-- Henry Fielding
True dat. Last week I visited an S.F. State journalism class to talk about how to be a critic. It is not a proud profession. Critics are like lawyers -- necessary but ignoble. Those who criticize critics have a great point. It does indeed take more courage to create something and put it out there than it does to show up to said creative thing, eat the free cheese and crackers, and then proceed to blast it in print. To do it, if you have a conscience, you have to justify your actions by telling yourself that criticism raises the bar for everyone and thus ensures a richer culture.
This dilemma occurred to me last week when I decided to go out and see some unknown bands. I would pick a slowish night with a selection of no-names for the evening, sit back, and prepare to be pleasantly surprised. I hoped.
Well, gentle reader, after finishing off the cheese, I am here to say, Holy Madonna and Child, did these bands suck. Ratchet up that culture bar.
I chose the Cherry Bar at Fifth and Folsom, formerly my old stomping grounds, the Covered Wagon. I'm happy to report that it is almost the same place, save for the infusion of lesbians and brightly colored paint. It certainly smells the same, which I appreciated. But the biggest surprise of the night came around the corner about 20 minutes after I arrived in the form of Boom, an old CW regular I hadn't seen for three years. How to describe him? Hmm ... well, he looks like someone stole his Lucky Charms at a Tommy Lee concert. He has a round, friendly face with a line of facial hair around his chin and up to his ears, huge shorts that come down to his ankles, and the obligatory KUSF baseball hat on his head. He's a leprechaun with ADD, bipolarism, hyperactivity, and a love/hate relationship with alcohol. In short, he da bomb. The dude's pretty legendary in punk circles 'round these parts, and I can remember him drunkenly wanting to press his face into my breasts when I worked at "Stinky's Peepshow." Sniff.
"Oh, hey!" he let out when he saw me, hopping from foot to foot. "Whoa, I dreamed you would come here tonight! Are you covering the show? I can tell you all about this place. I work here on [blah blah blah] ...." (Boom tends to talk rapidly for long stretches of time.) "... yeah I'm kind of the sound psychiatrist, you know, new bands need to talk things out. I decorate the night with sound. I bring my own equipment usually [blah blah blah] ...."
I was glad to see the little guy. While we were talking, the first band was setting up, the Slandt. How to describe the Slandt? Maybe the blurb on the band's Web site does it best: "The Slandt is guaranteed to deliver a high-energy show of sultry, sexy, electrified rock music. ... Drawing from an eclectic pool of music from the last 85 years, they have emerged with a sound that is pleasing to the ear and distinctly their own."
Let's just say that midway through the Slandt's set the singer said, "We're gonna bring it down a bit," then proceeded to sit at the lip of the stage and dedicate a song to "our brothers in Iraq on both sides." "Brothers killing brothers for a pot of gold," rang out of the speakers, along with some well-timed feedback that sort of put a damper on the mood she was trying to create. Boom jumped around behind his soundboard trying to, er, psychoanalyze the problem. I giggled out loud at the whole spectacle. I couldn't help myself.
Herein lies the problem I have with being a critic. The Slandt meant well. The four-piece probably rents a practice space somewhere and had been looking forward to this gig for a while. If the family members in the sparse crowd were any hint, other people had been looking forward to this night, too. No one asked a snarky SF Weekly writer to show up and shit on the Slandt. I crashed this bad-'80s-pop, over-the-hill-keyboard-playin', wah-wah-pedal-crunching, 85-years-of-music-history party and puked in the bed. Sorry, guys.
On to the next band, Grown. Oy. Well, let's just say that when the group was setting up its saxophones, the guitar player held up some dollar bills and said, "Hey everyone, hi, um, I found $4 on the floor over by the pool table. If anyone is $4 shy, come on over and I found it." The musician dropped the money on the floor below the stage in case the person needed it.
Oh shit, hippies. Hippies with wind instruments, no less. Luckily, Boom was playing old "Stinky's" type music in between sets, like the Donnas, the Clash, and Buckcherry. To my right a fella with a receding hairline and a button-up shirt was having an air-drumming concert: the ol' crossover-hands, high-hat-teasing dance punctuated with tom fills. Upon closer inspection I realized that it was the actual drummer for the Slandt. Now, air drums are bad enough, but air drums performed by a real drummer are just wrong.
As for Grown, imagine a jam band fronted by Jim Morrison doing a Tom Waits impression. The music itself didn't suck, but the lyrics sure did. Jesus Christ. Here are some I thought I overheard: "Little skinny lady, how I covet thee." And, "There's a milky brood underneath that leaf." This band would be good if it sang in Esperanto. That way this guy's bad Lizard King poetry wouldn't drown out the saxophone. Please don't take yourself so seriously dude; that's my job.
It was at about this time that Boom swept over to the bottom of the stage and swiped up the four bucks. He bought me a shot of Patrón and a beer with his employee discount and a little help from the schmuck who lost his money. I gratefully drank them down. I am a critic. I am a parasite.