It often seems that San Francisco's Sonny Smith is on a quest to leave his creative mark on as many different mediums as possible. Best known as the leader of Fat Possum-signed rock band Sonny and the Sunsets, Smith is also a writer, visual artist, and sometime creator of comic books. Two years ago, he invented 100 records by made-up bands, dreamed many of those songs into actual music, and assembled bands to record them and play them live.
Now Smith is moving in a different direction: Starting this month, he's putting on a series of live performances that will feature him telling a one-hour story onstage backed by a live band. Entitled Sees All Knows All, the show will be a sort of cross between music and minimalist theater: Other than a video backdrop, there will be no sets, and also no actors; the only speaker will be Smith himself. The trio of musicians he's assembled will be performing below and in front of the stage instead of on top of it.
"I'm trying something new," Smith says. "There's more danger in the air than just a band playing songs ... being naked up there and just telling a story, it's more scary for me."
The story of Sees All Knows All was partly inspired by Smith's series of comic books, which he sells at shows. He describes the plot, only slightly helpfully, as "a tale of love, sex, drugs, spaceships, romance, hallucinations, bitter tears and champagne" -- hinting at themes that should sound familiar to anyone who's listened to Smith's often darkly funny music.
The project isn't totally new. Last fall, Smith performed at Amnesia backed by a live band and told hilarious and heartbreaking spoken-word stories over stripped-down folk-rock. But whereas each of those songs was a separate tale, the chapters of Sees All Knows All will all be part of a larger narrative.
Smith compares his new project to the work of Spalding Grey, the American actor and playwright best known for pioneering a minimalist style of theater in which he told the audience personal stories from an unadorned stage, with no sets or actors.
"I like a good story, and most of my stories are pretty literal, too, and usually pretty linear," Smith says. "If I just did song after song after song and each one was a story, that might get a little stale. It's just a need to keep things fresh."
Sees All Knows All will run every Saturday at the Lost Church starting Jan. 14 and ending Feb. 4. Each night will feature a separate opening band: Alexi Glickman on Jan. 14; Kelley Stoltz on Jan. 21; Kyle Field on Jan. 28; and Tim Cohen on Feb. 4. The final show will close with a performance by Sun Foot. Tickets are $15, and seating is very limited.