Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Kearny Street Workshop Auto(SOMA)tic Bus Tour

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A few weeks ago, our friends at Kearny Street Workshop concluded their Auto(SOMA)tic program with a performance bus tour around the South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood of San Francisco. Regular reads of CatSynth will know that SOMA is our own neighborhood in this city – it is a place I have grown quite fond of, and I have watched the rapid changes here with a mixture of openness and apprehension. The tour featured performances at several locations around the neighborhood, all of which were geographically and visually familiar, but contained surprising and diverse cultural histories.

In terms of format and style, the event borrowed heavy from KSW’s SF Thomassons Performance Tour back in 2010 (which I also attended). This included having Philip Huang as our host, joined this time by Allan S. Manalo.

Philip Huang
[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

Our first stop was at the intersection of Russ St and Minna St. This otherwise modest intersection in the middle of a larger block was a center of Filipino-American life in the neighborhood, and the street is closed off to form a community park. Here we saw a performance by MeND Dance Theater combining dance with song and spoken word.

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There were moments of minimalist form, and others that channeled the thoughts and ambitions of young women who could have easily lived on this block. The performance certainly captured the attention of those of us on the tour.

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[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

We then moved on to St. Joseph’s Church on Howard Street, a site that was also on the Thomassons tour in 2010 because it is a maintained but unused building that closed after the 1989 earthquake. This time it was setting for a performance featuring Cynthia Lin and Rachel Lastimosa.

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[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

The musical performance featured arrangements of songs vaguely related to activities of the former church such as prayer. But the highlight of the set was a lively gospel tune with the refrain “Come on in” that started straight but quickly because a satirical play on the rising costs of living and working in the neighborhood, and the problem of displacement in the midst of the tech boom. ”If you can pay the rent, then come on in!”

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[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

Next we stopped at a large vacant lot at the corner of Harrison St and 8th St, which was once the location of Gordon’s Sugar Works, a large sugar processing plant founded by George Gordon. A nearby alley (coincidentally adjacent to the Stud club on Harrison) bears his name. However, we were here to see a performance by Hālau o Keikiali’i, a performance and cultural group dedicated to preserving and nurturing traditional Hawai’ian culture, particularly hula kahiko (ancient dance).

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[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

The performance was energetic but also had a very serious quality to it, with its invocations of gods and respect for the land. Indeed, part of the connection to the tour was a tribute to the land that has been industrialized and redeveloped many times. At the corner itself was a ‘Ōhi’a Lehua tree – I had seen that tree plenty of times and never realized that. The performance ended with an offering at the tree and an invitation to us to do the same on our own “land”.

We then headed east across the breath of SOMA, even passing quite close to CatSynth HQ, before coming to the Embarcadero and a bayside park at the site of the former Pier 36. Here, we were met by Anirvan Chatterjee and Barnali Ghosh of the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour.

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[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

The introduced us to the history of South Asian immigrants to San Francisco in the early 20th century, focusing in particular on one young man who came to study at UC Berkeley. He encountered racism and xenophobia, but also a community and the chance to encounter progressive ideas that he and others put to use organizing support for eventual Indian independence from the British Empire. Look for a report from the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour here in the future once I finally have a chance to attend.

Our final stop was, at least in my own opinion, not in SOMA at all, but south across the Mission Creek in the partially developed Mission Bay neighborhood. Here, in a construction site on the edge of the new UCSF Mission Bay campus and housing developments, we were treated to a series of skits by Granny Cart Gangstas.

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[© Kearny Street Workshop/Mido Lee Productions]

This all-women-of-color troupe “pokes fun at pervasive media representations of women, pop culture, and consumerism in our daily lives.” One of the more amusing ones centered on a young woman convinced she was Ariel from the Little Mermaid.

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Overall, it was a fun afternoon, and provided some interesting ideas and information as I continue and wander the neighborhood where I live. Thanks to Kearney Street Workshop and co-presentedShaping San Francisco, and to our hosts Philip Huang and Alan S Manalo for a successful event.

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The Acro-Cats (and Rock Cats) in San Francisco

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The Acro-Cats recently visited San Francisco for a serious of shows, and of course we at CatSynth were there to witness it.

