By Daniel Kohn
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Photo by Matt OttoThe first thing you'll notice with the Red Onions is that singer Paul Gonzalez always looks fit-to-burst, falling-down angry. He's a throbbing, overdriven thyroid, a stubby shotgun-shell of a guy, six-feet-and-change of rage squished and squeezed into five-foot-not-much and—almost always—a black Iggy and the Stooges shirt. And he'll be growling at the crowd with the band behind him: "Do ya feel all right? I said, DO YA FEEL ALL RIGHT?!"
It's scary. So now that we have him safely on the phone, we ask: um, Paul, do you feel all right?
"I think I'm a nice person," he says, sitting in drummer Jorge Gutierrez's bedroom and wearing—yes—his Iggy and the Stooges shirt. "Just don't make me angry!"
But then he starts laughing—remembering the time he was bouncing around his bedroom to Black Flag, riding the adrenalin and inadvertently doing the whole last-angry-man thing, and his mom walked in. Embarrassing! But, he says, he can't help it. He's well into his 20s now, and his music still makes him freak out. He couldn't keep it cool if he tried—like the other members of the Red Onions (drummer Jorge, telepathically linked guitarist Kevin Gonzalez and bassist Hugo Salgado), he's got no time to be anything but himself.
"We're four guys, and when you see us on stage, that's how we are the whole time," says Jorge. "As a band, there's not much to us. We're really into being ourselves—no bullshit, no drama. I guess . . . we're band-shirt guys."
You know what he means. Band-shirt guys wear ratty jeans when everyone else at the show has pegged new-wave pants. Band-shirt guys have haircuts that cost a lot less than their guitar pedals, if they have haircuts at all. Band-shirt guys wear their band shirts around all the time—probably don't even have a thrift-store necktie between them—because they love their bands.
Black Flag were band-shirt guys; so were the Minutemen. And so are the Red Onions, whose Gardena homes are just a bridge or two away in the South Bay: they're up there on stage with no hair product and no wardrobe consultants, wearing whatever they wore to work that day and scorching through a 20-minute set. They're barely a year into playing out, but the Red Onions (it started as a play on "Green Onions" by Booker T. and the MGs, admits Jorge, not a purloining of the name of the old Mexican restaurant chain) have hunkered down into a whip-crack-tight, wires-and-bones rock & roll band.
They're the perfect counterpoint to LA's Flash Express (whose singer, Brian Waters, once introduced the Red Onions to a Spaceland crowd as "the baddest Mexicans ever to come out of pussy!"), but though both bands lift liberally from Iggy Pop and James Brown, the Red Onions skip the Flash's confident polish and go right for the throat. They're lean and mean, mad and bad, feted in LA Weekly club picks two consecutive weeks, and—because they're band-shirt guys—they're really happy, but really nervous about the whole thing.
"After we play a show, then I'm ready to play!" says Jorge. "After we're done, I feel a lot better."
"I still get nervous every time," says Paul. "I get that feeling in my stomach every time we play. But once the first song hits, it all goes away. Sometimes people tell me stuff I do, and I don't remember—and I'm sober!"
You're not drunk, you ask? Not drunk when you're pointing the mic stand at the crowd like a rifle, or toppling offstage to seizure around on the ground, or dragging most of the drum kit about a hundred yards—from one end of LA club the Smell to the other? You'd ask him if he feels all right, but you know he couldn't feel righter. But he has a story to tell anyway:
"The last time I got really drunk, I got socked in the face," says Paul. "I was singing and I went into the crowd, and two punches hit me in the face."
Were they real punches, you ask? Or fun punches?
"Just punches," Paul shrugs. "It just makes the show more interesting!"The Red Onions peform with Greg Ginn and Hor at Que Sera, 1923 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 599-6170. Sat., 9 p.m. $5. 21+.