K. Tighe

Year in Music: Move me


It was during my early teens that the obsession struck. I oversaw the building of a stage, booked a bunch of bad garage bands, and charged $10 for admission to boondocks Maryland’s first semiannual Punk Fest. During my high school years I snuck into the seediest venues that Baltimore and Washington DC had to offer — still the scariest I’ve seen to date. By my arrival in San Francisco, I was a full-fledged music scene devotee, immediately taking a job at the Great American Music Hall to pay the rent during college. My SoMa warehouse hosted concerts a few times a month — my bed was a futon unrolled over a segment of 58 Tehama’s stage. For years my drinks were comped, my seats were great, and I was always on the guest list.

It wasn’t until the final months of 2006 that I realized I’ve spent most of my postpubescent life inside concert venues. It was getting increasingly difficult to ignore my ringing ears, to justify the copious waves of shift-off cocktails, and to keep my love for music intact. Flag down any soundperson, bartender, or bouncer working anywhere in the city tonight, and they’ll tell you the music industry breeds bitterness.

How to live in San Francisco without working in the music business? At least my job kept me firmly in the so-called creative class — a label that made me feel much better about my financial situation. Moving to a less expensive city could mean a better standard of living and a way to cut the industry apron strings for good. My husband, having spent more than a decade working in music stores, was game. His only stipulation was that he would not, under any condition, be taking a record store job ever again.

We caught a train to Chicago, where my husband promptly took a job at a record store. I managed to stay away from music for a month, instead focusing my energies on writing food reviews for local publications. But by the time the festival season rolled around, the prospect of seeing Patti Smith perform against the impressive skyline of my new hometown ruined everything. The University of Chicago recently published a study comparing the music scenes of American’s top metropolises. Chicago kicked some serious ass. The study described Chi-town as "a music city in hiding."

I doubt I’ll ever shake music totally, but living in Chicago has taught me it doesn’t have to be a way of life anymore. When it comes to the scene these days, I’m nothing more than a music fan in hiding.

TOP 10

1. During my last night at the Great American Music Hall, I danced like crazy to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

2. Tyva Kyzy. Anyone who missed this all-female group of Tuvan throat singers is probably still kicking themselves.

3. Barbarasteele’s 7-inch release party at Cafe du Nord blew some minds. Rest in peace, Mike J.

4. Patti Smith performing at Lollapalooza in the pouring rain.

5. No, I wasn’t among the Milanese elite who got to see Ennio Morricone at La Scala opera house, but just knowing about this show makes me a better person.

6. Rediscovering Townes Van Zandt’s Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (Snapper UK).

7. The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir (Bloodshot).

8. Thanks, Sopranos, for making Journey relevant again.

9. Happy centennial to the glorious buildings that house the Great American Music Hall and the Cafe du Nord.

10. De la Soul closing out the Pitchfork Music Festival in style — with a little help from Prince Paul.

Labor of Glover


WHAT IS IT? Beowulf may be raking in box office bucks worldwide, but its monster has been making his own rounds. Crispin Hellion Glover and I holed up in Chicago’s House of Blues to wait out a snowstorm and talk about the second installment of his It trilogy, It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine.

Twenty years ago Fine codirector David Brothers handed Glover a script penned by a man with severe cerebral palsy. This wasn’t a touchy-feely autobiographical affair nor a trite story about overcoming diversity to make the world a better place. No, this was a sinister genre spin into the mind of a sociopath; the gentle hero was a villain. "He didn’t like the idea that handicapped people were always portrayed as these good people," Glover explained, careful to point out that the screenwriter, Steven C. Stewart, preferred the term handicapped. "He wanted to play a bad guy."

Protagonist Paul Baker, played by Stewart, has a hair fetish. He falls in love with a weathered divorcee — played by ever-luminous Rainer Werner Fassbinder muse Margit Carstensen — and her lengthy locks. She purrs at Baker, "You might be handicapped, but you’re still a man. I’m going to treat you as such." And she follows through, right until he strangles her. We watch as he charms, beds, and slays his way through the female cast. "The women are his allies, but there’s an antagonism within them as well," Glover explained. "It has to do with the hair." Indeed, anytime a woman threatens to chop off her mane, we know she’s on her way out.

"The fact that he had these particularities — that he wasn’t a good guy, that he had this hair fetish — this is what made it interesting," Glover said of the Baker character. It isn’t long before we learn that it’s OK to hate the guy in the wheelchair. The cerebral palsy becomes moot. It’s all about the hair.

Despite the fact that the speech of Fine‘s leading man is nearly impossible to decipher, the audience never loses track of what’s going on. As the screenwriter, Stewart could have given himself any worldly talent; instead, he chose a fantasy in which everyone understands him with ease. It’s this naïveté that attracted Glover to the script, and the directors made strenuous efforts to preserve it throughout the film.

After the death of his mother, Stewart spent 10 years locked in a nursing home, penning the script on his release. Glover read it shortly after. "I don’t know how he got me to make this film, but I’m glad I did it," said Glover, who told me several times that he believes this is the best film he will ever be associated with. "If this film didn’t get made, I genuinely would have felt like I’d done something wrong."

Although Fine was originally slated to be the third installment of the It trilogy, a turn in Stewart’s health sparked an urgency to start shooting. Glover accepted his role in Charlie’s Angels to bankroll Fine, and filming began in Salt Lake City in 2000.

A month after shooting wrapped, Glover received a telephone call from Stewart, who asked if it was OK to take himself off life support. "It was a very heavy responsibility to say, ‘Yes Steve, we have enough footage. You do what you need to do,’" Glover said.

Without Stewart around to field questions about his script, the codirectors had to interpret the writer’s intentions on their own — and audiences and reviewers will keep asking questions that can’t be answered. Did Stewart write the script to be surrounded by beautiful women, graphic sexuality, and the artistic attentions of Glover and Brothers? Did he understand the important, albeit off-putting, nuances presented for unassuming audiences to chew on? As I rambled about the things Stewart might have said if only he were here with us, Glover stopped me: "Steven would have loved to have been here to talk to you. He probably would have wanted to touch your hair. But I don’t know that he would have been particularly analytical about this."

So, in the Steven C. Stewart tradition of eschewing analysis for the good stuff, I’ll leave you with this: Graphic sex on gorgeous sets. Cameos by both Glover parents. Death by wheelchair. Don’t overthink it. Just go see the film. It’ll be fine. Everything will be fine. (K. Tighe)


With Crispin Hellion Glover in person

Fri.–Sun., 8 p.m., $20

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120


Eyes on the prize


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"One thing about Chicago — it’s a no-bullshit city," Elia Einhorn, the maestro behind the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, explains. "It’s a blue-collar, working-class city. There’s no pretension here." We’re sitting in the band’s de facto office — a corner booth at the absolutely unpretentious Pick Me Up Café in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood — where Einhorn and bandmate Ethan Adelsman have taken it upon themselves to school this recent San Francisco transplant in the ways of the local music scene.

To say they’re worthy teachers is an understatement. The group’s self-released 2003 debut, I Bet You Say That to All the Boys, topped many a best-of list that year, won the praise of local critics, and garnered heaps of music industry attention. The album led to shared billings with marquee artists like the Arcade Fire, the Violent Femmes, Spoon, and even San Francisco’s Dave Eggers. The obligatory television soundtrack spots followed, with salivating record execs not far behind. Eschewing major labels for its friendly neighborhood indie, Bloodshot, the band continued on its unpretentious way.

Originally recording more than 30 songs for its first Bloodshot full-length, the chamber-punk syndicate ended up with all of nine tracks. But even at a paltry 26 minutes, the album is the most complete I’ve heard in years. Steeped in Chicago’s "no bullshit" tradition, Einhorn’s songwriting is all substance. "Most records today are two or three good songs and then filler," the Wales-born songsmith says. "I could put out a double-disc record of fine songs, but fine can be the enemy of the best."

There’s no mistaking anything on this album for filler. Opening track "Aspidistra" tumbles with the frenetic energy you’d expect from a song propelled by three guitars. Recounting Einhorn’s history of drug addiction, the lyrical meat offers sinister contrast to the upbeat instrumentation. "Then and Not a Moment Before" showcases a similar dichotomy: long-overdue words fired at an absentee father are delivered over exhilarating major chords. Confusing, cathartic, and bordering on musical brilliance — it’s clear Einhorn’s understanding of songwriting forms, paired with his hard-won wisdom, presents a force to be reckoned with.

Employing the impossibly lonely voice of cellist Ellen O’Hayer, "In Hospital" delivers a gut-twisting account of coping with the death of a loved one. O’Hayer — who moonlights in Bright Eyes — also lends that sad and wispy voice to the sparse "Broken Front Teeth." Built from snapshots of Einhorn’s drug-addled past, the tune ends with the line "I knew I was done" but offers no closure. This honesty runs throughout the recording. "Most situations in life aren’t just resolved," Einhorn says. "It’s about recognizing the sadness. I’m putting it out there to say, ‘Look, here’s the confusion we’re dealing with. Here’s recognition that we’re all going through this together.’"

