By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — While session veteran and keyboard/trumpet player Marc Capelle is frequently setting backsides in motion at the helm of his all-star R&B revue Marc & the Casuals, the busy musician has been finding his time taken up with other high-profile projects lately. The versatile player still frequently performs with and leads groups paying tribute to specific bands or songwriters, but his ambitious new ensemble the Red Room Orchestra has become a celebrated attraction thanks to a partnership with SF Sketchfest for number of acclaimed performances.
The all-star aggregation got its start saluting the music of ‘Twin Peaks,’ the surreal television show by iconic director David Lynch that saw a revival with ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ on Showtime last year. Lynch’s films have always put music in the spotlight, from the singing Lady in the Radiator from the director’s 1977 debut and the bizarre visage of Dean Stockwell lip syncing to the Roy Orbison hit “In Dreams” in his Oscar-nominated breakthrough Blue Velvet through his use of both ’50s and modern rock in Wild at Heart and Lost Highway during the ’90s.
Last summer after an initial more stripped-down performance at the Chapel bar with a smaller ensemble, Capelle gathered a high-powered group of San Francisco musicians to recreate the music of ‘Twin Peaks’ and more Lynch-related offerings at the music venue, taking the stage with an expanded group in front of a packed house for a transporting night of atmospheric music. Plenty of familiar faces from the Casuals’ stable of regular players performed including Persephone’s Bees guitarist Tom Ayers, drummer Todd Roper (Chuck Prophet, Cake) and saxophonist Tom Griesser, percussionist/drummer Toby Dammit (Nick Cave, Iggy Pop, Swans, Residents) and Dirty Ghosts guitarist Allyson Baker as well frequent guest vocalists Karina Denike (NOFX, Dancehall Crashers) and Karla Milosevich (Helen Lundy Trio).
The musicians would reprise that performance for a SF Sketchfest concert (co-presented by Noise Pop and Jay Siegan Presents) that coincided with a Castro Theatre tribute to ‘Twin Peaks’ last January, sharing the stage with ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ cast member and musical collaborator with David Lynch actress/vocalist Chrysta Bell, actor Ray Wise (who played Laura Palmer’s father Leland in the original show) and many others as fans dressed in costume and participated in an Audrey Horne dance contest that included actress Sherilyn Fenn as host and judge.
Capelle and his capable co-conspirators tackled a decidedly different body of work for another SF Sketchfest event, presenting two separate sets paying tribute to the creative musical curation of director Wes Anderson and the songs used for his films Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Capelle and company recreated the eclectic mix of music that ranged from Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh’s original score to well known tracks by the Kinks, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, the Clash and the Ramones with help from local proto punk/power pop legends Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney of the Flamin’ Groovies, Mekons and Waco Brothers principle Jon Langford and Thao & The Get Down Stay Down frontwoman Thao Nguyen among others.
The Red Room Orchestra has made other appearances since then, providing a live No Wave/disco score for an array of experimental, industrial and educational films, home movies, cartoons and other bizarre shorts drawn from the late local archivist Stephen Parr’s treasure trove of “Oddball Films” as part of the San Francisco Film Festival and playing music for a live reading of the Planes, Trains and Automobiles script by Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz and others at this year’s Clusterfest. While Cappelle and his collaborators were busy rehearsing for their appearance at Outside Lands playing music from the films of Wes Anderson that will include special guest guitarist James Williamson of the Stooges making his debut with the group, this summer the musician also put together a 50th anniversary tribute to one of the most unique psychedelic records of the late 1960s, New Orleans swamp mystic Dr. John’s landmark debut Gris-Gris.
An established musical force in the Big Easy starting with production work for Ace Records when he was in his teens, Mac Rebennack was better known for his guitar playing in a variety of groups before a gunshot injury left him unable to play. He would switch to piano, patterning his sound after New Orleans legend Professor Longhair when he relocated to Los Angeles in the mid 1960s and became part of famed “Wrecking Crew” stable of session musicians.
Rebennack took on his Dr. John the Night Tripper persona for his first album on Atco Records. Recorded in LA by Rebennack and a coterie of fellow New Orleans musicians, Gris-Gris conjured up a heady stew of late-night, psychedelic atmospheres, jangling percussion and quasi-mystical, arcane voodoo lore. Simultaneously earthy and otherworldly, songs like Middle Eastern-tinged groover “Danse Kalinda Boom,” the avant jazz chant of “Croker Courtboullion” and the hypnotic, oft-covered classic “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” transported listeners in a way few records before or since could.
The album was too weird to be much of a hit when released in 1968, but became a cult favorite and earned Dr. John the respect of rock royalty including Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and guitar hero Eric Clapton (who would appear on his later effort Sun Moon and Herbs). Dr. John would have his major commercial breakthrough in 1973 collaborating with producer Allen Toussaint and N.O. funk juggernaut the Meters on the hit songs “Right Place, Wrong Time” and “Such a Night.” He was also one of many high-profile participants in the Band’s cinematic swan song The Last Waltz, cementing his status as one of the premiere ambassadors of New Orleans music that he has enjoyed to this day. But despite that deep resume of experience, Gris-Gris remains one of his greatest achievements.
For this second live rendition of the record being presented at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley Saturday night, Capelle has assembled another stellar cast of musicians and vocalists. Singers regular collaborators Paula Frazer (Tarnation), Bob Reed (Overwhelming Colorfast, and Lydia Walker (This Train Don’t Stop) as well as SF alt-country maverick Stephen Yerkey, who was one of the star attractions of the late July debut performance. The band features such notable players as local guitar heroes Joe Gore (PJ Harvey, Tom Waits), Mark Karan (Bob Weir, Phil Lesh) and the aforementioned Allyson Baker, longtime Casuals member Peter Straus (the Dwarves) on bass, Capelle’s own son Evan on percussion and a horn section that features Sheldon Brown (Mondo Cane) and Ed Ivey (Polkacide, Rhythm Pigs, Brass Monkey). In addition to the complete performances of Gris Gris, the band will play a second set of traditional New Orleans standards.
A 50th Anniversary Tribute to Dr. John’s Gris-Gris
Saturday, Sept. 8, 8 p.m. $33.50-$38.50
Sweetwater Music Hall