REVIEW Tired of those battered punk-rock veterans of the hardcore years? You know, the geezers rocking in their thrift-store easy chairs, wheezing, “You had to be there — those were the days. I saw Darby when …” before heading to the acupuncturist? Can you help it that you never saw Flag back before My War? That you never tasted the ostracism that the real punks experienced?
No — and those born too late, after the jocks took over the mosh pit, will be thankful that none of the aforementioned ’tude is present in this exhaustive but not exhausting documentary by Paul Rachman and Steven Blush. The filmmakers’ cred is impeccable (Rachman directed music videos for Bad Brains, and Blush wrote Feral House tome American Hardcore: A Tribal History, upon which the film is based), and their resilience (the two toiled in true DIY style for five years on this sprawling document) allows them to rise above Johnny-slams-lately poseur status. And as historians, journalists, and cat wranglers, they deserve the highest praise meted out to those hoping to encapsulate a fired-up, barely containable, and truly grassroots DIY movement: they get the story mostly right.
The filmmakers conducted more than 100 interviews with key players in the US hardcore scene (as well as sundry head-scratchers like, um, visual artist Matthew Barney). My, does it show. Getting essential punkers like Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, Bad Brains’ HR, Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris, Cro-Mags’ Harley Flanagan, and Black Flag’s Henry Rollins to party with the camera and to tell their own stories was the best possible move the filmmakers could have made. Their subjects look back with all the intelligence, humor, honesty, urgency, and perhaps surprising to some, subtlety that made them form their own bands, book their own tours, and put out their own music in the first place.
Within the first half hour, Rachman and Blush do the important work of politically contextualizing the 1980–86 wave of hardcore, connecting the dots between the “mourning in America” election of Ronald Reagan; an era that only appeared to offer the alternate balms of disco decadence and shallow sitcom kicks; and the rise of a disgusted and less-than-heard generation that produced more songs, posters, and agitprop railing against a sitting president than the world has seen … until Dubya. Few other recent music docs have been as refreshingly clear-cut — and cutting — about their politics, a direct reaction to an ’80s marked, as one commentator puts it, by a ’50s-style return of the “white man’s order.” In a sense, American Hardcore will be an education not only for kids bred on MTV-appropriated mall punk but for baby boomers convinced of Generation X’s apathy; a far-from-mellowed Vic Bondi (Articles of Faith) offers, “If you’re looking for radicalism in the 1980s, you should look at hardcore.” The film also gives adequate shrift to the pressures that shaped and perhaps ultimately destroyed the genre — for instance, the TV news–making melees between punks and the Los Angeles Police Department — drawing the line from those clashes and band names like, natch, Millions of Dead Cops (MDC).
Bristling with the energy of its music, fans, and grainy shots of men yelling into mics at rec centers, Kiwanis clubs, and random bunkers-turned-venues throughout the country, American Hardcore abounds with great moments. Rachman and Blush rightfully focus on the nexus between DC and LA — Minor Threat–Bad Brains and Black Flag–Circle Jerks — giving Bad Brains in particular, and notably the few black faces in a wash of pasties, their genuine due and eyeballing that straight-outta-an-unwritten-great-American-novel, Apollonian-Dionysian odd couple, MacKaye and Rollins. Though one wishes the filmmakers had snagged more and better live footage, American Hardcore can still claim such incredible, illustrative instances as that of the graying Rollins complaining today of all the crap he’d catch from audiences as Black Flag’s frontperson (remember the halcyon days when being in a punk band meant getting loogied on?) followed by archival images of Rollins onstage getting repeatedly pummeled by an audience member before the vocalist finally loses it and starts wailing back a hundredfold.
But even as the filmmakers display a real affection for their subject, they resist getting too nostalgic. Rachman and Blush don’t pull punches when it comes to fingering the sexism and violence in the scene — and go as far as to name names. Yet the filmmakers talk to too few women and apart from Bad Brains, too few players or observers of color: perhaps there’s no skewing reality, but for a scene that’s this politicized, it looks pretty pale and male.
Perhaps revealing their native predispositions and personal connections, the pair also give the Boston and NYC scenes far too much emphasis and they pointedly neglect the flyover zones. Where are Minneapolis’s Hüsker Dü and Texas’s Big Boys? And while Rachman and Blush get brownie points for their cultural-anthropological leanings and quirky side stories, they eventually fall down on exploring the music itself, its permutations, and its impact outside the rec rooms: do we get any inkling, for instance, of the fact that hardcore started to seep into the MTV mainstream with bands like Suicidal Tendencies?
When the scene finally peters to a close in ’86, Rachman and Blush chalk it up to fickle fans moving on with the trends — wither hair bands? — and stalwarts like MacKaye wearying of the fisticuffs, but there’s just as valid a case to be made for the music changing and artists evolving, as they so often inconveniently do. Black Flag morphed toward heavier, sludgier metal, Bad Brains embraced tradder Rasta sounds, and MacKaye broke it down, post-punk-style, with Fugazi. But perhaps that’s for the next installment: American Hardcore: the Metal/Grunge Years. SFBG
Opens Fri/13 in Bay Area theaters
New York City band Grizzly Bear’s gently ambient Yellow House (Warp) manages to delicately conjure bittersweet associations of musty, memory-cluttered childhood homes and reference Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist-modernist novel The Yellow Wall-Paper — but the real household dirt on this band has to remain in one’s imagination.
Vocalist-keyboardist-guitarist-autoharpist Edward Droste is up-front about his own sexuality — saying he’s been in a relationship with one man for most of the band’s existence — but when it comes to the love lives of his straight mates, the sometime journalist and Pro Tools bedroom recordist is the soul of discretion. Grizzly Bear’s tales of random hookups are just “too dirty” to pass along, he explains on the phone from the East Coast college campus where the group is playing before joining the TV on the Radio tour in October. “I usually bond with the girls,” says Droste, 27, miming his role as the band’s father confessor. “It’s cool — we’re leaving town. But it’s totally cool.”
And a certain ethereal cool marks the foursome’s gorgeous soundscapes, now lifted above the tape-hiss fray of their fake-fur-embellished 2004 debut, Horn of Plenty (Kanine; later reissued in 2005 with a CD of remixes by Dntel, the Soft Pink Truth, Final Fantasy, and Solex). Yellow House sounds warm and welcoming, thanks to the production prowess of the band’s brass and woodwinds player Chris Taylor and the recording site: Droste’s mother’s Boston-area home, the yellow house of the disc’s title. The seductive tug of nostalgia takes over as Beach Boys–style harmonies skate over fingerpicked acoustic guitar and strings, bird chirps, and wah-wah pedal flit together on “Little Brother.” Horns lumber alongside busy insectlike electronics and Droste’s and guitarist Daniel Rossen’s cooing vocals during “Plans.” By the time the album breaks into “Marla” — a slowed-down, strings-swathed dusky dirge based on a 1930s-era tune penned by Droste’s great-aunt of the same name, a failed singer who eventually drank herself to death — resistance becomes futile. This is seriously lovely music, a reflection of the group’s recent communal music-making — and far removed from groupie dish.
“Initially, we wanted to record an album before we had a label and didn’t have any money,” recalls Droste, who shares the name of the Hooters cofounder, a distant relation. “My mom was going to be away, it was my old childhood home, and I was, like, ‘Well, we can all have our own bedrooms, record in the living room, and there’s a backyard, and every night we’d have chips and salsa and beer.’”
The laid-back atmosphere and ensuing musical productivity led to a bidding frenzy among indie labels when the recordings emerged, and now Droste is relaxing into a tour schedule that brings him back to San Francisco for the first time since February 2005, when Grizzly Bear — jokingly named after a Droste boyfriend who was anything but — played the Eagle Tavern. How did Droste’s hetero bandmates handle the attentions of SF’s finest bears — and those of the bandleader himself?
“They’re total cock teases. They love attention from boys, but they never do anything,” Droste offers laconically. “Never say never, but I kind of feel like if you’re hanging with me in New York City and there are a million fags everywhere and dozens of opportunities … I’m just gonna drop it and accept the fact.” (Kimberly Chun)
Fri/29, 9 p.m.
628 Divisadero, SF
SONIC REDUCER Which John Lennon did you know? Initially, I was too young to know him as anything more than the moptop behind the chipped bobble-headed garage-sale find — and as one of the songwriters behind my parental units’ token soft-rock gatefold, the Beatles’ Love Songs (Capitol, 1977) (the “White Album”’s “acid rock,” as Moms described it, went way beyond the pale). That’s all the Lennon I could grasp until the Rolling Stone cover pic that accompanied news of his 1980 murder — that coverlineless image picturing a nude Lennon fetally curled around a clothed Yoko Ono. If you dug the raw romanticism of that Annie Leibovitz image and Lennon’s 10-point program to success, excess, then bread-baking, Sean-rearing semiretired rock-star redemption, then you were with us. If you didn’t and you were disgusted, you weren’t — go hang with the Yoko-booing minions at, say, the recent Elvis Costello–Alan Toussaint Paramount show. It was that simple when you were an already media-saturated brat ready to draw battle lines and take pop music dead seriously.
Nowadays, the very undead but still much-pondered Bob Dylan may inspire a higher page count than Lennon when it comes to critical essays, encyclopedias, and that ilk. But I’d venture that Lennon’s influence continues to echo subtly through the culture, starting with the recommended banishing of “Imagine” from Clear Channel airwaves shortly after 9/11 and continuing through to some recent docs, DVDs, and dispatches from his estate.
Ignore the critically mauled 2005 musical Lennon and don’t wait for a Martin Scorsese PBS-approved documentary treatment — though, oh, to glimpse Abel Ferrera’s charred take on Lennon’s Bad Lieutenant–style “lost weekend” with Harry Nilsson. For somewhat unvarnished, intimate footage of Lennon with Ono in their Ascot, England, estate studio and shooting hoops with Miles Davis, check Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s “Imagine” (2000) — the material of Lennon warbling “Jealous Guy” and trianguutf8g in the studio with a very active Ono and a stoic Phil Spector is eye-cleansing.
After sampling Lennon and Ono’s frank BBC interview there, you’ll want even more truth — so turn to last year’s The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko Collection DVD, which collects three 1971–72 episodes featuring the gabby couple. It encompasses some of Lennon’s most in-depth US TV interviews, as the relaxed, wise-cracking musician sparred and jabbed with the clearly nervous and very deeply tanned Cavett in between sizable excerpts of Ono’s great Fly and Lennon’s Erection, a cinematic “construct” if there ever was one. Even more astounding than Cavett’s half-baked monologues are the lengthy stretches of airtime devoted to Lennon and Ono explaining their 1972 deportation case — one suspects even Jon Stewart would yelp, “TMI!” — and the pair’s impassioned, controversial performance of “Woman Is the Nigger of the World” (worth it alone to Bay Area–philes when Lennon pulls out a Ron Dellums quote to back up the lyrics) and Ono’s still-nervy, saxed-up “We’re All Water.” The versions of Lennon visible here are familiar and complementary — John as the willful dreamer and the provocative righter of wrongs, be it the plight of American Indians or the lack of consideration given Ono’s art. And one wonders, will network TV ever be quite this maddening — and challenging — again?
