The House of Tudor

The Hawkins Family is one of those groups you expect to see at the Paramount Theater attended by a sold-out crowd of gregarious folks dressed in their Sunday best who joyfully clap strangers on the back while shouting "Praise the Lord!" and dragging their shiny-buttoned tots to the bathroom. It's that kind of show, and the Hawkins Family is that kind of group. When they last performed over a year ago, they sold out two nights at the Paramount -- before that, the Henry J. Kaiser and the Civic Auditorium -- and with good reason: The first family of gospel is, after all, home-grown.

Bishop Walter Hawkins founded the Love Center Church in Oakland in 1973 and began recording live albums with the Love Center Choir, the third of which became the first gospel album to sell over a million copies. His older brother, four-time Grammy Award-winner Edwin Hawkins, pioneered the Contemporary Gospel sound in 1969 with "O Happy Day," a song that blended traditional sensibilities with R&B and became the greatest-selling gospel hit of all time. Baby sister Lynette Hawkins has sold hundreds of thousands of albums on her own, as well as recorded for Whitney Houston, Sylvester, and the Gap. Finally, Walter's Grammy-winning former wife Tramaine Hawkins caused a little commotion in the church when her hit single "Fall Down (Spirit of Love)" became something of a dance-floor sensation. Together, with that crowd, in this setting, we're talking God-loving abandon. The Hawkins Family performs at Yoshi's in Oakland Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 17-19, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26-30; call (510) 238-9200.

As Toni Basil fluffed her pompons over "Mickey" and Olivia Newton-John got "Physical" for MTV, a husky, sardonic voice emerged from the dross of female fluff blowing across the clock-radio airwaves of 1982. The voice was that of Debora Iyall, and, while Iyall's poetic sensibility rendered most Romeo Void lyrics impenetrable to anyone under 25, the chorus of "Never Say Never" did a lot to change the temperament of girls smoking at lunchtime in junior high school yards everywhere. In the same year, Joan Jett told potential bad girls it was sexy to be assertive, wear leather, play guitar, and love rock 'n' roll -- but it was Iyall who gave them a vocabulary: "Nursing their fathers locked inside/ They masqueraded as his bride/ I might like you better if we slept together." Iyall's lyrics were intelligent, irate, and powerful, so it's a shame that, in the vainglorious '80s, she didn't possess the confidence to flaunt herself shamelessly for the benefit of all body-conscious gals. Still, she was a serious songwriter with an angry wit and a surrealist bent who helped put some fragile young things on the right side of the wrong track. After Romeo Void split, Iyall was left looking for new musical collaborators, and while her lyrics were as strong as ever, her 1986 solo work suffered from unimaginative composition. Since then, we've heard very little in the way of song from the Bay Area native, who currently displays her art at local galleries and teaches ceramics classes at Somar -- excepting the fabulous best-of compilation Warm in Your Coat, which was released in 1992.

But sometime last year Iyall began putting lyrics to music with the help of former Pearl Harbor & the Explosions guitarist Peter Dunne. The resulting collaboration, Knifeinwater, galvanized Dialog, a new CD that finds Iyall older but no less inspired. Issues of love, dignity, faith, betrayal, and vanity are seen through the eyes of a more mature, slightly less angry woman, but her voice is still as distinctive and riling as Jello Biafra's. Musically, the album can't escape the better side of '80-ishness -- the best song, "Venus in the Supermarket," smacks of the delightfully odd "White Sweater" -- but since the '80s are already making a comeback it should appeal to old and new fans alike. Knifeinwater performs at San Francisco's Amoeba Music on Thursday, Dec. 17, at 6 p.m. Admission is free; call 831-1200.

What's better than a Mexican Elvis impersonator with a satchel of gold lame and a truckload of busty Latinas in bikinis? A Mexican Elvis impersonator singing Christmas tunes from his critically acclaimed Merry MeX-mas Show with a satchel of gold lame and a truckload of busty Latina elves in bikinis. We're talking Latino Christmas pop as you've never heard it before "(I'm dreaming of a) Brown Christmas," "Poncho Claus," and "Little Latin Lupe Lu." If you miss the El Vez Christmas Show you deserve a lump of coal. El Vez performs at Slim's on Friday, Dec. 18, with Lisa Flores opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12-13; call 522-0333.

OK, what's better than one Elvis impersonator on the seventh day before Christmas? Three Elvis impersonators on the sixth day before Christmas. We Three Kings are a trio of actors making fools of themselves in the name of charity with swaggering renditions of "Santa Bring My Baby Back," "Winter Wonderland," and "Blue Christmas." No promises. We Three Kings perform on Sunday, Dec. 20, in Union Square at 5 p.m. and at Local Bar (4314 California) at 8 p.m. and on Monday, Dec. 21, in Union Square at 7 p.m. All donations go to the Coalition on Homelessness.

-- Silke Tudor

 
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