By: Nick Rose, Contributor
“I haven’t been this excited for a show at Stuart’s in a long time” says the stage manager to a wanting crowd all warmed up by DJ Self Help.
Soon, songs explode: a three-piece horn section belts out frantically--congas, bass and Kino Esparza shouting at the top of his lungs on stage right. Finally, timbales, dos guitarres and a full-on drum kit make this modest opera house feel like a scene out of Havana Nights.
Kineticism—this is the theme of Grupo Fantasma and Bomba Estereo’s double bill yesterday evening at Stuart’s Opera House.
Fantasma opened up the night in style. This latin funk orchestra has an organic sound where the rawness of James Brown intersects with traditional cumbia rhythms and Santana-like melodies making for a frenetic pace to their music that burns down the house.
In fact, when Grupo Fantasma played their Latin-funkified interpretation of the Talking Heads classic “Burning Down the House,” they had the audience in the pocket. Even if the cats in the pit didn’t grab how to dance to the beat at first.
Southeast Ohio isn’t a world music Mecca. There is this roots vibe that’s hard to shake at the beginning because Latin music is different from bluegrass. The rhythms, instrumentation and melody are worlds apart and it was hard to find something to relate to. Especially when melody and harmony disappeared for over an hour during the Fantasmo set alone.
Plus there is a lot of clutter in this band’s music. It’s hard to manage 10 musicians playing 10 instruments at one volume—loud. Grupo Fantasmo brought the party, but, like a bad date, it missed a connection building intimacy with the audience. Even so, they still killed it and there’s something to be said for an opening act that gets called back for an encore. That is the stuff of legends.
As Fantasmo was a party in the streets, Bomba Estereo took it to the discotheque. Its beat driven electronica sound emitted a very intimate club feel, but it’s the band’s frontwoman Liliana Saumet that sells it. She’s got spunk that transcends any language barrier and when she screams the audience screams back willingly.
Mood lighting, dynamics and a fog machine helped a little, too.
The biggest thing this group has going for it is a deceptive improvised feel. Bomba works like a DJ divided into fours: Simon Mejia and Julian Salazar provide the themes and low end, Kike Egurrola is a human drum machine and Saumet is equal parts hype and vocals. Like a DJ, the band sounds like it's just going with the feel of the moment, but it’s very apparent that every vamp down to the set list is carefully laid out in a way to produce a dramatic and memorable experience.
Bomba flows when they play tracks off their latest release, Elegancia Tropicale. The cumbia-influenced “Caribbean Power” proved a high point as the group wandered into the synth-laid groove built up by Salazar and unleashed with Saumet screaming, “Elegancia Tropicale!” By now, most of the audience found a groove and the Stuart’s pit spilled over with motion.
This wasn’t the case for everyone, unfortunately. A language barrier, lack of distinct melodies and definitive endings seemed to make some of the concert-goers really uncomfortable.
Grupo Fantasma and Bomba Estereo aren’t bands that people see for melodies and distinctive lyrics, though. They’re party bands that make their audiences sweat and that’s pretty cool.