Sean McCourt

Imelda May on motherhood, rockabilly influences, and when to say “Screw it”


Taking the sounds of traditional rockabilly, blues, and jazz and giving them an injection of her own infectious energy and style, Irish chanteuse Imelda May can make listeners swoon at a ballad or jump up to the searing rockers that pepper her excellent new album, Tribal (Verve), which was released last month here in the United States.

 May has been rocking stages for well over a decade in the UK, and is finally gaining the popularity here that she and her talented band so rightly deserve — local fans have a chance to see her up close and personal tonight, Oct. 9, when she hits The Fillmore, a follow up headlining gig to her searing set in August at Outside Lands, where she rocked the opening slot on the main Polo Fields stage.

After that performance — where she and her band were one of the standouts of the entire weekend — May sat down for an interview backstage, talking about her new album, touring around the world, and playing a big show in Golden Gate Park. 

“I loved it! Great audience. I always love doing festivals abroad, because you can see kinda half of the crowd has come to see you, and then half the crowd don’t know what the hell or who you are. So it’s nice to see if you’re winning people over as you’re going along,” said May in her distinctive Dublin accent.

“There were a lot of people up in the front, kind of thinking, ‘Who is she?’ and then by the end were jumping up and down, and singing back to me, so they were an open crowd.”

The last couple of years have been whirlwind ones for May and her band, as they’ve been steadily building a bigger and bigger fan base, constantly gigging across the globe — which even the now-seasoned veteran of the road admits can get to her occasionally. 

“I’ve often said, ‘It’s great to be in…’ and I turn around and say, ‘Where are we? What country are we in? What month is it?” laughed May. “Because you just jump on the bus, you get off, you play, you get back on, sometimes you lose your mind of where you are, or what time zone you’re in.”

Having gotten her start singing while still a teenager growing up in Dublin, Ireland, May was always attracted to the sounds of  early rock n’ roll, particularly classic rockabilly — a style that she was advised early on in her career to cut out of her repertoire.

“I love a lot of music, and I started doing roots music, and blues, jazz, rock n’ roll, punk, and then rockabilly of course, and then all of a sudden you’re shunned — why is there no room for the music that basically started rock n’ roll, that started punk? Without it, you wouldn’t have the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin…I mean, they started a whole new movement.”

“All of the classic greats over the years — Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Marc Bolan, Jimi Hendrix — they all cited rockabilly artists as their influence,” she continued. “And if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be doing anything…so why is it shunned, if it’s that influential? I didn’t get that, so I thought, ‘Screw you!’ and I’m going to do it more, and I’m going to keep going until people hear it, and I knew when people heard it more, they would love it.”

That searing spirit is evident throughout Tribal, where on the title track May sings, “When you look in the mirror, tell me what do you see?/Someone new or your ancestry?/You’re a king, you’re a queen, you’re a wizard, a fool/Or if you’re me, then rockabilly rules.”

That core concept and rebellious attitude have fueled May’s connection with fans, and she shares a basic love for the purity and simplicity of the music.

“Audiences get it. They don’t really care what it’s called, they just know that it feels good, and you go crazy with it. It has no rules, the original rockabilly. It was exciting, it was adventurous, it was thrilling, it was dangerous, it was sexy. It was just fabulous music,” said May. 

“And I thought, people now would completely relate to that, so I said, ‘I’m doing it anyway.’”

In 2012, May and her husband Darrel Higham — who is also the ripping guitar slinger in her band — welcomed a baby girl into their lives, and took some time off from the road and performing. One of songs on Tribal, “Little Pixie,” is a sweet ode to their daughter, based on a poem written by her brother.

“I turned it into a song, and I thought it turned out really beautiful,” she said. “I’m from a normal, Dublin working-class family, and I don’t think he believed how great he was. I think this has helped. I was going, ‘This is brilliant!’”

Once the family and band were ready to get back to work, May says the material that comprises Tribal just came out naturally in the writing process — in addition to a tender ballad like “Little Pixie,” there are rollicking and raucous tunes such as “Hellfire Club,” which tells the story of an infamous den of inequity outside the city of Dublin. 

After the release of the album, May said she’s been questioned about how becoming a mother didn’t change her writing or singing style to veer away from rock n’ roll — a fact that she finds rather irritating. 

“Mothers are feral…your protective instinct comes out. I think being a mother magnifies a lot of stuff within you. I get a lot of interviews, and I cannot tell you how bored I’m getting with it, having them say, ‘So, you’re a mother, how come you’ve written a rock n’ roll album?’ And I’m like, ‘Geez, shoot me now!’” laughed May. 

“I’m madly in love with me baby, but you don’t all of a sudden become like, ‘I’m a mother now, I better not rock n’ roll’ — why not? The reality of most people is that you magnify different parts for what you need, so if you’re out partying on a Saturday night, you’re not going to be in that same mood for most people in an office on a Monday morning, you know? It’s the same way as when I’m on stage going crazy: I’m not going to be like that when I’m putting my baby to sleep.”

In addition to her successful albums and touring, May has been delving into other aspects of the entertainment world: She recently started taping episodes of The Imelda May Show back home in Ireland, where she is showcasing artists that might not otherwise have a chance at large-scale exposure.

“I never aspired to be a TV presenter — never, ever — however, I have a great interest in Irish bands and in the music of Ireland. There’s too many good bands, and there’s nothing on [to showcase them] except The Voice or The X Factor. And I think those are TV shows, I don’t think they’re music shows. They’re fun TV shows,” said May.

“I think for bands that are already working, and already gigging, and want to find some kind of platform, as supposed to somebody that just wants to be ‘discovered’ — I think there’s nothing really for them there.”

American fans can find the shows online at, and catch the incendiary performer live on her U.S. tour, which runs through mid-October, before she heads back to Europe for a slate of gigs scheduled through the end of the year.

“I love it. Tthis is what I do, and I’m really glad I stuck to me guns. I wasn’t going to change for anyone,” said May. 

“I wasn’t after fame, so I wasn’t going to change to chase something I didn’t really want. I just wanted to make good music.”


Thu/9, 8pm, $29.50

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

 (415) 346-6000

Social Distortion digs up its roots


Although they got their start in the fast and loud world of the southern California punk rock scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Orange County rockers Social Distortion have long embraced American roots music, incorporating country, rockabilly, folk and blues influences into their songwriting and overall sound.

Founding member Mike Ness — who as the band’s singer, guitarist ,and chief songwriter has guided Social Distortion for 35 years now — can pinpoint an experience he had growing up to when he first made a connection with early 20th century American music.

“It was probably on those Smithsonian Folkways sets that we had around the house — but when I heard the Carter Family at about eight years old, there’s just something about those recordings from that period, the late ’20s, and ’30s,” says Ness over the phone from a tour stop in Oregon.

“Maybe I was internalizing their strife, it just resonated with me, we didn’t have much money growing up, and it just really hit home—and I didn’t really even know at the time.”

That sense of kinship with the pioneers of roots music went on to inform and influence Ness when he started Social Distortion and has continued to help shape the group as they have evolved over the years — a major reason that he is proud to be performing with his band at this weekend’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco (4:45 pm on Saturday at the Towers of Gold Stage).

“I’ve heard it’s just really cool and eclectic — and that it’s huge. I remember when we used to do the ‘Street Scene’ in San Diego and it was downtown, and feeling that the whole town was there, like how it must have been in the old days when you were peddling your elixirs and you had the whole city there in the town square.

“I imagine that’s how it will be there. I think it’s a pretty cool idea. Whenever you get to play in the city, and see the cityscape right there from the stage, or in the park, it’s a very cool feeling.”

In addition to taking cues from the classics when writing his own material, Ness has also made it a tradition to perform many of his favorite songs by other, older artists both live in concert and on records — in fact, he released an entire album of covers back in 1999, the excellent solo effort Under The Influences, in which he paid homage to singers and songwriters such as Carl Perkins, Marty Robbins, and Hank Williams.

While his fans enjoy Ness’ cover versions for having their own unique sound, the performer himself laughs when asked if he has a particular approach for shaping or crafting the songs to be a little different from the originals.

“It’s never been a conscious decision to change them to make it my own. Sometimes I kind of wish I had played in Top 40 bands just so I could have learned different stylistic things, because really, when I pick a cover song, I do pick it because I love it and it’s a personal favorite and I’ve been singing it in my living for a couple of years already — but it just comes out the only way I know how to do it!” Ness laughs.

A couple of other acts on the bill this weekend were artists that Ness went to see in concert while growing up and had a large impact on him, particularly Dave and Phil Alvin (who play Friday afternoon) and their band The Blasters.

“That period of time was just so neat. We were 17 years old, driving from Fullerton to Hollywood every night watching bands and going to these underground clubs, I feel so lucky to have been able to be a part of that — I cut my teeth on that, and The Blasters were a big part of that.”

“These were bands that were already making that connection between punk and American roots music, whether it was rockabilly or folk music or blues. By the mid ‘80s, punk had really started to stereotype itself; a lot of the bands were all just starting to sound the same. We felt the need to separate and stand out, and that really helped me.”

Ness says that fans can expect Social Distortion to play some special tunes for their Hardly Strictly Bluegrass set.

“I definitely want to acknowledge the fact that it’s a roots festival, and pay homage, so we’ll be altering our set a little bit for the festival. Essentially, now Social Distortion is the Carter Family with Les Pauls, you know?” says Ness.

“It’s three chords, it’s the melody, it’s very simplistic. But it’s very honest and heartfelt writing.”

Social Distortion
Sat/4, 4:45pm, free
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Golden Gate Park, SF

Catching up with burlesque star and fashion icon Dita Von Teese


With a seductive and sexy nod to the past, modern pin-up and burlesque queen Dita Von Teese has been at the forefront of reviving a once nearly lost art form for two decades.

Bringing back the sense of classic style and glamour of the golden days of Hollywood and meshing it with the tantalizing teasing of the old-time burlesque circuit, Von Teese wraps up a two-night stand at the Fillmore tonight with her Burlesque: Strip, Strip, Hooray! show, a live revue featuring not only her own titillating talents, but a host of other performers as well, including Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish, and Lada Nikolska from the Crazy Horse Paris.

When Von Teese (real name: Heather Sweet) first got interested in retro styles and the bawdy and risqué performances of the past, there was just a small community of performers around the world that she recalls encountering; two decades later, she has watched the scene flourish and rapidly expand.

“It’s been really interesting to see the gradual unfolding of the burlesque revival and how massive it’s become. People are starting to get the message that this is inspiring and empowering [for] women that maybe can’t relate to other modern standards of beauty,” says Von Teese. 

“When I started making these shows, I started styling myself after retro looks because I felt that I couldn’t relate to any Victoria’s Secret models, or Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. That’s part of why I look to icons of the past like Marlene Dietrich, and Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable — I felt that created glamour was something I could maybe capture the spirit of.”

When her tour dates end later this year, Von Teese is looking to take some time off from the road and focus more on other successfully growing parts of her creative output, including makeup, perfume, clothing, and a new line of lingerie, which she will be promoting via an in-store appearance at Bloomingdale’s in San Francisco Tuesday evening.

“It’s important to evolve. I have a 20-year career as a burlesque dancer, and I have to think a lot about my personal evolution. I don’t want to keep doing the same show over and over,” says Von Teese. “I don’t like to claim to be a fashion designer, but I think what I really do is take retro style and find the very ‘best of,’ and find the things that translate to modern times and don’t look like they’re dated or just retro style clothes. I love things that are like classic silhouettes: they stand the test of time and still look elegant and classic and glamorous, but they don’t make you look like you’re in a costume drama.”

And unlike many other performers or stars who are content to simply attach their name to a product, Von Teese chooses to be involved with every aspect of whatever project she is working on at the moment.

“I’m very hands-on, in a sense I am an aesthetic control freak, that’s what I do. With a lot of celebrity lines or celebrity-endorsed products they’ll just sign off, or say, ‘Oh, yeah, that looks good,’ but I’m completely hands-on during the entire process,” she says.

“I base the collection on my vast archive of vintage clothing and lingerie, so there’s a lot of work that goes into that. It’s the same as my burlesque shows. It’s me creating something that I believe in, and that I think is beautiful.”

It’s clear that Von Teese has an ever-growing fan base that appreciates and is inspired by what she does both on-stage and off. She says she’s seeing people of all backgrounds coming to her shows and enjoying themselves.

“I think people are starting to understand it more. It’s been great when people come out and see the show, and to see the diverse audiences,” says Von Teese. “I think that’s why we have such an interesting, eclectic group of people coming to these shows: they’re seeing this attainable way of creating beauty and sensuality.”

“Burlesque: Strip, Strip, Hooray!”

Mon/8, 7:30pm, $45


1805 Geary, SF


Dita Von Teese in-store appearance

Tue/9, 6pm, free


845 Market, SF

Cubicle cult


FILM For anybody who has ever had to put up with a creepy boss, annoying co-workers, or a soul-sucking work environment — and that is most likely all of us, at some point in our lives — Mike Judge’s 1999 comedy Office Space has become a supremely entertaining and highly relatable touchstone for its razor-sharp take on office politics and corporate culture.

Written and directed by Judge, who also created Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, along with the recent HBO show Silicon Valley, the movie has gone on to become a cult classic, with a variety of quotable lines (“Yeah, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow … that would be great”) and cultural references (do you have the requisite pieces of flair?)

Office Space fans are in for a treat this weekend when SF Sketchfest presents a special 15th anniversary screening in 35mm at the Castro Theatre, with actor Stephen Root — who plays the stapler-obsessed Milton — in person for the festivities.

“I don’t think there’s a set that I go on where some part of the crew doesn’t have something for me to sign from Office Space — it’s its own little animal, much like Rocky Horror was in its day,” says Root.

“For me it’s a constant amazement that it continues to get a new audience; people who weren’t born [when it came out] get it, people who enter the work force get it, and it keeps a life of its own. It’s about the interplay of the people in the office. That’s universal.”

While Root has fond memories of working on the film, he says that bringing the mumbling, mistreated, and bespectacled Milton to life did present some challenges, particularly when it came to wearing the character’s signature glasses.

“They were a nightmare!”, he remembers. “They were about a half an inch thick at least, and I had to wear contact lenses behind those glasses to be able to see at all. I didn’t have any depth perception whatsoever, so whenever I had to reach for something during a scene I had to practice it because I couldn’t tell where it was — just reaching for the stapler and putting it to my chest, I had to practice that, because I could have reached out and missed it by five inches.”

That stapler, the red Swingline that Milton prizes (and loses), has gone on to become a pop culture icon of its own — a fact that still makes Root laugh.

“There was no red Swingline stapler [when the film was made]. I have one of the props, and Mike [Judge] has another one. Who knew it would start a cottage industry for staplers? I see them every week — people want me to sign them. It is what it is, it’s crazy, but it’s great, and it makes me smile.”

While he has appeared in many other films and television shows (including NewsRadioKing of the Hill, and Boardwalk Empire) since Office Space, Root admits that he’s recognized as Milton most of the time — and that’s fine with him.

“I always tell everybody, my obituary will be ‘Milton’s dead!'” Root laughs. “And I’m okay with that!” 2


Sat/16, 9pm, $12

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF


Go with a smile


FILM Clad in his signature cape and cowl, Batman has been taking to the streets in the darkness of night and fighting crime in the imaginations of comic-book fans for 75 years.

Thanks to the Christopher Nolan film trilogy, the public has gotten used to the idea of the character being dark and brooding and living in a gritty, more realistic world. But it was Tim Burton’s eye-popping Batman, starring Michael Keaton, that first ushered in a modern vision of the Dark Knight, 25 years ago this week on June 23, 1989. That summer, Batman unleashed in a wave of pop-culture Batmania. No matter where you turned, you’d see the Bat-Signal on a T-shirt, hear “Batdance” on the radio, or catch yourself muttering one of Jack Nicholson’s iconic Joker quips.

Sam Hamm, who wrote the story for Batman and co-wrote the script with the late Warren Skaaren, is a San Francisco resident.

“I grew up reading comic books — I was completely saturated with the stuff. A few years ago, I was cleaning out some old boxes, and I came across a picture of myself when I was probably five years old, wearing a cowboy hat and reading a copy of Batman. So in that photograph somebody had encapsulated my entire future. Obviously, it was my destiny,” laughs Hamm.

By the mid-1980s, an early script for a Batman film had been kicking around at Warner Bros. for several years. Hamm had started working for the company on some different projects around that time; one day, while waiting for a meeting, he saw the script on a shelf and started reading it.

“It was very much the same structural model as Superman,” he recalls. “I was reading it, and thinking, ‘No, this is not the way.’ It [was] explaining all this stuff you don’t have to explain. It’s basically just a guy who puts on a suit and goes out and kicks ass — but why would a rich guy go out and do that every night? That, it seemed to me, was the interesting part of the story. It wasn’t how this guy came to be, it was why this guy came to be — that’s the central mystery of the movie.”

After lobbying for about six months, he was asked by Tim Burton, who was attached to direct at the point, to share his ideas for a new story.

“I said, ‘Okay, here’s the deal — you don’t start with Batman. It’s the origin of the Joker that you start out with, and Batman is the mystery. I have this feeling that Batman is really depressed, and he has to keep on going out and doing this stuff because he’s reenacting this mess with his parents.'”

Hamm’s vision was a drastic departure from the campy 1960s television show that mainstream culture most closely identified the character with at the time, but the filmmakers quickly decided that it was the direction they wanted to take.

“We started with the idea that Batman is bat-shit crazy. He goes out and does this, but then meets a girl, and starts thinking, ‘What would it be like if I had a normal life? I’ve never thought of having a normal life.’ So the progress of the story is that he starts to go sane, and what does that do to the weird sort of lifestyle decision that he’s made?”

That approach clearly resonated with fans around the world. Looking back decades later, Hamm has fond memories of being part of the phenomenon.

“It was wild. There was a huge buzz around it,” he says. “I would be driving around San Francisco, and there was a house in Noe Valley where the guy had painted the logo on his garage. They put a Bat-signal on Zeitgeist! It was quite bizarre to feel you were a part of that.” *


The Pogues’ James Fearnley on Shane MacGowan, the difference time can make, and the diary that became his new memoir


Mixing a high proof distillation from the sounds of traditional Irish folk music with the piss and vinegar attitude and energy of punk rock, The Pogues burst upon the music scene in London in 1984 with Red Roses For Me, and further established themselves with the albums that followed, such as Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (1985), and what many consider to be their masterpiece, If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988).

The band’s output showcased their stellar musicianship and the masterful songwriting talents of singer Shane MacGowan, whose reputation for wild antics and marathon bouts of drinking took on mythic proportions, and eventually lead to a decade-long estrangement within the band.

The epic rise and fall of the “Boys From The County Hell” has finally been properly chronicled, and by perhaps the best person to do so — Pogues accordion player James Fearnley himself.

Drawing on years’ worth of personal diaries, Fearnley’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Story of The Pogues (Chicago Review Press) was released last month in the United States, and paints a thorough and deeply rich picture of what life was like as a member of one of most raucous — and supremely talented — bands in rock history.

“I kept a diary because I really enjoyed looking at things and experiencing things and knowing that later on I was going to put it down in words, so it made me pay attention — I like to pay attention,” says Fearnley.

“Years and years ago somebody said, ‘If somebody is going to write a book about the Pogues, it’s going to be you, James.’ And I heard that a few times, I was always the guy down in the breakfast room in the hotel scribbling away in my notebook, and in tour buses as well.”

The book came about after Fearnley had taken some writing workshops when he moved to Los Angeles, and Shane MacGowan kept appearing as a subject in his work.

“I think there is a sense of understanding that you come to, about the people that you write about and my reactions to them and my feelings with them, particularly about Shane, who is an extremely inspiring person to write about.”

Fearnley says that the many years that had passed since the original break-up of the band provided some helpful distance from the situations, and a new outlook on what took place in their lives.

“It’s useful to approach one’s experiences back then without so much luggage of self-worth, or lack of self-worth, that one had back then, and to have a look at what was actually going on. I think it’s one’s curiosity about things that helps you kind of move through, rather than get stuck in self-judgement or beating yourself up.”

After producing a large amount of material from the writing workshops, a friend had read some of it, and offered to pass it along to an agent; from that point on, the book came along fairly quickly — but as Fearnley points out, it took a long time to get to that place.

“It’s been in the air for quite a while, it came out of this slow, simmering, cooking process, I suppose — it wasn’t like I just said, ‘Oh, this is what I’m going to do now.’”


Steeped in detail, the different chapters transport readers to varying times in the life of the Pogues; it starts at the end of the story, where the group had to decide that it had come to the point where they had to fire MacGowan.

Fearnley’s descriptions of the moments leading up to the sacking should make fans feel as they were there in the room with them, in this case a tense situation punctuated with minute elements of information that one might not expect, but that provoke an immediate reaction — after building the scene, he adds a simple sentence, “The room smelled like toothpaste.” A detail that might night seem very important, but that lends the reader a sensory experience jumping off from the page.

“If you are going to write something, use all the sense. I scanned around to remember, what my senses were in that room, and that was the one that came up first,” says Fearnley.

Based on just some of the stories included in the book, the fact that the band members all survived the tumultuous 1980s and 90s is nothing short of a miracle — though guitarist Philip Chevron, to whom the memoir is dedicated, passed away last year from cancer.

“We did a couple of shows before Christmas in England last year without Philip there, and knowing that he would never come back, they were very emotional. I’m going to miss him.”

Fans can be assured that The Pogues’ story will live on forever now though, meticulously archived in Fearnley’s fascinating chronicle.

“I always liked Philip Larkin, he said about his writing was that it was an act of preservation — writing to preserve an event or emotion that he had had,” says Fearnley. “I suppose in writing a memoir, that’s an act of preservation in itself, so I felt that was my job, to bring everything to bear on making it sort of live again in a way.”

