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The Hum by Bob Doran

June 24, 2004

Photo plus headline of Bernice Lewis

PENNSYLVANIA-BASED SINGER-SONGWRITER BERNICE Lewis [photo at right] dropped by my office this week with Mariah, her delightful four-going-on-five-year old leading the way. After her daughter breezed into the back yard to charm my wife and my mom, we sat down to talk, only to be interrupted by a Jehovah's Witness at my door.

That set the scene for discussion of Bernice's latest disc, Religion and Release. When I pointed out that the songs are not exactly about religion, she concurred. She's not exactly religious. And she worries that modern religion tends to "create us and them situations."

"I was brought up in the Jewish faith and there are things I still hold on to, but I've also had a 30-year experience practicing Hatha Yoga and that served me with a spiritually that I could write volumes on. And it's not really Buddhism," she began, plunging right in.

Her song, "Religion and Release," tells a dark story about growing up in a somewhat dysfunctional family. (Side note: the back-up vocals are by her friend Dar Williams.) It's one of several on the record dealing with what she terms "the parenting issue," something she was exploring when she wrote the song cycle for her last album.

"I can get very esoteric, and that's an esoteric song. Then there are others like `Normal is a Setting on the Washing Machine' [about gay marriage among other things], which I consider to be light, airy and fun, although it still has a message."

Lewis hit town last week and played to a great crowd at Temple Beth El. She's ready for another show, Saturday June 26, at the Westhaven Center for the Arts. Interested in thoughtful folk? Be there.

The Eureka Summer Concert Series is underway with free shows Thursday evenings on the boardwalk by the compass rose at the foot of F St. This week it's jump swing with the Hucklebucks from Sacramento. Next Thursday it's the Daniel Castro Blues Band, and no, lead guitarist Daniel (a disciple of the Kings, Albert, B.B., etc.) is not related to Tommy Castro.

Thursday, June 24, is also a pretty good day for indie rock. At the Alibi, garage rockers the Vice, up from Oakland, with Humboldt's own Turbo 400 opening. Meanwhile at the Eureka VFW Lounge, soon-to-be rising stars, the Peels, with EKA Garbage Co.

According to the SxSW website, "The Peels are a San Francisco female fronted four-piece playing new wave influenced pop-rock with similar musical stylings resembling Blondie, Buzzcocks and the Pretenders with songs that are direct and catchy."

All bands members are named Peel, but I'm not sure if they're related (could be a Ramones type thing). Chris from EKA Garbage (formerly Audio Wreck) tells me the Peels are buddies of his who recently went big time, signing with Capital Records. Apparently the majors are trolling for the next White Stripes and the Peels have the requisite grit and drive. (Incidentally, the VFW Lounge is the bar downstairs from the Veteran's Hall, across the hall from where Bummerfest is held.)

That night at Club West it's the return of the Goth/industrial dance night called Fathom. And speaking of Goth, Human Drama, one of the important early bands exploring the dark style, is at the Mateel Friday night.

Things took a turn for the worse last week for the Placebo. You may have read my story a few weeks back about their struggle to keep their space out at the Manila Community Center ("The Placebo Odyssey" May 27) in the face of complaints from sound sensitive neighbors. Well, their closest neighbor complained again, and this time the Manila Community Services Board was ready to stop all shows until they install that new door on the back side of their space, a five or six week process including applying for permits. Since that would leave them with no income and no way to pay rent, a compromise was reached: no "loud" shows.

Of course most of the bands that were booked for the summer season were potentially loud, which meant booker Willoughby had the unenviable task of informing dozens of touring and local bands already booked that there is nowhere for them to play. I guess this is a victory for those who worry about "off-site impacts," but it's a bummer for music fans of all ages.

The good news? Bummerfest was a resounding success, and the Placebo is risking at least one more show. Friday, June 25, they present four bands: Sugarbush, a "disko punque no wave" band from Tucson, Ariz. led by identical twin sisters, Dawn and Kee, whose voices kind of remind me of punky new waver Patti Smith's herky-jerky delivery, plus Galactic Federation of Love, a neo-psychedelic rock band, also from Tucson, and locals, the Ian Fays, a relatively quiet band, also one fronted by twin sisters, and a new noise band from Arcata called Pubic Zirconium, who plan an unplugged set in honor of the noise ban.

Saturday, morning June 26, the Delta Nationals rock the Arcata Farmers' Market with a new set of songs all about fruits and vegetables. That evening at Humboldt Brews it's those cross-dressing glam rockers the Cover Girls who declare, "The joke's not over yet" Joining them, the Help (formerly known as the DT's) plus One Red Cent.

And up the highway at Six Rivers McKinleyville it's the Lost Coast Ramblers. First time I saw the name I figured it was yet another bluegrass band, but some club owner told me they play the blues. I was wrong and so was he. "Not bluegrass," said guitarist Pete Manka. "We're a honky tonk band." What does that mean? "Pretty much your classic country sound: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., senior and even the Third." (Side note, Hank Williams III is coming to the Mateel July 30, playing bass with OzFest headliners, Superjoint Ritual, which also features Phillip Anselmo from Pantera.)

Pete continued, explaining that the club owner was not totally off-base. An earlier incarnation of LCR played acoustic country and blues. "Then we got a steel guitar player and moved towards the honky tonk sound." Why? "There's something about the honesty of the music and the bare bones sound. It's not like the over-produced pop that passes for country on the radio. It's real."

On a related topic, we got a letter last week from Eureka resident Cathy Malfatti, hoping to enlist supporters in a campaign to get Johnny and June Cash immortalized on a U.S. postage stamp. She's serious: Malfatti spearheaded a similar campaign in 1993 that resulted in a Hank Williams stamp. She's asking for your letters of support; send them to Cathy Malfatti, P.O. Box 3443 Eureka, CA. 95502.

This came by e-mail earlier this week: "My name is Johnny Dismal. I play in the Teenage Harlets. We are a surf/garage/punk/rock band from San Francisco. We play 13 songs in 16 minutes -- its very fun and very entertaining. We are touring with the Juvinals from Reno, Nev. They are a two-piece garage punk rock band, loud and full of energy (amongst other things), and thee Coppertones from San Francisco. They are a surf instrumental band, very soothing, yet wild enough to keep you from being too relaxed. We'll be playing at the Alibi on Wednesday, June 30."

Doesn't that sound like fun? It does to me. Maybe I'll see you there.


Bob Doran



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