I’m hurtling towards Chameleon Bar for a rendezvous with Liverpool’s premier grave-diggers, EL TORO! with the runaway-train surge of their eponymous debut album coursing through my headphone-wires like electric blood. I concoct visions of a band of droogs scurrying through skeletal ruins, their Wayfarers blotting-out the last flicker of emotion; emerging from black-holes these figures arouse the dread of a world on the brink. Fantasy is a joyous realm, fabricated and free. It splits from truth, fleeing its constraints and takes flight in the matrix of the mind.
So, in entering a band into a debate to dissect the blueprint of their art, it essentially becomes a quest for the truth we have fled, a comprehension of sorts, does it not? It was deflating then that nothing very enlightening was exhumed from my initial interview with El Toro! To be frank, I didn’t think I would be able to shut them up. Where was the cockiness-frozen-in-celluloid cool? They seemed unable, unwilling even, to talk themselves up, appearing dismissive of questions probing their intent. Apart from the origin of the name (from a Link Wray song that also happened to be the name of an abandoned San Diego military base close to guitarist Chris Luna’s hometown) and the obligatory influences, stating the garage/psyche/surf of The Sonics, The Electric Prunes and Dick Dale, there was not a lot to whet the appetite of this here writer, ravenous for knowledge. Undeterred I trudged home, vowing to attend tonight’s gig at Mello Mello’s Free Rock & Roll night in order to delve deeper …
Oiled on Jim Beam, I enter a beautiful freak-circus, where femme-fatale-punkettes with legs of liquid PVC and heads spiked with blue steel, roam aimlessly like psychotic peacocks. El Toro! now lie in wait … spindly webs of swamped reverb are spun from the speakers as the tight snap of the snare ignites a fuse and builds the tension like a pressure cooker, faster and faster … molecules collide, heat stoked by the friction, ventricles pumping like pistons, endorphins now flood the brain then BOOM! … the cymbal crashes and the band ride-out the three-chord romp of I Wanna Know, the crowd whipped into a mass spasm of contorted limbs. That’s El Toro!’s blueprint right there: ghostly glacial licks intertwine around break-neck garage-punk stomps, and it’s relentless. It just doesn’t stop. If the album fizzes, the live set positively boils over. Down To The River sounds like the bastard son of I Wanna Be Your Dog and Chris Isaak’s Blue Hotel. You can hear it blasting out of shit car speakers, monochrome and tinny, as a Cadillac thunders down Death Valley towards the dusk skyline which is torn between violet and crimson. The stage seems to morph them into unique oddities; gone are the sober charms of the interview. Jimmy O rasps and growls, fingers accentuating each lyric like a demented ring-master. Chris Luna stands statuesque, half-hidden behind a speaker and a fringe cut from black Perspex, fingers like frantic spiders crawling all over the neck of his Rickenbacker. The rhythm section is the muscular pulse, Doc’s bass serves up fat chugging grooves while Ben’s granite torso tenderises his drum-skins as if they are slabs of meat. Talking to Jimmy O after the gig he’s high on adrenaline, engaging and open to discuss their standpoint, almost apologetic for the tone of the earlier interview. “Well I made this video of our song The Note and it was a sort of homage to David Lynch … and he can never explain his ideas”. Ah David Lynch, the notoriously eccentric filmmaker, didn’t he proclaim that “sometimes when you say things out loud, some of the power leaks out of it?”; that images become refracted by ‘truth’ and diluted by debate. Rock n’ roll can’t be bottled and labelled: it’s a feeling and it’s abstract. It’s yours so it’s unique, distorted from one mind to the next. As I trudge home once more, I realise that the image, the sound, the perception and the fantasy are everything, they are the reality. There was never really anything else to understand.
El Toro!’s self-titled, debut album is available now from Probe Records