James Fearnley
June 9, 7:30pm
Moe’s Books
2476 Telegraph, Berk.
(510) 849-2087

The Damned on playing small venues, headgear that protects you from spit, and why they won’t stop ’til the Stones do


For nearly four decades now, legendary British rockers The Damned have been haunting stages around the world with their brand of gothic-inspired punk.

Since storming onto the London punk scene in 1976, the band has evolved and survived multiple line-up changes over the years, with the group now led by founding members Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible, who are keeping the original spirit of The Damned alive and well.

Today, Vanian’s punk-meets-rockabilly crooner vocals and Sensible’s wildly blistering guitar are backed up by the jackhammer rhythm section of drummer Pinch and bassist Stu West, along with keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron, who often looks like a possessed version of Beethoven, his hands flailing wildly about when not pounding the keys.

Bay Area fans are in for a treat this week as The Damned play two shows in Northern California ahead of their appearance at the Ink-N-Iron festival in Long Beach — and these are the only U.S. gigs on the books for the year.

“I love visiting San Francisco, it’s the most European city in North America and a vegetarian’s paradise. My home is in Brighton, the gay capital of the UK and a lot of the relaxed liberal attitude we have there is over here too,” says Captain Sensible, via email. “I like the way the Bay Area is a collection of villages all with their different vibe, but mainly it’s the smart, friendly people here that make a visit such fun.”

Looking back over almost 40 years of on and off history as a band, Sensible offers a candid assessment of what life has been like as a member of The Damned.

“I’m not one for regrets, we’ve had a splendid crack as a band. A lot of things that went pear shaped was our own stupid fault — and how we survived the mania of the 70s / 80s without anyone dropping dead I’ve no idea. But as you can imagine it was bloody good fun in a time when bands could pretty much do what ever they wanted in the studio without label types breathing down our necks; in fact, when they did turn up we always put on a little show for them, band splitting up, drummer climbing in a grand piano to add nonsensical avant-garde overdubs on a straightforward punk tune, food fights. They got the idea in the end and left us alone, and we actually made a few decent records despite all the chaos.”

The Damned were the first punk band from the UK to release a single — “New Rose” — and an album, Damned Damned Damned.

They also broke ground as the first to cross the pond and tour the United States, a jaunt that saw them play the infamous Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco back in 1977.

“It’s all a blur as you can imagine, but we met loads of young upstarts who told us they were getting their bands together. It was a great time, a clean slate if you like. And it felt good to give the jaded stadium rock stars of the time a kick up the arse.”

“I also remember American beer being universally appalling. In fact I would cram my suitcase with as much booze as possible, if you can believe that. Now, of course Californian craft beer is the cutting edge of brewing and we intend to visit a few breweries this trip.”

As for Sensible’s now-signature stage attire — a red beret and crazy sunglasses — it turns out it had nothing to do with trying to make a fashion statement: It was born from the environment that came to epitomize live shows in the early days of the punk movement.

“The truth is that at first I only wore a beret to stop the ‘gob’ (spit) getting in my hair. After Johnny Rotten and Rat Scabies had their famous spitting incident at a Pistols gig in ’76 it became part of the punk scene for a year or so. The problem was the hot stage lights baked the gob in your hair and it was almost impossible to remove the hard lumps afterwards, so I wore a beret and sunglasses to stop it getting into my eyes. That’s the true story, it wasn’t fashion — it was self preservation!”

Fans will be able to hear all sorts of first-hand accounts and behind the scenes stories in the near future when a documentary film about The Damned is released, made by Wes Orshoski, the filmmaker behind “Lemmy,” the award-winning portrait of the iconic Motorhead frontman.

“I took Wes to do an interview outside the former home of my parents — where I spent my school years — and no sooner was the camera rolling than a drug crazed mugger made a grab for it and a good old fashioned punch up ensued in which $50,000 worth of film equipment got completely trashed. Wes ended up being rushed to hospital. He probably needed a rabies antidote,” says Sensible.

“I should have mentioned to him that I was born and raised in the roughest part of South London — where one person’s posh movie gear is someone else’s years supply of crack cocaine.”

Despite difficulties such as that jarring incident, Sensible says that the rest of the project has been proceeding along well.

“He’s captured some very funny footage already as the Damned are quite a strange bunch these days. People think they know us, but I reckon there will be a few surprised faces when the film is released.”

One fact that casual fans of The Damned might not know is that Captain Sensible is a huge train buff — he’s driven steam engines in England, and even had a diesel locomotive named after him.

“There was a company that had a punk fan as boss and he named his locos after his heroes. John Peel, Joe Strummer — mine was originally going to be called Morrissey but it came to the guy’s attention that he made a point NEVER to travel by train. Whereas I do all the time, so I got it instead!”

Unfortunately, Cotswold Rail went out of business a few years ago, and when the engine was sold, a disgruntled employee that was owed money stole the nameplates.

“I’d maybe buy ‘em if he offered, gotta be worth a fiver, eh?” says Sensible.

While the Damned often perform at large music festivals around the world these days, Sensible still favors smaller shows, like the one the band will play at Slim’s on Wed/4.

“I prefer the club gigs, the closeness to the audience. And when I see bands, that’s also the environment I prefer. Festivals with screens and the musicians half a mile away on a distant stage is not great is it? The problem is that now we are a certain age, and there’s not likely to be another club tour as it’s a bit knackering.”

Although Sensible mentions that the members of The Damned aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore, he’s adamant that they have no intention of hanging it up anytime soon.
“The Damned ain’t going to quit while the Stones are still lurching on,” he says. “We’re not gonna be beat by a bunch of old Tories.”

The Damned, with Koffin Kats and Stellar Corpses
Wednesday, June 4
8pm, $30
333 11th St., SF
(415) 255-0333

Punk-rock veteran Cheetah Chrome is still full of surprises


As the guitarist for Rocket From The Tombs and The Dead Boys, Cheetah Chrome helped write the sonic blueprint for punk rock — and after four decades in the music world, he continues to create his art with an uncompromising and independent attitude. The incendiary axeman, born Gene O’Connor in Cleveland, Ohio, recently released his first studio solo record, a seven song EP that finds him traversing some familiar aural terrain, while exploring some new sounds and different approaches at the same time.

The collection of tunes is made up of tracks recorded at three different recording sessions, two of which were recent efforts, while one actually dates all the way back to 1996.

“When I had first gotten cleaned up and was wanting to get back into playing again, Hilly [Kristal, the late owner of CBGBs] hooked me up to record some songs, and we were just about done when he started insisting that he wanted to put it out on ‘CBGB Records’ — and I was like, ‘Well, there is no CBGB Records!’ So we got into a tiff, and the masters ended up sitting around until after he died — we had settled our differences, the record just didn’t get talked about,” laughs Chrome over the phone from his home in Nashville.

“After Hilly passed away, his daughter called me up and said she found the masters, and asked if I wanted them, and sent them down to me. At the time I was working on a record with Batusis, and our record label decided they were going to go on hiatus, and gave us the masters free and clear.”

With a collection of both new and old material to work with, Chrome sat down with producer Ken Coomer and sorted through the tracks, some of which had multiple versions of the same song, and decided which ones he liked the best, and which ones he didn’t feel so strongly about anymore.

The resulting EP features some guitar sounds that will be instantly recognizable to fans of Chrome and his stint in one of the most infamous punk bands of all time, but also showcases a variety of other musical styles, as well as his prowess for writing strongly personal and emotional songs that should break any stereotypical misconceptions one might have about him. Kicking off with “Sharkey,” an instrumental reminiscent of the early surf guitar sound of the 1960s, the track takes on a more ominous tone with a layer of organ hovering over the guitars, an addition that came almost by accident while in the studio.

“If you had heard the way that song started out you wouldn’t believe it — it was acoustic. I was messing around with an organ, and started paying those chords, and the next thing you now, it turned into that!”
Apparently, that transition from acoustic to rock is not unusual in Chrome’s world — and although much more of the acoustic sound has remained in some form or another on the solo EP, many of his earlier songs started out life on an acoustic guitar — a fact that might not be so clear to admirers of his searing playing on an electric guitar.

“A lot of the Dead Boys stuff was written on an acoustic guitar — when we first started, I had a Gibson SG that I was using, I was pretty poor, I only had one other guitar, an Epiphone 12 string. One night at rehearsal I was messing around and did something stupid and cracked the neck on the SG,” says Chrome.

“So all I had for a little while was this acoustic 12-string — so Stiv and I wrote a lot of songs on that, ‘Not Anymore,’ a lot of the stuff on the first album was written acoustically.”

On the new record, two of the songs, “Stare Into The Night” and “No Credit” were actually written around the time that the Dead Boys were breaking up — and “East Side Story” and “Rollin’ Voodoo” have been kicking around for a while as well, they had just never been recorded the way that Chrome says he had heard them in his head.

After the record was finished the way he wanted it, the EP was finally released late last year on Plowboy Records out of Nashville, a company that Chrome now works for as creative director and director of A&R; it’s a position that he sees as being able to try to right some of the wrongs that he had to deal with when the Dead Boys were screwed over by record labels in the early days. “We’re probably one of the most artist friendly labels out there right now!”

On the current short run of West Coast tour dates, Chrome says fans can expect to not only hear songs from the new record, but also tunes spanning his entire career.

“We’re going to throw a couple of unexpected ones in there, a couple I haven’t done on previous tours, so it should be fun.”
Cheetah Chrome
With The Street Walkin’ Cheetahs, Jack Killed Jill, The Vans
Sat/12, 9pm, $12
Thee Parkside
1600 17th St, SF

Giving thanks: On growing up with Nirvana


For all of the world-wide media attention surrounding the induction of Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight and the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain this week, there is one very simple, yet pivotally important aspect of the band that seems to be getting somewhat neglected in the frenzy of coverage.

There’s plenty of talk about how influential the band was on the mainstream music scene and the commercial record industry, and even more on the tragedy and tortured soul of Cobain; yet in all of the discussions, dissertations and analysis of the Nirvana phenomenon, if that’s what you want to call it, it almost feels that one key component has been left on the backburner — the fact that the band made some absolutely amazing music, and has touched multiple generations of fans with that gift.

Sure, Nirvana moved millions of units in record stores, and they knocked Michael Jackson out of the number one spot in the Billboard charts. For people like me, however, those are secondary accomplishments, footnotes in what the band meant to us. I didn’t hear about Nirvana by watching MTV or keeping track of what was hot in the Billboard 100. I was 12 years old when Nevermind came out. I was turned on to them by a friend at a sleepover in junior high school, a personal connection that I doubt is seldom done anymore in the age of the internet.

This was when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — it was late at night, and after we had been told to go to sleep. After we turned out the lights, my friend turned on a small flashlight and got out his Walkman — that’s a portable cassette tape player, for you youngsters — from underneath his bed and passed it over to me. He told me that he had heard this new song by some new band, and that I needed to hear it — but he hadn’t wanted to play it earlier out loud with his kid brother and parents around for some reason.

He told me that I would probably feel like jumping up and running around the room, and that it had this crazy energy about it.

I put on my headphones, and hit play.

I haven’t been the same person since.

