The Boulevard Ear

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 ~ Of Bohemians and Bon Vivants

While the widespread indignation over gentrification and economic pressure on local artists may be somewhat overwrought (since there is such a lively music scene going on after all), who among us would question that making a life of music here has become ever more challenging? Are we nostalgic, or was the local music community once more rife with veterans of five, ten, fifteen or more years tenure, faithfully plying their trade in a network of small, fraternal venues?

It is thus the sincere aim of the Bon Vivant – who, distinct from the committed Bohemian, has stable sources of capital and only visits the demi-monde – to devote our humble pulpit to heralding the music makers and inform you of their nature and achievements.

And we will presently address this, but let us not to haste. We are not poised to hear the troubadours until we survey leisurely the firmament of which they sing. This is, in modern parlance, how we roll.

Despite the oddly-distressing summer-like behavior of winter in our city, we find ourselves drawn to casks of hot sake at Wakarabune on Church Street, where a lively slice of humanity is gearing up. At these floating sushi smorgies, we make it a habit to drink, converse, and watch the chefs. In short order, this strategy yields oysters just moments removed from the shucking knife. Quite satisfactory.

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Peeking in only briefly at Lucky 13, we arrive at the site of tonight’s research – Cafe Du Nord. Here we catch up with our above-mentioned local institution, Ray Wilcox, whose hard funk outfit, !Tang, is playing a reunion.

Ray broke on the scene here in the 1990s with his multi-member art-funk hip-hop project Zircus, which featured a horn section, fiddle player, and Ray on drums and vocals. Zircus inspired zealous fealty and a resume of almost-made-it tales (rumored to involve Bono and Johnny Depp at various points) befitting a true original operating a generation ahead of their time.

!Tang followed Zircus – more focused and traditional, but very much in the same spirit – and doing some of the same material. The Latrells were a hip hop/garage trio. As with !Tang, an alert Ray fan will encounter the occasional Latrells reunion.

Blessed (and/or cursed) with numbingly broad tastes, and maddeningly deep talent (a bandmate once said of him, “the only reason to play in a band with Ray is that he can’t play all the instruments at once”), Ray has, in the past five years alone, also been involved with: Buckhorn Rex, a traditional jazz band (as vocalist); Private Idaho, a B-52’s cover band; his whatever-we-want trio Slinky Buscadero; guitar, keyboards, bass and vocals with The Fibs, an alt-country 6-piece; traditional string band The Harkenbacks (drummer); and a hard-to-qualify outfit called Staple Gun. We have likely missed a few.

And did we mention his extensive track record of producing and promoting his fabled Rock Camp at the Jewish Community Center, cradle of some of our hottest current acts? His record label, Pacific Soul?

Ray’s elastic, honeyed baritone can slide subtly from a Barry White croon to a cresting Otis Redding plea in one stanza. As bandmaster to the chops-mad assemblage here tonight, he suggests a modern day Johnny Otis, an organization unto himself – from roadie to front man. It is in some ways a shame to miss his light touch on the Telecaster, or his elegant keyboards. But it is, on the other hand, testament to his powers that Ray on a stool delivering just his vocals makes for a memorable evening.