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Friday, September 19, 2014

Cure For Pain: Local Musicians Unite To Help A Friend Fight Cancer

Posted By on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 12:11 PM

This Sunday at the Bottom of the Hill, a muscular line-up of four bruising heavy-rock outfits will be taking the stage to help a fellow musician and artist in his fight against cancer.

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It’s no news that foul disease is a scourge of humanity; a child killer, friend stealer and all-around bastard that has touched a majority of people on the planet in its many malevolent forms. The Bay Area music scene has suffered a number casualties from cancer in recent years including world-music composer and DJ Cheb i Sabbah, local promoter and band manager Steve Broadsky and S.F. punk pioneer and member of the Nuns Jennifer “Miro” Anderson.

But from adversity comes strength. Helping those suffering from cancer has also become a focal point for community building and support among local musicians, with bands regularly rallying to raise funds at benefits for SF studio owner and producer Tom Mallon, bassist for the legendary East Bay punk band Filth Mike Montano and the young son of local punk veteran Doug “Sluggo” Cawley of The Grannies.

Oakland resident Garth Petal has made a name for himself as an actor in San Francisco theater over the past two decades, but local many friends (myself included) first met him when he was playing drums for East Bay scene fixture The Smokin’ Rhythm Prawns during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when the band shared stages with the likes of fIREHOSE, Green Day, Primus and Mr. Bungle. 
Earlier this year, Petal was diagnosed with stage IV Lymphoma and Leukemia that had moved into his bone marrow. An aggressive schedule of chemotherapy in the months that followed put the disease in check, but the debilitating side effects of the treatments left the single father physically compromised and unable to work.

When word spread about Petal’s condition, it didn’t take long for a call to go out to bands that had played with the Prawns and Bay Area musicians in general to lend a hand. Marc Malakie – who met Petal over 20 years ago while managing then rising Sacramento band Kai Kln – organized two upcoming benefit shows at the Bottom of the Hill including an early evening show this Sunday. (Full disclosure: I also had a hand in prodding a couple of the bands into reuniting and will be DJing both gigs).

“After learning what Garth was up against almost a month to the day after my own brother passed away, I just kind of went into help mode,” explained Malakie in an email. “I’d arranged several charitable events in the past, so putting together something like this for my old friend just seemed right. It is right.”
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In addition to starting a GoFundMe campaign, he set about recruiting a line-up for the two benefit concerts after getting the go-ahead from Bottom of the Hill booker and co-owner Ramona Downey. “Ramona was kind enough to generously offer her venue to host the benefits, and we're extremely grateful to her and everyone at the club,” said Malakie. “She has a direct connection to Garth as well, ‘cause we're all from the same old days of live music in SF. We all go way, way back.”

Sunday’s show features reunited headliners Walrus with Petal’s old Smokin’ Rhythm Prawns bandmate Andy Liotta once again joining forces with guitarist Christian Riley and drummer Joaquin Spengemann (who had toured with the Prawns in their Berkeley thrash-funk era group Blüchunks) to play only their third gig in the last 16 years. Echoing Soundgarden’s punk-tinged update of the Zeppelin/Sabbath template with a mix of Helmet’s precision fury and Beatlesesque melody, Walrus struck a deep enough chord with heavy music fans during their ‘90s heyday to draw a packed house to Thee Parkside last summer despite their long dormancy. Though he currently lives with his family in Seattle, Liotta quickly got on board to join the benefit.

Riley will be pulling double duty on Sunday, playing a second set with his current band, the high-octane quartet Brubaker that includes fellow veterans Gene Smith (guitar/vocals) and Neil Franklin (drums) from the aforementioned Kai Kln and Victims Family bassist Larry Boothroyd. The bill is filled out by popular local psych/punk heroes Hot Lunch and a special one-off Rory Gallagher tribute band led by Earthless and Golden Void guitarist Isaiah Mitchell. The spontaneous nature of the guitarist's offer to participate struck a poignant note with Malakie during the process of putting the shows together.

“I’d met him outside the Independent this summer after Golden Void had played. We were just chatting for like five minutes and the subject of this benefit came up and he straight away said he'd like to be a part of it,” remembered Malakie. “I mean, he doesn't even know Garth and had only met me once before. Yet the first thing he said was ‘Fuck yeah, I’m in!’ How cool is that?”

The second Garth Petal cancer benefit scheduled for Saturday, October 11, will amp up the reunion factor even further when Berkeley party favorites Blüchunks play their first show in over two decades alongside reconvened Victims Family offshoot Hellworms, Kai Kln and DJ selections from local punk luminary and avowed vinyl junkie Jello Biafra.
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Dave Pehling

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