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[whitespace] The Paladins Greased Lightning: The Paladins burned up the stage at Fuel with blazing rockabilly.

Stand-up Basics

Rockabilly experts the Paladins played as good as the crowd looked at Fuel

By David Espinoza

Harleys and fire-spitting hot rods. Guys in mechanics club jackets, greased-back hair and cuffed jeans. Gals in tight vintage blouses, pony tails and bangs. There weren't any movie cameras lurking about, but the spectacle at Fuel on Friday night could easily have been straight out of American Graffiti III or Swingers II. Instead, it was a rockabilly show, with the San Diego-based trio the Paladins providing the tunes and the San Jose audience providing the good looks. Like the swing revival, the stand-up-bass-slappin', Buddy Holly-styled music known as rockabilly has been alive and well for quite some time now. In cities as different as Santa Cruz and Austin, there's always at least one local band sporting the "Greased Lightnin'" Fonzie look, even if it's just to meet chicks.

Unlike swing, though, a rockabilly resurgence sweeping the nation and causing shortages of pomade and Bazooka bubblegum seems highly unlikely. For one thing, the last time a rockabilly band broke big was in the '80s with the Stray Cats; since then, the closest thing in the genre to garner a sizeable audience has been the Reverend Horton Heat. Even so, the small-scale, underground status of rockabilly doesn't mean there aren't any bands worth seeing, as the Paladins proved at Fuel.

Armed with just the bare essentials (double bass, hollow-body electric guitar, drums), the Paladins fired up a delicious batch of tunes that had martinis bottoms up and heads bobbing. Lead singer/guitarist Dave Gonzales has a powerful voice reminiscent of Texas guitar god Stevie Ray Vaughan. And while he got the most cheers for his hootenanny songs, it would be a crime not to acknowledge Joe Raymon, who didn't skip a note as he dipped his stand-up bass as if he were dancing with it. Highlights of the night included a catchy hoedown tune called "Let It Go" (or "That Girl") that sounded incredibly similar to a Mexican norteña minus the accordion or bajosexto, and the surf-guitar tune "Return to Polarity."

Unfortunately, despite the trio's brilliant set of early rock & roll, the audience's response was not as flattering as it could have been. Sure, folks clapped, smiled and cheered, but for the most part, the space reserved for dancing between the stage and the tables remained empty. It wasn't as if there was a whole lot of room in the club, either, as one could barely get past the front door before hitting a wall of backs. And yet there was a perfectly usable open space way up at the front. Perhaps the expensive vintage clothing and finely greased hair were too much to risk messing up, but come on, rockabilly is about music, not fashion--right?

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From the September 16-22, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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