Rock 'n' roll is really loud — that's one of the best things about it. The only problem is that repeated exposure to deafening noise tends to damage your ears. You may think that a little light ringing isn't so bad, but without corrective measures that small pinging can turn into aural hallucinations, hearing loss, and intense pain. Eventually, you could be like Pete Townshend, unable to hear a guitar lick even when the amps are turned up to 11, or Jonathan Richman, who's reduced to playing quietly because of severe tinnitus.
Therefore, we'd like to suggest you ring in the new year by cutting back on your volume levels. That's not such a radical regime change with all the cool options — entertainment that won't fracture your eardrums — available throughout the Bay Area.
For instance, if you don't want to give up live music completely, there are numerous low-volume options available. The Mission's Rite Spot features a wide variety of artists on the mellow tip, from singer/ songwriter types to '20s jazzbos to theremin lounge acts, all determined not to rattle your brain pan. Farther south, the Argus Lounge has been hosting live music over the past year, with a tendency toward the unamplified, heartfelt folkie side of the spectrum (think Mark Eitzel, Readyville, Sonny Smith) as well as nonintrusive DJs. Adobe Books hosts live shows sporadically, most often in conjunction with art openings. In addition to providing a showcase for striking new visual works — the back-room gallery was once named by Art Forum as one of the best places in the country to uncover emerging artists — Adobe's ramshackle, lived-in atmosphere offers the perfect venue for casual, tranquil performances, often by a who's who of quiet Bay Areamericanans like Joanna Newsom, Vetiver, and Willow Willow.
Perhaps your ears would better appreciate an instrumentless proceeding, such as a slam event. Slams tend to be like poetry readings hopped up on caffeine, but they're infinitely quieter than a Metallica concert. Taking place every Wednesday at the Starry Plough, the Berkeley Slam is one of the best-known events in the country, having propelled poets into the New York Times and onto 60 Minutes. Each week several hundred viewers marvel at 15 poets battling in short, sharp verse for the audience's approval. The similarly minded “Tourettes Without Regrets,” formerly at the Stork Club, has moved to the Oakland Metro on the first Thursday of the month. Hosts Jamie Kennedy and Geoff Trenchard give out some of the biggest cash prizes around, in poetry slam, MC battles, and dirty haiku categories. In S.F., Youth Speaks provides numerous slam options, including this February's Tenth Annual Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam, which culminates in a final taking place at the S.F. Opera House. The organization, which has been one of the nation's foremost proponents of nonprofit teen spoken word events since it began in 1996, also hosts four monthly under-21 open mikes, including “Final Fridays” at Galeria de la Raza on, not surprisingly, last Fridays, and “Spoken City: A Curated Youth Speaks Poetry and Spoken Word Event” at Cafe Royale on second Tuesdays.
If the slams are too loud for you, there are oodles of excellent reading series to check out. For the adventurous, there's Charlie Anders' “Writers With Drinks,” a performance free-for-all that's been held on second Saturdays at the Make-Out Room for the past five years. Anders mixes big-name authors like Vendela Vida, Andrew Sean Greer, and Beth Lisick with lowbrow comedians, radio hosts, and sex workers, then sprinkles liberally with booze to see what happens. Speaking of Lisick, the best-selling author of Everybody Into the Pool co-hosts her own event, “Porchlight.” Held second Mondays at Café Du Nord, each “Porchlight” features a variety of storytellers — from authors to mushroom hunters to mayoral candidates — relaying tales based around specific themes like family, therapy, and l'amour.
For those bibliophiles who can't get enough of author chitchat, there's always award-winning writer and poet Kate Braverman's monthly literary talk show, “Fusion City,” held second Mondays at the Edinburgh Castle. The City Arts & Lecture series, which takes place at the Herbst Theatre or Davies Symphony Hall and can be heard free on KQED, is another way to get inside the heads of authors, as well as politicians, cartoonists, and artists. Upcoming participants include actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and novelist Margaret Atwood.
