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Sonic Reducer

Ewok talk



SONIC REDUCER You might not expect it or detect it — listening to the beautifully interwoven fingerpicked guitar, viola, and flute of "Actaeon’s Fall (Against the Hounds)" and dark, sparkling, solemn drone of "Enemies Before the Light" off the new Six Organs of Admittance album, Luminous Night (Drag City) — but Ben Chasny is a pretty fun guy. I haven’t laughed so long and hard during a chat with a musician since forever, that is until the Six Organ-ist began riffing on a recent guilty pleasure: Lindsey Buckingham and in particular Law and Order (Warner Music Group, 1981).

"It’s the one where’s he’s naked, super-tanned, and glistening with oil (on the cover)," enthuses Chasny by phone from Seattle, where he’s trotting out to Trader Joe’s for a single can of black beans. "Man, he’s a fucking mad genius. That was on repeat on my turntable for a while."

After raving about an amazing Fleetwood Mac show he attended not long ago — "after every song [Buckingham] rips his guitar off and holds it up, as if he’s won a gold medal in the Olympics" — he pulls out a nugget related to Buckingham ex Carol Ann Harris’ book, Storms (Chicago Review Press, 2007), which describes the Fleetwood Mac-er holding his head at night, screaming about all the music running through his noggin. "Ethan [Miller of Comets on Fire] said, ‘He probably had that song "Holiday Road" in his head, and it was driving him fucking bonkers,’" Chasny quips. "I can image if you had that going on, you’d go fucking crazy."

I’m still chuckling when Chasny admits that he’s stolen many a lick from Buckingham as the guitarist for the now-dormant Comets on Fire: "I was running them through tons of distortion, so no one picks up." It’s all good — and it’s even better to catch up and talk early influences (the Stray Cats!?) and current musical loves (the Flower Corsano Duo) with the man, now firmly relocated in Seattle along with girlfriend Elisa Ambrogio of Magik Markers, who, as it happens, isn’t in Six Organs at the moment (instead they’re collaborating on another still down-low project). The couple moved out of my Mission District hood just as the shootings were escautf8g last year — and Chasny’s landlord raised his rent. "It was like, ‘Are you fucking reading the newspaper?’," he marvels. "You know how the Mission goes through periods of craziness? I was just, like, ‘Fuck this,’ and we rolled out because it’s cheaper and a little less violent where we are now."

The new Luminous Night seems to reflect Chasny’s peaceful transition to higher, northerly ground. For the first time he worked with a producer, Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth) and in the process has woven new instruments like tabla and synthesizers, as well as viola by Eyvind Kang, into the mix. His own soundtrack writing — and listening to, say, the music of Seven Samurai (1954) and Cosmos (1977) — have imbued Luminous Night‘s sound with vivid emotional arcs and an ever-widening scope that incorporates classical elements, synthesizer ruminations, and wanted-man Western-movie scores.

Nothing to feel guilty about here — but then Chasny would never not cop to an geeky early influence like the so-called "Ewok Song." "I know it by heart," he says, then semi-jokes, "and it’s the precursor to all these kids with wizard hats. It all comes down to the Ewoks singing around the fire. Akron/Family ain’t got nothing on the Ewoks, man." *SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCESun/23, 8 p.m., $12Independent628 Divisadero, SFwww.theindependentsf.com



Nathan Burazer of the SF instrumentalists just launched a monthly party, O.K. Hole, at Amnesia, whereas the all-femme Bay Area combo recently saw its Make a Mess 12-inch sell out. With Psychic Reality and Royalchord. Fri/21, 9 p.m., $8. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Garage rock’s Energizer Bunny embarks on a full-tilt freebie attack at Amoebas on both sides of the Bay, in honor of his spanking Watch Me Fall (Matador). Sat/22, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. Sun/23, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 2455 Telegraph, Berk. www.amoeba.com


J assault ’09 continues, in a more sedate, folktastic ‘n’ Neil Young-ly vein, by, this time, the Fleet Foxes drummer. With Pearly Gate Music. Sun/23, 8 p.m., $11–$13. Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com


In town at the same time as Reatard, the nekkid, garage-rockin’, lo-fi youngsters throw on a new ‘un, Alice and Friends (Goner). With Traditional Fools. Tues/25, 6 p.m., $5. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF.

Anywhere Jarvis



SONIC REDUCER Truth-telling is one of the most woefully undervalued yet powerful cudgels in an artist’s arsenal — so I can appreciate Jarvis Cocker’s artful, chuckle-inducing application of force on, for instance, "Caucasian Blues," off his second solo disc, Further Complications (Rough Trade). And who doesn’t love a rock star who can proudly bray a line like, "I heard it said /That you are hung like a white man!"

Letting it all hang out from England, Cocker complicated it further: "I was interested in how blues music has gone from the music of protest, of the oppressed, to the blandest, safest music for white people to listen to in bars. I felt like that was a very strange journey that music has been on." His son broke in, searching for socks — the two were just about to leave for a holiday — but the languid, chatty Cocker, 45, sounded like he was in absolutely no hurry to depart. "And then there’s that thing about the mid-’40s — that’s when people start playing a few blues songs. I think people like blues music as they get older because they know when the changes are coming. As people get older, they want to know what’s coming next.

"I try to fight against that. And in perverse way, maybe the best way to fight against that was to write a blues song, but to try to make it be about something."

I could talk to Cocker on a plane, I could talk to him on a train, and I could talk to him about blues music being "used to sell a hell of a lot of cars" in the passenger seat of an Audi tearing back to SF from Point Reyes, via iPhone and earplugs, while tapping on the trusty laptop. He’s that good, that much of a closet mensch keeping it as real as a man of style and taste — who happens to have sold 10 million or so discs with Pulp — can.

But that was the past — and the present is all about Complications, a hearty helping of purely impure, cock-eyed and wiseacre, excruciatingly literate and glittery-eyed, glam-disco-cabaret pop pleasure. The recording draws deeply from the worldly wise cabaret of true-faux intimacy practiced by the Bowie and Gainsbourg schools of Euro-rock, yet also bears the smart, impudent imprint of its complicated maker. "I want to love you while we both still have flesh on our bones /Before we become extinct," he warbles with a wink to the Thin White Duke on "Leftovers," before turning around and confessing, "I love your body /Because I’ve lost your mind" on "I Never Said I Was Deep." The music of a man who enjoys speaking the unspoken while amusing both himself and the listener.

And this listener had to bring up Michael Jackson, whose Christ-like 1996 BRIT Awards performance Cocker famously crashed, shaking his cheeks impertinently in the King of Pop’s presence. But the man deferred with zero drama ("My phone went crazy the day after," he said mildly. "I suppose in a lot of people’s minds, in this country at least, my name will forever be linked to that. I don’t wish it to be."). He was willing, though, to touch on the connection critics have made between the new album and his break with wife Camille Bidault-Waddington. "It just kind of puzzled me, with some of the reviews in the U.K. at least, that go on about ‘he’s having a midlife crisis.’ I suppose it’s partly because I disclosed the fact that I split up with my wife, and that led people to say, ‘This is his breakup album.’ But I did conceive of this record as entertainment, rather than the primal scream of middle-aged angst."

Who knew someone willing to sing to the skies about how superficial he is, would be so … deep? Truth now. "We have so many distractions and so much crap around, you end up having an in-depth knowledge of who played the Riddler in the Batman TV series, and who played drums on England’s entry into the Eurovision song contest in 1973," Cocker drawled helpfully about "I Never Said I Was Deep."

"All this trivia, all this crap my mind is littered with — but for some reason I kind of take delight in knowing all this crap," he continued. "Maybe at the expense of things that might matter a bit more, or may be more rewarding. So often when I’m worried about something or neurotic about something, that might be the time to write about it, maybe to neutralize it. But by giving it utterance, it robs its power to own you.

"Maybe I will attain depth — who knows? Maybe. I’m working on it."


Tues/28, 9 p.m., $32.50


1805 Geary, SF


Park it on the free way



FREE ISSUE/SONIC REDUCER Free. To be you and me. From sea to shining sea. As the wind, as the air, as information, as that music you downloaded through Lime Wire. Careful with the mellow, but the last time we checked our sparsely filled-out wallets, we all realized we can use a little free these days.

And considering the grand triad of free open-air shows in San Francisco — one encompassing the underground gatherings at Toxic Beach/Warm Water Cove and Potrero del Sol Park and the well-funded and organized massives like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Stern Grove (Altamont doesn’t count, grandpaw, ’cause the Speedway is outside city limits), Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival’s first free, all-ages, outdoor concert at Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in John McLaren Park is, honestly, looking pretty awesome.

Full disclosure: I’ve been sitting in at MCMF meetings of late and helping out where I can. But even if I was looking in from the outside, I’d be swayed by the event’s Bay-dominated lineup: Kelley Stoltz, Persephone’s Bees, Bart Davenport, the Moore Brothers, and Leopold and His Fiction, as well as the newly added Birds and Batteries and the Aerosols. Los Angeles’ Dead Meadow will rock the green grasses of the park in the headlining slot, Canada-via-SF combo the Rubies hold down the middle, and Spain’s Xoel Lopez, who some have dubbed the Beck of Spain, teams with chumster Bart Davenport for an intimate turn in the spotlight, but otherwise this local-centric show with an emphasis on psychedelia-tinged indie rock (judging from his freewheeling ways, Garcia might approve) could be considered the leafy spot where the underground meets the overground.

"You can go with a bunch of your friends and hang out and drink wine and enjoy the show," as MCMF producer Kymberli Jensen puts it. She organized the show along with Neil Martinson of SMiLE! "Personally that’s something that’s really appealing for me, and it’s accessible — especially in these hard economic times. People need something to lift the spirit."

And it’s remarkable that it gets done at all, during this nu-depression. Back to those MCMF meetings — rambling affairs consisting of a multitude of eager voices, much wine and snackings, and a slew of passionate opinions. Sponsorship of the fest has been hit particularly hard as a result of the economic meltdown, and few Mission District merchants have coin to spare. As a result, Jensen says MCMF has made a "conscious decision to do fund-raising throughout the year. The economic times have hit everybody — and have hit us very hard. We made a commitment to do this park concert, and many times we were asked to scrap it. But we worked six months on this, so we’re going to do the best we can."

As a result, Jensen and Martinson have put up their own cash to make this free show happen — hoping to recoup some of the costs with a raffle and donations. The dream: that one day of free music extends to two or three next year, with an emphasis on emerging performers and accessibility for music- lovers of all ages and income brackets. Because no one, especially Marlo Thomas, wants great music to become the exclusive reserve of elite patrons able to shell out for cardholder or VIP privileges. After all, MCMF isn’t about the money, as Jensen reminds me. "None of us get paid," the second-year producer explains. "We break even, if that. But we see it as an investment in Mission Creek, and also music in San Francisco."


