Party Like It's Still 1998 By now, you probably have a good idea of how you'll end the last day of the year, but how will you begin it? You could take a crack at a 16th-century, 2,100-pound bronze bell at the New Year's Bell Ringing Ceremony, an observation of an ages-old Japanese Buddhist custom meant to banish the 108 mortal desires tormenting humankind. The bell will clang and reverberate 108 satisfying times before midnight, once for each desire (the figure 108 is arrived at through higher math, multiplying the five senses with various time frames and so on). The bell-ringing begins at 11 a.m. in Gruhn Court at the Asian Art Museum, Golden Gate Park, S.F. Admission is free-$7; call 379-8879.
Time for a Paddlin' Austin's Asylum Street Spankers make music the old-fashioned way: without what they ominously call "demon electricity." No eardrum-piercing riffs or screaming feedback, just a stage fulla folks playing acoustic '20s-style Texas swing with kazoos, clarinets, banjos, ukuleles, and mandolins, anchored by snare drum and stand-up bass. The 10-member band, a kind of laid-back all-star group featuring members of the Jazz Pharrohs and 8 1/2 Souvenirs, reminds us what it's like to actually hear lyrics. And they've got good ones, too: their own, and a catalog of covers, from the Violent Femmes' "Country Death Song" to the sweetness and light of "I'll See You in My Dreams" to Appalachian murder ballads. It's all delivered like a vaudeville show, with between-song banter and bad jokes, and a little of the ol' soft shoe. MC Mysterious John wields a paddle to keep rowdy drunks in line and swat birthday boys and girls in the crowd. The show begins at 10 p.m. (also Saturday) at Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market (at Sanchez), S.F. Admission is $7; call 861-5016.
Mod Cons So it's not exactly brawling in the streets à la Quadrophenia, but the hundreds of scooter enthusiasts expected to buzz into town for the 13th annual Scooter Rage weekend rally may experience some dissent within their ranks. Scooter Rage organizers the Secret Society Scooter Club host a first-night happy hour at Dylan's (19th Street & Folsom) at 7 p.m. tonight, followed by a group ride to 111 Minna Gallery (Minna & Second Street; call the hot line at 332-5800 for more information on all their events). Meanwhile, the Cavaliers, a scooter club formed by dissatisfied Ragers, will meet at the Orbit Room (Market & Laguna) at 7 p.m. tonight for a group ride past Dylan's, picking up any other dissatisfied riders along the way, according to Cavalier Dave Dubiner, who hopes competing events will liven up the weekend. DJs Kirk and Joel will be playing the Who, the Byrds, and James Brown at "Maximum R&B" 10 p.m. tonight at 330 Ritch (330 Ritch at Brannan, S.F.). Admission is $5 and the scooterless public is invited; call 541-9574. On Saturday at noon, Scooter Rage hosts a custom show at the San Francisco Motorcycle Club (2194 Folsom), followed at 7 p.m. by drinks at Dylan's and a ride to the 7th Note Showclub (915 Columbus at Lombard, S.F.) for rocksteady and ska from the Rhythm Doctors and the Steady Ups. On the other side of town that same night, DJs spin '60s and '70s soul at the "In & Out Soul All Nighter" 11 p.m. Saturday at 330 Ritch. Admission is $8; call 541-9574. And finally, the Vespa Club of San Francisco hosts a third, unrelated New Year's Eve mod party with the Nick Rossi Set and the Debonaires. It begins at 9 p.m. Thursday at Il Pirata, 2007 16th St. (at Potrero), S.F. Admission is $5; call 752-4648.
Blame It on Rio Along with the French New Wave and the Italian Neorealists, Brazilian moviemakers began revolting against uninspired commercial films from Hollywood and their own country in the '60s, and threw themselves into creating a clearer-eyed, more visually compelling portrayal of their homeland and countrymen. The movement that took hold enjoys a two-month revival with "Brazil: Cinema Nvo and Beyond," a collection of films (many of them newly restored prints) that too few Americans ever got to see. From satire to magical realism to cold, hard reality, these 31 features and nearly a dozen documentaries and shorts run the thematic and stylistic gamut. Politics play a big role: Glauber Rocha's 1969 film Antonio das Mortes, the tale of a hired gun's political awakening, was so successful and consequently so infuriated right-wing Brazilian politicos that Rocha was forced to work abroad for the rest of his career. Cultural divisions figure in as well: The gangster thriller Amulet of Ogum examines the Afro-Brazilian Candomble religion, while All Nudity Shall Be Punished and Everything's Fine, two comedies propelled by sexual intrigue, play for laughs. A subsequent series, "Experimentos Tropicais: Recent Video From Brazil," traces the effect of Brazil's brave new cinema on modern work -- it begins Jan. 13. "Cinema Nvo" opens at 5 p.m. tonight with Antonio das Mortes at the Pacific Film Archive, 2621 Durant (at Dana), Berkeley. Admission is $3.50-7 (add $1.50 for double bills); call (510) 642-1412.
Trippingly on the Tongue Women's a cappella ensemble Vocolot is a sextet with a social conscience and an international perspective. Led by composer Linda Hirschhorn, singers Jennifer Karno (Beach Blanket Babylon), Alison Lewis (Glide Memorial Gospel Choir), and their sisters sing about social justice in Hebrew, Spanish, Arabic, English, and American Sign Language, creating the kind of dazzling vocal harmonies that earned their recent release, Behold, a nomination for best folk/world a cappella album of 1998 from the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards. This concert marks their return from a yearlong stint on the road, and begins at 5 p.m. at Star Classics, 425 Hayes (at Franklin), S.F. Admission is $5; call 552-1110.
Feline Fine Her music leans toward quietly acoustic and intensely personal, but singer/songwriter Chan (pronounced Shawn) Marshall, also known as Cat Power, has brought a musical family with her on solo outings. Hank Williams pops up on Myra Lee, an early album that she recorded with Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley on drums; Shelley returned for What Would the Community Think?, a raw, world-weary collection of Marshall's own verse as well as Bob Dylan's bootleg lament "Moonshiner" and lean numbers from indie musicians Peter Jeffries and Smog's Bill Callahan. With her recent Matador release, Moon Pix, Marshall teams with Dirty Three's Mick Turner and Jim White, for a fuller production threaded with rain showers and electronic loops a la Beth Orton. Wintermittens open for Cat Power at 9:30 p.m. at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Texas), S.F. Admission is $8-10; call 621-4455.
Spout Off The mere thought of champagne so soon after New Year's Eve may produce dry heaves in some people, but the Millennium Practice Party Tour is only sponsored by a champagne company, and beverages will not be served. So that the millennium doesn't catch anyone off guard (in case all those articles beginning "As the millennium approaches" didn't do the trick), participants are invited to "count down" to noon and pen their own personal toasts in the company's Millennium Toast Book. If that shot at national literary renown weren't incentive enough, there's stuff to look at, too: the world's largest champagne bottle, which stands nearly 5 feet tall and weighs around 315 pounds, and a video montage celebrating great moments in the last thousand years. The party begins at 11:30 a.m. at Justin Herman Plaza, Market & Steuart, S.F. Admission is free; call (312) 240-2747.