Other Things Happening on the 10th

With all the attention I’ve been paying to Endangered Blood coming to the Bay Area on Dec. 10 (links: one, two), I should mention there are two creative-music shows that conflict with it.

1) 21 Grand Benefit at Church of the Buzzard (2601 Adeline St. at 26th, Oakland)

It’s a really good cause. You can read my little rant or the more informative and objective piece at kqed.org. Bottom line, the money raised here will go to folks who supported the local creative-music scene for years and who are still hopeful of finding a new place to host shows, after the city of Oakland chased them out of their current location.

The music here will be varied, reflecting 21 Grand’s open-minded tastes. ¬†Highlights will include junk percussion master Moe! Staiano; Alee Karim (formerly bassist with Moe! in the band Mute Socialite); and SL Morse (Dominique Leone on keys, Curtis McKinney on bass, and Sarah Lockhart, drums). ¬†Lockhart booked shows at 21 Grand up until this year, when she stepped down for some much-deserved rest.

Details at Bayimproviser.com and on the 21 Grand site/blog.

2) Host Family at Subterranean Arthouse (2179 Bancroft Way, Berkeley)

This is a two-guitar quartet that includes Karl Evangelista of Grex. On their MySpace page, you can check out the jazzy “Moon Songs” trilogy, including shredding guitar solos from Evangelista and Andrew Conklin (not necessarily in that order) … or the King Crimson-like stacking of linear guitar notes on “Peel.” It’s a band with a lot of influences and a lot of possible directions.

This show is the release party for their debut CD, Dream Recess, and the performance will include the group playing a live score to Buster Keaton’s short film, The Scarecrow.

Opening act is Shatter, a sextet of local improvisers: Lance Grabmiller (laptop electronics), Phillip Greenlief (sax), Tom Djll (trumpet), Tim Perkis (laptop electronics), John Shiurba (guitar), Karen Stackpole (percussion, gongs).

Another Good Venue Gone?

Shortcut: Skip my rant, below, and read this article on the KQED Website, where Fred Frith gets interviewed about what a tragedy it would be to lose 21 Grand.

Yes, it’s that special Thursday, and you know what I’m thankful for? All the people who bust their buns so I can see some good music shows.

I’m not talking about the musicians (for whom I’m plenty thankful, of course).¬† I’m talking about the people who run venues or weekly series, going through the trouble of finding a space, booking acts, and making sure everything happens according to plan, or a close facsimile thereof.

That’s a lot of work, and it takes its toll. Bars and clubs might like the idea of an experimental music night, but they lose enthusiasm as they get tired of losing money. Museums and galleries make fine settings, but they’re not necessarily outfitted to seat even a dozen people for a couple of hours — kudos to places like The Luggage Store, Meridian Gallery, Berkeley Art Museum, and a few others I’m forgetting.

And then … then there’s a place like 21 Grand, where the owners are music enthusiasts and open their doors to all sorts of artistic creativity.

How does the community reward them? By shutting them down.

The city of Oakland, pointing to what are called cabaret laws, says 21 Grand needs to conform to the safety codes for venues holding more than 49 people. The landlord won’t foot the $100,000 in necessary renovations, understandably. The fight’s not over yet, but it doesn’t look good.

The rules in question have to do with fire exits and the like — and while safety is worth worrying about, the city is miscategorizing 21 Grand’s music shows. Yes, the place hosted some rock acts, but it’s not a sweaty, wall-to-wall club crowd. For the improv shows, in particular, we’re talking about 10 or 20 people in their 40s and 50s, sitting still in folding chairs.

Nothing about that says “cabaret,” does it?

And yet, in draconian fervor, the city won’t let the place stay open. Another cultural resource lost, just because it doesn’t fit mainstream expectations and doesn’t make money. It happens repeatedly. The carnage circa year-2000 was particularly bad, as San Francisco cleaned out the DIY avant-garde spots in favor of pricey loft gentrification for dot-commers.

So, to Sarah Lockhart and Darren Jenkins and anyone else who made 21 Grand work through two location changes — and to everyone else to organizes venues and shows: Thanks, and don’t be discouraged. You do make a difference.

(For even more reading: See the article that OaklandNorth ran in October. A key quote there: “The city’s not offering a way out for us.”)