February 19, 2003

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Sonic Reducer

By Kimberly Chun


Antiwar chest

THE HIGHLIGHT OF the first show of Sleater-Kinney's two-night stand at Great American Music Hall on Feb. 3: drummer Janet Weiss freestyling onstage about a sign in the audience at the band's previous show, in Portland. "It said, 'Boobs Not Bombs,' " she announced.

Guitarist Carrie Brownstein had to step in with a retraction: "Uh, I actually think it said, 'Books Not Bombs,' Janet."

Act (natural) one

Lou Barlow has always been the model overachiever of the '90s Age of Slack: he got kicked out of one of the most acclaimed proto-indie rock bands of the past two decades, Dinosaur Jr., only to drift from Sebadoh to Folk Implosion with ease and seemingly successful results. What next? Well, indie rock's "natural" recently found himself playing a member of a British rock band in Laurel Canyon, the deliciously trashy movie about the Los Angeles music industry, acting among heavyweights like Frances McDormand and Christian Bale.

And true to generational form, Barlow, 36, will beat any hater to the punch in leveling a damning critique against himself. "I thought I was a waste of space in the movie, honestly," he said on the phone last week from Los Angeles, where he now lives. "I had absolutely nothing to bring to it. I thought it was extremely stressful, actually having lines and stuff. I see myself on film, and I seem weird and stressed. I look old. And having to do a British accent in front of British people who were doing American accents!"

Barlow tried to follow through as gracefully as he could, playing Sparklehorse songwriter Mark Linkous's tunes with fellow Folk Implosion guitarist Imaad Wasif and drummer Russell Pollard. "The songs are very Mark Linkous-like, but without any of the charm that he might bring to his music," Barlow said.

Still, Barlow is grateful the part came along. He had amicably severed his Folk Implosion partnership with John Davis, Wasif had just moved to Los Angeles from Berkeley, and the band needed money because they were just about to get kicked off Interscope Records. The trio's national tour begins here in San Francisco, with a Noise Pop show at Bottom of the Hill Feb. 27, and their first post-heave-ho album, The New Folk Implosion, will be released March 4, three days before Laurel Canyon opens in theaters.

Barlow put together the band because he missed working with collaborators. Recorded between October 2001 and October 2002, The New Folk Implosion starts with a bang, literally – with lyrics about planes flying into the World Trade Center on "Fuse."

The album art, which Barlow created, reflects the music. "Very black with a lot of bright colors – I think of the record like that too. In some ways dense and sort of claustrophobic, but in another way the content of the songs is really positive," Barlow said, getting more enthused when he talked about the music and his artwork rather than movie sets or band politics. "My vocals are up-front, and they lend a kind of easiness to it all that I find relaxing to sing when I let myself enjoy it, which is rare. What I hear is my voice sounding good, over an interesting, spare but heavy rock backing.."

Meanwhile, what comes around goes around, and Barlow is back on film, though none of his music can be heard – the inverse of days when Folk Implosion was first starting out and he was scoring Kids, landing on the soundtrack and finding himself with a radio hit, "Natural One."

"The weird thing is, it didn't sell a lot. The Sebadoh record sold pretty much as much as it did," Barlow said. "It was fun to record, and it was recorded in two hours. To actually have a hit and be completely anonymous – that's amazing. I just like that."

But Barlow has no urge to re-create that sound, which oddly continues to influence a large segment of glitchy, folky lo-fi. "I tried – I hate it. I liked fucking around with beats and getting excited by Wu-Tang and stuff and finding a way to incorporate it into what I was doing at the time and being into it, but things change," he complained. "When I hear a sample, it immediately bores the shit out of me. I don't want to hear samples and hear something densely layered and circular, because I've been there. It's static, it doesn't seem to move me, even though it gets people moving on the dance floor. I just find a new way to disappoint the people who like my music with every record."

New 2 Nord

Cafe du Nord is rumored to have found a taker: former Hotel Utah manager and Great American Music Hall talent buyer Guy Carson said he's in the process of buying the speakeasy du nerd and many a hoot and indie rock hoedown. The sale is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

The longtime Bay Area music fixture and ex-bassist for Snakefinger said on the phone last week that he and his wife, Carrie LaBelle, who also tends bar at Great American, Hotel Utah, and Treat Street, plan to "build on the club's legacy, so to speak. It's definitely going to be more music, less of a supper club and somewhat more of a music venue. My goal is to make it as eclectic as the market will bear. That's always been my thing, all the time at Utah and Great American Music Hall, to throw as much different stuff in there and have fun. It will totally reflect my tastes. That's the great thing about a venue that size – you can afford to take chances.

"It's a way to continue doing stuff I love," he explained. "It's an ongoing battle for nightclubs. It's totally insane to buy now if you look at it realistically, but – I hate to say it – we're in it for the long haul, the next 15 or 20 years."

Burn my eyeball

The week's three most indelible images:

1. The bidding on the "vagina carrot" on eBay up to more than $15,000 before it closed. A cult (boingboing.net/2003_02_01_archive.html) formed of acolytes bearing folk art and tank tops that read, "My mom and dad saw the vagina carrot and all I got was a lousy T-shirt."

2. A Gucci ad in the latest Index magazine that hits a new "low" with a bikini wax shaped like the "G" logo.

3. The massive Texas flag behind Willie Nelson Feb. 10 at the first of three concerts at the Fillmore. "That just looks obscene," said a friend sitting beside me, studying the flag above Nelson. I dug his effortless, endless flowetry and song and his immaculate blend of C&W and Hot Club-era jazz. What other vocalist his age can deign to sing for two hours (George Jones has much better things to do)? Texas has become ground zero for a country's collective anxiety: if Dubya is this year's international spoiler and his state a clearinghouse for space-shuttle debris, then all the more power to Willie and the boys for repossessing the flag.

Promising get-lucky post-Valentine's soirees: the "Win-a-date" contest with Hustler model Bunny Ranchette, "adult star" Sunset Thomas, and the "Hustler Twins" at the Feb. 20 first-anniversary party at the Hustler Club in S.F. Word has it former Mötley Crüe dude Vince Neil, who shares a Feb. 19 birthday with Thomas, may drop in to do the dirt. Dates include a lap dance. Which is more than most of use mere earthlings get the first time out.

Mano y mono: Word up at the last Dynasty show at the Hemlock Tavern Jan. 12. Former Roofies vocalist Jibz took the stage to do a karaoke set, with Topher Lafata, a.k.a. Gold Chains, behind the laptop. Dynasty was without instruments and Numbers drummer Indra Dunis, who, Jibz announced, had "maaahh-nnnooo." That's what friends are for – spreading the word, if not the social disease.

Jay Jay fan wanna-bes ain't over here gossiping 'bout me? Yo, how 'bout e-mailing tips to kimberly@sfbg.com?