SF Weekly's
Alternative Music Awards
Saturday, November 16, 1996
7:30 p.m. at the Transmission Theater
Celebration and Awards Ceremony hosted by M.I.R.V.
Live performances by Jim Campilongo, Liar, and the Invisible Skratch Picklz

Open-to-the-public Music Showcase starting at 10 p.m. with live performances by M.I.R.V. and Mensclub

As many a tourist has pointed out, San Francisco has one of the greatest music scenes in the country. At first glance, it might seem that Bay Area locals have become spoiled by this embarrassment of riches; what outsiders fail to realize is that most San Franciscans were not born San Franciscans, and not a day goes by when we don't thank our lucky stars for the music on every corner. With such burgeoning nightlife, it is not surprising that a little ol' music awards ceremony like the WAMMIES could generate so much enthusiasm from musicians and so much eager participation from the local music aficionados. While this year's gifted nominees don't need awards to prove their talent, it is a great privilege for us to be able to acknowledge them when it most counts -- before that big record deal. Big thanks go out to all the bookers, promoters, indie labels, journalists, club owners, and DJs who helped us nominate the bands. Thanks also to all of our readers who diligently filled out their ballots and mailed them back (there were more than ever this year). Most of all, thanks to all of the musicians (especially the ballot stuffers -- you tickle us) who perform night after night. You make the city hum.

-- Silke Tudor

Americana/Roots

Box Set
Filling in quite nicely (along with Phish and the Mother Hips) for the Grateful Dead, and appealing to the tastes of latter-day hippies all along this side of the Pacific Rim, Box Set pursues music to soothe and rhythms that move. Intricate guitars weave with tuneful vocals in pleasant counterpoint, and untroubling lyrics provide the odd wistful nod. Nothing produced by the songwriting team of Jim Brunberg and Jeff Pehrson, who often perform as an acoustic duo, will blemish your acid trip or your microbrew buzz; the rhythm section (in the band's electric incarnation) lays down a relaxed groove that shakes tail feathers but leaves ponytails intact. With naturals like Box Set, Deadheads can rest assured that running barefoot on the grass at outdoor festivals will persist well into the next century.

-- Meltya Chabit

Jim Campilongo & the 10 Gallon Cats
"Countrypolitan" was what they used to call artists like Patsy Cline and Ray Price, who gussied up their down-home musical backgrounds with the ubiquitous string sections and vocal chorales of Hit Parade radio circa 1961. Every Thursday night, the Paradise Lounge hosts what could be called the contemporary, Bay Area version of countrypolitan: Jim Campilongo & the 10 Gallon Cats, a quartet of sharp-dressed rubes from as far south as the airport. They can't fit string sections or choruses on the minuscule stage upstairs at the Paradise -- pedal steel player Joe Goldmark is usually sitting out amid a sea of cafe tables -- but Telecaster virtuoso Campilongo needs little help embellishing his mind-scrambling fretwork. His comprehensive grasp of innumerable styles, from cornfed boogie to luscious jazz to Link Wray/Duane Eddy stomps, ensures that his band stays as supple as a pair of well-oiled, rattlesnake-hide shitkickers. For lack of a better term, Campilongo calls his band's style "cowboy jazz"; it ain't really cowboy, and it ain't really jazz, but it sure is a boot in the seat of the pants.

-- James Sullivan

Naked Barbies
For over five years the Naked Barbies have been charming the pants off of East Bay music lovers. While their dark, dreamy sets don't make it to this side of the water nearly often enough, they have maintained a stalwart San Francisco fan base. Devotees were rewarded earlier this year when the Barbies put out their second album, Tarnished, which drips with honey-sweet yearning, deep-seated surrender, and an ode to Roy Orbison. On occasion, lead singer Patty Spiglanin will remind locals of Tarnation's Paula Frazer at her Gothic country best; but while Spiglanin tugs on heartstrings with haunting fervor, she is also quite at home flouncing her way through a frisky rockabilly tune or two, leaving the final impression of a morose, modern-day Patsy Cline. Spiglanin's band of talented multi-instrumentalists matches her in texture and depth with mandolin, accordion, organ, tambourine, pedal steel, and the occasional egg.

