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It takes 3 – or 50


Break it down to the Beastie Boys’ smart-ass advocacy of the everydude, or their ability to agilely swing with hip-hop’s developments and evolve with their more adventurous listeners, but Adam Yauch (MCA), Mike Diamond (Mike D), and Adam Horovitz (Adrock) have always maintained a special "relationship" with their fans. Their new concert film, Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!, a listener-producer "collabo," as Yauch puts it, explodes that bond. It’s a mash(-up) note, a Bronx-cheer pop Rashomon from the 50 followers who were given video cameras to shoot the group’s sold-out Madison Square Garden concert Oct. 9, 2004.

Something from each camera made it onscreen. By the second part of the film, director-producer Yauch — working under his music vid/viz art nom de camera Nathaniel Hornblower — moves from exciting but straightforward cinéma vérité into a playful, fourth wall–banging realm familiar to aficionados of the group’s videos. The color is leeched from one song and intensified in another; strobe effects are magnified here, and the zoom plunges deep into the frame there. When one shooter — diligently following his preconcert instructions to "start when the Beastie Boys hit the stage and don’t stop till it’s over" — takes his camera into the men’s room and captures himself taking a piss, Yauch matches the onstage musical break with the rip of a paper towel.

Along with Yauch’s edit of a female fan doing the same dance move as the onstage Diamond (and his superimposition of the two in the same frame, so that they appear to be dancing together), that bathroom break also marked the limits for the two Beasties sidelined during the editing. Discussing the film in Austin at this year’s South by Southwest conference, Diamond said he "begged Yauch to take out the explicit scene of me dancing with the young lady." Horovitz felt like the onscreen urination was too much information.

But what are the now mature Boys going to do with all the newfound respect they’re fielding from … their parents? "My dad [playwright Israel Horovitz] is just superimpressed with Yauch," Horovitz claims. "Now that we got reviewed in the New York Times as a film —"

" — it comes onto the parents’ radar," Yauch says.

"What, isn’t it good enough we’re playing at the Garden?" Horovitz jokes. *


Opens Fri/31

Bridge Theatre

Shattuck Cinemas

For showtimes go to

C’mon pilgrims


The best films resensitize you, making acts as simple as walking down the street or even breathing seem new. Such is the case with Carlos Reygadas’s Battle in Heaven, an audacious collection of slow, circular pans and long tracking shots that travel ever deeper into the mysterious relationship between a chauffeur named Marcos (Marcos Hern?

Feeling everybody up


One of the things I love about that place known fondly as "the Interwebs" is the way it allows researchers to graph things that should never be graphed. For example, have you ever wondered exactly how excited people really were about the release of the most recent Harry Potter book? Thanks to MoodGrapher, an application created by three Dutch information theorists, you’ll discover that reported feelings of excitement were up 130 percent on the day millions of copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince flooded into stores.

MoodGrapher works by collecting information from the "mood" tags associated with millions of entries on popular diary site Every time you write something on LiveJournal, you have the option to tag your post with a mood from a pop-up menu that includes everything from "bored" to "drunk" (for those feeling eccentric or curmudgeonly, there is also a "fill in your mood" option). After aggregating these moods over time, the Dutch info geeks were able to see clear patterns. Drunkenness spikes on Fridays and Saturdays, for example. Frustration plummeted on New Year’s Day (but loneliness was on the rise). You can search for moods over time yourself if you visit the MoodGrapher at

The idea of tracking the moods of an entire global population sounds like something from a movie about a dystopian future in which humanity’s computer overlords monitor everyone’s feelings so they can dope us up or feed us rock and roll accordingly. And that’s not far from the truth. The MoodGrapher’s creators published a paper earlier this month suggesting that their tool could be used to predict the success of a given movie by measuring the warmth of people’s feelings about it before release.

Some might argue that this is a consumer-centric development, in which our feelings are taken into account before new pop culture is thrust upon us. But in point of fact, measuring people’s moods about something before it comes out merely reveals how much buzz has been generated by advertising campaigns. Thus, the MoodGrapher’s results simply reflect how much money has already been blown on getting LiveJournal weenies amped up for the latest Franz Ferdinand album or M. Night Shyamalan’s stupid new movie. There are some exceptions to this, certainly. But you’re unlikely to see mass upticks in excitement for a new thing — whether it’s Windows Vista or Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman movie — unless it’s already being hyped to death.

What’s truly interesting about the MoodGrapher isn’t its marketability but its use as a diagnostic tool to measure how much events in the news affect people’s emotions. In a paper called "Why Are They Excited?" the MoodGrapher team explain how they figure out what’s causing unusual spikes in the mass mood. First they use a simple algorithm to search for massive mood upturns or downturns in a given period of time (usually a day or an hour). Then they search the journal entries of everyone who has reported the popular mood, looking for words or phrases that are used repeatedly. Once they’ve gotten five or six recurring words (like book and prince, for example), they search a news database to find out whether the words are turning up there too.

Using this methodology, the MoodGraphers found that a peak in "excitement" on July 16, 2005, was heavily correlated with the use of words like book and read and Potter. Similarly, they found that a peak in the mood "worried" during late August 2005 was associated with uses of the words hurricane, gas, and Katrina. Quick searches of those words against their news database revealed what you’d expect: They were ripped from the headlines.

The news-driven mood swings on LiveJournal are simultaneously hopeful and disturbing. It’s comforting to know that when something literally earth-shattering happens — like Hurricane Katrina — people are genuinely worried about one another. We’re not a bunch of numbed-out blog zombies. We’re members of a human community, and we care when we read about other people being hurt.

Of course, the more we care about what the media tell us, the closer we get to having our feelings crassly manipulated — especially if cool hunters and other dipshits of the brandosphere start using the MoodGrapher to figure out what makes us excited and drunk and happy. Worse, politicians might study MoodGrapher for ways to tweak national sentiment. Sometimes, it’s just better to keep your feeling tags to yourself. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who never had a mood she could sum up in a tag.

The lessons of East Timor


Chega, the 2,500-page, recently completed final report of East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation, will probably attract little notice in the United States, and it’s not clear whether it’s the Timorese or the Americans who will be the worse off for that.

If Americans were to take the document seriously, the benefit for East Timor would be obvious: The tiny, half-island nation off the north coast of Australia might hope to receive justice for what it has suffered, rather than just the charity of wealthier nations on which it now depends.

Less obvious is what Americans stand to gain from the report: an understanding of just how far off the mark mainstream political discussion really is when it comes to the legitimate role of the world’s only remaining superpower.

A single sentence from Chega (which means enough in Portuguese) says it all: "In response to the massive violations that occurred in Timor-Leste [East Timor’s official name] in September 1999, President Clinton threw the considerable influence of the United States behind efforts to press the Indonesian Government to accept the deployment of an international force in the territory, demonstrating the considerable leverage that it could have exerted earlier had the will been there."

The "massive violations" referred to were the killings of more than 1,000 Timorese and the burning down of virtually every structure in the emerging country following its vote for independence from Indonesia. The United States’ "considerable influence" stemmed from the fact that it supplied the bulk of Indonesia’s weapons, as it had done throughout the entire occupation of the former Portuguese colony. The prompt effectiveness of a US government that was actually motivated to end the carnage after the 1999 plebiscite demonstrated what some had argued all along: As a junior military partner, Indonesia could never have invaded East Timor in 1975 without tacit US approval.

Five presidents occupied the White House during the Indonesian occupation: Republicans Ford, Reagan, and Bush; and Democrats Carter and Clinton. For 24 years, none of them opted to utilize America’s "considerable leverage," despite repeated United Nations condemnations of the invasion and occupation.

