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House Of Tudor 

Steven Emerson; A Series of Unfortunate Events; Electric Wizard

Wednesday, Mar 14 2001
Did you ever wonder what happened to Roland Gift, the soulful beauty who led Fine Young Cannibals to international acclaim in 1989 and then swiftly abandoned his musical career? Evidence has it that, after garnering the title of one of People magazine's 50 sexiest people alive, Gift turned his artistic abilities and exotic good looks to acting. Following key roles in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and Scandal, Gift disappeared, except for appearances on four episodes of the Highlander TV series. On that program, an ancient clan of Immortals wandered the globe, tracking and hacking each other up with swords, the triumphant Immortal decapitating his enemy in order to gain the fallen one's knowledge and talent.

If I didn't know better, I'd say Bay Area vocalist Steven Emerson gave Roland Gift a bit of his sword some time ago. Like Gift, Emerson's heart seems perpetually caught in his throat, leaving his velvety tones sounding tragic, fragile, and imploring. Unlike Gift, however, Emerson does not temper his natural proclivity with pop hooks and bouncy beats. With graceful, mournful resignation, Emerson sets his stride in the fragile footsteps of jazz trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker. On his new album, Set in Motion (produced by Tori Amos bassist Jon Evans), Emerson dissolves his voice in a delicate wash of strings and understated female backing vocals that recalls the early '70s soul of Al Green. While the album's smoky keyboard, restrained guitar, and refined horns perfectly -- almost deferentially -- create the necessary late-night moment, it is Emerson's voice that makes the music intimate and inescapable. Steve Emerson opens for Five Point Plan on Friday, March 16, at Tongue & Groove at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 928-0404.

Page 1 of The Bad Beginning, the first volume in A Series of Unfortunate Events by children's writer Lemony Snicket, warns, "In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle." This is exactly the sort of caution I yearned for as a child. As it was, I turned to more adult fare and, in so doing, permanently damaged my tender psyche with the self-absorbed musings of cynics and zealots. If only I had read A Series of Unfortunate Events, in which the Baudelaire orphans -- ingenious 14-year-old inventor Violet, well-focused 12-year-old bibliophile Klaus, and philosophical baby Sunny -- are beset by tremendous misfortune and plagued by an evil-minded, money-grubbing cousin named Count Olaf.

In the series so far, the orphans have faced poisonous snakes, man-eating leeches, hook-handed henchmen, wicked hypnoptometrists, an elderly relative deathly afraid of doorknobs and hot food, and the near nuptials of sweet Violet to disgusting cousin Olaf (an unimaginable offense for which Snicket was banned from speaking in Decatur, Ga.), and we are only in book six of 13. The latest installment, The Ersatz Elevator, begins with a very practical distinction between the words "nervous" and "anxious" and the suggestion that the reader peruse the dictionary -- or any other book for that matter -- so long as it is not the book he currently holds in hand. Beyond the fast-paced adventure and the somewhat frequent caveats against reading this series, each small, hard-bound book holds deckle-edged pages and beautifully inked Victorian-style illustrations. I won't spoil The Ersatz Elevator by mentioning Dark Street, Mount Fraught, and the 71-bedroom penthouse of trend-savvy guardians Mr. and Mrs. Squalor; for that, I'll leave you to Lemony Snicket himself. Though that is risky, since Snicket is a bit of a hermit; most of his public appearances are handled by 30-year-old San Francisco author and former Magnetic Fields accordionist Daniel Handler, who counts among his favorite authors Edward Gorey, Vladimir Nabokov, Edgar Allen Poe, the Marquis de Sade, and, of course, Lemony Snicket. Booksmith presents Daniel Handler on Sunday, March 18, at Park Branch Library (1833 Page) at 2 p.m. Admission is free; call 863-8688.

Electric Wizard may be one of the few bands that do not reject the labeling of all heavy, guitar-sludge groups as stoner rock. In fact, the British doom trio (there I go again) seems to revel in the classification, having names like Tim Bagshaw, Mark Greening, and Jus Oborn (which I'm sure translates as something druggy in Dorset rhyming slang). And the cover of the band's fifth album, Dopethrone, features a fuzzy-edged Beelzebub exhaling a veil of smoke across a bong. Inside is no different: An unyielding clobber of drums transforms thick, swirling guitar into psychedelic demons made of feedback that are then chased by hammering bass into detuned and demented mantras for the effusively inebriated. The lyrics for songs such as "Vinum Sabbathi" ("Now I'm a slave to the black drug/ Forced to serve this black god") and "We Hate You" ("Hopeless and drugged/ My black emotions seethe") leave little to, or demand little of, the imagination. But no one interested in the Ultimate British Cosmic Sludge Stoner Rock Doom Band, whose political maxim is "legalise [sic] drugs and murder," will be looking for subtlety. Electric Wizard performs on Tuesday, March 20, at the CW Saloon with Lost Goat and Warhorse opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 974-1585. The band also plays Wednesday, March 21, at Bottom of the Hill with Totimoshi, Goatsnake, and Warhorse opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 621-4455.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

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    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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