-- Silke Tudor

Blues/R&B

Alvin Youngblood Hart
Born Gregory E. Hart, Alvin (as in the cartoon chipmunk) Youngblood Hart first discovered Son House while reading a book at the age of 10. Although blues was not popular with kids in sunny California, Hart's road was already laid before him. By 14, he was playing guitar seriously, even lending his skill to a few garage bands. During high school, Hart's family moved to Chicago, where blues was the reigning musical currency. Albums by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Bukka White, and Charley Patton confirmed Hart's love of the acoustic country blues of the Mississippi Delta. While stationed on a riverboat outside Carrollton, Miss., during a stint in the Coast Guard, Hart began sitting in at the local ruffian bar, playing music for tips. At the end of his enlistment in 1993, Hart found himself in Berkeley working at a record store and playing music whenever and wherever he could. A four-night opening slot at Yoshi's put him in touch with Michael Nash and Carey Williams, who got him signed to the blues-based OKeh label. This year's debut, Big Mama's Door, found the young musician tapping into the traditions of his ancestors without compromise. Although most of the album was penned by his own hand, there is no unnecessary nod to contemporary music. Hart's voice, songwriting, and picking style come about as close to the Delta as you can get without getting your feet wet.

-- Silke Tudor

Preacher Boy & the Natural Blues
The infectious energy and sod-under-the-fingernails grit of Preacher Boy Chris Watkins' music makes a strong case for grounding modern electric blues on acoustic bedrock. The leader's whiskey-scarred vocals (mined from the same gravel tracks as Blind Willie Johnson or Tom Waits) and core string-picking (on a gang of instruments from National Steel to mandolin) ensure a rural earthiness amid his group's urban rhythms and amped-up bass and guitars. But just as the early bluesmen struggled to maintain community by trying to reconcile the raunchy rep of the entertainer's life with the "right thing" of the church, Watkins faces similar disharmony among some of the elder brothers on the circuit who challenge the authenticity of his pale-faced blues. This is a lowdown shame given Watkins' full-range commitment to the music and vigilant props to legendary figures like Charley Patton, Son House, and Robert Johnson. Preacher Boy and a revolving lineup of respected locals (at times including virtuosic reed player Ralph Carney, harp player Big Bones, and guitarist Jim Campilongo) burn through generations and geographies -- from Kansas City to Mississippi to Appalachia to New Orleans -- with a rare naturalness. Be assured: This is the real thing.

-- Sam Prestianni

The Supernaturals
Just as the East Bay R&B revival group the Loved Ones were becoming poster boys for the '60s eternalizers at KFOG, bandleader Bart Davenport stripped the wall bare and whitewashed it, clearing the way for a new work in progress. Not so relentlessly period-piece as the earlier band, the Supernaturals have worked out a blend of soulful vamps, original pop chestnuts, and imitation bossa novas that has earned the group a regular spot on the monthly calendar at the fancy-shmancy supper club Bruno's. Guitarist Xan McCurdy, another former Loved One, is masterful at keeping cigarette smoke out of his eyes while coaxing cafe stylings from his instrument. The group's incorporation of organ and trombone has opened up a gusher of peppy possibilities. "For the turn of the century, music has to take on a more magical quality," Davenport says. He's conscious of that portion of his audience that was just beginning to feel comfortable with the Loved Ones when they were taken away: "I knew that my credibility was totally on the line. If you break up a good thing, you had better do something great." Thus far, he's proven his instincts impeccable.

-- James Sullivan

Hard Rock

The Clarke Nova
Demonstrating a metallic chordal attack stripped of the one-string galloping that too often passes for riffs among actual metal bands, the Clarke Nova knows that hard music hits best when big, dumb, and direct. Frontman Matt Jervis is a screamer, not a singer, and proud of it. His lyrics (like those from "Chocolate Bar") seem drawn directly from some primal meld where eloquence is for sissies: "You treat me like you think I'm stupid/ But you love me 'cause you think I'm stupid/ What am I supposed to do?" Not that there's not a brain at the Nova's heart, or some equally screwed-up anatomy that couldn't survive outside of mixed metaphor. The tasty spy-movie noodling that opens ... Finally hints at surveillance and sedition, revealing the band's dumbness to be the clever sort.

-- Meltya Chabit

Mensclub
Ten reasons to listen to Mensclub instead of Grand Funk Railroad:
1) A sweaty 25-year-old guy with his shirt off is more visually appealing than a half-naked 45-year-old.

