Will York



"I’ve always been a serious musician," says drummer and multi-instrumentalist M.E. Miller, "so I hate to be thought of as some fool who just created havoc."

Miller’s old band the Toy Killers created plenty of havoc with their music, as showcased on the recent CD retrospective The Unlistenable Years (ugEXPLODE), which draws on live and studio recordings from their early 1980s peak.

Co-founded by Miller and fellow percussionist Charles K. Noyes in 1979, the Toy Killers created a squirming, clattering din that encompassed no-wave noise, free improv, and even the mutant dance music of downtown New York City peers like Material and the Golden Palominos. Their shifting lineup included such future avant-garde all-stars as John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and Elliott Sharp, as well as a post-DNA Arto Lindsay on guitar and vocals. But fairly or not, the Toy Killers were as notorious for their confrontational live performances as they were for their music. Miller was responsible for many of their live antics, which included a penchant for setting things on fire and igniting M-80s, dynamite, and other explosives.

There’s a Zen-like calm to the way Miller describes people’s reactions to his group’s brand of "anti-performance art." Asked how the outfit’s (literally) fiery performances went over with their Lower East Side audiences, Miller, speaking over the phone from his home in Alameda, flatly responds, "Not well." He recounts one gig at Soundscape in which audience members set up a barricade of chairs to separate themselves from the band.

Then there was an incident that took place at the Kitchen during an Elliot Sharp concert. "He just said, ‘At one point, Miller, I’m gonna turn to you, and you just make somethin’ happen,’<0x2009>" the drummer recalls. "So I just made an incendiary go from the drums straight up about six to eight feet. It just went ‘fa-foom,’ and I got all burned." The house lights came on, and the show was over.

"I think I probably pissed a lot of people off, but it was … purely for amusement. It was funny," he summarizes. Miraculously, no one, apart from Miller, was ever injured at the Toy Killers’ shows, and they never burned any venues down — an achievement that prospective show bookers might keep in mind.

The Unlistenable Years won’t cause your CD player to burst into flames, and there’s undoubtedly a visual element that’s lacking on some of the live recordings. But for the most part, the music holds up on its own, conveying a sense of near chaos that’s in keeping with their reputation as a live entity. In fact, ugEXPLODE label head and Oakland resident Weasel Walter didn’t know a thing about the band when he first encountered them in the late ’80s via Speed Trials (Homestead), a 1983 compilation that highlighted the band alongside Sonic Youth, Swans, Lydia Lunch, and the early Beastie Boys, who once opened for the Toy Killers.

The Toy Killers’ contribution, "Victimless Crime," caught Walter’s attention due to Noyes’ peculiar style of drumming. "I was really into free jazz drums and stuff like that," Walter said by phone. "But he seemed to approach drumming from a point of total disruption…. It’s like the Shaggs or something." (On his bandmate’s unique drumming style, Miller marvels, "It sounds like there is a rationale, but I’ve never been able to figure it out…. You either have to be incredibly bright or severely retarded to play like that.")

Walter filed away the band name in the back of his mind for nearly two decades. Miller, meanwhile, had been off the radar for years: it turns out he’d been playing in a wedding band since moving back to the Bay Area in the early ’90s — he grew up in Sunnyvale and later attended UC Santa Cruz — before finally connecting with fellow Bay Area improvisers like Henry Kaiser and ROVA’s Larry Ochs a few years ago. When Walter found out, he sought out Miller and persuaded him to hand over all the old tapes he could get his hands on so he could put together their long-overdue "debut" — some three decades after their first live shows.

Not content to stop there, the group — or at least a new incarnation of it — is working on a new album that showcases founders Miller and Noyes along with newcomers Kaiser, Walter, and others. They plan on unveiling a new live Toy Killers later this year, although the elusive Noyes, who still lives on the East Coast, probably won’t be involved. Still, Walter is excited at the chance to work with these battle-scarred veterans. "I feel like part of my job is to encourage these older guys to not be in the middle and not hold back," he says. "People who have counted these guys out for one reason or another are not gonna be able to count them out at all."


Hater aid


When I saw the promo blurb for rock critic Dave Thompson’s new book I Hate New Music (Backbeat) a couple of months ago, I figured I’d found a kindred spirit — someone who could explain once and for all why U2 and the Foo Fighters were evil, Radiohead was hopelessly overrated, and the Kings of Leon or whoever were irrelevant. Someone who could articulate why even a bad Humble Pie or Thin Lizzy album — you know, like Renegade (Warner Bros., 1981) — is likely to be more memorable and entertaining than this week’s featured review on Pitchfork. (By the way, I just checked, and right now, it’s the new album by the Killers. I’ll take my creaky cassette of Humble Pie’s Smokin [A&M, 1972] over them any day.)

Well, for all its potential, I Hate New Music reads less like a searing manifesto and more like a batch of shoot-from-the-hip essays on assorted classic-rock topics: the double album, Queen, 8-tracks, the double live album, and so on. Only briefly does he touch on some of the more distressing trends that have taken hold over the last decade or so, like the impact of Pro Tools, which allows home-studio mavens to polish turds as convincingly as major-label artists. Or the simultaneous rise of online music distribution and the sad, slow demise of the local record store. Releasing music is now easier than ever. Getting paid for it or, if you’re a listener, wading through it all is harder. Actually, it’s impossible. (It doesn’t help that I’m currently living in Indiana, where it’s still 2002.)

I don’t want to hate new music, and though I may be crotchety beyond my years, I really don’t hate it. Not all of it. I was genuinely excited by all the albums on my humble year-end list — and a handful more that didn’t fit. And in an encouraging trend, only two of those entries are reissues. It’s just that I don’t care if music is actually new or just new to me, and there’s always going to be more of the latter. I finally got the American Music Club this year, which happened to have an excellent new disc. But I also finally got, or discovered, Lee Perry’s, Omar Khorshid’s, and Peter Laughner’s solo recordings, a slew of weird CD-Rs on the barely legal (or not) Dolor Del Estamago label, and the deluxe reissue of the Allman Brothers’ 1972 double-album Eat a Peach (Mercury). These things excited me as much as anything with "2008" stamped on the back.

Anyway, while I disagree with Thompson that rock died in 1976, I do agree it’s getting harder to weed out the survivors.


1. Various artists, Always Something There: A Burt Bacharach Collectors’ Anthology 1952-1969 (Ace)

2. Joe E., Love Got in My Way (Eabla)

3. Outlaw Order, Dragging down the Enforcer (Season of Mist)

4. American Music Club, The Golden Age (Merge)

5. Bohren and der Club of Gore, Dolores (Play It Again, Sam/Ipecac)

6. GridLink, Amber Grey (Hydra Head)

7. Soilent Green, Inevitable Collapse in the Presence of Conviction (Metal Blade)

8. Nadja, Desire in Uneasiness (Crucial Blast)

9. Esoteric, The Maniacal Vale (Season of Mist)

10. Singer, Unhistories (Drag City)


Industrial strength


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Filmed during their 2004 US tour, Laibach’s Divided States of America DVD (Mute) gives a good idea of the freak show that comes out of the woodwork to see the group’s rare performances.

