Chris Sabbath

Another close one


Noise luminary Tom Smith’s nearly three-decade jaunt through the experimental rock abyss has been part of a sustained continuum of all his undertakings. Throughout the late ’70s and much of the ’80s, the main brain and entrepreneur of To Live and Shave in LA occupied his time in bands such as Of Boat, Pussy Galore, and Peach of Immortality, before TLASILA took its first few breaths in July 1990. After migrating to South Florida in 1991, the Georgia native quickly stumbled on bassist and engineer Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra and oscillator operator Ben Wolcott. Alongside contemporaries such as Harry Pussy and Tamato duPlenty, the threesome submerged themselves in Miami’s flourishing noise rock scene of the early ’90s, carving a sonic palette void of any real structure but fraught with their influences: Throbbing Gristle, UK glam, kraut rock, and the avant-garde.

"We had no overt goal in mind, but we knew what we loved and shared a particular excitement for the things we deplored," Smith wrote in an e-mail. "It’s all problem-solving, really – a race toward unknowing. I gravitate towards reproduction and demolition."

Wolcott agreed via e-mail, attesting to the Miami scene’s love-hate relationship with the band. "We were respected for our perseverance but hated by the public. We were just reaching out to like-minded people, looking to commune with fellow extremists in the arts," he explained. "There is a slight obsessive bent to spreading the Shave gospel. We logged a lot of hours touring, and it’s hard to believe we would drive so many hours to blast our pedagogy that would only last for 15 minutes in an empty bar."

Originally devised by Smith as a solo project, TLASILA’s history is about as labor-intensive as it is legendary. Diligent – and sometimes violent – performances, a steady flow of albums and tours, and a rotating cast of players and slayers from a miscellany of eclectic musical realms have included everyone from Thurston Moore to Andrew W.K. to the Bay Area’s own Weasel Walter.

"Tom is a very peculiar, singular talent," Walter noted in yet another e-mail. "He is an outsider artist essentially. He is an obsessive organizer, and his inspiration comes from a wide swath of cultural vantages, from the highest to lowest. He puts Xenakis and the Dark Brothers on an even keel, and that’s why his art is simultaneously so visceral and intellectual. His lyrics are almost James Joyce-like in their pure semantical deconstruction…. What he does is absorb, cut up, and regurgitate everything in culture and spit it back out."

Following a festival performance in 2000, Smith broke ranks with the group and formed OHNE with Swiss performance artist Dave Phillips. With Wolcott already out of the picture, Falestra soldiered on with TLASILA, from which numerous spin-offs and clones surfaced, including TLASILA 2 and I Love LA. Falestra and Smith reconvened in 2003 and shaped the band into its strongest lineup yet: an 11-member ensemble residing throughout the country, in Atlanta; Las Vegas; Northampton, Mass.; LA; Charleston, SC; and Adel, Ga. Guitarist-producer Don Fleming, Sighting’s Mark Morgan, stripper Misty Martinez, Chris Grier, and Andrew "Gaybomb" Barranca are some of the noiseniks, along with Moore, Wolcott, and W.K., rounding out TLASILA’s current incarnation. A touring version, of Wolcott, Graham Moore, Martinez, and Falestra, will undertake the group’s West Coast dates – its first since 1996 – and will support TLASILA’s great 2006 full-length, Noon and Eternity (Menlo Park), and the forthcoming Les Tricoteuses (Savage Land). But the ceaseless TLASILA work ethic won’t allow the ensemble to stop there: Smith promises that even more albums can be expected to materialize during the ensuing tour. Live, shave, live again.


With Rose for Bohdan, Tourette, and the Weasel Walter Quartet

May 3, 8:30 p.m., $6-$10

21 Grand

416 25th St., Oakl.

(510) 444-7263

Also with Kreamy ‘Lectric Santa and Rose for Bohdan

May 4, 9:30 p.m., $8

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923

Deer me


Weathered over the years by lineup changes, tension-fueled recording sessions, and a band member’s death, Atlanta’s Deerhunter have endured their share of setbacks since forming in 2001. But wherever chaos laughs itself into a tizzy, there lurks a handsome reward just waiting to jump out and squeeze our brooding bunch from the Big Peach. Following the January release of their sophomore effort, Cryptograms (Kranky), the quintet experienced just that: their status skyrocketed to indie music darlings almost overnight.

Some who saw the outfit open for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have differed: on Deerhunter’s MySpace page, one spectator describes the group as "a pile of shit in this ‘thing’ we call the music business," while another testifies vocalist Bradford Cox "got a boner twice" while administering "false fellatio" to the rest of the band (Cox denies the allegation).

What’s certain, however, is Cryptograms’ alluring spirit. Recorded in two consecutive sessions, the album shifts from queasy art punk ("Lake Somerset") to shimmering cacophony ("Red Ink") to soothing pop ("Hazel St."). Generating a perpetual squall of numbing dissonance bristling with feedbacked guitar treatments and lulling white noise, the group collages ambient clatter and nostalgic psych-pop fraught with portraits from our past: the Creation catalog, Brian Eno, Galaxie 500, and Spacemen 3. Cryptograms‘ shuffling tone is set during its initial seconds — the lethargic sound of trickling water dissolves quickly into an electronic cackle of whirring effects pedals. Then just as the looped delirium reaches its unbearable brink, the distortion-charged title track shaves the fuzz down to a single note. "My greatest fear / I fantasized / The days were long / The weeks moved by / Before I knew / I was awake / My days were through / It was too … late," Cox mumbles.

Cox should have nothing to fear at all — his band’s tour in support of its Fluorescent Grey EP on Kranky might get the occasional heckle, but it’ll probably be too hard to hear amid the amplifiers’ roar. (Chris Sabbath)


With the Ponys and Turn Me On Dead Man

Fri/13, 9 p.m., $10

12 Galaxies

2565 Mission, SF

(415) 970-9777

Their days are numbered


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We’re all having a tough time these days in the Bay Area. It might be the worriment of the imminent tax day, our skyrocketing rent, or the recent dissolution of a rocky relationship. Or it could be as mundane as the feeling brought on by chasing down your morning commute through the pouring rain, only to realize that you forgot your bus fare once you finally catch up to it. Whatever the case is, we’re all in need of a curative soundtrack, and Cleveland’s Six Parts Seven are here to help out.

Entwining reflective, subdued instrumentation with tame, wistful melodies on its fifth full-length, Casually Smashed to Pieces (Suicide Squeeze), the group concocts eight tunes that make you want to curl up on a floating cloud and leave your headaches at the runway strip. The core members — guitarist Allen Karpinski; his brother, drummer Jay; guitarist Tim Gerak; and bassist Mike Tolan — mingle meditative, winding guitars, low-end bass, and restrained drums with soothing elements such as brass, piano, and woodwinds. Focusing primarily on mood and space, the 6P7’s instrumentals seesaw between joy and dejection, remorse and hope.

Though the sextet has considered adding a vocalist in the past, Allen Karpinski disclosed they were more interested in "making a very gorgeous sound together instead of worrying about lyrics or a singer."

He attempted to define the band’s sound over the phone while on a tour stop in Tallahassee, Fla. "There’s nothing very deliberate about the way we make our music — we just play what we play," he revealed. "One of the things that makes us unique is that we are able to project our personalities into the music that we choose to play: the melodies, the actual aesthetic of the sound. We let the instruments sing instead of having a voice, and it always has sort of a melancholy undercurrent to it."