Sat/18, 11:30 a.m.–8 p.m., free

Jerry Garcia Amphitheater

John McLaren Park, Mansell and John F Shelley, SF





The NorCal/NW avant-indie supergroup of sorts — including John Shiurba, Quasi’s Sam Coomes, Gino Robair, Scott Rosenberg, and Kyle Bruckmann — settles in for a good skronk in honor of its self-titled double-LP/CD on Sickroom. Wed/15, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. www.amoeba.com. Also Thurs/16, 9 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Buttoned-down Cage is still finding his rage on Depart from Me (Definitive Jux). Fri/17, 9 p.m., $16. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


The SF MC-producer grilled Reinventing the Eel (442) completely on computer. With Melina Jones, Orukusaki, Gigio, Linkletterz, Substitute Teachers, and DJ Animal. Sat/18, 10 p.m., $10. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com


The new-twee revolution begins with best name to come down the pike since Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits. Tues/21, 7:30 p.m., $12. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com

Beyonce bounce



SONIC REDUCER Fierce. Bad. Doth Beyonce Knowles and Michael Jackson protest too much? More than two decades separated them, along with crucial biographical details, gender, and a kind of comfort in one’s skin. Yet both drink deeply from the same well of R&B pop perfection, after emerging, solo, from the safety and suffocation of the family-like combo. Both faintly evoke Jackson’s go-to mom for Prince, Paris, and Prince II (a.k.a. Blanket), Diana Ross. Both walk that tightrope of personal vulnerability and arena-friendly theater, the real and the fantastic, artful display and emotional artifice. Both have been philanthropists, ready with a vision to heal the world, and armed with a staunch commitment to spectacle and an iron will (to entertain) encased in a sparkly or titanium robot glove.

But entertain a morbid thought: if Knowles were to crash and burn her Thierry Mugler motorcycle breastplate during her current "I Am … Tour" — said to out-razzle-dazzle all predecessors with its aerial flips and 70-some costumes — would she be revered like Jackson? She’s made her share of great, timely, and timeless singles: "Crazy in Love," "Baby Boy," "Irreplaceable." And you can easily hear Mikey within the tender whisper-to-a-scream "If I Were a Boy." But Knowles’ bifurcated self unsettles on I Am … Sasha Fierce (Sony/Music World, 2008), an album tidily separating in two, its ballads and bangers distributed between two discs, as if simuutf8g vinyl.

Sasha Fierce is a clear bid for album-like complexity, depth, and, gak, maturity. It leads with the earmarked-as-important slow dances and power ballads and disrupts the single-centered paradigm, making us wait for the champagne-bubbly, bustling "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." Surprisingly old-school in its marriage-minded sentiments for a woman who makes a point of touring with an all-female band, the track hints at the cognitive dissonance that makes Michael Jackson studies so rich. Given time, Jackson might even have wanted to tweak his beauty to mimic Knowles’ healthy naturalism, rivaled only by Rihanna’s as current pop’s beauty standard.

Sasha Fierce succeeds as a long listen, settling in likeably and ingratiatingly despite irritants like "Ave Maria" and "Video Phone," which recall the ways in which B’Day (Columbia/Music World, 2006) blustered and annoyed. Its crafty, minimalist sections hint at moments spent listening to electro remixes and MIA. As with MJ, it’s tough to separate the dancer from the dance: I can’t help but hear Beyonce singing to Jay-Z in her protests against being treated as less than one of the boys. Now declaring the "Death of Auto-Tune," he’s the talented shadow hanging over the production, another male counterpart to her executive producer and father, Matthew Knowles. Is it audacious to imagine her breaking from those intimate ties and finding her own Quincy Jones? To wonder if hipsters will be dancing to B’s songs — with nostalgia or irony or blissfully encumbered by neither — two decades from now as they do to Michael? I’m looking forward to the moment when Beyonce resolves her two B sides and merges the woman in the mirror with the woman making the music.


Fri/10, 7:30 p.m., $19.75–$129.25

Oracle Arena

7000 Coliseum, Oakl.




I suspected Death Cab for Cutie had finally arrived while browsing the juniors’ department of Macy’s and being stopped in my tracks by the video playing on the TV monitors: it was "I Will Possess Your Heart," off Narrow Stairs (Barsuk/Atlantic, 2008), the combo’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. Judging from the attention the music was getting from random tourists and untethered men, the group had found listeners beyond the indie rock mob. Now new — and old — fans can get another dose of the Narrow Stairs sessions with the release of The Open Door EP (Barsuk/Atlantic). The disc’s five songs "were kind of poking out, in a way, so we just cut them from the album," bassist Nick Harmer says by phone. "But it was part of the experience of where we’re at as a band. So we were always hoping we’d find a cool home for them." Death Cab expects to start working on its next full-length later this year — all a far cry from the moment Harmer, Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla, and the now-gone Nathan Good first practiced together. "You just know when that spark happens," Harmer recalls. "I remember we had a big debate about making a CD — it was a big deal for us to make 1,000 copies: ‘We’ll be sitting on these things for years….’"


With Andrew Bird, Ra Ra Riot

Sat/July 11, 6:30 p.m., $42.50

Greek Theatre

UC Berkeley campus, Berk


Isthmus insanity



SONIC REDUCER Roberto Gyemant, a.k.a. DJ Beto, doesn’t need to tell you how extra-zesty Panamanian music is: all he has to do is play "Juck Juck Pt. 1," by Sir Jablonsky, off Panama! 2: Latin Sounds, Cumbia Tropical and Calypso Funk on the Isthmus 1967-77 (Soundway), the new compilation curated by the San Francisco native. The bubbly calypso-reggae-funk mutant of a track gets its playful tenterhooks into you — and refuses to let go. "If someone can tell me the genre of that song, I’d love to hear it," Gyemant marvels over fruit juice in the courtyard of Haus. "This guy! ‘I juck them in Spanish, and I juck them in English,’ then he speaks in patois. You’re like, ‘OK, this is a special country!’"

Gyemant’s taken his hot shoe back to the burning avenues of Panama more than 20 times since he first discovered the country’s brassy, highly spiced musical hybrids baking in forgotten grooves buried in neglected radio station LP libraries. At the time, in 2003, he was living in Costa Rica, working on a novel. But the music — and an ever-expiring tourist visa — brought him back to root out more old long-players and to get the stories behind the songs, a major endeavor since the pressings in the tiny country were so small and little info existed on musicians like Papi Brandao, whose infectious, accordion-propelled "La Murga de Panama" runs a Puerto Rican bomba through his tipica (folklorico) ensemble’s Afro-Cuban influences. The fruit of Gyemant’s loving labors: Panama! (Soundway, 2006) and now its tipica-flavored sequel, as well as at least one book, a forthcoming encyclopedia on Latin jazz and dance music from 1930 to 1975.

Gyemant — who also put together Soundway’s 2008 comp Colombia! and the upcoming Colombia! 2 — first got bit by the bug in David, Panama, where he stumbled on a radio station willing to part with its old LPs, crammed floor-to-ceiling in a back room. "The guys really let me loose on it," he recalls. Without a portable turntable, Gyemant tried to figure out which albums and 7-inches were worth buying (hint: he stayed away from the ones listing boleros and clung to the records that mentioned, say, Afrofunk). Talking to collectors and fans led him to such players as Francisco "Bush" Buckley of Menique el Panameno con Bush y los Magnificos, who drove him around Panama and took him to old musicians’ hangouts. Still, the writer wasn’t sure if he was on the right track until he started selling funk LPs on eBay, and Soundway head Miles Cleret bought them all. The two began trading MP3s, which led to the comps.

What makes Panama’s musical blend so sizzling? The nation’s complex, fluid multicultural melting pot. The Afro-Antillean workers of Caribbean descent who came to build the canal — and who made up about 20 percent of the small population — played a major part, opines Gyemant. "Per capita, I’ve never found so many calypso boogaloo records," he raves. "It’s like, what?! Or soul guaracha. Or bossa funk. But I think the music speaks for itself."


With DJ Beto, DJ Guillermo, and Vinnie Esparza

Fri/3, 10 p.m., $5

Elbo Room

647 Valencia St

(415) 552-7788




Get it straight: Tartufi is not playing the Fourth of July eight-band marathon at El Rio that the duo’s Lynn Angel has organized for four years. Nevertheless, during a break from the rock band summer camp at Sausalito’s Bay Area Discovery Museum, where she and Brian Gorman teach 4- to 7-year-olds how to write songs, Angel makes a case for the holiday. "We have a healthy addiction to fireworks," she says, while Gorman chimes in that he likes the ones the make his stomach shake. San Franciscans must wait until August to shake for Tartufi at the Rock Make Street Festival. Before then, the endlessly creative, good-humored duo hit the U.K., where the excellent rock-symphonic Nests of Waves and Wires (Southern) is garnering raves. "We’ve been getting compared to Animal Collective every other day, which is kind of strange to me," says Angel. "I can’t see the connection myself, but I won’t turn it down!"


Sat/4, 1:30 p.m., $8

El Rio

3158 Mission, SF



Aug. 23, noon, free

Treat at 17th Ave., SF


Dirty dancing



SONIC REDUCER "I guess it’s different things at different times. I guess different songs are in different modes." David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors is trying — but not very hard — to discuss his songwriting process by phone from Richmond, Va. From the sound of it, the Projectors are trudging along sluggishly today, so as one of those writers with a word or two to spare, I thought I’d help the tongue-tied onetime Yalie out.

"So do you write songs by jamming together as a band or do you compose all the parts yourself?" I wonder innocently.

"It’s hard to write music by jamming," sighs Longstreth, 27, "though not for someone like Phish. Or the Grateful Dead. Or the String Cheese Incident. Hey," he decides to turn the tables on his tiresome interrogator, "what kind of music do you listen to?"

Somehow I think I just got stuck in the String Cheese camp for throwing out the dreaded J word, although Longstreth gets gabby at the mention of his friends and fellow Brooklyner soft-liners Grizzly Bear and happily talks about the leaked "crappy burns" of that band’s latest disc, Veckatimest (Warp).

"We all like to hang out and listen to jams and stuff," he offers tentatively, as if trying out a new language, one perhaps invented by candle-selling hippies and moe.-moony preppies.

Oh, never mind — trust the art, not the artist, as my mother, a shiftless artist, once said. And Dirty Projectors’ art is excellent this time around: the Longstreth-led group’s seventh long-player, Bitte Orca (Domino), is a cunning, insinuatingly likeable collection of characteristically complex, left-field songs that seem to shoot from the hip for that ineffable quality that some fine Top 10 hip-hop appears to aim for — polyrhythmic pop that sound as easy and natural as a school-yard chant — while preserving Longstreth’s glimmering, almost-Afropop-like guitar playing, random (string cheese) incidents of harp, and unexpected time signatures that bring to mind, yep, the jams of Yes and their proggy ilk.

Still, those name-drops don’t quite encompass Longstreth’s romantic falsetto feints on "The Bride," the cock-eyed and sinuous Bjork-meets-Beyonce dance-pop of "Stillness Is the Move," or the fetching, erratic chamber folk of "Two Doves" — and do little to capture how luminously lovely the album is, for all its hard corners and uncompromising eccentricity, and how good his current band — which includes vocalist-guitarist Amber Coffman, vocalist-keyboardist-guitarist-bassist Angel Deradoorian, drummer Brian Mcomber — sounds live.

Little wonder that Longstreth has little patience for fool questions — words do little to sum up the gentle bite of Bitte Orca. "A song is like a living thing," he explains, not sure he’ll be understood. "And recording is a document of the song at a particular moment in time. But I think if you’re playing well, there’s an element of growth that’s happening as you’re playing. I wouldn’t describe it as improvisation — but flux."


