Tony Papanikolas

Back in sight


MUSIC Roky Erickson spent much of the past few decades as the subject of endlessly rehearsed cautionary tales about the dangers of mind-altering drugs and mental illness, and romantic anecdotes framing him as a quasi-oracle, gifted and cursed with a second hearing into the weirder vistas of rock ‘n’ roll.

Following the release of Keven McAlester’s You’re Gonna Miss Me in 2005, Erickson reemerged as a subject of a different kind, as McAlester’s documentary dispelled some of the more profound biographical shadows, shedding light on the catalogue of ghosts and demons that haunt Erickson’s expansive body of recorded work.

Now 64, Roky Erickson has had such an indelible influence on psychedelic music, many would call him an architect. In the 1970s he reappeared, Rip Van Winkle-like, to a changed pop music landscape, where he would take a nascent approximation of punk and run it through his own esoteric sensibilities (“horror rock,” he called it), stumbling upon a lo-fi home recording aesthetic in the interstices of this period, though largely out of necessity, mind.

Most recently, Erickson carved out a provisional home in windswept and country-inflected indie. Never permanent, these dwellings serve as temporary shelters — motel rooms — for a restless and untethered voice, part Hank Williams, part Howlin’ Wolf, but even this doesn’t do it justice, and the veritable grimoire of demonic (lately divine) lyrical figures through which it moves.

His most recent record, True Love Cast Out All Evil (2010, ANTI-) — his first new material in more than a decade — saw collaborating band Okkervil River orchestrate a ghostly kind of folk rock capable of tracing the unpredictable contours of Erickson’s musical ideas. But the most memorable moments occur when the smooth continuity of the record is punctuated by intimate and acoustically frayed sounds emphasizing the fragile nuances of Roky’s performance.

The music dissociates into a field of droning harmonies, interspersed with snatches of studio banter, of singing birds and rapidly cycling TV channels. It’s hard not to hear these fragmentary moments as consciously referencing the intrusive sounds and voices that partially characterized his mental illness, yet here they have the feel of an exorcism, casting out, as it were an insistent static.

If there’s an underlying consistency to his immense and scattered catalogue, it’s that Erickson is a consummate blues singer, keenly attuned to the expressive potentials of rock n’ roll, and moreover, preternaturally skilled in reaching his listeners. Roky built up a rich lyrical world of vampire bats and B-movie extraterrestrials, and intangible vibrations that, in the minds and ears of listeners, came to stand in for a wealth of emotional timbres.

We feel, however faint or garbled, a connection through the cadences and inflections of Erickson’s voice. Like reading a novel written in a language you only half understand, you experience his music through these shifts in tone, through his alternating waves of anger and frustration and sadness, and the rare moment of contentment where Erickson retires into a sonic labyrinth of his own design.

When Elvis Presley died, Lester Bangs made the observation that we were all, effectively, saying goodbye to one another, having lost a figure whose music we could all come to a tentative agreement. Bangs’ fantasy of a capacity for a radical and far-reaching empathy encoded rock ‘n’ roll is one that we’ll most likely never stop repeating to ourselves.

Presently, it’s an invitation to patiently listen as the haunting and singular voice of the 13th Floor Elevators, of Roky Erickson & the Aliens, and a vast catalogue of hotel tapes and live recordings and rarities drifts from Austin to San Francisco. 



With the Night Beats

Sat/3, 9 p.m., $25

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750

Grind fidelity


MUSIC For years, critics have written about heavy metal using the vocabulary of biology — the increasingly byzantine music was framed as an evolutionary process, a family tree of genre and subgenre. Given the nature of the predominant acts at heavy metal’s initial apex, this move made perfect sense. Metal has always been a supremely visceral music, acutely concerned with human bodies, from the imperious god-beings of Judas Priest lyrics (are you standing by for Exciter?) to the figures’ inverse: the cadavers depicted by the gleeful medical dictionary versification of Carcass.

Human bodies will always be tethered to metal. But for not entirely arbitrary reasons, I’ve been finding it interesting these days to map out the unfolding universe of metal spatially — as doom continues to position itself as the vanguard of the music (and with good reason), creating sprawling, planar worlds of tone, this approach seems like a productive step toward thinking about the specifically musical elements that link so many disparate styles within the coordinates of the blanket term “metal.” It also seems conducive to starting arguments with your friends about bands and shit, which is a constructive goal in its own right.

If funeral doom represents this (sonic) world-creating move, then grindcore represents its spatial inverse, an implosion of familiar dynamics into dense, indecipherable fragments that are over too quickly to unfold in time. There’s always been something hilarious and perverse about this anti-musical gesture, which is perhaps best explained by the genre’s bifurcated history — as much as it was an antecedent to later metal styles, grindcore was also fundamentally the next logical extreme of punk rock, and thus, rock ‘n’ roll reduced to its most unpleasant and confrontational.

Fundamentally, grindcore has always had a healthy sense of humor about itself: former Napalm Death guitarist Justin Broadrick, as quoted in Albert Mudrian’s book Choosing Death, recalls doubling over with laughter during early rehearsals as he and his fellow bandmates pushed then-drummer Mick Harris to blast away on his kit at increasingly nonsensical speeds. This pervasive sense of fun underlying even some of the most aggressive bands is perhaps one reason why a genre that tends to allow itself an extremely narrow musical space in which its ideas can stretch out has lasted for so damn long.

Napalm Death’s Scum (Earache), the first grindcore record (hypothetical metal-nerd/Siege/Extreme Noise Terror fan: stop yelling at the newspaper; you’re making a scene …) was released in 1987, 24 years ago. Since then, grindcore is still going strong, while countless styles, seemingly more complex, have exhausted themselves and bored their former fanbases in the interim. (Even crabcore, a genre that combined the dynamism of Casio keyboard demos with the showmanship of inexplicably squatting while playing guitar, has fallen by the wayside.)

Speaking of improbable, heroic survivors, what better venue to host the 10th anniversary of Short, Fast, and Loud, a massive showcase of all things grind, than Berkeley’s 924 Gilman, which, like grindcore, has been sticking it to the mainstream’s delicate sensibilities for more than 20 years by simply existing?

This year’s installment is a two-day affair, featuring an impressive collection of scene favorites (including several alumni of the legendary Slap A Ham Records) mostly spanning the West Coast, with one extremely notable exception being New York City’s legendary Brutal Truth. Undeniably one of the genre’s greats, Brutal Truth affects the kind of balance between righteous, politically-conscious anger and the unbalanced energy of the maelstrom of noise and blastbeats and buzzsaw-on-sheet-metal riffs that characterizes its medium. Come watch bodies collide in the space of one of the Bay Area’s most culturally significant venues at what promises to be one of the most thrillingly merciless shows of the year. BLAST! *


Jan. 21

Brutal Truth, Lack of Interest, Plutocracy, Voëtsek, Iron Lung, D.H.C.

Jan. 22

Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in Dilapidation, Capitalist Casualties, Bastard Noise, Despise You, P.L.F.

Population Reduction

7 p.m. both nights, $12 each

924 Gilman, Berk.

(510) 525-9926

Stone age drop out


MUSIC Dopesmoker (Tee Pee Records, 2003) begins with a move characteristic of Al Cisneros’ style. Striking a series of low to mid-range notes, Sleep’s bassist and incantatory vocalist draws forth a series of monster bass tones that warp and disassociate as they decay.

As the listener focuses on the subtle permutations in the drone-overture — sometimes Cisneros’ bass notes vibrating into ever-smaller tonal subdivisions, at other moments, they radiate volume ever-outward — the DNA sequence for an unfolding doom metal magnum opus begins to take shape. The double kick bass follows in a steady trek to the foreground of the mix, followed by the guitar, which sounds almost grafted onto the bass, like a membrane of barbed amplifier fuzz circumscribing Cisneros’ hypnotic line. The riff snakes Geezer Butler-like into crevices and apertures, then rises to a Tony Iommian trill before pausing against a rain of cymbals — Black Sabbath as ancient, unstable organism.

