What a difference extended musical partnerships can make.
Five-piece bilingual rock band Espira (es-PEE-rah, Spanish for “the spiral motion before it disintegrates,” or something like that, I was told) has kept the same lineup since 1999, when they were known as Broken Down, an all-English nu-metal alternative group. They made the name and language switch in 2007 and, after regular local gigs, it’s clear to me these guys are ready for the studio.
Even though they sounded derivative at times (I frequently smelled ’90s Pearl Jam), the Latin element (simple percussion by Ram Castro Jr.), a strong vocalist (Noé Martínez, who also plays second lead with an electro-acoustic Yamaha guitar), tight playing, and a special concern for arrangements turned Espira’s set into one of the high points of the second night of Monkeyfest.
Set opener “El encuentro” (“The meeting”) started things off with a marching snare and turned into a lesson in how to play your ass off without sacrificing necessary pauses. The song was a clear example of what Espira is all about: Even at its simplest, the band is never predictable and structures their songs into different sections, mini-suite style. The element that ties it all together is the voice of songwriter Martínez, whose range allows him, in a second, to jump from Eddie Vedder at his darkest to the Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala at his highest.
Things got lighter with the folk-pop of “Beautiful You” and grammatically incorrect with “Sin sentir” (“Without Feeling,” which includes the awkward line “estoy soñando de ti,”, a literal translation of “I’m dreaming of you”). But they kept things going with “Reborn,” a beautiful ballad that explodes into an alternative power trip.
“Tierra colorada” (“Red soil”) is a cumbia-smelling rumba flamenca that should make Barcelona’s Estopa jealous. Martínez’s tasteful solo showed he can also play leads (usually the job of no-nonsense Jerod Johnson, always focused and effective without unnecessary fireworks). Drummer Rolando Saavedra excels at syncopated rhythms (a key element in Espira’s sound) and Daniel Sánchez is perhaps the best-sounding bassist I’ve ever heard at Saluté, not a particularly friendly place for four strings.
These guys are not rock stars. They’re humble servants of songs and good playing. And even though I wished Martínez wasn’t so serious (the band could lighten up and use a little bit of humor), with pipes like that, let him be — Espira knows what it’s doing as it vigilantly keeps the spiral turning.