Best of the Bay 2010 Editors Picks: Arts and Nightlife
BEST DANCE FLOOR TRANSCENDENCE
Diehard club kids always call their favorite club "church" — there's something sacred and comforting about returning to a certain dance floor regularly to commune with your friends and the music. But what if your favorite club really is a church? Not a former church like New York's storied Limelight — an actual frickin' functioning Episcopal cathedral? The Young Rev. Bertie Pearson, a staple of the SF club scene, made it his mission to transform Grace Cathedral into one of the hottest club venues in town with his monthly EpiscoDisco extravaganzas. Live bands, underground DJs, and thought-provoking art installations curated by Paradise Now draw an eclectic, forwardly-dressed crowd and fill the incredible, cavernous location with evening energy and the sounds of now. Pearson's not out to convert anyone — "We just want to open up this amazing space and have a great party," he tells us — but you'll get lifted by EpiscoDisco's transcendent spirit all the same.
Third Fridays, 7 p.m.–10 p.m., free. Grace Cathedral, 1100 California, SF. www.episcodisco.com
BEST WHORE FOR SATAN
If you go to local metal shows, you know Shawn Phillips. He's the tall guy with the long ponytail, inevitably found either helping a band load its gear in or out of the venue or standing on the sidewalk by the exit, handing out flyers containing one or more examples of bands who use that totally illegible, totally evil font for their logos. Phillips means business, but he's also good-natured enough to name his apparently one-man promo machine Whore for Satan Productions. Recent shows under the Whore for Satan banner have included big names like Pentagram and Saint Vitus at the DNA Lounge, as well as showcases for smaller, up-and-coming outfits like Zoroaster at Thee Parkside. This is a guy who really loves metal. And that's why we love him. And Satan.
BEST POLKA IN YOUR PUNKY PANTS
Ein, zwei, drei, polka! Don your lederhosen, grab your freundin, and get ready to party with Polkacide. This beloved San Francisco punk rock polka band is 25 years young, and still as gloriously frenetic as a baby gorilla on an overdose of moonpies. Whatever you call it — polka, pulka, galop — Polkacide offers a crash course on accordion- and horn-driven global dance sounds. Its peppy repertoire includes such perennial crowd-pleasers as the "Chicken Dance," the "Pennsylvania Polka," and the "Weiner Dog Polka," along with favorites from afar such as "Frailich," "Viva Seguin," and "Zosia." A typical Polkacide show attracts an esoteric consortium of punkers, polkers, porn clowns, damsels, and dandies — colliding cheerfully like so many carnival bumper cars on the dance floor. Punk rock and polka: two great tastes that taste great together. With beer.
BEST REASON TO DITCH NETFLIX
Spending another Saturday evening stuck in front of your ipadkindleplasmascreentivo-thing? Not if Artist's Television Access can help it. A stronghold of experimental film, outsider art, and the musical underground for 26 years, the ATA space has weathered many an economic storm to bring rabble-rousing, cerebral cortex-corrupting, and ocular spectaculars to the huddled masses (the ones with their feet up on the backs of the chairs and brown paper bags clutched in their hands). Modern-day homesteaders, historians, pranksters, activists, indie bands, burners, bicyclists, brainiacs, cosmonauts, communists, and absurdists are all given their moments to shine on the screen and off it, while cheap booze, obscure tunes, and easy camaraderie flow. Also host to some of the most intriguing window art and festival lineups in town, the occasional "Neighborhood Public Radio" project, a weekly cable access show, and open-submission screenings, ATA is an invaluable community resource in every possible way.
992 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-3890, www.atasite.org
BEST PODER TO THE PEOPLE
Photo by Neil Motteram
In a city full of high-minded "concept bands" that often fall flat when it comes to actual musicianship, La Plebe, a tightly-knit ensemble playing the sickest, slickest ska-punk around, is a sonic gem. That alone would elicit major props from nosotros, but what we also love about La Plebe are its unapologetically leftist leanings. Singing multilingual songs about border politics, class, race, and general injustice with sharply infectious rhythm, humor, and panache, the Plebes make anarchy fun again. Sweaty, happy chaos always reigns supreme at their shows. One of the hardest working ska bands in town, you can catch La Plebe several times a month in various Bay venues, not to mention Eastern Europe and Mexico. Oh yes, it's still possible to rock with conscience and not suck.
BEST CLUB FOR THE FEINT AT HEART
In a building slathered with blue and white graphic prints of feints and lunges, one hardly expects to find nuanced classes in an antique art. But that's exactly what's going down at the Halberstadt Fencer's Club, where young épée-wielding athletes go from portly to Porthos, zero to Zorro ... We could go on, but the fact of the matter is that at Halberstadt, fencing is practiced by those who hunger for more than just a postmodern post as a swashbuckling musketeer. Here, fencing is an art prized for its purity of form, noble vigor, and character building qualities. Children and adults alike spar on hardwood floors beneath vintage posters from competitions past, and the truly sabre-riffic have been known to rise to the ranks of national champs, following in the footwork of club founder, Olympian Hans Halberstadt.
621 South Van Ness, SF. (415) 863-3838, www.halberstadtfc.com
BEST UNDERCOVER RUM RUNNERS
Bring on the kitschy maritime decor behind a nondescript storefront's tinted windows. Add plentiful fruity (but never too sweet) cocktails, featuring a stellar, connoisseur's-dream rum selection served by some of the city's best bartenders. Now cue up the exotic music in this enchanting three-level spot. It's tiki heaven! It's Smuggler's Cove, brought to us by tiki mastermind — yes, they exist — Martin Cate. The hype was heavy surrounding its December opening and waits to get in can still be painful at certain hours. But the Cove rules a unique San Francisco niche, offering refinement, experience, and an exquisite dedication to Polynesian, Caribbean, and Cuban traditions. Cocktail-wise, our love rummeth over for the Chadburn, a complex mix of private reserve rum, tawny port, pear liqueur, and a dash of chocolate mole bitters. Or dive into the Cove's banana daiquiri, the best you'll ever sip. Watch out, though — it'll sneak up on you.
650 Gough, SF. (415) 869-1900, www.smugglerscovesf.com
BEST SKY-HIGH IRIE
Sometimes a weekend comes along that doesn't quite cut it. But if your two days off didn't cushion the blow of Monday sufficiently, why worry? You have the sky-high Skylarking joint to smooth away the rough edges. For years, this DJ-run reggae party has been rocking Skylark's sleeker version of a Mission bar on the other side of Sunday. Beatnok and Mr. Lucky's jams always seem to attract a diverse, happy crowd eager to extend their irie past Sunday. Stoners and stylists, hipsters and hoppers — everyone loves Jah love, right? At least, that's the case here, where if you can part the clouds of smoke, you'll find a bangin' dance floor that lasts well into the night. And, oh hi, free.
Mondays, 10 p.m.–2 a.m., free. 3089 16th St., SF. (415) 621-9294, www.skylarkbar.com
BEST PRESS PLAY
Throwing your iPod on shuffle in your living room might get the party started, but it's not exactly an art. Wu-Tang Clan transitioning to Joan Baez, then fading into live AC/DC? That's not a statement: that's just random (and a bit nausea-inducing). When it comes to reviving the comfy character and craft of old-school cassette mix culture, the San Francisco Mixtape Society has its finger firmly pressed on "play." Once every three months, Mixtape Society members meet at the Make-Out Room to trade lovingly sequenced tapes, CDs, or MP3 collections which combine a lovelorn eighth-grader's DIY work ethic with the philosophy of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. Mixtapes are submitted beforehand for judging in multiple categories, compilations are swapped in a spirited raffle (you must bring one of your own to leave with someone else's), and brainy themes sweeten the reels. A Mixtape night is equal parts social outing and music seminar for those who view handwritten playlists as transmissions from the heart.
BEST STREET-LEVEL KARAOKE
Karaoke takes place in all kinds of settings with different crowds. You can rent a karaoke room with friends and party at Do Re Mi Music Studio. You can enjoy live accompaniment on saxophone at the Bar on Church's Karaoke Mondays. You can steel yourself and step to the mic in between the polished regulars at the Mint. But there's only one place that takes karaoke to the streets: Nap's 3. The microphone at this little bar is right by the front door, and the front door opens onto a well-traveled block of Mission Street, which means you're going to serenade passersby as well as regulars with your version of "Sweet Child o' Mine" or "Gypsy." Nap's 3's block of the Mission hasn't been hipsterized to death yet, and the Nap's crowd keeps it fast and loose — so don't stay uptight and out of sight (unless you're attempting to channel Stevie Wonder).
