November 14, 2005

The Assassin's Gate

I don't know if it's because I've been volunteering at a college radio station for 9 months now or if it's a preemptive strike against the encroaching winter blues, but I've been seeing a ton of live music all of a sudden. Wednesday night Aimee and I had a lovely ramen dinner at Norikonoko before wandering down to Cody's, bumping into Dan and Carol near the art section. The four of us continued on down Telegraph to Blake's where Elaine's band the Tender Morsels was performing. The Tender Morsels play straightforward alternative rock distinguished by lead singer Margo's amazing voice and stage presence. They finished off their set with a cover of Erasure's "A Little Respect," and I sang along to every word.

The next morning I was feeling too sickly to go to work, so I stayed home and puttered around the house with the kitties and watched Shrek. I'd seen it before, on a flight home from London, and I remember feeling like I was missing a bit of visual detail on the tiny airplane screen. Even on a full-size TV screen my eyes could barely keep up. The writing is sharp and clever, and I adore the plays on fairy tales. The only thing I found jarring is the inclusion of modern music on the soundtrack, especially "Hallelujah". That song makes me bawl every time I hear it, but because it reminds me of poignant moments in past failed relationships, not of Shrek.

I was feeling better again by evening and drove over to College Ave to hear Charles Burns speak at Diesel. The graphic novel collection of Burns's Black Hole comic series has just been published by Pantheon, and lacking the means to do his usual slide presentation he simply read a few of the written pieces that appeared in issues of the comic book and then answered literally dozens of questions from the audience. Someone asked if Black Hole was going to be adapted into a film, and Burns confirmed that such a creature is indeed in the works. Variety reports that Alexandre Aja will be directing. Another person wondered aloud if the movie would have the integrity that Ghost World did, which gave Burns a chance to nod at Daniel Clowes lurking at the back of the reading. During the signing I asked for a sketch, and Burns graciously handed over an original for me to tape into my book.

From Oakland I jumped on the bridge and drove over to the Make-Out Room for some more of that aforementioned live music: Justin White, Angels Camp, and Captain Fatass. Justin White was up first, just a handsome man on his acoustic guitar (accompanied by a friend on downplayed electric) singing hypnotizingly gorgeous songs. Definitely my type of thing. Next on stage was Angels Camp, who brought some delicious borderlands music complete with slide guitar. And finally, there was the awesome Captain Fatass, raucous indie country-rock that reminded me of the Ass Ponys, and not just because of the similarity in their names. The band had the crowd on their feet and dancing like crazy in no time.

Friday I flew down to LA in time to catch the special acoustic performance by Stars at Amoeba. Except when I arrived on Sunset I discovered they had been rescheduled to two hours earlier and I had totally missed it. No matter, I would simply drive over to the Wiltern with plenty of time to scalp my extra tickets to the Death Cab for Cutie/Stars show. Except it turns out I'm extraordinarily bad at scalping tickets, even in front of a sold-out show, and after an hour I finally gave in and sold them to a pro for about $30 less than I paid for them. But I still made it inside in time for my beloved Stars, finding a spot on the floor sparsely populated by the young Death Cab fans so that I could dance and scream and generally make an ass of myself. It wasn't like I was going to see any of those people again. I confess I didn't even stay for Death Cab.

The next morning I zipped my rental car up the 405 to the Getty Center, my first visit in about 8 or 9 years. I had spent inordinate amounts of time at the Getty Villa during my teenage years, and the paintings that made such an impression on me back then now populate the many wings of the Center. The Getty is also known for its impressive photography collection, and it was those exhibits I made a beeline for as soon as I stepped off the tram. I found myself breathless in front of Julius Shulman's photographs of quintessential LA architecture, Weegee's flashbulb-illuminated crime scenes, and press photography from the Vietnam War and beyond. I then sought out my favorite paintings in the collection, and stood for an especially long time in front of Munch's Starry Night, remembering how that picture had made me feel when I was 16, when I was 21. Connecting it to how I feel now. Finally I wandered around exploring the exteriors of the museum, and I walked the labyrinth of Robert Irwin's magnificent garden. I found a bench and breathed in the scent of wild garlic as the sun shone on my bare shoulders.

From the Getty I drove to an old Pabst brewery east of downtown that has been converted into artist's lofts for Artwalk, a wild open studio extravaganza. I loved wandering through the rabbit warren of the brewery, peeking into studios, stopping to look at whatever grabbed my fancy. I made it onto the roof just in time to watch the sun set behind the skyscrapers downtown.

Later on that evening I settled myself into a folding chair in a converted warehouse (aka Theory Labs) in the brewery complex and prepared to laugh myself sick as Rico's comedy sketch troupe the Ministry of Unknown Science set out to prove themselves Better Than God. The Ministry seamlessly blends live-action skits with hilarious video bits, this time poking fun at any and all religious beliefs as the Ministers attempted to build their own deity. Sacreligious? I would hope so. Hysterical? Absolutely.

Sunday I was back in San Francisco in time to see Stars and Death Cab at the Warfield. Carrie and I were at the front of the stage for Stars, just below Amy Millan's red-hot high heels, and I swooned all over again. It's impossible to describe the emotional intensity of hearing songs like "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" and "One More Night" live, as Torquil Campbell sings right to Amy and she glares out fiercely across the crowd. It was gratifying to see the SF Death Cab fans responding to Stars even more enthusiastically than the too-cool-for-school LA denizens, though I'm sure it didn't hurt when Ben Gibbard appeared on stage to lend his vocals to a song. For the Death Cab portion of the show Carrie and I found a space near the back where we danced and then sat and then danced some more. Death Cab for Cutie sure do play the prettiest songs ever. And they're so popular they can get Daniel Handler to sing with them on an encore.


The Tender Morsels
Black Hole
Charles Burns
Captain Fatass
The Getty
The Ministry of Unknown Science
Death Cab for Cutie

Posted by nightfall at November 14, 2005 09:58 PM