The history is very relevant: In this case we find a dramatic reminder of the continuity of American foreign policy — from the cold war to the war on terrorism — in the person of Paul Wolfowitz. The neoconservative Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, served as undersecretary of defense at the start of the Iraq War, and a lot of people who might have known better took him at face value when he argued that the war was all about democratizing the Middle East.

Wolfowitz, however, displayed no such overriding concern for democracy in East Timor when he served as ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1988, nor as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 1982 to 1986. In 1997 he told a congressional committee that talk of East Timor’s independence was "destructive," a view he maintained until 1999.

Chega demonstrates the truth of the exact opposite point of view. In 1999 the US government acted effectively to end the suffering of East Timor because it finally lived up to a principle that ought to be the cornerstone of our foreign policy: It required that one of our allies live up to the ideals we demand of our enemies.

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher was a United Nations election officer in Lospalos, East Timor, during the 1999 plebiscite.

A selective guide to political events



Pro-choice films

Join the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights and New College as they screen two films that comment on the state of reproductive rights in the United States. Remember the haunting image of a woman lying dead on a motel room floor from an illegal abortion? That story, of the late Gerri Santoro, is told by Jane Gillooly in her film Leona’s Sister Gerri. Imagine what would happen if South Dakota’s ban on abortion spreads from state to state. Raney Aronson-Roth addresses this issue in her film The Last Abortion Clinic.

7 p.m.

Roxie Cinema

3117 16th St., SF

$8, $4 students

(415) 437-3425


The 9/11 Commission’s omissions

Is there a story out there that is just too big to touch? David Ray Griffin, theologian and philosopher, has pointed out the proverbial elephant in the room and is attempting to jump on its back and ride it to Washington, DC. In his lecture "9/11: The Myth and the Reality," Griffin discusses crucial omissions and distortions found within the 9/11 Commission Report.

7 p.m.

Grand Lake Theater

3200 Grand, Oakl.


(510) 496-2700


A laughing matter

You know all about the tragic San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, in which thousands lost their lives and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. But do you know about the vaudeville shows and circus acts that rose from the fire’s ashes? In the aftermath of destruction, wit and humor kept spirits high. Starting today, April Fools’ Day, and lasting throughout the month, the San Francisco Public Library puts its collection of memorabilia from the era on display. The exhibition includes cartoons, theater programs, and postearthquake items that may leave you chuckling uncomfortably.

San Francisco Public Library, Skylight Gallery

100 Larkin, SF


Bayview women in politics

Attend a one-day leadership seminar designed by the National Women’s Political Caucus to get Bayview women politically involved in their community. Enjoy free child care and lunch while listening to speakers, including Willie Kennedy of the Southeast Community Facilities Commission.

10 a.m.–2 p.m.

Bayview–Hunters Point YMCA

1601 Lane, SF

Free, RSVP required

(415) 377-6722,

Creative resistance

Hear a report from local artists Susan Greene and Sara Kershnar on their efforts to bring about Palestinian freedom and on recent events in the West Bank and Gaza. Other Cinema hosts an evening of discussion with these two muralists and the premiere of their video When Your Home Is a Prison: Cultural Resistance in Palestine.

8:30 p.m.

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF


(415) 824-3890

Running clean campaigns

Listen to Trent Lange of the California Clean Money Campaign and Jim Soper of Voting Rights Task Force talk about the effort to strip political candidates of large private donations and demand that politicians answer people’s needs.

12:30–3 p.m.

Temescal Library

5205 Telegraph, Oakl.


(510) 524-3791


Debate SF demographics

Join Inforum, a subgroup of the Commonwealth Club, in a discussion of why San Francisco is losing its young workers and families owing to the state of the public schools and a dearth of affordable housing. A panel will address what is needed to keep young families in the city.

6 p.m.

Commonwealth Club of California

595 Market, second floor, SF

$15, free for members

(415) 597-6705


MLK against the war

Read Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam" and listen to live music on this day of remembrance. Today marks the day he publicly denounced the growing war effort in Indochina. It was also the day he was assassinated.

7–9:30 p.m.

The Kitchen

225 Potrero, SF

$5 suggested donation

Free medical care

Receive free medical information and tests at City College of San Francisco’s health fair. Services include dental screenings, acupuncture, cholesterol tests, women’s health appointments, HIV tests, and a blood drive.

9 a.m.–noon

City College of San Francisco

1860 Hayes, SF


(415) 561 1905 *

Mail items for Alerts to the Guardian Building, 135 Mississippi St., SF, CA 94107; fax to (415) 255-8762; or e-mail Please include a contact telephone number. Items must be received at least one week prior to the publication date.

SF’s private police force


Since long before the turn of the century, San Francisco has had a posse of private police officers patrolling the streets. Back in the 1870s, they were effectively vigilantes; by 1935 they’d become a bit more controlled in their behavior and won official recognition in the City Charter. They’re called patrol specials.

For years a fairly small number (there are now 41) have been walking neighborhood beats, hired by local merchants who don’t think the San Francisco Police Department is providing enough protection. Legally, the patrol specials are an odd amalgam: They’re licensed to carry handguns but not to make arrests. Most of them have some law-enforcement training, but not typically from a traditional police academy. In theory they report to the chief of police, but in practice they’re private businesspeople who are hired by, and do the bidding of, merchant groups.

The head of their association, Jane Warner, thinks they’re the future of neighborhood policing, and she, like other patrol special fans, openly calls for increased privatization of law enforcement. And the association is asking the San Francisco Police Commission to make it easier to expand its operations.

The patrol specials are mostly an archaic anomaly right now — but the trend toward privatizing the police force is frightening, and the commission ought to put a clear halt to it.

The rules governing patrol specials were forged in a very different era. The city is divided up into beats, and the patrol specials can buy up beats, then charge local businesses for protection. They can hire their own officers, subject to a background check and Police Commission approval. If they see any wrongdoing they’re supposed to call the cops — but in many cases they just go ahead and act like real police. "I’ve arrested hundreds of people," Warner, who owns beats in the Mission and West Portal, told the Guardian recently.

It’s more than a little bit weird to still have armed civilians, in uniform, with badges, walking around making arrests when they aren’t really accountable to anyone. The potential for problems is obvious: A merchant group might, for example, direct the local patrol special to focus on getting homeless people out of doorways — something that the city has established as not just a police priority but a social issue. The patrol specials aren’t taking orders from police headquarters though; they have to do what their customers want. And if they are accused of misconduct, they aren’t accountable to the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC), which oversees all complaints against sworn officers; instead, the department’s Management Control Division — which has never been good at disciplining cops — is the final authority.

Nobody paid much attention to the patrol specials until the 1990s, when the San Francisco Police Officers Association — whose members make nice little chunks of change providing off-duty private security and saw them as competition — started complaining. Still, the policies haven’t really been updated in decades.

At the very least, the Police Commission needs to completely overhaul the rules for these quasi cops, establishing clear training guidelines, shifting disciplinary authority to the OCC, and demanding direct oversight over hiring and beat sales. But these kinds of private police fiefdoms make us very, very nervous — and the idea that the patrol specials’ turf may be expanding is a scary prospect.

