Volume 47 Number 27

The truth conquers all


I was standing in front of what looked like a semi-vacant office building. I re-checked my maps app — it looked like I had the correct address for the Planned Parenthood clinic. If only this woman would stop shouting about killing babies, maybe I could think.

“Don’t kill your baby! If it could talk it would say ‘Mommy, don’t judge me,'” I turned back to look at career abortion clinic protester Erika Hathaway, and was embarrassed to realize that her wheelchair was parked right in front of the clinic’s door. I had missed it entirely in my zeal to document her interaction with a typical visitor, and had walked right past the door in the chaos.

And I wasn’t even there for a reproductive health appointment. I shivered at the thought of dealing with her while concerned about the results of an HIV test or a weird bump on my labia, much less a tortured decision to end a pregnancy.

I brushed past Hathaway’s exhortations to “ask for the ultrasound!”, a command that echoed around the clinic’s small, otherwise calm waiting room as I closed the door. A young patient looked up with me with tired eyes, shaking her head at the activist’s audacity.

Up for a lecture on respecting life from a guy who has multiple restraining orders from medical clinics?

“I compare it to the offensive foul rule in basketball,” Adrienne Verrilli, director of Planned Parenthood communications, tells me moments later. “You have to have your feet already set to avoid getting the call.” Verrilli’s clinic has been dealing with these protesters for years.

The activists tout bloody posters of aborted babies and bump Christmas music year-round “to remind people that Christ was a baby once,” as Hathaway tells me. They’ve made patients cry, make staff who love their jobs at the clinic want to leave by the back entrance every day.

Recently, a protester actually entered the clinic and woke up a napping patient to tell her why abortion is murder. Only two percent of the visitors to Planned Parenthood come for an abortion.

Hathaway’s setup

Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission, has proposed an extension of the current eight-foot “bubble zone,” which Hathaway and her ilk circumvent by pre-stationing themselves in a wheelchair. With their “feet set,” they have no need to approach patients. Verrilli says her staff regularly see Hathaway leave the chair to walk up to Burger King for refreshments. Rumors fly that she has a “day job” as a dogwalker in Belmont, Calif.

Campos wants to extend the no-fly zone to 25 feet from the door and bar protesters from entering, period. I looked at the van that Hathaway’s uncle — a 20-year vet of abortion protesting who has had multiple restraining orders placed against him by the Bay Area abortion clinics he splits his time between — has plastered with violent imagery. It’s parked in the middle of the specially-designated loading zone in front of the clinic, shielded by the handicapped tags that Verrilli says all pro-life protesters seem to have. Given the obvious determination of the anti-choice activists, I hope that the proposed change will be enough to ameliorate their aggression towards vulnerable patients.

Verrilli showed me a letter dropped off at the clinic by a Bernal Heights neighborhood mom of a seven-year-old who was “visibly disturbed” by the protesters’ signs. Unwilling to let me leave on an entirely negative note, she told me about AB 154, a proposed state bill that would allow advanced nurse practitioners to perform first trimester abortions, making family planning services even more available. The fight for reproductive justice continues, despite dedicated opponents.

Her hope lingering in my ears, I braced myself to go back outside and hang with the protesters.

I asked Hathaway why she spends her days in front of reproductive health clinics. “The truth conquers all, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said,” she said, conquering any adherence to literary fidelity. “Eventually, we will win.”

She told me that Steve Jobs was adopted. “What would the world have been like without him?”

So many babies are being aborted in the United States, she said, that there won’t be enough workers to fund Social Security when it comes time for she and I to retire. This underpopulation theory is a new one for me.

The truth will set you free, right? “Do you need that wheelchair to get around?” I asked her.

“I have arthritis,” she told me. “It’s not a wheelchair, it’s a transport chair.”

A young man wearing a baseball hat exited the clinic and Hathaway shouts, “the Virgin does not want you to abort that baby!” I think about the two percent chance that he’s there to support someone getting an abortion, and the million other reasons why he could have paid the clinic a visit that day.

“It’s her choice,” he replied, and continued on his way.

Planned Parenthood 1650 Valencia, SF. (415) 821-1282, www.plannedparenthood.org

Ennui and I


FILM Thai filmmaker Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s international breakthrough, Last Life in the Universe, came out 10 years ago, but its themes of isolation and loneliness still feel very much of the moment. Eternally cool Japanese star Tadanobu Asano plays librarian Kenji, whose Better Off Dead-style existential turmoil leads him to attempt suicide, or at least think long and hard about it, multiple times. His morbid fantasies are varied: hanging (with a note, “This is bliss,” later repurposed by his crass brother as scratch paper: “Gone jogging”); gunshot; bridge-jumping.

The latter brings him into contact with a pair of sisters, Nid and Noi (real-life siblings Laila and Sinitta Boonyasak); when Nid is suddenly killed in a car accident, Kenji and Noi form a cross-cultural attachment against the backdrop of the girls’ ramshackle Bangkok house — a riot of dirty dishes and slobbery that contrasts sharply with Kenji’s obsessively tidy apartment, though that space has been lately littered by two dead bodies, courtesy of some inconvenient yakuza-on-yakuza violence.

Working from a script by Thai writer Prabda Yoon, and benefiting from Christopher Doyle’s meticulous cinematography, Ratanaruang structures his film along a non-linear timeline, suggesting, as Doyle points out in Last Life‘s DVD commentary, the way the human mind jumps back and forth, mixing flashes of memories into perceptions of the present. It’s a film that will most benefit a viewer willing to pay close attention to its “implications, rather than explications, of ideas” (Doyle again), and certainly holds up under repeat viewings. Another added benefit of watching it again: appreciating the humor that Ratanaruang sneaks in on occasion, as when director Takashi Miike (whose Asano-starring 2001 Ichi the Killer is referenced early on), in a cameo as a gangster, tells a woman she has seaweed stuck in her teeth. (It’s all in the delivery.)

Director, writer, cinematographer, and star reunited in 2006 for the noirish Invisible Waves, which has its own moments of dark comedy, as Kyoji (Asano), a chef with underworld ties, murders his lover at the behest of her husband — his boss — before sailing on the world’s grimmest cruise ship from Macau to Phuket. Aboard, he meets a wistful single mother with the familiar name of Noi (Kang Hye-jung from 2003’s Oldboy); her baby’s named Nid. (Another connection to Last Life: a shady, karaoke-loving character who goes by Lizard, echoing a reptilian motif from that earlier film.)

Kyoji’s journey is complicated by his malfunctioning room, with its haywire shower head and temperamental front door. “I’m inside the room and I cannot get out,” the frustrated man explains over the phone to an unhelpful concierge. It’s clear long before he gets off the ship and begins fumbling around an unwelcoming Phuket, however, that the biggest trap Kyoji is caught in was set by his own dubious life choices. Not for nothing does someone dub him “the stupidest smart guy I ever met.”

Ratanaruang’s most recent film, 2011’s Headshot, makes its local debut as part of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ “Thai Dreams: The Films of Pen-ek Ratanaruang.” Dubbed a “Buddhist neo-noir,” Headshot features a flashy poster and an even flashier tag line: “Bangkok’s most dangerous cop is about to have his world turned upside down.” This is meant literally; the film concerns cop-turned-assassin Tul (Nopporn Chaiyanam) who suffers an injury that inverts his eyesight. Thankfully, the film is shot right side up, for the most part — and in Ratanaruang’s hands, what could’ve been a cheap gimmick becomes an entry point into a surprisingly layered tale.

Ratanaruang will be at the YBCA in person — his first-ever visit to San Francisco — for screenings of Headshot (Thu/4) and 2009 ghost story Nymph (Sun/7), which both star Chaiyanam. The YBCA’s retrospective also includes Last Life and Invisible Waves, plus 2007’s Ploy, about an endangered marriage, and 1999’s loopy thriller 6ixtynin9. 


April 4-21, $8–$10

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF



CAREERS AND ED: She’s got it



STREET SEEN Anti-racist club kids, virulently feminist East Bay rap fans, those who dig spangled Iranian mini-dresses as much as striped referee shirts and A$AP Rocky-inspired sportswear looks, add Browntourage to your late night Tumblr hole.

The 20-something duo behind the site and virtual gallery Konversation, Hawa Arsala and Tonia Beglari, parse trends like pros.

