New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: rock en espanol

Eljuri’s Mighty, Fearless Revolutionary Debut Album: One of 2016’s Best

Eljuri play edgy, minor-key, fearlessly political south-of-the-border rock. Their songs are catchy and as fiery as they are eclectic. Frontwoman Cecilia Villar Eljuri punctuates her clever, metaphorically-charged Spanish-language lyrics with intense, dynamic, often exhilarating  lead guitar work – she’s sort of this era’s David Gilmour of rock en Español. Their debut album La Lucha (“The Struggle”) is streaming at Storyamp. They’re playing the album release show this Wednesday, Oct 12 at 7 PM at Drom; advance tix are $15

The album’s opening title track, a punk-funk number, is disarmingly straightforward: “With my guitar and my lyrics, I speak for the struggle,” the bandleader explains. The production is artful: lingering reverb-toned ambience behind the scratchy rhythm guitar. The band switches to an upbeat reggae groove for the brassy anti-violence anthem Bang Bang, ending with an exhaustive litany of cities which have been the scene of notorious mass shootings and murders by police: it’s long enough to go on for a whole verse and chorus and finally ends with New York City.

Jangly guitars balance against stately piano on the mournful but propulsive bolero El Viento (“The Wind”): musically, it’s one of the album’s strongest tracks, sung with unexpecteldy misty nuance. By contrast, Nunca Volvere (“Never Coming Back”) pounces along with a flurrying, chromatically-fueled, Andalucian-tinged menace, like legendary Mexican art-rockers Jaguares at their most savage.

The band brings back a swaying, funk-tinged drive on Injusticia, then, finally six tracks in, they do a happy tune in a major key: the bouncy, Blondie-esque Right Now. Then they go back to the menace with Indiferencia, a towering, majestic cumbia-flavored lament, resonant twelve-string guitar against lush string synth. Quiero Saber (“I Wanna Know”) takes a turn back into classic-style roots reggae, with a tantalizingly brief, psychedelic wah guitar solo midway through.

Likewise, the artsy psychedelia of Luz Roja (“Red Light”) brings to mind peak-era Bob Marley, until the band picks up the pace with a scampering chorus. Salvame (“Save Me”), with Eljuri’s lyrics switching between English and Spanish, takes a turn back toward straight-up backbeat 70s rock with salsa-tinged piano and Satana-esque guitar. The final cut, Sed (Thirst) slowly builds toward a towering, angst-fueled peak, a defiant, ultimatley hopeful revolutionary anthem. Listening to this album all the way through, it hits you: every single one of these tracks is strong. The lyrics are smart and relevant, Eljuris’s vocals are just as dynamic and the band is killer. Who would have thought that what might be the best rock record of the year would be sung mostly in Spanish. La Reconquista might be closer than we think!

MAKU Soundsystem Bring Their Darkly Delirious Global Sounds Back to Lincoln Center

The secret to MAKU Soundsystem‘s latest album, the aptly titled Mezcla – streaming at Spotify – is Felipe Quiroz’s  tremoloing, funereal organ. There are thousands of bubbly, terminally cheery, dancey acts out there aping sub-equatorial sounds from both hemispheres. But MAKU Soundsystem have an element of danger, and a ubiquitous if understated populist political sensibility. For example, with the album’s opening track, Agua, the band takes a generic soukous guitar riff and layers suspenseful horn swells and slinky, creepy psychedelic rock organ over a scrambling beat. The point of frontwoman Liliana Conde’s lyrics is that water goes wherever it can, and that our own quest for global unity ought to be just as fluid, and, ultimately, successful. The group are bringing their conscious dance party to the Lincoln Center Atrium on Sept 22 at 7:30 PM, and judging from the crowds they’ve brought to Lincoln Center in the past, you should get there early if you’re going.

The album’s second cut, Thank You Thank You isn’t your ordinary psychedelic cumbia. As it clatters along, the band blend elements of Afrobeat, soukous and ancient African call-and-response into the psychedelic swirl. Let It Go is even trippier – while Camilo Rodriguez’s guitar runs a terse minor-key cumbia hook, the polyrhythms from the horns and a growing army of percussion build in both channels. There isn’t a mathrock band alive who could have so much fun with an interweave of so many different beats at once.

