Published: September, 2005, Rasputin Manifesto
Girls' Night Out

By Michael Fortes

It was a celebration of the fairer sex as a force in music on Thursday, August 11, at 12 Galaxies on Mission Street in San Francisco. The three bands playing that evening - Artemis, The New Up, and Zonk - all featured a female focal point as a leader, with men playing the supporting roles. The evening was billed as Girls! Girls! Girls! - very clever, that title.

12 Galaxies served as an ideal venue for a show that thrived as much on visual presentation as on the music itself. The place is just attractive enough inside so that you won't feel compelled to ignore the bands and stare at the walls instead, yet you won't feel like you're caged in some seedy dive either. It's a mix of pride and restraint that's respectful to the artists and the audience.

So as the comfortable club atmosphere greeted me at the wide open door, I walked in during the middle of Artemis' set. The very first thought that came to mind was, "the future is now!"

Artemis seems like she has come from a galaxy far, far away, and I even heard what sounded to me like the effects of a craft flying through space beneath the music.

After getting past the smooth voiced Artemis herself, crooning her lyrics in a pink dress, I notice the drummer hitting an electronic kit. Those kits have come a long way - they look far more natural these days, though they still sound canned. I wasn't sure if I was witnessing live drumming or a mime act, which brings me to my next observation -

Sitting prominently on a table between the singer and the guitarist is an Apple Macintosh laptop computer. My perceptions now have an easy justification.

The laptop messes with my perceptions further when, on the next song, the guitarist switches to a large African stringed instrument called a kora. I see the instrument being used, but the sounds I hear are so electronically processed that I am straining to perceive any natural resonance. The perfection of digital sound leaves me at a loss.

The lights shining up on the band are pretty greens, reds and blues, adding some warmth to the cold, sterile-sounding digital ice storms of sound, as Artemis' voice softly cuts through it all. Everyone stands around. Some people carry on in conversation while the band plays, a lone couple up front slow-dances, and Artemis sings, "it's all beautiful to me." The sounds have changed, but thankfully the heart of San Francisco is still the same.

After the moody, spacey, electronica set is over, Herbie Hancock's "Sly" is pumped through the PA. This serves as a great segue to the New Up's set, an analog band that also creates some danceable music. They start off sounding like Talking Heads with vocals, courtesy of the charismatic and dreadlocked frontwoman ES Pitcher, that recall Pauline Black of the Selecter, and they look so anachronistic following Artemis. They even have someone playing flute through a wah-wah. Very funky!

My impression of The New Up was undoubtedly a good one, especially after taking in their superb rendition of Radiohead's "I Might Be Wrong." Subsequent tunes dropped hints of early Led Zeppelin, tripped-out reggae, and some more funk and '70s classic rock, blurring the lines between hip and square. They got the girls up front to dance, which qualifies as a success as far as I'm concerned.

Finally, there was Zonk - keyboards, guitar, turntable, 5-string bass, a spunky and sexy and pregnant singer named Nic McFiendish, and a green neon 'ZONK' sign. We're back to the future again with a new wave-hip hop hybrid, a DJ who also steps out to rap… and a bull horn, in the well-worn tradition of Stone Temple Pilots. Oh, and the laptop is here again, too.

Some dynamic, upbeat stuff leads into some Portishead-like dirge, and then a song called "Tittle Tattle" is dedicated to those who like to dance. My energy had been zonk-ed by then, unfortunately, so I had to take off to get some shut-eye.

Some old-school sounding hip-hop beats and turntable scratching saw me out the door, and the house gained a little extra space to dance.

Rock on, girls!