JoeMc on 05/13/2010 at 01:00PM
Ever seen Carol Reed's 1949 thriller The Third Man? This is the film that takes place in a shadowy, dank and dangerous post-war Vienna, and climaxes with a famous speech by the slippery, silvery-tongued fascist/opportunist Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles:
In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had six thousand years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
You may also remember The Third Man's famous score, which was composed and played on the zither by Anton Karas, an unknown musician that director Reed discovered playing in a wine garden. Karas' oddly jaunty title theme plays ironically against the darker-than-dark themes of the film, and it became one of the biggest hits of 1949. You can hear it in your head right now, can't you?
Well, now imagine that The Third Man took place not in the doomy depths of Vienna at night, but instead on a sunny beach in Mexico. Harry Lime's speech isn't delivered on a dilapidated ferris wheel, but in a tijuana taxi, and the house band has umbrellas in their drinks and doesn't even know what a zither is. Got that?
I now give you Rat City Brass.
The Rat City Brass is a group from Seattle who have a patron saint on the dashboard of their van: St. Herb. You might say that In Herb They Trust (but don't say that). Of course, the Herb I refer to is Herb Alpert, the man who, with his Tijuana Brass in tow, had grand exitos back in the 60s with his light and swinging combination of mariachi trumpets and peppy rhythms. Although there weren't any Latins in the Tijuana Brass (Alpert himself was Jewish), the band popularized Latin kitsch all over the world with tunes like "The Lonely Bull" and "Spanish Flea." Herb still holds a mighty record in the music biz: In 1966, he had five albums on the Billboard chart at once, four of them in the Top Ten at the same time. No one else has managed to do that since.
The Rat City Brass revives the spirit of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and covers many songs that they made famous. In fact, "The Third Man Theme" is one of the songs that appears on the album Going Places, Herb Alpert's fifth album, from 1965. I know, shame it wasn't his third album; it wasn't even the one with the naked girl covered in shaving cream on the cover. But the next time you see it at the thrift store, pick it up. It's the one with Herb on the cover in an antique airplane, a leggy lovely dressed as a maid perched nonchalantly on the wing looking adoringly at our hero. It's not only got "The Third Man Theme" on it, but it's also got "Tijuana Taxi" and "Spanish Flea" on it, in addition to another great movie theme, "Zorba the Greek."
"Rat City" by the way, refers to a suburb of Seattle called White Center that for some reason has this less-than-flattering nickname, although none of the explanations for it seem to involve actual rats. The place does have its own female roller derby league called the Rat City Rollergirls, and if that's not a recommendation, then I don't know what is. If you happen to be out in Seattle, be sure to catch the Rat City Brass not playing roller derby, but performing at one of their many upcoming shows in May and June. On the 21st, you can take a Tijuana taxi over to Easy Street Records for KEXP's "Hood to Hood" festival. The Rat City Brass will be there, and you can commit Herbicide right there in broad daylight. Olé!