Last Wednesday, May 18th, marked the 30th anniversary of the untimely suicide of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Tortured by depression, a seizure disorder, a broken marriage and pressures of work, Ian hung himself in his kitchen just 2 days before the band’s first US tour and 2 months before his 24th birthday. Joy Division formed in 1978 shortly after Ian saw the Sex Pistols perform. Of note, the opening band that night, making their debut . . . the BUZZCOCKS. Don’t miss them at Oakland’s Uptown on Friday June 4th! All this history is beautifully captured in the 2007 film Control. But I digress . . .

Carletta Sue Kay

The evening began with Carletta Sue Kay, who took the stage in a lovely blue skirt and burst into a song that rhymed something like “Golden Gate bridge is art” with “city of broken hearts.”  The same song suggests gauging out the eyes of the Mona Lisa; great stuff! The powerful vocals and cello created a Queen-style opera vibe, but the group also has an unmistakable Joy Division soul. They closed the brief 30 minute set with the first Joy Division song of the night, “She’s Lost Control,” followed by their own song aptly named “Joy Division.” There is a video on their MySpace page of this song performed at SxSW 2010 (at Scoots, I believe), but better yet, check ’em out at the Eagle June 24th featuring a rare reunion show from Pepperspray. This is touted to be THE (unofficial) kick off event for the annual SF Pride fest and parade.

Stoo Odom of GBD

Winston Tong

The Graves Brothers Deluxe took the stage next and opened with “Atrocity Exhibition,” beautifully stripped down to upright bass, drums and soprano sax. On the scene since 1998 and briefly featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” I’ve somehow missed out on these guys. Singer Stoo Odom hails from New Orleans and it shows. He plays bass (stand-up and electric) upfront and personal, at one point even playing with a guitar slide. The band blends a jazzy Lounge Lizards groove, with hints of Minutemen sensibility and a pinch of Joy Division gloom. This was most notable on the last song they played with its 2 note bass line and monotone vocals. It was during this one that Odom kicked his Tecate off the stage to an appreciative redhead who picked it up, drank it down, crushed it and tossed it back on stage.

The Graves Brothers Deluxe – “I’m Fine”

After a short break, The Graves Brothers returned as the back up band for another mysterious SF hero, Winston Tong. The super group was also joined by local artist LX Rudis, whose electronic sounds have graced many a game on the Atari Lynx. Tong is best known for his involvement with Tuxedomoon, a difficult to classify, experimental group formed in 1977 San Francisco. They played “Soma” from Tuxedomoon’s 1994 album Holy Wars, which puts one of my favorite, timeless books, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” to song. The lounge feeling remained but now graced with moments of early Roxy Music.

Winston Tong – “Comme Les Autres”

The Graves Brothers then left the stage leaving Tong and LX Rudis alone to perform the 3rd JD cover of the night, “Decades.” They also played Tuxedomoon’s “The Stranger,” a funny (but not) story of fitting in (or not). Lyrics include gems like: teeth lost to a beating on the first day of school, poor kickball skills, and wetting of pants, all summed up in the wailing chorus, ‘it isn’t my fault . . . that I’m straaange.’  A befitting tribute to Ian Curtis and his struggle to be Ian Curtis.

Dead Souls

Joy Division tribute band Dead Souls came on around midnight. I must admit some prejudice against cover bands, and I assumed I would skip out early on these guys to avoid a sleepy Thursday, but Dead Souls won me over in the first seconds when their singer came out from the back corner looking exactly like Ian, dancing like Ian and yes, singing like Ian. He really has it down and so does the rest of the band. They tore through most of the hits and drew the small, seated crowd right up front with everyone singing along and slam dancing. The members of this band are clearly devoted fans, but more importantly they are loving every minute of it. They take it very seriously and do it really well. As most of us never had the chance to see Joy Division, this is a real treat. If you are still reading, seek them out. R.I.P. Ian.