Michael Harkin

Jay Reatard, 1980-2010


MUSIC “It rocks, dude. Start to finish. Top to bottom.” This was my brother’s earnest recommendation of Blood Visions (In the Red), Jay Reatard’s incendiary 2006 solo debut and the record that, in the year or so following its release, startled me and many others into awareness of this Memphis punk auteur’s mesmerizing fury. Only a few years later, he has passed on, and no matter how many people he offended, slagged off, or punched out, it’s such a damn shame that he’s gone.

People admired many different things about Reatard (real name: Jimmy Lee Lindsey), even those turned off by his surly stage persona: his work ethic, how seriously he took every single show he played, and his intense commitment to craft, unusual at a time when tossed-off, blown-out punk became in vogue.

Visions‘ feverish litany rapidly unfolded into several subsequent solo releases — enough singles to fill two full-length compilations as well as a second LP, last year’s Watch Me Fall (Matador). Reatard released music faster than most of us scummy fanatics could acquire it. But as many songs as he cranked out, you never felt like he was cheating you out of a buck: this was a guy who clearly went to shows, nerded out over records, and knew bullshit when he saw it.

Knowing how lame a half-assed show could be, Reatard whipped his backing band into a tight unit, playing sets at twice the already speedy tempo at which they were laid to tape. Knowing full well the collector’s thrill of the hunt, he released a series of six increasingly limited-edition singles that, of course, punk vinyl fiends ate up with gusto. He knew how fun it was to both play and consume music, and kept doing it and doing it and doing it better than anyone else to the end.

I had the privilege of seeing Jay play on four occasions. As a performer, he had an almost comic intensity, which occasionally manifested itself in bizarre, unforgettable flame-outs. At one SF show last year, he angrily flung an audience member from the stage after the person attempted to break his treasured Flying V. Flipping the bird, he called it quits, encore be damned.

Other more highly publicized punches and feuds transpired, but these shenanigans weren’t what the guy, or his volatility, was all about. The man’s vigor and intensity, as rooted in anger as it seemed to be, has had an unexpected result: an undying vitality, born out of restlessness and an apparent love for the act of creation. Somehow his death doesn’t cast a purely macabre shadow over his work, pained and death-obsessed as it often was. Grim as it could be, his music always seemed more about living, accepting one’s flaws and making something great out of them, an ecstatic release of extraordinary pain.

Lately Reatard’s music had taken a turn toward the Kiwi sounds of the ’80s, enrolling in the Flying Nun school of pop with acoustic guitar in tow. Last year’s Watch Me Fall wasn’t quite as immediate or highly rated as the hard-ripping Visions, but featured some of his most inventive, infectious tunes yet. It’s heartbreaking going back to hear the beginning of this phase in his work with what might be his finest record, “I Know a Place” “Don’t Let Him Come Back” (Goner, 2007), the flip a Go-Betweens cover, the first single where his acoustic guitar and voice rang out with a tenderness we never knew he had in him. The dude shredded, start to finish. Top to bottom.

1, 2, 3 — do you copy?



MUSIC "Is it nature or nurture?" asks David West, pondering whether garage rock is the most natural sound of San Francisco. Playing in "rough ‘n’ ready" fashion makes sense today, he thinks, given the city’s pricey rents and dense environment, whereas the psych bands of the 1960s, and ’70s art-punk bands like Chrome, Flipper, and Tuxedomoon, could better afford to have "a conceptual mind and lots of practice." An interesting hypothesis.

Rank/Xerox, a trio featuring West on guitar and vocals; Kevin McCarthy on bass, vocals, and keyboard; and drummer Jon Shade, are no "garage" band, but their music is some of the most exhilarating in San Francisco. I met with McCarthy and West at McCarthy’s house, where the pair took turns putting LPs by Thin Lizzy and the Ramones on the turntable as they discussed their group, which came together earlier this year.

Shade and McCarthy run a Web-based videozine, Mondo Vision. They had been playing music together for about a year, never finding a third player they were happy with until they met West — who recently moved to SF from Perth, Australia — in February. Their first shows came in April, and they released a split cassette with Grass Widow on Wizard Mountain Tapes shortly thereafter. Brynn Michelle, who’s played saxophone at a few Rank/Xerox gigs, overdubbed some improvised, inspired parts on these urgent, punchy cassette recordings.

"It’s still pretty up in the air as to what we’re going for — we take it song for song," McCarthy says. "We kind of have a law that we can’t say what we want." This desire to avoiding any hard-and-fast description or formula is understandable; even as Rank/Xerox’s music (thus far) resonates with the very best of the grim, mesmeric post-punk seeping out of England in the early ’80s, their bracing sound feels wholly unforced. Born of this troubled moment, it hits an anxious nerve. West reluctantly hints that the group is drawn to "more difficult punk music," and that Rank/Xerox lyrics address "power relationships, gender equality, sexual dynamics, socioeconomic issues, and love," before concluding with a laugh that "the songs are mostly about feelings."

New it may be, but Rank/Xerox already has serious connections to the Old World, sharing its name with an Italian comic book superhero created in 1978 and a song off of German punk band Hans-A-Plast’s 1979 debut, a vinyl copy of which McCarthy readily furnishes. Additionally, its only "tour" so far was through Eastern Europe in early October — a fluke occurrence stemming from the fact that all three group members happened to be there at the same time.

Rank/Xeroz’s terrific split cassette is sold out, sadly, but a new single is now available directly from the band, featuring "In a Hole," "Basement Furniture," and "Masking/Confessions." It’s the inaugural release on Shade’s own label, Mondo Bongo Top Ten Hits, and a thoroughly DIY affair: West recorded it; McCarthy made the artwork; and Shade is releasing it.

I once spotted a local Rank/Xerox fan sporting a homemade T-shirt that stated, in permanent marker, "Listen to Rank/Xerox." Earnest, homespun advice worth heeding before they’re on some future Messthetics comp devoted to SF in the good ol’ aughts. *

www.mondovision.tv/mongobongo; www.myspace.com/rankxeroxx


part of "ATA 25"

Sun/13, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (10 p.m. performance), $10

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF

(415) 824-3890


Off-duty trip



MUSIC Gina Birch, discussing a Raincoats gig earlier this month at the National Portrait Gallery in London, pauses for a moment over the phone from home in England. Although the resurgence of interest in her band’s music began well over a decade ago, she still sounds a bit surprised at the Raincoats’ esteemed status in the rock lexicon today.

"We’re being more embraced by the cultural elite, which is quite funny, really, " Birch explains, humbly. "It’s just at that point where the people who liked us when they were young are in positions to offer us this kind of thing." The Raincoats, it should be said, just plain deserve acclaim anew. Birch started the band with Ana da Silva in 1977 while they were art students in London — a daring lark that still resonates deeply with sounds you hear today, as evidenced by the line-up they’re headlining at the Part Time Punks Mini-Fest.

It’s an admittedly nerdy delight to hear Birch talk about punk’s early days in London. In addition to bands like the Buzzcocks and Subway Sect, she says that she and guitarist-singer da Silva were inspired by the Slits, whose original guitarist, Viv Albertine, will be joining the Raincoats at the Part Time Punks show. "It was definitely seeing other girls doing it that made me feel like I could give it a go," she explains. Seeing such bands, she says, "gave me the courage to wear the clothes I wanted to wear, chop up my hair … feeling like I could let rip a little bit!" The Slits’ drummer, Palmolive, would join da Silva and Birch — who sang and learned bass as she went along — in the Raincoats’ original lineup, along with violinist Vicky Aspinall. The band put out a few albums with Rough Trade before initially dissolving in 1984.

Since the Raincoats’ original break-up, they’ve reunited sporadically, recording an album (1996’s Looking in the Shadows, on DGC) and playing the occasional show, all the while being sure to "leave a little room for mistakes," because, says Birch, "it’s much more manageable!" Their current live lineup features violinist Anne Wood, who’s been with them for 15 years, and local drummer Vice Cooler, known to many in the Bay Area for Hawnay Troof and his work in xbxrx and KIT.

The Raincoats are playing here in support of a stateside LP reissue of their 1979 self-titled debut, out Oct. 13 on Kill Rock Stars. Although the group is perhaps best known for its debut single, "Fairytale in the Supermarket" and their cover of the Kinks’ "Lola," every one of the Raincoats’ recordings sounds fresh — inviting but often dark, alternately vulnerable and indignant, hopeful and deeply human. The pastel pink, green, and yellow sleeve of their "No One’s Little Girl" b/w "Running Away" 7-inch (Rough Trade, 1982) caught my eye at a record fair in England a few years ago, and it’s easily one of the best records I own, especially because of its B-side: a sweet, trumpet-punctuated cover of Sly Stone — totally unreal, and just one side of their multifarious brilliance.