The commission could make a clear policy statement opposing any privatization of local law enforcement, and that would be a positive step. But that agency can only go so far — the authority for the patrol specials is enshrined in the City Charter. So the supervisors need to take this up, posthaste — and amend the charter either to more tightly control and regulate the patrol specials, or eliminate them altogether. *

Don’t deregulate cabs


It’s not a great time to be a San Francisco taxi driver. High gas prices are taking cash directly out of drivers’ pockets, and fares haven’t kept pace. The only thing that seems to be solid is industry profits: According to a December 2005 city controller’s office report, cab companies have been making healthy returns even in bad economic times.

The way the companies make money, of course, is by leasing cabs to drivers, who are independent contractors. The "gate" — the cash the driver has to pay for the right to use a legal, properly permitted cab — runs about $91 for a 12-hour shift. That’s a lot of money to collect in fares before the driver makes a single penny, and it’s one of the reasons why driving a cab is less attractive today as a long-term occupation. Each year, the United Taxicab Workers union says, up to 25 percent of the city’s drivers turn over, meaning that one out of every four drivers has less than a year’s experience.

It’s possible the situation will take a turn for the better this spring, if the city moves forward with a plan to require cab companies and permit holders — who have the lucrative license to lease out their cabs to other drivers for profit — to help pay for health insurance for the drivers. It’s also possible things will get substantially worse, if Sup. Fiona Ma manages to win approval for legislation completely abolishing city controls on gate fees and allowing cab companies to charge drivers whatever the market will bear.

What the cab industry needs is more regulation, not less. In fact, it’s astonishing to see a San Francisco supervisor who is running for state assembly propose such a Bush-style deregulation plan that would enrich a few at the expense of many.

The Taxi Commission is slated to discuss the health insurance plan March 28. There are several options for how payment would be allocated; ideally, the drivers, permit holders, and cab companies would all pick up a share. But the Health Department has concluded that a working plan is possible — and the commissioners and supervisors should make sure one is put into action as soon as possible. *

{Empty title}


So let’s get this straight:

The lieutenant governor is running for insurance commissioner. The insurance commissioner is running for lieutenant governor. The former governor is running for attorney general. The attorney general is running for treasurer.

Round and round and round we spin. Talk about a clusterfuck.

There was a time, and it wasn’t all that long ago, when every single constitutional office in California was held by a Democrat. And it’s entirely possible that this fall — with the Republican president and Republican governor in political free fall — the Democrats will actually lose some top jobs in Sacramento.

Let me humbly suggest one reason why: We have a bunch of people running for office who really ought to find something else to do with their lives.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. If you talk to people who think about the future of the California Democratic Party — people who might actually play a role in it, say, 10 years from now — what you hear is this: Why are the same old names bouncing around like petrified Ping-Pong balls?

John Garamendi has been running for some office or other (including unsuccessfully for governor) for the past 20 years. He’s been insurance commissioner twice. Now, since he clearly can’t get the top job, he’s angling for number two.

Cruz Bustamante has virtually disappeared since he dared run in the recall election that brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to power. Perhaps he can slip into Garamendi’s post for a while, while he figures out what else to do. Bill Lockyer thought about running for governor but realized he wasn’t going to win, and although he’s not a terrible attorney general, he’s decided to run for treasurer, which makes no sense unless he’s waiting around to try another office at some point.

Jerry Brown was governor once, and after a period of self-imposed exile, he decided to run for president (of the United States), then mayor of Oakland. By the way, he’s a lawyer, so now he wants to be attorney general.

None of these people is evil, and the state could do worse — way worse — than electing any of them. But is anyone else getting the distinct feeling that we’re the party of, well, yesterday?

Just thought I’d ask.

One of my favorite political movies is Robocop, the 1987 Paul Verhoeven sci-fi film that is not generally considered a great social statement about anything. But when you pay attention (and watch it with the right, um, mind-set), Robocop is actually a story about privatization: Detroit has turned over its police force to the Omni Consumer Products Corporation, which decides to save money (for the company’s bottom line) by cutting staff and squeezing pay — to the point where there’s inadequate backup when our hero gets into a firefight with the bad guys and almost gets shot to bits. They revive him as a cyborg, and he tries to be an honest cop — but deep in his electronic DNA is a rule that he can’t arrest or harm any officer of the Omni Consumer Products Corporation.

I thought about that when I heard that the patrol specials — a crew of private armed civilians who wear uniforms and badges and walk the streets under a 19th-century tradition — was asking for expanded authority in San Francisco (see page 5). The message that the group recently sent to the Police Commission: Privatization is the wave of the future in urban law enforcement.

Yikes. *

Press Play


The pressure of a Review


"Queen: perhaps the most unique band in the history of rock music," goes the narration at the beginning of the recently released DVD Queen under Review: 1973–1980 (Chrome Dreams). Whether or not it’s possible to be more unique than other "unique" bands, there’s something to this statement. Maybe "Queen: the biggest anomaly in the history of rock" would be more accurate.

In any case, Queen was a multifaceted band, with more depth than its gaudy popular image suggests. (I say "was" out of a refusal to acknowledge the current Paul Rodgers–fronted touring version.) Everybody knows Queen, but generally in just a superficial, greatest-hits-only way. We’ve all been subjected to "We Will Rock You" and "Another One Bites the Dust" more times than we’ve cared for, but how many people can name even one song on, say, Queen II (Elektra, 1974)?

I listened to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in high school just like everyone else did — Wayne’s World came out during my sophomore year — but didn’t become an official convert until I finally sat down with Queen II a few years ago. It helps that this album of dark, majestic (and, yes, occasionally pompous) hard rock has no big hits and can therefore be listened to without the pop-cultural baggage that weighs down everything from 1975’s A Night at the Opera (Elektra) through 1980’s The Game (Hollywood). Once you get past the megahits, though, it turns out that every Queen album from this era has several excellent lesser-known songs — as well as at least one atrocious, unlistenable one (e.g., almost anything sung by drummer Roger Taylor). Sorting through, scrutinizing, and compiling these songs has been a minor obsession of mine for a while.

It was in this mind-set that I welcomed the arrival of Queen under Review, released by a UK imprint that’s been raining down "unauthorized," cheap-looking DVDs like blood from a lacerated sky. Perusing Chrome Dreams’ Geocities-esque Web site reveals a couple other Queen titles as well as a few more installments in the Under Review series, including ones on the Who, the Small Faces, and Syd Barrett. It’s a worthwhile concept: Gather a group of critics and other insiders to dissect and discuss the work of a band in blow-by-blow fashion and intersperse it with documentary footage (albeit within the somewhat restrictive bounds of "fair use").

Cheap appearances aside, Queen under Review makes for an enjoyable and educational viewing experience. For a band with such a sprawling — and often frustratingly uneven — catalog, the critics’ analysis provides some valuable and varied perspective. Given its broad fan base, Queen was many things to many people — seminal heavy-metal masters, stadium-rock hitmakers, and subversive genre-hopping chameleons — a diversity that’s reflected by the range of commentators. There’s Kerrang!‘s Malcolm Dome, a pudgy bloke from Guitarist magazine who demonstrates Brian May’s guitar setup, and a scholarly BBC DJ who casually uses words such as fortissimo and stadia. They’re a surprisingly likable bunch; fans won’t agree with everything they say, but won’t want to strangle them, either.

My only criticism here relates to an emphasis on singles over album tracks. We get in-depth analyses of nearly every single, from Queen‘s overlooked "Keep Yourself Alive" through The Game‘s anomalous "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust," but there’s scarcely a mention of complex, theatrical rock epics like "Death on Two Legs," "Flick of the Wrist," and "March of the Black Queen" — which, to me, have more to do with the real Queen than with their one-off, late-’70s megahits. Brian May’s giddy, symphonic guitar leads; Freddie Mercury’s octave-spanning vocals; and the entire band’s feel for epic, borderline-preposterous song structures and arrangements — that’s what made Queen great. Monster hits like "We Will Rock You" and "Crazy Little Thing," however, had nothing to do with that sound — just one anomaly that makes analyzing Queen based on their singles inherently limiting.

