Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Los Van Van US Tour 2010: Everything We Expected and More!

Singers (l to r) Lele, Yenny and Mayito.

Once we received confirmation that Los Van Van were in fact cleared to come to the United States, I made plans with my family and friends to go to Yoshi's on Friday Dec. 10th - and of course ended up going back Sunday night for more! The re-vamped 16-piece (yes, 16!) band barely fit on the uncomfortable and oddly shaped stage, yet their sardine-like formation in no way diminished the power-packed set, to which we danced, swayed and sang-along collectively being the faithful "vanvaneros" we are. Words simply cannot describe the live Los Van Van experience, and even with the absence of iconic figures such as Pedrito Calvo (the one with the hat) and Pupy (César Pedroso, pianist and co-founder who now fronts his own band), the "train" as they are known in Cuba did not disappoint.

Mara Fox and Wayne Wallace sitting in!
Tearing into a 75-minute set of recent tunes as well as their classic "oldies" medley of hits from the 70s and 80s, the powerhouse band of founders and young lions gave the crowd what they wanted: non-stop hip-churning grooves. Anyone who knows this band will tell you that their particular brand of "songo" is founded on one principle: to make people dance. Yet the jam-packed crowd was content to soak up the energy emanating from the stage without the need for stylized salsa moves, as is the norm in the Bay Area; folks here love to show off their dancing chops, but a Van Van experience is more like a rock show in that the crowd functions as a living, breathing and pulsating organism that feeds off the band. The front row of four singers (Mayito, Roberto, Yenny and Lele) take turns in the lead role, and director Juan Formell - now more of a musical director/conductor - seems to relish his revamped role now that he has fresh "reinforcements" in the bass chair with Pavel Molina Ruiz. The sound of this band is relentless, the tempo mostly up-beat and the volume loud; there is certainly subtlety and nuance, but the priority with Los Van Van is to keep everyone moving, period.
Rebeca with Samuel and Maestro Juan Formell

This being the Bay Area, we also have a number of musicians who - in addition to being die-hard LVV fans - have a deep and long-time relationship with the band. A number (including yours truly) were asked to sit in, including trombonist Wayne Wallace (nominated this year for a Grammy in the Latin Jazz category - congrats!!), trombonist Mara Fox and flautist John Calloway. I myself was pulled up onto the stage at the bequest of Mayito Sunday night for a solo on "Tim Pop con Birdland," and had the time of my life! (See video below.) I heard from Kevin Moore of Timba.com that every late show set was different from the first. To be sure the restrictive nature of Yoshi's 2-show format really doesn't work for Los Van Van's aesthetic. Like I said, their shows are more like rock shows, and a typical set is at least 2 hours! That said, it was still a musical high that the Bay Area won't long forget. Just can't wait to see them again...

No comments: