Kimberly Chun

Love rebuff


SONIC REDUCER Hey, subliminal kids, watch out for those Music and Lyrics billboards all over town — they’re as deadly as Pretty Ricky’s between-the-sheets crunk, chased by Justin Timberlake covers such as the Klaxons’ strings-laced "My Love" and Rock Plaza Central’s mead-soaked "Sexy Back." The poster pic is so mundane that it catches then holds your attention: Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore shyly demur from meeting the viewer’s, and each other’s, eyes, choosing instead to moon over — what? Music, lyrics, Craigslist casual encounter ads, old mug shots? With Valentine’s Day shuffling furtively around the corner, I’d venture that it’s best Hugh and Drew weren’t out bonding over some cozy Cattle Decapitation appearance, because as all we brave, San Francisco live-music lovers know, hot hookups and cool shows don’t necessarily mix.

Unspoken rule number 14 of San Francisco rock, according to your cruise director on the Glumboat: don’t hit on the local wildlife at shows. San Francisco’s SFMFs (single female music fans, for all you acronym haters) know, Joe. Single is an increasingly obsolete format in vinyl, CD, and skin and bones — consider it a mission impossible to meet nonattached men, women, or potted plants at shows. I don’t care which way you swing (if — caveat — you’re not in the band itself), you’re more likely to have a close, personal relationship with the bouncer who’s forcibly removing you from the club than someone you’d potentially want to date. You have a better chance meeting some fast ninetysomething at a retirement home than at a show.

If you’ve just moved to town: so sorry to bust up your illusions of glam romance, but concerts here are simply not pickup scenes — for anyone other than the guys and girls in the band. Hip-hop, folk, C&W, blues, pop, and rock lovelorns — you’re all outta luck, though indie rock is the absolute worst. You know that cute, floppy-haired, gangly boy rocker in a polo shirt and Converse by the side of the stage? He may be by himself (and likely he has a futsy partner tucked away at home), but that doesn’t mean he actually wants to talk to anyone — let alone get a phone number.

All this is what I’ve gathered during my many years of showgoing — and a quick, extremely unscientific poll of singletons in Guardian editorial bears me out. Sample responses: "Everyone’s all cliqued up at shows." "You go with your friends, find your spot, and you don’t talk to other people. Ever." "At dance clubs you meet other people because you’re actually dancing with each other. At live shows everyone’s looking at the stage." "It’s too loud to talk." "San Francisco has a reputation of being aloof." "Maybe you can talk to someone when you’re standing in line at the bar?"

"Either it’s all guys or the one girl you want to hit on will be someone in the band’s girlfriend," said calendar editor Duncan Scott Davidson, who’s also clocked time as a doorguy at Slim’s, the Endup, and 111 Minna. "The only time I ever tried to pick up someone was at a Bomb show, and she turned out to be Bomb drummer Tony Fag’s girlfriend." Irony abounds.

He’s actually seen guys trying to hit on women at shows, he added, "But what do you say? ‘This band really rocks, huh?’ "

My favorite answer is "People are just there for the music," which does say something about our fair scene’s integrity if you believe music lovers are simply there to see and hear, not to hook up. And perhaps it imparts even more about the nature of local original music, which is less about the damsels than going dumb, less about the sex than the noise sax solos — with the Lovemakers in the horny minority. Chalk it up to the Bay Area’s feminist legacy and the p.c. ’90s, but on the plus side of the non-meat-market music scene, I’ve often felt as safe and unpressured while checking out music solo as any hulking dude in a black hoodie at a Mastodon show. Perhaps our live scene is thriving on that focus and the passion we have for the music — and lyrics — itself.

Ahem. I don’t know about you, horndogs, but pure intentions certainly get me all hot and bothered, though they don’t help when we’re sulking alone in the corner at the Husbands’ Valentine hoedown. If ya got a problem with that, prove me wrong. *



A question for the ages: Who to Trust, Who to Love, Who to Kill — and the title of the fierce San Diego blues punks’ new Alive disc. Wed/7, 9 p.m. Annie’s Social Club, 917 Folsom, SF. $5. (415) 974-1585


Nevada City homegrownies make haunting pop prog. P.S. K&Q’s Rich Good once teamed with Joanna Newsom in the Pleased. Thurs/8, 9:30 p.m. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $6.


Recently remixed up with Mt. Eerie and Anna Oxygen on Joyride, the K artist is too cute for her horn-rims. Little Brazil and the Affair also play. Fri/9, 10 p.m. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $8–$10. (415) 621-4455


The moody Oaklanders are stitching up new songs for a summer album. Fri/9, 9:30 p.m. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $7.


Riot rrroar — the all-female Tuvan throat singers wrap their power pipes around lullabies and tunes about tea. Sun/11, 8 p.m. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. $21. (415) 885-0750


The NYC chamber noise–niks sit down with Death Sentence: Panda! and Sword and Sandals. Sun/11, 9 p.m. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $8. (415) 621-4455

Tiki wiki



SONIC REDUCER What exactly does exotica mean to a little brown girl from a tropical island? How does tiki translate to someone who once identified those fierce masks by name, as Lono, Kane, or Ku? To most, exotica tuneage boils down to Martin Denny and Esquivel; tikis, to that last retro revival that surfed in alongside early ’90s alternative culture. But for this wahine from cosmo Honolulu, exotica meant Quadrophenia mods and Italian scooters zipping around a freezing little island on the other side of the globe — and tikis were simply a fact of life, like those special guest appearances by Pele on street corners. Tiki was all around — it was more radically exotic to sport leather motorcycle jackets under the hot Hawaiian sun.

So Bay Area tiki culture’s latest return — in the form of Alameda’s Forbidden Island and Oakland’s Kona Club — is both surreal and heartwarmingly familiar, a roughed-out, kitschy-koo Hawaiian fusion. I always associated the tiki cult of the ’50s and ’60s with World War II vets nostalgic for humahumunookienookie high times, filtered through mediocre Chinese grub and juicy beverages that even a teetotalin’ mom could easily get toasted on. Here it’s all about vintage peeps, ex-locals, and hearty-drinking pirates in search of novel booty. And the Bay Area is the ideal spot for an ersatz islander experience, what with Oakland being the home of the first Trader Vic’s, Alameda’s Otto von Stroheim continuing to roll out the Tiki News zine, San Francisco’s ReSearch spurring an exotica rediscovery with its Incredibly Strange Music volumes, and the area providing ground zero for the San Francisco Bay Area Tiki Weekend.

The aforementioned gathering is thrown by Forbidden Island co-owner Martin Cate, and the loving care he and fellow big kahunas Michael and Emmanuel Thanos (who also own the Conga Lounge in Oakland) lavished on the nine-month-old lounge is obvious. On this frigid, drizzly Saturday night there’s something vaguely subversive about retreating to a tiki-strewn fantasy island when it’s colder than a sea lion’s tittie outside. Forbidden Island is a fruity-drink lover’s fever dream, boasting fresh-squeezed juices and stealth quantities of silver rum that sneak up and slam you in the puss. Cocktail umbrellas spear dollars to the cork ceiling over an early ’60s back bar, bamboo-sheltered booths, and a dramatically lit Polynesian god overseeing the grizzled locals, water cooler refugees, and fresh- and Fog Cutter–faced collegians, downing spicy grog and Scorpions by the bowl. As I suck down a delish Banana Mamacow of coconut, cream, and rum, my bud Dr. B points out the bodacious, bare-chested native maid in the black velvet masterwork by the bar: "If I had that in my room when I was a teenager, I’d never have left the house." My only disappointment: nary a note of bird whistles, a bongo beat, nor a wisp of exotica in earshot, though the jukebox is said to be crammed with the stuff. Where’s the mai tai moment for the mind’s ear?

Next up on the relative newbie list is the year-old Kona Club on a silent stretch of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, just a stagger or so away from Trader Vic’s founder Victor Bergeron’s final resting spot at Mountain View Cemetery. Love the tapa cloth–covered walls decorated with ukuleles and old wooden surfboards; the smell of dried lauhala; and the unduutf8g hips of the life-size hula-girl robot. And I’m told the smoke-spewing volcano behind the bar is da bomb. As the Pixies blast over the sound system and Dr. B fetches more Macadamia Nut Chi Chis, I sprawl over a corner table — the sizable crowd appears to be simultaneously more hipster and fratty. Maybe it’s the quiet village of Piedmont that binds us together — the burbies outside are tucked in early while we belly up in our mini-wacky-wiki-Waikiki inside the onetime British brew pub King’s X. Who doesn’t want to recapture some mongrel carefree vacation sensation — in a silly-shack adult Disneyland of thatched straw?

I get rummy and restless, and a clutch of drinkers nearby watches raptly as I manage to make barfly magic and balance a saltshaker on its tip, bolstered only by a teeny mound of grains, for 20 minutes until a barmaid stomps by in a huff and it falls. "Now that’s amazing," the bouncer gathering glasses around me says. The tiki gods are smiling.

GOOD TIMES, OLD TIMEY You can’t toss the tikis out with the tepid bathwater, and you can’t count out bluegrass and old-time music with hoedowns like the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival around. Affiliated with the Northern California Bluegrass Society, the completely volunteer-run, nonprofit eighth annual shindig runs from Feb. 1 to 10; showcases up-and-coming locals such as the Earl Brothers, Circle R Boys, Squirrelly Stringband, the Deciders, Jimbo Trout and the Fishpeople, the Crooked Jades’ Jeff Kazor and Lisa Berman, and the Wronglers (with Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival founder Warren Hellman); and closes with a square dance at the Swedish American Hall. This year’s fest also shines a light on a slew of Portland, Ore., combos, summing up a West Coast scene that’s younger than those in other parts, publicity volunteer Elizabeth Smith tells me. "I think that there’s an interest in roots music that’s pervasive in the Bay Area," she explains. "If you go back and look at the hippie scene in San Francisco and the fact that folks in the Dead were involved in bluegrass, you can see an evolution over time." Old times don’t have to mean bad times. *


Tues.–Thurs., 5 p.m.–midnight; Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sun., 3–10 p.m.

1305 Lincoln, Alameda

(510) 749-0332


Daily, noon–2 a.m.

4401 Piedmont, Oakl.

(510) 654-7100


Feb. 1–10

See Web site for info


Grizzly spawn


First off, an embarrassing disclaimer: I’m not a Werner Herzog groupie — I just want him to be my grandpa. I’d like him to take me on long rambles over misty mountaintops, through the ice, snow, and sand; teach me about his ecstatic yet jeopardy-strewn path; and push me to jump into cacti, dance with chickens, and come out with poetry on the other side. And yet, as all good UFO films go, I suspect I’m not alone. Even if my cinematic family wish were fulfilled, I’d probably still be clamoring for my visionary gramps’s attention alongside all the other wannabe spiritual offspring — considering the rapturous reception of his 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man, and the many reverent audience members hanging on Herzog’s every utterance last year at the San Francisco International Film Festival screening of his 52nd directorial effort, The Wild Blue Yonder. I spoke to the 64-year-old Bavarian filmmaker (né W.H. Stipetic), who has lived in the Bay Area but is now based in Los Angeles, the day after his April 26 onstage interview — he hasn’t agreed to my little adoption fantasy yet, but green ants can dream, can’t they? (Kimberly Chun)

SFBG The music in The Wild Blue Yonder is so amazing. What came first, the soundtrack or the beautiful underwater footage by Henry Kaiser?

WERNER HERZOG In this case the music was created first to establish a rhythm, to establish a climate, to establish a mood, and to establish, also strangely enough, a vision — because listening to this music in particular led to a very clear vision.

Of course, there was a complicated story on how I entered into the project. It started out with some sort of a documentary about the space probe Galileo and the scientists, and I followed up with the space probe the Mars Rover, and I got very curious, and I witnessed it at Mission Control at Pasadena, and that was very fascinating, but I always felt there was more in it. I started to dig deeper into it, and I discovered footage that astronauts shot in 1989 on 16mm celluloid, and these astronauts actually deployed Galileo, and all of a sudden the entire documentary about Galileo was discarded, and I went straight for the visions and for the science fiction movie, which emerged very clearly, very rapidly.

SFBG What was it about the footage that drew you?

WH Well, we’ve seen quite a bit of footage sometimes on evening news on television, sometimes in special programs by Discovery or National Geographic, and you see astronauts in space, but you never see anything like what they filmed back on that mission — with such vision and beauty and such a strange intensity. And of course, neither Discovery nor National Geographic has the patience in their films to look at a shot that goes uncut and uninterrupted for two minutes, 40 seconds, which is an endless time on air. They show snippets of 15 seconds maximum, and that’s about it. The beauty only evolves when the take rolls on and on and you’re moving from the cargo bay into the command module and drifting by the weirdest sort of things.

People ask me, "Is this a science fiction film?" And I say, "Yes, it is. But do not expect a science fiction film like Star Trek — this is a science fiction fantasy. It’s more like a poem. Expect a poem or expect a space oratorio."

SFBG Where did you first hear music for the film?

WH I had not heard it. I created it. My idea was to put Sardinian singers together with a cello player from Holland [Ernst Reijseger] and add a singer from Senegal [Mola Sylla] who sings in his native language, Wolof. So no one has ever heard this music, and no one would have believed the combination of these three elements would work.

SFBG You talk about long shots being unheard of on TV. But in a lot of ways you’ve created a music video, though MTV might be considered the polar opposite of what you do. Or do you have an affinity for MTV?

WH I think MTV would love the film. Truly, they would love it. [Pauses] Er, I may be wrong. But I could imagine that the people who watch MTV would love the film.

SFBG At the [2006 SFIFF event] you mentioned liking a film about people in Mexico on spring break. Is that the Real World feature, The Real Cancun?

WH Yes, and I liked the film because it was so focused. There was no pretentiousness at all. The only question was who would get laid first. You see so many pretentious films and phony films, and I don’t like that.

SFBG Do you like reality TV?

WH No, but I do watch it. The poet must not avert his eyes. You have to see what is moving the hearts of people around you. You have to understand what’s going on. You have to understand the real world around you — and also the imaginary world around you. The collective dreams. The collective paranoia.

SFBG All of which is involved in getting laid, I suppose.

WH Oh no, when I spoke of collective paranoia I had in mind the fact that three million Americans claim that they had encountered aliens and 400,000 women have allegedly claimed to have been abducted and gang-raped by aliens. My question is, why are 90 percent of them over 300 pounds? The real question is more interesting, though: Why have we never heard of any report of an alien abduction and gang rape in Ethiopia? Why is that? And so now I’m opening the doors wide to your answers. [Chuckles]

SFBG One might believe, watching The Wild Blue Yonder, that you’re willing to entertain the idea that aliens exist.

WH No, I’m fascinated by it because it points to some very strange paranoia that is only possible in our kind of civilization. This is why it never happens in Ethiopia and Bangladesh. To understand our civilization, we have to understand collective paranoia, collective dreams, a world out there that’s completely artificial in both reality and in our collective perception of reality.

SFBG At the event many people brought up a recent New Yorker story on the shoot for Rescue Dawn [which will be released this spring]. Did you agree with that piece’s perspective on the contentiousness of your own film crew and how they fought you?

WH No, no, it always happens that you sometimes have to deal with adversity here and there. In this case, strangely, much of the crew had never worked with me, and there were more the kind of film school types, and of course, there was some sort of opposition. But it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I’ve always done the kind of film that I really wanted to do and that I’m capable of doing.

What was really bad, for example, was the set of Stroszek, because that was a team that had worked with me for more than a decade. They all hated the film! And they thought it was ridiculous and that I should stop doing this. It happens.

