Thursday, February 18, 2010
San Diego pop band The Softlightes play the Casbah with Anya Marina, a magic card convention takes over downtown, and cross the border for some compelling contemporary art and music. These recommendations and more from our guests.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. There's a little music, a little Magic and a reason to get dressed up in costume on this edition of Weekend Preview. And if that's not enough, we'll even discover an artist who's called the Mexican Bjork. Leading us through the bounty of events on this Weekend Preview are my guests. Nina Garin is features and entertainment reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Nina, welcome back.
NINA GARIN (Reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune): Thanks for having me back.
CAVANAUGH: And Derrik Chin is a content provider for Sign On San Diego where he writes about music and nightlife. Derrik, good morning.
DERRIK CHIN (Content Provider/Writer, Sign On San Diego): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: So, Nina, let’s start with you and talk about a highly anticipated show at the Casbah. It features two hometown favorites. Tell us about Saturday night at the Casbah.
GARIN: Okay. Saturday night features actually a good friend of Steve Poltz, Anya Marina and a band called the SoftLightes, which is kind of a poppy, electronic band.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. And what is Anya Marina – how – what’s she been up to since she left San Diego?
GARIN: So in San Diego she was a singer/songwriter, played a lot of coffee shops, things like that. But then she moved to LA and her career’s taken off. Her music’s in commercials and a lot of us know that she has a song featured on the “New Moon” Twilight soundtrack. And that really just propelled her kind of to stardom, I’d say.
CAVANAUGH: Into a whole different level.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Now, along with Anya Marina, you said the SoftLightes are also on the bill, and this band is guided by Roy Fountenberry. Tell us about him.
GARIN: It’s Ron Fountenberry.
GARIN: He is a longtime San Diegan. Before he was a musician, he was a substitute teacher, so he’s very brainy and intellectual. And his music is just – he calls it goofy. I’m a big fan of it. It is – it’s kind of like cartoons set to music in a way. So he’s amazing and his shows are always a lot of fun.
CAVANAUGH: And they’re known for having really – The SoftLightes are known for having really great music videos, right?
CAVANAUGH: Why? What are they like?
GARIN: Ron actually is on a record label called Modular, which is a big label in Australia. And through them, I think, he got a director named Kris Moyes, who made a video called “Heart Made of Sound.” And it’s the lyrics – are kind of illustrated or – in a whole bunch of different ways. He uses shock painted rocks to spell out the words of his songs. And then Ron made his own video for a song called “The Robots In My Bedroom Were Playing Arena Rock.” And what it is, is he took a legal notepad and he just sketched robots, he sketched his band members, and then he kind of sped it up with the music and the results is great and it’s on his website if anyone’s interested.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we’re going to hear a song by the SoftLightes right now. And this is a song called “Heart Made of Sound.”
(audio clip from “Heart Made of Sound” performed by the SoftLightes)
CAVANAUGH: That is the SoftLightes with “Heart Made of Sound.” And, Nina, you’ve probably seen all of these bands that we’ve been talking about, Ana Marina, the SoftLightes, Wirepony, how would you describe this live show? What do you expect it’s going to be? Is it going to be mellow?
GARIN: You would think that it would be mellow but actually Anya is a little more rock ‘n roll when she plays live, so those shows are always fun. And the SoftLightes, be – you know, they have great videos. They also bring a lot of that visual element to their shows. So they do have visuals going and it’s always just a quirky little party, so mellow a little bit but plenty of stuff to see.
CAVANAUGH: Plenty of entertainment.
CAVANAUGH: That is on Saturday night at the Casbah, Anya Marina, the SoftLightes, and Wirepony. Moving on to Derrik. A new bar has opened in San Diego. It’s called Noble Experiment, which is kind of an odd name for a bar since it refers to prohibition. Tell us about this place.
CHIN: Well, it’s my favorite new bar in San Diego. It just opened last week. And you’re right, it’s just a pure coincidence that it is a reference to prohibition. That was a – Herbert Hoover actually called prohibition an experiment, noble in purpose.
CHIN: But these guys went with that name because it’s A Noble Experiment. The place is all about craft cocktails.
CAVANAUGH: Craft cocktails.
CHIN: Craft cocktails, very high quality cocktails with fresh ingredients and a creative use of liqueur. And so that’s – it’s just – it’s purely coincidental that it’s called that.
