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[whitespace] King of Post-Alternarock: With a whorl of the stuff that Nirvana made into hits, Jake Desrochers molds the Lonely Kings into one of Santa Cruz's favorite bands.

Photograph by Michelle Martechelli

Lonely at the Top

In a portrait of the artist as an anxious man, Lonely Kings lead singer Jake Desrochers only comes out of his shell on stage

By David Espinoza

THE LINE outside the Catalyst is not excruciatingly long, but it's not moving. In front of us, a couple of teens partake in the social ritual so essential to being rebellious and hip: smoking. The sky is beginning to drizzle--good, I think. Maybe it'll put out the damn cigarettes.

Despite the urge to turn around and walk back home where it's warm and smoke-free, I stay; tonight is special. The Lonely Kings are returning from another great crusade, also known as a tour, to headline a gig at one of the biggest venues in Santa Cruz. Call it a homecoming of sorts, where the home team consists of three guys with tattoos galore.

They're about to have a career defining moment--playing the Catalyst on a Friday night is no small honor. Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that lead singer and guitarist Jake Desrochers once worked as an assistant for Catalyst booking agent Gary Tighe. But give the Lonely Kings the benefit of the doubt.

For the last two years and then some, the trio has been playing anywhere and everywhere you could fit a small elephant into, from the UCSC Stevenson Rec Room to Palookaville. During that time, the band has released two full-length CDs; more importantly, the band has quietly amassed a loyal following who seem to know all the words to their songs.

It was last year when the Lonely Kings opened for AFI at Palookaville that it hit me just how successful outside of Santa Cruz the Lonely Kings might be. It had been a few months after their second release, What If? Judging by their adrenaline-charged set, which had everyone in the crowd shouting in unison, it seemed like only a matter of time before Desrochers and crew would be whisked away to play the WARPED tour.

Inside the Catalyst, past the atrium, I spy the usual Santa Cruz all-ages rock show: boys in local skate- or surf-company T's, girls in tank tops and short skirts and wearing lots of makeup. There is the occasional mohawk or Misfits T. But this ain't no gutter punk gig.

The Lonely Kings are a splinter off of the post-alternarock tree. That splinter is most of the time called "punk" to simplify things, or possibly because it's the flavor of the month right now, but what the Lonely Kings really play is melodic hard rock with a punk attitude. Just listening to Jake Desrochers' gutsy voice and refined guitar riffs serves as a reminder that the face of rock & roll may have gotten a few extra tattoos and some piercings but that the music remains the same.

On its sophomore album, What If?, the band blasts its way through 13 well-polished tracks that seem ready for commercial radio status. True, power chords and rapid-fire drumming aren't anything new, and most of the time the Lonely Kings stay within the parameters of their genre. But what they lack in originality, they more than make up for in playing as a cohesive unit.

As opening act Jetlag finishes, we make our way up to the lounge reserved for the artists, their groupies, drug dealers and scumbag journalists. We want to watch the band from "behind the scenes"--whatever that means--and are keeping an eye out for Desrochers. He isn't hard to spot as he's the only one not lounging.

Apparently, being an ex-employee of the Catalyst has its hang-ups, and Desrochers is being prodded about making sure that no one under 21 is drinking. Nevermind that the amount of nicotine in the room could make the Marlboro Man gag, a liquor license is at stake and Desrochers has the unfortunate job of enforcing it.

Obviously, having to play the parental unit of the lounge is the last thing the lead singer of a headlining group wants to do with less than an hour before he goes on stage. Desrochers looks stressed. The rock-star stereotype of being swamped by adoring fans doesn't seem to apply. He's simply trying to relax.

At a little past 11pm, the audience has had two bands to prep them for the main act. For a local band, the Lonely Kings have an impressively large turnout, a feat that puts them in a league with Slow Gherkin or Good Riddance--and their audience seems to come from the same demographic.

Dressed in traditional Chinese suits (don't ask), the Lonely Kings take the stage amid hollers and cheers. With a strum of the electric guitar and crash of cymbals, the floor becomes a whorl of that stuff that Nirvana made hit songs out of. Desrochers seems to let go all of the stress leading up to this moment in a flow of intensity, belting out introspective lyrics while sweating like a fountain. The suits don't last past a few songs, and the band quickly switches to black shirts and pants.

A few minutes after the set is finished, Desrochers switches back to rushed mode and hurries back to the lobby to sell or sign CDs and shirts. Considering that 45 minutes of glory onstage is a short time when compared to the hassles of the night, it hardly seems worth the trouble. Then again, judging by the sated look on Desrochers' face, the payoff of such a strong response from a packed crowd--not to mention being increasingly identified with Santa Cruz's top local bands--is plenty. And it's a reward that the Lonely Kings seems poised to collect more and more.

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From the February 9-16, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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