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Sonic Reducer

Gimme Grammy?


› Kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Strip away the pre-Grammy bashes and after-parties, the hunger pangs, the monstrous Staples Center and the surrounding downtown LA sketchiness, and the mandatory earful you get from radio broadcasters playing brain-numbing Grammys numbers games as if they were rattling off sports stats — and I’d say I’m glad to have made the five-hour drive to the awards show. I feel privileged to have camped out at the arena’s media center for almost 12 hours to hurl polite questions at the Dixie Chicks, Ludacris, T.I., etc., at that most bemoaned of ceremonies, because I learned so much about the music industry’s "biggest night of the year" Feb. 11. Start with this grain of wisdom from pretelecast host Joe Satriani: "Remember, it’s not whether you win or lose but how good you look at all the after-parties tonight," and go forward, ladies and gentlemen, to "What I Learned at the Grammys":

1) Skip many of the pretelecast awards, unless you’re dying to see who won Best Spoken Word, Polka, or Surround Sound albums. None of the stars show up for these unless they’re presenting. Only so-called niche artists (read: Hawaiian, American Indian, gospel) still interested in industry recognition bother showing up before 5 p.m.

2) If, however, there’s screaming for a nominee during the pretelecast handout, you can bet the band is there. Wolfmother, for instance, got a load of whoops when its name was called for Best Hard Rock Album — and indeed Rob Tyner–’froed vocalist Andrew Stockdale eventually made it from outer Siberia to the stage. Backstage he joked, "I thought this award was reserved for the permanent residents of Bel-Air."

3) Speak the truth. Then stick to it. Even the Dixie Chicks couldn’t honestly say they made the Best Record and Album, just two of the five Grammys they won, but they did gratefully acknowledge that their awards were symbolic — and no less meaningful. "I’m definitely aware that we were up against a lot of great music," Natalie Maines told the media. "But I definitely think people had an inspiration and different motivation in voting for us."

4) Be nice — and better, be funny. Media wage slaves in regulation black knew that in the tightly controlled Grammy universe, we best not ask untoward questions for fear of being ejected and disinvited in the future. We must take humility — and humor — lessons from Lewis Black, winner of Best Comedy Album, who sputtered, "I never win shit, so I’m astonished."

5) Keep the American Idol appearances to a minimum (thank the lord that Kelly Clarkson didn’t make another album this year, and pass the ammunition). Carrie Underwood looked terrified as she sang "San Antonio Rose" during the tribute to Lifetime Achievement honoree Bob Wills.

6) Be from Texas or better still, Houston: the Dixie Chicks, Beyoncé, Chamillionaire, "My Grammy Moment" newb Robyn Troup.

7) Skew elderly, as usual. Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett score before silly but infectious monster hits "Hips Don’t Lie" and "Promiscuous"? Complain into the hearing aid.

8) Concentrate on giving the people memorable performances, with tasteful production à la Gnarls Barkley’s "Crazy," complete with airline pilot uniforms and an eerie Lost–as–a–modern opera feel. With the exception of the messily mixed Ludacris and Earth, Wind and Fire production, most of the show was solid.

9) Keep your celebrated poonanny shots to yourself. Christina Aguilera, known for her own supposed flash at a Grammy telecast a few years back, tactfully fielded a question backstage on how to leave a limo gracefully, unlike her former Mickey Mouse Club mate Britney Spears. "Are you setting me up to say, ‘Keep your legs closed’?" asked the petite blond, working that retro vibe in black lace and a simultaneously amused and prim attitude.

10) When all else fails, baffle them with bullshit — or designer body modification mishaps. Frail, in a gold tie and matching yellow splotched jacket, Ornette Coleman waxed oblique and philosophical, improvising a mumbled hepcat monologue on sound freely, incomprehensively, and far out there backstage after his Lifetime Achievement win. Coleman sounded utterly cracked until he brought it all home: "I’m only saying what I’m saying because I want to hurry up and get this over with." Rim shot!

Grammy’s only surreal moment was the instant Smokey Robinson’s strangely erased-looking, waxy brow and unnaturally bright blue eyes appeared on TV as he came out to sing "The Tracks of My Tears" alongside a wildly energetic, trampoline-bouncing, handstanding Chris Brown. Had the Motown songwriting genius been body-snatched and replaced by a Botox victim from Planet Zanthar? A woman reading my notes on Robinson’s tweaked face over my shoulder told me I had to write about it. "His wife is my godmother," she swore. "I went up to him last night at a party and said, ‘You look like a demon!’ He takes care of himself, but someone needs to tell him." Speaking truth to legend? It could become a habit. *

Love rebuff


SONIC REDUCER Hey, subliminal kids, watch out for those Music and Lyrics billboards all over town — they’re as deadly as Pretty Ricky’s between-the-sheets crunk, chased by Justin Timberlake covers such as the Klaxons’ strings-laced "My Love" and Rock Plaza Central’s mead-soaked "Sexy Back." The poster pic is so mundane that it catches then holds your attention: Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore shyly demur from meeting the viewer’s, and each other’s, eyes, choosing instead to moon over — what? Music, lyrics, Craigslist casual encounter ads, old mug shots? With Valentine’s Day shuffling furtively around the corner, I’d venture that it’s best Hugh and Drew weren’t out bonding over some cozy Cattle Decapitation appearance, because as all we brave, San Francisco live-music lovers know, hot hookups and cool shows don’t necessarily mix.

Unspoken rule number 14 of San Francisco rock, according to your cruise director on the Glumboat: don’t hit on the local wildlife at shows. San Francisco’s SFMFs (single female music fans, for all you acronym haters) know, Joe. Single is an increasingly obsolete format in vinyl, CD, and skin and bones — consider it a mission impossible to meet nonattached men, women, or potted plants at shows. I don’t care which way you swing (if — caveat — you’re not in the band itself), you’re more likely to have a close, personal relationship with the bouncer who’s forcibly removing you from the club than someone you’d potentially want to date. You have a better chance meeting some fast ninetysomething at a retirement home than at a show.

If you’ve just moved to town: so sorry to bust up your illusions of glam romance, but concerts here are simply not pickup scenes — for anyone other than the guys and girls in the band. Hip-hop, folk, C&W, blues, pop, and rock lovelorns — you’re all outta luck, though indie rock is the absolute worst. You know that cute, floppy-haired, gangly boy rocker in a polo shirt and Converse by the side of the stage? He may be by himself (and likely he has a futsy partner tucked away at home), but that doesn’t mean he actually wants to talk to anyone — let alone get a phone number.

All this is what I’ve gathered during my many years of showgoing — and a quick, extremely unscientific poll of singletons in Guardian editorial bears me out. Sample responses: "Everyone’s all cliqued up at shows." "You go with your friends, find your spot, and you don’t talk to other people. Ever." "At dance clubs you meet other people because you’re actually dancing with each other. At live shows everyone’s looking at the stage." "It’s too loud to talk." "San Francisco has a reputation of being aloof." "Maybe you can talk to someone when you’re standing in line at the bar?"

"Either it’s all guys or the one girl you want to hit on will be someone in the band’s girlfriend," said calendar editor Duncan Scott Davidson, who’s also clocked time as a doorguy at Slim’s, the Endup, and 111 Minna. "The only time I ever tried to pick up someone was at a Bomb show, and she turned out to be Bomb drummer Tony Fag’s girlfriend." Irony abounds.

He’s actually seen guys trying to hit on women at shows, he added, "But what do you say? ‘This band really rocks, huh?’ "

My favorite answer is "People are just there for the music," which does say something about our fair scene’s integrity if you believe music lovers are simply there to see and hear, not to hook up. And perhaps it imparts even more about the nature of local original music, which is less about the damsels than going dumb, less about the sex than the noise sax solos — with the Lovemakers in the horny minority. Chalk it up to the Bay Area’s feminist legacy and the p.c. ’90s, but on the plus side of the non-meat-market music scene, I’ve often felt as safe and unpressured while checking out music solo as any hulking dude in a black hoodie at a Mastodon show. Perhaps our live scene is thriving on that focus and the passion we have for the music — and lyrics — itself.

Ahem. I don’t know about you, horndogs, but pure intentions certainly get me all hot and bothered, though they don’t help when we’re sulking alone in the corner at the Husbands’ Valentine hoedown. If ya got a problem with that, prove me wrong. *



A question for the ages: Who to Trust, Who to Love, Who to Kill — and the title of the fierce San Diego blues punks’ new Alive disc. Wed/7, 9 p.m. Annie’s Social Club, 917 Folsom, SF. $5. (415) 974-1585


Nevada City homegrownies make haunting pop prog. P.S. K&Q’s Rich Good once teamed with Joanna Newsom in the Pleased. Thurs/8, 9:30 p.m. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $6. www.hemlocktavern.com


Recently remixed up with Mt. Eerie and Anna Oxygen on Joyride, the K artist is too cute for her horn-rims. Little Brazil and the Affair also play. Fri/9, 10 p.m. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $8–$10. (415) 621-4455


The moody Oaklanders are stitching up new songs for a summer album. Fri/9, 9:30 p.m. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $7. www.hemlocktavern.com


Riot rrroar — the all-female Tuvan throat singers wrap their power pipes around lullabies and tunes about tea. Sun/11, 8 p.m. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. $21. (415) 885-0750


The NYC chamber noise–niks sit down with Death Sentence: Panda! and Sword and Sandals. Sun/11, 9 p.m. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $8. (415) 621-4455

Tiki wiki


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER What exactly does exotica mean to a little brown girl from a tropical island? How does tiki translate to someone who once identified those fierce masks by name, as Lono, Kane, or Ku? To most, exotica tuneage boils down to Martin Denny and Esquivel; tikis, to that last retro revival that surfed in alongside early ’90s alternative culture. But for this wahine from cosmo Honolulu, exotica meant Quadrophenia mods and Italian scooters zipping around a freezing little island on the other side of the globe — and tikis were simply a fact of life, like those special guest appearances by Pele on street corners. Tiki was all around — it was more radically exotic to sport leather motorcycle jackets under the hot Hawaiian sun.

So Bay Area tiki culture’s latest return — in the form of Alameda’s Forbidden Island and Oakland’s Kona Club — is both surreal and heartwarmingly familiar, a roughed-out, kitschy-koo Hawaiian fusion. I always associated the tiki cult of the ’50s and ’60s with World War II vets nostalgic for humahumunookienookie high times, filtered through mediocre Chinese grub and juicy beverages that even a teetotalin’ mom could easily get toasted on. Here it’s all about vintage peeps, ex-locals, and hearty-drinking pirates in search of novel booty. And the Bay Area is the ideal spot for an ersatz islander experience, what with Oakland being the home of the first Trader Vic’s, Alameda’s Otto von Stroheim continuing to roll out the Tiki News zine, San Francisco’s ReSearch spurring an exotica rediscovery with its Incredibly Strange Music volumes, and the area providing ground zero for the San Francisco Bay Area Tiki Weekend.

The aforementioned gathering is thrown by Forbidden Island co-owner Martin Cate, and the loving care he and fellow big kahunas Michael and Emmanuel Thanos (who also own the Conga Lounge in Oakland) lavished on the nine-month-old lounge is obvious. On this frigid, drizzly Saturday night there’s something vaguely subversive about retreating to a tiki-strewn fantasy island when it’s colder than a sea lion’s tittie outside. Forbidden Island is a fruity-drink lover’s fever dream, boasting fresh-squeezed juices and stealth quantities of silver rum that sneak up and slam you in the puss. Cocktail umbrellas spear dollars to the cork ceiling over an early ’60s back bar, bamboo-sheltered booths, and a dramatically lit Polynesian god overseeing the grizzled locals, water cooler refugees, and fresh- and Fog Cutter–faced collegians, downing spicy grog and Scorpions by the bowl. As I suck down a delish Banana Mamacow of coconut, cream, and rum, my bud Dr. B points out the bodacious, bare-chested native maid in the black velvet masterwork by the bar: "If I had that in my room when I was a teenager, I’d never have left the house." My only disappointment: nary a note of bird whistles, a bongo beat, nor a wisp of exotica in earshot, though the jukebox is said to be crammed with the stuff. Where’s the mai tai moment for the mind’s ear?

Next up on the relative newbie list is the year-old Kona Club on a silent stretch of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, just a stagger or so away from Trader Vic’s founder Victor Bergeron’s final resting spot at Mountain View Cemetery. Love the tapa cloth–covered walls decorated with ukuleles and old wooden surfboards; the smell of dried lauhala; and the unduutf8g hips of the life-size hula-girl robot. And I’m told the smoke-spewing volcano behind the bar is da bomb. As the Pixies blast over the sound system and Dr. B fetches more Macadamia Nut Chi Chis, I sprawl over a corner table — the sizable crowd appears to be simultaneously more hipster and fratty. Maybe it’s the quiet village of Piedmont that binds us together — the burbies outside are tucked in early while we belly up in our mini-wacky-wiki-Waikiki inside the onetime British brew pub King’s X. Who doesn’t want to recapture some mongrel carefree vacation sensation — in a silly-shack adult Disneyland of thatched straw?

I get rummy and restless, and a clutch of drinkers nearby watches raptly as I manage to make barfly magic and balance a saltshaker on its tip, bolstered only by a teeny mound of grains, for 20 minutes until a barmaid stomps by in a huff and it falls. "Now that’s amazing," the bouncer gathering glasses around me says. The tiki gods are smiling.

GOOD TIMES, OLD TIMEY You can’t toss the tikis out with the tepid bathwater, and you can’t count out bluegrass and old-time music with hoedowns like the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival around. Affiliated with the Northern California Bluegrass Society, the completely volunteer-run, nonprofit eighth annual shindig runs from Feb. 1 to 10; showcases up-and-coming locals such as the Earl Brothers, Circle R Boys, Squirrelly Stringband, the Deciders, Jimbo Trout and the Fishpeople, the Crooked Jades’ Jeff Kazor and Lisa Berman, and the Wronglers (with Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival founder Warren Hellman); and closes with a square dance at the Swedish American Hall. This year’s fest also shines a light on a slew of Portland, Ore., combos, summing up a West Coast scene that’s younger than those in other parts, publicity volunteer Elizabeth Smith tells me. "I think that there’s an interest in roots music that’s pervasive in the Bay Area," she explains. "If you go back and look at the hippie scene in San Francisco and the fact that folks in the Dead were involved in bluegrass, you can see an evolution over time." Old times don’t have to mean bad times. *


Tues.–Thurs., 5 p.m.–midnight; Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sun., 3–10 p.m.

1305 Lincoln, Alameda

(510) 749-0332



Daily, noon–2 a.m.

4401 Piedmont, Oakl.

(510) 654-7100


Feb. 1–10

See Web site for info



Bus lust


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER What’s 40 feet long and 13 feet, 9 inches tall and fun all over? Sounding like a potentially lame "you’ve gotta be kidding me" joke and accelerating in Bay Area underground rockers’ imagination as a real alternative to your average bad show experience, John Benson’s converted Muni veggie-biodiesel bus is the latest in a bohemian nation’s short parade of party starters on wheels — driven by motorvators like the Merry Pranksters and Friends Forever in order to cavort, make art and sometimes community, and blow minds. Le difference is that this art ‘n’ good times vehicle is huge — able to fit an audience of 50 — and despite its whitewashed exterior, green.

