It took a live show by the Fiery Furnaces to break my obsession with the band. Something had to give, and seeing FF play its unexpectedly punked-out set last month did the trick. Well, that and the new release from the eerily similar Architecture in Helsinki. Architecture's 12-song In Case We Dieis a parade of distinctly Furnaces-esque musical moments, rising to grandiose, orchestrated pop one second and meandering through piano plunks and tuba blasts the next. As they switch instruments like addled band campers, the creators spin and ditch rhythms that could carry lesser groups through an entire career.
Categorizing such music is tough -- the online magazine Stylus labels it "twee-prog," which is a terrible word to write or say aloud or even look at -- so I'll describe it as an edited Fiery Furnaces (without the emotional scars) with touches of the Arcade Fire's youthful "Everybody sing!" anthems and the string-and-horn sunrise pop perfected by Broken Social Scene (sans the damned seriousness). Even so, this description explains just one song.
You'd expect any rock outfit that uses a glockenspiel to be large, and you'd be right: The Melbourne-based act is made up of eight guys and gals. I get the feeling that anyone trained in something weird (maybe a bowed Psalter?) could be asked aboard anytime; hell, the band's Web site says it formed like "a giant Voltron robot uniting at the sunset." Local reggae supergroup Still Flyin' opens at 9 p.m. at Café Du Nord, 2170 Market (at Church), S.F. Admission is $10; call 861-5016 or visit www.cafedunord.com.
-- Michael Leaverton
Given that it's based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Oscar Hijuelos later turned into an Academy Award nominated film, The Mambo Kings seems like a natural as a Broadway-bound musical. The story centers on the Castillo brothers, two Cuban émigrés who become sought-after musicians in New York's 1950s nightclubs. In the stage production, Esai Morales plays Cesar, the hotblooded cad, and Mexican superstar Jaime Camil does a turn as the introverted trumpet-playing Nestor. Justina Machada, who plays Vanessa on TV's Six Feet Under, and David Alan Grier also star. Mambostarts at 2 and 8 p.m. on Wednesday (and continues through June 19) at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), S.F. Admission is $25-85; call 512-7770 or visit www.bestofbroadway-sf.com.
-- Jane Tunks
The original dancing queen
San Francisco native daughter Isadora Duncan was ahead of her time, but her time was the first half of the last century. So although Duncan's associated with modern dance, her characteristically flowy choreographic style might be considered outdated by today's dance world trend-watchers. Local dance maven Mary Sano seems not to mind: She's devoted to re-creating in painstaking detail the Greek-inspired tunics, joyous movements, and underlying emphasis on health and happiness favored by the world-famous dancer.
At the Dionysian Festival, a celebration of Duncan's birthday, Sano reflects her idol's interest in world culture. The performance includes butoh and classical South Indian styles along with some of Duncan's own pieces, at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday at the Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing, 245 Fifth St. (at Tehama), S.F. Admission is $13-16; call 357-1817 or visit www.duncandance.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Nude dreams go onstage
Ever since Tipper Gore lobbied to get a parental advisory sticker plastered on Purple Rain, I've always considered the warning label a mark of quality. And while the First Lady of Vice has long since stepped down from her post, I'm fairly certain she would disapprove of Arabian Night, a play that warns it "contains full frontal nudity and some pretty chaotic situations." Written by German wunderkind Roland Schimmelpfennig, the absurdist drama focuses on five residents of a Berlin high-rise, with a vivid plot that veers between dreams and reality. The staged goings-on also include a hot summer night and a theatrical device in which actors narrate their characters' actions and feelings in the third person. Night previews at 8 p.m. on Tuesday (and continues through July 3) at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley. Admission is $10-30; call (510) 841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org.
-- Jane Tunks
Have a Ball
Ralph Carney plays the balloon. Though this sounds like a schoolyard taunt, it isn't: His balloon solo is apparently a jazz-inflected thing of beauty. The same can be said of the rest of the music put out by Carneyball Johnson, a group of high-skill-level/low-impulse-control musicians that also includes Kimo Ball, Scott Johnson, and Allen Whitman. The band's sound ranges from circus to bluegrass, and Carney's instrument choices go from banjo to flute to balloon. And yes, he's the Ralph Carney who played with Tom Waits a lot. The Lowdowns and Tom Heyman open at 8 p.m. at the Argus Lounge, 3187 Mission (at Valencia), S.F. Admission is $2-5; call 824-1447 or visit www.carneyballjohnson.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser