Vive Latino: Review Day 2

10th edition of “festival iberoamericano de cultura musical”
Day 2
by Juan Manuel Torreblanca

Pictures by Pnacho

Ok so I sorta wanted to get there on time for Neon Walrus but, honestly, it’s a Sunday: I had planned to have breakfast with my dad (who I don’t see all that often) and my little sister; and after that I had to drive to Desierto de los Leones (let’s say it’s almost an opposite corner of the city) to get my free ticket for this day of the Vive, so I had no true hopes of getting there on time.

The day was gray and rainy, a perfect day to be blue. But I had to fight that and talk myself into going (sincerely, I wasn’t expecting anything better than yesterday… & -seeing the rain- I was tempted to make up a plan B which would’ve been indoors, but I had been given a ticket and I wanted to finish my chronicle for club fonograma). So I put on my little red riding ipod and my kicks and Elliot Smith walked me to the subway, breaking my heart and inspiring me on every step I took following his beat and every genius moment that he left us. Stepping out of the subway station, the rain was pouring down. Guys were saying “I’m not going out there” but I saw someone selling cheap plastic garbage bag ponchos (for $15) under the bridge and I got myself one and decided to be brave. Apocalypse baby, yeah!

I am, usually, really cranky when it comes to getting wet in Mexico City’s acid rain. But today (I told myself) I had to see it as an adventure. The long walk. The checkpoints. The poor security people who sometimes seem absent behind their eyes. I heard nothing (but good old Elliot whispering the sweetest melancholy straight into my noise cancelling head-phones). It was sort of like being the only character and spectator in my own little indie movie. Everything was so beautiful seen through that lens. All the young ones giving up the impossible struggle against it and just getting soaked. The mud and the wet ground (I love that). The army of the ponchoed (like a spontaneous flash mob worthy of an Austin TV new outfit design). Somehow it made it feel more like a festival to me. I walked by the Red Stage, I had NO idea who I heard and then I got me a schedule… um, no, I wasn’t too interested in the bands playing there so I headed straight to my favorite: The “Intolerant Tent” (if you say it repeatedly it’s almost like an Animal Collective beat! intoleranttentintolerantent…). I catched the last bit of Alejandro Otaola’s FRACTALES and I felt a little bit bummed that I hadn’t been on time for the whole of them. It was apparently one of those furiously virtuoso concerts. He and his friends, sons of the prog days; experimental and naughty by complexity while accessible and successful by good taste and musicality. I bet he had more than a couple of interesting guests, but I guess I’ll have to read about that later. He left the stage grateful and smiling and after a while (and after all due whistling and impatient screaming) Sr. Mandril took the stage. I had never seen them live and I had a ball. My first gig of day 2 was brilliant. I especially loved the flute player Maria Emilia Martinez’s performance. I believe she is one of the unsung heroes of our modern-day scene. she adds her magic, her beauty, her commanding stage presence and her gorgeous sound and freedom to an uncanny amount of projects, from the eternal Qué Payasos (a rock band that looks a bit like KISS but is directed to kids) to Natalia Lafourcade’s new band (where she’s my band-mate and the heart of the party ALWAYS), not to mention her two fantastic projects Klezmerson (the name is pretty self explanatory) and Los Aguacates (a bailongo that sometimes plays a cumbia version of Portishead’s glory box to add a little teardrop to the shaking of the hips). So yeah, that’s Maria Emilia, and here she added part of what I loved most in Sr. Mandril: the latino and the simply live. When the sax & the trumpet pulled the flute into rhythmic melodies that made it impossible not to dance. I liked that more than the times in which they relied heavily on sequenced dance beats that sounded a bit dated to me. I was really astounded by their guitar player, he had one of those Roland black toys that turn the guitar sound into anything, and he played it as if it were a Hammond organ, GENIUS. It’s nice to find such a polished project finding a space in a festival that I had previously considered rather raw. Kudos to the drum & bass section, almost as tight as Kinky’s. If I wanted or needed to say anything more, I can finish their review by telling you that people really wanted more once they were finished (“otra, otra otra” no can do amigous).

I was very close to the stage during Sr. Mandril and almost to the center. I suspected Silverio would be crazy and scary and I wanted to survive the gig so I slowly walked towards the back of the tent. I thought I was going to spend the whole vive alone, but at that moment I found @Inchejohn there (my friend from Café Tacvba’s concert!) and we pretty much spent the whole day together.