SFBG Perhaps it’s that collective paranoia …

WH No, you just have to ignore it and do your work and deliver. And [Stroszek] is one of my finest films. They all, at the end, understood it was right what I did. And when Rescue Dawn is completed — it has such a physical life in it and such intensity — they will all understand. *

For more of Herzog’s interview, go to

Bus lust



SONIC REDUCER What’s 40 feet long and 13 feet, 9 inches tall and fun all over? Sounding like a potentially lame "you’ve gotta be kidding me" joke and accelerating in Bay Area underground rockers’ imagination as a real alternative to your average bad show experience, John Benson’s converted Muni veggie-biodiesel bus is the latest in a bohemian nation’s short parade of party starters on wheels — driven by motorvators like the Merry Pranksters and Friends Forever in order to cavort, make art and sometimes community, and blow minds. Le difference is that this art ‘n’ good times vehicle is huge — able to fit an audience of 50 — and despite its whitewashed exterior, green.

Just join the scattered, happy misfits and in-the-knowsters wandering in from off the street on this particularly deserted stretch of the Mission-Potrero area Jan. 21. The bus is peacefully parked and perfectly inaudible beneath a pretzel of elevated freeway off-ramps, like the sweet overgrown offspring of Miss Open Road USA. Take a look under the hood as Benson — once in A Minor Forest and Hale Zukas and now with Evil Wikkid Warrior — opens up the works in the butt end of the bus with the cool little lookout tower on top. Two tanks hold the vegetable oil that primarily propels the bus and the diesel or biodiesel fuel that heats the radiator fluid, which keeps the vegetable oil liquid enough to course through the pipes. With a lot of help from friends, Benson spent only $300 to veggify the bus. And the beautiful part — especially to those in perpetually touring poverty-stricken bands who know what it’s like to spend all the money from a show on gas — is that he gets his fuel free from the pits of used grease behind truck stops and fast-food joints, which ordinarily pay people to take it away.

This is just the latest in a handful of vehicles Benson has vegged out (give or take a few fires caused to keep the vegetable oil flowing), including a Twin Towers dust–saturated ambulance retired after 9/11 service. In 2005, Hale Zukas ended up touring the country in the EMT vehicle alongside the mobile Friends Forever. "I really liked the whole paradigm shift of everything. People didn’t know what to expect," Benson recalls fondly. "We’d come in an ambulance, and everyone would say, ‘Someone got hurt!’ I was excited by the whole chaos and confusion and trickery, and you don’t have to rely on clubs or booking agents or soundmen." And of course there was that added sense of poetic justice, he adds, "driving it around on vegetable oil, the whole statement against the war for oil going on."

Inside the bus, far from maddened neighbors, the music goes on. Slight, skinny-mustached Carlos of Hepatitis C — in town from Bloomington, Ind., where Benson drove him around on his world-record bid to play the most shows in one day — is throwing the party. Living Hell, Ex-Pets, He-War, Noozzz, Erin Allen, and Russian Tsarlag are on the free-to-all, free-for-all bill, and Carlos runs down the street to the opposite street corner — the unofficial green room, where the bands and friends are milling — to tell them the first artist is starting. Backed by crunchy minimal beats, Sewn Leather is flailing around the small stage inside the bus, shouting, "Noise is dying, punk’s been dead, the only rock ‘n’ roll is in your head!" through a PA fed by a battery fueled by the bus’s solar panels. At one of Benson’s biggest events, which included Warhammer and Rubber-O-Cement among 13 bands, the overflow turned into a double Dutch jump-rope contest in the middle of the street. The vibe resembles a kid’s clubhouse taken to the next level — on the road and relatively off the grid.

"Another great thing about the bus is that during all that downtime usually spent staring out the window driving through Nebraska, you can actually plug in instruments. A full band can be playing in back like it’s a practice space," Benson says earlier over the phone of the bus that shall remain nameless (he likes the anonymity).

The all-ages club on wheels simply just "fell into my lap," he continued. "A retired Oakland cop was selling it, and I just saw it going by one day. It was a monstrosity."

The Oaktown police department had torn it up to convert it into a mobile police unit, he was told, and its last owner was going to remake it as a family RV. That intrepid soul was "so hilarious," Benson raves. "I was sold on it because of his personality. He was this 6-foot-7, really huge black guy with these huge hands — such a can-do person. He was sooo the antithesis of Burning Man, because my first reaction was ‘Oh, no, this is some big, gross Burning Man art-car thing.’ Being a retired cop, he said, ‘From driver’s seat back, it’s perfectly legal to rock out with your cock out’ — his exact words. ‘You can drink a fifth of JD and whatever,’ and he then did this funny little dance."

"It’s a surprising tidbit," Benson says. "You don’t have to have seat belts and can have open containers. And you can have a regular driver’s license. If the bus was any longer, you’d need a commercial license. It’s kind of shocking."

Shocking, especially when shortly after he finished converting the bus to use vegetable oil last summer, Benson took it on the road with a bunch of bands to the Freedom From Festival in Minneapolis, where they played before the Boredoms. Because of the bus’s height, they got stuck in an underpass in Chicago’s Wicker Park district. They also couldn’t get it into the Pennsylvania Turnpike and instead were forced to drive through the Poconos. "I got lost in a white-picket-fence neighborhood and was forced to turn around in this poor lady’s yard," Benson recollects. "She and her neighbors came running out, and she was, like, ‘What are you?!’ I was so busy trying to do a 20-point turn I could only yell, ‘We’re a bus!’ ‘What kind of bus are you?’ she yelled. And then someone in the bus jumped out and gave her a hug and said, ‘We’re a magic bus.’ "

You’ve gotta admit there’s a bit of magic going on when Sewn Leather finishes his riveting songs on dead lice, bad pickups, and the end of music genres and the kids pile out, over the oriental carpet cushioning on the floor, and share cookies and other comestibles outside. The cars rumble overhead, oblivious to this DIY snatch of culture-making quietly going about its beeswax. *


With the Fucking Ocean and other bands

Feb. 3, 8 p.m., free

Highway 24 overpass Shattuck and 55th St., Oakl.


The video guy



PREVIEW The public furor set off last November by the imminent publication of onetime football star and Avis flunky O.J. Simpson’s now-quashed book, If I Did It, on the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and Ron Goldman, demonstrates how pivotal the 1995 Simpson trial was to so many, just as Newsweek‘s recent publication of details from a key chapter shows how much it continues to compel — and how tender the wounds remain on this country’s notions of race, justice, media, and celebrity. To many TV viewers overseas, the trial might have merely summed up the insanity of stateside news priorities when the World Cup telecast was interrupted for the Simpson Bronco chase, but for Kota Ezawa, who had just transferred from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf to the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) at the time of the trial, it was ripe, rich stuff.

The televised Simpson verdict announcement — documented in the snippet Ezawa reworked for his brilliant 2002 short animation The Simpson Verdict, now showing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City — "was really a shock to everybody, but a very different kind of shock," Ezawa said. "It was a real kind of shock and a very strange shock because it wasn’t a bomb hitting the ground! It was just a court official saying two words, ‘Not guilty,’ and it was enough to send really huge seismic waves through the entire nation. That I find interesting — that it was so psychological, a psychological event."

Sitting at a work table scattered with paper collage scraps of fallen soldiers intended for his 2006 "The History of Photography Remix" project in a spare, white one-room studio at the corner of 16th and Mission streets, the soft-spoken, even-tempered Cologne, Germany, native in a brown hoodie seems like the last person who’d gravitate toward incendiary subject matter such as the Simpson trial. Or the assassinations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, which are paired in his 2005 animated short The Unbearable Lightness of Being. From the aforementioned pieces to 2003’s Who’s Afraid of Black, White and Grey, Ezawa’s work boils history-making spectacle down to ultraflat pop shapes and hues — adding another layer of commentary to the race cards dealt in The Simpson Verdict. Though Ezawa’s works mimic the primitive, jerky moves of South Park, they rarely make light of history’s dark corners — rather they are minimalist meditations on memorable images, sampling, quoting, recropping, and editing visual pop ephemera and masterworks culled from our collective memory’s moving-image files.

And Ezawa’s reenvisionings, or remixes, have found a growing audience, eliciting an enthusiastic review in the New York Times for his current exhibition at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn. SF Cameraworks recently feted the new Nazraeli Press volume compiling Ezawa’s "The History of Photography Remix" works, and this week the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art includes the artist in its biannual Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Art Award Exhibition.

"We were all enormously impressed by his practice — its clarity and range, the distinctness of his vision," SFMOMA painting and sculpture curator Janet Bishop wrote in an e-mail. "He was a top contender from the start of the award process." As a SECA award recipient, Ezawa will show parts of "The History of Photography Remix" as well as a two-screen animation, Stereo Stolen Honeymoon, which he described as a trailer for a longer adaptation of the purloined Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee wedding and honeymoon video, which the Guggenheim Museum is in talks to show.

"The Anderson-Lee tape is really most striking for how mundane it is," Bishop continued. "It has only become iconic because of our cultural response to it. Ezawa’s piece holds a mirror to our collective obsession with every tedious detail of celebrities’ lives."

A yearlong project featuring Ezawa’s idiosyncratic, hand-drawn computer animation and aided by assistant Ryan Thayer, voice actors, and assorted interns, the Anderson-Lee piece is also one of the artist’s most overtly comic pieces: the tabloid twosome’s cartoonish lifestyle slips seamlessly into Ezawa’s format as they exchange aggro vows, stroke tats, and chat up their pooch.

"I feel that I’m in the business of making moving paintings more than I’m in the business of making videos with a beginning and an end and a kind of dramatic curve," the 37-year-old self-described "video guy" confessed across his work table. "It’s a different kind of attention that people bring to a gallery or to a museum, and in that way, it almost has to work like a painting, meaning some people will watch it for 10 seconds, some people will watch it for a minute, but it really depends on how they will get grasped or not grasped by the image."


The half-Japanese, half-German artist traces his own initial attempts at image-making to ancestors. "If you ask any artist, if they’re really honest, there will be something way, way, way back — even sometimes before you were born," he said with a small grin. The drawings of his great-grandfather Hans Gelderblom, an architect, made an impact, as did his Japanese forbears’ silk paintings and bronze vases.

As a child in rural southern Germany, Ezawa etched his own path with cartoon flip books and hand-cranked panorama boxes resembling TVs. "I think there’s one thing about the countryside that informed or really influenced me and why I am how I am now," he explained. "In the city I think even as a teenager there’s already these peer groups — sometimes it’s ethnic, the Latino kids or the Asian kids, some listen to punk music or some are really good at school or math. In the countryside it doesn’t really work like that — you’re just stuck with your age group, so one of your friends is a fantastic athlete and a piano genius, and your other friend is a borderline alcoholic heavy metal fan, and you all just converge and hang out. And so I think even today … I sometimes think I don’t have any taste, you know?"

That ability to switch from high to low, between mediums and messages, fed his work at the Düsseldorf art academy, where he tried his hand at photography and performance art before scoring an opportunity to study with Fluxus video art innovator Nam June Paik. "He wasn’t there a lot, but to me, he was a really big inspiration," recalled Ezawa, who made his first video in order to be in Paik’s class.

At first he put together "still videos that didn’t move at all": one of his first, I Want to Buy the Empire State Building, was made when the structure was actually for sale. Working pre-Photoshop, Ezawa used a graphic machine to print the title sentence along with his phone number, reproducing the words on a C-print before hanging it on the wall and videotaping it. Paik had the piece, along with other student works, shown at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City. "What’s similar to the videos I make today was I didn’t think of video as this entertainment format," Ezawa said. "I thought of video more as a light box. It was really just like this illuminated image coming out of the TV."


Ezawa’s light-box reworking of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void — part of "The History of Photography Remix" — looked down from an otherwise pristine wall above us. After finishing his BFA at the SFAI and his MFA at Stanford, Ezawa began teaching at California College of the Arts. While poring through the school’s slide library for a presentation on the history of photography for an introductory media arts course, he found himself thrilled: "I thought it was almost like DJing. ‘Oh yeah, this one will be really good. Maybe I’ll play this one after this one.’ " He took the Klein image home, scanned it into his computer, made a graphic sketch over the original, and kicked off his own "History," a compendium of transparencies, slides, collages, and intaglio etchings drawing on images as disparate as Ansel Adams landscapes and the surveillance shot of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army at the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. "That kind of became the idea for the work, to make this fake history slide show," he said.

Ezawa’s strategy stirs up the familiar cauldron of copyright issues in this age of digital reproduction. "You could call it visual hip-hop," he quipped. "But you can also call it somehow ripping off." He’s had only a few "sensitive reactions" from the creators of the original images. "I had long discussions, and it all got resolved," Ezawa said. "But with the book it was like, ‘OK, if you’re making this book and you’re ripping off tens and tens of photographs, you don’t want to have 30 angry photographers sending nasty e-mails." So in an effort to avoid a Simpson-like "legal nightmare," he contacted every shooter he sampled, and "the reaction was 95 percent very positive."

The SF artist has understandably mixed, and remixed, feelings about copyright, which he describes as being "really used to protect the interests of Walt Disney [Company] as opposed to actual artists. But then I feel like events like YouTube really help everybody and also the emergence of China as an economic player in the world, where they have Dior handbags that might say ‘Djor.’ I do think copyright might not exist much longer, though maybe long enough to ruin all of our lives."

He gave a compact chuckle. But then, the artist who once sang and played keyboards along with his wife, Karla Milosevich, in the Helen Lundy Trio seems to have his own quirky handle on the problem. "You know, like any hip-hop artist or DJ, I find my ways to manage this." *


Jan. 27–April 22; call for additional programs; $7–$12.50 (free first Tues.; half price Thurs., 6–8:45 p.m.)

Mon.–Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000


Idol musings



SONIC REDUCER Is there any escape from the tractor beam–pull influence of American Idol? Can someone do me a favor and put a plug in Paula Abdul’s histrionics, leash the dawgs of Randy Jackson, douse the frat-boy smirk on Ryan Seacrest’s mug, or, reluctantly, hold back the refreshing wave of honest harshitude rolling off Simon Cowell? And while you’re up, get me a High Life, hand me the channel changer, and take a socket wrench to that persistent leak of CDs by Idol alums. Winners and also-rans are far too prevalent on the charts — they’re essentially ruining my poppy good times, apart from the odd Kelly Clarkson guilty pleasure. The past few months saw the release of a second album of almost too stolidly respectful R&B by Ruben Studdard, The Return (J); an already gold-certified, lustily voiced and eclectic but undistinguished pop-rock self-titled debut by Taylor Hicks (Arista); and my star-studded fave, Fantasia, by Fantasia Barrino, who put together a contempo, Kelis-like, pop Afro-futurist collection with input from OutKast’s Big Boi, Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo, Missy Elliott, and Swizz Beats. If I hadda listen idol-ly to someone, I guess I’d pop the baby mama on — you’ll be thinking you’re dreaming, girl, when you realize Fantasia actually sounds better than B’Day.

Adore it or abhor it, the phenom starts all over again Jan. 16, playing to our fondness for rags-to-riches stories and let’s-put-on-a-show moxie, our identification with those kids belting their hearts out in gladiatorial thumbs-up-thumbs-down cutthroat competition, our cynical identification with the judges’ stringent assessments, and our resurgent belief in a seemingly democratic process (know anyone who has ever voted?). Despite the scrappy likability and self-conscious modernity of Barrino’s second disc, it’s not to Idol fans’ tastes, methinks, judging from the supposed 230,000 or so CDs sold, in contrast with the 5-mil-plus number Clarkson is bringing down. Yippee, it’s the return of the blockbuster-minded music industry! So, barring catfights and embarrassing "hee-haw at Hung" moments, I think I’ll pass on season six, despite the benediction of approval bestowed by artists such as Prince and Mary J. Blige in season five.

Why? Maybe I like my idols weaned on something more original and less cliché than the Motown and Beatles songbooks. Maybe idols shouldn’t be quite so predigested and programmatic — so that contestants like Tamyra Gray won’t be dropped from their labels when they demand to write their albums.

