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Seriously, Los Mex Pistols isn't just some novelty act.

Byline: Serena Markstrom The Register-Guard

True, Bruce Hartnell is known to gather a who's who of Eugene musicians into thematic bands for pretty much every beer drinking holiday. But Cinco de Mayo is closest to what his main band, Los Mex Pistols del Norte, does for real - at least in the eyes of the mostly Anglo crowds of Eugene.

"The band isn't necessarily about drinking," Hartnell said. "We take it pretty seriously."

No huge, comical sombreros here.

The Pistols take it serious enough to have won a battle of the Latino bands during Hills- boro's "Happy Days." They took home $2,500 and a trophy the size of a third-grader for that one.

Since then, the band has played with Los Lobos and the Neville Brothers, and appeared on the Lane County Fair's main stage.

The group may have a fun edge and punk vibe, but it also has mastered complex rhythms of spaghetti Western and Tejano music, as well as the traditional music of the bullfight: the paso doble.

"That sort of stuff is not something usually undertaken by rock bands," he said. "Time signatures and timing rhythms need to be understood by everyone for the music to work properly."

The eight-piece group, six of whom are gringos, doesn't have a vocalist. Still, Hartnell remembers fondly a performance where he could hear the singer from Pink Martini, China Forbes, adding impromptu vocals from backstage.

Hartnell credits Forbes' knowledge of the tunes to the fact that people who are really into music tend to have explored such Mexican roots genres as banda, mariachi, Norteno and ranchero.

To put it in perspective, Hartnell likened salsa to the citified music of Mexico and disco to city music in the United States. Roots musicians in both countries have a similar distaste for the flashier urban upstarts that emerged to move city dancers' feet.

A former owner of the bar he will play Saturday, Hartnell grew up in Los Angeles before moving to Eugene in 1987. As a youth, his environment was steeped in traditional Mexican music, but the relatively new punk culture also influenced him prominently.

It might be lost on most Anglo listeners, but some traditional Mexican music has a lot in common with the ideas we know as "punk" here - although the sounds could hardly be more different.

"To me, the ranchero stuff has just as much power ... as punk rock," he said. "And I grew up hearing a lot of it."

The Mexican ballad form called corridos, for example, includes a subgenre, narcocorridos, that tells brutal stories of death, violence and revenge - usually involving drugs.

Lacking a vocalist, Los Mex Pistols stays away from narcocorridos. But Hartnell wanted to make the point that in the confetti and slur of a holiday such as Cinco de Mayo - a minor holiday in Mexico - Americans don't seem to be picking up on a whole lot of Mexican culture.

"They expect everything to be like 'La Bamba' or some crazy dance music," he said. Nevertheless, Hartnell is happy to have an audience for the music he loves playing.

The band has a sense of humor, but he stressed they are in no way making fun of Mexican music.

"We really try to pay homage to it and get it as close as we can," he said. "This was something we had to go out of our way to learn.

`It wasn't a stretch for me to approach it, but for a bunch of other guys in Eugene, Ore., it was a stretch."

Originally, the concept for the band was an Ennio Morricone tribute. If you're reaction to the name Morricone is "<300>c<227>mo?" or "<300>que diciste?' then you will understand why Hartnell expanded the band's set lists.

Morricone is quite famous for his film scores, and he wrote the theme song for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." But dance music isn't his specialty, and he's not necessarily a household name.

"We figured it wouldn't go over so well," Hartnell said.


Los Mex Pistols del Norte

With: Silent film projections from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and old Mexican wrestling films, including "Los Campeones Justicieros" featuring a cast of 100 evil midget wrestlers; also, clips from the 1927 silent movie "Que Viva Mexico"

Openers: Hi-Fi Ramblers

When: 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: John Henry's, 77 E. Broadway

Tickets: $5

On the Internet: To listen to music samples, please visit www.registerguard .com/ticketfiles
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 4, 2007
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