In other blaze-related outgrowths, James Knight -- a documentary filmmaker-cum-pyrotechnic enthusiast -- watched and recorded as his quiet Los Angeles neighborhood was terrorized by 13 acts of arson in less than three months. Faced with an ineffectual police force that allowed three major fires to be lit in a single night, Knight's neighbors decided to take matters into their own hands. As the vigilantes grappled with issues of race, sex, religion, country, family, authority, and community trust, Knight crafted a new work, Ballad of Fire, a disturbing portrait of a once-familiar community. Knight plays an active role in his film, explaining the neighborhood's transformation and speculating about the disturbed hero of the Lithuanian underground whom his landlords go to great lengths to hide and protect. Ballad of Fire shows at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Wednesday, July 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6-7; call 552-3456.
Longtime Slim's booker Dawn Holiday says she took her first gig -- at the Paradise Lounge 12 years ago -- for the sole purpose of finding a room for the Dinos. And the flagrant cover band played every Thursday at the Paradise for nearly six years. They have been credited with inciting the lounge scene in San Francisco, inspiring such musical miscreants as Bud E. Luv and Dick Bright. The Dinos, of course, deny any and all such allegations. Die-hard fans assert that the Dinos only perform the very worst songs -- "Brandy," "98.6," "I Love You More Today Than I Did Yesterday" -- and that they are more fun than a barrel of desperate three-legged weasels. True to the original Dinos charter, there have been no rehearsals since the group's last night onstage over five years ago, or ever. They will be performing on the floor of Slim's, leaving the stage to younger men who care about such things. "This is elastic-waistband rock, baby," says a humble Dinos spokesperson. "We show up, we rock, we end early." The Dinos play at Slim's on Thursday, July 9, at 9 p.m. Admission is free because, as Holiday says, no one should ever have to pay for a Dinos show; call 522-0333 for information.
Led by the slippery, nautical strains of surf savant Ivan Pongracic, aka Ivan StratoCossak, Washington, D.C.'s Space Cossaks perform spirited instrumental rock that will leave you pulling sand out from between your teeth. Bands like the Ventures, the Shadows, the Atlantics, and, of course, Dick Dale play a part, but there is more to this mix than beach volleyball and California thighs. Hawaiian chording and Moroccan melodies find a place on Interstellar Stomp, as does European fingering reminiscent of a Romany camp, gleaned perhaps during Pongracic's eight-year residency in Croatia. Space Cossaks and Pollo Del Mar perform at the Paradise Lounge on Thursday, July 9, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 861-6906.
Unlike those of us merely amused by Laughing Sal -- the maniacal, cackling, mechanical puppet behind glass at the Musee Mecanique -- director Sarah Ells is obsessed. Through Sal's smiling squint Ells found the secrets buried under Playland at the Beach, and she realized the horrors behind the cackle. Follow Ells and co-obsessive Roberto Gutierrez Varea back through time as they travel with a mechanical circus from a penny arcade, driven to murder and anarchy by the spirit of Laughing Sal. Sal opens at the Exit Theater on Thursday, July 9, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 242-5797.
-- Silke Tudor