The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the largest contingent of machine artists in the world. Many of us are familiar with the bone-crushing, earsplitting mayhem of Survival Research Laboratories, the geeky minutia of the Robot Society of America, and the humorous ingenuity of the Seemen, but what about the mythic grace of Robochrist, the cartoonish delight of Joyce Hsu, or the backyard misanthropy of People Haters? “The Art of Machines” brings all of them together. With an emphasis on artfulness, rather than on the glee of wholesale destruction, Blasthaus' new gallery space will be presenting a two-month-long show featuring lectures, video presentations, and an ongoing gallery exhibition of robots as objets d'art, including a swarm of bees, a flock of motors, a self-portrait machine, and new works by David Boyce, Chip Flynn, Kal Spelletich, Bruce Cannon, and Christian Ristow. “The Art of Machines” opens on Thursday, Aug. 21, at Rx Gallery (132 Eddy at Mason) with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Admission is $10; call 474-7973.
Compare San Francisco's trifling 49 square miles situated on the temperate coast of the Pacific to the pulsing 700 square miles of Mexico City located at the highest altitude of any urban center in North America. Of the megatropolis' 20 million inhabitants (and that approximation is considered grossly conservative), 98 percent are thought to be Roman Catholic, 50 percent are designated as squatters, and over 60 percent are under the age of 20. Not counting the throngs of street performers and mariachis that linger around taco stands in the financial district, there are over 4,000 bands in Mexico City. But there is only one like Las Ultrasónicas. As the sole all-girl punk band in a city where “rock en español” is king, machismo is law, and women are consigned to motherhood or eye candy, Las Ultrasónicas are brashly feminine, flagrantly sexy, openly predatory, and mean — mean as a coven of proto-feminist vampires fighting 700 years of bad mustaches through their love of rock 'n' roll. In 2001, the feature-length band documentary Everybody's Dying Here, shot and directed by guitarist Ali Gardoki, was shown at the SXSW film festival alongside titles such as Memento, Ginger Snaps, Amores Perros, and Okie Noodling, the brilliant documentary about barehanded catfish catchers featuring music by the Flaming Lips. But, at home, where Las Ultrasónicas consistently play sold-out shows, the group's music and videos are banned from mainstream media. Somehow Mexico City's tastemakers don't appreciate the sentiments behind aggressive little ditties such as “Fuck You for Being Here,” written for the fellows in the pit; or the ode to Satan hidden on the end of Las Ultrasónicas' full-length Oh Si, Mas … Mas; or videos such as the one created for “Que Grosero,” which follows four wet-lipped high school girls from their bedroom to the stage, where they explore their bloodlust and exploit a legion of goofy guys doing synchronized dance routines in tighty-whities. Maybe local music critics in Mexico City just don't like hard rock mixed with meth-infused surf guitar, spaghetti western heat, and punkabilly beats, but I do. And if you can imagine the most psychotic bitches from “Stinky's Peep Show” playing Deadbolt records in Spanish faster and meaner than Deadbolt ever could, you will too. Las Ultrasónicas appear on Friday, Aug. 22, at the Bottom of the Hill with Human Life Index, Viki, and Mammal opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 621-4455. And on Saturday, Aug. 23, at Balazo Gallery (2811 Mission at 24th Street) for the best show of summer with the Phantom Surfers, Glamour Pussies, and Graves Brothers Deluxe opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 550-1108.
OK, Seattle is not exactly what I would call a “soulful” town. Caffeinated maybe, wet certainly, white mostly, but soulful hardly. Except for one thing: Reggie Watts. On the wings of Watts' effortless baritone, smooth falsetto, and his deep-soul outfit Maktub, Seattle has become the true home to the “new soul” movement. And the Loft — a small, underground nightspot that draws the likes of Graham Hayes, Robert Walters, Sherik, and DJ Logic — has become its living room. Every Thursday night Loft curator and downtempo bassist PK Kemmish joins Watts, Maktub, and other smooth-groove players for an extended jam session at a nightclub called the Scarlet Tree. Sounds awful, right? Like you might want to shove a skewer through your ear, right? Wrong, and wrong again. The weekly improv sessions of Das Rut are mind-bending dance events, fueled by and comparable to some of the best Memphis soul, deep funk, and groove-oriented disco to come out of the early '70s, all filtered through Watts' peculiar sense of humor and golden tonsils. With hip-undulating keys, heart-palpitating bass, pimp-shuffling skins, and some of the coolest guitar-playing this side of the Mississippi, Das Rut might be cause for a new pair of shoes even without Watts, even though critics' comparisons of the vocalist to Al Green are not exaggerated. Raised in Spain and Montana, but born in Germany to a French mother and an African-American father, Watts is a 100-proof distillation of uptown smooth and downtown cool, the aural equivalent of urban sophistication and bedroom eyes, and he's one of the most charismatic stage performers you're likely to see up close and personal. So drink lots of water and bring extra soles, because you never know how long the party will last when Das Rut performs on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 23-24, at the Boom Boom Room at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8-12; call 673-8000.