Sunday, August 26
Better than: Spending a night with anything else that’s 23 years old.
Dance is a vital part of Café Tacvba’s ethos. A vast number of the Mexican rock legends’ songs reference the act, while almost all of them encourage it. Hell, the band’s best song (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) and surprising set opener has it in the title. Last night’s two-hour set at Irving Plaza kicked off with a beautiful rendition of that song, “El Baile Y El Salon” (“The Dance and the Ballroom”). From the first notes (“ba ba du ba ba, eu euuuu”), the band hit all the peaks that are prevalent in their catalog, getting the sold-out and enthusiastic crowd moving, first in sync and then in what can best be described as chaotic flailing. Throughout it all, the band (which wrapped up its U.S. tour at this show) was full of smiles and fist pumps. It was hard to figure out who was more excited to be sweating on top of complete strangers.
As is important for any successful dance party, the setlist was pitch-perfect. Starting with the aforementioned “El Baile Y El Salon,” the setlist included six songs from the 1994 masterpiece Ré. “Las Flores” (“The Flowers”) brought starry-eyed romance clashing with a folk-punk aesthetic that picked up even more speed in a live setting. Moshing to lyrics like “I would look into your eyes as if they were the last in this country” is jarring, to say the least, but it was done with good intentions. Perhaps that’s the most impressive part of Café Tacvba’s music and, especially, their live show: they manage to blend genres at will, all the while keeping a sense of thematic consistency that has been evident since their self-titled debut.
Speaking of that debut, their ode to ’90s female punk rock outfits “La Chica Banda” (“The Girl Band”) roused the most choreographed mosh that I have been lucky enough to witness; it was a mix of square dancing and skanking. Other highlights from the pre-encore set were the frankly insane “El Fin De La Infancia” (“Childhood’s End,” and yes it’s named after the Arthur C. Clarke book), which parodies brass-led music from Mexico while name-dropping New York, and a track in the middle that seemed to recall both Led Zeppelin’s caterwauling chorus from “Immigrant Song” and Metallica’s machine-gun drums from “One.” All the while, the four members (plus their live drummer) had the best backing vocals possible: a mass of people, shouting as one, throwing their fists in the air and occasionally into each other.
Brothers Enrique “Quique” Rangel and Jose Alfredo “Joselo” Rangel dominated the bass and guitar, respectively, bringing a backbone of rhythm to what could have spiraled out of control with chaos. Drummer Luis “El Children” Ledezma stuck to the background, providing a necessary sense of structure. Why’s that, you ask? The two main singers in the band are wild cards in their own ways. Emmanuel “Meme” del Real is a jack of all trades, switching between backup vocals, lead vocals on a couple of songs, synths, and acoustic guitar, all the while looking like he’s the coolest person in the venue (he might have been).
The star of the show, however, was lead singer Ruben Albarran, a.k.a. Juan a.k.a. Cosme a.k.a. whatever he’s calling himself now (he switches aliases for every album and tour). A diminutive ball of energy, he’s one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock, Mexican or otherwise. Looking like a cross between Colombian soccer legend Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama and Kirk Hammett, he was bouncing and dancing and screaming his love away, pausing only to remind everyone that we are all brothers and to treat each other with respect. His banter may be a bit political in nature, but it (and his shirt showing his disapproval of the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon) was well-received by the crowd of mostly Mexican ex-pats. At one point, Albarran donned a beanie-mask (you can see it in the photo above) that was reminiscent of what would happen if Majora’s Mask made streetwear. It was enthralling to see the smallest band member command so much of the attention, but he’s had 20-plus years of practice in grabbing your eyes and never letting go.
When the band went off stage for its break, the crowd did something unexpected for such a physically demanding show: they did not rest. A chant of “Ole Ole Ole, Café! Café!” broke up with choreographed jumping, lasting for entirely too long until their heroes came back for what ended up being a seven-song encore. Starting with a new song, “De Este Lado Del Camino” (“From This Side Of The Path”), and tearing into other classics, it was as if the band knew that adrenaline was as high as it had been the whole night. Wading through some slower songs to give a breather, including the breathtaking “Esa Noche” (“That Night”), legs were allowed to recuperate before the three-song burst of energy that wrapped up the show. “Eo” started as if out of nowhere, just like on record, before leading into what passes for a self-titled track: “Bar Tacvba,” extended here in order to provide fans the opportunity to finish sweating out every liquid they had in their bodies. Then it was time for traditional set-closer and the last true song from Ré, “El Puñal Y El Corazon” (“The Dagger and the Heart”). Aside from a minor scuffle in the crowd that required Albarran to tell people to “stop beating the shit out of each other for a bit,” the song was a perfect ending, right up to and including the choreographed spaz-out dance finale from the four Tacvbos. The lights came on, the band took a bow, and everyone filed out, each with their own story of their favorite song or moment. If you can believe it, everyone was all smiles.
Critical bias: One of my first musical memories is listening to Ré on cassette.
Overheard: Every Spanish-language curse word I know, plus a few new ones.
Random Notebook Dump: If they had played their speed metal parody, “El Borrego,” we might have all died.
Random Notebook Dump II: Meme looks like he could be Dave Grohl’s long-lost Mexican cousin.