Oldies But Goldies: Chicano Batman At Amoeba, Friday August 10th 2012
Chicano Batman is a band which is getting a lot of attention! I saw them in 2012 at Amoeba, and these in-store performances are often the occasion to see bands close and personal before they blow up. I saw them again during an edition of Echo Park Rising, and this year they are playing Coachella, yes Coachella, the mother of all West Coast festivals.
They were recently featured on NPR tiny desk, and I got a flash back. At the time, I found their vintage wedding-singer suits and their laid-back demeanors very cool and so unusual. At Echo Park Rising, they started a riot, although their music is far from being aggressive or even close to punk. Instead Chicano Batman play some lazy sun-drenched blend of lounge Latino bric à brac, driven by a soulful-churchy organ, funk groves, surf in the guitars and Bardo Martinez’s strange and dreamy croon. These L.A. superheroes are getting a well-deserved recognition, they have even toured with Alabama Shakes and Jake White, and their new album is called ‘Freedom is Free’… ‘It’s a counterpoint to the propaganda catch phrase that was invented by the US government during the first Iraq war, ‘Freedom isn’t free,’ has explained Martinez. ‘It’s a counter-narrative…the song itself relates to the idea that freedom is inherent to every individual on this planet and in the universe.’ This was my review in the middle of the 2012 summer.
I really like the moniker of Chicano Batman, the band who was playing at Amoeba on Friday night, it sounds like a forgotten cartoon superhero,… a superhero nobody has paid attention to, because, well, he is a Chicano, although he sounds much more colorful and interesting than the blockbuster dark avenger.
Dressed in matching Las-Vegas-lounge-singer-ruffled blue shirts, the quartet threw a lot of things in their songs, from early 70s Brazilian bossa nova, to funk, samba, soul, jazz, cumbia and other Latino rhythms, each song could have been a melting pot of about everything, rather turned towards the past generations, but don’t be too fast at calling them retro.
Bardo Martinez on guitar, keyboard and vocals, Eduardo Arenas on bass and vocals, Gabriel Villa on drums, and Carlos Arévalo on guitar seemed to love adventurous detours and musical collages, all wrapped up into a slow spacey-druggy psychedelia. The tempo changed constantly during their set, even during the same song, sometimes wandering towards the 60s or 70s, then switching from a wobbling Yamaha keyboard session to a wah-wah guitar effect, going from retro-soul-church-organ-sound to funk-dub ambiance. It is quite complicated to describe the crazy ‘mess’ they were doing, sometimes disconcerting and sure unexpected at each meander of their complicated amalgam.
They were promoting the recent release of their EP ‘Joven Navegante’, following their previous and self-titled album, and visibly happy to take a break from the heat outside in the air-conditioned store.
The lyrics, when there were some, were mostly in Spanish, and vocals were going from romantic lounge singer to tropical serenade tenor and the whole thing had this ambiance of 60s prom-dance-hall seen through an off-center kaleidoscope… Despite all these different sounds, the constant feeling was the laid-back attitude, the languish weirdness of their wah guitars, trembling organ, and warm bass lines, often ending into long, slow-spacey jams that could have embodied the torridity of this Friday afternoon in Los Angeles.