Scenes from both The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko Collection and Gimme Some Truth surface in The US vs. John Lennon, a new feature film revealing the latest Lennon iteration: the musician as a political animal hounded by the Nixon administration and threatened with deportation. Lennon considered a peace-promoting concert tour following Nixon’s reelection jaunt around the country — and posed a serious enough threat to Tricky Dicky, in the very year millions of 18-year-old Beatles fans were given the vote for the first time, that the US government moved to stop him. Focusing on Lennon’s significance as an activist who devoted his personal life (transforming the Lennon-Ono honeymoon into the peacenik, media-lovin’ bed-in) and considerable platform to antiwar efforts, filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld (Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of “Smile”) worked with documents released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act suit (aided and abetted by Jon Weiner, who consulted and wrote Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files) to make their film. Supported by commentators ranging from Ono and Noam Chomsky to Angela Davis and G. Gordon Liddy, the two have fashioned a sleek, informative primer on the importance of being Lennon and the historical context he emerged from. The only images they wish they had included but didn’t, Leaf told me, were World War II pictures of a bomb-besieged Liverpool and war-torn Japan.
“What’s important to note is that being for peace meant more than being nonviolent for John and Yoko,” he explained from an office in Century City. “This was in their bones, if you will. John saw firsthand what war caused.”
Leaf and his partner have had the film in mind since the mid-’90s, when Lennon’s FBI file was opened. After the disappointments of 2004, it’s intoxicating to imagine an artist and his listeners changing history, and at the very least The US vs. John Lennon allows one to dream, even briefly. Why was Lennon such a menace? “I think what terrifies power the most is truth,” Leaf says. “When truth is spoken without fear of consequence, it is threatening, and when John and Yoko embarked on their campaign for peace, they weren’t promoting themselves or a record but peace or nonviolence.” SFBG
THE US VS. JOHN LENNON
Opens Fri/29 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com
Jet Li may be fearless, as the title of his new Ronny Yu martial arts epic goes. The five-time all-around national Wushu champion of China may be a formidable opponent on a movie set — and a devout Buddhist much like his Fearless protagonist, legendary Wushu fighter Huo Yuanjia. But that doesn’t mean the 43-year-old actor rests on his laurels — or his international success in more than 30 Hong Kong, Chinese, and Hollywood movies, including the Shaolin Temple, Once upon a Time in China, and Fong Sai Yuk series, Bodyguard from Beijing, Fist of Legend, and Hero.
“Some people like my movies, some people hate my movies, some people hate Jet Li — it’s normal,” the hyperanimated star says. “Not foreigners, but Chinese. I made some movies like Romeo Must Die that a lot of people like in the States, but Asian people hate. I think there’s a cultural difference — it’s their own hero, so they ask, ‘Why are you doing this for the market?’ Even with this movie, I tried to tell younger Chinese generations, have an open heart.”
Already a hit in his homeland, Fearless is described as Li’s “final martial arts masterpiece.” With nods to classic “kung fu theater,” the film follows the dramatic trajectory of turn-of-the-century hero Huo, who journeys from arrogant tough to the enlightened founder of the now-international Jingwu Sports Federation.
Like many of Li’s Chinese films, Fearless takes a heroic high road, making a political statement by reflecting the current changes in a China confronted once again by overseas powers, now in the form of multinational corporations. “Teenagers see Jet Li or Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan and say, ‘Cool! Kick butt! Beat up somebody!’ That’s the wrong message. That’s a part of martial arts, but first, most important, is the heart, the mental, how to use this to help people,” he explains on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. “Violence is not the only solution.” (Kimberly Chun)
FEARLESS opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters
SONIC REDUCER Why do we want DJ Shadow, né Josh Davis, to suffer for his art? Why are we so enamored of the romantic image of Davis, pate and gaze humbly hidden by a hoodie, bowed like a monk before a crate of precious vinyl like a mendicant curled in prayer at the dusty cathedral of flat black plastic? It doesn’t help that Davis seems to resemble in part that now-iconic pop image when he meets me at Universal Records’ SoMa offices. Polite and erudite, rigorous and righteous, he obviously takes a subtle, scientific delight in the details and precision of language and in meeting commitments, making dates, finishing interviews, taking care of business. He’s not some goofed playa tripping on hyphy’s train.
But being a smart dude aware of all the angles, Davis, 34, is well aware of the disjunction between his image and his current sound — his past and present — too. “I feel like it was getting to the point where a lot of people were trying to tell me who I am and what I represent,” he explains in the, yes, shadows of a Bat Cave–ish conference room hung with midcentury horror-cheese movie posters. “This image where it’s just sort of like me in the dungeon of records, with the hood pulled over my head, and I only like old music, and y’know, hip-hop was so much better way back when.
“Yeah, that’s a little piece of who I am, but it seems like some people kind of fetishize that culture or that aspect of my personality, where it has sort of devoured everything else. And, um, I just feel like it was important for me to make this record and articulate who I am, rather than let people compartmentalize me in that little box of, ‘OK, this is DJ Shadow. He’s the sample guy. He’s the guy who made Endtroducing, and he’ll never make a better record, and that’s … DJ Shadow. Next artist.’”
Hence The Outsider (Island). It’s a bold, deep rejoinder to scoffers that somewhat ditches the dreamy grooves in Shadow’s past for ever-infectious hyphy-lickin’ good times (radio hit “3 Freaks” with Turf Talk and Keak da Sneak and “Turf Dancin’” with the Federation and Animaniaks), a little bow to crunk (“Seein’ Things” with David Banner, made in the interim between Davis’s 2002 album, Private Press [MCA], and the rise of Bay sounds), funk and funny jams (“Backstage Girl” with Phonte Coleman), and even a completely outta-left-field dissonant pastoral (“What Have I Done” with Christina Carter of Charlambrides). Even E-40 takes part (“Dats My Part”), in what might seem to some like Davis’s bow to the Bay and its players. However you read the title of his latest album, this outsider has probably made his most geographically specific, here-and-now recording to date. It’s rooted in a genuine — though scattershot and even schizo — sense of place rather than an imaginative pomo zone where old 45s can be recycled and reused ad infinitum and a talented and introverted head like Shadow can study beats, the art of sampling, and music making inside out in bedroom-community privacy. Perhaps that’s why the San Jose–born, Davis-raised Davis has been so often connected, mistakenly, to Hayward — therein lies the romance of burby anonymity, the decentered, very nonurban reality of so many hoodie-bedecked kids who fall for hip-hop and spring for decks.
So Davis leans forward intently and tells me about listening to hyphy for the first time on KMEL while driving over the Golden Gate to his Mission studio and getting an instant hit off its raw kick. How he tried to break down the “strange, almost Eastern chords and keys” underlying Rick Rock’s, Droop-E’s, Trax-a-Million’s, and Mac Dre’s tracks. These are tales he has told many times before, to Billboard and URB (which lapsed by sticking the currently capped, clean-cut Davis in a white suit, like a datedly slick star DJ). But you have to appreciate the sincere passion of his mission. The need for this father of identical twin toddler daughters to fly right, get the record straight, come correct, and make good art, even if it means happily stepping aside, letting the current Bay stars set up on two-thirds of his sonic dreamscape’s turf, and disappearing into the heat of, say, Summer Jam 2005.
“I just feel like my job is to make a good song,” he says mildly. “And if making a good song means that I play the back and not get real freaky with the programming and not load it up with 10 trillion samples or something, whatever the song requires is what I’m willing to do.”SFBG
Thurs/21, 4 p.m.
2455 Telegraph, Berk.
Thurs/21, 8 p.m.
1855 Haight, SF
WITH MASSIVE ATTACK
Fri/22, 8 p.m.
UC Berkeley, Gayley Road, Berk.
Sneak a peak at the California Cereals factory — a gray, boxy concrete sprawl looming over an otherwise peaceful West Oakland neighborhood lined with wood frame houses and a sugary spray of Victorians — and you immediately expect that mulchy aroma of processed wheat products to assault the senses. So why do you detect … barbecuing oysters? But that’s the overriding scent du jour — and the improvisatory, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-fun nature of the Cereal Factory, one of many unpermitted party outposts where the city’s rock, improv, noise, and punk scenes have survived and even thrived in the Bay Area despite fin de siècle real estate insanity, party-killing neighbors, and ticket-threatening cops.
Scruffy, T-shirted kids lounge on the front steps of Jason Smith’s two-story home, dubbed the Cereal Factory for the genuine, sugar-coated article churning out Fruity Pebbles and generic raisin bran across the street. Down a side path, in the small backyard, music scenesters, fans, punks, indie rockers, and cool dudes mingle on the grass and down the canned beer and grillables they’ve brought as CF housemate Daniel Martins of Battleship throws more oysters on the barbie. Double back, and in the basement you find a dark, humid, tiki-embellished crash pad, not uncomfortably crammed with bodies shaking to Italian punk-noise band Dada Swing. Or you catch Bananas, Mika Miko, or Chow Nasty killing the rest of the early evening for gas money.
“My whole thing is to make it free, make it so that people can go to it,” the extremely good-natured Smith says much later. “If there’s a touring band, I always run around with a hat and kind of strong-arm people into coughing up some change or a couple bucks to give them some gas, but otherwise the bands all play here for free. I just provide the coals, and I buy two cases of beer for the bands.” As for the oysters, he adds, “shit like that happens! People are just, like, ‘I caught this huge fish — let’s smoke it.’”
Smith is one of the proud, brave, and reckless few who have turned their homes into unofficial party headquarters, underground live music venues. San Francisco and Oakland are riddled with such weekly, biweekly, and even more sporadic venues — some named and some known by nothing more than an address. But oh, what names: Pubis Noir, 5lowershop, an Undisclosed Location, Club Hot, Noodle Factory, Ptomaine Temple, and the Hazmat House. Some, like the Cereal Factory, are only active during the summer barbecue season; others, like LoBot Gallery, host shows and art exhibits year-round. Why go through the headache of opening your home up to a bunch of hard-partying strangers, music lovers, and the occasional psycho who trashes your bathroom? Some, such as Oakland’s French Fry Factory, have bitten the dust after being busted for allegedly selling beer at shows. Others, such as 40th Street Warehouse and Grandma’s House, have bowed to pressures external (neighbors, landlords) and internal (warehousemates), respectively. Why do we care?
CULTIVATING NEW AND UNDERSERVED SCENES
The Clit Stop can take credit for being one of the first venues in San Francisco to dream up the now-familiar cocktail of noise, indie rock, jazz, and improv. Ex-Crack: We Are Rock and Big Techno Werewolves mastermind Eric Bauer and Bran Pos brain Jake Rodriguez began booking shows in 1998 in Bauer’s 58 Tehama space, once dubbed Gallery Oh Boy. Shows began on time at 8 or 9 p.m. so that East Bay listeners could BART back before midnight, and as a result Bauer and Rodriguez would often open, under assorted monikers. A May 2000 lineup at the Clit Stop (named after Bauer’s band Planet Size: Clit by Caroliner’s Grux) combined scree-kabukists Rubber O Cement with improv rockers Gang Wizard, indies Minmae, and Bauer’s dada-noise Aerobics King; another bill matched the angsty indie-electronica of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone with the noise-guitar-funk of Open City and the jazz sax of Tony Bevan. The common thread? The fact that Bauer and Rodriguez both liked them. “It was kind of hard sometimes,” Bauer says today. “We got requests from tons of shitty bands, and it was, like, ‘No, no, we don’t like you guys.’”
