Ozomatli kick off the (almost) summer
By JOSHUA LIEBERSON
STATIC and FEEDBACK correspondent
It seems as if the live music scene of the summer of 2008 is an exaggerated version of the live music scene of the past few years. In recent years, more and more festivals have been popping up in cities and towns closer to you. They all demand a $200-plus entry fee, a need for you to pitch a tent, and more and more stages complete with more acts you’ve never heard of. Coming into this year, seems like everything is a big festival, whether you are from Tennessee, California or even upstate New York or the Jersey Shore. They’ve got the headliners you crave and a whole bunch of acts you have no idea about.
That’s not to say I am against the idea of a well-run festival. Last year, I attended Lollapalooza, and had nothing but fantastic memories and commentary about the experience. Suffice it to say that, while I may spend a pretty penny on live music this summer, it won’t be over the course of 3 compact days. I’m going all out this summer, from your big arena show to the small stage to free shows in the park! And, whether you are willing or not, I am going to share these experiences with you.
So without further ado…
My first concert, hardly the summer, took place on a rainy night in the city. After the end of my day at work, I changed and headed straight for Union Square, a place where NYU students, various other young folk, and, most recently, massive amounts of tourists descend upon to overpay for meals, bring their dogs to play in the dog run, shop at the Virgin Records Megastore, and, of course, form massive lines just to get across the street. I have been caught doing things like paying an “independent” artist $10 for a CD just so he would leave me alone, paying the movie theater $11 to see a two-hour movie, and on this night, paying $20 for a hat to cover my rain soaked head, and paying the Heartland Brewery $72 for 5 beers, a hamburger, and chicken fingers (this included my friend. I can eat, just not that much).
Into the venue, which holds somewhere between 900 and 1,100 people. My friend and I give the cursory look over the Ozomatli gear being sold, and I am unimpressed and cheap, so I buy a $7 beer as I wait for the first band to come on stage. Strangely, our pre-show boredom is quickly lifted by the projection screen that covers up the stage area that runs through the upcoming schedule at both Irving Plaza and the Blender Theater. This is not just because we learned that Menudo is coming town, but by seeing the various bizarre band names that come before us. This includes I Wrestled a Bear Once, and our personal favorites, Mandrill.
The opening band comes on stage, a latin rock band called DeLeon hailing from the far away land of Brooklyn…and Brooklyn they were! The band rocked through a number of different songs in their short catalog, by which the lead singer explained that they were pretty much all older than 500 years, but reworked into a modern translation. What they sounded like was more or less Spanish bar mitzvah rock music. It rocked! Numerous folks jested that they were waiting for the traditional circular dance and for some 13 year old to go up on a chair, but at the same time could not deny they were having a great time and rocking out. Meanwhile, most of the lyrics were in Spanish. They ultimately received some of the best applause I have ever seen from an opening band, and deserved it.
After another rundown of bizarre bands you’ve never heard of gracing the projection screen during the changeover, seemingly out of nowhere the Imperial March from the Star Wars movies blared out of the speakers, combined with the recorded voice of Michael Buffer (“Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!”) introducing some boxer whose name would never be called, because as he was about to hear it, a live voice screamed out “OZOMATLI!!!!” to signal the arrival of tonight’s main event.
True to form as to the last time I saw them play, they opened with “City of Angels” from their most recent album, Don’t Mess With the Dragon. I observed last time, and thought again this time, that the L.A./N.Y.C. dichotomy was purposefully brought out, but not in an us against you way, more to make us all feel at home with their combination of high energy and California cool. The song is also a fantastic example of Ozomatli’s reach, a part Latino, part funk, part rock, part hip hop, part jazz musical Rorschach, which instead of seeming schizophrenic, unites the styles and is unbelievably catchy from front to back. You can’t help but hang loose and play along with the band as they get you jumping, dancing, screaming, and singing along.
While heavy on the aforementioned most recent release of theirs, Ozomatli went through much of their catalog, and when not dancing in an almost choreographed fashion, was up on the speakers and balcony engaging the audience and getting everyone going. A particularly energetic crowd sang and danced along in unison during “After Party”, nearly making the place looking like it was doing the electric slide, singing “oye baby, oye mami, donde esta la after party!” Another highlight was “Saturday Night” from Street Signs, where it seemed the whole place knew the words and was into the song, as well as the New Orleans tribute/protest song “Magnolia Soul”.
While the usual set I had seen was lasting about 70-75 minutes, the band just kept going, song after song, until 90 minutes in, and without encore, the band finished up with a combination of one of their best known songs from their first album “Como Ves” (only trumped in recognition by “Cumbia de los Muertos” due to it being the song that Drew Barrymore is drunkenly dancing along to in the bar scene during Never Been Kissed), followed by the inevitable sign of the show closing, where the crowd and band chant “O-zo-mat-li, ya se fue! Ya se fue!” My friend and I were innocently standing about 10 rows of people back when the band, as per custom, all found their way into the crowd and were playing their drums and horns in what sounds much like a pep band playing a rally. They formed a big circle with my friend and I standing front and center for this finale. Without exaggeration, the band was as far away from my face as my book normally is, playing pep rally versions of “New York, New York” and whatever else came to mind in that moment.
Ultimately, I left exhausted, ears ringing (see prior paragraph), and thoroughly satisfied that I had just witnessed, very up close, the best Ozomatli performance I have ever attended. A more than fantastic way to start the season, and I know I will be seeing these guys again.