Both da Silva and Birch have solo projects these days, and Birch, a longtime filmmaker, is working on a feature-length Raincoats documentary due out next year, featuring loads of old footage and a look at their more recent endeavors. More reissues are on the way as well, Birch assures, as they continue to forge ahead on "the fringes."

"I find it much more inspiring and interesting and heartwarming in the world where it’s more human and strange," Birch says. "There’ll always be the fringes, and long live the fringes! That’s where interesting stuff happens."

This brings us to Grass Widow, local openers on the Part Time Punks bill, who embody much of what makes the Raincoats so extraordinary: rooted in raw punk and peculiar, intricate harmonies, they produce songs vivid enough to summon a visual counterpart. "Our music crosses over into the subject matter I end up making films about," says bassist Hannah Lew. During a recent meet-up, Lew articulated the group’s excitement about playing with the Raincoats by stating that even if they weren’t playing the show, "we would go anyway." This year, Grass Widow released a self-titled LP (Make a Mess) and a 12-inch EP (Captured Tracks/Cape Shok). In January, they’re headed to Portland, Ore., to record another album. Get there early to see them.


With Grass Widow, Section 25, Gang of Four DJ set, and more

Fri/9, 8 p.m., $20–$25


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880


Easy as one 23



MUSIC Brought together by the 23 enigma (and, more than likely, straight-up friendship), the two folks behind Rainbow Bridge get a bit elusively new age in discussing their musical partnership. After several minutes of semi-coded phone conversation from their Olympia, Wash., home base, touching on author and teacher José Arg?elles, the Mayan calendar, and the idea of "cultivating obscurity," it becomes increasingly clear that the band’s raison d’être is actually pretty simple: maximizing the two-piece drum and electric guitar format — "trying to see how much spirit we can cultivate with super-basic things" as drummer/co-vocalist (and sometimes keyboardist) Bridget O’Brien Smith puts it — for a shuffling, mesmerizing twang that really ought to reach ears well beyond the Pacific Northwest.

Guitarist-vocalist Adam Croce and O’Brien-Smith are in the process of intensive rehearsals and days spent recording a prospective LP. "Each time we’ve recorded, we’ve had a different set-up — getting a different ambience, the breath of the day," explains Croce, relieved to "exhale finally" after one such session.

Rainbow Bridge began playing together early last year in Olympia, where both members attended Evergreen College, and each thought up the name individually before — simultaneously, I guess — suggesting it to the other. This was a fortuitous early sign of what they describe as their "harmonic convergence," not unlike the Arg?elles-initiated 1987 event of the same name. While their band’s name might seem to allude to Jimi Hendrix’s 1970 Rainbow Bridge concert in Hawaii ("a different kind of harmonic convergence," Croce assures), it has more to do with Arg?elles, whose 2012 Circumpolar Rainbow Bridge meditation is said to be able to spiritually unify the planet.

There’s a definite spiritual connection between Rainbow Bridge and the Bay Area, where Croce grew up and played in a ton of bands, including the SPAM Records-affiliated Tommy Lasorda and Los Rabbis. I first heard his music on a self-titled album by Broken Strings, a solo work that circulated extensively on CD-R before its vinyl release on True Panther Sounds last year. It’s a weird, home-recorded rock revelation, peppered with Carl Sagan soundbites and crackling with a feverish energy reminiscent of Robert Pollard’s mid-1990s brilliant streak.

Broken Strings is over now, but Croce and O’Brien-Smith already appear set to considerably improve on that work, judging from both sides of Rainbow Bridge’s killer debut seven-inch, "Big Wave Rider/Birdcage" (True Panther Sounds), out this month. "Rider" is a knockout, small-scale anthem, a summery song of measured meter ("Hangin’ 10 /Gnarly session /Shootin’ the curl /Shootin’ the curl for the world! /For a surfer girl /Waves they unfurl!") and ecstatic delivery. The flip is a chugging, jilted blues, likewise remarkable.

Rainbow Bridge plays its first show outside Olympia in Seattle later this month, and hopes to tour the West Coast soon. Just be sure to understand their reasons for being: "We are connected by the 23 enigma," says O’Brien-Smith, while Croce adds, "And we don’t wanna be stigmatized for that."



On Land Festival


PREVIEW Root Strata, the San Francisco-based avant/out music label co-owned by Jefre Cantu and Maxwell Croy, has released over 50 records since its inception. Its foundations and mission are humble, but after nearly five years of work, the label has seen fit to celebrate in a quietly extravagant way with the On Land Festival, a two-night event in the city where it initially, um, took root. "This is the first time we’ve collectively tried to do something on this scale," Cantu, Root Strata’s founder and a member of Tarentel (who perform the first night of the festival) explains over the phone. Sure, On Land is relatively small compared to SF’s other fall festivals, but it’s a damned feast for the right audience. Ducktails and Keith Fullerton Whitman at Café Du Nord on the same night? Killer!

Although On Land is not a label showcase per se, nearly every artist on the 21-act weekend bill at Du Nord and the Swedish American Hall has put out at least one record with Root Strata, or will be doing so soon. The label began in late 2004 as a way for Cantu to release a solo CD-R prior to a Japanese tour with Tarentel, but it quickly snowballed into a wide-ranging outlet for artists local and distant, whether they be noisy, pretty, glitched-out, or all or none of the above. For instance, Root Strata recently released Common Eider, King Eider’s Figs, Wasps, and Monotremes, in which core member Rob Fisk’s viola, guitar, and piano meanderings coalesce into a frail, haunting song cycle.

The headliner of Sunday’s bill at the Swedish American is Portland, Ore.-based Bay Area expat Grouper, a.k.a. Liz Harris, whose harmonic haze will dovetail beautifully alongside the sounds of the venerable Christina Carter, the Austin, Texas cofounder of drone-folk outfit Charalambides and superb visual and musical artist. Although a straight-up music festival in most senses, On Land also possesses some cool nonauditory aspects: Paul Clipson will be showing films to accompany several of the performances, and, according to Cantu, Joe Grimm has been generating music by placing contact mics on two 16mm projectors. A handful of other labels will vend their wares as well, including Eclipse Records and Last Visible Dog. Bring a few bucks and an open mind — this is an ideal, totally stacked entrance to San Francisco’s rich underground.

ON LAND FESTIVAL Sat/19–Sun/20, various times. Café Du Nord and the Swedish American Music Hall, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016. www.onlandfestival.com

“San Francisco’s Doomed”


PREVIEW Fred Schrunk sips his coffee as he mans the counter on a recent afternoon at Thrillhouse, the nonprofit punk record store he oversees on Mission Street, and discusses the genesis of this week’s San Francisco’s Doomed Fest. It’s a series of shows benefiting two causes dear to him and the local music community: the all-ages venue project for San Francisco that he and several forward-thinking locals are spearheading, as well as Maximum Rock’n’Roll, the long-running, SF-based punk monthly fanzine that, like many print publications today, is struggling to meet operation costs.

"Seeing [MRR] struggle for a little while made me really concerned," explains Schrunk, who is involved with the zine and its radio show. "It’s fucking scary seeing them in a compromising situation." The staff of MRR, likewise a nonprofit, consists of volunteer "shitworkers," and the zine’s content is reader-contributed, inspiring and informing both bands and enthusiasts worldwide since its inception in 1982.

"I think there’s a place for what we do," says MRR content coordinator Layla Gibbon over the phone from the zine’s office. "It’s just a difficult time." About four months ago, Schrunk and MRR‘s coordinators decided to put together a fundraiser for both the debt-burdened magazine and Thrillhouse’s goal of opening an all-ages venue in the city.

This venue project stems from San Francisco’s lack of a dedicated all-ages show space — a lamentable situation that leaves local youngsters with few options for seeing and performing live music. The success of the project’s small fundraising shows so far, as well as that of last year’s Thrillhouse-sanctioned Thrillfest, paved the way for this new, ramped-up effort to raise funds for opening a space. Where Thrillfest was structured around touring bands, Doomed features mostly local acts, all of whom have an obvious stake in seeing these two scene-uniting efforts succeed.

The event’s name comes from Crime, SF’s self-proclaimed "first and only rock ‘n’ roll band," which formed in 1976, cranking out early punk classics such as 1977’s "Hot Wire My Heart" and "Frustration." They’ll be headlining the festival, where the lineup ranges from the heavy, stoned sounds of Flood to the Messthetics-style post-punk of Rank/Xerox. More established local acts like good-times popsters Nodzzz and renowned Sacramento garage-rockers the Bananas are also on hand. As Gibbon exclaims, the fest not only benefits good causes, it also promises to be "a representation of what punk is … the sense of possibility!"

SAN FRANCISCO’S DOOMED Wed/12 through Sun/16, various venues. www.myspace.com/sanfranciscosdoomed, www.maximumrocknroll.com

Grass Widow


PREVIEW Grass Widow’s harmonious post-punk tension is fostered below SF street level, in a former meat locker containing, among other things, a very charming quilt with the band’s name patched into it. In anticipation of an impending record release, I met there with bass player Hannah Lew and drummer Lillian Maring (guitarist and trumpet player Raven Mahon was overseas), who, although living far apart — Maring is on the East Coast at present — were clearly very happy to be together.

