Skipping Bridge School: a happenstance Saturday in San Francisco

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Sensory deprivation with Cathedral X.
PHOTO BY AARON BERMUDEZ

For me, things usually go better when the unexpected happens, like this past weekend when my half-assed plans to attend Saturday’s installment of Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit Concert fell through. Instead of seeing Axl, as he reportedly flubbed the lyrics to “Welcome to the Jungle,” I stayed local to witness part of a San Francisco tradition and later, one of the more sensory provoking and delightfully weirdo art performances I’ve seen in a while. This surprise night out-on-the town turned out to be a success.

First, I headed to the 20th Annual Clarion Alley Block Party (much later than I had intended) after taking note that both Swiftumz and Apogee Sound Club had daytime sets. By the time I got there, it was nightfall. Most of the bands had already played and I missed the only acts I was familiar with.

In a rush to catch whatever I could, I whizzed by the famously muraled alley’s perimeter so I could enter from Valencia Street. I was surprised to hear what sounded like 1990s grunge leaking from the crevices between crammed houses; I entered the free event and joined the crowd for what was apparently an unannounced performance by Two Gallants.

People perched on a rooftop, much like the audience below, were treated to songs I recognized from their first album in five years, The Bloom and the Blight. I’ve been told their live shows are really good and after listening to them deliver a heavy, yet melodic set for my first time, I too was convinced. The guy standing next to me said it was cool for the duo to come back and play Clarion for free after blowing up, considering they’re both so symbolic of San Francisco.

This, however, would be a mere snack before the main course that was to come. Sure, I stopped off at Arinell’s for a slice, but that’s not even what I’m talking about. My next stop would be The Lab on 16th  Street for night two of San Diego performance project Cathedral X’s weekend residency. My only frame of reference was that I was in for some eerie frequencies and that there was the potential for nudity.

Since I was already in the Mission, I headed to the art space at 9:30 (that unfashionable time when it’s too early for people to go to a show). Right off the bat, I heard ESG rotating from a chic Lucite turntable stand and took it as a good sign of where the night would go. Next to the DJ was a young woman in what looked like a witches hat giving tarot readings. I had time to kill and the vibe was already awkward, so I figured, why the hell not?

I sat down and trusted that the oracle would have some kind of mystical wisdom for me. I ended up paying a hefty price (I didn’t see her $20 suggested donation sign until halfway through the reading) but definitely got some good feedback on how to look into my past in order to move forward. That may sound generic, but it's because I'm sparing you the in-depth details of what virtually ended up being a therapy session.

Oakland’s Straight Crimes opened; both the drummer and guitarist did a fine job, but I couldn’t help but notice how out of place the duo seemed in such a sterile environment. They admitted it felt like being an art installment (in a sense they were) and said just the night before they’d played a squat in the East Bay; which I assumed matched their punk aesthetic far better.  But the night’s theme was experimentation and by stepping out of those pre-conceived constructs, the event pushed boundaries – and with Cathedral X, that’s exactly what we got.

The spirit of Yoko Ono records from some 40 years ago were recalled when jarring shrieks coming from a blindfolded woman entered the room. She was joined by her fellow blindfolded performers, a man and another woman, as they stumbled around the room while the audience politely moved out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, an unassuming man dressed quite plainly in jeans played drone synthesizer and aforementioned eerie tones from the sidelines.

It took me a while to get into it and I thought I was in for a night of performance art clichés, but once I noticed there was substance to the music and that the interpreters were more than just props going through the motions and were integral to the group’s overall sound, I started to enjoy myself.

Highlights included the climactic moment when two women emerged bare-chested, faces obscured by hoods, but connected by bondage. Music every bit as moody as Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack to Firestarter played in the background while they attempted to separate from one another silently, but the chains would not relent. Ultimately they failed and collapsed out of exhaustion accepting a fate of sensory deprivation and togetherness for what could be eternity.

If it takes a visit from a San Diego group to help keep San Francisco weird, then I’m all for supporting this. The audience seemed to like it too.