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Training cats, and the near impossibility of training them, is of course a cliche. And it is also why some of us love cats, their antics and independence alongside their elegance. These cats were trained to do a variety of acrobatic tricks, but at the same time, they were still just cats. Sometimes it would take a few tries to convince the cat to perform as requested, and sometimes the cats would wander off in true feline fashion. This was part of the show, and of course we cat-lovers in the audience loved that. There were some impressive moments however, such as this series of stunts. The second features the black cat Buggles.

All the cats in the show are shelter rescues, and an important part of the program is about advocacy for adoption of shelter cats and support of local shelters. Cat Town was on hand and received support from the proceeds of this show.

My favorite part of the show, not surprising was the final part featuring the Rock Cats an all cat band. Yes, the cats were actually playing the instruments.

<Rock Cats

Here is Tuna making an appearance on cowbell.

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The keyboard was a toy piano that also attached to a MIDI synthesizer doing 80-style pad sounds. (Yes, more cats and synths!)

Keyboard Cat

You can hear a bit of the Rock Cats in this video.

Maybe a little more practicing is in order before we can book the Rock Cats at the Luggage Store Gallery.

If the Acro-Cats and Rock Cats come to your area, I definitely recommend checking them out. More information can be found here.

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Iconoclasm (Arnix and Max Papeschi), The McLoughlin Gallery

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The McLoughlin Gallery is currently hosting a two-person exhibition marking the American debut of artists Arnix and Max Papeschi called Iconoclasm. As the name might suggest, it’s a somewhat quirky and unusual show, and is not subtle in its critiques of power and popular culture.

Both artists take satirical and deeply critical looks at power, the people and institutions in power and how power is communicated through propaganda and pop culture. Arnix (aka Arnix Wilnoudt) takes aim directly at seats of power in religion, the military and politics. His harshest and strongest work is reserved for the Catholic Church, including hypocrisy around sexuality and power and the continuing sexual abuse scandals. He is steeped in knowledge of the Church’s history, theology and rituals, and uses those as the framework in which he places images of human sexual organs, silicone heads of pigs and other elements.

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[Arnix, The Forbidden Fruit. Mixed media, 1870 chapel brass and silicone. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

The pieces can be challenging to look at, but also quite strong both visually and in execution. The artifacts, such as the 1870 chapel brass in the piece The Forbidden Fruit, shown above, were rescued from a church in The Netherlands. The pig head is cast in silicone, but using actual pig hides in the casting process to give it an eerily realistic texture. These elements, along with the human sexual organs (both male and female) recur in many of the pieces. Rescued artifacts, including angel statues and ash cups are prominently featured in the largest piece of exhibition, The Last Judgement: The Revelation.

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[Arnix, The Last Judgement: The Revelation. Mixed Media Installation. (Click to enlarge.)]

The bright, airy space of the gallery and the reflective surfaces of the metal components makes the piece seem very open and inviting and belies its darker qualities around trauma, another theme in Arnix’s work. However, he doesn’t reserve all his criticisms for religion. In Known Unto God, an installation that includes an audio element, he criticizes both the loss of life in war, and way populations remain silence in the face of their leaders’ misadventures.

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[Arnix, Known Unto God. Brass, Mixed media, Audio. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

There is humor in his work as well. His series of panels depicting the “seven deadly sins” are quite fun, both with the individualized pigs and the modernist iconography that leaves one guessing which sin is being depicted (I managed to get them all right).

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[Arnix, Seven Deadly Sins. Installation Print on plexiglass and silicone pigs. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

Humor is Max Papeschi’s work. He brings together powerful political figures from history, images of disasters, and commercial or pop-culture icons in unexpected ways, and in doing so takes aim at both commercialism and propaganda, i.e., the idea that we can sell anything. Perhaps the most stark example is the use of Mickey Mouse to “sell” Nazis.

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[Max Papeschi, NaziPinkieMouse. Digital collage (Edition of 7). Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

A major part of commercial culture is product placement, sometimes inappropriately done, as in this advertisement for Coca Cola in the World War II bombing raid.