2) They have big hair, but without receding hairlines.
3) They would never write earnest peacemongering lyrics like: "If we had a president that did just what he said/ The country would be just all right and no one would be dead."

4) At least one of them used to be a bike messenger.
5) They do the riff-rock trio jam thing to a T, but also pick up the pace for today's lively "point-and-click" generation.

6) They do songs about '70s bumper stickers: "Ass, Gas, or Grass (nobody rides for free)."

7) If you're getting tired of Grand Funk's monosyllabic names of "Mark, Don, and Mel," you can settle into the refreshing variation of "Ron, Tom, and Jon."

8) They do a tribute to Grand Funk called "G.F.M.C. (Grand Funk Men's Club)." You don't see Grand Funk reciprocating.

9) Instead of hacking their way through '50s oldies and Stones songs, Mensclub wisely avoids cover tunes.

10) Their CDs are more expensive -- no "Nice Price" stickers -- which makes a more impressive gift.

-- Johnny DiPayola

M.I.R.V.
Never mind the cheeky allusions to lawn bowling, the songs about goat suckers and monkey boys, the snappy metal riffs, the stirring (and incongruous) ballad from the Old Country, or even the fact that they're hosting this year's WAMMIES awards ceremony. What makes M.I.R.V. such a worthy ticket is that they're 1) funny, and 2) capable of writing and playing good, hard music. Had you asked that of any other wacky sorts whose careers centered around the union of humor and metal (such as Gwar, Ugly Kid Joe, or Scatterbrain, if you remember the names), you would have drawn stares as vacant as the premise. Yes, booger and boobie jokes can be good for the occasional titter, but as a shtick -- a sole basis for performance -- they rapidly form a cold, stale crust. Perhaps the beauty of a M.I.R.V. live show comes from the lack of any solid (and limiting) shtick; their piss-off irreverence would prohibit such pomp. Maybe they even wear those Hawaiian shirts around the house.

-- Michael Batty

Hip Hop

Invisible Skratch Picklz
While the Bay Area talent has earned a name -- not to mention millions of dollars -- for its stereotypical "gangsta"- or "reality"-based rap a la Too $hort, Spice-1, Master P, E40, 2Pac, etc., the "turntable band" known as the Invisible Skratch Picklz -- made up of break-dancers, graffiti artists, beat-boxers, and, of course, DJs -- has gone against the grain by returning to the roots of hip-hop culture. "We look at hip hop as an art form that needs to be preserved and respected, not exploited," says dedicated Picklz manager Alex Aquino, who has been "down" with the Filipino/Frisco crew since they started out a decade ago. The multitalented extended group, including Q-Bert, Mix Master Mike, Apollo, Shortkut, and Disk, who recently left to form a band with Buckethead, has been busy winning DJ battle contests all over the world, doing concerts, putting out mix tapes and records, and collaborating with a diverse array of musicians, including Bill Laswell, Branford Marsalis, Dr. Octogon (aka Kool Keith), Ras Kass, Saafir, and MCM & the Monster; all the while keeping the art form of the "turntablist" alive. "When we perform live we use a lot of turntable orchestration and sound manipulation, usually with three DJs on three turntables," says Q-Bert. The group's latest project is an engaging, soon-to-be-released EP titled The Invisible Skratch Picklz vs. the Clams of Death.

-- Billy Jam, Hip Hop Slam

The Marginal Prophets
K2 and the Noble Def G, the black and Jewish tag team behind the Marginal Prophets, are once again making hip hop safe for post-college slackers with minds full of academic pop culture and lungs full of pot. "We didn't grow up in the 'hood, so we don't write about the 'hood," says K2. Instead, the raps off their self-released Twist the Nob sound like 20 different simultaneous conversations percolating over a haphazardly stocked jukebox at your standard Mission watering hole. The first cut, "Phat in the Whole," kicks off with a massive sample from Camper Van Beethoven's "Pictures of Matchstick Men," while the duo name-checks Utne Reader, "Grace Slick Rick," and the Knack before explaining a date's prudishness "'cause The Simpsons was on." Later the pop-culture joy ride rolls through Franz Liszt, Travis Bickle (of Taxi Driver fame), and Truffaut with a soundtrack lifted from the Beastie Boys, The The, and the overture to Jesus Christ Superstar. Like any sluiced conversation, Twist the Nob courses from sex to Sega and from Thomas Nagel to Lender's bagels. To quote the Prophets, the mix has "got more flavor than a green Jolly Rancher."

