Only in Aztlan

Only in Aztlán
The Hollywood Bowl
Sunday, Sept. 7

The Southern California music galaxy knows that KCRW-FM 89.9 Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt spins the most invigorating tracks outside of a five-watt college radio station, so the employer accolades he received at the opening of the Latin Roots and Rock Festival at the Hollywood Bowl were unnecessary and even kind of insulting. To a perplexed audience, a KCRW suit smugly announced that Harcourt had “done more to turn people on to this wondrous [Latin alternative] music than anyone else.” Yeah, tell that to the folks at LATV Live, JC Fandango owner Javier Castellanos, UC Riverside prof Josh Kun and a chingo más of people who've promoted the genre better and longer than the beanpole quasi-Brit.

Give Harcourt credit, however, for organizing the night's slate: Monterrey techno-tropical slinkers Kinky, rockero avatars Café Tacuba and East Los legends Los Lobos. Opening were Kinky, who were at first visibly overwhelmed by the immensity of the Bowl. “Hi, everyone, we are Kinky,” squeaked lead singer Gilberto Cerezo before stumbling through a technical-difficulties-plagued “Mirando de Lado” and “Soun tha mi Primer Amor.”

But Kinky soon coalesced into the sweat-provoking talent that Harcourt has rightfully promoted on his program for the past year. Best proof came midway through their performance, when Kinky tore into the track that should've been their opener, “Mas.” Canned gospel hums suddenly took cover from the booms of bassist César Pliego Villarreal (his thunks were so jarringly effective throughout the night that the Bowl people will probably call Villarreal when they tear down the venue's nautilus shell), and the band soon burned with the intensity of a Bunsen burner. Some portions of the set veered dangerously close to electroclash nonsense, but when the quintet incorporated Latin love into their repertoire—wheezy accordions on the James Brown-dances-with-Ramón Ayala “Cornman,” salsa-tinged keyboards and rat-tat-tat timbales throughout—Kinky verified their reputation as the closest musical approximation to liquid nitrogen.

Café Tacuba also started out lukewarm with their distorted keyboarder “Cero y Uno.” The greatest band in rockero seemed to realize this quickly, and acknowledged being overwhelmed by the bright lights in the big city.

“Faith is needed, because we can't see you out there!” announced lead singer Elfego Buendía to the crowd with his wondrous, helium-fueled electric-razor vox. He did notice, however, the enormous disparity in the almost-sold-out audience: los tacubas'hyperventilating adorers were way up in the nosebleed seats, while buffalo cheese-chomping socialites yawned from the plush box seats near the stage. “The people in the front are enjoying their nice dinner and show,” Buendía remarked snidely but sweetly. “But you rockeros in the back can dance!”

The polyester-dressed elf slowly receded to the rear of the stage after his bandmates blurted out the opening trumpet blasts of the psycho-ranchera “La Ingrata.” Buendía galloped to the mic stand with the closing speed of Secretariat. From there, Café Tacuba never rested. Buendía skipped, hopped, tiptoed and glided across the stage, the most melodious manifestation of human joy imaginable. This pied piper of Tenochtitlán rushed halfway up the cavernous Bowl during the '80s-chintzy “Chica Banda” to allow the hoi polloi to mob him silly. Tacuba's only slip-ups occurred when they slowed things down—”Eres” and “Tírate” are wonderful ballads, but tonight wasn't the night for romance. Still, they countered the droning duo with the yelping son“Ojalá que Llueva Café,” and their thumping tale of it's-my-first-time queer love, “El Baile y el Salón.” When Café Tacuba finished by doing their infamous Karate Kid-meets-Macarena line dance for “Déjate Caer,” even the Bowl bourgeoisie swished their wine glasses in approval.

Kinky and Café Tacuba's combustibility transformed the starting-to-get-chilly night into one of the finest concerts in years—then Los Lobos performed. Harcourt inadvertently revealed why the hometown heroes did not belong in the same hall with the previous bands when he introduced the veteranos as hailing from “East Los Angeles, Aztlán.” They're not Latin alternative. For starters, your true rockeros consider the blues that Los Lobos loves the domain of Mexico City's rock urbano nuts. But more importantly, Los Lobos are Chicanos—that is to say, American. As such, any Latin influence the group displayed in their jams on this night was filtered through a Chicano spectrum—too many salsa/cumbia fusions, a jovial jingoism polka-ed out on “El Corrido del Mexico-Americano,” and an acceptance of that Aztlán bullshit. All that was missing from Los Lobos' gig was a Morrissey cover.

But Los Lobos' actual playing? Magic. Their weeping waltz cover of the Vicente Fernández howler “Volver, Volver” had the audience swaying like drunken tapatíos, and the opening “Good Morning, Aztlán” rumbled like a '66 Impala stuttering through the Sinaloan desert. And the encore that combined “La Bamba” with the Rascals' “Good Lovin'”? Could happen only in Aztlán. That is to say, America.

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