Café Tacvba and Caifanes Invited Us to The Dance

Café Tacvba
Café Tacvba Photo by Jennifer Lake
“La vida es un gran baile y el mundo es un salón, y hay muchas parejas bailando a nuestro alrededor/Y ahora que estamos en la pista tú y yo, no quiero que dejemos de bailar así.”

Those are lines from the Café Tacvba hit, “El Baile y El Salón,” the thirteenth song of the legendary rock band’s set last night at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Loosely translated, the lyric equates life to a dance hall filled with swaying, spinning couples and we’re on that dance floor, too, so let’s not stop dancing. It’s not a word-for-word rendering of the lyrics, but it captures the essence of the night, one which celebrated life and love with more than two dozen cherished songs from Café Tacvba and their co-headliners, Caifanes.

Few people in the near capacity crowd needed this instructional bit of poetry by the time the thirteenth song rolled around. They’d already been on their feet for more than an hour, moving, grooving and singing to an impressive run of éxitos from Tacvba’s 35-year history. Whether they held each other and rocked to “Como te extraño mi amor” - an ode to a divine love - or bobbed their heads and rapped along with Café Tacvba’s thouroughly engaging front man Rubén Albarrán on “Chilanga banda” – an ode to Mexico City street slang – they kept the vibe high.

The co-headliner, Caifanes, has been performing even longer than their tour mates, on a different sort of vibe. Sometimes described as Mexico’s answer to The Cure, the legacy act’s roots stretch all the way back to 1986. Its front man, Saúl Hernández, has cited Robert Smith and company as an influence, but Caifanes is one of Mexico’s most influential groups, their brand of goth rock and its enormous success opening doors for a wave of alt-rock Mexican bands to follow.

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Caifanes' Saúl Hernández
Photo by Jennifer Lake
When Caifanes broke and leaned into the ethos, Mexico hadn’t seen many bands with members wearing the goth uniform – eyeliner, black garb, uncombed hair. The trend they set wasn’t just a fashion statement, it was about pushing the envelope with art, creating something that challenged the norm, with songs like “Mátenme Porque Me Muero,” which appeared about halfway through its 15-song set last night.

That tune’s elegant and moody lyrics call for being buried with a lover’s photo “Para que no se me olvide como es tu cara,” or “So that I don't forget what your face is like,” and tell how a true, undying (but dead) lover will save a thousand stars for their soulmate until they’re rejoined again in the eternal next. Think Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” but with the gentler touch of a brooding romantic and done nearly 20 years earlier.

Last night, nearly 40 years from their start, Caifanes looked like any other modern rock band onstage, but on the row behind us, a kid in their late teens went full androgyny circa the late ‘80s, with a puffy shirt, dark jacket and mascara. When “Matenme” and its synth-y skeleton rose up, they and everyone in the audience were again in that dance hall together and not stopping, though dancing to a decidedly different vibe than Café Tacvba offered.

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Rubén Albarrán
Photo by Jennifer Lake

In this way, these iconic Mexican rock acts are (and I promise to move on from the metaphor after this) the perfect dance partners. Tacvba explodes onto the stage with verve. One can see the true joy they feel when performing for adoring fans and those fans are adoring, whether they’re enveloped in the playfulness of a song like “La chica banda” or crooning to “Eres,” one of the few down-tempo tunes in the repertoire and last night’s set.

There’s joy also in a song like Caifanes’ “Viento,” a big hit from the early days, high in last night’s set list. It’s commemoration of all the things a new romance can bring – untangling from solitude, exploring uninhabited planets together, letting the wind bind us as we float through it all – was enthusiastically met with singing and hand-holding.

And so it went throughout the night, these partners tangoing gracefully through separate sets and separate presences, with Albarrán prefacing lots of songs with comedic monologues or commentaries on immigration or invoking the gods to allow us all perfect moments through song and Hernández and company mostly moving through the set like a DJ on a Classic Numbers Friday night. These acts are confirmed for the next installments of the massive Latin music fest, Bésame Mucho. Nearly 40 years into their respective existences, they’re following the lead they set for us all, never stopping the dance.

Personal Bias: I don’t know if I’ll ever miss another Café Tacvba set, if I can help it. I loved Caifanes and was happy to take in the set having missed them in March at Bésame Mucho in Austin (tough choice between them and seeing the sensational sisters of Ha*Ash, whom I’d interviewed last year) but up and down the set list, I align a lot more with Tacvba, I think.

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Photo by Jennifer Lake
Some part of my bias probably is owed to my friends Nayeli and Jon, young marrieds who weren’t even alive when these bands began their pursuits of music dominance. They too are Café Tacvba fans and got me and Mrs. Sendejas hip to the band’s joyous, life-affirming music, though we certainly could have heard these songs way back when they originally released. They were on hand last night, seated next to us, along with many, many other young listeners, a nod to just how enduring these songs are. The audience was proof they’re being passed from mothers and fathers down to brothers and sisters and the next kin to follow. Or, maybe just to some friends who may have missed the music before but now love and embrace it.

Random Notebook Dump: A few shouts out to some other friends who caught the show, like Jennifer Lake, who’s glorious photos grace this story, and Felix Navarro, the local filmmaker and photographer who works a lot with one of our favorite Houston acts, Astro Inn. Thank you both for being so great. And, to anyone who didn’t catch last night’s show, as noted before, Café Tacvba and Caifanes were recently added to Bésame Mucho 2025, along with (much excite!) Shakira!

Café Tacvba Set List

Como te extraño mi amor
La bas(e)
La Locomotora
Volver A Comenzar
Las Flores
Chilanga Banda
Déjate Caer
La Chica Banda
El Baile y El Salón
La ingrata

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Photo by Jennifer Lake
Caifanes Set List

La Negra Tomasa
Para Que No Digas Que No Pienso en Ti
No Dejes Que…
La Célula Que Explota
Detrás de los Cerros
Mátenme Porque Me Muero
Te Lo Pido por Favor
Aquí No Es Así
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.