3152 Mission, SF. (415) 648-1226
BEST IRON MAIDENS IN LEGWARMERS
When it comes to aerobics, it's no secret that Jane Fonda was the original twisted sister. So why not soundtrack her 1980s-defining workout with some classic hair metal? Workout instructor Donnelle Malnick and the folks at Workshop have slipped on their unitards and hopped aboard that crazy train already, offering a weekly Heavy Metal Aerobics class that will rock you like a hurricane (and incorporates yoga and weight-training). Your heart couldn't beat any faster if you just ran out of the cellar with your balls to the wall. After you're slippery when wet, check out Workshop's myriad other class offerings, from beginning screen-printing to Mad Men-style mixology. Headed by Indie Mart pioneer Kelly Malone, the collective is cooler than the ace of spades in Panama.
Tuesdays, 7 p.m., $10. 1798 McAllister, SF. 415-874-9186, www.workshopsf.org
BEST BAY BRAWLER
Sporting a deadly mixture of beauty and beast, boxing phenomenon Ana "The Hurricane" Julaton has punched her way to becoming the Bay Area's most notable rising sports star. Julaton has blazed a wide trail in the last year for women's boxing, making her name and standing her ground in a field more commonly celebrated for its gloved males. Employing a precision technique with dazzling speed, Julaton has attained two championship belts in unprecedented time. Her Filipino background matched with her knockout prowess has caused many to compare her to fellow countryman and boxing superstar Manny Pacquaio. Shaping up to be America's first female boxing gold medallist in the next Olympics, Julaton's future is bright — even as she delivers lights out.
BEST MIDWESTERN FLASHBACK
It's a Wisconsin dive bar to a tee: the draft beer (including Moose Drool) is plentiful and served in Mason jars, antlers and animal heads adorn the wood-paneled walls, and the pool table always has a line of quarters on it. Stepping inside is a bittersweet moment for any Minnesota or Dakota transplant, immediately calling up memories of string cheese, snow days, and grandma's favorite flannel. But the true sign of Bloodhound's Middle America roots: Big Buck Hunter, the video game that transports you and your digital rifle back to the homeland for a simulated hunt. While the fashion may be a bit more, er, refined than Bloodhound's actual Midwest counterparts — no blaze orange or Carhartt to be found here — there's a laid-back attitude and post-ironic appreciation for the backcountry. Oh, and your dog is welcome to join you for a frosty one, don't ya know.
1145 Folsom, SF. (415) 863-2840, www.bloodhoundsf.com
BEST SUNSET RISING STAR
Sonny Smith once seemed like the most avid self-promoter in town, sending out about a jillion copies of his 2002 CD, This Is My Story, This Is My Song and pestering music writers about town to sing his praises. But instead of evaporating with the hype, Smith has followed through on the promise of his early work, casting his creative nets far and wide: in film, theater, journalism, and visual art (this year, Smith exhibited "100 Records," which combined imaginary band bios and songs with 100 artists' images). Maybe Smith just needed to get some distance from his beloved Mission — now that he's moved to the Sunset, he appears to have hit his stride with a genuinely fabulous, rotating, rock ’n' roll supergroup, Sonny and the Sunsets, which includes such local lights as Kelley Stoltz, John Dwyer, Tim Cohen, and Tahlia Harbour. (Pitchfork raved about S&S 2010 debut, Tomorrow Is Alright). Now, Smith looks likely to become the smash sensation he was always meant to be. No hype.
BEST CHIRPS OFF THE NOISE BLOCK
Clipd Beaks can't decide if it's local or not. Since the combo relocated from the Midwest, members have flitted south to warmer climes in L.A., then back. Are they the best of California — or simply sonic channelers of the general zeitgeist? Regardless, the trio managed to get it together long enough to fly in this year's damn intriguing, daring long-player, To Realize — a post-punk drone monkey of a recording that enjoys smashing its sonic bananas into the sidewalk, or grinding bassy bottom-feeder figures against a cage of clattering, thrumming reverb damage. Clipd Beaks sound like a band caught in the same glittered labyrinth as global-dance electronic-folk experimentalists Gang Gang Dance and Psychic Ills. All concerned seem like wide, avid listeners, driven by the wantonly diffuse reinterpretations of the ghostly funk they hear in their heads.
