Critic's Choice for the week of February 11-17, 2004 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.


Vallejo's contribution to the funk era, ConFunkShun, is best remembered for hits like "Chase Me," "Too Tight," and "Ffun." Those intimately familiar with the band's catalogue will no doubt point to songs like "Confunkshunizeya" as proof positive that these guys had some serious chops, which allowed them to smoothly navigate between jazz, funk, and R&B, sometimes on the same song. The band doesn't play live too much anymore, or at least not as much as it used to, which makes its three-night stop at Kimball's Friday through Sunday something of a special occasion. If you're looking for a Valentine's Day weekend setting that will show your sweetpea how you really feel, gaze deeply into your lover's eyes and sing along with the band when it launches into the first verse of "Ffun": "I wanna thank you for your love so true." Your beloved will reply with "Awww, isn't that special?" and really mean it. 510-658-2555. (Eric K. Arnold)


Mezzo Cecilia Bartoli astounded us all at her 1991 Cal Performances West Coast recital debut. Her breathtaking beauty of voice is equaled by an interpretive brilliance that illuminates music with an incomparable range of color and nuance. Bartoli returns to Berkeley this Sunday -- this time to Zellerbach Hall -- for an afternoon recital with piano that showcases music by Rossini, Bellini, Bizet, Viardot, and other greats. 510-642-9988. (Jason Victor Serinus)


The Knitters -- a side project organized by Dave Alvin (the Blasters) and John Doe and Exene Cervenka (X) as a tribute to the acoustic sounds of roots pioneers like the Carter Family, Delmore Brothers, and Leadbelly -- has taken on a life of its own, and reminds us that behind the volume and attitude, X was really the Weavers on crank. Friday at Slim's and Saturday at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. 415-885-0750. (j. poet)


Soukous -- a musical genre indigenous to the Congo region of Africa -- is inherently sexy, with supple, danceable grooves that soothe mind, body, and soul. If world music turns you on, you'll be fully energized by Ashkenaz' Valentine's Day band, Affro-Musika, which mixes African music, jazz, and Afro-Cuban rumba into a swirling sea of rhythmic romance. The band, led by singer Shimita El Diego and guitarist Nene Tchakou, was formed in Zaire (now the Congo) back in the day, but its latest CD, Rumba-Soukous, was recorded in Berkeley, which says something about our local worldbeat scene. Go to the show on Saturday and shake it like a shakere. 510-525-5054. (E.K.A.)


Okay, so the Erykah Badu and Floetry show at Oakland's Paramount Friday night is sold out, right? Obviously, there's a large local fanbase that appreciates these neo-soul sistas enough to snap up all the seats to the fabulous, legendary art-deco venue. But if you really, really love your sugar dumplin', you'll pony up a little extra cash and get into this show. Because after all, nothing says "I love you, baby" like a pair of scalped tickets, and you know this concert is gonna be da bomb, fa shizzle. 510-465-6400. (E.K.A.)


SoVoSo, the outstanding five-member Bay Area a cappella vocal ensemble that garnered three Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award nominations in jazz and folk/world categories, celebrates Valentine's Day with a candlelit evening of romantic serenades. Saturday's Berkeley Jazzschool concert, preceded by a vocal workshop, includes two singers who tour with Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra, plus fabulous new SoVoSoer Caitlin Cornwell. 510-845-5373. (J.V.S.)


One thing about Noe Venable: Listeners either love or hate what she does with music. Not for every taste, Venable is undoubtedly an original -- a San Francisco native with a little girl's voice that brings alive a world teeming with wild stories and emotions lived to the fullest. Her songs seem like rock or folk, with a few other styles (even the European classical art song) tossed in, all used strictly to bring out the feelings in the stories she sings. Accompanied by bassist Todd Sickafoose and violinist Alan Lin, Venable will sing songs from her new CD, The World Is Bound by Secret Knots, Sunday at the Freight & Salvage. 510-548-1761. (Larry Kelp)


Tom Paxton's hits include "Ramblin' Boy," "Last Thing on My Mind," and "Bottle of Wine," a top-ten hit for the Fireballs. He started recording during the '60s, and while not as well-known as Dylan, he has had almost as many artists cover his tunes, from Willie Nelson to Placido Domingo. His latest, Looking for the Moon, includes a song about 9/11 that tells of the office workers fleeing the towers and the firemen who rushed in to save them. Friday at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. 510-548-1761. (j.p.)


Badass, largely unknown musicians. Kindly, largely underfunded charity organizations. The twain meet at SF's Noe Valley Ministry Sunday night, when a revered a cappella troupe (the aforementioned SoVoSo), two deft and wonderful singer-songwriters (Larry Gallagher, Sean Hayes), a shockingly inventive beatboxer dude (Kid Beyond), and other Bay Area musical luminaries join forces for Lovefest, a splendid benefit that will hopefully scare up enough scratch to house a local single-parent family. On your first date? This one'll make you look both cool and charitably kind. 415-617-6208. (Rob Harvilla)


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