No matter how intriguing they are, I rarely ask bands about their names. Here’s why: “Our original drummer was in a band, Relative Frequency. As we became more of a ska band, we changed it to RF, and since we had seven members in the band, it became RF7,” Mike Dread explained. Trumpet player Ted Ochoa continued, “and since horn sections always have names, we called ourselves ‘the Hightones’.” And that is the very meaningful story behind the name, “RF7 and the Hightones.”
Actually, the name and its metamorphosis do tell the story of the band in a sense. For three-and-a half years, the band went through shifting line-ups, at one time featuring a cost-inefficient 13 members. Horn players would drift in and out for a while, but “we really became a band three years ago,” guitarist John Veninata asserts. At that point, the line-up began to stabilize and members were permanently shed. “When we got smaller, we got much tighter,” Veninata said, “and the songs became more technical.”
Being tight is particularly crucial for RF7 and the Hightones because they are a ska band—“ska-esque,” Dread corrects, since their sound incorporates swing and punk—and as the early-’90s ska revival showed, if ska doesn’t have a groove, it sounds simply hyperactive. Though the band has played on bills with punk and metal bands, it has resisted the impulse earlier bands couldn’t to speed the tempos and steamroll the groove. As a result, RF7’s songs are as bouncy and fun as they’re supposed to be, and live they work to get a response. Singers Dread and Dave Martin aren’t afraid to be animated, while Ochoa and trombonist Darryl Burger play at the stage’s lip, battling each other for attention. If this sounds a little hammy, that may be right, but in a time when so many bands act embarrassed to be onstage, some showmanship is more than appreciated.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE
Because Ron Hotstream is the only remaining member of the original Isaac’s Guns, they have changed their name. The new name? Hotstream, “because of its porn-star quality,” Hotstream joked. Pornography has long been a source of names for many successful bands; just look at . . . um . . . uh . . . Cream? The Violet Era, tired of being called “the Violent Era”, have also changed their name to the Accidental Darlings. Now instead of sounding like a ’50s pulp novel, they sound like fans of a Geena Davis movie.
Dead Hand System is growing. They have added singer James Watson and are currently writing new material. The band hasn’t quit making instrumental music, but “we feel like we have said all we have to say instrumentally,” drummer Marcus London said.
After Suplecs’ label Man’s Ruin found itself, ironically, ruined, the band was stuck with a new album, Sad Songs . . . Better Days and no one to get it to the masses. That problem has been rectified now that the band has been signed to Devil Doll Records (no relation to the local promoter). The album will be re-released shortly with soon with new cover art and possibly a live track.
THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME
3rd Echo is celebrating ten years of playing power pop January 19 at Live Bait. They’re contemporaries of Cowboy Mouth and Better Than Ezra, and they’ve lasted when legions of bands have started, bought cool clothes, enjoyed some popularity, and returned to their jobs pouring skinny double lattés. The key to endurance? “We actually like what we do,” Manny Reyes said. “We would welcome the opportunity to take this to the next level, but we’re happy just to be playing.
This month, 3rd Echo will also go back in the studio to start work on their third album, which they’re planning to release this summer. Other plans are in the works for summer, but more on that later.
THIS NOTE’S FOR WHO?
Christian Serpas and Ghost Town and Ruston, Louisiana’s Squint both recently got sponsorship deals with big companies. Congrats on both accounts. Any money that will help bands hang on longer and free them up to make the sort of music they want to is a-okay by the St. Rock desk. The companies, however, have to buy ads to get their names in print.
MAKING THE WORLD SAFE FOR ASCOTS?
Bunny Matthews contends rock ‘n’ roll is all about cool, and he’s right, assuming “cool” is the voice that runs counter to the mainstream, which by definition isn’t cool. In a time when the mainstream of music is white guys who are mad at mommy and teenagers who soon will be, the “cool” field is wide open. These days I’m enjoying Burt Bacharach fantasias on Bertrand Burgalat’s The Sssound of Mmmusic (Emperor Norton) and Cinemaphonic 2: Soul Punch (Motel), a new collection of generic ’70s soul soundtrack material. Burgalat’s sound joins electronica to Swinging London, cheap synthesizers and the lush melodies of an island soundtrack, while the Cinemaphonic tracks, stripped of the cheap TV crime shows they were made for, sound like novelties, weird experiments with synthesizers, bongos and flutes.
Locally I get that feel from the Sophisticats when they add stereo test music to their set list of strip joint R & B and “the Catellites”—Butterfly du Jour (Vanessa Atwater) and Candy LeGrrrr (Mary Lasseigne)—join the proceedings. Rather than croon though, they sing the sort of female vocal parts Esquivel is famous for writing. Of course, it’s hard to envision your parents’ music as “cool” or a challenge to the mainstream. If the mainstream has broken up into a series of streams as I worry it has, it may well be that we’re all just buying the designated alternatives the three or four companies that bought the mainstream want us to buy. Does that mean cool is dead?
Andre Williams at Rosie’s New Year’s Eve: Raunchy R & B legend Williams has found a home away from home here, so this should be a cool, rock ‘n’ roll way to usher in the new year.
The Sleepyheads at the Circle Bar New Year’s Eve: The Sleepyheads’ garage/surf jammed into the smallest fun bar in town should make for a good, sweaty dance party.
Ravi at The Red Bike New Year’s Eve: Singer/songwriter Ravi is playing a solo show raising money for Covenant House. The show includes a five course dinner prepared by Roland Parny. Okay, that doesn’t sound very rock ‘n’ roll to me either, but not everybody wants to dance, rock or break a sweat New Year’s Eve. For more info, call The Red Bike at (504) 529-2453.
Amy Rigby at the Circle Bar January 4: Rigby’s folk/pop is intelligent, funny and intimate. She also has a spot-on eye for the details of the relationships people who grew up in rock ‘n’ roll have.
Sylvain Sylvain and the McGillicuddys at the Shim Sham Club January 9: Being the most professional New York Doll, Syl has also been the most reliable live show. His ear for a pop song hasn’t failed him yet, and for this show, he has Blondie’s Clem Burke and Frank Infante with him.