When it comes to live music, San Franciscans are just plain spoiled, and no night better typifies the city's embarrassment of auditory riches than New Year's Eve. This year, three venues within walking distance of the Civic Center host bills that in any other city would be singular, one-for-the-ages events. But this is San Francisco, so we pretty much get all the good stuff, times three.
The 2008/2009 festivities begin early, at 6pm, at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, where Live Nation presents Phil Lesh & Friends, Bob Weir & Ratdog and Jackie Greene for the second night of a two-night run. Greene, who contributes guitar, keys, harmonica and vocals to Lesh's Friends, opens the show with his band, playing selections from his latest CD, Giving Up the Ghost. Bob Weir & Ratdog follow, and if you haven't heard Ratdog's lead guitarist, Mark Karan, in a while, that's reason enough to go. Lesh closes the show, although by the second or third set in the wee hours, it's a safe bet that the collection of musicians on stage will include more than the five or six official "Friends."
Over at the War Memorial Opera House, which is not usually pressed into service as a venue for rock 'n' roll, Goldenvoice gets things going at 8pm with Les Claypool, Zappa Plays Zappa and Tim Fite. I don't know a thing about opener Fite, but his music sounds sort of like nursery-rhyme-folk-meets-hip-hop. Sort of. Dweezil Zappa, son of the legendary Mother of Invention himself, leads Zappa Plays Zappa with support from a smart and talented group of young Zappatistas, plus Ray White, who toured with Dweezil's dad, Frank, in the 1970s and '80s and is known locally to jamband fans as the W in a late-1990s Steve Kimock project called KVHW. Headlining the show is Les Claypool, whose New Year's Eve hijinks are always memorable. This year, Claypool's website promises "spectacular" 3D imagery, free 3D glasses and, befitting the classy surroundings, a tuxedo-and-gown competition.
If you prefer phat grooves to trippy licks and diabolical discord, Goldenvoice has a show at the Warfield that should more than satisfy. Soul-funkers The Greyboy Allstars take the stage at 9pm, led by Karl Denson of Tiny Universe on sax, Robert Walter of 20th Congress on keys and Mike Andrews of Donnie Darko and Walk Hard film-score fame on guitar. Balloon-drop duties fall to George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, whose cast of almost two dozen members promises to push the Warfield's storied stage to bursting.
Where will you be on New Year's Eve? Let us know!
For tickets and information to all three shows, visit ticketmaster.com.