As far as uniting the masses goes, the sweeping anthem "Everything You Paid For" does this better than any song I’ve heard in years. Flanked by the disparate voices of the rest of the Choir, O’Hayer traverses the insecurities burgeoning inside the human condition in Einhorn’s ever-poignant narratives.

Fearlessly navigating a world beyond rock-ready love songs, the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir aren’t afraid to pluck at frayed and forgotten nerves. Such subjects as parental abandonment, gender identity, and mental illness aren’t your typical pop fodder. "People don’t want to hear songs about people you love dying," Einhorn says. "They don’t want to hear songs about having a crush on the same gender." Chalk it up to that no-bullshit ethos, but finally, here’s a band that’s working with something real. "If we ever go mainstream, it’s by pure luck," Einhorn adds before our waiter, eyeing the untouched food on the table, comes over to scold him, "Eat now. Interview later."

Obediently diving into his lunch, Einhorn can’t help but crack a smile: "See? There’s Chicago for you. Priorities in the right place." *


With Reduced to Ruin

Sun/2, 9 p.m., $7

Make-Out Room

3225 22nd St., SF

(415) 647-2888


Porno for pop-ettes


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New Pornographers ringleader A.C. Newman’s life has changed a lot since his 2004 solo debut, The Slow Wonder (Matador), became the secret darling of indie aficionados round the world: he relocated from his native Vancouver to Brooklyn, married the girl of his dreams, and became a morning person.

His music has metamorphosed too. "Some people think that this record is a real departure for us," Newman explained early one recent morning from his Park Slope home. He was talking about Challengers (Matador), the controversial new album from his indie supergroup, which slows the band’s trademark pop hooks to a more cerebral pace. This evolution, rife with organic instrumentals, has elicited the industry tag grower from multiple critics and left legions of fans scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to dance to the strange new tempo.

Newman and his cohorts didn’t set out to shock and awe their fans — the new sound is part of a natural growth. Sick of synths and willing to try something new, the band turned to an old trick of sorts.

"Our records are always made with whatever’s lying around," Newman said. In the past a band member has happened on a Wurlitzer here, a pump organ there, and these influences have informed the shapes of recordings. But this time, he continued, "it just so happened that when we came to Brooklyn, ‘what was lying around’ was a lot more. There’s a great creative feeling, a bigger infrastructure of musicians here. I felt like we had access to these totally amazing A-list people."

The borough treasures gathered for the album included a Broadway cellist, part of Sufjan Stevens’s string section, an extraordinarily gifted flutist, and even a French horn. "It feels like cheating sometimes," Newman said of the last-minute flourishes. "But I’m glad we opened it up to other people’s influences."

Even the idea of New York made its way onto Challengers. Clocking in at just under seven minutes, "Unguided" is a miniepic that chronicles Newman’s flirtations with the city through a cryptic lyricism that shines bright: "You wrote yourself into a corner, safe/ Easy to defend your borders." A contribution by Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, "Myriad Harbor," serves up a Bob Dylan–esque take on urban boredom replete with Brian Wilson–caliber harmonies. Standout tracks include the Newman–Neko Case duet "Adventures in Solitude" and the title track, which discovers Case at her best. The delicate croons of "We are the challengers of the unknown" over fragile strains of banjo give us the opportunity to pretend we’re hearing the alt-country chanteuse for the first time. Porno purists will appreciate "All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth," although the title seems to drip with hubris: the saccharine-pop nod conjures up the band’s early sound, as does "Mutiny, I Promise You," a hook-laden propellant painted with the woodwinds and half bars of ’60s pop.

With both Case and Bejar on the road with the Pornographers, the cosmos has aligned to present Challengers in its true form. Newman confesses that live shows are always bittersweet for him "because of the nature of our band. Sometimes we’re playing, and I’ll think, ‘Is this the last time this lineup is ever going to play like this?’"

As for the camp that insists that any part of the new disc is disposable or disappointing, let’s face it: when it comes to our most cherished artists, we’re all needy little brats. We expect their music to inspire and describe us, infuse meaning into our daily struggles, provide the score to our love affairs, and polish the landscapes of our losses. As far as expectations go, that’s a little steep, don’t ya think? Instead of whining when a group fails to anticipate our desires and mercilessly attacking their forays into unfamiliar territory, we should take Challengers as an opportunity to move with the band.


With Lavender Diamond and Fancey

Mon/17, 8 p.m., $25–$27


982 Market, SF

(415) 775-7722


Feast: 8 places to get your chocolate on


It all starts innocently enough. One day you decide to order a mocha instead of your usual cappuccino; the next you grab a few Ghiradelli squares from the impulse aisle at Safeway. By the end of the week, you’ve blown your savings at Joseph Schmidt and are curled in a fetal position, watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on loop, stuffing your face with take-out pastries from Tartine. Scharffen Berger and Cocoa Bella are only the tip of the iceberg — San Francisco is host to one of the premiere chocolate cultures of the world. Submitted here are eight places to get your cocoa fix — no golden ticket required.


Most San Franciscans know Fog City News as a gargantuan newsstand tucked into the insufferably bleak confines of the financial district. This Market Street storefront might sport the largest collection of periodicals by far in the Bay Area, but it’s also home to one of the largest selections of chocolate bars in the country. Every person on staff is a chocolate authority, well schooled in the nuances of the cacao bean and happy to help you choose from the hundreds of options. Just remember not to refer to any of the products as candy — they take their chocolate seriously here.

455 Market, SF. (415) 543-7400, www.fogcitynews.com


Sure, it’s novel to insist that chocolate is at the top of the aphrodisiacal pecking order, but we all know that when it comes to stroking the libido, nothing can topple alcohol from its throne. Luckily for us, every bartender with a cocktail shaker and a boredom streak fancies themselves a mixologist. The folks at Circolo have taken it a step further with their White Chocolate Martini, an inspired combination of Godiva chocolate liqueur, Chambord, and Frangelica. The deliciously creamy result is decadent enough to make even Dionysus blush.

500 Florida, SF. (415) 553-8560, www.circolosf.com


Recent studies trumpeting the antioxidant qualities of chocolate have raised eyebrows worldwide, but while the jury is still out on the cocoa bean, there isn’t a skeptic alive who would dare challenge the medicinal benefits of tea. The experts at Charles Chocolates have collaborated with the Berkeley tea room Teance to create the Tea Collection, milk chocolates infused with tea such as oolong, jasmine green, and even lichee red. No flavor-drop shortcuts for this boutique chocolatier — the leaves are actually steeped in milk to make sure every subtle note of the tea makes it into the chocolate.

6529 Hollis, Emeryville. (510) 652-4412, www.charleschocolates.com


Chocolate has been consumed as a beverage for thousands of years, so anyone who sets out to make the perfect cup of hot chocolate has a long history to contend with. With its extensive menu of cocoa drinks, Bittersweet Chocolate Café is up to the challenge. From the exotic spices of its White Chocolate Dream to the pepper and rose of its Spicy! concoction, this Pac Heights café shows Swiss Miss who’s boss.

2123 Fillmore, SF. (415) 346-8715, www.bittersweetcafe.com


Mole is hard to get just right. The delicate balance of chile peppers, spices, and Mexican chocolate stewed together at the perfect ratio is something only a well-seasoned grandma can truly master, but Colibri comes close. Its flavorful Mole Poblano is prepared in classic Puebla style and represents the savory side of chocolate well. Bonus points for an obscenely large tequila selection.

438 Geary, SF. (415) 440-2737, www.colibrimexicanbistro.com


During my vegan days, ice cream always proved to be a challenge. Once the thoughts of cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip, or the holy combo of chocolate and peanut butter started swirling through my mind like so much chocolate marbling, Tofutti Cuties just didn’t cut it. Thank goodness MaggieMudd realizes that vegans love chocolate too! The flavors scooped out at this Bernal Heights sweet spot taste better than their dairy counterparts. Seriously. Really. No joke.

903 Cortland, SF. (415) 641-5291, www.maggiemudd.com


Anthony Ferguson just might be insane. The mad scientist behind San Francisco’s most eccentric culinary boutique, Cacao Anasa, runs his confection shop like a laboratory. No flavor is off limits in Ferguson’s kitchen: curry, basil, ginger, roses — hell, even merlot — all make their way into his artisinal truffles.

(415) 846-9240, www.cacaoanasa.com


The original gangster of San Francisco’s chocolate scene was founded during the gold rush, when a French immigrant realized that miners were willing to pay top dollar for fine chocolate. Guittard is still the oldest family-owned chocolate company in the United States; its baking products remain the top choice of pastry chefs world-round. The secret is in the simplicity: pure cane sugar, full-cream milk, and premium cacao beans have made Guittard’s a consistently perfect chocolate for almost 150 years.

