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East Bay's Greatest Hits

From Creedence to Counting Crows, these world-famous bands were born in our backyard.


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THE MISFITS: Green Day

Halfway through every green day concert, guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong pulls three audience members out of the mosh pit and onto the stage. Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tré Cool hand over their instruments, and a do-it-yourself rock band is formed on the spot. It’s an inspiring, thrill-of-a-lifetime moment for the chosen fans and a reminder that a few guitar chords and a beat can make rock ’n’ roll magic happen.

He’s probably just being modest, but Armstrong has said that the three-chord formula has worked wonders for Green Day, which is as high on rock ’n’ roll’s totem pole as any band today. The pop-punk trio’s catchy hooks and clever lyrics have connected with fans around the world—to the tune of 60 million records sold—since its 1989 debut on Berkeley’s Lookout Records.

Singer Armstrong grew up in Rodeo destined for a career in music, cutting his first record at the age of five. He met Dirnt in the Rodeo Elementary cafeteria in 1982, and the two became friends, talking about music incessantly. They started a band called Sweet Children, whose first gig was at Rod’s Hickory Pit, a Vallejo barbecue joint where Armstrong’s mother worked.

Along with original drummer Al Sobrante (aka John Kiffmeyer), Sweet Children changed its name to Green Day. The trio started playing the legendary Berkeley punk club 924 Gilman and recorded an album for Lookout. Tré Cool replaced Kiffmeyer on drums for Green Day’s second record, Kerplunk!, in 1992. When Kerplunk! became one of the best-selling indie punk records ever, the major labels came knocking.

In 1994, the band signed with Reprise Records (to the chagrin of the indie-insistent fans at Gilman Street) and released Dookie, which became one of the biggest rock albums of the decade.

“I really welcomed Dookie in early ’94. It was fun music,” says KFOG DJ Big Rick Stuart, who was working at alternative rock station Live 105 when the album was released. “The serious, heavy grunge sound had taken over lots of radio. I played so much grunge in ’93 and ’94, I thought about getting out of radio. A few weeks after Dookie came out, Kurt Cobain was found dead. The sound of radio was changing again.”

Dookie sold 15 million copies, won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album, and had five singles that received massive airplay on the radio and MTV. The first single, “Longview,” featured a video Green Day shot for a reported $300 in the basement of a rented house in Oakland.

The members of Green Day were major rock stars but continued to live in the East Bay when they weren’t touring the world. The band released a series of successful albums (Insomniac in 1995, Nimrod in 1997, and Warning in 2000), each with clever videos and sold-out concerts. In 2003, Green Day recorded tracks for a new album, only to have the master tapes stolen from the studio. Instead of rerecording, the band decided to try something more ambitious—creating a punk rock opera. 2004’s American Idiot was an artistic triumph. The album, a post–9/11 pastiche of stories about life in America—complete with comments about warmongering governments and media saturation—sold 14 million copies worldwide and won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2005. A year later, the single “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” took home the Grammy for Record of the Year.

Photograph by Danny Clinch

The world tour for American Idiot was Green Day’s biggest ever. The 2005 show at AT&T Park in San Francisco sold more tickets than the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen shows at the same venue, and a two-day concert in England featured the largest audience ever for a punk concert.
As big as the band has become, Green Day continues to raise its ambitions. It performed with rock giants U2 in the New Orleans Superdome to encourage the return of music programs to New Orleans. Green Day was nominated for another Grammy in February for its powerful cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” on the album Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur.

They’re also still having fun making music. Fans who are anxiously awaiting the next Green Day album should check out the MySpace page for a new band called Foxboro Hot Tubs. The Hot Tubs are really Green Day incognito, having a blast as a garage band. The track “Ruby Room” is a particular gem, a raised glass to a beloved Oakland watering hole.

“Green Day never seemed to have chased being famous, and it never seems like they are faking some emotion in their music to get attention,” says Stuart. “It just happens. They just do the Green Day thing.”

THE JOURNEY: Counting Crows

Photograph by Danny Clinch

Sin. disintegration. self-medication. Redemption. These are some of the themes running through Counting Crows’ much-anticipated fifth studio album, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, which hits stores March 25. The Berkeley-born band, which has been selling out concerts around the world since its 1993 debut smash August and Everything After, hasn’t released an album of new material since 2001’s Hard Candy. The creative hiatus has been in part due to the serious mental health issues of lead singer Adam Duritz. Diablo got an early listen to the new album, then called Duritz at his Manhattan residence to talk about his songwriting, his health, and why he decided to record the redemption half of the album in his East Bay hometown.

