ELK Records once again puts on an amazing Rock en Español show at Fitzgerald’s main stage last Thursday night. Local Houston bands (and artists) Niko Diaz, Elize and Carmeci provided the perfect prelude to Los Angeles band Love Star for the first show of their Texas tour. La Sien was to close the show but we ended up with a surprise closing performance from Chilean artist Roberto Olea after La Sien’s performance. All in all, one hell of a lineup for what ended up being a fun night of discovery and new friendships.
I got there early because Fitzgerald’s is notorious for always starting their shows on time, without exception. Once upstairs I was greeted by a nice sized crowd sipping drinks while the stage was being set. Backstage, Niko Diaz was mentally preparing for his performance along with his band while the other bands lounged around, drinking beer and getting to know one another better. The beauty of being backstage is, of course, free beer… so I got myself a brew and started to get my camera gear ready for the first performer of the night, Niko Diaz.
I have heard Niko Diaz before, playing only an acoustic guitar to accompany his melodic and soft voice and I have always loved hearing him, but I had not seen nor heard this new incarnation of him backed up by a band and, man… let me tell you… I was very impressed.
Niko walked on stage playing a beautiful Gretch hollow body guitar and began his set of steady and well polished songs accompanied by Maryland Liff on the violin, Gabriel Peña on the bass guitar and Modesto Segura on the drums. Closing your eyes and listening to Niko’s music will take you to a sunny beach full of palm trees where low waves slowly and gently wash onto the shore. It is a jazzy (and at times, even bluesy) kind of Latin Rock that carries clear influences from Latin Folk and Nova Trova. More importantly, his lyrics are thoughtful and expressive. Each word carefully placed within the melody in order to achieve its greatest effect. Maryland stands on his right, playing beautiful and melodious notes on her violin which provide a perfect harmony to Niko’s voice. Without much of an effort, she possesses her side of the stage and makes it her own. Gabriel is a young musician who was kind of hard to capture with the camera because he was hiding in the dark but you would not be able to miss his brilliant bass playing. His note picking in perfect timing with Modesto’s drumming, who carries the beat with the timing of a Swiss watch. I liked seeing this band play and I found them to be the perfect opening act for what was to come. As a fan of his work, I can tell you that Niko Diaz is out and about playing all over town these days so go check him out when you can.
Close to 45 minutes later, Niko and his band finished their set and made way for the second act of the night, Elize.
Elize is a band that has been around for a while. They have gone through many personnel changes for lead guitar and bass over the years, but guitarist and singer-songwriter Elton Salazar along with drummer Beto Hernandez have always been there from the very start. Their new lead guitarist is Edgar Medrano and they have completed the lineup with bassist Ulises Rivera. Elton is an amazing performer who takes his craft very seriously. He is unmistakable on stage with his long dark hair and his signature black Gretch hollow body guitar which he strums almost as a caress while singing in his raspy, distinguishable voice. His songs touch on various subjects ranging from lost love to drug abuse and his interpretation on stage is profound and always entertaining. Edgar is on stage right playing the hell out of a Gibson Les Paul. His stage presence is huge as he belts out guitar god style solos and bluesy slow bent notes to accent each song. Ulises plays his bass the way a Scientist prepares his experiments. He is precise and in command of his instrument and gives the songs that much needed low end. Beto is a drummer that never fails (and I have seen this band play many times over the years) at impressing me with his impeccable sense of rhythm and super accurate timing. He is as meticulous as he is exact… never doing too much nor too little. Always playing exactly what the song demands.
As I mentioned before, Elize is not a new band by any means. They have traveled to many other countries and performed for thousands of people. This experience has given them the true star quality that is so essential to any professional band. On stage they are completely at home and in their element and their set is loaded with songs that will make you want to rock out. Their influences are very heavy on Morrisey and The Smiths along with a lot of The Cure with some of the straight up distorted guitar rock of bands like The Ramones and The Kinks. They take their listeners down an alley that can sometimes be dark, sometimes light and airy, but always interesting and fun.