There’s a place for pop, perhaps — this is a popularity contest, after all — and the fact that the show includes a songwriting competition this season should throw a new wrinkle into the mix of predictable boomer standards. Well, hell, why not ask aspirants to write their own songs? At the risk of turning this into a teary-eyed singer-songwriter showdown, I’d venture that approach would weed out a slew of vacuous, empty-vessel warblers.

Anyway, singing for your supper or at least your next career change seems pro forma. The game-ification of the pop cult draws amateur hopefuls and sporting observers alike, and the Recording Academy’s entry into the ring with its "My Grammy Moment" campaign, in which a dozen finalists vie to play beta pup to Justin Timberlake’s alpha dog at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, seems to bear me out. Watchers can log on to Yahoo! Music and view the audition videos of prospective sexy backups and vote online or via text message for the top five finalists, who will be announced Jan. 17. Voting continues, sports fans, till the lot are winnowed down to the top three on Super Bowl weekend, with the winner announced live at the Grammys on Feb. 11 before his or her live moment with Timby (who seems to be surfing the trend of recent celeb breakups right into In-N-Out).

Among the oodles of original video submissions are entries from Bay Area–esque finalists Jayne Rio of Vallejo, Mandy Ventrice of Pittsburg, and Philip Ray, formerly of Oakland. I asked the 28-year-old Ray, a graphic designer now living in Los Angeles, last week about his simultaneously unusual and mundane clip, in which he fluidly multitasks behind the wheel, driving through a medley of Whitney Houston and other Grammy-winning songs (the branding never sleeps). "It was a time thing," he ‘fessed. "I knew a deadline was approaching, and I have a tiny camera. I was on the way to El Pollo Loco, and I thought it would be a different way to approach it. That was my effort to make me stand out — most people sing in cars, so I thought … people would relate to it."

The son of Rev. Dr. CJ Anderson, who Ray says staged numerous musical events to raise money for the needy in the Bay Area, the contestant recalled catching benefit concerts at Pete Escovedo’s club until he moved south in 1996. Nowadays he writes songs and dreams of developing community centers that will cultivate unsigned vocalists and musicians. Praising Timberlake for the "way he navigated his career" and citing "Losing My Way" as his favorite JT song, the earnest Ray isn’t petrified by the possibility of working his wiles on a Grammy mob of pros. "It’s my ultimate dream. Aside from just being hungry for the opportunity, I think I’m going to try to use any opportunity to carve out a career as successful as Justin Timberlake’s."

Maybe I listened to too much punk as a tot, but as amiable as Ray is, that sort of bald careerism — as much a part of American Idol as actual performance — gives my perhaps rockist-tinged heart pause. I know pop has other uses beyond validating my romantic notion of self-sabotaging, autodestructing, doo-doo-dappling antistars, and American Idol and "My Grammy Moment" may be opening the playing field to new voices, but how fresh can it all be, given the validating arena they’re competing in? When I see, for instance, Big Boi, Elliott, Devendra Banhart, Prince, Thurston Moore, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Radiohead fill the judges’ shoes full-time, I’ll climb back on the couch. *

Posi posse



SONIC REDUCER What’s the expiration date on cute? Is it just limited to the length of time you can tag a cat a kitten, pull off head-to-toe pink, tolerate unironic smiley faces, or maintain a Britney Spears fan site? Does anyone older than 21 still strive to be cute — or anyone not in a boy band, not a showgirl, not wearing mouse ears? Maybe cool stole cute’s thunder around the time kindercore and twee pop faded from view, got into Stanford, and sold their Belle and Sebastian albums, because except for the brief bandying about of the posicore label, as embodied by inspirational party starters like Hawnay Troof and Barr, cute has been, alas, the wallflower at the hoodies’ and headbangers’ balls. Even indie kids have generally distanced themselves from the terrifyingly twinkly adjective — cute and all its shiny, blank surfaces just doesn’t fit the grim, grimy tenor of the times.

Perhaps that’s why it’s the moment for Matt and Kim, the Brooklyn drum-and-keyboard successors to Mates of State and the latest, freshest, most upbeat iteration of the rock duo approach to come along since all those bands with "-s" tacked to their names. They’re supercute; get the kids to dance, stage-dive, and generally act up at their live shows; dream up funny, lovable, and yes, cute videos of food fights; and make lots of energetic pop punk (not to be confused with punk pop and Hilary Duff dumpees). The c word has been a hassle, though. "We get cornered into ‘cute’ a lot as a category," says Matt (né Johnson, 24) from Brooklyn, where he and Kim (last name: Schifino, 25) have settled down briefly amid their nonstop traversing of the country, spreading the gospel of fun. "If someone told me a band was a really cute band, I wouldn’t want to see that band. But a lot of people enjoy it — we smile, we have fun, Kim’s cute. I mean, a lot of people say that we’re cute in a really positive way, and that’s fine, but I wouldn’t want a video or photo shoot where we’re swinging on swings. I don’t want to brand ourselves as cutecore."

The "core" suffix is the kiss of death, isn’t it? Worse than the "-s" because it sounds like it might be cool — there might be a community of sorts there, but instead there’s just the distinct whiff of curdling dismissiveness. Similarly, all the bands that got tagged "screamo" should have just fallen on the neck of their guitars the instant they heard that insult applied to their music.

"Kim doesn’t like cute," Johnson says.

Thus the band decided to drench its new video for "5k," from its self-titled debut on IHEARTCOMIX, with fake blood, mock dismemberment, and pseudo gore. The pair aren’t afraid to mix a little jeopardy into their joy — so they’re not too scared of the warm winter that’s throwing down in their Brooklyn neighborhood at the moment we talk. "Over in New York City it’s ridiculous!" Johnson raves. "People are wearin’ T-shirts. It’s 70 degrees. It’s like the end of the world. It’s definitely colder in San Francisco in the summer than New York City in January."

Yet the unseasonable heat fits the sunny dispositions of the two-and-a-half-year-old combo, who haven’t had any time to write new songs since they bought their touring van in October 2005 ("We used to travel in an ’89 Honda Civic sedan and cram in all the stuff to the roof and drive with the back on the ground and the front in the air"). "We’re totally a summertime band," says Johnson, a onetime political punk fan who worked in film production.

"We like fun songs and fun things related to summer. I guess people get a little grumpier in winter, so as far as writing fast and up-spirited songs goes, it’s much better for it."

Never ones to shun the fun times, Matt and Kim still agree it’s the worst of times that stand out. In fact, one of their most memorable tour tales from the last year had to be their first performance in the Bay Area, at Rock Paper Scissors in Oakland.

"We got the show the day before we were playing there, and somehow the word was that we were an acoustic band and we’re a really loud band," Johnson recalls. "And it’s their knitting night, and a bunch of people are sitting around at tables knitting. I think we made it through three songs…." *


With Girl Talk and USA Crypt

Fri/12, 9 p.m.

$13, sold out


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1422



Choose whom you go with wisely. "If they’re your friend, be ready for them not be your friend anymore," Matt Johnson says. "Kim is the first person it’s really worked out with. We went with another person on one of our tours, and Kim now seems to disdain him."

Pancakes can be a costly proposition. "I definitely realized that once we went to IHOP," Johnson says. "We just got pancakes, and it cost $20. That was a real realization."

Check the weather before it wrecks it. "I feel like the hottest place I’d ever been in my life is Colorado — I thought I was gonna die," he bemoans. "And the coldest place was in Arizona. I thought that was the desert and it was gonna be hot. Be careful about thinking the south is always warm, when it really is not. Cleveland, Miss., in February — boy, that was cold."


"I often describe what we listen to as a lot of people’s guilty pleasures," Johnson says. "I grew up listening to political punk, and I went from being close-minded in general, and then my mind blew wide open."

• T.I., King (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)

• Beyoncé, B’Day (Sony)

• Best Fwends, next year’s album

• Girl Talk, Night Ripper (Illegal Art)

• Flosstradamus

High tide



Let’s face it: half the kick of discovering a little-known noodler or late-night four-tracker lies in the shock of the unknown. Jaded ears perk up at the sound of some never-was untouched by time, history, or, hell, pop itself — after all, musical obscuros like High Speed and the Afflicted Man, one of Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson’s favorites, were far from popular.

Wooden Shjips itself — give or take that copycat culture–jamming "j" — might have easily slipped past notice. I first heard their 2005 three-song 10-inch, Shrinking Moon for You, by chance when Holy Mountain honcho John Whitson spun the disc at Hemlock Tavern — the ears pricked up to a dusty, droning cluster of fuzz, the hips jiggled along with those sleigh bells until the second guitar shrieked to the foreground. Hark, the groovy in extremis, raw ’60s-style teenage-riot drama of the Velvets or Spaceman 3. I was told it was a single by a local band that was giving away its searing psych stomp to anyone who e-mailed for a copy. I seem to remember dutifully firing off a message later. No response.

No wonder — Johnson ran through the original 300-copy pressing of Shrinking Moon after raves from music sites and blogs such as Dusted and Siltblog and the random high-five by Byron Coley in Wire. The next Wooden Shjips recording, the 2006 7-inch "Dance, California"/"Clouds over Earthquake," garnered further positivity, completely spoiling Johnson’s original plan of a worldwide free musical giveaway — a goodwill crusade of vinyl shareware, if you will, that embraced its own mystery.

"It became a little tricky once people started writing about it, like on blogs and stuff," Johnson said last week, chilling on a chilly SF evening with bassist Dusty Jermier in Eagle Tavern’s beer garden. "Then record stores wanted to carry it, but if it’s free, you can’t really sell it to them, and they wouldn’t take it for free."

Most artists should be so unlucky. But Johnson explained, "It was important to be consistent. Since no one knew the band, there was no way to sell them, so the initial idea was to just give them away, and if I couldn’t give them away, I actually had a plan to leave them on bus seats and in libraries. It didn’t work out that I had to do that.

"I mean, the one thing I didn’t want to end up with was a box of records that just sat in my closet, because I’ve been there before."

But it is fun for the treasure-trawling music collector geeking out on the thrill of discovery, which Johnson can relate to. "I think the other big inspiration was from private press records from the ’60s and ’70s — people who’d make their own record, maybe 100 copies, and it would be forgotten, and then 30 years later people would discover it and decide it was the greatest record they’d ever heard," he said, citing High Speed and George Brigman on San Francisco’s Anopheles Records as inspirations. "Just press the record, make music — why wait? Why do you need a label? Why do you need people to like you to make a record? You can just make it, and if people don’t like it, maybe they’ll like it in 20 years."

Instead, "there was a lot of going down to the post office every day and mailing out records, which is really fun to a certain degree," he continued. "It’s cool to be contacted by people all over the world." They’d PayPal him shipping and extra money to coax him to send his single as far afield as New Zealand, Japan, and Lebanon. All of which has led to a forthcoming full-length for Holy Mountain, singles for Sub Pop and France’s Pollymaggoo imprint, and shows at South by Southwest — after Wooden Shjips play their first show at Cafe du Nord on Jan. 15.

"We’re actually having goals thrust upon us," said Johnson, a Wallingford, Conn., native who works as a systems administrator at CNET. "We’re sort of drowning in goals at this point — a lot of offers to put out records, show offers."

It’s a radical change from Johnson’s last, late ’90s band, Botulism. "We would pretty much clear rooms," he recalled. The first "iteration" of Wooden Shjips, which began a few years ago, consisted of nonmusicians. Johnson wanted bandmates who would bring the willingness to learn but leave the ego at home. "Musicians are a pain in the ass," said the grinning guitarist, who confesses he did want to "dictate a little bit." Unfortunately, nonmusicians also didn’t often come with the dedication. "In fact, in the first version our drummer quit because we started talking about playing shows," Johnson added, chuckling.

Making music — white label or no — continues to be the focus: Johnson, Jermier, "nonmusician" keyboardist Nash Whalen, and drummer Omar Ahsanuddin have already begun recording on a creaky eight-track reel-to-reel in the SoMa practice space they share with the Fucking Champs. And perhaps Johnson will find use for the box of Botulism singles he has in his closet, selling them as Wooden Shjips juvenilia. "I’d rather just revert to the old plan and put them on bus seats or in the library," he said with a smile, "and see if people discover them on their own." *


Mon/15, 9 p.m.

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF


(415) 861-5016


Dark days indeed


French noir rarely darkened, deepened, or explored more nuanced shades of gray and shadow than in the films of Jean-Pierre Melville. From his breakthrough gangster ode, Bob le Flambeur (1955), through 1962’s underrated Le Doulos to the trio that put Alain Delon’s icy beauty to proper use, Le Samouraï (1967), Le Cercle Rouge (1970), and Un Flic (1972), Melville infused the genre with a rigorous, formal power while simultaneously shooting quickly, stylishly, and on location. In the process he inspired new wavers–to–come with his resourceful quasi-vérité derring-do.

Yet not all of the director’s films were caper exercises: Melville started his career with a 1950 collaboration with Jean Cocteau, Les Enfants Terribles — World War II loomed large over the onetime Resistance fighter’s imagination. Joseph Kessel’s Army of Shadows was the book he waited to shoot for 25 years after discovering it in 1943, and in 1969 the filmmaker applied his eminently masculinized brand of hard-boiled cool as well as his compelling yet oppressive sense of landscape and character — and their interplay — to the text. The stunningly beautiful and shockingly poignant product finally saw its release in the States last year, and it says as much about Melville, his cold dreamscapes, and his idealistic though traumatized response to war (and resistance) as perhaps The Big Red One, Battle Royale, and even Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! might say about the works of kindred battle-scarred directors Sam Fuller, Kinji Fukasaku, and Russ Meyer, respectively. Here Melville, who later told an interviewer he never intended to make a film about the Resistance, and Kessel — also the author of that psychosexual romp into the subconscious of an immaculate bourgeois, Belle du Jour — use wartime experiences the director later described as "awful, horrible … and marvelous" to illustrate a piercingly conflicted existential love letter to the past that fellow Resistant Albert Camus could have signed off on.

The past, as it turns out, was both enthralling and dreadful. Melville’s camera almost vibrates with the morose shock value of Army of Shadows‘s opening long shot: German troops filing through — or defiling — the Champs-Élysées. From there Melville jumps to a van carrying a gendarme and a dark figure in spectacles, and the cop personably remarks on the convenience of their concentration camp destination and how it can now be used to house prisoners of France’s Nazi occupiers — until he spies the handcuffs on his traveling companion and catches himself. The viewer is pulled into the deceptively friendly scene, lulled by the bland banality of evil — and French complicity — while Melville continues swinging between points of view, from the soft gray matter of the forgetful cop to the blunt-object reverie of a French concentration camp commander dealing with the other man in the vehicle: Resistance leader and civil engineer Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura).

The director finally settles mainly in the mind of Gerbier, who, as played by onetime wrestler Ventura, can’t shake an antihero veneer despite his upper-crusty suits. The watchful Gerbier bides his time in the camp, gauges the prisoner demographic makeup, and begins to hatch an escape plan with a young Communist, until he’s suddenly summoned to the area’s Nazi headquarters. His act of daring there — based on a story told to Melville by a Gaullist deputy — almost leaps off the screen. The director calibrates the tension, engineers its release, then does it once again in an exquisitely loaded scene between a Vichy barber and a customer, each playing at normalcy during insanity.

Army of Shadows reveals the rest of Gerbier’s shadowy group with the offhand vibe of a chat with the local gendarme, and they’re more a gang than an army, including the stalwart Felix (Paul Crauchet); former Legionnaire Le Bison (Christian Barbier); the quivering Le Masque (Claude Mann); the boldly heroic, Marianne-like Mathilde (Simone Signoret, portraying a loosely sketched Lucie Aubrac); playboy Jean François Jardie (Jean-Pierre Cassel); and network chief, Jardie’s seemingly ivory-tower intellectual, deep-undercover brother, Luc (Paul Meurisse as a Jean Moulin figure). We find ourselves less in a traditional war film than embroiled in a tangle of arduous trips to England to visit a sequestered Charles de Gaulle, sudden arrests, subsequent betrayals, and then methodical hits, executed by the underground fighters, who operate under a code as rigid as any other gangster’s in Melville’s Guyville.

