Riff Raff

Not That Tired Old Business About Dot-Coms and Culture Again; Gone

Not That Tired Old Business About Dot-Coms and Culture AgainThese days, you can feel the backlash against the backlash kicking in -- a sense that anybody who cares about San Francisco music is sick and tired of being told that there isn't much of a scene here. Emphasize that: Sick. Tired.Mainly, the anxiety is directed toward talk that the explosion of dot-com culture (however you choose to define that), cover bands, and the strip-mining of the city's once-famed bohemian sensibilities are having any permanent effect on the cultural life of San Francisco. Or maybe everybody's simply become desensitized to the changing face of the city -- see enough SUVs parked on the sidewalk and that'll happen.

Regardless, the sale of the Great American Music Hall last week to Palo Alto-based downloadable-music firm Riffage.com didn't produce the palpitations of outrage that usually kick in here when art and commerce collide so blatantly. Rumored for ages and in the works since the beginning of the year -- the Music Hall had been on the block for the better part of a year, with co-owner Claire Brouwer wishing to pursue full-time motherhood -- the current line is that nothing will really change at the hallowed venue except for a new emphasis on live Webcasts, which Riffage CEO Ken Wirt said should begin sometime in August. "The point is not to change what they're doing," he told us.

It's a win-win situation, he added, and went on to describe how somebody in New York might see a Webcast of a particular artist at the Music Hall and then, excited by seeing that particular artist, would be more inclined to see a show at the Music Hall when he or she comes to visit San Francisco. "We think it will help sell tickets," he said. Oh, and the particular artist he mentioned as an example? Billy Joel.

While the Music Hall buy is all about synergies and leveraging content, over at Oakland's Port Lite, it's all about pluck. Booker Emmett Cadigan, who's been vociferously boosting the joint as the East Bay's Bottom of the Hill, has put together the self-explanatory Port Lite Compilation on his Food Stamp Records, featuring 21 East Bay acts, mostly on the punk and bastardized country end, with a few moments of sheer brilliance, particularly Debris' six-minute trance-rock epic "Short Changed." "It's all about hype," says the voluble Cadigan, who pressed up a thousand copies of the CD for sale at the club and East Bay record stores. "We're trying to say that Oakland is here -- here's what's going on." Track 22 of the compilation features Cadigan himself, lofting rhetorical grenades at know-nothing local rock critics who do nothing but talk, the insidious "rock star-itis" that plagues certain local musicians (who won't play the Port Lite), and Third Eye Blind.

This weekend, the House that Emmett Built will celebrate the CD release, featuring (among others) Drunk Horse, Cutlass Supreme, the Giblet Dribblers, and 3 Years Down; see our Music Listings on Page 48 or www.portlite.net for details. Later this month, Pinch Hit releases Sell Out With the In Crowd, an 11-track comp of S.F. bands with higher profiles and craftier pop sensibilities than the Port Lite scene, including Vegas DeMilo, the Fingers, Applesaucer, and Ultra Velvet. The CD is a spinoff of the Paradise Lounge's regular, unfortunately named "Rocktronica" series, itself borne out of DeMilo's Foster Johnson's interest in emphasizing the positive aspects of the scene, and is making an attempt to show off local bands to a wider audience -- release parties are slated for San Francisco (at the Paradise June 16 and 17), as well as Sacramento and Los Angeles.

GoneOn May 31, Nyna Crawford, singer for San Francisco's Vktms, died of ovarian cancer. She was 44. Like a lot of people involved in the S.F. punk scene during the late '70s and early '80s, Crawford came from duller climes (Long Beach in her case), moving to the city in 1977 and forming the Vktms a year later. The band's songs appeared on the S.F. Underground EP, one of the first local punk releases. "We started playing and recording and we played lotsa shows around the Bay Area," she wrote later. "We even sold a few records and got the ever bitchin' thrill of hearing our songs being played on the radio." Crawford went on to be part of other bands, including Murder and Smashed Weekend, moved back to Long Beach for a stint, then came back in '95 to re-form the Vktms, who stayed together for two more years. An eponymous Vktms anthology was released on Broken Rekkids in 1997. "Those who ever saw her perform probably realized that her influences brought a different slant to being a 'punk-rock' singer," wrote Vktms guitarist John Binkov in a release. "And probably most important, Nyna was one of the first women in rock who really, really rocked." At press time, a memorial tribute was still being planned.

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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