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Listening to Caesura is like swimming in the frigid Pacific, and we can prove it

Wednesday, Jul 30 2003
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"Do you ever have one of those days," I ask Evan Rehill, "where you're absolutely certain that what is funny to you will not be funny to anyone else?"

"You know," says the guitarist and lead singer of San Francisco's Caesura, "every day of my life is like that." And today will probably be no different.

It's a bright, bursting summer day, a hot one, especially for this city. The three men who make up Caesura -- Rehill, Brad Purvis (bass), and Mike Shoun (drums) -- are at Baker Beach, standing on the northern shore, where the naked people hang out. And believe me, the naked people are hanging out.

"Live, from the nudist colony, Brad Purvis presents: naked fat men!" says Rehill in his best announcer's voice as the four of us flit back and forth between staring at the unclothed and eyeing the ice-cold Pacific Ocean we are about to throw ourselves into for reasons that none of us understands.

Thus begins the first installment of Extended Metaphor, an item destined to be a permanent fixture in these pages. The concept is simple: Start with a band -- preferably one that is funny, willing, or, at the very least, desperate. Next, choose an endeavor, something physical and involved that may cause pain or embarrassment -- or both (a bran muffin-eating contest followed immediately by Sunday Mass at the local Catholic church, for example) -- that also serves as a long-winded metaphor for the group's sound.

Now let's all remember what a metaphor is: "All the world's a stage." Get it? The world is a stage. Ahem.

Caesura's sound is a frigid dip in the Pacific Ocean at a nude beach: bracing, offensive, numbing, absurd; yet also hilarious, refreshing, and, in its own socially obnoxious way, loud.

"Volume is definitely something that we use," says Rehill. "It's somewhat of an aesthetic. It's loud. It's loud music. You can't really get away from it, which is what I like about it; you're forced to deal with that kind of volume."

But it's not just loud; it's fun, goofy even, like Devo if that band smoked crack. Caesura's new release, Wallpaper the Witness, offers a thorough deconstruction of free jazz, noisy art rock, indie rock, and, on one track, disco. As complicated as it is irreverent, the music borrows from a wide range of above- and below-the-radar bands, including Mission of Burma, Fugazi, Tortoise, and Wire (which Caesura opened for last month). It is harsh, yes, at times confrontational (icy cold water), at times quite pleasantly rhythmic (waves), but ultimately what makes it so special is the band's sense of humor (nude beach), which jumps out at you when the trio plays, especially thanks to frontman Rehill, whose stage presence and singing voice are not unlike that of Rush's Geddy Lee.

So we've devised this metaphor for the band's sound: running headlong into the Pacific's 50-degree water, getting tossed around by the waves, freezing, losing feeling in one's limbs and nether regions, all while wearing nothing more than a tiny Speedo, because, well, grown men in Speedos are funny.

There we stand in alternating blue and black suits, which fit each of us like a hundred tiny rubber bands stretched across our bits and pieces. Ordinarily this scene would be embarrassing -- we are, after all, four pasty white dudes (or we would normally be so, except that Shoun is suspiciously tan: "I come here all the time," is his excuse) whose figures are not our primary concern -- but as we contemplate what lies ahead we witness a golden-brown older man jogging down the beach. Dancing between his legs is what looks like a shriveled thumb wrestling an SOS pad. Suddenly we're not so embarrassed. What is disconcerting is the frigid water, which no one on this hot, crowded beach has yet set foot in. The band members, however, are unflinching.

"I'm up to the challenge," says Purvis.

"This is a golden opportunity," echoes Rehill.

And Shoun stares off into the distance.

We steady ourselves. 1 ... 2 ... 3 ...

We dash off into the surf, and in moments the coldness envelops us, shocking our limbs with a bolt of confusion and paralysis. In cold like this your thoughts exit stage left. Instinct kicks in. Fight-or-flight response. "Get! Out! Of! This! Shit!" your mind screams at you. So you run back to the warmth, the shore, the hot, blistering sand -- or at least that's what we did (if there are any Polar Bear Club members out there reading this: Yes, I realize we are pussies).

"I felt like I was hit over the head with a hammer," says Purvis. "But it was good, though. Hey look, there's a freighter out there."

"My Speedo came down to my knees!" proclaims Shoun.

"Wait, I'm numb," Purvis tells us.

"I feel good. I'm ready for more," goads Rehill.

"I'm nervous," admits Purvis.

Rehill continues: "I want to go on record and say that normally, when men go in cold water, their cocks tend to shrivel up. But I want everyone to know that Brad has an erection right now."

1 ... 2 ... 3 ...

We go again. And again. Each time, we try to stay out longer, to become more numb and let the waves push us around. Finally, after five successive dunkings -- with a break somewhere in the middle to conduct a simultaneous race down the beach/interview -- we emerge, sandy and dripping, staring at Shoun's exposed ass (Speedo slippage). I ask the drummer if he'd like to elucidate the similarities between his group's sound and the experience we've just had.

"My brain's numb," he says, achingly. "I can't ta...." He trails off. Later we will find out that Shoun hurt his neck and his shoulder while diving into the surf.

"I'm numb in both situations," Purvis explains when asked to compare band to beach. "What do you think that is?" he adds, gesturing to a floating vessel off in the distance.

Rehill, as always, is useless when it comes to a straight answer. After he makes a few more declarative statements about the importance of his bass player's genitalia in both the music and the Speedo, I press him on whether or not he agrees that this experience was in fact a metaphor for Caesura's sound.

"I think you hit the nail right on the head," he says.

Which leads me to speculate that this first instance of Extended Metaphor has been a complete success. Unless, of course, it was only funny to me and the band.

Caesura opens for London's Giddy Motors (also a great post-punk group) on Wednesday, July 30, at 10 p.m. at the Li Po Lounge, 916 Grant (at Washington), S.F. Tickets are $5; call 982-0072.


Everybody, Get Naked:

Garrett.Kamps@sfweekly.com

Oh yeah, and give my column a name!

About The Author

Garrett Kamps

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