10 Guittard, Burlingame. (650) 697-4427, www.guittard.com

Steeped in controversy


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These days everyone is a gourmand, and caring about the earth is so cool it’s made even Al Gore popular. The time is ripe to give a fuck.

But all this focus on artisanal and organic products is complicated. What’s easiest for the consumer to understand isn’t always correct. Stickers can’t always be trusted. And — certified or not — nothing holds a candle to family tradition.

It’s true for tomatoes. It’s true for tangerines. And, according to Winnie Yu, director of Berkeley teahouse Teance, it’s especially true for tea.

That there is controversy or politics involved with tea is nothing new (Boston Tea Party, anyone?). But the most recent debates have centered around two primary issues: the practice of using lower quality teas in tea bags (versus loose leaves) and the consequences of labeling tea as organic.

But before we get into all that, first the basics.


The beverage as we know it is said to have been discovered when tea leaves blew into the hot-water cup of early Chinese emperor Shen Nung. Cultivation started simply enough, under the fog on steep hills, where harvesters engaged in the art of fine plucking, or gently twisting the buds of Camellia sinensis at precisely the correct moment of the correct day. This knowledge was a biorhythm, pulsating in the bones, passed from one generation to the next.

But it wasn’t long before this Chinese medicinal crop changed everything. The British East India Co. — originally chartered for spice trade — spread opium through the region just to get its hands on the stuff. This bit of naughtiness made it the most powerful monopoly in the world, prompted wars, and left legions addicted to another intoxicating substance: tea.

Smuggling rings, high-society occasions, and ever-increasing taxes spiraled around the precious crop. The long journeys from China to Britain led to the glamour of clipper ship races, but below deck fighting the rats was another problem altogether. One piece of tea lore explains how cats were employed to catch the rats, and after an entire shipment of tea (already stale from the journey) was infused with cat piss, it was discovered that the pungent bergamot oil, popular at the time, masked this stench quite nicely. Earl Grey was born.

Next came Thomas Sullivan, New York tea merchant, good-time guy, and miser to the core, who decided to send some tea samples to faraway clients. Instead of packing his gifts in tins, as was common at the time, Mr. Tightwad decided to use some silk baggies he had lying around. The people who received these pouches assumed they were to dip them into boiling water and throw away the debris. Sullivan had unwittingly invented a no-mess solution to tea. The orders came pouring in. A few years later the Lipton tea bag was born.


Eventually, it was learned that smaller pieces, or finings, brew more quickly than full leaves. But when leaves are broken into finings, the oils responsible for their taste evaporate. This leaves a bitterness that can only be countered with cream and sugar. And the tea farmers in China kept on keeping on, despite the series of near-triumphs, well-intentioned buffoonery, and colonial rebellion that resulted in the western side of the tea-drinking world forever asking, "One lump or two?"

According to tea connoisseurs, this is when the fine crop began its slide down the slippery slope into pure crap.

Far from an obsolete issue (or a localized one), bagged tea — both its quality and its form — has sparked a very modern worldwide debate.

In Sri Lanka as recently as Feb. 12, D.M. Jayaratne, newly appointed minister of plantation industries, instructed tea researchers and relevant authorities to investigate whether premium teas exported in bulk are being mixed with cheap tea.

And on the less quantifiable front, contemporary tea drinkers such as Yu consider bagged tea to have all the sophistication and allure of boxed wine. Properly enjoyed tea is not only an intoxicant but also an art. "It’s like music," Yu explains. "The notes have to be appreciated at their own time."

Tea bags pilfer quality by design, but something bigger may be lost between the staple and the tag: how about a bit of ceremony in a racing, relentless world?

"Tea is a spiritual product, as well as for consumption," says Yu, who has made it her mission to bring fine tea and tea education to the Bay Area. "It was a medicine for 2,000 years before it was a beverage."

Her Berkeley tearoom — a serene, beautiful environment flecked in copper and bamboo — allows you to connect with the leaves, the culture, the moment, and the community. "Drinking with 3,000 years of history, you don’t feel alone," Yu says.


Meanwhile, at the 40th annual World Ag Expo in the San Joaquin Valley in mid-February, cannons thundered, Rudolph Giuliani waxed poetic about alternative fuel, jets split seams into the sky, more than 100,000 people gathered from 57 nations, and a small group of farmers met to contemplate the agribusiness plunge into the emerging organic industry.

During a seminar with Ray Green, manager of the California Organic Program for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, these farmers had before them a daunting question: organic at what cost?

When it comes to tea, Yu has an answer. The cost is large: to consumers, who mistakenly think their certified-organic tea bag is superior to the noncertified (but tastier and ecofriendlier) independent variety, and to small farms, which have to compete with the certified giants.

Artisan tea shops such as Yu’s depend on strong bonds with small farmers. But most quality tea farms opt out of the bureaucratic mess of US Department of Agriculture organic certification because the fees are too high and the other costs are too great. For example, USDA certification can require land to lay barren for up to five years. According to Yu, it’s nonsense to ask a family farm to participate in such a thing. "These hillsides have had tea growing on them for hundreds of years," she says. "It is very precious to have a tea tree."

Many new farms are certified under European and Chinese regulations — which are both significantly stricter and cheaper than their United States counterpart — but still have to compete with big corporations willing to jump through the USDA hoops.

At his seminar Green said, "Some of the farmers that left conventional agriculture 10 years ago because they just couldn’t compete on economies of scale are now finding that the same companies they were in competition with 10 or 12 years ago are now competing against them in the organic sector."

Consumers want to choose certified products because they think they’re doing the right thing. But doing so doesn’t necessarily help anyone but the big corporations that can afford certification.

"Organic isn’t an issue if it’s always been organic," Yu says. "Fair trade is not an issue [for Teance] because we buy from family farms."

Yu works with family farms like the ones with representatives sifting through the advice and cautionary tales of the World Ag Expo, the farms wondering how to stay afloat in the wake of impossible competition. As their corporate counterparts lurk in low valleys, sifting the scraps of their mass harvest into nylon bags before slapping a USDA organic sticker on attractive packaging and trumpeting health consciousness to the uneducated consumer, the folks on the hill are still doing what they’ve always done.

It’s clear that as consumers become more informed, the demand for quality product increases. With this demand comes profit, red tape, and a departure from the salt-of-the-earth spirit that gave birth to the organic movement.

"The ritual is authentic, healthy, artful," Yu says. "You can’t find that in a tea bag."

So what is the San Francisco tea lover to do? At the very least, you can support your local gourmet tea peddlers. From Chez Panisse to El Farolito, the Bay Area is uniquely qualified to appreciate the culinary good stuff. We like it slow, whole, and artisanal, and fine teas deliver. *


1780 Fourth St., Berk.

(510) 524-2832



2979 College, Berk.

(510) 665-9409



1511 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 540-8888

1411 Powell, SF

(415) 788-6080

1 Ferry Bldg., SF

(415) 544-9830.



602 Hayes, SF

(415) 626-5406



498 Sanchez, SF

(415) 626-4700

730 Howard, SF

(415) 227-9400



Noisepop cracks up: trading jibes with Patton Oswalt


Our little bundle of noise is almost all grown up. Damning the brooding tradition of adolescence, Noise Pop has learned to laugh at itself — and anything that involves swigging beer and heckling Patton Oswalt without a two-drink minimum sounds like pure fucking genius to me. I recently spoke to Oswalt on the phone from Burbank. After soaking in enough indie to keep you cloaked in scene points until next year, you may want to check out his act alongside fellow comedians Brian Posehn and Marian Bamford. (K. Tighe)

SFBG You’ve been gigging at indie rock venues for a while — and now you are getting booked at festivals such as Noise Pop and Coachella. A lot of bands must be pissed off at you.

PATTON OSWALT Getting invited to these things is really flattering, but my rider’s still simple. As long as there is old scotch, I’m fine.

SFBG Have you ever been to the Noise Pop festival?

PO No, but I’m really excited. I’ve only ever listened to Genesis, so I’m hoping to discover new stuff.

SFBG You used to live in San Francisco. Are there any old haunts you still frequent when you play here?

PO I have about 10 old haunts. They are all Starbucks now.

SFBG El Farolito or Cancun?

PO La Cumbre all the way. They are mighty, mighty, mighty, and they’ve never fallen.

SFBG Your San Francisco act is always incredibly liberal — how much do you need to alter your political material from city to city?

PO I don’t have a tailored act. I trust the audiences to rise to the occasion. There are more and more pockets of resistance everywhere. Besides, the things I say aren’t all that outrageous compared to what is actually going on.

SFBG Any early thoughts on the 2008 presidential race?

PO I’m saying it now: the Democratic ticket will be Mickey Rourke and the original lineup of Journey.


Sun/4, 5:30 and 8:30 p.m., $24


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421


FEB. 28


At a recent gig in Seattle, Damien Jurado recounted an interview with a French journalist who had asked him if folk music was the new grunge. The singer-songwriter dismissed the question, but it was clear he was as comfortable cracking wise as he is creating the bleak portraits and doleful characters that inhabit his songs. Jurado’s latest release is not new but a reissue of Gathered in Song (Made in Mexico), which was originally put to tape in 1999 by friend and fellow plaintive songwriter David Bazan. Three months older though still freshly minted is And Now That I’m in Your Shadow (Secretly Canadian), a milestone recording with Jurado’s first permanent band, including cellist Jenna Conrad and percussionist-guitarist Eric Fisher. Here the trio essays the same lyrical and windswept landscapes that dominate Jurado’s discography, though gone are the upbeat pop numbers that have peppered past albums. The result is at once tender and forlorn. John Vanderslice headlines; the Submarines and Black Fiction also perform. (Nathan Baker)

8 p.m. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. $14. (415) 771-1421



Despite critical acclaim for their latest album, Lonely Road Revival (Alive), Trainwreck Riders remain as down-home as their sound. Proof the San Francisco boys haven’t gone Hollywood yet: vocalist Andrew Kerwin still works at Amoeba in the city, and the band recently got arrested and Tasered by Houston police at a show with former labelmates Two Gallants. Songs such as "In and Out of Love" combine roots rock, punk, and country that sound familiar, retro, and refreshing all at once. The harmonica in "Christmas Time Blues" makes me want to flee to my favorite dive bar to sulk, even on a good day. (Elaine Santore)

9 p.m. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. $12. (415) 861-2011



If ever there were a diamond in the indie rock rough, it is David Dondero. National Public Radio named him one of the 10 best living songwriters, but he still tours in his truck and has probably served you pints at Casanova. Nick Drake may have lamented that "fame is but a fruit tree," but he checked out long before his notoriety took root and grew. Dondero, on the other hand, has worked for years in relative obscurity. His latest effort, South of the South (Team Love), was bankrolled by Conor Oberst, an overdue invitation to the feast from a man who freely admits to copping Dondero’s style. Jolie Holland headlines; St. Vincent opens. (Baker)

9 p.m. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. $20. (415) 346-6000


Naming your band is one of the early hurdles for any would-be rock star. Ted Leo and his mates had a stroke of genius the day they alighted on the Pharmacists, arguably trumping even the Beatles for best tongue-in-cheek rock ‘n’ roll pun. Not that ingenuity is lacking in this outfit, which packs as much fevered punk energy into a four-minute tune as a mitochondrion does into a cell. For those who slept through freshman biology, that’s the part of a cell that, among other things, processes adrenaline. And anyone who has ever attended a Leo show is all too familiar with this chemical. (Baker)

8 p.m. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. $18. (415) 885-0750



The genre-bending Sacramento band known for funky arrangements, monotone vocals, droll lyrics, and a whole set of cabaret, country, and soul cover songs (including Gloria Gaynor’s "I Will Survive" and Black Sabbath’s "War Pigs") finishes Noise Pop with characteristic verve and vibraslap. This indie-turned-mainstream-turned-indie quartet has gotten increasingly political in recent years — check out the band’s Web site (www.cakemusic.com) if you want to see what I mean — so expect some social commentary with your catchy ditties. It’s also worth showing up for the textured pop sound and cheeky lyrics of opening band the Boticcellis; Money Mark and Scrabbel also perform. (Molly Freedenberg)

7:30 p.m. Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. $25. (415) 474-0365


From hardcore to soft


What happens when you can fit your entire tour into a pickup truck? When your song can follow a Neil Young track in a juke joint? When you’re able to blend your steel guitar with indie rock unironically? What happens when you stop playing loud and start getting real?

Things get really, really good.

Could this be the culmination of what was intended when Armchair Martian guitarist-vocalist Jon Snodgrass and All frontperson Chad Price decided to unplug their amps and form Drag the River? Now — a decade after these hardcore dudes decided to play it slow, low, and rootsy — we’re left wondering how anyone else can lay claim to the most whiskey-soaked of genres, country rock. Staking thematic ground between Bruce Springsteen and the Minutemen, their sixth album, It’s Crazy (Suburban Home, 2006), builds icons from the shells of the down-and-out, romanticizes the working class, and casually explores Americana motifs. It’s Crazy‘s strained, simple "Mr. Crews" pulls us through the tough times of the wayward misanthrope: "Words are hard and bulletproof. Are we monsters? Are we fools? Rednecks, rejects, lonely losers …" "Leavin’ in the Morning" is a sparse charge through failed romance, and "Beautiful and Damned" covers the heart-wrenchingly hopeless category, while "Amazing G." gives an anthemic nod to the misguided barroom girls of the world. "Well, she once believed in Jesus," Price sings, "but she never believed in love. Now she worships at the altar of alcohol." And with a swollen sway, "Dirty Lips" fetishizes the hard-worn woman: "You must be talking too much shit — someone’s gonna smash your pretty lips."

Fan favorite "Me and Joe Drove Out to California" is straight stadium country — the kind that makes you want to drive and drive and drive — and in this, Drag the River electrify the essence of the best country songs, crossing state lines, raising hell, and chasing down your own good times.

Track 13 is so much more than just a title track: it’s a welcome reprise of the entire album and a reminder that this is not kitsch country — this is the hard stuff. In fact, one might have difficulty pegging Drag the River as alt-country if not for the past musical affiliations of its members. Shedding pretense and skin, Drag the River provide their brittle bones for our consideration and show us what veteran punk rockers are capable of. (K. Tighe)


With Tim Barry of Avail and Hannalei

Fri/16, 8 p.m., call for price


1600 17th St., SF

(415) 503-0393



Keeping up with John Waters


CULT MOVIES Cobbled and crumbling streets with a homegrown musk of fish, piss, and National Bohemian Beer wind through Charm City — a place where ragged and palsied vagrants stroke crack pipes atop benches reading “The Greatest City in America.” The dainty, dapper man serving me coffee from an antique tray couldn’t be further away from Baltimore.
His recent San Francisco appearance has been moved from the Fillmore to the Swedish American Hall. Cross-legged in a perfectly tailored black suit, John Waters chalks it up to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle but adds, “Don’t worry — I don’t feel like Kevin Federline or anything.” It turns out the cult director is a fervent member of Team K-Fed. “I hope he gets the kids. I love a bad boy, and he is so clueless about how to deal with the press — but at least he wasn’t out this week showing his crotch.” Instead of dwelling on the deeper cultural nuances of Britney Spears, I’m just trying to figure out how this guy has time to keep up with the tabloids.
You see, John Waters — sultan of sleaze, underbelly fetishist, iconic if ironic impresario — has been very, very busy.
First, there’s the remake of the remake of Hairspray. The original 1988 film featured Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, Divine, and Jerry Stiller — and launched the career of Ricki Lake. After easily reaching cult status, its Broadway musical version swept the Tonys — and now Waters is back with a third cast and a fresh eye: “Each time it has to be reinvented to work — otherwise why go there?” The new movie, which stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, and Christopher Walken, comes out next summer and features John Travolta in the roll of Edna Turnblad. “Sitting there in the trailer with John Travolta getting into drag, it’s not so much different than Divine getting into drag — it’s a looong process.”
Though this latest version of Hairspray is directed by Adam Shankman, it has the full support of its creator. Some might say full frontal support — Waters shows his unwavering approval in the film’s first 30 seconds through a cameo as a flasher.
Meanwhile, stage director Mark Brokaw, Daily Show writer David Javerbaum, and Fountains of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger have teamed up with the Hairspray the Musical team to turn Cry-Baby, Waters’s 1990 movie musical, into another Broadway show. The film — starring Johnny Depp and Amy Locane — is the story of two ’50s teenagers tangled up in a star-crossed-lovers cliché. The menagerie of raunch and camp is fleshed out with some vulgar rockabilly (parts of the soundtrack are produced by Dave Alvin), tight clothes, and quite possibly the most unbelievable supporting cast of all time. “I cast it like I was having an insane dinner party with people from very different worlds,” Waters says. You can bet that Iggy Pop, Patricia Hearst, Willem Dafoe, Traci Lords, and even Polly Bergen had some wild times on set.
Waters recently collaborated with Jeff Garlin to adapt his infamously inflammatory monologue, This Filthy World, for the screen. The lewdly eccentric music compilation A John Waters Christmas (New Line) is in stores now, and A Date with John Waters (New Line), a smutty Valentine’s Day comp, will hit the shelves in early February. And just in case you still suspect the man of slacking off, he has also finished writing the screenplay for his next film — a children’s movie. Yeah, as in for children.