The staff had problems plugging all of Silverio’s toys (people went beyond loud, of course). He took the stage, a mix between José josé and the Ecoloco (from Odisea Burbujas). The crowd went bonkers. He is really, really intense. A freak. A captivating Frankenstein of his own creation. His movements are almost epileptic. But he’s in control. His show is an ode to testosterone. And also to male stripping. He insults the audience all the time and showers them with obscene hand gestures and nasty drunken-uncle screams into the mic. I think he’s almost Mexico’s answer to Peaches (but her music is like Gershwin with lyrics by Henry Miller compared to his). Call me old and bitter if you will, but I don’t understand the charm of monotony, pure and simple repetition, primitive rhythms –no matter how loud– and unnecessary crassness. Maybe he’s a genius and has a sense of humor that I should envy. It’s true that sometimes long and repetitive jokes are the best jokes. But this one was too long for me. You know? being showered in beer during the first 5 minutes of the gig wasn’t my idea of baptism by Vive Latino (it probably is now… straight to my to do list: next vive, buy beer, lots of beer to throw at people when the moment feels right to “nefastear”). I was almost enjoying the free massage (except the feet part) but I had to quit. It was time to visit the main stage. Bengala was playing there and I was excited to see them fill that huge platform. Getting there, it was impressive to see the floor coverings all torn and shriveled; of course it’s typical of the Vive, and it must happen because it’s by using parts of the huge carpet that groups of people manage to throw the daring ones up into the air. But the poor stadium wouldn’t have endured a third day. God bless the cleaning staff. Rain had stopped by then and it was warm. Bengala walked out and began giving their all. Now, there was a recurrent problem this festival, concerning guitars. It’s as if OCESA had issued a secret memo urging their staff to keep them as quiet as humanely possible. Bengala, thus, had some problems, lack of sound problems… hours later one of the guys told me that monitoring was a nightmare onstage, they never heard the piano in there and the guitars were ridiculously low, etc. Well, my hat is off to them because they didn’t let that bring them down and they delivered. People were responding. Their hits “Miente” and “Carretera” were sung along completely and their cover of La Maldita Vecindad’s “Un Poco de Sangre Roja” (with brass guests courtesy of Salón Victoria) was awesome! A good job from a young band that’s been struggling for years. I hope they keep it up until they’re headlining and sounding like stars.

Then it was time for Cabezas the Cera (arguably Mexico’s best, most original and creative fusion-experimental group) to take the Intolerant Tent. I found some friends from the Panamerika (Red Bull Music Academy) blog there, I was happy to share such a sincere show with them. All those unique instruments that their drummer makes. Wow. I loved their beats and the greatness of seeing three guys (with no poses or gimmicks beyond their exploration of their sounds and performances) create such a huge wall of sound. On their last track “Godzilla” I closed my eyes and they made me see The City (any big city, mine, Tokyo, N.Y., etc) and I heard the cars honking in the traffic, and the cries of the monster as it tore the place.

Uriel Waizel suggested we checked out Banda Bostik and so we headed to the Red Stage. And here I arrive at the core of my review for this day. I came home with one (if only one) thing learnt. And that is: Rock is not dead. (At least not yet).

Banda Bostik (la banda de bandas) is about the streets, the barrio, it’s urban rock (very akin to El Tri). I got a feeling that they’re about being very Mexican, very banda, very close to the people and about giving a message, one uplifting or understanding or lecturing. I feel a bit like a snob here, but I found the rhetoric too naïve and the music too predictable and simple, yet the passion that they have carried through more than two decades can still move mountains. They made me be VERY afraid for the first time in the festival. They urged the crowd to run around like crazy during one of the songs and once it started, I saw a tsunami coming my way and it left me no choice, it was either RUN or be ran over by the crowd. It was heavy!

We left because we had to walk to the other side to witness Adanowsky (and Gush!). We cut through the main field and we saw a bit of División Minúscula. I’ll give it to them, they have improved A LOT. They looked mature, older, elegant. They sounded ok. But the song that they were singing, I don’t know the name of it, but despite it’s “rock” orchestration and glamour, it’s melody could’ve fit in a Timbiriche song. I’m not kidding. And though I don’t see that as necessarily wrong (it just shows how thin the invisible line between rock and pop is, some times) I’m not a fan. But people were seriously into it, singing along from the heart. I actually loved seeing that. It made me reflect upon some serious philosophical aspects concerning the private communion experienced through that mysterious alchemy of making a song we like our own. But I’ll have to wait until a next time to dive deeper into that.