The group first emerged in 1995 as a bass and drum duo, which Karpinski describes as "basement project" for his brother and himself. After breaking up for a short time to pursue other projects, such as the brothers’ Old Hearts Club, the two reassembled 6P7 in 1997, this time with Gerak in tow, to record their debut, In Lines and Patterns (Donut Friends). The years following saw numerous lineup changes, and the ensemble began introducing violin, lap steel, and piano and vibraphone harmonies into songs on the Suicide Squeeze–released Things Shaped in Passing (2002) and Everywhere, and Right Here (2004). But 6P7’s basic, signature sound remained unchanged.

"We would be writing exactly the same album if we stuck with the same instrumentation," Karpinski said. "We change it up not only to have different textures but also to challenge ourselves."

Casually Smashed to Pieces is no different. Cornet and trumpet blend to give songs such as "Stolen Moments" and "Confusing Possibilities" the jazzy meltdowns they seemingly beg for, while strummed guitar and twangy banjo administer a dose of backwoods Americana on "Conversation Heart." In contrast to 6P7’s past efforts, the new, shorter album sounds much more polished.

"We tried to give the new songs a little bit more of a pop feel and more of a verse-chorus structure," Karpinski explained. "Most of our older songs are sort of based on a repetitive motif of notes or something cyclical. The kind of experimentation I like to do with the band is not to change too much, but someone who knows our records well would be able to tell the difference."

In the past couple years, the band hasn’t gone unnoticed either. In 2003, Suicide Squeeze released Lost Notes from Forgotten Songs, reinterpretations of 6P7 songs by such artists as Modest Mouse, Black Heart Procession, and Iron and Wine. National Public Radio uses their songs as segue music for All Things Considered, and their current tour finds them acting as Richard Buckner’s backing band. Karpinski claimed that although they will be playing two shows a night for most of the tour, they plan on keeping 6P7’s sets short and sweet.

"Our live sets are rarely over 30 minutes long, and I don’t think people have the attention span to stand in a room with all the distractions and listen to instrumental music for more than that," he noted and laughed. "You know, they start to get bored even if they love it." *


With Richard Buckner

Thurs/5, 9 p.m., $15

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


Owner of a lonely heart


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Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s Owen Ashworth sounds like he’s in dire need of a friend. To listeners, the 29-year-old San Francisco native exudes the air of a hopeless romantic holed up his bedroom, his floor littered with broken Casio SK-1s and ready-to-be-pawned drum machines instead of crumpled-up balls of chicken scratch.

"Casios are such ubiquitous instruments, and I think there are as many homes with Casios in them as guitars," Ashworth explained from Chicago, where he now lives. "I feel like those sounds are ingrained in people’s adolescent subconscious, and they’re the cheapest and most accessible form of a musical instrument in a lot of households."

Since 1997, Ashworth has coupled blithe electronic dissonance and Atari-effected percussive treatments with husky spoken-narrative vocals, generating two-minute compositions that sound like pages torn from a diary. Almost on the fringes of satire, his dream pop melancholia conjures fictional characterizations that most think reflect Ashworth’s personal life: a stargazer prowls through the Safeway aisles for his Rice Dream–drinking vamp, an escapist searches for his beach-cruiser biker hipsteress. His new split 7-inch with Foot Foot, "It’s a Crime" (Oedipus), bears witness to this as Ashworth laments, "It’s plain to see / That boxes of candy will make her sigh / But confidentially / They’ll just rot her pretty teeth and it’s a crime / Yeah it’s a crime / That you’re kissing on that girl for all to see / And it’s a crime / That she’s going home with you and not with me."

Such intimacy makes it easy to confuse the singer and the song. "I think it could be frustrating for Owen to have people think, as I did, that the narrator in his songs is actually him," Ashworth’s friend Sarah Han, an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, e-mailed. "It might be him sometimes, but getting to know him better personally and hearing how his narrative skills have broadened in his later songs, I realized that Owen is just a good storyteller."

"I definitely like the narrative aspect" of songwriting, Ashworth said. "What makes me want to make music in the first place is to be able to tell stories and sort of prop up this weird, sonic environment for a couple of characters to live in."

CFTPA releases of late, however, sound like Ashworth is ready to pull the batteries out of those keyboards and give his poetic escapades a new soundtrack. On Tomlab albums such as Answering Machine Music (1999) and Twinkle Echo (2003), CFTPA’s fractured synth pop captures the sonic cacophony of Big Black and the analog-fraught lo-fi-isms of Young Marble Giants. But with 2006’s Etiquette (Tomlab), Ashworth implements pedal steel guitars, pianos, and strings into his arsenal, birthing a new challenge. The acoustic vim of "It’s a Crime" has him sounding more like Steve Forbert than Stephin Merritt. Though the single lacks the digital squalls of CFTPA’s previous efforts, its raw spirit exhibits a folk soul sentimentality with its rustic strummed chords, a path Ashworth described as "traditional American songwriting."

"What’s nice about being on my own and being the boss is that I can try all sorts of strange things," he revealed. "I’m more interested now in arrangements and toying with the variables that I had set as off-limits on my first record."

And speaking of American songsters, a certain Paul Simon received the Ashworth treatment late last year when CFTPA’s electro-fueled "Graceland" 7-inch (Rococo) was released. Assembled with a barrage of machine gun–like drum noise and grimy synths, the track flaunts the classic Casiotone strut. "I covered ‘Graceland’ because it’s a great song and I have a personal, lifelong connection to it," Ashworth said. "Every time I got in the car with my parents, it always seemed to come on the radio."

Following his spring US tour, Ashworth will embark on a summer stateside jaunt during which he will be joined onstage by San Diego’s the Donkeys. He plans on recording his next full-length this fall, and some of the songs now being rehearsed with the band will probably make it on to the album.

Until then, one can only hope Ashworth will find friends among his listeners and will always have a shoulder to lean on. *


With Page France and Headlights

Fri/23, 9 p.m., $12

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


Pop goes Panther


Prince may have his devoted popites canonizing those purple-clad jewels once again after his recent Super Bowl halftime performance, but in Portland, Ore., there’s an equally crude one-man dance-aster who could soon take the crown from His Royal Badass. This beat blaster and master, however, comes in the form of a scrawny gyrator whose elasticlike body rapidly contorts, recoils, and slams against walls during his pop-flushed freak-outs.

Since 2002, Panther, a.k.a. Charlie Salas-Humara, has administered a hip-spasming dose of what his press literature describes as "damaged soul," fusing pulsating drum machines and bassy hooks with disheveled synths and glass-cracking falsettos. MTV2 has even taken a liking to the 32-year-old, nominating "You Don’t Want Your Nails Done," the single from his debut, Secret Lawns (Fryk Beat), for Video of the Year. During the video a brown-suited Salas-Humara rocks the microphone in a room cluttered with cardboard furniture, cell phones, and iPods. The fidgety performer busts into the Robot like a Tourette’s-afflicted Michael Jackson and beatboxes, "When you’re making these fists / You don’t want your hair / When you’re making these fists / You don’t want your nails done." Watching the video makes you want to grab the sweat-drenched vocalist by his shoulders and yell, "Go, white boy, go!"

But according to Salas-Humara, Panther’s intoxicating bite hasn’t taken that much effort. "It’s a great project because I don’t have to think about it, and there’s no concept besides whatever shit I pull together in my basement," he says on the phone from Portland. "It’s just me, and I don’t have to be a Gang of Four cover band or try and be some pop thing."

