Baba ghanoush!

Sometimes I like to match a situation with a particular comic-book artist’s illustration style. I’ve hung out with aging back-to-the-land holdovers from the Summer of Love and thought I was living the pages of a Robert Crumb comic; a twisted encounter in a bar frequented by outlaw motorcyclists seemed to have jumped from the pages of S. Clay Wilson; more than a few afternoons spent in Midtown have had a Rodriguez Brothers’ Love and Rockets quality or have evoked erstwhile local artist Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve. Once I fell into an otherworldly state that looked like something from Jim Woodring’s Frank. (Oh, and Alive & Kicking publisher Jerry Perry is a dead ringer for Buddy Bradley from Peter Bagge’s Hate.)

A recent Friday night at Juliana’s Kitchen had a distinct Daniel Clowes quality.

Ghost World, a serial graphic novel that originally ran in Clowes’ comic-book series Eightball (soon to be a Terry Zwigoff-directed major motion picture), followed two young women, Enid and Rebecca, through an ennui-soaked summer after their senior year in high school. Walking into Juliana’s, an eatery at the corner of G and 14th streets, it struck me that some of the women with horn-rimmed glasses and the slight-framed men watching opening act Sean Hayashi perform seemed to be drawn with a line quality that was distinctly Clowesian.

It was Hayashi’s first time performing in front of a crowd, someone said. Backed by Birthday guitarist Tony Schatz and Low Flying Owls drummer Sam Coe, Hayashi strummed his acoustic guitar and sang jazzy, poetic songs with a voice that was dusky and tobacco-stained, but nevertheless quite strong. “You know who he sounds like?” someone said. “Bono.”

Kind of, but not really. Hayashi’s songs, most of them waltzes, were well-written ditties with lyrics densely packed with poetic imagery. He delivered them with a sense of timing, theatrics and nonchalant poise that takes most performers half a lifetime to develop. The audience, around 40 people, responded enthusiastically. The guy’s a natural.

Amanda Stark followed. The Vancouver, B.C.-based post-punk singer accompanied herself with an electric guitar upon which she slashed blunt-edged chords; her singing, which often came in gusts of word chains, reminded me of a fellow Canadian, Joni Mitchell.

Then came the evening’s headliner, Nick Jaina. The rangy, angular singer, a former Carmichael resident, looks exactly like a character Clowes might draw. He sang and played acoustic guitar and harmonica like a young Bob Dylan, delivered funny stories in between like a Leo Kottke and won the crowd’s affection with a set of songs, mostly from his solo CD Snakes & Umbrellas. During his set, a hat was passed.

A word about Juliana’s: The joint’s been serving some tasty Middle Eastern cuisine—tabbouleh, falafels, mujadera, hummus, baba ghanoush—at lunch for a few years, and now it’s starting to feature live music. It’s a fine place to see an intimate performance. Food’s good, too.