The Hype: Two years ago, Guadalajara-born former telenovela star Ximena Sariñana released her full-length debut Mediocre on Warner, an album that drew comparisons to Nellie McKay and Norah Jones, notched both Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations and practically begged lazy music writers to scrawl "Mediocre is anything but." (Google if you dare.) Now working on a new record that should show up sometime next year, she's testing out material and reviving old faves on an 8-date US jaunt that started Sunday night at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa.
The Show: For someone who fancies himself a real fancypants music connoisseur, the kind of douchebag that flaunts his eclecticism by putting Eric B. and Rakim on the same playlist as Yeasayer and Demi Lovato, I've always had a hard time fully connecting with music that's not in English. The closest I normally come is the French verse on "Sunday Girl" by Blondie, and I only really grasp every fourth word or so (and that's after four years of high school French).
Not only does that realization unearth some disturbing potential unconscious xenophobic tendencies, it also doesn't make a lot of sense. I didn't really understand what Eddie Vedder was saying in "Jeremy" until I did it on karaoke a couple of months ago, and I've liked that song since elementary school. But with an artist as universally appealing as Ximena Sariñana, music is as it should be, undeniably enjoyable no matter what language it's in--which, as things happen, was English for about a third of the set.
Seated behind a red Nord keyboard, Sariñana received a superstar's welcome at the sold-out venue--the only LA-area date on the tour--with a glut of cameras hoisted high throughout nearly the entire performance. During her hour on stage, Sariñana started out solo, but was periodically joined by two additional players for the more trip-hoppy numbers, providing extra digital flair courtesy a synth and a laptop (Sariñana referred to her current gigs as the "independent, electric tour").
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Sariñana has made some overtures towards crossover success, including recording a duet with notably whitebread pop star Jason Mraz. It seems to be a natural fit, given her powerful voice--rather than showing off with vocal tricks, she seems to know exactly what notes to hit to truly affect a listener--and knack for writing emotionally charged yet pleasingly catchy tunes. But the biggest step, for better or worse, are likely her English songs--which she sang four of on Sunday night. Luckily, they were excellent, bouncing from Regina Spektor-esque playfulness in declaring "I am a ship in a bottle" to Fiona Apple-like severity, revealing, "I'm through with love, I'm through with giving, I'm through with never receiving," in a considerably more melancholy number. Her work as a film and TV actor makes her even more of a perfect fit for American audiences: think of her as like a Mexican Zooey Deschanel (much more positive than a south of the border Ashlee Simpson, not to besmirch the good work done on 7th Heaven).
It wasn't all new stuff, though, as Sariñana nailed the obligatory Mediocre tracks, including the title song, "Normal" and hit single "Vidas Paralelas"--all of which got the crowd singing. Sariñana, speaking in roughly the same two-thirds mix of Spanish and English as her set list, was friendly and chatty during the show; engaging even if it was basically impossible to see her beyond the first few rows of people while she was sitting down. She stuck around to greet her genuinely adoring fans after the show, rousing howls of delight simply by emerging from Detroit Bar's ersatz backstage area (in reality, the pool room).
LA-by-way-of-Mexico singer/songwriter Gustavo Galindo opened, and is set to support Sariñana throughout the tour. His vocals were reminiscent of Enrique Iglesias--and no, not just because it was a dude singing in Spanish. They actually really did sound quite similar. (Honest!)
Overheard: Plenty, thanks to a group of obnoxiously loud ladies packed right behind us that apparently felt challenged to compete with Sariñana's level of amplification. Their banter consisted of such salient commentary as "she has such a good voice," according to our translator--missing out on this banal exchange might be the sole benefit of monolingualism.