Just join the scattered, happy misfits and in-the-knowsters wandering in from off the street on this particularly deserted stretch of the Mission-Potrero area Jan. 21. The bus is peacefully parked and perfectly inaudible beneath a pretzel of elevated freeway off-ramps, like the sweet overgrown offspring of Miss Open Road USA. Take a look under the hood as Benson — once in A Minor Forest and Hale Zukas and now with Evil Wikkid Warrior — opens up the works in the butt end of the bus with the cool little lookout tower on top. Two tanks hold the vegetable oil that primarily propels the bus and the diesel or biodiesel fuel that heats the radiator fluid, which keeps the vegetable oil liquid enough to course through the pipes. With a lot of help from friends, Benson spent only $300 to veggify the bus. And the beautiful part — especially to those in perpetually touring poverty-stricken bands who know what it’s like to spend all the money from a show on gas — is that he gets his fuel free from the pits of used grease behind truck stops and fast-food joints, which ordinarily pay people to take it away.

This is just the latest in a handful of vehicles Benson has vegged out (give or take a few fires caused to keep the vegetable oil flowing), including a Twin Towers dust–saturated ambulance retired after 9/11 service. In 2005, Hale Zukas ended up touring the country in the EMT vehicle alongside the mobile Friends Forever. "I really liked the whole paradigm shift of everything. People didn’t know what to expect," Benson recalls fondly. "We’d come in an ambulance, and everyone would say, ‘Someone got hurt!’ I was excited by the whole chaos and confusion and trickery, and you don’t have to rely on clubs or booking agents or soundmen." And of course there was that added sense of poetic justice, he adds, "driving it around on vegetable oil, the whole statement against the war for oil going on."

Inside the bus, far from maddened neighbors, the music goes on. Slight, skinny-mustached Carlos of Hepatitis C — in town from Bloomington, Ind., where Benson drove him around on his world-record bid to play the most shows in one day — is throwing the party. Living Hell, Ex-Pets, He-War, Noozzz, Erin Allen, and Russian Tsarlag are on the free-to-all, free-for-all bill, and Carlos runs down the street to the opposite street corner — the unofficial green room, where the bands and friends are milling — to tell them the first artist is starting. Backed by crunchy minimal beats, Sewn Leather is flailing around the small stage inside the bus, shouting, "Noise is dying, punk’s been dead, the only rock ‘n’ roll is in your head!" through a PA fed by a battery fueled by the bus’s solar panels. At one of Benson’s biggest events, which included Warhammer and Rubber-O-Cement among 13 bands, the overflow turned into a double Dutch jump-rope contest in the middle of the street. The vibe resembles a kid’s clubhouse taken to the next level — on the road and relatively off the grid.

"Another great thing about the bus is that during all that downtime usually spent staring out the window driving through Nebraska, you can actually plug in instruments. A full band can be playing in back like it’s a practice space," Benson says earlier over the phone of the bus that shall remain nameless (he likes the anonymity).

The all-ages club on wheels simply just "fell into my lap," he continued. "A retired Oakland cop was selling it, and I just saw it going by one day. It was a monstrosity."

The Oaktown police department had torn it up to convert it into a mobile police unit, he was told, and its last owner was going to remake it as a family RV. That intrepid soul was "so hilarious," Benson raves. "I was sold on it because of his personality. He was this 6-foot-7, really huge black guy with these huge hands — such a can-do person. He was sooo the antithesis of Burning Man, because my first reaction was ‘Oh, no, this is some big, gross Burning Man art-car thing.’ Being a retired cop, he said, ‘From driver’s seat back, it’s perfectly legal to rock out with your cock out’ — his exact words. ‘You can drink a fifth of JD and whatever,’ and he then did this funny little dance."

"It’s a surprising tidbit," Benson says. "You don’t have to have seat belts and can have open containers. And you can have a regular driver’s license. If the bus was any longer, you’d need a commercial license. It’s kind of shocking."

Shocking, especially when shortly after he finished converting the bus to use vegetable oil last summer, Benson took it on the road with a bunch of bands to the Freedom From Festival in Minneapolis, where they played before the Boredoms. Because of the bus’s height, they got stuck in an underpass in Chicago’s Wicker Park district. They also couldn’t get it into the Pennsylvania Turnpike and instead were forced to drive through the Poconos. "I got lost in a white-picket-fence neighborhood and was forced to turn around in this poor lady’s yard," Benson recollects. "She and her neighbors came running out, and she was, like, ‘What are you?!’ I was so busy trying to do a 20-point turn I could only yell, ‘We’re a bus!’ ‘What kind of bus are you?’ she yelled. And then someone in the bus jumped out and gave her a hug and said, ‘We’re a magic bus.’ "

You’ve gotta admit there’s a bit of magic going on when Sewn Leather finishes his riveting songs on dead lice, bad pickups, and the end of music genres and the kids pile out, over the oriental carpet cushioning on the floor, and share cookies and other comestibles outside. The cars rumble overhead, oblivious to this DIY snatch of culture-making quietly going about its beeswax. *


With the Fucking Ocean and other bands

Feb. 3, 8 p.m., free

Highway 24 overpass Shattuck and 55th St., Oakl.



Idol musings


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Is there any escape from the tractor beam–pull influence of American Idol? Can someone do me a favor and put a plug in Paula Abdul’s histrionics, leash the dawgs of Randy Jackson, douse the frat-boy smirk on Ryan Seacrest’s mug, or, reluctantly, hold back the refreshing wave of honest harshitude rolling off Simon Cowell? And while you’re up, get me a High Life, hand me the channel changer, and take a socket wrench to that persistent leak of CDs by Idol alums. Winners and also-rans are far too prevalent on the charts — they’re essentially ruining my poppy good times, apart from the odd Kelly Clarkson guilty pleasure. The past few months saw the release of a second album of almost too stolidly respectful R&B by Ruben Studdard, The Return (J); an already gold-certified, lustily voiced and eclectic but undistinguished pop-rock self-titled debut by Taylor Hicks (Arista); and my star-studded fave, Fantasia, by Fantasia Barrino, who put together a contempo, Kelis-like, pop Afro-futurist collection with input from OutKast’s Big Boi, Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo, Missy Elliott, and Swizz Beats. If I hadda listen idol-ly to someone, I guess I’d pop the baby mama on — you’ll be thinking you’re dreaming, girl, when you realize Fantasia actually sounds better than B’Day.

Adore it or abhor it, the phenom starts all over again Jan. 16, playing to our fondness for rags-to-riches stories and let’s-put-on-a-show moxie, our identification with those kids belting their hearts out in gladiatorial thumbs-up-thumbs-down cutthroat competition, our cynical identification with the judges’ stringent assessments, and our resurgent belief in a seemingly democratic process (know anyone who has ever voted?). Despite the scrappy likability and self-conscious modernity of Barrino’s second disc, it’s not to Idol fans’ tastes, methinks, judging from the supposed 230,000 or so CDs sold, in contrast with the 5-mil-plus number Clarkson is bringing down. Yippee, it’s the return of the blockbuster-minded music industry! So, barring catfights and embarrassing "hee-haw at Hung" moments, I think I’ll pass on season six, despite the benediction of approval bestowed by artists such as Prince and Mary J. Blige in season five.

Why? Maybe I like my idols weaned on something more original and less cliché than the Motown and Beatles songbooks. Maybe idols shouldn’t be quite so predigested and programmatic — so that contestants like Tamyra Gray won’t be dropped from their labels when they demand to write their albums.

There’s a place for pop, perhaps — this is a popularity contest, after all — and the fact that the show includes a songwriting competition this season should throw a new wrinkle into the mix of predictable boomer standards. Well, hell, why not ask aspirants to write their own songs? At the risk of turning this into a teary-eyed singer-songwriter showdown, I’d venture that approach would weed out a slew of vacuous, empty-vessel warblers.

Anyway, singing for your supper or at least your next career change seems pro forma. The game-ification of the pop cult draws amateur hopefuls and sporting observers alike, and the Recording Academy’s entry into the ring with its "My Grammy Moment" campaign, in which a dozen finalists vie to play beta pup to Justin Timberlake’s alpha dog at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, seems to bear me out. Watchers can log on to Yahoo! Music and view the audition videos of prospective sexy backups and vote online or via text message for the top five finalists, who will be announced Jan. 17. Voting continues, sports fans, till the lot are winnowed down to the top three on Super Bowl weekend, with the winner announced live at the Grammys on Feb. 11 before his or her live moment with Timby (who seems to be surfing the trend of recent celeb breakups right into In-N-Out).

Among the oodles of original video submissions are entries from Bay Area–esque finalists Jayne Rio of Vallejo, Mandy Ventrice of Pittsburg, and Philip Ray, formerly of Oakland. I asked the 28-year-old Ray, a graphic designer now living in Los Angeles, last week about his simultaneously unusual and mundane clip, in which he fluidly multitasks behind the wheel, driving through a medley of Whitney Houston and other Grammy-winning songs (the branding never sleeps). "It was a time thing," he ‘fessed. "I knew a deadline was approaching, and I have a tiny camera. I was on the way to El Pollo Loco, and I thought it would be a different way to approach it. That was my effort to make me stand out — most people sing in cars, so I thought … people would relate to it."

The son of Rev. Dr. CJ Anderson, who Ray says staged numerous musical events to raise money for the needy in the Bay Area, the contestant recalled catching benefit concerts at Pete Escovedo’s club until he moved south in 1996. Nowadays he writes songs and dreams of developing community centers that will cultivate unsigned vocalists and musicians. Praising Timberlake for the "way he navigated his career" and citing "Losing My Way" as his favorite JT song, the earnest Ray isn’t petrified by the possibility of working his wiles on a Grammy mob of pros. "It’s my ultimate dream. Aside from just being hungry for the opportunity, I think I’m going to try to use any opportunity to carve out a career as successful as Justin Timberlake’s."

Maybe I listened to too much punk as a tot, but as amiable as Ray is, that sort of bald careerism — as much a part of American Idol as actual performance — gives my perhaps rockist-tinged heart pause. I know pop has other uses beyond validating my romantic notion of self-sabotaging, autodestructing, doo-doo-dappling antistars, and American Idol and "My Grammy Moment" may be opening the playing field to new voices, but how fresh can it all be, given the validating arena they’re competing in? When I see, for instance, Big Boi, Elliott, Devendra Banhart, Prince, Thurston Moore, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Radiohead fill the judges’ shoes full-time, I’ll climb back on the couch. *


Posi posse


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER What’s the expiration date on cute? Is it just limited to the length of time you can tag a cat a kitten, pull off head-to-toe pink, tolerate unironic smiley faces, or maintain a Britney Spears fan site? Does anyone older than 21 still strive to be cute — or anyone not in a boy band, not a showgirl, not wearing mouse ears? Maybe cool stole cute’s thunder around the time kindercore and twee pop faded from view, got into Stanford, and sold their Belle and Sebastian albums, because except for the brief bandying about of the posicore label, as embodied by inspirational party starters like Hawnay Troof and Barr, cute has been, alas, the wallflower at the hoodies’ and headbangers’ balls. Even indie kids have generally distanced themselves from the terrifyingly twinkly adjective — cute and all its shiny, blank surfaces just doesn’t fit the grim, grimy tenor of the times.

Perhaps that’s why it’s the moment for Matt and Kim, the Brooklyn drum-and-keyboard successors to Mates of State and the latest, freshest, most upbeat iteration of the rock duo approach to come along since all those bands with "-s" tacked to their names. They’re supercute; get the kids to dance, stage-dive, and generally act up at their live shows; dream up funny, lovable, and yes, cute videos of food fights; and make lots of energetic pop punk (not to be confused with punk pop and Hilary Duff dumpees). The c word has been a hassle, though. "We get cornered into ‘cute’ a lot as a category," says Matt (né Johnson, 24) from Brooklyn, where he and Kim (last name: Schifino, 25) have settled down briefly amid their nonstop traversing of the country, spreading the gospel of fun. "If someone told me a band was a really cute band, I wouldn’t want to see that band. But a lot of people enjoy it — we smile, we have fun, Kim’s cute. I mean, a lot of people say that we’re cute in a really positive way, and that’s fine, but I wouldn’t want a video or photo shoot where we’re swinging on swings. I don’t want to brand ourselves as cutecore."

The "core" suffix is the kiss of death, isn’t it? Worse than the "-s" because it sounds like it might be cool — there might be a community of sorts there, but instead there’s just the distinct whiff of curdling dismissiveness. Similarly, all the bands that got tagged "screamo" should have just fallen on the neck of their guitars the instant they heard that insult applied to their music.

"Kim doesn’t like cute," Johnson says.

Thus the band decided to drench its new video for "5k," from its self-titled debut on IHEARTCOMIX, with fake blood, mock dismemberment, and pseudo gore. The pair aren’t afraid to mix a little jeopardy into their joy — so they’re not too scared of the warm winter that’s throwing down in their Brooklyn neighborhood at the moment we talk. "Over in New York City it’s ridiculous!" Johnson raves. "People are wearin’ T-shirts. It’s 70 degrees. It’s like the end of the world. It’s definitely colder in San Francisco in the summer than New York City in January."

Yet the unseasonable heat fits the sunny dispositions of the two-and-a-half-year-old combo, who haven’t had any time to write new songs since they bought their touring van in October 2005 ("We used to travel in an ’89 Honda Civic sedan and cram in all the stuff to the roof and drive with the back on the ground and the front in the air"). "We’re totally a summertime band," says Johnson, a onetime political punk fan who worked in film production.

"We like fun songs and fun things related to summer. I guess people get a little grumpier in winter, so as far as writing fast and up-spirited songs goes, it’s much better for it."

Never ones to shun the fun times, Matt and Kim still agree it’s the worst of times that stand out. In fact, one of their most memorable tour tales from the last year had to be their first performance in the Bay Area, at Rock Paper Scissors in Oakland.

"We got the show the day before we were playing there, and somehow the word was that we were an acoustic band and we’re a really loud band," Johnson recalls. "And it’s their knitting night, and a bunch of people are sitting around at tables knitting. I think we made it through three songs…." *


With Girl Talk and USA Crypt

Fri/12, 9 p.m.

$13, sold out


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1422




Choose whom you go with wisely. "If they’re your friend, be ready for them not be your friend anymore," Matt Johnson says. "Kim is the first person it’s really worked out with. We went with another person on one of our tours, and Kim now seems to disdain him."

Pancakes can be a costly proposition. "I definitely realized that once we went to IHOP," Johnson says. "We just got pancakes, and it cost $20. That was a real realization."

Check the weather before it wrecks it. "I feel like the hottest place I’d ever been in my life is Colorado — I thought I was gonna die," he bemoans. "And the coldest place was in Arizona. I thought that was the desert and it was gonna be hot. Be careful about thinking the south is always warm, when it really is not. Cleveland, Miss., in February — boy, that was cold."


"I often describe what we listen to as a lot of people’s guilty pleasures," Johnson says. "I grew up listening to political punk, and I went from being close-minded in general, and then my mind blew wide open."

