Volume 45 Number 20

The children


Robert Moses may not know it, but he is a pied piper. The ability to hold the attention of 200 hormone-packed middle school students at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday in early February must qualify as some kind of superhuman ability.

But Moses, choreographer and artistic director of Robert Moses’ Kin, defers to his own pied piper, the one on stage who immortalized the German city of Hamelin. As the fabled character, Dexandro “D” Montalvo twitches, churns, and first commands the rats; then, with beckoning index fingers, he mesmerizes the “children” to follow him who knows where.

The Sunset District students may not have known the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who was cheated out of his justly earned wages and took awesome revenge. But they surely recognized the popping moves Montalvo so skillfully threaded into his character. One way or another, the kids were hooked. For close to an hour, they sat quietly and took in what Moses and his dancers had to show them from their upcoming world premiere, Fable and Faith.

As a kid, I was terrified by the Pied Piper story. No good grades or cleverness — usually assigned to boys anyway in fairy tales — were going to get me out of this scenario. No prince was coming, and there was no happy ending. I was going to be locked in that mountain. The adults had royally messed up. My mother assured me that “it’s just a story.” Well, mom, you were wrong.

Myths, fables, and fairy tales tell us about the way the world works. “Actions”, Moses explains after the performance, “have consequences. The stories talk about life, adversity and perseverance through hard times.” He admits that some of them can be problematic. Stepmothers, for instance, get a “major bum rap.”

Perhaps that’s what initially drew Moses to last year’s The Cinderella Project, which will be performed with the new Fable and Faith before going on tour later in the spring. Cinderella Project, his first collaboration with writer/actor Anne Galjour, who also wrote and performs the text for Fable and Faith, was informed by interviews with contemporary constructed families rooted in love, not blood. “Still, tough as it was,” Moses notes, “Cinderella stuck to who she was and it turned out alright.”

In the 1950s, there was a move underfoot to clean up some of these old tales; the thinking was that children’s psyches would be damaged by so much darkness and uncertainty. Fortunately, the stories have survived, though it’s good to know that Rapunzel no longer gets locked up in the tower because she was pregnant — it was just the evil deed of a jealous witch.

Moses takes a common sense, “age-appropriate” approach when he reads to his own two children, ages five and three. It was this fatherly task of sharing an imaginary world — everything from Dr. Seuss and the Brothers Grimm to African American folktales and Greek mythology — that got him to think about the contemporary resonance of some of these once-upon-a-time tales.

“Think of it,” he says. “Children are being abducted. Or today we talk about ‘the wolf at the door.’ ” In Fable and Faith, the wolf (Montalvo) goes to see a psychiatrist (Katherine Wells) to find out why he is behaving the way he does. The back-and-forth exchange in words and movement ends on a note of real poignancy.

Formally, Moses and Galjour decided on a structure “in which stories clash into each other.” The setting, they felt, had to be a village. “It’s where life happens,” Moses says. Elaine Buckholtz, who started lighting with Contraband and who has become a magician of visual installation, will do the honors on Fable and Faith. To keep a child’s presence at the forefront of these adult dances, Moses is partnering with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. They will perform, among other selections, the “Lacrimosa” from Mozart’s Requiem.

As the students were leaving for their classes, a teacher turned to me and whispered, “We have been very lucky this morning.”


Fri.18-Sun./20, 2 p.m.; $25–$35

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Novellus Theater

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2700


Mad science


Is the Bay Area’s experimental beat scene finally coming together? After a few years of lagging behind the explosion of beat conductor talent in Los Angeles, and suffering a steady exodus of potential down south, the Bay Area’s time for creating a forward leaning psychedelia — composed from the bass-infused backbone of instrumental hip-hop — might have arrived.

This week, San Francisco’s DJ veteran Mophono releases his debut full-length, Cut Form Crush, on his upstart CB Records. It’s a colossal experiment in deconstructed percussive patterns and warped synth keys, washed with distorted textures, panning effects, and field recordings. Since 2006, Mophono has hosted the weekly party Change the Beat, guided by only one principle: blow up the soundsystem with unlikely combinations of sounds.

Last week, Change the Beat resident and SF mainstay Salva also dropped his first full-length effort, Complex Housing (Friends of Friends), an excellent dance record that glides across an array of genres infatuated with the interplay of bass, groove, and melody: hip-hop, house, UK funky, Chicago juke, and ghetto-tech all get equal treatment.

Here’s the rub: Although Salva insists that the Bay is still home, especially through his SF-grounded imprint Frite Nite, which supports bubbling acts like Ana Sia and B.Bravo, he was practically unpacking boxes in his new L.A. crib when I spoke to him on the phone before writing this article. On the other hand, another L.A. force of sonic gravity, Low End Theory — Daddy Kev’s acclaimed weekly, which helped form the social fabric that pushed Flying Lotus, the Gaslamp Killer, and Daedalus, among many others, to international attention — has kicked off a monthly residence in San Francisco. Ultimately, both cities can benefit from creative exchange, so let’s just say that California’s got it going on.

Born Benji Illgen, Mophono has been rocking parties in the Bay Area for nearly 20 years as DJ Centipede. His early obsession with digging for records — one that’s amassed a vinyl vault of around 6,000 records — defied genre and era for a love of percussion in all its forms, including conspicuous absence. “I’m drawn to rhythm, both as a DJ and as this metronome-carrier-guy who maintains turntables,” Illgen tells me over the phone, as raucous noise and strange bangs reverberate in the background.

Cut Form Crush could be called a study of drums: percussive patterns unfold and disappear, giving rise to new formations set on their own uneasy path toward self-dissolution. While the drums, crunchy and multilayered, degenerate, a barrage of synth noise and warped textures dance frenetically around the pockets of space jarred open by the percussive momentum. This record alarms as much it disorients.

In many ways, Cut is the product of all the music Illgen has absorbed over the course of the past two decades. From closely following the development of hip-hop and U.K. electronic genres and digging into psychedelic rock, musique concrète, jazz-funk, Kosmische, and post-punk, Illgen became interested in the way imaginative music is made through improvisation. “Bands in the ’60s would get in these zones, really rhythmic areas, and they would tap into a minimal expression,” says Illgen. “I’m interested in those minimal, odd breakdowns, when these cats just jam out on some craziness.”

Rather than just sampling loops and bits from these sources, Illgen decided to reproduce the creative environments that shaped their genesis. “I’d get groups and musicians together in my little studio who aren’t necessarily band mates but are involved in the same sort of music community,” says Illgen. “Then we’d just vibe out. We’d create these recordings that later I’d access and reconfigure the sounds.”

One of the outcomes of this recording process is the dizzying song “Cut Form Crunch,” extracted from multiple sessions with Flying Lotus and later edited into a condensed can of musical psychosis. Thick-bodied synth keys vibrate over muddled bass thumps and compressed percussive claps as if dubstep’s basic components were thrown together into a washing machine, cycling in rotation. “Electric Kingdom” maneuvers through dubstep’s signature helicopter wobble, curdling an off-kilter rhythm with sequenced claps and blips. In “Cut Form Crush Groove,” Illgen reworks the early disco breaks that established the basic framework of hip-hop in circa-1980s South Bronx. A Vocoder-dissimulated MC channels the cosmic frequency of Afrika Bambaataa, calling us to respect the foundation. But even these more conventional drum patterns and familiar vocal refrains wisp away into static and gurgling fuzz.

What Illgen emphasizes in his recording technique is a preference for textural environment over the clarity and crispness often associated with quality. “I see experimentation as an open-minded direction to making music,” he says. “I don’t know what I’m going to find, but if I open my ears, I’ll find something. And I’ll let that dictate where the music goes.”

Paul Salva takes a similar improvisational approach to music production. “Without all the theory and formal training, I have to relish this time where I’m feeling out the instruments and learning what to do with them,” he says. “As amateurs, and coming from a place of ignorance, kids are doing amazing shit — by accident.”

Despite his Chicago upbringing, Salva initially gravitated to West Coast backpacker hip-hop and the East Coast stylings of the Diggin’ In The Crates (DITC) crew before taking an interest in his hometown-bred house and its ghetto-tech offspring. “Record store culture really helped solidify my eclecticism,” he says. “Through working at Gramaphone Records in Chicago and also in Miami, I got into IDM, drum ‘n’ bass, and whatever else caught my ears.” Recently, as genre allegiances have begun to dissolve among young musicians and listeners, Salva grew comfortable with the idea of consolidating his diverse tastes and producing a record on his own terms. Although Complex Housing takes influences from a flux of emerging ideas and sounds across the spectrum of today’s future bass and beat scene innovators, it finds an enduring coherence in being, very simply, a well-crafted dance record.

“Wake Ups” has Salva showing his chops on the synthesizer and the drum machine, layering lush boogie-funk chords over a skittering rhythmic grind. In “Keys Open Doors,” he anchors dirty disco arpeggios with poly-percussion pilfered from the odd-shuffle of UK funky and grime. In these songs, the gritty underside of club music — recalling its many places of origin and evolution in abandoned warehouses and neon-lit bars, juiced from electric outlets in public parks and now the outer zones of the Internet — emerges from layers of shimmering production. The record reaches toward its apex with “I’ll Be Your Friend,” a future-funk rendition of Robert Owens’ early ’90s house classic of the same title. Salva edits Owens’ longing hook into a repetitive chant, spliced around a minimal rhythmic knock and atmospheric washes of sound that delicately grow and just as softly decay.

What consistently stands out within the record is Salva’s ability for crafting effusive melodies over rolling bass lines. It’s an absolutely seductive combination that hinges on a resilient tension in the music: a mechanistic but unsteady beat underpins the expressive quality of the chord progressions. Salva owes this effect at least in part to his recording technique of combining live instrumentation on the keyboard with laptop robotics. “When I’m making music with live instruments, I have more of an open palette,” he says. “When I’m in the computer, in the sequencer — the options are nearly limitless — anything goes. And because of that, my creativity can be stifled if I don’t place restrictions on myself.”

Salva and Mophono both figure out surprising and compelling ways to tap into the elusive formula of creativity. In the end, the search for the future beat is more of a mad science than an exact one.


With Shlomo, B.Bravo, Epcot, and more

Thurs./17, 9 p.m.; $8

222 Hyde

222 Hyde, SF

(415) 345-8222



With Gaslamp Killer and Citizen Ten

Sat./19, 10 p.m.; call for price


2925 16th St., SF

(415) 558-8521


Appetite: Lovely visit, with vino


Long Meadow Ranch Winery does it all in Wine Country: grass-fed beef, heirloom fruits and vegetables, eggs from their chickens, lush olive oils, and, of course, wines. Seeking to grow everything used in their restaurant and winery, they continue to push boundaries, currently exploring a dairy and cheese-making.

I’ve written a few times about Farmstead, Long Meadow’s restaurant, helmed by delightful, hilarious Chef Sheamus Feeley, including it in my top new openings of 2010. A return press visit included a jeep ride over dirt lanes on Mayacamas Mountains through vineyards and olive tree groves to tour the Long Meadow winery, caves, and olive oil press.

We finished with a three-course lunch at Logan-Ives House, a restored Gothic revival farmhouse built in 1874 that houses their wine and olive oil tasting room. Feeley’s heartwarming-yet-gourmet cooking showcases his Southern roots. We tried many LMR wines, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($42) being their most popular, though I preferred a crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($18) and lush E.J. Church Cabernet ($85).

Though a pricey $150, the experience I had is available to any visitor, along with more affordable tastings and tours. And you can always visit Farmstead for top-notch grass-fed burgers on your next jaunt up to Napa.

–Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot: http://theperfectspotsf.com

Noise Pop 2011 short takes




Don’t take drugs before a Dan Deacon concert — it’s a waste of your perfectly good toxins, because even sober attendees will feel totally fucked up after a show with the holy Jesus of electronic madness. Crawl! Spin! High fives! Jump! Close your eyes. Spin! Imagine you’re running in a forest, etc. You’ll leave a wolf. With Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Oona, and Altars, Tues./22, 8 p.m., Independent. Also with Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Sister Crayon, Lily Taylor. Wed./23, 8:30 p.m., Rickshaw Stop. (Amber Schadewald)



Live through this — be it heartbreak, hearing loss, or the heavy-duty poker sessions in the basement of Lost Weekend Video. Versus’ Richard Baluyut has moved on from his gig at the invaluable Mission video store, but he hasn’t lost his way with a moody rocker: Versus’ On the Ones and Threes (Merge, 2010), its first album in a decade, finds beauty in the darkness — and in the return of old compatriots like original member (and Richard’s bro) Edward Baluyut and engineer Nicolas Vernhes (Deerhunter). Elsewhere on this insurmountable bill: Michael Benjamin Lerner of Telekinesis has grappled with hearing loss by way of a cryptic disease and coped with the demise of the relationship that inspired his debut. Sounds like he’s rising above, beautifully, via the gritty, grumble-y, bass-wrought numbers of 12 Desperate Straight Lines (Merge). With The Love Language, Burnt Ones. Wed./23, 8 p.m., 21+, Cafe Du Nord. (Kimberly Chun)



If the trailer is any indication, this portrait of the singer-songwriter and Junip member uses animation and some Idiots-like live action to illustrate his music. “The best stuff is generally an unexpected twist while still maintaining a thread,” he says in voice-over, as directors Mikels Cee Karlsson and Frederik Egerstrand show him trying to write, slumped over a desk in a dark room. Wed./23, 9 p.m., Roxie Theatre. (Johnny Ray Huston)



Anthony Bedard of Hank IV and the Hemlock Tavern hosts as Mark Eitzel, Thao Nguyen, Beth Lisick, Linda Robertson, Michelle Tea, Bucky Sinister, Jesse Michaels, Paul Myers, and Tom Heyman read from some of the most bizarre American music memoirs. This showcase includes the words of Justin Bieber, Jewel, Gene Simmons, George Jones, Marilyn Manson, Tori Amos, Vince Neil, and Denise McLean (mother of Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean), among others. Thurs./24, 7:30 p.m., Make-Out Room. (Jen Verzosa)



Terrible-two Spoon meets newborn Dinosaur Jr.? Apex Manor, the latest project from Ross Flournoy, brings such post-punk pack leaders to mind, as the effortless strains of jingle-jangle bliss and well-hooked-up rock ‘n’ roll course out of the new Year of Magical Drinking (Merge). But, really, it must have been Flournoy’s passionate, punchy performance on “Under the Gun,” coupled with a bitchin’ guitar solo, that captured Carrie Brownstein’s heart and won her NPR challenge to write and record a song in one weekend. That’s all gravy, though, considering that the exercise succeeded in busting Flournoy out of a lousy case of writer’s block after the breakup of his underrated Broken West. With Film School, Gregory and the Hawk, Melted Toys. Thurs./24, 8 p.m., 21+, Cafe Du Nord. (Chun)



Hey freak, you know you’re one of us. The wait has been long, but the time is coming soon for Shannon and the Clams to release Sleep Talk on 1-2-3-4-Go! Records. Get ready to be blown away by Shannon Shaw’s voice, one of the great untamed forces-of-nature of rock ‘n’ roll, and my vote for the best pure sound you can hear at this year’s fest. With Jake Mann and the Upper Hand, Wet Illustrated. Fri./25, 5 p.m., 21+, Benders Bar. (Huston)



While most noted as the guitarist for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nick Zinner is making a name for himself as a talented photographer. (He has four books of images to his name, including his latest, Please Take Me Off The Guest List.) In this exhibition of 1,001 photographs, the Bard College-educated, four-time Grammy nominee captures intimate moments of his world travels as a member of an iconic art rock and garage pop trio. Fri./25, 5 p.m., 21+, Public Works. (Versosa)


Thick, super-gooey reverb-smothered toast, crunchy and burnt and totally delicious. Young Prisms is a group of five San Francisco residents who roast gritty shoegaze tracks straight over the fire while living together in a house that apparently feels like an “extended camping trip.” You can’t take small bites of Young Prisms — this sound is meant for inhaling. With Big Lights, Seventeen Evergreen, DJ Britt Govea. Fri./25, 8 p.m., 21+, Independent. (Schadewald)



Noise Pop broods with this bill, which presents an opportunity to hear the widescreen songs from Tamaryn’s The Waves (my fave: “Dawning) in live form, and find out how they’ll translate to Cafe Du Nord’s close-quarters basement setting. Luis Vasquez is a busy guy — in addition to his band the Soft Moon, he also plays with the Lumerians, who’ll be putting out an album this spring. With the Black Ryder, Wax Idols. Fri./25, 8 p.m., 21+, Cafe Du Nord. (Huston)



Whether playing impromptu shows on street corners or headlining Noise Pop at Bottom of the Hill, Battlehooch is a San Francisco five-piece with a brilliant manic-depressive sound that flips from indie pop to experimental noise rock. Joining Battlehooch are: Exray’s, an SF duo whose song “Hesitation” was handpicked for use in the blockbuster Social Network; pop-punk trio The Downer Party, which dazzles audiences with its songs of teenage angst; and Nobunny, a psychobilly-meets-garage rock force of nature. Fri./25, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill. (Verzosa)



Hunx masters songs of love and death — whether they be teen-death love anthems or odes to his late father — on the upcoming Too Young to Be in Love, with tremendous help from Punkette Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams. (He’s also just recorded some “straight”-ahead classic rock-pop solo songs that will make it less possible for dunderheads to pigeonhole him as a gay comic novelty.) I’d tell you exactly what’s rad — as in truly radical — about the interplay between Hunx’s and Shaw’s voice, but I’m going to wait until the album comes out. Why don’t you find for yourself? With Best Coast, Wavves, Royal Baths. Sat./26, 8 p.m., Regency Ballroom. (Huston)



Yes, age — maturity has been good to the L.A. duo. Beyond the walls of grinding distortion lies Everything in Between (Sub Pop, 2010), and such raging jewels as “Fever Dreaming,” a hell-bent, hardcore-fed hurl through sheet-metal noise and bemused but anthemic Joey Ramone-style vocals. Somehow the twosome has reclaimed the epic poetry in art punk, scratching through the ethereal rubble of “Skinned” and the mournful crunch and glimmer of “Positive Amputation.” With Grass Widow, Rank/Xerox, Crazy Band. Sat./26, 8:30 p.m., Rickshaw Stop. (Chun)

Noise Pop 2011 highlights


MUSIC The 2011 edition of Noise Pop finds the festival stretching the definition of noise pop ever further outward in order to swallow excellent sounds. Back in 1993, when Noise Pop originated, muted My Bloody Valentine-derivative bands with lowercase names evocative of junior-high lunch were the norm. This year, the fest taps into the recent, more sharp-edged shoegaze revival and the current California garage rock zeitgeist, while also making room for hip-hop, freak folk, and deep funk. It’s safe to say that, unlike the character assassinated in Steely Dan’s “Hey 19,” Noise Pop at 19 knows about the queen of soul. Here’s our guide to some of the event’s best lineups.

>>Read more of our Noise Pop 2011 picks here



It’s the midnight hour on Valentine’s Day in Portugal when I reach Dâm-Funk, a.k.a. Damon Riddick, on the phone. He’s just outside of Lisbon, his surroundings are “phenomenal,” and he’s ready to wax enthusiastic about his longtime partner in funk Peanut Butter Wolf. “Me and Chris [Manak, a.k.a. Peanut Butter Wolf] connect on that sound because we remember and we revere,” he says, when I ask about their shared love of soul, hip-hop, and funk. “We knew what it was like before cable television and the Internet existed, we remember everything from those early VHS tapes to the way the sun set.”

As the sun is still rising on Valentine’s Day, in L.A., the man Dâm-Funk calls “Wolf” for short shows similar brotherly love. “When Dâm met me, we had a mutual respect,” says Manak. “He saw my record collection and vice-versa. When we discover songs, we’ll say, ‘Check this out.'” In turn, this shared enthusiasm, and the positive response to Dâm-Funk’s albums Toeachizown and Adolescent Funk — both released on Manak’s label, Stones Throw – has recharged funk sounds in Los Angeles and SF, and led to new discoveries of soulful and funky treasures from the recent past.

One such gem is Jeff Phelps’ 1985 Magnetic Eyes, a Tascam Portastudio 244 bedroom recording with sensational vocals by Antoinette Marie Pugh, who stars in a terrific no-budget video for the album’s “Hear My Heart” currently up on YouTube. “That album is something I’ve known about for a long time,” Dâm-Funk says, when I mention Magnetic Eyes and its hand-drawn yet futuristic cover art. “It’s a great project.”

Another great project is Tony Cook’s Back to Reality (Stones Throw), a collection of mid-1980s recordings by a musician who got his start as James Brown’s drummer. Taking on the role of executive producer, Manak has added some extra pop to the already formidable strut of Cook songs such as “Heartbreaker,” even drafting in Dâm-Funk to contribute new vocals to one track, “What’s On Your Mind.” “You’d think they were 24-track recordings, but he [Cook] only worked on an 8-track,” marvels Manak. “He was a good musician and producer – when you’re bouncing tracks, you have to know what you’re doing. In those days it was hard to achieve a full sound like that.”

These days, both Dâm-Funk and Peanut Butter Wolf know what they’re doing — and that’s a damn lot. Reflecting his Gemini nature, Dâm is planning to explore the dark side on an EP with that title before venturing into the light on his next LP. He’s also remixed Nite Jewel and is collaborating with her on a project, Nite Funk. He’s producing music by Steve Arrington for Stones Throw, and he wants to put out another chapter of his archival venture Adolescent Funk, with him choosing the tracks instead of Manak. As for the man Dâm calls “Wolf,” he’s got Stones Throw’s 15th anniversary on his hands, including a 7-inch box set, and a series of live-to-vinyl performances by the label’s artists in L.A. These guys are busy, but — fortunately for Noise Pop, and for SF — that doesn’t mean they don’t have time to throw a 45 party. (Johnny Ray Huston)


With Guillermo (Sweater Funk), Hakobo (Fresco)

Sat./26, 9 p.m., $15 (21+)

Public Works

161 Erie, SF

(415) 932-0955




Whether he’s raging in the streets alongside fellow Giants maniacs or musically lost between the sheets, Dominant Legs’ Ryan Lynch sounds like he’s sweet to the core—and even more. “I didn’t have anything to do with setting the mattress on fire, but I was there,” says the SF musician of SF’s impromptu World Series throw-downs. “But I wasn’t stopping anybody from celebrating.”

Lynch also rolls with the love when it comes to music. “I don’t really listen to much music that would be characterized as aggressive,” he continues, on one of those sunny Bay afternoons that make it easy to float away on blue skies and daydreams. “I listen to pop music and, honestly, mostly KISS FM.” His favorite song on this crisp, creamy day is R. Kelly’s “Lost in Your Love.” “It’s all about him wanting to bring love songs back to the radio,'” Lynch adds. “And that’s sort of what I also aspire to—not that we get any radio play!”

But, oh, a girl — or a boy who once was a Girl (until recently, Lynch was Girls’ touring guitarist) — can dream. And dreams have been coming true for Lynch, a longtime Giants follower who recently contributed “Finally Champions” to a digital-only benefit comp of Giants tribute songs released by True Panther. Meanwhile Dominant Legs continues to pick up steam—and members.

Once the repository of Ryan’s solo singer-songwriter imaginings away from longtime band Magic Bullets, Dominant Legs found favor when the Redwood City-bred musician was laid off from his job as mail clerk-receptionist at a law firm. He didn’t sink his sparse funds into job retraining classes or the like; instead he bought a cheap Casio keyboard and drum machine. “I shouldn’t have been spending any money,” he recalls now. “But the direction of the music really took off after acquiring those pieces of musical equipment.” Friend Hannah Hunt, who had just graduated from college, offered to help out at a 2009 show at Amnesia and ended up sticking around.

