Tofu and Whiskey

Hello goodbye


TOFU AND WHISKEY While it’ll be hard to say goodbye, Brass Menažeri’s founder Peter Jaques might have the best possible reason for dissolving his decade-old, San Francisco band. He got a Fulbright grant to study traditional Greek music — in Greece.

He’ll be traversing the Grecian island of Crete, coastal Epiros, mountainous Florina, and capitol city Athens, studying with Greek master musicians. So yeah, don’t cry for Jaques. It’ll more be the Bay Area Balkan scene’s loss than his, given the group’s influence on the local set, lo these past 12 years. (Remember that Tofu and Whiskey column on the bumping Bay Balkan scene a few weeks back? That wouldn’t have happened without it.)

With two full sets of Balkan dance music, the band will bid adieu at a final show this Fri/1 (New Parish, 579 18th St., Oakl. 9pm, $15). That night will include four-part horn melodies, special guest dancer Zoe Jakes of Beats Antiques, and the debut of trumpeter eO’s new DJ set of “glitch-seasoned, heavy Balko-electronic compositions and remixes.”

With that in mind, I asked Jaques to give me the rundown on the highlights — and low points — in the life of Brass Menažeri.

There are those less-than-ideal band situations: “the sound guy who insists he needs to boost the ‘kick drum’ (we don’t have one) in a room with overwhelming bass resonance. We could hear nothing at all aside from the drum; playing an outdoor festival at Civic Center 100 feet from a techno stage; getting stiffed for a measly $200 when a venue said they’d paid our money to the other band (why?) and the other band denied it.”

And then there are the inspiring moments that kept the band humming: “collaborating with Boston MC Mr. Lif at the Seattle Folk Fest in 2010; playing for Ruth Hunter’s 50th birthday party while the sun was setting on a beachfront in Seattle; crowd surfers at Amnesia; the 2008 CD release at Great American Music Hall with Aphrodesia, and returning there for Kafana Balkan last year with Fishtank Ensemble; crowd reactions at the Sebastopol Apple Blossom Festival; chasing Rupa around the Mission during her birthday procession a few years ago; double bill Balkan brass afterparty for the Goran Bregovic show, with Inspector Gadje last year; the first Kafana Balkan at ArtSF in the Mission, with people hanging from the rafters”

Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Kafana Balkan night this weekend as well. As Jaques mentioned, Brass Menažeri played the first of these raucous Balkan dance parties. This Sat/2 is the club night’s sixth anniversary show, with Inspector Gadje, Jill Parker and Foxglove Sweethearts, and DJ Zeliko (Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. 9pm, $15).

So yes, you can pretty much spend your whole weekend reveling in the Balkans.



For those more interested in the scores than the moving pictures on the screen, indie rock icon — and master jazz spawn — Petra Haden has done something quite unique with her newest album, Petra Goes to the Movies, released last week on Anti-. She’s rearranged classic film scores — think Psycho, A Fistful of Dollars, Superman, and 8 1/2 — mainly using her extraordinary voice to flesh out the formerly instrumental sections. For “Psycho,” that means high, layered a capella vocals creating that haunting paranoia so associated with the film’s theme. “Goldfinger” is a fun one as it also features Haden’s sultry lyric singing, and bum-da-bum “Hand Covers Bruise” from The Social Network stands out as an unexpected new gem. “When I saw the film Social Network, I thought it was a great movie but it was the music that really drew me in,” Haden said in a statement to her record label. The former That Dog vocalist’s interpretations on this album have minimal instrumental contributions courtesy of her famous father, jazz bassist Charlie Haden, pianist Brad Mehldau, and guitarist Bill Frisell.



To celebrate the release of new book, Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom (Feminist Press), City Lights is hosting an evening of reading, declarations, and manifestos, with Frightwig (Deanna Mitchell, Mia Simmans, Cecelia Kuhn, Eric Drew Feldman), Daphne Gottlieb, Penelope Houston (of the Avengers), Deborah Iyall (of Romeo Void),Sophia Kumin, and Michelle Tea. Pull up some neon tights, tug a hot pink ski mask over your head, and join the movement.

Wed/30, 7pm, free. City Lights, 261 Columbus, SF.



Experimental, ’90s-born Portland act Jackie-O Motherfucker live at Mexican restaurant Casa Sanchez, where I can also eat chips and salsa during the set? That’ll do just fine, thank you. With You Nori, Cuttle Buttle, Baus.

Thu/31, 7:30pm, free. Casa Sanchez, 2778 24 St, SF.



Ted Leibowitz has been doing Internet radio far longer than the majority of your favorite podcast hosts. His indie rock-oriented Internet radio station, BAGel Radio, is turning 10 this year. So the station founder-music director is throwing this show with local rock bands including Pixies-honoring Mister Loveless, angsty Churches, and tender Birdmonster. A lineup worth showing up early for.

Fri/1, 9:30pm, $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF.

It’s the end of Brass Menažeri, the 10th anniversary of BAGel Radio, and the start of Petra Haden’s foray into a capella film scores. Plus: Pussy Riot Night at City Lights!

Actual pain


TOFU AND WHISKEY Ah, the tormented love song. Chelsea Wolfe does it well. Vocally, she transfixes, sometimes sounding like she’s calmly wringing every ounce of blood from a relationship totem, at other points whispering cries of help from a enveloping darkness, the vibrations of the plucked-hard guitar strings reverberating in the distance. This rush of gloom and pain, in a genre she’s past described as “doom folk,” came forth in a fierce package in 2011’s electric Apokalypsis, and steadily zigzags beautifully through 2012’s meandering Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs.

This weekend, the LA-via-Sacramento singer-guitarist comes to SF with a fellow dark folk spirit, King Dude (Fri/11, 9pm, $15. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. The two once recorded a split seven-inch together, and have played a few shows here and there, but this will be their first full tour together, which surprises King Dude, as tells me via phone from his homebase in Seattle, because they’re longtime pals who “got on like a house on fire” when they first met.

They’re both on the spectrum of a bubbling rebirth of neofolk and gothic Americana roots, inspired by acts like Death in June, and seen elsewhere in musicians like Emily Jane White and Father John Misty, but really driven recently by Wolfe and Dude, in unique ways.

Though King Dude — a.k.a Seattle’s T.J. Cowgill of black metal bands Teen Cthulhu and Book of Black Earth, and clothing label Actual Pain — also has some experience with tortured love songs. His baritone vocals often sound as if there’s a gravelly demon inside, clawing to get out. The lyrics of his 2012 release, Burning Daylight, tend to reflect inner, unearthly struggles, the occult, fears of death, and tragic old world tales. Or as he told another publication, he’s inspired by “death, religion, love, Lucifer, nature, primal feelings.” Most of the tracks have fully imagined narratives.

There’s the song “Barbara Anne” in which he growls, “I’ll shoot that man in the head if he hurts you, Barbara Anne” and “I’ll run away with you if you’ll have me, Barbara Anne.” It’s the tale of small-town love, set in 1940s, around two characters — a boy and the girl he wants, who’s been wronged by the town. “I think it’s probably the best love song I’ve ever written,” Cowgill says. “The kid is like: ‘I’ll kill everybody in the town for you, if that’s alright with you.’ That’s the most loving thing I think anybody can say for somebody else.”

In his reality, his allegiances lie with his musician wife, Emily, and their seven-year-old black lab, Pagan, the latter of which is currently at the vet getting checked before King Dude heads out on tour with Wolfe, just to make sure everything is OK.

For the complete King Dude interview, see



There have been countless articles dissecting every shot of Quentin Tarantino’s newest revenge fantasy, Django Unchained. From “the Django moment” (when white people laugh) to Kerry Washington’s costume designer’s secrets to “Why Django Had to Be a Spaghetti Western,” bloggers and squawkers have been raising important, sometimes frivolous theories about the controversial, often brutal film, set in an alternate version of the antebellum era of the Deep South. But what stood out to me, was the Django Unchained soundtrack; no big shocker, given the director.

The music takes over and transports immediately, with “Django (Main Theme)” by Luis Bacalov and Rocky Roberts, a powerful, full-throated song that was also the title track to the 1966 Spaghetti Western, Django. The opening credits are startling enough, setting a vividly emotional tone, but the song adds the outlining whomp, the exclamation mark. The dusty plucking and Elvis-like vibrato of “Jane-gooo” just stick in your brain. While on “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” show on Sirius Radio, Tarantino discussed his reasoning behind the music in the film. Of the theme he said, “When I came up with the idea to do Django Unchained, I knew it was imperative to open it with this song.”