Following Elize, we were all seized by the brilliant wizardry that is Carmecí.
Oh… how do I describe the music of Carmecí? After much deliberation on the matter, I have come to the conclusion that the best way to describe it is to not describe it at all. It is best that you hear it (or better yet… experience it) for yourself.
Carmecí is singer-guitarist-keyboardist-percussionist-and-whatever-other-instrument-you-can-throw-at-him, Carmesí Rodriguez and singer-percussionist and all around bad ass, Dusa Rodriguez. The two of them on stage are a veritable powerhouse of sound and attitude that transcends all of the normal boundaries of music. Generally, I have a tendency to reject bands that are too “out there” or bands who break the barriers just for the sake of breaking them without ever taking into account the reasons those barriers might exist. However, Carmesí does nothing of the sort. They break the barriers because those barriers are just too damn narrow for the brilliance of their concept and the music they create.
Carmesí and Dusa, each take a side of stage and stand behind their enormous musical contraptions. Carmesí has a fantastic sounding Hofner hollow body guitar strapped high on his shoulder and plays pure rock and roll licks that make you want to bang your head against the stage in unison. As if this wasn’t enough reason to go home with whiplash, Dusa starts pounding out the beat on the kick drum and a floor tom. This pure, carnal and tribal sound drives the song through your skull like a sledgehammer as Carmesí turns to the microphone and begins to sing in the perfect voice for a 70’s long hair, guitar rock band. They interact with each other on stage, feeding off of each other’s cues for changes of pace and intensity which they throw out to the crowd like a fireball of pure, unbridled energy. These guys are the real deal and they are amazing!
After the mind blowing Carmesí, it was time to check out the guest band of the evening, Love Star.
Love Star is composed of singer-songwriter Adriana Fernandez, guitarist Will Alvez, Bassist Chris Gongora and Efraín Bárcena on the drums. This band from Los Angeles California is a truly entertaining and awesome band. Their music is pure pop-rock of the kind that makes you feel good and smile. Adriana’s performance is that of a shining star who knows how to reach deep into her bag of emotions and bring forth a stage show that will astonish you by how genuine, heart-felt and raw it is. A stunning performer, she sings in a voice that will soothe your innermost pains and make you believe that there truly are angels while at the same time she captures you like a devil swaying her body back and forth sensually to the music, attracting and commanding your attention until you can look no other way but hers. Her songwriting is superb even though the subject matter can be a bit cliché. Love songs have been done to death. However Adriana’s songs have so much emotion behind them that even if you are not a love-song kind of person you will still like what you hear. Will is armed with an elegant Rickenbacker which he plays flawlessly. His sound a perfect accent to the pop rock music he is playing while standing tall on stage. With what appears to be influences of triad chord strumming guitarists like The Edge and Jamie West-Oram, he adds a true rock flavor to each song. At times, he goes full on Chris Stein, strumming out full open chords with delightfully dirty distortion. So much so, that at one point the band even played a cover version of Blondie’s “Call Me” which I have to say, was pretty awesome. Chris wears his bass very high up on his chest and sways everywhere on the stage while picking out the notes with his thumb. It is a very intriguing way of playing bass and I found it to be quite unique. He is very much in his own universe while on stage but somehow still connected through some kind of weird telepathy with the rest of the band. I thought it was really cool. Finally, Efraín is a very tight drummer who projects his performance forward in a way that few drummers can. Although the music can be simple, Efraín provided the necessary complexity to make each song stand out from one another.
This was Love Star’s first ever trip to Houston (and I think Texas, for that matter) and after their show I was able to talk with them. These guys pulled a 24 hour non-stop drive from Los Angeles in order to make it to Houston for this show. They were very impressed with the Houston bands who performed and showed themselves to be truly pleased to have the experience of playing to a Texas crowd. That kind of dedication and good spirit is what makes bands succeed and I foresee them making great music for quite some time. I look forward to hearing more of them soon.
