Kimberly Chun

Girlschool 2010


FALL ARTS/MUSIC When I last looked at the state of all-female bands in 2006, Sleater-Kinney, Destiny’s Child, and Le Tigre had hung up their guitars, mics, and samplers. Since then, the Bay Area has produced a motherlode of female-dominated rock outfits — including Grass Widow, the Splinters, Brilliant Colors, the Twinks, the Sandwitches, the Sarees, the Glassines, and Shannon and the Clams — while frontperson Dee Dee (née Kristin Gundred) of the Dum Dum Girls has moved back to SF, where she grew up.

Is there a girl band revolution on the horizon? Mainstream charts don’t reflect a change, despite the rising national profiles of the Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls, Frankie Rose and the Outs, and the all-female band backing Beyonce during her last tour. Yet since 2007, waves of all-female bands have been breaking locally — outfits often informed by girl groups, as well as garage rock and generations of punk. Jess Scott of Brilliant Colors told me she recently broached this subject with riot grrrl vet Layla Gibbon, editor of Maximum Rocknroll: “I think people are writing about the music itself, which is exciting. I’m always for new music, and I’m doubly for girls in music.”

But just because girl bands are becoming more of a norm doesn’t mean that sexism has evaporated, much like the election of Barack Obama hasn’t dispelled racism. “When we go on tour in the South or Midwest or anywhere else, you realize how different it is,” says Lillian Maring of Grass Widow. “You’re loading into the venue and hearing, ‘Where’s the band?’ ‘Heh-heh, it’s us — we’re the band.’ ‘You’re traveling by yourselves?'” She looks flabbergasted. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Intriguingly, the very idea of foregrounding gender, above music, chafes against some musicians. “There’s definitely a history of women being objectified in all kinds of visual culture,” says Grass Widow’s Hannah Lew. “We’re thoughtful people who work hard at writing songs and are trying to challenge that whole system of objectification, so it would kind of be an oxymoron if we were to capitalize on the idea of being a girl group. Our gender is an element of what we do, but the first thing is our thoughts and our music.”

Still, others see gender as an inextricable part of writing music, often collaboratively, about their own experiences. “I think it’s a powerful thing to be a troupe of women together writing music,” says the Splinters’ Lauren Stern. “The lyrics are totally different, and there are certain things that a woman writer conveys differently.” Her bandmate Caroline Partamian believes the popularity of all-female combos like the Vivian Girls may be “subconsciously giving girl bands more power to keep writing songs and keep playing shows.”

The Girlschool class of 2010, would probably agree that a new paradigm is in order. Scott, for instance, confesses she’d rather align herself with politically like-minded labels like Make a Mess than simply other all-female bands that “want the same old things tons of guy bands have wanted.” The same old won’t get you a passing grade.



The dilemma of so many women’s bands — to be on the CD or LP cover, or not to be — is beside the point when it comes to SF’s Grass Widow, hunkering down over burgers and shakes in the belly of a former meatpacking building at 16th and Mission streets, in a onetime-meat locker-now-practice space jammed with drum kits, amps, and gear.

“I think it’s annoying to try and sensationalize girl groups, but at the same token maybe it’s cool because it might normalize, a bit, the idea of gender,” says bassist-vocalist Hannah Lew. “But it’s definitely the thing we don’t like to talk about first. I almost don’t want to use our image in anything. People are automatically, ‘They’re hot! Omigod, that one is hot!'”

The cover of Grass Widow’s second, newly released album, Past Time (Kill Rock Stars), appears to sidestep the issue, until you look closely and notice Lew, guitarist-vocalist Raven Mahon, and drummer-vocalist Lillian Maring poking their heads out a car window in the background. “We’re very blurry, but we could be really hot!” Lew jokes. “We probably are really hot!”

Some consider Grass Widow hot for altogether different reasons: the band is often brought up by other all-female local bands as a favorite, and Past Time stands to find a place beside such influential groups as the Raincoats for its blend of sweetness and dissonance, spare instrumentation and sing-out confidence, and interwoven vocals. In some ways, Grass Widow sounds as if it’s starting from scratch in a post-punk universe and going forward from there, violating rockist convention.

Are they, as their name might suggest, mourning an indie rock that might or might not be dead? Well, when Lew, Mahon, and Maring started playing together in 2007 under the moniker Shit Storm (“It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, like the facial tattoo of band names!” says Lew), they probably couldn’t predict how sadly apropos Grass Widow — a centuries-old phrase referring to a woman whose husband is away at sea or war or on duty — would become. Last year, among other events, Lew’s father, noted SF Rabbi Alan Lew, passed away. “We took a six-month break during this intense grieving period, and it was strange to come out of it and think, we’re in a band called Grass Widow,” Lew says now. “And we were grass widows to each other! Then playing again, it felt right to be in a band like that — it took on this other meaning.”

In a similar way, the group regularly works together to transform their experiences, thoughts, and dreams through allegory into song lyrics — and for its release party, it plans to incorporate a string section and a 35-lady choir. “We’re not a girl group mourning the loss of our boyfriends and waiting for them to return,” muses Mahon. “It’s more like we’re working together to create and we’re functioning just fine that way.”


“We’re associated with a lot of bands that came along a few years later, but when I started writing songs three or four years ago, it was a wasteland,” says Jess Scott, Brilliant Colors’ vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter. “It was really hard to find people who wanted to play pop, not hardcore. It seems like a given now, but it was hard to find people who were into Aislers Set.”

Scott’s tenacity and focus comes through — loud, clear, and as vivid as the brightest hues in your paint set, and the most resonant melodies of Aislers Set — on Brilliant Colors’ 2009 debut, Introducing (Slumberland). Her breathy vocals and rhythm guitar — a crisp combination of post-punk spunk and drone — bound off drummer Diane Anastacio’s frisky, skipping beats and bassist Michelle Hill’s simple, straight-to-the-gut bass lines like the most natural thing in the world, recalling punk classics by early Buzzcocks and Wire as well as later successors Delta 5 and LiliPUT and riot grrrl-era kin Heavens to Betsy and Huggy Bear.

Scott has been writing songs since she was 15, which, full disclosure, was around the time I first met her, the daughter of two moms, one of whom I worked with. At the time, her sound was softer, more melodic, and at times weirder than the punk outfits that frequented 924 Gilman Street Project, her pals’ preferred hangout. Nevertheless, Brilliant Colors has gone on to somehow fuse Gilman’s political-punk commitment with Scott’s obsession with perfecting pop songcraft.

“We get offers to do cheesy things and we don’t do it. We’re extremely liberal punk kids, y’know,” explains Scott, who sees all of her band’s numbers as love songs, with a few intriguing angles: “Motherland,” say, is “an overtly feminist song about solidarity between women,” while “Absolutely Anything” concerns vaginal imagery in art.

Call Brilliant Colors’ inspired tunes a true reflection of its music-obsessed maker: Scott studied political science and economics as an undergraduate at Mills College, and arts journalism as a fellow at University of Southern California, and she regularly writes for Maximum Rocknroll. She also runs a cassette label, Tape It to the Limit.

“You could say we’re conscious of who we play with and where we play and what we say,” says. That means saying “no way” to playing at chain clothing stores such as Top Shop, though she humbly adds, “I don’t want to seem ungrateful or rude about it, but we want to stick to shows that are all ages and cheap.”

Snackable: The Sandwitches

Give naivete a good, hard twist and you get something close to the rock ‘n’ roll-primitive originality of the Sandwitches. Little wonder that two of the winsome ‘Witches, vocalist-guitarists Grace Cooper and Heidi Alexander, were once backup vocalists for the Fresh and Onlys — the Sandwitches’ music rings out with the ear-cleansing clarity of smart girls who understand the importance of preserving the best, raw parts of their innocence, even amid the pleasures and perils of age, wisdom, snarking hipsters, and intimidating record collections.

One of the SF trio’s recent tunes, “Beatle Screams,” embodies that fresh, crunchy, approach: its lo-fi echo; lumbering, click-clack drums; and sad carnival-organ sounds are topped off with the comic pathos of girlish, ghoulish shrieks from the depths of groupie hell.

Live, the Sandwitches come across as offhand, upbeat, and surprisingly passionate, playing music that harks to lonely teardrops, mom ‘n’ pop low-watt radio stations, the Everlys and Gene Pitney, with a twinge of country and a dose of dissonance. The trio’s recordings have a nuanced view of love and lust. They assume the perspective of infatuated naifs on “Idiot Savant,” and warble “Fire … I fill the room, I fill the womb,” on “Fire” from the 2009 debut album, How to Make Ambient Sad Cake (Turn Up). Produced by the Fresh and Onlys’ Wymond Miles, the new Sandwitches EP, Duck, Duck, Goose! (Empty Cellar/Secret Seven) plunges even deeper into the shadows, tackling “Baby Mine,” Fresh and Onlys’ honcho Tim Cohen’s “Rock of Gibraltar,” and other eerie lullabies with confidence and tangible vision.

The Sandwitches materialized two years ago when Alexander and drummer Roxy Brodeur began playing together. “She said she really liked the way I drummed and we should play music sometime,” recalls Brodeur, who has also drummed in Brilliant Colors and Pillars of Silence. Alexander had also been playing with Cooper, and it seemed only natural for the three to join forces.