The DVD focuses on the tense political climate and general ugliness of America during the weeks following George W. Bush’s reelection, and there’s enough sardonic anti-American sentiment in it to satisfy anyone who contemplated moving to Canada on Nov. 3, 2004. Much of the documentary involves interviews with Laibach concertgoers: a motley assortment that includes a self-proclaimed Church of Satan representative, a man who identifies himself as a fascist (Laibach’s "political orientation," he confesses, "is perhaps different than mine"), and an ordinary-looking father with his two young daughters in tow.

"The beat was totally infectious," recounts another interviewee. "My body couldn’t help but move."

Few bands inspire as many different reactions as the Slovenian collective, who are touring the States for the first time since 2004 and have been around since 1980, when Slovenia was, of course, still part of Yugoslavia. Are they fascist sympathizers? Is Laibach communist? Or is it all just a big joke? At one point during the DVD, an interviewer asks the outfit about the apparent Nazi-esque garb in one of their tour posters (a Laibach member replies that it’s actually American dress the person is wearing). Another journalist asks them why they promote Jesus and Christianity (one of their albums is titled Jesus Christ Superstars [Mute, 1996]). And as the fan quoted above proves, some people just like those "infectious" beats.

I imagine Laibach enjoy seeing the confusion they create, although there have been times when it’s caused legitimate problems for them — including a ban against playing in their hometown of Ljubljana in the early 1980s and several bomb threats at concerts during the ’90s.

Just what are Laibach trying to say, though? I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer, but all you have to do is spend a little time with their back catalog to notice recurring themes: religion, fascism, war, patriotism and nationalism, and pop music itself. They’ve spent their career mocking these institutions and -isms, largely by turning them inward on themselves, exploiting and sullying them at the same time — after all, what could be more totalitarian than those nonstop techno beats? Yet they mock in such a straight-faced manner that many people seem to miss the wit. In the largely humorless landscape of industrial music, that sensibility is perhaps Laibach’s biggest saving grace.

Last year’s Volk (Mute) resurrects many of these themes. The disc consists of electro-symphonic renderings of various national anthems, topped off by Milan Fras’s inimitable spoken-word vocals. (Anyone who thinks it’s a celebration of cultural diversity or patriotism need only refer to the liner notes, where they quote a repugnant passage from a US foreign policy memo titled "In Praise of Cultural Imperialism.") They’ve taken on the Beatles and the Stones before (1988’s Let It Be and 1990’s Sympathy for the Devil, both on Mute), but the sly message here is that these national anthems are our ultimate pop songs. Or something like that.

As usual with Laibach, much of the interest lies in Fras’s ominous-sounding, often darkly funny vocals and lyrics. But the arrangements here are among the most stirring ones they’ve come up with since Opus Dei (Mute, 1987), although admittedly, some of their intervening work suffered from gaudy production and instantly dated electronic sounds. Best of all is "Rossiya (Russia)," with its children’s choir, wiggly synthesizers, and gently sweeping strings. They’ve called themselves wolves in sheep’s clothing, and their ability to cloak their sociopolitical commentaries in such convincing garb is part of the reason they’re so provocative and so hard to figure out. I give up.


Thurs/25, 9 p.m., $30


628 Divisadero, SF


At the Gates again


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There was a time, maybe two decades ago, when a subgenre called melodic death metal would have been considered a ridiculous oxymoron on par with something like smooth industrial or power–New Age. These days it’s possible to look back on this mid-1990s development as the source of that decade’s most enduring metal as well as the unwitting inspiration for some of this decade’s worst.

Ground zero for this unofficial movement was Gothenburg, Sweden, home to In Flames, Dissection, and At the Gates, whose 1995 swan song, Slaughter of the Soul (Earache), is probably the quintessential melodic death metal album and one of the greatest so-called extreme metal albums of all time, period.

It’s not just my opinion: there are also the countless bands — Shadows Fall, Darkest Hour, the Black Dahlia Murder, and seemingly hundreds of others — who have tried to imitate At the Gates in the years since. There was a time several years ago when every other new metal release — especially if it was American and had any sort of hardcore or metalcore slant to it — paid a degree of unspoken homage to the Gothenburg sound that At the Gates helped put on the map. Some of these bands have achieved reasonable commercial success, playing the Ozzfest’s second stage or getting airplay on whatever stations there are that play music videos anymore.

The thing is, none of those other hacks is ever going to match Slaughter, an inspired, magical album made by a bunch of desperate-sounding, beer-gulping Scandinavian twentysomethings.

"We wanted to make a short, intense, and to-the-point kinda album," explains guitarist Anders Björler via e-mail in May. "We had [Slayer’s] Reign in Blood as a reference somehow."

Slaughter was the band’s fourth and final album in a brief career that covered the first half of the 1990s — they broke up in 1996. Their earlier albums were a sometimes-confusing mix of guttural thrash, classical-tinged riffs, lopsided time signatures, and even the occasional violin interlude. By the time of Slaughter, though, they had streamlined their sound into something leaner and more direct. The breakneck thrash tempos and strategically placed tempo shifts may owe a debt to speed-metal bands like Slayer and Kreator, but there’s a heroic classical tinge to their guitar riffs that adds another, more epic dimension.

Then there are Tomas Lindberg’s tortured lyrics and vocals, which further distinguished ATG from their peers. Other bands growled and grunted about Satan, dead bodies, or the evils of multinational corporations. Lindberg’s strangled shriek, on the other hand, conveys a genuine sense of psychological torment. His sudden "aaaoooohhhh" during the intro to "Suicide Nation" is priceless.

"I think some of the hype came after we split up," writes Björler of the album’s reputation. Possibly, but there’s also the fact that they went out on top, without subjecting fans to a slow decline or gradual sellout à la their peers In Flames, who smelled a crossover market in the wake of bands like Slipknot’s success and watered their sound down accordingly.

After ATG split, Björler and his brother, bassist Jonas, went on to form the Haunted — who are still active but currently taking a break in between recording and touring. That partly explains the timing of their current reunion tour. Writes Björler, "We didn’t want to do this reunion when we turn 50 years old."

Instead, he continues, "it feels nice with a short reunion to say farewell in a proper way," aware that they broke up suddenly the first time around. "It’s only this tour, and it’s a sort of ‘farewell, last chance’ to see us thing. I think we ended it with a classic album. It would be hard to top."


With Municipal Waste, Darkest Hour, and Repulsion

Fri/25, 8 p.m., $27.50


1805 Geary, SF

(415) 421-TIXS


Earth, here and now


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"I’m a big fan of Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton and Merle Haggard’s guitarist, Roy Nichols. I also like a lot of western swing, like Hank Thompson and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Jerry Reed. Waylon Jennings is one of my favorite guitar players."

Listening to Dylan Carlson rattle off a list of his favorite country pickers might seem a little strange. After all, this is the guy who practically invented the drone-metal genre in the early 1990s as the leader of Sub Pop outcasts Earth. Their snail-paced, sludge-caked drone explorations might be termed "primordial," yet they were anything but traditional or rootsy. Some probably questioned whether they were music at all.

