law, which overturns Newsom’s policy of mandating that all juvenile offenders be reported to immigration authorities at the time of arrest, violates federal statutes.

In a Dec. 10 letter to Herrera, Campos warned that Newsom’s move would "establish the dangerous precedent that a mayor can disregard legislation that the board has properly passed.

"To say that this would undermine the board’s authority is an understatement. This is to say nothing of the fact that it would mean that undocumented children would continue to lack basic rights in San Francisco."

So that puts the city attorney — who is almost certainly going to run for mayor himself — on the hot seat. He needs to make a clear ruling that the mayor can’t just ignore city law. And he and Newsom should both be in touch with Boxer to urge her to move rapidly on a new U.S. attorney who will be more favorable to progressive immigration policies.

Editor’s Notes



Rep. Nancy Pelosi is scared. She hasn’t told me about it (we’re not that kind of friends), and she hasn’t said much in public, but I can sense it in her political decisions. She’s facing her toughest test yet as Speaker — managing the ambitious agenda of a new president whose popularity is declining while at the same time trying to avoid the type of loss in House seats that almost always befalls the president’s party at the first midterm elections.

In the past four years, with the Bush administration in shambles and Obama ascendant, the Democrats in Congress were soaring — Pelosi’s party picked up seats in 2006 and 2008, even in places where Democrats have never had much success. The Republican Party was on the ropes a year ago, staggering around like a punch-drunk boxer who can only swing wildly and blabber incoherently while the folks in the audience alternately laugh and shake their heads with pity.

But Pelosi’s discovering that it’s not so easy being in charge. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bank bailouts, the continued recession, the health care debate … it’s all wearing on the voters, and the Democrats no longer seem to have all the answers. So Pelosi is looking at a potential train wreck next fall, a drop in her majority that will have people questioning her leadership ability as Speaker.

I hope she’s taken the time to read a recent poll commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which shows that as many as a third of the Democratic voters in the country are less likely to go to the polls and support their party’s candidates in 2010 if Pelosi, Obama, and Co. can’t deliver a public option for health insurance.

"Obviously, passions over the public option are on full boil right now," blogger Greg Sargent wrote in his report on the poll in the Plum Line. "Passage of a health care bill of some kind, not to say the passage of time, could reduce the impact that dropping the public option could have on Dem turnout in the 2010 elections, particularly since they’re nearly a year away.

"But these numbers are a reminder of just how dispirited the Dem base is by the party’s inability to leverage their comfortable majority in support of an agenda built on core liberal priorities."

See, the danger for Pelosi and the Democrats isn’t that a few swing seats in traditionally Republican districts will shift away from the D column. It’s that millions of Democrats, particularly young, motivated, idealistic Democrats who worked their asses off to get Obama elected, and partied in the streets when he won, will give up next year and stay home.

That will have an impact on key Senate races, key House races, and races for governor in dozens of states (including California). The party’s activist base didn’t just help elect the president last fall; those organizers and campaigners gave Pelosi her powerful majority and bolstered the Democrats’ control of the Senate. And their efforts trickled down to the state and local level.

But we’re unhappy now. Afghanistan has us wondering what Obama’s idea of change really is — and a health care bill that caters to the private insurance industry is going to make it hard to get any of us motivated next year. We all know the difference between the Democrats and Republicans, and we’re not naive idiots who are going to vote the wrong way out of spite. But we might not fight so hard next time around — and for Pelosi, that would be a serious problem.

The problem with open primaries


OPINION California voters will see a ballot measure in June 2010 seeking approval for a "Top-two Open Primary" system. The measure would make it far more difficult for Californians to vote for any candidates other than incumbents and their best-funded challengers. It would also make it even easier for incumbents to get reelected.

Under the measure, all candidates for Congress and state office would run on a single primary ballot in June. Only the top two vote-getters would appear on the November ballot.

This system has been used in two other states, Louisiana and Washington. Louisiana used it for Congressional elections between 1978 and 2006. In all those years, only one incumbent was ever defeated for reelection (except that in 1992, two incumbents lost because they had to run against other incumbents, due to redistricting). Even Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) was reelected under the top-two system in 2006, although the FBI had raided his Congressional office in May 2006 after $75,000 in bribe money had been found in his freezer.

But when Louisiana switched its Congressional elections to a system in which every qualified party had its own nominee, Jefferson was defeated by Joseph Cao, a Republican. That only happened because a vigorous Green Party nominee, Malik Rahim, polled 3 percent, "spoiling" Jefferson’s chances. Democrats will probably reclaim the seat in 2010 with a better nominee.

During the years Louisiana used top-two, no minor party ever placed first or second in the first round, except once in 2006, and then only because the minor party candidate was the incumbent’s only opposition. Thus, in all the more than 30 years Louisiana used the system, minor party candidates were nearly always missing from the final round.

Washington used top-two once, in 2008. Out of eight U.S. House seats, 8 statewide state races, and 123 legislative races, only one incumbent was defeated in the primary.

The only real change in Washington in 2008 was the elimination of minor party and independent candidates from the November election. For the first time since Washington has been a state, no minor party or independent candidate was on the November ballot for Congress or a statewide state race.

When minor party or independent candidates are kept off the November ballot, they can’t campaign in the summer and fall campaign season. The California proposal even eliminates write-ins in November.

And if the measure wasn’t harmful enough to minor parties, it also changes the rules for how a party retains its state recognition; parties would need approximately 100,000 registered members to survive. Currently the Peace and Freedom Party only has 58,000, so it would lose its place on the ballot. That’s ironic, since in 2008 Peace and Freedom had its best showing for president ever in California — 108,831 votes for Ralph Nader.

The real impetus behind the top-two open primary measure comes from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been pushing this idea since 2004.

Schwarzenegger has shown repeatedly that he doesn’t care about political minorities and voting rights. Twice he vetoed bills that would have made it easier for voters to have their write-in votes count. Twice he vetoed the bill for a compact among the states that would have guaranteed (if enough states passed the idea) that the person who got the most popular votes would win the presidency. He even vetoed a bill to delete some obsolete laws, declared unconstitutional in 1967 by the State Supreme Court, that barred members of the Communist Party from working in public school districts.

Now he wants an undemocratic primary system. The voters should reject it.

Richard Winger is the editor of Ballot Access News.