With its relentless, uninterrupted hour-plus length, Dopesmoker unfolds like one of those naturally occurring geographical wonders that embodies thousands of years of passing time. Granite sheets, city-sized coral reefs, and Sleep’s culminating musical statement: all sprawling patterns dependent on vast expansions and mutations. This is what the undiluted version of Sleep’s masterpiece has over the abridged Jerusalem, released unofficially five years after Dopesmoker was completed. Where Jerusalem is divided and fragmented, seeking to place this freakish growth in track-length components and excising some of the weird arabesques of feedback that emerge at the margins, Dopesmoker, like Sleep’s music itself, evolves into ever more bizarre shapes via its own unintelligible logic.

Sleep broke up in 1995, after the band’s then-label, London Records, famously didn’t “get” Dopesmoker. The label felt (probably correctly), that a 60 minutes-plus quasi-Wagnerian “fuck you” to brevity would be career suicide for a band making its first foray on a major. In a sense, it was. It’s almost poetic that the album — a time-bending epic about traveling through sonic time and space — was released posthumously and out of chronology.

In the interim, Sleep has become the quintessential band for people who like their metal baked and ponderous. Following two discrete reunion shows at London’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2009 with Jason Roeder of Neurosis replacing Chris Hakius on drums, the group is set to reunite for a series of U.S. dates. As if this long dreamed-of tour wasn’t enough to make metal heads across the country flip the fuck out, the band’s set is to be comprised of Sleep’s Holy Mountain (Earache, 1993) played cover-to-cover, as well as excerpts from the now semi-mythical Dopesmoker. The returning sonic titans are set to once again engulf the Bay in a haze, one which smells mysteriously like the backroom of a T-shirt shop. But even if the band is notorious for its heroic weed consumption and all-around stoney pedigree, Sleep’s body of work — as challenging as it is impenetrably heavy — demands a staggering attention span on the listener’s part.

None of the San Jose trio’s albums reveal themselves on first listen; nor is Sleep’s catalogue by any means “feel good music.” Sleep purveys dark, unsettling grooves; its music ruins your buzz. Consider “Holy Mountain,” where Cisneros’ chant-vocal — like a Gregorian monk after a particularly harsh bong rip — approximates the desolate textures of his “earth drenched in black,” while Pike’s insistent riff (here anticipating High on Fire, perhaps) circles back in on itself like it’s spiraling toward the menacing “ohm” that distends across the mix of the titular track. This is heavy metal warped and skewed; an exercise in bad vibes that pulverizes thought in the same way that ultrasonic waves are used to crush kidney stones.

I can’t recall the specifics of picking up my copy of Sleep’s Holy Mountain, but what I do remember is hearing Matt Pike’s opening lick on “Dragonaut,” and the ensuing maelstrom of psychedelic electricity — maze-like and abstract, like the interlocking web of shapes on the album cover, only suffused with dripping, inexpressible colors. This is perhaps why Sleep’s sound has always been infinitely more compelling to me than feel-good psychedelia. Of all the bands to engage in the doom tradition, Sleep makes the increasingly relevant (sub)genre entirely its own. Familiar Sabbathisms — pentatonic bass grooves, monolithic power chords, a savvy manipulation of the lexicon of the blues — become building blocks within a phantasmal landscape of drones and echoes.

I also can’t help but feel that, as natives, Sleep has created a sound that forever superimposes itself over the Bay Area, so that cityscape surroundings, such as an ivy-choked chain-link fence or the cavernous opening of a BART tunnel (which doesn’t extend to their San Jose home) take on a weird, fantastical dimension, oscillating between solid matter and buzzing amplifier fuzz like the weird nebulas that seem to obsess Cisneros.

The way I hear music has been informed by Sleep since I first heard Sleep’s Holy Mountain in high school. Seventeen years after the album’s initial release, it still manages to yield stretches of unexplored musical terrain, as if it has been reproducing via osmosis while we were away. Like the elite cadre of spacey predecessors to the Great Drone, Sleep uses metal as a kind of vehicle for processing experience through rhythms and patterns, abstract tones and intricate layers of sound synching up with surroundings (like that Wizard of Oz/Pink Floyd thing you tried when you were 16, but in this case it actually works.)

The underlying genius of Sleep is the way the band manages to diffuse the atomic foundations of its monolithic riffs throughout entire albums and into a sprawling, seemingly endless landscape, a sonic cartography that — like a good Lovecraft yarn — perpetually expands past the next horizon point. The shape-shifting resonances of a decaying power-chord or bass fill flesh out the contours of an interminable sonic desert, a labyrinth of sound we find ourselves compelled to reexplore ad infinitum. “Drop out of life” are the first words we hear Cisneros chant on Dopesmoker. 


Sun/12–Mon/13, 8 p.m.; $23–$25

With Thrones (Sun/12) and Saviours (Mon/13)

Regency Ballroom

1290 Sutter, SF

Beach fossils


Live from Betty Ford, it’s the Eddie Money show!” — Eddie Money, Santa Cruz, 8:45 PM, 7/30/10

MUSIC It’s hard to convey your passion for amusement parks without sounding like the lyrics to “Lakeside Park,” Rush’s sentimental 1975 tribute to the summertime midway. Hopefully this observation should serve as a decent justification for an elegy to the unspoken muse of the group’s Caress of Steel.

Consider the beginning of summer in the Bay Area. It can’t properly be called a seasonal phenomenon; rather, summer doesn’t officially begin until you’ve been bombarded with that stupid goddamn Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk commercial — the one that’s remained pretty-much untouched since 1994 — at regular 10-minute intervals. Recall the slightly askance shot of smiling oily young people running on the beach in weirdly lurid 1990s-era one-piece bathing suits, screaming brats strapped into the Fireball, maybe some kind of close-up of a Dip ‘n’ Dots kiosk, all unfolding to the strains of “California Sun.” For better or for worse, this has become the harbinger of the Northern California summer.

Unlike the adjacent pier, another tourist destination, suspended precariously above the water by barnacle-encrusted poles, the boardwalk feels so thoroughly entrenched in its surroundings that it’s effectively become a natural feature of the Santa Cruz shoreline. Years from now, the pelican shall nest on the Giant Dipper “Scenic Coaster”‘s wooden bones while sea lions caper with jellyfish and squid in the sepulchral wrack of Neptune’s Kingdom (the big arcade with Skee-Ball, I mean).

I know it’s naïve to think the commercial hasn’t actually changed — tragically, some new versions of the iconic annoyance have been springing up, laced with recycled footage, of course. Likewise, the Boardwalk has seen a handful of new rides incorporated into its landscape since the commercial originally aired. But stepping onto it in the warm California sun really makes you feel as though you’ve unwittingly wandered into some perpetually-20-years-ago liminal zone — like Richard Linklater’s Austin, Texas, or the Los Angeles of 1987’s Surf Nazis Must Die.

The living, and their fiberglass approximations, populate the “Bands on the Beach!” series, the annual free showcase for long forgotten, mid-level, Frankensteined back together rock acts. It’s certainly hard not to feel cynical about the series after Gregg Rolie (original lead singer for Santana) amuses the crowd with a timely “Who let the dogs out?” reference. But at their core — and I’m only being slightly facetious here — there’s something awesome and spontaneous about these concerts, a judo-like grappling with the condition of being presented as a reanimated artifact.

The first set I caught this summer was Blue Öyster Cult, who I’d seen earlier this year at the Santa Cruz County Fair in Watsonville. BÖC’s facility with vocal harmony and baroque, intertwining guitar arrangement is often discounted. And while the band maintains a rightfully dedicated/defensive cult fanbase, it nevertheless picked up a different set of fans with a certain comedy sketch based on a highly, highly exaggerated cowbell enthusiasm. Multiple factors conspire to make the band’s set a one-note joke, an opportunity to wring those last few precious drops of irony out of a period that’s becoming rapidly depleted.

If this was universally the case, Friday nights at the Boardwalk would be downright sadistic. But Blue Öyster Cult takes seriously the kind of gig that numerous lesser acts would treat as some kind of where-are-they-now closing vignette from an early-period Behind the Music. The dreamy main riff and strange ersatz reggae of “Burnin’ for You” fused together with the sound of waves and ride-machinery and the permeating scent of weed smoke mysteriously radiating from the old hippies and biker couples getting down on the beach. It turned something that for all intents and purposes should be sad and creepy into something weird and beautiful.

But the obverse, and perhaps more exciting face of the summer concert series arcade token is the Eddie Money experience. If Blue Öyster Cult rises above its pigeonholing as a goofy retro spectacle, Mr. Money gleefully embraces it with a show that can only be described as a resplendent, lurid train-wreck. Eddie Money is no resurrected has-been. Quite the contrary: he is finally capable of carrying his earlier work to its full potential — sung by a “supercharged city kid with rock ‘n’ roll in his soul” (as per Journey’s Steve Perry on an episode of Midnight Special).

Staples like “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Take Me Home Tonight” are admittedly catchy, but ultimately banal. But in the senior Money’s filthy clutches they drip with sleaze. He gingerly struts around the stage while crooning his myriad hits in a scratchy approximation of his original singing voice. He interrupts nearly every song to demand that we “shake it with the money-maker,” and to illustrate what this might look like, he opens and spreads his black suit jacket and gyrates toward the crowd. His set isn’t so much about music as it is about performing the paunchy, slightly unhinged middle-aged ’80s rocker, a staple of the free concert circuit, and a persona that Money seems to have perfected. The Eddie Money of that Midnight Special clip is dead; in his place is someone infinitely more interesting.

Classy to the end, the Money-man closes his set with a “don’t let your girlfriends drive” joke, as the 200-plus in attendance file out of the Boardwalk. Be sure to leave the beach as clean as you found it!


Fridays, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.; through Sept. 3; free

(Fri/13, Spin Doctors; Aug. 20, Papa Doo Run Run; Aug. 27, Starship starring Mickey Thomas; Sept. 3, The Tubes featuring Fee Waybill)

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

400 Beach, Santa Cruz

(831) 423-5590


Orgone and back again



Thus intones Dave Brock on “Orgone Accumulator,” an ass-kicking Rube Goldberg-device of a space rock staple, and to this day the final word on the science of orgone accumulation. But Brock just as well might have been describing his immortal Hawkwind, and its 30-plus-year legacy of melting brains.

My first exposure to the group came through the titanic double live album Space Ritual (United Artists, 1973), a sprawling collection of tracks that draws you into its gravitational pull through a convergence of the inexplicable and the strangely familiar–adventurous. Its sci-fi explosions underpinned by the rhythms of classic rock ‘n’ roll, the album negotiates the ungainly symphonic mass of sound into something resembling popular music — what I imagine the Voyager Golden Record version of “Johnny B. Goode” sounds like through vintage 1972 space helmet speakers.

The Hawkestra’s wall-of-sound aural assault-and-battery was crucial to the early evolution of rock’s more adventurous strain. Yet the group, like their own Silver Machine, has a way of flying sideways in time. If there is such a thing as a trajectory to heavy metal, then it’s almost certainly cyclical, with Brock’s cosmic rock cadre materializing in disparate spots along the circumference. Here in 2010 AD, Neurot Recordings, the consistently adventurous record label of Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till, is set to release Hawkwind Triad, a collaborative homage featuring 11 classic Hawkwind anthems as covered by U.S. Christmas, Minsk, and Von Till via his ongoing solo project Harvestman (including fellow Neurosis member Jason Roeder on drums this time around.) There’s a common musical current running through these three supremely cosmic bands, a signal that traces one of its numerous potential origin points to circa-1970s Ladbroke Grove, England.



“Cool, psychedelic, fucked-up heavy music,” is how Steve Von Till describes the bands on Hawkwind Triad.

“The obvious lineage of my journey to Hawkwind,” Von Till says over the phone from his post-Bay Area home in Cour d’Alene, Idaho, “was growing up and being totally into Motörhead.” This lineage is doubtlessly followed by many devout Hawkwind followers, who might first encounter the band as a footnote to the career of bassist/sometimes vocalist Lemmy Kilmister. (Back in high school, an offhand reference buried within the liner notes to Motörhead’s No Remorse compilation album is where Hawkwind first hovered into my line of vision.)

“Growing up, there weren’t a lot of fans in my circle, but we tended to find each other,” Van Till says. This dynamic unfolded once again as the mad-scientist guitarist found himself drawn to the nascent triad through the irresistible pull of a common love of one of rock’s freakiest acts. “Funnily enough,” Von Till says when asked how Hawkwind Triad came about, “U.S. Christmas and Minsk had contacted me and said they were thinking about doing this project, and asked if I would be willing to put it out on Neurot Recordings. Being thoroughly convinced that I was the bigger Hawkwind fan, I said, ‘Yeah, but on the condition that you let me record on it.'”

The result of this collaboration is the rare cover album with replay value past the initial novelty factor — those haunted by memories of the “ironic” punk cover album should have no cause for alarm, partly because the subject matter flat-out crushes, but also because of the inherent consonance between the three bands, as evidenced by the album-like flow between tracks (the structure doesn’t segregate bands — we seldom hear an act twice in a row). Before dispensing with the space-tropes, it needs to be said that all three groups share some kind of sonic kinship that reveals itself most starkly as they orbit around Hawkwind’s catalog.



How’s this for an overture: I saw Harvestman in San Jose back in March, wherein Von Till introduced his set by telling us that the stage/venue was now, effectively, his spaceship. Von Till’s bluesy croak serves him well in Neurosis, adding a human voice to the otherwise alienating canyons of dissonance and cool droney shit. While covering Hawkwind as Harvestman, it becomes perhaps the high point of his tracks. As in his other works, this is the sound of someone, ahem, lost in space — on “Down Through the Night,” Von Till’s voice clings to the crackly rhythm guitar like a life preserver, while cold, electric snatches of melody emerge around him before descending back into the fuzz. This may be the song Von Till was born to play — likewise, this is my favorite track on the album.



Minsk makes everything scary. When the doomy Peorians opened for Wolves in the Throne Room last summer, with God as my witness, Slim’s started spinning during their set (full disclosure: beer on empty stomach, etc.) In interpreting Hawkwind, somewhat terrifying in its own right, the familiar rambling bass walks, cavernous guitar, and psychedelic poetry of the lyrics — interlaced with oscillating electronic beeps and warbles, flute attacks, sax honks, and ghostly keyboard lines — no longer coalesce into a groovy Milky Way of sound. Like a grotesque funhouse mirror, the band stretches the familiar Hawkwind vibe to cyclopean proportions, reminding us that there’s something implicitly terrifying about being that distanced from terra firma. “Assault and Battery/The Golden Void” at once sounds the most like a Minsk and a Hawkwind song: either beautiful or nightmarish, depending on your vantage point. “Down a corridor of flame,” indeed.



U.S. Christmas covering Hawkwind feels almost inevitable. Of the three groups lending their respective voices to the space rock primogenitors, USX appears the most immediately indebted, bearing Hawkwind’s singular vision through the 21st century and nurturing essential mutations to the sound.

This is not a knock on the band’s originality. Rather, being situated amid such sonically rich territory seems to have motivated the band to stretch its psychedelic iteration to the weirdest frontiers possible. Eat the Low Dogs (Neurot Recordings, 2008) showcases a group of musicians operating through its own inscrutable logic. Rorschach riffs that could conceivably echo Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Black Sabbath, and/or Philip Glass abound throughout the record, underscored by Nate Hall’s raw vocals, which somehow reflect Hawkwindian drones and trills. On “Silent Tongue,” Hall repeats “50 bottles of gasoline” with a cumulative intensity until it comes to act, intentionally or not, as a mantra for regenerative musical destruction. U.S. Christmas’ sound is fixated on smashing its influences down to the atomic level and reconfiguring the orgones into constellations of its own singular design. Like their cohorts on Hawkwind Triad, the North Carolina quintet discerns the loopy, time-bending trajectory of its English forebears’ Silver Machine, and hops aboard.

Doom and decay


MUSIC The Bay Area has a strange relation with its musical past — accounts of Phil Lesh’s recent somnambulation among the living attest to this, but the same can be said about much of the past 10 years. For better or worse, as the early ’00s crawled back into the woods to die, many of us were left with the impression that the past 10 years were composed of a series of disorganized, vaguely parasitic gestures, a theme party where every group of new guests seems to ape a different decade. Was this an era where mainstream pop music spun its wheels, the occasional ingenious act breaking free from its orbit and gaining some degree of forward drive?

This was also a decade that saw heavy metal — as a music, aesthetic sensibility, and subculture — grow in labyrinthine complexity. Perhaps the hallmark of this growth was an awareness of its immediate history, redirecting its typical drive toward progress, increasing its speed and techniques with mechanized precession, into an exploration of the forgotten pathways and alcoves of its byzantine evolution.