In addition to, and in tandem with, their finger-on-the-pulse culture sites, the two represent up-and-coming Bay artists with PR services, Beglari’s website design skills, and Arsala’s penchant for innovative editorial shoots. Collaboration projects with the hot artists of color like Antwon and Chippy Nonstop? Check. Doodling dates with radical visiting artists, say Australia’s felt tip marker wonder Texta Queen? Check.

Alix Black, Nastia Voynavskya from Hi Fructose magazine, Annie Nguyen, and Pauline Poderoso: “they’re like, Oakland’s muses,” says Arsala

Jaqi Sparro, house, minimal, bass DJ and traditional Chinese medicine healer

“We realized we could use our skills to help the people we actually care about,” says the Afghani American Arsala (Beglari’s family is from Iran), who is holed up with me in a FiDi cubicle showing off the photos of fresh female Bay style icons that I asked her to compile before Women’s History Month fades too far from pop culture consciousness.

Thanks to their vision of a strong, diverse Bay Area art-music-nightlife family, Arsala and Beglari are getting props on feminist media sites. Their idea to spread love for queers, people of color, and other faces underrepresented in mainstream media is in itself is nothing new, but what is fresh is the duo’s media savvy – they’re ready to take their social views into brave new binary code that packages radical artists in a fresh, viral-ready format. They spit tech knowledge, and use the apps that other culture workers will take years to learn.

Heidi Petty, 12FPS creative agency producer, stop-motion filmmaker


Oakland rapper Chippy Nonstop

What sparked their fire? Hat tip to the duo’s built-in bullshit meter, very essential when dealing with milieus in which “groupie” is the only recognized role for gorgeous women their age.

“The name Browntourage started as a joke to combat a really oppressive situation,” says Arsala. “A guy asked us to be part of his harem.”

Gross. But Arsala and Beglari’s hardcore eye for trend-spotting and Internet Age professionalism packs more pounds any deadweight. Future, anyone?

Yetunde Olagbaju, avant-garde drag performer, model

CAREERS AND ED: 5 fun classes




Develop or improve your skills in sewing, patchwork, and quilting at this non-credit class at City College of San Francisco that students are welcome to join at any point in the semester, regardless of skill level. Beginning students will construct a sampler quilt, intermediate or advanced students will work on individually designed projects. Non-credit CCSF classes are tuition-free, but students are expected to bring the required materials, so email the instructor in advance to come prepared.

Saturdays, 9-11:50am, free. City College of San Francisco downtown campus, 88 Fourth St., SF. www.ccsf.edu


Tradition is the name of the game at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Art’s folkloric dance class taught by Zenon Barron, founder of Ballet Folklórico of San Francisco. Reflecting Hispanic customs, beliefs, and legends, Barron’s instruction serves up festive new moves with a historical twist.

Saturdays, 2-3:30pm, $10. 2868 Mission, Studio: E, SF. www.missionculturalcenter.org


Is there a surface in your house that needs … something, and your Bedazzler gun is triggering untoward 1980s flashbacks? Try a medium that is slightly less time-sensitive. Oakland’s Institute of Mosaic Art has a host of courses in the tiled arts, and this weekend’s primer course is begging to jumpstart your grout-and-ceramic phase. Instructors teach you where to find your supplies in the real world, the basic physical properties of materials involved, and will instruct you in making your very own creation to take home.

Sat/6, 10am-4pm; Sun/7 10am-1pm (three-day option: April 10, 10am-1pm), $165. Institute of Mosaic Art, 3001 Chapman, Oakl. www.instituteofmosaicart.com


Grab a mat and bring the whole family to the Asian Art Museum for a free Hatha yoga class. Local yogi, Lorna Reed, will lead today’s practice, which teaches basic poses focusing on balance, flexibility, and strength. Reed adds a special artsy element to today’s class by incorporating positions inspired by sculptures in the museum. Your momma always called you statuesque — prove her right by inhaling deeply in this unique yoga primer.

Sun/7, 2-3pm, free. 200 Larkin, Samsung Hall, SF. www.asianart.org


What better way to get to know the language of love than with free wine, popcorn, and a film? Designed to help non-French speakers discover the country’s cinema, the Alliance Française of San Francisco offers a weekly film screening followed by discussion. The theme for April is “Women Behind the Lens,” and the April 23 film pick 17 Filles follows a group of 17 high school girls who, after one of their number is impregnated, make a pact to follow suit.

Every Tuesday, 6:45pm, $5. Alliance Française, 1345 Bush, SF. alliance-francaise-sf.weebly.com.

CAREERS AND ED: Learn to eat



CAREERS AND ED Don’t tell me you’ve been eating your whole life and you don’t need any lessons on food. Hardy har har, how’s your waist line? Energy level? Food budget? You can always learn more about how to make your diet healthier, cheaper, and above all, more sustainable. The Bay Area has to be one of the best places in the world to learn about how to eat well, and the institutions that put on each of these course offerings are phenomenal places to start dabbling in the area. No more plastic-wrapped sandwiches, ill-informed beer purchases, or factory farm chicken for you, boo boo.


No excuses: you can garden in San Francisco year-round, and that doesn’t matter anyway because we’re in the rosy pink of spring, when even your uncle up in Minneapolis is turning his thoughts to sprouts and soil. Garden for the Environment has a host of classes dedicated to greening that fat lil’ digit of yours, but today’s offering is particularly salient for snackers. Organic gardening instructor Carey Craddock will take charge among the rows today, teaching you what plants are perfect for April, and how to get your space ready to raise edible flora.

April 13, 10am-2pm, $25. Garden for the Environment, Lawton and Seventh Ave., SF. www.gardenfortheenvironment.org


At the end of the day in this urban chickenry class, you’ll have not only witnessed but aided in the construction of a “Garden Ark” portable chicken coop. Carpenter Joan Weir has designed this one-off course to be of maximum service to the community — you’ll learn coop-building skills, and Rosa Parks Elementary School will score a brand-new home for its feathered flock.

April 14, 10am-5pm, $50. Rosa Parks Elementary School, 920 Allston, Berk. www.biofueloasis.com


The talk is actually part of Oakland Veg Week (April 22-28), which includes tons of free veg and vegan cooking classes, lectures on sustainable eating, a screening of the plant-based diet booster Forks Over Knives (April 25), bus trip to a Grass Valley animal sanctuary (April 27), and grand finale buffet at the Lake Merritt Sailboat House (April 28). But start here, with Colleen “The Compassionate Cook” Patrick-Goudreau’s presentation that addresses all the excuses that fly about for not going veg. No time to be meat-free? Not enough protein in greens? She’ll set you straight.

April 23, 6:30pm, free. Oakland Library, Temescal branch, 5205 Telegraph, Oakl. www.oaklandveg.com


Brew and bottle two batches of your very own suds in this three-class seminar, billed as the most comprehensive homebrew 101 in town that doesn’t require any investment in equipment, for all you newbies to the brew scene. Mission Gastroclub (www.missiongastroclub.org) founder Eric Denman is the instructor, which means you can expect delicious bites at each session, happily crucial in your quest to understand the flavors of your beer.

April 23, 30, and May 14, 7-9pm, $160. 18 Reasons, 1874 18th St., SF. www.18reasons.org


Huzzah for the California Homemade Food Act! Recently signed into law, it allows small producers to make low-risk foods like candy, empanadas, baked goods, and dried teas in their home, without renting a spendy commercial kitchen space. If the news has you itching to start a homemade chocolate stand, stop off at ForageSF’s class first. It’s a primer on the law’s ins and outs, perfect for those looking to join the ranks of Forage’s lauded Underground Market artisans. Bring a plate to share with 20 people and get a discount on your tuition.

April 27, $30 if you bring a dish to share, $50 without. SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan, SF. www.somarts.org

CAREERS AND ED: Top 10 careers


CAREERS AND ED “Looking into the future is difficult” says Larry Bliss, the director of academic advising and career education at California State University’s East Bay campus. “Ten years ago, would we have been very supportive of a student who said that she wanted to make a career out of designing web pages for businesses? I think not. But today, that’s a pretty handsomely paid job.”

The best advice Bliss tells the Guardian he can offer to college students is to pick a major they like and think about the transferable skills that each course of study will impart.

