Welcome back to the Boulevard Ear, a regular feature on The Bay Bridged, where our man about town examines a communityâ€™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 ~ All About Michael McIntosh
The shadows grow long over the lawn at Park Chalet, the lower back half of the historic Beach Chalet on the Great Highway. The band has packed up and gone. The first wave of evening diners – showered, tidy in their khakis and black linen shirts – are tucking in napkins on the patio. But the afternoon revelers cannot bring themselves to go home. They linger over pints on the Adirondack chairs, or with bottles of white wine in the surrounding shrubbery.
It is magic hour in the Sunset, on one of those rare days when the last 10 blocks of the western continental United States are the most comfortable place to be in the entire Bay Area. The fates who conjure up high barometric pressure have granted us a stay, perhaps to repay us for those three extra months of spring rain.
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A Sunday evening in the Sunset turns out to be a strange proposition on a day such as this, when that last bottle of wine or pint of beer is all it takes to convince you that such a glorious day need never end. Mollusk Surf Shop, Outerlands, General Store, Trouble Coffee — landmarks of the neighborhood’s revival — are shuttered. (One should put in a word for Mollusk, however – besides winning best surf shop/art gallery honors by a mile, they also host the occasional live set from, say, Sonny and the Sunsets).
Java Beach is one of the few exceptions. Its scenic proximity to the beach at the streetcar terminus, and its menu of beer and coffee, make it a magnet for early evening action.
Joseph Liston has installed himself, his Takamine acoustic, and his dictionary-sized song book in a sunny corner by the window. At first he seems determined to hew to the canon of sixties classics – Mr. Tambourine Man – for example. Happily, he takes his elastic multi-octave voice off script with Fred Neil’s “The Other Side of This Life” and a genuinely moving reading of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.” The regulars know Joseph. They sing along, cheer and chat at him all at once.
The Pizza Place on Noriega is also alive with action. One can often find live music on the patio in the afternoon. But the hour of eight has come and gone. The main event beckons.
After a criminally extra-cheesed cheese slice at Brother’s pizza (outside where we came across this custom ‘cycle), we are ready to stop in at the historic Riptide to see what could be described, without (m)any accusations of hyperbole, as one of the best jazz bands in the world – The Cottontails.
Here you see an in-the-know patron on her way into the bar with a brother’s take out package in hand. Perhaps she has followed the advice of Cottontail’s singer Karina Denike and ordered some of their Indian food.
The Riptide has occupied the lower end of Taraval, one of many isolated little commercial strips in the avenues, since the 1940’s. Most weeknights feature dj’s, bingo, surf films or open mic. Thursday through Saturday could see anyone from local bluegrass aces Dark Hollow to The Sadies. And every third Sunday of the month, The Cottontails hold court from 7-10, give or take.
The Cottontails are the freewheeling, day-off super-group of several very busy local music titans: Michael Groh and Ralph Carney from Gaucho; Singer/songwriter Denike, also of The Bluebells; Daniel Fabricant on bass; Randy Odell on percussion; and a pianist whose talents and accomplishments can hardly be captured by the written word, Michael McIntosh.
Carney was part of the 70’s Ohio art-rock band Tin Huey, and toured with Tom Waits for many years. That boiled-down resume, however intriguing, does not convey his command, artistry and exuberance on virtually every wind instrument extant. He, along with all the male Cottontails, delights in singing along at regular intervals. It is impossible not to enjoy oneself when he performs.
Groh, who plays lightning fast runs on a gypsy-style acoustic in Gaucho, prizes his Cottontails gig for the chance to peel out his electric Gibson and channel T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown.
A snapshot of the Cottontails magic: in between sets, we chat with Michael Groh about our fondness for the late 1930’s Duke Ellington orchestra featuring Ben Webster. Not 20 minutes later they take the stage for a reading of the Ellington’s hit “Jeep’s Blues,” that, we daresay, would have made every member of that legendary band proud.
But our spotlight falls this month upon pianist and bandleader McIntosh. Scion of a San Francisco music family, and one of at least three fathers playing here on father’s day, McIntosh has contributed to the bedrock of our fertile musical community in ways too numerous to count, too weighty to measure. His solos can evoke everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to Herbie Hancock, and he is known to pound out liturgical music on the pump organ in his spare time. He epitomizes the pluck and spirit of The Cottontails – dogged, versatile, virtuosic; a light-fingered role player where called for, but a spine tingling soloist when he chooses.