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House Of Tudor 

"Spanksgiving," psychobilly menace, and sweet calypso

Wednesday, Nov 21 2001
Rudyard Kipling once said, "San Francisco is a mad city, inhabited for the most part by perfectly insane people." Until recently, not many would argue. Between the age of the Gold Rush and that of the Silicon Rush, millions of people migrated to and through San Francisco for reasons more untoward than money. Most came for freedom -- sexual freedom, political freedom, creative freedom, freedom from bad weather and hometown sensibilities, and freedom from the persecution of family and tradition. In that spirit, I have seen some very bizarre Thanksgiving celebrations organized by self-proclaimed orphans and misfit toys. There was the trailer-trash family freakout, for which folks blackened their teeth and consumed copious amounts of cheap beer and turkey-shaped Spam before sharing horrendous childhood Thanksgiving memories, and the equally frightening Wicca weekend, during which a group of women engaged in ancient Greek and Hebrew traditions by building and fasting in small huts made of leaves and branches before their vegan feast. (Thankfully, I was spared the ancient Egyptian ritual of loudly lamenting the plight of crop spirits.)

Hopefully, "Spanksgiving" marks the return of San Francisco's family values and the recession of dot-com standards. After a two-year hiatus, the Slick Fetish Ball -- which began in 1995 with a strict dress code and still managed to reach over a thousand attendees by 1998 -- returns to offer "thanks and spanks." This year's celebration features those artistic rogues of rope work the Two Knotty Boys, as well as prerequisite fashion shows by Stormy Leather, Dark Garden Corsetry, and Mr. and Madame S. Of course, fashion shows seem a bit redundant given this crowd, which adheres to exacting standards of attire by donning rubber, PVC, leather, metal, or anything bizarre and eye-catching. Given the proliferation -- and resulting tedium -- of bondage gear in mainstream fashion, we hope folks will find more creative ways to dress up at the Slick Fetish Ball's "Spanksgiving" play space on Friday, Nov. 23, at the DNA Lounge at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20; call 536-9424.

To hear it told, Providence, R.I., is the artistic province of bar bands and "shlongs." Such a statement discounts the cultural oasis that is the Rhode Island School of Design, which gave birth to the Talking Heads, Lightning Bolt, and Les Savy Fav. Drawing its name from the short-lived French art movement called Fauvism (whose artists squeezed pure pigment from paint tubes directly onto canvases in order to leave explosive impressions of their surroundings) and grounding its sound in the gloomy post-punk turf of Killing Joke and Public Image Ltd., Les Savy Fav walks a delirious line between pretentious and rambunctious noise, making both sound pretty damned good. Les Savy Fav performs with Ugly Casanova and Defacto on Friday, Nov. 23, at the Bottom of the Hill at 10 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 621-4455.

In 1999, at the insistence of Rancid's Tim Armstrong, Nick 13 emerged from a period of songwriting reclusion to reignite and record the Tiger Army, a group that had lain dormant since its last show at Gilman Street in 1997. No doubt, Armstrong remembered Nick 13's voice, which leaves most psychobilly singers snarling in the dust. On his band's follow-up album, Tiger Army II: Power of Moonlite, Nick 13 has abandoned his more obvious horror imagery for gloomy romanticism, plumbing an "unpsycho" world of moonlit orchards, gray dawns, and William Blake. Musically, however, Tiger Army is still a flurry of claws and teeth, as fierce guitar, savage upright bass, and some of the finest punk drumming I've heard (by way of London May) infuse even a pedal-steel serenade with menace. And remember, no one but Nick 13 could make a chorus like "The power of moonlite" sound like an old-fashioned call to boots and arms. Tiger Army performs on Saturday, Nov. 24, at Pound-SF with All Bets Off, Fracas, and Scissorhands opening at 7 p.m. Tickets are $7-8; call 826-9202.

After his family moved from its small fishing village in Grenada to Trinidad, little Slinger Francisco earned a new name and, eventually, a big title for himself. For 40 years since, the sweet-voiced Mighty Sparrow has been the unrivaled "Calypso King of the World," winning the calypso monarchy no less than 11 times and the world-famous Trinidad and Tobago Carnaval Road March title on eight separate occasions.

But there's more to Mighty Sparrow than just hit songs. In 1957, following his first Carnaval title tune "Jean and Dinah," Mighty Sparrow refused to participate in Carnaval for the next three years, explaining why in "Carnaval Boycott," an aural indictment of Trinidad's music industry. This song and Mighty Sparrow's popularity were largely responsible for the formation of the Carnaval Development Committee, a powerful artists' advocacy group. Sparrow continued to flex his clout afterward, helping to put the People's National Movement into power, as well as publicize their misuse of that power. (Such political expression is by no means foreign to calypso. The form's jubilant activism stretches back to its inception in the early 19th century, when African islanders used singing and satire to both harass each other during musical competitions and attack the powers that be.) For more than four decades, Mighty Sparrow's quick wit and fanciful double entendres have kept him on top of the calypso world. One can only guess what he really means by the lyric "I never eat'a white meat yet" in "Congo Man," the story of "two white women in Africa" and their encounter with a cannibal headhunter. Mighty Sparrow performs on Sunday, Nov. 25, at the Ashkenaz Music and Dance Community Center at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15; call (510) 525-5054.

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Silke Tudor


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