According to the Bureau of Labor’s predictions, not all of the US job markets with the largest projected growth (outside of the medical field) require a significant academic resume. If you’re after high salary jobs, stay in school — the nursing, technical consulting, and computer system jobs predicted to see salary increases all require a little more educational incubation. 


All figures in parentheses reflect predicted growth through 2020

1. Personal care aides (70.5%)/home care aides (69.4%)

2. Medical secretaries (41.3%)

3. Medical assistants (30.9%)

4. Retail sales (26%)

5. Physicians and surgeons (24.4%)

6. Receptionists and information clerks (23.7%)

7. Construction (21.3%)

8. Landscaper/groundskeeper (20.9%)

9. Heavy truck driver (206%)

10. Childcare workers (20.4%)

11. Accountants, bookkeepers, auditors (15.7%)


1. Home health care aide (61%)

2. Management, scientific, technical consultants (4.7%)

3. Child Daycare Services (2.6%)

4. Nursing and residential care (2.4%)

5. Computer systems design (3.9%)

6. Construction (2.9%)

7. Architectural engineering (2.5%)


The other home team



IN THE GAME I still think it’s easier to get to A’s games than Giants ones. You get on BART, you get off BART. Tickets are relatively cheap, and really very all-around available.

What the Giants have on the A’s is a prettier stadium with better concessions, including gluten-free hot dogs and gluten-free beer.

What the A’s have on the Giants, besides tickets, is Jed Lowrie.

Not since my Favorite Player Ever, Omar Vizquel, came to San Francisco from Cleveland in 2004 have Bay Area baseball fans been in for such a pleasant surprise.

Mind, Lowrie is not a flashy defensive shortstop with exciting speed, the world’s sweetest smile, and a sexy Venezuelan accent. He’s just an adorable white guy. From Oregon. Like Omar, he’s also an artist. A photographer. Who plays shortstop very well, and — without drawing too much attention — hits a ton. Well . . . 1,998 pounds, let’s say.

Last Opening Day Hedgehog and I were living in New Orleans, where the only baseball we could get on TV was the Houston Astros. The lowly Houston Astros. The 55-107 Houston Astros.

For once in our life we had a television, a 50-inch one, and a giant leather couch, and what was on was the worst team in baseball.

Bu we watched a lot of Houston Astros games. That’s how we happened to see Matt Cain’s perfect game. And that’s how we happened to fall in love — both of us — with Jed Lowrie.

Who was traded by Houston to Oakland in the off-season.

Lucky us. Lucky him, too. From worst team in baseball to playoff contention is not bad.

In a way, interestingly, Lowrie kind of brought the Astros with him. Like a bad smell, Houston drifts this year from the overcrowded NL Central to the A’s division, the AL West. That means the A’s will see a lot of Lowrie’s old team.

I like the matchup. Combined, the A’s and Astros enter the season with a payroll about two-thirds that of the Giants. Combined.

I know what you’re thinking: what does this have to do with me?

Depends . . .

Who are you? Are you Matt Cain? If so, you won’t be pitching any perfect games this year. Are you Brett Anderson? You might be. Are you neither? Just an average every day cash-strapped alternative weekly sports fan? Well, root root root for the other home team this season, I’m saying. They’ll give you more bang for your buck; it’s kind of a specialty of theirs. Remember? There was a whole movie about this.

Good as we’ve got it on this side of the pond, they have Jed Lowrie and Brad Pitt.

Yeah, but we have World Seriousness, you say.

I say . . . yeah, you’re right. There’s that, but I watched that World Serious, and it was boring. Fun, but boring. The good guys won; but kind of boringly, didn’t you think?

League Championship Series, maybe, but I don’t remember much about the Fall Classic. It went quickly. At the Mission and 22nd Street bonfire, I got spray paint on my favorite coat. Um . . . something about a bus.

Ask me about the Oakland-Texas series, though, and it’s synapse city inside my little head. Ask any A’s fan lucky enough to be there the last day of the regular season, the day the A’s came back from four runs down to sweep the defending (x2) American League champion Rangers and win the division; it is etched in their memory like the 20-game win streak of 2001, or the taste of carnitas in mine.

Texas was in first place all season. They came to Oakland Oct. 1 with three games left and a two-game lead over the surging A’s. On a whim, back in June, when the A’s were at least 10 games back, I had bought $2 tickets for the last game of the season, Oct. 3.

And that’s the other thing: BART $2 Wednesdays. This year there are ten of them, starting April 3. Hey — what are you doing after work?

Oct. 3, 2012, was sold out, the only regular season sellout at the O.co Coliseum except Opening Day. I have never witnessed anything like it in my baseball-game-going-to life. It felt like football in there, that’s how raucous it was. It felt like the fans had a say, like in football. And maybe we did.

And maybe we do.

Wednesday, April 3 vs. the Seattle Mariners. My guy Jed will be playing shortstop, batting probably second.

Oakland A’s

O.co Coliseum



Tech Bubble 2.0


OPINION We all remember the first dot-com bubble, right? Web technology start-ups flocked to San Francisco in the late 1990s. Thousands of would-be entrepreneurs and techies filled up the city. Gentrification of Central City neighborhoods accelerated sharply. Apartment rents jumped, followed by the condo boom. Demand for commercial office space, especially South of Market, quickly grew red-hot. Rents zoomed, and office developers rushed dozens of proposed new projects forward.

The leaders of Mayor Willie Brown’s gutless Planning Department rubber-stamped all they could, and decried the annual limit imposed on their approvals by the 1986 community-activist-sponsored Proposition M ballot measure.

The activists and the mayor put two competing measures on the November 2000 ballot in response. Both lost, but the progressive slate for the Board of Supervisors swept that election, defeating most of the mayor’s candidates.

And then Tech Bubble 1.0 popped. The peak year was 2000. The big dot-com bust, 9/11, and finally the Great Recession all followed.

The city’s office market crashed. Some new office buildings were foreclosed by their lenders. Many approved office developments went unbuilt. Overall office market vacancies approached 20 percent by 2010.

Ah, but here we go again — Tech Bubble 2.0! A new wave of recent technology industry start-ups — like Twitter and Yelp — are joining the growing survivors of Bubble Number 1 — like Salesforce. And San Francisco has become a premiere national media venue for the tech industry.

Thousands of would-be entrepreneurs and techies are again filling up the city. Apartment rents are going through the roof. Gentrification of Central City neighborhoods is accelerating even faster. Demand for commercial office space, still in SoMa, is red-hot again.

But by 2011 so much vacant space was on the market, and so many approved buildings were waiting for anchor tenants to start construction, that there has been room for them all so far. Several new buildings got underway. Mayor Ed Lee strategically took advantage of this market boom to target economic expansion to the Central Market District, the last disinvested zone of San Francisco’s Downtown.

Even today though, city office vacancies still exceed 5 percent. And according to the most recent Planning Department report, more than a dozen already-approved new buildings, totaling more than 4.5 million square feet, are waiting to start construction in the Transbay Transit District, South of Market, and Mission Bay. Another 5 million feet of office space is proposed for more than a dozen more pipeline projects for those areas. Plus another 2.5 million feet is planned for projects on Port property — including the San Francisco Giant’s huge project — that are not even on the Planning Department’s list yet!

How does this total of 12 million square feet of pending new San Francisco office buildings compare to historic demand? Going back to 1986, the amount of new office space actually built — true long-term market demand through the boom/bust business cycles — averages out to about only 750,000 square feet a year. The city’s old-school corporate headquarters dramatically downsized or even moved out of San Francisco — like Chevron and Bank of America — and that’s still ongoing. The new tech industry is mostly replacing them. So these 30+ identifiable current projects would provide a 16-year supply of office space at historic rates.

But even in the face of this evident market glut of future office buildings, the usual civic development hypsters are once again muttering about gutting Proposition M, and radically upzoning Soma for even greater office expansion. Is that who City Hall will listen to this time too?

Bubble? What Bubble? [Pop!]

John Elberling is executive director of the Tenants and Owners Development Corporation.

Conflicted dictator


DANCE “Next door,” you are told in the packed Senegalese restaurant in the heart of the Mission. “Back there,” you hear, as a hand points in a very dark, very empty bar you enter through an unmarked door. What’s “back there”? It’s a large space, perhaps formerly used for storage, lit by blinking Christmas tree lights and two blinding spots. You wonder what a former African dictator would have thought about a celebration of his life being created in such circumstances. But then why would anybody want to pay tribute to a man who was responsible for the death of thousands of his fellow citizens?