The tangent that Positivo takes is easier to follow – it’s phantasmagorical, it’s part cumbia, part reggae, part chamame and follows a hypnotic, swaying groove: 11/4 time was never so easy to swing your hips to. Then they straighten it out, with a deliciously incisive, smoky organ solo before the brass takes it up to a mighty peak. La Inevitable – implying that you can’t resist dancing to this stuff – is a lot more hypnotic, Rodriguez’s wah-wah guitar just as much a percussion instrument as the rest of the rattle and thump as the group rises to a fiery Ethiopian-inspired crescendo.

The band follows La Hatiana, the most straight-up psychedelic cumbia here, with the album’s most straight-up Afrobeat number, What Do You Wish For. The best track here is Happy Hour, a phantasmagorical cumbia that’s the missing link between Los Destellos and Antibalas. The album winds up with another stunner, De Barrio, a moody mashup of psychedelic cumbia, dub and a sad neoromantic waltz, pure solace for gutter stargazers. To paraphrase George Clinton, liberation isn’t a trickle-down effect.

Bewitchingly Slinky, Darkly Psychedelic Cumbia from Bareto

For those of us who equate minor keys with excitement and passion rather than sadness, slinky Peruvian psychedelic cumbia band Bareto’s fantastic album El Impredecible is streaming at Spotify. And while they don’t seem to be hitting New York soon, they have a US tour coming up.

Like their northern counterparts Chicha Libre – who are a big reason why cumbia became the world’s default party music – Bareto reference the classic, surfy sounds of the late 60s and 70s while adding their own distinctive, equally psychedelic touches. The album’s opening track, La Voz Del Sinchi has the feel of a Los Destellos classic, but with more of a late 70s feel, lead guitarist Joaquín Mariátegui playing his eerily chromatic chords with a shivery, icy chorus-box tone. The album’s second track, La Pantalla (The Screen) has one of the funniest videos made this century: for anyone who’s come home trashed at 4 AM and clicked through to Univision, or Telemundo, or Venevision, this parody will have you laughing til your face hurts. Lead singer Mauricio Mesones’ deadpan vocal downplays its caustic commentary on moronic south-of-the-border tv. If you think that American networks are retarded, go a little further south. The creepy carnival organ drives it home.

The title track takes a sardonically bouncy detour toward shuffling Veracruz folk, with a lingering psychedelic edge. Likewise, Mariátegui’s No Es Para Mi (It’s Not for Me) has a sunny tropical feel, in this case a wah guitar-fueled shout out to Os Mutantes-style bossa-pop. Then the band completely flips the script with the snaky, deliciously carnivalesque La Negra y el Fantasma (The Girl and the Ghost), also by Mariátegui. The interweave of the spare but resonant reverb guitars – that’s Rolo Gallardo on the other one – along with Miguel Ginocchio’s accordion and funeral organ, over the percussion and drums of Jorge Olazo and Sergio Sarria, is intoxicatingly tasty.

The southwestern gothic dub-flavored Bombo Baile takes awhile to get going, then the guitar starts shooting off sparks, a surreal, mind-warping mashup of vintage C&W and Los Destellos’ six-string legend Enrique Delgado. Similarly, the ominous, lingering Viejita Guarachera goes in a dub direction, referencing the Specials’ ska-noir classic, Ghost Town over Jorge Giraldo’s classic roots reggae bass.

Mamá Motelo, by Gallardo, pushes the trippy swirl along, its surf guitar multitracks evoking classic Lima chicha acts like Los Mirlos and Los Diablos Rojos. Susana Baca guests on vocals on the uneasily atmospheric El Loco, an extremely unlikely but unexpectedly successful mashup of traditional festejo folk and the Church’s late 80s spacerock. La Semilla (The Seed) has a twinkling, nocturnal Hawaiian vibe, while the album’s closing cut, País de las Maravillas (Miracle Land) has the loping groove and trebly guitar textures of a classic Los Destellos hit. Bands like this just make you want to forget about American rock and head for the mountains and the jungle where chicha was first fermented.

