Etienne de Rocher
He wouldn't have been out of place playing acoustic guitar in a boho coffeehouse some 30 years back, a wiry, scruff-faced and sweater-clad kid with wide blue eyes and a voice that's as crisp as a patch of winter sun. Oakland's post-beatnik Etienne de Rocher isn't a household name, but he could have been: After being courted by Capitol Records' Glen Ballard (responsible for the Wal-Mart success of Alanis Morrissette), de Rocher declined a deal to pursue his own vision of songwriting. Which is a damn fine thing: De Rocher's decision puts him on an admirable path, and one that means his shows draw fans who know his full repertoire intimately, not his MTV video and hit single.
De Rocher's at times all-too-earnest stage presence is offset by his band (which now goes by the name Sipsey Cane), featuring bassist Jon Erickson (ex-Kinetics) and drummer Andrew Borger (Tom Waits). Erickson, who arranges a fair share of the group's material, provides a hook-laden backdrop for Etienne's soulful excursions on electric organ and pop-edged guitar. Guest vocalists show up frequently, to provide counterpoint to his vocals, sometimes hilariously. The group's tune book reveres Stevie Wonder's Talking Book era and shades of Crosby Stills & Nash are heard in harmonizing moments, but often, the songs are too personal to sound like anyone else. It's the lyrical playfulness that perhaps best shows off the cultivated spontaneity of Etienne de Rocher's shows. “Ice Cream Song” is a psychedelic dream of an eyes-bigger-than-the-stomach trip to Baskin-Robbins for a 31-scoop indulgence. “Oddly enough, I could not finish my ice cream/ I got a little sick, by the hundredth lick/ In my daylight dreams/ I didn't have to really swallow the cones inside the hollow underneath/ So I let go and it falls into the gutter/ And I let the sunlight have its way with it.” Not coming to a Wal-Mart near you anytime soon, thankfully.Etienne de Rocher and Sipsey Cane perform Sat., March 4, 10 p.m. with DJ Dakar at Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market (at Sanchez), S.F. Admission is $5; call 861-5016