The band’s landmark Earth 2 (Sub Pop, 1993) is a legendary lease-breaker of an album thanks to its wall-rattling sonics. For years the recording — and the band in general — puzzled onlookers, who wondered what Nirvana’s old label was doing releasing something so unseemly. Earth once played a music-biz festival in New York during the early ’90s, and as Carlson recounts by phone from Seattle, "I had friends telling me, ‘Oh, yeah, there were all these industry people here, and they were totally confused.’ They thought we were assholes and stuff, like we were making fun of them."

The joke’s on them now, even it wasn’t back then. Thanks to Earth worshippers Sunn O))) and the scads of other low-end drone specialists who have cropped up in recent years, the band’s once-misunderstood sound has come to be seen as pioneering, opening the way for a range of experimentalists operating at the crossroads of metal, improv, and avant-garde rock. The thing is, Carlson doesn’t have much interest in that sound anymore.

"Obviously it’s flattering to be liked by people and to influence people," he says. "But for me, it’s not something I would do again, since I don’t like repeating myself and I’m trying to move somewhere else."

Earth’s more recent recordings, including 2005’s Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method and this year’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Den (both Southern Lord), move at the same slow hypnotic pace of the older material, but they do so with less volume, more space, and a surprising twang element. These discs have come with the help of a new cast of supporting musicians — including trombonist-keyboardist Steve Moore and Master Musicians of Bukkake members John Schuller and Don McGreavy on bass — and a new, more clearheaded approach for Carlson. They also come in the wake of a long hiatus that led many to assume Earth was finished as a band.

"I got dropped by Sub Pop [after 1996’s Pentastar] and wasn’t sure I wanted to play music anymore," he explains. "And I had a lot of [personal] wreckage to take care of, so that’s pretty much what I spent those years doing."

He started playing the guitar again in late 2000, but found himself less interested in feedback and doom-laden riffs and more interested in country music. As he explains, "For some reason, every so often I’ll go to my collection, and for whatever reason something will catch my fancy, and I’ll become obsessed with it for awhile. And that was the stuff."

He started playing with drummer Adrienne Davies in 2001, whose minimalist, mostly brushed sound has been a fixture on the newer Earth albums. He wasn’t planning on playing live again or even using the Earth name, he says, but things fell into place thanks to a reissue of some old recordings and a coinciding East Coast mini-tour. As a result, Earth was reborn — with a different lineup and a different sound.

"I mean, there are similarities between everything I do just because it’s me doing it," Carlson says. "But I’m just always trying to expand with each record and grow as a musician, hopefully, rather than repeating the same thing over and over again." Even so, he adds, "I kind of hear how musics are linked, rather than how they’re different."

Earth: Mach II’s brand of sparse, loping, desert minimalism is a far cry from the wall-of-sound drones of the many Earth-inspired bands currently operating. It’s not metal, but it’s certainly not country either. It’s more like some sort of bizarre-world Americana, with its mantra-like repetition, subtle guitar twang, and wide open sense of space. Jazz guitarist and fellow Seattleite Bill Frisell, who has developed his own skewed take on Americana over the years, makes a guest appearance on Bees, and a Ry Cooder cameo wouldn’t be out of place.

Carlson credits the open-minded, genre-crossing Seattle scene for helping the new Earth evolve and branch out. "It’s not like during the ’90s when everyone was trying to get signed and was worried about playing a specific genre. It’s just people who are into all kinds of music and just want to do the best stuff that they can."


With Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter and Aerial Ruin

Fri/20, 9 p.m., $15

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750


Sun City Girls still shine


PREVIEW When Sun City Girls drummer Charles Gocher died of cancer last year, it was a shock to fans of the long-running band. The group hadn’t publicized his illness, and they seemed to be as active as ever during the few years prior to this sad, surprising news. Following Gocher’s death, the remaining members — brothers Alan and Rick Bishop — immediately disbanded the group, which had the same three-piece lineup since 1981. Along with their current nationwide tour, Alan and Richard Bishop’s The Brothers Unconnected: A Tribute to Charles Gocher and Sun City Girls (Abduction) is meant to close the book on this influential, inspiring, and sometimes maddening ensemble.

No one will ever accuse the Sun City Girls of being predictable or easily accessible. They were probably best known for their various fusions of psych-rock with influences from the Middle East (the Bishops are half-Lebanese), India, and Southeast Asia. But part of their charm was their willingness to do anything they felt like: a movie soundtrack, a radio play, or an album of trashy 1970s rock covers. With all that in mind, the tour-only The Brothers Unconnected is the most concise, approachable summary of the vast SCG catalog you’re likely to find. It showcases the Bishops together on acoustic guitar and vocals, live in the studio, doing renditions of some of their "hits." There is plenty of black humor, with Rick doing his best Gocher impression on the ornery "Ballad of (D)anger," and Alan hilariously handling "Six Kids of Mine," a song about strangling a gaggle of crying children in order to get some sleep. There are also moments of unadorned beauty on par with anything they’ve done: the mysterious, gently flowing "Cruel and Thin" and a handful of tunes from 1990’s Torch of the Mystics (Majora), including dramatic spaghetti-western anthem, "The Shining Path," and the sunny, raga-like "Space Prophet Dogon." If this disc is any indication of what their upcoming show at Slim’s will sound like, then it’s a must-see for anyone interested in this legendary group.

ALAN BISHOP AND RICHARD BISHOP PRESENT "THE BROTHERS UNCONNECTED" With Neung Phak. Wed/21, 8 p.m., $16–$18. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 522-0333, www.slims-sf.com

Zen and the art of extreme-metal maintenance


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Meshuggah’s obZen (Nuclear Blast) is not the first example of a quality album with dismal cover art. On the other hand, it’s not that easy to think of really, er, great examples. Mott the Hoople’s Brain Capers (Atlantic, 1971), Humble Pie’s Smokin’ (A&M, 1972), and the Rolling Stones’ Black and Blue (Rolling Stones/Virgin, 1976) come to mind, but I’m not sure if these are actually good albums or just guilty pleasures. There’s also Blue Öyster Cult’s Agents of Fortune (Columbia, 1976) and Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill (MCA, 1972) — slightly more reputable records, but like the others above, they’re subject to the "Hey, it was the ’70s" defense.

Sweden’s Meshuggah occupy a whole ‘nother realm of music — modern extreme metal, generally speaking — which means I should be comparing them to their peers, not a bunch of musty classic rock acts. However, over my years of following this genre, I’ve become so desensitized to foul cover art that it seldom fazes me anymore. Skeletons being crucified on inverted crosses? Helpless, bloody victims with various orifices sewn shut? You try not to pay too much attention to it.

ObZen takes the good album–bad cover discrepancy to a new level, though. On their cover, a computer-generated image of a naked, three-armed, blood-covered mandroid sits in the lotus position, engaged in a solemn act of meditation. Apparently, it’s tied in with the title’s "obscene zen" pun. Whatever the case, it’s not good. Not good at all. The only reason I bother poking fun is because the music itself is pretty amazing.

Granted, the members of Meshuggah have been churning out this sort of sandblasting tech-metal for more than a decade, but obZen includes some of their most creative, demented riffing in years. They’re the rare extreme metal band whose sound is immediately recognizable: pick a song, any song, and you can tell it’s them within a few seconds — though it’s much harder to figure out exactly which song you’re hearing. This is partly because their music never changes all that much — externally, at least — but also because it’s so distinctive and idiosyncratic.

