CF Point/Counterpoint: Javiera Mena live (SXSW Entry #5)

With respect to my colleague, Enrique Coyotzi, and his excellent Festival Nrmal coverage, how the hell is Javiera Mena’s live show “underwhelming”?!

To be fair, comparing a large outdoor festival in Mexico to an intimate bar in downtown Austin isn’t exactly like comparing apples to apples. And the NRMAL crowd’s apparent lack of background info on Mena’s music would certainly explain any disconnect affecting the performance on a whole. But last night? Let’s just say it’s going to take a couple of days to wash all the sweat out of my clothes.

Hanging out anonymous amongst the crowd prior to show time, it was unclear whether Mena was nervous or apprehensive prior to her first official U.S. show. As her soundcheck unfolded, Mena would look out into the small mass of festivalgoers as if she were about to BASE jump into the Amazon. The hypnotic synth line from “Perlas” marched as the lights and sound came into form and then…Mena Time.

After feeling out the crowd for the first few numbers (though “Primera Estrella” is admittedly an odd opener), it was “Hasta la Verdad” that made people take notice. Lest the newcomers think of her as some icy disco queen, she instantly upped the electro with “El Amanecer” and “Luz de Piedra de Luna.” By this point, the crowd was entirely at her command, clapping and jumping when told. Even the pedestrians from the connecting showcases began to filter in, seeing how there appeared to be a small party on hand.

By this point, there were well over 100 people in this tiny hall, and Mena went for the kill, shedding her jacket and keyboard and serenading the audience through “Sufrir.” I mean, really, if you thought Bérénice Bejo was great at playing pantomime in The Artist, she doesn’t have SHIT compared to Javiera Mena, at least for this one night. She then closed out the set with a fiery rendition of “Al Siguiente Nivel,” high-fiving everyone in sight like a much hotter (and, let’s face it, probably funnier), Jay Leno. It was a resilient, confident, and downright amazing debut.

I know there may be some in our readership who take everything Club Fonograma writes about Javiera Mena with a huge grain of salt. Sure, parts of what we do can come off like a personal PR service, but I’m not bullshitting when I say this was one of the greatest live performances I’ve seen in all my years at SXSW. That doesn’t mean everything she does is amazing, and maybe the NRMAL crowd didn’t get the same sort of energy as the one at Maggie Mae’s, but there’s something about genius that’s impossible to contain once it gains momentum, and yesterday, genius and momentum came dressed in a black and white polka dotted skirt. Of course, the moral of the story is: ALWAYS LISTEN TO #PINCHEANDREW.