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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Audience Fades Away, but Silos Forge On

May 12, 1997|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — The Silos on Saturday became the latest victims of the Capistrano Fade, wherein an audience that has turned out mainly for the local opening acts gradually trickles out of the club, leaving a respected but commercially marginal veteran headliner with a rude reminder of its marginality.

Playing to 25 appreciative die-hards at the end of the night at least put Walter Salas-Humara, the Silos' auteur, in some good company. Tom Verlaine and Marti Jones come to mind as class acts who have had to play through the Fade. As Jones' horrific experience of a few years back made clear, it's indeed better if the uninterested fade away than stick around to inflict ill-mannered blabber while the performer tries to give a loyal minority the artistry it paid for.

There probably is no solution for this problem, short of insisting that developing or cult-level national artists settle for second billing at the Coach House on local band nights, in the hope that the uninitiated fans of the locals will give the humbled touring act a fair hearing.

Or, for those who don't mind going back to the dives, there always is Linda's Doll Hut, the self-descriptively named Anaheim club that can squeeze in maybe 80 or 100 fans, offering the cult artist a decent chance for a fun, packed, high-energy, if low-level gig on a bill with complementary bands.

Salas-Humara, who has been cultivating his cult and reaping good reviews since 1985, was well-equipped to handle the Fade. Lots of Silos songs are about perseverance in the face of mishaps, or involve the capturing of small, private moments.

On Saturday, Salas-Humara and the three players who currently make up the always-shifting Silos lineup persevered through a semi-private hour onstage with no sign of chagrin or slackening of effort. The rhythm section pumped heartily and cleanly, while lead guitarist Gary Sunshine complemented Salas-Humara's husky singing with some gritty yet lyrical voicings on his Les Paul.

The Silos' amalgam of Stones, country- and heartland-style rock--imagine a more arty, outside-leaning cousin to the BoDeans--isn't a big stretch for a mainstream rock audience to enjoy. But, after five Silos albums and two Salas-Humara solo releases, it's understandable why the band remains a cult attraction.

*

In pop music, as in most entertainment, big drama sells, and it's not what Salas-Humara is selling. He's a miniaturist whose songs are often made up of fragmentary images as he sings about the flowers and thorns of romance and family life.

Onstage, this lanky son of Cuban refugees who settled in south Florida was an engaged rocker, but not one to go for the large gesture. And though Salas-Humara is a good and sometimes memorable song craftsman, he doesn't have the knack for unshakable melodies that you get from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.

The four-man, L.A.-based version of the Silos that played Saturday provided good, meaty, but not-too-messy rock that missed the X-factor of lyrical, inventively used violins and keyboards often found on Silos' records.

Salas-Humara mixed catalog nuggets with unreleased songs from an album-in-progress, while striking a good balance between rockers and ballads.

What came to the fore was his willingness to experiment with lyrical approaches--"It's Alright" was as oblique as rock songs come, the open-hearted love ballad, "The Only Story I Tell," was as simple and direct as a Hank Williams song, and others went for narrative detail.

By the measure of rock careerism, playing to 25 people is pathetic. But if the measure is valuable expression, imparting an honest, openhearted and highly individualistic slice of yourself to 25 people is a definite achievement.

*

The Fire Ants, a Fountain Valley garage-punk band that attracted most of the 175 or so people who turned out earlier in the evening, offered some uncommon wrinkles for a garage-punk band: the occasional ambitious song structure or poetic touch.

Singer Skie Bender drew upon Johnny Rotten and Patti Smith for some of her phrasing while delving into themes of sexual ambiguity and emotional isolation. But she'll have to limber up her flat sing-speak, give a greater role to the band's more supple-voiced bassist, Alma, and get more grabbing melodies out of guitarist-composer Kevin Jacobs. At present, the Fire Ants are an intermittently interesting echo of the '70s New York City underground.

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