Why people get mad at the media, part l


We have a tenant on the third floor of our Guardian building at l35 Mississippi St, at the bottom of Potrero Hill in San Francisco, called, a new and bustling and highly publicized operation.

It is getting lots of publicity these days and so I was highly interested to find that the company founder was displayed in full color on the front page of the Aug. l4th edition of Business Week magazine. He was a good looking young guy of 29, obviously full of Mexican jumping beans, wearing a T-shirt and some sort of earphones beneath a cap turned backwards. He was doing a jaunty thumbs up and between his thumbs in the middle of his T-shirt was the headline: “How this kid Made $60 million in l8 months,’s Kevin Rose leads a new brat pack of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.”

I opened the magazine and read the lead: “It was June 26, 4:45 a.m. and Digg Founder Kevin Rose was slugging back tea and trying to keep his eyes open as he drove his Volkswagen Golf to Digg’s headquarters above the grungy offices of the SF Weekly in Potrero Hill.”

I was astounded. The article had three major factual errors in the first three lines of the opening paragraph. First:, we are happy to report, is a good tenant on the third floor of the Guardian building. Second: the SF Weekly is our chain competitor, the Village Voice/New Times conglomerate based in Phoenix, Arizona, with offices on the other side of Mission Bay near the Giants ballpark. We are suing the VVM/NT for predatory pricing. Third: we don’t have “grungy offices.” Did this pattern of factual errors, I wondered, continue throughout the piece?

Well, to be objective and fair, I am known to have a grungy desk and many people have commented on it through the years and it has even attracted a bit of publicity. In fact, there is a photo of me, sitting amidst a mountain of papers and books, grinding away on my trusty Royal typewriter (which I call fondly my l876 Royal), in the l988 edition of the book titled “A Day in the Life of California.” There is a similar photo of me at my grungy desk, back in the early l970s, in an old National Geographic magazine, with the cutline: If a writer in San Francisco was going to write like Mark Twain, he would be writing for the Bay Guardian. Reporter Sarah Phelan, hearing me mutter the word “grungy,” immediately pointed out that “grungy” is cool. She may be right. I am not going to argue the point.

However, I was curious to know how a major national business publication, an ornament of McGraw-Hill publishing, could make three such major embarrassing factual mistakes in its lead story. I also wanted to know what McGraw-Hill was going to do about it and what its policy was on corrections and retractions. I was also curious to know the whereabouts and the credits of the two writers, Sarah Lacy and Jessi Hempel, so I could ask them directly how this happened. Perhaps I could orient them over a Potrero Hill martini at the
Connecticut Yankee.

So I went to the phone book and found a Business Week office at 160 Spear St., in San Francisco, phone number 260-5390. I called and gave my questions to the young lady who answered the phone. Oh, she said, you will have to call Elizabeth Moses, an editorial assistant, at our editorial offices in San Mateo at 650-372-3980. I promptly called the number and got one of those deadly you’ll-not-get-in-here-if-we-can-help-it computer answering systems. After some fumbling and bumbling, I did get through to a voice mail with a name that I could not quite distinguish who told me she was unavailable right now but directed me to leave my phone number and email so that she could contact me. I did so. And I am now waiting patiently for an answer.

I will file my next bulletin as soon as I get the word back from Business Week/McGraw-Hill. Good luck and good night, or was it good night and good luck, B3

P.S. l: Wow! “$60 million in l8 months?” I must be in the wrong line of work.

P.S. 2: You will note that I say Giants ballpark. After the name changed from PacBell park (bad enough), to SBC park (terrible) to AT@T park (godawful), I will never again use any formal corporate name of any kind for the ball park. In this blog, it will always be the Giants ballpark in San Francisco. I hope you understand. B3

Here is what happened to Lani Silver, a Bay Guardian reader and occasional Bay Guardian contributor in an e-mail she sent to me:

I am still waiting for a call back from the San Francisco 49ers. Six weeks ago I saw a headline in the S.F. Chronicle that announced the campaign to build a new stadium, for $600-800 million. The sub-headline, said that if anything fell through, the team reserves the right to move to Santa Clara.