"It’s not like there are any dispensable characters," explains Lew. After the dissolution of Shitstorm, Lew’s former band with Mahon, the two started playing together in 2007 with Maring, who was in the city for the summer from Washington state. Though Maring went back up north for a bit, she says she quickly returned and the trio "got really serious" — serious enough to tour the U.S. the following summer after cranking out a wonderful demo CD-R/ cassette that makes up most of their upcoming self-titled 12-inch on the local Make a Mess label.

Grass Widow artfully molds anxiety, love, and sturdy musicianship into a mesmerizing shape — a sound in which haunted beauty is tempered alternately by pain and, as Lew puts it, "the cathartic experience of playing the song itself." The group’s three-part harmonies are intricate, with an incidental, spoken quality. Imagine a darker shade of the Raincoats, with minimal, vocal harmony-centric arrangements — really terrific stuff.

A seven-inch EP is projected for summer release through Cape Shok, and Grass Widow has been making short films, some of which will be screened at the record release show. "So much of it is about survival and friendship that we’re not gonna quit," Maring said. "It’s a reason to live."

GRASS WIDOW With Ty Segall. Thurs/23, 8 p.m., $5. Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia, SF. (415) 864-3890. www.atasite.org>.

Feel-good sounds


DENT MAY AND HIS MAGNIFICENT UKULELE What we have here, to get right down to it, is a perfect case of truth in advertising. The cover of The Good Feeling Music of Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele (Paw Tracks) — the just-released debut from the eponymous uke-strumming, street-corner-serenading smooth operator — spells out its primary objective in impish scrawl, rainbow-and-curlicue-festooned illustrations, and a photo of the showman getting swanky in tuxedo finery. It’s an eye-catching introduction, to be sure, but May is more than ready and willing to deliver on such promises. Having pinpointed the rarely-visited sonic intersection between Dean Martin and Jonathan Richman, the crooner extols the virtues of girls and parties with a fetching blend of exuberance and sincerity. Just in case the witty, bookish lyrics aren’t enough to crack a smile on listeners’ faces, the accompanying musical cocktail should do the trick: one part ’60s pop, one part breezy Tropicalia, two parts nightclub lounge act. Quite the recipe for feeling good. Some of the credit for May’s grinning inspiration must be given to the beloved instrument of the disc’s title. “I’d been stuck in a bit of a rut, songwriting-wise, before I bought the ukulele from a friend,” he explains over the phone from his Taylor, Miss., home. “I was actually working on a country and western rock opera beforehand — pretty downbeat stuff. It all changed once I picked up the ukulele.” Asked whether the title could be considered a mission statement for himself and the band, May says, laughing in agreement, “Sure, I wanted this to be a celebration of what music means to me.” The disc feels very much like a celebration: of crooning vocals — comparisons to Morrissey or Jens Lekman are not off base, though May cites Prince and Lee Hazlewood as his favorite singers — but also of the notion of music as communal experience. Much like Lekman or Richman, May specializes in clever, audience-engaging songs about life’s essentials: love, friends, having fun. “I’ll make you see/ it ain’t so bad in Mississippi,” he jokes on the buoyant “You Can’t Force a Dance Party,” and the song’s evolving chronicle of throwing a bash for a visiting sweetheart is all charm, swung along by giddy ukulele and hard-shaking tambourine. “At the Academic Conference” — “smart people everywhere … but do they know what love is?” — sways with argyle-sweater romanticism, pairing glee club vocals and sunny Parisian café pop in a snappy reminder to not lose sight of what’s truly important. The tune also offers one of the finest self-deprecating zingers I’ve seen in a while: “Joyce, Whitman, and Camus/ Well, no, I’ve never read them/ I’m here just for the booze.” (Todd Lavoie) A.C. NEWMAN Carl “A.C.” Newman’s 2004 solo debut, The Slow Wonder (Matador), sits atop many a pop enthusiast’s iTunes playlist, and not merely for alphabetical reasons. Alongside the considerable quality of Newman’s output as chief songwriter for the New Pornographers and Zumpano, Wonder was a delightful, scaled-down showcase of his talents, boasting such jubilant instant classics as “On the Table” and “The Town Halo.” Get Guilty (Matador), Newman’s recently released second solo disc, is nowhere near as immediate a thrill as his first, nor is it as cheery — a not-unexpected turn given the shades of melancholy that color the two New Pornographers albums that have come out since then, 2005’s Twin Cinema and 2007’s Challengers (both Matador). It takes several listens for Get Guilty’s songs to settle in, but when they do, they stick with industrial strength: for instance, “The Heartbreak Rides” has a sneaky chord-change hook that gradually swells to a grand, fife-inflected breakdown, and the chugging acoustic guitar propelling lead single “The Palace at 4 AM” lays a frantic bed for Newman’s bouncy, infectious narrative. In one line from “Submarines of Stockholm,” he refers to the submarine’s Swedish stop as “one in a series of highlights and holy lows” — a clever turn of phrase applicable to this record, a terrific new addition to Newman’s brilliant corner of the pop canon. We’ll see how his new numbers go down live when he performs at the Independent. (Michael Harkin) A.C. NEWMAN With Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele and Devon Williams Feb. 28, 8 p.m., $15 Independent 628 Divisadero, SF (415) 771-1421 www.theindependentsf.com

Watch their steps


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Drummer Liam Morrison’s bandmates in the Amazements — Brendan, his guitar-playing brother, and Elon Etzioni, vocalist and bassist — could be heard jamming a symphonic-sounding Laibach track in the background when he picked up his phone in Los Angeles. It only got more peculiar from there: the Amazements ended up reeling off more funny, bizarre anecdotes than most groups ever accumulate in their lifetime.

For instance, there’s the incident when the Cobra Snake guy showed up to one of the ensemble’s shows: "He didn’t take any photos … he just left!" Brendan explained. "Either he was intimidated or really unaware." Conversely, they were once photographed by Mick Rock — but never got to see the shots.

In any case, no photo can do justice to the band’s dynamic, which, musically and in conversation, is tight-knit and eccentric. They quietly, relentlessly rib one another through the entire interview, and their music — a fanged and crazed take on garage-rock tradition in the James Williamson–era Stooges sense — seems born of an understanding that’s taken years to sediment. Each of them are quite young — Etzioni and Brendan are 22, and Liam is 20 — but they started playing together as preteens way back in 2001, making what Liam described as "crappy improvised stuff" based around three-chord structures.

They eventually ventured into "song" territory and arrived at a crossroads when they were hired — through Etzioni’s dad, Marvin, a member of 1980s group Lone Justice — to play an instrumental for a record by country vocalist Grey Delisle, who required a "raw garage rock" sound for one of her songs. Such straight-shootin’ session work wasn’t really the Amazements’ thing, however, as their unabashed reverence for some heavily varied sonic touchstones makes clear. As favorites, they name the Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You (Virgin, 1981), L.A. rap station Power 106, and James Brown, whose "Get It Together" they give a possessed, clanging rendition live and on record. They’re likewise fond of Three 6 Mafia: the Amazements can cover 12 songs by the Oscar-winning rap group, including a striking word-for-word version of "Side 2 Side."

An Amazements song sounds like little else: they feel Shaggs-y in their odd, homegrown sense of rock, but they definitely aren’t making music in a vacuum. In fact, last year they curated and headlined four weeks of shows at Pehrspace, the up-and-coming downtown L.A. venue where, according to Brendan, the combo "arrived at performing pubescence." In 2006 they appeared in the 40 Bands 80 Minutes! documentary, and as Etzioni mentioned, their appearance later got shouted out in Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s column for Arthur magazine.

Finally, after two years of work, they’re now within inches of completing their first full-length, soon to be released by Peter’s Pool Boys. "We’re trying to make a masterpiece!" exclaimed Liam — a claim that, judging by what I’ve heard, will likely be fulfilled. According to the group, one of the record’s most fearsome songs, "Time Anus," is a "skate anthem in Colorado" due to its inclusion in a boarding vid put together by Etzioni’s cousin, Connor MacLeod.

"Watch Your Step," meanwhile, was born of a bewildering, improvised Etzioni vocal over a short, looped sample from the tail end of curio-funk number "Tutti Fruit," and where the original "Step" was distorted with disorienting effect — "Some frequency in the loop made people nauseous and feverish," Brendan said — its finished form pairs a frenzied, devolved-sounding rap with totally wired peals of pitch-shifted guitar. It’s anomalously awesome.

If the album’s not done by tour, the Amazements will have homemade CD-Rs for purchase at their shows, which will be well worth picking up. They don’t get to play out of town that often, so roll by a gig and get your head hammered onto their proverbial stick.


