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City of Rock 

SF's Starship said "We built this city on rock 'n' roll." Apparently the band was right.

Wednesday, Jun 23 2004
Reader, are you sitting down? Good. Now get this: You live in the hardest-rocking region in the country. That's the official verdict handed down by Scarborough Research, one of those large companies that "provides data solutions and media strategies for today's complex marketing challenges." Sweet. As explained to me by Scarborough's Allyson Mongrain, 5,275 Bay Area residents completed the firm's survey. It turns out that 19 percent of Bay Area residents have been to a rock concert in the last year -- the highest percentage in the country! What's more, according to the research, those 19 percent have some interesting habits.

For example, "Rock concert attendees lead active lives and are in high income brackets. They are more than twice as likely as all consumers to have gone snow skiing, in-line skating, or to have played tennis during the past year. They are 49 percent more likely than all consumers to have gone swimming during the past year; 63 percent more likely to have bicycled; 67 percent more likely to have gone jogging; and 85 percent more likely to have participated in adult team sports."

"Twenty-one percent of rock concert attendees have an annual household income of $100K+. They are 58 percent more likely than all adults to be in this income bracket. On average, rock concert attendees are 36 years old and they are 60 percent more likely than all adults to be single."

Aha! All you hipsters trying to come off as disaffected, low-income burnouts, with your ruddy jeans and ripped sweat shirts -- you're all a bunch of rich bastards pretending to be poor, in your mid-20s, and ... married!

"Rock concert attendees are avid consumers in top concert sponsorship categories, including automotive and beverage. This segment is 45 percent more likely than all consumers to have three or more cars in their household. They are 21 percent more likely than all consumers to have consumed bottled or canned tea during the past week."

I gotta tell ya, fellow rock concert attendee, I had a feeling that pint of PBR you were carrying around all night at the show was a not-so-clever smoke screen to hide the fact that you were pounding bottled or canned tea. Shame on you!

To put this research to the test, last Wednesday I "attended" not one but two of these "rock concerts," moving back and forth between them: one at the Make-Out Room, where local label Badman was holding a "Super Rock Show Night" featuring Minneapolis' Mark Mallman, locals the Red Thread, and Dallas' Pleasant Grove; the other at 12 Galaxies, which hosted an all-local bill of the Appreciation, Night After Night, and Von Iva. (As a side note, and with all joking aside, how cool is it that these venues sit within 200 feet of each other and consistently book good bands? I wasn't the only one two-timing both clubs that night. If S.F. does rock the hardest, it's 'cause of stuff like this.)

It's 8:30 p.m. when I sit down with Von Iva drummer Kelly Harris, just after the band has completed its sound check, to give her the third degree. After all, she's a rocker, and, like all rockers, she's no doubt attended at least as many shows as she's played. Armed with the facts, I'm confident that Harris will buckle under my line of questioning and admit to joining an in-line skating league.

So Harris, how many times have you been snow skiing in the last year?

"Ummm, zero," she replies.

In-line skating?


Surely you've played tennis recently?


Gone swimming?

"I went in the ocean. Does that count?"

Perhaps you could estimate your annual income?

"No. I don't get paid that often. I don't have, like, a regular job."

So you make less than $100K per year?


Harris' story, while logical, strikes me as fishy. I mean, she doesn't even own up to drinking bottled or canned tea. Having answered my questions, she is, however, happy to add, "It's hard for people to understand what the real reality is for a person living in San Francisco when you've got statistics like that floating around." Hmmm. Could she be right?

Perhaps the only way I'll understand this reality is if I go to a few rock concerts myself. I start with Mark Mallman and the rock venue/dimly lit bingo hall that is the Make-Out Room. While not a San Franciscan, Mallman has his share of champions here, and they are right to sing his praises. Accompanied by nothing more than a drummer and some prerecorded sounds on a laptop, he sits center stage in front of an electric piano and bludgeons that thing as if it had just called his wife a two-bit whore. Like a one-man Darkness, he belts lines such as "Sometimes I just wanna play/ Sometimes I see dead people" into the sky-high upper registers, where they're drenched in vibrato and held for what seems like decades. One of his admirers whispers to me between tunes that Mallman once recorded a song for 24 hours. As in, it's a 24-hour-long song. Watching him onstage, this seems entirely believable.

Next it's off to 12 Galaxies to catch the Appreciation. As the bill's opener, the act is unsurprisingly green, though not without promise. The quartet's burly instrumentals jerk and rumble, bringing to mind a garage-rock jam band, a more meandering Motörhead perhaps. That the guitarist bears a slight resemblance to Slash and wears a medallion only helps up the rock quotient. Something tells me none of these dudes plays tennis, though.

Meanwhile, at the Make-Out Room, the Red Thread is halfway through its set, and from the sound of things, these are the tennis players from the survey. Though the band's latest release on Badman, Tension Pins, is a perfectly solid collection of winsome, country-tinged guitar pop, its dynamic onstage is pretty wimpy, as evidenced by the level of conversation among the generally uninterested audience. It's sort of a downer, so I high-tail it across the street, where --

Now this is some freakin' rock!

Night After Night is absolutely going for it. Granted, these guys kind of suck, but don't tell them that because the burly vocalist will clearly kick your ass. With a large backdrop depicting a full moon draped behind them, the band members tear through thick, dripping metal with intimidating enthusiasm. "Is this Ozzy Osbourne karaoke night?" asks the guy standing next to me as he and his girlfriend pack up to leave. Sure, it's pretty rough around the edges, if not crudely offensive, but at least NAN's guitarist is wearing a sleeveless white fishnet shirt. That counts for something, right?

Back at the Make-Out Room, Pleasant Grove, as one might expect from its name, is playing slow, rolling rock. "If it sounds like a country song, it's 'cause that's what it is," states the band's keyboardist proudly of one of the tunes. Atmospheric and earnest, the music soothes more than it rocks, conjuring images of disco snowflakes raining down on a high school slow dance. It's the perfect palate cleanser between the grueling sludge of Night After Night and ...

Von Iva, which is unleashing its fury for the 50 of us still lingering at 12 Galaxies after midnight. Dressed in silver and gold leg warmers, Jillian Iva leads the disco-dance-rock charge, shooting kicks in the air and firing out vocals that sound like they were designed and built in Motor City. A bottom-heavy brew, Von Iva's music is made by bassist Elizabeth Davis-Simpson, keyboardist Becky Kupersmith, and drummer Harris; it's comparable to that of S.F.'s Numbers, but with more swing in the rhythms and a double dose of soul. On a Friday night a few months ago, I saw this band turn a room full of wallflowers at this same venue into a cadre of card-carrying disco maniacs. Tonight we're more timid, but that doesn't stop Iva from getting in our faces, yelling, "Feel it baby, feel it!" It's safe to say that many of us do, regardless of the fact that it's doubtful we make more than $100K a year or participate in team sports.

"My take on the whole San Francisco thing is that it's really cool right now because there's all this genre bending going on," Harris told me before the gig. "You can play a show with a rock band and a hip hop band and an electro band, and everyone's there and has an awesome time. I've lived here for over 10 years now, and I've been in the music scene for a while. I just have a problem with the words 'hardest rocking.'"

Not to mention the words "canned tea." I have no doubt that this city has one of the most vibrant musical communities in the United States. What makes me most proud, however, is that that community's tastes and preferences are utterly unclassifiable, and better for it.

About The Author

Garrett Kamps


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