A year after Clit Stop began, Kimo’s started showcasing the same combination of rock and noise characterized by such varied Clit Stop players as Cock ESP, No Neck Blues Band, and Nautical Almanac — a mix that has filtered to the Hemlock Tavern and 21 Grand and into the sounds emerging from Bay Area bands like Deerhoof, Total Shutdown, and the pre–Yellow Swans group Boxleitner, all of whom played the Clit. “The weirder and more fucked up, the better,” Bauer continues. “We wanted to push boundaries — we wanted to annoy people.” Bauer moved out in 2000, leaving Rodriguez to continue to book shows at the venue under, Bauer says, the name Hot Rodney’s Bar and Grill. Bauer went on to put on the first noise-pancake shows with ex–Church Police member and Bauer’s Godwaffle Noise Pancakes co-overlord Bruce Gauld at Pubis Noir, a former sweatshop at 16th Street and Mission. Gauld is expected to put out a DVD of Clit Stop performances this year.
GIVING UNDER-21 KIDS ACCESS TO CHEAP ART
“The cheapness factor is a huge part,” says Cansafis Foote, sax player for the No Doctors. “In Oakland right now, you have a lot of kids who are trying to make a go at being an artist or being a musician or whatever, and almost all of them are broke. But they’re all really excited about people making stuff, so they’ll go to Art Murmurs on the first Friday of the month or they’ll go to warehouse shows, and maybe at the end of the day they won’t have any money in their pocket — and we’re still going to let ’em in to see the show. That, or they’re underage.”
An improv seminar leader at Northwestern University and onetime music teacher in Chicago, Foote was accustomed to instigating music- and merrymaking when he took the lease in February 2005 at Grandma’s House in Oakland. “Everything was kind of funneling out of that experience and just having the background with Freedom From [the label the No Doctors ran with Matthew St. Germain] and free exploratory music.” Grandma’s House had already been putting on shows in the massive warehouse it shared with Limnal Gallery (and at one time the Spazz collective), and Foote threw his energy into doing two to three shows a month — including performances by Sightings, Burmese, Hustler White, Saccharine Trust, and Warhammer 48K — until March, when, he says, an especially loud show by USA Is a Monster brought the police on a noise complaint. Foote, a.k.a. Grandpa, was already bummed because housemates who had initially said they’d help with shows “totally weren’t coming through on that. So I was sitting in my car and watching the gate while everyone was watching the show and I was, like, ‘What’s the point of doing this? I don’t even get to see the show.’ So I took a ladder and put it outside the window. I thought it was fun too, because it was like a clubhouse and people could come up the ladder and through the window into Grandma’s House, and then the cops came, and one told me they’d unlock the seventh door to hell if I did it again.
“I was actually kind of excited — should I allow him to unlock the seventh door to hell for me? Is there going to be a special fire-breathing dragon there for me? It was amazing. It’s, like, ‘Dude, there’s some 16-year-old kid who’s going to shoot some other 16-year-old kid down the street — go deal with him.’”
The next show was the deal breaker: police returned twice to open that door as a brouhaha broke out at a Grey Daturas show between audience members and various warehousemates. Warehouse denizens put pressure on Foote to halt the shows, and now he’s moving out: “It was the only reason I was living there. It’s not real glamorous to be living in a warehouse with little mice and weird bugs in the summer.”
BRINGING ART, THEATER, MUSIC — AND STRAIGHT-EDGED VEGETARIANS TOGETHER
House-party spaces have come and gone, but one of the saddest passings had to be 40th Street Warehouse in Oakland, which put on rock, folk, and hip-hop shows, queer cabaret, and art events from 1996 until the collective shuttered last winter with a last loud musical blowout (This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb headlined) and a commemorative zine. From Monument to Masses guitarist Matthew Solberg lived there for three years and recalls that the onetime auto mechanic shop’s shows were initially started by members of the experimental Noisegate.
By 2003, Solberg says the Temescal space was putting on shows, plays, or benefits every weekend, with an emphasis on rock and metal: Parts and Labor, Tyondai Braxton, High on Fire, Ludicra, Merzbow, Masonna, Melt Banana, a Minor Forest, Lesser, Curtains, Neon Hunk, Hair Police, Deep Dickollective, Thrones, X27, Soophie Nun Squad, Toychestra, 25 Suaves, Monitor Bats, the Intima, Lowdown, the Coachwhips, Hammers of Misfortune, the Vanishing, Mirah, Gravy Train!!!!, Eskapo, and Microphones (last on the Microphones bill, beneath Loch Nest Dumpster, is Devendra Banhart, described as “acoustic ardor from San Francisco’s shyist [sic]”), with bands like Numbers getting a running start with multiple performances there.
The schedule, however, took its toll. “People would move into the warehouse and be really stoked to have that autonomous space, but they didn’t really know what they were getting into. They usually lasted six months, and then they’d be, like, ‘I can’t stand this anymore!’” Solberg says. “But certain people adapted because they were passionate about being able to create that sort of space and making it work: a DIY show space where 100 percent of proceeds went to the bands — and obviously, we’d cover some expenses, like electrical and providing food for the bands. But apart from that, the house didn’t take any money. It was all done out of, I dunno, community service.”
The collective itself got a reputation as a straight-edged vegan cabal that forbade hard drugs and meat in the fridge that sat on the outskirts of the barnlike communal show space. “We didn’t want to succumb to the crash pad–flophouse thing,” Solberg explains. “We just wanted to preserve sanity.”
All that came to an end when in 2004 the Oakland City Council passed the Nuisance Eviction Ordinance, which took aim at crack houses but covered “noise” as a reason for eviction. “The people at 40th Street all believed that was the reason we got so much police attention the last year we were there,” Solberg says. After joining his fellow tenants in a winning fight against their landlord, who had given them a month’s eviction notice in order to convert the space to condos, Solberg moved to Ptomaine Temple, which continues to stage experimental noise shows.
BACK AT THE FACTORY
And despite the rewards, good times, and appreciative bands that get play and earn gas money to their next show, shutdowns are still a threat, casting a shadow even over spots like the Smith-owned Cereal Factory. After a neighbor began objecting last year to the soused kids milling in the street and lined up out the Factory’s front door to go to the bathroom, the Mothballs drummer slowed the shows, built a discreet bathroom in the basement, and then carefully began the music once more. Why bother? The chuckle-prone Smith, who works in the live-music department at KALX, bought the house with the intention of having shows. “At the risk of sounding like a stupid hippie, I think it’s important to contribute things,” he says before the last show of summer 2006 on Sept. 16, with Them There Skies, Sandycoates, and Dreamdate.
This last show likely went off smoothly: the model property owner checked in with his neighbors that evening during his walk home. “I said, ‘Donny, we’re having a barbecue show this Saturday.’ And he said, ‘OK, OK, baby, you’re cool. You’re cool.’ I’m hoping to have everything done by 9 o’clock, and that’s pretty tame on a Saturday night,” Smith explains. It’s guaranteed there won’t be any problem on at least one side of his summer house party — “there’s this Argentinean woman named Pepper and she’s fucking awesome. She’ll be, ‘Aw, yeah, it better be fucking loud because that’s how I know you’re having a good time. You gotta live life!’ SFBG
Looking for hints of San Francisco’s renowned underground nightlife? It pays to keep your eyes and nose to the ground — and to be textable. That’s one of the few subtle signs that the hottest underground party in town is happening right here on an early Sunday summer morning: reedy, peg-legged hipsters standing out by the curb on this barren, bulldozed Hunters Point artery, busily texting and talking up fidgety, insomniac friends about their next landing strip. Beats bang gently in the background as fashion-damaged kids dangle from the railings along the short flight of steps to the door, smoking and guzzling from sacks like it’s recess at their own semiprivate too-cool school.
Upstairs in a long, tall space lined with huge rectangular windows, the Sixteens are getting ready for a set. And everyone else — and that’s every-fucking-body — is madly dancing on the other side to stabbing electrotech beats that come off so metallic and grimy that you could slice yourself open and get a nasty infection on ’em. Is that arch-retro-candy raver actually swinging a stretchy glow stick with one hand while trying to hold on to a mixed drink in the other? Swirling moiré patterns, projections of flames, and found industrial footage lick the walls of the room and the faces of the dancers. A burnt-orange slice of summer moon is slung low in the sky as if already hungover from the shit-hot party raging below.
Closing time — you may not know whom you want to take home, but do you know where your next party is? Above-grounders might say “you don’t need to go home, but you can’t stay here,” but you needn’t turn into a pumpkin and pass out in your car just yet. Bay Area underground parties like this one — and of every imaginable stripe and musical genre — are where sleepless scenesters flock.
So why is the underground scene continuing to blossom like a hundred Lotus Girls on a dust-caked playa in a city chock-full of wholly legit clubs? This summer, as a series of humongoid dance clubs including Temple Bar SF, prepped to throw open their doors, one had to wonder: why bother going off the grid?
Perhaps that’s where you can find the sounds you crave, a frustrating chore when clubs book conservatively — and an experience that may end all too soon with the city’s 2 a.m. last call. DJs such as Jamin Creed of BIG are seeing their grime and dubstep parties, for instance, starting to blow up now both over- and underground after gestating in after-hours soirees. “It’s a music-orienting thing, to be honest,” says underground breaks party thrower DJ Ripple, né Lorin Stoll. Citing undergrounds in Big Sur as well as the Harmony fest in Santa Rosa, the ex-Deadhead sees continuity between the city’s Left Coast vibe and “the merging of the counterculture of the ’60s with the rave culture of the ’90s, merging with the experience and professionalism of Burning Man culture in the 2000s. It’s created this nice renaissance in underground music.”
Dub it an unintended fringe benefit stemming from the failure to change the city’s last call two years ago, an effort led by Terrance Alan, chairman of the Late Night Coalition and legislative chair of San Francisco’s Entertainment Commission. That move failed — after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution urging the state legislature to make the change — when the proposed legislation got stuck in committee at the State Assembly. Despite the support of the city’s Entertainment Commission, Board of Supervisors, and Mayor Gavin Newsom, the bill was opposed by antialcohol groups and organizations such as the Oakland Police Department, whose officers testified that a later last call in San Francisco would create traffic accidents in Oakland. “Those observations were never supported in the data on changes in last call,” Alan says today.
The reality is that partly as a result of those quashed endeavors, the Bay Area underground party scene continues to flourish, via Tribe.net, lists, and those omnipresent flyers. Tomas Palermo — a DJ, Guardian contributor, and former XLR8R editor — thinks the underground warehouse and techno event circuit has been bubbling along nicely since 1988, with surges in house in the early ’90s and explosions in drum ’n’ bass during the dot-com years. And even a seasoned listener like him isn’t immune to the simple pleasures of an outdoor beatdown: “In the last two weeks I went to a free [breakbeat] sound system gathering in a tiny grassy nook of Golden Gate Park and a Sunset Party in McLaren Park,” he e-mails.
The latter gatherings, put on by Pacific Sound System, just may embody the resilient, oh-naturel vibe of the undergrounds in this area. DJ Galen began the daytime Sunset Parties on summer Sundays about a dozen years ago at Golden Gate Park. Old-school — yep. Family oriented — believe it. Ideal if you’re still tweaked the morning after — maybe. An outdoor dance floor of up to 3,000 — yikes. “I just feel events are very much the reflection of the people who put them on, and you can kind of tell when people are doing it for money or just the pure feeling of bringing people together through music and the outdoors,” says Galen, who co-owns Tweekin Records. When he started the parties, he was a shell of a raver, burned out from lifelong training as a swimmer for the 1996 Olympics. “I hadn’t felt like I lived life and came home and some friends took me to a party and just opened my eyes,” he recalls, citing the Wicked Crew’s Full Moon Raves as inspirational. “Looked at all these people having fun and a sense of community — I just got so excited that this whole other world existed and got immersed in it.”