BEST HAPKIDO HEROES
Don't let the small size of its Ocean Avenue storefront location fool you: the Korean Martial Arts Center houses some mighty big kicks. Leading one of the best known and most successful training schools in Northern California, Grandmaster M. W. Jung and his staff have trained some of the top martial artists in the country. The center specializes in judo, taekwondo, and, especially, hapkido, the noble Korean fighting practice that fuses a variety of skill styles. Beginners and youngsters are welcome. Even if you can barely make a fist, you get to work with Jung and the other top-ranked instructors. Traditional training, including weapon combat and tai chi, emphasizes respect and humility. Still, the grandmaster's got a chokehold on the wisecracks: while he makes the kids work hard, he also makes them laugh.
1414 Ocean, SF. (415) 333-1050, www.koreanmartialarts.com
BEST TRIBAL TRIBUTE
As much as we love Native American art, the spirit of the crafts are largely lost when displayed as alien relics in a museum's sterilizing vitrines. Not to mention the sticky subject of how items like burial jewelry and ceremonial objects have traditionally been "gathered" for such display. (As Yaqui-Mescalero-Apache-Zuni artist Michael Horse says, "I don't go into some of the cemeteries here and dig up Grandma because I want to see what pearls she wore.") This complex context is what led Horse and wife Pennie Opal Plant, both longtime Native activists, to create Gathering Tribes gallery. The work of contemporary indigenous craftspeople from all over the western hemisphere is showcased in a respectful manner, and a visit to the space might reveal Horse working on one of his beautiful ledger painting, in which he recreates scenes from our nation's past on historical documents. Here, Native American can breathe — and rest — easy.
1412 Solano, Albany. (510) 528-9038, www.gatheringtribes.com
BEST GAZETTE REFRESH
In this glorious age of ubiquitous streams, shares, tweets, and TiVos, what does it mean to be truly "live"? To create a unique moment in the presence of others that cannot be repeated, duplicated, or fast-forwarded through to the naughty bits? Pop Up Magazine headily explores this notion while blowing good-natured raspberries at media old and new. For Pop Up Magazine is not a magazine at all. It's a regular installment of performance spots in which journalists, artists, historians, and innovators present short, informative segments of nonfiction works in progress that cover a broad range of subjects, using photography, video, live music, interviews, and more. This is a news feed of a different sort, ephemeral yet vital. No photos or broadcasts are allowed — each "magazine" is a unique experience shared between cutting-edge presenters and information-hungry crowd, preserved through memory alone. Even though the organizers promote Pop Up by word-of-mouth only, the events usually sell out in less than 30 minutes to drooling masses scanning their Facebook and Twitter threads. Guess we can't shake the virtual after all, but this is the kind of live worth refreshing for.
BEST YOUNG PUNK EXPLOSION
It's hard out there for a punk. And harder still for the too young to vote crowd, not because of the voting part — duh — but because of the real dearth of all-ages music venues in the city. Despite efforts on the part of showcases such as Thee Parkside's Club Feral, Parlez Vous Rock and Roll at the Knockout, and Club Sandwich's online rundowns to fill that void, there just isn't a lot out there for the truly young, as opposed to the merely young at heart. Happily for youthful lovers of loud, the Latino-run Sub-Mission (formerly Balazo 18) books a plethora of all-ages shows, from monthly Maximum Rock and Sounds of Rebellion nights to heavy metal, local psychedelia, roots vinyl, art shows, activist benefit shows, and more. And while Sub-Mission's sonic sensibilities may skew toward the generally chaotic, its newly remodeled interior's low-rider aesthetic is pura Mission.
2183 Mission, SF. (415) 225-7227, www.sf-submission.com
BEST HOME TURFERS
Sorry New York and L.A. The Bay Area's where it's at in terms of street dance. If the hyphy movement wasn't enough to convince everyone that the YAY AREAAA reigns supreme, the newest generation of SF and Oakland turf dancers definitely will. Combining elements from hip-hop, popping, locking, gliding, and more, turf dance — turf stands for "taking up room on the floor" — is inspiring some versatile swagger. Because there is so much talent out there, it was impossible to choose just one "best" crew. Some of the most prominent names in the turf scene right now? The dancers of Best Alive and Turf Feinz have achieved local and national recognition with the help of media companies like Get Wet Entertainment, which organizes and hosts dance battles, and Yak Films, which not only films battles but helps lead the media literacy and production program out of East Oakland's Youth Uprising. What better way to empower youth than through dance?