The head of state in question is Sékou Touré, nicknamed “Syli” or “the Elephant,” who led Guinea to independence and in 1958 became the country’s first president. On the night I visit its practice space, Duniya Dance and Drum Company is working on piece about Touré, The Madness of the Elephant, which will world-premiere this weekend.

The elephant is still Guinea’s national symbol, says Duniya’s musical director, Guinea-born Alpha Oumar “Bongo” Sidibe, adding with some pride that their national soccer team is also called Syli. (“They are very good — they’ll go to the world championship.”)

But Sidibe also knows all about Touré’s darker side. “He was a Marxist and he did not tolerate dissent,” he explains. “But he also was a good man, a revolutionary and a man with a vision. His madness was both good and bad. He was the first president of my country. He gave hope to the people; he supported and built our culture. I would not be here as a dancer and as a musician if it was not for him.”

The first ensemble that put African dance on the world stage was Guinea’s Les Ballets Africains; it also became the continent’s first national dance company.

But Touré’s major act of “madness” came with independence when, says Sidibe, “he was the first guy in the world who dared to say ‘no’ to Charles de Gaulle,” rejecting Francophone post-colonial attempts to shape and control the country.

It’s with that crucial moment in Guinea’s history that Madness opens. It recalls the speech in which Touré declared Guineans would rather live poor but free than rich and enslaved. The rehearsing crowd leaps, cheers, and embraces each other to the drummers playing the national rhythm created for that historic occasion.

It’s a curious group. Four of the dancers are Africans with professional performance experience, but for the other eight the African rhythms and steps are clearly foreign. Yet they embody them well.

When these dancers auditioned for Duniya’s artistic director, Joti Singh, they thought they were enrolling in Bhangra, a folkloric dance from North East India. “I told them right away that we might also do African dance,” the American-born Sing, who’s of Punjabi descent, explains. As a child Singh learned to perform Bhangra at family celebrations and cultural festival, but she lost interest as she got older.

In college, she discovered West African dance and became passionate about it. She has twice traveled to and studied in Africa, speaks some Sousou — “I can understand much better than I can speak it” — and finds herself very comfortable in both worlds. Evidently, her dancers feel the same way “Everyone is welcome,” smiles Sidibe at a question surrounding possible cultural conflicts.

In another scene, rehearsed between much teasing and laughter, a group of what looked like women in an open-air market is attacked by baton-twirling thugs. They stand up to the men. The incident, explains Sidibe, was based on fact. “Touré created a special police to enforce Marxist economic principles. But one day the women marched to the Presidential Palace singing and chanting their objections. He abolished the force the same day.”

As is wont in much of West African culture, a djeli (a storyteller), accompanied by the balafon (a wooden xylophone) will provide the through line for Madness‘ musical, dramatic, and choreographed sequences. Sighs Singh, “That has been the hardest part of this project — trying to hold all these wonderful artists together in one place.”


Fri/5-Sat/6, 8pm, $15-30

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

Kanbar Hall, 3200 California, SF



Time to enforce the law


EDITORIAL The new tech companies that are making waves in San Francisco — Airbnb in the short-term rental business and Lyft and Uber in the taxi industry — may describe themselves as innovative and disruptive, and they may be appealing to investors.

But there’s a more accurate word that describes their relationship to the city:


The way these companies are luring customers isn’t really about high-tech applications or brilliant business models. They’ve just found a way to get around the rules that everyone else has to obey.

Some city officials are talking about hearings and new legislation, all of which is fine. But in the rest of the business community, when someone flagrantly, openly violates the regulations, the City Attorney’s Office cracks down. That’s what needs to happen here, and soon.

Airbnb has a slick and appealing promise: You can rent out your house or apartment on the Internet to someone who wants to stay in the city for a few days, but is looking for an alternative to a traditional hotel. The homeowner or tenant gets some extra bucks; the visitor gets to stay in a cool neighborhood at a bargain price. What’s not to like?

Well, for one thing, most leases in San Francisco bar unauthorized sublets, so renters who offer their places on Airbnb face problems with their landlords, including possibly eviction. City laws also bar the use of residential property for commercial purposes. And, as we’ve pointed out repeatedly, Airbnb isn’t collecting the transient occupancy tax that every other hotel operator in the city has to pay. The total tab: At least $1.8 million a year.

Lyft and Uber say they’re using creative apps to offer an alternative to the screwed-up taxi system. Drivers offer rides to people who can “volunteer” to pay at the end — but if nobody pays, the whole business model fails and the venture capitalists who put up the money lose. So everyone knows that these are pay-for-hire taxis.

Except that San Francisco requires every taxi driver to have a permit, called a medallion — and drivers have to go through training, background checks, and carry extensive insurance. If a driver overcharges or refuses a fare, a customer can complain to the city, and get recourse. The startups don’t follow the same rules.

There are reasons the city regulates cabs and charges hotel taxes. Cab drivers are ferrying people, some of them vulnerable; it’s only a matter of time before a rogue driver who sneaks into the new unregulated startups winds up in a horrible crash or criminally preying on riders.

Driving a cab without a medallion is illegal. Failing to pay city taxes is, too. City Hall can debate and dither and try to avoid offending the mayor (who, unfortunately, is trying to help Airbnb slide). But this is a clear-cut case of businesses flouting city law. Herrera needs to put an end to it.


Dirty war over clean power



It was supposed to be part of Ed Harrington’s legacy, and the chief of the city’s Public Utilities Commission delayed his retirement to make sure it happened.

But six months after the Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to move forward with CleanPowerSF, the plan is under attack from all sides. Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s house union is spending big chunks of money to shoot it down. The press is loaded with accounts of how expensive it’s going to be for customers. Advocates on the left are blasting it as too limited.

Critics say Harrington’s replacement, Harlan Kelly, is far less interested in making a program work that clearly lacks the support of a PG&E-friendly mayor.

That’s left Sup. David Campos, City Hall’s chief proponent for CleanPowerSF, trying to move forward with a program that, for all its flaws, is the city’s best chance to put a crack in PG&E’s monopoly.

CleanPowerSF will offer San Franciscans a greener alternative to PG&E power, most of which comes from nonrenewable sources. The city will buy renewable power in bulk, through Shell Energy, and distribute it to customers along PG&E’s lines.

A similar system is working well in Marin County, and communities all over the state are looking to see if a city the size of San Francisco — where PG&E has kept out any hint of competition for a century — can pull it off.

Clean power is more expensive right now, and that’s one sticking point: City officials recognize that not all San Franciscans will be willing to pay a premium (of perhaps $10 to $20 a month) for the option. An SFPUC survey released March 25 showed that about 45 percent of the city’s customers would pay extra for clean power and stick with the new program. Earlier studies suggested that 90,000 customers will remain with CleanPowerSF — enough to make the system financially viable.

(Interestingly, the areas most likely to pay extra to avoid fossil fuels are not the wealthiest parts of town. Most of the customers would be on the Eastside, in communities like the Mission, Potrero Hill, the Haight, and Noe Valley.)

The bigger problem with the current debate is that advocates and city officials can’t agree how much money the city ought to spend, on what schedule, to build its own renewable generation system, which would eventually replace much of the power purchased by Shell.

“In the past we would have figures and claims from all sides, and Ed Harrington would look at the numbers and figure it all out, and everybody trusted him,” Campos said. “But we don’t have Ed any more, and Kelly doesn’t seem to be as strongly behind this.”

Building a green-power infrastructure was always a critical part of the CleanPowerSF plan. And once the city has a system up and running, it can use the revenue stream to float bonds to pay for building solar, wind, and cogeneration facilities.

Over time, the locally generated power would be far cheaper than what anyone can offer today, meaning rates would come down.

“We agreed to move the sales agreement forward to get the system started, then keep working on the build-out,” Campos explained.

But a campaign by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, which represents PG&E employees and is historically allied with the company’s political goals, is trying to scare customers away with claims of high rates. And in fact, the first rate proposals were above what Campos and others were hoping for.

So the Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees CleanPowerSF for the supervisors, and the SFPUC, have send staff back to try to find ways to cut rates.