Perhaps it'll help your eardrums to rest if you're exercising your funny bone at the same time. In addition to the well-known Punch Line and Cobb's comedy clubs, there are a host of more intimate venues around town. The Hemlock Tavern's monthly “Club Chuckles” features some of the rawest, out-there shtick in the Bay Area, from the poo-loving antics of Brent Weinbach to gender-bending Lady Gallagher. February's second-anniversary show includes two sets by infamously unfunnyman Neil Hamburger. (The hearing-protective may want to head to the bar during the set by the Poontang Wranglers, a hillbilly performance art rock band.) The Killing My Lobster sketch comedy troupe puts on several shows a year, each devoted to different themes like science, travel, or politics. February's program heads oceanward at the Brava Theater for “KML Takes a Cruise,” billed as “a show about the high seas, a life of leisure, and shuffleboard.” If you're itching to join in the fun, try out “Joke-E-Oke,” a semiregular event in which regular schmoes mouth the routines of Jerry Seinfeld, Rodney Dangerfield, and other comic icons. (Be forewarned: Heckling is programmed into the show.) The next go-round will take place on a tricked-out bus; see www.angrywaiter4am.com for details.
The local theater scene also provides a huge number of opportunities to be entertained without being bludgeoned by noise (especially if you avoid the big Broadway musicals). From the renowned (New Conservatory Theatre, American Conservatory Theater) to the avant-garde (Magic Theatre, The Marsh) to the downright fringe-y (The Exit Theater), there's something for everyone. A couple of suggestions: Check out Magic's “Hothouse '06” series, which begins in February and showcases three up-and-coming playwrights “America needs to know.” If you're looking for something a bit lighter in tone, catch How We First Met (at the Purple Onion in February), a sort of play that features couples telling how they began dating, intermixed with actors improvising their stories. Met is interactive, feel-good theater at its best — which is just about the perfect tonic for a pair of aching ears.
Shh. The search for a lower-decibel evening out can include stops at these and other local venues:
Adobe Books, 3166 16th St. (at Valencia), 864-3936, www.adobebooks.org.
Argus Lounge, 3187 Mission (at Valencia), 824-1447, www.arguslounge.com.
Rite Spot, 2099 Folsom (at 17th Street), 552-6066, www.ritespotcafe.net.
“Berkeley Slam,” Wednesdays at the Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck (at Prince), Berkeley, (510) 841-2082, www.daniland.com/slam.
Youth Speaks: “Final Fridays,” last Fridays at Galeria de la Raza, 2857 24th St. (at Bryant), 826-8009.
“Spoken City,” second Tuesdays at Cafe Royale, 800 Post (at Leavenworth), 441-4099.
Tenth Annual Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam, Feb. 10-March 18, various venues, www.youthspeaks.org.
“Tourettes Without Regrets,” first Thursdays at the Oakland Metro, 201 Broadway (at Second Street), Oakland, (510) 763-1146, www.oaklandmetro.org.
“Writers With Drinks,” second Saturdays at the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St. (at Mission), 647-2888, www.writerswithdrinks.com.
“Porchlight,” second Mondays at Café Du Nord, 2170 Market (at Sanchez), 861-5016, www.porchlightsf.com.
Center for the Art of Translation's “Lit&Lunch Series,” second Tuesdays starting Feb. 14, 12:30-1:30 p.m., 111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna (at Second Street), 974-1719, www.catranslation.org.
“Fusion City,” second Mondays at the Edinburgh Castle, 950 Geary (at Polk), 885-4074, www.castlenews.com.
City Arts & Lectures, 392-4400, www.cityarts.net.
Killing My Lobster Takes a Cruise, Feb. 23-March 5, Brava Theater, 2781 24th St. (at Potrero), 641-7657, www.killingmylobster.com.
“Club Chuckles” at the Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk (at Post), 923-0923, www.hemlocktavern.com.
“Hothouse '06,” Feb. 11-April 9 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Third Floor, 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org.
How We First Met, Feb. 3-25 at the Purple Onion, 140 Columbus (between Washington and Pacific), 956-1653, www.caffemacaroni.com/purple.shtml.
New Conservatory Theatre, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.
American Conservatory Theater, 405 Geary (at Mason), 749-2ACT, www.act-sfbay.org.
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org.