-- Jeff Stark

Rollo's Kitchen
Since forming two years ago, the unique San Francisco sextet Rollo's Kitchen has graced every kind of bill: from punk rock warehouse parties to hard-core rap shows (with the likes of such gangsta rap acts as Ill Mannered Posse and 11/5) to opening for born-again Christians Run-D.M.C. At each of these diverse settings, the self-described "hip-hop band" -- comprised of superswift DJ Foul Ball, rappers Mr. 12 Letter and Mark D., and the funk-fueled power trio of bassist Kurt, drummer Roman, and guitarist Greg -- somehow manages to effortlessly win over its audiences. With two demo tapes, a 20-song repertoire, and a constant live schedule, Rollo's Kitchen has developed a strong local following. Their often-inspired performances take advantage of the fact that, unlike most hip-hop acts, they are not a "DAT" group but rather a live and spontaneous act. Shows usually end in one big, fun freestyle jam, with every rapper and wannabe in the house jumping up onstage to showcase his or her mike skills.

-- Billy Jam, Hip Hop Slam

Jazz

Junk
Junk facetiously skews the acid-jazz paradigm with a simple equation: jazz + funk = Junk. But baritone saxophonist David Robbins, guitarist David Schumacher, bassist Frank Swart, and drummer Malcolm Peoples argue that while their music involves aspects of both genres, it rigidly follows neither. But it would be easy to turn the band's cleverness on its rear. One could reasonably claim that Junk ain't sweaty or nasty enough to be down with the funk, and they don't swing or improvise so mightily yet to have earned their jazz stripes. When one considers the quartet's lengthy tenure at Eleven, the posh SOMA restaurant known for its lite fare and lite "jazz" (unobtrusive supper music), the cynic's inclination is to dis the band out of hand. But that kind of attitude won't deter Junk's mission, for they harbor no self-delusion. After all, Junk is Junk -- make of them what you will. And even though they're not quite funk and not "real" jazz, Junk's stone-chilly grooves are plenty cool for this ol' town.

-- Sam Prestianni

Oranji Symphonette
Since kitsch is now considered high art among the fashionably hip, it makes sense that lounge and other questionably legit musics of yore vie for the spotlight in the music marketplace. Oranj Symphonette, a veritable supergroup of Bay Area improvisers led by cellist/bassist Matt Brubeck (and including guitarist Joe Gore, multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carney, drummer Scott Amendola, and organist/accordionist Rob Burger), stands out among the hapless Esquivel wannabes with a truly ingenious concept: The band revives soundtracks by the late Hollywood composer Henry Mancini. At first glance, tunes such as "The Pink Panther Theme" and "March of the Cue Balls" may not seem like germane vehicles for "serious" improvisation, but this group could probably improv seriously around a dial tone. And, despite their kitschy rep, Oranj Symphonette's debut album, Plays Mancini, proves that these fun-filled scores offer solid and even striking melodic foundations for inspired improv development. Underscoring this point, Gore says that even though "there's a lot of humor in our approach to Mancini, there's nothing campy or ironic about it." He insists, "It's music of real substance."

-- Sam Prestianni

Rova Saxophone Quartet
Unquestionably the most significant jazz/new-music group in the Bay Area, Rova Saxophone Quartet (with Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Steve Adams, and Bruce Ackley) merges conceptual sophistication with passionate vitality. Since 1978, the band has recorded nearly two dozen albums and performed all over the world, embracing the tenor of the times and pushing forward with a seamless integration of closed (composed) and open (improvised) forms. Ackley calls their innovative work a "particularly American hybrid" that encompasses the "declaration" and power of hard rock, the "rhythmic speech quality" of rap, various blues approaches, the full jazz traditions (sans overworked bebop), and 20th-century classical languages of composers like Xenakis, Stockhausen, and Cage. The group revels in constant metamorphoses of structure, rhythm, timbre, tempo, volume, and spellbinding melody. Although they sometimes blow with cross-town-traffic intensity, they've been known to temper the uproar with iridescent pianissimo passages. Much to the delight of adventurous music-seekers, the quartet also employs a full range of extended techniques as springboards for improvisation. These include unpredictable aggregates of rapid-fire polyphony, player-conducted game pieces using cue cards, and numerous other collage methods. Clearly, Rova's commitment to invention is absolute.

