Thinking back and trying to recall the first time I heard Café Tacvba is impossible. The music, the songs, the cassettes, were always there. My dad blasted the music on the stereo, and I soaked it all up before I could even read or sing to the “Wheels on the Bus.”
As I grew up and continued to listen to their music, they became one of my favorite bands. But I was never able to go to one of their concerts. When I found out that Café Tacvba was headlining the NPR showcase at Auditorium Shores during SXSW, I knew I had to be there.
With the Latin Alternative showcase line-up including Jovanatti, Bajofondo, Molotov, and Cafeta, I expected a large crowd near the stage early on. I was wrong. Though I arrived half an hour after the gates had opened, the crowd near the stage was sparse. It was nothing like what I expected. Food and drinks in hand, I was ready to stand my ground for my spot for the next six hours.
As it neared 5 p.m. and the crowd became larger, radio personality El Conejo finally introduced Italian pop artist rapper Jovanotti to the anxious crowd. His funky pop quickly spurred the dancers in the crowd. He even gave us a little Italian translation as he explained that coraggio meant bravery before playing the actual song. Language was no barrier. Though his rhymes were in another language, the crowd quickly picked up on the chorus and sang along. This was only a taste of the variety of music people heard that night.
Following Jovanatti was Bajofondo, labeled as the electro tango collective, but they proved to be much more than that. After a very late start, the Argentinean and Uruguayan group started things slow with very depressing cinematic type of orchestrated music. Attendees stared in silence with a dazed look on their face not really knowing how to react. To those not familiar with their music, it was certainly a false impression. Their music quickly escalated as the violin and accordion began playing “Codigo de Barra” off their most recent album “Presente.” From then on, it was an instrumental set that mixed pop and electronica with hints of tango orchestra throughout their songs. After the crowd realized there wasn’t going to be any singing, all that was left to do was dance. “Pa’ Bailar” from their album “Mar Dulce” sure made the crowd dance.
Though there was no need for vocals, Bajofondo definitely took it to another level with “Miles de Pasajeros.” They surprised the crowd with some rapping, but it wasn’t the rhymes that were impressive. The unassuming Gustavo Santaolalla played the guitar during the set and when it was his turn to stand in front of the microphone, it was just…incredible. His deep and powerful voice mesmerized the crowd. He held the same note in a flat tone with such intensity that it turned his face red, the crowd cheering over his resonating voice.
After Bajofondo played a shorter than expected set, the crowd restlessly waited for the politically controversial Grammy winners Molotov. And with their arrival came the profanity, chaos, and Mexican pride. The Mexico City rock band began their performance with “Rock Me Amadeus (Amateur),” but all it took was the band’s introduction “el que no brinque que chingue su madre” to “Chinga tu Madre” for the real havoc to begin. Crowd surfers, the usual jumping, pushing, shoving, and mosh pits dominated the show. Molotov shifted to a more serious tone with the unmistakable guitar introduction to “Gimme Tha Power,” and the crowd shouted to the “Viva Mexico cabrones” in the song as the Mexican flag proudly waved in the crowd. The controversial songs continued with “Frijolero” as people sang along with a hint of anger in their voice. Even Jason, the creator of the music video, came on stage to sing along with the band.
With each and every song building up more energy, there was no time to rest. Even if I wanted to stop jumping for a moment, it was impossible. The crowd was unstoppable as their sweaty bodies pushed up against mine, forcing me to jump along. And they were ignited even more every time they heard the band say “el que no brinque es puto.” Sometime in between all the craziness, my phone fell from my front pocket. Surprisingly, someone found it a couple of feet away and returned it. Even more shocking was that my phone was not broken after the entire set culminated to the song the crowd had been chanting throughout the whole performance: “Puto.” And with the excessive profanity, Molotov ended their set to an exhausted but satisfied crowd.
Even though Molotov was just exactly what was needed to rally the crowd, I was glad to finally have a small break to catch my breath. Looking around, I could see that those around me looked just as sweaty and tired as I did, but Café Tacvba still awaited us. As we waited, the crowd sang the introduction to “El Baile y el Salon” and their intuition was right as los Tacubos began their set with that very song. Frontman Rubén Albarrán’s energy was contagious as his long and wild curly hair followed his every move, jump, and zapatazo (especially in “Ingrata”).
The crowd jumped around for “Volver a Comenzar” but slowed down to the ticking clock heard in the song and waved their hands back and forth in union until the song picked up the tempo. The band showed their variety in style as they played heavier rock with “No Controles” but rapped Chilango slang in “Chilanga Banda.” Fans, young and old, knew every word to songs from the early years such as “Las Persianas” and “La Chica Banda.” Unfortunately, not as many sang along to “Olita del Altamar,” from their recently released album “El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco.”
During their set, the band surprised the crowd when in mid-song all band members moved to the front of the stage and started dancing. Not jumping or headbanging, but an actual choreographed dance. For less than a minute, the rock en Español icons turned into a pop boy band group and the amused crowd whistled and cheered them on. As their set came to an end, the band came back for an encore where they played to a little too silent crowd that didn’t seem to know the lyrics to “De Este Lado del Camino” off their most recent album.
But the night wasn’t over yet; the song the crowd had been begging for was about to be sung. Albarrán left the stage and all focus was on Meme (Emmanuel del Real) as he sang my personal favorite, “Eres,” a love song with beautiful lyrics that can only ever be dedicated to the most significant other. Unfortunately the clock struck 10 p.m. and Meme’s sound was cut off, but there was no need for it. The misfortunate event turned into a memorable sing-along as fans sang their hearts out and finished the song. And with the band’s “gracias,” this night filled with amazing music came to an end.
Image: courtesy photo