Bars of the Mission: Beauty Bar & Delirium

Beauty Bar, San Francisco originally uploaded by charlotte.wright

I’ve noticed the droves of young females who spend their nights at Beauty Bar. It’s mainly young undergrads who’ve recently migrated from Southern California to a three-bed share in the Tenderloin. Their version of the Mission is meeting friends at Puerto Allegre for uninteresting margaritas and enchiladas, then shaking their shoulders with some date-rape shirt to some sub-par DJ at Beauty Bar. A few months go by, and they’re standing in the cocaine line at Delirium wondering if the douchebag in the corner with the purple kerchief sitting pretty on his scruffy, smelly neck is checking out her American Apparel sangria-colored tights. Do these tourists make the Mission, or does the Mission make the tourist?

Kid in the Hall Dave Foley on Comedy Festivals, Reunion Tours, Canada, and Young Asian Girls Growing up in Prostitution

Last week, the Bay Area print edition of The Onion ran my interview with Kid in the Hall Dave Foley, in advance of the troupe’s whirlwind weekend at Sketchfest. The Onion doesn’t make local content available online, so here it is, as published.

The Kids In The Hall
The Kids In The Hall were to the first half of the ’90s what Mr. Show was to the second half and Flight Of The Conchords are to today: an off-kilter sketch-comedy troupe with a cable show loved by teens, college students, and discerning thirtysomethings. Since the TV show came to an end more than a decade ago, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson have ventured into feature films, sitcoms, and reality shows, and they still occasionally get back together to perform live for their legions of fans. The A.V. Club spoke with Foley about the old times, the new times, and why not everyone in Canada is allowed to be funny.
The A.V. Club: Do you like comedy festivals?
Dave Foley: I usually enjoy going to them because I get to run into old friends that maybe I haven’t seen in years, people I’ve met doing comedy. It’s like going to a high-school reunion or a convention: You get to hang out and see what everybody’s up to. And it’s always nice to get surprised by somebody new.
AVC: Does the festival atmosphere serve the art?

DF: I know it serves the desire of comedians to get drunk together fairly effectively. It really is just that coming together of people that you run into and get to know. Then maybe you don’t see them for a year or two or more, and then you just pick up again and see what kind of comedy they’re doing. There’s this cross-pollination.
AVC: You guys reunited for the first time in 2000. Are reunions fun?

DF: The 2000 one was truly a reunion because we hadn’t done anything in five years, and we weren’t talking for a long time. Since then, when we get back together, we kind of feel like being a Kid In The Hall is an ongoing part of our lives, whereas in 2000 we weren’t sure if it would be. Now we all really enjoy it. I think we like being together because we don’t have to be nice to each other at all. We can be just as mean to each other as we want to be, and usually all that happens is we make each other laugh.

AVC: Are there still moments when it feels as vital as it did back in the day?

DF: That, disturbingly, hasn’t changed much at all. We still like to surprise each other. We still make each other laugh really hard. It still feels like the same experience, except that now we’re writing as middle-aged men instead of 20-year-old kids. I was always worried we’d lapse into doing “Kids In The Hall-style comedy,” as opposed to just doing comedy, but it doesn’t feel like we’re trying to echo stuff that we’ve done in the past.

AVC: Have years in Hollywood changed the dynamic at all?

DF: It’s weird. We’ve really benefited from the fact that we’ve never been really successful. Even though we’re paunchy, gray-haired men, we can, in our minds, feel like we’re still young punks doing comedy that is still sort of outside the mainstream, which is a nice delusion to be able to have in your later years. We definitely have more “authority” now than we used to, but happily we’re not too aware of it. We still feel like we’ve got to prove ourselves all the time.

AVC: But you do accept that you’re something of an authority.

DF: I think the preferred term is “legend”? [Laughs.]

AVC: Right. So how do the young punks treat you guys?

DF: People treat us with an uncomfortable amount of respect. To me, it still feels odd to be receiving the kind of respect that I remember giving to the comedians I looked up to. It’s something you’re grateful for, but I don’t know if you ever really get used to being respected.

AVC: If there had been web-based viral video 20 years ago, how would your troupe’s history be different?

DF: There would have been less emphasis on live performing. I’m glad we learned that skill and had that fun of being in a nightclub and having that real connection with the audience. If you’re just putting comedy sketches up on YouTube and then you get a development deal, I don’t know if you have that same connection to the people you’re performing for. For us, the closest thing to YouTube was a college radio show. I’ve still got the tapes somewhere.

AVC: Any plans to release that stuff?

DF: Not any plans. I think we’d like to.

AVC: Why are Canadians such great comedians?

DF: Actually, we’re good at comedy on TV, but if you look at Canadian feature films, they’re not funny. Canadian feature films are all like Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg–not a lot of laughs. It’s hard to get funding for a funny film because it doesn’t seem culturally relevant. The film industry is mostly government-funded, so you have to write this sensitive story of a young Asian girl growing up in prostitution.

AVC: Think you’ve got something like that in you?