“She brought a softness, and delicacy, which made the songs more delicate since her voice is so different from mine,” he observes. “I think her voice is easier on the ear than mine.” For Noise Pop, the two have acquired a few more legs to help them on their way: drummer Rene Solomon, bassist Andrew Connors, and guitarist Garrett Godard, the latter once the drummer for Girls.

They’ll be filling out the already intoxicating pop bounding off Dominant Legs’ 2010 EP, Young at Love and Life (Lefse), which has inspired music bloggers to go wild, tossing out scattershot, albeit flattering allusions to Orange Juice and Belle and Sebastian, Kelley Polar and Arthur Russell—and even Dave Matthews. Feeling lost again? Just listen to the earnestly lovelorn, gently bopping, synth-popping tunes like the title track and “Clawing Out at the Walls,” with its curious admixture of sweetness and self-doubt. Kindred spirits and modern lovers such as Jeremy Jay and Camera Obscura, also given to such exquisitely anxious reveries, would understand. “The only thing I’ve heard is that [the EP] is too heavily influenced by the ’80s,” says Lynch. “But I don’t see that as a problem.” (Kimberly Chun)


With How to Dress Well, Shlohmo, Chelsea Wolfe

Sat./26, 8 p.m., $12–$14

Café Du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016




Jason Lytle has never been shy in revealing the frustrations leading up to Grandaddy’s demise. Exhaustion from middling success, a love/hate relationship with his lifelong home of Modesto, and a diminished interest in making music with others resulted in a move to Montana to focus on a solo career in 2006. Enter Admiral Radley, a collaboration with members of indie-pop group Earlimart and Grandaddy drummer Aaron Burtch that has him not only playing in a band again, but touring Japan and singing about his former home on songs such as the sarcastic “I Heart California.” Lytle took some time out from a snowy day of magazine shopping at Borders in his new hometown of Bozeman to talk about the project.

SFBG Rumors of a collaboration between you and Earlimart date back to the Grandaddy days. What led to you guys finally working together?

Jason Lytle It was really an excuse to hang out at [Aaron Espinoza’s] studio and just have people coming in and playing parts. We set aside a week as a fun little project. Maybe somebody else had other plans for it, but at the time, I was convinced it was just gonna be a cool opportunity to make a record and be done with it.

SFBG Were you guys surprised by the amount of excitement surrounding the project?

JL Yeah. Then it turned into, alright, we gotta name this record something, and give the band a name, and pretty soon it was this real entity. The Japan thing started off as a joke, and then became more of, “Let’s give this a go, and if it winds up getting us to Japan, we can call it good” — and the whole thing was worth it.

SFBG And how were the Japan shows?

JL They were really scrappy. The places were just dumps. I kept joking with Aaron, saying, “If we weren’t in Japan right now, and if these weren’t exceptional circumstances, there’s no way I’d be putting up with this.”

SFBG You’d expressed some skepticism about playing in bands again after Grandaddy split. Has this experience changed your opinion?

JL My place in Admiral Radley is totally different from what my situation was with Grandaddy. I’m getting off easy. Aaron is a great organizer and knows that a big appeal for me joining the band was not dealing with a lot of the day-to-day crap I used to deal with. I feel like I’m a piece of a puzzle with this band, which after all these years is something I’ve never really experienced. So it’s been kind of neat.

SFBG Both you and Aaron like being hands-on with production in your work. How was the collaborative process on this album?

JL That part was pretty effortless. Aaron and I share a lot of the same philosophies on production and making albums sound a certain way. I definitely sat in on some of the mixing, but there was a lot of it where I was just able to trust what he was going to do, knowing that it probably wouldn’t be too far off from what I’d do myself.

SFBG Was it strange writing lyrics about California now that you’ve been gone for almost five years?

JL I’ve definitely had a renewed perspective. Every time I visit or I’m there doing some work, I’m thrust right into the shit. Like right into L.A. or SF, rather than adjusting or letting it sink in slowly. So, usually it’s pretty jarring for me just because the pace is a lot more relaxed and different here. Having a bit of that outside perspective now allows me to look at things a bit differently. (Landon Moblad)


With Typhoon, Social Studies, Fake Your own Death

Wed./23, 8 p.m., $12 (21+)

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455




The dress code doesn’t include a finely-pressed lab coat, and the toolbox isn’t filled with fragile beakers, but a geographer is indeed a scientist, one who pours himself into the earth and bleeds across its surfaces to observe and categorize its residents. I haven’t asked the members of the San Francisco synth-pop trio Geographer if this occupation has had any inspiration on its sound, but there’s reason to believe the answer may be a humble yes.

Geographer has discovered new ground in the electronic realm. Its unique ménage a trois of music-making contraptions — drums, synth and cello — produces audible scenery that simultaneously calms and energizes the senses. Luscious forests of synth share habitats with rushing bass and guitar. The cello adds a sneaky-smooth layer that easily melts between or melds the more jagged sounds.

Behind the sweet scenery resides a less than pretty picture. Themes of loss and inevitable change creep through their sun-stained melodies, pulling at the roots of the band’s core. In 2005, Michael Deni fled his home in New Jersey, after the unexpected deaths of two family members. He landed in SF, and his instruments became a source of comfort and release while he wandered the new, unfamiliar territory. After a period of searching and surveying, Deni met and began collaborating with Nathan Blaz and Brian Ostreicher. In 2008, Geographer self-released its debut full-length, Innocent Ghosts, a far more relaxed collection that showcases Deni’s round, patient voice.

The landscapes on 2010’s Animal Shapes (Tricycle) are majestic, but far more celebratory. Things are tighter spun, beats kick harder and there’s a cohesive exploratory factor. Specifically fabulous: “Kites,” a track that strikes gold with a lustrous synth party. Deni’s sincere vocals float high above the mountainous bass vibrations, but mingle ever so courteously with the shrill, twinkling electronic additions. Enter the romantic cello and the song is a straight-up gem.

Now is a good time to button up your favorite white jacket and take some notes on the current environment in which you reside. Whether you’re into earth science or not, Geographer is a swell listen that goes well with salty pretzels and an adventure around your own neighborhood. Animal Shapes on repeat will keep you in step with eyes and ears open. And listen carefully: there’s good word on the street about these Geographer guys in the live form. (Amber Schadewald)


With Butterly Bones, K Flay, Funeral Party

Wed./23, 8 p.m., $13–$15

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421




Will Schwartz and the piano go way back, to when he was nine. “I’ve been attracted to the C chord and to A minor since I was a kid,” he says from L.A., where he’s living in Los Feliz. “I learned to play piano by ear, and it was always based on [starting with] a C major and going from there.”

You could say Schwartz played his first gigs on the instrument. “We had this two-story living room in our house in New Jersey with a little balcony, and the piano was up on the balcony,” he says with a laugh. “I would imagine I was playing for people down below. I would put on shows for the living room furniture.”

In his new band Psychic Friend, Schwartz updates California chamber or piano pop for today’s era, with contributions by Hole drummer Patty Schemel and instrumentalist-producer Bo Boddie. The result is a fresh chapter in Schwartz’s musical story, one that has ranged from the guitar-rock of Imperial Teen to the D.I.Y. choreographed pop of Hey Willpower, which involved contributions from videomaker Justin Kelly, DJ Chelsea Starr, and musician Tomo Yasuda.

Crisp and clean, in a way Psychic Friend sounds like the moment Schwartz has found his voice, or unknown heights or depths of it. The pounding “Once a Servant” revives the spirit of Jobriath. “Water Sign” has a Serge Gainsbourg undercurrent. “Shouldn’t Have Tried Again”‘s rendering of the repeat failure of a relationship matches the plaintive sunshine-y yearning of Harry Nilsson’s sublime covers of Randy Newman.

You could say Psychic Friend is new Californian pop. The piano-based melodic immediacy of the group’s sound has a kinship to Carole King’s solo work, or Burt Bacharach and some of his hits for psychic and other friends, yet both the sound and the lyrical content is very contemporary, not retro. It also isn’t Rufus Wainwright showboating — tracks like “We Do Not Belong” allow Schwartz’s voice a freedom and resonance it hasn’t had before, but he doesn’t run away with himself. “The nature of playing a piano and writing melodic songs, it almost brings you back to ’70s songwriting,” Schwartz observes.

“I just found this place in my voice that feels very connected, actually, that comes from playing the piano, and it feels good,” he adds, simply.

Schemel’s powerful drumming and Boddie’s hit-making skills have a role in this shift. “It’s like an Eddie and the Cruisers feeling,” Schwartz says, “where you start to play something, and by the end it sounds like a finished song.” (Huston)


With The Concretes, Birds and Batteries, Magic Bullets

Fri./25, 8:30 p.m., $13–$15

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011


Crazy like a Mission homeboy



LIT Benjamin Bac Sierra, San Francisco City College English composition and literature professor and author of Barrio Bushido, an ode to Mission District vato locos, picks me up in his cherry red-and-black 1972 Chevy Monte Carlo low rider. As an academic who started selling weed in the Army Street projects when he was 10, Bac Sierra is well aware that he has an attention-getting car. As it turns out, it nicely represents his world view.

“I’m not supposed to be driving a Monte Carlo. I’m not supposed to be talking to you like this,” he tells me, his conversation inflected with casual swear words and a rhythm like that of an evangelist preacher, or maybe just a man who feels what comes out of his mouth. “A lot of people go into education and think they have to choose: am I going to be square or am I going to be how I used to be? But you can be intellectual and homeboy-homegirl at the same time.”

Barrio Bushido, Bac Sierra’s first novel, follows the story of three young men who ricochet from romance to brutal gang beatings, PCP leños, larceny, and neglect. Lobo, Santo, and Toro’s world has made them wild gangsters. Author Maxine Hong Kingston has compared Bac Sierra’s prose to that other chronicler of the underground man in uncertain times, Dostoyevsky. Although it hardly glorifies the protagonists, an honor and a beautiful-crazy logic to their deeds does emerge. Bac Sierra holds that the impulsiveness, that locura, needn’t be forgotten when someone leaves the street hustling lifestyle.

“I want to make a line between being a homeboy and the negativity. Craziness is a power — you can’t learn that in a book,” he reflects. We drive by his brother’s old house on Treat and 21st streets — Bac Sierra hears that a PayPal executive lives there now. After Bac Sierra’s father died, his brother, charismatic and clever, brought him up — until his brother wound up in jail and died young.

When Bac Sierra was 17, years after he had dropped out high school and begun dealing angel dust, he had a choice. He could continue his lifestyle, possibly ending up dead or in jail, or “retreat” into the Marines, which represented an honorable discharge, as it were, from the barrio.

Bac Sierra’s experience in the Marines followed the same lines as Toro’s, his headstrong and loyal Barrio Bushido character — to a point. Both of them cleaned up and were promoted to squad leader because of their sheer “craziness.” And both saw serious front line action during the Gulf War. Bac Sierra manned a machine gun as part of the first wave of Marines to land in Kuwait City in 1991. He also began writing in the military, letters home that he would revise “maybe 10 times — I wanted to be heard.” Although he doesn’t specifically recommend military service to young people, he recognizes the value of the discipline learned in the armed forces. “A lot of homeboys don’t do shit,” he says flatly.

After serving, he retained his strong ties to the Mission and his family there. Before his brother died, he was the one who motivated Bac Sierra to get his college degree, not to stop at his master’s in creative writing from UC Berkeley, but to continue on to law school. “Hood logic,” Bac Sierra calls it, the idea that a degree in a concrete field was far better than one writing. Although he hated every day of law school, he can now appreciate the experience and the knowledge it brought him.

He pulls the Monte Carlo over to speak with an older man on the corner across the street from his brother’s old house. “Yo escribí un libro, señor, en honor de mi hermano,” he calls out the window, inviting the man to his upcoming book release party at Mission Cultural Center. Many of his friends from the old neighborhood (he now lives in Richmond, where he is raising two of his four children, Margarita, nine, and Benny, six) are Barrio Bushido‘s biggest supporters. I ask him if it makes him sad, how much the neighborhood has changed since when he grew up. “This is the world. Economics knows no friends.”

