Music is one of the few truly international languages. With a solid backbeat, memorable hooks, technical-proficiency and sincerely-delivered energy, it won’t matter how alien the spoken (or in this case, sung) language is to the listener – it will connect. Tonight in Hollywood that lesson was taught to us in powerful fashion by Mexican alternative rock band Café Tacvba, who got the sometimes-staid Bowl crowd on their feet, dancing with their hands in the air even if a portion of the crowd had no ability to sing-along with the Spanish-language songs. None of that mattered as the band celebrated their 30th anniversary with a nearly two-hours long.
That being said – and unsurprising for Los Angeles, a city with a large Mexican and Spanish-speaking population – the majority of the audience was there specifically because they knew so many of Café Tacvba’s biggest hits by heart. In order to accommodate the special anniversary set, which covered a broad spectrum of the band’s discography, the show started promptly at 7. Those hoping to catch opening act Cherry Glazerr couldn’t be a moment late, as they played eight songs in quick succession and were finished with their performance right around 7:30.
It’s hard to imagine the Los Angeles indie rock band fronted by Clementine Creevy has played to a crowd as large as that of the Hollywood Bowl; it’s also hard to imagine they’ve played to a crowd more disinterested. As some members of the audience shuffled to their seats while others finished up their evening picnic on what was a gorgeous Southern California afternoon, it was clear that there weren’t many there specifically to see the band nor were many aware of who they were. Despite the friendly apathy from the audience, Creevy and her two bandmates slashed through a brief-but-strong set that included some older classics and plenty of new songs from their latest album Stuffed & Ready. Older songs played during their set were “Whites Not My Color This Evening,” “I Told You I’d Be With The Guys” and “Had 10 Dollaz.” From the new album there were songs like the fast-paced album-opener “Ohio,” “Stupid Fish” and two of the LP’s singles “Wasted Nun” and “Daddi.”
After a brief intermission, it was time for the Latin alternative legends Café Tacvba to take the stage. They did so in dramatic fashion, with the stage nearly blacked out and the music slowly building up with lead singer Rubén Albarran wearing a large headdress, which he removed and placed near the drum kit just before the stage lights came on and the music hit moved from an ambient-pop build-up to upbeat chunky rock and roll riffing. Though his bandmates were no slouches in the arena of stage-presence, Albarran was certainly the most captivating member of the band on stage. When he wasn’t singing during the many extended musical interludes he was spinning and running and skanking and choreographed-falling all over the stage, hands and arms a twisting blur. He exudes a positive charisma and has one of the most distinct voices in rock music, extremely nasally in a way that’s still extremely endearing and capable of great emotional and sonic range.
“Volver a Comenzar” provided an early highlight of the night and proved quickly that this wouldn’t be the usual Hollywood Bowl event with folks in the terrace-level boxes doing the sitting-still and politely observing music. Instead, the entire Bowl was on their feet during Emmanuel del Real’s bursting-with-joy, ’80s-style synth intro all the way through to its slower, more introspective middle segment. But it was back on their feet when the band, led by guitarist Joselo Rangel and bassist Enrique Rangel gradually brought the song in for its rapturous conclusion. At around seven minutes, a song this well crafted and pulled off in a live setting is rare.
Throughout the set, Albarran would address the audience, first thanking the crowd for coming out to celebrate his band’s 30th anniversary and expressing excitement over playing at the historic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. He moved between English and Spanish, obviously feeling more comfortable to speak at length in his native language. During one break between songs, after staring deep into the highest reaches of the amphitheater and soaking it all in, he spoke at length about how we should ask for rain for the Amazon and imagine rain falling down on us. He spoke at length about victory for the planet – “victoria para el planeta!” Meaning that we need to take care of the entire world, the planet itself and the those around us.
What’s so impressive about a band like Café Tacvba is their ability to jump from genre to genre while still retaining their core sound. Whether it’s the ska-influenced upstrokes of “Las Flores,” the trip-hop/hip-hop groove of “Chilanga Banda,” the blip-blooping electronic pop of “Puntas Cardinales” or the more traditional folk sounds of “Olita del Altamar,” these players do it all and at that, better than most bands in the songs’ given genre. Though they played many of their most beloved songs throughout the set, they saved two of their biggest hits for the encore. Perhaps the band’s most popular song, “Eres” is a delicate ballad that certainly struck as one of the most “traditional” songs in their repertoire, sung gracefully by del Real. Finishing up the encore was another fan-favorite, “El Baile y El Salón.”
It’s rare to find a core group of musicians who’ve been able to stick together, continuously produce high-quality music over three decades and still clearly have fun with it. Towards the end of the set several members, including the original Tacvbas, stood in a line and did a choreographed, totally-silly but still perfect dance along with the music. After the set concluded, Albarran once again spoke with the audience at length, ending with the night’s mantra of “victoria para el planeta!” He then stood around on the edge of the stage, speaking with the fans and showing sincere gratitude for the moment. 30 years can do a lot to any group of people. Seeing such an influential group that has every right to be jaded rock-stars, still be overjoyed with performing together, it gives just a little bit of hope that one day the planet can be victorious.