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[Max Papeschi, Product Placement 2.0. Digital collage (Edition of 7). Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

The humor is a little less dark in his series where famous (or infamous) leaders are placed on familiar figures from entertainment and pop culture. Indeed, a few of these were a lot of fun (Saddam Hussein has a disco dancer is particularly amusing).

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[Max Papeschi, Vladimir & Joseph. Digital collage (Edition of 7). Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

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[Max Papeschi, Ramadan Night Fever. Digital collage (Edition of 7). Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

These digital collages are not at all done to disguise the editing, indeed the Photoshopping is quite obvious. But that is probably the point, the bluntness and obviousness of the image. They stick with the viewer even after leaving show.

Iconoclasm will be on display at The McLoughlin Gallery (49 Geary St, San Francisco) through Saturday, May 31.

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Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival

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The 2nd Annual Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival took place a little over a week ago. Large numbers of cat lovers and cat-video enthusiasts descended on a block of West Grand Avenue along The Great Wall in celebration of cats, and of course your author was there, complete with crazy-cat-lady dress and bag.

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The daytime part of the event had more of a street fair atmosphere, with numerous booths providing food and miscellaneous cat-themed products under a bright but cloudy sky. There were also numerous organizations involved in fostering and adoption of cats, including the East Bay SPCA (one of the main beneficiaries of the event) Cat Town, and Oakland-based group that finds foster and forever homes for local cats and is also opening what may be the first cat cafe in the United States!

Cat Town

Many of the organizations brought adoptable cats and kittens for viewing. We certainly hope some found homes that day.

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The celebrity rock star of the event was Li’l Bub, who was on hand for visitors to meet.

Li'l Bub

Our friend Serena Toxicat of Protea performed a feline-themed set of music for voice and electronics. Among her songs was a tribute to the manual (or Pallas Cat) with the warning not to get too close to one despite its awesomeness.

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Other daylight fun included a photo booth from the makers of 9lives cat food, inviting visitors to Instagram and tag themselves as #MorrisAndMe (and of course #catvidfest).

Finally, the sun set and the actual videos began. The videos were from a curated reel featured at the Minneapolis Cat Video Festival hosted at the Walker Art Center., and featured many familiar videos such as Henri the existential cat and Grumpy Cat, but also new discoveries.

Henri the existential cat

What makes this experience unique is not the videos themselves, which so many of us know from our time on the Internet, but the act of getting together and watching them with others, and laughing together at the cat antics.

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I am certainly looking forward to this event coming back again next year!

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Chris Broderick Farewell Bay Area Concert

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Our friend and sometime bandmate in both Reconnaissance Fly and ReCardiacs Fly has left the Bay Area for a location a bit further north. But before leaving, he staged a farewell concert at Berkeley Arts which featured some of the artists that most influenced his musical life here.

The evening opened with a solo set by Josh Pollock on guitar and looping/effects pedals.

Josh Pollock

One of his pieces featured layered funk riffs, including the all important bass line. I am sucker for good funk bass and guitar, so I found it quite captivating.

The next solo set featured Moe! Staiano on percussion. In addition to a standard drum kit, he had additional floor drums sundry other items floating around.

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It was his signature intense frenetic style of playing. A central element in the softer sections were a pair of superballs (remember those?) mounted on sticks which create loud eerie drones when rubbed on resonant surfaces.

Next up was a duo featuring Chris Broderick with Ralph Carney on various reed instruments.

Chris Broderick and Ralph Carney

In addition to concert B-flat clarinets and bass clarinet, Ralph Carney had several other more exotic single-reed instruments, including the one in the photo above. I wish I remember what it was called. He is also quite the comedian on stage, with a terse, dry, cynical style that I enjoyed.

Finally, it was time for everyone to come on stage for an extended jam.

Chris Broderick farewell quartet

I will miss Chris’ presence in the Bay Area new music scene, but wish him – and his little black kitty Conundrum – all the best for their new adventures up in Seattle. One day we’ll visit.

