Desert Companion

One 2 Watch: The Mad Caps

Blues, rockabilly, sweat, sex, violence and camp — from two skinny twentysomethings

Robots are taking over our airwaves. Every other song you hear nowadays is shot through with Auto-Tune, synthesizer or the womp womp womp of chordless bass — and it represents the push toward a genre that promises the reversal of everything the musical classics spent years to build — all on instruments that need a three-prong outlet to function. But once in a while, a band responds to this trend by raising a Johnny Cashian middle finger. And in all of Las Vegas, the middle finger of local duo The Mad Caps is by far the Cashiest.

You can’t really get through a Mad Caps song without smiling — and afterward, feeling like gravel is lodged in your teeth. The influences are all obvious: Blues. Rockabilly. Sex. But the strongest influence isn’t what the band has. It’s what it doesn’t.

“As a two-piece … it’s about finding out what each of you has to display to fill in for a bassist and a singer,” says Ted Rader, singer/howler/guitar player. “When you’re singing and playing guitar, it influences how your melodies carry with what you play.”

Rader says he isn’t a great singer. But for what he’s doing, he doesn’t have to be a Mercury or a Buckley. Most wouldn’t argue that Tom Waits is a great singer. They’re more likely to say he’s a better boogeyman — which, minus the brutal rasp of Waits’ vocals, is what Rader conveys. Rader’s voice is horndog scum, the ornery hootin’ and hollerin’ of high-beam construction workers, the viscerality of a chain-gang crooner and the grit and violence of a ’50s turf warrior — not the kind of power you’d expect to come from the cords of a skinny twentysomething. In fact, the music itself is pretty uncharacteristic for what comes out of Rader and drummer Jon Realmuto.

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Instead of the clean electro-pop spewing from every city’s musical orifices, The Mad Caps hawk lo-fi grunge. They’re what Raphael Saadiq is to soul — but with a vengeance. It’s the kind of music you’d expect to open a show like “Sons of Anarchy” or a Hells Angels documentary. Think Louisiana bar-fight music, late-night cruiser tunes played on the original eight-track. Distorted guitar that instills a darkness the same way the Creature from the Black Lagoon might. “Rosie and the Wolfman,” the single from the Caps’ latest, self-titled album, is the embodiment of the campy horror that used to lurk on drive-in screens.

“I kind of made this a story about a wolfman coming to ‘claim’ Rosie,” Rader says, describing a bizarre situation involving a late-night drive in the desert, a coyote and a spiritual experience. But instead of just riding the coattails of their own novelty, Rader and Realmuto are creating something authentic — and raucously fun.

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