Meeting up for an interview anywhere in the Haight in the middle of a Sunday afternoon is a bit of a dodgy prospect. With every easily distracted tourist and bumbling acid casualty in the city making random zigzags through the neighborhood, finding a clear path on the sidewalk is enough of a challenge, never mind finding a quiet place to talk. But there I am, in a booth at Magnolia's, with the three songwriters of the Dilettantes, chatting away over beers without so much as a glance in the direction of all the scattershot energy reigning outside. Lesson? Miracles do happen, even in the Haight.
I'm mentioning the neighborhood because the Dilettantes identify so closely with it. Not only do most of the band members work and spend time here, but they also draw deeply from the Haight's '60s musical legacy. Sure, their music is filtered through four decades' worth of post-psychedelic comedown, but the songs of Joel Gion, Jefferson Parker, and Brock Galland - accompanied by drummer KC Kozak and bassist Nick Marcantonio - follow the arcs and whirls of artists from that era, particularly their constant reference point: love.
Still, this is 2007, and San Francisco has changed. When I ask how the Haight inspires the group's songwriting, Galland immediately says, "Well, the fumes that come off the sidewalk, definitely." Listening to the advance copy of their forthcoming album, 101 Tambourines (Stranger Touch), I see what he means - those flower power daisies have been glazed with curious oozing substances, as evidenced in their gritty garage pop. There's a welcome sheen of grease to Galland's clamorous "Kiss and Run," while Parker's "Don't You Ever Fall" parades with a slightly woozy majesty worthy of these streets. Gion's "The Whole World" might jangle in Byrds-y formations, but it's his unruffled Go Betweens-meet-Lou Reed delivery that attests that the times indeed have changed since the Summer of Love.
Perhaps these descriptions remind you of another band with whom Gion was associated: the tumultuous Brian Jonestown Massacre, led by the notoriously headstrong Anton Newcombe. Certainly both groups share sonic similarities, but Gion enthusiastically points out a major difference: "Jonestown was the singular vision of just one guy, while the Dilettantes are a completely collaborative, cooperative effort. Really, it's a mutual appreciation society we have here. It's great!"
Of course, that's already obvious to me - I can see it in the brotherly ease with which they finish each other's sentences. Parker sums it up: "One of the best things about being in the Dilettantes is that we've all helped each other grow as songwriters. We keep joking about re-creating one of those famous Brian Jonestown Massacre fights at the end of our shows, but really we just like and respect each other too much to ever do that." (Todd Lavoie)
With the Dilettantes and Persephone's Bees
May 18, 9 p.m., $15
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF