Riff Raff

Selvin Watch: By the Numbers In newspaper writing, the saddest mistakes are the ones that are hard to make. That's why watching Joel Selvin's journalism career chokes us up so much. The Chronicle chief pop music critic, who wrote a book about famous San Francisco concert spots two years ago, recently blew a basic fact about a local music venue. In his Thursday, Sept. 11, review of a David Bowie show at the Warfield, Selvin claimed that the hall seated 3,300 people. Well, the folks over at Bill Graham Presents assure us that the Warfield maxes out at 2,100, with most sold-out shows averaging around 2,000 because of varying production configurations. Sob. Worse, once more, Selvin contradicted himself: In San Francisco, the Musical History Tour, he gave the Warfield's capacity as 3,000. Sob ... sob. Out of context, last week's flub looks like a minor error. But here cruel reality subverts the thesis of Selvin's article. You see, the relentlessly positive review was actually a disguised apology for Bowie's fading commercial prospects. Selvin wanted to prove that Bowie could actually sell out "vast arenas," but that this tour somehow marked a move toward "accessibility." Horseshit. Bowie sold out three nights at the Warfield. Selvin's cooked books would have it that Bowie was visited by 10,000 fans, or enough to sell out a small -- certainly not vast -- arena. Using the real figures, total attendance was more like 6,000, which is much closer to the number of people who bought Bowie's latest record. (J.S.)

Brownout Within a one-block radius of 16th Street and Valencia, there are at least nine bars, including Jacks, Doctor Bombay's, the Albion, the Kilowatt, Dalva, Blondie's, Esta Noche, the Skylark, and the Casanova. Out of these, the Skylark, Esta Noche, and the Kilowatt hold proper cabaret licenses, enabling them to offer live music. Esta Noche caters primarily to Latino drag queens and the folks who love them; DJ dancing and lip-syncing are their thing. On weekends, the Skylark manages to squeeze a couple of turntables into the wall-to-wall melee of salon-tanned Cosmo drinkers, but trying to dance in the crush would be reckless at best. This leaves the Kilowatt, the only venue among them all foolish enough to believe in the illusion that this is a live-music town. Every weekend for the last three years, Kilowatt booker Dave Kaplan has offered auricular asylum for gearheads horrified by this city's propensity for generating Abba cover bands. Kaplan's preference for rock of the garage ilk created an unusually specialized climate within the Kilowatt, and every weekend indie kids wearing mechanic's shirts and bowling shoes would spill out of the smoke-filled bar to sit on the sidewalk for a breath of fresh air (and to have a smoke) before squeezing back into the pack. The Kilowatt quickly became the mandatory stopover for touring Estrus and Sub Pop acts. It was a magnet for Japanese noise rock bands, and the exclusive stomping ground for groups like Doo Rag and Jonathan Fire*Eater. And it will remain so -- at least until Nov. 2, when owner Peter Athaas will abolish live music in favor of a more "neighborhood bar" vibe. The decision, he says, didn't come easy, but, among other reasons, the size of the club and the location didn't make having live music there hugely profitable. "The good nights were great, but we could only let so many people in," says Athaas. "On the bad nights, we'd lose our drinking crowd because there would be a cover [charge], or people would wander in and out between bands, going to other bars on the block. It's not like at the Bottom of the Hill, where the crowd is stuck out there." Ramona Downey -- the booker for the Bottom of the Hill, which is, musically, the Kilowatt's closest competitor -- understands the high costs of running a live music venue (insurance, advertising, equipment, BMI, ASCAP) but says that losing the Kilowatt is a tremendous blow for the entire music community. "I don't look at it like we're losing competition. [Kaplan] created a real scene at the Kilowatt. This just makes San Francisco weaker. There is a reason that a city like Austin has so much good music coming through every week. Agents know that there are at least 15 good nightclubs where they can place their bands. We have so few clubs left." Athaas says that he may or may not reinstate live music in the future. For now, he'll enjoy taking a few hours off per week and see how things go. (S.T.)

Lively Arts Watch: Dressed to Fill The Chron's Lively Arts column, which should be called "Press Release Arts," is almost comical in its lack of actual reporting, but some of columnist Jerry Carroll's errors are just too astonishing to laugh off. In a Sept. 9 column, Carroll described the Cointreauphy Hop -- a fund-raiser for the American Foundation for AIDS Research -- like this: "Cointreau, the French makers of the orange-flavored liqueur, will raise money for the fight against AIDS in a race at 1 p.m. Sunday. Contestants hop a mile course at Peacock Meadow in Golden Gate Park dressed up in bright orange hoppity-hops." Dressed up? Surely Carroll received an extensive press packet from the Cointreau people, as did most local papers, or the item wouldn't have appeared in his column. If Carroll had read the detailed information contained within the packet, or if he had maybe put in a phone call to clear up any confusion he might have had, or if he had even looked at the enclosed Hoppity Hop photo, he would have realized that a Hoppity Hop is not a costume. It's an oversized, inflated rubber ball with handles that people straddle and bounce around upon. How anyone could dress up in a Hoppity Hop -- or let a mistake like that go to print -- is a mystery, to be sure. (H.W.)

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