Meanwhile, Kelly wants to de-couple the public build-out from the Shell agreement, in essence launching the program with the most expensive elements in place — and potentially undermining the future of a publicly owned energy infrastructure.

That has some clean-energy advocates furious — and they’ve threatened to withdraw their support for the program.

“Ever since Harlan Kelly took over, the PUC staff has been less supportive of a robust build-out,” Eric Brooks, who works with Our City has been a longtime supporter of CleanPowerSF, told us. “We’re not saying the city should stop moving forward with the Shell deal, but the city has to continue the planning work for the build-out. It can’t be a piecemeal thing.”

The SFPUC hired a Marin-based outfit called Local Power, led by longtime clean-energy advocate Paul Fenn, to do some preliminary work on how a build-out could proceed. Fenn’s conclusion: The city could create 1,500 to 3,000 jobs and build enough renewable energy to power much of the city, over a seven-year period — at a cost of about $1 billion.

That’s a huge tab — and almost certainly more ambitious than this SFPUC and Board of Supervisors could accept.

Fenn told us that his economic analysis, presented to the SFPUC’s Rate Fairness Board Feb. 18, indicates that the city’s cash flow from CleanPowerSF with a renewable build-out would more than cover the payments on the bonds. But he also agreed that he’s suggesting the best possible alternative — and he expects the city would go for a much smaller piece.

“The Board of Supervisors hasn’t made the decision to spend that kind of money,” he said.

Fenn’s contract expired April 1, and the SFPUC hasn’t renewed it. Instead, another consultant will review Local Power’s work, Campos said.

Part of the political challenge is that Local Power has proposed that much of the build-out include what’s known as “distributed generation” — small-scale solar, wind, and cogen projects on private houses and buildings.

Those installations would be “behind the meter” — that is, they would allow households and businesses to generate their own power without buying it through PG&E’s distribution system.

The build-out proposals that the SFPUC staff have discussed are primarily larger solar arrays, some on land the city owns in the East Bay.

“That’s the most expensive way to do this, and it allows PG&E to still control the transmission and distribution,” Brooks said.

[TK-SFPUC comment Monday.]

Meanwhile, PG&E is preparing to roll out its own competing “green energy” plan — while IBEW ramps up it assault on CleanPowerSF.

The IBEW campaign includes robo-calls, mailers, and advertising, all aimed at convincing customers to opt out of the city program.

And now, with advocates from the Sierra Club to Our City criticizing the program on the left, and IBEW trying to undermine it before it gets going, there’s a real chance that a plan more than 10 years in the making could be in trouble.

That concerns Campos. “All I’m hearing from the advocates is negative,” he said. “I want more build-out, too, but unless we move forward with the program, we won’t be able to do that.”

In fact, he said, “you could wind up killing it and have nothing to show for it at all.”

That, of course, would be PG&E’s preferred alternative.

Are you experimental?



FILM At 52, the San Francisco Cinematheque is nearly the same age as the San Francisco International Film Festival, which kicks off its 56th incarnation later this month. And though there’s bound to be some filmmaker overlap between SFIFF and SF Cinematheque’s fourth annual Crossroads festival,

fans of avant-garde, experimental, and non-commercial films won’t want to miss the latter, a weekend packed with works by 48 artists across eight esoterically-titled programs.

Crossroads, which is curated by Cinematheque artistic director Steve Polta, boasts several world premieres, including a pair worthy of particular attention: Jodie Mack’s Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project, and Scott Stark’s The Realist. At 40-something minutes each, these are among the longer works included in the program; both make the most of their running times to achieve artistically innovative and thematically complex results.

A partially animated, fully musical chronicle of the rise and fall of her mother’s mail-order poster shop, Mack’s Dusty Stacks of Mom lifts its tunes and certain motifs from Dark Side of the Moon. (Though the connection is never explained, it’s likely the Dark Side poster was a best-seller for the store, which specialized in dorm-room classics.) “Come and tour with me/my mother’s poster factory,” Mack sings by way of narration, as her camera discovers piles of cardboard tubes, stacks of handwritten invoices (which hint at why the business faltered in the Internet age), and images of stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp frozen in time as their 1990s selves.

Stop-motion animation and eye-candy collages bring these paper performers to life, with Mack’s good-sport mother appearing periodically alongside what’s left of her inventory. Though some of the Pink Floyd covers-with-new-lyrics can skew a bit twee, Dusty Stacks‘ visuals never falter; this was clearly a labor-intensive labor of love for Mack, who teaches animation at Dartmouth. A particularly inspired sequence flashes between the holy trinity of college-dude decor: Che, Bob Marley, and Tony Montana.

Dusty Stacks anchors Crossroads’ “Gigs in the Sky: Let There Be More Light!”, which contains films tied together by music and “this post-Kenneth Anger kind of colorful thing,” as Polta calls it. Unlike more mainstream fests, which curate shorts programs with an eye for obvious links between the works, Polta tapped into a more intuitive process.

“The program ‘on the beach (at night)’ has a really interesting film by Jim Drain and Ben Russell called Ponce de León. It’s got these really strange camera techniques in it, and the way it deals with visual space is really interesting, outside of what it’s saying about the way people spend their time and the way generations look back and forth at each other,” he says. “When I saw the opening film of that program, Danielle Short’s Lost Ambulation, it was like, ‘Oh yeah. There’s this sort of depth and flatness going on.’ At a certain level there’s a whole thread in the avant-garde world about these issues; it’s just like talking about painting when you talk about depth and flatness.”

The programs began to take shape early on, while he was looking at all 400-something Crossroads submissions. “You start to take notes: here are some trends. This film and that film would look really interesting back to back. They start to assemble in these little sort of gravitational groups,” he says. “That’s the fun, or the challenge, of curatorial work. It’s like cooking: how can you get a certain kind of flavor, and what can you do to bring that flavor out? Here’s a really interesting film, and putting this other film next to it will sort of change the way you look at it.”

However, he adds, “I also think it’s worth leaving these connections a little bit mysterious. It’s interesting to kind of put these ideas out there and let the viewers sort of pick up on them, or not.”

Local filmmaker Scott Stark is the only artist in this year’s Crossroads to command a solo program (save the inclusion of a 1947 short by Fernand Léger). Stark’s latest, The Realist, uses flickering images of mannequins and consumer goods to investigate themes of “loneliness, desire, and presenting yourself in a certain way,” Polta says; it’s a mesmerizing work. But Polta is quick to note that, again, a sense of mystery is key to the viewing experience. “Part of the fun of The Realist is discovering, as you’re watching it, that there’s some suggestion of a narrative.”

A program of sorta-family-related films, “(as if clinging could save us),” contains another of Polta’s standouts: Jonathan Schwartz’s Animals Moving to the Sound of Drums.

“The film resonates with a well-known classical avant-garde film, [Jack Chambers’ 1970] The Hart of London, which also has to do with repetition of generational experiences through time, and relationships between animals and humans,” Polta says. More than that, though, “[Schwartz] makes films that are really bold in the ways they reach out and embrace sentimentality and emotionalism. They have a faith in sincere emotion that hasn’t been really hip in the last decade. I’d like to think that there’s a balance of that in this festival, between a certain kind of irony and a certain kind of sincerity. People are trying to work that out right now in the avant-garde world right now, whether to be sincere or ironic.”

Another emerging avant-garde star, Michael Robinson, has addressed this dichotomy in his work. His dreamy, glimmering 45-minute Circle in the Sand closes out Crossroads’ last program, “Slaves of Sleep”/”Destroy, She Said.”

“[Robinson has] made a lot of short films using found footage, stuff from video games, and music you’d hear on the radio — but in a way that sort of dares you to squeeze some real, serious emotion out of pop culture that most people would treat as this kind of ironic thing,” Polta says. “Circle in the Sand is mostly, if not completely, footage that he shot. It’s a science fiction film with a vague narrative; it feels like it’s set at a certain point in human evolution where the mundane world that we live in now isn’t going to matter anymore. It’s got a lot of mystery in it about what’s going to happen next to the human race — which is what we’re sort of leaving you with in the final program.” *


Fri/5-Sun/7, $10 (festival pass, $50)

Victoria Theatre

2961 16th St, SF



Sabor de Oaxaca



WORLD EATS The first thing you probably need to know about the magical Southern Mexican state of Oaxaca is that sensory overload is always on the menu.