I’m curious about the origins of this record, with Saturday Nights being raw, electric guitar–driven songs, and Sunday Mornings being gentler, acoustic songs.
[The album’s opening song] “1492” is the inspiration for this whole record. At the time it was written, I was going through some stuff, sort of falling apart. When I eventually did turn into a puddle of spit, I didn’t want to work on music for a while.

There’s a structure to your life when you’re in a rock band—you write the songs, you make the record, you go on tour. I kept screwing up my life up because of the way my schedule works. I couldn’t keep relationships together. I lost the girl I was in love with. And I almost skipped my grandmother’s funeral. I sure didn’t see her for the last four years of her life. When I almost did that, a friend of mine said, “You’re an asshole. You’re an idiot. You have lost all your priorities and don’t know anything except, go to work.”

So, I decided to pull back for a while until I could figure out what was going on. We still played and toured, but I wasn’t sure about making a record. I didn’t know if I would ever do it again, honestly.

Then, I was sitting around a year or so ago and listening to “1492,” and I thought, “There’s a record I want to make here.” Which at the time was just Saturday Nights. An album about disintegration and about everything that had brought my life to that point, and where I thought my life was going.

Was Saturday Nights done before you moved on to writing Sunday Mornings?
As things were turning around in my life, I had the idea for Sunday Mornings. So, while we were in the second batch of work on Saturday Nights, I began to introduce to the band the idea of Sunday Mornings. Nowadays, people think of folk music and they think unplugged acoustic guitars. But, folk music used to have these really interesting arrangements. [Carole King’s] Tapestry is not an acoustic album. Nor are the Simon and Garfunkel albums.

I went out and listened to all the indie folk music that was being made. And this name just popped up, Brian Deck. He was producing these really creative records. We prepped the whole Sunday Mornings album in my house. We went mid-January to mid-February on Saturday Nights and then took about three weeks off, and then we worked mid-March to mid-April, and we went out to Berkeley with Brian and did Sunday Mornings. We worked 25 days straight. We worked six-and-a-half-day weeks. Long days.

Why did you come to Berkeley to record?
I didn’t want to do it in New York. I knew that Saturday Nights should be recorded in New York and Sunday Mornings shouldn’t. Berkeley was away from home for me, but it was still home. My parents still live there; I stayed with my mom and dad. It was good for the rest of the guys in the band because they would not have to be away from their families. They’ve all been understanding and kind enough to come here to New York for me so that I would not have to leave home at a time when I probably shouldn’t for health reasons. We’ve actually only recorded one song in the Bay Area.

There are some East Bay references on the album. The third song, “Los Angeles,” has a little kiss-off to Oakland.
That song was written by me and Ryan Adams and Dave Gibbs. It’s about each of us leaving our hometowns and coming to L.A. Ryan talks about Nashville in the first verse; for me, I talk about Oakland in the second verse; and the bridge is about leaving Boston for Dave Gibbs, who was the Gigolo Aunts singer and now is in the Low Stars. It was written as an unapologetic fuck you to anyone who wanted to criticize our lifestyle because we loved what we were doing. We were working on Gold (Adams’s acclaimed 2001 album) half the days and Hard Candy half the days, and then Ryan and I were wandering Hollywood Boulevard from bar to bar all night long. So, at the time, it was about our particularly debauched lifestyle. But in retrospect, it’s a much darker song to me. It becomes this picture of someone celebrating his own demise.

I think I sang it drunk. The ending was completely improvised; I was rapping out an homage to “Shattered” at the end of the song. I thought it fit really well; it has this raw feel. I’m definitely copying Jagger at the end of the song. Music gives me a spine, and that music is part of my spine.
You sing, “Lithium is like heroin to me” on “On Almost Any Sunday Morning.”

Well, that song is about a guy who is unable to connect with other people at all. You wake up in the morning next to someone, and it’s just horrible to be there. And then he can’t wait for her to leave, and now he realizes he has to get it all back together and find someone else, because he can’t go home alone. He lacks the knowledge of what direction to take but has the ability to empty himself of any feeling through the medication. The drugs make him withdraw all the anger and loss, but it all comes back in the morning.

I’ve been reading your blog, DownTheRabbitHoleMagazine.com. Why do you blog?

