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This Is How It Works After two years of booking local bands at the monthly "Fillmore Sessions," promoter Joe Paganelli finally sold out the old concert hall. The Jan. 17 show was headlined by Black Lab and supported by Stroke 9 and the Fingers. (The show had plenty of help from Live 105. The modern-rock radio station is playing Black Lab's "Wash It Away" every hour on the hour, proving that there does exist in the world something more grating than that Ben Folds Five song.) Onstage, the altrock hits pumped and the beefcake frontmen fronted, but the real action was going on behind the scenes. Representatives from at least 10 labels, including heavy hitters from Interscope, Universal, and Maverick, were reportedly sighted filing in and out of Stroke 9's dressing room. The band, a local four-piece led by the hunkalicious Luke Esterkyn, essays a radio-friendly chirp that could only be called pop-rock. (Local industry titter says that the L.A. types want "the next Third Eye Blind." Riff Raff wants to die.) The big-money boys' interest is being dealt with by Stoke 9 manager Tim O'Brien, who says that Universal, for one, has already made a "great" offer -- "multiple records, a very high back-end deal." In keeping with the rules of the monkey-see-monkey-do A&R world, at least eight other simians are howling. O'Brien says Stoke 9 will appease the beasts with a Feb. 3 Los Angeles showcase for "presidents of labels." "We really don't want a bidding war," says O'Brien. "Basically we are trying to find the right place." We wonder where that is. O'Brien assures us that despite what anyone says, Stroke 9 don't want to be the next Third Eye Blind or an overnight flash. "They don't want to be shoved down anyone's throats," he says. "You've got to realize that this is a band that has been together for eight years. They couldn't get gigs at the Boomerang at one point." (J.S.)

Stars of Tomorrow Now! Riff Raff knows sass sometimes wears a set of dimples and a cute smile. Thanks to a pair of photos that crossed our desk last week, Riff Raff now knows sass sometimes wears an ocelot hat and wields a harpoon. (See above.) Witness essence, the new lowercased and last-nameless singer/songwriter discovered by Way Cool Music A&R executive (and former Live 105 music director) Steve Masters. Says here she was signed on the strength of her "powerful songwriting" and "cool intensity." (J.S.)

Sort of Like an Anarchists Convention Mills College, the small Oakland school known for 40 years of supporting creative music, will offer four improvised music workshops open to the public. Mills prides itself on hiring cutting-edge faculty members (fringe jazzman Anthony Braxton once taught there) and providing a temporary home for innovative, iconoclastic guests. Usually, you have to be a tuition-paying student and even more (specifically, an M.F.A.) to play music with the masters. But beginning Feb. 2, Mills opens up to the kind of person who can't afford decades of student-loan paybacks. The guest artists/instructors include L.A. trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, one of the first players to articulate where the new generation of avant-gardists was going in the 1960s; Oakland saxophone colossus Glenn Spearman, a mentor to the Bay Area's improv scene; East Bay violinist India Cooke, fresh from her first record; and ingenious conductor/cornetist Butch Morris, who currently lives and tours in Europe (with occasional stints in NYC). The school offers the opportunity for musicians of any style to gain potentially awesome insight from the improv authorities. The prerequisites are pretty straightforward: You have to know how to play your instrument, but road-tested improv chops are not mandatory. Each workshop will meet twice a week for three weeks, with a public performance expected to cap each session. It's not cheap -- $200 per workshop -- but you can't put a price on this kind of hands-on experience. (Sam Prestianni)

Free Ink TicketWeb, the East Bay company using the Internet to knock down the ridiculous service charges extorted by the likes of Bass and TicketMaster, celebrates its two-year anniversary this weekend with -- what else? -- a concert. The Bottom of the Hill birthday party on Jan. 31 includes Imperial Teen, Scenic Vermont, and Itchy Kitty. An $8 cover benefits the Stop AIDS Project and the UCSF AIDS Health Project. (J.D.P.)

"We're not doin' it for the money. I'm doin' it for you people because I love you": Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Karl D. Esturbense (K.D.E.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), Heather Wisner (H.W.), and Bill Wyman (B.W.). Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.


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