-- Sam Prestianni

Latin

Avance
This youthful 12-piece salsa band features a rico suave three-singer front line that's molding a romantico mix of contemporary rhythm and blues and Afro-Cuban music. Directed by Santana percussionist Karl Perazzo, Avance has been packing local Latin dance palaces for over two years and has just released its debut CD, Adelante, on Mona Records. Drawing from the songbooks of both Brian McKnight and Kool & the Gang, lead singer Armando Cordoba sounds like a revved-up bilingual Babyface. Add the steps, the vocal lineup, and a churning rhythm section, and you'll be thinking the Barrio Boyz just met Eddie Palmieri.

-- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

El Camino Cha Cha Orchestra
Vintage cha-chas and '60s boogaloo with a touch of "exotica" are the fortes of this mini-big band with two saxes, two trombones, and a trumpet. Drawing from the classic charts of Perez Prado, Xavier Cugat, Tito Puente, and others, the band has been wowing audiences at places like Bruno's, the Chameleon, Kilowatt, and the Make-Out Room. Led by Don Allen of Radio Valencia, their total dance groove and long deep jams re-create that euphoric, almost hypnotic call-and-response that was part of the original mambo ballroom frenzy. With versions of "Que Rico Mambo," "Quiere," "Miserlou," and "Taboo" (the Arthur Lyman rendition), expect volcanoes to erupt, lava lamps to swirl, and martinis to tinkle. One, two, cha-cha-cha ....

-- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Mission Project
Co-led by reed player Herman Clark and pianist Ramon Lazo, this band (obviously based in the Mission District) released a challenging debut this year on Polymorph Inc. Arrival, like the band, swings with hints of hard bop and an acid-jazz mambo edge. They graced the San Jose Jazz Festival, and tore the place up when percussion titan Armando Peraza sat in this summer at KCSM's Jazz on the Hill in San Mateo. The teamwork of trap drummer Alan Hall and congero Adrian Areas (the youngest son of ex-Santana timbalero Chepito) is the key to their cool, yet explosive Cubop Latin jazz sound. Solid, hard-blowing improvisers, they groove over potent originals like "Dolores Park" and "Fear and Loathing in the Mission" with odd meters, progressive harmonics, and masterful chops.

-- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Punk

A.F.I.
Berkeley's Asking For It (better known by their initials) could become hugely popular if they're not careful. Hopefully I won't hear their songs playing in pickup trucks next time I'm in Indiana, like I've heard Green Day's. While their Nitro release Very Proud of Ya is excellent, they're too fast, too fierce -- a band only punks could like. A prime example of East Bay hardcore, A.F.I.'s sound is tight and relentless, but with enough melody to hook the listener. The typical A.F.I. live show is a zoo of stage-diving and head-surfing, with the mostly male crowd yelling choruses and pumping fists, goaded on by diminutive dynamo vocalist Davey Havok. Tim Armstrong of Rancid proclaimed them "the best band in the East Bay right now"; we'll see whether the voters agree.

-- Gary X. Indiana

The Loudmouths
In true San Fran tradition, the Loudmouths, "a cartoon band come to life," are a beer-drinkin' kind of group, born of bars, basements, and parties that always get raided. Like their name suggests, they're pretty damn loud, verging on aural overload, and their trash-punk-psychocore songs sound on the brink of flying out of control. Nothing on their self-titled New Red Archives release sums up their spirit quite like the priceless lyrics from the song "Creature": "Come on and dance!/ I know ya can!/ Take off your pants/ And start to slam!" Beth, Dulcinea, Jay, and Pete are also our only omnigender band in the punk category this year. They don't seem to play very often (or else they're deeper in the underground than I am), but hopefully their WAMMIES exposure will bring them out more.