Meshuggah established their sound on 1995’s Destroy Erase Improve and 1998’s Chaosphere (both Nuclear Blast), and it’s essentially an industrial-tinged mutation of the tight, mechanical thrash metal of early ’90s Sepultura or pre-Black Album Metallica. While most of the far-out happenings in ’90s metal came from the seedier realms of black metal, death metal, and grindcore, Meshuggah continued as one of the few bands doing anything groundbreaking with this sort of weightlifter-metal template. In other words, they didn’t have any close peers when they emerged as a noteworthy group, and despite influencing a wide variety of metal, prog, and experimental acts in the years since, there’s no one who sounds quite like them.

They’re not without their metal-band trappings, although these don’t involve Satanism or bad horror-flick imagery. Instead, there is a sort of dystopian sci-fi thread running through much of their work, something they share with predecessors like Voivod and Fear Factory. I don’t know anyone who is specifically attracted to Meshuggah based on that aspect of their aesthetic, just as I don’t know anyone who listens to the band because of vocalist Jens Kidman, whose monochromatic bark is certainly an acquired taste.

Rather, Meshuggah’s appeal is all about "that thing" they do with their guitars and drums. It’s very specific: jackhammer drums and hiccuping guitar riffs wind around one another in an intricate fashion, with the drums and guitars usually playing in different time signatures and constantly turning around on one another. Their tracks are often more like études, which deal with complex polyrhythms, than a song with anything resembling a verse-chorus-verse form.

It would all be hopelessly nerdy if it wasn’t so darn heavy and impossibly well-executed. Perhaps, like the unfortunate dude on the cover, some of the members of Meshuggah have three arms. Listeners might find the band’s music tedious and one-dimensional, and indeed, sometimes it is. Then again, there’s often a fine line between hypnotic and monotonous. With obZen, Meshuggah are mostly on the right side of that line, even if their visual sensibilities leave much to be desired.


With Ministry and Hemlock

Tue/1–April 2, 8 p.m., $38.50


1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000


Fresh flowers, warm waters


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When you talk about performers with unusual career arcs, Charles Lloyd is up there with the Scott Walkers and Alex Chiltons of the world. Lloyd experienced almost unheard-of commercial success for a jazz saxophonist during the late ’60s, only to practically disappear for the next two decades. Then in 1989, he reemerged on Germany’s ECM label and entered the steadiest, most productive phase of his career, a phase that is still in progress as he celebrates his 70th birthday this year.

Lloyd’s best-known album remains 1966’s Forest Flower: Live at Monterey (Atlantic), which sold over 1 million copies in its day, a now-inconceivable feat for any saxophonist who doesn’t play soft-porno-soundtrack ballads. Lloyd and his quartet, which included soon-to-be-stars Keith Jarrett on piano and Jack DeJohnette on drums, managed this crossover success without dumbing down their music or resorting to fusion — which, after all, didn’t really exist yet in 1966. Their music was basically a kinder, gentler version of John Coltrane’s classic quartet sound: searching, occasionally Eastern-tinged modal jazz with spiritual overtones. Where Coltrane’s playing tended to be harsh and severe, Lloyd’s approach was relaxed and unhurried, with a softer-edged, gently babbling delivery. During their brief but successful run, Lloyd’s group released albums with swirly psychedelic cover art and hippie-ish titles like Journey Within and Love-In (both Atlantic, 1967), connecting with diverse, rock-friendly audiences in the days when jazz’s market share was rapidly eroding.

And then? It’s hard to say exactly. Jarrett and DeJohnette went on to play with Miles Davis’s early ’70s electric bands before pursuing successful solo careers, while Lloyd took up residence in the proverbial "Where are they now?" file. Musically, the ’70s was mostly a lost decade for Lloyd: his albums from this era — all long out of print — are written off as new age–leaning mood music or, in the case of 1971’s Warm Waters (Kapp), ill-fated forays into pop and rock. During this era, Lloyd retreated to Big Sur and got into transcendental meditation, which fittingly coincided with involvement with Beach Boys — and fellow TM advocates Mike Love and Al Jardine. (Lloyd even lent his horn playing to the band’s 15 Big Ones and M.I.U. Album [both Brother/Reprise, 1976 and 1978], and several Beach Boys appeared on Warm Waters.) Whatever else might have happened during those dark, confusing times would surely make for interesting reading, but details — sordid or not — are scarce.

Since coming out of retirement in the late ’80s, Lloyd has undergone an unlikely transition from mystic and ’60s relic to upstanding jazz citizen and elder statesman of the tenor saxophone — though he also plays flute and tarogato. His post-comeback recordings have included younger stars such as pianists Geri Allen and Brad Mehldau as well as august veterans like bassist Dave Holland and drummers Billy Hart and Billy Higgins. Meanwhile, his tenure with ECM has yielded 13 albums during this time, ranging from small group recordings in the vein of his late ’60s music to more far-flung efforts such as 2006’s Sangam, a live trio recording with Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland. The latter full-length includes some of Lloyd’s most fiery playing in recent years, and indeed, if there is one complaint about any of Lloyd’s post-comeback material, it’s that it’s sometimes been a bit too mellow and placid.

His newest album, Rabo de Nube, is a live disc highlighting his current band with Harland on drums, Jason Moran on piano, and Reuben Rogers on bass, all who are roughly half Lloyd’s age. It’s a good combination, because these younger musicians push Lloyd, while at the same time his playing brings a stateliness and an overall presence that is hard to find among more youthful players, however skilled they might be. Lloyd has never been known as a technical virtuoso, but there is a hard-won emotional depth to his work. You hesitate to call any living, breathing musician part of a so-called dying breed — it’s just not a nice thing to say — but Lloyd is at least representative of a different era, and opportunities to experience that era are getting harder to come across these days.


Fri/28, 8 p.m., $25–$70

Herbst Theatre

401 Van Ness, SF

(866) 920-JAZZ


How you hate me now?


Hated (Special Edition)

(Music Video Distributors)

Our Favorite Things

(Other Cinema)

DVDS I must have passed the G.G. Allin documentary Hated (1994) a dozen times in the video store over the years without ever mustering the nerve to rent it. Having finally watched it, I can only ask myself, "What took me so long?" Not because it’s a pleasant viewing experience, but because it’s such a massive train wreck: the (il)logical end point of years of self-destructive punk shock tactics and performance antics.

Hated was filmed by Todd Phillips — who went on to direct Old School and Starsky and Hutch — while he was a film student at New York University. It depicts what ended up being the final few years in the life of a genuinely disturbing and disturbed dude.

The film is built around — but not limited to — in-the-trenches footage of the tattooed, scarred, and frequently naked and/or bloody Allin onstage with his band, the Murder Junkies. This footage is not meant to showcase his vocal range — he had none — or the band’s sterling musicianship. Instead, it finds Allin assaulting audience members, getting wrestled down by cops, and genuinely scaring the crap out of everyone in the room. We also see footage from a surreal appearance on Geraldo and an appalling "spoken word" performance at NYU that ends with Allin sticking a banana up his tailpipe, the cops coming — a recurring theme — and Phillips nearly being expelled for booking the whole atrocity.

