By Kat Bein
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By Liz Tracy
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The best way to tell if a song's got what it takes to be a hit is to see how quickly and indelibly it sticks in your head. A song doesn't need that annoying kind of stickiness found in pre-fab pop but rather the kind that makes you hum after the song has stopped. And such is the case with the standout track by local guys Rebel. A driving, dizzying trip of a tune that brings to mind maybe Muse after a long night out in Madchester, "Stampede" is not generally the kinda song one equates with sing-alongs. Still, it's got a hook that just won't let go.
Of course, before a song can truly be all that, it's got to be heard by more than the faithful who frequent the six-odd rock clubs in our neck of the nation. And therein lies the rub with Rebel and some of our other finer local rock acts: They're geographically strapped to a town with little pity for guys and gals with guitars.
If Rebel had come up in Leeds or Sheffield or Liverpool or some other midsized Northern England city and they mustered enough moxie to hit London, they'd undoubtedly end up like the Kaiser Chiefs or Arctic Monkeys. But doing what they do in a city such as ours means they're almost delegated to a scene constantly in search of itself. And that, perhaps above all else, makes Rebel's perseverance something to be reckoned with.
Rebel traces its roots back to the Dominican Republic, home country of singer/guitarist/keyboardist Migue Fernandez and bassist Carlos Jorge. The year was '99, and Rebel was the toast of its high school party circuit. Upon graduation, both Fernandez and Jorge relocated to the States, but the band was put on the back burner so the two could pursue some more schooling.
After graduating from MIU, Fernandez got the urge to re-form Rebel, this time for real. Jorge was game, and the two set out seeking like-minded musicians to flesh out the sound they envisioned. A succession of players paraded through four months of auditions, and with the addition of Javier Morales on guitar and keyboards and Carlos Sanchez on drums, Rebel had what they thought was the perfect lineup. For two years, the unit held, and in 2007, the band booked time in Powerplant Studio and commenced to putting it all to tape.
The result was Televisible, a six-song set that begins with rock en español ("Criminal") and ends on meaty emo ("Devil in Me"). It's an admirable EP, but it shows a band still somewhat in search of a signature sound. Actually, it also hints at a group whose members may have been at odds with one another.
And thus, by the time Televisible hit stores, the foursome was no more. Still, they managed to gig in support of the release, with the help of drummer Enrique Larreal. But the lineup turmoil also meant that Fernandez was no longer free to roam about the stage as a singer and instead got saddled strumming guitar and kicking in the occasional keyboard sequence. That's hardly the most opportune position for someone so free-spirited.
Before long, Larreal too would leave and Rebel would enlist the talents of a drummer known simply as A.J., but not before Morales briefly rejoined the band. That lineup played one show, at Tobacco Road, and Morales quit yet again. Nobody was surprised.
"The trouble was brewing for some time," says Fernandez, and the addition of A.J. was the final straw. "I believe more in the chemistry than the talent," he says. "I don't consider myself particularly talented. It might sound a little corny to say so, but I knew right away that this was it."
Still, A.J. entertains the idea of adding a designated keyboard player, and Fernandez would still love to find a guitarist so he can concentrate on the vocals. "But until we get someone with the same kind of magic," Fernandez says, "Rebel stands as it is."
And Rebel seems to stand anywhere there's a stage. In just about any given week, the band's got at least one show somewhere, be it at Tobacco Road (where they particularly "dig the history") or Churchill's (where they've "played so many times the soundman has [them] down pat"). And, clichés be damned, it's onstage that Rebel truly springs to life.
Take the passion with which Rebel delivers the aforementioned "Stampede." Fernandez, who never let a guitar keep him from leaping off the kick drum, lets loose the roar of a chorus as if every backroom was the arena he's destined to play. Mop-topped and adamant, one can't help thinking that he and his mates could very well open for Oasis should the latter reform. Failing that, they'll surely tour with Doves in no time.
Jorge, who holds down the low end like some Latin John Entwistle, actually says he sees Rebel trading headlining slots with Kasabian. And the determination with which he pumps blood into an anthem leaves one no choice but to agree. Then there's A.J., new to the band but old of soul, pounding out the war cry as if the bandmates have played together their entire lives.
So head on out and hear for yourself what brews beneath the surface. There's real talent lurking about; all you've gotta do is seek and ye shall find.