I recognize the last line from Barrio Bushido. Its characters speak with an urgent poetry, moving through scenes influenced by Dostoyevsky and Miguel Ángel Asturias, with Gabriel Garcia Márquez-like magical realism. Bac Sierra wants the book to be taught in schools and has set a goal of having it adopted into 50 class sections by next semester.

Other things he hopes for: first, that readers be taken on a journey. “It doesn’t have to be stuffy. I want them to be amazed with the language.” Second, he wants the book to show that life is full of choices. “Start living here in this world,” as he puts it.

His last hope is for a “homeboy resurgence” in the Mission, the neighborhood that was once the center of Latino culture in Northern California. Thursday’s party at the Mission Cultural Center is a start. Bac Sierra is planning a low-rider show, Aztec dancers, a reading, and live music for the event — the positive parts of homeboy culture, like Bac Sierra himself. “I’m fucking straight homeboy,” he says. “I am very efficient. I am always inventing things.” 


Thurs/17 7 p.m., free

Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts

2868 Mission, SF

(415) 643-5001


Not forgotten



HAIRY EYEBALL Around 500 people a day pass through the long corridor that bisects San Francisco City Hall’s lower level: supervisors dashing to the café for a quick lunch; tour groups of elementary school children; aides making a post office run; the occasional member of a wedding party looking for the bathroom.

It is also one of the last places where you’d expect to find a politically vital art installation, which is what makes San Francisco Art Commission gallery director Meg Shiffler’s decision to hang its current exhibit, “Afghanistan in 4 Frames,” in such a public and heavily-trafficked area so gutsy. Though the SFAC regularly puts on three to four art shows a year in the City Hall space, none in recent memory have resonated so powerfully with the dynamics of the venue itself.

The “4 Frames” exhibit presents a ground-level (no pun intended) portrait of the country through the lenses of four photojournalists who, over the past five years, have embedded themselves with various military forces and units stationed there. Though each photographer varies in style and background, their work — presented as photo-essays — shares a focus on the day-to-day, intersecting lives of civilians and soldiers off the battlefield.

James Lee, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and current San Francisco State University graduate student whose move to photography from writing was a recent one, captures in crisp color the downtime faced by young Afghan National Security Force soldiers stationed near the Pakistan border.

In contrast to the all-male environment Lee documents, Lynsey Addario’s series “Women at War” focuses on the experience of female U.S. troops and their engagement with female civilians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer has a knack for taking a picture at the moment her subjects are at their most unguarded, whether sharing a laugh with each other or shaving their legs in the barracks.

Addario’s photos are pointedly hung on a wall across from Bay Area photographer Eros Hoagland’s slightly more testosterone-driven series, “Siege Perilous.” The high contrast black and white photos depicting British military forces in the Korengal Valley and Helmand Province practically crackle with tension.

Another veteran photographer, Teru Kuwayama, is the only one who works with actual film, and his grainy, black and white Holga and Leica portraits of rural clans and armed mercenaries feel as if they are from another era. Kuwayama’s most timely work on Afghanistan actually resides offsite and online: his Web reporting initiative, Basetrack, links deployed Marines with life at home through images and video created by embedded journalists (although just last week military brass asked the embeds to leave).

Afghanistan made front pages again last summer after WikiLeaks uncovered 90,000 pages of classified materials chronicling a five-year window in the U.S. military’s long slog there. But “4 Frames” reminds those who encounter it — as well as those who seek it out — that regardless of the headlines, there will always be an ongoing, human side to what has been so often dubbed “the forgotten war.” And forgetting is not a luxury we can afford.



Although a vastly different beast from “Afghanistan in Four Frames,” SFMOMA’s current juggernaut of a thematic survey “Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera Since 1870” offers a pointed study in contrast, demonstrating how not to curate a photography show with clarity of vision or regard to what could be called an ethics of representation.

As proclaimed by its title, “Exposed,” which was organized by SFMOMA and the Tate Modern in London, where it originally premiered, attempts to track — across various eras, technologies, and milieu — what the introductory wall text calls the “voyeuristic impulse” in modern and contemporary photography: “an eagerness to see a subject commonly considered taboo.”

With such an open-ended criteria, the curators have essentially given themselves carte blanche to include everything from early 20th-century “detective cameras,” Walker Evans’ portraits of unknowing New York City subway passengers, Ron Galella’s paparazzi snaps of Jackie O., Nick Ut’s iconic image of a crying Kim Phuc in Vietnam (as well as his 2007 picture of a crying Paris Hilton), Robert Mapplethorpe’s BDSM pictures, surreptitious documentation of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, and Trevor Paglen’s near-abstract renderings of distant military sites.

The 200 or so pieces are arranged in thematically-grouped galleries (“Celebrity and the Public Gaze,” “Witnessing Violence”) that wind through half of the museum’s fifth floor. By the time you’ve made it through the lengthy, final “Surveillance” section of the show, “Exposed” feels more like a photography catalog that become the genesis for an exhibit, and not the other way around.

Such tidy categorization has the negative effect of creating closed systems rather than allowing different pieces to speak to each other. For example, two harrowing, anonymously-attributed lynching photos belong next to one of the most moving selections in “Exposed,” Oliver Lutz’s Lynching of Leo Frank, which hangs in another gallery. At the same time, the very proximity of death images and paparazzi shots cheapens both.

When presenting highly-charged, difficult images, many of which document humankind at its most brutal and unsavory, the context they are displayed in becomes as crucial as the images themselves. “Exposed,” which feels like the result of several unseemly Google image searches rather than a decade of curatorial sweat, disappoints in this regard.

Atrocity. Murder. Fame. Kinky sex. It’s all here! The question no one seemed to ask is: does it need to be? “Exposed” is simply too much. *


Through May 13, free

City Hall

1 Dr Carlton B. Goodlett Place (ground floor), SF

(415) 554-6080



Through April 17; free–<\d>$18

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



Life after death



FILM “I like telling the story of life better than I do living it,” Spalding Gray explains in Steven Soderbergh’s And Everything Is Going Fine, a tribute to the late performer that cobbles together interviews and scenes from Gray’s trademark autobiographical monologues (including the award-winning Swimming to Cambodia, made into a film in 1987). Without using a narrator or any other talking heads, Everything emerges a poignant portrait — and a masterful work of editing, considering the man left hours and hours of storytelling behind.

“Behind,” that is, when he committed suicide in 2004. Everything doesn’t mention Gray’s death, but it looms over the whole movie, particularly since Gray — whose mother killed herself in 1967 — was fascinated by mortality. It’s hard to accuse Soderbergh of deliberately culling foreboding clips, since death (Gray’s mother’s, and fantasies about his own demise) was a theme the performer revisited obsessively.

That’s not to say he was totally without joy. He lights up when discussing his love of acting, sparked early in life and encouraged by a teacher who remarked on “Spud’s” excellent timing. Though he mostly kept to the stage (“I’m an inverted method actor. I was using myself to play myself. I was playing with myself!”), he did appear in several films — he met Soderbergh when the director cast him as a (suicidal) character in 1993’s King of the Hill; Soderbergh also directed the film version of performance piece Gray’s Anatomy (1996). The birth of Gray’s first child — a typically overwrought life experience since his baby mama wasn’t his long-term partner, but a woman he’d been having an affair with — turned the self-absorbed Gray on his head. He married his son’s mother and built a life with her, her daughter from a previous relationship, their first son, and their soon-to-arrive second son.

Though Gray did most of his monologues seated behind a desk, there’s a performance excerpt in Everything where he recreates his family having a spontaneous dance party to Chumbawumba’s “Tub Thumper.” It’s a transcendently playful moment, and the audience erupts into stunned applause when a grinning Gray shuffles back behind his desk.

But as Gray fans know, the famously morbid storyteller wasn’t demon-free for long: a gruesome 2001 car accident while vacationing in Ireland left him physically mangled and mentally shaken. Three years later, he took his fateful last trip on the Staten Island Ferry. With the blessing of Gray’s widow, Soderbergh took on the mighty task of telling his friend’s life story; like Gray, Everything‘s a downer, but moving, and not without thought-provoking after effects. 

AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE opens Fri/18 at the Sundance Kabuki.

Empress yourself



SUPER EGO It certainly has not escaped my attention that this whole amazing Arab youth uprising thing is taking place during Fashion Week. It’s a mitzvah! But while Hunky Beau and I have been busily rooting through Reuters for inspiring pics of various hipster Egyptsters and Tunisians turnin’ in out (or, conversely, signs of any uprising under the Manhattan tents — watch out for Joseph Altuzarra, y’all), I’ve tried to have more than fast-forward fashionistas in my forethoughts and yummy Yemenis on the Bahrain.

Specifically: gay democracy. It’s time once again for an annual event that still remains charmingly underground here, yet has a heavy impact on San Francisco’s charitable community and global gay image. For serious, the wigs alone weigh like 20 pounds. Yes, it’s time to elect a new Empress of San Francisco — and this year the candidates have come out fighting, but graciously.

If you’re unfamiliar with our nearly 50-year-old Imperial Court system, which originally took ironic inspiration from beloved-yet-deranged San Francisco scallywag Joshua Norton, who in 1859 declared himself Emperor of the United States — and which first found full flower in 1965 with majestic Absolute Empress Jose Sarria I, The Widow Norton, while later helping to lead the community through gay liberation and the AIDS crisis — then hie thee ho to the newly revamped www.imperialcouncilsf.org website for a highball full of essential history.

Empress 2011 will wholly dedicate the next year of her life raising tens of thousands of dollars for good causes through nightlife affairs and traveling to regally represent our fair burg at Imperial Courts around the world. And this year’s candidates make for a feisty ballot: Saybeline, glamorous longtime luminary of the LGBT fundraising scene, and rousing dark horse Monistat, the party promoter voted Best Drag Queen in the Guardian’s Best of the Bay poll.

If elected, the youthful Monistat promises to tap her extensive database of “promoters, DJs, performance artists, and venues” to “refresh” the institution. She also invokes her considerable party stamina, promising to give us night after night (after night) of fundraising in face.

Saybeline vows to throw “open the doors to younger members of our community” and to “engage and encourage them” to become more involved in community service. She puts forth her “two decades of experience in volunteering and organizing fundraising events” as one of the main reasons to grant her the crown.

The crown is stunning, btw.

There are two great guys running for emperor as well, Frankie Fernandez and Ray MacKenzie, and voting should be hot and heavy. Everyone 21+ who lives in San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo is welcome to vote. So hit the polls and enjoy our freedoms while we wait for that exhilarating youth uprising to finally spread to Iraq! Oh wait …

SAN FRANCISCO EMPRESS 2011 VOTING DAY Sat/19, free. Noon–7 p.m. at Castro Muni Station, Castro and Market, and 11 a.m.–6 p.m. at Project Open Hand, 730 Polk, SF. www.imperialcouncilsf.org

>>Read Marke B.’s full interviews with the Empress 2011 candidates here



“Slumps” = Cali-meets-Detroit (a.k.a. Calitroit) hip-hop beats. And this massive charitable beat battle, featuring two dozen future underground hitmakers, will surely tease out more than a few sublime J. Dilla apostles.

Fri/18, 9 a.m., $10 or $7 with can of food. Club Six, 60 Sixth St., SF. www.clubsix1.com



Gotta give shouties to my fave Oakland female electro-hop terrors, rapping us up in cataclysmic Four Loko bliss. They’ll demolish the stage with the Tenderlions, Kool Karlo, and Frite Nite DJs.

Fri/18, 10 p.m.–3 a.m., $5 before 11 p.m., $10 after. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com




DINE When cultural historians of the future gather to argue the question of when and where Valencia Street finally jumped the shark, they might find themselves concentrating on the changes that came to a single block, between 18th and 19th streets, early in the presidency of Barack Obama. They might, in particular, find themselves considering a place called Grub, which sounds like a greasy joint of some kind where people eat with their fingers but is in reality a gorgeously designed restaurant that flows from a plate-glass façade through a nouveau-mod dining room to a glowing blue bar that looks like something from Star Wars, or Las Vegas.