July 7, 8 p.m., $15


628 Divisadero, SF




Though the tune first emerged last year, the infectious Day ‘n’ Nite has been going damn near every day and night since Kanye got behind the Cleveland, Ohio, native. With Sean Paul, Ice Cube, and others. Fri/26, 6 p.m., $25.50–$95.50. Shoreline Amphitheatre, One Amphitheatre Pkwy., Mountain View. www.livenation.com


French rock’s photogenic mythical critters attempt to rise above the tabloid fodder — vocalist Thomas Mars is Sofia Coppola’s baby daddy — and hold the line the against futuristic Jamaican toaster with Guns Don’t Kill People … Lazers Do (Downtown) in hand. Fri/26, 9 p.m., $27.50–$70. Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness, SF. www.goldenvoice.com


The cold fact is that the resurrected folk-rock legend conquered the crowd at his last SF show. This time the Afropop-adoring LA combo promises to shines, too. Fri/26, 9 p.m., $17–$19. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


The SF band embraces a gentle, sunny, new clarity on its upcoming Gorgeous Johnny (Jagjaguwar), with Papercuts’ Jason Quever now in their midst. Sat/27, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Playing with Ethan Rose, Brosseau plies dusky, literary-minded originals on his handsome new Posthumous Success (FatCat). Sun/28, 8 p.m., $10. Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

Adventureland, ho



SONIC REDUCER I’m in the mood for adventure — and so are you, apparently. Something off the beaten down and battered tourist path, something wild and glee and free to be you and me. And who is "me," anyway — when "me" is perpetually in flux, in free fall, riding the rapids of the collective unconscious? Don’t fear the reaper, the creeper, the negative creeps, the swine flu, the digital, the Burner, the busted, the Man, the dude who defecates on your doorstep (especially if he cleans up after himself like a responsible pooch owner).

Maybe that’s why adventure is the underlying theme, streaming willy-nilly, in talks with two very different guitarists and vocalists, generating very different sounds: Aaron Turner of Isis (and founder of Hydra Head Records) and Charlie Saufley, frontperson for San Francisco’s Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound (see below) You know it’s in the air when players working in such varied modes of music-making as Isis and AHISS start talking about taking it off-road. Ask, for instance, Seattle resident Turner what he looks for as the sole A&R guy (and de facto art director) of Hydra Head, and he says, somewhat reluctantly because, "at the moment we’re trying to cut back on what we take in — sort of because our boundless enthusiasm has led us take on too much. But if I were to summarize what we look for, it’s an adventurous spirit."

Isis’ latest album, Wavering Radiant (Ipecac) feels boundless, too: as clean and deep as a dive into a wooded swimming hole. Richly melodic passages, with unexpected ambient hues, make me picture the band is listening widely, beyond thrash and forebears (and Hydra Head like-mindeds) like the Melvins. From "Hall of the Dead," a layered, seven-minute-plus opus that brings to mind a more symphonic Neurosis or Mono, to "Ghost Key," which is at moments almost frothy and airy in its interplay of electronics and guitar and at others ascending and falling with loud, earthy thunder, the album, engineered by new producer Joe Barresi (who presently happens to be working with Saviours), seems to step back from crushing aggression and toward more nuanced arrangements tinged with post-rock and mathcore elements associated with Dillinger Escape Plan, Explosions in the Sky, and Mogwai.

And now that Isis has made inroads into the Billboard 200 — Wavering Radiant arrived at No. 98 — I wonder whether the group’s sense of adventure may be contagious. "I don’t think our music is inaccessible," Turner muses. "There’s enough melody there, and certainly there’s an energy that a lot of people will latch onto. But when it boils down to it, there’s an element to the music that will make that a stretch in the mainstream realm." Hold on.


With Helms Alee and Mamiffer

Tues/23, 9 p.m., $16

Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750, www.musichallsf.com



You’d never suspect Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound was on a similar tip as Isis, but if you chat with guitarist-vocalist Charlie Saufley, he’ll stop what he’s doing — namely caring for his ailing father in Mountain View — and ponder the phenomenon, and yes, the adventurous vibe, of the current psych/stoner rock scene in the Bay Area. "The common thread of this newer generation of what we loosely call psychedelic bands is that I think they’re running with what the first generation forgot," he explains good-naturedly. "A lot of them turned into a cliché, self-indulgent dinosaur bands. Now maybe everyone is carrying on the spirit of what those bands had when they were young and didn’t know better and just fueled by that feeling of creating something new."

New for ASHISS: the kudos it’s fielded for its new When Sweet Sleep Returned (Tee Pee), a successful cosmic-cowboy-derived marriage of Floyd and country-fied Byrds, as Saufley describes it, with a drizzle of Revolver-esque pop. Still, he’s not sure what to make of the attention. "I haven’t stopped aspiring to the dream of making a living doing this. I think someone might sneak through the cracks and break through. Aspirations exist but I do think there’s a glorious resignation, like, ‘Fuck it, I’m not going to see dollar one, so why not do what I want to do. There is that democratization of music creation: people who are really psyched if you put out a record on your own and make 500 of them. But I do also think people rally around that spirit — ‘I’m never going to make money, so I’m just going to be prolific and put it out there.’ It’s the hardcore ethic come to life."


Fri/19, 9 p.m., $13

Great American Music Hall

Into the wild


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER O, Commuter — wherefore art thou, Commuter? Grandaddy mastermind Jason Lytle is familiar enough with the concept of the long haul: he’s known plenty of people who’ve made the trek from his Modesto hometown to Silicon Valley and the Bay. But this time out, on Lytle’s first solo album, an exquisite clutch of songs titled Yours Truly, the Commuter (ANTI-), the typical definition of harried, driven, and road-raging working-stiff doesn’t quite apply. Or so he explains from his home on the edge of Montana backcountry, over a hot printer jetting out flight info concerning his imminent European tour.

"In this instance, I’m referring to the place I gotta go to make good art, get good results, be creative, and then making the trip back to reality, which is just taking care of business and taking care of my life and making sure that the car still works and, uh, there aren’t too many stains on the carpet," he rambles softly, as if speaking to himself, an old friend, or, as the Yours Truly song title goes, the "Ghost of My Old Dog." "It’s not always an easy transition, and I’ve found that the longer I do this, the harder it gets to push yourself to that level of making good art, and then having to come back and be responsible and sift through the wreckage."

Lytle turned 40 on March 26, while fulfilling his target of becoming the "healthiest" he’s ever been. ("Whew, it was a real chore!" he wisecracks wryly, recalling the performance and party gauntlet at South by Southwest a few days previous.) He has more goals where that one came from.

"There’s all this stuff I want to do before I get old," the ex-semi-pro skateboarder says, when I joke that the grandpa years are approaching despite the demise of his old band Grandaddy. "I want to start painting, and I wouldn’t mind playing golf, and I want to get a dog again. I still fucking skateboard on a regular basis! If your body allows you to do it, why quit?"

It’s just as hard to imagine Lytle turning his back on music, in spite of his seeming hiatus since the release of Grandaddy’s Just Like the Fambly Cat (V2, 2006) and his move to Montana three years ago. He busied himself setting up his studio, working on songs for M. Ward, Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse’s forthcoming project, and commercials, until a snowed-in winter spent at the grand piano and peering out the window triggered these tunes. Majestic space balladry ("I Am Lost [And the Moment Cannot Last]"), echo chamber rock ("It’s the Weekend"), Kraut meditations ("Fürget It"), bittersweet summons to the temple of Neil Young ("Here for Good"), and stately Brian Wilson-levitating-on-Air elegies ("Flying Thru Canyons") flowed forth. "I love the idea of putting together a little body of work," Lytle says, "whether it be a mix tape for my friends or just a collection of Christmas songs that I’ve recorded for relatives — or in this case, a group of songs that I thought were strong enough to call an album."

When Lytle comes through town with a group including ex-Grandaddy drummer Aaron Burtch and Rusty Miller of SF’s Jackpot, he’ll be fielding another question: When is the musical commuter coming home? "I would have loved to have stayed in California," drawls Lytle. "But the types of places that I want to live don’t really exist in California anymore. They’re too expensive — or they’re overrun with meth labs." *


Mon/8, 9:30 p.m., $16

Café du Nord

2170 Market, SF


Also opening for Neko Case

Tues/9, 8 p.m., $30–<\d>$33


982 Market, SF




Don’t you dare call Camera Obscura nostalgists. Vocalist Tracyanne Campbell, she of the heart-torching girlish brogue, fumes at the very thought, despite a "post-dinner slump" following her vegetarian Thai green curry. "No, I don’t think we’re a bunch of miserable, nostalgia-hungry losers," she protests from Glasgow. "We don’t long for the past. The past is very much a part of me, but I think it’s good to try and live in the moment. I think we’re misunderstood."

Still, the combo’s delicious new My Maudlin Career (4AD) is steeped in girl-group charm and Motown shimmy — though Camera Obscura had forged its sound eons before those genres’ current revival. There’s little contrivance to Camera Obscura’s lush music, Campbell explains, especially when it comes to recording: the group tends to track live with few overdubs. "I think a lot of times it’s the happy accident, to be honest," she says. "I don’t want to be too persnickety. I want to be brave enough to try and capture that moment on its own, without looking back with regret."


With Agent Ribbons

Mon/8, 9 p.m., $21.50

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000


Crack “Relapse”



SONIC REDUCER Symptoms: until last year there were few signs of life from Eminem, the hip-hop artist. Last sighted taking a bow on the cover of his last, toned-down, more PC, and ultimately underwhelming studio 2004 album, Encore, the rapper disappeared from the scene, as rumors festered about retirement and later, after he dropped out of the 2005 Anger Management Tour, substance abuse. Out of rehab and back to music-making — with hip-hop once again his favorite high, as he put it in a recent interview, Shady’s Relapse (Aftermath/Goliath/Interscope/Shady/Web) is now in our hands.

Diagnosis: listening to Em lead with his anger a decade after the release of The Slim Shady LP (Aftermath/Interscope), we’re back to the kind of music and lyrics the man was born to make and sling — impossible to ignore when blasting, and incapable of being reduced to wallpaper. Relapse isn’t perfect. The weakest track is the first single, "We Made You," with its easy, adolescent, cartoonish video and relatively violence-free lyrics. One too many numbers obsessively retreads similar women-hating, gore-mongering themes on this 22-tracker, which includes the hidden Dre collabos "Old Time’s Sake" and "Crack a Bottle" with 50 Cent. But even at its most repetitive (i.e., the skits devoted to nay-saying music biz types), Relapse writhes with life and smarts, conceptually of one piece from its narrative-like programming to its pill-mosaic cover portrait and medicine bottle top-like "Push, Down & Turn" packaging.

Em’s faux Jamaican/Scottish toaster patois may irk, much like his habit of subbing rap’s omnipresent "bitch" for "lesbian," but it’s tough to deny the vitality — and vitriol — rushing off Relapse‘s first three songs, as the rapper frontloads the disc with his strongest material. Tracks like the opener "3 a.m." and its serial-killer imagery (check the steal of Silence of the Lamb‘s imminently swipe-able "It puts the lotion in the basket" monologue and then the YouTube remixes) make it clear from the start that nasty alter ego Slim Shady has lapsed back into view. As he faces a 3 a.m. darkest hour of the soul stocked with a Fangoria-style rogue’s crew of references to Jason, Freddy, Dahmer, et al., rage continues to feed his rap.

