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Some especially hostile rockerosawaited Bersuit Vergarabat at the Universal Amphitheatre when the Argentine group took the stage at last year's Watcha Tour. They had already booed Los Amigos Invisibles out of the room, hurled racial epithets at Kool Keith, and greeted nearly every act with chants of "¡Culeros!" ("Assholes!"). At the sight of Bersuit, clad in insane-asylum-escapee-style pajamas, the audience was licking its chops. Bersuit didn't look worried, however. To them, culero is just another way of saying, "Thank you!"
Front man Gustavo Cordera stormed into "La Bolsa" ("The Bag"), a scathing commentary on the rich made danceable by the song's combination of ska and cuartetazo (a dance rhythm from Argentina's rural provinces). And the crowd turned into the wildest mosh pit I've ever seen. The appreciative chaos was still going 30 minutes later when the band left the stage—and people were shouting, "¡Culeros!" the whole time, just the way Bersuit wanted it.
Evenings like this are common for Bersuit. And essential. The band must win fans with their anarchistic live shows because their music—usually suppressed in Argentina and ignored by poppy U.S. Spanish-music stations—rarely makes the radio. Bersuit's fans are affectionately known as psicópatas—psychopaths. As far as they are concerned, Bersuit is the band for the new millennium: with a message not necessarily of hope or hedonism, but just a desire to speak for all the shit (metaphorical and otherwise) in the world.
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The eight-member outfit started in 1988 by entering a national music contest with an ode to the female nipple—and was promptly disqualified by prudish judges. But from that censorious beginning, Bersuit committed themselves to telling the untold stories of personal—and political—sordidness, in the process antagonizing mainstream Latin America and (naturally) becoming a cult favorite with nations of seething kids. Case in point: the Argentine government nearly ran the band out of the country in the late 1990s for "Sr. Cobranzo" (Mr. Collector), a rap attack on then-President Carlos Menem that put his political corruption squarely in the spotlight. Despite suffocating government censorship, the song became a hit—and even got Bersuit their first exposure in the States.
Although harsh lyrics figure prominently in Bersuit's songs, the band balances its ire with compositions almost dizzying in their diversity: listening to a Bersuit song is like dissecting a big ol' slab of crap and trying to figure out what everything was before it got digested. Besides Cordera's lounge-y vocals, you'll find the usual rock en español carbohydrates—punk, ska and electronica. And you'll be able to dig out ragged little chunklets of all kinds of South American rhythms rarely heard in the United States: candombe, milongónand an especially haunting vocal form called murga native to Uruguay that sounds like a bunch of Benedictine monks wielding baseball bats and ready to kick some ass.
Maybe you still don't buy this whole Bersuit-as-shit shtick I'm squeezing out here. Maybe you even think I'm insulting them. But their most recent album—2001's Hijos del Culo—translates as "Sons of the Asshole," and it's dedicated to "the 70 percent of the Third World that has been born through the asshole—those who were shitted out." And if you still don't get the point, the art for the CD features a nice fat butt. And guess where the hole is?
Bersuit Vergarabat performs at JC Fandango, 1086 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 758-1057. Thurs., April 18, 9 p.m. $15. 18+.