• T.I., King (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)

• Beyoncé, B’Day (Sony)

• Best Fwends, next year’s album

• Girl Talk, Night Ripper (Illegal Art)

• Flosstradamus

P&J jam


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Icons come and go, with all the fanfare, dressers, and folderol that legends demand, you know — with a wiggle of a ruddy nose, the flash of a cape, a blast of TNT, the slam of the estate gates. Goodbye, James Brown (RIP Godfather of Soul, Dec. 25, 2006), may you work a little less in heaven than

you did on earth. Fare thee well, Village Music (music geeks’ vinyl treasure trove), readying to close Sept. 30, due to the high rent demanded in Mill Valley. Next?

I was ready to say hasta luego to that mammoth warhorse of all critics’ polls, the Village Voice‘s Pazz and Jop. The massive compendium of top 10 album and song lists and legitimizer of toiling, stinking music crit midgets the nation over, the creature seemed to be next on the list of endangered species when creator-caretaker Robert Christgau (dean of American rock critics) and Voice music editor Chuck Eddy were fired last year after the New Times’ purchase of Village Voice Media.

Still, the yearly e-mail appeared again early last month — "Hello. You are one of the 1,500-odd critics we’d like to include …" — this time signed by the Voice‘s new music editor, Rob Harvilla, who got the NT corporate relocation orders from the East Bay Express.

Is it the same poll without Christgau keeping tempo? Honestly, few envy Harvilla, who has had a tough shoe to polish in pleasing Voice readers and filling his well-established predecessors’ boots while boasting little of sheer record-reviewing chops and logging a fraction of the critical thought that has gone into the careers of Eddy and Christgau. The latter for good reason dubbed his graded music review column Consumer’s Guide. Ever the idealistic, outraged, yet overthinking lot, music writers were conflicted — torn between their loyalty to the old Voice editors and the scent of a continuing or future paycheck. The notion of alternate polls was batted around on the blogosphere.

Still, when Gawker Media actually began one, who suspected the brouhaha that would ensue? Gawker’s music blog, Idolator, announced its startlingly similar Jackin’ Pop Critics Poll with the cheeky, gauntlet-tossing headline "Time to Raze the Village," called out Christgau’s and Eddy’s cannings, and issued the salvo "For those who had long turned to the Voice to help guide them through the realm of pop, rock, and hip-hop, the 51-year-old alt-weekly now had about as much musical credibility as, say, a three-month-old blog." Shortly after that, Idolator poll editor and ex–Seattle Weekly music editor Michaelangelo Matos was informed, through a multiple-source grapevine at the NT-VV Media–owned Minneapolis–St. Paul City Pages (the alt-weekly at which he began his career) that he has been banned from that paper.

Gawker-Idolator later reported that word quickly went out to NT-VV music staffers that they’re not allowed to vote in the Idolator poll. "When we announced the poll, that day, I saw an e-mail from John Lomax, who is the Houston Press music editor — he’s head of New Times music editors — instructing all music editors and staff writers that hourly and salaried staffers of New Times were not allowed to vote in the Idolator poll," Matos told me from Seattle.

Matos added that despite NT-VV being "obviously hardball kind of guys," he took umbrage at the fact that "they didn’t tell me I was banned. I heard it from somebody else. I think the way they handled it was chickenshit, but from the way I can tell, that’s one way they operate, through fear and imprecation." At press time, Lomax and City Pages music editor Sarah Askari had not responded to inquiries.

Is this just a matter of new media versus New Times? Corporate print media fending off the pricks of a million busy blogging digits? To make matters even more complicated, Christgau himself, whose Consumer Guide was recently picked up by MSN, has voted in both polls. "I have told people who’ve asked to do what they wish," he e-mailed me, adding that Eddy, now at Billboard, is not voting in P&J.

Yet other aboveboard and down-low boycotts of P&J abound, Matos said. Ex–Voice staffer and current Pop Conference organizer Eric Weisbard is skipping the poll because, the former P&J pooh-bah e-mailed, "participating in Pazz & Jop validates the New Times neanderthals who now run Village Voice Media. They may want to keep alive a poll that generates more Web hits than anything else they do, but in all other ways, they hate and are trying to eradicate everything that the Village Voice music section stood for: intellectual discussion of popular music and popular culture."

"A number of people who aren’t voting in the Voice poll are older and better established," added Matos, describing an argument he recently had with a friend. "I heatedly called it a labor issue, and my friend said, ‘If I vote in the Voice poll, am I a scab?’ It’s probably not that cut-and-dried…. Everyone in New York knows how bad the Voice has gotten, but for a lot of people, the Voice still represents a decent paycheck. It’s a hard thing to argue with. People who don’t want to piss off the Village Voice, and frankly, till this poll came along, I was one of them."

Vote in both, don’t vote in P&J, or vote in P&J and pen protest too? I’ve always internally chafed against the voice of critical authority, inclusive yet contentious, implied with P&J. Perhaps that sense of center is a bastion of the past, along with traditional music industry models. Yet even the first P&J Matos ever read — from 1990, with De La Soul on the cover — included an essay by a writer who refused to participate in the group grope. The gathering was that quirky and open to dissent.

An alien concert in the new order of NT-VV? "Good going, champions of the free press!" Idolator crowed after announcing the NT-VV response, excerpting a supposed example e-mail from a NT-VV music editor to writer. "To get revenge, we plan to not patronize the porn ads in the back of your magazines for the next week. You have no idea how much that’s gonna cost you."

One long-tenured P&J pooh-bah continues to watch over the proceedings, if from afar. "I look forward with considerable curiosity to both polls," Christgau wrote to me. "I very much doubt either will be as good as the last PJ, but we shall see." Nonetheless, it seems unlikely the boycotted and participation-by-dictate P&J will, as Matos put it, "open things up for you," as good critics and past polls have. *

New Year’s Eve ill


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER You gotta love the Bay Area, which so often sweeps in the new year with the wet, wild kiss of stormy weather. Blecch — too much tongue. Still, I succumb to the call of fun: I can’t count how many times I’ve vaulted over gushing gutters, minced down streets that have morphed into streams, danced between the raindrops, hopped between soggy cardboard sheets in backyards that have turned into miasmas of mud, and jabbed firework gawkers with the bad end of an umbrella. Outta-hand winter waterworks seem somewhat fitting for our kooky, multitentacled, many-flavored assortment of New Year’s Eve entertainment offerings. So here’s a selected guide to live sounds for all persuasions, preferences, sizes, and sicknesses (we’re not even going to go into the sans pants warehouse show) — let’s see what’s out there on the blessed night all those in the so-called biz dub "amateur night," the evening when most everyone feels compelled to get out and brave the puddles pooling around their doorsteps.


Don’t bother knockin’, because the yacht-rockin’ good times are sure to be had when Portland, Ore., one-man party machine Yacht meets Oakland one-man party machine Hawnay Troof at 21 Grand; Blevin Blectum, High Places, and Bronze tan it up too. Kid606 will be swinging from there to Rx Gallery, where he performs with French beat blurters DAT Politics, delay-pedal ditherers Lemonade, and Kontrol with Dirtybird. It’s not plus tard, ‘tards! After catching the LA band eves ago at the Make-Out Room and dancing our Khmers off, we’ve got a Dengue Fever for the flava of Cambodian garage rock — this year it’s at Rickshaw Stop (www.rickshawstop.com). The Lovemakers get busy with Honeycut at Great American Music Hall. At the Fillmore (www.ticketmaster.com), My Morning Jacket stoke the flames of Southern rock. Breakout ska punk critters the Aggrolites open for Hepcat at Slim’s (www.slims-sf.com). Harold Ray Live in Concert do unspeakable — and delightful — things to an organ at Annie’s Social Club (www.anniessocialclub.com). Balazo Gallery (www.balazogallery.com) finds Goldie faves Trainwreck Riders living it up with La Plebe. Birdmonster scare up the good times along with art-punk Boyskout at Bottom of the Hill (www.bottomofthehill.com). Crane your necks at the Stork Club (www.storkcluboakland.com) as bits of the Bobby Teens and Gravy Train!!!! come together and costume-ize for the customized Dinky Bits and the Lil Guys. Rube Waddell revamp their "Live at Leeds" — or shall we say "Sexy at Sketchers" — show at a wanton belly dancing, cabaret, and brass happening going down at Amnesia (www.amnesiathebar.com). And for those with hair that needs a band, there are LA Guns (playing with the curiosity-piquing Infamous Choke Chain) at Roosters Roadhouse, Alameda (groups.msn.com/roostersroadhouse). And why Y and T at Avalon, Santa Clara (www.nightclubavalon.com)? Y not?


Zion I, Lyrics Born, and Crown City Rockers put together the rap show to beat at the Independent (www.theindependentsf.com), striking trepidation in the hearts of bouncers with no-holds-barred rhymes and an all-night open bar (line up the Henny, honey). But don’t count the Coup out: so soon after the group’s recent bus crash, in which they lost all their belongings and several members and tourmates were injured, the Bay Area band gets back onstage alongside Les Claypool and the New Orleans Social Club at Claypool’s New Year’s Eve Hatter’s Ball at Grace Pavilion, Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa (www.harmonyfestival.com/nye/nye.html). Also, booty, bass, and all the b’s will be bumpin’ back when Spank Rock boomerangs to 280 Seventh Street (upcoming.org/event/134159).


Piano legend McCoy Tyner is the monster headliner at Yoshi’s (www.yoshis.com). Washing up on Anna’s Jazz Island, Berkeley (www.annasjazzisland.com), Yoruban priestess and Afro-Cuban soul stirrer Bobi Cespedes and her trio work their magic. Soul and funk trumpeter Oscar Myers blows out 2006 with Steppin’ at the Boom Boom Room (www.boomboomblues.com). Bimbo’s 365 Club (www.bimbos365club.com) wink-winks, nudge-nudges with the New Morty Show and Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums. Vocalist Kim McNalley urges you to party like it’s 1929 at her Jazz at Pearl’s (www.jazzatpearls.com); Jesus Diaz and his Bay Area Cuban All Stars light a fire under La Peña Cultural Center (www.lapena.org). And OK, everyone dug Eddie Murphy more in Dreamgirls — don’t x out Jamie Foxx; he attempts to fill Oracle Arena, Oakland, accompanied by Fantasia Barrino (www.ticketmaster.com).


Our favorite unfunny funnyman, Neil Hamburger (and former SF storage container dweller, or so he says), throws pop culture on the grill, sweats profusely, and jubilantly rolls around in a trough of bad taste for two shows at the Hemlock Tavern (www.hemlocktavern.com); astrology nut Harvey Sid Fisher ushers in the ‘Burger meister. Patton Oswalt blew that whiny David Cross off the stage when he opened for him at Cobb’s way back when — now the prince of King of Queens headlines two rounds on New Year’s Eve (www.cobbscomedyclub.com).

Just remember, ya can’t stop the rain. Don’t fear the reaper. Stay metal, and be sure to strap yourself in for 2007 — because judging from the way we roll, it could be a bumpy ride. *

Purple tamed?


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Ho, ho, hum. I may have to take it up with a certain chunky fellah in the red clown suit, because just between you and me, I can’t take the pressure. I’m sure you understand — the stress to plonk down the bones for the most lavish holiday booty. To have the raddest New Year’s Eve. To return or regift those less-than-apt presents in the weeks to follow. To end the year with a big bang, sinking your teeth deeply into the ass of life and emerging with stories to tell and most limbs intact.
Right up there with all of the above is the pressure to have fun in Las Vegas. I mean, you have to be a complete loser to not enjoy yourself, not eke out some happening in Vegas that had to stay in Vegas, right? After all, America’s sin city is busy recasting itself as the country’s entertainment capital, building casinos and ripping up the strip late into the night — surely they have some poison that tempts a princely palette?
Alas, Vegas can be such a tease. Exhibit one: Prince, supposedly deep into an indefinite residency at his new club, 3121 (the branding of this year’s album continues), at the Rio hotel but instead taking every weekend off till New Year’s from his Friday and Saturday gig. Caveat: don’t jingle-jangle into town expecting to see his purple highness shake it dutifully, night in and out, à la Frankie, Elvis, Wayne Newton, Barry Manilow, all the big cheeses. Admittedly, even at $125–<\d>$312 a pop, it would have been worth it — to see the larger-than-life mercurial Minneapolis mini at his relatively intimate 900-seat venue, which is said to be under the Purple 1’s sole artistic control, while the adjoining 3121 Jazz Cuisine is overseen by his personal chef. It’s the latest sign of the times: the 48-year-old was following his inclusion in an obligatory animated feature, Happy Feet, and his now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t Net presence (this year he shut down his longtime site shortly after fielding a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for being the first major artist to release an entire album online exclusively) with a distinct signifier of a rapidly settling-down showbiz icon: a stint in Vegas. Isn’t this American entertainment’s Valhalla, where major stars come to die? “Now if he gets fat like Elvis …,” opined alexnevermind319 on fan site www.prince.org. I pictured the man socking back in a beige McMansion, crusting elegantly in a La-Z-Boy, heavily partaking of TiVo, inhaling fistfuls of Corn Nuts, and wondering if he’s in danger of becoming a corn nut himself, burned out on the bright lights that mask the sun-baked void after only a mere month.
I was clearly conflicted, so I sought solace in a kicky, clean-fun but self-aggrandizing Pussycat Dolls revue at Cesar’s Pure nightclub (drinking game: take a swig every time the half-nekkid hotties urge “Sing along, ladies”) and a geriatrically inclined ’n’ reclined show by Neil Diamond impersonator Jay White, a genuine sing-alike (Diamond himself is quoted in White’s ad: “Jay, keep singing so I can stay home and relax”) who too often shatters the illusion (“Everyone got their Christmas shopping done?” the would-be solitary man queried amid his re-creation of Diamond’s July 4, 1976, Vegas show).
But what am I complaining about? History, musical or otherwise, is often reworked here, toward new, profitable, and vanity-fluffing ends. I dug the Liberace Museum — including its cranky caretakers, who forbade us from cruising through its two buildings in a mere half hour — but you don’t have to look far beyond Liberace’s chinchilla-trimmed capes and mirror-tiled roadster to glimpse the sadness beneath the flash: my partner in Vegas grime read the fine print in the trophy room and noted that many are for simply giving talks and such. Did even the highest-paid entertainer in Vegas history (Liberace took home $50,000 a week in 1955 for turning it out regularly at the Riviera) and the man who enlightened Elvis himself about the power of glitter really need to pad his brag board?
Perhaps size does matter — Las Vegas is as much about industrial-scale entertainment as it is about taking your money in a wholesale sorta way. Judging from the recent low-key array of musical offerings — Toni Braxton was Prince’s only real rival last week — the Purple Pachyderm looms large here, the one truly musically innovative performer currently ensconced in Vegas. But can we say any Vegas-level dues are getting paid at all when Prince keeps the length of his engagement foggily indefinite, the time he goes onstage set vaguely after 10 p.m. — can’t he take the heat, sweat, and slog like a regularly gigging musician? It made you respect those crack, hard-working players behind small fries like White even more. In announcing Prince’s Vegas lounge act, a rep claimed Prince “wants to bring raw, live music back to Las Vegas.” So bring it already.<\!s>SFBG
Fri. and Sat. (after Dec. 28, but don’t count on it), 10 p.m.
3121 at the Rio
3700 W. Flamingo, Las Vegas, Nev.

