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Contra Costa Times - Friday August 13, 1999  -  Weekend showed Off Some Talented Bands

Hot Hits, Cheap Demos
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Nothing turns a music lover into a jaded old cynic faster than a big industry showcase.

These things feature dozens, sometimes hundreds, of bands, and often have more to do with schmoozing than listening to music.

That can be just as well, given the quality of the average band trying to impress the record label talent scout who may or may not be in the audience.

Which is what made Nadine's Wild Weekend such a pleasant surprise this year. There was an impressive amount of decent music, and a few bands I can't wait to see again.

Nadine's Wild Weekend, now in its second year, has replaced the defunct SFO showcases as the premier dog-and-pony show of Bay Area unsigned and recently signed bands. This year's edition featured more than 75 acts spread among a dozen clubs. It ran from Aug. 5 through Aug. 8.

Stroke 9 was the poster band for the festival. It's being groomed as San Francisco's next Third-Eye-Blind-type success story, and a lot of folks will be amazed if that success doesn't come.

That alone is enough to earn the band enmity from those who haven't yet ehard a note of its music. Some who have heard it like the band even less.

The group opened the festival with an Aug. 5 concert at the Fillmore. A good-sized crowd, ranging from high-school friends to new fans, showed the band love while ths schmooze brigade murmured out in the foyer.

The four clean-cut hunk who compose the band seem like genuinelly nice guys. That's why it was endering to watch them try to fill the fabled auditorium with tentative rock-star moves (frontman Luke Esterkyn has a particularly shameless hip wiggle) and a harder-rocking sound that you might expect. It was like watching a kid trying on a new pair of shoes that's a size too big.

I have a rule about not slamming a Bay Area band until it's sold a million opies. I suspect I won't have a long to wait before Stroke 9 is eligible. These guys are going to be rich.

In a rare attempt to make this column of some actual use to you, the rest of this installment will wander among the more notable moments from the weekend proper.

Amateur Night, which features ex-BAM columnist Greg Heller,played a good-natured early evening set of bashy folk rock at the Paradise Lounge on Aug. 6. Not ad for a music writer.

One band that's propbably got a shot at the big time is Plush, which churned out one highly polished modern rocker after another at Hotel Utah on Aug. 6. It didn't take much imagination to hear those tunes coming out of a car radio.

Those who fish for new sounds outside the mainstream gathered at Bottom of the Hill on Aug. 6. San Francisco's Future Farmer Recordings, which is building a reputation as a purveyor of the so-called Central Valley Sound, showcased three of its bands: Jackpot, For Stars and Joaquina.

I'd seen two of these before so I planned to miss the show, but so many people raved about Jackpot, a trio from Placerville, that I couldn't resist. Glad I didn't.

Jackpot has an unusual knack for generating excitement in a crowd while seeming perfectly at ease on stage. If you had to give the music a name, you could probably call it country-fried indie rock, but it's far more eclectic that that: Blues, jazz and rockabilly all make it into the mix. The guys even closed with a disco tune without sounding kitchy or bizarre.

Somehow I expected Grandaddy, a Modesto buzz band working on its major-label debut, to show up for this gig. Sure enough, most of the guys made it, bearing a box of free, fresh corm\n they left at the door.

They came to hang, not play, but look for a new EP to come out around Septembber and the full-length album at the beginning of the next year.

Etienne de Rocher is one of those musicians you mean to see for a billion years but never get around to. After catching him at Bruno's on Aug. 6, I wish I hadn't wasted so many chances.

I've rarely heard a good performance I've had so few words to describe. The best I can come up with is one of those goofy rock-critic analogies: Imagine Beck, in a mellow mood, composing an "Austin Powers" soundtrack.

De Rocher is managed by Bonnie Simmons, a Bay Area music scene stalwart who also handles Cake. So it's not impossible that you might one day be able to buy this music in a store or hear it on the radio. But your best bet for now is to hear it live.

Storm and Her Dirty Mouth is another omnipresent act I've never caught before. The band closed down the Great American Music Hall on Aug 6. Lots of fierce women made it to this show, many in paires. There were even, if I'm not mistaken, a couple of members of the ultra-cool Fat Chance Belly Dance troup, in full regalia.

The music, a Joplin-esque brand of hard rock didn't do it for me. But Storm herself is intense.

She has a pure, strong voice that's rare in this kind of raging rock, and her physical presence is striking. She's tall and tough, and when she really gets into it she flings her long blonde hair around like a bullwhip. You wouldn't want to mess with her.

My luck wasn't quite so good on Aug 7, but there were still some memorable moments.

In the case of Glasstown, those moments were way too brief. But that was my fault, because I showed up at the Bottom of the Hill justas this peculiarly theatrical band was nearing the end of its set.

The snippet I heard was more fun than most full-length concerts: gorgeous singing, witty writing and truly exciting playing. The music excuded a twee charm and intelligence that recalled early Kinks and Bowie, and its dramatic arc would probably appeal to fans of Belle & Sabastian.

Those who'd never ehard the band before were easy to spot: They looked like they'd just discovered a wonderful secret.

Joe Buck, which played the Hotel Utah on Aug. 7, is an alternative-country band of the hard-driving honky-tonk variety, updated with incongruously hilarious modern lyrics. A good ol' time.

Supposedly they do the Pet SHop Boys' "West End Girls" as a hoe-down. I wouldn't know because it was time to move on to Bart Davenport at Bruno's. I never saw Davenport's much-beloved former bands, the Loved Ones and the Kinetics, and I was determined not to miss this solo incarnation.

Good move. Absolutely lovely, understated songs featuring Davenport's delicate singing and acoustic guitar work. (And, on a bossa-nova-ish number, a kazoo.)

His set was almost too delicate, though. He finally lost his patience and asked the gabbing crowd, heavily into its Saturday night mating dance, to pipe down.

That's the sort of thing that can bum you out at a showcase like this. Too often half-talents get the attention and the contracts. Gifted musicians like Davenport will probaably always have to worry about the rent.

Skip Holiday, which is working on its TVT label debut, rounded out my Saturday. The group played a punchy set of melodic modern rock at the Bottom of the Hill.

It's easy to see Skip Holiday sharing headlining honors with Goo Goo Dolls one day. It played before about 50 people. One suspects that's the smallest crowd it's going to encounter for many years to come.



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