Quibbles aside, it will be interesting to see how far the folks at Chrome Dreams take the Under Review idea. The only other DVD of this sort that I’ve seen is Inside Thin Lizzy: A Critical Review, 1971–1983, which is on a different label (Castle Rock) but is similar in concept. Which ’70s hard-rockers, I wonder, will be next to get the treatment? Blue Öyster Cult? Budgie? Uriah Heep? The possibilities are promising — and also a bit frightening. (Will York)

Jana Hunter



As raw as road rash and as disarming as a child, Arlington, Texas, songwriter Jana Hunter is a jewel in the rough. At her eeriest best, the short hairs stand on end and small chills roll down your neck — a quiet intensity is embedded in the unadorned sound of her debut, Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom, the first release on Gnomonsong, Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic’s new label. A compilation of four-tracks, two-tracks, and music recorded on computer, the CD doesn’t seem like the work of a onetime classical violin player: It has the musty scent of a recently unearthed, once lost recording from a lady recluse who spent her days porch-sitting and eking out a farm life in the dust bowl. There’s a sense of history — and emotional dimension — in Hunter’s voice and spare guitar sounds. Imagine Emily Dickinson as an outfolk ragamuffin. (Kimberly Chun)

JANA HUNTER Fri/25, 9 p.m., Hotel Utah Saloon, 500 Fourth St., SF

$8. (415) 546-6300,

Also Sat/26, 2 p.m., Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF

Free. (415) 831-1200,

Noise: The Guardian’s new music blog


March 24, 2006

Tapes ‘N Horses ‘N Ladyhawks ‘N more

Weekend’s here and I’m hoping to keep it hail-free this time around. There are some heated hip-hop shows this weekend: Ghostface with M1 from Dead Prez at Mezzanine tonight and that massive Andre Nickatina and Equipto at Studio Z Saturday. Arab Strap are strapping the groovy boys on tonight and tomorrow at Cafe du Nord — with much excitement about His Name Is Alive. I’m psyched to see Islands with Metric at the Fillmore (along with the Strokes and Eagles of Death Metal at the Concourse) — and that’s all tonight. My ears are already starting to smart.

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Whoa, it’s Band of Horses.
Credit: Robin Laananen

And Sub Pop breakout beasts Band of Horses are playing with Earlimart tonight at the Independent (and if you miss them, the Horseys also play a free show at Amoeba Music in SF on — fooled ya — April 1, 2 p.m.). Remember these guys from onetime Bay Area indie rock band Carissa’s Wierd? Very wierd how what comes around goes around — and gets reincarnated as equine musicmakers. Nice beards, dudes. Couldn’t bother to shave, could you? S’OK — I didn’t either!

And then it’s open season on Noise Pop starting Monday. Yeehaw.

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Whoa, it’s Tapes ‘N Tapes at Cafe du Nord

Last night I went to du Nord to see Minneapolis band Tapes ‘N Tapes play their hearts out and praise SF (and diss LA, complaining about the dreary cold down south — we got lucky, I think). They rocked, all over the place — still forming their sound, no doubt. Twas a strong one.


Your pals at Jagjaguwar ( e-mailed, ever so personally, to say they signed Vancouver band Ladyhawk, who are touring with Magnolia Electric Co. Wasn’t that also the title of a cheesy Mists of Avon Ladies-style fantasy flick in the ’80s? Anyway, said band’s self-titled CD/LP debut is due June 6.

The label writes that the band’s album is "a stomping and sweaty ride through the Vancouver streets that they all know well, as viewed from the seats of a bruised and doorless Astro Van. In this ride, you can’t help but feel that you will fall out and you will fall down, and your joints will all be sore at the end of the trip. Ladyhawk’s core is bracing rock. Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night is the hailstorm on the hood of the Replacement’s Let It Be, while distorted guitars invoke the thread and swerve of Silkworm and Dinosaur Jr."

I write that the ’90s are back and there’s nothing you can about it. Except to bury your combat boots in a small hole in the backyard and then pile dog manure gathered from Dolores Park trash cans all over it. It — the ’90s, that is — will probably still come back — but at least you tried.

If you embrace the grunge revivalism, listen to the MP3 for "The Dugout" from Ladyhawk’s debut at

March 23, 2006

NOISE: SXSW, fantasy softball, part 3

OK, I swear, this is it. Enough SXSW, already. We gotta move on. So let’s get it out of our system, down on blog, and tricycle out to greener, sunnier pastures.

First off, the homo-happenin’ Ark may not have as good a name as their fellow Malmo, Sweden, rockers Quit Your Dayjob, but they managed to evoke the gods of candy-colored pop-rock good times not witnessed since Andrew WK headlined Bottom of the Hill. These guys work hard for their money. So hard for it, honey.

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Manic vocalist Salo was shaking that sheckel-maker, telling the SXSW sloggers they embodied his song title, "Rock City Wankers," and leading the crowd in a chant of "Tonight, one of us is gonna die young." Someday the sassy singer is gonna be a "Father of a Son," indeed — as long as those white hot pants don’t cramp his style. "It’s Saturday and no one wants to hear any more music!" he yelled, echoing the thoughts of so many wandering Austin like zombies with a blood hangover. This superfun Emo’s IV day showcase with the Gossip, Wooden Wand, and the Giraffes was one of my faves at SXSW.

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Most sighted celebrity, according to Akimbo (who I bunked down with in the Alternative Tentacles flophouse, a.k.a. George Chen’s Super 8 motel room): J. Mascis. "He was everywhere."

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Not J. Mascis’s ass

Oh look, wait, that’s Andy Gill in the middle, doing a crotch-block dance move, with fellow Gang of Four member Dave Allen and Peaches. This party happened earlier in the week at a smoke-filled, Camel-sponsored V2/Dim Mak thing. Weirdest moment: Peaches shakes a Dos Equis and hands it to Gill to spray on the audience, and he, looking befuddled, opens the can and pours it all over her CDs.

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I didn’t get to catch nearly as many SXSW panels as I wanted to, but the ones I did were incisive and low on bull dookie.

Best quips from the conference panel “Rolling Down the River: Revenue Streams Artists Should Know About”: International Artist Agency’s Stephen Brush on album sales: “Fuck the record. It helps. But at the end of the day, you’re building the audience one day at a time.” JSR Merchandising’s Brad Hudson on merch: “In the 26 years I’ve been doing this, the black T-shirt has been the staple. A lot of artists come up with great ideas but you’ll find the majority of the revenue coming from that T-shirt. Three T-shirts and a hoodie.”

Most Guardian-friendly soundbyte from Damian Kulash of OK Go at the surprisingly well-attended “Ten Things You Can Do to Change the World” panel: “It’s easy to say ‘Everyone vote!’ onstage. It’s hard to say, ‘There’s a media consolidation problem in this country, especially if you’re trying to get your single on Clear Channel station.”

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Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, Steve Earle, and Jenny Toomey at the "Ten Things You Can Do to Change the World" panel. Earle: "How many Republicans are here?"

Word had it that the city of Austin was cracking down on singer-songwriter and former Kurt Cobain squeeze (and focus of mad Courtney jealousy) Mary Lou Lord, according to Austinist. She called them to say that the cops shut her down for busking in the street "citing a new law banning "amplification."

Yeesh, this after attending and playing on Sixth Street during SXSW for 11 fucking years. Anyway, she managed to hold this spot next to a late-night convenience store, across the posh, supposedly haunted Driscoll Hotel. Her pal Jason and his gorgeous falsetto deserve to be snapped up by some lucky label.

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SF’s Boyskout got the rock out at a Lava Lounge Patio show with IMA, Faceless Werewolves, Knife Skills, Happy Flowers, Skullening, and Die! Die! Die! Tight.

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The lady — namely Lady Sovereign — looks scary. Here she is at La Zona Rosa. (After losing my way to the Anti- Hoot with Billy Bragg and Jolie Holland, I managed to catch her, as well as Bauhaus-soundalikes She Wants Revenge and the snarksome We Are Scientists down the street at Fox and Hound.) LS’s beats were harsh, and the vibe was, yes, brattay. (She likes to throw down…that microphone.)

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Ghostface made a Wu-Tang face right after the Lady — very fun. GK commanded the stage, the crowd went nuts over the Wu tunes, and I appreciated the sound of gunfire that gently segued between the songs. Whoo.

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The official SXSW-closer softball game/barbecue was called for rain. But hadn’t we had enough white bread by then?

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March 22, 2006

Noise: SXSW, too many bands

Dennis Cabuco of the Guardian and Harold Ray Live in Concert!, signing in for a final SXSW posting. I had a blast during the final days of SXSW, so here’s a quick account of my wanderings through Austin, Texas:

Friday afternoon

The North Loop Block Party took place in North Austin with three stages set up in parking lots between vintage shops, a record store, and a kink boutique. I had a few beers with friends and saw the following bands:

The Time Flys — I see these guys often, but they definitely have tightened up since the time we all got drunk for a Cereal Factory show together.

The Cuts — I also see these guys often. Gotta say, they still remind me a lot of the Cars. Yeah, I could see these guys and the Time Flys in SF, but there were a lot of other good bands (whose names I didn’t get) at the block party as well, and with three stages, there was no wait between bands. The audience was composed of nice, well-dressed people. I took some time out to check out all the cool shops and relax from the frantic urgency of seeing bands downtown.

The Nice Boys — I didn’t know they were from Portland, and I didn’t know that one of the guys was in the Exploding Hearts either.

Dazzling King Solomon — This band has a couple of members from the Nervous Exits. Awesome ’60s rock. Crunchy.

I had lunch at Stubbs where I saw We Are Scientists, a threepiece that sounds a lot like the Killers.

Friday night

Ponderosa Stomp — I went to the Continental Club, which was packed, to see Barbara Lynn tearing it up on guitar, playing a leftie strat. She is amazing player, and sings with a soul-stirring voice. I was very moved by her performance. Afterward, I saw Eddie Bo. I say again, Eddie Bo! No, he didn’t do “Check Your Bucket” or “the Thang”, perhaps because they didn’t have the original band to do it, but it was cool to hear him backed bt Little Band of Gold anyway. Archie Bell came up to school us on how to do the “Tighten Up”, which I never know how to do.

OK Go — I watched most of their set on the big screen from outside of the Dirty Dog. It was at capacity, and they weren’t letting anyone else in. If only the industry dorks drinking by the window would leave so the fans could get in. They were oblivious to the amazing show taking place right behind them. I got in just before the last song and the “encore,” the "Million Ways" dance. If you wanna know what that is, you can watch the video on the OK Go website.

On my way up to the Fox and Hound to see Animal Collective, I took Fourth Street, which was blocked off for a St. Patty’s spring-break meat-market hoedown — a block party packed with homogenous, drunken college folks. The good that came of that jaunt: I found out Brandi Carlile was playing at Cedar St. Courtyard, an outdoor patio with good sound. I’ll get back to that.

I made it to the Fox and Hound, which had a long line for Animal Collective. I was still in line when they started their set. The first number lasted about 10 minutes and went nowhere. It was the kind of music I’d hear at a club — a beat, some record scratching, and no discernable melody. I just couldn’t get into it, so I took off in the middle of their second song, out to seek something with melody and harmony.

I fought the St. Patty’s revelers once more to get to the patio where Carlile was playing. She was getting a lot of praise from a pop music station in Austin, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. With a new album just out, she kicks off her first major tour with SXSW in Austin, and if the crowd was any indication of the response she’ll get on tour, it will be a success. It took a while to get the sound worked out as the crowd grew anxious, but we were rewarded with a professional show, and the sound was the best anywhere that evening. She did a couple of songs with a cello player. The bass and guitar players are twins. Brandi is a natural on stage and sings with a sweet sincerity that you can’t help but love. Her songs have universal themes with broad appeal, and it’s a pleasure to watch her perform.

When I left the Courtyard at about 2:00 a.m., the college crew had disappeared, leaving only the canopies, bad leprechaun decorations, and plastic cups littering the street. I walked along Sixth Street to find that the spring-breakers had spilled out to mix with the SXSW crowd, and it was mayhem. People were yelling into their cell phones looking for parties. I witnessed some groping, some drama, and a girl sporting red flashing LEDs on her nips, highlighting her 38D bustline. She should meet up with the guy who had a scrolling LED belt buckle.

Saturday afternoon

I went to Cream Vintage for a show in their back parking lot. The fans were undaunted by the rain as petite blonde Annie Kramer played her set. She was joined by A FirJu Well, who backed her up for a few songs. We sang along to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” as the PA cut out because of the rain. If the Grateful Dead kept playing ’60s stuff throughout their career, they might’ve sounded like this. These guys obviously hang out and play music all the time — they were so comfortable backing others and improvising through technical difficulties.

Saturday night

I got to Zona Rosa to see Morningwood midset, and they were excellent. See them live if you get a chance. I was convinced to stay and see the Stills by a fan named Rene. She gave me a quick rundown on the band’s background and their songs as they played. They had great energy, keyboards, harmonies, and danceable songs. I couldn’t tell what was old or new, but I liked it all. Emily from Metric made an appearance to do a new song with them, which she had just learned in their tour bus on the way fom Canada.

I took a cab over to the Continental Club to see Andre Williams. It was nice to see him, but most of the good tunes, like "Rib Tips," are practically instumentals. For this, the band makes all the difference. The Continental Club was packed, and it had a party atmosphere, but the music was nothing like what I heard on the recordings. I know Williams is also a good keyboardist, so I was disappointed that he didn’t strut his stuff on organ. I left after about five songs and took a cab back to Red River Road.

I ran into my new friend Rene while at at Emo’s Annex to see a fun indie band called I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness. One song, “Your Worst Is the Best” reminded me a bit of Death Cab for Cutie. I went to the Velvet Spade for a drink and to say hi to the Nervous Exits (whom I had missed at 10 p.m.). I went upstairs to see the stage where my band played our first SXSW two years ago. They had a tent around the outdoor patio this time. I heard some good R&B and looked up to see a guy who looked like he should be in a ’70s rock band singing and shaking his head while hammering a Hammond XB2 and a Fender Rhodes. John and the drummer Van make up the Black Diamond Heavies from Nashville belting out some heavy blues rock with no guitarist!

I left on my way to Stubbs to see the Pretenders, but was distracted by some good music coming from Club DeVille. The doorperson told me it was the Cribs. I walked up to the stage and ended up staying for their whole set, riveted by their performance. Hailing from England, this threepiece reminds me of the Jam and early Green Day. It’s refreshing to see a young band so into their music. They were also tight and well-rehearsed. The guitarist knocked over his Orange amp during their final song, the drummer knocked over his set, and the bassist left his amp oin to feedback as they exited the stage. I missed the Pretenders, but heard it was a great show.