Such gruesome reveries make Marshall Mathers’ acknowledged sleeping pill addiction totally understandable — whatever quiets the mind, dude. And though I usually suggest meditation and yoga as alternatives to self-medication, I’m loath to wreck such chaotic, thrill-kill fantasies as "Hello" and "Medicine Ball." "Bagpipes from Baghdad" and the more insinuating, handclap-riddled "Same Song and Dance" call out the perceived sins of rumored exes Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, and Mariah Carey — a trash-culture harem that makes one suspect that Shady’s rehab stays involved a lot of tabloid browsing for dates. Attraction is always linked to repulsion, hinted at in the openly weary title of the latter.

Blame the mother — Eminem does, while fully aware that the world is familiar with that corrosive, at times litigious relationship, judging from the beginning of second track, "My Mom": "My mom, my mom, I know you’re probably tired about hearing ’bout my mom." His still-heated fury at her legacy of bad parenting and Valium addiction streams through his flow, this time specifically linked to his own pill predilection. "Wait a minute this isn’t dinner this is paint thinner /’You ate it yesterday I ain’t hear no complaints did I? Now here’s a plate full of pain killers,’" he spits, before ending with, "Alright ma you win, I don’t feel like arguin’ /I’ll do it, pop it gobble it and start wobblin’ /stumble hobble tumble slip trip till I fall in bed with a bottle of meds and a Heath Ledger bobblehead." Ledger’s damaged Joker would appreciate those last, tongue-tying, onomatopoetic lines, pointing to Em’s revived brilliance even amid the Shadiest, sketched-out turmoil.

Or blame the stepfather. Was Eminem raped by his stepfather as a child? And if so, have pop listeners ever been informed of sexual abuse this graphically via song? "Insane" might be the most horrifically explicit, yet — a credit to Eminem’s powers as a bold entertainer — bleakly humorous and compulsively listenable tune about child molestation to date. Here, as with so many of his lyrics, the victim becomes conflated with the victimizer, as the rapper hints at the generational transfer of abuse: "I want you to feel me like my stepfather felt me /Fuck a little puppy kick the puppy while he’s yelping /Shady what the fuck you saying I don’t know help me," he rages, flipping between characters before settling on a primal scene too painful to be relegated to fiction, speaking as a boy to a step-Pater Monstrous. "I only get naked when the babysitter tells me /She showed me a movie like Nightmare on Elm Street / but it was X and they called it ‘Pubic Hair on Chelsea’/’Well this one’s called ‘Ass Rape’ and we’re shooting the jail scene.’" Don’t go there? Impossible. If rehab released fresh, brave streams of anger and pain in Eminem, no wonder Relapse 2 is hot on this horror flick of an album’s heels.

Madcap laughs



SONIC REDUCER "I told you so" are the sweetest, shortest words in the lexicon of raving visionaries and maligned prophets, but Sir Richard Bishop is far too gentlemanly to resort to such snack-sized snarkery. Still, I’m thinking the world’s attentions and the brothers Bishop and their many projects might finally be harmonically, magically converging as I park myself on a thrift-store coach beside the charming Bishop in the airy, uncannily tidy West Oakland flat he shares with Mark Gergis (Porest, Neung Phak, Mono Pause).

After the 2007 death of Sun City Girl Charles Gocher, attentive underground music fans — who’ve revered the band for its determinedly DIY, cassette-culture cussedness — collectively blinked, rubbed their eyes, and wondered why they hadn’t paid closer attention to the endlessly productive Girls (even now issuing rarities via the new Napoleon and Josephine: Singles Volume 2 [Abduction]). Attention from figures like Bonnie "Prince" Billy (who told me that the Bishop Brothers’ Brothers Unconnected show at Slim’s was the best he saw last year) and labels such as Sub Pop, which talked to the Bishops about doing a best-of, soon followed.

Likewise Sublime Frequencies — the label Richard and Alan Bishop toiled on for years amid accusations that they were ripping off artists, failing to follow academic protocol, and simply not applying enough polish to their rough aesthetic — began to get its due as a groundbreaking disseminator of obscure sonic gems from such far-flung, seldom documented sites as Burma, Laos, and Western Sahara. Richard, who is less involved with the imprint these days, says they’ve become adept at tracking down and paying the performers. Today, the label gets the kind of praise it richly deserves, including a hefty feature by onetime naysayer Clive Bell in Wire. Sublime Frequencies is also producing the first European, non-Mideast tour by breathtaking Syrian folk-pop legend Omar Souleyman, whose Highway to Hassake (Sublime Frequencies, 2006) positively shreds with phase-shifted Arabic keyboard lines and frenetic beats.

Meanwhile Sir Richard is concentrating on his new Oakland life, bathed in the soft light and BART train roar streaming in from the ‘hood. "It seems like it’s alive here — whereas in Seattle it’s kind of dying and not just musically," he says happily. "This is not the best neighborhood, but when I go out the door, I’m alive, and I’m totally aware of what’s going on, and there’s just some cool creative energy to grasp onto."

Guitars and instruments are neatly clustered in an alcove across from a massive TV rigged to catch Mideast channels — perfectly tuned into Bishop’s current obsession with and studies into the music the half-Lebanese musician first heard his grandfather play on old cassettes. Here in Oakland — aided and abetted by the half-Iraqi Gergis and his collection of Middle Eastern MP3s, cassettes, VCDs, and vinyl — he’s been digging deeply into the music of Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, a homecoming of sorts since Bishop started out studying Egyptology around the time of Sun City Girls’ early ’80s inception.

When Bishop started tracking his fine, even sublime new The Freak of Araby (Drag City) in Seattle, the switch from making a poppy electric-guitar album to one centered on Middle Eastern-related originals and covers was a natural one — a tribute to his latest fave, Egyptian guitarist Omar Khorshid. Bishop scrambled to learn new songs in six days, but he’s pleased with the result, which he’ll fill out live with tour mate Oaxacan as his backing combo. The disc "was very rushed, and I didn’t have time to hash out a lot of the ideas," he says. "There are people who are not going to like it, but that’s okay, it never bothered me before!" And with that, the jolly Sir Richard laughs. *


Fri/22, 9:30 p.m., $10

Stork Club

2330 Telegraph, Oakl.




Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes are in the Brooklyn post-punkers’ past, now gathering steam with Sub Pop singles and SXSW blather lather. Wed/20, 9 p.m., $10–$12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com.


Don’t fear the guitar solo, all ye Johannesburg black-rockers. Fri/22, 9 p.m., $12. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com


Out now with Invisible Cities (Ubiquity), the polyrhythmic Midwestern mind-blowers destroyed all reservations at their last BOH show. Fri/22, 10 p.m., $10–$12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com.


The pint-sized electro-grime poobabe finds a Cure with "So Human." Sun/24, 9 p.m., $18. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. rickshawstop.com

House of Horrors


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Thrills and chills and disco ball spills — that’s what the Horrors are made of? After Shih Tzu-banged frontman Faris Badwan brattily ripped the mirror ball off the ceiling of 330 Ritch a scant two years ago, who knew the U.K. band would show its true, formative, and fundamentally curious colors? The hues and cries streaming off the Horrors’ second album, Primary Colours (XL) read as a limpid, moonlit pop-sonnet to true-school proto-goth-rockers and morbidly fixated post-punk upsetters like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Killing Joke.

Just don’t flash that dance-floor orb in front of Badwan again. "Mmm, Faris never really liked mirror balls," mumbles guitarist Joshua Third, né Hayward. It’s frozen in Boston, where the group is performing that night, and the chill that drops momentarily over the conversation is brief yet bracing. "Luckily we haven’t played anywhere with a mirror ball for ages."

Despite the menace — or maybe because of it — the goth-punk movement has always seemed fundamentally conservative. But the Horrors don’t peddle the shockabilly moves so common among goth-identified SoCalis. In contrast to the easy-sleazy comic-book corn of today’s prominent goth-punk purveyors — pass the Horrorpops and just keep walking — the group now draws from exploratory originators Joy Division and ornery rabble-rousers the Birthday Party. Primary Colours boasts driving tunes carved from silvery synth textures ("Three Decades") and Jesus and Mary Chain-like buzz-saw pop that thumps with creative negativity ("Who Can Say").

The group capers on the same frosty darkling plain as Interpol, judging from tunes like the Velvet-y, string-strewn "I Only Think of You," which may turn off those with a low tolerance for pop pomposity. Still, the opening track, "Mirror’s Image," sets the tone for pleasing surprise with its initial lush, plangent soundscape — more akin to Lindstrøm than Sisters of Mercy — before gently plunging into spiraling reverb, effects-gristled guitar, and a nodding keyboard fragment that will have some recalling Echo and the Bunnymen and others Kraftwerk.

Third says Primary Colours was "the first chance we had as a band to shut ourselves away and work on the record on our own. We’d retreat into a rehearsal space and get completely lost in it. Yeah, I think that really comes through."

The Horrors titled the first song they ever wrote "Sheena is a Parasite," so yes, this is throwback rock, It gazes directly into the eyes of the more serious Anglo art-rock makers of the ’80s with self-conscious affection, especially on haunted, haunting songs such as "Do You Remember." And what’s wrong with that?

"We actually made a record that’s a complete trip, from start to finish — it takes you through different moods," Third explains. "Also, you can listen to it on repeat, because the last track plays into the first track. I’ve always been quite into the idea because I like to sit down and listen to things over and over again." It’s a quality he misses in many new albums. "Yeah, partly the Internet’s to blame. Partly labels are to blame. Partly bands are to blame — because they don’t seem to care anymore," he says, capping the remark with a small grim chuckle.

In the Horrors’ hands — the ensemble coproduced along with longtime collaborator Craig Silvey, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and video artist Chris Cunningham — Primary Colours sounds astonishingly unmusty, stirring with tangible signs of life. The group has managed to find a pulse — while maturing into, yikes, artists. "We were all 19 when we wrote the first record — now we’re in our early twenties!" Third exclaims. "I think it’s the typical growing-up … malarkey." *


With the Kills

Tues/19, 8 p.m., $22.50


1805 Geary, SF





Musical funny folk Tara Jepsen of Lesbians, Chris Portfolio of Hank IV, and Matt Hartman of Sic Alps pit wits and carve out snarfs at this comedy two-fer. Wed/13, 9 p.m., free. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


And what a long, sweet name it is: the Austin, Texas, soul-stirrers cook up hot ones from Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! (Lost Highway). Sat/16, 9 p.m. $17. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


The Tiny Telephone operator’s new Romanian Names (Dead Oceans) rolls out Moog moods and Byzantine yarns. Mon/18, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. www.amoeba.com. Tues/19, 7:30 p.m., $16. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com

Down wit’ ODP



SONIC REDUCER Remember Y2K, the dot-com boom … electroclash? Born when the 9/11 attacks were but a glimmer in Terror’s eye, electroclash flickered into view swiftly, a punk/DIY movement of sorts as every imaginative slut ‘n’ buck plugged into easily accessible music-making technology via no-band-backtalk laptops. It all climaxed with a 2003 tour and then an electroclash backlash, as associated artists distanced themselves from the tag. Now, much like a sexy, robotic zombie designed to sell booze with sleek chrome boobs, it seems to be clattering back to life, à la the Star Trek franchise or any other once-future-forward artifact from a distant age.

