Screw Music, This Is History A San Francisco live music club celebrating a first birthday -- much less a 25th -- is as unlikely as having God open for Satan at the Chameleon. (Then again ...) High costs, a myriad of dance clubs, bars without covers, fickle listeners, a stagnant local scene, and a few bookers with less than acute hearing (not to mention sanity) all help to whittle away the support clubs need to stay open. With that said, happy 25th birthday to the Great American Music Hall. (A little early, but they're already celebrating, so why shouldn't we?) This gilded-column venue first opened its doors to the populace on Oct. 24, 1972, and over the years, it's showcased a host of national and local acts ranging from cultural icons like Duke Ellington and Count Basie to modern fluff like Phish and Hootie. Before history buffs get their underpants in a tighter bunch, we'll add that the actual building has been around far longer. It was constructed with a different sort of entertainment in mind, and the first 35 years of its history were far more colorful than the last 25. But that's nothing to be ashamed of, since the Hall's entertainment of yesteryear may not have been for everyone. Blanco's (as the building was first christened) was erected in the wake of the 1906 earthquake by the notorious political boss Chris Buckley, on a tide of confidence. A blind Irish immigrant, Buckley moved to San Francisco in 1872 and quickly became friends with "Sad Eyed" Jim Kelly, a potent political figure of the time. The two opened a bar on Bush between Montgomery and Kearny that quickly became the pivotal center of politics in California. The Bush Street establishment gave Buckley enough connections, power, and influence to almost single-handedly bring George Hearst a seat on the U.S. Senate in 1885, and in turn secure his friend George Stoneman as California's governor the following year. Buckley spent much of the rest of his life flexing his political muscle, although by the early 1900s, his grip had softened. By 1906, he was less of a player in politics, but his influence was still felt at the newly erected Blanco's (a mere two-block stumble from City Hall). Blanco's offered cuisine to the wealthy at a high-class restaurant on the main floor, but the upstairs environs catered to more illicit pastimes. Climbing those stairs meant stepping into one of San Francisco's poshest bordellos. Amid heavy swirls of cigar smoke and booze-soaked whispers, transactions from the political to the sexual were brokered and secured. Blanco's changed names as well as ownership in 1932, and burlesque became its entertainment mainstay. The Music Box (as it became known) provided an elegant setting for burlesque shows, whose notoriety peaked with the escapades of fan dancer Sally Rand. The promise of a glimpse of porcelain flesh between swishes of ostrich feathers lured men to surrender much-needed Depression-era wages for beer and Rand. Although there were many diva dancers who worked the burlesque circuit, Rand added a "molting scene" to her fan dance that guaranteed a full view of her charms. Her popularity would wax and wane throughout the '30s, an economic barometer in its own right, though perhaps not the one you'd expect. When times were tough and the Depression worsened, men and women alike would find solace in Rand's dancing. But during economic upswings, Rand could actually be found working for charity (fully clothed, of course). Although Sally's time at the Music Box ended simultaneously with World War II, live entertainment continued at the site for 30 years. The Music Box changed names and owners numerous times, sometimes posing as a restaurant, but always providing live entertainment from jazz to rock, eventually transforming into the now-familiar Great American Music Hall. The Hall is celebrating 25 years of business, but the true celebration stems from the fact that it's stayed true to its roots as one of San Francisco's favorite live venues. (R.A.)
We Can Relate It sure is pretty down in Monterey, but for young people, cultural resources end with quiet, abandoned museums chock-full of quill pens and Steinbeck artifacts. God save the Three Spirits Gallery. There, close to the warehouses and far away from the schlocky souvenir shops, a few folks have made a commitment to providing an all-ages venue where the crappy cover bands that play in all of the Cannery Row tourist bars are never welcome. There, the impossible happened: The proprietors created a scene out of a vacuum. (Last year, they organized the ambitious Monterey Rock and Art Festival, which showcased tons of S.F. bands.) On Saturday, Sept. 27, the Three Spirits crowd rolls into the Paradise Lounge with scions of the Monterey scene they've helped facilitate. Riff Raff isn't familiar enough with the bands to fully endorse the show, but we gotta say it sounds ... well, like a lot of other stuff, but still intriguing. If nothing else, we can certainly understand the vagaries of entertainment in a pretty but vacuous seaside town. The tour promises a cabaret of rock bands, ringleader Brad Mallory, film, dancers, and circus performers. (J.S.)
Tale From the (Small) Punch Bowl Weirdo Bay Area prog rockers Primus used the relatively tiny Bottom of the Hill to commence their nationwide Brown Album tour Monday, Sept. 22. The band wanted to keep the local opening date small to ensure that a sold-out set of fans would flock to the New Year's Eve concert at the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium upon the group's triumphant return. The show was supposed to be a secret, but any Primus fan blessed with a free night and a crumb of deductive reasoning was there. Among the clues: The date was the only blank on the Bottom of the Hill's September calendar; online vendor TicketWeb sold tickets for a show headlined by the cleverly titled "Brown"; and someone mysteriously posted a highly suggestive rumor on the band's own assaultive Web site, www.primussucks.com. And who let the rat out of the bag? Frontman Les Claypool himself. Apparently the guy who admittedly craves nothing but "fishin' and fuckin' " needs the ego boost that only a game of peekaboo can afford. After all, what's the fun of playing a secret show if nobody knows about it? (J.S.)
Riff Raff riffraff: Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Michael Batty (M.B.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Karl D. Esturbense (K.D.E.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), Heather Wisner (H.W.), and Bill Wyman (B.W.). Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly. No flack, please.