Cafe Tacuba House of Blues August 18, 2012
Imagine for just a second that Fishbone, the raucous L.A. band that threw all sorts of music into a blender with minor success in the late '80s and early '90s, grew to an award-winning, arena-size act that could draw tens or even hundreds of thousands of people to one of their shows. Then imagine that Fishbone also became so popular that they could draw a thousand or two people to a show in a country whose main language is something other than English. Like, say, Mexico.
It's not a perfect analogy, but something similar happened Saturday night at House of Blues. For one thing, Fishbone never went anywhere. They had some tough times, captured in the 2010 documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, but they're very much still with us. Hope they come back through soon.
Second, Saturday's sold-out and sweaty crowd was heavily bilingual, if not Spanish-only. And Fishbone works from a palette of heavy music -- punk, thrash, funk -- where Tacuba works with a lighter touch, incorporating '50s Mexican pop ballads, disco and what any self-respecting '80s kid would recognize as early-'80s Britpop like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode.
Anyway. The whole reason I brought this up in the first place is that a good third of Tacuba's 90 minutes onstage was full of the high-kicking tempos and staccato energy of grade-A ska, even before "El Fin de la Infancia" really brought Fishbone to the fore late in the set. Also, elfin front man Ruben Albarran, looking a little like Bob Marley in long dark hair and rasta-friendly colors, probably burns about as many calories in an average show as Fishbone's Angelo Moore, between all the bounding about onstage and leading one lusty singalong after another.
But where the Fishbone comparisons end, and the really fascinating part of Saturday's show began, was how deeply into dance music Tacuba delves. Casual gringo observers might expect Mexico's leading exponent of rock en español to be more like Led Zeppelin, Nirvana or maybe Santana, but instead we got New Order, the Pixies and the lumbering Massive Attack beats of "Chilanga."
If there was a moment that approached conventional "classic rock" all night, it might have been the disco strut and laid-back chords of "Dejate Caer," which brushed up against the Stones' "Undercover of the Night." The song that drew the evening's loudest shriek of all was "Eres" in the encore, sung by keyboardist Emmanuel de Real as an acoustic-tinged reggae ballad in the vein of Duran Duran's "Ordinary World."
So what does all this mean? Just a fun Saturday night with a crowd-pleasing band that probably surpasses anything us Yanks have to offer these days, and that Tacuba are musical polymaths right up there with the other greats. Like maybe the Clash didn't break up after all -- they just moved south of the border like Joe Strummer always wanted.
Personal Bias: I've been a Tacuba fan since I saw them, totally blind, at an ACL Festival about ten years ago. Sometimes I wonder if my opinion would change if I spoke more than a few words of Spanish, but I doubt it. The few words I recognized, like "baile" (dance) and "muchacho" (homeboy), seemed to fit the program pretty well.
The Crowd: Packed, with a rowdy but respectful crowd. Drinks were flying over the balcony before the show even started, according to our intrepid photographer. Good date night, with some absolutely stunning women. Not too many blonds, though.
Overheard in the Crowd: Not much, besides the crowd singing along with every...single...word.
Random Notebook Dump: De Real is a master of the melodica, an odd instrument that looks like a hospital breathing apparatus and sounds like a wheezier harmonica. You probably heard it in the Hooters' mid-'80s hit "And We Danced."
El Baile y el Salon Come Te Extrano Las Persianas Las Flores Ingrata Cero y Uno El Ciclon La Locomotora Volver a Comenzar No Controles Dejate Caer Chilanga El Fin de la Infancia Chica Banda
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De Este Lado del Camino Eres Medio Dia Bar Tacuba El Punal