It’s been too long. After dance-punk, plain ole electro, Bmore moves, laser booty, bass crazes, and the like, the crass class of 2000 is threatening to strut its kicks ‘n’ kinks once again. May 5 was apparently ground zero for electroclash’s survivors. The man who coined the genre, Larry Tee, returned then with Club Badd (Ultra), and Perez "My Penis" Hilton, Amanda "My Pussy" Lepore, and Princess Superstar on board with him. Fischerspooner came back the same day as well, promising Entertainment (FS Studios) before a May 22 live production at the Fillmore. Casey and company select the path of earnest synth-pop and downbeat soundscape explorations ("Money Can’t Dance"), while Mr. Tee’s, er, full-length comes off as a "badd" joke or novelty toss-off at best and embarrassing at worst, thanks to its tone-deaf paeans to "Agyness Deyn" and "The Noughties" (sorry to inform Tee that the aforementioned is nearly over). Yet both recordings pale in comparison to another May 5 entry in the mini-revival. I Feel Cream (XL) is the latest effort by an original who creeps into the oddest cultural crannies, from Gap ads to 2003’s Lost in Translation: Peaches.

OK, I’m still hot for ex-teacher Merrill Nisker. I cherish those sexy dialed-in giggles over her Itty Bitty Titty Club, back around the time that The Teaches of Peaches (Kitty-Yo/XL, 2000) thrust into view. And I’m rooting for Peaches — 40 and onto her fourth long-player — to snatch the dance floor crown from Lady GaGa. With her now-well-foregrounded singing and still-girlish-sounding dirty party raps, she’s equipped to do it.

Just dance? There’s no denying that Peaches is feeling the creamy, gooey fluidity of life beneath the mirror ball, assisted by producer James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, among others. But her orgies are crammed with sharp edges and jagged corners; the at-times- gorgeous arrangements are preoccupied with candy-hued horror show synth textures, rave airhorns, whinnying house effects, and last-days-of-disco tropes. Yes, Peaches has been busy, much like her album. Teaming with Yo Majesty’s Shunda K on "Billionaire" — a faux-gold-digger-on-gold-digger track that sounds like the first single off a Gwen Stefani solo missive — Peaches concludes with a curdled snarl, "Until they tie the noose /never overproduced." Is the irony intentional?

Half self-aware smartass, half full-blown art babe caught up in the carnival, Peaches has moved from the more politically confrontational Impeach My Bush (XL, 2006) toward the rave era’s pacifying teat. The video for the designed-to-be-a-hit "Talk to Me," in which a mohawked Peaches tears at a Dorian Gray-like portrait, daisy-enchained by wiggy Grudge-style spectral waifs, says it all. Most divas — Yo Madgesty comes to mind — would be content to get the seduction right, but the liberal sprinkling of Peaches’ imperfect raps gives you a taste of why she has stood the test of time. She’s the dutifully iconoclastic daughter of Madonna. She’s also mother superior to legions of raw solo geeks who want to kick it roughly, bravely at center stage. "I drink the whiskey neat /You lick my crow’s feet," Peaches coos on "Trick and Treat." A proper lady Madonna would never be quite so frank about her age or sexuality.

And few can scheme up a playground chant-turned-pop tune like Peaches, whose school kid yelps on "Show Stopper" — "Show stopper, panty dropper /Everybody’s favorite shocker … I’m a stage whore /I command the floor /Rock you harder than a martyr in a holy war /Can’t help but engage you /Never mind my age /It’s like breaking out of a cage" — dare you to call her ODP (Ol’ Dirty Peaches). Peaches may not have the smoothest flow in the room, but does anyone brave the muddy psychosexual rapids of identity and abandonment quite like her? Call this Electra clash, Oedipus.


June 5, 9 p.m., $25–$27

Grand Ballroom at Regency Center

Van Ness and Sutter, SF

(415) 673-5716


NorCal nuggets



SONIC REDUCER Now playing: Locals Only II (see part one here). You can’t stop it from happening, even if you crumble to the ground like Keanu, fire your pistol in the air, and scream, "Nooo!" NorCal bands gotta make some noise, Bay-bies.

Hey, what gives? The Fresh and Onlys promised to release their self-titled Castle Face debut in May, yet last week I spied the CD, prominently displayed, twinkling brightly on an Amoeba Music endcap. Could it be an inside job, being that Fresh and Onlys Tim Cohen and Shayde Sartin have passed through the store’s payroll? Whatev, Kev, be happy it’s there, polishing off rough gems like "Endless Love": "Why don’t we live forever /inside this little mirror /so that your eyes and my nose /and your ears and my mouth /and your chin and my beard /they all fit together? / Na-na-na-na-na-na-na!"

Just as you turn to dismiss "Endless Love" as another joke song — albeit one tuned to a staticky channel of surf and ’60s-style garage rock by way of Flying Nun novitiates and Jonathan Richman’s post-punk pop naifs — the group unleashes a mini-nugget of "A Man Needs a Maid" wisdom: "Don’t you know you gotta give yourself / to get somebody else." Happily tucked into an echo chamber of passion-first rock ‘n’ roll, and armed against the apocalypse with a here-to-help sincerity that could stand the test of time ("The Mind Is Happy." "Feelings in My Heart"), the Fresh and Onlys pull off the seemingly impossible: discovering a clunky sweetness and lo-fi grace in a very singular rock primitivo.

"Snap back like a bungee chord — Lord!" Watch yourself, Raw Deluxe. The Bay Area group’s flow is as satisfyingly smooth and substantive as classic Del tha Funkee Homosapien times three on "Can You Spend It," off its new Raw Communication (Reel Deal). MCs Lexxx Luthor and Mic Blake of Alphabet Soup and Soulati of Felonious are unstoppable and at the top of a mix that showcases the sheer delight of word-slingers riding the exact same wavelength. There’s nothing particularly uncooked about the smokily intoxicating old-school jazz-funk gumbo on Raw Deluxe’s third long-player: keyboardist Matt Fleming, saxophonist Tony Jurado, bassist Christ Arenas, and drummer Chris Spano are on point on "Something to Build Upon" — a celebration of the band’s actual music-making process — which would chart in a better world and provide the foundation for a more maximalist hip-hop.

On the post-rock-cum-math side of the spectrum is the far-too-scarce From Monuments to Masses, now SF-NYC bicoastal and back with a new mostly instrumental full-length, On Little Known Frequencies (Dim Mak), possibly the most powerful recording yet by Francis Choung, Matthew Solberg, and Sergio Robledo-Maderazo. Mars Volta and Minus the Bear — MTB keyboardist Matt Bayles coproduced, engineered, and mixed the disc — are obvious referents. though neither band finds its voice via fragments of sampled dialogue like FMTM does, as if tapping directly into the culture’s transmissions. Almost monochromatic in its clear-eyed devotion to alt-rock propulsion, FMTM’s music has the closed-circle urgency and internal fury of a sonic dialectic. Are these frequencies to be plumbed with increased frequency?


Thurs/23, 10 p.m., $5


3223 Mission, SF



Fri/24, 10 p.m., $10

Club Six

60 Sixth St., SF




The punk legends are turning over a new leaf in honor of their new 4 Men With Beards vinyl reissues, including 1982’s Generic Flipper. The battle continues with Flipper’s new Love/Fight albums on May 19. Fri/24, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba, 2455 Telegraph, Berkeley. www.amoeba.com. Also Sat/25, 9 pm $10. El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. www.elriosf.com


The L.A. combo veers toward the dark, detuned, and deliciously distorted, judging from the music released from its long-awaited, forthcoming second disc, Transit Transit. With Odawas and Mini Mansions. Sat/25, 9 p.m., $18. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


Is three the magic number for the West Coast indie MCs? Check for lofty concepts on the new Say G&E (Legendary). With Exile and DJ Day and Afro Classics. Sat/25, 9 p.m., $18. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com. Also Mon/27, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba, 1855 Haight, SF. www.amoeba.com

Locals only



SONIC REDUCER April showers, worried world powers, CD towers — it’s tough to keep the kite-high ebullience, party vibes, and gotta-jet wings in flight during tough times. Bands come and go, move to Brooklyn (otherwise known as Break-Up-Land), and wither away in day jobs. So dole out a few propers to locals who brave the unofficial buy-nothing year of 2009 with new shiny plastic discs as they bid to become, erm, the next "secret show"-happy Green Day, revving up for Berkeley Rep, or Guitar Hero-hooked Metallica, currently gathering massive TV exposure via that goofy prime-time commercial.

Even the least likely to hunker down and deliver — namely the hard-smokin’ party hearties of Still Flyin’ — are casting aside the bakin’ dog lethargy and finally issuing a first album, Never Gonna Touch the Ground (Ernest Jenning). Love ’em or hate ’em, the brazenly silly 15-plus supergroup has finally found its footing amid the current wave of indie rock fun-seekers, a phenom (the Polyphonic Spree, Of Montreal, Tilly and the Wall, Broken Social Scene) characterized by collective-minded sprawl, theatricality, audience-friendliness, and dance jams (Still Flyin’ likes to call theirs HAMMJAMMS, but never mind that). Is "happy gang-bang Muzak" too raw a phrase to lay on it?

Headed by Athens, Ga., refugee Sean Rawls and boasting such members as ex-Aisler Set-ees Yoshi Nakamoto and Alicia Vanden Heuvel and former Architecture in Helsinki-ite Isobel Knowles, Still Flyin’ flies in the face of perceived indie elitism with a sound that fuses group-vocal pale-faced two-tone and lilting, ’80s-era Haircut 100 and Tom Tom Club lite tropi-pop. It’s present on the band’s title theme, on the anthemic ska workout "Forever Dudes," and on the bubbly vaca-rock of "Following the Itinerary." Yes, Still Flyin’ has an antidote to the economic woes that ail ya — the oughta-be-a-pop-hit "Good Thing It’s a Ghost Town Around Here" embraces the darkness that the Specials once dreaded. Ignore throwaways like the self-mocking "Act of Jamming," and you start to believe that the infectious Never Gonna just might achieve liftoff, especially if the group continues to get live crowds onto its party bus.

Never Gonna was partly recorded on weekends by Jason Quever at his Excelsior District home studio, Pan American, and it shows: the disc sounds just as toasty warm as the new You Can Have What You Want (Gnomonsong) by Quever’s Papercuts. Thanks to its Clientele-like mid-’60s folk pop, 2007’s Can’t Go Back promised to be Quever’s breakout recording, landing on Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic’s Gnomonsong imprint with a hushed splash. You Can Have is a new mode of dreaming — one prone to bouts of levitation. Helped by Beach House’s Alex Scally, Lazarus’ Trevor Montgomery, Skygreen Leopards’ Glenn Donaldson, artist-filmmaker David Enos, and Helene Renaut, Quever conjures haunted carousels and the drift of spooked spaceships on tracks like "Once We Walked in the Sunlight," "A Peculiar Hallelujah," and "Jet Plane." Obsessively analog-centric and bewitched by dream pop, yé-yé, Floyd, and an earthbound breed of Krautrock, he makes it impossible to resist the surprisingly light-hearted charms of "A Dictator’s Lament" and You Can Have‘s overall stately high. Papercuts, we are floating in space …

The rock ‘n’ roll rave-ups and in-the-red rawness of the Sir Lord Raven’s new Please Throw Me Back in the Ocean (Happy Parts) tap into a whole ‘nother brand: screw-it-all naughty snotty. "Maybe I’ll jump in the river /Maybe I’ll cut out my liver … I’m tryin’ /I keep on tryin’," sneers frontman Eric Von Ravenson, once of the Time Flys, on — yeah, you got it — "I Keep on Tryin’." Recorded by indispensable organ and guitar pinch-hitter Greg Ashley, with producer Jay Bronzini on drums, Please Throw Me slices the cheesiness thickly, with a sense of cut-and-run fun. It’s throwback — hence a cover version of Fats Domino’s "I’m Ready" — but not necessarily throwaway. I like a band unafraid to pay tribute to its true, unlovely loves, but I prefer originals like "Take It or Leave It," "Spit on Your Grave," and "PC Action," the latter two of which intentionally subvert the garage rock, allowing glitter to seep in. How many times can these zombie riffs rouse themselves and return to life? A little spit, piss, and vinegar should do ya.


