[Professional publicists ceaselessly implore writers to preview shows, but often the most worthy events lack such luxuries. The Bay Area is both actively producing and attracting experimentalists, multimedia performance spectacles, cult punk rituals and innovative anti-socials with no capacity for self-promotion (those interest me especially.) Hidden Agenda is a new column to let you know about their performances. ]
I didn't think Life Stinks would make an album. Something about the local foursome's restless tension and sneering misanthropy on stage suggested imminent self-destruction. Life Stinks looked destined to issue a slew of singles, maybe a live rehearsal session dubbed to cassette and then expire. From the audience, or listening to the band's savage debut 7-inch this year, I thought that conjurers of such primitive, utterly devolved and fetid rock dirges would halt at the gates of "debut album" and just keel over. After all, arrested development is a Bay Area punk tradition, considering short-lived late '70s bands like Negative Trend and The Sleepers. Life Stinks' fate was to live on mostly in the memory of those who saw them play, and fade away prematurely with the deteriorating brain power of those fans, but The Hemlock's schedule declares otherwise. Life Stinks' album release is Friday, Nov. 29 with Quaaludes and Dancer. Life Stinks' debut album is real.
Playful, dejected, melancholy, childish, understated -- Welsh artist Cate Le Bon's third album Mug Museum evokes an array of disparate responses, a quality that reinforces the deceiving simplicity of her music. Restrained psych-pop instrumentalists lend Mug Museum charm and hooks lend it accessibility, but Le Bon's impressionistic lyrics and idiosyncratic vocal delivery ensure repeated listening. Her words and intentions beckon thoughtful consideration and then seem impenetrable when analyzed up close. Luckily, the songs transmit immediate beauty when considered broadly once again, and the cyclical listening process renews itself again. The Rickshaw Stop hosts the confounding but ultimately enjoyable artist on Tuesday, Dec. 3.
Rhys Chatham recently brought his composition A Secret Rose to Richmond's Craneway Pavilion and treated onlookers to the inimitable sonorous quality of one hundred guitars interacting with the space in a converted aircraft hangar. In the center of the ensemble, bassist Lisa Mezzacappa and drummer Jordan Glenn of Mills College grounded the music. As Chatham explained in a recent SF Weekly feature, the lifelong avant-garde composer is deeply indebted to the Bay Area's lineage of experimentalists, particularly those with Mills affiliation. In the mid-70's, Mills student Peter Gordon toured a piece entitled Macho Music through New York. It merged the rock gesture with conservatory training, a precursor to Chatham's seminal composition Guitar Trio. More recently, Chatham's ensemble at the Craneway included many Mills guitarists, in addition to Glenn.
But innovators always loom larger in hindsight. Mills College is still a thriving institution, so which of today's nascent experimentalists will the revisionists and historians later deem influential and progressive? The music department presents Contemporary Performance Ensemble on Wednesday, Dec. 4, and it looks like an ideal event to make such predictions. What little description of the event is provided promises "magnetic tape play," "pile of fourths with pitch bend," "timbral shift study," "tele-sonic imaginings" and the delightfully ambiguous "holes." Mills' pedigree makes the event alluring, but the lack of a canonical Importance makes it especially refreshing. Those who will later be dubbed innovators are most exciting in their prime, in that vigorous space between inspiration and self-consciousness.