Vive Latino: Review Day 1

10th edition of “festival iberoamericano de cultura musical”
first day (long day – long review)
by Juan Manuel Torreblanca

Pictures by Pnacho


I got there a bit late, I must confess, but I managed to get a good glimpse of this first day. I must say that I felt this time the sponsors and the efforts concerning all the inside little shops, stages, art installations & ornaments were much more visible, making it a more spectacular festival. My entrance to the “foro sol” was distracted by a voice that I (sincerely) confused with Mexican pop star Belinda, but I said to myself “it seriously can’t be her… it was to early for a Moderatto surprise appearance anyway. So I looked into the Red Stage and it was Satin Dolls. Nope… I decided to just get inside to get a better view of the main stage. I caught a bit of San Pascualito Rey, it was sounding nice but I wanted to check out Gepe (I’m a big fan) so I made my way to the Carpa Intolerante “intolerant tent?” it sounds a bit like a tongue-twister… well, I got there and it was almost empty, 30 persons tops. I bumped into a couple of friends there and stood in front of the stage, really close, eating gummy bears (that I had brought along from home) until Gepe (joined by the wonderful Pedro Piedra) stepped onstage. They blew my mind away. I had seen him live a couple of times before here in Mexico City (at La Faena and el Centro Cultural España) but he had never sounded so great, he owned the stage, filled it up with his voice his unique dancing style and his folkloric electro-pop; and the tent continuously saw more and more people join the party. We all danced and sang along. They truly lifted our spirits. That’s what a music festival is supposed to do, I’d say. Gepe made me fall in love with the Vive Latino.

After that, I headed to the Red Stage to catch the Simplifires. That stage had a bit of a Coachella thing going on. The green grass, the palm trees surrounding it, the sun. The neo-hippies scattered all over the field. The Simplifires took the stage and Dave O took off with that outrageous yowl he delivers out of nowhere. His deep lyrics floated over their tight rock beat & despite a slight lack of presence of the guitar (talking about the mix not Shine’s performance here), the audience responded with warmth and a grateful ovation. They also went from a middle sized crowd at the beginning, to a rather big and captive bunch when they said their goodbyes.
Little Joy
I had to walk to the opposite side of the stadium to get to the Blue Stage where I wanted to stay for Little Joy, Ximena Sariñana and Hello Seahorse!

I got there and Little Joy had already started. I enjoyed them a lot! They had such an ease and an indescribable grace to them that it was just beautiful. Rodrigo Amarante’s voice has all the flavor of the Brazilian giants. He even sang some Gilberto Gil and kept me smiling all through it, under the partly-cloudy sun. Fab Moretti (beyond famous thanks to the Strokes) and Binky Shapiro (with her blonde hippie-chic chick glamour and sweetness) complete the band; but they fill it out for their live performances with Todd Dahlhoff and Matt Borg from The Dead Trees (on bass and guitar, respectively), and Matt Romano from Albert Hammond Jr's band (on drums). They’re delightful.

They had warned (on their MySpace) that Fabrizio would be busy recording with the Strokes for most of their June dates, but (unless my glasses aren’t working anymore for me) he was here with them.

I got to see a bit of Kinky’s set through the screens while they were prepping everyting for Ximena Sariñana. It looked cool and it was probably a blast (as usual). It was also fun for me to see how impatient people were with the unavoidable burden of reconnecting and line-checking (the nightmare of festivals, for the staff)… however the creativity shown by their desperate yells got more than a couple smiles out of me.

After a bit more than expected, Ximena Sariñana and her band of virtuosos took the stage. She opened with Eric Couts’ cover of “Rara” and the first thing that made my jaw drop was her drummer Hernan Hecht’s amazing strength as he drove the song into a version that’s a million times more energetic and interesting than the album’s (that sort of happened to me with all of their arrangements for her live performance), Aarón Cruz (on bass) kept up and took the jazz concept of the “walking bass” to another level, one where it was more like dancing and hopping and painting the harmonic structures of the song surprising colors. And, of course, there’s Ximena. Her beauty and undeniable charisma really shone beneath the evening sun. Her voice was full and healthy (though the mix on it was a bit low at first) and she was really confident and enjoying herself. Visibly nervous and excited to be playing her first Vive to a medium-sized crowd which (nonetheless) sang along LOUDly to all her songs. I especially enjoyed the brief moments in which she improvised a bit and just let go. She ended her set (a bit short due to the problems they had setting her up) with a slightly faster take on “Vidas Paralelas” and I loved it like I never loved the album version.

Hello Seahorse!
Then came the time for one of the hippest bands playing this festival to take the stage: Hello Seahorse! I have believed for some time that, in the end, it doesn’t matter all that much how beautiful or charismatic the frontman (or frontwoman) of a band is; it doesn’t matter how well he or she might sing or how cool they might all be; it’s the songs that matter. And Hello Seahorse! have risen to a new level thanks to a bunch of really good songs, increasingly better with every release; but mostly, thanks to one song that really conquered the airwaves the past months, "Bestia", and it’s been said before, but it was so clear to see now. The people were really excited to see them, and they asked for that song from the first moment. So, I must add that they too had some problems getting everything ready, and it took enough time for me to catch a bit of Zoe on the screens (boy, they had some gorgeous visuals) but back to HSH!, once they got going, it was up up up… Lo Blondo’s voice was awesome and present (in her ethereal high & crystalline almost soprano style), her face couldn’t hide her joy & wonder at such a warm reception from the crowd, well they were all SUPER happy to be honest. Oro de Neta had the coolest little red keytar and he rocked it like it was 1985, I was so jealous hehe… and he & Bonnz provided the powerful thread that managed to join the old and the new HSH! into a mature young band, darker, fresher and promising. Unexpected but fun was the guest appearance of Niña Dioz rapping to the early hit “Cassette” a bit awkward to see the hip-hop young star jumping to the happy twee of that song once the rapping was over, but they really pulled it together to end it cool and tight.

