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House of Tudor 

The ever-expanding aural universe between Ralph Carney's ears, and a sugary LiftOff! Spacecapades farewell

Wednesday, May 14 2003
As San Francisco's quintessential session man -- for artists such as Tom Waits, Jonathan Richman, the B-52's, Bill Laswell, Pere Ubu's David Thomas, William Burroughs, Elvis Costello, Galaxie 500, Marc Ribot, and Allen Ginsberg -- and the impetus behind Ohio's prog-punk masters Tin Huey, Ralph Carney hardly needs an introduction, yet here it is. This Is! Ralph Carney is his third solo exploration (and finest firsthand account) of the ever-expanding aural universe between his ears. Created with banjo, washboard, jug, sax, snare, spoons, mandolin, flute, sock cymbal, wood, chromatic harp, cowbell, xylophone, trumpet, jaw harp, marimba, panpipes, keyboard, vocals, murmurs, and hiccups all performed by Carney, This Is! is evidence in support of the growing belief that quantum mechanics dictates the existence of parallel universes where countless Ralph Carney doppelgängers in countless fun-house versions of the city might consider every possibility of their instruments. Twirling Dixieland jazz, swamp blues, Krautrock, tribal medicine rituals, cartoon theme music, Tin Pan Alley hits, Latin lullabies, psychedelic soliloquies, robotic rumbas, and sci-fi slack key into a musical spaghetti hitherto unknown. This Is! could also illustrate that it is possible for a person from this universe to communicate and collaborate with his other selves, and still have a sense of humor about it. Carney celebrates his CD release, then joins Gary Floyd and Mushroom onstage on Wednesday, May 14, at 19 Broadway in Fairfax at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 459-1091. The same lineup appears Thursday, May 15, at the Bottom of the Hill at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 621-4455.

It's difficult to imagine this column before LiftOff! Spacecapades, but an examination of the SF Weekly archives suggests my first contact with LiftOff! event producer Alan Parowski was only five short years ago. Surely, there has been a computer glitch back at the New Times mother ship. How could all that irrepressible enthusiasm, passion, inspiration, and goofiness get compressed into so short a time frame? How could a person cram so many silly hats, near-naked girls, and dancing gorillas into half a decade, and still have a long list of favors owing? The mind reels, as if suffering the aftereffects of a Saturday morning sugar-cereal binge, and a slight sensation of nausea hints at the inevitable: LiftOff! is leaving the Bay Area. That's right, the man who put the ba-da-bing in "Bardot A Go Go" and the fondue and turtlenecks in the Sno-drift Inn; the blond, blue-eyed boy from the burbs who introduced San Francisco to the Tijuana Donkey Dance and Congress to a petition requesting that Mojo Nixon's head be added to Mount Rushmore; the guileless event organizer who put fat men in wet T-shirts, 70-year-old strippers onstage, and sheep heads on barbecue spits, without once considering shock value; the promoter who brought back Nancy Sinatra, Bill Haley's Comets, and the Archies for the love of a song; the one and only California Kid, who, since 1986, has treated KALX audiences to elaborate shows, such as the six-hour psychedelic song cycle meant to simulate an acid trip, the underwater adventure that used soundbites from more than 50 vintage deep-sea movies to link ocean songs, the virtual tour of Disneyland complete with ride soundtracks, and the "live" from Hawaii show featuring appearances by Elvis and Annette and Frankie, and to on-air interviews conducted from inside a pipeline; the same man who introduced me to our future-ex-music editor (sniff), the superlative Dan Strachota; the hopeful charlatan who concocted band names to go with his theme, then found incredible musicians to fill the costumes and the bill; my friend and partner in the SF Weekly Music Awards, and the greatest dinner-party host I have ever known ... Mr. Alan Parowski, the white knight of contagious amusement, has decided to take his beautiful family and his ridiculous ideas and move to Oregon (sigh). Hang your head, San Francisco. Due to the price of real estate, the hippie enclave of Ashland is now the future home of "Polka De Mayo," "Snack Food Armageddon," "Carnaby Street Cave Stomp," the "Feast of Flesh," and whatever else Parowski can cook up in that Easy-Bake oven brain of his. We can, of course, expect the occasional return engagement, but first, the send-off, a reunion of friends and foolishness at the farewell installment of "Sugar Shack." Hearkening back to an era when you could cut 45s out of your breakfast-cereal box, "Sugar Shack" can be likened to chilling out at Greg Brady's bachelor pad, hopped up on nitrous and Pop Rocks. We're talking '70s pop, cartoon rock, bubblegum, and glam mixed with big-screen projections of Banana Splits, The Wacky Races, Osmonds cartoons, and bygone toy commercials. As always, Spacecapades pop décor will be in full effect -- lava lamps, shag carpet, beanbag chairs -- and the snacks will be flowing (Pixy Stix, Tang, Fluffer Nutter, and, of course, Pop Rocks). Nearly every performer from Spacecapades past -- the gals, the gorillas, the comedians, and the crooners -- is likely to be on hand; and the DJs will be abundant, exemplary, and ever willing to spin your own time-stamped 45s. Leisure suits, Hush Puppies, corduroys, and feathered hair are encouraged on Friday, May 16, at 330 Ritch at 9 p.m. Admission is free; call 522-9558.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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