These five musicians strut into Las Vegas like mysterious banditos
As a longtime champion of homebrewed underground rock, I can honestly say there are few, if any, cover bands I’d willingly see. So I don’t mean it lightly when I announce that I’d somehow find a way through the eye of a Tijuana drug needle to bask in the trumpet-blasting, fiddle-sawing greatness of L.A.’s Metalachi.
Imagine, if it’s possible, old-school heavy metal and hard-rock hits performed mariachi-style by deranged musicians who behave like escapees from a South of the Border monastery dreamed up by the Marquis de Sade. Conceive, if your brain can manage, Cheech & Chong armed with an L.A. Sunset Strip ’80s music scene fakebook after raiding Gene Simmons’ sex dungeon for clothes, accessories and some makeup. Fantasize, if you dare, what would happen if Vicente Fernandez’s grandkids became obsessed with weed, women’s bosoms and the music of Whitesnake.
These five musicians—Vega De La Rockha (singer), Pancho Rockafeller (guitarrón), El Cucuy (trumpet), Ramon Holiday (guitar), Maximilian “Dirty” Sanchez (fiddle)—refuse to be interviewed out of character or to reveal their real names, making a traditional interview impossible. Backstage, they gang-chatter—with collectively brain-damaged repetition—of chi-chi’s (slang for boobs, not the restaurant chain), cougar-hunting and getting high. They rehearse scales, too, especially Sanchez, with the shadowboxing intensity of prizefighters before a bout. They’re more animated and attentive when offering step-by-step instructions on how to adapt “surgically enhanced chi-chi’s as flotation devices in case of emergency.” You know, fool?
I can’t help but chuckle at their bizarre mission—to “statistically and miraculously impregnate at least three local post-menopausal women” via music. Immaculate sonic conceptions are on the house band, apparently.
It’s not a humorous swipe at their audience, which cuts across age, gender and ethnic lines. Leaving backstage to walk the quickly filling floor of Vinyl, where the band has been performing on Monday nights, I encounter, in the main, local headbangers. A young Hispanic dude with slicked-back hair and a thick accent says he’s a cook at a Boulder Highway casino. He caught the tail end of Metalachi’s set months ago. Converted, he’s since been a fervent attendee during the band’s two-month Metalachi Mondays residency.
“I love metal.” He plucks the front of his Iron Maiden shirt for emphasis. “And I love mariachi. Metalachi hace todo.” [Translation: They do it all.]
I recognize a white lady from some metal shows I’ve attended on Fremont Street. A Metalachi fan since April, she and her friends, including a woman in her 20s wearing a Holy Diver shirt, plant themselves up front. They insist I situate myself at a microphone stand on the right side of the stage. I heed their suggestion, but the joke is on me. For most of the set, I’m face-level with the perpetually thrusting cast-iron lime-juicer affixed to El Cucuy’s crotch. (During the set, a woman is invited onstage to drink a lime from El Cucuy’s citrus extractor.) It’s, um, oddly mesmerizing.
But not as compelling as Metalachi’s performance. Donning sombreros festooned with blinking Christmas lights, the musical desperados strut like mysterious banditos onto a stage roiling with fog. They kick off with a flourish of hardcore mariachi before launching into a flutter-swinging Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark,” about striving to shine mightily in a gloomy world. The arrangement is splendid—voices belting and blending (all the musicians sing harmony), the trumpet brassy and fluttering, the fiddle trilling and technical—like a six-string wizard who swapped his guitar for a violin.
A Metalachi show runs the gamut. Extreme’s ballad “More Than Words” mashes up against Rage Against the Machine’s sledgehammer-striking “Killing in the Name” followed by Slayer’s thrash classic “Raining in Blood.” Faith No More’s “Epic” earns an epic response. Ozzy Osbourne’s trumpet-and-fiddle-powered “Crazy Train” makes the crowd go crazy. Sure, on paper, it certainly sounds cheesy and ironic. However, to borrow a line from the film Greenberg, “you have to get past the kitsch” to a degree to really hear how enlivened much of the material is.
Rescued from the purgatory of barroom Internet jukeboxes and resurrected as tequila-guzzling party music, a song such as Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” takes on new meaning. For example, a sampled school-bell clang inspires a joke about loved ones serving time in prison. Maybe I’m alone in making a connection, but I laugh at how Metalachi’s metal-mariachi cover united “Hot for Teacher” and a homoerotic (you’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see) “Jailhouse Rock.”
The only unnecessary point of the show is hype-man Warren Moscow. Sure, he does an effective job of keying up the crowd at critical junctures. But it’s a bit like adding canned laughter to a sitcom rather than letting the laughs and energy come naturally.
It’s a minor quibble, since the music is consistently strong—even, yes, “More Than Words.” Pressed afterward, the musicians let down their guard enough to explain how they assemble their rock-centered, yet still varied, set list.
“We like to do the hard stuff for the metalhead vatos,” says de la Rockha. “When the guys get pumped up and horny enough, the women get excited, too. They love to see that machismo headbanging in action, you know, fool? We have to represent.”
“That and we just love metal,” confirms Sanchez. “We play soft ballads to help open and lubricate the vaginal canals.”
Speaking of conduits, the path to an all-original set is, the band insists, impending. Last year, Metalachi released an album called Uno, an eight-track burrito—Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box,” Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and more. But Metalachi hopes to unveil a disc of self-penned tunes in the same way L.A. cover band Metal Skool made the songwriting leap by transforming into Steel Panther.
“The end of next year is a good time to familiarize people with our own songs,” says de la Rockha. “And the Vinyl crowd would be the best to show off some new music.”