Chicha Libre Go Off the Deep End
At one point during Chicha Libre’s weekly gig last night at their home base, Barbes, the whirling vortex of overtones and reverberating textures made it impossible to tell who was playing what. Was the hypnotic, repetitive “ping” that held it together coming from Vincent Douglas’ Telecaster, or Josh Camp’s two keyboards, or Olivier Conan’s cuatro, all of which were running through a labyrinth of delay and reverb effects? Whatever the answer, it was psychedelic to the extreme. Five years ago, Chicha Libre were emulating the surfy, reverb-driven early 70s Peruvian cumbia-rock sounds that they love so much; today, they’re still doing it, and they’ve evolved exactly like the bands who inspired them – Juaneco y Su Combo, Los Destellos, Los Diablos Rojos and a whole slew of others. Where all those groups began playing a pretty straight-up, Peruvian take on American surf rock instrumentals and then spiraled into psychedelia, Chicha Libre have followed in their footsteps, adding a unique deep-dub edge of their own.
Which works especially well does since Chicha Libre’s songs are so catchy, and so simple. They got off to a brisk start, blasting through the creepy chromatics of Camp’s Tres Pasajeros and several Conan tunes. Like a lot of the first-wave chicha bands, Primavera En La Selva (Springtime in the Jungle) rips off a classical theme, in this case from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. But they conceal it, just like the jokey lyric: the implication is that there’s no springtime in the jungle because it’s always summer there. They bounced through the hypnotic Six Pieds Sous Terre (Six Feet Underground, which according to the lyric is only a phone call away), a distantly Gainsbourg-esque one-chord jam, and a couple of classic cumbia covers (one of them a Juaneco song) before launching into a long jam on the Simpsons theme. This time it was barely recognizable until the section where in the original, Doug Webb’s solo sax riff comes in, and it was absolutely creepy, Camp taking his time, taking the song down an echoing, pulsing sonic wormhole. A little later they did three new ones – one that might be a Bach ripoff, one that might be a chichafied country song and another in more of a traditional, minor-key, chromatically-charged Peruvian vein. Were they originals or classic covers? Nobody in the band said anything. The band’s conguero and the timbalera (whose harmony vocals, on the rare occasions they had them, were an especially nice touch) took a long solo of their own, the band finally landing on what sounded like a random offbeat but still hitting a bullseye all the same. Of all the shows included in this dubious, ongoing stunt (which has only four more days go to!) Chicha Libre matched Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. for the most fun, by a landslide.
Chicha Libre are at Barbes pretty much every Monday (check the club calendar) at around 9:30: it’s always a good idea to get there early because as you can imagine, they’re very popular.