Once Love Star left the stage we were all ready for one of Houston’s most successful Rock en Español bands, La Sien.
La Sien is Fab on guitar and vocals, Erol on lead guitar, Alejandro on bass and Carlos on drums. Their music is the kind of pop that sticks to your teeth and leaves you humming the songs for the rest of the night (and much of the next day as well). They are a well oiled machine on stage, putting out song after song of feel good music and positive vibes. Fab reminds me on stage of a young Elvis Costello playing “Radio Radio” on Saturday Night live in the late 70’s. He plays a pristine white Fender Stratocaster and sings with a perfect pitched voice made for singing rock and roll top ten hits. He is confident and awkward at the same time and that makes him instantly likable and approachable to the audience who watches his performance intently and with great joy. As a guitarist he is also fantastic, strumming out jazz chords and single note melodies that could easily come out of a George Benson bridge progression. This guy has star written all over him and I can see him 20 years from now still writing amazing songs and being an influence on other musicians. Erol is an interesting mix of blues and jazz guitar. He plays a Telecaster semi hollow with such grace and undeniably spotless precision that you wonder if you are hearing a live guitar or a recording. No, seriously… he’s THAT good. You can also tell that he’s having the time of his life on stage and that happiness on his face is very contagious. The crowd loves it. Alejandro plays the bass guitar like his life depended on it. You can also feel the deep jazz roots in his bass lines and the way that he holds his instrument to his body. This guy is no pretender. He’s got the chops to provide the depth to each and every song. Not to mention his vocal harmonies, who along with Erol and Fab will make the hair on your arms stand up with how perfect their pitch is. Carlos was very difficult to capture with the camera because of how dark it was behind the drum set but you knew he was there, for sure. Playing drums for a pop band might sound easy but if you want your music to stand out, a drummer who can change things up is essential. Carlos is that drummer. There was another guitarist playing with them last night but I do not know who he is. What I do know is that he had a really beautiful Gibson Les Paul that had me drooling from how fantastic it sounded. He was in the back and every once in a while he would provide backing vocals, guitar parts and small percussion as needed. I don’t know if he will be a permanent addition to the band or not, but he did a spectacular job last night.
Finally I will say, this was La Sien’s last show for this year so you will not have another chance to see them for some time. But you should check them out when they come back out in 2017. I know I’m looking forward to see what they come out with.
So officially, that was the show. However, we were all treated to a surprise which came in the performance of Chilean artist Roberto Olea.
Roberto is a one-man-band style performer who comes on stage with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, a delay sequencer pedal, a voice and about 100 tons of attitude. He uses the delay sequencer to create beats that persist throughout the song and then, once that beat is established, he goes on to tearing the stage a new one. He plays a very interesting mix of original and cover songs in true South American meets North American rock fashion. Influences of Soda Estéreo and The Eagles are evident in his songs. His voice, to me at least, sounded a bit strained and out of shape for some of the songs he chose to sing and well… that to me is a huge no-no. During some songs he appeared to forget the words but would recover after a bit. This to me is another huge no-no. I was about to write him off as a loss but then I found out that he just happened to be in Houston visiting family and he was invited at the very last minute to come up on stage and sing a few songs. No warning. No time to prepare anything. No choice but to get up there and do what he could. God knows I have found myself in that situation before (and I also pulled “Hotel California” out of my butt to fill the time slot) so I can understand. In the end, I will just say that I did not see Roberto Olea perform. I saw him playing around with a group of people and doing karaoke. Hopefully someday he will come back to Houston and do a full on performance. I think it would be very good.
So, ELK… you guys rock, man. You have consistently put on great shows and you run them so perfectly organized and well prepared that it shows in the quality of sound, lighting and artists. Your dedication to blowing our minds with great concerts is awesome. Thanks!
One thing though… ease up on the fog machine next time, please. It makes it really hard to get a clear photograph. LOL!
Finally… a shot of Adriana and Fab because they are such awesome people and great performers… 🙂
See you at the next show, dear reader!