The Performant: Science, Honor, Psychogeography


The Phenomenauts and Alley Cat Books shoot for the moon.

Trapped in a world they didn’t create, the spacecraft-garage band known to us as The Phenomenauts must surely come from a more evolved time and place, as evidenced by the spiffiness of their natty uniforms -- and the electric jolt of their stage shows. As refinement and heroism (the band motto is “Science and Honor”) are qualities in tragically short supply among your run-of-the-mill rock groups, bands which contain both are bound to stand out, with or without the additions of attention-grabbing technical flourishes such as pinpoint lasers, billows of stage fog, and the custom-built Streamerator 2000, which shoots festive streamers of toilet paper out onto the frenetic crowd. Speaking of frenetic, I love a band that can make San Franciscans dance as if possessed by dervishes with hyperkinesis. For that feat alone, they deserve an intergalactic medal for courage in the face of cosmic indifference.

Headlining last Friday night at the Rickshaw Stop, the band was in top form, steering their craft through a set-list packed with velocity and passion. Their sonic profile can be described as a jaunty blend of Devo, the B-52’s, Oingo-Boingo, the Aquabats, and the Stray Cats, and their costumed concept is straight out of a low-budge sci-fi serial, let’s say “Jason of Star Command,” or “Lost in Space.” From their high-octane, punky cover of the Polecats' “Make a Circuit with Me,” to the pumped-up psychobilly of Phenomenauts classics such as “Space Mutants,” complete with call-and-response oddience participation, to “It’s Only Chemical,” a slo-mo doo-wop duet between Commander Angel Nova and Leftenent AR7, a robot with strikingly human harmonizing capabilities (obviously an advanced model), the ‘nauts never let their tongue-in-cheek, space-explorer personas get in the way of solid musicianship and creative range.

If NASA had a house band, my guess is they’d want them to sound like the Phenomenauts. Actually, maybe NASA should just hire the Phenomenauts. You heard it here first.

Meanwhile, the excitement surrounding the grand opening of Alley Cat Books -- the fourth sibling of an honorable lineage that includes Dog Eared, Red Hill, and Phoenix Books -- maintained its momentum with the opening of a new art show in the somewhat cavernous space in the back of the store. The theme was California maps, though the interpretation was open, and one of the more striking pieces involved an interactive slideshow installation of Cuba designed by Hanna Quevado and Azael Ferrer, who I’m assuming also invited the percussion players jamming in the corner of the room. Other pieces included a textured tapestry of California Delta patterns, by Adrian Mendoza and a bare bones affair by Geoff Horne, an unadorned web of straight lines connecting the bars of San Francisco, a useful bit of reference knowledge. I’m looking forward to the promise of events to come, bands, readings, and film screenings are all rumored to be in the works, and of course, when all else fails to capture the imagination, there’re always *books.* And honor.

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