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Riff Raff 

Singing a New Tune, What's in a Name?, Back in Business, and Spin Control

Wednesday, Sep 22 1999
Singing a New Tune In its elegant simplicity, the San Francisco Song Cycle has been one of the most appealing live performance concepts in the area. The setup is straightforward enough: Gather a bunch of like-minded musicians, mostly folkies, and let them trade off songs, tell stories, and generally have a good time in a loose, creative environment. In a city with a distinct lack of back porches, it's the closest thing we have to a hootenanny. Or, rather, had. The Song Cycle is currently on hiatus after nearly three years of showcasing local acts like Shelly Doty, Jim Campilongo, Mare Winningham, Chuck Prophet, and the always-sensitive Box Set Acoustic Duo. (Samples of the live performances were released last year on a double CD.) SFSC creator and organizer Tom Erikson has been busy working out of town as a professional photographer, though he says he's been gearing up to relaunch the Cycle once he amasses the time and financial wherewithal to do it again. First on his list of plans is a tribute to the late country-folk songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

The SFSC has never been a locals-only affair; indeed, it thrived on the creative ferment of artists from far-flung places contributing new ideas. A number of the participating foreigners hailed from the Mekons, the Chicago-based (via England) art collective and rock 'n' roll theorists: Singers Sally Timms and Jon Langford, as well as accordion player Rico Bell, have all done stints for the SFSC, including a good-humored appearance at the Hotel Utah last winter, where Langford and Bell traded whisky tales and off-colored jokes. But since last week, we can stop referring to Bell as a foreigner -- he's moved to town. As he explained over the phone from his native Leeds, England, a relationship is the main reason for Bell's move. He's settling into a place downtown on scenic Turk Street, where he can concentrate on his own music (his second solo album, Dark Side of the Mersey, was recently released) and art (he's an accomplished painter who's contributed to The New Yorker). "I always find the U.S. as more positive," he says. "People have more respect, and in San Francisco there's no snow." True. Bell heads out soon to the Northwest for a handful of shows, and then back to England again to begin work on a new Mekons album, but before that, he introduces himself to the locals on Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St. (at Mission); call 415-647-2877.

What's in a Name? The folks who run Dogpatch-based APG Records, which launched in May, would like to talk about their flagship band, Come, Lily. Really, they would. But APG President Dana Labrecque is being coy -- on purpose. Come, Lily, a funk-folk-soul hybrid act, has local roots, but the actual membership of the group is veiled in secrecy, though Labrecque strongly implies that one or two of its members have widespread name recognition and are at least semistars in the world of altrock and jazz. The folks who run APG do have the industry connections to suggest that this is more than just another PR-happy put-on: Labrecque spent 15 years as a major label producer and live sound engineer for the likes of Swervedriver and Medicine; producer and writer Jerry Stucker worked with Holland-Dozier-Holland; producer Matt Boudreau has played with the Sextants and Seven Day Diary; and studio owner Buddy Saleman has worked with a number of successful Bay Area a cappella acts, including Fremont-based KAI, which scored a hit last year with "Say You'll Stay," and the House Jacks. In the case of Come, Lily, Labrecque says member Patch Benni (a pseudonym) created a handful of tracks, including a quiet-storm take on Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women 12 & 35," and then collaborated with seven other musicians through the Internet, e-mailing overdubs back and forth; an EP was recently released and a full-length album is slated for release in October.

"The [APG Records] studio is an integral part of the label," says Labrecque. "It's not unlike early Motown." Future releases include House Jack Austin Willacy's debut solo album, set for release in January.

Back in Business In today's club environment, even a little success counts for something, so it's no small thing to point out that Amnesia, the Mission bar that rose out of the ashes of the late, financially beleaguered Chameleon, was recently granted a cabaret license -- which means live music. Manager J.J. Jenkins, formerly of the Rooster, expresses a bit of shock at the turn of events, though he's not complaining. "We're basically lucky to be open," he says. Instead of the Chameleon's general emphasis on the punkier end of local music, Jenkins promises a more open-ended approach on nights featuring live bands (Monday through Friday for now), including an "across the board" slate of DJs, cowpunk, romantic pop, and just about anything else. Mutual Benefit Life, featuring members of Broun Fellinis and Storm & Her Dirty Mouth, starts an every-other-Friday residency on Sept. 24.

Spin Control Contrary to what some of the local promotional materials floating around town have been saying, the Maritime Hall is not hosting the world finals of the San Francisco-based International Turntablist Federation DJ competition on Sept. 26; it's hosting the U.S. finals, and what with England, Germany, the Netherlands, and, hell, even Canada fielding competitive DJs these days, that's an important distinction to make (the world finals are in Hawaii in November). Call the Maritime Hall at 974-6644 for more information.

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

About The Author

Mark Athitakis


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