The Greek deities might throw lightning bolts and issue stormy protests, but when I first saw Erase Errata in November 2001, they seemed less a fledgling local all-girl band than scruffy goddesses sprung full grown from the temple of … Mark E. Smith. The year-and-a-half-old foursome opened for the newly reenergized, near-surfabilly Fall and they were staggering — seeming grrrlish prodigies who picked up the sharp, jagged tools discarded by Smith with a confidence that seemed Olympian (as in Washington State and Zeus’s heavenly homestead). On their way to All Tomorrow’s Parties in LA, vocalist–trumpet player Jenny Hoyston, guitarist Sara Jaffe, bassist Ellie Erickson, and drummer Bianca Sparta were poised to speak in primal feminist riddles while constructing their own dissonant wing to the Fall’s aural complex, one comprising driving, weirdo time signatures; raw, textural guitar; and atonal washes.
It was not the type of performance you might expect from Hoyston, 32, who grew up stranded in a singular God’s country in the “dry,” extremely Christian, and very un–rock ’n’ roll town of Freeport, Texas, where she was once more likely to be Bible thumping instead of guitar thrumming. “I was a born-again Christian, Republican. I was engaged,” says Hoyston today, gazing out on the concrete beer garden of el Rio where she regularly does sound and books shows. “I thought my life had to be this one way.”
So what turned her toward the path of big-daddy demon rock?
“Uh, LSD,” she says drily.
Actually it was the empty feeling that engulfed her despite all the church-related activities she threw herself into — that and the life-changing spectacle of SF dyke punk unit Tribe 8 playing her college town of Lansing, Mich. “I was just really impressed by how free those crazy people seemed. It just seemed really beautiful,” she explains. “And I didn’t necessarily come out here to meet them and hang out with them. Straight-up punk is not really my kind of music. But I think they are just so powerful. They came to town and made all the queers feel like they were going to go to this place, maybe even with their boyfriend and hold their hands and not get beat up. I wanted to get that empowered.”
There are still more than a few remnants of that sweet, shy Texas back-roads girl that Hoyston once was: She speaks gently and looks completely nondescript in her black T-shirt and specs, padding around el Rio as the petal-soft air of an SF summer afternoon burns into the deep velvet pelt of night. Some might mistake her watchful awkwardness for holier- or hipper-than-thou aloofness. But here at her dive, waiting for Tank Attack and Fox Pause to materialize for the first Wednesday show she books, she’s in her element, playing Bee Gees tracks and disco hits between the bands, running the PA, and busying herself by distributing flyers for an upcoming Pam Grier movie night.
“I’m excited about tonight’s show because it’s not a big heavy-drinking crowd,” Hoyston offers sincerely.
Erase Errata’s vocalist and now guitarist is far from an archetypal star, even as her band has become more than a little well-known in indie, underground, and experimental music circles. The seniors in a small smart class of all-female groups in the Bay Area — including conceptual metal-noise supergroup T.I.T.S. and experimental noise Midwestern transplants 16 Bitch Pileup — they share with those bands an embrace of threatening, cacophonous sonics and edge-rockin’, artful yet intuitive tendencies that inevitably meet the approval of those persnickety noise boys, an approach Hoyston is now fully conscious of.
“I think had our music been slightly less confrontational, we would have been dismissed a lot quicker,” she says. “I think people thought we had cred because we were being hard, y’know.”
Weasel Walter — who first lived in Hoyston’s former Club Hott warehouse in Oakland upon moving from Chicago — can validate that perspective. His band, Flying Luttenbachers, played nightly with Erase Errata, Lightning Bolt, Locust, and Arab on Radar as part of the Oops! Tour in 2002. “Every night I got to watch them play intense, energetic versions of songs from their entire catalog and also began to understand what a complex organism the band was, musically and personally,” he e-mails. “Bianca and Ellie are a fantastic rhythm section, and Jenny is an LSD poetess and standup comedienne without peer!”
Erase Errata’s new, third album, Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars), is the latest sign of untrammeled spirit and uncontainable life in the band — and in the all-woman band form. Hoyston may personally favor a more low-key version of nightlife — not so with her art and lyrics.
Now a threesome after the departure of Jaffe in 2004 for grad school and a temporary stint by A Tension’s Archie McKay on token-male vocals, the band has become both more directly melodic and more pointedly politicized. The echoing, droning, rotating police copter blades of the title track demonstrate that they are far from detached from their boundary-testing inclinations, but otherwise — while other bands of their turn-of-the-century generation have quieted down, folked up, or simply folded — Erase Errata wind up for an energizing, wake-up kick in the ball sac with Nightlife, aimed at those who claim that the underground has been far too escapist, evasive, or simply mute when it comes to polemics and art punk.
Borrowing American Indian powwow rhythms (“Take You”) and sandblasted rockabilly beats (“Rider”), along with their more archetypal ragged textures (“Dust”), the band skates between the urgency of midperiod Sleater-Kinney and the honking dissonance of DNA, as Hoyston coos, “While you’re too broke to not commit a crime/ Your federal government knows that this is true/ More prisons/ More people have to die” on “Another Genius Idea from Our Government.” The group lets its anger and outrage drive the songs — allowing a Gang of Four–style frenetic punk funk to propel “Tax Dollar” (“American bastard, murderous bitch/ Traitor to humans/ So rebel! Get on the run”) — but not consume them. They stop to study the world around them — be it the well-armed paranoid desert rats of “Rider” (which finds Hoyston turning the phrase “Where everybody has a gun/ Everybody has a knife” into a wildly western horror show of a hook) or the street-level violence that bleeds into the gender wars on “He Wants What’s Mine” (“Hey Beautiful!/ Take it into the night, I’ll walk beside you and steal/ Your life like a carving knife”).
Hoyston attributes the tone of the album to her move from Oakland to San Francisco. “In general, I started to notice things around my city that kind of woke me up to national situations, when I think I’d been a little bit dormant on that front as well. So I got really inspired,” she says. “I think At Crystal Palace [Troubleman, 2003] isn’t as political a record as Other Animals  was. I think it was more us being artistic and more me lyrically just existing in a purely artistic realm and not really thinking about, well, yeah, I am political. I have feelings and I can express them in art and they can actually reach a wide audience. I think I just rerealized the power of the tool of having a voice.”
The band never had any intention of making their music a career: In fact, Erase Errata began as an outright joke played on Hoyston’s Club Hott housemate Luis Illades of Pansy Division. Hoyston moved to the Bay Area in the late ’90s, where she began working in the Guardian’s accounting department; formed California Lightning with her best friend, Bianca Sparta; and met Ellie Erickson (who was in Nebraska all-girl teen band XY and also later worked at the Guardian) and through her, Sara Jaffe.
“When Sara and I met each other, it was, like, ‘OK, are we going to go out or are we going to start a band together? Why don’t we do something more long-term and start a band together?’” recalls Hoyston. “You know when you meet somebody and you have so much in common with them and they’re actually queer? It’s a really powerful thing.”
Even now, the once painfully timid Hoyston marvels, “I seriously can’t believe I’m a front person for a band. It was seriously a joke that I was going to sing for this band because I considered myself an accomplished guitar player — not a front person, by any means. I think front people are really pretty or cute or sexy and all the kind of things that I don’t see myself as. We were just making up songs and people would hear and say, ‘Omigod, what was that? Will you guys play with us?’”
That dirty word for this noncareerist group — momentum — came into play, and Erase Errata discovered themselves on tour with Sonic Youth and Numbers, as, Hoyston says, she challenged herself “with, like, can I get in front of all these people and act like a fool and try to sing weird and sing good and get confident and maybe even feel aggressive, the way my bandmates were challenging each other with instruments? It’s something that eventually kind of came easier and easier over time. And now I can sit down and talk to you.”
The key to Nightlife’s success lies, perhaps, in the fact that the band is still pushing itself, musically and artistically. “I think it’s women’s music,” ponders Hoyston. “There’s still something odd about some of the music we’re making. It’s still atonal at times, some parts might be a little awkward, some parts might go on too long. Here and there, things are like that intentionally. We still try to keep things a little bit difficult for ourselves to pull off live. So I think it’s made for people who might appreciate an interesting take on pop punk, maybe.”
Pop punk! Nightlife is still not exactly Vans Warped Tour material, though one punk godfather might approve. Sort of, according to Hoyston, who conjures her most memorable encounter with Fall guy Mark E. Smith: “I was a smoker back then, and Mark E. Smith walked right up to me and took my cigarette right out of my hand as I was putting it up to my lips and smoked it all the way down to the filter and then flicked it at me and said, ‘See ya, kid.’ In a really mean, mean, mean way! Then he went out onstage and did the encore. And I was just, like, ‘He stole my cigarette! That’s great!’ Because he’s like an … icon to me.
“I don’t like him necessarily. I don’t think he’s a nice person…. He’s a real jerk in general. But I love the Fall.”
The gods can be merciless — and forgiving — though Hoyston would be the first to debunk any of that vaporous junk. Amid Erase Errata’s achievements and her own multiple solo incarnations such as Paradise Island, it’s clear she’s no goddess. She’s simply very human and just trying to stay active. “I’m just really into demystifying things for myself,” she says. “I mean, if I wanted to be mystified, I’d still be in church.” SFBG
Guardian Best of the Bay party
Aug. 2, 9 p.m.
60 Sixth St., SF
CD release party with T.I.T.S.
Aug. 4, 7 p.m.
3158 Mission, SF
- No categories
In 1967, the Bay Area’s Brotherhood of Light transformed the average rock show into a full-blown psychedelic spectacle. Using 16mm film and Technicolor dyes and oils, the collective began projecting swirling visuals on larger-than-life backdrops at venues like the Fillmore. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and, of course, the Dead all got the Brotherhood treatment. The projectionists definitely livened up those 20-minute drum solos — Iron Butterfly, I’m looking at you — but ultimately, their improvisations couldn’t continuously jell with the music.
“Traditionally it’s been, put up the trippy image, and sometimes it’ll hit and look cool, but not always,” says Small Sails multi-instrumentalist Ethan Rose. “Not that there aren’t more people doing syncing today, [but] that became kind of our whole MO — let’s do something more with this and make it part of the performance.”
Sonically speaking, Small Sails is a trio. Three Portland, Ore., musicians trade off on keyboards, guitar, vibraphones, and drums to concoct an electro-organic, mostly instrumental panorama reminiscent of a less melancholy Album Leaf. But in keeping with their visual focus, the band formerly called Adelaide is actually composed of four members. Ryan Jeffery, who’s collaborated with Rose since their days at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, handles the projectionist duties.
The use of 16mm projectors isn’t unique by today’s standards: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the Rachel’s, and Broadcast have used them. But Small Sails — which played its first Bay Area show in March and has since opened for Fog and the Helio Sequence — is one of the few acts to tout its projectionist as a full-fledged member.
It’s easy to understand why. Jeffery, who cites New York artist Bruce McClure as an inspiration, doesn’t simply press a few buttons and drink Amstels during the show. He literally plays two dueling Kodak Analyst IIs, projectors Rose discovered by chance at an old camera shop in San Diego five years ago. (Incidentally, the model was a favorite among football coaches in the late 1970s because its variable-speed control allows footage to be viewed at a mesmerizing eight frames per second; real time is three times that rate.)
Looping 10 minutes of footage into a 45-minute set, Jeffery will tinker with speed, pull things in and out of focus, and use his hands to create subtle strobing effects timed perfectly to a shift in the melody. Though there are no LSD-inspired Rorschach swirls, the way he mashes up a rural landscape from one projector with a random figure’s silhouette via the other highlights the abstract vibe of a project that’s trippy in its own right but never long-winded.
While Adelaide stretched its post-rock meanders to seven minutes, Small Sails injects a lighter pop sensibility that keeps the music trim and utterly buoyant. After a few radio blips and digital hiccups, “Aftershocks and Afterthoughts,” an unreleased song that may appear on their debut, flows forth in a wave of catchy guitar noodles, crisp beats, and spacey ambient noise that layers and peaks in under a minute. Then as a punchy synth hook enters the mix (think: Duran Duran’s “The Chauffer” sped up and almost danceable), a bright “hi-oh, hi-oh” vocal refrain comes charging in. The words are sparse and nonsensical, but somehow such ambiguity is what helps make Small Sails so compelling, both on record and in person.