And Salas-Humara doesn’t always sound like he’s in pursuit of pop. Songs such as "Rely on Scent" and "Take Us Out" evoke a free jazz and R&B artiness and rely heavily on organ to keep them afloat. Others, such as "How Does It Feel?" and "Tennis Lesson," recall the mechanized keyboard bluster of early-’80s Herbie Hancock and the Art of Noise while integrating densely arranged hip-hop beats as their driving force.

Born in Florida but raised in Chicago’s suburbs, Salas-Humara moved to Portland in 1995 with his band, the Planet The. The trio stuck it out for 11 years, though Panther had already sprung to life before the group’s demise.

"I started doing Panther because somebody asked me to do one of those solo performance nights where people from different bands get together and play acoustic songs," he says with a laugh. "I thought it would be funny to terrorize it with prerecorded drum machines."

Salas-Humara claims that he thought he would never perform as Panther again, but he continued producing new music because his friends kept egging him on.

"It was really fun to try and fill up a lot of space on a stage with one person, so I started experimenting with dancing and doing different things with the stuff I would choreograph," Salas-Humara explains. "Basically, I just get weird."

In addition to the MTV2 nomination, 2006 saw Panther embark on tours with the Gossip and Ratatat, and Fryk Beat released the lauded 12-inch Yourself.

Gearing up for his first national tour, Salas-Humara confirms he’s a bit nervous about the jaunt.

"You never really know where your fans are," he says. "I’m sure it’ll be pretty awesome in some places and dismal in others. I guess that’s the way that it goes." (Chris Sabbath)


With Yip Yip, Lemonade, and Like Nurse

Thurs/8, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


New mutants


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A-ha. Baltimora. Missing Persons. Those bands probably have an emblematic significance to any Brat Pack–emuutf8g, spring break–starved teenager affiliated with the MTV generation of the 1980s. But as the ’90s beckoned, feathered hair and talking cars gave way to the Urkel and Mentos commercials, and all the while, another compulsion began to render our motor skills useless. Only this one came in the form of a heather gray plastic box, and its mascot was a mustachioed plumber with a Brooklyn accent. To this day, the Nintendo Entertainment System and its notable features — the ingrained Contra password, the Power Glove — have a special place in our hearts. The bleeps, chimes, and peals that ebb and flow tirelessly on Eats Tapes’ sophomore full-length, Dos Mutantes (Tigerbeat6), make it sound like San Francisco couple Gregory Zifcak and Marijke Jorritsma still spend plenty of hours wrangling the rectangular-shaped joystick around too.

"What’s great about the Nintendo is that you get this choppy, 8-bit sort of thin sound," Jorritsma says over dinner in the Mission District. She laughs as she flails her arms. "So basically you hear it, and your knees get weak, and you’re like, ‘Ahhh!’ "

"Don’t say 8-bit. It’s too much of a buzzword," Zifcak says.

"There’s something rewarding about the thing that you herald as the ultimate fun machine and then being able to hack into that pot of yummy memory gold and smear it onto your own composition," Jorritsma continues.

Fitted with an arsenal of analog synthesizers, hardware sequencers, drum machines, and cassette players, Eats Tapes have been inducing all-night sweat-a-thons with their head-panging techno and acid-fried hooks since late 2002. The duo met at a pizza restaurant they worked at in Zifcak’s hometown of Portland, Ore., in 2000 and soon discovered that they shared a partiality for bands such as New Order and Kraftwerk. At that time, Zifcak was mixing jungle tracks on what he describes as "a bunch of junk from a pawnshop being sequenced by an ancient computer with no hard drive." Claiming she was his biggest fan, Jorritsma suggested they start making music together. The twosome relocated to the Bay Area six months later.

Developed initially as a live project, the pair bumped into Miguel Depedro, a.k.a. Kid606, and in 2005 his Tigerbeat6 label dropped their debut, Sticky Buttons. Since then, Eats Tapes have packed tiny clubs, warehouses, and living rooms on both sides of the Atlantic and have also remixed tracks and been remixed by artists such as the Blow, Lucky Dragons, and the Soft Pink Truth.

While Dos Mutantes pretty much picks up where its predecessor left off, Jorritsma and Zifcak have emerged more focused, and its caffeinated tempos and psych-noise assaults sound much more polished.

"We were a bit more adventurous, while using the same beats per minute all throughout, and it’s still pounding your face off," Zifcak says.

So what is it about the music that really gets these lovebirds going?

"With electronic music, you spend so much time on a set, and then people whip themselves into a frenzy, strip themselves down to their underwear, start dry-humping the ground, MySpacing 50 times, and then you’re, like, ‘Yes, this is it,’" Jorritsma explains.

Let’s hope Dos Mutantes has the same effect. *


With 16 Bitch Pile-up and Bulbs

Fri/2, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


Drama mama


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Relationships can suck sometimes. You know, the drama — the toxic chewing at the meat of a romance on the verge of imploding. Your nerves may feel destroyed after going a dozen rounds in an all-night bender over some questionable glance or wry crack, but love’s hang-ups do make for the best songs.

Take it from Des Ark’s Aimée Argote: she has no qualms about expressing herself and is no stranger to confronting her demons through song. A listen to the melancholic lyrics that escape from the Durham, N.C., native’s raspy voice on her band’s recent split EP with Ben Davis and the Jetts, Battle of the Beards (Lovitt), makes that much evident, in the lyrics of drug addiction, sexual freedom, and most prominently, unsparing heartache.

On the acoustic "The Subtleties of Chores and Unlocked Doors," Argote confesses distressingly, "We can get naked together, take dirty naps, whatever / But so long as we suffer apart from one another / You can hold my hand but you can never hold my heart." Throughout the recording the vocalist’s spirit sounds broken as she tells tales of tortured love, a theme that seems to haunt her but never really shatters her self-esteem.

During a recent phone interview, however, Argote’s cheery voice suggested anything but a bout with the blues. "Music is the way I process things that make me sad, and all of those feelings are so hard to articulate," she said. "I feel really inarticulate as a person in conversation form but much more articulate through music. I see it as an opportunity to explain the things that are making me insane, so they usually come out as bummers."

But not all of Argote’s songs sound as if she’s down on her luck. Though her new songs are hushed ballads augmented with acoustic guitar, piano, and symphonic textures courtesy of University of North Carolina orchestra members, Des Ark’s history stretches beyond that. The project began as a trio in 2001 but by the following year shrunk to a two-piece: Argote and drummer Tim Herzog. The pair’s music was a mix of angular riffs roaring from Marshall cabinets and hard-as-nails drum brio. Argote’s vocals ranged from primal wailing to throat-wrenching howling, and together the duo sound reminiscent of PJ Harvey fronting Unwound. Known for in-your-face live shows, Des Ark ditched the stage for floor performances to ensure an engaging experience for band and crowd.

"It’s weird when an audience feels connected to a band but you feel completely disconnected from the audience," Argote said. "I felt it was important to break down the performer and paying customer boundary because it really bothered me and makes music inaccessible."

Videographer Charles Cardello — who released Des Ark’s sole full-length, Loose Lips Sink Ships (2005) on his label, Bifocal Media — sees the connection. "There are not too many performers out there who can simultaneously scare the shit out of you, turn you on, induce fits of hysterics, confuse your musical sensibilities, and rock you to your foundation," he wrote in an e-mail. Argote "could probably just stand there without a guitar and wail for a few minutes, and you’d get the aforementioned effect."

