Thursday, June 26, 2008

Frida Kahlo at SFMOMA

The above is by far one of my favorite Frida Kahlo paintings.

So I've been interning this summer at SFMOMA, and let me tell you, it has been great. To be surrounded by art 24/7 is fantastic and exactly what I hope to do for the rest of my life.
In any case, as I worked, the Frida Kahlo exhibit opened to the public. I knew this exhibit was going to be big: it contains not only an enormous selection of her paintings, but also photographs, very personal ones, of her life with her husband or family or friends. These photographs are rare and shed a light on Frida we have not seen before. It is a beautifully put together exhibit (it arrived at SFMOMA from MoMA in NYC) and definitley worth your time.

Heres the catch: you need a timed ticket. This exhibit is so big and so popular that it has drawn in the crowds like nothing I've seen before at SFMOMA (besides when Devendra Banhart played there). You buy a ticket, it says a time, and you arrive 10 minutes before (members get express entrance). You may think this is a big ol' load of baloney, but, my friend there have been lines every day stretching out of the galleries in which it's located. Dayum.

Being on staff, I walked through the exhibit on the day the museum was closed (hallelujah, Wednesdays!) and going through the empty rooms with only the paintings and me...I wish it is something you could all experience. Really amazing.

Still, it would seem most of you have to brave the Frida Fanatics. Some people seem to believe they have a special deep connection with Kahlo and have the urge to stand extremely near to the paintings or make sudden movements near priceless works of art.

Hey. I said it was unlike anything you'll have seen before.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Upon listening to Ratatat's latest LP, aptly titled “LP3”, I found the lull in energy, the addition of many natural sounds, the dull repetition of sweet melodies slowly passing me by. I liked the last track, “Black Heroes.” And then Itunes went on and played the first track to “Ratatat,” their first album, and the difference between the two cds was startling. Here was the electric guitar intensity I was looking for. Where was the complex layering of a track like “Breaking Away” on the new album? Where are my heavy electric guitars, damnit? I’m not feeling this new album just yet.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Contemporary Jewish Museum, and Islands at Bimbo's 365

Photos by me, the newbie!
Part I: The Contemporary Jewish Museum
Or the CJM, as I affectionately refer to it. The museum opened its doors on the 7th with much fanfare; DAWN 2008, the festival organized for its unveiling, was a huge success - according to local newspapers (after an hour of waiting in line in the freezing wind, it was announced that tickets weren't being sold at the door due to some unforeseen planning snafu... however, this is beside the point).
The current CJM exhibits bring a lot to the table. The William Steig exhibit showcases Steig's work through the years, and those of us brought up on his stories will relive fond memories of childhood as we see individual drawings from old favorites such as Shrek! and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. However, the artist's cartoons from his many years at 'The New Yorker' - he began illustrating for the magazine in 1930 and produced hundreds of drawings, as well as over 100 covers, for it - round out the show and demonstrate Steig's talent with social commentary and his depictions of his own reality. Also of interest are his 'Symbolic Drawings,' which illustrate various states of mind with witty captions; you can see 'Man in a Deep Depression' here for a bittersweet example:
The John Zorn Aleph-Bet Sound Project is quite amazing, but its setup in the museum leaves a little to be desired. The music that the artists produced for the Project is quite the type that one would expect from them; each piece is a unique and thought-provoking interpretation of a letter from the Aleph-Bet and incorporates often industrial, always avant-garde jazz sounds. The space, however, is not ideal for this exhibit - presented in the 'Yud' gallery, located in the eye-catching metal-encased octahedron (I believe) section of the building, the incredible music is played at an underwhelming volume that leaves listeners fantasizing about a mass uprising involving the attack of the hidden schoolmarm holding the volume controller. I stuck around for the first 5 minutes of Erik Friedlander's 50 Gates of Understanding, based on the letter [Nun], then gave up on trying to hear the music over the deafeningly blank walls of the gallery space. Both the music and the room are awe-inspiring - just not in combination. I hope that a CD of this astounding collaboration gets published and is available for purchase later, making it possible to blast the music at high (or at least audible) volume!
The last highlight of the CJM is the presentation of various artists' interpretations of Genesis centering on the story of the Creation. The works range in style from Marc Chagall, to Auguste Rodin, to Tom Marioni, to Trenton Doyle Hancock, covering a wide range of takes on this fundamental passage of religious texts and showing how much we can gain, religious or not, from thinking about this - the artists themselves are creating a new, indirect way through which we can ponder Genesis and other aspects of religion. Each artist seems to bring new views and interpretations to visitors, and with over a dozen artists it certainly wouldn't do any of the work justice to try and describe it all here - it's something you've got to see along with the rest of the museum.