My last hoorah was the super-exclusive, invite only, no-getting-in-without-a-special-pass, Vice Magazine Party, attended by hundreds. I arrived at the Blue Genie in East Austin just in time to see Wolfmother, who were amazing. Where do they get all that energy after playing (at least) four shows at SXSW? I stood right in front of the keyboard player to watch him use all his effects, which were duct-taped to the top of his XB-2, which of course had to be duct-taped to the stand for all that dancing around. This show was way loud, and they ended with the keyboard player leaving his rig sideways, effects looping with his amp on.

Probably the coolest people I met there were Sara Liss from Now magazine
and her friend Melanie. We compared notes of our SXSW experiences while we sipped mixed drinks made with Phillips vanilla whiskey. Wierd! Yummy though.

My last, last hoorah was Fuzz club for a pcyched out 60’s night at Beerland on Sunday night where the Mojo Filters played a tight set.

Sunday evening, I saw a much more subdued Austin, catching its breath from the biggest party of the year. Besides SXSW, there were also roller derbies and a rodeo. This is the most hectic week Austin experiences, and I’m sure a lot of the natives are glad it’s over. It was raining as a thunderstorm pulled in, but still relatively warm. I will miss Austin and will likely come back next year.

With an overwhelming number of bands playing at the same time, it was inevitable that I would not get to see everyone I wanted to see, so here’s a partial list of other bands I wish I saw:

The Noisettes
Mates of State
Of Montreal
Film School
Allen Toussaint
Rock and Roll Soldiers
Persephone’s Bees
Seventeen Evergreen
The Nervous Exits
Gris Gris
Drunk Horse
the Pretenders
the Charlatans

Thanks, Amy for being such a gracious host, and for taking me to the best Mexican restaurant in Austin.

NOISE: SXSW, the final fantasy, part 2

SXSW — oh, that old thing? That was sooo…last Saturday. Before it fades from memory, only to be replaced by the latest whiskey bar, here are a few more toasts.

On Friday, we swung by the Band of Gold (featuring Archie Bell, DJ Fontana, and Barbara Lynn) but drove on by Club De Ville, daunted by the early line-formations. We saw the chalk outlines of a very long wait and checked in on Bettye LaVette at La Zona Rosa to see she cancelled. Oh well, Fatcat Records, Pawtracks, Bubblecore, and hosted an avant-art-hippie-core hoedown right down the street at Fox and Hound, featuring the Mutts, Tom Brosseau, and headliners Animal Collective. That brought out the girls with dyed black hair in tiered skirts and, natch, the boys with beards. I was wondering where they all were. Great merch table, by the way — a righteous free CD with every purchase.

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The lady-centric First Nation disappointed with their low energy musicmaking, but man, Storsveit Nix Noltes from Reykjavik, Iceland, worked those accordions, trumpets, cellos with lovely Eastern European folksong abandon. "Dance, dance!" yelped the cellist leader. We hear and try to obey — but the beards are screwed on too tightly. I hate when that happens.

Earlier Friday eve, I stepped into Yard Dogs, near Club De Ville, to glimpse the finale of the Bloodshot Records party. Nice music-related folk art inside, including Mekon Jon Langford’s faux-weathered works in tribute to Hank Williams and other country and American idols and icons (he was throwing down an opening the next night), and Jad Fair’s whimsical, colorful ink and paint pieces. "Folk" art here means art by music folk or about music folk — got it? Get it. The best buy had to be Rev. Howard Finster’s wood cutouts of musical legends (I know I was tempted by a Merle Haggard piece with very defined teeth).

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Stepped into Ba Da Bing/Leaf’s showcase at Blender Balcony at the Ritz (just had to fight the lines for Brakes, the Kooks, Editors, KT Tunstall, and the Feeling for the Blender Bar space at street level). Early on, Utrillo Kushner of Comets on Fire played songs in the key of "solo project" alongside Garrett Goddard of the Cuts on drums. Dig the ironic Magnum PI shirt!

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The Ba Da Bing showcase closed with a rare show by London’s Th’ Faith Healers, one of my pre-grunge post-punk faves from back in the early ’90s day. Thrilling. Regained faith. Was healed. Went home and fondled the flannel.

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Another awesome, somewhat unappreciated aspect of the SXSW music conference (which Guardian contributor Kurt Wolff had to remind me about): Flatstock Poster Convention, usually held simultaneously on the groundfloor of the Austin Convention Center. The denizens of one booth silkscreened T-shirts as you waited, and most artists also designed a poster for the exhibit. Drool over the splashy graphics. Be pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices. Reach for your wallet. Shield your precious new piece of art from the rain.

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Philadelphia’s Pushmepullyou Design boss lady Eleanor Grosch;

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Boss Construction from Nashville, TN;

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Matt Daly of the Bird Machine, Inc., Chicago;

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The Decoder Ring Design Concern, Austin, TX;

NOISE: Go Bats

Who drunkenly referred to New Zealand band the Bats as the "Hobbit’s Go-Betweens?" Were they cracked out on ethereal pop?

Judge for yourself when the Bats attempt to cement last year’s comeback long-player, At the National Grid, in your consciousness — with, of course, a tour. They stop at Amoeba Music, SF today at 6 p.m. for a free show, then wing over to Rickshaw Stop at 8 p.m. (then on to the Starry Plough March 23). Essential for NZ popsters — you know who you are. You love the guano.

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March 20, 2006

NOISE: SXSW, the final days, part 1

So much has happened and so little blogging has gotten done. Could there be a connection? Yep. So here’s a little more on SXSW, the final days, revolving around what photos I could take before my camera died a horrible death –like all the other electronic devices around me.

The Nice Boys from Portland, Ore., tapped a fun Cheap Trick/Faces vein of pure ’70s-era gold. Rawk at the Birdman Records Showcase.

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Power rock with extreme volume and lots of melody — all from a lil’ ole threepiece called the Evangelicals. Very fun — and worth checking into when not studying Bay Area DJ Mike Relm’s DVD scratch technique next door at the Blind Pig.

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Shows at houses, record stores, boutiques, garages — one thing you gotta love about SXSW is the way the entire city seems filled with music. Music is oozing out of every corner of its mouth, dripping sloppily all over its chin and into its crotch. And it doesn’t care! (Though of course it does care, deeply, about music) These shows were strictly for locals on South First Street — I came to see Palaxy Tracks.

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Ran into John Vanderslice, who only wanted to talk about how much he wanted to get back to SF after touring Europe with Death Cab for Cuties (where they were treated, if not like kings, then well-regarded "court jesters," he chuckled). He performed with Matt from Nada Surf and Rocky Votolato, fellow Barsuk artists, at End of the Ear, a cool vinyl store on South First.

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Palaxy Track’s guitar player’s other project, Octopus Project, headlined in the backyard of Bella Blue boutique nearby. Boys in tights and hot pants played basketball in the driveway.

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The music just couldn’t stop — it didn’t matter if you couldn’t play an instrument and just wanted to play 7-inches on your battery-powered turntables. "Sit and spin" takes on yet another meaning.

