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
STEVE MACKAY AND THE RADON ENSEMBLE
Wed/29, 9:30 p.m.
1131 Polk, SF
Sat/2, 8 p.m.
180 Capp, SF