Johnny Ray Huston

Sounds of summer


 Live music in the Bay Area this summer is bracketed by festivals, from the lowercase indoor venue indie pop of the San Francisco Pop Fest on Memorial Day weekend to the outdoor mid-August convergence of Outside Lands. The guide below aims to name some highlights from a wide variety of genres, with an emphasis on rare and first-time appearances in the Bay Area. 


MAY 25-29 

San Francisco Pop Fest The lineup includes groups and songwriters from the post-punk (The Undertones) and C86 (14 Iced Bears, Phil Wilson) eras, the Sarah Records’ band Aberdeen, some indie pop faves of the present (Allo Darlin’, The Beets), and more than a few local groups (The Mantles, Brilliant Colors, Dominant Legs, Terry Malts, The Art Museums). Various venues,


MAY 29 

Mobb Deep The East Coast rap duo hits the stage in SF for the first time in years. Mezzanine,


JUNE 2-3 

Architecture in Helsinki The band of five Australian multi-instrumentalists tours in support of its fourth album (and first on Modular). Great American Music Hall and Slim’s; ,


JUNE 3-4 

Bluegrass for the Greenbelt Presented by Slim’s, an overnight concert — with more music on the second day — benefiting the Greenback Alliance, with camping for up to 200 people who bring tents. Dunsmuir-Helman Estate, Oakl.;



Omar Souleyman After releases on Sublime Frequencies, the Dabke idol brings the sounds of Syria to SF, with a Björk collaboration set for release. Mezzanine,

Orange Goblin The veteran UK stoner metal act headlines, with support from beefy Indiana doom band Gates of Slumber, who just released a crushing new eight-song album entitled The Wretch and a DJ set by Rob Metal. Bottom of the Hill,



Matmos Now based in Baltimore, Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt come back to the Bay Area. Bottom of the Hill,


JUNE 10 

Timber Timbre, Marissa Nadler The trio tour in support of a follow-up album, while Nadler moves past black metal back to solo ventures with a self-titled album. Swedish American Hall,


JUNE 22 

Kid Congo Powers and The Pink Monkey Birds He’s been a major force within a handful of all-time great punk and post-punk bands, and Kid Congo Powers has a new album out on In the Red that taps into sounds ranging from glam to ’60s Chicano rock. Rickshaw Stop,


JUNE 23-25 

Jackie Greene In conjunction with the release of his sixth album, the singer-songwriter plays a trio of concerts. Swedish American Hall,

Bill Orcutt The guitarist has just released a tour 7-inch single, and the bill includes fellow locals Date Palms. Hemlock Tavern,


JUNE 24-25 

2011 US Air Guitar Championships San Francisco Regionals Two nights of air shredding, with special performances by past champions Hot Lixx Hulahan and C-Diddy and at least 20 local competitors. The Independent,


JUNE 25 

Blackalicious From Solesides to Epitaph, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel have spanned decades and still throw down live. Mezzanine,



Quintron and Miss Pussycat Shannon and the Clams and the Younger Lovers open for the New Orleans’ husband-and-wife duo. Bottom of the Hill,



Darwin Deez New Yorker Darwin Smith’s pop songs have found a large audience in the UK, but for now, he’s still playing smaller venues here. Bottom of the Hill,

Maus Haus The group moves past krautrock into other electronic territory on Lark Marvels, and co-headlines with Swahili Blonde on a California tour. Rickshaw Stop,

Seefeel The vanguard postrock group recently reunited and put out an album on Warp. Great American Music Hall,


JULY 7-9 

The Reverend Horton Heat The Reverend goes back to country music’s past on Laughin’ and Cryin’, and is joined by locals the Swingin’ Utters. The Independent,



Washed Out Since he first visited the Rickshaw Stop, Ernest Greene’s music has been used in Portlandia, and his first full album is coming out on Sub Pop. Great American Music Hall,


JULY 14-15 

Three Day Stubble’s Nerd Fest The group is celebrating three decades of nerd rock, with four additional acts on each night. 

Tinariwen Live desert blues from the current touring version of the Tuareg band. Bimbo’s 365 Club,


JULY 26 

Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile An East Coast rock twofer. Great American Music Hall,


JULY 30-31 

Woodsist Festival 2011 The festival returns to Big Sur, with Nodzzz, Thee Oh Sees, and Woods (also playing songs from the new Sun and Shade) joining the Fresh & Onlys to form a bigger band. Fernwood and Henry Miller Library, Big Sur;


August 12-14 

Outside Lands This year’s lineup includes Erykah Badu, and Big Boi, with local contributions from Tamaryn, The Fresh & Onlys, Ty Segall, and Diego’s Umbrella. Golden Gate Park, .


Soul sounds


Aaliyah has been an ephemeral touchstone for a number of different musical acts in recent years, with Gang Gang Dance citing her as an influence, James Blake sampling her voice, and The xx and Forest Swords covering “Hot Like Fire” and “If Your Girl Only Knew,” respectively, from her 1996 album One in a Million. In the last year, small fragments of her song “Rock the Boat” have also figured in albums by a pair of acts — Hype Williams and The Weeknd — that reshape elements of commercial R&B.

On “rescue dawn II (I am wiger toods),” from Find Out What Happens When People Stop Being Polite and Start Gettin Reel (De Stijl), the London-to-Berlin duo Hype Williams isolate the “Rock the Boat” line “Feel like I’m on dope,” slowing down Aaliyah’s voice in a manner similar to DJ Screw, and placing it next to off-key keyboards and video game sounds. The invocation of “Rock the Boat” in relation to Hype Williams’ name, which echoes that of the big-budget music video and movie director, creates or conjures subtext in a manner that’s both similar and markedly different from the inspirational way in which James Brown or Meters samples figured in early hip-hop.

Throughout Find Out What Happens, “Roy Blunt” and “Inga Copland” of Hype Williams borrow from disparate vocal elements, such as Pokémon rap and either a mutation or karaoke or obscure interpretation of Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo.” While there’s a comedic quality to the album’s use of such sources, it mingles with a sense of time being altered. Whereas ’80s electronic musicians such as Harald Grasskopf or Scott Ryser of the Units have written about the difficulty of getting analog instruments such as Minimoogs to stay in sync while recording on tape, Hype Williams’ digital sound is riddled with moments in which melodies and rhythms deliberately fall out of step. Structurally, the duo’s new album One Nation (Hippos in Tanks) mingles randomness and more obviously constructed facets. Somber and meditative in comparison to the De Stijl collection, with free jazz atmospherics and beats to the fore, One Nation sometimes sounds like DJ Shadow, creating filigree at midnight in an imperfect world.

Bombast is not a part of Hype Williams’ sound, but it is present in The Weeknd’s self-released House of Balloons, a comparatively more polished recording that’s garnering roughly ten times the amount of attention on YouTube, a number that’s likely to increase. The Aaliyah loop on House of Balloons occurs seconds into the album’s second song, as a “hold you close” and a few other blurred words from “Rock the Boat” lead into a yearning dubstep-influenced ballad that works to differentiate between wants and needs, using echo effects to emphasize one while repeating the other like a mantra.

