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by Meredith Tanner

Last Friday afternoon, while I was desperately searching the local free paper for a band to review, I got a call from my boyfriend. A co-worker of his was sitting in on drums with a band at Bimbo's 365 Club, and would I like to go? It would be "An Evening of Lounge," I was told,a five-band bill, and I was in for a mind-boggling experience.

"Lounge," it would seem, is in these days, at least here in San Francisco. What "Lounge" actually means is a little hard to describe; it varies, from The Brian Setzer Orchestra's straightforward rocking swing to reasonably faithful renditions of old standards, to -- well, I'll try to describe it, but I offer no guarantees.

The Acme Rocket Quartet came in like a slightly sickly lamb. It was immediately obvious that the swing they were trying to play wasn't their usual material. The first three numbers had a curiously leaden quality, and the drummer's uncanny resemblance to Charles Manson didn't enhance their image much to my mind.

Fortunately, somewhere in the middle of the fourth song the Seconal wore off, and they broke into a flurry of psychotic improvisational jazz from Mars. Now they were in their element, and it was a damned fine element indeed -- something heavy and radioactive, like Cesium. By the end of the fifth song I was waiting for a chorus line of high-kicking Manson girls to appear. Manson girls or no, though, once they dropped the pretense of being a lounge band, they were great.

Dave's band, the Gentlemen of Leisure, went on second. I'm trying to think what to say about them, and the only phrase that comes to mind is "masterfully stupid." You'll just have to believe me when I tell you that I mean that in the nicest possible way.

The Gentlemen opened with their own theme song, which set the tone for the rest of the set by rhyming "Gentlemen of Leisure" with "prone to having seizures." When the lead singer first came bounding out from the wings in his sweater vest and styrofoam boater, I thought he was one of Santa's elves; after sitting through a couple of his kazoo solos, I'm convinced he's actually Satan's elf. He was backed by a banjo/mandolin player, a stand-up bass, a ukulele, and Dave on snare drum. Let me just say right now that the drums were simply wonderful, and Dave cut quite a dashing figure in his own argyle sweater vest..

Listening to the Gentlemen was very much like listening to a glee club from the 20's as fronted by They Might Be Giants. Perhaps the easiest way to convey the experience would be to print their set list, which Dave kindly procured for me. Observe:

  • Intro
  • Sniff Me
  • Space Shuttle & Close Encounters
  • JJJS
  • Too Many Birds
  • Seen Many Horse
  • DVP
  • Outro
I'm sure you can divine the nature of some of these songs from their titles. Others will require explanation, like "JJJS," which is about "the man who could only shit while singing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt." (I hate to spoil it for you, but he explodes at the end.) This is just as heinous as you imagine, possibly more so.

"Too Many Birds" rhymed "birds" with "Kurds." "Seen Many Horse" had me begging my boyfriend for a tomato to throw. And the lead-in to "DVP" went something like this:

"I don't love you quite as much as I love 12-foot-across clams... well, not quite as much as I love Dick Van Patten..."
What else can I say? I was dismayed. I was appalled. I loved them. They claim their next gig will be at "The University of the Mystery Spot." Be there or be square.

The Ham & Cheese Combo doesn't need much explanation -- they're a good, straightforward instrumental jazz rock combo. Their theme: "Ham and cheese: food, or music?" By the end of their set, I was firmly convinced that ham and cheese are, in fact, music.

Rumor has it that the Combo's sax player has played with Tom Waits. I could believe that; at one point during the show he blew his music right off the stand. The guitarist is fabulous and female and looks great in pink lame. The organ player seemed to think the band was cheesier than they actually were, and was laying on the campy lounge dude act a little too thick, but wiring his jaws shut would solve that problem. They played a good, entertaining set, and I'll definitely go see them again.

I've been putting off writing this review for nearly a week, trying to figure out how I could possibly describe The Mr. Lucky Experience. The phrase "Robot Acid Lounge Punk Extravaganza" comes to mind, but that doesn't really cover it. Try to imagine the bastard child of Frank Sinatra, Buster Poindexter, Johnny Rotten, and that guy from the B-52s, backed by the Thompson Twins and Sparks. Wait, go back. Take a couple of tabs of acid, and now try to picture it. You still won't get all the way there, but it will take you a little closer to the Mr. Lucky Experience.

They covered Tears for Fears, Aerosmith, and Journey. They did Nirvana's "Come As You Are" in a sort of lounge/bluegrass fusion style that had me grabbing my head like a stunned monkey. They managed somehow to blend "Can't Get Used To Losing You" (Alton & Hortense Ellis) with AC/DC's "Back In Black." And, gloriously, they segued from Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman" into "Knights In White Satin," and I was fucked, broken, and driven across the land.

I can't go on; I'm getting choked up. Just come to San Francisco on September 21st and see them at the Paradise Lounge. I'd be there myself, only I just can't figure out how I'd tell one of my oldest friends I couldn't be her maid of honor. She hasn't seen the band. She wouldn't understand.

The last band of the evening was Herb, a Herb Alpert tribute band. I've always thought it takes a hell of a lot of nerve to form a tribute band in the first place -- I mean, at what point does someone think, "My idol is Herb Alpert -- why not imitate him for a living?" That said, I like the idea of a Herb Alpert tribute band. I'd just like to see someone other than these guys do it.

On the other hand, when you reach a certain level of drunkenness, it becomes quite fascinating to watch the brass players drain the spit out of their instruments. For this reason and others, I was glad that Herb went on last.

Overall, this was an astonishing show. If I'd missed it, my soul would be poorer. Of course, I wouldn't know any better, but then, we humans so rarely do. Enlightenment such as this comes only through chance; to see it, you have to look the other way.

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