You can't blame the performance of Jennifer Lopez for the cool reception -- and scattered boos -- she got Saturday in Irvine at the Reventon Super Estrella 2007. The Bronx-born singer was simply out of her element, playing to a young, largely Mexican crowd that came to hear rock and had no patience for an English-language pop star pushing traditional Spanish ballads from her newest album, "Como Ama Una Mujer," her first in her second language.
This was a little like Bob Dylan going electric at a folk festival. No matter how good the act, somebody was bound to boo. But did the guy behind me have to yell, "Go back to New York"?
Rudeness was the exception among the mostly well-behaved audience that filled Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater for a show that also featured Calle 13, the explosive Puerto Rican duo that delivered the night's most powerful performance by far. But sometimes, silence can be more excruciating. Lopez repeatedly tried to rouse fans by calling out, "Come on!" But this crowd wasn't going anywhere with Jenny from the block, and her exhortations just sounded shrill.
To rub salt in the wound, fans cheered the very sight of J.Lo's husband, Marc Anthony, who made a surprise appearance for one touching duet that was the highlight of her set.
Far from the schmaltzy excess of the couple's melodramatic 2005 Grammy Awards performance, Saturday's duet glowed with what seemed like real affection and admiration between the Nuyorican soul mates. Anthony, a vastly superior singer, toned down his harmony by holding his microphone at a distance so as not to overpower his partner. When a performer resists showing off, we can call that true love.
This six-hour smorgasbord of a concert marked the 10th anniversary of Super Estrella, the L.A. radio station that specializes in rock en espanol, mixed with Latin pop. But rather than celebrate the state of the genre, this year's lineup simply highlighted its deficiencies.
Lopez was the biggest name of the 11 acts on the bill, but she was obviously a misfit as headliner. Instead of closing the evening, she was sandwiched between two Mexican rock acts, one old and one new, Jaguares and Reik. The fans loved both better, though their performances were extremely unequal.
Jaguares, one of the biggest-selling Mexican rock bands, delivered a polished and accomplished set featuring the brooding vocals of long-haired lead singer Saul Hernandez. The veteran front man, who gave a plug for Amnesty International, hit a chord with the crowd when he called for "justicia en Juarez," referring to the serial killings of women in the border town.
"Above all, raza, we need more men and fewer machos," said Hernandez to thunderous approval.
While Jaguares may seem like a relic of arena-rock, Reik offered no hope for the new generation. The Mexicali trio gave a plodding performance that served primarily as a chance to beat the blissed-out masses to the parking lot. The popularity of this trio gives musical meaning to the old political saying: "Poor Mexico! So close to the United States and so far from God."
Rock en espanol once held the exciting promise of creating a distinct and original offshoot with its own language and identity, a promise embodied by groups such as Mexico's Cafe Tacuba and Argentina's Los Fabulosos Cadillacs that fused rock with native musical elements.
Saturday's lineup begs the question: Who took the Latin out of Latin rock?
Bands today seem content to be Spanish-language versions of U.S. and British bands, erasing all native traces. Mexican glam rock group Moderatto, which opened, was created without apologies by KISS and Motley Crue wannabes. They were followed by Belinda, a Mexican teen vocalist in the mold of, well, almost any U.S. teen vocalist.
Granted, these are not the best representatives of rock in Mexico today. (Reyli Barba, former singer with the Mexican band Elefante, partly redeemed his compatriots with a heartfelt performance that leaned toward romantic pop.) But they represent a trend that has turned the scene into something dreadfully imitative and unoriginal.
That's why it was so refreshing and thrilling to watch Calle 13 storm the stage with a rumbling force anchored deep in a pan-American barrio culture. This is not a rock group, but it's not reggaeton either. Calle 13 has created an adventurous and unique urban blend of hip-hop and rap with Caribbean rhythms and other Latin styles.
As forceful and provocative as they are on record, the duo of Residente (Rene Perez ) and his half-brother Visitante (Eduardo Cabra) were a tour de force in person. Wearing a white undershirt exposing muscular, tattooed arms, singer-songwriter Residente gave an almost possessed performance of "Tango del Pecado" (Tango of Sin), a reggaeton/tango fusion written as retort to hometown critics who denounced their music as a diabolic influence.
The song's singsong chorus shows the brilliance of the duo's collaboration, perfectly matching Visitante's music with the heavily accented cadence of Residente's verse: "Subale el volumen a la musica Satanica." (Turn up the satanic music.)
The duo was backed by a hellcat of a horn section and a hepcat percussion section, both with diabolical chops. The crowd was receptive but later gave a much stronger ovation to the Kenny G-like solo during a set by the La Quinta Estacion, one of Spain's least interesting pop bands.
Maybe someday the creators and followers of rock en espanol will remember the real lesson of the original rock they so admire: Find your own roots music and build on that.