Monthly Archives: November 2014
The first time I witnessed Mariachi El Bronx was when I saw them open for The Foo Fighters at the LA Forum a few years back. I remember looking on in confusion, thinking “who the f#ck are these guys???” I also remember thinking “this is different and kinda out of place…but I dig it.” Fast forward to present day, one of the cool chicks from work told me that they would be making a stop at Strummer’s in Fresno. Tickets were only $15, so I thought “ok, what the hell” and decided to go at the last minute. Man oh man, am I glad I made the trip out to see them headline at the last stop of their West Coast tour. Mariachi El Bronx is actually the alter-ego of The Bronx, a hardcore punk band from Los Angeles (NOTHING to do with The Bronx in NY). What’s even more interesting, only a couple of the members of this group are actually Latino. Vocalist Matt Gaughthran is as white as they come, yet somehow he’s able to pull off a convincing Mariachi-esque delivery. He’s no technical powerhouse, nor can he emulate a traditional mariachi singer, but there’s still something unique and compelling about his vocal style that WORKS with this group. I know very little about the genre itself, but I do know that El Bronx’s style is a modern interpretation of the genre, some would even call it the bastardization of Mariachi music – especially with the incorporation of drum set. But damn, these guys can pull off the musical sections with precision, finesse, and balls.
What started off as a jacked up gig due to a heavy amount of low end from the house PA fortunately turned into an enjoyable, festive concert. Strummer’s is a cozy club in the Tower District, even smaller than Fulton 55 down the way. Many probably remember Strummer’s by its former name, The Starline. 200 fans filled the club, making for an impressive turn out that had Matt Gaughthran all smiles. He’d periodically sip on a bottle of Corona, smile and address the audience, thanking us for “giving a f*ck about Mariachi El Bronx” and coming out to see them perform. The band was freakin’ awesome. Not only did they use traditional elements like brass, guitarron, guitara de golpe and violin, but Jorma Vik also showcased some tasty chops on a cocktail drum set. The man added punch and jolting thump with his low tom and commanding high end on the snare, timbale and high toms. I could also hear a jam block and a cascara being played, providing authentic latin flavor on the percussion side. His hands were busy, playing a flurry of 16th notes and tricky ostinatos all over the kit (what the hell are ostinatos? Repeated patterns/phrasings). The meters were often in 3, 4 and 6, making for traditional mariachi song structures. But the drum set added a whole new dimension to the songs, making them exciting and exuberant, making traditional music like this groove when it ordinarily wouldn’t (or shouldn’t, depending on your tastes).
It was a GREAT show. Very affordable, joyous and fun. I’m so glad I didn’t sit this one out. The group has 3 albums to their name and I’ve read that the last two are the superior offerings. I bumped into my work buddy and her clan and they looked like they enjoyed the show as well, even getting up to dance on occasion. It would be cool to take my babe to a show like this, roots music with a twist. Some of the songs performed include “48 Roses,” “My Brother the Gun,” “Mariachi El Bronx,” and “Revolution Girls.” They played a mess of material I just wish I was more familiar with it.