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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, Feb 10 1999
War of Words Last Tuesday night, Feb. 2, "Trannyshack" hosted its second annual "Wetback Nite" at the Stud. The unusual party motif was conceived by a self-identified queer Latino named Lady Sergio who joined with Hecklina -- producer of the weekly tranny bon ton -- to present over a dozen Latino drag performers and guests. The contentious theme was negotiated with typical "Trannyshack" irreverence -- questionable taste and unquestionable haute couture -- which some might perceive as PC heresy.

On an average night at "Trannyshack," female patrons gleefully refer to themselves as "fish"; drag routines include anything from a pregnant Marlboro-smoking white-trash hairdresser to a strung-out jazz chanteuse; and nearly everyone in the youthful, slightly insurgent crowd identifies as a "fag" because, one might imagine, "queer" already sounds a little too middle class. "Wetback Nite" wasn't a huge stretch. "As a gay person," says Lady Sergio, "I can self-identify as a fag or as queer and the words are harmless because I've reclaimed them. As a person of color -- as a Latino -- I can present 'wetback' in a satirical fashion to the same effect. I can reclaim it and render it harmless."

Not so, says El Ambiente, one of the community organizations behind a vocal protest that erupted outside the Stud on Tuesday night. One week before "Wetback Nite" was scheduled to be held, a letter was sent to Stud owner Michael McIlheny, demanding that he a) cancel the event; b) take out ads in Cream Puff Magazine, BAR, Bay Times, and Odyssey Magazine publicly apologizing to the Latino community; and c) commit to organizing events that are respectful and inclusive of the Latino community as a whole. Otherwise, action would be taken in the form of a) bringing the issue to the attention of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the Human Rights Commission, and the Mayor's Office; b) forming a mobilized action; and c) boycotting all Stud events. The letter was signed by directors of the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, Instituto Familiar de la Raza, Shanti, Ambiente Latino Democratic Club, Mission Cultural Center, ELLAS en Acción, and Proyecto Contra SIDA por Vida, among others.

A meeting was arranged between the Stud and El Ambiente, but it was canceled as soon as it became known that McIlheny intended to bring Hecklina and Lady Sergio to represent themselves. When Sergio's friends later showed up at the office, they were turned away.

"Our problem is not with Lady Sergio," explains Erick Arguella, project director of El Ambiente. "We believe she is being exploited. We did not want to attack her and we had no intention of dividing the Latin community or fighting amongst ourselves. We hold the owner of the Stud entirely accountable. It is his final decision as to what type of events take place in his club. He is the one who ultimately stands to make a profit at the expense of our community."

The fact that Hecklina is grateful McIlheny has never attempted to censor a "Trannyshack" show, and accepts full responsibility for every act that goes under the Stud roof on Tuesday nights, mattered not a whit. Fifty protesters from Latino, African-American, Asian, and Caucasian communities showed up on Tuesday night with television cameras and a representative from the Mayor's Office in tow. They pointed at patrons and called them racists, yelling, "Shame! Shame! What's next? 'Nigger Night'?" Inside, young Latinos showed their support onstage -- including a former member of El Ambiente who arrived with his aunt, his brother-in-law, and two Latino roommates -- by proclaiming they were proud to be "wetbacks."

"It's a matter of free speech," says Sergio. "I should be allowed to present an interpretation of my life story however and wherever I choose."

"Not at the expense of the Latino community," says Arguella. "If she had written a book or done the show at Esta Noche, it wouldn't have been such an issue, but to present these types of degrading stereotypes before a largely white audience crosses the line. I understand drag queens like to shock and draw attention to themselves. That's what they're about. But the Latino community is being bombarded with negative legislation from high levels and it is not ready for something like this right now."

On Thursday night, an outside wall of the Stud was marked with graffiti reading "Racist Bitches" and "White Bitches."

Riff Raff is reminded of a similar controversy when SF Weekly sex columnist Dan Savage began writing for this paper, and protesters claimed a "straight" paper had no right to run his column with his chosen salutation, "Hey, Faggot!" As a gay man and a talented humorist, he disagreed.

