Sick Puppies want a hug 

Some people strolling through Union Square in recent weeks may have noticed a curious "free hugs" campaign, in which grinning teenagers offered non-obligatory embraces to passersby. Many seemed genuinely disarmed by the simple gesture.

Where did this odd phenomenon start? It was in Sydney, Australia, the idea of a feel-good rock trio called Sick Puppies, which plays Slim’s Sunday night.

Puppy power began with a whimper, according to singer/guitarist Shimon Moore. It was an idea he had a couple of years ago while working as a sandwich-board advertiser at an Aussie mall, saving for a make-or-break trip to America.

"I was holding up a sign that said ‘two-for-one shoes’ when this guy walks up with a ‘free hugs’ sign," he recalls. "So I gave him a hug. And I started hanging out with him when he’d pop by every Thursday, and I asked him if he’d mind if I filmed him, and maybe we could do a documentary together. So I filmed all this stuff, but never really did anything with it."

Moore so enjoyed the footage he’d shot of the lovable eccentric, Juan Mann, he brought it when the Puppies relocated to Los Angeles last year.

As sessions wrapped for their sophomore disc, "Dressed Up As Life" (on Capitol Music), they got the news that Mann had grown seriously depressed over a death in the family.

Moore was frustrated.

"I couldn’t really do anything to help him, since I was on the other side of the world. So I made this video with our song underneath it as a get-well card."

He draped the band’s Midnight Oil-ish anthem "All the Same" with clips that condensed Mann’s crusade into an uplifting three minutes. The "free hugs" campaign was suddenly popular and shut down by city officials. But, after a petition and 10,000 signatures, Mann was free to hug again; 12 million YouTube hits later, the "All the Same" video has turned Mann and his Puppy pals into global sensations.

Moore, 23, said he admires Mann’s perseverance.

"Every day, he’d get 500 new signatures, take them to the government … it was such overwhelming response that the government basically went ‘Awww ... OK’ and left him alone."

But Moore is quick to point out that there’s nothing warm or fuzzy about "All The Same," lyrically.

"It’s about being in a relationship where I was a lot more devoted to this girl than she was to me, and having to finally say ‘Let’s give this a real shot or just break up, ’cause I’m sick of getting screwed around.’"

The gal in question, the composer clarifies, was not Sick Puppies’ bassist Emma Anzai. The two met in high school music class in 1997 but never dated.

"We were pretty scared of each other," Moore said. "She was a grungie with hair down in her face, and I was an outlandish, attention-seeking little brat. But we knew all the same songs by Silverchair, Green Day and Rage Against the Machine. So romance was never an option. We just had a really good musical chemistry."

Sick Puppy

Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $12

Contact: (415) 255-0333 or www.tickets.com

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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