Love in the Time of Kinky

Photo Chick, Primeval Basses, and the Most Buzzed-About Latin Alternative Band in America

It's been a little over a year since I saw the Mexican quintet Kinky warm up a chilly November night at the Coach House, yet I relive the show every time I think about the pleasure, disappointment and beauty that is love.

Another woman had dumped me a week before that show late last year, and I attended it only at the insistence of a platonic-but-should-be-more friend. A repressed Catholic like me, she swore that Kinky would enliven my heart and—more importantly for everyone in my universe—eradicate my Baltimore Catechism-reinforced reluctance to experience worldly pleasure.

I entered the Coach House bundled in my jacket and my skepticism. Sure, Kinky's eponymous 2002 debut had wowed me with its Latin love and electronic playfulness—delicious accordion solos, the mariachi strut of "Soun tha Primer Amor," and wonderful Brazilian derivatives like "Sambita" and "Sol (Batucada)" that sounded like bossa nova gone Kraftwerk. And the mainstream buzz around the quintet that's made them the most celebrated Latino music act in the United States since Ricky Ricardo had already begun—KCRW trend-maker Morning Becomes Eclectic was spinning Kinky so much you figured someone had placed a pistol against Nic Harcourt's temple.

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House of Blues Anaheim

1530 S. Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, CA 92802

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Anaheim

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But propriety had always governed my body, and cynicism my heart. I expected nothing would change either.

There were maybe 150 of us that night, including one goofy gal who insisted on taking my picture—let's call her Photo Chick. An opening act bored the crowd greatly. Not even alcohol could speed me through my romantic doldrums. Then Kinky descended the Coach House's stairs and strapped on their instruments, and the following hour and a half brought us as close to an orgy as you can get and still keep your clothes on.

From tinny speakers swirled holy gospel hums—this was the opening choir to "Más"—that soon melded into a bass line that might've boomed at Creation. Kinky had conjured up the incendiary presence of Apollo Theater-era James Brown and the improvisational sexiness of jazz and tropical music, unleashing one of the most libertine performances allowed by law. The crowd convulsed. It was dance music that grew more frenetic with each second, heavy with César Pliego's primeval bass plunks and the guitar wisps of lead vocalist Gilberto Cerezo, who ran across the stage like the sexiest elf alive. And though I'm a breeder, fuck if I didn't catch myself checking out each fashion-spread-handsome member. Pliego, puffing away at a cigarette while wearing a black tejana that hid his eyes just so, emoted the smoldering sexuality of a young Brando while wielding his bass like the largest penis since Johnny Wadd's.

And then it happened—I lived.

I'm reminded of Allen Ginsberg's "Thoughts on Hearing the Beatles for the First Time," in which he confessed to "dancing in public for the first time in my life—complete delight and abandon, no self-conscious wallflower anxiety" (the song was "I Want to Hold Your Hand"). That was me. I danced. I sweated. I felt. I finally dissolved into the Void. And I fell in love: Photo Chick became the flashbulb of my heart.

As 2002 passed into 2003, we accompanied Kinky as they graduated from grimy venues like the Coach House to mid-level venues like the House of Blues and then, last September, to a coronation at the Hollywood Bowl. Más y más well-groomed beauties of all races and genders joined us in gyrating and sweating to their music. Life held potential again.

And then life ended.

Kinky was in Hollywood last October at a private show to promote their sophomore effort, Atlas. They were terrible. While the new music was still grandly addicting, it proved ultimately as substantial as Thalia. The Atlas songs were awash in distorted keyboards programmed over and over until they assumed all the spontaneity of a jukebox, at once free-flowing and insipid. Latin rhythms were now mere sidebars—only some stray percussion and an accordion tickled maybe three times gave any indication that Kinky's members were Latin American. Most aggrieving was the use of English for half of Atlas's songs, a decision that would've gotten Kinky exiled from Mexico a decade ago, but which now produced a shrug and an ass-shake from fans.

There were a few moments of the old rollicking anarchy of Kinky's earlier live performances: the hard-rock quebradita "Snapshot"; the quirky mambo-keyboard wack-out "The Headphonist." Meanwhile, Kinky's first take on political commentary, "Presidente," worked: chattering drums and electroclash guitars whirled around a husky chorus: "A bus spits out smog/A plague of people calls for a rally/The ambulance asks what is its mission—to kill the person that might live or resuscitate him." Cerezo's constant entreaty, "What color is our president—green, white or red?" sounded goofy, but was a sly reference to the founding myth of the Mexican flag that every Mexican child knows—red for violence, white for peace, and green for development. It was a lyrical fuck-you toward the ineffectual administration of Mexico's cowboy-in-chief, Vicente Fox, and the Mexican state's indoctrination of its youth, as clever an assault as any lyric could state.

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