The soundtrack weaves through ominous and plucky original Spaghetti Western themes, Brother Dege’s twangy stomper “Too Old To Die Young,” John Legend’s funky blacksploitation-style anthem “Who Did That To You” (which ended up on the soundtrack after Legend recorded it on cassette and mailed it to Tarantino), and pummeling hip-hop bangers, “Unchained (the Payback/Untouchable)” — a mashup of James Brown’s “The Payback” and 2Pac’s unreleased “Untouchable” — and “100 Black Coffins” by Rick Ross and Jamie Foxx.

Tarantino said on the radio show that this was the first time he’d included new music in one of his films, and it was thanks to the star and title character, Jaime Foxx, who ran into rapper Rick Ross at the BET Awards and invited him back to the set to work on a song together. The song is clearly influenced by the surroundings, with a Western whistle underneath a molasses beat and lyrics like “revenge is the sweetest.” and “I need 100 black coffins for 100 bad men/…I need 100 black bibles while we send ’em all to hell.”

There’s also the deceivingly calmer moments thanks to songs like Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” as Django is given his freedom, which left another lump in my throat. That track also has the needle drop and minimal fuzz of the record collector nerd Tarantino is. He’ll often use his own vinyl on the soundtracks. It’s a “whole record experience,” as he describes it. “Pops and crackles be damned.”



It’s true, prolific garage rocker Ty Segall has yet another new band. This one’s called Fuzz, and it includes Segall on drums and vocals (just like in his pre-Ty Segall Band band, Traditional Fools!) and longtime collaborator-pal Charlie Moothart on guitar. The dudes just released new single “This Time I Got a Reason,” played Vacation last weekend, and will be a part of Noise Pop 2013: Feb. 28 at the Knockout ($8).



After a period of moody silence, underground Harlem rap duo Cannibal Ox has returned — to the stage, at least. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega announced a one-off reunion show in NY late last year, and that must have gone well, ’cause now they’re heading our way on a full tour. Also noteworthy: Aire and Mega only put out one album as Cannibal Ox, 2001 indie hit The Cold Vein, produced by El-P. Now they’re working on a 2013 followup on Iron Galaxy Records.

With Keith Masters, Double AB, Kenyattah Black, I Realz

Sun/13, 9pm, $15. Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission, SF.

Dark side of the Dude


More than a year ago, in his rundown on “top substances that have influenced music,” promoter-DJ Marco De La Vega said this: “I…raid my own medicine cabinet, take a couple Vicodin, and listen to a stack of records including [Girls],Tamaryn, King Dude, Chelsea Wolfe, and Zola Jesus.”

Already a fan of the others mentioned in that paragraph, I sought out King Dude (a.k.a T.J. Cowgill) and found that I’d already known his previous work, intimately. I’d seen his black metal band Teen Cthulhu in high school, and for many years had the band’s sticker plastered on my black Nissan Maxima, later discovering his band that rose from the ashes of Teen Cthulhu: Book of Black Earth.

It was his turns as founder-creative director of his own clothing label, Actual Pain (Kanye has worn it, OK?), and solo “darkly spiritual acoustic-folk” singer-songwriter that have been the most surprising. Like previous King Dude releases, 2012’s Burning Daylight (Dais) is a desolate affair, with subtle plucking and Cowgill’s darkly raspy vocals meditating on death, murder, spirituality, and love – or as I wrote in this week’s Tofu and Whiskey print music column (Jan. 9 issue), it sounds like “a gravelly demon inside, clawing to get out.”

Yet, behind that gloomy facade, Cowgill was friendly as hell during our phone call, even in the face of adversity. While his beloved dog was going through tests at the vet, he chatted about the occult, personal influences (John Lomax, prison songs, Death in June), his musical relationship with tour-mate Chelsea Wolfe (they arrive at the Great American Music Hall this Fri/11), the differences between his many bands, and deep-seated psychological fears:

San Francisco Bay Guardian Where are you right now?

T.J. Cowgill  I’m at the vet with my dog, everything’s OK. She’s been dog aggressive a little lately, so we’re just making sure. Dogs don’t have a way to tell you when they’re sick. My dog is really nice. She’s a big black lab, and she’s usually nice but she tried to bite a dog yesterday. She’s seven, and hasn’t been to the vet in a long time, but I’m about to leave on tour, so I want to make sure she’s OK before I go.

SFBG What’s her name?

Cowgill Her name’s Pagan.

SFBG OK, so that leads into my first real question: where did you find this interest in the occult?

Cowgill It’s just how I was raised. My dad and his wife were Born Again Christians – they got saved at this church in a small town in Oregon, and that was probably when I was six or seven. Before that they were basically atheists. My mom though has always been a neo-Pagan Witch, her own breed or religion. She would teach me how to meditate, she had healing crystals. So my mother taught me that stuff sometimes out of the year, and then my dad would be telling me that it’s all devil worship. It was back and forth.

I just had to figure out why all these adults in my life were crazy. And I just had a profound interest in the history of religion in general, because of it. Where do these beliefs come from? How are people so fractured when it comes to spirituality?

SFBG Can you tell me about the process for ‘Burning Daylight?’ What was influencing you at the time you were making it?

Cowgill That record in particular, I was listening to a bunch of early field recordings, by like, John Lomax, a lot of prison songs, and a lot of early American country-blues. But it’s across the board; some of it is influenced by country stars like Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. John Lee Hooker, a lot of his guitar playing influenced how I played guitar on that record. In all, I was just going for an early American, turn of the century vibe. An alternate score to maybe There Will Be Blood.

SFBG It does have a little bit of a darker feel to it…

Cowgill Totally, it’s really dark. I thought when I recorded like, ‘this isn’t that dark.’ But then I play it and some songs are the darkest, most depressing shit. When I was writing it, it didn’t feel like that at all. Then of course you send it off to press, to the labels, and you don’t think about it anymore, because you’re sick [of hearing it]..I record, mix, and master everything that I release, or I have so far. And so it’s like, I don’t want to hear those fucking songs for a good amount of time. It was almost three months before I listened to it again, and I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, this is the darkest fucking record.’ Who wants to sit around and listen to this?

SFBG People are drawn to the darker stuff.

Cowgill Definitely. It represents a side of every single human being. The themes were like, love causing people to murder, the need to accomplish something, preventing your own death by any means necessary. And while working on the record, I was going to this incredibly dark place. My wife noticed, everybody noticed. I would get into arguments with people, or fistfights, I got arrested, you know? I’m like, how bad am I trying to get myself into trouble to understand this, or to get this narrative correct. I’m not normally like that.

SFBG Each song does feel like its own narrative, a vignette with a scene of specific characters, like in ‘Barbara Ann,’ there’s a story of murdering for love, but is it really a love song?

Cowgill I think it’s probably the best love song I’ve ever written. Just simply because it is this character, this young kid. It’s from the perspective of this 12-year-old kid singing to another 12-year-old, this girl Barbara Anne. In my mind it takes place in a small town in the ’40s and it’s this kid who’s wildly in love but doesn’t really even know what love is.

He’s more in love than anybody has been in love before, and is willing to do anything for Barbara Anne, who’s not even a bad person but she has had some bad things happen to her in the town. So the kid is like: I’ll kill everybody in the town for you, if that’s alright with you. That’s the most loving thing I think anybody can say for somebody else.

To get into a character, if you’re trying to tell a story – and all my songs have a fairly strong narrative – it helps to give some life to the characters that you might not even talk about in the song.

SFBG How different is that from the way you’d write for your other bands like Teen Cthulhu and Book of Black Earth?

Cowgill Completely different. I have to take into consideration the feelings and religious or political stances of the people I’m in a band with. I don’t feel, in the past, that I’ve ever been able to just write whatever I wanted; there was a bit of a filter – and it’s not like they were asking me, don’t write songs about this or censoring, but I was sort of self-censoring, to not associate them with something they didn’t want to affiliate with.

SFBG Is this the first time then that you’ve really been able to write exactly how you wanted?

Cowgill Exactly. I realized early on the power of that for me, and how much I liked it. I love it. My creativity or output is much higher than it is in other bands. It’s a far more difficult process with a band. I’m in another band called CROSS with Travis [Namamura] from Teen Cthulhu and my friend Larry [Perrigo], who was in Wormwood, and that’s a collaborative band. It’ll take us months to write a single song and with King Dude, I could do a song a day.

