Rana Santacruz; January 6, 2011; High Noon Saloon
It’s been several years since Kissers’ Kari Bethke and Nate Palan moved to New York, but they certainly haven’t forgotten Madison. The pair returns often and Palan plays gigs with old bandmates in the Hometown Sweethearts, the Kissers, and the God Damns. This holiday season marked the return of Waylan St Palan and his Magic Elves, the best lounge-y Christmas show you’ll ever see as Palan smoozes his way through Christmas classics and soon to be classics like “Santa Lost a Ho”. While in the area, Bethke used the opportunity to play with a band of her own. Rana Santacruz used to front a moderately successful Spanish rock band. The group broke up after their first record failed to yield a hit and Santacruz moved from Mexico City to Brooklyn, where he began introducing bluegrass touches to his music. The result is a curious but undeniably catchy blend of genres.
Coincidentally, this was the second week in a row I found myself watching a band that wasn’t singing in English. Unlike Los Yegueros last week, I was able to pick out words and phrases from deeply buried memories of two years of High School Spanish. There were lots of songs about the moon, and Gina (whose Spanish is infinitely better than mine) swears there were several about burritos, but oddly none about his pants. They were easily the fanciest pants to ever grace the High Noon stage. Somehow I had anticipated he would change before his set, he did used to be in a mariachi band after all, but I don’t think I could have predicted how hypnotic they would be. Rows of silver rings hung from the sides, moving back and forth hypnotically as he played.
Even without the pants Santacruz would have been entertaining. I mean, even with different pants, though pants-less would have had its own entertainment factor. He was delightful and charming; his frequent falsetto was never annoying. He was all smiles as he explained the songs, usually a love song or one based on a legend. Some were less romantic, like the one which accuses a lover as being less faithful than the dog which howls in the night, um, or something like that. The music was consistently enjoyable, even though I couldn’t understand most of what he was saying. After all, there are plenty of bands I like where I can’t decipher most of the lyrics, and they are singing in English (yes Russell I am talking to you). Bethke as always was a joy to watch. Not only is she stunningly beautiful, but she is a wicked fiddler. The upright bass player was equally adorable, though sadly the late arriving trumpet player blocked my view for most of the set. Santacruz’s main instrument was the accordion, but he did play guitar on a few songs.
He was a talented musician with a terrific voice, but his real skill may be in marketing. After mentioning that his CDs were $15 he went on to explain, “That may seem like a lot, but if you listen to it just twice, then it is only $7.50 per listen. And if you listen to it three times, then it is $5. If you listen to it enough, eventually it will be almost free.” It seemed to work, after the show there were a number of people waiting to buy one. I’m not sure how everyone heard about it, but there was an impressively large crowd at the show.
The blurb on the High Noon site lured me in by referencing Calexico in an attempt to describe Santacruz’s sound. It certainly wasn’t an exact match, but it wasn’t that far off in comparing two bands occupying unique spaces.