BEST FLOCKING COCKTAILS
It's bar time — which is any time at all for you, really. But you want to hit somewhere that's stylish yet laid back, hip but not so hip you need to squeeze yourself into a $300 pair of gray acid wash peg-legs to feel accepted and completely devoid of the gay-straight segregation that plagues many of the city's watering holes. Spread your thirsty wings and heed the call of Blackbird, the new hotspot from up-and-coming bar impresario Shawn Vergara. Picky drinkers will shake their tail feathers in appreciation at Blackbird's impressively crafted cocktail menu (the bar even hand-infuses the fig-balsamic vinegar used in its luscious, grapefruit-and-Aperol granita, for flock's sake). And socialites who get ruffled by stodgy categories can alight among fellow revelers of all orientational stripes. An impeccable wine list, sweet staff, and cutting-edge wall art round out this genial night-bird nest.
2124 Market, SF. (415) 503-0630, www.blackbirdbar.com
BEST DOORSLAMMIN' BLUES
The Saloon is a gritty neighborhood bar that serves up stiff drinks and release seven nights a week. Established in 1861, this ex-brothel — and the oldest bar in the city — allegedly survived the 1906 earthquake and ensuing fires because the firefighters made sure to always protect the working girls. Now, a century later, the saloon provides a place to drown your sorrows, minus the ill repute and a watchful madam's eye. The Saloon also has established itself as one of the city's classic live blues spots, with swinging bands and searing guitar licks sound tracking the North Beach night. When you're feeling like "one of the roughs," grab a shot and rock with the no-nonsense, freewheeling staff and crowd. The bands are on fire (especially honorary house band Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers), dancing is always an option, and pretty soon daily troubles melt away like panhandlers' gold.
1232 Grant, SF. (415) 989-7666, www.sfblues.net/Saloon.html
BEST MONEY SHOT OF LOVE
When it comes to sex on film, few have been the reels that blur narrative romance and straight-up thrusting. But crossovers like Behind the Green Door and Shortbus have shown that sometimes filmgoers like a little carnal reality to their storyline and a little storyline with their money shot. In this, director Travis Mathews' gay cuddles-and-cocks film short feature I Want Your Love doesn't disappoint. (A full-length version arrives later this year.) Mathews has says his aim was to capture a candid honesty conspicuously absent in most porn. Realistic? Perhaps not in a conventional sense — but in an SF sense, yeah probably. Less a frenzied sex marathon between two larger-than-life, gym-stretched Olympians and more an intimate (and sometimes wince-inducing) recording of the playful fumblings of two fuzzy friends straight from Dolores Park central casting, IWYL presents the viewer with something beyond mere breathless five-minute satisfaction.
BEST TECHNO HULA
There are three sides to the island dance magic of Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēki, the 25-year-old, internationally renowned hula school and performance troupe headed by powerhouse director Patrick Makuakāne. There is the classic side emphasizing picture-postcard-perfect tiki dreams of pretty girls in grass skirts and Hawaiian-shirted men dancing sensuously beneath the moon to wistful ukulele hits of the 1950s. Then there’s the kickass ancient cultural side, from a time before the arrival of stringed instruments and European settlers, set to heavy percussive beats and heart-pumping primal chants. And finally there’s the contemporary — and controversial — side, where Nā Lei Hulu’s enthusiastic and graceful members throw everything you know about hula to the warm breezes, kicking up their bare heels to some good ol’ techno and house hits. Superbly choreographed, and with enough cheeky humor to keep the audience gleefully engaged (yes, there are drag queens involved), this last side is its truly San Franciscan one. But when all three come together in the troupe's many local performances, the spirit of Hawaii comes alive.
BEST COMMUNITY CUT-UPS
Circus Bella wants to entertain you. Abigail Munn and David Hunt, the creators of this nonprofit circus, saw a gaping hole in the Bay Area's center ring back in 2008. Simply put, the area didn't have enough of them. The performance art had been overtaken by heady, Cirque du Soleil-type cerulean orbs and over-reaching narratives. As Hunt asks, "What the hell is wrong with just a ring?" So the two set out to create a circus troupe in the traditional, ring-centric mold, with juggling clowns, bendy contortionists, dazzling slack-wire and aerial acts, a live band, and those epauleted, spangly costumes we all remember from the tents of our youth. Moreover, they wanted the action accessible to all. Circus Bella can be seen wowing ’em wildly at street fairs and public parks, bringing laughter to children of all ages — most of the time for the low, low price of free.
