Roast Beast The sixth annual Thunder Road roast-and-jam benefit concert Saturday night would've been surreal if it hadn't been so excruciatingly dull. The tony, purportedly star-studded event, which raised $60,000 for Thunder Road, the teen drug- and alcohol-treatment program, started with an expensive dinner and silent auction, then segued into a roast of Mayor Willie Brown. Things wound up with a bizarre concert of Bay Area and not-so-Bay Area musicians. As the attending swells finished the last of their $100 chicken piccata, MC Bob Sarlette ran through some routine Brown jokes ("He's found that being mayor is no walk in the park") before ceding the mike to a local union honcho who told -- surprise -- a Polack joke. More roasters: Don Johnson donned a rubber Brown mask and Sheriff Mike Hennessey riffed on Brown's fondness for younger women. (What may have been the best joke of the evening went untold publicly. Riff Raff heard it from Johnny Steele, the Live 105 morning show guy who showed up too late to roast: "The mayor and I have a lot in common: We both like great restaurants, we both wear wacky hats, and we both like to date beautiful women. The only difference is that I occasionally date black women.") Tasteless and kind of depressing? You betcha. The music was even sorrier: The house band tried the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows"; Al Stewart did "Year of the Cat"; John Wesley Harding played Dylan; and Joey Ramone wore a black T-shirt that read "Keep Music Evil." "Sometimes life sucks, but sometimes it's fucking wonderful," said Ramone, introducing a punky "What a Wonderful World." Weirded out at the sight of bleach-blond society types in clip-on earrings bopping to "I Wanna Be Sedated," Riff Raff took a French leave before Boz Scaggs and Booker T. made the stage. On our way out, we checked to see if our favorite auction item was still available. Alas, the "priceless" acoustic guitar signed by the Doobie Brothers had sold for $700. (J.S.)
Backstage Past It takes a special kind of arrogance to inflate the mere assembling of a stage set into a media event, but then again, maybe that should be expected from a group that still likes to be called "The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band." In a shameless effort to whip up yet one more round of publicity for the Rolling Stones' four-night stint at the Oakland Coliseum last week, Bill Graham Presents arranged a special behind-the-scenes look at the Bridges to Babylon Tour's production for members of the local media. (Notably absent: The San Francisco Chronicle's resident Stones cheerleader/apologist/boot licker, Joel Selvin.) Surrounded by a small army of scrambling (well, milling anyway) roadies, the dozen or so correspondents who showed up were fed a litany of chest-thumping statistics (252,000 watts! 350 tons of steel!) as they witnessed the construction of what set designer Mark Fisher (who did the similarly over-the-top sets for U2's Pop Mart and Pink Floyd's Division Bell tours) described as "a cyberclassical opera house ... an opulent vision of ancient wonders, from our memories of Babylon to a stripped-down, futuristic climax." Asked for his own impression of the set's thematic underpinnings, Stones production manager Jake Berry was more prosaic: "Well, it's a Babylonic-type thing ... it's very colorful, isn't it?" Actually, even before the "hydraulically actuated telescoping walkway" that bridges the main stage and the 24-square-foot "B" stage was in place, it was apparent that in its finished state the gold-and-silver spectacle of toppled pillars and 40-foot banana-breasted robo-bimbos would be as vulgar and oversized as Mick Jagger's lips. Oh well, we're sure all that set steel is recyclable -- the Stones' shtick sure is. (Tim Kenneally)
It's Way Better Than You Might Think We, too, thought reminiscing about the late '70s and early '80s was the mental equivalent of Klick-Klacks or just about anything purveyed by Ronco (the mercantile empire behind such devices as the machine that scrambles eggs in their shells). Dwelling on the past, and particularly on all of the cultural and commercial dreck, is nothing more than, well, dwelling on the past. By the time the retro fad extended to music -- Freedom Rock and even Kennedy filling Alternative Nation with semiobscure retro references so irritating that even the Navy commercials seemed like respite -- we were ready to huck a Ginsu at anyone who got that faraway look in his eyes when "867-5309" came on the radio. Enter Darby Romeo and her crew at Ben Is Dead magazine, who actually understand that puking up the fractured cultural memories of childhood is the only way to purge them forever. When the Southern California zine devoted a hulking issue to retro remembrance back in 1994, we marveled at the diarylike personal writing. When Romeo followed it with Part 2, we gasped at the obsessive brilliance of the project. At issue No. 3, ugh, we were really tired of it and wished she'd go back to ripping on today's TV stars and interviewing guys who worship the devil. Well, now we know why Ben Is Dead has been appearing so erratically: This month, a division of Little, Brown is publishing Retro Hell, a voluminous 276-page tome that covers pop culture "from Afros to Zotz." On Thursday, Nov. 20, Romeo will present her book at Haight Street's Booksmith. She says the event will give all comers the chance to recite passages of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but what we really want to know is how the hell the Commodores ended up at the peak of the "Top 20 Worst Retro Hell Songs" list when John Cougar Mellencamp's "Jack & Diane" didn't even place. (J.S.)
"I mean this guy's a real moron. He doesn't even understand fashion": Robert Arriaga (R.A.), 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.