Granted, the songs are completely fucking different. My songs are blues and folk-influenced, so the framework’s already there. In CROSS, it’s inspired a lot by Finnish black metal, so it’s a weirder process. Everybody in that band CROSS looks at it as a different band. I look at it as complete Bathory worship as a guitar player, the bass player [Perrigo] listens to Finnish Black Metal, and then [drummer Namamura] listens to hardcore and heavy metal. 

SFBG So how did you choose folk and blues as the direction for your personal project?

Cowgill It just kind of came out that way, I think. I have a strange guitar tuning I use, it’s just a little different than a normal tuning and it forces everything into a minor key, and it makes the song sound sadder, somber, with a sense of longing. When you strum an acoustic guitar with a C chord, it just sounds kind of folky.

Plus I was listening to like, a lot of British folk at the time when I started it. I listened to bands like Trees and Fairport Convention and even Krautrock too. Death in June obviously, and all the neofolk stuff was greatly influential on me.

Although, I didn’t ever really consider myself part of that scene, I just knew a little bit about. I just started discovering it around that time. Actually, I started King Dude before I heard Death in June. My friend Mary – who is a lifelong goth [laughs] –  heard the recording I did and said, ‘This sounds like Current 93 and Death in June.’ And I was like, ‘what are those bands?’ And just dived in and fell in love with both of those bands and it really influenced what I was writing.

SFBG How did you end up working with Chelsea Wolfe? This is your first tour together, but you’ve also recorded together in the past?

Cowgill We recorded a split seven-inch, we wrote two songs together and performed on each other’s material. My wife, Emily, played drums on both of the songs. And Ben Chisholm, her boyfriend who plays bass in the band, played on both songs. So it was very collaborative. That was a year and a half or two years ago. We’ve only done a couple of shows together in our lives. That’s so weird, I’ve known them for so long.

SFBG How did you first meet?

Cowgill There’s this guy Todd Pendu, Pendu Sound Recordings. He put out her early stuff. He also was a big King Dude fan. He thought I should met Chelsea and that we should do a split together. It was weird, meeting Chelsea with a pretense. It was that awkward moment when your friend is trying to set you up with someone.

I was like, I don’t know if she’s an asshole, I don’t know if she’s on heroin. I don’t know anything about her. There’s all kinds of things that would make me not want to work with someone. But as luck would have it, we got on like a house on fire. We’re similar in a lot of aesthetics and things, and Tom was right.

SFBG For the record, she’s not an asshole or a heroin addict...

Cowgill It’s really good that’s she’s not. It’s beyond just, ‘oh she’s cool.’ We’re friends. Ben wrote the intro for my last record, Love. We share music with each other before it comes out. It’s a great friendship. We’re really stoked [for the tour].

SFBG What else do you have planned for 2013?

Cowgill I have a record called Fear. It’s a lot different than Burning Daylight. The songs are a lot more ’60s pop rock, British Invasion type of stuff. But lyrically it’s much much darker.

Burning Daylight is about death, an angry emotion, but Fear is about your deepest, darkest fears – the things that keep you awake at night; I’m exploring deep-seated psychological stuff. It’s been enlightening. The lyrics are more personal, maybe not such fictional characters. So that’s a huge step for me, I’ve never done that before. Lyrically and musically, I think it’s the best stuff I’ve written.

I’m about to tour for two months, so it’ll probably be a fall release. About a record a year is what I aim for.

SFBG And you’re still doing the Actual Pain [clothing line]?

Cowgill That’s a full-time operation as well. Luckily, [Emily] helps so much. We’re partners in the business as well as in life. And we have a couple of employees now. So it’s a little easier for me to leave and tour. For the past couple of years, it’s been too hard for me to leave for more than a week. Actual Pain is doing really well and growing a lot, and in that growth I experience a little more freedom.

King Dude
With Chelsea Wolfe
Fri/11, 9pm, $15
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF

Gentle mosh


TOFU AND WHISKEY Vetiver and Howlin Rain have both been haunting around the Bay for the better part of a decade. Sonically split, playing tender Americana folk and 1970s-tinged psychedelic rock, respectively, the bands share a common thread of superior musicanship and drive — each releasing a landmark album in the past year or so (Howlin Rain’s The Russian Wilds and Vetiver’s The Errant Charm). The other link? Mutual admiration.

The two bands will play a series of three concerts together this weekend (Fri/28, Sat/ 29, Mon/31, 9pm, $20–$35, Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. In anticipation of those, we did a sort of round-robin of interviews. I asked the musicians — Vetiver band leader and chief songwriter Andy Cabic and Howlin Rain’s Ethan Miller — a few general questions, then they took their conversation adrift, discussing literary influences, favorite Bay Area bands, and “the softest mosh pit in history.” Here are some hearty pieces of the conversation. There’ll be more up on

SFBG What compelled you to create music in San Francisco, initially? What keeps you here?

AC I was playing music before I moved here and just gradually found folks to play with here in SF. Bands like Thinking Fellers Union and Caroliner were an initial inspiration. I’ve been here a while and have an apartment with reasonable rent, so that along with the weather, food, community and landscape of the city keeps me here.

EM Initially I moved up from that haunted little paradise that is Santa Cruz to be with my band at the time, Comets On Fire. The rest of the guys had all started migrating to the city and I was finishing up school there, I knew I needed to be with the band and San Francisco had a real buzz of excitement and electricity in the air for us at that time, we were moving toward a dark magic both in the atmosphere of San Francisco and the creative work that was ahead of us.

I actually live in Oakland. I love it here. I stay for my bands, the culture, access to the art museums, the food, the music, the airports, the architecture, the weather, the outlying and incorporated nature, the people, my friends, the work opportunities — I could go on and on, I really don’t have any incentive to leave. After 10 years of living in the metropolitan Bay Area I think my romance with these cities and all they have to offer is stronger than ever and my engagement with their mythologies is increasing daily.

AC [Ethan,]I know you are a voracious reader, and someone who is a fan of epic and oftentimes challenging works of fiction, like Valis, Gravity’s Rainbow, and War and Peace. What is the attraction to committing to a lengthy or monumental work, and how does this impact your songwriting?

EM I started to get into some pretty dark head places when we were making the last record The Russian Wilds. As it dragged into year three, I realized I really needed some highly focused activities outside of music in my life to dismantle stress/anger/exasperation/despair etc. I began jogging religiously to beat these emotions out of my body on the pavement and I took on some heavy books to beat them out of my mind. Moby Dick and War and Peace were the two big ones that began to clear the mental air for me.

Even though we’d finished the album and life moved on to a different kind of pace and substance, I loved the challenge and grandiosity of those works and continued on with the epics. I read Gravity’s Rainbow this year while on the road near the end of our tour cycle and loved it. It is a work that has taunted, haunted, and eluded me for years and now I can say it’s one of my all time favorites; it just took some relatively hard work and time to begin to engage properly with it. It is a true and singular masterpiece but it plays by a different set of rules than most of us are used to dealing with in literature.

AC Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Tim Green and his role in the recording process of ‘The Russian Wilds’?

EM Tim worked for months and months, perhaps dedicated half his year to The Russian Wilds. I can’t say enough about his focus and enthusiasm for the making of that album. Tim and I have been working together on records for 13 years now and we have a pretty telepathic level of communication at this point. I always learn from him, a true professional and an incredible mix of artist and scientist and a great friend. The songs that you hear on that album were chosen and shaped by Rick in their basic forms but the sounds and the “album” that you hear is Tim Green. That’s his blood, sweat, and tears along with ours.

EM Stylistically, perhaps the thing Vetiver is most famous for is your “hushed”/”understated” delivery. Your singing, phrasing, and various levels of serene projection really are the mechanism that delivers Vetiver’s artistic manifesto. When you first began to sing, was what we now know as your style already there by intention or default? Was there a conscious decision to build that style?

AC I think I’ve always sung in a soft way. I had a band in college where I tried yelling and shouting and in that context it worked alright, but never quite clicked for me. I was usually hoarse by the end of those songs. I have a predilection for jangly, poppy sounds and melodic singing, and having never been trained or really taught how to sing correctly, I don’t sing with a very strong voice.

Getting an acoustic guitar and learning to fingerpick allowed me to bring the volume of the performance in line with my voice, and helped me develop a songwriting style that felt easier and more natural.

