Is it possible to be a squeezebox rockstar? El Pollo Rico dice que sí. Bajofondo @ Mayan Theater, Downtown Los Angeles, September

bajofondo

Anyone who listens to KCRW in La Ciudad de Los Angeles has probably crossed paths with the Gotan Project (yes, this article is about Bajofondo so yes, we are starting with Gotan). Their music has been enthusiastically pimped by Tom Schnabel, Nic Harcourt, Jason Bentley and most likely has earned endorsements from the rest of the musical intelligentsia in the cutthroat high stakes bludgeon-wielding world that is Los Angeles public radio. Gotan Project is a dapper group of Porteños and Parisiens with beautifully tailored suits and extravagant audiovisual pageantry who introduced many in el Sur de California to the monstrous potential that live tango music has to offer – especially when fused the with the deft skills of turntable maestros and multilingual emcees. But what may have gotten overlooked with Gotan’s critical acclaim is that they are merely the tip of the tango renaissance iceberg.

Walk through San Telmo on any given Sunday and you’ll see that there is an abundancia of talented argentine musicians in their 20’s and 30’s exploring, perfecting, and redefining the once anachronistic tango (as well as klezmer…I know, weird…yet undeniably awesome) and giving renewed relevance to a Southern Cone musical tradition that had laid dormant for decades. This counter-intuitive rebellion to embrace the past and integrate it with the present has spawned a school of pure genius that includes Gotan Project, Otros Aires, Tanghetto… and Bajofondo. While any of the above could keep a warehouse filled with several thousand sweating dancers at capacity until daybreak (o aquí en Los Angeles hasta 1:30 a.m. cuando se suena la última llamada), pragmatic logistics keep most of this talent from getting any farther north than Uruguay or Sao Paulo.

The Mayan TheaterThankfully the argentino who forms the nucleus of Bajofondo is a resident of Los Angeles and has been able to gather his colleagues on several occasions to perform in LA as part of a global tour to demonstrate that the New Tango does indeed go far beyond Gotan Project. And if Gotan’s sartorial splendor was perfect for a Sunday evening at the Hollywood Bowl – which it was in 2006 when they played a brilliant set with Jose Gonzales – then nothing could have suited Bajofondo more than the gritty pre-Columbian surreality of the Mayan Theater en el centro de Los Angeles. See, no one in Bajofondo is what EPR would call “cool” in the Gotan sense of the word. None of them look like they ever have or ever would spend money on a three piece seersucker suit much less Italian silk ties and matching fedoras. That is a collective suavité  that Gotan has cultivated to euro-style perfection. Bajofondo is a collective defined less by “cool” and more by “music dork chic”. But with the hallmark irreverence that will continue to get music dorks laid for generations to come, the members of Bajofondo just…how shall we say? …they just don’t give a fuck. The tall and gawky Javier Casalla is a classically trained violinist but he doesn’t hesitate to swing his bow violently at the crowd, taunting the LA arbiters of style to get off their ass and dance. The ignorant – EPR included – probably never imagined that an accordion player (not even the hombres  from Nortec Collective or Kinky) could really look all that radical on stage…but when Martín Ferrés stretches the bandoneón over his head in a tango crucifixion, it’s difficult to deny…the guy is a fucking rock star! (Do pardon the F-bombs. We’re working towards making this a family-friendly abahaka…but we’re not quite there yet.)

Then you have to factor in the guitarist: a 57-year-old middle aged rocker bouncing around the stage like a chubby 3rd grader hopped up on pop tarts. What? …why is that guy even out there? Unless you did your research, you’d never know that “that guy” – Gustavo Santaolalla – is a Rock en Español pioneer, a producer for Maldita Vecindad, Julieta Venegas, Molotov, Juanes, Café Tacuba…has written, arranged or produced most the soundtracks for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films…oh yeah… and he also has two Academy Awards for penning the scores to Brokeback Mountain and Babel. Dude is kindof a big deal. But you don’t really need to know this…because the more you listen, the more Bajofondo speaks for itself. The music is beautiful and emotional, just the way tango should be…but then veejay Veronica Loza begins to accelerate the multimedia streaming across the walls…Luciano Supervielle and Juan Campodónico start to blend in the turntables… the beats get louder…and faster… and steadily the energy of the entire room starts to inch higher and higher until… BOOM! – everyone on stage is going apeshit jumping up and down in unison… and you look around and realize that YOU are jumping up and down… and everyone  on the dance floor is jumping up and down! At this point, tango has almost evaporated in favor of the euro/techno dance clubs of Buenos Aires and Punta del Este. Because that’s what this is – a perfect confluence of past and present from el mundo rioplatense. The musicians on stage were trained in the classical tradition but they grew up in the poonchie-poonchie all night dance factories that spawned euro sweat-holes like Pacha and Big One. Of course it doesn’t hurt that in an (un)intentional homage to the Happy Mondays, Bajofondo has one spastic dude on stage whose ONLY apparent job is to run around and dance and fire up the crowd.  He even got the Event Staff security gorillas to let 30 or 40 people up on stage to party with the band during the final encore. The crowd was hugging the band… the band was hugging the crowd… the Event Staff in their yellow windbreakers were hugging each other… and you could trace all of this straight back to Santaolalla. Gustavo may be 20 years senior to the next oldest member of Bajofondo, but he is clearly a man of warmth and passion and sincerity and he projects an undeniable positive energy that both his younger colleagues and the crowd feast upon until, fully sated, everyone decompresses in one big happy sweaty hugfest.  And throughout the show there really is a sense of being fortunate – you feel lucky to have been a part of the show because you know that it was something different…a new direction…something special …and that it might not happen again. After all, this is a collective that stretches from Argentina to Uruguay to Los Angeles… so who knows when they’ll reunite.  Entonces, muchísimas gracias Bajofondo y hasta la próxima… ¡espero!

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~ by El Pollo Rico on September 28, 2009.

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