Who Wants to be a Pendejo?

Photo by James Bunoan The Dirtbombs/The Sights/Bar Room Heroes
House of Blues, Anaheim

Wednesday, Jan. 28

Well, this was certainly cringe-worthy: an OC act called the Bar Room Heroes, who seemed to be prostituting themselves as nothing less than a grade-C Social Distortion rip-off, complete with Olde English logo lettering and a slick-haired, furrow-browed, Les Paul-playing lead singer who clearly idolizes Mike Ness, except his shtick was vastly more—what's that word?—constipated. The music seemed strained directly from the classic Social D source of punkified roots rock, and even the stage banter seemed lifted from a Social D bootleg tape ("This song's about never letting anyone get you down!" "Shooting up is bad; don't shoot up—this is called 'Junkie.'"). Their whole set felt surreal—like we were witnessing a slightly rougher Social D tribute act, like glimpsing 40 years into the future and watching Ness' grown son pay homage to his grizzled old man, like Ness sent these imposters out to market-research his new songs before recording them, like we were watching Dave Davies sing the Ray Davies songbook, like this was actually Mike Ness' twin brother. How unfortunate for everyone involved.

Yet the Bar Room Heroes brought a rabid, frothing posse, which quickly cleared out of the upper balcony as soon as they left the stage. Too bad they missed the night's best band, the Sights, three skinny Detroit guys with long, stringy hair and plaid shirts that made them look like Oregon meth freaks. But they played terrific, jangly garage rock of the sort that's been emanating lately out of Motown, a sound that's part R&B, soul, and bubblegum pop, with glorious, Hammond B3-inflected gospel/blues colorings. They reminded us a tad of the White Stripes before they became THE WHITE STRIPES—raw, messy, filthy, but completely, totally brilliant.

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We had high hopes for the Dirtbombs, another great Detroit band, with their twin drummers and twin bassists and their amazing new album, Dangerous Magical Noise, dancing in our ears. Yet they weren't as grand live as we wanted them to be—very good, sure, an amalgam of funk, rock and soul, something that may have come out of Michigan circa 1971 had the Stooges never existed. But all their live show did for us was make us miss the truly kick-ass BellRays, a band who plow this field 12 times better and whom we haven't seen much of 'round this county since the demise of Club Mesa. Maybe we need to expose ourselves to a few more gigs, but for now, we're fine with just the CD, thanks. (Rich Kane)

Tely/Retrovizor/Deathday Party/Vaquero
JC Fandango, Anaheim

Wednesday, Jan. 28

There's a reason Latin-music cathedral JC Fandango rarely hosts Wednesday-night slates: nobody goes—even if the headliners are Vaquero, the Monterrey-based buzz band featuring two members of the late, great Latin alternative avatars Zurdok. But before Vaquero could strum their towering pop, the audience of 125 or so had to weather a trio of acts that waged an amusing battle for the crown of the county's worst pop pendejos.

Tely were the only great group of the local lot. The hometown boys won earnest audience applause for their swirling, murky guitar zooms. Just a couple of minor points, though: incorporate a stage presence that's at least more mobile than Stonehenge, clean up that messy drumming, and record a demo quick—I'll steal the cash for you if you need it.

Retrovizor was mediocre. You can't shove the LBC-ers into any discernable genre, but that's a bad thing—too tumbling and plodding for ska, too jumpy to call punk, and way too much crunching nothingness in between. Most egregious, though, was the leather jacket-suited lead singer who carried himself with the prissy airs of a past-his/her-prime drag queen. He strutted around the stage as if wearing high heels and clapped demurely like a flamenco dancer. And that curly, incipient Mohawk? Tac-kay. Good, resonant voice, though.

As annoying as Retrovizor was, the true pain was Deathday Party. Only two songs into their set, the band's lead caterwauler pouted, "The drummer wants some water—can someone please give him a dollar?" The derisive howls with which the crowd greeted the comment visibly troubled the diva, who then pointed to his skins-pounder and warned, "Don't fuck with him—he's from Texas." So many shouts of "Culeros!" filled JC Fandango that owner Javier Castellanos is lucky he wasn't cited for obscenity.

Vaquero replaced Deathday Party after four songs and brought order again to the cosmos. Their hour-long set showed we can expect more of the same epic space harmonies and nine-minute piano solos that made Zurdok so wondrous, with western bucks and all-English lyrics added. See them at next month's South by Southwest before they prove to be the Mexican Radiohead and you're priced out forever. (Gustavo Arellano)

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