With Hungry Ghost, Sad Horse, the Sandwitches

Fri/6, 9 p.m., $5

Argus Lounge

3187 Mission, SF


Also with Pierre Le Robot and Cupids

Mon/9, 9:30 p.m., free

Blondie’s Bar and No Grill

540 Valencia, SF


Bunny ballin’


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Nobunny loves you — that much is clear by the end of the first track on his debut, Love Visions. But where did the masked maven of caffeinated garage-punk come from? I met with the leather-jacketed, now Bay Area-based "half-rabbit, half-jackalope, half-human" at an Oakland bar, angling for two rabbit-earfuls of explanation. It’s hard not to be curious: the aforementioned Visions, released last year by 1-2-3-4 Go! and Bubbledumb, motorbiked outta left field to become 2008’s most delightful lo-fi slab of clambake party jams. Even heavy-hitter Jay Reatard recently designated it as his new favorite record "to jump around in [his] underwear and eat pizza in bed to!"

Eight years ago, Nobunny was conceived as "The No-Money Bunny" near the mountains west of Tucson, where, after having cleaned up a hard drug habit, the soon-to-be bunny-eared dude thought he ought to become "a rabbit Elvis impersonator … no joke!" He followed a peculiar familial precedent for masked musicianship — mom with the Moos Brothers and the Blues Chickens, dad donned punk garb in the Blues Burgers, and Nobunny himself prefers to remain anonymous — and busked on Tucson’s avenues before his first paid gig: an April 2001 show at Chicago’s Fireside Bowl on Easter Sunday. As it turned out, it was also the day Joey Ramone died — a strangely appropriate DOB for a project that would pick up the Ramones’ pink punk shoelaces and tie them to what Nobunny calls a "no boundaries, all id" ‘tude.

After early gigs opening for Blowfly and the Black Lips ("There was no competition for the cool slots in Tucson," Nobunny says), the live performance bug has since had him by his oft-visible balls. "Anything from a tape deck to a nine-piece band" backs him up as he cranks out tunes with a rousing, familiar-feeling bubblegum jubilance. He admittedly enjoys "Frankenstein-ing" together fragments of songs he loves, but make no mistake: such sugary album cuts as "I Am a Girlfriend" and "Church Mouse" are the keyboard-drum grind of Nobunny and nobody else!

Since the LP’s release, he has put out a 7-inch single, "Give It to Me"/"Motorhead With Me" (HoZac, 2008), and when we spoke he alluded to several new releases on the way, including an new album. "Not a single review of the other album could apply to the next one," which he said will be "all acoustic," powered by handclaps, beer bottles, and stomped-on phone books. For a good time, look up Nobunny’s line — it’s probably scrawled on a bathroom wall somewhere.


With Thee Makeout Party

Feb. 4, 8 p.m., $5


3223 Mission, SF



Mauled by success!


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There’ve been happy coincidences aplenty for the Vivian Girls this year. Two examples: they’ve recorded and played shows with Fucked Up, which wrote a song with the same name as their band before they ever assembled ("Vivian Girls" appeared on 2006’s Hidden World (Jade Tree), and the Vivian Girls began early last year), and, at one of those shows, bass player Kickball Katy found out she wears the same kicks as Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend. "We both have the Sperry boat shoes," she explained, claiming Koenig was more weirded out than she was at this discovery.

At the time of our phone conversation, being in those shoes sounded a bit wearying. It was rainy and cold in the group’s Brooklyn home base, and October had been a busy month for the trio, which includes guitarist Cassie Ramone and drummer Ali. CMJ burned them out on what was supposed to be an October at-home break. As Katy put it, "It was kind like being on tour while being at home." Twelve hometown shows in a month does sound like a bit much, especially alongside several other one-off jaunts along the Eastern seaboard.

I guess these things happen when you set blogger hearts aflutter with a great record. Since their self-titled debut sold out its original 500-copy run on Mauled by Tigers in just 10 days earlier this year — it has since been reissued by In the Red — the attention has snowballed around their rather meek undertaking to, as Katy said, "sound like the Wipers." In truth, they do sorta sound like the Wipers, but this is where another of those coincidences comes in. Without really meaning to, their reverb-heavy pop turned out to have aesthetic forebears in older English bands like Dolly Mixture and Talulah Gosh.

Vivian Girls, “Tell the World”

Little realizing Vivian Girls would earn a place alongside such distinguished bedfellows, Ramone started the group in March 2007 with former drummer Frankie Rose, who left the outfit earlier this year and now drums for kindred Brooklyn group Crystal Stilts. Katy, who knew Ramone from high school, joined in on bass guitar shortly thereafter. Ali took over on drums early this summer, and they’ve since plowed ahead promoting their record and three singles. The entire threesome sings, and their sound is one you’d hardly hear elsewhere, delivered in earnest, these days: informally sweet vocal harmonies, jangled and thrashy guitars, and a hurried rhythmic sense that makes their album’s 21 minutes feel even shorter than they actually are.

Hurried Vivian Girls may sound, but they’re clearly not harried, even with their heavy touring schedule. "We do Vivian Girls everyday," Katy said, "whether it’s touring or other things. There’s a lot to do." The latest to-do is especially impressive. They’re silk-screening 7-inch sleeves because they’ve started their own label, Wild World, and the inaugural release will be a fan club-esque package deal: a 7-inch including new songs "Surfin Away" and "Second Date," a cover of the Beach Boys’ "Girl Don’t Tell Me," along with a T-shirt, button, and postcard. A thousand copies will be up for pre-order soon. Of course they’ll sell out. But as Katy points out, when you make something yourselves, "a thousand of anything is a lot."

Lots of other plans are slated, too. The band is set to tour England shortly after its present West Coast excursion and will be recording a second album with Steve McDonald from Redd Kross in January. It’s all very exciting, and thanks to the lyrics of standout single "Tell the World," it’s easy to succinctly explain the thrill of hearing this trio beat their hearts out and succeed: "Keep it to myself? No way!"


With Love Is All and Nodzzz

Thurs/20, 9 p.m., $12–$14

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Jonas Reinhardt


He doesn’t seem like someone who’d perform at an arena, but Jesse Reiner’s aural ambitions as a contemporary Krautrocker are Wembley-sized. "I would love it if we were playing in stadiums," he says of his solo synthesizer project, Jonas Reinhardt, citing no interest in celebrity but expressing a deep amazement at the apparent scale of Tangerine Dream’s gigs in the ’70s. "They were a big band! It amazes me that people had that much patience for that."

This amazement folds neatly into Reiner’s shimmery present-day endeavor, which only recently, with the advent of Norwegian space-disco and the West Coast’s various strands of tripped ambient, did he feel might draw any audience at all. It’s clearly a liberating undertaking for the Berlin School enthusiast: much of our conversation at a bar in the Mission is gladly given over to his influences, ranging from Klaus Dinger’s caveman-like "motorik" drum sound in Neu! to the heavenly, droning thrum of White Rainbow up in Portland, Ore. Many may know Reiner for his synth and guitar contributions to Ascended Master, Crime in Choir, and Citay, which he left earlier this year. While his first record for Kranky as Jonas Reinhardt is deeply influenced by German electronic sounds, the project in no way sounds like a non sequitur alongside his other bands.

It was some time ago — the mid-’90s — when Reiner was won over by analog synths as a college student, discovering such electronic/ambient innovators as Michael Garrison, Klaus Schulze, and Manuel Göttsching. He and a friend entertained the idea of making a record they could pass off as a lost recording by two imaginary Düsseldorf academics: "Wilhelm Freuder" and "Jonas Reinhardt."

The moniker has become useful again as a vaguely defined face for the launch of this new project. As Reiner describes it, Reinhardt is a "suave European guy who makes very continental, European-type electronic music and lives in Monaco." Goofy as the premise is, placing the project’s image at a remove from the actual musicians behind it has proven appropriate, as Jonas Reinhardt is a solo endeavor in the loosest sense of the word: performances have happened as a trio with Damon Palermo of Mi Ami on drums and Kenny Hopper, also of Crime in Choir, on bass. Just recently, the band took on a fourth member in guitarist Phil Manley of Trans Am and the Fucking Champs, who provided tape treatments for the project’s debut, which Reiner recorded himself.

The full-length, Reinhardt’s second release after this summer’s Modern by Nature’s Reward EP on iTunes, is a shiny, cerebral pleasure where the synths hiss and gleam through a set of tunes that often feels as improbably bubbly and vintage as Matmos’ recent all-synth undertaking, Supreme Balloon (Matador). There is grit to the Reinhardt beat, however, and its sound takes on a more danceable form live, as could be seen at its YouTube-d Big Sur appearances, the first of which was an after-party gig for Kraut legends Cluster. Basic tracks have begun for the next record, which Reiner predicts will be more beat-driven. For a fictional character, Reinhardt is quite eager to collaborate, too: Reiner hopes to record various "Jonas Reinhardt and So ‘n’ So" discs in the coming months and years.