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Reconnaissance Fly at DUENDE, Oakland (March 26)

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Today we look back at Reconnaissance Fly’s recent performance at DUENDE on Oakland. DUENDE is a venue and tapas restaurant/bar that has been quite supportive of the new music community (I have been remiss in writing reviews for some of the other shows I have seen there), and also has delicious food and wine.

patatas bravas and Tempranillo

The patatas bravas are simple but delicious. The Tempranillo was quite nice as well.

The performance itself was fun. We had a good audience, mostly filled with familiar faces but that is always welcome. And we premiered a couple of new pieces, Spirograph by Polly Moller and Undeciphered by Tim Walters, which featured text in the undeciphered Linear A script (go look it up). Here are some views from the show.

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Amanda Chaudhary
[Photos by MSW.]

Yes, I deliberately matched the color of the Nord.

Rounding out the band as always were Rich Lesnik on reeds and Larry the O on drums.

We are now busy working in more detail on those pieces and at least one more new one for our next show at the Makeout Room in San Francisco in early May.

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Base 4 and the Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble

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Despite being extremely tired from a major event as well as a rehearsal this past weekend, I did manage to catch a performance of jazz and improvisational antics at Berkeley Arts this Sunday evening. The evening opened with Base 4, a jazz trio featuring Bruce Friedman on trumpet, Derek Bomback on guitar, and Alan Cook on drums and percussion.

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They performed very abstract versions of standards, including Afro Blue and Solar, two favorites of mine. There was also free improvisation and some lesser-known compositions. It was a technically strong performance, a full of creative details.

Then we switched rooms for a completely different experience with the “Bay Area Improvising Tag Team Ensemble.” Not really an ensemble, this cast of characters assembled by Moe! Staiano performed free improvisation “refereed” by Gino Robair. Basically, performers were given signals of when to start and stop, and could within that context tag one another to play together and switch instruments. There were, however, penalties that could be levied against performers. A penalty meant holding a can of motor oil and not playing until it lapsed or another penalty was committed.

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As with sporting events, one could find disagreement with the referee. In this case, I strongly disagreed with Gino’s giving Polly Moller a penalty for using a wah-wah pedal. We at CatSynth approve of wah-wah pedals.

Here are some other scenes from the evening’s performance. We begin with Matt Davignon on turntable and Moe! Staiano on drums.

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Bandmates Polly Moller (Reconnaissance Fly) and Melne Murphy (Surplus 1980).

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Mark Clifford and Kyle Bruckmann. Mark does not usually play bass.

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Brian Tester and Yacob Roli Glowniss.

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Rounding out the ensemble for the evening were Dominique LeoneJacob Felix HeuleJason Hoopes, and others who I have missed.

Overall it was a lot of fun to watch, especially when things got more rhythmical or when a penalty was eminent. The performers who I talked to seem to have a lot of fun as well.

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Lucie Vítková and Joe Snape, CNMAT

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Today we look at a recent concert at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) featuring two very different solo performances. Both explored subtle details in sound, but in very different ways.

The first performance featured Lucie Vítková, a visiting artist from the Czech Republic. She primarily played accordion, but also included harmonica and voice.

Lucie Vítková

This was not your typical accordion or harmonica performance, or even a typical avant-garde performance with this instruments. Her playing was soft and exquisitely subtle. Once could hear the subtle changes in tone from the bellows, and the percussive effects of the instrument’s mechanics. She brought a similar slow-moving attention to detail to the pieces with harmonica. The most impressive part of the performance combined long accordion tones with voice, producing very strong difference tones. Once could hear the resulting fundamentals inside one’s ear, which is a pretty amazing effect to hear live.

The second set featured Tired Music by Joe Snape for cassette and electronics.

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In a darkened room, Snape manipulated long quiet sounds from cassette recordings and computer-based signal processing. Some were deliberately monotonous, but others provided punctuated detail, including a section of spoken word. As with Vítková’s performance, the sound moved slowly, but more enveloping coming from the multichannel speaker system instead of a single point.

Overall, a different set of sounds, certainly quieter, than what I have been attending of late. I am glad I was able to visit CNMAT to catch this show.

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Quick takes: MAS attack LAxSF and Surrey Street Salon

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It’s been a while since I have reported on one of those evenings with multiple cultural events that enrich life here. One recent rainy evening involved a visual art opening and a salon with a variety of performances.

