For any experienced musician or songwriter there comes a time in their career when they are ready to move on to something new. More often than not, it’s the lead singer or bassist or even rhythm guitarist who will write a few songs on the side and venture off into solo territory. Very rarely, however, does this happen with the drummer. Ringo Starr probably should have stuck with the backbeat, and even Travis Barker had his difficulties before finding solo stardom with his kit and sticks. Mario Rubalcaba has bucked this trend by switching out his drums for the guitar, a suitable replacement for someone known for keeping rhythm.
S/T is Rubalcaba’s first effort as a front man. He boasts an impressive drumming resume from the last 20 years (Off!, Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt). Spider Fever isn’t breaking any new grounds with their snarling garage punk sounds and heavy feedback, but they sure are fun to listen to. Opener “Pub Rock’n” kicks right into the classic Detroit rock sound pioneered by The Stooges and MC5. “Hyena” maintains the breakneck momentum, but lacks the vocal presence of an Iggy Pop or Rob Tyner to really push the listener against the wall.
“Lost in You” makes excellent use of a slow-building intro before breaking into the familiar proto-punk territory of the rest of the record. These are surely the sounds of rock and roll acolytes, punk savants educated in the sounds of Roky Erickson and the early New York underground. There isn’t much variety on Spider Fever, but these songs aren’t made for the loneliness of a basement bedroom. The urgency of the album should be evident in its volume. “Don’t Let Death Get in the Way” is just a great punk song meant to be blasted, evoking the kind of ’77 L.A. punk sound that made the Germs legends. “10 X Dead” carries this torch into the seven-minute grand finale. “Simply Nervous” plays like an extended version of The Saints’ seminal punk classic “(I’m) Stranded” and is the final ode to an era left on its dying haunches until recently.
Rubalcaba is somewhat of a garage punk renaissance man. He once skated for the legendary Tony Alva’s team in the late 80s, played drums with Keith Morris and Steven Shane McDonald (Redd Kross) and is part owner of a record shop in San Diego. He’s played everything from psychedelic and indie to hardcore punk and alt rock. For someone so talented and multi-faceted it is a small shame that his first solo effort didn’t involve a bit more sophistication. This is not to say that S/T isn’t a rockin’ record. If anything it seems that a band like this is definitely better received in a live format (check out our live review of Spider Fever, here). If Spider Fever’s debut is Rubalcaba’s Iggy and the Stooges, let’s hope his next record is more The Idiot than Raw Power.
Words: Brian Noonan