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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, May 12 1999
Two Guitarists and a Boob Local band Titty -- actually rock stars Third Eye Blind under an assumed name -- played a sold-out show May 6 at the Paradise Lounge. It's a typical rock star stunt: You know, get intimate with the hard-core fans, play on a stage that's less than 10 feet high, try out some new material. And if the quartet's hourlong performance (with "Graduate" thrown in for an encore) was any indication, we're in for more of the same. Bargain-basement funk rock meets cut-rate Everclear for punk panache, swimming in a lyrical soup of ego strokes disguised as "confessionals" from Yber-sassy frontman Stephan Jenkins. Worse still: Because you can't multitrack vocals and do guitar overdubs live, the quartet's sound was thin and punchless. After all, 3EB's much better when they're railing against pop music with lots of chirpy keyboard cock-rock hooks playing in the background.

According to Paradise booker Byron Schustag, the show had been in the works for a while. About a year ago, the club and the band had been going back and forth about doing something more intimate than the arena shows Jenkins is now used to -- perhaps an 11th Street party featuring Northern California rock heavyweights like Cake and Chris Isaak -- but the club date is what they settled on, complete with backstage-pass laminates featuring pornographic pictures.

Jenkins' return to the local stage follows up his expletive-laden ranting at the Bammies in March (a complete transcript is available at -- no joke --, and another unannounced appearance at Smash Mouth's Coca Cola-sponsored Maritime Hall gig last Friday. It was also an opportunity for Jenkins to get a few shots in at people around town who don't like his band's music: He asked if there were any members of the press in the audience, then said they all "fucking suck." Yeah, well, guess that makes us even, Mr. Jenkins.

Earlier that evening, roots-rock guitarist Jim Campilongo & the 10 Gallon Cats were also showcasing new material for an upcoming album as part of their five-week Thursday-night run at the Paradise, which continues through May 27. Along for the ride was longtime member and pedal steel guitarist Joe Goldmark, who's been working hard to bring more attention to his instrument, which generally stays in the background. So All Hat -- No Cattle, Goldmark's fourth CD, and the first for Oakland's Hightone Records, is a revelation: Gliding and twanging across 13 instrumentals, he pays tribute to West African highlife, the Band ("Whispering Pines"), Brill Building pop (Goffin-King's "Hey Girl"), the Grateful Dead ("China Cat Sunflower"), and closes with an ebullient take on the Byrds' "Eight Miles High."

Goldmark, a co-manager and part owner of Amoeba Music's San Francisco store, says the point of the record is to showcase what the pedal steel guitar can do as a lead instrument, and take it out of its common country-music context. "There's not a lot of people doing what I do, which is part of the reason I started doing it," he says. And what kind of song works for the steel-guitar treatment, anyway? "Usually a nice melody. A good melody that has other things going for it. It has to lay well on the steel and play on its own."

It's an approach that's made Goldmark an in-demand session musician, playing on a number of other groups' albums, including David Byrne's 1986 Sounds From True Stories, as well as providing a lovely bridge fill on "Hell of Dumb," a track on the Mr. T Experience's 1997 album Revenge Is Sweet, and So Are You.

Which, incidentally, is a record that the long-standing East Bay pop-punk trio got a fair amount of criticism for. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with the record, just that it was more of the same: punchy love songs with the occasional clever turn of phrase, lathered, rinsed, and repeated across 16 tracks. And when you've been getting up onstage since the mid-'80s, announcing "This is a song about a girl," and then playing a song about a girl -- well, it does get a bit trite after a while.

Frontman Dr. Frank understands the complaints. "I like the idea of changing everything around every time, but I haven't always managed to do that," he says. "Revenge Is Sweet is a great album, but I think that we sounded too much like the last one [the band's 1996 breakthrough Love Is Dead]." That was part of the inspiration for Show Business Is My Life, Frank's first solo record for Lookout. It's a diverse outing, though the structures and subjects of the songs haven't changed. "Rock 'n' roll is songs about girls," Frank insists. "The only other legitimate topic would be cars." What's changed is context, a sonic approach that exposes Frank as more a singer/songwriter than a punk: old-timey blues like "She All Right," pop balladry on "Population: Us," and the tender folk-driven "Bitter Homes and Gardens" and "Sad, Sad Shadow." Dispensing with his usual backup band, he's reeled in a cast of Lookout all-stars, including Groovie Ghoulies bassist Kepi and the Hi-Fives, as well as peripatetic fanzine author Aaron Cometbus playing drums on one song.

"I always took songwriting very seriously," Frank says. "I was aware that a lot of the time, the subtlety of the songs gets buried under the punk rock." No such issues should come into play when he performs acoustically at Bottom of the Hill on May 13, with Kevin Army opening. Call 621-4455.

You Might Want to Post This Somewhere The Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Free Speech in San Francisco, which lobbied against the now-mooted plan to change the city's flier-posting laws, is holding a "victory celebration" May 23 at the ODC Theater at 8 p.m. Cajun Classics, Slow Poisoners, Nick Porcaro, and the S.F. Mime Troupe will perform, and a highlights video from flier-related public hearings will be shown. Call 289-6575.

-- Mark Athitakis

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Mark Athitakis


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