He maxed out his credit card, bought a sound system, and began playing house music in the park as the audience grew. His three-person collective has since produced successful overground boat parties, but they’ve maintained that earthbound sense of perspective. “I think that’s one major reason why things have gone well — we’re not out of it for ego,” he says. “We are very respectful of everyone, and in turn people are respectful of us. When we leave these parks, they’re spotless, and a lot of people have told us, ‘Wow, that was a really crazy party, but everyone’s so mellow and nice!’ SFBG
SONIC REDUCER You scream, I scream, we all scream for … the black concert T. It’s the music-merch phenom that will always annoyingly outsell all other comers, as Brad Hudson of JSR Merchandising explained at SXSW earlier this year. Keep your bandeezys and doggie baseball jerseys — the black T-shirt is the Coke Classic of live-show sales, the fail-safe upon which Stones tours are built. Why? Well, as one multitentacled insider recently announced to me, you can’t download a T-shirt!
But what to wear after that? It wasn’t hard to figure that out during my struggles through the two recent diva releases, Beyoncé’s strident, backward-glancing sophomore full-length, B’Day (Sony BMG), and Paris Hilton’s microdermabrasioned lite-pop debut, Paris (Warner Bros.). Both CDs find the ladies busily hawking duds and assorted nonmusical product. Why even bother critiquing what lay embedded in the shiny plastic discs behind Beyoncé’s eerily blank Madame Tussaud’s wax cover image or Hilton’s sleek rich-bitch-slash-sexpot pose? Why celebrate Hilton’s easy, sleazy, ultimately unfulfilling musical grabs at the Grease soundtrack and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” or bash Beyoncé’s dog-note shrieks (she’s playing Diana Ross in Dream Girls, so why compete on record?) and frantic but intriguing ladies-first messages? These CDs are so clearly vehicles from which to launch clothing lines (in Beyoncé’s case, her mother’s Dereon by House of Dereon label, baldly peddled in the inside booklet) and perfume (Paris’s Heiress, as well as handbags and watches).
Too bad then that Beyoncé has simultaneously hit a fashion low point, modeling a hideous mod houndstooth swimsuit and bastardized Bardot milkmaid frills on her CD — B has been damaged by one too many Guess Jeans and Baby Phat advertising campaigns, I presume. All of which could have been forgiven if Beyoncé had coughed up a track on par with “Crazy in Love” — but no such luck. The emergency-siren sample of “Ring the Alarm,” echoed on Paris’s opening, “Turn It Up,” can’t save that siren’s single; I prefer the unexpected guilty pleasure kick-him-to-the-curb power ballad “Irreplaceable.” How telling that as the B girl declares war on good taste on B’Day, the worst faux-fierce track is titled “Freakum Dress.”
Amid all this accessorized insanity, we should thank our musical deities that when it comes to local clothes hos, we have been gifted with the gifted Music Lovers. The band’s singer-songwriter, Matthew “Ted” Edwards, has been much in demand of late. When he and drummer Ping Chu sat in last month at the Sonic Reducer DJ night at Hemlock Tavern, the Birmingham, England, native was psyched about the group’s rave reviews in Europe and was occupied writing the music for superfan Margaret Cho’s latest burlesque project, “Sensuous Woman Cabaret,” and rehearsing with Cho at the Plush Room. But who wants to get into details about the new Music Lovers’ Guide for Young People (le Grand Magistery) — and its songs of kebabs and lager (“Brother, I Am Walking”) and a certain Anglo avant-garde Marxist composer (“Thank You, Cornelius Cardew”)? Edwards would much rather discuss the Music Lovers’ love of shopping.
“We adhere to a pretty strict dress code, which is enforced by all of us,” he told me recently over the phone, “because it’s respectful to the audience. I want to say I made an effort and do the best I can. I’m not interested in seeing another group of lads in T-shirts.”
So the besuited Music Lovers are actually a little like — the Ramones?
“Except we’re tidier,” he replied. “I make no apologies for that. I’ll spend my last 60 bucks on a decent shirt.
“We’re a band apart.”
You have to admire such a hard stand on the seemingly superficial topic of style, but then Edwards does fall in line with a mod way of thought: dress sharp, seize that dream, and maintain a sense of dignity even if you have to spend every bit of your bellhop wages to do it. Likewise, the rangy, suave pop Guide, which boasts harder-rock moments than the Lovers’ debut, The Words We Say before We Sleep, maintains a subtle, knifelike edge and wit that a cultural connoisseur like SF-reared comedian Margaret Cho can appreciate. “I think that the Music Lovers are the greatest, and I love working with them because they have such a sophisticated sound, completely new yet strangely familiar,” she e-mailed me. “Listening to them feels like I’m stepping into a film like Purple Noon or Belle du Jour, and I have really long earrings on that almost touch my shoulders.”
It takes an effort to maintain that romantic mood: Edwards, 38, never quite recovered from his “horrific experience signed to Virgin as a fresh-faced 20-year-old” fronting an R&B and pop band. “We recorded an album with a guy named Pete Walsh who recorded Climate of the Hunter with Scott Walker, and we made this incredible album. And Virgin put it on the shelf. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, but I’ll never be on another major label.”
Since then, Edwards, now an occupational therapist, has been accruing the experience that comes in handy when writing songs about artful eccentrics like Cardew: he once called bingo numbers and sang covers aboard a Scandinavian cruise line and did a tour of Italian communist clubs. “We’re a band of Little Edies,” Edwards declares when I ask him for his favorite character from the brilliant Grey Gardens, the Maysles’ documentary that graced the cover of the Lovers’ 2003 EP, Cheap Songs Tell the Truth. “I probably veer between Little Edie and [handyperson] Jerry. Sometimes I’m Jerry and I mope around the garden. But I could also be Big Edie, because I do have a tendency to lie in bed covered with cats.” SFBG< MUSIC LOVERS Thurs/14, 8 p.m. Amnesia 853 Valencia, SF Call for price (415) 970-0012 Fri/15, 6 p.m. Amoeba Music 1855 Haight, SF Free (415) 831-1200
This too may pass, but let it be said that “outrageous” is currently one of Mission District artist Keegan McHargue’s favorite descriptors — applied with equal enthusiasm to the thugs who smoke blunts down the street, his waxy-eyed portrait by Japanese artist Enlightment, Heavy Metal Parking Lot sequel Neil Diamond Parking Lot, and a new art book with a cover font composed of turds — and one that could easily apply to the refreshingly direct, boyish painter himself. Not many young artists are in the position to tell national television to take a cold shower in a couple hot minutes, but that’s just where McHargue is: he isn’t your archetypal stylist-damaged celebutante or attention-ravenous art star. The 2004 Goldies winner — last sighted at that award’s soiree shaking his sharp, narrow suit on the dance floor alongside beat legend Bruce Conner and hip-hop crew Sistaz of the Underground — warily considered this interview and then consented.
“Seriously, it’s crazy. Recently, all sorts of different people have been interested in me for different reasons. It’s pretty strange,” he marvels, leaning back in front of a recent large acrylic ready to be packed off to New York, where it will be exhibited in “Control Group,” McHargue’s solo show at Metro Pictures opening Sept. 21. CBS Sunday Morning was one such caller. “But I just said, ‘Fuck you.’ Kinda. I told ’em straight up, ‘I was, like, y’know, really flattered, but I don’t know if your demographic is exactly who I even want to know who I am.’
“If I’m doing that, I’m probably doing something wrong!”
It may sound like the arrogance of youth on line one — who wants to cater to the crowd who’s even up on Sunday morning? Yet it’s gotten to the point where Devendra Banhart (who described McHargue as his “favorite living artist”), Interview, and even Spin have lined up to lavish praise on the 24-year-old artist, with the last naming him one of the top 25 hottest people under 25, beating out Nicole Richie. “Outrageous!” exclaims McHargue. “Seriously, I swear to god. I don’t know what the general consensus is. It’s weird. It’s strange. I’m just a normal person who makes artwork and just happens to be an artist for a living.”
Perhaps this miniature media frenzy is linked to the fact that the self-taught McHargue is so young and makes such intriguing, increasingly exploratory work: paintings and drawings that swing between clean, Byzantine sophistication and fresh, obsessive energy, bright pop abstraction and darkly foreshadowed storytelling. His latest extravagantly hued, sprawling acrylics — a new series that differs from those in McHargue’s “Air above Mountains” show (named after a Cecil Taylor free-jazz disc) at Galerie Emmanuel Perriton in Paris earlier this year — revolve around true crime and headline news narratives populated by murderous mothers, power plants, dozing or dead kittens, and sinuous streams of toxic runoff. Picture the Yellow Submarine adrift beneath a mushroom-clouded sky.
As ripe and exciting as this week’s tabloids and likely less perishable, the canvases reflect McHargue’s latest ideas and techniques. “I’m just basically trying to constantly be expanding the scope of my practice or something,” he says, puttering around the tidy studios in the top-floor flat he shares with another artist — this despite the fact that his works have landed in such collections as the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. “I guess the long and short of it is now I’ve got tons of time on my hands and all I have to do is make art, so the bottom line is to just continue making better and better pieces.”
Psychedelic is almost too easy an adjective for his enigmatic imagery, the natural product of a childhood steeped in art, courtesy of his watercolorist mother. “That would make me instinctively want to change what I was doing,” says McHargue, who moved to San Francisco from his native Portland, Ore., five years ago. “I understand that people want to belong to cliques. But that’s not where my head’s at right now. I would just like to make some paintings that are insane to look at. Just hurt some people’s brains a little bit.”
Small pieces by Barry McGee, Will Yackulic, and others are clustered on the mantel above a Roland SP808, a drum machine, and an iPod emanating keening noise collaborations between McHargue and fellow artist Ry Fyan — the work of what McHargue describes as a Whitehouse tribute band. Some of the music will probably be released later this year by Tarentel’s Jef Cantu, along with a Japanese book surveying his work. “I’m just a hardcore music fanatic all across the board,” the artist explains. “Luckily, I live close to Aquarius, and I collect records too. That’s where I get inspiration for the work, from listening to music. It’s really, really important to me.”
