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November 16, 2006

Heading: Tearing it up, The Hum by Bob Doran

It's quite possible that you do not remember The Slits, an all-female British punk/dub outfit that came out of the same late '70s scene as The Clash. And most are unaware that the band is back together again in a new form.

When I caught up with them this week they were a month or so into a long North American tour that brings them to Eureka this coming Monday. Tessa Pollit, one of two remaining founding members, was not really sure where they were.

"We've just been driving and driving basically," she told me before checking with someone who told her their van was somewhere outside of Las Cruces, N.M.

Why bring The Slits back? I wondered. "Ari and me felt we had unfinished business with The Slits -- there's more to be done. We've got some great new members to keep it fresh," said Tessa.

The new members? "We've got two guitars, a drummer and a backing singer. The drummer is German; I live near the guitarist, who's half Italian/half English. The other guitarist has a bit of Russian in her. And of course Ari [the band's original lead singer] lives in Jamaica.

"We're moving away from the old Slits," Tessa continued. "We definitely don't want to be considered a retro group. We're moving forward; the music developing. The essence of The Slits is still there."

What is the essence of The Slits? Tessa isn't sure she wants to "analyze that too much." She suggests I ask Ari Up, and hands her the phone. Our conversation get off to a shaky start since Ari is simultaneously talking to me and instructing some bandmember who is videotaping her end of the interview. "The tradition is that we've created a revolution, and a revolution inevitably has to continue," she tells me excitedly. "As soon as you hear the word, Slits, it's already a revolution -- you're completely at risk, you're a threat to society."

She says something about a cord that I don't understand; when I ask her to repeat she says, 'No, I'm talking to The Slits, ignore me,' and asks Tessa, 'Is it filming?'

"What I was saying is, we're a threat to society," she continues. "I don't know why. We never planned to be one, but every time we're together we are, just by walking down the street, by playing the music we do -- we are a threat and a revolution happening. That's the essence. The Slits have always had a tradition of being radical."

When I suggest that a Slit just might be the beginning of a rent in the fabric of modern civilization, she squeals "That's it exactly," and proceeds to hand the phone back to Tessa, who in turn hands it over to the part-Russian guitarist Nadia, aka No.

What's it like being a Slit? "Crazy," she says with a laugh. She's thrilled to be a Slit, a band with a long tradition. "Whether anybody likes it or not, they were the first real female/women's music band. It wasn't a manufactured product of some record company; they got themselves together, they all played instruments, they learned together and created a new sound. That's revolutionary. The problem is, since then, people have tried to write them out of history. You ask people if they know who the Sex Pistols are, they say, 'Yeah.' You ask them about The Clash and they say, 'Yeah, of course I know who The Clash are.' But when it's The Slits, they say, 'Who?' It's a shame, it's terrible. That's a sexist comment on society right there."

While The Slits is a band with a history, that's not what the new Slits is about. "We've evolved with the times," said No. "We play completely up-to-the-minute stuff. It's completely now. Of course, The Slits' music was always so different from everything else. It was kind of timeless. It still is."

The Slits concert at Synapsis Galley Monday, Nov. 20, also includes set by GSL Records recording artists Dmonstrations, Eureka Garbage Company and The Monster Women. Showtime: 8 p.m. sharp.

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Things are hopping at # 47 West 3rd St. in Eureka this week. That would be the split home of Placebo/Empire Squared (on the B side) and Synapsis Gallery (A side).

Thursday, Nov. 16, on the Synapsis side, it's a guitar feast with two amazing players: Jack Rose and Peter Walker. Rose is a hypno/trance acoustic player slightly reminiscent of '60s artists like John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Sandy Bull. While he'll acknowledge those inspirations (which I'd say he's evolving beyond) Rose points to an even stronger influence from Walker, a contemporary of Fahey et al., who incorporated Indian ragas and Spanish flamenco into his idiosyncratic style. Rose is among those whose work is featured on a recent album A Raga For Peter Walker, along with meditations by Greg Davis, Steffen Basho-Junghans and Thurston Moore (from Sonic Youth) and four tracks by Walker himself. Fans of that style of guitar absolutely should not miss this show.

