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House of Tudor 

Smackdown in Oaktown: Some saucy picks to lure you into the East Bay mix

Wednesday, Nov 26 2003
Oakland gets cooler by the day. If you are still a San Francisco shut-in with any doubts, might I suggest a quick visit to the newly opened Oaklandish Headquarters. Founded by Nonchalance, the crew that brought us the Liberation Drive-In, the Bay Area Aerosol Heritage Society, and the Oakslander Lakeside Gazette, the official Oaklandish digs serve as a curio shop, DIY artists' trading post, and miniature museum of underground East Bay cool, with books, zines, movies, and music videos conceived and executed in Oaktown, as well as local band T-shirts and posters, and arcana such as historic snow globes, matchbooks, bus tokens, and news clippings. Area artists and historians are expected to show their love by bringing down gear; neophytes are welcome to try on one of the "Royal Crowns" (custom hats sporting spray-can art by Refa One) or grab a history book and sink into one of the overstuffed couches, all in sneezing distance of a fish market and an operating train line. Aaaahhh, Oakland.

Now that you've read up on Oakland history, you're probably aware that the mai tai is a local invention and that the tiki craze of the 1950s was nowhere crazier than here. Small wonder that Otto Von Stroheim, editor of the world-renowned Tiki News, relocated to Oakland with his family – wife Baby Doe, director of the synchronized dancing Devil-Ettes, and toddler Vander Vegas Von Stroheim, soon-to-be star of Oaklandish style – and the main man of island melees has settled down at the grooviest tiki bar in the land, serving up a pupu platter once a month known as "Otto's Forbidden Island." Festooned with palm fronds, Easter Island heads, vinyl couches, ukuleles, fish nets, wicker chairs, pink tablecloths, bamboo thatching, and enough bric-a-brac to choke a room full of grandmas, the Conga Lounge is already the sort of place that inspires limbo and coconut bowling before the sun has set. Add to this 50-cent raffles, Tiki News archival videos, live hula dancing by Kristina & the Wigglin Wahines, and a last-call happy hour (half-price drinks, when it really matters), and you've discovered a little slice of paradise.

This month, DJs Otto and Mano will be joined by Los Angeles' DJ Simon (as heard at "Tiki Oasis 3" in Palm Springs), with a live performance provided by the Wink and Yoni Show, known for heaping helpings of Don Ho staples, diluted Pixies and Nirvana fare, and very fishy originals. (You might recognize Wink Pain as Freddi Price of Rube Waddell and Yoni Wannalea as the roustabout crooner Zoli, but don't tell 'em I told you; they have some big friends.) "Otto's Forbidden Island" will be held on Saturday, Nov. 29, at the Conga Lounge (5422 College Ave.) in Oakland at 9 p.m. Admission is free; call (510) 654-1601. Oaklandish Headquarters (411 Second St. between Broadway and Franklin) is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.; call (510) 451-2677.

If I were to correlate the work of Beth Custer to any one stage in alchemy, it would be sublimatio, that process associated with air, which prescribes purification and refinement through vaporization. Unlike solutio, which is associated with water, sex, intoxication, and oblivion, sublimatio finds purchase in fantasy, imagination, analogy, and disassociation. It is a heady, often delightful process reflected in the compositions and performances of Custer, almost regardless of the raw material with which she begins. Whether it be creating silent movie soundtracks with Club Foot Orchestra, tribal improvisation with Trance Mission, trip-hop loops with Eighty Mile Beach, Latin-jazz prog rock with Doña Luz 30 Besos, or country lemonade-sippers with the Joe Goode Performance Group, Custer imbues all of her work with the shimmer of high-altitude hallucinations and humor. This show, performed with her seven-piece all-star ensemble (Custer on clarinets and vocals, Graham Connah on keyboards, Devin Hoff on bass, David James on guitar, Jan Jackson on drums, Ben Goldberg on clarinets, and Ralph Carney on horns and vocals), will draw on music from every imaginable corner of the universe, foliated, no doubt, through a bright improvisational ether. The Beth Custer Ensemble performs on Sunday, Nov. 30, at 21 Grand in Oakland at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10; call (510) 444-7263 or go to

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Silke Tudor


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