It’s the sort of place you wouldn’t have found on Valencia as recently as five years ago, and it suggests, to me — along with the nearby The Summit, with its matching plate-glass façade — that a basic shift in sensibility is occurring. Like the Ferry Plaza farmers market, Valencia Street and its establishments now get mentioned in the travel section of The New York Times, and this kind of publicity means tourists, coming as if to some exotic game preserve. Tourists fundamentally change the nature of whatever it is they’re coming to experience, almost as in a chemical reaction.

None of this is to imply that Grub itself is an unworthy restaurant. It is highly worthy, with a value-intensive menu that includes authentic grub like burgers and mac ‘n’cheese, as well as such highfalutin treats like osso buco. (Is it just me, or has osso buco suddenly become trendy?)

Both the burgers and mac ‘n’ cheese are offered in “bar” (ie, design your own) mode. Your burger choices include beef, buffalo, vegetarian, ahi tuna, and portobello mushroom. The ahi burger ($12) consists of five ounces of seared filet. You can add cheeses and condiments to your heart’s content, but given the priciness and quasi-delicacy status of ahi, we thought it decadent to slather it with pickled red onions and bacon. Our suave server (a godlet who might have just stepped from the set of one of those Twilight movies) recommended the wasabi aioli, which did indeed bring a moistening intensity, though the sandwich remained a little frail, pale, and delicate, like a child who needs to get outside more.

Plunging into the mac ‘n’ cheese bar, by contrast, is like going to a gym where everyone is insanely worked out. All the variations (base price $9) include white and sharp cheddar cheeses and a gratin of grana padano breadcrumbs — more than enough flavor thrust to reach escape velocity. But you can tart up your crock with everything from truffle oil to grilled steak ($1 per extra ingredient) and some savories in between. Truffle oil is, for me, one of the world’s most overrated (and overpriced) food items — with lobster (a favorite of the godlet) not far behind — and I thought it more or less got lost amid the meatiness of the mushrooms and bite of the cheese. The steak stood up better, adding a hint of smokiness and enough weight to make the dish a meal unto itself.

But the menu offers other meals unto themselves, too, with a bit more polish. Grilled tiger prawns ($15) were arranged atop a butternut squash risotto heavily leavened with Parmesan cheese, whose tang balanced what otherwise might have become a cloying sweetness. A filet of Pacific snapper ($16) was “crusted” — “smeared” would have been more accurate — with what seemed like crab-cake batter and seated on a pad of celery-root puree with a pool of carrot-butter-white wine sauce and watercress salad. And the osso buco ($17) arrived in autumnal, rather grave guise atop mashed potatoes with a burgundy-charged sauce and fried shoestring carrots. The meat was fork-tender, and as someone who’s been making osso buco for years (from the same Patty Wells recipe), I can tell you this isn’t a given, even with long simmering. As for mashed potatoes instead of the more traditional risotto: eh. The potatoes did have a dense, mousseline-like velvetiness, which led me to suspect the involvement of tons of butter. But then, at higher-end sort of greasy spoon, you would expect a higher grade of grease, and butter is the grease of the gods, or at least godlets.


Dinner: nightly, 6 p.m.–12:30 a.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

758 Valencia, SF

(415) 431-GRUB (4782)


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Gum-choux seduction



CHEAP EATS She made me a gumbo-reduction taco, then took my hand and led me to her bedroom. At the time, jazz did not exist yet. There was something on TV, but the sound was off. Hedgehog was wearing a Saints jersey, No. 73 — Someone Evans, who made the Pro Bowl and came from her home town. I already had a picture of her in her Saints shirt, but there was something else in the world where jazz would be. Maybe some dishes, or a paper bag full of paper bags. Holding the spot.

In bed, I licked taco juice off my fingers. I mean gumbo-reduction. I mean, Appalachian moux-choux gumbo, or for short, gumb-choux, pronounced gumshoe, like a detective. I licked the detective, I guess, would be the least sexy way to say this.

It wasn’t the first time we went to bed together, and it wouldn’t be the last, but it is the one makes the paper, because never before in my life has anyone reduced a gumbo for me by way of foreplay.

And I have to say, from the smell alone, while I was waiting on her tiny couch, New Orleans, I was ready to be led to bed. Dang, I’d of followed that lesbian into the snake pit of hell, or Houston, on the wings of the smell I was smelling.

One bite and I was butter. So the next night, over Korean, when one of her friends asked me what was the best meal I had eaten here so far, I said the right thing and didn’t even have to think about it, let alone lie.

“A gumbo-reduction taco,” I said, high-fiving Hedgehog, who was sitting next to me and blushing out of either culinary pride, horrified embarrassment, or civic duty. “It’s true,” I said. “What can I say?”

I started saying a lot of other things … about all the other meals we’d eaten. Like that very morning, at Slim Goodie’s Diner, where I had the Jewish Coonass, potato latkes with spinach and fried eggs on top, smothered in crawfish etouffe.

And that wasn’t even all that great compared to the boiled crawfish and raw oysters and hot roast beef with ham sandwich we shared the afternoon before at a sports bar called Cooter Brown’s. Where we brought our laptops to write but instead of being productive got grease and hot sauce all over them.

And that was nothing compared to the fancy pants hanger steak and pork chops we overwhelmed on our first date date night at Patois.

In other words, it’s going to be really hard for me right now to say anything at all very exciting about the soup I ate in Berkeley a few weeks ago, or the other soup I ate in Berkeley a few weeks ago. Hmm. Let’s try my new favorite Indian restaurant in Albany.

Remember? I went there one night with the Maze when we were both working up the hill, but I forgot to ever say anything. But I still remember it, even though the rest of my brain has been erased, because Indian food is something that does not happen so well in New Orleans.

Ah, but if you head up San Pablo Avenue into Albany, you will find a gem of a new, nice, friendly, cheap, and awesome Indo-Nepalese joint called Hamro Aangan, where the chicken tikka masala is out of this world. And the naan is top o’ the line.

We loved it, me and Maze. “Tell your friends,” the hosterperson guy suggested. And I assured him I would.

OK, so I got that out of the way.

Now I can devote myself to the Story of Last Night at the Spotted Cat, where the Jazz Vipers, a great old-guy front-lined brass band, inexplicably imploded midshow. The sax and the trumpet, both aged enough to know better, times four, start arguing right in front of everyone. The young guys in the band, and the trombonist, act casual. Some people leave. The bartender’s getting pissed. And Sax is berating Trumpet, off-mic but on-volume, just generally being a big baby, when Trumpet turns to what’s left of the bewildered audience and shrugs. Apropos of I-don’t-know-what, he says, “And that’s how jazz was born.”

I don’t know. I just thought I would take his word for it.


Daily: 11 a.m.–9 p.m.

856 San Pablo., Albany

(510) 524-2220


Beer and wine

alt.sex.column: Fine bi me


Dear Andrea:

I’m a woman who likes women and men. I’m been in a serious relationship with a man several years. Having recently moved back to my home town, I’m wondering about something. My close friends know about my orientation (I don’t like the word ‘bisexual’ because of all its connotations and my general reluctance to label myself) but now I’m meeting new people, colleagues, etc., and I feel weird about not addressing this important part of my life. Is it OK to tell people, or should I just shut up?

To compound things, my parents don’t know I’ve ever been anything other than straight — do they need to know? I wouldn’t tell them how many sexual partners I’ve had or anything else about my sexual past, but …


Bi Serious

Dear Seri:

Great question, bless you. Also, tricky question, so … damn you?

There are, of course, excellent reasons to tell. National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11, mark your calendars) exists for good reason; coming out is one of the few personal/sociopolitical acts I truly believe can affect serious change. Most homophobes not of the Fred Phelps God hates whoever God is hating this month variety aren’t motivated by hatred for the abomination as much as they are simply uncomfortable. This discomfort is in some ways excusably human, born of bred-in-the-bone suspicion of the Other but seems totally anachronistic now that most of us aspire more to “love thy neighbor” than to “Oook! Stranger! Hit him with a rock!”

The more sexual minority folks come out the less anyone is able to claim not to know any. And the more you come out to people who already know and love you, the less comfortable those people might be, in future, with Otherizing others. Ideally, they become less comfortable with hearing others Otherizing others, as well, and there you go. Presto social change-o.

There are other reasons to just tell people. You want live an authentic life. You don’t want to deny who you are, and you don’t want other people making assumptions about you. Right?

But there’s another school of thought — the TMI Is Bad school. We are surrounded by too much information about everyone and everything and honestly, people, have a little decorum. There is a time and place for everything. Thanksgiving dinner, for instance, is not the time to tell Uncle Morris and Aunt Sylvia that you live with your Mistress and two co-slaves, and you have this very interesting piercing, would they like to see? That isn’t being authentic, it’s just being shocking and stagey for effect.

So, should you just shut up? I would say generally not. When someone assumes you are heterosexual in that blithe, blind, assumption-making way that people make assumptions, there is no reason not to say — when you want to, “Actually, I’m with Gary now, but I’m bisexual.” The end. It might sound odd, but the more often people say it, the less odd it will sound.

And that’s the point.



Got a sex question? E-mail Andrea at andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com

A jaundiced proposal



An ordinance to ban unsolicited print Yellow Pages across San Francisco, proposed Feb. 1 by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, seeks to reduce waste and save money.

“Phone books are a 20th-century tool that doesn’t meet the business and environmental needs of the 21st century,” Chiu said as he introduced the measure in board chambers.

The ordinance would establish a three-year pilot program starting Oct. 1 in which the city would reduce the mass distribution of phone books, making them available only at distribution centers or to residents or businesses that request them.

A rally in support of the ban before the meeting included Rainforest Action Network’s founder Randall Hayes and California Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Mateo), who proposed legislation that failed to gain steam last year for making it easier for Californians to opt out of receiving phone books.

But the Yellow Pages Association refuses to be thrown out with the rest of yesterday’s trash. YPA Vice President of Public Policy and Sustainability Amy Healy said her group opposes the proposal but that she was encouraged that Chiu and his staff say they are open to working with the association.



Chiu introduced the ordinance, which is cosponsored by Sup. Scott Wiener, because of the potential effect it could have on reducing city waste, both in the city’s garbage bins and its treasury.

According to Chiu’s office, San Francisco receives about 1.5 million phone books a year. At an average weight of 4.33 pounds per book, the current distribution system creates about 7 million pounds of waste. If the production were cut in half for the city, it would save nearly 6,180 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year from polluting the air.

But it isn’t just the environmental cost that is wearing on the city.

Phone books are tough to recycle. With plastic inserts, bulky design, and low-grade paper, the books have to be presorted and recycled manually. It costs Recology, the company contracted with the city for waste disposal, $300 per ton to dispose of the city’s unused phone books, which in turn costs taxpayers about $1 million a year for their disposal.



The YPA has been sensitive to the environmental concerns, recently launching a website that allows a person to opt out of receiving a phone book.

But it is also suing the Seattle City Council over its Feb. 1 approval of a plan to charge Yellow Pages a 14-cent publisher’s fee per book and create an opt out system for the city, arguing the Seattle ordinance violates the First Amendment’s free speech protections.

According to a statement by YPA President Neg Norton, the association believes that “if don’t want a phone book, you shouldn’t have to get one.”

But YPA opposes the ban on unsolicited books, citing the jobs it would cost, the business community’s desire to “generate leads and revenue from ready-to-buy consumers,” and claiming the First Amendment “prohibits government from licensing or exercising advance approval of the press and from directing publishers what to publish and to whom they may communicate.”

Wiener has a different take on the matter, a stand he said he has already received lots of criticism for, including from some constituents who compared it to the board vote to ban Happy Meals last year. But he said this issue is very different.

