ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Editors picks are chosen by Guardian editors for special recognition for brightening the Bay Area experience.
It takes a lot to stand out in this town. Bands and entertainers are a dime a dozen, and quality cover or innovative, hilarious "tribute" acts fill venue lineups year-round. The First Church of the Sacred Silversexual, however, is a glittery entity all its own. Raucous and roiling with glam-rock glee, it's an orgasmic sensation of all things David Bowie wrapped in tinfoil and pumped full of sparkly gospel soul. The boisterous crew of theatrical musicians and singers packs onto stages and blows the Bowie horn: All ye who enter here, know the Thin White Duke's (or Ziggy Stardust's, or Alladin Sane's) name. The oft-adoring crowd, with lyrics sheets in hand, responds in time. It's a Suffragette City spectacle that "tap dances on the lines between religion and revelry, beatitude and blasphemy, rock show and revival." Wham, bam, thank you ma'am!
Tired of hum-drum literary events involving lecterns, monotones, and rumpled suit jackets? Has Janey Smith got the antidote for you. One part poetry reading, one part beer bust, and one part urban exploration escapade, literary gatherings at the Squat turn the pedestrian concept of a reading into a situational ritual. After assembling in Smith's lower Haight apartment for mingling and judicious imbibing, the crowd is ushered silently to a secret location: an abandoned flat lit by dozens of tea candles with a small pile of rubble on the floor serving as a podium for the invited poets. The echo of empty rooms, the brave flickers of candlelight, and the rapt attention of the crowd makes poetry at the Squat resonate that much more, attracting a stalwart crew of hardcore wordsmiths and armchair literati alike.
Jaunty East Bay rapper-producer IamSu! has released a barrage of clever mixtapes and collaborated with the likes of big-timers like 2 Chainz, Wiz Khalifa, Juvenile, E-40, and Roach Gigz — but his career can be traced back to Youth Radio, a nonprofit media center based in Oakland. Like so many others before and since, the talented 23-year-old MC got his start there at age 15 and learned all about the art of beat making. Fast-forward a decade and IAmSu! (born Sudan Ahmeer Williams) is getting some serious love for attention-grabbing lyrics, bold beats, and his casual return to hyphy, not to mention team efforts with his crew HBK (Heart Break Kids) Gang. He still reps his hometown even while sending it up in hits like "Goin' Up" feat. Khalifa, nonchalantly tossing out rhymes like "Ask around I got hell of love in the Bay/Get money give a fuck what a hater say" over a wobbly beat in a video directed by Kreayshawn and featuring cameos by locals like Gigz. He may be bursting outside the bounds of the Bay, but his output remains a family affair.
The home base for SFJazz was decades in the making, but the popular nonprofit jazz organization finally got its own permanent home this year — and the SFJazz Center's sparkling new glass building is a marvel of modern sound. The $63 million, state-of-the-art facility includes balconies, perches, a fancy restaurant, and a smaller performing space for up-and-comers. But the main bowl-shaped auditorium deep inside the venue is where all that jazzy action comes alive, a circular space with platforms that can accordion and retract to make room for different kinds of setup. Resident artistic directors like Jason Moran have made good use of that unique space; during his stay, Moran opened up the bottom level for an actual skateboarder's half-pipe with live skating demos, and also widened it up for a Fats Waller dance party. And of course a diverse roster of jazz greats — McCoy Tyner, Eddie Palmieri, Esperanza Spaulding, Hugh Masekela, Bill Frissell — have reached the new rafters with their flights of sound.
201 Franklin, SF. (866) 920-5299, www.sfjazz.org
At first, the idea of opening a successful gay sports bar in the Castro might have struck some as either a shameful back-in-the-closet move (only manly men allowed, no swishing!) or another apocalyptic omen of gay assimilation (we've become the jocks who beat us up!). But then you watch the diverse crowds — including, yes, the swishy — pack into Hi Tops to cheer on our major championship teams and our lesser-recognized sports organizations and heroes. You see the Sports Illustrated picture of two male 49ers fans enthusiastically kissing — the first such photo to appear in that magazine. You check out the super-spiffy design of the place, which repurposes vintage bleachers, b-ball court floors, lockers, and cage lights. You sample the playful drink menu, which features an actual cocktail made with Muscle Milk, and a bar menu that twists standard game day food in a slightly gourmet direction. Finally, you see how owners Jesse Woodward, Dana Gleim, and Matt Kajiwara have created a community of like-minded queer sports fans who can finally express their mutual admiration openly, proudly, and loudly. Holy crap, is that a ball in your hand?
