There's something important that people need to learn: rock en español and Latin alternative music, though related, are two radically dissimilar categories. But wouldn't-know-better promoters frequently ignore this distinction and continue to create festivals such as the Watcha Tour and this Saturday's Tri Fest at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater that mash the styles together. The result? Chaos.
Hurled epithets—and beverages—between rockeros and their Latin-alternative adversaries are only the most civil outbursts of this seething schism. And such is the juicy scenario waiting to explode at Verizon, where Mexican rock dinosaurs El Tri will host their unwitting guests, band-of-the-new-millennium Ozomatli.
El Tri is rock en español primeval, rock en español before there even was the español. They were the first major Mexican rock group to sing in Spanish, starting way back in 1971, when they were known as Three Souls in My Mind. More than 30 years later, the quintet is still trudging along, somehow growing in popularity despite never evolving out of their trademark help-we're-trapped-in-the-Rolling-Stones-circa-1965 sound. In the past decade alone, El Tri has gone from selling out shows at JC Fandango to packing them in at the Santa Ana Bowl to their second consecutive standing-room-only show at Verizon.
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This popularity stems from the antics of lead singer Alex Lora, whose gleeful nose-thumbing (both literally and lyrically) at Mexico's upper classes has made him a wrinkled messiah to the Tri masses. Their fans are renowned in Southern California rockero lore for their Neolithic manners, fighting Tri detractors at a 1991 brawl at the Hollywood Palladium and booing Argentine icons Los Fabulosos Cadillacs upon their first U.S. appearance in 1989 (opening for El Tri). So why Ozomatli dares venture into this troglodytic environment is known only to their managers and God.
Ozo's irresistible combination of ska, cumbia, funk, rap and any rump-shaking tempo makes them one of Southern California's best bands. And their entrance and exit through the crowd—in the multitiered amphitheater, that alone will be worth the price of admission—guarantees Ozo a spot as one of the most kinetic live acts anywhere. More important, despite personnel changes, the music that provoked the massive police raid outside the 2000 Democratic National Convention is still there, in political tunes meant to inspire action along with shimmying. But I doubt that Ozo's shared sense of populism with El Tri will endear them to the rockeros, which will probably reward Ozo and their fans' combine-anything ethos with a rain of beer and boos.
But ultimately, good will come out of the fights that will begin the minute Ozomatli weaves its way through the massive venue and the overwhelmingly Tri audience gets restless. Let the bloody aftermath be a lesson for music executives who think that all Latinos listen to the same music. And let it be a warning to you; if you ever express such ignorant thoughts to this Latino, don't be surprised if your sense of enlightenment meets your face on its way to the ground. And I'm not even a Tri fan.
See the fight of the year at Tri-Fest 2002 between El Tri and Ozomatli fans at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 855-8096. Sat., 7 p.m. $30-$45. All ages.