“Chicano Batman Saves The Day”
November 16, 2017
Written by Jason Reed
Chicano Batman brought their super-powered Latin-infused, funky rhythms and psych rock aesthetic to the historic Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California on Tuesday for what was ultimately an exuberant and emotionally cathartic performance. Opening for the band were The Shacks and Khuaring, two fun and compellingly unique acts in their own right.
As I’m writing this review sitting in a coffee shop, the familiar chorus of their song “Friendship (Is A Small Boat In A Storm)” (off of their latest album “Freedom Is Free” released in March of this year) just came on over the store’s speakers in a seemingly serendipitous fashion. I’m sure the famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung would label this as a form of synchronicity, where a “meaningful coincidence” demonstrates a deeper resonation between a phenomenon and the soul of the person who perceives it. And from the jubilant reaction of the packed house at Tuesday night’s concert, it was clear that this band deeply resonates with lots of other folks as well.
Frontman Bardo Martinez channeled the slick stage presence of the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown throughout the night, providing his own unique styling of soulful crooning and lively, articulated gestures, repeatedly falling to his knees and walking to the front of the stage to outstretch his hands and interact with the crowd. In addition to his skillful organ and guitar playing, at one point during the show Bardo and guitarist Eduardo Arenas switched their instruments, demonstrating their aptitude on the other’s bass and six-string. Carlos Arevalo’s calm and stoic demeanor provided a ruse under which hid his impassioned and emotive guitar skills. The tight percussion on display throughout the night (particularly on the William Onyeabor-esque “Flecha Al Sol”) highlighted Gabriel Villa’s impressive and punchy drumming.
Throughout the night the energy in the room alternated from romantic (“Angel Eyes“) to ascending and inspired (“Freedom Is Free“) back to stoney and downtempo (“She Lives On My Block“). Speaking of stoney, you’ll notice in some of the concert photos a certain “haze” in the air that was indicative of the audience’s propensity to blaze up their favorite “medicinal herbs.” This was no doubt a smart financial move on the part of the band, since there was no need to unnecessarily waste money on a smoke machine when you had an audience as celebratory as this one.
Another highlight of the night was their performance of “Black Lipstick,” with its infectious guitar hooks and organ notes, that compelled the audience to sway in empathy for the singer’s tale of woe and romantic heartbreak. To be honest, every song felt like a purposeful addition to the set, with no forgettable filler anywhere to be seen. Beautiful stuff all around.
Chicano Batman feels lovingly retro (harkening back to some of the best of Carlos Santana’s guitar-driven psychedelia and swinging Gilberto Gil Brazilian tropicalia of the 1960’s), yet avoids falling into the common trap of being derivative. There is also a modern, indie rock sensibility and authenticity with this four-piece outfit from Los Angeles that is refreshing, their edge having been increasingly sharpened over the course of their 9 years together as a band, each new album further refining their musical range and acumen.
Through their proud and unapologetic channeling of the socially conscious “La Raza” Latino politics and musical styles from the 70’s, there is an affirmative, unified cultural identity and cohesion to the band that is inspiring to see and that feels (for lack of a better term), revolutionary in 2017, especially in the divisive era of our current President and his administration’s policies. If the former’s plan for his “Wall” goes forward, it won’t be Pink Floyd that will break this one down, but rather Chicano Batman, this generation’s liberators of the emotionally downtrodden and musically oppressed.
For more information about the band, check out chicanobatman.com