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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, May 12 1999
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Two Guitarists and a Boob Local band Titty -- actually rock stars Third Eye Blind under an assumed name -- played a sold-out show May 6 at the Paradise Lounge. It's a typical rock star stunt: You know, get intimate with the hard-core fans, play on a stage that's less than 10 feet high, try out some new material. And if the quartet's hourlong performance (with "Graduate" thrown in for an encore) was any indication, we're in for more of the same. Bargain-basement funk rock meets cut-rate Everclear for punk panache, swimming in a lyrical soup of ego strokes disguised as "confessionals" from Yber-sassy frontman Stephan Jenkins. Worse still: Because you can't multitrack vocals and do guitar overdubs live, the quartet's sound was thin and punchless. After all, 3EB's much better when they're railing against pop music with lots of chirpy keyboard cock-rock hooks playing in the background.

According to Paradise booker Byron Schustag, the show had been in the works for a while. About a year ago, the club and the band had been going back and forth about doing something more intimate than the arena shows Jenkins is now used to -- perhaps an 11th Street party featuring Northern California rock heavyweights like Cake and Chris Isaak -- but the club date is what they settled on, complete with backstage-pass laminates featuring pornographic pictures.

Jenkins' return to the local stage follows up his expletive-laden ranting at the Bammies in March (a complete transcript is available at -- no joke -- stephanjenkins.com), and another unannounced appearance at Smash Mouth's Coca Cola-sponsored Maritime Hall gig last Friday. It was also an opportunity for Jenkins to get a few shots in at people around town who don't like his band's music: He asked if there were any members of the press in the audience, then said they all "fucking suck." Yeah, well, guess that makes us even, Mr. Jenkins.

Earlier that evening, roots-rock guitarist Jim Campilongo & the 10 Gallon Cats were also showcasing new material for an upcoming album as part of their five-week Thursday-night run at the Paradise, which continues through May 27. Along for the ride was longtime member and pedal steel guitarist Joe Goldmark, who's been working hard to bring more attention to his instrument, which generally stays in the background. So All Hat -- No Cattle, Goldmark's fourth CD, and the first for Oakland's Hightone Records, is a revelation: Gliding and twanging across 13 instrumentals, he pays tribute to West African highlife, the Band ("Whispering Pines"), Brill Building pop (Goffin-King's "Hey Girl"), the Grateful Dead ("China Cat Sunflower"), and closes with an ebullient take on the Byrds' "Eight Miles High."

Goldmark, a co-manager and part owner of Amoeba Music's San Francisco store, says the point of the record is to showcase what the pedal steel guitar can do as a lead instrument, and take it out of its common country-music context. "There's not a lot of people doing what I do, which is part of the reason I started doing it," he says. And what kind of song works for the steel-guitar treatment, anyway? "Usually a nice melody. A good melody that has other things going for it. It has to lay well on the steel and play on its own."

It's an approach that's made Goldmark an in-demand session musician, playing on a number of other groups' albums, including David Byrne's 1986 Sounds From True Stories, as well as providing a lovely bridge fill on "Hell of Dumb," a track on the Mr. T Experience's 1997 album Revenge Is Sweet, and So Are You.

Which, incidentally, is a record that the long-standing East Bay pop-punk trio got a fair amount of criticism for. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with the record, just that it was more of the same: punchy love songs with the occasional clever turn of phrase, lathered, rinsed, and repeated across 16 tracks. And when you've been getting up onstage since the mid-'80s, announcing "This is a song about a girl," and then playing a song about a girl -- well, it does get a bit trite after a while.

Frontman Dr. Frank understands the complaints. "I like the idea of changing everything around every time, but I haven't always managed to do that," he says. "Revenge Is Sweet is a great album, but I think that we sounded too much like the last one [the band's 1996 breakthrough Love Is Dead]." That was part of the inspiration for Show Business Is My Life, Frank's first solo record for Lookout. It's a diverse outing, though the structures and subjects of the songs haven't changed. "Rock 'n' roll is songs about girls," Frank insists. "The only other legitimate topic would be cars." What's changed is context, a sonic approach that exposes Frank as more a singer/songwriter than a punk: old-timey blues like "She All Right," pop balladry on "Population: Us," and the tender folk-driven "Bitter Homes and Gardens" and "Sad, Sad Shadow." Dispensing with his usual backup band, he's reeled in a cast of Lookout all-stars, including Groovie Ghoulies bassist Kepi and the Hi-Fives, as well as peripatetic fanzine author Aaron Cometbus playing drums on one song.

"I always took songwriting very seriously," Frank says. "I was aware that a lot of the time, the subtlety of the songs gets buried under the punk rock." No such issues should come into play when he performs acoustically at Bottom of the Hill on May 13, with Kevin Army opening. Call 621-4455.

You Might Want to Post This Somewhere The Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Free Speech in San Francisco, which lobbied against the now-mooted plan to change the city's flier-posting laws, is holding a "victory celebration" May 23 at the ODC Theater at 8 p.m. Cajun Classics, Slow Poisoners, Nick Porcaro, and the S.F. Mime Troupe will perform, and a highlights video from flier-related public hearings will be shown. Call 289-6575.

-- 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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Mark Athitakis

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Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
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    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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