Reflections on 20 Years of Seeing Café Tacvba Live

[a Facebook post from September 8, 2013]

1. I first saw Café Tacvba live in Los Angeles in 1993. They played in Hollywood, at the Whisky A Go-Go. The place was small but they more than filled the space with enthusiasm, their own and the crowds. To see them run out onto the stage —Quique carrying and playing his tololoche, Joselo playing his acoustic guitar— and then Rubén bounding out onto the stage to “Noche Oscura” was revelatory: I don’t know if it happened then, but they became one of my favorite bands, and the band I’ve seen the most live.

2. I first read about los Tacvbos in an indie music mag out of Mexico City when I was a grad student in Santa Barbara. The author wrote about this new band that was recasting Rock en Español with a sound shaped by acoustic instruments over electrics —Quique’s beat up tololoche (upright bass) an example— and playing traditional regional music —norteño’s, cumbias, etc— in rock clubs (much like Los Lobos did in the late 70’s when they would play classic norteño tunes like “Ay Te Dejo en San Antonio” or “Anselma” in the punk clubs). A few months after reading about them, in Mexico City while on break from doing research at the UNAM, I would spend my Saturday mornings at the Tianguis del Chopo scoping out bootleg tapes. On one of my weekends I acquired a couple of live bootlegs of the Tacvbos playing the small clubs in the DF.

3. Many of the times I’ve seen them live they come out performing the first song off whatever album they’re touring under. In Hollywood once, on the tour for “Avalancha de éxitos,” Rubén came out on stage alone and started into “Chilanga Banda.” The album had yet to be released so the crowd was perplexed as he launched into “Ya chale chango Chilango, que chafa chamba te chutas” with a sole spotlight on him and the rest of the stage dark. After the first verses the lights came on and the rest of the band was on stage doing this strange jazz riff to Chilango slang. By the end of the song, the crowd was completely into it. In El Paso the crowd was into the band from the beginning, from the opening strains of “Pájaros” to the closing with “El puñal y el corazón” the crowd sang, danced, and jumped around.

4. One of the best things about seeing them live are their dance sequences. In the early shows they had a brilliant one for “La Zonaja,” later they started one for “El puñal y el corazón” that is hilarious and still kept in the show. I also like the one they do for “Déjate caer” (and which can be seen in the video).

5. There’s a piece I read years ago about a Caifanes and Maldita Vecindad double bill where Rocco (from Maldita Vecindad) tells Saúl (from Caifanes) that it not all viajes had to be interior (the music of Maldita Vecindad and Caifanes illustrate well this dichotomy of exterior and interior trips). The music of Café Tacvba shifts often from exterior type songs —”El metro,” “Las persianas,” “Ingrata”— to more interior viajes —”Cero y Uno,” “De este lado del camino,” “Volver a comenzar.”

6. The show in El Paso tended towards the viajes interiores songs along with science fiction and environmental elements. Song like “El aparato” (man has a close encounter with a ufo) or “zopilotes” (two vultures find a mysterious alien, one decides to eat from the body and in the process his consciousness is awakened) were paired with environmental songs like “Trópico de cáncer” (mineral engineer decides to leave his environment destroying company), “Agua” and “Olita de altamar,” They also had an inflatable tree on the stage for part of the show, and with “Volcán” (the song that ended the show before the encore), they had a simulated volcanic eruption.

7. The mix of new songs (almost all of the new record “El objeto antes llamado disco” was performed, the only track they didn’t do was “Espuma”) with old was good, though I wish they would’ve done more of the older classics like “Noche oscura,” “Las batallas” “María,” “24 horas,” “Ojalá que llueva café” (always great live) or “La locomotora.” Also missing: “Eo.” However, they did songs from almost all of their albums except for Reves/Yo Soy.

8. In July 2005, I inadvertently followed them on tour. They played in San Diego on July 4, and I caught them on a great triple bill with Ely Guerra and Kinky. I flew to Madrid the next day. On July 23rd they played in Madrid and I went to see them again. I left for Barcelona the next day to visit friends, and since they were playing on the 26th, I caught them again.

9. The encore section of the show was long, and started off with the more melancholic songs sung by Emmanuel, “Eres,” “Aprovéchate,” followed by a few more melancholic rolas with Rubén at the front.

10. Every time I’ve seen them they’ve always ended their shows with the one-two punch of “Chica banda” and then “Pinche Juan.” This time they launched into “Chica Banda” but followed that with “El puñal y el corazón.”

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