Welcome back to the Boulevard Ear, a regular feature on The Bay Bridged, where our man about town examines a community’s live music offerings over the course of one evening. What is it like to be a show-goer whose experiences are dictated entirely by location? Follow Todd as he explores Bay Area music venues by neighborhood, finding a variety of independent music along the way.
The Boulevard Ear ~ Day Gig
In our free and democratic society, there comes a time when every young person faces a choice: give up a life of art and start logging 40 hours a week, or keep pursuing the dream, supplemented with the day gig.
But there is a third way, one that possibly represents the pinnacle of our hopes for freedom and fulfillment: get a day job that supports and/or involves your art. Living an artful life is, in the final tally, remarkably similar to being an artist – indistinguishable if one is lucky.
Let us endeavor to remember, then, that among the faces behind the counter at the record shops, discotheques, and instrument rental outlets, are some of our finest rising musicians. Our hometown, despite a somewhat deserved reputation for being prohibitively expensive for artists, still draws the talented and passionate like a tractor beam, and these street level muses must eat. We believe it was Willy Wonka who said, “We are the music makers. And we are the dreamers of dreams.”
An example from our wanderings: Zachary Blizzard, Travis Woodland and Josh Kane, from the band Cannons and Clouds, can be found before sundown at Exploring Music on Clement Street, renting violins to grade schoolers, juggling lesson rooms for music tutors and, to the odd neighborhood rocker, dispensing expert advice on guitars and amplifiers.
And taking out the trash.
Strumming one of Exploring Music’s Chinese stringed instruments during a quiet moment, Zack offers his insider’s advice on the cultural options here in the packed Clement corridor.
Where, for example, does the hungry yet indigent clerk seek lunch?
“Spices,” Blizzard states without hesitation. “Number one or two.”
“Thai Time is good,” offers drummer Steven Medd.
“What I like about them,” Blizzard elaborates, “is that they have duck curry on the menu. Most places will substitute, but at Thai Time, you don’t even have to ask.”
“Good Luck Dim Sum,” Steven opines. But, we demur, aren’t the famous long lines the enemy of the 30-minute break?
“I know when to go,” he assures.
And the best watering hole? Blizzard declares another immediate favorite. But a few minutes later, he has doubts.
“Maybe you shouldn’t print that,” he says. “We may not want the word to get out. It’s never crowded. There’s always a seat at the bar. Always!”
“We watched the final game of the world series there,” Woodland adds, “and there were, like, 15 people there.”
“There were still seats at the bar,” Blizzard says.
(hint – it’s not on Clement, but instead about a quarter mile southwest).
Marc Duste, who first alerted us to Cannons and Clouds, cycles by. Marc has pulled off the freedom and democracy hat trick: after many years as a nurse, he has retired to the day gig of restoring vintage guitars and amplifier cabinets. It was, in fact, while he was upgrading our gold candy-flaked mid-60’s electric Supro that he first mentioned the band.
Before we part ways, the Cannons and Clouds crew weigh in on Clement Street’s live music venues. Again, their prefernces are not ambiguous.
“Plough and the Stars – Irish music every night.”
However, as evening falls, we will not, as is our custom, be verifying their recommendation. For Cannons and Clouds are headlining at the Rickshaw with their friends The Family Crest. What more thrilling way to pay tribute to the day gigging trouadour? A bridge from the neighbhorhood to the stage.
We are heartened to find a sizable all-ages crowd on hand early. Marc and his daughter Emma are there, as is Michael Winger, who produced CnC’s latest full-length album, After All. Speaking of day gigs, Mike whiles away the work day under the guise of Executive Director of the SF Chapter of the Recording Acadmeny of America! Yes, that is the Grammy people.
Openers Garage Voice from Seattle are touring with a hulking antique wood organ, complete with bass pedals and Leslie cabinet. Their pairing of swampy, driving rock and spiritual lyrics works to great effect, calling to mind similiar souls like Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes and The Mercy Seat. They set the evening’s tone of goodwill and inclusiveness with sincere paeans to our city.
We would love to devote our full column space to the Family Crest. Suffice to say that they are a group of chamber musicians (day gigs) who moonlight as a high energy, 9+-piece baroque pop group. They take their earnest, anthemic cue from The Arcade Fire, but the presence of so many string and wind instruments and the talents of frontman Liam McCormick put them on a unique frequency. When, 3 or so songs into their set, they reveal a horn section in the balcony above the dance floor, they pretty much have everyone eating out of their hands.
They declare during their set that they intend to play live, if even in someone’s living room, every night in September. That gives you plenty of chances.
We will have to let the picutres try to convey the impression of Cannons and Clouds’ front line – our protagonists, Travis and Zack, emoting and thrashing on either flank of ice cool harp goddess Brittany Gale. Again – unique, even taking Joanna Newsom into account. Like the Family Crest, Cannons and Clouds are in the business of unironically unburdening their souls, with Blizzard the main voice, and quite a strong one. The depth of their instrumentation, their proggy balance of jazzy and bombastic and, most of all, their roof-blasting harmonies leave them more than up to the job.
As the sun sets on the following day, we turn ourselves out into the rosy fog. Is it possible that we invited The Family Crest to play in our apartment?
Marc Duste is busy in his workshop just off California St. At present he is recreating a Rickenbacker “light show,” a rare model with a translucent scratch plate and colored light bulbs beneath. A massive Ampeg cabinet is taking up his time (and space) as well. We discuss the pros and cons of Poplar and where to find replica celluloid checkerboard binding online before he must rescue a steak from the grill.
This was a wide wandering, we muse, resolving to collect no more research for the weekend.
Cannons and Clouds play the Bay Bridged’s Rock Make Street festival September 17th.
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