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Retro Sheik; Bruno's lives!

Wednesday, Aug 1 2001
Look back in jangle A former roommate of mine had a favorite spiel that he would drag out on listless Friday nights. "I should've been around in the '60s," he'd say. "I would've been happier back then." He'd take another lungful of cannabis delictus, and I'd glower at him, thinking, "Well, duh." Everyone thinks he'd have been happier back in the '60s, what with the free sex, nearly free drugs, and lack of "Freebird."

It's hard not to romanticize a decade during which change happened so rapidly and so thoroughly. For instance, in a recent Behind the Music episode, the members of Jefferson Airplane recalled how they'd gone to Grinnell College in Iowa for a concert one year and all the students were dressed in suits; the following year they returned to find all the kids clad in hippie garb. (To this day, the school holds a yearly bacchanalia devoted to the group's visit, at which it hands out officially sanctioned mushrooms. I wonder if the college puts that info in the brochure.)

If I could choose to live in another era, I'd set my way-back machine to Paris circa 1966. In fact, whenever I meet a frogperson, I yammer on about the wonders of Da Gauls. But at DJ Kitty's birthday party at the Ruby Room last week, a girl from Toulouse attempted to set me straight. "I think you are wrong," she said. When she saw my puzzled look, she corrected herself. "I mean, your idea of France is not true." Yes, I told her, I am aware that my vision of '60s Paris as a wild, never-ending party where erudite men and women clad in Beatle boots and vinyl jackets bantered about love and croissants and ennui is probably way off. But as a wise man once wrote, "It is better to fantasize about something than to believe in nothing."

The problems start when fantasy meets reality. A few years ago Nancy Sinatra performed at Bimbo's. She played all her old songs, like "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" and "Lightning's Girl," and many of the same musicians she'd had for years backed her -- and the show still sucked like a possessed vacuum cleaner. The wretched awfulness of the performance stemmed from her desire to be current, or at least as current as 1986. Imagine a Holiday Inn lounge band with weak synthesizers and cheesy guitar riffs in a sleepy Los Angeles suburb, and you've got the picture.

The organizers of Baypop 2001 have the right idea. If you're going to have '60s bands like San Jose's Chocolate Watchband perform, make sure they want to play the old way. Put them through rehearsals in your mom's garage, feed them a strict diet of amphetamines, give them all mop-top bowl wigs, and, for God's sake, make sure their amps go to 11. While many of the musicians playing Baypop this year (running Wednesday through Saturday, Aug. 1-4, at various clubs around town) don't look much like their ancient publicity stills, their music should be an endearing reminder of a past most of the audience never experienced.

The Watchband, which hasn't played in the Bay Area for 30 years, will reunite for the festival's opening night; the show will also include a performance by fellow '60s rockers Cyril Jordan of the Flamin' Groovies and Mike Wilhelm of the Charlatans, DJ sets by Alec Palao and Cali Kid, and a speaking appearance by the Chronicle's Joel Selvin (who seems to be trapped, possibly by choice, in a wonderful fantasy world). On Aug. 4, Baypop celebrates the release of Rhino's Nuggets II box set with a performance by Syndicate of Sound, a San Jose group that had a nationwide hit with "Little Girl" in 1966. (If you really want to curse your late birth, take a look at the artists on the U.S. Top 20 sales chart for July of that year: the Troggs, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Sam the Sham, the Standells, and Cyrkle!)

In case you're worried that these aging players will be more rocking chair than rock 'n' roll, there will be plenty of modern bands at Baypop. Highlights include Philadelphia's answer to the Kinks, the Asteroid No. 4; local sunshine janglers the Orange Peels and the power pop outfit of Peels drummer John Moremen; longtime San Jose mods the Odd Numbers; and harmonic Welsh group the Scooters.

For more information, call 585-7666 or go to

The best-kept secret in town Remember how Bruno's was supposed to be closing? As reported in the Chronicle, the deal didn't clear escrow, so owner John Varnedoe is relaunching the restaurant in September with a moderately priced "retro Italiano" menu. As for the music, Bruno's will feature local jazz and singer/songwriter acts for the time being. While it's certainly nice to see Bay Area groups get gigs, San Francisco sorely needs a venue for world-class out-of-towners like Ken Vandermark and Roy Hargrove. Varnedoe would like to be able to continue booking such marquee acts, but he can't afford to just yet. "We have to convince people that we're open first," he says with a rueful laugh.

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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