February 12, 2003

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Local Grooves

Kung Fu USA
Neversign (self-released)

Neversign is the most radio-friendly collection of grunge pop genius this side of the last Harvey Danger record. Huh? Harvey Danger? Yeah, I don't get it either. Actually, when drummer Jennifer Shagawat sings, they sound like Lovechild meets the Go-Go's, and when guitarist Shel Driver sings, they come off like Devo with loud guitars. But it's grunge rock, I swear. The record is a perfect re-creation of early-'90s radio fare, although better than the angst crap all of those bands put out. In fact, I hate every band mentioned in this review (except Devo and the Go-Go's), so you would think I hate Kung Fu USA's music also, but not so. True, the first song always makes me think, "What the hell is going on here?" but then they really nail it, and all of a sudden there's this song I want to hear over and over again, and I'm singing along, and I'm even wearing a flannel shirt! Holy shit! What time's the fIREHOSE show at, bro? No, but each song is recorded with this fat guitar distortion, like they played directly into a four-track, the cover of the CD is a collage of major-label logos, and even the Neversign title is wavy just like the Nirvana record. It's a good joke, made better by the way the songs hearken back to grunge without apology. Kung Fu USA play a form of music that's only 10 to 12 years old, yet they seem like they're more out of it than bands playing '60s mod shit, which is 30 years old or whatever. If you ask me, this makes them cooler than your band. The best part is, Kung Fu USA don't give two shits about what they're supposed to be playing; they just want to play. Kung Fu USA perform Thurs/13, Studio Z, S.F. (415) 252-7666. (Mike McGuirk)

Virgil Shaw
Still Falling (Future Farmer)

You'd think that, as a fixture in the Bay Area music scene since the early '90s, Virgil Shaw would feel right at home by now. Not so. The San Francisco visual artist, carpenter, and singer-songwriter recently told me he identifies more with the homeless people he sees hauling shopping carts near his Market Street digs than with established old-timers round town. He put rootlessness at the core of Still Falling, his second album for Future Farmer. Aided by former Dieselhed compadres Atom Ellis and Danny Heifetz, as well as Grandfaloon Bus member Jeff Palmer, Mark Eitzel, Eitzel player Marc Capelle, and Sonic Youth collaborator William Winant, Shaw makes a virtue of shambling arrangements that wobble out of country-rock and tumble into the realm of music hall, film scores, and quirk-filled folk. The end result is effortless and lazily pleasurable. Shaw's voice goes a long way in overcoming any resistance, delivering lyrics with a distinctive combination of laid-back resignation and spitfire passion. By the album's finale, you hope this beautiful loser of a CD doesn't end up forgotten like so many other unclassifiable and imaginative projects by local singer-songwriters. Virgil Shaw plays Thurs/13, Make-Out Room, S.F. (415) 647-2888. (Kimberly Chun)