Riff Raff

Selvin Watch: By the Numbers In newspaper writing, the saddest mistakes are the ones that are hard to make. That's why watching Joel Selvin's journalism career chokes us up so much. The Chronicle chief pop music critic, who wrote a book about famous San Francisco concert spots two years ago, recently blew a basic fact about a local music venue. In his Thursday, Sept. 11, review of a David Bowie show at the Warfield, Selvin claimed that the hall seated 3,300 people. Well, the folks over at Bill Graham Presents assure us that the Warfield maxes out at 2,100, with most sold-out shows averaging around 2,000 because of varying production configurations. Sob. Worse, once more, Selvin contradicted himself: In San Francisco, the Musical History Tour, he gave the Warfield's capacity as 3,000. Sob … sob. Out of context, last week's flub looks like a minor error. But here cruel reality subverts the thesis of Selvin's article. You see, the relentlessly positive review was actually a disguised apology for Bowie's fading commercial prospects. Selvin wanted to prove that Bowie could actually sell out “vast arenas,” but that this tour somehow marked a move toward “accessibility.” Horseshit. Bowie sold out three nights at the Warfield. Selvin's cooked books would have it that Bowie was visited by 10,000 fans, or enough to sell out a small — certainly not vast — arena. Using the real figures, total attendance was more like 6,000, which is much closer to the number of people who bought Bowie's latest record. (J.S.)

Brownout Within a one-block radius of 16th Street and Valencia, there are at least nine bars, including Jacks, Doctor Bombay's, the Albion, the Kilowatt, Dalva, Blondie's, Esta Noche, the Skylark, and the Casanova. Out of these, the Skylark, Esta Noche, and the Kilowatt hold proper cabaret licenses, enabling them to offer live music. Esta Noche caters primarily to Latino drag queens and the folks who love them; DJ dancing and lip-syncing are their thing. On weekends, the Skylark manages to squeeze a couple of turntables into the wall-to-wall melee of salon-tanned Cosmo drinkers, but trying to dance in the crush would be reckless at best. This leaves the Kilowatt, the only venue among them all foolish enough to believe in the illusion that this is a live-music town. Every weekend for the last three years, Kilowatt booker Dave Kaplan has offered auricular asylum for gearheads horrified by this city's propensity for generating Abba cover bands. Kaplan's preference for rock of the garage ilk created an unusually specialized climate within the Kilowatt, and every weekend indie kids wearing mechanic's shirts and bowling shoes would spill out of the smoke-filled bar to sit on the sidewalk for a breath of fresh air (and to have a smoke) before squeezing back into the pack. The Kilowatt quickly became the mandatory stopover for touring Estrus and Sub Pop acts. It was a magnet for Japanese noise rock bands, and the exclusive stomping ground for groups like Doo Rag and Jonathan Fire*Eater. And it will remain so — at least until Nov. 2, when owner Peter Athaas will abolish live music in favor of a more “neighborhood bar” vibe. The decision, he says, didn't come easy, but, among other reasons, the size of the club and the location didn't make having live music there hugely profitable. “The good nights were great, but we could only let so many people in,” says Athaas. “On the bad nights, we'd lose our drinking crowd because there would be a cover [charge], or people would wander in and out between bands, going to other bars on the block. It's not like at the Bottom of the Hill, where the crowd is stuck out there.” Ramona Downey — the booker for the Bottom of the Hill, which is, musically, the Kilowatt's closest competitor — understands the high costs of running a live music venue (insurance, advertising, equipment, BMI, ASCAP) but says that losing the Kilowatt is a tremendous blow for the entire music community. “I don't look at it like we're losing competition. [Kaplan] created a real scene at the Kilowatt. This just makes San Francisco weaker. There is a reason that a city like Austin has so much good music coming through every week. Agents know that there are at least 15 good nightclubs where they can place their bands. We have so few clubs left.” Athaas says that he may or may not reinstate live music in the future. For now, he'll enjoy taking a few hours off per week and see how things go. (S.T.)

Lively Arts Watch: Dressed to Fill The Chron's Lively Arts column, which should be called “Press Release Arts,” is almost comical in its lack of actual reporting, but some of columnist Jerry Carroll's errors are just too astonishing to laugh off. In a Sept. 9 column, Carroll described the Cointreauphy Hop — a fund-raiser for the American Foundation for AIDS Research — like this: “Cointreau, the French makers of the orange-flavored liqueur, will raise money for the fight against AIDS in a race at 1 p.m. Sunday. Contestants hop a mile course at Peacock Meadow in Golden Gate Park dressed up in bright orange hoppity-hops.” Dressed up? Surely Carroll received an extensive press packet from the Cointreau people, as did most local papers, or the item wouldn't have appeared in his column. If Carroll had read the detailed information contained within the packet, or if he had maybe put in a phone call to clear up any confusion he might have had, or if he had even looked at the enclosed Hoppity Hop photo, he would have realized that a Hoppity Hop is not a costume. It's an oversized, inflated rubber ball with handles that people straddle and bounce around upon. How anyone could dress up in a Hoppity Hop — or let a mistake like that go to print — is a mystery, to be sure. (H.W.)

