The sky was somber and grey, and the humidity was heavy over Lincoln Center Saturday night. But the Midsummer Night Swing crew were ready. Anticipating the storm that had already delayed the Mets game further east, they started the show a little early. And then something unexpected happened: the wind blew the clouds out of the sky. Underneath, Los Hacheros took advantage of the reprieve and treated a park packed with salsa dancers to an epic show.
Their latest album Bambaluye – recently chronicled here – is practically punk salsa, since bandleader Jacob Plasse plays both his guitar and his tres through a distortion effect. Onstage, an expanded version of the five-piece crew were, if anything, more psychedelic, like a more electrified Bio Ritmo, or one of Harvey Averne’s early 70s South Bronx bands. Another even more expanded element was the songs. It was exactly what the dancers wanted: twenty minutes at a clip without a break so everybody could get down before the skies broke.
They opened with Pintate, a four-chord salsa anthem, Itai Kriss’ slinky flute handing off to Eddie Venegas’ fierce violin solo, the bass rising ominously as the chorus kicked in. They took it out quietly and counterintuitiely. Dispensed quickly with the coy faux-baroque intro to the most recent album’s title track, they got down to business, joyous and exuberant, frontman/conguero Papote Jimenez stoking the fire with his gruff, impassioned vocals. The longest song of the night featured a swirling, frantically flurrying solo from Venegas as the band hit their first peak; the final torrential crescendo was the night’s most chaotic. They flipped the script after that with a serpentine bolero lowlit by looming trombone.
In the background, the gaping windows of several grim, blacked-out apartment windows on the northwest corner of the housing project across Columbus Avenue were a reality check above all this revelry. Let’s hope everyone survived the fire and was able to find shelter somewhere; it’s hard to imagine anyone there being able to find similarly affordable housing in Manhattan anymore.
Midsummer Night Swing continues tonight, July 3 with the Sisterhood of Swing Seven, the allstar all-female band put together to pay tribute to the pioneering women of the 1930s who paved the way for this era’s explosion of talented women instrumentalists. Showtime is 7:30 PM; it’s free to get into Damrosch Park out behind Lincoln Center, $18 in advance for the dancefloor.