BEST SOME THING
After Trannyshack loosened its goo-spattered grip on the weekly alternative drag club scene, many amazing gender clown romps sprang up to claim its tawdry tiara. But only one combined taste-bending theatrics and questionable musical choices with a high sense of style and an eye toward reviving commedia dell'arte drag traditions. This was Some Thing, Friday nights at the Stud, which has drawn overflowing crowds with a taste for avant-garde performance and ribald humor. Hell, there are even some flawlessly performed non-ironic Broadway show tune numbers! Some Thing's proprietors, Glamamore, VivvyAnne Forevermore, and Downey Friend know exactly what they're doing: the numbers they book for their stage walk a fine line between jawdrop and sunbeam that just feels right for this drag moment. Better, they incorporate some of the Bay's best DJs into the party, insuring the DIY delirium lasts all night.
Fridays, 10 p.m.–late. The Stud, 399 Ninth St., SF. www.studsf.com
BEST TWIT LIT
Publishing an entire novel on Twitter may seem a dubious achievement — even the author admits the medium is a "terrible way to read my book or any book" — but local scribe Matt Stewart did it first, so there. Stewart's bawdy debut, The French Revolution, which zanily reimagines the events of its title through the contemporary intergenerational exploits of pastry chef Esmerelda Van Twinkle and her twins Robespierre and Marat, started hitting the global feed on Bastille Day last year. Some 3,700 tweets and a ton of press coverage later, Stewart (whose background in PR certainly paid off) found himself in the midst of a full-on media phenomenon. For meatspace diehards, a paperback version of The French Revolution has just been released on Soft Skull Press. For everyone else, mais oui, there's a Revolution-ary phone app.
Fans of small-batch, big-boom nightlife, rejoice: 222 Hyde will energize you almost every night of the week. When owner Emilio Giraubit took over the already bangin' location last year, he made sure to keep the intimate feel of the club while amping up the wattage. Navigating through the long, thin bar area upstairs can get tricky, especially with friendly bartenders and scrumptious pizzas to derail you. But once you descend to the tiny basement, all cares are blasted off by the superb Turbosound system and the stellar array of local and international DJs. 222's adventurous sonic palette embraces everything from Afrohouse to purple dubstep, post-minimal techno to UK Funky — it's a dance music connoisseur's dream come true. Experiencing the latest tracks while rubbing shoulders with other bass fanatics is the icing on 222's too-too-too fab cake.
222 Hyde, SF. (415) 345-8222, www.222hyde.com
BEST EYES ON THE CITY
"As a group, we're not taking Hallmark postcard pictures. This is the San Francisco we live in. It's not a sunset at Crissy Field or the Painted Ladies," says Julie Michelle, one quarter of rapaciously keen-eyed photography collective Caliber. Michelle and equally excellent fellow lensers Stuart Dixon, Travis Jensen, and Troy Holden formed Caliber after admiring each other's work on Flickr, with the goal of "promoting photography in the city while acknowledging the present as well as the past, in whichever form it may show itself." The spine-tingling results, posted on Caliber's website encompass the amazing architectural and personal diversity of San Francisco — everything from candidly-snapped SoMa street kids flashing wadded up $1 bills to splendiferous sepia-toned upshots of the Shell Building's façade. Caliber also leads overlooked-detail-seeking photo walks of various city neighborhoods for amateurs of all skill levels and shutterbug meet-up nights to spread the light-sensor love.
For three years, DJs (and brothers) Señor Oz and Pleasuremaker have unleashed a weekly dose of get-down at the Elbo Room called Afrolicious. A beautiful crowd of global-eared dance fans rushes to the floor for the addictive Afrolicious sound — Afro-tropi-electro-funk-disco-house, the brothers call it, but we just call it soul-fantastic. Live percussion, bass, and horns often fill out the tunes, as Oz and Pleasuremaker's sets range far a wide, to Africa, South America, Asia, and beyond. It's an aural map of the world, combining the classic with the new to transcendent effect. James Brown to Zombie Disco Squad, Jali Bakary Conteh to Una Mas Trio, rollerskate jams to cumbia: the sonic sky miles rack up mighty quickly. "We're connecting the dots from funk, blues, and jazz to afrobeat, Latin, and newer electronic sounds," Oz says. "We run the gamut. We don't stand still." Neither do their eager fans.
