Poet, Knows It

Spoken-word artist Beth Lisick found her calling in live poetry. With her jazz combo the Beth Lisick Ordeal, she found an audience.

Of course, this frightens less adventurous clubgoers. "When we first started doing the music thing," says Lisick, "inevitably there'd be people who would walk out as soon as they just heard me talk instead of sing. But I got turned on by the fact that people who would never go to a poetry reading -- ever -- were hearing it and saying, 'Ahhh ... I went to this poetry thing one night and didn't like it but this was great.' And that, for me, was great -- to realize that the audience is potentially bigger than the 25 people at the readings."

For Lisick's bandmates, sharing the stage with such a smart, charismatic frontperson is ideal. "She's got an incredible stage presence and dynamic delivery that would steal the show no matter what we played behind her," explains Cooper. "So that frees us up tremendously to compose whatever the hell we want." Cremaschi, who worked with spoken-word artists in New York's Rebel Poets for years, welcomes the way "she delivers [her words] more like a musician and not like a writer who feels like the writing is so precious that the music is only there to serve the writing."

While much of Lisick's material involves caustic, wisecracking character portraits lifted from her personal experiences and observations -- the bungee-jumping, SUV-cruising yuppie in "Weekend Warrior," the Mission vagrants in "Hit and Run," the spoiled coeds in "Devil's Vacation" -- she doesn't look down on these folks. Even though she pokes fun at what Cooper calls "the highly dubious moral decisions" of some of these individ-uals, she ultimately empathizes with them by "presenting [these situations] in a way where she's clearly advocating some redemption or some way of getting over it," which is a far cry from the arch cynicism of spoken-word celebs Lydia Lunch or Henry Rollins.

Cremaschi underscores the point: "I don't ever feel in these pieces that it's a satisfaction with people being fucked up." In fact, the pieces are more like a frank heart-to-heart between the writer and the band and you and me and the drunk in the corner -- the admission that we've all lain in the gutter at some time or other, and may as well push through the next "crackle of static," as Lisick puts it in "Bag of Bones." Which is precisely how this whole thing started.

The Beth Lisick Ordeal performs for free on Friday, Jan. 22, at 6 p.m. at Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, S.F., call 831-1200; with the Double U on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 10 p.m. at Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market ($5 admission), S.F., call 861-5016; and with Toychestra and special-guest trombonist Tom Yoder on Sunday, Jan. 24, at 8:30 p.m. at the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St. ($5 admission), S.F., call 647-2888.

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