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Sapos Muertos of Salinas combine machismo with a sense of humor

By David Espinoza

IF YOU DON'T COUNT lead singer Jake Desrochers of the Lonely Kings occasionally singing in gringo Spanish, Cara Dura is basically the only band in town that's puro rockero, until now. Straight out of Salinas come Sapos Muertos, a four-piece crew with plenty of machismo and a sense of humor.

I won't divulge the English translation of Sapos Muertos, as it just sounds better in español--let's just say it describes the music well. These guys play wicked vato rock, with a lead singer named "Sapo Guapo" Michael Hilden, who sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and Cesar Rosas (Los Lobos) in his grittier moments.

The band's eight-song, self-titled debut/demo CD as is raw as it gets, with styles ranging from semi-ska beats, jump-swing (heavy on the crash cymbal), to dissonant indie rock guitar chords and even a drop of funk. As Chicano rock bands go, Sapos Muertos sing mostly in Spanglish with songs like "Vampiresa," "Tacos de Cabeza" and "Chola Girl"--keep an eye out for them this year.

Manson's Machine

Local guy with a drum machine and sampler Jeffrey Manson didn't play last year's Big Bang Festival, but if there's a part II this year, he definitely needs to be on the bill. The solo artist has put together a lovely lo-fi minimalist tape project called Jeffrey Manson Machine that brings to mind Yo Yo or K Records material.

On the first ditty, set to simple pop acoustic guitars and what sound like bongos, Manson lazily sings, "We had a staring contest with the outside world, but then the staring contest with the TV set distracted our staring contest with the outside world, and the staring contest was won by the TV set." From there, the tape meanders into spacey B-movie bleep samplings, fuzzy static and more pop-vocal musings, though it never really gets abrasive and never stays on one path for too long.

The Beck influence factor is high here: witness side two's "Burrow Underground." Oh yeah, and who can beat having your project recorded over a ZZ Top single? My biggest complaint about the tape is that it's too short, with only three to four spontaneous pop songs on each side--everything else about it though is blissful. We don't give stars here, so Manson's tape gets two thumbs and two big toes up.

Return of the Jetlag

It's been a while since Loadstar hit the Catalyst, and at the Thursday (Dec. 28) showcase, the band proved its worthiness with a half-hour set. The trio has gotten considerably better, with Donovan Cole's opening guitar leads always a real treat. The vocals, which don't stand out in a town full of melodic punk bands, still leave much to be desired.

Headliners Jetlag absolutely wrecked havoc on the Catalyst floor. The quintet used the time to test out new material, and by the sound of it, they must be listening to System of a Down lately. What sets this young band apart from so many other SC acts is its distraught I'm-about-to-go-ballistic sound, which hits an 8.2 on the aggro Richter scale. Frontman Casey's voice touches a nerve at a deeper, more visceral level--and that's quite an accomplishment given how many bands try that route but never make it.

He's still learning to channel his Tool-influenced despair, but when he's on, you better watch out. For guy-rock, Jetlag seems to be more about grappling with testosterone than blindly embracing it, like most punk bands, or rejecting it altogether, like indie rockers.

Upcoming Shows

Perhaps it's a little early but mark your calendars for the Lonely Kings and Agent Orange at the Brookdale Lodge on Jan. 13. If that's too far to go, there's always the Cannibis Action Network Benefit at the Santa Cruz Vets Hall the same night, with Absent Mind, Thought Riot, Undermine and Monkey.

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From the January 3-10, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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