DF: You know what? I think I’m too old to play a young Asian girl now.

AVC: No, as a writer!

DF: Oh that–oh definitely, yeah.

AVC: The night before your performance, Sketchfest is also hosting a Kids In The Hall tribute. Have you done that before?

DF: No, not really. No one’s paid tribute to us yet. My hope is that we’re all, you know, funny. I expect the other guys to say things that I will laugh at. We won’t be taking it all that seriously. Hopefully we’ll just have some fun.

AVC: Beyond the festival, what’s next for The Kids In The Hall?

DF: We’re planning on going on tour this spring. Dates are starting to be booked now. We’re gonna go out for maybe a couple months. The bulk of the show will be new material, as it will be in San Francisco. This past year is the first time we’ve gone out with new material since the TV show. I know we’re all happy with it. The quality of the material is comparable to any of the stuff we’ve done. –Allan Hough

The Kids In The Hall tribute takes place Jan. 26 at the Palace Of Fine Arts Theatre and their closing-night performance is Jan. 27 at the Palace Of Fine Arts Theatre.

The closing-night performance was loosey goosey and great. Time traveling Dave is an image I will never forget. Let me know if you want more of a rundown on my thoughts on the performance. I missed the tribute, but here’s a great video excerpt, in which they explain how Scott Thompson killed Kurt Cobain:
Link to my Onion interview with John McCrea of Cake.
Link to all our posts involving web-based video, YouTube or otherwise.

photo by t-dawg

Remembering The Fell Street Off-Ramp

It’s been five years since the city knocked down the Fell Street Off-Ramp. The Octavia corridor is all vibrant and everything, and Market Street is prettier or whatever. But I still recall when, as a teenager in Sacramento, the only thing to do on the weekend was head to SF for 1.) an Amoeba run, and, often 2.) show at Bottom of the Hill. This translated to a fair amount of time on the Fell Street Off-Ramp. As soon as it broke from the freeway proper, it began snaking past buildings, tearing around corners, flying high over Market, thru the treetops, within *inches* of the First Baptist Church’s big dome. And then it set you down gently, kitty corner from Il Borgo. It made a Volvo station wagon feel like the Batwing.

Anyway, it was on one such trip that we really discovered the Mission for the first time. After Amoeba, we cruised up Stanyan to 17th Street, came down that great big hill into the Castro, and cruised through the Mission en route to a Fucking Champs show I think. Looking out the window up and down Dolores and then Valencia and then Mission was like finding a hidden prehistoric valley. We found an apartment here as soon as we could.

Property Owner Bummed Out By Discarded Toddler Vehicles Takes Matters Into Own Hands

I just think it’s refreshing to see a totally straightforward note like this. These days, every note you see is either really clever or really funny because it’s so passive aggressive. This is neither, and I like it. Found on Mission Street just south of Chavez, taped to this cute pile of trash:


Jojoblog Recruits Mission Mission's Allan

jonathan richman @ the makeout room, originally uploaded by k4rl.

Jojoblog administrator RB loved my Volvo movie, asked me to join the team, I said hells yeah, and they gave me full admin power without batting an eye. In my mind, Jonathan Richman goes hand in hand with the Mission, thanks to dozens of Make-Out Room shows (see photo), and of course the Matt Gonzalez campaign. So I’m thrilled to be contributing to the foremost Jonathan fan resource on the web.

Who Ganked Thrillhouse Records' Fire-Breathing T-Rex Signage?

thrillhouse-records-t-recs.gifIf the sitch is not rectified, all that will remain of this great signage is this Google Maps Street View imageUpdate: I guess it’s just being painted or something, should be back soon (see comments).

Driving My Volvo To Its Demise

Here’s our beloved sedan’s last ride. The trip starts in the Mission, and the video features music by local artist and Mission District proponent Jonathan Richman. For more Jonathan, peep this imeem post for a gem of a Hedwig cover.

Fuck Your Blog Priority Mail Sticker Graffiti at Pop's Bar

fuck your blog fuc you, originally uploaded by allanhough.

Happy New Year!

Cake's John McCrea on the Importance of Musicians and Degenerates in San Francisco

Last week, the Bay Area print edition of The Onion published my interview with Cake‘s John McCrea, in advance of their big NYE show at the Warfield. Following is the unpublished full-length version of our talk, in which we delve a little deeper into things San Francisco:

Cake is a consistent band. Despite hitting fairly big during the alterna-boom of the mid-’90s, they stayed true to themselves and their sound. Fans stayed true too, and Cake has been going strong ever since. In October, they put out “B-Sides and Rarities”, their first self-released effort since parting ways with Columbia Records. In November, they embarked on their Unlimited Sunshine Tour, a rock anti-festival of sorts, featuring an eclectic lineup and a strict no-wait policy between acts. On New Year’s Eve, they bring their show to the Warfield, with Oakland’s the Lovemakers in tow. Frontman John McCrea keeps a tight leash on everything Cake-related (during shows he operates the venue’s disco ball with a foot pedal), but it’s all a part of delivering a quality product.