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March 18, 2006

NOISE: SXSW’s Peach-y keen naked ladies

Stealth "special" appearances by Jane’s Addiction/Perry Farrell, Norah Jones, and Flaming Lips? Those SXSW events were one-upped by a spontaneous session of the itty bitty titty club (and prominent potbelly chapter) when Peaches teamed with Dave Allen of Gang of Four for a DJ set at Friday night’s V2/Dim Mak party, charmingly titled "Clusterfuck." That was sort of the vibe as Peaches and Allen spun Suicide-like beats, hard-edge dance numbers, and the Rezillos — the most screwy aspect was all the endless Camel advertising/product placement going on. (And what was with all the cigarette giveaways at this year’s fest?)

In any case, I confess I like Mistress P’s style: She basically yelled at the crowd, ordered them to dance, and then jumped into the audience and moshed into me. It was like bouncing into a big, fluffy cinnamon bun — Peaches smells just fine! And that’s enough to make anyone dance.

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Later a slew of burlesque dancers got onstage and shook it like a Polaroid land camera. Entertaining — too bad it seemed to drive half the crowd away. Maybe Suicide Girl-style go-go schtick’s moment has passed. Or perhaps the culture vultures would have stuck around if the ladies stripped and threw Camels… Now that would be a sight to see.

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Spy on yourself


“Wow,” my hacker friend Mason breathed as he looked at my computer monitor. “That’s really horrendously fucking evil.”

He was responding to the sight of my account with Root Vaults (, a Web service with hazy goals but an interesting tool: If you sign up and download a plug-in for Firefox, Root Vaults will record your entire clickstream. When I go anywhere or click on anything online, the plug-in records it and sends the data to my account at Root Vaults. A nifty graphical interface shows me what sites I visited, including the most popular ones, as well as what I searched for on both Google and Yahoo!.

Since I was just testing Root Vaults, I tried to search for important things like “horse porn” and “cute kitties.” As a result, my clickstream looked sort of like this: (the clickstream from this one yielded some interesting results, as it appears some scamster was trying to make it look like I was clicking on the ads on the site, even though I wasn’t); (too bad Root Vaults couldn’t measure my utter joy in looking at this site packed with a zillion cute animals);;

Now imagine that I spent all week sending my clickstream to Root Vaults. Instead of seeing searches I don’t normally do (well, OK, sometimes I do search for cute kitties), I’d have a record of everything I’d wanted to see and everything I did see. Seth Goldstein, inventor of Root Vaults, calls it the “record of your attention,” and he wants to sell it.

Like Google, Claria, and dozens of other companies that record what you do online, Root Vaults doesn’t quite have a business model for all the data it’s aggregating. Right now Goldstein uses the information he’s gathered to sell “leads” to mortgage and insurance companies looking for people whose clickstream makes them seem like good prospects. Later he might use all the consumer data in Root Vaults to sell companies information about who clicks on what and when. Or maybe he’ll try to sell futures in consumers by claiming he’s got a batch of people whose attention data show they’re on the cusp of buying something big because they’ve been visiting and trolling

Unlike its sister companies, Root Vaults is letting users see the data it collects. That’s why I don’t entirely agree with Mason’s damning assessment of the service. Certainly clickstream snooping is a privacy invasion, but what’s worse is that it’s something few people understand. For example, when you download the toolbars from Google, Yahoo!, or Microsoft, each one sends the very same kind of data that Root Vaults collects right back to its mother company. So if you want to know how much Yahoo! knows about you, sign up for Root Vaults, watch your clickstream get recorded, and find out.

Goldstein is excited about this idea. As a founder of Attention Trust, a nonprofit whose goal is to regulate the clickstream-tracking industry, he’s intrigued by the idea of corporate scruples in a space that’s best known for spyware. “This tool could be for self-education,” he enthuses. “The same way Fast Food Nation taught us what we’re really eating, Root Vaults could teach you what kind of data companies are really gathering about you.”

You’ll be truly weirded out to discover how easy it is for a tiny little browser plug-in to send every online move you make to a third party. Once you’ve completed your experiment, though, delete all the data from your Root Vaults account, then delete the extension from Firefox. And just to be safe, don’t click on anything you’d be afraid to share with the world.

Although Root Vaults is setting a new standard for transparency in clickstream tracking, one telling detail is still obscured. Goldstein insists each vault “belongs to you.” But it doesn’t. Whenever anything of “yours” is stored on someone else’s computer, it’s not highly protected by privacy laws, largely under the assumption that it must not be as private as the stuff you store on your own computer. So the government or an attorney can get access to this data without contacting you personally, and often with very little court oversight. So remember, kids, just because something’s in your account on Root Vaults, that doesn’t make it yours.

And just because you can’t see your own clickstream most of the time doesn’t mean somebody else isn’t watching it. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who can draw a heart in the snow with her clickstream.

{Empty title}


I’ll finish the poem in a minute, but first I have to put on five more sweaters, go break up the ice in the chicken waterer, and saw up another armload of scrap wood for the fire.

Where was I? Pittsburgh, calzone. You know, as much as I’d love to only write about out-of-town restaurants now, by way of being nutty, I just

Without Reservations


We haven’t quite reached the point at which you can cuss somebody out with the phrase “farmed salmon,” but for responsible fish buyers it’s a fairly hair-raising expression nonetheless. Farmed salmon, while predictable, convenient, and relatively inexpensive, implies a great many bad things, among them water pollution, the spreading of pathogens, and the overuse of antibiotics whose long-term effects in people are poorly understood. Salmon farming is also part of the unfortunate American habit of industrially producing everything, from furniture to writers. And, for connoisseurs, farmed salmon is just not as tasty as its wild cousins.

My dark confession for today is that, all other things being equal, I would prefer to buy farmed seafood

Dine review


In the arena of raw seafood, the Japanese are not unchallenged. They are probably dominant, of course, being masters of nigiri and sashimi and of rolls in versions beyond count. But the Spanish and French and their New World offshoots offer us ceviche (or seviche)

Pick: Swan Lake


BALLET As a kid I got assaulted by a swan. I hadn’t let go of a piece of bread fast enough. The creature rushed at me with the wings of a dragon, a neck of steel, and a beak that hit like a hammer. So when Matthew Bourne, in his version of Swan Lake, turned Petipa’s demure elfin princesses into ferocious attack birds, I knew what he was talking about. Bare-chested male swans in feathered pants may be Bourne’s most spectacular contribution to this fabulous 1995 Swan Lake, but they are not the sole reason to see this truly original and radical rethinking of the world’s most popular ballet. By refocusing the story on the prince and that Queen Mom of his, Bourne at last came up with an answer to what has bothered many of us about the traditional tale: What’s the matter with that dork of a prince who can’t tell the black from the white swan? While the show is uproariously funny

Pick: Thank You for Smoking


SATIRE Outfitted with a name that sounds shiny and desirable, Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is in the business of eating shit with a smile, then pretending that aforementioned shit is, in fact, a brand! new! renewable! energy source! Such jaw-dropping insincerity is a must when you’ve got his job: chief national public-relations shill for the tobacco industry. There’s no putting a good face on the promotion and sales of "cancer sticks" anymore, is there? Nick is a genius at suggesting otherwise, or at least at weaving such tangles of faux folky, quasi-inspirational "logic" that his many foes are left confusedly tongue-tied. In private moments he’s still ruthless, pragmatic, self-justifying, cynical — yet an everyman nonetheless, trying in his own way to be a good citizen, even a good dad: On his custody days, he inculcates his son Joey (Cameron Bright) with life wisdom while seldom evoking the Golden Rule. Kidnap attempts, death threats, crusading congressmen (William H. Macy), duplicitous investigative journalists (Katie Holmes), living recriminations like a near dead former Marlboro Man (Sam Elliott), cold, hard statistics — nothing fazes Nick. A political movie in that it’s about culture-of-spin morality — in which the highest value is placed on the most you can get away with for the sake of the bottom line — Jason Reitman’s film from Christopher Buckley’s novel gives good satire. It’s awfully clever, colorful, and well cast; Eckhart hasn’t been so perfect since he slithered through In the Company of Men. Yet once the moderate dazzle lifts, you might realize that exposing and/or making fun of Big Tobacco is like shooting, er, smoked fish in a barrel. (Dennis Harvey)

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING opens Fri/24 in Bay Area theaters.