“The aim is to gently guide a narrative idea, but at the same time it’s not telling some specific personal narrative. It’s sort of everybody’s narrative,” Rose says. “With the imagery and the colors and the sounds, it creates this space that opens up emotionally to a whole bunch of different places for different people. It’s a platform for an open experience.”
The Brotherhood would be proud. SFBG
With Lazarus and Only
Thurs/13, 9 p.m.
500 Fourth St., SF
Low-flying Seattle ethnomusic label Sublime Frequencies has been in business for less than three years, but in that time established itself as easily the most happening label around in terms of hard-to-find music from overseas. In fact, it’s created a niche that didn’t even really exist before, steadily churning out kaleidoscopic and often in-your-face CDs and DVDs from places as far flung as Iraq, Java, North Korea, and Nepal, releases that are equally at home in the world music and experimental sections at a record store.
I don’t love everything they’ve put out, but I have listened to every note of the more than 20 CDs released so far — I’ve missed a few DVDs, I admit — and a handful of them have become personal favorites. Another half dozen have landed in heavy rotation on the home stereo at various points. I’ve especially enjoyed the label’s presentation of music from Southeast Asia, including two discs compiled by Bay Area musician Mark Gergis of Porest and Neung Phak — Molam: Thai Country Groove From Isan and Cambodian Cassette Archives: Khmer Folk and Pop Music Vol. 1 — and several more assembled by label head Alan Bishop of the Sun City Girls, including the frantic Radio Phnom Penh and last fall’s unstoppable Guitars of the Golden Triangle: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar Vol. 2. The massive amount of material the pair cull from radio, vinyl, cassettes, and field recordings is beyond the reach of most file sharers because the majority would have no idea where to start downloading, and Gergis and Bishop put out their findings without much information or regard for sound quality or marketability. What I like about the music on these discs is the blend of familiarity and strangeness, of traditional and modern influences.
The latest batch from Sublime Frequencies unleashes music from Algeria and Northeast Cambodia, as well as a couple of new ones from Thailand: a two-CD set titled Radio Thailand: Transmissions from the Tropical Kingdom and a DVD, Phi Ta Khan: Ghosts of Isan. Radio Thailand was compiled by Gergis and Bishop, who each produced a disc, and like all the label’s Radio titles, it is a fast-paced collage of music, advertisements, and news snippets spliced together from hours of radio broadcast recordings. Segues are abrupt at times, and the fidelity varies wildly. While the experience as a whole is like watching TV while someone else is wielding the remote, at least the content is more interesting than flipping between, say, VH1, Court TV, and lame reality shows.
Listening to Radio Thailand’s second disc, I’m struck by the futility of trying to describe this music in any sort of useful detail. I don’t know the artists’ names, the song titles, or the years any of the music was released. I can’t understand the lyrics and don’t know the names of most of the genres or subgenres represented. Now and then a familiar snippet pops up, like the tune from Ennio Morricone’s theme to For a Few Dollars More — only it’s dressed up in low-budget ’80s synth tones and slapped on top of a disco beat with a guy singing a completely unrelated melody during the verses. There are syrupy ballads, droning a cappella chants, and lots of bouncy ’80s synth pop that sounds absolutely nothing like New Order. Now and then, a voice in English emerges from the wilderness, but it’s inevitably a non sequitur: an announcement for a giant catfish fry, a report on the quality of Thai rubber, a woman announcing, “I have 20 minutes left with you guys, at least. Like, 22 minutes. No, 21 minutes and something.” Unless you’ve been to Thailand and spent hours flipping through the radio dial — and I certainly haven’t — then you probably haven’t heard anything like this.
In contrast to the information onslaught of Radio Thailand, the recent DVD Phi Ta Khan: Ghosts of Isan is far more deliberate in its pacing. Produced by Rob Millis of the Seattle group Climax Golden Twins, the video documents a three-day festival in the northern Thai region of Isan, near the border with Laos. This region is the home of the hypnotic, droning molam style featured on the aforementioned Thai Country Groove CD, and there’s plenty of that music to be heard here. There’s zero narration and Millis doesn’t employ any fancy production tricks, but none of that is needed, as the costumes, dancing, and music are colorful enough on their own. In addition to the religious-occult focus of the festival, there’s also apparently a fertility ritual at work, judging by the vast assortment of phallic symbols on hand: handheld penises, wooden penis puppets with movable parts, you name it. One particularly bizarre scene involves two men trying to repair the damaged member belonging to one of the giant costumed mascots.
The incredible music here ranges from giant percussion ensembles composed of ordinary villagers to full-on electrified combos rolling down the street on the back of flatbed trucks equipped with generators and huge stacks of speakers. At one point, a nasty fuzz-tone keyboard sound surfaces amid the din, but before you can ask, “Where did that come from?” it turns out to be nothing but a Casio being run through a couple of battered PA cones on the back of a moving pickup truck. This scene, like the entire DVD, embodies the sort of low-budget mayhem at the heart of the label’s seat-of-the-pants aesthetic. You won’t find this stuff at Starbucks. SFBG
SUBLIME FREQUENCIES PRESENTS
PHI TA KHAN: GHOSTS OF ISAN AND SUMATRAN FOLK CINEMA
Fri/14, 8 p.m.
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS WITH
HERB DIAMANTE, POREST (MARK GERGIS), AND SEA DONKEYS
Sat/15, 9:30 p.m.
1131 Polk, SF
Prohibition saw the blossoming of alcoholic communing. Antismoking laws brought smokers closer together. So what about this musical wolf craze, Wolfmothers and Wolfkings, the endless urge to shape-shift? We’re becoming more human.
Note the outpouring of pop collectives that are truly collective. Observe Austin, Texas’s Peter and the Wolf, Red Hunter’s experimental folk project, whose acoustic performances in graveyards, in abandoned buses, even on an island, have put them on the map. For the island gig, Hunter said, speaking from his hometown the day before his current tour began, “People rowed out! We’re not trying to get back to nature; we’re just all about finding weird places to play.”
On the East Coast, Hunter will be joined by Jana Hunter — no relation — and the Castanets for a tour via sailboat. Originally just “bar talk” about alternative-energy means of touring, the sailboat is now ready and willing. The quest for “polypropylene Bermuda shorts” has trumped other logistical concerns.
On Peter and the Wolf (Whiskey and Apples), Dana Falconberry adds an angelic vocal counterpart to Hunter’s raw folk sound. Imagine the Ditty Bops — who’ve been touring by bicycle — without the in-your-face theatricality. Each acoustic, indie-loungey tune on Peter and the Wolf is punctuated like a single snippet of conversation. In “How I Wish,” the duo beckons, “Meet me on the wooden bridge/We will smoke and then we’ll wander.” In the postbeat dreamscape “What Happened Up There …,” past lives mingle with present lusts.
In Scotland, I drank surprisingly trippy alcoholic homebrew, a friend’s Irish family recipe. Moonshine. Hooch. Stumpblaster. Whatever, man, if we’re on the road to ruin, we might as well see it up close and personal. For Hunter and his hunters this summer, every campfire is a carnival waiting to happen. When, someday, we finally tell our stories, he predicts on the animistic “The Fall,” we will be gloriously “Desperate and serious/The chasing will be furious.”
Apocalypses aside, everyone’s talking about two things these days: the energy crisis and Matthew Barney’s annoying insistence on big-budget “restraint.” Well, Prokofiev probably wouldn’t have produced his every-instrument-is-an-animal Peter and the Wolf without Stalin’s caustic commie prodding. But Hunter needs no such restriction. His energy leaps through the seams. “Do you think of me when he’s boring you/I’ll bet you do,” he sings on “Silent Movies.” Now that’s a man I can believe in. (Ari Messer)
PETER AND THE WOLF
With Viking Moses, Casual Fog, and Terrors
Sun/9, 9 p.m.
500 Fourth St., SF
Look, I tried — as much as any 35-year-old can be expected to try — to get excited by, or even minimally interested in, the Warped Tour. Excuse me — what I mean is the Vans Warped Tour, featuring the Volcom Stage, and the Guitar Center Warp Your Summer with NOFX contest, and the Energizer Encore, wherein you can vote to see your favorite Warped band play 10 minutes longer. Why, if I could only see Davey Havok’s frontal mullet, Cure fan circa ’86 hairdo for one-sixth of an hour longer, I think I’d need to change my underwear. Oh, wait — AFI aren’t playing? Well, I’m sure that haircut will be prominently featured on a good percentage of soul-crushing, woe-is-me, mall-rock bands out there on Piers 30 and 32 on July 8. They’ll be soaking in the ultraviolet-ultraviolent radiation of sun and prepubescent adoration, smashing the state, and killing you softly with their songs and pouty lips.
OK, you got me. For someone with a master’s degree in writing, a five-year-old kid, and a copy of Damaged on vinyl, poking fun at the Warped Tour is like hunting geriatric cows with a shotgun.
Warped just isn’t my thing, nor is it supposed to be. Like it or not, gramps, punk rock — and all of its attendant bastard children, Emo, Screamo, Puddin’, and Pie, and the rest of the seven dwarves — is big business. An uncool outcast who just can’t relate to mainstream society, man is the cool thing to be. The punks are now the jocks. The hipsters are the cheerleaders, and the whole thing plays in Peoria quite well, thank you. It plays in the food court as your little sister and her friends compare the bitchin’ spiked belts they just purchased over chicken nuggets and coconut-banana Frappucinos.
Having graduated from high school in 1989, I missed both the Sex Pistols at Winterland and the Warped phenomenon, and here I am — stuck in the middle with you. I had a couple friends who went one year, mainly to see the Descendents and Bad Religion, and I almost joined them, but discretion is the better part of valor, and the whole circus atmosphere just didn’t seem like it’d be fun. More specifically, it didn’t seem like it would be punk rock in the way that I thought punk rock was fun. It wasn’t a dark, dangerous club with dark, dangerous individuals singing from their dark, dangerous hearts about dark, dangerous things. Of course, all of this dark dangerousness has been an illusion since Iggy rolled around on broken glass during the recording of Metallic K.O. (Skydog, 1976). Nonetheless, punk rock shouldn’t require suntan lotion and plenty of hydration.
But that’s precisely the point. I can’t keep carrying this cross around. It’s covered in Iggy’s blood and Dee Dee Ramone’s track marks. The Warped Tour is not about punk rock. It’s about the kids having fun in the sun, and I’m no longer a kid. Point blank, whoot — there it is. It’s time to put the dharma where my mouth is — no more ignoring reality. I’m not a kid, but I’ve got one, a rock ’n’ roll kid who, like her dad, loves Joan Jett and would go positively ape-shit hearing “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” live for the first time.
Aside from Jett, there are a handful of other acts confirmed or rumored to be playing Warped who are actually worth checking out. Duane Peters’s band Die Hunns is performing, despite his vow to “never play that fuckin’ thing again,” and you know that’s got to be good — the Master of Disaster has no off switch, and his wife, Corey Parks, is a surgically augmented, tattooed, fire-breathing rock Valkyrie.
Peters told me that the Buzzcocks are playing, though I’ve yet to see it in print. They’re probably on a tiny stage in the back, next to the generator truck, the burrito shack, and the roadie break room. You know, where the good artists play. Artists like Mike Watt, God of the Thunderbroom and flannel-flying Pedro (that’s Pee-dro to you, youngster) good guy. And despite how bored you may be with lowbrow prankster punks turned political activists NOFX — the last time I saw them was at the Stone in ’86 — they are guaranteed to be entertaining.
Finally, the Warped tour features some bad-ass BMXers and skaters. I’m not really sure who, as finding a list of the athletes on the tour is harder than finding a complete band list. I will say that Vans sponsors skaters like flowmaster Tony Trujillo and tech king Bucky Lasek, as well as BMX wunderkinder Ryan Guettler and Scotty Cranmer, who can both do front flips 10 feet out of a spine, so it’d be worth it to go on the chance of seeing one of those guys. There’s bound to be enough wheeled heroics and side-stage real rock action that even a crotchety parental type like myself can get something out of the whole fandango. And that’s what I’m gonna do, 5-year-old daughter and 10-year-old niece in tow. Long live the new breed. SFBG
VANS WARPED TOUR 2006
Sat/8, 11 a.m.
