When Times Are Tight

Budget Rock comes home to roost at the Parkside

This rock fits a budget of any sizeLike many people, Chris Owen was drawn to San Francisco by music. Unfortunately, he soon discovered that the scene he'd come for -- the garage rock bonanza of the '90s -- had dried up. "I thought I was going to be hanging out at the Purple Onion every night," the stocky blond 26-year-old says over a burrito at his Mission District apartment. By the time the Notre Dame grad moved west in 1998, however, the Onion was closed, the Kilowatt had stopped hosting live bands, and the Cocodrie was on its last legs. Most of the bands that had once thrived -- the Mummies, the Rip-Offs, the Phantom Surfers -- had dissolved or gone underground, oblivious to the fact that a rescuer had arrived.

If Owen is a savior, then the Parkside is his church. Since he began booking garage-punk acts at the tiny, low-key bar at the bottom of Potrero Hill six months ago, the venue has become quite the hot spot. (Owen is in charge of four nights a week, with Terrance Ryan selecting indie rock acts for Wednesdays, Dana-Maria Dougherty picking rockabilly and country artists for Saturdays, and co-owner Sean O'Connor putting together Sunday afternoon country and bar-band gigs.) "It was [John O'Neill's] idea, actually," Owen says of booking rock at the tavern. "He used to live in that neighborhood, and he went in there and heard Latin funk jazz crap and bad singer/songwriters." When Atlanta rock-revivalists the Forty-Fives were looking to do a show in town, Owen's buddy O'Neill approached O'Connor about using the Parkside. After the evening went well, O'Neill suggested Owen pick other acts, which led to the weekly gig for Owen.

The Parkside's hip cachet has grown quickly, with touring rock stars from the Hives, the Donnas, the Dirtbombs, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion stopping by. Owen says, "Every week there are still people coming in saying, 'Oh my gosh, this place is great.' We didn't want it to be like a rock club; we wanted it to be like playing in a basement." Owen felt he needed something to alert the rest of the Bay Area to the new treasure, so this week's three-day festival, Budget Rock Showcase 2002, was born. "The whole purpose was to bring in a headliner to draw people in and turn them on to a bunch of great, unknown bands," Owen explains.

The Ghosts at the Parkside: Showing that rock isn't 
dead -- it's undead.
Celia Coolidge
The Ghosts at the Parkside: Showing that rock isn't dead -- it's undead.

And what a headliner he got. The Lyres -- a Boston band that's delivered spirited '60s-style punk since the early '80s, when most of today's garage stars were still using wet wipes -- could easily sell out a club twice the size of the 200-capacity Parkside, considering that the group hasn't played the West Coast in 15 years. But while Owen is respectful of the Lyres' music, he's more excited about the prospect of his favorite local groups gaining a larger audience. "I hear people saying all the time that there are no good bands here, but there's billions of great bands."

The 28 artists scheduled to appear at the Budget Rock Showcase fit loosely into three categories: occasionally goofy garage throwbacks, insanely visceral noise bands, and what Owen calls "completely retarded music." The latter includes the East Bay's Rock 'n' Roll Adventure Kids, whom Owen describes as "really skinny, anemic little dudes completely screaming super-catchy submental rock," and S.F.'s Ghosts, a quintet of howling sheet-wearers who claim to have come back from the dead to save music (and make enough money to clean their sheets). The retro purveyors are equally entertaining, from the early '60s twist-and-chant sounds of San Francisco's Saturn V and L.A.'s Thee Mighty Kegsmen to the punked-out girl-bop of the Maybellines and Houston's highly lauded Jewws. Not to be outdone, Santa Cruz's Comets on Fire offer a caterwauling opinion of what the apocalypse might sound like, while Sacramento's SLA suggests Aerosmith with bigger balls and better speed. Of the SLA, Owen says, "They're one of those bands like the Melvins -- you see them and you're like, 'Those guys are in the band!' They're like hulking, knuckle-dragging long-hairs. And they just belt it out, man." At last, the Bay Area has what it needs: a new club where people can drag their knuckles and belt out (semi-) serious rock.

Budget Rock Showcase 2002 takes place Friday through Sunday, Oct. 4-6, at the Parkside. Tickets are $10 per night or $25 in advance for everything. Call 503-0393 or go to www.theeparkside.com for more information.

 
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