Unfortunately, Herzog’s time in Des Ark was short-lived, and the band’s dynamic soon changed. In September 2005 the duo played their last show together, right before Herzog departed for Washington, DC, to become a bike messenger. Argote disclosed that though the split was amicable, she was really sad when he left.

"When Tim moved away, it was like ‘Well, there goes the one drummer I wanted to play with,’ " she explained. "There’s a lot of phenomenal drummers, but in terms of the type of music I wanted to play, I thought we made a good pair."

After considering a move to DC herself, Argote decided to remain in Durham because "it’s homegrown and not affected by the labels and popularity contests." She also contemplated whether Des Ark’s erstwhile aggressive sound was compensating for qualities lacking in the music. "I think becoming a quiet musician changed the way I perceived space," the vocalist said. "In our culture that’s a way people tend to become oppressed, and I struggle with it a lot. When you walk into a club with a six-foot-something guy and you’re in a loud band, it’s a lot different than walking into a club when you’re a five-foot girl with a banjo."

Argote views Des Ark’s current sound as a natural progression — the EP’s music possesses a certain repose, but the energy remains. Nonetheless, she said that — although she has a small collection of quiet songs she wants to record for her next album — she’d like to throw a rocker or two in.

"It’s not like I sit at home and write rockers, ’cause I also like writing quiet ones as well," she said. "When I’m at home and all I have is my piece-of-shit, busted-up, acoustic thing, I pretty much write busted, piece-of-shit acoustic songs as opposed to loud ones." *


With the New Trust and Polar Bears

Fri/2, 10 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Open mind music


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Do you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Not to misinterpret the question asked by a sneering Johnny Lydon of a San Francisco crowd as his band was self-destructing onstage at the now-defunct Winterland Ballroom almost 30 years ago, but seriously, folks, life seems unfair sometimes. In other words, here’s a sensible afterthought for your musical mind: there are simply too many damn bands at our fingertips, and sometimes we’re only lucky enough to encounter a handful of the really good ones. You might find yourself uttering regrets like "Fuck! I missed them play at that dingy hole-in-the-wall last year," and unfortunately you now have to settle for the mega-rock-star treatment as the same group works its charms on an enraptured crowd arena-style. So the story goes — rock ‘n’ roll can be a bitch.

The Curtains’ Chris Cohen is more optimistic, however.

"I try to let chance determine what I get to hear now because there’s so much music to choose from," the vocalist and guitarist of the Oakland trio confesses over coffee at Atlas Cafe in the Mission District. And though Cohen is reluctant to put his finger on any particular band that might get his musical juices pumping, he does divulge that most of the combos he encounters nowadays are his friends’ groups or supporting ensembles on tour.

"I really like when you don’t have any prior knowledge of the band, because then you can go at it with an open mind," he adds.

Such was my experience with Cohen’s project. My first exposure to the Curtains was on a chilly November night last year when I roamed over to Oakland to catch Mount Eerie’s performance at a packed 21 Grand. With no particular expectations, I leaned against a wall and watched the threesome set up their instruments. But as the band greeted the crowd with chiming keyboards and palm-muted guitar strums, my semi-inebriated attention was held and then kicked into deep interest.

Onstage, Cohen — along with guitarist-percussionist-vocalist Nedelle Torrisi and keyboardist-percussionist-vocalist Annie Lewandowski — exchanged smiles and jammed on quiet, twee pop–imbued ditties. The band’s lighthearted enthusiasm mirrored Beat Happening, while their cheerful harmonies and bubblegum-savvy melodies channeled the Softies and the Vaselines. The mood was buoyant and comfortable as the members sat in place and toyed with electric guitars, a single drum, and a wood block on one song after another.


The aural beauty that floats from stereo speakers on the Curtains’ fourth album, Calamity (Asthmatic Kitty), tells a different story. Performed and recorded almost entirely by Cohen during December 2005, the album is drenched with sunny, ’60s-style psych pop and art rock experimentalism. Calamity at times evokes Smile-era Brian Wilson and early T. Rex with songs such as "Green Water" and "Invisible String," while treading into cozier-sounding territory on the opener, "Go Lucky." As intimate piano strides and acoustic guitar glide forth, Cohen’s Neil Young–ish chirp complements the melody: "Go, go, go you lucky one / You, you, you stop anywhere that someone sets you down / No, no, no spots anywhere / You, you, you will just spin me around."

But to Cohen, the Curtains aren’t trapped in a musical time warp. It’s all about what’s accessible to him at the moment.

"For that album I made a conscious decision to make something that wasn’t too fancy as far as the sound goes," he explains. "I wanted to use the sounds that were most easily available to me, which are guitar, bass, and my dad’s piano."

"I wanted it to sound very warm and personal," Cohen continues. "However, the sound of it wasn’t something so much that I had in mind but the effect that I wanted it to have on people, which was to be uplifting and make the listener feel happy. The music I value the most is the kind that takes me out of my life and makes me feel hopeful."


Since 2000, Cohen has had the Curtains in his crosshairs. Cofounded by Cohen and Trevor Shimizu, the group went through a couple of incarnations, occasionally including Andrew Maxwell, Satomi Matsuzaki, and Greg Saunier. After releasing three full-lengths, Cohen put the Curtains on hiatus in 2003 so he could join Matsuzaki and Saunier in Deerhoof. After several albums with that band, Cohen left last year to focus on his own projects.

"The Curtains before was something we would do in really brief spurts," Cohen says. "We would have a show, do a tour, and then rehearse for two weeks. I didn’t want to do it like that anymore. I wanted to make it a regular thing."

According to Deerhoof drummer and ex-Curtains member Saunier, Cohen had recorded 99 percent of Calamity before he revealed that he wanted to leave Deerhoof. "We listened to it in the car on tour, and I was stunned. It was like a garden of ideas and melodies — no two alike — everything asymmetrical and ravishingly beautiful," Saunier writes in an e-mail. "Every night I’d go to sleep fantasizing about how great the next Deerhoof record was going to be with all these hits on there. Then Chris shattered my dreams. But it’s OK, the Curtains deserve an album this beautiful in their catalog…. The Curtains are like the Jean-Luc Godard of the SF music scene, everything is so human and exposed, which, of course, takes way more nerve than any hipster’s posturing. The Curtains know no rule book for how you write songs — they write their own rule book from the spasms of the imagination. They have my undying admiration."

Cohen admits that while recording the album, he wasn’t sure whether to stamp the Curtains’ name on it, because his approach to the recording was so different from his past endeavors.

"Everything with the Curtains has always been done out of necessity," he says, going on to explain that he only had a limited amount of time to work on the music, so he played all the instruments himself.

Though Calamity includes guest vocals by Torrisi and Yasi Perera as well as musical contributions from Half-Handed Cloud leader and Sufjan Stevens chum John Ringhofer, Cohen had to rethink the album in terms of its live re-creation. "When I was making it, I wasn’t thinking of anybody else performing the music, which has made it difficult to now perform it as a band," he says. "I didn’t think anyone else would be interested, and then Nedelle was, like, ‘I want to play in a band again. Can I play in your band?’ "

After Torrisi and Lewandowski joined the Curtains, Cohen says he became "excited about playing new music again in a band with new people."

"Something that’s been really fun now is that everybody has been singing and working on harmonies," Cohen says, "and that’s something no other version of the band has done." The band doesn’t have a big repertoire, he adds, so the trio keep throwing out the songs that don’t work.

Cohen also admits that the idea of even having vocals in his band is relatively new. "I really wasn’t interested in vocals for a long time. I felt like I just wanted to make music that was really abstract, and I just didn’t have anything I wanted to sing about."

