A couple of years ago, bored with Portland, synth player FM Static and guitarist Viz Spectrum decided to get excited -- immodestly excited. They thought about music; they thought about science fiction; they thought about robots and plastic; they thought about robots playing science-fiction music about plastic. More than just thinking about the sound, the pair made it, while sequestered in their garage with drummer Dr. Grip and bassist Kid Polymer (now Shock Diode). Luckily, the band's silver refrigerator boxes proved too unwieldy to wear and the players settled for Day-Glo duct tape and an insuppressible singer named Roxy Epoxie. The bandmates charted an unusual musical course: They decided to take great care writing great songs without taking themselves too seriously. They wore ridiculous X-ray specs and tinfoil pompadours, and twitched across the stage in miscalculated clouds of smoke, fire, and feathers. But as silly and spectacular as the Epoxies' stage shows became, the band never once performed a song that didn't pass inspection.
On the Epoxies' self-titled debut, Roxy Epoxie leaps from the growling Runaways-punch of "Cross My Heart" to the cool, automaton yearning of "Please Please Please," employing vocal chirrups along the way that would make Dale Bozzio and Lena Lovich sigh. The precise and often phonically perverse backing vocals provided by FM Static and Shock Diode further enhance the modern tales of supersonic love, mechanized rebuffs, pre-programmed obsession, and future-teen alienation, while the unremitting thrust of Dr. Grip's, Spectrum's, and Diode's instruments keeps the music grounded in an era when new wave wasn't estranged from punk. Abundant synthesizer -- the last bastion of every bad new wave act to discover lip gloss -- augments this glorious noise, serving as an indispensable ingredient, not a crutch. In the hands of Static, the instrument is flawlessly, faithfully choreographed, making the Epoxies everything I ever hoped would come out of the newer wave. Hell, the Epoxies are everything I hoped would come out of the old new wave. The Epoxies perform on Friday, Sept. 13, at the Bottom of the Hill with Red Planet, the Phenomenauts, and Von Steins opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 621-4455.
At the time of the first Gypsy Caravan Tour, which offered the music of the Roma Diaspora, I was just beginning to embrace my father's Romanian heritage. My cousin and I sat in the audience, hypnotized by the dusty elegance of nomadic folk songs and seduced by the noble passion of Antonio el Pipa's Flamenco Ensemble. But when the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble began performing Balkan wedding music, my heart quickened and my eyes grew wide. It was all there -- haunting melodies, dense ornamentation, intricate rhythms, stunning improvisations, the utter chaos courted by wild-eyed saxophone, accordion, and clarinet players, who challenged each other to faster fits of music that they purportedly performed at real wedding parties for hours on end, without break, sweat-soaked and sleepless, until dawn. I was stunned, thinking that this must've been how Richard Dreyfuss felt when he finally laid eyes on his mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Leaning over to my cousin I whispered urgently, "This is the music I hear in my head all the time!" to which she responded, "Explains a lot." For my money, there's still nothing like it. The Yuri Yunakov Ensemble performs on Friday, Sept. 13, at the Slavonic Cultural Center (60 Onondaga near Mission) at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15; call (510) 649-0941. The group also appears Saturday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. Admission is $15-17; call (510) 849-2568.
Last year, when exploring the secretive world of modern-day hobos and the dark wonders of train-hopping, I had the privilege of meeting a veteran rider and hobo zine creator named Lee. He taught me a few tricks, introduced me to some interesting people, and opened my eyes to a brave, beautiful world. In the alluring documentary Catching Out, which begins on the porch of a grainer hurtling through the Mojave Desert, Sarah George goes further, looking at Lee's forest home, his parents, his neighbors, and his self-selected poverty. With empathy and gladness, she follows the trajectory of Lee and several other train-hoppers as they straddle the worlds of stationary society and open rails. Catching Out premieres as part of the MadCat Women's International Film Festival on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at El Rio at 8:30 p.m. with free barbecue starting at 6:30. Tickets are $7-20; call 282-3325.