The Performant: Tropical nights and Pacific days

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Stepping out with Brownout and Sunday Streets

It was quite a diverse crowd bobbing and weaving out on the dance floor of the Elbo Room as local Afrolicious stalwart DJ Señor Oz spun a red-hot Latin-fusion funk mix, which belied the blustery weather outside.

The Elbo Room is good for fantasies of decadent tropical nights — it’s a small room which fills up and heats up fast — all that de rigueur protective outerwear coming off pretty quickly when there’s sweaty beats to be had. It was an energetic set, and you could almost visualize a clump of palm trees swaying against the horizon of some pristine, white sand beach, fireflies and paper lanterns to light up the starry night (there actually are paper lanterns dangling from the ceiling of the Elbo Room—which helps the fantasy along).

The vibe became less Caribbean and more Texas borderland via Miami when nine-piece Austin-based Latin-funk band Brownout (Grupo Fantasma’s alter-ego) finally swooped to the stage like the titular eagles from the title track off their second album, Aguilas and Cobras. Suddenly from every corner of the room, a torrent of Texas natives swamped the dance floor from the first strains. The band’s name might sound like a state of electrical failure, but their mostly instrumental onstage powerjam was downright electrifying, a spiraling mix of funky urban grooves, swirling desert psychedelia, and a dollop of spicy Afro-Cuban rhythms, involving three percussionists, three horn players, two guitarists, and an electric bass. Touring to support a brand-new album, Oozy (Nat Geo Music, April 2012), Brownout did not neglect to play some old favorites, including a loopy, spacey “Pole Position,” which literally raised an intergalactic sweat from band members, not to mention their jostling groupies.

The last buzzing traces of the tropics dissolved into the light grey cloud cover of Sunday’s staunchly NorCal climate reality check, as Sunday Streets stormed the beach and swarmed the Great Highway. Sure, Valencia Street might attract more weekend yogis and gourmet popsicle vendors, but there’s something about cruising the Great Highway with the laidback Sunset crowd that really appeals. Certainly no other Sunday Streets route has quite the same visuals — lush springtime parkland and blooming sand dunes, as opposed to the urban density that characterizes the other routes. On the Great Highway, the microclimates and windswept landscapes of Northern California take centerstage rather than the human tide, putting the focus more firmly on the participants rather than the distractions. 

But of course the usual Sunday Streets funmakers were around too. Party bikes decked out with boomboxes and bubble machines. The Sports Basement repair gang fixing flats and tightening brakes. Scattered food trucks and circulating petitioners. Dogs and rollerblades. Kites and kids. One plucky band, Please Do Not Fight,  decked out a pedal rickshaw and rode the full length of the route playing their guitars, while a backup rickshaw took the rear, passing out stickers and enjoying the ride. (Bands on bikes, it would appear, are big these days.) True, they could have maybe used a little more Afro-Cuban percussion to round out their sound, but for a lazy, gauzy Sunday, their good-natured, low-key California vibe fit right in.

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