As a native San Franciscan, I called John York’s office to suggest that they not make an announcement and threaten a population in the same breathe. After being transferred a half dozen times, I left a message on a voice-mail system meant for community feed-back. I wanted to tell York and others, but wound up telling a machine that it’s rude to launch a campaign and threaten a city in the same moment. I thought my comment to the 49ers would be a valuable p.r. tip for the company.

This is what happens with big companies. You can never reach the top managers. You’ll get transferred many times and then you’ll have to leave a message on a machine that will never get to the people for whom they were intended.

I left my message, something nicely put about jamming a stadium down a community’s throat, when there is a perfectly fine stadium already, and how a corporation should not say that if they don’t get what they want, a billion dollar stadium that they will move. I am still waiting for a call.

Heavy petting


The reasons were manifold, many-furred, and multihued, but this much was clear at South by Southwest 2006: The Nashville teen punk sensations Be Your Own Pet were definitely a band to raise your right fist Arsenio-style and woof at, like a member of the Bloodhound Gang at a sports bar. Fronted by the kittenish Courtney of a vocalist Jemina Pearl Abegg and filled out by the impressively fro’d bassist Nathan Vasquez, guitarist Jonas Stein, and drummer Jamin Orrall, and shaking it like Smell-style teenage kicks, Be Your Own Pet gave off the delicious fumes of scruffy Jack Russell terriers hopped up on ’roids, Pop Rocks, and raucous hip-shaking noise punk. They made all the right moves. They were as cute as little pink pills. They threw outrageous parties. They played heavenly bills.
Life in the fast lane. Frankly the entire scene made Orrall want to lose his mind, he said last week, fading in and out on the fiber-optic freeway leading from Texas to Arizona. “I didn’t really like that week,” the asthmatic drummer said — his nose clearly stuffed to hell and back. “We did a lot of shows and a lot of meetings and it was too much stuff with people who aren’t really into music. It felt gross.”
Orrall, who turned 18 last month, and his bandmates must have had some inkling of what would happen — they were born into the business. BYOP’s 2004 single “Damn Damn Leash” initially came out on Infinity Cat, the label run by Orrall, his brother, Jake, and his father, singer-songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall. Stein’s father is said to have managed Vince Neil, Vasquez’s pops is a flamenco guitar player, and Abegg’s dad is a rock photographer.
Helmed by multiple producers, including pater Orrall, Modest Mouse producer Jacquire King, Kings of Leon knob fondler Angelo, and Redd Kross’s Steve McDonald, Be Your Own Pet’s self-titled debut on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace (distributed by Universal) is a spiky, spastic — and yes, adorable — little mutt of a recording, reminiscent of early, primitive Yeah Yeah Yeahs and knuckle-skating riot grrrl, with the odd ode to bicycles, felines, and, urp, “Stairway to Heaven.”
Orrall doesn’t know if their music is “necessarily punk. We’re not really protesting anything,” he wheezed. Nonetheless he and Jake have been writing songs since they were 9 or 10, with few assists from the parental unit. “I wrote a lot of lyrics just in school when I was kind of bored,” he explained.
So isn’t there a bit of a cultural disconnect occurring? The bands that sound like them are still toiling old-school, while Be Your Own Pet’s early single was slipped to Zane Lowe at BBC Radio One before finding its way to XL in England — and the teens have already played massive UK fests like Reading and Leeds and Glastonbury. Orrall likes the idea of their music finding its way into the hands of kids who shop chain stores in Dookieville, Pa. — are such creatures still out there? — but will confess, “It’s, like, pretty strange. We do the same thing, just in a different environment, but it’s hard to connect with the audience because they’re so far away.” (Kimberly Chun)
Be Your Own Pet’s Jamin Orrall’s five current faves
Dirty Projects, New Attitude EP (Marriage)
Thin Lizzy, Jailbreak (Mercury/Universal)
Chocolate Watchband, Inner Mystique (Sundazed)
Deluxin’, Deluxin’ (Stoneham Tapes) “Nathan [Vasquez’s] other band — it’s just like the Sun City Girls but a little more pop-rocky.”
Letho, Wood Ox (Stoneham Tapes) “I listen to my brother’s albums a lot. He’s made five or six records under that name on four-track cassette, but the last one was this six-part epic story of him being raised by oxen on the plains.”