Brodeur was adept at following along: “I play to the vocals a lot, and it depends on the song because Grace and Heidi write in pretty different styles — with Grace it’s lighter and jazzier and with Heidi it’s a little heavier and thumpy.”


Sept. 10, 7 p.m., all ages

Cyclone Warehouse

Illinois and Cesar Chavez, SF


What do Canadian tuxes, temporary tats, TLC, and touring by pickup truck have in common? They’re all pleasures, guilty or not, for the Splinters. The soon-to-be-bicoastal Bay Area all-girl combo is all about fun and friendship, gauging the laughter levels as guitarist Caroline Partamian and vocalist-tambourine player Lauren Stern sip PBRs by the hideaway fireplace in the back of Oakland’s Avenue Bar. Some other choice subjects: seedy green rooms, messy Texas shows, honey-dripping Southern accents, and bandmates that make their own thongs.

“Sometimes being girls has gotten us out of trouble,” says Stern, chuckling. Like that time at an Austin house party when the Splinters got grossed out by the bathroom and decided to go pee next to their truck instead. “We had baby wipes,” Partamian explains. “And we had the truck doors open.”

“So we’re all squatting in a row, and this guy walks out with his dog and his friend,” continues Stern, “and he’s like, ‘You guys are peeing in front of our house!'” Girlish oohing and aahing over his pooch saved the day, and the aggrieved dog walker ended up replacing the truck’s brake pads at a drastic discount.

Likewise, positivity and camaraderie infuse the Splinters’ all-fun debut, Kick (Double Negative), though “Sea Salt Skin” injects melancholy into the garage-rocking shenanigans and “Oranges” levels its gaze at girl-on-girl violence with a withering Black Sabbath-style riff. “Cool” and “Dark Shades” flip the dance-party ethos on its side, playfully critiquing the hip crowd like wiseacre modern-day Shangri-Las. No surprise, then, that these women were friends and fellow students at UC Berkeley before they started playing together in late 2007, inspired by Partamian’s four-track birthday gift. The first show was an Obama house-party fundraiser. “It was $5 for a 40 and a corn dog,” Stern remembers.

The ensemble has turned out to be much more than an end-of-school lark. A New York City move is next for Stern and Partamian — the latter will be starting the museum studies graduate program at NYU. But the Splinters will stay together, in part for four female superfans who sing along to all the Splinters’ songs, and for a Bristol, U.K. father and son who have bonded over their affection for the group.

“I don’t know, we just love playing music together,” says Partamian.

“It’s so much fun,” Stern adds. “Almost in an addictive way.”



Whether you see the term as sweet talk or a slam, the Twinks’ name couldn’t be more appropriate. After all, as drummer Erica Eller says with a laugh, “We’re cute and we like boys!”

True to form, they’re young — the foursome’s first show took place last month — and fun. The Twinks are all-girl, rather than a band of adorable and hairless young gay men. Their sugar-sweet, hip-shaking rockin’ pop unabashedly finds inspiration in the first wave of girl groups — vessels of femininity and Tin Pan Alley aspiration such as the Crystals, the Shirelles, the Dixie Cups, and the Shangri-Las. But in the Twinks’ case, girls, not the producers, are calling the shots. Tunes like “Let’s Go” and “There He Was” are tracked by the group on a portable recorder and overdubbed with Garage Band. It’s a rough but effective setup, capturing keyboardist and primary songwriter Kelly Gabaldon, guitarist Melissa Wolfe, and bassist Rita Sapunor as they take turns on lead vocals and harmonize with abandon.

The band came to life amid an explosion of creativity, when Gabaldon, who also plays in the all-girl Glassines with Eller, wrote a slew of songs last winter. “All of a sudden I had a burst of inspiration,” Gabaldon marvels. “I’d email them a new song every day.” The numbers seemed less suited to the “moodier, singer-songwriter” Glassines, so Gabaldon got her friend Wolfe and finally Sapunor into the act.

Says Gabaldon: “I started listening to a lot more oldies music than I had been before.”

“We also went to a bunch of shows in the past year,” adds Eller as the group sits around the kitchen table at her Mission District warehouse space. “Shannon and the Clams, Hunx and His Punx, a lot of local bands, for sure.”

“I got influenced by Girls,” interjects Gabaldon.

Eller: “All these concerts going on — Nobunny — “

“We went to a lot of shows in the past year!” says Gabaldon. “It was like, ‘We want to do that!'<0x2009>”

Now the Twinks are just trying to play out as much as they can and record their songs. They work ties and other menswear delights into their stage getups, and drink shots of Chartreuse before each show. “I think we all have similar ambitions,” says Sapunor, “but there’s a sense of lightness and playfulness and fun, so it doesn’t seem like work. I think that’s how female culture plays into the overall experience for us, and hopefully for audience members, too.”


With Milk Music and White Boss

Sept. 9, 9 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


Sept. 10, 7 p.m., all ages

Cyclone Warehouse Illinois and Cesar Chavez, SF

Redneck dawn


If it left here tomorrow, would you still remember redneck rock? In the 20-tweens, you might hear it rushing through the purple veins of Southern gothic TV: within Jace Everett’s growling poster-boy blues, “Bad Things,” which opens True Blood, and Gangstagrass’ hip-hop-drenched banjo-and-fiddle hillbilly vamp, “Long Hard Times to Come,” the theme to the trigger-happy Justified.

In 1974’s The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, author Jan Reid defined the genre as Texan through-and-through, based in irreverently reverent Austin and embodied by Willie Nelson, Kinky Friedman, Janis Joplin, Doug Sahm, Townes Van Zandt, and Billy Joe Shaver. Reid sees the Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, and Stevie Ray Vaughn as its unlikely descendants, but that’s only one blood line. The rusty dust of redneck rock can also be found rising from the sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama” and the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” and “Blue Sky” on classic rock radio. Or whenever 38 Special’s soft-rock stab at Top 40 popularity, “Caught Up in You,” pops up, be it in a biker bar or a key girl-power moment from Drew Barrymore’s Whip It. Redneck rock lives wherever the Nuge wanders, crossbow in hand. Do the ghosts of redneck rock lurk wherever Buffalo Bill beards and American Gothic facial hair may roam?

Today, Nashville yields few answers: you’d be hard-pressed to hear anything beyond the “new rock” recent past in the OTT bounce of the Kings of Leon, apart from the sinewy guitar snaking beneath the pelvic thrust of, say, “Sex on Fire.” Though perhaps this year’s watery disaster — evoking the legendary 1927 Mississippi floods that inspired a generation of blues songwriters — will bring in a new wave of soul-searching.

You’re likelier to find remnants of redneck rock in the fiery ambitions of Louisville, Ky., combo My Morning Jacket. Or out west, in the Cali-rock dreams of Howlin Rain and the Portland folk-psych ruminations of Blitzen Trapper. These bands are also fans, unafraid to demonstrate their allegiance to those enlightened rogues the Allmans — shred-savants in the name of “Jessica” and the still-astonishing “Whipping Post” — or the Band, the group whose wide, deep catalog likely has the biggest impact on post-punk’s redneck rockers.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, with the recession continuing to bear down unsparingly on the music world, but neither My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, nor Howlin Rain has released a studio album since 2008. The exception is Blitzen Trapper. Enigmatic storyteller Eric Earley and company came to most critics’ attention with their third full-length, Wild Mountain Nation (Lidkercow Ltd., 2007). That recording dared to reclaim a kind of back-to-the-backwoods, Green Man-tapped mythos, complete with saintly tramps, critter call-outs, country caravans, and a genuine-dandelion-wine “Wild Mtn. Jam.” The new Destroyer of the Void (Sub Pop) yields further clues to the ensemble’s redneck of the woods.

The four-eyed Minotaur on the cover of Destroyer replaces the spectral Bigfoot skulking through Wild Mountain Nation‘s underbrush and the changeling wolf-boy in the title track of Furr (Sub Pop, 2008). In the opening title track, this Destroyer stalks a spaghetti southwestern dreamscape awash with rolling stones, wayward sons, and other rock ‘n’ roll archetypes, pieced out with harmonies more akin to “Bohemian Rhapsody” than “Good Vibrations.” Is this a rustic-rock mini-opera variant on the Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away”? Instead, Blitzen Trapper appears intent on chasing away yawning distractions, the enemy of imagination — bounding over Rockpile hill and dale on “Laughing Lover,” fluttering after acoustic-guitar-glittered butterflies in “Below the Hurricane,” then finally settling down for a tale about “The Man Who Would Speak True,” a protagonist who destroys all who listen with his terrible honesty.

Does this fear point to why Blitzen Trapper prefers to take refuge in a lush, obfuscating thicket of folk tales, rock ‘n’ roll tropes, and unexpected sonic switchbacks? Truth is feared, and healing sanctuary can found in the natural order. No wonder Blitzen Trapper treats its windy musical changes — the roaring fuzz-guitar-and-B-3 overture of “Love and Hate,” the dying trees and elegiac piano and strings of “Heaven and Earth,” and the minor-chord yet blissfully sweet “Dragon’s Song” — as mysterious, unchanging, and impossible to tame.

“Sadie, I can never change,” wails Earley, in a feather-light tip of a cap to “Free Bird”‘s “This bird you cannot change/Lord knows I can’t change.” It’s a slight, very specific turnaround from the proud, loaded declaration of independence hammered out with such lyricism by Skynyrd: Blitzen Trapper stands its ground in fertile soil, part Mississippi Delta and “The Weight,” part A Night at the Opera and Village Green Preservation Society, its melodies — and heart — ever unresolved, its notions semi-nonsensical and wild-eyed.