It’s no coincidence that the emergence of a group of historically-aware metal titans ran parallel with the publication of several fantastic metal histories (Ian Christe’s 2003 Sound of the Beast being probably the most well known), a string of successful reunions and new releases from reenergized legends (Maiden, Priest, Dio Sabb … er, Heaven and Hell), and — what I would argue is most interesting — an influx of creative energy directed toward the supremely retrograde doom metal subgenre. Reemerging from the movement is Saint Vitus, a band that in many ways is the spiritual ancestor to this much-welcome ongoing metal mutation.

Though Saint Vitus’ slow, stoned sound had been marinating in fuzzy ’70s goodness, the band’s Scott “Wino” Weinrich-fronted classic lineup came into its own on SST Records, a label dedicated to pushing the boundaries of rock. In many ways, the members of Saint Vitus were the shitty longhairs at the party. The same year the group released its monolithic Born Too Late (SST, 1987), not to mention three years after the release of fragmentary, futuristic milestones like Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade and the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime, SST was busy signing Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth.

On the metal side of the spectrum, Vitus was inevitably entrenched in the thick of the famed “growing arms race” of efficient, mechanized speed and aggression that defined progress in terms of BPMs. The emerging stoner doom set, which Vitus was in the process of engendering, erected towering, sustained riffs in the classical (metal) mode, watching them deteriorate after the initial attack, fading back into the mix’s opaque bass drone. In many ways, doom metal’s current obsession with the sound of decay can be traced to Saint Vitus’ still-audible feedback.

“Born Too Late,” the title track off of the group’s 1987 SST release (and the first Vitus record featuring Wino on vocals), expresses the genre’s sense of temporal exile. The verse deals with this disjoint on a surface level — the hypothetical peanut gallery hassles Wino over his long hair and clothes — but behind the sartorial concerns, there’s something gripping about the band’s conception of its place in time. The main chord progression is the kind of tough, three-power-chord stomp we’ve heard hundreds of times before in heavy rock, yet Dave Chandler allows each of the foreboding chords to linger, reverberating against the persistent low-end and metronome drumming, treating his SG like a monstrous 500-year-old pipe organ in the process. The riff is played with a cumulative power, repeatedly driving the chord progression into the song’s landscape; as one chord dissociates, another materializes to take its place. Wino howls that he was born too late, that he’ll never be like you; the last syllable devolves into an abstract growl, and Chandler annihilates the history of the song with an atonal, dive bomb solo.

While “Born Too Late” may have become the unofficial anthem of both Saint Vitus and perhaps the whole doom metal sensibility, “Living Backwards,” the opening track on its less famous but still awesome V (Hellhound, 1989), further articulates this nebulous relationship with time. Is the band moving backward through looking ahead, creating the forward momentum through facing backwards? Or, like the paradoxical title, does the band’s obsessive cycling back to metal’s origin point roll the group forward into the avant garde terrain of ’80s underground rock? Not incidentally, “Living Backwards” is probably Saint Vitus’ most driving song.

Of the three acts opening for Saint Vitus on its upcoming date at the DNA Lounge, Saviours’ music articulates this strange relationship to past and future in some of the most exciting ways. (Also on the bill are subtle, unsettling funeral doom masters Laudanum and Dusted Angel, a stony five-piece featuring members of Vitus’ SST Records contemporaries Bl’ast!.) Though by no means entrenched in the tradition of glacial, cavernous riffing, Saviours’ historically savvy songwriting approach picks up from the backward-facing cycles that wheeled Saint Vitus into new creative terrain.

Saviours’ most recent release, Accelerated Living (Kemado, 2009) is damn close to being the perfect heavy metal record, an overgrown wilderness of exceedingly heavy riffs that traverse the genre’s 40-plus years in existence. The metal-attuned ear can discern everything from Thin Lizzy to Slayer in the mix (as the band is from the Bay Area, I’d like to imagine I can even hear shades of Blue Cheer’s late, great Dickie Petersen in Austin Barber’s vocals). But, like any of the group’s guitar solos, the real explosive chemistry of this combination of patterns is unpredictable — the result is as heavy as it is timeless, a vision of heavy metal not segregated through arbitrary demarcations, but rather metal as a continuum, a nebulous, interwoven chain radiating from a dim, misremembered past. Accelerated living backwards?


With Saviours, Laudanum, Dusted Angel

Fri/29, 8 p.m. (doors 7:30 p.m.), $15–$20

DNA Lounge

375 11th St., SF

Lovecraft, baby!


More on SFBG

>>New doc explores H.P. Lovecraft’s lasting influence — and Cthulhu slippers!

>Neo-goth and retro and contempo horror music pulse forth

Lovecraft is a resonating wave. He’s rock and roll.

— Neil Gaiman, "Concerning Dreams and Nightmares," The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft: Dreams of Terror and Death

LIT/MUSIC Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) attributes most of his fiction’s cosmology to the apocryphal Necronomicon, an ageless sort of anti-Bible that describes a universe of unfathomable strangeness superimposed over our own. Not content with obscurity, this alternate reality tends to extend its clammy tendrils into our collective line of vision, yielding all sorts of therapy-necessitating results. Of course, the Necronomicon‘s legend overshadows its reality. Yet in the kind of self-reflexive twist the famously anti-modern writer would have probably hated, the tome’s enduring mystique acts as a summation of his own work’s post-pulp shelf life.

Lovecraft never got a chance to see it happen, but the spawn of his fevered imagination has been consistently reproduced in all sorts of geek media, from role-playing games to plush dolls. Some of the most interesting representations of the reclusive author’s output, however, come from the realm of loud-ass rock music, another modern contrivance Lovecraft would have almost certainly despised.

The first instance of Lovecraft’s legacy infiltrating rock music seems to be with the late-1960s psychedelic folk outfit known as, appropriately enough, H.P. Lovecraft. This group took after the sense of fantastic spaciousness conveyed in its namesake’s oeuvre, meandering in dreamy walls of sound that circumvent any buried unease without actually going anywhere. "At the Mountains of Madness" from 1968’s H.P. Lovecraft II (Phillips) spends five or so minutes layering organ arpeggios, vocal harmonies, and a collage of period echo effects into one of the better musical approximations of a lava lamp — a languid sonic pattern that’s fun to lose yourself in for a while, before you realize the shifting plasma is never going to do anything crazier than its mannered glass walls will allow. It was a promising start, but the essential menace of these unexplored worlds seemed to intimidate the band, like the intrusive pang of fear that could send even the most cosmic of folk-rock trips spiraling into twisted Syd Barrett territory. It would take a group with a special predilection to the macabre to help steer Lovecraft-rock towards reaching its full potential.

By the early ’70s, H.P. Lovecraft and its like were devoured by the cyclopean (to borrow H.P.’s favorite adjective) Black Sabbath, whose Black Sabbath (Warner Brothers, 1970) pays homage to the neurotic master with the typically sinister power-groove of "Beyond the Wall of Sleep." In what should come as no surprise to anybody familiar with the Birmingham, England four-piece’s career arc, the doom gods immediately honed in on the potential psychedelic allegory of Lovecraft’s work. While the "deadly petals with strange powers" are the focal point of Ozzy’s lyrics, Geezer Butler’s snakelike bass line adds a decidedly mysterious undercurrent to the track, like some implicit ghoulishness is being mercifully withheld from the listener. (Sabbath acolyte Sleep would pick up where its primary influence left off. "From Beyond," from 1992’s Sleep’s Holy Mountain [Earache] eschews Butler’s measured playing, allowing Al Cisneros’s bass tone to swell to neutron star proportions. Likewise, lyrical allusions to "planetoids soaked in rays of electric light" and the approaching "stoner caravan from deep space" have an affinity with the author’s sprawling, pulp-lyricism rather than his feel for claustrophobic menace, the norm for most other Lovecraft-inspired songs.)

