Soaring Strings The Tang dynasty meets Mahler and the Alexander String Quartet in a trio of dances performed by Lily Cai Chinese Dance. Cai, a former principal dancer with the Shanghai Opera House, has been experimenting with the fusion of Eastern and Western technique ever since she founded her eight-member company. In this outing, she offers a world premiere piece set to a score played live by the Alexander String Quartet and composed by Gang Situ, who also created music for Begin From Here, a striking update of traditional Tang dynasty ribbon dances that is included on the program. Candelas, which opens with a candlelight procession and is danced to the fourth movement of Mahler's "Symphony No. 5," rounds out the show, beginning at 8 p.m. (also Saturday) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $18-26; call 978-ARTS.
It's a Psychobilly Freakout! Psychobilly is rockabilly's wild-eyed cousin, the one who drinks too much and packs a switchblade. The Reverend Horton Heat offered a paean to the former with "Psychobilly Freakout," a kind of thrashy, electrified honky-tonk played at punk speed on rockabilly's standard guitar-drums-upright-bass lineup. The good Reverend is one of the few psychobilly purveyors who won't be playing Burnouts, Beerguts, 'n' Greasy Combs, a two-day psychobilly festival featuring Germany's Phantom Rockers, Denmark's Godless Wicked Creeps, Utah's Unlucky Boys, our very own Mutilators, and L.A.'s Pearl Harbour, fresh off her opening gig at the Halloween Cramps show. Blasters/X contemporaries the Paladins headline the festival, which celebrates the Hairball 8 CD release of Hotter Than Hell, a psychobilly comp featuring 27 tracks by American bands. Incredibly Strange Wrestling and tattoo booths will contribute to the unstable atmosphere. The music begins at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Sunday) at the Paradise Lounge & Transmission Theater, 11th Street & Folsom, S.F. Admission is $11-18; call 565-0511.
Trunk Show Tony La Russa's day job is managing baseball overachiever Mark McGuire and his St. Louis Cardinal teammates, but in his free time, La Russa likes to dabble in the arts. The Danville resident has already appeared in the Oakland Ballet's Nutcracker, and for an encore, he'll narrate the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra children's production The Travels of Babar. Composer Raphael Mostel (singer Zero's nephew) adapted Jean de Brunhoff's book about the adventures of the French imperialist elephant king; the production debuts with a slide show at noon and 3 p.m. at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek. Admission is $8 for children, $15 for adults; call (925) 943-7469.
The Real Folk Blues From Carnegie Hall to the Hungry i to the civil rights rallies of the '60s, folk singer Odetta's voice has rung out all over this land. The classically trained alto became part of the folk music renaissance three decades back, after friends introduced her to the San Francisco scene; she went from accompanying herself on guitar to knocking 'em out at the Newport Folk Festival with spiritual standards, love ballads, and blues numbers, including "All the Pretty Little Horses" and her a cappella arrangement of "God's Gonna Cut You Down." Joan Baez and Tracy Chapman sent congratulatory notes when Odetta recently celebrated 50 years in the business with a Florida party -- Marty Balin and folklorist Alan Lomax (whose box sets of American folk music feature Odetta performances) offered their praise in person. Odetta performs at a second, local 50th anniversary concert beginning at 8 p.m. at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave., Berkeley. Admission is $16.50-17.50; call (510) 548-1761.
Cocktail Hour After a couple of stiff drinks, many people will express a yearning for better days, although in certain cases, those nostalgic folks never actually lived through those better days, which were arguably worse. If not for said people, we wouldn't have Cocktail Nation and Combustible Edison, whose specialty is "hypnotica," a kind of sleepy lounge music styled after Martin Denny's Peaceful Village exotica. The band, which made its Sub Pop debut in 1994 with I, Swinger, insists that genuine irony-free affection for easy listening propelled them through the Tiki Wonder Hour revue, Schizophonic!, and now The Impossible World, which leans more toward 2001-era sci-fi than jungle village or spy movie retro. And to the group's credit, the record's as blandly inoffensive as its inspiration -- perfectly good background music for an evening of intoxicated escapism. Combustible Edison plays at 8 p.m. at Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus (at Chestnut), S.F. Admission is $13; call 474-0365.
Funky Town Tap dance Wunderkind Savion Glover picked up his craft the way most dancers do: on a hard studio floor, passed down by older, more experienced dancers who learned the very same way. Those physical memories and their transfer between generations inspired Glover and George C. Wolfe, who worked together on the blues musical Jelly's Last Jam, to create the tap dance musical Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. The show, subtitled "A Tap/Rap Discourse on the Staying Power of the Beat," offers a social history of the African-American experience, as framed through vignettes created from Glover's choreography, text by spoken-word artist Reg E. Gaines, and musical styles ranging from hip hop to R&B to blues. The four-time Tony Award-winning production previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through Dec. 6) at the Golden Gate Theater, 1 Taylor (at Market), S.F. Admission is $19-67; call 776-1999.