Real Tales of San Francisco

I got into San Francisco late last Wednesday night and by noon on Thursday I was already at Amoeba Records. The San Francisco location isn't the original, but man, it sure is a sight to behold. It's a converted bowling alley and the vastness is unreal. I mean, they have a wall of cassettes that stretches more than 50 feet. In short, they pretty much have everything you want - any genre, any format, used, new, whatever.

If the music industry really wants to get people to buy more albums then they should do whatever they can make sure there are more stores like Amoeba. Here's an example of why Amoeba is so great. I was walking around the store holding a double-CD by obscure late-'70s New Zealand indie-punk band Toy Love. The fact that the store even had the "Cuts" reissue was reason enough to be excited. But one of the employees saw it in my hand and started talking to me about how great it was. Then she said that a used copy just came in and that she took it home to listen to so it wasn't out on the floor, but she would check it in and bring it out to me. And she did, saving me $7. It turns out another CD I had picked out ("Messthetics #104: D.I.Y. '77-'81 South Wales I") was a favorite of hers, enough that she gave it one of those green recommendation stickers. So I showed her the rest of what I had and asked if she had anything else good for me. After finding some more common ground on stuff that I already owned (the Clean, the Aislers Set, etc.) she pointed me to another compilation, "Can't Stop It! II: Australian Post-Punk 1979-84." It's filled with bands that not even Google knows about, is something that I would have never thought to even look at, and it's great. Something like that could only happen at Amoeba, or an independently run store like it.

A couple other notes from the City by the Bay:

--The Warriors happened to be home while I was there so I hopped on the BART for Oracle Arena to catch a very exciting game against the Rockets. (Admittedly not as exciting as the games the last couple nights against the Lakers; the NBA package is really my best annual purchase.) Anyway, I make it to plenty of Wizards games and the halftime entertainment at Verizon Center is usually either a bunch of seven-year-old kids running up and down the court launching 20-foot airballs for a few minutes or some disturbingly flexible gymnasts leaping on and over things. Halftime entertainment for the Rockets/Warriors game? John Legend, of course. It was a special circumstance (he was there to raise awareness for the Show Me Campaign) and I'm not a huge John Legend fan, but a solid performance of "Ordinary People" sure beats the hell out of those Gymkana freaks.

--I went to the SFMOMA and there happened to be a Devendra Banhart exhibit there. Um, OK, sure. It was just a small exhibition called "Abstract Rhythms," and half the drawings were by Banhart and half were by Paul Klee. Apparently "music was a consistent source of inspiration" for Klee, so that was enough of a hook for the museum to make a mini-exhibit and try to get into the deep pockets of those bougie freak folks. I'll give you one guess as to whose drawings were better.

--Three songs were stuck in my head throughout my time there. Predictably, they all have the word San Francisco in the title: the Arctic Monkeys song referenced in the title of this post, "Come Back from San Francisco" by the Magnetic Fields and "San Francisco B.C." off the upcoming Silver Jews album. Unfortunately for me I only know a handful of lines to each of those songs, so it became more annoying than anything else. There was a lot of this going on in my head: "Come back from San Francisco (something something something something) when all of New York City misses you. Should pretty boys in discos (something something something something something something) in love with you."

By David Malitz |  March 26, 2008; 10:50 AM ET Roadies
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Hey man, those are you people in Gymkana. Don't be hatin' just because they're good.(j/k)

Posted by: EricS | March 26, 2008 11:52 AM

Is there a good list of high-quality, high-volume independent music stores still in business? Good information to know for travelers, and for people who have recently moved to a new city.

Posted by: SSMD | March 26, 2008 1:17 PM

Hey SSMD, check out this link...

Those are probably all the biggest and best ones.

I live right next door to Vintage Vinyl in NJ. I can't recommend it highly enough. Besides from Amoeba, it's the best one that i know of.

And Dave, this got me so psyched for my trip to SanFran next month.

Posted by: Ben W. | March 26, 2008 1:52 PM

I go to San Francisco once a year for a business conference. I always schedule an extra day just for the jaunt to Amoeba. Last year I spent somewhere north of $900 on vinyl there.

In the five years I've been going out there, I have never not had someone on Haight Street offer to sell me drugs.

Posted by: ggw | March 26, 2008 4:45 PM

ggw -- out of curiosity, did you ship all that back? buy a new suitcase?

my one trip to amoeba in SF was fantastic, would kill to have something like that here

anyone know about local participants in record store day?

the website was kind of painful to navigate

Posted by: HoyaParanoia | March 27, 2008 12:18 AM

Amoeba shipped it for me, although they didn't do so eagerly. They only offered media mail (insured) and told me it could take up to 4 weeks. It actually took only one week. Everything was packed very well and arrived undamaged. It was ~$40 shipping charge. All in all, much better than trying to bring it back on the plane.

Posted by: ggw | March 27, 2008 4:00 PM

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