By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Stephin Merritt is like the Irving Berlin of the indie-rock world. I only mean that he is a songwriter who writes songs for singers, often other than himself (in the case of his group the 6ths, never himself and never for the same singer more than once). He jumps genres as the project demands -- a little goth here, a little new wave there, a smidgen of synth-pop, a touch of Baroque, a dab of Windmar cabaret, a pinch of jazz, a dollop of country -- and tells stories for people other than himself. In fact, whether writing for the 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, Gothic Archies, or his most popular incarnation, Magnetic Fields, Merritt rarely drags personal experience into his work (which should remove him completely from the indie-rock oeuvre), and yet his songs have a universal quality that is impossible to excavate from memory once heard. For MF records, Merritt usually chooses an overarching theme, and his first record in three years for the Fields is no less than a masterwork of "concept." The three-album set, titled 69 Love Songs, approaches the usually dewy, self-indulgent subject from every possible angle, with wit, whimsy, compassion, and thoughtful distance. As usual, Merritt plays most of the hundred or more instruments found on 69 Love Songs, but while guest singers like Shirley Simms, Dudley Klute, and L.D. Beghtol lend a hand, all three albums are dominated by Merritt's own dark, dry baritone. Since the first pressing of 69 Love Songs sold out within one day, this may be your only chance to examine any of Merritt's hapless lovers before the next shipping. Magnetic Fields perform at the Great American Music Hall on Friday, Sept. 24, with Snakefarm and Fly Seville opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 885-0750.
Emerging from southwest England in 1980, the Subhumans gained attention with the same sort of insolent sneer and divisive politics that made the Sex Pistols matter. Unlike the Pistols, the Subhumans stuck around long enough to explore music as well as attitude. Their widely varied combination of punk, ska, and dark, moody odes gained a devoted following that refused to dissipate even after frontman Dick Lukas foolishly deserted the Subhumans for the ska-heavier Culture Shock. Thankfully, with the formation of Citizen Fish (Lukas, former Subhumans guitarist Phil, Subhumans drummer Trotsky, and bassist Jasper) in 1990, one of the greatest punk bands of all time was essentially regenerated. On the group's latest release, Active Ingredients, Lukas rails against an older man's woes -- Mad Cow disease, pollution, antidepressants, cynicism, compromise, advertising, TV, psychoanalysis - but the sound is as aggressive, snotty, defiant, and dangerously danceable as it was two decades ago. Citizen Fish performs at Gilman Street in Berkeley on Friday, Sept. 24, with the Criminals and Mark Bruback opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5; call (510) 525-9926. And at Bottom of the Hill on Saturday, Sept. 25, with the Enemies, Oozies, and Mark Bruback opening at 10 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 621-4455.
Elevated by a canopy of music boxes, acoustic guitars, theremin, and sporadic synthesizer bleeps, Ana D.'s delicate, dusty coo carries the sun-baked patina of her native Spain into a cool, futuristic stratosphere. Like a desolate Astrud Gilberto who has discovered trip hop, she coils languidly around the topic of romance on Satélite 99, singing in soft-syllabled Spanish, "The lovers look into the final depths of each other's eyes and cry at the cold beauty of their hearts." Ana D. will perform at "Anisette" along with international DJs Albert Barnabé, Pink Frankenstein, Nunagi Okatta, and Walter's Yacht Club at the Make-Out Room on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 647-2877.
In the early '90s, at the pinnacle of her career as Japan's most prominent comedienne, Naoko Nozawa walked away. She re-emerged in NYC, as a street-corner performance artist and leader of a modest punk band, then hooked up with punk poet Bob Limp and transmuted into Nono Baba Baboom, the screeching coquette in pink fuzzies who gives lip to the duo Ass Baboons From Venus. When the Ass Baboons arrived in S.F., local club pimps still considered Britpop fairly exotic, so Nozawa and Limp focused on their families here while delighting fans in Japan with the release of the Ass Baboons' Naked Lady Wrestler vs. Mango Man and Spanking the Species. Always looking for another creative outlet, Nozawa also wrote and directed a short film called Monkfish Dream, a supernatural love story involving a pathetic Japanese paramour and an exquisite corpse.
As San Francisco slowly awoke to the existence of international pop, the Ass Baboons began to stretch out in their new home. Thus began Nozawa's multimedia film project The Legend of the Water Breakers. Enter eX-Girl, the trilling candy-coated punkettes whose Kero! Kero! Kero! earned my unending fondness last year. As of this month, eX-Girl isNozawa's Water Breakers, which is a little confusing since eX-Girl's latest release has the group billed as Punk Lady (a souped-up cover band of the famous '70s Japanese duo Pink Lady). Nonetheless, Nozawa has eX-Girl in town through October, shooting music videos, playing shows, acting in Water Breakers, and just walking around putting most other bands to shame. eX-Girl/Punk Lady/Water Breakers will be joined by renowned God Mountain Records producer Hoppy Kamiyama at the Cocodrie on Saturday, Sept. 25; Gun & Doll Show and Ass Baboons of Venus open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 986-6678. The trio will also appear at Amoeba on Friday, Oct. 22; call 831-1200. And with the Ass Baboons later that night at the Port Lite in Oakland; call (510) 451-0600. Monkfish Dream will premiere at the Mill Valley Film Fest on Sunday, Oct. 10; call 383-5256. And at the Roxie for the Film Arts Foundation Festival on Sunday, Nov. 7; call 863-1087.