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[whitespace] Unknown Jeromes
Forever Unknown: Local hip-hop-jazz-funk band the Unknown Jeromes didn't make it to Y2K--which means no more shirtless rappers on the Santa Cruz scene.

Cult indie-rock favorites came and went in 1999, but hip-hop proved to be the biggest draw

By David Espinoza

GEORGE CARLIN ONCE said that sometimes a little brain damage helps, and I've been telling myself that as I examine my most recent concert-related injury: a black eye from being popped in the head by a bumbling drunk couple. Such injuries are actually quite rare for anyone who attends fewer than 15 shows a year. Those who dare to surpass that threshold are just asking for trouble.

It all seems like a great big blur. Practically every week I found myself in front of someone playing some kind of instrument to some kind of beat: amplified to acoustic, rock & roll to hip-hop, really good to really bad. Despite all the money spent on earplugs, overpriced drinks (sometimes very necessary for the really bad bands) and trying to get that nasty cigarette smell out of my clothes, from what I can remember, it was all worth it.

The Cult of Sunny

It was in early February that the Seattle-based Sunny Day Real Estate hit the Catalyst, drawing a large crowd of indie-rock fans for the cult favorite. The turnout for the show was a testament to Sunny Day's status as one of the true greats of the '90s, even as they've spent more time broken up than together. Opening with the beautiful hit-that-never-was, "Song About an Angel," lead singer Jeremy Enigk hypnotized the audience with his tormented falsetto. The rest of night was a slice of musical perfection.

Street Beat

Street musicians in Santa Cruz are as common as Trekkies without significant others, so it goes without saying that it's best to walk past most of 'em. One group of kids that really stood out though, came from Canada, of all places. They played accordions, banjos and suitcases for drums and were known as Nicely Nicely. Sticking around town for a couple of months early in the year, the foursome played outside Cinema 9 or Jackson's Shoes on Friday and Saturday nights, often surrounded by folks of all shapes and ages dancing to their peppy blend of rock, polka, ska and zydeco.

And Ya Don't Stop

The two biggest hip-hop shows of the year, at least in terms of ticket sales, came from the Pharcyde at the Catalyst in late February and a multiact benefit for Mumia Abu Jamal at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium in April. The best representation of the cultural richness that hip-hop has to offer, though, happened during the summer with L.A.'s old-school-styled Jurassic 5 heading up a bill at Palookaville that included the Beat Junkies, Dilated Peoples and the Breakestra. Easily selling out, the show ended with an amazing battle between the masters of turntable rhythms--the Beat Junkies and the multi-instrumentalist, James Brown-revivalist Breakestra.

Bungled Opener

Who remembers the name of that awful hardcore band that opened up for Mr. Bungle? Talk about painful. Dillinger Escape Plan must have paid the Bungle a lot of money even to be associated with them. Their gimmick was obvious: play eardrum-tearing, uncoordinated distorted guitar lines with horrible screeching vocals and add some strobe lights in the background so no one notices that the band doesn't come close to meeting the minimum requirements of what's known as music. Lucky for them, Bungle lead signer Mike Patton stepped in to help out the sorry band and set things straight with a guttural roar.

Disband and Dat Band

The year also spelled the death for a number of Santa Cruz bands, most notably Fury 66, which remains an influential group in the surf-skate punk scene. On the federal witness-relocation program, eclectro rockers Dojo skipped town, as did some of the members of New Sun Born. And since they're broken up now, it won't hurt to say that local funk outfit the Unknown Jeromes had some weaknesses--one of which came in the form of a dreadlocked rapper who thought it essential to take off his shirt and show off the bod enough times to make my pint of Guinness difficult to finish. As for the rest of the band, we can only expect good things from future projects.

Inaction Reaction

Perhaps I was in a coma, but wasn't one of Santa Cruz's favorites, Ani DiFranco, missing in action this year? If memory serves, the righteous babe has consistently played Santa Cruz every year. (The last show reportedly had Chelsea Clinton in attendance.) But this year she only played San Jose. What gives? It's almost as disappointing as the performance Sebadoh put on at Palookaville in July.

Parecemos Nubes

The biggest surprise on the Latin Rock scene had to be Mexico City's Jaguares playing the Catalyst in late September. Easily the first time a major multiplatinum-selling rockero band had set foot in Santa Cruz, Saul Hernandez and crew played to a capacity crowd that sang along to every song. The show also gets my personal award for the most beer spilled in one night, an honor previously held by the Rev. Horton Heat.

Oops! Outta Time

All things considered, Santa Cruz definitely had an eventful year. For me, nothing sums this up better than the show with all-acoustic vaudeville enthusiasts Asylum Street Spankers at the Kuumbwa. Of course, they ended their encore set with a Dixie-folk cover of Prince's "1999."

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From the December 29, 1999 - January 5, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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