Go to for showtimes.

Big skies, broken hearts


In the not-so-Wild West, where assistant directors on Segways roam, washed-up matinee idol Howard Spence (Sam Shepard) gallops right off the set of his latest picture, appropriately dubbed Phantom of the West. Where Howard’s headed at the start of Don’t Come Knocking

The ‘ol whizbang


Given that the phrase another Vietnam (with or without fucking in the middle) probably passes through lips somewhere every .0000398 seconds at present, it might be a good moment to ponder differences between war-themed movies from the 1960s and today.

Admittedly, the Vietnam War had been going on for a while by the time significant mainstream movieland responses emerged. Among them were John Wayne’s notorious The Green Berets, the morally ambiguous Patton, and myriad antiwar diatribes, of which Catch-22, MASH, Little Big Man, Joe, and Soldier Blue were just the tip

Whose cheatin’ Heart?


Asia Argento’s The Heart Is Deceitful above All Things is the preposterous story, once widely imagined to be true, of the childhood of Jeremiah “JT” LeRoy, as he bounces between the custody of his foster parents, his prostitute mother, and his sadistic, fundamentalist grandparents. Now that we’ve been divested of the cherished illusion that JT was a homeless, HIV-positive child prostitute, we are free to watch Heart not as poignant and painfully honest autobiography but as what the story always has been: a punk-inflected fantasy about “white trash.” We can finally concede that the character of JT’s mother Sarah, as played by Argento herself, bears no resemblance to anyone you might actually meet at a West Virginia truck stop, but only to the fictive characters on which she’d always been based, characters in other films played by the likes of Laura Dern, Juliette Lewis, and Reese Witherspoon.

Although Jimmy Bennett, who plays the seven-year-old JT, is a fine little actor, bringing an appropriate confusion and blankness to the role, he has the unhappy task of acting alongside Heart’s director, who seems always to have wandered in from a radically different movie. While we’re accustomed to suspending our disbelief in the face of, say, white trash child-beaters with Hollywood abs, or country-and-western truck drivers with Hollywood tattoos, it is impossible to watch Argento without remembering that we are watching Argento. With that amazing face, she could be a Pasolini character, or the type of dame traditionally played by Anna Magnani, an Italian immigrant stuck in a bad American marriage. In her attempt to channel Courtney Love, she also seems to be approaching, but never quite arriving at, the outrageous camp of early John Waters. She’d play well next to Edith Massey or Divine, certainly. The primary pleasure of this film is watching the obvious relish Argento takes in doing endless varieties of white trash drag.

By the middle of the film, however, when we’ve tired of guessing what floozy outfit she will show up in next, it would be nice to have some sense of the troubled tenderness of this mother-child bond. There is little narrative tension in the film, which treats much of Jeremiah’s childhood like a punk rock acid flashback, a technique that doesn’t serve to create the mental landscape of the boy himself. The film relies on Sonic Youth instead of its actors to create its emotional tone. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s anger and dread are appropriately apocalyptic but don’t fill in the blankness of the older JT, played by twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse. Beyond casting twins to play a fragmented child, Argento has one other inspired conceit: hiring herself as the young Jeremiah for the scene in which he seduces his mother’s boyfriend. This technique both conveys the complex identity issues that form the only interesting context for the film and saves the story from veering into the realm of kiddie porn, where it always seems poised to go.

Argento is not the first director to send her white trash protagonists adrift in a hallucinogenic fun house. Thankfully less ambitious than Oliver Stone in her attempts at social commentary and less silly and deep than David Lynch in her attempts to create an American gothic landscape as dreamworld underbelly, she also has considerably less sense of forward drive. Watching children get abused (and waiting for the next scene of abuse) is a narrative pleasure only for sadists and is illuminating only if we discover a trajectory, no matter how deluded the causality. In Marnie, Tippi Hedren’s childhood encounters with her mother’s promiscuity contribute to her adult career as a kleptomaniac. In Sybil the abuse is the answer to the mystery of what dark secrets lie at the heart of the fragmented personality and its missing chunks of time. The message that child abuse isn’t necessarily interesting or meaningful is probably a valuable one, but as a concept it can’t carry the film any more than the brief cameos by Peter Fonda as the evil fundamentalist grandpa, Marilyn Manson as one of Sarah’s polymorphously perverse boyfriends, or the surprise appearance of the convicted shoplifter movie star who once claimed the earliest JT sighting ever

The Dirt-y north


Though Noise Pop 2006 technically begins on Monday, March 27, it doesn’t officially get rocking until Detroit’s Dirtbombs “Start the Party,” as they said on 2003’s Dangerous Magical Noise (In the Red). The Bombs feature two drummers and two bassists, which, for the uninitiated, may instill fear of Grateful Dead

Flaming creatures


The Flaming Lips headlining Noise Pop

Hater raid


On their hysterical Web site, We Are Scientists send out a warning to would-be critics.

“Journalists beware!” the New York trio declares. “An example has been made of a reporter who dared to impugn WAS!” It turns out that a certain writer, who had gone out of his way to trash the band, was recently busted for fabricating part of a story in the Village Voice. The lesson to be learned, according to WAS, is that criticizing them results in some serious karmic retribution. “If [writers] must vent negative feelings,” the band helpfully advises, “they should cloak them in a thick blanket of bone-dry sarcasm so that most readers think the article is actually positive.”

WAS may have their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, but they have reason to feel a bit defensive. After all, singer-guitarist-heartthrob Keith Murray, bassist Chris Cain, and drummer Michael Tapper are often snubbed by indier-than-thou listeners, particularly in the blogosphere, who begrudge the band for its radio-friendly sound and burgeoning success, which, since last summer, has included a heavily hyped UK tour opening for the Arctic Monkeys and a major-label record deal. What’s more, despite forming in 2000, they’ve been largely dismissed by critics as latecomers to today’s trendy post-punk party.

On its recent debut, With Love and Squalor (Virgin), however, the band distinguishes itself from ’80s-influenced peers such as Hot Hot Heat and Franz Ferdinand by elevating relationship anxiety to an art form. In songs like “The Great Escape” and “Inaction,” propulsive, herky-jerky rhythms underscore Murray’s dread about car-wreck romances that he can’t quite peel himself away from, singing, “Everybody knows how it’s gonna end / Why doesn’t someone stop me?!” The entire album, in fact, is permeated with a nervous, deeply compelling tension due to Murray’s panicked yelp and lyrics that, in his words, attempt to express “a core of existential despair.”

If that sounds pretentious, at least it’s more refreshingly earnest than, say, the arch observations that Franz Ferdinand pass off as profundity in last fall’s lame hit “Do You Want To.” It’s also catchier than anything the ’80s revivalists have released since the Killers’ “Somebody Told Me”

A deep breath for city planning


It was, as housing activist Calvin Welch explained to the Planning Commission March 16, the “canary in the coal mine.” A decision by the Board of Supervisors demanding further environmental review of new market-rate housing projects has thrown the future of development on the eastern side of the city into doubt