Sound Advice

Grandiloquent pop, fetching dogheads, and primordial ambience

While Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson plumbed the darker side of Delta sinew with gravel in their throats and murder in their souls, Mississippi John Hurt approached the blues with a light heart and a feathery finger-picking style that impressed even classical-guitar masters like Andres Segovia. On the recently released Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt, artists such as Ben Harper, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Victoria Williams, Taj Mahal, and John Hiatt honor the man to whom many of them owe their interest in traditional music. These songs sound as fresh as the day they were written, or when folk revivalists "rediscovered" Hurt in 1963 in Avalon, the hamlet to which he'd retreated during the Great Depression. Avalon Bluesproducer and prompter Peter Case joins fellow contributors Dave Alvin and Bill Morrissey for the Avalon Blues Tour, offering up classics like "Stagolee," "Beulah Land," "Chicken," and "Candy Man" on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $19.50-20.50; call (510) 548-1761.


It is said that VNV Nation (a name taken from the adage "Victory Not Vengeance") has had to cancel gigs at clubs that could not accommodate its light show -- which is understandable, given the grandiloquent concepts explored on such albums as 1999's Praise the Fallen. But even setting aside the duo's lyrical penchant for military history and literary masterworks, the British group's modern take on the dark electronic pop of the New Romantics is majestic, imposing, and oddly danceable (see the gothic/industrial/dark ambient club mainstays "Dark Angel" and "Standing"). And, much like leader Ronan Harris' voice, the group's sound is oh-so-Teutonic as well -- lean, muscular, and entirely utilitarian. VNV Nation performs on Thursday, Dec. 6, at the DNA Lounge with Icon of Coil and Cypher DJs opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22-25; call 626-1409.


Among Starsailor's many selling points is the simple fact that every other popular English band hates the act, calling its members "women" and "Verve toss-offs." But while British musicians and mags have gone gaga for the Detroit grit of the White Stripes, Starsailor has quietly held its course, charting the shimmering depths of the delicate, highly emotive pop song, led by James Walsh's crystalline falsetto. The resulting album, Love Is Here, is reminiscent of latter-day James, but unencumbered by age, history, and music business weariness. In the hands of such deft young musicians a chorus like "Don't you know you've got your Daddy's eyes/ And Daddy was an alcoholic" might even inspire tears in folks who haven't yet discovered Tim Buckley. Starsailor performs on Friday, Dec. 7, at Bimbo's at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 474-0365.


As anyone who grew up in the Bay Area knows, the Doggie Diner has been more than a fast-food envoy and a star of Zippy the Pinhead cartoons; it has been a benevolent ambassador of comfort, an egalitarian well-wisher that hangs on the fringe of consciousness of every child who has visited the San Francisco Zoo since 1966. When the Sloat Boulevard doghead (the last standing evidence of the original restaurant, which closed in 1986) was threatened with destruction by corporate landowners, a rabid congregation calling itself the Dogminican Order rose up for its defense. When the dachshund's nose was lopped off in a freak storm last April, members of the congregation -- led by Deacon and Head Dog Steward Sebastian Melmoth -- helped with the extensive repairs. Unfortunately, while the city covered a bit of the reparation, there are still more bills to be paid. To raise funds, artists and celebrity guests will pay homage to the head in "The Doggie Goes South of the Border." The event includes a showing of Doggie Diner & The Return of Doggie Diner, a short film about the El Cerrito restaurant, created by Stereoscopic pioneer Lenny Lipton in 1969; an extremely rare print of the Flamin' Groovies' musical short King of the Cuts, which features a cameo by the doghead; and Downo: The World's Most Depressing Clown, starring Mike Brown (the infamous Pie Man of San Francisco) as a painted poet who hangs out at the doghead's current home, the Carousel Diner. The movies will be interspersed with dog-training films and surrounded by the original art of Anna L. Conti, who venerates the ecclesiastical canine through acrylic realism, and Harold Bachman, who designed the original doghead when cynicism was still a four-letter word. "The Doggie Goes South of the Border" takes place Saturday, Dec. 8, at Centro Latino de San Francisco (1656 15th St. at Julian) from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is a donation of $10; call 431-6012.


Robert Rich has been investigating electronic music since the age of 13, when he first began building his own analog synthesizers. In the early '80s, while earning his psychology degree and studying computer music at Stanford, Rich launched his now-legendary all-night Sleep Concerts, in an attempt to sustain hypnagogic states in his audiences. Later, he created psychoactive soundscapes for the waking during his marathon Trance Concerts. Between writing technical articles for electronic music magazines, creating software for composers, and developing the industry standard for microtuning specifications on synths, Rich has recorded over 20 albums of lush, sophisticated ambient music. The culmination of two decades of research, studio time, and field recording, last year's Somnium DVD is a seven-hour dream aid created for use in your home. His latest offering, Bestiary, is a darker journey, dominated by the gurgling of primordial swamps and the rich, musty texture of dripping strata. Perhaps inspired by Rich's obsession for wild mushrooms, which stretch across the planet under our feet and are thought to have come by way of meteor, Bestiaryseems to offer a sonic interpretation of a world that predates man and mastication. While folks of a more somber temperament might enjoy such dreamy listening at home, Robert Rich has chosen to present this work under the stars of the Morrison Planetarium, in a show titled "Alien Zoology," on Sunday, Dec. 9, at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park at 8 p.m. Admission is $12-15; advance tickets can be purchased at www.dub-beautiful.org.

 
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