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Wilson Gil& the Willful Sinners
Wilson Gil brushes off old memories like any good yarn-spinning country singer. But the urban Gil finds his grit in the city he loves, not along a dusty trail. Ten years of highs and lows in San Francisco's vibrant music scene have given the singer/songwriter's deep baritone a whiskey-soaked twang. On his latest, self-titled, release, Gil uses that voice to chronicle sepia-toned images of S.F.'s recent past in a photo album of near perfection. The first song, "Hey Greg," is a jangly dedication to Greg Foot of the long-gone Short Dogs Grow, Buck Naked, and the way-dead rock scene built around the Chatterbox, more recently the Chameleon. Although set in a particular place and period, Gil's reflections convey timeless angst, nostalgia, and lessons learned growing up fast in the city. On the final track, "Hell Yes I Lied (So What If I Did)," all the fury, frustration, and beauty of Gil's songwriting explodes in a country-western masterpiece. The song builds for eight minutes, winding its way from one scene to another fad, from nipple rings to tribal tattoos. The country-rock sound sways and builds into a finale, with the full force of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir backing Gil as he wails the title of the song to exhaustion. Once the notes settle, you can't help feeling sadly blessed by the memories, even if they're not your own.

The Eric McFadden Experience
Eric McFadden first attracted attention as part of the eclectic and highly lauded rock group Liar, whose combination of musical styles, genders, and ethnicities helped them quickly find a home near the top of the S.F. musical heap. McFadden's guitar playing would stand out in any environment: It negotiates the terrain between flamenco, spaghetti western, and acid rock with ease. Add to that trait his distinctively rasped voice and macabre lyrical sensibility and you have a blend that has made Liar, and now the Eric McFadden Experience, a local favorite. McFadden isn't afraid of his own musical ability. He crafts tunes that highlight his guitar playing, even if he's running contrary to the current trend of anti-virtuosos. With the Experience, McFadden is quieter, rootsier, less jammy, and more song-focused than he is with Liar, but he still makes time to reach out to guitar fans with frequent instrumental digressions. McFadden sings his arch and impassioned lyrics in a voice that heightens the otherworldliness of his songs. Contrasting eerily with the subtle, nuanced guitar, his voice can sound desperate, sincere, and just a touch insane.

Rube Waddell
The back-alley compost blues of Rube Waddell can stick in your bean like steamy shit on the soles of your Docs. Or perhaps it's more like a superfungus that weasels its way into the cracks between your toes. No matter how you try to rid your boots of the foul goop or Desenex yourself free of the parasitic invasion, the rank fumes hold fast. Of course, Rube multi-instrumentalists Mahatma Boom Boom, Reverend Wupass, and Captain Feedback are well aware of the contagion they wield. On the tin-can cover of Stink Bait, the properly fetid follow-up to their junkyard debut Hobo Train, they forewarn listeners: "Rube's Formula Guaranteed To Satisfy Long Lasting Firm And Smelly!" So exactly how does this bastard music of the Appalachian foothills, Alabama cotton fields, and San Francisco streets cop such an infectious groove? It's a simple recipe, really -- a holy trinity of common tunes, old-fashioned neighborliness, and back-porch fun that down-home urbanites can't help but take to heart. Set lists mix toe-tapping originals ("Go to Satan," "Mohandas," "Whistling Dead") with a range of American classics, from a hellfire rendition of the great Negro spiritual "John the Revelator" to a cannibalized take on the Sinatra chestnut "Mack the Knife." Strummin', pickin', and beatin' the hell outta all sorts o' homemade instruments, the trio stirs up audience sing-alongs and sometimes rewards hard-core fans with monkey-face eel skulls or other oddball band memorabilia. And much like the fish heads, the Rube stench lingers long after the sounds stop.

Hark Rock

Kingdom First
The guys in Kingdom First demonstrate an inspirational faith in rock. You can see it on their faces as they rip tunes out of the ether with ferocious glee. You can hear it in their joyous reinvestigation of simple rock 'n' roll truths. Unpretentious and direct, Kingdom First even manages to be a little sexy, like the person down the bar who is both completely at ease with herself and totally ignorant of your presence. It's the band's confident yielding to the music that gives it such allure. Now that the kind of belly-punch dirty rock they deliver has slid out of fashion, only those who truly believe in its power have access to its magic. Guitarists Richard Marshall and Chris Carroll wield different sides of the same sword, slashing and blasting through the set like tandem preachers, each handing off to the other to keep the spirit flying. The rhythm section of Christian Stark (drums) and Dave Baldini (bass) churns steadily and mightily, building a foundation on which the guitarists and vocalist Matt Jervis can energetically elaborate. The songs, though never straying far from familiar recipes (a little MC5 here, a dash of the Sonics, add Clash to taste), have an inventiveness and freshness that testify to rock's strangely enduring power. Kingdom First is teaming up with producer Alex Newport (Melvins, Godheadsilo, Fudge Tunnel) for their upcoming studio effort.

Old Grandad
It's not often that Satan giggles like a schoolgirl. And you don't find many bands that claim humans are the other red meat or document drug dealers running from drug users. But San Francisco's metal threesome Old Grandad makes all of the above into weekly events that can be savored by fans and feared by Christians. Over the last five years, heartfelt ditties like "Urine Angel," "Blatant Drug Song," and "Don't Call Me a Deadhead" have breathed life into the local scene. Old Grandad's guitar riffs sear, their guttural vocals moan, and their great sense of humor keeps the band's heavy sound from collapsing on itself. The group's double-EP release, OGD EP and San Fran666co Bootleg, plays like a cross between The Satanic Bible and Marijuana Grower's Guide. The record starts with "I'm Frying on Acid," a heartwarming tale about a boy's search for marbles, and then touches on metalhead topics like pot, Satan, and, well, more pot. The second half of the record contains six live cuts from their first release, Vol. 666. The footage perfectly captures the experience of Old Grandad live: Singer/drummer Will Carroll does his best hellhound bark, guitarist Erik Moggridge stirs up sludgy metal leads, Max Barnett pounds his bass, and the audience chants in approval. Live, Old Grandad is the heavy metal equivalent of knocking back Ripple: You grimace when it goes down, but two hours later you're speaking in tongues.

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

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