Argentine Invasion

In 30 years the Argentine audience will end up signing autographs, predicts Ratones Paranoicos singer Juan Sebastian "Juanse" Gutierrez. The emotional crowds who greet every Argentine artist who ventures to the United States will become stars in their own right, he insists, not only in Miami but across the globe. "We are invading the world!" jokes Ratones drummer Ruben "Roy" Quiroga. Not just that, warns Juanse: "Remember this, you are going to end up having an Argentine president. There's no escape from that!"

The classic rock band Ratones Paranoicos, or Paranoid Mice, may have swept in with the current Argentine invasion, but the band has a longer relationship with the United States than most of the recent immigrants who fill up their shows. They recorded an album in Memphis ten years ago, and in 1997 played a few shows in Miami after taping an Unplugged for MTV Latin America. Two years later, they came to play at the second Argentine Festival.

Ratones Paranoicos' latest visit, on May 12, will be remembered as having the rowdiest crowd the security team at Billboardlive has faced in the venue's short life. And the bouncers had their fun with the exuberant mob. Picture this: Two hired bruisers come from somewhere near the stage to grab a guy around his neck and legs. A third goon goes for a jab to the ribs. Then all three push through the door, disappear, and come back smiling. This happens not one, but two, three, four times. You can see things like that in Buenos Aires; security is not nice down there. But in Miami the rough stuff seems bizarre. Wasn't it supposed to be different here?

"The security guys stood up trying to figure out what to do, maybe thinking I can't stop them. They know they're not supposed to do this shit, but they're doing it anyway," laughs Juanse. "I was singing and jumping and then standing on a platform, and [the bouncers] were so confused they didn't know whether to stop me or to get the guy that was hanging from the balcony on the second floor." Bassist Fabian "Zorro" Quintiero tells the singer, "I thought they were going to get you, can you imagine?" While the band finds amusing the image of the lead singer being tossed from the club, Juanse is quick to point out the irony. "People here are always talking about freedom," he says, "but something is wrong when you're not allowed to jump during a rock show."

A tight outfit that can really jam out, Ratones Paranoicos have always been best live. They are the Argentine Stones and are proud of every single word written to compare the two bands, even when the comparison is meant to discredit them as what the Argentine media called Rolling Stones Posers. Then along came Andrew Loog Oldham. The band contacted the producer who had defined the sound of the Rolling Stones in the Sixties, and he agreed to produce most of its albums in the Nineties. Out of the four CDs, the first collaboration, Fieras Lunaticas, remains unparalleled. As he did with the Stones, Oldham changed Ratones' sound, twisted it even more toward the classic rhythm and blues that propelled the Rolling Stones in the first place, and blessed the band as authentic heirs apparent.

"I think that we were vindicated by one fact: We got the Spin Doctors' spot as opening act for the five Rolling Stones shows in Buenos Aires," brags Juanse. The first time Los Rolling played in Buenos Aires in 1995 with the Voodoo Lounge Tour, Ratones Paranoicos sent a pile of their albums to the Stones' offices in New York. Only three weeks before their first Argentinean show, the Rolling Stones changed their no-local-opening-acts policy and approved the band to open in Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile. The Stones were so anxiously awaited by three generations of fans that they sold out five shows in a row in the biggest stadium, drawing a total of 300,000 people. And even that wasn't enough. The Stones came back a few years later to set another record, giving repeat opening act Ratones Paranoicos their biggest audience ever. "They took Spin Doctors off the bill and allowed us to play," says Juanse of the 1995 shows, his voice still emotional. "That, for me, was a defining moment."

The arrival of the Paranoid Mice in the United States is another defining moment. The rockeros began what they call the Massacre Tour in Spain, promoting their recently released live album Vivo Paranoico. The album offers a selection of their best tracks since their debut in 1986, plus a hit song written with fellow Argentine rocker Andres Calamaro. Every gathering, from Madrid and Barcelona to Washington and Los Angeles, resulted in the same fervent ritual gathering of exiles as in Miami.

Still the band feels the best shows were three gigs in Memphis where it shared billing at the May Festival with big names like Incubus and Stone Temple Pilots. Even though Ratones played in the afternoon for audiences of 3000-5000 people, they got a big reaction from the hardcore STP fans who were saving their spaces for later in the night.

"I thought they were laughing at me. They were loudly clapping hands, and I thought they were just asking us to hurry up, finish the song quickly, but when we did it, it was a blast!" says Juanse. "When you are showing what you do, singing in Spanish to a mostly Anglo audience, it's really scary. You don't know if they are going to throw a stone at your face because they hate you, or if they are going to love it. Well, they loved it!" Two days later, on a visit to Graceland, the band was recognized by U.S. fans and asked to sign autographs.

Five years ago, when they came to record their Unplugged album with MTV, the band members couldn't even dream of playing in front of a big audience in the States. So what's next? "The Argentine Invasion," suggests Juanse with a smile. "Like the Third World War fought with wine and no money."