EM I’m keen to know what kind of literary influences move your musical mind…favorite books or authors that you go back to for musical inspiration year after year? Do you often cross-pollinate influences for songwriting inspiration? Cinema, poetry, visual art?

AC I worked for some years as a buyer for a used bookstore (Aardvark Books on Church at Market…the best!), and though it was one of my favorite jobs, it kind of ruined my ability to stick to one book at a time, hence my reading taste is a bit divided. I read a lot of non-fiction, history, and biographies.

As far as fiction goes, I’m a fan of authors who imbue their writing with their own personal voice. Charles Portis, Robert Walser, Eric Ambler, Paul (and Jane) Bowles, Donald Barthelme and Gertrude Stein are a few of my favorite authors. I’m inspired by economy of language and simplicity, when a lot is communicated with just a few well-chosen words. Conviction of conception is important to me. Bold ideas executed with modesty. The artwork and lived life of Wallace Berman and Marcel Duchamp is a big inspiration for me as well.

EM When we were backstage at a show a while back you told me about a mosh pit that broke out at a Vetiver gig last year. You or someone in the conversation described it as one of the softest mosh pits in history…

AC This was earlier this year, at Pitzer College, during their Kohoutek Festival. It was a blow-out for the students at the end of their term, and we were asked to play last, which is unusual as Vetiver’s sound isn’t exactly of a climactic nature, let’s say. Kids were definitely tripping balls and the prior electronic pop acts had raised the bar to where everyone was ready to go.

A significant portion of the people up front were mesmerized by the dancer twirling her LED hula hoop. That kind of thing. And basically when we began, some folks started pushing around and trying to make it more than it probably was. Some loose student with large pupils got on stage and strained inanities into the microphone between songs, and we were told after a few tunes that the police had arrived and asked to turn ourselves down. We’re probably the only band that has no problem turning down.

EM There are great rolling layers of ambience beneath the more attention grabbing pop and rock elements of ‘The Errant Charm.’ It’s almost as if another dimension has slipped into the world we know and casts a dream state on the listener. A subtle overthrow of pop consciousness. What is that ambient world? Is it of a Machiavellian nature? And why or how is it there flowing effortlessly and breeze-like in and out of a more familiar pop world?

AC This ambient world is a reflective space for me. The Errant Charm may have more of this as the album began with myself and Thom Monahan building layers of keyboards and effects as a substrate for the tunes. I love catchy melodies as well as slow moving ambiences and tried to create opportunities for both to coexist.

AC What’s your favorite underrated Bay Area band of all time and why?

EM Man, this is a tough one between Icky Boyfriends and Monoshock. Probably Icky Boyfriends. Their reunion gig at the Hemlock this year was really something else. I’ve been super into the Public Nuisance record that just got reissued, but they are a lost group from Sacramento and that may be a little too far out from the Bay. Still worth checking out!


Balkan brass blowup


Tofu and Whiskey If you’re going to book a Balkan-influenced band, don’t expect the crowd to stay put. The Bay Area’s Inspector Gadje, an offshoot of the Brass Liberation Orchestra, usually packs in around 15 players, including 12 on horns and three percussionists. When the raucous group came marching through the wilderness (read: Golden Gate Park) during Outside Lands, it filled in crevices between trees, and created an instant party atmosphere between the main stages. Those fast-walking through the thoroughfare of Choco Lands stopped in their tracks, surrounded the group, and started dancing, against everyone’s better judgment. It all happened in the blink of a dirt-lodged eye.

“A lot of Balkan music has a great ‘party’ feel to it…even when the music includes moments or textures that might have a darker feel, the music is played with an undeniable exuberance,” says Oakland’s David Murray. “The rhythms of the Balkans; Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Bulgaria, etc., include many unusual time signatures that are compelling and especially attractive to musicians.”

Murray, a graphic designer by trade, is one of those musicians — he’s been playing bouzouki in Greek Rebetika band Disciples of Markos since 2004, and also plays fiddle in the Squirrelly Stringband, which is the house band for the North Oakland square dance (a “monthly underground hillbilly dance party,” as he describes it). As a combination of his art and music backgrounds, he also produces and designs albums for the Dust-to-Digital record label, which specializes in reissuing obscure folk and world music.

His newest project, however, is all about the music of the Balkans. He began the Berkeley Balkan Bacchanal ( music series at Berkeley’s Starry Plough in October 2011. He got the idea after meeting like-minded acts in the Bay Area, with affinities for Southeastern European styles of music. In the past year or so, the monthly Balkan showcase has seen performances by Murray’s band, along with Inspector Gadje, Zoyres, Veretski Pass, Janam, Gadjitos, and a dozen or so more.

The last Berkeley Balkan Bacchanal of 2012 takes place this week, with Fanfare Zambaleta, “Middle Eastern marching band” MWE, and Helm, a group that specializes in Turkish classical and pop music (Thu/20, 8pm. Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck, Berk. Murray says MWE, which includes three or four horns and the wailing Turkish reed (zurna), is known to play in the middle of the dancefloor with the crowd dancing around them. See? Instant party music.

I asked Murray if it’s been challenging to track down acts for this series, as it has such specific influences but he shut that down quick: “No, it hasn’t been difficult at all. There are a lot of great bands around here that fit into the theme of our series. At one point there were no less than three Balkan brass bands in town…And because we don’t mind pushing the boundaries of the Balkans to include neighboring influences, we’ve been able to feature bands that play Algerian music, Persian, and more.”

He added in some historical links, for good measure: “The Bay Area has a very vibrant Balkan music scene, which has some interesting origins in the 1960s, with bands like Kaleidoscope. The early California Renaissance Fairs provided an early outlet for many Balkan musicians, and music camps, such as Lark Camp in Mendocino, have been inspiring and teaching musicians for generations.”

As a novice listener, I’ve (admittedly) grown interested in Balkan sounds via more mainstream bands that have remote influences from the regions, acts like Balkan Beat Box and early Beirut, which typically blend sounds and instruments from a variety of places with pop and folk influences; but also thanks to Gogol Bordello and, more recently, Inspector Gadje, which is more purely influenced by the Balkan style.

“I tend to avoid bands that are actively ‘fusion,’ it doesn’t interest me much, especially bands that combine many styles,” Murray says. “It seems, to me, to usually dilute the very thing that makes the music interesting to begin with. But I’m sure there’s a wide range of opinions on this subject among the various bands and audience members.”

He says he’s more interested in bands that dig deep into the music they play, understanding the history and playing it in an authentic style. He brings up local bands such as Veretski Pass, which plays klezmer with accordion, fiddle, and bass, but also has studied the Jewish music of the Carpathian mountains, noting that the band will be back to the Starry Plough Jan. 17 for an all-klezmer night with the Gonifs.

But Murray points out that this doesn’t mean the acts of the Berkeley Balkan Bacchanal are rigid. “…that’s not to say that these bands are stuffy academics or that they don’t play with styles to some degree. On the contrary, most of the players are young and bring the music to life in a vibrant way that gets heads bobbing and feet dancing.”

“A great example is the Mano Cherga band, which played in September, and sounds like a Serbian party band you’d hear at a drunken wedding bash.”

Bring on the brass and vodka.



There are a number of reasons why A Very Castle Face Christmas is an obvious choice. There’s performances by Thee Oh Sees, Blasted Canyons, Warm Soda, and recent GOLDIES winner the Mallard. Plus, it’s a benefit for the Coalition on Homelessness in SF, a very worthy cause. There’s also the added bonus of the venue itself. I just this week finally made it to a show at newish Mission venue the Chapel, and it was, frankly, charming — from the dark-wood high beam arched ceiling, to the multiple bars (three), to the band-watching angles (you can see from the main room, the balcony, and the soon-to-be-restaurant, plus there are flatscreens linked to cameras fixed on the stage). Win-win-win. Thu/20, 8:30pm, $15. Chapel, 777 Valencia, SF;



Following front person Matt Pike’s treatment for alcohol addiction, Oakland’s beloved stoner metal act High on Fire is back. Well, technically, the band has been back for about a month, touring the country on most recent release De Vermis Mysteriis. But this will be it’s first big show back in the Bay, where it belongs. With Goatwhore, Lo-Pan. Sat/22, 9pm, $21. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF.


