Riff Raff

Finally, Some Good News We may be hazy and hooch-soaked, but Riff Raff seems to recall a time when punks and lovers of down-and-dirty hard rock turned to North Beach, not SOMA, for boisterous merriment. Spaces like the Mabuhay Gardens, Rock on Broadway, and even the Stone encouraged enough underage slammin,' alley-bound boozin', and hair-raising hollerin' to get Mayor Dianne Feinstein's white cotton undies all in a bunch. When North Beach got "cleaned up," not even relatively innocuous spaces like Miss Keiko's Chi Chi Club and the Off Broadway survived the change. Punks with fake IDs migrated south. Still, the very mention of the Mab is enough to bring a tear of nostalgia to the eye of any long-term San Franciscan. Once a groovy Filipino supper club (complete with Filipino Elvis impersonators), the Mab became the musical domain of booker Dirk Dirksen in the mid-'70s. While the Doobie Brothers and Jefferson Airplane were quietly snoring over at the Fillmore, the Ramones, Blondie, Iggy Pop, the Damned, Devo, the Dead Kennedys, the Nuns, the VKTMS, Flipper, and DOA were breaking bottles and kicking ass at the Mab. Since its closing in 1986, no one has been brazen enough to put live music in the space. Meet Matt Corvi and Steve Sirianni. Native San Franciscans who have virtually no experience running a nightclub -- Corvi was a bartender at Bimbo's 365 Club and the Nightcap while Sirianni comes from a long-standing North Beach restaurant family and founded Nonni's Biscotti Company -- the pair may have just the sort of foolhardy enthusiasm it takes to own a club in this town. Since early this year, the two childhood friends have been busy remodeling and upgrading the old space, transforming it into the Velvet Lounge, which offers a classy dining area, a pool room, two bars, and a huge stage. While bachelor pad-style leopard prints and purple velvet dominate, the new nightclub will be offering a wide variety of live music at least four nights a week. "We are completely dedicated to giving local talent a venue, especially since so many other clubs are under attack," says Sirianni. "It's important, and since there isn't the next 'punk thing' on the horizon like there was for the Mab, we'll be open to all genres of music until something really clicks." The Velvet Lounge's grand opening will be held on Thursday, May 14, with Vinyl and on Friday, May 15, with Storm & Her Dirty Mouth. (S.T.)

The Floating Luthier and Other Tales From the Bay One dark afternoon last December a passel of artists, socialites, and politicians gathered on a ferry bound for Treasure Island. Riff Raff was along for the cruise. They were met by artist Brian Goggin in a white nautical suit with chartreuse piping -- part Love Boat, part HMS Pinafore. On his pocket was a sort of crestlike embroidery with an M in it. The M stood for Metaphorm -- the title of Goggin's latest ambitious art project, a floating lute (yes lute) fashioned from a 32-foot lap straik (don't ask) wooden boat with a 15-foot neck attached to it. The lute will be played by a band of dancers as it floats in the sea. Goggin is an artist and a sculptor, and a master organizer who creates meticulously planned installation-art events. Defenestration, his massive sculpture at Sixth Street and Howard, is a decrepit empty building spotted with furniture that appears to be leaping out of windows higgledy-piggledy. In fact the pieces are rigorously attached to the side of the building, meeting safety codes and involving the cooperation of scores of local organizations and individuals. Goggin has the kind of showmanship that caused one boat rider to say -- half-admiring, half-disparaging -- "This isn't art. It's politics." But of course, you can't build a floating lute without a lot of floating loot, and that was why we were all on our way to Treasure Island (get it?) to raise the $150,000 necessary to build the thing. Off to the side of the crowd -- which included Summer of Lover Chet Helms, late lawyer Melvin Belli's sixth wife Nancy Ho, Examiner columnist Cynthia Robbins, politician and father Terry Goggin, and a bunch of other S.F. somebodies -- sat Stan Buetens, a white-haired lutenist wearing a slightly stained Renaissance shirt with ruffled cuffs and a pointy collar. He was there to provide a little lute accompaniment to the schmoozing, but you really couldn't hear a thing over the grumble of the ferry's engines. "They know not what they do," he said optimistically of the project. As a lutenist, Buetens had two concerns: How will the dancers pluck the strings? And how will the builders tune the instrument? If the strings are too slack there will be no sound, and if they're too tight they'll break the boat. "It's rather hard to envision," he allowed, "but I'm along because it's a kick." Not to mention the fact that he'd been playing his lute unnoticed for a long time -- "in the wilderness of Palo Alto" for more than 20 years, was how he put it -- and here suddenly was a reporter interested in his craft. The ferry docked at Treasure Island and the crowd was whisked by van to the Nimitz House. As socialite commissioner Stanlee Gatti and Supervisor Leland Yee made the scene by car, it turned out that expected guest Willie Brown wasn't going to show. The speeches commenced and Brian Goggin made a rousing plea for cash. He was followed by Gatti, who said, breathlessly, "After passion, what else is there?" "A cigarette," someone yelled. Later in the evening, vulturing around the shrimps and melon balls at the buffet table, Buetens said that the key to being a musician is never turning down free food; whatever happens with the floating lute, we're sure the floating lutenist will survive. Since the boat trip we'd been wondering what was up with the project. A phone call to Goggin last week elicited updated plans, among them the intriguing news that the 20-foot strings will be made from Kevlar cord as much as a half-inch thick. Isn't that what bulletproof vests are made from? Yes, said Goggin. Will the lute be played by snipers with rubber bullets? No. The current plan is to give the dancers giant clubs to whack the strings with, Goggin said. Lute scientists are experimenting with the size, shape, and material of these clubs as we write. The strings will be tightened with cranks below the deck, where a shallow sound box will be miked. With luck, the sound will be projected out through a pair of periscopelike floating air ducts sometime in the spring of 1999. And the loot? Well, Goggin is still raising it. Stay tuned for more details. (Lisa Margonelli)

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