And it’s an increasingly necessary hobby — preferable, he cracks wise, to “photography or yachting.” After working almost continuously for more than a year on consecutive gallery shows and finding himself on a rotating exhibition schedule stretching to 2012 (2007 will see shows at Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco and Hiromi Yoshi Gallery in Tokyo), McHargue is hoping to take it easy at last — following the “Control Group” opening and his partner Tauba Auerbach’s October show at Deitch Projects — and spend his autumn months in New York City. “It’s like all of a sudden I’m totally grown up and doing this all the time,” he says. “I need to cool out. Between now and the fall, I’m just going to kick it.” SFBG
› email@example.com SEPT. 5 Criss Angel, Criss Angel: Mindfreak (Koch) Tell us this recording by TV’s erect-nippled goth heat-throb and full-tilt-boogie cheesenheimer is only an illusion. Audioslave, Revelations (Epic) Their politics check out, though an unboring album will be a revelation. Beyoncé, B’Day (Music World Music/Sony Urban Music/Columbia) The result of a two-week break for artistic freedom, but a Clive Davis overseer might have helped — she sounds like a stressed-out laser on the leadoff single. Grizzly Bear, Yellow House (Warp) Inspired sounds with bite by Brooklyn DIYer Edward Droste, whose queerific perspective brings a burly new hue to his moniker. Iron Maiden, A Matter of Life and Death (Columbia) Count on the barbed Bruce Dickinson to come with confrontation on this wartime studio outing. The Rapture, Pieces of the People We Love (Strummer/Universal UK) Danger Mouse coproduces the new piece from dance punk ex–San Franciskies. Tony Joe White, Uncovered (Swamp/Sanctuary) The original blue-eyed soulster gives it another poke, accompanied by Eric Clapton and Michael “Yah Mo B There” McDonald. SEPT. 12 Basement Jaxx, Crazy Itch Radio (XL) Still all they’re jacked up to be? Black Keys, Magic Potion (Nonesuch) The rock duo ain’t dead. Merle Haggard, Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard (Capitol/EMI) Go back to the origins of the Bakersfield sound and travel through “Okie from Muskogee” all the way up to the anti–Iraq War present. Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye (Domino) Whether you compare them to old New Order or current Booka Shade, their follow-up to 2004’s Last Exit is already garnering raves. Jordan Knight, Love Songs (Trans Continental/Element 1/EMI) Love Handles might be a better title, though at least Brigitte Nielsen isn’t a guest vocalist. Deborah Gibson does have a cameo. Mars Volta, Amputechture (Universal) Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez may bring it live, but can they pull off another concept album? Pigeon John, Pigeon John and the Summertime Pool Party (Quannum Projects) He claims to be dating your sister. Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive) He and Timbaland use Beastie Boys– or Mark E. Smith–like crackly megaphone vocal effects on the first single; the album title seems both very ’90s and very OutKast wannabe. TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (Interscope) David Bowie and Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino bake it up for the increasingly dance-pop Brooklynites. Xiu Xiu, The Air Force (5RC) An army of three hones a pop attack, with backup from producer Greg Saunier of Deerhoof. Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador) Fighting words and lengthy psych jams from the indie softniks. SEPT. 19 Clay Aiken, A Thousand Different Ways (RCA) The long wait for the Claymates is over. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (Koch) They were twisting tongues long before Twista. Who’s your favorite: Layzie or Bizzy or Wish or Flesh or Krayzie? Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Then the Letting Go (Drag City) Does this title refer to shaving — or inhibitions? Chingy, Hoodstar (Slot-A-Lot/Capitol) I once saw a bunch of people at 16th and Mission dancing around a boom box blaring “Holiday Inn.” DJ Shadow, The Outsider (Universal) The North Bay’s Josh Davis comes out of the shadows, hepped to the hyph of guests Keak Da Sneak and Turf Talk. But ditch that Urb stylist. Fergie, The Dutchess (Will.I.Am/A&M/Interscope) And you thought pop music couldn’t be more heinous than the Black Eyed Peas? The microwaved hollabacks of the atrocious “London Bridge” are here to prove you wrong. Hidden Cameras, Awoo (Arts & Crafts) Peekaboo, I see you. Kasabian, Empire (RCA) The band named after Linda Kasabian testify on their own behalf with a new album. Jesse McCartney, Right Where You Want Me (Hollywood) Past his TRL sell-by date? We shall see. Mos Def, Tru3 Magic (Geffen) Somewhere between his first solo album and his second, Mos Def started to act like he knew he was cute. Here’s hoping he thinks of music as his true love rather than a step on the road to Hollywood. Pere Ubu, Why I Hate Women (Smog Veil) But at least a few women still love Ubu. Misogyny evidently rules for the post-punk belligerents. Bobby Valentino, Special Occasion (Disturbing Tha Peace/Def Jam) Ludacris’s R&B man speeds up enough to record a sophomore album. Zutons, Tired of Hanging Around (Deltasonic) The Liverpool antsy-rockin’ roots trendoids try their luck on this side of the puddle. SEPT. 22 Thermals, The Body, the Blood, the Machine (Sub Pop) PPP (post-pop-punk) protesting a purely protestant panorama. SEPT. 26 Emily Haines, Knives Don’t Have Your Back (Last Gang) Unsheathe ’em? A Metric cutie ventures out alone. Janet Jackson, 20 Y.O. (Virgin) And acting it. Sean Lennon, Friendly Fire (Capitol) Son of John returns with help from Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda. Ludacris, Release Therapy (Disturbing Tha Peace) If the first single, “Money Maker,” is anything to go by, Luda better watch out, because he’s skating dangerously close to Hammer-like lame flossin’. Scissor Sisters, Ta-Dah (Universal) Good news: guest appearance by Bryan Ferry. Bad news: cameo by Elton John. Either way, there’s no justice when they are more popular than the Ark. Sparklehorse, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (Astralwerks) Get a stomachful of Tom Waits alongside sound-alike Mark Linkous. Mario Vazquez, Mario Vazquez (Arista) Question: What is better than a beauty-school dropout? Answer: An American Idol dropout — especially one who has been spotted at la Escuelita. He gets bonus points for having the cutest messed-up teeth. Wolf Eyes, Human Animal (Sub Pop) Bagging some inhuman noise. OCT. 3 Beck, The Information (Interscope) Nigel Godrich does the knob twist and fader jive on this new dispatch from “Loser” man. Tim Buckley, The Best of Tim Buckley (Rhino/Elektra) Further proof that “Song to the Siren” is eternal. Decemberists, The Crane Wife (Capitol) Colin Meloy is still finding inspiration in the most unexpected crannies: here, in a Japanese folk tale. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant) Someone can’t help waving a flag. Jet, Shine On (Atlantic) Substitute “Music” for “Money” in the title of the first single, “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.” The Killers, Sam’s Town (Island) Bet they don’t bargain-shop at Sam’s Club. Gladys Knight, Before Me (Verve) Still sounding great while some of her contemporaries rasp and squawk, she covers legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone. Lady Sovereign, Public Warning (Def Jam) After “9 to 5” (not a Dolly Parton cover), she drops her debut. Will she hit it big or wind up MIA? Monica, The Makings of Me (J) Add a little bit of Twista, some T.I. for extra heat, a touch of Missy, and Dem Franchize Boys, and you’ve got the makings of a Monica album. Robin Thicke, The Evolution of Robin Thicke (Star Trak/Interscope) Move over, Jon B, and make way for the son of Alan Thicke. OCT. 10 Blood Brothers, Young Machetes (V2) Fugazi player Guy Picciotto and Sleater-Kinney producer John Goodmanson get Bloody. Melvins, A Senile Animal (Ipecac) We didn’t use the s-word first. Robert Pollard, Normal Happiness (Merge) Is there happiness after a decade-plus beer haze? Young Jeezy, The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102 (Def Jam) The Snowman has recorded 62 tracks for this opus. OCT. 17 Badly Drawn Boy, Born in the UK (XL/Astralwerks) Could BDB have a Broooce fixation? Diddy, Press Play (Bad Boy/Warner) If Danity Kane are anything to go by, it’s officially past time to press eject when it comes to Mr. Combs. Jeremy Enigk, World Waits (Lewis Hollow/Reincarnate/Sony BMG) One wonders how God figures in the latest by the Sunny Day Real Estate and Fire Theft chief. Fantasia, TBA (J) Following in the footsteps of greats such as Patty Duke and Joan Rivers, she recently starred in a TV movie about her own life. Fat Joe, Me Myself and I (Terror Squad) He’s big enough to refer to himself at least three different ways. Frankie J, Priceless (Columbia) Having even survived a cover of Extreme’s “More than Words,” the li’l guy returns to sing more sweet-verging-on-extremely-saccharine nothings. JoJo, The High Road (Blackground/Universal) The li’l pop dynamo and Xtina-to-be with Lindsay Lohan–like looks has sung for our current president, which seems more like visiting an inferno than taking the titular route. Nina Simone, Remixed and Reimagined (RCA/Legacy) More modern folks start fussing with Dr. Nina. Snoop Dogg, Blue Carpet Treatment (Doggystyle/Geffen) Stevie Wonder, the Game, and R. Kelly hop a soul plane. Squarepusher, Hello Everything (Warp) More spastic jazz-dappled emanations from Tom Jenkinson. OCT. 24 Brooke Hogan, Undiscovered (SoBe Entertainment/SMC) The daughter of Hulk Hogan puts all those dark-haired and dark-skinned girls in their place in her first video — after all, no one is more soulful than a putf8um blond. A surefire sign of the apocalypse or just another day in Bush-era pop culture? The Jam, Direction Reaction Creation (Polydor UK) Paul Weller and pals get the big box-set treatment they deserve. John Legend, Once Again (C) Ever heard “My Cherie Amour”? Apparently the billion people who bought the clumsy and far-more-prosaic “Ordinary People” haven’t. The Who, Endless Wire (Polydor) And then there were two. The first studio album since 1982 includes Greg Lake, partially filling in for the deceased John Entwistle, and Ringo spawn Zak Starkey, cospotting the late Keith Moon. OCT. 31 The Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury (J) Famlay and friends return, but what will it be like now that the producer who hit it big with them — a certain Pharrell — is so over-overexposed? Barry Manilow, The Greatest Songs of the Sixties (Arista) Will he cover “Gimme Shelter”? The mind boggles. Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose (Virgin) Breathe easy — the legal tussle between the Loaf and Jim Steinman over the title phrase is through. Paul Wall, Get Money, Stay True (Atlantic) The Houston metal mouth gabs again. NOV. 7 The Game, The Doctor’s Advocate (Geffen) Not that Dre needs one, even if everyone and their moms wonder what the hell happened to the long-awaited and eventually cancelled Rehab. Lucinda Williams, The Knowing (Lost Highway) Bill Frisell and Dylan sidekick Tony Garnier guest on the latest disc by the proud princess of rasp. NOV. 14 Marques Houston, Veteran (T.U.G./Universal) No longer “Naked,” he returns for 106th and Park duty wearing his stripes. Maroon 5, TBA (Octone/J) You have been warned. Joanne Newsom, Ys (Drag City) The sprite of the harp, produced by pigfucker Steve Albini. DEC. 19 Akon, Konvicted (SRC/Universal) Will we want to shoot up or shoot ourselves when Eminem appears on Senegalese ex-“kon” Aliaune Thiam’s “Smack That”? SFBG