When the first chords came out of the headphones, I wasn’t sure what to think — by the time the distortion, drums, and bass kicked in and had gone through about two bars, I was hooked. My friend was right, after the subdued verse, the musical anticipation was palpable from the build-up of the pre-chorus; by the time the “hello, hello, hello, how low” burst into the all-out aural assault of “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous,” I was practically jumping out of bed, mad with an energy I had never known before.

Nirvana became the soundtrack to my life, and while they opened up the doors to so much more music for me in the ensuing years, they remain my favorite band, the lynchpin for what I’ve become as an adult. I’ve been covering music professionally for almost a decade and a half now; I wouldn’t be doing so if it wasn’t for Nirvana. While I am excited that the band is getting the recognition they so rightly deserve now with the Hall of Fame induction, it is with bittersweet emotions that they are doing so, being so close to the anniversary of the death of their driving force, their heart and soul, Kurt Cobain.

There is a quote from Cobain that has been repeated often over the years, but I think it might sum up best the feelings and attitude that I took away from Nirvana and their music. As the band was starting to catapult to fame in late 1991, he was asked what the name Nirvana meant to him. He replied, “The word that has come up in every definition that I’ve read is freedom. So we kind of like to think of our music as musical freedom.”

I think that is what I and so many countless fans around the world took from Nirvana. A sense of freedom. Not just musically, but artistically, culturally, and personally. A gateway to being your own person, regardless of what those around you or what society as a whole might think of you. The blurry photo of the band in the liner notes to Nevermind features Cobain flipping the bird to the camera. I think that attitude of “Fuck you, I’ll do what I want” has transcended generations, and is part of what keeps Nirvana a force to be reckoned with.

kurt cobain

I consider myself very lucky to have seen Nirvana live in concert once; that experience, in 8th grade, at the age of 14, further cemented the impact that the band would have on my life. The raw energy and emotion of the show makes it the one to which all others that have come after have been held up to. Some have come close, none have ever matched it.

In Septembe rof 2011, I made the pilgrimage to Seattle ito visit an exhibit celebrating Nirvana’s legacy and impact on popular culture and the 20th anniversary of Nevermind at the Experience Music Project museum, “Nirvana: Taking Punk To The Masses.” It featured a treasure trove of artifacts and interactive installations; seeing the actual instruments that were used to create the music that has had such a profound effect on my life was awe-inspiring; as was gazing at hand-written lyric sheets,  original demo tapes, artwork, family photos, stage props, and more.

In an article I wrote about the experience, I noted that when my friend and I came to the end of the exhibit, we both commented that while it was an amazingly touching experience to see what was there, it somehow seemed too short, that there really should have been more to it. It was then that we looked at each other and came to what should have been an obvious realization; for all their influence and impact on our lives and the lives of millions of fans around the world, Nirvana only existed for a mere seven years. Their career, like Kurt Cobain’s life, was cut much too short. In that short time, however, they made an incredible impression on their fans, myself being one of them.

It’s hard to sum up more than 20 years worth of feelings and emotions in one simple article; I’ve done my best here for now. Kurt, Krist, and Dave: Congratulations on your induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And more importantly, thank you for the music.

Q&A: Punk veteran Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham


After more than 20 years of playing an important role in the formation and evolution of a variety of bands including the Cadillac Tramps, Youth Brigade, U.S. Bombs and Social Distortion, Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham is finally stepping into the spotlight on his own with his first solo record, the excellent Salvation Town, (Isotone Records/Thirty Tigers) which hit stores earlier this week.

Steeped in a tasty mix of roots rock and Americana, the collection of 10 original songs has been a long time coming, due to a variety of reasons, according to Wickersham, who plays San Francisco tonight and tomorrow [Thu/3 and Fri/4], opening for Chuck Ragan at Slim’s and the Great American Music Hall.

“I worked on it really sporadically over the past couple of years — Social D was very busy after we put out Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, and we were constantly on the road for two and a half years. On breaks in between tour runs I’d go in the studio and work on it a little bit. It’s actually been finished for over a year, aside from the artwork, and this is a pretty good time to put it out because Social D has been on a break for while,” says Wickersham over the phone from his home in Los Angeles.

Although he grew up in the outhern California punk scene, and has played with some of the luminaries of the genre, Wickersham says there has always been a thread of other, older influences running through his music.

“As far as the influences I had growing up over the years, most of it comes from two places, the first being the music I heard growing up at home; my father was a musician, and he basically raised me by playing in bar bands, so the music that I heard spanned rock n’ roll, funk and country.”

“When I got into punk rock, which was around 1980, at the same time I was discovering Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, and then California bands like Black Flag and The Adolescents, I was discovering The Blasters and X — that part of the L.A. punk scene was sort of rockabilly, and the Americana part of that scene. To me, that was part of punk rock, it wasn’t separate,” says Wickersham.

“I’m not a purist — there are a lot of people who are rockabilly purists or they’re country music purists, I’ve never been a purist about any type of music that I like, I stumble across what I stumble across, and I have sounds I like.”

Much of the record is built around Wickersham’s acoustic guitar, with a wide variety of friends and guests adding their talents to different songs, including Jackson Browne, Pete Thomas (longtime drummer for Elvis Costello), singer Gaby Moreno, and his Social Distortion band mates Brent Harding, Danny McGough and David Hidalgo, Jr.
“I didn’t initially want to go ‘solo,’ and be the ‘solo artist’ guy, coming from my background, for some reason that was so uncomfortable. The intention was to start a band that I can be the songwriter of as a vehicle to do my stuff, the way I want,” says Wickersham.

“There were just so many players that ended being involved, though, so I thought, well this isn’t a band, this really is a solo record, with a bunch of guest artists.”

The extra touches brought by his friends, such as shared vocals, accordion, and guitar solos all add to the great overall sound of the album, but the real strength of the record is the solid foundation of the songs themselves, all written solely by Wickersham with the exception of just a couple.

With catchy hooks and strongly emotive melodies paired with frank lyrics about his hard-lived past such as “I’ve got one foot in the gutter, and one foot kickin’ in the door to heaven,” the collection of songs was written over the course of many years.

Wickersham says getting to this point as a songsmith has taken a lot of hard work — but he’s had a lot of inspiration along the way as well.

“I was just learning how to write songs in the early days of the Cadillac Tramps, and Brian Coakely, who played guitar along with me in that band, is a great songwriter, he’s always been really prolific, and he works really hard at it. He really was the first person that I had ever met in my life that took the craft of songwriting as seriously as he did. When you’re coming up in punk bands—everybody wrote their own songs and stuff—but it wasn’t viewed as ‘I’m a songwriter,’ you know what I mean?” Wickersham laughs.

“Then I played with Youth Brigade, and did a record with them, one that I’m very proud to be part of, but again, Shawn [Stern] wrote the bulk of that stuff, as he should, it’s Youth Brigade—it’s Shawn, Mark and Adam’s band.”

Wickersham also played with Duane Peters and U.S. Bombs for a while before joining Social Distortion in 2000 after the death of his friend Dennis Danell, and has since co-written several songs with front man Mike Ness.

“When I started playing with Social D, and for Mike [Ness] to ask me to be part of the songwriting was just an amazing honor; he hadn’t written with anybody in the band aside from some stuff he did with John Mauer in the early 90s and the very, very early stuff that he and Dennis wrote together,” says Wickersham.

“With each one of those I learned a little bit more about songwriting and what it was I wanted to do as a songwriter. So it’s been a long time coming — I guess I’m just kind of a slow learner!”

Although he took everything that he learned from writing in all the bands he’s played with over the years, Wickersham wanted to make sure that he set himself apart from them at the same time.

“I didn’t want it to sound like any other band I have been in, but with me singing, that was a really intentional thing. One of the things about this record that was kind of freaking me out a little bit while we were making it was that it just didn’t seem natural to make it have a lot of big guitar on it, it just wasn’t working. I kept trying to get that guitar foundation, that bedrock that I’m so used to doing. So most of the songs ended up having an acoustic rhythm, and a different style of electric rhythm.”

Wickersham says that when he was still planning on having the project turn into an actual band, he spent a lot of time trying to come up with a name for the group—a task that he says was much more daunting that he thought it would be.

“Everything cool that I could come up with had been taken. No one will ever get to find a cool band name like The Pretenders or The Jam again, some simple, one-word bitchin’ thing. Now I understand why so many of these young kids are forming bands with names that are like a paragraph long,” Wickersham laughs.

Eventually the name that came to him was Salvation Town, which was the name of a song by his friend’s band Joyride, a title that Wickersham says spoke to him about growing up in Southern California, the punk scene, skateboarding and more.

The “Two Bags” moniker has stuck with him for many years, and Wickersham says there were several reasons that the nickname was given to him back in the old days.

“I was very young when they gave me that nickname, it’s almost like a lifetime ago. It’s kind of a threefold thing; it’s a take on the old Slickers tune ‘Johnny Too Bad,’ and then had to do with drugs, and back then, so many of us kids in that world ended up living out on the street.”

Wickersham has come a long way since his turbulent youth, and Salvation Town appears to be the start of a fruitful path for the 45 year-old guitar slinger, who is most pleased with the results.

“I’m super proud, I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.”

Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham
Opening for Chuck Ragan & The Camaraderie and The White Buffalo
Thursday, April 3
8pm, $21-$23
333 11th St, SF
(415) 522-0333
Friday, April 4
8pm, $21-$23
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750


…And horror for all


CULTURE Like a mad scientist who has decided to open up his secret laboratory and show off his work to select guests, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett hosts “Fear FestEvil,” a convention bringing together the worlds of horror and heavy metal. Hammett has long been a horror film aficionado, and has amassed an extensive movie memorabilia collection of original props, costumes, posters, toys, and more over the years — an obsession that dates back to his childhood growing up in San Francisco.

“I first got into horror movies as a young kid — I think I was five years old when I saw my first horror movie, The Day of the Triffids, and totally loved it,” remembers Hammett. “I used to go to San Francisco Comic Book Company, which was one of the very first comic book stores in the country, at 23rd and Mission, and that was my repository for buying comic books and magazines. I just got into it and never got out of it.”

The idea for the festival — er, festevil — grew out of Hammett’s desire to share his extensive horror-movie collection with fans; it’s the same urge that first inspired his 2012 book, Too Much Horror Business, stuffed with color photos of his creepy cache. Following the success of that tome, he set up “Kirk’s Crypt,” an exhibit at Metallica’s Orion festival in 2012 and 2013 where fans could catch a glimpse of his collection in person. The next logical step, as Hammett saw it, was to create a mini-convention in his hometown.

“It was so fun, and such a big hit at the festival, I thought, why can’t I keep on doing this, but do it here in the Bay Area, and make it bigger and better, with more stuff, more guests, and with some bands that would fit in music-wise,” says Hammett.

“It’s my way of taking my collection and sharing it and turning it into a more giving process, because for years and years I collected — and collectors to a certain extent are selfish, you know, they collect things for themselves. After a while, I got tired of that feeling, so I decided that I would share it with like-minded people.”

