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Concrete Blonde Escorts Maria Fatal to the Bill

Pop music: A reigning queen of the L.A. scene lets the princes of rock en espanol into its court, producing the quartet's second album and sharing show dates.

May 17, 1997|ENRIQUE LAVIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Maria Fatal, princes of Los Angeles rock en espanol, come to J.C. Fandango in Anaheim Sunday night, hot on the heels of a royal wedding: their first show with Concrete Blonde.

Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano, a reigning queen of L.A. rock 'n' roll, has taken the Fatales under her wing, co-producing the band's new album ("Pasiones, Torturas y Otros Misterios," or "Passions, Tortures and Other Mysteries") and arranging for them to open shows on her upcoming tour.

Last week, before a mostly English-speaking audience at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, the two bands shared a stage for the first time.

Fernando Ramirez, the Fatales' charismatic 30-year-old singer and lyricist, thinks the show was one of his band's worst ever. "It was a disaster," he says. "It was chaos." But Napolitano didn't give any glitches a second thought.

"They are muy parecidos [very similar] to us when we just started," she said in a separate interview. "I see the Fatales like Concrete Blonde after our first record. Their future is entirely up to them."

Maria Fatal consists of three Ramirez brothers--Fernando, Ernesto and Gabriel--and honorary brother Cesar Hernandez, who have been playing together for about five years.

In 1995, a prominent Mexican magazine called them the best band outside Mexico. For three years in a row, they have been named best band by readers of "La Banda Elastica," a leading publication on Latino rock in the United States.

Now major record labels in the U.S. and in Mexico are expressing interest. With Napolitano as their self-appointed godmother, the time may be ripe for the Fatales' crossover.

"I have a predominately Anglo audience that I'd like to expose rock en espanol bands to," said Napolitano, who also has released a joint album with Los Illegals, a veteran Chicano rock band.

*

During four intense months of recording "Pasiones, Torturas," Napolitano and her co-producer, Concrete Blonde guitarist Jim Mankey, helped the Fatales fashion a distinct departure from "Maria Fatal," their 2-year-old debut album, which has sold a modest 15,000 copies nationwide.

Where the first album has layers of tropical-punk and edgy reggae on top of a bluesy rock foundation, "Pasiones, Torturas" features walls of guitar sound and synthesized post-psychedelic soundscapes.

The lyrics reflect the Fatales as Mexican expatriates living in Watts, dealing with the immigrant experience, spiritualism, youth culture and political issues in the United States and Mexico.

"Poetas Sin Fusiles" ("Poets Without Rifles") is a tribute to unarmed Zapatista rebels in Chiapas; "Una Daga en Tu Sien" ("A Dagger in Your Forehead") criticizes the Mexican government.

* Maria Fatal plays Sunday at J.C. Fandango, 1086 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim. Doors open at 8 p.m.; the show starts at 9. $12-$15. (714) 758-1057.

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