With the Moondoggies

Wed/30, 9 p.m., $20


1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000

Now voyager


MUSIC What might Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s status be? Casual but committed, relaxed yet extremely productive sounds about right for the Alps music-maker, Root Strata label head, On Land festival organizer, and now the third leg of the recently formed Moholy-Nagy.

Not another reunion band-cum-supergroup — Cantu-Ledesma, Danny Paul Grody (the Drift), and Trevor Montgomery (Lazarus) were founding members of Tarentel — the new SF project shares a moniker with the Bauhaus movement mover-and-shaker, although the trio is much more unassuming than all that.

“I think Danny and Trevor had been playing for a couple months, and they called and asked if they could borrow one of my synthesizers,” recalls Cantu-Ledesma on the phone, taking a break from his day job in operations at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “I said, ‘No, but I’ll come down and play it’ — an asshole move on my part, but that’s typical of me.” You can practically hear his tongue being firmly thrust in cheek.

Very casually, but consistently, in the spirit of a “nerding-out recording project” with the members switching instruments and utilizing a “junky analog” ’70s drum machine Montgomery found on eBay, the threesome hunkered down in its longtime Hunters Point practice space, making what Cantu-Ledesma describes as the “most synthesized thing any of us has ever done before. It’s largely improvised around bass lines or drum parts, so things weigh it down and other things can have freedom around it.”

“It’s more like hanging out with friends having some lunch and getting some coffee and making music,” he adds. “It’s not like, ‘Dude! We’re in a band!'<0x2009>”

Easy-going but quick to step back and see the folly or humor in whatever’s before him, often issuing a loud, bright laugh, Cantu-Ledesma seems less than impressed with self-important “band dudes,” even after years spent in an influential combo like Tarentel.

“Oh, gosh, are you picking up on that?” he replies, dryly ironic, when asked about it. “Well, even with the Alps, when you look at it on the surface, it looks like we’re writing songs, but we’re not writing songs. We just want to create stuff and not so much worry about the fidelity of recreating things.”

But what things Cantu-Ledesma makes, judging from the haunting watercolor tone poems of Moholy-Nagy — music that could easily slip into a cinematic mood piece like Zabriskie Point (1970) or Paris, Texas (1984) — and the alternately motorik-beatific and insinuatingly delicate experiments of the Alps’ new Le Voyage (Type). For Cantu-Ledesma’s forthcoming solo album, due this fall, he’ll dig into his more shoegaze-ish background, but for Moholy-Nagy, he gets to “exercise another side. I’m a total knob-tweaker kind of guy, but we get to move around a lot more than we get to on other projects. Things are tending to sound more quirky or funky than other things we’ve done.”

In a way this project is an extension of the San Francisco Art Institute painting and sculpture graduate’s interior, rather than audibly exterior, work. “I’m going to say this, and I’m not trying to be new age,” he confesses. “But honestly, I used to be really intense about stuff happening a certain way. But I worked on my own development and became more secure with my own personality. and that really helped in terms of — without sounding too Californian — just letting it flow.”

That goes for his collaborations with filmmaker and kindred SFMOMA staffer Paul Clipson: a DVD of their Super-8 films and sound pieces since 2007 comes out this summer and coincides with an August performance at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. “We love what we do, but there’s no plan behind any of it,” Cantu-Ledesma ponders. “I know this probably sounds facetious, but I’m not really motivated to make things happen — though obviously with things like On Land, you’re booking and buying plane tickets and stuff.”

On Land is firmly grounded in Cantu-Ledesma’s Root Strata imprint, which materialized in 2004, inspired by SF collectives like Jeweled Antler and then-Bay Area-based performers like Yellow Swans, Axolotl, and Skaters. It’s a way to present artists that Cantu-Ledesma and co-organizer and label cohort Maxwell Croy like and have worked with in the last year, in a “nice venue,” otherwise known as Cafe Du Nord. In early September, label musicians and friends like Charalambides, Grouper, Oneohtrix Point Never, Zelienople, Dan Higgs, White Rainbow, Barn Owl, and Bill Orcutt will appear, with video collaborations by Clipson and Nate Boyce, at the second annual gathering.

“Does the Bay Area need another music festival? Probably not,” Cantu-Ledesma quips wryly. “But you’re not going to see Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy or Vampire Weekend. We’re trying to show a different strata of stuff from California or Oregon, kind of a West Coast underground, or people who just fit into our tastes, which are idiosyncratic and weird.”


With Brother Raven and Golden Retriever

Wed/16, 9 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923

Freedom for


MUSIC It can be tough to see the woods for the trees, to eyeball the big picture ideas amid the seductive specifics of a lush, ancient green aroma of a redwood forest after a rain, or the honeyed, sun-washed lethargy that comes with a warm summer day. But pin down one crucial branch of Brooklyn band Woods with an archetypal Barbara Walters query — “If Woods could be any tree, what tree would it be?” — and you just might get, “Omigod, I’m drawing a blank.”

Jarvis Taveniere, once of Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice and now heading up Woods along with founder Jeremy Earl, pauses and ponders the arboreal possibilities on a beautiful day in upstate New York. He has a gin and tonic in one hand and a Pink Floyd rock bio in the other. He could be swimming, learning to dive, and hurting his shoulder instead on this mellow day, just before Woods uproots and sets out on tour.

“I was going to say redwood. I thought that sounded cheesy, but I’m going to say it anyway,” he decides. “There’s history there — it’s extremely old and huge. And I’d like to hear what they have to say: ‘Tree, tell me about Henry Miller — what was he like?'”

Taveniere will have his chance to speak to the trees when Woods gets to SF and Big Sur. The latter’s Henry Miller Memorial Library is the site of the Woodsist Festival, nominally a showcase for Earl’s label, Woodsist, but really, as Taveniere puts it, “just any excuse to get up there” and play with friends like SF’s the Fresh and Onlys. “You don’t have to sit in the sun and buy $5 bottles of water,” he quips.

Woods take to California’s leafy retreats like seedlings to the herbaceous floor of old-growth forest, making a ritual of roaming beneath the bowers of Muir Woods. “We have to go to Muir Woods every tour,” says Taveniere, who grew up in upstate New York along with Earl and spent his youth “hiding out” in the woods building forts and fashioning his own little world. “It’s just the tranquil feeling you get over there, especially living in New York and being on tour and some of us living in city. We always leave in a such nice peaceful state, resetting the mind a little.”

That kick-back feeling, mixed with the unexpected sensation of having your mind suddenly kick-started, suffuses Woods music, from the unpredictable musical twists and unlikely power of the band’s live performances to the most recent Woods album, At Echo Lake (Woodsist), a sunnily insinuating document of summer 2009, named for the humble New Jersey vacation spot near Earl’s hometown. It shimmers with surf ‘n’ turf rumble (“From the Horn”), Badfinger-esque melancholy (“Mornin’ Time”), and nether-worldly noise and triangle plinks (“Pick Up”) — sometimes in the very same song. Who would think lines like “Numbers make no difference unless you shine like you should/And the night hangs it back in place” could touch the heart strings like they do? Woods’ deep sweetness and natural mystery runs throughout like a fresh, cool stream.

At Echo Lake is the fruit of songwriting stints in Brooklyn — and the lure of barbecue, which enticed friends like the Magik Markers’ Pete Nolan to contribute drums to “Get Back” and Matt Valentine to “lay down some sweet santar” (a modified banjo-sitar) on “Time Fading.” “You trick them to come up for barbecue,” Taveniere jests. “Everyone’s loose, having a good time — it’s the perfect opportunity to create.”


With Kurt Vile and the Art Museums

Fri/11, 8 p.m., $16


333 11th St., SF

(415) 522-0333


With Real Estate, Kurt Vile, Moon Duo, the Fresh and Onlys

Sat/12, 3-11 p.m., $22.50 (sold out/waiting list)

Highway 1, Big Sur



VIDEO What brings down a presidential campaign, makes Stephen Colbert break out his lightsabers, and inspires protest in Oakland and Tehran? The alpha and omega of online video: YouTube and my camera phone equal a jillion eyeballs and our itchy mouse finger clicking “Play” and passing it on. All those moments, all those sticky little memes, are now forever linked and embedded in the cultural fabric, touchstones certain to become engrained in our collective unconscious as the grainy image of the Beatles playing Ed Sullivan or the Challenger exploding on camera.

At all of five years old, YouTube can claim more than 2 billion views a day. Twenty-four hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute and admittedly few of those snippets find traction in the stream of life. Yet the evolution of online video is just beginning. So say knowledgeable observers like Jennie Bourne, author of Web Video: Making It Great, Getting It Noticed.

“Viral has become a dirty word in Web video because people’s concerns in going viral tend to be linked to trying to monetize a web video, and very often a video that’s getting a lot of views is not making a lot of money,” Bourne explains. And while the rise of citizen broadcast journalists and DIY documentarians is laudable, she adds, “I have to say the flip side of that — people walking around with cameras on their foreheads all the time video blogging — can get a little boring without a structure and style. I think there will be a shakeout at one point, and Web video will mature. It’s not there yet — it’s effective as a distribution medium and effective as a social medium but still developing as a commercial medium.”

For now, what do some of the last five or even (gasp) 10 years’ most widely distributed viral videos say about this generation’s particular sickness?

