House of Tudor

In 1974, when I was a small child living in Bali, I remember running through the dusty streets of our village at dusk with a group of barefoot children whose only common language was amusement. Our aim this warm night was to reach a large home in town where a child had recently been born. We wanted to get seats in the yard for the upcoming wayang kulit -- a shadow-puppet ceremony offered by Balinese families in honor of weddings, births, and other favors of fortune. The nights of wayang kulit were magical ones filled with music and wild fables. It's believed that all those sitting in the semicircle before the wayang screen are protected from evil during the performance -- just as legend has it the Balinese protected themselves from invasion by linking arms around the perimeter of their island, making it invisible to passing ships that found and conquered neighboring sovereignties. The particular story performed during each wayang kulit is improvised by the dalang (puppet master), who draws on the Mahabharata -- a 4,000-year-old, 100,000-verse Indian epic about the Great War between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. As a child I was astonished to find out a single dalang created all the voices and languages appropriate to every character during the performance. (I later learned the dalang also directs the music of the gamelan with small clappers held between his toes.) Although I could understand very little of what was being said, the shadow battles were furious and fantastic and, as a child, I could fathom no form of entertainment more enthralling than the wayang kulit.

I also remember the first television brought into our village. The TV was considered communal property and the owner mounted it on the roof of his house. Every week the village would gather in his yard at dusk, just as they did for the wayang kulit, and watch Scooby-Doo. For years after I returned to the States, the Scooby-Doo theme song brought tears to my culture-shocked eyes, making me a very awkward after-school guest. To this day, when I hear the theme it still conjures visions of shadowy warriors, not cartoon dogs. I Wayan Wija, Bali's most famous dalang, will be performing at the Asian Art Museum on Saturday, Aug. 22, at noon as part of the Balinese Sarasvati Festival, a Hindu celebration of the Goddess of Learning. A Balinese puppet-making demonstration will follow. Admission is free with museum entry; call 379-8879.

After two high-charged electric albums, Chris Whitley has returned to the country-blues roots that got him signed to Work/Columbia in the first place. Unlike the acoustic debut Living With the Law, which inhabited the large, airy spaces tacit in the album's single "Big Sky Country," Whitley's newest record, Dirt Floor, is an intimate, hayloft affair. Recorded in a single day on Whitley's father's farm, Dirt Floor sounds like the sleepy, sorrowful confessional of a long-traveling man coming home to stay. It appears producer Craig Street -- most noted for the minimalist opus he produced for new-jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson -- allowed Whitley to feel comfortable with the gentle, melodic side of his voice, which rolls over this nine-song album like rich Vermont maple syrup. Little else needed to be added to Whitley's quiet contemplation of love and God, except a touch of National Steel, a few boot stomps, and a bit of subtle banjo picking. Chris Whitley performs at the Bottom of the Hill on Friday, Aug. 21, with UMA and David Poe opening at 10 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 621-4455. Whitley also performs for free at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22, at Amoeba Music on Haight Street.

If you skipped last week's King's Classic -- one of the largest scooter gatherings in North America -- you easily missed the greatest '60s soul and British R&B dance parties of the year. No worries, the bimonthly party "Maximum R&B" offers the same DJs spinning a take-you-back mix of Kinks, Yardbirds, Hollies, Hendrix, Guess Who, Zombies, Standells, Creation, Small Faces, and Blood, Sweat & Tears for a slightly more eclectic crowd of old-school clubbers, elder soul hounds, and, yes, a mod or two. DJs Kitty English and Kirk spin at 330 Ritch Street on Saturday, Aug. 22, at 9 p.m. Admission is $10; call 541-9574.

The most alarming thing about going to a Voodoo Glow Skulls performance in 1998 is also the most endearing: Barring the few crusty die-hards who cling to the back walls sucking down shots of whiskey, the crowd is entirely young boys who've only just started sprouting pubic hair. These are fearless scamps with enough energy to create frenzied pogoing pits. One reason for the VGS's lasting appeal with the youngsters is that they have not seasoned, mellowed, or matured with age. It's the same high-energy horn-infused punk rock with splatterings of funk and Mexican machismo. The Voodoo Glow Skulls perform at Slim's on Sunday, Aug. 23, with Welt and the Independents opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10-11; call 522-0333.

-- Silke Tudor

 
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