We got to the blue stage and the crowd was surprisingly small. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s son was introduced by a french Master of Ceremonies who belonged either to a Cabaret or a Circus. His fantastic backing band (the French band Gush) appeared wearing classy white jackets over white tux shirts and bright color pants, and the “idolo” was wearing a blood-red jacket over a black vest and a torn black shirt. Fashionably hip. They opened with an ode to erotism. In French they chanted about life being made to make love. Then Adan spoke some about dreaming of being an idol in Mexico, only as a prelude to his song “El Idolo”, during which he danced and moved across the stage with enviable security and grace. He is clearly his father’s son. He takes over the limelight like a magician, a therapist, a cult leader, or even a –hippie and cool– socialist dictator, more than a rock-star. He has enough charisma to fill the Foro Sol three times. And that’s what makes him shine, because his music isn’t necessarily what the world was waiting for, though “Estoy mal” is a decidedly fun song; pure cabaret with a nice & human narrative. & their Michael Jackson cover was so good, it was (musically) the highlight of their concert. Don´t get me wrong, he’s an extraordinarily talented frontman. Beyond his good looks and stylized frame, he has a rich and deliciously dirty voice. However, his show isn’t just about music. His m.c. turns into a Scottish blonde when Adanowsky needs a volunteer to kiss the keyboard player back into life, and then he/she performs a complete striptease and kisses all of the other guys in the mouth, and pretends to play bass with her penis etc. Afterwards, Adanowsky (almost as if he were trying to get us into a massive psico-magic ritual) demanded everyone to kneel… and I mean EVERYONE, he took his time and screamed if necessary to get what he wanted. It was unbelievable, and after that he requested everyone to explode like never before on the count of 3. It pretty much worked (I was more of an observer, but it was really amazing… so amazing it was almost scary hehe).

After Adanowsky we had to walk back to the best tent of the festival, tongue-twister tent, to see Anita Tijoux. On our way we heard a bit of Molotov, it was sounding powerful. My time to eat something arrived and the choice of the day was Villamelón tacos, I had to mention it because it was exquisite.

The crowd for Anita Tijoux was really small too, but I actually enjoyed the kind of Vive Latino that I experienced; not so much into the big, big acts…

I must say I became a fan of Anita instantly. Her voice is like liquid. It flows with such a laid-back ease it’s probably what Billie Holiday would be singing if she were alive today. Her lyrics are smart and definitely nothing like the shallow and materialistic violence some of the genre shows. She had a very special guest, Julieta Venegas, rapping for the first time (and singing beautifully too). Well, I love Julieta, but Anita had me so enthralled that I couldn’t hear nor see anyone else.

We only got to see a bit of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs because when it was their turn, the rain started pouring down again, and this time it was cold, so it wasn’t as nice as it was during the day. Also, they really drew everyone to the stadium to see their epic performance. I can only say they are true greats. They sounded perfect. They brought deep and sincere emotion, and performances that surely brought waves of nostalgia and admiration upon all of their fans present.

We ran to the Intolerant Tent (yes, once again) to see the dirty rock of Yokozuna. I had never seen the Tranquilino brothers live. And they only confirmed my hunch of earlier: rock is not dead. They prove that the combo of a high and powerful voice plus a loud guitar and rabid drums is as vital and effective today as it’s ever been. They seem to keep an unlimited supply of brilliant riffs and guitar hooks in their sleeves, and I know (just from hearing them) that they really, really love music. That they hear a really diverse variety of things. I say it because their power rock (no matter how many times they invited people to “romperse la madre”) is fun, sophisticated and ridiculously musical. They also enjoy what they do SO MUCH that it’s impossible not to as part of the audience. My visit to the festival today ended on a circular note as Alejandro Otaola appeared as a guest with Yokozuna… and finally… I had to skip the Nortec Collective, as we were all beyond beat…

I am so tired I could fall asleep on this keyboard… still I believe I witnessed the best Vive Latino ever! A 10th anniversary that they should be proud of.

Today was SO much fun (with a little help from my friends)… I feel as if I’d been attending master classes on everything related to live music… I hope it somehow translates into my future endeavors sooner or later.

I’m finally in love with this festival… and my to-do list now includes: being thrown over a piece of the floor carpet, dying my hair or getting a piercing or a tattoo, screaming and whistling while the production staff connects everything between shows… and if I remember anything else I’ll write it down later.

‘til the next time,


PS. if only Gogol Bordello had been able to make it… it would have been heaven.