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Riff Raff 

Disappearing Acts and Blame Canada

Wednesday, Sep 8 1999
Disappearing Acts Sometimes, it seems those who feel paranoid about the Death of the Music Scene in San Francisco aren't being paranoid at all; given the cantankerous back-and-forths about the futures of Ten 15 Folsom and the 11th Street corridor, among other places, it's easy to feel more disheartened than hopeful about live music. In the midst of all this, Mike Coykendall has a smaller tale to tell, but with a similar lesson.

For seven years, Coykendall has played guitar, sang, and written songs for the Old Joe Clarks. And he's damn good at it: After moving here from rural Kansas in 1992, he fronted the country and folk band with a sound that's at once darkly intimate and big as all outdoors. The group's first album, 1996's Town of Ten, was an earthy and spare shovelful of old-fashioned Americana, with Coykendall's voice leaning purposefully into Bob Dylan territory, full of tales of love, Satan, bullets, and how the three sometimes wind up combining; perfect for anyone who knows, in his or her heart of hearts, that Nebraska is Bruce Springsteen's best album.

The just-released Metal Shed Blues (on the Chicago-based Checkered Past label) is, if anything, even more expansive. The lineup has grown from a trio to a sextet (including Coykendall's wife, Jill McClelland-Coykendall, on bass and clarinet) and a handful of talented local guest stars, including Tin Hat Trio/Charming Hostess chanteuse/violinist Carla Kihlstedt, and Ashley Adams playing, as they say, the doghouse bass. The album's a beauty reminiscent of Gram Parsons and good Son Volt songs, and it threatens to become the group's swan song.

The Coykendalls are leaving San Francisco for Portland; the problem, as Mike Coykendall puts it, is San Francisco. Coykendall is the sort of guy who gets depressed when he sees benches torn out of his Inner Sunset neighborhood in the name of homeless abatement; depressed when he sees rising rents forcing musicians like himself out of town; depressed when those same rising rents attract tenants who aren't much for going to clubs. "Personally, I feel the old money-for-housing problems are taking a toll on the Bay Area in general," he says. "People are becoming hostile and I really can't blame them. Maybe I'm wrong -- sometimes the best stuff is born out of the most trying circumstances. It's hard. But who am I to say? I'm from Kansas."

The fate of the band after it moves to Portland is uncertain, but the Old Joe Clarks play their last public show in the Bay Area (they're also playing a wedding here, but sorry, you're not invited) on Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Freight & Salvage, 1111 Addison, Berkeley. Tickets are $12.50 in advance, $13.50 at the door; call (510) 548-1761.

That same night also marks Bomb's final show -- no, really, they mean it this time. Back in the early '90s, the local quartet seemed to have everything it took for success beyond its deep and fawning cult. A little arty, a little punky, a little goth, and generally entrancing, the band signed a deal with Reprise Records in 1992 that resulted in one platter of psychedelia (the Bill Laswell-produced Hate Fed Love) which, alas, didn't go very far. Notorious for infighting among the four members -- guitarists Jay Crawford and Doug Hilsinger, drummer Tony Fag, and bassist/singer Michael Dean -- the band closed shop soon after. But early last year they reunited for a one-off benefit show and got along well enough to record their final album, Lovesucker. Released this month on Berkeley's Wingnut Records, it's another foray into anger ("Die"), dissatisfaction ("Painglorious"), essential home truths ("No Color in Utah"), and a growling cover of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus." Dean declined to get into details regarding Bomb's demise, simply noting that the show is "a thank you to our people." Hilsinger now plays bass with the Merle-meets-metal outfit Waycross, while Dean is now performing with the Squeezebox Fairies. Bomb calls it quits Sept. 11 at the Cocodrie, 1024 Kearny; tickets are $7, with free copies of Lovesucker given to the first 100, as Dean puts it, "victims"; call 986-6678.

Blame Canada The latest issue of Spin magazine includes an item about Kevin Dabbs, a Canadian fellow who a few years back videotaped himself air drumming to a bunch of Metallica songs -- and later found that same tape being distributed and sold without his knowledge. Dabbs is a fellow very dear to our hearts around here; we had the, um, pleasure of breaking the news to Dabbs about his semifame. But it was interesting to read in the Spin piece that Dabbs first heard about the video "when he was on tour in Holland with the funk band Spit Biscuit."

Since Dabbs had all but fainted when we called him and told him about the video back in January -- he was confused, boggled, freaked out, and wanted to have the whole thing explained to him over and over again -- one of two things is going on:

1) Kevin Dabbs indeed heard about the tape in Holland, which makes him -- by far and without a doubt -- the best actor to grace this planet ever, or

2) Kevin Dabbs made a funny.

Well, if there's a person alive today who's earned the right to mythologize himself, it's Dabbs, and that's precisely what he did. "I decided to twist things around a bit," says Dabbs. Convincing Spin of his fabricated tale of Dutch funk fans, he says, "took much coaxing," but he persisted, and eventually won out.

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail them to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

About The Author

Mark Athitakis


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