Junk bonds


Sweet — doesn’t the sight of Gwen Stefani shaking her logo in your face on that singing-nun mess of a video for “Wind It Up” — off her new album, The Sweet Escape (Interscope) — make you want to look for the exits? Booze, barbiturates, love, angels — all the traditional escape hatches look good, because as much as I sneakingly enjoyed the creative mosh-slop of Stefani’s ur-kitsch solo debut, her new one looks and sounds like a Scandi-stinker so far. Maybe Sound of Music lederhosen camp just can’t hold a candle to organic movements like African American step culture. Maybe the reality of childbirth spoiled the wish-fulfillment magik of her Love. Angel. Music. Baby. equation. In any case, all the gloss (we do like our pop princesses — B, G, and Fff-urgh-ie — predictably blond and brassy in ’06 ) makes you want to repair to the proudly ramshackle, raw-cuz sonic junkyard that Tom Waits built, especially when you listen to his recent Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (Anti-). The arrival of this three-disc set of never-released oldies, comp odds, loose ends, and unifying newbies might even spark a few murky thoughts on Waits and a few of his musical offspring: Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous, who put out his first album in more than five years this fall, Dreamt for Lightyears in the Belly of a Mountain (Astralwerks), and Calexico, who truck through town this week. “Alternative” and “experimental” seem like weak adjectival gruel for their obsessively archival, at times combustible aural tinderboxes. Is it fair to call them the pop foundlings of found sound? Or better, the deadbeat dads of pomo rock’s darkling plain?
These junk-shop mixologists have a few things in common: critical descriptors like “dusty,” “distressed,” maybe even “stone-washed.” The music often emanates from a solitary, male figure (one exception: Calexico’s Sanford and Son bedrock duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino) surrounded by a shifting gang of ace musicians. Horns, the Delta blues, evocative music from travels abroad, and samples from around the street corner follow the contours of what might loosely, goosily be called rock. Accordions hound their sound like junkyard dogs. Hissy, dirt-caked, lo-fi production values hit the spot. And they’re not above reaching for an erhu.
Next to Stefani’s frantic semiotic scramble of crucifixes, Singer sewing machines, and yodels, these savage songsmith salvagers seem positively, perhaps geriatrically, old-school. Flaws glare like the humanism shining through a handmade rug. Their music’s creaky mechanism — even when driven by a beatboxed gasp, as on Waits’s “Lucinda” — is more deeply nostalgic, in love with a tattered industrial, rather than information, age, less preservation-minded than resigned to soldiering forth in a jalopy burdened by the ever-weighted cargo of music history — the male counterparts of Mother Courage in the recent crack Berkeley Rep production of that Bertolt Brecht bleakathon.
It’s a nonformulaic formula of sorts that Waits seems to have dreamed up with Swordfishtrombone (Island), way back in ’83 — and it’s been refined to the degree that even the castoffs of the cantankerous, bluesy Brawlers, the sweeter, soporific Bawlers, and the story-laden, weirded-out Bastards are all of one compulsively listenable piece. Covering Leadbelly and the Ramones twice, utilizing the simpatico musicianship of locals such as Ralph Carney, Carla Kihlstedt, Gino Robair, and the late Matthew Sperry along with tens of others, Waits shows that even his off-the-cuff leavings — à la his reading of Charles Bukowski’s “Nirvana” and the sorrowful instrumental fugue “Redrum” — are better than most belabored new studio releases. Hell, does it make a difference that these 54 songs have been culled from far-flung corners in film, theater, and tribute comps, what with the mishmash of producers on most mainstream pop albums? It all glitters, magpie.
So what about Waits’s other spawn? Linkous shows up on Orphans (“Dog Door”) just as Waits materializes on Linkous’s album (“Morning Hollow”), while Sparklehorse takes the noise down a notch and foregrounds melancholy melodies with production help from Danger Mouse. Calexico also got hit with the pop stick — witness this year’s Garden Ruin (Quarterstick). Borders — between north and south, white and brown, ranchero and rock — are still a major leitmotif for the band, Calexico cofounder and guitarist Joey Burns told me, citing Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and the 1993 documentary Latcho Drom, which makes graceful connections between gypsy musicians across centuries and countries. Yet the streamlined Garden Ruin seems to represent a race from the wrecking yard of music’s past, the inevitable legacy of collaborating with artists ranging from Neko Case and Los Super Seven to Gotan Project and Goldfrapp.
“What stands out the most for most people is there are no instrumentals, so that kind of soundtrack quality is not there, and the focus is on songs,” the talkative Burns told me from Tucson. “But within songs there are a lot of orchestrated passages, and there’s just as much variety there as there’s always been.”
The collaborations — and soundtracks — continue. After our talk, Burns was heading out to listen to Calexico’s mixes of Bob Dylan songs for Todd Haynes’s forthcoming filmic reverie on the singer-songwriter, I’m Not There. Iron and Wine and Roger McGuinn were among the group’s musical partners, with Willie Nelson clocking in as the most memorable. Tracking “Señora” at the red-headed stranger’s golf course–<\d>cum–<\d>studio, Burns said Nelson “barely knew he was supposed to record. Heard about it during a poker game in Dallas, and he stumbled in with friends. It was phenomenal watching his process.”
Perhaps the ragtag process of Waits, Linkous, and Calexico is even getting dusted off, cleaned up, and given a new spin by another generation. One can’t help but hear a little of their aural roamings in the shambling brass-band collectivism of A Hawk and a Hacksaw and Beirut. And apparently, I’m not the only one discerning an umbilical chord: those combos recently toured Europe with Calexico, Burns said. “We all bonded beautifully.”
With Los Lobos
Fri/8–<\d>Sat/9, 9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF



› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER By now the Tofurky has been gummed into submission. The turducken has been turned inside out, its monstrous mutant flesh masticated into extinction. And the stuffing has filled your squirrelly cheeks just in time for winter — you know, the ones that you settle back on as you belch, change the channel, sigh, then weep at the sight of still more food on the fattest of Thursdays.
At this point Thanksgiving is ancient history — memories have been wiped away by post-pig-out screenings of Fast Food Nation and Black Monday’s stampede-inducing specials.
Still, I gave thanks that I spent the evening gobbling dark gobbler meat on autogorge, watching old Robot Chicken episodes, and marveling at the PlayStation 3 consoles going for $10,000 on eBay. “The day it went on sale I clicked through one that was up to $700,” turkey-roasting chum Gary Hull told me. “It turned out to be some guy on his laptop, selling his spot in line in front of a store in Colorado.” Hope that sale had a “happy ending.” (Take another quaff of cranberry-tini each time that phrase recurs on Robot Chicken.)
And when everyone feels obligated to descend into group gluttony, I celebrate humble differences: a preference for sweet potato rather than pumpkin pie, for Gentlemen’s Techno rather than rude boys’ elbows to the knockers. I also get gooey over the Stooges, particularly their second album, Funhouse (Elektra, 1970). Hence, when I got the chance to chat with Steve MacKay, who played bleeding tenor sax on the title track and was in the Stooges for six months back in the day, I got all warm and cinnamon-scented inside.
The Pacifica saxophonist had just returned from working on the new Stooges album in Chicago with engineer Steve Albini and, of course, Iggy Pop, Ron and Scott Asheton, and Mike Watt.
“It’s got a lot of different feels to it,” the genial MacKay said of the disc, due this spring. “Some of it is Pop singing, in the beautiful baritone ballad style as Pop is known to do. Some shrieking Pop and midrange Pop. Really interesting sentiments and politics. Otherwise, I’m sworn to secrecy!” South by Southwest could be next.
“I still got my gig,” he added. The reunited Stooges have played all manner of festivals, though never any in the Bay Area. “Pop is a great guy to work for. He really takes an interest in everyone, especially me, and I’m the sax player. I’m not an essential part of this. We’ve always been good friends, even when he fired me.”
Pop gave MacKay the heave-ho in November 1970, after initially plucking MacKay from the band Carnal Kitchen. But then, the saxophonist understands the ever-shifting status of his instrument in pop. “I guess my mission in life is to go where no sax has ever gone before,” he quipped.
When the 57-year-old first started playing, the tenor sax was all over ’50s radio. Pimply pals began begging him to join their groups as the British Invasion swept in, though MacKay still had to fight for the sax: “One day we were going to rehearsal, and then I heard one of the guys in the band in the basement saying, ‘We don’t want a sax in a band! No one has else has a sax in band — it’s not cool.’ And then another voice said, ‘We can’t kick him out of the band. He’s the only one who can play a lead!’”
Since then, despite rumors of his death (“Is that why the phone isn’t ringing?” MacKay joked), the sax player has found ways to work his influential skree into the mix: he hooked up with the Violent Femmes for The Blind Leading the Naked after their first SF appearance in ’83 at the I-Beam (“They ran through the first sound check song, and I was sold.”) and has performed with Andre Williams, Smegma, Snakefinger, and Clubfoot Orchestra. He moved to San Francisco in ’77 — “Ann Arbor has gone all fern bar on us,” the Grand Rapids, Mich., native says — and began playing with his fellow transplants in Commander Cody, later picking up a trade as an electrician. Now firmly attached to the improv-oriented Radon, which has a new CD, Tunnel Diner, MacKay is looking forward to getting some long-awaited attention from rags like Wire. “I’ve been crawling around in old Victorians for years in San Francisco,” he said. “But I haven’t had to bend any conduit for a while.”
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER Houston singer-songwriter Jana Hunter makes music that taps into a whole other kind of electricity — spooked and resonant, as if she were channeling a damaged, Depression-era dust bowl damsel. After hearing this year’s Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom, one might even consider her the spiritual kin of Devendra Banhart, who decided with Vetiver’s Andy Cabic to put out the record as the first on their Gnomonsong label. Hunter has just finished her new second album for them, but she’s still haunted by the heirs of her debut’s title. “That was a funny but dark description of a group of my friends,” she told me from Houston. “They are people who are prone to disaster and obsessed with horror movies and kind of follow this process of creating things through self-destruction or finding entertainment or fulfillment in the process of destroying things. I was definitely like that at the time.”
She was enlisted to play various maniacs in several of her friends’ homemade homicidal-freak flicks: one of the movies will be included on an enhanced CD with Hunter’s dark-camp rock band, Jracula. “I didn’t know anything about horror movies till they made me watch a bunch of them,” she explained. “We watched them and made horror movies and drank ourselves sick several nights a week for a couple years. It was pretty fantastic.” Killer. SFBG
Wed/29, 9:30 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
Sat/2, 8 p.m.
Space 180
180 Capp, SF

Les, lady, les


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Viva les wild children, woodsmen, and Francophones and the ’philes that love them — wherever they may quaff cheap Beaujolais, don camembert-scented berets, and talk terroir ’n’ Bataille. Zut alors! The clichés, the pretensions, the sauces — and the only thing red-blooded freedom fries–gobbling Americans have consistently felt way superior about has been le rock. Thank your “Rockin’ in the Free World” and shake that deep-fried turkey butt on over here.
Nouveau chanson cuties like Benjamin Biolay, sis Coralie Clement, and ex Keren Ann have done their part to make a mark, but apart from late éminence grise Serge Gainsbourg and more recently Air, has French rock ever caught much respect? Can heart-throbber Phoenix get a break — never mind the fact that vocalist Thomas Mars has knocked up Sofia Coppola? Is this even an issue, one wonders, cocking an ennui-stricken ear to the latest from Snoop Dogg, the Game, Yusef (a.k.a. Cat Stevens in so-soft-it’s-nearly-subliminal mode), and Tom Waits?
The recent steady stream of très quirky French and French-language releases makes a case for tripping over Frédéric Chopin’s and Jim Morrison’s headstones at Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery in search of l’espirit de Gallicore, especially when stateside pop generally seems to be suffering from a bad-news hangover — with Britney’s breakup and Whitney’s move out. And they’re unabashedly wild enfants terribles all — in the not-so-mute mode of the 19th-century Wild Boy of Aveyron — beginning with Serge’s spawn Charlotte Gainsbourg, whom most recall entering the musical arena by way of a notorious duet with dad, his 1984 song “Lemon Incest” (the vid had the 12-year-old Charlotte passionately clutching pops’s pants legs). Now after becoming an indie cinema heroine of sorts in Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, she has released a Nigel Godrich–produced debut, 5:55 (WEA International), which finds her warbling wistfully alongside Air (whose Jean-Benoit Dunckel has his own new solo CD under the name Darkel) and Jarvis Cocker. The deliriously weaving strings and haunting melody of her single, “Songs That We Sing,” directly probes the sensuous, nostalgic vibe of her père’s mind-scorching masterpiece Histoire de Melody Nelson (Fontana).
Still, 5:55 is aeons away in its shy, coltish sleekness from other recent oddities — including those of the Lille, France, threesome DAT Politics, who stopped in San Francisco earlier this month with a minialbum of electronic-pastiche pop punnily titled Are Oui Phony?? (Tigerbeat6). The joke plunges into the long-standing US-France tension between rockiste authenticity and cultural colonialism. DAT Politics’ bold, gawky, yet carefree rubbery squeaks, bleats, and breakbeats sidestep and then frenetically bob alongside the entire issue.
Another disarming and ungainly recent disc owns its vulnerability like a bared breast: Le Volume Courbe’s I Killed My Best Friend (Honest Jons) is a gently dissonant, whispery, and eclectic set of songs that seem to circle the emotional nakedness of folk with some of the honest, strange imprint of classic post-punk and experimental electronic musak. Backed by My Bloody Valentine’s Colm O’Ciosoig and Kevin Shields and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and David Roback, London–by–way–of–Pays de la Loire, France, songwriter Charlotte Marionneau blends intimate, homespun-sounding and occasionally instrumental originals with the odd cover, like Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No … I Got Life.” Her album financed by Alan McGee for his Poptones imprint when her first single for the Creation Records pooh-bah’s label sold out its 1,000-copy pressing in a week, Marionneau sounds like a bleary-eyed Feist hooked on Mum and Smog.
And speaking of that Canadian-French darling, it turns out there are other Francophone wonders up north. Montreal’s pop-punk and ye ye combo Les Breastfeeders underwire-support their fine, fine moniker with a forthcoming full-length, Les Matins de Grands Soirs (Blow the Fuse), due in February. And then there’s the city’s Les Georges Leningrad, who come to town this week with their third disc, Sangue Puro (Tomlab). Could these irreducibly primitive beats, burly synth drones, and menacing electronic textures really be the sound, the timbre of … too much timber?
Apparently Les Georges Leningrad have rustic roots that no one suspected, in complete contradiction to their press release, according to guitarist and ML-RCC synth tweaker Mingo L’Indien, speaking from Houston and hung over from partying with Quintron the previous night in New Orleans. “Me and Bobo [Boutin], the drummer — we were working in the woods. A timberjack kind of thing, working in the woods for a paper company, and we just notice this girl named Poney [P, vocalist and synth player] who was a secretary there, so one day we do a staff party for big company.”
“This is a very basic story,” he continues charmingly in wood-chipped English. “There’s not too much to say about it. It’s not like the other bands. We are very simple people, just cutting trees and bringing it to the company, and we start a band, and now we are in Houston tonight, and we still working there sometimes.”
Cutting down trees?
“No, we are just in Montreal working on our art, but we do a lot of art about woods and bats and raccoons and bears and mammals because we were in the woods for so long time that we can’t quit this feeling to be a savage, you know.”
“Eli Eli Lamma Sabbacthani” does ride on a kind of tribal chant, though more of Sangue Puro, such as the dark, threatening “Ennio Morricone,” sounds more like toxic aural terror or the “petrochemical rock” their PR touts. Nonetheless, Mingo insists Les Georges Leningrad are simple if art-damaged folk.
“I don’t know how to describe it — this is too new for us,” he demurs. “It is like we eat a big steak and we need to take a walk a little bit to digest it. If you ask me this question in two years, I will be able to answer you, but for us it is like a dream that is not finished.”<\!s>SFBG
Sat/25, 10 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