In an interview for the book Melville on Melville, the director bristled when he was reminded that some French critics equated the Resistants with thugs. Still, anyone familiar with Melville’s films will recognize the fighters’ toughened miens, accustomed to operating outside the law — and the feeling of dread at having to strangle a onetime compatriot quietly with one’s bare hands (when a previously arranged killing floor is now a few audible steps away from crying babes and frolicking schoolchildren). The dread here emerges from the fact that these ordinary citizens are compelled to commit both heroic and horrific acts: much like the jitterbuggers at the USO canteen that Gerbier crashes during a brief trip to England, these underground fighters — otherwise known as "terrorists" to the Nazis — are caught in an exhilarating and ultimately tragic tango with their occupiers.

Melville’s underground fighters resemble thugs because they’re operating in a similar mise-en-scène at the fringes of their occupied country’s laws. "A lot of people would have to be dead before one could make a true film about the Resistance and about Jean Moulin," the director told writer Rui Nogueira. "Don’t forget that there are more people who didn’t work for the Resistance than people who did." Nonetheless, Melville never shies away from his truth, gazing at the foes and fighters with equanimity, as when Gerbier confesses that his only love is for the chief, is forced to run from a Nazi machine-gun firing squad, and orders the death of a deputy who succumbed to weakness.

Though Melville’s cinematographer Pierre Lhomme, who supervised the 2004 digital restoration of the film, did a remarkable job recreating the film’s steely blue, brown, and gray palette, it’s the sound design that stands out today — for example, the rush of the ocean as Gerbier and Felix march a traitor down a small seaside town’s cobbled streets to his death. Wheels, motors, and heels clank like that dread old mechanism, the march toward denouement, a.k.a. death, found in any noirish plot. "You — in a car of killers," Gerbier sighs, regarding his beloved boss at Army of Shadows‘s close, one that reduced Kessler to tears when he read the biting coda added by the filmmaker. "Is nothing sacred anymore?" Melville achieved a sense of closure in making Army, certainly — and it rings true to his sense of manly fatalism like the clang of a cell door. (Kimberly Chun)

ARMY OF SHADOWS Thurs/11, 7:30 p.m., and Sat/13, 8:20 p.m. PFA, 2575 Bancroft, Berk. $4–$8. (510) 642-5249,


P&J jam



SONIC REDUCER Icons come and go, with all the fanfare, dressers, and folderol that legends demand, you know — with a wiggle of a ruddy nose, the flash of a cape, a blast of TNT, the slam of the estate gates. Goodbye, James Brown (RIP Godfather of Soul, Dec. 25, 2006), may you work a little less in heaven than

you did on earth. Fare thee well, Village Music (music geeks’ vinyl treasure trove), readying to close Sept. 30, due to the high rent demanded in Mill Valley. Next?

I was ready to say hasta luego to that mammoth warhorse of all critics’ polls, the Village Voice‘s Pazz and Jop. The massive compendium of top 10 album and song lists and legitimizer of toiling, stinking music crit midgets the nation over, the creature seemed to be next on the list of endangered species when creator-caretaker Robert Christgau (dean of American rock critics) and Voice music editor Chuck Eddy were fired last year after the New Times’ purchase of Village Voice Media.

Still, the yearly e-mail appeared again early last month — "Hello. You are one of the 1,500-odd critics we’d like to include …" — this time signed by the Voice‘s new music editor, Rob Harvilla, who got the NT corporate relocation orders from the East Bay Express.

Is it the same poll without Christgau keeping tempo? Honestly, few envy Harvilla, who has had a tough shoe to polish in pleasing Voice readers and filling his well-established predecessors’ boots while boasting little of sheer record-reviewing chops and logging a fraction of the critical thought that has gone into the careers of Eddy and Christgau. The latter for good reason dubbed his graded music review column Consumer’s Guide. Ever the idealistic, outraged, yet overthinking lot, music writers were conflicted — torn between their loyalty to the old Voice editors and the scent of a continuing or future paycheck. The notion of alternate polls was batted around on the blogosphere.

Still, when Gawker Media actually began one, who suspected the brouhaha that would ensue? Gawker’s music blog, Idolator, announced its startlingly similar Jackin’ Pop Critics Poll with the cheeky, gauntlet-tossing headline "Time to Raze the Village," called out Christgau’s and Eddy’s cannings, and issued the salvo "For those who had long turned to the Voice to help guide them through the realm of pop, rock, and hip-hop, the 51-year-old alt-weekly now had about as much musical credibility as, say, a three-month-old blog." Shortly after that, Idolator poll editor and ex–Seattle Weekly music editor Michaelangelo Matos was informed, through a multiple-source grapevine at the NT-VV Media–owned Minneapolis–St. Paul City Pages (the alt-weekly at which he began his career) that he has been banned from that paper.

Gawker-Idolator later reported that word quickly went out to NT-VV music staffers that they’re not allowed to vote in the Idolator poll. "When we announced the poll, that day, I saw an e-mail from John Lomax, who is the Houston Press music editor — he’s head of New Times music editors — instructing all music editors and staff writers that hourly and salaried staffers of New Times were not allowed to vote in the Idolator poll," Matos told me from Seattle.

Matos added that despite NT-VV being "obviously hardball kind of guys," he took umbrage at the fact that "they didn’t tell me I was banned. I heard it from somebody else. I think the way they handled it was chickenshit, but from the way I can tell, that’s one way they operate, through fear and imprecation." At press time, Lomax and City Pages music editor Sarah Askari had not responded to inquiries.

Is this just a matter of new media versus New Times? Corporate print media fending off the pricks of a million busy blogging digits? To make matters even more complicated, Christgau himself, whose Consumer Guide was recently picked up by MSN, has voted in both polls. "I have told people who’ve asked to do what they wish," he e-mailed me, adding that Eddy, now at Billboard, is not voting in P&J.

Yet other aboveboard and down-low boycotts of P&J abound, Matos said. Ex–Voice staffer and current Pop Conference organizer Eric Weisbard is skipping the poll because, the former P&J pooh-bah e-mailed, "participating in Pazz & Jop validates the New Times neanderthals who now run Village Voice Media. They may want to keep alive a poll that generates more Web hits than anything else they do, but in all other ways, they hate and are trying to eradicate everything that the Village Voice music section stood for: intellectual discussion of popular music and popular culture."

"A number of people who aren’t voting in the Voice poll are older and better established," added Matos, describing an argument he recently had with a friend. "I heatedly called it a labor issue, and my friend said, ‘If I vote in the Voice poll, am I a scab?’ It’s probably not that cut-and-dried…. Everyone in New York knows how bad the Voice has gotten, but for a lot of people, the Voice still represents a decent paycheck. It’s a hard thing to argue with. People who don’t want to piss off the Village Voice, and frankly, till this poll came along, I was one of them."

Vote in both, don’t vote in P&J, or vote in P&J and pen protest too? I’ve always internally chafed against the voice of critical authority, inclusive yet contentious, implied with P&J. Perhaps that sense of center is a bastion of the past, along with traditional music industry models. Yet even the first P&J Matos ever read — from 1990, with De La Soul on the cover — included an essay by a writer who refused to participate in the group grope. The gathering was that quirky and open to dissent.

An alien concert in the new order of NT-VV? "Good going, champions of the free press!" Idolator crowed after announcing the NT-VV response, excerpting a supposed example e-mail from a NT-VV music editor to writer. "To get revenge, we plan to not patronize the porn ads in the back of your magazines for the next week. You have no idea how much that’s gonna cost you."

One long-tenured P&J pooh-bah continues to watch over the proceedings, if from afar. "I look forward with considerable curiosity to both polls," Christgau wrote to me. "I very much doubt either will be as good as the last PJ, but we shall see." Nonetheless, it seems unlikely the boycotted and participation-by-dictate P&J will, as Matos put it, "open things up for you," as good critics and past polls have. *

New Year’s Eve ill



SONIC REDUCER You gotta love the Bay Area, which so often sweeps in the new year with the wet, wild kiss of stormy weather. Blecch — too much tongue. Still, I succumb to the call of fun: I can’t count how many times I’ve vaulted over gushing gutters, minced down streets that have morphed into streams, danced between the raindrops, hopped between soggy cardboard sheets in backyards that have turned into miasmas of mud, and jabbed firework gawkers with the bad end of an umbrella. Outta-hand winter waterworks seem somewhat fitting for our kooky, multitentacled, many-flavored assortment of New Year’s Eve entertainment offerings. So here’s a selected guide to live sounds for all persuasions, preferences, sizes, and sicknesses (we’re not even going to go into the sans pants warehouse show) — let’s see what’s out there on the blessed night all those in the so-called biz dub "amateur night," the evening when most everyone feels compelled to get out and brave the puddles pooling around their doorsteps.


Don’t bother knockin’, because the yacht-rockin’ good times are sure to be had when Portland, Ore., one-man party machine Yacht meets Oakland one-man party machine Hawnay Troof at 21 Grand; Blevin Blectum, High Places, and Bronze tan it up too. Kid606 will be swinging from there to Rx Gallery, where he performs with French beat blurters DAT Politics, delay-pedal ditherers Lemonade, and Kontrol with Dirtybird. It’s not plus tard, ‘tards! After catching the LA band eves ago at the Make-Out Room and dancing our Khmers off, we’ve got a Dengue Fever for the flava of Cambodian garage rock — this year it’s at Rickshaw Stop ( The Lovemakers get busy with Honeycut at Great American Music Hall. At the Fillmore (, My Morning Jacket stoke the flames of Southern rock. Breakout ska punk critters the Aggrolites open for Hepcat at Slim’s ( Harold Ray Live in Concert do unspeakable — and delightful — things to an organ at Annie’s Social Club ( Balazo Gallery ( finds Goldie faves Trainwreck Riders living it up with La Plebe. Birdmonster scare up the good times along with art-punk Boyskout at Bottom of the Hill ( Crane your necks at the Stork Club ( as bits of the Bobby Teens and Gravy Train!!!! come together and costume-ize for the customized Dinky Bits and the Lil Guys. Rube Waddell revamp their "Live at Leeds" — or shall we say "Sexy at Sketchers" — show at a wanton belly dancing, cabaret, and brass happening going down at Amnesia ( And for those with hair that needs a band, there are LA Guns (playing with the curiosity-piquing Infamous Choke Chain) at Roosters Roadhouse, Alameda ( And why Y and T at Avalon, Santa Clara ( Y not?


Zion I, Lyrics Born, and Crown City Rockers put together the rap show to beat at the Independent (, striking trepidation in the hearts of bouncers with no-holds-barred rhymes and an all-night open bar (line up the Henny, honey). But don’t count the Coup out: so soon after the group’s recent bus crash, in which they lost all their belongings and several members and tourmates were injured, the Bay Area band gets back onstage alongside Les Claypool and the New Orleans Social Club at Claypool’s New Year’s Eve Hatter’s Ball at Grace Pavilion, Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa ( Also, booty, bass, and all the b’s will be bumpin’ back when Spank Rock boomerangs to 280 Seventh Street (


Piano legend McCoy Tyner is the monster headliner at Yoshi’s ( Washing up on Anna’s Jazz Island, Berkeley (, Yoruban priestess and Afro-Cuban soul stirrer Bobi Cespedes and her trio work their magic. Soul and funk trumpeter Oscar Myers blows out 2006 with Steppin’ at the Boom Boom Room ( Bimbo’s 365 Club ( wink-winks, nudge-nudges with the New Morty Show and Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums. Vocalist Kim McNalley urges you to party like it’s 1929 at her Jazz at Pearl’s (; Jesus Diaz and his Bay Area Cuban All Stars light a fire under La Peña Cultural Center ( And OK, everyone dug Eddie Murphy more in Dreamgirls — don’t x out Jamie Foxx; he attempts to fill Oracle Arena, Oakland, accompanied by Fantasia Barrino (


Our favorite unfunny funnyman, Neil Hamburger (and former SF storage container dweller, or so he says), throws pop culture on the grill, sweats profusely, and jubilantly rolls around in a trough of bad taste for two shows at the Hemlock Tavern (; astrology nut Harvey Sid Fisher ushers in the ‘Burger meister. Patton Oswalt blew that whiny David Cross off the stage when he opened for him at Cobb’s way back when — now the prince of King of Queens headlines two rounds on New Year’s Eve (

Just remember, ya can’t stop the rain. Don’t fear the reaper. Stay metal, and be sure to strap yourself in for 2007 — because judging from the way we roll, it could be a bumpy ride. *

Monster dearest



Move over, matchy-matchy Faye Dunaway of Mommie Dearest and much too armed and dangerous to hug Shelley Winters of Bloody Mama (possibly the lousy dowager emeritus, thanks to Lolita). Mamma mia, was there ever a year crammed with more bad mothering run stealthily amok, far from most of the multiplexes and the real-life broodies dragging their spawn to the latest animated feature?

If you weren’t busily entertaining your offspring in the big theater, you could easily slip into a small screening room to feel either much better about your parenting skills — or much worse. No, 2006 was not kind to materfamilias — anxiety was high over nurturing yet meddling, muddling, and sometimes castrating bitches with often loved but also neglected litters. The not-quite-model matrons who stood out were flagrantly flawed hard-luck ladies, straight outta the clink, outta rehab, outta options. They were both abusers and abused, working lousy jobs, distrusted, and desperate for a second chance — Norma Raes and Erin Brockoviches sans a speck of political consciousness. Mother’s Day 2006 in the movie houses was all about evil as well as Eve’s plight: succumbing to temptation and, of course, seeking redemption. Call this gaggle of generally downbeat, self-absorbed, Dumpster-realism gals the prodigal (single) mothers.

Homemakers or home wreckers? Welfare queens or queen me’s? In Running with Scissors, Annette Bening’s med-damaged, mad housewife-poet of a mumsy was all of the above, with alimony. Meryl Streep’s cunning Lioness D’Wintour fashion editor piss-take in The Devil Wears Prada juggled career and family nastily, taking a smooth stab at working matriarchs both biological and mentor-ological. And the small-town girls and comeback kids–turned–semimythic maternal figures of Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura in Pedro Almodóvar’s latest women’s film, Volver, take a dreamily innocent, genre-specific, less-realistic gaze at motherhood. The women in Almodóville are decent, vivid, communal, and inadvertently, invariably deadly — these bleeder-brooders with bloody "women’s troubles" live in a world almost completely free of men (the few who do pop up are incestuously abusive), somewhere on the matrilineal border of Two Women and Juliet of the Spirits.

Like Volver‘s Cruz and Maura, two other rhyming cinematic mothers — played by two Maggies, Cheung and Gyllenhaal, in Clean and Sherrybaby, respectively — believe there’s life after a loss of innocence and even death. Birthing best-actress awards and considerations, Cheung’s Emily Wang and Gyllenhaal’s Sherry Swanson are hardened but not broken junkie wild children, needle thin and barely clinging to the cracked-out, earthly pavement as they stomp through Paris and malled-over America, regretfully scraping their way back from prison after dropping their offspring like puppies and drifting off into good nods. Physically, the two cut through their landscapes like blades, antimaternal babes who happen to have had babies.

Braless, tank-topped, and jiggling through the hood, Gyllenhaal’s Sherry has a physical presence that hybridizes the inhibition-free but inappropriately hot mama and the gawky, sunken-chested teen. Slouching through motels and institutions, suburbs and ghettos alike, she’s always the riveting center, despite her love for and hunger to be loved by her daughter. Since she kicked in prison, love has become Sherry’s drug — she wants to work with kids, she’s desperate to take up mothering — and she slyly seduces her daughter with toys, praise, and her alarming, sexualized, chaotic presence from the brother and sister-in-law who raised the girl in safety and warmth. With her discomfitingly sensual singing routine and ravenous desire for attention, Sherry is every parent’s worst nightmare, yet Gyllenhaal’s emotionally and physically naked performance and Laurie Collyer’s empathetic direction etch her into reality. You want to take care of this sad, sexy mum.

On another continent and aeons away in awareness, Cheung’s Emily is also a junkie who landed in jail — after her rock star boyfriend, Lee Hauser, OD’d — but she’s now working her way back into the good graces of her child and family. Resembling a razor-sharp noirish Q-Tip with a shock of black fro, music biz hanger-on Emily evokes obvious predecessors (the derided Asian-other and band destroyer Yoko Ono, the stoned-in-love partner in crime Marianne Faithfull) and less-expected women (delicate beauty with a battery-acid rasp Hope Sandoval). The archetypal snide rock bitch at the start, Emily waxes selfish, proud, mouthy, brawling, irresponsible, bad tempered, only reflexively working her power over Lee — her real hunger is for the next fix. Cheung, however, gives Emily a heart — when her mouth twists into a dreadful pyramid upon hearing that the court has given custody of her son to Lee’s parents.

Still, throughout the process of getting clean, growing humble, and peeling away the layers of posturing, Emily exudes a resigned intelligence that the fearless but somewhat unconscious Sherry lacks. Tearful with loneliness, Emily confesses to her friend Elena (France’s favorite wild woman, Beatrice Dalle), "I don’t know if I can take care of a child." Almost everyone in Clean is smarter than they appear at first glance, even if they are embroiled in the "romantic myth of music," as director Olivier Assayas puts it in a DVD interview. Emily’s race complicates matters further, raising questions similar to those aimed at world-trawling Western adoptive parents. Are the white middle-class Hausers more entitled to raise Cheung’s son than she is? Must she become trustworthy — or assimilate — in order to be with her child?

Both Cheung’s and Gyllenhaal’s performances make one wonder why these women’s struggles are reaching the screen at this time. We continue to grapple with the question of whether single parenting translates to less-than-optimal parenting. Perhaps, as the war pigs and an archetypally male principle run rampant elsewhere, we wonder how we’re supposed to keep the home fires burning. Where are the mothers, and how does one nurture after all the high times? Can we, perpetual adolescents, ever really settle down? Who raised all these people? *


Ivana Baquero in Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, Spain) and Ko Ah-sung Ko in The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea).

Clean (Olivier Assayas, France) and Sherrybaby (Laurie Collyer, US).

The Descent (Neil Marshall, UK). A postfeminist love song to spelunking and Carrie.

Linda Linda Linda (Nobuhiro Yamashita, Japan). The Ramones would be proud.

The Queen (Stephen Frears, UK/France/Italy), with lady-in-waiting Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, US/France/Japan). Feeling those royal pains.

The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry, France/Italy). Charlotte Gainsbourg makes spectacles, sweater dresses, and felt-mation look trés belle.

Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, South Korea). Red eyeliner, exploitation glam, and that scene with the grieving, vengeful parents …

Volver (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain). Making us love Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, eyeliner, and push-up bras again.

Purple tamed?



SONIC REDUCER Ho, ho, hum. I may have to take it up with a certain chunky fellah in the red clown suit, because just between you and me, I can’t take the pressure. I’m sure you understand — the stress to plonk down the bones for the most lavish holiday booty. To have the raddest New Year’s Eve. To return or regift those less-than-apt presents in the weeks to follow. To end the year with a big bang, sinking your teeth deeply into the ass of life and emerging with stories to tell and most limbs intact.
Right up there with all of the above is the pressure to have fun in Las Vegas. I mean, you have to be a complete loser to not enjoy yourself, not eke out some happening in Vegas that had to stay in Vegas, right? After all, America’s sin city is busy recasting itself as the country’s entertainment capital, building casinos and ripping up the strip late into the night — surely they have some poison that tempts a princely palette?
Alas, Vegas can be such a tease. Exhibit one: Prince, supposedly deep into an indefinite residency at his new club, 3121 (the branding of this year’s album continues), at the Rio hotel but instead taking every weekend off till New Year’s from his Friday and Saturday gig. Caveat: don’t jingle-jangle into town expecting to see his purple highness shake it dutifully, night in and out, à la Frankie, Elvis, Wayne Newton, Barry Manilow, all the big cheeses. Admittedly, even at $125–<\d>$312 a pop, it would have been worth it — to see the larger-than-life mercurial Minneapolis mini at his relatively intimate 900-seat venue, which is said to be under the Purple 1’s sole artistic control, while the adjoining 3121 Jazz Cuisine is overseen by his personal chef. It’s the latest sign of the times: the 48-year-old was following his inclusion in an obligatory animated feature, Happy Feet, and his now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t Net presence (this year he shut down his longtime site shortly after fielding a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for being the first major artist to release an entire album online exclusively) with a distinct signifier of a rapidly settling-down showbiz icon: a stint in Vegas. Isn’t this American entertainment’s Valhalla, where major stars come to die? “Now if he gets fat like Elvis …,” opined alexnevermind319 on fan site I pictured the man socking back in a beige McMansion, crusting elegantly in a La-Z-Boy, heavily partaking of TiVo, inhaling fistfuls of Corn Nuts, and wondering if he’s in danger of becoming a corn nut himself, burned out on the bright lights that mask the sun-baked void after only a mere month.
I was clearly conflicted, so I sought solace in a kicky, clean-fun but self-aggrandizing Pussycat Dolls revue at Cesar’s Pure nightclub (drinking game: take a swig every time the half-nekkid hotties urge “Sing along, ladies”) and a geriatrically inclined ’n’ reclined show by Neil Diamond impersonator Jay White, a genuine sing-alike (Diamond himself is quoted in White’s ad: “Jay, keep singing so I can stay home and relax”) who too often shatters the illusion (“Everyone got their Christmas shopping done?” the would-be solitary man queried amid his re-creation of Diamond’s July 4, 1976, Vegas show).
But what am I complaining about? History, musical or otherwise, is often reworked here, toward new, profitable, and vanity-fluffing ends. I dug the Liberace Museum — including its cranky caretakers, who forbade us from cruising through its two buildings in a mere half hour — but you don’t have to look far beyond Liberace’s chinchilla-trimmed capes and mirror-tiled roadster to glimpse the sadness beneath the flash: my partner in Vegas grime read the fine print in the trophy room and noted that many are for simply giving talks and such. Did even the highest-paid entertainer in Vegas history (Liberace took home $50,000 a week in 1955 for turning it out regularly at the Riviera) and the man who enlightened Elvis himself about the power of glitter really need to pad his brag board?
Perhaps size does matter — Las Vegas is as much about industrial-scale entertainment as it is about taking your money in a wholesale sorta way. Judging from the recent low-key array of musical offerings — Toni Braxton was Prince’s only real rival last week — the Purple Pachyderm looms large here, the one truly musically innovative performer currently ensconced in Vegas. But can we say any Vegas-level dues are getting paid at all when Prince keeps the length of his engagement foggily indefinite, the time he goes onstage set vaguely after 10 p.m. — can’t he take the heat, sweat, and slog like a regularly gigging musician? It made you respect those crack, hard-working players behind small fries like White even more. In announcing Prince’s Vegas lounge act, a rep claimed Prince “wants to bring raw, live music back to Las Vegas.” So bring it already.<\!s>SFBG
Fri. and Sat. (after Dec. 28, but don’t count on it), 10 p.m.
3121 at the Rio
3700 W. Flamingo, Las Vegas, Nev.

Girl talk


The Gossip’s first show of 2006 in San Francisco wasn’t as likely to get tongues clacking as one I saw several years previously, the night mod, bobbed fireball Beth Ditto pulled a cute, bare-skulled baby dyke from the audience to twist and grind to the tune of “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” But on Jan. 27 the mixed queer-straight crowd was yelling just as loud anyway, singing along like budding blues shouters and bopping up and down atop broken glass as a long-haired Ditto wailed through the sweat streaming down her face, swayed us and slayed us. Her best friend during her Alabama school days, Nathan Howdeshell, tugged as many sharp, shocked punk-blues lines out of his guitar as he could while drummer Hannah Blilie pounded home Ditto’s words: you’re standing in the way of control.
Control … undergarments? In women’s circles, control can be such a dirty word, but self-described fat activist Ditto would probably differ and describe it instead as a cry for seizing power, calling for a new team after half a decade of Republican-dominated government.
According to the US Senate Web site, 1992 was the year of the woman — the first time four women (Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley Braun, Dianne Feinstein, and Patty Murray) were elected to the Senate in a single election year, following the highly combustible Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. The sight of an all-white male committee laying into law professor Anita Hill apparently led many to question the dearth of female senators. I’m sure some powers-that-be would rather that be the sole “year of the woman,” officially mandated by the federal government. But for me, 2006 could have just as easily have fit that descriptor. Even if we didn’t spend its closing month fussing over celeb thunderwear.
This year began with the typically fire-starting “say, ah-women, somebody” salutations of Ditto at Bottom of the Hill and continued through the strong musical showings of local all-female combos Erase Errata and T.I.T.S., the splashy emergence of girl bands such as Mika Miko and Cansei de Ser Sexy, and the newly revived ESG and Slits, which proved to be some of the most exciting musical reunions of 2006. In the fourth quarter, life seemed to rhyme with art, as Nancy Pelosi assumed her role as the first female House speaker and leaders such as Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa, entered the picture. As 2006 ends with five Grammy nominations for the Dixie Chicks and the girl-group-loving gloss of Dreamgirls, the pendulum of public favor seems to be swinging toward the double–X chromosome side of the block. We’re not even counting the onslaught of Latin pop princesses à la Shakira and Nelly Furtado, reading into Beyoncé’s strident awakening on B’Day (Dreamgirls probably hit a little too close to home for destiny’s chosen child), and paying heed to the escapist serenade of Gwen Stefani. Could feminism be in again?
Perhaps — because you can smell the stirrings of discontent and brewing backlash in the winter wind. The demise of fem-firebrand groups like Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre foregrounded the question “Is the all-girl band dead?” — as the latter’s Kathleen Hanna complained about not getting radio and MTV play on the basis of gender. How else to explain complaints of pretension surrounding the release of Joanna Newsom’s Ys and the fact that the biggest gossip of the year — talked up louder than the Gossip’s Ditto — came in the form of the pantyless pop-tart triad of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan? Even TV’s would-be feminists tut-tutted about the trio’s shaved, bared crotch shots, proliferating online like so many revamped, vamped-up NC-17 Hollywood Babylons and Celebrity Sleuths. Is the image of pop stars flashing cameras news? No, but then most of us never actually saw Jim Morrison’s lizard king or GG Allin’s scabs. Spears’s career was built on the promise of pubescent sex — how does that change when her paycheck is splashed all over workplace monitors? What is celebrity when the highly controlled PR mechanism breaks down and the most intimate component of fame, tabloid poonanny, is served up, C-section and all, in a bucket seat?
So as pop’s eternal girls go wild and skip the thong song and we muse over whether Pelosi and company’s new roles could be the best thing to ever happen to Dubya, especially if he aims to avoid impeachment (mainstream media hand-wringing over frosh Demo centrists possibly going wild is disingenuous — does anyone really expect Pelosi to be as much a partisan pit bull as Newt Gingrich?), we have to wonder how we might transform this turning point, the second (or third or fourth, etc.) coming of the Woman, into something greater than the sum of its disparate, far-flung, all-girl band parts. It’s tempting — and perhaps nutty — to draw rough, symbolic comparisons between the national discussion around Hillary Clinton’s and Barak Obama’s possible presidential runs and the Bay Area’s most arresting musical developments in 2006: the insurgent interest surrounding all-female bands and the buzzy rise of Bay hip-hop and hyphy. Is it time to lay siege to the turf of the Man. Even the oldest schoolee in rock’s girls academy, Joan Jett, can point to Broadcast Data Systems statistics on how more than 90 percent of the songs played on rock or alternative radio are still by men. “It’s institutional, and I’m not quite sure where to attack it,” Jett told me this fall. “Except with the audiences. The audiences forced stations to play ‘I Love Rock ’n’ Roll.’ So we got to get to that place.”
That place — my space or yours — is wherever women (and men) put together bands to make their own “user-generated content,” as a social networking site might dub it, or “art,” as I prefer to call it, and find the will to take control. Of how they sound and how they get their music out. For a sample overview of that cutting edge, see Chicks on Speed’s recent sprawling triple-CD comp, Girl Monster, Volume 1, with tracks by artists ranging from Kevin Blechdom, the Raincoats, Tina Weymouth, and Boyskout to Pulsallama, Cobra Killer, LiliPUT, and Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti. Rewrite musical history and promise you’ll be on volume two. SFBG
•Folk talk: Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Letting Go (Drag City); Beirut, The Gulag Orkestar (Ba Da Bing); Joanna Newsom, Ys (Drag City)
•Hot rock: Awesome Color, Awesome Color (Ecstatic Peace); Erase Errata, Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars); Snowglobe, Doing the Distance (Makeshift); Om, Conference of the Birds (Holy Mountain)
•Interstellar explorers: Akron/Family, Meek Warrior (Young God); OOIOO, Taiga (Thrill Jockey); Grouper, Wide (Free Porcupine); White Magic, Dat Rosa Mel Apibus (Drag City)
•Live, with love: 7 Year Rabbit Cycle, Coughs, Citay, Gossip, Sonic Youth and Mirror Dash, Neil Hagerty, Flaming Lips, Liars, Radiohead, Grizzly Bear
•Odds and ends: Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (Anti-); Marisa Monte, Universo ao Meu Redor (Blue Note); Girl Monster, Volume 1 (Chicks on Speed); Art of Field Recording: 50 Years of Traditional Music Documented by Art Rosenbaum (Dust-to-Digital)
•Party jams: Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury (Re-Up Gang/Arista); Girl Talk, Night Ripper (Illegal Art); Beck, The Information (Interscope); the Knife, Silent Shout (Rabid)
•Pop nostalgists: Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country (Merge); Pelle Carlberg, Everything Now! (Twentyseven); Essex Green, Cannibal Sea (Merge); Pascal, Dear Sir (Le Grand Magistery)
•Solo mio: Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-); Jolie Holland, Springtime Can Kill You (Anti-); Thom Yorke, The Eraser (XL)
•Reissue korner: Cluster; Karen Dalton; Delta 5; ESG; Ruthann Friedman; Jesus and Mary Chain; Milton Nascimento; Ike Yard; What It Is!: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967–1977) (Rhino)

