Bless You Grim as some of Anton Chekhov's work may be, the Russian playwright had a fun-loving side that the People's Republic of Chekhov would like us to know better. They'll be staging The Sneeze, a collection of Chekhov's best-known short pieces and adaptations of his comic fiction, compiled by Noises Off playwright Michael Frayn. The creator of moody, complex classics like Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard could have used some comic relief, certainly; he wrote his first comedies under a pseudonym to put himself through medical school, but the strain of two careers (as he wrote to a friend, "Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress") was partially responsible for his contracting TB, which troubled him until his death at age 44. If gloomy Russian winters and cholera epidemics fueled Chekhov's dramatic works, Russian bureaucracy and human folly informed the lighter side. The Sneeze previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through May 1) at Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), S.F. Admission is $8-12; call 339-7819. (Expect April to end on a Chekhovian note as well: The Custom Made Theater Company will stage Orchards, a collection of one-acts based on Chekhov short stories, created by modern playwrights including David Mamet and Wendy Wasserstein. It begins April 30 at the Bannam Place Theater. Call 395-8314 for more information.)
Eight Is the Magic Number Club Cocomo is a strange and unusual place. Located just off the bay in Potrero's industrial hinterlands, the space is banked by a garden, tiki torches, a strip of green, and a smattering of old cars. The venue's expansive booking policy allows for salsa lessons and the occasional wake, all taking place under the glassy gazes of life-sized stuffed sheep and a lone yak. Tonight, in this unique setting, Cocomo is presenting "The Rock Never Stops!" -- eight bands for eight bucks, plus an Indian food counter, a little psychedelic grooving out in the back yard with DJ Neil N. Kizmaiazz, and cosmic visuals from the Werepad. JoJo and MK Ultra draw listeners in with wistful pop, while Wilson Gill & the Willful Sinners put a punk spin on honky-tonk; Oranger, Capsule, Dixie Star, the Manchester 5, and John Malady join in. The show starts at 8 p.m. at Club Cocomo, 650 Indiana (at Mariposa), S.F. Admission is $8; call 648-5656, ext. 2.
Ah, Wilderness! Bikers will be keeping one eye on the sky and one eye on the highway during "Biking for the Birds," a leisurely tour led by the Audubon Society and sponsored by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. This flat, 10-mile ride rolls past scenic Bay Area spots en route to Arrowhead Marsh, a newly developed Alameda island wildlife refuge; riders will learn about the migration patterns of birds traveling the Pacific flyway, and witness the mating plumage of birds like the horned grebe, which sheds its drab winter ensemble in favor of deep crimson head feathers accented by gold tufts. The search for raptors and snowy plovers concludes with a naturalist-guided stroll through Crab Cove and the adjacent mud flats. The convoy begins at 9:30 a.m. at 1095 Market, above San Francisco's Civic Center BART station, and rolls by rail to the Oakland Coliseum BART station, where it picks up East Bay bicyclists at 10:15. Riders should bring lunch, liquids, and binoculars. Admission is free-$5; call 431-BIKE. That bit of exertion will seem mild compared to the exploits captured by the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. Bikers who spend the rest of the day in the East Bay can look forward to a night of outdoor thrills and spills as experienced by sporting extremists. Look for kayakers plunging down Icelandic waterfalls and English climbers scaling Switzerland's Pennine Alps with their bare hands. Grandpa's in the Tuff Shed, meanwhile, offers a bit of levity, as a Colorado town debates what to do with a cryogenically frozen man after his mountain-climbing grandson is deported to Norway. The festival begins at 7 p.m. at Wheeler Auditorium, UC Berkeley campus. Admission is $10-12; call (510) 527-7377.
Father Figure "Fight! Fight! Fight! I'm with ya." That salvo to an embattled Richard Nixon is the first entry in The Lazlo Letters: The Amazing, Real Life, Actual Correspondence of Lazlo Toth, American! The 1977 best seller contains correspondence between Toth and dozens of public entities who responded, with varying degrees of confusion, to Toth's off-the wall comments and inquiries. The book also spawned a semiregular Spy column and a half-dozen knockoffs. Of course, Toth isn't a real-life American; he's a pseudonym of comic Don Novello. Even people who don't know Toth's name (and judging from the book, many don't) might recognize Novello's other alter ego: Father Guido Sarducci. Around the time Toth was drafting letters to McDonald's about the company's billboards ("Personally, I think a lot of people will not like the egg McMuffin with jelly. It would be like putting jelly on top of eggs!"), a chain-smoking Sarducci popped up on the original Saturday Night Live, playing basketball in his vestments and poking fun at the Catholic Church in heavily Italian-accented English. Comic observations made by earnest eccentrics are Novello's specialty; he'll close the "Solo Spotlights" series at 8 p.m. at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center's Hoytt Theater, 200 North San Pedro, San Rafael. Admission is $16-20; call 479-2000.
Give Me the Farmer Man! The long-lost Pharcyde has finally returned after nearly four years, and though they've lost a record label (Delicious Vinyl) and a band member (Fat Lip), remaining members Bootie Brown, Slim Kid Tre, and Imani are testing the waters with new material, which is good news for jonesing fans. One of hip hop's sassiest outfits left us with just two albums: Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde and the enigmatically titled Labcabincalifornia. Like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, the Pharcyde didn't do much boasting and bragging; with the exception of the playing-the-dozens anthem "Ya Mama," the band went for full-bore booty shaking in "Soul Flower" and the aching slow groove of "Passing Me By," in which the guy does not get the girl. Opening band 75 Degrees goes live with a full band and a crew of DJs and rappers at 9 p.m. at the Justice League, 628 Divisadero (at Hayes), S.F. Admission is $15; call 440-0409.
Deep Thoth Don't know who SK Thoth is? Oh, but you do. You've seen him inside the 24th Street BART stop, or sometimes outside the storefronts of the Upper Haight, wearing stacked heels and rattles around his ankles and a leather-and-chain-mail loincloth (or, on alternate days, a miniskirt), a headful of skinny braids spilling over his topknot. He's the one playing the violin and singing operatic numbers as he sways in time with the music. In fact, he'll be offering an excerpt from a new opera at "VIA: The Voices of Integrated Arts Benefit and Performance Marathon." The underlying premise of the show is to bring people with varying degrees of physical mobility together in a show integrating various disciplines. Like the New Tsunami Fusion Fest (see sidebar), VIA presents some unlikely and intriguing blends: Tanis Doe and Murray Schellenberg do wheelchair ballroom dancing; Axis Dance Company works machinery and props into its choreography; the four-person trance band Echolalia accompanies the aerial movement of Michelle Stortz; and Charming Hostess remixes a cappella rock with klezmer accents. The show starts at 8 p.m. at Crucible Steel Gallery, 2050 Bryant (at 18th Street), S.F. Admission is $15-30; call 824-7348.
Here Is the Fun You Requested When Here Are the Facts You Requested play the music-video night "MT-Vision," Colby+David's five-projector video collage FractalVision will replace whatever images might have been dancing in your head with clips of homeless people and animated cutouts jumbled together with flickering images of band members arm-wrestling. Theirs is a collaborative vision, with a shadowy aural soundscape as eclectic as the film itself, encompassing drums and drum machines, cello and the whine of race cars rounding the bend, and guitars and samples of rodeo noise and mysterious industrial clatter. Kung Fu Grip, jokingly described as Here Are the Facts' evil twin, align their music with Meat and Potatoes, a series of disconnected themes created by the band's guitarist. Walter Funk's 3-D holographic imaging and Zach Jordan's digital video add to the chaos. "MT-Vision" begins at 8 p.m. at 111 Minna Street Gallery, 111 Minna (at Second Street), S.F. Admission is $5; call 282-7456.
Fighting Words Damage is a common theme for Lydia Lunch, Hubert Selby Jr., and Jerry Stahl. Selby, whose most recent book, The Willow Tree, details a friendship between a young black boy and a concentration camp survivor, is best known for Last Exit to Brooklyn, which paints a grim picture of Brooklyn's mean streets during a bitter union strike and the Korean War. Against that backdrop, flawed characters compensate for every kind of powerlessness by brutalizing one another. Stahl's own life is something of an object lesson in Permanent Midnight, a harrowing memoir of drug addiction that nonetheless recognizes the comedy in Stahl's tenure as junkie scriptwriter for the sitcom Alf. Lunch, along with fellow spoken-word punks Exene Cervenka, Nina Hagen, and Henry Rollins, finds damage in politics and other powers that be, spinning tales of social misfits who struggle with the system. Selby, Lunch, and Stahl will perform at a spoken-word show beginning at 8 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $16; call 885-0750.
Allez Cat The rumor that France doesn't get rock must have started about 30 years ago, around the time that Johnny Hallyday began making records. Nicknamed the French Elvis, Hallyday gyrated his way through over 100 singles, including his bilingual hit "Let's Twist Again," which transitions from French to English ("Let's tweeest again, like we deed last summah") with anemic handclaps and Hallyday's tres sexy exhortations ("Tappez les mans!"), ending as he grunts, "Ah, c'est bon, mmm, oui!" But what Americans find campy, the French hold dear: They don't seem to care how silly he sounds, or looks, despite the distinctly un-chic move from blond pompadour and high-necked sweaters to stringy locks and Hawaiian shirt-cowboy boot ensembles. Hallyday still makes the gossip pages of Paris Match, and when he played the Aladdin, fans were paying upward of a thousand dollars for a "Destination Vegas" travel package. He's starred in French films, too, including Costa-Gavras' 1986 comedy Conseil de famille (Family Business), where he's paired with Fanny Ardant as a safecracker whose success bankrolls a comfortably middle-class existence. Witness a Gallic legend when the film screens, as part of the "Famille!" series, at 7 p.m. at the Alliance Francaise, 1345 Bush (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $5; call 775-7755.