CAVANAUGH: Now another selling point of this place is its décor. And I have a feeling it’s going to be a little difficult to describe but if anybody can do it, Derrik, do it.
CHIN: Well, just getting in is part of the fun.
CHIN: There’s no street access. It’s actually hidden in the back of Neighborhood restaurant. Neighborhood is a burger place in the East Village and they sell a lot of great microbrews as well. But it’s teeny so you think, okay, this bar is inside this little restaurant. Where? And back by the bathrooms there’s a wall of kegs just stacked up and that’s the door. It’s actually a trick door that you wouldn’t think of it but if you push on that, it opens. And you walk in and it’s just this little check-in room where the waitress – the hostesses are. And it says the name in red neon. And then you turn the corner and it’s just worlds away from what you see in Neighborhood, which is kind of gray and stark and it’s supposed to be urban, you know. But you walk into A Noble Experiment and it just looks like something that would make both Marie Antoinette and Hugh Hefner drool. It’s beautiful in so many different ways. There’s, you know, black and white tile on the floor, an entire wing’s worth of paintings on the ceiling not on the walls, there’s a wall full of hundreds of gold skulls and lionheads, lion busts underneath the bar. A lot of ivory leather. It’s really cool. And it’s all in like this backlit orange glow so it’s great.
CAVANAUGH: And when you talk about craft cocktails, now are these like new concoctions or are these old school things that are just done differently?
CHIN: Well, the – the – I don’t know. I refer to them as haute couture cocktails…
CHIN: …because they really kind of are something that, you know, is made especially for you. The menu features maybe some ten drinks and some of them are, you know, updated takes on classics and other ones are originals. Behind the cocktail menu is Nate Stanton…
CHIN: …who is from El Dorado, and he’s one of the co-owners as well as Arsalun from Neighborhood. That’s who co-own the place. And – But the guys who came up with the cocktail menu are Stanton, who has made wonderful cocktails at El Dorado as well, but also – the guy’s name is Sam Ross from Milk & Honey in New York, which…
CHIN: …was kind of like one of the, you know, forerunners for, what would we call them, craft cocktails…
CHIN: …in the U.S.
CAVANAUGH: Now I understand, as you’ve already described, it’s a small bar, so do people need reservations?
CHIN: You should definitely make reservations. It only fits 30 to 35 people.
CHIN: Which is part of the fun.
CHIN: It’s not a speakeasy. Even though it’s hidden, they’re very, very adamant about not calling it a speakeasy because speakeasies, you know, are technically illegal. This is more of a cocktail bar. But if you text your reservations your party (sic) to 619-888-4713, they’ll have you on the list.
CAVANAUGH: You, too – Go ahead.
CHIN: Oh, I was going to say there’s a five-person minimum because the place…
CHIN: …is so small. There’s only like three or four booths…
CHIN: …and six stools. So…
CAVANAUGH: I was going to say you, too, can take part in the Noble Experiment. It’s located in the restaurant Neighborhood, which is on G Street in downtown San Diego. Now, Nina, there’s a really – it’s, I don’t know, can we say peculiar convention in town this weekend? Explain what’s going on downtown at the Convention Center.
GARIN: Okay. There is a Magic The Gathering Pro Tour which is a tournament of people playing the card game Magic The Gathering.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. So what is Magic The Gathering, the card game?
GARIN: I would like to just tell everyone that I, myself, I’ve never played this before. I used to live by Lestat’s Coffee Shop so I saw people playing, so I’m coming to you with this information as a reporter. But it is a card game where you are a planeswalker, which is like a wizard, and you fight with other planeswalkers and you use cards and your card has different spells that you can use against someone or different creatures you can call up and it’s way more complicated than that but that’s just – that’s your basics.
CAVANAUGH: So, okay, so I – I’m pretty ignorant of this and you only know it from reporting on it, so how big a following does this have? A lot of people involved?
GARIN: It actually has 12 million players, so, yes. It’s very – it’s said to be the most popular card and hobby game out there.
CAVANAUGH: What happens in these big tournaments?
GARIN: In the big tournaments, people play one-on-one and games are about 15 to 20 minutes. And I was told that it was invented as kind of like a short thing to do in between playing Dungeons & Dragons. So – But then they say they’re not at all like Dungeons & Dragons. But – So the games can last 15 to 20 minutes and you play one-on-one and then the winners of those rounds move up and then there’s a final that is on Sunday and that’s actually going to be webcast. So you could watch it.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, now, I know that you interviewed a bunch of the players for an article in the U-T. Is there a typical Magic The Gathering player?
