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House Of Tudor 

Bubblegum pop, robot rock, fretless harping, and destitute redemption

Wednesday, Sep 12 2001
In Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop, From the Banana Splits to Britney Spears, editors Kim Cooper and David Smay include the Ramones, the Beatles, Redd Kross, and the Shaggs in their Bubblegum Top 100, among such fizzy confectionists as David Cassidy, the Mosquitoes, and Debbie Gibson. Throughout the tome, Cooper and Smay are unflinching and fan-atically thorough. Behind the powder blue and sugar pink cover, you will find full essays on and interviews with everyone from the Cowsills to Peppermint Rainbow to the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus, with whole chapters on producers and impresarios (Gary Usher, Jeff Barry), fantasies (the Partridge Family Temple), international sensations (ABBA, Shonen Knife, Bay City Rollers), record labels (Bell, Buddha, Super K), television shows and artists (Hanna-Barbera, Hardy Boys, Kroft Rock), records from cereal boxes, and Bubblegum punk, new wave, and metal acts. Certainly, everything you ever wanted to know is here, along with a lot you didn't know you wanted. When David Smay reads on Wednesday, Sept. 12, at the Booksmith (1644 Haight at Cole) at 7 p.m., be sure to ask about the elite subgenre of Black Bubblegum and the condition known as Bubblegum Nihilism. Admission is free; call 863-8688.

While Captured! By Robots is a one-man/three-robot band that occasionally performs Kinks songs, it should not be confused with Bubblegum. There is absolutely nothing sugary and sweet about this abomination. Back in 1996, the human formerly known as Jason Vance grew tired of dealing with egos while playing ska with the Blue Meanies and Skankin' Pickle, and created Captured! By Robots instead. Unfortunately, the robots he built, DRMBOT0110 and GTRBOT666, hated humans (particularly JBOT, as they have christened Vance since planting a chip in his brain), and they took tremendous pleasure in vocally and physically tormenting and belittling their creator/captive onstage. Over the years, JBOT and his mechanical oppressors have settled into a sort of uneasy alliance -- JBOT has stopped fighting back -- and the music has improved for it, becoming finely honed, delightful garage-pop. (OK, maybe it is Bubblegum, but certainly of the brackish variety.) Still, one is relieved when the tambourine-playing mechanical simian, The Ape Which Hath No Name, springs into life to assuage JBOT's hurt feelings with a soulful croon. Captured! By Robots opens for Drunk Horse and the Fucking Champs on Thursday, Sept. 13, as part of the Bottom of the Hill's Ten Year Anniversary (for which we should be eternally grateful) at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 621-4455.

The oft-overlooked harp is the forebear of all stringed instruments, having played a crucial role in the secular celebrations and religious ceremonies of nearly every continent since 15,000 B.C. (the date of cave paintings discovered at Les Trois Frères in France). Still, aside from the spectacular antics and playing of Harpo Marx, most modern Americans think of the harp as a priggish instrument, entirely restricted by its cumbersome form and the rigid purity of each fretless note. In the 1940s, when piano-fueled ragtime swept through America and Britain, the Royal College of Music in England hacked all its harps to pieces. Such a travesty might have been averted if the Annual Festival of Harps were in its 65th go-round, but we must be satisfied with a mere 12 years of public harp reinformation. During this year's event, Rüdiger Oppermann, president of the German Harp Society, will present a slide show and lecture that spans his 25- year exploration of folk-harp tradition throughout India, Mongolia, Indonesia, Europe, the U.S., and Africa. The following night, Oppermann, who is one of the few harpists in the world to perfect the art of "bending" notes on the instrument to create a somewhat bluesy sound, will perform a fusion of Celtic and African styles on his ornate, self-crafted harps. Paul Stickney, considered the world's greatest living "jazz harpist," will collaborate with Oppermann on several original compositions, as well as the "reimagining" of a popular Sting song. (Stickney has been known to present Miles Davis, Take 5, and Queen on the harp, so there's no telling what he might do.) Both artists will contribute to a set by the much-beloved Bay Area world-fusion act Beasts of Paradise (pedal-harpist Barbara Imhoff, didgeridoo player Stephen Kent, percussionist Geoffrey Gordon, and singer Eda Maxym), which is regrouping after many years for this evening. Rüdiger Oppermann's lecture will be held on Friday, Sept. 14, at 683 Barbara St. in North Berkeley at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10-15. The outdoor concert will be held on Saturday, Sept. 15, at Yerba Buena Gardens (Third & Mission streets) at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free; call (510) 548-3326 for more festival info.

As he freely admits, Jim White had his songwriting improved by an industrial accident that mangled his fretting hand. With his guitar-picking legerdemain dispatched, White was stripped down and hollowed out, left with his whispering voice and questions about the nature of his Pensacola-born God. The result was 1997's Wrong-Eyed Jesus, an atmospheric holler through hysterical religion and city savvy that became one of my favorite albums of that year. Although Wrong-Eyed Jesus received much acclaim, White found himself destitute soon after, dumped by his pregnant girlfriend and sweltering in the belly of an old mobile home. When he received a postcard from a fan in Rome who had heard Wrong-Eyed Jesus warbling through the Vatican on an old boombox, he wrote the strangely frisky "10 Miles to Go on a 9 Mile Road," the centerpiece of this year's long-overdue album No Such Place. Between the tune's jangly, radio-friendly choruses -- "'Til the power of Love deliver you there," proffered with middial-FM zeal and accessible guitar chords -- White sings, "From the splinter in the hand to the thorn in the heart to the shotgun to the head/ You got to learn to glean solace from pain or you'll end up cynical or dead." The other songs, though moodier in tone -- layered with dobro, banjo, mandolin, and pedal steel and given supple ambience by producers Q-Burns Abstract Message, Andrew Hale, Morcheeba, and Sohichiro Suzuki -- explore less spiritual subjects than those on Wrong-Eyed Jesus. White takes such clichéd topics as Greyhound bus stations, broken-down cars, coal trains, ghost towns, "billboards on the highway of life," truck stops, and incest and renders them banal with his seemingly put-on backwoods twang. Still, White's Pensacola rearing -- in the American town with the most churches per capita -- endows him with a casual mastery of biblical rhetoric that is always startling to a California heathen such as myself. And the music is just damned pretty. Jim White performs on Monday, Sept. 17, with Crooked Fingers at Johnny Foley's Cellar at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 522-0333. He also plays with Crooked Fingers on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at Bottom of the Hill with Meriwether opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12; call 621-4455.

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Silke Tudor


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