Piers 30 and 32, SF
The reasons were manifold, many-furred, and multihued, but this much was clear at South by Southwest 2006: The Nashville teen punk sensations Be Your Own Pet were definitely a band to raise your right fist Arsenio-style and woof at, like a member of the Bloodhound Gang at a sports bar. Fronted by the kittenish Courtney of a vocalist Jemina Pearl Abegg and filled out by the impressively fro’d bassist Nathan Vasquez, guitarist Jonas Stein, and drummer Jamin Orrall, and shaking it like Smell-style teenage kicks, Be Your Own Pet gave off the delicious fumes of scruffy Jack Russell terriers hopped up on ’roids, Pop Rocks, and raucous hip-shaking noise punk. They made all the right moves. They were as cute as little pink pills. They threw outrageous parties. They played heavenly bills.
Life in the fast lane. Frankly the entire scene made Orrall want to lose his mind, he said last week, fading in and out on the fiber-optic freeway leading from Texas to Arizona. “I didn’t really like that week,” the asthmatic drummer said — his nose clearly stuffed to hell and back. “We did a lot of shows and a lot of meetings and it was too much stuff with people who aren’t really into music. It felt gross.”
Orrall, who turned 18 last month, and his bandmates must have had some inkling of what would happen — they were born into the business. BYOP’s 2004 single “Damn Damn Leash” initially came out on Infinity Cat, the label run by Orrall, his brother, Jake, and his father, singer-songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall. Stein’s father is said to have managed Vince Neil, Vasquez’s pops is a flamenco guitar player, and Abegg’s dad is a rock photographer.
Helmed by multiple producers, including pater Orrall, Modest Mouse producer Jacquire King, Kings of Leon knob fondler Angelo, and Redd Kross’s Steve McDonald, Be Your Own Pet’s self-titled debut on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace (distributed by Universal) is a spiky, spastic — and yes, adorable — little mutt of a recording, reminiscent of early, primitive Yeah Yeah Yeahs and knuckle-skating riot grrrl, with the odd ode to bicycles, felines, and, urp, “Stairway to Heaven.”
Orrall doesn’t know if their music is “necessarily punk. We’re not really protesting anything,” he wheezed. Nonetheless he and Jake have been writing songs since they were 9 or 10, with few assists from the parental unit. “I wrote a lot of lyrics just in school when I was kind of bored,” he explained.
So isn’t there a bit of a cultural disconnect occurring? The bands that sound like them are still toiling old-school, while Be Your Own Pet’s early single was slipped to Zane Lowe at BBC Radio One before finding its way to XL in England — and the teens have already played massive UK fests like Reading and Leeds and Glastonbury. Orrall likes the idea of their music finding its way into the hands of kids who shop chain stores in Dookieville, Pa. — are such creatures still out there? — but will confess, “It’s, like, pretty strange. We do the same thing, just in a different environment, but it’s hard to connect with the audience because they’re so far away.” (Kimberly Chun)
Be Your Own Pet’s Jamin Orrall’s five current faves
Dirty Projects, New Attitude EP (Marriage)
Thin Lizzy, Jailbreak (Mercury/Universal)
Chocolate Watchband, Inner Mystique (Sundazed)
Deluxin’, Deluxin’ (Stoneham Tapes) “Nathan [Vasquez’s] other band — it’s just like the Sun City Girls but a little more pop-rocky.”
Letho, Wood Ox (Stoneham Tapes) “I listen to my brother’s albums a lot. He’s made five or six records under that name on four-track cassette, but the last one was this six-part epic story of him being raised by oxen on the plains.”
Zakk Wylde is a postmodern metal god. Or perhaps a modern post-metal god. With his long, flowing hair and beard, bulging muscles, and Les Paul wielded like a battle ax, he is a figure straight out of mythology. His story mines Joseph Campbell territory as well: A working-class kid from Jersey one day receives the call from God (Ozzy Osbourne — well, Sharon, actually) and his life is changed forever.
From odd jobs in gas stations and supermarkets to sold-out stadiums around the world, Osbourne’s musical right-hand man and the heir apparent to Randy Rhoads’s throne (the most coveted position in the metal guitar pantheon), Wylde became a minor deity overnight, anointed by the Prince of Darkness himself. Since that day the figure of Oz has loomed large in Wylde’s career: the vocalist playing Jehovah to the guitarist’s Noah, Ozzy the Allfather to Zakk’s Thor, the Godfather to his Sonny. Literally — Osbourne is the godfather of Wylde’s son.
But Wylde’s newfound glory was threatened by history. His call had come in the late 1980s, just as metal’s star was dimming in the mass market. Within a few years it was totally eclipsed by the poppy neo-punk of Nirvana and their legions of imitators. Wylde, rather than cutting his hair and going flannel (as so many metal apologists did in those dark years), retained his locks and Samson-like strength in an era of cultivated weakness and whiny shoe-gazing, and kept the faith.
He didn’t retreat into the metal ghetto, however — he wasn’t content to preach to the converted. Instead, he embraced his unique position at the crossroads of generations of popular heavy rock music. Both his songwriting and playing style reflect this, and he freely incorporates the past and present of the oeuvre, from before metal’s heyday through its zenith, and after. He has an uncanny ability to invoke the swagger of southern rock, as on “Lowdown,�? from Black Label Society’s Alcohol Fueled Brewtality Live (Spitfire, 2001); the sentimental mush of the power ballad, displayed on “In This River,” from BLS’s Mafia (Artemis, 2005); acoustic neo-folk earthiness, as heard on “Spoke in the Wheel,” from his solo Sonic Brew (Spitfire, 1999); and good old-fashioned chunk-a-chunk (see “Suicide Messiah,” also from Mafia). But his music is more melting-pot than balkanized, more stew than pastiche, and he never loses the spirit of metal.
In addition, for many Osbourne fans, Wylde is the most worthy replacement yet for the late, great guitarist Rhoads. Rhoads helped launch Osbourne’s solo career in the early 1980s and in the process redefined heavy metal guitar playing and songwriting by incorporating classically inspired harmonies and virtuosity with strong pop songwriting instincts. His tragic death in 1982 left a void that has never really been filled, though Osbourne would continue to perform and record with various other guitar players. With Wylde, Osbourne finally found one who could serve as a worthy long-term collaborator and their musical relationship, though on-and-off over the years for assorted reasons, has produced some of the strongest and most consistent work Osbourne has made since his first two records with Rhoads.
The guitarists’ playing styles vary: Wylde’s huge sound and rhythmic feel are his main weapons — as opposed to Rhoads’s awesome technique and interesting scale choices — yet he can shred when he needs to and is clearly influenced by his legendary predecessor. Their writing styles differ as well; Wylde’s is more riff-based and bluesy than that of Rhoads, who tended to employ more gothic chord changes than static riffs (compare “No More Tears” with, say, “Mr. Crowley”). Yet in his collaborations with Wylde, Osbourne finally seemed to find the chemistry and energy that had been missing since Rhoads’s untimely passing.
Throughout his career, Wylde has maintained his perspective while high in heavy metal Valhalla. He has accepted his role in history and moved beyond the stylistic camps and divisions of hard rock, tracing the historic threads that tie Hendrix to Rhoads to Dimebag, redefining metal as the sum of its various fractions, fluid and constantly in play, and finding its unifying truth in its many separate and antagonistic truths. Call him the postmodernist’s metal hero, the mythologist’s new immortal, the modern headbanger’s best hope for salvation. Remember his role when he plays guitar with Osbourne on the main stage at this year’s Ozzfest and fronts with his own band, Black Label Society, on the second stage. Expect him to embody his metal warrior’s creed: “Strength. Determination. Merciless. Forever.” SFBG
Sat/1, 10:30 a.m.
1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
It takes a lot to knock an obsession out of Built to Spill singer-songwriter-guitarist Doug Martsch. Behind the beard, the down-low home life with wife and child, and the phone conversation padded with softly undercutting “Oh, I dunno’s,” once lay the heart of a raging pickup basketball junkie.
“I kinda got sucked into the NBA play-offs seven or eight years ago,” explains Martsch, 37, from his home in Boise, Idaho. “Then I quit smoking cigarettes five or six years ago, and when I quit smoking, I decided to go shoot hoops, and then I just got really addicted to it, totally loved it. That was kind of my main passion.
“Yeah, I played music somewhat, but basketball was what I lived for and did every day.”
A seemingly harmless hobby, except that Martsch threw himself so vigorously into the game that he was starting to do some real damage — to himself. Most recently, Built to Spill — one of Northwestern rock’s most respected representatives and one of ’90s indie/alternative/modern rock/whatev’s most influential bands — had to push back the tour dates for their new album, You in Reverse (Warner Bros.), because of a detached retina Martsch suffered while banging around the court. And then there was the last time Built to Spill played in San Francisco, two years ago …
The band was staying at the Phoenix, and as usual while on tour, Martsch ventured out, looking for a local pickup game. He found one at the Tenderloin Golden Gate YMCA. “I was playing noon ball with the people there, and I got smacked in the ear and popped my eardrum, and I was deaf in my right ear for a couple months,” he recalls. “I kept waiting for my hearing to come back. We had to finish the tour, and I could only hear out of one ear, and it was driving me crazy!” After he returned home Martsch finally, reluctantly broke the news to his wife, who had been worried about basketball injuries for some time. One can imagine the I told you sos ringing out all over Boise.
“Yeah, I had my right ear destroyed, and my right eye destroyed so far, and my right knee also,” continues Martsch, who, at one point, also suspected he had a torn ACL. “So, I dunno — I’m about done. I also started taking it a little too seriously. I started not having very much fun unless I was playing well. If I missed a few shots, I’d just become really frustrated, and I wasn’t really enjoying myself.” After his eye injury Martsch followed his doctor’s orders to stop playing for a few months, and in the process, some of the fixation dissipated (though plucky challengers can get a taste of it by playing Martsch via a game on the band’s Built to Spill Web site).
Luckily for patient Built to Spill fans, Martsch reimmersed himself in music. Those listeners had been waiting for five years for a studio follow-up to Ancient Melodies of the Future (Warner Bros.). Touched by Martsch’s passion for the Delta blues — which resulted in his 2002 solo album, Now You Know (Warner Bros.) — You in Reverse finds the band shaping less characteristic jams and experimenting in the studio, sans their longtime producer Phil Ek and accompanied by only engineer Steven Wray Lobdell (who ended up getting the producer credit). Pitting himself against longtime contributing guitarist–turned–permanent member Brett Netson of Caustic Resin, Martsch unfurls guitar solos that are both economical and impassioned, beginning with the lengthy, multitextured suite “Goin’ Against Your Mind.” He buries his vocals as guitars chime brightly in the foreground on “Liar,” then throws indie listeners for a loop with souped-up ska and flamenco tempos (“Mess With Time”). In all, Martsch sounds more like a ’burb-bound Neil Young than ever before, harnessing a semi-tamed Crazy Horse for his garage jams with his Seattle- and Boise-based bandmates while sidestepping the dangers of repeating himself and working in almost undetectable jabs at the current political environment.
Looking back at the gap between Ancient Melodies and You in Reverse, Martsch is quick to point out that the band actually took only a yearlong breather between tours and recording. But the reason they took the break, he confesses, was that “I just really burned out. I was just kind of tired of Built to Spill and wasn’t very interested in alternative rock in general.” He discovered Delta blues around the time he recorded Keep It Like a Secret and, he explains, “that’s all that sounded very good to me.”
That changed when the group got together to jam for You in Reverse, which Martsch describes as Built to Spill’s most collaborative album yet. He hopes with the official addition of Netson that he can write songs with the rest of the band while Built to Spill is on tour and recording songs at studios across the country. “I’m just kind of excited,” says Martsch. And that’s a major score for someone who claims he doesn’t think he has a “real lust for life.”
“I think the best things Built to Spill ever does are yet to come on some sort of level.” SFBG
BUILT TO SPILL
Wed/21-Sat/24, 9 p.m.
333 11th St., SF
Before Hedwig was a glimmer in John Cameron Mitchell’s eye, before some Bowie-imitation bathhouse spillage bloomed into Velvet Goldmine’s Brian Slade, before Freddie Mercury was frightened mid-rhapsody by thunderbolts and lightning, there was Jobriath, the first (and the lost) truly out, gay glam rock star. “He’s one of my favorite artists,” the Ark’s Ola Salo enthuses when the stage name of Bruce Wayne Campbell, the man behind epics like “Space Clown,” is mentioned.