2247 Market, SF. (415) 551-2500, www.hitopssf.com
We're declaring 2012-2013 the theatre season of Lauren Gunderson, y'all. Ever since this prolific Georgia native's Exit, Pursued by a Bear debuted at Crowded Fire Theater in 2011, Gunderson's scripts are smart, sassy, and fueled by revenge and science. "I think I write about scientists more than I write about science," she told Creative Loafing Atlanta. "You could say that science is the landscape and ether of the plays, but the hearts and dreams of the scientists are what we're really watching." That empathetic approach to science may help explain why her plays have the taken tech-nerdy Bay Area by storm. This season alone saw the Bay Area-based productions of no fewer than five of her scripts: Emilie La Marquise du Chatalet Defends Her Life Tonight by the Symmetry Theatre Company in Berkeley, Toil and Trouble at Impact Theatre, By and By with the Shotgun Players, The Taming with Crowded Fire Theater, plus I and You at the Marin Theatre Company. Love a rising star? There's still time to bolster your "I saw her back when" cred when both TheatreWorks and SF Playhouse produce her works in early 2014.
For fans of great house music, packed dance floors, cute crowds, and sweating out the workweek, Wednesdays are the new Fridays, thanks to the stellar Housepitality party crew. Promoters and DJs Mikey Tello and Miguel Solari, along with about a dozen fantastic resident local DJs, bring in international underground superstars every week to get us over hump day (and play havoc with our Thursday mornings). But the Housepitalers go beyond merely roping in midweek talent — they've built a devoted community of new and old school dance mavens, crossing generational divides through the spirit of darned good music and a loving vibe. Now in their third year, they also dig deep to introduce the Bay to fresh talent and obscure legends: not too many parties on Earth can boast bringing in "DJ's DJ" (and an inventor of Detroit techno) D. Wynn one week and then contemporary Bulgarian live acid house act Kink the next. Who needs sleep, anyway?
Wednesdays, 10pm-2am at F8, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.housepitalitysf.com
Humans beware. The great robot revolution is nigh, and builders of combat robots have done us no favors by creating machines whose sole function is to destroy. Way to go, guys. But, on second thought, maybe it's for the best that these "combots" exist, and are still obeying their owners by fighting battles — exclusively with each other — inside a giant, bulletproof pen at the annual International RoboGames. This gives us an opportunity now to study their moves — before they launch their surprise attack on the human race. Combots have advantages such as brute force, whirling blades, super-sumo skills, and general imperviousness to pain. There are even androids that perform kung fu (shudder). But by observing them in action now, we can start formulating our defense strategy ahead of time. Thanks, RoboGames, for giving us this opportunity for the past decade.
Along with closely-affiliated nonprofit San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, CinemaSF has stepped up to keep a pair of historic theaters located in non-trendy neighborhoods — the Vogue and the Balboa — alive and thriving, especially after a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year raised dough to ease the Balboa's digital-upgrade costs. (The Vogue, thankfully, was already 21st century-ready.) It would be an easy moneymaker to simply screen the latest Hollywood releases, and while both theaters do show first-run stuff, they also offer exclusive and special-interest programming on the side, such as the Balboa's "Popcorn Palace" kiddie series, and the Vogue's hosting of San Francisco Film Society events like November's "Taiwan Film Days." Have we mentioned how awesome it is not to always watch a movie on your laptop alone in your tiny room, or be bombarded by sense-numbing multiplex gimmickry? Here's to many more years of great indie flicks shared in great spaces with friendly film fans.
After 33 years of provoking thought and conversation about contemporary ideas and letters, City Arts and Lectures has a brand-new venue for hosting its famed series of onstage chats with boldfaced names (recent roll-call: Margaret Atwood, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Guest, Zadie Smith, Jaron Lanier, Marc Maron, Jhumpa Lahiri). But the Nourse Theater isn't actually new at all — it was built in 1927, which makes it nearly as old as the Castro Theatre. The late Beaux-Arts beauty, once used as the High School of Commerce theater, sat neglected and closed for over 30 years. Now spiffily refurbished (think plush new seats and top-of-the-line sound and lighting) under the guidance of City Arts & Lectures founder Sydney Goldstein, with fabulously Rococo-like architectural details preserved, the hulking building on Hayes is fully revived and ready for heady artistic musings and bleeding-edge pronouncements.
275 Hayes, SF. www.cityarts.net/nourse
When it was announced in 2011 that legendary Soma gay leather biker bar the Eagle Tavern was closing, much of the queer population was stunned. Sure, although charitable Sunday afternoon beer busts and renowned Thursday Night Live local rock showcases were packed, the large bar and patio were not exactly swarmed the rest of the time — and the owners had recently sunk much of their money into the revamped Hole in the Wall Saloon. But the Eagle's closure became a flashpoint for what many saw as the homogenization of SF's gay population and the gentrification of traditional queer spaces. A determined activist coalition rallied the city's political forces and helped find new gay buyers — Alex Montiel and Mike Leon — who vowed to keep the spot's rough-and-tumble, rock and roll gay vibe while revamping the interior and programming to appeal to a new generation of sexy, bearded, kinky men and friends. The SF Eagle flew again in 2013, and has been by all accounts a success: still down and dirty, but the coolest "new" gay hangout in the city.
