Critic’s Choice for the week of May 14-20, 2003

A stage show that will put you in orbit, a rock collective that's part jam band and part punk, lizards from the Big Easy, and free Jazz on Fourth.


Folkster Dar Williams combines the best elements of her genre. Her songs, some casual and quirky, some hauntingly poetic, range from the political to the personal. They can be bitingly witty or heartbreakingly beautiful. Still, one of the greatest things about folk is hearing the tales behind the lyrics, and Williams — candid and comfortable in concert — shines on stage. Her stories are as funny, powerful, and passionate as the songs themselves. She appears on Thursday at the Fillmore in SF to promote her latest album, The Beauty of the Rain. 415-346-6000. (Helene Blatter)


Calling all mods, frat rockers, and twisters to the Ivy Room in Albany this weekend! Picture a small neighborhood bar in the East Bay. Nothing special about this scene: people gabbing and having a good time. Suddenly five guys march onto the small stage. They are wearing Pabst Blue Ribbon knit hats and are dressed like insurance salesmen from the Cold War era. They commence to lay down a roaring wall of ’60s garage rock — the crowd jumps onto the dancefloor and proceeds to twist the night away. Well, it’s not a mythical example, ’cause the Saturn V Featuring Orbit is a real live band that puts on a crazy stage show with nonstop gags and gimmicks and a crowd-pleasing Twist Contest. The winner takes home a transistor radio and a copy of the group’s new CD, After-Work Sessions. The whole scene will be reenacted Saturday at the Ivy Room, 858 San Pablo Ave., Albany. 510-524-9220. (Chris Modern)


Los Temerarios are the kings of Mexican regional grupo pop, combining the retro ’60s electric combo sound with synthesizers and rock influences. The band’s early recordings as Conjunto la Brisa caught the ears of the public, but in 1983 changed its name to Los Temerarios, and now, thanks to such melancholy romantico songs as “Una Lagrima No Basta” (“One Tear Isn’t Enough”), these guys are now heartthrob heroes who appear Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum. 510-569-2121. (Jesse “Chuy” Varela).


The East Bay instrumental band/collective Mushroom has an improvisational yet deep-in-the-groove approach that endears them to fans of rare groove R&B, Kraut rock, sons-of-the-Dead jam bands, and free jazzers. The group’s latest album, Mad Dogs and San Franciscans (Black Beauty), is a major departure, as it features iconic Bay Area vocalist Gary Floyd, formerly of the Dicks and Sister Double Happiness. It’s a “tribute” to a now-reviled period in rock history: the late ’60s/early ’70s. Floyd’s hearty, blue-eyed soul voice zings new life into such classic rock radio warhorses as Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” and Spirit’s “I Got a Line on You.” Bottom of the Hill hosts the CD release party Thursday — the event will also celebrate This Is! (Black Beauty), the latest release from Ralph Carney, the number one choice when stars (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello) need a wizard of the woodwinds. 415-621-4455 (Mark Keresman)


Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage deserves a full house Wednesday night, as the exceptional young cellist Matt Haimovitz previews his fall fifty-state tour by playing selections from his upcoming Anthem CD. Expect Haimovitz’ personal take on Jimi Hendrix’ “Star Spangled Banner,” Rome prizewinner David Sanford’s “Seventh Avenue Kaddish,” and selections by the late Lou Harrison, Tod Machover, Osvaldo Golijov, and other contemporaries. 510-548-1761. (Jason Serinus)


In a world where even underground bands are often infected with the desire to fit into a comfortable niche, the Texas-based Asylum Street Spankers are a whole ‘nuther animal. This all-acoustic band of extremists mix swing, jazz, blues, country, and performance art into a bewildering blend of high-octane entertainment. Frontpersons Christine Marrs (who could be the reincarnation of Betty Boop) and Wammo (a word-spewing maniac who seemingly views the world through belladonna glasses) are only the tip of this demented iceberg. Friday at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. 510-841-2082. (j. poet)


New Orleans’ Iguanas cook up a jambalaya of styles when they hit the stage: pop, roots rock, Mexican folk, and zydeco. They’ve drawn comparisons to Los Lobos, and with their dual sax lineup, they evoke memories of Morphine. Their musical mélange hits Saratoga’s Carriage House Theatre (408-961-5858) — on May 15, and the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco (415-478-2277) — on May 17. (Michael Gowan)


Sunday afternoon they’ll close off the street, set up stages, put out the food and drink, and watch as the seventh annual Jazz on Fourth turns Berkeley’s Fourth Street shopping area into spring’s best little outdoor fest. The free event features saxophonist Dave Ellis’ Quartet, Latin jazz greats Orestes Vilató and John Santos, rockin’ Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers, and big-band excitement from the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble, which was just named the nation’s top high school band by the Monterey Jazz Festival. 510-526-6294. (Larry Kelp)


If the Beatles were one of today’s electronic music acts, they might have sung, “Picture yourself in a boat on the ocean, a luxury liner pumping music so fly/Suddenly a live group appears on the bandstand, with marmalade bass and kaleidoscope highs/Exotic textures fill your head, the beat and the waves crashing away/Look for the lotus logo all around you, you’re chilling with Om on the Bay.” Sail away Sunday on a five-hour tour past the Golden Gate and back with SF’s premier electronic music label, celebrating the release of Morphology, the new album from Afro-Mystik (who will perform live). Also appearing are Om recording artists Kaskade, Rithma, and J-Boogie, plus DJs Nikola, Michael Tell, Jonathan Beach, and Andrew Kelsey, in the “Kinky Funk Cabin.” The ship departs from Pier 9 (Embarcadero/Broadway, S.F.) at 6:30 p.m.; boarding starts at 6 p.m. sharp. Advance ticket purchase strongly suggested. 415-543-3505 or (Eric K. Arnold)


Berkeley’s own master of the eight-string axe, Charlie Hunter, has received many accolades in his ten-year recording career, which has seen him release a string of impressive contemporary jazz albums on the Prawnsong and Blue Note labels. He’s got more chops than a Benihana training seminar taught by Sonny Chiba, and Right Now Move, his new album on ropeadope records, is his first with his new quintet. He’ll bring his group to the Fillmore Friday, for a show that promises to feature equal amounts of jazz tradition and fresh, youthful energy. 415-346-3000. (E.A.)


Sol Americano‘s debut album, Boogie Buffet, offers up a tantalizing mix of highly rhythmic musical textures: hip-hop, soul, funk, rock, and R&B, with a touch of African and Latin flavors thrown in for good measure. The combination shines on such original songs as “Sweaty Baby,” “Djeli Gumbo,” and “Tension,” suggesting this is a group that’s found its sound and can only get better. If this infectious, soulful nü-funk wasn’t enough, how about a tasty microbrew and a wood-fired pizza while you get your groove on outside under the stars? Sol will be jamming Friday night at Jupiter — bring your boogie shoes. 510-843-7625. (E.A.)

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