The recent compilation Lonely Planet Boy (Sanctuary) takes its title from a New York Dolls tune, but the songs are by the one and only Jobriath, and for every hilarious Ziggy Stardust–inspired misfire there is an odd moment of spine-tingling magic, such as agoraphobe ballad “Inside,” which could give Rufus Wainwright a lesson or two about how to rein in the braying while racing up and down the scales. A street hustler and classically trained pianist, Jobriath was also a self-described schizophrenic, just one of many reasons why his valiant attempt to kick down the closet door and race to the top of 1973’s charts was doomed.
Lonely Planet Boy songs such as “Be Still” and “Ecubyan” prove just how eerily beautiful — if not exactly commercial — Jobriath’s page from the book of glam could be, but he also was no slouch at giving a good quote. The gatefold sleeve of his first album featured a nude Jobriath with a truncated lower torso. “They used a mannequin’s ass and it wasn’t as round as Jobriath’s,” the artist himself told one interviewer. “That’s probably why Jobriath didn’t make it.” It is odd how closely the manic Oz-like titters of Jobriath’s “What a Pretty” resemble some Klaus Nomi songs, because Nomi and Jobriath were two of the earliest casualties of AIDS. A Chelsea Hotel resident who appeared in a BBC documentary about it, Jobriath died there in 1981.
Lonely Planet Boy was reissued thanks to one of Jobriath’s longtime fans, Morrissey. “I’d told the reps from Elektra in Sweden that they should reissue the Jobriath albums or put them out on CD,” says the Ark’s Salo. “So when that comp appeared, I thought that was very nice.” The author of Lonely Planet Boy’s liner notes, Manchester-based Robert Cochrane is working on a Jobriath biography titled Gone Tomorrow, and it’s fair to say that Jobriath, however obscurely, is here today. His follies are now successfully realized in the celebratory sound of the Ark. (Huston)
When I reach the Ark’s rock idol Ola Salo on the phone at his apartment in Malmö, Sweden, he’s getting ready to meet friends to watch his country’s team take on Paraguay in the World Cup. Sheer lack of time calls for forward gestures, so I ask him to describe his boudoir, a CD- and book-strewn “one and a half” room apartment. “It looks like a pretty storage room,” he says, amusedly. “I have a plastic chandelier. I’ve got my big black piano and my black angel wings. I have art and furniture that friends of mine have made, such as a big purple lamp made out of ladies’ stockings. The apartment is a color explosion of chlorophyll green and bright yellow and pink and black and white. That’s the scheme — and purple. It’s harmonic but playful and energetic.”
Sort of like the Ark’s music, as showcased on State of the Ark (Virgin), the band’s first US album and third to date. In the recent glam sweepstakes, Salo and his four bandmates trump the Darkness with greater songcraft and less falsetto gimmickry — they also have more chops than any prefab pseudo-punk American loogie hocked up by the MTV machine in the last decade. Basically, the Ark prove a 21st-century band can honor the likes of the New York Dolls, Bowie, Queen, and company while still being relevant. On songs like the fabulous handclap stomper “Calleth You, Calleth I” (from the 2002 Virgin import In Lust We Trust) they are capable of turning a banal gesture — in this case, the fleeting impulse to reach out to phone an ex — into an act of ludicrously glorious, wide-screen, Bic-waving grandeur.
Perhaps it’s fate that gave Salo a last name that echoes the subtitle of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s filmic revision of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. Because he’s the son of a priest, it’s tempting to think of him as a real-life rock version of bishop’s stepson Alexander from Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, rebelling against punishing strictures. But it’s a bit more complicated — Salo taps into and adds a twist to his religious roots, embracing the Bible’s (and rock’s) messianic outcast aspects and imagining his own miracles. One example is In Lust We Trust’s “Father of a Son,” which hit big in Sweden at the precise moment that a law preventing homosexuals from adopting children was banished. The song doesn’t just refer to queer parenthood, it drapes an ascendant Salo in choral hallelujahs.
“The Book of Revelations was the coolest part of the Bible to me because of all the parts about smoke and fire and demons,” Salo says. “It’s very heavy metal. Growing up in a Christian family gives you this kind of stigma of being a pussy. People think that Christians are … forget pussy, they’re Ned Flanders–like. I wanted to do something of Biblical proportions, something magical or sensational, something with power and joy, something that if people thought it was silly or uncool or ludicrous I wouldn’t mind.”
The Ark’s new State of the Ark might not contain anything quite as spine-tingling and sublime as “It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane,” the gauntlet-throwing leadoff hit from their 2000 debut We are the Ark. (That track has the “Hand in Glove” urgency of someone who has waited years to sing their life, and in pledging allegiance to the queer kids, the weird kids, and the fat kids, Salo’s probably saved some lives.) But it has some great moments, such as the single “One of Us Is Gonna Die Young,” an anthem to the joy of life rather than the allure of death. On State of the Ark, as on the Ark’s previous album, Salo called upon Velvet Goldmine soundtracker and ex–Shudder to Think member Nathan Larson (whose girlfriend Nina Persson fronts Malmö’s other top group, the underrated Cardigans) to help him recognize the difference between “stupid strange” and “creative strange” English lyrics.
Nonetheless, Salo agrees that one billion ABBA fans can’t be wrong in noting that a Swedish band’s approach to the English language as an “artifact” yields special interpretive appeal. He’s also more than willing to discuss the country’s past and current role in the musical landscape, lauding Göteburg-based Sarah Assbring’s el Perro del Mar project for making “probably last year’s best debut album” and playfully admonishing me for ignoring ’60s garage instrumentalists the Sputniks when I race through a shorthand version of the country’s pop history. “Sweden has a very good social welfare system and people have good living standards and we haven’t had any wars,” he pointedly observes. “We have had a lot of time to do luxurious peacetime things like making pop music.”
Perhaps because Salo is “too egocentric” to be a fan of the past rock stars he admires, the Ark’s brand of performance is exactly the type designed to incite maniacal worship. Such fan-demonium hasn’t kicked in all over the United States, but it has in other countries. “Fans are crazy in Italy, which you know if you’ve ever watched Italian television,” says Salo. “And the paparazzi — there’s a reason why that’s an Italian word.” He goes on to tell the story of a girl who was paid by an Italian tabloid to sleep with him. “I was not interested at all,” he concludes, with a dry laugh. “She got drunk and failed at her goal — miserably.”
As opposed to Salo, who is more than ready to seduce at any time. All those who saw or read about the Ark’s springtime South by Southwest shows know that he has no qualms about treating an industry barbecue like a stadium gig — he’ll bump and grind in his boots and tighty whities right on past the most jaded zombie. Something tells me that sort of attitude and behavior mean this city will love him even more frenziedly than he might love it. What might he wear, or not wear, for his first visit to San Francisco? “Some flowers in my hair, I guess,” he deadpans. “I’ve heard that’s obligatory. Actually I’m getting a new suit, or dress, for the SF shows. I hope it’s a smash.”
That said, it’s World Cup time, and who is Salo’s favorite player on the Swedish team? “Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” he answers, in a tone suggesting that looks might have something or everything to do with it. “Now I’m going to go watch him do his thing.” SFBG
With Mon Cousin Belge
Fri/23, 9 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
SF Pride Festival
Sun/25, 3:30 p.m. (Shadowplay stage) and 5:15 p.m. (main stage)
Civic Center, SF
Has anyone ever chosen a more appropriate band name than Annie Hardy?
Speaking with the 24-year-old singer and guitarist of Los Angeles’s Giant Drag, I find it impossible to imagine a moniker that better captures the depressing nature of both her band’s narcotic grunge-pop songs and her own almost comically defeated outlook on life. She expresses so much bemused disappointment in conversation, in fact, that the name almost seems like an understatement.
"Sometimes real life ruins all your fun," says Hardy with a chuckle, calling from a tour stop in Minneapolis. She’s not kidding, though — at least not entirely. Throughout our chat, the Orange County native airs a laundry list of grievances about the record industry, from frustrating decisions made by her label to the constant comparisons of her band — which also includes 27-year-old drummer and synth player Micah Calabrese — to the Breeders and PJ Harvey.
Her biggest gripe, however, seems to be that music journalists tend to make a big deal about her rather, uh, creative song titles: among them, "My Dick Sux," "Kevin Is Gay," and "You Fuck like My Dad."
"I just couldn’t think of titles for most of the songs, so I thought I’d use funny stuff," Hardy insists. "But I did that without thinking about releasing it and having it be reviewed and having certain people, like the British press, just focus on that. They make it seem that titles like ‘You Fuck like My Dad’ are more important than the music. It’s stupid.”
“So I don’t know if I’ll keep doing that [with the titles] in the future," she continues. "That’s a pain, though, because it’s just who we are. It was us just having fun."
Of course, most people probably wouldn’t describe Giant Drag as fun. On its full-length debut, last fall’s excellent Hearts and Unicorns (Kickball/Interscope), the band split the difference between Mazzy Star and Nirvana, unleashing a din of droning, heavily distorted alt-rock that’s perfect for Hardy’s angst-ridden outbursts: "No number of pills will fix my life today," she sings at one point; at others, "I haven’t felt so well for so long now" and "From here on out it’s only pain." But whereas, say, Kurt Cobain was quite vocal in interviews about his pain, Hardy remains tight-lipped.
"A lot of those songs are about experiencing something down or sad and angry," she explains. "But I really don’t like to discuss what they’re about."
Not that she hasn’t spilled plenty of her guts, at least in her music, since 2004. That’s when Hardy, who’d been casually recording cover songs and writing her own material, decided to take a friend up on his offer to have her open for his band. Rather than make Giant Drag a solo project, however, she asked Calabrese if he’d like to join.
"I was like, ‘Look, Micah, either you can play with me or I can go it alone.’ Micah was like, ‘Nah, I won’t let you go out like that,’” she says. "We thought about getting a bass player, but one day Micah started playing drums and the synthesizer at the same time. We were like, ‘Oh shit, that’s funny — but it also works.’”
After a rocky start — Hardy claims the first shows "sucked" — Giant Drag began to garner local radio support and landed popular monthlong residencies at the Silverlake Lounge and Spaceland. Then early last year, the band became a sensation in England with the release of its Lemona EP (Wichita). "Over there we started to sell out shows, and it was gnarly," she says. "Then we’d go to Omaha, and everyone would be like, ‘Who the fuck are you?!’ — except for one 80-year-old guy standing in the front row who drove four hours from Kansas to see us."
Of course, Giant Drag’s American fan base has grown considerably since then. Hearts and Unicorns continues to receive plenty of blog buzz, national press has been largely positive, and the duo played a well-received set at Coachella this spring. In fact, the main thing holding the duo back from a mainstream breakthrough seems to be that it’s no longer 1993, when similar acts such as Mazzy Star and, yep, the Breeders ruled MTV’s buzz bin.
Giant Drag’s label hasn’t given up hope, though. This spring Kickball Records rereleased Hearts and Unicorns, tacking on the band’s woozy cover of Chris Isaak’s "Wicked Game" in an attempt to gain airplay. Not surprisingly, the decision rubbed Hardy the wrong way.
"Micah and I both think [the reissue] doesn’t make much sense. I guess the label wants to give it a big push and have some sort of Alien Ant Farm thing go on," she snorts, referring to the one-hit wonders who became famous for their cover of Michael Jackson’s "Smooth Criminal."
"But that hasn’t happened yet," Hardy adds, hinting that life may not always be a giant drag after all. "So I’m not upset — well, not really." SFBG
Giant Drag with Pretty Girls Make Graves and Whale Bones
Sun/4, 8 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
Woe to you, Oh Earth and Sea, for the Devil sends the Beast with wrath, because he knows the time is short…. Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty six.
— Revelation 13:18
This week marks an unusual holiday — or unholy day — that only comes along once every 100 years: the Day of the Beast, 6/6/06. For some it is a day to fear, when the Antichrist of Christian mythology will finally be revealed. For others it is a time of hope and celebration for precisely the same reason. For me, it is a time to rock. The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden’s third studio album, was released in 1982. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson had just joined the band, and Maiden was at the height of its powers. My best friend Mike and I listened to the entire record every day after school for months. We would sit on the edge of my bed and stare at the record cover, trying to decipher its hidden meanings and getting off on the comic book/metal imagery. As true fans and converts, we felt compelled to spread the word, or at least show how cool we thought we were.
