Sitting on collapsible canvas chairs and sipping from cups of overpriced Shiner in the 105-degree SA heat, 200 people came to the Botanical Garden in order to watch five guys wearing all black play some Tex-Mex Blues. The Krayolas have been tooling and tweaking their pop/Tejano grooviness since 1975.
“We are unknown all over the world,” jokes frontman Héctor Saldaña from the stage. The band had just returned from playing Houston the day before in support of their latest album, Tipsy Topsy Turvy.
The Krayolas’ sound is open and eclectic, at turns traditional and progressive, diving into their early Mighty Lemon Drops-sounding riffs and doing new stuff that comes off like vintage Elvis Costello, then cutting back to old school Flaco Jiménez before covering Doug Sahm.
With their sonic dexterity — augmented and bound on stage to a classic quintet set-up — the Krayolas are total crowd pleasers. They warm up their set with “La Conquistadora,” a smoldering anthem to iconoclastic love amid lacerated dignity that builds like a mash-up of Jimmy Buffett’s best-laid plans over that “Hurricane” protest song. And when they perform their recent cover of Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do,” recorded in honor of Dylan’s 70th birthday, the group simply galvanizes the garden, with a minimalist force that curiously recalls Donovan by way of Van Morrison’s garage band Them.
Their skillfully layered setlist swings between what Saldaña called “San Francisco steakhouse piano” on “The Working People,” before veering hard into a lonely street harmonica sound that taunts the otherwise cheeky vibe of their homage “Gordon Lightfoot.” Reprising their joyful classic “Cry Cry, Laugh Laugh,” they perform the witty number as if the song were just written and not a 31-year-old track that was retro to begin with.
“The music is all that matters,” says Saldaña, who is quick to forget any hype associated with their staying power. “The Krayolas have been hyped to kingdom come at different times in our career. It’s not a given, but I’d rather write songs and make records that will last. Some of mine will.”
Kinetic masters of their craft, the Krayolas performed with a raw polish that is outside of any rock ’n’ roll pastiche.