|PREVIEW: Vicente Fernandez
First, an apology.
Mi español es realmente horrible. My Spanish is truly awful.
Now the enlightenment.
Vicente Fernandez es mi nuevo ídolo. Vicente Fernandez is my new idol.
Imagine that you're a thousand miles or more from your homeland, and that your country's biggest music legend pays a visit to the city where you've relocated, looking for a better life. And plays every hit you know, every song you and likely your parents and grandparents grew up with.
That's a Vicente Fernandez show. Resplendent in a cream-colored mariachi's uniform - tight-fitting embroidered trousers, stylish boots, fitted jacket and sun-sized sombrero, even la pistola by his side - Fernandez proved why he is Mexico's biggest music and movie star last Saturday night to a packed Rose Garden.
Through nearly 50 songs, and three hours, Chente, as he's known to his legions of fans, worked the crowd into a sing-along frenzy. From small fry dressed in their Sunday finest, to kiss-blowing grandmothers, Fernandez touched each one of their hearts, singing favored ranchera and banda songs - romantic ballads, folk songs, waltzes and polkas, and the huapangos, those mysterious, minor-key three-quarter time dance numbers.
Sipping brandy throughout and clearly enjoying the adulation, Fernandez worked the footlights, commanding the stage with a huge operatic baritone voice. No matter that your reviewer understands very little Spanish. Fernandez's emotion was palpable and moving - from cocksure to heartache to lonely. He possesses a powerfully slow vibrato that he could spin from a small dust devil into a raging tornado.
His amazing vocal control - that did not diminish even toward the end of the brandy bottle - was absolutely captivating. At several points during the show, he would drop his wireless microphone to near knee level, hold an endless aching note, and be heard in the back of the room.
His 12-piece band, Mariachi Azteca, was a full mariachi contingent comprised of a quintet of violins (all of whom contributed backup harmonies), two trumpets, guitarron (the bulbous six-string fretless bass guitar), three guitars and keyboards. With never even a count-off, the band seamlessly leapt into each song that Chente called out.
Despite the strong rhythmic nature of the music, there was never a need for a drummer. Guitarron and guitars kept a strong heartbeat and backbeat through out, leaving the violins to swoop with emotion and the trumpets to apply appropriate brassy melody and punctuation.
Invoking patriotic cries of "Viva, la Mexico!" Vicente sang of homesickness, of immigration, of love and loss, and even dropped the word "Oregon" into one song's lyric. For four hours on a Saturday, it was the finest, most joyful fiesta in the land.
Opening the show was Paquita la del Barrio ("Paquito of the Hood," real name Francisca Viveros Barradas), a feisty emotional singer and huge star who rails against Mexico's machismo, playfully ragging against its persistent sexist male culture. "Me estas oyendo, inutil?" she would ask. "Are you listening to me, good-for-nothing?" Every male with a wife or significant other in the house took an elbow in the ribs.