Eau joy


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Massive wood phalli. Steaming pits of gooey geothermal activity paired with shameful cages of sulky, muttonchopped Japanese monkeys. (No wonder their bottoms are red.) Fingers going pleasantly numb after noshing on fugu innards sashimi. That’s the salty floating world of old-school onsen (hot springs) life in Japan — as experienced by yours truly earlier this month.
The GOP got a well-deserved scrubbing while I was gently simmering in soupy milk-blue water at Myoban Onsen in the hills above Beppu, down south on hard-drinking Kyushu island in Japan. My kindred lady bathers sneak discreet glances at each other’s invariably saggy, soggy, well-brined flesh — appearances by the blinged-out, booted fashion-damaged dolls more common to Gwen Stefani vids and Tokyo and Osaka streets are almost nil at these OG public soakathons, though you do get the occasional yakuza, singing soulfully postbath. “Drunk!” okasan, a.k.a. my mother, hisses with disapproval. Signs of those bad boys’ continuing patronage abound: even our Osaka Hyatt’s fitness center and spa boasts a sign forbidding the excessively drunk or abundantly tattooed. We tell the attendant that we probably won’t be making the cut.
The art of onsen bathing goes a little like this: Scuttle out of the changing room starkers — locker key secured with a rubber bracelet around the wrist. Hustle to a free station — equipped with stool, wash tub, faucet, and handheld showerhead — to soap and rinse off offending personal filth. Then waddle over to the big, boiling communal tub — either mineral salted au naturel, Jacuzzi driven, or hotter than hell, as it was at the Meiji-era Takegawara Onsen in Beppu. Sink down to your neck. Sigh deeply. Sweat. Cook until just past al dente so that your muscles begin to resemble the hot noodles you suck down at the standing-room-only ramen stands on most train station platforms. Chase with a cold Sapporo.
Few Kansai and Kyushu wanderers are searching for pop culture kicks in Beppu — there’s a dank air of slightly seedy sadness lapping round the edges of the onsen town’s arcades of shuttered shops and windowless hostess bars. We suck down eggs, coffee, and custards cooked in or with the mineral water at the unbathable geothermal hot spots, otherwise known as jigokus, or hells. These tourist traps have been given a halfhearted theme-park treatment: bright red demonic statues overlook belching pits of steam, crocodiles pile in too-crowded concrete pens, and a miserable-looking crane parades psychotically in a barely big enough cage. It’s best to head into the bamboo thickets and green wilderness, toward smaller towns like Usuki, a few train stops away. The small town is graced by 10th-century stone Buddha images, delectable bird tempura at Kokoro Club, and Furen Limestone Cave, a less-traveled national monument fanged with gorgeous, eerie massive white stalactites that shame those in The Descent.
The clubs in Fukuoka are said to be just as surreally scary — eating live critters (odorigui, or “dancing-eating”) is apparently quite the height of nightlife derring-do. But instead, I ended up at the promenades of Hiroshima, near the extremely moving Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. Teenagers in spiky mullets, trailing goth getups, and trendy ethno-hippie rags commune for grub like superspicy eggplant, enoki mushroom, and sausage curry. If it gets overwhelming, duck into a virtual escape hatch like Media Center Popeye, where you can rent a cubicle and gorge on games, DVDs, Web surfing, manga, and junk food till the morning. Those nostalgic for Tower Records can stop into one of the chain’s Japanese holdouts — on the top floor of the Parco department store next to an ass-kicking musical instrument emporium. Your one-stop shop for starting your own mind-blowing Japanese band?
I’d find my inspiration in OOIOO, Boredoms drummer Yoshimi P-we’s all-XX-chromosomal foursome. The Osaka-area faux-turned-real group’s latest Thrill Jockey full-length, Taiga, is a stunner, a major flutter forward from last year’s Gold and Green (no surprise, since the latter was actually recorded in, oh my, ’00). Bookended by the primal drum chants of “UMA” and “UMO,” Taiga (Japanese for “big river”) mixes the pervasive percussion of Ai and guests Yo2ro Tatekawa and Thiam Misato — so reminiscent of the taiko beat of Japanese folk festivals — with P-we’s animal yowls and womanly harmonies. Out folkies might take note of the stinging guitar lines of Kayan, the steel-pan dementia of guest Tonchi, and the skillfully applied electronic gloss and mechanistic punctuation — at times miming the blistering peal coming from pachinko parlors, at others rhyming with the drone of train bells. Like a swift current, the mix powers past poppier releases like Feather Float (Birdman, 2001) and creates a specific aural space just as so many J-psych combos do, according to Paul Collett in Japanese Independent Music (Sonore). Theirs is a streaming, sexy binary realm that’s both drastically organic and wholly synthetic. You’re soaking in it. SFBG
An early ’90s hardcore act goes the moody, slow-boil route of Mogwai and Isis, with vague invocations of Jade Tree combos — and screaming vocals in Nipponese.
One of the best band names — no buts about it. Released by Aquarius Records’ Andee Connor, this twofer retrospective clobbers with slabs of metallic Mudhoney-raving-on-rat-poison groovitude.
If you missed the Tokyo group’s Oct. 19 Bottom of the Hill date, you can catch this recording by femme guitarist Pirako Kurenai and masculine ax-swinger Kageo, which had us wracked by Keiji Haino flashbacks.
Tokyo’s heavies bump throbbing uglies with Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, along with the Melvins’ Joe Preston and other guests, and slow things way, way, way down.

Cheap greats


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Starved for ideas? Dirt cheap, down to your last slice of cheese pizza and Harley beer, and still deeply smitten with fuzz-swathed guitars, ruttin’ rhythms, and a complete dearth of chops?
Desperate times call for rotten but still somewhat respectful measures, according to Chris Owen, former Guardian music ad maestro, ex–Killer’s Kiss kingpin, Hook or Crook label head cootie, and everlasting primordial rock fan. When the time came to name Budget Rock Showcase, the garage-punk onslaught of a music fest that Owen birthed five years ago with ex–Guardian columnist and onetime Parkside booker John O’Neill, they turned to the best: ye olde SF garage rock upenders the Mummies.
“We took the name from the back of a Mummies record, a picture of the Mummies that says ‘Budget Rock Showcase’ on their hearse or station wagon. We thought it was the perfect name for a festival of these bands,” recalled Owen from Gris Gris leader Greg Ashley’s digs, where they’re working on a 7-inch of Ashley’s pre-Mirrors high school combo, the Strate Coats. In response, the Mummies have been, um, fairly mum. “They’re pretty nonplussed that we decided to appropriate that. I get the feeling that doing some kind of organized, highfalutin thing is not necessarily what they’re into.”
Well, their tacit agreement was all Owen needed to pick up the fest he abandoned after the first year with a bit of booking help from friends such as O’Neill, ex–Parkside booker John Pool, and Stork Club bar manager-booker Lance Hill. Known for giving Comets on Fire one of their first Bay Area shows and drawing the underage Black Lips from across the country and later lauded for bringing in Beantown’s highly combustible Lyres, Budget Rock leaves Thee Parkside for the first time and celebrates its fifth year at the Stork. “It probably wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t do it this year,” Owen said while scarfing pizza with Ashley (“the food that fuels Budget Rock!”). “No one got off their ass to do it.”
So what is this crazy, impecunious thing called Budget Rock? “All the bands fall under a couple different rubrics,” Owen said. “Real traditional garage bands like Omens and Original Sins. I tend to like noisier In the Red stuff, but Budget Rock is supposed to be about Bay Area bands that are descended from great bands like Supercharger, the Mummies, Rip Offs, and Bobbyteens.” Of snarly note — besides the magnifico, malignant Original Sins (Brother JT’s original garage unit, which hasn’t played the Bay in more than a decade) — are fest first-timer Ray Loney, the Sneaky Pinks, the Mothballs, the Traditional Fools, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and the Okmoniks (one of several acts to have played every fest).
With the mainstream pop scene’s own appropriation of garage rock now petering to a close and disappearing from car commercials and the demise of such fests as Garage Shock, Owen can safely say that Budget Rock is one of the few of its die-hard kind, along with Goner fest in Memphis and Horizontal Action’s Chicago Blackout. Original garage lovers can all breathe a sigh of relief now — and enjoy the grease in peace. “You can spot a band that’s trying to make it a mile away,” Owen said.
“It’s like when you hear the Strokes, and they promote themselves as the Velvet Underground,” Ashley interjected. “They kind of do sound like them but like the worst songs on the last album rather than the best songs off the first album.”
This will likely be the first and last time Budget Rock will pick pockets at the Stork because Hill is moving on after failing to buy the joint — word has it he has looked into the old Golden Bull space too. But then, that’s the way this breed of untamed raw-k shakes down.
JOAN OF OURS A passing that came and went relatively unheralded Oct. 21: Runaways drummer Sandy West died after a lengthy tussle with lung cancer.
Yet it’s not too late to lay down your respect to Joan Jett, who plays San Francisco on Nov. 4 and has said after West’s passing, “I started the Runaways with Sandy West. We shared the dream of girls playing rock ’n’ roll. Sandy was an exuberant and powerful drummer. So underrated, she was the caliber of John Bonham. I am overcome from the loss of my friend. I always told her we changed the world.”
Jett is still out to change the world, it seems, when I spoke to her recently from her tour bus shortly before West’s death. Her new album, Sinner, on her own Blackheart Records, had just come out, and she was psyched about its politically and spiritually oriented material. After chatting about the Warped Tour (“I had my BMX bike and rode around from stage to stage checking out as much music as I could”) and producing the first Germs LP for her friend Darby Crash (“We got serious for about four days and probably as un-fucked-up as we could be and went in there and made a great record”), Jett got in one last push for rocking women like herself and West.
“I think the environment for women is just as bad now [as when I started Blackheart Records],” she said. “In fact, I think it’s even more dangerous because there’s this illusion of equality, when in fact, that’s not the case at all. Girl bands can’t seem to get above that successful club level, then they run into that glass ceiling thing.” SFBG
Sat/4, 9 p.m.
805 Geary, SF
Nov. 10
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
Nov. 10–12
Stork Club
2330 Telegraph, Oakl.

Solomon’s, mine


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Boo! And hiss, while you’re at it. Isn’t it scary how the music retail biz has changed? As a onetime music store flunky, I was hard-pressed to decide whether it was a trick or treat when I heard a few weeks back about the liquidation of Tower Records — this after filing for bankruptcy twice in the last two years. After all, I wasted a good, penniless year and a half of the late ’80s behind a register in the “tape” room and then behind a clipboard at one of the Sacto chain’s flagship stores at Columbus and Bay in San Francisco.
Those were the days — the horror, the horror of trying to subsist on megamuffins and minimum wage. The fun of stacking and alphabetizing cassettes under the benevolent leadership of the azure-Mohawked experimental musician Pamela Z. The joy of talking psychedelia and envisioning earth-shattering cultural epiphanies (one fave: imagining Sonic Youth teamed with Public Enemy years before “Kool Thing”) with Winter Flowers’ Christof Certik. The insanity of controlling the red-eyed, camped-out crowd from behind the Bass ticket booth when the final Who tour went on sale — and getting a Tower sweatshirt when my $50,000-in-two-sellout-hours register totaled to the penny.
The shock of realizing, as a budding world music buyer, that my assistant was thieving bags of Van Morrison and Chieftains CDs from my section. The starstruck bedazzlement of glimpsing the musicians and celebs pour through the glass doors on a regular basis (following a testy Todd Rundgren around with a drooling coworker, catching a lady-killing grin from Chris Isaak, and listening to Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys praise the version of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem pouring out of the speakers). The weirdness of instructing shut-in customers on what to do when the cassette ends (you press “rewind” or you find Scotch tape and record over it in disgust). The surprise of ordering vinyl and CD versions of the same release and finding certain humongous labels unwilling or unable to ship records, making available only the higher-priced so-called alternative. The pleasures of the lurching, lumbering 1 a.m. Muni ride home after completing the midnight closing shift, back to my digs in the Lower Haight. The switch-flipping surrealness of realizing I was the only one actually bothering to work during most of my shifts — while everyone else was down the street on three-hour lunches or fielding drinks with label reps.
Sure, the party was great while it lasted, and in pop cultural backwaters like Honolulu, Tower became the only, life-changing game in town — jetting in imports, hard-to-find discs, zines, and books at below list prices — and likewise you could get your hand-stapled xeroxed zine into Towers from Tokyo to Paris. And while the sprawling stores flourished, they drove out of business the local mom-and-pop music stores that didn’t recalibrate and start to sell used music and books, collector’s cards, comics, and games.
So now it’s being boiled down to end racks and wire fixtures — after a 30-hour bankruptcy auction ended in favor of the Great American Group’s $134.3 million bid rather than that of Trans World Entertainment, which said it would have kept most of the stores open. And frankly, I feel only somewhat sentimental — despite the initial quality of in-house magazine Pulse and the quasi-democratic, carry-everything supermarket atmosphere — because Russ Solomon’s retail model was far from carefree. The reason the prices were so low was that the workers there were barely scraping together a living (therefore often resorting to unrepentant graft — one staffer funded his trip to Italy on returned, unmarked promo music). At the time it felt like the glamorous equivalent of a record store sweatshop, with its overeducated, obsessive employees bitterly muttering to themselves about the amount of money that would pass through their hands — and straight into Solomon’s coffers.
Why stay? Pre–Amoeba Music, Tower was the biggest and best music store in San Francisco. And did such rampant thieving make a dent in profits, leading to the chain’s demise? Maybe it only started to show when downloads began their rule and the market shattered into a grillion niches, when even a megalith like Tower didn’t seem able to keep up.
As Tower crumbles, I may not be able to find the music I passionately want or need at 11:55 p.m., but I might shed a tear for my last shred of connection with the store — those times I’d trot up Market, between sets at Cafe du Nord, when most shops are darkened and early birds are tucked in bed, and duck into the Castro Tower to browse the magazine racks, those fluorescent lights beating down and the words dancing beneath my ringed eyes.
NO PAIN, NO DOCTORS If you think this election season is painful, tell it to the Bay Area–by–way–of–Chicago art-rock transplants No Doctors. Their whistle-stop tour of sorts stops this week at Club Six in San Francisco and ends at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland — and takes the formidable loudness of the foursome to some scenic points such as Joshua Tree and Lompoc. A working vacation with a message?
The tour has been dubbed “US out of CA,” guitarist Elvis DeMorrow told me. “I think everyone can get behind secession at this point.” After spending most of the past year working on their new LP, Origins and Tectonics, due spring 2007 on Yik Yak, the band “somehow arrived on an all-California thing, playing all the places no one even tries to play,” he continued.
Luckily for the No Doctors, DeMorrow is keeping his administrative job at the Stanford medical school’s pain research division. “To me, it’s totally relevant to playing music with a band and the effects it might have in your life,” he declares. Playing music as pain control? Don’t tell that to the bright bulbs at the CIA who came up with the Red Hot Chili Peppers as an instrument of torture. SFBG
Tues/31, 8 p.m.
Club Six
60 Sixth St., SF
(415) 863-1221