Fri/22, 7 p.m. Hairspray;
8:50 p.m. Cry-Baby
See Rep Clock

Sing out


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
The stage floods red, and the guitars churn. This rock is southern grit — a real heartland affair. Onstage, a man with straggly black hair steadies his guitar and returns to the microphone stand: “They’ve never known want, they’ll never know need/ Their shit don’t stink, and their kids won’t bleed/ Their kids won’t bleed in their damn little war/ And we can’t make it here anymore.” The crowd goes off, the band keeps up, and then James McMurtry puts down his guitar.
This is pretty much what preaching to the converted looks like. I should know — I’m up here every night, and I see it all the time. By day I’m a writer, but nights still find me on my balcony perch behind the lighting board at the Great American Music Hall. My voyeur point offers nightly opportunities to study the mechanics of crowds. From here, I’ve learned that hippies twirl, hipsters stand with arms folded, punk rockers still mosh — well, they try — and any alt-country audience worth its salt drains all the Maker’s Mark early in the night.
Still, there are two things that happen during every show. The first, somewhat annoying thing is that at some point someone in the band will say something like “Hey, this place used to be a brothel, you know.” This false statement is typically followed by a joke, statement, or inflammatory song about the Bush administration. The San Francisco crowd — regardless of what kind of night it is — will always go crazy.
McMurtry is at that point in the evening — only he’s played here enough times to forgo the cathouse comment, and he skips right to the hard stuff. “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” is nothing short of an anthem, a wartime confession that things these days are pretty fucked up. This marks the third time I’ve witnessed a crowd encountering this song. From above, I can see the now-familiar shudders — I see the guitar chords grabbing at the guts, the lyrics pulling at the guilt, and the eyes glazing over with the most dutifully civic of queries: how the hell did we get to this point?
Music has long been a vehicle for dissent. In fact, the protest genre’s history is so strong that some of its most revolutionary battle cries (“The times they are a-changin’,” “God save the queen,” and “Fuck the police”) have become pop culture clichés. Sticks and stones and all of that, but it turns out the right words can pack one hell of a punch.
A few months ago during the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park, a known dissenter rewrote an old song, Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Blues,” in front of more than 50,000 listeners. It was Fleet Week in the city, and fighter jets roared overhead as Billy Bragg led his crowd through the chorus of “Bush War Blues,” a sea of middle fingers fiercely stabbing at the air.
It seems that we are all tangled up in the newest wave of protest music — and it’s quite a stretch from the “Kumbaya,” peacenik days of yore. Today’s troubadours are mobile. Bragg, McMurtry, and countless other hard-touring artists are playing festivals, midlevel clubs, and bars from coast to coast — resulting in a revolution being waged on stages throughout the land, a series of battles fought one song at a time.
I can’t help but think, as I watch the crowd down below, that at this very moment somewhere in this country, a 13-year-old kid is being shoved into a dark and sweaty all-ages venue. The band onstage is yelling about blood and oil, telling him he’s going to die for his government. The vocalist gives a “fuck you” to our commander-in-chief before launching into another indecipherable, out-of-tune 45-second song. The room goes wild. And the kid, for perhaps the first time, realizes that there is a movement afoot. SFBG
(1) Steve Earle and Billy Bragg on the same stage Oct. 7 at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, flipping off passing aircraft alongside their enormous crowds.
(2) Radio Birdman at the Great American Music Hall on Aug. 31. One of the greatest — and certainly most unexpected — shows of the year.
(3) Black Heart Procession with Calexico at the Fillmore on June 16.
(4) Leaving the Lucero and William Elliot Whitmore show at Slim’s on Oct. 12 with a broken heart, a gut full of whiskey, and a rekindled love for all things banjo.
(5) Seeing so many talented local bands do well this year was definitely a highlight. The barbarasteele and Black Fiction show at Cafe du Nord on Feb. 12 was proof positive that we are sitting on a gold mine.
(6) Nurse with Wound at the Great American, June 16–<\d>17, making naked ladies swim around the stage.
(7) Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee — you bastards. Rest in peace.
(8) Sleater-Kinney’s final SF shows at the Great American on May 2–<\d>3 reminded me why I loved them in the first place — just in time for them to break up, goddamn it.
(9) Dinosaur Jr. and the irreparable hearing damage they caused at the Great American on April 19–<\d>20 made me understand that always wearing earplugs, hiding in doorways, and not standing in front of three Marshall stacks might be good for my overall health.
(10) Someone having the good sense to pull the plug on Lauryn Hill, Great American on July 29.

Our lady of the ivories


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
One part an electric Venus in Furs and one part shipwrecking siren, the woman swirling around the stage has a three-ring circus in her head. There is no doubt about it. Imogen Heap does something to a room.
Captivating presence aside, it’s her musicianship that leaves even the most adept of multi-instrumentalists unhinged in disbelief. The 28-year-old songwriter is classically trained on piano, cello, and clarinet; has honed her chops on the drums and guitar; and has even mastered the mbira, Zimbabwe’s thumb piano.
Perhaps most notably, the lady plays a mean Mac. While the rest of us were fiddling around with Oregon Trail in our pubescence, Heap was already hip to manipuutf8g a computer for music’s sake. Since then, she has proven that riding technology’s cutting edge is a viable — and lucrative — mode of transport. Regularly holding open auditions for her tour support via MySpace, the artist has listened to hundred of bands and plucked a few from the confines of Internet oblivion. These social networking niceties mean that when you pay for a show, you will get your money’s worth the entire night.
Before the sound check for last week’s Nashville gig, Heap explained why San Francisco holds a special place in her heart. Aside from inspiring a bout of underage drinking on Heap’s first roll through, the city was also the site of her first attempt to perform solo.
The memory of her Bimbo’s 365 Club show haunts her to this day. “The label decided not to bring my band out,” she says. “I was petrified. I couldn’t hide behind anyone. If I made a mistake, I’d have to talk my way through it. I got over my fear that night.”
With a tour bus full of musicians in tow, including San Francisco’s favorite beatboxer, Kid Beyond, she’ll be in good company this time around. “I just had my fingers crossed that we’d get along,” she admits. “Then we had a bonding night in New Orleans …”
So what does a bonding night in New Orleans consist of?
“These drinks called Hurricanes. They help the bonding.”
Heap was signed to Alamo Sounds at the tender age of 17, before she and producer-songwriter Guy Sigsworth started the UK electronic duo Frou Frou. After a decade as a working musician, she says she’s still having “a whale of a time” on tour: “I’m so happy with the level I’m at now. Sold-out shows. Intimate venues. A great band. It’s reasonably low-key, and the people that come to the shows are real fans. We all feel like it’s a special night every night.”
Ever since the 2002 Frou Frou track “Let Go” was featured in Zach Braff’s film Garden State (propelling the defunct band to new heights of notoriety), Heap has had her finger on the pulse of the soundtrack sect.
“I am eternally grateful for Zach,” the songwriter says. “He opened up a wide audience for me.” At the time, Heap was busy fleshing out what was to be her second solo album. Swearing off major labels, she decided to put her home on the chopping block to fund the new project. What resulted was 2005’s Speak for Yourself (Megaphonic) — a vertigo-disco menagerie signed, sealed, and delivered by the artist herself. By plucking the ordinary out of her natural London soundscape, Heap discovered what every prolific musician before her has banked on: there are songs everywhere — it just takes a little wrangling and a load of persistence to find them.
At first listen, the obvious question will be “Where the hell have I heard this before?” The short answer is, again, everywhere. From spots on The O.C. to CSI, Six Feet Under to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Heap’s music has been rapidly seeping into the collective consciousness. In fact, she is currently scoring the entirety of a Disney film about flamingos — a task that will involve her traipsing about the wilds of Tanzania.
While most musicians are content to rap on the doors of radio and MTV execs to reach new ears, this artist couldn’t be more tickled by her unorthodox formula for success. “I prefer it!” Heap says. “It means when people hear my music, they have a personal relationship with it. They go online and search for it. It’s exciting to find music in that way. The fans are working a little harder — that means you get them for longer!”
Instead of finding herself a niche, the woman has carved a canyon, one that her talents will without a doubt overflow. But for the time being, hell, keep your ears open. SFBG
With Kid Beyond
Sun/3, 8 p.m.
982 Market, SF
(415) 775-7722

