If for no other reasons than style and epoch, the New York Dolls belong among my most influential pantheon -- Velvet Underground, Stooges, MC5 -- and while fans will cite the unmistakable guitar playing of Johnny Thunders or the overblown theatrics of David Johansen, none of it would have come to pass if not for guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and drummer Billy Murcia. It was their wild caprice, their basement workshop, and their fashion sense that became the impetus for the Dolls (named for a shop near their work). Even so, when Murcia OD'd and the Dolls finally cracked, Sylvain never balked at the shadow cast by his bandmates; he happily co-wrote material for Johansen's solo albums, helped Thunders when asked, and quietly recorded two underappreciated heartland-inspired albums. It's been over 15 years since Sylvain has put out a record for public consumption, but listening to (sleep) baby doll gives you an idea of how much he contributed musically during those short, explosive years. Songs that he co-wrote with Johansen -- "Trash," "Frenchette," and "It's on Fire" -- take on a new and improved life, and his current material has a sweet, nostalgic quality that is roused by contributions from other nearly forgotten players from Blondie, Misfits, Generation X, and Fuzztones. Sylvain Sylvain performs with Street Walkin' Cheetahs at the Paradise Lounge on Friday, May 14, with Boxing Haley, Magnolia Thunderfinger, and Amazing Embarrassonic opening at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 861-6906.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I came to this continent's most invigorating punk rock en espanol band by way of Sweden's most wacky candy -- during the Mentos Freshmaker Tour early last year. Prior to the release of Contra-Revolución Avenue, Tijuana No! had only minuscule distribution in the U.S. Thankfully, the irrepressible ska-infused "Pobre de Ti (Poor You)" became a big pop hit in Mexico and Spain a couple of years back, and also caught the attention of some influential folks. The Pixies' Kim Deal, Fishbone's Angelo Moore, Bad Brains' HR, Basque separatist Negu Gorriak, and all of the Pietasters appear on Tijuana No!'s current BMG release, and Winston Smith has created one of his most galvanizing pieces of cover art to date. But what will catch your attention is not the old-school celebrity roll call, but the furious energy that separates Mexican punk rock from its commodified neighbor. In Mexico, it seems punk rockers are informed by revolutionaries, not fashion trends -- Pancho Villa and the Zapatistas are not just history lessons, but vibrant examples of focused rebellion for which punk rock serves as a fearsome battle cry. Perhaps that's why -- even at 40 years of age -- a former lawyer and punk-rock activist can sound less stale than any 17-year-old we have to offer.
Luis Guerena writes Spanglish indictments against border patrols, corporate oppression, illegal mining, imperialism, wage warfare, and the purposeful diversion of gang violence. His 10-year commitment to Tijuana No! has reaped two additional lead vocalists -- flutist Teca Garcia and keyboardist Cecilia Bastida (whose effervescence has reignited the Clash's "Spanish Bombs") -- and a fiery band that effortlessly blends Cuban nueva canción, hip hop, and ska into a chilpachole of Tijuana punk rock. Only a shared chorus of "Fuck the government!" will calm the frenzied pit of arms and legs at Slim's on Saturday, May 15, with Viva Malpache and Cara Dura opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15; call 522-0333.
Amber Asylum. Few appellations invoke a more faithful impression of the offering to be heard. The euphonious issue of soprano vocalist/violinist Kris Force is a Baroque sanctuary of richly layered hues where a soul might find repose, or a lustrous jewel of age-old resin that confines the madness of delicate-winged beetles. It swells and rolls through Gregorian monasteries and spills out into pools of salty contrition. There is solace in violin, cello, and contrabass; rejuvenation in organ, phantom accordion, and synthesizer. Force samples herself, and rightly so. On Songs of Sex and Death, she repeats again and again, "Your genius frightens me" -- I share the sentiment. Amber Asylum makes its home in the Bay Area, but too rarely performs live (you may be more familiar with the group from its contributions to Swans, Neurosis, and Tribes of Neurot outings). In conjunction with Glenn McKay's exhibition "Lighting the Millennium," Amber Asylum performs at the Catherine Clarke Gallery accompanied by McKay's plasma light show on Tuesday, May 18, at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free; call 399-1439. The band also appears at the Tempest on Sunday, May 16, at 5:30 p.m. with In Gowan Ring. Admission is $5; call 495-1863.
-- Silke Tudor