Many wandering youngsters identify with the label "tramp artist," but few have taken it to bowler-hat perfection quite like Eddy Joe Cotton. The veteran train-jumper crisscrossed the country for years before organizing a ragtag group of like-minded musicians, carnival extras, and fellow hobos into the Yard Dogs Road Show, bringing the bawdy pleasures of 19th-century saloon vaudeville to modern audiences. The 7-year-old electrified jug band features horns and guitars and a washtub bass, along with several musical "contraptions," fronted by carny-barker Cotton singing songs about "cold boxcars, near death, and happy sunsets." High-stepping dancing girls, sword swallowers, fire breathers, and other sideshow acts (including the anachronistic, glammed-out Guitar Boy) round out the show, which tumbles appropriately into that old burlesque-and-bordello hothouse the Great American Music Hall. Catch the act while you can: Its members have a habit of drifting off to points unknown.
Before the show, bone up on altcircus lore as J. Dee Hill, a former bigwig at Adweek magazine, signs her book Freaks and Fire: The Underground Reinvention of Circus, which profiles the Yard Dogs and fellow travelers the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Flam Chen, and Circus Contraption, with essential pics of the freaks and geeks by Phil Hollenbeck. Pick up the book at 8:30 p.m., then watch the Yard Dogs Road Show at 9 at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $10; call 885-0750 or visit www.gamh.com.
-- Michael Leaverton
Piece by Piece
What does it mean to live in the city? What's the effect of the buildings, the dense population, and the noise levels on your brain? Clark Buckner's installation "Fragments of a Cityscape" presents San Francisco as a "psychological terrain," says its gallery's Web site, so maybe it can give you the answers. One component of the multimedia exhibit, The Sound of the Street (16th and Mission), is a noisy four-screen video setup showing passers-by at the intersection mimicking the sound of an urban street. The artist isn't complaining, though: The exhibit is also a celebration of home. The opening reception for "Fragments" starts at 6 p.m. (and the show continues through May 28) at the Pigman Gallery, 72 Tehama (at Fifth Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 546-7441 or visit www.pigmangallery.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Fight the Power
Rap icon speaks his mind
Chuck D will always be best known as the politically charged frontman of Public Enemy. But in between creating platinum-selling albums and changing the face of rap as we know it, the outspoken superstar has taken his activist rhetoric beyond the music stage. In the last year, for example, D hosted an Air America talk show and was the keynote speaker at the first-ever National Hip-Hop Political Convention in Newark, N.J. Today he holds forth on "The Future of the Entertainment Industry: Artists and the New Media Revolution." Maybe you can ask him what he thinks about such ominous signs as his radio show getting bumped for Jerry Springer and his bandmate Flavor Flav's star turns on reality TV. Hear Chuck D at 12:30 p.m. at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second Street), S.F. Admission is $8-15; call 597-6701 or visit www.commonwealthclub.org.
-- Jane Tunks
Bigger Is Not Better
Little house in the big city
Making do with less isn't really in fashion at the moment, at least not here in the western United States. Long gone is the dream of a "cozy little cottage" -- it's been replaced by a seemingly desperate lust for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-style opulence (n.b. Hummers and McMansions). Author and architect Azby Brown has been studying design in Japan for many years, and he thinks this country could use a window into the big ideas in small houses he's seen there. At "The Way We Live Now -- Evolution and Revolution in Japanese Home Design," Brown discusses the compact, functional, and beautiful living spaces documented in his latest book, The Very Small Home. His lecture begins at 5:30 p.m. at the American Institute of Architects S.F., 130 Sutter (at Montgomery), S.F. Admission is free; call 362-7397 or visit www.aiasf.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Just when you'd finally forgiven your mom for throwing out your dog-eared collection of Archies and Batmans, the enabling fanatics at local comic book stores are encouraging you to get back into your addiction. For the fourth year running, Free Comic Book Day gives thousands of these superhero-strewn periodicals away to anyone who wants one. Lest Mom tell you that these illustrated titles are just for kids, inform her that (according to the event's Web site) "many doctors, lawyers, and college professors collect comics." So there's hope for you yet. The giveaway happens at indie shops all over town; go to www.freecomicbookday.com for a list of participating stores.
-- Jane Tunks