KIMBERLY CHUN 1. “Binh Danh” Questions of history, identity, and collective and individual memory are probed via the Stanford MFA graduate’s spectral “chlorophyll prints,” created through a process he invented in which found photos are reproduced on the surface of fragile leaves. Sept. 7–Oct. 14. Haines Gallery, 49 Geary, SF. (415) 397-8114, www.hainesgallery.com 2. “Counter Culture” Several generations of hipsters, freaks, and freethinkers have been documented by Bay Area photographer Larry Keenan, who snapped Brian Jones, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and countless beautiful people back in the day. The onetime Concord High School art teacher’s work appeared in the Whitney’s “Beat Culture and the New America: 1950–1965.” Sept. 6–30. Micaela Gallery, 333 Hayes, SF. (415) 551-8118, www.micaela.com 3. “Howard Finster: Image + Words = God” The late REM album art poster boy and ironclad, gilded-winged folk art visionary made more than 46,000 images limned with text during his lifetime — quite a feat, since he began to paint “sacred art” in 1976 under orders of an angelic vision. Expect works on loan from the collection of local artist and Finster friend Eleanor Dickinson. Nov. 11, 2006–May 13, 2007. California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park (near 34th Ave. and Clement), SF. (415) 863-3330, www.thinker.org 4. “Home Ec: New Work by Sarah Applebaum, Elide Endreson, Sherry Koyama, Christina La Sala, Julia Petho, and Allen Stickel” What qualifies as women’s work when the faces of celebrity fry cooks tend toward the studly and knitting has acquired a cool cachet? Local artists such as California College of the Arts faculty member La Sala and the Lab staffer Koyama explore the seismic shifts in home economics. Sept. 8–28. Michelle O’Connor Gallery, 2111 Mission, SF. (415) 990-7148 5. “Packard Jennings: Lottery Ticket” Those forever dreaming about what they’d do if they won the lottery will get an unexpected bonus when they lay their money down at select stores in four SF districts: a faux scratcher created by Jennings, hiding an unusual local treasure in the community. Nov. 1, 2006–Jan. 31, 2007. Southern Exposure, 2901 Mission, SF. (415) 863-2141, www.soex.org 6. “Charles Linder: Crazy Horse” Horses — broken, thieved, and gimped out — are the leitmotif when the SF artist transforms a target-practice 1965 Mustang into a gallery thoroughbred … of sorts. Sept. 8–Oct. 14. Gallery 16, 501 Third St., SF. (415) 626-7495, www.gallery16.com 7. “Particulate Matter” For the Mills College Art Museum’s new wing, Guardian critic Glen Helfand curates a debut exhibit composed of many parts and informed by political consciousness. LA artist Karl Haendel, known for dramatic installations of drawings culled from media images, makes his Bay Area debut, as does German photographer Florian Maier-Aichen, who exhibits digitally enhanced and tension-wracked landscapes. Sept. 9–Dec. 10. 5000 MacArthur, Oakl. (510) 430-2164, www.mills.edu/campus_life/art_museum 8. “Perfectly Good; Friendly Fire” No dumping on artists-in-residence Noah Wilson and Kim Weller. The former photographs rediscovered found objects; the latter dreams up a 3-D installation of life-size Archie Comics icons for this teenage — and industrial — wasteland. Sept. 22–23. SF Recycling and Disposal, 503 Tunnel, SF. (415) 330-1415, www.sfrecycling.com/AIR 9. “Donald Urquhart: No Axe to Grind” Camp icons like Dors, Dusty, and Davis, refigured as “Aubrey Beardsley doodles through high school algebra” scrawls, are part of the London artist’s past as a King’s Cross club owner. Sept. 9–30. Jack Hanley Gallery, 395 Valencia, SF. (415) 522-1623, www.jackhanley.com 10. “We All Live Paper Nest: The Paper Nest Project” Paper hoarders celebrate the messes they call nests, those baby blankets of ephemera that they turn to for security, inspiration, and creativity. Curators Tan Khanh Cao and D. Scott Miller make a seven-foot-diameter paper nest shot through with meaning, while writers and musicians such as Kwan Booth of Black Futurist Movement and Walter Kitundu perform at the Sept. 16 reception. Sept. 15–17. Luggage Store Annex, 509 Ellis, SF. www.luggagestoregallery.org. SFBG
SONIC REDUCER I’ve lived in the Bay Area for more years than I ever imagined I would back in my nomadic grad student days and devoured my share of quintessentially San Francisco experiences, like parking on the faux median on Valencia and falling drunkenly off an It’s Tops fountain stool round about 3 a.m. after tucking into a few too many down the street at Zeitgeist. But the one must-see post-punk happening I’ve always missed — never at the wrong place at the right time — was Survival Research Laboratories in full-effect performance mode. No wonder — weary of being shut down by the local fuzz and fire officials, founder Mark Pauline told me three years ago that SRL had decided to lavish their monstrous, robotic attentions on tolerant, fire-retardant overseas audiences in Europe and Japan instead — that is, until Aug. 11, when the longtime Potrero Hill area crew unfurled a new three-ring destructo-circus titled Ghostly Scenes of Infernal Desecration at the Zero One festival in San Jose.
I hightailed it down to downtown San Jose to catch the seldom-sighted SRL flash their permits, then proceed to burn it all down. Late for the last media seating, I was told it was all good because SRL were moving very slowly (as slowly and deadly as their ’bots, I presumed) and to please have a survival kit in a brown paper sack: peanut butter crackers, Chips Ahoy!, a moist towelette, a bottle of water, and a pair of earplugs. In the back of the hall, the jumpsuited and helmeted SRL crew strolled merrily around, throwing bottles of water playfully at each other, testing flamethrowers, as we studied the grounds for signs of action. It felt like fishing or bird-watching — only the critters were big hunks of metal and the gods were knowing wiseacres who wear lots of black.
With an ominous turbine wail or two later it began — as a giant inverted foiled cross spun in place like a sacrilegious music box, a giant gold figure with a massive red phallus dropped Styrofoam balls, and a doghouse sheltering Cerebus shuddered. Purple lighting shot out of a towering Tesla coil and a woman beside me started screaming, “Omigod, that’s so cool!” Sorry, we all weren’t that dweebish — although almost everyone in earshot tended to laugh nervously in both fear and amazement as fire poured out of several flamethrowers in our corner and blew toasty gusts against our faces.
If you, er, burn at Black Rock, I guess you could consider this a preview of sorts. At one point, about five machines, including a short, squat teapotlike ’bot, were firing on all cylinders, blaze-wise, and that’s not even counting the V-1, a fire-farting flamethrower-shockwave canon that resembles the butt of a jet fighter. And of course fire without smoke loses a bit of the drama, so roving smoke machines were placed behind large rectangular photo screens depicting a gas station on fire, gap-mouthed kids, etc. And of course the flames started to spread, eating up the gold idols and turning the Lord of Balls into an impressive column of heat. Sparks flew into the sky, robots like the crabby, clutching Inchworm tussled in the center of it all, and the ungodly din of popping, whirring, and grinding sounded for all the world like a construction crew armed with Boeing engines run amok and set to detonate. What other mob would pride itself on creating “the loudest flamethrower in history”?
Me, I had to duck when the loudest machine of all, the shockwave canon, started lobbing rings of air left and right of our heads, taking the leaves off the surrounding trees. In the process of putting together a robot army, SRL created their own scary symphony, their own atonal, noise-drenched Ride of the Valkyries to go along with their future-war enactments. And by the end, even the hausfrauen in the bleachers raved about how they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the smoke- and noise-belching spectacle. In the aftermath, viewers gathered around the barriers like groupies, bickering over which ’bot was their favorite and picking the brains of the SRL-ers. Thank Vulcan, some things were sacred — there were no T-shirts on sale. Those are on the fire-retardant Web site (srl.org).
TACO LIBRE I suspect it takes either careful SRL-style planning — or its carefree antithesis — to achieve a much-coveted sense of freedom in performance — the latter approach is doubtless embraced by Inca Ore, a.k.a. Eva Saelens, once of Portland, Ore.’s Jackie-O Motherfucker and the Alarmist and of the Bay’s Gang Wizard and Axolotl. She was happily howling at the full moon in Oakland last week with her paramour and collaborator, Lemon Bear, in celebration of their noise–improv–sex magik album, The Birds in the Bushes (5RC, 2006), recorded in a cabin outside Tillamook, Ore. I spoke to the sweet, uncensored Saelens at about midnight, after some enchanted evening spent slow dancing in a parking lot to Mexican radio, finding inspiration in a fish taco, and playing music under the stars.
Saelens, 26, may not completely adore her current O-town abode — “It’s criminal how not affordable it is” — but at least she’s not on tour, as she has been for long periods with Jackie-O, Yellow Swans, and Axolotl. “When I was in Europe, we drove through Provence from Italy to Spain, and we couldn’t even get out to smell the lavender — we were so late,” she said sadly. “Touring is so frustrating — you really have to juice yourself. Even sometimes doing improv, it isn’t easy to bring it, but when you break through it’s like being in another world. Sometimes I’ll try to push an explosion or try to lose my mind, and if you do that on a nightly basis, it’s unreliable and it’s also abusive. You’re pushing your emotions in an athletic way, almost, and sometimes your body refuses to compete.”
For Saelens, it’s now a race to reach a meditative spot with a violin or clarinet — a change from the spooked state of her album. “We played the stove a lot, banged on bottles,” she said. This after Lemon Bear hacked his toe while chopping wood barefoot one morning. “We got sloppy — we were so happy.” SFBG
Tues/22, 8 p.m.
1600 17th St., SF
Call for price
Also with Tom Carter (and Ghosting, Bonus, and Axolotl)
1131 Polk St.
Cast your eyes on the Billboard chart and it seems like summer 2006 will go down in history as the season of the Latin diva, with Nelly Furtado doffing a soft-focus folkie-cutie image by declaring herself “Promiscuous” and Shakira holding on to the promise of, well, that crazy, sexy, but not quite cool chest move she’s close to trademarked via “Hips Don’t Lie.” Rihanna and Christina Aguilera brought up the rear of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart last week — solo singers all. But with the on-again, off-again slow fade of Destiny’s Child, the imminent demise of the explicitly feminist Sleater-Kinney, and the earlier evaporation of the even more didactic le Tigre, one has to wonder, what has happened to all-girl groups?
Was it a gimmick? Did Newsweek and Seventeen leach riot grrrl’s genuine grassroots movement of its “authenticity” and power? Was Sarah McLachlan lame? Was Courtney Love insane? Perhaps the answer is on today’s pop charts, where the sole “girl group” — if you don’t count the manly guest MC appearances — is the frankly faux Pussycat Dolls, a sorry excuse for women’s empowerment if there ever was one. Their ’90s counterparts the Spice Girls baldly appropriated “girl power” as their own marketing slogan, but at least they gave 30-second-commercial-break lip service to the notion.
The scarcity of all-female bands — particularly the variety whose women do more than simply lip-synch on video — has perhaps spread to supposedly more progressive spheres. Erase Errata bassist-vocalist Ellie Erickson notes that when the band recently played Chicago’s Intonation Music Festival, she was shocked to discover that their all-female trio made up almost half the total number of women performing among about 50 artists. Even at a more down-low, underground gathering like last month’s End Times Festival in Minneapolis, where Bay Area bands dominated, only one all-girl band, T.I.T.S., made the cut, observes the band’s guitarist, Kim West. “When we were in Minneapolis there were so many girls who came up to us and were, like, ‘This is so awesome! There are no all-girl bands here and it’s so rare to see this,’” she recalls.
Girl groups do persist: the news-making, stand-taking, chops-wielding Dixie Chicks among them. But for every Chicks there’s a Donnas, now off Atlantic after the Bay Area–bred band’s second major-label release stumbled at takeoff. Is Dixie Chicks credibility forthcoming for commercial girl bands like Lillix, the Like, and Kittie? Some might argue that feminism’s gains in the ’70s and ’80s — which led to the blossoming of all-female groups from TLC to Babes in Toyland, Vanity 6 to L7, and Fannypack to Bikini Kill — have led to a postfeminist moment in which strongly female-identified artists are ghettoized or otherwise relegated to the zone of erotic fantasy (e.g., Pussycat Dolls). Gone are the days when Rolling Stone touted the “Women of Rock” in their 1997 30th anniversary issue and Lilith Fair brought female singer-songwriters to every cranny of the nation.
“I think that with the demise of Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre, it’s a very sad time for girl groups,” e-mails Evelyn McDonnell, Miami Herald pop culture writer and coauthor of Rock She Wrote. “It seems like the end of the ’90s women in rock era, an era that unfortunately left fewer marks than we hoped it would 15 years ago.”
Radio’s known resistance to women-dominated bands hasn’t helped. Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hanna told me last year that despite the best efforts of her label, Universal, to get her feminist trio’s first major-label release, This Island, out to the masses, “MTV didn’t play our video and radio didn’t play our single either. Some of that is that we’re women and they’ve already got Gwen Stefani. So we just have to wait till she stops making music or something like that.” She was told that a group of three women was less likely to get play than a band of men fronted by a female vocalist.