Junk bonds


Sweet — doesn’t the sight of Gwen Stefani shaking her logo in your face on that singing-nun mess of a video for “Wind It Up” — off her new album, The Sweet Escape (Interscope) — make you want to look for the exits? Booze, barbiturates, love, angels — all the traditional escape hatches look good, because as much as I sneakingly enjoyed the creative mosh-slop of Stefani’s ur-kitsch solo debut, her new one looks and sounds like a Scandi-stinker so far. Maybe Sound of Music lederhosen camp just can’t hold a candle to organic movements like African American step culture. Maybe the reality of childbirth spoiled the wish-fulfillment magik of her Love. Angel. Music. Baby. equation. In any case, all the gloss (we do like our pop princesses — B, G, and Fff-urgh-ie — predictably blond and brassy in ’06 ) makes you want to repair to the proudly ramshackle, raw-cuz sonic junkyard that Tom Waits built, especially when you listen to his recent Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (Anti-). The arrival of this three-disc set of never-released oldies, comp odds, loose ends, and unifying newbies might even spark a few murky thoughts on Waits and a few of his musical offspring: Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous, who put out his first album in more than five years this fall, Dreamt for Lightyears in the Belly of a Mountain (Astralwerks), and Calexico, who truck through town this week. “Alternative” and “experimental” seem like weak adjectival gruel for their obsessively archival, at times combustible aural tinderboxes. Is it fair to call them the pop foundlings of found sound? Or better, the deadbeat dads of pomo rock’s darkling plain?
These junk-shop mixologists have a few things in common: critical descriptors like “dusty,” “distressed,” maybe even “stone-washed.” The music often emanates from a solitary, male figure (one exception: Calexico’s Sanford and Son bedrock duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino) surrounded by a shifting gang of ace musicians. Horns, the Delta blues, evocative music from travels abroad, and samples from around the street corner follow the contours of what might loosely, goosily be called rock. Accordions hound their sound like junkyard dogs. Hissy, dirt-caked, lo-fi production values hit the spot. And they’re not above reaching for an erhu.
Next to Stefani’s frantic semiotic scramble of crucifixes, Singer sewing machines, and yodels, these savage songsmith salvagers seem positively, perhaps geriatrically, old-school. Flaws glare like the humanism shining through a handmade rug. Their music’s creaky mechanism — even when driven by a beatboxed gasp, as on Waits’s “Lucinda” — is more deeply nostalgic, in love with a tattered industrial, rather than information, age, less preservation-minded than resigned to soldiering forth in a jalopy burdened by the ever-weighted cargo of music history — the male counterparts of Mother Courage in the recent crack Berkeley Rep production of that Bertolt Brecht bleakathon.
It’s a nonformulaic formula of sorts that Waits seems to have dreamed up with Swordfishtrombone (Island), way back in ’83 — and it’s been refined to the degree that even the castoffs of the cantankerous, bluesy Brawlers, the sweeter, soporific Bawlers, and the story-laden, weirded-out Bastards are all of one compulsively listenable piece. Covering Leadbelly and the Ramones twice, utilizing the simpatico musicianship of locals such as Ralph Carney, Carla Kihlstedt, Gino Robair, and the late Matthew Sperry along with tens of others, Waits shows that even his off-the-cuff leavings — à la his reading of Charles Bukowski’s “Nirvana” and the sorrowful instrumental fugue “Redrum” — are better than most belabored new studio releases. Hell, does it make a difference that these 54 songs have been culled from far-flung corners in film, theater, and tribute comps, what with the mishmash of producers on most mainstream pop albums? It all glitters, magpie.
So what about Waits’s other spawn? Linkous shows up on Orphans (“Dog Door”) just as Waits materializes on Linkous’s album (“Morning Hollow”), while Sparklehorse takes the noise down a notch and foregrounds melancholy melodies with production help from Danger Mouse. Calexico also got hit with the pop stick — witness this year’s Garden Ruin (Quarterstick). Borders — between north and south, white and brown, ranchero and rock — are still a major leitmotif for the band, Calexico cofounder and guitarist Joey Burns told me, citing Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and the 1993 documentary Latcho Drom, which makes graceful connections between gypsy musicians across centuries and countries. Yet the streamlined Garden Ruin seems to represent a race from the wrecking yard of music’s past, the inevitable legacy of collaborating with artists ranging from Neko Case and Los Super Seven to Gotan Project and Goldfrapp.
“What stands out the most for most people is there are no instrumentals, so that kind of soundtrack quality is not there, and the focus is on songs,” the talkative Burns told me from Tucson. “But within songs there are a lot of orchestrated passages, and there’s just as much variety there as there’s always been.”
The collaborations — and soundtracks — continue. After our talk, Burns was heading out to listen to Calexico’s mixes of Bob Dylan songs for Todd Haynes’s forthcoming filmic reverie on the singer-songwriter, I’m Not There. Iron and Wine and Roger McGuinn were among the group’s musical partners, with Willie Nelson clocking in as the most memorable. Tracking “Señora” at the red-headed stranger’s golf course–<\d>cum–<\d>studio, Burns said Nelson “barely knew he was supposed to record. Heard about it during a poker game in Dallas, and he stumbled in with friends. It was phenomenal watching his process.”
Perhaps the ragtag process of Waits, Linkous, and Calexico is even getting dusted off, cleaned up, and given a new spin by another generation. One can’t help but hear a little of their aural roamings in the shambling brass-band collectivism of A Hawk and a Hacksaw and Beirut. And apparently, I’m not the only one discerning an umbilical chord: those combos recently toured Europe with Calexico, Burns said. “We all bonded beautifully.”
With Los Lobos
Fri/8–<\d>Sat/9, 9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF



SONIC REDUCER By now the Tofurky has been gummed into submission. The turducken has been turned inside out, its monstrous mutant flesh masticated into extinction. And the stuffing has filled your squirrelly cheeks just in time for winter — you know, the ones that you settle back on as you belch, change the channel, sigh, then weep at the sight of still more food on the fattest of Thursdays.
At this point Thanksgiving is ancient history — memories have been wiped away by post-pig-out screenings of Fast Food Nation and Black Monday’s stampede-inducing specials.
Still, I gave thanks that I spent the evening gobbling dark gobbler meat on autogorge, watching old Robot Chicken episodes, and marveling at the PlayStation 3 consoles going for $10,000 on eBay. “The day it went on sale I clicked through one that was up to $700,” turkey-roasting chum Gary Hull told me. “It turned out to be some guy on his laptop, selling his spot in line in front of a store in Colorado.” Hope that sale had a “happy ending.” (Take another quaff of cranberry-tini each time that phrase recurs on Robot Chicken.)
And when everyone feels obligated to descend into group gluttony, I celebrate humble differences: a preference for sweet potato rather than pumpkin pie, for Gentlemen’s Techno rather than rude boys’ elbows to the knockers. I also get gooey over the Stooges, particularly their second album, Funhouse (Elektra, 1970). Hence, when I got the chance to chat with Steve MacKay, who played bleeding tenor sax on the title track and was in the Stooges for six months back in the day, I got all warm and cinnamon-scented inside.
The Pacifica saxophonist had just returned from working on the new Stooges album in Chicago with engineer Steve Albini and, of course, Iggy Pop, Ron and Scott Asheton, and Mike Watt.
“It’s got a lot of different feels to it,” the genial MacKay said of the disc, due this spring. “Some of it is Pop singing, in the beautiful baritone ballad style as Pop is known to do. Some shrieking Pop and midrange Pop. Really interesting sentiments and politics. Otherwise, I’m sworn to secrecy!” South by Southwest could be next.
“I still got my gig,” he added. The reunited Stooges have played all manner of festivals, though never any in the Bay Area. “Pop is a great guy to work for. He really takes an interest in everyone, especially me, and I’m the sax player. I’m not an essential part of this. We’ve always been good friends, even when he fired me.”
Pop gave MacKay the heave-ho in November 1970, after initially plucking MacKay from the band Carnal Kitchen. But then, the saxophonist understands the ever-shifting status of his instrument in pop. “I guess my mission in life is to go where no sax has ever gone before,” he quipped.
When the 57-year-old first started playing, the tenor sax was all over ’50s radio. Pimply pals began begging him to join their groups as the British Invasion swept in, though MacKay still had to fight for the sax: “One day we were going to rehearsal, and then I heard one of the guys in the band in the basement saying, ‘We don’t want a sax in a band! No one has else has a sax in band — it’s not cool.’ And then another voice said, ‘We can’t kick him out of the band. He’s the only one who can play a lead!’”
Since then, despite rumors of his death (“Is that why the phone isn’t ringing?” MacKay joked), the sax player has found ways to work his influential skree into the mix: he hooked up with the Violent Femmes for The Blind Leading the Naked after their first SF appearance in ’83 at the I-Beam (“They ran through the first sound check song, and I was sold.”) and has performed with Andre Williams, Smegma, Snakefinger, and Clubfoot Orchestra. He moved to San Francisco in ’77 — “Ann Arbor has gone all fern bar on us,” the Grand Rapids, Mich., native says — and began playing with his fellow transplants in Commander Cody, later picking up a trade as an electrician. Now firmly attached to the improv-oriented Radon, which has a new CD, Tunnel Diner, MacKay is looking forward to getting some long-awaited attention from rags like Wire. “I’ve been crawling around in old Victorians for years in San Francisco,” he said. “But I haven’t had to bend any conduit for a while.”
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER Houston singer-songwriter Jana Hunter makes music that taps into a whole other kind of electricity — spooked and resonant, as if she were channeling a damaged, Depression-era dust bowl damsel. After hearing this year’s Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom, one might even consider her the spiritual kin of Devendra Banhart, who decided with Vetiver’s Andy Cabic to put out the record as the first on their Gnomonsong label. Hunter has just finished her new second album for them, but she’s still haunted by the heirs of her debut’s title. “That was a funny but dark description of a group of my friends,” she told me from Houston. “They are people who are prone to disaster and obsessed with horror movies and kind of follow this process of creating things through self-destruction or finding entertainment or fulfillment in the process of destroying things. I was definitely like that at the time.”
She was enlisted to play various maniacs in several of her friends’ homemade homicidal-freak flicks: one of the movies will be included on an enhanced CD with Hunter’s dark-camp rock band, Jracula. “I didn’t know anything about horror movies till they made me watch a bunch of them,” she explained. “We watched them and made horror movies and drank ourselves sick several nights a week for a couple years. It was pretty fantastic.” Killer. SFBG
Wed/29, 9:30 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
Sat/2, 8 p.m.
Space 180
180 Capp, SF

Les, lady, les


SONIC REDUCER Viva les wild children, woodsmen, and Francophones and the ’philes that love them — wherever they may quaff cheap Beaujolais, don camembert-scented berets, and talk terroir ’n’ Bataille. Zut alors! The clichés, the pretensions, the sauces — and the only thing red-blooded freedom fries–gobbling Americans have consistently felt way superior about has been le rock. Thank your “Rockin’ in the Free World” and shake that deep-fried turkey butt on over here.
Nouveau chanson cuties like Benjamin Biolay, sis Coralie Clement, and ex Keren Ann have done their part to make a mark, but apart from late éminence grise Serge Gainsbourg and more recently Air, has French rock ever caught much respect? Can heart-throbber Phoenix get a break — never mind the fact that vocalist Thomas Mars has knocked up Sofia Coppola? Is this even an issue, one wonders, cocking an ennui-stricken ear to the latest from Snoop Dogg, the Game, Yusef (a.k.a. Cat Stevens in so-soft-it’s-nearly-subliminal mode), and Tom Waits?
The recent steady stream of très quirky French and French-language releases makes a case for tripping over Frédéric Chopin’s and Jim Morrison’s headstones at Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery in search of l’espirit de Gallicore, especially when stateside pop generally seems to be suffering from a bad-news hangover — with Britney’s breakup and Whitney’s move out. And they’re unabashedly wild enfants terribles all — in the not-so-mute mode of the 19th-century Wild Boy of Aveyron — beginning with Serge’s spawn Charlotte Gainsbourg, whom most recall entering the musical arena by way of a notorious duet with dad, his 1984 song “Lemon Incest” (the vid had the 12-year-old Charlotte passionately clutching pops’s pants legs). Now after becoming an indie cinema heroine of sorts in Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, she has released a Nigel Godrich–produced debut, 5:55 (WEA International), which finds her warbling wistfully alongside Air (whose Jean-Benoit Dunckel has his own new solo CD under the name Darkel) and Jarvis Cocker. The deliriously weaving strings and haunting melody of her single, “Songs That We Sing,” directly probes the sensuous, nostalgic vibe of her père’s mind-scorching masterpiece Histoire de Melody Nelson (Fontana).
Still, 5:55 is aeons away in its shy, coltish sleekness from other recent oddities — including those of the Lille, France, threesome DAT Politics, who stopped in San Francisco earlier this month with a minialbum of electronic-pastiche pop punnily titled Are Oui Phony?? (Tigerbeat6). The joke plunges into the long-standing US-France tension between rockiste authenticity and cultural colonialism. DAT Politics’ bold, gawky, yet carefree rubbery squeaks, bleats, and breakbeats sidestep and then frenetically bob alongside the entire issue.
Another disarming and ungainly recent disc owns its vulnerability like a bared breast: Le Volume Courbe’s I Killed My Best Friend (Honest Jons) is a gently dissonant, whispery, and eclectic set of songs that seem to circle the emotional nakedness of folk with some of the honest, strange imprint of classic post-punk and experimental electronic musak. Backed by My Bloody Valentine’s Colm O’Ciosoig and Kevin Shields and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and David Roback, London–by–way–of–Pays de la Loire, France, songwriter Charlotte Marionneau blends intimate, homespun-sounding and occasionally instrumental originals with the odd cover, like Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No … I Got Life.” Her album financed by Alan McGee for his Poptones imprint when her first single for the Creation Records pooh-bah’s label sold out its 1,000-copy pressing in a week, Marionneau sounds like a bleary-eyed Feist hooked on Mum and Smog.
And speaking of that Canadian-French darling, it turns out there are other Francophone wonders up north. Montreal’s pop-punk and ye ye combo Les Breastfeeders underwire-support their fine, fine moniker with a forthcoming full-length, Les Matins de Grands Soirs (Blow the Fuse), due in February. And then there’s the city’s Les Georges Leningrad, who come to town this week with their third disc, Sangue Puro (Tomlab). Could these irreducibly primitive beats, burly synth drones, and menacing electronic textures really be the sound, the timbre of … too much timber?
Apparently Les Georges Leningrad have rustic roots that no one suspected, in complete contradiction to their press release, according to guitarist and ML-RCC synth tweaker Mingo L’Indien, speaking from Houston and hung over from partying with Quintron the previous night in New Orleans. “Me and Bobo [Boutin], the drummer — we were working in the woods. A timberjack kind of thing, working in the woods for a paper company, and we just notice this girl named Poney [P, vocalist and synth player] who was a secretary there, so one day we do a staff party for big company.”
“This is a very basic story,” he continues charmingly in wood-chipped English. “There’s not too much to say about it. It’s not like the other bands. We are very simple people, just cutting trees and bringing it to the company, and we start a band, and now we are in Houston tonight, and we still working there sometimes.”
Cutting down trees?
“No, we are just in Montreal working on our art, but we do a lot of art about woods and bats and raccoons and bears and mammals because we were in the woods for so long time that we can’t quit this feeling to be a savage, you know.”
“Eli Eli Lamma Sabbacthani” does ride on a kind of tribal chant, though more of Sangue Puro, such as the dark, threatening “Ennio Morricone,” sounds more like toxic aural terror or the “petrochemical rock” their PR touts. Nonetheless, Mingo insists Les Georges Leningrad are simple if art-damaged folk.
“I don’t know how to describe it — this is too new for us,” he demurs. “It is like we eat a big steak and we need to take a walk a little bit to digest it. If you ask me this question in two years, I will be able to answer you, but for us it is like a dream that is not finished.”<\!s>SFBG
Sat/25, 10 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

