Cafe Tacuba has made a practice of surprising fans. The group's latest album, "Sino," has a classic-rock sound reminiscent of the Who or even the Beach Boys, rather than the quirky mix of punk, techno, folklore and pop that made Cafe Tacuba Mexico's most influential rock band of the 1990s. The current tour has tended to showcase that new material.
So, Thursday night at Gibson Amphitheatre, the band naturally did the opposite. It played six songs from "Sino" but just as many from 1994's "Re" and a dozen from other discs in a generous set topped off with a seven-song encore.
On record, Cafe Tacuba comes across as one of the most innovative, versatile and lyrically smart bands in contemporary rock. On stage, it comes across as one of the most likable. It delivered a tight show, complete with videos synced with virtually all the pre-encore songs, but made it feel loose and fun.
Even when the members went in for classic showbiz, doing four-man boy-band choreography on "Dejate Caer" or jumping off the drum riser for a crashing electric finale, the Tacubos looked not like hardened pros but like regular guys goofily pretending to be rock stars.
Lead vocalist Ruben Albarran changed costumes and bounced around the stage like an electric elf. Enrique and Joselo Rangel, on bass and guitar, framed him in suit jackets reminiscent of a 1970s English ska band. Emmanuel del Real filled in the middle with keyboards and melodeon, occasionally abandoning his riser to add another guitar to the mix. The core foursome was anchored by a new touch, drummer Luis Ledezma, rather than their signature drum machine -- though the programming showed up on many of the older tunes.
As Albarran pointed out, the band's innovative mix of Mexican country styles with electric programming has taken on a new flavor in recent years. "We've reached an accord with the pasito duranguense," he joked, referring to the Chicago-spawned electric ranchera style that swept the Mexican charts a couple years ago. In fact, "El Fin de la Infancia," the song that followed, predated the pasito craze by a decade, but he's right: Its perky techno-polka, once a postmodern punk statement, now sounds trendy.
The show was beautifully programmed, with lilting, meditative moments as well as crashing rage. The centerpiece was the new album's first single, the almost eight-minute-long "Volver a Comenzar," and it gained power by building from the bitter manifesto "Tropico de Cancer" and the optimism of "Mediodia" to "El Outsider," the ferocious song that precedes "Volver" on the new disc.