Riff Raff

Best New Music Venue: City Hall Part of the fallout of the refurbished, scaffoldless City Hall is that it makes for a nifty backdrop for musicians. So last Tuesday, there was KTVU-TV's Mark Pitta hanging out with pop rocker Tommy Henriksen, singing and mugging for the cameras for Mornings on 2. And later that afternoon, Jazz at Pearl's co-owner Sonny Buxton assembled approximately 150 Bay Area jazzbos for a photo shoot à la the New York musicians shot for a 1958 picture (documented for the film A Great Day in Harlem). Buxton spent the last five months working with photographer Mars Breslow to assemble the musicians -- including Eddie Alley, Saunders King, and Jerome Richardson -- for a planned lithograph available later this year. Not that it all happened easily. "Communicate with me," a nervous Buxton said to Breslow amid a sea of photographers and onlookers, shortly before Mayor Brown ambled down the Goodlett Place steps to proclaim May 18 Bay Area Jazz Musicians Day in San Francisco. And three days prior, International Turntablist Federation world champion Vinroc performed in City Hall's North Light Court as part of the city's Asian Pacific Heritage Month festivities. Spinning for a predominantly older crowd, Vinroc walked the audience through the basics of DJ'ing and beat juggling for about 20 minutes. "It was a cool learning experience for everybody, including myself," says Vinroc.

Rick Wakeman, Call Your Agent Shawn Ahearn, president of Pangea Music, wanted to move his offices to the Bay Area from Southern California, but wound up only making it partway here. Now based in Santa Cruz, Ahearn and Pangea are responsible for the fifth annual International Progressive Music Festival, a two-day celebration of odd time signatures and space-is-the-place lyrics, which makes its Bay Area debut on May 29 and 30 at the Palace of Fine Arts.

Ahearn believes this is the right time for a prog-rock revival. "Young audiences are tired of grunge and punk rock," he says. And he also believes that San Francisco is the right place for the festival. Though he started the event at UCLA in 1993, Ahearn kept running into people from the Bay Area who were not only willing to make the trip south, but had also created an underground network of fans. "The mainstream media had written off progressive music," says Ahearn. "People who could play extended solos disappeared. Genesis and Pink Floyd on the radio disappeared. Hundreds of thousands of fans who were alienated were reunited through the Internet."

So the shows have grown from a one-day afternoon affair to a two-day showcase with official sponsors (including Adobe, mp3.com, and the Weekly), sales booths, and bands from Sweden, Britain, Japan, and elsewhere. Headlining on Saturday is Australia's Gong (though they'd have you believe they're from the mystical land of Planet Gong), and on Sunday, France's Magma. Both are long-standing masters of interstellar overdrive, and because what goes around comes around, they now possess a hip cachet.

Indeed, in talking about his band's new album, the dry and dull 13, Blur frontman Damon Albarn has been citing Gong as a major influence. "A couple of years ago he would've been shot on the streets of London for saying that," Ahearn says. Filling out the schedule for Saturday is Brand X, Par Lindh Project, and Bondage Fruit; on Sunday is Porcupine Tree, Lana Lane & the Rocket Scientists, and the Bay Area's guitar hotshot and walking KFC advertisement Buckethead, who's taking a break from a slot on the Ozzfest tour to put in an appearance. Ticket packages range from $30 to $90; call (831) 425-0434.

If R2D2 Falls in a Desert, Does It Make a Song? Star Wars has inspired a number of silly musical ideas: disco versions of John Williams' the-audience-is-listening-and-going-deaf-from-the-blare overture, Bill Murray whipping up actual lyrics to the tune, and that god-awful Ewok pop song that actually charted back in 1983. So you can't blame Dan Killoran for throwing his hat into the ring.

Killoran, a 29-year-old UPS delivery truck driver from Pleasant Hill, has created "Star Wars Forever," a song based exclusively on samples (314, to be exact) from the first Star Wars film. For six months, he tinkered with his keyboard sampler and processed sounds from the film -- not music, which Killoran says would be "cheating." The song clatters along electro-funk style, peppered with quotes from the movie ("We don't serve their kind here," "Help me Obi-Wan. You're my only hope"). Darth Vader's breathing provides a rhythm, with the main kick drum sound provided from the ka-thunk R2D2 made when zapped by Jawas in the desert.

"I'm not one of the [Star Wars] nuts," Killoran insists. But he admits his main goal is to get a hard copy of the four-minute-44-second song into the hands of George Lucas. Only George Lucas; he's not making copies of the track, though he happily played the song over the phone. ("We're having an audio revolution here," Killoran said, more to himself than us while setting up his stereo.) Lucasfilm Ltd. has a policy of not accepting unsolicited Star Wars-related materials, so Killoran's resigned to hoping against hope. Interested parties -- at Lucasfilm or otherwise -- can send an e-mail to Killoran at danstunes@AOL.COM; HIS SCHEDULE PERMITTING, HE'S WILLING TO PLAY THE SONG FOR THOSE WISHING TO HEAR IT.

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