SF Weekly's Wammies '98

Americana/Roots

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.

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