Critic's Choice for the week of December 3-9, 2003 

Our writers tell you where to go and who to listen to this week.


"The moon is not robed in a smooth and polished surface but is ... rough and uneven, covered everywhere, just like the earth's surface, with huge prominences, deep valleys, and chasms," noted astronomer Galileo wrote back in the day (1610, to be precise). Oakland-based hip-hop group Lunar Heights -- MCs Khai Love, Jern Eye, and Sizwe -- draws its name from those prominent peaks; their multiculti style, laced with equal parts underground hip-hop and dancehall reggae, has made them one of the up-and-coming groups to watch in the East Bay's still-bubbling urban music scene. Their debut EP, Tasting, proved quite flavorful, and they recently followed that up with an appearance on the What About Us? compilation, with a full-length expected in 2004. In the meantime, they'll be at Blake's on Sunday in a show that also features Sol Rebelz and Occupied Thought. Go see them now before they totally eclipse all those boo-boo commercial rappers and send them straight to the dark side of the moon. or 510-548-0886. (Eric K. Arnold)


San Francisco's Stratford 4 got the buzz big time when it released Love and Distortion this past spring, with blazing guitar indie rock that drew comparisons to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, this fall's hot band. How will the 4 follow that up? Find out for yourself at Cafe du Nord Thursday night, as the 4 previews songs it'll record for their next album. 415-861-5016. (Michael Gowan)


On Brazos Abiertos (Open Arms), the recent album by John Santos and the Machete Ensemble, there's a piece by Bay Area sax great Ron Stallings. Entitled "Buscando La Paz" (Searching for Peace), it's part of a series of compositions he calls "A Context for Peace." This Friday at La Peña Cultural Center, Stallings, who has played with many musicians from Janis Joplin to Huey Lewis, presents "A Context for Peace," a concert with Santos, Mark Levine, Linda Tillery, and others, giving treatment to his ideas toward achieving world peace via a vision of musical truth. or 510-849-2568. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)


Los Lobos continue to occupy their own unique niche on the roots music scene, exploring the connection between Mexican, African-American, Latin, and Anglo pop. The band seems to get tighter and more ferocious over the years, an inspiration to all aging rockers. See it live at the Fillmore in San Francisco; former Meter Zigaboo Modeliste opens on Friday, and singer/songwriter Joe Henry on Saturday. 415-346-6000 (j. poet)


Vocalist Shaynee Rainbolt is a Bay Area jazz cabaret vocalist worth appreciating. Her debut album, From This Moment On, garnered her props and opened doors to sing in London and New York City. This Saturday she performs at Kelly's (1313 Park Street) in Alameda as a prelude to her Monday "Holiday Madness" show at the Plush Room in SF. 510-769-1011. (J.C.V.)


Two enticing New England-based singer-songwriters whose talents far exceed their record sales, Vance Gilbert and Ellis Paul team up for a visit to the Freight & Salvage on Thursday. Although they've sung and toured together for years, they just released their first duo CD, Side of the Road, filled with fresh arrangements of great songs that aren't all that well-known, from Susan Werner's "May I Suggest" to Van Morrison's "Comfort You." The songs are about spirit, character, and life philosophy, buoyed by Paul and Gilbert's memorable melodies and some fine vocal harmonizing. And who knows, maybe they'll even do a duet version of Gilbert's hilarious "Country-Western Rap." 510-548-1761. (Larry Kelp)


The women's vocal ensemble Kitka celebrates the release of its new Wintersongs CD, as well as their 25th anniversary, with the group's annual Wintersongs concert. Singing beautiful music from a bushelful of Eastern European lands and spiritual traditions, Kitka's Sunday evening concert in Oakland's Lake Merritt United Methodist Church includes everything from pre-Christian solstice incantations to Hebrew folk songs for Chanukah. 510-444-0323. (Jason Victor Serinus)


Jonathan Richman made his post-Modern Lovers debut on the late, lamented local Beserkley label, and he's always had a rabid local following. His appearance in There's Something About Mary didn't make him a star, but it did prove that his quirky boyish charm is still in full effect. Friday at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. 415-478-2277. (j.p.)


It's about damn time dignity got its own benefit show. Crafty East Bay multimedia haven iMusicast hosts the Concert for Dignity Thursday night, with proceeds benefiting Operation Dignity, a nonprofit charity group focused on the homeless. Greg Lamboy -- purveyor of "acoustic pop with a social conscience," as he puts it -- will serenade you as you bask in your good-deededness. 510-601-1024. (Rob Harvilla)


Starting Friday night, Oakland Opera Theater reprises its fascinating, totally engrossing multimedia production of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson's first operatic collaboration, Four Saints in Three Acts. Directed by Tom Dean, the two-week run at Oakland's intimate Metro mixes hilarious irreverence with a string of delightful effects. There is most definitely a "there" there, one that doesn't require a dictionary to enjoy. 510-763-1146. (J.V.S.)


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