398 12th St, SF. www.sf-eagle.com
How long does it take to make a tradition? Surely a longevity spanning four decades denotes a yearly gathering that has taken hold of a group's psyche. If this is indeed the case, consider the pagan faction Bay Area Reclaiming's Spiral Dance a full-blown, locally born folkway. The rite takes place each year during the Halloween season, or Samhain, as the pagan holiday of death and regeneration is best known. During the gathering — which also serves as Reclaiming Bay Area's biggest fundraiser of the year — dance, acrobatics, elaborate altars, and song mark a program largely geared around the spiral dance itself, in which group members move in a whorl (widdershins, as the counterclockwise movement is known in faiths from Wicca to Judaism) that invokes rebirth as the cold season approaches. It's a gorgeous, all-inclusive sight, regardless of the number or character of the deities to which you pay homage. (You're invited too, atheist babes.)
Oh, how we love Sister Spit — that incubator of radical feminist artists and punk-lit creators, host for two decades of some the best Bay Area spoken word performances. But the performance series (birthed by Michelle Tea and Sini Anderson back in 1994, and then again in 2006) may well hold more significance to those outside of the Bay. After all, when Sister starting touring in the late '90s, packing its erudite rabble-rousers into a series of ramshackle vans, towns like Detroit and Tucson got a very special dose of San Francisco's "talented, tattooed, and purple pigtailed" poets, writers, sexual outlaws, and more. Cultural ambassadors, we deem them all. The series continues to go on the road — with writers like Ali Liebgott, Eileen Myles, Robin Akimbo, and many more — and grow. Earlier this year publisher City Lights debuted its new Sister Spit imprint with a glorious anthology of pieces performed at past events, Sister Spit: Writing, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road.
Different Fur Studios is esteemed by the current generation of music fans for churning out a staggering variety of hip music from San Francisco — A B & the Sea, Main Attrakionz, Lilac, the She's — and beyond. Given the storied studio's long history, however, it's no wonder it's still helping define the sound of the Bay. It was founded in 1968, at the height of San Francisco sonic weirdness, by Patrick Gleeson, an energetic electronic music composer who brought in the likes of Herbie Hancock, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Stevie Wonder. The Fur stands on end: alert to the changing times and latest trends. Nowadays, it's known for being highly Web-savvy, recording live iTunes-exclusive tracks, and uploading videos of in-studio sessions (like those of Little Dragon, Girls, Toro Y Moi, Big K.R.I.T., and more). Praise be to a different Pat — current owner and engineer Patrick Brown — who as a champion of local acts and labels alike keeps tradition alive in the heart of the Mission.
Gay gamers often have friends they can brag to about their Xbox Live gamerscore. And they often have friends they can take to the club. And never shall those two groups of friends meet. Yet for one glorious weekend in Japantown last August, LGBT nerds united to celebrate indie queer games and to dress in Princess Peach drag (her five o'clock shadows were fetching). GaymerX was the first LGBT video game convention in the nation, and its panels included executives from gaming super-giant Electronic Arts, where gaymers lobbied for more inclusion in a white-male-hetero-normative-dominated industry. The dance floor was rocking, as Pikachu, Kratos, Mario and a host of other costumed fans shook their pixilated tail feathers. The voice actress who portrayed the killer robot from Portal, GLAaDOS, even helped two beautiful bear boys get married on stage with her signature song "Still Alive." And best of all, the convention announced its second run for next July at an even bigger space. As Mario would say, "Let's-a-go!"
Hang out with rad musicians like Peter Case, Alejandro Escovedo, Nataly Dawn, Sean Hayes, The Mother Hips, Ben Kweller, Heather Combs, John Vanderslice, and Chuck Prophet at a genial house party — and then watch them play a full concert in the living room? This convivial scene (you may actually be able to pet a cat while singing along) is what KC Turner's House Concert series is all about. Here, nothing separates the performers from their patrons, save a few extra inches of legroom and the use of a microphone. In the music business, it seems almost inevitable that you'll wind up selling some portion of your soul to make a living, but so far the fresh-faced, formidably-prolific KC Turner seems to be avoiding that fate by helping to create the world — and by extension, the music business — he wants to live in. We are all the better for it. Just please try not to spill any wine on the rug.