Perhaps feminism is simply not in vogue, speculates Erase Errata vocalist-guitarist Jenny Hoyston. “I think any woman who’s a musician is going to have people say she’s only getting attention because she’s a woman,” she says. “It’s gonna be assumed that they don’t know how to work their gear, that they don’t necessarily play as well. That kind of typical stuff…. A lot of people aren’t taken seriously, especially if they get too queer or too gay in their songwriting, and I think that people get judged a lot for being too feminist, for sure, and I think there’s a major backlash against feminism in scenes that I’ve been a part of in this country. I think people are cooler about it in the UK definitely and in some other countries in Europe.”
But how does one explain the strong presence of all-female (or female-dominated) bands in the Bay Area such as Erase Errata, T.I.T.S., 16 Bitch Pileup, Blectum from Blechdom, Boyskout, Vervein, and Von Iva? “I think San Francisco is a big hub for women bands,” offers West, a veteran of Crack: We Are Rock and Death Sentence! Panda. With a provocative name and costumes (“It’s sexy from afar — and scary once you get closer,” West says), the band — including guitarist-vocalist Mary Elizabeth Yarborough, guitarist-vocalist Abbey Kerins, and Condor drummer Wendy Farina — reflects a kind of decentralized, cooperative approach to music making. “There’s no lead,” West explains. “I think that’s a really big element. We all sing together and we all come up with lyrics together. We each write a sentence or a word or a verse and put it in a hat and pull it out and that becomes a song. No one has more writing power than anyone else — it’s all even. I think girls are more likely to like some idea like that than guys.”
And there’s power in their female numbers, West believes, discussing T.I.T.S.’s June UK tour: “It’s funny because it was the first time I’d ever been on tour with all four girls. When I’d go on tour with Crack, guys would be hitting on us, and with T.I.T.S., guys were a little more intimidated because I think we were like a gang. We had that tightness in our group, so it’s harder to approach four girls than one girl or two girls, especially when we’re laughing and having a good time.”
In the end, McDonnell is optimistic that feminism could make a comeback. “I see a revival of progressive ideas in general in culture, largely in reaction to war and Bush…. The Dixie Chicks are arguably the most important group in popular music, and they’re fantastically outspoken as women’s liberationists,” she writes, also praising the Gossip, Peaches, and Chicks on Speed. “And the decentralization of the music industry should open avenues to women, making success less dependent on cruelly, ridiculously chauvinist radio.”
Ever the less-optimistic outsider, I’m less given to believing file sharing and self-released music can dispel the sexism embedded in the music industry — or stem the tide of social conservatism in this country. But that kind of spirit — as well as going with the urge to make music and art with other women, from our own jokes, horrors, and everyday existences — is a start. SFBG
The Greek deities might throw lightning bolts and issue stormy protests, but when I first saw Erase Errata in November 2001, they seemed less a fledgling local all-girl band than scruffy goddesses sprung full grown from the temple of … Mark E. Smith. The year-and-a-half-old foursome opened for the newly reenergized, near-surfabilly Fall and they were staggering — seeming grrrlish prodigies who picked up the sharp, jagged tools discarded by Smith with a confidence that seemed Olympian (as in Washington State and Zeus’s heavenly homestead). On their way to All Tomorrow’s Parties in LA, vocalist–trumpet player Jenny Hoyston, guitarist Sara Jaffe, bassist Ellie Erickson, and drummer Bianca Sparta were poised to speak in primal feminist riddles while constructing their own dissonant wing to the Fall’s aural complex, one comprising driving, weirdo time signatures; raw, textural guitar; and atonal washes.
It was not the type of performance you might expect from Hoyston, 32, who grew up stranded in a singular God’s country in the “dry,” extremely Christian, and very un–rock ’n’ roll town of Freeport, Texas, where she was once more likely to be Bible thumping instead of guitar thrumming. “I was a born-again Christian, Republican. I was engaged,” says Hoyston today, gazing out on the concrete beer garden of el Rio where she regularly does sound and books shows. “I thought my life had to be this one way.”
So what turned her toward the path of big-daddy demon rock?
“Uh, LSD,” she says drily.
Actually it was the empty feeling that engulfed her despite all the church-related activities she threw herself into — that and the life-changing spectacle of SF dyke punk unit Tribe 8 playing her college town of Lansing, Mich. “I was just really impressed by how free those crazy people seemed. It just seemed really beautiful,” she explains. “And I didn’t necessarily come out here to meet them and hang out with them. Straight-up punk is not really my kind of music. But I think they are just so powerful. They came to town and made all the queers feel like they were going to go to this place, maybe even with their boyfriend and hold their hands and not get beat up. I wanted to get that empowered.”
There are still more than a few remnants of that sweet, shy Texas back-roads girl that Hoyston once was: She speaks gently and looks completely nondescript in her black T-shirt and specs, padding around el Rio as the petal-soft air of an SF summer afternoon burns into the deep velvet pelt of night. Some might mistake her watchful awkwardness for holier- or hipper-than-thou aloofness. But here at her dive, waiting for Tank Attack and Fox Pause to materialize for the first Wednesday show she books, she’s in her element, playing Bee Gees tracks and disco hits between the bands, running the PA, and busying herself by distributing flyers for an upcoming Pam Grier movie night.
“I’m excited about tonight’s show because it’s not a big heavy-drinking crowd,” Hoyston offers sincerely.
Erase Errata’s vocalist and now guitarist is far from an archetypal star, even as her band has become more than a little well-known in indie, underground, and experimental music circles. The seniors in a small smart class of all-female groups in the Bay Area — including conceptual metal-noise supergroup T.I.T.S. and experimental noise Midwestern transplants 16 Bitch Pileup — they share with those bands an embrace of threatening, cacophonous sonics and edge-rockin’, artful yet intuitive tendencies that inevitably meet the approval of those persnickety noise boys, an approach Hoyston is now fully conscious of.
“I think had our music been slightly less confrontational, we would have been dismissed a lot quicker,” she says. “I think people thought we had cred because we were being hard, y’know.”
Weasel Walter — who first lived in Hoyston’s former Club Hott warehouse in Oakland upon moving from Chicago — can validate that perspective. His band, Flying Luttenbachers, played nightly with Erase Errata, Lightning Bolt, Locust, and Arab on Radar as part of the Oops! Tour in 2002. “Every night I got to watch them play intense, energetic versions of songs from their entire catalog and also began to understand what a complex organism the band was, musically and personally,” he e-mails. “Bianca and Ellie are a fantastic rhythm section, and Jenny is an LSD poetess and standup comedienne without peer!”
Erase Errata’s new, third album, Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars), is the latest sign of untrammeled spirit and uncontainable life in the band — and in the all-woman band form. Hoyston may personally favor a more low-key version of nightlife — not so with her art and lyrics.
Now a threesome after the departure of Jaffe in 2004 for grad school and a temporary stint by A Tension’s Archie McKay on token-male vocals, the band has become both more directly melodic and more pointedly politicized. The echoing, droning, rotating police copter blades of the title track demonstrate that they are far from detached from their boundary-testing inclinations, but otherwise — while other bands of their turn-of-the-century generation have quieted down, folked up, or simply folded — Erase Errata wind up for an energizing, wake-up kick in the ball sac with Nightlife, aimed at those who claim that the underground has been far too escapist, evasive, or simply mute when it comes to polemics and art punk.
Borrowing American Indian powwow rhythms (“Take You”) and sandblasted rockabilly beats (“Rider”), along with their more archetypal ragged textures (“Dust”), the band skates between the urgency of midperiod Sleater-Kinney and the honking dissonance of DNA, as Hoyston coos, “While you’re too broke to not commit a crime/ Your federal government knows that this is true/ More prisons/ More people have to die” on “Another Genius Idea from Our Government.” The group lets its anger and outrage drive the songs — allowing a Gang of Four–style frenetic punk funk to propel “Tax Dollar” (“American bastard, murderous bitch/ Traitor to humans/ So rebel! Get on the run”) — but not consume them. They stop to study the world around them — be it the well-armed paranoid desert rats of “Rider” (which finds Hoyston turning the phrase “Where everybody has a gun/ Everybody has a knife” into a wildly western horror show of a hook) or the street-level violence that bleeds into the gender wars on “He Wants What’s Mine” (“Hey Beautiful!/ Take it into the night, I’ll walk beside you and steal/ Your life like a carving knife”).
Hoyston attributes the tone of the album to her move from Oakland to San Francisco. “In general, I started to notice things around my city that kind of woke me up to national situations, when I think I’d been a little bit dormant on that front as well. So I got really inspired,” she says. “I think At Crystal Palace [Troubleman, 2003] isn’t as political a record as Other Animals  was. I think it was more us being artistic and more me lyrically just existing in a purely artistic realm and not really thinking about, well, yeah, I am political. I have feelings and I can express them in art and they can actually reach a wide audience. I think I just rerealized the power of the tool of having a voice.”
The band never had any intention of making their music a career: In fact, Erase Errata began as an outright joke played on Hoyston’s Club Hott housemate Luis Illades of Pansy Division. Hoyston moved to the Bay Area in the late ’90s, where she began working in the Guardian’s accounting department; formed California Lightning with her best friend, Bianca Sparta; and met Ellie Erickson (who was in Nebraska all-girl teen band XY and also later worked at the Guardian) and through her, Sara Jaffe.
“When Sara and I met each other, it was, like, ‘OK, are we going to go out or are we going to start a band together? Why don’t we do something more long-term and start a band together?’” recalls Hoyston. “You know when you meet somebody and you have so much in common with them and they’re actually queer? It’s a really powerful thing.”
Even now, the once painfully timid Hoyston marvels, “I seriously can’t believe I’m a front person for a band. It was seriously a joke that I was going to sing for this band because I considered myself an accomplished guitar player — not a front person, by any means. I think front people are really pretty or cute or sexy and all the kind of things that I don’t see myself as. We were just making up songs and people would hear and say, ‘Omigod, what was that? Will you guys play with us?’”
That dirty word for this noncareerist group — momentum — came into play, and Erase Errata discovered themselves on tour with Sonic Youth and Numbers, as, Hoyston says, she challenged herself “with, like, can I get in front of all these people and act like a fool and try to sing weird and sing good and get confident and maybe even feel aggressive, the way my bandmates were challenging each other with instruments? It’s something that eventually kind of came easier and easier over time. And now I can sit down and talk to you.”
The key to Nightlife’s success lies, perhaps, in the fact that the band is still pushing itself, musically and artistically. “I think it’s women’s music,” ponders Hoyston. “There’s still something odd about some of the music we’re making. It’s still atonal at times, some parts might be a little awkward, some parts might go on too long. Here and there, things are like that intentionally. We still try to keep things a little bit difficult for ourselves to pull off live. So I think it’s made for people who might appreciate an interesting take on pop punk, maybe.”
Pop punk! Nightlife is still not exactly Vans Warped Tour material, though one punk godfather might approve. Sort of, according to Hoyston, who conjures her most memorable encounter with Fall guy Mark E. Smith: “I was a smoker back then, and Mark E. Smith walked right up to me and took my cigarette right out of my hand as I was putting it up to my lips and smoked it all the way down to the filter and then flicked it at me and said, ‘See ya, kid.’ In a really mean, mean, mean way! Then he went out onstage and did the encore. And I was just, like, ‘He stole my cigarette! That’s great!’ Because he’s like an … icon to me.
“I don’t like him necessarily. I don’t think he’s a nice person…. He’s a real jerk in general. But I love the Fall.”
