On Brubeck, beer and doom metal

Bright lights, big icon: Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck died December 5, one day short of his 92nd birthday. Brubeck, who grew up in tiny Ione, referred to Sacramento as “the city” whenever he chased a downhill road to the bright lights that every teen from a small town craves.

Brubeck said so himself when he performed three years ago at the former Radisson Hotel stage. He spoke of driving an old truck to Sacramento for his first beer. He was 16. The year? 1937. Before he recorded jazz impressions of far-off places, marched in 5/4 time to the pinnacle of celebrity or appeared on the cover of Time magazine, Brubeck drank his first beer in Sacramento.

The sky was clear and black on that night in 2009 as summer refused autumn’s overthrow. The air was silky and warm from the nearby river. I waited with my husband and friends for the concert to begin. An upward streak of light sliced the sky, running lights from a jet heading somewhere beyond Sacramento.

Brubeck was on his way beyond Sacramento, too. He would play the Monterey Jazz Festival the following night. On the festival’s eve, he was here for family, friends and fans proud of his homegrown talent. They gathered in a hotel room alongside the concert lawn. Murmured voices inside tinkled like splashing water. Through gauzy drapes, I glimpsed at Brubeck’s clan. Then, I saw Brubeck. He stood hunched after nearly 90 years at a piano stool, wearing Mr. Magoo-like glasses. The boy who had bought beer in Sacramento was back to spend a Saturday night hanging out with buddies.

Like the jet, he had gone beyond Sacramento to the stratosphere of fame. When Brubeck took the stage, no one stirred. He called out names to the audience: his brother Howard’s family and friends.

He then plunked the first notes of “Take Five” from Time Out, his legendary 1959 album. The sound sent listeners to a Brubeck state of mind, inside some bar where bourbon splashed on ice and smoke rings curled in the air. He kept playing into the night.

At 10 p.m., though nearly half his age, I was fading. He ended with a lullaby. When the last note sounded, something came over me. In the split-second between the end of a song but before applause erupted, I shouted, “Good night, Mr. Brubeck!”

He laughed.

I didn’t know he was three years from the ultimate journey, but I knew I’d never hear him again.

Good night, Mr. Brubeck. (D.H.)

Obliterate your eardrums: The one time I saw Thrones, the West Coast doom-metal band with members of Earth and the Melvins, was in the back of a rundown seafood restaurant and bar turned after-hours hardcore-punk club in Eureka, Calif. Then, mobs of sweaty kids in patched up hoodie sweatshirts crowded together in the underlit back room off the kitchen pantry as thunderous guitar tones proceeded to burst blood vessels and eardrums until near obliteration. The bass vibrations themselves were punishing and almost immediately lead me to take refuge with freezing tall boys of Pabst Blue Ribbon a few thin walls away. Regardless of my particular response to the situation, it remains a standout memory as one of the most unadulterated heavy-metal experiences of my life. I’d expect nothing short of the same when the guys come through town this Saturday, December 15, to play a show at the Davis Bike Collective. They seem to really thrive in unusual venues regardless of space or acoustics. Not that you can hear much beyond thunderous bass vibrations, anyway.

As for Snoop Dogg, he’ll be rolling into Sacramento Sunday evening at Ace of Spades. I’d heard rumors that following his conversion to Rastafarianism, “the artist formerly known as” would tour under the moniker “Snoop Lion,” but this is not the case. While Snoop Lion has released an album of reggae-inspired material, Sacramento has been billed with the same old Dogg we’ve always known. The guiding light of rap, the godfather of all that is smokable, and now, according to sources on his Wikipedia page, the self-proclaimed reincarnation of Bob Marley. That said, Sunday will be an excuse to get as high as humanly possible (on life) while pretending like you’ve actually heard anything he released since his debut Doggystyle (the one with “Gin and Juice”) went four-times platinum in 1994. (J.B.)