By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Photo by Gustavo ArellanoCENTRO CULTURAL DE MÉXICO BENEFIT SHOW
CENTRO CULTURAL DE MÉXICO, SANTA ANA
SATURDAY, DEC. 21
In the weeks before Saturday's Centro Cultural de México benefit show, someone had mass-produced fliers fraudulently advertising the event with "$7 Suggested Donation" crossed out in favor of "Free." Accordingly, some penny-pinchers came to the concert expecting a freebie and were thus incensed upon discovering the actual charge for seeing 10 bands ("I spent my last $5 on Jack Daniels!," one punk let the event's coordinators know). Yes, the folks running the show were of the pay-what-you-can ethos, but this was a fund-raiser for the Centro, a recently opened downtown SanTana (as the natives pronounce it) space that la naranja's fuck-the-borders Chicano punk scene can christen with Zapatista posters of their own.
Most of the 150-plus attendees knew this, so they ponied up the $7 to see the all-SanTana, all-Chicano punk slate. First up was the Art Of, whose pretentiousness wasn't limited to their name. To warm up, the lead guitarist (who looked like Chief Bromden from One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest) riffed out "Blackbird," "Tequila" and "Stairway to Heaven," just to show that he was a master axe practitioner. His prowess was for naught, however: the trio produced incidental music for BattleBots, and Chief's extended guitar misfires worsened their existence. After their set, the instrumentalists announced they were looking for a lead singer. Good luck.
Libido were marginally better. Their music was a great trash trinity syncretism of bass, drums and distorted guitar. But while Libido's Deathtones covers didn't offend, their singer did. His caterwaulings sounded like whale mating calls; his writhing, constantly falling mannerisms reminded of Morrissey without the subtlety; and his ass crack gave a disturbingly long peep show.
Yaoh followed with his usual stalwart raps, but most of the punks went outside, probably to freshen themselves of Libido's stench. Standard enticed them back in with a bombs-over-Bristol set, even if lead singer Anthony Mata was a snot-face. At least he was a snot-face about the right things: his Howitzer howls attacked war, police, punk poseurs (whom he lovingly referred to as originating from "Huntington Bitch"), gangs and the government. Mata finished by proclaiming the superiority of SanTana punk to everything else. With Standard's break-bones music, it very well could be.
Killing the mood, however, were Severed Souls, whose inventively droning music couldn't inspire anyone after Standard's near-riot. And sheer bewilderment met rancheraduo Los Plebes. Dressed in Sinaloa-chic boots, leather outfits and Stetsons, their voices were nasally incoherent—i.e. they'll soon succeed in today's horrific Mexican regional scene. Their bandacovers of Chicano oldies received wild applause, although it was more of an ironic appreciation than an actual connection. Nevertheless, many in the crowd—running into walls with Standard earlier—now waltzed to the three-step sounds of their parents.
The Mexican regional portion continued with Son del Centro. If the claps for Los Plebes were feigned, the yelps arising for their stirring son jarocho were authentic. Son's loopy 6/8 strummed fury—combined with the tapped lighting of Centro jefa Carolina Sarmiento—dumbstruck most of the audience as they stared in grimy awe. "It's called son jarocho," one of the soneras growled after finishing off a song. "I'm sure many of you don't know that."
But everyone knew Cuauhtémoc. They debuted a new drummer (whose premier pounding nearly transformed his kit to dust) and a three-singer format that sounded like the Drifters gone Marxist. This experimentation complemented Cuauhtémoc's new tunes, including a bizarre number sung via megaphone by former drummer/now singer Revee, backed by a crunchy waltz beat. The pit resurrected: people rode on the shoulders of comrades and pogoed in midair, crashing against the angular stage, only to join again. Call Cuauhtémoc Straussian punk, call them doo-wop punk, but don't forget to call them amazing.
Branchless Tree's vicious garage rock had no chance to impress after Cuauhtémoc's fuming repertoire. So MC Naui Huitzlapotchli finally introduced the only band that could follow Cuauhtémoc and succeed, "the most famous band in the world, Over the Counter Intelligence."
But a curious thing happened: no one moshed, despite the ripping selections from their recently released CD. So guitarist Matt Martínez said the proper thing to provoke: "At every show, we see the same people, but none of you ever talk to each other, instead keeping to your own group," he opined. "But if we can unite, we can really get some shit done in this city." Inspired in revolution, the ever-growing pit that is OC Chicano punk spun its vortex anew.