As the saying goes in Croatia, "There's no girl more beautiful than a tambura." At least that is the belief of the tamburasi (those who play the lutelike instrument with genuine passion) and all the musicians participating in the third annual San Francisco TamFest. The two-day festival is a jubilant family affair where lovers of Balkan culture can kick off their shoes, snack on a fritter, and celebrate the instrument that transcends the disparity among Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian communities. This year's event includes the Bay Area's first visit by the nationally acclaimed Becari of St. Louis, as well as St. Anthony's Dance and Tamburitza Ensemble, Blue Adriatic, the Slavonian Traveling Band, Novi Stari Tamburasi, and the Dalmacijo Singers. The San Francisco TamFest will be held at the Slavonic Cultural Center (60 Onondaga at Alemany) on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 17, from 2 to 8 p.m. Dinner is served on Sunday night. Admission is $10 for adults, free for children; call (510) 649-0941 for festival info.
As with nearly every other West Coast punk rocker old enough to own a record player in 1982, I developed a very special place in my little barbed-wire heart for T.S.O.L. Back then, shouting the lyrics to "Code Blue," the Long Beach quartet's frenetic ode to necrophilia, was certain to secure frowns and grimaces from even the most permissive California parents. The chorus -- "I wanna fuck I wanna fuck the dead" -- is cathartic in a way that only struggling adolescents and the clinically predisposed can understand. But it is not "Code Blue" that creeps into my mid-afternoon teatime thoughts. It is "Sounds of Laughter" -- which also appeared on the band's 1981 full-length Dance With Me, along with equally great songs like "I'm Tired of Life" and "Die for Me" -- that is a persistent companion, scampering through my brain like a one-armed gremlin square-dancing with a bottle of Ritalin and a head full of Kafka, demanding that I stop sorting mail and start knocking over garbage cans. I also fondly remember "Abolish Government/Silent Majority" and "Property Is Theft," two quasi-political songs from T.S.O.L.'s self-titled debut EP (also released in 1981) that incited me as a youth to misbehavior on a rush-hour bus. Sadly, T.S.O.L.'s initial releases and their darker, artier third album, Beneath the Shadows, could not keep the '80s at bay. Around 1983, singer Jack Grisham left the band and T.S.O.L. traded in its ghoulish face-paint for hair spray and tight leather pants, becoming yet another Los Angeles heavy-metal hair band writing songs about miniskirts and wet bars.
So, it was a great surprise when last year's Disappear arrived with the original band intact (minus drummer Todd Barnes, who died in 1999 and to whom this record is dedicated). The album features the return of the Grim Reaper who adorned the cover of Dance With Me, as well as the strapping cheek that first caught my attention. Grisham's voice has grown fuller over the last 20 years, but he still flirts with the snotty tones that were punk's initial calling card. In fact, much of this record seems to be a skillful, purposeful flirtation with T.S.O.L.'s past, peers, and progeny. Grisham's unforgiving lyrics and guitarist Ron Emory's gothic licks lead supercharged insinuations of the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, Buzzcocks, and even the Jim Carroll Band, giving Disappear a fresh, bouncy sheen untouched by acne medication or methamphetamine. T.S.O.L. supports Agnostic Front on Sunday, Feb. 17, at Slim's with the Casualties opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 522-0333.