Music Sonic sprawl

Café Tacuba captures the tradition and chaotic energy of its native Mexico City

La ciudad de México sits on the fault lines between the postmodern 21st-century world as we know it, and an ancient, indigenous reality that once dominated this land. Through its crowded streets and subterranean corridors, the ghosts of vanquished civilizations and vestiges of Spanish colonialism still clash. With its 20-million plus inhabitants, unfettered urban sprawl, and extreme divisions between the haves and the have-nots, to the uninitiated Mexico City is, perhaps more than any other city in this hemisphere, the epitome of uncontrollable chaos and confusion. Yet within this disorder lies a boundless wealth of creativity and an urban beauty of innovation and adaptation. It has created a characteristically Mexican mestizaje that shapes and transforms countless influences into something uniquely its own.

Café Tacuba: Still restless sonic innovators, after more than 15 years together.

Café Tacuba formed in this environment a little more than 15 years ago, the brainchild of four design students who were fans of post-punk bands such as the Smiths and the Pixies, and their new-wave inclinations echoed throughout the group's eponymous debut album. But it also hinted at their ability to blend a combination of standard rock 'n' roll elements with touches of ska, punk, electronica, and even classical music. Yet, like the city they call home, Café Tacuba retains the rich diversity of a distinctly Mexican landscape.

You can clearly hear this in the rancherita-laced ritmos and malleable banda loops on Re, the group's 1995 genre-crossing masterpiece that elicited comparisons to the Beatles' White Album, or in their electrified jarocho cover version of Juan Luis Guerra's "Ojalá que llueva café," on 1996's Avalancha de exitos. But you can also hear the city in the ethereal, almost trance-like sounds of hand-washed laundry that weave through the background of the instrumental side of Reves/YoSoy, their underappreciated double album, or in the muted whoosh-whoosh of the underground subway that starts and finishes Re's comical "El Metro."

On 2003's Cuatro Caminos they brought in live drummers for the first time in their career (prior to this they had used a drum machine) and created an album that could be the best rock album of the decade, in any language. "It was an experiment for us," Quique Rangel, bassist for the group, explains. Full of verve, with a raw passion (best heard on the standout single "Eres") and an underlying melancholia, Cuatro Caminos is pure Tacuba, at once instantly recognizable and yet, in style and content, a departure from what has come before. Despite the electric guitars and drums, Rangel says, at its core there is something that is not rock: "The `Mexican` influences go through the way we play, sometimes in a subtle way."

Last October, over the course of back-to-back concerts at D.F.'s Palacio de los Deportes celebrating their quinceañera, the group revisited their back catalog and compiled a massive, three-CD and DVD live album. Un Viaje culls the best of both marathon performances. All the favorites are here: Taken in combination, the set list offers an avalanche of familiar treats and new discoveries, shared sonic segues linking tracks much like those pleasant surprises that come from listening to your favorite songs with an iPod set to shuffle. However, as a live album, Un Viaje suffers from the same limitations of too many other concert recordings-it doesn't compare to seeing the band in person.

Café tacuba

Fri, July 8
$27 (advance);
$32 (day of show)

Sunset Station (Lonestar Pavilion)
1174 E. Commerce

This is especially pronounced for Los Tacubos, who last month managed to draw an astounding 170,000 people to el Zócalo, in the heart of Mexico City. There's simply no way to capture the energy from that sort of charged environment. Fortunately, fans in San Antonio will get to share the Café Tacuba experience in a much more intimate setting when the band plays at Sunset Station this weekend, topping off a triple-header that includes fellow xilangos Maldita Vencidad, the ska-fused veteranos of rock en español, and Monterrey's up-and-coming electro-rockers Kinky.

Rangel, speaking over the phone from Salt Lake City, downplays the significance of the record-setting crowd that congregated in the Zócalo. "Every concert is a moment to recreate those songs and get in touch with people who have grown up with our records. The music is the important thing," he says. "It doesn't matter if it's a crowd of 1,000 or 100,000." Besides, Rangel jokes, if they only took the stage where they were guaranteed such an enormous crowd, they wouldn't play very often.

Along with Un Viaje, Warner, their former label, has released Unplugged, an acoustic album/DVD the band recorded live a decade ago. As a complementary snapshot of a band at an early stage of their career, Unplugged makes a good balance to Un Viaje. Unfortunately, despite the bevy of current releases, fans will have to wait until next year for original material. Once they finish their tour, the band members plan on holing up in their Satélite studio, just outside the city proper, to figure out their next step. For a group known for altering their sound with each subsequent release, the only surprise left to them may be no change at all.

For Rangel, even after 15 years, the energy and excitement that comes from playing with his bandmates remains as fresh as ever. "The most important thing we have to offer is our music," he says.

By Alejandro Pérez

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