While Hype Williams generally sounds blunted or sleepy from syrup, speedier drug elements are laced throughout The Weeknd’s sound and the lyrics of House of Balloons. “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” begins with vocal and instrumental elements and a hook interpolated from Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Happy House” before changing scenes halfway through, abandoning melodic, romantic, dramatic singing for a rap track set at an after-hours party gone awry. The next track, “The Morning,” begins with a blues lick and brings a sense of underlying anguish what is at least partly an account of a stripper’s jet-set lifestyle. “The Party & The After Party” is a seductive slow jam that uses Beach House’s “Master of None” (also present in Miranda July’s new movie The Future) as its musical bed.

As with the likely duo known as Hype Williams, the identity of the Weeknd, whether defined as Canadian singer-songwriter named Abel Tesfaye or a group of artists, has also been a matter of speculation. On blogs, websites, and in some publications, House of Balloons‘ comparative merit or weakness in relation to The-Dream, Drake, and other R&B contemporaries is a source of current debate. To dismiss any one of them outright in relation to the other is a simplistic response. In fact, R. Kelly is just as viable a comparison, and another way of returning to Aaliyah’s presence and the ways it can signify or suggest absence. 


Snap Sounds: Jessica 6


“White Horse” and “Fun Girl”

Siren of the dance floor Nomi Ruiz is looking and sounding even better outside of Hercules and Love Affair; in fact, depending on the petty commercial whims and deeper prejudices of the world, she could be the most alluring pop diva since Aaliyah. Washing in on peerless cymbal-sprays, “White Horse” comes on like the 21st-century answer to Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” while also notching top spot in the current Madonna revival. Its video sashays through the kind of N.Y. nighttime sleaze that just about disappeared with the Gaiety, and does so with style. The older “Fun Girl” has traces of the Hercules sound as well as Janet Jackson’s and Aaliyah’s feline flirtations with guitar rock, and a warped horror-tinged sound that make sense when one considers Jessica 6’s original name was Deep Red. Check out the flawless combo of windblown hair/keyboard at 1:14. Can’t wait for the album. Videos after the jump.

Jessica 6, “White Horse”:

Jessica 6, “Fun Girl”:

Sinisterism and lost hills: The Slow Poisoner joins forces with Fantomas in San Francisco


In conjunction with the continuing “Fantomas by the Bay” series presented by City Lights, the Cultural Services of the Consulate General of France, and the Mechanics’ Institute Library, here’s an interview with the Slow Poisoner, who may be casting a musical shadow over the Fri./8 event, “An Elegant Threat.” The man also known as Andrew Goldfarb holds forth on his Fantomas bonds, surrealist activity in San Francisco, and the Slow Poisoner’s current and next moves.

SFBG What is your interest in Fantomas, and do you have any favorite Fantomas-related works?
Andrew Goldfarb I first discovered French villain Fantomas during an absinthe binge abroad, and was immediately drawn to his unrepentant sinisterism and stylish fashion sense, especially the black mask and top hat combination. I would say that aside from the original 1911 literary serial, my favorite Fantomas work is the 1915 film series, because there’s nothing that captures the decadence of criminal Paris like a hand-cranked silent movie tinted with blood.

SFBG You’re a native San Franciscan. Do you feel there is surrealist activity present here at the moment, and if so, what are its facets?
AG As long as San Francisco is coated with a thick coat of fog in the morning, the City will remain mysterious, and surrealistic activity will be present. I’d say my favorite examples of modern surrealism in S.F., aside from the schizophrenic rants posted on telephone poles in the Tenderloin, are the costumed noise bands that flourish in the Mission District, such as the Spider Compass Good Crime Band, which features two oversized vultures, one of whom plays lounge music on an organ while the other generates electronic dissonance with analog synthesizers. Very entertaining, and feathered.

SFBG What is the Slow Poisoner up to these days?
AG I just completed a roots-rock-opera about ghosts and liquor, which is titled Lost Hills. It tells of my days as a traveling curio salesman, my brief engagement to a phantom hitchhiker, and my eventual hanging (after some misfortunes involving a tainted Mint Julep). I’ve been illustrating it with felt art, kindergarten-style. I’ve also just brewed up a new batch of my Slow Poisoner Miracle Tonic, which is made with pure Egyptian oil and is proven effective in the treatment of Consumption, Women’s Troubles, Gout, Neuralgia, Wandering Limbs, Stoutness, Onanism, Disinterested Bladder, Elephantiasis, Cholera, Barnacles and Boils, The Fits, Excessive Abscesses, Necrosis, Lavender Fever and General Wasting.

Fri/8, 8 p.m.
Location undisclosed and secret (invitations available at the front desk of City Lights); free
(415) 362-8193

First Thursday: Deathly portraits, cubic rams, smudgy painted mutts, and Aids 3-D


April is usually one of the liveliest months for the make-your-own-maze blitz of art openings that is “first Thursday,” and this year is no exception. One highlight is definitely the debut solo show by Dean Dempsey, who graced the cover of the 2010 Photo Issue of the Guardian, and was interviewed on the Pixel Vision blog. Dempsey has since relocated to New York, and “Selected Works” at Togonon Gallery offers a new glimpse into his idiosyncratic “pictorial sculpture” take on portraiture. Speaking of which, glitter painter Jamie Vasta invokes Caravaggio in a new show at Patricia Sweetow Gallery. More about hers and other openings after the jump.

In “After Caravaggio,” 2007 Guardian “Flaming Creator” Vasta gathers friends and associates as subjects for a take on the master painter that coincides with the 400th anniversary of his death. There’s a deathly presence in more than one or two first Thursday shows, from Dempsey’s and Vasta’s to the X-ray images in Guardian Photo Issue alum David Maisel’s “History’s Shadow” at Haines Gallery, a logically dis-ease oriented extension of his recent large-scale renderings of rusty urns containing the ashes of anonymous mental institution patients.

Other first Thursday shows, works, and exhibitions of note: Aids 3-D (Daniel Kollar and Nik Kosmas) bring audience-energy solar panels to Altman Siegel Gallery; Shawn Smith serves up a colorful cubic ram at Cain Schulte Contemporary Art; Eric Zener presents emotionally evocative tree paintings at Hespe Gallery; Eric Ginsberg’s smudgy mutts and other dogs find a home at Mina Dresden; and Fauxnique talks about performance at Gallery 16.

Alexis Blair Penney, “Lonely Sea”


This past weekend Honey Soundsystem held a release party for the 7-inch single release of Alexis Blair Penney’s “Lonely Sea.” Now the video for “Lonely Sea,” directed by Justin Kelly, is up for viewing. We’ve written about Kelly’s videos a few times in the past, and devoted a cover story to High Fantasy co-hosts Penney and Myles Cooper last year. Kelly’s video for “Lonely Sea” finds him and Penney tapping into at least a triad of ’80s video divas, as well as natural and mythological undercurrents.

Snap Sounds: Arnaud Fleurent-Didier


La Reproduction
(Columbia/Sony Music)

If you’re a lover of chanson-tinged pop and you found Benjamin Biolay’s recent double-LP a letdown, then there’s bittersweet relief to be found in this song collection, which covers similarly vast instrumental terrain with an ease that the ostentatious Biolay didn’t manage. Fleurent-Didier reminds me a bit of Gerard Manset, but not quite as brooding — there’s modernity and whimsy to his compositions and vocal delivery. The interplay between vulnerable voice, acoustic guitar, piano, electronics, and orchestration in “Reproductions” is flat-out gorgeous. The Contempt-inflected music video for that song is one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while. Totally, tenderly, tragically, after the jump.