The rest of the video shows that, for better or worse, Allin’s live act really wasn’t an act. He was a genuinely angry, sociopathic fellow who lived his life as recklessly as he performed, in constant squalor and literally on the run from the police. This DVD reissue adds a recent interview with his poor mother, whose reclusive, mentally ill husband insisted on naming the boy "Jesus Christ," whence the nickname "G.G." originated. There’s also two full audio commentaries from Phillips as well as the Beavis and Butthead–like duo of Murder Junkies Merl Allin, G.G.’s brother, and Dino Sex, the band’s sicko naked drummer. I absorbed every second of it.

Next to Allin, Bay Area cutups Negativland might look like Goody Two-shoes, but don’t be fooled. Granted, you won’t find them cutting themselves or shitting onstage. In fact, you won’t find the group’s members at all in most of the videos on their recent anthology Our Favorite Things (Other Cinema). Make no mistake, though: there’s something to offend just about everyone on this DVD.

Pushing people’s buttons is nothing new for Negativland, but what’s striking about this release is how well the video format suits the group’s meticulous cut-and-paste approach. The editing sleight of hand is simply amazing at points. These are some of the most involved, detail-oriented music videos I’ve ever seen, which may sound like faint praise given the laziness that’s typical of the medium, but stay with me here.

Drawing on music from throughout their career, Negativland go after such familiar targets as firearms (the found-footage extravaganza of "Guns"), advertising ("Truth in Advertising" and perhaps one too many videos from the Dispepsi CD), and religion ("Christianity Is Stupid," in which a series of Hollywood Pontius Pilates are seen driving nails into Jesus’ hands in sync with the song’s thumping industrial beat).

That said, some of the best moments are much less pointed, including the eerie "Time Zones" — an oddly entertaining bit about the number of time zones in the Soviet Union — and the short and surreal "Over the Hiccups," a bunnies-in-outer-space Claymation piece that is black comedy at its most brutal.

Yes, Negativland are as relentless — and self-referential — as ever on this DVD, and if you watch it for long enough, you’re bound to get annoyed at something. But when has that not been the case with this group? Even so, Our Favorite Things is one of the best things they’ve done in any format, with moments that are as jaw-dropping in their way as anything on the grisly Hated

Deep digs into rock’s catalogue


DVD Chrome Dreams’ Under Review DVD series is one of the better things to happen for music geekdom since 180-gram vinyl or the twofer CD reissue. Where else are you going to find sober analysis of Captain Beefheart’s mid-’70s tragic band period or an in-depth discussion of the four Mott the Hoople albums that came out before All the Young Dudes (Columbia, 1972)?

My first brush with the series came a couple of years ago, with one of the earliest installments, Queen under Review: 1973–1980. This was followed by a similar album-by-album chronicle of Thin Lizzy’s career, on a different label, Castle Rock. This pairing led me to believe the format was somehow linked to the ’70s hard rock phenomenon — but not so. Chrome Dreams has steadily continued to churn out these things, surveying a broad and occasionally head-scratching variety of artists including Beefheart, Mott, Leonard Cohen, the Velvet Underground, the Smiths, David Bowie (his late ’70s Berlin trilogy), and the Who (pre-Tommy).

The format for these videos is pretty simple: get a bunch of critics, producers, and musicians together to break down a given artist’s catalog; interweave audio and video excerpts; then tie it all together with official-sounding narration. (It’s a British series, so of course the narration sounds official.) Copyright restrictions keep the producers from relying too much on video, although there’s some great rare footage to be glimpsed, from weird videos and promotional clips to obscure live excerpts that you won’t see on VH1. They rarely interview the bands themselves, and when they do, it’s usually peripheral members such as Velvets stand-in Doug Yule or Smiths second guitarist Craig Gannon. There are also celebrity interviewees such as the Clash’s Mick Jones (in the Mott video), ’60s Brit-rock producer Shel Talmy, and Factory Records loudmouth Tony Wilson — though, thankfully, no Thurston Moore so far.

Then there are the critics, many of whom are colorful in their own right, and not just for their Austin Powers–worthy teeth. Among the more enjoyable characters are Kerrang!‘s hyperanimated Malcolm Dome, Mohawk-sporting motormouth John Robb, and the soft-spoken but likable Nigel Williamson, a writer for Uncut who appears in nearly every volume. The idea of likable critics might seem like an oxymoron, but while one might not always agree with the opinions they express, it’s hard to fault the enthusiasm or passion they show for the music.

One of the best things about this series is that it doesn’t go "behind the music." Rather, it — gasp! — talks about the music itself without dwelling on who slept with whom or who did what drugs. Under Review’s incisive commentary won’t be found in dumbed-down VH1 documentaries or, for that matter, sterile rock ‘n’ roll museum presentations like those at the Experience Music Project. These people know what they’re talking about. And as a fellow music geek, I find it oddly enjoyable to hear others enunciate elusive truths about music that hasn’t been played on the radio for decades — whether it’s Williamson’s description of Beefheart’s failed crossover attempt Bluejeans and Moonbeams (Mercury/Blue Plate, 1974) as "the worst of both worlds" or Daryl Easlea’s assertion — regarding original Mott the Hoople vocalist Stan Tippens — that "groups with lead singers named Stan tend not to make it big."

Anyhow, I’m hooked on the series, and at this point I’d probably watch a video on Nazareth or the post-’70s Foghat catalog. Those aren’t requests, though. (Will York)


