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Billy Martini puts on a Kiss-worthy show in Felton.

By Garrett Wheeler

The stage show--important? Irrelevant? Distracting? Whatever your opinion regarding rock & roll's visual element of aesthetic expression, there's no denying its existence or the controversy surrounding it. From Elvis Presley's infamous hip gyrations to Janet Jackson's renowned wardrobe malfunction (or publicity stunt), the debate surrounding the stage show has engaged generations of fans and critics.

I can think of no band more appropriate to reference as a case study on the method and reasoning of the stage show than Kiss. No other group in the history of music can match the effort Kiss made in its live performances. Flamboyant costumes, makeup, pyrotechnics, fire-spitting, tongue-dangling--these guys were practically circus performers with guitars. Funny thing is, it worked. Together with an aggressive marketing/merchandising campaign, Kiss and its unprecedented onstage antics found a place in more teenage hearts than the Beatles, even if it was only for a year or two. And though undeniably musically simple, Kiss produced some fist-pumping rock anthems laced with catchy hooks and "shout it out loud" choruses.

In the same way that Kiss reeled in fans worldwide, Santa Cruz's own Billy Martini Show has swept up a steady local following, most of whom were present at the band's CD release gig at Don Quixote's last Friday night. Led by the dynamic vocal presence of Mr. Martini, the five-man band (plus one host and two female dancers) bedazzled the Felton audience with lights, smoke and snazzy outfits, topped off with an infectious brand of high-octane rock & roll. I'll admit I was a bit perplexed at first, unable to decide if I should take this spectacle seriously, or if they even wanted to be taken seriously. But after a quick set break and costume change, my initial confusion evaporated. As Martini strode onstage wearing a ridiculous gray wig, a retro disco suit and a pink boa, it became clear that seriousness was not something that concerned the Billy Martini Show. Having a good time, however, was clearly an objective.

The group's hard-rock originals blended AC/DC, Kiss (go figure), Zeppelin and all the guitar heroes into a steady shot of power-rock mayhem, capitalized on by a few insane solos by guitarist Steve Allison. Covers included a dance-errific rendition of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" and the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," both of which sent the party into overdrive as the dance floor swelled to max capacity.

Also worthy of some good press was acoustic rocker Danny Fix, who opened the show with a batch of mellow rock tunes reminiscent of classic Neil Young. Talking to Fix after the show, I learned that Billy Martini used to play drums in Fix's old band, Mo Bigsley. Times change, sure, but it seems the passion never dies.

I know what you're thinking--and yes, you should have been there. But you can get a nice helping of local power rock next week with local band Archer, which is headlining a show at Henfling's on Friday, March 14. On the same night, Santa Cruz bands the Arcadists, the Splatters and Solaren head to the Catalyst Atrium to bring a little rock & roll to the scene as rapper Andre Nickatina gets all gangsta on the main stage.

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