Brass Kicking

You can hear one of the best brass bands in town Sunday nights, in a converted old McDonald's. Luckily, the food is much better at Tacos y Mariscos Kora.

And if you're really lucky, some deep-pocketed patron will shell out some extra cash to keep Banda Santa Cruz, a 14-member tuba-driven band, playing past its regular set. Really deep-pocketed -- try $450 for an hour.

"It happens all the time," says Oscar Diaz in Spanish as he explains how customers routinely fork over cold hard cash to keep the band blowing its horns.

Diaz, a sort of maître d' for the night, is not even on the payroll. "I help out the owner where I can," he says as he fingers the customer with dinero to burn. And to impress. Dressed sharply in a long leather coat, the rich guy clearly looks like he's the head of something. "One time," Diaz recalls, "some guys kept the band playing until one in the morning!" Diaz counts his fingers and opens his palm. "That's five hours." And at $450 an hour, that's some crazy cash to add to the already steep $1,350 they get for their 5 to 8 p.m. gig. Not to mention other shows they play at clubs like Macarena, Paraiso and Orfeon.

The members of Banda Santa Cruz earn their keep. Although the band is the night's main attraction, they're stuck behind a wrought iron fence, next to a parking lot, looking like a group of Christmas carolers. Later, when the building is packed, you understand why. It's freezing cold as they play outside to a patio filled with families, couples and groups of men. Everyone is dressed nicely. Some are still wearing their Sunday best, others are in pressed jeans and leather jackets.

Waitresses scurry to deliver expensive seafood platters and cold cervezas. People shout out requests or slip notes to a singer who tries to oblige everyone. Most of the requests are corridos about Mexican idols, some about drug dealers.

Behind the singer is a sea of brass. A tuba, trombones, trumpets and two French-looking horns. Clarinets, congas and timbales round out the big banda sound popular in northern Mexico. "It's a tradition," says Isaac Lamberto from Culiacán, Mexico, as his 14-month-old daughter dances, looking like a baby bobble-head.

It's seafood aficionados like him, his family and friends who fill the place. A waitress says they come to hear the banda. "They really like it," she says. So much so, those who can will gladly give you 450 reasons why.