The Boulevard Ear

Welcome to the Boulevard Ear, a new 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. This first installment took place on February 11, 2011.

The Boulevard Ear ~ 2/11/2011: In the Nethers

Although we malign the tourists and the so-called bridge and tunnel crowd, they remind us how very fortunate we are to reside here in the heart of the city. We, the envy of dreamers across the globe, roam the corners of the jewel box nightly, if not plundering its myriad gifts, then at least gazing to our hearts’ content into the prismatic shimmering of its infinite gilded surfaces.

Wild Wild West - by Todd Wanerman

Our earliest visit to The Wild Side West on Cortland in what is now (too) quaintly referred to as “The Village,” took place in our tender years (we shant say how tender nor how long ago, although no one from that era is still in a position of responsibility). Back then, Bernal Heights was little more than the clapboard nethers of the city center.

Wild Wild West - by Todd Wanerman

Nevertheless, we were taken aback even then how the place evoked the San Francisco of the late Summer of Love, which, we regret to admit, we remember firsthand. We reckoned that its classic lustre – low, red light and dusty bric a brac – was unchanged since the hippie days. Although the current brain trust keeps it scrubbed and tidy, it still gives the all too rare thrill of an unchanged relic.

One of our favorite rising local acts, P’s n Q’s are holding court in between the billiard table and the old iron fireplace. Guitarist Audrey Howard is flanked by Janice Hurley and Brie McFarland, who rotate through the instrumentation of half a dozen or so bands: fiddle, banjo, accordion, harmonica, upright bass, ukulele, kazoo. (Ms. Howard also plays the hood of the fireplace with the pokers for the otherwise a capella “Right Shoes”).

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Their template is early string band country, but each of them writes songs that filter traditional forms through the lens of contemporary musical and personal themes. Their writing styles and signing are distinct yet complimentary: they tend to reflect on love, loss and drinking.

The P’s n Q’s – “Grant’s Asylum”

What puts them over the top, aside from really terrific material, is the way their three unique voices stack up together: Hurley’s plaintive, low alto, McFarland’s laid back, soulful middle, and Howard’s natural high harmony. The clean, bright augmented chords on Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” fills the room with the spirits of the Wild Side past. And then they bring the house down with Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up.”

After a most diverting interlude on the Wild Side’s patio, and the petering out of a planned sing along of “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” it is time to drift through the balmy February air towards new vistas.

Zante - by Todd Wanerman

Who has not happily availed themselves of Zante Pizza and Indian food on such a late night as this? The atmosphere is a little tense, but they expertly outfit us with slices of vegetarian indian pie to fortify our second heat. Highly recommended.

Liveliness and good cheer are the key words at The Knockout, where our dear friends The She’s are headlining a robust evening of extremely palatable pop bands. As we wrap ourselves around the contours of a welcome Racer 5, Riverside’s Summer Twins are wrapping up a most satisfactory set of 12-bar blues-based guitar tunes heavy on the light dynamics.

Summer Twins - by Todd Wanerman

It was our great good fortune to catch a word with fleet-handed drummer Justine, who recommended this tune for your perusal.

Summer Twins – “The Good Things”

The ample crowd makes conversation challenging, so we may have misheard the many reports of a Hammond organ and Saxophone across the street at Royal Cuckoo.

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What we find instead is perhaps more intriguing: A card catalogue LP jukebox. Patrons write down the code for songs or album sides and pass them, with payment, to the DJ, who spins them on a vintage turntable. Tasty.

The Love Dimension rounds out the openers back at the Knockout. They, too have knack for a very rewarding variety of unironic, earnest pop a la Best Coast et al, a movement of which our headliners have also availed themselves.

We have reported on The She’s in these (web) pages on several occasions, so of this night let us say primarily this: you can scratch “teen” off in front of “band.” This is one of the best bands in town, period. Their songwriting, their vocal arrangements, their tight playing and their polished yet completely unspoiled, cheery stage presence put them head and shoulders above volumes of their drinking-age peers.

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When singer Hannah Valente turns bassist Sami Perez’ left-handed bass upside down to accompany Ms. Perez as she signs The Ronettes “Be My Baby,” in honor of St. Valentine, while drummer Sinclair Riley, celebrating her 16th birthday, powers the tune along looking like she’d rather be sending a text, one knows one is watching a very special band. Catch them at the Make Out Room on February 18th.

We slip out as Sunday concludes its first hour. Police are assisting clubgoers to their cars. One learns, in this volatile business of playing the bon vivant, when to draw the curtain on an unparalleled round of gadding and reflect upon one’s good fortune in the comfort of old, familiar slippers.