Speaking of psychedelic cumbia, it’s worth sending out a special shout to Consumata Sonidera, who literally stopped traffic at their show uptown at 125th St. and the highway a couple of weeks ago. When they took the little stage at the park on the river, there was hardly anyone there. By the time they left, almost down to the second that the rain started, cars had pulled over along with bike riders and seemingly half the people making their walk home, not expecting to hear anything like this fun, eclectic, trippy low-key set with just guitar, bass, percussion and frontman Bruno Navarro’s diamond-cutting alto sax.

Los Disolados Blast Into the Latino Punk Festival at Don Pedro’s This Weekend

Punk rock has been balkanized and co-opted so much over the years that it’s a wonder there are any bands left who are true to the fearless, funny, politically-fueled spirit that made punk so much fun and so relevant in the first place. But there are. Sometimes you have to look for them. One good place to find a bunch of them this weekend is Don Pedro’s, where there’s a latino punk festival happening this Friday and Saturday. The Friday night lineup starts at around midnight and includes shorts sets by AtruthNamatay sa ingay, Boston’s Los Disolados and Chicago’s Autonomy.

Los Disolados’ new album, sarcastically titled Bonus Trax, is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The power trio includes guitarist Ghandi G, guitarist/drummer Roberspierre and bassist Mateo W. Everybody in the band contributes vocals; lyrics are in Spanish and as gleefully grim as you would expect. The first track, Atentado Terrorista opens with a blare of sampled martial brass-band music and then the band kicks in with a chromatically-charged menace. The vocals blast back and forth; you can imagine the crowd at a show roaring “terrorista” back at them. Then there’s a icy, echoey guitar solo.

The band gives Profecia Malparida a hard-hitting midtempo minor-key intro and then hits a machinegunning sprint, then goes back again. No Humano is another slow-then-lickety-split number with a blend of watery and gritty guitars. Dusted is noisy and really short, as is the band’s signature song, Disolados. The cut before that, Maquina de Guerra is the most oldschool.

On one hand, songs about terrorist attacks, drug damage, inhumanity, war machines and inscecapable solitude have all been done before: you might be able to find one of each on a random UK Subs album from the 80s. On the other hand, Los Disolados put a lot of imagination into their songs and have a sound that doesn’t rip off a thousand older bands. And their music reflects the state of the world we live in. If you’re not comfortable in that world, you’re not alone. If that’s not punk rock, nothing is. Bring your friends and make new ones at Don Pedro’s this weekend.

Planta Bring Their Powerful, Epic, Psychedelic Art-Rock to the West Village This Saturday Night

When as formidable a musician as Desert Flower lead guitarist Migue Mendez says that someone else’s band is better than his own, you have to wonder how amazing that band has to be. On one hand, Mendez was being modest, considering what a volcanic (if sadly abbreviated) set Desert Flower put on a couple of Saturday ago in the wee hours of a Sunday morning at Sidewalk. On the other, the band they followed, Planta, brought a stadium-worthy majesty and titanic sweep rarely seen in such a small venue. Watching the five-piece Queens art-rockers shift through all sorts of permutations, and grooves, and tunes with an epic intensity was like getting to see Pink Floyd in a small club. The show was that good. They’re playing the Bitter End, of all places, at 9:30 PM on December 5, which ought to be even better since that place has a better PA than Sidewalk’s. As a bonus, Bombrasstico, who mash up brass band funk with dancehall reggae and Afrobeat, follow later on the bill around 11:30.