But Cohen’s vision seems to have changed with the addition of Torrisi and Lewandowski. In essence, the Curtains are starting over from scratch and fashioning Calamity‘s catchy pop into their own.

"To me, the Curtains has always been a pop band," Cohen explains. "I want it to be music that anyone can understand and enjoy. It fits into the limited amount of time that pop music seems to inhabit people’s lives." *


With Sic Alps and Okay

Fri/19, 10 p.m., $7


3223 Mission, SF

(415) 550-6994


Wholly noise


Trying to fathom the arcane and somewhat frustrating demeanor that shrouds a Bay Area noisenik is like cross-examining Walt Disney on LSD. I’ve been at the mercy of Rubber O Cement’s Bonnie Banks for the past week, meticulously querying the mumbo jumbo he (or she, as Banks likes to be referred to) sends in response to interview questions while nagging him for answers to my more dogged inquiries. One e-mail reply might yield a pensive thought, only to be followed by a farrago of chaotic imagery — swarms of schizo babble about vocal chord mulch, mosquito broccoli, and rabid zombie snowmen. When asked what people can expect from the impending Brutal Sound Effects Festival, Banks answers that performers “will present the sound of a stuffed horse and cat calliope skidded via hydroplane base into a volcano of semi-liquid thorium pellets.” In another e-mail he writes that he hopes people will come to the event “adorning their larger-than-life scramble nightmare Bosch slip-and-slide mask.”
Though put off at first by Banks’s excursive, seemingly psychotomimetic rants, I soon realize this is his world. What I mistook as some puerile screwball who’s simply fucking with me — I’m still convinced he’s doing that to a degree — is actually the eccentric, visionary heart of the Bay Area noise scene.
Since the early 1980s, Banks has exhaustively chiseled San Francisco into the West Coast hub for underground noise by playing in prominent acts such as Caroliner, bringing up young bands (his musical influence has extended from Wolf Eyes to Deerhoof), and encouraging others to engage in the scene. In 1995 he established the Brutal Sound Effects Festival — a musical community of misfits who, according to Hans Grusel of Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet, “didn’t fit in anywhere else.” Shortly afterward, Banks founded an online BSFX message board where people could discuss noise acts, events, and other bizarre topics.
Now in its 40th incarnation — Banks is said to organize four to five events a year — the forthcoming BSFX Festival includes some of the Bay Area’s renowned noise addicts: Xome provides power noise onslaughts, and Nautical Almanac’s James “Twig” Harper indulges in electronic cannibalism. Other notable acts include Anti Ear and Bran (…) pos of Beandip Troubadours, Skozey Fetisch, and Joseph Hammer of the Los Angeles Free Music Society in Psicologicos Trama, offering “a fun way to sample experimental sound,” says Joel Shepard, film curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which is hosting the event for the first time. Each act will integrate improvised film and video clips into a short performance, creating what Shepard describes as “a real multimedia sensory overload event.” If something seems boring, he adds, there will be another performance in minutes.
“I’ve been really impressed with what he’s been doing,” Shepard says, referring to the industrious Banks. “I find what he’s doing to be a very important part of the art and cultural scene in San Francisco, and I want to show my support.”
The freaks and geeks of BSFX push performance art to its limits, playing under unpronounceable aliases and often incorporating elaborate costumes and scenery unlike anything you see at conventional concerts. Musicians execute a medley of odd sounds using home-wired equipment and analog gadgets at warehouses like the Clit Stop and Pubis Noir. Blistering resonance is one element at these shows. Relying heavily on feedback and distortion, artists such as Xome, Randy Yau, and Tralphaz create a getting-sucked-through-a-vacuum effect by hooking up 20 guitar pedals and feeding them into each other. But don’t be fooled — not all noise acts use volume as an instrument. The Spider Compass Good Crime Band, a duo that will play the upcoming BSFX show, is described by its members as “giant vultures who play instrumental music based around a keyboard.” Their YouTube video is just as outlandish: two costumed performers (one dressed as a giraffelike character, the other as a flamingo) dance and fiddle with samplers; the chamber-driven organs and rubber-sounding belches resemble industrial surf pop.
It’s easy to get sucked into the abstract, visual noise. Costumes range from the cuckoo-clock masks of Hans Grusel to the moss-covered floor crouching of Ecomorti. “Some performers will move an entire set of scenery into a show, which takes two to three hours to set up, and then play a 15-minute set,” Grusel says over the phone. “That shows the dedication people have to this sort of thing.”<\!s>SFBG
Fri/8, 7:30 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-2787

All that jazz


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Anyone who’s experienced the aural carnage spewed by Wolf Eyes can confirm the patience required to endure their shows.
The Michigan noise-ticians — comprising Nathan Young, John Olson, and newest member Mike Connelly — vigilantly carve a slow burner of nauseating sounds and mangled rhythms into a single, decaying pulse while a thundering reverberation slowly boosts the anticipation of a jam-packed throng.
The trio toy with duct-taped noisemaking appliances, sheet metal, and tapes. Though a Wolf Eyes’ song substructure lacks any linear beat, a stray headbanger or two can be seen freaking out to the grumbling emanation of oscilutf8g fizzles, hisses, and wheezes. Spectators muffle their ears with their hands and contort their faces as a wall of scraping feedback mounts in tension.
Then with the blink of an eye, free terror and industrial bombast rain down on the crowd in fist-pumping torrents as the band members convulse and bang their bodies against their instruments. The pounding fuzz of detuned bass, prickly saxophone, and bottom-heavy drum machine hardens and shakes a club’s foundation with paint-peeling tumult.
Young slobbers like a rabid animal and shouts into the microphone with throat-straining appeal. Connelly claws maniacally at his guitar while the sleeveless Olson slams his arms down on his electronic box or gong.
It’s an adrenaline rush that flickers like a strobe bulb set on light speed. It’s amplifier worship for flapping subwoofers, though some listeners aren’t so receptive to the chaos. This is something Wolf Eyes have grown accustomed to after tours with ex-member Andrew W.K. and Sonic Youth — and welcome with open arms.
“You play your best when you’re playing in front of people who do not want to hear you,” says Olson from a tour stop in Birmingham, Ala. “You can’t always play in front of the same people or your music will go nowhere.”
Like such fellow noise polluters as Sightings, Wolf Eyes are no strangers to fabricating all sorts of ugly racket. Since the late ’90s, when Young hatched Wolf Eyes initially as a solo endeavor, until Olson and former member Aaron Dilloway climbed aboard, the group have endlessly documented their music on homemade CD-Rs and cassettes.
In a move that had critics and fans alike scratching their heads, the band signed with Sub Pop in 2004. Olson proclaims that the group’s association with the onetime grunge record label, which now releases albums by the Postal Service and Hot Hot Heat, “started off as a total retarded joke.” A friend who was working with Sub Pop at the time drunkenly suggested the band when the label asked him whom it should sign next.
“They said, ‘Hey, that’s not a bad idea,’” Olson recalls. “They flew out to see us at a gig, and we were in shock.”
While only a few Wolf Eyes albums — namely those put out by Sub Pop — have seen the light of day in music stores, most of the band’s hard-to-find recordings have been released on Olson’s American Tapes label and Dilloway’s Hanson Records. (In the past two years alone the band has also released Fuck Pete Larsen [Wabana], Black Vomit [Victo], Solo [Troubleman Unlimited], and Equinox [Troniks].) Olson reveals that the group has been criticized for putting out too much material, but fans are free to pick and choose.
“I think a lot of people’s best work is the stuff not intended to be on the big releases,” Olson explains. “For instance, Black Dice only put out big releases, and I think that’s a shame because you miss out on the failures. Failures are just as interesting as the successes.”
If that’s the case, Wolf Eyes’ new full-length, Human Animal (Sub Pop), would mingle perfectly among past releases. Though the disc isn’t too far from the deathlike electronic dissonance that Wolf Eyes devised on their Sub Pop debut, Burned Mind (2004), Human Animal flows like two meaty chapters — making it seem like “more of a conversational piece,” as Olson describes it.
The band’s decision to substitute Hair Police’s Connelly for the departed Dilloway does Wolf Eyes justice as well, giving them a seasoned feel. Past recordings such as Burned Mind tended to blow up and then taper off into omnidirectional soundscapes — Human Animal’s tracks are more reserved in mood and command. Though past albums such as Slicer (Hanson, 2002), with its crackling fissures, and Dread (Bulb, 2001), with its sonic assaults, are distinctive in their own right, the unpleasant soundscapes of Human Animal actually sound like real songs, a feat the band had yet to accomplish.
The album’s first three numbers embody a creepy ambience that prepares the listener for the recording’s interior turbulence. The pieces become more galvanic as the album chugs along, whether through popcorn-inflected drum frenzies (“Rusted Mange”), bestial snorts and drones (“Leper War”), or the band’s punishing take of No Fucker’s “Noise Not Music.” “It doesn’t sound much different from the original,” says Olson with a laugh. “But we totally massacred the lyrics.”
Given the grinding assault that the song exhibits on Human Animal, it’ll be fun to hear it magnified, in addition to the rest of the album, live.
To Olson, the pieces are so simple that it’s easy to flesh them out and switch up the tone — it just comes down to maintaining a catalytic framework from which to improvise. In that sense, he explains, “Wolf Eyes is not too far from a traditional jazz band.” SFBG
Nov. 11, 9:30 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

