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Las Pesadillas are a nightmare to classify, but Boneless Children Foundation is easy: freakin' weird

Wednesday, Jul 14 2004
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The most obvious and irrevocably frustrating thing about music award shows is the constraint of musical categories. How do you possibly pigeonhole a band that blends Gypsy violin with four-part rock harmonies, jazz percussion, punk rhythms, symphonic song styling, '80s synth sampling, and bluegrass guitar-picking? You can't, unless one of the categories is, as Las Pesadillas helpfully suggest, prog-folk-surf-metal-klezmer-cartoon. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that the Sacramento News & Review has just nominated Las Pesadillas for a Sammie Award in the country/bluegrass category. After all, their last album was acoustic and the group has already been nominated as Best Pop Band in previous years and won the Best Band, Best Songwriter, and Outstanding Local CD awards. Why not country/bluegrass? Because Las Pesadillas are about as country as Ennio Morricone and as bluegrass as Calexico, which is to say the influences and instrumentation are there but the intention is vastly different. Indeed, Las Pesadillas' recent concept album, Quantum Immortality, opens with the melancholy strains of a Portuguese fado accompanied by a muted political homily on the "Theme for Quantum Suicide" before launching into an urgent garage-rock sci-fi surf-pub song called "Girls Running From Bullets." "Quaalude," a smoky jazzbo tune, gives way to the bongo drums, leaking balloons, psychedelic go-go organ, and barbershop harmonies of "Everybody Died But Me." It's a delirious, heart-racing ride through a new millennium in which music, like humanity, has flouted boundaries. As their name suggests, Las Pesadillas are but one of the many nightmares facing an industry that still requires talent and taste to fit into boxes. The band supports One Ring Zero on Saturday, July 17, at the Hotel Utah. At Dusk opens; call 546-6300 or visit www.thehotelutahsaloon.com.


When I was a young teenager first experimenting with LSD -- I won't say exactly how young, but I was born in 1971 and a full year after its release the Violent Femmes' debut album remained my preferred easy-listening record, so you can do the math -- anyway, late one night, while under the influence of hallucinogenics, I stumbled across a television charity drive for the victims of thalidomide-related birth defects. For those not old enough to remember, thalidomide was a sedative prescribed to pregnant women in the 1950s; it inhibited the development of limbs in utero, so children born to thali-popping moms often had little hands attached to their shoulders or boneless legs that ended in soft, fleshy points. We children of the acutely irreverent '70s called them flipper kids. They were a popular topic of conversation, the subject of a much-coveted underground British comic, and the namesake of a beloved San Francisco punk band (that's right, Flipper was not an ironic nod to the dolphin). As far as I know, thalidomide babies were not a suggested point of focus for acid trips, but there I was, on acid, watching TV with no volume as a little flipper boy rolled around on a Persian carpet in front of a fireplace while Violent Femmes played in the background on my stereo. It was a seriously fucked-up experience -- a fascinating, perversely funny, unforgettable, aurally satisfying experience, but fucked-up just the same -- which brings us to the Boneless Children Foundation. If ever there was a band that could have sprung from my subconscious that night, like a drug-addled, guitar-slinging Athena, it is the BCF. Bright, boisterous, and bizarre, the group lays claim to a vaguely effeminate, slightly atonal, banjo-playing lead vocalist (not wholly unlike my beloved Gordon Gano) who openly displays his absurdist proclivities with songs about Andy Rooney, goldfish, bank robbers, and throwing parties at the National Zoo. The quartet, at once skillful and silly, bounces between druggy glam-rock extravagance and clever post-punk precision, displaying a knack for 'toonish syncopation that would've made Carl Stalling drool. It's little wonder, then, that it has become a favorite with smart, markedly off-center local sketch comedy shows like Late Night With God and Killing My Lobster's Pop! Despite the group's comedic associations, jubilant deportment, and slightly off-color nomenclature, though, once heard, it can never be dismissed as a joke band, unless you are one of those able to overlook the genius of Ween because its members don't take themselves as seriously as you do. The Boneless Children Foundation performs at "Sunday School" on July 18 at Studio Z, along with the S.F. Mime Troupe-membered bluegrass band the Bastard Brothers and the dance-theater-circus Kook Troupe; call 252-7666 or visit www.studioz.tv.

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Silke Tudor

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    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:
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    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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