With the advent of camera phones, the revolution will be webcast Is it any surprise that moving images activate us more than words? The outrage over the BART station shooting of Oscar Grant was fueled by the sights captured by viewers with camera phones. Six months after Grant’s death, the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan during the Iranian election protests was captured by multiple observers, causing it to become a flashpoint for reformists and activists. The videos depicting what one Time writer described as “probably the most widely witnessed death in human history” ended up winning last year’s George Polk Award for Videography.

Pre-online video, the mainstream news media likely would have shielded the public from these images in the interest of so-called public decency. But the availability of these videos online — and the reaction they generated — triggered a rethink. The shadowy online presence of the beheading videos made by Islamist terrorists following 9/11 might have prepared some for the horrors of the very real faces of death, but obviously the intent behind more recent spontaneous acts of DIY documentation has been radically different. Consider this the nonviolent, amateur response to Homeland Security-approved surveillance — a quickly-posted flipside to the filter of traditional journalism.

We appreciate raw talent There’s the professional article, like the demo tape of Jeremy Davies’ lengthy Charles Manson improvisation. But viewers often prefer to feed on more unvarnished talent-show-esque efforts: the stoic, high-geek style of Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain,” or Eli Porter of “Iron Mic” infamy. As one aficionado said of the latter, Porter is an “enigma, for no one knows where the FUCK Eli is! His battle was done in 2003, and he sort of vanished, leaving legions of fans wanting more.” The invisible — both the private ritual and the would-be performer striving for a public — is made visible. This is why recent clips such as a little girl dunking through her legs or the “Dick Slang” video of circle-jerking hip-hoppers shaking their penii like hula hoops are so wickedly sticky.

The reveal can’t be concealed You can’t hide your anger management issues, whether you’re a Chinese woman punching and kicking on Muni or Bill O’Reilly flipping out about getting played out with a Sting song (“We’ll do it live! Fuck it!”). Nor can you forget that pesky Katie Couric clip if you’re Sarah Palin: the notorious snippet of the wannabe vice president attempting to explain her nonexistent foreign policy experience lives on in a YouTube feature box. If you decide to get more than 1,000 prisoners in the Philippines to replicate the “Thriller” video, rope a slew of tarted-up tots to do the “Single Ladies” routine, or organize a flash mob of dancers for your (500) Days of Summer-cheesy proposal in New York City’s Washington Square Park, you can bet it won’t stay a secret. Especially when a good portion of the bystanders blocking your shot are hoisting up cameras and phones of their own.

We like to play with our food and gobble pet vids The dancing fountains of “Diet Coke and Mentos” and the elegiac meltdowns of so many innocent, candy-colored sundaes and ‘sicles in “The Death & Life of Ice Cream” rock our pop, though they’re no match for sneezing baby pandas, dramatic chipmunks, very vocal cats, and dogs either verbalizing, skateboarding, or balloon-munching.

Passion counts Especially when it comes to Chris Crocker’s “Leave Britney Alone” protestations, Obama Girl’s undulations, the kakapo parrot shagging a hapless nature photographer’s skull, and Zach Galifianakis’ hilariously bad “Between Two Ferns” interviews. Even Soulja Boy’s vlogs, in which the pop tell-’em-all cranks the virtues of the Xbox, seem obsessed — with getting the viewer’s attention. That also goes for the “Numa Numa” xloserkidx singing along to O Zone’s “Dragostea Din Tei” and the twirling, ducking, and capering Canadian high-schooler in the “Star Wars Kid” video, which marketing company the Viral Factory estimates has been viewed more than 900 million times.

Just gird yourself for the edit “Star Wars Kid” is one primo example: it inspired Stephen Colbert to kick off a viral loop of his own, challenging viewers to edit and enhance the green-screen video tribute of his own lightsaber routine. No one is exempt from a little creative tinkering, an inspired tweak or 2,000, be it “Longcat”; Ted Levine in Silence of the Lambs; or pre-YouTube animated vid “All Your Base Are Belong To Us,” the classic mother of all video hacks, where images ranging from beer ads to motel signs are Photoshopped with the Zero Wing Engrish subtitle. And you thought the remix was dead.

Lovely fade: Elisa Randazzo teams with local musicmakers for ‘Bruises and Butterflies’


Love and loss and an unfaltering creative spirit appear to inform Elisa Randazzo’s new album, Bruises and Butterflies (Drag City). Her marriage to ex- Josh Schwartz, once of Beachwood Sparks and her partner in Fairechild, may be over, but Randazzo has found plenty of other talents to commune with.

The fashion designer and onetime violinist and vocalist for Red Krayola befriended British folk cult icon Bridget St. John three years ago, and their friendship has led to such haunting songwriting collaborations as the fluttering, autumnal “He Faded.” Randazzo — the daughter of ‘60s songwriters Teddy Randazzo (“It’s Gonna Take a Miracle,” “Hurt So Bad”) and Victoria Pike — found her ideal accompanists among like-minded Bay Area musicians such as Wymond Miles, John Hofer, Shayde Sartin, and Joe Goldmark.

Swept away with pedal steel, dobro, and cello and urged along by Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, and a legion of acoustic guitars, Randazzo sounds as if she’s shooting for the kind of pop transcendence that her father could understand on such songs as “Colors,” as she intones, “I could ask every friend in sight / Jump a plane, so I could travel light / But who would know the color of my love? / Remind me of the things I’m givin’ up.” But from the lightly levitating sound of Bruises and Butterflies and its cover image of a serene idol licked by flames, I have the feeling she’s aiming even higher. 

What would Woods do?


The slow sweep of summer break, sunlit days that yawn out into infinity, and the pock of a single snare — those are some of the sleepy, sweet vibes coming off WoodsAt Echo Lake (Woodsist).

The New York combo made an impression on moi at 2009’s South by Southwest, thanks to its gently experimental tendencies — its fuzztone favoritism, love o’ noodling, and interest in dabbing odd dashes of electronics over otherwise unassuming rock. At the time Woods provided a down-low yet daring counterpoint to the lo-fi poppiness going down all around.

This time, the group seems to be taking notes from the twee pop contingent. Backward-masking style touches, folksy acoustic guitar, and little candy-colored shards of noise are added to the lightly pensive nostalgic mood. Picking up the triangle and hosting a small cavalcade of handclaps, Woods wonders, “Who knows what tomorrow will bring / And it shows,” on “Suffering Season” — and you can’t help but echo the sentiment. What would Woods do, next?

Woods perform June 11 at Slim’s, 333 11th St., S.F. 8 p.m., $16. (415) 522-0333, Woods also play June 12 at the Woodsist Festival at Henry Miller Memorial Library, Highway 1, Big Sur. 3-11 p.m.,$22.50.


Pump you up!


MUSIC Follow the heavily pitch-shifted, layered vocals woozily intoning “I love drugs” on “Mind Eraser” from Growing’s new Pumps (Vice). You’ll end up deep in the thicket of the group’s hallucinatory haze, levitating on a cockeyed cloud of bird calls, darting beats, and cries of “It’s my brain!” Welcome to the Brooklyn band’s bristly, growling hoedown, one emulating the sound of the hive mind in a crowded nightclub and pulsing with swooping, strobe-light electronics — though those familiar, whooping party horns refuse to cooperate with any potential dance trance, rarely continuing longer than a few bars.

It’s the sound of a band evolving into some creature poised between an art group that inspires its audience to sit on the floor, cross-legged and spaced-out, and a shadowy outfit toiling behind gear as the crowd grinds and undulates in the foreground. Neither fish nor fowl, neither entirely noise nor dance-pop, those dichotomies, false or no, seem to have dissolved with the entry a year and a half ago of new member Sadie Laska of IUD and Extreme Violence. Laska joined Growing’s seemingly tight two-man collaboration — Joe DeNardo and Kevin Doria have been making music together since 1999 — after playing with the duo during a Growing-IUD tour. And Pumps is the first album the threesome has made together, working amid piles of effect boxes, synths, drum machines, Optigans, and guitars at Brooklyn’s Ocropolis studio.

“It was kind of scary at first for me,” Laska says, from the trio’s car, while in Seattle. “I didn’t know what was going to happen — they didn’t seem to have any strict way of doing anything. Instead they were kind of in this place where they wanted a new perspective, new ideas, so they were like, ‘Do whatever you want.'<0x2009>”

Laska went ahead and added the new vocal elements and samples, amplifying the subtle humor of tracks like the jittery, antically polyrhythmic “Highlight,” which almost suggests a spastic, giggly cousin of the Residents. The wit extends to the title and artwork of the disc, with its 1980s-esque pink lipstick gloss and its pinup girl ready to grotesquely eyeball the viewer.

“The title is supposed to be kind of funny,” Laska explains, “and I think the whole record is really light-hearted, which I don’t think people get at first.” The name directly refers to an instance when Doria’s girlfriend was packing a lot of shoes in a box labeled “Pumps.” “He was like, ‘I hate pumps,'<0x2009>” recalls Laska. “We joked about this being a feminine record, with a girl in the band and this music. After all, we have these beats — we’d say, ‘It’s pumpin’!'<0x2009>”

That’s what happens when you introduce a drum machine into the mix, although that doesn’t mean Growing intends to infiltrate clubland. “I think of it as almost a dance record, but not quite,” observes Laska. “It’s still off-kilter, and maybe you can’t dance to it. [Doria and DeNardo] came from a guitar-driven band, and we all come from these punk roots, so none of us grew up going to dance clubs and listening to dance music — that’s not what we were trying to make.”

