Among life's creepy things—people who act a little too happy, nine-to-five jobs, old truck drivers who haven't gotten laid in 10 years, Star Trek fans, Scientologists—there's San Francisco's I Am Spoonbender. They're proud groupies for celebrity psychics like Uri Geller, the original spoon bender. Hearing their filthy '70s-style new wave synth-pop makes you want to shower. And then there's the cover of their EP Shown Actual Size, a picture of a woman about to gorge herself on a water jet that looks suspiciously like a cock.
Naturally, a meeting with Spoonbender's drummer/visionary, Dustin Donaldson, should be akin to an audience with the King of Creeps. Instead, he comes off as understanding, liberal, even warm. Here's a sampling of his beliefs: "We're at a place where it's time to stop pointing out the negative," he says over the phone from his NorCal studio, Seismic Seance. "And I think this band has the strength to point out the positive."
If that sounds more David Crosby than Devo's Boojie Boy, Donaldson makes no apologies. He's a creature who should scare the hell out of conservatives: a bona fide San Francisco leftie; a straight guy who's pro-queer; an unashamed environmentalist.
And like too many Bay Area types, he's into technology. All technology. That explains the band's stage shtick. Donaldson and co-vocalist Cup (born Robynn Iwata) sing into microphones that have been transformed into something like telephones from the '40s. The other Spoonbenders—Kevin Farkas and Marc Kate—work clunky synthesizers to perform songs with such creepy titles as "I Went and Had My Knives Sharpened."
The songs—and touring with the latest crop of retro new wave acts like Adult—give Donaldson a chance to do what he likes best: soapbox. Donaldson's big message is part media critique, part quest for liberty, and part boosterism of the paranormal.
This is highbrow stuff when you recall Donaldson's former incarnation: he was the token straight guy in famed queercore band Pansy Division. That group released the landmark metal spoof For Those About to Suck Cock, We Salute You. The sleeve, featuring Beavis and Butt-head getting it on, produced an avalanche of furious cease-and-desist letters from MTV.
Are Spoonbender too serious for their own good? So new wave that listeners might want literally to gag themselves with a spoon?
"It's an appreciation for something which already happened, but I don't see what we're doing as nostalgia," says Cup, who met Donaldson while opening for Pansy Division. "It's not jokey. I see a lot of what we do as wit." All the same, they're serious about spreading their ideas on art and the nature of perception.
"If we were more heavy-handed about it, we'd be marketing executives," Donaldson says. "Or even go door-to-door. Maybe that's what we should do, go door-to-door selling the I Am Spoonbender ethos."
I Am Spoonbender perform with Dance Disaster Movement at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600. Sat., 9 p.m. $6. 21+.