Part II: Islands at Bimbo's 365 with Crayonsmith and Despot

Crayonsmith, a group from Dublin, Ireland, stepped up first with a not-bad set. Initially, my mind turned to thoughts of "I think I like their bass guitarist's Built to Spill shirt more than their music..." but such ideas were proved wrong by their 3rd song, which got the crowd going with a more upbeat and wonderfully synthy sound. Although they have a number of audible influences - a concept justified by the plethora of bands listed under 'Influences' on their myspace page - they are bringing something of their own to their sound and have some definite potential and are worth a good listen. They're like a guitar-shot Notwist, or a higher-strung Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. The songs played were 'Anxious' and 'Scarytale' with 3 or 4 others, and the band closed with 'Lost in the Forest.'
This aside, the band also gets some mad props for having the lead, Ciaran Smith, abandon his guitar mid-song (apologies for not knowing which) for a yellow-plastic-encased fold-up glockenspiel, on which Smith then proceeded to tap out some awesome harmony. And if that wasn't mind-blowing enough, Smith also changed mid-set into a polar bear suit with a Roman helmet. I'm not sure if this is some kind of metaphor for a war on global warming (hehe I'm clever) but it seems to be open for interpretation, since it appears on the cover of their album 'White Wonder' as well. Any suggestions as to what it means are welcome!

Despot, from Brooklyn, came onto the stage shortly after and generally surprised us all with his insane rapping skills and clever lyrics and song titles. From 'Crap Artists' to 'Get Rich or Try Dyin' ' to 'Puppets on a String,' Despot's got booming, instrument-rich bass lines that carry a wide range of genre influences and lyrics that not only have messages different from the ubiquitous sex/drugs/alcohol/anger topics of so much hip-hop and rap, but also bring wit and thought to the music with words like "Look Ma, two hands!" and "Home is where the heart is/That's a coffee cup and a subway token for the heartless."

Despot also has some comedic talent, and didn't fail to omit it from his set - his DJ was/is (?) dubbed 'DJ Princess Harriet,' and about 3/4s of the way through the set a fake DJ (a disguised member of Islands) made his way onto the stage in sunglasses and a green sweatshirt with a "Hello My Name Is [DJ]" sticker on it to have a silent/funny-awk skit confrontation with Despot on the DJ Princess Harriet situation. Not to mention the most-necessary "This club [Bimbo's] was named after all your mothers" joke. And the mini audience-participation aerobics session. And Despot's lip-syncing to the backup vox. All in all, a great performance that definitely revved up the group for...

ISLANDS!! How to put this... The show started off dark, with the fake shrubs in the background of the previous photos glowing red as the only light onstage for the first song, 'In the Rushes.' Shortly into the 2nd song, 'Kids Don't Know Shit,' a huge wave of people shoved forward from the back of the crowd and the show exploded into full intensity - the entire club was jumping to the beat all the way through favorites from "Return to the Sea" and "Arm's Way" alike, like 'Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby,' 'Life in Jail,' and 'Pieces of You,' and the sounds of vocals, guitar, drums, violin, and synth (as well as some ingenious percussion, like dropping chains) all soared out powerfully (without any one overpowering another) over the audience like currents in a sea of dancing people.

The show only got better and better as the night went on despite the fact that I had no idea where my bag, which I had idiotically placed on the floor by my feet, had been kicked to after the mid-2nd-song surge. This aspect of the show - the missing bag part - was refreshed in my memory when, before my very eyes, the copy of The First Word (my latest read) that I'd been carrying with me was lifted into Nick Thorburn's hands during an instrumental! After he flipped through it and showed it off to the crowd (why? I don't know), he lowered it down to someone in the audience. My response was instinctive and effective: "Hey! THAT'S MY BOOK! MOTHERF***!!!" Oh, mysterious brown-jacketed boy who helped me yell for my book, and man with the glasses who got it to me, thank you. You guys rock.

But I digress. Islands was kicking some veritable technical ass with soaring sound that built up and showered us with joy and all-around incredible and overwhelming emotion. "Arm's Way" shows new developments in the band, but Islands isn't afraid to keep the old with the new, and that's part of the show's beauty - everything was there, even at the most literal level. Sounds. Lights. Movement. A group entrancing the crowd with it all, and the crowd entranced. It was everything that a true concert is and should be. Outstanding show.
(For those who may fret about the missing bag, all was good in the end and it was worth it to get my cell phone screen broken in exchange for a legendary story of the Book Held By Nick Thorburn.)
Sorry I don't know how to post up freebies yet... so I'm going to have to let ya down with that bit.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Los Campesinos at Bimbo's 365

All photos by me. Thank you.

