Critic’s Choice for the week of April 23-29, 2003

Lavay is busy Licking Skillets, They still Might Be Giants, Abbey takes a (Billie) Holiday, and the Berkeley Rep hosts hip-hop school.


A few years back, swing was gonna be the next big retro thing, and Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers were expected to be the band to make the Bay Area swing-conscious. The craze died, but Smith and her band are still making music as sharp as the creases on their vintage suits. Smith is a great dresser, but more importantly a sultry vocalist with sass and class. Friday at Ashkenaz in Berkeley. 510-525-5054. (j. poet)


Tom Rigney was a founder member of the Sundogs, a New Orleans-flavored Americana band that ruled Bay Area clubs in the ’80s. On its demise Rigney and Flambeau was born, a hard-rocking band that showcases Rigney’s fiddling virtuosity on tunes ranging from Cajun two-steps to Eastern European rave-ups to Celtic flavored jigs and reels. Saturday at Ashkenaz in Berkeley. 510-525-5054. (j.p.)


Singer/songwriter Bryan Bowers is a master of the autoharp, the first folk instrument most grammar school kids are introduced to, but he takes its simple push-the-bar-and-make-a-chord to a new level of dexterity, picking melody lines and adding complex counter-rhythms to accompany his heartfelt vocals. Thursday at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. 510-548-1761. (j.p.)


They Might Be Giants are probably best known for their Dial-a-Song service in the early ’80s and the theme music for Malcolm in the Middle, but the ever-eclectic duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell — now touring with a full band — have more up their sleeves than the odd quirky phrase. In addition to their wise-ass humor, their tunes are melodically inventive, cleverly arranged, and soulful, in a way that only geeky outsiders can be. Monday and Tuesday at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. 415-885-0750. (j.p.)


Legendary vocalist and songwriter Abbey Lincoln is a thoughtful yet fiery singer; her social and political consciousness is evident in her choice of material and the deep compassion of her performance. Like her idol, Billie Holiday, Lincoln adds a larger-than-life dimension to every syllable she sings. Thursday through Sunday at Yoshi’s. 510-238-9200. (j.p.)

Combining a spectacular view with good food and hot jazz for a good cause, the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble and its combos host a benefit jazz brunch Sunday (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) at H’s Lordship’s at the Berkeley Marina, raising money for its summer European tour. Earlier this month, the big band was named the top high school band in the nation at the annual Monterey Jazz Festival high school competition, and will perform on the main stage at the festival in September. 510-527-8245. (Larry Kelp)


The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra returns to Zellerbach Hall Tuesday night for the exciting world premiere of Régis Campo’s Symphony No. 1. Not content with one premiere, Stuart Canin plays the US premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto, a work whose Berlin premiere inspired eight curtain calls. Also featured are Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni and Benedetto Lupo performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24. 510-841-2800. (Jason Serinus)


To find out what’s going on in the Bay Area salsa dance scene, there are several Web sites to consider. and are the longest-running founts of info and entertainment, but the most socially active is This Friday the dance-happy folks at Salsa Crazy break the cyberspace barrier with a spring get-together at the Down Low Lounge in Berkeley with Tito Garcia y su Orquesta. Dance lessons at 7 p.m. 510-548-1159. (Jesse “Chuy” Varela)


So you wanna be an MC, slam poet, breakdancer, DJ, or dramatis persona? Where there’s a will, there’s a way, Big Willie Shakespeare once said, but mastering the particulars of iambic pentameter, constructing a sixteen-bar rhyme pattern, or learning how to scratch a chorus on a turntable isn’t easy, nor is learning how to act natural whilst on stage. Aspiring artists, take note: This Sunday, beginning at 12 noon, Berkeley Rep (2025 Addison Ave., Berkeley; 510-647-2949) becomes a one-day hip-hop theater training course, open to the public and free of charge. Conceived by Berkeley Rep and the Youth Speaks organization as an instructional, supportive tool for young poets and performers, Cornerstones of Hip-Hop also promises to be quite entertaining. For starters, there will be workshops covering all five elements of hip-hop (DJing, MCing, breaking, graffiti art, and beatboxing). Other topics covered include the basics of live performance; a panel discussion on cultural authenticity; a graffiti art slide show presentation; a jam session led by Felonious; and a conversation between the Berkeley Rep’s Tony Taccone and Sarah Jones — currently starring in Surface Transit. (Eric K. Arnold)


Okay, let’s admit it: At one point in our lives, we may have been so over Steve Perry, the whiny, big-nosed lead singer of Journey, that hearing the first notes of “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Who’s Crying Now?” would send our collective consciousness into intermittent psychotic rages, not to mention excursions into anything but album-oriented rock. But time has a way of giving perspective to things, and now we’re older and wiser we can look back on Journey and say, y’know what? The band wasn’t half-bad. After all, “Lights” is as anthemic a Bay Area song as exists, “Wheel in the Sky” is similarly classic; and “Anyway You Want It” features one of the most perfect guitar riffs since the Beatles’ “Day Tripper.” Best of all, six-string avatar Neal Schon still heads up the band’s current incarnation. Journey and Friends — their guests were TBA at press time, but probably very special — appear at the Warfield (415-775-7722) Monday sans the departed Perry (who’s presumably singing “Oh Sherrie” in a strip mall somewhere in Middle America), in a benefit show for the Okizu Foundation. (E.A.)

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