Every January, the booking agents’ convention hits New York and brings in its wake a handful of spectacularly good multi-band extravaganzas. Will there be a better show in NYC this year than the seven-band lineup at Drom on Jan 11 at 7:30 PM? Probably not. Check out this insanely good bill put together by the Barbes folks, all this for a ridiculously cheap ten bucks at the door: pan-latin revolutionary anthem singer/bandleader Ani Cordero; ten-piece Balkan brass band Slavic Soul Party (who do Duke Ellington as well as they do their own rat-a-tat originals); nine-piece original psychedelic Afrobeat dancehall monsters Zongo Junction; serpentine LA psychedelic soul band Chicano Batman; politically-fueled, bitingly funny son jarocho folk-punk group Las Cafeteras; Ethiopiques keyboard legend Hailu Mergia & Low Mentality; a bit of a lull and then at around 1 AM Chop & Quench playing Fela classics and their own originals. If you can’t make it or can’t pull it together for seven or so hours of music on a Saturday night, Chicano Batman and Las Cafeteras are also at the Shop in Bushwick, 234 Starr St. (Wyckoff/Irving; L to Jefferson St.) at 7 the following night, Jan 11.
Of all those bands, the most intriguing one might be four-piece LA crew Chicano Batman. Their 2012 ep Joven Navegante was a pretty straight-up retro latin funk affair with wah-wah guitars, slinky organ and an infectious dance groove. Their latest one, Cycles of Existential Rhyme – streaming at Bandcamp with their other stuff – is a lot more psychedelic, and eclectic, and a lot of fun. It’s less a bolt of sunshine for a gloomy NYC winter night than a shiny haze rippled with riffs that are as catchy as they are expansive and trippy: happy, upbeat music for people who aren’t shallow.
Frontman/organist Bardo Martinez plays either a vintage Farfisa organ or a newer keyboard with a rippling setting that sounds like one, while guitarist Carlos Arévalo spirals and resonates with a similarly vintage reverbtoned sound over the slinky groove of bassist Eduardo Arenas and drummer Gabriel Villa. Among New York bands, Damian Quinones y Su Conjunto are similar, although this group is both more keyboard-driven, soul-oriented and likely to go way out with an organ or guitar jam.
The album’s opening instrumental, El Frio sounds like something by Country Joe & the Fish at their trippiest yet most succinct. It’s less of a chillout theme than the title might indicate, especially when the band reprise it later as a shapeshifting psychedelic ballad with a pulsing outro that nicks the hook from Steam’s Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.
The title track is a swaying Farfisa soul tune with jazzy, reverbtoned guitar behind Martinez’s expressive vocals. The band follows that with Lisandreando, a spiky, upbeat, tropical-flavored guitar miniature and then El Jalapeño, a droll Mexican folk tune spun through the kaleidescope of 60s American psych rock.
“She lives on my block so I ride by, I haven’t had the opportunity to stay high,” Martinez laments on the next track, a brightly shapeshifting, catchy soul tune about a purple-haired girl who got away; Arévalo kicks in with a tasty wah guitar solo at the end. After that, they slow things down with some weirdly warping sonics and then pull the groove together again with a sunbaked, guitar-and-bass-fueled pulse.
They go back to the psyched-out Mexican folk with Amor Verde and then the sunny, jazzy A Cool Blessing and its wry blend of lingering guitar, ah-ah vocals and wah-wah keys, like Os Mutantes with fatter production values. The album’s best and most epic track, Magma (that’s the name of a girl, go figure) sets slowly unwinding, intertwining guitar and organ over a dancing beat that the band picks up with a labyrinthine, trippy rhythm. They do the same later with Wednesday Morning.
Stoned Soul Picnic isn’t the Laura Nyro blue-eyed soul classic but an original that bookends a brightly unwinding guitar solo with a similarly glistening vintage soul-pop tune. The album winds up with Para Agradecer, a summery soul strut that gets your head bobbing before you realize what’s going on – something you can count on at either of these two shows.