If you have listened to Los Campesinos, you'll know it is incredibly impossible to not at least tap your foot or bob your head to their music. This fact manifested itself entirely at the band's show at Bimbo's last night. The entire audience, whether there just for a night out or to see a band they absolutely adored, was a perpetual body of people bouncing to the beat. Even people sitting at the tables, enjoying a nice dinner or after dinner aperitif, couldn't help but move their head in time to the catchy poppy and bouncy music that is Los Campesinos.

The opening band of the night, Parenthetical Girls, is a group you might just have to check out. Intriguing the entire audience as the lead singer, Zac Pennington, descended from the stage and proceeded to sing the whole first song from the floor of the venue, illustrates exactly what the Parenthetical Girls seem to do best: intrigue. While most of the rest of the band stayed highly platonic during the set, Pennington was lively and awake. This sharp contrast added an element of creepiness but also, you guessed it, intrigue.

Instrumentations using glockenspiel and loud guitar chords with smashing drums evokes an almost death-march like tune, yet with so much energy and feeling you'd swear the person for which the march is for is springing back to life. Their songs are definitley full of emotion and you can feel it in the way they all play, but perhaps the most in the vocals of Pennington.

Their music is compared to the likes of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and Xiu Xiu, but I would akin it more to something like a minimalist Animal Collective slowed down or Casiotone with tons of caffeine and helium. Depends on what song they are playing. While I spent most of the set debating whether I liked them or not, I decided at the end that I had thoroughly enjoyed their set. You may be confused as to what you think at first, but I believe Parenthetical Girls will capture you like they did me. Definitley give them a holla. Sidenote: Pennington asked us midway through if we have our name on Google one really responded, but I guessed this means he does, so hey man, I'm tagging your name, in case you read this.

Los Campesinos took the stage with stride. While Bimbo's was full, it was not crowded, and I learned the show had not sold out. So despite all the hype surrounding this little indie pop group, you'll be happy to know they remain easily acessible and down to earth.

Los Campesinos played all the favorites, from "You! Me! Dancing!" to "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives". If there was a song someone wanted to hear, they played it. It's impressive how fully LC can play their songs live. On the record, you might think at some points that one particular song is pratically inachievable live, but no. LC played them all and they sounded just as good, if not better, live. Their handling on their instruments and the domain they hold over their sound shows how rounded they are in their music, and how well they know themselves. LC also covered a Pavement song, rendering it their own but also paying hommage to the original in a wonderful way.

Their stage presence is nothing to be trifled with. With seven people commanding the band, they fill up the stage in a big way and are ever present in each and every instrument, from glockenspiel to guitar to violin to random noise makers. The singer Gareth's incredibly energetic stage presence of running around, throwing his arms and jumping is contrasted to the second singer Aleks' timidness and quiet demeanor; there is a contrast onstage that makes this band unique. Yet all members are obviously invested in their art.

LC haven't lost any personal touch either. They showed us they can make the "SF" symbol with their hand, and used to to apologize for the fact that they think "Frisco" sounds good (a sidenote: it definitley does not). Gareth also explained that they have been rating their audiences. "You're better than Sacramento!" he said. Unfortuanetly, we are only in second place behind Eugene, Oregon. "At least you beat LA!" Gareth exclaimed. True that.

After leaving the stage, LC came on for one more song and then they were gone, almost as quickly as they had taken the stage. I guess the only thing that would show their grown popularity would be that at their GAMH show in November last year, they came out right away after it was over, while at this show there was no sign of them. Their bus has also grown in size immenseley.

Still this is not a problem, as long as LC manages to keep true to their roots, and stay in touch with who loves them. As proven last night, they have.

Los Campesinos: Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks
Los Campesinos: Drop It Doe Eyes
Parenthetical Girls: The Weight She Fell Under

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Haight Ashbury Street Fair this weekend!

This Sunday, June 8th.
This is about to be awesome, so be there or just...suck it.

There are going to be over 50 different booths, chock full of contests, giveaways, free stuff, information, and lots of cool people who need your input, support, name it.
Among some of the booths, please welcome:
Looking Glass Collage
5733 Clothing
Zip Car
Slainte Bags
Haight Ashbury Beat
The Green Cross
Cold Stell
Kai Wai Li
Haight Music Center

...and many many more. For a full list of booths, go here:

Not to mention the food at this festival is about to be delicious. Booths for food are provided by just some of our local favorites: Barrett's Lemonade, Escape From NY Pizza, Diva Dogs, Ti Couz Restaurant, and on and on.

There will be live performances by musical acts and street performers up and down Haight.

The fair stretches from where Stanyan and Haight cross to Masonic, about five blocks long. So from GG Park to Ashbury basically.

Expect many drugs, beatniks, hippies of all ages, and the new wave crowd of youngsters, hipsters, and more. I will be popping in and spending some time checking it all out, getting involved. You know, helping out my neighborhood.

It's gonna be a great day.

Sunday June 8th
11 AM to 5:30 PM