Friday Night: El Guincho at the Independent
Friday, Nov. 21, 2008
The Independent ( 628 Divisadero St.)
Review by Jennifer Maerz
Better than: Watching your friends play Guitar Hero to Animal Collective.
I imagine that being a one-man band is pretty sweet in a lot of ways. You never have to argue with your bandmates about what a song should sound like. You can practice and record whenever you want. And when you play a show or sell a CD, you pocket all the money.
But then what happens when you have a really well produced studio album -- with the sounds of everything from steel drums to gushing choruses to Latin drum beats -- that you want to perform live?
If you're Girl Talk, you invite the audience up on the stage with you and have their frantic actions propel the show. Or, if you're Spain's El Guincho, you hire a lanky buddy from Barcelona to air drum over an electronic kit and hope the party in your music spreads like an airborne disease to infect the crowd into dancing.
Last Friday night at the Independent, El Guincho brought that Barcelona Buddy up on stage and explained, multiple times -- first in English, and after that seemed to tax him, in Spanish -- "Usually I do all this myself, so I had to bring my friend from Barcelona along."
It was a strange visual, even after all these years of electronic acts taking the stage with little more than laptops and fancy looking gadetry, to watch these two Spaniards make such energetic music by expending so little energy themselves. In their plaid shirts and jeans, they lorded over the machinery with the rocking motions of expert Guitar Hero players. Barcelona Friend traced out beat patterns on drum machine pads with his sticks, and El Guincho stood nearby, trading off handiwork between two rows of sythesizers and plenty of hidden effects.
Within that compact setup, El Guincho conjured a joyous electro pop world. It's one that sounds like a marching band parading through the streets of Animal Collective, Spanish folk music, tropicalia, techno, and 2008's not-so-secret ingredient for buzz acts, Afro-pop.
The Canary Island native's debut disc, Alegranza, sounds bright, well-traveled, and charming. But the disc is also eclipsed by the fact that both Animal Collective and AC member Panda Bear have released music that sounds similar but reaches deeper than these giddy, eclectic jams. Animal Collective's music remains interesting because their rainbows cast shadows sometimes, while El Guincho remains on cloud nine all the time.
But live, even with the sparse lineup, I gained new appreciation for El Guincho. His music provided a noticeable lift to the crowd, which, for the most part, bunched in toward the stage and danced from the start of the show through El G's embarassed annoucement that he barely had material for an encore (but then played one anyway).
Part of the spell of the live show came from El Guincho's banter. The guy (Pablo Díaz-Reixa) may be a brainy electronic artist when it comes to crafting songs, but on stage he's far from a self-serious music geek. He was persistant in trying to break the language barrier (even if, as I mentioned, he'd switch back into Spanish almost every time). And after a while, it didn't matter to me how few people were on stage, or what they were doing, so long as the crowd was feeding off it like they were.
Of course not everyone around me was blissed out on the gig. In the bathroom a group of girls argued about whether or not El Guincho sounded too much like Panda Bear. And one friend I brought to the show complained that the music sounded "like a Disney parade on acid," while another lamented that the lack of a full band sapped the potential energy of the performance. And while I could see the logic behind all of those criticisms, I just couldn't get over the fact that these two lively humans and their cold equiptment were creating a musical -- and physical -- stir that more than anything else was just really damn fun.