Ruby Skye | San Francisco | 09.18.02
We approached Mason Street from the South, seeing the Biscuit and Blues and a Jack in the Box on one corner, the Pinecrest Diner (open 24 hours) on the next. Up the street the Donnatello Hotel looms like a greedy Rockefeller, the Pan Pacific Hotel lives large, a homeless man was digging roses out of a trash can and offered us a deal. The mostly full moon was being sucked into the sky by a gigantic black straw… and then there's this Ruby Skye place: marquee, velvet ropes, bouncers and all. Entering Ruby Skye you'd never know you were in San Francisco listening to live music. With plush red carpets and neon colors of violet and green, the place is more Hollywood than anything, but as overwrought and meticulous as it is I felt a heavy spiritual presence once we entered. A bunch of cats were lounging on the sofas and chairs in the back, but cats were mostly drinkin’ and around 10:30pm the focus was on the bar where the bulk of the crowd amassed.
Guarav Raina from the MIDIval PunditZ was bouncing the Eur/Asian electrowaves off the high ceiling of the old converted theatre as I looked around, moved around, slowly giving way to my body and dancing. My friend and I moved up front and a guy in a jump suit was breakdancing yoga. The energy took a while to build momentum, but the mass of bodies gravitated to the dance floor in time for DJ Cheb i Sabbah's set.
The rhythm was completely transformed: a man with his drum in the middle of the stage in the middle of the club, in the middle of some big city, in the middle of a crowd of people, in the middle of a sea of change, in the middle of our hearts, in the beginning of Cheb's set. And like a soldier waiting to go to battle, standing erect, his giant drum strapped round his back, hands at the ready. A burst of mallet strokes exploded over the rhythm laid by Cheb and the music and the people dancing and listening to the music turned on. "Fear This" in big block letters adorned the side of the drum like a 1000 pound bomb searching for Bin Laden. The audience followed and led, flowed and bled the energy back and forth. I reflected on humanity's power and strength, the merit in the musical rituals and ceremonies developed thousands of years ago as my body twisted and writhed with my friends. The music droned, pulsed and moaned, constantly shifting the rhythm from East and to West, and every time Mitch laid into his drum the rhythm became more pronounced, visceral and immediate, making it impossible for inner reflection; you couldn't avoid this tribe's dance.
I didn't even notice Karsh Kale jump up stage and behind the turntables and mixing boards, but recognized the shifting soundscape. Some of Karsh's samples and synth sounds were super heavy, but it wasn't until he escaped his electronic kitchen to his tabla to jam with Zach Velmer from STS9 that I elevated and left my temporal space to join his plane. Karsh and Zach had a straight up amazing, intimate conversation in front of the audience at Ruby Skye.
Karsh laid down a classical tabla groove and Zach responded with his trademark breakbeats, rising and dropping the speed and intensity to complement his partner’s idea. Zach shared some thoughts with his hi-hat and snare and Karsh jumped in, all ten fingers working all the syllables out of the tabla into something poetic. After his set I asked Karsh, "What is the American Idol?" I explained to him that the question was open and he could answer whatever it meant to him. I sort of expected him to say something like "the tv" or "Hugh Hefner," but he answered sincerely that to him it was "Jimi Henderix," that "Jimi Hendrix transcended on so many different levels to me." The spirit of Jimi truly lives on in his heart and continues to inspire, create, provoke, and challenge us all to take it to the next level.
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