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November 9, 2006

Heading: Ironic Icon, The Hum by Bob Doran, photo of Randy Newman


CenterArts just keeps rolling in the icons, following last week's amazing visit from Lou Reed with a return engagement Friday by the extraordinary composer/songwriter Randy Newman. Surfing the `Net the other day on the hunt for new music I came across a recent version of one of his old songs, Madeleine Peyroux's just slightly Billie-esque take on "I Think It's Going To Rain Today," recorded live when she was in the studios of KCRW. What a perfect song.

"Broken windows and empty hallways/a pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray. Human kindness is overflowing/and I think it's going to rain today... Right before me the signs implore me/to help the needy and show them the way. Human kindness is overflowing/and I think it's going to rain today."

With an ironic wit as dry and brittle as a fall leaf, Newman captures the malaise we all feel on gloomy days like the ones we've been having. Another example of his incisive writing was part of my daily playlist during much of the tragedy of Katrina. "Louisiana 1927" seemed absolutely prescient, from its opening lines onward:

"What has happened down here is the wind have changed. Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain; rained real hard and rained for a real long time: six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline. The river rose all day, the river rose all night. Some people got lost in the flood; some people got away all right. The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines: six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline."

Hearing Aaron Neville sing it on TV --"They're tryin' to wash us away; they're tryin' to wash us away -- well, it brought a tear to my eye.

Both songs showed up on his 2003 album, The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (we're still waiting for Vol. 2), with nothing but Newman at the piano as accompaniment. That's how he presented his songs when he played at the Van Duzer a couple of years before the record came out, just the singer and a piano. It was all the songs needed -- they're that good. Newman grew up in a world of film soundtrack composers and he's mostly been doing that sort of work of late. Aside from movie work, he hasn't released much in the way of new songs since 1999's Bad Love, but maybe he doesn't need to. Watching him sit at the piano cracking self-deprecating jokes and re-polishing one old number after another is fine by me. Incidentally, in case you were wondering, there are still tickets left for his show Friday at HSU.

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Also on Friday evening, another installment in the stellar Eureka Chamber Music Series at the Calvary Lutheran Church, this one a return engagement by the Cypress String Quartet, a youngish combo working out of the San Francisco area for 10 years. Their program will include Haydn's "Op.76 No.3," Griffes' "2 Sketches" and Dvorak's "Op.96 `American'."

The nicest reggae star around, Pato Banton, is back in Humboldt with the Mystic Roots Band for a Friday show at the Bayside Grange, sharing the bill with Bloco Firmenza, the Penny Gunn Band, Satka and DJ Sister Yasmin, who spins "crucial riddims" between sets. This is an all ages thing; show up early for an organic dinner.

For those in SoHum/NoMendo, Pato Banton and company also play the night before (Thursday) at Area 101, 10 miles north of Laytonville, with most of the same bands -- and that one's a sleepover. Coming up Dec. 9, at Area 101, the 3rd Annual Mendo Medical Marijuana Emerald Cup with New Monsoon, Massagana, Luna Angel, Blue Turtle Seduction and the Human Nature Theatre Group.

Again on Friday, a show at the Arcata Bike Library (next to the Post Office), and what better place to see The Portland Bike Ensemble, a noise band that makes music on amplified bicycles. Joining them, the somewhat like-minded Starving Weirdos, who craft noisy drone music on all sorts of other things, and the comparatively straight-ahead rockers Trash and Roll.

That night at the Jambalaya is your chance at immortality, of a sort anyway. Our own funky folky Tamaras is laying down some of her latest tunes for posterity (which is to say, making a record) accompanied by drummer Nate Kaplan. She wants a live sound with real people, and your clinking glasses and applause could be part of it all.

And down the way at Muddy's Hot Cup, formerly local folky Casey Connor returns from Bellingham, Wash., for a show with his old friend Lila Nelson. (I'm guessing it wasn't hard to get that gig since Lila books the place.)