Remember this summer, when distortion-loving East Bay act CHURCHES was Kickstarting a record written for the pro-marriage equality cause? The band — led by Caleb Nichols of Port O’Brien and Grand Lake, Pat Spurgeon of Rogue Wave, and Dominic East — exceeded its goal, and that seven-inch (LOVELIFE) will see release at Bottom of the Hill this week. The trio also released a music video in conjunction with the record: interspersed with the band playing is a classic family portrait set-up with scenes of smiling families, and CHURCHES with their friends and loved ones, including Nichol’s fiance, Grand Lake drummer John Pomeroy. With Tijuana Panthers, Toshio Hirano. Sat/22, 9pm, $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF;

Heads Up: 7 must-see concerts this week


Call it the influence of witch house on the folk scene, or don’t –  those involved would probably hate that. But it does feel like there have been more and more “darkly spiritual acoustic-folk” acts of late, in the vein of Chelsea Wolfe and Father John Misty (albeit, on opposite ends of the spectrum), and in particular, King Dude, who returns to the Bay for a set of Oakland shows this weekend. There’ll also be live sets this week by Lavender Diamond, less moody but certainly as spiritual and folk-infused, and the legendary, if snappier Mountain Goats.

Unrelated, but also performing in the Bay these next few days: Roy Loney and the Phantom Movers, Overwhelming Colorfast, and the Chuckleberries; Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls with her boo, Brandon from the Crocodiles; Wooden Shjips, Liturgy, and Barn Owl, at the same show. Plus, it’s Chanukah, and the Subterranean Arthouse is celebrating with Yiddish bands and live klezmer. I hope for your sake you get some latkes this holiday season, my first batch was oily, crispy, and vegan – perfect.

Here are your must-see Bay Area concerts this week/end:

Lavender Diamond
You know Lavender Diamond, right? The whimsical LA-based electro-folk band fronted by crystal-clear vocalist/tree fairy Becky Stark? The group plays SF’s newest venue, the Chapel, this week. And as I hinted and posted about last week, Lavender Diamond will be joined on stage by actor-musician-superhuman John C. Reilly.
With Jessica Pratt
Tue/11, 9pm, $10-$12
777 Valencia, SF

Thrill Jockey 20th Anniversary
It’s finally here, the showcase I was blathering on about in the Tofu and Whiskey music column last week. Here are the specifics: awesomely independent Chicago label Thrill Jockey is celebrating 20 years of existence with showcases in towns they love, including ours. This was includes performances by Wooden Shjips, Liturgy, Barn Owl, Trans Am, Man Forever, and Eternal Tapestry. Thrilling.
Thu/13, 8pm, $18
628 Divisadero, SF

Subterranean Arthouse’s Chanukah Party
The Subterranean Arthouse’s Chanukah Party is part of Heather Klein‘s “Hungry for Yiddish: A Mitzvah Project” concert series, which donates proceeds from events to the Berkeley Food Pantry and similar organizations; and the event is co-presented by KlezCalifornia and the Jewish Music Festival. Acts include Klein’s Inextinguishable Trio, Anthony Mordechai-Tzvi Russell, noted Yiddish dance instructor Bruce Bierman, and Saul Goodman’s Klezmer Band. With instructions from Bierman, the lovely Yiddish songs of both Klein and Russell, and Goodman’s brassy klezmer, this should make for a fun, frenzied mid-point party during the festival of lights — and yes, they’ll light the menorah.
Thu/13, 9pm, $10-$20 donation
Subterranean Arthouse
2169 Bancroft, Berk.

The Mountain Goats
“The Mountain Goat’s dynamic leader, John Darnielle, has been writing songs about addiction, infidelity, and more sensitive subjects for the last 20 years. The group’s new album, Transcendental Youth, has been an excuse for Darnielle to branch out, inviting avant-symphonic rocker, Matthew E. White, to write horns for the album and working with Owen Pallett to arrange the songs for a collaboration with the a cappella quartet, Anonymous 4.” — Molly Champlin
With Matthew E. White
Fri/14, 9pm, $28
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-6000

King Dude
If you missed King Dude – the “darkly spiritual acoustic-folk” side project of gravelly TJ Cowgill of Teen Cthulu and Book of Black Earth – at Elbo Room last month, chin up. Dude/Cowgil is playing two shows at the Uptown this weekend, opening for Psychic TV. So no more tears, except possibly for those drawn from King Dude’s bleak, dance-with-the-devil, Johnny Cash straining to meet Tom Waits ballads.
With Lumerians, Youth Code
Fri/14-Sat/15, 9pm, $23
1928 Telegraph, Oakl.

Roy Loney and the Phantom Movers, Overwhelming Colorfast, the Chuckleberries

This is an early show, and it’s a benefit to help rebuild wild rock purveyor Norton Records (its warehouse was demolished in Hurricane Sandy) so it’s already a win-win situation: donate to a worthy cause, catch every band, and still have time for an early dinner. But the lineup is even better; it’s packed with classic Bay Area musicians: roots rock’n’rollers Roy Loney and the Phantom Movers – featuring hiccuping, rockabilly star Loney, of Flamin’ Groovies fame – along with ’90s pop-punk band Overwhelming Colorfast, the Chuckleberries featuring Russell Quan of the Mummies and Phantom Surfers, and more.
With the Tomorrowmen, Dirty Robbers, Rue 66, the Devil-Ettes, DJs Ruby White and Sid Presley
Sun/16, 2-7pm, $7-$10
Elbo Room
647 Valencia, SF

Dee Dee and Brandon
OK, technically this is next week, but it’s a Monday so I’m letting it slide: Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls and Brandon from the Crocodiles are in love — married, in fact, and make a rather swoon-worthy couple. Listen to Dee Dee’s crooning on “Bedroom Eyes” off 2011’s Only In Dreams, in which she repeats “fear I’ll never sleep again” and you start to get a sense of their connection, and the pain they feel apart on separate tours. To view said connection live, in all its gushy splendor, be the voyeur at their joint Rickshaw Stop show tonight; a very special showcase, indeed, where both will perform songs from their respective catalogs and — as I can only imagine — harmonize like old lovers do.
With Gio and Stef (Young Prisms)
Mon/17, 8pm, $15
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF
(415) 861-2011

Thrill ride


Tofu and Whiskey Arbiter of good taste, Thrill Jockey Records is officially 20 years old. In another era, in another business, this would merely be a back-slapping milestone. In the present stuck-barreling-downwards roller coaster of the music industry, it’s an anniversary worthy of widespread jubilation.

“It’s a mind-boggling number of years,” label founder Bettina Richards says during a phone call from the main office in Chicago, where the label’s been based since 1995.

And how else would a record label celebrates its birthday than with a series of familial concerts? There have been shows booked in key Thrill Jockey cities such as New York (where it began in ’92), London, San Francisco, LA, Chicago. Those shows (some of which have already gone down) boast lineups packed with label notables Tortoise, the Sea and Cake, Trans Am, Liturgy, Future Islands, and Matmos.

The San Francisco version of the traveling Thrill Jockey rodeo will be headlined by the label’s Bay Area acts: psych-rockers Wooden Shjips and drone duo Barn Owl, along with Liturgy, Trans Am, Man Forever, and Eternal Tapestry (Dec. 13, 8pm, $18. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF;

SF is considered a key Thrill Jockey city for a handful of reasons; there’s the aforementioned connection with Wooden Shjips and Barn Owl, plus, one of the label’s earliest releases was a band from here called A Minor Forest. And there’s another super-secret new signing set for 2013 (sorry, you won’t learn more than that here). “We’ve had a long, fond affection for the way San Franciscans can create super individual sounds,” Richards says.

Though they create different styles of music, Wooden Shjips and Barn Owl had some similarities that stood out to Richards when she was in the process of signing each. “They both share this transportive quality…taking you to an entirely different realm. With the Wooden Shjips, it’s an active feeling of motion, and with Barn Owl, it’s really an escape. It’s hard to put into words, but they both do something compelling to me.”

It’s that compulsion that’s lead Richards to many of her choices for the roster. She tells this story about one one the label’s most beloved acts: “Trans Am, way back in 1993, were the B-side of a seven-inch that John McEntire from Tortoise had recorded, and he gave me the seven-inch. It just happened that a week later they were playing. I saw them and was like, ‘oh my god, I love them.'”

While most of the acts have been found through musician friends and pals of the label, there’s the occasional random encounter, like Sidi Toure, the gifted Malian singer-songwriter. His CD arrived via snail-mail to the Chicago office right before Christmas last year. “We don’t usually get packages from Mali. I was on a drive to go see my folks, popped it in, and I just couldn’t believe it.” I tell Richards I had the same initial reaction to Toure’s mesmerizing compositions. “And the weirder thing,” she adds, “was that he sent it because he’s a really big Radian fan, which is a band from Austria with like, atonal drums. You just wouldn’t have guessed that, right?”

