Photo by James BunoanMARIBEL GUARDIA/BANDA EL RECODO/VICENTE FERNÁNDEZ
SUNDAY, MAY 25
"An 800-pound gorilla does whatever he wants," goes the cliché, but this hypothesis doesn't apply to reality. Just ask El Califas, an at-least-400-pound hunk of humanity who waddled outside the Pond trying vainly to score tickets for the night's Banda El Recodo and Vicente Fernández mega-concert. A K-list movie star in Mexico, the rotund Redford figured dressing in an all-black cowboy suit—with "El Califas" stitched in cheap silver fabric across his expansive back—and sporting a belt buckle the size of a shovel would garner a free pass. But even sartorial splendor didn't convince Pond security to let him in.
No one could score free tickets this night, not even a fat guy who danced a jig on request like El Califas. This was the first time that El Recodo and Fernández—two artists who virtually created their respective genres—ever shared the stage, the premier concert of this young Mexican music millennium.
So what did the organizers of the event do? Nearly ruin it. The pre-show banter between various KSCA-FM 101.9 on-air personalities greatly infuriated the crowd, and opening act Maribel Guardia drove the near-capacity audience toward the Corona bottle. A stunning dope of an actress whose only talent is revealing as much of her Himalayan breasts as is legally permissible, Guardia was in fine form that night, wearing an outfit probably obtained at a Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders clearance sale and gyrating like a samba honey come Carnaval. The dancing was intrinsically fine, but shockingly inappropriate considering she was bouncing to mournful rancheragems like "Tristes Recuerdos." Then again: those shining breasts!
Following Guardia came "the mother of all bandas," El Recodo. Their self-given moniker doesn't sound as ostentatious when you realize El Recodo created modern banda and have been blaring away for 65 fookin' years. Emcee Renán "El Cucuy" Almendárez shared some of this history while introducing the group, but didn't mention that longtime leader Germán Lizárraga, son of El Recodo founder Don Cruz Lizárraga, quit the band last year, citing the current band's deviance from his father's founding principles.
El Recodo still haven't recovered from this loss. Sure, the 17-member brass band was at its DNA-reconstituting best, high-stepping in unison while filling the arena with banda's Mexanized blurps of Bavaria—the clarinetists, in particular, trebled like four Benny Goodmans. But El Recodo's two lead singers continue to chatter like annoyed chipmunks, and their lame attempts at reggaetón and quebradita made the institution seem like a sacked Iraqi museum.
El Recodo concluded their set with "Mi Gusto Es," with a grinning Fernández appearing halfway through in a magnificent baby-blue charro outfit, pistol tucked securely in his holster. The crowd stopped their drinking and let out yelps that surprised even Fernández—then began drinking again.
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Rumors of Chente's demise are greatly exaggerated. Sure, he's tubbier than in his bare-chested heyday, and that jet-black hair now contains muchogray. But Chente still possesses a larynx so testoster-rific, it reduced every man in the Pond to a weeping wuss. "It's been five months since I've performed," Chente remarked, a reference to the time off he had to take to negotiate the release of his kidnapped son. "It ached not to hear this applause."
Fueled by the borracho crowd, Chente sang as if the fortunes of the Mexican nation depended on it. He blasted through all his hits—"Entre el Amor y Yo," "Hoy Platiqué con mi Gallo" and "Botas de Charro," to name the most boastful—while audience members walked up to the stage to shake his hand. Chente shouted out constant references to his home state of Jalisco; the crowd, teeming with tapatíos,cheered in approval. Then Chente got to the hallmark of all his concerts: getting blotto live!
Chente magically produced a tequila bottle, and off he drank. Stagehands offered him water as a replacement, only to have Chente violently push them away. He started serving himself shots and slurred through songs of drunken lament; at one point Chente sat down, put his arms on a table, and genuinely began bawling. "I'm not crying, güeyes," Chente roared as he crooned the José Alfredo Jiménez bar burner "Tu Recuerdo y Yo." "My eyes are sweating!"
But this was not the finest moment of the evening; that honor goes to El Califas. After a kindly member of the press handed him an extra pass, El Califas thanked the Samaritan by spinning his Stetson on his finger, throwing it into the air, and letting it land on his head. Now that'sentertainment!