Ancient sci-fi Zapotecan ruins, Technicolor one-story colonial buildings, and an endless stream of live music, whirling dance, outspoken political protest, and eye-popping art justify the eponymous capital city’s reputation as one of the most vibrant crucibles of human culture on the planet. (Seriously, there is live music and dancing, from traditional to punk, outdoors in multiple venues until 3am most nights. San Francisco, where you at?)

The soaring mountains of the countryside host innumerable villages, each with their own dazzling take on local customs and artistic expression. The beaches, like renowned global hippie-nudist beauty Zipolite, expand expectations by drawing a saucy mix of laidback locals, hard-partying city folk, and misfit spiritual wanderers from around the world who greet the golden waves with fire-twirling at sunset and impossible-looking naked yoga at dawn. And for any travelers worried that this land of UNESCO World Heritage Sites has been completely sanitized for first-world tourists, there’s plenty of everyday chaotic Mexican street life and colorful off-the-map adventures in which to satisfactorily immerse oneself.

But all that’s not even talking about the food. Any foodie explorer worth her rock salt knows that Oaxaca is the “land of the seven moles” — rich, fragrant sauces, traditionally poured over roasted turkey, made from a range of pulverized ingredients including chili peppers, chocolate, nuts, cloves, dried fruit, and tomatillos. (A great SF introduction to mole can still sometimes be found at the Mission’s La Oaxaqueña, which has unfortunately been seesawing lately between being one of the city’s best restaurants and a bacon-wrapped hot dog stand on random nights.)

But in an area where dozens of indigenous languages are still spoken and villages are separated by vertiginous, day-long hikes through spruce cloud forests dripping with blooming epiphytes and eerie Spanish moss — by all means take a couple days out of your stay for a eco hike with Expediciones Sierra Norte to blow your nature-loving mind — innovation and improvisation is a way of life. Hunky Beau and I hopped down there for a far-too-affordable March getaway, and here’s what we dug our forks into.



Mole gets all the press, but the backbone of Oaxacan street cuisine is the piping hot tlayuda, a very large grilled tortilla loaded with with bean sauce, guacamole, fresh and stringy Oaxacan cheese, and a hunk of grilled meat or scoop of zesty tinga de pollo stew that’s either served open-faced like a pizza or folded over like a crepe. The best ones we found in the city were at a pair of carts on Calle las Casas, conveniently located just down the street from the historic La Casa del Mezcal, opened in 1935. Ensconced in the Casa’s low light, you can slow-sip several kinds of maguey-derived liquor among baroquely carved wood fixtures, kitschy paintings of Zapotec warrior gods, and a motley assortment of fascinating locals. The mezcal flows until 3am, and the roughly $2.50 tlayudas even later, so you’re set for a good night out.

Oaxaca’s favorite fast food: the tlayuda. Photo by David Schnur

Or snatch a tlayuda for a perfect cheap dinner, paired with a steamy, meaty bowl of pozole from the carts down the block. (Fun fact: pozole is descended from the stew Zapotecs used to make of leftover human sacrifice parts. Now it’s mostly pork and corn.) Cheap breakfastwise, we were blown away by the scrumptious, hefty $2 morning chorizo- and omelet-filled tacquitos toasted on hot rocks by charming women on Calle García Vigil, near the Mercado 20 de Noviembre main market. Self-serve bakery Pan Bamby across from the huge, ever-bustling central zócalo serves a dizzying array of perfectly flaky empanadas for about 30 cents each, including several rare veggie options like creamed spinach and spiced vegetables. And, as always, the market is the best place to acquaint yourself cheaply with the local cuisine: witness the overflowing seafood cocktails at Mariscos Panchos and delectably overloaded roasted pork soft tacos, five for $3, at Carnitas Patlan.

Fascinating traditional drinks served at outdoor cart Nieves Cholito el Tule in the Plazuela de Carmen Alta include tejate (a crazy-sweet maize and cacao Zapotecan drink with a plasticky foam on top), chilacayote (made from a succulent squash with edible seeds as chewy treats), and syrupy tuna, a.k.a. cactus fruit.

And the mole? I want you to look up fabulously dramatic, yodeling folk singer Geo Meneses right now and imagine her backed by a full orchestra (six tubas!) in the open air of Oaxaca suburb Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan, which hosts enchanting, slightly witchy open-air Tuesday evening “Martes de Brujas” concerts, featuring an array of miracle street tamales from local venodors: chicken marinated in chocolaty mole negro, pork in tangy red mole coloradito or zippy mole verde, wrapped in eucalyptus-like yerba santa leaf. Kind of unbelievable.



Mole, of course, also served as an entry into the more experimental cuisine of this tastebud paradise. When you can get a three-course meal for two with a bottle of surprisingly satisfying Mexican wine (Casa Madero of Parras de la Fuente is producing a quality chenin blanc, and Baja’s Cavas Valmar a perky grenache) for around $50, we went and splurged a little.

Intimate and colorful La Olla, near the imposing Santa Domingo church, is where you go for regional authenticity with flair. Wide, thin slices of beef tongue soaked in a mole verde of almonds, raisins, tomatillo, and cilantro; mole negro de fandango, a fantasy-fulfilling 25-ingredient mole negro over roasted chicken; and mole amarillo con pitiona, lively and yellow with corn masa, three kinds of peppers, and lemon verbena vanished from our table in a mad scramble of sauce-sopping tortillas.

La Biznaga is the hip joint, a “very slow regional food” operation named for a portly flowering cactus, its large courtyard decked out in vibrant Cuban hues, with towering chalkboards announcing the fascinating menu and a globe-hopping clientele lapping up pulque cocktails. (Mixing with milky, beer-like pulque, derived from the maguey plant, is super-trendy in Mexico right now, and should hit here any minute.) An appetizer of yerba santa-wrapped bricks of Oaxacan cheese drizzled with citrus liqueur-infused crema came off a lot lighter than it sounds. “El Necio,” a large hunk of flank steak stewed in a mole-like sauce of smoked chili, plums, and mezcal submerged us in flavor world several fathoms deep, while a mushroom and goat cheese-spiked coloradito lifted a fleshy fish fillet to the top of our list.

Jicama taquitos with grasshoppers, corn smut, and quesillo at Casa Oaxaca. Photo by David Schnur

If you’re looking for a true gourmet Oaxacan experience, though, the gorgeous Mission-style Casa Oaxaca, with its upstairs dining patio overlooking the kaleidoscopic downtown street hustle, is where you’ll find some of the most forward-thinking menu items that still pack an authentic local punch. Salsa is mixed and ground to tasted tableside in traditional molcajete mortar. Start with the exquisite, crunchy jicama taquitos filled with fried grasshoppers, cuitlacoche (corn smut), and quesillo cheese. Then, as the candlelight and atmosphere take hold, move on to absurdly tender venison bathed in ethereal mole amarillo and juicy slices of duck breast covered in nutty, deep orange mole almendrado.

Finally, for desert, slip back out into the captivating streets and share the refreshing carrot-apple-pecan ice cream flavor Beso Oaxaqueño, as the hypnotic local marimba music known as son istmeño drifts from the zócalo.

Two men, one spark



TOFU AND WHISKEY It’s the B-story scene that rules 1983’s Valley Girl. Popped collar-sporting Skip is nervously riding his bike to the suburban home of his preppy high school girlfriend, Suzi — but we the audience know he’s more interested in her young step-mom. (He met the feisty Valley mom when she served him sushi at a house party. Gross me out.) It’s a palpable moment of orgasmic anticipation — with a surprise twist — that bops along perfectly to the soundtrack: “Eaten By the Monster of Love,” by experimental pop duo, Sparks (www.allsparks.com).

“Well, it’s worse than war, it’s worse than death/There ain’t too many left who ain’t been/Eaten by the monster of love(Don’t let it get me),” Sparks vocalist Russell Mael opines with a wide-ranging, Broadway-ready bravado, as his brother Ron Mael tickles a bouncy new wave blast out of his keyboards and synthesizers.

This is just one iteration of Sparks — the flashy new wave version, proudly on display in ’82’s Angst in My Pants LP, two tracks of which were used in that early Nicolas Cage vehicle, Valley Girl. But that’s only a small snippet of the band’s robust timeline, which got a running start in ’71 at UCLA, and continues to this day, with 22 albums and counting.