Exuberance with bite


They once were distant from the excitement, 40 blocks beyond 82nd Street — a dividing line that Erik Gage dramatically refers to as the "Berlin Wall of culture" in Portland, Ore. He and his bandmates in White Fang grew up in the PDX ‘burbs round 122nd Street, starting a CD-R — or, rather, "CD-Gnar" — label in high school. As popular as they were round the cafeteria — they’d hop up on the tables and sing — the attention they’ve lately received is even more impressive: MTVnews.com, XLR8R, and Billboard have all knocked at Gage’s phone line, over which he gladly engaged with the Guardian shortly before the launch of the band’s national fall tour.

Of all the coverage, the write-up that Gage, now 19, seems most proud of is the review they got in The Oregonian, which gave their new Marriage Records debut, Pure Evil, an A-. "My girlfriend’s mom read it," he exclaims. His enthusiasm speaks to White Fang’s whole deal: if they can excite those right around them, whether the numerous friends’ bands Gage mentions or his lady friend’s mum, they’re happy. This earnest eagerness was particularly striking at their summer gig at the Lobot Gallery in Oakland, where a crowd of less than 10 got utterly whomped with a two-drummer, extra-intimidating lineup including second kit-man Chuck Hoffand. White Fang’s core membership — guitarist Kyle Wolfgang, drummer Jim Leslie, and Gage, who sings — have had several members pass through their ranks, lately counting six members for their touring group. Only one drummer this time out, but Gage promises it’ll be great.

"It still gets pretty damn crazy every show," Gage says, citing a gutter-punk fistfight at a recent house show as a particularly frenzied example of this. Fang used to be more mild-mannered, he explains, playing "twee-ish, K Records-type stuff," before they picked up electric guitars to channel their "African tribal drum music" influence for "Pterodactyl," a contribution to the guilty pleasures-themed Grown Zone comp on States Rights last year. "Twee-ish" has since given way to Pure Evil, with a freewheeling energy that takes mere moments to adore: "Breakfast" hobbles from Black Flag riffing into an exuberant, infectious three-chord collapse.

After the tour, they’ll record an LP titled Cheerful Poetry of the Cosmos for States Rights, and alongside Gage’s Gnar Tapes and Shit label, Fang will initiate a new imprint under Marriage’s wing: Chips, which will be dedicated to releasing split singles. Evil? More like pure genius.


With Mount Eerie, Thanksgiving, and Common Eider King Eider

Sat/1, 8 p.m., $8

Million Fishes Art Gallery

2501 Bryant, SF


Wildildlife by numbers


Whether we’re talking about the volatile US economy or the amount of CD-R releases Wildildlife has produced to date, the base-10 numeral system is a useless reference point.

"Three or four, five or six — let’s call it ‘medium-four.’ Or ‘five-esque.’" This is the disc count consensus from the Seattle group, whose membership is definitely three: Andy Crane on bass guitar, Matthew J. Rogers on guitar, and Willy Nilz on the drums. All provide vocals, and their collective tune was chortle-laden as they chatted via speakerphone from their tour van, parked on Bainbridge Island, Wash., a short ferry ride from Seattle, before the opening show of their present West Coast tour with Mammatus.

It would be frivolous to assign integers to Wildildlife’s whacked variety of superjams: their psychedelic weird-metal gets mad heavy, but they kick terrific pop hooks when, you know, they feel like it. "We’re super poppy — it’s almost lame," one exclaims before another threatens that they’re "gonna drop it like Kid Rock!" Eh. That frighteningly high-pitched live vocal effect they often use isn’t that pop. Pop or not, the heaviness has gelled into something that has allowed Wildildlife to survive two radical geographic relocations: from Boston to San Francisco, and, earlier this year, to Seattle. Originally named Wildlife before a group called the Wildlife sent them a threatening letter about it, the band started after the three had been jamming together as college students in Boston. Although more restrained at that time, they now dish out a spaced acid-sludge that only medium-four years of epic practice sessions could have wrought.

What brought them to SF in September 2006? "It was a three-way commitment — ‘you guys all want to move?’ We pointed it out on a map and headed there. Sorta like Coming to America,” is the answer.

Crane describes their one-time dream of starting a pancake van in Dolores Park with Nilz’s family recipe. What kind of cakes?

"Cornmeal pancakes."

"Weed pancakes."

This truck never came to fruition, but the combo quickly came to feel at home alongside such newfound, freaky rock brethren as the New Thrill Parade, Tulsa, and Shellshag. They recorded their 2007 debut, Six (Crucial Blast), shortly after their arrival, laying down tracks as long as 18 minutes in the process. One number, "Kross," has a slowly strummed guitar and vocal passage that gives way to delicate Steve Hackett-reminiscent trilling (circa Lamb Lies Down on Broadway [Atco, 1974]) before the metal hammer smacks down again, while "Tungsten Steel/Epilogue," with that scary effect-ed vocal leading the way, is hot as that doorknob that Joe Pesci grabs in Home Alone.

The closest you’ll get to a precedent for the Wildildlife sound is Atlanta, Ga. band Harvey Milk, which the group opened for on HM’s first West Coast dates earlier this year — an experience Wildildlife were especially excited about in a year that, despite the move, has been pretty damned productive. They’ve produced a CD-R out of a WFMU live set recorded earlier this year, and a new EP, Peas Feast, will soon be released by Crucial Blast on 12-inch, along with a dropcard for a new EP, The Drongalet Demos. Their songs have been shorter lately, but to no detriment: tracks like Peas Feast‘s "Shining Son" beckon circle pits unlike any before it. Plans are also afoot for an old EP re-ish and a remix 12-inch.

Why is their album called Six if whole numbers don’t suit them? "It’s spelled in letters," they point out. There are also seven songs on there, alas — if inexactitude reaps such brutal greatness as that of Wildildlife, may we never file taxes again.


With Mammatus and Three Leafs

Sat/25, 9:30 p.m., $8

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


You can’t kill them


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They’re on the fringe, and they don’t plan to leave it. Though mostly overlooked in their home country of New Zealand during the last two decades, the free-rockers in the Dead C will be the first to tell you that they’re not terribly bothered.

"We are not seen as plausible cultural ambassadors," stated guitarist Bruce Russell by e-mail from his home Down Under, citing the failure of the "laughable New Zealand media" to cover what’s artistically adventurous as one of the reasons his three-piece rarely can make it abroad to play shows. One would hope that Russell, Michael Morley, and Robbie Yeats would be more seriously considered for Kiwi government arts grants: indie rockers of yesteryear and the narcoleptic noisemongers of today repeatedly cite the Dead C as an influence on what they do. Just look who’s opening for them on their upcoming US gigs: Thurston Moore (who hosted them at All Tomorrow’s Parties’ "Nightmare Before Christmas" in England two years ago), Blues Control, Wolf Eyes, Six Organs of Admittance — all serious contenders on the experimental circuit, and all projects that garnered something, aesthetic or emotional, from the Dead C’s history of desperate clatter.

The Dead C got its start in Dunedin — members are located in Port Chalmers and Lyttelton today, about 225 miles apart — when the self-designated "AMM of Punk Rock" released its 1988 full-length debut, DR503, on Flying Nun, the infamous home to pop bands like the Clean, the Chills, Tall Dwarfs, and the Verlaines, for whom Yeats once drummed. A pop group the Dead C are not, but for an ensemble so ardently free-form and unmarketable, they’ve done nicely.

"The irony is, we’ve done very well in commercial terms by being ‘uncommercial,’" Russell explained. "I don’t know many of our contemporaries in New Zealand who are in better career positions than us. We make money. We can make any kind of record we like."

Much of their international clout was forged in their ’90s relationship with the Siltbreeze label, run and recently revived by Tom Lax of Philadelphia, with whom they released some of their most acclaimed discs, including 1992’s Harsh ’70s Reality, 1995’s White House, and 1997’s Tusk. This period saw them create what many consider to be their most vital material, flirting with darkly catchy riffs while always doggedly blazing space for noisy, alien buzz and scrape. Secret Earth is their brand new release, shortly following last year’s Future Artists (both Ba Da Bing) and recorded over two days, six months apart. Morley’s eerie exhale oversees a stupor-inducing slow grind that renders track titles a useless roadmap for proceedings: after a few minutes with the Dead C, one won’t notice such trifling details as the stops, starts, and riffs anymore. They are, after all, masters of mood. Morley and Russell’s guitars-at-odds and Yeats’ distantly mic’d drums consistently scare up an unsettling, deconstructed blues-groove that makes clear the precedent for Sebadoh’s stoned angst cassettes.

