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Weekend Reviews

Latin Rock Shows New Maturity at the Greek

Pop music review: Proficient, stylistically diverse bands make up the rock en espan~ol festival.

September 28, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thanks in large part to the excellence of the Colombian band Aterciopelados, Saturday's rock en espan~ol festival at the Greek Theatre was a glowing display of how much the genre of Latin rock has matured in the last couple of years.

There were no duds in the lineup, and the stylistic diversity and proficiency of the bands involved was frequently exhilarating.

There was Yeska, the most promising Los Angeles band in rock en espan~ol--a group that seamlessly merges salsa spice with rock dynamics; King Chango, a New York-based multicultural Latin ska outfit that is flexible enough to borrow freely from other genres, and Maldita Vecindad, the politically active Mexican group that has finally matched its renowned stage electricity with sophisticated new material.

But Aterciopelados, the quintet led by singer Andrea Echeverri and bassist Hector Buitrago, shone with the incandescence of a falling star. The group now stands alongside Mexico's Cafe Tacuba and Argentina's Fabulosos Cadillacs as the most original and inspiring creative forces in rock en espan~ol.

The Colombian outfit's performance was also a lesson in how changing a few things in a band's sound can dramatically alter it. In this case, bringing in a more subtle drummer and adding electronic drum loops to most of the tunes has given the group a fleshier, sensual sound.

The nerdy Echeverri is a bit of a dadaist as far as fashion is concerned. She came on stage wearing a platinum blond wig, a tight T-shirt with the face of Botticelli's Venus, and a bizarre, silver-colored appendage to her skirt that simulated a mermaid's tail.

The wig was violently tossed away during "Musica," a song that speaks about music's ability to liberate and inspire. This and other songs from the band's older repertoire were presented in new, rollicking versions that enhanced their textures.

Although the audience clamored for hits, such as the tongue-in-cheek "Bolero Falaz" or the raw, punkish "Florecita Rockera," the night belonged to songs from Aterciopelados' latest album, "Caribe Atomico."

The new compositions are darker in tone and more abstract than anything the band has previously done. But, ironically, the use of electronics has brought a new warmth to the group's stage presence.

The most unlikely of pairs, the eccentric Echeverri and the introspective Buitrago have achieved a musical state of grace that is rare among rock bands. They have struck an ideal balance between rock tradition and bold experimentation. No matter what path the band chooses to follow next, its influence on Latin music is already incalculable.

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