Mr. Big Stuff


> a&

America is unquestionably the land of the large. We well realize that gigantic things generate a sense of awe — along with danger — as it currently applies to presidential hubris and supersized snacks. It’s no accident that the artists who work biggest are United States residents — not to mention men: Think of James Turrell, who transformed a crater in the Arizona desert into a massive temple to natural light; Richard Serra, whose hefty steel sculptures have blocked public plazas and famously crashed through a gallery floor; Christo, whose canvases are world landmarks and entire states; and even Jeff Koons, who effectively inflated a topiary puppy to the size of a mountain. They may have international reputations (and a few peers in other countries), but there is something undeniably American in the desire to realize dreams that large. The trick is to translate that sense of awe into something more than size envy.
Matthew Barney is perhaps the first contemporary artist to translate the idea of that monumental impulse to the media age. His latest venture, “Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint,” which opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this week (look for a review in these pages soon), is a sizable, career-spanning project. Like most of his work, it involves a feature-length film, and objects and images that relate to a self-invented universe, one filled with references to the human body, landscapes, and landmarks. Perhaps, as some critics have suggested, Barney’s work extends the enveloping nature of film into three-dimensional space, or synthesizes various art forms into a Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk — that total, epic extravaganza of a term that’s frequently attached to Barney. Whatever it’s called, it feels like something major.
Barney’s Drawing Restraint series — which comprises performances, videos, a feature film, and drawings — is rooted in the idea of struggle, transformation, and creation. The pieces in the ongoing series reflect the artist’s changing means — the earliest of them were done with Barney attempting to make drawings on the wall while shackled with rubber tethers or jumping on a trampoline and inscribing a self-portrait on the ceiling. Drawing Restraint 14, which was recently executed at SFMOMA, involved the artist scaling the building’s tubular skylight and drawing on the curved wall. Drawing Restraint 9, as has been widely reported, costars Barney’s real-life partner Björk, was filmed on a large Japanese whaling ship and employed the full crew as extras (a primary theme of the film is Barney’s identity as an occidental — read: American — in an inscrutable Japanese culture), and was realized on a budget of nearly $5 million.
That seems an attractive sum for an artist to be working with, but not when you compare it to the costs of this country’s greatest cultural exports — Hollywood movies — or even the price of an impressionist painting at auction. It definitely pales before Damien Hirst’s recently publicized bid to make the priciest work of art ever: a diamond-encrusted skull costing some $18.8 million. If Barney could raise those kinds of funds, most likely he’d have little trouble taking his vision to a next level, be it with CGI effects or with greater amounts of his signature material, petroleum jelly.
The SFMOMA exhibition involved casting 1,600 gallons of the stuff, a relatively small amount in Barney terms, in a rectangular mold — a process that was slowed by clogged hoses and a minor rupture on the museum steps. As he did at the Guggenheim with his 2003 Cremaster Cycle exhibition, Barney easily occupies a good chunk of the museum. The show covers the whole of the fourth floor, which has, for the first time, most of its walls removed. The now-vast galleries house a few whale-sized sculptures, all illuminated with hundreds of industrial-looking lightbulbs installed by Barney’s crew. Clusters of sleek flat-screen monitors hang from the ceiling throughout. While it’s not the most expensive show that SFMOMA has mounted — recent ones involving less exotic materials have had much bigger price tags — Drawing Restraint feels deluxe, even if its most used material is cool, white plastic instead of precious stones.
Is Barney’s work gracious or self-absorbed? Is his work fueled by ego, the art market, or artistic drive? These are difficult questions, and although the Cremaster exhibition was accompanied by a telephone book–sized catalog with reams of explanatory text, it’s still difficult to know. Critic Jerry Saltz, in a review of Drawing Restraint 9, described Barney as “a mystic exploring his own inner cathedral.” It seems apt, as that religious edifice is a cavernous container in which to contemplate mystical phenomena, not to mention a form to which museums are often compared. We’re meant to enter them and be quietly wowed, whether we believe the dogma or not.
Those who have tickets to the already sold-out Barney lecture on June 23 — an example of his rock star status — will most likely come away with a sense that the artist possesses a genuine humbleness and an unerring drive to realize his vision. He thinks big, and manages to live up to his ambitions with dignity. Whatever you think of his work, you gotta admire his supersized pluck. SFBG
June 23–Sept. 17
Fri.–Tues., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.;
Thurs., 11 a.m.–>8:45 p.m.
151 Third St., SF
$7–$12.50, free for 12 and under and members (free first Tues.; half price Thurs., 6–8:45 p.m.)
(415) 357-4000
For Drawing Restraint events, go to