The gods can be merciless — and forgiving — though Hoyston would be the first to debunk any of that vaporous junk. Amid Erase Errata’s achievements and her own multiple solo incarnations such as Paradise Island, it’s clear she’s no goddess. She’s simply very human and just trying to stay active. “I’m just really into demystifying things for myself,” she says. “I mean, if I wanted to be mystified, I’d still be in church.” SFBG
Guardian Best of the Bay party
Aug. 2, 9 p.m.
60 Sixth St., SF
CD release party with T.I.T.S.
Aug. 4, 7 p.m.
3158 Mission, SF
SONIC REDUCER Wassup Lauryn Hill? Well apparently she’s been busy morphing into Sun Ra.
A staight-skankin’, massive fro–sportin’, partyin’-with-Method-Man-at-the-Clift-Hotel, “la, la, la, la”-ing Sun Ra.
The lady had about 13 people onstage at Great American Music Hall on June 29 for two last-minute “rehearsal” sets: two drummers, two keyboardists, at least three guitarists, the works. Because the lady clearly wanted to play a bandleader from a galaxy far, far away — and frankly, I haven’t been so interested in Lauryn Hill in years.
She was an artist in her own little world, all right — miming Bitches Brew, turning her unrehearsed Arkestra into an engorged rock-steady big band, and at around 2 a.m., at the end of the second show, launching passionately, stubbornly, into her most popular tunes.
The lights went up. The stage lights flicked off. The power to the mics finally ebbed. And Hill had found her own power trip of a groove — in the dark, where it’s safe — and the audience was in deep doo-doo in love, shouting, “One more! One more! Lau-Ren! Lau-Ren!” At about 2:15 a.m., after much shushing, she began singing “Killing Me Softly” a cappella. Softly. Then she descended into the crowd like an empress to meet her biggest fans.
FISHIN’ MUSICIAN But enough Arkestra-ted diva tripping, we gotta work together, so follow the lead of Aesop Rock and longtime Bay Area artist Jeremy Fish, who have done an ace job in collaborating on a new book playing off those golden children’s record-and-storybook combos. The release of their The Next Best Thing book–7-inch comes with a mini-multimedia promo juggernaut July 6: Fish (who has a load of product in the works, including a new vinyl toy and a board series and short film for Element Skateboards titled Fishtales with a soundtrack by Rock) will show his paintings at Fifty24SF Gallery. And then later that night Aesop Rock will bump up against Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz, Murs with Magi, and producer Blockhead at a benefit concert at the Independent for 826 Valencia.
The pair met through a mutual friend and discovered that they’re mutual fans: Rock owned a Fish piece, and the artist had been an avid Rock listener for years. “I saw a lot of his work had cute stuff mixed with evil stuff, which is a lot like what I write about,” says the jovial Rock.
Aesop Rock, of late, has found his work skewing toward the more narrative side of hip-hop: He already has about five “really linear stories” for his next album, expected in 2007. That recording is likely to include more instrumentation by musicians like Parchman Farm, which includes Rock’s wife, Allison “the Jewge” Baker.
Rock moved from New York City to San Francisco to be with her. Romantic — not many superstar underground rap bros will drop everything and uproot for their, um, ho, no? As a result, the music has definitely become “reflective in the sense that I moved out of New York City, turned 30, and got married all in the same year,” he explains. “Those three things all have me doing stories about random childhood stuff, super-folktaley story songs that are almost like the stories you’d read to a child.”
CORE CREW Director Dick Rude was enlisted to make Let’s Rock Again, a documentary of his friend Joe Strummer’s time with the Mescaleros around the time of 2001’s Global a Go-Go. And he captured Strummer in deep working-musician mode. “Having done the Clash and having reached that height of stardom, he was really just consumed with getting his music heard and not reaching that level again, so there was a real humility and passion to his approach on the tour,” says the LA videomaker. “It became about breaking the record so he could have a chance to record another record.”
Rude, who met Strummer while he was working as an assistant to director Alex Cox on Sid and Nancy, calls the film — which will be screened one time in San Francisco and is now out on DVD — more of a “memoir of that time” than a biopic of Strummer. As for Strummer’s posthumously released music on Streetcore, Rude believes, “There are tracks on that record that rival any Clash tune. There is no pretension, nothing to prove, just straight-out passion.” SFBG
Opening Thurs/6, 7 p.m.
248 Fillmore, SF
Thurs/6, 9 p.m.
626 Divisadero, SF
LET’S ROCK AGAIN
Wed/5, 7 p.m.
3125 16th St., SF
OH, MY STARS
Sweetness from the Cape Verdean–Portuguese vocalist. Wed/5, 8 p.m., Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. $25. (415) 771-1421.
Bookish by day at last year’s ArthurFest. Howling and riding seated audience members in performance. Thurs/6, 9:30 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $8. (415) 923-0923.
THEE MORE SHALLOWS
Don’t turn your back on these indie experimentalists. Thurs/6, 9 p.m., Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $8. (415) 861-5016.
LEGENDARY PINK DOTS
Did you eat the Dots — and their glowering psychedelia? Sat/8, 9 p.m., Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. $16–$18. (415) 522-0333.
GOD OF SHAMISEN
Members of Secret Chiefs 3 and Estradasphere create likely the first metal unit bearing down on the Japanese instrument. Mon/10, 9 p.m., Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $8. (415) 861-5016.
Let’s talk about (((GRRRLS))) — with exploding viz-art mover–rad dude BARR. Mon/10, 6 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $6. (415) 923-0923.
SONIC REDUCER Ah, spring — it seems like a distant memory in June as we get socked an SF summer’s weaving, one-two punch of Westside fog and SoMa heat. But spring is the thing when we think about love. Love that picks us up, brings us down, lifts us back up to where we belong, then bitch-slaps us about the face and neck until we’re ready to trade in our valentines for matching straitjackets and a tray of stiff drinks. Pull up a chair and tell it to Jolie Holland, who dredged up her own love–gone–sour mash life lessons for her latest lovely, lithely limned album, Springtime Can Kill You (Anti). “Yeah, it was just one pretty horrible set of emotional circumstances,” she drawls from Salt Lake City while on perpetual tour. “Just a terrible accident of communication–slash–long distance relationship–slash–my life totally changing due to the music taking off.”
Holland knows of what she speaks: She tried to settle down in San Francisco with her Stanford-jobbing scientist, dubbed the “Moonshiner” in song on Springtime, until he went off on a scholarship to Russia for 10 months. “I was tryin’ to basically be married to a nice, normal guy who had a job and all that, which I’d never really sincerely tried before,” she says. “I thought, this is normal — I’ll try this. But the relationship had a vitamin deficiency. Anyway, that’s what “Springtime Can Kill You” is about — trying to make something work that’s not functional.”
Now she’s back to what a friend calls “the buckshot version of romance. I’m dating people who have fucked-up lifestyles like me — I’m dating other traveling musicians.”
Dub it the bitter, beauteous fruit of Springtime and its absinthe-hued wedding of new grit, olde art, and lightly borrowed blues. The full-length’s ballads of sexual codependency and earthy comradeship sound creamy and sensually nostalgic, yet never self-consciously musty, in the lily hands of coproducers Holland and Lemon DeGeorge. Springtime is haunted — by faraway lovers (“Moonshiner”), outright specters (“Ghostly Girl”), smashed hopes (Riley Puckett’s “You’re Not Satisfied”), old jazz records (“Springtime Can Kill You”), and a certain intoxicating insanity (Holland’s old hip-hop collaborator CR Avery’s “Crazy Dreams”) — though it’s far from a relic.
Likewise, Holland is far from antique. In contrast to the sometime Be Good Tanya’s recent femme fatale photo stylings — complete with Bellocq–Belle Epoque cleavage and Veronica Lake peekaboo locks — she’s still a girl’s girl. She worries over the aforementioned image making, laughs like a hungry bird of prey, dishes band politics, sprinkles her speech with “fucked-up”s, shops vintage like a hipster magpie, drops references to a friend’s “psychic power,” and — true to form for the lusty lady who dedicated a song (“Moonshiner”) to Memphis Minnie and Freakwater — gets creeped out by Mormontown. “Oh, thank God, we’re leaving!” the redheaded vocalist says with a relieved, panicked laugh of her current stop, Salt Lake City. “I just walk down the street and people stare and yell stuff at me. And, like, weird shit was happening. Yeah, I don’t like this town, and people are definitely treating me like a freak here. My hair is a particularly unnatural color, right now.”
Still, life — even one far from her ex’s arms — appears to be swinging much smoother these days for Holland, who now considers New York City, Vancouver, and Portland home. “I’m actually being pretty productive. The other day I wrote two songs in a hotel room.” Even quickie genre classifiers don’t matter. The New York Times may have plopped her into a recent splashy “freak folk” feature — amid Vetiver and Espers, a crowd she’s seldom associated with — but that’s OK. “Yeah, it said nothing about me, but it did say my name, like, three times,” she says with her ah-ah-ah laugh. “It’s interesting because we’re Bay Area people, so we can see the fine details of who’s actually associated with who. But from the East Coast, it probably looks different, y’know. My picture looks really funny in there, right?! It looks totally stuck on.
“The thing is … it actually sounds really fun to have a scene!”
Hey, it may be summer, but we can keep those fresh, dewy buds springing eternally, within. Holland is on her way to Cheyenne, where she says her band has heard rumor of a pond they can dip their wings in, and after that there are collaborations lined up with Michael Hurley and Sage Francis, among others. “It’s so great to be not pretending to be a housewife anymore!” says the singer. “I don’t have to stay home and clean the floor.” SFBG
Sat/1, 9 p.m.
Bimbo’s 365 Club
1025 Columbus, SF
NO, YOU CAN’T BE EVERYWHERE AT ONCE
MARIN COUNTY FAIR
Come for the corn — stay for the cool-ocity. Shee-it, Eddie Money and Nelson play Sat/1, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Ricky Skaggs perform Mon/3, and Beausoleil and Preservation Hall Jazz Band bring New Orleans to the North Bay Tues/4. Civic Center Drive, San Rafael. $11–$13. (415) 499-6800, www.marinfair.org.
The “acoustic trio” incarnation of the English folk-rock maestros — including founder Simon Nichol — soldiers on. Wed/28–Thurs/29, 8 p.m., Freight and Salvage, 1111 Addison, Berk. $19.50–$20.50. (510) 548-1761.
ZEMOG EL GALLO BUENO
Abraham Gomez-Delgado cuts his zany out-jazz with Cuban-world fusion. Wed/28, 8 and 10 p.m. Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakl. $10–$14. (510) 238-9200.
An Extraordinary Machine rolls onward with a headlining tour. Thurs/29, Sleep Train Pavilion, Concord. Fri/30, Mountain Winery, Saratoga. For times and prices, visit www.ticketmaster.com.
CORINNE BAILEY RAE
The new Billie — or Sade? The gorg Brit plays it smooth like Karo, but does she have the songs? Thurs/29, 9 p.m., Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $12. (415) 861-5016.
BLOW AND YACHT
DIY performance art plus your roommate at Evergreen College equals Blow. Blowster Joan Bechtolt also breaks away for a heaping helping of positivity as Yacht. Fri/30, 6 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $6. (415) 923-0923.
A Pushcart Prize nominee folks up. Sun/2, 9 p.m., Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., SF. $6. (415) 546-6300.
The Congolese supergroup dusts off the effervescent ’60s sound of Cuban rumba melded with African rhythms. Mon/3, 8 and 10 p.m. Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakl. $20. (510) 238-9200.