No brainer

I’ll tell you what it is
It’s some kind of Texas psychobilly freakout
That’s what it is
— Reverend Horton Heat

Arizona is cracking more than just migrant skulls this summer, and that’s bad news for San Antonio music lovers. Arizona highways brought the hurt to the Kraneos’ touring van over the weekend, effectively aborting their first U.S. tour before the musicians could even reach Texas. The Mexican psychobilly crew was forced to abandon the vehicle as a total loss and make tracks to Mexicali, meaning the two San Antonio dates at Nightrocker Live and Zombies will go to an early grave.

The Current learned of this news as we were preparing to tip off our readers that, “Mexico’s best live act of the day storms into town on its first U.S. tour, grabbing the top of the list of ‘shows you don’t want to miss this summer.’” Make that didn’t want to miss.

“We really want to apologize to all the people that wanted to go to the shows just to watch us play,” Rueda told the Current. “We promise to relaunch a tour as soon as we can and really kick ass. You guys out there won’t be disappointed.” The Kraneos played to roughly half-a-dozen sold-out shows in California but had to scotch the rest of the Dead or Alive USA calendar.

The Kraneos, through their madhouse concerts, have raised a devoted following across Mexico, transforming an entire rock sub-genre from essentially unknown in the country to bordering on mainstream fringe in the process.

Like many contemporary youth acts, the Kraneos exploit monster and death symbolism for their image and lyrics, and members cite horror-punk legends the Misfits, Blitzkid, and Mister Monster among their major influences. They have, in fact, already played with the Misfts, as well as other well-known acts the Adicts, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Marky Ramone, Mad Sin, Rezurex, Calabrese, and The Others. The playfully morbid Mexican attitude toward la muerte enables the Kraneos to delve into its horror show with both humor and authenticity. The five-member psychobilly phenom taps B-movie terror themes and hardcore musical influences to forge an energetic and engaging sound, delivered through an unbridled performance revolving around the upright bass of Jorge Rueda, stage name George.

George slaps at the strings of his huge standup until you think someone should charge his fingers with domestic violence, and then, right when you’re about the place the 911 call yourself, he heaves it up and gyrates into some kind of mating dance. You notice his arm is adorned with a tattoo: half upright bass, half pin-up girl. He starts humping his instrument and you begin to wonder, is there really a difference between fornicating and making love? Throughout it all, the band spits, screams, and sweats out a mesmerizing concert.

San Antonio’s psychobilly scene has nearly faded out once again — as is its wont — but that only represented a fertile frontier for the Kraneos, a young ragtag band that formed in 2005 in the dusty border city of Mexicali. When the five teen musicians met half a decade ago via online classified posts, there was literally no psychobilly scene in their city, and probably not even a kindred band in the entire state of Baja California. “Since we live on the border, we get to know a lot of music that isn’t in our country, and we are heavily influenced by a lot of European and American psychobilly bands, as well as punk and horror punk,” says mohawked singer Jorge Soto. “At first no one understood what we were doing. It’s awesome that people like our music now.”

In the music industry, timing can be key, and the Kraneos have exploded onto an explosive scene. Though the rockabilly movement has ebbed and flowed in Mexico for years, its offshoots, which some hipster taxonomists subdivide into punkabilly, psychobilly, and myriad other -billies, have enjoyed a burgeoning popularity of late. “Three years ago, you would not have thought there was a scene in Mexico at all, or that there had ever been a scene here,” says Bryan ‘Romeo’ Fleege, a Chicago psychobilly veteran now located in the state of Queretaro, and frontman for Romeo and the Frankensteins, one of Mexico’s most prominent psychobilly acts. “Now people are really getting into the retro look of the 1950s, and even punks and hardcore kids are changing their hair and dress.”

Anywhere, pioneering an underground music scene — always for passion not profit — has its pros and cons. You get to set the bar as high or low as you want, but only if you can find a place to play. Good timing and outrageous stage antics aside, though, the Kraneos possess the one indispensable element for successful trailblazing: raw talent.

“Musically, each one is outstanding on their instrument, and don’t even talk about the vocalist, he’s simply great. Here in the Mexico City the scene really digs them,” says Los BlackJacks rockabilly drummer Ritchie Rocker, pausing to laugh. “And the girls die for them.”

Though the Kraneos’ overarching sound indulges an accessible melodiousness shared by more mainstream U.S. psychobilly acts — notably Tiger Army — the debut full-length album, Dead or Alive, released last year, showcases both their versatility and willingness to take risks musically. Cuts range from the melodic, crooning “Vampira” horror-ballad to the upbeat “El Malvado Dr. Acula,” reminiscent of California-based Rezurex, and the screeching old-school hardcore track “Oppressed Society.” San Antonio fans may favor “Masacre de Texas”: “Escucho la sierra cerca / creo que hasta aquí llegue” (I hear the chainsaw near / I think I’m at my end).

Having just wrapped up a tour of Mexico for Dead or Alive, the Kraneos mostly spent their California lap playing songs off their debut for their first sweep through the U.S. But they did lift the curtain on some new tracks, notably “666 Feet Underground” and “245 Trioxin.” “There is a big difference `between` the Dead or Alive songs and the new ones we have right now,” says guitarist Gerardo ‘Yayo’ Galvan. “Our new songs really reflect our evolving style, our own sound — faster, louder, more powerful.” That new album is due out early next year. •