Surfing new turf


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Listening to the warm analogs, e-bowed guitar, and post-jazz swing that manifest on “Medium Blue” off Surf Boundaries (Ghostly International) — one of two new albums by Christopher Willits — you might assume that the instrumentation was performed by an ensemble of helping hands rather than simply the Bay Area electronic musician. And you’d be half right. The 28-year-old Kansas City, Mo., native executes many of the album’s compelling melodies and fizzling, ambient textures on guitar, laptop, and synths — aided at times by compañeros including Adam Theis, Brad Laner, and notably, R&B-pop vocalist Latrice Barnett on the calming orchestrations of stringed instruments and horns.
“My name’s on the record, but tons of collective energy came into making it happen,” explains Willits at a Mission District bar. “I outsourced some things to the brilliant friends around me.”
Their impact is evident: the CD shifts dynamically from the usual guitar-run-through-a-laptop drone and fuzz of Willits’s live sets. He says that he hopes to someday put together a band to perform a release like Surf Boundaries on tour. That plan isn’t a surprise, considering Willits’s determination to always have a full plate.
The Mills College graduate’s musical career has quickly taken flight since his move to the Bay in 2000. It’s amazing that Willits even has time for solo endeavors between playing with Flössin — his side project with Hella’s Zach Hill featuring guest noisemaking from Kid606, the Advantage’s Carson McWhirter, and Matmos — and ongoing collaborations with avant-garde musicians such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, and former Tool bassist Paul d’Amour. When not on tour, Willits spends his time at the Bay Area Video Coalition in San Francisco, where he began teaching digital audio workshops five years ago. With John Phillips, he also founded, an online community that aims to give exposure to electronic and experimental artists through blog feeds, podcasts, and live music events.
Much of Willits’s work as a solo artist and a collaborator is documented on labels such as Taylor Deupree’s 12K and Sub Rosa, but his recent alliance with the Midwestern electronic imprint Ghostly International may prove the most promising. “I really like Ghostly, because they’re more into artist development rather than boxing in artists’ sounds and constraining them from branching off,” Willits says.
Likewise, his latest offerings are all over the sonic map. The art alone for Surf Boundaries illustrates its ethereal mood: soft hues delicately wash images of animals scattered around a portrait of Willits. The music within strikes a wonderful symphonic balance between electronic composition and live instrumentation as Willits and his collaborators frolic with a blend of jubilant French pop, glitchy guitar, and shimmering psychedelia.
Along with Surf Boundaries’ cozy, sleepy appeal comes Willits’s shrill wake-up call with guitarist Brad Laner (Medicine, Electric Company) — the North Valley Subconscious Orchestra. The space pop–oriented unit gives the Creation Records class of ’91 competition with white-noise guitar treatments and alt-rock rhythms.
The duo met through mutual friend Kid606, and for Willits the collaboration was a dream come true.
“Laner is one of my guitar heroes,” he says, adding that when he first listened to his old Medicine cassette in high school, he mistook Laner’s nails-on-chalkboard approach to guitar playing for a stereo malfunction.
“I realized that the way he’s making that sound is that he’s running all his guitar effects into a shitty four-track and then cranking the preamps up on it, so it’s getting this full …” — Willits makes a fast, circular motion with his arms — “whish!”
Released in August as Ghostly’s first full-length available exclusively via download, NVSO’s The Right Kind of Nothing highlights Laner’s signature guitar bluster and Willits’s ability to dabble subtly in an aggregation of soundscapes. What results is a continuous squall of beaming shoegaze discord that feels like sunshine bursting into a dark room — only to be broken by heavy kraut rock tempos and Swervedriver guitars.
Though Surf Boundaries and The Right Kind of Nothing radically differ in sound and structure, both discs showcase Willits’s ambition to crack the electronic mold and move toward a contemporary vein of experimental rock.
“All I’m trying to do is feel out my own energy and relationship to my creative process,” Willits explains. “I could have never envisioned the albums sounding the way they do. I love being surprised by my own creativity.” SFBG
With Daedelus, Caural, and Thavius Beck
Fri/20, 9 p.m.
Bar of Contemporary Art
414 Jessie, SF
(415) 777-4278