-- Gary X. Indiana

Redemption 87
For months after I first saw these guys, I told people about "this killer band from Southern California"; an idea I apparently got since their current label (check for their self-titled CD) is in Huntington Beach, and since the band's sound reminded me of hanging with Black Flag at the Cuckoo's Nest or slamming at Godzilla's. Nope, they're based in the East Bay! Redemption 87's music is raw, aggressive, and apocalyptic, and their 6-foot-plus, shaven-headed singer, Eric Ozenne, formerly of Unit Pride, is a formidable frontman (but a nice guy; don't be scared). You hear the best of the '80s hardcore sound when you listen to these guys; their roots show, and they're proud of it. Despite recent personnel changes, they're still like a swift kick in the head live.

-- Gary X. Indiana

Reggae/World

Common Sense
This highly charged young posse's new Surfdog Records release, Psychedelic Surf Groove, is a rockin', poppin' compilation of smooth music: mainly reggae, with occasional surf guitar and beach blanket harmonies. The selection "In Your Eyes" features a guest appearance by master toaster Pato Banton; styles vary widely on other prime cuts. Mixing original and cover tunes performed their own "sensible" way, Common Sense delivers a very hot property.

-- Leigh Crutchfield, Reggae Calendar International

Native Elements
Native Elements has become very popular on the Northern California club and festival scene over the last several years. Comprised of five men and two ladies, this irie posse pleases crowds with their expansive riddims and awesome vocals. They have opened for many famous reggae artists, and recently played at San Francisco's Reggae in the Park concert. What sets these musicians apart from all others are the sweet, powerful harmonies of Tamara Haynes and Karen Smith -- "The Expressions of Unity," as they call themselves -- which mix nicely with lead vocals by Jose Pagan and the group's other male voices.

-- Leigh Crutchfield, Reggae Calendar International

Wild Mango
Beginning in the late '80s as Mango Jam, performing Latin American folk, and recording for Holly Near's defunct Redwood Records, this combo realized they were born to be wild. They released themselves to a fusion of Latin, Middle Eastern, flamenco, and jazz that has since paid off with wider critical acclaim. Again the all-woman ensemble is evolving, but a superlative core of former members of the Blazing Redheads still anchors their diverse carpet of musical sounds, defining them and articulating the creative vision of multifaceted leader Erika Luckett. Venezuelan spitfire Maria Marquez's lead vocals (shared with Luckett) add a delightful charm with sultry vibrato, especially noteworthy on a sassy, loungin' version of "The Look of Love."

-- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

Rock/Pop

Liar
Demon clowns and mad Gypsies must glut the road between here and New Mexico -- and from the sounds of Devil Dog Road, Liar has shared wine with all of them. Led by guitar zealot Eric McFadden, Liar burst on the San Francisco scene a little over a year ago, and was immediately adopted by booker/producer Toni Isabella as the Paradise Lounge's favorite act. Live, Liar takes on the nuance of a sinister cabaret. McFadden, sporting his prerequisite top hat and tails, growls with a dusty cadence as his fingers dance across mandolin or guitar strings with an ease that betrays a pact with the devil. Only when violinist Marisa Mead takes her occasional turn at the mike is there a brief respite from the dizzying melange of Gypsy, klezmer, rock, bluegrass, country, and circus requiems that is McFadden's trademark. Mead plants her feet firmly in the more accessible world of rock 'n' roll, but it is still McFadden's obsessive sojourns that make your feet wiggle despite the prickling of flesh. The fact that Devil Dog Road manages to capture even a small fraction of the live Liar experience is further proof of preternatural support.

-- Silke Tudor

Pee
Crammed full of feverish rhythm changes and catchy boy-girl vocal melodies, Pee's first full-length, Now, More Charm and More Tender, sounds like a teen-ager fraught with an identity crisis. There're the childhood memories too recent to ignore, an adolescent's fixation with metal, and an ache to remake favored sounds in their own image. Pee has boiled this aching down to a genre drummer Andee Connors calls "grindpop." "All of the songs are really short and fast and complicated, so it's like grindcore, only it's pop," he says. But Pee separate themselves from the rest of the pop chaff with real musical ability. Connors' tricky beats and pounding assault make him a serious contender for the best rock drummer in San Francisco. And Kelly Green and Jim Stanley arrange ingenious guitar interlocution that matches their vocal play. Live, Pee are a joy, clever and tight, with more stage presence than ever after last summer's U.S. tour. It only proves that Pee stands for post-pubescence -- in the best possible way.

