Saturday Night: White Magic's Mira Billotte, Dominique Leone, Ava Mendoza, and More Bring the Weird to Oakland

Romana Machado
Ava Mendoza

Mira Billotte, Dominique Leone, 3 Leafs, Ava Mendoza, Moe Staiano
March 12, 2011
@ Totally Intense Fractal Mindgaze Hut

Better than: The hallucination you were having last Saturday night.

Hear tell they're giving seminars this year at SXSW trying to pinpoint the hour of rock 'n' roll's demise. Well, I'll be giving proceedings in Austin the slip, but the four-hour scorching my ears took at this underground venue Saturday night would still be all the excuse I need not to hear any such obsequies at all. Wedged behind the featureless brick of yet another abandoned central Oakland storefront, Totally Intense Fractal Mindgaze Hut put on a demonstration of raucous bedrock verities as practiced by true believers far from the usual commercial watering holes.

Romana Machado
Moe Staiano
Scragged of art (save for the odd canvas or string of pink Yuletide lights) and ringed with sofas and chairs, the space is like a giant living room for talented grown children. About twenty or so nattered softly among themselves as guitar pyro Ava Mendoza smiled shyly and plugged in. She launched into vigorous slashes of Robin Trower-cum-East Bay Ray stylings, occasionally dropping to her knees to frantically palm down an array of pedals. She looked in repose like some Pre-Raphaelite study called Faun with Thunder Axe, calmly disinterested in the mayhem she was whirling up. There was enough of Shuggie Otis' Freedom Flight-era virtuosity audible in these sheets of abstract skronk to make it cousin to the same bluesy rack 'n' roil I've doted on for decades. The effect on the tiny audience was profound. People shy and withdrawn moments before were suddenly up and swaying as if seized by Fear, or at least Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Romana Machado
Dominique Leone

Moe! Staiano was up next. A chiseled, intense-looking fellow wearing an expression picked up out of the ward in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Staiano warned us that he was on his second day of not smoking before cueing a cassette player to a snippet of Bubble Puppy's 1969 doper nugget "Hot Smoke & Sassafras." Some wisenheimer yells something about copyright before Moe! drags the whirling machine across his already tortured guitar, producing a horrible squawk unknowable to the RIAA. He tortured the poor instrument further before grabbing a roll of plastic wrap and twisting it around pillars, chairs, and audience members. Grunting primeval satisfaction, he then sat down to the drum kit, bashing the mortal fuck out of it before snarling "That's right!" and stopping, to heavy applause and delight.

Romana Machado
3 Leafs

The crowd swelled to about seventy for 3 Leafs, who laid on a brief but amazing set of post-orbital space rock, settling a transported hush over the little throng that went on for many long seconds of silence after the band finished and began packing. Someone yelled thanks and everyone cheered lustily. 

A varied group of players -- including Ms. Mendoza -- returned, fussing with sheet music and limbering up as if to run a mile before longtime rock critic Dominique Leone strode to the keyboard and fired up. They unrolled a long lucid bolt of hair-raising prog, with chord progressions by turns ominous and thrilling, like indie rock Holst. There were short good-humored ontological debates about sound between these merciless barrages. The band stepped off at about midnight to make way for a baby grand piano. Diminutive Mira Billotte of experimental folkie-minimalists White Magic set the reverb for appropriately sepulchral levels and began to sing of stars at their end and pearls in the rain. Her voice, tender and Laura Nyroesque on all those Drag City releases last decade, has gained a certain mystic, meditative timber like ghost chants in a distant rain-barrel. She stopped, wondering "Maybe that's it," before being coaxed into one more, and we dispersed into the early morning chill.

Romana Machado
Mira Billotte of White Magic

Overheard: Romana Machado: "I'm so glad this place didn't suck."

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