NOISE: Coachella cracked open?


Guardian intern Jonathan Knapp checked out Coachella last week and lived to tell the tale:

Jose Luis Pardo of Los Amigos Invisibles
holds forth Sunday at Coachella.
Photo: Mirissa Neff.

As someone who has lost his once-vigorous passion for indie rock and large music festivals, I approached my trip to Coachella with caution and confusion. Why the hell was I driving 500 miles to spend two days in the brutally hot desert sun to see a bunch of bands that I had, at best, an intermittent interest in? All right, my girlfriend really wanted me to, and our companion — a good friend and a guitarist from local post-hardcore outfit And a Few to Break — was the perfect guide: He’d been before and has been largely responsible for turning me on to the little new music that excites me.

It’s not as if I now hate indie rock — I’ve just become preoccupied with the music of the past. I’d much rather, for instance, discover nearly forgotten gems like O.V. Wright’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” and Wanda Jackson’s “Fujiyama Mama” than be the first to herald the Bloc Party or Clap Your Hands. There were definitely some newer bands at Coachella that had already easily won me over — Animal Collective, TV on the Radio — and some holdovers from my indie rock youth: Sleater-Kinney, Cat Power. Additionally, Madonna was playing; though I wouldn’t have admitted it at the height of my Drag City- and Merge-fuelled ecstasy, this was unquestionably exciting.

To a relatively recent East Coast transplant, Coachella’s setting is nothing short of alien. Set aside the heat (which is consuming and oppressive) and what remains is a beautiful, if stark and bleak, atmosphere: palm trees, miles of flat, bush-littered sand, and — when the Los Angeles smog recedes — snow-capped mountains. This year’s fest brought a mostly predictable mix of inappropriately black-clad SF/LA hipsters, shirtless/bikini-topped OC trust-funders/frat types, Arizona college hippies, and — given that this was Tool’s first show in five years — metalheadz. Though people-watching is certainly fruitful and entertaining, Coachella does not provide as much craziness as one might expect — but it certainly does exist.

The festival, held over Saturday and Sunday, April 29 and 30, on the incongruously green and groomed Empire Polo Fields, is a whirlwind of simultaneous activity and overstimulation. If you’re really only there to see one act (like Depeche Mode), it’s no problem. But for those whose interests are a bit more catholic, the prospect of navigating five separate stages that feature virtually nonstop, and eclectic, music from noon till midnight is daunting.

Do you choose Kanye West or My Morning Jacket? Wolf Parade or Jamie Lidell? In my case, both these choices proved easy, if not fully satisfying. For the former: With tickets on Kanye’s late-2005 tour being at least $45, the relatively reasonable one-day Coachella pass of $85 (about $190 for both days, including service charges) makes it
the best opportunity to see him.

