At first glance, the white-teed lead singer, grunged-out bassist and drummer with, let's face it, a girl's haircut, might cast doubts for the first-time onlooker that Watch Out! might just be another bunch of misfits with guitars and drumsticks.
But after a song or two, the players make it clear that their uncostumed appearance goes hand-in-hand with their pièce de résistance: fresh originality.
The three-man band's sound emerges from the Santiago smog as if it were stage haze, bringing with it a swirl of influences from '60s garage bands to Chuck Berry to good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll. As the crowd-pleasing style seamlessly swims between oriental-chord riffs, Elvis twangs and early '90s funk, 19-year old lead guitarist-keyboardist-vocalist and all-around frontman Martin Kaulen's stage presence gets the crowd hopping like Mexican jumping beans.
The onlooking masses, full of tight-panted, Converse-sporting, leather jacket-wearing indie punks with decades-late hairdos, let loose from the band's first chord to the last. Everyone in the room goes wild, in fact, except bassist Gonzalo Cornejo, 20, whose grunge locks hide his facial expressions and leave him a bit of a mystery. But, given the limelight, even Cornejo hypes the crowd when he and Kaulen switch roles three or four times a show.
Every song, each with its own unique beat, offers a different way to pack in young and innocent energy, a bit like The Beatles between the lovey-dovey and acid-trip phases. Kaulen hops between his two guitars and keyboard without skipping a beat, playing melodies clearly provoked by The Doors and other rock legends of that era. The light, bouncy rhythms might make for ideal indie dance club music, but playful rhythm and syncopation experiments, along with creative lyric-to-improv transitions, prove that the band knows more than just feel-good cadences.
"We've always had that dream of rock 'n' roll," said Cornejo, who picked up the bass when he was 11 and never put it back down.
The guys, all St. George's College liberal arts undergrads, have been friends since they were tikes in sixth grade and picked up their respective musical trades along the way. Though they've only been playing together since November 2007, their long history of camaraderie--and of trying to get chicks together, says Cornejo--landed them on the same musical and stylistic wavelength.
Citing music influences like psychedelic rock, blues, jazz and garage punk and writers like poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist Jack Kerouac, the musicians say they only sing English lyrics (albeit incomprehensible due to the overpowering instrumentals) because it's the only way to capture the rock 'n' roll spirit.
"Can you play cumbia in English? No, you can't," Kaulen opined, also mentioning his fancy for English phonetics. "And you can't play rock in Spanish."
"You can say more with less in English," Cornejo added.
Although the trio's style sounds more reminiscent of the Los Angeles indie punk-rock scene, Watch Out! has set its sights on diving into New York's music shark pond in January 2009. Like the many hopefuls before them, the musicians' look, charm and talent will likely attract many Williamsburg and Lower East Side hipsters, much like their current Chilean followers. They will also undoubtedly discover that while New York harbors a make or break music scene, the fight is half the fun.
Vayan con Dios, boys.