One dull gray November afternoon during rush hour, the wild sounds coming from the Ashby BART station made it seem as if the commuters had suddenly gone into a time warp and been deposited at a campsite outside Zagreb. Gypsy violins swirled over the rhythmic pumping of an accordion, a man sat playing a Django-Reinhardt-style guitar, and a dark-haired, haunted-looking young woman sang a mournful tune, no doubt a song of lost love. A couple of women began to dance. Passersby tossed money into the open instrument case. A few listeners gathered, among them a small mustachioed man with a contented smile on his face. Finally one of the musicians spoke: "Hello, everybody. We're Fishtank." The East Bay has nurtured numerous Eastern European ethnic music groups and has hosted still more, but very few local klezmer-Balkan-Gypsy dance bands have the credentials of this Oakland-Santa Cruz-based ensemble. When he isn't slashing bowstrings with Fishtank, French-born violinist Fabrice Martinez travels Europe in a mule caravan alongside fellow Fishtank fiddler Ursula Knudson, who also doubles on musical saw and sings in a variety of languages. Kevin Kmetz, who grew up in northern Japan, plays shamisen (three-stringed lute) not only on the band's traditional Japanese numbers but also in a Romanian context -- he makes it sound like a tsimbalom. Accordionist Aaron Seeman (also of Punk Rock Orchestra and Duckmandu) enjoys mixing klezmer with Rossini opera, while guitarist Doug Smolens and bassist Glenn Allen veer off frequently into flamenco. They first got together in 2003 at an Oakland warehouse performance space with fishtank graphics on the wall behind the stage, and the name stuck. It's your basic Euro-boondocks folkish cafe entertainment, with a string section that will make you spill your slivovitz.
Fishtank's West Coast tour, which brings the band to Mama Buzz Cafe & Gallery in Oakland (2318 Telegraph Ave.) Saturday night (7 p.m., $5) on its way to SF, Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles, is all about its new CD, Super Raoul. Learn more at FishtankEnsemble.com or WebofMimicry.com -- Kelly Vance
Leave it to C.W. "Chuck" Eldridge and his Tattoo Archive to cook up a novel way to celebrate Thanksgiving from the Native point of view. Now on the walls of the Berkeley tattoo parlor and museum (est. 1980) is Lewis & Clark: The Corps of Discovery, an exhibition of Native American tattoos discovered by the first white explorers of the American West -- mostly geometric shapes, made with porcupine quills and bird bones (there was no steel before the Euros came) by the Mandan, Osage, Pawnee, Omaha, and other tribes. They also did body painting and head flattening, but that's another story. "I spent a year and a half researching this," Eldridge says. The colorful show stays through July 2006 at 2804 San Pablo Ave., 510-548-5895. Info: TattooArchive.com -- Kelly Vance
The Hull Truth
While employed as a merchant seaman, Klaus Lange evidently spent a lot of his time staring out portholes at passing ships. Eventually he began to take an interest in the vessels' shapes and contours, as well as in the patterns of flaking paint on rusting hulls. Obviously he's been at sea too long, but his perquisites are now our artistic delight, as in Ships' Sides -- an abstract photography show now at Oakland's Z Cafe and Bar. Says Lange in his press release: "A ship's hull is like an expressionist canvas on which I portray both physical struggle and natural beauty." The photos by Lange, a native of Bremen, Germany, are on display through January 31 at the cafe, 2735 Broadway on Oakland's Auto Row. 510-663-2905. -- Kelly Vance
As the Wu-Tang Clan once noted, Life as a shorty shouldn't be so ruff. It's hard to imagine a more difficult childhood than growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp, as did the members of the Ibdaa Dance Troupe. The group of twenty performers, including teens from the Dheisheh camp, comes to Berkeley's King Middle School (1781 Rose St.) Saturday as part of a 21-city US tour, sponsored by the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA). The goal of these young cultural ambassadors, many of whom have never been outside the West Bank, is to create a bridge across national boundaries through their performances, featuring a traditional folkloric dance called debka. www.mecaforpeace.org or 510-548-0542. -- Eric K. Arnold
Culture Spy - April 20, 9:52 AM
Culture Spy - April 13, 12:18 PM