Let’s face it — it all starts with that name. When you’re scanning listings, looking for a plan for your evening’s entertainment, and you see the words Carnage Asada, there’s no way to ignore that.
The group have, in fact, been around since 1989 and feature Dave Travis on cello. Travis is perhaps better known as the owner of punk hangout Cafe NELA and, as a direct result, something of a sensei-like figure for local musical reprobates.
Travis had a high school band called Permanent Trails, which led to him joining jazz band Halfway to Cleveland on bass. Feeling a little stifled in that band, Travis and fellow member Pat Palma started a improvisational side jam band and put out a tape, which they tagged Carnage Asada. That would eventually lead to the formation of a full band, featuring Travis and Palma plus Dave Jones on bass, Jesse Engel on guitar and George Murillo on vocals. That lineup would shuffle, though, and at one point they had former Black Flag guitarist Dez Cadena in the ranks.
“After Steve Reed joined [on drums], we played a lot more often, and then Dave Markey (Sin 34, Painted Willie and movie director) joined on drums,” Travis says. “He got Dez to join on guitar. We were all friends because I did sound for a couple of Dez's bands like DC3 and Bulimia Banquet. Steve Reed was also a sound man working for bands like Devo, Firehose, The Alleycats, as well as being the house sound man at the Anti-Club in the 1980s. Dez was real fun to work with — he had a vast musical knowledge. His dad was Ozzy Cadena, who was a jazz record producer who produced records for people like Charles Mingus, John Lee Hooker, and Yusef Lateef. Chris Stein from Saccharine Trust joined on bass when Steve was out on tour, and when he came back we had our six-piece lineup of George Murillo on vocals, Dave Jones and Steve Reed on bass, Dave Markey on drums, Dez Cadena on guitar and Dave Travis on electric cello and guitar.”
Cadena left to play with Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses in his band Loaded, and Dave Green joined in his place. Through it all, Carnage Asada have kept the same punk-jazz sound.
“We never play the songs the same way twice,” Travis says. “The songs are variable and range from hardcore punk to free jazz. People say we are anomalous, we don't look like we should be in the same band — we just play like we do. George Murillo, our frontman, is the focus. He has had a heavy life with lots of experiences, some amazing, some traumatic, that he brings to the stage. He is someone who has a lot to say, and with Carnage Asada he is able to say it.
"The main influences on our sound are Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Black Flag, Miles Davis (late ’60s/early ’70s), The Doors, Alice Cooper Group, The Germs, Parliament-Funkadelic, James Brown, The Grateful Dead, Saccharine Trust, Hawkwind, early Pink Floyd, The Minutemen, Black Sabbath, The Stains, The Meat Puppets,” he says.
Carnage Asada went on a short hiatus in the early 2000s, returning in 2003 to record the album Axis of Evil, though it was never released. Two years later, they took another break, and returned in 2008. They recorded another album in 2014, but again, it never saw the light of day. Travis says this is why they continue to wallow in obscurity despite playing hundreds of shows.
This week, they perform a benefit for Chris Stein, one of their bass players (not the Blondie guitarist), at NELA. Stein also plays with Saccharine Trust, and he has cancer in his lungs and multiple other places. He’s currently undergoing chemotherapy.
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“He is a great musician and a great, kind person so we are putting this together to help him pay his bills while he is too sick, and to pay for the bills for his treatment not taken care of by insurance,” Travis says. "The punk community needs to help him and those like him, because in America one of the side effects of cancer can be homelessness, so we must do what we can to help.”
The band only play out about once a year nowadays, and this gig will also mark their 25th anniversary.
“We are going to practice Saturday before the show and figure out what we are going to do,” Travis says. “We have to modify because Chris will not be playing bass with us, and some of the songs have two bass parts. We are waiting for Chris to get better. We have kind of been on hold since he got sick. Once he has healed, we can figure how to move on.”
The benefit for Chris Stein featuring Carnage Asada plus Mars 5, The Mecolodiacs, The Black Widows, The Golden Rulers and The Bubble Chamber Serenaders, takes place at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 24, at Cafe NELA.