April 24, 9:30 p.m., $10

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF



May 9, 10 p.m., $10

Cafe du Nord



Iron oar: check the rosy-cheeked, country-cabaret charm on Tippy Canoe and the Paddlemen’s Parasols and Pekingese (self-released, 2008). With Blue Rabbit and Chelsea Wolfe. Wed/15, 9 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern,1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Italians do it better — meaning, play their way to Coachella. With Bloody Beetroots and Congorock. Wed/15, 9 p.m., $18 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com


The vitality of the SF psych-rockers’ "cactus flower romanticism" (as Todd Lavoie once put it) is evident on their self-released, self-titled EP. With Golden Animals and Broads. Thurs/16, 9 p.m., $6. Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. www.theeparkside.com


Indie slow jams that include a dose of Morodor-esque synth seduction, anyone? With Sebastien Tellier. Fri/17, 9 p.m., $15. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com


Expect mega intensity when the Xiu Xiu mastermind ventures out for his first solo tour in five years, drawing from 80-plus tunes including rarely-heard older numbers and new songs from 2010’s Dear God, I Hate Myself. And get ready to pose for Stewart and artist David Horvitz as they photograph every person at every show for their blog-book project. With Dark Holler and Lady Genius. Fri/17, 9:30 p.m., $12. Cafe du Nord.

Cohen koan



SONIC REDUCER What becomes a pop legend? Mink, knighthood, screaming nubiles, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, or the Companionship of the Order of Canada? Nay, Lancelot Bass, to a biz looking for its next buck, it’s chart success at the beyond-ripe age of 74.

The curious case of Leonard Cohen: more than 40 years after his classic-crammed debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen (Columbia, 1967), this songwriting genius saw the rocket-boost of mainstream pop acceptance last year, as Jeff Buckley’s version of Cohen’s "Hallelujah" shot to the top of the iTunes charts after Jason Castro interpreted it on American Idol. One Tree Hill starlet Kate Voegele took another stab at the tune — already a TV and film staple covered by everyone from John Cale and Rufus Wainwright to Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson. The final shoe dropped last December, when a rendition by Alexandra Burke, winner of UK TV’s X Factor, occupied the top of the UK singles charts, with Buckley’s take at #2, and Cohen’s original at #36. Cohen’s current North American tour — his first in 15 years — seems like a natural next step, especially since even the supremely gifted need to eat. (His ex-manager Kelley Lynch misappropriated millions while he was secluded as a Zen Buddhist monk in the late 1990s.)

While it’s no surprise that a relatively recent Cohen creation such as 1984’s "Hallelujah" should become a contemporary standard, working its way into Shrek (2001) and the ambivalent superhero sex scene in Watchmen, the song is still an unlikely commercial success, given its spiritual yearning and hard-boiled smarts. As Bryan Appleyard wrote in the U.K.’s Sunday Times in 2005, "it sounds like a pop song, but it isn’t …. It is a tuneful but ironic mask worn to conceal bitter atonal failure." Cohen’s "Hallelujah" is a gently meta-maniacal song rumination on songwriting and faith, clad in biblical allusions, that finds hope in submission to an uncaring muse.

However hard to picture, there are through lines between Cohen’s original, synth-driven "Hallelujah" and what some call his worst LP, Death of a Ladies’ Man (Columbia, 1977), an overwhelmingly orchestrated collaboration with Phil Spector that imploded as the producer barred Cohen from the final mix, allegedly threatening him with a crossbow.

"I’ve put my trust/And all my faith to see … /Her naked body! Oooh-oooh, oh my baby, can you see her naked body?"

Cohen never sounds as unbridled as he does on Death‘s "Memories," as youthful trysts take the fall with this mocking jack-off, the album’s centerpiece. I like to imagine his vocals were loosey-goosey placeholders. Anyone with a well-blackened punk sense of humor can appreciate the larky, screw-you ethos of this overwrought artifact, decorated with an image of the songwriter flanked by his morose then-wife Suzanne Elrod. Was this Cohen’s jokey fare-thee-well to horndog profligacy?

A cranky attack on youth and "Sound of Young America" pop, "Memories" is also the sound of Spector doffing his aviator shades and jabbing at his own mirrored eyeball and "Be My Baby" legacy. This Sha Nyah Nyah take on the same intermingling of faith and sexuality that underlies "Hallelujah" is constructed as a wall of soup, ready to splash down on Cohen’s fragile voice, sometimes subsumed by an ever-present anima: his female backup vocalists, a beloved counterpart to Spector’s highly controlled girl groups.

But "Memories" should perhaps remain in the past. For a strong hit of current Cohen go to the new Live in London DVD, which is infinitely preferable to 2005’s name-checking doc Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. Released along with a CD set, this straightforward, two-hour-plus document of a June 2008 arena show in London beats all that grainy Glastonbury footage on YouTube with its graceful shots of Cohen lost in the center of "Everybody Knows," eyes squeezed closed and mic cord clenched in a fist.

The greatest pleasures come from hearing later Cohen recordings reworked by a full band and witnessing the warmth and graciousness of a songwriter humbled by his audience. "It’s wonderful to be gathered here on just the other side of intimacy," he says wryly at one point, soon segueing seamlessly into the chorus of "Anthem": "Ring the bells that still can ring /Forget your perfect offering /There is a crack in everything /That’s how the light gets in." And perhaps that’s how — and why — Cohen has gone from haunting the rooms of heartsick "Memories" to becoming the go-to guy for a shot of lyrical intelligence: he recognizes our battered souls and sings those elegant, oft-unspoken truths still lingering in the sad café of the pop unconscious.


Mon/13-April 15, 8 p.m., $69.50–$251

Paramount Theatre

2025 Broadway, Oakl.





Shades of Harry Nilsson: the tunesmith makes artful inroads with his soulful new The Atlantic Ocean (Secretly Canadian). With Vetiver and Adam Stephens. Wed/8, 9 p.m., $16. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


Astor Piazzolla is grinning somewhere when this Argentinean accordion master blends the blues, fado, and chamame. Thurs/9, 8 p.m., $18. Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore, SF. www.yoshis.com


Cajun music would be swallowed up by the swamp if not for the sprightly efforts of Michael Doucet and crew. With David Lindley. Fri/10, 8 p.m., $25. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


The moody, broody U.K. dance-pop rockers match beats alongside the spunky post-punk San Diegans. Sat/11, 9 p.m., $15. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com



› a&eletters@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Due to April 1 budget cuts, the original content in this space has been replaced by a selection of music news items from the wire.


LILONGWE (Rutters) — Madonna announced her plans to adopt the entire southern African nation today after local friends told her that her adopted Malawian children, David and Mercy James, were lonely and needed companionship. In 2006 some Malawian activists attempted to block David’s adoption, but this time many are endorsing the idea of a high-flying life attached to a parent with a global pop brand. "We had no idea she would take her name so literally," opined a High Court clerk. "Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to meeting my nanny and hanging with the backstage crew at mom’s next arena show."


LOS ANGELES (APE) — In a surprise move, Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson has been dropped from the lead role of vampire hottie Edward Cullen. His replacement: the King of Pop. Producers believe that despite his age and HIStory, Michael Jackson has the tween idol beat in the unnatural skin pallor department. "He’s much more believable as a vampire," said one source.


LOS ANGELES (FuxNews) — Just weeks after Chris Brown was charged with felony assault, commercial endorsements were suspended, and his music withdrawn from radio stations, the Putf8um recording artist took another backhand blow to his ego: he was snubbed by the entire cast of the popular TV show and picked last in a very special dancer’s-choice episode. "Sure, the guy can cut a rug," said an unnamed contestant. "But everyone saw those unauthorized TMZ pics of his last cut-up partner. Performers always say, ‘Break a leg.’ I don’t want to take that chance."


NEW YORK CITY (Eek! Online) — "It’s just another tool in the studio," hip-hop artist Kanye West said. "Now I don’t even need to touch a computer to get my sound." Emboldened by the success of the operation, West’s surgeons plan to remove a part of the G.O.O.D. Music founder’s brain and install an entire suite of Pro Tools plug-ins.


WYCKOFF, N.J. — (EmptyV.com) In an effort not to become Hanson or New Kids on the Block, Kevin, Nick, and Joe Jonas have been taking massive amounts of HAH in an effort to retain their tween demographic, allege Wyckoff police after a 4 a.m. raid on the Jonas family McMansion. "Our management told us we were taking flaxseed oil," Kevin said. "They claimed it was pixie dust," added Joe.


PORTLAND, Ore. (Ditchfork) — As one of the most pervasive trends in indie rock, beards have stood the test of time and triple-blade, pivoting shavers. One all-girl combo, however, is proving that they can play that game too: this week the Portland-based Her Suit obtained beard transplants at the O’Hare Baldness Clinic outside Chicago. The number of friends on the band’s MySpace page has risen tenfold, particularly among the follically challenged.


SAGINAW, Mich. (AFPEE) — Scientists have determined a link between heavy use of iPods and other MP3 players and increased risk of cochlear cancer. The same team of scientists also determined a simple preventive measure: a protective vinyl coating applied to the actual MP3 players. "Vinyl is not only better," said one researcher. "It makes everything better."



How prescient is Working on a Dream (Columbia), when employment seems like a figment of the imagination for so many? Wed/1, 7:30 p.m., $38–$95. HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara, San Jose. www.livenation.com


Still, sweet waters run deep: GLS drifts softly and drowsily, with nods to country music’s storytelling tradition, whereas ex-neuroscience student Maki teamed with Howe Gelb for On High (OW OM, 2008) and gently noggin-rattling arrangements that go beyond the solo acoustic guitar. Fri/3, 9 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com


The Oaxaca native sifts together Fleetwood Mac and Lucinda Williams covers with an original, "Shake Away" — and a bared bellybutton — that seem like a Mesoamerican bid for Shakira’s Latin-crossover crown. Sat/4, 9 p.m., $30. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. www.livenation.com


It’s her, it’s us: one of the first pint-sized, powerhouse MySpace stars chips away at detractors with the "darker, faster" It’s Not Me, It’s You (Capitol). Sat/4, 9 p.m., $30–$32. Warfield, 982 Market, SF. www.goldenvoice.com


"Darn that Dream" seems so far away, yet the 78-year-old mastermind with the keys keeps working for the ineffable, last with It’s Magic (Dreyfus, 2008). Sat/4, 8 p.m., $20–$75. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness, SF. www.sfjazz.com


According to member Weasel Walter, Mike, Mark, Mike, and Tissue have come out of hiding, not to play blistering noise from their new 10-inch, but to cover the Circle Jerks’ Group Sex (Frontier, 1980), fore to aft, instead. With the Human Quena Orchestra and Geronimo. Sun/5, 9 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

Sleeper cells


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Pop monoliths come and go, but these days they mostly seem to be going: tumblin’ down quietly, as with the soon-to-be-shuttered Virgin Megastore on Market Street, or crumbling — and grumbling — noisily, as with the war of words accompanying Radiohead’s reputed snub of Miley Cyrus and Kanye West at this year’s Grammys. So it’s heartening to see that we can all agree on one thing: we want to glimpse an ever-morphing, perkily pageboy-ed pop maestro in the pasty, ghostly flesh.