Thursdays, 9:30 p.m., $7. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. afroliciousoriginal.blogspot.com
BEST (ACTUALLY) BUDDING ART GALLERY
With all the bad news about the economy, it's a testament to SF's deep love of art that new small galleries continue to sprout all over the city. One of the most vital ones is Lake Gallery, thanks to the curating by local musician and artist Dan Johnson Lake. And because it's next to and practically within the hydroponic wonderland that is Plant’it Earth, you can also have the earthy smells (and views) of at least some forms of greenery than make art appreciation a little livelier. There's a unique pleasure to art juxtaposed with nature in the heart of the city, and that's one of the pleasures you'll discover on a trip to the Lake, where the music of Dinosaur Jr. grew into a group show and local artists such as Ryan Coffey and Naoki Onodera have flowered and flourished.
661 Divisadero, SF. www.lakegallery.com
BEST MISSION MUSIC EVANGELISTS
Perhaps tapping in to the locavore zeitgeist, there has been a lot of recent attention paid to local, homegrown music. And what better scene to tune in to for organic-yet-edgy vibes than that of the small but ever-morphing Mission music revival? Right place, right time, perhaps, but the fledgling Porto Franco Records has stepped in to document — and more important — support a whole slew of local musicians and artists. Torn-hearted troubadour Mark Growden, acoustic groove-goddess Meklit Hadero, and psychedelic time-traveler Mark Matos all call Porto Franco ("free port") home, and the label's list of signed local talent just keeps growing. Though Russian father-and-son team Peter and Sergei Varshavsky seem at first glance unlikely advocates of these diverse sonic strands of Californicana, they are clearly embracing their role in this resurgence. In turn, their featured artists are being embraced by concert-goers from as far as Santa Fe, N.M., and as near as Stern Grove.
BEST BLACKBOX SEASON
Times are tough and money's still tight, even for the biggest theatres in the Bay Area. That makes it doubly amazing that this tiny company should be closing a record-busting 10-show season of "reimagined" classics with its most ambitious project to date — a three-play repertory schedule of Tennessee Williams that runs through Aug. 28th. But the Boxcar Theatre troupe is used to exceeding expectations from its very first performance, "21/One," which won a Best of the Fringe award for Best New Company in 2005, to its successful occupation and transformation of the previously rundown venue at 505 Natoma St., all within five short years. (Word on the street is that Boxcar just signed on to expand into a second space.) With a reputation for risk-taking, a sense of historical imperative and community involvement, and an emphasis on access — including at least one completely free, site-specific production per season — the Boxcar children have rapidly matured into a theatrical establishment that ranks among the very best SF has to offer.
505 Natoma, SF. (415) 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org
BEST KICK IN THE EARS
Local all-ages punk shows are always a hoot, but for those of us whose Mohawks have grown a bit, uh, dusty, they can often feel a bit uncomfortable. Who wants to come off as the moshin' grandma? The awesomely inclusive Thursday Night Live at the Eagle Tavern may be full of freewheeling, bar-aged young things — programmer Doug Hilsinger has managed to crowd the classic gay biker bar with punk and rock fans of all persuasions — but there are always a few OG punks to balance it out. All categorical divisions melt away once the stellar lineups of fresh-faced screamers and experienced thrashers take to the Eagle's tiny stage, conveying a true underground spirit. TNL doesn't confine itself solely to punkish strains — crazy country drag crooners, bearish electronic experimentalists, and rockabilly porn stars always have a place here. But the result's the same: a weekly a kick in the ears that makes you feel alive.
Thursdays, 10 p.m., $5. Eagle Tavern, 398 12th St., SF. (415) 626-0880, www.sfeagle.com
BEST FIGHTERS FOR OUR RIGHT TO PARTY
For the last several years, we at the Guardian have been on an often lonely crusade to highlight and repel the various assaults on nightlife, special events, and the urban culture of San Francisco, from the "Death of fun" (5/24/06) to the "New war on fun" (3/2/10). The attacks come from intolerant neighbors, aggressive cops, grandstanding politicians, and persnickety bureaucrats, and they've succeeded in shutting down events (such as Halloween in the Castro), clubs (Caliente), and private parties. But party people have finally organized and fought back, this year forming the well-funded and widely supported California Music and Culture Association to advocate for keeping the fun flowing and give the party purveyors the advice, support, and allies they need to maintain San Francisco as a world class city that isn't afraid to throw great parties. The association also functions as a network of promoters, club owners, and DJs who aren't afraid to speak out for the right to shut up and dance.