Planta’s debut album, Unwind, is streaming at their music page. A siirening ebow guitar drone underpins the pulsing, minimalist, syncopated title track. Like much of the material here, it echoes the moody post-new wave anthems of legendary Mexican rockers Caifanes. That’s All I Want sways along with a distant, cumbulo-nimbus soundtrack-rock ominousness, then picks up with jangle and slide guitar over bassist Jean-Paul Le Du’s catchy groove; like Radiohead but with more balls. Lazy hints that it’s going in either a happy-go-lucky Vampire Weekend direction, or into folk-rock, but instead goes back toward broodingly catchy Caifanes territory, lead guitarist Marcelo Dominguez first echoing Jerry Garcia in “on” mode, then going into dark, lingering Saul Hernandez territory.

Exiliado has a lush, wounded art-rock sweep, like a blend of Radiohead and Nektar at their most deep-space intense. The twin gutars of Dominguez and frontman Ricardo Ponce mingle and blend with a resonant Pink Floyd grandeur throughout the bitterly pensive Don’t Know You. The final cut is Todo Es un Sueno, slowly taking shape over Le Du’s elegant slides and pulses. As majestic as these songs are on record, they’re even more immense live. This band desreves a stage as big as their sound; right now, you’re lucky enough to be able to catch them when they’re still playing small venues.

Tasty Psychedelic Cumbias and Dancefloor Delirium from Consumata Sonidera

Consumata Sonidera opened their set the evening of the fourth at Paperbox with a steady four-on-the-floor beat and a catchy four-chord latin rock tune (what’s up with all these fours?) fueled by guitarist Puffy Ramirez’s edgy, distortion-tinged chords and frontman/alto saxophonist Bruno Navarro’s eerily crystalline lines. And then suddenly drummer Jorge Black hit a cumbia beat…and within seconds the room had filled. The crowd were like rats to a trap baited with bacon – it was almost funny. Navarro seized the moment with his wry, gruff vocals, and the set just got more slinky and fun from there. Consumata Sonidera are a late addition to open that excellent ska/punk bill at Grand Victory on October 10 at 7 PM which also features anthemic Celtic-flavored punk rockers the Crypt Keeper 5 and perennially popular 90s ska band Inspecter 7 headlining; cover is $15 and worth it.

At the Paperbox show, the band followed the first of their psychedelic cumbias with a shapeshifting tropical number that veered between dub and hardcore, wah guitar giving way to a searchlight alto sax break: if the Bad Brains had gone deeper into dub, this is what they would have sounded like. They went back to cumbia sabrosa from there, Billybob’s fat bass anchoring the snakecharmer ambience as the guitar skanked and the sax sailed uneasily overhead. By now, everybody in the impressively multicultural crowd was dancing: imagine that, a dancefloor full of random people who’d wandered in from the flea market in too-cool-for-school Bushwick!

From there they took a rambunctious detour into surf rock with a south-of-the-border tune that alluded to the classic Pipeline, but not close enough to be a straight-up ripoff. Billybob shifted from a deep, reggae-tinged pulse to nimble, trebly lines that he played with a pick, but that didn’t slow him down as the band made their way from cumbia to ska to more doublespeed punk and eventually a long, ominously murky dub interlude at the end of a Mexican folk-tinged dance number, everybody going way down into the abyss. And then Navarro slowly brought them back up out of the smokiness as the guiitar’s reverb-drenched echoes bounced off the cinderblock. They sent another echoey, Guns of Brixton-ish reggae shout-out to their peeps, then back to the cumbias, Ramirez hitting his pedal for some creepy, watery textures. It’s hard to imagine a catchier or cooler band opening a hot set on a Saturday night.

Los Crema Paraiso Bring Their Trippy, Cinematic Tropicalia to Barbes Again

Los Crema Paraiso are a psychedelic tropical power trio, a supergroup of sorts. If you can excuse the dadrock reference, they’re sort of the Blind Faith of equatorial latin rock. Los Amigos Invisibles‘ José Luis Pardo plays guitar and keys; Álvaro Benavides of superstar percussionist Pedrito Martinez‘s group plays bass, with polymath percussionist Neil Ochoa, late of Chicha Libre, who springboarded much of the current explosion of trippy pan-American sounds. Named for a favorite Caracas ice cream spot, they’ve got a new album, De Pelicula, inspired by Venezuelan film from over the years, streaming at Bandcamp.  They’ve also got a show at 8 PM on August 12 at their home base in New York – where else? – Barbes.