Regardless of influence, the upcoming US dates mark only their third outing to the States since getting together — damn! What do they do on the rare occasion they’re on a stage? "We approach live shows quietly, without undue fuss, so we can take ’em by surprise and wring their necks before they can fight back," Russell wrote, pointing out that there’s nothing static about a Dead C track — other than that staticky sound.

Any fan with the whoops and feedback screeches of "Driver U.F.O." committed to memory will hear something that sounds rather otherwise if that song shows up in the set. "We are ‘fully improvised,’ though every now and then we’ll attempt an item from our back catalog," Russell continued. "But we never, ever practice them."

This back catalog is becoming more available thanks to Ba Da Bing, their US label for the past few years, which will be reissuing DR503 and 1989’s Eusa Kills (Flying Nun) on vinyl. The band is, according to Russell, also hoping to reissue its pre-1990 work next year (working title: Complete ’80s Reality). Immediately available, however, is the tour-only 12-inch, which includes recent live recordings, and gives an added incentive to check ’em out this week.

Why not? It’s hard not to be charmed by their passive-aggressive, cavalier mode of operation. "We just do what we do and dare people to ignore it," Russell offered. "Which they duly do, and we could not care less."


With Six Organs of Admittance

Thurs/16, 8 p.m., $20

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750


Punk’s latest clubhouse


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A fire-breathing dinosaur graces the sign above the entrance to Thrillhouse Records, a Bernal Heights hole-in-the-wall wonder of a record shop. Duck in the door and you’ll find several shelves of punk, garage-rock, and metal LPs; cassettes and seven-inch singles; a zine library and a sizeable rack of DIY publications for sale; a mixtape trading bin (make one, leave it, and take one); and an awe-inducing black and white Iron Maiden tapestry that hangs above a colorful array of flyers for local shows past and upcoming. Add to this the impassioned music wafting from the turntable in the corner, and you’re fully enveloped in a warm, curious niche of the Bay Area music scene.

The San Francisco underground punk-rock community has found much to celebrate in Thrillhouse, which evolved from a few friends’ drunken pipe dreams to a wood, wax, and plastic reality under the benevolent oversight of Fred Schrunk. He’s a lanky, meek 26-year-old who wore a black hoodie and a big grin when we met at a coffee shop in SoMa last week. Schrunk was excited about the package slated to show up at the shop that afternoon: a box containing vinyls of the new Black Rainbow single, the label’s 11th and newest release, which would hopefully be ready to be folded into seven-inch sleeves upon arrival. Just as exciting was talk of the upcoming Thrillfest, a store-sanctioned live music extravaganza in the dying days of August.

As Schrunk told it, Thrillhouse opened in January 2007 as a not-for-profit record store at 3422 Mission Street: all its proceeds go toward improving the shop and its contents, and it’s operated daily by local volunteers in the spirit of the late punk HQ Epicenter on Valencia Street. The label was conjured up mid-2007 by Schrunk and Shawn Mehrens, the vocalist for Thrillfest act Yankee Kamikaze, and store sales have funded the label’s new releases and reissues, which include a single by Onion Flavored Rings and a re-ish of Fleshies’ Baby LP. The Simpsons buffs will know the origins of the store’s name — it’s Milhouse’s desired user name for the Bart-coveted video game Bonestorm — and the handle speaks considerably to the enthusiasm of the volunteers who pop in and out of the storefront.

Radek Lecyk, a quiet, friendly young man from Poland who moved to San Francisco four years ago, was staffing a four-hour shift at the store one recent Tuesday afternoon. After selecting Fugazi’s terrific Margin Walker EP (Dischord, 1989) for play on the shop turntable, he explained how he "waited and waited" with anticipation for Thrillhouse’s opening after reading about its plans in a 2006 issue of Maximumrocknroll. For Lecyk and many others, the store has been a great meeting place for bands and show-goers of all ilks and ages. The shelves reflect the community’s generation-spanning nature: new label releases from Shotwell and the Reaction sit comfortably alongside releases from old-schoolers like Hickey, Sharp Knife, and Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits.

Idyllic as all this is, the ultimate get-together is still on the way. "Shitloads of people were in need of shows for summer," explained Schrunk, who earlier this year pleaded with his friends in San Pedro’s Toys That Kill and San Diego’s Tiltwheel to play SF, where the groups hadn’t been in some time. He came up with an incentive: if they made the trip, these outfits could play a super-rad, end-of-summer festival rather than the typical bar gig. Both bands thankfully agreed, although this meant actually having to deliver on the event. It was an intimidating prospect, but one that proved possible with the assistance of local venue bookers and the store’s newsletter, which reeled in enough performers to fill five nights.

Anybody wanting in on the bill needn’t worry about booking: there’ll be a free-for-all show at a secret city location Aug. 21. "Anybody that shows up with guitars and cymbals can play three songs," exclaimed Schrunk, who also highlighted the Aug. 24, Nor Cal vs. So Cal baseball game at Jackson Park across the street from Thee Parkside, which hosts the festival’s final show that night.

Thankfully, the fun won’t stop there: attendees can look forward to more label action this year with the release of the new LP by locals Surrender. Schrunk asked if I’ve ever seen them live before. I hadn’t, but it was nothing to be embarrassed about: he smiled and, in the sharing spirit of his label and store, sang their praises: "You should see them sometime — they’re really great."


With Fucking Buckaroos, Tiltwheel, Nothington, and more

Aug. 20–24

Knockout, Parkside, Kimo’s, and other SF locations



Sadsters unite over blown speakers


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Who leaves a perfectly good acoustic guitar in the street? Hard to say, but Kevin DeBroux, the fellow behind the elusive downercore of Pink Reason, found one on the sidewalk during his first week living in New York City, where he spoke from by phone earlier this month: "I picked it up and thought, ‘Nobody leaves their guitar on the street like this!’<0x2009>" The forlorn instrument quickly joined the modest guitarsenal with which DeBroux realizes his dirgy, psychedelic visions, ranging from slow-as-folk to blisteringly quick workouts, onto 4- and 8-track cassette machines.

DeBroux’s origins lie in the Brett Favre–frenzied town of Green Bay, Wis., but he also lived in Kurgan, Siberia, as a teenager from 1992 to ’93, where he tuned in to Russian punk bands like Grazhdanskaya Oborona, that, along with the sounds of ’80s American hardcore, had a major bearing on the shape of his eventual band’s bummer buzz. Pink Reason started simply enough after several prior bands, including Hatefuck. "I ended up driving back to Green Bay one night when there was this huge snowstorm, so I stayed with my friend Shaun [Handlen] and we started Pink Reason," DeBroux said. Handlen eventually moved to China, and Pink Reason has since consisted of DeBroux and whatever musicians, instruments, and recording resources are within reach.

His shape-shifting folkstuff was a shade too difficult for Wisconsin. For several years, he released only CD-Rs and had trouble being taken seriously as a musician in his home state. "It was kind of thought of as a joke," he said. "We played shows, but it was sporadic because nobody wanted to book us." When DeBroux sent a copy of his self-released 2006 seven-inch "Throw It Away" to the Siltbreeze Records–associated Siltblog for review, however, excited non-Cheesehead ears quickly got hip to his sensibilities. About a month later he was contacted by Tom Lax, Siltbreeze proprietor, with an offer to put out an album.

That record was last year’s Cleaning the Mirror, a six-song LP of ghostly, depressed low-fi folk moans and mysterious tones: it’s hard to tell whether the high-pitched twinkle that accompanies his exclamation of "It’s all over now!" consists of birds in an arboretum, a ringing phone, or a bizarrely contorted guitar passage. DeBroux put together his 2006-07 releases using older material from the aforementioned CD-Rs, but this year’s singles include new recordings — the flip to "Winona" (Woodsist) and both sides of "Borrowed Time" (Fashionable Idiots) are fresh cuts.

Pink Reason’s continual flux in lineup and style is one of DeBroux’s biggest live selling points: "You can take a song and change it to the point that the audience doesn’t even realize it’s the song that you’re doing," he noted. Still, it’s hard to tell that new single "Borrowed Time" is from the same guy who made Cleaning the Mirror: where that record was slow, stark and drawn-out, "Borrowed Time" is blistering, muddled pop running slightly more than a minute.

Garage-punk aficionados’ ears have lately turned toward Pink Reason and other Midwestern speaker-blown pop bands like Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit, to whose Columbus, Ohio, ‘hood DeBroux moved for a year after a grand night of acid-dropping. He served a tour-long gig as bass player for Psychedelic Horseshit, and now plans an Australian winter tour with Clockcleaner, as well as the release of a split with Hue Blanc’s Joyless Ones and a new LP. Nonetheless, sadsters needn’t worry about all these new friendships, or his description of the new record as "more upbeat": the subterranean, inward-gazing murk will surely assume a form as compelling as those it’s assumed so far. *


Sat/26, 9:30 p.m., $6

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


Fishing for hooks


Jackson, Miss., might not top everyone’s cities-to-see list, but Juan Velazquez of Chino band Abe Vigoda makes it sound like a damn fun place to play a show. "Everyone was really psyched, and there were a bunch of younger people there," raved Velazquez by phone while en route from Atlanta to Athens, Ga. "It was really, really fun." He and the rest of the band are pretty young themselves: they’re currently taking a break from their work and collegiate studies to tour across the states with their cloudy pop homies in No Age, fellow fixtures at the Smell in downtown Los Angeles.