“An enormous number of books dumped all over the city is a bad thing, and we should do something to address the issue,” he told the Guardian, noting that the ability to opt out isn’t good enough. “It’s not like the do-not-call list where it is directly annoying and people are more likely to take action … Stacks sit in apartment lobbies, and people don’t decide to opt-out.”

But YPA is also citing the public’s apathy as a reason the ban is unfair. “People don’t take the time to respond to e-mails,” Healy said. “It’s an unreasonable barrier to have a stranger knock on your door and ask you to take something.” The YPA claims that “seven in 10 adults in California use print Yellow Pages, so we do not believe a system that puts a burden on the majority of people to opt in is the best path for choice.”



Do people still value the Yellow Pages?

Healy believes they do, stating that advertising with the Yellow Pages gives businesses a “high return on their investment.” We asked some city businesses that still advertise in the Yellow Pages what they thought about the potential ban.

Barbara Barrish, manager of Barrish Bail Bonds, doesn’t see her customers using the Yellow Pages anymore. “We used to swear by the Yellow Pages. Now young people use the computers, or their Blackberries and phones.”

Although she has an ad in the print edition, Barrish said she wouldn’t advertise with the directory again and only did so this time because it slashed its prices. “It used to cost a lot more, but it cut its advertising costs by a third,” she said. “They gave me a good deal.”

When asked if she would request a copy if the ban goes through, she said she probably would. “I might grab a phone book if the computer is down.”

Daniel Richardson, an immigration attorney who advertised in the Yellow Pages until 2008, predicted the business community would kill or water down the ordinance. “You are talking about going up against AT&T and other major businesses,” he told the Guardian with a chuckle.

Richardson said he stopped advertising in the Yellow Pages because he didn’t get enough business. He believes people look to the Yellow Pages for criminal or personal injury lawyers, but not immigration attorneys.

Even pizza places, a staple of advertising in the Yellow Pages, are ho-hum about the usefulness of the Yellow Pages. Junior Reyes, who is in charge of advertising for Go Getter Pizza on Gough Street, believes the restaurant gets most of its customers from online. “We do a lot of advertising with other places and online,” he said. “The Yellow Pages isn’t our main source.”

But what about people who do use the Yellow Pages, particularly groups that are not big Internet users. Would they miss it?

David Bolt is the dean for academic affairs at Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville and producer of the PBS series The Digital Divide. He believes that banning the Yellow Pages may be a problem for certain groups, including the elderly, recent immigrants, and the poor — groups with the least access to Internet, particularly in urban centers.

“We should err on the side of giving as much information to the greatest numbers of people, especially to groups that may not be technologically literate,” he said. “Society should think about how groups could be impacted by this decision.”

But Barbara Blong, executive director of the Senior Action Network, said older people are becoming more tech savvy. She said computer classes and other resources have put many of the city’s seniors online. She questioned the concept that seniors are one of the largest groups affected by the digital divide, noting that seniors oppose wastefulness as much as anyone.

“We are against having a lot of Yellow Pages laying around,” she said. Blong also mentioned that seniors who do not use the Internet for contacts can use the public library or senior centers that have phone books on hand. “I don’t see it as a ban, but moving on so we don’t have a great deal of waste,” she said.

The ordinance also exempts foreign language phone directories, further diluting the divide argument. The legislation wouldn’t ban the Chinese Yellow Pages or Momento (Spanish Yellow Pages) because they are distributed through community centers, not residences.

The ordinance is expected to have its first public hearing around the end of the month. The YPA will continue to tout its opt out website to the board in hopes it might be enough to persuade the city to forgo the opt in system. The group also hasn’t ruled out a lawsuit.

But YPA’s Healy said he hopes the coming dialogue will be productive. “We share the same goal — we don’t want to print directories that are unwanted.”

Dense in the west



A marathon special meeting of the San Francisco Planning Commission on Feb. 10 demonstrated a clear split over Parkmerced, a $1.2 billion private development project that will rebuild an entire existing neighborhood on the west side of San Francisco.

While some expressed strong enthusiasm for moving forward with the ambitious plan, many residents turned out to voice vehement opposition, citing concerns about traffic congestion, noise, dust, and the demolition of affordable apartments that some Parkmerced tenants have occupied for decades.

The votes to certify the project’s environmental analysis and send the plan onto the Board of Supervisors with a commission endorsement were split 4-3, with Commissioners Christina Olague, Hisashi Sugaya, and Kathrin Moore dissenting.

Those who voted no were appointees of the Board of Supervisors, while the four commissioners who voted in favor were appointees of former Mayor Gavin Newsom, suggesting a break along clear political lines. State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano also submitted a letter urging commissioners not to approve the project.

While Parkmerced Investors LLC, the project sponsor, eagerly awaits groundbreaking, spokesperson P.J. Johnston noted that they weren’t there yet. “First,” he said, “we have to break ground at the Board of Supervisors.”



The Parkmerced redesign has been touted as an ecological and sustainable beacon for urban development and, indeed, some features of the grand plan read as if they were plucked from a checklist from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green-neighborhood standards.

Walkable, bikeable streets with proximity to transit? Check. Water-efficient landscaping? Check. Energy-efficient dwellings? Check. Project sponsors claim that through dramatic reductions in per capita resource consumption, three times as many residents would consume the same amount of water and electricity as Parkmerced’s current population does today.

Johnston emphasized how adding new units to the west side of the city also helped contribute to “density equality,” since most new projects tend to be concentrated in the eastern neighborhoods.

Johnston was particularly jazzed about an innovative storm-water discharge system envisioned for the plan, which he described as a design that could “regenerate and repair the environment.” It would recirculate rainwater through a naturally filtrating system of ponds and bioswales to recharge Lake Merced, a water body that has been slowly shrinking due to being choked off from its natural watershed by a concrete urban barrier.

Green points might be awarded for plans for an on-site organic garden, but Commissioner Michael Antonini, who said he lives less than a mile from Parkmerced, cautioned that developers shouldn’t get too attached to that idea. After all, he said, many kinds of vegetables won’t thrive in that part of the city.

Meanwhile, the wholesale destruction of existing units is decidedly not eco-chic. The Green Building Council’s LEED neighborhood standards insist that “historic resource preservation and adaptive reuse” is always preferable in a green development — and that’s the point that Aaron Goodman, an architect who previously lived at Parkmerced, has been driving at for more than a year. Proponents maintain that Parkmerced’s wartime construction meant it was built with inferior materials, and that property owners have battled dry rot and other infrastructure problems.

Another not-so-green Parkmerced project feature has also raised eyebrows: parking. While proponents portray the redesign as a switch from a suburban, love-affair-with-the-automobile style to an enlightened departure from car-centrism, plans nonetheless include a parking space for every single unit.

That creates the potential for more than 6,000 new cars on the road in that area, and the 19th Avenue corridor is already notorious for traffic snarls. According to calculations by the Environmental Protection Agency, the typical American motorist generates more than five metric tons of carbon dioxide by driving in a given year.



Before the Planning Commission meeting, residents from the Parkmerced Action Coalition — a relatively new residents’ group formed to oppose the redevelopment and a wholly different entity from the Parkmerced Residents’ Organization — made a public show of their dissatisfaction outside City Hall. Holding signs with slogans such as “Don’t Bulldoze Our Homes,” residents sang protest songs and chanted, “We are Parkmerced!”

With the dramatic makeover, Parkmerced would expand to around 8,900 units, tripling the number of residents who could be accommodated. Existing 1940’s-era garden apartments would be razed to make way for higher, denser housing. The plan comes at a time when neighboring San Francisco State University is undergoing its own phase of expansion.

“This project in its current state is a vision that is not in harmony with the people, place, or the environment,” charged Cathy Lentz, an organizer with the Parkmerced Action Coalition, in a vociferous plea to the commissioners. “It is a narrow vision, a corporate vision … a true vision would be inclusive of present dwellings, inclusive of animals, trees, and present environment.”

One resident lamented the pending loss of his garden courtyard, noting how much his children had enjoyed the green space growing up and listing the different kinds of birds that would surely be driven away by heavy-duty construction and tree removal. For many, the point was not so much what developers intended to build, but what would be lost to make way for it. One speaker dismissed the plan as “architectural clear-cutting.”

Commissioner Moore, an architect, sounded a similar note when she rejected the notion that the Parkmerced redevelopment should be hailed as infill, a desirable development concept that curbs sprawl by utilizing space efficiently. “Urban infill housing is defined as infill on vacant sites,” Moore said, “not sites that have become vacant by demolition.” She added that she believed the environmental impact review “fails to sufficiently examine why housing demolition is even necessary.”

In Moore’s view, “the only reasonable alternative is a significantly redesigned … project.”



Unlike a luxury condominium development, the Parkmerced plan emphasizes built-in economic diversity — yet critics point out that as it stands, the housing complex is already inclusive of many lower-income, working-class residents.

The plan will incorporate several hundred below-market rate units, in accordance with the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance. Commissioner Antonini also emphasized the boost to city coffers from tax revenue associated with the project.

Meanwhile, questions are still arising on the issue of rent control. “We do not believe it is appropriate for the City and County of San Francisco to be displacing rent-controlled residents,” noted Michael Yarne, a mayoral development advisor. A binding agreement between Parkmerced Investors LLC and the city of San Francisco, which will be linked to the land, promises that new units will be made available to rent-controlled tenants at the same monthly rate they now pay, with rent control intact (See “Weighing a Landlord’s Promise,” Dec. 21, 2010).

Yet Polly Marshall, a commissioner on the San Francisco Rent Board, noted that she still didn’t believe tenant protections were adequate. She also spoke to the pitfalls of tearing down and redoing an entire neighborhood.

“The proposed Parkmerced development is the kind of development that I normally would support. It’s the kind of thing I work on in my profession,” noted Marshall, an attorney who has worked on redevelopment projects. “What’s different about this project is that it involves an existing community. It requires devastation of that community. It reminds me of the old-style redevelopment projects that went on in the Fillmore that destroyed existing neighborhoods. Look around that area now … there’s high density housing there, but that’s about all. The community — the networks of the people — was destroyed decades ago.”

Marshall took it a step further, offering her analysis on why Parkmerced was targeted. “It’s because it’s a working-class neighborhood of renters,” she said. “That’s why we’re going to destroy Parkmerced.”

A better option for trash


EDITORIAL One of the biggest, most important municipal contracts in San Francisco is never put out to bid. It’s awarded to the same company, automatically, and has been since 1932. Recology Inc. (formerly known as Sunset Scavenger, Envirocal, and Norcal Solid Waste Systems) is the only outfit licensed to pick up trash in the city. It’s also the only company that has a monopoly guaranteed in the City Charter. Its residential rates are set every five years by an agency almost nobody’s ever heard of, the Refuse Collection and Disposal Rate Board, which consists of the city administrator, the controller, and the general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Commercial rates are set by Recology alone; there’s no appeal or oversight.

San Francisco is the only major city in the United States that contracts out solid waste collection to a private company. And it may be the only city of any size that does it without competitive bidding.

Now that city officials are discussing where the garbage should go — that is, what landfill should hold it — there’s a perfect opportunity to open up the 1932 deal, amend the charter, and fix this.

Sups. David Campos and Ross Mirkarimi are working on a measure that would mandate competitive bidding for the contract to pick up commercial and residential trash. “It’s not in the interest of the ratepayers to have a monopoly,” Campos told us.

It’s true that Recology has worked with the city on reducing the waste stream and developing a curbside compost and recycling plan. And Recology is an employee-owned company.

But that doesn’t mean the city or its residents and businesses are getting the best possible deal. Could another company do the same job better — and for less? Maybe. Would the prospect of a competitive bid drive Recology to improve service and cut rates? Absolutely. That why most municipal contracts are put out to bid on a regular basis.

But there’s a larger question here, one that the supervisors also should consider. Why does San Francisco have private garbage collection anyway? All over the country, cities handle that task as a part of the function of government.