The album’s opening instrumental, Un Disip en Nueva Yol, sets the stage for what’s in store, a mashup of Rage Against the Machine grit, dreamy surf rock and a little psychedelic cumbia, set to Ochoa’s nimbly scampering triplet rhythm. From there, it’s a suite: if there’s one album released this year that really works on a cohesive, thematic level, this is it. Aterciopelados frontwoman Andrea Echeverri sings a rapidfire neo-folklore take of El Curruchá over the rapidfire flurries of guest cuatro player Jorge Glem of the C4 Trio. From there, Pardo leads the band with his echoey, watery, lingering multitracks over a lively string section, through a balmy, aptly cinematic instrumental: Theme from a Summer Place in the Amazon?

Rocco Tarpeyo adds wry reggaeton flavor to Varón Domado, a spiky, Veracruz folk-tinged number. Más, a bossa-psych cover from the late 60s, pairs surrealistically blippy organ against terse Os Mutantes-style guitar. To Zing with Your Girlfriend (Paradise Cream) keeps the acid-lounge sonics going, awash in droll dubwise tinges and balmy layers of keys, up to a joyous guitar-fueled peak. Juan Rivas sings the album’s best and edgiest track, Tanto Que La Quise, a bossa-psych/chicha/Gainsbourg mashup that’s a dead ringer for Chicha Libre (and is that Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on keening, trebly, wah-wah Hohner Electrovox synth? Sure sounds like it).

The tongue-in-cheek Cucaracha En Baile de Gallinas is the most vividly trippy track here, Benavides taking a woozy wah-wah solo before Pardo brings in a vintage Juaneco vibe. The album winds up with a similarly surreal cover of the Santo & Johnny surf classic Sleepwalk, Pardo’s cheery slide guitar taking it over the top. There are two misses here that fall into the “garbage in, garbage out” category: as hard as the band tries to psychedelicize them, there’s no redeeming a couple of cheesy 80s radio hits, one that you probably know from the supermarket and the other from Goth Night (does Goth Night still exist, or has it been superseded by Emo Night – or http://www.s&

It was good to catch a sliver of the band’s set this past July 3, a night when the trains were so screwed up that the only option getting home from the (ridiculously pathetic) fireworks at Coney Island required a stop at Barbes to chill out and derail the evening’s mounting frustrations. Live, the band are a lot louder and more driving than they typically are on record. Pardo was in a particularly hard-rocking if swirly mood that night, using a lot of loops and pitch-shifting effects through several long, early Santana-esque interludes.

Orkesta Mendoza Bring Their Desert Noir to Lincoln Center

Orkesta Mendoza are connoiseurs of noir. A lot of what’s lurking in the shade of that big black umbrella takes its origins from the Balkans, Romany and Jewish music, notably hi-de-ho jazz and its descendants in ghoulabilly and elsewhere. But a lot of noir comes from south of the border. For bandleader/guitarist/keyboardist Sergio Mendoza, none of those styles are off limits: slithery mambos, funereal boleros and towering, angst-fueled, cinematic rancheras, to name a few. He and his sizzling band – which can vary in size from a six-piece to a full orchestra – take those styles and mash them up into stampeding, lushly and exhilaratingly arranged psychedelic rock. They’re playing Lincoln Center Out of Doors, out back in Damrosch Park on July 29 at 7 PM. You should get there early if you want a seat.

The group’s most recent New York appearance was last year at South Sttreet Seaport, with a roughly ten-piece lineup including a horn section. Mendoza’s songs, whether originals or covers, tend to be expansive and go on for sometimes ten minutes or more – they redeem the concept of a jamband. This time out, in roughly forty-five minutes onstage, there wasn’t time for a lot wild improvisation, altough the group made those moments count. Mendoza played mostly acoustic guitar, shifting to the organ for just a single number. The star of this particular show was lapsteel player Joe Novelli, who played with a searing, chromatically-fueled fury. This wasn’t western swing – it was el diablo del desierto teleported from the netherland where Ambrose Bierce disappeared.

