The Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra
Wednesday, September 1
It’s tremendously cheering to see that people actually dance during Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra shows — unadulterated, mildly erotic, not at all ironic salsa dancing — even though the four-gig-old band’s repertoire of Animal Collective, Yeasayer, Japanther, TV on the Radio, and the like usually inspires nothing of the sort. (It’s hard to picture what ironic salsa dancing would even look like.) Even less coordinated Cameo Gallery patrons are inclined to find a partner, stand back-to-back, and rub their butts together, which is delightfully incongruous when the song playing at the time is, say, LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great.” Only in Williamsburg.
Standing backstage between sets tonight, bandleader/arranger/timbales expert Gianni Mano insists that he takes his fun very seriously — the notion of straight Latin big-band covers of indie-rock songs may seem funny, but this is not a joke. The WSO, ensconced at Cameo every first and third Wednesday of the month (plus a bonus gig Friday Sept. 10), is decked out with a full percussion detail, a four-man horn section, upright bass, electric piano, and the bombastic lead vocals of Argentinian frontwoman Solange Prat, who makes this all sound incredibly natural whether the tune in question is “L.E.S. Artistes” or “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken.” It’s almost disturbing how well Yeasayer’s “Ambling Alp” translates.
Mano, a “typical white suburban kid” who grew up riffing along to Rush, got the idea for this while listening to NPR and marveling at the songwriting chops of Animal Collective’s “My Girls” — it takes him between a week and a month to pull off a full-song transformation (current project: Fucked Up’s “Black Albino Bones.”) Arcade Fire’s “Keep the Car Running,” he explains, took a while because it initially came out too happy-sounding — he needed to darken it up. That tune, improbably, is the highlight, anthemic in a bizarre but somehow entirely believable way, Prat bellowing “When it’s coming!” over and over and over as the horns rage on. If only everything that shouldn’t really work worked this well. Mano recalls the feedback when he first put some of these tunes on YouTube: “I got a little bit of hate, of course: ‘This isn’t really salsa.’ ‘This isn’t indie-rock.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re right! It’s both!”
Personal Bias: I can’t dance for shit.
The Crowd: A pleasant mix of indie kids and salsa kids — the latter are relative newcomers, Mano notes, and extremely welcome ones.
Overheard: A great deal of Spanish.
Random Notebook Dump: Mano subscribes to the Howlin’ Wolf theory about live shows: Don’t drink too much before, buy everyone a drink after.