Not long ago, or so I am told, it was common for folks to plop themselves down in a circle and commence to singing through the tail end of the day. It was the perfect way to let a good meal settle or to commiserate about certain woes. Usually, one of the elders in the group would begin, plucking out a melody slow and easy so that everyone could provide accompaniment. The rest of the group would join in as they saw fit or just listen silently as the sun slipped down into the trees. The gatherings were free and loose. They gave a porch-size forum and a constructive ear to anyone with the desire to howl. Before the "singer/songwriter" came along, this practice made for some mighty fine material, and it was a good way to hone one's writing chops. Inspired by this organic round-robin approach to song-sharing, Tom Erikson has put together a new monthly series titled the "San Francisco Song Cycle." Escaping all urban formalities, scheduled musicians are invited to sit onstage together and sing, together or separately, as the mood takes them. Wednesday, Dec. 4, singer/actress Mare Winningham, fog-filled country boy Stephen Yerkey, flat-picker Ed Haynes, and Cafe Du Nord crooner J.C. Hopkins are just a few of the throats that will be mingling on the Paradise Lounge stage, come 9 p.m.; call 861-6906. ... Comprised of Mike Martt of Thelonious Monster, Zander Schloss of The Circle Jerks, James Fearnley of The Pogues, actors Dermot and Kieran Mulroney, and still two other punk-funk players, The Low and Sweet Orchestra's first release came as quite a shock for most people. For starters, Goodbye to All That is not punk rock in the least -- unless, as Schloss claims, the most punk thing that you can do is expose your emotions to the world. Second, the album is pretty damn good, even with that pesky actors-in-a-band thing to overcome (to be fair, the sibs are classically trained on cello and violin). While the production on the debut is a little too slick to achieve a true and raw backwater feel, exemplary skills on banjo, electric lap steel, accordion, mandolin, cello, dobro, violin, and viola certainly put the LASO a good Stetson above most road-worn-Celt-cowboy-roots outfits out there. Even more compelling than their recordings are their shirt-drenching live performances, which even two years back had a reputation good enough to convince me to postpone a trip to London when they played at the Starry Plough, for fear that they might never play again. Though Martt's forlorn autobiographical lyrics might make you think otherwise, this is a band that knows how to frolic. While in the Pogues, Fearnley was easily the most energetic of the lot, bounding across the stage with devil-may-care abandon; but in LASO, he's just one guy among seven, full of oats and gleeful in his musical "maturity." Says Schloss, "Punk rock may be dead, but we're not." The show starts at 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6, at Slim's. Jonathan Richman headlines; call 522-0333 and wish booker Dawn Holliday a happy birthday. ... During the late '60s, the raw Jamaican sound of reggae began making serious inroads on the London nightclub circuit. Among the most popular performers of the time was a former production assistant to Coxone Dodd, one Lee "Scratch" Perry. Along with his Upsetters, Perry made the moon organ a staple and turned tunes like "Clint Eastwood" and "The Vampire" into the underground dance club hits that bad Catholic girls craved. Celebrate the genius of "The Upsetter" at "Dub Mission." DJs Sep and Jah Bill spin all sort and sundry types of neo-dub, dub, and roots. The mission begins at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8, at the Elbo Room; call 552-7788.
-- Silke Tudor