GARIN: So I’m not going to stereotype but they do spend a lot of time indoors and the game was invented by a mathematician so it actually does attract people who are good with numbers or good with statistics or analyzing, and so they are the smarter set. And they actually are proud of being kind of like the…
CAVANAUGH: Sure, why not?
GARIN: …smarter group. Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: San Diego has a champion player?
GARIN: We do. We have a champion. His name is Brian and he won the pro tour in Austin, which is just the location where it was held. And he’s going to try to recapture that over the weekend.
CAVANAUGH: Well, good luck to him.
GARIN: I know.
CAVANAUGH: Magic The Gathering Pro Tour takes place Thursday through Sunday at the convention center in downtown San Diego. Derrik, we’re relying on you once again to tell us what’s happening across the border. This is an event, CECUT – am I saying it correctly?
CAVANAUGH: CECUT, I knew I was wrong. For listeners who don’t know, what is CECUT?
CHIN: CECUT is – stands for Centro Cultural Tijuana.
CAVANAUGH: Ah, yes.
CHIN: So it’s Tijuana’s art museum.
CHIN: And most are familiar with its iconic globe. If you’ve seen photos of Tijuana, you’ve probably…
CAVANAUGH: Sure, yeah.
CHIN: …a photo of this giant globe building. It’s in the Rio Zone and it’s only about a mile from the border. But what’s happening there tonight, actually, is called Aperitivo…
CHIN: …and it’s just – the idea is to pair what’s on the walls with other artistic aspects of the city that are not visual, like food, music, etcetera. So what happens is they invite local breweries or wineries to provide wine and invite a local restaurant to make appetizers and then invite local acts in to play, and it’s all for four dollars. So the idea is to bring in a new crowd of people and, of course, all the galleries are open.
CAVANAUGH: Now as I understand it, the museum had a substantial expansion last year called El Cubo. What does the expansion look like? A cube?
CHIN: It – El Cubo means – you’re right, means the cube, and it’s…
CHIN: And, you know, it’s juxtaposed to the giant globe, it makes sense that it’s a cube.
CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
CHIN: But it’s a huge, huge, huge step for the art center because when CECUT was originally built back in 1982, it was designed for trade shows, not to house international art exhibits, so there was no proper climate control, no humidity control or anything like that. El Cubo, which opened in 2008 is a $9 million, 16,000 foot expansion and – but it has all of the state of the art climate control, security, etcetera. It’s beautiful. Let’s see, oh, something that’s interesting is that the original museum faces north…
CHIN: …faces the U.S. but El Cubo faces south, so it’s facing the rest of the nation.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
CHIN: And it was a big stride for Tijuana as a large city in Mexico and also embracing the fact that it not only shares a border with the U.S. but with the Pacific Rim.
CAVANAUGH: Now since I mentioned it in my introduction, I have to go to this question about Cristina Creme. You say she’s the Mexican Bjork?
CHIN: Cristina Creme is one of the bands that’s playing…
CHIN: …at this event tonight. And maybe calling her Tijuana’s Bjork is a little bit more appropriate.
CAVANAUGH: We want to scale that back.
CHIN: And that’s my fault for saying it to begin with. The band is actually a duo. It’s Carlos Maria, who is one of the city’s star drummers.
CHIN: He plays the drums, piano, guitar, and he produces the electronic sequences that are looped. And Cristina is – actually, her name is Siki Carpio and she sings and writes. It’s a mix of a lot of styles, jazz, world beat, acid folk, pop, down tempo electronica, break beat. And the music is sweet but simultaneously dark.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
CHIN: I don’t know, do we have a clip?
CAVANAUGH: We do not have a clip.
CHIN: Oh, okay.
CAVANAUGH: But perhaps someday soon.
CHIN: Someday soon.
CAVANAUGH: What is the best way to get to CECUT from the border?
CHIN: Well, if you’re comfortable with driving, it’s literally two minutes from – after crossing.
CHIN: You just follow signs for Zona Rio and it’ll be on your left. You’ll see the giant globe. A cab ride should cost no more than five dollars, if you want to park and walk. But this is an event they do on the third Thursday of every other month so if you can’t make it tonight, it would be in April.
CAVANAUGH: That’s good. CECUT’s Aperitivo event takes place tonight, and when does it begin, Derrik?
