That sinking feeling

Ever walk into a venue and have someone immediately tell you that you’d just missed an event whose significance rivals the invention of sliced bread, the crucifixion and the translation of O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It into Klingon? All rolled into one?

On Saturday, promoter Jerry Perry was so impressed with the duo Agent Ribbons’ opening performance at Old Ironsides that he wouldn’t shut up to this latecomer, to a point where I was reduced to a sullen funk for much of the night. Perry was so rippled with enthusiasm he almost body-slammed me into the concession table, demanding that I purchase a handmade copy of Agent Ribbons’ debut CD, On Time Travel and Romance, before they sold out. So I bought the one remaining copy and pocketed it, then watched him and another friend, who also was smitten, chat up a familiar-looking woman whose extreme red dye job placed her somewhere between Strawberry Shortcake and Ronald McDonald.

Perhaps she looked familiar because I’d seen her before, two years ago at Luna’s, opening for David Houston and Adrian Bourgeois when she was billed as Natalie Gordon, and I was knocked out enough to buy a four-song CD from her then. Agent Ribbons’ new CD plays like a more confident evolution of those first tentative recordings; Gordon’s alto is as world-weary as it gets for someone in her early 20s, and she sounds a bit like Los Angeles singer Eleni Mandell, minus the Tom Waits affinity and plus an early Joni Mitchell vibe—which is not a bad thing. Also, Gordon and bandmate Lauren Hess have a portfolio of nicely realized songs, which may be an old-world conceit in an age of ringtones masquerading as songs, but it provides a leg up in some circles nonetheless. (And big ups to any act that lists wonderful jazz singer Blossom Dearie first on its list of influences, as Agent Ribbons does on its Myspace page at

Fortunately, Agent Ribbons will play the Fox & Goose on Saturday, December 2, with Baby Grand and the Inversions, and the duo has a few other upcoming shows listed, too. All is not lost.

But my night was, at least through the middle set by Social Studies. The black mood continued until the headliner Didley Squat took the stage around midnight. I’d forgotten how great this band is, and luckily the Squat was in rabid effect. What makes Didley Squat so compelling is that the main dynamic axis in the band is between hyperactive singer David Mohr and drummer Casey James, with keyboard player Stuart Nishiyama and guitarist Jacob Barcena adding melodic and textural dressing to Mohr’s and James’ driving sonic assault. Because of this, and because there’s no bassist, what results is the kinetic equivalent of a hooked fish flopping on a dock, desperately trying to find water.

“This guy up where I live calls it Ritalin rock,” said Jeffrey Clark, a founding member of Shiva Burlesque, the precursor to Grant Lee Buffalo, who now lives outside Nevada City. The description isn’t far off: Didley Squat achieves the same kind of aural mayhem that beloved early-1980s English post-punk acts like Gang of Four once unleashed, with enough lyric smarts and original spark to map some new, uncharted territories.