So one morning before school, we took a black Magic Marker to a couple of white T-shirts, writing three big 6s on the fronts and "The Number of the Beast" on the backs. We were so proud of ourselves walking to school, but our bubble was burst as soon as we got there: The teacher sent us straight back home to change, telling us, "Some of the other children might find it offensive." Mike and I both played it off like we were innocent little rock fans, with no intentions of offending or converting anyone to Satanism. We were just celebrating our favorite band — and song.
The title song in question is, to my mind, one of the most rocking ever recorded. Maiden bassist Steve Harris wrote it, and it is a true metal classic: heavy riffs, strong, catchy hooks, and vaguely sinister metal lyrics. The words put the listener straight into the narrator’s mind, witnessing the dawn of Hell on Earth: "Torches blazed and sacred chants were praised/ As they start to cry, hands held to the sky/ In the night, the fires burning bright/ The ritual has begun, Satan’s work is done."
Dickinson invokes dark, paranoid imagery as if channeling Poe or Lovecraft, and when he spits out the chorus of "6-6-6/ The Number of the Beast," he conjures up all that is implied in the evil numerology: the tension between the narrator’s juvenile fascination with evil — much like our own — and the higher impulse to overcome and reject it.
"But I feel drawn to the chanting hordes / They seem to mesmerize, can’t avoid their eyes."
In the end, the narrator appears to be swayed, or possessed, by the dark forces, and joins them. But don’t worry, for we are shown the way to salvation by the album’s cover art: Amid a field of flames and an ominous night sky, a small man, representing humanity, dances on puppet strings held by a horned, red devil, who is himself attached to strings wielded by Eddie, Maiden’s ubiquitous undead mascot. The message is clear: While humankind may be weak and easily led astray by the Hoofed One, it is the power of rock — or more specifically, metal, as represented by Eddie — that can save us and help us to conquer our fears. The words of the song tell one story, but the sheer visceral power of the music itself transforms and redeems the lyrical narrative. Evil may exist — in ourselves, on Earth, and in the universe — but by the empowering grace of metal, we can exorcise our demons and tame the beast within. Metal becomes the negation of the negation.
Theologically, of course, before the devil became the grotesque and irredeemable character of novels and horror movies, he was the Adversary, the Fallen Angel, the Forsaken One of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. Remember his friendly wager with God over Job’s soul, or his cordial philosophical debates with the Nazarene, long before Faust’s wager or Linda Blair’s projectile vomiting. It was he who questioned and encouraged others to do the same, the one who opposed and dared to think for himself. He was the rebel, the gadfly, the thorn in the side. The subsequent notion that questioning authority and tradition is the devil’s work, though intended to scare us straight, gives rise to a certain curiosity — and yes, sympathy — toward Lucifer, in some who cherish freedom of thought and expression. No doubt some of the titillation we feel watching Rosemary’s Baby or listening to the "The Number of the Beast" comes from such an impulse to defy a hallowed authority, from the safety of our imaginations.
Twenty-four years after it was released, the Iron Maiden album retains its power and vitality. It continues to be a benchmark for good, honest heavy metal now obscured by retro-fixated irony, emo-inspired whininess, embarrassing misappropriations of hip-hop, and false metal generally. The fact that Maiden has stuck to its guns through the waxing and waning of true metal’s popularity and has continued to record and tour on its own terms to this day somehow adds to the record’s staying power. The music is not tainted by revisionist questions about the band’s motives or integrity. In this, as well as the music, Maiden continues to be an inspiration to generations of musicians and fans.
I like to think of "The Number of the Beast" as a kind of "White Christmas" for the day of the beast. (Too bad it’s a holiday that only happens once a century — it could mean a gold mine in royalties for Harris and co.) Never mind that the nice chaps in Maiden are not actually Satanists at all — Irving Berlin was Jewish, and we all know you don’t have to be a Christian to have a tree. It’s the spirit of the day that counts. So on 6/6/06, do yourself a favor and crank up some Maiden. If you listen carefully, you might almost hear the children’s voices caroling:
"666 — The number of the beast/ 666 — The one for you and me." SFBG
Devin Hoff lives in Oakland and plays the bass with Redressers, Good for Cows, Nels Cline Singers, and others.
"I must have been bit by a spider when I was very young," Country Teasers vocalist Ben Wallers drones on "Spiderman in the Flesh," the opening track to the band’s new album, The Empire Strikes Back (In the Red). "Because now I’m grown-up I spend five days a week going up the fucking wall." This wall makes a reprise midway through the tune, as the music ratchets up from a sleepy, two-step waltz to the fascist grandeur of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with a lyrical nod toward "In the Flesh" from that psycho–depresso–nervous breakdown rock opera: "Are there any queers in the theater tonight? Get ’em up against the wall!"
And thus, halfway through the first track, with a borrowed lyric — "jacked from the sonic matrix," as Sonic Youth would say — from a prog rock magnum opus, the Teasers arrive at the type of lowbrow social satire they’ve turned into high art. Well, high lowbrow art. They take a frail, empty stereotype and strap a rocket pack to its back. Of course it’s not going to survive, but it’s hilarious to see it zoom about the cosmos, flailing.
Take my personal favorite Teasers tune, "Black Change," from 1996’s epic Satan Is Real Again, or Feeling Good about Bad Thoughts (Crypt). In it, the narrator undergoes a transformation akin to John Howard Griffin’s in Black Like Me, "a black change operation." The results? "My dick went long, my hair went fuzzy … I traded in my white friends for pretty white ladies. My new black body drove them crazy." Ten years later, he’s got to go back to the surgeon to have the procedure reversed: "Too much trouble, from those envious white men…. My wife won’t touch me…. ‘Once you go black,’ she says, ‘you never go back.’"
In its hyperbole, "Black Change" is the quintessential Country Teasers song. It’s satire that’s offensive if you do get the joke. It’s up there with Jonathan Swift’s essay "A Modest Proposal," which suggested that the Irish eat their children to prevent the latter "from being a burden to their parents or country." Up there with Lou Reed’s "I Wanna Be Black,” a song that exposes racism, white guilt, and the white co-opting of black cultural idioms, but does so with lines like "I wanna be like Malcolm X, and cast a hex over President Kennedy’s tomb. And have a big prick, too." A song that makes Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher look like the teatime for pussies that it is. Either you get the satire and are loose enough to laugh at the stereotypes that are still imbedded in our culture, or you start getting that itchy feeling up under your collar, afraid that your good liberal friends — the "clean white citizens" in "Black Change" — might hear what you’re listening to, and shamefacedly pull the disc from the deck.
Like moralistic ’80s punks Crass, the Country Teasers make their statement, but they use humor to do it, as opposed to histrionic art-house punk screech. They too go for the jugular: They find your comfort zone and blissfully stomp all over it. Besides "Black Change," they’ve got songs called "Young Mums up for Sex," "Man v Cock," and "Country Fag." More recently, The Empire Strikes Back is likewise true to its title, dipping into geopolitical analysis vis-à-vis whether the world is currently more like the Death Star or Mos Eisley spaceport. Mix these lyrical fixations with the lo-fi schmaltz of Smog and all the early Drag City bands, the "we’ve got a fuzzbox and we’re not quite sure how to use it" of early Pussy Galore, and the straight-ahead rhythmic sensibilities of vintage Johnny Cash, and, well, to this humble music writer, what you get is fuckin’ genius.
Now don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying they’re genius. Einstein was genius. Mozart, Walt Whitman, Jonas Salk, what have you. Fuckin’ genius is the guy who decided to package beef jerky and that dyed-orange cheese right next to each other in the same package. Just how do they get the cheese to be crumbly and greasy at the same time?
The Teasers gestalt reads like the opening line of a joke: OK, so a noise band, a drunk Scottish football team, and a boy named Sue walk into a bar … And when they walk into the Hemlock on Friday, May 26, all the way from Scotland, the land that invented whiskey, it’ll be much the same.
If you come expecting a noise band, you’re screwed. If you come expecting a country band, you’re screwed. If you come expecting stand-up comedy or social satire, you’re screwed. And if you come expecting a punk band, you’re screwed. Then again, the Country Teasers are noisy like vintage Honeymoon Killers; twangy in that same crooked-teeth, British Isles way that Billy Childish can be said to be twangy; bitingly satirical like mclusky; and definitely the punkest thing to come out of Scotland since the Rezillos. SFBG
Country Teasers with E-Zee Tiger and 16 Bitch Pileup
Fri/26, 9:30 p.m.
1131 Polk, SF
› email@example.com In the last year of the 20th century, Kodwo Eshun charted musical forms of Afrofuturism in the book More Brilliant than the Sun. Six years into the 21st century, I wonder what Eshun would think of Chelonis R. Jones.
"Camera! Lights! Action!" The words at the very beginning of Jones’s debut Dislocated Genius herald an ambivalent performance. "I didn’t want to burn it now, burn cork to dance and sing," he soon recites with lack of affect over a marching beat. The detached attitude and robotic melody outdo Pete Shelley’s "Homosapien." In the company of this lyric, and Jones’s cover painting for Dislocated Genius, the first utterance in the next song — "Life is hardly ever fair," probably sung by New York–to–Europe voyager Jones, but treated to sound like a sample from an old record player — arrives with vital irony.
The eight-minute track that follows, "Middle Finger Music," moves through menaced verses and curses over the type of automaton beat that Kraftwerk would factory stamp with approval before being overtaken by abstract daydreams and nightmares. Crying gulls and King Tubby–like dub motifs flicker through the song’s lonely, vast inner and outer space as Jones near-whispers the titular words to himself, his voice multitracked into a self-harassing chorus. Here, and on the gloomily humorous next song, "Vultures" (sample lines: "They circle-dive inside my dome … They never leave my ass alone"), paranoia pervades the atmosphere, which Jones renders like the imaginative painter he happens to be when he isn’t making music.
As a writer and singer, Jones possesses many voices, and if on "Middle Finger Music" he both listens to them and claims they’ll lead him to his doom, there and elsewhere on Dislocated Genius they yield extraordinary results. This recording’s avant-reaches have bewildered some club music writers who know of Jones strictly as the name behind a pair of sublime and relatively straightforward — if poetic — soulful house-inflected singles, "I Don’t Know" and "One and One." On those tracks (as well as another mathematics-of-love number, "49 Percent," recorded with Röyksopp), Jones’s voice trembles and swoons like that of Off the Wall–era Michael Jackson — that is, when he isn’t more freely vamping like a diva. Describing a movie-ready tearful good-bye by train tracks, "I Don’t Know”’s vocal outdoes some of the sensational male testifying of early Chicago house: Jones laughs bitterly to himself and seems to cradle his own pain while reaching deep into his chest for low notes as he feels a — that word again — "burn" in describing his crushed passion. He can also do butch swagger — witness the quarrelsome and smart (rather than daft) punk of "L.A. Mattress."
Jones’s talent is exciting because it reaches from pop melody to stranger realms; time and time again, the unique perspective of his songs dissolves into embattled technological chatter. The chorus of "The Hair" is as memorable as the one to Wire’s "I Am the Fly," and even more layered in its critique of a certain greed, and yet it’s sung in a tone that’s a sly update on Smokey Robinson. In More Brilliant than the Sun, Eshun explored "Myth Science" through written or typed words; Jones’s "Mythologies (Myths I and II)" does so in sound, with skepticism — his voice is processed in a way that brings the sweet but stinging theoretical distance of Scritti Politti’s honeybee R&B to mind. A motif from "Mythologies" returns in "Deer in the Headlights," further proving the formidable post-Baldwin, post-Basquiat methods within his fractured madness.
By the end of Dislocated Genius, as "Debaser" forms an abstract contemporary take on the stripped-down funk of very early Prince, Jones has made it clear that blackface is only the surface and the start of a defiant creative imagination just as comfortable being mauve, olive green, or "ho-ish pink." In the final minutes of this extraordinary album, he’s turned Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat” into a love song dedicated to someone who "defecate(s) words like Molly Bloom," and managed to make the vocal melody float like a spectral ship on an ocean at night.
