A Sense of Humor Could the same label that launched Nirvana, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Tad, and the whole flannel-shirted coterie that came to be known as grunge help launch anti-grunge as well? It could. It did. Sub Pop is home to the cocktail combo Combustible Edison, after all, and to Saint Etienne, a precious U.K. pop trio backed by a disco beat. They've been attracting a small but loyal following for the last eight years, but their influences, folded smoothly into their new album Good Humor, date at least three decades back, to Carnaby Street and Petula Clark, to the Supremes, even. If singer Sarah Cracknell's sweetly coy delivery seems familiar, it could be from the multiple dance club remixes of Saint Etienne's songs, done by acts ranging from Aphex Twin to the Chemical Brothers, or it could just be how much Cracknell sounds like the Cardigans' Nina Persson (they share a producer, Tore Johansson). Europop comes to your house, beginning at 9 p.m. at Slim's, 333 11th St. (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is $12-14; call 522-0333.
Best in the West In the evenings, after artists and presenters have hashed out activism, education, and censorship at the weeklong National Performance Network's 14th Annual Meeting, San Francisco will put some of its best artists forward in a series of "NPN Showcases," hoping to attract some national attention. They merit local attention for sure, as a widely varied, highly concentrated sampler of exceptional Bay Area talent: The first night brings the Balinese music and dance of Gamelan Sekar Jaya, the high-flying dance of Jo Kreiter, and the articulate modern choreography of Robert Moses (8 p.m. tonight at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida at 17th Street, S.F., 621-7797; $12.50). Meanwhile, Robert Henry Johnson, Shakiri, and Nena St. Louis are among the performers at Cultural Odyssey tonight (8 p.m. at 762 Fulton, S.F., 292-1850; $5-10 sliding scale). In the East Bay, Conjunto Cespedes cooks up Afro-Cuban jams at a concert that features reggae from Amandla Poets and hip hop from Naru (8:30 p.m. tonight at La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck, Berkeley, 510/849-2568; $10). Some of the city's brightest dance gets its due at a two-night showcase that opens with LINES Contemporary Ballet's aerodynamics and the inventive modern movement of Stephen Pelton, Lily Cai, and Axis Dance Company, who surmount physical challenges in eye-opening fashion; the second night brings classical Indian dance by Chitresh Das and modern from Scott Wells and Deborah Slater (8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Brady Street Dance Center, 60 Brady at Mission, S.F., 395-8427; $15). There will be a bus running between venues.
Vid Kids In "Reel Girls/Real Girls," a program of films and videos created by teen-age girls from around the country, boys figure into the picture, but in atypical ways: Lori Damiano's animated short Strongman snipes at dudes with guns, and Ginny Habereder's Paybax sends a heroine to the rescue of her hapless boyfriend. The Massachusetts Mirror Project offers viewers a glimpse of what really goes on in a girl's life -- 12 girls a year film their own experiences for the project. Tomorrow night brings "Teen Riot 4: The Legend Continues," with films and videos produced at the California State Summer School for the Arts, curated by Valerie Soe and Danny Plotnick. Kids express themselves with Super 8, animation, found footage, and scratched and painted 16mm; among the highlights is The Dangers of Co-Ed Laundry Rooms, a satiric look at unisex laundromats, invoking the Red Scare propaganda films of the '50s. Screenings begin at 7:30 p.m. at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $3.50-7; call 558-8129.
Radio Revels People who don't like shopping will find lots of interesting diversions at the KPFA Holiday Crafts Fair. There are all-day screenings of new films: socially minded works like Richard Cohen's documentary on homelessness in Santa Monica, Taylor's Campaign (1:45 p.m. Saturday); films with local interest, like Red Rain, a profile of East Bay boxer Gina Guidi (3:30 p.m. Saturday); and spiritually minded films, like Rumi: Poet of the Heart (noon Sunday) and Peace in Every Step: Meditation in Action: The Life and Work of Thich Nhat Hanh, about a Buddhist monk (3:30 p.m. Sunday). There's accordion music and gumbo. Ultimately, there's the satisfaction of helping one of the Bay Area's last good radio stations buy and play adventurous new music -- proceeds benefit listener-supported KPFA. OK, and there's shopping, which offers ceramics, art, jewelry, and such from over 200 booths of juried artisans and artists. The fair begins at 10 a.m. (also Sunday) at the Concourse Exhibition Center, Eighth Street & Brannan, S.F. Admission is free-$6; call (510) 848-6767, ext. 602. For more events celebrating the season, see our Holiday Guide on Page 34.
Good God Watching Pat Robertson wring his hands over Burning Man on his TV show The 700 Club is just part of the fun of "Incredibly Strange Religion," a religious film and video program that, like other seasonal entertainments, invokes God and family, only not in a touchy-feely way. Those hateful little Jack Chick pamphlets promising eternal hellfire for the sinful inspire two pieces: Angels?, the Tommy and Aimee Pavy live-action short about a rocker who sells his soul, and the Rodney Ascher/Syd Geron film Somebody Goofed. To this, add a "cult explosion" cautionary with a cameo by Eldridge Cleaver, Texan televangelist Bob Tilton ranting about Coca-Cola, and a giggly congregation speaking in tongues in Holy Ghost Hysteria, and you've got yourself a damn fine evening of entertainment. Free sacramental wine will be served at the screening, which begins at 8:30 p.m. at Artists' Television Access, 992 Valencia (at 20th Street), S.F. Admission is $5; call 824-3890.
Nuts to You Choreographer Mark Morris (can we stop calling him the "bad boy of modern dance" yet?) has created a holiday dance classic that is, and is not, like The Nutcracker. Morris' full-length Nutcracker-inspired work The Hard Nut is different because it's a more modern, and more comically recognizable, version of family holidays: Against a backdrop created by cartoon artist Charles Burns and set designer Adrianne Lobel (Morris' collaborator in the riotously colorful opera-ballet Platee earlier this year), the action unfolds in '60s suburban America, rather than Nutcracker author E.T.A. Hoffmann's 19th-century German bourgeoisie. Instead of genteel waltzes and fancy dolls, Morris gives us spiked eggnog and G.I. Joes. But if the party guests seem wilder and the Snowflakes more exuberant than in other productions, it's not at the expense of the dancing, which is marked with the same sort of wonder and joy as the original. The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra and the Kairos Youth Choir perform Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker score live. This third annual local performance may also be the last for a while; it opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through Dec. 20) at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph, UC Berkeley campus. Admission is $24-48; call (510) 642-9988.
A Leg to Stand On The "Free to Be You and Me" generation will remember Atalanta as the princess who could run "as fast as the wind," although in her indie dance-film project Atalanta, creator Samuael Topiary has made some modifications, telling the tale silently through dance and gestures on Super 8 color film. In true "Hey, kids, let's put on a show" spirit, the performance community has banded together to raise money for the project. The barn, as it were, is El Rio; a cadre of notable performers includes author/illustrator Remy Charlip (he plays Atalanta's long-suffering father) doing a staged reading, accordion-banjo-bass quartet Corn er Tour and music-performance duo Down River providing tunes, and former Joe Goode Performance Group member Miguel Gutierrez doing spoken word. Composer Katherynn Lyle and klezmer clarinetist Rob Chavez provide live accompaniment to a screening of the film in progress. The show begins at 7 p.m. at El Rio, 3158 Mission (at Cesar Chavez), S.F. Admission is $5-15; call 282-3325.
Naughty? Check. It would seem that the Portland Police Department is a little short on holiday spirit. As documented in the tongue-in-cheek travelogue You'd Better Watch Out: Portland Santacon '96 (screening as part of the film program "Santarchy in the U.S.A."), Oregon's finest were anything but jolly when over 100 California pranksters dressed in Santa suits came to town to spread some seasonal comic relief. To the Santas, including members of the Cacophony Society (whose annual Santa treks are part of a busy schedule of antics that typically includes Burning Man), this meant inebriated karaoke to Led Zeppelin and neighborhood caroling capped by impromptu dog-piling in the yards of bemused suburbanites. When the Santas arrived at Portland's Lloyd Center Mall, however, their revelry was abruptly curtailed by a line of police in full riot gear. It's hard to choose which is the more entertaining spectacle -- watching a roomful of Santas shaking their well-padded booties to vintage disco, or watching them square off against The Man -- but there are plenty of fine moments from which to choose when Santacon plays with the Santa Clone Rampage (Santas visit Planet Hollywood and crash the Chronicle Christmas party), and the West Coast Santa convergence Santas in L.A. '97. Show times are 6, 8, and 10 p.m. at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia), S.F. Admission is $6.50; call 863-1087.
Good Citizens For a taste of the surreal comedy promulgated by the Upright Citizens Brigade, consider the four-member troupe's caper at Chicago's Navy Pier, at a concert sponsored by Pepsi. Wearing a Pepsi T-shirt, UCB member Matt Besser bluffed his way onstage as a company employee and gave away raffle prizes; the rest of the troupe, posing as striking Pepsi employees, heckled him from the crowd until local police who weren't in on the joke apprehended them and asked Besser what he wanted done with them. Besser magnanimously told the cops to let 'em go. The UCB's one-step-beyond comedic style was molded at Chicago's Second City (the training ground for comics like Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd) and in smaller groups like the Annoyance Theater; after winning this year's award for best alternative or sketch act at Aspen's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, Comedy Central picked them up for 10 episodes in the coveted slot after South Park. During their San Francisco stay, UCB offers Saigon Suicide Squad, which spoofs ill-advised tactics to eradicate prejudice with troupe members playing disgruntled crowd members. The show begins at 9 p.m. (and runs through Dec. 23) at the Punch Line, 444 Battery, S.F. Admission is $12-15; call 497-4337.