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Weekend Reviews | Pop Music Review

Still Some Growing to Do at Watcha

August 14, 2000|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A gross misconception has plagued Latin music for the last couple of years.

Contrary to what an army of publicists and record executives would have you believe, rock en espanol is not about to conquer the U.S., English-speaking mainstream.

The movement still has a lot of artistic growing up to do first.

That was clear on Friday at the Universal Amphitheatre, where the second edition of the Watcha Tour proved to be a largely monotonous affair. That was especially disappointing considering that the lineup boasted two of the movement's heavyweights.

Performing its idiosyncratic melange of furious alterna-rock, rootsy ranchera and stark minimalism, Cafe Tacuba demonstrated once again that it is currently at the top of the rock en espanol game. Its show-closing set, however, was too brief at 40 minutes, and came too late into the evening to offer any real redemption.

Tacuba offered a condensed version of its most recent series of concerts, relying heavily on the group's tour de force "Reves/Yosoy," a 1999 concept double album of almost limitless imagination.

Revisiting the psychosexual waltz elegance of "La Muerte Chiquita" and the robotic effervescence of "La Locomotora," the Mexico City band skillfully fit its new songs alongside old favorites such as the crunchy "Chilanga Banda" and the nostalgic anthem "Ojala Que Llueva Cafe."

Tacuba is a superlative group, not only because of its members' arty sense of humor and instrumental proficiency, but also because no matter how far they stretch their experimental muscle, you never forget this is a Latin American band. The quartet's instinctive commitment to its native Mexico is heartwarming.

*

Just before Tacuba, Aterciopelados offered a disappointing sample of its new sound, one that might dethrone the band from the prominent position it currently occupies in the genre.

In the past, the Colombian outfit's shows were always a cause for celebration--warm parties overflowing with youthful energy and the charismatic presence of singer Andrea Echeverri.

But the group has retreated deeply into the land of trip-hop, and its preference for electronica-induced thrills has turned the volcano of yesteryear into an iceberg.

Trying to adapt the old songs into the new format, Echeverri and bassist Hector Buitrago stripped tunes such as "Bolero Falaz" and "El Estuche" of their subtle acoustic touches, replacing them with thick keyboard effects, drum machines and noisy cascades of fuzzy guitars.

The result is a calamitous misfire. Fans can only hope that the group's new album, currently being recorded in Bogota, will somehow preserve the enchantment of such previous Aterciopelados works as "Caribe Atomico" and "La Pipa de la Paz."

Of the remaining six groups Friday, L.A.'s buoyant Ozomatli offered an infectious dose of its expected multicultural grooves, while Argentina's Enanitos Verdes relied on its many '80s hits to ignite the crowd during an overlong set. Mexico's Molotov still sounds a little tired, unable to recapture the fire of its first live appearances in 1997.

Although this second edition of Watcha was more focused than its predecessor, time management was still a problem. Tour organizers will create a more satisfying and cohesive showcase the day they decide to present substantial sets by three or four of the best acts available.

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