Scheduled guests include several luminaries in the horror and sci-fi genres, such as makeup and special effects innovator Tom Savini, Night of the Living Dead (1968) co-writer John A. Russo, and A Nightmare on Elm Street series star Heather Langenkamp. There will also be some actors whose faces might not be familiar to the public, but are fan-beloved for portraying iconic movie monsters: Kane Hodder, who slaughtered countless camp counselors as Jason Voorhees in four of the Friday The 13th films, and Haruo Nakajima, aka the man who donned Godzilla’s iconic rubber suit in 12 movies, including the original 1954 classic.

“I’ve known Tom Savini for a while now, but for the most part, I don’t really know these people, and for me to be able to have them appear at the festival, and for me to get to meet them, is fantastic. That’s another reason this festival is happening — so I can meet these people for myself! It means as much to me as it does to the person who buys a ticket and comes to the convention.”

The descendents of three of horror’s high royalty — Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney — will also be in the (haunted) house. “It’s incredible that I have a relationship with the Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney families,” Hammett enthuses. “It’s a really, really big thrill.”

Adding a dimension to the event that hasn’t been widely seen before in the world of conventions, Hammett wanted to add metal music to the horror genre mix. “To me, it’s such an obvious thing. One of the reasons I embraced heavy metal was because of the imagery, and because the feelings I felt when I listened to heavy metal were very similar to those when I was watching horror movies.”

In addition to bands performing on Friday and Saturday nights — including Carcass, Exodus, and Death Angel — the fest also features music-minded guests who have ventured into horror-film production, such as Scott Ian and Slash, and those who have had a long history of using horror imagery in their artwork and lyrics, like guitar player Doyle of the Misfits. Hammett hero Count Dracula, noted fan of music made by “children of the night,” would surely approve. *



Thu/6, 7pm-midnight (preview); Fri/7, noon-midnight; Sat/8 11am-midnight, $37.50–$175

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

Sammy Hagar runs through the hits at the America’s Cup Pavilion


Celebrating 40-plus years on the rock scene, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sammy Hagar hit the stage in San Francisco on Saturday night before a crowd of thousands of enthusiastic fans.
Playing the America’s Cup Pavilion, the Red Rocker blazed through a set spanning most of his career, starting out with Montrose songs, then on to his solo material, through his stint with Van Halen, and up through his current output.
Sporting his signature shaggy hair and shades look, Hagar kicked off his set with several tunes from his first successful band, the Bay Area-based Montrose, for whom he sang back in the early 1970s.
Taking to the stage with two of his former Montrose bandmates, Bill Church and Denny Carmassi, along Y&T guitarist Dave Meniketti, who was filling in for the late Ronnie Montrose, Hagar ran back and forth, pumping up the audience with classic cuts like “Rock Candy” and “Bad Motor Scooter.”
When his current backing group took over, Hagar wasted no time in getting to some of his early signature solo hits, running through “Red” and then “I Can’t Drive 55,” which got fans — many of whom looked to have been following him since the beginning — singing along and dancing around, much to the chagrin of the bouncers, who seemed intent on keeping people firmly planted in front of their assigned seats.
The seating situation was one of the drawbacks to the temporary venue, or at least how it was configured for this particular show; you could tell lots of fans wanted to dance around and let loose, which is hard to do when you’re surrounded a sea of metal folding chairs and security forces keeping a watchful eye on everything.
Otherwise, the outdoor amphitheater located along the city’s waterfront was an ideal location for the concert — it definitely helped that it was one of those great late summer/early fall days and nights in San Francisco, where the sun was out all day, and the fog held off rolling in until the show was nearly over.

Landmarks like the the Transamerica Pyramid and Coit Tower provided a stunning backdrop to watching Hagar traverse the stage, at times bounding around and encouraging the crowd the yell or sing along, at others picking up a guitar and reminding concertgoers that he is also a formidable six string slinger in addition to being one of the best known singers in the realm of classic rock.
And that voice still sounds as strong as ever, belting out more hits such as “There’s Only One Way To Rock,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” and “Heavy Metal” among others.
Hagar’s old cohort in Van Halen, Michael Anthony, joined in on bass for several tunes, eliciting a roar of approval when he appeared on stage and bantered back and forth with Hagar, who plied him with a bottle of liquor and tried to convince him to move out of LA to join him here in the Bay Area.
While playing one of Van Halen’s hits, “Right Now,” a video montage appeared on a giant screen behind the band, culling parts of the vintage video clip and adding a few newer additions. One said, “Right Now…People are hungry in San Francisco,” with the words “You Can Help” and shared the website for the San Francisco Food Bank — keeping with the fact that Hagar himself had previously announced that he would donate money to a couple of local charities when he made this tour stop.
Although it seemed he needed no extra help in winning over the crowd’s admiration, Hagar also scored some hometown points when he took a moment to tell everyone how he had “moved to San Francisco back in 1968 with a suitcase, a guitar, and about $5 in my pocket — and I’ve lived here ever since!”
He then added that in recent interviews everyone has been asking him, “When are you going to retire?” 

“I tell them I retired when I moved here and started playing music!”

Get out your action figures: ‘Robot Chicken’ is coming to town!


For those of us who grew up in the 1980s, who doesn’t have fond memories of playing with action figures? Whether you were plotting elaborate battles and all-out dirt mound warfare with GI Joe and Star Wars characters, or continuing the adventures of She-Ra and Strawberry Shortcake, those toys were a big part of our childhood.

Today, some lucky — and very talented — people still get to play with those toys, and get paid for it. Breathing life into these inanimate objects, the hit Adult Swim TV show Robot Chicken resurrects classic action figures and projects them into wild scenarios, or the everyday mundane world of real life, making for some side-splittingly hilarious situations.

Marking the end of the special exhibit “Between Frames: The Magic Behind Stop Motion Animation at the Walt Disney Family Museum,” the creative team behind the show is coming to the city this weekend for several special events celebrating their craft. Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, John Harvatine IV, Eric Towner, and Alex Kamer will be on hand Fri/26 for an after-hours party featuring food, drinks, an audience Q&A and screenings of behind the scenes footage, and then on Saturday for a special animation workshop followed by a panel discussion.

“When the Walt Disney Family Museum reached out to us as they were starting to work on the stop motion exhibit,  it was one of those surreal moments — they were talking about what they were looking to do for this exhibit, and mentioned how Gumby was going to be a part of it, and they were going to have pieces from movies like Nightmare Before Christmas, and wanted television shows like Robot Chicken — we had that moment where we were like, ‘Wait, why are you including us?’” laughs Senreich, co-creator, producer and writer for the show.

“So we had to slap ourselves, and go, ‘Well I guess this is going to happen!’ It was very surreal and amazing, and they’ve been so good to us.”

The creative group behind Robot Chicken all first met when most of them worked at Wizard Magazine, a now-defunct publication that covered comic books and toys. Green was a fan of the magazine, and after meeting Senreich they became friends. They came up with the idea for the show “after many years of just geeking out over things. For us, this is what we live for; we were the people going to Comic Con before it turned into the event that it is now, we’re the ones who are still going to the small or cult comic shows. I want to find the random bootleg thing, that’s the stuff I love,” says Senreich.

When the group first started working on Robot Chicken, which premiered in 2005, they had never really worked with stop motion animation themselves, and after a few mostly failing attempts, gathered a team of professionals to help out. The animation technique — where an object is photographed one frame at a time, and gradually moved each time to create the illusion of actual movement — has a long and influential history in filmmaking, but is an incredibly time-consuming and detail-oriented art form.

“You come to appreciate what these animators do every day and the patience that they have, and you realize that they are actors and their performance either makes or breaks the stuff that you write,” says Senreich.

Although he can’t give an exact estimate of how much time is spent producing one particular episode of the show, as many multiple skits and shows are being made at once, Senreich says that they currently turn out about 20 episodes in 11 months. “We try to write as many episodes ahead of time as possible — what slows down stop motion is having to take a set off the stage, put a new set up, re-light it, re-configure it to get it ready for the next shot. If we can keep the lighting the same, and we can maintain a set that’s there, it simplifies the process.”

He adds, “If we have say 15 bathroom shots over the course of 20 episodes, we’ll keep the bathroom on the stage as long as we can and shoot all of those bathroom shots in order.”

In this day and age where so much of the work that goes into Hollywood productions is shipped overseas, or done in several places around the country, the Robot Chicken team keeps it all close to home in Southern California. “We have two buildings in Burbank where we’ll do everything from the storyboards to the building of the sets and puppets to the animation, and we have a voice booth. With the exception of our sound mixing, which is done literally down the block — everything is done in-house,” says Senreich.

Coming up with hilarious scenarios and which toys or characters to use in them is all part of the fun of working on the show. “What I like about our group of writers is that it’s a bunch of friends trying to make each other laugh; it’s really just whatever we find funny for the day, or what a topic of conversation has been about, that’s where things start. We like to take these very grandiose worlds and just find the very simple and mundane within them,  I think that’s what makes it relatable — if you can have Thundercats and simplify Lion-O to just being a cat, and being treated as such, where a spray bottle will affect him, there’s something fun about that.”

One of the toy realms that has been featured prominently on Robot Chicken over the years has been Star Wars. The first bit they did revolved around Emperor Palpatine getting a phone call from Darth Vader after the Death Star had been destroyed — and it immediately got the attention of Lucasfilm.

“We did that ‘Emperor’s Phone Call’ sketch, and right after it aired, the phone rang and the caller ID said ‘Lucasfilm,’ I thought, ‘Oh God, we’re going to get sued!’ But it turned out that George Lucas and some other people at the company had seen the show and liked it; they were calling to invite them to come take a tour of Skywalker Ranch. While there, Senreich threw out the idea of doing an entire Robot Chicken special centered around Star Wars, and within three weeks they were up and running.

“Meeting George was an experience; I was tongue-tied, and probably made a fool of myself — but now I’m the guy who can talk to him and go, ‘I don’t like that idea, George.’ It’s really nice to have that kind of relationship — he’s the first person to say back to me, ‘Well I don’t like this idea either,’ and we can have those kinds of creative conversations and we respect each other in that way, and it’s really nice,” says Senreich.

After this weekend’s festivities in San Francisco, Senreich and crew will head back to Los Angeles to start working on season seven of Robot Chicken. They’ll also be announcing several other upcoming projects in the near future. While his plate is full of work at the moment, and his schedule can be hectic at times, Senreich takes a laid-back approach when thinking about it all.

“The thing that we always come back to is that we’re playing with toys! There’s the pressure of deadlines and all of that, but you can’t get away from the fact that if the biggest stress is looking at a Star Wars figure and trying to figure out a way to make it funny, that’s not that bad!”

Robot Chicken and Stoopid Buddy Stoodios events
Fri/26, 7pm; Sat/27, 10am and 2pm, $8-$60
Walt Disney Family Museum
104 Montgomery, SF
(415) 345-6800

Takei wisdom at San Francisco’s ‘Star Trek’ convention


Bay Area Trekkers (don’t call them “Trekkies”!) set their coordinates for the city this past weekend as the official 2012 San Francisco Star Trek Convention took over the Westin St. Francis in Union Square, filling the hotel and the surrounding area with a galaxy’s worth of creative costumes, collectibles vendors, parties, and an impressive slate of stars from the franchise’s 46 year and counting history.