Snap Sounds: Silk Flowers


Ltd. Form

There’s something endearingly ungainly about Aviram Cohen’s singing, but Silk Flowers is most successful in instrumental mode, and the majority of Ltd. Form steers clear of the morbid imagery and Michael Gira-like or Andrew Ridgely-type baritone posturing that characterizes three of the album’s tracks. The highlight is “Small Fortune” (which I keep wanting to call “Small Wonder”), an electric dream Phil Oakey would covet. It cries out for a dramatic pop vocal, yet likely is more resplendent without one. Listen in after the jump.

Silk Flowers, “Small Fortune”:

Silk Flowers, “Small Fortune” live on WFMU:

Smooth criminal: Fantomas slinks into San Francisco!


Tonight is the kickoff of City Lights’ “Fantomas By the Bay” series, with absinthe-soaked readings (by Brian Lucas, Andrew Joron, and others) and performances (including a collaboration between Daniel Handler and Jill Tracy). In honor of the festivities, the time is right to link to the opening passage of Guardian contributor Erik Morse’s intense and extensive 2008 rendering of the shape-shifting Fantomas phenomenon for Arthur magazine, and to present scene-stealing Maggie Cheung in a stealing scene from Olivier Assayas’s 1996 Fantomas-influenced movie Irma Vep. Look for more here on “Fantomas by the Bay,” and check out Cheung and info about tonight’s festivities after the jump.

Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep (1996):

Wed/6, 7 p.m.
City Lights Booksellers
261 Columbus, SF
(415) 393-0100

Snap Sounds: Beach Fossils


What a Pleasure
(Captured Tracks)

Beach Fossils’ music possesses a brisk energy that — while sonically akin to great ’80s records on labels such as Postcard and Sarah — feels contemporary, or at least youthful. The group lost a guitarist after its debut album last year, yet its guitar sound remains its strong point: the jangly melodicism of this eight-song EP’s title track is early Johnny Marr-caliber, and the harmonic momentum of “Fall Right In” results in maybe the best Beach Fossils track to date, a declaration of affection that’s winning in its simplicity.

After “Out in the Way,” a plainly lovely rendering of abandonment that includes an instrumental contribution from Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum, the latter half of What a Pleasure strays into darker terrain, exploring melancholy and, as the title of the last song puts it, adversity. The sighing, rolling pattern of the EP’s instrumental opener creeps into the conclusion of “Adversity,” bringing a suggestive a hint of nostalgia as well as hypnotic suggestion (is it time to start all over again from track one?) to the song’s languor. There’s an urge to look backward while moving forward through life, and it suits the band’s sound.

Beach Fossils, “Fall Right In”:

Beach Fossils, “Out in the Way”:


Tome time


LIT This week brings the 30th installment of the National California Book Awards. Some of the books up for awards have been written about in the Guardian during the past year, including Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, Richard O. Moore’s Writing the Silences, and Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, by the 2011 Fred Cody Award for Lifetime Achievement winner Tamim Ansary. Local authors, editors, and translators among this year’s nominees include Solnit, Moore, Aife Murray, Brian Teare, Damion Searls, Michael Alenyikov, John Sakkis (who has contributed to the Guardian), Kate Moses, Matthew Zapruder, Lewis Buzbee, Neelanjana Bannerjee, and Pireeni Sundaralingam.

The 2011 edition of NCBA arrives at a time when the value and resolve of independent booksellers is clear. For many years, Borders and other chain stores seemed poised to kill small businesses devoted to selling books, and in fact, chain marketing undoubtedly has had a negative impact on individual shops. But Borders recently filed for bankruptcy, while a number of unique booksellers in the Bay Area and beyond continue to survive and thrive. Thanks to the Berkeley-based Small Press Distribution and San Francisco shops such as Needles & Pens, small publishing is also alive and within real-life reach. Here is the list of this year’s NCBA nominees, for the next time you venture into the neighborhood bookshop or library.



 Ivan and Misha, stories, Michael Alenyikov (TriQuarterly Books, 212 pages, $18.95)

 Heidegger’s Glasses, Thaisa Frank (Counterpoint, 320 pages, $25)

 Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, stories, Yiyun Li (Random House, 240 pages, $25)

 Death is Not an Option, stories, Suzanne Rivecca (W.W. Norton, 22 pages, $23.95)

 The More I Owe You, Michael Sledge (Counterpoint, 320 pages, $15.95)


 Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson (Simon & Schuster, 368 pages, $27)

 The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Michael Lewis (W. W. Norton, 320 pages, $15.95)

Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language, Aífe Murray (University Press of New England, 324 pages, $35)

 Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, Robert B. Reich (Alfred A. Knopf, 273 pages, $27.95)

 The Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons, Richard Rhodes (Alfred A. Knopf, 400 pages, $29.95)



 Not by Chance Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist, Elliot Aronson (Basic Books, 304 pages, $27.50)

• A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California, Laura Cunningham (Heyday, 352 pages, $50)

• Cakewalk, a memoir, Kate Moses (The Dial Press, 368 pages, $26)

 Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, Rebecca Solnit (University of California Press, 167 pages, $24.95)

 Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean, Julia Whitty (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 256 pages, $24)



 Suck on the Marrow, Camille T. Dungy (Red Hen Press, 88 pages, $18.95)

Trance Archive: New and Selected Poems, Andrew Joron (City Lights Publishers, 120 pages, $14.95)

 Writing the Silences, Richard O. Moore (University of California Press, 136 pages, $19.95)

• Rough Honey, Melissa Stein (The American Poetry Review, 96 pages, $14)

 Pleasure, Brian Teare (Ahsahta Press, 88 pages, $17.95)

 Come on All You Ghosts, Matthew Zapruder (Copper Canyon Press, 96 pages, $16.95)



 Translation by Anne Milano Appel, Blindly, by Claudio Magris, from Italian (Penguin Group Canada)

Translation by David Frick, A Thousand Peaceful Cities, by Jerzy Pilch, from Polish (Open Letter Books, 143 pages, $14.95)

 Translation by Damion Searls, Comedy in a Minor Key, by Hans Keilson, from German (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 144 pages, $22)



• Translation by Kurt Beals, engulf—enkindle, by Anja Utler, from German (Burning Deck, 96 pages, $14)

• Translation by Joshua Edwards, Ficticia, by María Baranda, from Spanish (Shearsman Books)

• Translation by John Sakkis and Angelos Sakkis, Maribor, by Demosthenes Agrafiotis, from Greek (Post-Apollo Press, 86 pages, $15)



• Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem, Jorge Argueta, illustrator Fernando Vilela (Groundwood Books/Libros Tigrillo, 32 pages, $18.95)

• The Haunting of Charles Dickens, Lewis Buzbee (Feiwel and Friends, 368 pages, $17.95)

• The Vinyl Princess, Yvonne Prinz (HarperTeen/HarperCollins Publishers, 320 pages, $16.99)

• Other Goose: Re-Nurseried!! and Re-Rhymed!! Children’s Classics, J. Otto Seibold (Chronicle Books, 80 pages, $19.99)

• Shooting Kabul, N.H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Paula Wiseman Books, 272 pages, $16.99)



Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry, edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam (University of Arkansas Press, 220 pages, $24.95)



Tamim Ansary 


Sun/10, 1 p.m.–2:30 p.m.