He may be a "laughingstock since the age of 13," but this self-described "gaudy cross of Streisand and Curtis Mayfield" is still traveling. Where is he headed next? A place I’d like to hear. SFBG
Sometimes you want to be, as Thomas Gray so eloquently put it, "far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife." This is exactly how I felt as, against my quasi-agoraphobic intuition, I walked into the Make-Out Room to see San Francisco’s Cotton Candy this spring. Feeling friendless, dateless, lifeless, and down after a huge blowout with an old friend of mine, and unable to procure a warm body to fill up my plus one, I walked into the dark club only to be reminded by the smattering of plastic beads and silly hats and feather boas that it was Mardi Gras.
Feeling the need for some kind of psychic security blanket, I stopped at the bar. I probably should’ve ordered a double bourbon, but I just wanted something in my hand, you know. Like, "Hey, look, I’ve got a beverage." I may not have beads, but I am enjoying myself like a motherfucker. I got a Coke and shuffle-stepped my crotchety, dejected ass over to the darkest, most uninhabited corner and sat down behind some sort of homemade percussion wingding — a two-by-four with a bunch of metal crap nailed to it — and did my best Greta Garbo "I vant to be alone" impression.
Almost immediately someone found me, dressed entirely in black in a dark club. Sometimes, you’re just lucky like that. I don’t have many people I don’t want to see. Usually if you’ve been in my life long enough for me to know your name, I’m always glad to invite you back. But this was someone I had a crush on, long ago in some other reality, and I think she kind of made me look like a buffoon. More likely, I made myself look like a buffoon, and she turned the screw a little, wound up the buffoon box, and let it go, careful to hold at least some of her laughter until I was out of the room. And now here she was, in the dark on Fat Tuesday, asking me about my personal life. There must have been something on my face that said, "I love to chitchat."
Phat blues day
My cover blown, I grabbed my chair and slid in a few rows back from the stage, under the disco ball, as Cotton Candy set up. I’d seen them before, at least once, and I knew that if any band was going to cheer me up, they might be the one. Actually, it’s a stretch to call them a band at all. I think once you include a marimba player, you are officially not a band. Maybe you’re an ensemble. At the very least they’re a quartet. In addition to Matt Cannon on the marimba, they have an upright bass player, Tom Edler, who uses a bow most of the time, the lovely Linda Robertson on accordion and violin, and Heidi Kooy, who can really only be described as a chanteuse. The ladies were bedecked in full-length Easter Parade dresses, though somewhat less flouncy, Kooy’s a gauzy pale yellow, topped with a putf8um Veronica Lake wig, and Robertson’s a bright blue. They looked like a Victorian engraving delicately splashed with watercolors. They calmly began playing an instrumental number, with the seated Kooy tinkling gracefully on a sort of laptop xylophone.
Me? I was striving to be enraptured. I leaned forward and tried to will myself out of a nightclub and into a setting where the music would’ve been more appropriate: perhaps a garden party with those small, crustless finger sandwiches. It’d be sunny and warm, and instead of plastic beads maybe there’d be a parasol or two. But despite the delicacy of the music, I remained in reality — thanks to the steadfast shouting of a girl in rabbit ears standing next to me, her back to the band, totally unawares. I scanned the crowd, and it seemed much the same: pint glasses bonking in revelry. No one in the cheap seats — meaning the people who were standing — seemed to notice they’d even begun playing.
That is, until Kooy said, "Well. Hhhi. We are Cotton Candy. There’s so many of you this evening." As the Candies started playing "A Public Service Announcement about Clowns," a psychological sea change took place in the music — and in me. With the addition of lyrics, the dainty hues of the presentation mixed with ribald reds, the color of a freshly spanked ass.
"Clowns," Kooy sang. "Clowns get urges too. In the backseat of the clown car we can do a trick or two."
For me, this is where it all happens with Cotton Candy: the collision between long, delicate fingers on a microphone, a stately soft-shoe across the stage in an ankle-length dress, and bawdy lyrics about horny clowns, psycho roommates, and — on a song omitted from the set that evening but featured on their self-released 2005 debut, In the Pink — a perverted landlord who’s fond of public enemas. (A second CD, Fairy Floss, is due this fall, and HarperCollins will publish Robertson’s autobiography, What Rhymes with Bastard?, in 2007.) Flash back to the garden party, and you’ll see that next to those repressed sandwiches are some cock-shaped cookies sitting serenely on a doily. And what’s that rustle in the bushes? Victorians have the rap of being antisex only because they were so sex-obsessed they had to put some strictures on it. Strictures that, I might add, must have added up to some frantic unlacing of lace bodices in pantries.
Fancy, albeit filthy, pants
The crowd bantering through the instrumental opener was one thing, but after they continued their coarse chatter through the licentious lyrics, the one thing that might have held them in thrall — well, that was unforgivable. I officially aligned myself against them. And despite the fact that I probably would’ve enjoyed a quieter setting, I got a good deal of pleasure fancying myself to be a true cultural connoisseur, someone who clearly got it.
This stance on my part was a total farce, of course, but that’s part of the fun with Cotton Candy. You can feel fancy and somewhat dirty at the same time. I liken the group to Shakespeare: On one hand, Cotton Candy are highbrow, and not a lot of people even attempt to understand them. Yet, on the other hand, they’re really just about a bunch of dirty jokes. "I don’t just want to be friends with you," Kooy sang. "I want to rip your clothes off too." They cut through the prim and proper façade while appearing to observe all the social niceties.
So as Kooy gracefully pantomimed a frustrated lover waiting for her tardy beau in "Late" — introduced as, "in essence, why Linda now has an ex-husband" — my disgust for myself was leavened, even replaced, by my disgust for the "madding crowd," the common rabble, the groundlings who were just too engrossed and gross to understand the finer things. If they only knew that a tune like the closing number, "Pick You Up," is basically a song about midget tossing: "Let me take you in my arms / And see how far I can throw you … I like to pick up short men / And throw them as far as I can / It’s a strange hobby, maybe / But it makes me feel like a man."
Clearly, they hadn’t made it far enough up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to be able to see "self-actualization" with a telescope. Give a starving man a flaky, buttery croissant, and he’s going to jam it into his gullet like a three-day-old dinner roll. SFBG
With accordionist Isobel Douglas
Sat/20, 9 p.m.
Red Poppy Art House
2698 Folsom, SF
With accordionist Kielbasia
May 28, 7 p.m.
4 Valencia, SF
For a complete schedule of the 10th annual Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival shows and events (May 14–22), go to www.mcmf.org. Check Noise, the Guardian‘s music blog, at www.sfbg.com/blogs/music, for more Mission Creek festival coverage.
This Scandinavian neofolkie — it’s probably safe to say — is the only musician at Mission Creek who’s also had the pleasure of performing alongside Annie Lennox. Fittingly, sweet dreams are indeed made of the beautifully understated hymns on her putf8um-selling (overseas, at least) second album, A Temporary Dive (DetErMine/V2). The recording radiates so much warmth that even its bleakest lyrics — e.g., "I’m crawling on your floor, vomiting and defeated" — can’t help but sound strangely comforting. With Volunteer Pioneer, Tingsek, Ben and Barbara, and Fiji Mermaid. Sun/14, 8 p.m., Argus Lounge, 3187 Mission, SF. Call for price. (415) 824-1447 (Jimmy Draper)
Cult leader Craig Minowa suffered the loss of his two-year-old son in 2002 and has since used the tragedy to become an obsessively prolific writer and eco-activist. Hailing from Minneapolis, Cloud Cult offers a tie-dyed indie with the slightest hint of trip-hop and includes multimedia, such as live painters, as part of its stage show. With Hijack the Disco, Ebb and Flow, and Radius. Tues/16, 8 p.m. Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., SF. $8–$10. (415) 647-2888 (Izquierdo)
Edmund Welles Bass Clarinet Quartet
The bass clarinet is the granddaddy of all woodwinds, with a deep, warm tone and a punch, if used the right way. No one does it better than "the world’s only composing group of four bass clarinets." This foursome tackles Radiohead’s "Creep," original compositions with a metal sensibility, and even the Knight Rider theme with skill, humor, and a taste for the experimental. Tues/16, 9 p.m. 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission, SF. $6. (415) 970-9777 (Eliana Fiore)
With 6/6/06 so rapidly approaching, it’s comforting to know that we’ve got hell’s house band right here in our own city. Enter Ettrick, a sax and drums duo that offers up a bludgeoning amalgam of black metal and skronk sure to summon the apocalypse. Jacob Felix Huele and Jay Korber rotate instruments to create an excruciating free jazz that feels like being trapped in a metal shed during a thunderstorm. Noise fans have no business missing this show. With Moe! Staiano, Tussle, Jackie O-Motherfucker, and Weasel Walter Quartet. May 20, 8 p.m., The Lab, 2948 16th St., SF. Call for price. (415) 864-8855 (Kate Izquierdo)
The LA gothic garage-rock trio shows us how good an unholy alliance between Blonde Redhead and Joy Division can sound. Comb your hair over your eyes, stare at your shoes, and think very angry thoughts — this is the soundtrack to your angst. With Hey Willpower, Anna Oxygen, and Flaming Fire. May 17, 9 p.m. 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission, SF. $8–$10. (415) 970-9777 (Izquierdo)
Technical without being contrived, and lush without being wimps, this Seattle post-math trio takes unduutf8g guitars and peppers them with beats of varying persuasions. Check out Joules’s MySpace page for "Hole Ole," a flamenco send-up with hand claps that morphs into a crashing sonic expedition. With Crime in Choir, Modular Se, and Madelia. Tues/16, 8 p.m. Knockout, 3223 Mission, SF. Call for price. (415) 550-6994 (Izquierdo)
Sunburned Hand of the Man
The band jams folk-drone psychedelia without all the hippie baggage — awesome! For almost a decade this Boston collective of improvisers has cut its teeth in the experimental-noise circle on distortion-charged blowouts, backbiting electronics, and tribal-chanting powwows. With the Alps, the Cheapest and Best, and Effi Briest. Tues/16, 9:30 p.m. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $8. (415) 923-0923 (Sabbath)
Actor, musician, and painter extraordinaire Vincent Gallo is no stranger to controversy. After the online sperm auctions and the fire-eater scene with a certain deep-throater, it should come as to no surprise that the Republican-happy, onetime break-dancing b-boy and ex–Calvin Klein model is the talk of the town. Though the Buffalo, NY, native’s narcissistic reputation might not earn him any brownie points, his musical contributions are something of another world — he has a sharp know-how for fabricating song structures seeded somewhere between the modestly stark, incredibly warm, and overtly depressive. He’s the sole producer and performer on his recordings in the same way that he’s the singular auteur behind Buffalo 66 and Brown Bunny, and like those absorbing films, his short, penetrating songs leave you salivating for more. You can only hope Gallo’s debut musical performance in the Bay Area will leave you with the same afterglow his movies do. With Sean Lennon and Carla Azar. May 19, 9 p.m., Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. $20. (415) 474-0365 (Chris Sabbath)
There was a period in the early to mid-’80s when Dieselhed absolutely ruled the San Francisco music scene. Like the previous generation’s Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 or Primus, or maybe today’s Joanna Newsom or Deerhoof, fans enthusiastically lined up to catch the popular quintet every time the group played. To see Dieselhed once was to love them forever. You’ve got that chance, as they’re re-forming for one night at this year’s Mission Creek Music Festival.
What made them so fucking great? For starters, the music: crashing cow-punk guitars alternating with twangy tearjerkers and, over it all, Virgil Shaw’s and Zac Holtzman’s sweet, incandescent harmonies. Dieselhed was a band with a fully formed aesthetic whose keenly observed stories (and all their songs told stories) wheeled out quintessentially quotidian Northern Californian lives: dreaming of a world beyond Humboldt County, summers spent working on fishing boats in Alaska, weddings on the Hornblower, buying titty mags at the 7-Eleven, touring Sonoma Valley small towns and playing breweries, the guy who makes the hash browns at the local greasy spoon.
It was easy to imagine they were singing about you, and sometimes they were: Dieselhed’s number one fan was always the taxi dispatcher and perpetually tipsy Corinne, and, heck, they wrote a song about her: "Corrine Corrine/ Look at you spin / You’ve got me in a half nelson." The shit was funny — because it was so real — to everyone, including the characters they sang about in their songs: the girl who whispers into her poodle’s ear, the waitress at the truck stop, the guy studying for the forklift operator’s exam.