CHIN: It’s at seven.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you.
CHIN: It goes from seven to ten.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right. Thank you so much for that. Nina, back to you. The Upright Citizens Brigade will be playing at UCSD’s The Loft. And, Nina, who are the Upright Citizens Brigade?
GARIN: Okay, they are a sketch comedy troupe. They originated in Chicago during like an Improv Olympics type thing.
CAVANAUGH: Don’t they all?
GARIN: Yeah. And now they have theatres in New York and in LA. And some of its famous people are Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz and Ed Helms from “The Hangover” and “The Office.”
CAVANAUGH: Now they had their own TV show for awhile, didn’t they?
GARIN: They did. It was like a culty TV show on Comedy Central from 1998 to 2000 and Amy Poehler was one of the stars of it. And they’re, you know, really hilarious. It’s – You can get some of them on DVD but it’s very much a cult following kind of thing.
CAVANAUGH: Are they known for any particular style or type of comedy?
GARIN: Yes. They do have – they – On the TV show, they would do pranks at the end where they would go try and buy drugs from drug dealers but they were fake drugs. They would ask them for like the ‘super cool’ and kind of do that kind of pranks. But their actual sketch style, if we want to get nerdy about comedy is a style called Harold, which is sort of where you introduce subjects and then you keep coming back to them.
GARIN: Kind of like Monty Python where it starts and then you come back to it so that’s for comedy nerds, which I would consider myself to be.
CAVANAUGH: You know, well, along those lines, I think one of the most interesting parts of this is that the Upright Citizens Brigade is holding a workshop for budding comedians before the show. Tell us about that.
GARIN: Yeah, if you show up before the show on Monday, you show up at 6:30 and you just pay $8.00 more than what the show costs, the tour company or TourCo, as they call themselves, will give you a lesson in improv. So I’ve never done it but, you know, maybe I will. But it sounds like if you’ve ever been interested in sketch comedy they’d be the greatest place to learn from.
CAVANAUGH: It sounds fascinating. Well, the Upright Citizens Brigade, as we said, are performing at The Loft on the campus of UCSD and the show time is 9:00 p.m. So, Derrik, back to you to a bar golf tournament. What is a bar golf tournament?
CHIN: Doesn’t it sound ridiculous?
CHIN: I love it. I love it that it sounds so ridiculous. It’s a pub crawl that is actually a nationwide thing. It’s coming to San Diego. It’s happening this Saturday in Pacific Beach. And how it works is there’s nine bars that they’re going to and each bar counts as a hole, like as if it were a course. So they spend 45 minutes at each bar and the point is to gain points and whoever has the most points at the end of the day, which goes from two until ten on Saturday, that’s how you win.
CAVANAUGH: And how do you get your points?
CHIN: Well, you – Let’s see. I wrote them down because they – it’s really funny, it’s…
CAVANAUGH: Well, I mean, is there an easy answer? Or is it very difficult?
CHIN: I mean, you can – you win points by every beer you drink.
CAVANAUGH: …I knew it had something to do with that, come on.
CHIN: Yeah, well, it’s actually – Oh, and you can actually sub for – for your beer for water or soda. That – you know, there’s no – so lightweights, you know, don’t feel like you have to stay home. But you lose points for spilling your drink or for falling down or for passing out. So whoever has the most points at the end of the day wins. But the idea’s not so much to get tanked but it’s more about getting out of the house and meeting new people and having an excuse to wear head-to-toe plaid.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, what it is about the costumes?
CHIN: Well, with such a ridiculously wonderful theme involves a ridiculously wonderful outfit, so you should dress, you know, as golf-ish as…
CAVANAUGH: As golf-ish as you possibly can.
CHIN: …as you possibly can.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, with the knickers and the plaid and everything.
CHIN: All the way.
CHIN: But your – it’s twenty bucks to sign up and you have to register at Bar – it’s bargolfusa.com and they give you a tee shirt and your tee shirt is what’s stamped. It’s your scorecard.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, I see.
CAVANAUGH: All right, and this takes place in the Gaslamp Quarter?
CHIN: No, it was actually – I think it was actually originally planned for the Gaslamp but they changed it to Pacific Beach.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right.
CHIN: They’re – the bars are hush-hush, so you have to sign up before you find where they’re going to but I’ve seen the list and there’s some fun ones on there.