Rock till you drop


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“They’re the ones that pushed E-40 into hyphy,” says Hamburger Eyes photographer Dave Potes, in reference to his friends the Mall, a San Francisco art punk trio, and the hype that surrounds them.
“Yeah, we’re part of the hyphy movement,” adds Mall guitarist-keyboardist Daniel Tierney, 27, and his bandmates erupt into cacophonous chuckling.
I’ve heard the “h” word dropped incessantly for weeks now and have pretended to be hip to the Bay Area hip-hop phenomenon. As the band continues chatting about the genre and its influence on the new DJ Shadow album, bewilderment washes over me, and I hang my head and admit to having no idea what anyone’s talking about.
“You’ve got to get on the bus then,” bassist-guitarist-vocalist Ellery Samson, 29, demands when someone mentions the “yellow bus.” In unison everyone chants a couple of “da, do, do, do”s as if the composition should strike a chord, like my sister’s favorite New Kids on the Block track. I grin and nod even though I’m still puzzled.
Whether or not the Mall seriously acknowledge an affiliation to the hip-hop movement is questionable. However, while chilling over beers on a bar patio in the Mission District, I get a sense of buoyancy and selflessness from the mild-mannered band members.
“Up until last month, we all lived within three blocks of this bar,” says drummer Adam Cimino, 28, adding that this particular area definitely inspired their recent songs.
Given the languid quiet of this cool, fogless night — punctuated by the occasional crack of a cue ball or the faint sounds from the bar jukebox — it’s hard to imagine this neighborhood spawning a band whose music brims with pissed-off aggression and agitated velocity. But then, the Mall aren’t exactly from this hood. The band’s beginnings trace back to Montgomery High in Santa Rosa, where Samson and Tierney met and became friends. The pair worked on another musical project, called Downers, but soon found themselves seeking an additional element: Cimino.
Samson gave him a call. “I want to do this screamy, art fag, punk rock thing,” jokes Cimino in a mock-Samson accent, re-creating the talk. “I was, like, ‘I get it. That sounds awesome.’”
The three obtained a practice space without ever playing a note of music together and began work on the first few songs that would end up on their EP, First, Before, and Never Again (Mt. St. Mtn., 2006). From there on, the band gelled into what has become an enterprising experience for all involved.
The group’s new debut, Emergency at the Everyday (Secretariat), is an exercise in emphatic pugnacity and loud-as-shit tumult. The 13 songs — clocking in at less than 20 minutes — are punishing in scope yet danceable. Casio-pop melodies ebb and flow along a thunderous foundation of crunching guitars, plodding bass lines, and dynamite-fueled drum pops.
“We get our sound from fucking up the amps, and we don’t use distortion pedals,” Cimino explains. “It’s just little Casio keyboards and an amp turned to 10. That’s what makes it so gritty-sounding.”
Samson’s vocals add to the mélange of fuzzed-out commotion. Imagine the throaty screech of a young Black Francis shattering through an aggro mixture of angular guitar bluster and punk avidity. During the recording of the album, Samson sang through an old rotary telephone hooked up to a PA to match the distortion of the other instruments and capture the intensity of live performance.
“The music was so blown-out it was too awkward to have clean vocals,” adds a smiling Cimino. “It’s a neat trick.”
But even without the aid from the telephone, you can’t deny the hostility of Samson’s vocals. It’s surprising considering his placid demeanor.
“Everybody’s really angry right now, and we’re just as angry as anybody else,” he says.
The band backs up Samson’s statement by discussing the unending Iraq war and their disapproval of the president, and though the Mall’s songs don’t exactly cover those topics, they certainly fuel the fire. “There’s a lot of violence and frustration and boredom going on,” Cimino adds.
“Fuck, I thought it was party music, man,” Tierney chimes in, and the band bursts into another fit of laughter.
After three years together and a national tour on the horizon, including dates opening for the Slits, the Mall’s sound continues to evolve. And who knows? Maybe their direction will cross the border into genuine hyphy. Already back in the studio recording songs for another EP, the Mall aren’t holding back anything: to them, it’s all about having fun and making great music for their friends.
“It’s totally replaced skateboarding for me,” Cimino says. “I’m off work. I don’t want to watch TV. I don’t want to eat dinner. I get to hang out and play music with these guys.” SFBG
With the Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower and Boyskout
Thurs/5, 9:30 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

Songs in the key of quirk


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“Let’s bleed orange and brown all over this town.” Is it possible for such words of wisdom to induce skull fractures? Try inhaling this foul stench of a battle cry from doomed Cleveland Browns fans for 22 seasons as an Ohio resident, and you tell me if your gray matter doesn’t feel starved for another kind of enlightenment. Hailing from “the Mistake on the Lake,” a.k.a. northeastern Ohio, does have its share of rewards and quirks. The rent is supercheap and Black Label Beer is a staple in every twentysomething’s diet. We have LeBron James — ’nuff said. If Drew Carey says it’s cool, then our shit don’t stink, right? Maniacal football fiends, burning rivers, insatiable femmes, sweltering summer humidity versus punishing winter blizzards, and Dave Grohl — nothing resonates louder than these two Buckeye Belt principles: we like to put things into perspective and we have our dignity.
Musically speaking, Ohio’s rock ’n’ roll scene is engrossing and tends to personify a hearty DIY blend of blue-collar garage rock and trash punk. Given the nature of its factory-fraught makeup and economic turmoil, it only seems natural that listening to bands such as Deep Purple and David Lee Roth–era Van Halen never really goes out of style. Just 30 minutes south of Cleveland, in the tar-smothered tire kingdom of Akron, the shoddy atmosphere hasn’t changed much either. On any given night, it’s common to walk into a pub and see drunk boys and girls washing down greasy cheeseburgers and salted vinegar potato chips with pint glasses of Pabst Blue Ribbon to the soundtrack of gnarled fuzz and pealing feedback blowing out of a guitar amp. Sure, northeastern Ohio might lack the utopian hipster hangouts of Brooklyn and post-rock wet dreams of neighboring Chicago, but it makes up for it with character and remains home to a neglected crew of groundbreaking art rockers, new wavers, and experimental weirdos: the Dead Boys, the Pagans, Devo, the James Gang, Pere Ubu, and the Rubber City’s favorite twosome of blues breakers, the Black Keys.
The band’s drummer, Patrick Carney, reassured me in a recent phone interview that the “bright lights, big city” aspect of places like New York is nothing to write home about. “I find it all to be very boring,” he says. “I’d much rather hang out with someone who delivers pizzas and watches Roseanne all day than with someone who has a cool electronic record collection.”
Since the duo’s inception five years ago, Carney and vocalist-guitarist Dan Auerbach have gone from packing small clubs to selling out big concert halls with their raw, bluesy hooks and vintage rock harmonies — and they show no signs of letting up any time soon. Already three albums deep, the Keys unleash their most emphatic and primal offering to date on their Nonesuch Records debut, Magic Potion. Sporting a grittier AOR edge than some of the band’s past records and proving their loudest effort since 2003’s Thickfreakness (Fat Possum), Magic Potion is dynamic in rhythm and scope and effectively captures the Midwestern sound the group was aiming for.
“Basically, we wanted to make a loud fucking rock ’n’ roll album,” Carney says with a laugh. “One you can drink a beer to and everything’s turned up to 11.”
The beauty of the Black Keys is their unpretentious approach to songwriting. Rather then tearing a song apart measure by measure, Auerbach and Carney zero in on the medley and let their instruments do the rest of the talking. The pair write songs that are straight from the heart — integrating the southern blues swagger of Junior Kimbrough and Jimmy Reed with the stripped-down, FM-friendly magnificence of Led Zeppelin and Cream, with heavy emphasis on the latter. Auerbach’s vocals stretch from raspy howls to soothing strains while he coats infectious riffage and fiery chops with muddy layers of distortion.
Carney is no slouch either — pummeling his kit like Bill Ward on yellow jackets. The two structure the songs on Magic Potion in a fashion that sounds genuine and antiquarian without contrived overdubs, those that Carney describe as “very hi-fi.”
“Just Got to Be” opens the album with husky, Southern-rooted guitar and crashing cymbals, then hushes up for a second as Auerbach pleads, “I’ve got to go because/ Something’s on my mind/ And it won’t get better/ No matter how hard I try.” Tenderly felt ballads (“You’re the One”), psychedelic Brit-blues (“The Flame”), and monolithic rockers (“Give Your Heart Away”) follow.
It’s obvious that success hasn’t gotten to the heads of Auerbach and Carney, even after notable tours opening for the likes of Beck, Sleater-Kinney, and just earlier this summer, Radiohead. They have definitely grown as musicians since their days of banging up basement walls with muck-covered din yet still manage to firmly hold on to their signature sound and bust out solid pieces of reputable work. Ultimately, the band contradicts the age-old myth of rock ’n’ roll: it never really vanished — it just needed a good kick in the ass to get it out of bed. SFBG
With Beaten Awake
9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-6000

Those lovable peckerheads


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An aggro dance-punk explosion of smart-ass energy and drunk-kid shit, Clipd Beaks can be summed up in an endless bout of name-game banter: They’re tweaked shoegazer for the top 40 soul. Nauseated psychedelia. The guitar-driven grittiness of Prince’s "Darling Nikki" meets the smooth-as-glass PM Dawn faux-original "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss." Man, fuck Prince. He doesn’t have shit on PM Dawn. What did he give us after Sign of the Times?

