Enter the Dragons

In the tradition of the Zeros and the Nuns, the youngest Escovedo talks siblings, booze and Dragon slaying

Listening to contemporary rock 'n' roll records these days is like drinking in the afternoon to avoid boredom; the idea may sound appealing at first, but after indulging you find yourself either nodding off like grandpa or saddled with a dull headache, or both.

I mean, c'mon. When was the last time some perfect-toothed prats like Filter or Foo Fighters paraded their arthritic shimmy across your TV screen or through your woofers and it made you jump from your sofa, inspired to get ripped or lose your virginity or break things?

Rock 'n' roll has become so dull that it's no coincidence that video marketing bread is buttered with the female posterior. Hence, the frequency of Tommy "Black Like Me" Lee's wifey-pooh Pamela's squeak-toy curves and bitch-pout popping up in rock-vid clips.

And Lee's mysterious metamorphosis from millionaire metal dunce to millionaire ghetto mook has many strip-metalers referring to wifey-pooh as Yoko Lee. In his latest Methods of Mayhem"Get Naked" vid, he pimps wifey-pooh out like porn product placement. During the clip, the mirthful couple can be seen romping buff-bare on a motel-room bed.

So, of course, the Methods of Mayhemrecord just went gold.

Pamela Anderson Lee can also be seen lighting up Lit's latest MTV smash-a-roo, playing a porny Land of the Giants-type amazon woman who at one point lies belly down whilst the tiny members of Lit lip-synch atop the crevice of her skimpily clad derrière.

Ironic self-mockery or cheap tricks of anatomical exploitation? What's the difference? The music blows antelope turds.

And the record-buying kids, many of whose quality of life is tethered to MTV, are swallowing it by the Dumpster load. They are learning that those who are famous now become that way by successfully hawking a persona -- devoid of heart or inspiration of ideas -- not from authoring an artful idea and giving it life.

The conjecture is: If great bands had a place in pop mainstream and were therefore heard, this celebrated-for-being-famous rubbish would be as unwarranted as it is unsatisfying.

If kids were instead buying bands like the Hellacopters or Magnified or even Massive Attack (one hip-hop band giving black dance the qualities of literacy, intelligence, politics and passion instead of butt crack and ho's) and not Filter or Lit or Foo Fighters or Wu-Tang Clan, then pop music wouldn't be such a triumph of the ordinary. It would be fun. A reason to jump up and down.

And all of this brings us to the Dragons, San Diego's finest rock 'n' roll band since, well, no one, unless you consider Rocket From the Crypt or Blink 182 as anything more than the respective Dictators and Green Day ransacks that they are.

The four-piece Dragons alternate between sounding like pissed-off thunderheads to blues-spirited cats with heady cases of guitar distortion envy. The band's latest record, R*L*F (Rock Like Fuck), embodies the latter best: hook-heavy songs propelled forward by big-lunged singing, firmly rooted in tried-and-true Sticky Fingers/LAMFheritage.

The members of the Dragons all wear the part well: a far from Diet Coke glow that recalls vintage-era Glimmer Twins, spindly-armed and untamed hair, big shoes and down-dressed glam.

"I mean, Kenny [Horne, guitarist] has got to keep me in line every now and then," titters the Dragons' hoarse-voiced lead singer, Mario Escovedo, via cell phone from the band's van. He and the rest of the Dragons are rolling south on California's Interstate 5, just outside of Irvine. "He's always threatening to handcuff me to the van."

Escovedo, youngest of the much-storied musical Escovedos, and band -- guitarist Horne, bassist Steve Rodriguez and drummer Jerrod Lucas -- are heading home from a show at the Garage in Hollywood. The performance, the band's first in that town in two years, is said by the promoter to have "smoked hard."

Escovedo launches into an analysis of gig-night boozing: "You know, even when I have a blackout session now and then, I am still a happy drunk. We are all happy drunks. The only thing I can think of is when they try to tell me to shut up and go to sleep after the party is over."

(Discography alert!) In 1996, the band's scarcely great -- yet solid -- debut, Pain Killer, was issued by Scam-O-Rama. In 1997, the Dragons signed to Long Beach-based Junk Records and released their second album, Cheers to Me. September 1999 brought the wonderfully ratty R*L*F.

Since 1994, the Dragons have strung themselves out on countless self-funded tours, weekend out-of-towners and straight-through 24-hour drives. I have seen the band in Texas, in L.A. and in San Diego, and damn if they have yet to let me down.

Although their songs -- credited to the band as a whole -- conjure pre-AA Westerbergian virtues like Jack and Coke, Guinness Stout and the pre-sweatsuit Stones, three of the band members are married, and two have kids.

Those stats alone give the songs a sense of strained normalcy, a tension that extends far beyond the loud chords and ferocious drumming. Running through many of the sub-four-minute blasts are themes that see singer Escovedo attempting to balance that which cannot be balanced. The simple things, like marriage, booze and rock 'n' roll.

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