I started at 17th Street Studios in the Mission for MAS Attack: LAxSF, a one-night show that featured 30 artists from Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively.

One of the particularly intriguing pieces in the show was Miri Chais’ Rabbit Hole, with its organic circular forms but technology-inspired details and changing blue patterns of light. The mixture is intentional, and the title is inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

Miri Chais Rabbit Hole

Utopian Heads by L.A. artist Mark Dutcher caught my attention for its evoking of painting styles and concepts of the early twentieth century experiments. The title of the piece seems to fit with that as well.

Mark Dutcher, Utopian Heads

It seemed that the artists from L.A. dominated my attention at the show. As with the above pieces and the one below by Steven Wilkoff, they seemed to unapologetically modern.

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But these piece from Oakland-based artist Scott Greenwalt did provide a contemporary take on abstraction.

Scott Greenwalt

It was then off to Glen Park, just a short trip south from the Mission along the miniature freeway known as San Jose Avenue. (But that’s a story for another time.) My destination was the Surrey Street Salon for a fun evening of performance with a circus theme. So of course there were clowns with vaudeville-style musical numbers.

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There was also serious musical talent on display. I was quite impressed with Tin Sandwich, an all harmonica band.

Tin Sandwich

Their instruments ranged from tiny inch-long specimens to the large bass harmonica.

bass harmonica

Their arrangements, while mostly traditional songs, were quite tight, and included some impressive solos. I would definitely want to see them again.

Surplus-1980 bandmate Moe! Staiano also performed, this time on solo percussion.

Moe! Staiano

His avant-garde percussion playing is frenetic, moving quickly from on idea and one instrument to another, whether it is part of his traditional drumset or superballs against the window.

In all, it was a great evening of music and art, and the two events provided quite a contrast in style.

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Reconnaissance Fly CD Release and Plurality of Worlds

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Well, our CD release show for Reconnaissance Fly has come and gone, and it was quite a successful evening. We were joined in celebrating the release of our album Flower Futures by Emily Hay, half of a new project with Polly Moller called Plurality of Worlds.

Our preparation for the day started quite early, with stage setup, sound checks, and professional lighting design by our friend Travin McKain. But we got it all done, cleaned ourselves up and made ourselves presentable for the evening.

Reconnaissance Fly
[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

As you can see, we are a rather eclectic bunch, which is very much in line with the music we play.

First up was Plurality of Worlds, which brought together Polly Moller and Emily Hay for the first time as a duo of avant-garde flutes and vocals. Each brought both a standard concert flute and one of the bigger models, bass flute for Moller and alto flute for Hay. Their vocals played off one another in amusing ways, with absurdist babblings (Hay) responding to recitations from written texts (Moller). It was clear they were having a lot of fun performing, and we all enjoyed watching them.

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[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

They were joined by Reconnaissance Fly bassist Tim Walters on Supercollider, providing all variety of effects processing that filled the spaces both temporally and timbrally in the sparse texture of the duo.

Then it was time for us to take take the stage, with band members Amanda Chaudhary (keyboard), Rich Lesnick (reeds) and Larry-the-O (drums) joining in. As with our album and many of our live performances, things began with the ritualistic first note of Small Chinese Gong.

Small Chinese Gong

We then went into a full set that mixed selections from the album such as One Should Never and the combined Electric Rock Like a Cat / sanse is crede nza, with newer pieces such as Spiders and Snakes and How Now is Soon (actually, and older piece, but relatively new to Reconnaissance Fly). The set was quite lively and energetic, and also filled with humorous moments, and the audience responded well to those.

Reconnaissance Fly at Berkeley Arts
[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

The above picture does not include Larry, so here he is.

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[Photo by Michael Dawson.]

Overall, it was a good night, with great stage lighting, a packed house at Berkeley Arts, and even a few CDs sold. If you are interested in checking the album out, you can do so via Edgetone Records. And if you want to see us live, we have a few more shows coming up, including at The Luggage Store Gallery (1007 Market Street in San Francisco) tonight (Thursday, Feubrary 13)!

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