It’s been 15 months since Manic Hispanic/Cadillac Tramps frontman Mike “Gabby” Gaborno moved on from this plane of existence after a hard-fought battle with liver cancer. Just over a year — not nearly enough time to come to terms with the enormous hole that Gaborno’s talent and infectious personality left in his friends and family, the punk rock community and the larger music world. He’s simply irreplaceable.
The remaining members of Manic Hispanic have found a way to begin the healing process, though, and that involves getting together and playing again. For 25 years, until last year, this band performed on Cinco de Mayo, and this year they’re back at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach, celebrating both the holiday and the life of their fallen comrade. These two shows, on May 5 and 6, will be only their second and third since Gaborno’s passing, and the memories are still raw.
“He’d been sick for a while,” says guitarist Steve Soto, also of The Adolescents. “We’d play shows, and in your head you’re wondering if this is the last one. He was always a trooper, especially at the very end. The last show we played was a festival with The Descendents and NOFX [Picnic in Pozo at the Pozo Saloon]. In the morning, we were sitting there at the venue and you could tell that he wasn’t feeling good. I said, ‘Hey man, we can go home, dude. If you don’t feel good, you don’t have to do this.’ He was like, ‘No man, when I’m up there, I feel good. I don’t feel good right now but when I’m up there I do.’ And he was on fire. You’d never know he wasn’t feeling good when he was up there.”
In conversation, it’s clear that this isn’t easy for Soto. Of course it isn’t — he’s lost his dear friend, and memories of the burly frontman struggling are rough. But knowing how much Gabarno loved this band, and performing in general, is therapeutic.
“We took a year,” Soto says. “We did one show as Mexican Society, named after one of our songs. Originally it was going to be a one-off. It’s different — he’s not someone you can replace. It’s just carrying on. It’s like if you have a Spanish tía, an aunt, who makes awesome tamales for all the parties and everyone loves her tamales, and when she passes away it’s not like everyone’s not eating tamales and going to the parties. Some of the other tías step up. It’s not quite the same but you still get together and celebrate.”
Manic Hispanic formed in 1992, 26 years ago. That’s a mighty impressive run for something originally intended as a one-off — a punk-rock parody for shits and giggles.
“We were joking around,” Soto says. “Gabby was working in a warehouse listening to the radio, and the original idea was to learn all these Freddy Fender songs but make them fast and punk rock. A show came up and my old band was supposed to play but my drummer ended up in the hospital. The promoter was like, ‘You can’t back out, can you come up with something to play?’ We had talked about it, but me and Gabby used to talk about a lot of stupid stuff and never went through with it. So it was a last-minute thing. There was never any plan or anything. It just fell together.”
Four super-fun albums followed: 1992’s The Menudo Incident, 2001’s The Recline of Mexican Civilization, 2003’s Mijo Goes to Jr. College and, most recently, 2005’s Grupo Sexo. That burst of activity in the early to mid 2000s is interesting, because this was never supposed to be their main gig. It was, however, always fun, and that’s why they’re going to keep it going.
“We always had a blast doing it, and it was easy to keep going because it was fun,” Soto says. “With Gabby passing away, I didn’t really plan on doing anything after that. He and I had worked on some song ideas when he was sick, and at some point I thought that I wanted to go in and record the songs that we worked on. When we all got together, it felt good being around each other. It felt like he was there. It helped us get through it. We still laugh a lot, and it gives us an excuse to get together and keep doing it.”
Not only are they going to keep performing live but there’s going to be some new music released soon.
“We went in and recorded two EPs that we’re going to release,” Soto says. “One will be released in a couple of weeks. We’re releasing them ourselves digitally. We’ve just been having fun doing that, putting clips up on YouTube. At some point, we’ll be out and playing around. It’s not like we can go out and have a big tour. A lot of us have careers. If a good show comes up, we’ll jump on and do it.”
These two gigs at Alex’s Bar promise to be special, and incredible emotional. On Cinco de Mayo, Manic Hispanic will perform essentially a “greatest hits” set, while the Sunday show will see them play The Menudo Incident in its entirety as their debut will be getting a vinyl release this week.
There’s a lot to look forward to. But damn, we all miss Gabby.
Manic Hispanic play with Pinata Protest, Shiners Club and the Penetratorz at 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, at Alex’s Bar; and with Pinata Protest, Viernes 13 and the Henchmen at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 6, at Alex’s Bar.