Then on Friday, Nov. 17, on the Placebo side, it's a "Futuristic Drag Variety Show" with rap/glam/punk band Flashy Robots, plus sets by semi-glammy The Buffy Swayze and a moody The Spider Friends.

Saturday the Placebo plays host to the return of The Trucks (remember the raunchy girls I discussed last week?), who share the bill with Seattle's Ice Age Cobras (kind of an alt. soul band), locals The Signals and those costumed crusaders of indie rock The Professional Superheroes. In fact costumes are encouraged for both Placebo shows, so don't put away those Halloween togs.

Speaking of Halloween, Sunday night at The Boiler Room experience a wild night of psychobilly featuring Zombie Ghost Train, a trio from Australia who dress like characters from some bizarre retro-rock horror flick, plus Tabaltix, a psychobilly band from Healdsburg, and The Sick Shooters, a psychobilly band from Ukiah.

A couple of readers responded positively to the business in this column last week about "Avoiding Culturally Insensitive Language." In particular, I got a complimentary note from Andy of the local alt. rock band, Strixxx V#$%. I had to write back to get him offer details about the "Blood of Tyrants Tour" the Vega boys are doing with the culturally insensitive Que La Chinga. The "4 shows, 4 days, 4 cities" jaunt begins Thursday with a show at Six Rivers, heads into Oregon for two nights for shows in Eugene and Portland (with Power of Country), then returns to Humboldt for a Sunday night rager at The Alibi. Says Andy, "I'm hoping on booking more Humboldt County export tours in the near future with local bands teaming up to share what we are all so lucky to have up here to places outside the Redwood Curtain."

Thanksgiving is not far off, which means its about time for those Calaveras County-based hippie folk-rockers Clan Dyken to roll through town in their biodiesel bus on their annual Beauty Way Tour, collecting food, blankets and other supplies for the Dineh People, who have long been entrenched on their patch of land down in the southwest at Big Mountain, trying to hold their own against the Peabody Coal Company. The road show comes to town Saturday, Nov. 18, for a benefit at the Bayside Grange that also includes a set by our own Joanne Rand and her band.

Getting back to the alt. realm, Mike Kinsella from indie bands American Football and Joan of Arc hits town Sunday, Nov. 19, with his latest musical project, Owen, performing a free show at Sacred Grounds (starting at 8 p.m.).

I got confused this week by what seemed to be conflicting listings for Friday's show at The Pearl Lounge. It looked like two bands were booked: the Clint Warner Band and one I'd never heard of, Pocket Jazz. Then I got a note from Clint that made it all clear. "Friday is the debut performance of the new group Pocket Jazz," he began, adding, "I'm really excited to be a part of this quartet featuring funky jazz-fusion tunes by the likes of Kenny Burrell, Herbie Hancock, Jaco Pastorius, Larry Carlton and Robben Ford (whom I studied with this summer in L.A.). This is not your typical Clint Warner Band show (sorry, no Skynyrd at this one)." Clint does jazz? Why not?

Also on the jazzy side, a show Friday at Humboldt Brews by California Guitar Trio, a progressive classical jazz outfit with one player from Belgium, one from Japan and one from Ukiah. And don't forget this Thursday at HumBrews is day two of Blue Turtle Seduction's high altitude funkgrass residency.

Metalmeister Candyman of Hell of Earth called Tuesday from St. Joe's, where he's recovering from a stroke. He wanted me to know the show he'd planned for early Dec. is postponed until he's back on his feet. Don't worry, he's one tough hombre and he'll be headbanging again before you know it.

Last but not least, we have several happenings at the Mateel, a hall that's discussed at length elsewhere in this paper. After the battle royale Friday evening over Reggae/People/Mateel business (which may or may not be resolved that night) there's the monthly Mateel Community Jam featuring Arcata jamsters Nucleus and Bay Area AfroBeat band Albino. Saturday, People Productions has hyphy hip hop from Andre Nicatina with Nucleus returning with a crew of SoHum rappers as Subliminal Sabotage. As if there's not already enough rancor at the Mateel, Monday at 6:15 p.m. they're holding a forum to discuss the controversy surrounding the recent Buju Banton show. Bad timing for that one. Hey, how about a little peace and love down there?

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