Joy sticks


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Skip the cherries — life at times seems like a big fat bowl of Froot Loops — the type that figure-eight, undulate, and connect in the most unpredictable ways. For instance, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, né Will Oldham, and his ungainly, increasingly ecstatic shadow folk-country — that association’s only right and natural. Oldham and Gen X cinematic hot-spring stoner sagas — it’s altogether plausible. But Oldham and Diddy, the Bad Boy impresario identified in his own PR literature as a “mogul” before proffering the job title “artist” — huh?
What could these two possibly have in common apart from their age, 36? It’s a logical leap if you study Diddy — arriving about two hours late for his recent roundtable interview at the Ritz-Carlton with absolutely zero Burger King Whoppers for yours truly and the other journos who were ready to gnaw their own typing arms off in hunger and antsiness. Instead the mogul packs a makeup artist and hair man (who brandishes a far-from-puffy comb — sorry) and plays us no tracks from his new, still-scarce album, Press Play (Bad Boy/Universal), yet carries it in his bejeweled hand like a salesman. (Perhaps in answer to the inevitable query: with fashion design, artist development, reality TV, label jockeying in his past, and DiddyTV on YouTube currently serving up alleged shots of Sean in the john, why does he even bother making an album? Diddy’s comeback: “It’s a gift and curse, because I do so many things. I’m making sure people know how serious I am about music.”)
Well, Diddy and Oldham name games are the most obvious thread. Like Diddy, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, a.k.a. P. Diddy, a.k.a. Puffy, a.k.a. Sean Combs — Oldham is a man of many hats, personae, songs: a humble troubadour, a rambling tangent-exploring interview, a perpetual touring player, a before-his-time out-folker, a Hollywood-shunning onetime teen star of Matewan. At one point it seemed like he had a recording name for his every sound, if not every album — Bonnie “Prince” Billy was just the latest handle in a line that included Palace Brothers, Palace, Will Oldham, and at least one disc that sported no name at all. It was disorienting, delirious, and hard to track, and at times it just made you want to throw your hamburger mitts up, shave the nearest beard, and beat yourself around the face and neck.
Oldham probably feels much the same after fielding the same question repeatedly, explaining that he once thought of his albums much like films or plays and wanted to label each uniquely. “I thought it would be a way of focusing things on each record,” he says from his native Louisville, Ky. “People would say, ‘I like this record,’ rather than ‘I like the music of …’ I didn’t realize that it was sort of a definitely pointless battle — to see about maybe trying to make people focus on records as independent entities rather than representations of an individual’s or group’s work, and it became sooo energy-expending to always explain this name thing. I was finally just, like, ‘This is just bullshit.’”
And if Diddy and his whirlwind junket offered little apart from the lingering impression that for some reason it was critical for him to leave the scent of power and money (he’s reportedly worth $315 million) on local media — then Oldham is his opposite. On time and generously unearthing the contents of his mind, he’s disarmingly candid and eager to dive into the depths of his past, untangling his feelings and thoughts about acting, recording, and mentoring (he famously championed a solo Joanna Newsom and played her music for their label, Drag City). Yet unlike Diddy, who appears to be jetting around the country in search of the artistic credibility he first found in music as a producer, Oldham has never been more on top of his so-called game.
His new album, The Letting Go (Drag City), is the worthy, relatively full-blown, and outright beauteous studio follow-up to his 2005 stunner Superwolf with Matt Sweeney. This time Dawn McCarthy of the Bay Area’s Faun Fables leaves her imprint — her vocals echoing somewhere in the vicinity of Sandy Denny and Joan Baez. Under the gaze of Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurosson (Björk’s sometime engineer whom Oldham met while touring with the swan queen), The Letting Go is awash with melancholic melodic Southern rock and blues-folk, tunes that revolve around cursed love, child ghosts, and frosty wakes. Captured in Reykjavík and decorated with an image of Makapu’u beach on Oahu, The Letting Go doesn’t sound on the surface like the product of volcanic island ramblings and rumblings — but its lyrics do hint at the tragedy of believing that each man or woman is an island.
That’s why Oldham has gone out of his way to introduce performers like Newsom and McCarthy to his audiences. “Part of it is to reveal how interconnected things could be if you want them to be,” he explains with a soft Southern drawl. “Part of it is also, if the world isn’t going your way and there’s a certain amount always of loneliness to do battle with, sometimes you realize it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be this solitary figure in the world.” The yearning to connect, this time with an old friend, surfaces in Old Joy, a film by Kelly Reichardt (River of Grass), which has caught praise on the festival circuit for its rapturously, deliberately paced meditation on two men’s slow-growth rambles through old-growth Oregon wilderness. Oldham’s first substantial starring role since Matewan (he most recently appeared in Junebug), his character, Kurt, is a slacker gone to seed, soon to be homeless, and still in search of his next high, his next life lesson, his next brush with grace. After helping Reichardt brainstorm hot-spring locales in Kentucky, the man who could have ended up like Macaulay Culkin or so many Coreys — and instead laid down the blueprint for, one imagines, Jenny Lewis — accepted the part. “I knew Kelly was going to be working in a way I like to work, which is just like a full immersion process,” he says, making the connection much as he pulls together Old Joy, his 1997 album, Joya (Drag City), Madonna, Emily Dickinson, and The Letting Go. “Everybody goes there. Everybody’s basically on call…. The line between tasks is a semipermeable membrane. That’s how I like making records too.” SFBG
With Dark Hand and Lamplight and Sir Richard Bishop
Oct. 30–31, 8 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750
For more on Will Oldham and Diddy, go to www.sfbayguardian.com/blogs/music.

Subtle and sincere


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Honestly, is sincerity back? And if not sincerity, then can we expect at least Bruce Springsteen, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, and that word-drunk, narrative-schwinging, Dylan–damaged breed of songwriter that you associate with a kind of East Coasty, epic rust belt, bar-band earnestness that freedom-rocked our worlds in the early ’80s? I know Bob Seger is back — please don’t make me listen to the new album.
You can be forgiven for assuming a J. Geils Band revival is schlumping right around the corner once you cock your vulnerable hearing aid to the Killers’ new album, Sam’s Town (Island). Am I the only one who thinks that someone at the label misread the memo and got the sponsor, whoops, the title wrong? “Sam’s Club” rolls off the tongue much more naturally. I mean, it’s pretty easy to read these songs — more Freddie Mercury and Bono than Bruce and John Cougar Mellencamp — as dispatches from some sorry rocker stuck deep in the aisles at a big-box discount retailer. “My List” — that’s gotta be about forgetting what you went in there for. “Why Do I Keep Counting?” doubtless involves bulk purchases of those butter horn megapacks. “For Reasons Unknown”: yeah, I also buy too much bargain toilet paper and then give half away to relatives — does anyone actually save money this way? “Bling (Confessions of a King)” — Sam’s Club isn’t just about pepperoni-pizza-flavored Combos, and hulking bottles of Motrin.
I don’t care what the Killers kids think — as ambitious and against type as it plays, Sam’s Town simply sucks. So I urge you, if you are truly in need of barfed-up visions of Dylan (and his more rocking imitators), to check out this year’s underacknowledged Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice opus, Second Attention (Kill Rock Stars). There is such a thing as being too prolific. Mr. Wand makes so much music that this one was easy to skip.
Another band of would-be rock gods from the all-boy school of Les Paul essentialism is the Hold Steady. Call me a girl, but I never got their shtick and just assumed they were snarky, annoyingly sarcastic smart-asses with prep-school blazers who were made to listen to too much anthem rock at an impressionable age. That is, until I actually saw them at CBGB’s during last year’s CMJ Music Marathon, playing their hearts out, looking like insurance adjusters taking their favorite Cheap Trick fast songs out for a spin.
Yup, it was one of those moments that make you punch the air with your fist, yell like a middle schooler, and pour beer over the guitarist’s Converse. Instantly, you reverted to the brain-dead, raving, ravaged die-hard rock ’n’ roll fan in full ear-bleed death roll — all you needed was a stingray to whip around and pierce you in the aorta so you could die happily, destroyed by the wilderness you’d always deep-down loved. Like an extremely famous TV crocodile hunter.
That performance — and maybe even the Hold Steady’s new Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant) — may be all that it takes to fluff your flaccid affection for stale Bruce Hornsby–style piano lines. Thus it was heartening to hear HS vocalist Craig Finn sounding so, er, out of it in the touring vehicle last week, stuck in traffic outside Atlanta. “Hopefully, I write about the highs and the hangovers,” he drawled. One KISS anecdote later and he was gone. Next up: Tad Kubler, who writes the band’s music.
Kubler assured me that HS have suffered — suffered Guided by Voices comparisons, thanks to the amount of spilled beer that drenches their stages. “Getting hurt onstage is definitely kind of a drag,” he offered. “I almost knocked myself out in Bowling Green, Ohio. Jumping over a railing, I caught my head on monitors that I didn’t see over the stage. Personal injury onstage is something we avoid, but if it’s for the art …”
SUBTLE TRANSITION The Bay Area geniuses of Subtle know all about personal injury — and they know it’s not worthwhile — despite the blatant excellence of their new full-length, For Hero: For Fool (Astralwerks). It’s “a distinctive blend of television, Monty Python, Galway Kinnell, and comic books,” as vocalist Adam “doseone” Drucker described it, also in Atlanta. The band manages to impress despite the fact that one of its core members, Dax Pierson, was seriously injured and paralyzed when Subtle’s van hit black ice while on tour last year.
Drucker began the band with Pierson and recalls starting the new album when Pierson got out of rehab: “The accident struck like lightning. It was the heaviest of times, so we turned around and worked on the record. One of the major motifs of the record is diving into whatever it is,” although, he adds, “we refrained from putting it on our sleeve and wearing it around all day.”
Pierson contributed some demos to the album but has been unable to tour — in fact, Drucker said last week Pierson returned to the hospital for a major operation to reinstall his medication pump. “It’s the main thing on his plate, to put it frankly,” explained Drucker, who added that Pierson has been making phenomenal music since the accident. As for performance, Pierson wants to be prepared when he returns to the stage, Drucker said, because he was “probably the greatest performer. He was a gangsta at it. When he wants to return to performance, he wants to kill it in the capacity he is in.” SFBG
Sat/14, 10 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455
Sun/15, 9 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923
Tues/17, 8 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750

Roughin’ Justin


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Don’t be tripping, sit your sexy back down slowly, and I’ll try to break the news to you gently: Justin Timberlake and I have a history.
OK, it’s not like we sat around in Pampers and OshKosh B’Gosh, playing gastroenterologist with Barbie and GI Joe and gurgling along to “White Lines.” Though I am getting a dose of feverish white-line nostalgia listening to coke-daddy ode “Losing My Way” off dusty Justy’s new Jive album, Speakerboxxx … whoops, I mean FutureSex/LoveSounds. And it’s not as if we met on The Mickey Mouse Club, brawling over mouse ears and bawling about diaper rash and paltry camera time. We don’t go that way back.
But Kimberly discovered Timberly long before a certain sheepish someone made contact with that Jackson scion’s nipple ornament. I first saw el Cueball, as I so lovingly dubbed my mousy darling’s shaved pate, fronting *NSYNC at the Santa Clara County Fair around ’98. You know, back when the strings were still apparent. I was there with a few other geezer peers, measuring the hype on the opening local Filipino American vocal group, when the budding boy banders entered prancing and the 14-year-old girls went positively cuckoo, clutching photos and near weeping with longing as Timberlake and company worked the whistled theme to Welcome Back, Kotter into the encore.
Then I met up with Timby again at the Oakland Arena when the “Justified and Stripped” tour broke away from the rest of the bubblegum boys and strapped on Christina Aguilera. Whatever you think of Aguilera’s dirty-girl front, she certainly displayed pipes and pride live, strutting around like Femlin in a black corset and short pants and belting out “Beautiful.” But that was forgotten when Timberhunk emerged — thin voice or no, the little girls were still going utterly nutzoid. They screamed, freaked, and gaped like ravenous baby birds beneath the catwalk he beatboxed upon. That’s the power of cute, man.
But Just-oh doesn’t want to be just cute anymore, as the cover of FutureSex attests: suited up in a skinny black suit like a baby Reservoir Dog, little buckeroo looks outright pissed, crushing a disco ball beneath his heel. If Justified hasn’t made it perfectly clear, Timberlake wants to be considered a force — artistic, tough-guy, whatev — to be reckoned with. Pity the poor pop-pets — Madonna, Britney, Justy — they all have such an ambivalent relationship with le fickle dance floor. FutureSex reeks of such ambition — as the swinging singles prince offers up a kind of archaic devotion to the album format and a familiar if downbeat trajectory tracing a loverboy’s woozy weave from lust to lovesickness. Witness the first half of the full-length: “FutureSex/LoveSound,” “Sexyback,” “Sexy Ladies.” Either someone’s out of synonyms for doing the doity or someone’s ob-sexed.
Musically kitted out by Timbaland in the Neptunes’ absence, FutureSex is clearly intended to be a kind of Prince-ly, sensual opus, and for having the good taste to imitate the most original funk rock stylists of the ’80s, Timba-lake should be commended. But all the CD images of Timbo smashing disco balls seem out of character, overwrought. To wax crassly, Justin tries to show us he has the balls to both musically embrace Grandmaster Flash, Queen, Lil Jon, and yes, the alpha and omega, libertine and spendthrift couple of ’80s soul, Prince and Michael Jackson, and strike out on his own. Just ignore the slimness of Timberlake’s vanilla soul. It’s barely flavored, not quite iced, with techno, barebacked beats, and retro soul, and despite the disc’s initially fluid, almost mirror-ball-like reflective programming, it opens into a dull middle section that’s broken up only by the frisky groove of “Damn Girl.” It makes you wish Timberlake had the courage of his initial fantasy-fueled single’s conviction. If only this disco baller had left it at FutureSex and Timberlake stuck to his, er, cheesy pistols and the Prince of schwing’s original program.

