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VALLEY WEEKEND

Rock-Fueled Fabulosos Cadillacs Are in Front Seat Now

Argentine group has come a long way from '89 concert when it was drenched in beer.

May 30, 1996|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first time Los Fabulosos Cadillacs brought their startling and nearly indescribable concoction of salsa, reggae and punk music to Los Angeles in 1989, an indignant Sports Arena crowd showered them with beer.

"We were sent to play this salsa concert and suddenly we appear with our hard-core thing," said Sergio Rotman, the band's saxophonist. "People were shocked."

The reception should prove warmer this Friday, when the Argentine group visits Universal Amphitheatre with the ground-breaking Mexican rock band, Cafe Tacuba. The Cadillacs arrive on the heels of a hit album, "Rey Azucar," that has cemented their position as one of the brightest acts on the burgeoning rock en espanol scene.

The album was produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads fame and includes duets with Deborah Harry, Mick Jones and Big Youth. It has received strong reviews worldwide.

"Now," Rotman said in a telephone interview from his Buenos Aires apartment, "we are treated like rock stars."

Neither fame nor critical acclaim have made it any easier for reviewers to characterize the Cadillacs' music, though. With titles such as "I Wouldn't Sit at Your Table" and "My Girlfriend Fell Into a Bottomless Pit," the lyrics range from comic to politically strident.

A nine-piece blend, incorporating everything from bongos to trombone to Rickenbacker electric guitar, fuels tunes that can be up-tempo to the point of frenetic.

Billboard described the music as a "grab bag of ska/reggae/punk parables." Spin magazine praised the band's "rubber reggae bass, soul-style horn section, percussion from all over South America, and softhearted wise-guy vocals."

Said Variety: "The secret to the Cadillacs' success is their ability to choose from the entire gamut of Latin music schools and down-home Anglo rock, shake it all up, and turn out a product undeniably their own."

That product evolved over more than a decade as the band crafted its rhythm-based style. Members contributed influences that ranged from salsa to the Clash. And while Vicentico fronted the band as lead vocalist, everyone had an equal hand in songwriting.

There were tough times along the way as the Cadillacs sought to crack a Latino music scene steeped in traditional styles. Times reviewer Enrique Lopetegui wrote that the band was initially "considered a bunch of jumping gorditos [clowns]."

Although rock en espanol dates back more than three decades, record companies have been hesitant to promote the music anywhere other than the particular band's homeland. And Spanish-language radio in the United States has been equally reluctant to broadcast the songs.

In Southern California, the Cadillacs found they simply could not break into the rotation of such stations as KUTY-AM (1470). But the band received sporadic airplay on KCRW-FM (88.9) and, with the establishment of MTV Latino in 1993, rode a groundswell of interest.

Their big break came three years ago. On holiday in Brazil, the band members heard a drumbeat that stuck in their heads. Back at home, they wrote a song to the rhythm. "Matador" won a 1994 MTV award for best foreign video and quickly established itself as a bar standard.

"We had this hit," Rotman said. "I got a better car and a new girlfriend."

And the band got their choice of producers for the ensuing album. They chose Frantz and Weymouth even though Rotman was the only band member who spoke English. He served as translator on the first day of recording at a Bahamian studio.

"Chris would say 'more drums' and I would say, 'OK, mas batterias,"' the saxophonist recalled. "Then we all got drunk together with Mick Jones and with Deborah Harry and we started speaking this incredible language. After 10 whiskeys, you can understand almost anything in the world."

Now on a roll, the Cadillacs find themselves headlining one of the larger venues in a city where audiences derided them not so very long ago. Their stage show should prove lively.

Vicentico, often wearing a skirt, tends to cavort at the microphone. Flavio, on bass, stomps around in knee-length shorts and boots. The horn section will often break into a ragged dance step. Reviewing a 1993 appearance at the Palace, Lopetegui remarked on the band's "fun but edgy attitude."

That attitude survives from the days when the Cadillacs would play for 50 drunken bar patrons.

"We've been through so many bad times, times with no money. Now that times are good, it's impossible for us to act differently," Rotman said. "We're not in this for the money or the power. If one of the guys starts putting strange things in his hair or something, the rest of us are going to kick his butt."

DETAILS

* WHAT: Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Cafe Tacuba.

* WHERE: Universal Amphitheatre, Universal City.

* WHEN: 8:15 p.m. Friday.

* HOW MUCH: $33, $28.

* CALL: (818) 777-3931.

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