Saturday down at the Mateel (a place currently awash in controversy), it's the 16th Annual Hemp Festival, which includes hemp-related speeches and products, "expressive arts therapist" Lou Montgomery performing her monologue, Pachamama Rides Again, and my favorite local AfroCuban dance band Ponche!. Darryl Cherney serves as event MC, and I'll bet he sings his hit parody, "One Ton of Marijuana." (Go ahead, try and stop him.)

Saturday evening at the Ferndale Rep, it's a "Welcome Home" concert with bluesman Earl Thomas and the Blues Ambassadors, which will probably draw a bit on Earl's new disc, Plantation Gospel. For those who plan ahead, Earl's also booked for New Year's Eve at The Pearl before he heads off on the Blues Cruise in January.

Meanwhile at the Bayside Grange (a happening place this weekend) Jeff DeMark debuts his one-man show, They Ate Everything But Their Boots in a benefit for his employer, KHSU. I've heard bits and pieces of this new work as he's developed it (sometimes while talking to him on the phone) and it's good -- funny, like all his stuff, somehow tying together tales of phone calls to Charles Bukowski, the town of Bedrock and real life ghostbusters. Extra bonus: Jeff's twin bros' band, The Delta Nationals, play for dancers afterward. Come early for hors d'oeuvres and wine.

The Red Fox Tavern has a string of cool shows coming up: Thursday, Nov. 9, they bring in underground hip hopper Crayz Walz from Definitive Jux Records for a show that also includes Orko and DJ State of Mind. Friday, Red Fox has a band called Absynth, but not the local quintet -- this one's a keys/guitar/drums trio from Tahoe playing electrojams. DJ State of Mind is back Saturday as one of the Get Biz Kids spinning with DJ Red and Drassar Monumental. Then on Sunday it's reggae from Yami Bolo backed by the Yellow Wall Dub Squad.

Saturday at Sacred Grounds it's a clash of alt. this and that, a three-band show bringing together locals The Tao Jonesers with two touring bands, Ponieheart and The Trucks. Songwriter/guitar player John Ludington and drummer Cade Burkhammer make up the Jonesers, playing melodic, straightforward folk rock with cool, somewhat unusual lyrics (at least judging from what I heard on MySpace). More cool alt. sounds from Ponieheart, the nom de band of Paul Fugazzotto II, an alt. folkie who used to be part of Rainywood, the early incarnation of Brightblack Morning Light, touring behind his new disc, Touch to Love. Then there's The Trucks, a girl group from Washington that includes Kristin Allen-Zito, who you might remember was at Sacred Grounds on her own in July on a solo tour. They play edgy electro-pop with sometimes raunchy lyrics (that Karen's folksinger mom hates) like those of "Titties," in which the singer asks repeatedly and rhetorically, "What makes you think we can fuck just because you put your tongue in my mouth and you twisted my titties, baby?" Another question song, "Why the ?" is more hesitant in title only, wondering "why the fuck" her lover is not interesting in going down.

That one brings to mind a note that came in via e-mail regarding "avoiding culturally insensitive language" by use of the local band name, Que La Chinga, which I'm told, is "a serious verbal assault on your readers who understand Spanish," by a reader who suggests, "Since I'm sure you would never print a translation of `Que la Chinga' into English, you may want to consider how you would delete the expletive in Spanish." All I can say is, what the fuck? Would I really avoid translating their name if it came up in the proper context? No, I would not.

Coming up next Wednesday, Nov. 15, Humbrews hosts the first night in a two night run by the jamband Blue Turtle Seduction. Same night in Blue Lake at the Red Radish, it's the return of the Fishtank Ensemble, a wild 6-piece from Seattle led by fiddler Fabrice Martinez, who according to accordionist Aaron Seeman, play, "Balkan folk music, traditional folk, Swedish folk songs, Klezmer and original music" on the fiddle, guitar, singing saw, Japanese shamisen, flamenco guitar, etc. (For those in SoHum, they head south Thursday for a show at Beginnings Octagon.) The combination may sound chaotic, but it's not. And while their music is often pigeon-holed as "Gypsy jazz" by club owners and music journalists, that doesn't do it justice -- "eclectic world folk" might do, but maybe you should go hear the band and decide for yourself.

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