Koret Auditorium

San Francisco Main Library

100 Larkin, SF

(510) 525-5476


Lookin’ forward to the weekend: Berkeley Art Museum faces a “Pigeon” invasion


The “L@te: Friday Nights at BAM/PFA” series has brought some great programs since its inception, and this Friday’s promises to be one of them. Programmed by Betty Nguyen, “Pigeon Dealers” includes a DJ set (by artist Dave Muller) as well as stand up comedy (by Chris Thayer) and Motorik sounds (by Bronze), but my chief reason for going is the rare chance to see some of David Enos’s movies projected large. In the years since his time with the 2005 Goldie-winning Edinburgh Castle Film Night crew, Enos has continued to create unique and at times alchemically uncanny short video works while also making paintings and music. He’s one of the best artists in the Bay Area today. Check out his spookily superb mystery Hidden Host after the jump.

David Enos, Hidden Host:


Fri/8, 7:30 p.m.; $7 (free for students and members)
Berkeley Art Museum, Gallery B
2626 Bancroft Way, Berk
(510) 642-0808

Snap Sounds: Peter Gordon


Love of Life Orchestra

With Arthur Russell duly sainted, the New York City avant-disco revival turns to this extensive, expansive studio project and its lush, sax-dominated epics. Blessed with the mastery of a conductor, Peter Gordon brought together a community of musicians — including Russell, David Byrne, David Johansen, Art Londsay, and vocalist Rebecca Armstrong — with distinctly lavish and madcap results. “Extended Niceties” and “Roses on the Dance Floor” are as terrific as their titles, and “Beautiful Dreamer” is exquisite. Two tracks after the jump.

Peter Gordon and Love of Life Orchestra, “Beautiful Dreamer”:

Peter Gordon and Love of Life Orchestra, “Extended Niceties”:

From East Coast to West


MUSIC I guess there’s some redemption for America in that it can still produce someone like Kurt Vile, a pure rock musician, to the manner (rather than to the manor) born.

Last spring I caught Philadelphia’s Vile in the Hemlock Tavern’s crowded back room, and instead of blowing everyone away with a crowd-pleasing performance, he did something different, going deep into his songs to a degree that the audience was an afterthought. This wasn’t Catpower-style meandering as lame performance art, it was a musician working with his guitar. Jay Reatard had died a few months earlier, and for me, there was a sense of relief that his introverted counterpart Vile seemed so engaged with what he was doing, with his calling.

Vile’s new album Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador) is the best studio effort by him and his band, the Violators, and roughly the equal of his superb 2008 collection of stripped-down solo recordings, Constant Hitmaker. The instrumental chops are top notch, a rarity in indie land. Vile wears a Midwestern twang like a fine middle-finger salute when he isn’t doing his best son-of-Iggy on “Puppet to the Man.”

Throughout Smoke Ring For My Halo, the couplets flow freely: “Society is my friend/ He makes me lie down in a cold bloodbath”; “If it ain’t workin’ take a whiz on the world/ An entire nation drinkin’ from a dirty cup/ My best friend’s long gone, but I got runner-ups” “I don’t want to give up but I kind of want to lie down/ But not sleep, just rest.” Vile shrinks himself to Tom Thumb proportions to fit into his baby’s hand, and plays the role of peeping tom captivated by a tomboy. He goes back and forth between deadpan morbid or devastating observations and just-joshing asides, all the while maintaining the disconcerting familiarity of a bar-stool neighbor.

Vile and his band peak with “On Tour,” which turns the lonely romanticism of an on-the-road ballad into a Lord of the Flies scenario within its first two lines. The song blankly presents the visions of a traveling musician — and restlessly contemplates the idea of the traveling musician — then torches all of it. “Oh yeah,” Vile drawls, at the quiet onset of a thunderous instrumental passage that’s totally shiver-inducing. Oh yeah is right.

Cass McCombs’ has spent time in the Midwest, but it was a passage in a Californian son’s vagabond travels. McCombs is more of a stately chap, his voice a little higher and prettier, his arrangements — while also country-tinged — a little more chamber-like and precise, his Poe-tinged fatal lyricism more literary and bookish. The lyrics for Wit’s End (Domino), his follow-up to 2009’s impressive Catacombs, are printed in English and German.

Like Vile’s, McCombs’ portraits of American life are defined in relation to death. There’s more quiet and open space in his compositions, yet when he sings “I can smell the columbine” on the opening “County Line,” he’s finding wildflowers trampled beneath a landscape — and world of meaning — familiar with high-school massacres. This is someone who gave a tune about a guy who loves his job the title “The Executioner’s Song.”

At eight songs, Wit’s End, due out in late April, doesn’t overstay its welcome. “County Line” takes the keening, solitary atmosphere of 1970s radio ballads such as Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy” or the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why” and replaces their fantasies of love with an empty landscape.

The song that follows, “The Lonely Doll,” is even more brash in its formal marriage of poeticism and storytelling. It could be heard as an answer-song to France Gall’s Serge Gainsbourg-penned 1965 hit “Poupée de cire, poupée de son,” which was covered as “Lonely Singing Doll” by Twinkle in 1965 and Anika last year. An unsettling lullaby, “The Lonely Doll” is a voyeur scenario to match Vile’s “Peeping Tomboy.” But there and elsewhere on Wit’s End — “Saturday Song,” in particularthe writing, sometimes piano-based, is more evocative of Kurt Weill than Kurt Vile. 


With RTX

April 22, 10 p.m.; $12–$14; all ages

Bottom of the Hill

1233, 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


With Frank Fairfield

May 5, 8 p.m.; $15; all ages

Swedish American Hall

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016

Tennis’s top three switch positions: A final look at the BNP Paribas Open


“For me, you are the greatest player ever.” So said Novak Djokovic to Rafael Nadal after defeating him in the final of the BNP Paribas Open. Djokovic’s compliment is sharp in a number of ways. On one hand, it can be interpreted as a diss on Roger Federer, a player often touted as the greatest ever, with whom Djokovic has at times had a testy competitive relationship. On the other hand, it can also be seen as Djokovic giving Nadal a taste of his own medicine: how many times has Nadal called Federer the “greatest” after notching another win during his dominance of their rivalry?

Ultimately, it’s only a matter of words, though thanks to the media, words have a way of traveling as often and far as the players on tour. And they do have the potential for instigating psychological gamesmanship. After his semifinal loss to Djokovic, Federer was asked about a comment late in 2011 by past champion Martina Navratilova that he will likely never reach the number one spot again, and his response ricocheted from catty (“Maybe she was somewhere else climbing Kilimanjaro,” a reference to a recent failed expedition by Navratilova) to uncharacteristically affectionate (“I love her”). One thing’s clear, the top three men’s players are doing a bit of role-playing at the moment.

Of the trio, the formerly impersonation-prone Djokovic is the most adept at role-playing, and his current roles suit him fine. In winning the BNP Paribas Open, he usurped Federer as the number two player in the world, and confirmed his status as the best player of 2011, remaining undefeated and triumphing over current number one Nadal in their first encounter this year.

Within the second of my four posts about this tournament, I remarked on Djokovic’s improved maturity and sense of solidity, and he’s backing up that observation. Technically his game lacks the grand flourishes of Federer and Nadal, but it’s more solid overall, especially when — like now — his forehand and hard-to-read serve are not just under control but in weapon mode. His speed is at its apex, allowing for excellent footwork. He’s long been the most bendable of players, and he’s bringing that unmatched torso flexibility to his well-planted groundstrokes with maximum results. Simply put, he is currently the best athlete on tour, with the strongest technique and mental resolve.

