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POP MUSIC REVIEW

El Gran Silencio makes noise at House of Blues

August 23, 2007|Elijah Wald | Special to The Times

What's not to love about a band that opens a concert with a moody, growling trombone solo, then rips into a ferocious rhythm workout driven by three percussionists and a button accordion?

That was how El Gran Silencio hit the stage Tuesday at the West Hollywood House of Blues, and for the next 90 minutes the group had fans shouting, dancing and singing along.

El Gran Silencio is not just one of the most inventive bands in Mexican rock, or in Spanish-language rock, but in rock overall. The group mixes a hemisphere's worth of styles, but never sounds like a self-conscious fusion band or a multicultural hodgepodge. Instead, it all seems totally organic and natural, like the ebullient folk music of some magically heterogenous barrio.

Led by three high school friends from Mexico's border industrial center of Monterrey, El Gran Silencio, which also plays Saturday at House of Blues in Anaheim, calls its music "chúntaros style," mixing English with a Mexican slang equivalent of "punk."

Its obvious influences include punk and hard rock, the tongue-twisting Jamaican rap style called raggamuffin, and the raw, Colombian-derived accordion riffs of Celso Piña. If occasional phrases recall predecessors such as Maldita Vecindad and Café Tacuba, the way the members of Silencio put it all together is unique and instantly recognizable.

Part of the appeal is the band's quirky humor and infectious energy. On "El Rertorno de los Chúntaros," (Return [misspelled] of the Chúntaros) from their best album, 2001's "Chúntaros Radio Poder" (Chúntaros Radio Power), the crowd joined in a rowdy call-and-response. The band then broke for a muted trombone chorus of the old samba "Brazil," then pogoed around the stage to Isaac "Campa" Valdez's pumping accordion as singer-guitarist Cano Hernández spat out machine-gun streams of dance hall wordplay.

They finished with the song that made them famous, "Dormir Soñando" (To Sleep Dreaming), from their 1999 debut album, "Libres y Locos" (Free and Crazy Guys), leading the crowd in its romantic ranchera chorus before crashing into the shouted verse, then encored with the haunting, minor-key ballad "Déjenme si Estoy Llorando" (Leave Me If I'm Crying) for an elegiac finish.

A more laid-back vibe dominated the first half of the evening, with the local 10-piece Latin-reggae orchestra Quinto Sol playing a dynamic opening set, reappearing to back Argentine reggae singer Fidel Nadal.

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