The band was wonderfully inclusive: Sing-alongs quickly came to include audience-participatory gestures, like the big O-shaped upstretched arms we all flew to represent the diamond ring in "The Wedding Song." Shaw’s then-adolescent sisters, who were budding songwriters in their own right, made guest appearances.
In another example of Dieselhed’s absolute command of who they were and what they meant, there were the improv numbers that charted their growing popularity and the changes in their lives. In "Someday We Won’t Be a Band," each member took to the mic to weave an always different story of what someone else in the group would be doing years hence. What will that tune sound like this time around? It’s guaranteed to have us laughing and crying.
The main thing is this: Dieselhed will always be relevant, and they never fucking lost it. Shaw’s now an acclaimed solo act. Holtzman formed the Cambodian pop group Dengue Fever and is licensed in Chinese medicine. Drummer Danny Heifetz up and moved to Australia. And I can’t wait to hear what bassist Atom Ellis and guitarist Shon McAllin are up to. "Someday we won’t be a band," Dieselhed sang, "but for now, we totally exist!" SFBG
With Fantasy, Sonny Smith, and Marc Capelle
May 21, 8 p.m.
2565 Mission, SF
$10 advance, $12 door
"I wanted to make something that was really grand and epic, that was really composed, and maybe kind of mythic, in the way that a lot of those protometal bands were trying to do," Ezra Feinberg of Citay says, his postpsychedelic, postmetal outfit. Feinberg is inspired by hard rock–metal bands of the late 1960s and 1970s, such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, whose used power chords as the basis for their grand, jazz-inspired, narrative song structures. Favoring melodies interwoven with narratives over power chords, Feinberg has turned Citay into a kinder, gentler incarnation of the archetypal headbanging unit. "I wasn’t writing the songs with a drummer, you know, where it’s about power chords and physical energy," he explains. "Instead, it was more melody-driven composition and harmony."
Anyone who has listened to Citay’s carefully crafted, self-titled debut will tell you that composition is clearly Feinberg’s modus operandi. Each song is knit tightly around melodies that aren’t so much meandering as on a journey with a distinct destination. Though Feinberg is admittedly obsessed with Led Zeppelin, and Citay’s emphasis on instrumentation wears its classic rock–metal influences on its sleeve, it is the disciplined melodies and more nuanced harmonies, à la the Beach Boys and the Byrds, combined with a scampering mandolin and lackadaisical tambourine, that make Citay’s music accessible and original. Citay’s forthcoming Mission Creek performance and upcoming summer tour with Vetiver might make a comparison to the psych-folk movement an apt one, even though Feinberg is quick to distance Citay from any such categories.
The 29-year-old Boston native wrote and composed the album using a cache of instruments and a multitrack computer program in his Excelsior apartment, the results of which he brought to Louder Studios to collaborate with Tim Green (the Fucking Champs, Nation of Ulysses), with whom Feinberg had worked previously in Brooklyn when Green produced the album by Feinberg’s "sludge metal" band, Feast.
Feinberg credits Green with much of the Citay sound and with adding another dimension to his music. "If the record is any good, a lot of it is because of Tim," he says. "I had the songs, which were written — the parts and the melodies were already there — but he added so much." Tim Soete, of the Fucking Champs, also contributed backing vocals and guitar.
Not only is Green’s Louder Studios the home of Citay the band, but it was also the home of Feinberg for about a month after he moved from Brooklyn to San Francisco in 2004. Having spent four years in Brooklyn working with Feast and a few other musical endeavors, Feinberg felt as though he was "done" with the Brooklyn music scene and considered moving to be an opportunity to focus on writing music for himself, outside of a collaborative band environment. "I felt that I needed to musically be alone for a little while, which sounds really juvey and dramatic, but I had just been doing the band thing for so long. I knew that I wanted to keep writing music, but I knew that I wanted to do it in another way."
Now that the Citay album has been released, on Important Records, to largely glowing reviews, the challenge for Feinberg has been transutf8g that sound in performance, a process that has always evolved the other way around for the songwriter. He’s still solidifying Citay’s live lineup, which currently includes eight friends drawn from Crime in Choir, the Dry Spells, Ascended Master, By Land and Sea, Skygreen Leopards, and Tussle. "It’s the first time that I’ve ever gone from the studio to the stage," he says. SFBG
With Silver Sunshine, Persephone’s Bees, the Winter Flowers, and Willow Willow
155 Fell, SF
$10 advance, $12 door
Love ballads, boyish harmonies, and a single acoustic guitar — four albums along, with numerous side projects such as Sandycoates bringing up the rear, the Moore Brothers obviously have a sweet streak that’s miles wide and filled with melodies as creamy as custard pie and as dreamy as those steamy, leisurely days of teenage summer.
But even dark thoughts dog nice guys, diligent students, and upstanding Joes like Greg and Thom Moore, holding court on a sunny day at a corner table, next to a picture of Jack London, in Mama Buzz’s concrete backyard. Behold the smiling, prone girl lying in the snow on the cover of their beautiful new album, Murdered by the Moore Brothers (Plain). Cock an ear toward the dulcet numbers within, eerie narratives populated with drowned pals ("Old Friend of Mine"), spiteful lovers ("Fresh Thoughts of You"), cemetery lovers ("Bury Me under the Kissing Teens"), and "good deaths" ("Pham"). Even idle bird-watching has a soft veneer of creepy claustrophobia ("The Auditorium Birds"), counterpointing the Moores’ delectable vocals.
What did we do to deserve this? "Lyrically, it is probably the darkest Moore Brothers record," Thom, 32, confesses. "But it also seemed like a nice idea coming out after Now Is the Time for Love, a more holding-hands record. This could be too, but it’s a little more sinister."
"Like holding a severed hand," Greg, 35, chuckles.
Additionally, Thom says, "We’ve got gothic roots." He goes on to describe his first concert as a 12-year-old, accompanying Greg to the Cure’s 1986 Standing on the Beach stop at the LA Forum. The young brothers watched, horrified, as a man in a cowboy hat, standing on a chair, committed suicide by stabbing himself with a huge dagger as an enormous crowd encircled him. "It really scarred me for life!" Thom says. "I thought, I’m never gong to see another concert again unless it’s the Dream Academy!"
So when Thom found himself thumbing through a book of folk songs, looking for numbers for his next side project, Chicken on a Raft, and he came across one titled "Murdered by a Brother," he knew it would be perfect for the Moore Brothers’ next release. "It’s so mean! It’s awful," he says, smiling. They decided to go with it, although their mother — and Girl George, their "punk rock mother," in charge of the Starry Plough open mic — hated it. The former "is afraid someone will murder us," Thom explains. "She said, ‘What if someone sees the album and wants to murder you or wants to implicate you in a murder?!’"
What if? Family bands — and particularly brother bands like the Moore Brothers’ faves the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees, and the Everly Brothers — have always hit a powerful, resonant chord in our pop imaginations, touching off daydreams of thick-as-thieves musical togetherness and nightmares of creepy, smothering … togetherness. After all, the pair does at times finish each other’s sentences, and as Thom offers, their mother can’t tell the two apart on the phone. No wonder rumor in local music circles has it that not only do the Moore Brothers share a house (where, in fact, until recently, songwriting legend Biff Rose couch-surfed), but also a room, an idea that strikes them as natural and practical, although the siblings really haven’t shared a bedroom since they were kids. Back then, though, that closeness played as important a role in their musical development as the obligatory piano lessons. Greg says: "I’d hear all his records, and he’d hear all my records."
"Even back then, we were forced to take turns," Thom continues. "So nowadays we take turns with the set list and album song order — pretty much everything." That sense of fair play extends to their track on the largely acoustic new Kill Rock Stars comp, The Sound the Hare Heard, which was decided with a flip of a coin.
Still, the close living arrangements eases the Moore Brothers’ existence in more ways than one: Songwriters since youth (Thom started writing songs at 10 with Jon B, who later collaborated with Babyface), the pair never needs to rehearse, and they dispense with chitchat during long drives on tour, instead sharing a friendly silence as a CD plays.
And, of course, they’ll always be there for each other. "Things come and go in cycles," Thom says. "The good thing about us is that we’re planning to do it forever.
"We still have hopes for being hip in our 50s." SFBG>
With Rose Melberg, the Harbours, and the Lonelyhearts
Tues/16, 9 p.m.
155 Fell, SF
An aggro dance-punk explosion of smart-ass energy and drunk-kid shit, Clipd Beaks can be summed up in an endless bout of name-game banter: They’re tweaked shoegazer for the top 40 soul. Nauseated psychedelia. The guitar-driven grittiness of Prince’s "Darling Nikki" meets the smooth-as-glass PM Dawn faux-original "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss." Man, fuck Prince. He doesn’t have shit on PM Dawn. What did he give us after Sign of the Times?
Needless to say, the tugboat of inspiration doesn’t drop anchor there. Since migrating from the Purple One’s old stomping grounds of Minneapolis to Oakland, the quartet hasn’t shied away from any particular aspect of the music world — they’ll pump your ears full of all types of loud, freaked-out noise.
The band wallows in a hearty hybrid of electrofunk and kraut rock ambience, cavorting amid tropical storms of sonic upsurges and acid-laced melodies. Colorful aural washes seem to crawl up your nostrils like billows of tonic mist and pulsate down your brain stem. If this flavorsome visual doesn’t have your toes tingling for the nearest club floor just yet, maybe you’ll think otherwise when the band’s latest EP, Preyers (Tigerbeat6), latches itself onto your hindquarters. CB fabricate a cluster of feel-good turbulence with proggy synth bursts, octopuslike drumbeats, and the hollow resonance of vocal distortion. Add jumbled samplers and grimy bass squawks thick enough to saw through your ankles and you have what Beaked vocalist Nic Barbeln refers to as a "total meltdown."
CB’s kick-out-the-dance-jams ethos grew out of the merging of two bands that shared a practice space back in Minneapolis in early 2003. Searching for something more invigorating than the mellower waters each group’s sound was treading on, Barbeln, synth player Greg Pritchard, bassist Scott Ecklein, and drummer Ray Benjamin chose to align.
After building up a fan base in Minneapolis and self-releasing a couple of homemade CD-R EPs, Pritchard departed for the Bay Area just after the recording of Preyers while the other Beaked players continued working at home. "I knew that they were still recording and doing Clipd Beaks," Pritchard says. "But when I heard the music, I said, ‘This cannot exist without me being involved with it.’<\!q>”
The rest of the group soon packed their bags and joined Pritchard on the West Coast, and before long fate came knocking. Pritchard had been mailing the band’s music to the Bay Area’s Tigerbeat6 through another friendly community: MySpace. Pritchard laughs: "I happened to ask them to be our friend on MySpace, and they wrote back and were like, ‘You guys are awesome.’<\!q>”
"They asked us to send more shit than what we had, and then a half an hour later, they were like, ‘Do you want to put out a record?’<\!q>” Barbeln continues.
Grateful for the massive amount of support they’ve received from the label and their fans in such a short amount of time, CB will spend the summer recording their full-length debut. Seeking to expand beyond the layered walls of sonics that hatched two years ago during the recording of Preyers, the band has expended a great deal of time perfecting the gem that’ll capture the intensity of their live performances and have the Bay Area party people passing out on the dance floor.
"We’re trying not to have jobs," Barbeln says.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>
With Kid 606 and Friends, Dwayne Sodahberk, Eats Tapes, and Gregg Kowalsky
May 19, 9 p.m.
647 Valencia, SF
Call for price.
It would be hard to imagine a more painfully ironic moniker than Can’t. It’s a name of self-negation, self-defense, and self-defiance. A name that instantly speaks of limitation and deprivation, it revels in its view of the personal-as-political prisoner. The social constraints of gender, sex, love, genre, freedom, and artistic and financial success all hang off of that name like handcuffs on a policeman’s belt. Yet instead of binding Can’t, otherwise known as Jessica Rylan, in self-defeat, she takes the bite out of her critics and detractors, as though she is reclaiming years of doubt and dismissal.
