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Merry Go Down Moves Closer to the Brass Ring

Lots of groups converge on Los Angeles in search of the Holy Grail of a record deal. But fans of the popular and critically lauded San Diego band Merry Go Down might find it especially appropriate that the quintet has relocated not to Hollywood, but to a building in East Los Angeles that once housed a Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery.

“Industrial madness” is how songwriter-guitarist-vocalist Marcelo (Lippi Man) Radulovich laughingly described the ambience of the band’s communal digs in a phone interview Monday. “There are a lot of artists and other interesting people around here, which makes it a pretty cool place to live.”

The Chile-born, Costa Rica-raised Radulovich was a mainstay in the local band Playground Slap before helming Merry Go Down, whose other members include keyboardist Daniel Pritchard, drummer Steve (Ammonia D) Espinosa, guitarist Frank (Nice Guy) Gaeta and bassist Pete (Poppyseed) Johnston.

The quintet began gigging locally last October and immediately generated a loud buzz on the San Diego scene with a highly entertaining live show that stirred the band’s Molotov cocktail of street funk, low-rider rock, techno-pop, Mothers-ish mayhem and digitally sampled snippets of cultural bric-a-brac (such as slices of dialogue from the Spike Lee film “Do the Right Thing”).

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A month and a half after making the big move north, the members of Merry Go Down are maintaining their sense of humor, even as some record company types are taking them a little more seriously. According to Radulovich, the band’s six-song cassette, “Try It,” has aroused the interest of “two or three” labels.

“We’ve signed with a management company, so we have someone out there representing us,” he said. “There are signs that something could happen fairly soon. And we haven’t even played any shows up here yet.”

One obstacle to live performance has been the fractured finger that Gaeta sustained in a recent altercation. “This guy next door thought we were making too much noise, and he and Frank got into a confrontation that got out of hand,” Radulovich said. “But it’s been healing pretty well, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Perhaps most encouraging to Radulovich is the fact that Merry Go Down is improving in ways that are important to record execs.

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“Our sound is getting better,” he said. “The more we rehearse, and the more we work on new material, the better defined our sound becomes. We’re getting closer to duplicating our live sound in the studio, which could be a factor in our getting a deal.”

In the meantime, Merry Go Down is making ends meet via another creative talent of Radulovich, who holds an arts degree from San Diego State University. “We’ve been selling my paintings and hand-painted clothing,” he said. “There’s actually been more interest in my art up here than there was down there. I guess San Diego isn’t much of an arts city.”

But the band hasn’t turned its back on San Diego altogether. It will be back in town Sunday to open for Dread Zeppelin at the Bacchanal.

It was 26 years ago today . . .

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The Beatles played their one and only San Diego concert on this date in 1965. KCBQ, which then was the city’s leading rock radio station, proclaimed Saturday, Aug. 28 “Beatles Day,” and it seemed as though most of the area’s energy was focused on the event scheduled for that night at now-torn-down Balboa Stadium.

With 18,000 fans on hand, the Beatles made their entrance in an armored car. Two lines of police formed a protective corridor through which the band ran to the stage, which was set up at about the 20-yard line of the “open” end of the two-tiered, horseshoe-shaped stadium, which sat where City College now is. From that vantage point, the Beatles looked out onto a huge expanse of unoccupied field.

Local musician Randy Hoffman provided this eyewitness account in a phone conversation Monday.

“There was a chain-link fence surrounding the track, between the seats and the playing field, but it was only about 3 feet high,” Hoffman recalled. “It didn’t take long for people to start jumping over it and making a mad dash toward the stage. At any time, there were at least 50 kids being chased around the lawn by uniformed police. The whole concert lasted about 35 minutes.”

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Hoffman also disputed one of the most aggressively disseminated rumors at the time. To prevent fans from laying siege to local hotels and other businesses, it was repeatedly announced on KCBQ and elsewhere that the Beatles would not be staying in San Diego, but would head for the airport immediately after the concert.

“A friend’s uncle worked at the El Cortez Hotel at the time,” Hoffman said. “He told us that the Beatles went straight from Balboa Stadium to the parking garage of the El Cortez, then took a freight elevator to their rooms. Apparently, most of the staff didn’t even know they were there, and they left quietly the next day before word could get out.”

The cost of a ticket to see the greatest band in pop history: $5.

GRACE NOTES: Tonight’s concert at the Bacchanal featuring Sheila E. and her dad, Pete Escovedo, has been canceled, due to an impasse between the headliner and the booking agent over terms. Ticket refunds can be obtained at point of purchase. . . .

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Bordertown, the North County band that took first place in the “Best Contemporary” category of the recent San Diego Music Awards, will play Elario’s on consecutive Wednesdays, Sept. 4 and 11. . . .

Coming to the Winston School in Del Mar next month as part of the San Diego Folk Heritage series: multi-instrumentalist Carla Sciaky on Sept. 14 and Aileen and Elkin Thomas on Sept. 28. . . .

Tickets are on sale for Ziggy Marley’s Sept. 21 concert at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theatre. Queen Latifah and Crystal Waters open.

CRITIC’S CHOICE

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DULCIMER MASTERS TO MAKE SWEET MUSIC

If you’ve never heard a hammer dulcimer, you’ve been missing one of the great delicacies available to the human ear. When played with light, wooden “mallets,” the trapezoidal string instrument produces an exquisite, light tone unlike any other.

On Friday, the area’s finest hammer dulcimer players--among them, Judy Carlstrom, Livy Delafield, Michael Greiner and the Multi-Hand Hammer Band--will convene at Choices restaurant for “Hammer Dulcimer Night.” The evening’s repertoire, which was selected to showcase the instrument’s versatility, includes Celtic, American, Eastern European, classical and contemporary music. Admission is $4.50 and doors open at 7 p.m.

Choices is at 10820 N. Torrey Pines Road. From Interstate 5, exit west on Genesee to North Torrey Pines Road, go north to Science Park Road, make a U-turn and turn right into the second driveway, just past the Sheraton Hotel. The restaurant is in the Shiley Sports Center.

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