Live Review: Bajofondo with the Phenomenal Handclap Band at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 04 October 2009

By on Thursday, 8th October 2009 at 2:00 pm

Bajofondo3Mark my words – the next wave of music to invade the global airwaves will be new-garde Latin. Not the tango and rhumba that your parents would cut a rug to in their town dancehall, no, but an updated version of Latin rhythms complemented perfectly with dance beats heavy enough for the best clubs around and enough rhythm and blues inflection to appeal to the kids. Going into this gig, I knew nothing about Bajofondo except for the spare songs on their MySpace that sounded good to my ears upon their first listen. But always in the back of my mind when I listen to songs off MySpace is the question, ‘can this band deliver the same sound – or better – in the live environment?’ Bajofondo have been touring 2 years nearly nonstop in support of their latest album, ‘Mar Dulce’ (or ‘the sweet sea’), and I am happy to report that the group’s live performance exceeded my expectations several hundred fold. They stopped by Washington’s 9:30 Club to play to a vocal, mostly Spanish-speaking crowd, and were supported by New York City’s the Phenomenal Handclap Band.

Composer, singer, and guitarist Gustavo Santaolalla is, for practical purposes, considered the leader of this group. But he is quick to compliment the many Argentinian and Uruguain people that make up this fabulous band, and one could argue that each member is at the peak or near peak of his artistic excellence on his respective instruments. What I enjoyed most about the live Bajofondo experience was the sheer variety of musical styles they traversed in one evening. I expected the ‘electrotango’ sound associated with the band as described on Web sites, but not the trip hop and house stylings that seemed effortless to them.

PHB4But first, let me describe to you the Phenomenal Handclap Band’s set. I am a very lucky girl to have seen them 3 times in less than 2 months, once in their hometown of New York (opening for Friendly Fires at le poisson rouge) and twice in my hometown of Washington, a town that, until a couple years ago, seemed to have trouble attracting up and coming artists to play here. Having eight members makes matters of space difficult when the PHB play a smaller venue, but the 9:30 Club is huge compared to the other places I’ve seen this band. So what was the benefit of them having more space? Their singers and musicians had more latitude to spread out, moving and grooving their guitars and shaking their tambourines to the beat. These folks can really get down, with their psychedelic, funky, colorful rhythms, bouncy percussion, and screaming guitars and keyboards. Simply wonderful. I wasn’t sure how the Latino gig-goers would react, but they seemed to really enjoy the band’s sound as much as I did.

In addition to classical and easy listening, both of my parents favoured Latin music as my brother and I grew up. But the Latin music they liked to play were the restrictive, to the letter type of music you’d hear at ballroom dance classes. Not really for me. There is a large Latino presence in the Washington D.C. area. Unlike my friends, I am not a salsa dance fiend, and I’ve always shied away from approaching Latin music because I don’t understand much Spanish at all and what Latin music I did hear, I wasn’t a fan of the rhythms being employed. So it was with much surprise and delight when I heard what kinds of music Bajofondo had to offer. Gustavo Santaolalla is a good bandleader in the sense that he lets each member of this so-called ‘project’ shine with what they do best. It would take me a long time to describe what each member played, so instead I’m going to lift from their MySpace their members’ names and what each plays: ‘Bajofondo is comprised of Gustavo Santaolalla on guitar, percussion, and vocals; Juan Campodónico on programming, beats, samples and guitar; Luciano Supervielle on piano, keyboards and scratch; Javier Casalla on violin; Martín Ferrés on bandoneon; Gabriel Casacuberta on upright bass and electric bass; Adrián Sosa on drums; and Verónica Loza as VJ and on vocals’.

In particular, I really enjoyed the mustachioed Javier Casalla, who I understand is a world-renowed tango rhythm violinist and could probably be playing those crusty songs my parents loved back in the day, but instead he plays the violin with this band with gusto, as if the violin is speaking its emotions to us and saying, ‘hello, I am here and I am not going to be ignored!’ This evening I was standing in front of Martín Ferrés, who plays the bandoneón (essentially is an Argentinian/Urugaian accordion) and I was really amazed with the range the instrument had. Producer and guitarist Juan Campodónico (also famed in the Latino music world) had the crowd jumping with dance beats that at first I was skeptical of being appropriate with Latin music, given what I previously and erroneously thought. At times, all members seemed to be jumping up and down inexhaustibly. Highlights included ‘Pa’ bailar’ and ‘El mareo’. Close to the end of the night, girls were invited onstage to join in on the onstage dance party. Now that’s the proper way to have a stage invasion! Besides the dancey songs, they also had slower, sultrier numbers that had women of all ages around me swooning. Maybe there is truth to the Latin lover stereotype!

Santaolalla told us early on in the show that this was their last show of their 2-year tour, an ending of sorts. Even though the band is physically separated by miles (they all live in different cities around the world), I hope they will still get together sometimes to record and make more music, because I think the world is ready to receive them. They made me a believer in just one night.

After the jump: setlist and photos.


Phenomenal Handclap Band set list

The Journey to Serra Da Estrala
All of the Above
The Martyr
15 to 20
You’ll Disappear
I Been Born Again

Phenomenal Handclap Band photos:








Bajofondo photos:







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