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Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman at Brooklyn Bowl, New York, NY, May 24th, 2015

May 26, 2015 Chicano Batman
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Chicano Batman started their Brooklyn Bowl date with a loping instrumental number, guitars strapped high, matching bow ties slightly but increasingly askew, matching ruffled tuxedo shirts on point, sleeves rolled up to the elbows. At least one member of their gently swaying audience was wearing a shirt bearing the band’s logo, which combines the Bat Signal with the United Farm Workers eagle. The members are all Latinos from different backgrounds, some Chicano, and, along with the name, these details are meant as witty but sincere homages to the diverse cultures, music and history that have shaped them.

The quartet’s soulful music usually sticks to the tempo of classic lowrider oldies and pulls in pan-Latin influences like cumbia (both Mexican and Colombian), chicha and bandera music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Their vintage sound might be cool, but it’s no hip, contextless pastiche. They’re influenced by the music the members grew up with and have combined it all into a polished, if slightly offbeat, whole. Keyboardist Bardo Martinez is an avid record collector, with a love for classic sounds from all over the world. Some of their quirkiness can be traced back to supreme Brazilian psych weirdos Os Mutantes, for instance.

Two albums in, they have a devoted and growing cult of fans. Seeing them in a live setting, it is easy to understand why. It’s hard to look good while playing any keyboard but Martinez not only led the band from behind a slender Casio organ, he rocked it. He bowed his legs out and rose up onto his toes, emoting as he pressed out the chords and taking breaks here and there to pluck out a guitar breakdown. The whole band have fantastic musical chops and, despite their love of a good groove, they avoid any indulgent jam-band tendencies. Everything is tight; late seventies prog precision meets timeless chill. There are exactly zero prevailing trends you could tie them to and its a huge part of their charm. Through Brooklyn Bowl’s state-of-the-art sound system they sounded completely golden.

One highlight from their set was “She Lives on My Block,” a breezy song detailing an unrequited affection for a purple haired siren. The lyrics could be kind of silly, or even creepy, but with just the right amount of humor and self awareness Martinez made it come off as sweet and funny instead. They also played a trebly, uncharacteristically manic new song titled “Please Don’t Leave Me” that could be described as prog lounge. It was their cumbia, “Manzanita,” sung in Spanish, however, that moved the Sunday night crowd to really dance.

On the surface, a progressive Latin soul outfit might seem like hard sell as a band-to-watch in today’s musical landscape dominated by easily digestible electropop, but that’s just what Chicano Batman is. In the past year, since the release of their album Cycles of Existential Rhyme, they have opened for Jack White on tour, played Coachella and gotten loads of press, including as interview with Billboard. Music history teaches us that it’s never a good idea to underestimate the prodigiously talented weirdos with something interesting to say. So, you know, keep an eye out for these guys.



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