Baritone saxophonist Marco Rosano also distinguished himself and played keys on a couple of songs as well – lots of guys in this band double on several instruments. The most haunting song of the afternoon was Dulce Amor, a menacing bolero sung with drama and passion by Mexican cult favorite crooner Salvador Duran. Another similarly ominous, more upbeat minor key number was Mambo Mexicano, a springboard for several sizzling solos from throughout the band.

There was also a pricelessly hilarious moment. After the bass player led the group into a slinky psychedelic cumbia groove, Mendoza began it in English. It didn’t have much in the way of lyrics, and it turned out to be just a one-chord jam – but the band made it interesting. And when they got to the chorus, when Mendoza deadpanned “Don’t tell me that you love me,” it turned out that this was a Fleetwood Mac cover, Tusk, the 1979 hit that might be the most soporific song ever to reach the top 40. Fewer people in the crowd than you might expect got the joke – then again, 1979 was a long time ago, and it’s not likely that number gets a lot of corporate radio airplay anymore. For their last song, the group brought up whirlwind accordionist Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica – who’d opened the afternoon with his band – raising the energy several notches. The only drawback about this show was that it was relatively short, but at Lincoln Center, artists typically get about a full hour onstage.

Psychedelic Peruvian Legends Los Wemblers Make a Historic New York Debut

A landmark event in New York music history took place Thursday night, when the brain trust of Brooklyn hotspot Barbes – who’ve now gone into the worldwide booking business – sold out the Pioneer Arts Center with the debut New York performance by Peruvian psychedelic legends Los Wemblers. Largely forgotten even in their home country until the past five years or so, this family band of six guys, most of them in their sixties and seventies, from an isolated Amazonian oil boomtown, played a wildly vigorous show that kept a mix of sweaty kids and curious oldsters on their feet for the better part of three hours. In an era when nobody in New York leaves their neighborhood, that the Barbes crew could bring a crowd this size all the way to Red Hook sent a message. Imagine what the guys could do with a venue that everybody could actually get to – like Madison Square Garden.

But that’s just part of the story. If Olivier Conan and Vincent Douglas hadn’t started Chicha Libre, who brought the wild, surreal psychedelic cumbias from the 1960s and 70s out of the Amazonian jungle for the first time, staging this concert anywhere outside of a Peruvian expat community would have been absurd. But thanks in large part to their band – and Barbes Records’ two Roots of Chicha historical compilations – this trippy, intoxicatingly danceable music isn’t an obscure niche genre anymore. Maybe, as Conan once boasted, cumbia really is going to take over the world.

As one of the night’s emcees emphasized, Los Wemblers distinguish themselves from their many other countrymen who mashed up American surf music, psychedelic rock, indigenous folk themes and sounds from Cuba to Argentina and pretty much all points in between from the late 60s into the 80s. Where so many of those bands went soft when synthesizers got popular, Los Wemblers sound exactly like they did on their home turf in 1969 – except louder. The band’s patriarch, guitarist Salomon Sanchez sadly didn’t live to see the band’s resurgence, but his five sons did and now comprise most of the group. The star of the night was guitarist Alberto Sanchez, who played most of two long sets with his eyes closed, the trace of a smile on his face as his fast fingers fueled a magically clanging, twangy, undulating tropical time machine.

Behind him, the band’s two percussionsists laid down a slinky, irresistible groove that boomed and rattled off the walls of the space to the point that there was an oscillation between the clave click of the woodblock and the thump of the congas, ramping up the psychedelic factor several notches. Together they ran through a surreal mashup of snaky cumbia, sprightly Pervuian folk themes, twangy surf times, a couple of strikingly stark, minor-key, Cuban-tinged numbers and many of their hits, mostly nonstop, segueing into one after another.