CALIFONE DREAMING Califone’s Tim Rutili can probably understand the urge to try out new personae. While talking about his new, gorgeous album, Roots and Crowns (Thrill Jockey), the frontperson and soundtrack composer fessed up to believing in past lives — and indeed relying on that knowledge when it came to penning tunes about kittens that see ghosts, lost eyes, and black metal fornication. “The writing process is all about that — just letting things bubble up,” he says from Chicago, where the band is rehearsing. And what does he imagine the members of Califone were in a past life? “Circus clowns.”
The ex–Red Red Meat member doesn’t seem to spook easily. Case in point: the last time Califone played San Francisco, their van was broken into. Treasured gear such as Rutili’s grandfather’s 1917 violin and a custom-made acoustic guitar, which he says was “nicer than my house,” were stolen. “They were nice enough to leave stuff that looked shitty,” he waxes positively. “It was heartbreaking, but in the end it forced us to learn a lot of new tricks, open up our ideas, and gather new things. It really did inform the recording to not have to lean on any of the old stuff.”
The scattered Califone seems to be working out the kinks in its evolution, with Rutili in Los Angeles writing music for film and the rest of the band in Chicago and Valparaiso, Ind. “I see us getting older and becoming more creative,” Rutili muses. And most people just get older and watch more TV. “That doesn’t seem to be happening with us, but it makes it more difficult too. TV is easy — keeping your eyes open and your ear to the ground and trying to remain connected and in touch with creativity is difficult.” SFBG
With Oakley Hall and D.W. Holiday
Tues/10, 9 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

Lennon’s boom


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Which John Lennon did you know? Initially, I was too young to know him as anything more than the moptop behind the chipped bobble-headed garage-sale find — and as one of the songwriters behind my parental units’ token soft-rock gatefold, the Beatles’ Love Songs (Capitol, 1977) (the “White Album”’s “acid rock,” as Moms described it, went way beyond the pale). That’s all the Lennon I could grasp until the Rolling Stone cover pic that accompanied news of his 1980 murder — that coverlineless image picturing a nude Lennon fetally curled around a clothed Yoko Ono. If you dug the raw romanticism of that Annie Leibovitz image and Lennon’s 10-point program to success, excess, then bread-baking, Sean-rearing semiretired rock-star redemption, then you were with us. If you didn’t and you were disgusted, you weren’t — go hang with the Yoko-booing minions at, say, the recent Elvis Costello–Alan Toussaint Paramount show. It was that simple when you were an already media-saturated brat ready to draw battle lines and take pop music dead seriously.
Nowadays, the very undead but still much-pondered Bob Dylan may inspire a higher page count than Lennon when it comes to critical essays, encyclopedias, and that ilk. But I’d venture that Lennon’s influence continues to echo subtly through the culture, starting with the recommended banishing of “Imagine” from Clear Channel airwaves shortly after 9/11 and continuing through to some recent docs, DVDs, and dispatches from his estate.
Ignore the critically mauled 2005 musical Lennon and don’t wait for a Martin Scorsese PBS-approved documentary treatment — though, oh, to glimpse Abel Ferrera’s charred take on Lennon’s Bad Lieutenant–style “lost weekend” with Harry Nilsson. For somewhat unvarnished, intimate footage of Lennon with Ono in their Ascot, England, estate studio and shooting hoops with Miles Davis, check Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s “Imagine” (2000) — the material of Lennon warbling “Jealous Guy” and trianguutf8g in the studio with a very active Ono and a stoic Phil Spector is eye-cleansing.
After sampling Lennon and Ono’s frank BBC interview there, you’ll want even more truth — so turn to last year’s The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko Collection DVD, which collects three 1971–72 episodes featuring the gabby couple. It encompasses some of Lennon’s most in-depth US TV interviews, as the relaxed, wise-cracking musician sparred and jabbed with the clearly nervous and very deeply tanned Cavett in between sizable excerpts of Ono’s great Fly and Lennon’s Erection, a cinematic “construct” if there ever was one. Even more astounding than Cavett’s half-baked monologues are the lengthy stretches of airtime devoted to Lennon and Ono explaining their 1972 deportation case — one suspects even Jon Stewart would yelp, “TMI!” — and the pair’s impassioned, controversial performance of “Woman Is the Nigger of the World” (worth it alone to Bay Area–philes when Lennon pulls out a Ron Dellums quote to back up the lyrics) and Ono’s still-nervy, saxed-up “We’re All Water.” The versions of Lennon visible here are familiar and complementary — John as the willful dreamer and the provocative righter of wrongs, be it the plight of American Indians or the lack of consideration given Ono’s art. And one wonders, will network TV ever be quite this maddening — and challenging — again?
Scenes from both The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko Collection and Gimme Some Truth surface in The US vs. John Lennon, a new feature film revealing the latest Lennon iteration: the musician as a political animal hounded by the Nixon administration and threatened with deportation. Lennon considered a peace-promoting concert tour following Nixon’s reelection jaunt around the country — and posed a serious enough threat to Tricky Dicky, in the very year millions of 18-year-old Beatles fans were given the vote for the first time, that the US government moved to stop him. Focusing on Lennon’s significance as an activist who devoted his personal life (transforming the Lennon-Ono honeymoon into the peacenik, media-lovin’ bed-in) and considerable platform to antiwar efforts, filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld (Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of “Smile”) worked with documents released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act suit (aided and abetted by Jon Weiner, who consulted and wrote Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files) to make their film. Supported by commentators ranging from Ono and Noam Chomsky to Angela Davis and G. Gordon Liddy, the two have fashioned a sleek, informative primer on the importance of being Lennon and the historical context he emerged from. The only images they wish they had included but didn’t, Leaf told me, were World War II pictures of a bomb-besieged Liverpool and war-torn Japan.
“What’s important to note is that being for peace meant more than being nonviolent for John and Yoko,” he explained from an office in Century City. “This was in their bones, if you will. John saw firsthand what war caused.”
Leaf and his partner have had the film in mind since the mid-’90s, when Lennon’s FBI file was opened. After the disappointments of 2004, it’s intoxicating to imagine an artist and his listeners changing history, and at the very least The US vs. John Lennon allows one to dream, even briefly. Why was Lennon such a menace? “I think what terrifies power the most is truth,” Leaf says. “When truth is spoken without fear of consequence, it is threatening, and when John and Yoko embarked on their campaign for peace, they weren’t promoting themselves or a record but peace or nonviolence.” SFBG
Opens Fri/29 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com

The Shadow knows


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Why do we want DJ Shadow, né Josh Davis, to suffer for his art? Why are we so enamored of the romantic image of Davis, pate and gaze humbly hidden by a hoodie, bowed like a monk before a crate of precious vinyl like a mendicant curled in prayer at the dusty cathedral of flat black plastic? It doesn’t help that Davis seems to resemble in part that now-iconic pop image when he meets me at Universal Records’ SoMa offices. Polite and erudite, rigorous and righteous, he obviously takes a subtle, scientific delight in the details and precision of language and in meeting commitments, making dates, finishing interviews, taking care of business. He’s not some goofed playa tripping on hyphy’s train.
But being a smart dude aware of all the angles, Davis, 34, is well aware of the disjunction between his image and his current sound — his past and present — too. “I feel like it was getting to the point where a lot of people were trying to tell me who I am and what I represent,” he explains in the, yes, shadows of a Bat Cave–ish conference room hung with midcentury horror-cheese movie posters. “This image where it’s just sort of like me in the dungeon of records, with the hood pulled over my head, and I only like old music, and y’know, hip-hop was so much better way back when.
“Yeah, that’s a little piece of who I am, but it seems like some people kind of fetishize that culture or that aspect of my personality, where it has sort of devoured everything else. And, um, I just feel like it was important for me to make this record and articulate who I am, rather than let people compartmentalize me in that little box of, ‘OK, this is DJ Shadow. He’s the sample guy. He’s the guy who made Endtroducing, and he’ll never make a better record, and that’s … DJ Shadow. Next artist.’”
Hence The Outsider (Island). It’s a bold, deep rejoinder to scoffers that somewhat ditches the dreamy grooves in Shadow’s past for ever-infectious hyphy-lickin’ good times (radio hit “3 Freaks” with Turf Talk and Keak da Sneak and “Turf Dancin’” with the Federation and Animaniaks), a little bow to crunk (“Seein’ Things” with David Banner, made in the interim between Davis’s 2002 album, Private Press [MCA], and the rise of Bay sounds), funk and funny jams (“Backstage Girl” with Phonte Coleman), and even a completely outta-left-field dissonant pastoral (“What Have I Done” with Christina Carter of Charlambrides). Even E-40 takes part (“Dats My Part”), in what might seem to some like Davis’s bow to the Bay and its players. However you read the title of his latest album, this outsider has probably made his most geographically specific, here-and-now recording to date. It’s rooted in a genuine — though scattershot and even schizo — sense of place rather than an imaginative pomo zone where old 45s can be recycled and reused ad infinitum and a talented and introverted head like Shadow can study beats, the art of sampling, and music making inside out in bedroom-community privacy. Perhaps that’s why the San Jose–born, Davis-raised Davis has been so often connected, mistakenly, to Hayward — therein lies the romance of burby anonymity, the decentered, very nonurban reality of so many hoodie-bedecked kids who fall for hip-hop and spring for decks.
So Davis leans forward intently and tells me about listening to hyphy for the first time on KMEL while driving over the Golden Gate to his Mission studio and getting an instant hit off its raw kick. How he tried to break down the “strange, almost Eastern chords and keys” underlying Rick Rock’s, Droop-E’s, Trax-a-Million’s, and Mac Dre’s tracks. These are tales he has told many times before, to Billboard and URB (which lapsed by sticking the currently capped, clean-cut Davis in a white suit, like a datedly slick star DJ). But you have to appreciate the sincere passion of his mission. The need for this father of identical twin toddler daughters to fly right, get the record straight, come correct, and make good art, even if it means happily stepping aside, letting the current Bay stars set up on two-thirds of his sonic dreamscape’s turf, and disappearing into the heat of, say, Summer Jam 2005.
“I just feel like my job is to make a good song,” he says mildly. “And if making a good song means that I play the back and not get real freaky with the programming and not load it up with 10 trillion samples or something, whatever the song requires is what I’m willing to do.”SFBG
Thurs/21, 4 p.m.
Amoeba Music
2455 Telegraph, Berk.
(510) 549-1125
Thurs/21, 8 p.m.
Amoeba Music
1855 Haight, SF
(415) 831-1200
Fri/22, 8 p.m.
Greek Theatre
UC Berkeley, Gayley Road, Berk.

T off


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER You scream, I scream, we all scream for … the black concert T. It’s the music-merch phenom that will always annoyingly outsell all other comers, as Brad Hudson of JSR Merchandising explained at SXSW earlier this year. Keep your bandeezys and doggie baseball jerseys — the black T-shirt is the Coke Classic of live-show sales, the fail-safe upon which Stones tours are built. Why? Well, as one multitentacled insider recently announced to me, you can’t download a T-shirt!
But what to wear after that? It wasn’t hard to figure that out during my struggles through the two recent diva releases, Beyoncé’s strident, backward-glancing sophomore full-length, B’Day (Sony BMG), and Paris Hilton’s microdermabrasioned lite-pop debut, Paris (Warner Bros.). Both CDs find the ladies busily hawking duds and assorted nonmusical product. Why even bother critiquing what lay embedded in the shiny plastic discs behind Beyoncé’s eerily blank Madame Tussaud’s wax cover image or Hilton’s sleek rich-bitch-slash-sexpot pose? Why celebrate Hilton’s easy, sleazy, ultimately unfulfilling musical grabs at the Grease soundtrack and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” or bash Beyoncé’s dog-note shrieks (she’s playing Diana Ross in Dream Girls, so why compete on record?) and frantic but intriguing ladies-first messages? These CDs are so clearly vehicles from which to launch clothing lines (in Beyoncé’s case, her mother’s Dereon by House of Dereon label, baldly peddled in the inside booklet) and perfume (Paris’s Heiress, as well as handbags and watches).
Too bad then that Beyoncé has simultaneously hit a fashion low point, modeling a hideous mod houndstooth swimsuit and bastardized Bardot milkmaid frills on her CD — B has been damaged by one too many Guess Jeans and Baby Phat advertising campaigns, I presume. All of which could have been forgiven if Beyoncé had coughed up a track on par with “Crazy in Love” — but no such luck. The emergency-siren sample of “Ring the Alarm,” echoed on Paris’s opening, “Turn It Up,” can’t save that siren’s single; I prefer the unexpected guilty pleasure kick-him-to-the-curb power ballad “Irreplaceable.” How telling that as the B girl declares war on good taste on B’Day, the worst faux-fierce track is titled “Freakum Dress.”
Amid all this accessorized insanity, we should thank our musical deities that when it comes to local clothes hos, we have been gifted with the gifted Music Lovers. The band’s singer-songwriter, Matthew “Ted” Edwards, has been much in demand of late. When he and drummer Ping Chu sat in last month at the Sonic Reducer DJ night at Hemlock Tavern, the Birmingham, England, native was psyched about the group’s rave reviews in Europe and was occupied writing the music for superfan Margaret Cho’s latest burlesque project, “Sensuous Woman Cabaret,” and rehearsing with Cho at the Plush Room. But who wants to get into details about the new Music Lovers’ Guide for Young People (le Grand Magistery) — and its songs of kebabs and lager (“Brother, I Am Walking”) and a certain Anglo avant-garde Marxist composer (“Thank You, Cornelius Cardew”)? Edwards would much rather discuss the Music Lovers’ love of shopping.
“We adhere to a pretty strict dress code, which is enforced by all of us,” he told me recently over the phone, “because it’s respectful to the audience. I want to say I made an effort and do the best I can. I’m not interested in seeing another group of lads in T-shirts.”
So the besuited Music Lovers are actually a little like — the Ramones?
“Except we’re tidier,” he replied. “I make no apologies for that. I’ll spend my last 60 bucks on a decent shirt.
“We’re a band apart.”
You have to admire such a hard stand on the seemingly superficial topic of style, but then Edwards does fall in line with a mod way of thought: dress sharp, seize that dream, and maintain a sense of dignity even if you have to spend every bit of your bellhop wages to do it. Likewise, the rangy, suave pop Guide, which boasts harder-rock moments than the Lovers’ debut, The Words We Say before We Sleep, maintains a subtle, knifelike edge and wit that a cultural connoisseur like SF-reared comedian Margaret Cho can appreciate. “I think that the Music Lovers are the greatest, and I love working with them because they have such a sophisticated sound, completely new yet strangely familiar,” she e-mailed me. “Listening to them feels like I’m stepping into a film like Purple Noon or Belle du Jour, and I have really long earrings on that almost touch my shoulders.”
It takes an effort to maintain that romantic mood: Edwards, 38, never quite recovered from his “horrific experience signed to Virgin as a fresh-faced 20-year-old” fronting an R&B and pop band. “We recorded an album with a guy named Pete Walsh who recorded Climate of the Hunter with Scott Walker, and we made this incredible album. And Virgin put it on the shelf. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, but I’ll never be on another major label.”
Since then, Edwards, now an occupational therapist, has been accruing the experience that comes in handy when writing songs about artful eccentrics like Cardew: he once called bingo numbers and sang covers aboard a Scandinavian cruise line and did a tour of Italian communist clubs. “We’re a band of Little Edies,” Edwards declares when I ask him for his favorite character from the brilliant Grey Gardens, the Maysles’ documentary that graced the cover of the Lovers’ 2003 EP, Cheap Songs Tell the Truth. “I probably veer between Little Edie and [handyperson] Jerry. Sometimes I’m Jerry and I mope around the garden. But I could also be Big Edie, because I do have a tendency to lie in bed covered with cats.” SFBG< MUSIC LOVERS Thurs/14, 8 p.m. Amnesia 853 Valencia, SF Call for price (415) 970-0012 Fri/15, 6 p.m. Amoeba Music 1855 Haight, SF Free (415) 831-1200