Metallica puts this strategic withholding to use in Ride the Lightning‘s (Megaforce, 1984) "The Call of Ktulu," a sprawling, misspelled instrumental tribute to Lovecraft’s beloved cephalopod-head. With its hypnotically creeping guitar theme, the album’s epic closer mirrors the arch of the typical Lovecraft narrator’s psyche — a curious unease that gradually swells to a crescendo of madness — while doing justice to the cadence of Lovecraft’s baroque language. The absence of vocals is part of why the track is so effective. By stripping away the inevitably sub-Lovecraft lyrics, Metallica allows the listener to be absorbed by the brooding tone rather than any deficient attempts at reproducing content.

Like Black Sabbath and Metallica before them, countless heavy metal acts past and present have been fascinated by the worlds and creatures described in H.P. Lovecraft’s labyrinth of fiction — Morbid Angel’s prized shredder Trey Azagthoth even modifies one of the more formidable creature’s monikers for his stage name (and in another parallel, gives death metal some of its most batshit-dissonant solos.) But one notable band of Lovecraft acolytes comes from the seemingly incongruous world of British punk.

The iconoclastic (read: fucking weird) Rudimentary Peni and their 1988 LP Cacophony (Himalayan) eschew the subtlety of some of their peers in the Lovecraftian rock canon and go straight for the brainstem. While others withhold (to varying degrees of effectiveness), Rudimentary Peni overload. As a concept album, Cacophony is as much about Lovecraft’s psyche as it is his literary creations. Nick Blinko uses the senseless feedback of his guitar amp, coupled with schizophrenic, mumbled vocals, to create a supremely ugly conflation of fiction, biography, and amateur psychopathological diagnosis.

A far cry from the static kaleidoscope of sound employed by canon forefathers H.P. Lovecraft, Rudimentary Peni’s use of layered tones and effects spirals inward with single-minded intensity. Standout songs like "The Horror in the Museum" and "Zenophobia" tenuously adhere to the sing-along, pogo-conducive structure traditionally associated with British punk. Yet closer listening reveals these barely stable hooks to be composed of a vast latticework — not unlike the album’s disturbingly detailed, fractal-like cover art — of dissonant string-bends, amplifier squeaks, disjointed basslines, and a persistent, barely intelligible whisper that seems to work itself into the fiber of the guitar tone.

The result is a funhouse doppelganger of the multilayered production of the group’s unlikely 1960s ancestor. Cacophony appears to be about crafting some kind of stable impression of the man, but the Peni make a point of never letting the components fully fit together. Instead, we are left with a virtual echo chamber of Lovecraft’s imagination, wherein the scraps and fragments of his writings and real-life neuroses intermingle and inform each other without ever coalescing. In spite of the band’s unmerciful approach, there’s a feeling of being denied the full effect of some unspeakable horror. But this horror is strictly cerebral, a glimpse at the madness that looms over Lovecraft’s work like one of his own reasonless "Other Gods." Happy Halloween, big guy! Eeyagh!



PREVIEW Repulsion: the name says it all, really. Napalm Death covered them, Darkthrone’s Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell — that eternal beacon of uncompromising black metal misanthropy — has a tattoo of their logo, and countless other longhairs heard something lurking beneath the muffled fuzz of an nth-generation bootlegged tape. The extreme music scene would be a very different place had these Flint, Mich., all-purpose metal dudes never disseminated their meteoric, immaculately shitty demos.

The band came up in a democratic period of heavy metal — which, lucky for us, seems to be on the rise again — where amateurs like Venom and Hellhammer managed to write some brutally effective heavy metal with only the most rudimentary musical knowledge. Thanks to this audacious garage metal sensibility, coupled with the aerobic drive of speedfreak hardcore groups like Siege and England’s Extreme Noise Terror and, of course, ye olde Bay Area thrash, Repulsion’s sound became the manifestation of metal’s thriving tape-trading scene, a rudimentary grindcore and death metal onslaught destined to be way more influential than it had any right to be. Crappy production values and occasionally sloppy playing aside, Repulsion wasn’t entirely musically clueless — careful listeners can pick out some impressive (albeit niche) musicianship, like Scott Carlson’s percussive vocal delivery ("You are! Rotting! Maggots! In your coffin!") and the mythically accelerated drumming of Dave Grave (current drummer Col Jones is no slouch himself.)

Let’s be honest: demigod virtuosity in its most ostentatious expression is part of what makes metal so exciting; it’s a unique bragging right we hold over the heads of our rock fan compatriots ("Let’s see [foppish indie band] shred like that!"). But sometimes the metal muse (I’m visualizing a sexless cross between Dio and a Frank Frazetta barbarianess here) gets the most visceral results by visiting us normals. If I’m losing you here, just listen to the grainy, misshapen, infinitely replayable reissue of Horrified (Relapse, 2003). Or better yet, go see them live this Saturday. For free!

With Reciprocal, Dismal Lapse, Flesh Consumed, Depths of Chaos. Sat/19, 7:30 p.m. (doors 7 p.m.), free. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St. (415) 626-1409,

Bad Brains


PREVIEW Most Bad Brains fans can remember where they were the first time they heard the DC hardcore legends’ self-titled debut (ROIR, 1982.) For me, it was during an extended drive through Utah with my parents, a trip made memorable by a fortuitous stop at a strip mall with a Sam Goody. (My Damaged story is a lot cooler, I swear.) The album did nothing to improve my PMA during the car ride, but I vividly remember finding Bad Brains’ sheer unhinged speediness awe-inspiring, and not a little disorienting. Though somewhat of a cliché at this point, it bears repeating that Bad Brains — all 34 breakneck minutes of it — started an arms race of speed and aggression that would germinate into the hardcore movement. The other side to the record, however, was the handful of incongruous reggae/dub tracks, measured interruptions to the album’s typical rock ‘n’ roll onslaught. By their third album, I Against I (SST, 1986), Bad Brains had begun mixing the two genres more fluidly, resulting in what would become the band’s trademark style.

Aside from establishing themselves as genre pioneers too singular for flat-out imitation, Bad Brains have also gained the reputation of being some of rock’s most volatile live performers, with all the pros and cons that title carries. Stories of vocalist (or "throat," as he’s memorably identified as in the liner notes) H.R.’s epileptic stage presence are the stuff of punk rock folklore, making concerts unpredictable affairs to be sure. Lucky for us, he’ll be anchored by the original lineup: Darryl Jennifer on bass, Earl Hudson on drums, Dr. Know on guitar, natch. Our Summer rager-mode has deactivated; it’s time for reignition. 

BAD BRAINS With P.O.S., Trouble Andrew. Tues/15–Wed/16, 8 p.m. (doors 7 p.m.), $26, all ages. Slim’s, 333 11th St. (415) 255-0333.>.



PREVIEW Inevitable vocal chord-corrosion aside, many of death metal’s earliest bands have managed to stay exciting for a remarkably long time. Working within a genre that tends to shift toward increasingly challenging frontiers, an elite corps of older acts seems to find inspiration in recent innovations, or, conversely, forgotten older tropes due for a nostalgic revisiting. So how do we account for the enduring relevance of Obituary, a group known for its unwavering devotion to metal at its most primal essence?

Obituary’s legend began in Florida, 1985. Playing under the somewhat hokey moniker of Xecutioner (imagine how badass that would look scrawled in a spiral bound notebook) the band soon rechristened itself with its current nom de metal, and released a string of landmark records. With Slowly We Rot (Roadrunner, 1989), Obituary introduced a heavy bottom end stomp to the still-nebulous genre, a rancid meatiness that imbued its thrash metal foundation with Sabbath-like authority. On standout cuts like "Intoxicated," Donald Tardy’s punky upbeats propel the crunchy bass and rhythm guitar forward with manic intensity — before plunging them into one of the single greatest breakdowns ever recorded, a dumbass berzerker groove unmatched in hypnotic power. (Gorilla Biscuits’ "Big Mouth" [from Gorilla Biscuits, Revelation, 1988] and, perhaps, Suffocation’s "Liege of Inveracity" [from Effigy of the Forgotten, Roadrunner, 1991] come close.)

Obituary has consistently explored the power of steamroller directness laid down in the musical DNA of its first release, allowing monolithic power chords to resonate in ways a thousand sweep-pick solos and orchestral flourishes — full of sound and fury but signifying nothing, as the poet says — never could. Oh, and John Tardy’s voice? Just as offensive as always.

OBITUARY With Goatwhore, Krisiun, The Berzerker. Thurs/10, 7:30 p.m. (doors 7 p.m.), $28–$30, all ages. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 255-0333.