I meant to race back to the “Intolerant Tent” (hehe) but I had to eat something so I made a stop and had some tacos & soda before I got to see Los Dorados. I might dare say that tent was my favourite. The lighting with them was brilliant, they really evoked a fire: smoke that erased the limits that draw walls and roof and orange and neon yellow lights that found glimmering ways between the musicians. Demián (the guitar player) had just played with Ximena (as part of her virtuoso band) and here he was really letting himself go crazy. Dan Zlotnik is probably my favourite sax player in the world, and the rhythm base created by Rodrigo Barbosa & Carlos Maldonado (plus the DJ and his excellent scratching) is a fantastic mix of Radiohead and Jazz and godknowswhat… it made me think about a quote I heard not long ago (& sadly I forgot who said it but) it said “all music is experimental, really” and I believe it’s a bit true…anyway… Los Dorados had a full tent and the people were really into it… I started hearing the rumour (Austin… Austin…) so I guessed Austin TV would be the surprise this year… and apparently they were going to play that tent just then… and they did.

Austin TV
Austin TV were announced as Zanate y asociados, and somehow fans (I am, obviously, not one of them) figured out it was them. They took a stage that was half electronic devices, half a tropical jungle, donned in their little green grass smurfs masks, with cool Victorian school-boy (and school-girl for Chiosan) outfits. I must say I wasn’t expecting what I saw then. It was the wildest crowd of the night. They LOVE Austin, capital letters, absolute devotion. The kids give their all onstage, and they sprinkle the songs with heart-felt speeches in-between. The audience clap to the rhythms, they draw all the melodies on the air with their hands (Austin brings the orchestra conductor out in most of them). And despite it being an instrumental project, with no singing and no lyrics, people sing along to the melodies and “hey hey hey” and “ho ho ho” whenever it fits. It is amazing. They played two covers, first “around the world” originally by Daft Punk, and near the end a bit of “el baile y el salón” originally by Café Tacvba (for which they brought onstage Rubén Albarran) it was a highly exciting moment. Everyone burst into that anthemic “papa rupapa eu eooo” and sang along, even though the structure of the song was very different and it was just a fragment of it, the rest was those ups and downs in intensity that drive Austin TV fans crazy. Mosh-pit-slam-jump-up-&-down-scream-your-lungs-out crazy. I must confess that, personally, I don’t quite get it. I mean, they don’t do it for me. BUT it is a phenomenon to watch. And it also proves that an audience fully involved makes a concert huge like no one other performance can. So it was a nice surprise, when it ended, people were happy, you could hear comments on how “cabrón” it was etc.

And then it was time to head to the main stage, the Green Stage, to see Andrés Calamaro. It was dark and I could appreciate some details better before he appeared onstage; like the Olympic flame that lit the middle of the arena or a series of 6 really iconic Mexico City buildings that stood on one side of the seated area (the VIP area) and beautifully lit you could see the Torre Latinoamericana alongside the Monumento a la Revolución & others. I believe this is the nicest Vive Latino so far. By the time Calamaro & his band took the stage, I was rather tired and I had to watch the first part sitting down, but that didn’t make his concert a bit less spectacular nor less worthy of a headliner’s position (i.m.o.).

It was the perfect example of a mature and ripe show. Everything in its right place, every song a great song. A grateful crowd enjoying the presence of a poet & pop-star (all in one), of a master of hooks & an expert craftsman when it comes to the architectural side of songwriting. An Argentinean friend told me during his concert that Calamaro was such a prolific giant that in 2000 he released a CD that included more than 100 songs (well, it was 5CDs actually) and it was called “El Salmón” because it made reference to those who swim against the current… ain’t that cool? It was a brilliant, exciting and moving show. You could tell that time and life have given him quite a ride and his voice the raspy color of experience, of tango, of cante flamenco & -of course- of old-school rock & roll. He made a couple mentions of Michael Jackson. He quoted (musically & lyrically) Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Above us a sky that remained cloudy but spared us the burden of rain. And Calamaro gave all until the end. He sang about La Alta Suciedad, he sang La Flaca and to finish Sin Documentos. He kneeled, he owned every corner of the stage, he harmonized beautifully with his bandmates and he won his crowd with his colossal talent.

I had to catch the subway to get back home and my feet were starting to ache by then, so I decided to pass on La Castañeda and, the IMS (I had seen them before at Pasaje America and danced –what seemed like– all night to their music, I felt I wasn’t going to die for missing them this time. So that was it, my first day, and now it’s almost 3am and I don’t remember what the Matchbox 20 song said about that… but I know that once I’m randomly rambling, it means I must get some sleep.

If your poor and humble servant gets tickets for tomorrow, I will gladly send another review… if I don’t, then that’s that!

a vive latino hug