Kimya Dawson
The Herbst Theater; San Francisco, CA

The gentrification of indie rock means that the bourgeois can dip toes into chlorinated waters of high-profile acts such as Neko Case, My Morning Jacket, and Spoon. Kimya Dawson has been thrown into the pool.

She is still who she is: a peacefully protesting, sloppy-mama-clothes-wearing warrior who handles death and vileness like a child fondling the feathers, broken bones, and maggots of a dead bird. And unlike most “singers” (she is more of a talker who switches tones), she lets the music deliver the message rather than drowning it or, as the existential tides rise, obscuring with sonic waves and undertows the fact that there is none.

Dawson speaks humbly about playing San Francisco’s Herbst Theater, which only barely eases the awkwardness of her playing the Herbst Theater. It’s like watching a scripted production of house party and café shows, an undeniable simulation of what normally actually happens. Next to her is a guy named Matt, who sits cross-legged on the floor. The crowd is a mass of nice heels and expensive hair cuts and shirts with pre-fab owl patches on them.

“Rocks With Holes” evokes the dissociative, sad-soaked magical realism of The Virgin Suicides. Matt tinkers on a xylophone, which finesses the song in lullaby. The anti-Bush song “Fire” resurrects Gandhi with such lyrics as "It's a mistake to just take and not give/ It's not true that we must murder to live." We could start a snuggle revolution! She calls Matt a “baby genius” and says that they have played together a lot. We never quite learn who Matt is, but he does start playing a banjo in “Trump Song,” in which the words, “Without a stinkin cotton-pickin dime” sound good against a little baby genius banjo solo. “Underground” is morbid-crass and silly-sweet, complete with her idea about tattooing instructions on her ass not to bury her when she dies. Then she plays “12/26,” which is about a woman whose family dies in a tsunami but who survives by clasping onto a palm frond. Her whispered kind of fast amplifies through the institutionalized stillness of the theater. Anybody want to go dumpster diving after this?, just kidding.

Next is a song for her daughter about a little panda bear. It’s off Alphabutt e. pee., a kid’s album she recorded in Oakland. Suddenly, some really cute kids from the album get on stage to play along. The Kid’s Korner mini-set highlights include a song about Fabio riding a horse down to Mexico and the title song, an ABC’s of fart humor. The whole affair is corny and sweet, like a family barbeque.

”Lullaby for the Taken,” “It’s Been Raining,” and “Singing Machine” refute the lyrics in the latter: “They can’t all be ballads.” This last song gets funny when Matt petulantly puts the toy keyboard away because she’s going too fast even though he asked her to slow down, and then he says, “They’re all ballads to me.”

“It’s okay if at the end of the day all that I can do is be a good mother,” she sings. Then she goes into a medley consisting of snippets from Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” (yes, the greatest fan of your life) and Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway.” Next, she plays a rendition of a song her brother wrote about doing a “macho man.”

Her husband, Angelo Spencer, comes on stage with his band, which opened, along with those Alphabutt kids, and it is a gentle clambering that is kind of mildly engaging. “We won’t stop until someone calls the cops,” she sings, and then she leaves the stage without an encore. Thank goodness for that, because these lullabies have made me sleepy. I go to bed and have a dream that I am a frog prince threatened by death via blender, until a Huck Finn type rescues me and we go on a road trip into the Midwest.

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