History today



TREATISE If, 20 years from now, recumbent in your easy chair with your slippers and favorite bong, some snot-nosed younger sibling should ask you about the zeitgeist of late ’00s underground metal (apparently the kid took an art history class), you might consider introducing the shaver to San Francisco’s Black Cobra, a two-piece that almost certainly could not exist at any other point in time.

From the tarry primordial soup of Cobra’s cavernous low-end emerge the various slimy, naked hallmarks of an increasingly protean metal scene — unapologetic Sleep worship, reverent nods to punk and hardcore cross-pollination, and a healthy dash of retro-metal swagger inform the band’s gargantuan riffs. Nothing about this approach feels like it’s been calculated for maximum relevance; instead, Black Cobra’s molasses-thick sound comes off as the happy end result of two longtime fans who came to the conclusion that they could, and should, create the music they wanted to hear. And while the band — Jason Landrian on guitar/vox, and Rafael Martinez on drums — has become more professional-sounding over the course of three full-length releases, the same caustic resin hit of recklessness permeates their newer material.

Black Cobra may not be High on Fire-monumental, or as thought provoking as Stephen O’Malley’s latest art-drone opus. But if nothing else, Landrian and Martinez are doing their part to wrestle metal from the clutches of lifeless robo-shredders, and making some damn heavy music in the process.


With 16, Serpent Crown, dj Rob Metal.

Tues/8, 10 p.m. (doors 9 p.m.), free, 21 and over

The Knockout

3223 Mission

(415) 550-6994

The ring



COVER STORY Going to the DNA Lounge during the middle of the day is a strange proposition. But on a Saturday afternoon in late June, the San Francisco bar is filled with a hundred or so people, including, strangely enough, Kris Kristofferson, whose son Jody is trying out a different kind of public career. There’s a smattering of people hanging out on the balcony level, but most of us are pressed against metal guard rails that surround a ring set up in the center of the dance floor. Professional wrestling has, ahem, put a stranglehold on venue, and it’s the middle of the show.

A newcomer with a spiny bi-hawk and spiked shoulder pad named Nate Graves — a muscle-bound cross between a Mad Max 2: Road Warrior extra and the guy from Prodigy — is set to fight "the Mexican Werewolf," El Chupacabra, a local favorite who wrestles in multicolored face paint and prosthetic fangs. Even when entering the ring, both wrestlers’ movements tell a story; the newcomer is stiff and deliberate, a menacing behemoth, while the significantly smaller El Chupacabra darts around in unpredictable bursts.

The bell rings, and the two exchange some preliminary holds and throws before drubbing one another with loud, theatrical strikes. I’m sandwiched between a stylish young woman in her early 20s, noticeably buzzed, and an average looking dude in a Giants shirt. They spend most of the fight leaning over me to hassle each other. The young woman really has it out for Chupy. As the newcomer hoists our protagonist into the air, she screams for the larger man to "drop him on his fucking head."

Wrestling’s harshest critics tend to view it as a theater of violent, regressive, antisocial posturing. But a decidedly gleeful atmosphere permeates the venue. El Chupacabra wriggles out of the precarious position, and the two adversaries call for an impromptu toast in the spirit of the nameless unifying energy that takes hold during a wrestling event.


Fog City Wrestling is a year-old promotion based out of San Francisco. Relatively unknown in the grand scheme of indie wrestling — most of the larger promotions are based on the East Coast — FCW has nevertheless carved out a comfortable niche in the Bay Area, already home to several smaller federations. The promotion may be relatively new, but professional wrestling in San Francisco has a lengthy — if often ignored — history. Fans who grew up in the era of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) CEO Vince McMahon Jr.’s homogenized "sports entertainment" empire may be surprised to learn that Northern California as a whole was once home to one of the hottest wrestling promotions in the country.

Throughout the pre-WWE (then the World Wide Wrestling Federation) 1960s and 1970s, promoter Roy Shire’s Big Time Wrestling, a Bay Area extension of the once powerful National Wrestling Alliance, regularly showcased some of wrestling’s big-name stars and future legends, such as local hero Pat Patterson, Superstar Billy Graham, and Rocky Johnson, whose son Dwayne briefly dabbled in the sport of kings as The Rock. Though Shire’s mini-empire extended all the way to Sacramento, the Bay Area was the promotion’s home base. Selling out the Cow Palace on a regular basis, Big Time Wrestling exemplified a halcyon period when pro wrestling was vibrant, gritty, and regional.

Big Time Wrestling owed part of its success to the territorial wrestling industry it existed in, a system where local feds dominated the markets of their particular region. In contrast to the major performers of today, most wrestlers weren’t beholden to a specific promoter, leaving them free to travel the country. But Shire’s own ingenuity was key to his fed’s notoriety.

According to long-time wrestling photographer, columnist, and all-around avid fan Mike Lano, the promoter — a former wrestler — was regarded by his wrestling business contemporaries as a promotional genius. For Shire, personality and a dynamic, athletic wrestling style were paramount. "[He] demanded excellence from his wrestlers," Lano says. "Matches had to be excellent or he would yell and chew the guys out." This democratic booking philosophy, which favored talent and originality over marketability, is closer to the indie wrestling scene of today than to the monolithic WWE.

The Bay Area’s diversity played a major role in Shire’s booking strategy. He promoted wrestlers of color as some of Big Time Wrestling’s top stars, a savvy move that allowed the multifaceted Bay Area to see itself represented heroically in the ring. Afa Anoa’i Sr., better known to wrestling fans as Afa the Wild Samoan, followed in the footsteps of his legendary uncle, "High Chief" Peter Maivia (Rocky Johnson’s father-In-law), who commanded a massive Pacific Islander fan base. Though he was a journeyman by nature, returning to the Bay to wrestle for Shire’s promotion was always a special experience for the Wild Samoan. "Because we [had] a lot of my Samoan population there, sometime[s] [the] fans [would] get out of control and a riot [would] break out in the crowd," he remembers via e-mail. "But it was all good."

This story demonstrates a common truth in wrestling: when the drama in the ring speaks to one’s own experiences and sensibilities, the event as a whole is that much more fun and engaging.


Fog City Wrestling promoter/cofounder Dominick Jerry started out as a Humboldt County concert promoter before relocating to San Francisco with his wife in 2003. Booking FCW’s matches and storylines, he tells me, gives him the opportunity to play around with the politics of mainstream wrestling, a compelling provisional touch I suspect won’t be on WWE’s agenda any time soon.

Mainstream wrestling is often criticized for its socially conservative slant, a turn-off for many fans whose personal beliefs are less "kill the evil foreigner." But Jerry feels that in a town as singular as San Francisco, a promotion needs to cater to local sensibilities to survive. He cites, among other regional overtures, a handful of appearances by Differ’nt Strokes star Todd Bridges (no doubt drawing from his experiences battling the Gooch) as an appeal to ’80s nostalgia.

Jerry is also interested in the reinvention of character types that a small SF-based promotion would allow for, and quite possibly necessitate. "Wrestling is not a sport that’s very sensitive to race," he tells me over the phone. "But at the same time, it plays on race and it knows it. I see that I have a chance to change things and do things a little different."

He expresses pride in a recent storyline that saw a Middle Eastern wrestler named Sheik Khan Abadi become the promotion’s most popular wrestler, genie pants and all. (Abadi recently relocated to Florida. When I interviewed the East Bay-born wrestler, he fondly recalled his experience wrestling in SF: "They cheered me ’cause they thought I wrestled well and [because] I was wrestling for them. That was one of the greatest feelings ever — to be respected for what I do, and not just typecast for being Middle Eastern.")

The opening match on Fog City Wrestling’s Saturday afternoon card sees your standard square-jawed tough guy face up against longtime California indie star Angel the Hardcore Homo. On the one hand, the persona borders on minstrelsy — it’s a sort of hybrid between the implicit button-pushing of Gorgeous George and lucha libre’s rodeo clown-like "exotico" type. But the match itself tells a less straightforward story. Angel is clearly the hero in the contest, reconfiguring some of the mainstream’s predictable gay panic tropes into a slapstick offensive that plays off his opponent’s increasingly comical discomfort. Toward the end of the match, two teenage-looking guys standing across from me start an "Angel" chant.