There are several distinct advantages to evaluating a public option for refuse. For starters, the city is in desperate need of money — and Recology is making a nice profit off its local gig. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that the city could take over garbage collection, keep the rates at the same level, and bring in millions to the general fund. It’s also possible that city officials would decide to forego some of that income and cut rates to make life easier for residents and businesses.

Since the 1932 charter provision is getting a new look anyway, the supervisors at least ought to look at the possibility of ending private garbage collection. A fairly basic study should be able to establish how much revenue Recology takes in, what expenses are involved, and whether it’s worth pursuing municipalization.

Editor’s Notes



In a heartwarming Valentine’s Day blog, Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, talks about an old cartoon that ran in the 1980s showing Democrats trying to develop a centrist economic policy that cut spending on social programs. “How is this different from Republicans?” one Democrat asks. The answer: “We care about the victims of our policies.”

That, Krugman says, “is pretty much my reaction to the Obama budget.” The president talks about how awful the cuts will be, how programs he cares about will have to go, how painful this all is for him. Not that he’s going to miss any meals or wind up homeless, but whatever: we can all feel his pain.

It’s also pretty much my reaction to The Bay Citizen report that ran in The New York Times Feb. 13 on the pension reform negotiations going on at City Hall and in the office of billionaire financier Warren Hellman.

Hellman, Mayor Ed Lee, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, and some labor leaders are talking about how to avoid another bruising ballot measure fight this fall. Hellman backed off from supporting Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s Proposition B last year after some labor folks convinced him they could come up with a better plan.

Hellman’s new bottom line: the group needs to find between $300 million and $400 million in savings. He is quoted as saying: “I hate that it comes out of the hide” of city workers. “It is going to be really painful.”

Warren Hellman’s not a bad guy. I’ve met him, he’s polite and friendly, sometimes even almost sort of a liberal on some issues, and I think he does feel bad about cutting the pensions of low-level city employees. I even agree with him that the pension system needs reform.

But here’s the problem: nothing ever comes out of the hides of the rich.

Over the past five years, San Francisco has cut hundreds of millions in city spending. City employees have given back many millions more in concessions. Nonprofits have cut back services to the poor, the disabled, the sick.

But we haven’t asked big business and wealthy people to give up anything. Hellman hasn’t had to tighten his belt. Corporate executives in the city still make huge salaries. They’re not closing the swimming pool at the Olympic Club.

I could support pension reform — if Hellman, Elsbernd, and Lee would support tax reform. Then we can all feel each other’s pain. For once.

Playing chicken



The Heart of the City farmers market in U.N. Plaza may not exude the bourgeois foodie reputation of the Ferry Plaza farmers market. It doesn’t sell micro-roasted coffee or artisan cheeses, and its fountain may sometimes double as a public shower, but it does offer one product that no other San Francisco farmers market does: fresh, live poultry.

Raymond Young has sold live chickens here for two decades, showing up at dawn to set up shop and peddle his poultry to an eager throng of customers, mostly Chinese, who happily take home upwards of 600 birds per day.

But a group of animal rights activists is saying that the poultry stand is inhumane, violates health codes, and that Young’s employees have infringed on their civil rights as protestors. Since April 2010, members of LGBT Compassion have been showing up in the wee hours of the morning next to Young’s stand with banners, brochures, and signs promulgating the alleged cruelty of his business and seeking to block the sale of live birds. In January, protesters upped the ante when they slapped Young and the HOC market with a lawsuit alleging continuous abuse and negligence by those who supervise the market.

“For me, it was as simple as seeing the animal cruelty,” said Andrew Zollman, 43, the founder and organizer of LGBT Compassion. “The cages are dilapidated and cramped, there are feces everywhere, and the chickens are shoved in plastic bags, two at a time, while they scream in fear or pain. It was like walking down the street and seeing a dog beaten — and it’s really frustrating to see it happen here in San Francisco.”

Zollman and fellow protester Alex Felsinger, 25, filed the lawsuit with San Francisco attorney Matt Gonzalez after months of attempts to get city officials to intervene.

The allegations have Young and market management squawking, saying that the activists are opposing a practice that is both legal and routine. They claim the protesters are overly sensitive to the treatment of the chickens simply because they can see it, and decry their tactics as an attack on a small business and cultural traditions since almost all of his customers are Asian.

“These people just don’t seem to like other people’s culture of selling live chicken,” Young said. “”I think that what I do is right. I abide by all the health codes and animal care codes. I try to do everything I can to satisfy everyone. These protesters think they can override the law because they don’t like what they see.”



Zollman and Felsinger have been encouraging the city to investigate Young’s stall, regularly sending videos and photos taken at Young’s stall to the Department of Public Health and Animal Care and Control. But their quest to protect the chickens has been complicated by the lack of city oversight and an inability to enforce animal cruelty laws due to provisions exempting poultry.

The clash between the vociferous vegans and the poultry purveyors reached its pinnacle in late December 2010, when Felsinger claimed he was punched in the side of the head, wrapped up in a tarp, and had the memory card from his camera stolen by one of Young’s employees. As painful as the altercation was, Felsinger’s scuffle has helped him garner support.

Felsinger doesn’t have footage of the December attack, but he and Zollman have documented several instances of alleged verbal and physical abuse by Young’s employees, including anti gay statements from Young’s daughter, which was the subject of a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

“There is a long list of things being done to us over the past year,” Felsinger said. “I never expected them to take such a violent act against me. It’s not how I wanted to go about it. But it might have the end result we’re looking for.”

Christine Adams, manager of the HOC market since it first opened in 1981, has consistently defended Young and called the lawsuit “completely outrageous.”

“This is a market, and if they (Young’s crew) were illegal, they would have been booted,” she said. “I have done nothing wrong; Raymond has done nothing wrong. I’m not worried at all about the lawsuit.”

Adams said that while she had not been personally affected by the protesting in the past, she did not approve of Zollman and Felsinger’s actions and attributed a decline in live poultry sales to their presence.

“Their sales have gone down considerably,” Adams said. “They used to sell more than 1,000 birds a day and now it’s more like 600 or 700. I think it’s definitely because of the protesters. People don’t like to be followed through a market and have a camera shoved in their face just because they bought a live chicken.”



Almost every market day, Zollman and Felsinger would show up to protest and take video and still photography of Young’s stall. They have posted numerous videos and photos to their group’s website (lgbtcompassion.org) — the same ones they say they send to DPH and ACC — documenting the conditions at Young’s stall.

The DPH makes routine inspections twice per year to the market. In November, Zollman, Young, and Adams held a meeting with principal environmental health inspector Lisa O’Malley to address issues of sanitation, handling, and guidelines for bringing live animals near food. The department says the vendor is operating within guidelines.

“There were some problems in the past, but they’ve been fixed,” O’Malley told us, naming a few instances of inadequate removal of chicken feces from the area and improper hand-washing as past problems. She said the challenge was maintaining the guidelines, the most difficult of which is making sure people do not walk through the market after purchasing their birds. Health codes prohibit animals from being within 20 feet of food. The primary concern is contamination from fecal matter, which could cause illnesses such as Salmonella poisoning.

O’Malley walks by the market regularly because of its proximity to her office and says all operations seem compliant. At the same time, official enforcement and inspection is limited to the Public Health Department’s semi-annual visits. This means the only people watching over the operations of the stall and customers are the security guards, who don’t start working until two and half hours after the market opens, long after prime time for buying live chickens.



Young stands by his actions and said he is not guilty of any wrongdoing. The activists criticize him for practices such as cutting off the tips of the chickens’ beaks, but Young said he only does this to prevent fighting injuries sustained when they are caged for transport and sale, a common practice for any chicken farmer.

In their pamphlets and the lawsuit, the activists claim that the poultry is a “collection of ‘spent’ live chickens (those who are no longer productive egg layers) from large Central Valley farms,” according to the suit. But Young contests that characterization and the activists can’t produce credible evidence of the birds’ age or origins.

“They don’t know how old my birds are. They don’t know how I care for them,” Young said, refusing to tell us how old the chickens are. “They just assume. What’s the difference between Safeway chicken and my chicken? They were all alive at one time, but you see mine.”

Young has three farms listed on his permit — in Modesto, Sacramento, and Manteca — that he runs with the help of his children and a few employees. Adams has visited his Modesto facility and reported that the chickens are free-range, seem to be in good health, and are treated no differently than they would be at any other farm. She also supported the accusation that the protests undermine cultural norms.

“How can it not be cultural? All their customers are Asian!” she said. “And why is it only the chicken man they harass? There is a guy who sells quail and pheasants and they aren’t bothering him.”

Zollman, Felsinger, and Gonzalez call that cultural criticism a diversionary tactic. “I don’t even want to dignify culture and race as an issue in this,” Zollman said. “I understand that people want to buy live chickens. Animal cruelty issues aside, this isn’t a live animal market like they have in most of Asia.”

Young and Adams stressed that Zollman could not possibly know about operations on the farm, and that his suggestion that the operation is extremely profitable is absurd. “Do you know how hard it is to work on a farm?” asked Young, a single father of three. “You don’t make any money except to put food on the table or send your kids to school. And now I have to pay for a lawyer.”



Although the activists oppose factory farms and live animals for sale for human consumption in general, they have focused their attention on the HOC market because it is permitted by the city.

Gonzalez said the lawsuit aims to address three different issues. The first is violating his client’s free speech rights by Young and HOC market. The second seeks to compel the city to better identify and enforce alleged health code violations. The third and trickiest aspect deals with animal cruelty laws, which the activists hope will force more humane treatment of the birds.

Penal Code 597 outlines animal cruelty provisions, defining the word “animal” as “frogs, turtles, and birds sold for human consumption, with the exception of poultry.” That law was adopted in the early 1900s. Elsewhere the code defines animals as “every dumb creature.” But in 2000, the Fourth District California Court of Appeals analyzed the section and deemed that the definition should include birds.

But Gonzalez and ACC say city officials have allowed the poultry exemption to stick. “[The law] refers to live animals and makes a specific exemption for poultry,” Rebecca Katz, director of the Department of Animal Care and Control, told us. “I would venture to guess that poultry lobby was very strong at that time.”

The ACC, prompted by the protests, inspected Young’s facilities and cited him for 700 different violations, according to the lawsuit. Katz mentioned a few instances in which they observed chickens suffering to the point where they had to be euthanized. But most of the citations were for inadequate water supply or holding birds improperly.

“A lot of people eat animals for food, and that’s what it is,” Katz said. “I’m not a vegetarian, but the way they are being kept is not the way we would recommend they be cared for. Do we think there is some cruelty? Probably. But there is nothing we can do at this time until the law changes.”

Like his predecessors, newly appointed District Attorney George Gascón seems to believe that chickens are not protected by state law, regardless of perceived cruel treatment.

“To date, our position has been that there is a clear exception under the law for live poultry being sold for human consumption,” said Gascón spokesperson Erica Derryck. “As much as it appears that the treatment of these animals is inhumane, there is nothing we can do to prosecute these allegations under the current laws in California.”

Gonzalez disagrees, and his office referenced similar cases in the state in which poultry was protected from cruelty. “Frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing that they are taking the position they are taking,” Gonzalez told us. “They are trying to avoid a topic that would compel them to do what they need to do. Many in the Asian community and Mexican community see this as an attack on their cultural traditions, and that’s not the issue. We see it as a straight matter of misinterpretation.”



On a recent visit to the market, the stall appeared clean and the chickens were out of view. The stall features prominent signage in English and in Chinese languages of the ban on bringing live animals into the market, with additional signs throughout the plaza, but customers routinely step directly into the market after buying their chickens.

“This is not easy,” security guard Diana Ybarra said while trying to point a man carrying a bag with two chickens in the right direction. “Nobody wants to listen — most of them don’t speak English. Everyone wants to take a shortcut right back through the market.”

Ybarra and her coworker, Washington (who chose to be identified only by his last name), said that their entire day is consumed trying to get customers to abide by this rule. Prior to the November meeting, no signage was posted and customers just “walked all over the place as if it didn’t matter at all,” Ybarra said.

