'N' ROLL KAMIKAZE (RE-ISSUE) - The Dragons (Gearhead)
Had a review of this all but written when the bad news came through: The Dragons are R.I.P. Thirteen years and seven albums ain't a bad run, and three of the four members will work on singer-guitarist Mario Escovedo's solo album. Meanwhile, soak up all the back catalogue you can...
"Rock 'n' Roll Kamikaze" is the album that hooked me and sent me searching for the rest of them. The original tip came from former Asteroid B612 member Leadfinger, who'd shared a stage with Mario and Co. I was lucky enough to be in their hometown of San Diego to see The Dragons play in their lair, the character-laden Casbah. They blew the more widely-known Toilet Boys offstage - and my tour guide that night, Steve Gardner of NKVD Records, reckoned he'd seen them better. If that's the case, he's very fortunate.
The Gearhead re-ish of their second-mots recent album is a fantastic legacy. A radical (read: raw) re-mix and five (count 'em) bonus tracks, one of them the wonderfully emotive "Still Pissed Off", makes for a real value, no-risk purchase.
There's no great secret in what the Dragons do - unless you've never heard passionate vocals, firestorm guitars or a rhythm section like King Kong on 'roids (although not without its subtle side). The songs mostly soar and roar, the guitars sear and assault you. It's more often than not completely over-the-top in its embracing of Stones/Dolls/Heartbreakers-imbued Rock Action, with more than a little onstage posturing in the live setting. All part of the charm, I reckoned. These boys knew how to put on a show. Their music was also a massively well-kept secret. No fault of them or their label, just the luck of the draw.
All the outtakes here hold their own with the songs on the original album, although "Breakdown", "Time Keeps Slipping Away" and "Still Pissed Off" deserve high marks. There's not much more to add to the reviews appearing below, except The Dragons are worthy of attention, even of the posthumous kind. - The Barman
SALVATION - The Dragons (Gearhead)
This is Album Number Six for San Diego's Dragons and they just keeping upping the ante each time. You thought "Rock 'n' Roll Kamikaze" kicked 'em out? Sure did, but this one (to borrow the title of an earlier disc) rocks like fuck.
The pace is a little more frantic, the solos a fraction more overdriven. There's still an economy of notes and lyrics - unlike some of the New Garage Breed, nothing's wasted - but "Sin Salvation" clearly recognises there is no real salvation for The Dragons and their ilk, and all the would-be challengers and imposters should get the fuck out of the way. The formula is thus: Lead guitarist Ken Mochikoshi Horne plays at stun volume while on rhythm guitar, Mario fills in the spaces just right. Steve Rodriguez (bass) and Jarrod Lucas (drums) pump the boilers with maximum consistency. It's as tight as it needs to be. Pity someone already used the album title "Ragged Glory". It's raw and rough but walks around with a hip flask in the back pocket and a swing in its step.
A Barfly whose opinion is worth hearing reckons the Dragons' songs are a little samey. They're certainly not big on textures or subtle degrees of light and shade. But it's the dynamics of the songs and the way there's always one (and usually more) memorable song on each album that wins the day. There's been a linear improvement in the tunes since 1996's debut LP, "Pain Killer", but Mario Escovedo's sometimes world-weary, often roof-raising vocalising and the sheer sense of abandon in the guitar attack have been consistent winners throughout. The Dragons rip the soundscape to shreds with a sense of grim determination that the Heartbreakers had in their best, clear-headed moments, yet their roots remain firmly planted in NY Dolls and Stones territory.
Recording at Clear Lake in North Hollywood, the band more or less fired out their new songs one after the other, eschewing overdubs or other studio tarting up. The aim was to capture the energy - and they did. If CDs came with realistic packaging you'd feel the stickiness of the Jack and Cokes they'd spilt along the way.
"Dirty Bomb" is the single but for mine "Chosen One" is the killer rock monster with its chugging, staccato guitar intro cascading into a big beat and red raw chorus. "Sin Salvation" pins you to the wall like a back street hood with a switchblade, skidding along on the dual axis of another pounding backbeat and Mockikoshi Horne's guitar.
"Claire" is the closest thing to a ballad, fired by a nagging guitar figure and muscular bass line. "Kiss Me ('Cause Life's Obscene)" is a rave-up in the vicinity of "Needs", while the closing "Tragedy" is all ragged vocals and stunning, whisky-soaked lead guitar. The Dragons deserve world notoriety, fame and fortune. They probably won't get the last two in the degree they and real bands deserve, but buy this and help 'em on their way. - The Barman
KAMIKAZE - The Dragons (Junk)
This fell out of the Magic Mailbox today and I shook my head as I inspected the tracklist: "Life Is Cheap." "Greyhound." "Kamikaze." Fuck, I thought, I have to stop reading the news...it's enough to take all the joy out of living, not to mention reviewing rock'n'roll rekkids.
Heard good reports on these guys before SXSW this year, but wound up getting my car towed from a restaurant parking lot on Cesar Chavez Blvd. in Austin and missing their show. Feh. Front Dragon Mario Escovedo is, of course, the younger sibling of Alejandro (Nuns/Rank and File/Buick MacKane and solo underground stardom) and Javier (Zeros), not to mention Pete and Coke (uh, Santana) and cousin of Sheila E. And the title and World War II/Rising Sun imagery can be forgiven 'cos lead gtrist Ken Mochikoshi Horn was born in Yokohama, mama. It's not like they're a buncha Thee Michelle Gun Elephant wannabes or anything like that.
Diehard Rolling Stones fans though these San Diego-based boys might be, they play punk rock'n'roll with the emphasis on the punk (meaning fast tempos, pummeling rhythm section, thrashing dual gtrs - you know the drill). On this, their fourth full-length, they keep things short and sweet - 10 tunes, about 40 minutes, each one a short, sharp shock to the synapses right up until the "hidden" track, which mellows down easy like something Mott the Hoople might have essayed on "Mad Shadows" or one of those.
These Dragons claim the heritage of the sloppy-drunk Replacements and Johnny Thunders' lurching-out-of-control Heartbreakers, but in addition to the chaos factor and gtr damage, you also get the kind of pop-smart songcraft that marked both of those bands at their best. Dig the "woo-hoo"-ing backing voxxx and the barfly's singalong chorus on "Three Steps from the Bar" ("You're my Brigitte Bardot, I'm your Errol Flynn," indeed - waitaminute, wasn't he the one who used to play the piano with his dick?), on which Escovedo sounds like nothing so much as, uh, Bruce Springsteen channeling Tom Waits, or the classic descending riff of "C'mon" (and the call-and-response chorus). No anal-retentive precision for these guys - "Keep it rollin', keep it rollin'," Mario yells after the false start on "Don't Waste My Time." He knows the secret of all great rock'n'roll: cut it live, fast, and hot.
This will definitely blow the roof off your house, apartment, vehicle, or any structure where you happen to have your disc player set up. Sound like a live band to be reckoned with, too. Be warned.
- Ken Shimamoto
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