On the surface, San Francisco doesn’t seem like the kind of community that goes in for (nonironic) professional wrestling. But scanning the crowd, I notice a sizeable number of bohemian types — an Unknown Pleasures shirt even made an appearance a few shows back. Outside the venue, would they readily admit to their fandom, or at least to their interest in wrestling? Perhaps this insecurity is on its way out.

For a true believer, self-consciousness isn’t a problem. Fog City Wrestling’s Jerry doesn’t see indie wrestling strictly as a subculture. "Everybody knows pro wrestling," he gushes. "Everybody might not admit they like pro wrestling, but everybody does. If it’s on TV, as opposed to Regis and Kelly, you’ll probably put on pro wrestling."


When I ask wrestleophile Mike Lano what the Bay Area has to offer that is missing from mainstream wrestling today, he responds with a common sentiment. "They [pro wrestling territories] were all unique. The television was unique, the talent was unique. Guys were not reading promos off a teleprompter or being told what to say by script writers." Fans today may not be getting an entirely comparable experience to the glory days — the DNA Lounge is a long way from the Cow Palace, for one thing. But the spirit of originality Lano remembers from the Shire days has carried over, bringing with it the simple pleasure of watching two colorful characters go at it on a Saturday afternoon.

The main event of Fog City Wrestling’s Saturday bill is a slice of unadulterated pro wrestling traditionalism. Dylan Drake is one of FCW’s marquee stars. He’s a dapper-looking guy with floppy brown hair of a non-threatening length. His name is an alliteration, like Clark Kent. His hirsute opponent has the biblically sinister moniker Malachai, and sports an enormous beard — wrestling shorthand for pure evil.

During a main event bout, there’s a feeling of conclusiveness to everything, like the ghost of Howard Cosell is narrating the action in the crowd’s collective mind. Each punch or hold becomes an ultimate moment that all preceding punches and holds of the show have foreshadowed. This is one of the last vestiges of Big Fight atmosphere, the Ali-and-Frazier effect, or, in keeping with the wrestling aesthetic, Rocky Balboa and Thunderlips. Sure enough, ironic detachment and snarky asides die an undistinguished death amidst the consecrated buzz.

Whether or not the majority of the audience are wrestling diehards, prodigal childhood fans, or just looking for an excuse to drink during the middle of the day, some dormant instinct takes hold as the fight commences. In true wrestling fashion, the match ends in a massive donnybrook of interference and conveniently bad refereeing, postponing the inevitable denouement for another month or two. This is pro wrestling, after all. We head home to a Sunday morning coming down.

We walk with a zombie


PHENOM In our heads, in our heads: zombies, zombies, zombies.

Don’t blame me for taking a bite out of your brain and inserting an annoying tune in its place — once again, not long after the last onslaught of undead trends, our culture is totally zombie mad.

The phrase "zombie bank" is multiplying at a disturbing rate within economic circles. In music, the group Zombi — hailing from the zombie capitol Pittsburgh — is reviving the analogue electronics of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead while the British act Zomby brings dubstep to postapocalyptic dance floors. A comedy of manners possessed by ultraviolent urges, Seth Grahame-Smith’s "unmentionable" Jane Austen update Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books, 320 pages, $12.95) has set up camp on the trade paperback New York Times best sellers list, with S.G. Browne’s Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament — currently being movie-ized by Diablo Cody — on its trail. On a smaller scale, Yusaka Hanakuma’s manga Tokyo Zombie (Last Gasp, 164 pages, $9.95) has caught a zombie plane over to the United States.

Most of all, posthumous Michael Jackson mania is bringing the corpse choreography of the 1983 video for "Thriller" to life, as the media and masses fluctuate between the worst facets of grave-robbing and best facets of revival and death celebration. A Friday, July 3 party in Seattle that aimed to top the 3,370-participant world record for largest "zombie walk" included a mass dance performance to the song.

When journalist Lev Grossman first noted the shift in bloodlust from vampirism to zombiedom in a Time trend piece this April, he ticked off some of these activities but steered clear of visual art. Zombies are around in galleries and museums, too. In Los Angeles last month, Peres Projects presented Bruce LaBruce’s "Untitled Hardcore Zombie Project" in which stills from a forthcoming movie by the director of last year’s Otto; or, Up with Dead People were blown up, framed, and hung on the space’s blood-spattered white cube walls. Here in San Francisco, Michael Rosenthal Gallery is hosting a variety of zombified works by another Canadian artist, Jillian Mcdonald.

Active revisions of cinema are central to Mcdonald, whose past projects find her staring down, mimicking and making out with male screen icons such as Billy Bob Thornton. "Monstrosities" makes room for vampires, but hunger for flesh is dominant over thirst for blood. The five-minute video Zombie Apocalypse brings the zombie back to the beach, its eerily effective primary haunting ground in Jacques Tourneur’s classic 1943 Val Lewton production I Walked with a Zombie — which, incidentally, is being remade, with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre now explicitly cited as its source material. In 2006’s Horror Make-up, Mcdonald plays with the image of a woman putting on makeup in public by using her compact to turn herself into a zombie while raiding the New York subway. "Monstrosities" also includes zombie wall portraits that aren’t exactly static. Through lenticular photography, Mcdonald taps into the zombie within an acquaintance, a creature that often appears more animated than its "living" counterpart.

"Monstrosities" and much of Mcdonald’s current work mines horror as a source of catharsis. The tactic is most overt in 2007’s The Scream, where her screams scare off a variety of slasher killers and monstrous adversaries. Art world attempts at tapping into filmic horror can be dreadful in the sterile and blah sense (see Cindy Sherman’s 1997’s Office Killer — or better, don’t see it). But when Mcdonald bites zombies, she gives them love bites, borne out of and energized by genuine appreciation. (Johnny Ray Huston)


Through July 22

Michael Rosenthal Gallery

365 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-1010


Brain appetit: Fine reading and viewing for the discriminating zombie lover

Twilight (haven’t read it) and True Blood (haven’t seen it) are grabbing all the headlines, including a fawning New York Times story entitled "A Trend with Teeth." But fuck this newfangled passion for vampires. (Apologies to Let the Right One In: you are awesome, despite the massive English subtitle fail on your DVD.) Go back to the graveyard, sexy supernatural critters. There’s a far more terrifying and fiendishly disgusting army of coffin-rockers afoot these days. And though they’ll happily drink your blood, they’ll also help themselves to the rest of your delicious mortal flesh.

Granted, zombie movies are almost as old as cinema itself. Glenn Kay’s recent Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide (Chicago Review Press, 352 pages, $25.95), which features a forward by Stuart Gordon, director of 1985’s Re-Animator, is a pretty good jumping-off point for the uninitiated — and a steal for anyone who’s shy about paying $280 on eBay for Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (FAB Press). Generously illustrated chapters — with a full-color photo section in the book’s center — cover the genre’s history, starting with 1932’s White Zombie (fun fact: star Bela Lugosi earned $500-ish dollars for playing the sinister plantation owner improbably named "Murder.") There are spotlights on the turbulent 1960s (the era that spawned 1968’s immortal Night of the Living Dead), the insane 1970s (with an index of "the weirdest/funniest/most disturbing things" seen in zombie films, including my own personal fave: the underwater shark vs. zombie battle in 1979’s Zombie), Italy’s reign of terror in the 1980s (the decade that also brought us, lest we forget, "Thriller"), and the rise of video game zombies in the 1990s. Sprinkled throughout are interviews with horror luminaries like makeup master Tom Savini.

Zombie Movies‘ biggest chapter is devoted to the new millennium, with shout-outs to Asian entries like Versus (2000), cult hits like 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, and mainstream moneymakers — 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake brought in $59 million. Less successful (in my book, if not apparent George Romero fanatic Kay’s) was 2007’s Diary of the Dead, the least-enjoyable entry in Romero’s esteemed zombie series. Blame it on an annoying cast, and an even more annoying reliance on the hot-for-five-minutes "self-filming" technique. Aside from producing a Crazies remake (nooo!), Romero’s next project is titled simply … of the Dead, release date unknown, zombie subject matter an absolute certainty.

