essence Has a New Look Riff Raff readers will remember essence, the lowercased local singer/songwriter whose promo-pic harpoon and ocelot bomber cap only hinted at the deep wells of talent promised by her hard-working manager. We are delighted to share the news -- and the photos to prove it (see below) -- that essence has eschewed both headwear and weaponry, if not also the decolletage, of her previous look in favor of a more sultry, post-Morissette sulk. Updates as they happen. (B.W.)
Sound Riot in Aisle 9 Minutes before Sonic Youth hit the store's stage -- located, ironically, next to the folk and country sections -- for last Wednesday's Amoeba Music appearance, an anxious fan elbowed his buddy. "Hey man, I hope we get something different today," he moaned. He was referring to the two nearly identical sets the band had feverishly played Monday and Tuesday at the Fillmore. In a typically Sonic Youth move, the experimental noise-art rockers had eschewed old, beloved songs at the shows for the new, psychedelic material from A Thousand Leaves. At Amoeba, as drummer Steve Shelley and frequent Thurston Moore collaborator (and Mills College instructor) William Winart started banging away at random, the worried fan got his wish. After a couple of minutes Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's screeching, noodling guitar scrapings joined the flailing drums. The fan left. Five minutes of free-form feedback and dissonance later, we expected bassist Kim Gordon to explain the dense indulgence. "Ladies and gentlemen, you're witnessing the latest incarnation of Sonic Youth: Noise Odyssey! Thurston Moore on lead guitar -- he wrote this." (Or something like that.) There was only one problem: There wasn't a microphone. The response to the 30-minute set was decidedly mixed. Most of the 600 or so folks who crammed Amoeba's aisles looked either downright confused or scared, or left quickly. Obviously they'd missed or forgotten Youth's last Haight in-store experiment in 1995, where Moore promoted his solo Psychic Hearts album by only playing the jarring instrumental "Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars" for an hour. If no one remembered, the earplugs that Amoeba staffers handed patrons when they entered shoulda been a clue. On the flip side, hard-core fans -- the same ones who hate records like Goo and Dirty, while defending SY's early, shapeless ear-bleeders like Kill Yr. Idols and Confusion Is Sex -- tried to get the group back out for an encore. Our opinion? Well, it's good to see the band still giving the finger to expectation and stubbornly following their underground muse. With the members all hitting middle age, it's safe to say Sonic Youth isn't mellowing, or growing old gracefully. But nevermind all that. The half-hour headache provided ample time for at least one revelation far more important than questions about Sonic Youth's musical direction: Did you ever notice how many great posters Amoeba has lining its walls? (Dave McCoy)
Notes From the College of Musical Knowledge Finally, anyone who spent way too much time flipping through used LP bins and memorizing dogeared tomes of Billboard charts had a chance for it to pay off. On Sunday, May 17, approximately 60 folks assembled in the parking lot of the Fisherman's Wharf Tower Records to take the second annual Rhino Musical Aptitude Test (RMAT), a one-hour, 305-question SAT-styled quizzing of musical minutiae. That these people would give up a beautiful sunny afternoon to fill in little round holes on ScanTron answer sheets says a lot about the nature of the obsessive-compulsive creature known as the record geek; the need to prove one's command of band lineup changes and discographies was so strong that many of the test-takers proudly wore the free pocket protectors that were handed out. (The slogan: "Chances are even the winner is a loser too.") "It's an exciting way for people to demonstrate their musical knowledge, and also to get to know more about Rhino," said a more charitable Rhino Records rep named Jill Ruzich. Riff Raff let the egregious record-label promotion slide; after all, Rhino's the premier rock and pop reissue label in America, even if their seemingly endless stream of funk and new wave compilations is proof that you can indeed squeeze blood out of a stone. And besides, the prize booty was pretty tempting. When the scores are tabulated in a few days, the first-prize winner from each of the live test sites (Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and the Internet) will win a CD jukebox and 100 CDs, as well as stereo equipment, snowboards, clothing, Tower gift certificates, magazine subscriptions, and software from your friends at Microsoft. The grand-prize winner will get the whole shebang, along with every record that the label puts out for the rest of his or her life. Novelty song expert and DJ Dr. Demento acted as proctor at the S.F. site, aided by classroom props like a blackboard and a teacher's desk. The cleverly written multiple-choice questions spanned the histories of doo-wop ("Which music executive wrote the first Clovers hit, 'Don't You Know I Love You'?"), heavy metal ("Apart from you and me, who has not been a lead singer for Black Sabbath?"), alternarock ("Liz Phair once sang, 'I want to be your ______ queen' "), and other genres, most of which could be answered by purchasing Rhino compilations, of course. The test was open-book; Riff Raff brought along a copy of The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits just in case, and got a little bit anxious over the fellow sitting up front who brought an entire grocery bag filled with well-worn reference texts. Not that we were jealous or anything; we nailed those R&B questions without the help of any text, by gum, and anyway, who wants to pay taxes on a jukebox? All in good fun, sure, but for at least one person who took the test, winning the grand prize means payback for a lifetime of geekiness. "Rhino owes me," said Chandler White, one of the test-takers from San Francisco. "I've bought enough of their records to buy the owners a Cadillac." (Mark Athitakis)
Oops! Last week, Robert Arriaga wrote that original Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo had rejoined the band. He was wrong. Slayer's current skinsman is Paul Bostaph. Sorry about the error, but for the record, Lombardo was still the best drummer the band ever burned through. (R.A.)
Riff Raff riffraff: Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Karl D. Esturbense (K.D.E.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), Heather Wisner (H.W.), and Bill Wyman (B.W.). Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to email@example.com, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.