RETRO MANIA: Folks may remember David Simon as a skinny skate kid playing the bass for Blank Space, a group carved out under the twin influences of punk rock and P-funk. Around this town, he was a central figure in the local scene, going on to play in Filet of Funk, Sinister Dane, Thick and Buzz Circuit and sandwiching in a move to New York, where, strangely enough, he was a cast member in the pilot episode of MTV's The Real World.
Relocated to San Francisco, Simon's been working with Buzz Circuit guitarist Marwan Kanafani in a group called Solarcane. With more than a few circles closing, David Simon and Friends will perform at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room on Friday, Dec. 25, opening for the Unconscious, a band featuring Mike Apirion, Simon's former partner in Blank Space and Thick.
But that's not the only highlight of that weekend. The Unconscious are also playing the next night at the Duck Room -- with the reuniting Suede Chain opening -- and across town at the Galaxy, Sinister Dane play their first reunion show.
That group will comprise the final version of the band -- bassist Donald Williams and guitarist Jay Summers (both of the disbanding Sugardaddy), singer Joe Sears and drummer Matt Martin. Vocalist Peter Bold, who's gone on to big things with Vargas Swing, may also appear, adding to the special nature of the night-after-Christmas event. And with only two days of practice, energy will be more central than ever.
At least those players know one another. Simon's sending tapes and sheet music to his group -- guitarist/vocalist Paul Davis, drummer Peter Fowler and bassist Alex Catalona. "No one in the band has met," Simon says, "so it should make for an unusual experience."
Saying that his "new songs are simple, three-chord pop songs with upbeat melodies and a Motown feel," Simon adds, "This show is a sort of homecoming in many ways. It's a musical homecoming for both Mike and myself. We've both experienced a modest musical success at a young age and were both determined to redefine ourselves musically as we entered adulthood.
"This past year in San Francisco has marked a return to my Blank Space roots and creative impulses of just strumming chords and singing about my experiences. I've finally stepped to the front and am now singing all my own songs, whereas before I wrote for the singers of my bands. This show is an opportunity for Mike and myself to reconnect with the songs that have endured long after the many musical skins that we have both worn and shed."
For a lot of folks in town, groups such as Blank Space, the Unconscious and Sinister Dane were key bands during their formative clubgoing years and, in a lot of cases, served as peers/mentors as new groups formed. For those who didn't experience them the first time around, it's simply a chance to catch some fine musicians playing songs that stand up.
Either way, these will be unique and entertaining evenings, with a touch of emotion blended in.
-- Thomas Crone
LATE FRAGMENT: It's rare to find bands these days who broaden their musical palettes as they're still working to perfect their personalities. Usually rock bands bang out a style and perfect it, then, if they fudge with it at all, pile accoutrements on top. But it takes nerve and restless curiosity -- along with a dose of reckless abandon -- to look while you learn. Vega Basin's full-length debut, Uemura (Los Sol), is a sprawling, skewed guitar gem, messy and meandering, filled with loads of synthesizers and organs mirroring the guitar melodies. A trumpet even sneaks in. You can check out the pride of Collinsville, Ill., and one of the area's most adventuresome rock bands -- complete with new drummer Matt Beatty, formerly of Birmingham Squadron -- when Vega Basin perform at the Rocket Bar tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 16.
-- Randall Roberts