Still, ammo enough for walking-dead fans sick of all this fang-banging comes in two forms: the hilarious trailer for Zombieland (due in October), featuring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg as slayers of the undead, and the eagerly-anticipated arrival of Dead Snow. Currently available as an On-Demand selection for Comcast customers (in crappy dubbed form), this Norwegian import — a comedy with plenty of satisfying gore — opens July 17 at the Roxie (in presumably superior, subtitled form). Nazi zombies, y’all. Get some! (Cheryl Eddy)


Zombie playlist: Music to eat flesh by

For whatever reason, America is possessed by a another wave of fascination with the living dead. Is increased anxiety about a devastated economy manifesting as comic book fantasy? Or do we just think zombies are kinda neat? Either way, like so many (or few) survivors barricaded inside an abandoned country home, we’re captivated by the brainless hordes. In the mood for some mood music? Here’s a brief celebration of zombiedom in the world of rock. It ain’t authoritative — no self-respecting zombie respects authority.



(from Walk Among Us, Slash, 1982)

Yes, Walk Among Us also features "Night of the Living Dead" and "Astro Zombies," but neither of those tracks captures the profound ennui of existence as a walking corpse. Democratically sung from a zombie’s perspective, "Braineaters" laments a repetitive diet of brains. (Why can’t a zombie have some tasty guts instead?) The Misfits actually made a primitive music video for "Braineaters" that shows the band engaged in what has to be the most disgusting food fight ever filmed. If you’ve ever wanted to see a young Glenn Danzig covered in what appear to be cow brains, have I got a YouTube link for you!


"Fast Forward to the Gore"

(from II, Six Weeks, 2005)

One of the standout tracks from II, "Fast Forward to the Gore" makes excellent use of singer Jimmy Rose’s frantic vocal delivery. Rose’s raw lyrics, belted out over the hardcore guitar assault of Graham Clise and Jamie Sanitate, celebrate the subtle artistry at play when zombie meets chainsaw. In the event of an actual zombie apocalypse, this song should serve as nostalgic reminder of simpler times, when zombies were merely a source of entertainment that didn’t leave the TV screen.


Entire discography



"Zombie Ritual"

(from Scream Bloody Gore, Combat, 1987)

The second track on the seminal Scream Bloody Gore, "Zombie Ritual" helped establish the nascent death metal scene’s predictable love affair with the titular braindead hellspawn. Chuck Schuldiner’s lyrics — as awesomely repulsive as anything the genre has to offer — deal with some sort of zombie creation ceremony, though the only discernable part is the Dylanesque chorus ("Zombie ritual!" screamed four times in succession). While Death’s later albums saw Schuldiner grow by leaps and bounds as a songwriter, "Zombie Ritual" remained a live staple up until the band’s final days. (Tony Papanikolas)

Forever our kings



The simplified, VH1 history of rock music tells us that Black Sabbath’s landmark first two albums Black Sabbath (Warner Bros., 1970) and Paranoid (Warner Bros., 1971) buried the 1960s rock aesthetic with the strength of a thousand Sha-Na-Nas at Woodstock. But Sabbath wasn’t quite the peerless anomaly that popular mythology makes out. Under the group’s massive transatlantic shadow toiled an eclectic assortment of rock bands just as disillusioned with the pop music of the past decade, and just as compelled to forcibly harsh some vibes.

Pentagram has remained the most vital of these groups. The OG southern Hessians have maintained a cult fan base throughout a 38-year career, but the 2002 compilation First Daze Here (Relapse) helped a new generation of metalheads embrace their lo-fi proto-metal. Classic tracks like "Livin’ in a Ram’s Head" and the power chord masterpiece "Forever My Queen" justify Pentagram’s doom legend status, while softer numbers like the garage rock ballad "Last Days Here" and a relatively faithful cover of "Under My Thumb" serve as reminders of the band’s musical roots.

Pentagram is coming to town, and whether or not the various kick-ass opening acts on the bill were influenced by them, there’s a distinctive retro vibe at play. Since 2007’s Instinct: Decay (Southern Lord), Nachtmystium has been experimenting with old school electronic effects, lacing its basement black metal sound with Pink Floyd-like Moog and theremin drones. Last year’s Assassins: Black Meddle Part One (Century Media) finds Blake Judd and company taking their experiments in blackened space rock even further — the headbanging energy of the songs’ traditional verse-chorus structures is complimented by Sanford Parker’s haunting electronic textures. Since Nachtmystium’s current approach is tailor-made for live drone-jams, it’ll be interesting to see how the Chicago black metallers’ set plays out.

Some enterprising dork could probably spend a lifetime documenting all the leftover Summer of Love tidbits that have informed the San Francisco music scene over the years, but trying to fit a band as innovative as Hammers of Misfortune into a greater rock canon is a total cop-out. Peter, Paul, and Mary they ain’t; clean, folky vocal harmonies take on a warped life of their own in the context of Hammers’ elegantly doomy guitar work, making what in lesser hands would be an obnoxious gimmick into an integral part of the group’s sound. They’re also way too fucking metal for their own good.

Be forewarned, indeed.


With Hammers of Misfortune, Nachtmystium, Orchid, DJ Rob Metal

Thurs/2, 8:30 p.m. (doors 8 p.m.), $20–$25

DNA Lounge

375 11th St., SF

(415) 626-1409

Hightower, One in the Chamber, Futur Skullz


PREVIEW Hightower is quite possibly the only prog rock group that could be accurately described as "gnarly" (sorry, Van Der Graaf Generator). Proving that complex compositions and unpretentious rock ‘n’ roll aren’t mutually exclusive, the San Francisco power trio mixes unpredictable tempos and spacey guitar shredding with beer- and weed-fueled skate thrash to create a style tailor-made for raging circle pits and blacklight poster stare-downs. With song titles like "Wizardhawk" and "I Am the Wallride," the band celebrates and pokes fun at some of the, er, imaginative concepts of their bell-bottomed forefathers. But even if you think the term "progressive rock" is shorthand for overly complex wanking, Hightower proves the genre can be surprisingly crucial.

I inadvertently stumbled into a show featuring local metal band Futur Skullz about a month ago and was blown away by how LOUD these guys play. There’s nothing about them that isn’t deafening — the thrash-meets-sludge guitar, buzzing bass, crusty-ass vocals, and thundering drums are ready to pummel, but with enough variation to keep their sets interesting. Like Hightower, Futur Skullz combine massive, arena-ready riffs with relatable garage band energy; it’s a case of powerhouse heavy metal filtered through punk rock sensibilities. Oakland-based One in the Chamber’s collage of punk, stoner metal, aggressively jazzy weirdness, and everything in between completes this bill, which should be a revelation to anyone whose nights out have been lacking raw power.

HIGHTOWER, ONE IN THE CHAMBER, FUTUR SKULLZ Sat/20, 9 p.m., $7 (21 and over) El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. (415) 282-3325,



PREVIEW Since 1984, Oslo’s favorite sons Mayhem have had a reasonable claim to the title of most fucked-up band on the planet, the eagerly repeated stories of the lurid spectacle that is their live show representing only some of the milder aspects of their mythos. Colorful history aside, the men of Mayhem have established themselves as architects of the modern black metal sound, taking the nasty musicianship and overt occultism of Venom and early Bathory and using them as the foundation for a terrifying new kind of metal that mixes breakneck drums, guttural riffs, and croaking vocals with eerie, understated melody. Often imitated, the 25-year veterans’ unique style is seldom matched in terms of sheer, unhinged intensity.

Co-headliners Marduk, one of countless bands to follow in Mayhem’s footsteps, spent the better part of its career becoming even more gruesome and unpalatable to mainstream audiences with each successive album, until it was not inconceivable to mention the satanic Swedes in the same breath as their more established tour mates. By the late 1990s, Marduk began branching out instrumentally, refining its musicianship while remaining true to the genre it helped pioneer.

The two black metal greats are supported by a diverse collection of bands taken from all corners of the extreme metal scene. Progressive, black metal-inspired Withered makes a logical opener, and the presence of dizzying grindcore virtuosos Cephalic Carnage is strange but welcome. Rounding out the bill is the brutal Cattle Decapitation, a consistent favorite among fans of uncompromising, technical death metal. Fans of life-affirming music would do well to avoid this show.

MAYHEM Wed/3, 6 p.m., $25–$30, all ages. DNA Lounge 375 11th St., SF. (415) 626-1409.