West’s set was entertaining, if not transcendent. Mindful of the temperature (he played a still-blistering 6 p.m. slot), West substituted the angel-winged getup he’s favored recently for a white Miles Davis T-shirt and jeans. Backed by live drums, turntables, backup singers, and a string section, he offered a respectable but awkward approximation of his increasingly ornate recordings (no Jon Brion in sight). The highlight: West inexplicably announced his DJ would play a few of his biggest influences, moving from Al Green and Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson to a-ha’s “Take on Me,” dancing around the stage with a goofiness that, though obviously calculated, seemed charmingly unselfconscious.

Following West on the main stage, Sigur Ros created one of the festival’s moments of impossible beauty, bringing their ethereal noise to day one’s lofty sunset slot (7:00-7:50 p.m.). Admittedly, I’ve been a bit hesitant to embrace the beloved Icelandic group. Though I’ve enjoyed much of their work, I’ve been turned off by what I’ve interpreted as delusions of grandeur: a made-up language (there’s already one Magma), bullshit declarations of “creating a new type of music,” and the hushed reverence with which they’re frequently discussed. However, I can’t think of a better band to accompany a desert dusk, or a better setting for the band — apart from a glacier, perhaps. Backed by a mini-string section, they played a set that, at that time and in that place, was astonishing. My gratitude goes to the man and woman who danced behind the netting just immediately off stage right: Their undulating silhouettes would have brought me to tears, had dehydration and hours of standing not already beaten them to it.

My other day one highlight was Animal Collective, a band whose aesthetic of psych-pop, tribalism, and general weirdness was perfectly suited to the surreal setting. Though I’ve adored many of their recordings (they’re one of the few current bands that I’m genuinely excited to watch evolve), I’d heard that their propensity for wandering and wanking can be their downfall live. I found that they kept this mostly in check, grounding their less accessible and more abrasive experimentations with hypnotic rhythms and a convincing feeling that this was, in fact, going somewhere. Much of the crowd didn’t seem to know what to make of it. Too bad: To my ears, few artists approach their inventiveness, live or recorded.

That day I also caught some of Deerhoof (appropriately erratic, with some fantastic moments), Cat Power (as expected, the Memphis Rhythm Band has given her a new sense of confidence and composure, and they sound fucking great), Wolfmother (energetic, but dull), White Rose Movement (I’ll stick to my Pulp records, thank you), the New Amsterdams (nothing new about them), and the Walkmen (solid).

After returning to the grounds Sunday (we fortunately camped at the much-less-populated Salton Sea, about 20 minutes away), we immediately went to catch Mates of State (adorable and infectious), who closed with a decent version of Nico’s “Time of the Season,” and Ted Leo, who was reliably engaging. To try to get close for Wolf Parade, we headed to the medium-sized tent (there were three) and watched Metric. I’d been intrigued by their Broken Social Scene connections, but their set of dancey agit-pop left me cold and bored (my companions disagreed).

I separated from my friends to stand in the back for Wolf Parade, so I could head to the main stage for Sleater-Kinney. After starting late, Wolf Parade apologized for technical issues (“Everything’s fucked”) and began a set that, from my perch hundreds of feet away, sounded slight and thin. Disappointed, I left after three songs. I’ve been told that the experience up-front, however, was quite different, and among the best of the festival.

I fell in love with the women of Sleater-Kinney about a decade ago when I was 16. I’ve tried to see them a number of times over the years, but something always fell through: sold-out, unbreakable engagements, etc. I usually don’t think about them, except when they release a new album and, maybe once or twice a year, when I put on Call the Doctor or Dig Me Out — briefly reminding myself why they once meant so much to me.

Clearly, this has been a huge mistake: Focusing mostly on songs from the past couple albums, the trio played a fierce, powerful set that all the years of hearing about their live show hadn’t prepared me for. At a festival that celebrated scenes that I’ve mostly abandoned, this became my essential moment. Mses. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss reminded me not only why I loved them, but why I loved going to shows in the first place — for the sheer raw, sweaty energy. These women deserve to fill stadiums.

