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POP MUSIC REVIEWS

Atmosphere Outshines 'Day of Dead' Music

November 04, 1996|ENRIQUE LOPETEGUI

The main problem with well-intentioned efforts like the "Day of the Dead" concert staged by members of the Chicano music and art community on Saturday in Little Tokyo is that the enthusiasm and activism can lead to a looseness in planning the music. When friendships and spirit rather than pure quality determine the lineup, you get the good, the bad and the so-so.

That was the case on Saturday at the downtown space Art & Commerce. Besides well-known Chicano forces such as Lysa Flores, the funky Latin ska powerhouse Yeska and the straight-faced, fierce rap of Aztlan Underground, several marginal acts performed. In the end, only the Santa Monica-Venice ska-reggae-funk quintet Horny Toad had what it took to set the room on fire.

*

At times recalling Sublime's manner of alternating smooth reggae grooves with fast, punk passages, Horny Toad hasn't exactly invented the wheel, but it has a versatile arsenal that easily made it the best band of the night. The careful arrangements, tasty guitar fills, two contrasting but equally capable singers and an attitude of good, simple fun made the group ideal for this small venue.

Meant to be a Chicano answer to the Establishment "vampire culture," the event was marked by a political fervor manifested in denunciations of Prop. 209. But ultimately it had more to do with beauty than ideology. In fact, Patssi Valdez's simple but magnificent altar and wall of art, and the evening's strong sense of togetherness, were often far more interesting than what was taking place on stage.

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