Can’t make noise because she’s a girl
When you peer into the sweaty, black-shirted boy zone of America’s noise underground, you do find women, both as participants and voyeurs, but you won’t find them given much mind. Hypermasculinity is so common among the legions of teen hellions and the ranks of the old guard (both of whom are sex-obsessed and at times sexist) that you could almost mistake it for homoerotic homogeneity. What makes Can’t an anomaly isn’t that she’s a woman but that she is so fearlessly feminine, in the traditional sense. The sounds breathed from her homemade modular synths don’t come off as ladylike — they’re as monstrous and violent at the appropriate volumes as the harshest noise. It’s her gentle intimacy with her instrument, the lightness of her voice as it passes through her bent circuits, and the passivity of her gestures as she moves the chaotic parameters of the machine in front of her that imbue her performance with femininity.
Can’t sing about sex and love with sincerity
In the context of her adopted music community, sex is a tool that channels or expresses anger, frustration, and occasionally ecstatic peace. Yet when Can’t sings about it, moving her body like a six-year-old girl and dancing in a faux-Broadway sway, she is vocalizing honest heartbreak. She’s singing about ordinary love, and it’s so disarming, if not necessarily naïve, that you’re left a little embarrassed and a little bit more endeared.
Can’t be a noise musician if her set consists of nursery-rhyme melodies
If, in fact, she is, then you find yourself debating with others about what the hell "noise" is, anyway. Isn’t noise anything that is unclassifiable as music? Isn’t "noise music" about transgression and ambiguity? Doesn’t "noise" reject containment and clarification? What, if anything, shows more of an anarchic disregard for the rules than a noisician who sings folk songs and calls it "noise"?
Can’t be that free
On some level, there is a contradiction here. A cake-and-eat-it-too sort of feeling. She’s been to Bard, she’s traveled the world with some of the most respected noise artists around (Joe Colley, John Wiese, Emil Beaulieau), and she’s released albums titled Can’t Prepares to Fail Again and Can’t vs. the World. Which means she knows exactly what she’s doing and exactly what buttons she’s pushing. She’s on to us. Which means she’ll have the perfect response if you try to dismiss her.
Can’t be a success, yet she is
She is a charismatic and beguiling performer. Her music is mysterious and engaging. The importance and popularity of Can’t in this new age of music will only grow with time. All the harshies and PE enthusiasts in black shirts and camo pants love her, so why don’t the rest of you? SFBG
With Skullcaster, Evil Wikkid Warrior, Gang Wizard, Joel Murach, Joe Rut, and the Great Auk
2948 16th St., SF
Call for time and price.
Considering its bodacious flag team and its players’ general inclination to treat every day like birthday-suit day, Extra Action Marching Band has boasted its share of fleshy, fantastic, and extra-weird gigs, though none quite so intimate as the time they were hired by a would-be groom to crash his marriage proposal. Let into their client’s abode by a friend, about 20 members of the drum corps, horn section, and flag team stomped into the couple’s bedroom just after the "act." "His girlfriend was naked, jumping up and down on the bed, going, ‘Yaaarrr!’" modified-bullhorn manipulator Mateo remembers. "She was totally psyched."
Sit down with whichever members of the 30-odd, proudly odd members of the Bay Area troupe you can rustle up, and you’ll get an earful of many similar stories. There was the time they transformed a school bus into a 60-foot-long, 50-foot-tall Spanish galleon, a.k.a. La Contessa, to drive around Burning Man. "But they started to get really strict and created a five-mile-an-hour speed limit," trombone player Chad Castillo explains after a recent practice in seven-year vet Mateo’s cavernous Oakland warehouse space, the Meltdown. "We were always going faster because we always had been going faster and never had problems. So they finally banned us from Burning Man."
As with most tales, the exact events are in question, and Castillo and Mateo argue good-naturedly about whether their school-bus-run-amok was actually, er, expelled, before the trombonist continues: "The point is, they banned us, and we brought it back, and we took it on a maiden voyage and crashed it," putting a four-foot-high hole in La Contessa’s side.
Hunter Thompson’s wake and East Bay Rats soirees aside, performance highlights include opening for David Byrne on his 2005 SoCal tour, stopping at the Hollywood Bowl and later careening through a pelvic thrust–heavy version of Beyoncé’s "Crazy in Love." And then there was a Mardi Gras tour that re-created Black Sabbath’s heavy metal debut classic, with plain ole heavy eXtreme Elvis on vocals, and special, sexy rifle and fan-dance routines, flag team dancer and original member Kelek Stevenson relates.
The band upped themselves two years ago, when they played the Balkan Brass Bands Festival in Guca, Serbia, deep in the heart of gypsy horn country, one of the inspirations for Extra Action’s cosmopolitan mosh pit of Sousa, Latin, and New Orleans second-line sounds. A recent DVD by Emmy-winning nature documentarian and Extra Action flag girl Anna Fitch supports the stories and catches the combo in action as villagers cheer, fall to their knees, and hug the ensemble as they blow through the streets. One grandmotherly onlooker even gets some extra, extra action, copping a feel of a manly member’s bare chest.
But with the anarchic joys come the passionate battles, such as the recent knockdown blowout over the possibility of doing a Coke commercial, one of many battles regularly undergone in the collective, which has only one CD to its name, last year’s self-released Live on Stubnitz. "There was this huge firestorm between those who wanted to take the gig and use the money to further social change in the world and show that we don’t support Coke and its policies," Mateo explains.
"And a bunch of people threatened to quit the band," Castillo adds. "This band is so big — you’ve got homeowners and you’ve got people who are basically living in their campers — and when it came to doing the Coke commercial, there were a lot of people who just don’t like the big multinational corporations."
It’s remarkable that such an unruly, perpetually shifting, shiftless bunch has managed to hold it together for all of seven or eight years with few agreed-upon "leaders" (although Castillo asserts, "the original members always walk around like aristocracy"). The wireless, untethered energy they bring to the trad rock lineup is impressive. When they marched onto the stage at Shoreline Amphitheatre to join Arcade Fire (after crashing the women’s room) at last year’s Download Festival — ragtag horn and drum corps ripping through a few numbers as the flag girls and boy bumped and grinded in blond wigs and glittery G-strings — you realized what was really missing from indie at this performance, at so many performances: sex appeal. Theater. A drunken mastery of performance and the dark arts of showmanship, along with the sense of team spirit linked to so much marching band imagery bandied about in today’s pop.
As Castillo quips, "Record companies are interested in having us play with their bands because their bands are so boring onstage. People pay big money to go to these concerts because the music is all great and produced, and then they go to these shows, and these guys are sitting there bent over their Game Boys. Oh, that’s really exciting. Where’s the show?"
This show emerged from the ashes of Crash Worship, the legendary SoCal "cult, paganistic drum corps," as Castillo describes it, "where people would just strip naked and writhe in orgiastic piles." Extra Action was the processional that would cut through the heaps, eventually marching north to a Fruitvale warehouse, at the behest of ex-Crash Worshipper Simon Cheffins.
"I’ve been pretty much kicked out of every band I’ve been in," Castillo says, who has played with the group for five years. Members — many of the sculptor, performance artist, or "computer geek" persuasion — come and go, sometimes after a few practices, spinning off into combos like the As Is Brass Band. But it’s a family of sorts — a band-geek gang cognizant of the Bay Area’s countercultural/subcultural performance traditions and the unchartable wildness extending from the Diggers to the Cacophony Society. And only "one thing seems to be a requirement," Castrillo continues. "People have to have some problem that needs to be expressed. Everybody’s an exhibitionist. We like to take off our clothes." Those are family values we can get behind. SFBG
Extra Action Marching Band
With Death of a Party, Sugar and Gold, and Hank IV
May 18, 8 p.m. door
398 12th St., SF
Call for price.
John Vanderslice goes straight for the guy with the bouzouki. He’s taking me on a tour of his recording studio, analog haven Tiny Telephone, located in an industrial space at the base of Potrero Hill, directly across from a giant, rusted rocket engine belonging to Survival Research Laboratories.
He’s about to pick the melon-shaped instrument up from its stand out of sheer exuberance, but he checks himself and asks its owner, "Do you mind?" It has four sets of strings, paired in octaves like a 12-string guitar, and some fancy inlay work. He gives it a tentative strum, trying to suss out the tuning, before gingerly replacing it. "Anything but an electric guitar excites me."
It’s a strange statement coming from a guitar player. But Vanderslice isn’t simply a guitar player — he’s a complex commodity. He looks calm enough in his tattered, holey sweater and wide-wale corduroys. But it’s like the surface tension on a water droplet. It can only briefly hold back an inexorable motion, and the seeming stillness on the outside belies the seething, wild Brownian motion beneath.
Tapestry of the unknown
Google "’John Vanderslice’ + ‘analog’" and you’ll get around 100,000 hits. This shouldn’t be shocking. For one, there are five "official" solo albums on Barsuk, as well as three with his previous band, mk Ultra; for another, there’s his studio, boasting a 30-channel Neve mixing board that once belonged to the BBC, and dozens of vintage amps, preamps, and effects, some of them fairly wacky, like the huge anodized metal "plate in a box" reverb. One can comfortably call him an analog purist. He even calls himself that. Sometimes.
Like most purists, there’s a persnicketiness to his passion. I’m reminded of the older guys at the BMX track who refuse to ride aluminum bikes: "Steel is real," they’re always saying. For Vanderslice too, steel is real — as are the glass tubes and the magnetic tape that runs from reel to reel to capture it all. When it comes to his own records, he has "these militant rules about what we can and can’t do as far as using effects. If we want an effect on an instrument, we have to record it that way. My thing is, if you want it to be some way, make it that way and commit to it. Don’t be half-assed. If you want it to sound fucked-up or modulated or distorted or delayed, let’s go for it. Record it that way, print it on tape, and then it’s part of the tapestry. It’s done."
"It is done" were that last words of Jesus Christ, and when Vanderslice is up in arms, hunched over his cup of tea, the ardent analog guru preaching the tube gospel, they’re murmured with similar prophetic urgency. But that’s just the molecular lockdown on the surface of the drop. Underneath: movement. His records — especially as they move away from being "guitar records" — are all about that tapestry. The song, lyrics, chorus, melody, and bridge — these are the structural elements that build the house. But you have to peek in the windows to see what’s really going on: the art on the walls, that tapestry he’s talking about and how intricately it’s woven. "Exodus Damage" on his most recent album, last year’s Pixel Revolt, has got mellotron "synthesizing" (sans computer), a choir, pipe organ, strings, and a flute. Instrumentally, the album’s all over the place — it’s like a warehouse with cello, Hammond B3, Wurlitzer, glockenspiel, vibraphone, steel drums, trumpet, moog, tape loops, and a "space station," among other things. There’s a lot going on, on different levels, and you’ve got to do more than peek through the windows to really get Pixel Revolt; you’ve got to come inside and sit down.
Vanderslice constructs his music in that honest, brick-by-brick way of the analog stickler, but it’s not as if he just mics it up, tapes it down, and it’s ready to go. He manipulates his songs using techniques that might be more readily associated with the digital side of things. He builds them, then deconstructs them and builds something else. I’m reminded of Bob Geldof in The Wall, where he smashes everything in the hotel room and builds something that, at first glance, is obtuse and impenetrable but is clearly imbued with deeper meaning for having been recontextualized. Vanderslice takes digital techniques and analog-izes them. He uses Tiny Telephone like a punch card machine, a steam-driven computer.
"I like using the analog instruments of the studio, meaning compressors and mic pres and effects as instruments," he explains. "When you start combining all these things — the keyboard into some mic pre you found in a pawn shop into some weird compressor into delay — you get some unknowable results. Chasing down that kind of shit is fascinating for me."
"I’d harbored hope that the intelligence that once inhabited novels or films would ingest rock," Lou Reed once said. "I was, perhaps, wrong." Like most Lou Reed quotes or songs or looks, he’s both right and wrong. Most rock has ceased to even aspire to the literary. Traditional rock lyrics are the domain of the first-person diarist.
Vanderslice’s songs, however, are sonic novellas, small, encapsulated narratives whose meaning sometimes bleeds into the silence between tracks to form the greater novel of the album. Not surprisingly for an artist with so much happening musically on that other level, stories of the covert permeate JV’s records. Mass Suicide Occult Figurines (2000) takes us behind the scenes of a drug operation on "Speed Lab." Life and Death of an American Fourtracker (2002) follows the semi-institutionalized ruination of its lead character’s life and love. Of late, 2004’s Cellar Door features the shaky ruminations of a special ops type, musing on shady dealings from Columbia to Guant?