After watching a bit of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who impressed me more than I expected, I headed to the dance tent, joining an apparent majority of festivalgoers in an attempt to see Madonna. Unable to get anywhere near the stage, we settled for a spot outside it, where our view was of a large screen and, when we were lucky enough to be able to peek through the massive throng at a distant stage.

Several minutes before the set (which unsurprisingly started late), a line of people carrying parasols and decked out in lingerie bondage gear made their way through the crowd on stilts. Managing the seemingly impossible feat of reaching the front of the stage, they were easily the festival’s smartest and most inventive attendees.

When Madonna finally took the stage, all hell broke loose — an appropriate response, perhaps, but not one that the performance itself warranted. Predictable and short, Madonna’s set started with the superb “Hung Up,” then moved on to “Ray of Light” and four more songs, most of them newer material. Most surprising was her guitar playing (or at least the appearance of it) and the rock-like arrangements of all the tunes. She occasionally provoked the audience (“Don’t throw water on my stage, motherfuckers,” “Do you want me to take my pants off?”), but nothing here was shocking. That said, the woman looks fantastic and commands a stage in a way that few could. After six songs, she left abruptly. It was anticlimactic, yet still somehow thrilling. It was, after all, fucking Madonna.

Immediately after, we ran into Andy Dick, who stood talking to a pair of starstruck 13-year-old girls. Far more behaved than the blogs have reported he later would be, Dick seemed as amused with the girls as they were with him. Though he claimed to have to go meet his “girlfriend,” he talked to them for several minutes: “Oh, I love Madonna too. Hey — how are you even here? Aren’t people, like, drinking? Where are your parents?”

After catching a fantastic, fun set from the Go! Team (who had Mike Watt guesting on bass), we attempted to see Tool. Unable to get anywhere close to the stage (this seemed by far to be the most crowded show, though Madonna was close), we sat down, expecting to watch the band on the giant screens on either side of the stage. While the band played, however, their videos (you know: internal organs and jittery, alien-looking people doing painful things) were projected on the screens. Bored and wary of the inevitable hours of traffic that we’d hit if we stayed for the set, we bid Coachella adieu.

Acts I wished I had caught, but couldn’t for various reasons: Lady Sovereign, Jamie Lidell, Gnarls Barkley, Seu Jorge, My Morning Jacket, Phoenix, Mogwai, Depeche Mode, Coldcut, and TV on the Radio. Biggest regret (by far): missing Daft Punk. Word of their closing Saturday night set hovered all day Sunday, discussed in whispered, but rhapsodic tones.

I left the festival exhausted, anxious to return to San Francisco, and — most importantly — reminded why I devoted so many years to indie rock. Will I stop seeking out New Orleans R&B, rockabilly, and Southern soul? No, but that doesn’t mean I have to ignore this wave of postpunk, does it? That said, I’ll take Gang of Four, Wire, and Pere Ubu over Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand any day.

But, right now, I just want to listen to Sleater-Kinney.

Latter daze


In playwright Dominic Orlando’s Juan Gelion Dances for the Sun, Latin American peasant Juan Gelion (a charismatic Johnny Moreno) abandons a promising career in the church to found a new one — or is it the old one reborn? Even Juan doesn’t seem sure. But he renounces material wealth, goes about healing the sick — beginning with beloved cousin Mariana (Juliet Tanner), who lies dying from a botched abortion — and collects a band of unlikely followers, including his cranky atheist brother (Hector Osorio) and a chipper but mentally unstable American (Alexandra Creighton).

Following a half-understood inner voice, Orlando’s hesitant messiah takes his band to the United States. Once landed in Florida, they go toe to toe with America’s military-industrial Christ complex, personified by a secretive rapture-hastening group of three Beltway fundamentalist power brokers and their golden boy, up-and-second-coming governor of Arizona Arn Darby (Nick Sholley). These four asses of the apocalypse, convinced their rich, war-making selves constitute God’s chosen, latch onto Juan Gelion as the false messiah, or adversary, prophesied in Revelations. They arrest and interrogate him, leading to a showdown of supernatural proportions and a surprising denouement. Along the way, more mundane and metaphysical concerns get an airing, along with a smattering of songs from, or accompanied by, the story’s narrator-chorus, a sardonic guitarrista played by composer Deborah Pardes.

