House of Tudor

A charming musical grifter, and hell-raising rock-poster artists

At his recent appearance at the Odeon, Jason Webley stepped out onto the intimate stage wearing a dentist's smock and a white mask, a shock of orange hair sprouting from his cranium and a gleaming accordion strapped to his chest. A halting, metallic voice of the kind typically associated with quadriplegic astrophysicists emanated from him, instructing us to pick up a baby carrot -- or a cherry tomato if we should happen to be allergic to baby carrots -- from a tray being circulated through the club. We were told to hold the carrot in front of our nose and to meditate on the comely root, noting its size, shape, color, and texture. We were cautioned to dismiss any other thoughts that might be conjured by the size and shape of the vegetable; we were invited to close our eyes, thinking always about our carrots. At the count of 10 and with our eyes still closed, we were asked to eat the vegetable, focusing all of our attentiveness on the chewing. The sound started slowly at first, with an unmistakable crunch tentatively emerging from one corner of the house and then spreading throughout the room, until the communal chomping took on a hollow, horselike resonance. Now, I don't know if you've ever closed your eyes in a sweaty nightclub and ingested foodstuff offered by an orange-haired freak with an accordion, but it does something to peel away the comfortable insulation between stage and seat, particularly when accompanied by a little ditty about the relative difficulties of life, death, and dying. Interpersonal contact by carrot.

Webley's fascination with vegetables is not limited to the little orange fellows -- his Web site, www.jasonwebley.com, offers literary, historical, biblical, and personal ruminations on all types of edible plant life -- and neither is his show limited to vegetables. When we opened our eyes, Webley stood before us, a gaunt alley cat of a man, with his face hidden by a trampled fedora and his unthinkably large mouth stretched into a carnival grin. He howled at the rafters and barked at the men; he beat on his accordion with bottles and change, and leapt on the bar, where only a flashlight illuminated his face. He played sideshow waltzes on a barfly's head and taught everyone the pirates' cry. He sang songs about aardvarks and seafaring ports made of ricotta cheese and convinced us to tickle our neighbors. He taught us drinking songs, and when he decided we weren't drunk enough to sing, he told us to look at the ceiling and spin around 12 times. Even nauseated and bruised we were held in his sway, willing fools in the thrall of a musical grifter harboring a genuine gift. Perhaps only once during that expert, delightful cavalcade of Waitsian growls and grinds did Webley lay his true talent bare, offering a slow, worldly lament that brought a shudder to his limbs and another voice to his throat. That tune, like most of those found on his new album, Counterpoint, revealed the delicate poise of a songwriter whose words and melodies carry far more weight than the personality that created them. Not that you should resist singing "Aardvark" with a roomful of goofballs, but you may anticipate much richer delights when Jason Webley performs on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 21 Grand in Oakland with Lemon Lime Lights, Bass Line Dada, and Aaron Seeman opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5-10; call (510) 444-7263.


Jason Webley.
Jeff Harms
Jason Webley.

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You've seen the rock-poster wall, that vibrant point of interest in most San Francisco apartments that proclaims one's superlative, somewhat obscure taste to those who are uninterested in perusing your record collection. The art itself often says as much as -- or, in many sad cases, more than -- the band. By effortlessly employing controversial images that leave more traditional artists squeamish, rock-art poster crafters confront societal creeds at the most grass-roots level. What might happen if all these insurgent minds found themselves together in one place? Organized by Frank Kozik, the Flatstock Poster Convention brings together more than 30 artists from around the world to showcase their work and raise hell on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28-29, at Cell Space (2050 Bryant between 18th and 19th streets) from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free; call 648-7562 or visit www.flatstock.com.

 
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