Monday, November 3, 2008

Musica Mexicana en Falls Church, Virginia

I knew it was going to be a good show at the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia, last night from the second that we walked in the door. I'm used to rock 'n' roll shows in New York where crowd members stand still with slouching postures and slightly cocked heads, acknowledging the presence of a band playing music through the direction of their eyes but rarely with any real movement -- perhaps a tap of the foot at some point. Inside of the State Theatre, people were dancing (some of them rather elaborately) and jumping up and down and throwing their hands in the air and clapping loudly at the end of songs -- and this was only the pre-show house music coming through the PA.

When the main attraction -- and the only attraction, since there was no opening act -- took the stage, the pre-show fun turned into fervor. This crowd -- ranging from those just making the 18-and-over cut-off to a good number of thirtysomethings -- was here to show its love and respect for Mexican rockers Café Tacuba. It was one of those shows where the crowd sings along with more songs than not, screams within the first bar of a song, jumps up-and-down with hands in the air and grooves along as one organic whole.

I knew pretty much zero about this band before going to see them. My first and lasting impressions was how delightfully derivative they are. The Who was clearly a big influence with direct rips from "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," and one song -- "Chilanga Banda," I believe -- that had a Lou Reed "Walk on the Wild Side" kind of thing going on, as lead singer Rubén Isaac Albarrán Ortega (whose name apparently changes for every new album and new world tour) riffed in Mexican slang over a two-note bass line with a slight rise in the chorus. And then Thomas Dolby kept coming to mind -- "She Blinded Me with Science," remember? -- both because of the way the band looked (bassist Enrique Rangel Arroyo with his Eraserhead hairdo and keyboardist Emmanuel del Real Díaz with his sweater vest and distinguished-looking goatee) and because of their heavy use of the Roland synthesizer and various sequenced rhythms. All of these flashback moments just made the band more fun for me to watch, as I got to soak in the live sounds of the 1980s in a way that I never have before and in a very alive way as well.

The band had a terrific light show -- small light curtains in front of the risers on which the drums and keyboards were located and then a large screen in back. The light screen took some of its visual cues from U2's light shows over the years, it seemed (e.g. a pencil drawing of a boombox rotating on a field of fluorescent green); it was extremely well done -- the lights were well-timed with the songs -- and added a lot to the entertainment.

And in general, this was a band that aimed to entertain. Lead singer Cosme was all over the stage, pointing his finger at people in the audience, inviting a gaggle of young women to join him on stage (which quite possibly was more entertaining for him than for the majority of the crowd), and smiling widely (and honestly, I think) at the crowd's reactions to the performances. Keyboardist Meme would come to the front of the stage -- often with the sequencer running -- pick up a guitar and rock out. During the encore, he led the crowd in a call-and-response vocal pattern. At one point, all four members of the band came to the front of the stage -- with the drummer still pounding on the skins -- and performed a rather endearing and pretty hilarious dance routine, also straight out of the early 1980s.

Seeing this show was not what I expected out of this weekend in D.C., which began with a Hindu wedding in Maryland and also included political canvsassing in Fairfax County, but it will be a lasting memory from it, and I would see these guys again in a heartbeat.

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