Monday, May 31, 2010

The Greatest Rebirth Celebration Of All Time, And Some Gay Pride Too

Pete Townshend had some very strong words to say about the hippies at Woodstock and Monterey Pop. Looking out at the crowd of nude, hairy flower children, Pete concluded that the Vietnam War wasn’t going to end because of a bunch of naked kids sploshing around in the muck, and if they wanted to live in a world that was nothing but sploshing around in the muck, to hell with the lot of them. Whether it deserved it or not, hippiedom has since turned into a cartoon, just like every other counter-cum-sub-culture in history.
The communal/musical “Rebirth” in the Bay Area is a vaguely hippie-ish movement that cannot fail. They are not trying to change the face of the earth. They are not trying to make a stand. They are not trying to completely alter the human race. They are a bunch of people who all know and love each other, and just want to have fun together as a community. As the Rebirth applies to not only one specific clique or scene but to all--punks, emos, teenyboppers, jocks, preps, goths, hip-hop kids, ska punks, leathers, queens, rastas, rude boys, you name it--there can be no cartoonification of their spirit. It will not eat itself, because they are not trying to be a counterculture or a revolution. They peacefully coexist, as they are a melting pot of all different subcultures. This is why the Rebirth cannot fail. This light will shine forth from the West.
On May 30, 2010, I went to the 70th anniversary show of the Berkeley restaurant/club Blake’s, featuring California bands City Walls, Fever Charm, Finish Ticket, and Foolish Ways. I had come with an East Coast friend who was curious about the Rebirth community and the local music scene. Having never been to a show in Berkeley before, I wondered whether the main city’s spirit was present across the water. I came to the show and found the greatest celebration of the human community I have ever seen.
This show embodied more than simply the Rebirth spirit. It was also a very real expression of homosexual passion. The gay and bi members of the audience (about a third) were indistinguishable from the straight ones. There were no drag queens or leathers, no flam-bam-boyance, no stereotypes. My East Coast friend, who hit on and was hit on by several male audience members, remarked he was happy to find a strictly natural and spontaneous LGBT gathering--as was I. I am very cynical about the cartoonish state of homocentric subculture, and I felt relieved to find what we call “natural gay in the natural way

The show started off strangely enough. The first band to come on was a truly bizarre crunk band called Foolish Ways. The three members were all visually distinctive. One vocalist was clean-cut but resplendent in what appeared to be Christmas lights wrapped around his body like bondage; another vocalist was typically screamoid, with long brown hair and black clothing. The beatmaker, a shirtless and heavily pierced youth with stringy dark hair, stood in the background, pressing various buttons and levers on a stack of rusty machinery that looked like something one might find in an empty room at Fort Point. The three of them played throbbing, dissonant crunk-punk fusion that sounded a bit like Brokencyde but more intelligent and with almost no screaming and growling. In a way, they represented the Rebirth’s relationship with mainstream pop--contempt for it, yes, but in a jokey way.
After seeing Foolish Ways, I ran into Blake Rosier of cult synth-punk band Quiet Game Starting Now. I talked with him a bit, and my East Coast friend found a lot in common with Rosier--both were classically trained musicians about the same age--and they talked for a while until Finish Ticket came on.

Finish Ticket, an alternative rock/R&B sextet from the isolated East Bay town of Alameda, took the stage to much cheering. Every member of the band had their faces painted. When they played their music, everyone showed their romantic side--not only boys and girls but also boys and boys. Several people there whom I knew to be straight were being very intimate with other guys, engaging in activities ranging from dry-humping to full-on frenching. (Apparently, Finish Ticket’s song “We’ll Be Okay” is quite popular in LGBT circles.) Romantic couples aside, Finish Ticket were simply awesome. Singer Brendan Hoye let his voice loose like a wild animal, hollering like an honest soulman over echoing guitars, quirky keyboards, and clattering percussion. They were post-punk rock n’ soul, not too weird but always cool.

But Fever Charm were the height of everything. The East Bay funk-pop quartet’s set was to celebrate the release of their eponymous debut album (a review of which will be posted soon). The band began their set from behind a white curtain. The shadows of the band members could only faintly be seen as they played the intro to one of their songs. After a dramatic drum fill, the curtain was punkishly ripped away, revealing the band in all its awesomeness. Vocalist Ari Berl, an affable but commanding presence, carried his Cyndi Lauper-ish yelp over one of the most ridiculously tight rhythm sections I have ever seen. Theo Quayle’s punky guitarwork, Kendrick Brown’s shuffling drums, and the jaw-dropping bass-work of Yianni AP (brother of Dizzy Balloon vocalist Petros AP) held the whole thing together like quantum-strength superglue.
As every good Rebirth band should, Fever Charm engaged with their audience as much as possible, bringing out a few balloons that had lost almost all of their floating ability. The crowd batted them around, hit each other with them, and tossed them at the grinning band members. At the end, everyone was invited on stage to dance along to the band’s funky groove. Everyone who wasn’t dancing up a storm was scrabbling to hug every inch of the band members, especially the clearly exuberant AP. The band was human. Sure, the band members were a bit more famous and more talented than the average person in the audience, but they were people, people who sleep and eat and go to the bathroom and hang out with their friends and go to supermarkets. Everyone was on the same level. The band members were part of the crowd, part of the community. Just the music-makers.

Then it all fell flat. Most people were still high off the communal endorphins from the Fever Charm set, so they did not really mind the complete change of mood. The City Walls, the only non-Bay Area band (they were from San Diego), were clearly unaware of their duty to the community. They played their music in the Hellenistic way--as a duty, as the manipulation of sound, not as anything more. The audience was simply a benefit to the City Walls. Their music was not bad--in fact, they played some fairly interesting Rhodes-driven jazz rock. They were simply unfamiliar with Bay Area cats and the way they groove. They left to much less enthusiasm than the rest of the bands, and many people seemed happy to get up, walk around, and trade demos.

I left more convinced than I have ever been of the truth of this Rebirth. This is a phenomenon that applies to bands of all genres, bands both obscure and famous, everyone with an allegiance to the young San Francisco scene. For me, this is the event that definitively set the Rebirth's existence in stone for me. I shall continue to help the word about the movement, and may it be an example for every disintegrating music scene in the world.


  1. Sharp and so well written, though I must disagree that we were insipid, or that the movement was futile. We held a moment in time, and had the courage of our convictions. I could go on about the environmental movement, about people who had the courage to take it to the streets, Kent State, music, poetry and great thinkers. but of course, just my opinion.