Sickness in short order


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COMEDY DVD/CD When comedian Neil Hamburger appeared in the mid-’90s, he didn’t exactly burst onto the scene. He floundered, groaned, and groveled his way through jokes that have often been deemed intentionally bad. “It’s so bad it’s good!” went the typical assessment of the comedian’s act — an assessment that’s not only insensitive but also a bit simplistic. Hamburger may not have been the smoothest, most polished comedian, but no one tried harder or battled against longer odds, and his willingness to muddle forth in the face of repeated failure and humiliation was at least mildly inspiring.
Based on his early track record, Hamburger’s recent success — appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live, a role in an upcoming Jack Black movie, sold-out shows at the Hemlock Tavern — has been unexpected. Listen to his earliest albums, 1996’s America’s Funnyman and 1998’s Raw Hamburger (both Drag City), and you’ll find there’s not a lot of laughter. Groaning, hissing, clanking silverware, and ringing slot machines, yes. But not many genuine laughs. Since those days, his persistent cough has gotten worse, and his jokes have grown more offensive, yet his audiences have grown bigger. The younger rock ’n’ roll audiences he plays to have been much more receptive to his hard-R-rated humor as well as his Q&A-style delivery (“Why did God invent Gene Simmons? To boost sales of the morning-after pill”) than to the more observational musings of his earlier sets.
The recent Drag City DVD, The World’s Funnyman, offers a window into Hamburger’s evolution. The feature is more or less a typical Hamburger show circa anytime since 2003, featuring off-color jokes about Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other top stars. The highlights of the DVD, however, are relegated to the special features section: two minidocumentaries, Neil Hamburger in Australia and the Canadian-made America’s Funnyman, along with a video for his song “Seven-Elevens,” from the 2002 album Laugh Out Lord (Drag City). Best of all, though, is the black-and-white cinematic depiction of scenes from Left for Dead in Malaysia (Drag City, 1999), perhaps the darkest and most trying of Hamburger’s albums. Basically, the audience doesn’t understand a word he’s saying, but that doesn’t stop him from treating it like any show. After all, as he notes, “some things transcend the language barrier — like a disinterested audience.” The credits mention that this is a teaser for a feature-length film entitled Funny Guy–itis. If that’s true, then please, someone get this guy a movie deal and finish it, pronto.
There are those who claim that Neil Hamburger is actually the alter ego of former Amarillo Records head Gregg Turkington, but then again, these are the sort of folks who argue that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person, that Batman is really Bruce Wayne. There’s no hard evidence. Still, some of Hamburger’s most harped-upon themes are echoed on Turkington’s most recent efforts, on the Golding Institute’s Final Relaxation (Ipecac). Coproduced with Australian television producer Brendan Walls, the album is billed as “your ticket to death through hypnotic suggestion.” As the extremely creepy narrator, Turkington stresses that certain people are not qualified to participate, including “pregnant or lactating women” and “those who have booked expensive overseas vacations or plane tickets.”
Obviously, Final Relaxation is not 100 percent effective — otherwise I’d be writing this from beyond the grave. Still, the disc casts a disturbing enough pall over the listening environment, with Turkington offering up plenty of negative reinforcements (“You will not be able to cook like a television chef. Your time on earth will be spent failing”) and bizarre commands (“Please, please break some of the teeth in your head — for me”) amid Walls’s sickly electronic noises. It’s not a laugh-a-minute affair, but like many of Hamburger’s albums, it walks a fine line between cringe-inducing ineptitude and head-scratching ridiculousness. And yes, that’s an endorsement. SFBG

Sexy transmissions


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Low-flying Seattle ethnomusic label Sublime Frequencies has been in business for less than three years, but in that time established itself as easily the most happening label around in terms of hard-to-find music from overseas. In fact, it’s created a niche that didn’t even really exist before, steadily churning out kaleidoscopic and often in-your-face CDs and DVDs from places as far flung as Iraq, Java, North Korea, and Nepal, releases that are equally at home in the world music and experimental sections at a record store.
I don’t love everything they’ve put out, but I have listened to every note of the more than 20 CDs released so far — I’ve missed a few DVDs, I admit — and a handful of them have become personal favorites. Another half dozen have landed in heavy rotation on the home stereo at various points. I’ve especially enjoyed the label’s presentation of music from Southeast Asia, including two discs compiled by Bay Area musician Mark Gergis of Porest and Neung Phak — Molam: Thai Country Groove From Isan and Cambodian Cassette Archives: Khmer Folk and Pop Music Vol. 1 — and several more assembled by label head Alan Bishop of the Sun City Girls, including the frantic Radio Phnom Penh and last fall’s unstoppable Guitars of the Golden Triangle: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar Vol. 2. The massive amount of material the pair cull from radio, vinyl, cassettes, and field recordings is beyond the reach of most file sharers because the majority would have no idea where to start downloading, and Gergis and Bishop put out their findings without much information or regard for sound quality or marketability. What I like about the music on these discs is the blend of familiarity and strangeness, of traditional and modern influences.
The latest batch from Sublime Frequencies unleashes music from Algeria and Northeast Cambodia, as well as a couple of new ones from Thailand: a two-CD set titled Radio Thailand: Transmissions from the Tropical Kingdom and a DVD, Phi Ta Khan: Ghosts of Isan. Radio Thailand was compiled by Gergis and Bishop, who each produced a disc, and like all the label’s Radio titles, it is a fast-paced collage of music, advertisements, and news snippets spliced together from hours of radio broadcast recordings. Segues are abrupt at times, and the fidelity varies wildly. While the experience as a whole is like watching TV while someone else is wielding the remote, at least the content is more interesting than flipping between, say, VH1, Court TV, and lame reality shows.
Listening to Radio Thailand’s second disc, I’m struck by the futility of trying to describe this music in any sort of useful detail. I don’t know the artists’ names, the song titles, or the years any of the music was released. I can’t understand the lyrics and don’t know the names of most of the genres or subgenres represented. Now and then a familiar snippet pops up, like the tune from Ennio Morricone’s theme to For a Few Dollars More — only it’s dressed up in low-budget ’80s synth tones and slapped on top of a disco beat with a guy singing a completely unrelated melody during the verses. There are syrupy ballads, droning a cappella chants, and lots of bouncy ’80s synth pop that sounds absolutely nothing like New Order. Now and then, a voice in English emerges from the wilderness, but it’s inevitably a non sequitur: an announcement for a giant catfish fry, a report on the quality of Thai rubber, a woman announcing, “I have 20 minutes left with you guys, at least. Like, 22 minutes. No, 21 minutes and something.” Unless you’ve been to Thailand and spent hours flipping through the radio dial — and I certainly haven’t — then you probably haven’t heard anything like this.
In contrast to the information onslaught of Radio Thailand, the recent DVD Phi Ta Khan: Ghosts of Isan is far more deliberate in its pacing. Produced by Rob Millis of the Seattle group Climax Golden Twins, the video documents a three-day festival in the northern Thai region of Isan, near the border with Laos. This region is the home of the hypnotic, droning molam style featured on the aforementioned Thai Country Groove CD, and there’s plenty of that music to be heard here. There’s zero narration and Millis doesn’t employ any fancy production tricks, but none of that is needed, as the costumes, dancing, and music are colorful enough on their own. In addition to the religious-occult focus of the festival, there’s also apparently a fertility ritual at work, judging by the vast assortment of phallic symbols on hand: handheld penises, wooden penis puppets with movable parts, you name it. One particularly bizarre scene involves two men trying to repair the damaged member belonging to one of the giant costumed mascots.
The incredible music here ranges from giant percussion ensembles composed of ordinary villagers to full-on electrified combos rolling down the street on the back of flatbed trucks equipped with generators and huge stacks of speakers. At one point, a nasty fuzz-tone keyboard sound surfaces amid the din, but before you can ask, “Where did that come from?” it turns out to be nothing but a Casio being run through a couple of battered PA cones on the back of a moving pickup truck. This scene, like the entire DVD, embodies the sort of low-budget mayhem at the heart of the label’s seat-of-the-pants aesthetic. You won’t find this stuff at Starbucks. SFBG
Fri/14, 8 p.m.
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
(415) 824-3890
Sat/15, 9:30 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923

