Grievous Angels

The Court and Spark might be the Bay Area's best new country band, if only it played country music

By May 1999, the album was finished and ex-Exignota member Rogers had moved to San Francisco to take over bass duties. Another important addition was pedal steel player Tom Heyman, best known for his singing/songwriting/guitaring role in Philly's now-defunct altcountry stalwart Go to Blazes. "Tom's been really good for us," says Taylor. "He's been playing forever. We've learned a lot from him about playing live."

"And ordering Philly cheese steaks," Hirsch adds.

In June, the band took its fleshed-out lineup on the road. The four-week, 10,000-mile tour traveled through Chicago to New York and back again. In another Gram Parsons parallel, the band was faced with the responsibility of bringing its odd sound to hipsters, many of whom still see country as synonymous with white-bread, mainstream culture. And trying to play quiet, moody music in a bar is usually a masochistic endeavor, regardless of genre. But the Court and Spark audiences were appreciative. Mostly.

The Court and Spark: Musical polyglots.
Dianne Jones
The Court and Spark: Musical polyglots.

Details

Performs on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 885-0750.
Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F.

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"In Oklahoma we played one sort of half-slow song," recalls Hirsch. "And some girls said, "This is music to slit your wrists to!'"

"And that," Rogers deadpans, "was our upbeat set."

In Murfreesburo, Tenn., they had another run-in with a restless audience. One heckler wouldn't stop yelling out a request for "Rocky Top." "She called us a bunch of California boys," recalls Rogers. "She sounded like the mother in Throw Momma From the Train. I think she had a good heart. She was just so drunk."

The good shows -- New York in particular -- made up for the off nights. And then there was the day in L.A. when the band stumbled on the bowling alley where the Coen brothers filmed The Big Lebowski.

The Court and Spark members, in case you were wondering, are very big fans of The Big Lebowski.

"That's what we do in the van -- we re-enact [the film]," says Rogers cheerfully.

"Line by line," adds Kim.

"Over and over again."

"Every day."

Just back from the tour, the band is preparing, appropriately enough, for its performance at the second annual "Sleepless Nights" Gram Parsons tribute. The Aug. 12 show at the Great American Music Hall will be a who's who of local country-ish talent. Mover, the High Deserters, the Blue Arrows, Red Meat, and Chuck Prophet are scheduled to play, along with San Diego's Convoy and L.A.'s Northern Lights.

The Court and Spark is flattered to get to help celebrate one of the saints of country music. But like a certain young maverick before them, the band members' taste in icons doesn't always follow the doctrine of the times.

"I think we're all fans [of Parsons]," says Taylor. "I don't know that we're huge fans. He was a good songwriter. But there's lots and lots of good songwriters from back then."

"We'd like to do a Gene Clark song and a Townes Van Zandt song too," adds Rogers. "They're just as cool."

Parsons would be so proud.

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