(With extra, clear-headed reporting and photos by Joanna Yates)
Last Sunday around 8:30 p.m., on the corner of Eighth and Brannan streets on the fringes of San Francisco’s SOMA district, two curiously distinct parties were forming.
On the northeast corner, shiny limos pulled up to drop off their tuxedo-wearing inhabitants at the front door of a James Bond-themed New Year’s Eve soiree. Bejeweled and sparkling and likely packing fake heat, these revelers slid elegantly into some jewelrymart complex for the 007 bash, clearly a hotspot for the city’s elite to watch 2006 jump into 2007.
But across the street, outside the Concourse Exhibition Center, an entirely different brand of celebrants was gathering. These were the modern day hippies, compleye with long, dreadlocked hair, funky colorful costumes, and the herbally tinged smoke of a 21st century be-in.
They stood in droves beneath a sign that said “Sea of Dreams,” advertising the party that was about to go down inside.
Featuring the tunes of the Animal Liberation Orchestra, Mark Farina, Zap Mama, Bass Nectar, Tipper, and headliners the String Cheese Incident, the Sea of Dreams was the second annual West Coast incarnation of the New Year’s Eve party hosted by Madison House, Anon Salon, and Peak Experience Productions.
Once inside, the sounds of ALO filled the air. They had started promptly at around 8:15 p.m., and by 8:45 p.m., they were being aided by SCI’s guitarist Bill Nershi. (They’re all pictured together here, well, with ALO keyboardist Zach Gill‘s body mostly cut off.) Thousands were already in attendance and moving along to ALO’s funktronic sounds, though paying attention to just one thing in this Sea proved rather impossible. Faces hung from the ceilings, colors swirled in every corner, and minds were being bent by substances both legal and otherwise.
ALO’s set was strong, if all-too-short for their fans. But they finished with a new song off their forthcoming album (for more on that, read this article), and the crowd ate it up. Unlike many incidents where fans are slow to warm to a new tune by their favorite band, the audience was immediately moved by this tune. By 9:30 p.m., ALO was walking off the stage, making way for the String Cheese Incident to play what will likely be their last NYE affair for a long time.
So was it the last NYE for The String Cheese Incident? That’s the word on the street, ever since Bill Nershi said he’s leaving the band after the summer of 2007. Just to make things mysterious, however, SCI began their set with “Can’t Stop Now,” and they sounded as strong, committed, and together as ever. As the first set rolled on, highlights included “BAM!”, the popular tune from keyboardist extraordinaire Kyle Hollingsworth (pictured above). The mandolin solos on the fully instrumental “Rhum ‘n’ Zouc” by the ever creative Michael Kang (pictured below) were exquisite.
Thousands of fans spun and danced like maniacs out in the general admission area, but the backstage folks were also working up quite a maniacal body buzz themselves.
A walk around the center revealed topless mermaids rolling in plastic balls (pictured), massive masks floating along (pictured below), circus-like performances of the utmost professional quality, and revelers with eyes popping out of ttheir heads. Back near the SCI stage, the band was finishing its first set with the crowd-pleasing, upbeat “Desert Dawn.”
SCI’s second set made everyone have a hootin’ good ole time. The song “Rollover” marked the transition into 2007 (wonder what those James Bond folks were doing across the street), although by many a fans cell phone clock the time was closer to 12:30 a.m. Nonetheless, the dropping balloons and accompanying light show (pictured) fueled SCI’s bust into the new year.
The Star Trek theme kept weaving its way into the music during the latter part of the evening, and then the wonderful old favorite “Black Clouds” marked the end of the solid set. The smiling and energized crowd let out hoots and yells, providing just enough gratitude to provoke the SCI into returning for an encore. It turned out to be a mini-set of it’s own, featuring “Joyful Sound,” “Birdland,” “Wheel Hoss,” back into “Birdland” and then the end with “Rollover.”
Though some decided to leave after that rousing encore, even more stuck around for the sounds of The Pnuma Trio, which reportedly played till 4:45 a.m. Now that’s a way to enter 2007.