Unlike the millennial millionaires it lambastes, Crowded Fire’s world premiere has both style and soul. Artistic director Rebecca Novick’s crisp pacing and appealing cast make it relatively easy to forgive the story’s thinner patches and loose ends, and the production strikes a fine balance of humor and drama throughout. Moreover, its fanciful story line contains both a well-grounded critique and a sincere spiritual question at its core. James J. Fenton’s lovely scenic design, meanwhile, with its graceful parabolic arches and delicate branches (combined with Heather Basarab’s lambent arboreal lighting) makes compellingly manifest Juan Gelion’s antiauthoritarian "church without walls." Delivering sass to the sanctimonious carries a bit of its own presumption, especially if your own thoughts on religion tend towards HL Mencken’s. But bucking the budding American theocracy is a timely subject. These people really are the living end.


Last Planet Theatre, never a company to shrink from a challenge (or to foist one on its audience), has pulled off a startling production of Franz Xavier Kroetz’s Farmyard, a difficult but quietly compelling exploration of love and suffering amid a bleak, isoutf8g landscape of rural poverty. The unflinching and idiosyncratic Kroetz, who not long ago was Germany’s most performed living playwright, may be far less well-known here, but his work finds kindred spirits in artistic director John Wilkins and his cast.

The story unfolds with a kind of aggressively stylized naturalism on a humble American family farm, where Beppi (Heidi Wolff), the retarded teenage daughter of the farmer (Richard Aiello) and his wife (Emma Victoria Glauthier), falls in love with an aging, randy farmhand named Sepp (Garth Petal), who has seduced her with stories. When Beppi becomes pregnant, the farmer takes retribution on Sepp’s beloved black shadow of a dog (Hilde Susan Jaegtnes, effectively swaddled in rags and shoe polish) before turning to his wife for help in solving the problem of their daughter.

The plot is bone simple, but its reverberations are subtle, strange, and unsettling — just as Kroetz’s stunted characters prove remarkably present while rarely managing more than a few brusque words or phrases. Whole scenes come wrapped in silences, long pauses measuring the distance between characters while binding them together. In a way, silence is the play’s principal subject: the silence of moral judgment, the absence (despite the swift trade here in the Commandments and the passing of sentences) of any voice or say beyond the inexorable force of life itself.

In that emptiness opened up so effectively in Farmyard — and echoed in the gentle bleakness of the surrounding country (beautifully evoked in James Flair and Paul Rasmussen’s scenic design, as well as Alex Lopez’s radiant lighting scheme) — it’s life that finally defines and bridges the void. And life converges in Beppi, whose name seems to mark her perpetual child status even in the midst of sexual awakening and motherhood, with all the innocent and anarchic force any farmyard could hope to contain. Wolff’s supple, perfectly assured performance is the natural standout in a cast composed of strong, focused portrayals all around.

Wilkins’s sharp staging adds a unique contribution to the play’s unsettling ambiguity by disrupting its heavy silences with a jarringly lush, sophisticated set of Shirley Horn torch songs. For all its in-your-face effect, the music makes a subtle point in the precise way it both works and doesn’t work: We can’t help aligning the words and ambience with the action, even while recognizing the absurdity of the match. But then what exactly is so absurd? In the end the songs perfectly measure, manipulate, and throw back our own programming, and still — it’s impossible not to add — how fitting that out of absolute darkness comes this beautiful, seemingly otherworldly paean to life. *


Through April 8

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.

Traveling Jewish Theatre

470 Florida, SF


(415) 255-7846


Through April 1

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.