Sparks has had countless rebirths since the first record was released in ’71, the band then known as Halfnelson. There have been landmark albums like ’74’s electric Kimono My House, with that iconic cover of two powdered and kimono-swathed ladies, along with ’83’s synth-heavy In Outer Space, ’02’s chamber pop Lil’ Beethoven, and most recently, ’09’s The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, a radio musical commissioned by Sveriges Radio Radioteatern, the radio drama department of Sweden’s national radio broadcaster. (More on that later.)

“It seems like the people that stick with Sparks appreciate that the band doesn’t rest on its laurels,” says Russell, a lifelong Angeleno, speaking to me from his home “in the hills above Beverly Hills.”

“I think that’s why we’re really proud of what we’re doing now; it doesn’t sound like a band that’s necessary had 22 albums,” he says. “Someone can come in fresh — a person that’s maybe never heard of Sparks — and if they hear the latest thing, we would be just as happy as we would be for them to have heard the first album.”

Sparks will perform much of its extensive back catalog during its Two Hands, One Mouth (the hands on the keyboard, mouth at the mic) tour’s rare stop in San Francisco next week, April 9 and 10 at the Chapel, 777 Valencia, SF. www.thechapelsf.com. As of press time, only April 10 is sold out.

The brothers Mael have recorded with dozens of other musicians over the decades, and nearly always toured with a live backing band, so the Two Hands, One Mouth trip has been a unique challenge. “It’s kind of the ultimate expression of self-containment for the band,” Russell says. “We just thought that at this point, it might be an interesting challenge to see what would happen if we just played as the two of us, and without computers or backing tracks.”

He adds, as if reading my mind, “It sounds simple, but we also didn’t want it to read as oh, singer-songwriter, that kind of thing where it lulls you to sleep with an acoustic guitar. We wanted it to keep the power that Sparks has had with the recordings and live band.”

The process has been about choosing the appropriate songs from the duo’s rich recording history, and distilling it with just one keyboard, and vocals. So far, the tour’s been well-received in Europe and Japan, with fans commenting on how this format has brought the strong vocals and songwriting to the forefront.

And the Maels work hard to layer those lyrics with humor, depth, and a drop of speculation. “It’s important to us to have something that’s provocative, but in ways that maybe aren’t like, being a punk band with a stance that you know what it is in five minutes. The Sparks stance is a little bit hard to articulate and place. We kind of like that too, that there is an ambiguity to what we’re doing.”

Their most recent project is that The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman piece. The plot of the radio drama is a farcical situation imagining that Ingmar Bergman had been lured to Hollywood and got trapped in the LA film industry in his worst nightmare — a big-budget action film he can’t figure out how to escape. The Swedish radio spot went so well that Sparks was asked to perform it live at the LA Film Festival last year, where they did so with a cast of 14.

The brothers are currently working on turning it into an ongoing theatrical performance — and also a motion picture. They have the Canadian director Guy Madden on board to direct, but still need the financial backing, so they’ll be flying out to the Cannes Film Festival in May to look for funders.

But before Cannes, Sparks will first play the massive sweaty shitshow that is Coachella for the first time. And yes, they will do it as a stripped-down duo — still just Two Hands, One Mouth.

“We know the show works in our own context, so we thought we should be faithful to ourselves and do it there as well, even if it seems incongruous with what you might expect at a big festival,” Russell says. Do I detect a tiny smirk through the phone? Perhaps wishful thinking on my end.

“It’ll be received however it will be received — [but] it will be different from other things there,” he says. “You tend to get blinded by an assault of 160 indie bands doing their indie thing. We’ll be doing whatever we do, whatever you want to call it.”



With swelling crescendos, emotional lyrics, gothy undertones, and shimmering vocals in tow, UK post-rock trio Esben and the Witch comes across the pond for the first time in two years, on tour with newest record, Wash The Sins Not Only The Face (Matador). Should be a witchy one. With Heliotropes.

Thu/4, 9pm, $13. Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission, SF. www.brickandmortarmusic.com.



Lyrically gifted young Oakland rapper Glam.I.Rock — the first half an acronym for “Good Lyrics And Music” — will perform a free in-store during Art Murmur this Friday. If you want to be in on an artist at the tipping point, this would be your chance. The MC has that classic ’90s female-empowerment hip-hop vibe but with some different interests (check the “Who is Glam.I.Rock?” video of her tapping out the Rugrats theme), and a more modern style.

Though like her predecessors, she still very much reps her home-base, performing “Inspire Oakland” at Oakland Digital’s Inspiration Awards last December. Makes sense, she’s the daughter of Nic Nac — the only female member of the Mobb crew — and Dangerous Dame, a member of Too $hort’s Dangerous Crew. Glam.I.Rock’s debut EP, The Feel, recently dropped on Savvie1ent/The Olive Street Agency.

Fri/5, 8pm, free. Oaklandish, 1444 Broadway, Oakl. www.oaklandish.com.


Precious Metal



MUSIC A lot of elements needed to come together to inspire Metal Mother’s new record, Ionika. You can almost picture the woman behind the sobriquet, crouching in some foggy wooded wonderland, scooping up soil and critters, ancient buried treasures of forgotten societies and precious metals. Before we get into specifics, let’s slip off the mask. Metal Mother is really, mostly, the glossy coating of one delicate Oakland musician: Taara Tati.

In between the release and subsequent tour after her first album, 2011’s Bonfire Diaries, and the making of Ionika, which comes out in a week on April 16, Tati collected experiences that affected her future output. She picked wisdom up from extensive travels, Pagan and Celtic traditions, tales of ancient warrior women, and Sufjan Steven’s ’10 album The Age of Adz (which she listened to while exploring Europe for a month). Add to that Game of Thrones, the city of Oakland, the music of Son Lux, and all of Kate Bush. But the clearest running thread throughout Ionika is fascination with Druids.

“Getting into the whole ancient Celtic cultures thing, it was very matriarchal and tribal,” she says, sitting in her “incredibly cheap” Victorian in downtown Oakland. “It was a really profound lifestyle. The more I discover about that, the more I want to learn about it, to be able to see that history and sort of represent that in a way, or glean some power from that.”

She references the culture’s interest in psychoactive medicines, and Queen Boudica, a Joan of Arc-like figure of a British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the Roman Empire.

“I really came into a full-on obsession last year when I was traveling in Europe. I went on this full journey to all these different ancient sites and sacred sites, and it was empowering for me to be there, and to feel the history of that land, and… my ancestors.”

Her lifelong inspirations, however, seem to have sprung from competing worlds; darkness and light, the electronic and the natural, woman and machine. And all those influences, all those cosmic connections are poured chaotically into Ionika, a densely layered, moody, and deeply spiritual release of 11 solid tracks.

The key track is first single “Prism,” a stunning Grimes-ish (if Grimes were a bit more wild) song with Tati’s many vocal tracks delicately laced throughout twitchy beats and drums. Equally breathy is “Prism”‘s sonic twin “Tactillium.” Some tracks waver questionably — “Windexx’d” kicks off with a harrowing grind and ghostly howl — while others sound as if they were ripped directly from her innards. The epic “Little Ghost” (clocking in at 7 minutes and 29 seconds) begins lightly with Tati’s crisp, otherworldly soprano vocals and a few click-click-clicks of the machines, then builds into an Enya-esque soundscape, with gently pulsating electronic drum hits.

Much of Ionika’s form and sensibility came from David Earl, an Oakland producer and sound engineer whom Tati met through friends. A multi-instrumentalist, Tati would write the songs’ skeletons alone in her Victorian — along with the vocals, and most of the melodies — then bring them to Earl and the two of them would pile on those folded ribbons of sound, with Earl adding crucial rhythms with beats and additional backing tracks.

“It was kind of insane, we had so many crazy, creative whims we went with. We didn’t really delete as much as I thought we were going to delete in the end, you know? We just went for it.”

“He took everything and put it on digital steroids, basically,” she says.



Tati was raised “literally in the woods in Northern California,” in tiny Occidental, Calif. (population: 1,115) in Sonoma County, just west of Santa Rosa.

“I was left to entertain myself with the birds and insects and the critters out there. I have a huge love for the elemental part of the world, and also tribal rhythms and acoustic music and basic sounds forms in that way.”

These influences are clear in the earthly, rich melodies and rhythms of Metal Mother. The other half to her whole came when she began exploring rave culture in the ’90s. This is where she discovered electronic music.