Music for nothing


› a&eletters@sfbg.com We’re living in a golden age of commercial radio in the Bay Area: It’s now possible to hear “Brandy” by Looking Glass on at least four stations. Ladies and gentlemen, meet 95.7 Max FM, the station that plays whatever it wants, whenever it feels like it, as long as it was a Top 40 hit between 1970 and 1995. Max FM, the station that never plays the same song in the same day, as long as you don’t consider John Cougar Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” and Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Heart of Rock ’n’ Roll” to be the same song. Max FM is part of the wider “Variety Hits” movement that’s been shaking up the airwaves in the last two years. Countless FM stations are firing their on-air talent and concocting identities based on computer-generated playlists and smart-assy yet avuncular personas. Usually played by a single vaguely familiar commercial actor, the voice-overs provide the attitude during the seemingly endless interstitials that have replaced the human DJs. The personae’s names vary — Jack, Bob, Max — but they share a certain rock-solid, Rotary Club cachet. They’re names scientists give to captive chimps. Names of high-end teddy bears. Names that survivors of ritual abuse give to their multiple personalities. Guy names. Whatever the local moniker, the Jack-Bob-Ben-Dave-Max aesthetic is multifaceted, encompassing everything from Adult Hits to Variety Alternative to Adult Variety. Granted, the playlist is a cut below what you might find on Cameron Crowe’s Ultimate Megamix: it’s Don Henley and Billy Squier instead of the Eagles and Led Zeppelin. Still, there’s an element of surprise in the so-called “train wreck” segues that are the format’s bread and butter. Stick around for long enough and you’ll hear blues (the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “Tuff Enuff”), Afrobeat (Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al”), and even reggae (the first 10 seconds of the Police’s “Roxanne”) — possibly all within the same set. What follows is an attempt to crack the Variety Hits–slash–Max FM code in one nonstop 24-hour sitting. CHRONOLOGY 7:58 p.m. First four songs: Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” An earnest heartland vibe, but nothing too objectionable so far. 8:35 p.m. Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” One of the station’s mottoes is “Max FM: The songs you forgot you remembered,” and they’re not joking. When you hear the guitars break in, you realize just how kick-ass this song really is. Just kidding. Oliver Sacks should write a book about those of us who are immune to the chill that shoots down the spine after recognizing the first three chords. 9:23 p.m. Following a whopping 16 consecutive male artists, token female-fronted act Blondie weighs in with “The Tide is High” — followed by the Boss, U2, and Elton John. The male-heavy playlist reinforces our image of the archetypal Max FM listener as a dude who bought one of the first CD players in the mid-’80s and then built his collection around a string of strategic BMG and Columbia House memberships: lots of greatest hits collections, lots of middling white-guy rock. 10:18 p.m. Parliament’s “We Want the Funk.” This one came out of left field. “I really wanted to hate this station,” admits Will York. “But I have to say, I like a solid one-fourth of the songs they play.” For the record, this is the second song by an African American artist in three hours. The first: Phil Bailey, in collaboration with Phil Collins on the soul-dead classic “Easy Lover.” 11:18 p.m. King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight.” Haven’t heard this one in a while. Another musty oldie-but-sure-enough goodie. 11:35 p.m. Just when you start to fall in love with the station, they turn around and blast you right in the package with some insipid ’80s fossil like Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” 11:39 p.m. And they follow it up with Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F.” Wow. Music at its worst. 11:42 p.m. Interstitial: “Max FM. We break all the rules.” Do they call “shotgun!” while they’re still eating dinner? If it’s yellow, do they not let it mellow? What is so anarchic about a computer that plays Top 40 hits? 12:46 a.m. Night suddenly takes turn for the better when housemate arrives with partially eaten Middle Eastern platter found on the street. Pita gone. Lots of hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ghanoush left. Embodying the anything goes spirit of Max FM, Jay and Will decide to eat it. 12:52 a.m. Night takes turn for the grotesque: Will finds part of a severed thumb with a nail through it buried in the hummus. U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” plays in the background. 1:22 a.m. Actual listener phone call: “Even the guy I share an office with is, like, ‘What station is that?’>” You can picture them tuning in and hoping for an “Eye of the Tiger” to get them pumped up to go duke it out with the yahoos down in accounts receivable. P.S. Calling a radio station that doesn’t have a DJ is like writing a letter to Ronald McDonald — pathetic. 2:02 a.m. Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way.” Delirium is slowly descending, as the conversation starts to resemble dialogue from a Philip K. Dick novel: WILL: Is that from Frampton Comes Alive? JAY: What isn’t from Frampton Comes Alive? WILL: Good point. 2:36 a.m. Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” A challenging game to play while listening to Max FM: Name the Weird Al Yankovic Version of That Tune. He’s parodied a good 20 percent of the station’s playlist, including this one. 2:40 a.m. Interstitial: “You never know what you’re going to hear next on Max FM!” Maybe not, but at this point, it’s far more likely to be an Eddie Money song than, say, a James Gang deep cut or an excerpt from Malcolm X’s “Keep That White Man’s Claws off Our Women” speech. 3:28 a.m. Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Exhaustion setting in. Will is now listening to pirated George Carlin MP3s on his laptop; Jay is playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and starting to hallucinate. Sky still dark as the night continues. 3:46 a.m. Actual listener phone call: “I thought my girlfriend was playing music from my CD collection, but it turned out to be Max FM. Keep up the good work!” Dear listener: You might want to head down to the Money Mart at 16th Street and Valencia, because it appears the hobo with the CDs lined up against the wall is unloading your “collection” at 25 cents a pop. 5:15 a.m. K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty.” If there’s one word to describe this station’s music, it’s Caucasian. Jay and Will haven’t felt this uncomfortable being white since the Rodney King verdict. 5:22 a.m. Mike and the Mechanics’ “Silent Running.” The face in the mirror is not my own, thinks Jay. I am gazing into the five o’clock shadow of a serial killer. 7:02 a.m. Interesting batch of songs in the last 45 minutes: “Time” by the Alan Parsons Project, “Clocks” by Coldplay, and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago. The computer that programs these songs appears to be signaling for help in cleaning up some residual Y2K issues. 8:41 a.m. The Beatles’ “Get Back.” They play one Beatles song, and it’s hands down one of their worst ever. 9:06 a.m. Ambrosia’s “You’re the Only Woman.” The next person Will meets who actually wants to hear an Ambrosia song on the radio will be the first. 12:44 p.m. Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to Be Square.” There’s a very real possibility that Jay will be handcuffed to a gurney by the end of this experiment. 1:43 p.m. Genesis’ “Invisible Touch.” Will feels like Chevy Chase in European Vacation, only instead of pointing out, “Big Ben! Parliament!” he’s muttering “Phil Collins … Genesis.” Six more hours. 3:37 p.m. Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.” Never question the Elton Joel Theorem: “If a station plays Elton John, then it also plays Billy Joel.” It took a while, but Joel is officially on the board — although Elton still leads the competition, four to one. 4:23 p.m. “I put a moratorium on crap,” announces Max FM voice-over specialist John O’Hurley, a.k.a. J. Peterman from Seinfeld. Unfortunately, the moratorium lasts just 0.7 seconds, as the next song is Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off.” 6:31 p.m. In the last hour: Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” and “The Heart of the Matter.” It’s simply impossible to underestimate Henley’s place in the Max FM pantheon. His Building the Perfect Beast and The End of the Innocence are the Sgt. Pepper’s and “White Album” of the Variety Hits genre. 7:56 p.m. Bruce Hornsby’s “Mandolin Rain.” This plain vanilla piano ballad marks a fitting end to a day of plain vanilla music. Having come out on the other side, Jay and Will can empathize with the character from the French plantation scene in Apocalypse Now Redux who described the Vietnam War as “the biggest nothing in history.” SFBG

“Fab Mab Reunion”


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April 8, Fillmore

LOCAL LIVE "Typical Flipper," Flipper frontperson Bruce Loose quipped at one point during the band’s set at the recent "Fab Mab Reunion." Not to suggest that Flipper don’t know what they’re doing they do. But dotting is never were top priorities for them. Their improbable, ragged, and yet ultimately triumphant return to the Fillmore April 8 was a case in point, featuring its share of false starts, wrong notes, and out-of-sync vocals, along with a bass amp on the verge of crapping out throughout their approximately 40-minute set. "Know your history," Loose added at another point in the show.

