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Confusion Intended: Scratching Our Heads with Local Rock Underdogs 

Wednesday, Feb 5 2014
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People tend to resent bands they don't understand. Without identifiable reference points to privilege our self-image as informed aesthetes, or some instantly recognizable stylistic nods, blazing originality or willful difficulty usually turns us off. Savvy bands often exploit this fact with familiar starting points that take unexpected turns. Listeners respond in kind with descriptions that peg one glaring influence, then offer an image to specify the band's relation to the main influence. Like "chintzy synths evoke Harry Nilsson in his bathrobe," from the last track premiere I read on the Internet.

San Francisco's Breakarts, however, are just inscrutable. They're so threatening that I'm tempted to deride Breakarts for confounding me. Overheard post-set conversations are typically perplexed or hostile. Their bass guitar, drum set, and vocal mic evoke performances you've seen, but the sounds emitted from them don't. Nor does Breakarts' live presence. They refuse to engage the audience in conventional ways. They look shifty, like beasts confined, but such judgments are projections of my own discomfort with a band that refuses to wink and let me in on the concept. Such a shockingly unfamiliar live band warrants investigation, so get confused yourself with Breakarts, Saturn Cats, and Fleece at the Knockout on Thursday, Feb. 6.

Performance artist Marina Abramovic said in an interview that, for her craft, "the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real," while in theater they are fake. This reminds us of Musk, a local rock foursome whose scabrous clamor both incites hostility and thrives on it. Blood flows, knives clink, the whole bit, but Abramovic's third qualification is problematic. Vocalist Rob Vertigo claims that his intensely physical performance is helped by hating onlookers. With carnal glare, compulsive twitches of the upper lip, and sudden lunges towards the crowd, he's believable, but Vertigo summons that rage on command. With neither theater's pure symbolism nor performance art's dubious claims of emotional legitimacy, the rock gig's severe physical gestures and moody contrivances are unique. Musk plays with White Murder, Quaaludes, and Bad Daddies on Thursday, Feb. 6, at Thee Parkside.

If likening rock gigs to performance art breaks down under close inspection, can record stores be galleries? Oakland record shops 1-2-3-4 Go! and Econo Jam both open art shows on Friday Feb. 7. 1-2-3-4 Go! launches the release of Perv, a comic zine created by East Bay musician and visual artist Serena Noline. In it, Noline sets perversion as the guiding principle of her intimate experiences, and brings every frank memory to the page with a confident and arresting illustration style. Meanwhile, Michael Gaughan's visual and conceptual works often load humor, vulgarity, or transgression into iconic cultural images. His work sells at prestigious fairs, but Gaughan's willingness to exhibit in Econo Jam reflects an ambivalence towards the art establishment. That satirical glee illustrates why record clerks aren't gallery curators, and why we think it's better that way.

About The Author

Sam Lefebvre

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