Goldies Music winner Gris Gris


The incredible thing about discovering a genuinely good band is that it has the ability to throw your entire world out of whack.
The Gris Gris are cooler than your older cousin’s garage rock band, the one that first introduced you to a world outside of MTV. They’re grittier than that home-recorded cassette you bought at your first punk rock show, and they’re more revolutionary than the moment you realized it was OK to like the music that your parents listen to. They’re alchemists turning the sonic side of air into brilliant, vaporous gold that bleeds into the ear and makes us forget to be cynical.
That’s a huge feat in a music-saturated society where a spot on The O.C. or Volkswagen-advert ambiance defines a career. We forget to say, “Hey, this is totally informed by the early Stones.” We forget to say, “Remember Red Krayola? Remember ’60s psych-garage rock? These guys totally sound like that.” We forget to judge, and we just listen.
When Greg Ashley, the Houston-born multi-instrumentalist formerly of garage-revivalist outfit the Mirrors, moved to the Bay Area in April 2002, it was for a girl. Soon he teamed up with bassist Oscar Michel and drummer Joe Haener (both former members of San Francisco’s Rock and Roll Adventure Kids) and started fleshing out songs he had written in Texas. “The band just accidentally happened,” Ashley explains. In fact, when the trio first started playing shows together, they didn’t even have a name. “We used to play as the Mirrors,” he says, “just because I had records I could sell at shows.” Before long they were signed to Birdman Records (the label suggested that the band name themselves — pronto) and the Gris Gris became legit.
Playing house parties, warehouses, and dive bars and touring constantly, the Gris Gris may not be our biggest musical export, but with only two albums under their belts — 2004’s self-titled debut and last year’s For the Season (which includes newest member Lars Kullberg on keys) — the Oakland band is reshaping the Bay Area’s legacy.
Some of their songs are grating, deconstructed blues masterpieces dripping with the eccentric sensibilities of Syd Barrett or that guy you tripped over in the street this morning. They go down like the cough syrup that gets you through the winter — the one you’ve always secretly loved the taste of.
The Gris Gris startle. They remind us that there is beauty in grit. Their well-constructed lullabies numb you with drooping saxophones, tenderly shaken tambourines, hazy guitars, and gentle lyrics. The dragging gem “Mary #38” is probably the 38 billionth song to be written about some girl named Mary — but it is the only one you will ever need to know.
Much like a dust storm sweeping the countryside, gathering little pieces of the landscape wherever it touches down, the Gris Gris possess a topographical romance in their range. From the sparse desert tickled with succulents to lushly fertile forests, the band writes the frontier. After one listen you are stuck asking yourself, “Where the hell is there to go from here?”
Here is a band that operates with an antiquated ethos, from a time before anyone could sing with a straight face about lovely lady lumps and before painstakingly choreographed treadmill routines and entourages of Harajuku girls became entertainment. Back when the point of making music didn’t involve sounding like the band on the cover of last month’s NME. Once upon a time music could excite, terrify, confuse, and exhilarate. The Gris Gris are raising the dead, conjuring a time when that one song tugged at some buried thing in heart or head and made you feel like you had been missing out on something big. Who doesn’t love an epiphany every now and again? (K. Tighe)

What Is Crispin?


CULT ICON Over a decade ago a pair of first-time filmmakers approached Crispin Glover to ask if he would act in their movie.
Glover signed on — but to direct, with the condition that most of the roles be filled by actors with Down syndrome. Best known for eccentric fringe roles in films such as River’s Edge, Bartleby, Back to the Future, and Rubin and Ed, Glover had written other screenplays involving people with the condition and had kept it in his mind’s eye for some time. “Looking into the face of someone who has Down syndrome,” he says during a recent SF interview, “I see the history of someone who has lived outside of the culture.”
Glover maintains that the resulting film, What Is It?, is not about Down syndrome. But he raises a valid point about the benefits of casting underutilized actors. “There is not necessarily a learned social masking [in their performances],” he says.
Though Glover’s casting decisions were backed by then–executive producer David Lynch, they soured Hollywood’s corporate entities and led to a plan to shoot a short film proving the viability of a disabled cast. That short flowered into the realization that a feature-length movie could be made without kowtowing to studio execs and for less than $200,000. After almost 10 years Glover emerged with What Is It?, a 72-minute film he describes as “being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home. As tormented by an hubristic racist inner psyche.” However tenuous a tagline that may seem, it hits the mark dead-on.
Glover has taken strenuous liberties with narrative structure, resulting in split sanctums. The outer realm — an atmospheric ringer for a Diane Arbus print — concerns itself with the travels of the Young Man (Michael Blevin), who is slighted by his friends and finds solace in snails (one of them voiced by Fairuza Balk) before several violent if childlike murders take place in a graveyard. The second, inner sanctum is the young man’s psyche, a kingdom presided over by one Demi-God Auteur (Glover), populated by concubines, and disrupted by a minstrel in blackface (Apocalypse Culture author Adam Parfrey) who aims to become an invertebrate by injecting himself with snail juice.
Overflowing with incendiary imagery, What Is It? juxtaposes Shirley Temple with swastikas, features buxom monkey-ladies crushing watermelons, and documents a praying mantis claiming the lives of a snail and a child. “Some of those things start out as emotional, and then you intellectualize them,” Glover says.
After What Is It?’s Sundance premiere, many critics liberally employed words like exploitative, weird, and inflammatory. The latter two I’ll concede. But whatever What Is It? is, a deeper plot than what’s suggested by those words is afoot. “There are things in this film that would not necessarily be taboo in 1910,” Glover says. “In certain silent films, racism, sexuality, violence are handled in a more frank way than they are right now. Why should these things not be put in front of the public? They exist. They’ve got to be able to be talked about and processed in the culture.”
Glover is traveling with What Is It?, preceding each screening with a slide-show presentation from eight of his books. Most were created in the ’80s using cut-up techniques akin to those of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. The large-screen format and dramatic readings by Glover breathe new life into the books, which were published in small, beautiful editions by his own press, Volcanic Eruptions. After the movie there is a Q&A in which the filmmaker takes the time to speak with every viewer, be they friend, member of the press, or regular part of the audience.
It seems that we are approaching the disclaimer part of the text — the part wherein the responsible reviewer urges the reader to shed all preconceptions and bring an open mind to the Castro Theatre this weekend. The caveat is that each viewer’s point of view is vital to the film’s life. Glover chops art down to its most basic method of consumption: from the mind of the creator to the eye of the viewer and out into whatever cultural context is born from that interaction. In this regard, he is a purist. Note that the title of the film isn’t Why Did He Do That? or What Does He Mean By This? but What Is It? That interpretation is yours alone. (K. Tighe)
Fri/20–Sun/23, call or see Web site for times
Castro Theatre
429 Castro, SF
(415) 621-6120

Mall of the metaverse


› culture@sfbg.com
Suzanne Vega is waddling across the screen. Well, not the real Suzanne Vega but the quiet folk singer’s digital avatar on SecondLife.com. On Aug. 3, she — or it — claimed the proud position of being the first digital representation of a major-label pop star to give a concert in cyberspace. After an interview with public radio host John Hockenberry, she sings an a cappella version of her ’80s hit “Tom’s Diner,” then awkwardly straps on a guitar and plays a set for attending Second Lifers, members of the popular online virtual world.
Whoever’s controlling the Vega avatar hasn’t quite got a handle on her yet — unless the ungainly swaying is supposed to indicate that she’s had one too many. And the audience of online gamers, whose avatars you can see bobbing their virtual heads in the bleachers, barely reaches a total of 100. Some of them are also bald and unaccessorized: the avatar-attendees were instructed to remove all extraneous attachments — including hair — to reduce server lag time. But it’s a lovely sounding, intimate event all the same and fitting for Vega. Kids these days might not know her music, but the Grammy winner is renowned as the “mother of the MP3” — “Tom’s Diner” was used by a German engineer to invent the MP3 format.
The Vega concert is just the first in a series that Second Life is launching. Duran Duran, the first artists to use location shooting and Macromedia Flash in a music video, have just announced they’ve purchased an island resort in Second Life and will be the first band to perform live online through their avatars. Just think: the right code could take their hairstyles higher than Aquanet ever did. For more contemporary music fans, rapper Talib Kweli is also slated to make an online appearance. Along with violence, sex, and role playing, live concerts are finally being translated into moving pixels.
Online virtual worlds are nothing new. Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) have been around since the early ’90s and are rooted in games that have been around since the ’70s (yeah, like the one with the 20-sided die). So when San Francisco–based company Linden Lab created Second Life, a virtual 3-D world (or “multiverse,” coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi smash novel Snow Crash) now inhabited by some 550,000 residents, it had a firm jumping-off point. But while other MMORPGs concentrate on hunting and killing or solving elaborate puzzles, Second Life tries to replicate everyday experiences: shopping, hanging out, scoring a dream job, meeting new people. It’s a Sims-like experience in real time.
And it involves real money. The most staggering aspect of Second Life is its economy. Users are dropping actual ducats in exchange for clothing, real estate, cocktails, and even skateboards for their virtual representations. The currency of Second Life is called a Linden dollar — L$300 equals roughly US$1. During June alone, over US$5.3 million were spent on goods and services within Second Life. The SL digital continent is the size of metropolitan Boston — that’s a lot of virtual strip malls. At the current growth rate, Second Life projects 3.6 million users by the end of next year. Big-name businesses are starting to take note.
American Apparel was among the first “meat space,” or real-life, businesses to set up shop in the virtual world. Its SL flagship store sells clothing for avatars — at around L$300 a pop for T-shirts. And of course, no AA outlet would be complete without virtual billboards of half-naked avatars. The Adidas group just announced that it will begin selling footwear for avatars. W Hotels is opening Aloft, a virtual hotel. “As the population increases, I could see direct revenue, so long as we constructed experiences that mimicked the world that is Second Life, such as a browsable record store, not just banner ads,” says Ethan Kaplan Sr., director of technology at Warner Bros. Records.
And because a captive virtual audience offers a wonderland of name-brand recognition opportunities, celebrities are starting to take note as well. “Every celebrity who presently has a MySpace profile will eventually have an avatar on Second Life. A MySpace profile is an avatar,” says Reuben Steiger of Millions of Us, whose company snagged a contract with Toyota to offer a virtual edition of the Scion xB to SL residents. (A dealership is in the works.) Imagine a world where you can walk up to Paris Hilton in a bar and buy her drinks until she starts dancing on the tables. OK, so maybe that isn’t so hard to imagine, but in Second Life you can get a job as a bouncer and throw her drunk ass out. The future is now.
In an unsurprising development for an interactive game, some users are starting to chafe at the überconsumerist direction Second Life’s taking. Recently, a faction of residents calling themselves the Second Life Liberation Army entered the American Apparel store, pixel guns ablazin’, to prevent other residents from buying goods. The “terrorist attack” wasn’t intended to scare first-world business away though; rather, the SLLA wanted the citizens of Second Life to have a vote in Linden Lab’s business operations. But maybe some good ol’ rock ’n’ roll rebellion has been beamed up along with the live concerts. SFBG