I am a writer; that’s what I do. There have been times when I was unable to write, and I don’t really find those times to be very pleasant. I’m happy to be able to do it again, better than I could for a long time.

I think that people have been mistaking the Internet as a hole that sucks all your money out. But that’s a foolish mistake. It’s a pipeline, a conduit, an instant way to reach everywhere. It’s a way to communicate to fans, a way for me to express myself, which is kind of what my life is all about. If it actually interests people, I appreciate that part of it.

After Hard Candy, you gained quite a bit of weight and then were able to take it off.
The meds make you gain weight, some of them. There’s nothing you can do. I’ve tried to work out and eat right. I’ve boxed for seven or eight years, but there’s nothing you can do. It changes your metabolism. And I don’t really want to talk about it, but I made a decision to do so on this album.

Your life becomes public property in a way, and I resent that because parts of my life are mine. I realized I was paying more for my privacy than the privacy was worth. So, I said, “I have problems. I’m on medication. It made me fat.” I’ve fixed it, and now I’m not fat. I’ve lost 60 pounds.

How are you feeling these days?
I feel good. I run all the time. I box just like I always did, but I’m a lot faster.

THE LEGEND: John Fogerty

 

Photograph by Nela Koenig

When john fogerty’s new album, revival, was nominated for the Best Rock Album Grammy in February, Fogerty found himself in good company, including Wilco, Foo Fighters, and Bruce Springsteen. For the 62-year-old East Bay native, Revival marks a return to the top of the music world, nearly 40 years after his breakthrough as the genius behind Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR).

Fogerty’s journey did not start in the swamps of the South—as classic CCR songs like “Born on the Bayou,” “Green River,” and “Proud Mary” might lead you to believe—but in El Cerrito. “He was born on the bayou next to I-80, I guess,” says Greg Kihn, KFOX 98.5 FM morning show host.

Fogerty first formed a band in 1959 with his brother Tom and two friends from Portola Junior High School. Along with bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford, the guitar-strumming Fogertys started performing as the Blue Velvets. By 1964, John was working in the warehouse for Berkeley-based Fantasy Records (then owned by founders Max and Sol Weiss) and got the band an audition. Fantasy offered them a deal. The bandmates called themselves The Golliwogs to sound like one of the popular British Invasion acts of the mid-’60s.

Saul Zaentz bought Fantasy Records in 1967, and he encouraged the band, which had received little attention, to change its name again. It came up with Creedence Clearwater Revival: Creedence was the name of Tom’s friend Credence Nuball; Clearwater was pinched from a television commercial for a popular beer; Revival was meant to indicate that the band had new life.

CCR released its debut album in 1968 and had hit singles with “Susie Q” and “I Put a Spell on You.” Then, in 1969, it cranked out three hit albums. In January of that year, Bayou Country included “Proud Mary,” the hit song famously covered by Ike and Tina Turner. In August, Green River became a smash, with the title track and “Bad Moon Rising” reaching number two on the pop charts. In November, Willy and the Poor Boys yielded “Down on the Corner” and the antiwar anthem “Fortunate Son.” Two more albums were released the following year, yielding even more hit songs.

“When you look at the body of work they churned out in this short amount of time, it is phenomenal,” says Kihn. “Creedence had this incredible economy of expression, making three-chord rock ’n’ roll songs that hung together on John’s vocals. They didn’t waste a chord, didn’t waste a note.”

Sadly, the band did not have the same chemistry as its compositions. CCR went through an ugly split in 1972, and Fogerty swore never to play with his brother, Cook, or Clifford again. With the exception of brief jams in the early 1980s—at Tom’s wedding and an El Cerrito High School reunion—he has kept his word.

The end of CCR was the beginning of a nightmare for John Fogerty. To get out of the recording contract he signed in 1964, he had to relinquish publishing rights to all the songs he wrote in the band’s heyday. Zaentz made a fortune from CCR record sales.

Fogerty spent most of the 1970s and ’80s in seclusion, moving to a farm in Oregon. His 1985 comeback album, Centerfield, was a huge hit but brought more trouble with Zaentz. The song “Zanz Kant Danz” was a clear swipe at Zaentz, who sued for defamation of character, causing Fogerty to later reissue the song under the title “Vanz Kant Danz.”

Another track, “The Old Man Down the Road,” created a second lawsuit when Zaentz claimed the chorus was identical to the CCR song “Run Through the Jungle” and sued Fogerty for copyright infringement.