Several of the most esteemed names in the Trek universe made appearances over the course of the three day fete, including George Takei and Walter Koenig (Sulu and Chekov from the original series), along with Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, and Martina Sirtis (Data, Geordi, Worf, and Counselor Troi from The Next Generation).

Fans enthusiastically listened to behind the scenes stories and heard the actors share their thoughts on being part of the Star Trek universe, and also asked about some of their other projects and outside work.

Burton got the crowd going on Sunday morning, charging up the cheering throngs with stories about playing the blind engineer Geordi La Forge, along with reminiscing on the 35th anniversary of the TV mini-series Roots, which was his first starring role. He even elicited a spontaneous group sing-along when he asked if there were any Reading Rainbow fans in the audience, and started singing the theme song to the 1980s literacy-encouraging PBS program that he hosted in the 1980s.

Throughout the weekend’s talks, cast members of The Next Generation — who were celebrating that show’s 25th anniversary, and clearly are all still friends—would sneak up and tease one another during each other’s programs, with Spiner suddenly popping up at an audience microphone during Burton’s Q&A session and asking about the new “Reading Rainbow” iPad app and whether or not it featured a variety of made up of book titles in a nerdy voice.

Burton returned the favor when Spiner took the stage later in the afternoon, as did Sirtis, who proceeded to show off her still-limber body by doing the splits in front of man who played an emotionless robot on the show, but was visibly impressed by her heat, and was hilarious when answering questions from fans.

The keynote speaker for the convention however, was George Takei, who has become a figurehead in Hollywood for LGBT rights over the past several years, after coming out and marrying his long time partner in 2007. After receiving a standing ovation upon his introduction, the 75 year actor charmed the crowd with his signature smooth voice, and went on the emphasize the importance of the Star Trek fan community as a continuing inspiration for him in his current personal and professional endeavors.

“This longevity was created by you fans, of all generations, and I personally am so indebted to you, because my career has been a great blessing,” he said.

Echoing the original sentiments of creator Gene Roddenberry, who wove many of the pressing social issues of the 1960s into the fabric of the Star Trek ethos, Takei urged fans to take the spirit of unity and collaboration that forged the fictional “Federation of Planets” and put it into action in their own lives.

“I am very confident that Star Trek is going to continue to be strong base for making America a better nation, and building a better future for the world, working together.”

Toasting the titan


Special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen had to invent unconventional techniques to bring his movie magic to the big screen when he revolutionized the world of fantasy film making in the 1950s and 1960s. His work on Jason and the Argonauts (1963), Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), among many others, has influenced several generations of filmmakers that grew up watching his stop-motion creatures.

Harryhausen’s life and incredible career are celebrated in a new documentary, Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, an expansive look not only at the man and his work, but also the huge influence he continues to have in modern movie magic. Featuring interviews with Harryhausen (now 92), alongside Hollywood heavyweights like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, the film is having its United States premiere Sat/8 at San Leandro’s Historic Bal Theatre thanks to Bay Area Film Events.

BAFE has put on a variety of great classic film screenings and parties over the past several years. “The main reason we got into doing these events is to have fun and present the films and subjects we love. Ray Harryhausen is a big part of that, our first show featured Ray’s work, so this brings us full circle,” says BAFE’s Bob Johnson.

While Harryhausen himself will not be in attendance, two local special-effects luminaries will be: Dennis Muren of Industrial Light and Magic and Phil Tippett of Tippett Studio. Both have publicly shared their admiration of the effects pioneer, and will discuss his influence on their work, which between them has included iconic imagery and characters from the original Star Wars trilogy, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), The Abyss (1989), RoboCop (1987), and many more.

“We would have loved to have Ray here as well, but unfortunately at 92, Ray is not traveling as he used to and feels that at this stage in his life, the documentary says everything he wants to say and he considers it the final word on his career,” says Johnson.

Documentary producer Tony Dalton, who put the film together with the cooperation of the Harryhausen family, will also be participating in the event via Skype from London.

“I spoke to Tony and he graciously agreed to be part of the show via Skype — and I say graciously because he will be doing this at about 3:30am his time in the UK,” says Johnson. “Since this is the U.S. premiere and the focus of the event is the documentary, we thought it was important that someone from the film be on hand to discuss how it came about, what it took to bring together many of Hollywood’s major producers, directors and special effects artists and just how everything came to be.”

The evening will also feature a screening of the classic Harryhausen film The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), rare shorts, prizes, and more, all part of an event that will benefit the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

“Ray has an immense collection of original props, materials, and film from the movies he worked on. This is amazingly rare in the motion picture industry where studios let props rot in storerooms or put them up for auction or just let them walk. It is even more rare for films the industry may not consider to be ‘A’ pictures,” says Johnson. “Ray and his wife Diana have set up a foundation whose main goals are to preserve, house and display these items, as well as make them available to share with the public. These funds are going direct to the foundation, so they will not be filtered through any other third party organization.”

“So, you can enjoy a celebration of Ray’s work, see a brand new documentary, relive Ray’s work with one of his films, meet two Academy Award-winning industry professionals, and be a part of preserving a part of motion picture history. Not too bad for a night out at the movies.”

John Stanley, who reported on the Bay Area entertainment scene for 33 years at the San Francisco Chronicle and spent five years hosting KTVU’s beloved late-night show Creature Features, has interviewed Harryhausen multiple times.

“On each occasion Harryhausen was like an enthusiastic youth, a child waiting in line outside a theater to see the latest Star Wars extravaganza. Ask him about the joy of creativity and he would sprinkle in the reality too — the long, difficult days of single-frame exposure that would stretch into weeks that would stretch into months,” says Stanley, who’s now an author.

“In the case of [1981’s] Clash of the Titans, it was going to be his last major stop-motion animation feature, as computerized special effects were just starting to take over the motion picture industry at that time. It was the end of an era for Harryhausen, but his enthusiasm for his specialized art carried through. Given the neverending life of film, as long as we continue to preserve it, Ray Harryhausen and stop-motion animation will live on forever; sweeping us into other dimensions and faraway worlds with its unique way of capturing the movements of what would have been mere figments of our imaginations without his devoted efforts to give them breathtaking life.”

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan
Sat/8, 7 p.m., $15
Historic Bal Theatre
14808 East 14th St., San Leandro

The Vaselines move beyond ‘Kurt Cobain’s favorite band’


Hailing from Scotland in the late 1980s, The Vaselines released just a couple of EPs and one full album before originally calling it quits after two short years together. However, thanks to fans like Kurt Cobain, who covered three of their tunes with Nirvana, and exposed the band to larger audiences around the world, new generations have fallen in love with them in the ensuing years.
Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee — the duo behind the Vaselines — reformed the group for a series of outstanding shows in 2008, including their first ever concerts in the United States.

“We didn’t really know what to expect, we didn’t know if anybody would be at the shows, or if they’d be interested, because it had been 20 years, and we had never been to America,” says Eugene Kelly over the phone from his home in Glasgow, Scotland.

In addition to performing at Sub Pop Records’ 20th anniversary festival — the Seattle label re-issued their collected works back in 1992 — the Vaselines played several other shows in the US, including New York and San Francisco, where they were inspired by the devoted fan base that came out to see them.
“It’s a great thing to be able to play songs that were written 20 years ago, and there’s an audience for them, and people want to see us play,” says Kelly.

It was this enthusiastic response that prompted the band to come back together to later write and record a new album, Sex With An X (Sub Pop), which came out in 2010, and perfectly captured the unique and infectious spirit of their earlier work.

“When we started doing a few shows, and then started getting more offers, we thought, ‘we can play the same 19 songs that we’ve got forever, or we write some new songs to make it interesting for us, and try to say something new,’ so we just got down to work doing that.”

Although it had been more than two decades since they recorded together, and the group had a far bigger audience than ever before — one that had been listening to the same small output for a long time — Kelly says that there wasn’t any conscious effort to try to sound the same.

“I think it was a natural thing once we got together and started writing — we decided to not try to be beholden to what the sound was like in the past — they’re different recordings 20 years later, so obviously something is going to be different. We just thought, ‘let’s try to just make a record and hopefully it will turn out to be a good one,’ and not work slavishly to try to copy what we had done [before].”

The resulting album was warmly received by fans, as it contained the same signature ingredients as their earlier work, and the band found that they were also able to move beyond simply being labeled ‘Kurt Cobain’s favorite band’— but that doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate what Nirvana covering “Son of A Gun,” “Molly’s Lips,” and “Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam” did for their career.

“We’re quite happy with the association; we wouldn’t really be able to do any of this now if wasn’t for them putting our name into the world, we’re totally grateful. But with the new record, it gave us something else to talk about, and we don’t have to talk about the past — we’re happy with our history, but we’re also looking forward,” says Kelly.

Although the Vaselines won’t be playing any new material at the four shows they’ve currently got booked here in the US, they are always working on new ideas when not on the road.

“I’m writing songs all the time, sometimes it will work for the Vaselines, sometimes it will work for something else at some point— I’d like to do other stuff as well, I’ve always wanted to do a musical, but that’s probably further down the line — I think maybe I’ll do that once I get the punk rock out of my system.”

For now, however, Kelly is happy to continue building on the legacy of the Vaselines, and is encouraged when he meets fans at shows or runs across younger musicians from bands at festivals who tell him what his band has meant to them over the years.

“We only released a couple of records, and the fact that they actually got to the other side of the world, and anybody had the chance to listen to them is amazing. It does make you feel old though when you see these very young people come up to you and say they’ve been listening to you since they were in high school — but if we made anyone pick up a guitar, or bass, or drums, that’s just a great feeling to know that you might have inspired somebody.”

The Vaselines
With Mister Loveless
Fri/31, 9pm, $22
628 Divisadero, SF.
(415) 771-1421

Danzig on Doyle, his fans, Verotik, and that Metallica anniversary


Glenn Danzig has spawned a cult following with his dark and brooding voice, and the sinisterly seductive imagery of his lyrics. From the early days – some 35 years back – as front person for horror punk icons the Misfits, to metal-infused Samhain, and finally to the eponymous Danzig, where he achieved a degree of mainstream success, he has taken macabre themes, blasted them with an obsessive sheen, and come up with some of the most hauntingly memorable songs this side of hell.

Danzig comes to the Warfield on Sunday night on the second stop of a brief two-week tour that finds the 56-year-old icon reuniting with Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein. Doyle comes as a special guest for a handful of concerts that promise to feature a set of classic tunes with his old band mate.

Speaking over the phone from Los Angeles, the man who has made a living bellowing songs like “All Hell Breaks Loose,” “Skulls,” “Twist of Cain,” “Mother” and countless others is for the most part fairly soft-spoken, and keeps his responses short and to the point.

When first asked about the upcoming show with Doyle, he simply said, “We do a Danzig set, and then about two-thirds of the way in we bring out Doyle and do a bunch of old stuff.”