In 1973, Japantown's Nihonmachi Street Fair was devised along the lines of community protest — in the face of sweeping neighborhood redevelopment, the celebration of Japanese heritage was a line in the sand, a declaration that one of SF's unique neighborhoods would not be erased by the vagaries of urban renewal. (Nihonmachi means, roughly, "Japantown.") Forty years later, it is an enduring statement of the power of community, and the festival considers itself a representation of the Pan-Asian cultural experience in San Francisco. During the early August weekend of Nihonmachi, awesome food, unique crafts, and musical performances fill the streets, and Asian traditions like the Chinese Lion Dance, Hawaiian music, and Filipino acrobatics fill the stages. An estimated 30,000 people attended this year — fest organizers wager they were largely first-time fans of this neighborhood triumph, which only confirms the community's deepening roots.
One game has the player land on a purple planet and get asked out on a date by a giant sea monster. Another has you shimmy a bumble-bee's booty in the right sequence to win. Some of the games touch serious subjects like coming out for the first time, or dealing with poverty. And you can make one, too! The games on DIY text-based gaming platform Twine are wild and varied, but they're always first person narratives. Remember "Choose Your Own Adventure" books? It's kind of like that. Birthed three years ago by Chris Klimas, Twine really took off in the past year after being trumpeted by Anna Anthropy, a game designer known for "Dys4ia," which chronicled her start in hormone replacement therapy. That's the beauty of Twine: it's a format suited to telling very personal stories in an interactive way. You don't need to know any programming at all to make a free Twine game — it's all text, so you just need to know how to write. And the games that result are presented as web pages containing a maze of hyperlinks: a pretty good metaphor for life.
The spirit of the underground is still alive in Larry Gonello Jr.'s world. The ace renegade soulful house and techno DJ was everywhere this year — from official street festival to not-so-official one, from licensed afterhours loft party to extralegal sunrise beach rave — joining in the fabulous mobile soundsystem tradition pioneered by great tricyclist Amandeep Jawa's speaker-wired Trikeasaurus Rex, Monkeylectric's Off-Grid Party Trailer, or anyone whose strapped an old transistor radio onto a bike during critical mass and rocked the freak out to Michael Jackson. Gonello's Boombox Affair, though, usually went one better: wiring together an array of large, vintage, insanely covetable boom boxes to form a wall of sound at his pop-up dance parties. Adding a couple innocuous bass bins, he creates a DIY soundsystem that looks cool as hell while moves the crowd. "Sick" is the word usually uttered by first-time viewers. But by the time that overused yet totally appropriate word is swallowed up by beats, they're already dancing.
Books on tape, books on schmape. If you're looking for the words of great literature to leap off the page (or titanium dioxide electrophoretic screen, if you're Kindlin'), look no further than the 20-year-old tradition that is Z Space's Word for Word series. In 1993, the legend goes, Susan Harloe and JoAnne Winter founded the company in order to "tell great stories with elegant theatricality, staging performances of classic and contemporary fiction." The first production, of Dorothy Parker story "The Standard of Living," played to a packed house. Seventy staged works — from classics like Sherwood Anderson's homey Winesburg, Ohio and Tennessee Williams' homo-textual "Two on a Party" to cutting edge contemporary works like Siobhan Fallon's resonant Iraq War-fallout story cycle "You Know When the Men Are Gone" and Nathan Englander's post-Holocaust domestic tale "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank" (performed at the Jewish Community Center) — and a tour of France later, the inimitable W4W troupe just took on the title story of Dan Chaon's 2012 collection Stay Awake for Litquake. In a delightful meta-move, Word for Word will stage 36 stories by SF's patron saint of the theater, Sam Shepard, in May 2014.
Everybody's saying the feisty, freaky soul of San Francisco is dying. Finally someone did something about it, in the form of resurrecting one of the city's most treasured cult arts figures, Ed Mock. A black, gay, free-spirited improvisational dance pioneer who died of AIDS in 1986: welp, you can't get much more "vanishing San Francisco" than that. (Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf... premiered in his studio. Enuf said.) The fact that Mock and his eponymous dance company heavily encouraged, trained, and influenced a generation of young artists surely helped cement his immortality. So much so that former student and UC Berkeley dance instructor Amara Tabor-Smith, who met Mock when she was 14 and joined his company three years later, joined with several collaborators in June to bring his specter back to the byways of our fair town. He Moved Swiftly But Gently Down the Not Too Crowded Street: Ed Mock and Other True Tales in a City That Once Was consisted of 11 site-specific performances that journeyed through Mock's life, from "A Roomful of Black Men" in LaSalle Pianos to various "acts of improvisatory disruptions" up and down Valencia Street. You could feel Mock smiling fearlessly, glorious in a giant pink tutu, back on the streets.