Fogerty, who wrote both songs but no longer had the rights to “Jungle,” brought his guitar to the witness stand and played sections from both songs, demonstrating that they were in fact different. Fogerty countersued for attorney fees. Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., went to the Supreme Court in 1993, with the court deciding in Fogerty’s favor.

Time did little to heal old wounds. When CCR was inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Fogerty performed with Bruce Springsteen and a house band, refusing to take the stage with Stu Cook and Doug Clifford (Tom Fogerty had died three years prior).

Fogerty had a second comeback in 1997 when his Blue Moon Swamp record won the Grammy for Best Rock Album. Now, he’s back again, in fine form, with Revival. Though his lyrics are older and wiser, Revival has the texture of the best CCR records, a mixture of angry antiwar rockers and gorgeous ballads. The song that brings Fogerty’s journey full circle is “Creedence Song.” Ripping a swamp-rock guitar riff straight out of CCR’s glory days, Fogerty sings the chorus: “You can’t go wrong if you play a little bit of that Creedence song.”

THE HISTORY...

 

Courtesy of Dennis Erokan

As founder of BAM magazine, Lafayette’s Dennis Erokan had a front-row seat on the East Bay’s rock ’n’ roll scene for nearly 30 years. He launched his magazine, originally called Bay Area Musician, in 1976, just before Rolling Stone moved from San Francisco to New York, making BAM the biggest music magazine in the West. That meant every band wanted to talk to him, and he was backstage nearly every night of the week.

Over the years, Erokan, 57, became pals with some of the greats. He watched East Bay bands break out, climb to the top of the charts, and become rock stars. He also created the Bammies, a music awards show that drew top rockers and their fans from across the country to the East Bay each year. At least one band became a legend before his eyes.

How did BAM start?

Back when I was a high school student in San Jose, I was sitting around with some friends and we all were talking about what we wanted to accomplish in life. It was the late 1960s, and the famous San Francisco sound—bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead—was just such a big part of our culture. I said that I thought it would be great if there were a locally created magazine about local musicians and the local music scene. Another idea I had was having an awards show for musicians, like the Academy Awards. So that’s where the ideas for BAM and the Bammies came from.

But I wanted to be a rock star, so I spent a few years traveling around the country in a band. I came home at 23 and still didn’t have a recording contract, so I decided it was time to try something else. I checked out a book from the library about starting a magazine and went back to the idea of starting one about Bay Area musicians. The first issue came out in January 1976. I wrote every story in that first issue.

When did the magazine take off?

The first issue was about all kinds of music, not just rock. The feedback I got was that the only stories people were reading were the rock stories. For our fourth cover, we featured Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead—and the Dead’s manager showed the magazine to the band’s record company in L.A., which thought the magazine should be available in Los Angeles as well. We quickly shot up to 50,000 copies by the fifth issue and 100,000 a year later. BAM was the first magazine to be distributed for free at a point of purchase, and it was a very successful formula.

Was BAM always based in the East Bay?
No, it started out of my home in San Jose, and we had one competitor—the Rock ‘n’ Roll News out of Sacramento. I knew that the first one to get to Berkeley would win.

Berkeley was the perfect place to be in the Bay Area—close to San Francisco but also the University of California. San Francisco was still the mecca, but Berkeley was often the proving ground, as the University of California at Berkeley has always been a cultural center for hip young musicians looking for an accepting audience. Berkeley audiences aren’t looking for cover bands. They’re looking for authentic bands that are delineating a style of their own. You can’t get a much better scene to work and grow in than that. I found a small office and a house in Albany, and BAM just took off.

It was a really interesting time in the Bay Area’s music scene. Jefferson Airplane re-formed and had an album that sold millions. Boz Scaggs had a huge album. So did Steve Miller. Just as it seemed the whole Bay Area scene had dried up, it became huge again. During my first years running BAM, I was at a concert six out of seven nights per week.

Tell us more about the scene in the ’70s.

Berkeley had a club called The Keystone, at University and Shattuck, which was the first place up-and-coming bands would hit on a North American tour before playing Bill Graham’s San Francisco venues. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and The Police both played the Keystone on their first tour through the Bay Area.

Another great club was—and still is—the Freight and Salvage. I introduced the musician Norton Buffalo, who grew up in Richmond, to a singer named Bonnie Raitt there, and they went on to record Raitt’s first big hit, “Runaway,” together. Bonnie became a great friend and appeared at many, many Bammie shows over the years.

