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A lineup of new bands turns to old tricks and a couple of new ideas

By David Espinoza

THE JOKE ABOUT Half Moon Bay's Under a Dying Sun, which played Porter's Sound Box April 28, was that the band got away with a set of only four songs--though each of them was 10 minutes long. It would have been more accurate to say they played a one-act, 40-minute emo opera, with synchronized bursts of blinding white light (among a dimly-lit red room), audio samples and, of course, lots and lots of screaming. The best part, though, had to be the fact that the group played the entire opera facing a huge mirror, backs turned to the audience--another example of a band sacrificing powerful music for heavy dramatics.

Like so many other emo-tional bands, Under a Dying Sun comes off rather self-absorbed and contrived. It's almost as if the music is too painful for the band to share it with anyone save the players themselves. Watching the band work its way from dreary melodic meanderings into abrasive tantrums then slowing down again is fun for approximately five minutes.

In comparison to the Dying Sun, the UC-Santa Cruz-based Automatones were downright perky. The experimental impulses of Sonic Youth seem to live on with this young quintet, which besides the standard two guitars, bass and drums also sports a Moog synthesizer--an automatic bonus point for any band. Guitarist Kyle Warren, with a dazzling array of effects pedals, particularly stands out as a guy to keep an eye on.

Of all the bands on the bill, Hate Mail Express easily exhibited the best showmanship. Consisting of Aleks Prechtl on guitar/vocals, Jeff Manson on bass/vocals, Noah Lacano on drums and Ms. Nicki Red on tambourine/ vocals, these guys style themselves after the earliest days of rock & roll, with one exception--they play a whole lot faster. Coming on last, the foursome pounded out '60s garage-style rock & roll tunes with enough frenetic energy to put PG&E out of business. Like a rock-madman icon in tight-fitting jeans, a tucked-in shirt and thin tie, Prechtl staggered about like there were demons in his soul--Elvis Costello meets Jello Biafra. Complementing Prechtl's intense stage presence were Lacano and Red, who kept things grounded while Manson and his guitar-slinging counterpart went off. Even while a good portion of Hate Mail Express' singing was indecipherable, it was nearly impossible not to get caught up in their wild take on sounds pioneered by Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. Hate Mail Express makes rock & roll sound dangerous again.

Savoca Back in Town

It is no coincidence that the only time folk singer Karen Savoca comes to town is during spring. When not touring with partner Pete Heitzman, she's usually working on her garden in upstate New York. Last time Savoca was here, she went on and on about the flowers and plant-life in California--fitting sentiments from a woman whose voice is as pretty as a warm spring day. On their fourth release, Here We Go, Savoca and Heitzman bring back their charming folk-derived-but-always-much-bigger sound with innovative instrumentation like the country & western "Runnin' " and the almost African-styled guitar rhythms on "Woman in a Frame." The beautiful thing about Savoca's music is how much she can accomplish with just voice, a few rhythm toys and a guitar or bass. She plays Henfling's Wednesday (May 3).

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From the May 3-10, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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