Needless to say, the tugboat of inspiration doesn’t drop anchor there. Since migrating from the Purple One’s old stomping grounds of Minneapolis to Oakland, the quartet hasn’t shied away from any particular aspect of the music world they’ll pump your ears full of all types of loud, freaked-out noise.

The band wallows in a hearty hybrid of electrofunk and kraut rock ambience, cavorting amid tropical storms of sonic upsurges and acid-laced melodies. Colorful aural washes seem to crawl up your nostrils like billows of tonic mist and pulsate down your brain stem. If this flavorsome visual doesn’t have your toes tingling for the nearest club floor just yet, maybe you’ll think otherwise when the band’s latest EP, Preyers (Tigerbeat6), latches itself onto your hindquarters. CB fabricate a cluster of feel-good turbulence with proggy synth bursts, octopuslike drumbeats, and the hollow resonance of vocal distortion. Add jumbled samplers and grimy bass squawks thick enough to saw through your ankles and you have what Beaked vocalist Nic Barbeln refers to as a "total meltdown."

CB’s kick-out-the-dance-jams ethos grew out of the merging of two bands that shared a practice space back in Minneapolis in early 2003. Searching for something more invigorating than the mellower waters each group’s sound was treading on, Barbeln, synth player Greg Pritchard, bassist Scott Ecklein, and drummer Ray Benjamin chose to align.

After building up a fan base in Minneapolis and self-releasing a couple of homemade CD-R EPs, Pritchard departed for the Bay Area just after the recording of Preyers while the other Beaked players continued working at home. "I knew that they were still recording and doing Clipd Beaks," Pritchard says. "But when I heard the music, I said, ‘This cannot exist without me being involved with it.’<\!q>”

The rest of the group soon packed their bags and joined Pritchard on the West Coast, and before long fate came knocking. Pritchard had been mailing the band’s music to the Bay Area’s Tigerbeat6 through another friendly community: MySpace. Pritchard laughs: "I happened to ask them to be our friend on MySpace, and they wrote back and were like, ‘You guys are awesome.’<\!q>”

"They asked us to send more shit than what we had, and then a half an hour later, they were like, ‘Do you want to put out a record?’<\!q>” Barbeln continues.

Grateful for the massive amount of support they’ve received from the label and their fans in such a short amount of time, CB will spend the summer recording their full-length debut. Seeking to expand beyond the layered walls of sonics that hatched two years ago during the recording of Preyers, the band has expended a great deal of time perfecting the gem that’ll capture the intensity of their live performances and have the Bay Area party people passing out on the dance floor.

"We’re trying not to have jobs," Barbeln says.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>

Clipd Beaks

With Kid 606 and Friends, Dwayne Sodahberk, Eats Tapes, and Gregg Kowalsky

May 19, 9 p.m.

Elbo Room

647 Valencia, SF

Call for price.

(415) 552-7788

SUPERLIST NO. 813: Bling it on


Grills, plates, slugs, pullouts — whatever you want to call them — the gold tooth phenomenon, once a staple of hip-hop culture, has now become fashionable among indie rockers, parents, and high schoolers of all ages and races. Though the American Dental Association has strongly advised against bringing the bling to your gum line, as long as Oscar-winning rappers are dropping $30K on their choppers, the golden craze will surely blaze on. Caps are removable, can be made of yellow or white gold, silver, or putf8um, and usually come in two settings: solid, which covers the entire tooth, or open-faced, which has a square cutout to expose the normal tooth. Most grill shops specialize in custom designs and will cater to whatever your fancy might be — whether it’s grilling your teeth into white gold vampire fangs with diamond tips or etching your dog’s name into your caps with emeralds, rubies, or sapphires. Though we can’t vouch for the quality of a gold tooth, and prices may vary depending on the griller at each of these jewelry stores, we can certainly point you in the right direction for getting your pearly whites to shine through all that Bay Area fog.

Bling Master Jewelry (3746 San Pablo Dam Rd., El Sobrante. 510-669-0457, has just the thing for your bling. On the Web site you can check out various designs of four-cap and six-cap grills in 14-karat yellow or white gold with diamond-cut settings. Service prices range from $80 for two 14k caps to $900 for six 22k caps.

For more than seven years, EJ Jewelry (2605 International, Oakl. 510-434-0700) has set polished grills into the smiles of folks all over the Bay Area. The glass cases within this bustling shop display a selection of open-faced and diamond fronts. One yellow gold tooth will cost you $20; a white gold tooth goes for $25.

Located on a gritty SoMa corner, Gold Teeth (986 Mission, SF. 415-357-9790) offers a twinkling assortment of gold caps and bars, adding luster to the dingy posters plastering its walls. Inside, you can get your grills cast in putf8um or 14k, 16k, or 18k gold and get your favorite stone inlay for $40 and up.

Gold Tooth Master (10623 International, Oakl. 510-636-4008), in East Oakland, has posters of rappers flashing their glistening fronts covering the peach-colored walls. Two display cases flaunt an impressive collection of fangs etched with various letters and designs. A 14k gold cap starts at $20, and dental gold costs $50.

A giant set of golden incisors grafed to the storefront of JC Jewelry (1940 Broadway, Oakl. 510-763-5556) welcomes visitors as they set foot in this boutique, located just off the 19th Street BART station in the heart of downtown Oakland. Here you can buy or trade gold teeth and even get repairs done for $25. Your options for grills include a solid or open-faced cut with diamond initials or gemstones ranging from rubies to sapphires.

Koko Gold Teeth (4838 International, Oakl. 510-533-2345, gives you the most bling for your buck. Choose from an astounding array of beautiful designs and features. If the heart-shaped caps with rubies don’t have you salivating, then the jagged 3-D bars with diamonds will have you forking over your rent money in no time.

The original Mr. Bling Bling (1836 Geary, SF. 415-928-5789,, which is also the sister shop of Koko Gold Teeth, is crammed into a row of shops across the street from the Fillmore. Like Koko, this pocket-size store offers customers gold and silver fronts in a variety of diamond-fanged cuts and designs. Get there early because business tends to boom once the local high school lets out for the day.

Mr. Bling Bling Jewelry (13501 San Pablo, San Pablo. 510-215-0727) specializes in making repairs to damaged caps in need of a "bling-tastic" makeover. The store will also brighten your choppers with a tooth cast in yellow or white gold for $25.

Grilling at Nomad Body Piercing (1745 Market, SF. 415-563-7771) has gotten off to a slow start, due in part to its employees still trying to perfect the gold cap craft, but you can have your mouth cut in yellow or white gold for $25. Or you can just get your tongue pierced.

Tom’s Jewelry (693 E. 14th St., San Leandro. 510-430-8087) is a hop and a skip from the San Leandro BART station. Here you can get your plates filled with 14k and 18k gold, dental gold, and putf8um, as well as with different cuts and engravings with shimmering diamonds and colored gems. *