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The pairing of Café Tacuba with Beck for a minitour this past spring was an eclectic-music lover's fantasy. Not exactly surprising, Tacuba loves Beck, and Beck loves Tacuba, and they both share a gleeful appreciation for—and incorporation of—all sounds poppy, folky, funky and, well, pretty much any other genre you can conjure up. Mexican culture emerges in both, if for different reasons: Beck experienced it while growing up in LA; Café Tacuba come from Mexico City.
Both acts have the visually artistic thing going on too, as their creative, image-intensive CD layouts suggest—Beck has his collage/performance art while Café Tacuba's four members met as graphic-design students. Gruff-voiced lead singer Rubén Albarrán is responsible for the band's booklet designs; he's a weird one, but in a playful way. Like a schoolboy prankster, he takes on a new name with each release, something that has been a source of obvious confusion for both fans and critics. He has emerged as Juan, Cosme, Anónimo, and, on last year's double-CD Revés/YoSoy(Backwards/ I Am), he assumed two odder identities, one for each disc: Nru and Amparo Tonto Medardo In Lak'ech.
Beck isn't the only artist inclined toward postmodern borrowing and sampling with whom Café Tacuba has hooked up. The quartet performed the bouncy huapango "Yolanda Niguas" with David Byrne on 1997's Red Hot + Latin: Silencio=Muerte, one of the cool compilations from the Red Hot AIDS Awareness Charity series. The Kronos Quartet, classical music's audacious string ensemble, performed with Café Tacuba on Revés/YoSoy's bittersweet "M.C."
Released last year, the track appears with 11 other instrumental and often electronic works on the Revésdisc, which was initially recorded as more of a group-therapy session than a real album. Their producer thought otherwise. He sent the songs to Warner Bros. Records, where officials asked for more marketable material —like maybe songs with lyrics. So the band put together YoSoyfrom songs they had been working on before their experimental foray. Despite initial interest, the release hasn't become the hit the label hoped for—hope based on the commercial success of Café Tacuba's previous album, Avalancha de Éxitos (1996), a spiced-up serving of Latin American covers. While Revésmakes for an interesting change of pace, YoSoydisappoints—none of the songs stands out as particularly memorable, and there just isn't as much of their usual variety packed into the songs.
Café Tacuba's best album is still 1994's Re, a disc so innovative and schizophrenic that David Byrne called it "The White Albumof the rock en espanol movement." The best-known song, "La Ingrata," won a Best Latin Video award from MTV in 1995. However, that spastic, tongue-in-cheek brass-banda tune doesn't really hint at the rest of the album's frenzied diversity—the funkadelic "El Ciclón" precedes the punked-out speed-metal parody of "El Borrego," which leads into the ballad "Esa Noche," which comes before the lighthearted, early Beatlesesque "24 Horas" . . . get the picture?
Formed in 1989, Café Tacuba began by aping alternative rock bands like the Cure and the Smiths, but they soon realized their best approach was not imitation but innovation and reaching into their own background. Living in cosmopolitan Mexico City, that meant not entirely abandoning modern rock but rather opening themselves to other influences (especially such traditional Mexican music as baladas, boleros, and rancheros). Energetic songs like the spooky, Madness-inspired "Rarotonga" have helped define them.
Their live performances are fully charged affairs. Jumping around like he has pogo sticks for legs, Albarrán leads a mix of old and new songs. The crowd at their last Sun Theatre show in November was mostly Latino, which isn't shocking, considering that every song the band sings is in Spanish. Still, with rock en espanolexposure on such radio stations as KCRW and gig pairings with equally broad-minded English-language acts, there's also a growing Anglo crowd.
Café Tacuba just finished playing this summer's second run of the Watcha Tour, a Latin American version of the Vans Warped Tour. Opening their Sun Theatre show is Molotov, another band from that tour—a sort of Mexican Rage Against the Machine who get down and dirty in both Spanish and English.
CAFÉ TACUBA PERFORM WITH MOLOTOV AT THE SUN THEATRE, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700. Tues., 8:30 p.m. $30.