Lodged at number one without a tournament win in over five months, Nadal finds himself in the familiar position of entering the upcoming clay and grass court seasons with his ranking on the line. His play at Indian Wells offered signs of promise and worry. No physical issues seem apparent or imminent; in 2009, when he was also at number one during this time of year, he soon ground himself down and paid a steep price for it. As with Federer and Djokovic, his racquet head speed while executing shots is observably a flight above the rest of the of the tour. But his focus and intensity appear different than in earlier years, more muted.

The major worry spot for Nadal at Indian Wells was his serve. Early in the tournament he seemed displeased with it during warmup sessions, and he double-faulted twice in a row to lose a set during his and Marc Lopez’s doubles defeat by Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka. He double-faulted on the first point of his semifinal against Juan Martin Del Potro, a pressure-filled encounter because their previous match at the 2008 U.S. Open was perhaps the worst drubbing of Nadal’s career.

Eventually, Nadal used his superior variety as well as well-disguised down-the-line forehands to wrest control of the match from Del Potro, who is still regaining form. But in the final against Djokovic, double-faults crept back into Nadal’s game and his first-serve percentage was woeful, especially by his standards. While Nadal’s serve has never matched his ranking, a high first-serve percentage – usually in the 60s or 70s – has been fundamental to his success. He has to regain control of the shot, but is fortunate the tour is about to swing to clay, the surface where big first serves are least important.

As for Federer, he finds himself partly in the most humble position he’s been in for some time, now ranked third in the world, without an active slam title to his name. Of course, having won more major single titles than any other men’s player in the open era, he can occupy any ranking from a position of absolute mastery. But his defeats to Djokovic are becoming more frequent. In claiming the second set of their semifinal, he snapped a streak of six successive sets that Djokovic had won against him. Back in 2007 or 2008, Djokovic’s wins over Federer were often defensive ones, as defined by Federer’s errors as Djokovic’s persistence. Today, Djokovic is often dominant during their baseline exchanges. One of Eric Lynch’s photos above, of a worried-looking Federer racing to execute a backhand against Djokovic, perfectly illustrates the Swiss champion’s current situation.

The greatest tennis player ever may be Roger Federer. It may be Martina Navratilova. It may be Rafael Nadal, one day. But such decisions are subjective. The best tennis player in the world at the moment is Novak Djokovic. He has yet to lose a match in 2011, and unlike in 2008, the other year in which he ruled  the early months, he’s carrying his form over to Miami, the final hard court stop on the spring tour. We’ll soon find out how well clay rhymes with Nole.

Umbrella weather: A glimpse of the future during the BNP Paribas Open



In San Francisco, you need an umbrella for the rain. In Palm Springs, you need an umbrella for the sun. Under a solar glare, the men’s side of the BNP Paribas Open would bring a final four made up exclusively of slam-title winners. Yet its most revealing and perhaps best-contested match occurred before the final weekend, on a packed secondary court, where two representatives of the game’s future – Milos Raonic and Ryan Harrison – dueled as afternoon gave way to evening.


With hunched shoulders and an appearance that somehow manages to be handsome while evoking The Simpsons‘ Moe Szyslak, 20-year-old Raonic is an ungainly presence, still growing into his body. The Canadian who was born in the former Yugoslavia went into his match against Harrison as the favorite, having reached the Australian Open’s round of 16 this year thanks to a booming first serve. In February, when Raonic defeated world number nine and Calvin Klein underwear model Fernando Verdasco in two successive matches (the final of San Jose’s SAP Open and the first-round of an event in Memphis, TN), and the Spanish player reacted with some sour grapes commentary about what comprises “real tennis,” Raonic’s name was made.

The 18-year-old Floridian Harrison is still transitioning from the junior ranks to challenger tournaments and the pro tour, and at five inches shorter and almost forty pounds lighter than the six-foot five-inch, 198 pound Raonic, he also seemed physically outmatched. But Harrison had defeated Raonic two of three times they’d faced off as junior players, and the comparative solidity of his game and superiority of his groundstroke technique became apparent as the players stayed on serve through the first set and Harrison snatched the tiebreak.

As a sign of things to come in the men’s game, the Harrison-Raonic match was paradoxically nostalgic and classicist. The two players harken back to a time before the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal era, specifically calling the Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi rivalry to mind, with Raonic’s Sampras-like aggressive serve-based game going to battle against Harrison’s Agassi-like crisp shotmaking and remarkably reflexive return of serve. Most notably, in terms of image, both Raonic and Harrison (whose name couldn’t be more generically all-American) are all business on court. Neither player has obvious tics or makes much noise when hitting the ball. For the moment, at least, both favor old-school verging on uniform-drab attire.

Harrison had the home court advantage, though there is a definite Canadian presence in the Palm Springs region, and as the players entered a third set and Harrison reclaimed the lead with an early break, the atmosphere grew tense. The Indian Wells Tennis Center’s second stadium was packed, and along with dozens of people in of its four corners, I watched the entire match from one standing-room-only corner, along with good-naturedly commiserating spectators. A teen girl a few feet directly behind me repeatedly fielded cell phone calls with a bored Valley Girl drawl, and after the third or fourth conversation, people began ssshhh-ing her. The next time her phone rang she spoke in hushed Mandarin.

As Harrison neared the finish line, he began to show signs of nerves, netting volleys and squandering match points. Raonic, still erratic, began to swing more freely and dangerously. The possibility of a terrible choke, reminiscent of Harrison’s loss to Sergei Stakhovsky at last years U.S. Open, loomed. But the young American fought out of some tight spots in his final service game and notched the win. His reward? A main stadium encounter against Roger Federer in the next round. The sport’s script was running according to plan.

Other notes from mid-tournament at the BNP Paribas Open

It used to be that the WTA was where lopsided results marked a tournament’s early-to-mid stages, with top players routing weak opponents. But that was true of the ATP at this year’s BNP Paribas Open, where Novak Djokovic made quick work of friend Ernests Gulbis and countryman Victor Troicki, and Roger Federer dispatched Juan Ignacio Chela, each giving up only a game a match. As I watched Chela’s hitch-ridden all-too-mortal service motion while he double faulted the first set to love against Federer, I wondered about his investment in even bothering to compete. But when he’d make a second serve, Federer routinely hit a winner from it.

The women’s side, in comparison, was largely characterized by three-set struggles in the middle rounds, with number one seed Caroline Wozniacki coming back to defeat hard-hitting Alisa Kleybanova, and marathon battles between Francesca Schiavone and Shahar Peer and also Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska. The latter two maches were a study in contrasts, somewhat revealing of the WTA’s current woes. Despite a dramatic scoreline, Azarenka-Radwanska was tiresome, ridden with errors and lapses in momentum, and symptomatic of a competitive backslide in the women’s game. Peer’s defeat of Schiavone was another entry in 2010 French Open champ Schiavone’s growing catalog of epics. With her street scrapper demeanor and broadly gestural game, she’s one of the more arresting players on court.