Later on though, Danzig did agree that the music he’s made has had a lasting impact on those who grew up listening to it, along with kids today just now discovering the Misfits and Samhain, or even newer solo releases such as 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth.

“That’s the great part, because no one sees all the bullshit you have to go through, so when people come up and tell you what your stuff means to them, it’s pretty cool.”

Danzig was in San Francisco most recently last December, when he was a special guest at Metallica’s 30th anniversary run at the Fillmore, singing “Die Die, My Darling” and “Last Caress,” two Misfits tunes that Metallica covered in their early days as a band.

“I hadn’t seen those guys in a while, and James called me up, and was telling me that the kids were getting to see it for $19.81 total — they were doing it for all the right reasons. I think they just wanted to let fans have a great time, and it was a lot of fun, I got to see a lot of old friends.”

Speaking of covers, Danzig himself is currently finishing up work on an as-yet-untitled album of cover songs, the first of which, “Devils Angels,” is available to listen to on his website. The record, which is due out in the late summer or early fall, is one of many projects that the singer has on his plate at the moment, or hopes to in the near future.

Once the covers album is completed and released, Danzig plans to record Black Aria III, the latest in a series of classical solo projects, and then set about working on the next Danzig record.

In addition to making music, Danzig has been writing several different horror and fantasy-themed comic books over the years, published by his own company, Verotik. One of his titles, Ge Rouge, has been in the development stages of being made into a film for several years, but has run into differing problems.

“We had it going with one production company, but we had to yank it because it just wasn’t going anywhere with them — eventually you get tired of doing all these re-writes on it, and you just say, ‘Look man, either you’re doing this or you’re not doing it!’” says Danzig.

“We had a bunch of other people that wanted to see it, but we couldn’t show it to them because we had a contract – once we’re out of the contract we can start showing it to other people. And I’m always writing scripts, so…we’ll see,” he laughs.

Sun/27, 8pm, $35-$38
982 Market St, SF

SF-born legend Terry Bozzio on UK’s reunion, his dad’s accordion, and the importance of drum lessons


Bay Area-born and raised drummer extraordinaire Terry Bozzio (who plays the Regency Ballroom Fri/18 with reunited band UK) has performed with Frank Zappa, Missing Persons, Jeff Beck, Fantomas, and a host of other musicians over the years. Recognized as one of the best modern drummers, he has recorded a variety of instructional videos, been honored by Guitar Center’s RockWalk in Hollywood, and has created some of the most insane custom drum sets ever seen on stage.

Bozzio’s amazing talents will be on display live tonight as he performs with the reunited prog rock super group UK — with whom he originally played from 1978 through 1980 — which also features John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia) and Eddie Jobson (Frank Zappa, Roxy Music).

Born in San Francisco, Bozzio’s family moved to Marin County when he was in third grade. His father had been a child musical prodigy, playing the accordion on stage in San Francisco when he was only four years old, and continued to occasionally play when he was older and had a family.

“People would come over for a Sunday dinner, and they’d beg him to play the accordion — he would begrudgingly pull it out, but within a few chords he would silence the room, he could just hold them in the palm of his hand,” says Bozzio over the phone during a recent tour stop in Portland. “To witness that power was something I was very jealous of at an early age, and now having experienced being able to do that — so I’m told — I credit him with having inspired it.”

When Bozzio started playing a musical instrument himself a few years later — the drums — his father would often give advice to him and his band mates when practicing in one of his first groups, Blue Glass Radio, a combo comprised of friends from middle school. “I was pretty much a rock’n’roll, play by ear kind of guy until I took six months of drum lessons which were very, very key and important for me, when I was 15 or so,” says Bozzio.

“My last year at Drake High School I started to study music seriously, and continued to study jazz and classical at College of Marin; I graduated from there with a commercial music degree — just an A.A. degree — but that was enough to prepare me for what was going to happen within a very short time.”

Bozzio soon began playing a wide variety of musicians, in many different styles, and after some time found himself with a reputation as being one of the best drummers in the Bay Area, which eventually led him to being asked to join Frank Zappa’s band. From there, Bozzio has gone on to perform with an incredible amount of world-class musicians over a nearly four decade long career.

With this UK reunion, Bozzio says he is having fun looking back and re-examining that particular portion of his musical legacy.
“I’ve always been proud of that music, and I think both John and Eddie are tremendous musicians with a great history in rock’n’ roll, making great contributions. When you listen back to some of this stuff, it impresses you because you kind of listen with fresh ears.”

Performing at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco will have a special hometown meaning for Bozzio — he saw his first rock concert at the Avalon Ballroom, which was what the venue was called in its first incarnation back in the ’60s.

“My dad and my uncle took me down, I remember clearly, we saw It’s A Beautiful Day, Canned Heat, and Vanilla Fudge. I’ve never been back, so this will be the first the first time since 1965 that I’ll be there!”

With UK set to play in Europe and Japan after the U.S. leg of the tour is finished, Bozzio’s schedule shows no signs of slowing down, and the talented musician is grateful for the opportunities he’s been given.

“The power of music is a very spiritual and amazing thing—I’m 61, and for almost 40 years I’ve been making a living as a musician, without having to get a day job—I consider myself very lucky, the stars have been lined up for me.”

Terry Bozzio with UK
Fri/18, 8pm, $65-$99
Regency Ballroom
1290 Sutter, SF

Lindsey Buckingham’s live show comes down to one


With an arsenal of a dozen guitars and several amplifiers lined up behind him, Lindsey Buckingham wasted no time delving into his extensive catalog of songs Monday night at the Fillmore.

Striding up to a lone microphone stand wearing his signature blue jeans, v-neck t-shirt, and black leather jacket, the singer and guitarist launched into an hour and 15 minute set that spanned a broad spectrum of his career, covering a wide swath of solo material in addition to some of the mega hits he created as a member of Fleetwood Mac.

After running through the first couple of tunes and warming up his formidable finger picking skills, the 62-year old Buckingham took a short break to talk about his current tour across the country, contrasting the differences between performing with what he called the “big machine” — Fleetwood Mac — and “the small machine” — his solo outings.

Remarking that when he started out on his own, he would often take a sizable backing band with him, but over the years he has decreased the number of players, with his last major tour featuring a trio, and that this trek finds him venturing out by himself.

Aside from a few songs that he played along with to a pre-recorded backing track, such as “Go Your Own Way,” it was just Buckingham, his stellar guitar playing, and his still-powerful voice providing the sonic soundscape that filled the historic auditorium, proving beyond a doubt that he was capable of carrying the show all on his own, with a highly vocal and appreciative audience to encourage him.

At times, it felt strange to look at the stage and see only one person performing with the amount of energy and excitement being generated. During songs such as “Big Love” and “Go Insane,” Buckingham made a variety of impassioned facial expressions while playing, and yelled and clapped at the crowd when he finished.

When the Palo Alto native came back out for an encore, he walked along the front of the stage, high-fiving and shaking hands with his fans, before telling the audience that it “you guys really do make it feel like home here.”

Then adding, “There’s so much history in this place, and with all the music that has come out of this city, I’m just proud to be a small part of it.”

With Monday’s show in the books, Buckingham can be assured that he is still very much a vivacious and viable contributor to that ongoing legacy.

Teese and thank you


STAGE With a seductive and sexy nod to the past, modern pin-up and burlesque queen Dita Von Teese has been at the forefront of reviving a once nearly lost art form for two decades.

Bringing back the sense of classic style and glamour of the golden days of Hollywood and meshing it with the tantalizing teasing of the old-time burlesque circuit, Von Teese comes to the city this week with her new “Strip Strip Hooray!” show, a 90-minute revue featuring not only her own titillating talents, but a host of other performers as well, including Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish, Selene Luna, Lada, Monsieur Romeo, and Perle Noire.

Von Teese — born Heather Sweet, a naturally blond Midwestern girl — first developed an interest in vintage clothing, pin-up art, and classic burlesque after moving to Southern California, where she started working at a lingerie store as a teenager.

“I fell in love with the imagery of women in the 1940s and ’50s, and that [style of] lingerie, and started looking at the history of women’s underpinnings, and that kind of interested me in pin-up art. By the time I was 17 or 18, I started developing and refining my look, and dressing in vintage clothes,” Von Teese says over the phone from Orange County, where she’s preparing for the tour.

After getting involved in the LA’s underground dance music scene in the early ’90s, Von Teese was taken to a local strip club by a friend, where she was exposed to a slightly different style of performing.

“It actually wasn’t a real strip club — it was like a bikini club — so I went there, and thought, wow these girls are doing kind of the same thing I do, but they get paid a lot more money,” Von Teese laughs.

“So as an experiment I started working there with a fake ID, and I became really interested in the history of strip clubs. I started learning more about the art of striptease, and that led me to burlesque. Most of the pin-up models from the 1930s and ’40s were burlesque dancers; if you opened up a men’s magazine from that time, there were a lot of the famous burlesque dancers in them. I kind of just started putting all of these parallels together, and thinking about what I could do to bring this idea back.”

When she first started out, she received some criticisms from people she met that worked in the industry, most notably for her dyed hair and retro look.

“I knew a lot of people that were shooting for Playboy and Penthouse at the time, and they were like, ‘You can’t have white skin and black hair and wear all these clothes. Playboy and all these people want to see a beautiful California blond!’ But I believed there was a niche waiting to be filled, so that’s how I got my start.”

Fast forward past 20 years of hard work and determination, and Von Teese is the top artist at what she does — which is an incredibly diverse array of work, including not only her live burlesque shows, but also a huge portfolio of pin-up and fashion photo spreads, several books on beauty and the art of striptease, and multiple lines of lingerie and make-up.

Although Von Teese has performed all over the world, and is extremely well known in Europe, “Strip Strip Hooray!” is her first headlining tour of the United States — and something she has been wanting to do for some time.

“Sometimes in America I can feel the whisperings of ‘What does she do, anyways?’ Some people think I just dress up in vintage clothes and drive around vintage cars and watch old movies. Or they’ll say ‘Oh, she’s just a stripper.’ With these shows that I make, I’m the producer, director, financer, choreographer — everything.”

Von Teese wanted to make these shows accessible to most any fan that wants to come see her live — promises nothing short of an amazing show.

“I’ve re-invented it for this tour, with a whole new costume, new music, and a new martini glass prop that’s covered entirely in Swarovksi crystals,” says Von Teese. “I’m just doing what I think is the very best.”


Mon/21-Tue/22, 7pm, $35


1805 Geary, SF

(415) 371-5500

Lindsey Buckingham sows his own seeds


For nearly 45 years, Lindsey Buckingham has been writing and performing songs with an indelible impact on rock’n’roll; and several of those tracks are nearly universally considered to be among the pillars of the classic rock pantheon.

Perhaps best known for his work with Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham wrote or co-wrote tunes such as “Go Your Own Way” and “The Chain” with the band, and his guitar work and vocals propelled the songs to the hit single and anthem status they eventually achieved.

In addition to his work with Fleetwood Mac, the Bay Area-born and raised musician has recorded several excellent solo records, and contributed a host of tracks to well-known film soundtracks, including “Holiday Road” for National Lampoon’s Vacation.

