Disregarding genre (which seems to be the Gatos’ M.O., anyway) there are really only two kinds of rock shows: the kind where when a bass string breaks, they replace it (it doesn’t matter whether this involves a roadie running onstage with a new instrument or a five-minute break for re-stringing), and the kind where the bass player just finishes the show on three strings.
The Gatos show is the second kind.
“This is not symphonic,” says guitar player and vocalist Joe Sanchez. “This is rock ’n’ roll.”
Ultimately, the break, which comes toward the end of the set anyway, doesn’t make that much difference. Not that bassist Karun Fiederer, who spends a good chunk of the night sitting, legs crossed, on his amp, isn’t thumping away — there just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot for him to do. Sanchez says he and drummer Joe Belk have clocked a lot of time in the past two decades as a “power duo,” only sometimes accompanied by a revolving cast of bassists, including Sanchez’s daughter, and their songs seem designed to be bass-optional. Between Belk’s energetic timekeeping and Sanchez’s chaotic shredding, there’s not enough real estate left for Fiederer to build much more than a subterranean rumble.
If War heard the Gatos’ take on “Lowrider,” they might demand a paternity test, and cast a few suspicious looks toward Dinosaur Jr. The Gatos gut the song and pull it inside out, creating a hollow in which that recognizable riff rings alien and the laws of rhythm are temporarily suspended. When it emerges on the other side, it’s transformed, somehow, into Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61.” During the short intermission, Sanchez explains that the band tries to deconstruct any song they cover, a technique he estimates is “about 60 percent successful.” He’s being modest — a self-deprecating comment you’d expect from a dad and elementary-school music teacher playing for a crowd of a couple-dozen — but Sanchez’s guitar doesn’t sound so humble.
I Ching Gatos
1913 S. Flores
Nearly every song the Gatos play — with the exception of “Jesus Walked (on the Water),” which hits its “but I’m gonna walk on you” punchline in like 45 seconds — seems constructed around Sanchez’s solos. Glorious freeform messes, they vacillate between psychedelic and passive-aggressive noise rock and sound like they’d be more at home in a punk club (the Gatos were Taco Land regulars) than a backyard barbecue. Tonight they’re playing on a covered patio under a ceiling fan, next to a craft booth, with a Marx Brothers movie playing on an old TV behind them, but if anyone in the audience — seated on picnic tables and plastic lawn chairs and ranging in age from toddler to, um, distinguished — thinks it’s odd to hear songs like the snarling, sarcastic “Nothing but Money” in this environment, they don’t show it.
”We know everybody here is pretty loaded,” Sanchez says in introduction, “Otherwise, you wouldn’t be at an art gallery during a recession.” The song is noisy as hell, and the angry-about-something solo spills over into the verses eventually. Another song, surprisingly cheerful, has Sanchez feeling “darkness in me tonight … darkness laughing at me,” but he’s grinning and dancing during the uptempo drum break.
Not surprising given the Gatos’ strengths, their cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” is more straightforward, though it’s delivered like a Jefferson Airplane protest song, and Sanchez begins playing the guitar with the top of his head right after the verse about the lady who throws her baby in the trash. It’s probably the weirdest juxtaposition of Young’s bleak lyrics and onstage attitude since the man himself sang dead-friend ode “Tonight’s the Night” while standing in front of a comically oversized amplifier set up by Jawas. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but just know this: The punks have teenage kids now, and “dad rock” doesn’t mean what it used to.
— Jeremy Martin