Desert core in the fertile valley
The desert defends its mystery with tooth and fang. Rattlesnakes hide under rocks. Tumbleweeds blow. There are bones in the forgotten canyons; the bones of the brave and the foolish—it makes no difference which, and no one can remember either way. In the blue night, herds of wild donkeys rage in the dry river bottoms. From where they came no one can say.
It is this sense of mystery that has ensnared the proponents of the so-called desert core. Bands such as Giant Sand and its Tucson-based spinoff, Calexico, have cultivated a sense of this mystery through a blending of border-town mariachi, grunge and indie-rock elements. What comes of it all is a soundscape of an American landscape with all of its disparate elements intact.
Last Wednesday at Harlow’s, two bands that easily could be called Sacramento’s answer to desert core performed well-attended sets. ¡Búcho! started the show off by displaying a particular allegiance to the desert-core sound. The band’s music is particularly more upbeat than much of Calexico’s tango-in-hell material, but the basic elements are there: distorted electric guitar and a solid rock beat coupled with Latin rhythms and dual trumpets. ¡Búcho!’s performers also have a clear idea of music as performance, making the live show a particular treat and almost erasing the most obvious question: Why would a group of young men in the Sacramento Valley become so fascinated with border music?
The questions continued to drop as headliner Raigambre took the stage, drawing virtually the entire room to the dance floor. Relying more heavily on Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms, Raigambre’s brand of music (perhaps more comfortable with a “world beat” label than with “desert core”) reminds simultaneously of the band War and rock en español favorite Ozomatli. The rhythm section, featuring Chad Turner on congas and Ron Ochoa on drums, is particularly solid. Coupled with the horns of James Burmester and Stephen Bingen Jr. and Jeremiah Keller’s bass work, the band was able to capture a sense of fiesta that became and was inseparable from the songs themselves. Led by capable guitarist Aswut Rodriguez and lead vocalist Sam Miranda (who sings in Spanish and English), Raigambre’s biggest strength is that the band possesses a clear sense of its own sound; it knows exactly what it should sound like, and that gives the music a sense of self-assurance. Both bands are nominated for Sammies this year in the “World/Latin” category, and both are definitely acts to keep an eye out for.
In other news, Anton Barbeau will be offering up a CD release show for the finally released King of Missouri, an album that finds Barbeau backed by famed British psychedelic outfit the Bevis Frond. The tricky part of the equation is that, at last count, Barbeau only had 25 copies of the record to sell, so fans had best get there early (very, very early) if they would like to walk away with a copy of the album. The CD release is March 7 at True Love Coffeehouse and also features Stew and the Alamos.