Everybody Looks Like a Rock Star

This fall in the subtropics, guitars are finally drowning out the clave

Who knew that the floor seats at the James L. Knight Center could be removed? All these years I thought we had no choice but to evade the ushers and squeeze into the aisles to dance salsa with La India or toss flowers at Alejandro Sanz. Then again, from the look of the mosh pit during the Lo McXimo show on November 15, maybe these crazy kids just ripped the seats out. Maybe each row got sucked into that vast human whirlpool swirling madly in front of the stage. Maybe later the seats will be spit back out like the bodies being tossed head-first above the crowd. And all this for the been-there, done-that ska of Mexican rockeros Maldita Vecindad; all this before the double-bass rowdy-rock juggernaut that is Molotov goes on. Chingón.

There are dozens of cops outside, protecting the perimeter against any advance assault by political anarchists before the FTAA gets under way, but nobody is policing the musical anarchy inside. There's no security to stop an overeager fan who leaps onstage then, what the heck, pogos around Maldita singer Roco for an entire song. The Malditas run all over the place, legs popping and arms flailing before they wrap up by playing "Pachuco" flat on their backs, kicking legs in the air. The ground trembles.

By the time Molotov takes over, a scrawny middle-age guy in a white Polo shirt is guarding the stage solo, shooing fans who jump onstage back into the melee on the floor. It didn't seem possible during the Maldita set, but somehow the mosh pit is churning faster now. What's really wild is that Molotov just stands there and plays, detonating a sonic earthquake that makes show-biz antics redundant. Even when singer and bassist Mickey Huidobro dedicates both "Chinga Tu Madre" ("Fuck Your Mother") and the insanely popular "Puto" ("Fag") to George W. Bush, he is calm. Molotov lets the music do the shocking. "We keep tossing shit at our government and at the Bush administration and we get radio play," bassist Paco Ayala tells me earlier, bewildered. "We're lucky, we tell everyone to fuck off and we have a hit."

Yet Molotov was all good manners at the MTV Video Music Awards Latin America (VMALA) last month, pretending to be less volatile than Kelly Osbourne during a little sketch where the Ozzy spawn swore in English and the fuck-your-mothers delivered cleaned-up translations in Spanish. The guys looked sheepish every time they got up to accept another VMALA Tongue statuette, taking home more than any other act, with four. It was as if they were embarrassed by all the acclaim.

Unlike the VMALA debut in 2002, where hired "seat fillers" did just that, this year's show was a hot enough ticket to fill the Jackie Gleason Theater with artists and industry types. "Everybody looks like a rock star!" my companion observed in awe. Indeed, even Ricky Martin was butched up in a tight black T-shirt and chains as he covered the Fabulosos Cadillacs' classic "Matador" in the show's tribute number. Opening with a supergroup of Latin rock pioneers (with ex-Soda Stereo Charly Alberti on drums and Juanes on guitar backing Ricky, the Cadillacs' Vicentico, El Tri's Alex Lora, Los Prisioneros' Jorge Gonzalez, and Aterciopelados' Andrea Echeverrí) and closing with Miami resident Iggy Pop giving up a bare-chested "Lust for Life," the 2003 VMALAs highlighted the biggest difference between Latin American and North American rock sensibilities: a deference to history versus a demand for the next big thing. Nineteen-year-old Natalia Lafourcade practically apologized when accepting the best solo artist award for beating out her idol and elder Gustavo Cerati. Maybe rockeros are respectful of their past because it's so hard to hear over the din coming from El Norte.

That said, the show's most mind-blowing performance came from a newish band of Tejanos. The only act to hoist a national flag during the show (Mexico's, not GW's), the Mars Volta did a Jimi Hendrix-meets-James Brown-on-a-live-wire shimmy that jolted the crowd like electroshock therapy. But that still wasn't the best offering of the night: Monterrey electro-rockers Kinky blew away the VMALA afterparty at crobar, previewing tunes from the band's sophomore album, Atlas, which is scheduled for release on December 2. In a sublime convergence of history with the future, Gustavo Cerati stood enthralled in the middle of the floor while the kids followed up 2002's jangly big beat rock-out "Mas" ("More") with an even more frenzied flip through genres.

"It's not rock. It's not funk. It's not Latin," guitarist Carlos Chairez warned me before the show. "It's all that," added bassist/vocalist Cesar Pliego. "Or better yet, it comes and goes, comes and goes," drummer Omar Góngora kind of clarified. "It's one color and then another color, taking turns." Guitarist/turntablist Gilberto Cerezo intervened: "What it is, exactly, is a weave: It's the logical response to the global bombardment of electronic information."

Ironically enough the information overload that is the Latin music industry -- record labels, TV shows, Internet companies -- is finally offering Miami more than photo ops with rockeros. Bands who only a few years ago would have never risked performing in rock-hostile Miami have begun invading our subtropical sound. Even apart from the showcases surrounding the endless Latin music awards ceremonies, acts are taking the time to play a gig while in town on promotion -- or, like Molotov, coming back just for a concert.

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