Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ojalá Que Llueva Café... Tacvba!

(Yes, the subject line is a joke that no one reading this will get. But I'm sticking with it anyway! )

Last night we went to our first concert of 2009. Concerts are a big deal for us; they've been the source of so many great Matt-and-Chris experiences... from Run DMC (yes, Run DMC) in Valpo all the way to U2 in New York City, from multiple Midwestern doses of Bruce Springsteen all the way to KT Tunstall in a tiny North Side theatre, we've been "spending our hard-earned on a rock show," as Bono puts it, since our first days together. I'd wanted to make it to a concert in Mexico at some point during our year, but with our time drawing to a close I figured it probably wouldn't happen.

But then I saw online that Mexico City chilangos Café Tacvba would be playing in the nearby metropolis of León as part of their 20 Years 20 Cities celebration tour. ¡¡Café Tacvba!! If you're interested in world music you can click here to learn more about Café Tacvba, but suffice to say that they are one of the most Mexican of Mexican bands in the 90s generation of Latin American rocanrol... and we had a chance to see them in Mexico! Naturally, we - ok, I - couldn't pass this up.


When we arrived in León the line of people waiting to enter the arena was already winding around the block. The effect of this sight - a critical part of the concert experience - is hard to overstate. Up until that point you might be feeling ambivalent about your evening - so many things to do, why did I buy these tickets in the first place, the transportation is so much work - but when you see those fans lined up, a whole bunch of people excited about the same thing, well... the excitement is contagious. Your heart beats just a bit faster...

You also learn the first thing about what the concert experience will be like. Having attended the concerts of mostly, shall we say, "experienced" artists we are used to a more, er, "experienced" crowd. Most people at a Springsteen show are twice our age. Since tonight's band was celebrating its 20th anniversary, Chris expected the crowd to again be a good deal older than us. But we were wrong. The vast majority of those lined up ahead of and now behind us were in their late twenties, maybe early thirties at the oldest. In other words, our age. (Hey, this is a new thing for us!)

As we made our way closer to the arena's entrance, we checked out the tour merchandise out for sale. Choosing a concert t-shirt is one of the most difficult yet potentially rewarding aspects of the concert experience. (Yes, I wrote that with a straight face. I think there should be an Uniwatch blog for concert t-shirts. Somebody do this.) It's especially rewarding with a band that takes its visual design almost as seriously as its musical composition, which Café Tacvba certainly is. Even so, I couldn't make the call before the concert. This being Mexico, there were already stands set up outside selling cheap($10 or less) versions of the "official" concert merch, and it looked likely, given the presence of newly-arrived vendors only beginning to unpack their stuff, that there would be more after the show. Deep breath. Ok, I'll wait until after the show. Chris puts her arm around me. "It'll be ok," she says, "you'll find one you like later." My wife knows me.

Finally we walk through the turnstiles.... only to run the gauntlet of security guards waiting for us. We each get pulled aside by a different security guard to be patted down. I get approved, then turn to look for Chris again but I'm suddenly pulled aside by another security guard. He pats me down, then asks me something that I don't understand. I show him my ticket. "No no," he says, then asks me again. For all my Spanish training, I still don't understand what he's saying. Crap. I hate feeling like a foreigner. (We are definitely the only gringos here.) The security guard finally gives up, looks at my ticket, and points me in the right direction. Chris is already waiting in that hallway, her belt in her hand. "The first guard told me I had to check my belt," she tells me, "but then another guard told me I didn't have to." Crowd confusion - you gotta love it. She shrugs her shoulders, puts her belt back on, and we make our way up the stairs to the cheap seats.

The lights go down, and the show begins. The crowd goes wild. How to describe the experience? Maybe a video would help.

(This one is worth watching all the way through - at about the halfway point, the 3 minute mark, a dude comes out with a fiddle, the lead singer starts yodeling, and the song turns on a dime, Outkast-style, to become a very Mexican hoedown. Check it out!)

There's a guy next to us who is clearly a superfan. He dances like crazy throughout the show, singing all the words at the top of his voice and thrashing his arms about - a bit like the lead singer, actually, who is a crazy ball of dance-y energy. (Think: a 5-year-old on a sugar rush. A 5-year-old on a sugar rush for 3 hours. Yep.) Although our friend next to us is one of the most dedicated fans, we're amazed at how the entire crowd goes wild for so many of the songs. From the mosh pit of people at floor level pushing up against the stage to the standing-room-only up in our balcony, the crowd sings along with jubilant energy for song after song after song, their faces lit up by the extravagant light show of spotlights coming from the stage. The mass singalong: It is, hands down, my favorite thing about concerts. It's like church - but with better music. ;-)

Unlike our U2 and Bruce shows, however, we know almost none of the words to any of these songs. Oh, we've tried, of course - we've been listening to the Café Tacvba catalog on our respective iPods for the last month - but the different language makes the lyric learning curve a bit slower, even for Chris. We know lots of the tunes and a few of the first lines of several choruses, so we en up doing a lot of "La la la la bum bum bum whooooo!!!!" And with the energy of the crowd all around us, that seems to be enough. We bop our heads with joy through the wide range of Mexican-pop-folk-rock-punk that flows from band to fans and back again, and enjoy ourselves immensely.

After the show we take some time to wade through the now-two-dozen-at-least independent merchandise stands. Our favorite innovation: The concert soccer jersey. Before and during the concert, we'd noticed people in England national team jerseys with "Radiohead" on the back and an LA Galaxy MLS jersey with "Metallica" on the back, and now we find a Mexican national team jersey with "Café Tacvba on the back. Too cool - but not quite what we're looking for. Finally we settle on the fantastic cool-kid playeras you see us wearing in the photo above. Mission accomplished.

I look at my watch. 12:41 PM. The last bus left for Lagos de Moreno at 11:00. We walk to the bus station anyway, thinking it'll be the best place to find a safe taxi to take us home. It is, thank goodness, and before long we're heading out of town, watching the sea of León's city lights fading behind us, giving way to the nighttime darkness of the countryside. In twenty minutes the lights of Lagos de Moreno rise up before us. Just before 2am we finally fall into bed, exhausted, the end of another adventure across the border, this time one we'll remember with songs. Gracias, gracias por la musica...


From Michigan with Love said...

hehe cool!!! Glad you didn't get taken down by the guard!

Mike and Beth said...

Love it! What a blast!