Soul/Funk

Anibade
Ledisi, the voice of Anibade, doesn't care much for terms like "R&B" or "acid jazz." The attitudinal diva sings, writes, acts, and produces, but she won't be constricted by labels that make it easier for others to understand her. Blending pieces of classic jazz, rock 'n' roll, and soul, Anibade fuses one genre with another: Ledisi -- a Beach Blanket Babylon veteran -- will scat over a fleishig R&B cut or the band will toss in a soaring line from a Hammond B-3. Consummate show people and almost guaranteed crowd-pleasers, Anibade can tailor a performance to entertain jazz fans, blues aficionados, or Friday night North Beach yuppies.

!Tang
Led by Ray Wilcox -- the charismatic man-about-town who fronted Zircus, played guitar with Alison Faith Levy, and books the Edinburgh Castle -- !Tang has garnered itself the reputation of one of the greatest sweat-inducing funk bands around. On their most recent release, How Do You Take It, the nine-piece troop proves its musical chops with groove-laden, ska-accented funk provided by eight accomplished musicians from the University of California Marching Band. Still, no single recording could match the level of intensity and dedication on display at live shows, which combine the high theatrics of James Brown with the modern-day inventiveness of Jamiroquai. Wilcox, who has himself been the deserving muse of countless local artists -- most notably filmmaker Danny Plotnick who starred the singer in Pipsqueak Pfollies, Steel Belted Romeos, and Sumbass From Dundas -- has finally found a band that uses all of his formidable talents.

What It Is
Whatever What It Is is, it is one funky it-thang. The pride of Gainesville, Fla., What It Is coalesced in 1994 when guitarist Avi Bortnick hooked up with bassist and vocalist Jerry Kennedy. The two fleshed out a crack band and set to conquering dance floors throughout the Southeast. After releasing When Groove Was King, the group relocated to San Francisco in June of 1996. The local club scene instantly embraced What It Is' polished brand of James Brown's hard funk, Terence Trent D'Arby's smooth groove, and Tower of Power's danceable jams. Think of the Brand New Heavies and that classic-sounding positive-vibe funk and you're most of the way there. Comfortably ensconced in a loving San Francisco scene, What It Is dropped the sophomore Soul Pop last year. The album shows a clear progression, the band effortlessly slathering the release with get-down emotion, buttery raps, and well-chosen samples. The group is even more enjoyable live, as their regular crowd will attest. When What It Is steams up, the band is capable of getting the entire audience on the soul train and driving them down to funk station.

Surf/Exotica

The Aquamen
The Aquamen play in the deep end of the pool. They're the guys who cannonball off the high dive and laugh at the old man fussing about the big splash. Depending on who you talk to, the following is fact: Collectively spawned from Poseidon, the band is 2,000 years old, and all six members -- El Capitan Mike, Ensign Nat, First Mate Srini, Lookout Steve, First Engineer Turtle, Cabin Boy Vic -- are world-class water ballerinas. The group's actual four-year history of bacchanalian surf rock includes the debut recording Gin-o-Sonic and numerous watery live performances. This summer, the Aquamen released Do the Alkeehol! (And Other Hits), a toast to their muse, demon alcohol. Bobbing and weaving numbers sing the praises of "Gin & Tonic," "Jose Cuervo," and "Wild Turkey." But as instrumentals like "Black Velvet" prove, the Aquamen can straighten out their ties on their sharkskin suits and go all swanky, like Frank Sinatra playing the stand-up Danny Ocean in the 1960 flick Ocean's Eleven. Beholden to the whole-grain youth serum that cranks up their stage energy at live shows and Tikifests, the guys thank Tanqueray and Bacardi 151 in their liner notes.

The Phantom Surfers
Dick Dale mimicked the pounding ocean with his reverb-drenched guitars. Agent Orange punked out the same waves. The Phantom Surfers took surf and made it an opera. Yep, opera. The Surfers celebrate 10 years on the San Francisco scene with their sixth release, Skaterhater. The record is an unsolicited rock opera sequel to the 1965 cult-classic Noel Black film Skaterdater. The concept album features a 15-song mix of tight instrumentals and surf versions of punk classics as well as songwriting collaboration with Davie Allan, the undisputed king of the fuzz guitar. The songs themselves sound like a tsunami hitting Ocean Beach during a Beach Boys concert: classic American music drowning in mayhem. The first cut, "Curb Job (Skaterhater Overture)," begins with a traditional thumping bass intro that quickly rolls into a flurry of reverbed guitar leads. The song sets the scene for Skaterhater's first act, where happy skaters clash with merchants who spread gravel along the streets and gun-toting members of the Chamber of Commerce's Clean Sidewalk Committee. By Act 2, the music is cranking out a wash of fuzzy guitars and galloping bass lines to tell the story of Blue, a wronged skater turned hellbent biker who burns for his Harley and a chance at revenge. The opera's finale is the record's finest musical moment. As Blue mows down his archrivals, the Phantom Surfers plow headlong into a surf ode to their favorite fanzine, Murder Can Be Fun (editor John Marr wrote the libretto). The band finishes with the Davie Allan & the Arrows classic "Drag Run." Who would have thought opera could be this cool?

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