THE ELEPHANTE IN THE ROOM: “Call me on the phone,” sings Dante Elephante leader/romancer Ruben Zarate on the band’s newest single, “Call Me (On the Phone)” — so I did, to talk about the year ahead. In the song of funky vulnerability, Zarate sings, “It says, I have to be someone I’m not — so much stronger.”
This year, Dante Elephante is something new altogether. Boasting a fresh lineup flush with a horn section and some of the area’s best young musicians, the newly revived act plays at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Friday, March 2, at 8:30 p.m. It’s a star-studded night comprising some of the 805’s fellow great contemporary indie rockers: Clean Spill, Lvxe, and Made Up People. While many aspiring acts have come and gone through the aught-teen’s (or whatever you call the last decade), these polished acts have held out — and it’s our luck they’ve lasted.
This is set to be the biggest year yet for the S.B. band that has made a career of balancing clever rock hooks and Ronettes-level emotion, strength, and sensitivity. With its second (and strongest) album, Rare Attractions, poised for a 2018 release, an upcoming SXSW date in mid-March, and KjEE spins, things are shaping up for the band that formed at UCSB playing house parties.
This year, Austin’s Do512 deemed Dante Elephante one of SXSW’s best band names for 2018 (it’s fun to say, they said), and Zarate & Co. follow their Texas stop with an appearance at Boise, Idaho’s Treefort Music Fest. “SXSW, Treefort — these are some dreams of mine,” Zarate said. It’s been a gradually realized, often-challenging dream, as Zarate recalled the early days of knocking on the doors “of every bar on State Street, just a guy asking, ‘Can I play a show? Can I play a show?’”
More June gloom-er than beachgoer, Zarate eloquently and very catchily expresses his softer sensitivities: In “Call Me,” even the heartaches and heartbreaks can bring a smile. Dante Elephante’s newest video, which debuted mid-February on website Funny or Die, shows Zarate playing a split self: “It’s like one part of myself is coaching the other part how to be the life of the party.” With R&B-influenced, groovily wounded tunes, Dante Elephante plays with a few more scars, bigger songs — and a bigger mission, too.
Now, Zarate wants to help cultivate art in the city, and he’s teamed up with friend and resident bicycle expert Rafaell Rozendo to start a label: Last Resort Forever. The team has been seen around town spinning vinyl from Bobcat to Handlebar to Captain Fatty’s, with an eye to release homegrown, Santa Barbara records and art from fellow 805 creators. “I want to inspire others to start bands, to set up more galleries for their art — there’s a big missing scene,” he said. “Santa Barbara’s art scene is dedicated to an older generation that doesn’t care about young people and the next wave of artists in Santa Barbara, about UCSB kids or kids who just went to high school, about Latinx art.”
As this heavily armed nation faces the ever-fleeting nature of youth, Zarate’s charge to help issue in the new generation is an inspiring one. Having been through some growing pains himself, the SXSW-bound singer shows that with tenacity (and some good timing), younger dreams can blossom, that the “someone I’m not” can become the someone you always wanted to be.
K.D. LANG’S THE THING: Of course, the under-sung can often only sing thanks to the pioneering physical and cultural heartbeats of generations past, carrying that song baton along the human race. On Tuesday, March 6, at 8 p.m., the trailblazing Canadian singer/songwriter k.d. lang is set to play the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.), celebrating the anniversary of her album Ingénue. The multi-award-winning, perfectly pitched mezzo-soprano has helped wave the rainbow flag for many queer artists and continues the Canadian tradition of producing some of the world’s best solo artists, too. See her in an intimate setting and be immensely rewarded.