The best one of the night was Sonido Amazonico, which they played twice. The first time around, they did the haunting, phantasmagorical “national anthem of chicha” as a sprawling ten-minute jam, a creepy cocktail of Satie-esque passing tones, like a warped tarantella to counter the effects of a lysergic spider bite. The second time around they hit it harder and more directly, like the original vinyl single, the guitarist capping off his solo with a sizzling, spiraling flight upward, then hitting his wah pedal and leaving it wide open, a murky pool of sound mingling with the echoey, cantering beats. What frontman/percussionist Jair Sanchez left no doubt about was that it was their song to mess with, notwithstanding that Lima band Los Mirlos’ version was the bigger hit, and that Chicha Libre’s cover is what pretty much jumpstarted the Brooklyn cumbia cult.

Another hit that Los Wemblers treated the crowd to twice was the careening, aptly gritty La Danza Del Petrolero – and happily, unlike the popular Los Mirlos single, the guitar was in tune this time. The rest of the set was a fascinating look at how psychedelic cumbias are just as diverse as American psychedelic rock. Without blinking an eye, the band made their way expertly through a couple of bright, cheery vamps that more than hinted at Veracruz folk tunes, eventually hit a brooding, Cuban-flavored number, made cumbia out of a stately, dramatic tango anthem, sped up, slowed down and took a couple of frantically pulsing detours toward merengue. One of the night’s best numbers was also the most ornate and ominously elegant – but no less danceable. Devious references to the Ventures, Duke Ellington and the Richard Strauss theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey bubbled to the surface. By the time the old guys finally called it quits, it was almost midnight. If you weren’t lucky or ambitious enough to make it out to Red Hook, Conan promises they’ll be back next year.

Damian Quiñones Brings His Edgy, Individualistic, Psychedelic Latin Soul Uptown

It was fun to see Damian Quiñones y Su Conjunto rock the back room at their most recent appearance at Barbes a few weeks ago. It’s an intimate space, and for that reason, other than the blazing Balkan brass groups – Slavic Soul Party, Raya Brass Band, et al. – who play here, the club doesn’t book a lot of loud music. While Quiñones draws on an early 70s Nuyorican sound popularized by cult favorites like the Ghetto Brothers, his songs rock harder than most of that era’s latin soul bands. And he’s an individualistic songwriter who draws more on classic pop structures, a la Elvis Costello, than on longform latin psychedelic acts like Santana. He and the band are playing Silvana in Harlem on Dec 13 at 10 PM, which should work out well since they have the muscle to be heard over the chatty Saturday night bar crowd there.

At Barbes, Quiñones sang in both English and Spanish, backed by a purist, bluesy lead guitarist, tight bass and drums, a keyboardist who doubled on trombone, and a conguero and alto saxophonist who came up for most of the second half of the show. Quiñones is a lefty, which might help explain his interesting guitar technique; that, and his mix of traditional Puerto Rican and rock sounds. He and the band opened with Sleepy Eyes, which is basically Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me with better vocals, jazzier harmonies and some rhythmic trickery. Quiñones opened the next number with a wickedly catchy four-chord hook that he then jazzed up over a steady, strutting rhythm, doubling the bassline as the song peaked coming out of the chorus.

He started another song solo, as nebulous acidically jangly early 80s postpunk – then in a second it morphed into a catchy, anthemic bossa-rock tune with swirly organ in the background that reminded of the late, great Williamsburg band the Disclaimers. The lead player took a long, slithery, blues-infused solo on a bouncy number that was sort of a latin soul update on Wilbert Harrison’s Kansas City – and then added a long slide solo for an strangely successful southern rock touch.

Quiñones switched from guitar to cuatro for some Byrdsy jangle over a syncopated clave beat on the instrumental that followed, evoking one of Yomo Toro’s more adventurous, low-key numbers from the 80s. They followed that with a slinky, salsa-inflected lowrider psychedelic tune, the sax and trombone conversing and intertwining. From there they lept from hard funk into a long, hypnotic psychedelic cumbia, a galloping instrumental and then back into  expansive, psychedelic mode. It’s not often you see a band that has this much going on, yet with so much focus and drive: attributes that will pay off at the show uptown.