Los Tigres del Norte and Friends,
by Andrew Casillas and Blanca Méndez
It's not that Club Fonograma's two Texans have ever been (directly) involved in drug trafficking, cock fighting, or any of the other unlawful activities that Los Tigres del Norte make music about, but having both grown up near the Texas-Mexico border listening to the accordion-heavy sagas that the band is famous for, Andrew and Blanca just know what Los Tigres are about. That's why they decided to review the band's Unplugged record together.
Andrew: So, we doing this?
Blanca: Yeah, hold on while I get my coffee.
A: Good, hold on while I get a paleta.
I just had some spicy as fuck chile, and my mouth feels like its gonna fall off.
A: I guess the easy way to start a Los Tigres del Norte joint review is by discussing our respective thoughts on the band.
Personally, I love the living hell out of these dudes.
Still one of the best concert experiences I've ever had.
B: My appreciation for them is fairly recent.
I grew up listening to them because they were pretty much the only band that my dad ever listened to.
A: That's interesting...My dad loves their music but cannot take most of their stuff seriously.
Probably because there's a whole chunk of Mexicans who listen to "Jefe de Jefes" (coincidentally the opener on this Unplugged record) and think "THAT'S MY LIFE, VATO!"
(btw "Jefe de Jefes" is a fucking gangsta ass track and I'm glad they opened with it.)
My dad likes to sing that song when he wants to feel better about himself.
A: I completely sympathize.
So, you aren't up on these guys aside from the big singles?
Like, you've never heard one of their compilations or full-length LPs?
B: Not recently, no.
But, like I said, I grew up listening to them.
My dad has everything they've ever recorded, and he played their music all the time at home. So, their music is pretty much ingrained in me. At least at a subconscious level.
A: So getting to this Unplugged thing, is it me or does this crowd sound loaded?
B: Yeah, I was going to mention that...
A: To be fair, these dudes come out SWINGING on the first two songs.
And THEN...Paulina fucking Rubio
B: I <3 Paulina.
A: Of course you do.
I'm trying to figure out the point of this Unplugged.
Were they trying to appeal to people like you, who have nostalgic ties to Los Tigres but also totally go crazy for Paulina?
Or is this some sort of tribute to Los Tigres del Norte and how their music transcends the corrido genre?
B: Maybe a bit of both, but probably more the latter.
Because I don't really see "people like me" listening to this album strictly for the nostalgia.
A: Have you heard this record before?
A: Because if it’s a matter of Los Tigres transcending shit, well there's our evidence.
But WHY THE FUCK ARE THERE STRINGS IN MY CORRIDOS?!
Now I know how those beatnik fuckers felt when Dylan plugged in at Newport.
I don't know, maybe Paulina just leaves me cold...I guess we'll just listen on.
B: I agree that the strings in the corridos are disturbing.
I don't get it.
My dad would probably be all, OMG STOP.
(If my dad actually said things like OMG, that is.)
A: "Lagrimas del Corazon" reminds me of another good point.
For all the praise and notoriety of their narco-corridos, these guys can write one hell of a love song.
A: They're very casual and significant.
They don't aim to be deep or universal.
They're very personal, and yet have a great reach.
THIS is honestly the type of thing I wish this Unplugged would showcase.
A lot of the reason that I wasn't really about them growing up, was I found their vocal style really grating.
But it works so well for this kind of love song because it feels really sincere.
A: So, how are you feeling the vocals in this quieter setting?
B: Well, for that last track, the setting is perfect.
But I can see how other songs, like the two openers, would work better in a rowdier, more big dance-type setting.
A: Or "La Puerta Negra."
The audience found the open bar right before this song came on.
And, in all honesty, I was doing a bit of air accordion right now.
This is one of my favorite Tigres tracks.
Probably because of the accordion.
A: See, but it's the Los Tigres-ness of this track that SHOULD BE REWORKED on a record like this.
Why not add some funky instruments like it's an outtake off Cafe Tacuba's Re?
Replace the accordion with steel pedal or a fiddle?!
B: Fiddle on this track would have been amazing.
A: Fiddle on EVERY track would have been amazing.
Or, I mean, fuck, they have Andres Calamaro on the record, and he doesn't do anything!
B: None of the guests really do anything.
I feel like the "and friends" part of this whole thing was more like, "Oh, and these other people, I guess."
A: Good point.
I still wrestle with this record's existence.
It would never get played on radio stations that play Los Tigres del Norte songs.
And it would never get (non-deliberate MTV promo) air time on a music video channel that shows Paulina or Calle 13.
I mean, using Julieta's Unplugged as an example, that thing appealed to ANYONE who liked Julieta OR the guest stars.
B: Yeah, this one's in a weird in between place that doesn't quite work for any specific audience.
Like, I probably won't listen to it after this.
It would have been much more interesting for me if the guests had actually contributed something worthwhile and weren't just an afterthought.
A: Well, speaking of the guests, now we're at the one with Zack de la Rocha.
Fifteen-year old me is high-fiving the shit out of himself right now.
But here's another example of why this album doesn't work.
You have the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine up there, and he doesn't do what everyone knows he does.
He's just a bystander in Los Tigres del Norte.
Why not speed up the tempo and let the guy do his angry-rap thing?
I was excited about this one for a number of reasons.
The main one being because I was a pretty big fan of Rage in my brief angry teenager phase.
I was really interested in how Zack would fit into this song.
A: Apparently he fits like a duvet cover - he's there, but not in any essential way.
A: OK HERE WE GO
A: Besides the fact that he's Colombian in a song CLEARLY ABOUT MEXICANS, he actually tries to put himself into the track.
But it's just weird to have this cover, when this exists.
B: I was waiting for you to link to that.
A: WELL OF COURSE
But, yeah, I don't HATE the Juanes version because at least there's an effort.
A: Now for the closer...
B: This is the only one I didn't remember listening to before.
And the brass intro threw me off.
But the Calle 13 part…
A: At least they let him rap.
But it still feels disjointed.
A: To be fair, at least they patterned this album like an actual Los Tigres show.
This is usually their go-to closing number.
A: The crowd certainly loved this, what are you final thoughts?
B: If I had been in the crowd, I probably would have loved it too.
But listening to the recording of it doesn't quite translate.
A: Well, I guess that's the problem with these Unplugged records as a whole.
Unless you're doing something outside of your M.O. (Julieta, Nirvana, Jay-Z), it's gonna be a one-time listen thing for anyone.
I mean, even great bands like R.E.M. have done Unpluggeds that just didn't translate because the album was too indebted to what came before.
I'm glad MTV chose this tribute to Los Tigres del Norte (for whatever reason) but don't think I need to hear this ever again.
I'll just go play the originals while drinking Bud Light.