Soothing Like the Green Fields of Iowa Local videographer Claire Burch, director at Art and Education Media Inc., sent Riff Raff a big fuzzy care package of video and songs along with an appeal for donations to support her broke (but not busted) documentary outfit. We're sure you might have caught two of her original songs — “Barefoot Through the Haight” and “Remembering the Summer of Love,” both from the “Oracle, Oracle Suite” — in the theatrical release of Timothy Leary's Dead. But you might have missed “There They Go,” Burch's poignant 1991 tribute to a fallen rock promoter. We pick up at the first chorus (key: B flat minor) and include Burch's notation to allow readers to follow the bouncing ball. If the spirit moves you, please send kind words and donations to the talented songsmithstress at 2747 Regent/ Berkeley, CA/ 94705. (J.S.)

Bill Gra-ham down in a plane
O-ther good peo-ple a-board
In rain-y dark-ness
In rain-y dark-ness
He-li-copter with three peo-ple a-board
Crashed in-to a high pow-ered trans-mis-
sion tow-er
Just be-fore ten p.m.
In rain-y dark-ness
In rain-y dark-ness
For-cing the clos-ing of High-way Thir-ty-
East of Sears Point cut-ting off pow-er to
near-by ar-e-as
The Bell Jet Ran-ger hel-i-copter
Struck the Pa-ci-fic Gas and E-lec-tric
trans-mis-sion tow-er
Two-hundred feet off the ground
There they go
(Repeat chorus and fade)

DJ Derby On Sept. 7, hordes of baggy-pantsed citizens shuffled into the Palace of Fine Arts to bear witness to the crowning of a new International Turntablists Federation champion. The contestants were DJs. They battled each other not for bragging rights as this year's ITF champion, but simply for some respect. That is, respect as true musicians, able to manipulate turntables as eloquently as a concert pianist works the ivories. The actual competition was more a showcase of skills than an elimination, with competitors and audience members alike cheering each performer in turn. This year's competition, though somewhat hindered by technical difficulties, was still an amazing sight, although the result was far from surprising. The event was subdivided into four categories: all-around individual (the DJ who flexed the mad skills), scratching ability (the DJ who could, say, cut up a Stevie Nicks recording and make it sound good), beat juggling (the DJ who could drop and match a myriad of beats), and finally team competition (where DJ groups spun together, playing off each other). The judges for the competition included DJs D-Styles (Invisibl Skratch Piklz), Shortkut (ISP and the Beat Junkies), Grand Wizard Theodore (inventor of the scratch), Quest (Space Travelers), Mister Sinister (X-Men), Honda (Japan), Roc Raida (X-Men), and Disc (asked to retire by the ITF after achieving divinity on deck). In the all-around competition, DJ Vin Roc, a member of the Fifth Platoon DJ group, triumphed over DJ Do-Boy. The rest of the categories were dominated by Babu of the Beat Junkies, who won out over Rip One for scratching and Swift Rock for beat juggling in what could hardly be called upsets. For the team competition, Babu joined his fellow Beat Junkies (DJs Melo-D, Rhettmatic, and Curse) and set the crowd on fire, surpassing the Supernatural Turntable Artists. All in all, it was an amazing display and a great day for hip hop. As far as next year's competition is concerned — who knows, maybe Babu will think about retiring undefeated, but don't count on it. (R.A.)

Riff Raff Watch Riff Raff loves it when arts writers are wrong. We've made it our job to lambaste the careless, fillet the stupid, and torch the ignorant. But let no one say that Riff Raff has a hidden agenda — we like vicious and petty assaults for their own sake. So: Six weeks ago, Riff Raff correspondent J.S. was continuing to beat the decaying horse that was the Miller Genuine Draft Blind Date concert at the Fillmore — you remember, the one where Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters performed for a bunch of clueless rock fans who won tickets by responding to television and radio contests or clipping box tops off of 12-packs. J.S. had already written an item on the show; and here he was again, two weeks after the fact, ranting on about Grohl's commercial embrace of Miller Beer. In so doing, J.S. wrote that the head Foo Fighter once “sucked Kurt Cobain's face on Saturday Night Live just to offend bigots.” Recently, a certain male baby boomer who wore a long ponytail well into 1996 challenged this bit of Nirvana trivia. Riff Raff, always on the alert for journalistic fuck-ups — even its own — did some homework. It wasn't easy. We went through a massive pile of Nirvana clips. We talked with the author of a Nirvana bio. We used our Nexis application — the Wayback Machine of publishing — to search for Nirvana in back issues of magazines and major newspapers. And finally, in a 1993 item written by Gina Arnold and published in the San Francisco Chronicle, we found this: “Bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl also indulged in a deep French kiss on 'Saturday Night Live'; Cobain and Novoselic kissed on stage in Portland at a gay rights benefit.” In other words, J.S. — probably just another snotty latte-sipping Gen-Xer — is wrong, and should wise up or get the hell out of the coffeehouse. (J.S.)

Confidential to the Minotaurs, Regarding the Contents of Their Press Kit Thanks for the T-shirt and the Minotaur horns; but your baggie of industry-standard “fine white powder” was not needed. We were able to make our deadlines without it. In fact, we are ahead of schedule for the next month. Purely coincidental (sniff). (R.A.)

Riff Raff riffraff: Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Michael Batty (M.B.), 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 mbatty@sfweekly.com, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly. No flack, please.

Tags: , , ,

Related Stories