It took both of these elements — the lush forest hangouts and the eye-opening rave nights to create the Metal Mother sound and aesthetic.

“It’s not super planned out, but those are just my preferences,” Tati says.

And yet, from the beginning, Tati has been almost entirely in control of her sound and career. While she’s picked up local musicians along the way, in particular to play as her backing band at live shows, and of course, Earl was a huge part of Ionika, she’s been the only constant of Metal Mother.

“I made every creative choice around the album,” she says. “I’m trying to really preserve my own sense of spirituality within putting out an image of myself around my music, to the world, outside of my own personal circle. That’s a huge part of who I am on a daily basis. I love herbs, rituals, and everything witchy, and I don’t want to have to tone that side down.” She laughs, a warm, frequent, occasionally nervous-sounding giggle.

After spending her early 20s in the street performance and renegade guerrilla performance art scene — mostly as part of the North Bay Art and Revolution, and a renegade little troupe called Action Creature Theatre — Tati unexpectedly shifted focus to music. She’d always dabbled in keyboards, but had never taken playing too seriously. And she’d all along been crafting poems and songs of her own. (Her mother was a theater director, which might explain the affinity for all things artistic expression.)

After friends discovered her “funny, quirky little keyboard songs,” they convinced her to play live, which she did and then quickly found her calling. “I’ve just been following all the open doors, that’s kind of how I operate my life. It’s just like, [going] where the doors are opening. And the doors started opening with music, rapidly, so I just went that direction.”

She named her new project Metal Mother, after the elemental fierceness of a mother and also a planet.

“I was just kind of wanting it to be like, maternal and loving and nurturing obviously, because I like to make pretty music and feel euphoric, but also that kind of fierceness because yeah, the world is a crazy place,” she says. “You’ve got to have that strength to endure some of the crude realities we’re faced with.” Those realities seem clearer when she describes looking out her bedroom window, to the poverty she’s faced with daily outside her doorstep, the homeless people huddled across the street, the loud chaos of the city whizzing by.

The name “Metal Mother” itself came from Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in which he talks of an ancient Chinese myth about the marriage of the Metal Mother and the Wood Prince — and that’s what brought lightness and darkness together, creating the human race.

It took most critics a minute to figure out that Metal Mother was not, in fact, a metal act.

After first album Bonfire Diaries came out in ’11, with its exhilarating single, “Shake,” Metal Mother was hailed as “ambient, sexy,” “beautiful, eerie, unfamiliar.” One review described the album as “tight, ethereal art pop filled with Bjork avant ambiance, Kate Bush drama, and tense Celtic underpinnings.”

Tati was on the cover of Performer Magazine, and featured in the Guardian’s first “On the Rise” batch of up-and-coming musicians last year, in which I wrote she was “some sort of neon, acid-drenched wood nymph.” (It works especially in the context of the video for “Shake,” viewing of which is highly suggested.)



Now, with the hardest part of Ionika over, Tati is free to pursue her next big project — Post Primal, a kind of loosely defined record label and collective she’s working to put together. Ionika is the label’s first release, and the only other band so far officially involved is Mortar and Pestle. But Tati has big plans for the near-future, boosted by others acts approaching her to express interest in Post Primal. Though, she admits, they’re still in the process of defining just what it will be.

“The whole goal is really to have a platform for more context for all of us to associate ourselves with. It’s also more of a collective, because I don’t really have a ton of money or anything to put out anybody else’s record, it’s just basically like we’re sharing resources, we’re sharing contacts and exposure.”

She also is hoping to find a warehouse space in Oakland to put on interactive collective showcases, and create a hub, a new music community in the heart of the adopted city she’s clearly still enamored of, more than six years after moving here. “I love Oakland so much. I’ve gone to a lot of other cities and checked out a lot of other scenes, but I always come home like, this is where I need to be, and this is where I want to grow.”

Metal Mother’s record release party takes place next month, May 2 at Public Works (www.publicsf.com) with all female-front acts: Tearist, Uncanny Valley, and Some Ember.


Three for the road



VISUAL ART Traveling juggernaut Christian Marclay: The Clock touches down at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this week for the latest stop along its endless summer tour of major world museums.

Marclay’s sprawling, oh-shit-inducing video work collages 24 hours worth of clips taken from both obscure and popular films, during each minute of which the correct time is shown on screen. Nominally, the artwork is about the representation of time in film, but it also manages to address some pretty heady concerns, including both the legacy of sweeping Victorian Age attempts to organize every last thing, and also the postmodern, now-seamless interchangeability of simulacrum with reality, making The Clock possibly the perfectly appropriate artwork for the era of Big Data. For the art wonk set, it caps conceptual investigations about indexes and taxonomies that stretch back at least as far as the 1970s, serving as the new-media, zero-degree equivalent of Ad Reinhardt’s all-black paintings. But more than that, it’s something unnervingly similar to Jorge Luis Borges’ fictional map of the world that is the same size as the world, an eerie herald of the age of Orwellian mindfuck as art.

You’re going to see it. Of course you are; it’s the most talked-about work of art since Damien Hirst dropped a preserved shark into a vitrine. But that said, you’re very unlikely to see all of it, unless you do so in May during one of SFMOMA’s scheduled 24-hour viewings.

And if you should give the entire viewing a go, you’ll be participating in what I suspect is the subversive heart of the The Clock, one that makes the entire concept of real time a kind of flimsy absurdism. Actually sitting in the museum in front of a single piece of work for a full day becomes a kind of performance, observing not just the comings and goings on screen, but also in the theater, engaging and disengaging in real life in equal, contesting proportion.

Marclay’s exhibition completes a crescendo at the museum, peaking just before the building closes for expansion, and the exhibits hit the road for various area temporary sites over the next couple years. Together with the current shows dedicated to photographer Garry Winogrand and architect Lebbeus Woods, The Clock is the third in SFMOMA’s trilogy on prolonged, meticulous fascination executed with utmost competence.

And about that Garry Winogrand retrospective, which in its way is even more overwhelming than the Marclay show: the thing you can’t escape while hopping, transfixed, from image to image, is that not only have half of these 300 photographs — many of them stunning — never been shown before, but that it was assembled from a massive archive including some 250,000 images that have never been seen, promising that Winogrand’s posthumous career will stretch on for quite a while.

And good thing, too, since these photographs, while rooted in the mid-late 20th century, are timelessly contemporary. We immediately recognize in them the same mix of unease, willful optimism, and absurdity that mark the post-9/11 world, realizing that disjointedness to be both a continuous thread and defining characteristic of American social fabric.

On the continuum of photographers, Winogrand is somewhere between Weegee’s operatic flair and Walker Evans’ incisive and empathic eye. There are definitely theatrical liberties taken with composition, but at heart Winogrand is a humanist. His particular knack inverts spectacles and intimacies, and his off-kilter shots deliver their actors amid a slippery, complicated search for the American dream.

His famous quote, that “there is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described,” speaks to both the allure and the central lie of his (and indeed all) photography. Although he began his career as a photojournalist, his main contribution was visual poetry over raw documentation. The tone of Winogrand’s later work, during which he focused on taking rather than developing or reviewing his photographs, is shot through with distress and disillusionment, as if the world imploded and dissolved completely somewhere around 1977. That late work, long ignored and incompletely catalogued, is featured here, and feels increasingly familiar and prescient.

On the second floor of the museum, the Lebbeus Woods retrospective offers a tonal break from the intense scrutiny of human interaction exhibited by the Marclay and Winogrand shows, but is no less sweeping or meticulous. Woods was a visionary architect of the possible, and although only one of his large scale projects was ever constructed, his psychologically-charged, intellectually-overloaded vision continues to reverberate throughout architecture and design worlds.

The show of 175 works, including models, drawings, and prints, is framed roughly by the Woods quote, “Maybe I can show what could happen if we lived by a different set of rules.” In the Woods universe, those rules bend physics and gravity for the sake of a complete reimagining of human-built structures. Part sci-fi, part utopian thought-experiment, the carefully and expertly drafted renderings of Woods’ theoretical architectural systems are as dizzyingly hypnotic as they are confounding to normal, run-of-the mill concepts of what a building is or should be.



April 6-June 2



Through June 2

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St, SF www.sfmoma.org