By: Jesse La Tour
While taking a bus from Fullerton to Santa Ana on our way to the Observatory, Josue, my guide into “rock en espanol,” gives me the lowdown on the band Molotov, from Mexico City. They began in the mid-'90s, a time of great social and cultural unrest in Mexico. The Zapatista Movement was underway in Chiapas, a new president from the conservative PRI party had taken power, Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Josue calls him “the worst president in Mexican history.” Given his policies of corruption and collusion with U.S. agribusiness, I tend to agree. Into the maelstrom of political and social problems, Molotov entered like a flaming bottle of tequila, and created songs like “Gimme the Power,” which spoke truth directly to power in the form of creative, funny, fearless music.
Molotov is not a “hardcore” or “punk” band, but their lyrics and attitude are as hardcore as anything I've heard. If I had to compare their sound and ethos to something (and any comparison is difficult), I would compare them to the Sandinista-era Clash.
Josue and I arrive super early to The Observatory. Within 15 minutes, I'm engaged in a soccer ball juggling ring with roadies and members of the band. There's a basketball hoop nearby and we invent a game which Tito (guitarist and vocalist of Molotov) calls “Aztec basketball.” I score a sweet header shot and everyone goes wild.
“That was magical,” Tito says.
The opening band, Vim Furor, sounds kind of like Muse except, of course, in Spanish. I want to take a moment to emphasize how utterly frustrating it is to listen to really passionate music in a language you don't understand. Note to self: Learn Spanish, you monolingual American guero.
Between sets, I step out to the smoking patio for a smoke and notice an unusually large number of white hipsters. I think, wow, is this rock en espanol thing finally crossing over? But then I see why they are here. In one of the strangest musical pairings I've ever seen, the band Sebadoh is playing in the smaller “Constellation Room.” I remember Sebadoh from my indie/emo days in college. I pop in for a few songs and watch a largely white audience doing the “too cool for school” sway. I think to myself, Sebadoh is okay, but I'm much more interested in Sangre, the Latino metal/thrash band taking the main stage.
Before the show, I had a long conversation with Henry, the lead singer of Sangre, about his family, the stress of touring, even his recent health problems. He's this really kind, conscientious guy. And then he takes the stage and transforms into this angry Latino demon, screaming in ways that sound almost inhuman. When Henry screams, “This song is about believing in your dreams, and I say 'Fuck you' to anyone who doesn't believe in them,” I become a fan of Sangre.
When Molotov takes the stage, the excitement in the crowd is unlike anything I've ever experienced at a concert. My generation (Gen-X) and my demographic (hipster) tend to approach concerts, even amazing concerts, with a cavalier attitude like, “Yeah, this is good, but don't expect me to SHOW that I like it.” The Molotov crowd have no such hang-ups. They express their utter elation about seeing and hearing this band loudly and passionately.
The audience sings along to the lyrics unabashedly, unironically, like this band is actually, truly, saying something meaningful that connects to their actual lives. Fists are pumping, cell phones are illuminated everywhere, recording these moments, sending them far and wide. Again, I feel frustrated because I don't speak Spanish, but at some deep-down level, I get it. I know this is important, I feel it, and while I can't articulate exactly what the band is singing, I know it matters. It matters to these hundreds of people, and it somehow matters to me too.
When they play their famous song “Frijolero,” it feels like every soul in the building is singing along. It strikes me as particularly meaningful that this song, one of the most poignantly anti-racist songs of our time, was written by Randy Ebright, the only white guy in Molotov. This, somehow, gives me hope that even this review of a rock en espanol show, written by a guero, might resonate with someone who is not a part of my demographic.