Six-string samurai


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Discovering new metal bands worth their salt these days isn’t just hit-and-miss — it’s mostly miss. In fact, most kids now trying to crack the genre make me want to jump onstage, grab them by their greasy hair, and scream, “Satan is boring!” or “You are not Metallica!” into their prematurely damaged eardrums.
So when a friend slipped me the unmastered studio tracks of Totimoshi’s forthcoming album, Ladron, I was hesitant. After I explained to him that I was still mourning Bass Wolf and simply wasn’t ready for another Japanese rocker in my life, he rolled his eyes and told me to go home and listen to the thing.
Totimoshi, it turns out, is not a Japanese band.
In November 1997, Totimoshi singer-songwriter-guitarist Tony Aguilar had nearly given up hope in finding the right bassist to collaborate with: “I just couldn’t find anyone who wanted to work on the kind of things I was doing.” Meeting budding bassist Meg Castellanos at a warehouse concert in San Francisco changed everything. “I ended up teaching her a few things,” he says. “She got really good in no time and started writing her own stuff.”
And so began Totimoshi — a band that would go on to break the boundaries of multiple genres, build an innovative new framework for independent hard rock, and go through drummers like jelly beans.
Luke Herbst became the band’s seventh drummer in early 2005 and has proven to be the missing link in the Totimoshi sound. “He’s an integral part of the band,” Castellanos says. “He’s gotten a lot of very high praise. Everyone — even our past drummers — are really impressed with him.”
When the trio of Totimoshi walked into San Francisco’s Lucky Cat Studios to record, they came prepared to answer one burning question: what happens when you put one of the hardest-working, heaviest bands in the Bay Area in a studio with Helmet frontperson Page Hamilton and the Melvin’s sound engineer?
Pure fucking genius.
The group met Hamilton after he selected them to open the Helmet reunion tour last year. He was the obvious choice for producer. But working with your idol isn’t all fun and games: Hamilton started cutting things up right away. “He came in and cracked the whip,” Castellanos confesses. “We sat in the studio and went through every part of every song with a fine-tooth comb. It was a bit hellish.”
“It was really hard for me to give up the reins,” Aguilar adds. “But I swallowed all that. It turned out amazing.”
A quick listen to any of Totimoshi’s previous discs shows that they’ve had their chops for a long time. Ladron (meaning thief in Spanish) is due out Oct. 24 on Crucial Blast and marks a new stage in the band’s development. They’ve folded the grimiest parts of early Nirvana into the deepest, darkest depths of Sabbath, producing a wailing, slithering, flopping hodgepodge that’s purely Totimoshi.
In my attempts to pin down a description of Ladron, I keep coming back to an apocalyptic wasteland. Barren desert. Blazing sun. This is likely the result of one too many viewings of Six-String Samurai, but the image in my head is clear: Totimoshi riding a firestorm of worthy, working warrior bands (the Melvins, High on Fire, Neorosis) into the rock kingdom to reclaim the throne. Flicking tabloid pop stars and a domesticated, stuttering Ozzy aside, they loudly announce to their cohorts that metal once again rules. The people rejoice.
Hardly strangers to the road, Totimoshi tour the hardcore way: constantly. In a van. With little money and even less tour support. “What continues to drive us is the message, the music,” Aguilar says. “We care about our art so much we are willing to live in a van for months on end. It’s hard, but it’s what is necessary.” If some indie rock poster kid tried using this logic, this is the part where I’d tell him to crawl his whiny ass down from the cross and get a job. From Aguilar’s mouth, these are the inspired words of a man who lives for his craft. I can feel the passion bleed through when he tells me, “We’re not going to sit here and wait for Mr. Big to come and say, ‘You’re a great band!’ We’d rather get the message out ourselves.”
The group is about to spread that message on a very long tour with the help of Mastodon, the Bronx, Oxbow, and Year Long Disaster. “It has nothing to do with ‘making it,’” Castellanos says. “We just want to be working musicians once and for all. I think with this album the timing is right.” Their newest member apparently agrees. “Luke’s willing to sacrifice for these upcoming tours,” she continues. “I think he already lost his job.” He might not be needing it. SFBG
Sat/16, 9 p.m.
1600 17th St., SF
(415) 503-0393
Also Sun/17
Golden Bull
412 14th St., Oakl.
Call for time and price
(510) 893-0803

Rock’s black back pages


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Tim Cohen sits at a table cutting up playing cards.
The Black Fiction vocalist-guitarist-songwriter has convinced himself that the meaty torsos of every jack, queen, and king are spelling out something big. He flings the disembodied heads into a pile and arranges the stately bodies to spell out Black Fiction Ghost Ride. Across the table keyboardist Joe Roberts is gathering the heads. Arranging the sovereign noggins into a gruesome and fantastical pile, Roberts sketches out the story: it is Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle who has cut off these heads, and he stands over his trophies, his sais dripping red. Ghost Ride (Howells Transmitter), the debut from San Francisco’s Black Fiction, wins points for whimsically macabre album art.
They’ve been called everything from “the Arcade Fire on a peyote-laced vision quest” (FlavorPill SF) to “pop music for little kids on acid” (an audience member). It seems that Black Fiction are simply too wriggly to rest under any thumb or umbrella. Online reviewers are drowning in genre jargon — psych-soul, freak folk — and struggling to wrap reason around the light that Ghost Ride emits.
I caught up with Cohen on his lunch break from Amoeba Music in San Francisco to get his take on the response. “I’d hate for someone to have an idea of what they are going to hear and not be open to us sounding like something else,” he said. In one sweeping sentence Cohen nailed it. Black Fiction is “something else.” Or to make it snarky, if you please, “else-fi.” The plain truth is that it is difficult to speak for this album because it speaks so loudly for itself — though it may be speaking in tongues.
The apocalyptic “Great Mystery” plucks, bounces, and drags at once, ripening with lyrical delicacies like “Farmers in the fields will grow the world’s weight in corn/ We will cream it for the babies that have yet to be born/ We will leave it in the sewers for the rats and the worms/ We will store it in the cupboards for the coming storm.”
“Carry Him Away” feels as urgent and hopeless as rushing into a tidal wave before it slams down on top of you. The harmonica- and glockenspiel-laced tune taunts with the invasively ironic refrain of “music is a terrible thing.” The phrase might not be so tongue-in-cheek, considering that Cohen, Black Fiction’s primary songwriter, has some reservations about music industry conventions.
For starters, the notorious multi-instrumentalist has a flimsy history of formal musical training. “Basically, if I can figure out how to make a sound on an instrument, I can figure out how to play it,” Cohen explained before deadpanning, “I can play the recorder as well as any eight-year-old.” Conservatory learning isn’t the only grain Cohen is going against. October will bring a minitour stretching over parts of California, but the year-old band — which includes percussionists Jon Bernson and Jason Chavez, multi-instrumentalist Anthony Marin, and bassist Evan Martin — is being patient about planning a longer route. “If we are going to tour, we want to do it right,” said the bandleader. “You need to know about the evils of the industry and guard yourself from them. I have a lot of apprehensions about asking people to help us out — I don’t do a lot of schmoozing. I’m a musician at heart, and that’s all I want to do.”
The tracks of Ghost Ride were painstakingly recorded on a Tascam 388, a reel-to-reel eight-track. The idea was borrowed from local songwriter Kelley Stoltz, who recorded Antique Glow on the same machine. The 388 is unique because it is essentially an entire sound console complete with EQ built into an easily transportable recorder. “I appreciate the qualities of analog recording over digital,” Cohen explained. “Digital recording isn’t as challenging — you can just cut and paste your stuff together.” As I upload the tracks of Ghost Ride into the inner sanctum of my iPod mini, my cheeks begin to sweat a bitter taste of shame — I can only ascribe it to the way an amateur wine connoisseur must feel after plopping a few ice cubes into a well-crafted sauvignon blanc.
Live, Black Fiction take the form of a whirling dervish minstrel show. Intensely cerebral and bubbling over with epileptic grace, the album projects a whimsical playfulness in full force onstage. They will melt off your musical preconceptions. You will run to the merchandise stand to buy this album.
They toppled Noise Poppers last year like a house of vandalized playing cards, leaving the audience with the same “what the hell just happened?” epiphany that early Velvet Underground and Talking Heads audiences must have felt. Black Fiction are laying down some new bricks. I can’t wait to see where they lead. SFBG
With Tussle and the Dry Spells
Sat/26, 9 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016

Found in translation


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In early ’80s Hollywood, director John Byrum set about making a film set in ’20s Paris. Coming down from the nouveau bohemian high of filming 1980’s Heart Beat, a film based on Carolyn Cassidy’s accounts of Jack Kerouac, Byrum was fully prepared to tickle the underbelly of the poetic avant-garde. He aimed to do so through a film version of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge.
The Razor’s Edge tells the story of Larry Darrell, a young American who has just returned from war and decided to loaf around Paris to find the meaning of his life. From there, Maugham unravels some of the most misunderstood fibers of the human condition: jealousy, love, antipathy, lust, greed, and spirituality. Steeped in sex, drugs, murder, and philosophy, the novel had been the basis for a 1946 film starring Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter. Byrum brought a copy of the book to his friend Margaret “Mickey” Kelley, who was holed up in the hospital after giving birth.
“The very next night around four in the morning, the phone rings and it was Mickey’s husband, Bill [Murray],” Byrum remembers, via phone from his home in Connecticut. “All he said was, ‘This is Larry, Larry Darrell.’”
That sealed the deal. With a marquee name in tow, Byrum was set to remake The Razor’s Edge, starring Bill Murray — in his first-ever dramatic role. Throwing conventional script-writing out the passenger side window, the pair soon drove across America to write the screenplay. Murray and Byrum returned with a script that bore no resemblance to the 1946 film version. They even wove a farewell speech to Murray’s late friend John Belushi into the text.
There was just one problem: they had to find someone to let them make the thing. “I’ll tell you who got this movie made,” Byrum says. “It was Dan Aykroyd. Dan pointed out that we could give Ghostbusters to Columbia in exchange for a green light on The Razor’s Edge — Bill was convinced. Forty-five minutes later we had a caterer.” This devil’s bargain is par for the course. Hollywood legend has it that Tyrone Power committed to do one more Zorro movie for the privilege of playing Larry Darrell.
The film that took a drive around the country to write would soon take a trip around the world to film — the boys found the rest of their cast and set out. With Theresa Russell, Catherine Hicks, and Denholm Elliott in tow, the next year and a half would see the crew touch down in France, Switzerland, and India. The moment the last shot wrapped, Murray was on a plane to the set of Ghostbusters.
The Razor’s Edge — starring Bill Murray and shot entirely on location with a $12 million budget and a ridiculously talented cast — bombed. In a big way. Ghostbusters, the film Murray agreed to do only to get this one made, was released just weeks before, and it more than eclipsed Byrum and Murray’s labor of love, which ultimately ended up grossing only $6.5 million.
“I knew we weren’t going to get Oscars and fame from it,” says Byrum. “But when the film tanked so badly, Bill went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne because he was sick of the movie business.”
Twenty years later, Bill Murray has established himself as a master of dramatic roles, and the irony isn’t lost on Byrum, who at least gets to enjoy The Razor’s Edge’s ascendant cult movie status. “I wish I hadn’t gotten there first,” he says. “But when you get to do all these things making a movie, who cares if it’s a hit? I mean, it helps — but who cares?”
Tues/15, 7 and 9:30 p.m. (part of the Castro’s “70mm Series,” Aug. 11–19)
Castro Theatre
429 Castro, SF
(415) 621-6120

Burritos of the gods


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SFBG So what inspires you?
MICHAEL SHOWALTER You do, you inspire me.
I think about you in the morning. I doodle little pictures of your face and think about you making me a burrito. Sometimes I doodle little pictures of you making me a burrito.
OK, so maybe that isn’t exactly how it goes. Although Showalter is a doodle enthusiast, he is only mildly turned on by baby-size burritos. Being the narcissistic Bay Area dweller that I am, I immediately ask Showalter, who’s on the phone from his home in New York City, about San Francisco.
“I like San Francisco. I like beat poetry. I like gay people…. I don’t like gay beat poets.”
So he doesn’t read Ginsberg?
“My favorite books are Everybody Poops and the Odyssey. They are actually very similar.”
Showalter is a smart guy. He’s one of those smart guys who scared the hell out of his parents by going into comedy. His dad, a Yale-educated French lit professor, and his mom, a literary critic, worried that their little brainiac (680 math, 620 verbal) was going down the wrong path. “It’s not like this is something you go to grad school for,” he says.
I remind him that his buddy Eugene Mirman did design his own comedy major and that he could have done the same.
“I would have designed a doodling major. My thesis would be on doodles.”
Instead, Showalter took the smart-guy route and studied semiotics at Brown. This is the mind fuck of all possible majors. Most people who spend their formative years steeped in the philosophy of language become literary theorists or filmmakers. People who spend this much time reading Umberto Eco and Roland Barthes take a long time to recover.
Showalter used sketch comedy as a catalyst for his recuperation. This might explain why his entire body of work is (a) fanatically devoured, quoted, and forever adored by viewers or (b) dismissed as ridiculous and forgotten promptly.
Personally, I can’t take anyone who didn’t like The State seriously, but Showalter takes it in stride. “I think people that don’t like it might not get it,” he says. “It’s metahumor — a lot of people aren’t into metahumor. A friend once told me that it is better to have nine people think your work is number one than a hundred think your work is number nine.”
After the Showalter- and David Wain–penned Wet Hot American Summer was released in 2001, some critics gave the boys a very hard time for the scene that involved someone slipping on a banana peel. “The joke was that we made a banana peel joke,” explains Showalter.
Still, one has to wonder, how the hell do these guys come up with this stuff? How does the absurdist sketch comedy show Stella get so far out there? Do Michael Ian Black, Wain, and Showalter just sit around a table bouncing ideas off each other?
“Yeah, exactly like that,” says Showalter. “It is that cliché situation with guys sitting in a room with a Nerf basketball. Only we don’t put it into the net. Ever.” All three members of Stella contribute equally to the creative process — “If we all think it’s funny, then it’s funny,” Showalter observes.
Last year’s film The Baxter marked a departure from sketch comedy. As the writer, director, and star of the romantic comedy, Showalter admits it wasn’t all tweed and roses on the set. “There were problems between the director and the star,” he says. “We just didn’t get along. I found it difficult to deal with myself.”
After his experience writing the film, Showalter joined the faculty of the Peoples Improv Theater. He currently teaches a course on writing comedic screenplays. Yeah, he’s a real teacher. He has a syllabus but doesn’t use textbooks. Instead, he shows movies to illustrate his points. “I show bad comedies like Annie Hall and good comedies like Porky’s.”
Showalter plans to continue teaching, possibly adding a sketch comedy class to his schedule. As far as acting goes, he says, “I’m working on a reality show for a major television network. That’s all I can say.”
The tour is also on his mind. Although stand-up is a pretty new thing for Showalter, he doesn’t worry much about people not laughing: “Pretty much everyone who comes to see me already thinks I’m funny, so I don’t really get heckled.”
Good thing. A heckler at a Showalter show would probably throw canned vegetables on stage. The Blue Collar Comedy tour made a movie. The Comedians of Comedy tour made a TV special. The idea of Showalter, Mirman, and Leo Allen traipsing up and down the West Coast in a van makes me nervous.
Will there be groupies? Drugs? Booze? “It will be like that part with the red snapper in the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods,” he deadpans. “Very Zeppelin-esque. I have already said too much. Let’s just say it has a lot to do with sushi.”
Sure, Showalter gives a good interview, but I don’t think I’d let him near me with a fish. SFBG
Tues/25, 9 p.m.
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421