Last Night: David Dondero and Rademacher at the Knockout
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Words and photos by Jonathan Kiefer
Better Than: Admitting the weekend, and the holiday, and another year of your unproductive life, is over.
As Sunday night crept toward Monday morning and another crap-job working week loomed, the Knockout seemed to become more subdued even as it became more crowded.
I'd hit the Outer-mission dive early, to warm up with some hooky, architecturally durable indie-pop from Fresno's Rademacher, the virtues of whom I've been known to preach. But alt-folkie David Dondero was the headliner, and understandably so.
By and large, the indie-kid crowd of Tecate-tall-boy-toting bearded dudes and their Saucony-sneakered girlfriends seemed unfairly indifferent to Rademacher, but when the local troubadour took the stage, they focused and gathered around him.
"The coldest city in the world, you know it's San Francisco," Dondero sang, to knowing applause. His instrumentation consisted of a guitar and a lack of affect. Occasionally his buddy Craig D. would emerge from the crowd to man a snare drum.
Dondero, a documented roamer who has been known to sleep in his car and to sing about how much better that still is than "sleeping in your ice-cold sheets," made effective, sparing use of the vocal quaver that some might call his trademark -- had not Conor Oberst gotten more famous with it. His set was presided over by the watchful eyes of a Godzilla painting, and, playing on the Knockout's TV's, the movie Strange Brew.
"You following the news? Dondero inquired of the audience between songs. "What's happening on the Gaza strip?" Digusting." Who knew what to say to that? (I wasn't about to pipe up with a rueful, head-shaking, "Why yes, as a matter of fact, I was just listening to NPR in the car on the way over...") So he just sang a song about displacement and disappointment and violence. Psychic violence, at least. It was well suited to a sodden evening.
"The best songwriter of our time," Rademacher frontman Malcolm Sosa later confided, taking me aside to make sure I'd registered Dondero's significance. He nodded sagely, tipsily. But I could tell his appreciation was real. And I could hear why.
As the night wore on, it assumed a sloppy-drunk melancholy, the sort of vibe that has you worried someone might blurt "I love you guys" at any minute, only to be rebuked with "Oh no you didn't."
But no, just sad sweet simple music.
Personal Bias: Sure, I'd have Rademacher's baby. And if they'd have Dondero's, well, I guess we'll be a nice big family, won't we?
Random Detail: The sound guy had his face buried in a paperback the whole evening. Don't know what it was; maybe it helped him listen.
By the Way: Rademacher will be back in town at Hotel Utah on the 18th.