CAVANAUGH: Well, the San Diego 2010 Bar Golf Invitational Pub Crawl, a great name, takes place this Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at the Pacific Beach Ale House in the Gaslamp (sic).
CHIN: And everyone should know, it is for charity.
CAVANAUGH: All right. And, Derrik, we’re coming to you again now for this last one. It’s a Sight & Sound event. First, tell us about Sight & Sound.
CHIN: Well, Sight & Sound is a monthly art music mash-up sort of showcase that Walk the Walk Presents puts on. Walk the Walk Presents is, it’s an event planning corporation in San Diego, not a corporation, an organization. It’s Adam Rosen and Jon Block, are the guys who do it. And Sight & Sound is their monthly – they pair local buzz bands with local buzz artists. So you go, you listen to good bands, you see good art, and it’s fun.
CAVANAUGH: Wow, that’s a great idea.
CHIN: Doesn’t it sound like a great idea?
CHIN: There you have it.
CAVANAUGH: One of the musical acts is a new side project that brings together two beloved San Diego musicians. Tell us about that.
CHIN: Well, it’s Rob Crow of Pinbacks new project, and it’s called Mission: Valley and it’s written Mission colon Valley. And it is so under the ground—Rob Crow, I hope you’re listening—that they don’t even have a MySpace page so I haven’t even heard any of their songs.
CAVANAUGH: No MySpace page?
CHIN: That – Yeah. I actually – I was looking for their music to listen to it, and if you put in ‘Mission: Valley MySpace,’ what comes up is the Mission Valley Hooters MySpace page. So that was no help to me. So thanks a lot, Rob Crow. But, I mean, he’s always full of suprises. Like the guy’s in a death metal band as well as like a pop band. He’s got so many different projects going on so it’s gotta be good. And…
CAVANAUGH: Well, what does this collaboration sound like? It sounds like it’s going to be a real mix of styles.
CHIN: I really have no idea because I – I…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, because, yeah, there’s no MySpace page.
CHIN: I was too busy on the Mission Valley Hooters page. But other members that are in it are 3 Mile Pilot…
CHIN: Let’s see, 3 Mile Pilot, Aspects of Physics and Optiganally Yours…
CAVANAUGH: I see.
CHIN: …with some other local bands and they’re all doing this new project.
CAVANAUGH: And what kind of art work is featured? I mean, is it – What kind of visual styles would you see if you went to one of these shows?
CHIN: I believe the main course as far as the visual arts go this month is going to be some sort of video art project.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
CHIN: So it – it is coordinated with the music. It’s ten bucks to get in but your first drink is on the house so…
CAVANAUGH: And this month’s Sight & Sound is at a new venue. It’s the Queen Bee Art & Cultural Center. I don’t know where that is or what it is. Tell us about it.
CHIN: Queen Bee’s is on Ohio Street in North Park.
CHIN: And before, they were doing the Sight & Sound events at the Onyx Room in the Gaslamp and this is their first month in their new place, the new space. You know, the space is kind of off the map. It’s not a venue, it’s not a bar, it’s an art and community center kind of. It feels a lot like my 7th grade gymnasium, so it’s kind of like – looking at it, it feels like you’re in a John Hughes movie, you know, like “Sixteen Candles.”
GARIN: That’s a good thing.
CHIN: It is a good thing.
CHIN: So – But it’s been through some name changes. Before it was called 18 and now it’s called Queen Bee’s. I’m not sure why they moved.
CHIN: I would assume that it has something to do with North Park being, you know, is a boom right now as far as…
CAVANAUGH: Right. Right, right.
CHIN: …independent music and art goes.
CAVANAUGH: We’ve been talking about – a lot about North Park, yeah. Okay, so I want to tell everyone Sight & Sound begins Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at the Queen Bee Art & Cultural Center on Ohio Street in North Park. We got through a lot. Hey, thank you both so much.
GARIN: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I have been speaking with Nina Garin. She is the features and entertainment reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, and Derrik Chin, content producer for Sign on San Diego where he writes about music and nightlife. Thanks again to both of you. These Days is produced by Angela Carone, Hank Crook, Pat Finn, Megan Burke, Sharon Heilbrunn, and senior producer, Natalie Walsh. Production Manager is Kurt Kohnen, with technical assistance, and our Technical Director today isTim Felten. Our production assistants are Jordan Wicht and Rachel Ferguson. The executive producer of These Days is John Decker. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, and I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the week. You have been listening to These Days on KPBS.