Lauren Giniger

Goran Bregovic


PREVIEW I’m a reactionary when it comes to miscegenated American pop and world music: Paul Simon’s South African appropriations (unself-conscious baby-boom entitlement), Vampire Weekend’s recent iteration (self-conscious, sneering entitlement), and Beirut’s similar (well-meaning, self-conscious attempts at naturalness) foray into the Eastern European musical forms. I mean, come on you well-born Eastern-seaboard Protestants, don’t you have your own cultural traditions to plunder?

Without a qualm, one can look toward the Balkans as a source for authentic cultural product. In the previous century alone, this region’s peoples have been battered about by bitter battles among fascist, communist, and capitalist systems. Against this political backdrop, ordinary life takes on an air of untethered surreality, and life can imitate art, and/or art becomes the most logical response to the ambient chaos. In the case of Goran Bregovic, his life resembles an amalgam of Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n Roll and Aleksandar Hemon’s Nowhere Man. Half-Serb, half-Croat, Bregovic has had a long musical career (he’s been a professional guitar player since 15) and currently composes film scores as well as modern-day gypsy music.

Bregovic played with a Yugoslavian rock band called the White Button, and became a bona fide Balkan teen rock idol. He lived in a drug-dazed Italian exile at 20, and was nearly a professor of Marxism by 24. He is a thoroughly modern global star, and has collaborated with Iggy Pop and Cesaria Evora. Bregovic is currently on tour with a nearly 40-person ensemble called the Wedding and Funeral Orchestra. The gypsies are real, the horns are very likely 100 years old, and there’s a string ensemble, a men’s choir, and three Bulgarian singers. The tunes range from mournful to ecstatic; if cathartic party music speaks to you, this is your show.

GORAN BREGOVIC WITH WEDDING AND FUNERAL ORCHESTRA Sun/21, 7 p.m., $20-$60. Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium, 1111 California, SF. (415) 776-4702.

Jewish Music Festival


PREVIEW Oh man, do we live in troubled times. If you possess a certain fundamentalist biblical streak, you might be forgiven for falling prey to thoughts of doom and damnation. For a proven antidote, try gospel music — certain postracial/maxicultural sectors of society are pushing back against the end times with joyous, fervent determination. Exhibit one: the "kosher gospel" of Joshua Nelson, a black Jew from New Jersey born to African American parents, who traces his religion to several generations of West African Senegalese Jews.

Nelson lived in Israel for two years and is fluent in Hebrew, and his music is as interesting as his lineage and biography. He draws from Jewish liturgy to rework a traditionally Christian genre of music, imbuing it with resonant Jewish themes — the despair of being lost, the longing for freedom. Despite his inventiveness with the form, his music retains gospel’s recognizably uplifting, stirring, soulful core. Nelson has performed before Yitzhak Rabin and Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey has championed and befriended him. At the Jewish Music Festival’s opening event (Sat/21, at First Congregational Church of Oakland), you’ll find out why his singing voice has been compared to Mahalia Jackson’s. For one night, at least, let the "Prince of Kosher Gospel" soothe your weary brow. He’s Oprah approved!

Another good Jewish Music Festival pick is a March 26 performance at the Rickshaw Stop by Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird, who are on tour in support of their second CD, Partisans & Parasites (Oriente). Kahn is often called the Tom Waits of Berlin — his band mixes punk with political cabaret. If you’re looking for more of a raucous dance party, this is your night.

JEWISH MUSIC FESTIVAL Sat/21 through April 2. Various prices and venues. (510) 848-0237.

Girls, Girls, Girls


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On Feb. 15, the auspicious day after Valentine’s, Café Du Nord hosted Girls’ debut — a perfect night to showcase their music, which is full of heartache and romantic longing. I witnessed the birth of a pop sensation that night. I’ve never seen San Francisco rock kids so unhinged for a band that had never previously played out — they sang, in a state of unrestrained fervor, along with songs only available online.

Those of us giddy in the crowd that night haven’t been alone in feeling it. In three months, the SF outfit sold out all 500 copies of their recently released single on True Panther. In fact, 200 of those records were sold on pre-order, and the group has received notice on Pitchfork and various blogs and in Spin magazine.

The rapid and rapturous reception would turn anyone’s head. But the boys of Girls — JR White on bass, Christopher Owens on guitar and vocals, and an otherwise rotating lineup — are wary of overly speedy success. When I sat down with White and Owens at the Ferry Building last week, I asked White why he thinks listeners respond so keenly to their songs. "I think they’re honest," he replied. "It’s the first thing I noticed, and it’s the first thing a lot of people say." Girls’ music, he added, "lacks the pretension in a lot of pop music."