Austrian prog band HP Zinker was the first band she ever signed — at the time (’92), she was living New York City and was still bartending and working at a record shop. In fact, she did that for the first eight years of the label. The band lived in a decaying squat where White Zombie used to reside, and they all ended up moving in to Richards’ studio apartment. Richards lets out a raucous laugh recalling those early days.

From signing HP Zinker, to the label’s 330th release planned for next year, Thrill Jockey has maintained a comparatively sparkling reputation as a label that treats its artists well.

I asked Wooden Shjips drummer Omar Ahsanuddin why the label is so beloved and he replied: “Because they know their shit, are music fans, and mostly because [Richards] is a straight-shooter. As Phil Manley once told me: if you like getting paid on time, you’ll like Thrill Jockey.”

Barn Owl’s Jon Porras said, “It’s great to work with a label that trusts an artistic vision…Thrill Jockey upholds a level of professionalism and is open to unconventional ideas.”

“I think one of the main things, at least to me, is that these bands would be doing what they’re doing whether anybody is paying attention or not,” says Richards. “This is something they’re compelled to do. And in the same sense, we’re compelled to put it out, whether it makes sense or not.”

And that’s important in this current musical climate, a time when the mainstream labels are floundering, record sales have plummeted, and free music is a click away. “Trying to combat it would be like trying to swim against the tide. You’d exhaust yourself and get nowhere. Instead, we just try to adapt,” Richards says. “We’re small, so we’re flexible and can adapt quickly. The people that work here are super music geeks, that keeps them really involved.”

One shift has been the number of releases it puts out. It jumped a few years back from 10 releases a year, to three or four a month, including small print, specific collector releases, which appeal to the super music geek market.

In a nostalgic mood, given the anniversary shows, I ask Richards to look back and pick out what she’d want her legacy to be, after this thrill ride is over: “I hope people are as attached to some of the bands and the records that I am. I hope to, as an octogenarian, sit in my house and blast a Barn Owl record and really feel the same feeling I felt the first time I heard it. And I hope it’s as treasured to them as it is to us.”

Warm, fuzzy feelings abound.



In these stressful last days of the year, we likely all need a modicum of relaxation, just a taste. Local reed flute master Eliyahu Sills, best known as part of the the Qadim Ensemble, has just released an acoustic solo tribute to the sacred music of Sufism; a haunting record meant to assist in meditation, yoga, and just some overall relaxation techniques. Song of the Reeds is 10 songs of original improvisations, created on a flute made from a reed; can’t get more organic than that.



That Vivian Girls-Woods collaboration just keeps getting cuter. It’s fascinating how it really feels split between the two out-fronts: Cassie Ramone and Kevin Morby, one part jingly lo-fi girl-group, one part folky, acoustic forest-dweller. With all the fuzz and tender melodies on half of the songs, it gets inevitable comparisons to Best Coast, but that’s only a shade of its output. Check the new karaoke-filled, warped VHS-style video for “Baby,” off Our House on the Hill, released this month on Woodsist, then go back and try alternating tracks such as “On My Time” or “Get Lost.” It makes for an engrossing, push me/pull you dynamic that will translate nicely to the stage. Plus, the Brooklyn band plays with our own headlining post-punk heroes, Grass Widow.

Thu/6, 9pm, $12

Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17 St., SF.



Another Brooklyn export: infectious 11-piece Afrobeat band Antibalas is coming our way, with its first full-length album in five years — a self-titled LP released in August on Daptone Records — horns blazing. The long-running act has been making a big, boisterous noise since the late ’90s, and closely followed in Fela Kuti’s steps, yet has suffered in relative obscurity until recently. Earlier this year, the New York Times asserted its belief that a post-Fela! world (i.e. the rise of crossover acts like Vampire Weekend, and the wildly popular run of Fela! on Broadway), might finally “catch up” and catch on to the skill of Antibalas. With Afrolicious DJs Pleasuremaker and Senor Oz.

Mon/10, 8pm, $23

Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF.


You’ll be a woman soon


Tofu and Whiskey The phrase “‘woman’ is not a genre” has been popping up again. It’s been in articles, board threads, and subsequently, conversations I’ve been a part of. It’s a good one. Kind of an earworm of a saying, because on its face, it’s implicit, simplistic, obvious, even. But it’s a good mantra, for music writers. “Woman” is not a genre.

Maybe it’s a backlash against Rolling Stone’s recent, ridiculous “women who rock” package, which sought out the “best” woman in rock with votes from readers, and somehow ended up with cloying pop act Karmin plastered across the cover, cleavage-y as all Rolling Stone cover ladies. Can you imagine a “best white guy in rock” contest in RS?

But this is nothing new. As far as I can trace it, Little Boots said “‘girl’ is not a genre” in 2009, but — seeing as how it’s so gosh darn simple — it’s got to have been uttered previously, and certainly, undoubtedly, felt since the first time a woman picked up a different instrument from her female neighbor, and got thrown in concert together.

It was the headline and thesis of a piece on Electronic Beats about the rise of thinkpieces sputtering about a supposed rise of women making electronic music, another fallacy; it’s just the cheap shots in feature pieces clumping heterogeneous acts together again.

One of the only things linking all ladies of wildly divergent sounds at this point is the gendered showcases, or gendered comparisons. That’s not to say all comparisons are entirely inaccurate, they just frequently are made based on little more than appearance.

Ash Reiter, the frontperson for her eponymous East Bay band, saw plenty of comparisons after the release of her first album, Paper Diamonds, in 2010, with passing references to Fleetwood Mac and Cat Power, both of whom she admires. The singer-songwriter-guitarist was also hoping to sound like a mix of Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Grizzly Bear, and OK, Jolie Holland.

Now, Reiter and her band have taken that sound for a walk in another direction. With the new LP, Hola — which see release on 20 Sided Records Fri/30 with a show at the Rickshaw Stop (8:30pm, $10. 155 Fell, SF. — the local musicians took notes more from bubbly 1960s pop and classic Motown cuts, arrangements interspersed with bits of funk and Afro-pop.

“With our first album, I was in a folkier place with a lot of those songs, doing the Jolie Holland thing, which, you know, I cut my teeth singing along to her songs,” says Reiter, remarkably cheerful on the phone the afternoon before her current 54-day tour ends. “But I’ve gotten more excited about writing more upbeat pop songs with grooves to them, and working with my band to write music instead of writing it alone.”

On this tour, Reiter and her drummer Will Halsey went to the Motown Museum in Detroit, which was particularly meaningful because of its influence on Hola: “that’s a lot of the music we look up to. Of course, [we’ve always looked up to] the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but also all these girl groups, the Ronettes, and the Shirelles, and the Crystals. And we definitively imitated a lot of what we heard in the background vocals listening to the Supremes.”

She had just gotten the Supremes box set, but also was listening to early Nigerian pop, and Os Mutantes when she first began work on Hola, and brought those inspirations to New Improved Recording, where the band worked for the first time with engineer Carlos Arredondo, who they met at a party at Anna Ash’s house.

You can hear Ash Reiter’s many complimentary influences on Hola opening track, “I’ve Got Something I Can Laugh About Now,” with jangly guitars, shakers, cooing harmonies, and Reiter’s crystal-clear, honey-sweet lead vocals. Funkier, electro-shot “Ishi,” written about the last member of the Yahi, very much a part of California’s history, follows. Reiter read his biography for that song, but also just liked the phonetic sound of his name.

Raised in Northern California (specifically, Sebastopol), Reiter looked to the state’s history for inspiration lyrically this time around; the former modern lit major was reading voraciously during the making of the record, including Joan Didion’s Where I Was From. The song “Little Sandy” has a chorus that’s a quote Didion included from a pioneer girl’s diary.

While Hola was girl group-influenced, Reiter wasn’t about to write a break-up album — she’s dating the band’s drummer, Halsey, who also plays with Oakland’s the Blank Tapes.

Another Bay Area act — freshly rejiggered and condensed — is headlining the release show with Ash Reiter this week: DRMS. It’s also a new progression for the plucky electro Afro-pop act, formerly known simply as Dreams. Down from eight players, the now-four piece has whittled to bandleader-keyboardist Rob Shelton, vocalist-percussionist Emily Ritz, drummer Ross McIntire, and Mark Clifford on vibraphone, melodica, and backup vocals.



