SAN FRANCISCO -- It was the kind of night that Calder Spanier lived
While many gathered at Bimbo's 365 Club on Wednesday had no idea who the
late, great Berkeley, Calif.-based saxophonist was, the evening's tribute
to him put music, talent and the pushing of sonic boundaries at the top of
the bill, a choice Spanier certainly would have approved.
"When he was alive, Calder Spanier was a musician's musician," professed
Spearhead frontman Michael Franti from the small stage. "He loved to play,
whether it was for money or just to play, he was always blowing that
The assembled musicians onstage behind Franti - namely the members of
Primus, DJ Disk, percussionist Scott Amandola and keyboardist Karl Young -
nodded their heads in approval and remembrance. Spanier, who was struck and
killed while re-fueling his car on the Bay Bridge two years ago, was a
well-loved figure among San Francisco musicians. On this night, some of his
comrades and fellow musicians gathered at the 800-seat club to help raise
money for Spanier's widow and their 18-month-old son.
Still, even minutes into the show, it was clear who was the main
attraction. "I'm here because Primus is here," yelled 30-year-old Shawn
Sadler, visibly excited to be just a few feet from the stage.
If the two songs that Primus debuted - including a cover of Stanley
Clarke's "Silly Putty" - were any indication, their fans have much to look
forward to on their upcoming EP. "I wanted to bastardize a song and it damn
near killed me," Claypool said of Clarke's tune. "This is the first time
anyone's heard us play it."
The sold-out event started off with an avant-garde set by MDA, a freeform,
jazzy, discordant quartet anchored by DJ Mariko that included a woman
homemade sitar-like instrument that could be made to sound like a soothing
harp one minute and a screaming electric guitar the next. Outrageous rock
act Mr. Bungle's Trevor Dunn provided the slinky bass groove around which
Mariko and Amandola kept the beats. Though MDA's set was a boundary-pushing
experience, the crowd at Bimbo's was barely at one-third capacity during
To the Primus fans in attendance, the anticipation was building and
patience was thinning. "Kind-of sounds like the current Yoko Ono stuff," said Jon Drake, 27, from
a table near the back of the room.
When bassist Les Claypool of Primus joined the ensemble for their last jam,
the crowd filled the dance floor and the mostly male audience let out a
powerful roar. Once their jam had ended and the slight DJ Polywog and her
posse appeared on the hastily assembled side stage, however, many that had
rushed to the front slunk back to the bar.
But Polywog didn't let the thinning crowd deter her from creating lush,
sonic landscapes. As one of her rappers repeated during the opening song,
"Float away in the landscape of your mind/ What will we find?," Polywog - who
joined L.A. alterna-punkers Jane's Addiction on their "Relapse" tour last
year - offered a more DJ Shadowesque approach to mixing, seamlessly
blending beats and creating moods.
Her accompaniment - two rappers, a cellist, a saxophonist and a person
playing a didgeridoo - only added to the ethereal mix.
Franti offered the evening's first stab at humor as he took the stage and
roundly praised California's new statute that bans smoking in bars, saying,
smells great up here. We don't have that cigarette-smoke shit clouding us
anymore. All we got is beautiful, pure ganja smoke."
The crowd reacted with loud approval and the club responded with increased
security. Franti rapped three numbers a cappella, including "Red
Beans and Rice," before he was joined onstage by DJ Disk, Karl Young and
the trio of speed-funk punkers known as Primus (who were greeted adoringly
with chants of "Primus sucks!").
The group ran through Spearhead's "Hole in the Bucket" and "Of Course You
Can" before a freestyle jam erupted, with Franti chanting, "Bill Clinton's
got lipstick on his collar/ Everyone in the media started to holler."
In minutes, the small club was packed with screaming fans who never let up
through the all-star band's brief set. After one of the shortest
between-band breaks in history, Primus returned and slid into the timely
Explaining that the band's been in the studio for the last couple of weeks,
Claypool told the crowd that Primus were going to play a lot of numbers
they've never played live before. They then launched into "Silly Putty" and
another number that is set to appear on their EP.
The band extended its signature song, "Tommy the Cat," to 15 minutes,
and brought all the evening's musicians back onstage for a final encore, a
nameless jam that found Franti with a bass, mocking Claypool's leg-kicking
It's just as Spanier would have had it. [Mon., Feb.
9, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]