July 1, 2010
Better than: crying about worldwide environmental devastation.
A gazillion gallons of oil are pouring into the Gulf every day as football fields of rain forests go down for one-dollar double cheeseburgers. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and drought plague all corners of the planet. In our lifetime, the last polar bear may very well cling to a lone ice floe in the balmy Arctic.
Climate change is for real. The world as we know it is on its way out. As Cake singer John McCrea proselytized from his soapbox at ClimatePalooza: "There are two kinds of people. Those who work hard, and those who complain." Curiously, last night's headlining band was a mix of both. But before we get to that, check out One Atmosphere, the event organizers.
This San Francisco-based non-profit is all about greening the local environment, from educating folks on the street to schooling businesses on how to be energy-efficient. Every dollar made from the hefty price tag of last night's three-band showcase--$50 on the floor, $100 for a VIP balcony view--is slated to go to the group's latest project: to bring solar power to the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center, a charitable community program that's been serving children and seniors in North Beach for over one hundred years. Major sponsors helping make this dream a reality include the Weather Underground and Luminalt, Bay Area companies on the cutting-edge of eco-friendly technologies.
Though we missed the opening band the California Honeydrops, we heard from gushing audience members that their N'awlins-drenched sound was "hot!" We did catch the second warm-up act, King City, fresh off their most recent "Mission Tour" (yes, they played a series of shows at various venues in the Mission) to celebrate the release of their debut album, The Last Siesta. This raucous instrumental sextet laid down super-fun grooves that ranged all over the musical map, from Vaudevillian shtickiness to Cotton Club-era striptease soundtracks. But it was the piquant flavors from South of the Border and the bizarre mashups of psychobilly and oompah beats that hooked us. Picture Betty Boop kicking up her skirt for "A Fistful of Dollars." Cake would have its work cut out for them.
Of course, it's not hard to win over a crowd that already knows all your songs. So the once-platinum-selling, Sacramento-based combo served up fan favorites--"Jolene," "The Distance," "Short Skirt/Long Jacket," etc.--and the audience sang along from the very first tune. The rhythm section and lead guitarist nailed the group's trademark trucker-country, white-boy funk with muscular precision, while the trumpeter/keyboardist embellished the deep-in-pocket grooves with pitch-perfect melodic flourishes that floated on top like sweet-cheeked cherubs. This was enough to spank the city's typically too-cool-to-sweat concertgoers into actually moving their bodies as only middle-class folks of the pale persuasion can. But it wasn't exactly a joyful experience.
Simply put, McCrea was a downer. He berated the audience and acted like a dictator with the band, telling them when to play and when not to, even though they were clearly carrying the sound. He also put out such negativity throughout almost the entire set that he might as well have been scrubbing water fowl in Louisiana. Here's an abbreviated litany of his ugly vocabulary: "Who's dissatisfied?" "It's not so horrible here in the Bay Area." "There's no hope." And the kicker, a straight-up George W. Bush appropriation: "You're either with us or against us."
Sure, we could lie to ourselves that he was just being ironic or sarcastic or cynical in that cute, affected way of pierced-and-inked teens in the Haight. But we weren't buying it. McCrea seemed like one of those activist types whose earnestness has eaten away at his soul, and now he's just angry at the injustice of it all. In short, he's a hot-headed leader of a very cool band, and it was unsettling watching him melt down in front of a soldout audience for a worthy cause.