“Chinese New Year was bad,” Washington added.

The guards see enforcing the rule as an unnecessary waste of time that takes their focus off tasks such as preventing theft. Both said shoving birds in sacks was “messed up,” but they were also quick to criticize the protestors.

“Why are they bothering this man? This is a family business and people have to make money,” Washington said. “Those protestors came in and fucked everything up, if you ask me.”

Young said he resents getting caught up in this controversy. “We are so loyal to this city and to this market,” he said. “We have put up with drug dealers and crime just so we can serve the people. Maybe these protesters think differently.”

For now the activists are more focused on the lawsuit than remaining vigilant in their protests, hoping it will accomplish their goal.

“I wasn’t always so adamant about getting rid of them, it was having people notice something that is animal cruelty,” Felsinger said. “It had been good in some ways to have people exposed to this cruelty in San Francisco because it gave us a platform to speak on animal rights. These are egregious offenses and it’s hard to ignore when it is right in your back yard.”

The shakes


THEATER When your free-form sister (Amy Resnick) arrives from Los Angeles with a yoga mat, but without a job, a place to go, a return ticket, or a care in the world—except for an unopened package some guy named Bulldog asked her to hand off when she got to Minneapolis — it’s unsettling. What’s even shakier, though, is such a visit combined with a marriage teetering on the brink, a job or two in the balance, and a worldwide economic depression. It’s then that foundations critically loosen, supports buckle, things suddenly fall apart. But is it all just Rumsfeldian “stuff” happening, or some human-made flaw in the system?

That’s a question lurking teasingly, even frustratingly at the heart of Allison Moore’s Collapse, an inconsistent but often bright new comedy now enjoying a sure and high-spirited production under director Jessica Heidt at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre. And by heart we mean the play’s operative real-life metaphor: the deadly Aug. 1, 2007 collapse of a Minneapolis bridge. The piece of Interstate 35W that plunged into the Mississippi River that day was in heavy and regular use, a standard steel-truss arch bridge whose soundness no one would have thought to question. A broken stretch of it appears here as the impressive principal feature in Melpomene Katakalos’ scenic design, filling the length and height of the back of the stage and looming over the action throughout.

Officials pronounced the likely cause of the accident a design flaw, coupled by extra weight. That’s a description that could fit the whole socioeconomic system girding the play’s action and themes. Set in 2009 against the literal backdrop of the bridge and the figurative one of the current economic crisis, nothing is as secure as it once seemed in the staunchly middle-class home of attorney Hannah (Carrie Paff) and her husband David (Gabriel Marin). David, we learn, has not been going to work much and has become a queasy, quasi-alcoholic—more of a poser than anything else, since he secretly drops most of his beer on the house plant, but anything to justify his ungovernable fear since miraculously surviving the bridge collapse in 2007.

As flaky sis Susan (played with a hilariously reckless, chirpy energy by Resnick) arrives from LaLa Land with her disturbingly large suitcase, Hannah has been concentrating the couple’s energies on having a child. A professional and beautiful woman used to getting her way and now (in Paff’s nicely nuanced performance) increasingly at a loss as things slip out of her grasp, Hannah pushes the baby idea to erase another recent, related tragedy, even as her position at the firm looks precarious.

She also pushes David (played by Marin with a comically anxious, hangdog moodiness) toward AA. Somehow she ends up going instead, on his behalf, as David decides to deliver the shady mystery package himself. When in the hallway Hannah meets a charismatic black man named Ted (a charmingly imposing Aldo Billingslea) — nickname, Bulldog — an affair looks in the offing, and a crime caper, to boot.

Heidt’s strong cast transforms the unmoored quality among these four characters into some good laughs. But Moore’s writing is up and down. The dialogue is crisp at times, labored at others. Moreover, the characters can come too laden with undeveloped contradictions. Most unsettling is the sudden shift in the final scene, which forgoes comedy for a forced sincerity that brushes any larger political point under the condo rug. When an emotional David asks his wife, “How do we keep collapsing?,” her response tolls an unsatisfying reaffirmation of marital harmony: “Maybe we can’t. Maybe we can just figure out how to fall together.”

While set amid an ongoing social crisis, Collapse edges away from that terrain as if from a dizzying height and retreats into personalizing discourse about romantic love and middle-class domesticity. That’s the kind of turn that leads from the potentially subversive back toward the status quo. 


Through March 6; $34–$55

Aurora Theatre

2081 Addison, Berk.

(510) 843-4822



Send in the clowns



STAGE/PUPPETRY It’s been more than 10 years since Brooklyn-based Kevin Augustine brought his life-sized puppets and existential worldview to the Bay Area, and during that time he’s not been idle. Augustine’s last full-length show, 2008’s Bride, a charged exploration of theism, garnered much critical acclaim as well as an UNIMA-USA Citation of Excellence in Puppetry — the profession’s highest honor.

Just one month after Bride‘s successful New York City run, Augustine was already nurturing the delicate sprouts of the show that has become Hobo Grunt Cycle. After briefly considering a Civil War theme, Augustine expanded his vision to encompass the broader topics of modern warfare: weapons technology, the psychological effects of war, the physical effects of violence. He began to direct his creative energies toward answering a question he felt central to the topic: What progress have we made?

“The whole idea of warfare, of training ourselves to kill other human beings, seems so archaic,” he explains over the phone.

Part of Augustine’s brainstorming process includes sketching possible characters. One of his images, a soldier in fatigues with the face of a world-weary clown, helped spark his conviction that the hierarchies between the world of the soldiers and the world of the clowns were very similar. “There are always the clowns who get hit in the face with the pie,” he points out. Drawing from the comparison between low-caste clowns getting knocked around by their “superiors” and low-ranking Dogfaces getting shafted on the battlefield by theirs, Augustine started to craft Hobo Grunt Cycle‘s narrative around a hobo clown (played by himself), while adding a parallel narrative that involves war veterans (played by puppets).

The use of tramps and clowns as protagonists is not exactly new territory for Augustine — his previous productions Big Top Machine and Once Vaudeville feature one or the other. Both can be likened to the classic archetype of the fool or trickster, which makes them perfect for illustrating uncomfortable human truths via puppetry. What’s different for Augustine as a playwright is that most of Hobo Grunt Cycle is performed in silence, a nod to the tradition of pantomiming tramp-clowns such as Emmett “Weary Willie” Kelly, as well as a symbolic comment on the blanket secrecy that shrouds many veterans of conflict during and after their tours of duty. When one soldier character is finally allowed some exposition, Augustine is representing vets such as the “Winter Soldiers,” who have been able to break this silence and speak out about their experiences.

More than just the rich, dark nuances of Augustine’s playwriting set Lone Wolf Tribe apart. The puppets themselves are incredibly distinctive. Trained in theatre and — briefly — sculpture, Augustine had no formal puppetry experience when he began working on his first puppet show in 1995.

“I started as a solo performer,” he jokes. “But it got lonely, so I added the puppets.”

Starting from scratch, without preconceived expectations of puppetry’s limits, Augustine began creating life-size puppets to his own singular specs: warped, clumsy, vulnerable bodies with grotesque features and complex emotions. The foam-rubber he carves his puppet heads from allows for an unsettling realism in terms of facial textures — sleepy half-lids, arched brows, curled lips, rutted terrains of wrinkles and lines. Most of his puppets are manipulated by whole teams of hired-gun puppeteers, who must perform heroic acrobatics as they make the puppets dance, shamble, and limp across the stage.

So does Hobo Grunt Cycle answer its central question? Augustine remains unconvinced that progress has been made.

“I believe we haven’t progressed in terms of violent conflict because we’re stuck in our adolescent stage of development,” he says ruefully. “We see things only from our point of view, and always in terms of right and wrong, mine and yours, us and them — which prevents us from seeing that all human beings [and all puppets?] have the same needs.” *


Thurs./17 through March 5; $15-$25

Exit Theatre

156 Eddy, SF

(415) 673-3847


Gleaming the Cubist


RARE SILENT FILM In the 1920s — avant-garde heyday for so many forms of media — ascendant youth culture, “machine age” fetishism, the off-leash romping of bob-haired women, and myriad other factors induced fierce resistance to much now considered of crucial historical and artistic import.

Not to say all this contested art was necessarily good. But much was arguably hated beyond reason. A major case in point plays in Feb. 24 as part of the Pacific Film Archive’s “Cinema Across Media: The 1920s” series. Marcel L’Herbier’s 1924 L’Inhumaine, “a fairy story of modern decorative art,” is a remarkable time capsule of avant-garde trends at their temporal and geographic peak — even if Paris then wasn’t having it.

These were heady times. Privileged intellectual L’Herbier was a heady guy, missing World War I combat service because an angry lover shot off his finger. Attracted to film’s possibilities after mulling career paths from composing to diplomacy, he began directing in 1918. Some soon hailed him as France’s greatest contributor to the medium. Cinema being bandied about then as the ultimate art form combining all before it, such praise was bound to induce hubristic abandon.

L’Herbier’s taste for rarefied experimentation was shared by close friend Georgette Leblanc, an operatic soprano famed for her Carmen and for originating other musical and acting roles. She was long-term muse to Symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, the millennial stage’s leading innovator. By 1924 that relationship was over, as was her singing career. Not one to be left behind, Leblanc proposed bankrolling a film that she would star in, directed by L’Herbier.

L’Herbier was amenable. He’d started his own production company to avoid the financial problems of prior lofty projects, but only sank deeper in hock. L’Inhumaine was to be a cinematic summit of prominent avant-gardists, its cubist sets alone the work of four designers including painter Fernand Léger and architect Robert Mallet-Stevens. A key sequence at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées called on all Leblanc and L’Herbier’s fashionable connections to impersonate some 2,000 concert-goers whipped into a near riot by the heroine’s infamy and artistry.

Unfortunately, actual public response to their end-product was equally rowdy. Critics heaped scorn; box office was catastrophic; and Leblanc did not deign to grace the silver screen again. It is easy to view L’Inhumaine as her fault: a teetering monument to an Olympian ego.

She plays Claire Lescot, “famous singer, bizarre woman,” who reigns over a salon of great minds and power-mongers enslaved by the fickle attentions that have branded her “inhuman.” When a young engineer (Jaque Catelain) announces he’ll kill himself if she doesn’t give him some sugah, she harrumphs “If you destroy your life so easily, it can’t be worth much.” He promptly plunges a race car off a cliff.

Squat, heavy in war paint and emotional lifting, 50-year-old Leblanc is clearly the most fascinating woman in the world here by write-in vote of one. L’Inhumaine‘s ungainly mix of vanity showcase, modern art trappings, and sci-fi eventually sees our songbird — not silent cinema’s most vivid profession — conquer tout le monde via a radio-television transmission. Which strangely also allows her to see les misérables briefly elevated by her art around the globe. When a jealous rajah poisons her, her “modern magician” scientist lover allows conquering Death itself in a cacophony of machinery and montage.

L’Inhumaine reflects its moment as much as the next year’s Battleship Potemkin (1925). That it was received more like 1923’s Salome — the infamous Rudolf Valentino-funded Art Nouveau version of Oscar Wilde’s play, which for reasons both credible and malicious was branded a “riot” of homosexual aesthetics — laid in the extreme disconnect between cutting-edge techniques and woozily old-hat theatrical content. There’s no denying the film is whopping camp, albeit camp curated (as L’Herbier intended) to complement the hugely influential International Exhibition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts opening in Paris in 1925.

This failure must have been tough, but the director persevered. His 1928 Zola update L’Argent (recently revived by the San Francisco Silent Festival) integrated modernist design and conventional storytelling far more successfully. While his sound-era films were considered less innovative, he remained a significant industry force, moving into producing cultural programs for TV.

When L’Herbier died in 1979, even L’Inhumaine had been partly rehabilitated, its ultramodernism treated (as is so often the case) more kindly in retrospect. Fifty years had transformed La Lescot’s grandiosity from ridiculous affectation to charming folly. 


Feb. 24, 7 p.m., $6.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249