Making time has allowed the four-year-old Abe Vigoda some taking of time, especially with the recording process. They just released their third full-length, Skeleton (PPM), which sharpens their tightly wound, clanging sensibilities into a set of songs more aggressively constructed than anything they’ve committed to tape before.

Various listeners and critics have been trumpeting Abe Vigoda’s racket as "tropical punk/pop," a label that the band sees little reason to complain about, even if it is arbitrary pigeonholing to a certain degree. "People like to make up genres for things, and I’m a little tired of it, especially because a lot of our new songs aren’t like that," Velazquez said. "But nobody’s calling it ‘shit punk’ or ‘shit rock,’ so it’s OK." Shit it is not. The record reveals itself to be a few shades darker than its murky production on repeat listens, but its enthusiasm and refined approach makes Skeleton Abe Vigoda’s first record that allows listeners to dig deeper. Songs like "Cranes" and "Hyacinth Girls" have an Afro-pop beat, care of drummer Reggie Guerrero and corroborated by David Reichart’s bass playing, and the zap-gun guitars of "Endless Sleeper" collide in rousing, unusually anthemic fashion.

To produce their wire-crossed jangle, Velazquez explains that the group’s other singer-guitarist Michael Vidal plays "thick-sounding and full" chords on his guitar in standard tuning, while Velazquez employs an alternate tuning that he’s been using since 2007’s Kid City (Olfactory) and a Ricky Wilson–esque employment of single, finger-picked notes. "It’s more jarring live because we’re playing very high frequencies that are off from each other — harsh, ringing, and kinda kraut rock–sounding."

Although the group has become more traditional in its song structure, it’s not really "pop" that they put together: their cataclysmic, yelping noise of yore has given way to a polyrhythmic pogo twist with opportunities aplenty for fist-shaking and epic metalhead finger-waving.


With No Age and Mika Miko

Mon/28, 8 p.m., $13

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750


Also Club Sandwich’s second anniversary with No Age, Mika Miko, and KIT

Tues/29, 7 p.m., $8

Lobot Gallery

1800 Campbell, Oakl.


For more on the show and No Age, see this week’s Sonic Reducer.

Dye, dye, darlings


Feel like dyeing? If yes, there are many products available to help you do so, but it’s unlikely that any color you choose will be anywhere near as exciting as the fearsome fun that Bleachy Bleachy Bleach conjures up. By the time they’ve set a dance beat behind their computer-scrambled screams and guitars, second-guessing is out of the question: these two shred hard without having to bring any ordinary instruments on stage.

Band members Kadienne Eslami and Jessie Abbey met in high school in Pleasanton and often went to shows in Oakland, Berkeley, and friends’ houses before deciding to start a band. According to Eslami, who spoke about the project by phone from her Pleasanton home, it was the frequent re-dyeing of their formerly purple and pink heads of hair that brought about the Bleachy Bleachy Bleach name — a moniker that also suggests the purging, triply frown-obliterating force of their music. Smiles are what got them started in the first place. "We started out playing through a PlayStation on a DDR mat, then started putting more emotion into it," said Eslami, who spells out her first name on one of the group’s earliest tracks, "Boobopera," before the bass beat kicks in and a splintered "easy lemon squeezy" rap unravels into screeches and buzzing chatter in French.

They employ noise in a variety of ways, alternately emotional and playful: the manic skitter of their new song "Toys" closes out its beat with a small dog’s bark. The duo also make use of a toy guitar, saxophone, and other assorted odd instruments in their convention-melting assemblages.

"Mostly what we do is record with instruments and collaborate with friends to make beats," Eslami says, "particularly Dylan Reznick from [the now-defunct band] Robin Williams on Fire, and most recently with Vice Cooler of XBXRX." When gigging on the John Benson–built Bus venue and elsewhere, they sing on microphones alongside their programmed laptop, adding that human presence that makes their songs so affecting. "Tennies," a song off their 12-inch coming out later this year, is about a guy Eslami met on Muni who had holes drilled in his head: "he explained how when people talk to him, he interprets their sentences backwards and has to translate them back to himself." Backwards translation won’t be necessary to keep beat with the Bleach, but scratching a chalkboard could make for fun accompaniment.


With Rubber O Cement, Take Up Serpents, Ettrick, Amir Coyle, Mikey Yeda, and Hora Flora

July 17, 8 p.m. doors, $5

Balazo 18

2183 Mission, SF


Get the Drift


If you haven’t caught wind of the Drift, maybe you should take that coat off. This San Francisco outfit’s instrumental rock creeps deftly outward and upward into an exhilarating, rapidly unfolding sprawl, channeling dub and old school jazz fusion in its whirring excursions.

Over the phone from SF, Danny Grody, the group’s guitarist and keyboardist, happily talked about the band’s inception and recording their second album, Memory Drawings, released in April on Temporary Residence. The Drift began as a trio — including Grody; drummer Rich Douthit; and Trevor Montgomery, who later left to focus on his main project, Lazarus — coalescing tangentially to the buzzing prog-scape of Tarentel into a group with a more contemplative and spacious jazz-like dynamic. Thanks to trumpeter Jeff Jacobs’ entrance through an ad on Craigslist and the upright bass playing of Safa Shokrai, the lineup that produced 2005’s Noumena (Temporary Residence) and Memory Drawings came together.

"With our older songs, parts tended to linger a bit in the ether before they settled," said Grody, who points out that the trumpet and guitar carry the melody in tandem this time out, while the whole ensemble tightened the shifts between the "more structured elements and the more amorphous, abstract spaces" of their music. Tracks like "Golden Sands" are delightfully reminiscent of the sighing final two albums from Talk Talk: brushed drums and airy, delayed guitar work are overlaid with ghostly trumpet smears and keyboards that could have been on Terry Riley’s Rainbow in Curved Air (Columbia, 1967).

Recorded with Jay Pellicci at Tiny Telephone in SF, Memory Drawings sports a title inspired by Donal Mosher’s sleeve art, which depicts a Colter Jacobsen photograph of a moon-flash on a dark ocean at two levels of remove — a pencil drawing in an LP sleeve composed from memory of the photograph, and a second drawing rendered from a memory of the prior memory. These "memory drawings" are eerily similar to, as Grody points out, the band’s own approach to recording and live performance: their collective memory of their songs, free-form in length and in varying stages of completion, ultimately determines their recorded and performed shapes. Boasting an "arsenal of fragments" alongside more finished grooves, Grody explains, the Drift "tried to cover the spectrum from really defined pieces to things that are more skeletal" in laying their efforts to tape. These songs remain in continual drift, highlighting the beauty possible when music forges new space within the sometimes serendipitous gaps of memory.

The Drift

With Christopher Willits, Mi Ami, Tussle, and Eyes

July 17, 9 p.m., $8

Gray Area Gallery

1515 Folsom, SF




PREVIEW Patrick Bodmer and Philipp Jung have known each other for 22 years. But according to Jung, the two DJs behind Berlin minimal house outfit M.A.N.D.Y. "sometimes lose each other" amid their various musical commitments. The most recent solution to this problem was pretty chilling: an extended stint in Iceland, where they spent three weeks recording in the wintry cold of February. Staying an hour outside of Reykjavík, they sketched out songs with help from Lopazz, a signee to their Get Physical label whose vintage equipment and field recordings of Mongolian sheep came in handy for M.A.N.D.Y.

"You don’t have the time to sit down and write songs in Berlin," Jung said over the phone from Berlin. "It was good to be isolated, but we weren’t sure if we could survive out there." Survive they did, but don’t be fooled by their frigid choice of studio. It’s the glowing warmth of their remixes and skillful manipulation of the clean 4/4 beat at house music’s foundation that has reaped them so much admiration as producers at home and abroad. Their original productions — which include the bassy synth sparkle of 2004 hit "Body Language," a co-production with Booka Shade — and their remixes for such artists as Röyksopp and the Knife bring into spare focus each track’s pliable, underlying blip-pulse, carefully giving the melody the space to kick one’s space-disco synapses into joyous movement.

They primarily have been engaged in remixes during the past couple of years, most recently releasing a mix disc for the Fabric imprint in January. Their present tour, which showcases the Get Physical roster, pushes forth into a year that will see the release of a new 12-inch and a return to the 10- to 12-hour nights they customarily spin in Europe. "We like playing really long sets," Jung explained excitedly. Clearly there’s little sleep to be had in M.A.N.D.Y.-land.

