Imagine, if you will, the raw sexiness of cabaret complemented by moth-eaten aesthetic flourishes -- the operatic purring of a lead chanteuse named Midnight Rose, a gloomy bass jokily overlaid with a whiny vibraphone, and the ominous enchantment of commedia dell'arte puppetry. Naturally, we're describing Rosin Coven, the self-titled "World's Premiere Pagan Lounge Ensemble," the kind of act that has genre dogmatists scratching their heads. An umpteen-piece band full of pale-faced, velvet-clad cool cats playing everything from cello and contrabass to accordion, the group falls on a continuum between Rocky Horror camp and medieval danse macabre. The members of Rosin Coven, a Berkeley-based troupe with a vigorous following, look and sound like well-traveled carnies with formidable heaps of classical training; the roguish ensemble is even easy on the eyes.
The group plays with Django-inspired Gypsy jazz band Gaucho and nouveau folk group Eggplant Casino at "Casino Du Nord," a night of Vegas-style fun featuring card tables, magic, and games of chance for risk-taking hipsters. The event starts at 9 p.m. at Café Du Nord, 2170 Market (at Sanchez), S.F. Admission is $10; call 861-5016 or visit www.cafedunord.com.
-- Nirmala Nataraj
An icon gets whipped
For little girls everywhere, Barbie is a blank canvas on which inner demons can be exorcised -- from the classic beheading or amputation to more bizarre modifications like Day-Glo-fur armpits or warts made from rubber cement. But these crafty adaptations are nothing compared to the twisted visions found at "The Ultimate Altered Barbie Show," a multimedia exhibit of more than 60 artists' interpretations of the Mattel icon. Rik Livingston's Sideshow Barbies, painted in the vibrant colors of a sideshow banner, include an extra-long-necked brunette dubbed "Giraffe Girl" and emblazoned with an appropriate slogan ("Not proportioned like a normal woman, but what Barbie is?"). In Catherine Lynch's childlike portraits, she pairs Barbie up with such dreamy suitors as the hunchbacked Quasimodo and photographs them prom-style.
The opening reception Thursday starts at 6 p.m. (and the exhibit continues through Aug. 31) at Red Ink Studios, 1035 Market (at Sixth Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 596-4810 or visit www.redinkstudios.com.
-- Jane Tunks
A pinhole progressive
Pinhole cameras are enviously low tech: All you need is a box, a needle, and a cardboard shutter to take barely focused pictures. Artists love them, of course; the images produce a nearly idiot-proof ghostly vibe, and nothing screams authenticity like showing up with a homemade camera dripping with masking tape.
But Alyson Belcher does something different, combining the art with improvisational performance. Using long exposure times and working with dancers, she captures stories that, according to her artist's statement, "the body remembers and mind has forgotten." She gives a lecture starting at 2 p.m. at the Harvey Milk Photography Center, 50 Scott (at Duboce), S.F. Admission is free; call 554-9522 or visit www.bapc.info.
-- Michael Leaverton
You know the sound from any number of films featuring cherry blossoms -- the mournful howl of the stringed erhu and the crashing cymbals that mark Chinese music. Now hear it courtesy of the Red Bean Opera House's "A Cantonese Opera Extravaganza," featuring five vignettes and three duets full of traditional singing, dancing, and acrobatics, starting at 12:45 p.m. at the Great Star Theatre, 636 Jackson (at Kearny), S.F. Admission is $15-60; call 663-8216 or visit www.redbeancantoneseopera.com.
-- Michael Leaverton