Growing is, well, growing — not only in number, but in playful, new elastic directions as the group flips Laska’s vocals and fuses them with the beat. “We’re maybe more light-hearted,” Laska says. “Not that they were super-serious before. But I think now we really want people to have a good time and move around a little bit to it. In some ways we still play a sustained, long set. But now we do have these samples, and it’s kind of like … party music.” She chuckles at the absurdity of it. “Like the end-of-the-night kind of party.” 


With Eric Copeland and Birds and Batteries

Wed/28, 8 p.m., $10–>$12

New Parish

579 18th St., Oakl.

(510) 444-7474


Taking the Waters


SFIFF Jessica Rabbit was just drawn that way, Foster Brooks just happened to stumble on his “lovable lush” act, and likewise, actor-writer-producer Derek Waters — he of Drunk History fame — just sounds like he started poking around in the liquor cabinet earlier in the day. In the same way, we all happened to just look up from our many open browser screens and realize our attention spans have drastically shrunk — one of the many reasons Waters believes the histories have been so popular, leading to offers from HBO to produce a Drunk History sketch show and spinning off a host of homemade copycat videos on YouTube.

“Attention spans are way too small to watch whole movies,” says the 30-year-old Waters, speaking from Los Angeles. “I think if these came out in the ’70s, I don’t know how popular they would be.” And who can blame the pretenders, justly inspired by the shorts — and the sight of soused comedians relating their favorite great moments in history (while occasionally losing their lunch or lying down to get more comfy) while actors like Michael Cera, Jack Black, and Will Ferrell reenact out all the blurry details, down to Ben Franklin’s improbable “Holy shit … there’s a fucking lightning storm happening right now outside!”

The fact that creator Waters could get actors like Crispin Glover and John C. Reilly to play, for instance, the battling Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla is yet another plus. “Edison was publicly electrocuting animals to prove his point,” Waters says. “And to see Crispin Glover doing that was a dream come true.”

No fear that Drunk History will swallow up cable — or traditional academic — programming, though Waters says his old teachers have e-mailed to tell him they’ve shown the films to their students. “I think Drunk History is funny for five minutes,” he says. “I don’t think you can ask too much of a drunk person.” The actor is doing a HBO series called Derek Waters Presents LOL instead (“I like to say it stands for ‘Lots of Losers.’ I guess you write what you know”), remaining committed to the short, funny form, as well as the dream of turning his 13th Grade short, set at a community college, into a full-fledged series.

All that makes Waters a primo candidate for a drunken evening at the theater with Wholphin DVD magazine editor Brent Hoff. He’ll be showing relevant shorts such as Bob Odenkirk’s gut-busting The Pity Card — part of Waters’ and The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg’s online short series Derek and Simon — and talking about that film, as well as, no doubt, the work he’ll contribute to Wholphin‘s next edition.

Incidentally, Wholphin‘s latest issue, its 11th, is a doozy: “It’s the most edible-looking yet,” quips Hoff in San Francisco. “All bubblegum-y colors.” It includes Ramin Bahrani’s Plastic Bag short with poignant hilarious voice-of-the-bag narration by Werner Herzog, in addition to an excerpt from Bitch Academy, a doc about Russian women taking a class on how to snag millionaires — a grim, scary variant of the cheese-cloaked Millionaire Matchmaker — which Hoff describes as “the most terrifying thing we’ve ever put out.”

More terrifying that listening to writer Eric Falconer lose his eight vodka cranberries and then get back up to talk American history? For some, it might be a draw. “There’s something fascinating,” Waters observes, “about someone so passionate about something but not moving forward at all.”


Mon/26, 9:30 p.m.

Sundance Kabuki

1881 Post, SF


Ring ring


MUSIC Take a page from the Peaches lesson plan: there are a few similarities between whipping a mob of too-cool-for-school hipsters and jaded insiders into a silly, sweltering mess — and rocking a classroom of bored youngsters. Sweet-voiced and sweet-tempered, Sleigh Bells vocalist Alexis Krauss knows this all too well: as a Teach for America educator, she was once charged with motivating antsy 10-year-olds. “You have to be high energy — it’s hard work!” the 24-year-old exclaims merrily over a gas-and-go line as she and bandmate Derek Miller, 28, once of screamo-hardcore outfit Poison the Well, tool through rural Pennsylvania on tour with Major Lazer.

Sleigh Bells’ performances have been a precious few since late last year, when the Brooklyn twosome stumbled into a few shows as part of CMJ Music Marathon in New York City and ended up being declared breakout belles by sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum. “We weren’t really even ready to start playing till December 2009,” Krauss demurs. “But we got lucky and met the right people at the right time.”

The frontwoman has had her share of luck: at 13, she was tapped by producers to sing and play bass in teen-pop act RubyBlue. “Basically it was like all those stories that you hear about those bands: a factory,” she recalls. “It was great in that I learned a lot at a young age, but eye-opening in terms of the darker side of the music business — in the sense that you have no say in the decisions going on around you.”

Disillusionment with music followed, but Krauss met Miller in an almost mythic manner two years ago: at a Brazilian restaurant in NYC, he was waiting on her when her mother helpfully volunteered her daughter’s services as a singer. Since then it’s been a perfect storm of good fortune for the duo. On the strength of a few demos — part of a trove that Miller had been working on in his bedroom since leaving his old band in search of a womanly voice — the pair were embraced by MIA. Miller ended up doing production on MIA’s forthcoming full-length, and her NEET Recordings is coreleasing Sleigh Bells’ debut, Treats (Mom + Pop), on May 11.

MIA’s and Sleigh Bells’ simpatico approach comes through loud and clear in their mutual affection for hip-hop pastiche and post-punk dissonance. Tracks like “A/B Machines” call out to a makeshift dance floor with four-alarm urgency, perpetually revving Link Wray twang and gristly crunch. The janky-cool “Crown on the Ground” draws power from its bleeding, in-the-red meeting ground between hip-hop heads and noise generators. “Ring Ring” comes off as Sleigh Bells at its most soulful — rolling along on an acoustic guitar vamp, finger-click snap, and Krauss’ girlish rap about a sweet and sultry 16. If this is the sound of summer — an early contender for summer song of 2010 — it’s summer in the city, with guitars that sound like jackhammers and ambulance sirens. Even the playful “At the Beach” is driven by rave-ready horn blasts and the type of bass thump you’d ordinarily hear from a passing Jeep.

The pair went into the studio in January, re-recording some songs and assembling new ones. And while Miller still writes the majority of material, Krauss says the two are growing into their roles and becoming more collaborative. In any case, they didn’t clean things up too much. “We added just a few more tools at our disposal to create a better sound,” she explains. “So we hope that it will be everything people want it to be.” What do Sleigh Bells want? “We like people dancing, singing along, and losing their minds.”


With Yeasayer

April 17, 9 p.m., $20


1805 Geary, SF

Cut to the core: the sweet and the Splinters


Didja hear? There’s a mini-girl-band revolution going on. Embracing the rawest of rawk, the lowest of fi, the Splinters haven’t been lumped into the current wavelet of female-centric Bay Area ensembles ala Brilliant Colors and Grass Widow. And perhaps rightfully so. Gender aside, the bands are coming from way different places sonically. On its 12-track debut, Kick (Double Negative), the Splinters hew to the sweet harmonies of yesterday’s girl-group gangs, with nary a Phil Spector nor Calvin Johnson in earshot — though the spare arrangements and muy-primitivo grrrl-punk of “Mysterious” and “Dark Shades” seem more indebted to the K Kamp than any fortress built with Walls of Sound.

As an engineer, Maus Haus frontperson Jason Kick does a bang-up job of clearing the clutter, foregrounding the prettily droning harmonies of “Electricity,” and making the acoustic guitars glitter above a soulful bassline on “Sea Salt Skin.” Still, the pared-down aesthetic — not to mention the four UC Berkeley alums’ unpretentiously thoughtful preoccupations with such topics as girl-on-girl malice (“Oranges”) and the act of posturing beneath the heat of a gaze (“Cool”) — sounds like its all coming very organically from the Splinters themselves. Too few are fearless enough to write an on-the-verge-of-breakup song as bare-throated yet brutally honest, vulnerable, and unadorned as the guitar-and-tambourine-tinted “Sorry” — more power to the Splinters. 

With Psychedelic Horseshit and Outlaw
April 14, 9 p.m.
Ghosttown Gallery
2519 San Pablo, Oakl.

Twin stars


MUSIC Can two voices get any closer — or be laid any more bare — than those of the xx’s Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim? The band’s spare, pared-down pop is so minimally cloaked, with either instrumentation or pretense, that you could swear the pair were scarily close-knit sibs: the Chang and Eng of U.K. rock — the doubled letters of the xx seem less like a set of female chromosomes than a symbolic representation of Croft and Sim’s doubling.

But then what else would you expect from two 20-year-olds who’ve known each other since they were 3, growing up together and into their roles as music-makers? “We went to kindergarten together,” Sim says of their early childhood bonding. “I don’t remember a time in my life when she wasn’t in it.”