In recent years, Buckingham has become the subject of a running gag on Saturday Night Live, with comedian Bill Hader doing a impersonation of Buckingham on the faux talk show “What Up With That” where the host (played by Kenan Thompson) always introduces Hader’s Buckingham as his final guest, but never actually lets him speak, cutting him off for ridiculous dance numbers and other outrageous situations to end the show.

Hader does his best serious and pouting expression, leading the host to plead with him not to be mad, ultimately causing the perpetually leather jacket and v-neck t-shirt clad Hader to smile, but still, never talk.

A highlight of the May 2011 “episode” of “What Up With That” was the surprise appearance of the real Buckingham himself, playing guitar and speaking up for his impersonator, resulting in the one of the funniest sketches in SNL in some time.

Buckingham’s ever-evolving musical talents are no joke, however, as the powerhouse guitarist and singer released his latest solo album Seeds We Sow last year. He comes to the Bay for a special one man show at the Fillmore, which promises to touch on both his solo efforts, and a variety of Fleetwood Mac classics.

Lindsey Buckingham
Mon/14, 8pm, $39.50
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-6000

Letters from Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson


As the guitarist for Hole, Eric Erlandson was at the center of the alternative rock explosion of the early 1990s, a member of one of the most popular and controversial bands of the time, and a friend and confidant to one of the scene’s most influential players, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. With the 18th anniversaries of both the suicide of Cobain and the release of Hole’s hit record Live Through This passing this month, Erlandson has just released his first book, Letters To Kurt (Akashic Books) a touching and enlightening collection of prose poems addressed to his departed friend.

During a phone conversation from Los Angeles, Erlandson — who will be appearing at several events in the Bay Area this week — touched on the creative and cathartic process of writing the book, the release of Hit So Hard, a documentary about Hole drummer Patty Schemel, an impromptu on-stage reunion with Courtney Love, and the recent news stories about a supposed Kurt Cobain solo album.

SFBG: Your book “Letters To Kurt” is not your standard rock n’ roll memoir — what was the impetus for going the route that you did?

Eric Erlandson: When I was writing it, I was doubting it and resisting it the whole way through, now when I’m presenting it, I’m still unsure; ‘Is anybody going to get this?’ It is a strange book, it’s not your normal memoir, it’s disturbing to read for me still, so it’s weird to be talking about it in public and reading from it.

I was inspired by Jim Harrison’s book Letters To Yesenin, I started a process in my journal writing out my own letters to people, and then once I let go of my hesitation of using Kurt, the first letter in the book was what came out, and the voice was strong, powerful, and different than anything I’d ever written.

I just kept going with it — when you start writing about the past, the past starts to come back into your life and affect you, and that’s what happened until I got to that 52 number. I thought it felt right, it’s resolved, it’s complete — as much is it can be complete, at this point.

Bringing the issue of suicide on the table, and keeping that as part of it — that’s the bigger picture, it’s not just a book about my views on life, or my relationships, or my ramblings, it’s trying to connect to the universal, that they’re all connected, and that suicide is something that affects us all.

SFBG: The documentary “Hit So Hard” is also getting a wide release this month, and you’ve been appearing at screenings with Patty Schemel — what has it been like seeing your old bandmates again?

EE: Patty’s movie just happens to come out the same time as my book, it wasn’t planned — it was her journey and then my journey. With the fact that they are both being released to the public at the same time, I started to try to put them together at some events.

Patty, Melissa [Auf der Maur] and I played at an event, and from that, it felt so good, it felt like we were back in 1992 in a basement in Seattle playing covers. It just felt really fun, we were free to do whatever we wanted to do, there was no pressure, there was no machine, no business behind us pushing us to do anything, so that was really kind of a liberating experience for us.

We then did another performance for the Hit So Hard premiere in New York, and of course, Courtney lives in New York, and got wind of it, showed up, and it was spontaneous.

If you face the past, if you stop shoving it under the rug, and you start thinking more about what’s happening to your relationships, then you’re able to resolve them, or experiences will happen that will force you to resolve them—or will give you an opportunity to do so at least.

I’m hoping that is where things will go; it can be a positive by-product of the book that I hadn’t even expected.

SFBG: You’ve been away from the mainstream music scene for quite awhile—can fans expect any new music from you in the future?

EE: I’m planning on doing a soundtrack to the book, I just ran out of time, I couldn’t get it out at the same time as the book, but I plan to get it out this year.
That should be really fun, to go back and use all my musical influences and not have it be tied to a band project.

SFBG: There was a flurry of news articles in the last couple of weeks quoting you as saying that Kurt Cobain had recorded a solo album before he died, his “White Album”— were those comments taken out of context?

EE: It was definitely taken out of context, misquoted, and misinterpreted. I think that Courtney had mentioned in like 1995 or 1996, that there was some sort of White Album — or somebody did, I remember hearing it, it’s nothing new to me.

I think the writer chose to present that in a way that there was some hidden gem, or secret being revealed, but there is no secret being revealed, it was me speculating on what I had heard—which is what many people have heard, which is [the song ] “Do Re Mi.” It just had a different mood to it. I was speculating that that’s probably where he was headed, and said something about that White Album comment that somebody had made in the ‘90s — but I was tying it into the topic of suicide, and that’s the thing that he didn’t present in his interview.

I was saying that when someone commits suicide — and I’m not criticizing someone that feels suicidal — by going into that tunnel, and suffering in that way, once you choose to take that huge act of taking your own life, you’re affecting everybody’s lives. This is nothing new, and we all know this, but I was bringing it back to music; by taking your own life, by self-destructing using drugs, by checking out, then you’re taking your gifts away from the world.

I’m not dropping anything that world doesn’t already know. I never claimed that he was making a solo album; I was speculating that if he had continued, he might have made a solo album.

In Kurt’s case, who knows where that music would have gone.

Wed/25, 7:30pm, free
Moe’s Books
2476 Telegraph, Berk.
(510) 849-2087

Thu/26, 7pm,free
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Ave., SF
(415) 362-8193

Fri/27-Sat/28, 7:15 and 9:30pm, $10
Roxie Theater
3117 16th St., SF
(415) 863-1087

GWAR honors deceased guitarist’s return to the home planet


Those sleazy, salacious scumdogs of the universe in GWAR wasted no time in unleashing their riotous brand of musical mayhem on Friday night before a packed audience at the Regency Ballroom, with fake blood spraying and splattering the audience as quickly as the first notes came screaming out of the amplifiers.

Singer Oderus Urungus strode out onto the stage wearing his usual wardrobe of outrageously oversized armor and tattered fishnets. While the rest of the band began taking their positions, the band leader and a cloaked figure began miming to the first hapless victim of the impending carnival of carnage, a creature holding a document that read “Deed To The Castle.”

With loud encouragement from the audience — which had already been whipped into a frenzy from an excellent opening set by Bay Area favorites Ghoul — a sword was produced, and with a mighty swing from Oderus, the blood started squirting from the decapitated freak, who ambled about the stage, drenching everything and everybody, as GWAR launched into its first song.

From then on, it was the always entertaining live show from GWAR that fans have come to expect after more than 25 years of trashing venues and leaving concertgoers covered in every manner of fake bodily fluid imaginable — some kids even wore homemade shirts, taking a plain white tee, writing the words “GWAR 4/6/12” in pen, and coming out with a custom gory tie dye job and beaming smiles.

The only people who didn’t look like they were having a blast were, of course, the helpless security guards in front of the stage, who were all wearing rain gear, and had to deal with untold gallons of fake blood raining down on them in addition to the crowd surfing kids coming over the barricades, and the passed out girl who had to be carried out from the front barely five minutes into the set.

The theatrical terror ended its regular set with the signature sing-along song, “Sick Of You” before coming back out for an encore that paid tribute to departed bandmate, Corey Smoot, aka Flattus Maximus, who died last November while on tour with the group (GWAR had to cancel its last scheduled Bay Appearance as it fell during Smoot’s memorial service).

With Smoot’s custom Schecter guitar placed upon the top of an amp stack, lit by a white spotlight, Dave Brockie —  aka Oderus — introduced the last song, “The Road Behind,” by telling the crowd that one of GWAR’s members was called back to the home planet.

Amid all of the prosthetic pandemonium and controlled chaos, it was probably the most appropriate way to deal with their grief, and to honor a real human being, friend, and bandmate. Seeing Smoot’s guitar sitting alone, while the surviving members of the group performed around it, actually made for a touching moment, something that has to be an exceedingly rare event in the sordid history of the band — but yet another example of how GWAR is still the best at what it does.

Punk rock Robin Hoods


MUSIC In today’s modern music world, when iTunes and MP3s have dominated the mainstream market, and digital distribution is now the norm, a lot of vinyl aficionados wax nostalgic about the thrill of buying a new record, pulling out the disc, checking out the gatefold art, reading the liner notes, and enjoying a multifaceted musical experience.

Although vinyl records obviously never really went away, the quality of releases declined steadily over the years as consumer demand waned and the number of manufacturers around the world dwindled. But that void has been filled by — among other indie labels — local imprint Pirates Press Records. The independent manufacturer and record label has been reissuing Cock Sparrer’s older records; it also released a live LP/DVD, Back In SF, recorded in 2009 at the Pirates Press fifth anniversary party at Great American Music Hall.

Eric Mueller, 31, started Pirates Press in 2004 out of a love for vinyl, after he grew disillusioned with the way he saw another manufacturer he was working for treating their clients and employees.

“I decided to take my business and hard work and put it elsewhere, and did it with people who were of like-minded motivations,” says Mueller in his office in Potrero Hill, surrounded by an array of records and posters that Pirates Press made. He added, “We’re all super big vinyl nerds — it’s fun to make records, and we enjoy collecting the products that we make.”

That mindset, that a record doesn’t have to simply be a medium by which one listens to music, is palpable when browsing through the company’s releases. Brightly colored vinyl, picture discs, and even specially-shaped records — designed locally, and manufactured at a special pressing plant in the Czech Republic — display the label’s rich artistry and imaginative outlook on the industry.

“We’ve developed a lot of new products and technologies — we have proprietary software and hardware that allows us to cut records in a completely unique way from every other manufacturer,” says Mueller.

Another example of the company’s innovation is its current focus on flexis — thin, flexible discs that were popular inserts in magazines and other publications in the past, but have mostly ceased to be made. Thanks to three years worth of work by Pirate Matt Jones, 29, advances in materials and manufacturing have helped Pirates Press make flexis that sound far superior to those of the past — the company is even starting to make paper postcards with grooves that play music.

The label, which pressed nearly 1.75 million records last year, has certainly grown since it began as a bedroom operation, but the initial goals remain the same: try to make the process as easy as possible for all involved — something Mueller proudly stands behind.

Mueller is also proud of the artists that Pirates Press Records is releasing: punk icons such as Cock Sparrer along with up-and-coming local bands.

“It’s like ‘punk rock Robin Hood’ in a sense,” Mueller says. “I can make money pressing records for everybody under the sun, big label, small label — and turn around and take some of our profits and reinvest them into music that everybody in the office stands behind.”