Back in 2009, I wrote in these pages that Apes of Wrath might be the “best band in San Diego.” It wasn't so much a righteous, declarative statement as it was a reaction to the local buzz the band was getting at the time.
Well, Apes of Wrath no longer exists, but most of the members now play under the name New Mexico. It seems almost anticlimactic to be writing this when, if you'd asked three years ago, I'd have said the band would be touring the nation by now and getting favorable write-ups in bigger publications. But that didn't happen, and, admittedly, I may have lost sight of what made them so special in the first place.
So, at the risk of sounding righteous and declarative, let me once again be blunt: New Mexico is still one of the best bands in San Diego. Period.
Last Friday night, I caught them opening for Gardens & Villa at The Casbah. Judging by the amount of bros in the audience, the headliners are well on their way to reaching the same audience as Jack Johnson. But that didn't stop me from enjoying New Mexico's set of mostly new songs.
What struck me the most is how well the songs were fleshed out in comparison with the postpunk and indie-rock fare of their first release as New Mexico, 2010's Have You Met My Friend?, and their material as Apes of Wrath. The band is still edgy and catchy, but new songs like “Winter Rentals,” “Blankets” and, especially, the set's closer, “Information,” are more expansive and nuanced.
Whether it's a sign of maturity or a direct influence of adding Roxy Jones' Peter Graves on keyboards and harmonies, the band I saw on Friday night was as thrilling as the first time I saw them perform years ago. Who cares if they haven't yet garnered national buzz? This new New Mexico is a band that's paid its dues and will get there in its own time.