By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Each stop adds a couple shutterbugs and a few fans who are in it for the long haul. There’s the college-age blond, accompanied by two friends, who dances the entire time, even through the noisy parts. Two geeky guys are examining their Amoeba purchases on the train when they realize they have stumbled into local music history. There’s a man in a wheelchair who has been along since Universal City; a mother and daughter (the latter about 10) take turns filming the event; and the couple in their early 20s who have wandered into the maelstrom and decided that Killsonic will play their wedding. Still, nothing rivals the response at MacArthur Park.
When we get there, we’re told to cross the street. princessFrank strikes up the band, and as we walk down Alvarado toward Seventh, our numbers grow with nearly every person we pass. We cross the street, and settle into a corner of the park, the transition music becoming a bat-shit and spirited rendition of a cumbia number called “El Cucui.” Like most of the crowds, this one is all ages, but the gathering onlookers are almost uniformly brown-skinned and hard-faced — men in cowboy hats, teens on chopper bikes, women holding portly Chihuahuas — and they are enthralled. An older man has worked his way to the center and starts conducting the band. He waves his hands in the air, fingers fluttering, pushing the horns to an earsplitting fever pitch. He throws his arms down and the music stops. When Killsonic begins again, the man yells, “Maravillosa! Es un milagro!”
Over the phone with me, trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom lauded the group’s “amazing unity of vibe and collective purpose,” but it was trombonist David Dominique who said it best: “We’re able to combine into one bestial instrument. With so many people improvising, we create a heterophony — a cloud of noise.”
Killsonic has its roots at PCC, 1998, in a group started there by princessFrank and Ibarra while they were studying under L.A. jazz legend Bobby Bradford. “We were a straight-ahead Latin-jazz band, and for two years we played on autopilot,” says princessFrank. “With Killsonic, we’d been listening to Coleman, Sun Ra, even Zappa, and we just went for it. We lost almost our entire fan base, but we were happy. When Mike wanted to create a mobile orchestra, it never occurred to me it’d be so easy.”
Until late 2007, Killsonic was a sextet. That November, Ibarra issued an open call for members. DeCastro, who has been with the group since 2005, remembered the selection process: “It was basically: If you own an instrument and you wanna learn how to play it, bring it to rehearsal.” Less than a year later, most of the band was able to fly to New York for a mini tour using money saved in the Killsonic “war chest.” A New Year’s Eve gig in Hollywood paid for a recording session last month (the album is due in spring), and today, there are no fewer than 12 interband offshoot bands. Killsonic’s solo stars frequently contract members for their own performances, a “Killsonic Presents” monthly just launched at Junglerush downtown, and various players now have a residency at the Piano Bar in Hollywood. Nearly everyone I interview uses the word “family,” but truth be told, Killsonic is a union.
“The very act of putting this thing together is political,” says Ibarra on the eve of the subway tour. “Some of the fines we would have gotten if we didn’t go through official channels for this thing were $2,000 to $7,000 apiece. It’s ridiculous. If you want people to take public transportation in L.A., make things as fun and authentic as possible. We can’t actually do a set inside Union Station — we’d have to rent the space.”
Killsonic plays savagely at Pershing Square, burning down a Bobby Bradford cover and the magnificent Wood-penned “Black Pig,” and just shy of 7 p.m., the entire band and its followers burst into Union Station’s halls like marathon runners crossing the finish line. We run, dance and clap, literally frolicking forward like children. In the main entrance, the band stops and plays anyway, banging out Balkan dub to the impossibly high ceilings, next to a sign that reads “No Trespassing No Loitering No Soliciting.” Someone in the city must be swayed. When an officer does show up, she merely advises us to keep moving, so we do, back to the station’s rear entrance, where Killsonic plays its final songs fanned out across the broad staircase.
There’s nothing like witnessing them for the first time under unexpected circumstances. For me it goes back to that Tuesday night waiting on the quiet side of that blood-red door. When I do knock, the door swings back to confirm my suspicions: crammed into a small living room and tiny dining area are twenty-some smiling faces attached to twenty-odd instruments, hovering above a terrain of empty Tecates and instrument cases. Someone shouts, “Who are you?” but they don’t actually wait for an answer. Instead, Killsonic blows me away.
Killsonic plays Mardi Gras at the Echo with Ollin on Tuesday, February 24, at 8 p.m.; $8, 18-plus.