-- Jeff Stark

The Sunshine Club
Say what you will about the impropriety of the category in which the Sunshine Club find themselves nominated; their semiacoustic melancholia is far more at odds with their ubiquitous "neo-country" pigeonholing. Vocalist/acoustic guitarist Denise Bon Giovanni, electric guitarist Sean Coleman, stand-up and electric bassist Simon Colley, and drummer Paul Comaskey offer sparse, desolate tunes more harmonically complex than most mopey singer/songwriter fare, but clearly centered around Bon Giovanni's subdued vocals. What's more: Instrumentation sometimes includes such unequivocally un-Rock, un-Pop sundries as viola and musical saw. Whatever the genre, the Sunshine Club's quasi-rural music has a modern subterfuge and an insidious character. Listeners are fooled into complacence, unprepared for the suggestive, depressive power of the Sunshine repertoire, best experienced live. One minute, you'll be idly sucking the lime wedge out of your melted cocktail; the next, you'll be gnawing through your wrists.

-- Michael Batty

Rockability/Swing

Indigo Swing
Recalling an era when men were men and women were girls (or dames or chicks), Indigo Swing is one of the top swing bands in town. From Johnny Depp's infamous Viper Room in Hollywood to San Francisco's classic Hi-Ball Lounge, the good-time sextet (with vocalist Johnny Boyd, pianist William Beatty, saxophonist Baron Shul, guitarist Jeffrey Massanari, bassist Little David, and drummer Bowen Brown) promises to keep joints up and down the coast rockin' all night long. Their self-produced eponymous debut features jumpin' chestnuts ("Flip, Flop, & Fly," "I Can't Stop It") that will get your toes a-tappin' and your fingers snappin'. But this is no mere cover band. Polished originals ("Swing Lover," "Please Tell 'Em") also showcase the band's signature sound: an energetic, danceable groove centered around clean-cut crooner Boyd, whose to-swoon-by lyrical presence and reet pleats make him a dashing frontman. If Indigo Swing's popularity in a city that prides itself on progressive arts and politics seems an anomaly, well, maybe San Franciscans are sometimes willing to reel in their vigilance for a night of dolled-up and dapper, old-fashioned fun.

-- Sam Prestianni

The New Morty Show
The Cocktail Nation is here to stay. Used-clothing stores are "vintage"; jazzy supper clubs adorn every city block; nightclubs that aren't jazzy supper clubs at least offer cigar rooms; Rhino Records has an excuse for stocking old film soundtracks; 24-year-old men employ cobblers; cars have "lines" and poor gas mileage; and everyone is taking dance lessons. There are magazines (like Swing Time) to help with your image, and movies (like Swingers) to help you escape reality. While all this may seem horrifying to forward-thinkers, one thing is certain: The music is fantastic! Among the creme de la creme of the San Francisco scene is the New Morty Show. Combining theatrical stage antics with faultless musicianship, this nine-piece big band has drawn attention from swing fans up and down the coast, even causing hipster bands from Hipster Central (aka L.A.) to drive up for the occasional "Swing Rumble." As a matter of taste, a winner has never been announced, but it would be pretty hard to beat the New Morty Show's combination of glamour (see Connie Champagne's smoky, Keely Smith vocals), flash (see Vise Grip's impeccable evening wear and Cab Calloway croon), and red-hot dance beat (see bandleader Morty Okin with his crazy trumpet, backed by six premium players). Get that swing, or you won't get a thing.

-- Silke Tudor

Sloe Gin Joes
Despite the lack of a CD and a recent lineup purge by bandleader Frank Novicki (pictured), the Sloe Gin Joes have maintained a fiercely loyal following. With Duane Eddy twang, sizzling yet subtle rockabilly beats, and echo- and reverb-drenched vocal effects, the Joes' catalog speaks back eloquently to all manner of bygone hayseed music. Their definitive number, "Chicken Stew," furthers the cause of pullet consumption as sex metaphor -- even more so than "Chicken" by those consummate rockabilly perverts, the Cramps. And when track No. 2 on the Joes' demo is titled "Hot Link," you know that Novicki's lips are smacking for more than mere vittles. The new Sloe Gin Joes incarnation promises to keep the stew flowing.

-- Meltya Chabit

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