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Two clubs and a little Norwegian

Wednesday, Jun 6 2001
I heard a good one about pigs flying out of butts There are more rumors floating around about the fate of Bruno's these days than there are alcohol citations for the Bush daughters. According to the whispering winds, the venerated club/restaurant is about to be either turned into a playpen for Duh Mayor's soon-to-be-born "love child," sold to Walt Disney as a set for an avant-garde version of The Mickey Mouse Show, or renovated by a certain restaurant chain intent on changing the name to McBruno's.

None of the rumors is true, says Bruno's owner John Varnedoe, who reopened the one-time Rat Pack joint as a creative music and fine dining spot in 1995. While Bruno's is indeed up for sale, Varnedoe hasn't made any deals yet, and when he does he hopes it will be with someone of like mind. "I can tell you what everyone always says -- "Our hope is to find someone to carry on the tradition of fine music, blah blah' -- but it's really up to them," Varnedoe says via phone from Bruno's.

The venue's music calendar is booked through August, and unless a sale goes through quicker than you can say "economic downturn," listeners will get to hear guitarist John Abercrombie, saxophonist Greg Osby, and singer Faye Carol, among others. Afterward, however, Bruno's will most likely sound and look quite different. Varnedoe says he has three potential buyers: one who wants to concentrate on the dining area and two who are more interested in the music side. None would focus on both aspects of the property.

Why is Varnedoe selling now, just four months after the Still Comical's food editor, Michael Bauer, gave the restaurant a three-star review? "We're just not getting the midweek hit," Varnedoe says. "We're still busy on the weekends, but Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, we're not doing well. Between the early reviews [which were bad] and the economy, it's just not working."

Yes, that sound you just heard was the harsh bleat of a saxophone being hurled to the floor. And it wasn't part of a performance, either.

Move over, pink hearts and blue diamonds Speaking of musical instability, the Purple Onion's owner, Tom Guido, made his first public appearance in ages last week. For more than a year, Guido's North Beach club has been closed, with various rumors surfacing about the eccentric owner's whereabouts. But there he was on Wednesday night, smack dab in the middle of the Make-Out Room's dance floor, grooving to fellow maverick Alan McGee's DJ set. (McGee steered clear of the noise pop records from his own label, Creation, cheekily spinning reggae, techno, and early Michael Jackson instead.) Unlike in the past, Guido offered no histrionics, no drunken tirades, no table-hopping depantsings; instead, he was all smiles and twinkle toes. Let's hope this means he's ready to open up the Onion again. God knows we need it.

Now watch them turn water into wine When Albert King wrote "Born Under a Bad Sign," he sure wasn't thinking about local indie-soul-funk-pop band Call and Response ("The Whee Design," Music, Jan. 17). Of course, it would've been hard for him to write about the quintet, considering that none of its members was born before 1972. The young group seems blessed with good fortune: Its self-titled debut album (on Kindercore Records) received glowing reviews across the board and was featured on NPR's All Things Considered (shocking for a band of its stature). Danny Heaps, former A&R man for Siouxsie & the Banshees and Social Distortion, happened to hear the radio piece while motoring around Los Angeles. Stunned by the music, he drove all over the L.A. region searching in vain for the record in stores. Determined to get the band a better distribution deal, he called the members and offered his services.

Thanks in part to Heaps, Call and Response signed to Emperor Norton, the home of hip acts like Fantastic Plastic Machine, Arling & Cameron, and Ladytron. The label plans to relaunch Call and Response's debut in September with three about-to-be-recorded new songs and several remastered older tunes. The group's first European tour will follow.

The band seems able to turn even a serious blow to its fortunes -- like main singer Carrie Klein's recent exodus to Portland -- from a turd into a golden nugget. For the group's show at Cafe Du Nord on Saturday, June 9, angelic-voiced singer Erlend Øye of hot Norwegian duo Kings of Convenience will take Klein's place. (The group is being billed as Call of Convenience.) This last-minute save is akin to Mick Jagger skipping off to Antarctica and the Stones picking up Elliott Smith as a replacement. It's not the same band, but it sure makes for an intriguing listen. Call 861-5016 for more info.

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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