February 12, 2003

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Sonic Reducer

By Kimberly Chun


Sticks and Stones

MY FIRST THOUGHT at the Rolling Stones concert in San Jose last week: I can't believe how fresh and seamless Mick Jagger's chest looks in comparison to his, ahem, well-weathered face – he must have had chest work done.

Then again the old torso probably doesn't get quite the same workout that that familiar mug does, gaping, pursing, and screaming, "Because summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street boo-eey!" during the opening "Street Fighting Man" or simply going slack and staring off into middle distance. He was probably shocked at how buttoned-down his thirty- to fiftysomething audience looked nowadays, mildly partying, rocking back and forth on their heels, clutching bags of $75 lips-adorned hoodies and $45 Stones baseball jerseys. But what can he expect? You charge $300 and you get an audience that's well-heeled enough – Steve Jobs was supposedly in the house – or crazed enough to shell out for the privilege of standing by a folding chair for two hours while the Stones went through the motions.

That's not to say there weren't some great moments. You'd have to be a complete dunderpuss to blunt the power of songs like "Honky Tonk Woman," "Brown Sugar," and their sole encore, "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and as the authors, the Stones were at their most lacerating – even with the crappy, reflective sound of the Shark Tank, née HP Pavilion. Coming on the tail end of this tour, they still totally owned that music. They knew it, you knew it, and everyone ate up the red confetti that spurted all over the arena at the finale and wink-wink-nudge-nudged at the bare-breasted anime girl that rode the lips in the video that accompanied "Honky Tonk Woman."

And that's kind of the problem with the Stones these days. They're more three-dimensional than their dead-boring HBO special showed them to be, but not much more, and despite the fact that they actually still seem like a garage band when compared to, say, Ricky Martin, 'NSync, or Janet Jackson, they're just too workman for their own good. Everything is as predictable as Swiss circuitry and as rough and bold as a cartoon. Sure, Ron Wood is an unstoppable ham, mugging at the crowd, and settling down to focus only once, during "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." Yeah, Keith Richards smiles a lot, looks like a sexy cadaver, and seems like the only Stone who's actually having a good time. ("That's because he's the most high," the reviewer standing next to me explained.) Yes, Charlie Watts has made eyeball rolling a high/low art. Yep, bassist Darryl Jones is wearing camouflage, all the better to disappear. And uh-huh, despite his efforts as the Stones' finest cheerleader, busier working the crowd on both sides of the stage than generating any chemistry with backup singer Lisa Fisher during "Gimmie Shelter," Mick Jagger just can't hide his disdain anymore.

The most revealing moment came midway through a slightly sluggish rendition of "Start Me Up." My toes were well chilled on a floor that was just above the ice, my writing hand was falling asleep, and I happened to be staring at the massive video screen behind the stage. The main camera was on Jagger, and as he ended the song, yelping his final "Start me up!" his right arm shot up in the air in a gesture that signified – um, let me guess – "triumph," "let the good times roll," or simply "yar"? Jagger took one look up at his outstretched hand, glanced down, and then for the first time, you felt like you got a glimpse of his real feeling. The feeling was embarrassment. The self-conscious realization by a ridiculously sophisticated libertine who once liked to describe himself as a "dilettante Englishman" of the utter absurdity of his existence.

He knew how hack and meaningless that gesture was and wasn't able to rearrange his features in time and shuffle that blank facial expression into place like a pro. That was the moment when I felt like there might be some hope for the Stones, because Jagger realized something was wrong and just couldn't hide it – the undercurrent of truth coursing beneath the floor of the entire bone-cold enterprise. That and I felt a little sympathy for the old devil.

No Justice, no peace?

Rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated: word was going around that the Justice League had permanently closed.

Not so. Manager-publicist Candida Martinez told me that though the club has been shuttered since mid December, it will reopen in a month or two. After the venue had a poor fiscal year in 2002 and both Martinez and owner Michael O'Connor had to deal with their share of personal troubles – Martinez spent three months in the hospital last year – O'Connor decided to shut down during the slow months at the beginning of the year and remodel the place (improving the bathrooms and moving the bar to the back wall) and make some shifts in management. In the meantime, events such as the Second Sundays poetry slams have moved to Storyville. "It wasn't anything like we were trying to quietly disappear from music scene," Martinez says. "I acknowledge that the Justice League is an icon in the city, and it's important that it not close."

Meanwhile, Jazz at Pearl's, in North Beach, is preparing to close its doors for good, according to owner Pearl Wong. Her landlord gave notice that he wanted to shut the club and retrofit the building, she says, and there's no guarantee she or anyone else will be able to reopen the space as a live venue once it closes. The club's last night is April 20, and manager Sonny Buxton, who also DJs at KCSM, 91 FM, is planning a fundraiser for the station on the final evening.

Across town, the now-papered storefront of the Galaxy Club, formerly Club Boomerang, will reopen soon as Milk, with a Future Primitive Sound System Valentine's Day event. DJs include Doc Fu, J Boogie, Derrick D, and DJ Plus 1. Co-owner Erik Ross, who has thrown Mushroom Jazz bashes and the Sumo Monday-nighter at the Top, e-mails me that he and co-owners Michael Brown and Larry Castro also plan to feature monthlies with Om Records, Green Gorilla Lounge, and Ubiquity and DJs such as DJ O-Dub (Bay Guardian contributor Oliver Wang) and Cool Chris, as well as events with Triple Threat DJs and Peanut Butter Wolf. Here's to Milk.

Charmed lives

Now that calls for ice cream: Mariah "Charmbracelet" Carey recently bought a penthouse apartment in a relatively spanking-new downtown San Francisco hotel, inside sources say.

As the drummer turns: Future Farmer singer-songwriter David Dondero had to hold down his live-wire drummer, Craig Demayo. About a third of the way through a Jan. 25 set at the Hemlock Tavern, Demayo stumbled toward Dondero and took a good rap at the singer's skull with his drumsticks. Following the outbreak of hostility, Demayo knocked his snare and cymbal over and veered offstage, leaving Dondero fumbling for excuses.

After explaining that he's laid into Demayo much worse, Dondero continued to perform without the drummer while his volatile bandmate chatted with friends in the back room and then returned to lie in a pile at the foot of stage, tucking into a pint. After some coaxing, Demayo got onstage again and played for a short while before throwing his snare at Dondero and stomping off once more, but not before pecking Dondero on the lips to show there were no hard feelings. So don't throw a Pity Party for Dondero and never say folk music is a big ole snore.

Love is life and life is livin'. It's very special when you e-mail tips to Kimberly@sfbg.com.