The last monolith standing, Michael Jackson can continue to claim his King of Pop title with the speedy sell-out of his 50-show London residency, dramatically titled "This Is It!" Neverland does too exist, Mikey: in Londontown, with more than 1 million ticket-buyers gripped by the HIStory-making, get-it-now-or-never pop-consumer frenzy that accompanies reunions and comebacks undertaken by Led Zeppelin, My Bloody Valentine, and a certain half-century-old superstar — and pure brilliant and twisted product of the entertainment biz — who hasn’t tackled a major tour since 1997 or made a studio long-player since 2001. Is this deprivation anxiety, or a sign that pop can once again mean popular for a music industry nervously scanning the tea leaves of ticket sales for a brighter, sparkly-gloved future?

But we can’t all be monsters of pop. Witness that other little combo hitting its chart-topping stride around the same time as Jacko’s Off the Wall (Epic, 1979): the Bee Gees. Down-market lulls are an ace time to revisit past beauties like the group’s stunning two-LP Odessa (Polydor, 1969), later abbreviated to a single disc and leached of its pomped-out, once-toxic red-flocked packaging; and recently reissued, in all its completist glory, with stereo and mono mixes of the entire recording, a disc of previously unreleased demos, sketches, and alternate versions, a poster of lyric notes and reel labels, and a booklet breaking down each track. Sure to be a revelatory sunken treasure for fans of the Decemberists, Okkervil River, and other chamber/indie rock literati, the concept album marked an intense period of creativity for the bros Gibb, and nearly shipwrecked the band. Guitarist Vince Melouney departed for bluesier waters, while Robin bickered with Barry over the choice of a first single and left the group in 1968, only to return two years later (after mending his broken heart, no doubt). We’re left with an opulent, astonishingly deep concept album concerning a lost British ship, Veronica, at the turn of the 20th century. Odessa is marked by lovely flamenco guitar and Mellotron work by Maurice, a miniature symphony, moments of Bands-y rusticism, a forelock tug to Thomas Edison, and those Doppler vibrato vocals — all worth diving into, again and again.

The derring-do with which the Bee Gees once charted the risky seas of baroque pop excess should be a lesson to other music-makers. And strangely, Seattle’s Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band brings to mind an adenoidal indie-rock incarnation of the sibs Gibbs. Could it be the buzz band’s over-the-top AOR and early ’00s new-rock interludes that spurred pals to describe a recent Noise Pop turn as "awful"? The press literature for its self-titled Dead Oceans debut draws a line of descent from Wolf Parade through Modest Mouse and the Pixies, but I sense that MSHVB’s breed of over-the-top, kitchen-sink rock is just the latest wrinkle in an increasingly orchestral Northwest sound, which is skipping from grunge to grrrls to baroque ‘n’ roll.

I’ll bust out my conductor’s tales after listening to Portland, Ore., songwriter Mirah’s delectable (a)spera (K). Björk, Beth Orton, and Julie Doiron would be dang proud of Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn’s successful forays into the wilderness of mutable forms, remixes on Joyride: Remixes (K, 2006), and meditations on the secret lives of insects with Spectratone International on Share This Place: Stories and Observations (K, 2007). Working with certified Mt. Eerie/Microphones genius Phil Elverum, Mirah defies her old lo-fi rep with this full-blown sleeper gem of a CD, gamboling from the string-dappled opening gut-punch of "Generosity" to the shimmering snare and delicate guitar coloration of "Education." (a)spera grabs for classic pop beauty standards and succeeds on its own terms — hurdy gurdy, bongos, kalimba, kora, and all.

And speaking of Malian kora, one mustn’t neglect that country’s Amadou and Mariam — departing for the more futuristic, less folkloric reaches of pop with Welcome to Mali (Because Music/Nonesuch). The only ship the blind couple will be wrecking is that of pop purists expecting another Dimanche a Bamako (Because Music/Nonesuch, 2005). The subtly tweaked Afro-futurist soundscapes — littered with appearances by performers like K’Naan and Toumani Diabate — hew closer to a digitized, disco-ball-glittered, cosmopolitan Paris than a more rustic, impoverished Mali. Amadou and Mariam narrow the divide between the two with the sparkling, Damon Albarn-produced rave-up "Sabali," the wah-wah-wailing kora-laced slo-funk of "Djuru," and the rump-shaking Afro-rock sizzle of "Masiteladi." I’m absolutely besotted with the balafon plonk mashed up with electric guitar twang on the palm-wine-‘n’-spaghetti-Western(-African) "Ce N’Est Pas Bon." Congotronics and ethnotronicans, welcome to A&M’s mothership connection — wake up, shake it up, and get ready for takeoff. Can’t wait to see where it takes us next.


with Bishop Allen and Miniature Tigers

Tues/24, 7:30 p.m., $15

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF



with Tender Forever and Leyna Noel

April 7, 8 p.m., $16

Bimbo’s 365 Club

1025 Columbus, SF


Change on the range


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Who’s afraid of growing up in public? Chris Brown and Britney Spears both know the hazards of maturation amid the clatter of public chatter. Still, self-respecting musicmakers such as U2 and Neko Case, who know they must evolve — tax-dodging accusations, IMAX 3-D shrugs, fanboy crushes, and overwhelming side projects aside — are trying, judging from No Line on the Horizon (Universal) and Middle Cyclone (Anti-). Assorted feints and falters may have U2 and Case retro-cringing later, yet they’re in sync with a change year, while critic-proof (meaning critic-ignored) discs by Nickelback linger at the top of the charts alongside recordings by outfits à la Coldplay, which seems to be earnestly doing its best to mime — et tu? — U2.

It helps, if like Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr., you’ve detached yourself from any specific place, denomination, and demographic — though it’s tough to completely shake U2’s associations with Ireland, Christianity, and a certain ’80s-originated optimism. If the combo bumped up against the Berlin Wall for Achtung Baby (Island, 1991), here, at the edge of the Arab world, it brushes against the ancient walls of Fez, Morocco, where they recorded with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.

No Line is a surprisingly measured and subdued recording. Despite Bono’s self-conscious "sexy boots" references in "Get on Your Boots," U2 is older, likely wiser, and less ruffled by a sense of urgency. That’s why the album’s uptempo middle section comes off as somewhat contrived with its familiar arena-ready gestures, though the ensemble finds new ways to squeeze sparks of light and life from a now-hidebound sound, seemingly inspired by the tabula rasa desert. There’s the moaning guitar of "Magnificent," the keyboard runs of "Breathe," the helicopter-like swoop barely limning "Fez — Being Born," the weary journalist’s noir ramblings on "Cedars of Lebanon," and the way the band takes the roundabout way into songs like "Moment of Surrender." Tracks such as "Unknown Caller," which rides on commands like "Restart and re-boot yourself" and "Shout for joy if you get the chance," give the impression that U2 is still attempting to access a global network of fruitful narratives: all it needs to do is quiet its hive-mind to receive new messages.

This isn’t Pop (Island, 1997) — though obviously widescreen pop still has its uses for vital live performers plying their new disc during a weeklong Letterman residency and on a forthcoming world tour. While Achtung Baby ushered in a more electronic U2, No Line draws its connections — with help, no doubt, from Eno — to the contemporary music that touched European pop in the ’80s and today’s synthesized sounds from the north.

In spite of the news of her relocation to Vermont, Case is also searching the dust for enlightenment — the dirt of Tucson, Ariz., along with desert dwellers Calexico and Howe Gelb, and marquee names Garth Hudson of the Band, M. Ward, and A.C. Newman. She’s still a wild child — a quality she so brilliantly trapped in Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-, 2006) — although she’s taking charge with new aggression. Check her cover image brandishing a sword atop the hood of a muscle car and her pseudo-lawyerly liner notes ("I, Neko Case, acted alone in the creation of this album…").

Case’s voice — forever soaring with heady blue-skies power — continues to be a joy, backed by a wealth of indie lady warblers like Sarah Harmer and Nora O’Connor. Tunes like acoustic-guitar-filagreed "Vengeance Is Sleeping" and the loaded fragment "The Next Time You Say Forever" work off the imaginative leaps sprinkled within her stories: "It’s a dirty fallow feeling," she wails in the latter, "to be the dangling ceiling, from when the roof came crashing down. Peeling in the heat. Vanish in the rain." All delivered with her now-trademark wedding of Leonard Bernstein lyrical drama and Loretta Lynn working-class grit.

Much has been said of Case embracing her own force of nature rep with Middle Cyclone — literally as with "This Tornado Loves You" and a cover of Sparks’ "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth." But then we gathered as much after The Tigers Have Spoken (Anti-, 2004). Moreover Case and company’s energy seems to flag with well-meaning but lackluster numbers like "Prison Girls," at which point I found myself wondering when this cyclone would come crashing to an end. Case’s musical palette may be expanding, but can she keep her wits — and her wisdom concerning country/pop concision — about her in the tempest of her imagination? "I do my best," she sings on "I’m an Animal," "but I made a mistake." All is forgiven — there’s much here to chew on — but one hopes Case braves life without her protective critter armour next time around.


With Jason Lytle

June 9, 8 p.m., $30-$33


982 Market, SF




Jump in: oh, the places the Olympia, Wash., easy-listening groove lovers will go. With Half Handed Cloud and Little Wings. Wed/11, 9 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


The ethereal Merge indie-ists attempt to move us with their minds again, soon after their Noise Pop turn. With Say Hi…, Built for the Sea, and Anderson. Thurs/12, 8:30 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com


Keep It Hid (Nonesuch)? The Black Key can do that, but he can’t keep his deep-fried, ‘verb-heavy electric blues vibe under wraps for long. With Hacienda and Those Darlins. Fri/13, 9 p.m., $20. Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. www.bimbos365club.com


Rockin’ ladies close out their first show with a screening of Girls Rock! the Movie. Sat/14, 1:30 p.m., $8. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

Grimm tales


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "My father told me never to play covers. It’s such a hole to fall into. People want to hear stuff they’ve heard a thousand times. Especially white people — they all want to be safe, and covers just make them feel safe."

Larkin Grimm takes the briefest breath, standing beside a frozen creek next to a cowboy trading post in South Dakota’s Badlands. The ice is starting to melt, and the 27-year-old songwriter’s on a roll, talking ’bout her hippie parents — they met here, her father who once lived at the San Francisco Zen Center, and later played southern rock to "toothless hillbilly women" with an Appalachian bar band to support the family ("A huge transition from meditating all day") — as well has her studies at Yale, studies in shamanism, pals Lightning Bolt, and the Providence, R.I., noise scene she emerged from.

"My music doesn’t do that. I’m trying to do a thing where I make people feel safe and at the same time say the most brutal things I can."

She shares the name of the darkest of yarn-spinners, her music rests on a foundation of folk and acoustic instrumentation, and her sensibility — despite her queer punk past — clearly stems from the spiritual quests of her footloose forebears. But Grimm’s one of a kind — even if her soul is old, she’s been here before, and she may be here once again.

Just listen to her new album, Parplar (Young God, 2008). Songs like "Be My Host" may bear the folk-pop fragrance of Joni Mitchell’s early Beat-girl rambles and tunes like "Durge" may ring with the bared-skull minor-key drama of Kurt Cobain writing for a Balkan women’s choir. But listen closely to the lyrics of such songs as "Hope for the Hopeless": "I turned my head against the wicked world you’re in / So there you are I hope you are suffering / I hope you feel the hopelessness and you can’t bear the cost / of being an ungrateful shit," she intones. "… I hope the wind has marked your face and you don’t have a hope / You’re drifting free above the ground / Gently stretching out your rope." Beyond black, yet often alight with an austere beauty. Grimm — a veteran of Dirty Projectors (a band she met at Yale and describes as "what happens when you have an egomaniac trying to control everyone") — knows how to channel the most intense of spirits.

Parplar revolves around female sexuality. "I was going through a period of my life where I was having a gender crisis, and I wasn’t sure if I was a woman or not, but I was starting to get really attracted to men, which was new," she explains. The album was intended to fund her gender reassignment surgery. "I had this plan: get a dick and cut off my breasts."

But then she ended up writing all these tunes about women, including "other women who were having major crises at the time: Britney Spears, Nicole Richie, and Beyonce. All these women are fascinating and intelligent, and they’re in everybody’s mind, and they’re archetypes, and we’ve built them all up so much. They’re sort of like virgins that have been thrown into the volcano. We’ve torn them apart," says Grimm, believing Spears "reached enlightenment for a second. When she shaved her head she was turning her back on materialism. But her publicist and record label wouldn’t allow her to go through the process of rebirth and forced her back into slavery, and it’s tragic, you know. I kind of wrote this record for her, in a way."

Sisterhood — and brotherhood — is powerful: Grimm now hopes to find other kids who lived in the SF-originated Holy Order of MANS commune, which she characterizes as "a co-ed monastic order of energy healers." "We had a very magical childhood, which we lost," she says. After a near-suicide at Yale, she says, "I just live fully all the time. Don’t let anybody tell me what to do. Coincidences and amazing things happen to me all the time." For instance, she recently created an altar with a human skull and twinkling lights in her car. "I felt like it wasn’t magical enough — we need feathers! Five minutes later I see a dead pheasant on the road. Suddenly I realize everything is connected. As soon as you lose your sense of isolation, anything is possible."


Fri/6, 8 p.m., $20

Swedish American Hall

2174 Market, SF



What is this mysterious thing called a Hungry Saw (Constellation), the title of the Tindersticks’ new album and one of its tracks? "It’s one of quite a few songs on this record that I don’t understand totally and I don’t really want to!" Tindersticks vocalist Stuart A. Staples says almost jubilantly from France, where he now lives. "It’s something that drives me and hurts me at the same time." Staples has been on an intuitive tip of late — especially after the band’s last disc, Waiting for the Moon (Beggars Banquet, 2003), which took a year and a half to make. With the addition of new drummer Thomas Belhom and bassist Dan McKinna, and a directive to record in eight days, the group have come up with a fresh slice of Tindersticks tunefulness — almost breezy ("The Flicker of a Little Girl") and moodily somber ("Mother Dear") in turns. As for that tremulous instrument called Staples’ voice, he believes the best is yet to come: "I think it’s always changing and always growing," he says, citing French vocalist Léo Ferré as a discovery that raised his game. "I think it’s something that really drives me, finding my voice. I don’t think it’s arrived."

Sun/15, 8 p.m., $28. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com



Kanye West took a Shine to his "American Boy" collaborator, whereas the Knowles scion attempted to break with the pop mold with her second CD. Thurs/5, 8 p.m., $35–$50. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com


Choral harmonies and impressionistic orchestrations rise from the Copenhagen, Denmark outfit. Sun/8, 9 p.m., $10–$12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

Maus trapped


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER San Francisco street rats, go play some other day. House heads, scamper beneath some disco ball far away. And, kraut rock kidz, don’t you dare mistake Maus Haus for just another tinned Can tribute band — German spelling or nein — though the Bay Area ensemble has been known to rock the occasional Faust track behind closed doors.

Instead Joseph Genden, Tom Hurlbut, Jason Kick, Sean Mabry, Josh Rampage, and Aaron Weiss — all real birth names, folks — make some of the most original music to scuttle along the edges of aural indefinability, right here in the Bay. Just don those giant Mickey ears and take in the boom-bleat orchestral art-rock bounce, chugging motor-iffic rhythms, and squealing theremin-like shrieks of "Rigid Breakfast," the opening track of Maus Haus’ latest, Lark Marvels (Pretty Blue Presents, 2008). Fractured psych patients, bent-but-not-broken folk-funksters, soft-acid bluesmen, Silver Apples acolytes, and Captain Beefheart praise-sayers — all these descriptors touch on, yet don’t quite capture, the inviting, inventive sonic nest Maus Haus has built.

"It’s a project that started out as a guideline of concepts that we wanted to fulfill but we had no actual idea of what the music would sound like," explains drummer-keyboardist-multi-instrumentalist Mabry by speaker phone alongside Kick.

"We definitely like a lot of late ’60s psychedelia — that’s something we all agree on," vocalist-keyboardist Kick adds. "But we didn’t intend to do anything with a retro sheen necessarily." Rather, Maus Haus chose to simply identify with the pioneering spirit of early psych. "Our heart is kind of in the same place," he says.

Hard to believe this gang of friends — some assembled via Craigslist, a clutch relocated from the Midwest (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana), two hailing from Sacramento and Half Moon Bay, and all involved in bands as varied as Social Studies, Battlehooch, and Pope of Yes — started working on music together just two years ago, and at the encouragement of friends, they played live together for the first time a year ago. "It felt like there needed to be a band to represent the songs," Kick says, "instead of it just being an esoteric recording project.

Enter the crazy quilt of onstage instrumentation, in full pack-rat effect when Maus Haus played Bottom of the Hill not long ago. "We have so much stuff onstage it’s kind of ridiculous," says Kick. He counts off a Rhodes keyboard, Omnichord, drum set, assorted floor toms, an electronic drum pad, two MicroKorgs, the theremin-emuutf8g Chaos Pad, trombone, sax, trumpets, bass guitar, MIDI controller, and laptop, though he says, "We might stop using the laptop because computers shut down at the worst times." Sounds like the song "We Used Technology (But Technology Let Us Down)" was written from experience.

So what are these brain baths that Maus Haus recommends as one of several "special things to do" on their MySpace site? That suggestion, along with the rest of the list, emerged from a series of surrealist word games undertaken to generate lyrics. "Nerdy but true," says Kick. Still, one imagines a good saline solution dousing — accompanied by Maus Haus’ bubbling score — might set the imagination reeling. "You can do it clothed," Kick offers, "or naked."


Fri/27, 5 p.m., free


806 So. Van Ness, SF


Also March 4, 8 p.m., $8

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF




Who’s brave enough to tackle a 1971 rock opus its very creator could never conjure live? Bay Area rock brainiacs Mushroom — that’s who. And here they go again — reprising their Feb. 21 Make-Out Room reprise of Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse, which was scuttled by the Who and ended up in pieces on Who’s Next (MCA, 1971). "The main thing," e-mails Mushroom maven Pat Thomas, "is that there have been a lot of ‘tribute’ shows and even ‘tributes’ to specific albums, but in this case, Mushroom is performing a ‘rock opera’ that the band themselves (the Who) never got around to performing." This time around, Naked Barbies’ Patty Spiglanin will fill in as Roger Daltry, Citay’s Josh Pollock will shoulder Pete Townshend duties, Brightblack Morning Light’s Matt Cunitz will be Nicky Hopkins, and Thomas will ape Keith Moon. Townshend was never able to talk the rest of the Who into realizing his Matrix-ish, Web-prophesying sci-fi followup to Tommy, but, according to Thomas, "It’s PT’s intensity and conviction that led me to explore the possibility of performing Lifehouse, music that I’ve been obsessed with for 34 years." Mike Therieau will open with a tribute to Ronnie Lane and the Faces.

March 6, 10 p.m., $10. Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck, Berk. www.starryploughpub.com




Soulful indie emanates from the former SF/Sacto twosome; skirt-swirling pop from the latter Brisbane, Australia pair. With Matt Costa and Robert Francis. Wed/25, 8 p.m., $25. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


Stately black metal growl from the SF/Brooklyn combo, which celebrates its new self-released CD, Beneath the Hooves of Time. With Grayceon, Nero Order, and Wanteds. Sun/1, 8 p.m., $8. Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. www.theeparkside.com


Oakland’s own takes out his classic throwback R&B once again, after a series of dates opening for Columbia labelmate John Legend. Tues/3, 8 p.m., $32.50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. www.livenation.com

Days of being wild


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER A much-floggied, foggy notion worth repeating: if the natural creative energy coming off John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees could be harnessed, we’d all be muttering, "What global warming? When’s the next Oh Sees show? Mama needs to warm her digits with some superheated, Grade-A crudo rock ‘n’ roll."

Yep, dude has been in a grillion bands including the Coachwhips, Pink and Brown, OCS, the Hospitals, and now Thee Oh Sees and the Drums. His artwork pops up in the legit exhibits like last year’s "Bay Area Now" installment at Queen’s Nails, and hell, he’s even talking about writing a feature film centered on his folk-garage-noise amalgamation Thee Oh Sees. Entire scenes are forged from this kind of go-go gumption — and yessiree an argument could be made that the San Francisco underground music and art whirls would be the sadder, sorrier, and definitely less shit-stirring if Dwyer never moved here a decade ago. If Noise Pop aims to home in on independent culture, it need look no further than this man, who I checked in with as he prepped the perfect chilly-weather meal, chili, on the brink of his Noise Pop shows.

Sick or sad? Taking the temperature of the San Francisco music scene

"I think there’s a lot of great stuff from veterans — also new young shit, the second wave from when I’ve been here. I think there will always be something rad under the covers.

"I think there’s a lot of generator shows under freeways, people playing every night. For younger people it’s same thing I had when I moved here: those house parties where people get wasted and all the bands are playing."

The way to the next great house party

"I don’t find myself at house parties every week anymore. I’m not as apt to dig in as hard as I did in the past. I did get older. Sometimes you find, ‘Shit, I’m 32. I don’t want to be here. I gotta go home.’ It’s cool, though."

Thee way of the Drums

"The Drums is mostly Anthony Petrovic [Ezee Tiger, the Hospitals] and me sharing a drum kit and playing unison drums, prep-rally style with vocals. It’s exhausting." I wonder, do you two have much experience with prep rallies? "Anthony was a cheerleader. I’m totally serious."

Thee Oh Sees SOS

"There’s a new album coming out on In the Red called Help. We just finished it with the same guys and same production: Chris Woodhouse in the Mayyors. We recorded in a hangar in Sacramento where Tape Op is made. I think it has a similar value as the last one except we recorded on two-inch tape rather than half-inch so the sound is lush." Is it Beatles-inspired? "I listen to the Beatles all the time. I guess it might be a Beatles tribute — why not? Except it doesn’t have an exclamation point and we haven’t worked on a film yet."

The way of Castleface

"I love vinyl, and it’s nice to put out people’s first record, too. And it’s an honor to put out records by people who are making good shit."


Feb. 26, 9 p.m., $12

Café Du Nord

2170 Market, SF



March 1, 8 p.m., $20


444 Jessie, SF