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Live & Local

Live & local: Sons of Sancho

Photo: Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Steven Gilmore

Sons of Sancho frontman Matt Garcia at Rebar.

Sons of Sancho had a topical moment at the fourth annual Official First Saturday Art Show at Rebar last weekend. Before launching into the reggae-tinged slow-burner "Riot Gear," Singer Matt Garcia mused, "Nothing starts a riot like riot gear." But in this musical riot, Garcia was the man on fire, singing melodically with eyes of death, "Nothing starts a war like a preemptive strike." The rest of the lyrics were kind of garbled, as Rebar's PA is a little sheisty, but 2011's Occupy protests lent the song immediacy. Then guitarist Eddie Mendoza dropped a flaming solo lifted straight out of the late '90s golden age of SoCal rock, while Garcia smacked the bongos and bassist Chuck Garcia (Matt's brother) and drummer Fred Moreno funked right along. This was SOS at their best: riding a groove firmly planted at the intersections of funk, reggae, and punk, seasoning with regional spice — Garcia kept a sack of hand percussion instruments near his mic, while injecting his semi-provocative message that avoided polarizing the crowd. The audience bounced along happily with more than a few patrons reinforcing their affection by asking each other, "Aren't these guys awesome?"

Which is why it pains me to speak negatively about SOS. A great as "Riot Gear" was, and as well-loved as the band is, the magic would not be sustained as they derivatively explored music (think heyday Sublime) that was derivative to begin with (again, heyday Sublime). "Stuck," with its jazzy time changes (each passage dusted with maracas and guiro), only made me long for the time-shifting samurai Sexto Sol. It was the same with "Brownskin Chief," a race-commentary screed built on the punk formula used by Offspring before they sucked. And when I heard the wah-drenched opening licks of closer "Crazy," I knew that we were heading for a scream-sung chorus built on the same guitars as the verse.

None of this was particularly objectionable. In fact, it was enjoyable. But SOS offered few musical surprises and to be both confident and right about where the music was going song by song was frustrating. I wanted SOS to do more than shiny impressions of mid-to-late '90s crossover rock. Their doppelgangery displays serious talent, but not necessarily an interest in moving beyond genre. Their lone exception: late set ballad "Cage," which, I shit you not, seemed to stretch a vaguely western boogie into grunge territory. This was a weird concept that worked, proving that SOS should consider leaving the sand and sun more often.

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