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House of Tudor 

Wednesday, Jun 18 2003
It may come as a surprise to avid Galaxie 500 fans, but I don't believe Dean Wareham shits confetti; in fact, I feel the singer/songwriter's current group, Luna, is much like his former band -- often pretty, but more often tedious. Still, I can't deny the man is funny. And that can go a long way, especially when coupled with the epicurean delivery for which Wareham is so well known. Like Jean-Paul Belmondo using dreary-eyed self-possession to transform goofiness into sex appeal à la Breathless, Wareham renders verse like "Salt-and-pepper squid/ And Singapore noodles/ I could stare at your face/ For oodles and oodles" into spine-tingling intimations. But never to better effect than with his latest side project, Britta Phillips & Dean Wareham. It's clear from previous endeavors -- Cagney & Lacee, the outing Wareham formed with ex-wife Claudia Silver; and "Bonnie and Clyde," the better-received and better-executed duet with Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier -- that indie rock's reclining prince had long wished to slide into the well-worn slippers of French pop's leading dirty old man, Serge Gainsbourg, but Wareham had been lacking a suitable counterpart, the Jane Birkin to his Lucien Ginzberg. One wonders if Wareham didn't have this duo in mind when he asked bombshell bassist Britta Phillips to join Luna in 2000. Certainly, her previous role as the voice of cartoon vixen Jem on Jem and the Holograms must have prompted memories of Brigitte Bardot's duet with Gainsbourg, "Comic Strip." If not, Wareham lucked out. As light and pouty as wrinkled sheets, Phillips' voice is a perfect complement for Wareham's soporific detachment. L'Avventura -- which, for Luna denizens, is indeed as adventurous as the name suggests -- opens with the bubbly yeah-yeah of "Night Nurse" (replete with strings and chimes), on which Wareham remarks, "You are the treacle in my pie/ You are the splinter in my eye," and Phillips responds, "I am the local/ I am the express/ I am a tourist in a summer dress." Then L'Avventura bounds into the glib disco-funk of "Ginger Snaps" before Wareham retreats into "I Deserve It," a Madonna tune that he treats with great sincerity to great success. But even here, Phillips' chirp-and-coo is at his shoulder, keeping things light. While there is no shortage of indolent, overcast moments in which the two retire to their separate corners to languish in romantic moodiness -- notably Phillips' solo "Out Walking" and Wareham's most recent take on Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Moonshot" -- when they are together, they tumble and tease like lovers. Britta Phillips & Dean Wareham perform on Thursday, June 19, at the Great American Music Hall with Blanket opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15; call 885-0750.

Drawing on foreboding speeches by William S. Burroughs, John F. Kennedy, Howard Zinn, and Robert Kennedy; eyewitness reports from the gas-shrouded riots of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago; recorded arrests from the Free Speech Movement; and the disconsolate home-grown poetry of Azeem, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and Paul S. Flores, Variable Unit has conjured a fearsome future world where violence, hatred, and desolation are common currency and civil rights are distant memories. And yet, despite a mock news broadcast from 2029 that promises crystallized cloud fronts, Insurance Police, state-of-the-art plague, and bio-suit law, Handbook for the Apocalypse: A Hitchhiker's Guide Through the Conflict is not a bleak, hopeless album. Perhaps it's the smooth -- sometimes ecstatic -- jazz riffs laid down by drummer Thomas McCree, bassist Matt Montgomery, guitarist Gregory Howe, flutist Tim Hyland, keyboardist Kat Ouano, saxman Ralph Carney, and timpani player Kevin Neuhoff; or the cuts and effects supplied by DJ Quest; or the virile and often beautiful hip hop rhymes of Azeem, Joseph, and Flores. Or perhaps it's the humbling words of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh that bring the album to a close: "Eat, pray, sleep." Variable Unit celebrates its CD release on Friday, June 20, at the Boom Boom Room with HYIM & the Fat Foakland Orchestra opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 673-8000.

By the time Woodstock was organized in upstate New York during the summer of 1969, the concept of the three-day music festival was already 8-year-old hat in England. In fact, the week before the Who appeared at Woodstock, the band performed at what was then known as the National Jazz & Blues Festival in England, along with Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and the Nice. Always a signifier of dominant trends, England's major festival would be subjected to several name changes to better reflect the popular music of the time, and several new locations to better reflect the concerns of various police departments throughout the country, before at last settling in its permanent home as the Reading Rock Festival in 1978. It was an important year for reasons other than the new name, and one glance at the talent roster tells you why: Along with old-school rockers like Patti Smith, Deep Purple's Ian Gillan, and Foreigner, there were some fresh faces. The Jam, Sham 69, the Penetration, and the openly gay, fiercely left punk protester Tom Robinson were among those heralding a change of the guard. While in the eyes of authorities the festival had already become synonymous with petty acts of violence, heavy drug use, fields of mud, and inhuman alcohol consumption (even for England), 1978's lineup brought about a marked rise in intensity -- and, thank God, someone had the foresight to catch the transition on film. The Kids Are United is an exceptionally rare concert movie, both because it is so seldom screened and because it catches a pivotal moment in punk history. During one set, you get to witness the aging Pirates, sans Johnny Kidd, prancing around in satin shirts, and Paul Weller gearing up to destroy every instrument onstage, and the crowd, surfing on a sea of lager cans, going wild for both. You haven't seen '70s punk until you've seen Jimmy Pursey cry. The Kids Are United plays on Saturday, June 21, at the Four Star (2200 Clement at 23rd Avenue) at midnight. Tickets are $6; call 666-3488. -- Silke Tudor

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

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