The twosome met the xx producer-percussionist Jamie Smith when they were all of 11, forging a tightness that has outlasted the coming and going of keyboardist-guitarist Baria Qureshi — and has comforted Sim during the group’s current journey round the globe. “I’m so glad I’m doing this with my best friend,” Sim says, complaining of the lack of creativity and privacy on the road (he’s been taking refuge in Polaroid picture-taking). “I can imagine it being very lonely being this far from home.”

Far they are. The mild-mannered bassist-vocalist-songwriter has to struggle to make himself heard, against all odds, in a loud North Carolina bar carved out of an old train car, where the xx is performing that night. The success of The xx (Young Turks/XL, 2009) — which landed with a soft yet palpable thump atop critics’ best-of lists last year — has sent Sim, Croft, and Smith off around the world for far longer than Sim feels comfortable with. As for the recording, “I don’t think we even intended to perform it,” Sim explains now. “Going from that to a world tour is very weird.”

Weird because the xx’s bone-piercing, emotionally perceptive music — crafted by two barely legal 20-year-olds who likely wouldn’t get past the bouncer at many of the bars they’ve played — has spoken to so many. Few have used so few tools — an old Casio kids’ keyboard, a drum machine, guitar, and bass — to say so much, so intimately: The xx‘s plangent, eerie spaces and iChat-honed lyrics echo the aural landscapes of Young Marble Giants and kindred student of London’s Elliott School, Will Bevan of Burial. Taking barely traceable cues from the latter as well as from 1990s R&B performers like Aaliyah (who the xx has covered, along with Womack and Womack), the xx is the rare band that makes the space between the sounds, the pauses between the words, speak just as loudly as lyrics. “We’re big fans of subtleties of music,” Sim says. “If you give it room to breathe, you can bring forth a different sort of drama in them.”

At first the sparse arrangements were all they were capable of. “The synchronicity of it came partly from us just trying to play our instruments,” Sim says. “We couldn’t have complemented it if we tried, and as time has gone on, it’s been about restraint, and we try to go for simplicity for itself. Me and Romy don’t have particularly loud voices as well. It wouldn’t make sense to make a overwhelming sound that we had to contend with vocally.”

And in many ways breaking these songs down to their bare pop parts — crystallizing its elements in such boiled-down beauties as “Crystalised” — is a way of distilling the intensity of adolescence, and the cacophonous overwhelm of 21st century experience, down to its very vivid essence. Or a way of capturing on 11 tracks, a few fleeting moments from age 16 — when Sim and Croft wrote “VCR” — to 20. “For me it’s quite strange looking back at the album,” says Sim. “Even though the three or four years doesn’t seem like so much time, going from 16 to 20 is such a big change. I kind of see myself growing up in the whole album. It’s a bit of a diary.” *


With Hot Chip

April 16, 8 p.m., $29.50

Fox Theater

1807 Telegraph, Oakl.

1 (800) 745-3000

Passing and tipping the hat at Mission Street Food


Oh yeah, I’d been around the block. I’ve crawled these mean food-strewn streets we call the Mission. I’d noshed my way between the tasty chicken tacos at El Toyanese truck and the delectable $1.25 carnitas numbers at the mobile Gallo Giro. I’d caught the creme brulee cart in action, caramelizing on the spot and passing out the freebies in Dolores Park. I’d partaken in the bacon dog as the vagabond seller scooted down the block, away from the ooshing bouncer at Bruno’s.

So as a street food fan in the barrio, I’d been dying to try Mission Street Food. The fact that it’s only open two days a week — Thursdays and Saturdays — is a bit of stopper, as is the fact that you gotta make reservations via e-mail. Yet I finally got around to it and snuck in early on a quiet Thursday — it’s Lung Shan Restaurant most days of the week, and the only sign that things were at all different is the hipster-heavy staff. The seating could have been savvier: why was another couple squished so closely beside us when there was so much space in the rest of the restaurant? But hell, the staff played it fast and loose with the smiles, and the profits go to charity, so away we went with an homage to chef Michel Bras.

Seated in the dimness beneath Lung Shan’s impressively camp artwork of wild Chinese steeds, we skipped the full-table tasting menu and zoomed straight for the creamed egg with beluga lentils, creme fraiche, and allium bouillon. It was delicate and savory, though the flavor could have been bigger (that goes twice for the somewhat puny portion).

But, oh, my, the gargouillou stole the show. The salad was made with 25 or 30 raw and cooked vegetables, herbs, and edible blossoms — not the 40-something veggies in Bras’ original, our server explained humbly — but my taste buds didn’t mind one bit. Delightful. Next up was the poached local halibut, perched on pearl barley with rau ram, asparagus, and sea urchin. A beautiful way to finish, with superfine, melting textures.

The cheese course didn’t tempt, so we left for Bi-Rite Creamery in search of a finale, but I’ll be back for another homage — or anything else Mission Street Food scrapes off the avenue.  

2234 Mission St., SF

Not minor: Man/Miracle


One of the nicer surprises this year has to be The Shape of Things (Third Culture), the debut recording by busy Oakland-by-way-of-Santa Cruz foursome Man/Miracle. No, you don’t get Cruz-ish untrammeled psychedelia of Sleepy Sun nor the noise blues of Comets on Fire nor the spooked folk of Emily Jane White here. Instead you are bestowed with indie that has taken its vitamins and bounces merrily between commercial modern rock and feisty experimentation with remarkable urgency, recalling, at moments, the Talking Heads, at others, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and at still others, Wolf Parade. Produced and recorded by kindred Oaklander and onetime Beulah player Eli Crews, The Shape of Things finds its pulse somewhere between the rousing, handclap-sprinkled singalong “Pushing and Shoving” — previously released as a single — and the jittery, almost Afropop-tinged “Back of the Card,” which seems to ascend on a tide of rhythm guitars and Animal Collective-esque backing vocals. It won’t take a miracle to see this super-energized combo shaping a big ole following soon.

Man/Miracle play with Rogue Wave April 30, 9 p.m., at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. $19.50.  (415) 346-6000,

Toothsome pie worthy of its cult following: Emilia’s Pizzeria


I think I embarrassed Emilia’s Pizzeria owner and chef Keith Freilich when I called him out as prominently featured in Sunset magazine’s recent Bay Area pizza roundup (one question on that, regarding the bit about Flour and Water being located on an abandoned, seedy stretch of the Mission — did the writer ever notice the relatively new yup-scale lofts blossoming all around that block?). Hey, it’s worth noting since Emilia’s is likely the least showy pizzeria of the entire lot.

First of all, it’s itty-bitty — about four tables large with questionable pinky-orange walls — and second, it’s extremely hands-on and intimate: Freilich makes all the pizzas himself, so be warned, the wait can get pretty long. Better to call ahead. Just ask what’s on the menu that day — usually red onion, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, sopressata, or spicy Italian sausage, are available as toppings for the 18-inch margherita, wrought with a bright tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil. Then give it about an hour, unless you’re hankering for a pie at the typical dinnertime — then who knows. The wait — and the price (pizzas are $18 and up) — are worth it: the pie is blissfully simple and fresh ala the Cheeseboard — so much so that the margherita will do me just fine next time — and with a delightfully blistered thin crust and truly toothsome sausage. Freilich has just the right touch when it comes to the application of basil, too.

A pizzeria has been in this teensy spot on Shattuck, obscured by the nearby taco spot and the corner bodega, for give or take a few decades, but Freilich is making his presence felt in the mere six months he’s been here — doing a few things very, very well. You just have to get there before he closes up shop each night: when he runs out of dough, out go the lights.

2995 Shattuck, Berk.
(510) 704-1794

Getting into the Afro-psych groove: Witch


The juicy goodness of excellent psych is worth revisiting no matter how far back it was released — hence this darting glance at Witch, the Zambian ‘70s rock fivesome, and its 1975 full-length, Lazy Bones!!,  released a few months back by QDK Media. Licensed from vocalist Emanyeo Jagari Chanda (the last surviving member of the group is now a foreman at a uranium mining operation in a remote Zambian village) , this gem from the so-called Zam Rock scene rumbles as fiercely as any combo off an early Nuggets comps (see badass rump-shaker “Off Ma Boots”). There are  plenty of wah-wah-wonderful super-fuzz guitar rave-ups (“Tooth Factory”) here, mixed in a blood-pumping dose of James Brown-style funk (“Little Clown”) and some Mahavishnu-touched jams (the levitating “October Night”). Worth comparing to the recently reissued work by Death, the lost black rockers of Detroit? Perhaps, though Witch turns out to be in a fabulous league of its own — spurring me to search out other ‘70s African rock obscuros like Blo and Ofege.

Stupid fantastic


MUSIC Does the dream ever die? Especially when you’re talking ’bout the Stooges, running on fumes of the glorious yet star-crossed Raw Power (Columbia, 1973), in 1974? For that still-influential combo it all came down to what Stooges guitarist James Williamson calls “a very prolonged death march across the United States,” culminating with two February 1974 shows. At the first, the typically provocative Pop got cold-cocked in a Michigan biker bar. Then a few nights later, in a performance documented on Metallic K.O. (Skydog, 1977), the band caught a hail of bottles, cameras, and such hurled from the crowd.

“People really throwing bottles at your head really gets your attention,” Williamson marvels from Silicon Valley, where he now lives and worked, until retirement, as an electronics engineer and Sony VP. “We were a little bit … I don’t know what you could say about us — stupid probably captures it! We just stood up there defiantly, egging these guys on.”