Eddie Money came up in East Bay clubs. He’s a guy who had major radio airplay when I was growing up.
Eddie had some huge hits in the late 1970s and ’80s. He lived in Lafayette for years. One time in the 1980s, after I had moved BAM’s offices to College Avenue in Oakland, I saw Eddie’s girlfriend walk by the office. I said hi and she said, “Eddie’s getting his hair cut two doors down.”

I went down the street, and, sure enough, there was Eddie Money, one of the biggest rock stars in the world at that time, getting a haircut at Supercuts. I said, “Eddie, why are you getting your hair cut at Supercuts?” He whispered, “I like to come here because nobody knows who I am.” I looked around, and, of course, everyone in the Supercuts was staring at him.

Who were the locally raised rock stars?

The band Journey is very connected to the East Bay suburbs. Over in Orinda, a kid named Herbie Herbert connected up with an Acalanes High student named Ross Valory. Ross played bass for the band Frumious Bandersnatch, and Herbie became their manager. After that band broke up, Herbie became the road manager for Santana. Santana included two Peninsula kids, Neil Schon on guitar and Gregg Rolie on keyboard. When Herbie introduced them to Ross Valory, Journey was born.

Here’s a funny story. Journey played at one of the first Bammie award ceremonies at the Civic Auditorium, and I literally watched them become huge stars before my eyes. Herbie hired all these limousines and invited music executives to come to the show. Then he had all these young fans wait at the red carpet.

So, first, the limos pull up with the music executives, and they get out and see all these young girls screaming and having a great time. Then, Journey’s limo pulls up and the fans go nuts when the band gets out. Their introduction went perfectly, but Journey still had to perform their set.
The band debuted its lead singer, Steve Perry, that night. We didn’t know how he was going to do—in fact we had people like Eddie Money up on stage to sing backup just in case. But Perry was fantastic. He sang “When the lights go down in the city …” and just blew the room away.

When Rolling Stone moved to New York, BAM became the biggest music magazine on the West Coast. Did well-known musicians stop by your office?

Sure. One guy who used to drop by occasionally was East Bay guitarist Joe Satriani. His groundbreaking album, Surfing with the Alien, hadn’t been released yet, so he was playing lead for Greg Kihn and teaching guitar to make ends meet. Satriani wanted to introduce me to one of his prize students, and he brought in a young man from El Sobrante named Kirk Hammett, who had just been named lead guitarist for an L.A.-based rock band named Metallica.

Both Hammett and Satriani were friends with a bassist named Les Claypool, whose band Primus practiced next door to the BAM office. Primus, of course, went on to find great success in the early ’90s.

Speaking of Greg Kihn, he’s another guy who came up in the East Bay. What’s his story?
Greg Kihn grew up in Baltimore and wanted to become a star, so he moved to Berkeley. He started singing in Sproul Plaza at the university. Eventually, Robbie Dunbar, son of a Cal professor, brings his guitar, and they start jamming in the plaza each day.

Luckily, Dunbar was already [playing] lead guitar in a band called Earthquake. Their song “Friday On My Mind,” on local record label Beserkley Records, was becoming a hit. So, Kihn was hooking up with the right person. Together with label president Matthew King Kaufman, they made Beserkley a force to be reckoned with. Kihn had a string of hit singles—“Jeopardy” went to number two on the national charts.

Both Kihn and Dunbar are still making a living in music. Kihn now lives in Clayton—he lived in Lafayette for years— and is the morning DJ on San Jose’s KFOX 98.5 FM. Dunbar teaches guitar in Lafayette.

You met so many great artists over the years. Did any become friends?
The Santana brothers, George and Carlos. George has lived in Walnut Creek for years and was one of the founders of the band Malo, which went on to have the huge hit “Suavecito.” He’s a wonderfully nice man and a fantastic musician.

And, Carlos is probably the person who is the closest definition of “genius” I’ve ever met. Not just musically—in business, culturally—really, in so many different ways. For many years, Carlos and I would get together for lunch to talk about the Bammie Awards, and he would just come up with these fantastic ideas for the show—like having a Chinese parade come through the audience or having an Indian prayer circle on stage. I made it a personal goal to implement one of Carlos’s ideas every year.

A few years ago, their father, who was a great mariachi player, passed away. His memorial service was held at a Presbyterian church in Walnut Creek, and I went to pay my respects. Every mariachi player from Northern California showed up, and when Carlos and George came out of the service, the mariachis all broke out into the same song. There must have been 100 of them.

