Nina Díaz with David Garza at Casbeers 

I don’t know about you, but when I see a poster announcing Nina Díaz and David Garza in concert, that’s exactly what I expect. If it’s December and the venue is an old church, OK, I’ll put up with a couple of Christmas standards. But what I want to hear is two songwriters at the top of their games doing what they do best: devouring their sold-out crowd with original songs. Instead, despite their usual fine performances, I felt a little bit cheated by the song selections.

 I only caught the end of Garza’s set, so I won’t abuse him too much for his “Frosty the Snowman” crap. But headliner Díaz, the astral voice behind Girl in a Coma, both blew me away and pissed me off. As always, her wide-ranging vocal performance was flawless, from sweet and subtle to raw and fierce. But her own songs (and those of GIAC’s) were overshadowed by needless covers (I know we just passed the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, but “Imagine” as the fourth song on the set? You kidding me?). Her Christmas tributes were too damn frequent and barely above average.

That said, Díaz brought the house down with an a capella-and-loops version of “Carol of the Bells.” She and her guitar loops struggled with Tom Waits’ difficult “Jockey Full of Bourbon” (after a false start she announced, “It wasn’t my fault,” which must’ve thrilled the out-of-sync culprit), but her version of the Felipe Valdés Leal ranchera classic “Tú Sólo Tú,” dedicated to her mother watching from the balcony, was excellent. Her band for the evening was comprised of herself and three drummers: Lawrence Mercado (Sohns), Jaime Villanueva (Hacienda, on percussion and melodica), and Carly Garza (Blue Means Go, on percussion and impressive vocal harmonies). Still, I wanted to hear more of Díaz’s own new material.

Both Garza and Díaz are solid songwriters and superb performers; this is the only reason I’m allowing them to get away with this blatant case of holiday abuse. Yeah, the night was enjoyable and even the jingle bells weren’t played straight-ahead, thank God. But after the Grinch stole Christmas, Christmas stole a decent show that could’ve — and should’ve — been great.

Nina Díaz w. David Garza

Dec. 23

Casbeers at the Church

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