Local singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt just released a mystical, fleeing-through-a-foggy-forest folk album that’s so stripped down, quavering and personal, crackling yet crisp, it sounds like a rare, weird gem from the early ’70s that you’d unearth in the lower racks of Amoeba. The self-titled LP has such a true-blue timeless quality, however, to call it a throwback would do it injustice. White Fence’s Tim Presley is said to have created new label Birth Records solely to release Pratt’s debut, which came out Nov. 13. Pratt recently told Fader: “I was really afraid of some freak-folk comparisons because I’m from San Francisco, and I play electric guitar, and it’s kind of weird, folky stuff.” I’ll refrain.


Part of Nayland Blake’s ongoing FREE!LOVE!TOOL!BOX! exhibit, Show and Tell: Queer Punks in Conversation will include conversations with Leslie Mah of Tribe 8, Brontez Purnell of Gravy Train!!! and The Younger Lovers, Jess Scott of Make-A-Mess Records, Brilliant Colors, Index, and Flesh World, and Matt Wobensmith, founder of Goteblüd Vintage Zine Store and Outpunk. Full disclosure, the panel discussion will be moderated by SFBG managing editor, Marke B., but I’d have gone regardless.

Fri/30, 6:30pm, free with admission

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF


Candy apples and razor blades


TOFU AND WHISKEY While I don’t miss living in Long Beach, Calif. too much (save for some particular pals and the endless flat biking roads), I do sorely yearn for the yearly costumed Halloween performance — at steak restaurant/dive bar the Prospector — of the Shitfits, a Misfits cover band made up of local musicians. Luckily, in San Francisco, there are numerous bands-costumed-as-other-bands shows in late October, including at least one Misfits tribute: Astrozombies, a full-time tribute act, which will do the horror-punk legends right at Hemlock Tavern (Oct. 31, 8:30pm, $7. 1131 Polk, SF;

“The band was essentially formed to be a Halloween act,” Astrozombies’ vocalist-guitarist Kevin Amann, a.ka. Doyle Vonn Danzig, tells me.

Because what is Halloween without a Danzig-alike howling “Hallow-e-e-e-e-en?” Prefaced by, “Bonfires burning bright/Pumpkin faces in the night/I remember Halloween.” Doesn’t that make you itchy to slick down your devil-lock, and paint your face like the quintessential skull?

I ask Amann if his band’s Misfits (and some Danzig/Samhain) repertoire is constraining, and he says, nope: “I think, because there is some pretty serious diversity within the Misfits catalog, it really doesn’t ever feel limiting. We can go from a lightening fast punk song like ‘Demonamania’ to a brooding slow tempo rock song like ‘London Dungeon’.”

An aside: The actual Misfits — or, their current incarnation, minus Danzig — are playing the Oakland Metro on Nov. 16, but that’s still a few weeks away.

Let’s get back to the Halloween tribute show in general. It’s often the peak of the year’s nights out, the pinnacle when one might revert to early show-going wonder and moshpittery. Everyone is feeling creepy, and the only true nerds are the kids who come in street clothes, or as something “ironic” or “thought-provoking.” This year, some friends and I hope to go out as Pussy Riot, as both a fun fashion choice, and in solidarity. Wait, is that thought-provoking? Well, my partner will be a bearded man in a hot dog suit, so it’s not all politics.

Along with the Astrozombies, another local year-round tribute act, Bob Saggeth, will play Halloween again: two Black Sabbath-ish nights at Amnesia (Oct. 30-31, 10pm, $7–$10. 853 Valencia, SF;

Then there’s the kind of once-a-year special mashup tribute night I was blathering on about above at Thee Parkside (Oct. 31, 8pm, $8. 1600 17th St., SF;, with Glitter Wizard “Pushin’ Too Hard” as the Seeds, Twin Steps as the Cramps, Meat Market as G.G. and the Jabbers, and excellent new local bluegrass band the Parmesans as the Kinks.

There’s also a few Total Trash Booking monster mashes, which are pretty much always guaranteed to be raucous, punkish blowouts. There’s the pre-party at the New Parish (Nobunny, Shannon and the Clams, who will also be the Misfits, Pangea, Audacity, Uzi Rash. Fri/26, 8pm, $12–$14. 579 18th St., Oakl.; and two totally exciting Coachwhips reunion shows.

Coachwhips of course being John Dwyer’s pre-Thee Oh Sees noise punk outfit. One of the reunion nights (Sat/27 at Verdi Club) is totally sold out, and you’re bummed because there’s going to be a haunted house inside the venue. I’m stoked because that’s where I’ll be Pussy Riot-ing.

The other (Sun/28, 7pm, $12. Lobot Gallery, 1800 Campbell, Oak.) espouses another epic blend of Total Trash and totally touring bands: the aforementioned Coachwhips, Pangea, Fidlar, Guantanamo Baywatch, and White Mystery. I can only imagine all the blood-soaked costumes and sweaty brows.

You can find tons more freak shows in the Halloween concerts and parties guide elsewhere in this issue. But for an entirely different kind of year-round showmanship (holidays be damned), there’s SSION, performing with House of Ladosha and DJs from High Fantasy at this freaky-colorful installment of Future | Perfect at Public Works (Thu/25, 9pm, $10-$15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF;

SSION, pronounced “shun,” is hard to take your eyes off of, a confetti-puke electro-art-pop party collective from Kansas City, Missouri, led sultry androgynous vocalist Cody Critcheloe, who now resides in Brooklyn, with the aesthetic of early John Waters oeuvre meets Pee-wee’s Playhouse. While the recorded music is often relegated to pre-party pump-ups, live is where SSION really shines, as some may have witnessed at DNA Lounge’s Blow Up night earlier this year.


The people were weary at first of Seattle’s Crypts, a synth-based (specifically a rewired CR-8000) darkwave electro act led by Steve Snere. For Snere was already known and beloved as a former member of Kill Sadie and post-hardcore geniuses These Arms are Snakes, in an angular realm of post-punk proficiency. But Crypts is enticing in a new, much gloomier fashion, and yes, Snere still kills it, and it maintains a paranoid frenzy vibe. Check deep, dark, and ghoulish “Breathe,” off the band’s self-titled debut LP (Sargent House, Sept. 4). The band played SF this summer, but this time it’s much closer to Halloween, plus they’re opening for Omar Rodríguez-López, of At the Drive-In and Mars Volta fame.

Wed/24, 8pm, $15

New Parish

579 18th St., Oakl.


If you had told me 15 years ago that I’d be almost 30 and still recommending Converge, I’d of called you a liar or a time jumping cheat. And yet, after a forceful return listen, suggested by a fellow music nerd, I too must admit it: new record All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph Records, Oct. 9) is the thinking person’s heavy metal album. It’s still the blistering axes of hardcore and heavy metal, with melodic guitar riffs, rapid-fire drums, and pained chants, but with a more grown up, complex sensibility — or maybe that’s just me?

With Torche, Nails, Kvelertak

Fri/26, 8pm, $18


33 11th St., SF


And then there’s Hunx, or H.U.N.X., of Hunx and His Punx. In the past few weeks, Seth Bogart released an insta-classic Halloween music video for his track “I Vant to Suck Your Cock” — full of gothy late night cable access details, sexy vampires, lime-green wigs, and tombstone booty thumping — and announced both a new variety show, Hollywood Nailz, and his own record label, Wacky Wacko Records, which is releasing “I Vant to Suck Your Cock” as a single. According to the release, the label will be “an outlet to release novelty records, children’s music, holiday themed hits, songs from…Hollywood Nailz, and other bizarre things that most labels wouldn’t bother with.” Bogart is currently living in LA (as his variety show moniker would suggest) but still visits his store in the Bay, Down at Lulu’s, often. He’s doesn’t have any local shows booked as of press time, but he knows we vant to see him.



Reborn on the Bayou


Tofu and whiskey is music editor Emily Savage’s new weekly music column.

Tofu and Whiskey There are loud grinding noises and those cinematic electric sparks shooting from a machine below a church pew-like balcony. It’s musky and filled with dark bordello wood. The arched main room, the one you see when you walk in the front door of 777 Valencia Street and turn a quick corner, is outlined in bright, bloody red, and there’s a stage.