Last Planet Theatre

351 Turk, SF


(415) 440-3050

Noise: SXSW Everything is subject to change


Damn. It’s only Thursday and I have a hangover the size of Texas. It’s a warm, humid afternoon here in Austin, and Amy, my host just handed me her remedy: a vodka and carrot juice. I’ll piece together what happened yesterday. I ran into Oscar and Lars of the Gris Gris with Brian Glaze while wandering on 6th Street in downtown Austin. We went to Mr. Natural for yummy veggie chalupa before they went to Club DeVille to load in their equipment. Gris Gris is chillin’ in Texas until their tour next month. We won’t see them back in Oakland until May. They just played four shows in California with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who asked Gris Gris to tour with them ‘cause dig this: the Gris Gris is Karen O’s favorite band! Crazy.

I met some kids in line who came from Arizona to see Belle and Sebastian at Stubbs, a big outdoor venue, which was packed for the show. Nice harmonies. They did one song with melodica.

I had a $2 fajita, which was worth about 50 cents, at at Colorado River on 6th that would go out of business in two days if it were in the mission. They got in Austin? That’s my review. To be fair there are lots of great mexican food joints in Austin; even the taco truck on Red River is great. A couple next to me was figuring out who to see in the next two hours. I suggested they see Friends of Dean Martinez at Oslo. The guy said, “We just came from Oslo, so we don’t need to go back.” I found out he plays in We, described on their flyer as “cosmic biker rock from Oslo”. They’re playing at Emo’s on Saturday at 8:00PM. I’m so there (if I remember, and don’t get distracted). I felt justified in recommending Gris Gris to them instead, who were starting that very minute, so I rushed them off and finished what was edible of my snack.

I ran into Shane and Joe of Night after Night and was promptly handed the Rambler schedule. From the literature: “The Rambler is a 1980 Chevy Box van that transforms into a sound stage complete with backline and P.A. to make every band sound their best…” It’s parked at Ms. Beas for the likes of Erase Errata, Von Iva, ZZZ, and DMBQ.
Anyway, I got roped into going to Emo’s Annex with them to see an Oakland band called WHY? The first thing I noticed was there was no drummer and no bassist. Who then was playing the drums and bass? I walked up to the stage and saw that the three piece had all their limbs hard at work with one member playing bass drum with a trigger, snare, and xylophone at the same time—while singing harmonies. The guy in the middle was singing lead and playing a synth, sharing the cymbal duty with the xylophonist. The guy on the right was playing a Fender Rhodes and bass with pedals. I got respect for people who play bass with pedals. They had been together for four years and recently lost a member. I asked if it was the drummer. Answer: no, a guitarist. I highly recommend seeing them next time they play in the bay area. WHY? Because I like ‘em,

I ran into my band mate, Jason, in front of Exodus with a couple of girls from Austin. He had just seen the Plimsouls and raved about what a great set they played. They did a Creation song and a Kinks song, playing a 60’s rock and roll/garage set—a far cry from “A Million Miles Away.” If they play again this weekend, I’ll try and catch ‘em, otherwise, I’ll have to be happy with a CD of their live tapes.

I squeezed into Exodus to see the Go! Team, from England, and thought about leaving because their set up was taking so long, but no one else was leaving the packed house. Man, was I glad I stayed, because their set was awesome. With samples which included horns, bass, and other indescribable sounds, they used the best elements of hip-hop, disco and rock to captivate the audience with an infectious groove that made us dance. They had two drummers, and members switched up to play different instruments on certain songs. This was the best show yet. I’m gonna see ’em again on Friday. I highly recommend this band.

Afterward, I met up with the Cuts/Drunk horse entourage to go to an outdoor party on 1st and Red River. It was drizzly, kinda like Portland, but warm. We arrived right as the cops pulled the plug on the music and broke up the party, but not before I got my beer. Everyone I met there was really nice. We went to the Nervous Exits house and partied until about 5:00 in the morning, hence, the hangover. I missed their gig at Emo;s today at 1:00PM (sorry fellas), but I’ll be at the North Loop block party Friday at 1:00PM.

Tonight, the plan is to see Wolfmother, Peaches, She Wants Revenge, Giant Drag, and the Lashes at the Beauty Bar, then the Like at Elysium, and the Gossip at Emo’s Annex.

Everything is subject to change.