Today you can’t help but feel a little vindicated for Williamson, Pop, and drummer Scott Asheton (R.I.P., late guitarist and Raw Power bassist Ron Asheton). When we spoke, the affable, down-to-earth Williamson was looking forward to playing with the Stooges at the group’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction March 15, and to the April 13 release of the two-CD Legacy Edition and four-CD-DVD Deluxe Edition of the legendary proto-punk album he wrote with Pop. The deluxe treatment of Raw Power (available at includes the newly remastered original David Bowie mix of the LP (various Stooges have expressed their hatred of the first stylized mix, which finds new clarity post-remastering); Georgia Peaches, a live performance at Atlanta’s Richards club in October 1973; a disc of rarities, outtakes, and alternate mixes; a making-of documentary; a book; five prints; and a Japanese picture-sleeve reproduction of a “Raw Power”/”Search and Destroy” 7-inch.

The whole thing is a treasure trove to rival 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions (Rhino Handmade, 1999), considering the quantity of the previously unreleased tracks, in addition to the notoriety of the partially bootlegged Georgia Peaches show (Ron Asheton owned a cassette of the show and after clueing in Stooges archivist Robert Matheu, the untouched original board tapes were unearthed). You have to love the bluesy prominence of Scott Thurston’s roadhouse piano and Pop’s crazily inspired intro to, say, “I Need Somebody”: “I’ll see every Georgia chick get down and — suck my ass. Ten Georgia Peaches up my ass; 10 Georgia Peaches stoned on grass; 10 Georgia Peaches next is coke; 10 Georgia Peaches ain’t no joke …”

Williamson remembers the Hotlantans as fun-loving: “Richards was a dinner-date kind of place with tablecloths and a dinner-slash-bar kind of thing. We’d do two sets a night for a week, and these guys [were] bringing their dates to dinner, and here come the Stooges, and the singer is up in their faces, messing with their girlfriends.” He chuckles. “You know, you can’t make this stuff up!” At another set, Stooges fan Elton John, who happened to be in Altanta, decided to surprise the combo by materializing onstage in a gorilla costume. “He was lucky he took his head off because I was getting really pissed at him,” says Williamson. “And I was about to do something not good to him!”

High times for the band that had known each other since tenth grade — Ron Asheton played bass in James Williamson’s first group, and Williamson hung out at the initial Stooges basement rehearsals. If there were any hard feelings when Pop shed the original Stooges with the exception of second guitarist Williamson, they seem to have faded. Asked by Pop to fly to London to write material for Raw Power, Williamson vividly recalls the making of his first album as productive. “I wrote almost all the songs on Raw Power up in my room in London on an acoustic guitar,” he remembers. “In fact, that acoustic guitar is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. It’s easier for me to hear the true sound of the chords, the combination of chord changes.” Pop was also easy to work with — “a very nice person and very intelligent and sincere.”

“I made some mistakes on that album in the solos and stuff, but who cares?” Williamson says now. “What matters is how it comes across.” In the studio, the guitarist simply played, pulling out the caterwauling, proto-thrash solos for “Search and Destroy” and “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell” until he saw the rest of the band nodding in the control room. “The music was all mine,” he explains. “So I didn’t know if it was any good or not — or anything about it. But I was having a great time and I was making money. I mean, what was not to like about it?”

Now, after working in high tech for more than 30 years, Williamson’s writing new songs with Pop (“It’s just as easy now as it was then”) and anticipating the rerelease of the remastered Pop- and Williamson-penned Kill City (Bomp, 1977). He’s found what might be the choicest retirement job ever, as a member of the Stooges. “It was a big stretch going from the Stooges to calculus and differential equations, but I did it!” he says, “and I’ve never really regretted it.” Only Williamson can claim the next trajectory — “from a Stooge to a suit to Stooge!” he chortles.

Oh “Mother,” where art thou?


You can guarantee that a movie titled Mother is not gonna be a love fest, ever. And through the lens of The Host (2006) director-writer Bong Joon-ho, motherly love becomes downright monstrous — though altogether human.

Much credit goes to the wonderful lead actress Kim Hye-ja as the titular materfamilias, who’s frantically self-sacrificing, insanely tenacious, quaintly charming, wolfishly fearsome, and wildly guilt-ridden, by turns. On the surface, she’s a sweetly innocuous herbalist and closet acupuncturist — happily, and a wee bit too tightly, tethered to her beloved son Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin). He’s a slow-witted, forgetful, and easily confused mop-top who flies into deadly rages when taunted or called a “‘tard.” When Do-joon is quickly arrested and charged with the murder of schoolgirl Moon Ah-jung (Mun-hee Na), Mom snaps into action with a panic-stricken, primal ferocity and goes in search of the killer to free her boy. But there’s more to Do-joon, his studly pal Jin-tae (Ku Jin), and Moon Ah-jung than meets the eye, and Mother discovers just how much she’s defined, and twisted, herself in relation to her son. Bong gives this potentially flat and cliched noirish material genuine lyricism, embedding his anti-heroine in a rural South Korean landscape like a penitent wandering in an existential desert, gently echoing filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and Abbas Kiarostami and beautifully transcending genre.

Mother opens Fri/19 in Bay Area theaters.



SONIC REDUCER Who would have thunk that Sonic Reducer would rattle on for so long — unreduced, unredacted, Sonic even while covering Mr. Winkle or Mundane Journeys. It’s been more than seven years since Cheetah Chrome gave me the casual A-OK to borrow the name of his song, and now the end is nigh: this is the final SR in the Guardian, but what a deliciously lengthy, rich, overwhelming run it has had.

Scanning the first Jan. 7, 2003, column — chock-full of New Year’s Eve tidbits concerning one of Dengue Fever’s first shows in SF, Bud E. Luv’s turn as the Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne’s NYE attraction (playing big band versions of “Iron Man,” natch, amid strippers and absurdly outsized sex toys), and an evening out to the Coachwhips/Pink and Brown-reunion house party in a South Van Ness basement, trapped by a moat of mud, buffeted by revelers, and besieged by circuit-breaking blackouts. Lo, there was also scandalous news of rumored onstage fellatio at a Tigerbeat6 showcase and an update on Kimo’s efforts to halt the sonic seepage at its ear-bleed noise shows.

The early ’00s in SF were a giddy, madly experimental, and hyperfertile period for local music — a delirious convergence of imaginations cocked and loaded by the dot-com gold rush, exploded with the blizzard of pink slips and the onset of plentiful time and energy, and the excitement of so many ripe minds coming together — oof — at once, if from widely divergent corners of the cultural landscape: how else to explain the peaceful coexistence of Joanna Newsom and Caroliner, Deerhoof and Comets on Fire, Soft Pink Truth and Hunx and His Punx, Vetiver and Turf Talk, the Morning Benders and the Lovemakers, the Oh Sees and every other band John Dwyer has been involved in, in this fair citay?

Perhaps one day I’ll boil down these 350-plus columns — snipes, jests, always-in-good-fun jabs, and all — and come up with a rough sketch of this equally rough and rewarding zero-hour decade’s blurry contours. In the meantime, glancing hazily back over past columns, I unearthed a few highlights — from lowlifes or bright lights:

Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratories on not performing in Europe, 2003: “We were good enough to cause national alerts and bad international events, so we never got asked back. Again, good work.”

eXtreme Elvis on SF, 2003: “Too much of culture that surrounds San Francisco has to do with that idea of no spectators. No spectators means everyone’s a DJ, everyone plays didgeridoo, everyone has a band, everyone is a spoken-word artist. There’s a kind of culture of narcissism — guilty as charged, right?”

Inca Ore’s Eva Saelens on touring, 2006: “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.”

Nick Cave on Grinderman, 2007: “An overriding theme of mine is, I guess, a man and a woman against the world. But for this record, the woman seems to be down in the street, engaged in life, and the man is kind of left on his own, with, um, y’know, a tube of complimentary shampoo and a sock.”

The Cure’s Robert Smith on dumb pop, 2007: “I’m saying that most good pop singles are stupid — otherwise they’re not good pop singles. I’m from an age when disposable wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Joe Boyd on music book signings, 2007: “I can tell you what the queue looks like. There’s a lot of beards. There’s a lot of bald pates. There’s a lot of gray hair, and every once in a while there’s a 20-something woman in the queue, and then you kind of make sure your hair is combed straight. Then she comes up to the head of the queue and says, ‘Will you please sign it “To Peter”? It’s for my father for his 60th birthday.'”

Lady Gaga on pop perfection, 2008: ” If it isn’t flawless, I gotta work myself up to where it is — otherwise I’m just another pop chick with blonde hair.”

Will Oldham on music, 2008: “You can find in music just about any ideal emotional landscape you crave, whether it’s angst or rebellion or celebration or union or dissolution. It’s all there, and none of it’s going to call you back or text you at four o’clock in the morning or blame you for anything you did or didn’t do or slap you with a paternity suit.”

Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny on “Ewok Song,” 2009: “I know it by heart, and it’s the precursor to all these kids with wizard hats. It all comes down to the Ewoks singing around the fire. Akron/Family ain’t got nothing on the Ewoks, man.”

Laurent Brancowitz of Phoenix on his old Daft Punk bandmates, 2009: “They decided to go to a lot of rave parties, and I didn’t, because I didn’t like the nightclub life. I’m a bit of a snob about it — I find it very vulgar.”

