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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
THE BAJOFONDO TANGO CLUB The Barbican, London, April 14th 2007
It’s hotter than Buenos Aires in London. There’s not a sardine to be had from the fishmonger’s as the west London air slowly fills with the choking scent of garage-rusted barbecues being torched into action for the first time this year. On the streets last season’s ill-fitting summer clothes are out on display along with an alarming surfeit of flesh, much of it an almost Dickensian tubercular off-white. The pre-gig pizza is pleasingly piquant. Inside the Barbican it’s hot and spicy too - excited Spanish chatter fills the foyer. It’s the second night of La Linea – the seventh London Latin Music Festival – two weeks of “new trends and moves in the world of Latin music”.
Just about to come on stage is Capitan Melao led by Stereophonics drummer Javier Weyler (an alliance that perhaps celebrates the 25,000 Welsh speaking Argentinians who live in the province of Chubut), who plays guitar and sings, supported by guitar, tapes and loops man Mariano Godov.
Capitan Melao
Capitan Melao

Opening song ‘Ser pos dos’ sets the tone – spacey overlays to a soft Latin beat and dreamy lyrics – not quite living up to the claim of “the seduction of Bossa nova, the pain of a Bolero, the anger of Rock”. It’s all in the same vein – some songs better than others – but does liven up a bit when Phil Manzanera (not just a Roxy Music axeman but also a leading producer and advocate of modern Latin American music) joins for some typically fuzzy lead guitar on ‘Terraplan’. Pablo Giménez provides some striking visuals in the background. Oh and there’s a new album (there always is), Lacrima, which you can buy direct from their myspace page.

It’s a pleasing interlude, but despite the enthusiasm of the audience it does little to deter from the sense of anticipation that fills the hall. You see we’re actually here to see the Bajofondo Tango Club – “the band that we were told Gotan Project was”, led by ageing Argentinian rocker and Oscar winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla (who plays the guitar and sings), responsible for film scores such as Babel, Motorcycle Diaries (from which he plays a really sweet solo guitar piece), Brokeback Mountain and Amores Perros.

Sitting next to us, in something of a fluster, are Maurice and Dot Thistlethwaite, leading lights of the Morecambe and Heysham Tango and Crown Green Bowling Association who’ve come all the way from the Lune peninsula on a coach (with their dancing shoes round their necks) under the misapprehension that it’s a dance night. But from the initial notes of Javier Casalla’s melancholy violin they, like the rest of the audience, are totally won over (actually its some sort of Stroh violin - with a horn and resonator - with a wonderful metallic scratchy sound). “Infectious pounding tango rhythms, almost hypnotic visuals from Vjay Veronica Loza” says my little black notebook after only ten minutes or so. And so the evening went on, and on, and on. Pretty good if you liked infectious pounding tango rhythms, but if not you were pretty stuck.
It’s a fine balance to strike between tradition and modernity – but although they were the engine room of the band, Juan Campodónico’s sequences and loops never dominated either Casalla’s playing, or the bandoneon of Martin Ferres (who also played a wonderful solo piece) – the instrument that possibly most defines the Tango sound. The battle between old and new was captured in a fine piece which saw Fernando Santullo rap and exchange lines with Santaolalla. And they tip their hats to the great exponents of their art both through the carefully chosen film and photographic sequences and samples from famous artists - whilst not being scared to raise contemporary issues in pieces such as Exodo II (where the visuals deal explicitly with the huge increase in emigration from Argentina in recent years spurred by the country’s faltering economy). Believe me there’s a lot going on – leaving the audience (even Maurice and Dot) transfixed before rising to their feet in rapturous applause at the end of each song. Did I mention there’s a lot of national pride on display here too?
“We don't like the label 'electronic tango' because we try to make a contemporary music of Rio de la Plata, music from Argentina, Uruguay” Santaolalla told the Guardian, "…in our case, it is kind of an active melancholy. There's also power, rawness - a savage element to tango we try to keep alive. That connects to some of the primal energy rock has." He’s not joking. When these boys really get going it gets close to the Alabama 3 playing ‘Mao Tse Tung’ (that scores about fifteen out of ten in the primal rock energy scale), and actually I regret that we’re not stuck in the sweaty Astoria enjoying this rather than the rather stuffy Barbican. Or so it seemed. Suddenly, without warning, the stage was filled with dancers from the audience as pianist Luciano Supervielle discarded his keyboard for turntables and scratched through the last few songs. The doughty Barbican stewards gave up the battle quickly. Everyone was on their feet, and the last I saw of Maurice he was swirling Dot round in the middle of the crowded stage, carnation clenched grimly between her teeth. Like them you should buy the eponymous album, and look out for the new one which formed much of the evening’s material, but be warned – good though it is the disc won’t really deliver, this is a passionate visceral experience to be savoured live, and in case you’re wondering it’s far more memorable than my piquant pizza. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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