GET PHYSICAL NORTH AMERICAN TOUR with M.A.N.D.Y., Booka Shade, and Heidi. Fri/25, 10 p.m. doors, $22 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. (415) 625-8880, www.mezzaninesf.com

Go for baroque


In the southern suburb of Portland, Ore., where dwell the two main men behind the ornate folk-pop of Musée Mécanique, there’s an old amusement park with a Ferris wheel, carousel, and, perhaps most strikingly, a roller-skating arena with a pneumatic-powered Wurlitzer organ that drops down from the ceiling.

"The park has all sorts of stuff that was inspiring in terms of the instrumentation we used for our record," says singer-guitarist Micah Rabwin — who also plays the keys and singing saw — over the phone from Portland in reference to their yet-unreleased debut, The Wayward Orchestrion. These various old-time amusements weren’t merely an abstract point of inspiration, however, as he excitedly explains: "We used some found sounds that we recorded at the amusement park itself. The park’s in the record!"

It’s these kinds of rusty, creaky pleasures that chiefly inspire both Rabwin and fellow multi-instrumentalist Sean Ogilvie (keys, guitar, accordion, vocals), who borrow their band’s name from the now Fisherman’s Wharf–based museum they used to visit when they lived down here a few years ago.

"We love to make a song that has its own soul, just like the machines they have over there at the museum," Ogilvie says of their tunesmithery, the products of which could be likened to a delicate Joseph Cornell assemblage. The orchestrion of the album’s title is, according to Ogilvie, "like a drum machine," except it runs on air power through paper rolls, which gives it an incidental quality that — combined with its "wayward" state — suggested to them a "wandering piece of equipment walking around, gathering little interesting tidbits into itself."

It’s an image reminiscent of freewheeling Japanese video game Katamari Damacy, yet it accurately reflects their songwriting and recording process: obviously Rabwin and Ogilvie aren’t robots or magical stuff-accumuutf8g orbs, but in the process of recording, the two would gradually incorporate new and odd bits of instrumentation — pianos, organs, et al. — to flesh out the basic tunes that they workshopped together. Once the basic tracks were laid down in their cobbled-together home studio, Rabwin and Ogilvie brought in strings and recorded drum tracks to unite the various instrumental adornments at play, pairing in serendipitous fashion the old with the new: for instance, vocal harmonies and a Mellotron choir, a singing saw with a thereminlike synth effect, and acoustic and electric guitar.

As old-timey as the frontmen’s tastes might be, The Wayward Orchestrion feels deeply contemporary throughout — sincere in its fragility, and lustrous even as it’s shielded from the brightness of the sun. One of its most affecting tracks is "Somehow Bound," on which strings and xylophone plinks buoy a lovely, sad, pink parade float of a song along. "Fits & Starts," meanwhile, is a wistful stroll through a pedal-steel sunset, exemplifying the kind of huddled, intimate feeling characterizing much of the disc. With the help of a backing band, the live rendering of their musical snow globe takes on a more rock ‘n’ roll quality, even as it often entails playing two instruments at once for a few of the musicians.

This spring tour marks the group’s first significant eastward trip, and they seem pretty darn excited at the prospect of taking their collection of keyed instruments and found sounds out on the road. Musée Mécanique sound like they’re soundtracking the eventual re-opening of the market for hot air balloons, top hats, and groomed mustaches. They shine quiet wonder through an eerie, nostalgic lens of quivering saws and keyboards, all the while providing Sufjan Stevens with formidable competition in the "Best Baroque Folksters" category. (Michael Harkin)


With Here Here and Winterbirds

Thurs/27, 8 p.m., $8

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011


Somewhere over the White Rainbow


Adam Forkner’s creativity is now almost entirely unfettered. Performing and recording as White Rainbow, the onetime Yume Bitsu member today experiences few blockages between said creativity and the musical end product, and as a result he’s "finally understanding how to make music that [he’s] proud of." It’s a rather surprising sentiment considering his bang-up musical pedigree: ((((VVRSSNN)))), Dirty Projectors, Jackie-O Motherfucker — none of which are even slightly inhibited in the invention department.

This newfound creative clarity, which Forkner describes over the phone from his home in Portland, Ore., is thankfully not confined to the depths of the White Rainbow DAT machine. His music — a droney assemblage of syncopated rhythms and looped, tripped, and delayed instrumental layers — humbly offers the vibes of its healing ambience to all listeners.

Inspired chiefly by Terry Riley’s delayed keyboard pieces, White Rainbow’s music is mostly flat-out improvised. Live, Forkner employs a guitar, a microphone, a hand drum, and various looping devices and effects pedals to shape wispy, winding riffs and layered rhythmic patterns into wholly organic, psychedelic drone grooves. Earlier recordings, most of which are collected on 2006’s five-CD, single DVD Box (Marriage), reflect this purely improvisatory approach. His upcoming album for Kranky, Prism of Eternal Now, was constructed in a different fashion than before, as Forkner found himself using computers, with which he "deeply went in, sculpted, and added parts" to provide a more precise shape for his pieces.

This week’s beneficiaries of White Rainbow’s sonic balm will unfortunately not be treated to Forkner’s White Rainbow Full Spectrum Vibrational Healing Center, an occasional long-form live format that he cherishes: beneath a canopy, lights and video accompany his live instrumentation over several hours, during which listeners are free to come and go. "The motivation is to create a calming environment for me to be able to explore sound with people," he explains.

Yet isn’t this "healing center" business a bit hippieish for someone so indie rock? Forkner admits to "exploring his place in the New Age continuum," but his affinity for playing in odd outdoor or tented spaces shouldn’t be misconstrued as the sign of an impending Yanni career move à la Live at the Acropolis — dude just feeds off environments other than rock clubs, dig? With its music so deftly constructed and brilliantly serene, White Rainbow’s space is a place many might want to drop in on. (Michael Harkin)


With Dirty Projectors, Yacht, and Sholi

Wed/12, 8 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Board youth


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Wanna take your backyard pool party to the next level? You’ll need the Traditional Fools on speed dial: their infectious, scuzzy surf punk is the best accompaniment this century has to offer to the twist, the shimmy, and the ladling of tropical punch. The three young men who make up the Fools — guitarist-drummer-vocalist Ty Segall, bassist-vocalist Andrew Luttrell, and guitarist-drummer-vocalist David Fox — all grew up in sunny South Orange County but later moved to San Francisco, where they became acquainted shortly after arriving two years ago.

"We all just wanted to get out of Orange County," Luttrell, 21, explains. According to Luttrell, who gladly skateboarded along with Segall, 20, into the Mission to be interviewed, the Mexican food may be excellent back home, but when it comes to playing music in Orange County, "nobody cares except people in other bands." Reservations aside, the Fools consider themselves de facto products of Southern California, which makes sense when you hear them: they excitedly cite X, the Screamers, and the early ’80s Los Angeles punk generally found on the Dangerhouse label as a shared influence, and their eyes and smiles widen further at the mention of Redd Kross, from whose catalog the Fools can play a remarkable dozen covers at will, including a killer rendition of "Annette’s Got the Hits." All things considered, it’d be pretty inaccurate to pin down what they’re doing as straight-ahead surf rock: those kinds of riffs are most definitely present, but these guys sound way more subterranean than, say, Dick Dale or the Ventures.

When the three first musically convened early last year, they jammed on the Cramps’ "Human Fly," and it clicked quickly enough for them to crank out their first three songs: "Layback," "Street Surfin’," and "Rock ‘n’ Roll Baby," all prominently featured on their first demo CD-R, which was a surf-washed slice of garage punk glory. Their style has only become more refined since then, as evidenced by their fantastic live cassette, Live at Wizard Mountain (Wizard Mountain Tapes, 2007), and their new, self-titled 7-inch on the Bay Area’s Chocolate Covered Records. They block-printed all the covers for the single, which sports the benevolent gaze of a "chillin’ cheeseburger" and their sharpest tunes yet: "Surfin’ with the Phantom" gets the Vincent Price award for its spooktastic cackle and sense of impending wipe-out doom, and "River" is dialed in to the kind of raw, giddy party punk that Rocket from the Crypt were once able to muster.

The Fools have already opened for such heavyweights as the Phantom Surfers and strangely have never had to book themselves a Bay Area show, despite their frequent gig schedule: they’ve always been brought in by invitation, which also goes for their upcoming appearance at the now-renowned Budget Rock festival in Oakland. As well established as they may be locally, the Fools look poised to make waves overseas: their next release will be a split single put out by a label in Italy. In any case — look out, collectors! — they’re only getting 30 copies to sell themselves. "We’ll sell them for 15 bucks," Segall and Luttrell agree before laughing aloud. "Nah, we wouldn’t do that."<\!s>*


Sat/8, 8 p.m., $6

924 Gilman Street Project

924 Gilman, Berk.

(510) 525-9926