Lately I’d been adverse to the idea of going out on tour. I still am, sort of, at least during this period of the band’s existence (we’re in the process of recording an album, or whatever). Last year we played all throughout Mexico, and while it was exhilarating and rewarding in both a personal and professional sense, it was also just very exhausting. Also, if we’re speaking strictly in monetary terms (I know, ugh), it’s just not sustainable. Or, well, it depends on how you define sustainable. More often than not it ends up being something between a spiritual retreat and spring break. That’s fine, I guess, but it can’t last. Not really.
Who can really say no to visiting another city, though? Especially when it’s essentially an all-expenses (or most-expenses) paid trip. We just came back from one of those, actually. I’ve spent the last two weeks or so touring with the band, visiting the cities of Chicago, New York, and Boston, crashing on friends’ couches, and just generally being out in the world. Being an independent band with a self-built niche means that you’re often going to be placed in some very awkward places by promoters. Some work, some not so much, and some are just plain WTF. We’ll start with the WTF, of course.
Now, Chicago is noteworthy for many reasons, but in this case I’ll specify that it is a very diverse city teeming with a very large Latino –– mostly Mexican –– population. I mean, it rivals LA in terms of sheer cultural presence. But even within that homogeneity there is an immense diversity, especially in terms of musical offerings and niches. I guess we somehow got lumped into the “Latin Alternative” category, because those seem to be the only sorts of shows we end up playing when touring the States, opening for bands like, well, Babasónicos. I know. We had a rare ––and I emphasize that word in all its connotations–– opportunity to share the stage with the Argentine rock behemoths in the Windy City, and as you probably already figured, the experience was mostly baffling. Aside from the two or three really intense fans shouting fervently from the front row ––throwing you off because they actually know the names and lyrics to your songs–– you also get about fifty or so Babasonicos fans who were just too drunk or too lazy to leave, and were bewilderingly shouting “¡Manos Arriba!” while demanding that you play more cumbia. It’s not the most congruous make-up.
You can appreciate how off-putting it is having to face a reporter in New York the next day, asking you questions like: “What are hoping to get out of being in this band?” or, “What sort of goals do you hope to achieve in music?” when you just flew in from the airport a few hours prior, after not having slept the night before, because you were chasing an elusive promoter, whom you’d never met or worked with, wondering whether or not he’d show up at 3AM to pay the rest of your performance fee, and when he finally does show up, in a motorcycle mind you ––because of course a promoter who books Babasónicos would be driving a motorcycle –– he wants to lowball you, while you try to convince him that that money is your only way of getting back home. All the while the only thing you really want is a polish sausage with no ketchup (because this is Chicago, remember) and a couple of hours of sleep before your next flight. I mean, where do you even start with a question like that, when you just had a fucking night like that and now there are two dudes wearing gorilla masks being interviewed in the booth next to you, talking pretty seriously about the state of electronic music in Mexico. Did I say off-putting? I meant fucking absurd.
That interview –– and about a dozen other ones –– was part of LAMC (Latin Alternative Music Conference), which was really the whole reason we went on tour, and the reason we were visiting the magnificent city of New York. Save for that false start in Chicago, we were actually pretty stoked to be in town. Being a first-time band at the festival, it was revealing –– and occasionally puzzling –– to witness an actual network of people trying to figure out this slippery market that is the “Latin Alternative.” To be honest, I’m not even sure what such a niche entails, or that it even exists for that matter, but I do know that Romeo Santos had two sold out dates at Yankee Stadium that weekend, and that we are no Romeo Santos (although I’m seriously starting to consider whether we need a bachata track in our repertoire). With every major promoter and noteworthy artist of that purported scene in the vicinity ––many whom I’d met throughout my years of touring with the band –– it made me wonder about what niche or scene it was that we were actually catering to, where it was headed, and what our place within it is supposed to be. Indie or industry, it still begs the question.
It was our last performance, at the three-year anniversary of Picó Picante in Boston, that really helped me understand why it is and who it is that we play for, and also to regain some of my faith –– and love –– for performing live. Nestled inside a sweaty room on the bottom floor of a downtown club called the Good Life (how appropriate a name), we found ourselves cramped behind the DJ booth, mics set and iPads firmly in hand, and delivered what was ––in my opinion–– our most energetic and engaging performance of the tour. It certainly helps that Picó Picante is a grassroots party with a lot of heart (cliché as that may sound), like the ones that we ourselves used to throw way back when in Tijuana and at the sort of venue where we find ourselves most in our element: the club. The vibe was certainly on point, with that warmth and familiarity that only the small, honest, local scenes can provide. Mostly though, it was just a good fucking party. At the end of the day, no matter how heady you get, the music is still meant to serve a very functional end, which is to make everyone dance and enjoy themselves.
A few hours later, after the party had ended, we wound up on the dock, barefoot on a quilt, in a happening of ten or so people chanting the chorus to “Sweet Dreams” over and over. Maybe because we kept repeating it til it reached mantra-like proportions, but something about it stuck with me. It was that line about traveling the seven seas and how “everybody is looking for something.” That’s really it, isn’t it? It was one of those epiphanic moments that can only happen when you’re completely out of your comfort zone, cross-faded as fuck, and carrying absolutely no expectations about anything whatsoever. It sounds a bit sappy, but it’s the reason why bands should tour in the first place. You get to go out and see that there’s a whole world out there, that your small clique in Tijuana or Mexico City or wherever aren’t the only ones doing something or looking for something, whether it be in parties or spontaneous happenings by the dock or just anything. You venture out and discover all the nodes that tie into our music, all the circles that give it a far greater meaning and resonance. It gives you and your music a new life. And that’s just the after-parties.
Reuben Torres is a member of Tijuana-based band Los Macuanos. He is very skeptical of all things branded “Latin” and/or “Alternative.” Follow him on Twitter: @conejitocolvin.