December's best holiday music events

For some folks, December is insufferable, a month packed with blinking, twinkling reminders of just how commercially focused, environmentally callous, and falsely cheerful this country can get. But I'll admit it — I love every last bit of Christmas crap. Giant, light-up flakes covering Market Street lampposts in October? Let it snow. Christmas tree lots setting up shop in November? Yes, please. I grew up in a house full of wood-carved Santas, hand-sewn stockings, and every variation of Christmas CD. The crazier the season gets, the better.

Every December, I embark on a mission to crash as many holiday events as my schedule and liver will allow. The next two and a half weeks are the best time to hit special seasonal events in all their candy-striped glory before we're pounded with January doldrums. So before the hokey Santas and chintzy cover songs go back into the closet for another year, here are my picks for the best ways to celebrate the season with a little music.

Jim Campilongo's "Christmas Show"
Telecaster maestro Jim Campilongo will saddle up alongside pedal-steel player Bobby Black on Monday, Dec. 21, to put the twang back in Xmas during this Make-Out Room "Christmas Show." He'll perform songs from his holiday album, Almost Christmas, giving covers of such classics as "Blue Christmas" and "All I Want for Christmas Is You" a nostalgic jangle. Campilongo has lent a guitarist's hand to the indie world (Bright Eyes) and alt-country types (Teddy Thompson, Gillian Welch), among others, but he releases solo records as well, most recently Orange, a mix of acoustic and electric six-string tunes. The seasoned player should remove any bit of crass from Christmas. His songs carry an easygoing, desert troubadour vibe, whether he's serenading with country, blues, or jazz.

Uni and Her Ukulele's "Christmas Is Best"
A tiny instrument can bring a whole lotta joy, especially when it's Uni strumming out Xmas tunes. If you can't afford a trip to Hawaii this year, you could always order up a fruity cocktail and bask in the tropical sounds of this little slice of stringed heaven. Uni and Her Ukulele's "Christmas Is Best" show promises her favorite holiday hits at Amnesia on Sunday, Dec. 13, when she performs with opening acts including Chico's the Yule Logs. Plus, how can you miss an evening that promises to send you home with "homemade Elf poop"?

El Vez' "¡Viva Christmas!"
If you're looking for something a little cheekier, El Vez — aka the Mexican Elvis, aka the Thin Brown Duke — is a wizard of wit. He spins a theatrical web of song, dance, and political parody alongside his backup dancers, the Elvettes. At his "¡Viva Christmas!" show at the Independent on Thursday, Dec. 17, expect to hear reworked holiday carols and pop hits intertwined with current events, all woven into a parade of punchlines, costume changes, and Spanish-language puns. The man born Robert Lopez has taken the stage in many iterations over the years, including his stint in early L.A. punk heroes the Zeroes and later turns as part of the Teatro ZinZanni ensemble. But El Vez is the cream of his entertainer guises. Los Straightjackets open the evening with instrumental surf rock.

Live 105's Not So Silent Night parties and preparties
Alt-rock radio station Live 105 fills up the end of this week with its annual holiday parties, open to the public until they sell out — which most of them do. Things kick off on Wednesday, Dec. 9, with Soundcheck's Holiday Ball at Bimbo's. The lineup is chock-full of indie pop from the Downer Party (see Marc Hawthorne's piece on the group in this issue), the Lovemakers, Band of Skulls, and White Rabbits. Thursday, things move over to Mezzanine for the Not So Silent Night Pre-Party, an upbeat dance party featuring Hey Champ, Passion Pit, and Gossip — the last of whom released one of my favorite records of 2009. Popscene is also hitching a party to the radio station bender, featuring late-night DJ sets from members of Gossip and Passion Pit on Thursday. On Friday, the night really gets not so silent with the big event — AFI, Muse, Vampire Weekend, and more at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

See also page 50 for one addition to the list, our Hear This" pic for the How the Grouch Stole Christmas show. If you have any musical holiday events I've missed here, e-mail me and I'll add them to our blog, http://blogs.sfweekly.com/shookdown.

 
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