SONIC REDUCER I may have gotten straight Cs in critics’ college, but I can’t tell you what works for you. You are the only one who knows what makes you put down the channel changer, sends thrills down your spine, sets your disco ball spinning, and brings that mischievous sparkle to your eye. Or do you?
When it comes to e-mail subject line come-ons, one man’s "Ciali$ CHEEEP" is another woman’s "Ever wanted a bigger penis, Kimberly?" and one stud puppy’s "Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Cum to my cam! Buy OEM software CHEEEP!" is my "I could probably make the SF show too if I drove for about the same price as taking the train to Seattle." Last week a certain server masquerading as "Blanchard Christian" fired off that latter missive, an oblique snippet of pseudocrucial poetry to my ears who cares that ole Blanche du Blah’s masters were ready to announce their plans to bilk whoops, I mean, "address the huge influx of immigrant workers into the US that need banking solutions that they otherwise would not qualify for"? Pavlov’s e-mail robot knows what gets me salivating aside from those wolf beach towels on Amazon.com (wintry wolves and hot sand go together about as well as infants and live grenades): namely, live music. Drive blearily into the Mojave for Coachella, jump through hoops to get to Seattle for Bumbershoot, make the red-eye to Austin for South by Southwest, take the midnight train to Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, hock yourself for England’s All Tomorrow’s Parties, hazard reindeer sashimi for Reykjavik’s Iceland Airwaves take note of the chart; I have a history of doing anything for a life-altering show.
So I could immediately relate to the scribblers of The Show I’ll Never Forget: 50 Writers Relive Their Most Memorable Concertgoing Experience (Da Capo). Some keep it short like notes or cockeyed haiku, punctuating eccentrically ’cause they didn’t get enough of that in grade school (Thurston Moore on Glenn Branca, Rudolph Grey, and Wharton Tiers). Others find their key note on the "me-me-me-me" and skew confessional (Dani Shapiro revealing that she was beaten by Courtney Cox in the dance-off to be the archetypally lucky audience member pulled from the crowd by Brooooce Springsteen in his "Dancing in the Dark" video). And some make you want to beat them over the head with their next pretentious footnote (yes, Rick Moody, I’m looking at your Lounge Lizards essay we too were once forced to use the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, but we recovered).
Attribute it to sheer wordsmith chops or an all-permeating passion for music, but most entries tend to tell you more about a writer, time, and place than, say, a set list. I know I felt like revisiting my own memorable shows: Iggy Pop in ’80s Hawaii; Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Modest Mouse, Unwound, and Karp at Yo Yo a Go Go in Olympia, Wash.; Sufjan Stevens borne by butterfly wings in Berkeley. These essays’ mood music is liable to send you a bit more alertly braced for baby epiphanies into your next show. You may even be inspired to take notes.
Because I bet all those precious details are pretty sketchy at this point. Hence, some of my favorite essays were hung up on the "memorable" part of the anthology’s title. Was it the songs, the scene, my sweetheart, or my failing gray matter? We all feel vulnerable in the face of the power of music and love, art and memory loss, and in a remembrance (sort of) of all things Rush in 1985 Portland, Maine, Heidi Julavits hits a sad, clear-eyed note that embraces the factual pitfalls of a "memorable concert … about which I remember little," except for her low-life boyfriend who worshipped the sticks a certain drummer sat on. "Neil Something was a stratospherically gifted drummer," she continues, "who, if memory isn’t supplying ghoulishness to a situation that otherwise failed to interest me at all, had lost an arm. Or maybe he was blind."
Likewise Jerry Stahl’s once, twice, three times a David Bowie glance-back sails by on bad TV and reminiscences of rehab before "Rehab" was cool. After first glimpsing Bowie, departing fabulously from a Sunset Strip book shop, the "boundary-challenged" Stahl breaks down into the man who fell to earth’s arms midinterview with "I haven’t shot dope in a month." Lastly, the writer drags his teen daughter to a 2004 Los Angeles show: after embarrassing her by "waving twenties around like Spiro Agnew a reference no one reading should rightfully comprehend," the two head in, but once Bowie appears onstage, Stahl demurs, "Hey I’m old enough to get junk mail from AARP. I can’t remember everything." He does remember, amid "Rebel Rebel," that he is alive: "My own good luck scares me. David Bowie saved my life, inspired me to scrape enough psychic ganglia off the sidewalk to still be here." Makes you want to get the old diary out and start reassembling the old memory banks or making new memories.
WRITING WRONGS Electrelane guitarist Mia Clarke has done her share of scribbling about music for the Wire, among other pubs, but that ability to step back and assess, analyze, and appreciate didn’t help when the Brighton-born members of the all-femme band seemed to be on the verge of breaking. After the group made its excellent 2005 Axes (Too Pure) and embarked on a year of touring, Clarke said from her current home in Chicago, where Electrelane are launching their current series of US shows, "we were really sick of each other. When you spend that much time with each other, it gets a bit much, and we all have other things going on in our lives" (bassist Ros Murray, for example, is working on a graduate degree from King’s College while on the bus). Fortunately, Electrelane reconvened in vocalist-keyboardist Verity Susman’s then-home in Berlin during the World Cup and, buoyed by the welcoming vibe in the town, found it in themselves to write and record the nautically themed No Shouts, No Calls (Too Pure), a lighter take on their kraut rock of yore, embellished with ukulele, and Chamberlin keyboards, and sailors’ knots in the CD art. Some ties somehow always bind. *
With the Arcade Fire
June 12, 8 p.m., $31.50
Gayley Road, Berk.
HEAR ‘EM OUT
PRIESTBIRD AND PIT ER PAT
Once a Tarantula AD, now a Priestbird make up your mind, NYC drama trio. Chicago’s Pit er Pat keep working that exploratory vein. Wed/23, 9:30 p.m., $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com
VATICANS, BUG NASTIES,
AND COCONUT COOLOUTS
An arse-wigglin’ time emerges from the garage when the SF headliners get with the Seattle sickos. Fri/25, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com
ELECTRIC LOVE PARADE
Tender, bare tunes and rockin’ piano electrify the Brighton band’s No Need to Be Downhearted (Better Looking). Sun/27, 9 p.m., $8. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-4455
SAN SIERN HOLYOAKE
AND WOOD FESTIVAL
New folk forms taking shape as Almaden, Barn Owl, Adam Snider, Misty Mountain, Mass at Dawn, and Messes scurry from the woods. Sun/27, 9 p.m., $6. Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., SF. (415) 546-6300