Riff Raff

In the Ballpark

In the Ballpark
Of all the pleasant surprises that attended Yo La Tengo's recent four-show stint at the Great American Music Hall, one of the most pleasant was seeing songstress Barbara Manning, clad in a Barry Bonds jersey, leaping onstage to join in the festivities. It was on that same stage in the fall of '98, opening for the Magnetic Fields, that Manning announced that she was skipping town, telling the crowd she was depressed by increasing rents (she fell victim to an owner move-in eviction) and was looking for a change. Theoretically, that ended the local career of one to the best confessional rockers ever produced by a city famous for its confessional rockers. But Manning came back last month. Permanently? "'Permanent' is a word that doesn't come up in my life too often," she says with a laugh.

Most of Manning's time away from San Francisco was spent in Europe: Italy, Denmark, France, Switzerland, but mainly Germany. "I was pretty depressed until about March [of last year]," she says of her early days overseas. "I was thinking that I made a mistake, and feeling like the weather was just never going to end. I felt like the loneliest person on earth, and then it just changed. It just got better and better and better. By the time I left in February, I felt like I was ripping roots up, because I just loved it." She tells that story in song on Homeless Where the Heart Is, an EP that, as the title suggests, catalogues homesick and heartsick tales. A chapbook of sharp, wise, and deeply felt tracks, it's some of her prettiest and most emotionally candid music since the landmark Lately I Keep Scissorsalbum in 1989 and subsequent work with the SF Seals.

Manning's new band, the Go-Luckys!, features brothers Fabrizio and Flavio Steinbach, whom Manning met during her stint in Germany. "My heart was just ripped out and tromped on, once again, and I think that the best thing for me is to write -- I'm really articulate when I'm upset like that. One of the great things about that record was that I was playing with 21-year-old energized and excited young musicians who made me feel like I was 21 again, too." The Steinbachs, in turn, were huge fans of Manning, and were more aware of Manning's discography than she was. As a result, Manning's boned up on songs she hadn't played for the better part of a decade, which she should feature in her upcoming April shows: Baobob on the 15th and Doc's Clock on the 21st. Later this summer, the Go-Luckys! themselves will be in town, with more shows to follow.

Any conversation with Manning will eventually turn to the subject of baseball. After all, she once led a band called the SF Seals, and her wonderful 1993 Baseball Trilogy featured the appropriately psychedelic "Dock Ellis," in tribute to the only major-league pitcher on record for throwing a no-hitter while tripping on LSD. Last week, Manning hopped on her bicycle and made her "pilgrimage," as she calls it, riding down to The Stadium Formerly Known as Candlestick and the new Pacific Bell Park. Baseball's been on our minds a lot lately as well -- Pac Bell Park, irritating soda bottle monstrosity and all, is right in Riff Raff's back yard, not that we'll be taking afternoons off work to get in line for bleacher seats or anything like that, no, not at all. And, of course, we're looking forward to finding out if the Giants can field a decent team when it seems half the team's players have had their joints scraped and washed, and we also wonder if perhaps this year Barry Bonds can be reminded that he gets to contribute before August for a change.

Cynical talk like that gets Manning cranky, especially the stuff about Bonds. "I disagree," she says. "I think he's an enormously professional player. In a way, I think that's part of the problem, because he doesn't come off as being very personable. I think he's all business, and I think he knows what he's doing. He's one of the greatest players of our time, and I think we're lucky to have him on our team.

"And I wish that some day," she adds, pausing for a second to swoon, "I would love to talk to him."

Well, they do do this thing at baseball games where they have musicians sing the national anthem, and not that we're suggesting anything, but... "Oh my God, there's no way I could do something like that," she says. "I'm way too obscure an artist." But then Manning starts pondering the idea. "I certainly can sing that song, since I'm singing it as loud as I can at the games." Just, you know, throwing that out there.

Oops
The photo of Stark Raving Brad in last week's column failed to include a credit; it was taken by Actiongrl, to whom we apologize. Also, after we went to press, we were informed by Matador Records that the release of Live Human's Elefish Jellyphant has been pushed back. The album is now slated to come out July 11.

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

 
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