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House of Tudor 

Cowboy musicals, found-sound cacophony, and Beatnik Burlesque

Wednesday, Apr 2 2003
As one always to be in front of the curve and behind the eight ball, Geoff Ellsworth (of the one-man musical troupe the Towne Dandies) has abandoned his pirate musical for a lone wolf on the prairie sort of thing called Stay Cowboy. The decision came sometime before or after reading my recent fearless SF Weekly pirate exposé (people called it a fluff piece, but I'll have you know I've been threatened by hook and cutlass several times a week for the last month), when Ellsworth realized every Tom, Dick, and Mary was jumping on his pirate parade. The tag line for the new musical -- "A pony of my own!" -- is either a petulant demand that no other hipster in town don spurs or just a childish exclamation of joy. Either way, you can expect Ellsworth's signature paper props, tinfoil sets, onstage costume changes, solo choruses, and, if you're lucky, some horse riding, gunfighting, fancy footwork, and surly saloon owners. Stay Cowboy will play every Thursday night in April at the Odeon at 8:30 and 11 p.m. Opening night bill features the Middle Eastern jazz stylings of Go Van Gogh at 7:30 p.m.; the septuagenarian husband-and-wife Gypsy duo Cappuccino at 9; "The Mermaid That Broke My Fucking Heart" puppet show at 9:45; and Mark Growden at midnight. Ticket price from 7 to 9 p.m. is $10 and includes a TV dinner and glass of beer or wine (after that it's anyone's guess). All times are approximate and subject to disaster; call 550-6994.

John Cage -- the groundbreaking composer, wrongfully accused dadaist, and Zen-inspired aural philosopher -- once said, "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then 16. Then 32. Eventually one discovers it is not boring at all." With works like 4'33" -- which consisted of a musician seating himself at a grand piano, opening the cover, and waiting exactly four minutes and 33 seconds before getting up, bowing, and walking offstage -- and Cartridge Music, for which he amplified everyday household sounds, Cage invited his audiences to explore the "music" of a moment. For those who managed to get beyond their discomfort, boredom, and irritation, Cage's compositions were an invitation to slip between the cracks of the common musical landscape and welcome the interpolation of unpredictable objects and actions. Of course, as Cage admitted many times in a career that stretched from the late '30s to the early '90s, sometimes this plan works and sometimes it doesn't. During "Found Objects Night," we'll get to find out just what works by ourselves. For this performance, audience members are asked to bring accidentally discovered objects -- seashells, barbed wire, palm fronds, plumbing pipe, license plates, whistles, tap shoes, foreign coins, dice, knitting needles, chewing gum, and whatnot -- to serve as sound sources. The objects will be sampled, twirled, beaten, played, clicked, pounded, and manipulated by four masters of nimble spontaneity -- Splatter Trio's Gino Robair, Los Angeles improviser David Kendall, sound designer Andre Custodio, and electronic composer Stephen Ruiz (aka Zygote) -- and transformed into an orchestra of transcendent kismet or a cacophony of earsplitting bedlam, or something in the cracks between the two. "Found Object Night" will be held on Saturday, April 5, at 21 Grand at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6-10; call (510) 444-7263.

In 1996, Bruno's invited Toledo -- a tall, dark man with a husky voice and a snake charmer's eye -- to entertain its dinner guests. The singer arrived in an elegant suit and freshly brushed fedora, with a jazz trio and a few women in tow. The cool rose off him like steam: His band was hot, his women were hotter, and his voice swaggered like a pool hall hustler on a winning streak. Everyone settled down with a Manhattan, prepared for an evening of smooth jazz and soft-focus urban sophistication, but there was more to Toledo than smoke and beers. He proved to be a graphic songwriter with a jagged wit, as well as an accomplished choreographer who considered the floor show as important as the music. As he exhaled songs about crumbling love affairs and moral decay, his dancers emerged in torn fishnets, slips, and running mascara. They lurched and gyrated like junkie marionettes as Toledo sang of torture and tenderness; they pushed their bodies against patrons with a vacant pole-dancer's stare as Toledo transformed profanities into promises. Some people walked out -- mostly women dragging their dates with them -- but I was smitten. Toledo's show was like a post-apocalyptic cabaret with a hard-boiled '40s soundtrack. I half-hoped the neo-burlesque scene would be permeated by such a flavor of ruin -- a modern smear on the classic striptease -- but so far most troupes have settled for tits and giggles. Most, but not all. Whether by accident or design, Bruno's is again home to the thinking man's girlie show. Directed by Jacques Boyreau, exploitation filmmaker and chief protagonist at the Werepad, Beatnik Burlesque blends indelicate black-and-white film reels with Beat poetry, jazz soundtracks, and lascivious acts of female aggression, possession, and regression. While maintaining some of the facetious titillation of the burlesque tradition, Boyreau's gals are clearly more influenced by the golden era of exploitation films than the gilded age of the fan dance. Here, the coquette gives way to the slut, sequined trim dissolves in frayed edges, and pillow fantasies become something a bit more sinister. As Boyreau writes in the sexploitation chapter in his book Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters: "Sex Trash is more than the comforts of endless pulchritude. It's also a suggestion that we're all at endless risk." Beatnik Burlesque will play on Sundays at 9 p.m. through May 4 at Bruno's. Tickets are $8; call 648-7701 or go to

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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