"I think it really comes down to a generation gap," says Hecklina. "The Latinos that come to 'Trannyshack' are younger. They have a different sensibility." For example: The protesters arrived at 9 p.m. when no one ever shows up for "Trannyshack" until at least 11 p.m. (Silke Tudor)

George Cothran, Jazzbo for Hire Editor's note: When we were looking for somebody to cover jazz pianist McCoy Tyner's recent residency at Yoshi's, the right critic was closer than we thought. A paper-airplane's throw across the office, SF Weekly columnist George Cothran was heard muttering something about his reverence for Tyner's work with John Coltrane. So we sent him off to the Feb. 3 show with Tyner's Afro-Cuban All-Stars. This is his report.

McCoy Tyner likes to make his piano sound like a train. Other times it's sweet as a bird. Often, he plays both ways at once, and you look around for the other pianist.

It's a sound he used to great effect when Tyner served as the centrifugal fury behind John Coltrane, driving the improvisations of a man with a yearning and haunted soul.

Full of percussion and sparkling wit, his playing also fits naturally -- across a vast musical divide -- with the sunny, sexy Afro-Cuban sound he has been pursuing for years.

Tyner has never issued a recording of his Afro-Cuban explorations. The only way you can hear the stuff is if you see him play live with his Afro-Cuban All Stars: Poncho Sanchez (congas), Steve Turre (trombone), Dave Valentin (flute), Gary Bartz (tenor saxophone), Orestes Vilato (timbale), Claudio Roditi (trumpet), Andy Gonzales (bass), and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez (drums).

Last Wednesday, I dropped into Yoshi's at Jack London Square to do just that. Tyner was in his annual two-week residency with his jazz quintet and the All-Stars. I'd never seen Tyner live before, so I was torn whether to see his quintet, where he is most definitely at center stage, or to go see a rare unrecorded Tyner ensemble populated by -- well, they are all stars (many have their own bands with recording contracts) -- which relegates one of the defining masters of jazz piano to a role only a few notches above sideman.

No decision is perfect, and I missed seeing Tyner in a more central role. But the All-Stars sizzled and swung with all the heady decadence of pre-Castro Havana.

The songs shifted from slowly building Latin seductions like "On a Mood" to unabashed salsa. It was definitely an ensemble evening with no player allowed too much time out front; all the hornmen provided short, efficient solos, with Bartz offering the most structure-free bop moments.

Sanchez and Vilato never soloed, opting to merely keep the Latin feel pumping under the surface. During one of a few tasty and understated percussive breaks, Sanchez and Gonzales traded fours and showed what magic can happen when two accomplished musicians don't try to show off.

Wish I could say the same for Valentin, who sucked all the air out of the room during his own overblown, ego-driven solos. This is tough to swallow when you are there to see Tyner the elegant and generous master.

Tyner dropped out for a few bars each time someone else soloed. He did, however, take center stage once, to play a solo number halfway through the show. It was classic Tyner: a mix of styles and rhythms -- ragtime, bop, and classical -- and full of power and sweetness.

I hate to give it up to the pretentious fellow behind me, who was trying to impress the smoky dame in the black dress and the long slenders, but he had it right when he posed the rhetorical question: "How can a man be so powerful and lyrical at the same time? It's just amazing." (George Cothran)

... But the Germans Understand As we've reported, local electronic pop group Halou had run into a series of roadblocks in trying to get their debut record released: The distributor for their label, Bedazzled, folded, leaving We Only Love You without a home. Lately, matters have improved, at least slightly. Bedazzled plans to officially release the record through a cache of smaller distributors on the East Coast on Feb. 16, with a West Coast release slated for March 15, putting the record on the shelves of indie boutiques if not your friendly neighborhood megastore.

In the meantime, the record's been licensed in Europe to the German-based techno label Hyperium; the influx of cash from the deal allows Bedazzled to support Halou's upcoming East Coast tour in March and April. More importantly, says the group's producer and drummer, Mikael Eldridge, it places an American band in the midst of the rigorously pretentious German techno scene. "The Germans will appreciate our inferior beats," he jokes, in a perfect Teutonic accent. (Mark Athitakis)

It's a Benefit At Slim's on Feb. 12, a concert in support of the sixth annual California AIDS Ride features now-he's-local-now-he's-not Mark Eitzel being his normally upbeat self, along with Chuck Prophet and Jim Brunberg and Jeff Pehrson of local house-fillers Box Set performing acoustic. All proceeds benefit the ride's Backroads support team. Tickets are $15; call 255-0333. (Johnny DiPaola)

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.


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