Chinese Bookie: El Rio, San Francisco, CA 3/31/08

Last week deep in the Mission District of San Francisco, Chinese Bookie took the stage in the back of El Rio for a short set.  Chinese Bookie is Viola Keeton and it seems whomever she can get of friends or audience members that want to dance backup for her.  Dressed in her dapper style with just a white guitar, she starts by singing acoustic for a few songs with lyrics like, “hope I don’t have to have another near death experience just to feel alive.”  In these first few songs she dons a striking performance-art-like stage presence as her half talking and half singing effortlessly pulls the audience in.  

Yet what really makes Chinese Bookie a standout musician is what she refers to as her dance songs.  These started with two male dancers, one who hung from the rafters above the stage and moved perfectly in sync as Viola sung her song, “Everyone is Hideous Compared to You.”  In moments you’ll find yourself comparing her to Patty Smith, a slight bit of Prince, sound effects of CocoRosie and a twist of a French Cabaret singer meanwhile seamlessly rocking out covers of New Order and The Smiths.

There’s a quirkiness to the performance and originality in the music.  The song, “I am getting good at cocktails,” starts with beats reminiscent of the Strokes song Last Night but Chinese Bookie breaks the song into her uniquely inventive sound that makes everyone around start dancing.  During this song, she pauses from time to time to the sounds of an old propeller airplane that sounds like it might crash onto the stage.  She mixes the background music and sings along with herself making you feel as though there’s an entire band or orchestra behind her. 

Her six song E.P. is available on the Chinese Bookie Myspace page and downloads of her 10 song CD called Pomp should soon be available from sites such as iTunes, Rhapsody and Napster.  Her upcoming shows always appear on her Myspace site, but just make sure you double check that the venue is real if you want to find her live, which is absolutely worth it.  For now, we’re still lucky enough to say, I saw her at a small little club back when.  And still lucky enough that if you buy one of her C.D.’s you’ll get the song list hand written on a plying card in the sleeve.  I got the 4 of spades, but this act is really an Ace of Diamonds. 

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