The Ferocious Few and the Anarchist Bookfair disturb the peace.
In the as-yet unwritten book of Bay Area music, at least one chapter should be devoted solely to the bands whose crowd-wrangling skills and attention-grabbing music was honed on the mean streets. From the Mission District’s once-infamous “Live at Leeds” location, inaugurated by punk band Shotwell and later championed by the imitable Rube Waddell (the band, not the ballplayer), to the wriggling mass hysteria of a Gomorran Social Aid and Pleasure Club Parade, to the compact cacophony of one-person clown band Masha Matin, and the finger-pickin’ good Americana of Brian Belknap, the streets of San Francisco, like the infamous hills, are alive with the sound of music.
Of the current ranks of street-side crooners, The Ferocious Few have come to embody the best qualities of the breed. Combining sheer persistence with a driving, southern-rock-influenced, guitar-and-drum combo, at a volume constantly pushing at the edge of 11, the Few prove that safety may be in numbers, but that rock music was never meant to be safe.
However, headlining the Great American Music Hall is a considerable step up from frolicking anonymously in the gutters, and it may be for this reason that when the Few took the stage after a blistering set from Zodiac Death Valley, they had morphed into the many -- five rather than two. The focal point was still frontman Francisco Fernandez, whose full-throttle guitar-playing and aggressive, sandpaper-and-moonshine vocals have remained the constant of the Few through several lineups.
Joined by Fred Barnes on Bass, Kevin Oliver on Guitar and keys, and not one but two rock-solid drummers, Jeremy Black, and an effervescent Andrew Laubacher, Fernandez did stray from the Ferocious formula a couple of times, even edging into noodly psych-band territory, but for the most part, adding new musicians to the mix merely meant adding an extra boost to the overall Ferocious sound. But the question remaining is, does this show herald the beginning of a new era for the not-quite-as-Few, or a temporary enhancement of the old? Either way, you’ll want to stay tuned.
Another constantly morphing, scrappy San Francisco stand-by is the annual Anarchist Bookfair, now in its 17th year. One part bookseller’s convention, one part soapbox, and one part educational forum, the Bookfair pulls together a more or less unified presence from a variety of splinter factions from the activist frontlines: radical librarians, punk rock zinesters, oral historians, animal liberators, intentional communities, ideological theorists, and more. Speakers and panels are a big part of the draw, and every year it seems like there’s someone new to the lineup, a reason to keep coming back for more.
This year’s wild card event was a panel somewhat opportunistically entitled “Occupy the Future: Science Fiction writers on radical visions of tomorrow,” featuring sci-fi authors Rudy Rucker, John Shirley, and Terry Bisson. Beginning by positing the question of whether or not the future might include an “anarchist society that works,” the three alternated between discussing technology vs. its breakdown, cooperation vs. chaos, cyberpunk vs. technological singularity, and whether or not humanity has the capability to change with or without a tech “fix.” It was by far the most engaging conversation I encountered at the fair all weekend, though no group consensus was ever reached as to what the future might hold. Hopefully, at a minimum, it will hold more bookfairs.