Remember those childhood lullabies your mother used to sing to you, the ones you couldn't get out of your head even after you'd gone to sleep? Remember getting grounded, when out of sheer boredom you'd flip over a tin can and make it into a drum, or turn a whisk broom into a guitar? This Thursday night at New Langton Art's performance series "Tingly Test Tube," you can revisit those childhood antics with Down River, a two-woman band that comes complete with frilly moth-eaten dresses, a birdcage and sewing machine rhythm section, and an accordion, with "spinning dolls" and a homemade Super 8 film to accompany them (occasionally mixing in such out-of-the-way instruments as balalaika and Wurlitzer, melodica and harp).
Their haunting harmonies and aesthetic sensibilities have made Down River a favorite of the art set, and they even played a memorable gig on the carousel at the opening of the Children's Zeum last year. If any of those children were listening carefully, no doubt they came home with a few nightmares, because the dirgelike lullabies sung by Carolyn Ryder Cooley and Anah-K Coates are every bit as twisted as Edward Gorey and the Brothers Grimm. Peeking under the carnival tent flap of their recent CD Rememory, one glimpses such characters as Dorothy, a little girl whose daddy tells her to "Get some matches off the stove/ On her way back she lights herself on fire/ And that's how she does what she's told." There's also a sweet ode to a junk shop where you can buy such oddities as a curtain to pull across your heart, a tombstone for Grandma's grave, and maybe a few songs to play. And as for monsters, they're not to be hid under a bushel: "This little Frankenstein of mine/ I'm gonna let her shine ... all around the neighborhood/ I'm gonna take what's mine."
The mood set by Down River will be complemented nicely by performance artist Mark Boswell, whose fascination with film noir leads him to create dark, surrealistic settings for his pieces -- his characters play pingpong against projections of Hitchcock films, or offer grim Orwellian radio reports on the chaos in San Francisco after some imaginary catastrophe. Artist Bob Linder, who has recently exhibited work at Four Walls Gallery in San Francisco and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, completes the evening with a solo performance.
"Tingly Test Tube" takes place Thursday at 8 p.m. at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (between Eighth and Ninth streets), S.F. Tickets are $6-8; call 626-5416.