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We Are Familia 

Rock, romance and Go Betty Go

Thursday, Mar 20 2003
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Photo by Gregory Bojorquez

It's see-your-breath cold in the garage, a cramped zone made even smaller by a partition separating a washer and dryer from Go Betty Go's rehearsal space. Posters of Shakira and Aterciopelados crowd up against the cautionary visages of rock-star stiffs Janis and Jimi, a string of multicolored twinkle lights, a couple of stripy Mexican blankets draped over the amps, and boxes of family storage clutter. The garage door stands open, and when the band start to run through their set, it can be heard several blocks away.

"Why even bother to shut the door?" says drummer Aixa Vilar. "It's like a piece of foil, doesn't make any difference. The cops are usually pretty reasonable when they show up � the fact that we're all girls seems to help."

"It used to, when they thought we were just cute kids still in high school," her sister Nicolette adds, "but when they ask how old we are [the eldest is 22], it's more like, 'What? Get a job . . .'"

A laugh ripples through the garage; they name a tune and start churning it out, Aixa (pronounced I-eeks-ah) facing the wall as she hammers the drum kit, Betty Cisneros (after whom the band is named) all stone-faced composure but using her guitar like a flame thrower, and Michelle Rangel, dwarfed by her bass guitar, making with her intricate lines while Nicolette stalks about the limited floor space as she sings. Mom comes down with a load of wash; Betty keeps glancing out the open door as if expecting a lit-up prowl car to appear any second. Running through the tunes, the band handle individual screw-ups in an easygoing manner, rarely having to redo anything more than once; it's, like, tight, with little room for improvement, only decisions to make about which way to do it. "You want it regular or the tutti-frutti way?" asks Betty.

It's an old story, perhaps even a stale one, but it's rendered exceptional by the music, a tuneful, driving brand of old-timey punk rock. Accelerated and expanded upon by their own Latina-centric innovations based on frequently cited Go Betty Go essentials � pride, love and respect � music is something these four decidedly excel at. Go Betty Go are a romance in progress, the ardent pursuit of rock & roll's fabled seductive liberation.

The band's appetite for rock's rebel spirit is a marvel; indeed they're dedicated to the point of near zeal, bashing it out with intense focus and involvement, putting it over with a beguiling blend of hellish velocity and the gee-whiz air of a schoolyard crew � Nabokov's "strange mixture of tenderness and vulgarity" comes to mind. They'll play anywhere, from a billiards hall in Tecate, Mexico, to a meathead jock bar in City of Industry. In a recent four-week period, they had 16 shows, a KJLA television appearance and a Kill Radio interview-performance, which, taken with their frequent rehearsals and scheming sessions, qualifies them as a tight-knit coven whose chronic togetherness usurps family, job and romance.

"We're barely even at home anymore," Aixa says. "Sometimes we all spend the night at Betty's so we can just get up and start rehearsing. My life is becoming the band, and that's what we all want. We take any show offered to us, and new people see us and then they start coming out. People say, 'Aren't you playing too much?' but we've already sold about 1,200 CDs at our shows."

They've spun their own reality. In any conversation with a Go Betty Go member there's a recurring statement that explains a lot: "We just want to play." Clearly they're not making too much money, and they express no dreams of "making it," but of course such drive and desire can be neither bought nor counterfeited. This is purely instinctual rock & roll, the renegade compulsion to break out, kick through and burn down the dull lull of suburban California convention, to reach that barely discernible point on the imagination's horizon.

It was here in the garage, a few blocks from Glendale High School, that the band started in the spring of 2000. Sisters Aixa and Nicolette Vilar had formed a duo as preteens ("We wrote songs about Monopoly, kid stuff," Aixa says) and messed around with high school garage bands as teenagers, blossoming into the way-cool rocking siblings of the neighborhood who, even after they became aware that a guitar slinger named Betty lived nearby, felt that she just couldn't muster the hip quotient they needed. A silly notion that turned out to be, because Betty, the chola-tuff guitar pyrotechnician, is not only the anchor but the guts of the band � onstage, she lays down her effects pedals, plants herself before a microphone and discharges an intense blast of hard-rocking, run-for-your-life riffs.

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