It’s been a pleasure going through Eric Lynch’s photos for these tennis pieces because of his sharp eye on and off the court. One of his photos for this entry, a shot of Alisa Kleybanova, got me thinking at length about how tennis has and hasn’t changed over the years. Analysts have commented critically on Kleybanova’s unorthodox technique, in particular her habit of jerking her head sharply while making contact with the ball in a manner that suggests somewhat flinching as they pull the trigger. She’s doing exactly that in the photo of her above, yet otherwise her leaping form is almost a dead ringer for that of flapper-era Suzanne Lenglen, one of the sport’s earliest great champions, who was reknowned for her peerless grace. A likeness between Kleybanova and Lenglen is the last thing I’d expect, but the camera doesn’t lie, or at least one top-level forehand can’t help but recall another, even across almost a century.



Sister Liz : A loving look back at “Liz: Unhinged”


This review originally appeared (as “Liztrionics: Taylor blows hinges off YBCA!”) in the Dec. 5-11, 2001 issue of the Bay Guardian:

“Elizabeth Taylor is my sister. You might as well know it.”

So begins A Superficial Estimation, poet John Wieners‘s homage to the women in his life, including his aunt, Dorothy Lamour, and his mother, Bette Davis. Overtly conflating movie stars with family is A Superficial Estimation‘s gay masterstroke, one typical of the tiny tome’s undersung author. Liz gets the first chapter; Wieners lovingly notes that she “peruses her surroundings with dignity and harmony,” which leads one to believe that he’s describing his sister before the era — 1968 to 1973 — covered in film curator Joel Shepard‘s current Yerba Buena Center for the Arts series “Liz: Unhinged.” Beginning with a Boom! and ending with Ash Wednesday‘s on-screen plastic surgery, these were Liz’s Divine years: the period when she treated audiences to one throttlehold after another, angrily rubbing their faces into her larger-than-larger-than-life image.

This is star power as deadly weaponry. Daring to dive into Liz in the book Deeper Into Movies, Pauline Kael — reviewing X, Y, and Zee — deems Taylor “Beverley Hills Chaucerian,” a “great bawd” with upholstered hair who uses vulgarity as “a form of assault.” Actually, that movie is the sweetest concoction in “Liz: Unhinged”‘s liquored quartet. (Lore has it that Boom!‘s cast began each day with Bloody Marys.) X, Y, and Zee is a sort of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-lite, with Michael Caine pinch-hitting for Richard Burton. “I just love eating between meals,” Liz proclaims, but the real bite is in her voice, a tone that translates to “Fuck you! All of you!” Caine and smug other woman Susanna York share precious mmoments (replete with silhouettes in sunset) on the glorious coast of Scotland, but who cares when they’re up against Liz, wearing a gold headband as she roars at her hairdresser, “Yes, I am a bitch! Open and straight!”

Yes, indeed — thank god. Bitchy Liz has been credited as the first major female star to use the word “fuck” in a movie (Boom!), a rather literal factoid; her line readings regularly translate sunny nicety into no-shit-Sherlock sarcasm. When she breaks free from the florid language of Tennessee Williams, Edna O’Brien, and other, less-esteemed screenwriters, unhinged Liz shoots off an arsenal of yuck-yucks, yoo-hoos, grunts, groans, seagull shrieks of panicky delight, and crying jags that mutate into laughing fits. She triumphs over blue eye shadow. She dons kaftans, cloaks, shawls, ponchos, and diaphanous nightgowns; at one point (in Boom!) her ensemble matches the lamps in her room. And then there’s the headwear, one fur hat after another, capped by a piece (also in Boom!) that transforms her cranium into a dangerous stalactite formation. Gorge your eyes before she gouges them out.

Elizabeth Taylor (with Noël Coward) in Boom!:

Other period details recur throughout “Liz: Unhinged.” Cannelloni is devoured, mineral water flows freely, Liz’s beauty is haunted by Parma violets in not one but two of these burnt offerings: Boom! and Ash Wednesday. Liz herself is a wilted flower in the latter, but then, full-body plastic surgery (captured in loving detail) is exhausting. Especially when it’s meant to win back the arthritic caresses of Henry Fonda. Now, Liz, we know you can do better than that — even if you aren’t sick and tired of wearing loose wraps.

Joseph Losey’s Secret Ceremony locks Liz and a wigged-out Mia Farrow in a mansion to play a fatal game of pseudo-profound, authentically pretentious hide-and-seek. The same director’s Boom!, made the same year (1968) is a sort of debauched Contempt; the film finds Liz dictating her memoirs over an elaborate intercom system and entertaining the Witch of Capri (played by Noël Coward, since Katherine Hepburn — cementing her snooty, uptight image — rejected the part). “Pain…injection!” Liz’s hypochondriac gulps at the outset, shortly before Losey’s portent-laden camera lands on her biggest diamond ring. (Another bit of lore: during this era, Taylor was paid for her jet-setting film roles in rare jewels rather than money.) “Bring me my menthol inhaler and tweezers!” she demands a little later, after coughing up a lung and comparing an X-ray machine to a “baby buggy from Mars.” Death comes in the bedroom, in the form of a bloated, red-eyed Richard Burton.

Lucky charms, safe journeys


VISUAL ART A sense of play — more street-smart than sentimental; international, but also attuned to a universal understanding of nature — is central to Yukako Ezoe’s art. Ezoe’s vividly colorful paintings and collages and vibrant jewelry work are informed by her experiences as a student and teacher, and often directly connected with everyday necessities and pleasures. Ezoe has curated and contributed to a show of kite art and made a revealing single-edition photo-interview book about the myriad barbershops in the Mission. She and her husband, the artist and DJ Naoko Onodera, often show work under the name Bahama Kangaroo, and she’s used that moniker for her first solo show, at Kokoro Studio. Ezoe has upcoming shows at Ritual Cafe and Edo Salon, and this week she’s taking part in “Rise Japan,” a fundraiser for earthquake and tsunami relief in Japan. We sat down together recently for a midafternoon talk.

SFBG How did the name Bahama Kangaroo come about?

Yukako Ezoe Naoki [Onodera] has an album titled Bahama Kangaroo. It’s beachy ’70s disco. Jonh Blanco and I were working on an event for Indie Mart and trying to figure out what the name of our craft team, and I asked Jonh to listen to the record. He said, “Our team should be Bahama Kangaroo!” Then Naoki and I ran with it.

SFBG The badminton dreamcatchers you’ve made have a number of facets: the spider’s web-like stringing and also the MP3s you place in the badminton racquets’ handles to record dreams or ideas. What was the inspiration behind them?

YE Futurefarmers had asked me to contribute to a show in which the theme was “What’s your learning journey?” While I went to school, I learned and got ideas while I was hanging out with friends and playing. So the voice recorder in the badminton dreamcatchers is like a memo or school tool.

The gold badminton dreamcatchers were part of a badminton show that Hana Lee, Leslie Kulesh, and I did at the Diego Rivera Gallery at San Francisco Art Institute. We turned the whole gallery into a gym.

SFBG Is there a creative interplay between your teaching and art making?

YE I think so. I get ideas from students. Seven-year-olds will draw something monstrous and I’ll be influenced by it.

The homeless kids I work with [at Larkin Street Youth Center] are super-ambitious and straightforward. They’ll crush something to make it fit within a work. The kids at Lark Inn are in survival mode. If I’m trying make a dreamcatcher, they don’t want to do it. If I do sewing or make wallets or notebooks, they’re into it.

SFBG Two artists mentioned in the writing connected to your current show at Kokoro Studio are John Audubon and Yokoo Tadonori. They make for a great, unexpected combination.

YE I love Yokoo Tadonori’s use of composition and his juxtapositions. One of his pieces has a salaryman hanging right in the middle of it. I don’t like it, but it’s brutal and cruel — and true.