To live and cry in Albany


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Remember the first time you strolled into the Ivy Room? The rec room wood-panel walls, a bar with a clear shot of a view into a homey live space, a jukebox that spun 45s, a pinball machine, the regulars in cutoff T- and Hawaiian shirts (always accessorize with a bulbous gut, please) who warmly welcomed hoodies and strangers alike. The gun emporium down San Pablo Avenue was the first indication that you were in an interzone between then and now, us and them, where a free-speech, increasingly affluent Berkeley began to cave to a live-free-or-eat-hot-lead working-class East Bay. The down-low Albany spot has been one of the last bastions outside Oakland, nay, the entire Bay, where you could imagine yourself in the thrall of the red state blues once again. Where you could imagine peeling yourself off the floor and walking out into some Southwestern furnace to roast like a relleno.
When the late Dot and later her son Bill MacBeath first took on the ’40s-built Ivy Room in ’92 (moving up the street from the It Club, which Dot had watched over since 1978), a point was made in cultivating a roots, country, rockabilly, and blues scene that was slowly vanishing from the area — with the exception of Downhome Music, the Arhoolie label HQ down the street. At the time, MacBeath says, “it was a really scary old-man bar that I would never have thought of walking into.” But the Ivy proved a bigger tent than that — taking on indie rockers and hip-hop crews and providing a sweet little platform for performers like Jonathan Richman, Sugar Pie De Santo, Chuck Prophet, Kelley Stoltz, Neil Michael Hagerty, Jon Auer, Wayne “the Train” Hancock, the Lovemakers, the Loved Ones, Pinetop Perkins, Deke Dickerson, Gravy Train!!!!, and oodles of others.
“I tried to create a place where musicians could play and express themselves,” explains MacBeath, who booked the music until 1999, when Sarah Baumann took over. “People can appreciate that, and it was also a regular neighborhood bar at the same time.” Why hang in Albany if you don’t live close enough to stumble home in a drunk? These acts gave you a reason — along with the Ivy-clad crew and their genuine, rapidly vanishing, and all-too-often-remodeled-out-of-existence vibe, a relic of a time when the Embers in the Sunset served up sad clown paintings along with sloe gin fizzes and Mayes in the Tenderloin offered crab, cocktails, and comfort in ’20s-era wood booths.
But that was then — MacBeath is ready to move on and has sold the venue, which plans a final blowout weekend Sept. 15–17 showcasing Ivy fans and friends before the ownership changes Sept. 18.
MacBeath can’t say this chapter will entirely close on the club, yet one can naturally expect change to come to a beloved relic like the Room. “I’m trying not to be sad about that,” he says. “The bar is not going away.” However, he adds, “I don’t think it’s really current anymore.” We the flesh and blood relics appreciate it, but we’re “not really here as much as I think they should be — for how cool it is.”
DONDERO’S NOT DONE According to the online list of auspicious locals who have played the Ivy Room, stellar songwriter Dave Dondero has never graced the joint. But I’m sure he would if he could — and maybe even start a semistaged brawl with his drummer, Craig D, as he did at the Hemlock Tavern so long ago. True to the title of his 2003 Future Farmer album, The Transient, the man continues to wander: I caught up with him in Austin, where he had just completed the recording of his latest album for Conor Oberst’s Team Love imprint, tentatively titled When the Heart Breaks Deep.
The songs, Dondero says, revolve around his life in the last year when he was living and bartending in Alaska and San Francisco. “I actually tried to write a real love song,” he explains, prepping for a tour with Centro-matic. “It’s always been a smarmy, poking-fun-at-love song. I felt like trying out that side of my brain, love expression in music, though I’m not sure what side of the brain love comes out of, mixed in with heart and guts, all working together.” “Simple Love,” for instance, concerns an SF relationship that didn’t pan out due to Dondero’s rambling ways.
In all, he’s happy with the new countryish, more piano-oriented album, which reputedly continues to show off Dondero’s considerable writing choppage. “It’s got a folk song called ‘One-Legged Man and a Three-Legged Dog,’ inspired by a one-legged man walking a three-legged dog in Golden Gate Park,” says the songwriter. “A match made in heaven.”
Recorded in a studio called the Sweat Box, sans Pro Tools (the faux funk-metal-country record is next, he jokes), the disc was designed to tug the heartstrings, Dondero explains. “It sounds kind of beachy. Easy listening. Soft rock. Adult contemporary,” he observes. “I’m 37. I’m making music for myself and hoping to try and make my mother cry on this one.” SFBG
With Centro-matic and the Decoration
Wed/6, 9 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455
With Dave Gleason’s Wasted Days, the Moore Brothers, the Loved Ones, Carlos Guitarlos, Rusty Zinn, Mover, Ride the Blinds, Eric McFadden Trio, “Soundboutique,” and Nino Moschello
Sept. 15–17, call or see Web site for times and prices
Ivy Room
858 San Pablo, Albany
(510) 524-9220

Rabbit run


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Short-timers rave about the natural beauty surrounding this fair city, but few testify to the pleasures of urban wildlife right smack in the center. Sightings occur regularly and in the darnedest places: don’t blink or you’ll miss that fat, sassy raccoon rumbling across Divisadero. Look fast to catch those plump, posh rats wrassling in the grass in front of the Old Mint. Buck up and face the naked guy dancing outside your office window. But you never expect to see wild creatures at hipster-infested dive bars like the Uptown, because frankly, furry freaks would have a tough time here — there’s not enough to gnaw and there was far too much to drink last night.
Yet behold, here they were: 7 Year Rabbit Cycle, that fine SF band of critters making evocative “thrash, ambient, indie” (according to their MySpace page) music. They have a beautiful, sometimes stately, sometimes cacophonous third album out, Ache Hornes, on guitarist (and Deerhoof and Badgerlore cofounder) Rob Fisk and vocalist (and ex-Deerhoofer) Kelly Goode’s label, Free Porcupine Society. And boy, do they have tales to tell — so much has happened in the past two years since the married Fisk and Goode moved back to the Bay from Alaska and the band, which includes ex-Chinkees bassist Miya Osaki, was joined by Xiu Xiu guitarist-vocalist Jamie Stewart, Good for Cows and Ceramic Dog drummer Ches Smith, and guitarist (and Guardian contributor) George Chen. The highlight has to be the time last year, while on tour with Warbler and KIT, when 7YRC almost cycled abruptly to an end as the wheel rim snapped off their van’s axle at full speed, sending the vehicle sliding down an overpass outside Gallup, N.M.
“We were looking out the front window, and we see our tire rolling, and we were just like, ‘Holy shit, there goes the tire! What the fuck happened?’” recalls Goode, tucked in a booth by the bar door last week.
“We should be dead right now,” Fisk declares.
“If hell is anything like three days in Gallup, New Mexico, then we are dead,” adds Chen, who was driving. They missed a few shows, but, he adds, “There was a lot of heroism involved. Handlebar moustaches. Shirtlessness.”
The otherwise sedate-looking musicmakers shed their mild-mannered coats and turned into, well, rock stars. “The hotel security had to call and tell us to be quiet a few times,” says Chen, counting eight people jammed into a two-bed room. Stewart and Smith got naked in the pool (an initiation, perhaps, into the world of Xiu Xiu, which Smith has joined). And who could forget the Wiccan stripper in the hot tub?
Such are the unpredictable habits and hygienic activities of 7YRC, which Fisk and Goode started four years ago, after they left Deerhoof in 1999. Do they ever regret leaving the band that recently toured Europe with Radiohead? “I dunno, was it my fault?” Fisk asks Goode. He has maintained his relationship with the group, creating the artwork for 2003’s Apple O’ (5RC) and enlisting Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich as an engineer when 7YRC recorded Ache Hornes at Eli Crews’s New and Improved Recordings in Oakland. “I have a love-hate relationship with San Francisco and I get burned out and freaked out really quickly. It’s just so much stimulation all of the time, and it’s really empty stimulation for the stuff that matters to me,” continues Fisk, who now works at Revolver. “I had been going to Alaska for a couple years and I had this brilliant scheme that we should move there.”
The pair relocated to Alaska, built a cabin, began the label and 7YRC, and weathered their share of adventures. “I was watering my garden with fish emulsion and water,” says Goode, “and I accidentally left my watering can out overnight and we woke up in the morning to the sound of a bear, and then when we actually got out of bed and went downstairs, my watering can was torn up with teeth marks and spit from the bear on it.”
But even as Fisk and Goode reembraced urban life, 7YRC threatened to scamper out of their control: the couple are now amicably divorcing, Ozaki and Smith are currently living in Los Angeles, and Fisk is considering studying wildlife biology in Alaska and in fact is about to return to the 49th freak state to build another cabin, during which he’ll film a how-to DVD (he hopes to have it edited at top speed and shown behind Badgerlore when that band plays the Wire festival in Chicago next month). And after a seemingly endless hibernation period, partly because Dieterich was off touring with Deerhoof, Ache Hornes is finally out, in all its alternately ungainly and tumultuous, contemplative and spacious beauty.
“This is sort of a conscious move to do a rock record,” says Chen.
“Not a rock record but a clean record,” Fisk counters. “Clean ideas. I think the other two records have a lot of gut thrusting on it — they’re like superphysical, Kelly screams a lot; Steve [Gigante of Tiny Bird Mouths], the drummer back then, was superbombastic. It was very cathartic, and it was recorded lo-fi — everybody gets away with everything. This time we were, like, OK, we’re gonna go in and do a real recording and the catharsis is gonna be really controlled.”
“I’d say with adding Ches to the band,” interjects Chen, “you kind of want to hear everything he does, because he’s an insane drummer.”
Life looks good — the food source is clear and Free Porcupine is doing fab with the reception accorded releases by, say, Grouper and Christine Carter (as Bastard Wing), Tom Carter (who is also in Badgerlore along with Ben Chasny, Pete Swanson, and Glenn Donaldson), Current 93, and other friends. It looks like Fisk and company — all present are onetime rabbit owners — are set for a genuine seven-year rabbit-cycle-style boom, wherein the cottontails flourish before they’re decimated by predators.
“It’s funny, because you quit Deerhoof in ’99 and now it’s seven years later,” says Chen as we all utter a group oooh! “I did the math.”
“So this could be my year,” marvels Fisk with a little smile. “It’s been busting for so many years, so maybe it’ll boom now.” SFBG
With XBXRX, Murder Murder,
and David Copperfuck
Fri/25, 9:30 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
$8, all ages
(415) 621-4455

Blow up


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER I’ve lived in the Bay Area for more years than I ever imagined I would back in my nomadic grad student days and devoured my share of quintessentially San Francisco experiences, like parking on the faux median on Valencia and falling drunkenly off an It’s Tops fountain stool round about 3 a.m. after tucking into a few too many down the street at Zeitgeist. But the one must-see post-punk happening I’ve always missed — never at the wrong place at the right time — was Survival Research Laboratories in full-effect performance mode. No wonder — weary of being shut down by the local fuzz and fire officials, founder Mark Pauline told me three years ago that SRL had decided to lavish their monstrous, robotic attentions on tolerant, fire-retardant overseas audiences in Europe and Japan instead — that is, until Aug. 11, when the longtime Potrero Hill area crew unfurled a new three-ring destructo-circus titled Ghostly Scenes of Infernal Desecration at the Zero One festival in San Jose.
I hightailed it down to downtown San Jose to catch the seldom-sighted SRL flash their permits, then proceed to burn it all down. Late for the last media seating, I was told it was all good because SRL were moving very slowly (as slowly and deadly as their ’bots, I presumed) and to please have a survival kit in a brown paper sack: peanut butter crackers, Chips Ahoy!, a moist towelette, a bottle of water, and a pair of earplugs. In the back of the hall, the jumpsuited and helmeted SRL crew strolled merrily around, throwing bottles of water playfully at each other, testing flamethrowers, as we studied the grounds for signs of action. It felt like fishing or bird-watching — only the critters were big hunks of metal and the gods were knowing wiseacres who wear lots of black.
With an ominous turbine wail or two later it began — as a giant inverted foiled cross spun in place like a sacrilegious music box, a giant gold figure with a massive red phallus dropped Styrofoam balls, and a doghouse sheltering Cerebus shuddered. Purple lighting shot out of a towering Tesla coil and a woman beside me started screaming, “Omigod, that’s so cool!” Sorry, we all weren’t that dweebish — although almost everyone in earshot tended to laugh nervously in both fear and amazement as fire poured out of several flamethrowers in our corner and blew toasty gusts against our faces.
If you, er, burn at Black Rock, I guess you could consider this a preview of sorts. At one point, about five machines, including a short, squat teapotlike ’bot, were firing on all cylinders, blaze-wise, and that’s not even counting the V-1, a fire-farting flamethrower-shockwave canon that resembles the butt of a jet fighter. And of course fire without smoke loses a bit of the drama, so roving smoke machines were placed behind large rectangular photo screens depicting a gas station on fire, gap-mouthed kids, etc. And of course the flames started to spread, eating up the gold idols and turning the Lord of Balls into an impressive column of heat. Sparks flew into the sky, robots like the crabby, clutching Inchworm tussled in the center of it all, and the ungodly din of popping, whirring, and grinding sounded for all the world like a construction crew armed with Boeing engines run amok and set to detonate. What other mob would pride itself on creating “the loudest flamethrower in history”?
Me, I had to duck when the loudest machine of all, the shockwave canon, started lobbing rings of air left and right of our heads, taking the leaves off the surrounding trees. In the process of putting together a robot army, SRL created their own scary symphony, their own atonal, noise-drenched Ride of the Valkyries to go along with their future-war enactments. And by the end, even the hausfrauen in the bleachers raved about how they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the smoke- and noise-belching spectacle. In the aftermath, viewers gathered around the barriers like groupies, bickering over which ’bot was their favorite and picking the brains of the SRL-ers. Thank Vulcan, some things were sacred — there were no T-shirts on sale. Those are on the fire-retardant Web site (srl.org).
TACO LIBRE I suspect it takes either careful SRL-style planning — or its carefree antithesis — to achieve a much-coveted sense of freedom in performance — the latter approach is doubtless embraced by Inca Ore, a.k.a. Eva Saelens, once of Portland, Ore.’s Jackie-O Motherfucker and the Alarmist and of the Bay’s Gang Wizard and Axolotl. She was happily howling at the full moon in Oakland last week with her paramour and collaborator, Lemon Bear, in celebration of their noise–improv–sex magik album, The Birds in the Bushes (5RC, 2006), recorded in a cabin outside Tillamook, Ore. I spoke to the sweet, uncensored Saelens at about midnight, after some enchanted evening spent slow dancing in a parking lot to Mexican radio, finding inspiration in a fish taco, and playing music under the stars.
Saelens, 26, may not completely adore her current O-town abode — “It’s criminal how not affordable it is” — but at least she’s not on tour, as she has been for long periods with Jackie-O, Yellow Swans, and Axolotl. “When I was in Europe, we drove through Provence from Italy to Spain, and we couldn’t even get out to smell the lavender — we were so late,” she said sadly. “Touring is so frustrating — you really have to juice yourself. Even sometimes doing improv, it isn’t easy to bring it, but when you break through it’s like being in another world. Sometimes I’ll try to push an explosion or try to lose my mind, and if you do that on a nightly basis, it’s unreliable and it’s also abusive. You’re pushing your emotions in an athletic way, almost, and sometimes your body refuses to compete.”
For Saelens, it’s now a race to reach a meditative spot with a violin or clarinet — a change from the spooked state of her album. “We played the stove a lot, banged on bottles,” she said. This after Lemon Bear hacked his toe while chopping wood barefoot one morning. “We got sloppy — we were so happy.” SFBG
Tues/22, 8 p.m.
Thee Parkside
1600 17th St., SF
Call for price
(415) 503-0393
Also with Tom Carter (and Ghosting, Bonus, and Axolotl)
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk St.
(415) 923-0923