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Friday, October 22, 2010

It Takes a Village To Plan a Crazy Velvet Underground Cover Show

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 9:51 AM

Think you know the players of the Bay Area music scene? Well, you can test your chops next Tuesday at Coda Jazz Music Supper Club, when a positively ridiculous number of them join forces to pay tribute to the 1967 classic The Velvet Underground and Nico. In album order, each song will be gang-interpreted -- "covered" doesn't seem to do it justice -- by a rotating quorum of local musicians and ensembles, a joyous intermingling of diverse talents.

So over dinner or drinks -- depending on whether you catch the early show or the late show -- you can hear about heroin from The Blank Tapes on "I'm Waiting for the Man" (or from Mark Matos & Os Beaches on, um, "Heroin"), and about BDSM from Sarah Palmer and the Oakland bass clarinet quartet Edmund Welles on "Venus in Furs." You can hear the sneering, cacophonous renunciation of worldly dandyism from Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind on the album closer, "European Son." And you can witness a totally bitchin' cameo from All Shook Down's very own fearless leader Ian S. Port!

"We're doing an album that a lot of people thought would be cool, which gives it a cool continuity even though it's totally disjointed and eclectic at the same time," explains Adam Theis, ringleader and trombonist/bassist of Mission stalwarts The Jazz Mafia, who have signed on to play "All Tomorrow's Parties" with a special guest -- I can't tell you who she is, only that I'm still a little residually in love with her from middle school. "This isn't our music, so we can take a lot of liberties."

  • SF Weekly music editor Ian S. Port

The impetus for the evening is the success a number of local musicians have had playing around town with Classical Revolution, a collective of artists, most of them classically trained, who share a jones for the intimate and lively nature of the rock 'n roll scene. Tuesday's show is slated to be the first installment in a quarterly cover series called UnderCover, with aspirations to move to larger venues and attack other beloved albums -- Pet Sounds, anyone? Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars?

Still, as a debut for the series, The Velvet Underground and Nico is curiously appropriate: though it's very much an icon of 1967 New York, it also reflects the influence of a loosely confederated local art scene whose moving parts converged in the right place at the right time. "It's this underground thing that's really special, that the general public doesn't really know is there," says Theis. "It's this magical trip that will probably end when the scene blows up and gets really big."

Until then, though, there's music to be made. "If we do it right, all of the people who are involved will want to be involved again in some capacity, and a lot of other people will come out of the woodwork and want to be a part of it," Theis says. "I think it could be a cool way to get momentum going for this scene happening in the city that not a lot of people know about. I'm as excited to see it as everybody else -- it's gonna be a wild ride."

Below, Classical Revolution founder Charith Premawardhana explains how happenstance, hard work and good community karma led him to plan the evening. (He's arguably Andy Warhol to modern-day San Francisco's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, except he'll be playing on almost all of the songs on Tuesday. "I'm basically John Cale for the show," he says.)

The conversation began one night at the end of September when I ran into Adam Theis at the Latin American Club. He ordered a beer and I got a Maker's neat and we discussed the recent Classical Revolution show we had just collaborated on at Coda Supper Club, the first of a three-month residency there.

At first I had been very apprehensive about accepting the residency, because September was a really crazy month -- 19 Classical Rev shows in 13 different venues -- and I didn't want to put on a show that would fall flat. I found myself a week away from the show with nothing planned -- so I reached out to two people I thought could help me out: Adam Theis and Rupa Marya. They both agreed to play the show, saving my neck! They both brought their fans out for the show and everybody had a good time.

So Adam and I were drinking at the Latin and started talking about what to do for the next show. I mentioned the idea of bringing a bunch of different bands together and doing a tribute show to a classic album, something I had thought about back in college, when I imagined one day doing a cover version of The Wall in its entirety. We agreed that album would be way too much of an undertaking in one month -- but I sold Adam on the idea. We talked about possibly doing a Beatles album, or The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds... but left it inconclusive.

I went home and commenced on some late-night bookkeeping for Classical Rev, and at about 3 a.m. I received a G-chat from Lyz Luke. I threw her the idea of doing a live album, and the first thing she suggested was The Velvet Underground & Nico. We spent the next few early hours of the morning listening to each song and hashing out some preliminary thoughts, over cyberspace, about who we'd like to invite to perform on the bill.

So around 9 a.m. I finished the accounting, canceled an 11 a.m. quartet rehearsal, and went out to  get some tea and spend some outdoors time at Revolution Cafe. There I ran into Joe Lewis, who four years ago, during his stint as manager of The Rev, had asked me to put together the classical night that spawned into Classical Rev. I told Joe about the Velvet Underground idea and he was floored and jumped on board. We went back to his new apartment on Valencia, sat on his bare floor and had a brainstorming session, writing down our ideal lineup while listening to the album. For most songs, he or I or both of us had immediate ideas of who we know who'd fit perfectly based on voice type or instrumental style. Right away we started calling these musicians, who were all personal friends of ours. Within a day or two we had verbal confirmation from nearly everyone on our wish list.

We all knew this was not going to be an easy project to pull off, but everyone was down to share in the responsibility, in the spirit of coming together for a really cool community collaboration.

It just so happened that many of the artists we picked had had records released recently by Porto Franco Records, a local label that specializes in recording music by Bay Area-based bands. I ran into co-founder Peter Varshavsky at Kaleidoscope Free Speech Zone on 24th and Folsom and pitched him them the idea of recording the show for a live album release. A couple days later, after a weekend gig up in Sacramento, I was sitting at the Porto Franco office with Peter discussing contract terms.

The record contract gives each band a small rehearsal budget upfront to work with, which sweetened the deal for the musicians involved. Everyone was already down to do it for the love of doing it, but by adding live recording to the mix it stepped up everyone's game. So at this point we have the lineups down and the plan is in motion. Now it's crunch time and everybody's super motivated to put a great product out there, and we're getting excited about putting on a great show!

For a more detailed breakdown on the show and its plethora of performers, click here. For tickets, click here.

Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown and @dlb

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Daniel Levin Becker


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