SFBG Your compositions are often symmetrical. Why’s that?

YE I used to do monoprinting, and I was obsessed with the geometric [aspects of] library catalogs, airplane tickets, and blueprints. That’s stuck with me. I’m also OCD-ish, too, I have a whole bunch of drawers filled with weird things.

SFBG Kokoro Studio’s writing for “Bahama Kangaroo” also mentions self-portraiture, which might not be obvious when you look at the work. I went in wondering if there were going to be paintings of you.

YE No way! [laughs] A solo show is sort of about you — artist ego [laughs]. But the pieces are portraits of my thoughts and ideas. In one, I’m like an owl, spacing out and thinking. The two lions in some pieces are like me and Naoki doing a high five. Another piece, Too Many Bats, has to do with how hard and competitive it is to be an artist. I’ll think of people and turn them into characters.

SFBG Framing is present as an element within some of your recent paintings and collages. How did that come about?

YE I’ve been influenced by Afghan trucks. There’s a book of photos of them [Afghan Trucks, by Jean-Charles Blanc]. They’re a bit like trucks with murals on the side. Back in the day, travelers would decorate their camels with lucky charms so they’d have safe journeys, and nowadays they do it with trucks.

SFBG What are you working on at the moment?

YE Right now I’m making jewelry, altering clothing, and cleaning my room. I go back and forth [between different activities and forms].

I used to work for a bridal jewelry store that was really bling-y. I want my jewelry to be more sculptural, and to have a clustered quality that’s similar to the collages I make. *


Through Thurs/24

Kokoro Studio

682 Geary, SF

(415) 400-4110


Kokoro Studio

also: Gallery Heist

679 Geary, SF

(415) 563-1708

Satisfying crunch


MUSIC For three nights, Burger Boogaloo is going to sate the appetites of Bay Area garage fiends with a hunger for rock. It makes perfect sense that the weekend event is building to a Sunday night finale involving Midnite Snaxx. Sharing the stage with Nobunny, as well as Shannon Shaw’s side project, Egg Tooth, the Snaxx bring a skilled chef’s resume to the bill: Tina Lucchesi, a hairstylist at Down at Lulu’s by day, has blasted amps in bands such as the Bobbyteens and Trashwomen, while Dulcinea Gonzalez, who does time at the Guardian while the sun is out, was a member of the Loudmouths. (Bassist Renee Leal of the LaTeenos completes the trio.) I recently caught up with guitarist-vocalist Gonzalez and drummer Lucchesi.

SFBG You two are garage rock veterans. How do you feel about the Bay Area garage scene right now?

Tina Lucchesi It’s different now, for sure. It’s younger.

Dulcinea Gonzalez I’m happy to be playing music. We haven’t lost our lust for rock ‘n’ roll.

SFBG One of your songs is “October Nights.” What’s special about that time of year?

DG October is when Budget Rock is happening. We tend to party hard, and the weather tends to be better. [The song’s] a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll and living in the Bay Area.

TL It’s Rocktober!

DG Tina wants us to have a record cover where we’re werewolves, like Ozzy Osbourne [on the cover of Bark at the Moon].

SFBG Are there any looks you have in mind for upcoming shows or photos?

DG Don’t give Tina any ideas, she loves to dress up. We had taco suits for Halloween. We hope to do a video soon where we can express our funnier side.

TL This is a T-shirt, tennis shoes, leather jacket kind of band, which is good. It’s cas.

SFBG Why do you think there’s such a connection between garage rock and food, especially in the Bay Area, with bands like yours and Personal and the Pizzas, and labels like Burger Records?

DG I guess it has to do with wanting satisfaction right away. We like our music a little dirty, sleazy, fun, and poppy, and those kinds of foods are the same way — a guilty pleasure.

SFBG What are some of Midnite Snaxx’s favorite snacks?

TL Probably nachos — the vegetarian nachos from [Taqueria] Cancun, with cheese. The midnight buffet that drunkenly happens at my house dips into anything in the fridge.

DG Pizza from Lanesplitter’s. We’ve had some terrible, terrible Taco Bell runs after practice and going to the Avenue.

TL Sometimes we get healthy and go eat sushi at Koryo because they’re open until 3 a.m.

DG That’s when we just got paid.

TL They have half-off specials now. [laughs]

SFBG What’s on the Midnight Snaxx menu, recording and release-wise?

DG We put out our first single on Raw Deluxe. Our next single is on Total Punk Records, an offshoot of Floridas Dying. It comes out in May. Then we have big plans to record our LP for Red Lounge Records in Germany, which will be out in the summer.

SFBG How did you wind up on a German label?

DG This guy [Martin Christoph of Red Lounge] follows a lot of the bands that Tina’s been in and he knew one of my past bands, and he liked the rawness of our recordings. We’re stoked. Hopefully this means we get to go to Europe.

TL Time for schnitzel and beer [laughs].

DG Jason Testasecca from Nobunny is recording the album at Tina’s house.

SFBG Is there anything that people should expect from Midnite Snaxx at your Burger Fest show?

DG Tina, what are you gonna do?

TL They should expect a full-blast snack attack all over their faces.


Fri/25–Sun/27, $10

Thee Parkside

1600 17th St., SF

(415) 252-1330 


Teenage ghosts


MUSIC Hold a séance on a wet afternoon or rainy evening. Party down and commiserate with the ghosts and dancing skeletons of wrecked love past as they float from your stereo. Put on Dirty Beaches’ Badlands (Zoo Music) and Hunx and His Punx’s Too Young to Be in Love (Hardly Art) and invite the dead boyfriends and lonesome girlfriends of ’60s teenage rock and pop to shimmy with your ex- memories in the living room. Meet 2011 with them, alone.

The motor at the center of Dirty Beaches’ “A Hundred Highways” is the melody of “I Will Follow Him,” an emphatic-to-the-point-of-crazed declaration of affection made popular in 1963 by a four-foot nine-inch 14-year-old named Little Peggy March. A man-band from Vancouver, B.C., Alex Zhang Hungtai transforms the vocal of March’s hit into a brittle, rusty bassline that’s like a piston from the title vehicle of John Carpenter’s 1983 film Christine, and then douses it with corrosive flames of distorted guitar, brooding into his mic all the while.

The sinister allure of “A Hundred Highways” is enhanced by a cultural connotation that flickers outside of the song itself, namely Kenneth Anger’s use of March’s version of “I Will Follow Him” (as well as her pathos-ridden 1963 ballad “Wind-Up Doll”) in the 1964 film Scorpio Rising. In Anger’s movie, March’s song strikes a comic note, accompanying Hollywood footage of Jesus, but the malevolent spell characteristic of Anger’s overall work is what carries over to the sound of Dirty Beaches, as much as the anguished yelps and cries and sonic minimalism of Suicide, the group always referenced in writing about Hungtai’s music.

History, personal and societal, has a way of adding dark undercurrents to songs that might seem innocent at first. David Lynch and Martin Scorsese learned this from Anger, and the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis mines this to revelatory effect in the 2009 movie It Felt Like A Kiss, which uses songs produced and recorded by convicted murderer Phil Spector — most potently, the Crystals’ 1962 “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss” and Tina Turner’s 1966 “River Deep, Mountain High” — to score an account of the 1960s that’s as attuned to all-too-human triumphs and failures as it is to the insidious undercurrents and machinations of governmental forces. Good times go bad.

