Critic's Choice for the week of August 17-23, 2005 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.


Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell has all the makings of a local folk hero. Dubbed by some as the best player to never make it to the NBA, he's as flashy and formidable as any of his contemporaries -- Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James -- but wound up in prison instead of the pros, a fact many attribute to his tough childhood in West Oakland's Lower Bottom. Thus, Hook ended up slinging drugs and dodging bullets when he should have been dunking game-winners. Recently freed and converted to Islam, he now deploys his celebrity and street cred to promote the "Boost Your Game" Midnight Basketball League, an organization that allows young people to settle their beefs on the court rather than the street corner. The league runs through September 8 at Oakland's McClymonds High School (27th and Myrtle); Thursday night's media open house features performances by Goapele, Frontline, Ea-ski, Too $hort, and more. 510-594-9895. (Rachel Swan)


Ry Cooder is an urban folklorist who continues digging for compelling stories to tell and interesting musicians to help tell them. The songs on Chavez Ravine tell the story of a Los Angeles Mexican-American community displaced by eminent domain to build Dodger Stadium, a sordid tale fleshed out with legendary Chicano musicians like Flaco Jimenez, Lalo Guerrero, Don Tosti, Wille "G" Garcia, and the Arvizu Sisters. Saturday, Ry and friends lowride into SF's Tower Records (at Columbus and Bay) for a CD-signing party. Free, 2 p.m. 415-885-0500. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)


Though they followed different paths, mandolin and bass guru Chris Hillman (the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers) and Berkeley-born banjo and guitar maestro Herb Pedersen (the Dillards, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt) have both pioneered fusions of bluegrass, country, and rock. The pair have crossed paths often since those '60s and '70s Los Angeles halcyon days, and they'll appear Saturday at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage to sing their favorite originals, not to mention songs by everyone from the Louvin Brothers to Bakersfield's old country stars. $19.50-$20.50, 8 p.m. 510-548-1761 or (Larry Kelp)


Soulful hip-hop sensation John Legend's exquisite vocals, sensitive piano, and transgenerational songwriting influences make him the leading heir to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield's legacies -- famous buddies from Jay-Z to Kanye West might help him live up to those standards. Meanwhile, Common's huge single "Go" is so strikingly distinctive, you can pardon the presence of dorm-folk dumbass John Mayer on the hook and in the video. They hit SF's Fillmore Friday night with De La Soul. $27, 9 p.m. (Jason Toon)


A bit more about De La: Maybe the secret to longevity in hip-hop is making albums with psychedelic fluorescent cover art, rhyming over funky disco loops, and alluding to your "buddy" just often enough to keep the ladies guessing. De La Soul is one of the few hip-hop entities that's gotten better over time -- anyone who's heard its latest effort, The Grind Date, can attest to that. Sixteen years have passed since the group's hippie-ish debut album Three Feet High and Rising, and the three hooky emcees have managed to shake off all the haters who once took them for sissies or daisy-eaters. They're still widely popular outside the rarefied hip-hop world, but haven't sacrificed a single ounce of funk for their crossover appeal. Immediately after Friday's Fillmore gig, De La will host the official afterparty at SF's Club Six. The event kicks off at 10 p.m. with DJs Mind Motion, Mr. E, and Sake 1, plus special guests Common and John Legend. $10. (R.S.)


Vocally, Wayne "The Train" Hancock is a dead ringer for Hank Williams Sr., vibrating with the same edge of desperation. Meanwhile, Hancock leads one of the toughest small combos on the scene -- the combination of its pile driving country-rock rhythms and his tortured wail is guaranteed to blow the roof off the Starry Plough Friday night. $12, 9:30 p.m. 510-841-2082 or (j. poet)


The Asylum Street Spankers play unplugged in both the musical and physical senses of the word. The all-acoustic Texas crew rages through swing, country, rock, ragtime, pop, blues, and anything else that strikes its fancy with a fierce postpunk energy. Vocalist Christina Marrs sings like a honky-tonk angel, while cofrontperson Wammo rants like a bastard son of Allen Ginsberg and Johnny Rotten. Friday at Berkeley's Starry Plough. $14, 9:30 p.m. 510-841-2082 or (j.p.)


If you're looking for an alternative to the phalanx of US Navy recruiters and profusion of empty marketing credos at KMEL's Summer Jam, look no further: The famed KZSU DJ Kevvy Kev is celebrating 21 years of dope independent hip-hop radio with his annual Bang the Drum concert, featuring 21 emcees and 21 DJs performing Sunday at Casino Meadow in Golden Gate Park. The show kicks off at 1 p.m. with a lineup that includes local favorites like Zion-I, DJ Zeph and Azeem, and Money B, along with legends who just crawled out of the woodwork, like Conscious Daughters, Sunspot Jonz, and even Hobo Junction emeritus Saafir. Plus you'll get to see Ras Kass and Pharoah Monch -- two emcees who should be canonized with all the great beat poets and ghetto gonzoists. Hard to believe, but the show's free, too. Now don't that just beat all? (R.S.)


San Francisco Opera's Merola Opera Program Grand Finale ranks hands-down as the classical event of the week. Conducted by Valéry Rivkin, Saturday night's SF War Memorial Opera House event showcases this year's Merola participants, some of whom are destined to become the first-rank artists of the next generation. $25-$38, 7:30 p.m., 415-864-3330. (Jason Victor Serinus)



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