Girls emerged from a living-room recording project that Owens brought White, a recording engineer. Excited by Owens’ music, White suggested they form a band. A musician since age 15, the bassist confesses that this is the first time he feels no ambivalence about playing in a group. According to White, the project evolved as if by "divine intervention — a gift from everything that’s happened in your life."

I possess a reflexive Gen X cynicism and would normally respond to such an avowal with skepticism. However, there’s nothing contrived about Girls’ sincerity. In fact, the similarly charming Owens owned that descriptor, claiming, "Essentially I am just really an earnest, sincere person.

"I came to the realization at the last show that we would probably be the easiest band to make fun of," he continued. "You could read the lyrics and just mock it. So I feel super-vulnerable. I don’t think we get up there and right away, people are saying, ‘Yeah, this is the best thing ever.’ We kind of have to win them over, but it’s kind of a cool thing to go through from the beginning of the show to the end of the show. Every show has kind of been excruciating to play. The end is great."

In any case, Girls’ lyrical earnestness was treated to a skilled studio work-over on their recordings — a full-length is due this fall on True Panther. The songs shine with brilliant arrangements that layer echoed vocals and reverbed guitars. The touchstones for such massive sound swirls are Spiritualized and various shoegazer outfits, but Girls can’t be pigeonholed as a strictly genre band. For one thing, White rarely buries the vocals at the back of the mix, so we hear Owens’ supple voice upfront, albeit through the pleasant gauze of lo-fi tape hiss. They also have written several dazzling three-minute-or-so pop songs, brightly realized with major chords and handclaps.

According to a commenter on Girls’ MySpace page, the band’s music smells like summer. Laugh or no, it’s true. Their sound resembles all the parts of the season: the bright happy mornings, the long gorgeous days, the nostalgic end-of. "Morning Light" evokes that perfect buzz after a great night out and the walk home on a summer dawn. "Hellhole Rat Race" resembles the summer waxing in September, dusty and wistful. "Lust for Life" gives off the whiff of a perfect pop song: you’re cruising in a car maybe to the beach, in search of beers for breakfast, and your friends are all around.

I don’t know why this music triggers synesthesia in me. I suspect it’s because these gorgeous numbers make my skin literally tingle. The tunes are so classic and pure, yet churn so massively, and the language is so full of want. It’s an imperfect world, and boys and girls do each other harm. But, hey, sometimes a song can be your salvation.


With Master/Slave and Ty Segall

Fri/12, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

The Lumerians


PREVIEW The Lumerians have landed, and with frequent local gigs and one EP under their belt, the band is poised for maximum impact on the Bay Area psych scene. Take a listen to the group’s self-titled recent disc on the Subterranean Elephants imprint: there, they’ve produced five great tracks of hypnotic rhythms warmed up by droning keyboards and weirded up by synthesized noise squiggles.

"Corkscrew Trepanation" drills your brain with its kick- and bass-drum stomp, and layers organ on top of keyboards to cool hypnotic effect. Other tracks slow a bit but then take off into space via those eerie, vacilutf8g synths. "Orgon Grinder" shines a light on a warm and dreamy female vocal that boosts the song into memorable melody territory. Most numbers stretch out for five to seven minutes, propelling this ensemble into the now-crowded electronic and prog-rock family tree that’s home to a certain cluster of oft-referenced German bands. The upside of that propensity for lengthy jams: Lumerians takes the listener on an extended trip into deep headspace.

THE LUMERIANS With Darker My Love and Eulogies. Tues/5, 9 p.m., $9.99. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-1421,

Feels like the first time


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At first listen, I thought Oakland’s Long Thaw approached their straight-up hard rock with ironic jokiness. After all, this clever bunch sport names like Chile Valentine (né Benjamin Prewitt), Diego Snake (a.k.a. Dan Brubaker), and Mr. Forever (born André Zivkovich). Their humor meter defaults to squirm-inducing sexual innuendos, and as Snake puts it, they believe there are "enough hair farmers out there that like to just sit down with a beer and listen to some dude rock."

Well, the joke’s on me, and I thought wrong: file Long Thaw’s heavy sound somewhere between the Melvins and Triclops! and never doubt the band would treat music with sardonic carelessness.

Back in December, when I first saw the combo play, I didn’t expect much, except that I might get bored, and if so, I could kill time in the Stork Club back room by pouring $10 into a pinball machine. My low expectations paid off: not only was I not bored; I was fully entertained by Long Thaw’s classic twin-guitar attack and speedy riff trading, heavy bottom-end drum fills, and soaring, operatic vocals. As much as its members have absorbed the ideas of proto- and post-punk, the band’s economy and aggression compositionally refer more directly to 1980s hardcore and ’90s alternative rock.