Hunx of Hunx and His Punx is familiar with a different kind of Badlands than the war zones zeroed in on by Curtis, or the Jesus and Mary Chain-esque one invoked by Dirty Beaches’ album title. The songs on Too Young to Be in Love are overtly gay, in the sense that he’s singing about boys and men, but to pigeonhole them as gay music would be not just blinkered, but blind to the innovative aspect of the group’s dynamic, which refashions and outright recasts old rock and pop sounds of female and male desire and emotion in new ways.

The traditional if not downright hoary emblem-bearer of “gay music” is the dancefloor diva, ever ready to express the need for everlasting love or tonight’s trick via a sampled or studio-processed wail. Hunx and His Punx create a different dynamic, with Hunx (a.k.a. Seth Bogart) and bandmate Shannon Shaw trading vocals in a manner that counters unbridled true romance with an irony gleaned from experience.

Too Young to Be in Love‘s opening track “Lovers Lane” sounds as classically ’50s-’60s retro as its title, yet Shaw’s untamed, hair-raising voice haunts the deathly boy-loses-boy scenario that Bogart stars in and narrates, arch and sincere in turn. We all want to go to lovers’ lane, but do we want to stay there, in the dark?

At other ingenious times, Hunx’s band is a girl-gang warning bashers and bullies to back off from his romance (“My Boyfriend’s Coming Back”). They harmonize with Hunx as he traipses faux-innocently away from heartbreak (Too Young to Be in Love‘s sublime title track) and with Bogart as he stares down the legacy of his father’s suicide (the closer, “Blow Me Away”). On the classic “The Curse of Being Young,” Hunx does his best Mary Weiss while his bandmates supply the sophisticated boom boom, adding a little more yearning with each chorus, until the listener is left alone with Shaw’s feral, fateful incantation. Games of keep away have lasting impact. Bad boys navigate badlands and sometimes wind up bad men. Maybe you’re never too old to be too young to be in love.

Lit: A Slow Death: 83 Days of Radiation Sickness


This review originally appeared in the Jan. 7-13, 2009 issue of the Bay Guardian:

John Gall’s art for A Slow Death: 83 Days of Radiation Sickness (Vertical 160 pages $19.95) is unique in a gaze-snatching fashion. It combines hues of yellow and green, block patterns, and a news photo backdrop into an attractive, enigmatic, and faintly disturbing image that makes a browser wonder, “What exactly is inside this book?”

The answer is an account of a nuclear plant worker’s gradual demise after he was accidentally exposed to 20,000 times the maximum tolerable amount of neutron beam radiation. As some alleged environmentalists (including figureheads such as Al Gore) have begun touting the benefits of “non-carbon sources” of energy — an evasive way of saying “atomic power” — Hisashi Ouchi’s death comes across as an extreme cautionary tale.

Credited to NHK-TV “Tokaimura Criticality Accident Crew” and constructed from a television documentary about the nuclear accident, A Slow Death bluntly but compassionately renders Ouchi’s physical symptoms, which included massive skin loss, and the emotional impact his plight had on the doctors and nurses who treated him. The last extraordinary aspect of Ouchi’s story involves his heart, which persevered and remained relatively healthy while the rest of him demonstrated the impact of radiation. As the book puts it, “it continued living amidst the destruction of virtually every other cell in his body.” 

Looky-loos and show ponies: A day in the life at the BNP Paribas Open


On one side of the main stadium at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, white picket fences separate the players, their entourages, and assorted tour types from the fans. There’s a small plot of green grass near the practice courts, where the athletes jog after matches, or – like Scotland’s Andy and Jamie Murray – kick a soccer ball around to pass the time. The setup has a looky-loo and show pony quality, like a human version of horses being led around before a race, though in truth, the BNP Paribas Open presents one of the most free and easy atmospheres in terms of player-fan interaction, with many of the pros walking through the complex amongst the general public.

In the cafeteria, a young Belgian female player and a French former doubles and current serve-and-volley specialist wait for pressed sandwiches from a discombobulated culinary institute intern. At tables, the players fraternize with one another, sometimes across national lines, while an older women’s champion and a famous trainer sit alone. The one moment that even some pros dispassionately turn to stare is when Rafael Nadal ducks in to grab a quick bite before his first-round singles match, dropping his ID card as his transaction is rung up by a girl with Snooki- or Adele-like mascara.

Out in the practice area, some members of the Spanish Armada – Tommy Robredo, David Ferrer, and Ferrer’s coach, Javier Piles – hang out in the sole shady corner of a court in the early afternoon, then Robredo gets up and hits serves. To sunscreen or not to sunscreen? The question is moot these days for health reasons, yet there’s still a contrast between the hordes, mostly players, who look healthily tanned, and the smaller contingent, primarily older male coaches, who have taken on a leathery appearance. For the latter, this facet conveys experience and a certain kind of hardened masculinity, like that of a war admiral’s.

The French players Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon rally and volley in the piercing sun, their styles a study in contrasts. Gasquet, once heralded as Federer’s heir apparent, has compact, classical strokes and a bullish physique, while the gangly Simon, who has outperformed expectations, is all looping limbs in comparison.

The largest crowd is gathered for Roger Federer’s practice session with compatriot and doubles partner Stanislas Wawrinka. A giant Swiss flag with ‘Rogelio’ and a jeweled crown on it is unfurled on the fence of one side of the court. Federer’s posture and gestures are of a different sort than the other athletes here, if not kingly then debonair and large, like an old-time matinee idol, whether he’s sitting with legs crossed or outstretching an arm near Wawrinka’s chair.

At night, as two junior players make up for their short stature with loud grunts on the next court, Croatia’s Marin Cilic gets in a practice session under the eye of his coach, Bob Brett. After a promising beginning, Cilic’s 2010 was a bit of a disaster, but he’s gradually been regaining confidence, and is assured on court, winning almost all of the practice points he plays.

A lithe Ana Ivanovic, fit and focused in a way that should prove interesting in the coming months – particularly clay season — has a playful warm up with ESPN’s and Adidas’s Darren Cahill overseeing on one of the main practice courts. Her round of hitting begins with an amazingly long rally, and a few minutes later, she chases down a lob and hits a ‘tweener shot to the crowd’s approval. Her opponent that night, Kimiko Date-Krumm, practices on the furthest corner court to a much smaller gathering of onlookers, one day after an earthquake and tsunami have wreaked devastation in her home country. Date-Krumm is the oldest player on the WTA tour, and her flat-hitting technique, catching the ball early on the rise, is of an entirely different era.

At the end of the evening, the rising young ATP player Adrian Mannarino has a clowning session with a hitting partner on an another obscure side court. The pair begin each rally by placing the ball atop the net, then they gently nudge it back and forth within the service lines in a manner that combines slapstick physicality with characteristic French finesse. Next to no one is watching them, they’re simply enjoying the game.

>>MORE: The net: Young victory and top-ranked tennis musings at the BNP Paribas Open

Beth Ditto, “I Wrote the Book”


One of our favorite Katy Perry-shredders, Beth Ditto serves a “Justify My Love”-era Madonna look and the kind of sound Madonna lost touch with after her first album. Guardian Video Issue cover star Justin Kelly made a fab recent Gossip video, but this teaser from an upcoming solo EP hints that it might deliver the dancepop Rick Rubin didn’t for Ditto’s group.