Riff Raff

Turning of the Tide Like that old line about death and taxes, there are two guarantees at rock concerts that play out regardless of the band, the venue, and the audience. To wit:

1) There will be somebody shouting bizarre, drunken, and sometimes funny heckles before the end of the night.

2) There will be somebody -- not necessarily the same person -- who will call out for Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." Whether drunkenness is a factor in this case depends on your undergraduate status.

Riff Raff wishes that once -- just once -- some band would go through the soul-killing process of actually learning the entire song, all 278 minutes of it, and play the damn thing in its entirety when somebody calls out for it. With any luck, the truth would emerge: Demanding "Free Bird" isn't quite so much fun when you actually have to hear it, thereby ending rock concertdom's dumbest tradition once and for all.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Ahem.
Examples of both guarantees 1) and 2) were in evidence at the Paradise Lounge on Monday, March 29, which wasn't so surprising. What was surprising was that it happened in a case where there were more people on the stage than in the audience. For an unannounced show that night, the Box Set Acoustic Duo opened for Grandaddy, who on this night were playing with 11 musicians who formed a chamber orchestra of sorts, violinists and cellists sawing away as a horn section piped in. The chamber-rock concept is Ian Brennan's, something he tries out about once every three months, where he "go[es] through the Rolodex and call[s] up a bunch of people" to solicit the services of local professionals; he's done it before with Barbara Manning and Chuck Prophet, among others, all as part of his weekly local music series at Folsom Street's Brain Wash, the laundromat/cafe/performance space.

But the status of Brain Wash is up in the air, thanks to permit problems and noise complaints from neighbors (Riff Raff now has a single time-saving button on our keyboard that types out "noise complaints from neighbors"); the Paradise Lounge is picking up the slack, though the speedy changeover means little time for promotion of its free shows.

Which explains the weak attendance on this night, at which Grandaddy's Jason Lytle bravely attempted to corral the assembled backup musicians, get his chamber-pop experiment heard over the punky band playing in the adjacent space upstairs, and deal with the cheerfully oddball heckles coming from the fellow sitting directly up front. Smiling and loud, he appeared to speak at least three languages -- English, Spanish, and Spanglish -- as Brennan, who was taping the set for his third Unscrubbed local band compilation, all but tore his hair out while Lytle struggled to calm the fellow down. "Let me ask you," he said between songs, "I've always wondered: Las Vegas -- what does vegas mean in English?"

"Prostitutes!" the man enthusiastically replied. "Hookers!"
Which was enough for Brennan, who, finding his tapes in danger of being ruined, called for the gentleman's removal. Meanwhile, a handful of folks had just raised a noisy toast to something or other midsong, leading one to call out for "Free Bird."

So it's not exactly Budokan, but for now, the Paradise is going to have to do. On March 5, police showed up at Brain Wash and shut the show down midset; when Brain Wash owner Jeff Zalles bought the space on Feb. 1, he didn't realize that the live music permit was nontransferable.

Brennan scrambled for a new space, and quickly found the Paradise Lounge, which has hosted the Unscrubbed benefit hootenanny for the past two years. "They bailed us out with less than 48 hours advance notice," says Brennan. The Paradise was happy to help. "We have the downstairs closed pretty much on Monday night," says owner Robin Reichert. "But when [Brennan] came to us, we said, 'Yeah, let's give it a shot.' "

"I knew there were some issues with the neighbors," says Zalles, who took an interest in owning Brain Wash more because he comes from a laundromat background than a musical one. Zalles has since applied for a new permit, "just to get the acoustic music back," and will find out the fate of Brain Wash performances on April 14 when he has his permit hearing. He's been mollifying neighbors, but he argues that the presence of shows helps the neighborhood. "South of Market is gentrifying," he says. "I think a business like Brain Wash brings people in the the neighborhood in the evening. It attracts non-nightclub people and creates a safer neighborhood. I think it's in the interest of the neighbors to have a place like Brain Wash."

In the meantime, Brennan is assembling local acts for the third annual Unscrubbed CD release and benefit show, scheduled for May 22 at the Paradise, featuring the Mr. T Experience, Aquamen, For Stars, Gun & Doll Show, and Tribe 8, among others. He has also assembled an East Coast tour of local musicians later this month, a San Francisco songwriter showcase featuring himself, Liar's Paula O'Rourke and Eric McFadden, For Stars' Carlos Forster, the Kinetics' Bart Davenport, and the Naked Barbies' Patty Spiglanin. To prevent roadburn, they'll only be out for a week. "It's a pretty common belief that the best part of a tour is the first seven days," says Brennan, "so we're going out for seven days." (Mark Athitakis)

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to mathitakis@sfweekly.com, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

 
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