Among long-time San Franciscans, there’s a lot of nostalgia for the 80s to early 90s: rent was cheap, things were falling apart, and every block seemed to have a crazy gallery (like the legendary Kiki), colorful cafes to hang out at (like the late lamented Bearded Lady), performance spaces hosting insane splatter projects (by the likes of the Sick and Twisted Players), or wacky band. This was also a city in the throes of the AIDS epidemic (protease inhibitors weren’t available till well into the 90s), dealing with the effects of the Loma Pieta earthquake, with regular ACTUP/Queer Nation actions and massive protests against the first Gulf War. It didn’t look like things would get better any time soon, but people made and did beautiful things, and partied.
Simon Reynolds, in his essential book on post-punk, Rip It Up and Start Again, devotes an excellent chapter to the San Francisco (freak) scene. I’m a big fan of the better known bands (Tuxedomoon, Residents, Chrome, etc), but there are some poorly documented groups that made some fine music, that’s finally showing up online. Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed.
Formed by leader Patrick Miller when he moved to San Francisco in the late 70s, Minimal Man made some fine noise rock in its early days. (Later songs can sound somewhat like Gary Numan.)
I never caught Trial live; their shows were supposed to be real events. The thick tribal percussion and guitars remind me of a more political Crash Worship.
Probably one of the more straight ahead postpunk bands in this post, kind of Joy Division meets shoe gaze, more angular and with hazier guitars. Very tasteful.
Stickdog actually started in Iowa (sounds like there was quite an Iowa-Bay area exodus in the 80s), but moved to San Francisco after releasing their 2nd lp on SF’s Alternative Tentacles label. Love the thick dark guitar sound, and metallic percussion.
One of those short-lived Bay area legends, with a big sludgy spastic sound (often compared to Butthole Surfers), horn section, Flatula Lee Roth’s operatic wailing and outrageous chaos onstage.
This was probably their (ahem) hit:
Beatnigs was of course Michael Franti and Rono Tse’s band, before Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Spearhead. I remember a really electric live gig with a stripped down lineup at the late lamented I-Beam; unfortunately the youtube live clips mostly have terrible sound quality.
After Tragic Mulatto, Bambi Nonymous re-emerged as Mudwimmin’s drummer. Their early 90s gigs were always a glorious explosion of noise and burlesque, with their thick viscous sound, odd arrangements, and on-stage antics. This gives an idea:
Luckily they actually recorded a couple albums before disappearing.
Ovarian Trolley slipped in at the tail end of this time window, anchored by the Hall sisters on drums and vocals, and Buck Bito on guitar. Ira Robbins hates their stringent, cutting sound; I love it.
They haven’t performed regularly in decades. But they can still play:
p.s. Hey. Bill Hsu has put together a sonically fantastic — and even educational if you’re so inclined — gig and bit of a history lesson for us today. I hope you will attend, and I really hope you will chew any related fat with Bill in your comments today. Thank you, and hugely thank you, Bill! You’ll have noticed that this p.s. is very short and is not a real p.s. at all. That’s because yesterday afternoon I got really ill, high fever, shaking uncontrollably, sweating, freezing, bedridden, the whole shebang. And I am still quite wiped out this morning. I just can’t do the p.s. today, I’m sorry. I’m going to try to push this intense flu or whatever it is through me today and be back in my the p.s. driver’s seat tomorrow. I’ll try my best. Apologies. Again, please talk to Bill (and to each other and to me if you want) today. Hopefully see you tomorrow.