Art and music have long had a complementary relationship in San Francisco. In the 1960s and '70s, Chet Helms and Bill Graham commissioned now-classic psychedelic posters by artists such as Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse and David Singer to advertise "dance concerts" at the Avalon, Winterland and a pair of Fillmores. Back then a light show and a free poster came with the price of admission. In the 1980s Graham revived the poster part of this fine tradition at the Warfield and his reopened Fillmore (the practice continues there to this day). At the end of the night, fans were often handed posters created by a new generation of artists, including Chuck Sperry and Chris Shaw.
Roger McNamee, who fronts a jammy rock band called Moonalice when he isn't rubbing elbows with Bono and his other investment colleagues at Elevation Partners, is the latest patron of the poster, as anyone who attends the Moonalice show at Slim's on April 20, 2010 will quickly see. No doubt a lot of people will be at Slim's that night because of the date (unofficially, 4/20 is national marijuana day), as well as the clown-shoes ticket price ($4.20). Others will go because they enjoy the good-natured vibe projected by Roger and his vocalist wife, Ann, and some folks will attend because they are huge fans of Barry Sless (lead guitar, pedal steel), Pete Sears (bass, vocals, keys) and John Molo (is there a better drummer on the planet?).
I definitely fall into that latter category, but I'll also be there for the posters, which Moonalice has been giving away since its first gig on May 5, 2007. At last April's Slim's show, everyone was invited to help themselves to an archival sleeve containing not one but five Moonalice posters, created for the occasion by Shaw, Alexandra Fischer, Sperry (he produced two) and Singer. This year, six to eight posters are planned as gifts to the crowd, including one each by '60s rock-poster legends Wilson and Mouse.
United Nations Plaza, May 5, 2007 by Chris Shaw
Artist Chris Shaw has been the art director of the Moonalice poster program since day one. Almost 300 gigs and as many posters later, Shaw is still running the show, which appears to suit both McNamee and Shaw's fellow artists just fine. "As far as I'm concerned," McNamee says, "Chris is a member of the band."
"Chris is as good an art director as he is an artist," continues David Singer. "He understands artists because he's one himself. We did five posters last year," Singer recalls. "It was good for the artists. We all hung out backstage, gabbing about the poster scene. We don't usually get to connect in that way."
Slim's, April 3, 2009 by Ron Donovan
For his part, Shaw seems quite comfortable with his dual role as artist and art director. "I've tried to create an artist-friendly environment," he says. "I hassle people technically, but not about their ideas."
A tangent to this commitment to artistic freedom is the business relationship McNamee and Shaw have struck with the growing stable of Moonalice artists. "The work-for-hire copyright deals proved to be unfair to artists," says McNamee, "so we chose a different structure. We haven't broken the code yet, but between the 'Moonalice Legend' books, poster sales, and high-end prints, we hope to give the artists another source of income."
Domino Room, February 19, 2010 by David Singer
The difference, of course, between Fillmore and Avalon posters and those created for Moonalice is that just about all Moonalice posters feature the same band name on them. Collectors of '60s posters often pay a premium for posters advertising concerts by 13th Floor Elevators or Led Zeppelin. All Moonalice posters have going for them is their art, which apparently is enough. "It's become more of a collectible because you have to go to a show to get a poster," says Shaw. "The collectors have been noticing the series -- that's kind of nice."
McNamee thinks so, too, and is pleased to see the Moonalice poster artists getting their due. "They deserve it," he says emphatically.
Moonalice plays Slim's on April 20, 2010. For tickets and information, visit slims-sf.com.