Despite this transitional state a few weeks back, this stage at brand new Mission venue, Preservation Hall West at the Chapel — named after the jazzy New Orleans venue that inspired it — will hold star-powered spillover from Hardly Strictly Bluegrass ( this week, beginning Thu/4; the fest itself is Fri/5 through Sun/7. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans will perform each night of the long weekend with double-dipping special guests including Elvis Costello, Robert Earl Keen, Justin Townes Earl, and Steve Earle. Maybe this means we’ll see a bespectacled Costello riding a bicycle from Golden Gate Park to the Mission, with a guitar slung on his back? One can dream.

Back to reality: “There’s no shame in construction,” said Tracey Buck of Slim’s, who, along with Britt Govea of (((folkYEAH!))) and certainly others in the future, will be doing consulting and programming at the new all-ages venue. The building, now owned by Jack Knowles, was built in 1914, formerly housed the New College, and before that was a mortuary — which gives it a sort of macabre back story. The idea for the Chapel came from Knowles’ friend Ben Jaffe, creative director for the beloved New Orleans venue, Preservation Hall, and leader of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

In early 2013, the West Coast sister venue will have a full restaurant attached serving fare with elements of New Orleans cuisine. But for now, there will just be concerts, including the aforementioned HSB-linked shows and upcoming visits from the likes of Woods, White Fence, and Here We Go Magic — but not to worry, the Chapel does have its liquor license now, and the bar should be ready to serve.

I pushed for fears about the venuenot being ready in time for its rapidly approaching opening date, anxiety about the relatively short distance between that morning two weeks back and the first show this week, but got back little more than nervous laughter. “It’s crunch time, but everyone knows what needs to be done,” said Buck, diplomatically.

It’s no surprise. First of all, if you live in the neighborhood, or have been near it recently, you’ve undoubtedly poked your head in and have seen what I saw — constant work. Secondly, as rabid HGTVers know, programs like Love It Or List It and their ilk show designers and construction workers whipping out brand new pads in a matter of weeks. Buck even referenced the show Restaurant: Impossible, where they quickly turn around a doomed eatery. So, it can be done.

There was also some less literal rebuilding at the actual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in 2012. After the death late last year of the fest’s founder, head cheerleader, and billionaire backer, Warren Hellman, the crew had some personal reconstruction to work on.

Buck has been working the festival since it began 12 years back, and felt the loss personally. “It’s been tough, and I realize it more and more every day. But his spirit is there.”

Sheri Sternberg, technical director for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, also ruminated on Hellman’s passing, “There was something really great about having our first meeting with Warren each year…how excited he got about all the bands. If it was up to him, we would keep adding stages and days.”

The lineup this year is interesting, it’s a bit smaller — no more Thursday shows — but heavy on seriously disparate musicians such as Dwight Yoakam and Jenny Lewis and actor-bluegrass enthusiast John Reilly, and Cowboy Junkies, along with Giant Giant Sand (Howe Gelb’s hour-long opera) and a handful of younger acts such as Beachwood Sparks, the Civil Wars, and the Head and the Heart, along with the fest pillars like Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, and Steve Earle. Sternberg says Gary West is gathering a “greatest hits” of the festival to pay tribute to Hellman, Earl Scruggs, and Doc Watson, all of whom died last year, in a set called “The Founding Fathers.” It’s kind of the theme of this year as well. That tribute will likely be kicked off with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band doing a second line.

I asked Buck if it was hard to nab artists from Hardly Strictly to play an unknown, nearly unfinished venue like the Chapel and she claims it was the opposite: “They were really eager. I think it’s just exciting to finally have a venue opening — rather than closing.”



While bone-rattling noise has its very important place in my heart, there’s something to be said for warm cooing and surreal lyrics. For that, you can crawl up the grand staircase of the Swedish American and opera clap for English folk plucker Laura Marling. Her honest lilt and fluttering riffs have gained her comparisons to Joni Mitchell, but she has a distinctly British affect to these American ears. She played Grace Cathedral earlier this year and returns this week on her “Working Holiday Tour” to play from her most recent album A Creature I Don’t Know (Ribbon Music, 2011) at this far more intimate venue.

Wed/3, 8pm, $25. Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market, SF;



Best band name of the week goes to members of San Francisco’s Butt Problems: Fuck You Cop, You Fucking Cop opens for Street Justice at the Knockout.

Thu/4, 10pm, $7. 3223 Mission, SF.



Here’s to Recess Records — the independent punk label formed in 1989 and thriving in the current web-and-micro record shop musical landscape — and its friendly kingpin, Todd Congelliere. The snot-nosed singer-guitarist-label owner, who also fronted F.Y.P. and Underground Railroad to Candyland, returned this year to his early Aughts punk outfit, Toys That Kill. Todd and the Toys That Kill gang released its first new album in six years — the energetic and well-received Fambly 42 (Recess Records, 2012) — earlier this summer and have sparingly journeyed up the coast from their mythic Sunken City homebase of San Pedro, Calif. to play it live. Fambly 42 might have taken so long to get here because Todd (jokingly?) told me that good bands only put out three albums then quit to form new ones. With Pins of Light, Elephant Rifle.

Fri/5, 9:30pm, $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF;

Heads Up: 6 must-see concerts this week


So much to talk about this week, but the biggest news of course is both Hardly Strictly Bluegrass’ return – for the first time since the death of founder Warren Hellman – and new venue Preservation Hall West at the Chapel.

Below, you’ll get the basic need-to-know info on the shows you must see; but check Tofu and Whiskey, my music column in this week’s paper, for the details behind it all. A sort of Behind the Music on the newly constructed Mission venue and the cherished Golden Gate Park fest, if you will.

Here are your must-see Bay Area concerts this week/end:

Patrick Wolf (acoustic)
The glitzy British multi-instrumentalist returns, this time repping hefty sixth record, Sundark and Riverlight. The double album is a career retrospective – marking 10 years since debut studio album, Lycanthropy – that will include rejiggered acoustic versions of his favorite songs. It sees release Oct. 15 on Bloody Chamber Music/Essential Music.
With Woodpigeon
Tue/2, 8pm, $21
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750

Laura Marling
While bone-rattling noise has its very important place in my heart, there’s something to be said for warm cooing and surreal lyrics. For that, you can crawl up the grand staircase of the Swedish American and quietly opera clap for English folk plucker Laura Marling. Her honest lilt and fluttering riffs have gained her comparisons to Joni Mitchell, but she has a distinctly British affect to these American ears. She played Grace Cathedral earlier this year and returns on her “Working Holiday Tour” to play from her most recent album  A Creature I Don’t Know (Ribbon Music, 2011) at this more intimate venue.
Wed/3, 8pm, $25
Swedish American Hall
 2174 Market, SF

Niki and the Dove
“Sweden is exporting a lot more than bedframes and meatballs. Stockholm’s Niki and the Dove is an electro duo giving a dark depth to pop music. Vocalist Malin Dahlström and keyboardist Magnus Böqvist met when writing music for the theater, giving their recorded music and their live shows a dynamic, dramatic quality that pop so often lacks. Dahlström’s sugary voice soars above the churn and chime of Böqvist’s catchy and sometimes unsettling beats.” — Haley Zaremba
With WOLF GANG, Popscene DJs
Thu/4, 9:30pm, $15
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF

Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Robert Earl Keen
The new, all-ages Mission venue kicks its doors wide open for the first time this Thursday with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band – of the much-loved New Orleans venue that inspired the West Coast version. The swinging Pres Hall Jazz Band will play with various Hardly Strictly Bluegrass acts throughout the weekend, but the first show goes to country-folk singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen.
Preservation Hall West at the Chapel
777 Valencia, SF
Ticketfly: Preservation Hall West

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
It’s free; it’s the best swarming, long-running outdoor bluegrass-folk-rock’n’roll fest in San Francisco. Do you need more? Well there’s Elvis Costello, Chuck Ragan, Jenny Lewis, Lumineers, Robert Earl Keen, the Chieftains, Steve Earle, Red Baraat, the Head and the Heart, Cowboy Junkies, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, Dwight Yoakam, Patti Smith, and more. You get it.
Fri/5, 10am-7pm; Sat/6-Sun/7, 11am-7pm
Golden Gate Park, SF

Conor Oberst
For those who just can’t get enough Conor Oberst: Oberst will also be playing Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and will likely bring some of his friends from the fest to this show. (Thinking Jenny Lewis, perhaps? That’s my best guess.) Here’s hoping he plays a broad spectrum of trembling, angsty folk, from Bright Eyes to the Mystic Valley Band.
Sun/7, 8pm
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-3000