Long Thaw formed at the intersection of two Bay Area bands: Boyjazz and Stay Gold Pony Boy. Eager to try his hand at writing and playing his own songs, guitarist Forever got his chance when, he says, "literally within a month I got dumped and I bailed out of Boyjazz." Snake brought some riffs to Forever’s attention, and they clicked enough for the two to start a new project, joined by friends and colleagues DeSoto Vice (Szymon Sipowski) on bass and Savannah Black (Jenya Chernoff) on drums. After a year of auditioning vocalists, Long Thaw found Chile Valentine and came out of its ice age.

Being a classically trained vocalist, Valentine can pitch it high and sustain the notes: he’s turned out to be the icing on the group’s hard-rock cake. In just one year, during which his voice flipped between sounding too over the top and too reined in, Valentine went from singing at karaoke bars to warbling on local stages. "Overall," Forever says, sitting down with the rest of the band at Soundwave Studios, "if [Valentine] weren’t singing, we wouldn’t get the Iron Maiden and Dio comparisons." Sure, Valentine’s amusingly metalesque voice hooks you, but the band’s rhythmic clip and dueling riffs, as well as catchy choruses and bridges, keep you around.

Judge for yourself on the new self-released EP Feels Natural, and notice how well the band fits into the current pop cycle, in which hard rock is undergoing its seeming once-a-decade revival in the form of Queens of the Stone Age and spin-off Eagles of Death Metal. Here in the Bay, Long Thaw’s music seems surprisingly fresh, especially as a muscular counterpoint to the foppish twee-ness of a certain segment of the indie underground. If you came of age during the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the sounds burned in your brain are those of Dinosaur Jr., Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Jesus Lizard, you’ll enjoy Long Thaw’s old-school rock ‘n’ roll, played anew.


March 2, 4 p.m., call for price

Stork Club

2330 Telegraph, Oakl.

(510) 444-6174

Noise Pop: Fuck yeah


Most articles and reviews about Holy Fuck begin with some comment about whether the band’s music did or did not make the writer exclaim, "Holy fuck!" So insert your own exclamatory joke about the group’s name here, and let’s move past the moniker and go on to the music.

Holy Fuck straddle the rock and electronic divide: they mash together techno beats, dirty lo-fi electronics, and loud kinetic-rock rhythms. It’s a perfect of-the-moment sound — the type that indie rock kids love to dance to, balanced with enough chaotic experimentalism to appeal to noise rock and electronic fans. We live in weird times, and this band gets the times.

Perversely, as bad as the war and the economy are, kids are having a great deal of innocent fun these days. You can catch a sweaty, spazzy groove to the not-so-faux-naïf, party-starting sounds of Video Hippos. Or you can bang your head to Holy Fuck’s embodiment of that dance-party spirit.

The songs on their latest record, LP (XL), drive forward kraut rock–style, but the dirty layers of electronic noise on top of their propulsive rhythms have a purer rock vibe: they’re raw, primitive, and energetic. On my MP3 player, "Choppers," the last track on LP, fits snugly up against my next loaded disc, a Can anthology. The sound of Holy Fuck’s recorded output lies somewhere between Trans Am and Suicide, although they don’t stake out the confrontationally icy ground of the latter nor cloak themselves in the distancing self-awareness of the former. Instead, onstage a few weeks ago at the Great American Music Hall, Holy Fuck bopped around unselfconsciously, with quick-change mixes, effects-pedal tweaks, and keyboard jams. It’s a friendly, accessible show, performed by a band dedicated to making electronic music without laptops or sequencers. In fact, not only will you not find a laptop on Holy Fuck’s stage, but you’ll also discover instruments that come with a junkyard aesthetic: film modulators, and a Casio mouth organ.

The group has emerged from a Toronto scene with a vast and supportive music community, one that embraces many genres and in which most performers have more than one musical project going. Although Holy Fuck don’t want to be perceived, as the group’s Brian Borcherdt puts it over the phone, as "hippie lovefest" musicians, their writing process has been somewhat loose, improvisatory, and collaborative. The band has also included a rotating cast of Toronto musicians, which has led some to dub the ensemble an "evil supergroup," Borcherdt says. Still, regardless of what they play and whom they play with, Holy Fuck remain an exciting live band — though I’m still not going to use the easy exclamatory.


With A Place to Bury Strangers, White Denim, and Veil Veil Varnish

Feb. 29, 9 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455