You were often backstage at concerts. Care to share a backstage story?
OK, I can thank Huey Lewis for one of the great moments of my life, which happened backstage at a concert in Danville in 1983.
BAM had been covering the band since its beginning, and my wife, Lori, and I got to know them pretty well during this time. So, we were hanging out backstage before a concert at Monte Vista High—backstage being the school’s wood shop classroom. Lori was eight months pregnant with our son, Will, and the band stood around us in a circle and sang a cappella love songs to Lori as rain trickled down the windows of the Monte Vista wood shop. It was just a beautiful, unforgettable moment.

Of all the East Bay bands you covered in BAM, which is the biggest right now?
Green Day are the kings of the Bay Area scene right now. They became a late ’80s favorite at the famous 924 Gilman Street club. A friend of mine introduced me to Green Day, and when I heard their songs, I knew they were going to be huge.

I complimented the lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, about his lyrics and his melodies. Billie Joe, who was this really nice kid from Rodeo, kept calling me “Mr. Erokan.” He seemed embarrassed to call me Dennis.

Are there any new bands from this area that you have your eye on? At what local venues can audiences find the next Green Day?

There’s a band called 3rd Rail that has been building a following. They are playing the Stork Club in Oakland on Telegraph Avenue on May 9. Other East Bay clubs that book local bands include Red House in Walnut Creek and the Uptown in Oakland. And Joe Bretz of Q Black Media has bought the old Paradise Lounge in San Francisco and is reopening it in April or May as the BAM Music Lounge. I’m one of the partners in it. We’re intending to use it as a club that will encourage young bands to grow.

Dennis Erokan closed BAM in 1999 and continued to run the Bammies until 2004. Now, he is the CEO of Placemaking Group, an Oakland-based public relations, web, and marketing firm. His band, the Delta Dogs, plays regularly at local bars and clubs.


THE FUTURE...

Photograph by Autum de Wilde
Scratch the surface of the east bay music scene and you’ll find local bands ripe with talent and primed for the big time. Here’s a list of bands to keep a watchful eye on. Who knows, tomorrow’s Green Day could be your next-door neighbors.

Rogue Wave (Oakland) You know those cool Microsoft Zune commercials where people enter the media player and journey through a dreamlike world? That’s Rogue Wave’s song “Lake Michigan” playing in the background. The indie rock band’s songs have also played during key moments on Heroes and Scrubs. With a recent signing to Jack Johnson’s label and a new album, Asleep at Heaven’s Gate, the band should find 2008 to be a breakout year. Catch Rogue Wave at the Fillmore on May 3. www.rougewavemusic.com

Xiu Xiu (Oakland) Jamie Stewart, the brains behind this Oakland band, has been compared to Morrissey and Robert Smith. Xiu Xiu’s music is both beautiful and haunting, pushing the boundaries of folk music by making it nearly incomprehensible and borderline cuckoo. www.myspace.com/xiuxiuband

Cass McCombs (Walnut Creek) Folk singer McCombs’s heartfelt storytelling has made him an instant fave among critics. Now, the Las Lomas alum is on a national tour with Band of Horses and has a new album via Domino records, which means fans are catching on, too. www.cassmccombs.com

The Federalists (Concord) Spoon comparisons hit you up front, but it’s the lingering taste of Elvis Costello that gets us excited. The band will be at the Bottom of the Hill on March 7 and the Rock It Room on March 28. www.myspace.com/thefederalistsrock

Audrye Sessions (Livermore) This band’s layered sound is filled with lush arrangements that would be a perfect fit for Zach Braff’s next life-direction-questioning movie soundtrack. The bandmembers are very easy on the eyes, and rumors are popping about a major label signing soon. www.myspace.com/audryesessions

Honeycut (Oakland) Three average-looking lads are making extremely hip, soul-infused indie funk to rival Gorillaz or Gnarls Barkley. Their song “Exodus Honey” launched the new iMac. www.honeycut music.com

Maldroid (Oakland) Matching brown suits, sweaty live performances, angry robots, and a video made with a Lite-Brite—this band’s creative impulses have led to Live 105 airplay, a spot on Good Morning America, and the Best Music Video award in YouTube’s first-ever underground video contest. www.maldroid.com

Oakland resident and frequent Diablo contributor Jason Jurgens is the founder and publisher of TheOwlMag.com, an online magazine covering the Bay Area music scene.

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