July 9, 2016
Never before had a Mexican singer graced the stage of Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa as a headlining act, and ranchera legend Pepe Aguilar let them know what they'd been missing with an epic, history making concert! A white curtain, lighted in the colors of the Mexican flag, contrasted with the shadow of Aguilar, standing statuesque at 6'4" with sombrero in hand. Mariachi trumpets blared the opening melody of "100% Mexicano" to the raucous applause of the crowd whose makeup perfectly reflected the song title. Outfitted in a charro suit, Aguilar stood tall, exuding showmanship.
The singer belted through his extensive genre-crossing catalog of albums for more than two hours. He channeled Chente with "Aca Entre Nos," infused cumbia with "Con Otro Sabor," soft-rocked with "Mi Credo." The San Antonio-born Aguilar spoke to the crowd in Spanglish, threw T-shirts into the throngs of outstretched hands after wiping sweat from his brow with them, downed a shot of tequila in the middle of a song saying "Oh my gooness!" and swaggered across the stage crooning with confidence. The packed house at Segerstrom erupted in adoration-no doubt as loud as the venue has ever gotten-when Aguilar lent his warm vocals to songs like Chente's "Lastima Que Seas Ajena" backed by Mariachi Zacatecano.
It's an act inspired by lineage, with Aguilar being the son of legendary Mexican parents in song and film. Speaking in Spanish, Aguilar paid tribute to his father saying, "If there were 100 people like Antonio Aguilar, a lot of things would change," before performing one of his timeless classics. Just as Antonio trotted a young Pepe out to sing during shows, Pepe brought his own children to showcase their talents on stage. First came Leonardo Aguilar, a 16-year-old, who displayed his promising vocals with Joan Sebastian's "Te Ira Mejor Sin Mi" and even took on the tongue-twisting "El Barzón" with ease.
Pepe brought his 12-year-old daughter Angela Aguilar out next, chiming that she's a "mini me" of Flor Silvestre, her famed actress abuela, only more dramatic! Angela's impressive range delightfully resurrected Silvestre's and Antonio Aguilar's "La Chancla." All three joined in song afterward showing that the Aguilar musical tradition is one spanning three generations now. Pepe jokingly called the kids his "401 (k)," predicting a future managing their careers.
The singer returned to his own continuing legacy in the form of No lo habia dicho, Aguilar's just-released 27th studio album. He told the crowd that patience is the most difficult thing in life before launching into "Cuestion de Esperar," an offering from the new collection of songs. "La banda, Pepe!" one man yelled from the crowd, so as to underscore the whole point of impatience. Aguilar poured through more songs like "Miedo" before closing out with an energetic medley of Juan Gabriel's "Siempre en mi Mente" before switching into "Querida," hitting the high note so perfectly that he even surprised himself!
So what about that banda? The audience clamored for more, standing on their feet with chants of "Otra! "Otra!" Aguilar reemerged for an encore and brought his friends from Banda Azul Tequila. The brass brought down the house blasting two rancho-burners from the Aguilar canon: Antonio's "Cuatro Meses" and Pepe's "Son las Dos de la Mañana." Tuba, snare drum rolls, clarinets, trombones and high-pitched trumpets? Segerstrom Hall never heard anything like it before. It served to be the perfect way to end a history-making night and for Aguilar to take his final bow. He'll be back in 2017, provided ustedes spread the word about Mexican music now having a place at Segerstrom!
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About the only drawbacks to the espectaculo was the epilepsy-inducing stage lighting and the sloshed señora who kept blocking people's view by standing up from her seat—no fault to Pepe on both counts!
But my review of doesn't end there, however. I'd be remiss if I didn't write of my real reason for going to the show: giving thanks to his music for helping my family in a time of need. Back in December 2014, my Tía Graciela suffered a devastating stroke the day after Christmas. She fought to stay alive, only if largely unresponsive save for music, (her life's passion) especially Pepe Aguilar's songs that inspired the mariachera to raise her hand. I shared the story with a media relations friend of mine who had helped promote Aguilar's shoe line years back, hoping it would get back to the humble legend at the very least.
Despite Aguilar being on holiday vacation, he wrote a message to our family, moved at how his music helped provide moments of hope in difficult times. My cousins read the private note to my tía at her bedside in Maywood on New Year's Eve. She triumphantly raised her hand again. Aguilar's words came just in the nick of time, too. A few hours later on New Year's Day, my tía passed away.
And for your gesture of kindness, I raised my hand to you, Pepe Aguilar, from the Segerstrom crowd. Gracias.