Speaking of history, fellow showgoers who had actually experienced the legendary Mabuhay Gardens back in its late-’70s/early-’80s heyday remarked that the most authentic part of the show was MC Dirk Dirksen. His rambling, semicoherent monologues, which included a roll call of the dead that made reference to deceased Flipper member "Will Shatner [sic]," drew groans and heckles, as well as a bona fide noogie from Loose at one point.

On the other side of the coin, in terms of historical accuracy, were the Avengers and the Jeff Penaltyfronted Dead Kennedys. The Avengers’ set had a decidedly mall-punk feel to it, sounding more like third-generation MTV punks than a class of old-school ’77 graduates. As for the controversial DKs, at least Penalty brought a touch of surreal ridiculousness as he bounded onstage, manically hopped around, and even went so far as to slyly beckon applause with a "come on, come on" hand gesture. One might have expected him to be dodging beer bottles instead.

But with all due respect to the Mutants we walked in with just a couple of songs left in their set of solid-sounding, if somewhat quaint, set of Sex Pistolsish punk Flipper were the highlight of the evening. Just over a year ago, the remaining members from the band’s classic early-’80s lineup Loose, drummer Steve DePace, and guitarist Ted Falconi were barely on speaking terms, so to see them onstage together and clearly enjoying themselves was great in itself; the fact that they sounded like themselves, not like a slick facsimile, was even better. Filling in for Shatter was unofficial fifth member and longtime utility player Steve DeMartis, who turned in an intense vocal performance on "Shine." Elsewhere, Loose who dyed his hair bright blond for the occasion handled the mic with his trademark sarcasm and lovable obnoxiousness, tossing off trademark lines like "Forget it, you wouldn’t understand anyway."

They opened with unlikely sing-along "Ha Ha Ha," stumbled through the Shatter anthem "Life," and played zero songs from their Shatter-less 1993 Warner Bros. album, American Grafishy. The set closed with a barely recognizable rendition of "Flipper Blues" and a sped-up, runaway-train version of "Sex Bomb" with original session-player Ward Abronski of Polkacide on tenor sax.

Yes, there were rough edges, but as far as their sense of humor, focused sloppiness, and don’t-give-a-damn attitude went, it was indeed typical Flipper. And that’s a good thing.  SFBG

Eat the old


THERE’S NOTHING LIKE  in-the-moment enthusiasm to make you lose critical perspective. I can think of a hundred albums that have excited me to the point of thinking, "This is the best band ever." That a handful of those albums belong to early-’70s-era Funkadelic makes it that much harder to be unbiased, especially since the recent reissues of their Westbound Records catalog have been parked in my disc changer for the past month.

 So when I call Funkadelic the best rock band of the early ’70s, I’m aware of the possible hyperbole – but I still think I’m right. Yet the recent reissue of their first seven studio albums – with liner notes, original artwork, remastered sound, and bonus tracks – is the first time these records have been given the archival treatment they deserve. Funkadelic and Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow (both 1970), Maggot Brain (1971), Cosmic Slop (1973), and Standing on the Verge of Getting It On (1974) are all start-to-finish classics in my book, with the transitional, uneven America Eats Its Young and the more casual, jam-oriented Let’s Take It to the Stage just a notch below them.

 Taken together, these albums represent an amazing progression of sounds and styles, from acid rock, Detroit soul, and studio-based psychedelia on the earlier ones to heavy funk-rock, sicko novelty songs, and soaring R&B ballads on the next few. There are also hints – especially on America and Stage – of the anthemic funk style that sister band Parliament and the later, slicker version of Funkadelic made famous, but not as many as newcomers or casual P-Funk fans might expect. After all, I remember how surprised and blown away I was when I heard Maggot Brain’s proto-metal masterpiece "Super Stupid" for the first time. I had only heard a Parliament greatest-hits CD before, and I somehow thought I knew e xactly what this whole P-Funk business was all about. Boy, was I wrong.

 One of the remarkable aspects of the Westbound-era Funkadelic is the sheer variety of their music. Commercially, this variety probably worked against them – as if there weren’t enough strikes already against an acid-dropping, guitar-wielding black rock band with a bunch of uncredited vocalists and no true lead vocalist. But the range encompassed in these albums is part of what gives them depth and makes them so interesting to listen to over and over. Funny songs, angry songs, sad songs, uplifting songs – they did ’em all equally well, thanks to leader, producer, and chief songwriter George Clinton’s casting instincts as well as the vast pool of talent he had on hand.

 It’s true of the much-lauded Maggot Brain as well as the purposefully slicker Cosmic Slop. In addition to Clinton’s grim Vietnam War monologue on "March to the Witch’s Castle," Slop includes a tasteless recounting of a transvestite groupie encounter ("No Compute") followed by an old-school R&B tearjerker ("This Broken Heart") – a remarkable contrast that gives both songs a resonance they wouldn’t have just on their own. Such contrasts are one reason why you can’t just buy a greatest-hits album and get what Funkadelic were about. They were an albums band, not a singles band – in contrast to Parliamen t, which made several fine albums but excelled more at making concise, catchy dance-floor anthems.

 The liner notes to these reissues do a helpful job of sorting out the group’s confusing, on-again, off-again personnel changes. After Maggot Brain, the lineup changed so much that Funkadelic was less a "band" than a conglomerate (although not nearly as loose a conglomerate as the P-Funk All-Stars touring act). This revolving-door cast included legends such as guitar shredder Eddie Hazel and keyboardist-arranger Bernie Worrell, as well as lesser-known heroes like drummer Tiki Fulwood and vocalist-guitarist Gary Shider, a VIP on the post-Maggot Brain albums. America Eats Its Young alone includes some 40 musicians and vocalists, while the others average around 10. (Yes, bass icon Bootsy Collins is one of them, but he wasn’t a major player until later, beginning with Let’s Take It to the Stage.)

If you’re an old fan who’s just interested in bonus tracks, Funkadelic, with its many alternate versions and B-sides, and Maggot Brain, with its alternate, full-band mix of the monumental title track, are the standouts. If you haven’t heard these albums, just start with the first and go in chronological order from there, skipping America Eats Its Young and saving it until after you’ve heard Cosmic Slop and Standing on the Verge. (America is less of an a rchetypal Funkadelic LP and more of a hodgepodge of various P-Funk ideas.) I love ’em all, though, and  will continue to generate hyperbole on the band’s behalf until stations like the Bone drop the Guess Who and Grand Funk Railroad and start playing "Super Stupid" and "Funk Dollar Bill," or until journalists quit perpetuating the booty-shaking party-band aspect of Clinton and company’s legacy at the expense of all the other incredible music they made. Don’t hold your breath.