Critic’s Choice for the week of February 9-15, 2005

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.


Hard to believe it’s been almost five years since Jill Scott launched a soul revival that both validated and transcended the term “neo-soul.” Her 2000 debut Who Is Jill Scott? rescued contemporary R&B radio from the blahs with now-classic songs like “It’s Love,” “A Long Walk,” and “Getting in the Way.” Scott’s follow-up, last fall’s Beautifully Human, smoothed out whatever raw edges remained from her sound, but didn’t dilute her soulful essence one iota, and scored a coupla Grammy noms besides. One can only imagine how incredible Scott’s soaring pipes will sound in the cavernous environs of Oakland’s Paramount, where she’ll be setting up her Cheesesteak shop Thursday and Friday. Be sure to get there early, because opening act Martin Luther is the real deal when it comes to rock/soul hybrids. His debut album, Rebel Soul Music, out-funkafies Cody Chesnutt, and makes mincemeat out of Lenny Kravitz. By the way, if Scott tickets ($40-$75; are too steep for you, you can still make your Valentine honey melt Saturday night for only $12 ($10 presale at, when Luther brings his soul version of the Reformation to the Independent in SF. (Eric K. Arnold)


Nanci Griffith‘s ability to balance folk sincerity and Nashville studio polish have made her one of the most successful of today’s singer-songwriters. Her Blue Moon Orchestra is a first-rate unit, its unpredictable flourishes adding depth and nuance to every tune. Mary Gauthier, who opens the show, is a compelling singer who pens downbeat tales of life’s darker side, laced with irony and acerbic wit. Saturday at the Fillmore in SF. $28.50, 9 p.m. (j. poet)


Hank Williams III, son of Hank Jr. and grandson of Hank, seems destined for greatness, if people can set aside their preconceptions of what a country singer should be. His powerhouse band slips from booze-soaked hardcore country to screaming heavy metal to blistering folk-punk without blinking, while their boss delivers his tales of debauchery and redemption in a voice eerily like his granddad’s. Friday at Slim’s in SF. $17, 9 p.m. 415-522-0333 or (j.p.)


How about a little agitprop politics with your Valentine’s Day celebration of love? The Last Poets have been called the first rap group, although they called their highly visual style of rhythmic poetry “spoagraphics,” and were one of the most obvious influences on old-school MCs like Melle Mel, as well as ’70s jazz poet and singer Gil Scott-Heron (and, by extension, Sarah Jones). Back when the N-word was still shocking — long before NWA et al. — the Poets used it to great effect on songs like “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution,” calling attention to crises like urban living conditions and the “Mean Machine” of the military-industrial complex. Somewhat less celebrated, however, is the Poets’ softer side, less political in nature, but no less artistic, found on songs like “Bird’s World” and “Jazzoetry.” This weekend, surviving members Abiodun Oyewole and Umar Bin Hassan come to both Oakland’s Eastside Arts Alliance on Saturday and SF’s Punch Gallery on Saturday, for what promises to be two evenings of pure lyrical inspiration. Saturday’s show costs $5-$10; Sunday’s performance — which also features Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Azeem, Anthem Salgado, and the 2004 Youth Speaks Teen Champions–will hit youth for $7 and adults for $15. But, hey, it’s all love, right? (E.K.A.)


Here’s a fine way to prepare for Valentine’s Day: a free concert of works by Franz Schubert, the composer Michael Tilson Thomas thinks may be the greatest of all. The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra under Benjamin Simon brightens Berkeley’s St. John’s Presbyterian Church Sunday afternoon with Schubert’s Trout Quintet, in addition to songs performed by mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao and pianist Mack McCray. Free, 3 p.m. 415-248-1640 or (Jason Victor Serinus)


Saturday’s annual benefit for Berkeley’s Julia Morgan Center promises love-themed somethings for everyone. Directed by Kevin Morales, the Shotgun Players join a host of others for jazz, show tunes, and cabaret and pop classics. There’s also a silent auction, dancing, champagne, and chocolates. $30, $35 at the door; 7 p.m. 925-798-1300. (J.V.S.)


New York jazz trumpeter and bandleader Steven Bernstein has come a long way since his years in the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble. In the past year, he has worked with everyone from Bette Midler to Sting and Elton John. Saturday he plays with a pickup band at Berkeley’s Jazzschool, reuniting with buddies from his time in Peter Apfelbaum’s Hieroglyphics Ensemble for jazzy reinventions of American popular music from Jelly Roll Morton to the Grateful Dead. In addition to guitarist Will Bernard and trombonist Jeff Cressman, the ensemble features clarinetist Ben Goldberg (the newest member of Tin Hat Trio), bassist Devin Hoff, and drummer Scott Amendola. $12-$18, 8 p.m. 510-845-5373 or (Larry Kelp)


Steve Earle didn’t swing the election with last year’s politically charged The Revolution Starts Now, but it reaffirmed his position as the country rocker who rocks the hardest and most righteously. Alison Moorer, another country singer-songwriter with an individual, non-Nashville style, opens. Tuesday and Wednesday at SF’s Great American Music Hall. $26, 8 p.m. 415-885-0750 or (j.p.)

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