23rd Latin American Festival
Symphony Park at South Park Mall
Oct. 13, 2013
Mitigating all disruptions was the Latin American Festival's strongest bill to date. For several years, festival organizer the Latin American Coalition has been expanding notions of what Latin music or rock en español can be. Although traditional Salsa and Cumbia were still included in the sonic menu, key performers also touched on electronica, Euro-jazz, funk-inflected indie-pop and everything else under the sun, proving there's no such thing as a "typical" Latin sound.
In fact, only two aspects of this year's celebration were predictable. One: A record-shattering crowd thronged the pond fronting the band shell as a legendary performer took the stage. And two: That performer exceeded the audience's high expectations.
Venegas' pop is urgent and accessible, and has always been about moving forward into the now. To underscore this, she opened with the heartfelt and powerful "Hoy" from her current LP Los Momentos. Yet Venegas did not forget that people came here to dance and sing along to music that matters to them.
Not to be outdone, the rest of the band played quirky Reggaeton-by-way-of Talking Heads dance pop with hard rock swagger, occasionally yelping and shouting like members of an experimental theater troupe cum burlesque crew. The Monk's mix of rap, jazz and alternative cabaret suggested the Brazilian Girls' gleefully bratty sibling, or an ebullient mash-up of Latin rock legends Mano Negra's jauntily rhythmic post punk with the flamboyantly zoot-suited disco/no wave of '80s outfit Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Judging by the audience's snaking hips and bopping heads, the Monks will likely break big with more exposure like this gig.
Orquesta K'Che also included a United Latin Nations in their membership, with Venezuela, Cuba and Puerto Rico represented. Presenting themselves as the Triangle's premiere Latin dance party band, the ten member K'Che was perhaps the Festival's most traditional group, but that's not to say they weren't eclectic. Lead by percussionist Billy Marrero, K'Che's swinging grooves featured warm, punchy horns, nimble but rocking bass and percolating drums. The audience couldn't stop swaying as the band segued easily from mid-tempo grooves to breakneck workouts.
Though the Orquesta relied on several covers, reaching back to Latin dance classics. Powerful tenor vocals were smooth and soulful, particularly on the band's tightly arranged takes on Salsa Romantica. Yet K'Che mixed it up. Though the instrumental line up of horns, keys, guitars and rhythm suggested Salsa purism, the band tackled Merengue, Bolero and Latin Jazz with equal aplomb.
Prior to the band's set, NoTeVaGustar stepped out among the crowd and were promptly mobbed. People handed babies to guitarist and frontman Emiliano Brancciari, snapping pictures of him holding their offspring. NTVG beat a hasty yet gracious retreat, but the audience's adulation was a stunning illustration of the personal and emotional bond that NTVG forges with its listeners.
The audience sang along, knowing every word to that tune and other favorites like "Al Vacio." Hints of reggae, bluesy prog guitar and ska colored NTVG's rock, and on "El Camino", funky spy fretwork and a sweaty Staxx work-out on horns embellished the rollicking stomp 'n' roll. As a frontman, Brancciari was direct and approachable, with the grounded yet intense quality of everyman rockers like Joe Strummer.
Live, his vocals gained a grainy, lived-in quality not always present on NTVG's LPs, particularly on the growling bass, free jazz sax squonk driven Clash-style rocker "Fuera de Control." By the time the band launched into the shuffling, pulsing groover "Chau", everyone was moving to NTVG's hard hitting, rootsy arrangements and committed performance.
On any other bill, the Uruguayan superstars would be an impossibly hard act to follow. Yet such was the quality and variety of the festival's program that NTVG's riveting performance served as masterful build-up for Julieta Venegas' luminous pay-off. There was no clear stand-out in the 23rd Annual Latin American Festival's stellar line-up, and that is very high praise indeed.
Julieta Venegas setlist
Bien O Mal
Limon y Sal
Verte Otra Vez
No Hace Falta
Eres Para Mi
Canciones De Amor
Un Poco De Paz
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Algo Esta Cambiante
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