SF Weekly Music Awards 2002

A galaxy-spanning journey through space and sound!

The Phenomenauts

The list of hallowed San Francisco events that the Phenomenauts have graced with their zany, high-energy presence goes on for pages. From after-show parties at the venerable Fillmore to VIP rooms at the California Music Awards, the intergalactic space-travelers have brought their magic to some of the Bay Area's most prestigious halls and clubs. Never mind that the band's post-show performance at the Fillmore took place busker-style on the sidewalk in front of the venue, or that its impromptu set at the awards show was cut short by security guards asking the Phenomenauts to leave. These are small details in the life of a group that lives, loves, and rocks on the grand scale of the cosmos. Founded officially in 2000, the act has its roots in Space Patrol, a polka-themed '80s cover band that played all its songs on homemade instruments. These days Commander Angel Nova, Corporal Joebot, Major Jimmy Boom, and Captain Chreehos use more traditional instruments, but their mix of pop, psychobilly, and rock 'n' roll is anything but normal. Decked out in bizarre astronautical outfits, the band members enliven their shows with such "Phenoma-gadgets" as the Thera-Helmet (protective headwear outfitted with a theremin) and the Streamerator (a leaf blower modified to launch streams of toilet paper into the crowd). The group's first full-length, Rockets and Robots, has been received phenomenaut-ly by radio stations and audiences all around the Bay Area, perfectly capturing the chaotic fun of the act's live shows.

Project: Pimento

Project: Pimento adds an exciting new wrinkle to lounge music, enlivening classy cocktail-hour tunes from the '40s, '50s, and '60s with the out-of-this-world vibe of the theremin. That instrument -- the only one in the world played without being touched -- is handled deftly by Robby Virus, and its quavery Space Age sound gives a fantastically fun twist to the Project: Pimento catalog. Live, the group has been known to put its jazzy spin on such classics as Burt Bacharach's "I Say a Little Prayer," the James Bond theme "You Only Live Twice," Henry Mancini's "Moon River," and the surf favorite "Miserlou." Project: Pimento singer Lola Bombay has a smoky, captivating set of pipes (and a burgeoning career as the leader of the acclaimed Lori Carsillo Quartet). She's supported by upright bassist Maker's Mark, drummer Top Shelf Rich, and guitarist Absolute Michael. The group is currently hard at work on its debut album, which will feature Tony Hatch's "Call Me," along with the Adler/Ross chestnut "Whatever Lola Wants" and the Shirley Bassey standard "Diamonds Are Forever." But fans don't need to fret that Project: Pimento's recording schedule will keep it off the stage. The studio time hasn't slowed down the band's tireless gigging pace one bit: From Bruno's to Cafe Du Nord to the Hemlock Tavern, Project: Pimento brings its bewitching lounge music to a venue near you. Smoking jacket and evening gown optional.

Pop

Call and Response

Call and Response first broke on the Bay Area scene in 1999, bringing hope and joy to weary pop fans all around the world. The quintet's critically acclaimed, self-titled debut from 2001 was one of those few-and-far-between records that sent everyone -- friends, family, neighbors, small children passing on the street -- racing for the record store as soon as he heard it. The reason for Call and Response's demographic-crossing popularity was obvious: The sexy piece of bubblegum pop had some of the sweetest, bounciest melodies crafted since the Jackson 5 left Motown. The combination of Dan Judd's staccato guitar, Terri Loewenthal's rubbery bass, Jordan Dalrymple's crisp drumming, and organists Simone Rubi and Carrie Clough's peppy, harmonizing vocals was like a party in a jewel case -- breaking it out at barbecues and other shindigs tended to elevate the mood to near-illegal levels of happiness. In the year since Call and Response first came out on Kindercore Records, the band has rereleased the CD on the larger Emperor Norton label, toured the West Coast, and fielded requests from record labels in Europe. Mostly, though, the ensemble has been eagerly planning its next record, test-driving some of its recent creations in clubs around the Bay Area. The group's new material expands on its trademark sound, incorporating an electro feel to some songs, while fleshing out instrumental parts across the board. Call and Response hopes to have its sophomore album finished by early next year, at which point the good ship will set sail again, spreading its infectious brand of love and happiness everywhere.

Bart Davenport

If someone had set off a bomb at the photo shoot for the inside cover of Bart Davenport's self-titled solo debut, much of the East Bay music scene would've been decimated (and Amoeba Music in Berkeley would've needed a major restaffing). Having been an integral part of the local band milieu for almost two decades -- as part of mod-revivalists the Loved Ones, soul-stirrers the Kinetics, and countless other outfits, and as co-founder of Cafe Du Nord's "Monday Night Hoot" -- Davenport knows a lot of top-notch musicians, and many of them appeared, on tracks and in photos, on his LP. But even with a mountain of guest stars (members of Cake, the Mommyheads, Subtle, Call and Response, Cars Get Crushed, and Dave Gleason's Wasted Days), the record is far mellower and more minimalist than his past retro-rock efforts. "Beg Steal Borrow" is effervescent summertime pop at its finest, floating along on kazoo toots, organ buzzes, and pretty vocal harmonies. "New Cool Shoes" and "Mannequin Bride" are as simple and affecting as the best bossa nova and British folk; both use only an acoustic guitar to get their beatific melodies across. "Sugar Pie 1 & 2" feels like a transmission back to Earth from a lounge bar on a spaceship, its drowsy synths hugging the Latin percussion and Davenport's luxurious vocals. But the highlight may well be "Terri's Song" (a reference to Call & Response bassist Terri Loewenthal), in which the singer has the opportunity to "play like Joni Mitchell and move like Michael Jackson," as his former Loved Ones bandmate Jon Erickson once suggested. That juxtaposition becomes even more apparent (and enthralling) at live shows, since Davenport's performances have more charisma than hipsters have vintage vinyl. Since his album's release this past January, Davenport has played shows with Mates of State and the Walkmen in the Bay Area, toured the East Coast with Noe Venable and eXtreme Elvis, taken a West Coast jaunt as the opener for Norway's Kings of Convenience, and completed a series of well-received solo gigs in England. Bart Davenportsees European release in October, just as the vocalist is set to start working on his next LP.

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