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Ere I Saw Osaka, Japan

It was difficult and unfortunate to have to choose between the SAN FRANCISCO MIME TROUPE's annual performance at San Lorenzo Park and the MUSICAL SAW FESTIVAL up at Roaring Camp this past Sunday. Ultimately though, the saw fest is an institution in town that I'd never experienced, and is a rather sublime sublimation of a tool used to murder so many innocent trees, turned on its head to make eerily beautiful music. So I headed up into the hills, squashed a harmless little squirrel on the way and parked the car before any more damage could be done.

Any tourist could tell you about the cute little covered bridge leading into the park, and the little pond on the right loaded with wildlife--four DUCKS, three TURTLES, a FROG and a BIG-ASS HERON when I walked by--all basking in the sun safely out of tires' reach. A little way down the path, old engines chug along, some of them shucking corn, some pumping water. Somehow, the smells of barbecue and gasoline perfectly complimented the bluegrass band on the main stage--all going somewhat as expected.

Then we headed up into the trees to check out the saw-off, hosted by none other than CHARLIE BLACKLOCK's son KEN BLACKLOCK, and things took a turn for the surreal. The rustic little Deer Creek Stage is dwarfed by enormous redwoods all around it, but it elevates the performers and frames them quaintly, all wooden and natural-like. An aura of quiet attention surrounded the proceedings, interrupted only occasionally, yet almost mockingly, by the deafening sound of train whistles. We walked in on a heartfelt version of "O Sole Mio," the ethereal, warbling voice of the saw singing the vocal part, followed by a skillful unaccompanied performance of "Auld Lang Syne." The next sawyer continued in a similar vein, playing one song of his choosing--"America the Beautiful"--and a solo version of "Auld Lang Syne."

Then came the "international" element of the competition--contestant after contestant after contestant--all from Japan. The first Japanese man I saw perform was dressed smartly in pleated khaki pants and a crisply starched button-down shirt, looking a lot like a fish out of water, if that fish were a conservative middle-aged Japanese businessman playing a musical saw somewhere out on the rugged American frontier. And he was really good.

And so it went with the 22 contestants, more than half of whom came all the way from Japan. An occasional American would make their way to the stage, but after a while they seemed like anomalies in an otherwise Japanese musical saw competition. It turns out they're all part of a Musical Saw Club from Osaka, Japan, one of whom even treated the main-stage audience to a theremin performance--an ironic twist to play what many consider to be the progenitor of modern electronic instruments at a festival devoted to an instrument consisting of a piece of serrated metal and some horsehair.

I had to leave before they announced the winner, and before the Chorus of Saws, but toward the end of the competition, I got to see how the old-time veterans like SUE DAVENPORT and ALLAN DELAY do it, even if we couldn't sing along to "When Day Is Done" if our lives depended on it.

Poo-Poo Roach

Never mind the fact that no matter how badly I want to like PAPA ROACH, the up-from-nowhere (a.k.a. Vacaville, Calif.) band gone multiplatinum, and no matter how hard I try to let their melodic hardcore rap-rock anthems touch my soul and other secret places, and no matter how badly I want to worship charismatic frontman JACOBY SHADDIX as the unlikely hero he is to so many, I just can't. And never mind all the dramatic rock-show lights that transformed the humble little Catalyst into a glamorously rockin' ministadium, if just for a night, or the gnarly mosh pits incited by Shaddix's bloodcurdling screams. Let's just put that all on the back burner for a second.

What the fuck was up with the smell? Did someone eat some raw sewage before the show, chase it with some rotted roadkill and then puke it all up on top of a fresh turd somewhere outside of a toilet bowl? Fess up, dude, I know you're out there. That shit stank.

Mike Connor

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From the August 11-18, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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