Eau joy


SONIC REDUCER Massive wood phalli. Steaming pits of gooey geothermal activity paired with shameful cages of sulky, muttonchopped Japanese monkeys. (No wonder their bottoms are red.) Fingers going pleasantly numb after noshing on fugu innards sashimi. That’s the salty floating world of old-school onsen (hot springs) life in Japan — as experienced by yours truly earlier this month.
The GOP got a well-deserved scrubbing while I was gently simmering in soupy milk-blue water at Myoban Onsen in the hills above Beppu, down south on hard-drinking Kyushu island in Japan. My kindred lady bathers sneak discreet glances at each other’s invariably saggy, soggy, well-brined flesh — appearances by the blinged-out, booted fashion-damaged dolls more common to Gwen Stefani vids and Tokyo and Osaka streets are almost nil at these OG public soakathons, though you do get the occasional yakuza, singing soulfully postbath. “Drunk!” okasan, a.k.a. my mother, hisses with disapproval. Signs of those bad boys’ continuing patronage abound: even our Osaka Hyatt’s fitness center and spa boasts a sign forbidding the excessively drunk or abundantly tattooed. We tell the attendant that we probably won’t be making the cut.
The art of onsen bathing goes a little like this: Scuttle out of the changing room starkers — locker key secured with a rubber bracelet around the wrist. Hustle to a free station — equipped with stool, wash tub, faucet, and handheld showerhead — to soap and rinse off offending personal filth. Then waddle over to the big, boiling communal tub — either mineral salted au naturel, Jacuzzi driven, or hotter than hell, as it was at the Meiji-era Takegawara Onsen in Beppu. Sink down to your neck. Sigh deeply. Sweat. Cook until just past al dente so that your muscles begin to resemble the hot noodles you suck down at the standing-room-only ramen stands on most train station platforms. Chase with a cold Sapporo.
Few Kansai and Kyushu wanderers are searching for pop culture kicks in Beppu — there’s a dank air of slightly seedy sadness lapping round the edges of the onsen town’s arcades of shuttered shops and windowless hostess bars. We suck down eggs, coffee, and custards cooked in or with the mineral water at the unbathable geothermal hot spots, otherwise known as jigokus, or hells. These tourist traps have been given a halfhearted theme-park treatment: bright red demonic statues overlook belching pits of steam, crocodiles pile in too-crowded concrete pens, and a miserable-looking crane parades psychotically in a barely big enough cage. It’s best to head into the bamboo thickets and green wilderness, toward smaller towns like Usuki, a few train stops away. The small town is graced by 10th-century stone Buddha images, delectable bird tempura at Kokoro Club, and Furen Limestone Cave, a less-traveled national monument fanged with gorgeous, eerie massive white stalactites that shame those in The Descent.
The clubs in Fukuoka are said to be just as surreally scary — eating live critters (odorigui, or “dancing-eating”) is apparently quite the height of nightlife derring-do. But instead, I ended up at the promenades of Hiroshima, near the extremely moving Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. Teenagers in spiky mullets, trailing goth getups, and trendy ethno-hippie rags commune for grub like superspicy eggplant, enoki mushroom, and sausage curry. If it gets overwhelming, duck into a virtual escape hatch like Media Center Popeye, where you can rent a cubicle and gorge on games, DVDs, Web surfing, manga, and junk food till the morning. Those nostalgic for Tower Records can stop into one of the chain’s Japanese holdouts — on the top floor of the Parco department store next to an ass-kicking musical instrument emporium. Your one-stop shop for starting your own mind-blowing Japanese band?
I’d find my inspiration in OOIOO, Boredoms drummer Yoshimi P-we’s all-XX-chromosomal foursome. The Osaka-area faux-turned-real group’s latest Thrill Jockey full-length, Taiga, is a stunner, a major flutter forward from last year’s Gold and Green (no surprise, since the latter was actually recorded in, oh my, ’00). Bookended by the primal drum chants of “UMA” and “UMO,” Taiga (Japanese for “big river”) mixes the pervasive percussion of Ai and guests Yo2ro Tatekawa and Thiam Misato — so reminiscent of the taiko beat of Japanese folk festivals — with P-we’s animal yowls and womanly harmonies. Out folkies might take note of the stinging guitar lines of Kayan, the steel-pan dementia of guest Tonchi, and the skillfully applied electronic gloss and mechanistic punctuation — at times miming the blistering peal coming from pachinko parlors, at others rhyming with the drone of train bells. Like a swift current, the mix powers past poppier releases like Feather Float (Birdman, 2001) and creates a specific aural space just as so many J-psych combos do, according to Paul Collett in Japanese Independent Music (Sonore). Theirs is a streaming, sexy binary realm that’s both drastically organic and wholly synthetic. You’re soaking in it. SFBG
An early ’90s hardcore act goes the moody, slow-boil route of Mogwai and Isis, with vague invocations of Jade Tree combos — and screaming vocals in Nipponese.
One of the best band names — no buts about it. Released by Aquarius Records’ Andee Connor, this twofer retrospective clobbers with slabs of metallic Mudhoney-raving-on-rat-poison groovitude.
If you missed the Tokyo group’s Oct. 19 Bottom of the Hill date, you can catch this recording by femme guitarist Pirako Kurenai and masculine ax-swinger Kageo, which had us wracked by Keiji Haino flashbacks.
Tokyo’s heavies bump throbbing uglies with Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, along with the Melvins’ Joe Preston and other guests, and slow things way, way, way down.

Goldies Music winner Deerhoof


It’s hard to picture a band as wild, mild, and Apple O’–pie sweet as Deerhoof causing a ruckus — yet they really have. Just picture the humidly frantic, hopped-up, and happy sold-out scene last year at the release show for Runners Four (5RC) at the Great American Music Hall. Or the national CMJ college radio chart assault by that same brave, increasingly addictive album, notable for the way it brings the voices of Deerhoof’s crack instrumentalists — drummer Greg Saunier, guitarist John Dieterich, and bassist Chris Cohen — to the fore along with vocalist-guitarist Satomi Matsuzaki. Or the thousands at recent Flaming Lips and Radiohead shows bopping in place (or scratching their heads in bewilderment) at the opening group. Or the way the unassuming combo has of increasingly popping up on film (the forthcoming Dedication), on other artists’ albums (backing Danielson on 2006’s Ships), and even at elementary school (inspiring a ballet this year at North Haven Community School in Maine).
Now if only Deerhoof could cause a stir making political music or protest songs. “That’s the one thing I wish we could do that I think is very hard to do,” says Saunier on the phone from the Tenderloin apartment he shares with Matsuzaki before they leave to tour with the Fiery Furnaces. “I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to do it, but I think it’s a very interesting thing that bands or artists can grapple with — is it possible to do music that specifically makes some kind of political statement? That’s sort of an eternal question. It’s hard to find a way to sing an angry song about something bad that doesn’t start to kind of need that something bad to exist.”
Angry music is a challenge for a band that’s as optimistic to its fruity core as Deerhoof. (Or else call them Madhoof?) The group began life in April 1994 as Rob Fisk’s solo bass spin-off project from Nitre Pit, a goth metal quartet that the 7 Year Rabbit Cycle founder shared with Saunier. It has since evolved, eight albums along, from a rudimentary noise improv duo into a cuddly-cute but deeply idiosyncratic and utterly distinctive unit that seems intent on beating out a new rock ’n’ roll language: part singsong child jazz, part cockeyed quirk pop, part J-pop dance moves, and part exhilarating and life-affirming anthems to stinky food, universally appealing pandas, combustible fruit, and toothsome cartoon critters. Deerhoof are making rock ’n’ roll relevant again — and maybe even sexy in a noncliché, edible way — for punk nerds, jazz codgers, and baby-voiced girls who make their own clothes. Though Deerhoof’s is an expansive tent.
“Something that is particularly cool about them is how generous they are with their time and talent and increasing popularity,” Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart said of Deerhoof in 2003. “I have never heard them utter a snooty remark about other bands that are new and not well-known…. If they think that a band that is unknown but has a cool demo can possibly perk the ears of any record people they know, they send it on without asking for favors.”
Matsuzaki joined in 1995, guitarist Dieterich and keyboardist Kelly Goode in 1999, guitarist-bassist Cohen in 2002. Fisk, Goode, and Cohen have since departed, but Deerhoof’s compact herd has occasionally enlarged to include such players as Blevin Blechdom, Steve Gigante (Tiny Bird Mouths), Chris Cooper (Fat Worm Error), Arrington (Old Time Relijun), Joe Preston (the Melvins), and Satomi’s dog in Japan, Brut. The members have busied themselves during their increasingly rare spare time with side endeavors such as Retrievers, Gorge Trio, Natural Dreamers, and Nervous Cop.
Now down to the lean Reveille-era lineup of Saunier, Matsuzaki, and Dieterich, the band sounds as fiery and fulsome as ever, reworking the Runners Four compositions to fit the three like a soccer jersey. And a dozen years on, Saunier is excited about the new paths the group has yet to pound. “I still think that there’s a lot that’s never even been tried in this universe with just guitar, bass, and voice,” he says. “I still feel like almost a total beginner.” (Kimberly Chun)

Goldies Visual Art winner Chris Duncan


Artist Chris Duncan came to Northern California for the Tahoe powder — and to get away from his routine in Delaware and his native New Jersey of catching hardcore shows every weekend and doing absolutely nothing else with his life. Duncan recalls he and a friend “snowboarded for a season, and it was rad and it was horrible at the same time. Every night it was the same party with the same 40 guys and three girls, so I started to stay in and draw.”
Since then, that need to draw a line between the fun but perhaps meaningless life of nightly parties and his own creative urges has led Duncan to San Francisco, where he moved in 1996 and spent the next years working, skateboarding, and attending California College of the Arts, where he began to find direction, to chart his own personal map to the color theory of Mark Rothko and Josef Albers, and to dip into sacred geometry, string theory, Eastern philosophies, and increasingly, simple nonfigurative forms. In his current work temporal strings converge, intersect, and radiate above needle-nose pyramids, shooting off across ceilings and traversing rooms. Flat works are stitched with ragged stars or painted with dark rays that explode above kaleidoscopic ziggurats.
“For me, it’s about dealing with being fully overwhelmed by humans, to be perfectly honest,” confesses Duncan, 32, kicking back in his tidy wood box of an Oakland studio, off the downtown-area railroad tracks. Dressed head to toe in black, tattoos crawling up his neck and down his arms to hands that jerk to punctuate a point, the artist is far from slick, but he exudes an amiable earnestness raving about his young daughter, Aya-mea Mourning. “I’m also completely amazed by people. People are fantastic and can do such great things. Look how far we’ve come — and the mirror image of that is look at what we’ve done.”
What has Duncan done? Perhaps he’s captured the zeitgeist, one that’s both physical and ethereal, give or take a planet. His SF gallerist Gregory Lind says, “Chris Duncan’s laboriously rendered works on paper and his intricate string sculptures seek to combine the spiritual with the scientific, which is compelling to me in this kind of dark period we find ourselves in today.”
Whether the artist’s pieces trace strings of energy or ecstatic explosions in some acid-laced map room, he’s found a way to tap some sort of fuel source for his numerous projects, including his striking grab bag of an art zine, Hot and Cold, in which he and Griffin McPartland showcase artists like Matt O’Brien, Chris Pew, and Jen Smith. They took a page from their own periodical to produce a catalog for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ 2005 exhibit “The Zine UnBound: Kults, Werewolves and Sarcastic Hippies.” Duncan has also curated exhibits as part of Keepsake Society, a site he maintains with ex-girlfriend Aki Raymer, and he is editing an anthology of “my first punk show” stories for AK Press.
“When I got older and found art making, I found a spot to do the things I saw happening as a teenager, with what all my friends were doing,” he says. “I began making zines and started curating, and in terms of how active and how DIY everything was in that [East Coast hardcore] scene, I found a place to put that to use when I got a little older. And this is the perfect city for that — there are so many examples of people doing it. It’s a nice blanket to be under.”
And speaking of blankets: Duncan will be stitching together a cosmic ray–embellished quilt of sorts in memory of his recently deceased 99-year-old great-grandmother for his forthcoming show at Jeff Bailey Gallery in New York City. Much like a handmade, toy- and goodie-bundled, affordable and accessible limited-edition art zine, the project embodies an aesthetic Duncan embraces. “We just totally outdo the last thing we did and totally overwhelm people. Things don’t exist like that anymore,” explains the artist. “Everything’s so not made by hand and so not giving in a way. I think with a little energy you can give a lot, and I think that’s really important.” (Kimberly Chun)

Cheap greats


SONIC REDUCER Starved for ideas? Dirt cheap, down to your last slice of cheese pizza and Harley beer, and still deeply smitten with fuzz-swathed guitars, ruttin’ rhythms, and a complete dearth of chops?
Desperate times call for rotten but still somewhat respectful measures, according to Chris Owen, former Guardian music ad maestro, ex–Killer’s Kiss kingpin, Hook or Crook label head cootie, and everlasting primordial rock fan. When the time came to name Budget Rock Showcase, the garage-punk onslaught of a music fest that Owen birthed five years ago with ex–Guardian columnist and onetime Parkside booker John O’Neill, they turned to the best: ye olde SF garage rock upenders the Mummies.
“We took the name from the back of a Mummies record, a picture of the Mummies that says ‘Budget Rock Showcase’ on their hearse or station wagon. We thought it was the perfect name for a festival of these bands,” recalled Owen from Gris Gris leader Greg Ashley’s digs, where they’re working on a 7-inch of Ashley’s pre-Mirrors high school combo, the Strate Coats. In response, the Mummies have been, um, fairly mum. “They’re pretty nonplussed that we decided to appropriate that. I get the feeling that doing some kind of organized, highfalutin thing is not necessarily what they’re into.”
Well, their tacit agreement was all Owen needed to pick up the fest he abandoned after the first year with a bit of booking help from friends such as O’Neill, ex–Parkside booker John Pool, and Stork Club bar manager-booker Lance Hill. Known for giving Comets on Fire one of their first Bay Area shows and drawing the underage Black Lips from across the country and later lauded for bringing in Beantown’s highly combustible Lyres, Budget Rock leaves Thee Parkside for the first time and celebrates its fifth year at the Stork. “It probably wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t do it this year,” Owen said while scarfing pizza with Ashley (“the food that fuels Budget Rock!”). “No one got off their ass to do it.”
So what is this crazy, impecunious thing called Budget Rock? “All the bands fall under a couple different rubrics,” Owen said. “Real traditional garage bands like Omens and Original Sins. I tend to like noisier In the Red stuff, but Budget Rock is supposed to be about Bay Area bands that are descended from great bands like Supercharger, the Mummies, Rip Offs, and Bobbyteens.” Of snarly note — besides the magnifico, malignant Original Sins (Brother JT’s original garage unit, which hasn’t played the Bay in more than a decade) — are fest first-timer Ray Loney, the Sneaky Pinks, the Mothballs, the Traditional Fools, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and the Okmoniks (one of several acts to have played every fest).
With the mainstream pop scene’s own appropriation of garage rock now petering to a close and disappearing from car commercials and the demise of such fests as Garage Shock, Owen can safely say that Budget Rock is one of the few of its die-hard kind, along with Goner fest in Memphis and Horizontal Action’s Chicago Blackout. Original garage lovers can all breathe a sigh of relief now — and enjoy the grease in peace. “You can spot a band that’s trying to make it a mile away,” Owen said.
“It’s like when you hear the Strokes, and they promote themselves as the Velvet Underground,” Ashley interjected. “They kind of do sound like them but like the worst songs on the last album rather than the best songs off the first album.”
This will likely be the first and last time Budget Rock will pick pockets at the Stork because Hill is moving on after failing to buy the joint — word has it he has looked into the old Golden Bull space too. But then, that’s the way this breed of untamed raw-k shakes down.
JOAN OF OURS A passing that came and went relatively unheralded Oct. 21: Runaways drummer Sandy West died after a lengthy tussle with lung cancer.
Yet it’s not too late to lay down your respect to Joan Jett, who plays San Francisco on Nov. 4 and has said after West’s passing, “I started the Runaways with Sandy West. We shared the dream of girls playing rock ’n’ roll. Sandy was an exuberant and powerful drummer. So underrated, she was the caliber of John Bonham. I am overcome from the loss of my friend. I always told her we changed the world.”
Jett is still out to change the world, it seems, when I spoke to her recently from her tour bus shortly before West’s death. Her new album, Sinner, on her own Blackheart Records, had just come out, and she was psyched about its politically and spiritually oriented material. After chatting about the Warped Tour (“I had my BMX bike and rode around from stage to stage checking out as much music as I could”) and producing the first Germs LP for her friend Darby Crash (“We got serious for about four days and probably as un-fucked-up as we could be and went in there and made a great record”), Jett got in one last push for rocking women like herself and West.
“I think the environment for women is just as bad now [as when I started Blackheart Records],” she said. “In fact, I think it’s even more dangerous because there’s this illusion of equality, when in fact, that’s not the case at all. Girl bands can’t seem to get above that successful club level, then they run into that glass ceiling thing.” SFBG
Sat/4, 9 p.m.
805 Geary, SF
Nov. 10
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
Nov. 10–12
Stork Club
2330 Telegraph, Oakl.

