There’s value in being an infamous band. Not every group wins over fans at Fountain Square or during a mainstage performance at Midpoint Music Festival. Some groups thrive on hushed whispers, slack-jawed stares, and incredible acts of Rock & Roll debauchery that have to be seen and seen again to be believed. Banderas was one of those bands. Since disbanding in 2012, Cincinnati has felt the void of the band’s absence and the mark it made on local Rock music. This Saturday at Southgate House Revival as a part of this year’s Ironfest celebration, Banderas is coming back for one more performance and all signs are pointing to this being a worthy cap on the group’s legacy.
I remember seeing Banderas for the first time at Northern Kentucky club The Mad Hatter for a Halloween performance. I had heard of the band, but was attending the show for the other acts on the bill. Banderas took the stage dressed as the Justice League and proceeded to work the crowd into an absolute frenzy with a bombastic mix of Sleaze Rock, Metal and electronics. The members’ costumes weren’t exactly the highest of quality, so the crowd quite often saw all (and I do mean “all”) of Banderas. It was a shocking experience to my 19-year-old sensibilities but, nonetheless, the music had its hooks in me, and they were in deep.
Banderas songs are like an auditory shot of Jameson: after just a few, you’re guaranteed to be singing, dancing and making bad decisions. Vocalist Jeremy Harrison, guitarists Jesse Ramsey and Chris Harrison, bassist Kevin McNair, drummer Jason Ramsey and keyboard player/hype man Todd McHenry somehow managed to find a way to write songs filled with dirty, sexy rhythms in one section, hard-driving, aggressive leads in another and creepy, off-kilter atmospherics in yet another. Not only that, but the guys were able to take all of their disparate elements and wrap them up into a package that connected with fans of all kinds. Metalheads rubbed elbows with rockers who were standing next to fans experiencing Banderas for the first time who were surrounded by punks and Honky Tonk stalwarts (Banderas once toured with Cincy rootsy Rockabilly/Honky Tonk band Rumble Club and actually closed several dates on the tour; the group kept a tour diary for CityBeat along the way). Every crowd was a mix of lifestyles, but when Banderas played, debauchery and dancing brought everyone together.
Truly, Banderas thrived in a live setting and you never knew exactly what you’d be walking into when the first notes rolled out of the stacks. Each member brought their own flavor to the proceedings, whether it was Jesse’s guitar-god solos, Todd’s keyboard gymnastics or Jeremy’s Mick Jagger-meets-G.G. Allin presence, there was always something onstage to watch, making for a live presence that other bands simply can’t even attempt to replicate. This aura came offstage too; when the Banderas guys were out on the town, people picked up on it. Bars got a little bit rowdier, tabs got a little bit longer and clothing was generally less prevalent. The band was true Rock & Roll royalty.
Through all of the swagger, the music never suffered. The guys played so often and for so long that their shows were always tight. There were missed cues from time to time; pouring a beer down ones pants and drinking it out of your boot can make it hard to meet a mark for anyone. But overall the performances were just as impactful for the sober people in the back of the room as they were for the drunks up front. In fact, I remember the band frequently coming back to the Banderas Mansion — a tri-level house in Clifton that several members lived in at one time or another — after a show and dissecting each part of the performance while an after-party raged around them. And I frequently had to remind them that no one in the crowd cared about a member being a half-beat off time because of everything else that was brought to the table.
Many current bands in town name Banderas as a direct inspiration for either the music or live performances. While active, Banderas was, in many ways, the center of Cincinnati’s Rock scene, and the group worked actively to foster the bands around them. In fact, many local acts who are still active today have direct ties to Banderas, through either playing with the band, receiving advice from the members or, in the case of Honeyspiders and Casino Warrior (both also on the bill at this weekend’s Ironfest), having former members in them. While the band has not been around for four years (an eternity in local music time) their legacy is still alive and well through the bands who helped carry on the Rock & Roll tradition in the intermediary years.
Now that Banderas is returning for one night, we as fans have been given the chance to see the insanity one last time. But we get to see a Banderas that’s grown up and evolved. Since 2012, members have become fathers, husbands and successful in any number of personal ventures. They’ve has aged, but just by talking to the members, the fire is still burning bright. The band is ready to once again take the stage and rip through a set of songs that are near and dear to many people’s hearts. For fans, there’s a familiarity in not knowing just what Banderas will pull out of their hats and skinny jeans. All we know is there will be another memory made, another story to tell in a hushed tone, another double-take, another unbelievable moment. It is for this reason that Banderas’ reunion is so meaningful to so many people.
Click below to go to the Baderas Bandcamp site for a free download of the group's stellar 2008 album, Beast Sounds and Parlour Tricks.