Jarvis Cocker on his song “Caucasian Blues,” 2009: “I was interested in how blues music has gone from the music of protest, of the oppressed, to the blandest, safest music for white people to listen to in bars.”

Oh, but that was then — and I loathe nostalgia, if that isn’t already clear from the past seven years of cranky natterings and screams at the sky against boring, snorey Sha Na Na-style regurgitations. And this is now. Look for more from me in these and other pages, but never look back in regret.

Snap Sounds: Rollercoaster Project


(Absolutely Kosher)

A Dickens quote culled from A Child’s History of England and the note, “All songs made with careful horror and loving attention” accompany the second album, Revenge, by The Rollercoaster Project (ne Johnny White). Spectral, spooked, and downright epic in its use of tweaked audio, cassette tapes, samples, synthesizers, and piano, it gently tags the film score work by Popul Vuh, sending a listener off on mind travel, far from petty retribution.

Then, just when you’re settling into a meditative reverie, it starts to rage — a splatter of vokills is tossed artfully across the silken tundra of synths — with faint echos of the White Zombie and Sepultura that play into its musician’s makeup, along with Black Flag, whose classic hardcore number partly inspired RP’s project. White claims that the Rollercoaster Project is “a vain attempt to make an audio version of the film Manhunter. ”Sans the “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” one presumes — and genre labels like post-rock or post-hardcore. Revenge or no, Rollercoaster Project wins.

Claire, clearly


TV EYED Still stuck on Lost? Executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are counting on it, and it’s about half-past the time to finally wrap it up, because the time-travel device and the many dead people who flitted around the island were starting to make it seem like very little was at stake. The revelation that the Lost crash survivors appeared to simply be chess pieces in a cosmic bout between the blonde, sad-eyed, and benevolent-seeming Jacob (Mark Pellegrino) — who intercedes in the islanders’ destinies — and his murderous-minded Smoke Monster/Man in Black/anti-Locke nemeses (played by Titus Welliver and Terry O’Quinn) didn’t help matters either

So despite the attractions of brawls between Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Dogen (Hiroyuki Sanada); the dryly smart-ass, geek charm of the intuitively gifted Hurley (Jorge Garcia) sparring with the telepathically talented Miles (Ken Leung); the promise of seeing killed-off faves like physicist Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) and rock star Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) again; and the weird mixed personal pleasure of seeing Oahu haunts standing in for, say, downtown South Korea (an effect that usually jars my Honolulu-bred self straight out of the story) — I must confess that the most intriguing and chilling character this season is Claire (Emilie de Ravin). She gave birth on the island to a son who, an Aussie psychic prophesied, was surrounded by danger. She then becomes the focus of the latest rescue mission embarked upon by Kate (Evangeline Lilly), who has a thing for saving moms.

Bestowed with a name that seems diametrically opposed to the smoky obfuscation veiling Lost, Claire also embodies the cyclical patterns of the island. She’s "gone native" in the madly violent, Col. Kurtz-style survivalist swagger of the French woman Rousseau (Mira Furlan), who also gave birth on the island and, after the disappearance of her baby, likewise took leave of her senses. Claire’s ax murder of a captive Other truly shocked: both in its prime-time bloodlessness — the death of Boone (Ian Somerhalder) was gorier — and uncharacteristic cold-bloodedness. We’re not in the Kansas of the guileless, sweet-faced single mom anymore.

Claire also embodies more than a few of the themes critical to Lost survivors: she has a missing-daddy issue, much like the father-challenged Jack (Matthew Fox), Locke, Hurley — hell, who doesn’t have problems with Pops on this show? Much like Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sayid, she was also an abduction victim, and she’s in the thick of the current crisis between good and evil. Despite Lost‘s references to dharma and Ram Dass, this battle between the island god-titans seems to be disappointingly flattened into a kind of Judeo-Christian light vs. dark, do-gooders vs. sinners sort of dichotomy. Claire upsets that tidy apple cart as the little nut-bag lost who is locked into a deal with the gloom and doom team.

Feel the ‘Love


SONIC REDUCER How to reconcile an ultra-catchy, hooligan-cozy chorus like “These girls fall like dominos!” with the unpretentious, Dennis Cooper-idolizing music lover who dreamed it up — namely Milo Cordell of the rosily buzzing U.K. outfit the Big Pink?

It helps to have a little distance from your unreliable narrator, according to Cordell, son of producer Denny Cordell (the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Joe Cocker). “I kind of see it, in a way, as kind of dumb and quite crass and slightly throwaway, really. But it’s got this bubblegum sugar-coated layer on it, though underneath it’s pretty dark,” says Cordell matter-of-factly of “Dominos,” while tucking into dinner at a Turkish restaurant in his Dalton hood in London. The unpretentious keyboardist’s home “twiddling his thumbs,” waiting for a replacement for a lost passport while the rest of the band tours Australia.

“The whole subject matter is about the weakness of man, really, and then it’s made to be quite jubilant. I think it’s throws a lot of people people who think it could be misogynistic, but I think it’s quite honest.”

At least a few critical people understand: he recently e-mailed Carly Simon to get permission for a version of “Dominos” that the Big Pink put together for NME, which included a portion of “You’re So Vain,” sung by Lily Allen, in its bleak candy center. Fortunately, Simon got it. “I get a bit freaked out about it sometimes,” Cordell confessed. “That people will get it all wrong.”

Tossed-off one-night stands, MDMA massives (“Crystal Visions”), late nights spent battling back that fiery orb (“At War With the Sun”), youthful rebellion (“Too Young to Love”), and Dennis Cooper-style entanglements (“Frisk”) crop up, judgement or no, on the Big Pink’s debut, A Brief History of Love (4AD). The disc’s big hooks, up-close ruminations, and ear-teasing sounds, ranging from the 8-bitty to the Congotronic, are defined as poppier and punchier than, say, Crystal Castles, whose early recording Cordell released on his Merok label — a smudgy amalgam of “digital Velvet Underground” mixed with “Timberland and Ministry,” as he puts it.

“I think at the moment there’s a lot of bands that are bored by every other band in England,” he offers, when asked about the clouds of noise and experimentation creeping into U.K. rock. “Every other band trying same licks, all these shit bands referencing the Kinks and Beatles, which is all fair enough, but there’s so many of them! You flip through NME, and it’s the same band on every page, wearing the same checkered shirt. There’s a bunch of people who are bored by that and are creating their own sonic atmospheres. Whether it’s the Klaxons or the xx — there’s something similar between all of us because perhaps we don’t want to sound like the Kooks.”

Cordell started the project with his teenage friend and vocalist-guitarist Robbie Furze after tinkering in Furze’s studio one day. “We both had come out of relationships and were a bit lost,” recalls Cordell, “and I think we kind of found each other and found something to do as well. We filled a void of a lover with each other and making music.” Furze also supplied Cordell with one major revelation: “‘You don’t have to be a musician to make music,’ he said. ‘You’ve got an amazing ear.’ He knew all the bands I worked with [via Merok, like Titus Andronicus]. We started playing around with noise through pedals, chopping it up and layering sound.”

And as for the band name, Cordell explains, “We probably couldn’t be further apart from the Band in terms of musical styles, but there’s a certain ideology we share with them: knuckling down and having a good time on tour, the sense of grandeur and being slightly phallic-like.”

Or a vulvic, I add. “I never even thought of it as female privates till somebody said it a few months ago,” he marvels. “You just translate it as you translate it. I think it’s great. I bet Oasis doesn’t get asked that much about their name.”


Wed/10, 8 p.m., $17

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF


Bloody digits mark the the French three’s darkabilly creations, and the all-girl latter’s promise souped-up garage psych. Fri/12, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF.


The Kiwis blend the Flying Nun swirl of the Clean with riptide licks, whereas Glenn Donaldson’s lo-fi jangle rumbles off a new Woodsist release. Sun/14, 8 p.m., $10. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF.

Sonic Reducer Overage: Holly Miranda, Quasi, SambaDa, and more


Rain, rain go away — and gird your damp loins for more music than we could fit into print.

Holly Miranda
The Detroit-bred singer-songwriter sleeps on fire, walks on water, judging from the angelic Magician’s Private Library (XL), produced by her pal Dave Sitek. With Foxtail Somersault and Tortured Genies. Tues/9, 9:30 p.m., $10. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
The Bay Area-born band hones a rawer, more rustic sound with a new drummer, Leah Shapiro, and new long-player, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo (Abstract Dragon/Vagrant). With the Whigs (and Cellar Doors Wed/10). Tues/9, 8 p.m., Wed/10, 7:30 p.m., $30. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 522-0333. Wed/10, 6 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. (415) 831-1200.

The finest tune with the title “Repulsion” since Dinosaur Jr.’s opens the new American Gong (Kill Rock Stars) by the duo-turned-trio. Wed/10, 8 p.m., $12-$14. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-1422.

Basia Bulat
She’s the sweetest autoharp-strumming songwriter to blow down from Toronto in many a day. Wed/10, 9 p.m., $12. Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., SF. (415) 546-6300.

Balkan Beat Box
Gogol playthings will break out those bellydance moves for the gypsy-punk-electronic super-colliding offshoot. Mon/15, 8 p.m., $22.50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. (415) 346-6000.

Dance is at the root of the Santa Cruz combo, led by capoeira master Papiba Godinho — and dance they all will at this show celebrating the release of the new self-released Gente! Sat/13, 9 p.m., Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-1422.