A.V. Club: How has the Unlimited Sunshine Tour been?

John McCrea: Musically, it’s the most cohesive tour that we’ve put together. The different sounds fit together in a way that’s not repetitive but is also not gratuitously jarring, though I prefer that jarring quality to the repetitious quality of most festival concerts wherein you have basically the same rock drumbeat every song for five hours. The human ear turns off after a certain point. That’s the value of variety, that the human body can stay engaged.

AVC: What’s Cake doing lately to keep bodies engaged?

JM: We’re playing a subtly anti-war Kenny Rogers song called “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” about a guy who comes back from Vietnam paralyzed from the waist down, and his relationship problems after that. Probably the saddest song about war I’ve ever heard. It’s on our album, B-Sides and Rarities, that we released in October on our own label.

AVC: Right, so having ditched the majors, do you feel like you’re right where you want to be?

JM: We’re not where we don’t want to be. It’s good not to be on a sinking ship. It’s better to be on a little raft, I suppose. There are still a lot of confusing aspects to the situation right now that will be pretty challenging, but it’s certainly easier to do this without the incredible waste of the major label industry system. By the same token, if music sales continue plummeting and the rate that they’ve been plummeting, we won’t be immune to that either. Just separating ourselves from a major label isn’t enough to insulate us from the stark reality of all recorded music being free. I want music to be free, but I also would love sandwiches to be free, and rent to be free.

AVC: Still, despite industry ups and downs, your fans have stuck by you for more than a decade. Does that surprise you?

JM: I think what you’re doing, and we all do it somewhat, it taking for granted the idea that it’s a use-and-discard culture. In this fearful frenzy of not wanting to be associated with a band that’s over six months old, people use music as a badge to wear instead of something to listen to. There’s something self-hating about our culture that suspects anything that is too widely embraced. In other words, if the groundlings like the Shakespeare play too much, maybe the people up in the fancy seats think maybe this isn’t his best play. Regardless of the quality of the music, if too many people like it, there’s this distancing process that has to happen.

AVC: On a related note, Cake’s sound doesn’t change much from album to album. Why don’t fans get tired of it?

JM: I guess I would ask someone to listen to the variance between songs on a single record, and then ask that same question. I don’t believe in gratuitous progression or evolution of a band. The prime directive should be to the individual song. I don’t want to sacrifice a song for some sort of theoretical, overarching narrative. That’s my problem with that. I like to be able to go a lot of different places on one album. Also, I’m glad that certain bands have a certain sound that they don’t try to reinvent because they feel like they’re supposed to reinvent it. For instance, AC/DC. They’re providing a quality service by making that sound, and if they totally reinvented it, no one would be making that sound. I would feel sad.

AVC: How are fans reacting to your cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”? Any stage diving?

JM: As far as I’m concerned, we play easy-listening music. There’s no hormonal, veins-bulging-from-the-neck thing going on. I’m always taken aback when people start crowd surfing or moshing to an easy-listening song. It tends to happen when we’re playing for a college crowd.

AVC: I saw your friend Jonathan Richman at the Great American Music Hall the other night. Lots of fans were requesting older material, and he ranted a bit about how, to him, those songs were like day-old bread.

JM: I respect him tremendously, but I have a different view about it. Music being sort of a service occupation — now more than ever — i think it’s honorable to play a song that people want to hear even if you’ve played it a lot. I think it’s honorable to reinvent it and find a way to be thrilled with it again. There’s a real nobility to what I saw when I saw Frank Sinatra live. I saw it as really honorable, him playing songs to regular people. Maybe those people weren’t in the music industry, or didn’t realize that was “day-old bread”. They just loved that song. They wanted to hear “Mac the Knife” by Frank Sinatra. Is that perspective so wrong?

AVC: So on New Year’s Eve, will you surprise the audience with some oft-requested favorites?

JM: I don’t know if it’s a surprise if I say what’s gonna happen, but yeah there are surprises. And there are some surprises that are non-musical. There will be all kinds of stimulation. We’re giving away a tree every time we play for the rest of our career — however long that lasts. We’ll ask some question like “How long did the Civil War last?” Last night somebody answered “four years”, and they were right, and we gave them a Colorado Blue Spruce. We’re asking them to send a picture of themselves standing next to the tree every year or two, and we’ll watch the tree grow as the person shrinks.

AVC: Speaking of things green, what’s your take on local San Francisco politics as of late?

JM: There are some things that happened in San Francisco politics that could happen nowhere else in country. I’m grateful things are as progressive as they are. Compared to all the other cities that we visit in the United States, it’s pretty remarkable. People lambast us using catch phrases like “San Francisco values”, but i just think values are shitty everywhere else, so… live it up. That said, all my friends have moved to Portland, and I’m not sure if San Francisco’s gonna be as livable without any musicians or degenerates. Sure there are lots of great musicians and bands, but they’re musicians that happen to have jobs at Yahoo! or something.

–Allan Hough