Solomon’s, mine


SONIC REDUCER Boo! And hiss, while you’re at it. Isn’t it scary how the music retail biz has changed? As a onetime music store flunky, I was hard-pressed to decide whether it was a trick or treat when I heard a few weeks back about the liquidation of Tower Records — this after filing for bankruptcy twice in the last two years. After all, I wasted a good, penniless year and a half of the late ’80s behind a register in the “tape” room and then behind a clipboard at one of the Sacto chain’s flagship stores at Columbus and Bay in San Francisco.
Those were the days — the horror, the horror of trying to subsist on megamuffins and minimum wage. The fun of stacking and alphabetizing cassettes under the benevolent leadership of the azure-Mohawked experimental musician Pamela Z. The joy of talking psychedelia and envisioning earth-shattering cultural epiphanies (one fave: imagining Sonic Youth teamed with Public Enemy years before “Kool Thing”) with Winter Flowers’ Christof Certik. The insanity of controlling the red-eyed, camped-out crowd from behind the Bass ticket booth when the final Who tour went on sale — and getting a Tower sweatshirt when my $50,000-in-two-sellout-hours register totaled to the penny.
The shock of realizing, as a budding world music buyer, that my assistant was thieving bags of Van Morrison and Chieftains CDs from my section. The starstruck bedazzlement of glimpsing the musicians and celebs pour through the glass doors on a regular basis (following a testy Todd Rundgren around with a drooling coworker, catching a lady-killing grin from Chris Isaak, and listening to Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys praise the version of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem pouring out of the speakers). The weirdness of instructing shut-in customers on what to do when the cassette ends (you press “rewind” or you find Scotch tape and record over it in disgust). The surprise of ordering vinyl and CD versions of the same release and finding certain humongous labels unwilling or unable to ship records, making available only the higher-priced so-called alternative. The pleasures of the lurching, lumbering 1 a.m. Muni ride home after completing the midnight closing shift, back to my digs in the Lower Haight. The switch-flipping surrealness of realizing I was the only one actually bothering to work during most of my shifts — while everyone else was down the street on three-hour lunches or fielding drinks with label reps.
Sure, the party was great while it lasted, and in pop cultural backwaters like Honolulu, Tower became the only, life-changing game in town — jetting in imports, hard-to-find discs, zines, and books at below list prices — and likewise you could get your hand-stapled xeroxed zine into Towers from Tokyo to Paris. And while the sprawling stores flourished, they drove out of business the local mom-and-pop music stores that didn’t recalibrate and start to sell used music and books, collector’s cards, comics, and games.
So now it’s being boiled down to end racks and wire fixtures — after a 30-hour bankruptcy auction ended in favor of the Great American Group’s $134.3 million bid rather than that of Trans World Entertainment, which said it would have kept most of the stores open. And frankly, I feel only somewhat sentimental — despite the initial quality of in-house magazine Pulse and the quasi-democratic, carry-everything supermarket atmosphere — because Russ Solomon’s retail model was far from carefree. The reason the prices were so low was that the workers there were barely scraping together a living (therefore often resorting to unrepentant graft — one staffer funded his trip to Italy on returned, unmarked promo music). At the time it felt like the glamorous equivalent of a record store sweatshop, with its overeducated, obsessive employees bitterly muttering to themselves about the amount of money that would pass through their hands — and straight into Solomon’s coffers.
Why stay? Pre–Amoeba Music, Tower was the biggest and best music store in San Francisco. And did such rampant thieving make a dent in profits, leading to the chain’s demise? Maybe it only started to show when downloads began their rule and the market shattered into a grillion niches, when even a megalith like Tower didn’t seem able to keep up.
As Tower crumbles, I may not be able to find the music I passionately want or need at 11:55 p.m., but I might shed a tear for my last shred of connection with the store — those times I’d trot up Market, between sets at Cafe du Nord, when most shops are darkened and early birds are tucked in bed, and duck into the Castro Tower to browse the magazine racks, those fluorescent lights beating down and the words dancing beneath my ringed eyes.
NO PAIN, NO DOCTORS If you think this election season is painful, tell it to the Bay Area–by–way–of–Chicago art-rock transplants No Doctors. Their whistle-stop tour of sorts stops this week at Club Six in San Francisco and ends at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland — and takes the formidable loudness of the foursome to some scenic points such as Joshua Tree and Lompoc. A working vacation with a message?
The tour has been dubbed “US out of CA,” guitarist Elvis DeMorrow told me. “I think everyone can get behind secession at this point.” After spending most of the past year working on their new LP, Origins and Tectonics, due spring 2007 on Yik Yak, the band “somehow arrived on an all-California thing, playing all the places no one even tries to play,” he continued.
Luckily for the No Doctors, DeMorrow is keeping his administrative job at the Stanford medical school’s pain research division. “To me, it’s totally relevant to playing music with a band and the effects it might have in your life,” he declares. Playing music as pain control? Don’t tell that to the bright bulbs at the CIA who came up with the Red Hot Chili Peppers as an instrument of torture. SFBG
Tues/31, 8 p.m.
Club Six
60 Sixth St., SF
(415) 863-1221

Joy sticks


SONIC REDUCER Skip the cherries — life at times seems like a big fat bowl of Froot Loops — the type that figure-eight, undulate, and connect in the most unpredictable ways. For instance, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, né Will Oldham, and his ungainly, increasingly ecstatic shadow folk-country — that association’s only right and natural. Oldham and Gen X cinematic hot-spring stoner sagas — it’s altogether plausible. But Oldham and Diddy, the Bad Boy impresario identified in his own PR literature as a “mogul” before proffering the job title “artist” — huh?
What could these two possibly have in common apart from their age, 36? It’s a logical leap if you study Diddy — arriving about two hours late for his recent roundtable interview at the Ritz-Carlton with absolutely zero Burger King Whoppers for yours truly and the other journos who were ready to gnaw their own typing arms off in hunger and antsiness. Instead the mogul packs a makeup artist and hair man (who brandishes a far-from-puffy comb — sorry) and plays us no tracks from his new, still-scarce album, Press Play (Bad Boy/Universal), yet carries it in his bejeweled hand like a salesman. (Perhaps in answer to the inevitable query: with fashion design, artist development, reality TV, label jockeying in his past, and DiddyTV on YouTube currently serving up alleged shots of Sean in the john, why does he even bother making an album? Diddy’s comeback: “It’s a gift and curse, because I do so many things. I’m making sure people know how serious I am about music.”)
Well, Diddy and Oldham name games are the most obvious thread. Like Diddy, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, a.k.a. P. Diddy, a.k.a. Puffy, a.k.a. Sean Combs — Oldham is a man of many hats, personae, songs: a humble troubadour, a rambling tangent-exploring interview, a perpetual touring player, a before-his-time out-folker, a Hollywood-shunning onetime teen star of Matewan. At one point it seemed like he had a recording name for his every sound, if not every album — Bonnie “Prince” Billy was just the latest handle in a line that included Palace Brothers, Palace, Will Oldham, and at least one disc that sported no name at all. It was disorienting, delirious, and hard to track, and at times it just made you want to throw your hamburger mitts up, shave the nearest beard, and beat yourself around the face and neck.
Oldham probably feels much the same after fielding the same question repeatedly, explaining that he once thought of his albums much like films or plays and wanted to label each uniquely. “I thought it would be a way of focusing things on each record,” he says from his native Louisville, Ky. “People would say, ‘I like this record,’ rather than ‘I like the music of …’ I didn’t realize that it was sort of a definitely pointless battle — to see about maybe trying to make people focus on records as independent entities rather than representations of an individual’s or group’s work, and it became sooo energy-expending to always explain this name thing. I was finally just, like, ‘This is just bullshit.’”
And if Diddy and his whirlwind junket offered little apart from the lingering impression that for some reason it was critical for him to leave the scent of power and money (he’s reportedly worth $315 million) on local media — then Oldham is his opposite. On time and generously unearthing the contents of his mind, he’s disarmingly candid and eager to dive into the depths of his past, untangling his feelings and thoughts about acting, recording, and mentoring (he famously championed a solo Joanna Newsom and played her music for their label, Drag City). Yet unlike Diddy, who appears to be jetting around the country in search of the artistic credibility he first found in music as a producer, Oldham has never been more on top of his so-called game.
His new album, The Letting Go (Drag City), is the worthy, relatively full-blown, and outright beauteous studio follow-up to his 2005 stunner Superwolf with Matt Sweeney. This time Dawn McCarthy of the Bay Area’s Faun Fables leaves her imprint — her vocals echoing somewhere in the vicinity of Sandy Denny and Joan Baez. Under the gaze of Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurosson (Björk’s sometime engineer whom Oldham met while touring with the swan queen), The Letting Go is awash with melancholic melodic Southern rock and blues-folk, tunes that revolve around cursed love, child ghosts, and frosty wakes. Captured in Reykjavík and decorated with an image of Makapu’u beach on Oahu, The Letting Go doesn’t sound on the surface like the product of volcanic island ramblings and rumblings — but its lyrics do hint at the tragedy of believing that each man or woman is an island.
That’s why Oldham has gone out of his way to introduce performers like Newsom and McCarthy to his audiences. “Part of it is to reveal how interconnected things could be if you want them to be,” he explains with a soft Southern drawl. “Part of it is also, if the world isn’t going your way and there’s a certain amount always of loneliness to do battle with, sometimes you realize it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be this solitary figure in the world.” The yearning to connect, this time with an old friend, surfaces in Old Joy, a film by Kelly Reichardt (River of Grass), which has caught praise on the festival circuit for its rapturously, deliberately paced meditation on two men’s slow-growth rambles through old-growth Oregon wilderness. Oldham’s first substantial starring role since Matewan (he most recently appeared in Junebug), his character, Kurt, is a slacker gone to seed, soon to be homeless, and still in search of his next high, his next life lesson, his next brush with grace. After helping Reichardt brainstorm hot-spring locales in Kentucky, the man who could have ended up like Macaulay Culkin or so many Coreys — and instead laid down the blueprint for, one imagines, Jenny Lewis — accepted the part. “I knew Kelly was going to be working in a way I like to work, which is just like a full immersion process,” he says, making the connection much as he pulls together Old Joy, his 1997 album, Joya (Drag City), Madonna, Emily Dickinson, and The Letting Go. “Everybody goes there. Everybody’s basically on call…. The line between tasks is a semipermeable membrane. That’s how I like making records too.” SFBG
With Dark Hand and Lamplight and Sir Richard Bishop
Oct. 30–31, 8 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750
For more on Will Oldham and Diddy, go to

Sweet dreams


“It definitely contributes to this kind of cavelike, sort of womblike environment up here.”
Tom Carter is surveying his kingdom, a.k.a. the Oakland apartment he shares with his partner, Natacha Robinson, and we both try to make the connection between Charalambides, his 15-year-old duo with ex Christina Carter, and the hundreds of Playmobil figurines that populate damn near every surface around him. The only Playmobil-free space seems to be Carter’s cranny-cum-closet-cum-studio housing a computer equipped with Pro Tools and sundry plug-ins that simulate analog effects. Otherwise the Lego-like pieces cover his mantles, bookshelves, lintels, and alcoves, reenacting the Crusades, banquets, pirate ship scenes, you name it. In front of Carter on the table is Robinson’s latest tableau in progress: a petite pair of anthropomorphized mice in wedding garb, fashioned from Sculpey, next to a pile of teensy clay food.
It’s a distracting collection, yet the multitudes also seem to mirror Carter’s prodigious creative output: in addition to Charalambides — which most recently released one of the more straight-laced recordings of its lifespan, A Vintage Burden (Kranky), an almost slow-fi folk album that manages to be both haunting and achingly beautiful — Carter is in Badgerlore (the Bay Area supergroup of sorts with Seven Rabbit Cycle’s Rob Fisk, Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny, Yellow Swans’ Pete Swanson, Grouper’s Liz Harris, and Skygreen Leopards’ Glenn Donaldson); Zaika with Marcia Bassett of Double Leopards; Kyrgyz with Loren Chasse and Christine Boepple of the Jewelled Antler Collective and Robert Horton; and various stirring CD-R projects with solely Horton (the latest, Lunar Eclipse [Important], collects 73 minutes of terrifying drone, conjured with the aid of e-bow, boot, vibrator, and field recordings). All of which led Carter, who also records other musicians regularly and continuously toils on live CD-Rs, to quit his job as a manager at Berkeley’s Half Price Books in order to concentrate on performing live with Charalambides, which plays its first show in the Bay Area this week since Carter moved to town in 2004. The duo has also lined up fall dates at Arthur Nights in LA and All Tomorrow’s Parties in the UK.
There’s obviously a lot on Carter’s plate — we’re not even going to start with the dusting. But Carter is no one’s toy, despite his laid-back style and acid-washed drawl and the fact that Charalambides is now catching a second wind of attention from publications like Wire after putting out vinyl-only recordings throughout the last decade on respected underground imprint Siltbreeze.
Carter began Charalambides in 1991 with fellow Houston record store employee Christina after playing in “pretty goofy” bands like Schlong Weasel. (They named the band after a Greek surname noticed on a shopper’s check; “it was supposed to be evocative but doesn’t mean anything,” he explains.)
“I probably would have met her anyway,” Carter says now of their fateful encounter. “I knew all her boyfriends.” Nonetheless the two were wed, becoming creative partners.
Houston at that time was a hotbed of “superweird experimental stuff,” Carter says. “It was sort of grunge-influenced in a way, but it was sort of psychedelic and bizarre. People just making odd decisions based on drug use and volume.”
Third Charalambides members would come and go, like guitarist Jason Bill and pedal steel player Heather Leigh Murray, but the Carters were constants, even after they broke up in 2003. The 2004 album Joy Shapes (Kranky) documents the split. “It was kind of an intense record to make and kind of intense to listen to,” remembers Carter. “Exhausting to listen to and just exhausting all around.”
Developing their songs through improvisation and then overdubbing parts over the sounds, Charalambides dropped in and out of dormancy until 2000, mostly, Carter says, because “we were never really comfortable as a live band.” The group started to make music with an eye to performance. “We always wanted things to be somewhat formless when we approached a song, but at the same time, we wanted to kind of know what we were doing so it would actually exist as a song. What was the minimum thing you could have in a song and it still be a song?” Vintage Burden turned out to be their first “duo record” in ages, a return to the way the pair had once worked, producing sprawling psychedelic numbers, with one notable difference. Christina, who now lives in Northampton, Mass., wrote all the songs before Carter flew to her home to record on her eight-track Tascam digital recorder. Working on music was easy, he says. “Neither one of us is a particularly grudge-bearing person.”
Keep the grudges for movie-house sequels. Currently listening to ’60s West Coast rock groups like the Byrds and the Grateful Dead in addition to peers and pals like the Yellow Swans and Skaters, Carter might be considered the kick-back link between hippie experimentation of the past and the transcendent aggression of the present. “I do consider myself part of the tradition of Texas–West Coast transplants,” he says mildly. Why do so many Texans turn up on these shores? “I dunno. It’s a place to smoke weed in peace. Ha-ha-ha.” SFBG
With Shawn McMillen, Hans Keller,
and Feast
Mon/16, 9 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455
Also Tom Carter–Shawn McMillen duo, Sean Smith, and Christina Carter
Tues/17, 8 p.m.
21 Grand
416 25th St., Oakl.
(510) 44-GRAND